Rocket barrages, Israeli strikes threaten new Gaza war

Relatives of Mohammed Ouda, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike, mourn during his funeral in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 14 November 2018
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Rocket barrages, Israeli strikes threaten new Gaza war

  • Schools were closed in the Gaza Strip and in southern Israel as both sides warned the other that it would respond forcefully to any further violence
  • The military says it has so far struck some 150 targets in the Gaza Strip

GAZA: Hamas and other Gaza militant groups said Tuesday they have accepted an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire after launching hundreds of rockets into Israel over the past 24 hours and weathering a wave of Israeli airstrikes.
There was no immediate word from Israel on whether it had accepted a deal to halt the heaviest exchange of fire with Gaza’s Hamas rulers since a 2014 war.
Just an hour before the militants made their declaration, the Israeli Security Cabinet said it had ordered the military to “continue operations as needed,” following a six-hour meeting.
The cease-fire was announced by a group of Gaza militant groups, including Hamas, whose leader Ismail Haniyeh earlier signaled a readiness to halt the latest round of fighting. He said the Islamic militant group would stop its rocket fire if Israel halts its airstrikes.
The worst escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war threatened to descend into full-blown conflict on Tuesday after further barrages of rocket fire and dozens more airstrikes overnight.
Six Palestinians were killed in Gaza in less than 24 hours as Israeli strikes targeted militants and flattened buildings while sending fireballs and plumes of smoke into the sky.

Sirens wailed in southern Israel and tens of thousands of residents took cover in shelters as around 400 rockets and mortar rounds were fired from the Gaza Strip, wounding 27 people, including three severely.
A Palestinian laborer from the occupied West Bank was killed when a rocket hit a building in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
Schools were closed in the Gaza Strip and in southern Israel as both sides warned the other that it would respond forcefully to any further violence.
A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, Abu Obeida, threatened to further expand its targets “if the enemy continues to bomb civilian buildings.”
Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said: “What we have signaled to Hamas over this night is that we have the intelligence and capabilities to strike a very wide range of military targets that belong to Hamas.”
Egypt, which has negotiated cease-fires following previous flare-ups, was said to be seeking to restore calm.
UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who along with Egypt had 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.”
The latest round of violence began on Sunday with a botched Israeli special forces operation inside the Gaza Strip that turned deadly and prompted Hamas to vow revenge.
The clash that resulted from the blown covert operation killed seven Palestinian militants, including a local Hamas military commander, as well as an Israeli army officer.
Palestinian militants responded with rocket and mortar fire, as well as an anti-tank missile that hit a bus that Hamas says was being used by Israeli soldiers. A soldier was severely wounded in the attack.
Missile defenses intercepted more than 100 rockets from Gaza and most others fell in open areas, though some hit houses and other civilian structures.
“Within two seconds (after air sirens) we heard a huge boom, we saw our curtains flying in the air, windows (broken), and only after a few minutes when we went out, we realized that the missile had hit the building next to us,” said Claude Bonfito, who lives near a block of flats hit by a rocket in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
Israel hit back with major airstrikes, with targets including Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV station and internal security headquarters in Gaza City.
The military says it has so far struck some 150 targets in the Gaza Strip.
“What happened was like an earthquake,” said Abu Ayman Lemzeni, who lives near the destroyed TV building.
“As you see, here there is no more the grocery, the pharmacy, the office, the wall, the building.”
Five of the dead in Gaza were claimed as members of various militant groups. Some 25 other people were wounded in the Palestinian territory, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
After Sunday’s clash, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Paris and flew home.
He convened a meeting of his security Cabinet on Tuesday.
The escalation has come despite Netanyahu’s decision to allow Qatar to transfer millions of dollars in aid to the Gaza Strip for salaries as well as fuel to ease an electricity shortage.
The agreements had led to calmer protests along the Gaza border after months of deadly unrest.
Sunday’s special forces operation and resulting clash upset those efforts, leading to questions over the timing of the covert Israeli move.
Israel said it was an intelligence-gathering operation and that those efforts must continue to defend the country.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008, and protests and clashes along the Gaza border since March 30 have repeatedly raised fears of a fourth.
At least 233 Palestinians in Gaza have since been killed by Israeli fire, the majority during protests and clashes.
Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period.


Daesh ‘caliphate’ on brink of defeat in Syria as Trump urges Europe to do more

Updated 21 min 3 sec ago
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Daesh ‘caliphate’ on brink of defeat in Syria as Trump urges Europe to do more

  • “The Caliphate is ready to fall,” he said in a Tweet
  • US-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture Daesh’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates

NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria: US-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture Daesh’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates, the battle commander said on Saturday, bringing its self-declared caliphate to the brink of total defeat as US President Donald Trump spoke of “100 percent victory”.
Jiya Furat said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had cornered the remaining militants in a neighborhood of Baghouz village near the Iraqi border, under fire from all sides.
“In the coming few days, in a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Daesh.
He was speaking after said on Friday there would be “great announcements” about Syria over the next 24 hours.
Trump on Saturday said the caliphate was “ready to fall and that the United States was asking European allies to take back more than 800 Daesh fighters captured in Syria and put them on trial.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” he said in a Tweet. “The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them...
“....The US does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go. We do so much, and spend so much - Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!”
Trump has sworn to pull US forces from Syria after Daesh’s territorial defeat, raising questions over the fate of Washington’s Kurdish allies and Turkish involvement in northeast Syria.
As the SDF advanced under heavy US airstrikes in recent days, a stream of civilians fled the few square miles of hamlets and farmland that remain within Daesh’s ‘caliphate’, along with defeated jihadists trying to escape unnoticed.
Though Daesh fighters still hold out in a pocket of central Syria’s remote desert, and have gone underground as sleeper cells in Iraqi cities, able to launch new attacks, their territorial rule is, for now, almost over.
It ends a project launched from the great mediaeval mosque of Mosul in northern Iraq in 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seized advantage of regional chaos to proclaim himself caliph, suzerain over all Muslim people and land.
He set up a governing system with courts, a currency and flag that at its height stretched from northwest Syria almost to Baghdad, encompassing some two million inhabitants.
Human shields
But its reign of terror over minorities and other perceived enemies, marked by massacres, sexual slavery and the beheading of hostages, drew a forceful international military response that pushed it steadily back from 2015.
Most of the fighters left in Baghouz are foreigners, the SDF has said, among the thousands drawn by Baghdadi’s promise of a new jihadist utopia straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border and expunging national borders.
All that remains, said Furat, is an encircled pocket some 700 meters square. “Thousands of civilians are still trapped there as human shields,” he said.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the SDF had taken control of all of Baghouz after the jihadists there surrendered. SDF officials denied this.
Spokesman Mustafa Bali said the SDF had caught several militants trying to flee among the civilians. Others had handed themselves over.
Their fate, and that of their families, has befuddled foreign governments, with few ready to repatriate citizens who pledged allegiance to a group sworn to their destruction, but who might be hard to legally prosecute. The SDF does not want to hold them indefinitely.
The fate of Baghdadi is also a mystery. He has led the group since 2010, when it was still an underground al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq.
Still a threat
Its capacity then for strategic retreats in hard times, followed by rebounds when circumstances changed, has prompted numerous warnings that Daesh’s defeat has not ended the threat it poses to the region.
Daesh suffered crippling defeats in 2017, when Iraq recaptured Mosul, the SDF seized its Syrian capital of Raqqa, and the Damascus government pushed it east to the Euphrates.
But in Iraq it has switched to guerrilla hit-and-run tactics, aimed at undermining the Baghdad government. It has also claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in swathes of northeast Syria held by the SDF, including one last month that killed four Americans.
That attack came soon after Trump pledged to pull out, saying Daesh was already defeated, rattling allies and prompting defense secretary Jim Mattis to resign.
Turkey, which regards the SDF’s strongest component, the Kurdish YPG, as terrorists, has threatened to march deeper into northern Syria to drive it back.
On Friday US Army General Joseph Votel, who oversees US forces in the Middle East as head of Central Command, said the end of the territorial caliphate would lead to a more dispersed, harder-to-detect network of fighters waging guerrilla warfare.
That should require continued help from Washington, he said.