Palestinians say one killed, dozens wounded as Israeli troops fire on Gaza protest

Palestinians hurl stones at Israeli troops during a protest calling for lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza and demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip September 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

GAZA (Reuters) – One Palestinian was killed and dozens other wounded when Israeli forces opened fire during a weekly demonstration near the Israel-Gaza border on Friday, Gaza’s Health Ministry said.

The Israeli army said soldiers had come under attack by Palestinians who hurled grenades, explosive devices, burning tyres and rocks at them and the border fence.

The soldiers, the military said, responded with “riot dispersal means” and fired “in accordance with standard operating procedures”.

A wounded Palestinian is evacuated during a protest calling for lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza and demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip September 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A wounded Palestinian is evacuated during a protest calling for lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza and demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip September 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

It said an Israeli aircraft also carried out strikes in Gaza. A position belonging to the Hamas Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip was hit, according to witnesses.

Gaza’s Health Ministry spokesman said one Palestinian was killed and 54 others were wounded by live fire.

One Israeli soldier was lightly wounded, the army said.

Since Gazans began holding weekly border protests on March 30, the Israeli army has killed 183 Palestinians and wounded thousands. A Gaza sniper has killed an Israeli soldier.

Israel says Hamas deliberately provokes violence at the protests, a charge Hamas denies.

(Reporting by Saleh Salem)

Iran puts on ‘show of strength’ military exercise in Gulf

FILE PHOTO: Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets of the Iranian army fly past during a military parade to commemorate army day in Tehran April 17, 2008. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – The Iranian Revolutionary Guards and army carried out a joint aerial military drill in the Gulf on Friday in what official media said indicated the “pounding reply” that awaited the country’s enemies.

Tehran has suggested in recent weeks that it could take military action in the Gulf to block other countries’ oil exports in retaliation for U.S. sanctions intended to halt its sales of crude.

Washington maintains a fleet in the Gulf that protects oil shipping routes.

“In addition to a show of strength, this ceremony is a message of peace and friendship for friendly and neighboring countries,” Colonel Yousef Safipour, the deputy commander of the army for public relations said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

“And if the enemies and arrogant powers have an eye on the borders and land of Islamic Iran they will receive a pounding reply in the fraction of a second.”

Mirage, F-4 and Sukhoi-22 jets took part in the exercise on Friday, according to IRNA.

The Islamic Republic has a large naval military drill, including approximately 600 naval vessels, planned on Saturday, IRNA reported.

Separately, a prominent Iranian cleric said Friday that the time had come for Israel to say goodbye. He did not give any further information on what that could mean.

“Mr. Netanyahu, you and your intelligence services know well that the time to say goodbye has arrived and what position of strength the resistance of Hezbollah and the people of Gaza are in,” Hassan Abu-Torabi Fard, the temporary Friday prayers leader in Tehran, said, according to Fars News.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh)

Putin sees chance circumstances behind downing of Russian plane in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a joint news conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia September 18, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS

By Darya Korsunskaya and Stephen Farrell

MOSCOW/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the shooting down of a Russian military plane near Syria’s seacoast was the result of a chain of tragic and chance circumstances.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said earlier that the aircraft was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft systems, but accused Israel of indirectly causing the incident, saying Israeli jets operating nearby had put the Russian plane in the path of danger. The ministry threatened to retaliate over what it called a hostile act.

Putin’s comments, made after talks with Hungary’s prime minister in Moscow, appeared to somewhat defuse the situation though he said Russia needed to look further into what happened.

“I looks most likely in this case that it was a chain of tragic chance events, because an Israeli aircraft did not shoot down our aircraft. But, without any doubt we need to seriously get the bottom of what happened,” Putin told reporters.

The Russian president said Moscow’s response to the incident would aim at securing the safety of Russian military personnel in Syria’s complex civil war in which various outside powers have backed opposing sides.

“As for retaliatory measures, they will be aimed first and foremost at further ensuring the safety of our military personnel and facilities in Syria. And these will be steps that everyone will notice,” Putin said.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft, with 15 Russian service personnel on board, was brought down by anti-aircraft batteries of Moscow’s ally, Syria, in a “friendly fire” incident.

But the ministry said it held Israel responsible because, at the time of the incident, Israeli fighter jets were mounting air attacks on Syria targets and had only given Moscow one minute’s warning, putting the Russian aircraft in danger of being caught in the cross-fire.

“We view the actions of the Israeli military as hostile,” Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian state television. “As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished.”

ISRAEL BLAMES ‘INACCURATE’ SYRIAN FIRE

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) expressed sorrow at the deaths but blamed the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Hezbollah. “Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident,” the IDF said in a statement.

It said the initial Israeli inquiry into the incident found that “extensive and inaccurate” Syrian surface-to-air anti-aircraft fire “caused the Russian plane to be hit and downed”.

“The Syrian anti-air batteries fired indiscriminately and from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air,” the statement said.

It added that by the time the Russian plane was struck, the Israeli jets were already out of Syria and back in their own airspace. The Russian plane was “not within the area of the operation” carried out by the Israeli jets, it said.

An Israeli diplomatic source said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to speak shortly with Putin.

After the incident, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, that Moscow held Israel wholly responsible, Russian news agencies reported.

Israel’s ambassador in Moscow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry over the matter, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

RUSSIAN BLIND EYE

Any row between Israel and Russia could restrict Israel’s ability to carry out air strikes inside Syria on what it considers the greatest threat to its security from the Syrian conflict – build-ups of Iranian forces or groupings of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia.

Since intervening in Syria’s civil war in 2015, Russia has generally turned a blind eye to the Israeli attacks on these targets. Israel has conducted about 200 such attacks in the last two years, according to Israeli officials.

Amos Yadlin, Director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said on Twitter the downing of the Russian plane could “limit the bid to stop Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and the transfers of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.”

THREAT OF RETALIATION

Moscow said its plane disappeared from radar screens as it was coming in to land at the Hmeymim air base in western Syria late on Monday.

According to the Russian Defence Ministry, the Israeli F-16 jets carrying out the air strikes used the Russian plane as cover to allow them to approach their targets on the ground without being hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

“Hiding behind the Russian aircraft, the Israeli pilots put it in the line of fire of Syrian anti-aircraft systems. As a result, the Il-20 … was shot down by the (Syrian) S-200 missile system,” the ministry’s Konashenkov said.

He said the Israeli pilots “could not have failed to see the Russian aircraft, as it was coming in to land from a height of 5 km (three miles). Nevertheless, they deliberately carried out this provocation,” Konashenkov said.

“This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response,” he said, without giving details of what those measures would be.

The Israel military said that overnight its fighter jets had “targeted a facility of the Syrian Armed Forces from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon”.

It said the weapons targeted in the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia “were meant to attack Israel and posed an intolerable threat against it”.

The IDF statement said the “deconfliction” system used by the Israeli and Russian militaries “was in use tonight”, adding: “Israel will share all the relevant information with the Russian government to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

Several countries have military operations under way around Syria, with forces on the ground or launching strikes from the air or from ships in the Mediterranean. In some cases, those countries are backing opposing sides in the Syrian war.

Foreign powers involved in the conflict – including Israel and Russia – operate hotlines to exchange operational details to avoid one side accidentally attacking the other’s forces.

However, diplomats and military experts have warned that the risk of inadvertent strikes is high.

(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Maayan Lubell and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; John Irish and Sophie Louet in Paris; Phil Stewart in Washington and Nayera Abdallah in Cairo; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Palestinian ministry rolls back statement that Gaza boy was killed by Israeli gunfire

Palestinian demonstrators gather atop a hill during a protest calling for lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza, near the maritime border with Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

GAZA (Reuters) – A medical source in the Palestinian Health Ministry backed away on Monday from an assertion that an 11-year-old boy killed at a protest on Friday at the border with Israel had been shot by Israeli soldiers.

“The boy died of a head injury,” said the source, who asked not be identified, declining to give specifics and stopping short of attributing the death to Israeli gunfire.

On Friday, Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Health Ministry in Gaza, said the youth, Shadi Abdel-Al, had been shot dead by Israeli troops.

Two other Palestinians were killed during the weekly protest by Israeli live fire, local medics said on Friday.

An Israeli military spokeswoman asked on Monday about the circumstances of the boy’s death and media reports that he had been killed by a stone thrown during the protest, referred Reuters to comments tweeted by the military’s Arabic-language spokesman.

The spokesman tweeted that there were “increasing indicators from Gaza that question the credibility” of the Palestinian Health Ministry’s original statement about the boy’s death.

“According to the indicators and testimonies, the boy was killed as a result of an injury from stones thrown during the violent riots,” the spokesman wrote.

Since March 30, Palestinians pressing claims against Israel have mounted stone-throwing protests that have included attempts to breach the Israeli border fence with Gaza, run by the Islamist group Hamas.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Stephan Farrell and Jeffrey Heller; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Israel signals it could attack Iranian weaponry in Iraq

Iron Dome anti-missile system fires an interceptor missile as rockets are launched from Gaza towards Israel near the southern city of Sderot, Israel August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Coh

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel signaled on Monday that it could attack suspected Iranian military assets in Iraq, as it has done with scores of air strikes in war-torn Syria.

Citing Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources, Reuters reported last week that Iran had transferred short-range ballistic missiles to Shi’ite allies in Iraq in recent months. Tehran and Baghdad formally denied that report.

Israel sees in Iran’s regional expansion an attempt to open up new fronts against it. Israel has repeatedly launched attacks in Syria to prevent any entrenchment of Iranian forces helping Damascus in the war.

“We are certainly monitoring everything that is happening in Syria and, regarding Iranian threats, we are not limiting ourselves just to Syrian territory. This also needs to be clear,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a conference hosted and aired live by the Israel Television News Company.

Asked if that included possible action in Iraq, Lieberman said: “I am saying that we will contend with any Iranian threat, and it doesn’t matter from where it comes … Israel’s freedom is total. We retain this freedom of action.”

There was no immediate response from the government of Iraq, which is technically at war with Israel, nor from U.S. Central Command in Washington, which oversees U.S. military operations in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday he was “deeply concerned” by the reported Iranian missile transfer.

“If true, this would be a gross violation of Iraqi sovereignty and of UNSCR 2231,” he tweeted, referring to a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran. The Trump administration abandoned that deal in May, citing, among other factors, Iran’s ballistic missile projects.

According to regional sources, Israel began carrying out air strikes in Syria in 2013 against suspected arms transfers and deployments by Iran and its Lebanese ally, the Shi’ite Hezbollah militia.

These operations have largely been ignored by Russia, Damascus’s big-power backer, and coordinated with other powers conducting their own military operations in Syria.

A Western diplomat briefed on the coordination told Reuters last year that, while Israel had a “free hand” in Syria, it was expected not to take any military action in neighboring Iraq, where the United States has been struggling to help achieve stability since its 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

Despite their formal state of hostilities, Israel and Iraq have not openly traded blows in decades.

In 1981, Israel’s air force destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad. During the 1991 Gulf war, Iraq fired dozens of Scud rockets into Israel, which did not retaliate, out of consideration for U.S. efforts to maintain an Arab coalition against Saddam.

Israel made a plan for its commandos to assassinate Saddam in Iraq in 1992, but the plan was abandoned after a fatal training accident.

(Additional reporting by Raya Jalabi in Erbil; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

Iran threatens to hit U.S., Israel after Trump aide warns of ‘maximum pressure’

FILE PHOTO - Iranian cleric Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami delivers a sermon during Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, May 26, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Dan Williams

LONDON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Iran warned on Wednesday it would hit U.S. and Israeli targets if it were attacked by the United States after President Donald Trump’s security adviser said Washington would exert maximum pressure on Tehran going beyond economic sanctions.

A U.S.-Iranian war of words has escalated since Trump withdrew Washington from the world powers’ nuclear deal with Iran in May, blasting it as flawed and reimposing sanctions to choke Iran’s economy and force it to renegotiate or change direction.

The U.S. turnaround, which scrapped a wary detente between Iran and the United States after decades of hostility, has drawn defiance from Tehran despite renewed unrest over economic privations and has unnerved other big powers where businesses have been debating whether to divest from Iran.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told Reuters the return of U.S. sanctions was having a strong effect on Iran’s economy and popular opinion.

“There should not be any doubt that the United States wants this resolved peacefully, but we are fully prepared for any contingency that Iran creates,” Bolton said during a visit to Israel, Iran’s enemy in the Middle East.

U.S. sanctions dusted off this month targeted Iran’s car industry, trade in gold and other precious metals, and purchases of U.S. dollars crucial to international financing and investment and trade relations. Farther-reaching sanctions are to follow in November on Iran’s banking sector and oil exports.

European powers have been scrambling to ensure Iran secures enough economic benefits to persuade it to stay in the deal. This has proven difficult, with many European firms keen to avoid financial penalties by the Trump administration.

“We expect that Europeans will see, as businesses all over Europe are seeing, that the choice between doing business with Iran or doing business with the United States is very clear to them,” Bolton said.

“So we will see what plays out in November. But (Trump) has made it very clear – his words – he wants maximum pressure on Iran, maximum pressure, and that is what is going on.”

Asked at a news conference later whether the United States had discussed any plans with ally Israel on how to capitalize on economic protests in Iran and if these posed any tangible threat to the Tehran government, Bolton said:

“Just to be clear, regime change in Iran is not American policy. But what we want is massive change in the regime’s behavior … We are going to do other things to put pressure on Iran as well, beyond economic sanctions.” He did not elaborate.

“PRICE OF WAR”

A senior Iranian cleric seen as close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told worshippers at Eid holiday prayers in Tehran: “The price of a war with Iran is very high for America.

“They know if they harm this country and this state in the slightest way the United States and its main ally in the region, the Zionist regime (Israel), would be targeted,” Ahmad Khatami said.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have said it could strike Israeli cities with missiles if it were threatened. Iran also has proxies in the region including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday they would continue increasing Iran’s defensive capabilities not surrender to U.S. pressure to scrap its ballistic missile program.

Last week, Khamenei – who has the ultimate say on Iranian policy – said the United States would avoid outright conflict because of Iranian military might.

“There will be no war…We have never started a war and they will not confront Iran militarily,” he said.

Trump’s campaign to isolate Iran and cripple its economy has put the old adversaries back on a collision course that European signatories to the nuclear accord fear will raise the risk of a broader Middle East war.

DEAL ‘SOFT ON IRAN’

Under the 2015 deal, Iran curbed its contested uranium enrichment program under U.N. monitoring and won an end to global sanctions in return.

Trump has condemned the deal as too soft on Tehran and would not stop it developing a nuclear bomb, though U.N. nuclear non-proliferation inspectors have repeatedly certified Iranian compliance with its terms.

Khatami, the prominent Iranian cleric, also said Trump’s offer of talks was unacceptable as he was demanding Tehran give up its ballistic missile program and scale back regional influence. Neither issue was covered by the 2015 agreement.

“Americans say you should accept what we say in the talks. So this is not negotiation, but dictatorship,” Mizan news agency quoted Khatami as saying.

Trump has said Iran must stop meddling in wars in Syria and Yemen, part of a foreign policy supporting regional allies in conflict with proxies of U.S.-backed Gulf Arab kingdoms.

Tehran has not given an inch to Trump’s pressure despite an economy beset by high unemployment and inflation and a rial currency that has lost half its value since April.

Thousands of Iranians have protested against price rises of some food items, a lack of jobs and state corruption. The protests over the cost of living have often turned into anti-government rallies.

“I think the effects, the economic effects certainly, are even stronger than we anticipated,” Bolton said.

“But Iranian activity in the region has continued to be belligerent: what they are doing in Iraq, what they are doing in Syria, what they are doing with Hezbollah in Lebanon, what they are doing in Yemen, what they have threatened to do in the Strait of Hormuz.”

The Strait is a strategic waterway for oil shipments which Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block in response to Trump administration calls to ban all Iranian oil exports.

(Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Exclusive: Trump vows ‘no concessions’ with Turkey over detained U.S. pastor

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to a question during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday ruled out agreeing to any demands from Turkey to gain the release of a detained American pastor and said he was not concerned that his tough stance could end up hurting European and emerging market economies.

In a wide-ranging Oval Office interview with Reuters, Trump complained about interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve and suggested he was having second thoughts about Jerome Powell, his choice for Fed chair. He also said he “most likely” will have a second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and indicated he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia if Moscow took some actions in return.

Trump said he thought he had a deal with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan when he helped persuade Israel to free a detained Turkish citizen. He had thought Erdogan would then release pastor Andrew Brunson, who denies Turkey’s allegations that he was involved in a plot against Erdogan two years ago.

“I think it’s very sad what Turkey is doing. I think they’re making a terrible mistake. There will be no concessions,” he said.

Turkey has demanded that the United States hand over Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric in the United States suspected in the coup plot against Erdogan, but the United States has balked at this.

Trump has imposed tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum in response to Erdogan’s refusal to free Brunson, raising concerns of economic damage in Europe and in emerging market economies.

“I’m not concerned at all. I’m not concerned. This is the proper thing to do,” he said, when asked about the potential damage to other economies.

Trump said Erdogan had wanted the Turkish citizen returned from Israel.

Trump and Erdogan met in Brussels for a NATO summit in mid-July where they discussed Brunson’s case and what could be the way forward to release the pastor, a senior White House official said earlier.

Turkey had sought U.S. help to persuade the Israelis to release a Turkish woman who was being held in Israel, the senior official said. In exchange, Turkey would release Brunson and other Americans being held in Turkey.

Trump said he kept his side of the bargain.

“I got that person out for him. I expect him to let this very innocent and wonderful man and great father and great Christian out of Turkey,” Trump said.

The dispute threatens to intensify a split between the United States and Turkey, a key NATO ally that plans to buy Russian missiles.

Israel, which confirmed that Trump had requested Ebru Ozkan’s release, deported her on July 15. Ankara has denied ever agreeing to free Brunson in return.

Trump added: “I like Turkey. I like the people of Turkey very much. Until now I had a very good relationship as you know with the president. I got along with him great. I had a very good relationship. But it can’t be a one-way street. It’s no longer a one-way street for the United States.”

PUTIN, TRUMP MEETING

Trump drew a barrage of criticism at home and abroad after he stood side by side with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a July 16 summit in Helsinki and cast doubt on his own intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections.

In the Reuters interview, he ticked off areas that he discussed privately with Putin, including security for Israel, Syria and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany that will supply natural gas to Germany.

Trump said Putin did not raise with him the issue of U.S. sanctions on Russia but that he would consider lifting them if Russia took steps on such areas as Syria or Ukraine.

“I would consider it if they do something that would be good for us. But I wouldn’t consider it without that,” he said.

Turning to Iran, Trump showed little interest in meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to discuss the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program after earlier this month expressing a willingness to do so.

The Iranians, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have dismissed the offer. Trump said it did not matter to him whether he met Iran’s leaders and that there had been no U.S. outreach toward Iran to discuss talks.

Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers earlier this year has raised tensions between Washington and Tehran.

“If they want to meet that’s fine, and if they don’t want to meet, I couldn’t care less,” he said.

Trump cast doubt on whether he will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping during an international Asia-Pacific summit in Papua New Guinea in November. Trump again talked up the warmth of his relationship with Xi, but said little progress has been made on his drive to rebalance the U.S.-Chinese trade relationship.

“Maybe. I’m not sure that it’s been set up yet. We’ll see,” he said, when asked about a possible meeting with Xi.

He also said he had “no time frame” for resolving his administration’s trade dispute with China.

“I’m like them, I have a long horizon,” he said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and James Oliphant in Washington; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Ross Colvin and James Dalgleish)

Israel lets food, goods back into Gaza as Egypt pushes truce

Fishing boats are seen at the seaport of Gaza City August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Israel allowed commercial goods back into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, in a sign of an easing of tensions as neighboring Egypt pursued a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian enclave’s dominant armed faction.

But the prospect of an agreement between Israel and the Islamist group prompted concern within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government that Hamas would take advantage of any respite from fighting to build up its rocket arsenal.

At Israel’s Kerem Shalom commercial crossing with Gaza, consignments of fruits and vegetables, fuel and construction material moved into the territory of two million people on Wednesday morning, a Reuters camera crew said.

Israel announced on Tuesday it would lift the commercial goods ban it imposed on July 9 in response to the launching by Palestinians of incendiary balloons across the frontier.

Boxes containing fish are displayed for sale at a market in Gaza City August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Boxes containing fish are displayed for sale at a market in Gaza City August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

There have been fewer reports in recent days of such incidents, which have burned large tracts of agricultural land and forests in southern Israel.

Israel also expanded Gaza’s fishing zone, in waters under Israeli naval blockade, from 3 to 9 nautical miles off the southern coast and to six nautical miles in the north, the head of Gaza’s fishermen’s union said.

The Oslo interim peace accords in the early 1990s set a 20 nautical mile limit, which was never implemented. Since then the zone has ranged in size between 3 and 6 nautical miles.

“We are hoping for a big catch at nine miles now,” said Khader Baker, 25, who owns two fishing boats. “There had been almost no fish within three miles. We nearly starved.”

Prior restrictions on the import of commercial goods that Israel says could also be used for military purposes remained in effect, a Palestinian border official said. He said they included balloons and tires.

Bags of cement are seen ahead of their transfer to the Gaza Strip, inside the Kerem Shalom border crossing terminal between Israel and Gaza Strip, Israel August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Bags of cement are seen ahead of their transfer to the Gaza Strip, inside the Kerem Shalom border crossing terminal between Israel and Gaza Strip, Israel August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

COMPREHENSIVE TRUCE

Egypt and the United Nations have been trying to broker a comprehensive truce to prevent more fighting and to ease the deep economic hardship in Gaza.

Hamas officials said Palestinian factions were in Cairo to discuss terms for a ceasefire with Israel, whose security cabinet convened on Wednesday to consider the issue.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the ultranationalist Jewish Home party in the governing coalition, put Netanyahu on notice that his faction would vote against an agreement with Hamas.

“This ‘quiet’ will give Hamas total immunity so that it can rearm itself with tens of thousands of rockets,” Bennett said in a statement.

For more than a decade Gaza has been controlled by Hamas and subject to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has wrecked its economy, creating what the World Bank has described as a humanitarian crisis with shortages of water, electricity, and medicine.

Israel says it has no choice but to enforce its blockade to defend itself against Hamas, a group that has called for its destruction.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Hugh Lawson)

Thousands gather in Israeli desert for meteor shower

Cars drive through Ramon Crater during the Perseid meteor shower near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Ori Lewis

MITZPE RAMON, Israel (Reuters) – Thousands of star-gazers gathered overnight at one of the darkest spots in Israel hoping to be dazzled by the annual Perseid meteor shower, only to be left somewhat disappointed by the show.

Locals had the rare task of directing traffic on a moonless Monday night in Mitzpe Ramon in the heart of the Negev Desert, a spot surrounded by terrain described as similar to a lunar or Martian landscape.

The Feinberg family from the Tel Aviv region drove for two-and-a-half hours for the display but the number of meteors, about one or fewer per minute, failed to truly light up the Ramon Crater’s dark night sky as in previous years.

A meteor streaks across the sky in the early morning during the Perseid meteor shower in Ramon Crater near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A meteor streaks across the sky in the early morning during the Perseid meteor shower in Ramon Crater near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

“We are here waiting for the stars to fall, the children are very impatient,” said Eliran Feinberg, 42, who works for an air cargo company.

The Perseid meteors, which reach their peak every August, are produced by debris from the 109P/Swift-Tuttle comet that passes by the Earth every 133 years. It last passed in 1992.

Professor Rennan Barkana, head of the astrophysics department at Tel Aviv University, said this year’s shower was not as intense because the Earth had passed through a sparser part of the comet’s debris than previously and a smaller amount of particles had entered the atmosphere.

(Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo, Writing by Ori Lewis. Editing by Patrick Johnston)

Gaza ceasefire ends flare-up, Palestinians resume protests

Iron Dome anti-missile system fires an interceptor missile as rockets are launched from Gaza towards Israel near the southern city of Sderot, Israel August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Coh

GAZA (Reuters) – An Egyptian-brokered truce ended a two-day wave of rocket barrages and air strikes between Israel and Gaza, but the border remained tense as thousands of Gazans gathered for protests in which two Palestinians were killed and scores wounded.

After a quiet night with no rockets falling in Israel or air strikes in Gaza, residents in southern Israel, who had spent much of the past two days in rocket shelters, were told by the military they could return to their daily routines.

In Gaza, crowds of Palestinians resumed protests against Israel. Reuters TV footage showed plumes of smoke blackening the sky at one area of the border after Palestinians set tires ablaze, and tear gas canisters fired by Israeli soldiers.

Palestinians gather on the remains of a building after it was bombed by an Israeli aircraft, in Gaza City August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Palestinians gather on the remains of a building after it was bombed by an Israeli aircraft, in Gaza City August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Israeli troops killed two Palestinians and wounded about 240 others, Palestinian health officials said.

The Israeli military said rioters hurled stones, explosives, and firebombs at troops and the border fence. The soldiers “responded with riot dispersal means and live fire, in accordance with the standard operating procedures”, a spokeswoman said.

A tank also fired at a Hamas outpost, the military said.

Since the weekly protests began on March 30, the Israeli army has killed 159 Palestinians and a Gaza sniper has killed an Israeli soldier.

Still, the broader truce held on Friday after a two-day escalation during which the Hamas militant group fired scores of rockets, including a long-range missile deep into Israel, and Israeli aircraft struck more than 150 targets in Gaza.

Palestinians gather around a building after it was bombed by an Israeli aircraft, in Gaza City August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Palestinians gather around a building after it was bombed by an Israeli aircraft, in Gaza City August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

A pregnant Palestinian woman and her 18-month-old child were killed in the Israeli attacks, as was a Hamas militant. Seven people were wounded by Palestinian rockets and mortars that struck Israel.

Israel and Egypt, citing security concerns, maintain a blockade on Gaza, a narrow strip of land that is home to two million Palestinians, which has reduced its economy to a state of collapse.

A senior Egyptian official said Cairo was working to secure a comprehensive agreement between Israel and Hamas, beginning with a ceasefire and later including economic improvements.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ari Rabinovitch and Cairo newsroom; editing by Andrew Roche)