Truce ends deadly clashes across Gaza border

A Palestinian boy walks through a hole in a wall of a destroyed house following overnight Israeli missile strikes, in the town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip. (AP)
Updated 15 November 2019

Truce ends deadly clashes across Gaza border

  • Spokesman Musab Al-Berim says the Egyptian-brokered deal went into effect at 5:30 a.m. Thursday
  • The fighting broke out early Tuesday after Israel killed a senior commander of the militant group

GAZA: Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad and Israel agreed to halt hostilities across the Gaza Strip border on Thursday, ending a two-day confrontation that left 34 Palestinians dead and more than 100 injured.

The Egyptian-brokered truce went into effect about 48 hours after Israel triggered the exchange of fire by killing the Iranian-backed faction’s top Gaza commander in an air strike.

Fighting between Islamic Jihad and the Israeli army erupted after Israel assassinated a senior commander in the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, early on Tuesday.

According to the ministry of information, 190 Palestinian houses were damaged and five completely destroyed in the Israeli bombardment. At least 15 schools were also damaged.

As calm returned to the Gaza Strip, Palestinians expressed relief, but cautioned that the current round of fighting was unlikely to be the last.

“We are living in a constant cycle of escalation and calm,” said Sumaya Al-Rubaie, 55. “Life is difficult in Gaza. No one can live normally in this besieged enclave.”

“My husband and I and four of my children spent two days at home without going out for fear of shelling and rocket fire. We want to live a decent life without fear,” she told Arab News.

Gazans fear the outbreak of a new war in light of the continuing difficult humanitarian and economic conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and its military wing did not respond to the Israeli shelling, leaving Israel to focus on Islamic Jihad targets.

“The current round is over, but will the suffering of the Gaza Strip end? Certainly not. There is no work, no economy, no stability and freedom of movement is limited. At any time the bombing can come back again,” Ibrahim Al-Danaf, 28, said.

“What the Gaza Strip needs is national unity, a search for the future of youth, and an end to Israeli violations by agreeing on a policy of confrontation, not with every political faction deciding alone.”

Political analyst Hani Habib said that while the Israeli blockade remains and the political split between Fatah and Hamas continues, the Gaza Strip “will continue to suffer from difficult political and humanitarian conditions.” 

The current confrontation and three previous clashes had achieved nothing for Gazans, he said.

“On the contrary, the results were disastrous on more than one level.” 

Israel reopened the Erez crossing with the Gaza Strip on Thursday. The commercial Kerem Shalom border crossing will reopen on Sunday.


Hagia Sophia verdict seen as Erdogan’s attempt to ‘mask economic failure’

Updated 14 min 48 sec ago

Hagia Sophia verdict seen as Erdogan’s attempt to ‘mask economic failure’

  • President signs decree to reopen heritage site — Roman Empire’s first cathedral — as mosque

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree on Friday to reopen Hagia Sophia, the UNESCO world heritage site that was the Roman Empire’s first Christian cathedral, constructed in the sixth century CE, as a mosque.

UNESCO had previously urged Turkish authorities “to engage in dialogue before taking any decision that might impact the universal value of the site.”

The long-predicted move has been widely interpreted as an attempt to rally conservative nationalist voters around the ruling party and its nationalist coalition partner ahead of snap elections that many have forecast will happen next year. Several commentators, however, doubt the efficacy of the move given that — under the current economic conditions — the majority of the Turkish people are focused on more urgent matters.

Around 55 percent of respondents to a poll conducted by Turkey’s Metropoll in June said the main reason for announcing the reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque would be to distract from debates on Turkey’s economic crisis and to boost the government’s hand ahead of a snap election.

Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the move is another step in Erdogan’s attempt to impose his “brand of conservative Islam,” in direct opposition to the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular revolution.

“Just as Ataturk ‘un-mosqued’ Hagia Sophia 86 years ago, and gave it museum status to underline his secularist revolution, Erdogan is remaking it a mosque to underline his religious revolution,” Cagaptay said.

The reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, regardless of domestic and international criticism, overlaps with Erdogan’s desire to be the “new sultan” of the country, he continued.

“Erdogan is already patronizing the construction of two mosques in Istanbul. He wants to leave a political and religious imprint behind, and Hagia Sophia completes his ‘trilogy’ of mosques,” he said.

But, Cagaptay noted, there is a tactical aspect to the announcement as well.

“As a nativist-populist leader, Erdogan hopes to rally his base by underlining their ‘victim’ narrative — saying, ’How dare these secularists deny us, pious Muslims, the liberty to pray at Hagia Sophia?’” he said.

BACKGROUND

  • The long-predicted move has been widely interpreted as an attempt to rally conservative- nationalist voters around the ruling party ahead of snap polls.

Cagaptay, along with other experts, believes any boost Erdogan may enjoy following the announcement will likely be undermined by Turkey’s ongoing economic challenges, including high inflation and unemployment rates.

Last year, Hagia Sophia drew 3.7 million tourists to its famed dome, rust-colored walls and ornamental minarets. But many believe Erdogan’s latest move will hurt the country’s popularity as a tourist destination.

“Turkey’s global brand as a Muslim-majority society that is open to its Christian past is going to be irreversibly damaged,” Cagaptay said.

“One of the effects of the conversion of Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque will be a spike in Islamophobia in the West and elsewhere. Which, of course, Erdogan will then use to his advantage,” Dimitar Bechev of the Atlantic Council tweeted.