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.


Ankara meddling in South Caucasian conflict sparks wide criticism

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan meets with top military officials in Yerevan on September 27, 2020. Arch foes Armenia and Azerbaijan on September 27, 2020 accused each other of initiating deadly clashes that claimed at least 23 lives over a decades-long territorial dispute and threatened to draw in regional powers Russia and Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2020

Ankara meddling in South Caucasian conflict sparks wide criticism

  • Turkey, under the leadership of Recept Tayyip Er4dogan, is also blamed for meddling in Syria, Iraq and Libya
  • Syrian mercenaries reportedly recruited with the help of Turkish intelligence agency

JEDDAH: Amid the rising escalation of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ankara has offered its full diplomatic support to Baku.
This is along with widespread reports that it has arranged a flow of Syrian jihadists to the Azeri territories via Turkey to boost its regional partner’s military resilience during the clashes.
However, after its controversial meddling in Syria, Iraq and Libya, its active engagement in a conflict in the South Caucasus has sparked criticism about how far Ankara can go to expand its regional ambitions.
“We strongly condemn the Armenian attack that caused civilian losses and that is a clear violation of international law. Turkey fully supports Azerbaijan. We’ll stand with it anyway it wishes,” read a Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement on Sept. 27.
Armenian officials have long claimed that some Turkish troops remained in Azerbaijan recently after they went there for joint drilling activities.
Sources from the Syrian National Army (SNA) reportedly announced that up to 1,000 jihadists were deployed to Azerbaijan as mercenaries, while sources from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia reported that hundreds of Syrian mercenaries were moved through Turkey’s southeastern province of Kilis.
Hikmet Durgun, a Turkish journalist, claimed that these SNA militants would be deployed toward Nagorno Karabakh, a disputed landlocked region in the South Caucasus.
Sources reached by Arab News also claimed that some of the mercenaries were drawn from Turkish-backed factions on the Libyan battleground.
Syrian mercenaries are said to be recruited through the intermediary of the Turkish intelligence agency with a promised monthly wage of $2,000 each, and have been transported via Turkish military cargo planes to the Azeri cities of Ganja and Baku using the airspace of Georgia.
“About a month ago, rumors spread on WhatsApp among SNA fighters that they can register to go to Azerbaijan. Many registered over WhatsApp, others apparently through offices in the Turkish-controlled areas. The fighters registered due to the enticing rumored salaries of $2K-$2.5K,” Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Center for Global Policy, tweeted.

HIGHLIGHT

Armenian officials have long claimed that some Turkish troops remained in Azerbaijan recently after they went there for joint drilling activities.

Idlib post, a local news site in the Syrian Idlib province, also confirmed with a photo that a group of 300 fighters of the Syrian National Army left from the Syrian territories in the countryside of Aleppo to Azerbaijan via Turkey.
Award-winning journalist Lindsey Snell claimed that they were mainly selected from the Hamza division, a Syrian rebel group in northwestern Syria that has cooperated, as a proxy force, with the Turkish Armed Forces in military operations in northern Syria.
In the meantime, the official visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Ankara on Sunday was abruptly canceled.
Paul Antonopoulos, a regional expert, expects that Sunday’s clashes will end in a cease-fire after pressure from the EU, Russia, and perhaps even the US, to end hostilities.
“Armenia is a member state of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Eurasian military alliance led by Russia. This would likely deter Turkey from directly intervening militarily and thus the conflict will be contained between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, urged the international community to “use all of its influence to halt any possible interference by Turkey, which will ultimately destabilize the situation in the region.” He also said that Turkey’s behavior could have destructive consequences for the South Caucasus and neighboring regions.
Antonopoulos thinks that there is strong evidence that Turkey has transferred militants from northern Syria to Azerbaijan, and will likely use this proxy force in the same way that they were used in Libya.
“Turkey will unequivocally support Azerbaijan in every possible way they can bar a direct military intervention. Turkey’s strong diplomatic support for Azerbaijan will continue, as well as material and intelligence aid,” he said. “I would estimate that when there is enough international pressure to end the hostilities, Russia and Turkey will mediate together to bring a temporary end to the hostilities.”
Joseh Borrell Fontelles, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, spoke to ministers in Armenia and Azerbaijan on Sunday evening to urge an immediate cease-fire and called them to return to the negotiation table.
However, some pro-government journalists in Turkey called for the use of military force against Armenia to protect Azeri interests.
Ibrahim Karagul, the chief editor of one of the key pro-government newspapers, Yenisafak, advised the dropping of a “missile in the middle of Yerevan” to show Turkish solidarity for Azerbaijan, adding: “In this way, we can build a Caucasus Islam Army within 100 years.”