Israel vows to ‘finish the job’ in Gaza as War Cabinet member threatens a Ramadan deadline for Rafah

A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment on February 18, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2024
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Israel vows to ‘finish the job’ in Gaza as War Cabinet member threatens a Ramadan deadline for Rafah

  • Israeli cabinet member threatens to invade Rafah if remaining hostages are not freed by Ramadan
  • Israel has killed at least 28,985 Palestinians, mostly women and children, Palestinian officials say

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday brushed off growing calls to halt the military offensive in Gaza, vowing to “finish the job” as a member of his War Cabinet threatened to invade the southern city of Rafah if remaining Israeli hostages are not freed by the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Israel’s government has not publicly discussed a timeline for a ground offensive on Rafah, where more than half the enclave’s 2.3 million Palestinians have sought refuge. Retired general Benny Gantz, part of Netanyahu’s three-member War Cabinet, represents an influential voice but not the final word on what might lie ahead.
“If by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue to the Rafah area,” Gantz told a conference of Jewish American leaders. Ramadan, expected to begin March 10, is historically a tense time in the region.




Mourners react next to the bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, at Abu Yousef Al-Najjar hospital in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, February 18, 2024. (REUTERS)

As ceasefire negotiations struggle after signs of progress in recent weeks, Netanyahu has called demands by Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group “delusional.”
The United States, Israel’s top ally, says it still hopes to broker a ceasefire and hostage-release agreement, and envisions a wider resolution of the war sparked by Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel.
The US also says it will veto another draft UN resolution calling for a ceasefire, with its UN ambassador warning against measures that could jeopardize “the opportunity for an enduring resolution of hostilities.”




A Palestinian child walks past a destroyed house in Rafah on February 18, 2024, following overnight Israeli air strikes on the southern Gaza Strip border city amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (AFP)

But Netanyahu opposes Palestinian statehood, which the US calls a key element in a broader vision for normalization of relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia. His Cabinet adopted a declaration Sunday saying Israel “categorically rejects international edicts on a permanent arrangement with the Palestinians” and opposes any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
The international community overwhelmingly supports an independent Palestinian state as part of a future peace agreement. Netanyahu’s government is filled with hard-liners who oppose Palestinian independence.
Netanyahu wants Israel to achieve “total victory” over Hamas. In response to international concern over a Rafah offensive, he has said Palestinian civilians will be evacuated. Where they will go in largely devastated Gaza is not clear.




A picture taken in the village of Turmus Ayya near Ramallah city shows the nearby Israeli Shilo settlement in the background, in the occupied West Bank on February 18, 2024. (AFP)

The suggested timing for the offensive came as the World Health Organization chief said southern Gaza’s main medical center, Nasser Hospital, “is not functional anymore” after Israeli forces raided it in Khan Younis last week.
Israeli strikes across Gaza continued, killing at least 18 people overnight into Sunday, according to medics and witnesses. A strike in Rafah killed six people, including a woman and three children, and another killed five in Khan Younis, the main target of the southern Gaza offensive in recent weeks. Associated Press journalists saw the bodies.
“All those who were martyred were those whom the Jews asked to move to safe places,” said a bystander after the Rafah strike, Ahmad Abu Rezeq.
In Gaza City, which suffered widespread destruction early in the war, an airstrike flattened a home, killing seven people, including three women, according to relative Sayed Al-Afifi.
Israel’s military rarely comments on individual strikes and blames civilian casualties on Hamas because the militants operate in dense residential areas.
UN SAYS RAIDED HOSPITAL NO LONGER FUNCTIONS
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a WHO team was not allowed to enter Nasser Hospital on Friday or Saturday. In a post on X, he said about 200 patients remain, including 20 who need urgent referrals elsewhere.
Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said at least 200 militants surrendered at the hospital. He also claimed that Hamas in Khan Younis is defeated, and that Hamas is largely leaderless in Gaza. He gave no evidence to support the claims.
The Gaza Health Ministry said 70 medical personnel were among those arrested, along with patients, leaving 150 patients without medical care. It said Israel refused to allow patients, including newborns, to be evacuated to other hospitals.
The military says it is looking for the remains of hostages inside Nasser Hospital and does not target doctors or patients.
The Oct. 7 attack killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostage. Militants still hold around 130 hostages, a fourth of them believed to be dead. Most of the others were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November.
The war has killed at least 28,985 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. On Sunday it said 127 bodies were brought to hospitals in the past 24 hours.
Around 80 percent of Gaza’s population have been displaced, and a quarter face starvation. Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority, said 123 aid trucks entered Gaza through Israel’s Kerem Shalom border crossing Sunday and four trucks of cooking gas entered through the Rafah crossing with Egypt. That’s well below the 500 trucks entering daily before the war.
In the occupied West Bank, a shootout erupted when Israeli forces went to arrest an armed suspect in the town of Tulkarem. The military said the suspect was killed, and a member of Israel’s paramilitary Border Police was severely wounded. It described the target of the raid as a senior militant. The Palestinian Health Ministry said two Palestinians were killed.
The war in Gaza has threatened to ignite wider conflict in the region. The US Central Command said it conducted five self-defense strikes Saturday against cruise missiles and drones in area of Yemen controlled by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebel group.
US OPPOSES A NEW CEASE-FIRE RESOLUTION
Algeria, the Arab representative on the UN Security Council, has circulated a draft resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza, and rejecting the forced displacement of Palestinians.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the draft “will not be adopted” and runs counter to Washington’s efforts to end the fighting. The US vetoed previous resolutions that had wide international support.
The US, Qatar and Egypt have spent weeks trying to broker a ceasefire and hostage release, but Qatar said Saturday the talks “have not been progressing as expected.”
Hamas has said it will not release all remaining hostages without Israel ending the war and withdrawing from Gaza. It also demands the release of hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including top militants.
 


At least 6 Egyptian women die after vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River

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At least 6 Egyptian women die after vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River

CAIRO: At least six Egyptian women died Tuesday after a vehicle carrying about two dozen people slid off a ferry and plunged into the Nile River just outside Cairo, authorities said.
The accident, which happened in Monshat el-Kanater town in Giza province, also injured nine other passengers, the Health Ministry said in a statement. Giza is one of three provinces forming Greater Cairo.
The ministry said six of the injured were treated at the site while three others were transferred to hospitals. It didn’t elaborate on their injuries.
Giza provincial Gov. Ahmed Rashed said the microbus was retrieved from the Nile, and rescue efforts were still underway as of midday Tuesday.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear.
According to the state-owned Akhbar daily, about two dozen passengers, mostly women, were in the vehicle heading to work when the accident occurred.
Ferry, railway and road accidents are common in Egypt mainly because of poor maintenance and lack of regulations. In February, a ferry carrying day laborers sank in the Nile in Giza, killing at least 10 of the 15 people on board.

Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says

Updated 21 May 2024
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Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says

  • Statement stated that Asma would undergo a special treatment protocol that would require her to isolate

DUBAI: Syria’s first lady, Asma Assad, has been diagnosed with leukemia, the Syrian presidency said on Tuesday, almost five years after she announced she had fully recovered from breast cancer.
The statement said Asma, 48, would undergo a special treatment protocol that would require her to isolate, and that she would step away from public engagements as a result.
In August 2019, Asma said she had fully recovered from breast cancer that she said had been discovered early.
Since Syria plunged into war in 2011, the British-born former investment banker has taken on the public role of leading charity efforts and meeting families of killed soldiers, but has also become hated by the opposition.
She runs the Syria Trust for Development, a large NGO that acts as an umbrella organization for many of the aid and development operations in Syria.
Last year, she accompanied her husband, President Bashar Assad ,on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, her first known official trip abroad with him since 2011. She met Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the Emirati president’s mother, during a trip seen as a public signal of her growing role in public affairs.


Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province

Updated 21 May 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province

  • The Houthis said last Friday they downed another US MQ9 drone over the southeastern province of Maareb

DUBAI: Yemen’s Houthis downed a US MQ9 drone over Al-Bayda province in southern Yemen, the Iran-aligned group’s military spokesperson said in a televised statement on Tuesday.

Yahya Saree said the drone was targeted with a locally made surface-to-air missile and that videos to support the claim would be released.

The Houthis said last Friday they downed another US MQ9 drone over the southeastern province of Maareb.

The group, which controls Yemen’s capital and most populous areas of the Arabian Peninsula state, has attacked international shipping in the Red Sea since November in solidarity with the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas militants, drawing US and British retaliatory strikes since February.


Iranians pay last respects to President Ebrahim Raisi

Updated 21 May 2024
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Iranians pay last respects to President Ebrahim Raisi

  • Mourners set off from a central square in the northwestern city of Tabriz
  • Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declares five days of national mourning

TEHRAN: Tens of thousands of Iranians gathered Tuesday to mourn president Ebrahim Raisi and seven members of his entourage who were killed in a helicopter crash on a fog-shrouded mountainside in the northwest.

Waving Iranian flags and portraits of the late president, mourners set off from a central square in the northwestern city of Tabriz, where Raisi was headed when his helicopter crashed on Sunday.

They walked behind a lorry carrying the coffins of Raisi and his seven aides.

Their helicopter lost communications while it was on its way back to Tabriz after Raisi attended the inauguration of a joint dam project on the Aras river, which forms part of the border with Azerbaijan, in a ceremony with his counterpart Ilham Aliyev.

A massive search and rescue operation was launched on Sunday when two other helicopters flying alongside Raisi’s lost contact with his aircraft in bad weather.

State television announced his death in a report early on Monday, saying “the servant of the Iranian nation, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, has achieved the highest level of martyrdom,” showing pictures of him as a voice recited the Qur’an.

Killed alongside the Iranian president were Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, provincial officials and members of his security team.

Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri ordered an investigation into the cause of the crash as Iranians in cities nationwide gathered to mourn Raisi and his entourage.

Tens of thousands gathered in the capital’s Valiasr Square on Monday.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate authority in Iran, declared five days of national mourning and assigned vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until a presidential election can be held.

State media later announced that the election would will be held on June 28.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri, who served as deputy to Amir-Abdollahian, was named acting foreign minister.

From Tabriz, Raisi’s body will be flown to the Shiite clerical center of Qom on Tuesday before being moved to Tehran that evening.

Processions will be held in in the capital on Wednesday morning before Khamenei leads prayers at a farewell ceremony.

Raisi’s body will then be flown to his home city of Mashhad, in the northeast, where he will be buried on Thursday evening after funeral rites.

Raisi, 63, had been in office since 2021. The ultra-conservative’s time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel.

Raisi succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear activities.

Condolence messages flooded in from Iran’s allies around the region, including the Syrian government, Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

It was an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel that sparked the devastating war in Gaza, now in its eighth month, and soaring tensions between Israel and the “resistance axis” led by Iran.

Israel’s killing of seven Revolutionary Guards in a drone strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1 triggered Iran’s first ever direct attack on Israel, involving hundreds of missiles and drones.

In a speech hours before his death, Raisi underlined Iran’s support for the Palestinians, a centerpiece of its foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Palestinian flags were raised alongside Iranian flags at ceremonies held for the late president.


Israeli army raids West Bank’s Jenin, Palestinians say seven killed

Updated 21 May 2024
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Israeli army raids West Bank’s Jenin, Palestinians say seven killed

  • Among the Palestinians killed was a surgical doctor, the head of the Jenin Governmental Hospital said

JENIN: Israeli forces raided Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday in an operation that the Palestinian health ministry said killed seven Palestinians, including a doctor, and left nine others wounded.
The army said it was an operation against militants and that a number of Palestinian gunmen were shot. There was no immediate word of any Israeli casualties.
The health ministry account of the casualties was quoted by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Among the Palestinians killed was a surgical doctor, the head of the Jenin Governmental Hospital said. He was killed in the vicinity of the hospital, the director said.
The West Bank is among territories Israel seized in a 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians want it to be the core of an independent Palestinian state. US-sponsored talks on a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict broke down in 2014.