Posts Tagged ‘Gaza’

Hamas Dissolves Gaza Administration in Palestinian Unity Bid — Changing the leopard’s spots?

September 17, 2017

CAIRO — Palestinian Islamist Hamas group said on Sunday it has dissolved its administration that runs Gaza and agrees to hold general elections in order to end a long-running feud with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.

The last Palestinian legislative election was held in 2006 when Hamas scored a surprise victory, which laid the ground for a political rupture. Hamas and Fatah fought a short civil war in Gaza in 2007 and since then Hamas has governed the small coastal enclave.

Numerous attempts since 2011 to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank have so far failed. Hamas and Fatah agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government, but despite that agreement, Hamas’s shadow government has continued to rule the Gaza Strip.

Hamas said in a statement on Sunday that it has dissolved its shadow government, that it will allow the reconciliation government to operate in Gaza and that it agrees to hold elections and enter talks with Fatah.

Mahmoud Aloul, a senior Fatah official welcomed cautiously Hamas’s position. “If this is Hamas statement, then this is a positive sign,” he told Reuters. “We in Fatah movement are ready to implement reconciliation.”

Hoping to pressure Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza, Abbas has cut payments to Israel for the electricity it supplies to Gaza. This means that electricity has often been provided for less than four hours a day, and never more than six.

Representatives for Abbas, who is in New York ahead of the U.N. General Assembly this week, could not be reached for comment, nor could Fatah representatives presently in Egypt, which has been hosting talks with Hamas.

Some polls show that if parliamentary elections were held now, Hamas would win them in both Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the seat of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

The Western-backed Abbas, 82, is now 12 years into what was to be a four-year term and is an unpopular leader according to opinion polls. He has no clear successor and there are no steps being taken toward a presidential election any time soon.

(Reporting by Mohamed El Sherif and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Susan Fenton)


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Leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh

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Haniyeh with Turkey’s Erdogan


Two Hamas militants die in Gaza tunnel collapse

September 15, 2017


© AFP/File | Palestinians walk inside a tunnel used for military exercises during a Hamas-run youth camp in Gaza City on July 21, 2016

GAZA (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Two Hamas militants died in separate tunnel collapses in the Gaza Strip overnight, the Palestinian Islamist group, which controls the territory, said on Friday.

Khalil al-Dimyati, 32, and Yusef Abu Abed, 22, were killed after two “resistance tunnels” collapsed, Hamas said, referring to tunnels used for military purposes.

It did not give details of the locations or causes of the collapses, but confirmed the two men were members of Hamas’s armed wing.

A security source said one collapse was in Gaza City, while the other was near the city of Khan Yunis.

Hamas has run Gaza for a decade and fought three wars with Israel, which maintains a crippling blockade of the territory.

Hamas has built a network of tunnels inside Gaza, as well as some under the Israeli border.

During the last round of conflict in 2014 attack tunnels were one of Hamas’s most effective weapons.

Other tunnels are used for smuggling from Egypt, although many have been destroyed by the Egyptian authorities in recent years.

Several dozen Hamas members have died in tunnel collapses in the past year.

Trump weighing aggressive Iran strategy — More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

September 14, 2017

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shi’ite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria, and its support for militant groups, according to six current and former U.S. officials.

The proposal was prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources said.

It could be agreed and made public before the end of September, two of the sources said. All of the sources are familiar with the draft and requested anonymity because Trump has yet to act on it.

RELATED: US-Iran relations through time

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United States and Iran Relations throughout time

In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by President Barack Obama and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for U.S. policy but leave it to U.S. military commanders, diplomats and other U.S. officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.

“Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible,” the official added.

The White House declined to comment.

The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs and support for militants, several sources said.

“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said another senior administration official.

The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation, the official said.

The administration is still debating a new stance on a 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

The proposal includes more aggressive U.S. interceptions of Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former U.S. official said.

The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing majority Shi’ites, who are demanding reforms, the sources said.

In addition, U.S. naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.

U.S. ships have fired flares and warning shots to drive off IRGC boats that made what were viewed as threatening approaches after refusing to heed radio warnings in the passageway for 35 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum exports.

U.S. commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.


The plan does not include an escalation of U.S. military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.

Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing U.S. commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to provocations by the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, the four sources said.

The advisers are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert U.S. forces from defeating the remnants of Islamic State, they said.

RELATED: Ballistic missile testing in Iran

Moreover, looser rules could embroil the United States in a conflict with Iran while U.S. forces remain overstretched, and Trump has authorized a small troop increase for Afghanistan, said one senior administration official.

A former U.S. official said Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that Islamic State declared in Syria and Iran in 2014.

U.S. troops supporting Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters battling Islamic State in Syria have been wrestling with how to respond to hostile actions by Iranian-backed forces.

In some of the most notable cases, U.S. aircraft shot down two Iranian-made drones in June. Both were justified as defensive acts narrowly tailored to halt an imminent threat on the ground.


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Trump’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Most of his national security aides favor remaining in the pact, as do U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia despite their reservations about Iran’s adherence to the agreement, said U.S. officials involved in the discussions.

“The main issue for us was to get the president not to discard the JCPOA. But he had very strong feelings, backed by (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, that they should be more aggressive with Iran,” one of the two U.S. officials said. “Almost all the strategies presented to him were ones that tried to preserve the JCPOA but lean forward on these other (issues.)”


(Writing by Jonathan Landay.; Reporting by Arshad Mohammed,Jonathan Landay, and Steve Holland.; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and John Walcott; Editing by Howard Goller)

Includes videos:


Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images
President Donald Trump’s administration has been reviewing the Iran nuclear deal. | Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

More than 80 experts on nuclear proliferation urged the Trump administration not to abandon the Iran nuclear deal in a statement on Wednesday.

The agreement, which was negotiated under former President Barack Obama in 2015, ended several sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country taking steps to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran is subject to regular inspections to monitor whether it adheres to those rules under terms of the agreement.

The signatories, which include many academics and some former State Department officials, wrote that they are “concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described the deal as a “very flawed and very limited agreement” and contended that “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

The experts who signed the letter, though, described the agreement as “an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts” and warned against leaving it.

“Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium to higher levels or increasing the number of operating centrifuges,” they wrote. “These steps would decrease the time it would take for Iran to obtain enough nuclear material for a warhead.”

President Donald Trump was a critic of the Iran deal as a candidate, but he has not taken steps to abandon it since taking office. His administration, however, has been reviewing the deal.

Hamas Leader in Cairo to Discuss Gaza Blockade

September 9, 2017

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Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh

GAZA — The new chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Cairo on Saturday to hold talks with senior Egyptian officials about the blockade of Gaza on his first such visit as leader, a Hamas spokesman said.

In the past few months Hamas has sought to mend relations with Egypt, which controls their one international border crossing from the Gaza Strip. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been wary of ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, ousted from power by Sisi after mass protests.

Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, a densely populated coastal territory that shares borders with Egypt and Israel, with which it has fought three wars since 2008.

For much of the last decade, Egypt has joined Israel in enforcing a partial land, sea and air blockade of Gaza.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the talks with Egypt will focus on alleviating the blockade and mending a longstanding rift with rival group Fatah, headed by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

An Egyptian source confirmed Haniyeh’s arrival with a delegation for talks on the border crossing, security and power supplies.

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Haniyeh with Turkey’s Erdogan

Haniyeh was elected Hamas leader in May. The group maintains a sizeable armed wing in Gaza since seizing the enclave from Fatah in 2007.

Hoping to pressure Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza, Abbas has cut payments to Israel for the electricity it supplies to Gaza. This means that electricity has often been provided for less than four hours a day, and never more than six.

Abbas has vowed to keep up sanctions against Gaza, saying measures are aimed against Hamas and not ordinary people. In turn, Hamas is trying to make a crack in the wall of sanctions by improving its relations with Egypt and other Arab countries.

Israel, which signed a 1979 peace treaty with Egypt and coordinates closely with it on security, is maintaining a close watch on discussions between Egypt and Hamas. Like the United States and the European Union, it regards Hamas as a terrorist group.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Maayan Lubell and Ros Russell)

Accused of funding terrorism and being too cozy with Iran, Qatar says it has done no wrong

August 28, 2017

The Los Angeles Times

The tiny gas-rich nation of Qatar has been ostracized by its regional Arab neighbors, which accuse it of funding terrorism and being too cozy with Iran.

In June, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic and trade ties, closed their air routes to Qatari aircraft and served the government with a host of demands aimed at fighting terrorism and extremism. Mauritius, Mauritania, Yemen, the Maldives and one of Libya’s two warring governments also suspended diplomatic relations.

Qatar did little to quell the conflict last week when it announced it was restoring full diplomatic relations with Iran, more than a year after it pulled its ambassador in a show of solidarity with Saudi Arabia, whose embassy and diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked.

Qatari officials say their country has done no wrong and that a statement by the country’s emir that became a pretext for the row — he was quoted on Qatar news sites as praising Iran and the fundamentalist group Hamas — was fabricated in a hacking attack. Qatar blamed the Emirates, which has denied it.

“Qatar does not fund terrorism whatsoever — no groups, no individuals. Not from afar or from a close distance,” Sheik Saif bin Ahmed al Thani, director of the government communications office, said in an interview with The Times’ editorial board and reporters.

His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

President Trump and Qatar's Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al Thani during a bilateral meeting at a hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in May 2017.
President Trump and Qatar’s Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al Thani during a bilateral meeting at a hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in May 2017. (Mandel Ngan / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)

Why do these countries want to pick a fight with Qatar and why now?

I can answer what we think it is. We have differences in opinion. That is the main issue. Differences of opinion. We do not support parties or individuals or get involved in [the] domestic affairs [of other countries].

So when we get involved in Tunisia, or Syria … or Libya, we do not go around and pick a party or [an] individual.… We usually focus our attention on the public and try our best not to pick sides.

They accuse us of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. For example in Tunisia, after the Arab Spring, the government that came into office was from the Muslim Brotherhood. We worked with them once they became the government. We didn’t work with them as a party. We worked with them as a government, to support them.

After that, the opposition party won…. [And] we are the ones working with them. We did a conference last year in support of Tunisia, supporting investment. We established a fund for small and medium businesses.

How do you characterize your relationship with Hamas?

The Bush administration supported the elections in Palestine. They wanted to ensure the participation of all different entities in the election. And it was requested of us that Hamas participates.

Arab countries did not support the idea of elections. The U.S. wanted all Arabic countries to support the elections. So we took the lead on that. And other countries came in afterward.

So Hamas won the election. Hamas keeps a fraction of a political office in [the Qatari capital] Doha. Our funding to Palestine is all done through the United Nations and it is done for certain projects. [It’s] funding for building the infrastructure. We have a commitment of about $1.2 billion dollars for rebuilding Gaza. In a few cases we have given salaries to the government in Gaza. The few times that happened, it happened through the U.N. in coordination with Israel.

So whether it’s money, or whether it’s building materials, it all goes through the U.N. and through our governmental structure, except the three or four times when we paid salaries and that was paid through the Palestinian Authority with the U.N.

In June, Qatar's National Human Rights Committee reported that it had been receiving a hundred complaints a day since the blockade by four Arab nations started June 5.
In June, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee reported that it had been receiving a hundred complaints a day since the blockade by four Arab nations started June 5. (Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

Does Qatar have any relationship now with the Muslim Brotherhood?

We don’t have a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. All of these accusations came because of Egypt. You know, when the Arab Spring happened, when the military was in control, we started supporting Egypt economically.

We had cash placed in their central bank. We committed to five shipments of gas free of charge, and other things. These commitments started before [President Mohamed] Morsi came into power and they continued after he left. The last shipment of gas was at the end of 2016.

We didn’t stop [them] because these commitments were from us to the people of Egypt. So we don’t really care who’s in office. Other than that, we do not support the Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsi lost power in a coup. So it sounds like your government doesn’t care how a government changes.

We deal with what the people choose.

A coup isn’t the people’s choice.

Yes, but we will not get involved internally.

But by dealing with an illegitimate government that came to power via coup aren’t you de facto getting involved?

I get your point. But in the end, we won’t deal with domestic matters. To us, what’s happening in Egypt is a domestic matter. The people chose not to do anything about it. So … we’ll go with their choice.

So if the Muslim Brotherhood rose and took power back your policies would be the same toward Egypt?


What about claims Qatar paid billions of dollars to Iran and Al Qaeda-linked affiliates to secure the release of Qatari hostages that were held in Iraq?

The money was not given to any terrorist groups. While we were trying to get [the hostages] out, we did approach Iran. We approached any government that could help influence these groups to get them out.

Everything was done with the knowledge, and in partnership with, the Iraqi government, with the Iraqi intelligence and security.

What’s it going to take to resolve the crisis?

What it’s going to take is first to remove the blockade. This is not a way of bullying a country into taking a certain position.

And secondly we’re willing to sit and negotiate and sit in a dialogue environment and discuss all these things. Of course anything that will affect our sovereignty and independence, we will not consider, even slightly. We will not sit at the table unless we have a sort of level playing field. But we’re willing to discuss. At the end of the day most of these things are differences of opinion and we can discuss them.

What’s Qatar’s relationship with the Trump administration?

Broadly, the relationship between the U.S. and Qatar is a very strategic, strong relationship. It has always been strong. After Sept. 11, the U.S. military left Saudi Arabia for domestic reasons. They just moved everything to Qatar and we gave them our main and only airport as a base, until the current base was ready.

So our relationship with the U.S. is very institutional. We have a good relationship with the Trump administration, as we did with the Obama administration, and the Bush administration, and so on.

So you don’t take offense that President Trump sometimes comes across as being anti-Muslim?

I do not know if it’s correct to put it that way. The U.S.-Riyadh summit [in Saudi Arabia last May] was indeed successful. It had all the Muslim Arab countries there. We are the only country that has taken further steps with the counter-terrorism [agreement] we signed. It’s the first of its kind for the region. So I don’t really agree with your point [that Trump is anti-Muslim].

FOR THE RECORD, Aug. 27 2 p.m: An earlier version of this article incorrectly phrased a question as saying that Mohamed Morsi gained power in a coup. He lost power in a coup.

For more on global development news, see our Global Development Watch page, and follow me @AMSimmons1 on Twitter

Israel Vows Not To Repeat The Mistake of Early Release for Terrorists

August 27, 2017
 AUGUST 27, 2017 12:15
The parents of Israeli officer Hadar Goldin, who has been missing since the 2014 battle of Rafah, stated that they “feel abandoned by the government”.
Avigdor Liberman

Avigdor Liberman. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated on Sunday that Israel will not repeat the “mistake” of freeing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the bodies of missing IDF soldiers Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul as well as other Israeli citizens held in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Addressing the resignation of Col. (res.) Lior Lotan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former coordinator on the issue of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, Liberman referred to the 2011 deal which released over 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for the release of former IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who was held captive by Hamas for 5 years.

Lotan, who was working without remuneration, resigned on Thursday after three years in the position. He was appointed in 2014, replacing David Meidan who played a key role in formulating the prisoner exchange deal which led to the release of Gilad Schalit in 2011.

The Defense Minister stated that Israel “will not repeat the mistake of the Schalit deal, which freed 1,027 terrorists, including murderers and their agents, including Mahmoud Qawasmeh, who was released to the Gaza Strip and financed the abduction of three youths, and Yahya Sanwar, who leads Hamas in the Gaza Strip.”

Kawasme helped fund the June 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank and Sinwar, who was elected as the group’s leader in Gaza in February, is regarded by Israeli security officials as one of the most uncompromising leaders of Hamas.

According to Liberman seven Israelis have been murdered by Palestinians released in the deal and 202 have since been rearrested for involvement in terrorism, of whom 111 are still in Israeli prisons.

Liberman added that before replacing Lotan it was important to “draw clear borders for the State of Israel and its emissaries and to especially stand firm against our enemies and make it clear to them that we have no intention of compromising on the security of the people of Israel.”

The Defense Minister thanked Lotan for his commitment and effort in returning Goldin and Shaul and added that he understood and accepted the criticism from the families of the kidnapped soldiers. He added that he remains personally committed to their return as well as the other Israelis held in the Gaza Strip.

In addition to Goldin and Shaul, two other Israelis, Abera Mengistu, an Ethiopian-Israeli, and Hisham al-Sayed, a Bedouin, are both believed to be held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Mengistu and al-Sayed both suffer from psychiatric disorders and both crossed into the Gaza Strip voluntarily. They have been missing for three years.

Their cases are viewed by Israel as a humanitarian issue unrelated to the cases of Goldin and Shaul. Hamas has denied holding Mengistu hostage, but Israel has made it clear that they hold the group responsible for the safety of both Mengistu and al-Sayed.

Mengistu’s family said of Lotan’s resignation that without reassurance from the prime minister, “no progress in the returning of our son will be made.”

The Goldin family has been critical of the government, saying that it has failed to engage in any serious negotiations to retrieve the bodies of the two soldiers. They expressed their appreciation of Lotan and the work he did but also stated that they “feel abandoned by the government.”

Goldin’s father, noted historian Simcha Goldin, said on Israeli television Friday that “the government gives Hamas everything [it] wants and expects the envoy to accept it.”

The family, which demands that the soldier’s remains be brought to Israel for a proper Jewish burial, stated that the government is essentially paying lip service, saying they are “doing everything to bring back Hadar and Oron [Shaul]”  while in reality, “nothing is [being] done.”

Former Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe ‘Bogie’ Ya’alon said that “The resignation of Lior Lotan is a cause for worry. We have a moral duty to bring our soldiers to a [Jewish] burial in Israel and to bring back our missing citizens.”

Both Goldin and Shaul are believed to have been killed in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge and their bodies held by Hamas for the past four years. The militant terrorist organization has attempted to use the two soldier’s bodies as bargaining chips in negotiations for the release of prisoners.


Hamas guard killed in rare suicide attack in Gaza Strip

August 17, 2017


© AFP/File / by Adel Zaanoun | Islamist group Hamas has run Gaza for a decade but has been criticised by more radical Salafist groups in the Palestinian enclave

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – A suicide bomber killed a Hamas guard in southern Gaza on Thursday, officials said, in what was seen as a rare Islamist attack against the Palestinian group that has run the impoverished enclave for a decade.

The incident occurred at around 1:00 am near the Gaza Strip’s lone crossing with Egypt along the Sinai Peninsula, where radical Islamists are waging an insurgency against Egyptian forces.

It would be the first time a suicide attack has targeted Hamas forces in Gaza, security sources said.

“Early this morning security forces stopped two people approaching the southern border (with Egypt),” a Hamas interior ministry spokesman said in a statement.

“One of them blew himself up,” it added.

Interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozum later referred to it as a suicide attack.

Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said field commander Nidal al-Jaafari, 28, was killed in the attack.

Qassam posted a series of photos of Jaafari in military fatigues carrying different weapons.

The group blamed “fundamentalist jihadists” for the attack, but further details on their backgrounds and motivations were still being investigated.

Security sources said the attack took place a few hundred metres from the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

The two men approached a small security position there and five guards tried to stop them before one blew himself up, they said.

The second man was moderately wounded, while the four other guards were also wounded, including one seriously, security sources said.

Eyewitnesses said hundreds of security forces deployed along the border after the explosion.

Islamist group Hamas has run Gaza for a decade but has been regularly criticised by more radical Salafist groups in the strip.

There have been threats of retaliation in recent months over arrests, according to security sources in Gaza.

– Blockaded enclave –

Hamas has recently boosted its forces along the border with Egypt as it seeks to improve relations with Cairo.

Radical Islamists are also fighting Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza. There was no indication there was any link.

Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing mostly closed in recent years, though it opened it on Monday for four days to allow Muslims to travel to Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage, as well as for some humanitarian cases.

Bozum said the crossing would be open on Thursday as planned.

Egypt and Israel are the only countries bordering Gaza.

Israel has maintained a decade-long blockade on the strip it says is necessary to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used to make them.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including Hamas, have fought three wars since 2008.

Hamas has occasionally sought to crack down on Salafist groups inside the Gaza Strip with arrests.

Such Salafist groups have in recent months claimed responsiblity for rocket fire into Israel, sometimes saying it was in revenge for Hamas’s arrests.

Some security sources questioned whether Thursday’s explosion was a new phase of the Salafists’ campaign.

The groups claim thousands of supporters in the Palestinian enclave of some two million people, while Hamas estimates there are dozens.

by Adel Zaanoun

Kushner to Meet With Mideast Leaders in Latest Attempt at Peace Deal

August 12, 2017

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will soon travel to the Middle East for yet another foray into trying to forge a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the most difficult diplomatic assignments of the Trump administration.

Mr. Kushner, who traveled to the region in June, will be accompanied on the trip by Jason Greenblatt, a special representative for international negotiations, and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser. No date was announced.

The three will hold meetings with leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said a White House official. The discussions will focus on resolving the impediments to peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, but will also cover combating extremism, the official said.

That topic could take Mr. Kushner even deeper into territory generally reserved for Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. A bitter feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over how to combat extremism has split the Gulf Cooperation Council, putting a host of American priorities in the region at risk. Mr. Tillerson spent hours on the phone and days on the ground in the Middle East recently in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the standoff, which led Saudi Arabia and three other Arab states to slap an embargo on Qatar.

Mr. Tillerson’s efforts were repeatedly undermined by Mr. Trump, who largely sided with the Saudis. A frustrated Mr. Tillerson said he had set aside the matter, but Mr. Kushner’s wading into the issue could cause tensions in an administration already rived by internal disputes.

In most administrations, crucial diplomatic efforts are given to the secretary of state, but Mr. Trump gave the task of forging a Middle East peace deal to Mr. Kushner, who is also expected to focus on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

By talking to multiple players in the region, Mr. Kushner may be hoping to recruit Arab countries to offer outlines of a deal that would be difficult for either the Israelis or Palestinians to reject, known as the “outside-in” approach.

Mr. Kushner was criticized when he said in a talk given to interns, which was later leaked, that he did not want to focus on the region’s complex history. “We don’t want a history lesson,” Mr. Kushner said. “We’ve read enough books.”

Many in the region see their history as crucial to the dispute as well as any resolution, so critics saw the remarks as a sign of inexperience.

Among the challenges Mr. Kushner could confront on the trip are the myriad legal problems facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, which have begun to threaten his political standing.

Israel’s air force conducts airstrikes against two Hamas positions in Gaza in response to a rocket fired toward Israel

August 9, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Israeli military says it has carried out airstrikes against two Hamas positions in Gaza in response to a rocket fired toward Israel.

Ayman Sahbani, an emergency director at Gaza’s Shifa hospital, says three Palestinians were wounded in Wednesday’s strike, one seriously.

Israel has seen occasional rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in the three years since its last war with Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers. Most have been claimed by Salafist groups in the territory.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire out of the strip — even rockets launched by any of the various militant groups challenging it.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group took control of Gaza a decade ago, most recently in 2014. A cease-fire has largely held since then.

Middle east: Hamas says It Has “Opened a New Page” with Iran

August 8, 2017
 AUGUST 8, 2017 09:16

Hamas delegation visiting Tehran to attend swearing-in of president Rouhani.

Mohammad Javad Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (photo credit:ATTA KENARE / AFP)Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif hosted a delegation of senior Hamas officials in Tehran on Monday. The delegation was in town to take part in the swearing-in ceremony of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who was reelected in May.

According to a statement by the Gaza-based group “The visit has opened a new page in our bilateral relations with Iran aimed at confronting the common enemy and supporting Palestine, the Al-Aksa Mosque and the resistance [against Israeli occupation].”

Hamas’s statement also quoted Zarif as saying that Iran planned to “maintain relations with the Palestinian factions, led by Hamas, and maintain its support for the Palestinian resistance”.
Relations between the two sides have been tense since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011. Hamas’s refusal to support the regime of President Bashar Assad, Iran’s major ally in the region, has angered Tehran, prompting it to cut off its financial and military aid to the Gaza-based movement.

According to the Palestinian sources cited in the Asharq Al-Awsat report, Hamas’s decision to seek warmer ties with Tehran was spurred in part by the Gaza-based Islamist group’s recent disassociation with the Muslim Brotherhood – of which it is an offshoot – along with condemnation as a terrorist group by US President Donald Trump.