Jerusalem, Mar 15 (AP/UNB) — Israeli warplanes attacked militant targets in the southern Gaza Strip early Friday in response to a rare rocket attack on the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, as the sides appeared to be hurtling toward a new round of violence.
The rocket attack Thursday night caught the Israeli military off guard and marked the first time that Tel Aviv, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Gaza, has been targeted since a 2014 war. Though the attack caused no damage or injuries, it was a significant escalation and set the stage for a tough Israeli reprisal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting with his military chief and other top security officials. Shortly after, Israeli warplanes attacked targets in southern and central Gaza.
The blasts were so powerful that smoke could be seen in Gaza City, 25 kilometers (15 miles) away from some of the strikes. The Israeli warplanes could be heard roaring through the skies above Gaza City.
The Israeli military said it was targeting "terror sites" in Gaza, but gave no further details. Palestinian media said naval bases belonging to the ruling Hamas group had been struck. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Minutes later, the Israeli military reported air raid sirens in southern Israel. It said it had identified a launch attempt out of Gaza, but the rocket misfired and landed inside Palestinian territory.
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and 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.
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 hardline 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 Israel-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.
Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the chief Israeli military spokesman, said the army had been caught off guard by Thursday night's rocket barrage. He said officials were still trying to determine who had fired the rocket.
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.
Hamas denied responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv, saying the rockets were launched when the group's military wing was meeting with Egyptian mediators to try to strengthen a cease-fire with Israel.
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 Israeli's military concluded that Hamas did fire two rockets toward Tel Aviv. In a statement early Friday, the army said "we can confirm" that Hamas carried out the rocket attack.
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.
At the time, Netanyahu issued a warning to Hamas, rejecting suggestions that Israel would be reluctant to take tough action in Gaza ahead of national elections next month.
"I suggest to Hamas, don't count on it," he told his Cabinet. "We will do anything necessary to restore security and quiet to the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and to the south in general."
Nairobi, March 13 (Xinhua/UNB) - The rapidly-growing gaming industry should be harnessed to increase awareness of environmental conservation, as it is popular among the youth, a senior official of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said Tuesday.
"There are unprecedented opportunities in video games that are played by an estimated 2.5 billion people globally. A partnership with the gaming industry will therefore help us mobilize the youth to take actions that protect nature," said Susan Gardner, director of ecosystems division at the UNEP.
She made the remarks at a side event of the fourth session of the five-day UN Environment Assembly that runs through March 15 in Nairobi.
A report published by the UNEP indicated that the gaming industry, which is expected to record double digit growth in the next five years, has the potential to unleash huge benefits in the sustainability agenda.
The report said that video games have proved effective at encouraging the youth to campaign against carbon emissions and poaching of wildlife species.
Inger Andersen, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said that video games should be harnessed to rally the youth to support a sustainable and green future.
"Video games can help amplify campaigns aimed at promoting sustainable production, waste management and wildlife protection," said Andersen.
London, Mar 13 (AP/UNB) — With just 17 days to go, Britain's departure from the European Union was thrown into chaos and doubt Tuesday as Parliament delivered a crushing double blow to Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit divorce deal and to her authority as leader.
Lawmakers rejected the deal 391-242, ignoring May's entreaties to back the agreement and end the political chaos and economic uncertainty that Brexit has unleashed. It was a narrower outcome than the historic 230-vote margin of defeat for the agreement in January, before May secured changes from the bloc — but not by much.
Top EU officials warned that the defeat had increased the chances of a chaotic "no-deal" British exit, which could mean major disruption for businesses and people in the U.K. and many of the 27 remaining EU countries.
The stinging 149-vote defeat stripped away May's control over the course of Brexit and handed it to Parliament, which is divided about what to do next.
A drawn and hoarse May admitted defeat — again — and confirmed that Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU on March 29 without an agreement. If that is defeated — the likely outcome — lawmakers will vote Thursday on whether to delay Brexit, something that needs to be approved by the EU nations too.
May warned lawmakers that "voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face."
"The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension. This House will have to answer that question. Does it wish to revoke (Brexit-triggering) Article 50? Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal?
"These are unenviable choices," she said.
The EU, which had warned there would be no more changes or negotiations if Parliament threw out the deal, expressed exasperation at yet another Brexit crisis.
In a statement, the European Commission said the member states "have done all that is possible to reach an agreement."
"If there is a solution to the current impasse, it can only be found in London," it said, adding that "today's vote has significantly increased the likelihood of a 'no-deal' Brexit."
European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "Brexit was about taking back control. Instead the UK spiralled out of control."
The defeat came after May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced changes Monday designed to overcome lawmakers' concerns about provisions designed to ensure the border between EU member Ireland and Britain's Northern Ireland remains open after Brexit.
The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. Brexit supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely.
May said documents to be added to the deal provided "legally binding" assurances that the backstop would be temporary and that Britain would have a way to get out of it if the EU failed to negotiate in good faith. However, the text of the 585-page withdrawal agreement remained unchanged.
May's hopes the concessions would be decisive were dashed when Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said the changes "reduce the risk" Britain could be trapped inside EU regulations — but do not eliminate it.
In a written legal opinion , Cox said the U.K. could still not extract itself from the terms of the divorce deal unilaterally, a key demand of pro-Brexit British politicians. Afterward, hard-core Brexit supporters in May's Conservative Party and the prime minister's allies in Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party both said they could not support the deal.
The DUP, which props up May's minority government, said "sufficient progress has not been achieved" on the key issue of the Irish border.
The European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservatives, which has dozens of lawmakers as members, said the amendments "do not deliver 'legally binding changes'" to the withdrawal agreement, as the government promised.
Other EU nations had urged British politicians to seize the chance to back the deal and ensure an orderly departure.
Delaying Brexit, the path Britain looks set to take, would need the approval from all 27 remaining EU countries. The EU Commission said it would "expect a credible justification" for the postponement.
Some British lawmakers had warned their Brexit-backing colleagues that rejecting the deal could lead to Britain's departure being postponed indefinitely, because a delay would give momentum to opponents of withdrawal.
"Today is our Hotel California moment. If we don't check out tonight, we may never leave," tweeted Conservative legislator Bob Seely.
The government's defeat will embolden politicians calling for a second referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain, though there is no clear majority in Parliament for that course.
It has also increased the chances that May's fragile government could fall, sparking a snap election.
"The prime minister has run down the clock and the clock has been run out on her," said Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. "It's time that we have a general election and the people can choose who their government should be."
More than two and a half years after the country voted to leave the EU — and with no certainty about when or how it will — many Britons are simply fed up.
In the staunchly pro-Brexit port of Dover in southern England, retiree Mary Simpson said she felt her voice as a "leave" voter had not been heard.
"I am actually considering never voting again, quite honestly, because I am beginning to feel that there is no point in it," she said.
United Nations, March 13 (Xinhua/UNB) - UN medical sources report at least 12 children and 10 women have been killed in Hajjah Governorate in the most recent clashes in northwest Yemen, a UN spokesman said on Tuesday.
"Our humanitarian colleagues there say that scores of civilians have reportedly been killed by strikes on houses in Kushar District in Hajjah Governorate in Yemen in the past few days," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "Medical sources report that 22 people were killed, including 12 children and 10 women."
"The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, condemned these deaths and injuries unequivocally and shared deep condolences with the families of the victims," Dujarric said.
Hajjah is one of the governorates most affected by the crisis in Yemen, he said. More than a million people are hungry and thousands of new cholera cases are being reported across the governorate.
"Conflict in Hajjah has increased sharply over the last six months, which has increased the number of displaced people from 203,000 to about 420,000," Dujarric said.
Hajjah is the governorate north of Hodeidah in the country's extreme northwest with a toe-hold on the Red Sea.
The region of Hodeidah city and its key port has been under a shaky cease-fire as negotiations between the government and Houthi rebels take place over demilitarizing the area to facilitate humanitarian aid for Yemenis.
Caracas, March 13 (Xinhua) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday declared victory over the U.S.-backed opposition after his government succeeded in restoring electricity following a prolonged blackout.
According to the government, the opposition with support from Washington sabotaged the national power grid to incite unrest in a bid to oust Maduro.
"Today ... five days since the attack on electricity was carried out from the United States using cybernetics against the electric system, I can say that victory is in our hands, the victory of restoring the Venezuelan electricity system," Maduro said in an address to the nation.
The government was working to strengthen the electricity service now that power has been restored to a good portion of the country, including by stepping up security at power stations, he said.
Electricity went off in many parts of the country a little before 5 p.m. local time (2100 GMT) Thursday. Schools and government offices were shut down in the aftermath.
The worst blackout in modern Venezuelan history came amid heightened tensions between the ruling socialist party and the right-wing opposition.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself "interim president" on Jan. 23, is under investigation for his alleged role in causing the power outage, Prosecutor General Tarek William Saab said earlier in the day.