Israel Defence Minister Resigns After Ceasefire, Government In Turmoil

Israeli defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman (C) speaks to reporters ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on July 15, 2018. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation on Wednesday and called for early elections after a sharp disagreement over a Gaza ceasefire deal, throwing the government into turmoil.

Lieberman also said his party was quitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, leaving the premier with only a one-seat majority in parliament.

Elections are not due until November 2019, but Lieberman’s resignation increases the likelihood of an earlier vote.

“What happened yesterday — the truce combined with the process with Hamas — is capitulating to terror,” Lieberman told journalists in explaining his reasons for resigning.

“What we’re doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security.”

He added later: “We should agree on a date for elections as early as possible.”

Netanyahu has defended Tuesday’s ceasefire deal that ended the worst escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war.

An official from Netanyahu’s Likud party hit back at speculation that early elections would be called and said the prime minister would take charge of Lieberman’s portfolio at least temporarily.

“There’s no obligation to go to an election in this time of security sensitivity,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

A Likud spokesman said later in the day that Netanyahu had begun consultations with heads of parties in his coalition to stabilise it.

The party of far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a Netanyahu rival, was threatening to withdraw from the coalition if he was not given the defence portfolio.

‘Begged for ceasefire’ 

Lieberman, a security hardliner, heads the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, which holds five seats in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

Before taking over as defence minister, he said he would give Hamas leader Ismail Haniya 48 hours to hand over two detained Israeli civilians and the bodies of soldiers killed in the 2014 war “or you’re dead”.

He later backed off and said he was committed to “responsible, reasonable policy”.

The ceasefire held on Wednesday, but Netanyahu was seeking to combat criticism of the decision.

Beyond Lieberman’s resignation, several hundred Israelis living near the border with Gaza protested on Tuesday night to call for further action against its Islamist rulers Hamas.

Netanyahu defended his strategy and said: “Our enemies begged for a ceasefire.

“In times of emergency, when making decisions crucial to security, the public can’t always be privy to the considerations that must be hidden from the enemy,” he said at a ceremony on Wednesday.

Hamas portrayed the ceasefire as a victory and thousands of residents of the blockaded enclave took to the streets late Tuesday to celebrate.

On Wednesday, Gazan demonstrators burned pictures of Lieberman and sweets were handed out in the streets, while Hamas called his resignation a “victory.”

The Egyptian-brokered truce was announced by Gaza militant groups, including Hamas, on Tuesday.

A diplomatic source familiar with the agreement said it involved returning to arrangements put in place following the 2014 war, but warned: “The situation remains very precarious and can blow up again.

“What we have seen in the past 48 hours was very dangerous and no efforts should be spared to avoid similar flare-ups.”

Blown covert operation 

The violence saw seven Gazans killed in 24 hours as Israeli strikes targeted militants and flattened buildings, sending fireballs and plumes of smoke into the sky.

Sirens wailed in southern Israel as militants unleashed barrages of rocket and mortar fire, sending residents rushing to shelters.

Around 460 rockets and mortar rounds were fired at Israel, the most ever in such a brief time period, the army said.

An anti-tank missile hit a bus near the Gaza border that Hamas says was being used by Israel’s army. An Israeli soldier was severely wounded.

In all, some 27 Israelis were wounded, three of them severely.

A Palestinian labourer from the occupied West Bank was killed when a rocket hit a building in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

The violence had begun on Sunday with a botched Israeli special forces operating inside the Gaza Strip that turned deadly and prompted Hamas to vow revenge.

The clash that resulted from the blown operation killed seven Palestinian militants, including a local Hamas military commander, as well as an Israeli army officer.

This week’s escalation came despite Netanyahu’s decision to allow Qatar to transfer millions of dollars in aid to Gaza for salaries as well as fuel to ease a chronic electricity shortage.

The agreements had led to calmer protests along the border after months of deadly unrest.

But those cash transfers also drew criticism from Netanyahu’s own government, and Lieberman slammed them in announcing his resignation.

AFP

Turkey Urges Israel To ‘Immediately Stop’ Gaza Strikes

Erdogan Demands Punishment For All Behind 'Planned Khashoggi Murder'
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the attempted coup at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey.  ADEM ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkey on Tuesday called on Israel to “immediately stop” strikes against the Gaza Strip, urging the international community to act as the escalation in violence threatened to descend into full-blown conflict.

“Israel must immediately stop its attacks against the Gaza population,” Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said, quoted by state news agency Anadolu.

“The international community, which stays silent in the face of Israel’s attacks, must take responsibility and take action,” he added.

Barrages of rocket and mortar fire into Israel and Israeli air strikes on Gaza this week have threatened a new war between the two sides.

Six Palestinians were killed in less than 24 hours as Israeli strikes targeted militants, while dozens of residents were injured in Israel following rockets and mortar rounds from the Gaza Strip. A Palestinian living in southern Israel was also killed.

The escalation, triggered by a secret operation by Israeli special forces which went awry on Sunday, came after months of tension with growing fears of a fourth conflict in 10 years between Israel and Hamas that governs the Gaza Strip.

As an unwavering supporter of Palestinians, Ankara often criticises Israeli policy, although relations improved between Turkey and Israel in 2016 after a diplomatic crisis that lasted several years.

AFP

Netanyahu Demands ‘Total’ Gaza Ceasefire

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on July 29, 2018. Sebastian Scheiner / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday demanded a “total” ceasefire from Gaza’s Hamas rulers in his first public comments on another deadly flare-up between the two sides.

There have been efforts by UN officials and Egypt to secure a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, though Israeli officials have not commented on them.

Since July, there have been three major flare-ups of violence.

“We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza,” Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting. “It will not end with one blow.

“Our demand is clear: a total ceasefire. We shall not be satisfied with less than that,” he added.

“Until now we have destroyed hundreds of Hamas military targets and with every round of attacks the Israel Defence Forces exact another heavy price from Hamas.”

Netanyahu has come under political pressure to act more strongly against Hamas, though both sides are reluctant to start a fourth war between them since 2008.

Israel has also sought an end to kites and balloons carrying firebombs over the Gaza border fence to burn Israeli farmland.

An informal truce reached on Thursday night has largely held despite the deaths of three Palestinians since then from Israeli army fire during border protests and clashes.

Thursday saw extensive Israeli air strikes in retaliation for the launching of more than 180 rockets and mortar rounds by Hamas and its allies beginning on Wednesday night.

Three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes, including a mother and her 18-month-old daughter, while seven Israelis were wounded by Palestinian rocket fire as hundreds took refuge in bomb shelters.

It was one of the most serious escalations since the 2014 Gaza war and followed months of rising tensions.

At least 168 Palestinians have been killed since Gaza border protests and clashes began on March 30, with most succumbing to Israeli fire during demonstrations. Others have died in air strikes.

Over the same period, one Israeli soldier has been shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

AFP

Afghanistan Resumes Crackdown On Taliban After Govt Ceasefire Ends

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani speaks during a press conference at Presidential Palace in Kabul on June 30, 2018. NOORULLAH SHIRZADA / AFP 

 

Afghan security forces resumed offensive operations on Saturday after President Ashraf Ghani declared an end to the government’s unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban.

Ghani said the ceasefire, which lasted 18 days after it was extended once and overlapped with the Taliban’s unilateral three-day truce for Eid, had been “98 percent successful”.

“The ceasefire is over. The Afghan security and defence forces are allowed to restart their military operations,” Ghani told reporters.

The three days of no fighting were unprecedented in the nearly 17-year conflict and triggered jubilant scenes across the war-weary country.

Taliban fighters and security forces spontaneously celebrated the holiday that caps the holy month of Ramadan, hugging each other and taking selfies.

The militants were also mobbed by relieved civilians, who have borne the brunt of the war, raising hopes of a renewed push for peace talks.

Ghani said the ceasefire had shown that the majority of the insurgents wanted peace and it was the “Taliban’s turn to give a positive response”.

“I am ready to extend the ceasefire anytime when the Taliban are ready,” he said at a press conference.

But the sight of its fighters openly mingling with security forces and civilians over Eid appeared to alarm the Taliban’s leaders, who on Sunday ordered their men back to their posts.

The Taliban vowed Tuesday to continue their bloody fight against the government and their foreign backers, brushing aside rising civilian casualties.

The insurgents returned to the battlefield last week after refusing a government request to extend their ceasefire, launching attacks across the country that have seen scores killed or injured.

The renewed violence has poured cold water on hopes the truce would provide a clear path to peace talks, with the Taliban refusing to bow to pressure to lay down their arms until foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

The truces did not extend to the Islamic State group, which has a relatively small but potent presence in Afghanistan, and launched two deadly attacks on ceasefire revellers during Eid.

AFP

20 Die In Afghanistan Attack Despite Ceasefire Deal

Afghan Taliban militants stand with residents as they took to the street to celebrate ceasefire on the second day of Eid in the outskirts of Jalalabad on June 16, 2018.  NOORULLAH SHIRZADA / AFP

 

A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Afghan Taliban, security forces, and civilians celebrating an unprecedented ceasefire in the war-torn country on Saturday, killing at least 20 people, officials said.

At least 16 others were wounded in the attack in Rodat district in eastern Nangarhar province, provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.

AFP

Peace For Eid As Afghanistan Observes Ceasefire

Afghan Muslims walk to offer Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in Mazar-i- sharif on June 15, 2018. PHOTO: FARSHAD USYAN / AFP

 

Afghans greeted the beginning of Eid with prayers on Friday as the Muslim holiday dawned in peace for the first time since the 2001 US-led invasion, after the Taliban agreed to an unprecedented ceasefire.

Flocking to mosques for special morning worship marking the first day of the festival, youngsters in the war-battered country expressed cautious optimism, following the suspension of fighting between Afghan security forces and the militants.

“On almost every Eid we have had attacks — this is a rare Eid without violence,” Samiullah, 17, who is almost the same age as the conflict, told AFP after prayers at the Shah-e Do Shamshira mosque in central Kabul.

“We are hopeful peace will come to Afghanistan.”

Fourteen-year-old Sohrab Ahmad, who earns money polishing shoes outside the mosque, said he could not remember an Eid without fighting.

“I believe there will be peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” he said.

But not everyone was so hopeful.

“I don’t think there will be peace in Afghanistan. We are seeing an increase in attacks on a daily basis,” Imran, 13, told AFP.

Defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh told AFP there had been no reports of Taliban attacks on Afghan forces since the start of the holiday.

President Ashraf Ghani announced last week that police and troops would cease operations against the Taliban for eight days, starting Tuesday — though he warned that operations against other groups, including the Islamic State group, would continue.

The Taliban said Saturday their fighters would stop attacking Afghan security forces for the first three days of Eid, the first time the Taliban had declared a nationwide ceasefire in the nearly 17-year conflict.

They said they would continue attacking US-led NATO troops.

Muslims across the world also celebrated Eid al-Fitr, one of Islam’s most significant holidays, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and is typically celebrated by feasting and gift-giving.

In the Iraqi capital Baghdad, young people treated themselves to elaborate haircuts, in a modern interpretation of the tradition of dressing up for the festival.

Tens of millions of people across Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, celebrated Eid with special prayers at mosques and in public spaces, including a large gathering in front of the Bajra Sandhi monument on the predominantly Hindu island Bali.

Elsewhere, hundreds of devotees — many dressed in white and wearing skull caps — turned out for prayers in front of the multi-domed Baiturrahman mosque in the Sumatran city of Banda Aceh.

Others knelt for morning prayers in the shadow of one of Indonesia’s most active volcano, Mount Sinabung, which has been rumbling since 2010.

AFP

Israel Denies Gaza Ceasefire But Calm Returns

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on May 27, 2018. MENAHEM KAHANA / POOL / AFP

 

Israel denied it has agreed to a ceasefire with Palestinian militants in Gaza as claimed by Hamas after the worst military flare-up since a 2014 war, but calm returned Wednesday and there were signs the latest crisis may be ending.

The exchange of fire on Tuesday and into the early hours of Wednesday had raised the possibility of yet another war in the beleaguered Palestinian enclave run by the Islamist movement Hamas, which would be the fourth since 2008.

Israel said it targeted some 65 militant sites in the Gaza Strip. It also said around 100 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza either exploded in Israel or were intercepted by air defences.

Three Israeli soldiers were wounded, one moderately and two lightly, the military said. There were no reports of casualties in Gaza.

Late Tuesday, an Islamic Jihad spokesman said a ceasefire had been reached, and on Wednesday senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya also spoke of an accord.

Calm returned to the Gaza Strip and nearby Israeli communities on Wednesday.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz denied talk of a deal, though a senior defence official reportedly said Israel would refrain from further strikes if there was no more fire from Gaza.

“Israel does not want the situation to deteriorate, but those who started the violence must stop it,” Katz told Israeli public radio.

“Israel will make (Hamas) pay for all fire against Israel.”

‘Should be outraged’ 

Tuesday’s violence followed weeks of deadly unrest along the border between Israel and the blockaded Palestinian enclave.

In a rare joint statement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared shared responsibility for the rocket and mortar fire, saying it was in retaliation for Israeli attacks targeting their positions.

Three Islamic Jihad members were killed in an Israeli strike Sunday, and the group vowed revenge. Islamic Jihad is the second-largest armed group in Gaza after Hamas.

The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet Wednesday to discuss the violence, following a US request for an urgent meeting.

“The Security Council should be outraged and respond to this latest bout of violence directed at innocent Israeli civilians,” US ambassador Nikki Haley said.

Kuwait, a non-permanent council member representing Arab countries, circulated a draft resolution calling “for the consideration of measures to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population”.

Early Tuesday, some 28 mortar shells were fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Israel said most were intercepted by its air defence systems but put residents in the area on high alert, ordering them to stay within 15 seconds of shelters.

One mortar shell exploded near a kindergarten building, a military spokesman said, damaging the structure. No children were present at the time.

It was the largest barrage fired from Gaza into Israel since a 2014 war and led to Israel’s biggest response since then.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed Tuesday to “respond to these attacks powerfully”.

Shortly after he spoke, Israel’s military began air strikes. Explosions shook the Palestinian enclave and smoke rose from the sites hit.

Later in the day, further rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza were intercepted or exploded in Israel, the army said.

It said some of the mortars fired were supplied by Iran.

On Tuesday night, a rocket hit an Israeli home near the Gaza border, but no one was hurt, the military said.

‘Any upcoming escalation’ 

Israel’s military said it hit “military targets” including a tunnel stretching into its territory, weapons stores and militant bases.

Hamas said in a statement Tuesday that “what the resistance carried out this morning comes within the framework of the natural right to defend our people”.

Tuesday’s incidents followed weeks of deadly demonstrations and clashes along the Gaza-Israel border, beginning on March 30.

The protests demanded that Palestinians who fled or were expelled in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation be allowed to return to their former homes, now inside Israel.

They peaked on May 14, when at least 61 Palestinians were killed in clashes as tens of thousands of Gazans protested the US transfer of its embassy in Israel to the disputed city of Jerusalem the same day.

Low-level demonstrations and clashes have continued since.

At least 122 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the unrest. No Israelis have been killed.

Israel says its actions are necessary to defend its borders, accusing Hamas of encouraging thousands of Palestinians to break through the border and attack Israelis.

But Israel has faced international criticism and calls for an independent investigation over its use of live fire during the protests and border clashes.

AFP

UN Vote On Syria Ceasefire Delayed

This file photo shows members of the UN Security Council voting on a resolution.
KENA BETANCUR / AFP

 

The United Nations Security Council on Friday delayed to 1700 GMT a vote on a draft resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, diplomats said.

Negotiations were continuing to avoid a Russia veto of the text that would establish a truce to allow humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

More than 400 civilians have been killed as Syrian regime air strikes and artillery fire pound the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, in one of the seven-year conflict’s bloodiest episodes.

 

Doctor, Rebels React To U.S.- Russian Ceasefire Deal

A U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire for southwest Syria was holding hours after it took effect on Sunday, a monitor and two rebel officials said, in the latest international attempt at peace-making in the six-year war.

The reactions to truce deal were mixed among residents of southwestern border city of Deraa, where government forces and their allies are trying to crush remaining pockets of rebellion.

Doctor Ziad Mahamid expressed hope the ceasefire would help end a battle dubbed “Death over Humiliation” between President Bashar al-Assad’s army and rebel groups seeking to obstruct the government army attempts to capture a strategic border crossing with Jordan.

Commanders of rebel groups are more sceptical, saying the ceasefire was deceiving and called it a partial solution for Syria.

The United States, Russia and Jordan reached a ceasefire and “de-escalation agreement” this week with the aim of paving the way for a broader, more robust truce.

Syrian Rebel Groups Suspend Planned Peace Talks

Syria CeasefireSome Syrian rebel groups say they are suspending participation in the preparations for peace talks initially planned by Russia and Turkey for later in January.

A statement, signed by a number of groups, revealed that the groups were seizing their participation due to a government-led assault on Wadi Barada, a rebel-held area near Damascus that is key to the capital’s water supply.

They said the region has been subjected to almost-daily attacks by Syrian forces and their Hezbollah allies.

The Syrian government on the other hand, says the area does not fall under the ceasefire agreement, given the presence of jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), which it says is excluded from the deal.

Turkey and Russia brokered the ceasefire deal last Thursday, and it has mostly held since then.

The peace talks are due to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan.

UN To Vote On Syria Ceasefire Deal

Syria Ceasefire Deal, United Nations, UNAs the Syria ceasefire deal comes into force, the United Nations Security Council is expected to vote on a Russian resolution endorsing the truce.

The resolution comes against a backdrop of deadlock among the veto-wielding members of the Security Council.

While Russia supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the US, UK and France have insisted that the President must step down as part of any deal to end the war.

The Russian resolution, however, called for rapid access for the delivery of humanitarian aid all over Syria.

BBC said the draft text also supported a political process to end the conflict, with talks between the government and opposition, brokered by Russia and Turkey said to be due in January in Kazakhstan.

The truce, which began barely 48 hours, has held in most places.

But there have been a number of clashes and air strikes while several groups including the Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front are excluded from the ceasefire deal.

Syria Ceasefire ‘Holding’ As It Enters First Full Day

Syria CeasefireReports from Syria say the cessation of hostilities that came into effect on Monday appears to be holding.

The deal, brokered by Russia and the US, has been described by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, as possibly the “last chance to save a united Syria”.

Residents in the troubled northern city of Aleppo said there had been calm in the city.

A monitoring group based in the United Kingdom, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has also confirmed that it appeared to be “quiet” on nearly all fronts.

However, there were reports of sporadic attacks carried out by both government forces and rebels after the ceasefire had come into effect.

The Syrian Army said the truce would be applied throughout Syria for seven days, but that it reserved the right to respond decisively to any violation by armed groups.