UN Official Urges ‘Political Process’ Amid Gaza Reconstruction

In this file photograph taken on September 5, 2018, Palestinian school children raise the victory gesture over a UN flag during a protest at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school, financed by US aid, in the Arroub refugee camp near Hebron in the occupied West Bank.  (Photo by HAZEM BADER / AFP)

 

A UN official in war-battered Gaza Sunday called for a “genuine political process” to avert further bloodshed after the military conflict between Israel and Islamist group Hamas that ravaged the Palestinian enclave.

As thousands of Gazans slowly tried to piece back together their lives, top UN staff visited the territory after an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire Friday halted 11 days of mutual bombardment.

On Sunday, in a badly-damaged district of Gaza city, volunteers swept up clouds of dust at the feet of collapsed buildings, while others shovelled debris onto the back of a donkey-drawn cart.

Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip since May 10 have killed more than 200 Palestinians, rendered thousands homeless and laid waste to buildings and key infrastructure across the blockaded territory.

It was the latest such bombardment to hit the crowded coastal strip of some two million people, after three previous wars with Israel since 2008.

– ‘No pause to breathe’ –

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, said the reconstruction needed to go hand in hand with efforts to create “a different political environment”.

“We need to have a genuine focus on human development,” on proper access to education, jobs and livelihoods, he said.

“But this needs to be accompanied by a genuine political process”.

Speaking earlier to a group of journalists, he said “the layers of hardship in Gaza keep getting thicker”, because the root causes of the conflict have not been addressed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking ahead of an imminent trip to the region, reaffirmed Washington’s support for a two-state solution so Israelis and Palestinians can live “with equal measures of security, of peace and dignity”.

Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, and have wounded over 1,900 people, the Gaza health ministry says.

Rockets from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian, and two Thai nationals, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel have been wounded.

There is controversy about how many of those killed in Gaza were combatants, and how many were civilians. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the bombing campaign had killed “more than 200 terrorists” in Gaza.

Lynn Hastings, of the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, said the intense bombing had devastated people’s mental health.

During the last war in 2014, “we had humanitarian pauses, where people were able to get out,” she said.

“That really speaks to the amount of trauma that was experienced this time, where there was absolutely no pause for people to breathe.

“The comments that I have heard are not ‘I need access to water’ — even though there are 800,000 people who don’t have access to clean water right now — but about the impacts on their lives overall and how they are ever going to recover from this,” she said.

– Aid deliveries –

Authorities Saturday started distributing tents and mattresses in the Gaza Strip, as OCHA said at least 6,000 people had been made homeless by the bombardment.

Lorries bringing much-needed medicine, food and fuel entered Gaza Friday through the Kerem Shalom crossing after Israel reopened it.

Peace talks have stalled since 2014, including over the status of occupied east Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The latest military escalation started after violent clashes in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

Israeli forces had moved in on Palestinian worshippers at the site, toward the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

They had also sought to quell protests against the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, to make way for Jewish settlers.

The clashes prompted Hamas to launch rockets from Gaza towards Israel on May 10, and Israel responded with air strikes.

On Sunday, Jewish visitors entered the Al-Aqsa compound for the first time in about three weeks.

Haim Elboim, 20, said visiting felt “very good”.

“This is the centre of the land of Israel. That’s why we created a Jewish state,” he said, of the establishment of the country in 1948 on land where Palestinians lived.

A Palestinian presidential spokesman warned the Israeli visits could “sabotage” the Gaza ceasefire.

Israeli police Friday fired stun grenades at worshippers in the Al-Aqsa compound, and beat an AFP photographer covering the unrest.

The incident was reminiscent of the tensions that sparked the latest round of conflict.

AFP

Gaza Wounded Taken To Egypt For Medical Treatment

Palestinians carry one of survivers from under the rubble of a building, after it was struck by Israeli strikes, in Gaza City, May 16, 2021. – Israeli forces pummeled the densely populated Gaza Strip, the sixth day of bombardments on the Palestinian enclave controlled by Islamist group Hamas, which fired back rocket barrages. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

 

Wounded Palestinians from Gaza were taken Sunday across the Rafah border crossing into Egypt for medical treatment as Israeli strikes continued to pummel the enclave, medical and border sources said.

Three convoys of 263 Palestinians — including those wounded in the latest strikes as well as students and travellers with serious ailments — crossed into Rafah in the restive North Sinai region, the sources said.

Israel imposed a land and sea blockade on Gaza after Islamist group Hamas seized control of the coastal strip in 2007.

Rafah is the only passage not controlled by Israel to the outside world for Gaza — a densely populated area of around two million Palestinians, half of whom live below the poverty line.

Egyptian authorities opened the crossing in February but it remains heavily secured and closed during public holidays.

READ ALSO: Israel Envoy Tells UN Conflict Was ‘Premeditated’ By Hamas

Egypt’s Red Crescent in North Sinai said Sunday on its Facebook page that medical emergency teams had been dispatched at the Egyptian side to help transport victims.

Tarek Tayel, Egypt’s ambassador in Ramallah, discussed with Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh Cairo’s “tireless efforts… to provide humanitarian support to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip,” the Egyptian foreign ministry said.

Israeli strikes killed more than 40 Palestinians in Gaza on Sunday, the worst reported daily death toll yet in the almost week-long fighting.

The strikes have come in retaliation to Palestinian group Hamas launching rockets on Israel, amid high tensions after Israeli police clashed with Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.

AFP

Israel-Palestinian Conflict Escalates As Rockets Fly, Street Violence Flares

Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm self-propelled howitzer towards the Gaza Strip from their position near the southern Israeli city of Sderot on May 13, 2021. Menahem KAHANA / AFP
Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm self-propelled howitzer towards the Gaza Strip from their position near the southern Israeli city of Sderot on May 13, 2021. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

 

Israel faced an escalating conflict on two fronts Thursday, scrambling to quell riots between Arabs and Jews on its own streets after days of exchanging deadly fire with Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Despite diplomatic efforts to halt the violence, which US President Joe Biden said he hoped would end “sooner than later”, hundreds of rockets tore through the skies over the Gaza Strip overnight.

Israel’s civil aviation authority said it had diverted all incoming passenger flights headed for Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport to Ramon airport in the south, due to the rocket fire.

Air raid warnings went off across Israel, including in the country’s north for the first time in years — which the army later said was a “false alarm”.

Israel’s air force launched multiple strikes, targeting what it described as locations linked to the “counterintelligence infrastructure” of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, as well as the house of Iyad Tayeb, one of the movement’s commanders.

In Gaza, 67 people have been killed so far — including 17 children — and nearly 400 wounded in days of near relentless Israeli air strikes.

Palestinian men stand amidst debris near the al-Sharouk tower, which housed the bureau of the Al-Aqsa television channel in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, after it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City, on May 13, 2021.  MOHAMMED ABED / AFP
Palestinian men stand amidst debris near the al-Sharouk tower, which housed the bureau of the Al-Aqsa television channel in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, after it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City, on May 13, 2021. MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

 

On Wednesday, Hamas announced the death of its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa, with the Israeli military saying it had killed three other senior figures as well.

Israeli strikes also destroyed a tower block housing Palestinian television channel Al-Aqsa, set up by Hamas.

Israel said Palestinian militants had launched around 1,600 rockets into its territory since Monday evening.

Seven people have been killed, including one six-year-old after a rocket struck the family home in southern Israel, the United Hatzalah volunteer rescue service said.

The past few days have seen the most intense hostilities in seven years between Israel and Gaza’s armed groups, triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

‘Pogrom’

Coinciding with the aerial bombardments is surging violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.

On Wednesday night, Israeli far-right groups took to the streets across the country, clashing with security forces and Arab Israelis.

Police said they had responded to violent incidents in multiple towns, including Lod, Acre and Haifa, confirming 374 arrests shortly past midnight.

A truck burns at the entrance of the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, where a state of emergency has been declared following civil unrest, on May 12, 2021.  Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP
A truck burns at the entrance of the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, where a state of emergency has been declared following civil unrest, on May 12, 2021. Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP

 

Israeli television aired footage of a far-right mob beating a man they considered an Arab until he lay unconscious on his back in a street in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv.

“The victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable,” Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital said, without identifying him.

A state of emergency has been declared in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, where a synagogue and other Jewish property has been torched and an Arab resident was shot dead.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a “pogrom” in which “an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob” had injured people and attacked sacred Jewish spaces.

In the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian man was killed during a confrontation with Israeli soldiers near the northern city of Nablus, the Palestinian health ministry said Thursday.

The death brings the number killed in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces in the West Bank to three on Wednesday alone.

“What has been happening these last few days in Israeli towns is unacceptable… Nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews and nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, adding that Israel was fighting a battle “on two fronts”.

Stalled diplomacy

The UN Security Council has already held two closed-door videoconferences since Monday, with the United States — a close Israel ally — opposing adoption of a joint declaration, which it said would not “help de-escalate” the situation.

Netanyahu spoke later Wednesday with Biden, who said: “Israel has a right to defend itself”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, urging an end to the rocket attacks.

Blinken had said earlier that a US envoy would travel to the Middle East to seek to calm tensions.

But the Israeli government has warned that “this is only the beginning”, and military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said strikes on Gaza would continue as Israel prepares for “multiple scenarios”.

“We have ground units that are prepared and are in various stages of preparing ground operations,” he told reporters Thursday.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has also threatened to step up attacks, warning that “if Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it”.

The crisis flared last Friday when weeks of tensions boiled over and Israeli riot police clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Nightly disturbances have since gripped Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, leaving more than 900 Palestinians injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem.

Fears Of ‘Full-Scale War’ As Israel-Palestinian Clashes Kill 56

A fire rages at sunrise in Khan Yunish following an Israeli airstrike on targets in the southern Gaza strip, early on May 12, 2021. PHOTO: YOUSSEF MASSOUD / AFP

 

Relentless rocket fire and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab towns fuelled growing fears Wednesday that violence between Israel and Palestinians that has claimed 56 lives could spiral into “full-scale war”.

Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz vowed more attacks on Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza to bring “total, long-term quiet” before considering a ceasefire.

Islamist militants have launched more than 1,000 rockets since Monday, said Israel’s army, which has launched hundreds of air strikes on Islamist groups in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza.

The most intense hostilities in seven years have killed at least 48 people in Gaza, including 14 children, three Palestinians in the West Bank, and five Israelis since Monday.

The bloodshed was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

As world powers voiced growing alarm and the UN Security Council readied for another emergency meeting on the bloody crisis, the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland warned that “we’re escalating towards a full-scale war”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in the mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli city of Lod, where police said “wide-scale riots erupted among some of the Arab residents”.

A heavily damaged house is pictured in a residential area in the city of Yehud, in central Israel, on May 12, 2021, after rockets were fired by the Hamas movement from the Gaza Strip. PHOTO: JACK GUEZ / AFP)

 

There were fears of widening civil unrest as protesters waving Palestinian flags burnt cars and properties, including a synagogue, clashed with Israeli police and attacked Jewish motorists in several Jewish-Arab towns.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a “pogrom” in which “an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob” had injured people and attacked sacred Jewish spaces.

Rivlin said Israelis needed “to be ready and armed, strong and determined, prepared to defend our home”.

 

– ‘Step back from the brink’ –

Palestinian groups, mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have launched more than 1,000 rockets, Israel’s army said, including hundreds at Tel Aviv, where air sirens wailed overnight.

Of these, 850 rockets have hit in Israel or been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system, while the rest have crashed inside Gaza, the army said.

Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes at Gaza, the Israeli-blockaded strip of two million people that Hamas controls, targeting what the army described as Palestinian “terror” sites.

At least 230 Palestinians and 100 Israelis have been wounded.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged both sides to “step back from the brink”.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, voiced concern at the escalation and said “crimes” may have been committed.

Bensouda announced in March that she had opened a full investigation into the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories, infuriating Israel, which not a member of The Hague-based court.

 

– ‘Everything caught fire’ –

Gantz earlier warned that “this is just the beginning” of Israel’s campaign, dubbed “Guardian of the Walls”.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh threatened to step up its operation, code-named “Sword of Jerusalem”, warning that “if Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it”.

Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said he expected the fighting to intensify and, when asked about unconfirmed reports that Hamas might seek a ceasefire, said: “I don’t think my commanders are aware, or particularly interested.”

Violence also flared in the occupied West Bank, where three Palestinians were killed, including two shot in clashes near Nablus and near Hebron.

In Gaza City, people sifted through debris after an Israeli air strike destroyed a 12-storey building near the coast. Hamas said the tower block had been a residential building. AFP reporters said it also housed the offices of several Hamas officials.

Five members of a single family were killed by an Israeli strike in northern Gaza Tuesday, including young brothers Ibrahim and Marwan, who were filling sacks of straw at the time.

“We were laughing and having fun when suddenly they began to bomb us. Everything around us caught fire,” their cousin, also called Ibrahim, told AFP.

“I saw my cousins set alight and torn to pieces,” said the 14-year-old, breaking down in tears.

 

– ‘We don’t have a safe room’ –

In Israel’s central city of Lod, a man and a girl were killed Wednesday by rocket fire from Gaza. Israel’s foreign ministry identified one of the dead as 16-year-old Nadin Awad, an Arab Israeli.

Her cousin, Ahmad Ismail, told public broadcaster Kan that he was near Nadin when she was killed alongside her father Khalil Awad, 52.

“I was at home, we heard the noise of the rocket. It happened so quickly. Even if we had wanted to run somewhere, we don’t have a safe room,” said Ismail.

An Israeli woman was killed when rockets hit Rishon Letzion near Tel Aviv. In Ashkelon, a town near Gaza which Hamas threatened to turn into “hell”, rockets fired by militants killed two women Tuesday.

The crisis started last Friday when weeks of tensions boiled over and Israeli riot police clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.

Nightly disturbances have since flared in east Jerusalem, leaving more than 900 Palestinians injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Large protests have been held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world, including in London, as well as in Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.

AFP

Hundreds Wounded In East Jerusalem Violence

Palestinian protesters hurl stones at Israeli security forces amid clashes in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 8, 2021. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

 

Tensions ran high Sunday in annexed east Jerusalem after hundreds of Palestinians were wounded in a weekend of clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces, sparking global concern that the unrest could spread further.

The violence around Jerusalem’s revered Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the Old City, mostly at night, is the worst since 2017, fuelled by a years-long bid by Jewish settlers to take over Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem.

Speaking ahead of a weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israel “would decisively and responsibly impose law and order in Jerusalem”, while preserving “freedom of worship for all religious.”

Tunisia’s foreign ministry said it has called for a meeting Monday of the UN Security Council to discuss the escalating violence.

Some 121 Palestinians were wounded in Saturday’s overnight clashes, many hit by rubber bullets and stun grenades, the Palestinian Red Crescent said in an updated toll.

Israeli police said 17 of its officers were wounded.

The previous night more than 220 people, again mostly Palestinians, were hurt after Israeli police stormed Al-Aqsa after they said Palestinians threw rocks and fireworks at officers.

READ ALSO: Man City Eye Title Glory As United Face Aston Villa

Four Arab countries that have normalised ties with Israel — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — all condemned the Israeli actions at Al-Aqsa, voicing support for Palestinians demonstrators.

Khartoum labelled Israeli measures in Jerusalem against Palestinians as “repression”, while Abu Dhabi urged Israeli authorities to “take responsibility for de-escalation.”

On Saturday night, thousands of Palestinians packed Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site which Jews revere as the Temple Mount, to hold special Ramadan prayers.

Israeli police set up roadblocks saying it wanted to limit access to the Old City and avoid “violent riots”, effectively preventing hundreds more from joining the prayers.

A bus heading to east Jerusalem was stopped and some Palestinians detained for questioning by police, an AFP reporter said, while hundreds of Palestinians marched on highways to the Holy City.

“They want to stop us from going to Al-Aqsa,” said Ali al-Komani, 40, outside the holy site.

– Heightened tensions –

Saturday’s Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Destiny) was a peak of the holy fasting month, believed to be the night when the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

The prayers at Al-Aqsa were held peacefully, but violence flared elsewhere in east Jerusalem, in the West Bank and on the border between the blockaded Gaza Strip and Israel.

Israeli mounted police deployed outside Damascus Gate, a key access point to the Old City of Jerusalem, as agents fired stun grenades to disperse Palestinian protesters.

Palestinians pelted riot police with stones and set fire to a makeshift barricade, and a woman with a bloody face was escorted away from the scene by a rescuer, reporters said.

Police said they detained nine people for “disrupting public order” and warned that “all means will be used to maintain calm”.

Police also dispersed a rally in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, where Palestinian families facing eviction from their homes in a dispute with Jewish settlers are expecting a Supreme Court decision on Monday.

Police fired stun grenades and water cannon at protesters who pelted them with stones, while a group of Palestinians clapped and sang “We will return”.

A reporter for Israeli public television tweeted footage of a Jewish driver whose car was attacked with stones and windows shattered at the entrance to Sheikh Jarrah.

“We are here, in the street, to say that we are not going to leave,” demonstrator Adnan, 20, told AFP.

“For years, settlers have attacked us and taken our land but silence is no longer an option.”

In Gaza, Palestinians packed tyres inside vehicles and drove to the border with Israel where they set them on fire. They also fired incendiary balloons Saturday across the frontier.

– Calls for calm –

The violence has sparked international calls for calm, as Israel defended its actions.

Pope Francis called for calm.

“Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes,” he said. “I pray so that this (Jerusalem) might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace.”

The Middle East Quartet of envoys from the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations expressed “deep concern” and called for restraint.

The United States has urged both sides to “avoid steps that exacerbate tensions”.

“This includes evictions in east Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions and acts of terrorism,” the State Department said.

Russia said the expropriation of land and property in the occupied Palestinian territories including east Jerusalem was “a violation of international law”.

Jordan, the custodian of holy sites in east Jerusalem, condemning Israel’s “barbaric attack”.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas voiced “full support for our heroes in Al-Aqsa”, and his rivals in the Islamist movement Hamas warned that “the resistance is ready to defend Al-Aqsa at any cost”.

AFP

Gaza Sees Spike In COVID-19 Cases

A Palestinian health worker administers a dose of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to a man, in Gaza City on February 22, 2021. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

 

Gaza’s health ministry said Wednesday that more than a thousand cases of coronavirus were recorded over the previous day, the highest daily infection toll in several months.

The spike in the coastal Palestinian enclave, controlled by Hamas Islamists since 2007, stands in contrast to the slowdown in infections in Israel, which maintains a tight blockade on Gaza.

“The epidemiological situation in the Gaza Strip is dangerous,” said Magdy Dahir, deputy director of primary care at the Gaza health ministry. “There is a clear increase in hospitalisations.”

In Gaza, 65,500 people have been infected with Covid-19 and 610 deaths recorded since the start of the pandemic.

The Hamas-run government, which imposed a 9:00 pm (1800 GMT) curfew on Saturday to curb transmission, has ordered new restrictions on gatherings beginning Wednesday, the Gaza Hotels and Restaurants Association said.

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But in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian Authority health minister Mai Al-Kaila told the official Voice of Palestine radio that the rate of increase was slowing, after a wave of infections packed local hospitals.

In the West Bank, more than 175,000 people have been infected and 2,004 deaths have been recorded.

The Palestinian health ministry announced that, as of Monday morning, more than 69,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had received one vaccine jab.

By contrast, more than half of Israel’s roughly 9.3 million residents have been inoculated with two Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

The latest daily increase in Israel was 442 cases, down from thousands of daily cases earlier in March.

Rights groups have called on Israel to supply vaccines to Palestinians.

Israel has given limited doses to some Palestinians, but it says the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the general vaccination campaign.

On Tuesday, the Israeli health ministry said it detected a new Israeli variant of the coronavirus. It said the strain was rare, and not more contagious or deadly than other variants.

AFP

Hezbollah, Hamas Chiefs Meet To Discuss Israel-Arab Ties

A handout picture released by the Hezbollah press office on September 6, 2020 shows Hassan Nasrallah (R), the head of Lebanon’s militant Shiite movement Hezbollah, meeting with Hamas’ political bureau chief Ismail Haniya (L) at an undisclosed location. (Photo by – / various sources / AFP)

 

Leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movement, both enemies of Israel, have met to discuss diplomatic normalisation between the Jewish state and Arab countries, a report said Sunday.

They stressed the “stability” of the “axis of resistance” against Israel, the Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV channel reported, without saying where or when the meeting took place.

Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement, was pictured meeting Ismail Haniyeh, who heads the political bureau of Hamas, the Islamist movement that control the Gaza Strip.

They discussed “political and military developments in Palestine, Lebanon and the region” and “the dangers to the Palestinian cause” including “Arab plans for normalisation” with Israel, Al-Manar said.

The meeting comes after an August 13 announcement that the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to normalise ties.

While the US-backed diplomatic drive aims to boost a regional alliance against Iran, Palestinians have condemned it as a “stab in the back” as they remain under occupation and don’t have their own state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country is in talks with other Arab and Muslim leaders now about normalising relations, following the deals with UAE and, decades ago, Egypt and Jordan.

Haniyeh has been in Lebanon since Wednesday, on his first visit to the country in nearly 30 years, for direct and video-conference talks with other Palestinian groups that oppose Israel’s diplomatic initiative.

Israel’s military has in recent weeks targeted Hamas in the Gaza Strip and what it says have been Hezbollah gunmen along its northern border with Lebanon.

It also regularly launches air strikes in war-torn Syria against what it says are Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militants fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Nasrallah has been living in a secret location for years and makes very few public appearances. He said in 2014 that he often changes his place of residence.

AFP

Egypt-Gaza Crossing Opens For First Time In Months

Palestinians prepare to leave Rafah border crossing with Egypt after months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 11, 2020 . (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

 

The only crossing between Gaza and Egypt opened on Tuesday for 72 hours, allowing people to leave the Palestinian enclave for the first time since the novel coronavirus outbreak began.

The Rafah crossing in southern Gaza was closed in March, as Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the strip, sought to guard against a major virus outbreak in the densely-populated territory with weak health infrastructure.

Rafah was opened for three days in April, but only to allow Gazans stranded abroad to return home. The crossing re-opened for limited two-way movement on Tuesday.

Gaza’s interior ministry spokesman Iyad Al-Bazam said people who hold foreign passports, foreign residency permits or emergency medical needs “will be allowed to leave”.

Hundreds of Gazans had assembled before dawn at a waiting room preparing to exit, AFP reporters said.

Gaza resident Hatem al-Mansi told AFP he needed medical care, but voiced concern about infection risks in Egypt, which has registered 95,000 COVID-19 cases, compared to just 81 in Gaza.

“There is a fear of being infected with COVID-19 in cars or buses in Egypt,” he told AFP. “In Gaza, we don’t have that problem.”

Gaza, under an Israeli-enforced blockade since 2007, was uniquely protected against the coronavirus since access was already tightly controlled before the outbreak.

But the dire economic conditions and a poor healthcare system, partly caused by the blockade, also made Gaza especially vulnerable to the virus.

Hamas has maintained tight restrictions throughout the pandemic.

Anyone returning from Egypt will be placed in a dedicated quarantine facility for three weeks, said the head of infection control at Gaza’s health ministry, Rami Al-Abadala.

“Every returnee will be given a mask and will be tested upon entry,” he said.

A large contingent of police, doctors and nurses were stationed at Rafah early Tuesday to accommodate the returnees.

AFP

Palestinian Minister Released After Claims Of Violating Israeli Laws

 

Israeli police Sunday released from custody the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs after questioning him over claims he organised activities in the city in violation of Israeli rules, his lawyer said.

Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs Fadi al-Hadami had been arrested in his east Jerusalem home early Sunday and taken for questioning, with a police spokesman saying he had been involved in unspecified “activities in Jerusalem”.

His lawyer Mohannad Jbara said the arrest was due to recent activities that have included accompanying Chile’s president during a visit to Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque complex.

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Jbara said Hadami was released Sunday afternoon.

On Tuesday, Hadami was seen alongside Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on a tour of the holy site.

This infuriated Israel, which said the tour constituted a violation of regulations and a breach of understandings reached with Santiago for the head of the state’s visit.

The status of Al-Aqsa, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and located above the Western Wall, is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest for Muslims after Mecca and Medina, administered by the Muslim Waqf but secured by Israeli police.

Chile later said Pinera’s visit was private, with Hadami’s presence not part of official protocol.

Hadami’s arrest also comes after days of violent unrest in Jerusalem.

Overnight Saturday, Israeli police “continued dealing with riots and disturbances in a number of neighbourhoods when stones were thrown at officers and fireworks fired at them,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a statement.

Two officers were wounded and six suspects arrested, Rosenfeld said.

The continued unrest follows the shooting of a 20-year-old Palestinian in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya by Israeli police after he had allegedly thrown fireworks at them.

The young man, identified as Mohammed Obeid, died of his wounds, the  Palestinian health ministry said.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.

Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

AFP

Palestinians Say Truce Reached With Israel To End Deadly Escalation

A picture taken on May 5, 2019, shows the remains of a building in Gaza City after it was hit during Israeli air strikes. Israel’s military carried out waves of retaliatory strikes in the Gaza Strip today after Palestinian rockets hit Israeli cities as a deadly escalation showed no signs of slowing, raising fears of war. MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

 

Palestinian leaders in Gaza announced a ceasefire with Israel on Monday to end a deadly two-day escalation in violence that threatened to widen into a fourth war between them since 2008.

An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the deal, but there appeared to have been no rocket fire or Israeli strikes in the hours after it was due to take effect, an AFP correspondent in Gaza said.

Israel also lifted restrictions on civilian movements in communities around the Gaza border on Monday morning.

Egypt brokered the agreement to cease hostilities from 4:30 am (0130 GMT), an official from the strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas and another from its allied group Islamic Jihad said on condition of anonymity.

An Egyptian official also confirmed the deal on condition of anonymity.

It came after the most serious flare-up in violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war.

The escalation began Saturday with massive rocket fire from Gaza, drawing waves of Israeli retaliatory strikes, and continued throughout Sunday.

At least 25 Palestinians, including at least nine militants, were killed.

Four Israelis civilians were also killed.

Sensitive Time

The flare-up came as Hamas sought further steps from Israel toward easing its blockade under a previous ceasefire brokered by Egypt and the United Nations.

Israel at the same time faced pressure to restore calm and put an end to the rockets hitting communities in the country’s south.

It commemorates the country’s Memorial and Independence Days later this week and is due to host the Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv from May 14-18, which is expected to draw thousands to Israel.

On the Gazan side, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began Monday.

Palestinian officials in Gaza accused Israel of not taking steps to ease its blockade as promised under previous ceasefire deals.

The Islamic Jihad official said the new truce agreement was again based on Israel easing its blockade.

Among the steps, he said, were the relaxing of limits on fishing and improvements in Gaza’s electricity and fuel situation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not address the ceasefire in a Monday statement, but said: “We’ve forcefully struck Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

“The battle is not over and demands patience and discretion,” he said.

Israeli opposition politicians — and at least one from Netanyahu’s own party — criticised the agreement.

Former military chief Benny Gantz, who challenged Netanyahu in Israel’s April 9 general elections, called it “capitulation to blackmail”.

Brink Of War

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008 and the escalation brought them to the brink of another.

The Palestinian dead included a commander for Hamas’s armed wing who Israel said it targeted due to his role in transferring money from Iran to militant groups in Gaza.

It was a rare admission of a targeted killing by Israel’s army.

Israel said its strikes were in response to Hamas and Islamic Jihad firing some 690 rockets or mortars since Saturday, with air defences intercepting more than 240 of them.

In addition to those killed and injured, the rockets repeatedly set off air raid alarms in southern Israel and sent residents running to shelters while also damaging houses.

The army said its tanks and planes hit some 350 militant targets in Gaza in response.

Several buildings in Gaza City were destroyed, including one Israel said included Hamas military intelligence and security offices.

Turkey said its state news agency Anadolu had an office in the building and strongly denounced the strike.

Gaza’s health ministry said the dead from the Israeli strikes included a 14-month-old baby and a pregnant woman, 37. It first identified the woman as the baby’s mother, but the family later clarified she was the aunt.

Israel strongly disputed the claim, with army spokesman Jonathan Conricus saying that based on intelligence the deaths of the woman and baby were not due to an Israeli strike.

“Their unfortunate death was not a result of (Israeli) weaponry but a Hamas rocket that was fired and exploded not where it was supposed to,” he said.

The Gazan ministry reported late Sunday that another four-month-old baby was among those killed in Israeli strikes in the northern Gaza Strip. Israel’s army had no comment.

On Sunday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad said their armed wings had targeted an Israeli army vehicle with a Kornet anti-tank missile.

Conricus said a Kornet missile had hit a vehicle and killed an Israeli civilian.

Calls for Calm

Egyptian and UN officials held talks throughout to reach a truce, as they have done repeatedly in the past, and there were international calls for calm.

US President Donald Trump meanwhile assured Israel on Sunday that it had Washington’s full support against “these terrorist acts”.

The escalation followed a gradual uptick in violence that threatened a previous ceasefire, including Friday clashes along the Gaza border that were the most violent in weeks.

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, brokered by Egypt and the United Nations, had led to relative calm around Israel’s election last month.

That truce saw Israel allow Qatar to provide millions of dollars in aid to Gaza, paying salaries and financing fuel purchases to ease severe electricity shortages.

Palestinian Stabs Israeli In West Bank Mall

Israeli forensic policemen inspect the place where an Israeli man was stabbed by a Palestinian near the entrance to a mall at the Gush Etzion junction, a settlement bloc next to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, on September 16, 2018. AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

 

A Palestinian fatally stabbed an Israeli-American man near the entrance to a mall in the occupied West Bank on Sunday before being shot and wounded at the end of a brief foot chase, officials said.

The man killed, Ari Fuld, was a right-wing activist who has appeared regularly on television, but a police spokesman said there was no indication he was targeted for that reason.

Fuld, 45, was a father of four who lived in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, near the mall where he was stabbed.

The Palestinian attacker was 17-year-old Khalil Jabareen, from the village of Yatta in the southern West Bank, according to Palestinian security sources.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Jabareen was moderately wounded.

The incident took place at the Gush Etzion Junction south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, according to Israel’s military, which provided the details of the stabbing.

Surveillance footage shared on news sites and social media showed the assailant approaching an older man near the mall entrance and stabbing him several times.

He is then pursued by civilians and shot nearby.

There is regular friction between Israelis and Palestinians at the junction, which lies near a major Israeli settlement bloc and has been the site of numerous lone-wolf Palestinian attacks.

Vocal defender of Israel 

Fuld created a Facebook page called “Israel Defense Page” and was a hardline defender of Israel in his television appearances.

During last year’s march by right-wing Israelis through east Jerusalem’s Old City to commemorate 50 years since Israel seized control of it in the Six-Day War, Fuld said it was a “miraculous day” for Jews.

“Today we are celebrating the unification of Jerusalem,” he said.

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said on Twitter that “America grieves as one of its citizens was brutally murdered by a Palestinian terrorist.”

“Ari Fuld was a passionate defender of Israel & an American patriot.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “in the name of every citizen of Israel, I send my condolences to the family of Ari Fuld, who was murdered today in a terrorist attack”.

“He was an advocate for Israel who fought to spread the truth about Israel.”

A wave of Palestinian knife attacks against Israelis broke out in 2015, but they have since become sporadic.

On September 3, a Palestinian wielding a knife approached an Israeli military checkpoint near the hardline Kiryat Arba settlement in the Hebron area and was shot dead by soldiers, according to the army.

In a stabbing attack on July 26 in the West Bank settlement of Adam, one Israeli was killed and two wounded. The 17-year-old Palestinian attacker was shot dead.

There are concerns that tensions between Israelis and Palestinians will increase this month as Jews celebrate their high holidays and pay more visits to holy sites.

In previous years, increased Jewish visits to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City — what Jews call the Temple Mount — have led to such tensions.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

While protests and clashes have continued at varying levels along the blockaded Gaza Strip border since March 30, the West Bank has remained relatively calm.

In the Gaza unrest, at least 179 Palestinians have been killed since March 30. One Israeli soldier has been killed in the Gaza border area since then.

Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, of seeking to use the protests to carry out attacks or infiltrations.

It says its actions are necessary to defend the border.

Palestinians and rights groups say protesters have been shot while posing little threat.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

AFP

Palestinian Wounded In Gaza Border Protests Dies

A Palestinian man hurls a stone during clashes with Israeli forces on May 15, 2018 near the border fence with Israel east of Jabalia in the central Gaza Strip.  MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

 

A Palestinian shot by Israeli forces on the Gaza border four months ago has died, the health ministry in the coastal enclave has said.

Ahmed al-Ayeda, 17, was shot on March 30 — the first day of months of protests and clashes along the border — the ministry said in a statement late Sunday.

He had been in critical condition since being shot east of Bureij in the central Gaza Strip.

At least 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began.

One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

The protests are calling for Palestinians to be able to return to the land they or their families fled in the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.

Israel says any such return would mean the end of it as a Jewish state.

Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas have fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

The United Nations and Egypt are currently trying to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas for a lasting truce.

AFP