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Israel jets bomb Gaza after rockets mar deal signings

GAZA: Smoke and flames are seen following an Israeli air strike in the town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip yesterday. – AFP

GAZA CITY: Israel bombed Gaza yesterday after militants fired rockets through the night, overshadowing the signing of landmark normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in Washington. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the militants of seeking to stop the peace deals, Israel’s first with an Arab country since 1994. But Gaza ruler Hamas warned Israel it faced an escalation if the bombing continued, barely two weeks after a renewed Egyptian-brokered truce halted near-nightly exchanges across the border through August.

The signing of the two agreements at a White House ceremony hosted by US President Donald Trump prompted protest rallies across the Palestinian territories. The deals broke with decades of Arab consensus that there would be no normalization of relations with Israel until it had made peace with the Palestinians and drew accusations of “betrayal” against the Western-backed Gulf states.

At least 15 rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip between 8 pm (1700 GMT) Tuesday and early yesterday, nine of which were intercepted by Israeli air defenses, the military said. One hit the southern port city of Ashdod, wounding at least two people, emergency services said. The Israeli military said fighter jets responded with strikes on Hamas military targets.

The rocket fire came as the UAE and Bahrain signed accords establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and Netanyahu accused the militants of seeking to derail them. “They want to prevent peace, they won’t. We will hit everyone who tries to harm us, and we will extend a hand of peace to all who reach out to us to make peace,” the prime minister said in a statement.

Trump said the agreements “will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region”. “After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” he said. Speaking later to reporters, he said Israel would enter into similar deals with up to nine other countries, including regional power Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the deals would “not achieve peace in the region” until the US and Israel acknowledged his people’s right to a state. “Peace, security and stability will not be achieved in the region until the Israeli occupation ends,” he said. Abbas warned that “attempts to bypass the Palestinian people and its leadership, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization, will have dangerous consequences”.

Israel’s arch-foe Iran said the UAE and Bahrain were reaching out to a regime that is “committing more crimes in Palestine every day”. “Some of the region’s countries, their people are pious Muslims but their rulers understand neither religion nor (their) debt … to the nation of Palestine,” President Hassan Rouhani told his cabinet yesterday. UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov arrived in Gaza yesterday for pre-scheduled meetings with Hamas officials. Hamas has joined the Palestinian Authority in condemning the UAE and Bahrain accords as a “betrayal” of their cause. – AFP

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