BAGHDAD: On the banks of the Tigris River one recent evening, young Iraqi men and women in jeans and sneakers danced with joyous abandon to a local rap star as a vermillion sun set behind them. It’s a world away from the terror that followed the US invasion 20 years ago.
Iraq ‘s capital today is throbbing with life and a sense of renewal, its residents enjoying a rare, peaceful interlude in a painful modern history. The wooden stalls of the city’s open-air book market are piled skyward with dusty paperbacks and crammed with shoppers of all ages and incomes. In a suburb once a hotbed of Al-Qaeda, affluent young men cruise their muscle cars, while a recreational cycling club hosts weekly biking trips to former war zones. A few glitzy buildings sparkle where bombs once fell.
President George W. Bush called the US-led invasion on March 20, 2003, a mission to free the Iraqi people and root out weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein’s government was toppled in 26 days. Two years later, the CIA’s chief weapons inspector reported no stockpiles of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons were ever found.
The war deposed a dictator whose imprisonment, torture and execution of dissenters kept 20 million people in fear for a quarter of a century. But it also broke what had been a unified state at the heart of the Arab world, opening a power vacuum and leaving oil-rich Iraq a wounded nation in the Middle East, ripe for a power struggle among Iran, Arab Gulf states, the United States, terrorist groups and Iraq’s own rival sects and parties.
For Iraqis, the enduring trauma of the violence that followed is undeniable — an estimated 300,000 Iraqis were killed between 2003 and 2019, according to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, as were more than 8,000 US military, contractors and civilians. The period was marred by unemployment, dislocation, sectarian violence and terrorism, and years without reliable electricity or other public services.
Today, half of Iraq’s population of 40 million isn’t old enough to remember life under Saddam or much about the US invasion. In dozens of recent interviews from Baghdad to Fallujah, young Iraqis deplored the loss of stability that followed Saddam’s downfall — but they said the war is in the past, and many were hopeful about nascent freedoms and opportunities to pursue their dreams.
In a marbled, chandeliered reception room in the palace where Saddam once lived, seated in an overstuffed damask chair and surrounded by paintings by modern Iraqi artists, President Abdul Latif Rashid, who assumed office in October, spoke glowingly of the country’s prospects. The world’s perception of Iraq as a war-torn country is frozen in time, he told The Associated Press in an interview.
Iraq is rich; peace has returned, he said, and there are opportunities ahead for young people in a country experiencing a population boom. “If they’re a little bit patient, I think life will improve drastically in Iraq.”
Most Iraqis aren’t nearly as bullish. Conversations begin with bitterness that the ouster of Saddam left the country broken and ripe for violence and exploitation by sectarian militias, politicians and criminals bent on self-enrichment or beholden to other nations. Yet, speaking to younger Iraqis, one senses a generation ready to turn a page.
Safaa Rashid, 26, is a ponytailed writer who talks politics with friends at a cozy coffee shop in the Karada district of the capital. With a well-stocked library nook, photos of Iraqi writers and travel posters, the café and its clientele could as easily be found in Brooklyn or London.
Rashid was a child when the Americans arrived, but rues “the loss of a state, a country that had law and establishment” that followed the invasion. The Iraqi state lay broken and vulnerable to international and domestic power struggles, he said. Today is different; he and like-minded peers can sit in a coffee shop and freely talk about solutions. “I think the young people will try to fix this situation.”
Another day, a different café. Noor Alhuda Saad, 26, a Ph.D. candidate at Mustansiriya University who describes herself as a political activist, says her generation has been leading protests decrying corruption, demanding services and seeking more inclusive elections — and won’t stop till they’ve built a better Iraq.
“After 2003, the people who came to power” — old-guard Sunni and Shiite parties and their affiliated militias and gangs — “did not understand about sharing democracy,” she said, tapping her pale green fingernails on the tabletop.
“Young people like me are born into this environment and trying to change the situation,” she added, blaming the government for failing to restore public services and establish a fully democratic state in the aftermath of occupation. “The people in power do not see these as important issues for them to solve. And that is why we are active.”
Signs of the invasion and insurgency have been largely erased from Baghdad. The former Palestine Hotel, Ferdous Square, the Green Zone, the airport road pockmarked by IED and machine-gun attacks have been landscaped or covered in fresh stucco and paint.
The invasion exists only in memory: bright orange flashes and concussions of American “shock-and-awe” bombs raining down in a thunderous cacophony; tanks rolling along the embankment; Iraqi forces battling across the Tigris or wading into water to avoid US troops; civilian casualties and the desperate, failed effort to save a fellow journalist gravely wounded by a US tank strike in the final days of the battle for Baghdad. Pillars of smoke rose over the city as Iraqi civilians began looting ministries and US Marines pulled down the famous Saddam statue.
What appeared to be a swift victory for the US-led forces was illusory: The greatest loss of life came in the months and years that followed. The occupation stoked a stubborn guerrilla resistance, bitter fights for control of the countryside and cities, a protracted civil war, and the rise of the Daesh group that spread terror beyond Iraq and Syria, throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe.
The long, staggeringly costly experience in Iraq exposed the limitations of America’s ability to export democracy and chastened Washington’s approach to foreign engagements, at least temporarily. In Iraq, its democracy is yet to be defined.
Blast walls have given way to billboards, restaurants, cafes and shopping centers — even over-the-top real estate developments. With 7 million inhabitants, Baghdad is the Middle East’s second-largest city after Cairo, and its streets teem with cars and commerce at all hours, testing the skill of traffic guards in shiny reflective caps.
Daily life here looks not so different from any other Arab metropolis. But in the distant deserts of northern and western Iraq, there are occasional clashes with remnants of the Daesh group. The low-boil conflict involves Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Iraqi army troops and some 2,500 US military advisers still in country.
It is but one of the country’s lingering problems. Another is endemic corruption; a 2022 government audit found a network of former officials and businessmen stole $2.5 billion.
Meanwhile, digital natives are testing the boundaries of identity and free speech, especially on TikTok and Instagram. They sometimes look over their shoulders, aware that shadowy militias connected to political parties may be listening, ready to squelch too much liberalism. More than a dozen social media influencers were arrested recently in a crackdown on “immoral” content, and this month authorities said they would enforce a long-dormant law banning alcohol imports.
In 2019-20, fed-up Iraqis, especially young people, protested across the country against corruption and lack of basic services. After more than 600 were killed by government forces and militias, parliament agreed to a series of election law changes designed to allow more minorities and independent groups to share power.
The sun bakes down on Fallujah, the main city in the Anbar region that was once a hotbed for Al-Qaeda of Iraq and, later, the Daesh group. Beneath the iron girders of the city’s bridge across the Euphrates, three 18-year-olds are returning home from school for lunch.
In 2004, this bridge was the site of a gruesome tableau. Four Americans from military contractor Blackwater were ambushed, their bodies dragged through the streets, hacked, burned and hung as trophies by local insurgents, while some residents chanted in celebration. For the 18-year-olds, it’s a story they’ve heard from their families — distant and irrelevant to their lives.
One wants to be a pilot, two aspire to be doctors. Their focus is on getting good grades, they say.
Fallujah today is experiencing a construction renaissance under former Anbar Gov. Mohammed Al-Halbousi, now speaker of Iraq’s parliament. He has helped direct millions of dollars in government funding to rebuild the city, which experienced repeated waves of fighting, including two US military campaigns to rid the city of Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
Fallujah gleams with new apartments, hospitals, amusement parks, a promenade and a renewed gate to the city. Its markets and streets are bustling. But officials were wary of letting Western reporters wander the city without an escort. The AP team’s first attempt to enter was foiled at a checkpoint.
The prime minister’s office intervened the next day, and the visit was allowed, but only with police following reporters at a distance, ostensibly for protection. The disagreement over security and press access is a sign of the uncertainty that overhangs life here.
Still, Dr. Houthifa Alissawi, 40, an imam and mosque leader, says such tensions are trifling compared with what his congregation lived through. Iraq has been engulfed in war for half of his life. When the Daesh group overran Fallujah, his mosque was seized, and he was ordered to preach in favor of the “caliphate” or be killed. He told them he’d think about it, he said, and then fled to Baghdad. He counted 16 killings of members of his mosque.
“Iraq has had many wars. We lost a lot — whole families,” he said. These days, he said, he is enjoying the new sense of security he feels in Fallujah. “If it stays like now, it is perfect.” ___
Sadr City, a working-class, conservative and largely Shiite suburb in eastern Baghdad, is home to more than 1.5 million people. In a grid of thickly populated streets, women wear abayas and hijabs and tend to stay inside the house. Fiery populist religious leader Moqtada Al-Sadr, 49, is still the dominant political power, though he rarely travels here from his base in Najaf, 125 miles to the south. His portraits, and those of his ayatollah father, killed by gunmen in Saddam’s time, loom large.
On a clamorous, pollution-choked avenue, two friends have side-by-side shops: Haider Al-Saady, 28, fixes tires for taxis and the three-wheeled motorized “tuk-tuks” that jam potholed streets, while Ali Al-Mummadwi, 22, sells lumber for construction.
Thick skeins of wires hooked up to generators form a canopy over the neighborhood. City power stays on for just two hours at a time; after that, everyone relies on generators.
They say they work 10 hours every day and scoff when told of the Iraqi president’s promises that life will be better for the young generation.
“It is all talk, not serious,” Al-Saady said, shaking his head. Sadr City was a hotbed of anti-Saddam sentiment, but Al-Saady — too young to remember the fallen dictator — nevertheless expressed nostalgia for that era’s stability.
His companion echoes him: “Saddam was a dictator, but the people were living better, peacefully.” Dismissing current officials as pawns of outside powers, Al-Mummadwi added, “We would like a strong leader, an independent leader.”
When news spread recently that a musician born and raised in Baghdad whose songs have gotten millions of views on YouTube would headline a rap party hosted at a fancy new restaurant in western Baghdad, his fans shared their excitement via texts and Instagram.
Khalifa OG raps about the difficulties of finding work and satirizes authority, but his lyrics aren’t blatantly political. A song he performed under strobe lights on a grassy lawn next to the Tigris mocks “sheikhs” who wield power in the new Iraq through wealth or political connections.
Fan Abdullah Rubaie, 24, could barely contain his excitement. “Peace for sure makes it easier” for young people to gather like this, he said. His stepbrother Ahmed Rubaie, 30, agreed.
The Sunni-Shia sectarianism that led to a pitched civil war in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, with bodies of executed victims turning up each morning on neighborhood streets or dumped into the river, is one of the societal wounds that the rappers and their fans want to heal.
“We had a lot of pain ... it had to stop,” Ahmed Rubaie said. “It is not exactly vanished, but it’s not like before.”
Secular young people say that unlike their parents who lived under Saddam, they’re not afraid to make their voices heard. The 2019 demonstrations gave them confidence, even in the face of backlash from pro-religious parties.
“It broke a wall that was there before,” Ahmed Rubaie said.
Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, took office in October. A former government minister for human rights and governor of Maysan province, southeast of Baghdad, he won support from a coalition of pro-Iranian Shiite parties after a yearlong stalemate. Unlike other Shiite politicians who fled during the Saddam era, he never left Iraq, even when his father and five brothers were executed.
Working in a former Saddam palace that US and British officers and civilian experts once used as headquarters for their frenetic attempts at nation-building, Al-Sudani still grapples with some of the issues that plagued the occupiers, including restoring regional relations and balancing interests among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. He said building trust between the people and government will be his first priority.
“We need to see tangible results — job opportunities, services, social justice,” Al-Sudani said. “These are the priorities of the people.”
One of the Shiite militias that took part in that campaign against the Daesh group is Ketaib Hezbollah, or the Hezbollah Battalions, widely viewed as a proxy for Iran and a cousin to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. It also is part of the political coalition that established Al-Sudani’s government.
Ketaib Hezbollah’s spokesman, Jafar Al-Hussaini, met AP at an outdoor restaurant in Baghdad’s Dijlas Village, an opulent, 5-month-old complex of gardens, spas and a dancing fountain overlooking a bend in the Tigris, an idyllic Xanadu that looks like a transplant from uber-wealthy Dubai.
Al-Hussaini voiced optimism for the new Iraqi government and scorn for the United States, saying the US sold Iraq a promise of democracy but failed to deliver infrastructure, electricity, housing, schools or security.
“Twenty years after the war, we look toward building a new state,” he said. “Our project is ideological, and we are against America.”
Far from such luxury, 18-year-old Mohammed Zuad Khaman, who toils in his family’s kebab café in one of Baghdad’s poorer neighborhoods, resents the militias’ hold on the country because they are an obstacle to his dreams of a sports career. Khaman is a talented footballer, but says he can’t play in Baghdad’s amateur clubs because he does not have any “in” with the militia-related gangs that control sports teams in the city.
He got an offer to train in Qatar, he said, but a broker was charging $50,000, far beyond his family’s means.
War and poverty caused him to miss several years of school, he said, and he’s trying to get a high school degree. Meanwhile, he takes home about $8-$10 a day wiping tables and serving food and tea. He is among those Iraqis who would like to leave.
“If only I could get to London, I would have a different life.”
In contrast, for Muammel Sharba, 38, who managed to get a good education despite the war, the new Iraq offers promise he did not expect.
A lecturer in mathematics and technical English at the Middle Technical University campus in Baquba, a once violence-torn city in Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, Sharba left in 2017 for Hungary, where he earned a Ph.D. on an Iraqi government scholarship.
He returned last year, planning to fulfil his contractual obligations to his university and then move to Hungary permanently. But he’s found himself impressed by the changes in his homeland and now thinks he will stay.
One reason: He discovered Baghdad’s nascent community of bicyclists who gather weekly for organized rides. They recently rode to Samarra, where one of the worst sectarian attacks of the war happened in 2006, a bombing that damaged the city’s 1,000-year-old grand mosque.
Sharba became a biking enthusiast in Hungary but never imagined pursuing it at home. He noticed other changes, too: better technology and less bureaucracy that allowed him to upload his thesis and get his foreign Ph.D. validated online. He got a driver’s license electronically in one day. With infrastructure improvements, he’s even seen some smoother roads.
Security in Diyala isn’t perfect, he said, but it’s less fraught than before. Not all his colleagues are as optimistic, but he prefers to focus on the glass half-full.
“I don’t think European countries were always as they are now. They went through a long process and lots of barriers, and then they slowly got better,” he said. “I believe that we need to go through these steps, too.”
On a recent evening, a double line of excited cyclists threaded a course through the capital’s busy streets for a night ride, Sharba among them. They raised neon-green-clad arms in a happy salute as they headed out.
As daylight ebbed into a crimson sunset, it wasn’t hard to imagine that Iraq, like them, could be on the way to a better place.
20 years after US invasion, young Iraqis see signs of hope
20 years after US invasion, young Iraqis see signs of hope
BAGHDAD: On the banks of the Tigris River one recent evening, young Iraqi men and women in jeans and sneakers danced with joyous abandon to a local rap star as a vermillion sun set behind them. It’s a world away from the terror that followed the US invasion 20 years ago.
EU ministers consider next steps in response to Israel-Hamas war
- Some EU leaders are pushing for sanctions against extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank
- Sanctions are already in place against Hamas, which is listed by the EU as a terrorist organization
BRUSSELS: European Union foreign ministers on Monday consider possible next steps in response to the Middle East crisis, including a crackdown on Hamas’ finances and travel bans for Israeli settlers responsible for violence in the West Bank.
At a meeting in Brussels, ministers from the bloc’s 27 countries will also hear from Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba as they discuss future security assistance to Kyiv.
While EU officials insist helping Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion remains a top priority, the eruption of the war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas has forced the bloc to focus anew on the Middle East.
The war has exposed long-running and deep divisions on the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict among EU countries.
But the ministers will try to find common ground as they consider a discussion paper from the EU’s diplomatic service that outlines a broad range of possible next steps.
Hamas is already listed by the European Union as a terrorist organization, meaning any funds or assets that it has in the EU should be frozen.
The EU said on Friday it had added Mohammed Deif, commander of the military wing of Hamas, and his deputy, Marwan Issa, to its list terrorists under sanction.
The discussion paper – seen by Reuters — suggests the EU could go further by targeting Hamas finances and disinformation.
EU countries including France and Germany have said they are already working together to advance such proposals.
Senior EU officials such as foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, have also expressed alarm at rising violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The paper suggests an EU response could include bans on travel to the EU for those responsible and other sanctions for violation of human rights.
France said last month the EU should consider such measures. And Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said last week that “extremist settlers in the West Bank” would be banned from entering the country.
Diplomats said it would be hard to achieve the unanimity necessary for EU-wide bans, as countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary are staunch allies of Israel.
But some suggested a decision last week by the United States, Israel’s biggest backer, to start imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the West Bank could encourage EU countries to take similar steps.
Israel bombs south Gaza after Hamas hostage threat
- Hamas demands that all its members in Israeli prisons be freed in exchange for the hostages
- Israel says there are still 137 hostages in Gaza, while activists say around 7,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jails
GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Israel bombed southern Gaza’s main city on Monday after Hamas warned no Israeli hostages would leave the territory alive unless its demands for prisoner releases were met.
Hamas triggered the conflict when it carried out the deadliest-ever attack on Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures, and taking about 240 hostages back to Gaza.
Israel has responded with a military offensive that has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 17,997 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
The ministry said on Monday that dozens of people had been killed in Israeli strikes across the Gaza Strip, while Israel’s army reported rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.
An AFP correspondent reported that Israeli strikes on Monday hit the main southern city of Khan Yunis, while Palestinian militants Islamic Jihad said they had blown up a house where Israeli soldiers were searching for a tunnel shaft.
Hamas on Sunday warned that Israel would not receive “their prisoners alive without an exchange and negotiation and meeting the demands of the resistance.”
Israel says there are still 137 hostages in Gaza, while activists say around 7,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jails.
Months of intense bombardment and clashes have left Gaza’s health system on the brink of collapse, with most hospitals no longer functioning and nearly two million people displaced.
AFP visited the bombed-out ruins of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City and found at least 30,000 people taking refuge amid the rubble after Israeli forces raided the medical facility last month.
“Our life has become a living hell, there’s no electricity, no water, no flour, no bread, no medicine for the children who are all sick,” said Mohammed Daloul, 38, who fled there with his wife and three children.
No safe place
The UN estimates 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced from their homes — roughly half of them children.
Israel had urged people to seek refuge in the south, but after expanding the war to include southern targets, there are few safe places for civilians to go.
Humanitarian organizations continued to press Israel for greater protection of civilians in the conflict.
Mapping software deployed by Israel’s army to try to reduce non-combatant deaths was condemned as inadequate Sunday by Lynn Hastings, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories.
“A unilateral declaration by an occupying power that patches of land where there is no infrastructure, food, water, health care, or hygiene are ‘safe zones’ does not mean they are safe,” she said.
Only 14 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are functioning at any capacity, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian agency OCHA.
“Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as the agency called for immediate, unimpeded aid deliveries.
Israel’s army chief Herzi Halevi said Sunday his troops were using “significant force” in Gaza, hailing “significant achievements” in the war.
The army told AFP on Monday that 101 soldiers have died in the Gaza ground offensive, and previously put the number of wounded at around 600.
It said Sunday it had struck more than 250 targets in 24 hours, including “a Hamas military communications site,” “underground tunnel shafts” in southern Gaza, and a Hamas military command center in Shejaiya in Gaza City.
Some 7,000 “terrorists” have been killed, according to National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.
“Hamas should not exist, because they are not human beings, after what I saw they did,” Menahem, a 22-year-old soldier wounded on October 7, told AFP during a military-organized tour that did not allow him to give his surname.
UN to demand ceasefire
The UN General Assembly will meet on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Gaza, its president said, after the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution for a ceasefire on Friday.
A draft of the text seen by AFP closely follows the language of Friday’s failed Security Council resolution, “expressing grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a leaders’ gathering in Qatar on Sunday that the Security Council’s “authority and credibility were severely undermined” by the US veto.
Qatar, where Hamas’s top leadership is based, said it was still working on a new truce like the week-long ceasefire it helped mediate last month that saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinian prisoners and humanitarian aid.
But Israel’s relentless bombardment was “narrowing the window” for success, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday again rejected a ceasefire.
“With Hamas still alive, still intact and... with the stated intent of repeating October 7 again and again and again, that would simply perpetuate the problem,” he told ABC News.
But Blinken also said the United States was “deeply, deeply aware of the terrible human toll that this conflict is taking on innocent men, women and children.”
There are fears of regional escalation with frequent cross-border exchanges between Israel and Lebanese militants, and attacks by pro-Iran groups against US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria.
Syria’s state news agency said Israel had carried out strikes near Damascus late Sunday, but air defense systems had prevented any significant damage.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the strikes had targeted Hezbollah sites in the Sayeda Zeinab district and near Damascus airport.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened to attack any vessels heading to Israel unless more aid was allowed into Gaza.
France said Sunday one of its frigates in the Red Sea had shot down two drones launched from Yemen.
UN General Assembly meets Tuesday to discuss Gaza
- The General Assembly, whose resolutions are nonbinding, could vote on a text for a ceasefire resolution at the meeting
UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN General Assembly will meet on Tuesday to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, officials and diplomats said Sunday, after the United States last week vetoed a Security Council resolution for a ceasefire.
A special meeting of the General Assembly has been called for Tuesday afternoon by the representatives for Egypt and Mauritania “in their respective capacities as Chair of the Arab Group and Chair of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation,” a spokesperson for the Assembly president said.
According to diplomatic sources, the General Assembly, whose resolutions are nonbinding, could vote on a text for a ceasefire resolution at the meeting.
A draft of the text seen by AFP closely follows the language of Friday’s vetoed Security Council resolution, “expressing grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.”
It calls for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” as well as the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.”
On Friday the United States blocked the ceasefire resolution which came after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called an emergency meeting of the Security Council, deploying the rarely-used Article 99 of the UN Charter to bring to the council’s attention “any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
The body’s “authority and credibility” have been “severely undermined” by its delayed response to the war, Guterres said afterward.
At the end of October, in another of its resolutions, the General Assembly called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” between Israel and Hamas.
Two weeks later the Security Council broke its silence on the war for the first time by calling for “extended pauses and humanitarian corridors” — using less clear language than a ceasefire or a truce.
Israel’s Netanyahu calls on Hamas militants to ‘surrender now’
- The militants late on Sunday boasted of success in their fight with Israeli forces in Gaza
JERUSALEM: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called for Hamas militants to lay down their arms, saying the Palestinian Islamist group’s end was near, as the war in the Gaza Strip raged more than two months after it began.
“The war is still ongoing but it is the beginning of the end of Hamas. I say to the Hamas terrorists: It’s over. Don’t die for (Yahya) Sinwar. Surrender now,” Netanyahu said in a statement, referring to the chief of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“In the past few days, dozens of Hamas terrorists have surrendered to our forces,” Netanyahu said.
The military has, however, not released proof of militants surrendering, and Hamas has rejected such claims.
Almost one month ago, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas had “lost control” of Gaza.
The militants late on Sunday boasted of success in their fight with Israeli forces in Gaza.
Izzat Al-Rishq, a senior member of the Hamas political bureau, said history would “remember Gaza as the clearest of victories” for the Palestinian militants.
“The end of the occupation has begun in Gaza,” Rishq said.
Hamas triggered the conflict with the deadliest-ever attack on Israel on October 7 in which it killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures, and dragged around 240 hostages back to Gaza.
Israel has responded with a relentless military offensive that has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 17,997 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Gaza war having ‘catastrophic’ health impact: WHO chief
- There is no health without peace and no peace without health, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells special session
GENEVA: The war between Israel and Hamas is having a catastrophic impact on health in Gaza, the WHO chief warned on Sunday, with medics facing an “impossible” job in unimaginable conditions.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a special session of the World Health Organization’s executive board that the Palestinian territory’s health system was in free fall.
“The impact of the conflict on health is catastrophic,” Tedros told the Geneva meeting.
“As more and more people move to a smaller and smaller area, overcrowding, combined with the lack of adequate food, water, shelter and sanitation, are creating the ideal conditions for disease to spread,” he said.
The UN health agency’s chief said there were worrying signs of epidemic diseases — and the risk was expected to worsen with the situation deteriorating and winter conditions approaching.
“Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing,” Tedros said, with only 14 out of 36 hospitals functioning with any capacity at all, and, only two of those in the north of the coastal territory.
Only 1,400 hospital beds out of an original 3,500 are still available, while the two major hospitals in southern Gaza are operating at three times their bed capacity, Tedros added.
Tedros said that since Oct. 7, the WHO had verified more than 449 attacks on healthcare in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and 60 on healthcare in Israel.
“The work of the health workers is impossible, and they are directly in the firing line,” he said, with medics who are “physically and mentally exhausted and are doing their best in unimaginable conditions.”
“There is no health without peace and no peace without health,” Tedros concluded.
The special session was called by 17 of the 34 countries on the executive board, which normally meets twice a year. Its main job is to advise the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body, and then implement its decisions.
A draft resolution proposed by Afghanistan, Morocco, Qatar and Yemen calls for the immediate, sustained and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief into the Gaza Strip and the granting of exit permits for patients.
It seeks the supply and replenishment of medicine and medical equipment to the civilian population and for all persons deprived of their liberty to be given access to medical treatment.
It voices “grave concern” at the humanitarian situation, laments the “widespread destruction,” and urges protection for all civilians.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila, speaking via video link from Ramallah, called for the immediate cessation of the “brutal war in Gaza” and the immediate, unconditional flow of fuel, water, aid, and medical supplies into the territory.
“The daily horrors we all witness defy international law and shatter the essence of our shared humanity,” she said.
“Now is the time for decisive action. The world cannot stand neutral while innocent lives are lost, and the basic rights of the Palestinian people are compromised.”
Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, said that on Oct. 6, “there was a ceasefire with Hamas. On Oct. 7, we woke up to a new reality.”
She said Israel’s military operation “is directed toward Hamas. It has never been against the Palestinian people. And I recognize the suffering in Gaza.
“Let there be no mistake, however: Hamas is responsible for this suffering.
“The reality is, if we stop now, Hamas will carry out another Oct. 7.”