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Israeli Blockade for Years can turn Gaza into an easy “launching pad” for Islamic State (ISIS) Terrorist Group Recruiters

Pro-Islamic State social media accounts have accused Hamas of arresting their supporters in Gaza

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Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani gestures during an interview in Doha, Nov. 26, 2016. VOA
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Palestinian infighting and years of an Israeli blockade could turn the impoverished Gaza Strip into an easy “launching pad” for Islamic State recruiters, Qatar’s foreign minister says.

The small gas-rich Gulf state is a major backer of Hamas, the armed movement which has maintained its control over the coastal enclave for almost a decade despite conflicts with Israel and a rift with Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.

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Foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said in an interview in Doha on Saturday that a blockade imposed on Gaza’s borders by Israel and Egypt had turned the territory into an “open-air prison.”

“If we will leave them as they are, people from Daesh can recruit them easily. They can start operations from there easily,” he told Reuters, using an Arabic acronym for the group.

“It (Gaza) can transform also as a launching pad for extremism and for terrorism … That’s why we need to put an end to this,” he said.

Cut off from trade, many of Gaza’s 2 million people live in poverty and struggle to find work. Israel and Egypt have accused Hamas of being a terrorist group exploiting Gaza’s suffering for its political gain – charges the group denies.

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Hamas, an Islamist movement that shares the Islamic State’s hostility to Israel but not their quest for a global religious war, deny the jihadists have a presence in the territory.

Pro-Islamic State social media accounts have accused Hamas of arresting their supporters in Gaza.

Qatar has no diplomatic relations with Israel and strained ties with Egypt’s military-backed government, which has kept its border with the Gaza Strip largely closed since the 2013 overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

Doha has paid the salaries of Gaza public sector workers and built new homes for Palestinians after a 2014 war with Israel.

The Qatari donations, as well as its hosting of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal since 2012, have buoyed Gaza’s de facto Islamist rulers, irking Israel and the U.S.-backed Palestinian administration based in the occupied West Bank.

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Sheikh Mohammed said that advancing Palestinian unity efforts and easing the blockades should not be “forgotten about” because of war unfolding across the Middle East.

“We believe this will be a step for having some relief for the people of Gaza. Forgetting Palestine – postponing it until later – will be much riskier,” he said, referring to the Palestinian goal of creating a state in the West Bank and Gaza. (VOA)

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US Backtracks on Iraqi, Kurd Cease-fire Claim

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An Iraqi soldier removes a Kurdish flag from Altun Kupri
An Iraqi soldier removes a Kurdish flag from Altun Kupri on the outskirts of Irbil, Iraq. VOA

Iraq, October 27: The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State announced Friday morning a cease-fire between Iraqi forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga in Northern Iraq but quickly backtracked on the claim, saying it is not an “official” cease-fire.

Army spokesman Ryan Dillon posted a clarification on Twitter to say “both parties (are) talking with one another,” but that a “cease-fire” had not been reached.

The Iraqi military and the Kurdish minority have been clashing for several weeks after the Iraqi troops moved to secure areas in northern Iraq that had been seized from IS jihadists by Kurdish forces. The Kurdish forces abandoned the land largely without resistance, though low-level clashes have been reported.

Iraqi PM rejects Kurdish offer

The areas Iraqi forces are moving into were mostly under Baghdad’s control in 2014, when Islamic State militants swept into the region. Kurdish Peshmerga and coalition forces recaptured the lands, and the Kurdistan Region has since held them.

The Iraqi leadership said it is retaking the areas to establish federal authority after a Kurdish referendum for independence in September threatened the nation’s unity. More than 92 percent of Kurds in Iraq voted “yes” in a vote Baghdad called illegal, and the international community leaders said was dangerous and ill-timed.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Thursday rejected an offer by Kurdish leaders to freeze the results of their independence referendum in favor of dialogue in order to avoid further conflict.

The Kurdistan Regional Government, in a statement, said the confrontations have hurt both sides and could lead to ongoing bloodshed and social unrest in Iraq.

“Certainly, continued fighting does not lead any side to victory, but it will drive the country towards disarray and chaos, affecting all aspects of life,” the KRG said.

‘Unified Iraq is the only way to go’

Abadi said in a statement his government will accept only the annulment of the referendum and respect for the constitution.

During a briefing Friday morning at the Pentagon, Joint Staff Director Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie Jr. told reporters the U.S. believes “a unified Iraq is the only way to go forward.”

He added, “We’re not helping anyone attack anyone else inside Iraq, either the Kurds or the Iraqis.”(VOA)