At least 130 Gazans hit by Israeli gunfire: Palestinian ministry

Medics evacuate a wounded youth from near the fence of the Gaza Strip border with Israel during a protest east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (AP)
Updated 20 October 2018
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At least 130 Gazans hit by Israeli gunfire: Palestinian ministry

  • Following calls to avoid an escalation in violence, the demonstrators largely kept their distance from the fortified frontier fence
  • More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave

GAZA CITY: At least 130 Palestinians were hit by Israeli gunfire Friday as thousands protested near Gaza’s border with Israel, the health ministry in the enclave said.
Following calls to avoid an escalation in violence, the demonstrators largely kept their distance from the fortified frontier fence.
But at least 130 Palestinians were injured by live fire in clashes with Israeli soldiers, the health ministry said.
An Israeli army spokesman told AFP that while most of the protesters stayed back from the fence, some came close and threw explosive devices and hand grenades at troops, while burning tires.
“The soldiers who were there responded with riot dispersal means, along with gunfire,” he said.
Since March, Palestinians have moved right up to the border fence every Friday and occasionally breached it, leading to clashes in which more than 200 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed.
While thousands again gathered for the latest protests in northern Gaza, the demonstrators largely remained at least 100 meters (yards) from the border.
An AFP correspondent said Hamas security officials in at least one location were seen discouraging protesters from nearing the fence.
Kites and balloons equipped with incendiary devices were launched across the border into southern Israel, and the Israeli army said one of its aircraft targeted a group of men launching balloons.
An Egyptian security delegation visited the Gaza Strip on Thursday and encouraged Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah to calm the protests, an Egyptian official said.
A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Egyptian security officials had held separate meetings in the past few days with Israeli counterparts and with Hamas leaders in an effort to prevent an escalation in violence.
United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov, in a tweet, also urged all sides “to exercise restraint, to proceed in a peaceful manner, and to avoid escalation.”
On Wednesday, two rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave at Israel, with one destroying a house in the southern city of Beersheba.
In response Israel ramped up armored forces along the Gaza border on Thursday and Israeli air strikes targeted around 20 Hamas targets in Gaza.
More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave. Israel pulled troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the past decade.


Militants kidnap Christian in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

Police pursued the kidnappers into the desert to which they fled after the incident. (AP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Militants kidnap Christian in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

  • The attack took place about 30 km west of El-Arish

CAIRO: Extremist militants on Thursday kidnapped a Christian man traveling in a taxi in the turbulent north of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, according to security officials, an incident that raises the specter of renewed attacks on minority Christians in the region after a two-year lull.

The officials did not identify the man, but said police pursued the kidnappers into the desert to which they fled after the incident, killing one of them and wounding two others in a firefight, but could not free the hostage. Two policemen were also wounded in the firefight, said the officials.

There was no word on whether any of the other passengers traveling in the taxi, a minibus, were harmed, suggesting that the kidnapping of the Christian man could have been planned. 

The attack took place about 30 km west of El-Arish, northern Sinai’s largest city, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

A spate of attacks on Christians in northern Sinai in late 2016 and early 2017 forced nearly 300 families to flee their homes there and find refuge elsewhere in Egypt. 

Those killed included a cleric, workers, a doctor and a merchant. The last Christian to be killed in Sinai was in January 2018, when militants gunned him down as he walked on the street in El-Arish.

The militants, now led by Daesh, say they are punishing the Christians for their support of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

The spiritual leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, whose ancient church is the country’s predominant Christian denomination, is a close ally of El-Sisi, who has made sectarian harmony a cornerstone of his domestic policy. 

El-Sisi’s patronage of the community has given Christians a measure of protection but did little to protect them from radicals, particularly in regions south of Cairo where Christians are a sizable minority.

Since 2016, Daesh militants have killed more than 100 Christians in attacks targeting churches and buses carrying pilgrims to remote desert monasteries. 

Also on Thursday, according to the officials, suspected militants sneaked into the parking lot of the main hospital in the city of Rafah on the Sinai border with the Gaza Strip and torched two vehicles before escaping. 

The incident was the latest in a recent spate of violent incidents in Rafah, most of whose residents have been evicted and compensated over the past year to deny the militants hiding places.

Nearly a year ago, the government threw into the battle against the Sinai militants thousands of troops, heavy armor, helicopter gunships and jet fighters in a bid to end the insurgency. 

The operation has significantly reduced the number of attacks and restored a near total normal life in El-Arish, on the Mediterranean coast.