Israeli Jets Pound Gaza

Destruction in Gaza in 2014 – over 3,000 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli offensive
Destruction in Gaza in 2014 – over 3,000 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli offensive

ISRAELI jets pounded Hamas positions in Gaza overnight after Palestinians staged a cross-border raid into southern Israel, the military said early on Sunday. ‘Israel Air Force fighter jets targeted a terror target in a military compound belonging to the Hamas terror organisation in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip,’ it said in an English-language statement.

A Palestinian security source in the coastal enclave said the planes hit a base of Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, causing damage but no injuries. The strike on the Strip’s Islamist rulers came after four Palestinians ‘carrying bottles filled with flammable material’ breached Gaza’s border fence on Saturday evening near the kibbutz of Kissufim, Israeli daily Haaretz reported, citing the army.

There, they attempted to torch heavy equipment used for work on the frontier barrier, an army spokeswoman said. The machinery was damaged but did not catch fire, and the attackers fled back into Gaza, she said. ‘The incident that took place yesterday is one of many severe incidents that have taken place in the security fence area,’ the statement said.

Israel holds Hamas, which rules Gaza, accountable for all attacks launched from the blockaded coastal territory. Last month there was a surge in cross-border violence, seen as among the most serious since Israel and Hamas fought a war in 2014 – their third since 2008.

After a bomb wounded four Israeli soldiers inspecting the border fence on February 17, Israel responded by pounding 18 Hamas facilities in two waves of air strikes.

Israeli ground forces also killed two Palestinian teenagers in cross-border fire. Last Sunday, Israel said it had carried out air strikes against an underground Hamas facility in the Gaza Strip. It said its ground forces had also destroyed a partly-built tunnel that could have been used for attacks on Israel.

• A US air strike hit a house in southern Libya on Saturday where jihadist ‘leaders’ were meeting, killing two of them, the spokesman of the Libyan prime minister said. Spokesman Mohamed El Sallak, in a statement on his Twitter account, said the strike was ‘coordinated’ with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

The raid targeted ‘a meeting of terrorist leaders’ in a house in the Ubari region, 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) south of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, said Sallak. He later said he was not immediately able to identify the jihadists targeted in the air strike.

The United State has carried out frequent raids on the Islamic State group in southern Libya.

Libya has been gripped by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and murdered leader Muammar Gadaffi in 2011, with rival administrations and multiple militias vying for control of the oil-rich country. Jihadists and people-traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos to gain a foothold in the North African country.

IS seized Gadaffi hometown of Sirte in June 2015 but were driven out of the coastal town in December the following year by pro-GNA forces with US air cover. The jihadists are still active, however, in central and southern Libya. IS has claimed several attacks in Libya, the latest in February when a suicide car bombing against the forces of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar killed three militiamen. Haftar supports an administration in the east of the country, opposed to the Tripoli-based government of Serraj, who has struggled to assert his authority across the country.

• Lebanon is bracing itself for parliamentary elections on May 6. If carried out successfully, they would be the first legislative elections in the country since 2009. Visibly absent from the parliamentary hopefuls is a long list of prominent politicians who have been represented in every chamber since the 1990s.

Among those is former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, an economist and seasoned statesman who was exceptionally close to Lebanon’s assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Siniora has taken a back seat in recent years after Saad Hariri – Rafik Hariri’s son – succeeded him in 2009, preferring the less visible post of head of Hariri’s Future Movement.

Siniora is reportedly unhappy with how Hariri handled his latest crisis with Saudi Arabia, when, some allege, he was abducted last November and forced to announce his resignation from Riyadh, rather than Beirut, on a Saudi channel, rather than his own Future Television or via Lebanese state TV.

Siniora is also said to be unimpressed with how Hariri cannot seem to make up his mind vis-a-vis Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. In his resignation speech, Hariri threatened that Hezbollah’s arms would be chopped off, only to praise the group in January when speaking to the Wall Street Journal. Another Hariri ally who will exit the Lebanese parliament is Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, formerly a main pillar of Hariri’s March 14 coalition. Jumblatt played a pivotal role in Hariri’s rise to power and in the creation of the political coalition that ejected the Syrians in April 2005.

Hariri badly needs both Siniora and Jumblatt to emerge victorious in the next parliament with a two-thirds blocking majority. Numerically that means at least 85 out of 128 MPs. Presently only two blocs can achieve that number. One is headed by Hariri and the other is jointly led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who leads the Amal Movement, and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

Hariri and his allies had 46 seats in the outgoing parliament and the rival Iran- and Syria-backed bloc had 47. Those numbers will likely change because Hariri no longer has on his side the Lebanese Phalange, headed by former President Amin Gemayel. He backed out in 2016, furious with Hariri’s backing of Michel Aoun as president, a post Gemayel wanted for himself. Gemayel has five MPs in parliament and that number is expected to increase in May.

Hariri also lacks the unwavering support of Jumblatt’s bloc, which supported him in 2009, making 85 seats out of 128 not so easy for Hariri. His electoral allies are the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geagea, with whom Hariri is working to challenge Hezbollah in Baalbek-Hermel.

This district will witness a big electoral battle in May, as Hariri tries to penetrate the Shia stronghold.

It has six parliamentary seats: two Christian (one Maronite and one Catholic), two Sunni and two Shia seats. The number of voters in Baalbak-Hermel is: 43,000 Christians, 43,000 Sunnis and 230,000 Shias, making the Hariri plan ambitious and very difficult to achieve, since the lion’s share of Shia votes will go to candidates running with Hezbollah and Amal. The numbers in the district will make or break any upcoming parliamentary majority.

The same applies to Hezbollah and Amal, which are deprived of the backing of veteran Maronite MP Suleiman Frangieh, once a main player in their March 8 alliance. The grandson of a president and a presidential hopeful himself, Frangieh had relied on Hezbollah to put him in power in 2016 but Hezbollah went for Aoun.