Israeli strikes kill six in Syria after Palestinian rocket barrage

Israeli strikes kill six in Syria after Palestinian rocket barrage
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on February 24, 2020, reportedly shows Syrian air defense intercepting an Israeli missile over Damascus. (SANA/AFP)
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Updated 25 February 2020

Israeli strikes kill six in Syria after Palestinian rocket barrage

Israeli strikes kill six in Syria after Palestinian rocket barrage
  • Residents said multiple explosions shook Damascus and lasted for about 15 minutes as air defenses fired back
  • Israel claimed responsibility, saying it staged a series of strikes targeting the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in Syria and the Gaza Strip

JERUSALEM: Israeli air strikes targeting the Islamic Jihad militant group in the Gaza Strip and Syria killed at least six fighters, a war monitor said Monday, after the militants fired a barrage of rockets at Israel.

In the latest tit-for-tat violence ahead of a March 2 general election in the Jewish state, the Israeli Air Force targeted “Islamic Jihad terror sites” throughout Gaza and near the Syrian capital Damascus, a military statement said.

It followed more than 20 rockets and mortars fired from the Palestinian enclave, themselves a response to the killing of an Islamic Jihad militant along the Gaza-Israel border.

Islamic Jihad, which along with allied group Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, operates in both the Gaza Strip and Syria.

The Israeli army said it had struck Islamic Jihad targets on the outskirts of Damascus, including a base “used as a hub” for the group’s activities in the country.

Islamic Jihad, which is allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad, confirmed early Monday that two of its fighters were killed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, later confirmed that four additional pro-Assad, Iran-backed fighters died in the strike.

At least one of the Iran-backed fighters was Syrian, while the nationalities of the others remained unknown, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria, mainly targeting government troops as well as allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

It is rare for them to claim such strikes directly.

Earlier on Sunday, Israel’s military said it had killed a militant in Gaza who had tried to plant an explosive device near the border fence.

Israel later confirmed that it extracted the militant’s body with a bulldozer.

Israel’s hawkish Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has pursued a policy of retaining the bodies of militants from Gaza as bargaining chips to pressure Hamas, which has held the bodies of two Israeli soldiers since 2014.

A video emerged later on social media, which was authenticated by AFP, showing a bulldozer approaching a body while a group of young, apparently unarmed men, were trying to retrieve it.

The sound of gunfire is heard and the men ultimately run away as the bulldozer scoops up the body.

Hours later, more than 20 rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza toward Israel, setting off warning sirens in the southern city of Ashkelon and several other locations.

More than a dozen were intercepted by the Jewish state’s Iron Dome missile defense system, the Israeli army said, adding there were no reports of serious injuries in Israel.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rockets, calling them a response to the killing of one its fighters along the Gaza border early Sunday.

Israeli military said it responded to the rocket fire by targeting “dozens” of Islamic Jihad targets throughout Gaza.

Health officials in Gaza said four people were wounded.

Hamas and Israel last fought a full-scale war in 2014, but smaller flareups are relatively common.

In November, Islamic Jihad and Israel fought a three-day conflict that left 35 Palestinians dead and more than 100 wounded, according to official figures.

Under the informal agreements in the past year, Israel has slightly eased a blockade of the impoverished Palestinian enclave in exchange for relative calm.

 


Charity rescue ship carrying 373 African migrants docks in Sicily

The Ocean Viking ship seen from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sicily. (AFP/File Photo)
The Ocean Viking ship seen from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sicily. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 9 min 43 sec ago

Charity rescue ship carrying 373 African migrants docks in Sicily

The Ocean Viking ship seen from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sicily. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The Ocean Viking vessel had been waiting in heavy swells to get clearance from authorities
  • Many migrants recounted stories of alleged abuses suffered in Libya

ROME: A charity rescue ship carrying 373 migrants picked up off the Libyan coast has been allowed to dock in the Italian port of Augusta, in Sicily.

The Ocean Viking vessel had been waiting in heavy swells to get clearance from authorities for its passengers to disembark.

The migrants — who included 165 children of which 21 were aged under four — had been plucked from four packed dinghies and where mostly from south Saharan countries in Africa. They had told rescuers they were fleeing from camps in Libya where they feared for their lives.

Many recounted stories of alleged abuses suffered in Libya, with some having already attempted sea crossings to Europe only to be intercepted and transported back to the Libyan camps.

One of those rescued, Kylian, 19, from Mali, told Arab News: “In Libya we were all crammed into one home and we weren’t free to go where we wanted. I was out when bandits came, and I wanted to run to warn the others in the camp. When they fired, I fell to the ground. They thought that I was dead, and they just left me there.”

The man said he was wounded but could not access medical care in the camp. “I thought I was going to die. This happens all the time in Libya. I was finally treated because a friend took me to a Cameroonian woman who was doctor.”

The teenager was speaking on the phone of a volunteer from the maritime humanitarian organization SOS Mediterranee. All the migrants will be transferred to a quarantine ship after being tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Luisa Albera, rescue coordinator on the Ocean Viking, told Arab News: “From the survivors, we have heard gruesome tales of the inhumane treatment they had to endure in Libya.

“The last three days at sea have been extremely hard for those people, as the weather has worsened rapidly. Several babies and small children were on board; they have particularly suffered from seasickness.”

She pointed out that more than 1,200 people had died last year while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

“We are relieved that the 373 people on board our ship managed to reach a safe port, but the international community must do more to save people in the Mediterranean. Too many lives depend on this.

“EU member states must find a sustainable solution and set up a rapid disembarkation mechanism, supporting European coastal states such as Italy and Malta and working to respect international maritime law on our common coasts to the south,” Albera said.

Prior to the Ocean Viking being given permission to dock in Augusta, a heavily pregnant woman was taken from the ship to the Italian island of Lampedusa by an Italian coastguard vessel.

Italy has repeatedly impounded charity vessels for safety violations, a policy that charities claim is often a tactic to keep them from performing rescues.

The Ocean Viking is currently the only charity ship operating off Libya’s coast, although Libyan coastguard ships are also patrolling, assisted by the EU, and have intercepted 300 migrants and returned them to Libya this month.