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

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

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

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.


Egypt train driver ‘not at controls’ during deadly Sohag crash

Egypt train driver ‘not at controls’ during deadly Sohag crash
Updated 16 min 18 sec ago

Egypt train driver ‘not at controls’ during deadly Sohag crash

Egypt train driver ‘not at controls’ during deadly Sohag crash
  • Prosecutor: Driver and his assistant “were not in the driver’s cabin” at the time of the crash
  • At least 20 people died and 199 were injured in the March 26 crash near Sohag in southern Egypt

CAIRO: The driver of a speeding Egyptian train and his assistant had both left the driver’s cabin when it crashed into another train last month, the prosecution service alleged Sunday.
The prosecutor also alleged that the assistant of the other train, which was stationary, and a track signalman were under the influence of the powerful painkiller tramadol, and that the former had also used cannabis.
At least 20 people died and 199 were injured in the March 26 crash near Sohag in southern Egypt, according to the authorities’ latest count which had already been revised several times.
Video images caught on a surveillance camera show the moving train hitting a stationary train at speed, sending one carriage hurtling into the air, in an immense cloud of dust.
According to an investigative report cited by the prosecutor on Sunday, the driver and his assistant “were not in the driver’s cabin” at the time of the crash, “contrary to their claims.”
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has vowed to hold to account those responsible for the latest of several deadly train accidents in recent years.
Transport Minister Kamel el-Wazir — a former general named to the post after a deadly 2019 train collision — has blamed the latest crash on human error.
“We have a problem with the human element,” he told a TV talk show, where he pledged to put in place an automated network by 2024.
At least eight people, including the driver of the moving train and his assistant, were arrested shortly after the crash in the village of Samaa Gharb, 460 kilometers (285 miles) south of Cairo.
One train was traveling between the southern city of Luxor and Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, and the other was en route between the southern city of Aswan and Cairo.
After the disaster, a military conscript who was on the Cairo-bound train told AFP that the second train struck the one he was traveling on about 15 minutes after his had come to a stop.
Egyptian rail disasters are generally attributed to poor infrastructure and maintenance.
One of the country’s deadliest train crashes came in 2002, when 373 people died as a fire ripped through a crowded train south of Cairo.
The African Development Bank announced a loan of 145 million euros ($170 million) Tuesday to improve safety on Egypt’s rail network, following the latest disaster.
The bank said the money would be used “to enhance operational safety and to increase network capacity on national rail lines.”
“The planned upgrades are expected to benefit low-income Egyptians, about 40 percent of the population, who rely on trains as an affordable mode of transport,” it said in a statement.


Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests

Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests
Updated 11 April 2021

Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests

Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests
  • Gantz hopes Israeli security would be safeguarded under any renewed nuclear deal
  • Austin was making the first visit to Israel by a senior Biden administration official

TEL AVIV: Israel will work with Washington to ensure any “new agreement” on Iran’s nuclear program will safeguard regional security, Defense Minister Benny Gantz told his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on Sunday.
The comments came as Austin made the first high-level US trip to Israel since talks resumed on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, which the Jewish state fiercely opposed.
Gantz said “we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel.”
Austin, the highest-level envoy from President Joe Biden’s administration yet to visit ally Israel, said Washington would work with Israel “to advance shared security interest and priorities.”
Stressing America’s “iron-clad” bond with Israel, Austin said the US will “continue close consultations to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge and to strengthen Israel’s security.”
Austin’s visit came just days after the US said it had offered “very serious” ideas on reviving the hobbled nuclear agreement reached between Tehran and world powers, which was abandoned by former president Donald Trump in 2018.
Israel under hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal, dating back to when it was being negotiated during Barack Obama’s administration.
Netanyahu, whom Austin was due to meet on his visit, applauded when Trump withdrew from the deal and imposed sanctions on Tehran, which responded by stepping back from several of its commitments under the deal.
In the latest breach of its undertakings in the troubled agreement, Tehran announced on Saturday that it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.
President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades — of 30 IR-5 and 30 IR-6S devices respectively — at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant, in a ceremony broadcast by state television.
An “accident” took place at Natanz on Sunday but caused no casualties or damage, the Fars news agency reported, citing officials.
In an address marking the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu had said on Wednesday that Israel would not be bound to a nuclear deal that would enable the Islamic republic to develop atomic weapons.
“An agreement with Iran that would pave the way to nuclear weapons — weapons that threaten our extinction — would not compel us in any way,” said the veteran premier.
Biden has said he is prepared to return to the agreement, arguing the deal had — until Washington’s withdrawal — been successful in dramatically scaling back Iran’s nuclear activities.
But Washington has demanded Iran returns to compliance while Tehran has insisted on an end to all US restrictions, with each side demanding that the other make the first move.


Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza make first joint appearance since rift

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza make first joint appearance since rift
Updated 11 April 2021

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza make first joint appearance since rift

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza make first joint appearance since rift

CAIRO: Jordan's King Abdullah and his half borther Prince Hamza made a joint appearance on Sunday attending a ceremony marking 100 years of the Hashemite kingdom’s independence. 

The royal palace released a photo with Abdullah II, Prince Hamzah, Crown Prince Hussein and other dignitaries at the grave of King Talal in Amman, Jordan's capital.

This is their first public appearance together since a rare palace feud last week.


Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December
Updated 11 April 2021

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December
  • That brings the total number of fatalities from the coronavirus to 64,490
  • 21,063 new cases were identified in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of identified cases since the pandemic began to 2,070,141

DUBAI: Iran reported 258 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Sunday, the highest daily toll since early December.
That brings the total number of fatalities from the coronavirus to 64,490 in Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East.
Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 21,063 new cases were identified in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of identified cases since the pandemic began to 2,070,141.
“Unfortunately, in the past 24 hours 258 people have died from the virus,” Lari said. State TV said it was the country’s highest daily death toll since Dec. 10.
Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki, in a televised news conference, warned about more fatalities in the coming week if Iranians fail to adhere to health protocols. On Saturday, Tehran imposed a 10-day lockdown across most of the country to curb the spread of a fourth wave of the coronavirus. The lockdown affects 23 of the country’s 31 provinces.
Businesses, schools, theaters and sports facilities have been forced to shut and gatherings are banned during the holy fasting month of Ramadan that begins on Wednesday in Iran.


Iran calls Natanz atomic site blackout ‘nuclear terrorism’

Iran calls Natanz atomic site blackout ‘nuclear terrorism’
Updated 31 min 43 sec ago

Iran calls Natanz atomic site blackout ‘nuclear terrorism’

Iran calls Natanz atomic site blackout ‘nuclear terrorism’
  • Israeli media reports say cyberattack darkened Natanz and damaged the facility

DUBAI: Iran on Sunday described a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stopped short of directly blaming anyone for the incident. Details remained few about what happened early Sunday morning at the facility, which initially was described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid feeding the site.
Many Israeli media outlets offered the same assessment that a cyberattack darkened Natanz and damaged a facility that is home to sensitive centrifuges. While the reports offered no sourcing for the evaluation, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.
If Israel caused the blackout, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East.
“To thwart the goals of this terrorist movement, the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to seriously improve nuclear technology on the one hand and to lift oppressive sanctions on the other hand,” Salehi said, according state TV.
He added: “While condemning this desperate move, the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes the need for a confrontation by the international bodies and the (International Atomic Energy Agency) against this nuclear terrorism.”
The IAEA, the United Nations' body that monitors Tehran's atomic program, earlier said it was aware of media reports about the incident at Natanz and had spoken with Iranian officials about it. The agency did not elaborate.
Sunday' developments also complicate efforts by the US, Israel’s main security partner, to re-enter the atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so it can’t pursue a nuclear weapon. As news of the blackout emerged, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed Sunday in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Power at Natanz was cut across the facility, which is comprised of above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls, civilian nuclear program spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi earlier told Iranian state TV.
Salehi's comments to state TV did not explain what happened at the facility. However, Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past. The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges at Natanz amid an earlier period of Western fears about Tehran's program.
Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.
Israel, Iran’s regional archenemy, has been suspected of carrying out that attack as well as launching other assaults, as world powers negotiate with Tehran in Vienna over its nuclear deal.
Iran also blamed Israel for the killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.
Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that a cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. Public broadcaster Kan said Israel was likely behind the attack, citing Israel’s alleged responsibility for the Stuxnet attacks a decade ago. Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility. None of the reports included sources or explanations of how the outlets came to that assessment.
“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a coincidence,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, said of Sunday’s blackout. “If it’s not a coincidence, and that’s a big if, someone is trying to send a message that ‘we can limit Iran’s advance and we have red lines.’”