Israel strikes Hamas in Gaza, calling attack response to rocket fire

A Palestinian fisherman walks on a beach in the southern Gaza Strip June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli aircraft attacked a Hamas target in Gaza on Thursday after a Palestinian rocket strike, the Israeli military said, in the first serious cross-border flare-up since a surge in fighting last month.

The latest hostilities followed Israel’s closure of offshore waters to Gaza fisherman on Wednesday in what it said was a response to incendiary balloons launched across the frontier that caused fires in fields in southern Israel this week.

In a statement, the military said fighter planes attacked “underground infrastructure” in a compound belonging to the Hamas militant group that rules the Gaza Strip. There were no reports of injuries.

The military said it was responding to a rocket fired from Gaza overnight that was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

In two days of heavy fighting in early May, projectiles from Gaza killed four civilians in Israel, local health officials said, and Israeli strikes killed 21 Palestinians, over half of them civilians, according to Gaza health authorities.

A truce mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations ended that round of violence.

Some two million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s rival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop arms reaching Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from the small coastal enclave.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Gaza-Israel border falls quiet after 3 days long deadly surge of rocket fire

Rockets are fired from Gaza towards Israel, in Gaza May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A surge in deadly violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel petered out overnight with Palestinian officials reporting that Egypt had mediated a ceasefire on Monday ending the most serious spate of cross-border clashes for months.

The latest round of fighting erupted three days ago, peaking on Sunday when rockets and missiles from Gaza killed four civilians in Israel. Israeli strikes killed 21 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, over the weekend.

Two Palestinian officials and a TV station belonging to Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers, said a truce had been reached at 0430 a.m. (0130 GMT), apparently preventing the violence from broadening into a conflict neither side seemed keen on fighting.

Israel did not formally confirm the existence of a truce with Hamas and its allied Gaza faction Islamic Jihad, militants that it, like much of the West, designates as terrorists.

Officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government spoke in more general terms of a reciprocal return to quiet, with one suggesting that Israel’s arch-enemy Iran – a major funder for Islamic Jihad – had been behind the Gaza escalation.

Suffering under renewed U.S. sanctions and Israeli strikes against its military assets in Syria, Iran may have seen stoking Palestinian violence as a way of telling Israel, “we will get back at you through (Islamic) Jihad and Gaza”, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Israeli radio station 90 FM.

Israel’s military said that more than 600 rockets and other projectiles – over 150 of them intercepted – had been fired at southern Israeli cities and villages since Friday. It said it shelled or carried out air strikes on some 320 militant sites.

The violence abated before dawn, just as Gazans were preparing to begin the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Rocket sirens in southern Israel, which had gone off continuously over the weekend, sending residents running for cover, did not sound on Monday and there were no reports of new air strikes in Gaza.

Egypt and the United Nations, who have served as brokers in the past, had been trying to mediate a ceasefire.

LEVERAGE

The violence began when a sniper from the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad fired across Gaza’s fenced border at Israeli troops on routine patrol, wounding two soldiers, according to the Israeli military.

Islamic Jihad accused Israel of delaying implementation of previous understandings brokered by Egypt in an effort to end violence and ease the economic hardships of blockaded Gaza.

This time both Islamic Jihad and Hamas appeared to see some leverage to press for concessions from Israel, where annual independence day celebrations begin on Wednesday and with the Eurovision song contest due to kick off in Tel Aviv – the target of a Gaza rocket attack in March – next week.

Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, the economy of which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ West Bank-based rival.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop arms reaching Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from the small coastal enclave.

One of Islamic Jihad’s leaders in Gaza said on Sunday that the group was trying to counter efforts by the United States to revive peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East team has said it will unveil its peace plan in June, after Ramadan is over. Peace negotiations have been moribund since 2014.

“What the resistance is doing now is the most important part of confronting Trump’s deal. We all have to get united behind the decision by the resistance to fight,” Islamic Jihad’s Jamil Eleyan said in a statement.

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said that over the past few weeks Islamic Jihad had been trying to perpetrate attacks against Israel in order to destabilize the border. “This isn’t some local initiative, it is part of a strategic choice to escalate matters,” Conricus said.

During the eight-year civil war in Syria, Iran’s military has built a presence there backing President Bashar al-Assad.

Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat and has vowed to stop it from entrenching itself in Syria, its neighbor to the north, repeatedly bombing Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied Lebanese Hezbollah militia.

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday the administration was deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran and to show the United States will retaliate with “unrelenting force” to any attack.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Tense calm on Gaza-Israel border after flareup

Israeli soldiers stand in a field next to armoured Israeli military vehicles near the border with Gaza, in southern Israel March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Schools reopened in southern Israel and traffic clogged Gaza’s streets on Wednesday in signs of a pullback from the most serious escalation of cross-border fighting in months.

But while violence eased amid Egyptian mediation, Israeli forces and Palestinian militants were on hair-trigger footing, with rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli air strikes in the enclave briefly resuming late on Tuesday after a day-long lull.

Despite dozens of rocket launchings and Israeli attacks, no deaths have been reported. Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile interceptors have destroyed some of the rockets and Palestinian militants vacated facilities targeted in the air strikes.

Towns in southern Israel, where rocket-warning sirens have disrupted daily life since the current round of fighting began on Monday, reopened classrooms. In Gaza, schools were also operating and cars filled the streets.

The Gaza frontier remained tense, however, with Israeli troops and tanks deployed along the border. Both Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group made clear that attacks by the other side would not be tolerated.

Even if the crisis subsides, it could shadow Israel’s April 9 election, in which right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has campaigned on a tough security platform.

TENSIONS BUILDING

The latest fighting has added to tensions that were already building ahead of the first anniversary on March 30 of the start of weekly Gaza protests at the border. Some 200 Gazans have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli fire during those protests, and one Israeli soldier has been killed.

Israel says its use of lethal force is meant to stop attempts to breach the border and launch attack on its troops and civilians.

The protesters are demanding the right to return to lands Palestinians fled or were forced to leave in Israel during fighting that accompanied its founding in 1948.

Seven Israelis were injured in Monday’s initial rocket attack that hit the village of Mishmeret, 120 km (75 miles) north of Gaza. No other casualties in Israel have been reported. Twelve Palestinians have been wounded by Israeli strikes, Gaza health officials said.

Egypt was expected to pursue further truce talks on Wednesday, said a Palestinian official involved in the efforts.

U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council on Tuesday he had been working with Egypt to secure a ceasefire and that a fragile calm had taken hold.

Security is a major issue for Netanyahu, in power for a decade and beset by corruption allegations that he denies. He is facing his strongest electoral challenge from a centrist coalition led by a former general.

In Dheisha refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, a 17-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops during clashes with stone-throwers, an ambulance service official said, identifying him as a volunteer wearing a paramedic uniform. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Gareth Jones)

Israel says six wounded near Tel Aviv in long-range Gaza rocket attack

A damaged house that was hit by a rocket can be seen north of Tel Aviv, Israel, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yair Sagi

By Rami Amichay

MISHMERET, Israel (Reuters) – A long-range rocket launched from the Gaza Strip struck a house in central Israel on Monday, wounding six people in the first such incident since a 2014 war in the Palestinian enclave, Israeli authorities said.

The early morning attack on Mishmeret, an agricultural town north of Tel Aviv, came at a time of high tension ahead of the anniversary of Gaza border protests at the weekend, and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Washington as he campaigns for a fifth term in an April 9 ballot.

A damaged house that was hit by a rocket can be seen north of Tel Aviv, Israel, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yair Sagi

A damaged house that was hit by a rocket can be seen north of Tel Aviv, Israel, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yair Sagi

Israel’s commercial capital and outlying communities had last come under such an attack during the 2014 war with Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said it was treating six occupants of a home in Mishmeret, including an infant, for wounds. TV images showed a building with extensive damage, and police said it had also been set aflame.

The strike came minutes after the Israeli military activated air raid sirens in the area and said one rocket had been launched out of the Gaza Strip, a coastal territory 50 miles (80 km) away where Hamas and other factions possess such weapons.

Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said the home in Mishmeret was hit by a rocket from Gaza.

There was no immediate Palestinian confirmation.

Two rockets were launched at Tel Aviv on March 14 but caused no casualties or damage, Israel said. It blamed the rocket launches on Hamas, though a security official who declined to be identified by name or nationality later said that the salvo, which missed any built-up areas, had been set off by accident.

There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu on Monday’s incident.

His chief rival in next month’s election, centrist ex-general Benny Gantz, issued a statement accusing the rightist premier of having “bankrupted national security”.

(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Darren Schuettler)

Israeli warplanes strike Gaza after rockets fired toward Tel Aviv

Israeli soldiers are seen on top of an armoured personnel carrier (APC) near the border between Israel and Gaza on its Israeli side, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli warplanes bombed Hamas targets in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza early on Friday after Israel’s military said militants had fired two rockets toward the city of Tel Aviv.

The air strikes, the heaviest in five months, hit about 100 military targets belonging to Hamas, the Islamist group which controls Gaza, the military said. These included a rocket manufacturing site, a naval post and weapons facility, and a Hamas headquarters, it said.

Palestinian news media reported strikes throughout the densely populated coastal strip that is home to two million Palestinians. Four people were wounded, health ministry officials said.

The Israeli military accused Hamas of firing rockets from Gaza toward Tel Aviv – the first time the seaside city had been targeted since the 2014 Gaza War.

But Hamas denied responsibility and Israeli media, including Ha’aretz and Channel 7 News, later carried reports that the rockets might have been fired from Gaza by mistake.

A security official briefed on the situation, who declined to be identified by name or nationality, told Reuters the launch was “the result of an error – that an attack on Israel was not intended. Israel holds Hamas responsible, hence the response”.

The exchange was the most serious since a botched Israeli commando incursion into Gaza last November.

In the aftermath of that episode, dozens of Israeli air strikes killed seven Palestinians, at least five of them gunmen, and destroyed several buildings. Rocket attacks from Gaza sent residents of southern Israel to shelters, wounding dozens and killing a Palestinian laborer from the occupied West Bank.

SIRENS WAIL

The first rocket attack came on Thursday evening, with warning sirens sounding in the Tel Aviv area and residents hearing explosions.

The Israeli military said two longer-range rockets had been fired from Gaza but caused no casualties or damage. The Israelis retaliated in the early hours of Friday.

Just after dawn, six more missiles were fired from Gaza toward Israeli border towns but all but one were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, the military said.

Calm was restored by mid-morning as an Egyptian delegation mediated between Israel and Palestinian factions, a Palestinian official said.

The incident immediately played into the campaign for an election in Israel on April 9 in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term on the strength of his security credentials.

His right-wing rival, Naftali Bennett, demanded that Israel resume its killings of Hamas chiefs.

“The time has come to defeat Hamas once and for all,” he said on Thursday night.

Netanyahu also faced pressure from his center-left opponent, former General Benny Gantz, who said: “Only aggressive, harsh action will restore the deterrence that has eroded” under the prime minister’s watch.

Tensions have been high for the past year along the Israel-Gaza frontier, but on Friday morning Palestinian officials canceled the weekly border protests.

Some 200 Palestinians have been killed during the demonstrations that began a year ago and about 60 more have been killed in other incidents, including exchanges of fire across the border. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed by Palestinian fire.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the packed, narrow enclave in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

Frustration is growing in Gaza over the dim prospects for an independent Palestinian state. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for several years and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank have expanded.

The 2014 Gaza War was the third between Israel and Hamas in a decade. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during that war, most of them civilians, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Kushner, in Gulf, says U.S. Mideast peace plan addresses borders issue

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – White House adviser Jared Kushner, giving a broad outline of a U.S. peace plan for the Middle East, said it will address final-status issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including establishing borders.

In an interview broadcast on Monday on Sky News Arabia during a visit to U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states, Kushner made no specific mention of a Palestinian state, whose creation had been at the foundation of Washington’s peace efforts for two decades.

But he said the long-awaited peace proposal would build on “a lot of the efforts in the past”, including the 1990s Oslo accords that provided a foundation for Palestinian statehood, and would require concessions from both sides.

U.S. officials said that Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is expected to focus on the economic component of the plan during the week-long trip.

But in the interview, Kushner said the proposal also contained a “political plan, which is very detailed” and “really about establishing borders and resolving final-status issues”.

Kushner was given responsibility over Washington’s Israel-Palestinian policy, along with other top postings, after his father-in-law was inaugurated in January 2017.

Kushner’s reference to borders heated up Israel’s election campaign on Tuesday. Far-right politicians portrayed his comments as a harbinger to a Palestinian state they oppose.

Kushner said Washington would present the plan only after the April 9 vote.

Palestinians, who have refused to discuss any peace blueprint with the United States in the wake of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, also viewed Kushner’s comments with suspicion.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in talks that collapsed in 2014, said on Twitter that “Trump’s map” envisaged “isolated territories for the Palestinians”.

REGIONAL TOUR

Israel has long rejected any return to what it has described as indefensible boundaries that existed before it captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip, now controlled by Hamas Islamists, in 2005.

Kushner, Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, and Brian Hook, the State Department envoy for Iran, are due in Bahrain on Tuesday and will make stops in Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They are not expected to visit Israel.

The countries are the focus of U.S. efforts to widen the scope of its peace plan to include an economic element in which Gulf states could help the Palestinian economy.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman last year provided private assurances to Palestinian President Mohammed Abbas that Riyadh would not endorse any peace plan that fails to address Jerusalem’s status or refugees’ right of return, diplomats said.

On the first leg of their regional tour, the U.S. officials held talks on Monday in the United Arab Emirates with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the U.S. Embassy said.

“We want to get advice from them (countries in the region) on what is the best way to proceed and share with them some of the details of what we will be pursuing, especially on the economic vision for all the opportunity that exists if there is peace,” Kushner told Sky News Arabia in Abu Dhabi.

In Israel, Naftali Bennett, leader of the New Right party, said Kushner remarks on borders proved “what we already know” – that Washington would press Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, should he win the ballot, to “allow the establishment of a Palestinian state”.

Responding to Bennett, a spokesman for Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, said the prime minister protected Israel and the “Land of Israel” – a reference to the occupied West Bank – “from the hostile Obama administration and will continue to do so with the friendly Trump administration”.

(Reporting by Stanley Carvalho; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Alison Williams)

Egypt limits Gaza passage after Palestinian Authority quits border crossing

A Palestinian Hamas-hired police officer checks the documents of people upon their return from Egypt, at Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) – Egypt blocked Palestinians from entering the country from Gaza on Tuesday after Palestinian Authority (PA) personnel pulled out of the Rafah border crossing and Hamas officers took their place.

The dispute over the border stems from a rift between the Western-backed PA and Hamas Islamists who took control of Gaza more than a decade ago in a brief civil war.

Human rights groups say Rafah has been the sole exit point from Gaza for an estimated 95 percent of its population of 2 million. Citing security concerns, Israel maintains tight restrictions on Palestinian movement at its border crossings.

PA employees were deployed to Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt in 2017, a move that largely opened up Rafah for two-way traffic after Egyptian mediation led to a Palestinian reconciliation deal, which has since faltered.

On Sunday, the PA announced its pullout from Rafah, accusing Hamas of undermining its operations and detaining some of its workers. Since May, the crossing has been operating daily after sporadic openings for many years.

Upon arriving in Gaza, Hani Abu Sharekh told Reuters he hoped Egypt would soon resume full operation of the facility to allow passengers out of the coastal enclave.

“There is no alternative to Rafah crossing, it is the only window for most of our people to travel and to seek treatment and education,” Abu Sharekh, 48, said after returning from a trip to Cairo where his wife had received medical treatment.

Hamas said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the PA and has imposed a series of economic sanctions on Gaza to press the group to cede power, was destroying prospects for unity.

PASSAGE

A Palestinian official who maintains close contacts with Egypt said Cairo had decided to open Rafah crossing only to Palestinians returning to Gaza after the PA personnel withdrew.

Egypt’s restriction, the official said, showed its “disappointment at the faltering of the 2017 reconciliation agreement”. But an Egyptian official in Cairo said he did not expect Rafah to be shut completely.

“Egypt recognizes the importance of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the Rafah crossing is an important access point for Palestinians,” the official said, adding that his country would not abandon its mediation efforts.

Brigadier-General Yehya Hammad, the Hamas-appointed director of the crossing, told Reuters his men completed their deployment and were ready to operate the passage.

After they took up their posts, the body of a Palestinian who had died in Cairo and two women accompanying the coffin were allowed to enter Gaza. The women’s passports were stamped by Hamas officers. The first bus with passengers from Egypt then arrived, with more expected later in the day.

“We hope the Egyptian side will open the crossing permanently as it did in the past to allow stranded patients, students, residents of third countries and humanitarian cases to travel,” said Hammad, standing in the passport hall.

(This has been refiled to add the word ‘not’ that was dropped in paragraph 12.)

(Additional reporting by Cairo newsroom, Editing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, William Maclean)

Divided by war, Israel and Gaza’s Instagrammers tell their own stories

Israeli teens, Meshy Elmkies (R), 16, Liam Yefet (C), 16 and Lee Cohen, 17, co-managers of Instagram account, Otef.Gaza, look at their mobile phones as they sit on a swing at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom which borders the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel November 11, 2018. Picture taken November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Rami Ayyub, Leah Angel and Nidal al-Mughrabi

ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER (Reuters) – In another part of the world they might have gone to the same schools or be sharing wifi in the same coffee shops.

Although these young women Instagrammers live just a few kilometers apart, they will likely never meet. One group are Gaza Palestinians and the other are Israeli schoolgirls living beside Gaza, with Israel’s concrete and razorwire border fortifications stretching between them.

But one thing they share is a desire to take control of their own stories. Both groups are convinced that their lives are misrepresented or misunderstood by the outside world.

The missiles have stopped flying – for the moment – and the world’s eyes have already moved on after a week which saw the fiercest rocket salvoes and air strikes since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group which controls the Gaza Strip.

But the people of Gaza and Israel’s border communities remain, waiting for the next crisis, which is rarely long coming.

“Gaza is closed, not many have access here. With Instagram, you can show Gaza to the world through your own eyes” said Manar Alzraiy, project manager of “We Are Not Numbers”, a Gaza-based program for young writers, artists and photographers.

Her group runs commentary on destruction and conflict in the Gaza Strip but also seeks to broaden the war-focused narrative about Gaza by sharing stories of ordinary people.

“During attacks by the Israelis, we want to get our message out there. But we have to be mindful of what our group is experiencing – the stress, anxiety. We can’t always do it,” she said.

On the Israeli side, the Instagram account Otef Gaza, which means “Gaza Periphery” in Hebrew, was started by a group of teenage girls in and around Kerem Shalom, a kibbutz beside the border.

The group highlights photographs of farmland scorched by incendiary devices flown into Israel during Palestinian border protests and rockets fired by Gaza militants which send Israelis running to shelters.

“People are not aware that this is our reality, and they simply ignore us,” said Lee Cohen, 17, who co-manages the account.

“You can’t sleep because of the rocket sirens, the explosions, helicopters flying overhead and the fear of terrorists from Gaza coming in through a tunnel and trying to kill people.”

Members of 'We Are Not Numbers' team work on laptops in an office in Gaza City November 7, 2018. Picture taken November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Members of ‘We Are Not Numbers’ team work on laptops in an office in Gaza City November 7, 2018. Picture taken November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

HUMAN PROBLEMS

Inside the Gaza Strip, 225 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since border protests began on March 30, according to Palestinian health officials.

Israel says that many of those killed were militants and that its troops are defending the border. One Israeli soldier has been killed during the protests when he was hit by Hamas gunfire.

In Gaza City 27-year-old Alzraiy said the purpose of “We Are Not Numbers” was “to speak of the human problems” of Gaza.

“You get used to the feeling that at any moment, something could happen,” she said. “It’s like just for a second, you could lose your value as a human being.”

Another Gazan, Fatma Abu Musabbeh, 22, takes another approach. She insists on showing only positive images, so her account features manicured gardens and stonecraft buildings.

“When there is a war or difficult situation, I post a photo or two to tell my followers and the world that Gaza is beautiful, despite what is happening,” said Abu Musabbeh.

Across the border one of the Israeli Instagrammers, Meshy Elmkies, 16, said they use the app because it is easy to organize information, “and I personally think that teenagers have the power to make an impact.”

During a phone call with Reuters last week, the voice of her friend, Lee Cohen, suddenly became hushed.

“There’s a red alert siren,” she muttered. “Can we speak later?”

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

Gaza factions agree to cease fire if Israel halts attack: Palestinian official

A Palestinian looks at the remains of a building that was destroyed by Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian militant groups in Gaza said on Tuesday they would halt cross-border attacks immediately if Israel did the same after the most serious exchanges of aerial fire since a seven-week war in 2014.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, responded by putting the onus on the Palestinians to stop their strikes, saying Israel’s actions would be determined by their “steps on the ground”.

Since Monday, Israeli air strikes have killed seven Palestinians, at least five of them gunmen, armed factions said. Rocket attacks from Gaza killed a Palestinian, a resident of the occupied West Bank, living in an apartment in Israel, where he worked.

The salvoes were the fiercest since the Gaza war in 2014, the third between Israel and Hamas in a decade as part of the wider Israel-Palestinian conflict.

On Tuesday, the joint command of the Palestinian armed factions in Gaza said in a statement they would abide by a ceasefire mediated by neighboring Egypt “as long as the Zionist enemy does the same”.

As far as the factions were concerned, an official in one of the Palestinian groups told Reuters, “the truce has gone into effect”, conditional on Israel’ actions.

Hamas and other armed factions fired over 400 rockets or mortar bombs across the fenced border after carrying out a surprise guided-missile attack on Monday on a bus that wounded an Israeli soldier, the military said.

Asked if Israel was heading towards a ceasefire, Yuval Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, told YNet Internet TV:

“I would say that a more accurate definition is that the Israeli military landed a harsh and unprecedented blow on Hamas and the terrorist groups in Gaza, and we will see if that will suffice or whether further blows will be required.”

Hamas said it was retaliating for a botched Israeli commando raid in Gaza that killed one of its commanders and six other gunmen on Sunday. An Israeli colonel was also killed in that incident.

Sirens rang out in southern Israeli towns on Tuesday and people ran for shelter after Palestinian rockets crashed into several homes overnight. The military said the Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted more than 100 projectiles.

Israel responded with dozens of air strikes, hitting buildings overnight that included a Hamas intelligence compound and the studios of Hamas’s Al-Aqsa Television, whose employees had received advance warnings from the military to evacuate.

In aerial attacks on Tuesday, Israel’s military said it took out a rocket-launching squad and fired at several Palestinians infiltrating through the border fence around Gaza, which Israel keeps under blockade.

In Gaza City, people gathered in front of a large mound of debris that was once a multi-floor structure. It was flanked by five-story buildings still standing after the air strike, their shattered stone facades adding to the tall pile of rubble.

Israeli armoured personnel carriers (APC) are seen in a field in southern Israel, near the border with Gaza November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israeli armoured personnel carriers (APC) are seen in a field in southern Israel, near the border with Gaza November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

WEEKLY VIOLENCE ALONG BORDER

Violence has simmered since Palestinians launched weekly border protests on March 30 to demand the easing of the blockade on Gaza and the right to return to lands lost in the 1948 war of Israel’s founding. Israeli troops have killed more than 220 Palestinians during the confrontations, which have included border breaches.

In fighting over the past two days, Israeli missiles flattened seven buildings, mostly in Gaza City including the TV station. Witnesses said warning missiles, which carry small warheads, were fired first.

Abdallah Abu Habboush, 22, said he was awakened by shouts from neighbors to get out of his residential building after what Israel terms the “tap on the roof” warning. They all gathered in a room on the first floor to wait out the attack.

“Old men who were with us fainted because of the smoke,” he said, adding that he had no idea why the structure was hit. The An Israeli military spokesman said all of the buildings targeted were “owned, operated and used by Hamas”.

In the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, a video shot by a resident showed a bleeding woman, lying in the debris of an apartment and covered by dust, weakly raising her arm, next to the body of the Palestinian man killed in the attack. She was taken to hospital in critical condition.

Hamas, which is branded a terrorist group in the West, took control in Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from the small coastal territory.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Angus MacSwan)

Israel-Gaza border falls quiet after botched Israeli operation

Palestinians inspect the remains of a vehicle that was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israel-Gaza border fell quiet on Monday after a botched Israeli undercover operation in the Gaza Strip led to fighting that killed a Hamas commander, six other Palestinian militants and an Israeli colonel.

Palestinians fired 17 rockets into southern Israel late on Sunday in response to the incursion and air strikes, which Hamas, the dominant armed group in Gaza, said were intended to cover the retreat of a car used by the Israeli troops.

There were no reports of injuries or damage in Israel, but the military said a lieutenant-colonel, identified only as “M”, had been killed in the raid and another officer wounded.

Hamas said the Israeli actions dealt a blow to Egyptian, Qatari, and U.N. efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire between the Palestinian group and Israel and ease an Israeli blockade that has deepened economic hardship in Gaza.

But neither side appeared eager to pursue broader conflict.

Hamas received $15 million in Qatari-donated cash via Israel on Friday to pay for civil servants’ salaries and fuel to address Gaza’s energy crisis.

No new rocket launches were reported on Monday morning.

Violence has flared regularly along the Israel-Gaza border since Palestinians began protests there on March 30 to demand rights to land lost to Israel in the 1948 war of its creation.

Israeli gunfire has killed more than 220 Palestinians since the start of the demonstrations, which have included breaches of Israel’s border fence.

Hamas said that during Sunday’s fighting, assailants in a passing vehicle opened fire on a group of its armed men, killing one of its local commanders, Nour Baraka.

A Palestinian man sits on the remains of a building that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Sal

A Palestinian man sits on the remains of a building that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

A pursuit ensued and witnesses said Israeli aircraft fired more than 40 missiles into the area. Palestinian officials said that in addition to Baraka, five other Hamas men and a member of the Popular Resistance Committees were killed.

In an apparent attempt to defuse tensions, Israel’s chief military spokesman said the special forces had not been dispatched to assassinate Hamas commanders, a tactic that led to wider conflict in the past and which has largely been abandoned.

The spokesman, Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, told Army Radio that covert missions were mounted frequently, comments that suggested the Israeli force may have been gathering intelligence.

“During the operation, it found itself in a very complex situation, faced by enemy forces. The (Israeli) force, including Lieutenant-Colonel M., kept its cool, returned fire and evacuated itself together with the (help of the) air force back into Israel,” Manelis said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Paris, where he attended World War One commemorations with other world leaders. He returned home early on Monday.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)