Deadly Gaza flare-up threatens to derail peace efforts

Smoke billows from a building during Israeli air strikes on the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave on Monday night, November 12. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2018
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Deadly Gaza flare-up threatens to derail peace efforts

  • The flare-up came after a deadly Israeli special forces operation in the Gaza Strip
  • At least 231 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March 30 along the Gaza-Israel border

GAZA CITY: Renewed violence in Gaza threatened to thwart efforts to end months of unrest as Israeli air strikes killed three Palestinians and destroyed a Hamas TV building while a barrage of rocket fire from the enclave left one dead on Tuesday.
The flare-up came after a deadly Israeli special forces operation in the Gaza Strip on Sunday that led Hamas to vow revenge.
Israel’s military said it had so far struck more than 70 militant sites in response to over 300 rockets fired from the Hamas-run territory Monday afternoon into the night.
Missile defenses intercepted dozens of rockets from Gaza and most others fell in open areas, though some hit houses and other civilian structures, the military said.
One man was pulled dead from the ruins of a building in southern Israel, emergency services organization United Hatzalah said, adding that a woman recovered from the same building in the city of Ashkelon was in a critical state.
Medics had earlier reported around 20 Israelis wounded, while Gaza’s health ministry said three Palestinians were killed and nine wounded in the Israeli strikes.
Militant group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said two of those killed were its members and the third was from Islamic Jihad’s armed wing.
The outbreak of violence came after months of deadly unrest along the Gaza-Israel border had appeared to be calming.
Recent weeks have seen Israel allow Qatar to provide the Gaza Strip with millions of dollars in aid for salaries as well as fuel to help ease an electricity crisis.
Before the flare-up, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had defended his decision to allow Doha to transfer the cash despite criticism from within his own government, saying he wanted to avoid a war if it was not necessary.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008, and deadly clashes in recent months have raised fears of a fourth.
The army said Monday an Israeli bus was hit by an anti-tank missile from the Gaza Strip, causing several injuries. A soldier was severely wounded, it added.
Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, including Hamas, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire and the missile attack on the bus, which they said was being used by Israeli soldiers.
Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said he could not yet provide further details on the bus or its passengers.
The building for Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV was destroyed in an Israeli strike after a series of warning shots, with the Israeli army saying the station “contributes to Hamas’s military actions.”
No injuries were reported and workers were believed to have evacuated after the warning shots.
A former hotel in Gaza City used by Hamas as an internal security office was also hit in an Israeli strike, AFP journalists reported.
Gaza militants threatened another harsh response after the strike on the TV building and, according to police, more rockets landed in Ashkelon.
Hamas said the initial rocket fire was in revenge for the deadly Israeli operation late Sunday in the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday, a clash erupted during the covert operation that killed seven Palestinian militants, including a local commander for Hamas’s armed wing, as well as an Israeli army officer.
Netanyahu cut short a trip to Paris and rushed home as tensions rose, and on Monday convened a meeting of security chiefs.
UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who along with Egypt has been seeking a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, called the escalation “extremely dangerous” and said on Twitter that “restraint must be shown by all.”
Israel had stressed its covert operation on Sunday was an intelligence-gathering mission and “not an assassination or abduction,” but Hamas strongly denounced it and vowed revenge.
Israel’s military signaled that Sunday’s mission did not go as planned and resulted in the clash, which Palestinian officials said included Israeli air strikes.
Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said the Israeli special forces team had infiltrated near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip in a civilian car.
An exchange of fire followed in which local Al-Qassam commander Nour Baraka was killed along with another militant, it said.
The car then attempted to flee and Israeli aircraft provided covering fire.
Israel’s military declined to comment on the Al-Qassam account “because of the sensitive nature of the operation.”
A funeral was held for the seven Palestinian militants on Monday, attended by thousands, including masked Al-Qassam members carrying rifles, some firing into the air.
Violent clashes have accompanied major protests along the Gaza-Israel border that began on March 30.
At least 231 Palestinians have since been killed by Israeli fire, the majority shot during protests and clashes, while others died in tank fire or air strikes.
Two Israeli soldiers have been killed in that time.


Israel says located second ‘Hezbollah’ tunnel from Lebanon

UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vehicles patrol along the border with Israel near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila on Dec. 6. (AFP)
Updated 29 min 59 sec ago
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Israel says located second ‘Hezbollah’ tunnel from Lebanon

  • The tunnel crosses into Israel, like the first tunnel it is not yet operational, said Israel

JERUSALEM: Israel’s army said on Saturday it had located another tunnel crossing into its territory from Lebanon, the second such find since launching an operation to expose and destroy alleged Hezbollah “attack tunnels.”

“The IDF has located an additional Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel,” spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said, refusing to give details on its precise location or dimensions.

“The tunnel crosses into Israel, like the first tunnel it is not yet operational and does not pose an imminent threat to Israeli communities,” he said in a briefing with journalists.

On Tuesday, the army launched an operation dubbed “Northern Shield” to destroy tunnels it said were dug under the border by the militant group Hezbollah, sharing images of one found near the Israeli town of Metula.

Conricus said on Saturday that the army had placed explosives in the newly exposed tunnel to prevent its use as a means to infiltrate Israel, but had not yet destroyed it. He said the Israeli military had issued warnings in Arabic to residents of southern Lebanon to stay away.

Following the army’s announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the operation to track the tunnels “is in its beginning.”

“We’ll continue to act till its completion,” he said in a statement.

Conricus said the military was aware of a third tunnel leading from south Lebanon into Israel.

Despite not having its exact location, he said Israel asked UNIFIL, the UN mission monitoring the border region, to “take action and block the tunnel on the Lebanese side.”

The announcement of the new find came after Israeli soldiers on Saturday opened fire at what they perceived to be three “Hezbollah activists” approaching the border near Yiftah, south of Metula, where the army was carrying out engineering work.

Conricus said the army believed the three individuals intended to take sensors the Israeli soldiers had placed in the ground as part of their efforts to uncover tunnels.

Lebanon’s official NNA news agency said Israeli forces fired shots in the air east of the village of Mays Al-Jabal after they had been surprised because of heavy fog by a routine Lebanese army patrol.

Also Saturday, the Kremlin said Netanyahu called Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose forces are fighting on the same side as Hezbollah in Syria, to tell him about the tunnel operation.

Putin “stressed the need to ensure stability along the line separating Israel and Lebanon,” the Russian Embassy in Israel said.

Netanyahu’s office said he reiterated in the call “Israel’s policy to prevent the establishment of an Iranian presence in Syria and to act against Iranian and Hezbollah aggression.” 

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and deliveries of advanced arms to Hezbollah.

However, a friendly fire incident in Syria in September that led to the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli strike has complicated Israeli operations.

Iran-backed Hezbollah is the only group in Lebanon not to have disarmed after the country’s 1975-1990 civil war. Israel fought a war against Hezbollah in 2006 that was halted by a truce.