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35 killed in Gaza, 5 in Israel, as violence escalates

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

Hostilities between Israel and Hamas escalated on Wednesday, with at least 35 killed in Gaza and five in Israel in the most intensive aerial exchanges for years.

Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza into Wednesday morning, as the Islamist group and other Palestinian militants fired multiple rocket barrages at Tel Aviv and Beersheba.

One multi-story residential building in Gaza collapsed and another was heavily damaged after they were repeatedly hit by Israeli air strikes.

Israel said its jets had targeted and killed several Hamas intelligence leaders early on Wednesday. Other strikes targeted what the military said were rocket launch sites, Hamas offices and the homes of Hamas leaders.

It was the heaviest offensive between Israel and Hamas since a 2014 war in Gaza, and prompted international concern that the situation could spiral out of control.

U.N. Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland tweeted: “Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation.

“The cost of war in Gaza is devastating & is being paid by ordinary people. UN is working w/ all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now,” he wrote.

Gazans homes shook and the sky lit up from Israeli attacks, outgoing rockets and Israeli air defence missiles intercepting them. At least 30 explosions were heard within a matter of minutes just after dawn on Wednesday.

Israelis ran for shelters or flattened themselves on pavements in communities more than 70 km (45 miles) up the coast and into southern Israel amid sounds of explosions as interceptor missiles streaked into the sky.

In the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, near Tel Aviv, two people were killed after a rocket hit a vehicle in the area. Lod and other mixed towns have been gripped by angry demonstrations over the Gaza violence and tensions in Jerusalem.

Hamas’s armed wing said it fired 210 rockets towards Beersheba and Tel Aviv in response to the bombing of the tower buildings in Gaza City. Israel’s military says that around a third of the rockets have fallen short, landing within Gaza.

For Israel, the militants’ targeting of Tel Aviv, its commercial capital, posed a new challenge in the confrontation with the Islamist Hamas group, regarded as a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States.

The violence followed weeks of tension in Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the compound revered by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

These escalated in recent days ahead of a – now postponed – court hearing in a case that could end with Palestinian families evicted from East Jerusalem homes claimed by Jewish settlers.

Violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank, where a 26-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire during stone-throwing clashes in a refugee camp near the city of Hebron.

‘A VERY HEAVY PRICE’

There appeared no imminent end to the violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that militants would pay a “very heavy” price for the rockets, which reached the outskirts of Jerusalem on Monday during a holiday in Israel commemorating its capture of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

The outbreak of hostilities led Netanyahu’s political opponents to suspend negotiations on forming a coalition of right-wing, leftist and centre-left parties to unseat him after an inconclusive March 23 election.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid has three weeks left to establish a government, with a new election – and another chance for Netanyahu to retain power – likely if he fails.

The Arab League, some of whose members have warmed ties with Israel over the last year, accused it of “indiscriminate and irresponsible” attacks in Gaza and said it was responsible for “dangerous escalation” in Jerusalem.

Hamas named its rocket assault “Sword of Jerusalem”, seeking to marginalise Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to present itself as the guardians of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

The militant group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Israel had “ignited fire in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa and the flames extended to Gaza, therefore, it is responsible for the consequences.”

Haniyeh said that Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations had been in contact urging calm but that Hamas’s message to Israel was: “If they want to escalate, the resistance is ready, if they want to stop, the resistance is ready.”

The White House said on Tuesday that Israel had a legitimate right to defend itself from rocket attacks but applied pressure on Israel over the treatment of Palestinians, saying Jerusalem must be a place of coexistence.

The United States was delaying U.N. Security Council efforts to issue a public statement on escalating tensions because it could be harmful to behind-the-scenes efforts to end the violence, according to diplomats and a source familiar with the U.S. strategy. State Department spokesman Ned Price urged calm and “restraint on both sides”, saying: “The loss of life, the loss of Israeli life, the loss of Palestinian life, It’s something that we deeply regret.”

He added: “We are urging this message of de-escalation to see this loss of life come to an end.”

PLUMES OF BLACK SMOKE

Israel said it had sent 80 jets to bomb Gaza, and dispatched infantry and armour to reinforce the tanks already gathered on the border, evoking memories of the last Israeli ground incursion into Gaza to stop rocket attacks in 2014.

More than 2,100 Gazans were killed in the seven-week war that followed, according to the Gaza health ministry, along with 73 Israelis, and thousands of homes in Gaza were razed by Israeli forces.

Video footage on Tuesday showed three plumes of thick, black smoke rising from a 13-story Gaza residential and office block as it toppled over after being demolished by Israeli airstrikes.

The Israeli military said the building, in Gaza City’s Rimal neighbourhood, housed “multiple” Hamas offices, including ones for military research and development and military intelligence.

The existence of one Hamas office, used by political leaders and officials dealing with the news media, was widely known locally.

Residents in the block and the surrounding area had been warned to evacuate the area before the airstrike, according to witnesses and the Israeli military.

A second residential and office building in the same neighbourhood was heavily damaged in Israeli attacks shortly before 2 a.m. on Wednesday. Residents and journalists working in the building had already left.

On Tuesday Gaza health ministry officials put the death toll at 32, but a Hamas-affiliated radio station later said three more people, including a woman and a child, were killed shortly before 2 a.m. on Wednesday in an Israeli airstrike on an apartment above a restaurant.

Israeli political leaders and the military said they had killed “dozens” of militants, and hit buildings used by Hamas.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Israel had carried out “hundreds” of strikes, and that “buildings will continue to crumble.”

Gaza’s health ministry said that of the people reported dead, 10 were children and one was a woman.

Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said a 50-year-old woman was killed when a rocket hit a building in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion, and that two women had been killed in rocket strikes on Ashkelon.

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Australia agrees on increased US air deployments in Australia

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2021)

Australia and the United States have reached new force posture agreements that will see greater air cooperation through rotational deployments of all types of U.S. military aircraft to Australia, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said on Thursday.

Speaking at a joint news conference after meetings between the U.S. and Australian foreign and defense ministers in Washington, Dutton said the two sides would be “significantly enhancing our force posture cooperation, increasing interoperability and deepening alliance activities in the Indo-Pacific.”

“This will include greater air cooperation through rotational deployments of all types of U.S. military aircraft to Australia,” he said.

“We’ve also established combined logistics sustainment and capability for maintenance to support our enhanced activities, including logistics and sustainment capability for our submarines and surface combatants in Australia.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the meeting had endorsed “major force posture initiatives that will expand our access and presence in Australia.”

Dutton and Austin spoke a day after the United States and Britain said they would provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.

China on Thursday denounced the new Indo-Pacific security alliance between the United States, Britain, and Australia, saying such partnerships should not target third countries and warning of an intensified arms race in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said France was a “vital partner” in the Indo-Pacific region and that Washington would continue to cooperate with Paris, comments that appeared aimed at calming French anger after the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom clinched the historic defense export contract to supply Australia with submarines.

The three countries announced on Wednesday they would establish a security partnership for the Indo-Pacific that will help Australia acquire U.S. nuclear-powered submarines and scrap the $40 billion French-designed submarine deal.

France has reacted angrily to the loss of the deal, calling it a “stab in the back.”

Speaking at a news conference after meetings between the U.S. and Australian foreign and defense ministers in Washington, Blinken said Washington had been in touch with its French counterparts before the announcement of the submarine deal.

In 2016 Australia had selected French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion to replace its more than two-decades-old Collins submarines.

The United States and its allies are looking for ways to push back against China’s growing power and influence, particularly its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.

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Ukraine, U.S. to hold joint military drills

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2021)

Ukraine and the United State will start joint military exercises in western Ukraine next week, the Ukrainian General Staff said on Thursday, days after Belarus and Russian staged large-scale drills that have concerned neighbouring countries, Reuters reported.

The “Zapad-2021” war games ran on Russia and Belarus’ western flanks, including sites close to the European Union’s borders, and alarmed Ukraine and some NATO countries.

Ukraine said the “RAPID TRIDENT – 2021” exercises would involve 6,000 troops from 15 countries – Ukraine, the United States and other NATO members – and would last till Oct. 1.

“The main goal is to prepare for joint actions as part of a multinational force during coalition operations,” it said in a statement.

According to the report Ukraine views the military exercises with Western partners as an important step on the path to NATO, believing that membership in the alliance would strengthen the country’s resistance to Russian aggression.

Kyiv’s relations with Moscow deteriorated in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and backed pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donbass region. The seven-year war with separatists killed more than 13,000 people.

Ukraine’s relations with Belarus also have worsened since Kyiv called the 2020 presidential election in Belarus neither free nor fair and condemned violence against protesters, Reuters reported.

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Macron says French forces killed ISIS leader in Sahara

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that French military forces had killed Islamic State (ISIS) militant Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

“It’s another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel,” Macron said in a tweet, without disclosing the location of the operation.

Sahrawi was the historic leader of ISIS in the Sahel region of West Africa and his group targeted U.S. soldiers in a deadly attack in 2017, Macron’s office said.

In August 2020, Sahrawi personally ordered the killing of six French charity workers and their Nigerien driver, it added.

Macron said in July that France would soon begin reshaping its force in the Sahel, where it has been on the front line of the fight against ISIS, and would ultimately halve its military presence, Reuters reported.

With no apparent end in sight to France’s operations and political turmoil especially in Mali, Paris had grown frustrated.

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