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Terrorism, climate change on Mukherjee’s agenda for talks with Israel

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Jerusalem: Terrorism and climate change will be among the prominent areas during President Pranab Mukherjee’s talks with the Israeli leadership on Wednesday, as the two sides seek to take their ties to a new level with collaborations in a host of subjects.

The president will meet his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day and also address the Knesset, the country’s parliament.

Ahead of the meetings, Mukherjee listed the growing menace of terrorism and extremism, climate change and reforms in global governance as areas where he was keen to discuss with President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“I will seek the assessment of the Israeli leadership about recent developments in the region which have caused concern all over the world and have direct implications for India,” Mukherjee said.

“We are disturbed at the recent violence. India condemns all forms of violence. We have always sought a peaceful resolution of disputes,” the president said.

The remarks, made soon after he was accorded a ceremonial welcome here on Wednesday morning, come against the backdrop of both Israel and Palestine blaming the other for the recent escalation in conflict, which is claiming lives of the nationals of both countries.

The remarks assume greater significance as the president arrived here after visiting Palestine on Tuesday evening, where the leaders wanted New Delhi to strongly take up the issue with the Israelis.

In fact, Mukherjee — during his various engagements in Palestine — had assured India’s full support for the country’s cause, including a separate statehood with East Jerusalem as the capital.

On more than one occasion, he said such support was initiated when India became independent in 1947 and continues even today.

But the Israeli side has been equally concerned that the Indian president did not raise the issue of violence with Palestine from their perspective.

Other areas Mukherjee listed for talks included cooperations in agriculture, defence, education, research, science and cyber security.

“We are also discovering and identifying new areas of complementarities where there is significant potential to be realised. We agree that there are tremendous opportunities for mutually-beneficial collaboration,” Mukherjee said.

(By Arvind Padmanabhan, IANS)

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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)