Israeli protesters block aid convoys bound for Gaza

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Israeli demonstrators gather by the border fence with Egypt at the Nitzana border crossing in southern Israel on February 18, 2024, as they attempt to block humanitarian aid trucks from entering into Israel on their way to the Gaza Strip. (AFP)
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Israeli demonstrators gather by the border fence with Egypt at the Nitzana border crossing in southern Israel on February 18, 2024, as they attempt to block humanitarian aid trucks from entering into Israel on their way to the Gaza Strip. (AFP)
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Israeli demonstrators gather by the border fence with Egypt at the Nitzana border crossing in southern Israel on February 18, 2024, as they attempt to block humanitarian aid trucks from entering into Israel on their way to the Gaza Strip. (AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2024
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Israeli protesters block aid convoys bound for Gaza

  • Protesters reached the terminal where aid from Egypt is checked before the trucks continue toward Gaza
  • As a result, trucks waiting on the Egyptian side were unable to cross into Israel

NITZANA: Even as the threat of famine stalks the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, Israeli protesters have gathered repeatedly to stop desperately needed aid from getting into the Palestinian territory.
“You might say it’s not acceptable to block food and water going in,” said one protester, David Rudman, at the Nitzana border post between Israel and Egypt.
“But, given the situation we’re in, it’s acceptable,” he argued as the Gaza war, siege and hostage crisis have continued into a fifth month.
The latest protest on Sunday came as Hamas threatened to suspend talks to free hostages unless more aid gets in.
Despite those threats, just over 100 people gathered at Nitzana, where the Egyptian Sinai meets Israel’s Negev desert, with some saying they were hoping to pile pressure on in a bid to free the captives.
Rudman, 35, drove three hours from Jerusalem to prevent food, fuel and medicine from getting into Gaza, which Israel has been shelling since Hamas’s October 7 attack.
Undeterred by concrete blocks across the road and armed soldiers on patrol, the protesters reached the terminal where aid from Egypt is checked before the trucks continue toward Gaza.
As a result, trucks waiting on the Egyptian side were unable to cross into Israel.
“Our aim is to get the hostages back,” said Rudman.
“There hasn’t been any progress for weeks, and you’re going to see more and more people coming here,” he predicted.
The war began with Hamas’s attack that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign in Gaza has killed more than 29,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
Some 300,000 people remain in northern Gaza, where increasingly desperate conditions have forced some to grind bird feed for flour.
A first truce at the end of November saw the release of 108 hostages out of the more than 250 kidnapped by Hamas on October 7. Israel says 130 captives are still in Gaza but 30 may be dead.
“One of my best friends is a hostage in Gaza,” said Rudman, without naming the captive. “We hope he’s still alive in Gaza but we don’t know for sure.
“It makes no sense at all. On the one hand we give them water, medicine and food but on the other we don’t even have a list” of who is being held and their condition.
Families of the hostages have taken to the streets every week to push the Israeli government to accept a deal for their release.
This weekend said they would block the terminal at Nitzana or one further north at Kerem Shalom.
But at Nitzana on Sunday only one member of the hostages’ families turned up and refused to talk, out of fear of reprisals for those being held.
A survey for Israel’s Channel 12 television at the end of January suggested 72 percent of Israelis believed Gaza should not receive any aid while hostages are still being held.
The UN says the protests at Nitzana and Kerem Shalom are blocking trucks from going into Gaza, hitting dwindling stocks.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society on Sunday evening said 123 trucks made it into Gaza via Kerem Shalom, but none had passed through Nitzana because of the protest.
Nili Naouri, head of the far-right group “Israel is Forever,” said that “it’s completely immoral to force Israel to send humanitarian convoys of trucks to people that support Hamas, who are holding our people hostage, and are collaborating with the enemy.”
On Sunday, members of the organization turned up to block aid, calling it “unhumanitarian.”
“Hamas aren’t going to gladly free our hostages if we allow aid trucks in for the civilian population of Gaza,” said Naouri.
Her solution is simple: “Let Gazans leave Gaza” if they want help from the international community.
Hamas, she charged, diverts aid for its own ends.
Some 1.4 million Palestinians have been sheltering in Rafah in the far south of Gaza, many having been displaced several times in a bid to find safety since the start of the war.
With neighboring Egypt repeatedly rejecting the mass displacement of Palestinians, they have nowhere to go as Israel’s planned ground offensive of Rafah looms.
But David Ickowicz, 39, a regular at the aid blockades, is convinced that his “civil disobedience” serves a purpose.
“Hamas’s leaders live in the tunnels. But to live underground and breathe oxygen you need electricity produced by fuel,” he reasoned.
“Cut off fuel supplies and we’ll get them out of the tunnels.”


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

Updated 4 sec ago
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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.