Israel hits south Gaza as top US diplomat Blinken seeks de-escalation

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gestures as he arrives in Tel Aviv. (AFP)
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Updated 09 January 2024
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Israel hits south Gaza as top US diplomat Blinken seeks de-escalation

  • Gaza’s health ministry said 73 dead and 99 wounded had arrived at Al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza’s Deir Al-Balah city over the previous 24 hours
  • Two journalists working for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network were killed on Sunday

Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territories: Israel hit targets in south Gaza and across its border with Lebanon, the army said Monday ahead of a visit by the top US diplomat who is seeking to avert a wider war.
Gaza’s health ministry said 73 dead and 99 wounded had arrived at Al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza’s Deir Al-Balah city over the previous 24 hours.
Three months into its battle with Gaza-based Hamas militants, Israel’s army says its focus has moved from the northern Gaza Strip to “dismantling” militants in the center and south of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.
In the southern city of Khan Yunis, troops and warplanes overnight Sunday-Monday struck 30 militant targets which a military statement described as “significant.” These included underground targets and weapons storage facilities, it said.
A drone also killed 10 militants “preparing to launch rockets toward Israeli territory,” the statement added.
Also overnight, the military said it had hit “numerous Hezbollah targets” in Lebanon.
Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, a Hamas ally, have engaged in regular cross-border fire during the war that began an October 7 with Hamas’s unprecedented attack against Israel.
But a strike last week in a Beirut stronghold of Hezbollah has been a major factor contributing to rising fears of spreading conflict. A US Defense Department official has told AFP that Israel carried out the strike that killed Hamas’s deputy leader Saleh Al-Aruri.
The Hamas attack which triggered the war resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
The militants, considered a “terrorist” group by the United States and European Union, also took around 250 hostages, 132 of whom remain captive, Israel says. At least 24 are believed to have been killed.
Israel has responded with relentless bombardment and a ground invasion that have killed at least 22,835 people, most of them women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.
On his fourth regional trip since the war began, Blinken held talks earlier Monday with President of the UAE Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi.

 


Blinken’s visit comes alongside that of other top Western diplomats trying to stop the conflict from spreading and to boost desperately needed aid to Gazans.
In Qatar on Sunday, Blinken warned that the violence could “easily metastasize” into a regional conflict.
Over the weekend Qatari officials also hosted relatives of captives still held in Gaza, said Ruby Chen, father of 19-year-old captive Itay Chen. The release of more hostages “serves the bigger objective, as they see it, which is creating regional stability,” Chen said on returning to Tel Aviv.
Qatar earlier helped mediate a one-week truce that saw dozens of hostages freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Talks with Hamas on a new truce are “ongoing,” the emirate’s prime minister said.
Since October, violence has surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have launched more than 100 drone and missile strikes toward targets in the Red Sea, a major global trade route, and Israel.
Washington, Israel’s main ally that provides it with billions of dollars in military aid, has grown increasingly concerned over the war’s civilian death toll.
Most of Gaza’s population has been displaced, according to the United Nations, leaving them in overcrowded shelters or tents in the winter chill.
The World Health Organization has warned of the risk of famine and disease, with only minimal aid entering as people struggle to find water and other necessities.
Washington has said Blinken will press Israel on its compliance with international humanitarian law and ask for “immediate measures” to boost aid to Gaza.
“Our home and my son’s home have been destroyed and we have 20 people martyred in our family. I don’t know where we will go even if I survive,” said Gaza resident Nabil Fathi, 51.
Two journalists working for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network were killed on Sunday when their car was struck in southern Gaza’s city of Rafah, near the border with Egypt, the broadcaster said.
They were named as Mustafa Thuria, a video stringer who also worked for AFP and other media organizations, and Hamza Wael Dahdouh, the son of Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief who had been wounded in an earlier strike, after his wife and two other children were killed in an Israeli bombardment.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 79 journalists and media professionals, the vast majority Palestinian, have been killed since the war began.
Al-Aqsa hospital, which received the additional wounded on Monday, is one of Gaza’s few still partly functioning, but on Sunday the UN reported “sickening scenes of people of all ages being treated on blood-streaked floors and in chaotic corridors.”
Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari on Saturday said forces had “dismantled” Hamas’s military leadership in northern Gaza, leaving militants there operating only sporadically without leadership.
His comment came weeks after Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in November that Hamas had “lost control” of Gaza, which it has ruled since 2007.
Live AFPTV images on Monday showed black smoke rising over Gaza’s central and southern areas, with explosions sounding.
A military statement said troops had discovered a Hamas underground “weapons production site” in morth Gaza. It also released footage of what it said were operations in the northern district of Shujaiya targeting Islamic Jihad, a militant group fighting alongside Hamas.
Despite the devastation and deprivation in Gaza’s north, members of the minority Greek Orthodox community on Sunday attended Christmas mass inside Gaza City’s richly decorated Church of Saint Porphyrius.

 


Palestinian detainees say they faced abuse in Israeli jails

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Palestinian detainees say they faced abuse in Israeli jails

GAZA: Palestinians held in Israeli detention since the start of the war in Gaza said they faced systematic ill-treatment by prison authorities whom they accused of deliberately withholding vital medical treatment.

Human rights groups and international organizations have alleged widespread abuse of inmates detained by Israel in raids in the occupied West Bank or during its military advance through in Gaza.

They described abusive and humiliating treatment including holding blindfolded and handcuffed detainees in cramped cages as well as beatings, intimidation and harassment.

“We have left but we call on you to get the rest out,” said former detainee Ataa Shbat, at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza, where he was taken following his release. He said many detainees believed their families assumed they were dead.

“People are dying. Torture which you cannot imagine unless you taste it (experience it). Suffering which you cannot imagine unless you experience it,” he said.

The Israeli military has said it is investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees at facilities in Israel but has declined to comment on specific cases. A spokesperson said on Wednesday that details of the investigation would be shared when they were ready.

At least 18 Palestinians have died in Israeli custody since the start of the war, the Palestinian Prisoners Association said on Wednesday, six of whom were from Gaza, including orthopedics surgeon Adnan Al-Bursh.

More than 9,170 Palestinians from the West Bank have been arrested by Israel since Oct. 7, it said, with thousands more “forcibly disappeared” from Gaza. It said their exact number was unknown as Israel has refused to disclose how many Palestinians from Gaza it was holding.

Last week, Israeli state attorneys said authorities had begun transferring prisoners from Sde Teiman, a former military base in the Negev desert, after groups including Association for Civil Rights in Israel demanded the closure of the site.

Widespread reports of mistreatment of detainees in Israeli prisons have added to international pressure on Israel for its conduct of the Gaza war, now in its ninth month. Last month, the US State Department said it was looking into allegations of Israeli abuse of Palestinian detainees.

The main UN relief agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, said in a report from April that prisoners reported ill-treatment throughout their detention. It said this included beatings, being deprived of food, denied access to water or toilets and having their hands and feet bound with plastic ties.


Houthis blamed for attack on cargo ship in Red Sea

Updated 12 June 2024
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Houthis blamed for attack on cargo ship in Red Sea

  • Vessel hit by small boat, ‘airborne projectile,’ maritime agencies say
  • Strike comes after US says it destroyed two anti-ship missile launchers in Houthi-controlled area

AL-MUKALLA: A commercial ship transiting the Red Sea was damaged on Wednesday in an attack by another vessel and a projectile thought to have been launched by the Houthi militia group, two UK maritime agencies said.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations said in an initial report that it received a message from the master of the cargo ship that it had sustained damage to its stern after being attacked by a small vessel about 66 nautical miles southwest of the port city of Hodeidah.

The smaller craft was “white in color and 5-7 meters in length. Authorities are investigating. Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity,” it said.

In updates, the UKMTO said the ship was also struck by an “unknown airborne projectile,” was taking on water and not under the control of the crew.

A second maritime security service, Ambrey, identified the cargo ship as the Greek-owned Tutor and said it had suffered damage to its engine room.

While the Houthis did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack, Ambrey said the boat seemed to have been launched by the militia group from Yemen.

Over the past eight months, the Houthis have launched hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and remote-controlled, explosive-laden boats at commercial and naval ships in international waters off Yemen and in the Indian Ocean, claiming their actions were intended to force Israel to end its war in Gaza.

But critics have said the group is taking advantage of the widespread condemnation of the killing of civilians in Gaza to shore up popular support while simultaneously recruiting and mobilizing fighters to attack the Yemeni government.

Wednesday’s attack came after the US Central Command said its forces had destroyed two anti-ship cruise missile launchers in a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen in the previous 24 hours.

US and UK forces conducted three airstrikes on Tuesday in Al-Salif district of Hodeidah province, according to Houthi media.

Meanwhile, the Houthis are coming under mounting pressure from around the world to free the scores of Yemeni employees of the UN and other foreign organizations who were abducted from their homes in Sanaa.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that a WHO employee was among those being held.

“We are working closely with our UN counterparts to ensure their safety. We urge an immediate and unconditional release. Humanitarian workers must never be a target,” he said.

Yemen’s Minister of Human Rights Ahmed Arman told Arab News this week that Dr. Abdul Nasser Al-Rabai, an immunization officer for the WHO’s Yemen office, was abducted in a raid on his home.

Meanwhile, the son of Judge Abdul Wahab Qatran said on Facebook on Wednesday that his father had been released after being held by the Houthis for five months.

Mohammed Abdul Wahab Qatran posted a photograph of himself with his father and siblings but said the Houthis were still holding his father’s phones and other items taken during a raid on his home.

“My free and heroic father was freed this afternoon but he is unable to access all of his accounts since his phones and accounts are still with the intelligence services,” he said.

Qatran Sr. was abducted in January and charged with denigrating a Houthi leader and publishing false news.

The judge was known for criticizing the Houthis for human rights violations and failing to pay public workers. Shortly before his abduction he voiced sympathy for a journalist who was attacked and beaten by the militia in Sanaa.


Court acquits Turkish police of killing human rights lawyer

Updated 12 June 2024
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Court acquits Turkish police of killing human rights lawyer

  • Tahir Elci, a prominent campaigner for Kurdish rights, was shot dead on a city street on November 28, 2015, during a gunfight between outlawed Kurdish militants and police
  • The court ordered that three police officers be acquitted because of lack of evidence after a lengthy trial

DIYARBAKIR, Turkiye: A Turkish court on Wednesday acquitted three police officers nine years after the killing of a prominent rights lawyer in the Kurdish majority city of Diyarbakir.
Tahir Elci, a prominent campaigner for Kurdish rights, was shot dead on a city street on November 28, 2015, during a gunfight between outlawed Kurdish militants and police.
Elci, who was head of the Diyarbakir bar association, was cut down as he appealed for calm in the aftermath of the killing of two police officers by the PKK in a nearby street.
The court ordered that three police officers, who appeared before the court by video link, be acquitted because of lack of evidence after a lengthy trial. They stood accused of “causing death by foreseeable negligence” and faced up to six years in prison.
Amnesty International blasted the verdict as a “huge blow” to Elci’s family and the wider human rights community in Türkiye.
“The failure of the authorities to hold those responsible for his killing to account is a thorn in the heart of his loved ones and a stain on the justice system in Turkiye,” Amnesty’s deputy regional director for Europe Dinushika Dissanayake said in a statement.
Lawyers for Elci’s family had denounced multiple failures in the investigation as well as the destruction of evidence and successive changes of prosecutor in charge of the case.
The long-awaited trial opened in 2020, five years after the killing, after rights advocates including Human Rights Watch had criticized “extreme delays” in the case.
Elci’s death came after the collapse of a ceasefire between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.
In 2019, investigators from the London-based research agency Forensic Architecture published an in-depth report into the shooting, suggesting that security forces could have killed him.


Al-Azhar welcomes Security Council’s endorsement of Gaza truce call

Updated 12 June 2024
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Al-Azhar welcomes Security Council’s endorsement of Gaza truce call

  • Grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, hailed the resolution endorsed by the Security Council, which calls for a ceasefire in Gaza
  • Al-Tayeb received a group of senior secondary students from the Gaza Al-Azhar Institute, Gaza Institute, Khan Yunis Institute, and North Gaza Institute

CAIRO: Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning, has welcomed the UN Security Council’s endorsement of the resolution to stop the aggression against the Gaza Strip.

The grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, hailed the resolution endorsed by the Security Council, which calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, the full withdrawal of Israeli forces, the bilateral release of prisoners and hostages, the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes, the immediate entry of aid into the Gaza Strip, and moving toward the reconstruction of Gaza. ‎

A statement from Al-Azhar said the seminary hopes that the Security Council will be able to ensure all the guarantees required for the implementation of the resolution and for all parties to adhere to it and save the lives of innocent people.

It stressed that the resolution, issued after the loss of more than 37,000 lives, “is a step in the right direction and represents a final opportunity to restore peace and trust in the international community and international institutions, promote global peace and security, and grant the Palestinian people their right to establish their independent state.” ‎

Meanwhile, Al-Tayeb received a group of senior secondary students from the Gaza Al-Azhar Institute, Gaza Institute, Khan Yunis Institute, and North Gaza Institute. The male and female students joined Al-Azhar institutes in Cairo to pursue their studies after Israel launched its offensives against Gaza.

Al-Tayeb welcomed the Gazan students to Egypt and Al-Azhar, saying: “Our hearts have been broken over the past six months since the onset of the aggression, and we have felt for you during this human tragedy that has afflicted you day after day. However, our meeting with you today has induced hope in us anew. You have taught the world the meaning of steadfastness, perseverance, hope, and trust in God.

“I see this in your steadfastness and your determination to pursue your education. We at Al-Azhar Al-Sharif are happy to have you with us, and we will work to provide all the amenities that ensure your excellence. My door and the door of Al-Azhar are open to you at any hour of the day or night.” ‎

He listened attentively to the students who recounted their ordeals during Israel’s invasion and expressed fears about the difficult days ahead.

The students offered Al-Azhar’s imam a Palestinian keffiyeh in appreciation for his role in supporting them and advocating for the Palestinian cause.


Hamas seeking US guarantees over Gaza ceasefire plan

Updated 12 June 2024
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Hamas seeking US guarantees over Gaza ceasefire plan

  • Mediators Qatar and Egypt said Hamas had responded on Tuesday without giving details
  • US said Israel accepted the proposal, but Israel has not publicly stated this

GAZA: Hamas wants written guarantees from the United States for a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip in order to sign off on a US-backed truce proposal, two Egyptian security sources said.
Mediators Qatar and Egypt said Hamas had responded on Tuesday to the phased ceasefire plan for an end to the eight-month war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group, without giving details.
The plan was made public at the end of May by US President Joe Biden. It includes the gradual release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza and pullback of Israeli forces over two phases, as well as the freeing of Palestinian prisoners, with the reconstruction of Gaza and return of the remains of deceased hostages in a third phase.
The United States has said Israel accepted the proposal, but Israel has not publicly stated this.
The Egyptian sources and a third source with knowledge of the talks said Hamas had concerns that the current proposal does not provide explicit guarantees over the transition from the first phase of the plan, which includes a six-week truce and the release of some hostages, to the second phase, which includes a permanent ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal.
The Egyptian sources said Hamas would only accept the plan if the guarantees were in place, and Egypt was in contact with the US about the demand.
“Hamas wants reassurances of an automatic transition from one phase to another as per the agreement laid out by President Biden,” the third source said.
Hamas and Egyptian authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
When he announced the plan, Biden said that if negotiations to move to the second phase lasted longer than six weeks, the ceasefire would continue as those negotiations were extended.
Hamas said on Tuesday that its “positive” response to the proposal opened a “wide pathway” to reach an agreement.
But an Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity said Hamas had “changed all of the main and most meaningful parameters,” characterising the group’s response as a rejection of Biden’s proposal for a hostage release.
One non-Israeli official briefed on the matter, who also declined to be identified, said that in its response, Hamas had proposed a new timeline for a permanent ceasefire with Israel and withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, including Rafah.
More than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, say health officials in the Hamas-ruled enclave.
The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting some 250 others, according to Israeli tallies.
Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar have been trying for months to mediate a ceasefire and free the hostages, more than 100 of whom are believed to remain captive in Gaza.