Palestinian militants ceased rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel and relative calm prevailed Saturday afternoon after a night-long exchange of fire.
The Islamic Jihad group, a militant faction operating in the Hamas-ruled Gaza but that has close ties to Iran and Syria, said they agreed to Egyptian mediation efforts and halted the rocket fire, the heaviest to emanate from Gaza in months.
“The Egyptian efforts led to understandings to restore calm to Gaza Strip. We appreciate the Egyptian endeavor and hope for all kinds of (Israeli) aggression to stop,” said Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad official.
READ MORE: Israel increases armoured presence at Gaza border amid continuing protests
Hamas, the larger militant group that controls Gaza, accused Israel of resorting to military escalation “to evade obligations” of a comprehensive cease-fire that Hamas has long sought. Hamas wants the deal to end a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza.
There has been no immediate comment from Israel on truce. It has said its fighter jets struck dozens of targets across Gaza and accused Iranian forces in Damascus of orchestrating the barrages.
The threats toward Iranian forces in Syria added a new dimension to what was already the heaviest fighting between Israel and Gaza militants in several weeks. Opening a new front in Syria could put Israel in open confrontation with heavily armed Iranian and Hezbollah forces, along with recently deployed Russian anti-aircraft systems.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said that 34 rockets had been fired at Israel throughout the night. Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system intercepted 13 rockets, two landed in Gaza and the remainder fell in open spaces in southern Israel, he said. In response, Israel hit over 80 targets in Gaza.
Conricus said Islamic Jihad had fired the rockets under instructions from Iran’s Al Quds Force based in Syria and said that Israel was considering taking action against the Iranians in response.
“We have seen and established a clear link between Gaza and Damascus,” he said. “We know that the orders, incentives were given from Damascus with the clear involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force.”
“From our perspective, part of the address by which we will deal with this fire is also in Damascus and the Quds Force,” he added. “Our response is not limited geographically.”
WATCH: Israel steps up armoured deployment on Gaza border
Iran has sent its forces, along with those of Hezbollah and other Shiite militias, to Syria to back President Bashar Assad in the civil war there. As the war winds down, Israel has repeatedly warned that it will not allow its archenemy Iran to establish a permanent military presence in postwar Syria.
Throughout the seven-year war, Israel has already carried out scores of airstrikes in Syria, mostly against suspected Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah but also against the Iranians themselves.
But Israel’s mission could become much more complicated following Russia’s decision to transfer sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
Russia deployed the missiles after a Russian warplane was shot down over Syrian skies last month. Russia has blamed Israel for the mishap, saying that Syria accidentally shot down the plane while reacting to an Israeli air raid.
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Israel and Russia have maintained a hotline to prevent their air forces from coming into contact with one another over Syrian skies. Israeli media have reported that Russia has become less cooperative since the downing of the plane.
The fighting in Gaza followed a bloody day of border protests Friday in which Israeli forces shot and killed four Palestinians protesting along the perimeter fence dividing Hamas-ruled Gaza and Israel. A fifth protester succumbed to his wound Saturday, the Health Ministry said.
Egyptian mediators have been trying to prevent a full-blown conflict between Hamas and Israel for months.
Conricus said that Israel had struck over 80 sites across Gaza, including training camps, weapons storage facilities and a Hamas security headquarters building. COGAT, the Israeli defense body that handles Palestinian civilian issues, said one of the rockets hit an ambulance crossing used to transfer Gazans out of the strip in emergency humanitarian cases.
“To what low have the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip reached?” wrote COGAT commander, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, on his Arabic Facebook page.
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In Gaza, most of the airstrikes hit open spaces used by militants for training and possibly weapons storage.
But in northern Gaza, the Health Ministry said that the main hospital in the area was damaged after a nearby Hamas training camp was hit. Footage showed cables and wires dropping from collapsed ceilings in the wards.
In Gaza City, an airstrike hit an abandoned, unfinished building, flattening the three-story structure. That building appeared to be the one identified by Israel as a security headquarters.
Although Islamic Jihad often acts independently of Hamas, Israel holds Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, responsible for all fire emanating from the territory.
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Conricus said there had been no signs of Hamas trying to rein in Islamic Jihad. He also criticized Hamas for escalating the border protests after Israel had tried to defuse tensions by allowing special fuel shipments into Gaza to improve the supply of electricity. The territory suffers from chronic power outages.
There were no reports of casualties on either side.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars over the past decade, and Israel and Egypt have maintained a stifling blockade on the territory to weaken Hamas. The Hamas-led weekly protests along the Israeli border have been aimed in large part at breaking the blockade, which has devastated the Gaza economy.
Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, had previously scaled down the protests as Egypt stepped up its efforts to secure calm.
Israel accuses Hamas of using the large protests as cover to stage border infiltrations and attacks. It says it is defending its border and accuses Hamas of exploiting young protesters and encouraging them to risk their lives in order to increase pressure to ease the blockade.
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Israel has come under heavy international criticism for what many see as excessive use of force and the large number of unarmed people who have been shot.
On Wednesday, Egyptian intelligence officials met representatives of Palestinian factions in Gaza, the latest in a round of shuttle diplomacy between the sides.
Egypt wants to restore calm in order to pursue the broader goal of Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and the West Bank-based administration of President Mahmoud Abbas. The internationally recognized Abbas lost control of Gaza in 2007.
Hamas has demanded a full lifting of the blockade, which has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern. Widespread desperation among Gaza’s 2 million residents has fueled the participation in the Hamas-orchestrated protests.
Since the marches began six months ago, at least 160 Palestinians present or taking part in the protests have been killed. A Gaza militant fatally shot an Israeli soldier in July.
Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali
Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.
In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.
“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.
“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”
“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.
Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”
Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”
“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.
He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”
As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our
country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.
The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”
On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.
Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA
Harris accepts VP nomination
Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”
Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”
“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”
“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.
That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”
Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself
The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.
In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.
“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m
The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.
But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.
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