Israeli jets bomb Gaza after rocket fire clouds peace deal signing

A member of the Israeli security forces checks the scene of an explosion following a rocket attack fired from Gaza, in Ashdod. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Israeli jets bomb Gaza after rocket fire clouds peace deal signing

  • Hamas warned Israel of an escalation, barely two weeks after a renewed Egyptian-brokered truce halted near-nightly exchanges across the border through August

GAZA CITY: Israel bombed Gaza on Wednesday after militants fired rockets through the night, overshadowing the signing of landmark normalization deals with the UAE and Bahrain in Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the militants of seeking to stop the peace deals, Israel’s first with an Arab country since 1994.

But Gaza ruler Hamas warned Israel it faced an escalation if the bombing continued, barely two weeks after a renewed Egyptian-brokered truce halted near-nightly exchanges across the border through August.

The signing of the two agreements at a White House ceremony hosted by US President Donald Trump prompted protest rallies across the Palestinian territories.

The deals broke with decades of Arab consensus that there would be no normalization of relations with Israel until it had made peace with the Palestinians and drew accusations of “betrayal” against the Western-backed Gulf states.

At least 15 rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip between 8 p.m. on Tuesday and early Wednesday, nine of which were intercepted by Israeli air defenses, the military said.

One hit the southern port city of Ashdod, wounding at least two people, emergency services said.

“We were surprised by the rockets,” said Ilanit Levy, a 45-year-old resident of Sderot, an Israeli town close to the Gaza border.

“It’s because of the agreements. Maybe they wanted to say that they don’t want peace with us, that they want to damage the agreements,” she added.

The Israeli military said fighter jets responded with strikes on Hamas military targets.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket fire.

But Israel held Hamas responsible, warning it would “bear the consequences for terror activity against Israeli civilians.”

The rocket fire came as the UAE and Bahrain signed accords establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and Netanyahu accused the militants of seeking to
derail them.

“They want to prevent peace, they won’t. We will hit everyone who tries to harm us, and we will extend a hand of peace to all who reach out to us to make peace,” the prime minister said in a statement.

The landmark agreements prompted demonstrations on Tuesday in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Clutching Palestinian flags and wearing blue face masks for protection against coronavirus, demonstrators rallied in the West Bank cities of Nablus, Hebron and Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority.

Trump said the agreements “will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region.”

“After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” he said.

Speaking later to reporters, he said Israel would enter into similar deals with up to nine other countries, including regional power Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the deals would “not achieve peace in the region” until the US and Israel acknowledged his people’s right to a state.

“Peace, security and stability will not be achieved in the region until the Israeli occupation ends,” he said.

Abbas warned that “attempts to bypass the Palestinian people and its leadership, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization, will have dangerous consequences.”

UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov arrived in Gaza on Wednesday for pre-scheduled meetings with Hamas officials.

The new rocket fire came after militants launched rockets and balloons fitted with incendiary devices across the border through much of August, drawing retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.

Late last month, the two sides renewed an Egyptian-brokered truce under which Israel has allowed financial aid from the gas-rich state of Qatar to flow into impoverished Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007.


No Middle East peace without solving ‘Palestinian problem,’ says Russia

Updated 18 September 2020

No Middle East peace without solving ‘Palestinian problem,’ says Russia

  • Kremlin observes ‘progress’ in the normalization of ties in the region

MOSCOW: Russia said it would be a “mistake” to think of peace in the Middle East without resolving the Palestinian issue.

The Foreign Ministry statement came on Thursday after Israel normalized relations with long-time foes Bahrain and the UAE at the White House on Tuesday.

Russia said it noted “progress” in the normalization of ties between Israel and several Arab countries but said that “the Palestinian problem remains acute.” 

“It would be a mistake to think that without finding a solution to it that it will be possible to secure lasting stabilization in the Middle East.” 

Moscow urged regional and global players to “ramp up coordinated efforts” to solve the issue. 

“Russia is ready for such joint work,” including in the framework of the diplomatic Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators and in close coordination with the Arab League, the Foreign Ministry said. 

US President Donald Trump has said similar US-brokered deals are close between the Jewish state and several other nations. 

Bahrain and the UAE are the first Arab nations to establish relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. 

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday that only an Israeli withdrawal from its occupied territories could bring peace to the Middle East.