Israel hits Hamas posts in response to arson kites

A Palestinian artist holds a painting that will be displayed in the Arts and Crafts Village in Gaza, damaged by airstrikes. AFP
Updated 17 July 2018
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Israel hits Hamas posts in response to arson kites

  • The strikes came after the heaviest exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war
  • Israel hit dozens of sites it said belonged to militants in the Gaza Strip

JERUSALEM: An Israeli aircraft hit two Hamas posts in the Gaza Strip on Monday in response to balloons carrying firebombs over the border fence to burn Israeli farmland, the army said. The strikes signaled a tougher Israeli response to the hundreds of balloons and kites carrying firebombs that have been launched from the Gaza Strip since April.
Gazan security sources and residents said the strikes occurred in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip and caused no injuries.
Israel's army said the strikes targeted an area near where arson balloons were launched.
A spokesman for Israel's fire service said four fires had been started inside Israel on Monday due to the firebombs.
That was significantly less than the average of around 24 per day that had been occurring recently, said fire service spokesman Eli Cohen.
The strikes came after the heaviest exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war on Saturday.
Those Israeli airstrikes were partially in response to the months of fires started by the kite firebombs, but also over continuing protests and clashes along the Gaza border.
Israel hit dozens of sites it said belonged to militants in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing two Palestinian teenagers, while around 200 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from the Hamas-run enclave.
Hamas announced a ceasefire late Saturday, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the kite fires must stop.
"I have directed the (military) to defeat and stop the terror of incendiary kites and balloons, and we are in the midst of the process," Netanyahu said Monday while visiting the city of Sderot, where four people were wounded when a rocket hit a house on Saturday.
"There is an exchange of blows here. It is not over in one go."
Netanyahu visited a local kindergarten and pledged that Israel would put an end to the rocket fire and a Gaza militant campaign of sending incendiary kites and balloons across the border that have ignited fires damaging Israeli farms and nature reserves.
Hamas will face a "wall of steel" if it keeps up its aggression against Israel, Netanyahu warned, adding however that the threat won't disappear overnight.
"It doesn't end in one strike," Netanyahu said. "We know we are engaged in a lengthy battle."
The government is under pressure from local communities to show zero tolerance to the new threat from flaming kites and balloons, and Netanyahu told local leaders he has instructed the military to halt it completely.
"There is no such thing as a cease-fire that does not include the flaming kites and balloons," he said.
"If this is not understood through my words, it will be understood through the military's actions."
On Sunday evening, the military announced that following a "situation assessment" it reinforced its Iron Dome batteries in central Israel and in the country's south and called up a small number of reserve army soldiers. The Iron Dome shot down more than 20 projectiles over the weekend.


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 27 min 24 sec ago
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”