Israel hits Gaza after rocket attack as Jerusalem tensions spike

Israel hits Gaza after rocket attack as Jerusalem tensions spike
Flames and smoke rise during Israeli air strikes amid a flare-up of Israel-Palestinian violence, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 19, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 April 2022

Israel hits Gaza after rocket attack as Jerusalem tensions spike

Israel hits Gaza after rocket attack as Jerusalem tensions spike
  • Latest tensions have focused on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Israeli-annexed Old City
  • Palestinian worshippers have been outraged by visits by religious Jews under heavy Israeli police protection

JERUSALEM: Israel carried out its first air strike on the Gaza Strip in months early Tuesday, in response to a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave after a weekend of violence around a Jerusalem holy site.
The army also said its special forces had made five arrests overnight in the occupied West Bank, which has seen a string of deadly Israeli raids since several recent fatal attacks against the Jewish state.
The latest tensions have focused on the highly contested Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Israeli-annexed Old City.
Palestinian worshippers gathering there for Ramadan prayers have been outraged by visits by religious Jewish under heavy Israeli police protection — as well as restrictions on their own access.
The violence, coinciding with the Jewish Passover festival as well as the Muslim holy month, has sparked fears of a repeat of last year’s events, when similar circumstances sparked an 11-day war that levelled parts of Gaza.
On Monday, warning sirens sounded after a rocket was fired into southern Israel from the blockaded enclave, controlled by Hamas, in the first such incident since early January.
The Israeli military said that the rocket had been intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.
Hours later, the Israeli air force said it had hit a Hamas weapons factory in retaliation.
Hamas claimed to have used its “anti-aircraft defenses” to counter the raid, which caused no casualties, according to witnesses and security sources in Gaza.
No faction in the crowded enclave of 2.3 million inhabitants immediately claimed responsibility for the rocket.
But it comes after weeks of mounting violence, with a total of 23 Palestinians and Arab-Israelis killed, including assailants who targeted Israelis in four deadly attacks.
Those attacks claimed 14 lives, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally.
The rocket fire also followed a weekend of Israeli-Palestinian violence in and around the Al-Aqsa mosque compound that wounded more than 170 people, mostly Palestinian demonstrators.
Diplomatic sources said the United Nations Security Council was to meet Tuesday to discuss the spike in violence.
Israeli police said they had refused to authorize a march Jewish nationalists had planned around the walls of the Old City.
A similar parade last year, following a similar wave of violence, was interrupted by rocket fire from Gaza which in turn triggered the 11-day war.
This month has also seen violence in the West Bank.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said Tuesday it had treated 72 people following a demonstration in the village of Burqa, against a march by Israeli settlers demanding the re-establishment of a nearby settlement evacuated in 2005.
The Red Crescent said four people had been directly hit by tear gas canisters and seven had been hit by rubber-coated bullets.
Incidents at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam, have triggered repeated rounds of violence over the past century.
Jews are allowed to visit the site at certain times, but they are prohibited from praying there.
The latest spike in violence has strained Israel’s diplomatic relations with some Muslim countries and drawn wider international concern.
On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates summoned Israel’s ambassador to convey “strong protest and denunciation” of events at Al-Aqsa, particularly “attacks on civilians” and “incursions” by Israeli security forces.
The UAE only established ties with Israel in 2020. Jordan, custodian of east Jerusalem’s holy sites, had already summoned Israel’s charge d’affaires on Monday.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken called both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday.
Blinken’s calls followed State Department spokesman Ned Price announcing the previous day that the US had “urged all sides to preserve the historic status quo” at the Al-Aqsa compound and avoid “provocative” steps.
Abbas stressed his complete rejection of any changes to the legal and historical status quo, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.
Lapid meanwhile said he emphasised to Blinken “Israel’s responsible and measured efforts in the face of riots by hundreds of Islamic extremists.”
Hamas has vowed to defend Al-Aqsa’s status as “a pure Islamic site.”
But analysts have said in recent weeks that the movement does not want a war at present, partly because its military capacities were degraded by the last one.
They say Hamas is also wary that a new conflict could prompt Israel to cancel thousands of work permits lately issued to residents of impoverished Gaza.
But Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian faction which Israel says has thousands of fighters and rockets in the enclave, warned Monday that it will not be forced “into silence” over events in Jerusalem.


Iran arrests prominent rights activists

Iran arrests prominent rights activists
Updated 8 sec ago

Iran arrests prominent rights activists

Iran arrests prominent rights activists
  • Iranian government has been referring to the protests as ‘riots’ and ‘sedition’ to suppress them

DUBAI: Iran’s crackdown against prominent individuals linked to ongoing protests in the country continues with the arrest of prominent human rights activists in Tehran.

Bahareh Hedayat, a university student, was detained early on October 3, Radio Farda reported, as the unrest hit a crescendo in Tehran and has hit far-flung provinces in open demonstration of grievances against rigid social restrictions, political repression and a failing economy.

Hedayat is a former political prisoner who has been arrested and imprisoned several times, the report noted, quoting the BBC.

Hossein Masumi, another political activist, was arrested on October 2 with his whereabouts unknown according to his family.

The protest actions, spurred by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while under detention by Iran’s morality police for alleged violations of the Islamic dress code, are on their third week despite government efforts to quell them.

The Iranian government has been referring to the protests as ‘riots’ and ‘sedition’ to suppress them, and being used as basis for the detention of key personalities.


UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault
Updated 04 October 2022

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault
  • Adam Bouloukos said: ‘I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation. I saw fear and concern in school children’s eyes’
  • He added that the current level of violence in the camp, and across the West Bank, is at the highest level the agency has seen in years

JERUSALEM: Adam Bouloukos, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’s director in the West Bank, has visited Jenin refugee camp, the Palestine News and Info Agency reported on Monday.

His visit came just days after a large-scale Israeli military assault on the camp last Wednesday that left four people dead and 44 injured.

During his visit to the camp, Bouloukos was shown an UNRWA clinic that was hit by bullets during the attack, which took place while patients and medical staff were inside. It provides healthcare services to about 35,000 people. He also visited a UNRWA school, where he met students and teachers.

“I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation,” Bouloukos said. “I saw fear and concern in schoolchildren’s eyes.

“The level of violence in Jenin camp, and across the West Bank, is the highest we have seen in years. Many Palestinians, including refugees, were killed or injured. Violence only brings loss of life, grief for families and instability.

“All parties to the conflict should protect civilians, including Palestine refugees. UN staff and facilities and civilian infrastructure must be kept out of harm’s way. I specifically call on the Israeli security forces to limit the use of excessive force and spare the loss of civilian life in Jenin and across the West Bank.”


Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power
Updated 04 October 2022

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

GAZA CITY: Palestinians living in the Israeli-blockaded enclave of Gaza have long endured an unstable and costly electricity supply, so Yasser Al-Hajj found a different way: Solar power.

Looking at the rows of photovoltaic panels at his beachfront fish farm and seafood restaurant, The Sailor, he said the investment he made six years ago had more than paid off.

“Electricity is the backbone of the project,” Hajj said, standing under a blazing Mediterranean sun. “We rely on it to provide oxygen for the fish, as well as to draw and pump water from the sea.”

The dozens of solar panels that shade the fish ponds below have brought savings that are now paying to refurbish the business, he said, as laborers loaded sand onto a horse-drawn cart.

Hajj said he used to pay 150,000 shekels ($42,000) per month for electricity, “a huge burden,” before solar power slashed his monthly bill to 50,000 shekels.

For most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, living under Hamas rule and a 15-year-old Israeli blockade, power cuts are a daily fact of life that impact everything from homes to hospital wards.

While some Gazans pay for a generator to kick in when the mains are cut — for around half of each day, according to UN data — ever more people are turning to renewables.

From the rooftops of Gaza City, solar panels now stretch out into the horizon.

Green energy advocates say it is a vision for a global future as the world faces the perils of climate change and rising energy costs.

Gaza bakery owner Bishara Shehadeh began the switch to solar this summer, by placing hundreds of gleaming panels on his rooftop.

“We have surplus electricity in the day,” he said. “We sell it to the electricity company in exchange for providing us with current during the night.” 

Solar energy lights up the bright bulbs illuminating the bustling bakery, but the ovens still run on diesel.

“We are working on importing ovens, depending on electrical power, from Israel, to save the cost of diesel,” said Shehadeh.

Both the bakery and the fish farm have relied partially on foreign donors to kick-start their switch to solar, although their owners are also investing their own cash.

But in a poverty-stricken territory where nearly 80 percent of residents rely on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN, not everyone can afford to install renewable energy.

Around a fifth of Gazans have installed solar power in their homes, according to an estimate published in April by the Energy, Sustainability and Society journal.

Financing options are available for Gazans with some capital, like Shehadeh, who got a four-year loan to fund his bakery project.

At a store selling solar power kits, MegaPower, engineer Shehab Hussein said prices start at around $1,000 and can be paid in instalments. Clients included a sewing factory and a drinks producer, which see the mostly Chinese-made technology as “a worthwhile investment,” he said.

Raya Al-Dadah, who heads the University of Birmingham’s Sustainable Energy Technology Laboratory, said her family in Gaza has been using simple solar panels that heat water for more than 15 years.

“The pipe is super rusty, the glass is broken ... and I just had a shower and the water is super hot,” she said during a visit to the territory.

But Dadah encountered obstacles when she tried to import a more sophisticated solar system for a community project in Gaza, where imports are tightly restricted by Israel and Egypt.

“Bringing them to the Gaza Strip has proved to be impossible,” she said.

The advanced set-up includes more efficient panels and equipment that tracks the sun’s path.

Such technology is being used by Israeli firms such as SolarGik, whose smart control systems factor in weather conditions and can harness up to 20 percent more energy than standard panels, chief executive Gil Kroyzer told AFP.

Across the frontier in Gaza, in the absence of such high-tech equipment, Dadah relies on the standard panels to power a women’s center and surrounding homes in the strip’s northern Jabalia area.


EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause
Updated 04 October 2022

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

BRUSSELS: The EU vowed to press Israel on Monday about the treatment of Palestinians, settlement expansions and stalled peace efforts at the first meeting in a decade of a frozen joint council.

“We will discuss frankly and openly about some specific issues which are of our mutual concern,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the start of the meeting in Brussels. “I am talking about the situation in the Palestinian territories and the Middle East peace process, which is stalled.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid dialed in remotely for the EU-Israel Association Council talks and the country’s traveling delegation was headed by intelligence minister Elazar Stern.

Meetings of the council have been suspended for a decade since Israel ditched them over the EU’s opposition to expanding settlements in the West Bank.

The EU has been looking for a fresh start with Israel since right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from office in 2021 after 12 years in charge.

“All in all, today is a good occasion to show our determination to have a positive and fruitful relationship with Israel, pushing for peace,” Borrell said. 

Support expressed by Lapid in a speech at the UN for a two-state solution with the Palestinians was “very important,” he added.

“We want the resumption of a political process that can lead to a two-state solution and a comprehensive regional peace,” Borrell said.

But he said a UN report on the situation in the occupied territories was “worrisome,” as the number of Palestinians reported killed this year reached the highest level since 2007.

Another bone of contention between the two sides is Israel’s firm opposition to EU-mediated efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

“Well, this is one of the issues in which certainly we disagree,” Borrell said. “For the time being in any case, those (nuclear deal) negotiations are stalled.”


Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Updated 04 October 2022

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
  • Friends of Cancer Patients to offer free screenings across UAE in October
  • Initiative backed by health ministry, private-sector partners

SHARJAH: The Friends of Cancer Patients charity will deliver its Pink Caravan initiative across the UAE in October to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Emirates News Agency reported.

Pink Caravan is a UAE-based scheme that seeks to raise awareness of the importance of screening for breast cancer and provide facilities for its detection and treatment.

Throughout October, mobile clinics will offer people access to free screenings and consultations with experts.

With support from the Ministry of Health and Prevention the initiative will also host a series of public activities on the subject with help from partners MSD, Pfizer, Adnoc, Amit Group and others.

Ashraf Mallak, MSD’s managing director for the GCC, said: “Breast cancer is the most common cancer globally and in the UAE today. With patients being at the heart of our efforts, we are committed to improving long-term disease control and survival for patients.”

He added that the company had developed an immuno-oncology therapy and had 1,300 clinical trials underway studying more than 30 tumor types.

“This year, we are joining forces with FOCP’s Pink Caravan to achieve a greater impact in the UAE. We look forward to a successful awareness campaign and encourage women to avail themselves of the screenings,” Mallak said.

FOCP Chairman Sawsan Jafar said: “Last year, our Pink Caravan initiative delivered thousands of free breast health checkups, including 2,197 clinical breast examinations, 1,019 mammograms and 208 ultrasound tests.

“This testifies to both the generosity and support extended by our sponsors and partners as well as the willingness of members of the UAE community to actively participate in securing their own health and well-being.”

He added: “We are fortunate to have received the support of so many private and public sector entities to promote breast cancer awareness and drive early detection efforts this October. We always need more assistance to be able to make the greatest impact.

“I therefore urge our supporters — sponsors, public and private entities and the people — to ensure the success of our advocacy efforts once again. With a responsible community and committed philanthropists, the UAE will always be a step ahead of breast cancer.”