Israeli troops arrest dozens in West Bank

The Israeli military on Friday confirmed the overnight arrests. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 December 2018

Israeli troops arrest dozens in West Bank

  • The arrests come in the wake of a pair of deadly shootings this week believed to have been carried out by Hamas activists
  • A Hamas official said some 70 members have been arrested this week, including about 40 overnight

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Israeli forces kept up a manhunt on Friday for a Palestinian who shot dead two soldiers in the occupied West Bank, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced right-wing pressure for a strong response.

Thursday’s shooting was the latest incident shattering months of relative calm in the West Bank, where 400,000 Israelis live in settlements alongside more than 2.5 million Palestinians.

It was the third deadly attack by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank in two months and set off demonstrations by settler groups against Netanyahu, whose right-wing government depends on their support.

Israeli media speculated on Friday about the possibility of a new Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising, against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

In Thursday’s attack, a gunman got out of his car and opened fire on soldiers and others outside a settlement in the central West Bank, killing two and seriously injuring another two Israelis before fleeing.

In response the army locked down the city of Ramallah, home to secular Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, while calling in reinforcements.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces erupted in different parts of the West Bank, including inside Ramallah during army raids.

Settlers shouting for revenge threw stones at Palestinian vehicles, while an Arab bus driver was beaten by ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Modiin Illit settlement, according to Israeli media reports.

In overnight raids, the army said it arrested 40 Palestinians, most of them affiliated to the Islamist movement Hamas which has claimed responsibility for two recent shooting attacks.

It has not yet claimed Thursday’s attack, though Israeli officials point the finger of blame in its direction.

The army did not say it had made arrests linked directly to the latest attack.

At a checkpoint near the Beit El settlement on Friday morning, a soldier was moderately wounded after a man hit him with a rock before fleeing, the army said.

Friday threatened to be another tense day with Palestinian movements, including Hamas, calling for protests in the West Bank after weekly prayers.

Israel has controlled the West Bank since seizing it in a 1967 war.

Settlements are considered illegal by the international community and are seen as one of the greatest obstacles to peace, though Israel disputes this. Hamas, for its part, has controlled the Gaza Strip since seizing it from Abbas’ forces in 2007.

While Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, Hamas cells still operate in the territory.

On Thursday, Hamas claimed responsibility for two shooting attacks that killed three Israelis, including a baby. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Thursday that the West Bank had “opened a new page” in the movement’s conflict with the Jewish state.

Netanyahu’s coalition government, which has only a one-seat majority in Parliament, relies on the support of pro-settler parties.

Right-wing protesters in Jerusalem late on Thursday booed Netanyahu, while an MP from the far-right Jewish Home urged him to close all West Bank roads to Palestinians or have “blood on his hands.”

Hugh Lovatt, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the situation was reminiscent to the buildup to the 2014 Gaza war.

“What adds further danger is that we are heading into elections in Israel in 2019, so Netanyahu will have to take a more forceful hand,” Lovatt told AFP.

“He has long run on his security credentials, saying he keeps Israel safe, and his only real challenge comes from the right.”

Netanyahu, whose Likud bloc heads the government, responded on Thursday by announcing new measures to support settlements, but Yediot Aharonot newspaper said he would need to respond forcefully.

“When the settler lobby raises an outcry, the Likud ministers break into a sweat,” it said.

Syria vows to bring Kurdish-held areas back under control

An SDF fighter fires a gun toward a part of Baghouz where remaining Daesh militants are holding out in their last position, in the countryside of Deir Ezzor on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 14 sec ago

Syria vows to bring Kurdish-held areas back under control

  • US-backed Kurds battle militants in their last patch of territory in Baghouz

DAMASCUS: Syrian regime forces will reclaim control of northeastern areas controlled by the US-backed Kurds, whether by force or through reconciliation, the defense minister warned Monday.

Marginalized for decades, Syria’s minority Kurds have carved out a de-facto autonomous region across some 30 percent of the nation’s territory since the devastating war broke out in 2011.

Backed by a US-led coalition, Kurdish forces have spearheaded an offensive in Syria against Daesh.

Washington’s shock December announcement that it would withdraw its troops from Syria has sent the Kurds scrambling to rebuild ties with the Damascus regime, but talks so far have failed to reach a compromise.

Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub said the Syrian regime will recapture territory controlled by Kurdish-led forces in the same way it “liberated” other parts of Syria.

“The only card that remains in the hands of the Americans and their allies is” the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), he said, referring to the force leading the battle to wipe out the last remnant of the Daesh’s “caliphate.”

“The Syrian government will deal with this issue in one of two ways: A reconciliation agreement or liberating the territory they control by force,” he said at a joint press conference with the military chiefs of staff of Iran and Iraq.

His comments come as the SDF, backed by the US-led coalition, battle militants in their last patch of territory in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.

Eight years into a war that has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions, Syrian regime forces control almost two-thirds of the country.

Just two areas remain beyond their control: The militant-held northwestern region of Idlib, and the third of the country under the control of the SDF.

Ayoub on Monday said Idlib will also be recaptured by regime forces.

“The Syrian government will reassert its complete control over all Syrian territory sooner or later,” he said. “Idlib is no exception.”

The Idlib region borders Turkey and is dominated by an alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.

Idlib has been protected from a massive offensive by Bashar Assad’s regime since September, thanks to a buffer zone deal agreed by Damascus’s ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.

But it has been hit by sporadic regime shelling. The defense minister’s comments come after a rare meeting with the military chiefs of staff of Iraq and Iran in Damascus.

Ayoub stressed the importance of cooperation and coordination between the three militaries to combat mutual threats.

He said what emerged from talks “will help us to continue to confront challenges, dangers and threats” posed by terrorism.

Daesh seized large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, but has since lost most of that to various offensives, including by the Russia-backed regime.

US-backers forces said they are facing difficulties defeating Daesh. A spokesman said their effort is being slowed by mines, tunnels, and the possibility of harming women and children still in the village.

Dozens of men and women were seen walking around the besieged Daesh encampment in Baghouz on Sunday, as Kurdish fighters watched from a hilltop close by.

SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said the camp was approximately 250 km in size — much the same area it was five weeks ago, when the SDF said it was going to finally conclude the battle.

“We are facing several difficulties regarding the operations,” Gabriel told reporters outside Baghouz Sunday.