Gaza strikes raise fears of open war

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Thursday. (AFP)
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Updated 07 February 2020

Gaza strikes raise fears of open war

  • Palestinian security sources reported hits on targets north of a refugee camp near Gaza City
  • Israel has halted steps to ease the blockade imposed 13 years ago

GAZA CITY: Strikes by Israeli aircraft on Hamas positions in Gaza early on Thursday have raised fears of a broader military confrontation as anger grows over the Trump peace plan.

Israel carried out limited airstrikes after Palestinians in the enclave fired missiles and launched explosive balloons across the border about 10 days ago. Palestinian security sources reported hits on targets north of a refugee camp near Gaza City and a Hamas facility in the southern Gaza Strip.

The escalation in hostilities brought warnings from Israeli and Palestinian observers that the cease-fire arrangements brokered by Egypt a few months ago could collapse and the situation spin out of control toward a military confrontation.

Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on Tuesday said Hamas had launched balloons and rockets to pressure Israel to ease its blockade as part of the truce.

In response, Israel has halted steps to ease the blockade imposed 13 years ago, reducing the permits it gives to merchants, stopping the supply of cement and preventing the export of agricultural products.

“The resistance forces in Gaza are in contact with the Egyptian mediator to pressure Israel to implement its obligations related to easing the blockade,” an Islamic Jihad movement leader, Ahmed Al-Mudallal, told Arab News. 

“We do not want our people to go to war, and the effects of the last war (2014) still remain. But the resistance cannot remain idle in the face of the tight and suffocating siege and Israel stalling in the implementation of its obligations,” he said.

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The escalation in hostilities brought warnings from Israeli and Palestinian observers that the cease-fire arrangements brokered by Egypt a few months ago could collapse and the situation spin out of control toward a military confrontation.

Al-Mudallal warned Israel that any failure to meet its obligations could lead to “an explosion.” However, Hamza Abu Shanab, a political analyst affiliated with Hamas, said imminent war in Gaza is unlikely.

“The conditions are not ripe for a wide military confrontation, and every party, whether Hamas or Israel, knows that the price of this confrontation will be great and painful,” he said.

According to Abu Shanab, Hamas is trying to take advantage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s preoccupation with elections early next month, and build pressure to improve life in Gaza, without entering into a war.

“Netanyahu is practicing a balanced policy, as he does not want the understanding in Gaza to collapse,” he said. 

Abu Shanab believes the chances of a large-scale military confrontation in the near future remain slim.

“Netanyahu does not want to gamble, and Hamas does not want to lose the improvements since the cease-fire deal was reached,” he said.

Political scientist Prof. Tayseer Muheisen agrees that Netanyahu’s strategy is based on achieving gains in Gaza and the region without war since any military confrontation will threaten his political life.

On the other hand, “Hamas relies on slow pressure to achieve gains related to easing the suffocating siege imposed on Gaza without bearing the consequences and losses of the war,” Muheisen said.

He said that factions in Gaza have only limited options to put pressure on Netanyahu, but would resort to conflict only in the event that Israel continues to evade its obligations under the cease-fire.

“The situation in Gaza will remain the same. There will not be a major development and each party will maintain its deliberate responses,” he said.


Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

Workers disinfect Qom’s Masumeh shrine, which is visited by a large number of people, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2020

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

  • Six Saudi women recovering in Bahrain as Kingdom warns against travel to Italy and Japan

DUBAI: Two more people infected with the new coronavirus have died, taking the toll in Iran to 16, a Health Ministry official told state TV on Tuesday.

Iran has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged late last year.
“Among those who had been suspected of the virus, 35 have been confirmed and two died of the coronavirus infection,” said Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour. He said 95 people had been infected across Iran.
The Health Ministry urged Iranians to stay at home.
Iran said on Monday 900 cases were suspected, dismissing claims by a lawmaker from Qom who said 50 people had died in the city, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Iran, which confirmed its first two deaths last week in Qom, has yet to say how many people it has quarantined, but the semi-official Mehr news agency said 320 people had been hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, Iran’s deputy health minister, has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now under quarantine.
Six Arab countries have reported their first cases of coronavirus, with those infected all having links to Iran. Kuwait said the number of infected people there had risen to eight.
Bahrain’s Health Ministry said 15 more people, including six Saudi women, had tested positive for the virus after returning from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah. The new cases were carried by Bahraini and Saudi nationals who arrived at Bahrain International Airport from Iran via Dubai or Sharjah.
The Saudi Ministry of Health said that it was coordinating with Bahraini health officials for the treatment of the Saudi women who had visited Iran. They will remain in Bahrain until they are fully recovered. The Kingdom has advised citizens and residents to avoid traveling to Italy and Japan.
Iranian authorities have ordered the nationwide cancellation of concerts and soccer matches and the closure of schools and universities in many provinces.
The head of Qom’s Medical Science University, Mohammad Reza Ghadir, expressed concern over “the spread of those people infected by the virus across the city,” adding the Health Ministry had banned releasing figures linked to the coronavirus.
Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing the facts.
Rouhani called for calm, saying the outbreak was no worse than other epidemics that Iran has weathered.
The sight of Iranians wearing masks and gloves is now common in much of the country.
Sales of masks, disinfectant gels and disposable gloves have soared in Tehran and other cities, with officials vowing to prevent hoarding and shortages by boosting production.
Iran has shut schools, universities and cultural centers until the end of the week in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The UAE has banned all flights to and from Iran. The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran’s 80 million people.
Emirates, the government-owned carrier based in Dubai, flies daily to Tehran. Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, flies to multiple Iranian cities, as does the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia.
The announcement came after Bahrain said it would suspend all flights from Dubai and Sharjah.
Kuwait raised the number of its infected cases to eight, after earlier raising the number to five. It said the three latest cases involved Kuwaiti citizens just back from Iran, without giving more details. The five previously reported cases were passengers returning on a flight from the Iranian city of Mashhad, where Iran’s government has not yet announced a single case of the virus.
Kuwait had halted transport links with Iran over the weekend and said it was evacuating its citizens from Iran.
An Iraqi family of four who returned from a visit to Iran tested positive for the coronavirus, the first Iraqis known to have caught the disease.
The four cases in Kirkuk province brought Iraq’s total to five after it reported its first case on Monday, an Iranian theology student in Najaf. Iraq is deeply concerned about its exposure to the Iranian outbreak, as it has deep cultural and religious ties with its neighbor and typically receives millions of Iranians each year.
The Iraqi government, which has already banned all travel from China and Iran, added Italy, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan to its travel ban list on Tuesday. Returning Iraqi citizens are exempt, as are diplomats.
Populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr suspended a call for his followers to hold a “million-man” protest, saying he had decide to forbid the events “for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else.”
“I had called for million-man protests and sit-ins against sectarian power-sharing and today I forbid you from them for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else,” he said in a statement. It was not immediately clear how the government’s call on citizens to avoid public gatherings would affect the strength of anti-government protests, and the response of security forces.
A Turkish Airlines plane flying from Iran was diverted to Ankara on Tuesday at the Turkish Health Ministry’s request and an aviation news website said one passenger was suspected of being infected by coronavirus.
Turkey’s Demiroren news agency broadcast video showing ambulances lined up beside the plane, with several personnel wearing white protective suits on the tarmac.
The plane was flying from Tehran and had been scheduled to land in Istanbul. Turkey shut its borders to Iran on Sunday and cut flights due to the spread of the virus in that country.
Oman’s Khasab port has suspended the import and export of goods to and from Iran from Feb. 26.