Israel accuses Syria, Iran of orchestrating Gaza rocket fire

1 / 2
A smoke plume rising following Israeli bombardment in Gaza City. (AFP)
2 / 2
People gather beside the rubble of a building following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City on October 27, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 27 October 2018

Israel accuses Syria, Iran of orchestrating Gaza rocket fire

  • At least 39 rockets have been fired at southern Israel by the Islamic Jihad group since late Friday
  • On Friday, six Palestinians died in renewed clashes on the Gaza-Israel border

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: The Israeli army accused the Syrian government on Saturday of ordering Palestinian militants in Gaza supported by Iran to fire dozens of rockets into southern Israel, and threatened to retaliate wherever it chose.
The barrage of rockets, which began late Friday and continued into Saturday, triggered extensive retaliatory strikes by Israeli aircraft against Gaza that risked escalating into a wider conflict.
The new flare-up came hours after six Palestinians died in renewed clashes on the Gaza-Israel border even as the territory's Islamist rulers Hamas said Egypt was seeking to negotiate a return to calm.
“The rockets that were launched against Israel... we know that the orders, incentives were given from Damascus with the clear involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force,” army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said, referring to the Guards' foreign operations unit.
At least 39 rockets have been fired at southern Israel by the Islamic Jihad group since late Friday, with 17 of them intercepted by air defences and the rest hitting open ground, the army said.
Israeli aircraft carried out extensive retaliatory strikes, targeting approximately 90 sites belonging to the territory's Islamist rulers Hamas.
Conricus said that Israel held Hamas responsible for the fire, even though it was carried out by Islamic Jihad at the behest of Syria and its ally Iran.
“We hold Hamas responsible for everything coming from Gaza,” he said.
Conricus said Israel would also retaliate against the Syrian government and Iran's Quds Force, and would choose where.
“Part of the address by which we will deal with this fire is also in Damascus and the Quds Force,” he said. “Our response is not limited geographically.”
The biggest rocket barrage from Gaza in months came despite talk of progress towards an Egyptian-brokered deal to end months of often violent protests along the border in return for an easing of Israel's crippling 11-year blockade.
On Sunday, Israel reopened the people and goods border crossings with Gaza and on Wednesday renewed the flow of Qatar-funded fuel to the Palestinian enclave, in an indication of its confidence that Hamas would rein in violence.
The Friday border marches however drew 16,000 protesters, some of them clashing with Israeli soldiers.
Five Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli fire in separate incidents along the border fence, the Gaza health ministry said.
A sixth died when a hand grenade he was holding exploded accidentally, witnesses said.
There were no reports of casualties in Gaza as a result of the Israeli air strikes, which began late Friday and continued on Saturday.
In Gaza City, a four-storey building was completely destroyed in a strike, AFP correspondents reported.
The Israeli army said it was a major headquarters of Hamas.
Israel has fought three wars since 2008 with Hamas and its allies, including Islamic Jihad, and Egypt and the United Nations have been leading diplomatic efforts to avert a fourth.
The armed wing of Islamic Jihad, the second largest militant group in Gaza, threatened to continue the rocket fire on Saturday.
The “resistance is considering expanding the response in number and type, if the enemy continues its aggression against our people,” it said.
Israel has struck Syria dozens of times in recent years, saying it is preventing Iran from supplying advanced weapons to enemies of the Jewish state.
US President Donald Trump's peace envoy Jason Greenblatt condemned the rocket fire.
“More rockets from Gaza into Israel. Another night where parents are ushering terrified children to cover. Violence will not build futures for anyone,” he said on Twitter.
Palestinians have gathered for protests along the border at least weekly since March 30.
At least 213 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since the protests began, according to figures collated by AFP.
The majority have died during protests, while smaller numbers have been killed by air strikes or tank fire.
One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper over the same period.
The protesters are calling to be allowed to return to lands their families fled or were expelled from in the 1948 war that accompanied Israel's creation.
They are also protesting over Israel's crippling blockade.
Reports Friday suggested a deal had been reached that would see the protests end in exchange for an easing of the blockade.
Hamas officials denied any had been reached but confirmed to AFP that progress was being made.
Israel says its blockade is necessary to isolate Hamas, while critics say it amounts to collective punishment of Gaza's two million residents.


For Middle East children, pandemic adds to misery of displacement

Updated 20 October 2020

For Middle East children, pandemic adds to misery of displacement

  • Coronavirus has created new barriers to education for millions of children displaced by Middle East conflicts
  • Up to 50 percent of refugee girls worldwide are at risk of dropping out of school entirely because of COVID-19

DUBAI/ERBIL: Millions have been displaced by recent wars in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) — a significant number of them children. Cut adrift in an unfamiliar world in search of safe harbor, the trauma of losing their homes is often compounded by the brutalizing experience of displacement.

According to the UN’s World Migration Report 2020, there are an estimated 31 million child migrants worldwide. Roughly 13 million of them are refugees, 936,000 are asylum seekers, and 17 million have been forcibly displaced inside their own country.

Individual tragedies have occasionally drawn the attention of the international community. When photographs emerged of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian toddler lying face down in the Mediterranean surf, the issue of child migration appeared, for a time, to take center stage.

Syrian children displaced by the war gather at a makeshift camp at Idlib football stadium on March 3, 2020 in the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. (AFP/File Photo)

The world soon moved on, though, and initial pangs of sympathy and charity reverted to earlier anxieties about security. Now the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has left jealously guarded borders bolted tight.

Of course, it is not just war and terror that drives civilians from their homes. Political and cultural persecution, the loss of economic opportunities, and the ravages of climate change have also contributed to this vast nation of stateless people.

But it is the recent spate of conflicts in the Middle East that has specifically fed the phenomenon of child migration. As Ramzy Baroud, author and editor of the Palestine Chronicle, says, the cause of child migration in the Arab region is the direct result of “violent” conflict.

Displaced Syrian children attend a workshop aimed at spreading awareness about COVID-19 coronavirus disease and precautions for its prevention, at a camp near the Syrian town of Atme close to the border with Turkey in Idlib on March 16, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“Unlike economic hardship, which often evolves over prolonged periods of time, war is decisive and often leaves people with no other option but to flee,” he told Arab News. “We have seen this trend taking place in the early months of upheaval in the Arab world, starting in 2011 in Libya and continuing in Syria as well.”

Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the MENA region, while Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) regional spokesperson, Rula Amin.

“The situation in Syria continues to drive the largest refugee crisis in the world. There remain over 5.5 million registered refugees from Syria in the main hosting countries — Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, and 2.6 million are children,” she told Arab News.

INNUMBERS

Children in the Pandemic

* 31 million - Total child migrants worldwide.

* 48% - Total refugee children out of school.

Syrians are by far the largest forcibly displaced population in the world — 13.2 million of them by late 2019, including 6.6 million refugees and more than six million internally displaced persons, according to the UNHCR.

Bombs and bullets no doubt drive the initial wave of displacement. But Baroud said the waves that follow are the result of the economic deterioration caused by conflict.

“This is important, because quite often war refugees and economic migrants are delinked, while in reality they are escaping the same threat, either that of war or its disastrous outcomes,” he said.

This can be seen in the case of Libyan and Syrian children, who fled the immediate danger with their families to become internally displaced persons — known in the humanitarian glossary as IDPs. It was predominantly the young and physically fit who dared to venture over land and sea to Europe.

Migrants, including women and children, in a dinghy, react as they approach the southern British coastline as they illegally cross the English Channel from France on September 11, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

However, as these conflicts dragged on, families with children increasingly lost hope in ever returning home and began contemplating far riskier options. As of January this year, Mediterranean crossings in rickety boats have killed at least 19,164 migrants since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.

“With time, whole families were escaping on long and arduous journeys together. In many cases, children were not even accompanied by adults, for their parents might have either been killed or separated from their children during the war,” Baroud said.

This trend was made clear in 2019, when UNICEF reported more than 33,000 child refugees crossed into Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria, most of them from the Middle East and North Africa.

“These first countries of asylum often serve as a gateway to other destinations in Europe, where refugees hope to reach a different country, which might be Germany, Sweden, or any other,” said Baroud.

Syrian children displaced by the war stand at a makeshift camp at Idlib football stadium on March 3, 2020 in the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. (AFP/File Photo)

“So quite often, once a refugee arrives in Greece, for example, where he or she is granted some kind of refugee identification, they hope to continue with their journeys past Greece to somewhere else where they can permanently settle.”

Keeping families together is a “concern and a priority” for aid agencies, says Amin. Key to this is obtaining civil documentation, such as birth, marriage and death certificates. With these, refugees and IDPs are able to access services, move freely and have their rights respected.

The COVID-19 has complicated matters. According to the UNHCR, lockdown measures have pushed displaced populations even deeper into poverty and uncertainty, with children bearing the brunt.

“Refugees have lost their incomes and livelihoods, they are suffering from serious historic disruption to the education of their children, deteriorating economies in their host countries add to their challenges and expose them to increased risks of child labor, early marriage and school drop-out,” Amin said.

Children sit on the ground in the burnt camp of Moria on the island of Lesbos after a major fire broke out, on September 9, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

In fact, 50 percent of refugee girls worldwide are at risk of dropping out of school entirely because of COVID-19. With classes moving online, many displaced children simply don’t have access to computers, consistent internet, or a stable learning environment.

“The pandemic is threatening to erase years of progress made to ensure that refugee children get a proper education,” Baroud said.

“Today, 48 percent of all refugee children globally are out of school, 77 percent are enrolled in elementary education, 31 percent are enrolled in schools at secondary education, and only 3 percent get a chance to enroll for higher education.”

And the longer these children are out of school, the harder it will be to go back. Baroud added the economic realities of displacement effectively rob them of their childhoods, pushing them into the world of work.

“Families have to make a choice between turning their children into providers or having them enlist in long-term education,” he said.

“They often choose the former.”

---------------------

Twitter: @jumana_khamis