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Israel warns Gazans to avoid border in Friday protest

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Israel: The Israeli military on Thursday said it dropped leaflets across the Gaza Strip, warning residents to stay far from the Israeli border during a mass protest. Military officials are expecting a large turnout at Friday’s demonstration, raising the likelihood of bloodshed. Over 115 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during near-weekly demonstrations. The Hamas-led demonstrations have been fueled by despair over a decade-old Israel-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the Islamic militant group seized control of the territory.
Demonstrators have also called for the “right of return” to lost ancestral homes in what is now Israel. Some two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of refugees who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.
A preliminary probe by the Israeli military into the killing of 21-year-old Palestinian medic Razan al Najjar says she was not killed deliberately – as they did not fire directly at her but at the other demonstrators.
Israel accuses Hamas of using demonstrators as human shields while trying to carry out attacks and says it is defending its sovereign border. Some protesters have hurled flaming tires and firebombs toward the fence, and in some cases have tried to break through. But the vast majority of Palestinian casualties, including over 3,700 people wounded by Israeli fire, have been unarmed. The UN and EU have accused Israel of using excessive force, while rights groups say the open fire orders are illegal because soldiers are shooting toward unarmed people when their lives are not in imminent danger.
In the leaflets, the army told Gazans that approaching the border fence is liable to be “severely detrimental.” “For your own benefit, it is better that you not participate in the violent riots at the fence, not attempt to breach it, and not permit Hamas to turn you into a tool to advance its narrow agenda,” the army said. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have participated in the protests. Friday’s demonstrations are meant to coincide with “Jerusalem Day,” a day of protest against Israeli control of the city of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem day was established in 1979 in Iran to coincide with the last Friday of Ramadan. This year, the protests take on added significance after the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In recent weeks, Israel has struggled with a new phenomenon of flaming kites flown over the border into Israel. The kites have caused wildfires and extensive damage to Israeli agricultural land nearby.
The Israeli military said it has adopted the use of drones to intercept some 500 kites and flaming balloons. Col. Nadav Livne, commander of the unit operating the drones, told reporters Thursday that the drones now have a “more than 90 percent” success rate in taking down the kites. “But it’s not 100 percent protection,” he said.


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Sri Lanka bombings death toll rises to 359, 18 more suspects held overnight

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Colombo: Police say the death toll in the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka has risen to 359 and more suspects have been arrested.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara also said Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58.
The prime minister warned that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large.
Another top government official said the suicide bombings at the churches, hotels and other sites were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in apparent retaliation for the New Zealand mosque massacre last month.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka attacks and released images that purported to show the attackers. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that investigators were still determining the extent of the bombers’ foreign links.

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UN says over 250 killed, over 1,200 injured in Libya battle

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TRIPOLI: At least 264 people have been killed and over 1,200 wounded in weeks of fighting on the outskirts of Libya’s capital, the World Health Organisation said , as African leaders gathered in Cairo to discuss the crisis.
The agency called on Twitter for “a temporary cessation of hostilities, and for all parties to respect humanitarian law”.
Eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on the capital on April 4, as his self-styled Libyan National Army pledged “to purge the west of terrorists and mercenaries”.
Forces loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, launched a counter-attack at the weekend.
The fighting has since eased somewhat as both sides appeared to be preparing for the next phase of the battle.
Fighting in Tripoli’s southern suburbs has so far displaced at least 35,000 people, UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya Maria do Valle Ribeiro said on Monday.
“Displacement is continuing at an increasing rate every day,” she said, warning that the figures were a conservative estimate.
The two sides have reached a near stalemate since armed groups backing the GNA launched their counter-attack on Saturday.
An AFP team on the ground at the weekend confirmed that GNA-aligned fighters had pushed the frontline back several kilometres in the southern district of Ain-Zara, around a dozen kilometres south of the city centre.
Another frontline is a little further southwest, around the districts of al-Swani and Qasr ben-Ghachir, around 30 kilometres from Tripoli, on a key road between the capital and the old international airport.
Occasional bursts of gunfire — and heavier projectiles — have been audible, sometimes resonating in the city centre.
“It is calm on most fronts,” Mustafa al-Mejii, a spokesman for GNA forces, said.
“Orders were given to forces on the perimeter of Tripoli airport to consolidate their positions,” he said.
Haftar’s force said on its official Facebook page it had received “significant” reinforcements, particularly in the west.
Valle Ribeiro said civilians were being displaced every day, while some had been trapped by fire including “heavy artillery and… shelling in some densely populated parts of the city”.
“Any country that has leverage should be using that leverage to ensure that civilians can be protected,” she said.
African leaders were due to meet in Cairo at the behest of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to discuss the violence.

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Israel to name Golan settlement after Trump

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JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he plans to name a new settlement in the occupied Golan after US President Donald Trump in appreciation of his recognition of Israel’s claim of sovereignty there.
Netanyahu, who has been on a trip to the region with his family for the week-long Passover holiday, said in a video message that he would present a resolution to the government calling for a new settlement named after the US president.
“All Israelis were deeply moved when President Trump made his historic decision to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” he said.
Trump again broke with longstanding international consensus on March 25 when he recognised Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the part of the strategic plateau it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The decision came only two weeks ahead of a tightly contested Israeli election, which saw Netanyahu win a fifth term in office.
Trump has shifted US policy sharply in Israel’s favour since taking office, most notably by recognising the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israel annexed 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan it seized in 1981, a move never recognised by the international community.
Around 18,000 Syrians from the Druze sect — most of whom refuse to take Israeli citizenship — remain in the occupied Golan.
Some 20,000 Israeli settlers have moved there, spread over 33 settlements.

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