Israel strikes Gaza after first rocket fire since early May

A barrage of rockets are fired from the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave towards Israel in this May 5, 2019 photo. (AFP file photo)
Updated 13 June 2019
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Israel strikes Gaza after first rocket fire since early May

  • The strike came after Israeli air defenses intercepted a rocket launched from the territory
  • Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008

JERUSALEM: Israeli warplanes bombed bunkers at a Hamas base in Gaza early Thursday following the first rocket fire from the territory since early May, the military said.

Israeli aircraft targeted “underground infrastructure” at the base in the southern Gaza Strip, it said in a statement. A Palestinian security source said there had been no injuries. The airstrike came after Israeli air defenses intercepted a rocket launched from the territory, the first since hundreds were fired in early May in a two-day flare-up which killed four Israelis and 25 Palestinians.

On Wednesday evening, Israel announced it had banned all fishing off Gaza in retaliation for the launching from the enclave of more balloons with incendiary devices attached.

“Due to the continuous launching of incendiary balloons and kites from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, it has been decided tonight (Wednesday) not to allow access to Gaza’s maritime space until further notice,” the Israeli Defense Ministry department responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, said.

HIGHLIGHT

On Wednesday evening, Israel announced it had banned all fishing off Gaza in retaliation for the launching from the enclave of more balloons with incendiary devices attached.

The move came after COGAT said on Tuesday it had reduced the extent of the fishing zone to 6 nautical miles offshore from 10 nautical miles, having downscaled it from 15 nautical miles a week ago.

A spokesman for the Israeli fire service said incendiary balloons from Gaza caused seven fires on Tuesday alone. In the past year, Palestinians have succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland in southern Israel.

Expanding the fishing zone was seen as a key element of an informal truce agreement reached between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas to restore calm after the May 4-5 flare-up.

Under that agreement, which Israel never publicly confirmed, the Jewish state was expected to ease its crippling blockade of Gaza in exchange for calm.

Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas official, accused Israel in a statement of “evading and retreating from implementing the recent agreements on false pretenses, such as the fires surrounding Gaza.”

Three human rights groups, two Israeli and one Palestinian, also criticized the closure, saying it punished all Gaza’s 2 million people.

“The sanctions imposed by Israel in Gaza’s fishing zone in response to actions over which fishermen in Gaza have no control constitute illegal collective punishment, and must end immediately,” they said.

Israel has fought three wars with Hamas and its allies since 2008.

There are concerns that another flare-up could occur ahead of Israel’s Sept. 17 elections.


 


Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

Updated 19 min 58 sec ago
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Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

  • The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring
  • There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016

SILIVRI, Turkey: Sixteen leading Turkish civil society leaders went on trial Monday, accused of seeking to overthrow the government during the “Gezi Park” protests of 2013 — charges dubbed an absurd sham by critics.
The group includes renowned businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose detention since November 2017 has made him a symbol of what his supporters say is a crackdown on civil society.
Kavala rejected the “irrational claims which lack evidence” in his opening statement, shortly after the trial began under high security in the prison and court complex of Silivri on the outskirts of Istanbul.
He is accused of orchestrating and financing the protests which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul.
The rallies snowballed into a nationwide movement that marked the first serious challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brand of Islamic conservatism and grandiose development projects.
The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring, which, ironically, the Turkish government supported.
“None of these actions were coincidental... they were supported from the outside as an operation to bring the Turkish Republic to its knees,” the indictment says.
Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said the trial “speaks volumes about the deeply flawed judiciary that has allowed this political witch-hunt to take place.
“It is absurdly attempting to portray routine civil society activities as crimes,” he said.
“The idea that Osman Kavala led the conspiracy is utterly outlandish and unsupported by any credible evidence,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told AFP.
One of the allegations is the claim that a map on Kavala’s phone showing bee species actually depicted his plans to redraw Turkey’s borders.
There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016, blamed by the government on US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, with thousands arrested and tens of thousands sacked from public sector, media and military jobs.
A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.
“I was involved in projects contributing to peace and reconciliation. There is not a single piece of evidence or proof in the indictment that I prepared the ground for a military coup,” Kavala told the court.
Think tank researcher Yigit Aksakoglu was also in pre-trial detention — since November — while six of the rest are being tried in absentia after fleeing Turkey, including actor Memet Ali Alabora and dissident journalist Can Dundar.
The case against Alabora focuses on his appearance in a play featuring a revolt against the ruler of a fictional country.
Others, including architect Mucella Yapici, have already been tried and acquitted for their role in the Gezi Park protests in 2015.
“I am on trial for the second time on the same charges. Peaceful protests cannot be banned. They are a right,” Yapici told the court on Monday.
Erdogan has linked Kavala to US billionaire George Soros, whose efforts to promote democracy around the world have made him a target for several authoritarian leaders.
Last year, Erdogan said Kavala was the representative in Turkey of the “famous Hungarian Jew Soros” whom he accused of trying to “divide and tear up nations.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which ceased activities in Turkey last year, called Monday’s trial a “political sham.”
“At some earlier stage in Turkey’s descent into authoritarian rule, one might have described this trial as a test of judicial independence... but such exams have already been held, and the failing grades were handed down long ago,” wrote Freedom House, a US-based rights group, this week.
“The point of the coming show trial is quite simply to intimidate Turkish citizens and deter them from exercising their rights,” it added.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.