Jerusalem, Mar 26 (AP/UNB) — A tense quiet took hold on Tuesday morning after a night of heavy fire as Israeli aircraft bombed targets across the Gaza Strip and Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel in what threatened to devolve into a major conflict, just two weeks before the Israeli election.
Schools in southern Israel were cancelled for the day and the military imposed restrictions on public gatherings near the Gaza border, after dozens of rockets were fired toward communities in the area, including one that struck a house in the town of Sderot.
The Israeli air force pounded militant sites of Gaza's Hamas rulers and the smaller Islamic Jihad group. The targets included a multistory building in Gaza City that Israel said had served as a Hamas military intelligence headquarters and the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Gaza's Health Ministry said seven Palestinians were wounded in the airstrikes.
The cross-border fighting was triggered by a surprise rocket fired early Monday from Gaza that slammed into a house in central Israel and wounded seven people.
The Israeli military said it was a self-manufactured rocket with a range of 120 kilometers (75 miles), making it one of the deepest strikes ever carried out by Hamas. The military mobilized two armor and infantry brigades and drafted some reserve forces before striking back at militant sites in Gaza.
Gaza's Hamas rulers announced later in the day that Egyptian mediators had brokered a cease-fire but the firing continued overnight before calm appeared to return early Tuesday.
Monday's rocket attack prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short a visit to Washington and return home. He promised a tough response, setting the stage for perhaps the most serious conflict since a war in 2014. But with no fatalities reported on either side yet, and the quiet holding for the moment, it still seemed possible to step back from the brink once again.
Two weeks ago, rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel's densely populated commercial capital of Tel Aviv, and the Israeli military struck back. Gaza's Hamas leaders said the rocket was fired accidentally and the fighting quickly subsided.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the last decade. Although neither side appears to have an interest in another war, fighting could easily spin out of control. The 2014 conflict lasted 50 days and ended with over 2,000 Palestinian deaths, including hundreds of civilians, and 73 killed on the Israeli side.
Netanyahu is scheduled to land later Tuesday and head directly to consultations at military headquarters in Tel Aviv. He faces the difficult task of delivering a tough blow to Hamas while avoiding protracted fighting that could work against him on election day.
Netanyahu came under heavy criticism from allies and opponents for what they say has been an ineffective policy containing Gaza militants. He has conducted indirect cease-fire talks through Egyptian mediators in recent months, and even allowed the delivery of millions of dollars of Qatari aid to Hamas to ease harsh conditions in Gaza.
Hamas is facing perhaps its toughest domestic test since seizing control of Gaza from the rival Palestinian Authority 12 years ago.
An Israel-Egyptian blockade, imposed to weaken Hamas, combined with sanctions by the Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas government, have all fueled an economic crisis that has left Gaza with an unemployment rate above 50 percent.
Hamas has been leading weekly protests along the Israeli border for the past year in hopes of easing the blockade, but the demonstrations, in which some 190 people have been killed by Israeli fire, have done little to improve conditions.
Last week, hundreds of Gazans protested the dire conditions, a rare expression of public discontent against the authoritarian government. Hamas responded with a violent crackdown, beating and arresting dozens of demonstrators and drawing rare public criticism.
Baghdad, Mar 21 (AP/UNB) — An Iraqi health official says the death toll from a ferry disaster in the Tigris River near Mosul has climbed to 83.
The ferry, said to have been overloaded, capsized with more than one hundred people on it, many of them women and children who had been celebrating the Kurdish new year and Mother's Day. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements.
The accident was the worst in recent memory, and the death toll was expected to rise.
Iraqi TV said a court in Mosul detained nine workers operating the ferry and issued an arrest warrant for the owner of the tourist island where it was headed.
Iraqi officials say the death toll from the sinking of a ferry overloaded with people celebrating the Kurdish new year in northern Iraq has risen to 71.
Maj. Gen. Saad Maan, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, says 71 people died and another 55 have been rescued, including 19 children.
Officials say the ferry sank in the Tigris River near the northern city of Mosul because of a technical problem, and that there weren't many boats in the area to rescue people.
An Iraqi official says a ferry overloaded with people celebrating the Kurdish new year sank in the Tigris river near Mosul, killing at least 40 people.
Col. Hussam Khalil, head of the Civil Defense in the Nineveh province, told The Associated Press that the accident occurred on Thursday as scores of people were out in the tourist area celebrating Nowruz, which marks the Kurdish new year and the arrival of spring.
Khalil says many of the dead were women and children, adding that search operations are still underway.
Washington, Mar 14 (AP/UNB) — The Senate voted Wednesday to end U.S. support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition's war in Yemen, bringing Congress one step closer to a unprecedented rebuke of President Donald Trump's foreign policy.
Lawmakers have never before invoked the decades-old War Powers Resolution to stop a foreign conflict, but they are poised to do just that in the bid to cut off U.S. support for a war that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.
The vote puts Congress on a collision course with Trump, who has already threatened to veto the resolution, which the White House says raises "serious constitutional concerns."
The measure was co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Mike Lee, R- Utah. Next, it will move to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is expected to pass.
The resolution passed by a vote of 54 to 46, with seven Republicans breaking with Trump to back the resolution: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Steve Daines of Montana, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Todd Young of Indiana.
"The bottom line is that the United States should not be supporting a catastrophic war led by a despotic regime with an irresponsible foreign policy," Sanders said on Wednesday from the Senate floor. He said a vote in favor of the measure would "begin the process of reclaiming our constitutional authority by ending United States involvement in a war that has not been authorized by Congress and is unconstitutional."
In its statement threatening a veto, the White House argued the premise of the resolution is flawed and that it would undermine the fight against extremism. U.S. support for the Saudis does not constitute engaging in "hostilities," the statement said, and the Yemen resolution "seeks to override the president's determination as commander in chief."
"By defining 'hostilities' to include defense cooperation such as aerial refueling," the White House statement said, the Yemen resolution could also "establish bad precedent for future legislation."
Trump's support for Saudi Arabia has been a point of tension with Congress since the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. Lawmakers from both parties have criticized Trump for not condemning Saudi Arabia strongly enough for the killing.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., addressed those tensions when he urged his colleagues to oppose the measure.
"We should not use this specific vote on a specific policy decision as some proxy for all the Senate's broad feelings about foreign affairs. Concerns about Saudi human rights issues should be directly addressed with the administration and with Saudi officials," McConnell said from the Senate floor.
McConnell argued the Yemen resolution "will not enhance America's diplomatic leverage" and will make it more difficult for the U.S. to help end the conflict in Yemen and minimize civilian casualties.
Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, argued that U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition helps facilitate peace talks and withdrawing from the conflict would delay an eventual political settlement.
"We need to stay engaged (in Yemen) with the limited engagement we've had," Risch said.
A similar resolution to end support for the Yemen war passed the Senate in December, but it was not taken up by the then Republican-controlled House.
Approaching its fifth year, the war in Yemen has killed thousands and left millions on the brink of starvation, creating what the United Nations called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said before the vote that the resolution "will be seen as a message to the Saudis that they need to clean up their act."
"We are made weaker in the eyes of the world when we willingly participate in war crimes, when we allow our partners to engage in the slaughter of innocents," Murphy said.
Jerusalem, Mar 6 (AP/UNB) — The Islamic authority that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem has rejected an Israeli court order to close a religious hall that has ignited tension between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police in recent weeks.
Sheikh Abdelazeem Salhab, chairman of the Waqf Council appointed by neighboring Jordan, said Tuesday that the structure, called Mercy Gate, would "remain open for Muslims to pray," despite Israel's ultimatum to close the site by next Monday.
Salhab demanded that Israel permit the Waqf to renovate the building and revoke orders banning dozens of Waqf officials, guards and worshippers from the sacred compound.
Israel sealed off the structure in 2003, claiming it was home to a group with ties to Islamic militants. The Waqf has recently challenged the closure, convening and staging prayer-protests in the area.
Dubai, Mar 1 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia announced Friday it had revoked the citizenship of Hamza bin Laden, the son of the late al-Qaida leader who has become an increasingly prominent figure in the terror network.
Saudi Arabia revoked his citizenship via a royal decree in November, a notice published Friday by the kingdom's official gazette said.
There was no explanation why the order was only becoming public now. However, the announcement comes after the U.S. government offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture as part of its "Rewards for Justice" program.
Bin Laden's son has emerged as a leader of the al-Qaida terrorist group. His father was killed in a U.S. military raid in Pakistan in May 2011.
Hamza bin Laden was named a "specially designated global terrorist" in January 2017. He has released audio and video messages calling for attacks against the U.S. and its allies.
Al-Qaida was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and a host of other assaults against Western interests.