Key Palestine questions stay unresolved as Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza ends

Key Palestine questions stay unresolved as Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza ends
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Updated 22 May 2021

Key Palestine questions stay unresolved as Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza ends

Key Palestine questions stay unresolved as Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza ends
  • Amid Israeli bombardment, Hamas is thought to have retained a significant missile arsenal
  • Abraham Accords between some Arab states and Israel likely to come under heightened scrutiny

DUBAI: As an Egypt-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas came into effect early on Friday morning, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were again left surveying the devastation wrought by 11 days of intense air and artillery bombardment.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres lamented the “senseless cycle of bloodshed, terror and destruction,” adding that the hostilities had caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, which he described as “hell on earth” for children.

Even so, there is widespread relief that the conflict, in which at least 232 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed, has ended after less than two weeks — compared with the seven weeks of the 2014 ground incursion which left more than 2,000 dead — and that the latest hostilities, for the most part, did not spread into the West Bank.




Palestinian artist Bilal Khaled draws on an unexploded device in Gaza City on May 20, 2021. (AFP)

In both the West Bank and Gaza, political and diplomatic processes are deadlocked. In April, President Mahmoud Abbas postponed legislative and presidential elections in the Palestinian territories. Most observers believe he did so for fear that Hamas would win. Abbas was elected in 2005 but has ruled by decree for more than a decade since his last mandate expired.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since shortly after the last elections in 2006. It has steadfastly refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Both its political and military arms are categorized as a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

“The peace camp needs to be rebuilt from the ground up,” Taufiq Rahim, a senior fellow in international security at the New America think tank, told Arab News. “Too many in Israel view calm as peace when, in reality, it is simply a state of prolonged injustice for Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, the status of East Jerusalem remains unresolved, and Israel’s settlement of the West Bank — which it captured along with the Gaza Strip in 1967 — continues.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, says it is clear that Israeli settlers instigated the most recent outbreak of violence, which started in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

“The government of Israel could have controlled it, but apparently encouraged it,” he told Arab News. “This is consistent with patterns of aggression that we have seen over the past seven years of clashes.”




Hamas' political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh addresses supporters in Qatar in May, 2021. (AFP)

Other experts highlighted the fact that Palestinian protests and discontent spread to Arab neighborhoods inside Israel. Fighting broke out in Israeli and Arab towns including Jaffa, Ramleh and Lod, in the course of which Palestinian and Hamas flags were raised and synagogues and hospitals attacked.

Those towns and others, such as Haifa, Nazareth and Acre, have sizeable Arab populations — the descendants of those who stayed inside the so-called Green Line when the state of Israel was created in 1948. Many have Israeli citizenship and the right to vote in Israeli elections.

“This crisis has brought the conflict back to its roots, which are in the dispossession of the refugees in 1948,” Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at Chatham House, told Arab News. “Protests on this scale inside Israel have not been seen (before), even during the second intifada.”

That uprising gripped much of the Gaza Strip and West Bank from 2000 to 2005, during which time there were only sporadic incidents of violence in these towns. In 2021 that changed.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, was forced to declare a state of emergency in Lod, the first time such powers have been invoked in a town inside Israel since 1966, according to Israeli media.

Illustrating the complexity of the situation, in one incident the clashes seemed in part to have been provoked by the death of an Arab man and his child after a rocket fired by Hamas from inside Gaza destroyed his car.

Hamas — which has widespread support throughout the Palestinian territories — remains in a combative mood.

“The whole world should know that our hands are on the trigger and we will continue to grow the capabilities of this resistance,” a Hamas spokesman told Reuters shortly before the ceasefire.

The scale of those capabilities has come as a surprise to many. Analysts speaking to Arab News highlighted the group’s apparently large arsenal of missiles and drones and, perhaps, fabrication capabilities created with Iranian help as major developments.

Over the 11 days of fighting this month, Hamas is estimated to have fired more than 4,300 missiles into southern and central Israel, a far more intensive barrage than in the 2014 conflict and heavier than Hezbollah’s bombardment from Lebanon during the 2006 war.

Israeli officials said that 90 percent of the incoming volleys were intercepted by the Iron Dome air-defense system, but believe that thousands more missiles still remain in the Hamas arsenal. The Iron Dome system, which has been deployed since 2011 and maintained by US funding of $1.6 billion, was used in previous conflicts, but Hamas had never fired so many rockets simultaneously.

The Israeli military (IDF) said that as many as one in seven of the missiles fired by Hamas landed inside Gaza itself and accused Hamas of indiscriminate targeting of civilians there and inside Israel.




This handout satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows a closer view of a burning storage tank in Ashkelon Southern Israel on May 12, 2021. (AFP)

“The attacks (by Hamas) in Gaza by themselves have revealed a level of preparation that exceeded expectations in terms of the quantity and quality of missiles, with respect to their range, ability to head deep into Israel territory, and the variety of the weapons on hand, such as drones,” Riad Kahwaji, a UAE-based defense analyst, told Arab News. “All of these make the latest round of violence unique.”

In the longer term, the status of the Abraham Accords — a major agreement signed by Israel, the UAE and the US in August last year — is likely to come under scrutiny. Shortly after the deal was signed, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco also recognized Israel formally.

The UAE has gone on to sign a series of investment agreements with Israel and opened direct air links. Both Israel and the UAE have opened embassies in their respective countries.




Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during an emergency meeting of the Fatah Central Committee and the PLO Executive Committee in the occupied West Bank City of Ramallah, on May 12, 2021. (AFP)

Critics of Hamas and its links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran say that the group amassed its missile arsenal and initiated the fighting specifically to undermine the Abraham Accords, which all of them view as a threat. Bassem Eid, a human rights activist, has said Hamas sought to exploit a local dispute in East Jerusalem in order to undermine the Abraham Accords.

There is certainly no denying that the 11 days of fighting were a testing time for the accord.

“The hope and the fanfare surrounding the signing of the agreement petered out with the smoke from Gaza,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, a former professor of politics at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi. “The conflict, far from re-establishing Israel’s (strength), exposed its vulnerabilities.”




Onlookers gather around charred vehicles hit by rockets launched by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on the border with the Palestinian coastal enclave on May 16, 2021. (AFP)

Going forward, he believes the US, Europe, and the GCC countries can assist in improving Palestinian lives in the Occupied Territories and within Israel. “More investment to provide jobs, rebuilding the infrastructure, and improvement of the health and educational systems, among other things, will help to create the conditions for a negotiated settlement,” he told Arab News.

According to New America’s Rahim, while Israel has developed deeper relationships in the Arab world, public opinion in the US is likely to be critical, given the apparent shift in the sentiments of politicians and the wider population there.

The reality of the situation is that there is a vacuum in new leadership in both Israel and Palestine, with radicals on both sides being the only actors visible on the horizon at present, he told Arab News.

“There needs to be new leaders in both Palestine and Israel who can imagine coexistence rather than conflict as a potential future.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
  • Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore

ISTANBUL: Wildfires in the Turkish holiday beach destinations of Antalya and Mugla raged on Sunday as firefighters worked to battle the blazes for a fifth day. As some residents boarded boats to flee the danger, coast guard ships waited in the sea in case a bigger evacuation was needed.
Police water cannons, usually used to control riots, assisted helicopters and fire trucks in a village of Mugla’s popular district of Bodrum to fight fires. Turkish television showed fires had reignited after being extinguished earlier, with blazes and smoke approaching a village.
Civilians were trying to help, hoping to protect homes and olive groves, but some houses were already damaged. Coast guard and private boats were helping some residents evacuate by sea.
Fires in Marmaris, another tourist destination in Mugla, continued Sunday as strong winds made firefighting efforts more difficult. Residents of villages around Marmaris pleaded for more help on social media. Tourists and some residents were boarding boats with their suitcases as others waited anxiously to see if the fire would come down to the shore. Fires were also encroaching on a village near the town of Manavgat, where helicopters were trying to extinguish blazes. The minister of forestry and agriculture, Bekir Pakdemirli, tweeted that 107 wildfires were “under control” across Turkey. His list showed that, since Wednesday, wildfires had ignited in 32 provinces. The wildfire death toll rose to eight on Sunday.
Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore. Russian media reported that 100 Russian tourists were among those evacuated. While Turkish authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as “sabotage” by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis, as seen by the drastic increases in temperatures along with accidents caused by people.
Turkey’s president said Saturday that one of the fires was started by children. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured some of the affected areas on Saturday and promised to help residents rebuild their homes. But social media users criticized him for arriving in Marmaris in a massive convoy that affected traffic and throwing bags of tea from the top of his bus to people gathered to hear him speak.
A heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean, including on the Italian island of Sicily and in western Greece, where some residents had to be evacuated by boat to escape the flames.
Temperatures in Turkey and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius on Monday in many cities and towns. Antalya was already registering 41 degrees Celsius on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Turkey’s eastern Van province, floods destroyed at least six houses after a small river overflowed amid heavy rains. Floods in northern Turkey last month killed at least six people.


Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
Updated 02 August 2021

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
  • The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan

AMMAN: Syrian regime troops stepped up shelling of an opposition enclave in the southern city of Daraa in a bid to assert control over an area that has defied state authority since it was retaken three years ago, witnesses, the army and residents said.

An army assault on the old quarter of Daraa suffered a blow on Thursday when rebels mounted a counteroffensive across the province, capturing dozens of troops.

The army has since sent hundreds of elite troops, dozens of tanks and armored vehicles to storm the enclave where peaceful protests against Assad family rule began in 2011 and were met by deadly force before spreading across the country.

The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan, which closed the crossing point on Sunday.

The Syrian regime troops, aided by Russian air power and Iranian militias, retook control of the province that borders Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights in 2018.

Russian-brokered deals at the time forced rebels to hand over heavy weapons but kept the army from entering many towns including the old quarter of the provincial capital known as Daraa Al-Balaad.

The Syrian regime troops on Sunday blamed what they called terrorists for foiling several rounds of negotiations with opposition figures since last week to allow the army to set up checkpoints in the enclave.

The opposition insists the agreement allowed only civilian control, local officials say.

“The regime wants to end what they see as a living symbol of the revolt against it. If they silence it by returning the army they will subjugate the whole Hauran region,” Abu Jehad al Horani, an opposition official, said from inside the enclave.

Damascus-based relief bodies said at least 2,000 families fled their homes since the fighting began on Thursday.


Egyptian foreign minister: We trust wisdom of Tunisian leadership on managing current crisis

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
Updated 01 August 2021

Egyptian foreign minister: We trust wisdom of Tunisian leadership on managing current crisis

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
  • Shoukry highlights Cairo’s aspiration for continued cooperation with Libya to promote regional stability

CAIRO: Egypt says it trusts the wisdom and ability of the Tunisian presidency to overcome the current crisis as soon as possible.

It also expressed its full solidarity with the Tunisian people and their legitimate aspirations, according to a spokesperson for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

The spokesperson stressed the need to avoid escalation and refrain from violence against state institutions, praising the role of the latter in maintaining the security and stability of the country.

“We are following with great interest what is happening in Tunisia and what the authorities are doing there to achieve the security, stability and sovereignty of the country,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said in a press conference with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra.

“We fully trust the wisdom of the political leadership in Tunisia and its ability to manage the situation to achieve the aspirations of its people,” he added.

Lamamra, for his part, stressed that “what is happening in Tunisia is an internal matter,” adding that Algeria stood in solidarity with the country.

Shoukry also spoke on the situation in Libya. The Egyptian foreign minister said that the opening of the coastal road in Libya was a good sign of dialogue and reconciliation and would enhance the chances of the elections’ success, putting Libya on the right path to restore its stability, eliminate the terrorist threat and work with neighboring countries Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan and Chad.

“We need cooperation between these countries in the region due to the turmoil and challenges it is witnessing,” Shoukry said, adding that every positive step taken would find support and sympathy from Egypt, Algeria and the rest of the neighboring countries.

Shoukry spoke on the importance of restoring stability to Libya for the benefit of both the Libyan people and the other countries in the region.

He also stressed the need for foreign forces to exit Libyan land and for the issue of militias to be dealt with.

The Algerian minister said that the relations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were going through a delicate stage and that it was important to reach an agreement on the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Lamamra expressed his hope that Algeria would be part of the solution, stressing that the issue of the GERD was of global importance and ought to receive the attention of the international community.


At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting
Updated 01 August 2021

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting
  • Warplanes conducted several aid raids in Marib province, targeting military vehicles carrying fighters
  • Tribesmen reported seeing at least two military vehicles catching fire after being hit by the warplanes in Marib

ALEXANDRIA: Dozens of Houthi fighters in Yemen have been killed in fierce fighting with government forces during the past 24 hours in the provinces of Marib, Lahj, Jouf and Al-Bayda, army officials and tribal leaders said on Sunday.
At least 40 Houthis were killed on Saturday and Sunday in Rahabah district, south of Marib city, when government troops pushed back their assault in mountainous areas in the district, Col. Yahiya Al-Hatemi, director of Yemen Army’s military media, told Arab News.
The Yemeni military official said that the army and allied tribesmen, backed air support from the Arab coalition, mounted a counteroffensive in the district and managed to seize control of a mountain and weapons left behind by Houthi fighters.
Warplanes conducted several aid raids in Marib province, targeting military vehicles carrying fighters and weapons heading to the battlefields.
Tribesmen reported seeing at least two military vehicles catching fire after being hit by the warplanes in Marib province.
By expelling the Houthis from Al-Abzakh mountain, loyalists would have control over a large swathe of land south of Marib and would effectively push away the Houthi threat to Marib city from the south.
Despite their losses in the south, the Houthis continued to aggressively attack government forces in areas west of Marib city, local media said.
The Houthis mounted attacks on government forces in the Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara regions, but failed to make any territorial gains.
Thousands of people have been killed in the province of Marib since February when the Houthis renewed a major offensive to control the strategic city of Marib.
Houthis have ignored many local and international calls to cease their offensive and comply with peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.
In the neighboring Jouf province, state media quoted Brig. Mohammed Al-Hajji, an army commander, as saying that army troops and tribesmen on Sunday repulsed a Houthi offensive on government-controlled locations in Al-Jadafer, east of Jouf province, and adding that the rebels were forced to retreat after suffering “heavy” losses.
Fighting also occurred in borders between Lahj and Al-Bayda provinces where the Houthis attacked an area controlled by forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council.
Local media said that a government soldier and several Houthis were killed during the failed Houthi attack in the Senah area of Lahj province. Tribesmen on Sunday attacked the Houthi areas in Al-Souma district, west of Al-Bayda province.
Coronavirus
Coronavirus cases continue to fluctuate across government-controlled provinces in Yemen, with the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee on Sunday recording nine new cases and one death, compared with three new cases and zero deaths on Saturday.
On Friday, the committee announced the recording of 16 new cases and one death.
The total number of confirmed cases in liberated areas is 7,070, including 1,377 deaths and 4,200 recoveries. Local health officials believe that the surging numbers of cases might represent a new wave of the pandemic.
“The epidemiological situation is worrying, as cases have begun to surge,” Dr. Ahmed Mansour, a health official in the southern city of Taiz, told Arab News by telephone.


Egypt COVID-19 vaccine to begin distribution in mid-August

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 01 August 2021

Egypt COVID-19 vaccine to begin distribution in mid-August

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • People will be able to receive certificates proving they have been vaccinated through 126 government offices

CAIRO: The first 10 million doses of Egypt’s coronavirus vaccine Vaccera Sinovac will be distributed in mid-August to more than 500 centers nationwide, the Ministry of Health and Population has announced.

People will be able to receive certificates proving they have been vaccinated through 126 government offices, said Health and Population Minister Hala Zayed.

The certificates are accredited and insured, and carry a unique QR code that will contain the holder’s data, photo and vaccination status, she added.

The ministry is also finalizing an Egyptian Health Passport app to be used in airports.

Zayed stressed the need to continue adhering to the required precautionary and preventative measures, and to stay away from large gatherings.