Iraq sees risk of regional conflict if Gaza war resumes

Protesters take part in an anti-Israeli demonstration at Tahrir Square in Baghdad on October 13, 2023. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Iraq sees risk of regional conflict if Gaza war resumes

  • Two sets of US strikes in Iraq last week killed 10 members of Kataeb Hezbolla

BAGHDAD: Iraq sees a risk of regional conflict if the current truce in Gaza is not turned into a permanent cease-fire, the Iraqi prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser said, as mediators sought an extension of the temporary four-day Israel-Hamas truce.
Israel’s devastating bombardment of Gaza in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel has drawn in Iran-aligned armed groups in the region including Lebanese Hezbollah and several Iraqi factions, who have mounted near-daily attacks on Israeli and US forces.
But there have been no reports of attacks on US forces in Iraq or Syria since Israel and Hamas began a four-day truce last week that was set to expire on Monday, compared to over 70 in the weeks prior.
Some of the main Iraqi armed factions behind the recent attacks, including Kataib Sayyid Al-Shuhada and Kataeb Hezbollah, have announced they will abide by the Gaza cease-fire but indicated they would resume attacks if it ends.
They have also said in statements that they still seek the eventual ouster of US forces in Iraq. There are around 2,500 US troops on a mission the US says is to advise and assist Iraqi forces battling remnants of Islamic State.
“The entire region is on the verge of a devastating conflict that may include everyone, and the extent of its expansion or how to control and stop it is not known,” said Farhad Alaadin, foreign affairs adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani.
“For this reason, we see any cease-fire in the conflict as beneficial and important at this stage for the people of Palestine and Gaza first and for all countries in the region, including Iraq,” he told Reuters.
European Union Ambassador to Iraq Thomas Seiler said in a social media post that he hopes Iraqi factions “continue with their cessation of attacks.”
Two sets of US strikes in Iraq last week killed 10 members of Kataeb Hezbollah, according to posts by the group on social media, a move condemned by the Iraqi government as escalatory and a violation of sovereignty.
Kataeb Hezbollah is part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a group of mostly Shiite Muslim armed groups formed to fight Islamic State in 2014 that became an official security agency under the command of the prime minister.
While technically part of the state, some of the PMF’s most powerful Iran-backed factions often act outside the chain of command. Sudani has said attacks by armed groups on foreign forces in Iraq were unlawful and went against the country’s national interest.


Strike on Palestinians waiting for aid in Gaza kills and wounds dozens

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Strike on Palestinians waiting for aid in Gaza kills and wounds dozens

  • Hospital officials say an apparent Israeli strike on a crowd of Palestinians waiting for humanitarian aid in Gaza City has killed and wounded dozens
RAFAH: An apparent Israeli strike on a crowd of Palestinians waiting for humanitarian aid in Gaza City on Thursday has killed and wounded dozens, according to local hospital officials.
Dr. Jadallah Shafai, the head of the nursing department at Shifa Hospital, told the Al Jazeera network that around 50 people were killed and 250 wounded. He did not provide a precise toll.
Al Jazeera ran footage showing several bodies and injured people arriving at Shifa.
The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports.
Fares Afana, the head of the ambulance service at Kamal Adwan Hospital, said medics arriving at the scene found “dozens or hundreds” lying on the ground. He said there were not enough ambulances to collect all the dead and wounded and that some were being brought to hospitals on donkey carts.
Dr, Mohammad Salha, the acting director of the Al-Awda Hospital, said it received 90 wounded and three dead, who were transferred to Kamal Adwan.
“We expect a rise in the number killed,” he said. “There are many wounded still at the reception and the emergency room.”
He said Al-Awda is largely out of commission, with no electricity and the operating room running on battery power with only hours left. Gaza’s health sector is under severe strain nearly five months into the Israel-Hamas war.

Russian rocket successfully puts Iranian satellite into orbit

Updated 5 min 19 sec ago
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Russian rocket successfully puts Iranian satellite into orbit

  • The Iranian state TV said the 110-kilogram satellite has three cameras

MOSCOW: A Russian rocket on Thursday successfully put an Iranian satellite into orbit, a launch that underlined increasingly close cooperation between Moscow and Tehran.
Russia’s state-run Roscosmos corporation said that a Soyuz rocket blasted off from the Vostochny launch facility in the country’s far east to carry the Iranian satellite and 18 Russian satellites into orbit.
The Iranian state TV said the 110-kilogram satellite has three cameras to take images for environmental, agricultural and other purposes.
Iran’s state TV said the satellite will be put into orbit around the North and South Poles, synchronized to be in the same fixed position relative to the Sun, and will be fully functional after a calibration of its systems.
Thursday’s launch comes after Russia put into orbit the Iranian Khayyam satellite in 2022.
Iran’s Communication Minister Isa Zarepour told the TV that Iran’s space program has had a total of 23 launches, including 12 during President Ebrahim Raisi’s administration.


HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria

Updated 29 February 2024
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HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria

  • HRW: Turkiye ‘bears responsibility for the serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by members of its own forces and local armed groups it supports’ in Syria’s north’

BEIRUT: Turkiye bears responsibility for human rights abuses and violations of land and property rights in swathes of northern Syria it controls alongside its proxies, a Human Rights Watch report said Thursday.
Since 2016, Turkiye has carried out successive ground operations to expel the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from Syria’s north, with its proxies now controlling two large border strips.
Turkiye “bears responsibility for the serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by members of its own forces and local armed groups it supports” in Syria’s north, HRW said in its report.
Turkish officials in Syria’s north have in some cases “been directly involved in apparent war crimes,” with Turkish forces and intelligence agencies involved “in carrying out and overseeing abuses,” the report said.
Abuses and violations are “most often directed at Kurdish civilians and anyone else perceived to have ties to Kurdish-led forces,” HRW said.
Kurdish women detainees have reported sexual violence including rape, while children as young as six months old have been detained with their mothers, the report said.
Ankara views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that dominate the SDF as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist group.
The military police and the myriad rebel factions of the Syrian National Army (SNA), both backed by Ankara, “have arbitrarily arrested and detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and subjected to unfair military trials scores of people with impunity,” HRW said.
A Syrian who formerly lived under SNA rule told HRW: “Everything is by the power of the weapon.”
The rights group has also accused Ankara of having “summarily deported thousands of Syrian refugees” from Turkiye to areas under its control in Syria.
In July 2023 alone, Ankara sent back more than 1,700 Syrians into the Tal Abyad border area, the report said.
Hundreds of thousands of residents in northeast Syria’s Turkish-controlled border strip have been displaced from their homes, with SNA factions looting, pillaging, and seizing their properties, the report said.
“The hardest thing for me was standing in front of my house and not being able to enter it,” a displaced Yazidi man from Ras Al-Ain told HRW.
Turkiye and its proxies “should grant independent investigative bodies immediate and unhindered access to territories under their control,” the rights group said.
Syria’s war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.


Urgent UN Security Council action sought to end war in Sudan

Updated 29 February 2024
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Urgent UN Security Council action sought to end war in Sudan

  • “It is clear that this is an urgent matter of peace and security that demands greater attention from the Security Council,” says US envoy
  • UN says that nearly 25 million people — half Sudan’s population — need aid and some 8 million have fled their homes

UNITED NATIONS: The United States on Wednesday pushed for the United Nations Security Council to take action to help end a nearly year-long conflict in Sudan between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The United States says the warring parties have committed war crimes and the RSF and allied militias have also committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The UN says that nearly 25 million people — half Sudan’s population — need aid and some 8 million have fled their homes and hunger is rising.
“It is clear that this is an urgent matter of peace and security that demands greater attention from the Security Council,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told Reuters in a statement.
“The council must act urgently to alleviate human suffering, hold perpetrators to account, and bring the conflict in Sudan to an end. Time is running out,” she said, without specifying what action the 15-member council should take.
Since war erupted on April 15, 2023, the council has only issued three press statements condemning and expressing concern about the war. It echoed that language in a resolution in December that shut down a UN political mission — following a request from Sudan’s acting foreign minister.
Between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed in one city alone in Sudan’s West Darfur region last year in ethnic violence by the RSF and allied Arab militia, according to a UN sanctions monitors report, seen by Reuters last month.
“I am deeply disappointed that the allegations detailed in this report have received such little attention, both inside the UN Security Council and outside the United Nations,” said Thomas-Greenfield, who visited a refugee camp in Chad near the border with Sudan’s Darfur in September.
The Sudanese government recently prohibited aid deliveries through Chad, effectively shutting down a crucial route for supplies to the vast Darfur region, which is controlled by the rival RSF. Thomas-Greenfield described the move as “unacceptable” for threatening a “critical lifeline.”
Reuters last year chronicled the ethnically targeted violence committed in West Darfur. In hundreds of interviews with Reuters, survivors described horrific scenes of bloodletting in El Geneina and on the 30-km (18-mile) route from the city to the border with Chad as people fled.
 


Food aid reaches north Gaza for first time in weeks. Israeli hostages’ families push for release

Updated 29 February 2024
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Food aid reaches north Gaza for first time in weeks. Israeli hostages’ families push for release

  • The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis, who see in them an enduring symbol of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from Hamas’ assault

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Aid convoys carrying food reached northern Gaza this week, Israeli officials said Wednesday, the first major delivery in a month to the devastated, isolated area, where the UN has warned of worsening starvation among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians amid Israel’s offensive.
The increasing alarm over hunger across Gaza has fueled international calls for a ceasefire as the US, Egypt and Qatar work to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas for a pause in fighting and the release of some of the hostages seized by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack.
Mediators hope to reach an agreement before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts around March 10. But so far, Israel and Hamas have remained far apart in public on their demands.
Increasing the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a deal, families of hostages on Wednesday launched a four-day march from southern Israel to Jerusalem to demand their loved ones be set free. Some of the around 100 hostages freed during a ceasefire in late November are joining the march, which is to end near Netanyahu’s official residence.
The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis, who see in them an enduring symbol of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from Hamas’ assault. In its Oct. 7 attack, the Palestinian militant group abducted roughly 250 people, according to Israeli authorities, including men, women, children and older adults. After the November releases, some 130 hostages remain, and Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.
Israel’s assault on Gaza, which it says aims at destroying Hamas after its attack, has killed more than 29,900 Palestinians. UN officials warn of further mass casualties if it follows through on vows to attack the southernmost city of Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has taken refuge. They also say a Rafah offensive could collapse the aid operation that has already been crippled in the fighting.
Across Gaza, more than 576,000 people – a quarter of the population – are a step away from famine, the UN says. But northern Gaza in particular has been gutted by hunger. The north has largely been cut off and much of it has been leveled since Israeli ground troops invaded in late October. Several hundred thousand Palestinians are believed to remain there, and many have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive. The UN says one in 6 children under 2 in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting.
A convoy of 31 trucks carrying food entered northern Gaza on Wednesday, the Israeli military office that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs said. The office, known by the acronym COGAT, said nearly 20 other trucks entered the north on Monday and Tuesday. Associated Press footage showed people carrying sacks of flour from the distribution site.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the deliveries. The UN was not involved, said a spokesperson for the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, Eri Keneko.
As of Sunday, the UN had been unable to deliver food to northern Gaza since Jan. 23, according to Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees that has led the aid effort during the war. On Feb. 18, the World Food Program attempted a delivery to the north for the first time in three weeks, but much of the convoy’s cargo was taken en route by desperate Palestinians, and it was only able to distribute a small amount in the north. Two days later, the WFP announced it was pausing deliveries to the north because of the chaos.
Since launching its assault on Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, Israel has barred entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies except for a trickle of aid entering the south from Egypt at the Rafah crossing and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing. Despite international calls to allow in more aid, the number of supply trucks entering has dropped dramatically in recent weeks.
COGAT said Wednesday that Israel does not impose limits on the amount of aid entering. Israel has blamed UN agencies for the bottleneck, saying hundreds of trucks are waiting on the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom for aid workers to collect them.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday countered saying large trucks entering Gaza have to be unloaded and reloaded onto smaller Palestinian trucks, but there aren’t enough of them and there’s a lack of security to distribute aid in Gaza. Police in Gaza stopped protecting convoys after Israeli strikes on them near the crossing. There is also “insufficient coordination” from Israel on security and deconfliction, which puts the lives of UN staff and other humanitarian workers at risk.
“That’s why we’ve repeatedly asked for a humanitarian ceasefire,” he said. The UN has called for Israel to open crossings in the north to aid deliveries and guarantee safe corridors for convoys.
The director of Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza said the number of children who have died in recent days from severe malnutrition and dehydration had risen to four.
Dr. Hussam Abu Safiya said that operations at the hospital will shut off starting Wednesday due to fuel shortages. “Dialysis, intensive care, childcare, and surgeries will stop. Therefore, we will witness more deaths in the coming days,” he said.
But the pain from the lack of supplies extends across Gaza. Project Hope, a humanitarian group that runs a clinic in the central town of Deir Al-Balah, said 21 percent of the pregnant women and 11 percent of the children under 5 it has treated in the last three weeks are suffering from malnutrition.
The Gaza Health Ministry said the death toll from Israel’s offensive had risen to 29,954 people, with 70,325 wounded. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it says two-thirds of the dead were children and women.
In its attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, Hamas and other Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians.