World should not overlook Hezbollah’s illegal activities

World should not overlook Hezbollah’s illegal activities

Short Url

The pomegranate shipment from Lebanon that was used to smuggle Captagon drugs and was seized by the Saudi authorities last week should not come as a surprise to anyone. Indeed, it has been well known for some time now that Hezbollah protects and engages in a myriad illegal activities.
This once again highlights the fact that this organization has no respect for the law, governments, citizens’ interests and well-being or anything that does not support its own interests. And in that case, all that matters is that it gets its share of the drug smuggling money. This was, of course, not an isolated incident. In June last year, the European law enforcement agency warned that Hezbollah operatives were believed to be “trafficking in diamonds and drugs.” Also last year, two major seizures of Captagon pills were achieved by police in Italy and Greece, with a combined value exceeding $1 billion.
Hezbollah, with the support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has for decades been relying on illegal activities to finance part of its activities. When one knows the control Hezbollah has over every single port and airport in Lebanon, as well as its control of all smuggling routes and its international network from Africa to the Americas that has been targeted by the US Justice Department, there is no doubt about the role it plays in international drug trafficking.
As Saudi Arabia takes the necessary action and bans agricultural products from Lebanon, I wonder how the Lebanese authorities might guarantee strong measures against drug organizations and launch a strong crackdown on their protectors. This is simply impossible. Lebanon is now the land of lawlessness. It has no credibility, as everything is permitted. Once again, one should remember that the Saudi decision came after repeated similar smuggling attempts from Lebanon, and patience and support have their limits.
This time it was drugs, but knowing that Hezbollah and the IRGC are ultimately behind these activities means that these routes and channels could also be used to try and smuggle other illegal materials, such as explosives and weapons. In short, Lebanon is no longer eroding but simply destroying its international relations for the sake and interests of Hezbollah and Iran. This not only applies to the Gulf, but also to countries from Asia to Europe.I am nevertheless expecting several Western analysts to shift the topic of Hezbollah’s nefarious role in Lebanon and take the usual spin of “Arab countries are abandoning Lebanon,” as if everyone should yield to the blackmail imposed by Hezbollah with a smile on their face. We insult you but we need you to welcome our expatriates; we send you smuggled drugs in fruits, but you need to keep importing our products; we threaten your security, but you still need to lobby for us internationally; we disappear your deposits in our banks, but you still need to send us subsidies and support our corrupt, rotten economy. Am I missing something else?

Lebanon is simply destroying its international relations for the sake and interests of Hezbollah and Iran.

Khaled Abou Zahr

This time, they might start adding a third wing to their usual Hezbollah description that separates the political organization from the armed one — an illegal wing. They might as well start justifying such activities as they provide Hezbollah with resources due to the dire economic situation and the inability of the IRGC to support it due to US sanctions. They have absolved Hezbollah and Iran from so much more, so this would not be a surprise, especially as the nuclear deal is back on track.
It has also become shameful and humiliating that Lebanese political leaders are asking other countries to not take measures against it while all this is taking place and Lebanon bears responsibility. This is “Stockholm syndrome” politics at its highest level. If Lebanon cannot clean its own house, we should not expect change from others. There is no longer a place for the politicians’ justification of a “bitter pill” for the greater good. The greater good of Lebanon comes with the end of Hezbollah’s status. It is time all politicians stopped marketing this greater good phrase while protecting Hezbollah, as this is what is dragging the country into more chaos. Change will only come with an end to Hezbollah’s military arsenal and its status of being above and controlling the state; Vichy-like trials would also be needed.
Another important point to investigate is that there is no drug trade without money laundering. For every flow of goods, there is a flow of money going in the opposite direction. At the very least, investigations should focus on this. Which banks or local financial institutions might have facilitated this? Could the Banque du Liban have played a historical role in covering such operations for Hezbollah until the US sanctions were imposed? It is high time for a thorough, forensic investigation into trading and financial institutions — private and public — in Lebanon.
We are at a decisive time. As the world re-engages with Iran through the nuclear deal, it should not ease up on Hezbollah’s illegal activities and the IRGC. The US should continue sanctioning Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon and everywhere else. The US Justice Department, which in 2018 designated Hezbollah as a transnational crime organization, should keep focusing on and disrupting these activities. It is also a much-needed message to Iran that Hezbollah’s activities will not be tolerated.
It is also important for the US and the European nations involved in the nuclear deal to properly categorize Hezbollah as what it really is. It is not a Lebanese political party, it is not a group resisting occupation, it is not a social organization for the Shiite community — it is a non-state terrorist organization with its master in Tehran.
The international community needs to understand that one cannot build a country with an organization that conducts such activities. This cannot be accepted; even pragmatism does not allow it. It is time to put pressure on Iran in Lebanon, or else this will be its first step toward blackmailing the Mediterranean region and Europe. Iran should integrate and play a role in the future of the region as the nuclear deal intends, but it needs to give up these activities and Hezbollah’s current structure. This is as essential as a nuclear deal.

Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Explained: How Hezbollah built a drug empire via its ‘narcoterrorist strategy’

1 / 5
Hezbollah is accused of exploiting the disarray in Syria by producing drugs in the war-torn country before exporting them for financial gain. Counter-narcotics agencies have recently foiled several smuggling operations. (AFP)
2 / 5
Supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement drive in a convoy in Kfar Kila on the Lebanese border with Israel on Oct. 25, 2019. (Photo by Ali Dia / AFP)
3 / 5
Lebanese Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah is cheered by his supporters as he speaks through a giant screen in Beirut's southern suburb. (AFP file photo)
4 / 5
A Saudi anti-narcotics officer arranges a display of Captagon pills and pomegranates shipped from Lebanon. (SPA file photo)
5 / 5
Captagon pills are exposed from a crushed pomegranate fruit that was part of a fruit shipment from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia. (SPA file photo);
Short Url
Updated 03 May 2021

Explained: How Hezbollah built a drug empire via its ‘narcoterrorist strategy’

  • Discovery of amphetamines in two consignments has compelled Kingdom to ban import of fruit and vegetables from Lebanon
  • The pills may have originated in Syria, where drug production exploded during the war in areas under Assad regime control

DUBAI: Lebanese fruits and vegetables are no longer welcome in Saudi Arabia after the Kingdom’s vigilant port authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle narcotics inside pomegranates.

Last month, Jeddah Islamic Port’s customs officers seized more than 5 million Captagon pills expertly hidden in a pomegranate consignment from Lebanon. Separately, amphetamine pills stashed in a pomegranate shipment from Lebanon were seized in Dammam’s King Abdulaziz Port.

The Kingdom responded to the incident by banning the import and transit of fruits and vegetables coming from Lebanon.

Waleed Al-Bukhari, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon, disclosed that there had been attempts to smuggle more than 600 million pills from Lebanon during the past six years.

Deploring the economic impact of the drug bust and import ban, Michel Moawad, a Lebanese politician who resigned from parliament in protest over the Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut blast, said that farmers and legitimate importers are “today paying the price because of Captagon smugglers.”

“What are we gaining by exporting missiles, militias and drugs?” he said. “What are our interests when we are hostile to Arabs and the international community, when we go fight in Yemen and other places?”

When Moawad demanded that Lebanon’s “soil must remain totally sovereign, without security strongholds, illegal weapons, missiles, military training camps for Houthis and no Captagon factories,” he did not have to explicitly name Hezbollah.

The failed attempt to smuggle the amphetamine pills into Saudi Arabia is most likely linked to the Iran-aligned Shiite group with an active military wing, an unnamed source told the Independent Persian.

The source pointed to Hezbollah’s reputed association with the smuggling of drugs, including Captagon pills manufactured in Syria, a charge the group strenuously denies.

The source added that Hezbollah, by virtue of its authority over both “legal and illegal” border checkpoints between Syria and Lebanon, has unchecked control over all drug-related operations.

Hezbollah officials and politicians have yet to comment on the accusations.

Captagon pills recovered by saudi anti-narcotics officers from a pomegranate shipment from Lebanon are put on display. (SPA)

Lebanese security officials have arrested four people so far on suspicion of being connected with the seized cargo. Local news media reports speculated that the pomegranates came from Syria via either the Al-Masnaa border checkpoint or the northern border crossing of Al-Aboudeyye.

After the certificate of origin was changed from Syrian to Lebanese, the consignment was shipped to Saudi Arabia through Beirut’s port, which lacks scanning devices for detecting drugs. The Independent Persian cited the source as saying “the Captagon was produced in Syria, transported to Beirut then consigned to the Kingdom.”

Earlier in April, Greek authorities seized more than four tons of cannabis hidden in a shipment of dessert-making machines heading from Lebanon to Slovakia in the country’s main port of Piraeus, following a tip from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Greece’s authorities said that the street value of the drugs was estimated at $4 million and that Saudi Arabia’s drug enforcement agency assisted them in the case.

Supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement drive in a convoy in Kfar Kila on the Lebanese border with Israel on Oct. 25, 2019. (Photo by Ali Dia / AFP)

In January, the BBC aired a documentary that showed Italian police burning 85 million amphetamine pills, weighing 14 tons, that had been seized in June 2020. Italy’s financial crimes police said that the contraband came from the Syrian port of Latakia.

The origin of the contraband was initially thought to be Daesh but turned out to be Syria, according to the BBC’s documentary, which alleged that the Syrian regime and its ally, Hezbollah, are deep into the drug trade as a major source of funding.

The size of the haul indicated that the amphetamine pills were manufactured on a very large scale in proper factories, something that was evidently beyond the ability of Daesh given the loss of most of its territory. That left areas under the control of Syrian President Bashar Assad as the likely source of the pills.

The BBC’s report mentioned, however, that Captagon is produced illegally in Lebanon. The Italian authorities did not publicly announce a possible manufacturer of the pills but confirmed that they came from Latakia.

Illegal drug production is believed to have exploded in Syria during the civil war, emerging as a source of much-needed income for the Assad regime. The ruling clique and its foreign allies have used the proceeds from drug trafficking to evade sanctions imposed by the West.

Narcotics like Captagon pills and hashish are considered key sources of income for both Hezbollah and the Syrian regime. (AFP)

Amphetamine in Captagon is also known for its fear-inhibiting and stimulating effects, which have proved useful during protracted firefights in war-torn areas in the Middle East.

In the past few years, authorities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Jordan, among other countries, have seized enormous quantities of Captagon, often in shipments originating in Syria.

In a televised address in January, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said that accusations about its involvement in amphetamine production had “no credibility.”

“Our position on drugs, of all kinds, is (clear). It’s religiously banned to manufacture, sell, buy, smuggle and consume. In some cases, the punishment could even be execution, according to Sharia laws,” he said.

However, US and European drugs agencies are convinced that Hezbollah profits from the drug trade. Europol, a European law enforcement agency, issued a report in 2020 cautioning that Hezbollah members were using European cities as a base for trading in “drugs and diamonds” and to launder the profits.


  • 10,100 - Hashish packets seized on Syria-Jordan border in 2020.
  • 4.1 million - Captagon pills seized on Syria-Jordan border in 2020.
  • $4 million - Market value of drugs seized by Greece with Saudi help in April.
  • $24 million - Lebanon’s annual fruit & vegetable trade with KSA until the ban.
  • 85 million - Amphetamine pills seized in Italy in June 2020.

In 2018, the US State Department named Hezbollah among the top five global criminal organizations. Reports indicate that Hezbollah’s criminal operations have increased of late in response to Iranian directives to generate income as part of its efforts to dodge US sanctions.

For their part, police in Israel have accused Hezbollah of smuggling hashish into the country.

Lebanon is known to be one of the world’s top producers of cannabis, which is widely cultivated in areas considered strongholds of Hezbollah, notably Baalbek and Hermel.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Last year, the US State Department and Washington’s intelligence community said that there was ample evidence to support claims linking Hezbollah to criminal activities, including drug trafficking, in South America and Europe.

Since 2009, many Lebanese have been sanctioned by the US Treasury for their connection to organized crime, involving drug trafficking and money laundering. Many of those sanctioned were linked to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has built strong connections with the tri-border area of Paraguay-Argentina-Brazil in South America, home to more than 5 million people of Lebanese origin. Local contacts are believed to facilitate and conceal Hezbollah’s drug-trafficking, money-laundering and terrorist-financing operations in this area.

Antoine Kanaan, editor in chief of Lebanon Law Review, says that there is little doubt that Hezbollah was behind the Captagon found in the consignment of pomegranates that reached Jeddah.

He said that pomegranate is not even commercially produced in Lebanon, adding that it is a secondary fruit crop whose cultivation is "restricted to plots of land as small as private orchards and gardens.

Pomegranates are among Lebanon's major agricultural export to Saudi Arabia. (SPA photo)

By contrast, Syria is well known for its pomegranate production, especially in areas such as Daraa, he told Arab News.

“That means that the pomegranates that went from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia originated in Syria,” said Kanaan, who believes that the Captagon was inserted into the fruits in Lebanon.

The amount of Captagon involved and the ingenuity of the plot confirm Hezbollah’s involvement, or at least consent and profit-sharing, according to Kanaan, who further noted that consensus governs everything in Lebanon, even drugs.

“I believe Hezbollah is the number one Captagon supplier in the region and there’s no way an independent Lebanese trader, or even the Syrian government, would have dared pull this off without involving Hezbollah,” he said.

As to why the drugs were sent to Saudi Arabia, Kanaan said: “It is possible but unlikely that they were headed for (Iran-backed Houthi) fighters in Yemen.”

To sustain its paramilitary force, the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement export drugs to countries it considers non-allies, such as Saudi Arabia. (AFP file photo)

Brig. Gen. Adel Machmouchi, a former chief of antinarcotics department at Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, said that the drug bust in Jeddah has exposed Lebanon as one of the countries that does not cooperate with international drug-enforcement bodies.

In a TV interview over the weekend, he suggested that the Lebanese ministries and security bodies concerned should have “better and closer control” over areas — in Bekaa Valley and northern Lebanon — where illegal farming and production of drugs takes place.

He said that the government should transform those illegal businesses into legitimate, productive projects.

Machmouchi said that punishments “are not harsh enough to curtail crimes of producing, trafficking and smuggling drugs,” and should be made harsher to act as a deterrent.

He claimed there are about 20 factories used to produce Captagon pills in Lebanon. “Lebanese antinarcotics bodies should (join forces) with counterparts in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries to be able to combat this crime and halt the process of using Lebanon as a launchpad to smuggle drugs,” Machmouchi said.

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine

Updated 13 May 2021

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine

  • Authorities allow only 30 percent capacity at mosques for the Eid prayers as worshippers spread out in the open-air squares in central Beirut
  • Religious leader raps errors of government and warns of ‘revolt of the hungry’ during holiday sermon

BEIRUT: Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Lebanon were very scarce on Thursday as the country was in the middle of a two-day total closure and curfew to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

As people avoided gatherings in homes and public places during what is supposed to be a joyous time, one prominent religious leader expressed fear during his Eid sermon.

“People will starve as a result of the errors and sins of the government, and from an explosion or social violence, which will lead to the revolt of the hungry,” said Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, grand mufti of Lebanon.

“When this happens, remorse will not be helpful.”

He also accused “political officials of regressing to low levels of violating the constitution, striking the judiciary, resorting to sectarian delusions, and dividing citizens.”

The joy of Eid could not be seen on the faces of the Lebanese people as living conditions continue to deteriorate in a country gripped in financial and political turmoil. 

Authorities allowed only 30 percent capacity at mosques for the Eid prayers as worshippers spread out in the open-air squares surrounding the Al-Amin Mosque in central Beirut.

The prayers were led by Sheikh Derian as Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab were among the many who participated in the prayer.

The Israeli-Gaza violence and unrest dominated the Eid sermon, but the political reality and the poor living conditions within Lebanon were also addressed in the sermon from Sheikh Derian.

“The collapse and devastation that we are living through it can only be stopped by the birth of a government that addresses the corruption and decay that Lebanon has seen for the first time in decades,” Mufti Derian said. “We need a government that carries out the required reforms. Anything else counts as deception.”

He also criticized “those working in public political affairs for failing their citizens when they indulged in corruption and prevented the formation of a government capable of stopping the collapse, beginning reconstruction, and seeking help from the international community.”

It was noticeable that the Arab and Islamic diplomatic presence was absent from the central Eid prayer in downtown Beirut.

The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, performed Eid prayers in the garden of his residence in the Yarze district while a number of ambassadors of Arab and Islamic countries and embassy staff joined him. The embassy took the initial precautionary measures related to the coronavirus.

Measures to remove subsidies on more subsidized food commodities, fuel and medicines added even more concern to a continuing list of hardships experienced by the Lebanese people even before Ramadan.

Many pharmacies closed their doors because owners did not receive the minimum needs of medicine and baby milk from agents and warehouses.

Despite the complete closure, petrol stations remained busy as people fear more fuel shortages.

“The ships that produce power will stop on Saturday, and the factories will follow suit,” Abdo Saadeh, president of the Association of Private Generator Owners, said on Thursday.

“This means that the rationing of electric current in Lebanon may exceed 20 hours. In parallel, there is a shortage of diesel that feeds private generators, which means we are on the verge of a big problem.”

The fuel crisis affects vital sectors in Lebanon, as the secretary-general of the Lebanese Red Cross, Georges Kettaneh, announced that the Red Cross “has prepared a plan to fill its cars with fuel, and there is no crisis yet.”

The head of the Syndicate of Private Hospital Owners, Suleiman Haroun, said: “If Lebanon enters darkness as a result of not providing the funds allocated for the purchase of fuel, many patients in need of oxygen and dialysis machines will be affected.”

Haroun warned that private hospitals have generators, but it is impossible to ask hospitals to supply themselves with electricity 24 hours a day because “these generators are there to support the network and be a substitute for any malfunctions that occur.”

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

  • The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April
  • Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine

CAIRO: Egypt has received a batch of over 1.7 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses through the COVAX initiative and a separate shipment of 500,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, the health ministry said on Thursday.
The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April. It has also received several shipments of the Sinopharm vaccine, bringing the total number of vaccine doses delivered to 5 million, the health ministry said.
Egypt has an agreement for the supply of 20 million Sinopharm doses, and has been allocated 4.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX.
It is preparing to produce the Sinovac and Sputnik vaccines locally.
Egypt, with a population of just over 100 million, is trying to contain a third wave of COVID-19 infections and the government has put in place some restrictive measures until May 21, shortening opening hours and banning large gatherings.
Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine. Authorities opened a mass vaccination center in Cairo this month capable of vaccinating 10,000 people per day.
Egypt had officially confirmed 240,927 coronavirus cases including 14,091 deaths as of Wednesday.
Officials and experts say the real number of infections is far higher, but is not reflected in government figures because of low testing rates and the exclusion of private test results.

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Updated 13 May 2021

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

  • Violence lay heavy on hearts of parents of children dressed in new clothes and clutching balloons reveling to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Jerusalem’s Old City
  • As sun began to break over al-Aqsa mosque crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark Ramadan’s end

JERUSALEM: Dressed in sparkly new clothes and clutching balloons, excited children Thursday revelled in the Muslim Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City.
But days of violence lay heavy on their parents’ hearts.
As the first rays of sun began to break over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam, crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The three-day festival is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping for new clothes, gifts and sweets.
Stalls stacked high with colorful plastic toys, or tasty sesame-dipped snacks that are a Jerusalem specialty, tempted the crowds snaking along the Old City’s narrow stone streets.
At the centuries-old Damascus Gate, scene of violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and police at the start of Ramadan, two huge bundles of helium-filled balloons fluttered in the spring breeze. Mickey Mouse and Spiderman could be spotted bobbing among them.
Just three days ago, Israeli police deployed so-called skunk water there — a putrid mixture of sewage water — to disperse the crowds after a weekend of unrest in different parts of Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured as well as dozens of Israeli police in the clashes which also erupted on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, on which the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock shrine also stand.
The convulsion of violence has since spread, engulfing the Gaza Strip run by the Islamic militant Hamas movement, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and Israeli cities which have seen unprecedented mob clashes between Jewish and Arab residents.
On Thursday the boom of rocket fire could be periodically heard in Jerusalem, where calm has mainly returned to the streets. But many believe it may just be the calm before a further storm.
“Do you see any problems, there, right now? No,” said Jabbar, who is in his 60s, pointing at crowds of Palestinians being carefully watched by heavily-armed Israeli police at Damascus gate.
“But it could flare up again at any minute,” he warned grimly.
“Everything will return to normal if God so wishes it,” said Fefka, who lives in the east Jerusalem quarter of Issawiya.
“The violence has to stop, but everything is only done for the settlers here,” she added angrily.
“Jerusalem is also ours,” she insisted, denouncing Israeli settlers who have moved into the east of the city since it was seized in the 1967 war.
According to the United Nations, east Jerusalem has been illegally occupied and annexed by Israel since then.
Hiba, 26, and Soujoud, 21, have been visiting the Al-Aqsa compound since Friday, the day the troubles erupted, triggered by the threat of evicting Palestinian families from their east Jerusalem homes to allow settlers to move in.
“Morning and evening, we stayed at Al-Aqsa,” said Soujoud, a secretarial student. “We don’t want any problems (with the police), but the mosque is ours and we have to defend it,” she added.
On the site, which overlooks the sprawling Old City below, children were entertained by a clown, while adults brandished Hamas flags and rolled out banners praising the Islamist movement.
“Jerusalem is a red line,” read one of the banners.
On Al-Wad Street which crosses the Old City, some passers-by were wearing shirts decorated with Palestinian flags, others had painted them on the cheeks.
Many were wearing the black-and-white chequered keffiyah scarf which has become a symbol of the Palestinian cause.
“We feel very sad for the Eid today, because of the situation and the violence,” said Hiba.
“We can’t be happy when we see what is happening in Gaza and elsewhere.”


Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel

Updated 18 sec ago

Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel

  • Death toll in Gaza tops 100 since violence escalated on Monday
  • Seven people have been killed in Israel, its military said

GAZA/JERUSALEM: Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel’s commercial heartland on Thursday as Israel kept up a punishing bombing campaign in Gaza and massed tanks and troops on the enclave’s border.
The four days of cross-border violence showed no sign of abating and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the campaign “will take more time.”
The violence has also spread to mixed communities of Jews and Arabs in Israel, a new front in the long conflict.
Synagogues were attacked and fighting broke out on the streets of some communities, prompting Israel’s president to warn of the danger of civil war.

Worried that the region’s worst hostilities in years could spiral out of control, the United States is sending an envoy, Hady Amr. Truce efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have so far offered no sign of progress.
In renewed air strikes on Gaza, Israeli warplanes struck a six-story residential building that it said belonged to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave. Netanyahu said Israel has struck close to a thousand militant targets in Gaza in total.
The Gaza health ministry said 87 people, including 18 children and eight women, have been killed and 530 others wounded — further straining hospitals already under heavy pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“We are facing Israel and Covid-19. We are in between two enemies,” said Asad Karam, 20, a construction worker, standing beside a road damaged during the air strikes. An electricity pole had collapsed by the road, its wires severed.
A Palestinian rocket had earlier crashed into a building near Israel’s commercial capital of Tel Aviv, injuring five Israelis, police said. Seven people have been killed in Israel since hostilities began, the Israeli military said.
Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparing ground operations,” a military spokesman said, a move that would recall similar incursions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008-2009.
Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida responded to the troop buildup with defiance, urging Palestinians to rise up.
“Mass up as you wish, from the sea, land and sky. We have prepared for your kinds of deaths that would make you curse yourselves,” he said.



Health authorities in Gaza said they were investigating the deaths of several people overnight who they said may have inhaled poisonous gas.
US President Joe Biden said he hoped fighting “will be closing down” sooner rather than later.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed in a video call for an end to the fighting.
“The main goal is to stop violent acts from both sides and ensure the safety of the civilian population,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Palestinians gather to pray around the bodies of 13 Hamas militants, killed in Israeli air strikes, during their funeral at the al-Omari mosque in Gaza City. (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron also urged a “definite reset” of negotiations between the two sides, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an “urgent de-escalation” of violence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will continue strikes against the military capabilities of Hamas and other Gaza groups. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist group by the United States and Israel.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas commander and bombed several buildings which Israel said were linked to the faction’s activities.
Israel unleashed its offensive after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Palestinians walk after performing Eid al-Fitr prayers amidst debris near the Al-Sharouk tower. (AFP)

The hostilities have opened a new front by fueling tension between Israeli Jews and the country’s 21 percent Arab minority who live alongside them in some communities.
Jewish and Arab groups attacked people and damaged shops, hotels and cars overnight. In Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, dozens of Jews beat and kicked a man thought to be an Arab as he lay on the ground.
One person was shot and badly wounded by Arabs in the town of Lod, where authorities imposed a curfew, and over 150 arrests were made in Lod and Arab towns in northern Israel, police said.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for an end to “this madness.”
“We are endangered by rockets that are being launched at our citizens and streets, and we are busying ourselves with a senseless civil war among ourselves,” he said.
A number of foreign carriers have canceled flights to Israel because of the unrest.
The fatalities in Israel include a soldier killed while patrolling the Gaza border and six civilians, including two children and an Indian worker, medical authorities said.
The Israeli military said some 400 of 1,600 rockets fired by Gaza factions had fallen short, potentially causing some Palestinian civilian casualties.
The conflict has led to the freezing of talks by Netanyahu’s opponents on forming a governing coalition to unseat him after Israel’s inconclusive March 23 election.
Although the latest problems in Jerusalem were the immediate trigger for hostilities, Palestinians are frustrated by setbacks to their aspirations for an independent state in recent years, including Washington’s recognition of disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Israel destroys tower block, kills Hamas commander as Gaza civilian death toll mounts

Updated 13 May 2021

Israel destroys tower block, kills Hamas commander as Gaza civilian death toll mounts

  • At least 56 people in Gaza, including 14 children, two Palestinians in the West Bank
  • Six Israelis have also been killed in the ongoing conflict

TEL AVIV: Heavy exchanges of rocket fire and air strikes, and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab towns, fueled fears Wednesday that deadly violence between Israel and Palestinians could spiral into “full-scale war.”

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz vowed more attacks on Hamas and other Islamist militant groups in Gaza to bring “total, long-term quiet” before considering a cease-fire.

“This is just the beginning,” warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We’ll deliver them blows they haven’t dreamt of.”
Gaza militants have launched more than 1,000 rockets since Monday, said Israel’s army, which has carried out hundreds of air strikes on Islamist groups in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza.
The most intense hostilities in seven years have killed at least 56 people in Gaza, including 14 children, and six in Israel, including an Israeli soldier and one Indian national, since Monday.


Three Palestinians were killed in West Bank clashes. And at least 230 Palestinians and 100 Israelis have been wounded.
An Israeli soldier was killed on Wednesday when Palestinian militants in Gaza fired an anti-tank missile near the border, the army said, amid tit-for-tat rocket fire and air strikes.
A statement from the army identified the soldier as Omer Tabib, 21, who was “killed this morning by the anti-tank missile launched by the Hamas terror group from Gaza at Israel.”
The bloodshed was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
As world powers voiced growing alarm over the crisis, the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland warned that “we’re escalating toward a full-scale war.”
The UN Security Council held another emergency meeting without agreeing on a joint statement due to opposition from the United States, Israel’s ally.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for an immediate end to violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories that has killed more than 50 people since Monday.
“Everything must be done to prevent a broader conflict, which will, first and foremost, affect the civilian populations on both sides,” Borrell said in a statement that condemned actions by both sides.


France’s foreign minister said the international community must do everything possible to avert a new conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, after Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rockets and the Israeli army launched air strikes.
“The cycle of violence in Gaza, in Jerusalem but also in the West Bank and several cities in Israel risk leading to a major escalation,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament. “Everything must be done to avoid... a conflict” that would be the fourth such deadly confrontation in the last 15 years, he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet in order to halt violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking alongside UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Lavrov said: “Today we’ve come to the common opinion that the most pressing task is to convene the Quartet of international mediators — Russia, the United States, the UN and the EU.”
Sergei Vershinin, a Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, called on Israel to “immediately” stop all settlement activities in the Palestinian Territories, RIA news agency reported.
Vershinin also said that Moscow called for the “status quo of Jerusalem’s sacred sites” to be respected, RIA reported. 
China’s special envoy on the Middle East, Zhai Jun, expressed “deep concern” over escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israel and urged all parties to exercise restraint to avoid further casualties.

In a meeting with Arab envoys and the chief representative of the Arab League in China, Zhai said Beijing would continue to push the UN Security Council to take action on the situation in East Jerusalem as soon as possible, according to a foreign ministry statement.

Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in the mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli city of Lod, where police said “wide-scale riots erupted among some of the Arab residents,” and authorities later imposed an overnight curfew there.
There were fears of widening civil unrest as protesters waving Palestinian flags burnt cars and properties, including a synagogue, clashed with Israeli police and attacked Jewish motorists in several Jewish-Arab towns.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a “pogrom” in which “an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob” had injured people and attacked sacred Jewish spaces.
Rivlin said Israelis needed “to be ready and armed, strong and determined, prepared to defend our home.”


Palestinian groups, mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have launched more than 1,000 rockets, Israel’s army said, including hundreds at Tel Aviv, where air sirens wailed overnight.
Of these, 850 have hit in Israel or been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, while the rest have crashed inside Gaza, the army said.
Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on Gaza, the Israeli-blockaded strip of two million people that Hamas controls, targeting what the army described as “terror” sites.
Hamas said several of its top commanders were killed in Israeli strikes, including its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa. Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, also identified three other top Hamas militants who it said were killed.


Its leader Ismail Haniyeh threatened to step up attacks, warning that “if Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged both sides to “step back from the brink.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said “everything must be done” to avoid a new Middle East conflict.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a US envoy would travel to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders to seek “a de-escalation of violence.”
In Gaza City, people sifted through debris after an Israeli air strike destroyed a 12-story building that Hamas had been a residential building. It was also known to house the offices of several Hamas officials.
Five members of a single family were killed by an Israeli strike in northern Gaza Tuesday, including young brothers Ibrahim and Marwan, who were filling sacks of straw at the time.
“We were laughing and having fun when suddenly they began to bomb us. Everything around us caught fire,” their cousin, also called Ibrahim, told AFP.
“I saw my cousins set alight and torn to pieces,” said the 14-year-old, breaking down in tears.




        This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

In Israel’s central city of Lod, a man and a girl were killed Wednesday by rocket fire from Gaza. Israel identified one of the dead as 16-year-old Nadin Awad, an Arab Israeli.
Her cousin, Ahmad Ismail, told public broadcaster Kan that he was near Nadin when she was killed alongside her father Khalil Awad, 52.
“I was at home, we heard the noise of the rocket,” said Ismail. “It happened so quickly. Even if we had wanted to run somewhere, we don’t have a safe room.”
An Israeli woman was killed when rockets hit Rishon Letzion near Tel Aviv. In Ashkelon, a town near Gaza which Hamas threatened to turn into “hell,” rockets fired by militants killed two women Tuesday.
The crisis flared last Friday when weeks of tensions boiled over and Israeli riot police clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.
Nightly disturbances have since flared in east Jerusalem, leaving more than 900 Palestinians injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Large protests have been held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world, including in Britain and South Africa as well as in Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.

(With Reuters and AFP)