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.


US downgrades Palestinian mission into Israel embassy

Updated 5 min 14 sec ago
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US downgrades Palestinian mission into Israel embassy

WASHINGTON: The United States downgraded its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians on Thursday, placing it under the authority of the US embassy to Israel.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the consulate general, a separate office which handled dealings with the Palestinians, would be replaced by a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the controversial new US embassy in Jerusalem.
The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is reviled by Palestinians over his support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership.
The change, quickly condemned by the Palestinians, follows a series of setbacks for them at the hands of President Donald Trump, who has turned US policy sharply toward Israel.
Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel.
“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. It does not signal a change of US policy,” Pompeo said in a statement.
He said the United States “continues to take no position” on how any peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians would take shape.
The Palestinian leadership rejected Pompeo’s “efficiency” explanation.
The decision has “a lot to do with pleasing an ideological US team that is willing to disband the foundations of American foreign policy, and of the international system, in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes,” the Palestinians’ chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
“The Trump administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he added.
International powers have for decades maintained separate and autonomous representations to Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of supporting the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.
They have insisted that the status of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians see as their capital, should be negotiated between the parties as part of any end deal.
Last December, Trump reversed longstanding US policy and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to boycott his administration.
The embassy was officially transferred on May 14.
Since then, the Trump administration has forced the Palestinians to shutter their Washington mission and has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, in a bid to force them to the negotiating table.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, alongside Friedman and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been working for months on a still-secret peace proposal, which Palestinians fear will be overly one-sided toward Israel.
The move Thursday nearly closes off all direct diplomatic contacts between the United States and the Palestinians, analysts said.
Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the US would be the only major power without a separate, independent representative office for the Palestinians.
“Other countries have gone to great lengths to avoid having the same representatives to Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he told AFP.
Robert Danin, a former senior US government official dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues, said the move was a victory for “hard right partisans” who have sought to eliminate the Palestinian-focused consulate general “for decades.”
The consulate general “is THE eyes and ears into Palestinian politics and society. Its independence from US Embassy Israel provided Washington w/solid, unvarnished reporting and analysis,” he said on Twitter.
But Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor with the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and advocate for the embassy move, said the decision was more evidence the US considered Jerusalem to be fully part of Israel.
“This step confirms that the US recognizes the entire city as Israel’s capital,” he said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended the move, saying the new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the embassy would maintain contacts with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem at the same level as before the change.
“We value our relationship with the Palestinian people. We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with them and, we hope in future, with the Palestinian leadership,” she said via Twitter.