Israel reopens Gaza crossing as mediators push for deal

Israeli officials re-opened Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings in Gaza Strip. (AFP/File)
Updated 01 April 2019

Israel reopens Gaza crossing as mediators push for deal

  • Israel closed the crossings after a rocket hit a house near Tel Aviv
  • Four Palestinians died during protests the night before the crossings were reopened

GAZA: Israel reopened its commercial crossing with the Gaza Strip on Sunday, a day after a smaller-than-expected Palestinian protest along the volatile frontier.
In another sign of the confrontation easing — as Egyptian mediators pushed on for a full cease-fire — Palestinians said Israel would on Monday almost double the breadth of Mediterrean waters where they are permitted to fish.
Gaza medical officials said four Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire during demonstrations on Saturday marking the first anniversary of the “Great March of Return” protests.
But while around 40,000 protesters, some hurling grenades and explosives, turned out on Saturday, according to the Israeli military, several signs pointed to pullback from wider violence.
An Israeli military spokesman noted that there had been “significantly less violence” during Saturday’s protest — which organizers had billed a “million person march” — than in past weekly demonstrations.
In addition, hundreds of Palestinian men, some from Gaza’s ruling Hamas group, were deployed in bright orange vests to deter people from going near Israel’s border fence, a frequent flashpoint.
A Hamas official said Egyptian mediators were expected to hold talks in Israel to try to finalize a deal.
Israel has maintained an official silence about any pending agreement, a week before a closely contested election in which rocket strikes from Gaza on Israeli border towns have become a main issue.
The crossing had been closed on Monday after a rocket that wounded seven Israelis north of Tel Aviv touched off a two-day surge in cross-border violence.
But trucks carrying food and fuel rolled into Gaza through the reopened Kerem Shalom crossing on Sunday despite the firing of several rockets at southern Israel overnight and Israeli tank fire on Hamas positions in response. No injuries were reported.
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Around 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the protests started on March 30 last year, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures. An Israeli soldier was also killed by a Palestinian sniper in July.
The protesters are demanding a right to return to land from which their ancestors fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s founding in 1948.
A prospective deal, according to three Palestinian officials close to the talks, would include steady Qatari-funded fuel supplies for Gaza and job creation projects.
The Palestinian fishermen’s union said waters they could ply, currently limited by the Israeli navy to between 6 miles and 9 miles (9 km and 15 km) off Gaza’s coast, would on Monday be expanded to between 12 and 15 miles. The zone was last expanded that far in 2007, Palestinians said.
An Israeli official confirmed that the fishing zone would be expanded but declined to give figures.
For their part, groups in Gaza agreed before Saturday’s protest to keep demonstrators from the border fence and stop the launching of incendiary balloons that have burned farmland in southern Israel, the officials said.
“Days separate us from achieving our demands. We are patient and the enemy is under a test,” Khalil Al-Hayya, Hamas’s deputy Gaza chief, told the group’s Aqsa TV.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accused by far-right rivals of being too soft on Hamas, said on Sunday he ordered Israeli forces to remain at “full strength” along the Gaza frontier.
But in public remarks on Thursday, he said Israel would would only undertake a broad military campaign in Gaza after exhausting all other options. Hamas and Israel last fought a war in 2014.


Poll bodes well for future of women’s empowerment in the Arab world

Updated 1 min 1 sec ago

Poll bodes well for future of women’s empowerment in the Arab world

  • YouGov study shows 59 percent support women holding ministerial roles in the region
  • GCC countries are a prime example of women excelling in every arena, says expert

DUBAI: Women’s empowerment in the Arab world has a bright future, if the findings of a YouGov study commissioned by Arab News for the Arab Strategy Forum are any guide.
Several recent regional developments — women driving in Saudi Arabia and an increase in the number of women holding ministerial roles in the Arab world — are viewed by substantial numbers of Arabs as positive.
A combined average of 61 percent said they expect to see more female empowerment in their home country over the next 10 years. This thinking was strongest in the Levant at 60 percent, followed by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries with 48 percent and 44 percent in North Africa.
The study surveyed 3,079 Arabic speakers, aged 18 years old and above, from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to better understand their current and future concerns on various topics.
June 24, 2018, will go down in history as the day Saudi Arabia lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. Two-thirds of the poll respondents actively supported the Kingdom’s new driving law, with only nine per cent expressing opposition.
Commenting on women’s standing in the MENA region, Maria Al-Qassimi, an Emirati writer, said recent decades had witnessed a movement led by Arab women to redefine social norms through a call for “equal opportunities and less restrictive laws.”
Despite the rapid speed of policy changes, Al-Qassimi says she wishes to see further progress in the standing of women in Arab societies.
“I hope that policies and regulations will be revised to allow both men and women to strike a balance between their responsibilities and contributions both at home and at work,” she told Arab News.
Al-Qassimi believes that the situation of women and other “vulnerable” segments of society as of now is largely determined by economic factors.
If women continued to play an important role in driving Arab economies forward while demonstrating their “indispensability” on the global level, countries would have an incentive to enlarge women’s empowerment, she said.
Al-Qassimi said there was no doubt that governments around the Arab world were recognizing the need for women’s empowerment in building stronger economies and societies. However, a change in social attitudes may require more time.
Al-Qassimi cited the GCC states as a prime example of women’s excellent performance in almost every field. In the UAE, women make up 70 percent of all university graduates, and hold 66 percent of all public-sector jobs, she said.
In Saudi Arabia, the number of women working in the public and private sectors has increased by “282 percent” over the past year. “The hope is not only for women to occupy more leadership positions, but to push for more merit-based career advancements across the GCC,” Al-Qassimi said.
Women holding ministerial roles in the Arab region is a development that gained strong support from respondents, with 59 percent expressing positive sentiment, as opposed to 14 percent who were negative.
Among those expecting to see an even greater increase in the number of Arabs supporting women’s empowerment in the next two years is Injeel Firoz Moti, managing director at Catch Communications, an agency that works with female entrepreneurs in the UAE and across the GCC.
“One advancement I see taking place is the rise of more women in the workforce as well as growth of the female entrepreneur,” said Moti, who foresees more women taking up leadership roles and driving operations in the labor force.
Moti described women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia, including the new driving law and the modification of the public dress code, as “setting a precedent” for further positive changes.
This was supported by the poll’s findings on a woman’s right to choose what to wear: 52 percent of respondents expressed positive sentiments.
Women of the Arab world have made great strides in breaking away from “centuries-old gender norms and traditions,” one of which is freedom of appearance, according to Al-Qassimi.
“What women wear is unfortunately not a physical representation and expression of who they are, but of the honor and chastity of their immediate and extended families,” she said.
The poll also showed 24 percent of respondents selected one of two options — “prefer not to answer” or “neither agree or disagree” — when asked about the topic of women’s clothing.
Al-Qassimi said some Arab societies “respond to emotions of fear and shame,” which she believes could be the reason many respondents in the survey disagreed with the freedom of appearance or chose not to give an opinion.
Other questions in the survey dealt with topics such as forced marriage and honor crimes. The findings suggest that 77 percent of the Arab world disagree with the practice of forced marriage, with 67 percent of respondents strongly opposed to it.
“Given the rate at which our societies are evolving, with time more value will hopefully be given to the individual and the choices he or she makes,” Al-Qassimi said.