Israel says it struck 100 Hamas targets after rocket attack

Israeli media reported that Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system opened fire on March 14, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Israel says it struck 100 Hamas targets after rocket attack

  • Palestinian witnesses said Israeli planes bombed two Hamas security positions
  • Video broadcast on Israeli TV showed two Israeli interceptor missiles streaking into the sky above Tel Aviv and detonating

TEL AVIV: Israeli warplanes on Friday struck some 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a rare rocket attack on the Israeli metropolis of Tel Aviv. Rocket fire persisted into the morning, setting the stage for additional possible reprisals.
The army said that its targets had included an office complex in Gaza City used to plan and command Hamas militant activities, an underground complex that served as Hamas' main rocket-manufacturing site, and a center used for Hamas drone development.
In Gaza, health officials reported four people wounded, including a husband and wife in the southern town of Rafah. There were no further details. The office building struck by Israel had been used by Hamas' office of prisoner affairs.
The sudden outbreak of violence comes at a sensitive time for both sides, and it appeared that Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers had incentives to end the fighting.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the midst of a tight re-election battle. A tough response would draw international criticism and domestic accusations that he is acting out of political motivations ahead of the April 9 vote. But a restrained response will draw criticism from his fellow hard-line rivals.
Hamas, meanwhile, is coping with its own domestic troubles. Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas took over the territory in 2007. The blockade, along with sanctions by the rival Palestinian Authority and Hamas' own mismanagement, have fueled an economic crisis that has driven unemployment over 50 percent.
Shortly before the rocket attack, Hamas police on Thursday violently broke up a rare protest by demonstrators angry about the dire living conditions in Gaza.
The crackdown triggered heavy criticism on social media, raising the possibility that the rocket fire was a diversionary tactic. The organizers of a weekly protest along the Israeli border said they would cancel the demonstration in the wake of the escalation.
The fighting came as Egyptian mediators were trying to extend a cease-fire between the bitter enemies, which last fought a war in 2014. The Egyptians left Gaza late Thursday.
Hamas, which typically claims responsibility for its military actions, denied involvement in the rocket attack on Tel Aviv and even said it had undermined its interests. But Israel's military said it had concluded the group was behind the attack.
“The IDF holds the Hamas terror organization responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it,” the military said in a statement.
The late-night attack Thursday on Tel Aviv, Israel's densely populated commercial and cultural capital, marked a dramatic escalation in hostilities. It was the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war between Israel and Gaza militants.
Following the first Israeli airstrikes, several additional rounds of rocket fire were launched into Israel. The military said several rockets were intercepted by its air defense systems, and there were no reports of injuries.
The initial blasts from the Israeli airstrikes in southern Gaza were so powerful that smoke could be seen in Gaza City, 25 kilometers (15 miles) to the north. The Israeli warplanes could be heard roaring through the skies above Gaza City.
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza in 2007. Smaller flare-ups have occurred sporadically since Israel and Hamas fought their last war, in 2014.
Despite its denial, Hamas is one of the only groups in Gaza with the means to strike Tel Aviv. A smaller militant group, the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, also possesses a large arsenal of rockets, though it too denied involvement.
Smaller Salafi groups inspired by the Daesh also operate in Gaza, though it is unclear whether they have powerful rockets capable of striking so deep inside Israel.
Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the chief Israeli military spokesman, said the army had been caught off guard by Thursday night's rocket barrage and had no advance intelligence.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, a hard-line rival of Netanyahu's, called on the prime minister to convene a gathering of his Security Cabinet and demand the army “present a plan to defeat Hamas.”
Earlier this week, Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire on southern Israel, near the border. Late Thursday, local media said that Egyptian mediators left the territory.
At the time, Netanyahu issued a warning to Hamas, rejecting suggestions that Israel would be reluctant to take tough action in Gaza ahead of national elections next month.
“I suggest to Hamas, don't count on it,” he told his Cabinet. “We will do anything necessary to restore security and quiet to the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and to the south in general.”

Meanwhile, weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel border were called off Friday after the military escalation, organizers announced.
“In keeping with the public interest, the commission has decided to exceptionally postpone its activities scheduled for this day,” the body which organizes the protests said in a statement.


US call for Israeli sovereignty on Golan ‘contravenes international law’

In this file photo taken on May 22, 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US President Donald Trump speak upon the latter's arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. (AFP)
Updated 58 sec ago
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US call for Israeli sovereignty on Golan ‘contravenes international law’

  • France’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that recognizing Israeli sovereignty would be contrary to international law, in particular the obligation for states not to recognize an illegal situation

BAGHDAD: US President Donald Trump’s statement recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights “contravenes international law,” the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said on Twitter on Saturday.
Trump’s statement on Thursday marked a dramatic shift in US policy over the status of a disputed area that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East conflict and annexed in 1981 — a move not recognized internationally.
The Syrian regime on Friday asked the UN Security Council to uphold resolutions declaring that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights.
The regime’s Ambassador Bashar Jaafari urged the council to “take practical measures to ensure that the council is fulfilling ... its mandate in the implementation of its resolutions” concerning the Golan, in a letter seen by AFP.
The council is scheduled to discuss the Golan on Wednesday during a meeting on renewing the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force deployed between Israel and Syria in the Golan, known as UNDOF.
In the letter, the ambassador also asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to reaffirm the UN position on Israel’s occupation of the Golan, which it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Asked about Trump’s stance, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said UN policy was based on council resolutions and those of the General Assembly on the status of the Golan.
“The resolutions are of course unchanged,” said Haq. “Our policies have not changed in that regard.”
The US backed Resolution 242 adopted in 1967, which calls on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied in the Six-Day war and refers to the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”
The council adopted another resolution in 1973 that reaffirmed the demand for a withdrawal and in 1981, backed a separate measure that rejected Israel’s annexation of the Golan.
After Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a group of Arab countries presented a resolution in 2017 condemning the decision to the General Assembly that won overwhelming support.
UN diplomats said it was premature to speculate as to whether there would be a similar measure in the assembly.
The US move — which came as Trump’s ally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, faces elections — has caused dismay even among US allies, with France and Britain both saying that they still considered the Golan Heights to be “occupied” by Israel.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, feared the consequences of walking away from UN Security Council Resolution 242, which stressed the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”
“This is the most fundamental principle of international order and was the basis of US opposition to Saddam’s conquest of Kuwait and Putin’s of Crimea,” he said, referring to the 1991 Gulf War in which a US-led coalition freed Kuwait and Russia’s 2014 seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula.
Sweden’s former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that Trump was returning to the law of the “jungle.”
“This is a catastrophic departure from the very basis of international law. Kremlin will applaud and apply the same principle to Crimea. Beijing will applaud and apply to South China Sea,” Bildt tweeted.
France’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that recognizing Israeli sovereignty “would be contrary to international law, in particular the obligation for states not to recognize an illegal situation.”
Steven Cook, an expert on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an article in Foreign Policy questioned the need to shake up the status quo, saying that US recognition only triggered fresh opposition to Israel’s longstanding control of the Golan, where 20,000 settlers live.
“In reality, there is no need for the recognition. Israel is in Golan for its own reasons, and nothing the Trump administration decides will change that,” he wrote.
Ilan Goldenberg of the Center for a New American Security said that Trump’s decision “stirs a hornet’s nest that didn’t need stirring.”
“Also, it makes it quite hard for the US to continue to contest Russia’s annexation of Crimea under the principle that taking territory by force is illegal. We now have no leg to stand on and the Russians will use it,” he tweeted.
“So why do it? Because this is awesome for Bibi’s politics,” he said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.