Israel announces it has expanded its ground offensive in Gaza, with residents reporting the heaviest shelling since the conflict began 13 days ago.
In a statement, Israel’s military said “additional forces” had joined “the effort to combat terror” in Gaza.
Four Palestinians died, including two children and the son of a senior Hamas official, in new airstrikes on Sunday, July 19.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to arrive in Qatar later to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Ban Ki-moon’s visit is part of a regional tour aimed at helping Israelis and Palestinians “end the violence and find a way forward”, the UN said.
The death toll continued to rise at the weekend, with the number of Palestinians killed now at more than 350 – the vast majority of them civilians.
Five Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians have died since PM Benjamin Netanyahu launched the military offensive on July 8.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sent ground troops into Gaza on Thursday after 10 days of heavy air and naval barrages failed to stop rocket fire from Gaza.
Israel says the ground operation is necessary to target a Hamas tunnel network, which it says it could not do only from the air.
Two Israeli soldiers were killed on Saturday during a gunfight with Palestinian militants who had used tunnels to cross into Israel to launch an attack, the IDF said.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesman, said the ground offensive was being expanded “to restore security and stability to Israel’s residents and citizens”.
Residents in Gaza reported hearing explosions throughout the night on Saturday.
An airstrike in the suburb of Shejaiya targeted the house of Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya, killing four people including his son and daughter-in-law, Palestinian doctors said.
Meanwhile, the UN warned that it was running out of supplies to help more than 50,000 Palestinians who have sought shelter at its schools in Gaza.
A UN official said the number of people fleeing was much higher than expected, with both the Israeli and Egyptian borders closed to Gazans.
Diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire involving, among others, Egypt, Qatar, France and the UN, have failed to make any progress.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, but said that attempts to agree a ceasefire had failed.
“Sadly I can say that the call for a ceasefire has not been heard, and on the contrary, there’s a risk of more civilian casualties that worries us,” he told press.
Qatar is expected to host a meeting between President Abbas and Ban Ki-moon on Sunday before the UN chief continues on to Kuwait, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan.
Mahmoud Abbas is also due to meet Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in a bid to convince the Islamist group to agree to Egyptian efforts to end the fighting.
Hamas rejected an Egypt-brokered ceasefire last week, saying any deal with Israel must include an end to a blockade of Gaza.
Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad has resigned, after a long-running dispute with President Mahmoud Abbas.
Official Palestinian news agency Wafa said Mahmoud Abbas accepted Salam Fayyad’s resignation after they met in person.
The president asked him to remain as caretaker until a new government is formed.
Salam Fayyad’s resignation is a major blow for US efforts to restart the long-stalled peace process with Israel.
His resignation is the climax of long-running and increasingly bitter dispute between the prime minister and the president.
They have been at odds over economic policy since Finance Minister Nabil Kassis quit last month, and rumors were rife that Salam Fayyad would step down.
Salam Fayyad accepted Nabil Kassis’s resignation, but he was subsequently overruled by Mahmoud Abbas, challenging his authority.
Mahmoud Abbas reportedly waited several days before accepting Salam Fayyad’s resignation.
It comes despite recent attempts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to reconcile the two men.
Salam Fayyad, 61, was seen as a key person in US attempts to restart peace negotiations with Israel.
Mahmoud Abbas may now struggle to replace him with someone who can match his level of international credibility.
He is expected to name a new prime minister within days.
Salam Fayyad has been prime minister of the Palestinian Authority since 2007.
A former IMF official, he is widely respected among international organizations and donors.
He is considered a liberal and politically independent, being a member of neither Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, nor of rivals Hamas, who control the Gaza Strip.
In recent months Salam Fayyad has proved unpopular with both parties, partly due to his economic policies at a time when the Palestinian Authority is in financial crisis.
Hamas welcomed Salam Fayyad’s decision to stand down. Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said he and his government “worked to protect the Zionist occupation and US interests”.
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Israel has launched an air strike on the Gaza Strip for the first time since an eight-day war ended in a truce in November 2012.
According to Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, aircraft bombed fields near the border and no-one was injured.
The Israeli move comes after a Palestinian rocket attack on Israel on Tuesday which also caused no injuries.
Israel and Hamas have been observing an Egyptian-mediated truce after last November’s fighting.
The Israeli military confirmed the air strikes, saying it had targeted “terror sites” and was “in response to rocket fire”.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the air strike was near the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya and came after militants in Gaza fired two mortar shells into the western Negev desert.
Since the truce came into effect, Israel has eased restrictions on allowing building materials into the Gaza Strip, imposed when Hamas came to power there in 2007.
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Tens of thousands of people have gathered to attend a rally in the Gaza Strip to mark the 25th anniversary of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.
Hamas exiled political leader Khaled Meshaal has arrived to address the crowd during his first ever visit to the territory.
Khaled Meshaal’s visit follows a ceasefire that ended days of violence between Israel and Hamas last month.
He is expected to unveil a future strategy for Hamas and talk of reconciliation with its rival, Fatah.
Hamas removed Fatah from Gaza by force in 2007 after winning elections there. Fatah governs parts of the West Bank.
The event is intended to send a message that, after 25 years, Hamas is a force to be reckoned with.
It enjoys support in Gaza and feels it is gaining regional political influence after the Arab uprisings brought new Islamist governments to power, she adds.
Tens of thousands of Gazans have made their way to the rally at the al-Qatiba complex west of Gaza City to hear the speech by Khaled Meshaal.
It is expected to focus on key issues such as the strategy with Israel, the future leadership of Hamas and reconciliation with Fatah.
In 2011, Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – the Fatah leader – endorsed an Egyptian plan to reconcile the rival factions.
But it is unlikely such a rally will hear any signs of moderation in the strategy towards Israel.
The centrepiece of Saturday’s rally in Gaza City is a huge replica of a type of rocket Hamas militants fired at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the conflict with Israel last month. It has Made in Gaza written on it.
Some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in the eight-day engagement and Hamas has presented Saturday’s event as a victory rally.
Ahmed Shaheen, attending the rally with his children, told Reuters: “This is a day of victory. The presence of Khaled Meshaal is a sign of this victory.”
Israel says its operation killed Hamas’s military commander and significantly reduced the militants’ stockpile of rockets.
Israel, the US and the EU consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
In terms of the Hamas leadership, Khaled Meshaal said in January he did not wish to stand again as political chief and the future make-up at the top remains unclear.
Khaled Meshaal entered Gaza from Egypt at the Rafah border crossing on Friday, touching his head to the ground in celebration. The streets of Gaza City were decorated with Palestinian and Hamas flags.
Correspondents say he was clearly aware of the desire among Palestinians for an end to the divisions that have weakened their cause.
Standing in the ruins of a house destroyed in an Israeli air strike, he said: “With God’s will… reconciliation will be achieved. National unity is at hand.”
Apart from a brief visit to the West Bank in 1975, Khaled Meshaal had not visited the Palestinian territories since his family left in 1967.
He survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997 only after King Hussein demanded an antidote to poison used by Israeli agents.
An Israeli official said that no guarantees for Khaled Meshaal’s safety in Gaza had been requested and none had been given.
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Khaled Meshaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas, has called his first visit to the Gaza Strip his “third birth”.
He said his previous two “births” were the day he survived an assassination attempt by Israeli agents in Jordan in 1997, and his actual birth in 1956.
Khaled Meshaal had not set foot in the Palestinian territories since leaving the West Bank in 1967.
His visit follows a ceasefire that ended days of violence between Hamas and Israel last month.
The Islamist militant group has governed Gaza since 2007.
Khaled Meshaal entered Gaza from Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, kissing the ground in celebration. Officials there said his wife had arrived late on Thursday.
In a statement to the media, he said: “I consider this moment my third birth, and I pray to God that my fourth birth will be the moment when all of Palestine is liberated.”
“Gaza has always been in my heart,” he said.
Khaled Meshaal is expected to visit the home of late Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, as well as that of Ahmed Jabari, the military commander killed in an Israeli strike last month.
Ahmed Jabari’s death marked the start of an eight-day Israeli offensive which Israel said was aimed at halting militant rocket attacks. Some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement that Khaled Meshaal’s visit was “a fruit of the victory of the resistance over the occupation”.
A huge rally on Saturday is expected to be the centrepiece of his three-day tour.
Khaled Meshaal is scheduled to address the rally in Gaza City and will talk about the organization’s future strategy towards Israel.
He is also expected to discuss reconciliation moves with the Fatah movement, which Hamas removed from Gaza by force in 2007 after winning elections there. Fatah now rules parts of the West Bank.
In 2011, Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – the Fatah leader – endorsed an Egyptian plan to reconcile the rival factions.
Although attempts to forge a Palestinian government of national unity have since stalled, Khaled Meshaal told Reuters ahead of his Gaza visit that “there is a new mood that allows us to achieve reconciliation”.
Khaled Meshaal was quick to praise Mahmoud Abbas’s recent success in upgrading Palestinian status at the United Nations to that of a non-member “observer state”.
In response to that move, Israel announced it would move ahead with building thousands of new homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Correspondents say Israel – which along with the US and EU considers Hamas a terrorist organisation – appears to be turning a blind eye to Khaled Meshaal’s visit.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that Israel had no say over who entered Gaza from Egypt.
“We have no position on different individuals within Hamas,” he said, according to AP news agency.
“Hamas is Hamas is Hamas.”
On Thursday, Palestinian workers were setting up a stage for Saturday’s rally that included a replica of a type of rocket Hamas has fired into Israel. “Made in Gaza,” was written on it.
Khaled Meshaal was born in the West Bank in 1956. He moved to Kuwait after the 1967 Middle East war and later Jordan, where his involvement with Hamas began.
Khaled Meshaal survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997 and was briefly jailed there, before being expelled and travelling to Qatar.
He became Hamas’s political leader in exile in 2004 when Sheikh Yassin was assassinated by Israel.
Khaled Meshaal ran operations from Damascus until February this year, when the unrest there prompted another move. He now bases himself in Qatar and Egypt.
Hamas was created in 1987 after the beginning of the first intifada – or Palestinian uprising – against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Under its charter, Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. But the group has also offered a 10-year truce in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from territories it occupied in 1967.
1956 - Born in Silwad in West Bank
1967 - Moves with family to Kuwait after Six Day War
1971 - Joins Muslim Brotherhood
1987 - Hamas created
1991 - Moves to Jordan after Iraq invades Kuwait. Runs Hamas fundraising
1997 - Survives Israeli assassination attempt
1999 - Expelled from Jordan. Moves to Qatar
2001 - Moves to Syria
2004 - Named Hamas political leader after assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
2012 - Leaves Damascus for Egypt and Qatar
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A ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement has come into effect.
Under the deal, Israel has agreed to end all hostilities and targeted killings, while Hamas will stop attacks against Israel and along the border.
At least 157 people have died since the flare-up of violence began last week.
Both sides continued to fire on each other as the 21:00 ceasefire deadline approached, but no incidents have been reported since.
Earlier, a bomb exploded on a bus in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, leaving three people needing surgery.
Wednesday also saw at least 13 people die in Gaza.
Israel has agreed to “stop all hostilities on the Gaza Strip, land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals”, the ceasefire deal says.
“All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel, including rocket attacks, and attacks along the border,” it stipulates.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamel Amr announced the ceasefire at a news conference in Cairo with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who joined negotiations on Wednesday.
A statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had agreed to a US suggestion “to give a chance to Egypt’s proposal for a ceasefire and so give an opportunity to stabilize the situation and calm it before there will be need to apply greater force”.
For the truce to hold, Hillary Clinton said, “the rocket attacks [from Gaza] must end and a broader calm must return”.
“Now we have to focus on reaching a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security, dignity and legitimate aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis alike,” she added.
US President Barack Obama praised the Israeli leader for accepting the deal and said he would seek additional funding for the Iron Dome missile defence system, which destroyed dozens of rockets from Gaza in mid-air during the past week.
Barack Obama also thanked Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi for his efforts.
Ties between Hamas and Egypt have strengthened since Mohammed Mursi was elected earlier this year. Hamas was formed as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Mohammed Mursi belongs.
Also on Wednesday, Palestinian militants fired more rockets at Israel, while Israel renewed its naval artillery bombardment of Gaza.
Israel launched its current offensive a week ago with the killing of Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari.
The Israeli government says his assassination, and the subsequent offensive, were aimed at ending rocket fire from Gaza.
More than 150 Palestinians and five Israelis have since been killed.
Israeli officials described Wednesday’s bus explosion as a “terrorist attack”. Hamas praised it but has not said it was behind the blast.
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At least 26 people have died in the Gaza Strip as Israeli forces kept up air strikes they say are aimed at stopping rocket attacks into Israel.
Fewer rockets have been launched, but Israeli towns are still being hit.
Ninety-five Palestinians and three Israelis have died in six days of violence, the latest including a militant group commander.
Efforts to secure a ceasefire continue, with a senior Egyptian official saying there are “encouraging signs”.
Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of the Islamist movement Hamas which controls Gaza, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had requested a ceasefire but that it was up to Israel to stop the war that, he said, it had started.
Israel immediately denied making any such request, Reuters news agency reported.
Khaled Meshaal said that a truce was possible in Gaza, as was further escalation of the conflict.
Morale in Gaza was high and anyone who attacked the Palestinians would be “buried”, he added.
Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi has said an Israeli ground invasion would have “serious repercussions”, saying Egypt would never accept it “and neither will the free world”.
Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he was ready to expand the operation, after Israel authorized the mobilization of up to 75,000 army reservists.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said they targeted about 80 sites overnight into Monday alone, including militant-owned buildings, weapons storage facilities and police stations, bringing its total to 1,350 sites targeted since Wednesday.
Strikes continued on Monday, with a leading figure in the militant group Islamic Jihad, named as Ramez Harb, killed as a building housing media workers was targeted.
One of the overnight blasts destroyed a Hamas police headquarters.
Gaza militants launched 32 missiles into Israel on Monday, of which four were intercepted, said the IDF. One hit a school in the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Classes had already been cancelled. Another hit a house. There are no reports of casualties.
At least nine children were killed in Gaza on Sunday – the bloodiest day so far – and TV reports showing horrific images of their burned and bloodied bodies have been fuelling Palestinian anger.
In one strike, nine members of the family of Hamas policeman Mohamed Dalou were killed – four of them children.
The army’s chief military spokesman, Yoav Mordechai, told Israel’s Channel 2 TV that the intended target of the strike had been Yehiya Rabiyah, the head of Hamas’s rocket-launching unit, but that there had been “civilian casualties”.
Later, the IDF said the house had been targeted because it was thought Yehiya Rabiyah might be hiding there but officials did not know whether he was inside at the time of the attack.
Egypt has been leading efforts to broker a peace deal, with both senior Israeli and Hamas officials in Cairo for talks. An Egyptian official said he hoped to be able to make an announcement on Monday or Tuesday.
Since the conflict began, 877 rockets were fired towards Israel – 570 hit Israel and 307 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system, the IDF says.
Before the recent offensive, Israel had repeatedly carried out air strikes on Gaza as Palestinian militants fired rockets across the border.
But the aerial and naval bombardment is its most intense assault on the territory since Israel launched a full-scale invasion four years ago.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning a decisive victory in general elections. Israel withdrew from the strip in 2005 but maintains a blockade around it.
Israel, as well as the United States and the European Union, regards Hamas as a terrorist organization.
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President Barack Obama defended Israel’s airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, but he warned that escalating the offensive with Israeli ground troops could increase the death toll and undermine any hope of a peace process with the Palestinians.
“Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory,” Barack Obama said at the start of a three-nation tour in Asia.
“If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that’s preferable,” he said.
“It’s not just preferable for the people of Gaza. It’s also preferable for Israelis, because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they’re much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded.”
Barack Obama’s comments came as Israel’s campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza blasted into its fifth day. Israel is at a crossroads of whether to launch a ground invasion or pursue Egyptian-led truce efforts, and Barack Obama sought to clearly defend the U.S. ally’s military rights while pushing for a halt in the violence.
From Thailand, Barack Obama also defended his decision to go to Myanmar, also known as Burma. He will be the first U.S. president to visit the country, which is moving from a brutal reign toward democracy, but still holds political prisoners and is living with ethnic violence.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Sunday that Israel was prepared to significantly expand its military operation in Gaza. Barack Obama has been lobbying Benjamin Netanyahu along with the leaders of Egypt and Turkey to try to halt the crisis – including stopping rocket strikes on Israel.
He said Israel was justly responding to “an ever escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory, but in areas that are populated. And there’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders”.
Barack Obama also said Palestinians will have no chance to pursue their own state and a lasting peace with Israel as long as rockets are fired into Israel. He said he hoped for a clearer process over the next 48 hours – showing how much the Mideast conflict had intruded on his diplomatic mission to Asia.
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The Israeli military and militants in Gaza are continuing to trade fire, with the round of violence that has followed Israel’s killing of Hamas’s military chief showing no sign of abating.
Israel hit 200 sites overnight, including PM Ismail Haniya’s office.
Gaza militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel, including one at the city of Tel Aviv that was intercepted.
Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal will hold talks with leaders of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey on Saturday.
The talks will take place in Cairo, which has also been hosting an emergency meeting of the Arab League.
The League agreed to send a delegation to the Gaza Strip. Reuters quoted Secretary General Nabil el-Araby, who will lead the delegation, as saying this would take place in the next “one or two days”.
At least 40 Palestinians and three Israelis have now died since Israel killed the Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari on Wednesday.
Israel’s military says it still has hundreds of targets it wants to hit in the Gaza Strip.
A spokeswoman also said that troops gathered near the border were ready to invade should the Israeli government give the order.
The Israeli military spokeswoman said it did not see any distinction between the military and political wings of Hamas and that anything connected with the militant group was considered a legitimate target.
An Israeli air force spokesman said it had destroyed at least 90% of long-range rockets in Gaza and severely damaged medium- and short-range rockets, and the infrastructure to fire them. However, hundreds of short-range missiles remained, he said.
Despite the ferocity of the Israeli bombardment, some 60 rockets were reported to have been fired into Israel on Saturday, with some buildings damaged and four soldiers suffering minor injuries.
Sirens went off around Tel Aviv on Saturday, with Israel’s military saying that a missile had been intercepted by a newly installed battery of its Iron Dome defence system.
One rocket also hit an apartment building in the Israeli port city of Ashdod, wounding several.
Israel has now put 75,000 reservists on stand-by, on top of the 16,000 called up in recent days.
So far, there has been no decision on sending in the troops. However, one government minister has been quoted as saying that soldiers could launch a ground offensive into Gaza within the next 24 hours if the rocket fire does not stop.
The Israel Defense Forces released figures on Saturday stating that, over the past three days, 492 rockets fired from Gaza had hit Israel, while another 245 had been intercepted by Iron Dome.
On Saturday, Gaza City was hit by a string of large explosions shortly after 03:00.
There was another series of strikes in and around the city after 05:00, with several targeting Hamas’s cabinet buildings, which correspondents say were likely to have been empty.
Another of the targets was the house of a Hamas leader in Jabaliya, north of Gaza City.
Israel said it was targeting rocket launchers, weapons storage facilities and smuggling tunnels on the border with Egypt in southern Gaza.
Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said 200 targets had been hit overnight.
Government spokesman Mark Regev said the operation would end when Israeli citizens were safe, and that all options – including a ground incursion – remained “on the table”.
Militants and civilians, including at least seven children, have been among the Palestinians killed during Israeli strikes in recent days, Hamas says.
Before the recent offensive – codenamed Pillar of Defence – Israel had repeatedly carried out air strikes on Gaza, as Palestinian militants fired rockets across the border.
Most of them landed in the south, but a small number have been aimed at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The three Israelis who died were in a building in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi which was hit by a rocket on Thursday.
A quarter of the attacks have been intercepted by the Iron Dome system, officials say.
Hamas has confirmed Khaled Meshaal will meet the Emir of Qatar, Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Cairo on Saturday night to discuss how a ceasefire can be achieved.
A senior Hamas source in Gaza said proposal for a truce made by Turkey was being studied by the Hamas delegation in the Egyptian capital.
Ahead of the meeting, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “It’s a tactic of Israel’s to point the finger at Hamas and attack Gaza.
“Israel continues to make an international racket with its three dead. In fact it is Israel that violated the ceasefire.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of carrying out “massacres”.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem arrived in Gaza through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt to show support for Hamas. Later on Saturday he visited the wreckage of Ismail Haniya’s HQ.
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Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has arrived in the Gaza Strip – the first head of state to visit since the Islamist group Hamas came to power there in 2007.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is expected to launch a $254 million construction project to help rebuild the war-torn Palestinian territory.
Qatar has become one of Hamas’s main benefactors since it fell out with Syria and has had a rift with Iran.
The Palestinian Authority expressed reservations about the emir’s visit.
Sheikh Hamad flew to Egypt and crossed into Gaza by car amid tight security.
The Hamas interior ministry said it had a “well-prepared plan” to protect the emir, deploying thousands of security personnel and blocking roads to Gaza City’s stadium, where he is expected to address a crowd.
Earlier, the Israeli military said a soldier had been wounded by a bomb explosion along Israel’s border fence with Gaza, near Kissufim.
The visit is a sign of the increasing ties between the Gulf state and Hamas.
Qatar, one of the richest countries in the Arab world, has become an important source of revenue for Hamas in the aftermath of its fallout with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In February, Hamas announced that its political leadership had been moved from Syria to Egypt and Qatar, because it could no longer effectively operate because of the unrest in its long-time ally.
The political bureau of Hamas had been based in Damascus since 1999, and relations appeared to be good until anti-government protests erupted throughout Syria in March 2011.
Hamas initially neither publicly endorsed the Syrian government’s handling of the uprising nor repudiated it.
Analysts said the Sunni Islamist movement was torn between risking the financial backing of Syria and its ally, Iran, and supporting Syria’s majority Sunni community, which has borne the brunt of the crackdown by the Alawite-dominated security forces.
But in February, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, declared his support for “the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform”.
Qatar, meanwhile, was the first Arab nation to call publicly for military intervention in Syria to topple the government.
It was the main Arab player in the NATO-led coalition in Libya and has played a major part in trying to resolve regional conflicts.
The country maintains cordial relations with both the US and Iran, and – even more unusually for an Arab state – with both Hamas and Israel.
Most recently, Qatar has been involved in the reconciliation process between Hamas and its long-time rival faction, Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority and is in power in the West Bank.
Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, ousted forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza during clashes in 2007 and set up a rival government.
In response, Israel tightened its blockade on the coastal territory, which has had a crippling effect on Gaza’s economy.
A spokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian Authority welcomed Qatar’s efforts to help the people in Gaza but also stressed “the necessity to preserve the legitimate representation of the Palestinian people”.
Mahmoud Abbas called on Sheikh Hamad to “urge Hamas in Gaza to go for reconciliation and to end this split”.
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Israel has intercepted Estelle boat belonging to pro-Palestinian activists trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The Finnish-flagged Estelle left Naples on 7 October with some 20 people of eight different nationalities aboard.
Israel imposed the blockade after the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the coastal sliver in 2007.
An IDF spokesperson confirmed the navy had boarded the ship and that no-one had been injured, but provided few further details.
The boat was boarded 30 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza, activists said, and was then being taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
The Estelle, which is reportedly carrying a cargo including cement and medical supplies, is the latest vessel to try and break the Gaza blockade.
It comes two years after nine Turkish activists were killed in an Israeli navy raid on the Mavi Marmara, one of a flotilla of ships attempting to break the blockade.
Palestinians say Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip amounts to collective punishment to residents of the densely populated strip of land along the Mediterranean coast.
Israel says the blockade aims to stop the supply of arms or other items for military use, and to put pressure on the Hamas administration.
International pressure following the deadly 2010 interception led Israel to ease its blockade, allowing more food products into the strip.
The movement of people and construction materials – such as cement and steel cables – is still heavily restricted.
The importing of all weapons and military materials is banned, along with dual-use materials such as fertilizers and certain chemicals.
Fishermen may only operate in a strip of water up to three nautical miles from the shore.
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Israel Air Force has shot down a small unmanned aircraft after it entered the south of the country, the military has said.
Troops are searching for remains of the aircraft in the north of the Negev desert. It is not clear where it came from.
Local media quoted officials as saying the aircraft flew in from the west, but not from the Gaza Strip.
It was intercepted at around 10:00 local time.
The Israeli Defence Force said it was examining the aircraft’s flight path and whether it was being used for reconnaissance or for a potential act of terrorism.
However, Israeli radio quoted a military spokesman as saying it was not carrying explosives.
Correspondents say several small drones have penetrated Israeli territory in the past, but from the north.
On at least three occasions unmanned aircraft operated by the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah were detected.
An Israeli navy ship was damaged by an explosive drone in July 2006.
Two others flew over part of northern Israel in 2004 and 2005 without being intercepted.
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A Haifa court has ruled that the state of Israel was not responsible for the death of US activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed in the Gaza Strip by an Israeli army bulldozer in 2003.
Rachel Corrie’s family had brought a civil claim for negligence against the Israeli ministry of defence.
The judge said the 23-year-old’s death was a “regrettable accident” and that the state was not responsible.
Rachel Corrie had been trying to stop Palestinian homes being pulled down in Gaza.
Judge Oded Gershon, presiding at the court in the town of Haifa, said Rachel Corrie had been protecting terrorists in a designated combat zone.
He said the bulldozer driver had not seen her, adding the soldiers had done their utmost to keep people away from the site.
“She [Corrie] did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done.”
The judge ruled the state of Israel did not have to pay any damages.
The Corries had requested a symbolic $1 in damages and legal expenses.
They had accused Israel of intentionally and unlawfully killing their daughter, and failing to conduct a full and credible investigation.
An Israeli army investigation in 2003 concluded its forces were not to blame for Rachel Corrie’s death.
Cindy and Craig Corrie travelled to Israel from the US to hear the ruling along with a group of friends and activists.
After the ruling, Cindy Corrie told a news conference they wanted to see more accountability from the state of Israel, saying they had been “deeply troubled by what we heard today”.
“From the beginning it was clear to us that there was… a well-heeled system to protect the Israeli military, the soldiers who conduct actions in that military, to provide them with impunity at the cost of all the civilians who are impacted by what they do,” she said.
She said she believed at least one person in the bulldozer had seen their daughter, and that Rachel’s death “could have been and should have been avoided”.
She added: “I believe this is a bad day not only for our family, but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel.”
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev says that, according to court evidence, the driver did not see Rachel Corrie.
“If you read the seven pages of transcript by the judge after hearing all the evidence for months now, he says that the tractor drivers moved away from the demonstrators on a number of occasions, that the demonstrators took, he says, unreasonable, illogical action, putting themselves in danger.”
“It’s clear by the Corrie family’s own expert – they nominated an expert to come to the court – he himself, their representative, said that it was impossible for the driver to see her.”
The Corrie family’s lawyer has said they will appeal against the ruling to Israel’s supreme court.
Rachel Corrie was a committed peace activist even before her arrival in the Gaza Strip in 2002.
She had arranged peace events in her home town in Washington State and become a volunteer for the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
In 2003, Rachel Corrie was in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip as part of a group of ISM protesters.
They were acting as human shields to try to stop the Israeli army demolishing Palestinian homes and clearing land around Rafah.
The Israeli army argued the area was being used by militants and that the protesters should not have been in a closed military zone.
The army’s investigation found that Rachel Corrie was not visible and that she was killed by debris falling on her.
But Rachel Corrie’s supporters say it is impossible that the bulldozer driver did not see her.
“The bulldozer had a clear line across open ground while it drove towards her, relatively slowly, 20 or 30 metres or so, and even the estimation of the bulldozer’s line of sight… would clearly suggest that during that time the bulldozer driver must have seen Rachel,” said activist Tom Dale, who was protesting alongside Rachel Corrie on the day she was killed.
Pictures taken on the day Rachel Corrie died show her in an orange high-visibility jacket carrying a megaphone and blocking the path of an Israeli military bulldozer.
A collection of Rachel Corrie’s writings was turned into a play – My Name Is Rachel Corrie – which has toured all over the world, including Israel and the Palestinian territories.
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Egypt’s Bedouin tribal leaders in Sinai peninsula have agreed to help restore security in the lawless border area with the Gaza Strip and Israel.
In talks with Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal al-Din, they also backed plans to destroy smuggling tunnels into Gaza.
The move comes as Egyptian troops mass in the area in an operation to contain Islamist militants who have built up a presence in the area.
The militants are suspected of killing 16 Egyptian border guards on Sunday.
Egypt has deployed extra troops, tanks and other armored vehicles.
Ahmed Gamal al-Din met the tribal leaders late on Thursday night at al-Arish, about 50 km (30 miles) west of the Gaza border, to ask for their support.
He later told reporters: “With the help of the people [of Sinai], the mission will succeed.”
Sheikh Atef Zayed, a member of Al-Rishad tribe, said all present had pledged to support the military’s operation.
“Egypt’s security is a part of Sinai’s security,” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.
Another tribal leader, Eid Abu Marzuka, said the tribes had also reached a consensus that the tunnels should be destroyed.
“Let Hamas be upset, we don’t care,” he said, of the Islamist group which control the Gaza Strip.
Eid Abu Marzuka said Israel’s contact with Palestinians in Gaza should be through the official Rafah border crossing.
There are more than 1,200 illegal tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border. They are used to get basic goods past Israel’s blockade of the enclave but also smuggle in weapons and people.
The militants who launched Sunday’s attacks are believed to have used them as an escape route.
Egypt’s Mena news agency reports that the army has already begun sealing them off.
The latest violence in the Sinai region began on Sunday, when militants carried out the deadliest and most brazen attack against Egyptian troops in the Sinai region for decades, killing 16 border guards.
There were further attacks on checkpoints in al-Arish on Wednesday, which left a number of people wounded.
Egypt launched its military offensive hours later, carrying out missile strikes from helicopters.
According to military officials, 20 people were killed in the village of Touma, while the Sheikh Zuwaid area to the west was also hit.
Further armoured personnel carriers could be seen overnight on Thursday, heading eastwards towards the border region.
Egypt’s military presence in Sinai is limited and requires Israeli approval under the terms of the 1979 peace treaty which returned Sinai to Egyptian control.
Analysts say that the security situation in the area has deteriorated following the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year, and that Islamist extremists appear to have gained a foothold.
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[googlead tip="lista_medie" aliniat="stanga"]Israel new air strikes came hours after gunmen armed with heavy weapons and explosives killed at least 7 people in southern Israel.
Israel launches new air strikes on Gaza today after accusing militants in the Palestinian territory for deadly attacks near Eilat on Thursday before noon.
According to the militants, 5 Palestinians were killed in today strikes.
Earlier today, at least 7 people died when squads of gunmen armed with heavy weapons and explosives came to southern Israel from Egypt and attacked buses, cars and an army patrol, officials said.
The Israel’s government immediately reacted to Gaza attacks, spokesman Mark Regev saying:
“This is specific information.”
“This is not an assessment. This is not an estimate. This is very, very precise information that they came out of Gaza. We have no doubt.”
But he did not provide further details.
A spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, Taher Nunu denied that the militants were involved:
“Gaza has nothing to do with these attacks in Eilat.”
The attacks in Israel began around midday local time and lasted for about 3 hours.[googlead tip="patrat_mediu" aliniat="dreapta"]
Attackers targeted a packed bus driving along a road about 10 miles north of the Red Sea resort, close to the border crossing into Sinai. Within one hour, the attackers opened fire on another bus and two civilian vehicles on the same road, and an army vehicle rushing to the area drove over an explosive device, the military said in a statement.
Local TV footage showed a bus pulled off the road with its door and windows shattered, and soldiers were patrolling the area on foot. Inside the bus, seats were stained with blood, and luggage littered the aisle.
“We heard a shot and saw a window explode. I didn’t really understand what was happening at first. After another shot there was chaos in the bus and everyone jumped on everyone else,” passenger Idan Kaner told Channel 2 TV.
He also said the attack lasted 3 or 4 minutes until the bus was able to drive away.
Entrances and exits to Eilat were sealed, as roadblocks were thrown up in the area.
A “large number” of attackers were working in multiple squads, the military said, but gave no specifics.
Israeli military spokeswoman, Avital Leibovich said:
“We are talking about a terror squad that infiltrated into Israel.”
“This is a combined terrorist attack against Israelis.”
“Israeli security forces tracked down some of the assailants and killed 7 in a gun battle,” she added.
[googlead tip="vertical_mediu" aliniat="stanga"] Israel said the assailants came from the Gaza Strip and made their way through Sinai, which borders both Israel and Gaza.
“The incident underscores the weak Egyptian hold on Sinai and the broadening of the activities of terrorists,” the Israeli Defence minister, Ehud Barak, said in a statement.
“The real source of the terror is in Gaza and we will act against them with full force and determination.”
Security in Sinai area has been deteriorated since February, when Hosni Mubarak was toppled.
The new attack comes just a week after the Egyptian army said it was about to launch an operation in Sinai to target what it described as “al-Qaeda elements” on the Egyptian side of the border, where they had attacked a gas pipeline.
A senior security official from Egypt denied that the assailants crossed into Israel from Sinai or that the buses were fired at from inside Egyptian territory.
“The border is heavily guarded,” said a Sinai-based official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.