Israel hits Gaza’s Rafah; Hamas chief’s trip raises truce hopes

WHO said on Feb, 20, 2024 it had transferred 32 patients out of the besieged Nasser Hospital in southern Gaza but said it feared for the patients and medics still inside. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Israel hits Gaza’s Rafah; Hamas chief’s trip raises truce hopes

  • The World Health Organization says the hospital in Khan Younis stopped working last week
  • Nasser Hospital is the latest health facility to become a theater of war in the conflict between Israel and Hamas

CAIRO: Israeli bombing on Thursday flattened a mosque and destroyed homes in Rafah in a fierce surge of violence in the city, while the Hamas chief was in Cairo for talks Gazans hope could bring a truce and head off a full-blown assault on the city.
In Khan Younis, the territory’s principal battlefield since Israel launched an assault on the city last month, Israeli forces withdrew from the Nasser Medical Complex a week after raiding it, the Palestinian enclave’s health ministry said.
The World Health Organization had said earlier it aimed to evacuate some of the roughly 140 patients stranded there, where Palestinian officials said bodies of dead patients had begun to decompose amid power cuts and fighting.
Israel gave no immediate comment.
In Rafah, mourners wept over at least seven corpses in body bags, laid on cobbles outside a morgue in the city hard against the Egyptian border, where over half of the Palestinian enclave’s 2.3 million people huddled, mostly in tents.
“They took the people I love, they took a piece of my heart,” wailed Dina Al-Shaer, whose brother and his family were killed in an overnight strike.
Gaza health authorities said 97 people were confirmed killed and 130 wounded in the last 24 hours of Israeli assaults, but many more victims were still under rubble.
Rafah’s Al-Farouk mosque was flattened into slabs of concrete, and the facades of adjacent buildings were blasted away. Authorities said four houses had been struck in the south of the city and three in the center.
Residents said the bombing was the heaviest since an Israeli raid on the city 10 days ago that freed two hostages and killed scores of civilians.
“We couldn’t sleep, the sounds of explosions and planes roaring overhead didn’t stop,” said Jehad Abuemad, 34, who lives with his family in a tent. “We could hear children crying in nearby tents, people here are desperate and defenseless.”
The head of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) told the United Nations Security Council in New York that children who survive the war will not only bear the visible wounds of traumatic injuries, but the invisible ones too.
“These psychological injuries have led children as young as five to tell us that they would prefer to die,” said Christopher Lockyear.
Gaza authorities said at least 20 people were also killed by bombing of two houses in a central part of the Gaza Strip, the only other substantial area yet to be stormed by Israeli forces.
Israel launched its campaign in Gaza after Hamas militants who control the territory stormed through Israeli towns on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, nearly 30,000 people have been confirmed killed in Gaza, according to health authorities, with thousands more feared dead, unrecovered under ruins.

HAMAS LEADER IN CAIRO FOR TALKS
Israel has threatened to launch a full-blown attack on Rafah, the last city at Gaza’s southern edge, despite international pleas — including from its main ally Washington — for restraint.
Residents who have fled to Rafah from elsewhere say there is nowhere left to go. Meanwhile, an already meagre aid flow has almost completely dried up.
The heads of the main UN relief agencies, including UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and the WHO, released a letter pleading for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and warning that further escalation into Rafah would cause mass casualties.
Talks to reach a ceasefire failed two weeks ago, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a counteroffer from Hamas for a four-and-a-half month truce that would end with an Israeli withdrawal.
Hamas, still believed to be holding more than 100 hostages, says it will not free them unless Israel agrees to end fighting and withdraw. Israel says it will not pull out until Hamas is eradicated.
The arrival of Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Cairo this week for his first publicly announced visit since December was the strongest sign for weeks that negotiations remain alive. Haniyeh has met Egyptian mediators, but so far little has been said in public.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, told Reuters that Israel was now backtracking on terms the country had accepted weeks ago in a ceasefire offer hammered out with US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators.
“The occupation is not interested in achieving any agreement,” he said, accusing Netanyahu of ignoring the issue of freeing captives in a prisoner swap. “All he is concerned about is continuing the execution of Palestinians in Gaza.”
There was no immediate response from Israeli officials. Netanyahu has said he would not agree to Hamas’ “delusional demands,” but that if the group were to show flexibility progress would be possible.
In one of the first indications of how Israel sees Gaza being run after the war, a senior Israeli official said Israel was looking for Palestinians with no links to either Hamas or the rival Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, to set up a civil administration in “humanitarian pockets” of Gaza.
“We’re looking for the right people to step up to the plate,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “But it is clear that this will take time, as no one will come forward if they think Hamas will put a bullet in their head.”
The plan was dismissed by Palestinians, including both Hamas and the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organization of its main rivals, as an unworkable formula for Israeli occupation.
“We are confident this project is pointless and is a sign of confusion and it will never succeed,” Abu Zuhri of Hamas told Reuters.


US and UK issue new sanctions on Iran in response to Tehran’s weekend attack on Israel

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Updated 6 sec ago
Follow

US and UK issue new sanctions on Iran in response to Tehran’s weekend attack on Israel

  • Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted 16 people and two entities in Iran that produce engines that power the drones used in the April 13 attack on Israel
  • UK is targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s drone and ballistic missile industries

WASHINGTON: The US and UK on Thursday imposed a new round of sanctions on Iran as concern grows that Tehran’s unprecedented attack on Israel could fuel a wider war in the Middle East.
Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted 16 people and two entities in Iran that produce engines that power the drones used in the April 13 attack on Israel. Additionally, the UK is targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s drone and ballistic missile industries.
“We will continue to deploy our sanctions authority to counter Iran with further actions in the days and weeks ahead,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
The action comes after US officials earlier this week warned that they were readying new sanctions in response to Iran’s activity in the region and to prevent future attacks. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill also have been quickly pushing forward legislation that would financially punish the Islamic Republic and its leaders.
Iran’s attack on Israel early Sunday came in response to what it says was an Israeli strike on Iran’s consulate in Syria earlier this month. Israel’s military chief said Monday that his country will respond to the Iranian attack, while world leaders caution against retaliation, trying to avoid a spiral of violence.
European Union leaders also vowed on Wednesday to ramp up sanctions on Iran, targeting its drone and missile deliveries to proxies in Gaza, Yemen and Lebanon.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the existing EU sanctions regime would be strengthened and expanded to punish Tehran and help prevent future attacks on Israel. At the same time, he said, Israel needed to exercise restraint.
“I don’t want to exaggerate, but we are on the edge of a war, a regional war in the Middle East, which will be sending shockwaves to the rest of the world, and in particular to Europe,” he warned. “So stop it.”


Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
Updated 16 min 53 sec ago
Follow

Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

  • “We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said
  • Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike

JERUSALEM: Israel launched more deadly strikes on besieged Gaza on Thursday as world powers watched nervously whether the country would retaliate against a weekend attack by its arch enemy Iran.
The Israeli army said it had bombed dozens of targets in the Palestinian coastal territory of 2.4 million people, more than six months into the bloodiest ever Gaza war.
Weeks of talks toward an Israel-Hamas truce and hostage release deal have stalled, according to Qatar’s prime minister who said the Gulf emirate was now “reassessing our role as mediator.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas over its October 7 attack on Israel, also stressed on Wednesday that Israel “reserves the right to protect itself” against Iran.
The Islamic republic last weekend carried out its first ever attack to directly target its regional foe but Israel, backed by its allies, intercepted most of the 300 missiles and drones and suffered no deaths.
Iran’s attack was retaliation for an April 1 air strike, which it blamed on Israel, on the consular annex of its embassy in Damascus.
The international community has urged de-escalation since Iran’s attack on Israel which came after months of high tensions and violence involving Israel and Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
“We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said ahead of a G7 meeting in Capri, Italy.
Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike.
However, Tehran had also sought to calm tensions through indirect diplomatic channels with its other major adversary, the United States, which is Israel’s top ally and military supplier.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in New York for a UN meeting, said Iran had “tried to tell the United States clearly” that it is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region.”
Washington has made clear it won’t join any Israeli attack on Iran, but has pledged to instead impose new punitive sanctions against Iran.
The European Union on Wednesday said it would impose new sanctions on Iran’s drone and missile producers.
Israeli public broadcaster Kan said Netanyahu, after discussions with US President Joe Biden, decided not to proceed with pre-arranged plans for retaliatory strikes on Iran.
“Diplomatic sensitivities came into play,” a senior Israeli official told Kan, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official added that there would be a response, but that it would be different to the one initially planned.
US broadcaster ABC News, citing three unnamed Israeli sources, reported that Israel had “prepared for and then aborted retaliatory strikes against Iran on at least two nights this past week.”
Among the range of possible responses considered by Israel were an attack on Iranian proxies in the region or a cyberattack, the sources told ABC.
German airline Lufthansa extended its suspension of flights to and from Tehran and Beirut to the end of April and said its planes would continue avoiding Iranian airspace.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomed a European Union announcement of sanctions on Iran as “an important step” and wrote on X that “Iran must be stopped now before it is too late.”
Iran’s attack on Israel “is succeeding in taking the focus, particularly the media spotlight, off of the Gaza famine and the Gaza war and the loss of life that is taking place there,” Roxane Farmanfarmaian, a Middle East/North Africa specialist at the University of Cambridge’s POLIS department, told AFP.
“And that was very much I think what Israel planned to do,” she said.
An AFP correspondent in Gaza said Israeli artillery shelling and aircraft strikes again hit Gaza City overnight.
The Israeli military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day.
The war started after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,970 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll on Thursday from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Gaza’s civil defense said Thursday it had recovered 11 more bodies in the southern city of Khan Yunis during the night.
Israel had also bombed the far-southern city of Rafah.
Gaza rescue crews recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, from a house in Rafah’s Al-Salam neighborhood, the civil defense service said.
One woman in Rafah, Jamalat Ramidan, told AFP she and crying children fled the carnage of a strike, stumbling over “body parts and corpses scattered all over the place.”
Talks toward a ceasefire have stalled, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, despite months of effort also involving United States and Egyptian officials.
He said his country was undertaking “a complete re-evaluation of its role because there has been damage to Qatar,” which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Israel has faced growing global opposition to the Gaza war, which the United Nations and aid agencies say has left the north of the territory on the brink of famine.
Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected this, saying Israeli efforts were “above and beyond” what is needed “on the humanitarian issue,” his office said.
The UN Security Council was preparing to vote soon on an Algeria-drafted resolution for full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state, diplomatic sources said.
However, the veto-wielding United States has repeatedly expressed opposition to such a move.


Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says

Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says

  • The hub has struggled to clear a backlog of flights in the aftermath of heavy rain that swamped the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday

DUBAI: Dubai International Airport will return to its full operational capacity within 24 hours, Dubai Airports Chief Operating Officer Majed Al-Joker told state news agency WAM on Thursday.
The hub has struggled to clear a backlog of flights in the aftermath of heavy rain that swamped the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
“Once operations are back to normal, we will assess the damages and would be able to give figure for the size of losses,” Al Joker told Al Arabiya TV in a televised interview.


British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group

Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group

  • Signatories to open letter say Iranian organization has ‘never posed a greater threat to UK’
  • Proscription would put Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on par with Daesh, Al-Qaeda

LONDON: A cross-party group of more than 50 MPs and Lords peers in the UK have demanded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be designated a terrorist organization.

The cross-party group, which includes former home secretaries Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, made the request in an open letter to The Times.

The IRGC is a key component of Iran’s military and power-projection capabilities. More than 125,000 personnel serve in its ranks, spread across wings including the Quds Force, the overseas element responsible for liaising with and supporting militias in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In recent years, the IRGC has also built a relationship with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The open letter, signed by 134 people, follows last weekend’s Iranian attack on Israel, which signatories described as the “latest chapter of destructive terror by the IRGC.”

It says: “The government has combated extremism and terrorism by proscribing Hamas and Hezbollah but it is not enough.

“The IRGC is the primary source of ideological radicalisation, funding, equipment and training for these groups.

“The government must act against the root cause and proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.”

Iran’s attack was a response to Israel’s strike on its consulate in Damascus that killed 11 people, including senior commanders.

Former US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in 2019, a year before the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force.

But the UK has been reluctant to follow the US measure for fear of breaking diplomatic communication channels with Tehran.

As part of sanctions on Iran targeting its nuclear program, however, the UK sanctioned the IRGC, freezing the assets of its members and implementing travel bans.

A terrorist designation in the UK would put the IRGC on par with Daesh and Al-Qaeda, and make it illegal to support the group, with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.

The 134 signatories said the IRGC has “never posed a greater threat to the UK,” accusing “thugs” belonging to the group of stabbing an Iranian dissident in London last month.

The letter was coordinated by the UK-Israel All Parliamentary Party Group, which includes former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.


Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’

Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’

  • Tehran carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel, firing drones and missiles on the weekend
  • Top envoy: Iran communicated with Washington ‘before and after’ launching its attack on Israel

TEHRAN: Iran’s top diplomat said Thursday his country has told the United States that it is not seeking escalation after an unprecedented attack on Israel.
The Islamic republic carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel, firing drones and missiles on the weekend. The barrage — to which Israel’s army chief has vowed a response — was retaliation for an April 1 air strike on Tehran’s consulate in Damascus. Iran blamed Israel for the consular attack.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who is in New York to attend a UN Security Council meeting, said his country has “tried to tell the United States clearly” that Iran is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region,” he said in a video posted by his ministry.
Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic relations since 1980, but neutral Switzerland represents Washington’s interests in Iran. Both the US and Iran have alluded to the Swiss role as an intermediary.
According to Amir-Abdollahian, Iran communicated with Washington “before and after” launching its attack on Israel.
Iran informed the United States that the decision by the Islamic Republic of Iran to “respond to the (Israel) regime is final,” and the matter concluded, he said.
Iran’s retaliation against Israel left a girl severely wounded but caused little damage. It followed the strike in Damascus that killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, including two generals.
“Before the operation, we clearly told the American side that we will not target American bases and interests in the region,” Amir-Abdollahian said.
The Islamic republic has celebrated the attack as a success but President Ebrahim Raisi warned of “a fierce and severe response” to further “aggression” by Israel.
During his trip to New York, Amir-Abdollahian is set to meet United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his counterparts from other countries.
The United States, Israel’s top ally, has said it would soon impose new sanctions on Iran’s missile and drone program following the strike on Israel, and said it expects allies to take parallel measures.
The US and other allies helped Israel intercept the Iranian strike.