Tunisia strengthens virus restrictions ahead of Ramadan

Health worker prepares for coronavirus vaccination in Tunisia that announced extended night curfew 7pm-5am ahead of Ramadan till April 30. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 April 2021

Tunisia strengthens virus restrictions ahead of Ramadan

  • Night curfew applies from 7pm until 5am, from Friday until at least April 30
  • Prime Minister ruled out a new nationwide lockdown given Tunisia’s difficult economic situation

TUNIS — Tunisia is extending its nighttime curfew by three hours and tightening other restrictions ahead of Ramadan following an uptick of COVID-19 infections.
The measure will apply from 7pm until 5am, from Friday until at least April 30.
Government spokeswoman Hasna Ben Othman also announced other measures late Wednesday, including a ban on all public and private gatherings, the shuttering of weekly markets, and stronger enforcement of mask-wearing and social distancing.
Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown, given what he described as the country’s difficult economic situation.
The Muslim holy festival of Ramadan starts next week. The month of religious fasting usually sees large crowds gathering in shops, cafes and public spaces, and nationwide family gatherings.
According to the latest figures published on Wednesday by the Tunisian Health Ministry, the number of COVID-19 deaths stands at more than 9,000, with overall infections at nearly 265,000 in a population of 11.7 million.
Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi said that 80% of hospital intensive care beds are currently occupied, adding that Tunisia expects to receive a donation of 30 ICU beds Thursday from the United States.

Palestinian president says Gaza war must end, conference needed to reach settlement

Updated 6 sec ago

Palestinian president says Gaza war must end, conference needed to reach settlement

RAMALLAH: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday called for an immediate end to the war in Gaza and an international peace conference to work out a lasting political solution leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In an interview with Reuters at his office in Ramallah, Abbas, 87, said the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in general had reached an alarming stage that requires an international conference and guarantees by world powers.
Besides Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, he said Israeli forces have intensified their attacks everywhere in the occupied West Bank over the past year with settlers escalating violence against Palestinian towns.
He reiterated his longstanding position in favor of negotiation rather than armed resistance to end the longstanding occupation.
“I am with peaceful resistance. I am for negotiations based on an international peace conference and under international auspices that would lead to a solution that will be protected by world powers to establish a sovereign Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” he said.
Abbas was speaking as Israel increased its strikes on Gaza. In two months of warfare, it has killed more than 17,000 people, wounded 46,000 and forced the displacement of around 1.9 million people, over half of them now sheltering in areas in central Gaza or close to the Egyptian border.
A senior US official said the idea of an international conference had been discussed among different partners but the proposal was still at a very preliminary stage.
“It’s one of many options on the table that we and others would consider with an open mind, but no decision has been made about that,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Israel launched its campaign to annihilate the Hamas movement that rules Gaza after Hamas fighters went on a rampage through Israeli towns on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Abbas said that based on a binding international agreement, he would revive the weakened Palestinian Authority, implement long-awaited reforms and hold presidential and parliamentary elections, which were suspended after Hamas won in 2006 and later pushed the PA out of Gaza.
He said the PA had abided by all the peace deals signed with Israel since the 1993 Oslo Accord and the understandings that followed over the years but that Israel had reneged on its pledges to end the occupation.

Asked whether he would risk holding elections given the possibility that Hamas could win as it did in 2006, he said: “Whoever wins wins, these will be democratic elections.”
Abbas said he had planned to hold elections in April 2021 but the European Union envoy told him before the due date that Israel was objecting to voting in East Jerusalem so he was forced to call it off.
He insisted that there would not be elections without East Jerusalem, saying the PA held three rounds of elections in the past that included East Jerusalem before Israel imposed the ban.
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. It later annexed it, declaring the whole of the city as its capital, a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Abbas did not give a concrete vision of a post-war plan discussed with US officials under which the PA would take over control of the strip, home for 2.3 million people. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel would not accept rule over Gaza by the Palestinian Authority as it stands.
“The United States tells us that it supports a two-state solution, that Israel is not allowed to occupy Gaza, to keep security control of Gaza or to expropriate land from Gaza,” he said in reference to a plan floated by Israel to establish a security zone in Gaza after the war.
“America doesn’t force Israel to implement what it says.”
He said the PA was still present in Gaza as an institution and still pays monthly salaries and expenses estimated at $140 million for employees, pensioners and for needy families. The PA still has three ministers present in Gaza, he added.
“We need rehabilitation, we need big support to return to Gaza,” Abbas said.
“Gaza today is not the Gaza that you know. Gaza was destroyed, its hospitals, its schools, its infrastructure, its buildings, its roads and mosques were destroyed. There is nothing left. When we return we need resources, Gaza needs reconstruction.”
“The United States which fully supports Israel bears the responsibility of what is happening in the enclave,” Abbas said.
“It is the only power that is capable of ordering Israel to stop the war and fulfil its obligations, but unfortunately it doesn’t. America is an accomplice of Israel.” 


WHO members urge Israel to protect humanitarian workers

Updated 14 min 53 sec ago

WHO members urge Israel to protect humanitarian workers

  • The member states expressed their “grave concern about the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, especially the military operations in the Gaza Strip”

GENEVA: More than a dozen member states of the World Health Organization submitted a draft resolution on Friday that urged Israel to respect its obligations under international law to protect humanitarian workers in Gaza.
War erupted in Gaza after Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking hostages, 138 of whom remain captive, according to Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory air and ground assault on Gaza has killed 17,487 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the besieged Palestinian territory.
The text of the draft resolution is due to be examined on Sunday during a special session of the WHO’s Executive Board convened to discuss “the health situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.”
It was proposed by Algeria, Bolivia, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkiye, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Palestinian representatives have WHO observer status, and were also signatories to the proposal.
The member states expressed their “grave concern about the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, especially the military operations in the Gaza Strip.”
They called for Israel to “respect and protect” medical and humanitarian workers exclusively involved in carrying out medical duties, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities.
Separately, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters on Friday that Gaza’s health system was on its knees and could not afford to lose another ambulance or a single hospital bed.
“The situation is getting more and more horrible by the day... beyond belief, literally,” he said.
The United Nations’ humanitarian agency OCHA said late on Thursday that only 14 of the 36 hospitals in the Gaza Strip were functioning in any capacity.


Hamas says US veto blocking Gaza cease-fire ‘unethical and inhumane’

Updated 09 December 2023

Hamas says US veto blocking Gaza cease-fire ‘unethical and inhumane’

  • “The US obstruction of the issuance of a cease-fire resolution is a direct participation with the occupation in killing our people and committing more massacres and ethnic cleansing,” Ezzat El-Reshiq, a member of the group’s political bureau, said

CAIRO: Hamas strongly condemns the US veto that blocked a proposed United Nations Security Council demand for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza, a senior Hamas official said late on Friday in an official statement, saying that the group considers Washington’s move “unethical and inhumane.”
“The US obstruction of the issuance of a cease-fire resolution is a direct participation with the occupation in killing our people and committing more massacres and ethnic cleansing,” Ezzat El-Reshiq, a member of the group’s political bureau, said.


Why did Israel fail to foil Hamas attack plot despite specific warnings?

Updated 09 December 2023

Why did Israel fail to foil Hamas attack plot despite specific warnings?

  • Failure to act all the more remarkable as Israel had acquired a copy of the battle plan prior to the assault
  • Social media abuzz with conspiracy theories government knew about impending events but let it happen

LONDON: On Oct. 6, 1973, Israel was taken completely unawares by an attack by a coalition of Middle East states, led by Egypt, that came very close to wiping it off the map.

In the end Israel, backed by a massive airlift of advanced weaponry and other support from the US, survived the Yom Kippur War, albeit at great cost — more than 2,600 of its soldiers were killed, and thousands more wounded.

But “it was a massive intelligence failure,” said Ahron Bregman, a UK-based Israeli historian, author and political scientist.

Palestinians take control of an Israeli Merkava battle tank after crossing the border fence with Israel from Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (AFP/File)

Afterward, in a society left “in a state of deep collective shock,” hard questions were asked of Israel’s politicians, the military and the intelligence community and, “supposedly, lessons were learnt.”

But almost exactly 50 years later to the day, on Oct. 7, 2023, Israel was taken by surprise once again, this time by a Hamas assault that left at least 1,200 Israeli citizens and soldiers dead, and saw almost 250 carried back into Gaza as hostages.

Now, in an Israel wracked and divided by self-doubt, anxiety and anger at the failure of its government and much-vaunted military forces not only to anticipate and prevent the attack, but also to respond to it in a timely fashion, hard questions are being asked once again about what went wrong, and who is to blame.

“Like in the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis had all the information in front of them — everything, all the details,” said Bregman, a senior teaching fellow in the Department of War Studies at the UK’s King’s College London, who served in the Israeli army for six years.

“This was another massive intelligence failure on the part of the Israelis.

“In the future, the Hamas attack on the seventh of October will be taught in military schools, alongside Pearl Harbor, Operation Barbarossa (Germany’s surprise attack on Russia in 1941) — and the Yom Kippur War.”

Thanks to a startling leak, presumably from within Israel’s intelligence community, it is clear that the failure in the run-up to Oct. 7 was all the more remarkable because Israel had acquired a copy of Hamas’ battle plan prior to the attack.

On Nov. 30 The New York Times ran an exclusive story claiming that Israeli officials had obtained the plan “more than a year before it happened ... But Israeli military and intelligence officials dismissed the plan as aspirational, considering it too difficult for Hamas to carry out.”

Hamas had “followed the blueprint with shocking precision” and, concluded The Times, “what could have been an intelligence coup turned into one of the worst miscalculations in Israel’s 75-year history.”

Disenchanted intelligence operatives are not the only Israelis coming forward with revelations about Israel’s failings leading up to Oct. 7.

Evidence is now emerging that in the months, weeks and days leading up to the Hamas attack repeated warnings by Israeli army observers tasked with monitoring the “Iron Wall” between Israel and Gaza were ignored or dismissed.

Video feeds from cameras along the length of the high-tech fence, which in 2021 was given a $1 billion upgrade, are monitored day and night by members of the Israel Defense Forces’ Combat Intelligence Collection Corps.

The wall seemed formidable: a 6-meter-tall fence, topped with razor wire and embedded in deep concrete foundations to foil tunnelling, bristling with sophisticated surveillance systems and remote-controlled machine guns mounted on towers along its length.

But on Oct. 7, the high-tech wall was defeated by a combination of low-tech bulldozers, explosives and drones that dropped bombs into the machinegun nests.

In this picture taken on April 13, 2018, Israeli soldiers keeping position in the southern kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border with the Gaza Strip as Palestinian protesters gather along the border fence. Hamas militants easily defeated the high-tech wall in a massive attack on Oct. 7. (AFP/File)

One of the first targets of the Hamas fighters who poured through the breached fence was a military base at the kibbutz of Nahal Oz, about 1 kilometer inside Israel. There, 25 of the 27 female observers were killed.

As Israelis look for answers to explain why the Hamas attack was so successful, and the Israeli military’s response so inadequate, the two women who survived the attack on the base have now come forward with allegations that repeated warnings given by them and their colleagues were brushed aside by superior officers.

According to a report in The Times of Israel, for at least three months before the attack the observers spotted and reported repeated and increasingly suspicious activities, including “Hamas operatives conducting training sessions multiple times a day, digging holes and placing explosives along the border.”

Yet all these signs were “disregarded as unimportant by intelligence officials.”

One of the two survivors from Nahal Oz told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster that she had watched Hamas operatives training at the border fence for weeks.

Maya Desiatnik realized it was “just a matter of time” before something big happened, but her repeated warnings were ignored. And on Oct. 7 something big did happen.

She began her shift that day at 3:30 a.m. All was quiet at first, but at 6:30 a.m. “we saw people running to the border from every direction, running with guns,” she told Kan. “We saw motorbikes and pickup trucks driving straight at the fence.

“We watched them blow up the fence and destroy it. And we might have been crying but we continued to do our jobs at the same time.”

But the expected support from rapid-response troops, summoned as per protocol, did not materialize.

“It’s infuriating,” Desiatnik told Kan. “We saw what was happening, we told them about it, and we were the ones who were murdered.”

Israel makes much of the fact that women serve alongside men in its armed forces. With certain exceptions, every Jewish, Druze or Circassian citizen over the age of 18 does compulsory military service.

Men are expected to serve for at least 32 months and women, who frequently feature in IDF videos, for a minimum of 24.

But one explanation for the failures on Oct. 7, said Bregman, “is in my view to do with gender.”

“Most of the observers along the border, who follow and report on Hamas activities, are women soldiers,” he said.

“Yet in the weeks and months leading up to Oct. 7, they kept reporting to their superiors, all of whom were men, of course, saying ‘Look, they are preparing an attack on us, here is all the information,’ and they were dismissed.

“And I believe that one of the reasons why they were dismissed was the fact that they were young women.”

But the military’s deadly lack of confidence in its female observers was just one of several failings that contributed to the disaster on Oct. 7, Bregman says, including “the very existence of the fence.

“There is a psychological dimension here. You think ‘Well, I’ve got a fence, I am protected,’ and then you start cutting corners, thinking you don’t need so many troops in this area.

“On Oct. 7 yes, there was a very sophisticated fence, like nothing else anywhere in the world. But there was nobody to protect it, because most of the troops were elsewhere, in the West Bank.”

In his view, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, also has a lot to answer for.

“Netanyahu believed that if you could just feed Hamas with money and jobs in Israel, it would keep quiet. The belief in Israel was that Hamas was deterred from going to war, but that belief was in Israeli heads, and not in Hamas’.

“Netanyahu wanted to believe that Hamas would not go to war, and this idea filtered down to the military itself, and they ended up believing it.”

Inevitably, social media is abuzz with conspiracy theories about Oct. 7, including that the Israeli government knew about the impending attack but let it happen, in order to justify a wholesale assault on Gaza.

The slow response by Israel’s military to the attack is attributed to a claim, accompanied by the hashtag #BibiKnew, that Netanyahu ordered the IDF to stand down on the day.

“But I think we have too many solid explanations for this intelligence failure to start believing in conspiracy theories,” said Bregman.

“It was not in Netanyahu’s interests to go to war. His entire strategy was to have Hamas in power so he did not have to do the two-state solution.”

The success of the attack was not due entirely to Israeli failings.

“If you look back at the military history of Hamas, you can see that it is a very adaptable organization, and the Israelis failed to realize this,” said Bregman.

It is also clear that, in the words of “a source close to Hamas,” speaking to Reuters, “Hamas used an unprecedented intelligence tactic to mislead Israel over the last months, by giving a public impression that it was not willing to go into a fight or confrontation with Israel while preparing for this massive operation.”

As part of this subterfuge, Hamas had refrained from attacking Israel for two years, and created the impression that “it cared more about ensuring that workers in Gaza ... had access to jobs across the border and had no interest in starting a new war.”

Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at UK-based international affairs think tank Chatham House, has no doubt that there will be a full accounting for the disaster of Oct. 7 when the fighting finally stops.

“There are rumors and leaks and although it’s clear that there was a systemic failure, until we hear evidence under oath in an investigation it’s difficult to know exactly what happened,” he said.

“But there must be an inquiry, there is no other option. When the war is over, and a lot of reservists are discharged, they will be the first to demand an inquiry, the families of those who were killed on Oct. 7, the families of those who were taken hostage, the families of the soldiers that were killed since Oct. 7, they will all relentlessly demand an inquiry, and rightly so.”

He is hesitant to predict the political outcome of the disaster for Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party: “Who knows, in politics, but I will be very surprised if he’s not done.”

Fifty years on from Yom Kippur, Israel is once again in a state of “deep collective shock.”

Yet ultimately, amid domestic dismay at Israel’s failings before, during and after Oct. 7, and growing concern at home and abroad at the IDF’s disproportionate meting out of death and destruction in Gaza, it may be the Israeli response rather than the Hamas attack itself that proves to be a tipping point in the seemingly endless cycle of violence.

“I really think we are at a junction here,” said Mekelberg.

“I would like to see people draw the conclusion that conflict and bloodshed achieve nothing, but add to the anger and the bitterness and the need for revenge, and that this needs to change.

“What is needed now is different leadership, that will create some hope, and there could be a much better future for both Israel and Palestinians — and I think the potential is endless.”


Israeli fire injures 3 Lebanese soldiers: medical source

Updated 09 December 2023

Israeli fire injures 3 Lebanese soldiers: medical source

  • Israeli artillery fire targeted the vicinity of a Lebanese army post in Ras el-Naqura, lightly injuring three soldiers
  • An AFP photographer at the scene saw the soldiers lying on stretchers, exhibiting signs of breathing difficulties but with no open wounds

BEIRUT: Three Lebanese soldiers were lightly injured Friday by Israeli shelling in southern Lebanon, medical sources said, while the Lebanese army reported no casualties in a second attack on a hospital.
Hezbollah also announced the death of four of its fighters on Friday.
“Israeli artillery fire targeted the vicinity of a Lebanese army post in Ras el-Naqura, lightly injuring three soldiers,” a medical source told AFP.
An AFP photographer at the scene saw the soldiers lying on stretchers, exhibiting signs of breathing difficulties but with no open wounds.
On Tuesday, two people, including a Lebanese soldier, were killed in Israeli cross-border shelling — the first among Lebanese army personnel to be killed since the start of almost daily exchanges of fire on the border between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah.
The Israeli army acknowledged the incident and expressed “regret,” saying it was targeting a Hezbollah position and not the army.
The Lebanese armed forces, deployed to the border area, reported a second attack on Friday.
“On December 8, 2023, the military hospital in the town of Ain Ebel was bombed by the Israeli enemy, causing material damage but no casualties,” it said in a statement.
Regular cross-border fire began following the start of the Israel-Hamas war, triggered by the Palestinian Islamist movement’s surprise October 7 attack on Israel.
Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, claimed responsibility on Friday for a series of attacks against Israeli troops and positions near the border.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to hit border areas in what it says is an attempt to destroy Hezbollah’s infrastructure.
Since October 7, border violence has killed at least 120 people in Lebanon, the majority Hezbollah fighters but also 16 civilians, including three journalists, according to an AFP count.
On Thursday, a civilian was killed in northern Israel by an anti-tank missile fired from southern Lebanon, bringing the number killed in attacks from Lebanon to at least six Israeli soldiers and four civilians, according to authorities.
Hezbollah had claimed responsibility for the anti-tank missile on Thursday, saying it was targeting Israeli military barracks.
On the same day, Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian armed group, announced the death of two of its fighters, bringing the number of its members killed in southern Lebanon to eight.