Israel strikes Gaza, cancels easing of restrictions

This picture taken early on Feb. 16, 2020, shows a general view from above of Gaza city, a day after Israeli warplanes attacked Hamas positions in retaliation against rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave into Israel. / AFP / MAHMUD HAMS
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Updated 16 February 2020

Israel strikes Gaza, cancels easing of restrictions

  • Israel has eased its crippling blockade of Gaza following an informal truce with Hamas
  • Critics say the Gaza blockade is collective punishment of two million people and feeds extremism

JERUSALEM: The Israeli air force attacked Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip on Saturday in retaliation to rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave into Israel, a military statement said.
The exchange of fire between both sides has escalated since last month after US President Donald Trump unveiled his Middle East peace plan, angrily rejected by the Palestinians as a capitulation to Israeli objectives.
“Fighter planes and helicopters have targeted positions of the terrorist organization Hamas in central Gaza Strip,” including a military post, said the Israeli military, which earlier reported two projectiles had been fired into the Jewish state from the Gaza Strip.
Following the rocket fire, Israel announced it would cancel a slight easing of the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

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“The extension of the fishing zone, the restoration of 500 commercial permits and the delivery of cement have been canceled,” because of the rocket fire, COGAT, the Israel defense ministry unit that oversees civilian activities in the Palestinian territories, said in a statement.
Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008 but over the past year, the Islamists had gradually shaped an informal truce with Israel, under which the Jewish state has eased its crippling blockade of Gaza.
Israel justifies the blockade by the need to contain the Islamist movement Hamas — designated a terrorist organization by much of the West — which has controlled the enclave since 2007.
Critics say it is collective punishment of two million people and feeds extremism.
Palestinians in Gaza have launched rockets, mortar shells and balloons rigged with explosives at southern Israel on a near-daily basis since Trump’s plan was unveiled.


Pope Francis ‘very distressed’ over Turkey’s Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque

Updated 1 min 20 sec ago

Pope Francis ‘very distressed’ over Turkey’s Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque

  • ‘My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed’

VACTICAN CITY: Pope Francis said Sunday he was “very distressed” over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed,” the pope said in the Vatican’s first reaction to a decision that has drawn international criticism.
The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano had on Saturday carried reaction from different countries about Friday’s decision to turn the monument from a museum back into a mosque but without any comment.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who critics say is chipping away at the Muslim-majority country’s secular pillars, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the past, he has repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque and in 2018, he recited a verse from the Qur'an at Hagia Sophia.
Erdogan’s announcement came after a top court canceled a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey’s secularizing founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.