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
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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.


Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

Updated 17 July 2019
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Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

  • The constitutional declaration is expected to be signed on Friday
  • The deal aims to help the political transition in Sudan

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s ruling military council and an opposition alliance signed a political accord on Wednesday as part of a power-sharing deal aimed at leading the country to democracy following three decades of autocratic rule.

The agreement, which ended days of speculation about whether a deal announced earlier this month would hold, was initialed in Khartoum in the presence of African mediators following a night of talks to iron out some details of the agreement.

Sudan’s stability is crucial for the security of a volatile region stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya that is riven by conflict and power struggles.

The deal is meant to pave the way to a political transition after military leaders ousted former President Omar Al-Bashir in April following weeks of protests against his rule.

At least 128 people were killed during a crackdown that began when security forces dispersed a protest camp outside the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum in June, according to medics linked to the opposition. The Health Ministry had put the death toll at 61.

A political standoff between Sudan’s military rulers and protesters threatened to drag the country of 40 million toward further violence before African mediators managed to bridge the gap between the two sides.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, hailed the agreement as the start of a new partnership between the armed forces, including the paramilitary forces he leads, and the opposition coalition of Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Ibrahim Al-Amin, an FFC leader, said the accord signaled a new era of self-reliance for Sudan’s people.

“We want a stable homeland, because we have suffered a great deal,” Amin said in a speech after the ceremony.

Ethiopian mediator Mahmud Dirir said Sudan, long under international isolation over the policies of Bashir’s Islamist administration, needed to overcome poverty and called for the country to be taken of a US list of states that support terrorism.

The sides are still working on a constitutional declaration, which is expected to be signed on Friday.

Power-sharing deal

Under the power-sharing deal reached earlier this month, the two sides agreed to share power in a sovereign council during a transitional period of just over three years.

They also agreed to form an independent government of technocrats to run the country and to launch a transparent, independent investigation into the violence.

The power-sharing agreement reached earlier this month called for a sovereign council comprised of 11 members — five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the FFC and another civilian to be agreed upon by both sides.

The constitutional declaration will now decide the duties and responsibilities of the sovereign council.

The military was to head the council during the first 21 months of the transitional period while a civilian would head the council during the remaining 18 months.

But the agreement was thrown into doubt when new disputes surfaced last week over the military council’s demand for immunity for council members against prosecution.

The military council also demanded that the sovereign council would retain ultimate decision-making powers rather than the government.