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Israeli jets bomb Gaza after rocket fire clouds peace deal signing

By AFP - Sep 16,2020 - Last updated at Sep 16,2020

Smoke and flames are seen following an Israeli air strike in the Khan Younis town of the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Israel bombed sites in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday (AFP photo)

GAZA, Palestine — Israel bombed Gaza on Wednesday, overshadowing the signing of landmark normalisation deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the fighters of seeking to stop the peace deals, Israel's first with an Arab country since 1994.

But Gaza ruler Hamas warned Israel it faced an escalation if the bombing continued, barely two weeks after a renewed Egyptian-brokered truce halted near-nightly exchanges across the border through August.

The signing of the two agreements at a White House ceremony hosted by President Donald Trump prompted protest rallies across the Palestinian territories.

The deals broke with decades of Arab consensus that there would be no normalisation of relations with Israel until it had made peace with the Palestinians and drew accusations of "betrayal" against the Western-backed Gulf states.

At least 15 rockets were reportedly launched from the Gaza Strip between 8 pm (1700 GMT) Tuesday and early Wednesday, nine of which were intercepted by Israeli air defences, the military said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket fire.

But Israel held Hamas responsible, warning it would “bear the consequences for terror activity against Israeli civilians”.

The rocket fire came as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed accords establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and Netanyahu accused the militants of seeking to derail them.

Clutching Palestinian flags and wearing blue face masks for protection against coronavirus, demonstrators rallied in the West Bank cities of Nablus, Hebron and Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority.

Trump said the agreements “will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region”.

“After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” he said.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas warned that the deals would “not achieve peace in the region” until the US and Israel acknowledged his people’s right to a state.

“Peace, security and stability will not be achieved in the region until the Israeli occupation ends,” he said.

Abbas warned that “attempts to bypass the Palestinian people and its leadership, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, will have dangerous consequences”.

UN Middle East Envoy Nickolay Mladenov arrived in Gaza on Wednesday for pre-scheduled meetings with Hamas officials.

Late last month, the two sides renewed an Egyptian-brokered truce under which Israel has allowed financial aid from the gas-rich state of Qatar to flow into impoverished Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007.

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