Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare

Special Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare
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Smoke rises after Israeli airstrikes on residential building in Gaza on Aug. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Special Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare
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Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City on Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Special Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare
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Children react following an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Aug.6, 2022. (AFP)
Special Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare
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An Israeli soldier prepares to fire artillery shells toward the Gaza Strip from their position along the border with the Palestinian enclave on Aug. 6, 2022. (AFP)
Special Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare
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Mourners carry the bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes on Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, during their funeral ceremony inside a mosque on August 7, 2022. (Said Khatib / AFP)
Special Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare
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A picture taken on August 5, 2022, shows Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza City in retaliation to earlier Israeli air strikes. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)
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Updated 21 August 2022

Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare

Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare
  • Humanitarian situation worsened and civilian toll rose as Israeli military targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad
  • Israel claimed militants in Gaza were planning attacks in retaliation for arrest of a PIJ official in the West Bank

DUBAI: What began as a routine Israeli security operation on Aug. 1 in a flashpoint Palestinian town in the West Bank, in the space of just a few days, took on the trappings of a full-blown conflict. By Sunday night, the death toll on the Palestinian side had soared to 44, including 15 children, when an Egyptian-brokered surprise truce brought welcome relief to the Gaza Strip’s war-weary population.

The target of the Israeli military’s “Operation Breaking Dawn” was the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group, which is backed by Iran and has its headquarters in the Syrian capital Damascus. But the goal of a “quick, clean war,” causing maximum damage to the PIJ with minimal civilian suffering and confined to just the Gaza Strip, could yet elude Israel if the ceasefire deal falls through.

During a recent visit to Tehran to meet the Iranian leadership, Ziad Al-Nakhalah, the PIJ general-secretary, warned that all Israeli towns — including Tel Aviv — could be struck by rockets and urged other Palestinian factions to join forces. For days, Israeli media had been showing images of the skies above the southern and central parts of the country lighting up with rockets and interceptors from the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Predictably, parallels were being drawn between the latest flare-up and the 11-day conflict in May 2021 that left more than 200 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis dead. The big difference this time was that Hamas, the Palestinian group which controls Gaza, did not jump into the fray, a move that cannot be ruled out if the truce fails to hold and civilian casualties continue to mount.




 Children react following an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Aug.6, 2022. (AFP)

As is invariably the case when Israel launches an assault on Palestinian militant groups, ordinary residents of Gaza neighborhoods in the military’s crosshairs paid the biggest price. Images of half-destroyed buildings and damaged possessions of impoverished civilians starkly contradicted the official Israeli narrative of “a pre-emptive counterterror operation against an immediate threat” posed by the PIJ.

On Saturday, flames poured out of a building in Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike while wounded Palestinians were evacuated by medics. Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that “a five-year-old girl, targeted by the Israeli occupation” was among those killed. “This is not Ukraine! This is #Gaza Strip yesterday!” tweeted Jasika, a Palestinian, along with four photos of destruction under the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack.




Mourners pray over the bodies of six children killed in an explosion in Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip on  Aug. 6, 2022. (AP/Abdel Kareem Hana) 

Abdullah Al-Arayshi summed up the collective plight of Palestinians in Gaza when he told the AFP news agency: “The country is ravaged. We’ve had enough of wars. Our generation has lost its future.” The reference was to the many wars and battles Israel and Hamas have fought since 2007 and which have imposed a staggering cost on Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents.




Palestinians inspect the ruins of a building destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on August 6, 2022. (AFP)

Egypt, whose mediation has helped to end many Gaza flare-ups in the past, once again stepped in, reportedly sending a delegation of officials to Israel to act as a go-between. The PIJ leadership may not have been in the mood to negotiate, but its options were limited.

On Saturday, the group lost a second senior commander, Khaled Mansour, in an Israeli military strike on a house in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza. The previous day, the PIJ had acknowledged the death of senior leader Taysir Al-Jabari in an airstrike on a building in the west of Gaza City.




Relatives react during the funeral of Khaled Mansour, an Islamic Jihad commander killed in an Israeli air strike on Rafah on August 7, 2022. (Said Khatib / AFP)

The killing of Al-Jabari’s predecessor, Baha Abu Al-Ata, in Gaza by the Israeli military in 2019 sparked a five-day conflict that left 34 Palestinians, including many PIJ fighters, dead and 111 injured. Then, as now, Israel claimed that the PIJ was plotting an imminent attack.

This time around, Israel said that PIJ militants in Gaza were planning to hit southern Israel in retaliation for the arrest of Bassem Al-Saadi, a senior member of the PIJ’s political wing in the West Bank, during the Aug. 1 security operation in Jenin. Al-Saadi had been living there since February 2013, when he was released from an Israel jail after serving two years.




In this photo taken on April 17, 2022, Islamic Jihad fighters enter an underground tunnel in the Gaza strip. (Mahmud Hams / AFP) 

Jenin has been a frequent target of Israeli arrest operations in the West Bank since a wave of deadly attacks by Palestinians hit Israel in late March as two of the attackers came from the town.

“It seems that Israel acted on intelligence reports that the PIJ was about to launch a number of attacks against Israel and Israel decided to take the initiative in this case to deliver a big blow to the PIJ,” Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer and Middle East analyst at Reichman University, told Arab News.

“Based on this thesis, it was difficult for Israel to avoid this action. If you know your enemy is going to attack, then you take away the initiative from it, and that really turns the tables on your enemy.”

Israel’s rationale, though, failed to convince not only Palestinian civilians in the line of fire but also critics of the military doctrine of pre-emptive force, including the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a tweet on Saturday, Francesca Albanese said: “I condemn Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza to allegedly ‘deter’ Islamic Jihad’s possible retaliation for its leader’s arrest. As Intl’ Law only permits the use of force in self-defense, Operation Breaking Dawn is a flagrant act of aggression. Illegal. Immoral. Irresponsible.”

In addition to the diplomatic backlash, Israel’s government, led by Yair Lapid, a politician with no military record or experience in senior security posts, would sooner or later have had to contend with the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

There has been almost no reconstruction in Gaza since the May 2021 war, and the population remains mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50 percent. Israel has closed its crossing with the territory and, on Saturday, reports said the only power station there shut down after Israel called off an expected fuel delivery.

Yahya Al-Sarraj, the mayor of Gaza City, said on Sunday that municipal services were being affected by the lack of power. “This will minimize the supply of domestic water (at a time of peak consumption during July and August),” he said. “Raw sewage will be spilled to the sea because the plants are not functioning in full capacity.”

Unsurprisingly, the potential of a propaganda coup was not lost on the PIJ’s patrons in Tehran. President Ebrahim Raisi was quoted by Iran’s Fars News agency as saying that “the resistance of the people of Gaza will speed up the decline of this child-killing (Zionist) regime.”




Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Ziyad Nakhaleh, secretary-general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement, in Tehran on August 4, 2022. (WANA via REUTERS)

Separately, in remarks reported by Iranian state television on Saturday, Gen. Hossein Salami, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said: “The Israelis will pay yet another heavy price for their recent crime.”

Earlier, Iran’s Tasnim news agency quoted Salami as saying: “In Lebanon, tens of thousands, even more than one hundred thousand missiles, are ready to be fired to create a hell for the Zionists at the moment of making the divine predestination happen.”

Javedanfar considers the PIJ-Iranian nexus a probable second reason for Israel’s decision to crack down on the group. “Given that the Israeli attacks happened when the head of the PIJ was in Tehran, the Iranian context of the current operation cannot be overlooked,” he told Arab News.




Palestinians rally in Lebanon's refugee camp of Burj al-Barajneh on Aug. 7, 2022, in support of the Islamic Jihad group march in its fight with Israel. (Anwar Amro / AFP) 

“The PIJ is an Iranian proxy, much more an Iranian proxy than Hamas, and is more dependent on Iran than Hamas. Israel does not want to let Iran dictate the rules of the game through its proxy in Gaza. I think Israel is trying to disarm Iran’s options for undermining Israeli security in both Gaza and Syria.”

Lapid, the Israeli prime minister, had averred that “Israel isn’t interested in a broader conflict in Gaza but will not shy away from one either.” Indeed, a broader conflict was sure to expose Israel to not just higher civilian casualties but also greater political heat, including potentially from the Arab signatories of the Abraham Accords.

In the best-case scenario for Israel, the PIJ’s military wing would have been decapitated, the civilian death toll in Gaza would have stayed low, and the diplomatic storm would have passed quickly. But given the dark shadow that the Palestinian conflict continues to cast over the Arab-Israeli alignments reshaping Middle East geopolitics, Israel could still have ended up winning the battle yet losing the war.

 

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Anger in Paris over Iran ‘spy’ charges

Anger in Paris over Iran ‘spy’ charges
Updated 07 October 2022

Anger in Paris over Iran ‘spy’ charges

Anger in Paris over Iran ‘spy’ charges
  • French schoolteachers’ union official Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris were arrested in May on charges of fomenting “insecurity” in Iran
  • France condemned the arrests and allegedly forced confessions, in which Kohler said on video that she was sent by France to spark a revolution

JEDDAH: France on Thursday accused the regime in Iran of taking two of its citizens hostage after Tehran broadcast video footage of the couple making forced confessions to being spies.

French schoolteachers’ union official Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris were arrested in May on charges of fomenting “insecurity” in Iran. France condemned the arrests and demanded their immediate release.

In Thursday’s TV footage Kohler “confessed” to being an agent of the French external intelligence service, in Iran to “prepare the ground for the revolution and the overthrow of the regime of Islamic Iran.” Paris said: “Our goal at the French security service is to pressure the government of Iran.”

The video sparked anger in France. “The staging of their alleged confessions is outrageous, appalling, unacceptable and contrary to international law,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said.

“This masquerade reveals the contempt for human dignity that characterizes the Iranian authorities. These alleged confessions extracted under duress have no basis, nor did the reasons given for their arbitrary arrest.”

The French couple's appearance on TV coincides with weeks of anti-government protests in Iran over the death last month in morality police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. It also came a day after a debate in the French senate in which all political parties condemned Iran's crackdown on the protests.

Rights groups say Iranian state media broadcast more than 350 forced confessions between 2010 and 2020. Four French citizens are in jail in Iran and France is assessing whether another one may have been arrested during the current protests.

In a tweet on Oct. 5, the Human Rights Activists in Iran and 19 other human rights organizations asked US President Joe Biden in an open letter "to address the Iranian regime’s violent crackdown on the Mahsa Amini protests and Iran’s ongoing human rights crisis."

"The Iranian people need the support of the United States and the entire international community to attain their rights and freedoms," the letter said. 


Arabs view access to water as most pressing environmental issue, survey finds

Arabs view access to water as most pressing environmental issue, survey finds
Updated 07 October 2022

Arabs view access to water as most pressing environmental issue, survey finds

Arabs view access to water as most pressing environmental issue, survey finds
  • The Arab Barometer interviewed 26,000 citizens between October 2021 and July 2022 in 12 countries that represent about 80 percent of the Arab world
  • Despite broad concerns about climate change and the environment, the survey found many in the region consider other issues to be higher priority

WASHINGTON: Arabs believe the climate change-related threat to water resources is the biggest environmental issue facing the region and its people.

This was a key finding of the latest Arab Barometer Report on the attitudes in 12 Arab countries about the environment, which was published on Thursday.

The Arab Barometer is a research network that gathers opinion and offers insights into the social, political and economic attitudes of citizens across the region.

Its latest survey on the environment found that the majority of the people it polled were concerned about the availability of drinking water, the pollution of water sources, and the quality of the air in their communities.

Tunisia had the highest proportion of people who considered availability and quality of water the biggest environmental challenge facing their country, at 60 percent, followed by Algeria with 50 percent, and Iraq, Palestine and Libya with 47 percent.

The findings are part of the seventh round of polling by Arab Barometer, which has been tracking the views of people in the Middle East and North Africa since 2006. It describes itself as the largest publicly available survey of the opinions and attitudes of citizens across the region.

For its latest report, it interviewed 26,000 citizens between October 2021 and July 2022 in 12 countries that represent about 80 percent of the Arab world: Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan and Kuwait. In addition to the environment, other parts of the survey covered political, social and economic issues.

Issues related to waste management ranked second among the key environmental issues people in region are most concerned about. Recycling is already an important environmental-protection activity in many countries and the survey found that many people in the region already recycle their waste, but that they do so mostly for “cost-saving” benefits or “convenience, rather than to protect the environment.”

Educational background tended to affect people’s views on environmental issues such as climate change, air quality, pollution and trash, with those who were better-educated expressing greater concern about them.

In addition, issues related to climate change were more of a concern among people living in rural location than those in urban areas.

Aside from the availability and quality of water and its quality, other attitudes toward the environment varied.

A previous survey, in October 2020, found that less than than seven percent of citizens in Arab countries believed that reducing pollution should be the top priority of government spending in the coming year. In research carried out in the spring of 2021, less than nine percent said that foreign aid should be used to address environmental concerns.

In the latest poll, less than five percent of people surveyed in the majority of Arab countries said foreign aid donated to their nations should be used to tackle climate change and environmental challenges. In Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, the figure was as low as 1 percent.

Yet the research also found that citizens of the region blame themselves for not being proactive enough on environmental issues, and their governments for failing to take action to properly address climate change and environmental challenges in their communities.

They expressed high levels of support for their governments to take action to tackle environmental issues. But despite broad concerns about climate change and the environment, the study found most people in the region view other issues as being more urgent and of higher priority.


Alexandria Film Festival pays tribute to departed performers

Alexandria Film Festival pays tribute to departed performers
Updated 07 October 2022

Alexandria Film Festival pays tribute to departed performers

Alexandria Film Festival pays tribute to departed performers
  • Festival management remembered Egyptian stars who passed away in 2022 by showing a video clip during the opening ceremony

CAIRO: The 38th session of the Alexandria Film Festival for Mediterranean Countries has opened at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

It is named after the artist Mahmoud Hemida.

Festival management remembered Egyptian stars who passed away in 2022 by showing a video clip during the opening ceremony.

Famous names included Hisham Selim, Maha Abu Auf, Samir Ghanem, Dalal Abdel Aziz, Ahdi Sadiq, Ali Abdel Khaleq, Ahmed Halawa, and Aida Abdel Aziz.

Film critic Amir Abaza, who has a leading role in organizing the event, told Arab News: “We chose to name the festival in the star Mahmoud Hemida’s name because he is of a great cinematic stature who has presented a large number of important works.”

Hemida has also reinvested profits into cinema, as well as participating in the production of a number of films without looking for profit, added Abaza.

The festival also honored a number of art stars, namely director Mohamed Abdelaziz, actress Donia Samir Ghanem, director Saeed Hamed and producer Wajih El-Leithi.

Radio broadcaster Imam Omar was also honored the King of Comedy Medal went to the late Samir Ghanem and Dalal Abdel Aziz.

The festival also honored the Greek star Alexis Protopsalti, the French artist Marianne Borgo, and the Armenian-Egyptian star Nora Armani.

A movie called “Barsoum Looking for a Job” — produced in 1923 and directed by Mohamed Bayoumi — was played at the end of the ceremony.

A publication on the 100 most important comic films in Egypt was among a number of books released on the sidelines of the festival.

However, the inclusion of non-comic films such as “Between Heaven and Earth” by Salah Abu Seif created some controversy and some questioned the lack of high-level comedy movies such as “Kit Kat” by Daoud Abdel Sayed and “Umm Ratiba,” directed by Alsayed Badir.

Critics also highlighted the absence of any Mohamed Sobhi flicks, one of the biggest comedy stars in Egypt.

Adel Imam topped the poll as best actor, Shwikar as best actress, Fatin Abdel Wahab as best director, and Abu Al-Saud Al-Ibiari as best author. Thirty-two film critics and researchers participated in the poll.


Turkey, Israel ties warm with naming of ambassador

Turkey, Israel ties warm with naming of ambassador
Updated 06 October 2022

Turkey, Israel ties warm with naming of ambassador

Turkey, Israel ties warm with naming of ambassador
  • Ankara appoints new envoy 4 years after last was expelled
  • Ambassador knows region, has experience: Analyst

ANKARA: Turkey has appointed a new ambassador to Israel, as both countries move to end four years in the diplomatic wilderness.

Sakir Ozkan Torunlar has been named to fill the role left empty after the two regional powers expelled each other’s ambassadors in 2018 in a row over the killing of 60 Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests on the Gaza border.

His appointment comes weeks after Israel named career diplomat Irit Lillian as its new ambassador to Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also expected in the coming months to reciprocate a March visit to Ankara by his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog.

Contrary to expectations, Torunlar is not a political appointee and is an experienced career diplomat. He was consul-general in Jerusalem and ambassador to Palestine between 2010 and 2014, and was awarded the Order of the Jerusalem Star by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel is expected to endorse Torunlar’s appointment.

Selin Nasi, a non-resident scholar in Eliamep’s Turkey Program, said that Ankara’s choice was positive for Israel.

“Previously, the foreign ministry was planning to appoint Turkey’s pro-government SETA Foundation foreign policy director, Ufuk Ulutas,” she said, who she added was seen in Israel as a “controversial figure” for his “anti-Israeli views” and lacked diplomatic experience.

Upcoming domestic elections in both countries had accelerated the reconciliation process, she said.

“Given the upcoming parliamentary elections in November, the Israeli side in a way tried to consolidate the process by naming its ambassador in advance, preventing possible interference of domestic politics,” she told Arab News.

“Turkey has also entered the election season. The government is trying to balance domestic concerns with its commitment to restoring ties with Israel,” said Nasi.

Experts say that Turkey and Israel want to deepen their cooperation in tourism, energy, agriculture, water technology, trade and defense.
 

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Nasi said defense cooperation had ground to a halt after the Mavi Marmara incident of 2010, when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship headed to Gaza as part of a “freedom flotilla.” Nine crew members died in the attack.

“The docking of the Turkish frigate Kemalreis at Haifa port on the sidelines of a NATO drill for the first time since the Mavi Marmara, indicates a possible thaw in this area as well. It will take time to repair broken trust,” she said.

Both countries’ opposition to the Iranian regime is also expected to push Turkey and Israel closer, she added.

“More importantly, as two militarily strong actors in the region, these two countries have the power to shift the balances on the ground when they cooperate.”

However, Nasi warned that Turkey’s ties with Hamas would be closely monitored by Israel and that domestic politics “may still interfere in the normalization process.”

According to an annual public opinion poll by the Mitvim Institute, an Israeli foreign policy think tank, 72 percent of respondents wanted strengthened relations with Turkey. The figure was up 12 percentage points on the poll last year.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said the choice of career diplomats by both sides was a good start to better relations as careful and skillful diplomacy was needed.

“There are a few challenges ahead: Elections in Israel, growing tensions in the West Bank, elections in Turkey.”

However, she said that a decision earlier this year to discuss an update to a 1996 free trade agreement was “a good opportunity to see where to expand the already flourishing trade relations between the countries.”

Turkey’s resumption of full diplomatic ties with Israel could also improve Ankara’s image in Washington, which has been damaged by its arms deals with Russia and squabbles in NATO.

The rapprochement is also expected to boost the Turkish tourism industry, Lindenstrauss added. “Israeli tourists are once again flocking to Turkey and we will soon see the return of Israeli airlines to Turkey,” she said.


UAE president thanks education workers in World Teachers’ Day speech

UAE president thanks education workers in World Teachers’ Day speech
Updated 06 October 2022

UAE president thanks education workers in World Teachers’ Day speech

UAE president thanks education workers in World Teachers’ Day speech
  • Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed underscored teachers’ role in fostering generations that are proud of their values and identity

ABU DHABI: The UAE President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed has thanked teachers in a statement on “World Teachers’ Day,” where he outlined the Emirati roadmap for improving the education sector.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation and chairman of the Education and Human Resources Council, said the statement on Thursday illuminated the UAE’s commitment to teachers.
Sheikh Abdullah thanked all teachers on the occasion, expressing the UAE’s gratitude for their efforts to ensure that children receive a top-quality education, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.
Noting that educators played a key role in accelerating recovery across the educational sector, Sheikh Abdullah highlighted the great responsibility they bear and their dedication to educate children and youth in the UAE, especially throughout and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
He underscored teachers’ role in fostering generations that are proud of their values and identity, noting that teachers prepare them with the skills and knowledge required to drive development across society and pave the way for a brighter tomorrow.
The minister added that education is crucial for accelerating sustainable development across all sectors. He said that the UAE’s celebration of World Teachers’ Day is an expression of the pride it has in its educators.
Sheikh Abdullah said the education sector has seen a major shift over the past five decades, making great strides in developing and improving its outputs.