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)
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Updated 23 February 2024
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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.


Drone war continues in southern Lebanon, Burkan missiles target Israeli sites

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Drone war continues in southern Lebanon, Burkan missiles target Israeli sites

  • Israeli hacks Lebanese phone network to book hotel in Beirut for 50,000 settlers ‘displaced by Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran’
  • Israeli combat drones raided the towns of Mays Al-Jabal and an area between the towns of Alma Al-Shaab and Dhayra

BEIRUT: Hezbollah mourned two of its members on Wednesday, the 228th day of confrontations between the group and the Israeli army in southern Lebanon.
The total number of Hezbollah fatalities, along with its affiliated medics and members of its ally, the Amal Movement, has reached 330.
Confrontations continued between the two sides through airstrikes, with both sides employing combat drones in addition to conventional warfare methods.
Israeli combat drones raided the towns of Mays Al-Jabal and an area between the towns of Alma Al-Shaab and Dhayra. Two missiles fired by an Israeli combat drone targeted the town of Aita Al-Shaab.
Israeli artillery shelled the town of Markaba, causing a large fire that civil defense teams worked to extinguish.
The town of Hula was also subjected to Israeli artillery shelling, as were the outskirts of the towns of Tayr Harfa and Alma Al-Shaab.
The two Hezbollah members were killed on Tuesday night in an airstrike by an Israeli drone that targeted the town of Odaisseh; Mohammed Ali Bou Taam (born in 2000) from the town of Taybeh in southern Lebanon, and Ali Hassan Sultan (born in 1991) from the town of Souaneh in southern Lebanon.
Hezbollah targeted several Israeli military sites, including the Ramim barracks, with Burkan missiles, and the Al-Sadah site, and said in a statement that it “directly hit it with artillery shells.”
Brig. Gen. Mounir Shehadeh, the former Lebanese government coordinator to UNIFIL and former head of the military court, said that the escalation on the southern front carried two messages from Hezbollah. The first, he said, was “a response to the repeated threats from Israeli officials to launch a major military operation in southern Lebanon to push Hezbollah to withdraw to the north of the Litani Line. The second message is that the party is ready to escalate if Israel decides to enter Rafah and commit more massacres.”
Shehadeh said that Hezbollah was using new tactics and weapons. He said that targeting the newly established Israeli military sites was an indication of the capabilities it possessed, especially in intelligence and reconnaissance. He added that repeatedly targeting the Meron base and downing two balloons had caused Israel to lose control and air superiority over the northern front, especially as Hezbollah said that it has so far used only 20 percent of its qualitative capabilities.
The Israeli army has rigged combat drones; on Tuesday, a small drone launched by the Israeli army exploded in the direction of a house in the town of Naqoura.
Meanwhile, Israeli Channel 12 website noted “an increase in the use of drones by Hezbollah,” considering that “its lethal capability has increased.”
The website reported that a study conducted by the Alma Center, which specializes in researching the security challenges facing Israel in the north, stated that “24 incidents of drones entering Israeli airspace occurred in March, the number increased to 42 incidents in April, and 20 incidents were recorded in May.”
The website quoted officials at Alma Center as saying: “There is a difficulty related to the way drones fly toward the target.”
Tal Barry, director of research at Alma Center, told Channel 12 that “Hezbollah is using the current battle to evaluate the offensive and defensive capabilities of the Israeli army, and also to compare its capabilities with those of the Israeli army.”
Amid the tension on the southern front and increasing protests by Israeli settlers who were evacuated from settlements in the north, a video spread across Israeli websites, shared on social media, showing an Israeli man appearing on Israeli Channel 12. In the video, the man calls what he claimed to be Caesars Park Hotel (in Beirut), demanding evacuation for himself and thousands of Israelis.
The Israeli caller, speaking in Arabic, asked the person who answered from the hotel: “I am calling from Israel. There are 30, 40, 50 thousand people who need to come to Beirut because of Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran. Do you have any available space?”
The hotel employee responded with surprise, “Where are you from?” The Israeli caller answered in Arabic, “We are from Israel, we are 50, 60 thousand people, we want to come to Beirut to your hotel.” The employee angrily replied, “Go to hell,” and hung up.
The Lebanese hotel employee’s response angered the Israeli caller, who insulted the person on air.
Arab News contacted the hotel on Hamra Street in Beirut to confirm the Israeli call. A hotel source confirmed that the call was received by the employee “through the landline.”
The Israeli caller claimed on the Israeli TV channel that he had previously visited Beirut and stayed at the hotel, but the hotel source strongly denied this.
This Israeli infiltration via phone call was preceded by a similar infiltration at the start of the confrontations. Israelis used the Lebanese phone network to contact dozens of southerners who had evacuated their homes in border regions, inquiring whether they were in their residences or had abandoned them, pretending to be from financial institutions or relief associations. It was later revealed that based on people’s responses, the Israeli side was tracking the movement of Hezbollah members in order to demolish their homes.
The Secretary-General of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah revealed these communications and urged people to avoid using the Internet in the border region and to remove external surveillance cameras from homes because of Israeli infiltration. The Israeli army managed to kill a significant number of Hezbollah members by this method.


Joy in Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut as European trio advances cause

Updated 22 May 2024
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Joy in Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut as European trio advances cause

  • “We hope that the whole world will recognize Palestine, and we are happy with this decision... It is a beautiful feeling,” said Alaa Ghozlan
  • Israel was enraged by the move announced Wednesday by Ireland, Norway and Spain, arguing that it amounts to “rewarding terrorism”

SHATILA, Lebanon: In Beirut’s impoverished Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila — a maze of alleyways where posters honor fallen martyrs — residents expressed joy Wednesday after three European countries said they would recognize a Palestinian state.
“We hope that the whole world will recognize Palestine, and we are happy with this decision... It is a beautiful feeling,” said Alaa Ghozlan, 26, whose family is originally from Haifa, now in northern Israel.
“We now have hope to return to our country — a country I was not born in and was deprived of but which lives inside me despite everything,” he told AFP on a winding street in the camp.
Israel was enraged by the move announced Wednesday by Ireland, Norway and Spain, arguing that it amounts to “rewarding terrorism” after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched its unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that sparked the bloodiest ever Gaza war.
Seven other European countries including Sweden have already recognized Palestinian statehood.
Lebanon hosts an estimated 250,000 Palestinian refugees, many living in poverty in the country’s 12 official camps, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Most are descendants of survivors of what Palestinians call the Nakba — the “catastrophe” — when about 760,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes by the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.
Shatila resident Samah Omari, 50, a housewife, said she was “very happy” with the decision, and expressed hope that it would eventually impact her and her family.
“People are dying in Palestine. We demand our rights and defend our land so that our state can be recognized by all countries,” she said.
“We hope to return to our country and not be refugees anymore,” she added.
The camp’s tumbledown walls are adorned with Palestinian flags and posters in support of militant groups including Hamas and their leaders.
Men on motorbikes and tuk-tuks squeeze past women shopping and schoolchildren making their way through the streets.
Above, matted electricity wires and plastic water tubes are bound precariously with rope or cables, some weighed down by clothes that have fallen from washing lines.
The United States and most Western European nations have said they are willing to one day recognize Palestinian statehood, but not before agreement is reached on thorny issues like final borders and the status of Jerusalem.
But Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza, with its mounting death toll, has given the issue new impetus.
Suliman Abdel Hadi, 70, an official at the camp, said the timing of the decision was “important after October 7 because of the massacres carried out by the brutal Zionist enemy.”
“We see a bright future for the Palestinian cause,” said Abdel Hadi, whose family is from the Acre area, now in northern Israel.
“What happened today is the result of sacrifices made by the Palestinian people over 76 years of persecution, killing and destruction,” he added.
Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
On another street in Shatila, a man who gave his name as Abu Majdi, and whose father originally hailed from Haifa, called the decision “great” and said it was “baptised in the blood of martyrs.”
“This recognition will change the future of coming generations and the future of the Palestinian cause,” said the 63-year-old man, a Palestine pendant hanging from his neck.


Israel allows return to three evacuated West Bank settlements

Updated 22 May 2024
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Israel allows return to three evacuated West Bank settlements

  • The military announced the move on the day three European states said they would formally recognize the State of Palestine
  • A fourth settlement, Homesh, was cleared for entry last year

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military has approved permission for Israelis to return to three former West Bank settlements they had been banned from entering since an evacuation ordered in 2005, the defense ministry said on Wednesday.
The three settlements, Sa-nur, Ganim and Kadim, are located near the Palestinian cities of Jenin and Nablus, both of which are strongholds of armed militant groups in the northern West Bank.
A fourth settlement, Homesh, was cleared for entry last year after parliament passed an amendment to the so-called “disengagement law” of 2005. Permission from the military, which has overall control of the West Bank, was required for any return to the other three former settlements.
The military announced the move on the day three European states said they would formally recognize the State of Palestine, and as Israel’s military offensive against the Palestinian militant group Hamas continued in the Gaza Strip.
It took the decision despite international pressure on Israel to curb settlement expansion in the West Bank, which Palestinians want as the core of a future independent state alongside Gaza.
“The Jewish hold on Judea and Samaria guarantees security, the application of the law to cancel disengagement will lead to the development of settlement and provide security to residents of the area,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement, using the Biblical names for the West Bank that are often used in Israel.
There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority.
Last year’s amendment to the disengagement law was seen as opening the way to re-establishing former West Bank settlements evacuated in 2005 under a plan overseen by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Under the plan, which was opposed by the settler movement at the time, all 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza were ordered to be evacuated. Most settlements in the West Bank were unaffected apart from the four that will now be accessible again.
More than 500,000 Jewish settlers are now estimated to be living in the West Bank, part of territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, with a further 200,000 living in East Jerusalem.
For Palestinians and most of the international community, the settlements are considered illegal. Israel disputes this, citing the Jewish people’s historical, biblical and political links to the area as well as security considerations.
Despite international opposition, settlements have continued to expand strongly under successive Israeli governments.


Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says

Updated 22 May 2024
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Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency faces a range of challenges in Iran
  • Nuclear watchdog has been trying to expand its oversight of Iran’s atomic activities

HELSINKI: The deaths of Iran’s president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash have caused a pause in the UN nuclear watchdog’s talks with Tehran over improving cooperation with the agency, the watchdog’s chief Rafael Grossi told Reuters on Wednesday.
“They are in a mourning period which I need to respect,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Grossi said in Helsinki, where he spoke at a nuclear conference.
“But once this is over, we are going to be engaging again,” he said, describing it as a “temporary interruption that I hope will be over in a matter of days.”
Grossi said the IAEA was planning to continue technical discussions with Iran but they had not yet taken place due to last weekend’s helicopter crash that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.
The IAEA faces a range of challenges in Iran, from Tehran’s recent barring of many of the most experienced uranium-enrichment experts on its inspection team to Iran’s continued failure to explain uranium traces found at undeclared sites despite a years-long IAEA investigation.
The IAEA has been trying to expand its oversight of Iran’s atomic activities while the country’s uranium-enrichment program continues to advance. Iran is enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to the 90 percent of weapons-grade, which no other country has done without developing nuclear weapons.
Tehran says its aims are entirely peaceful.
Iran currently has about 140 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent, Grossi said. According to an IAEA definition, that is theoretically enough, if enriched further, for three nuclear bombs. The IAEA’s last quarterly report in February said Iran had 121.5 kg, enough for two bombs.
Iran is still producing about nine kg a month of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent, Grossi said. It is also enriching to lower levels at which it has enough material for potentially more bombs.
Grossi, who two weeks ago said he wanted to start to see concrete results on improved cooperation from Iran soon, repeated that hope but said a more wide-ranging deal would require “a bit more time.”
For now, his team had not made progress on the main issues, he said.
“It is high time there is some concrete issuance and if not resolution, some clarification of what is this,” Grossi said of the uranium traces at undeclared sites.
“And I would say, confidence in many parts of the world (in Iran on the nuclear issue) is growing thinner.


Bahrain’s king to visit Russia and China

Updated 22 May 2024
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Bahrain’s king to visit Russia and China

DUBAI: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa is visiting the Russian capital, Moscow, on Wednesday at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, state news agency BNA reported on Wednesday. 

The two leaders will discuss cooperation between their respective countries, regional and international developments, and the results of the 33rd Arab Summit, hosted last week in Bahrain.

The king will likewise visit China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping to participate in the opening session of the Arab-Chinese Cooperation Forum.

The two will discuss cooperation between Bahrain and China, as well as the outcome of the 33rd Arab Summit.