Israel bombs Gaza after militants' rockets eclipse peace deal signing

Militants in Gaza launched rockets into Israel and Israeli aircraft hit targets in the Palestinian enclave in an explosive backdrop to the signing of pacts for formal ties between Israel and two Gulf Arab countries.
US President Donald Trump looking on as (from left) Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan hold up documents after the signing of
US President Donald Trump looking on as (from left) Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan hold up documents after the signing of the Abraham Accords, in which Bahrain and the UAE recognise Israel, at the White House on Tuesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Netanyahu accuses them of trying to stop landmark pacts with UAE, Bahrain

GAZA CITY • Israel bombed Gaza yesterday after militants fired rockets through the night, overshadowing the signing of landmark normalisation 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 last month.

The signing of the two agreements at a White House ceremony hosted by President Donald Trump prompted protest rallies across the Palestinian territories.

The deals broke with decades of Arab consensus that there would be no normalisation 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 8pm Tuesday and early yesterday, nine of which were intercepted by Israeli air defences, 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.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket fire.

But Israel held Hamas responsible, warning it would "bear the consequences for terror activity against Israeli civilians".

The rocket fire came as the UAE and Bahrain signed accords establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, and Mr 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 Israeli leader said in a statement.

The landmark agreements prompted demonstrations on Tuesday in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Clutching Palestinian flags and wearing blue face masks for protection against the coronavirus, demonstrators rallied in the West Bank cities of Nablus, Hebron and Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority.

Mr 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.

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.

In Gaza, protesters trampled on and set fire to placards bearing images of the leaders of Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.

United Nations' 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.

The new rocket fire came after militants launched rockets and balloons fitted with incendiary devices across the border through much of August, drawing retaliatory Israeli air strikes.

Late last month, the two sides renewed an Egyptian-brokered truce under which Israel has allowed financial aid from the gas-rich state of Qatar to flow into impoverished Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2020, with the headline 'Israel bombs Gaza after militants' rockets eclipse peace deal signing'. Print Edition | Subscribe