Strikes kill dozens in Gaza as Israel, Hamas seek ceasefire deal

A Palestinian woman injured in an Israeli strike mourns the death of her sibling in the strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, at Abu Yousef Al-Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip February 23, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 24 February 2024

Strikes kill dozens in Gaza as Israel, Hamas seek ceasefire deal

  • The talks also come alongside deepening fears for Gaza’s civilians desperate for food
  • “We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger,” said a sign held by one child

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Dozens of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed in the latest Israeli strikes, the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry said Saturday, after Israel’s spy chief joined talks in Paris seeking to unblock negotiations on a truce.
The talks come after a plan for a post-war Gaza unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew criticism from key ally the United States, and was rejected by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The talks also come alongside deepening fears for Gaza’s civilians desperate for food. The United Nations’ main aid body for Palestinians, UNRWA, said Gazans were “in extreme peril while the world watches.”
Hamas said on Saturday that Israeli forces had launched more than 70 strikes on civilian homes in Gazan cities including Deir Al-Balah, Khan Yunis and Rafah over the previous 24 hours. The health ministry said at least 92 people were killed.
Israel’s military said it was “intensifying the operations” in western Khan Yunis using tanks, close-range fire and aircraft.
“The soldiers raided the residence of a senior military intelligence operative” in the area and destroyed a tunnel shaft, a military statement said.
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that has ruled Gaza since 2007, said fighting was raging in the northern Gaza district of Zeitun.
In nearby Jabalia refugee camp, tempers are rising and on Friday dozens of people held an impromptu protest.
“We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger,” said a sign held by one child.
In the camp, bedraggled children waited expectantly, holding plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food is available. Residents have taken to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves.
Gaza’s health ministry said a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of “malnutrition.”
“The risk of famine is projected to increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza,” as well as access to water, health and other services, the charity Save the Children said.
Israel has defended its efforts to deliver aid into Gaza, saying that 13,000 trucks carrying aid have entered Gaza since the start of the war.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said in a report on Friday that in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, people are reportedly stopping aid trucks to take food, a measure of their desperation.
The war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,606 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest tally released on Saturday by Gaza’s health ministry.
With war still raging after more than four months, Netanyahu on Thursday unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza that sees civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.
The plan says that, even after the conflict, Israel’s army would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout Gaza to prevent any resurgence of terror activity, according to the proposals.
It also says Israel will move ahead with a plan, already underway, to establish a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.
A senior Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, said Netanyahu “is presenting ideas which he knows fully well will never succeed.”
The plan also drew criticism from the United States.
“The Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote... through a revitalized Palestinian Authority,” which currently has partial administrative control in the West Bank, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
He added that the United States did not “believe in a reduction of the size of Gaza.”
An Israeli delegation led by Mossad intelligence agency chief David Barnea traveled to Paris for a fresh push toward a deal to return the remaining hostages.
The United States, Egypt and Qatar have all been deeply involved in past negotiations aimed at securing a truce and prisoner-hostage exchanges.
Pressure has mounted on Netanyahu’s government to negotiate a ceasefire and secure the release of the hostages. A group representing their families planned what it billed as a “huge rally” to demand swifter action, coinciding with the Paris talks on Saturday night.
“We keep telling you: bring them back to us! And no matter how,” Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan Yablonka was captured on October 7, said at a traditional Shabbat dinner for hostage families in Tel Aviv.
White House envoy Brett McGurk held talks this week with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, after speaking to other mediators in Cairo who had met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.
A Hamas source said the new plan proposes a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages being held by Hamas.
Barnea and his US counterpart from the CIA helped broker a week-long truce in November that saw the release of 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
The war has led to repeated attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen who say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
Rubymar, a British-registered cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after one such attack, is taking on water and has left a huge oil slick.

Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

Updated 17 April 2024

Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

  • Tehran’s charge d’affaires to UK: ‘Another mistake’ by Israel will be met by ‘stronger’ response
  • Weekend drone, missile salvo a ‘legitimate’ defensive operation, West given ‘considerable warning’

LONDON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to drag the West into a “total war” in the Middle East, Iran’s top diplomat in the UK has warned.

In his first comments since Tehran’s drone and ballistic missile attack last week, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, Iran’s charge d’affaires to the UK, said “another mistake” by Israel would be met by a response, The Guardian reported.

Tehran would carry out a stronger attack without warning, unlike last week’s strike, which was communicated days in advance, he added.

The salvo of more than 300 drones and ballistic missiles came in response to the April 1 Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria, which killed senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials.

Matin said: “The response to the next mistake of the Zionist will not take 12 days’ time. It will be decided as soon as we see what the hostile regime has done. It will be immediate, and without warning. It will be stronger and more severe.”

Israel has committed to responding to the Iranian attack but has yet to release any information.

Matin said Iran had ruled out attacking civilian targets or completing its nuclear weapons program, both before the escalation and following any potential Israeli response.

US and European leaders have called for calm in conversations with Netanyahu, but have also urged the launch of a new round of sanctions on Iran in the wake of last week’s attack.

Matin denied that Tehran had made a strategic error in launching the strike, saying Western powers are “losing credibility” in the Middle East and the US will end up leaving the region.

“This is a good opportunity for Western countries to demonstrate that they are rational actors, and they are not going to be entrapped by Netanyahu and his goal, which is to be in power for as long as he could actually stay in power,” Matin added.

“Iran has considered its actions very carefully, and understood that there is a trap, but not for Iran: For the Western countries and allied countries in which they are drawn by the Zionist state into a total war inside the Middle East, and the whole world soon may be unable to control the consequences.”

Before Iran responded to Israel’s strike on its consulate, Tehran had urged Western officials to condemn the Damascus attack and push for a ceasefire in Gaza, Matin said.

But figures, including UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, rejected the Iranian requests. “As Cameron mentioned, rightly, every nation has the right to defend itself against this kind of flagrant breach of diplomatic and international law,” Matin said, adding that Iran’s drone and ballistic missile attack had only targeted Israeli military sites.

“Iranian forces didn’t target any populated sites so as to prevent human casualties, nor did it attack government buildings and centres. It was a legitimate defence operation that was conducted in a way that gave considerable warning,” he added.

“Now, I can say that the mission is accomplished. And that’s it. That’s what we have announced very publicly, that that mission is concluded.”

Tehran had been forced to reinstate deterrence in the wake of the consulate strike, Matin said, adding that the response had displayed “military capabilities, missiles, and drones more powerful than what all the international community expected from Iran.

“Nobody can, at the moment, imagine that Iran is Iran of the Iran-Iraq war. Iran is now a regional superpower.”

At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE

Updated 17 April 2024

At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE

  • UAE witnessed record rainfall with 254 mm, the most since records began in 1949
  • Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, facing significant disruptions 

DUBAI: Authorities and communities across the United Arab Emirates were clearing debris on Wednesday after a torrential downpour killed at least one person and caused damage to homes and businesses.
The UAE witnessed a record rainfall with 254 mm falling in Al Ain on Tuesday in less than 24 hours, according to the national meteorology center. That was the most since records began in 1949, before the country was established in 1971.
Although heavy rains had eased by late Tuesday, disruptions were continuing on Wednesday with Emirates airline suspending check-in for passengers departing Dubai airport until midnight.
Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, said it was facing significant disruptions after the heavy rains delayed or diverted flights and had impacted flight crews.
Passengers departing Dubai were advised against heading to the airport and to check their flight status with their airline.
“We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions,” the airport wrote on X.
Emirates said passengers who were already in transit would continue to be processed but warned that delays to departures and arrivals should be expected. The Dubai airport website showed hours-long delays for some arrival and departure flights.
Local media reported that an elderly Emirati man in his 70s died on Tuesday morning when his vehicle was caught in flash floods in the Ras Al Khaimah emirate, in the country’s north.
In neighboring Oman, 19 people died, including school children after three consecutive days of heavy rain, according to Omani media, which published images of flooded communities.
The Times of Oman reported that more rain was expected on Wednesday. In Dubai, the skies were clear but in some areas the roads were quiet after the government ordered its employees and all schools to work remotely for a second consecutive day.
UAE media and social media posts showed significant damage from the torrential downpour in some parts of the country, including collapsed roads and homes inundated by water.
Social media posts on Tuesday showed flooded roads and car parks with some vehicles completely submerged. Sheikh Zayed Road, a 12-lane highway through Dubai, was partially flooded, leaving people stuck in a kilometers-long traffic jam for hours.

Iranian military says it is ready to deal with any Israeli attack

Updated 17 April 2024

Iranian military says it is ready to deal with any Israeli attack

  • Iran is bracing for a possible Israeli retaliation, with Israel’s war cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss a response

DUBAI: Iran said on Wednesday its military was ready to confront any attack by Israel, with the air force saying it was prepared for action.
Iran’s navy commander said also that it was escorting Iranian commercial vessels to the Red Sea.
Iran carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel last weekend in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus on April 1.
Israel has said it will hit back and its war cabinet was meeting on Wednesday to discuss options.
“Any attack by the Zionist regime (Israel) on our soil will be dealt with a severe response,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Wednesday at a parade held for Army Day, state media reported.
The commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force warned at the same event that its warplanes, including Russian-made Sukhoi-24s, were in their “best state of preparedness” to counter any Israeli attack.
“We have full readiness in all fields, including our air coverage and bombers, and are prepared for any operation,” Brig. Gen. Amir Vahedi said.
A direct attack on Revolutionary Guards bases or nuclear research facilities within Iran is one of the options Israel has to strike back. Targets outside of Iran are also a possibility.
Admiral Shahram Irani said the Iran Navy was escorting Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
“The Navy is carrying out a mission to escort Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea and our Jamaran frigate is present in the Gulf of Aden in this view,” Irani said.
Tehran was ready to escort vessels of other countries, he added.
The Red Sea has seen significant disruption to Israel-bound shipping due to attacks from Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.
On April 13, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged container ship in the Strait of Hormuz which Tehran says is linked to Israel.

Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE

Updated 17 April 2024

Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE

  • Record rainfall in UAE, Al-Ain witnesses 254 mm in fewer than 24 hours
  • Long delays for some flights to and from Dubai International Airport

DUBAI: Travelers were warned against heading to Dubai International Airport and advised to check the status of their flights with the airline due to the heaviest rainfall in 75 years, Emirates News Agency reported.

Dubai Airports said flights continued to be delayed and diverted following the deluge and urged passengers to contact airlines for the latest travel information.

“We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions,” the airport wrote on X.

Emirates Airlines suspended all travel procedures for passengers leaving Dubai on Wednesday, but added they would continue for arrivals and transit passengers. The Dubai airport website showed until midnight. The airport’s website showed extensive delays for some flights.

The UAE witnessed a record rainfall on Tuesday, with the National Center of Meteorology reporting that 254 mm fell in Al-Ain in fewer than 24 hours. This is the highest level since records began in 1949.

On Wednesday morning, the authorities were busy clearing up the debris following the downpour, which caused chaos across the country.

In Ras al-Khaimah, the country's northernmost emirate, police said one 70-year-old man died when his vehicle was swept away by floodwater. 

In neighboring Oman, 19 people died, including children, following three consecutive days of heavy rain. Local media published images of flooded communities and the Times of Oman reported more rain was expected on Wednesday.

The skies were clear in Dubai, but the roads were quiet in some areas after government employees and all schools were ordered to work remotely for a second day.

UAE media and social media posts showed significant damage in some parts of the country, including collapsed roads and flooded homes. Others included images of roads and car parks under water, with some vehicles completely submerged.

Sheikh Zayed Road, a 12-lane highway through Dubai, was partially flooded, leaving people stuck for hours in long traffic jams.

Israeli war cabinet puts off third meeting on Iran’s attack to Wednesday

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) during a War Cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv. (AFP file photo)
Updated 17 April 2024

Israeli war cabinet puts off third meeting on Iran’s attack to Wednesday

  • Israel has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry
  • President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekend that the United States, Israel’s main protector, would not participate in an Israeli counter-strike

JERUSALEM: A third meeting of Israel’s war cabinet set for Tuesday to decide on a response to Iran’s first-ever direct attack was put off until Wednesday, as Western allies eyed swift new sanctions against Tehran to help dissuade Israel from a major escalation.
Military chief of staff Herzi Halevi had promised that Saturday night’s launch of more than 300 missiles, cruise missiles and drones from Iran at Israeli territory “will be met with a response,” but gave no details.
While the attack caused no deaths and little damage thanks to the air defenses and countermeasures of Israel and its allies, it has increased fears that violence rooted in the six-month-old Gaza war is spreading, with the risk of open war between long-time adversaries Iran and Israel.
Iran launched the attack in retaliation for an airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 attributed to Israel, but has signalled that it now deems the matter closed.
An Israeli government source said the war cabinet session scheduled for Tuesday had been put off until Wednesday, without elaborating.
President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekend that the United States, Israel’s main protector, would not participate in an Israeli counter-strike.
Together with European allies, Washington instead strove on Tuesday to toughen economic and political sanctions against Iran in an attempt to steer Israel away from massive retaliation.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he was “leading a diplomatic attack,” writing to 32 countries to ask them to place sanctions on Iran’s missile program and follow Washington in proscribing its dominant military force, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a terrorist group.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the US would use sanctions, and work with allies, to keep disrupting Iran’s “malign and destabilising activity.”
She told a news conference in Washington that all options to disrupt Iran’s “terrorist financing” were on the table, and that she expected further sanctions against Iran to be announced in coming days.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell
, speaking in Brussels after an emergency video conference of EU foreign ministers, said some member states had asked for sanctions against Iran to be expanded and that the bloc’s diplomatic service would begin working on the proposal.
Borrell said the proposal would expand a sanctions regime that seeks to curb the supply of Iranian drones to Russia so that it would also include the provision of missiles and could also cover deliveries to Iranian proxies in the Middle East.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said earlier on Tuesday that several EU members had promised to look again at extending sanctions, adding she would head to Israel within hours to discuss how to prevent an escalation.


British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
told Netanyahu in a call on Tuesday that escalation in the Middle East was in nobody’s interest and would only worsen insecurity in the region, so it was “a moment for calm heads to prevail,” Sunak’s office said.
Sunak had said on Monday the Group of Seven major democracies was working on a package of measures against Iran. Italy, which has the G7 presidency, suggested any new sanctions would target individuals.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani told state TV on Monday night that Tehran’s response to any Israeli counterattack would come in “a matter of seconds, as Iran will not wait for another 12 days to respond.”
The prospect of Israeli retaliation has alarmed many Iranians already enduring economic pain and tighter social and political controls since major protests in 2022-23.
Since the war in Gaza began in October, clashes have erupted between Israel and Iran-aligned groups based in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Israel said four of its soldiers were wounded hundreds of meters inside Lebanese territory overnight, the first known Israeli ground penetration into Lebanon since the Gaza war erupted, although it has regularly traded fire with the heavily armed Lebanese Hezbollah militia.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby declined on Monday to say whether Biden had urged Netanyahu in talks on Saturday night to exercise restraint in responding to Iran.
“We don’t want to see a war with Iran. We don’t want to see a regional conflict,” Kirby told a briefing.
Some analysts said the Biden administration was unlikely to seek to sharpen sanctions on Iran’s oil exports due to worries about a big spike in oil prices and angering top buyer China.
In a call between the Chinese and Iranian foreign ministers, China said it believed Iran could “handle the situation well and spare the region further turmoil” while safeguarding its sovereignty and dignity, according to Chinese state media.
Iran’s weekend attack caused modest damage in Israel and wounded a 7-year-old girl. Most missiles and drones were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and with help from the US, Britain, France and Jordan.
In Gaza itself, where more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli offensive according to Gaza health ministry figures, Iran’s action drew applause.
Israel began its campaign against Hamas, the Iranian-backed Palestinian militant group that runs Gaza, after the militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, by Israeli tallies.
Iran’s attack prompted at least a dozen airlines to cancel or reroute flights, with Europe’s aviation regulator still advising caution in using Israeli and Iranian airspace.

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