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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, June 16, 2018 1:00 am

In Mideast, strife underlies holiday

Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Several thousand Gaza worshippers knelt on prayer rugs spread on sandy soil, near the perimeter fence with Israel, joining hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world Friday in marking the holiday that caps the fasting month of Ramadan.

The three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday is traditionally a time of family visits and festive meals, with children getting new clothes, haircuts and gifts.

In the Middle East, celebrations were once again marred by prolonged conflict in hot spots such as Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and the Gaza Strip.

In Afghanistan, a U.S. drone strike killed Pakistan Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, the insurgent leader who ordered the assassination of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said Friday that Fazlullah and two other insurgents were killed early Thursday morning, just hours before Afghanistan's Taliban began a three-day cease-fire to mark Eid al-Fitr.

In Syria, two people visiting graves of relatives during the holiday were killed in government shelling of a cemetery, activists said. In Yemen, officials said dozens of fighters from a Saudi-led coalition backing an exiled government were killed in fighting over the rebel-held port of Hodeida, the main entry point for food into a country already on the brink of famine.

In Gaza, an Israeli drone attacked a tent used to prepare kites and balloons rigged with incendiary devices for launch into Israel, a witness said. The balloons and kites are the latest tactic in weeks-long protests against a blockade of Gaza, imposed by Israel and Egypt after the 2007 takeover of the territory by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Since late March, more than 120 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,800 wounded by Israeli army fire in the area of the fence. Most were unarmed.

The Israeli military said just a few dozen Palestinians protested at the barrier during the day, a sharp contrast to previous weeks.

In Jerusalem, senior Muslim cleric Muhammad Hussein told tens of thousands of worshippers that a plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, expected to be unveiled by the Trump administration, is unfair and “aims at the liquidation of the Palestinian cause.”

The Palestinian issue also loomed large in Iran. President Hassan Rouhani said in a holiday message that he believes the “land of Palestine will be returned to owners of the land with the help of God.” Iran and Israel are bitter foes.