Gaza City, May 5 (AP/UNB) — Palestinian militants on Saturday fired over 250 rockets into Israel, drawing dozens of retaliatory airstrikes on targets across the Gaza Strip in a round of heavy fighting that broke a month-long lull between the enemies. Six Palestinians, including a pregnant mother and her baby, were killed, while four Israelis were wounded, including an elderly man who was in a critical condition.
The fighting, the most intense between the sides in months, came as leaders from Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, and the smaller armed faction Islamic Jihad, were in Cairo for talks with Egyptian mediators aimed at preventing a fraying cease-fire from collapsing altogether.
It also comes at a sensitive time for Israel, which is to mark its Memorial Day and Independence Day holiday this week, before hosting the Eurovision song contest in the middle of the month. Prolonged fighting could overshadow the Eurovision and potentially deter international travelers from coming in for the festive event. For Gazans, the violence continued as they prepare to begin the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan on Monday.
Israel and Hamas, an Islamic group that opposes Israel's existence, have fought three wars and dozens of smaller flare-ups of violence since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. They engaged in several days of heavy fighting in March before Egypt brokered a truce in which Israel agreed to ease a crippling blockade on Gaza in exchange for a halt in rocket fire. In recent days, Hamas accused Israel of reneging on its pledges as militants began to fire rockets into Israel.
In a familiar scene, air raid sirens wailed across southern Israel throughout the day and into the evening as barrages of rockets were repeatedly fired. Retaliatory airstrikes caused large explosions to thunder across Gaza, as plumes of smoke rose into the air. Outgoing Palestinian rockets left long trails of smoke behind them.
Gaza's Health Ministry said a 14-month-old girl, Seba Abu Arar, was killed in an Israeli airstrike that hit their home in east Gaza City. Her pregnant mother, 37, was severely wounded and died later at the hospital, the ministry added. Another child was moderately injured.
"They were sitting at the yard in their house with their mother. They were shocked by a missile landing on them," said Abu Nidal Abu Arar, a relative living next door. "This occupation is criminal."
In the morning, Gaza's Health Ministry said a 22-year-old Palestinian man was killed by an Israeli airstrike, and 40 other Palestinians were wounded. Late Saturday, health officials said a 25-year-old man was killed by an Israeli drone missile as he was traveling on a motorbike in northern Gaza. At dawn, two Islamic Jihad militants were killed by an airstrike in central Gaza Strip, the group said.
In Israel, medical officials said an 80-year-old woman was severely wounded by rocket fire, a 50-year-old man was moderately wounded by shrapnel and a teenage boy was mildly hurt as he ran for cover. Israeli police said a house in the coastal city of Ashkelon was damaged.
Early Sunday, Israeli police said a rocket landed in a courtyard in Ashkelon, about 10 kilometers north of Gaza, causing damage to several buildings. As a result, an Israeli man suffered "heavy injuries and was in a grave condition."
The Israeli military accused the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad of instigating the latest round of violence by shooting and wounding two Israeli soldiers Friday. It said the shooting was not coordinated with Hamas, but said it holds Hamas, as the territory's ruling power, responsible for all fire emanating from Gaza.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said "the United States strongly condemns the ongoing barrage of rocket attacks by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad from Gaza upon innocent civilians and their communities across Israel."
"We stand with Israel and fully support its right to self defense against these abhorrent attacks," she said in a statement.
By nightfall, the army said militants had fired well over 200 rockets into Israel. It said dozens of the rockets were intercepted by its Iron Dome rocket-defense system. But it closed roads near the Gaza border to civilian traffic and closed a popular beach as a security precaution.
The military said it struck some 120 targets in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad military compounds, a Hamas rocket-manufacturing site and a "high-end Islamic Jihad tunnel" that it said stretched into Israel for use in attacks.
Late on Saturday, Israel struck a building that it said housed Hamas military intelligence offices in Gaza City. Another airstrike hit a six-story commercial and residential building. Journalists said the building housed the office of Turkey's news agency Anadolu. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said it was closing the fishing zone off Gaza's coast altogether and sealing Israel's two land crossings with Gaza. The crossings are used by Palestinian medical patients to enter and exit the territory, and provide the main entry for cargo into the blockaded territory.
The U.N.'s Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, said the United Nations was working with Egypt to restore calm and called on all sides to "de-escalate" and restore recent understandings.
"Those who seek to destroy them will bear responsibility for a conflict that will have grave consequences for all," he said in a statement.
The European Union's ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, sharply criticized the rocket attacks on Twitter, saying "firing indiscriminately against civilians (is) unacceptable."
Islamic Jihad, which sometimes acts independently of Hamas, threatened to fire longer range rockets toward Israel's heartland. In a video that also was seen an implicit claim of responsibility, it showed archived footage of militants attaching warheads to rockets.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.
Under the recent understandings, Israel agreed to expand a fishing zone off Gaza's coast, increased imports into Gaza and allow the Gulf state of Qatar to deliver aid to cash-strapped Gaza. But like previous Egyptian-mediated agreements, those understandings have shown signs of unraveling in recent days.
On Friday, two Palestinians were fatally shot by Israeli forces during the weekly protests along Israel-Gaza perimeter fence. Palestinian militants also shot and wounded two Israeli soldiers along the border fence. No group claimed responsibility for the shooting. In response, Israeli aircraft carried out retaliatory strikes, killing two Hamas militants.
Hamas has hoped that Egyptian mediators could further ease the blockade, which has ravaged Gaza's economy. For over a year, the Islamic group has orchestrated mass demonstrations each week along the Israeli frontier to draw attention to Gaza's plight. More than 200 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have been killed in the border protests.
Washington, May 3 (AP/UNB) — Russia's support for Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas Maduro has become the latest flashpoint in deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia, moving to the top of a list of long-simmering spats between the Cold War foes.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to meet Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov next week in Finland to discuss the matter.
Russia's backing of Maduro, who is refusing to cede power to U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, is just the latest issue to split Washington and Moscow. It is heating up as ties have already been riven by Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its military intervention on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad, its 2014 annexation of Crimea and continued support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Indonesia, Apr 29 (AP/UNB) — Indonesia's disaster agency says floods and landslides from torrential rains have killed at least 19 people and displaced thousands in the past few days.
The agency said Sunday that 17 people have died in Bengkulu province on Sumatra, adding to two deaths from flooding in parts of the capital Jakarta.
It said nine people are missing in Bengkulu and more than 12,000 have fled their inundated homes.
The agency said distribution of aid has been hampered by power cuts, inaccessible roads and large distances between various disaster hit areas.
Baltimore, Apr 29 (AP/UNB) — A gunman fired indiscriminately into a crowd that had gathered for Sunday afternoon cookouts along a west Baltimore street, killing a man and wounding seven other people, authorities and reports said.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the gunfire erupted after 5 p.m. on a block in the city's western district of brick row homes. Harrison said a man approached a crowd on foot and began firing in what he called "a very tragic, very cowardly shooting." Speaking at the scene afterward, Harrison said the shooting appeared "extremely targeted," but he didn't provide a possible motive.
The shooting comes roughly six weeks after Harrison's swearing-in last month as Baltimore police commissioner, when he promised to make the city safer and lead the department through sweeping reforms required by a federal consent decree. It's a daunting task in one of the country's poorest major cities where there were more than 300 homicides in each of the past two years. Harrison is the city's 14th police leader since the mid-1990s.
The commissioner said there were two cookouts taking place on opposite sides of the street Sunday, and that shell casings were found in two different locations, indicating that there may have been a second gunman, or someone firing back at the first shooter, who fled on foot. It was unclear whether the cookouts were related, Harrison said.
One man who was shot collapsed behind a Baptist church nearby and was pronounced dead at the scene. Harrison said initially that six others had been wounded and were taken to hospitals, but he didn't release their names or their conditions. A police statement later said a man was killed, but didn't give his age. It said five of the survivors were men ranging in ages from 27 to 58, as well as a 30-year-old woman.
A police spokeswoman later Sunday evening was cited by The Baltimore Sun as saying an eighth victim, a man with a gunshot wound to the leg, went to a hospital. The report did not elaborate.
"It wasn't anything dealing with the church. I want to make that very clear," acting mayor Jack Young said.
Harrison and Young, in appearance with reporters, urged members of the public to help investigators with any information as to who took part or a motive.
"Someone knows something," Young said. "These things ... they don't happen by happenstance. People know who's doing these shootings."
The Baltimore Sun reported that bullet casings were found scattered on the ground near grills, and a table still had items on it that appeared to be left from a cookout. Police officers could be seen after the shooting placing small orange evidence markers on the ground, just feet from a barber shop.
Meanwhile, Harrison said authorities were seeking witnesses among the many present Sunday as they begin to try to piece together details of what happened.
Baltimore has been plagued by drug-fueled violence for decades and it has long been considered one of the nation's most violent big cities. The corrosive impact of the drug trade and a sea of illegal guns continue to spawn a depressing recurrence of tit-for-tat turf wars and retaliatory attacks in swaths of the city, particularly in the deeply disenfranchised areas of West Baltimore.
While city leaders continue a perennial quest to remake the city in the eyes of potential investors and visitors, Baltimore has been in the throes of a worrying increase of violent crime since 2015, when the homicide rate spiked after the city's worst rioting in decades following the death of young black man in police custody.
Sudan, Apr 28 (AP/UNB) — Organizers of the protests that drove Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir from power and the ruling military council said talks Saturday on forming a transitional government were "transparent" and "fruitful."
Both sides announced they would set up a joint committee comprised of members of both the military council and the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of opposition groups led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, to tackle political disputes.
Saturday's meeting came after the protesters agreed Wednesday to resume talks with the military after a temporary break. The military also announced then the resignation of three members of the military council, whom the opposition had accused of being too close to al-Bashir.
But the Sudanese Communist Party, which is part of the protest movement, called late Friday for a fourth member of the council, deputy head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — commonly known by his nickname Hemedti — to step down.
Hemedti is commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which have been accused of genocide in the Darfur region.
The protesters fear the army, dominated by al-Bashir appointees, will cling to power or select one of its own to succeed him. They also fear Islamists and other factions close to the deposed leader, who is now jailed in the capital, Khartoum, will be granted a role in the transition.
Shams al-Deen al-Kabashi, the spokesman for the military council, said the talks were "transparent" and that both sides agreed on resuming their meeting later Saturday.
"We are very optimistic that we will reach a final conclusion that will be announced to the Sudanese people as soon as possible," he told a brief press conference.
A member of the protesters' team said the talks were "fruitful" and that they have discussed "all disputed points."
"The discussion was positive and fruitful," activist Madani Abbas Madani said.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which spearheaded four months of escalating demonstrations that led the military to remove al-Bashir from power April 11, is demanding a civilian government. They have proposed that a sovereign council, which would include "limited" army representation, hand over full powers to civilians during a four-year transitional period.
Army leaders have called for a two-year transition during which the generals would retain sovereign power and give only executive authorities to civilians.
The military has agreed to recognize the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of opposition groups led by the SPA, as the uprising's only legitimate representative, in a move widely seen as a victory for the protesters.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the military council, said Saturday in televised comments that the FDFC was the leading group behind the uprising, but the consultations are open to all parties except al-Bashir's National Congress party.
The council has met with a wide range of political parties about the transition, including those formerly close to al-Bashir. Al-Kabashi, the spokesman for the council, said late Friday that it had completed a review of proposals. He did not elaborate.
The opposition has meanwhile vowed to continue protests, centered on a sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.
Former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the opposition Umma party said the protesters will not break up the sit-in until there is a full transfer of power to civilians.
The SPA says around 100 people have been killed by security forces since December, when a failing economy and a spike in prices sparked the first protests.
Meanwhile, a group of protesters arrived Saturday outside a meeting of the Popular Congress party in Khartoum. Video footage circulated online showed dozens of demonstrators outside a building where the meeting apparently took place, shouting "no place for the Islamists."
The political secretary of the party, Idriss Suliman, said at least 64 members of the party were injured in clashes with the protesters, according the state-run SUNA news agency.
The SPA condemned the violence.
The Popular Congress party was established in the late 1990s by Hassan al-Turabi, the Sudanese Islamist who played a key role in the 1989 military coup that brought al-Bashir to power and who once hosted late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri in Sudan.