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Truce between Israel, Palestinian militants holds; Gaza crossings reopen

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An Egypt-brokered ceasefire to halt a flare-up in fighting by Israel and Palestinian militants was holding on Monday, with crossings into the besieged Gaza Strip also reopening.

An Israeli army spokesperson said no new rockets had been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip since the ceasefire to end three days of violence that Palestinians said left more than 40 dead took effect late Sunday, reports dpa news agency.

The Israeli army had not attacked any new targets in the coastal enclave, the spokesperson added.

Israel on Monday also announced the re-opening of border crossings into the Mediterranean coastal strip for humanitarian deliveries.

The Israeli military had launched the “Breaking Dawn” military operation on August 5 with airstrikes against Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

Two military chiefs were killed during the operation.

The group, closely linked to Iran, is classified as a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

Israel Defense Forces said the group had been planning a major attack along the border involving anti-tank missiles and so pre-emptive action was taken by launching a wave of strikes against Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza.

Tensions began to rise with the arrest of an Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, Bassem Saadi, on August 1.

Since August 5, Palestinian militants have fired more than 1,000 rockets at Israeli settlements, according to the Israeli military, with some 200 hundred of them falling short and hitting the Gaza Strip.

In Gaza, 44 people have been killed and 360 injured, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Among the dead were said to be 15 children and four women.

The Palestinians blamed the Israeli strikes. Israel said misguided jihadi rockets had caused the civilian casualties.

There have been no reported deaths in Israel, with the Iron Dome defence system intercepting most of the rockets.

After assessing the security situation, the Erez border crossing and the Kerem Shalom goods crossing were open again, Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced Monday.

The first fuel tanks and humanitarian supplies passed through the border in the morning, according to a spokesperson.

The power supply in Gaza had been reduced from 12 to four hours on August 6 due to a lack of fuel. The Palestinian Health Ministry had warned of major impacts on medical services.

Around 2 million people live in very poor conditions in the territory on the Mediterranean Sea.

Hamas seized power in 2007, prompting Israel to tighten a blockade of Gaza, a move that is also supported by neighbouring Egypt.

Both Israel and Egypt justify the measure with security interests.

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Syria rejects report on alleged chemical attack

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 Syria has rejected a recent report by an intergovernmental chemical watchdog that accuses the war-torn country’s forces of a chemical attack near Damascus in 2018 as “politicised” by the US and its Western allies.

The report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is used by the US and its Western allies to justify their attack against Syria launched just days after the alleged chemical attack in the Douma suburb east of Damascus five years ago, Xinhua news agency quoted Milad Atiyeh, the country’s permanent representative to OPCW, as saying at a press conference.

“On 14 April 2018, days after the alleged Douma incident, the US, Britain and France launched a barbaric attack on Syria under false pretexts and even without waiting for the results of investigations of this incident.

“Now such countries are investing in this report … to exert more political pressures, impose more sanctions and embargo on the Syrian people and to prevent Syria from moving on in the reconstruction process,” he said.

On January 27, the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team issued a report, claiming that there are reasonable grounds to believe the Syrian air forces were the perpetrators of the chemical weapons attack on April 7, 2018 in Douma.

During the alleged attack, at least one helicopter of the Syrian “Tiger Forces” Elite Unit dropped two yellow cylinders containing toxic chlorine gas on two apartment buildings in a residential area in Douma, killing 43 and affecting dozens more, according to the report.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied all reports that involve the Syrian military in the alleged attack

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Mystery how suicide bomber managed to sneak in to Peshawar mosque

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 The January 31 suicide bombing at the sprawling mosque in Peshawar’s Malik Saad Shaheed Police Lines area was among the deadliest to hit this city.

Headquarters to capital city police and half a dozen other units including the frontier reserve police, the special security unit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the counter terrorism department, the elite force, telecommunication, rapid response force and special combat unit, it is no ordinary facility, Dawn reported.

With a single entry and exit point, where guards ask all visitors for identification and search their vehicles, it is a mystery how a suicide bomber managed to sneak in, and that too with explosives.

Investigators acknowledge it is not an easy case to solve.

With more than 2,000 staff working for the many units, and two to three hundred visitors daily, profiling each individual alongside reviewing hours of CCTV footage from the lone camera outside the mosque’s front gate and the compound, will be a time-consuming and painstaking task.

Equally difficult is collecting forensic evidence from underneath the debris of the collapsed roof that caused the most damage and casualties, Dawn reported.

A chapter of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from Mohmand, which accepted responsibility for the attack, described the bomber as 25-year-old Huzaifa — probably an organisational name given to an individual, like Ehsanullah Ehsan.

Police have so far recovered two heads from under the rubble, so mutilated that they could not be run through the Nadra database for positive identification.

Efforts are now on to reconstruct the faces and produce identikits, Dawn reported.

The high-walled compound is manned by police round the clock. It is difficult to get in without being questioned and asked for identity papers.

However, in the absence of a single command authority, six to eight police guards can barely cope with the task of searching and establishing the identities of the 2,000-plus staff and the hundreds of visitors that pass these gates every day.

“There was a security lapse,” acknowledged the Inspector General of Police, Moazzam Jah.

Senior police officials say that while there has been an alarming and disturbing increase in threat alerts of possible militant attacks in some key districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there was no specific threat from the intelligence agencies regarding the Police Lines compound, Dawn reported.

Investigators continue to pore over hours of video footage and check the personal profiles of thousands of employees to look for possible suspects.

There are also procedural questions: did the bomber walk in through the main gate; did he carry the explosives on him or was there someone inside the compound that helped him smuggle the explosives in beforehand. Intelligence and police sources speculate that the bomber couldn’t have pulled off such an audacious task without inside help, Dawn reported.

Soon after the bombing, TTP’s Mohmand chapter — formerly known as the Jamaatul Ahrar — claimed responsibility for the attack through its social media handles, saying that it was carried out to avenge the death of its leader, Umar Khalid Khurasani, who was killed in Afghanistan in August 2022, the fourth such revenge attack so far.

A little later, however, TTP Central issued a denial, insisting it was against its policy to attack mosques.

Investigators believe this was a distraction, since the militant commander who accepted responsibility for the bombing had only recently been appointed by TTP Central to head the Zhob Division (Wilayah in militants’ parlance) in Balochistan.

Amaq, a news agency linked to the Islamic State, also made its own claim of responsibility for the attack, Dawn reported.

Police and investigating agencies, however, see the TTP’s fingerprints on the attack.

Investigators believe that the militant groups that form the TTP enjoy operational independence, even if their actions are at variance with the organisation’s central policy guidelines.

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad delegation heads to Egypt amid tensions

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A delegation of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militant group will head to Egypt on Thursday for dialogue on defusing the escalating tensions between Israel and Palestine, an official said.

Dawood Shehab, a PIJ leader from Gaza, told reporters that the group’s secretary-general Ziad Al-Nakhala, at the invitation of Egypt, will lead the delegation to discuss the escalating violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem with Egyptian security intelligence officials.

The meeting comes after a series of deadly incidents in the region.

On January 26, Israeli forces raided the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied northern West Bank and killed nine Palestinians and wounded 16 others.

A day later, a gunman opened fire on people near a synagogue at a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, killing at least seven people.

Egypt has been mediating between Israel and the Palestinians and brokered several ceasefire agreements to end hostilities in the region.

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