Uneasy calm holds in Gaza despite exchange of fire

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A Palestinian woman comforts her son outside their destroyed house after Israeli air strikes targeted a nearby Hamas site in Gaza. (Reuters)
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Palestinians sit with their belongings in a street outside their destroyed house after an Israeli missile targeted a nearby Hamas site, in Gaza City March 26, 2019. (Reuters)
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United Nations’ Nickolay Mladenov used a Security Council address on Tuesday to call on the international community to urge Israel and Palestine to calm tensions. (Screenshot: UN TV)
Updated 28 March 2019

Uneasy calm holds in Gaza despite exchange of fire

  • Both Israel and Hamas appear to have stepped back from the brink of a full-fledged confrontation
  • The Israeli military bolstered its forces along the Gaza frontier in advance

JERUSALEM: An unofficial cease-fire appeared to be holding Wednesday between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers despite limited exchanges of fire.

Schools reopened in southern Israel and residents resumed their daily routines after a few overnight rocket attacks from Gaza that set off air-raid sirens, breaking a daylong lull. The Israeli military struck back against additional Hamas targets but there were no reports of casualties on either side.

In the West Bank, meanwhile, a teenage Palestinian medic was shot dead during clashes between Israeli troops and protesters.

Both Israel and Hamas appeared to have stepped back from the brink of a full-fledged confrontation. But violence could erupt again this weekend, when large-scale protests are expected along the Israel-Gaza frontier marking the anniversary of weekly rallies in which nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.

The Israeli military bolstered its forces along the Gaza frontier in advance.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and dozens of skirmishes since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007. The latest round was triggered by a Gaza rocket fired early Monday that slammed into a house in central Israel and wounded seven people.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed back to Israel from a trip to Washington to deal with the crisis. Israel struck dozens of targets in Gaza, including the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Gaza’s Health Ministry said seven Palestinians were wounded in the airstrikes.

Netanyahu faced the difficult task of delivering a tough blow to Hamas while avoiding protracted fighting that could work against him in next month’s national elections. He has come under heavy criticism from both allies and opponents for what they say has been a failure to contain Gaza militants.

He has conducted indirect cease-fire talks through Egyptian mediators in recent months, and even allowed the delivery of millions of dollars of Qatari aid to Hamas to ease harsh conditions in the territory, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power in 2007.

Hamas has recently faced rare demonstrations over its mismanagement of an economic crisis that has left Gaza with an unemployment rate above 50 percent. Hundreds of Gazans took part in the protests last week, and Hamas responded with a violent crackdown, beating and arresting dozens of demonstrators.

The fighting in Gaza comes amid an uptick in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli soldiers shot dead 18-year-old paramedic Sajed Mizher after stones were thrown at them during an arrest raid in the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem early Wednesday. It said two others were wounded in the clashes.

Fellow paramedic Abed Ghareeb said they had rushed to help a wounded protester when Mizher, who was wearing a paramedic vest, was shot by a sniper.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the report. It often carries out pre-dawn arrest raids.

Israeli troops killed four Palestinians last week, including one said to be unarmed. That followed a weekend stabbing and shooting attack in which a Palestinian killed two Israelis near a West Bank settlement.

Since 2015, Palestinians have killed over 50 Israelis in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks in the West Bank. Israeli forces have killed more than 260 Palestinians in that same period. Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were attackers, but clashes between protesters and soldiers have also turned deadly.

Hariri: “Promising summer” for Lebanon after Saudi travel warning lifted

Updated 12 min 9 sec ago

Hariri: “Promising summer” for Lebanon after Saudi travel warning lifted

  • Saudi Arabia started warning its citizens of the instability in Lebanon in 2011
  • Lebanese PM Al-Hariri hopes for a series of agreements with Saudi Arabia

BEIRUT: More people have visited Lebanon since Saudi Arabia lifted its travel warning in February, pointing to a “promising summer” ahead, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said on Wednesday.
A fall in visitors from Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies has hit Lebanon’s tourism industry, once a mainstay of a now-battered economy that Hariri’s new government has pledged to revive.
Saudi Arabia was once a major supporter both of its political allies in Beirut, chiefly Hariri, and of the Lebanese state. However, mindful of its overarching rivalry with Iran, Riyadh stepped back as Iran’s Lebanese ally, the political and military Hezbollah movement, grew in strength.
Saudi Arabia had been advising its citizens since 2011 to avoid Lebanon, citing Hezbollah’s influence and instability from the war in neighboring Syria.
“Without doubt the Saudi leadership’s decision ... had the most impact in increasing the number of visitors to Lebanon recently, which gives the best proof of a promising summer,” Hariri said at a Beirut conference attended by the head of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman humanitarian center.
Hariri also said he hoped that a pledge from Riyadh to help Lebanese families in need would spark a series of agreements between the two countries.
With pillars of the economy such as tourism and real estate in the doldrums, Lebanon has suffered years of low economic growth, and run up one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
Saudi ties with Lebanon hit a low in November 2017, when Hariri was held against his will in Riyadh, announcing his resignation in a TV statement.
After French intervention, Hariri returned to Lebanon and withdrew the resignation, resolving the crisis. Though Hariri has always denied having been held in Saudi Arabia, French President Emmanuel Macron publicly confirmed it last year.