JERUSALEM: Palestinians held demonstrations across the region on Friday to protest President Donald Trump’s Middle East initiative, while militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets and mortar rounds at Israel, drawing retaliatory strikes.

The Palestinians have rejected the Trump plan, which heavily favors Israel and would allow it to annex all of its Jewish settlements, along with the Jordan Valley, in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians were offered limited self-rule in Gaza, parts of the West Bank and some sparsely populated areas of Israel in return for meeting a long list of conditions.

Israel launched airstrikes on militant targets in Gaza early on Friday, shortly after Palestinians fired three rockets into Israel, two of which were intercepted, the military said.

It said Palestinian militants had also launched explosive balloons” towards Israel and that a sniper had shot an observational antenna. It said it struck targets linked to the Hamas militant group in response, including underground infrastructure used to manufacture weapons.

Later on Friday, the military said Gaza militants fired three mortar rounds. In response, an Israeli tank fired on a Hamas military post.

No one was wounded in either exchange of fire, but an Israeli woman dropped her three-week-old baby while running into a bomb shelter during the rocket attack, according to the United Hatzalah rescue service. The baby was hospitalised and is in moderate condition.

Gaza has been relatively calm in recent months as Egyptian and UN mediators have worked to shore up an informal truce between Israel and Hamas, which rules the coastal territory.

Hamas has curbed rocket fire and rolled back weekly protests along the frontier that had often turned violent. In return, Israel has eased the blockade it imposed on Gaza after the Islamic militant group seized power from forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Hamas rejected the Trump plan and vowed that all options are open in responding to the proposal, but the group is not believed to be seeking another war with Israel.

Thousands of people took to the streets after Friday prayers in neighboring Jordan to protest the plan. Jordan, a close US ally and key player in previous peace efforts, has warned Israel against annexing territory. Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to have signed peace agreements with Israel.

The protesters waved Jordanian and Palestinian flags and burned Israeli flags despite the rainy weather. They chanted Trump is a coward and Here we are, Al Aqsa, referring to a Jerusalem mosque on a site sacred to Jews and Muslims.

In Lebanon, dozens of Palestinians gathered in the crowded Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp after Friday prayers, carrying Palestinian flags and pictures of the Al Aqsa mosque. They chanted “We would die for Palestine to live and Revolution until we set Palestine free.” Palestine is not for sale, even if it were for millions upon millions. If (Trump) gave all of his money we wouldn’t sell to him, said 58-year-old Fatima al-Khatib.

The plan anticipates $50 billion of investment in the future Palestinian state and describes several ambitious development projects, without saying where the money would come from.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have held small, scattered protests in recent days condemning the Trump initiative, and thousands gathered in Gaza on Friday, where they burned US and Israeli flags and portraits of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2020