Hamas official denies firing rocket near Tel Aviv, new Israeli troops headed for Gaza

Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to US in hopes of securing formal US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan heights. (AFP/File)
Updated 26 March 2019
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Hamas official denies firing rocket near Tel Aviv, new Israeli troops headed for Gaza

  • Netanyahu said the incident will evoke a strong Israeli reaction
  • Palestinian rockets rarely reach an area at that far from Gaza

MISHMERET/JERUSALEM: Hamas official denied firing the rocket that hit a house near Tel Aviv on Monday.

"No one from the resistance movements, including Hamas, has an interest in firing rockets from the Gaza Strip towards the enemy," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that the same message had been delivered to Egypt, which has acted as mediator between Israel and Hamas.

The Israeli military said on Twitter the rocket had been fired from the Rafah area in the southern Gaza Strip.
 

Major Mika Lifshitz, a military spokesperson, says two armor and infantry brigades were being mobilized to the area around the Hamas-run enclave and there is a limited drafting of reserves underway following the attack.

The Israeli military also said it will halt agricultural work near the security fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip "to improve readiness" for an escalation.

The military added that it would block routes and areas on the Israeli side of the fence and requested that residents "follow security instructions as long as necessary."

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said that he is to cut short his trip to the United States due to the attack.

“In light of the security events I decided to cut short my visit to the US,” Netanyahu said, calling the attack a heinous crime that would draw a strong Israeli response.

He said he would meet with President Donald Trump in the coming hours and then fly back immediately.

The rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house in a community north of Tel Aviv and caused it to catch fire, wounding seven Israelis, authorities and medics said.

The incident raised the risk of another escalation between the two sides just ahead of April 9 Israeli elections.

The house hit was located in the community of Mishmeret, police said. Medics said they were treating one Israeli with moderate wounds and four others injured lightly.

Mishmeret is more than 80 kilometers from the Gaza Strip and rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave at that distance is rare.

Monday’s incident comes after two rockets were fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv — also rare — on March 14.

No damage or injuries were caused, but Israel responded to that and further rocket fire by hitting what it said were around 100 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip.

Four Palestinians were reported wounded in those strikes.

Both Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad denied they were behind the March 14 rocket fire toward Tel Aviv, raising the possibility they were launched by fringe groups.

Israel’s military said they were launched by Hamas, but later there were Israeli media reports that the army’s preliminary assessment was that they had been fired by mistake during maintenance work.

The reports were a sign that Israel was seeking to calm tensions. The military had refused to comment on the reports at the time.

Monday’s rocket comes just days ahead of the March 30 one-year anniversary of Palestinian protests and clashes along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel.

An informal truce between Hamas and Israel had led to relative calm along the border of the blockaded strip, but recent weeks have seen another uptick in violence.


Aleppo’s scattered business owners have yet to return home

Updated 7 min 20 sec ago
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Aleppo’s scattered business owners have yet to return home

  • The recovery of businesses will depend on whether people will return to Syria or not
  • Most of the shop owners travelled to Turkey and Egypt

ALEPPO: In the old khan, a stone courtyard off Aleppo’s medieval souk, most of the 41 cloth shops are deserted. Many of the owners moved elsewhere or went abroad to escape fighting in the historic Syrian city, a major economic center before the war.
“Some started new work outside Syria and won’t return. Some who stayed opened new shops in other parts of the country,” said Mohammed Abu Zeid, one of two cloth merchants still operating.
Syria’s economy has been upturned by eight years of war that partitioned the country between rival forces and displaced millions of people. Hundreds of thousands of workers were conscripted into the army or joined rebel groups and Western powers have imposed sweeping sanctions.
Any recovery will largely depend on whether people return home, including local business owners. The empty stores in Khan Khair Bek show that most have stayed away and it may be some time before business resumes.
Although parts of western Aleppo, which was held by the government through the war, still have busy shopping areas, the city’s factories and wholesale trading businesses have been devastated by war damage and the departure of traders.
Textiles were a mainstay of Aleppo business until the start of the war in 2011. The khan in the Souk Al-Zarb section of the battered Old City was a textile hub. Merchants kept their wares and conducted wholesale business in the shops. When Reuters first visited in early 2017, weeks after the fighting ended, the khan was closed and the domed entranceway was waist-deep in debris including bullet casings and the tail fin of a mortar bomb.
Thirteen shop owners moved abroad, mostly to Egypt or Turkey. Of those still in Syria, six moved to Damascus or other cities, and started new businesses. Another seven who remained in Aleppo have also stopped dealing in cloth, Abu Zeid said.
Ten others are working in the cloth trade from market stalls or rented shops in other parts of Aleppo. Just two, Abu Zeid and Zakariya Azizeh, reopened in the khan earlier this year. They did not know the whereabouts of several other neighbors.
About half Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million were uprooted during the conflict, with more than 5 million seeking refuge abroad.
Some refugees have started returning, but most are unwilling to go back yet, citing a fear of reprisals, the danger of renewed conflict, economic hardship and problems with paperwork.
Economic troubles
Azizeh said he was trying to persuade his former neighbors to come back.
“We cannot export and we have banking problems from sanctions. The system depends on credit, but I haven’t any money,” he said.
President Bashar Assad said Syria now faces an economic war waged through Western sanctions. They make any movement of money in or out of Syria very difficult, paralysing trade even with close allies such as Russia and Iran and making any return to Syria less attractive for business owners.
Abu Zeid believes most of the those who left the khan will eventually return. Many still own their premises.
“This is the best khan for import-export. The others, they tell us ‘one month, two months, we will come back’,” he said.
His cousin, Ahmed Abu Zeid, 63, a cousin of Mohammed Abu Zeid, has continued doing some business from home as it would cost several thousand dollars to replace stock and repair his war-damaged shop, near a mulberry tree.
“We all worked here from when we were children. I used to climb this tree and so did my son,” he said. He hopes his grandson Ahmed, 8, will one day work there too.
Damage
The two main centers of Aleppan business — the Old City souk and the industrial zones on the city’s outskirts — were on the front lines and suffered from heavy shellfire and looting.
Shops and warehouses were stripped of their inventories, factories and workshops of their equipment and machinery. Many are pocked with bullet or shell holes and filled with rubble.
Aleppo’s power plant was destroyed and electricity supplies from other parts of government-held Syria are limited. Water provision is patchy. One of the main industrial zones, Belleramoun, is near a front line and has been repeatedly shelled by rebels.
In the souk outside the khan, a group had gathered to chat on plastic chairs. They recited lists of friends and neighbors who had left.
“Some of them have come back to see what the situation is like. When they see it, they go away again,” said Mohammed Fadel, dressed in a suit and waving a lit cigarette as he spoke.
He had two shops in the souk, both now closed, and a textile workshop with four machines and 400 workers running round the clock and exporting across the Middle East, Fadel said.
He now plans to leave Syria and go to live in the Netherlands, where his son is.
“What can I do? I sit here all day doing nothing,” he said.