Israeli fire kills 2 in Gaza after blast wounds soldiers

Israeli soldiers and their tanks are seen monitoring the area of the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nir Am, near the border with Gaza. Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, after four soldiers were wounded in an apparent bomb attack on the border with the Palestinian enclave. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018
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Israeli fire kills 2 in Gaza after blast wounds soldiers

GAZA CITY: Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian teenagers in the Gaza Strip, medical sources said Sunday, as tensions rose after an apparent bomb attack that wounded several Israeli soldiers on the enclave's border.
The Saturday explosion and ensuing Israeli air strikes marked one of the most serious escalations in the Hamas-ruled territory since the group and Israel fought a war in 2014.
Israel's army said it attacked "18 terror targets belonging to the Hamas terror organisation" in two waves of air strikes.
"Eight targets were attacked in a military compound near Deir el Balah, which belongs to the Hamas terror organisation, including weapon-manufacturing and training infrastructures," it said in a statement.
Earlier the army said fighter jets had targeted "six military targets in Gaza belonging to Hamas, including: a terror tunnel in the Zaytun area and military compounds near Deir el-Balah and Khan Yunis".
Two Palestinians were injured in air strikes which hit three bases belonging to Hamas in the east of the blockaded Gaza enclave, Palestinian sources said.
Speaking at a security conference in Munich late Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called the border blast "very serious" and pledged to "respond appropriately".
According to witnesses, the two dead Palestinians were shot by Israeli forces near the border on Saturday.
They were identified by the Gaza health ministry as Salam Sabah and Abdullah Abu Sheikha, both 17, who were killed east of Rafah in the south of the enclave.
The Israeli army said that its forces had fired "warning shots" at a number of Palestinians approaching the border fence "in a suspicious manner".
Four Israeli soldiers were wounded, two severely, when an improvised explosive device blew up along the Gaza border fence, but none of their lives were in danger, the army said.
A hospital spokeswoman later said that the condition of one of those seriously wounded had improved.
Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said a "rogue group" had claimed responsibility for the bomb blast, likely indicating one of the more radical groups who are present in Gaza.
But he insisted that "from our point of view Hamas is responsible" and said the explosive had been planted during a protest arranged by the group on Friday.
According to Conricus, Israeli soldiers saw a flag on a pole on the Gazan side of the border fence, with the device exploding when one of them grabbed it.
According to Palestinian security sources, the explosion took place east of the city of Khan Yunis.
In response Israeli forces said a tank promptly opened fire at an "observation post" in southern Gaza, causing no injuries on the Palestinian side.
A projectile launched from the Gaza Strip hit near a home in a southern Israeli community, damaging a building but causing no injuries, Israeli authorities said.
A second was fired on Sunday night, hitting an Israeli house near Sderot also without causing any casualties, the Israeli army said.
Israel holds the Palestinian movement Hamas responsible for any fire from the blockaded coastal enclave.
The Israeli army responds automatically to any strikes on its territory, generally targeting Hamas facilities.
Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said it had fired at Israeli jets overhead. Conricus denied the claim.
Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008, and the last conflict in 2014 was waged in part over tunnels from Gaza that were used to launch attacks.
Israel hit Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip repeatedly in early February, saying Palestinians there had fired a rocket into its territory.
Tensions between the Palestinians and Israel have been high since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state in December.
Netanyahu will visit the White House next month, a senior US administration official told AFP on Friday.
The March 5 visit comes as Netanyahu faces a scandal that has seen police recommend he be indicted for graft.


Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

Updated 5 min 15 sec ago
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Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

MANILA: Former Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has been indicted in a $1.35 billion criminal case over his failure to get congressional approval to use state funds to jump-start major government projects, authorities said Wednesday.
The money became a source of controversy during Aquino’s term from 2010-2016, with critics claiming he used it to barter for favors from legislators. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
The charge, filed last week by a special anti-corruption prosecutor but only made public Wednesday, alleges that Aquino violated the constitution’s separation of powers.
In the indictment, prosecutor Conchita Morales alleged Aquino wrote a series of instructions to his budget minister to funnel 72 billion pesos ($1.35 billion) into a special initiative in June 2012.
“Without the approval of the said memoranda by respondent Aquino, (the budget ministry’s fund release order) would not have been issued,” Morales said in a statement.
Aquino branded the initiative, the “Disbursement Allocation Program,” an attempt to speed up public spending in the notoriously bureaucratic nation in order to boost economic growth.
The scheme redirected money left unspent in agencies’ budgets to other parts of the government that needed funding for projects.
The program began in 2012 but Aquino was forced to halt it two years later, after the Supreme Court ruled it violated a constitutional provision which gives the legislature sole power to authorize government spending.
Aquino had yet to receive a copy of the indictment alleging “usurpation of legislative powers,” his spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.
“We’re quite curious to study how the (prosecutor) arrived at a reversal of its previous decision finding no liability on the part of former president Aquino,” Valte added.
The prosecutor dropped the case in 2015, but reversed herself following an appeal by a group of legislators and anti-corruption campaigners.
If convicted, Aquino could face up to two years and four months behind bars.
Both of Aquino’s predecessors were hit with charges after their terms ended.
Joseph Estrada, a populist movie star who swept to a landslide electoral win in 1998, was arrested in 2001 shortly after a bloodless popular revolt cut short his six-year mandate.
A court sentenced him to life in prison for plunder in 2007, but he won a pardon from his successor Gloria Arroyo less than six weeks later.
Arroyo, who ruled for nine years, was arrested in 2010 and charged with rigging the 2007 senatorial election, a case which carries a life sentence but which remains under trial.
She was released from nearly five years in detention in 2016, shortly after Rodrigo Duterte was elected president, when the Supreme Court acquitted her on charges of misusing 366 million pesos in state lottery funds.