Hamas and Israel halt fire over Gaza after Egyptian mediation

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The relative of a man killed a day earlier in an Israeli air strike in Gaza after identifying his body at a hospital morgue in Beit Lahya. (AFP)
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The remains of a building that was destroyed by Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City. (Reuters)
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The remains of the building for Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV in Gaza. (AFP)
Updated 14 November 2018
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Hamas and Israel halt fire over Gaza after Egyptian mediation

  • An Israeli strike in the northern Gaza Strip killed a Palestinian on Tuesday
  • International mediators appealed for restraint, hoping to avert another war

GAZA: Palestinian militants and Israel held their fire late on Tuesday following an Egyptian mediation effort, bringing a relative calm to the Gaza frontier after the fiercest rocket salvoes and air strikes since the 2014 war.
The enemies made clear the pause was an armed stand-off rather than a long-term accommodation.
Fighting died down at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) and a Palestinian official briefed on the negotiations said Gaza factions ceased firing as part of a deal proposed by Egypt. Israeli officials confirmed Cairo had been involved in Tuesday's arrangement.
Since Monday, Israeli air strikes had killed seven Palestinians, at least five of them gunmen, and destroyed several buildings used by Gaza's ruling Hamas Islamists.
Rocket attacks from Gaza sent residents of southern Israel to shelters, wounding dozens and killing a Palestinian labourer from the occupied West Bank.

The flare-up was triggered by a botched Israeli commando incursion on Sunday but the surge of violence has been stoked by the economic plight of the Gaza Strip, which Israel blockades in hope of isolating Hamas, an Islamist movement designated a terrorist group by the West.
The exchanges were the fiercest since the Gaza war in 2014, the third between Israel and Hamas in a decade as part of the wider Israel-Palestinian conflict. In that 50-day war, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed Gaza, most of them civilians, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel.
The joint command of the Palestinian armed factions in Gaza said they would abide by a ceasefire "as long as the Zionist enemy does the same."
Hamas, which has ruled the packed and impoverished coastal enclave since 2007, claimed victory. Spokesman Abdel-Latif Al-Qanoua said the militants had "taught the enemy a harsh lesson and made it pay for its crimes."
Israeli security minister Yuval Steinitz said after a cabinet debate lasting several hours that he knew of no formal truce.
Rather, he told Ynet TV, Israel had "landed a harsh and unprecedented blow on Hamas and the terrorist groups in Gaza, and we will see if that will suffice or whether further blows will be required."
While many Palestinians celebrated in the streets, in Israel the response was mixed. Dozens of residents of bombarded southern villages blocked an Israeli traffic junction and burned tyres in protest at what they deemed a government capitulation.
Hamas and other armed factions fired over 400 rockets or mortar bombs across the fenced border after carrying out a surprise guided-missile attack on Monday on a bus that wounded an Israeli soldier, the military said.

The remains of the building for Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV in Gaza. (AFP)

Hamas said it was retaliating for a botched Israeli commando raid in Gaza that killed one of its commanders and six other gunmen on Sunday. An Israeli colonel was also killed in that incident.
Sirens rang out in southern Israeli towns on Tuesday and people ran for shelter after Palestinian rockets crashed into several homes overnight. The military said the Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted more than 100 projectiles.
Israel responded with dozens of air strikes, hitting buildings overnight that included a Hamas intelligence compound and the studios of Hamas’s Al-Aqsa Television, whose employees had received advance warnings from the military to evacuate.
In aerial attacks on Tuesday, Israel’s military said it took out a rocket-launching squad and fired at several Palestinians infiltrating through the border fence around Gaza, which Israel keeps under blockade.
Violence has simmered since Palestinians launched weekly border protests on March 30 to demand the easing of the blockade on Gaza and rights to lands lost in the 1948 war of Israel’s founding. Israeli troops have killed more that 220 Palestinians during the confrontations, which have included border breaches.
 

The remains of a building that was destroyed by Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City. (Reuters)

The overnight salvoes were the fiercest since the seven-week Gaza war in 2014 between Israel and Gaza militants. 
In Gaza City, people gathered in front of a large mound of debris that was once a multi-floor structure. It was flanked by five-story buildings still standing after the air strike, their shattered stone facades adding to the tall pile of rubble.
In the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, a video shot by a resident showed a bleeding woman, lying in the debris of an apartment and covered by dust, weakly raising her arm. She was taken to hospital in critical condition.
The body of a man, killed when a rocket hit the home, was next to her. He was identified by Israeli officials as a Palestinian from Halhoul, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israel Radio said he had a permit to work in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said on Sunday he hoped to avoid another Gaza war and reach an “arrangement” that would also ease Palestinian economic hardship, convened his security cabinet to discuss Israel’s next moves.
A Palestinian official said Egypt and the United Nations had stepped up efforts to end the current round of fighting.
“The (Palestinian factions) agreed to hold fire to give Egyptian efforts to end Israeli aggression a chance, but the factions will respond to every Israeli attack,” the official said.
Since the 2014 war, both Hamas and Israel have pulled back after brief bouts of fighting from another large-scale conflict.
A statement issued by militant groups in Gaza said Ashdod, a major Israeli port just north of Ashkelon, and Beersheba, the biggest city in southern Israel, would be hit next if Israel didn’t cease fire.
In Gaza, Israeli missiles flattened seven buildings, mostly in Gaza City including the TV station. Witnesses said warning missiles, which carry small warheads, were fired first.
Abdallah Abu Habboush, 22, said he was awakened by shouts from neighbors to get out of his residential building after what Israel terms the “tap on the roof” warning. They all gathered in a room on the first floor to wait out the attack.
“Old men who were with us fainted because of the smoke,” he said, adding that he had no idea why the structure was hit. Conricus said all of the buildings targeted by the Israeli military were “owned, operated and used by Hamas.”
Egypt, which borders Gaza to the south, urged Israel to back down. The United States, whose peace mediation has been stalled since the seven-week war in 2014, condemned Hamas.
Hamas, which is branded a terrorist group in the West, and Israel have fought three wars since the Islamist movement took control in Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from the small coastal territory.


‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

Updated 19 June 2019
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‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

  • Tehran regime has fanned sectarian flames in region for four decades, analyst tells Arab News
  • IRGC chief says Iranian missiles capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision

JEDDAH: Iran “will not wage war against any nation,” President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday — hours after two drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen targeted civilians in southern Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani's statement sounded a note of restraint after the United States announced more troop deployments to the Middle East.

“Iran will not wage war against any nation,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

But he was also contradicted by the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Hossein Salami, who said Iran’s ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

“These missiles can hit, with great precision, carriers in the sea ... they are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles,” Salami said.

He said Iran's ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

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Before both men spoke, Saudi air defenses intercepted and shot down two Houthi drones packed with explosives. One targeted a civilian area in the southern city of Abha, and the second was shot down in Yemeni air space. There were no casualties, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said.

Rouhani’s offer to avoid war was “the height of hypocrisy,” the Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“Rouhani is the biggest hypocrite in the world,” he said. “On the one hand, he is saying that Iran does not seek a conflict with anybody, and on the other it is launching attacks through its militias on oil tankers, oil pipelines, civilian airports and holy cities.

“This is nothing but the height of hypocrisy. Who does he think he is fooling with those words? Why are they enriching uranium? Why are they seeking nuclear bombs? What have they done over the past four decades? They have only caused trouble. They have only fanned sectarian flames in the region.”

The Saudi Cabinet, meeting in Jeddah, also condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians, and last week’s terrorist attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, widely blamed on Iran. 

 

Confrontation fears

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and its long-time foe the United States have mounted since Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, which Washington blamed on Tehran.

Iran denied involvement in the attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.

The standoff drew a call for caution from China. Its top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced US pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal.

Russia urged restraint on all sides.

On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged US forces to leave the region.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

The new US deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.


'Nuclear blackmail'

Iran’s announcement on Monday that it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal was denounced by a White House National Security Council spokesman as “nuclear blackmail.”

The move further undermines the nuclear pact, but Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.

Wang told reporters China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension.

“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.

“In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said. “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”

Wang also said the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and urged Iran to be prudent.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.

The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, was flawed as it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.