Israeli reforms ‘threat to Palestine’: report

Other proposals by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme religious-nationalist coalition would strip Israel’s Arab minority of citizenship. (AFP)
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Updated 09 June 2023

Israeli reforms ‘threat to Palestine’: report

RAMALLAH: Controversial judicial reforms proposed by Israeli’s far-right coalition government pose a threat to Palestinians, an independent commission of inquiry set up by the UN said on Thursday.

The proposals, which would curb some Supreme Court powers and increase government control of judicial appointments, have set off unprecedented protests in Israel.

In a 56-page report, the commission said proposed legislation could increase taxation of pro-Palestinian NGOs and limit their ability to document Israeli soldiers’ activities in the occupied West Bank.

Other proposals by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme religious-nationalist coalition would strip Israel’s Arab minority of citizenship and enable their deportation if they commit pro-Palestinian violence, the report said.

“The proposed changes would dismantle fundamental features of the separation of powers and of the checks and balances essential in democratic political systems,” it said.

“Legal experts have warned that they risk weakening human rights protections, especially for the most vulnerable and disfavored communities, including Palestinian citizens.”

The commission, set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council in 2021, found Israel had increasingly stifled rights advocates “through harassment, threats, arrests, interrogations, arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The commission, which conducted about 130 interviews, also found that Palestinian authorities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza had targeted Palestinian rights activists.

“The arrest and detention of Palestinian activists by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities was noted as a particularly harsh reality for many Palestinian activists,” the report said.

One killed, 8 wounded in Jerusalem shooting attack

Updated 6 sec ago

One killed, 8 wounded in Jerusalem shooting attack

JERUSALEM: At least one woman was killed and eight other people were wounded in a shooting attack during rush hour at the entrance to Jerusalem on Thursday, Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said.
“Two terrorists who arrived at the scene in a vehicle armed with weapons fired at civilians at a bus stop, and they were neutralized by security forces and a civilian who were nearby,” Israeli police said.
A large number of ambulances and police converged on the scene and police said they were searching the area to make sure there were no other attackers.
The US ambassador to Israel condemned the shooting.
“Abhorrent terrorist attack in Jerusalem this morning. We unequivocally condemn such brutal violence,” said Ambassador Jack Lew.

Jordan says it will host conference to coordinate aid to Gaza

Updated 30 November 2023

Jordan says it will host conference to coordinate aid to Gaza

  • Officials say the king will call on participants to push Israel to end its siege of the enclave and allow unimpeded flow of goods by opening additional border crossings

AMMAN: Jordan on Thursday will host an international conference attended by the main UN bodies and regional and international relief agencies to coordinate humanitarian aid to war-devastated Gaza, official media said.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths and key UN bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in ramping up aid to Gaza will be present at the conference, along with representatives of Western and Arab countries involved in the aid effort, they said.
The conference, to be held behind closed doors, will be addressed by King Abdullah who has been lobbying Western leaders to back a UN resolution that calls for an immediate cease-fire.
A four-day truce that was extended two days has brought the first respite in the bombardment of Gaza, with much of the northern part of the coastal territory of 2.3 million inhabitants having been reduced to rubble.
The monarch has accused Israel of committing war crimes with a relentless bombing campaign that has killed at least 15,000 people, according to Gaza health authorities, and a siege of the enclave that prevented for weeks the entry of medicine, food and fuel and cut electricity supplies.
The Israeli actions were in response to an Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israel by Hamas militants, who killed some 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostages back to Gaza.
Officials say the king will call on participants to push Israel to end its siege of the enclave and allow unimpeded flow of goods by opening additional border crossings.
UN officials said they were already urging Israel to reopen the Kerem Shalom crossing that had been used to carry more than 60 percent of truckloads going into Gaza before the current conflict.
Currently, most trucks carrying aid through Rafah — the only open entry point into Gaza — has to first go through Israeli inspections at the Nitzana crossing, to ensure that neither fuel nor dual usage goods are allowed.
The inspection system has delayed desperately needed aid, aid workers say.
Jordan Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, in an address to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, urged the world body to adopt a resolution to end to the war, saying the Security Council’s “silence was giving Israel a cover for its crimes.”
“The only path to security and peace was the end of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land,” he said.

Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas

Updated 30 November 2023

Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas

  • International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said 10 Israelis and four Thai nationals were released late Wednesday from captivity in the Gaza Strip.
The hostages crossed into Egypt and were to be transferred to Israel.
It was the sixth such release under a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Israel is to release 30 Palestinian prisoners later Wednesday.
The cease-fire is set to expire early Thursday. International mediators are trying to extend the deal to facilitate the release of additional hostages held by Hamas.
The militant group captured some 240 people in an Oct. 7 cross-border attack that triggered the war. Some 150 people are believed to remain in captivity.
A new swap of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners in Israel got underway late Wednesday in the final hours of the current Gaza truce as international mediators raced to extend the halt of Israel’s air and ground offensive to allow further exchanges.
The Israeli military said a group of 10 Israeli women and children and four Thai nationals had been handed over by Hamas to the Red Cross in Gaza and were heading to exit the territory. Earlier, two Russian-Israeli women were freed by Hamas in a separate release. Israel was set to free 30 Palestinian prisoners in return.
Negotiators were working down to the wire to hammer out details for a further extension of the truce beyond its deadline of early Thursday. The talks appear to be growing tougher as most of the women and children held by Hamas are freed, and the militants are expected to seek greater releases in return for freeing men and soldiers.
International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza that has killed thousands of Palestinians, uprooted three quarters of the population of 2.3 million and led to a humanitarian crisis. Israel has welcomed the release of dozens of hostages in recent days and says it will maintain the truce if Hamas keeps freeing captives.
Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored on Wednesday that Israel will resume its campaign to eliminate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years and orchestrated the deadly attack on Israel that triggered the war
“After this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted, will Israel return to fighting? So my answer is an unequivocal yes,” he said. “There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end.”
He spoke ahead of a visit to the region planned this week by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to press for further extensions of the truce and hostage releases.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian boys — an 8-year-old an a 15-year-old — during a raid on the town of Jenin, Palestinian health officials said. Security footage showed a group of boys in the street who start to run, except for one who falls to the ground, bleeding.
The Israeli military said its troops fired on people who threw explosives at them but did not specify it was referring to the boys, who are not seen throwing anything. Separately, the military said its troops killed two Islamic Jihad militants during the raid.
So far, the Israeli onslaught in Gaza seems to have had little effect on Hamas’ rule, evidenced by its ability to conduct complex negotiations, enforce the cease-fire among other armed groups, and orchestrate the release of hostages. Hamas leaders, including Yehya Sinwar, have likely relocated to the south.
With Israeli troops holding much of northern Gaza, a ground invasion south will likely bring an escalating cost in Palestinian lives and destruction.
Most of Gaza’s population is now crammed into the south. The truce has brought them relief from bombardment, but the days of calm have been taken up in a frenzied rush to obtain supplies to feed their families as aid enters in greater, but still insufficient, amounts.
United States, Israel’s main ally, has shown greater reticence over the impact of the war in Gaza. The Biden administration has told Israel that if it launches an offensive in the south, it must operate with far greater precision.
The plight of the captives and shock from the Oct. 7 attack have galvanized Israeli support for the war. But Netanyahu is under pressure to bring the hostages home and could find it difficult to resume the offensive if there’s a prospect for more releases.
Since the initial truce began on Friday, both sides have been releasing women and children in their exchanges. After Friday’s releases, Gaza militants still hold around 20 women, accordding to Israeli officials. IF the truce continues at the current rate, they would be out in a few days.
After that, keeping the truce going depends on tougher negotiations over the release of around 126 men Israel says are held captive – including several dozen soldiers.
For men — and especially soldiers — Hamas is expected to push for comparable releases of Palestinian men or prominent detainees, a deal Israel may resist.
An Israeli official involved in hostage negotiations said talks on a further extension for release of civilian males and soldiers were still preliminary, and a deal would not be considered until all the women and children are out. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations were ongoing.
With Wednesday’s releases, a total of 73 Israelis, including dual nationals, have been freed during the six-day truce, most of whom appear physically well but shaken. Another 24 hostages — 23 Thais and one Filipino — have also been released. Before the cease-fire, Hamas released four hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza.
So far, most of the 180 Palestinians freed from Israeli prisons have been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several were women convicted by Israeli military courts of attempting to attack soldiers.
Palestinians have celebrated the release of people they see as having resisted Israel’s decades-long military occupation of lands they want for a future state.
The war began with Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel, in which it killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The militants kidnapped some 240 people back into Gaza, including babies, children, women, soldiers, older adults and Thai farm laborers.
Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion in Gaza have killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
The toll is likely much higher, as officials have only sporadically updated the count since Nov. 11 due to the breakdown of services in the north. The ministry says thousands more people are missing and feared dead under the rubble.
Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.
For Palestinians in Gaza, the truce’s calm has been overwhelmed by the search for aid and by horror as they see the extent of destruction.
In the north, residents described entire residential blocks leveled to the ground in Gaza City and surrounding areas. The smell of decomposing bodies trapped under collapsed buildings fills the air, said Mohmmed Mattar, a 29-year-old resident of Gaza City who along with other volunteers searches for the dead under rubble or left in the streets.
They have found and buried 46 so far during the truce, he said. Most were unidentified. More bodies remain inside rubble but can’t be reached without heavy equipment, or are left on streets that are unapproachable because of Israeli troops nearby, Mattar said.
In the south, the truce has allowed more aid to be delivered from Egypt, up to 200 trucks a day. But aid officials say it is not enough, given that most now depend on outside aid. Overwhelmed UN-run shelters house more than 1 million displaced people, with many sleeping outside in cold, rainy weather.
At a distribution center in Rafah, large crowds line daily up for newly arrived bags of flour. But supplies run out quickly before many can get their share.
“We’ve been searching for bread for our children,” said one woman in line, Nawal Abu Namous. “Every day, we come here … we spend money on transportation to get here, just to go home with nothing.”
Some markets and shops have reopened, but prices for the few items in stock have skyrocketed. Winter clothes are unavailable. One clothes shop owner in Deir Al-Balah told The Associated Press that he hates opening his doors in the morning, knowing he’ll spend most of the day apologizing to customers for not having winter items.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said some 111,000 people have respiratory infections and 75,000 have diarrhea, more than half of them under 5 years old. “More people could die from disease than bombings.”
“We are fed up,” said Omar Al-Darawi, who works at the overwhelmed Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in central Gaza. “We want this war to stop.”

Israel-Hamas truce extended for a day

Updated 30 November 2023

Israel-Hamas truce extended for a day

  • There had been pressure to extend the pause to allow more hostage releases and additional aid into Gaza

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: A truce between Israel and Hamas will continue, both sides said Thursday, moments before the deal was due to expire, though details of any official agreement remained unclear.

Minutes before the halt in fighting was due to expire at 0500GMT, Israel’s military said the “operational pause” would be extended, without specifying for how long.

“In light of the mediators’ efforts to continue the process of releasing the hostages and subject to the terms of the framework, the operational pause will continue,” it said.

Hamas meanwhile said there was an agreement to “extend the truce for a seventh day,” without further details.

Qatar, which has led the truce negotiations, confirmed the pause had been extended until Friday.

There had been pressure to extend the pause to allow more hostage releases and additional aid into devastated Gaza, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arriving in Israel for talks Wednesday night.

The truce has brought a temporary halt to fighting that began on October 7 when Hamas militants poured over the border into Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping about 240, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel’s subsequent air and ground campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 15,000 people, also mostly civilians, according to Hamas officials, and reduced large parts of the north of the territory to rubble.

The truce agreement allows for extensions if Hamas can release another 10 hostages a day, and a source close to the group said Wednesday that it was willing to prolong the pause by four days.

But with just an hour to go before the truce was due to expire, Hamas said its offer to free another seven hostages, and hand over the bodies of another three it said were killed in Israeli bombardment, had been refused.

Both sides had earlier said they were ready to return to fighting, with Hamas’s armed wing warning its fighters to “maintain high military readiness... in anticipation of a resumption of combat if it is not renewed,” according to a message posted on its Telegram channel.

IDF spokesman Doron Spielman said troops would “move into operational mode very quickly and continue with our targets in Gaza,” if the truce expired.

Overnight, 10 more Israeli hostages were freed under the terms of the deal, with another four Thai hostages and two Israeli-Russian women released outside the framework of the arrangement.

Video released by Hamas showed masked gunmen handing hostages to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Among those freed was Liat Beinin, who also holds American citizenship, and works as a guide at Israel’s Holocaust museum Yad Vashem.

US President Joe Biden said he was “deeply gratified” by the release.

“This deal has delivered meaningful results,” he said of the truce.

Shortly after the hostages arrived in Israel, the country’s prison service said 30 Palestinian prisoners had been released, including well-known activist Ahed Tamimi.

Since the truce began on November 24, 70 Israeli hostages have been freed in return for 210 Palestinian prisoners.

Around 30 foreigners, most of them Thais living in Israel, have been freed outside the terms of the deal.

Israel has made clear it sees the truce as a temporary halt intended to free hostages, but there are growing calls for a more sustained pause in fighting.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded a “true humanitarian cease-fire,” warning Gazans are “in the midst of an epic humanitarian catastrophe.”

And China, whose top diplomat Wang Yi was in New York for Security Council talks on the violence, urged an immediate “sustained humanitarian truce,” in a position paper released Thursday.

The hostage releases have brought joy tinged with agony, with families anxiously waiting each night to learn if their loved ones will be freed, and learning harrowing details from those who return.

Four-year-old Abigail was captured after crawling out from under the body of her father, killed by militants, covered in his blood, her great aunt Liz Hirsh Naftali said.

“It’s a miracle,” she said of the little girl’s survival and release.

However Israel’s army also said Wednesday it was investigating a claim by Hamas’s armed wing that a 10-month-old baby hostage, his four-year-old brother and their mother had all been killed in an Israeli bombing in Gaza.

Israel pounded the Gaza Strip relentlessly before the truce, forcing an estimated 1.7 million people to leave their homes and limiting the entry of food, water, medicine and fuel.

Conditions in the territory remain “catastrophic,” according to the World Food Programme, and the population faces a “high risk of famine.

Israeli forces targeted several hospitals in northern Gaza during the fighting, accusing Hamas of using them for military purposes.

The spokesman for the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry, Ashraf Al-Qudra, told AFP Wednesday that doctors found five premature babies dead in Gaza City’s Al-Nasr hospital, which medical staff had been forced to abandon.

The truce has allowed those displaced to return to their homes, but for many there is little left.

“I discovered that my house had been completely destroyed — 27 years of my life to build it and everything is gone,” said Taghrid Al-Najjar, 46, after returning to her home in southeastern Gaza.

The violence in Gaza has also raised tensions in the West Bank, where nearly 240 Palestinians have been killed by either Israeli soldiers or settlers since October 7, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

An eight-year-old boy and a teenager were the latest deaths in the occupied territory, with Israel saying it “responded with live fire... and hits were identified” after suspects hurled explosive devices toward troops.

Cart ride shows scale of massive destruction in Gaza’s Khan Younis

Updated 29 November 2023

Cart ride shows scale of massive destruction in Gaza’s Khan Younis

  • 8-year-old, teen shot dead in West Bank
  • Erdogan calls Netanyahu ‘butcher of Gaza’

GAZA STRIP/RAMALLAH: Swerving to avoid a crater left in the road by a strike, a donkey trots along the debris-strewn streets of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, then slows to navigate a narrow passageway cleared through the rubble of destroyed apartment blocks.

With a dearth of fuel caused by Israel’s blockade of Gaza since the start of its war against Hamas, donkey carts have become an essential mode of transport for people and goods in the bombarded Palestinian territory.

A reporter crew traveled with Mohammed Al-Najar, whose home in Khan Younis was destroyed by an airstrike and who is now living with his family in a school in Khuza’a, about 8 km away on the eastern outskirts of town.

“It’s hard to move so we use donkey carts. Unfortunately it takes us three to four hours to reach Khan Younis,” said Najar, speaking on the back of the cart.

The slower pace gives a clear view of a city scarred by war, with the white donkey trotting past one scene of destruction after another.

Some buildings had been destroyed, reduced to grey piles of broken concrete and metal rods, the only traces of color from bits of clothing and possessions strewn amid the chaos.

Others were damaged to different degrees — a pockmarked facade, a hole in a wall, missing windows. One was an empty shell, standing thanks to supporting pillars but with no walls.

Sheets of corrugated iron lay on the ground, bent at strange angles, and piles of rubbish and debris were everywhere.

There were hardly any motor vehicles on the road, just the odd scooter. Bicycles were more common, as well as other donkey carts. Mostly, people were on foot. Two men carried a cooking gas cylinder, sharing the weight between them.

At several locations, buildings on both sides of the road had been flattened, and people had cleared passageways just wide enough for one car to pass. The cart passed the burnt-out carcass of a car marooned in chunks of concrete.

The destruction in Khan Younis in the south is not as extreme as in Gaza City and other parts of northern Gaza that have borne the brunt of Israel’s military campaign. Drone footage from the north shows large areas have been blasted into moonscapes.

Meanwhile, an eight-year-old boy and a teenager were killed by the Israeli army on Wednesday in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The ministry said in a statement that “Adam Al-Ghul, eight years old, and Bassem Abu El-Wafa, 15 years old, were killed by bullets from the occupier.”

CCTV footage circulating online and on television news shows a boy being struck by a bullet and falling in the street, sending other children fleeing.

Other images show a teenager also being hit by a bullet and falling, then appearing to call for help as more shots hit the ground around him and other people run for cover.

The teenager can be seen struggling on the ground in apparent agony for at least half a minute.

In other news, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan branded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “the butcher of Gaza” and accused him of spawning anti-Semitism across the world.

“Netanyahu has already written his name in history as the butcher of Gaza,” Erdogan said in nationally televised remarks.

“Netanyahu is endangering the security of all Jews in the world by supporting anti-Semitism with the murders he committed in Gaza.”

Erdogan said: “Statements made by the Netanyahu administration diminish our hopes for the humanitarian pause to be transformed into a lasting ceasefire.”

Separately, Oslo’s city hall on Wednesday raised the Palestinian flag in a show of solidarity with the people of Gaza.

The initiative coincides with the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, celebrated since 1978 following the adoption of a resolution by the UN General Assembly.

“When we know that more than 5,000 children have lost their lives, equivalent to more than 275 school classes, it is only natural to remember them today” Oslo Mayor Anne Lindboe said on the sidelines of the event, which brought together pro-Palestinian activists.