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Israeli Warplanes Struck 100 Hamas Targets in Gaza Strip After Rocket Attack

It was the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war between Israel and Gaza militants

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Palestinians check a building belonging to Hamas ministry of prisoners destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, March 15, 2019. Israeli warplanes attacked militant targets in the southern Gaza Strip early Friday in response to a rare rocket attack on Tel Aviv. VOA

Israeli warplanes on Friday struck about 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a rare rocket attack on Tel Aviv. Rocket fire persisted throughout the morning, setting the stage for possible additional reprisals.

The army said that its targets had included an office complex in Gaza City used to plan and command Hamas militant activities, an underground complex that served as Hamas’ main rocket-manufacturing site, and a center used for Hamas drone development. There were no reports of casualties.

The late-night attack on Tel Aviv, Israel’s densely populated commercial and cultural capital, marked a dramatic escalation in hostilities. It was the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war between Israel and Gaza militants.

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An explosion caused by Israeli airstrikes is seen on Gaza City, March 15, 2019. VOA

Hamas denied responsibility for the initial rocket attack, saying it went against Palestinian interests. But after a preliminary investigation, Israel said it had concluded that the militant group was behind the attack.

Following the Israeli airstrike, several additional rounds of rocket fire were launched into Israel. The military said several rockets were intercepted by its air defense systems, and there were no reports of injuries.​

Egyptian mediators

The fighting broke out as Egyptian mediators were in Gaza trying to broker an expanded cease-fire deal between the bitter enemies.

The initial blasts from the Israeli airstrikes in southern Gaza were so powerful that smoke could be seen in Gaza City, 25 kilometers (15 miles) to the north. The Israeli warplanes could be heard roaring through the skies above Gaza City.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza in 2007. Smaller flare-ups have occurred sporadically since Israel and Hamas fought their last war, in 2014.

Israeli election, Hamas criticism

The sudden outburst of fighting comes at a sensitive time for both sides. Israel is holding national elections in less than a month. Netanyahu is locked in a tight fight for re-election and could face heavy criticism from his opponents if he is seen as ineffective against the militants.

Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, a hard-line rival of Netanyahu’s, called on the prime minister to convene a gathering of his Security Cabinet and demand the army “present a plan to defeat Hamas.”

Likewise, Hamas has come under rare public criticism in Gaza for the harsh conditions in the territory. An Israeli-Egyptian blockade, combined with sanctions by the rival Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas government, have fueled an economic crisis in the territory. Residents have little desire for another war with Israel.

Earlier Thursday, Hamas police violently broke up a small protest over the harsh living conditions.

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Smoke and flame are seen during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza, March 15, 2019. VOA

Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the chief Israeli military spokesman, said the army had been caught off guard by Thursday night’s rocket barrage and had no advance intelligence.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire coming out of the territory. Hamas possesses a large arsenal of rockets and missiles capable of striking deep inside Israel.

But with Gaza’s economy in tatters, the group has been seeking to preserve calm.

Militants deny Tel Aviv attack

Hamas denied responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv, saying the rockets were launched when the group’s military wing was meeting with the Egyptian mediators.

In an unusual step that indicated Hamas was attempting to prevent further escalation, the Hamas Interior Ministry said the rocket fire went “against the national consensus” and promised to take action against the perpetrators.

But Israel’s military concluded that Hamas was responsible. In a statement early Friday, the army said “we can confirm” that Hamas carried out the rocket attack.

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Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed militant group that also has a large rocket arsenal, also denied firing the rockets. Smaller factions inspired by the Islamic State group also sometimes fire rockets, though it is unclear whether they possess projectiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv.

Earlier this week, Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire on southern Israel, near the border. Late Thursday, local media said that Egyptian mediators left the territory. (VOA)

 

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Facebook Removes 265 Israel-based Fake Accounts

The organisation had 65 Facebook accounts, 161 Pages, 23 Groups, 12 events and four Instagram accounts

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FILE - A 3D printed Facebook logo is seen in front of a displayed Russian flag in this photo illustration, Aug. 3, 2018. VOA

Facebook has said it has removed 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, Facebook Pages, Groups and events that originated in Israel and were involved in coordinated inauthentic behaviour.

This activity originated in Israel and focused on Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia along with some activity in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

“The people behind this network used fake accounts to run Pages, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook said in a statement late Thursday.

“Page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents,” he added.

Facebook found the activity was linked to an Israeli commercial entity, Archimedes Group.

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FILE – A man poses for a photo in front of a computer showing Facebook ad preferences in San Francisco, California, March 26, 2018. VOA

“This organisation and all its subsidiaries are now banned from Facebook, and it has been issued a cease and desist letter,” said the company.

The organisation had 65 Facebook accounts, 161 Pages, 23 Groups, 12 events and four Instagram accounts.

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About 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 5,500 accounts joined at least one of these Groups and around 920 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.

“Around $812,000 in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in Brazilian reals, Israeli shekel, and US dollars. The first ad ran in December 2012 and the most recent ad ran in April 2019,” said Facebook. (IANS)