Israel presses ground offensive in southern Gaza, air strikes intensify

Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel on December 4, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 05 December 2023
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Israel presses ground offensive in southern Gaza, air strikes intensify

  • Intense Israeli air strikes hit the south of the Gaza Strip, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians
  • Operation has transformed much of the north, including large parts of Gaza City, into a rubble-filled wasteland

Intense Israeli air strikes hit the south of the Gaza Strip on Monday, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians, including in areas where Israel had told people to seek shelter, residents and journalists on the ground said.

Israeli troops and tanks also pressed the ground campaign against Hamas in the south of the enclave after having largely gained control of the now-devastated north.

Early on Monday, Israel ordered Palestinians to leave parts of Gaza’s main southern city, Khan Younis. But residents said that areas which they had been told to go to were also coming under fire.

Israel’s military posted a map on social media platform X with around a quarter of Khan Younis marked off in yellow as territory that must be evacuated at once.

Three arrows pointed south and west, telling people to head toward the Mediterranean coast and toward Rafah, a major town near the Egyptian border.

Desperate Gazans in Khan Younis packed their belongings and headed toward Rafah. Most were on foot, walking past ruined buildings in a solemn and silent procession.

But the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza (UNRWA), Thomas White, said people in Rafah were themselves being forced to flee.

“People are pleading for advice on where to find safety. We have nothing to tell them,” he said on X.

In the territory’s northern part, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said at least 50 people were killed in an Israeli air strike that hit two schools sheltering displaced people in the Daraj neighborhood of Gaza City.

The Gaza health ministry could not be reached for comment on the report and it was not immediately possible to verify it independently. A spokesperson for the Israeli army said it was looking into the report.

Separately, the health ministry said at least 15,899 Palestinians, 70 percent of them women or under 18s, have now been killed in Israeli bombardments of the Hamas-ruled enclave in eight weeks of warfare. Thousands more are missing and feared buried in rubble.

Israel launched its assault to wipe out Hamas in retaliation for an Oct. 7 cross-border attack by its gunmen. They killed 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies — the deadliest single day in Israel’s 75-year history.

BIG CRATER

Bombing at one site in Rafah overnight had torn a crater the size of a basketball court out of the earth. A dead toddler’s bare feet and black trousers poked out from under a pile of rubble. Men struggled with their bare hands to move a chunk of the concrete that had crushed the child.

Later they chanted “God is greatest” and wept as they marched through the ruins carrying the body in a bundle, and that of another small child wrapped in a blanket.

“We were asleep and safe,” said Salah Al-Arja, owner of one of the houses destroyed at the site. “There were children, women and martyrs,” he said. “They tell you it is a safe area, but there is no safe area in all of the Gaza Strip.”

Israel accuses Hamas of putting civilians in danger by operating from civilian areas, including in tunnels which can only be destroyed by large bombs. Hamas denies it does so.

As many as 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes in the Israeli bombing campaign that has reduced much of the crowded coastal strip to a desolate wasteland.

Israeli forces largely captured the northern half of Gaza in November, and since a week-long truce collapsed on Friday they have swiftly pushed deep into the southern half.

Tanks have driven into Gaza from the border fence and cut off the main north-south route, residents say. The Israeli military said the central road out of Khan Younis to the north “constitutes a battlefield” and was now shut.

Hamas said its fighters clashed with Israeli forces in northern Khan Younis overnight.

ISRAEL’S GOALS IN NORTH ALMOST MET

The commander of Israel’s armored corps, Brig.-General Hisham Ibrahim, told Army Radio the military had almost achieved its goals in northern Gaza.

“We are beginning to expand the ground maneuver to other parts of the Strip, with one goal — to topple the Hamas military group,” he said.

The military released footage of troops patrolling in tanks and on foot, in fields and in badly damaged urban areas, and firing from weapons, without specifying the location in Gaza.

Israel says its evacuation orders are aimed at protecting civilians from harm, and called on international organizations to help encourage Gazans to move to the areas labelled safe on Israeli maps.

The United Nations said the areas in the south that Israel has ordered evacuated in the three days since the truce ended had housed over 350,000 people before the war — not counting the hundreds of thousands now sheltering there from other areas.

In Khan Younis, many of those taking flight on Monday were already displaced from other areas. Abu Mohammed told Reuters it was now the third time he had been forced to flee since abandoning his home in Gaza City in the north.

“Why did they eject us from our homes in Gaza (City) if they planned to kill us here?” he said.

Israel’s closest ally the United States has called on it to do more to safeguard civilians in the southern part of Gaza than in last month’s campaign in the north.

But about 900 people have been killed in Israeli air strikes since the truce ended on Friday, Gaza health authorities said.

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters: “All indications and reports suggest that the same pattern – of dropping heavy-duty bombs and using artillery in densely populated areas – is continuing.”


Netanyahu rival Lapid says Israel lost ‘deterrence’ against Iran

Updated 18 min 58 sec ago
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Netanyahu rival Lapid says Israel lost ‘deterrence’ against Iran

  • Former PM says ‘Jewish terrorist violence’ against Palestinians in West Bank was ‘out of control’ under Netanyahu
  • Israeli settlers torched Palestinian homes, cars over weekend in West Bank, where violence has soared since Oct. 7

JERUSALEM: Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of leading to a “total loss of Israeli deterrence” in the wake of an unprecedented Iranian attack.
In a scathing criticism posted on X, former premier Lapid also said that under Netanyahu, “Jewish terrorist violence” against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank was “out of control.”
Netanyahu, who returned to power in late 2022 at the helm of a coalition with far-right parties, has brought “heaps of destruction from Beeri to Kiryat Shmona,” Lapid said, calling for early elections.
Beeri, a kibbutz community near the Gaza border, came under attack when Hamas militants stormed the area on October 7, triggering the ongoing war, while the northern town of Kiryat Shmona has suffered during months of cross-border fire between Israeli forces and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Lapid’s remarks came two days after Iran — which backs both Hamas and Hezbollah — launched more than 300 missiles and drones at Israel in retaliation for a deadly strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus.
Israel, the United States and other allies intercepted nearly all launches in the late Saturday aerial attack — the first direct Iranian military action against arch foe Israel.
Netanyahu’s cabinet has weighed Israel’s response to the Iranian attack, but the prime minister has not made any public comments.
In the West Bank, where violence has soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Israeli settlers torched Palestinian homes and cars over the weekend, killing at least two people, after an Israeli teen was “murdered in a suspected terrorist attack,” according to the Israeli military.
Pointing to surging “terrorist” settler attacks, Lapid said: “If we don’t move this government, it will bring destruction upon us.”
The government, which includes hard-line settlers, has prioritized Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Netanyahu has faced in recent months mass protests over the fate of hostages held in Gaza and pressure from a resurgent anti-government movement.
The prime minister’s Likud party responded to Lapid in a statement stressing Netanyahu’s part in “the global campaign” to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons — which Tehran denies it is seeking.


US destroys about 90 Iranian and Houthi drones, missiles in two days

Updated 4 sec ago
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US destroys about 90 Iranian and Houthi drones, missiles in two days

  • Iran’s ‘continued unprecedented, malign, and reckless behavior endangers regional stability and safety of US and coalition forces,’ CENTCOM says
  • Houthi media said on Sunday that the US and UK had launched strikes on an area under their control in the southern province of Taiz

AL-MUKALLA: More than 90 ballistic missiles and drones fired by Iran and the Houthis in Yemen at Israel and international shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden were intercepted by US military and navy forces, supported by ships from European Command, on Saturday and Sunday, according to two US military statements on Monday.

The US Central Command, or CENTCOM, said in a statement on Monday afternoon that its troops destroyed four drones fired by the Houthis from controlled areas in Yemen between 4:00 a.m. and 9:15 p.m. on Sunday.

On Saturday, the Houthis fired one anti-ship ballistic missile against US Navy and commercial ships in the Gulf of Aden.

“There were no injuries or damage reported by US, coalition, or commercial ships,” CENTCOM said.

In a separate statement issued early on Monday, CENTCOM stated that its forces, backed by US European Command ships, destroyed more than 80 drones and at least six ballistic missiles launched by Iran and the Houthis in Yemen at Israel on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The intercepted volley of drones and missiles includes a ballistic missile destroyed on its launcher vehicles, as well as seven drones destroyed in Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen before launch.

“Iran’s continued unprecedented, malign, and reckless behavior endangers regional stability and the safety of US and coalition forces,” CENTCOM said.

“CENTCOM remains postured to support Israel’s defense against these dangerous actions by Iran. We will continue to work with all our regional partners to increase regional security,” the military said in the second statement.

Iran blasted hundreds of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones toward Israel on Saturday night in retaliation for a purported Israeli airstrike in Damascus that killed senior Revolutionary Guards leaders.

The Houthis have not formally confirmed their participation in Iran’s retaliatory strike, despite reports from the US Central Command that missiles and drones launched by the Yemeni militia at Israel were intercepted.

Ambrey, a UK marine security company, also said that the Houthis launched drones at Israel during the Iran strike.

Since November, the Houthis have shot hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones toward Israel and ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden, claiming that their acts are in support of the Palestinian people.

The Houthis claim that they want to put an end to Israel’s heavy shelling of the Palestinian Gaza Strip while also allowing humanitarian aid to reach the territory. 

The US and UK have launched strikes against Houthi sites in Yemen since mid-January, attempting to force the Yemeni group to cease their attacks on ships.

Houthi media said on Sunday that the US and UK had launched strikes on an area under their control in the southern province of Taiz.

Meanwhile, deputy foreign minister Hussein Al-Ezzi has threatened to strike a recently built airport in the Red Sea town of Mokha to prevent what he calls “hostile” countries, such as the US as well as Israel, from using the airport as a platform for operations against them.

“We will not allow any Americans, Israelis or hostile parties to use Mokha Airport,” Al-Ezzi said on X. 

Yemen’s Aviation and Metrology Authority in Aden announced earlier this month that the Mokha Airport in Taiz province was ready for flights into and out of Yemen. 

Sadiq Dwaid, a spokesman for the National Resistance Forces, a military unit commanded by Presidential Leadership Council member Tareq Saleh, refuted the Houthi charges that the airport was open to Americans and Israelis.

“Mokha Airport is a civilian airport built to serve civilians and is not utilized for military operations. Any attempts to target the airport will be met with severe retribution,” Dwaid said on X.


Iraq’s deputy prime minister, in US meeting, calls for regional restraint

Updated 20 min 30 sec ago
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Iraq’s deputy prime minister, in US meeting, calls for regional restraint

  • “The government of Iraq is warning about escalation in the area to be dragged into a wider war," Tamim says

WASHINGTON: Iraq called on all parties to show restraint amid soaring tensions between neighboring Iran and Israel, Deputy Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Tamim said on Monday as he met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“The government of Iraq is warning about escalation in the area to be dragged into a wider war that will threaten international security and safety,” he said at the start of a meeting of the US-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee in Washington.
“And therefore we call on all parties for self restraint and respect the rules of diplomatic works and also international laws.”


Sudden heavy rains in Oman kill at least 17 including schoolchildren

Updated 32 min 38 sec ago
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Sudden heavy rains in Oman kill at least 17 including schoolchildren

  • Civil defense officials gave the death toll for the rains, which saw Oman’s North Al Sharqiyah province hardest hit
  • Heavy rains also were expected over Dubai in the neighboring UAE and other regions of the Arabian Peninsula

DUBAI: Heavy rainfall caused flash flooding in Oman on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, killing at least 17 people as rescuers searched for survivors, authorities said Monday. In one incident, a group of school children and a driver died when their vehicle was overtaken, authorities said.
Heavy rains also were expected over Dubai in the neighboring United Arab Emirates and other regions of the Arabian Peninsula.
Civil defense officials gave the death toll for the rains, which saw Oman’s North Al Sharqiyah province hardest hit. The Royal Oman Police and the Omani military deployed to the province to transport citizens out of flooded areas, Oman News Agency reported.
Heavy rainfall often causes flash flooding in the sultanate, drawing the curious from their homes to nearby dry riverbeds, known in Arabic as “wadi.” In flooding, they can quickly fill and wash away people and vehicles.
In Dubai, authorities expected heavy rains to begin Monday night and last into Tuesday morning. The Emirates’ National Center of Meteorology warned of thunder, lightning, rain and possibly hail, with winds reaching up to 70 kph (43 mph). Government schools announced they would hold classes remotely Tuesday and Wednesday.


Israeli military official says four Israeli soldiers wounded in blast inside Lebanon

Updated 15 April 2024
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Israeli military official says four Israeli soldiers wounded in blast inside Lebanon

  • Injuries as a result of an explosion of an unknown source during activity along the northern border

JERUSALEM: Four Israeli soldiers were wounded in an explosion hundreds of meters inside Lebanese territory, an Israeli military official said on Monday.
Earlier, the military said four soldiers were injured overnight, one severely, as a result of an explosion of an unknown source during activity along the northern border and that the incident was under review.