Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way

Israel has warned it will expand its ground operations into Rafah, above, if Hamas does not free the remaining hostages held in Gaza by next month’s start of the Muslim holy month Ramadan. (AP)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way

  • Global powers trying to navigate a way to end the Israel-Hamas war have so far come up short
  • International concern has in recent weeks centered on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Israel launched air strikes Thursday on southern Gaza’s Rafah after threatening to send troops into the city, where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought shelter from around the territory.
Global powers trying to navigate a way to end the Israel-Hamas war have so far come up short, but a US envoy was expected in Israel on Thursday to try to secure a truce deal.
International concern has spiraled over the high civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack against Israel.
More than four months of relentless fighting and air strikes have flattened much of the Hamas-run coastal territory, pushing its population of around 2.4 million to the brink of famine, according to the UN.
International concern has in recent weeks centered on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million people forced to flee their homes elsewhere in the territory are now living in crowded shelters and makeshift tents.
The last city untouched by Israeli ground troops, Rafah also serves as the main entry point via neighboring Egypt for desperately needed relief supplies.
Israel has warned it will expand its ground operations into Rafah if Hamas does not free the remaining hostages held in Gaza by next month’s start of the Muslim holy month Ramadan.
The war started when Hamas launched its attack on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Hamas militants also took about 250 hostages — 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29,313 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by the Hamas-run health ministry in the territory.
War cabinet member Benny Gantz said Israel’s operation in Rafah would begin “after the evacuation of the population,” although his government has not offered any details on where civilians would be evacuated to.
In the early hours of Thursday, AFP reporters heard multiple air strikes on Rafah, particularly in the Al-Shaboura neighborhood.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said early Thursday that 99 people had been killed around Gaza during the night, most of them women, children and elderly people.
Abdel Rahman Mohamed Jumaa said he lost his family in recent strikes on Rafah.
“I found my wife lying in the street,” he said. “Then I saw a man carrying a girl and I ran toward him and.... picked her up, realizing she was really my daughter.”
He was holding a small shrouded corpse in his arms.
Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, was expected to arrive in Israel Thursday — his second stop in the region after Egypt as part of US efforts to advance a hostage deal and broker a truce.
Hamas’s chief Ismail Haniyeh was in Cairo for talks as well, according to the group.
Israel’s Gantz said there were efforts to “promote a new plan for the return of the hostages.”
“We are seeing the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress in this direction.”
Matthew Miller, US State Department spokesman, said Washington was hoping for an “agreement that secures a temporary ceasefire where we can get the hostages out and get humanitarian assistance,” but declined to give details on ongoing negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the army will keep fighting until it has destroyed Hamas and freed the remaining hostages.
Israel’s parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a proposal by Netanyahu to oppose any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
The vote came days after the Washington Post reported that US President Joe Biden’s administration and a small group of Arab nations were working out a comprehensive plan for long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
It included a firm timeline for the establishment of a Palestinian state, the report said.
Separately, a report by an Israeli group that fights sexual violence said Hamas’s October 7 attack also involved systematic sexual assaults on civilians, based on witness testimonies, public and classified information, and interviews.
The report came the same week UN rights experts called for an independent probe into alleged Israeli abuses against Palestinian women and girls — which Israel rejected as “despicable and unfounded claims.”
Israeli officials have repeatedly alleged the militants committed violent sexual assaults during the attack — something Hamas has denied.
Combat and chaos have stalled sporadic aid deliveries for civilians in Gaza, while in Khan Yunis — a city just north of Rafah — medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said an Israeli tank had fired on a house sheltering their employees and families.
Two relatives of MSF staff were killed and six others injured, it said, condemning the strike in the “strongest possible terms.”
When contacted by AFP about the incident, the Israeli army said its forces had “fired at a building that was identified as a building where terror activity is occurring,” adding that it “regrets” harm to civilians.
In the same town, the Palestinian Red Crescent said another hospital was also hit by “artillery shelling.”
Israel has repeatedly said Hamas militants use civilian infrastructure including hospitals as operational bases — claims that Hamas has denied.


Daesh attack in Syria kills three soldiers: war monitor

Updated 8 sec ago
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Daesh attack in Syria kills three soldiers: war monitor

The militants “attacked a site where... regime forces were stationed“
The Syrian army had sent forces to the area, where Daesh attacks are common

BEIRUT: Daesh group militants killed three Syrian soldiers in an attack Tuesday on an army position in the Badia desert, a war monitor said.
The militants “attacked a site where... regime forces were stationed,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Right said, adding that a lieutenant colonel and two soldiers died.
The Syrian army had sent forces to the area, where Daesh attacks are common, ahead of an expected wider sweep, said the Britain-based Observatory which has a network of sources inside the country.
In an attack on May 3, Daesh fighters killed at least 15 Syrian pro-government fighters when they targeted three military positions in the desert, the Observatory had reported.
Daesh overran large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a so-called caliphate and launching a reign of terror.
It was defeated territorially in Syria in 2019, but its remnants still carry out deadly attacks, particularly against pro-government forces and Kurdish-led fighters in Badia desert.
Syria’s war has claimed more than half a million lives and displaced millions more since it erupted in March 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.

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

Updated 21 May 2024
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At least 6 Egyptian women die after vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River

  • The accident, which happened in Monshat el-Kanater town in Giza province, also injured nine other passengers

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

People mourn the death of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a helicopter crash.
Updated 6 min 4 sec ago
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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.