Israeli gunfire in new Gaza border protest kills 4 Palestinians

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Palestinian protesters fly a kite with a burning rag dangling from its tail during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday. (AP)
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Palestinians gather at the site of protest tents next to the Gaza Strip's border fence with Israel, east of Gaza city, on April 20, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 21 April 2018
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Israeli gunfire in new Gaza border protest kills 4 Palestinians

  • Thousands of Gazans were gathered on Friday at various locations along the border in the Gaza Strip, calling for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their former lands in what is now Israel.
  • Israel is accusing the Palestinian movement Hamas of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.

GAZA: Thousands of Palestinians joined the fourth weekly protest on Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday, some burning tires or flying kites with flaming rags dangling from their tails. Atleast four Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops firing from across the border fence, health officials said.

Huge black plumes of smoke from the blazing tires engulfed the area, as Israeli troops fired tear gas and live bullets, witnesses said. Gaza’s Health Ministry said 40 protesters were injured, but did not say how many of those were wounded by gunfire or overcome by tear gas.

The protests are part of what organizers, led by Gaza’s ruling Hamas group, have billed as an escalating showdown with Israel, to culminate in a mass march on May 15. Organizers have made conflicting statements about whether they plan an eventual mass border breach.

In the past three weeks, 34 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli troops firing from across the border fence.

In addition, four Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, were shot and killed in a border area in northern Gaza, the Health Ministry said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Hamas says the protests are aimed at breaking a crippling border blockade that was imposed by Israel and Egypt after the group overran Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian Parliament elections.

 

Catastrophe

The marches also press for a “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from homes in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation. Palestinians mark May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s founding, as their “nakba,” or catastrophe, to mourn their mass uprooting.

“We will stay here until we reclaim our lands,” said Ahmed Nasman, 21, speaking in a protest tent camp east of Gaza City, as activists near him prepared kites. “Every day, we will come here with a new way to resist them,” he said, referring to Israel.

Several thousand protesters flocked to the border area Friday, most gathering in five tent camps several hundred meters away from the border. Smaller groups advanced toward the fence, throwing stones, burning tires and flying kites with burning rags.

The kites are part of a new tactic aimed at setting fields on the Israeli side on fire. Most kites were stitched together in the colors of the Palestinian flag. One white kite bore the Nazi swastika.

Earlier Friday, Israeli military aircraft had dropped leaflets urging Palestinians to stay away from the fence and warning that they endanger their lives if they follow Hamas directives.

The military has said it is defending Israel’s border and that its troops, including snipers, only target “instigators.” It has also accused Hamas of using mass protests as a cover for attacks.

Israel has faced international criticism for its response to the mass marches. Rights groups have branded open-fire orders as unlawful, saying they effectively permit soldiers to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters.

White House envoy Jason Greenblatt, a member of President Donald Trump’s Mideast team, said on social media that Palestinians in Gaza have a “right to protest their dire humanitarian circumstances.”

Organizers “should focus on that message, not stoke the potential for more violence with firebombs and flaming kites, and must keep a safe distance from the border,” said Greenblatt, adding that “the cost of these demonstrations is too high in loss of life and injuries.”

While Hamas and smaller Palestinian factions have taken a lead as organizers, the mass marches are also fueled by growing desperation among Gaza’s 2 million residents.

The border blockade has trapped nearly all of them in the tiny coastal territory, gutted the economy and deepened poverty. Gaza residents typically get fewer than five hours of electricity per day, while unemployment has soared above 40 percent.


Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 20 July 2019
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Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

  • Hazza Al-Mansoori 'living a dream' as he and backup astronaut train for space mission in September
  • Soyuz-MS 15 launch could be the beginning of a bold new era of Arab exploration of space

DUBAI: More than 30 years after an Arab first journeyed into space, an  Emirati is preparing to become the latest Arab space traveler when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in September.

For months, Hazza Al-Mansoori and backup pilot Sultan Al-Neyadi have been undergoing intensive training in Russia, Germany and the US to prepare for the mission. The first Emirati to travel into space will make the historic journey on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

During the eight-day mission, he will conduct a tour of the ISS for Arabic viewers on Earth and carry out 15 experiments for the Science in Space schools competition conducted by Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.

The crew, who will include an American and a Russian, are allowed to take up to 1 kg of personal items with them on the mission.

“I will take my family photo and share the experience of being in space with them,” Al-Mansoori said. There will also be an image of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, meeting American astronauts in 1976.

“I am also going to take an Emirati flag. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.”

‘I will take an Emirati flag into space. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.’

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori

Al-Mansoori will join an elite space club comprising Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman and Syria’s Muhammed Faris. Prince Sultan became the first Arab to travel to space as part of space shuttle Discovery’s crew in 1985. Faris was a crew member of USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987.

The Emirati astronaut is aware that history is resting on his shoulders. Speaking to the media recently during his training program in Houston, Al-Mansoori  said it is a huge personal honor to be the first Emirati chosen for space exploration.

“I’m excited about the whole mission, but especially to experience the microgravity and be living in the ISS, and conducting daily experiments and working with the amazing group on board,” he said.

Al-Mansoori and Al-Neyadi have been undergoing rigorous training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program includes familiarization with NASA equipment on board the space station, and handling emergency situations, such as ammonia gas leaks and depressurization.

The Emiratis have been trained to fend for themselves if the return goes off course and they land in the wilderness of Russia.

Speaking of the Soyuz-MS 15 mission, Yousuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “We strive to see the UAE Astronaut Program achieve its objective of preparing generations of Emiratis who will contribute to enhancing the country’s position in space science and research to serve the ambitious aspirations aimed at building a national knowledge-based economy.”

The September launch could prove to be the beginning of a bold new era for Arabs and space. Al-Neyadi, the backup pilot, has been promised a seat on a future mission, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are drawing up ambitious plans for the development of the region’s space industry.