Gaza City, Oct 27(AP/UNF) — The Israeli military on Saturday struck dozens of targets across the Gaza Strip in response to heavy rocket fire and threatened to expand its air campaign to Syria after accusing Iranian forces in Damascus of orchestrating the rocket attacks.
The threats toward Iranian forces in Syria added a new dimension to what was already the heaviest fighting between Israel and Gaza militants in several weeks. Opening a new front in Syria could put Israel in open confrontation with heavily armed Iranian and Hezbollah forces, along with recently deployed Russian anti-aircraft systems.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters that 34 rockets had been fired at Israel throughout the night. Israel's Iron Dome rocket-defense system intercepted 13 rockets, two landed in Gaza and the remainder fell in open spaces in southern Israel, he said. In response, Israel hit over 80 targets in Gaza.
Conricus said Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed militant group, had fired the rockets under instructions from Iran's "Al Quds" force based in Syria and said that Israel was considering taking action against the Iranians in response.
"We have seen and established a clear link between Gaza and Damascus," he said. "We know that the orders, incentives were given from Damascus with the clear involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force.
"From our perspective, part of the address by which we will deal with this fire is also in Damascus and the Quds Force," he added. "Our response is not limited geographically."
Later, Islamic Jihad said it had would stop firing its rockets toward Israel in an agreement brokered by Egypt. Israel did not immediately respond, however, and past cease-fires in the conflict have not always stuck.
Iran has sent its forces, along with those of Hezbollah and other Shiite militias, to Syria to back President Bashar Assad in the civil war there. As the war winds down, Israel has repeatedly warned that it will not allow its archenemy Iran to establish a permanent military presence in postwar Syria.
Throughout the seven-year war, Israel has already carried out scores of airstrikes in Syria, mostly against suspected Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah but also against the Iranians themselves.
But Israel's mission could become much more complicated following Russia's decision to transfer sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
Russia deployed the missiles after a Russian warplane was shot down over Syrian skies last month. Russia has blamed Israel for the mishap, saying that Syria accidentally shot down the plane while reacting to an Israeli air raid.
Israel and Russia have maintained a hotline to prevent their air forces from coming into contact with one another over Syrian skies. Israeli media have reported that Russia has become less cooperative since the shootdown.
The fighting in Gaza followed a bloody day of border protests Friday in which Israeli forces shot and killed four Palestinians protesting along the perimeter fence dividing Hamas-ruled Gaza and Israel.
The sudden burst of fighting complicated the mission of Egyptian mediators who have been trying to prevent a full-blown conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Conricus said that Israel had struck over 80 sites across Gaza, including training camps, weapons storage facilities and a Hamas security headquarters building. COGAT, an Israeli defense body that handles Palestinian civilian issues, said one of the rockets had hit an ambulance crossing used to transfer Gazans out of the strip in emergency humanitarian cases.
"To what low have the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip reached?" wrote COGAT commander, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, in his Arabic Facebook page.
In Gaza, most of the airstrikes hit open spaces used by militants for training and possibly weapons storage.
But in northern Gaza, the Health Ministry said the main hospital in the area was damaged after a nearby Hamas training camp was hit. Footage showed cables and wires dropping from collapsed ceilings in the wards.
In Gaza City, an airstrike hit an abandoned, unfinished building, flattening the three-story structure. That building appeared to be the one identified by Israel as a security headquarters.
Although Islamic Jihad often acts independently of Hamas, Israel holds Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, responsible for all fire emanating from the territory.
Conricus said there had been no signs of Hamas trying to rein in Islamic Jihad. He also criticized Hamas for escalating the border protests after Israel had tried to defuse tensions by allowing special fuel shipments into Gaza to improve the supply of electricity. The territory suffers from chronic power outages.
In a statement, Islamic Jihad signaled readiness to stop the rocket fire if Israel halted its airstrikes.
"If the aggression and bombing continued, we will respond to each incident," the movement said in a statement Saturday. But later, its armed wing threatened to "expand the range" of rocket fire.
There were no reports of injuries on either side.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars over the past decade, and Israel and Egypt have maintained a stifling blockade on the territory to weaken Hamas. The Hamas-led weekly protests along the Israeli border have been aimed in large part at breaking the blockade, which has devastated the Gaza economy.
Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel's destruction, had previously scaled down the protests as Egypt stepped up its efforts to secure calm.
Israel accuses Hamas of using the large protests as cover to stage border infiltrations and attacks. It says it is defending its border and accuses Hamas of exploiting young protesters and encouraging them to risk their lives in order to increase pressure to ease the blockade.
Israel has come under heavy international criticism for what many see as excessive use of force and the large number of unarmed people who have been shot
On Wednesday, Egyptian intelligence officials met representatives of Palestinian factions in Gaza, the latest in a round of shuttle diplomacy between the sides.
Egypt wants to restore calm in order to pursue the broader goal of Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and the West Bank-based administration of President Mahmoud Abbas. The internationally recognized Abbas lost control of Gaza in the 2007 takeover.
Hamas has demanded a full lifting of the blockade, which has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern. Widespread desperation among Gaza's 2 million residents has fueled the participation in the Hamas-orchestrated protests.
Since the marches began six months ago, at least 160 Palestinians present or taking part in the protests have been killed. A Gaza militant fatally shot an Israeli soldier in July.
Dubai, Oct 27 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia's top diplomat says the global outcry over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has become "hysterical," while vowing that the kingdom is determined to bring the perpetrators to justice.
"This issue has become fairly hysterical," Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said. He added that he thinks people have assigned blame to Saudi Arabia with certainty before the investigation is complete.
Al-Jubeir was answering questions from Western journalists at a high-level forum in Bahrain on Saturday.
He says the kingdom has made it "very clear that those responsible will be held responsible."
Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi crown prince, was killed by Saudi agents at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Dead Sea, Oct 26 (AP/UNB) — The death toll from flash floods near Jordan's shore of the Dead Sea rose to 20 on Friday, in what Civil Defense officials said was one of the deadliest incidents in the kingdom involving schoolchildren.
The search for survivors continued after daybreak, with helicopters and teams with sniffer dogs scouring the rocky slopes near the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley.
The body of a 12-year-old girl was found early on Friday and several more people were still feared missing, said the director general of the Civil Defense, Mustafa al-Basaiah.
Thirteen of the dead and 26 of about three dozen people wounded in Thursday's flash floods were middle school children, officials said.
The incident began early Thursday afternoon when 37 students from an Amman private school, along with seven adult chaperones, as well as other visitors were taking a break at hot springs several kilometers from the Dead Sea shores. Sudden heavy rains sent flash floods surging toward them from higher ground, sweeping them away, some as far as the Dead Sea, officials said.
A complex rescue operation involving helicopters, divers, sniffer dogs and hundreds of searchers continued into the night Thursday and resumed Friday. Israel's military said it also dispatched a rescue team at the request of the Jordanian government.
Brig. Gen. Farid al-Sharaa, a Civil Defense spokesman, said Friday that the flooding was one of the deadliest incidents in recent memory involving schoolchildren.
Jordan's King Abdullah II canceled a planned working visit to Bahrain, initially scheduled for Friday. He was to have been the keynote speaker at a security conference.
The king ordered the Jordanian flag at the palace's main entrance to fly at half-staff for three days in mourning for the victims of the flood.
The U.N. secretary general and several regional leaders sent condolences.
The low-lying Dead Sea area is prone to flash flooding when rain water rushes down from adjacent hills. In April, 10 Israeli students were killed in a flash flood while on a hiking trip near the Dead Sea.
Istanbul, Oct 26 (AP/UNB) — The son of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi has left Saudi Arabia after the kingdom revoked a travel ban, allowing him to come to the United States — the latest in the saga of the Saudi writer and dissident whose macabre killing earlier this month at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul shocked the world.
State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said Washington welcomes the decision to have Salah Khashoggi and his family leave Saudi Arabia. His U.S. destination was not immediately known but his late father lived in the Washington area.
Palladino said Thursday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had discussed Jamal Khashoggi's son during his recent visit to Riyadh and "made it clear" to Saudi leaders that Washington wanted him free to leave the kingdom.
"We are pleased that he is now able to do so," Palladino said. Saudi media had showed Khashoggi's son meeting Tuesday with the crown prince, who reportedly expressed his condolences.
Palladino also said Pompeo attended a briefing on the former Washington Post writer's death by CIA Director Gina Haspel, following her return from Turkey. The White House did not release any details of their meeting.
The developments came after the kingdom on Thursday cited evidence showing Khashoggi's killing was premeditated, changing its story again to try to ease international outrage over the slaying of a prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The announcement contradicted an earlier Saudi assertion that rogue officials from the kingdom had killed Khashoggi by mistake in a brawl inside their Istanbul consulate. That assertion, in turn, backtracked from an initial statement that Saudi authorities knew nothing about what happened to the columnist for The Washington Post, who vanished after entering the consulate Oct. 2.
The shifting explanations indicate Saudi Arabia is scrambling for a way out of the crisis that has enveloped the world's largest oil exporter and a major U.S. ally in the Middle East. But a solution seems a long way off, partly because of deepening skepticism in Turkey and elsewhere that the brazen crime could have been carried out without the knowledge of Prince Mohammed, the kingdom's heir apparent.
At a conference in Riyadh on Wednesday, the crown prince said the killing was a "heinous crime that cannot be justified" and warned against any efforts to "manipulate" the crisis and drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are regional rivals but also diplomatic and business partners.
On Thursday, Prince Mohammed attended the first meeting of a committee aiming to restructure the kingdom's intelligence services after the killing of Khashoggi, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.
Khashoggi's death has derailed the powerful prince's campaign to project a modern image of the ultraconservative country, instead highlighting the brutal lengths to which some top officials in the government have gone to silence its critics. Khashoggi, who lived in self-imposed exile in the United States for nearly a year before his death, had written critically of Prince Mohammed's crackdown on dissent.
A statement by Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb attributed the latest findings of a joint Turkish-Saudi investigation to information from Turkish counterparts. The evidence of Turkish investigators "indicates that the suspects in the incident had committed their act with a premeditated intention," the Saudi statement said.
After the journalist disappeared, Saudi Arabia initially insisted Khashoggi had walked out of the consulate after visiting the building. It later dropped that account for a new one, saying it had detained 18 people for what it described as an accidental killing during a "fistfight."
What President Donald Trump called "one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups" was revealed to the world by Turkish leaks of information, including references to purported audio recordings of the killing, and security camera footage of the Saudi officials who were involved as they moved around Istanbul.
Saudi officials told The Associated Press this week that the kingdom sent a team to Turkey that included a forensics expert and a member whose job was to dress in the 59-year-old writer's clothes and pretend to be him — though they were insisting as late as Tuesday that his death was an accident.
Istanbul, Oct 25 (AP/UNB) — The Latest on the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi (all times local): 2 p.m.
Saudi Arabia says the country's powerful crown prince has attended the first meeting of a committee aiming to restructure the kingdom's intelligence services after the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency made the announcement on Thursday.
It comes after the kingdom announced over the weekend that 18 Saudis had been arrested in the writer's slaying, while four senior intelligence officials and an adviser to the crown prince had been fired.
The kingdom is trying to distance Prince Mohammed bin Salman from Khashoggi's Oct. 2 slaying at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish reports said a member of his entourage was involved in the crime.
On Wednesday, the prince called the killing "heinous" and "painful to all Saudis" in his first extensive public remarks on the topic.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency says Saudi prosecutors are calling the killing of Jamal Khashoggi a premeditated crime.
A statement Thursday quoted Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb as saying that investigators came to that conclusion after evidence presented by Turkish officials as part of the two nations' investigation into the killing.
Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia had insisted for weeks that Khashoggi had walked out of the consulate, before changing their account to say he died in a brawl.
A member of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's entourage on foreign trips was seen at the consulate before the Washington Post columnist's slaying.
Turkey has been focusing on a well in the garden of Saudi Arabia's consulate as part of its investigation into the killing by Saudi officials of writer Jamal Khashoggi, whose body is still missing.
There were conflicting reports Thursday about whether investigators had searched the well in a case that has geopolitical implications because of the Saudi-Turkish rivalry in the Mideast region, as well as the U.S. alliance with both countries.
Yeni Safak, a pro-government Turkish newspaper, says investigators emptied the well and are awaiting the results of an analysis of the water to determine whether body parts were dumped there.
But Sabah, another pro-government newspaper, says Saudi Arabia has yet to give Turkish authorities permission for a search.