Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

Israel strikes Gaza after facing rocket attacks during peace deal signing in U.S.

The Israeli military struck Hamas militant sites in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday in response to rocket fire toward Israel the previous night that coincided with the signing of normalization agreements between Israel and two Arab countries at the White House.

The barrage against Israel began Tuesday night just as the ceremony in Washington was getting underway to formalize the new agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Two Israelis were lightly wounded.

The rocket fire continued overnight, with sirens sounding across southern Israel. The military said five projectiles landed in open areas with the rest intercepted by Israel’s rocket defence system. In response, the military said it struck about 10 sites belonging to Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, including a weapons and explosives manufacturing factory, underground infrastructure and a military training compound.

The renewed exchange offered a stark reminder that the festive events in Washington would likely do little to change Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. In addition to the bilateral agreements signed by Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, all three signed a document dubbed the “Abraham Accords” after the patriarch of the world’s three major monotheistic religions.

The Palestinians are opposed to the agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, viewing them as a betrayal of their cause by the Arab countries, which agreed to recognize Israel without securing territorial concessions. They vow that the agreements, and any others that may follow, will not undermine their cause.

Neither President Donald Trump nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned the Palestinians in their remarks at the signing ceremony, but both the UAE and Bahraini foreign ministers spoke of the importance of creating a Palestinian state.

Upon his departure back from Washington, Netanyahu said he was not surprised by the rocket attack or the timing of the militants.

“They want to take peace backwards but they won’t succeed,” he said. “We will strike hard against all those who seek to harm us and reach out a hand in peace to all those whose hand is reached out to peace with us.”

The Islamic militant group Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, when it seized power from the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority. Israel and Egypt have imposed a crippling blockade on the coastal territory since then.

A number of Palestinian militant groups operate in Gaza, but Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks and typically responds to rocket fire with airstrikes on militant targets. There were no immediate reports of any injuries in Gaza.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and several smaller skirmishes since 2007. Egypt and Qatar have brokered an informal cease-fire in recent years in which Hamas has reined in rocket attacks in exchange for economic aid and a loosening of the blockade, but the arrangement has broken down on a number of occasions.

Israelis have warmly embraced the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, which are only the third and fourth Arab countries — after Egypt and Jordan — to recognize Israel. City Hall in Tel Aviv was lit up with the word “peace” in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

In Jerusalem, authorities projected the flags of the U.S., Israel, the UAE and Bahrain on the walls of the Old City.

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