Hezbollah steps up attacks on Israeli military targets

Smoke rises in northern Israel, at the country's border with Lebanon, in Israel, October 31, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 October 2023
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Hezbollah steps up attacks on Israeli military targets

  • Israel responded by launching strikes on Lebanese villages and towns, reportedly using phosphorus shells that are banned in civilian areas under international law
  • An expert analyst in Beirut said: ‘Hezbollah perceives the ongoing battles as a crucial fight for survival’ and is aware ‘it will inevitably face similar circumstances following Hamas’ downfall’

BEIRUT: Hezbollah on Tuesday intensified its military operations against Israeli forces by targeting army positions across the southern border of Lebanon. It came as Israel stepped up its ground assault on the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces responded to the Hezbollah activity by launching air and artillery strikes on Lebanese villages and towns, reportedly using phosphorus shells. The use of such weapons in civilian areas is prohibited under international law.

Abbas Hajj Hassan, Lebanon’s agriculture minister, said: “The Israeli army deliberately burned more than 40,000 old olive trees with internationally banned white phosphorus bombs.”

Hezbollah said it had targeted “an Israeli force positioned on Al-Khazzan Hill in the vicinity of the Israeli Orontes site. The attack involved the use of guided missiles, resulting in accurate hits on the Israeli force, and all of its members were killed or wounded.”

The group also claimed to have hit “the Israeli Al-Marj site in Wadi Hunin, opposite the Lebanese town of Markaba, with guided missiles,” and attacked “the Israeli site in Bayad Blida.”

Israeli forces targeted border towns and villages south of the Litani River, and the area around a Lebanese army base in Ras Naqoura, with shells and raids.

In addition, incendiary phosphorus shells reportedly were fired at the forests around the village of Alma Al-Shaab, and the Wadi Al-Aleq area between the towns of Marwahin and Al-Bustan.

In a message posted on social media site X, the Israeli army said: “Fighter aircraft attacked Hezbollah’s infrastructure on Lebanese territory. Among the infrastructure that was attacked, weapons, sites and places used by the organization were destroyed.”

Peacekeepers from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon activated their sirens several times on Monday night as a result of bombing in the south of the country.

According to Amnesty International, the current deployment of phosphorous weapons by Israeli forces is not the only time they have used them recently.

The rights group said: “The Israeli army fired artillery shells containing white phosphorus during military operations along Lebanon’s southern border between Oct. 10 and 16.”

Aya Majzoub, the organization’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “The Israeli army’s use of white phosphorus in a way that does not distinguish between civilians and military personnel is a horrific act that violates international humanitarian law.

“The illegal use of white phosphorus in the town of Dhahira in Lebanon on Oct. 16 put the lives of civilians in extreme danger, as many of them were taken to hospitals. Village residents were forced to flee, and their homes and cars were burned.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is scheduled to deliver a speech on Friday. In the meantime there is a clear sense of unease among the Lebanese people, with noticeably less activity at markets and on the roads, particularly in the south of the country and in Beirut and its southern suburbs, compared with the more normal daily bustle in the mountainous regions.

There are also signs that some people are making plans to move to the north of the country, should the fighting in the south get worse.

A real estate agent told Arab News: “All the apartments in the town of Faqra (in Mount Lebanon, northeast of Beirut), for example, and furnished apartments there are fully booked and clients have paid advance rents in anticipation of any possible Israeli escalation.”

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said he has sent a message to Nasrallah in which he expressed the hope that “the country would not slide into war,” and added that Nasrallah “is aware of the suffering, I believe, and what is required is restraint.”

Mohanad Hage Ali, deputy director for research at the Malcolm Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told Arab News: “Hezbollah perceives the ongoing battles as a crucial fight for survival. In the event of Hamas’ defeat there would be a notable shift in Israel’s security and military strategy, favoring preemptive strikes. Hezbollah is cognizant that it will inevitably face similar circumstances following Hamas’ downfall.

“Hezbollah is currently increasing the frequency of its strikes on Israeli military sites. Where it used to strike one or two sites, we now count 11 or 12 sites targeted by Hezbollah daily, and this will escalate as the attack on the Gaza Strip progresses.”

Ali said Hezbollah’s escalation will be limited to a specific geographical area and that Nasrallah’s speech on Friday is not expected to result in any deescalation.

In the meantime, he added, there are ongoing discussions in Israel about extending the battlefront at the northern border with Lebanon. Advocates of this approach argue that it is imperative to address the Hezbollah threat in the near future and that there are more feasible objectives that might be achieved on this northern front than in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We are working to effectively deter the northern front and I repeat to Hezbollah, you will make the mistake of your life if you decide to intervene comprehensively in the battle. You will receive a blow that you cannot even imagine.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said: “We continue to respond to every threat targeting us from the north, and whoever drags us into war will pay a heavy price.

“We are on the defensive on the Lebanon front and our forces are ready to respond to any aggression from the north. What is happening in Gaza is a message to Hezbollah.”

Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer warned that Israel “does not seek escalation in southern Lebanon but we must be prepared for that.”

Ali suggested that the best option for Hezbollah would be to adopt a more defensive strategy. He said that Nasrallah is likely, during his speech on Friday, to highlight the growing anger among Arabs about Israeli massacres of Palestinians. He predicted the speech would represent a significant moment for the wider Arab community, possibly encouraging many people to participate in demonstrations.

Hezbollah “still has many actions pending within its operational framework,” he said, adding that he fears the potential Israeli retaliation.


Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port

Updated 21 July 2024
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Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port

  • Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said the attack was “an expression of the aggressive behavior of the child-killing Israeli regime.”

TEHRAN: Iran has condemned Israel’s deadly retaliatory strike on the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah in Yemen that the miltia say killed six people and wounded dozens more.
Late on Saturday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani “strongly condemned” the attack saying it was “an expression of the aggressive behavior of the child-killing Israeli regime.”
Israeli warplanes on Saturday struck the vital port of Hodeidah in response to a deadly drone attack by the Iran-backed Houthis on Tel Aviv, which killed one civilian.
The Houthis have since threatened a “huge” retaliation against Israel.
Kanani added that Israel and its supporters, including the United States, were “directly responsible for the dangerous and unpredictable consequences of the continued crimes in Gaza, as well as the attacks on Yemen.”
Regional tensions have soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.
Yemen’s Houthis, along with the Hezbollah group in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza are part of a Tehran-aligned “axis of resistance” against Israel and its allies.
The Islamic republic has reiterated support for the groups but insisted they were independent in their decision-making and actions.


Archaeologists in Bahrain unearth Gulf’s earliest Christian structure

Updated 46 min 43 sec ago
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Archaeologists in Bahrain unearth Gulf’s earliest Christian structure

  • Located in Samahij, in the Bahraini city of Muharraq, the unearthed structure is considered “the first material evidence of this ancient community”
  • Digging at the site commenced at a mound within the Samahij cemetery, where archaeologists discovered the remains of a mosque.

DUBAI: Bahraini and British archaeologists say they have discovered what is believed to be the first Christian structure in the Arabian Gulf, dating back to the fourth century.

Located in Samahij, in the Bahraini city of Muharraq, the unearthed structure is considered “the first material evidence of this ancient community,” according to the Bahrain National Communications Center.

“While Christianity is not predominantly associated with the Gulf states today, the Church of the East, also known as the Nestorian Church, flourished in the region for centuries until the 7th century CE, coinciding with the widespread Islam amongst the communities in 610 CE,” the NCC said in a statement.

Archeologists said that radiocarbon dating of the Samahij site confirmed “the building was occupied between the mid-4th and mid-8th centuries CE, likely abandoned as Islam spread among the local population.”

Digging at the site commenced at a mound within the Samahij cemetery, where archaeologists discovered the remains of a mosque.

Further excavation revealed a large building with eight rooms, including a kitchen, dining room, workshop, and three living quarters. It is believed that the construction of the mosque on the site contributed to the preservation of the building below, the NCC added.

The findings suggest the building may have been the residence of the bishop of the local diocese, which included Samahij. Historical sources refer to this area as “Mishmahig” or “Mashmahig,” likely variations of Samahij.

Records also indicate a connection between the region and central church authorities, with one bishop dismissed in 410 and another condemned for challenging church unity in the seventh century.

The excavation project, a collaborative effort between the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities and a British team led by Prof. Timothy Insoll of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University, and Dr. Salman Al-Mahari of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, began in 2019 and culminated in these significant findings in 2023.

This discovery is unique due to its location in the heart of a modern, densely populated town, unlike previous Christian structures found in remote areas along the Gulf coast.

Notable finds include three plaster crosses, two adorning the building’s exterior and one possibly kept as a personal memento, along with wall carvings featuring a fish symbol and part of the “Chi Rho” symbol, representing “Christ.”

Al-Mahari explained that the excavation, now in its final stages, is an important piece of Bahraini history, providing valuable insights into the Christian presence in the region.

Initial studies suggested the site dated from the sixth to eighth centuries, but radiocarbon dating confirmed fourth century origins, making it one of the oldest Christian buildings in the Arabian Gulf. Recent findings include a clear Eastern cross on a plaster slab.

The excavation also revealed details about the building and its inhabitants’ lives. Constructed with stone walls coated in plaster and plaster floors, the building featured sockets and holes indicating door and seat placements. The kitchen contained built-in ovens with bases and storage areas. Artifacts suggest the inhabitants enjoyed a good standard of living, consuming meat, fish, shellfish, and various crops. The discovery of semi-precious agate beads and broken Indian pottery indicates the occupants were involved in trade, particularly with India. Small drinking glasses and 12 copper coins suggest the use of Sasanian Empire currency. Additionally, spindle whorls and copper needles hint at the possibility of cloth production for religious purposes.

Insoll said: “We stress the importance of this site and the need to preserve it, highlighting its historical and archaeological value.”

He added: “We were amused to find someone had drawn part of a face on a pearl shell using bitumen, possibly for a child who lived in the building. This is the first physical evidence of the Nestorian Church in Bahrain, providing a fascinating insight into how people lived, worked, and worshiped.”


Iraq to import electricity from Turkiye

Updated 21 July 2024
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Iraq to import electricity from Turkiye

  • PM Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani said the new line is a “strategic” step to link Iraq with neighboring countries

BAGHDAD: Iraq said Sunday a new power line will bring electricity from Turkiye to its northern provinces as authorities aim to diversify the country’s energy sources to ease chronic power outages.
The 115-kilometer (71-mile) line connects to Kisik power plant west of Mosul and will provide 300 megawatts from Turkiye to Iraq’s northern provinces of Nineveh, Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk, according to a statement by the prime minister’s office.
PM Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani said the new line is a “strategic” step to link Iraq with neighboring countries.
“The line started operating today,” Ahmed Moussa, spokesperson for the electricity ministry, told AFP.
Decades of war have left Iraq’s infrastructure in a pitiful state, with power cuts worsening the blistering summer when temperatures often reach 50 Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
Many households have just a few hours of mains electricity per day, and those who can afford it use private generators to keep fridges and air conditioners running.
Despite its vast oil reserves, Iraq remains dependent on imports to meet its energy needs, especially from neighboring Iran, which regularly cuts supplies.
Sudani has repeatedly stressed the need for Iraq to diversify energy sources to ease the chronic outages.
To reduce its dependence on Iranian gas, Baghdad has been exploring several possibilities including imports from Gulf countries.
In March, a 340-kilometer (210-mile) power line started operating to bring electricity from Jordan to Al-Rutbah in Iraq’s southwest.


Yemen’s Hodeidah battles port blaze after deadly Israel strike

Updated 21 July 2024
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Yemen’s Hodeidah battles port blaze after deadly Israel strike

  • Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said the militia’s “response to the Israeli aggression against our country is inevitably coming and will be huge.”
  • The strike killed six people and wounded 80, many of them with severe burns

HODEIDAH: Firefighting teams on Sunday were still battling a blaze at the Houthi-run port in Yemen’s Hodeidah, hours after an Israeli strike on the harbor triggered a massive fire and killed six people, according to the militia.
Saturday’s strike on the vital port, a key entry point for fuel and humanitarian aid, is the first claimed by Israel in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country, about 2,000 kilometers (1,300 miles) away.
It killed six people and wounded 80, many of them with severe burns, the rebel-run health ministry said in a statement carried by Houthi media.

On Sunday, Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said the militia’s “response to the Israeli aggression against our country is inevitably coming and will be huge.” 

Israel said it carried out the strike in response to a drone attack by the Houthis on Tel Aviv which killed one person on Friday.
More operations against the Houthis would follow “if they dare to attack us,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.
Following the strike, the Israeli military said Sunday it intercepted a missile fired from Yemen toward the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, noting that “the projectile did not cross into Israeli territory.”
Saree, the Houthi spokesman, said the militia had fired ballistic missiles toward Eilat, the latest in a string of Houthi attempts to hit the port city.
The militia announcement came as firefighters struggled to contain the blaze at the Hodeidah port, with thick plumes of black smoke shrouding the sky above the city, said an AFP correspondent in the area.
Fuel storage tanks and a power plant at the port where still ablaze amid “slow” firefighting efforts, said a Hodeidah port employee.
The port employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security concerns, said it could take days to contain the fire, a view echoed by Yemen experts.
“There is concern that the poorly equipped firefighters may not be able to contain the spreading fire, which could continue for days,” said Mohammed Albasha, senior Middle East analyst for the US-based Navanti Group, warning that it could reach food storage facilities at the harbor.
Hodeidah port, a vital entry point for fuel imports and international aid for militia-held areas of Yemen, had remained largely untouched through the decade-long war between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government propped up by neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis control swathes of Yemen, including much of its Red Sea coast, and the war has left millions of Yemenis dependent on aid supplied through the port.
Despite Houthi assurances of sufficient fuel stocks, Saturday’s strike triggered fears of worsening shortages, which war-weary Yemenis are ill-equiped to handle.
The attack is “going to have dire humanitarian effects on the millions of ordinary Yemenis living in Houthi-held Yemen,” Nicholas Brumfield, a Yemen expert, said on social media platform X.
It will drive up prices of fuel but also any goods carried by truck, the analyst said.
Yemen’s internationally-recognized government, which has been battling the Houthis for nearly a decade, condemned the strike, and held Israel responsible for a worsening humanitarian crisis.
A statement carried by the official Saba news agency said the Yemeni government holds “the Zionist entity fully responsible for any repercussions resulting from its air strikes, including the deepening of a humanitarian crises.”
It also warned the huthi militia against dragging the country into “senseless battles that serve the interests of the Iranian regime and its expansionist project in the region.”


‘Deeply concerned’ UN chief calls for restraint after Israel’s attack on Yemen

Updated 21 July 2024
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‘Deeply concerned’ UN chief calls for restraint after Israel’s attack on Yemen

  • The internationally recognised government of Yemen also condemned Israel's airstrikes as a violation of international laws

DUBAI: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed deep concern over Israel’s airstrikes on Saturday in and around the port of Hodeidah in Yemen.

Guterres called on all parties to “avoid attacks that could harm civilians and damage civilian infrastructure.”

In a statement, the secretary-general said that he “remains deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation in the region and continues to urge all to exercise utmost restraint.”

Israel’s stike on Hodeidah, apparently in retaliation for the Houthi drone strike on Tel Aviv earlier this week, left several dead and more than 80 people injured.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that Israeli planes struck a power plant and a fuel storage facility.

Meanwhile, the internationally recognised government of Yemen on Sunday condemned Israel's airstrikes as a violation of international laws, holding Israel responsible for worsening the humanitarian crisis and strengthening Houthi militias.

The government, in a statement, urged the Houthis to prioritize national interests and engage in peace, while calling on the international community to support Yemen's authority and implement Resolution 2216.

The government also reiterated support for the Palestinian people and called for an end to Israeli aggression.