Israel pounds Gaza to curb Hamas but rockets still fly, death toll hits 126

An explosion lights the sky following an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021. (File/AFP)
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An explosion lights the sky following an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021. (File/AFP)
A picture shows the explosion after an Israeli strike targeted a building in Gaza City on May 14, 2021. Israel pounded Gaza and deployed extra troops to the border as Palestinians fired barrages of rockets back. (AFP)
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A picture shows the explosion after an Israeli strike targeted a building in Gaza City on May 14, 2021. Israel pounded Gaza and deployed extra troops to the border as Palestinians fired barrages of rockets back. (AFP)
An explosion lights the sky following an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021. (File/AFP)
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An explosion lights the sky following an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2021

Israel pounds Gaza to curb Hamas but rockets still fly, death toll hits 126

A picture shows the explosion after an Israeli strike targeted a building in Gaza City on May 14, 2021. Israel pounded Gaza and deployed extra troops to the border as Palestinians fired barrages of rockets back. (AFP)
  • The dead includes at least 31 children and 20 women, with 900 injured
  • Israel faced widening conflict on Friday, as deadly violence also erupted across the West Bank

GAZA CITY: Israel pummelled Gaza with artillery fire and air strikes on Friday as it targeted Palestinian militant tunnels to try to stop persistent rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

And Israel faced a widening conflict, as deadly violence erupted across the West Bank amid a massive aerial bombardment in Gaza and unprecedented unrest among Arabs and Jews inside the country.

The West Bank clashes, described as among the most intense since the second intifada that began in 2000, left 11 people dead from Israeli fire, the Palestinian health ministry said, as overall fatalities from strikes on Gaza rose to 126.

The Israeli operation included 160 aircraft as well as tanks and artillery firing from outside the Gaza Strip, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.

Palestinian rocket barrages against southern Israel swiftly followed on the fifth day of the most serious fighting between Israel and Gaza militants since 2014.

Egypt was leading international efforts to secure a ceasefire amid fears the conflict could spread. Security sources said neither side appeared amenable so far but a Palestinian official said negotiations had intensified on Friday.

Gaza's ruling Hamas group launched the rocket attacks on Monday, aiming at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, in Jerusalem.

Violence has since spread to cities where Jews and Israel's minority Arab community live side by side and there have been clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where health officials said five Palestinians had been killed on Friday.


At least 126 people have since been killed in Gaza, including at least 31 children and 20 women, and 900 others wounded, Palestinian medical officials said.

Among eight dead in Israel were a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, six Israeli civilians - including two children, an elderly woman and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there were reports of more than 200 housing units destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza and hundreds of people seeking shelter in schools in the north of the coastal enclave.

Israel says it makes every effort to preserve civilian life, including warning in advance of attacks.

“What we were targeting is an elaborate system of tunnels that spans underneath Gaza, mostly in the north but not limited to, and is a network that the operatives of Hamas use in order to move, in order to hide, for cover,” Conricus told foreign reporters, adding that the network was dubbed "the Metro".

Israeli warplanes on Friday bombed the houses of three senior Hamas military commanders in central Gaza which had already been evacuated, local residents said.

Dozens of mourners took part in the funeral of six people - members of two families whose houses were hit by Israeli air strikes on Thursday - in the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

Holding the cloth-bound body of his 19-month-old nephew in his arms, Khamees al-Rantissi said their house was bombed without prior warning. “What was this child doing? What threat did he pose for the state of Israel?” Rantissi asked.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that the campaign against Hamas was “not over yet.” Israeli officials said Hamas, Gaza's most powerful militant group, must be dealt a strong deterring blow before any ceasefire.

FLURRY OF DIPLOMACY

Egypt was pushing for both sides to cease fire from midnight on Friday pending further negotiations, two Egyptian security sources said, with Cairo leaning on Hamas and others, including the United States, trying to reach an agreement with Israel.

“The talks have taken a real and serious path on Friday,” a Palestinian official said. “The mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations are stepping up their contacts with all sides in a bid to restore calm, but a deal hasn't yet been reached.”

The head of the International Criminal Court warned that those involved in the bloodshed may be targeted by its investigation into alleged war crimes in earlier bouts of the conflict.

The hostilities have fuelled tension between Israeli Jews and the country's 21% Arab minority. Violence continued in mixed communities overnight after street fighting and tit-for-tat attacks that prompted Israel's president to warn of civil war.

“They say Gaza is spiralling out of control, but what is happening here scares me more,” said Majd Abado, an Arab resident of the mixed city of Acre, where people from both communities said they were afraid to leave their homes.

Israel's military said a Palestinian tried to stab a soldier near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The soldier shot the attacker. Palestinian health officials said the man was killed.

The Israeli military's build-up of forces on the Gaza border has raised speculation of a possible repeat of ground invasions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2009. But Israel is loath to risk a sharp increase in military casualties on Hamas turf.

Major airlines have suspended flights to Israel and at least two owners of tankers delivering crude oil asked to divert from Ashkelon to the port of Haifa, farther north of Gaza, because of the conflict, shipping sources said on Friday.

The UN Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence on Sunday, diplomats said after the United States had objected to a meeting on Friday.

The Israeli military has put the number of militants killed in Israeli attacks at between 80 and 90. It said that so far, some 1,800 rockets have been fired at Israel, of which 430 fell short in Gaza or malfunctioned.


Israel parliament poised to vote on anti-Netanyahu government

Israel parliament poised to vote on anti-Netanyahu government
Updated 16 min 4 sec ago

Israel parliament poised to vote on anti-Netanyahu government

Israel parliament poised to vote on anti-Netanyahu government
  • The Knesset vote will either terminate the hawkish premier’s uninterrupted 12-year tenure or return Israel to a stalemate

JERUSALEM: Israeli lawmakers are to vote Sunday on a “change” coalition government of bitter ideological rivals united by their determination to banish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
The crunch Knesset vote will either terminate the hawkish premier’s uninterrupted 12-year tenure or return Israel to a stalemate likely to trigger a fifth general election since 2019.
Netanyahu, who is battling a clutch of corruption charges in an ongoing trial he dismisses as a conspiracy, has pushed Israeli politics firmly to the right over the years.
On Saturday night, around 2,000 protesters rallied outside the 71-year-old’s official residence to celebrate what they believe will be his departure from office.
“For us, this is a big night and tomorrow will be even a bigger day. I am almost crying. We fought peacefully for this (Netanyahu’s departure) and the day has come,” said protester Ofir Robinski.
A fragile eight-party alliance, ranging from the right-wing Jewish nationalist Yamina party to Arab lawmakers, was early this month cobbled together by centrist politician Yair Lapid.
On Friday, all coalition agreements had been signed and submitted to the Knesset secretariat, Yamina announced, a moment party leader Naftali Bennett said brought “to an end two and a half years of political crisis.”
But the ever-combative Netanyahu has tried to peel off defectors that would deprive the nascent coalition of its wafer-thin legislative majority.
If the new government is confirmed, Bennett, a former defense minister, would serve as premier for two years.
Coalition architect Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party and is a former television presenter, would then take the helm.
The anti-Netanyahu bloc spans the political spectrum, including three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.
The improbable alliance emerged two weeks after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza and following inter-communal violence in Israeli cities with significant Arab populations.
“We will work together, out of partnership and national responsibility — and I believe we will succeed,” Bennett said Friday.
Sunday’s crucial Knesset session is due to open at 4:00 p.m. local time (1300 GMT), with Bennett, Lapid and Netanyahu all set to speak before the vote.
Netanyahu has heaped pressure on his former right-wing allies to defect from the fledgling coalition while attacking the legitimacy of the Bennett-Lapid partnership.
He has accused Bennett of “fraud” for siding with rivals, and angry rallies by the premier’s Likud party supporters have resulted in security being bolstered for some lawmakers.
Netanyahu’s bombastic remarks as he sees his grip on power slip have drawn parallels at home and abroad to former US president Donald Trump, who described his election loss last year as the result of a rigged vote.
The prime minister has called the prospective coalition “the greatest election fraud in the history” of Israel.
His Likud party said the accusations refer to Bennett entering a coalition that “doesn’t reflect the will of the voters.”
Sunday’s vote arrives hot on the heels of police crackdowns on Palestinian protests over the threatened eviction of families from homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers, a month after similar clashes fueled the latest war between Israel and Hamas.
It also comes amid right-wing anger over the postponement of a controversial Jewish nationalist march.
Netanyahu favored finding a way to allow the so-called “March of the Flags,” originally scheduled to take place last Thursday, to proceed as planned.
He took that position despite the original route envisaging the march unfolding close to flashpoint areas including the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, where clashes last month triggered the Gaza conflict.
The premier’s insistence saw his opponents accuse him and his allies of stoking tensions to cling onto power via a “scorched-earth” campaign.
If Netanyahu loses the premiership, he will not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity in regard to his corruption trial.
The controversial flag march is now slated for Tuesday and ongoing tensions surrounding it could represent a key initial test for any approved coalition.


Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign

Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign
Updated 42 min 52 sec ago

Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign

Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign
  • A total of 338 patients are in intensive care rooms, according to a June 11, 2021 report by the country’s Ministry of Health
  • Tens of thousands of people in the Sultanate have been vaccinated in private hospitals, as part of the country’s inoculation effort

DUBAI: Oman has reported an increase in daily coronavirus cases amid the start of mass vaccination campaign in the Sultanate.
Hospitals have exceeded the limit allocated to coronavirus patients in Intensive Care Units, reaching 157 percent in two hospitals, local daily Times of Oman reported.
A total of 338 patients are in intensive care rooms, according to a June 11, 2021 report by the country’s Ministry of Health.
Oman’s daily infection rate has more than tripled in the past 30 days, with the number of people testing positive with COVID-19 approaching 2,000 this week.
“The indicators of this wave are very worrisome, and this recent spike in numbers is because of gatherings that took place during Eid,” Dr Faryal Al-Lawati, a Senior Consultant in Infectious Diseases at the Royal Hospital, told local radio station Shabiba FM.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in the Sultanate have been vaccinated in private hospitals, as part of the country’s inoculation effort.
Private hospitals and clinics have contributed to the campaign against COVID-19 by offering vaccinations to walk-in patients and those who have registered in advance.
“Those who wish to get vaccinated at private hospitals will need to pay a fee, which depends on the type of vaccine they choose to take,” the report said.
A doctor at Badr Al-Sama’a Hospital, a private medical center that is taking part in the immunization campaign, said: “the cost of the vaccine will be borne by patients. Those who want to take the vaccine can walk in to any of our clinics, where they will be administered a vaccine of their choice, provided it is in stock.”
After taking the vaccine, patients will be required to wait 15 minutes at the hospital, where they will be examined for any symptoms.


Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low turnout amid opposition boycott

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low  turnout amid opposition boycott
Updated 13 June 2021

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low turnout amid opposition boycott

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low  turnout amid opposition boycott
  • A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — vied for the 407-seat legislature, once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on parliament

 

ALGIERS: Voter turnout was low midway through the day as Algerians voted on Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a “new Algeria.”

Tension surrounded the voting in the gas-rich North African nation. Activists and opposition parties boycotted the election.

Authorities have tightened the screws on the Hirak protest movement in recent weeks, with police stopping weekly marches and arresting dozens, the latest a Hirak figure and two journalists. The three prominent opposition figures, including journalist Khaled Drareni, a press freedom advocate, were freed early Saturday, three days after their arrests.

The early election is supposed to exemplify President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “new Algeria,” with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the political elite.

A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — are running for the 407-seat legislature, once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on parliament. Islamist parties all offered candidates.

FASTFACT

The three prominent opposition figures, including journalist Khaled Drareni, were freed early on Saturday, three days after their arrests.

It’s the first legislative election since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 after 20 years in power. Tebboune was elected eight months later, vowing to remake Africa’s largest country but with no sign of abandoning the preeminent though shadowy role of the army in governance.

“We are looking for change,” voter Mohammed Touait said at a polling station. “I am 84 years old, and today I woke up at 8 a.m. because I still have hope for change.”

The Constitutional Council announced on Saturday that it would be 15 days before results of the balloting are known because of the number of candidates and the need to ensure against fraud, which marked past elections.

The participation rate among Algeria’s 24 million voters was 10 percent midway through the day, the electoral authority announced.

The president, at the start of the day, brushed off as irrelevant the number of people who vote.

“What is important is that those the people vote for have sufficient legitimacy,” Tebboune said after casting his ballot in Algiers.


Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri
During the session, chaired by the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Saad Hariri discussed the obstacles to forming the government. (Supplied)
Updated 13 June 2021

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri
  • Supreme council meeting warns of ‘suffocating crisis’ facing the country

BEIRUT: The Supreme Islamic Sharia Council, which represents the Sunni community and its leaders in Lebanon, has renewed its support for Saad Hariri, the prime minister-designate, amid an escalating dispute over the failure to form a government in the country.

After a lengthy meeting on Saturday, in which Hariri participated, the council warned that “any quest for new definitions regarding the constitution or the Taif Agreement is not acceptable under any of the arguments.”
It was earlier reported that Hariri might announce during the meeting that he was stepping down from the task of establishing a new government entrusted to him by parliament last October.
The French initiative and the mediation of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri so far have failed to help form a government because of an escalating dispute between Hariri and President Michel Aoun, together with his political team represented by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement.
The meeting, which was held in Dar Al-Fatwa and attended by former prime ministers, said that the blame for delaying the formation of the government lies with those “who are trying to invent ways and methods that nullify the content of the National Accord Document, which enjoys the consensus of Lebanese leaders who are keen on Lebanon’s independence, unity, sovereignty and pan-Arabism.”
During the session, chaired by the grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Hariri discussed the obstacles to forming the government and steps he has taken to overcome them.
Those present at the meeting expressed their fear that “the suffocating crisis facing Lebanon will deteriorate into an endless abyss amid the indifference and random confusion that characterizes the behavior and actions of leaders who control citizens.”

BACKGROUND

The French initiative and the mediation of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri so far have failed to help form a government because of an escalating dispute between Hariri and President Michel Aoun.

The dispute over the formation of the government is a “futile debate,” they added.
Hariri later described the discussion as constructive.
“The country is witnessing a political and economic deterioration every day,” he said. ” What matters to us is the country at the end of the day.”
One of the participants in the meeting, who declined to be named, told Arab News that “Hariri presented the options before him, including resignation, but the attendees rejected the matter and pressured him to adhere to his constitutional powers and wait to see what Berri’s mediation might result in.”
The source said that “the importance of the statement issued by the meeting should not be underestimated because it is a statement issued by Dar Al-Fatwa and condemns the president and his son-in-law.”
Fouad Siniora, a former prime minister, said that the problem of forming the government is internal, and Aoun must respect the constitution. “Aoun violates the constitution every day and does not act as the one who unites the Lebanese,” he said.
Siniora said that “Hezbollah is hiding behind the president and MP Gibran Bassil. It wants the government-formation paper to remain in its hands to use as a negotiating card. Hezbollah is a major problem and a source of pain.”
Mustafa Alloush, vice president of the Future Movement, said that “there is pressure from the Sunni community on Hariri not to quit his assignment and not to hand over the government formation to people working as proxies.”
He added: “Dar Al-Fatwa’s statement gave a clear sign of support to Hariri, and dialogue is continuing between Hariri and former prime ministers.”


Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  
Zakira Hekmat aims to promote education, language learning, cultural programs, capacity building, and awareness campaigns among refugees. (Supplied)
Updated 13 June 2021

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  
  • Zakira Hekmat recognized by IGAM Research Center on Asylum and Migration after working with UNHCR

ANKARA: The Ankara-based IGAM Research Center on Asylum and Migration has recognized an Afghan doctor for her work helping refugees.
Zakira Hekmat, 33, was awarded $2,000 by the center, led by Metin Corabatir, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’s (UNHCR) former spokesperson in Turkey.
Hekmat, herself born an internally displaced person in Jaghuri district in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, said she considered herself lucky, which had driven her to help other Afghan refugees.
“I think that by giving back to my own community, I can best heal the pain of displacement, ruination of my homeland, and the suffering of my people,” she told Arab News. “I was lucky enough to have a house to live in and a university to attend when I first came to Turkey, but not everyone was lucky like me. So, I wanted to help them with all my capabilities because I know they face many challenges.”
Hekmat’s Afghan Refugees Solidarity Association (ARSA), which she started in 2014, worked tirelessly throughout the coronavirus disease pandemic to help people in need, including with those who lost homes and jobs or were left vulnerable, and she was recognized in 2020 by Washington-based charitable organization HasNa as one of its Peacebuilders of the Year for her work.
She graduated high school living under the Taliban while doubling up as a teacher due to a shortage of female staff in her area. Hekmat then briefly attended Kabul University as an undergraduate before leaving for the medical faculty of Erciyes University in Kayseri, Turkey, and then working at an immigrant health center in the city, predominately serving refugees, many coming from neighboring Syria fleeing the country’s civil war..
Hekmat said her formative years in Afghanistan shaped her identity. Teaching poor children in Ghazni, she said, shaped her lifelong commitment to social justice by reconnecting marginalized people with the rest of the society.

FASTFACT

Zakira Hekmat said her formative years in Afghanistan shaped her identity. Teaching poor children in Ghazni, she said, shaped her lifelong commitment to social justice by reconnecting marginalized people with the rest of the society. 

Now her focus is on refugees, especially widowed women, refugee girls and children, by promoting education, language-learning, cultural programs, capacity building, child-focused activities, translation services for refugees and conducting awareness programs.
ARSA, she added, had worked on dozens of voluntary projects with the financial support of the UNHCR and the Turkish government, including setting up a network of 370 refugees volunteers in 58 cities across Turkey to help newly-arrived refugees to settle into their cities, and producing and distributing items to protect them from the pandemic.
“By teaming up with our local volunteers, we produced protective masks and soap (to help prevent) contagion, and we distributed them free to NGOs in need across the country as well as to the refugees themselves,” Hekmat said. Her network produced about 1,000 face masks per day, she added.
In addition, with the UNHCR, ARSA helped around 600 needy Turks and Afghans by providing them with essential supplies for the winter, and delivered hygiene kits to over 6,000 families.
“I don’t care much about the country of birth, but I attach high importance to the country where I can breathe and live freely,” Hekmat said. “We can only overcome stereotypes and prejudices against refugees if we listen each other and come together around a cup of Turkish tea.”
Her current work also focuses on child protection, stopping underage marriages and domestic violence, and promoting social cohesion and awareness campaigns about asylum-seekers. She has also launched a project for women refugees to design accessories and other handicrafts.
“They produced about 600 items (so far) and we provided the raw material for them. It became a source of livelihood for them and served as a pathway to self-accomplishment,” she said.
Corabatir said Hekmat had acted as a bridge for more than a decade between each Afghan refugee and UN agencies in Turkey, and had tried to solve their problems with an extensive network she established herself over years in the medical sector and through her charity activities.
“We intend to raise awareness about these charity works and introduce these people to the attention of the authorities. She also showed to her peers that they have rights to enjoy as refugees. It is essential that these people inspire other refugees for raising awareness and leading social change in their communities,” Corabatir said.
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and about 330,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers of other nationalities, including Afghans and Pakistanis, according to the latest data of the UNHCR.