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Middle Eastern & International News (17/11/2012)

Gaza crisis: Israel intensifies aerial attack

Gaza crisis: Israel intensifies aerial attack

16 November 2012

Israel's aerial bombardment of Gaza has intensified after it authorised the call-up of 30,000 army reservists, amid reports of a possible ground offensive.

Israel said it fired at 130 to 150 separate targets in Gaza overnight.

The developments came after Palestinian militants fired rockets from Gaza 70km (45 miles) north towards Tel Aviv.

Fighting has intensified since Israel killed Ahmed Jabari, the military leader of the Islamist group that controls the territory, on Wednesday.

At least 18 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in Israeli airstrikes, including children, and three Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel.

Egyptian PM Hisham Qandil is to travel to Gaza later in a show of support.

'Unacceptable aggression'

Explosions continued in Gaza throughout Thursday night as Israel intensified its air bombardment. The BBC's Paul Danahar in Gaza City reported huge blasts as dawn broke on Friday.

Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets at Israeli cities: by Thursday night, Hamas said it had fired more than 350 rockets from Gaza, of which Israel said 130 had been intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defence system.

Overnight, Israel said a further 11 rockets or mortars were fired into its territory from Gaza.

In Tel Aviv on Thursday, residents took cover after air raid sirens alerted them to a missile threat for the first time since Iraq targeted the city with Scud missiles during the Gulf War in 1991. One missile landed in an uninhabited area while another is thought to have landed in the sea.

The armed wing of Islamic Jihad said it had fired an Iranian-built, Fajr-5 rocket - which has an estimated range of 75km.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said targeting Tel Aviv would "exact a price that the other side will have to pay".

Early on Friday, Israel's army said leaflets had been dropped over several locations in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, warning residents "to stay away from Hamas, and other terror organizations".

"Before action, the IDF disperses warning leaflets calling all civilians to evacuate the area. This happened [on Thursday]," the army tweeted.

There were reports of buses of Israeli troops - and trucks loaded with tanks and armoured personnel carriers - heading towards the coastal enclave.

Israeli television stations said the build-up suggested an incursion was planned, but military officials said no decision had been made.

The Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, condemned what he called Israel's "ferocious assault" against the territory.

"We here in Gaza will remain steadfast and unshaken," he said in a televised statement. "We are all confident in our intrepid resistance fighters who are now deployed on the front."

Many of the Palestinians killed in Gaza during the last two days by the Israeli aerial and naval bombardment were members of militant groups, but civilians - including at least four children - were also among the dead. They included 11-month-old Omar, the son of Jihad Misharawi, a BBC Arabic picture editor.

The three Israeli civilians who died - two women and a man - were killed on the top floor of a block of flats in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi that suffered a direct hit by a rocket.

Egypt's new Islamist President Mohammed Mursi called the Israeli bombardment "unacceptable aggression" and said it would affect stability in the region.

The BBC understands that Cairo is actively trying to mediate between Israel and Hamas over the fighting.

The United States, Israel's key ally, has urged Egypt, Turkey and European powers who have contact with Hamas to urge it to stop rocket attacks from Gaza, saying the onus was on Hamas to stop the violence.

Arab League foreign ministers are set to discuss the violence later on Friday.

Israel's aerial and naval bombardment of the Gaza Strip is its most intense assault on the Palestinian territory since it launched a full-scale invasion four years ago.

Nasrallah Urges Arabs to Supply Gaza with Arms, Use Oil to Press U.S., EU

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday called on the Arab countries to supply battered Gaza with weapons and use the factor of oil to pressure the U.S. and Europe into ending their support for Israel.

“The aggression started with the assassination of a major jihadist leader and several people were martyred or wounded amid a strong defiance by the resistance,” said Nasrallah in a televised address marking the first day of the Shiite Ashoura religious ceremonies.

“We extend our condolences to Hamas Movement on the death of commander (Ahmed) Jaabari and we offer our condolences to the Palestinian people. We strongly condemn the aggression and all the freedom advocates in the world must stand by Gaza, the resistance and the jihadist fighters,” Nasrallah stressed.

He said that the “main bet” is on “the will of the people in Gaza and the will of the resistance.”

“The reason for confidence is that there is a resistance movement in Gaza that has a level of wisdom, courage and steadfastness that makes it qualified for engaging in a confrontation at this high, dangerous and decisive level,” Hizbullah's leader added.

He noted that the firing on Wednesday and Thursday of Iranian-made Fajr 5 rockets at the Tel Aviv area “highlights the wisdom and courage of the current resistance in Gaza.”

Two more Gazans died as Israel pressed on with a major bombing campaign across Gaza on Thursday, raising the death toll to 15, and Palestinian fighters fired more than 250 rockets over the border, with two of them hitting the Tel Aviv area.

A rocket hit the sea just south of Tel Aviv, an Agence France Presse correspondent at the scene said, the farthest that a rocket from Gaza had ever landed inside Israel.

The attack sparked panic in Tel Aviv, with television images showing people lying on the ground outside the defense ministry, their hands over their heads as sirens wailed.

Earlier on Thursday, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck Rishon LeTzion, some 15 kilometers (nine miles) southeast of Tel Aviv, the Israeli army said, but there were no injuries or damage.

“It is an episode of the episodes of the bloody, historic and decisive confrontations that will decide the fate of Palestine and the holy sites. It is one of the stages that require everyone to shoulder their responsibilities,” said Nasrallah.

“We have noticed that this enemy does not need an excuse to wage war and aggression. If the enemy's government has a political interest in war it will wage it, like it did during the 1996 Grapes of Wrath Operation when (then Israeli prime minister Shimon) Peres waged a war on Lebanon ahead of the Israeli elections,” Nasrallah noted.

“The Israelis do not need a Palestinian action in order to make a reaction and I remind the Lebanese, the Arabs and the governments in the region of this,” he want on to say.

Lashing out at the U.S., France and Britain, Nasrallah said “the blood of Gaza's children has exposed the reality of the American, French and British stances on the region.”

“This proves that they're not concerned with values or human rights, but rather with their own interests,” added Nasrallah.

He called on the Arab and Muslim countries to “cooperate in order to enable the jihadist (Gaza) Strip to achieve victory and foil the Israeli plans.”

“Western countries can definitely pressure Israel. We always hear remarks about the 'weapon of oil' and Arabs know that there are certain countries in Europe that would collapse if the price of oil rises and the same can be said about the U.S.,” said Nasrallah.

“Slash production or raise the prices,” Hizbullah's leader suggested, addressing the oil-producing Arab countries.

Commenting on remarks voiced by some Arab leaders that “what's happening in Gaza is aimed at diverting attention from what's happening in Syria,” Nasrallah said “these remarks are laughable because the Israeli objectives are clear.”

“The right thing to say is that Israel benefited very well from what's happening in Syria in order to wage a war on Gaza,” Hizbullah's leader noted.

Hariri Questions Timing of Israeli Assault on Gaza: It Aims to Shift Attention Away from Syria Revolt

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri slammed on Thursday the Israeli assault against the Gaza Strip, saying that it demonstrates the “hostile policy of Israel against the Palestinians and Arab people in general.”

He said in a statement: “The occurrence of the attack simultaneously with the ongoing Syrian revolution poses questions over its timing and is a sign of the clear intentions to thwart the revolt as much as possible.”

“The assault demonstrates Israel's insistence to cut any possibility to reactivate the peace process,” he added.

“It is seeking to maintain its control over all occupied territories and prevent all efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state,” continued the former premier.

“We renew our solidarity with our brothers in Gaza and call on Arab countries and all influential international ones to mobilize immediately to halt the Israeli assault and prevent its expansion,” stressed Hariri.

Israel launched a bruising air, naval and artillery offensive on the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, the most intense assault on the Palestinian territory in four years.

The operation was launched with the assassination of Hamas' top military commander, followed by an onslaught of airstrikes and shelling by tanks and naval gunboats.

Jordan police disperse fresh fuel hike protests

November 15, 2012

AMMAN: Jordanian police forcibly dispersed fresh protests against big fuel price rises on Thursday and said its officers had come under fire, a day after riots left one person dead and 71 wounded.

Demonstrators took to the streets in several parts of the capital as well as provincial cities, but they numbered only in the hundreds after supporters of the main opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which had said it would take part, did not show up, AFP correspondents said.

Washington acknowledged that Jordanians faced a "difficult economic situation" and said protesters had a right to demonstrate "as long as they do so peacefully."

But it said it backed planned reforms set out by Jordan's King Abdullah II against criticism from the Brotherhood that they do not go far enough in establishing a constitutional monarchy in which the prime minister is elected rather than appointed by the king.

In Amman, police twice fired tear gas to disperse protesters chanting slogans against the regime, deemed illegal under Jordanian law.

Some 300 had gathered near Gamal Abdel Nasser Circle, east of the city centre, chanting "Down with the regime," and "(King) Abdullah, where is the people's money? You keep on increasing fuel (prices)."

Police used loudspeakers to demand that the demonstrators leave "because you are breaking the law," before launching several volleys of tear gas canisters and making a number of arrests.

Police again fired tear gas when the protesters attempted to regroup nearby.

In the city centre, police prevented a demonstration outside the Central Bank, but around 500 people held a sit-in near the landmark Roman amphitheatre.

In the southern city of Tafileh, police said protesters had shot and wounded four officers.

"Around 150 protesters held a demonstration today, and some of them suddenly fired directly at police, wounding four of them," a statement said.

In the northern city of Irbid, where a "gunman" was killed early Thursday during what authorities said was an attack on a police station, police used tear gas to disperse protesters who had blocked a main road.

Police chief Hussein Majali told a news conference that 158 people had been arrested in the past two days.

"Security forces will hit with an iron fist anyone who tries to affect the country's security. Peaceful demonstrations will be dealt with in a civilised manner," Majali told reporters.

He said police had recorded around 100 incidents of rioting, vandalism and theft across Jordan in 48 hours and that 71 people, including 54 policemen, had been wounded.

Twelve officers were injured early on Thursday when a group of "gunmen" attacked their police station in the northern city of Irbid, state-run Petra news agency reported, adding: "A gunman died in a shootout."

Majali said police "acted in self-defence" when they killed Qais Omari, 23, but Jordanian media quoted his father as saying that his son "was not carrying a weapon and did not attack police."

Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur has said the fuel price increases are necessary to help reduce a projected budget deficit of 3.5 billion dinars (around $5 billion dollars/3.9 billion euros) this year.

But the Brotherhood's Hammam Said urged King Abdullah to intervene to reverse the price increases. "Jordanians cannot handle more burdens," he said.

Said added that a January 23 general election, which the Islamists have said they will boycott, "should be postponed as the current atmosphere is not conducive."

US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Jordan remained an "important strategic partner.

"We support King Abdullah II's road map for reform and the aspirations of the Jordanian people to foster a more inclusive political process that will promote security, stability as well as economic development," he said.

Egypt PM to visit Gaza in support of Hamas against Israel

November 16, 2012

 Egypt’s prime minister prepared to visit the Gaza Strip on Friday in an unprecedented display of solidarity with Hamas militants embroiled in a new escalation of conflict with Israel that risks spiraling into all-out war.

Two rockets from Gaza crashed near Tel Aviv in the first such attack on Israel’s commercial capital for 20 years. One fell into the Mediterranean Sea and the other in an uninhabited part of one of the Tel Aviv suburbs south of the city.

Two days of Israeli air strikes have killed 19 Palestinians, including seven militants and 12 civilians, among them six children and a pregnant woman. A Hamas rocket killed three Israelis in the town of Kiryat Malachi on Thursday morning.

The latest upsurge in a long-running conflict came on Wednesday when Israel killed Hamas’s military mastermind, Ahmed Al-Jaabari, in a precision air strike on his car. Israel then began shelling the coastal enclave from land, air and sea.

Israel says its offensive responded to increasing missile salvoes from Gaza. Its bombing has not yet reached the saturation level seen before it last invaded Gaza in 2008, but Israeli officials have said a ground assault remains possible.

The Gaza conflagration has stoked the flames of a Middle East ablaze with two years of Arab popular revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to spread further afield.

Israeli warplanes bombed targets in and around Gaza City, rattling tall buildings. In a hint of escalation, the spokesman for Israel’s military said it had received the green light to call in up to 30,000 reserve troops.

Egypt’s new Islamist President, Mohamed Mursi, viewed by Hamas as a protector, led a chorus of denunciation of the Israeli strikes by allies of the Palestinians.

Mursi’s prime minister, Hisham Kandil, is to visit Gaza on Friday with other Egyptian officials in a show of support for the enclave, an Egyptian cabinet official said. Israel promised that the delegation would come to no harm.

An Egyptian government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said officials accompanying Kandil would explore the possibility of brokering a ceasefire.

Mursi faces domestic pressure to act tough. But Egypt gets $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid and looks to Washington for help with its ailing economy, constraining Mursi despite his need to show Egyptians that his policies differ from those of his U.S.-backed predecessor Hosni Mubarak.


Air raid sirens sent residents running for shelter in Tel Aviv, a Mediterranean city that has not been hit by a rocket since the 1991 Gulf War when it was targeted by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The Tel Aviv metropolitan area is home to more than 3 million people, more than 40 percent of Israel’s population.

“This escalation will exact a price that the other side will have to pay,” Barak said in a television broadcast shortly after the strike.

But an Israeli cabinet statement on Wednesday spoke only of “improving” national security – acknowledgement that the Jewish state has no illusions about crushing the militants once and for all.

Speaking at the same time in Gaza, Hamas leader Haniyeh urged Egypt to do more to help the Palestinians.

“We call upon the brothers in Egypt to take the measures that will deter this enemy,” the Hamas prime minister said.

The resurgent conflict will be the biggest test yet of Mursi’s commitment to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which the West views as the bedrock of Middle East peace.

Cairo recalled its ambassador from Israel on Wednesday. Israel’s ambassador left Cairo on what was called a routine home visit; Israel said its embassy would remain open.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which brought Mursi to power in an election after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, has called for a “Day of Rage” in Arab capitals on Friday. The Brotherhood is seen as the spiritual mentors of Hamas.

The Israeli army said 300 targets were hit in Gaza, including more than 130 militant rocket launchers. It said more than 270 rockets had struck Israel since the start of the operation, with its Iron Dome interceptor system shooting down more than 130 rockets bound for residential areas.

Expecting days or more of fighting and almost inevitable civilian casualties, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets in Gaza advising residents to stay away from Hamas and other militants.


The United States has asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the Islamist movement to stop its recent rocket attacks from Gaza, a White House adviser said.

“We’ve … urged those that have a degree of influence with Hamas, such as Turkey, and Egypt and some of our European partners, to use that influence to urge Hamas to de-escalate,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said in a conference call with reporters.

French President Francois Hollande began talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other world leaders in an attempt to avert an escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Jean-Francois Ayrault said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to Netanyahu too, saying Hamas bore the principal responsibility for the crisis.

Israel’s sworn enemy Iran, which supports and arms Hamas, condemned the Israeli offensive as “organized terrorism”.

Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia Hezbollah, which has its own rockets aimed at the Jewish state, denounced strikes on Gaza as “criminal aggression”, but held its fire.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation condemned Israel’s action.


Iraq bombings kill 17 on eve of Muharram and Ashura

 14 November 2012

At least 17 people have been killed and dozens wounded in bombings across Iraq, on the eve of the Islamic new year and the holy month of Muharram.

Six car bombs and roadside devices exploded in the capital, Baghdad, and four other cities, the AFP news agency cited officials as saying.

In the deadliest attack, at least three bombs went off simultaneously in Kirkuk, killing at least five people.

Muharram is an important part of the Shia Muslim religious calendar.

During its first 10 days, millions will commemorate the martyrdom in 680AD (61 in the Islamic calendar) of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala. The mourning culminates in the festival of Ashura.

Shia religious events have in the past frequently been targeted by extremist Sunni Islamist militant groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq.

'No security'

No group has said it was behind Wednesday's bombings, most of which occurred in the ethnically-mixed, oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk.

Police said the attacks in Kirkuk city started with a car bomb explosion near the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by the president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani.

As security forces and bystanders gathered at the scene, there was a second blast, leaving at least five people dead and 34 wounded.

"My child was killed! His friends were killed!" Shukriyah Rauf screamed after the blast, according to AFP. "There is no security here, our homes were destroyed!"

A separate attack in Kirkuk wounded seven street cleaners.

"The car bomb targeted our friends - they are not police, soldiers or politicians," said Jassim al-Obeidi. "They just wanted to make a little money."

Another car bomb targeted an army patrol in the nearby, predominantly Sunni town of Hawija, killing at least four people.

In the town of Hilla, south of Baghdad, a vehicle packed with explosives blew up near a girls' secondary school and a crowded poultry market, leaving at least six people dead and dozens wounded, among them reportedly schoolchildren.

A blast was also reported in the town of Bald Ruz, in the central province of Diyala.

In the capital, Baghdad, one person was killed and at least six were wounded in a series of blasts.

One of the explosions went off near the Palestine and Ishtar Sheraton hotels, two of the city's biggest, shattering nearby windows. Another blast was reported in the central Firdous Square.


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