Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza

Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza
Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists as fighting intensifies with the Islamic militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2021

Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza

Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza
  • Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists as fighting intensifies with the Islamic militant group Hamas
  • As Israel and Hamas plunged closer to all-out war despite international efforts at a cease-fire, communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Palestinians grabbed their children and belongings and fled neighborhoods on the outskirts of Gaza City on Friday as Israel unleashed a heavy barrage of artillery fire and airstrikes, killing a family of 6 in their home. Israel said it was clearing a network of militant tunnels ahead of a possible ground invasion.
Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists as fighting intensifies with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants have fired some 1,800 rockets, and the Israeli military has launched more than 600 airstrikes, toppling at least three high-rise apartment buildings, and has shelled some areas with tanks stationed near the frontier.
As Israel and Hamas plunged closer to all-out war despite international efforts at a cease-fire, communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night. Jewish and Arab mobs clashed in the flashpoint town of Lod, even after Israel dispatched additional security forces.
The Gaza Health Ministry says the toll from the fighting has risen to 119 killed, including 31 children and 19 women, with 830 wounded. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher. Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.
Palestinians living outside Gaza City, near the northern and eastern frontiers with Israel, fled the intense artillery bombardment Friday. Families arrived at the UN-run schools in the city in pick-up trucks, on donkeys and by foot, hauling pillows and pans, blankets and bread.
“We were planning to leave our homes at night, but Israeli jets bombarded us so we had to wait until the morning,” said Hedaia Maarouf, who fled with her extended family of 19 people, including 13 children. “We were terrified for our children, who were screaming and shaking.”
In the northern Gaza Strip, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four children, aged 7 and under, were killed after an Israeli warplane reduced their four-story apartment building to rubble, residents said. Four strikes hit the building at 11 p.m., just before the family was going to sleep, Rafat’s brother Fadi said. The building’s owner and his wife were also killed.
“It was a massacre,” said Sadallah Tanani, another relative. “My feelings are indescribable.”
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said tanks stationed near the border fired 50 rounds. It was part of a large operation that also involved airstrikes and was aimed at destroying tunnels beneath Gaza City used by militants to evade surveillance and airstrikes that the military refers to as “the Metro.”
“As always, the aim is to strike military targets and to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties,” he said. “Unlike our very elaborate efforts to clear civilian areas before we strike high-rise or large buildings inside Gaza, that wasn’t feasible this time.”
The strikes came after Egyptian mediators rushed to Israel for cease-fire talks that showed no signs of progress. Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were leading the truce efforts.
The fighting broke out late Monday when Hamas fired a long-range rocket at Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests there against the policing of a flashpoint holy site and efforts by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes.
Since then, Israel has attacked hundreds of targets in Gaza, causing earth-shaking explosions in densely populated areas. Of the 1,800 rockets Gaza militants have fired, more than 400 fell short or misfired, according to the military.
The rockets have brought life in parts of southern Israel to a standstill, and several barrages have targeted the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) from Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the operation, saying in a video statement that Israel would “extract a very heavy price from Hamas.”
In Washington, US President Joe Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction.”
He said the goal now is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks.” He called the effort “a work in progress.”
Israel has come under heavy international criticism for civilian casualties during three previous wars in Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians. It says Hamas is responsible for endangering civilians by placing military infrastructure in civilian areas and launching rockets from them.
Hamas showed no signs of backing down. It fired its most powerful rocket, the Ayyash, nearly 200 kilometers (120 miles) into southern Israel on Thursday. The rocket landed in the open desert but briefly disrupted flight traffic at the southern Ramon airport. Hamas has also launched two drones that Israel said it quickly shot down.
Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said the group was not afraid of a ground invasion, which would be a chance “to increase our catch” of Israeli soldiers.
The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem. A focal point of clashes was Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, on a hilltop compound revered by Jews and Muslims. Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which includes sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, to be the capital of their future state.
The violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem and other mixed cities across Israel has added a new layer of volatility to the conflict not seen in more than two decades.
The violence continued overnight into Friday. A Jewish man was shot and seriously wounded in Lod, the epicenter of the troubles, and Israeli media said a second Jewish man was shot. In the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Jaffa, an Israeli soldier was attacked by a group of Arabs and hospitalized in serious condition.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said some 750 suspects have been arrested since the communal violence began earlier this week. He said police had clashed overnight with individuals in Lod and Tel Aviv who hurled rocks and firebombs at them.
The fighting deepened a political crisis that has sent Israel careening through four inconclusive elections in just two years. After March elections, Netanyahu failed to form a government coalition. Now his political rivals have three weeks to try to do so.
Those efforts have been greatly complicated by the fighting. His opponents include a broad range of parties that have little in common. They would need the support of an Arab party, whose leader has said he cannot negotiate while Israel is fighting in Gaza.

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JERUSALEM: Veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu handed over power in Israel on Monday to new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett but remained defiant as the patchwork government faced tensions with Palestinians over a planned Jewish nationalist march.
Minutes after meeting Bennett, Netanyahu repeated a pledge to topple the new government approved on Sunday by a 60-59 vote in parliament.
“It will happen sooner than you think,” Netanyahu, 71, who spent a record 12 straight years in office, said in public remarks to legislators of his right-wing Likud party.
Formation of the alliance of right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Arab parties, with little in common other than a desire to unseat Netanyahu, capped coalition-building efforts after a March 23 election, Israel’s fourth poll in two years.
Instead of the traditional toasts marking Bennett’s entry into the prime minister’s office, Netanyahu held a low-key meeting there with the former defense chief, who heads the nationalist Yamina party, to brief him on government business.
“Sour, grumpy, not stately – Trump-like until the final moment,” Yossi Verter, a political affairs commentator, wrote in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper.
The government was already facing a sensitive decision over whether to approve a flag-waving procession planned for Tuesday by Jewish nationalists through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Palestinian factions have called for a “day of rage” against the event, with memories of clashes with Israeli police still fresh from last month in contested Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and in a neighborhood of the city where Palestinians face eviction in a court dispute with Jewish settlers.
“This is a provocation of our people and an aggression against our Jerusalem and our holy sites,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said.
The Hamas Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip warned of the possibility of renewed hostilities if the march goes ahead, less than a month after a cease-fire ended 11 days of cross-border hostilities with Israeli forces.
A route change or canceling the procession could expose the Israeli government to accusations from its right-wing opponents of giving Hamas veto power over events in Jerusalem.
Israeli police were due to present their route recommendations to government officials on Monday.
Deputy internal security minister Yoav Segalovitz said past governments had stopped nationalists visiting Muslim sites in times of tension.
“The main thing is to consider what’s the right thing to do at this time,” he told Israel’s Kan radio.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, to be the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem in a move that has not won international recognition after capturing the area in a 1967 war, regards the entire city as its capital.
With any discord among its members a potential threat to its stability, Israel’s new government had hoped to avoid hot-button issues such as policy toward the Palestinians and to focus on domestic reforms and the economy.
“I think the milestone to look out for is the budget,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. “If within 3-4 months this government will pass the 2021-22 budget then we can expect this government to serve for at least two or three years. Otherwise, the instability will continue.”
Palestinians held out scant hope of a breakthrough in a peace process leading to a state of their own. Talks with Israel collapsed in 2014.
“We don’t see the new government as less bad than the previous ones,” Shtayyeh told the Palestinian cabinet.
Under the coalition deal, Bennett, a 49-year-old Orthodox Jew and tech millionaire who advocates annexing parts of the West Bank, will be replaced as prime minister in 2023 by centrist Yair Lapid, 57, a former television host.
Lapid, widely regarded as the architect of the coalition that brought down Netanyahu, is now foreign minister.


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  • Sudan and Egypt agreed last week to coordinate efforts to push Ethiopia to negotiate "seriously"

KHARTOUM: Sudan is open to a partial interim agreement on Ethiopia’s multi-billion-dollar dam on the Blue Nile, with specific conditions, Irrigation Minister Yasir Abbas said on Monday.
While Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt fears it will imperil its water supply and Sudan is concerned about the impact on its own water flows.
Sudan and Egypt agreed last week to coordinate efforts to push Ethiopia to negotiate “seriously” on an agreement on filling and operating the GERD.
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” conditions include the signing-off of everything that has already been agreed on in negotiations, ... provisions to ensure that the talks continue even after the filling scheduled for July, and the negotiations adhering to a definite timetable,” Abbas told a news conference, citing a time crunch.
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Talks overseen by the African Union, aimed at reaching a binding agreement, have repeatedly stalled.


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HODEIDAH, Yemen: The bodies of 25 migrants were recovered off Yemen on Monday after the boat that was carrying them capsized with up to 200 people on board, a provincial official told AFP.

Fishermen who found the bodies told AFP that they were floating in the waters of Ras Al-Ara in the southern province of Lahij, an area so rife with human trafficking that local people call it the “Gate of Hell.”

“The boat overturned two days ago and was carrying between 160 and 200 people,” said Jalil Ahmed Ali from the Lahij provincial authority, citing information given by Yemeni smugglers. The fate of the other people on board was unclear.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration confirmed to AFP that a boat sank in the area but said it was still trying to establish the details of the incident.

The fishermen said the victims, found in the Bab Al-Mandab strait that separates Djibouti from Yemen, appeared to be of African origin.

“We found 25 bodies of Africans who drowned when a boat carrying dozens of them sank off the Yemeni shores,” said one of the fishermen.

“We saw the bodies floating in the water 10 miles from the shores of Ras Al-Ara,” added another.

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The court of cassation also reduced sentences for 31 others to life in prison, the sources told AFP, adding that the rulings were final and cannot be appealed.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood held power briefly for a year before their military ouster in 2013.


Caution on Iran nuclear deal as G7 leaders vow to stop bomb

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Updated 14 June 2021

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  • EU coordinators suggested that differences over the 2015 accord limiting Iran's nuclear activities had narrowed further
  • Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister said a deal was unlikely to emerge in the coming week

VIENNA: Diplomats from outside the European Union cautioned Sunday that negotiations with Iran to salvage a landmark nuclear deal still need more time.
Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations also reaffirmed a commitment to stop the Islamic republic from building nuclear weapons.
Iranian envoys held another round of negotiations with international delegations in Vienna a day after EU coordinators suggested that differences over the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear activities had narrowed further. But Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told Iranian state media he thought a deal was unlikely to emerge in the coming week. A diplomat from Russia also said more time was needed to work out details.
The Vienna meetings are aimed at rebuilding a nuclear containment agreement between Iran and major world powers that the Trump administration withdrew the United States from in 2018.
US President Joe Biden and other G-7 leaders expressed support for the Vienna process after a three-day summit in southwest England that ended Sunday. The G-7 nations are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“We are committed to ensuring that Iran will never develop a nuclear weapon,” the leaders said in a joint statement.
“A restored and fully-implemented (nuclear deal) could also pave the way to further address regional and security concerns,” the statement said.
A resolution would see Iran return to commitments made in 2015, aimed at making the development of a nuclear weapon impossible, in exchange for lighter US sanctions.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Iran had been “galloping forward” with its nuclear ambitions and violating the terms of the accord since the United States pulled out of the deal.
“I think puts some urgency in seeing if we can put the nuclear problem back in the box,” Blinken said.
Sunday’s bilateral meetings followed joint negotiations held Saturday involving senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain. The United States was not directly involved.
An Iranian pro-opposition group held a small protest outside the famed Vienna Opera House, near the downtown hotel where the talks are taking place. Organizers said local police in Austria’s capital instructed them not to protest outside the hotel. The event ended peacefully.