On both sides, residents prepare for worst

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Israeli soldiers gather around Merkava tanks stationed along the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on November 13 2018. (AFP)
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Palestinians survey a destroyed residential building hit by Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (AP)
Updated 14 November 2018

On both sides, residents prepare for worst

  • In Gaza, a number of buildings destroyed in the last war with Israel in 2014 still have not been rebuilt
  • The streets of Gaza City, usually bustling and noisy, were deserted on Tuesday morning

GAZA: Israeli strikes kept Palestinians in Gaza on edge throughout the night over whether another devastating war was beginning, while tens of thousands of Israelis took refuge in shelters as rockets rained down.
“What happened was like an earthquake,” said Abu Ayman Lemzeni, who lives near Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV building in Gaza City destroyed by an Israeli strike.
“As you see, here there is no more the grocery, the pharmacy, the office, the wall, the building.”
“The children are afraid. They are terrorized,” said Gaza resident Jamal Murtaja. “We could not sleep last night or this morning.”
Many had only a short time to flee their homes and found themselves in the street due to a lack of secure shelters. “As soon as we saw the missiles, we ran outside the house,” said Mohammed Aboud, who lives near the former Al-Amal Hotel building.
“We are civilians. We don’t have guns or rockets.”
Just 20 km away, on the other side of Israel’s heavily guarded security fence, the more than 128,000 residents of the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon spent the night under rocket fire. “The girls are traumatized. It’s not possible,” said father of three Meir Edery.
Edery and his family took refuge in a shelter. A police spokesman said Israelis in Ashkelon have little more than 30 seconds to reach a secure location once an alert sounds.
“We are demanding that the government give us the ability to raise our children securely,” Edery said. “It’s our most basic right.”
Behind him, neighbors called out “destroy Hamas,” the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and with whom Israel has fought three wars since 2008.
Along the city’s port, nearly all stores had their shutters closed.
Under the azure blue sky, Nissim Arzoane, 65, came to cast his fishing line in the sea, as he does each day.
“We have to show them that we are not afraid,” he said.
Israeli authorities ordered the closure of schools and kindergartens, and many streets were deserted. Betty Calvo, 63, could not sleep at all the previous night.
In Gaza, a number of buildings destroyed in the last war with Israel in 2014 still have not been rebuilt.
The streets of Gaza City, usually bustling and noisy, were deserted on Tuesday morning.
“We have not forgotten the last war in 2014,” said Mohamed Bulbul, who lives in the southern sector of the city.
“People are tired of wars. That’s enough.”

Kurd forces welcome US decision to keep 200 troops

“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar. (AP)
Updated 18 min 46 sec ago

Kurd forces welcome US decision to keep 200 troops

  • White House unveils plan to maintain ‘a small peacekeeping force’ in Syria

BEIRUT, WASHINGTON: The Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria welcomed a US decision to keep 200 American troops in the country after a pullout, saying it would protect their region and may encourage European states to keep forces there too.

“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations in the region held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), told Reuters.

The White House announced the plans on Thursday to keep “a small peacekeeping force” in Syria, partly reversing a decision by President Donald Trump in December to pull out the entire 2,000-strong force.

Trump’s abrupt announcement of the pullout had been opposed by senior aides including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who quit in response, and stunned allies including the Kurdish-led SDF, which fought against Daesh with US backing for years.

“This decision may encourage other European states, particularly our partners in the international coalition against terrorism, to keep forces in the region,” Omar added.

“I believe that keeping a number of American troops and a larger number of (other) coalition troops, with air protection, will play a role in securing stability and protecting the region too,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had harshly criticized Trump’s decision to pull US forces out of Syria, applauded the president’s decision to leave a few hundred as part of an “international stabilizing force.” Graham said it will ensure that Turkey will not get into a conflict with SDF forces, which helped the US fight Daesh militants. 

Moreover, Graham said leaving a small force in Syria will serve as a check on Iranian ambitions and help ensure that Daesh militants do not try to return.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS (Daesh), protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria,” Graham said.

Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, called the decision a “betrayal of our Kurdish partners.”

The SDF is led by a Kurdish militia, which Turkey considers an enemy. Kurdish officials had feared that a total US withdrawal would create a security vacuum and allow Turkey to launch a long-promised offensive against them.

The Kurds, who seek autonomy within Syria, have made overtures to the government of Bashar Assad, seeking security guarantees as Washington withdraws.

“I believe that these forces in this region ... will be a motivation, an incentive and also a means of pressure on Damascus to try seriously to have a dialogue to resolve the Syrian crisis,” Omar said. 

The SDF is currently involved in a standoff over the final sliver of land held by Daesh in eastern Syria, close to the Iraq border.

Many believe the Daesh threat will not end with the pocket’s recapture and an insurgency is underway. 

In a foreboding sign on Thursday, Daesh claimed responsibility for back-to-back suicide attacks that hit a village miles away, leaving more than a dozen people dead in a rare targeting of civilians.

It is unclear where the 200 remaining US troops will be stationed.

The U.S. military has a limited network of bases inside Syria. Troops work mostly out of small camps in remote parts of the country’s northeast.

Also, U.S. troops are among 200 to 300 coalition troops at a garrison in southern Syria known as al-Tanf, where they train and accompany local Syrian opposition forces on patrols to counter the IS group. Al-Tanf is on a vital road linking Iranian-backed forces from Tehran all the way to southern Lebanon — and Israel’s doorstep.

Trump spoke Thursday with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“On Syria, the two presidents agreed to continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone,” the White House said in a statement about the call.

The White House also said acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford will be hosting their Turkish counterparts in Washington this week for further talks.