Friday, July 20, 2018

Israel Launches A Wave Of Strikes Into Gaza After Soldier Killed, As Syrian Troops Near Border, PM Tells Putin He Won't Tolerate Iranian Presence

Israel launches waves of strikes across Gaza after soldier killed 

Israel has launched an intense wave of strikes across the Gaza Strip after one of its soldiers was killed in gunfire along the border, raising fears of renewed conflict.
Explosions were seen across the coastal enclave on Friday evening and Israel said three rockets had been fired at its territory, two of which were intercepted. The military wing of Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2009, said three of its fighters were killed in the strikes.

The Israeli Defence Force did not name the soldier, but said he had been hit by Palestinian gunfire. He was the first Israeli combatant to been killed in the area since the last full-scale conflict with Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, in 2014.

“A terrorist squad shot at [Israel Defence Forces] troops and the IDF soldier was severely injured – he later succumbed to his wounds,” the military said in a statement. “His family has been notified. The IDF expresses its heartfelt condolences, and will continue to support the family.”

It said its aircraft and fighter jets had attacked 40 military targets across Gaza that included Hamas battalion headquarters, a drone warehouse, aerial defence systems, and observation posts. “The strikes are still ongoing,” the IDF said.
A fourth Palestinian was shot dead at protests by the perimeter fence, according to Gaza’s health ministry. The protests were part of a months-long movement that residents had hoped would draw attention to the Israeli blockade.
Nearly 150 Palestinians have been killed since the demonstrations began on 30 March, most of them shot by Israeli snipers. Others have been killed by Israeli air strikes or by tank fire. Thousands have been injured.

Israel accuses Hamas of hijacking the rallies to carry out attacks. The two sides have traded rocket and mortar fire for airstrikes during the past few weeks.
Last weekend saw the most severe exchange of fire in Gaza since a 2014 war. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed and about 200 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from Gaza. Four Israelis were wounded when a projectile hit a house.

In recent days, the Israeli army has started to open fire at groups attempting to launch kites attached to cans of petrol that have torched close to 3,000 hectares (7,410 acres) of Israeli fields. Israel has tightened its blockade, closing the only goods crossing.
The United Nations envoy for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, said on Twitter that “everyone in Gaza needs to step back from the brink”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin as Israel continues to press its demands that there be no Iranian military presence in Syria.
The call came Friday with an evacuation effort underway to transfer rebel fighters and civilians from a southwestern sliver of Syria near the Golan Heights to opposition territory further north.
The transfers come under a surrender deal agreed this week between Russia and Syrian rebels in Quneitra province that will see the sensitive zone on the Israeli border fall back under regime control.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that Israel would continue to act against the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria,” his office said in a statement on the call.
The Kremlin said Putin and Netanyahu discussed regional developments “with an emphasis on the Syrian settlement process.”
Netanyahu has spoken and met with Putin regularly in recent years about Syria and military coordination between the two countries there, most recently during his visit to Moscow last week. Along with Iran, Russian forces are backing the regime of President Bashar Assad in the country’s civil war.

Israel has warned it will not tolerate the military presence of Iran and its proxies in Syria and has carried out airstrikes against Iranian targets.
The Syrian army and its allies since June have been on an offensive in southern Syria, raising concerns Iranian backed-forces could take up positions in formerly rebel-held areas bordering the Golan Heights. Israel has called for the 1974 disengagement agreement between it and Syria to be upheld and warned Syrian forces against entering the demilitarized buffer zone along the border.

Also Friday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, his office said. The talks reportedly focused on the coordination mechanisms set up between Israel and Russia to avoid accidental conflict between their respective forces operating in Syria.
While Russia has called for all non-Syrian troops to leave southern Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month it is “absolutely unrealistic” to expect a complete Iranian pullout from the country. Iran has said its forces will only leave Syria at Assad’s request.
During a joint press conference after his meeting in Helsinki with US President Donald Trump this week, Putin said the two agreed on securing Israel’s border with Syria, in accordance with the 1974 disengagement of forces deal following the Yom Kippur War.
Putin said this would bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also provide security to the state of Israel.”
The Russian leader said that during his “very successful” one-on-one meeting, Trump paid “special attention” to the issue, “and I would like to confirm that Russia is interested in this development and will act accordingly.”
Trump, for his part, noted that “President Putin also is helping Israel.” He said that both leaders had spoken with Netanyahu, “and they would like to do certain things with Syria having to do with the safety of Israel… We absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel, and Israel will be working with us. So both countries work jointly [for this purpose].”

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