02/23/2023, 19.18
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Palestinians call general strike following Israeli raid in Nablus

Schools, universities and businesses shut down in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Egypt and the UN try to mediate to prevent an escalation. UN special envoy bemoans an “already volatile situation. Israel’s Finance Minister Smotrich gets more powers over the Territories. Former Palestinian PM Ahmed Qureia, who played a key role in the Oslo Accords, dies.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Palestinians reacted with a general strike across their territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) after an Israeli raid in Nablus left 11 people dead and over a hundred wounded, triggering overnight rocket attacks from Gaza.

Schools, universities, and businesses closed in protest following an appeal by Palestinians leaders, while Egypt and the United Nations are trying a difficult mediation to prevent more bloodshed.

To this end, UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland arrived in Gaza to meet Hamas leaders.

“I am continuing my engagement with all concerned parties to de-escalate the situation,” Wennesland said in a statement before the visit. “I urge all sides to refrain from steps that could further inflame an already volatile situation”.

The latest violence was triggered by an Israeli raid, which, unlike previous operations, was conducted  in broad daylight, in Nablus, one of the West Bank’s most populous and important business centres, turning it into a war zone for a few hours.

The Israeli military became engaged in a heavy fighting with a local armed group of young men known as the Lion's Den, which has been gaining influence over the past year.

While claiming to be independent, the group is funded by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and is believed to be responsible for recent shootings against Israeli military and settlers, including one in October in which a soldier died.

The 11 who died yesterday include three elderly people and a 14-year-old. Following this, rockets were fired from Gaza overnight into southern Israel, with Israel responding with air strikes against targets in the Strip. No casualties were reported.

Since the start of the year, 61 Palestinians have died so far, the highest figure since 2000. Last year, a total of 150 Palestinians died in violent confrontation with Israeli forces.

The escalation of violence is worrisome for Palestinian leaders. “We call for an end to the continued attacks against our people," said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

A Hamas official said that the group’s “patience is running out,” while its leaders warn that the situation could slide into an “open confrontation” if there was no change.

Tensions have risen ever since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adopted an iron fist policy after he took power two months with ultranationalist parties in the country’s most right-wing government since it was founded.

So far, Mr Netanyahu or his office have not released any statement.

In a separate development, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the pro-settler Religious Zionism party, reached an agreement with his cabinet colleagues, granting him some civil powers in the West Bank.

For many experts, this could spark a new intifada and is a source of concern for activists and global leaders, such as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who said that the current situation is the “most combustible in years”.

Commenting on the Nablus operation, the UN chief went on to describe it as "deeply concerning", urging all parties to make every effort to reduce violence and restore calm.

Meanwhile Ahmed Qureia, a former Palestinian prime minister and one of the architects of the Oslo peace accords with Israel, died yesterday at age 85. That deal was in 1993, a lifetime ago.

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