EU’s border agency has a duty to inform Libya’s coast guard about migrant boats, official says

The SOS Humanity 1 humanitarian ship is moored in the Italian southern port town of Crotone, on Mar. 4, 2023. (AP )
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Updated 05 March 2024
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EU’s border agency has a duty to inform Libya’s coast guard about migrant boats, official says

  • German charity SOS Humanity said that the Libyan coast guard used violence and fired live bullets as its crew rescued migrants
  • The charity said that several migrants aboard three unseaworthy boats had to jump into the water

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s border and coast guard agency has a duty to inform the Libyan authorities about migrant boats in trouble in the country’s waters and will keep doing so, the head of Frontex insisted Tuesday, after a charity accused Libya’s coast guard of threatening its crew during a rescue.
German charity SOS Humanity said that the Libyan coast guard used violence and fired live bullets as its crew rescued migrants in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday.
The charity said that several migrants aboard three unseaworthy boats had to jump into the water. It said that it rescued 77 people, but that others were forced aboard a coast guard vessel. Some family members were separated and at least one migrant drowned.
Frontex uses aircraft, drones and other equipment to monitor the EU’s outside borders, including in international waters. Libya’s vast search and rescue area in the Mediterranean reaches well beyond its maritime border to almost halfway to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
The agency provides the Libyan coast guard with the location of boats that it believes are in danger.
Frontex’s executive director, Hans Leijtens, told The Associated Press that the organization is obliged by international law to report such incidents to the “appropriate authorities,” and that “if it’s in the Libyan search and rescue zone, it means also the Libyan authorities.”
“We have to inform them,” Leijtens said. Not to do so “would be playing with the lives of the migrants, because that would mean that assets that are available to save lives will not be allocated to the incident,” he said. “That’s a gamble I will never take.”
The EU has been funding the Libyan coast guard since 2015 as part of its effort to stop migrants from the North African country reaching Italy. As part of the deal, the coast guard intercepts migrants in Libyan and international waters and returns them to Libya.
Libya was plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Over the years, several witness accounts of abuses by the coast guard and detention center staff on land have been reported.
Some EU countries have complained that charity ships looking for migrants in trouble at sea are only encouraging more people to come to Europe. Italy, for example, has sought to impound some aid vessels. But Leijtens said that it’s important for Frontex to work with nongovernmental organizations.
“I think it’s important that that we are not blocking any cooperation,” he said. “Whatever it takes to save lives is very important.”
According to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project, at least 962 migrants were reported dead and 1,563 others missing off Libya in 2023. Around 17,200 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya last year.
Leijtens said that Frontex lacks a mandate, sufficient funds and equipment to carry out rescue work.


US military destroys 5 Houthi drones amid escalating ship attacks

Updated 4 min 55 sec ago
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US military destroys 5 Houthi drones amid escalating ship attacks

  • Centcom: It was determined these UAVs presented an imminent threat to US, coalition forces and merchant vessels in the region
  • Houthis also fired an explosive and remotely controlled boat at the MT Chios Lion, a Greek-operated, Marshall Islands-owned, crude oil tanker

AL-MUKALLA: US naval forces in the Red Sea destroyed a barrage of drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis as the militia increased drone, boat and missile strikes on ships in international commercial channels.

The US military said in a statement on Tuesday that its forces intercepted three Houthi unmanned aerial vehicles over the Red Sea and two more over Houthi-held areas of war-torn Yemen during the past 24 hours, all of which were aimed against international commercial and navy ships.

“It was determined these UAVs presented an imminent threat to US, coalition forces and merchant vessels in the region. These actions were taken to protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure,” US Central Command said on X.

During the last 24 hours, the Houthis targeted a Panama-flagged, Israel-owned, Monaco-operated tanker vessel, MT Bentley I, which was transporting vegetable oil from Russia to China. The militia deployed three surface ships, one explosive-laden drone boat and two small boats, causing no damage to the ship or casualties, according to the US military.

The Houthis subsequently launched a ballistic missile from Yemeni territory toward the same ship in the Red Sea.

The Houthis also fired an explosive and remotely controlled boat at the MT Chios Lion, a Greek-operated, Marshall Islands-owned crude oil tanker operating under the Liberian flag in the Red Sea, inflicting damage to the ship but no reported casualties.

The US statement came hours after Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea claimed in a televised statement that the militia’s naval, drone and missile forces launched a joint attack against MT Bentley I in the Red Sea, and struck the Chios Lion oil tanker ship with a drone boat.

The two ships were targeted because their owners defied the militia’s warnings against traveling to Israeli ports.

Sarea said that a third operation was carried out with the assistance of the Iraqi Islamic Resistance, targeting the Olvia ship in the Mediterranean.

Olvia was recognized by ship monitoring apps as a crude oil tanker flying the Cyprus flag when it left the Israeli port of Haifa on Saturday.

Since November, the Houthis have fired hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and drone boats at more than 100 ships on international trade routes near Yemen, forcing major commercial firms to divert ships away from the Red Sea and on to longer and more costly routes via Africa.

The Houthis maintain that they solely strike Israeli-linked and Israeli-bound ships to put pressure on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. Critics say that the Houthis are using Yemenis’ fury over Israel’s war in Gaza to silence vocal voices calling for salary payments and public service improvements, as well as to recruit fighters.

On Tuesday, Houthi militia leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi promised to keep striking ships until Israel stops its war in Gaza.

“Our missile and naval operations will continue and expand until the aggression ends and the Israeli embargo on Gaza is removed,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s internationally recognized government reiterated on Tuesday its request for international groups to shift their offices from Houthi-held Sanaa to the southern city of Aden, Yemen’s temporary capital.

Rashad Al-Alimi, chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council, demanded during a meeting with US Ambassador to Yemen Steven Fagin that international donors fulfill their commitments to the humanitarian response plan in Yemen and that international organizations relocate their main offices to Aden after the Houthis kidnapped dozens of aid workers in Sanaa.

Yemeni Minister of Interior Ibrahim Haidan reiterated the same request during a meeting with Mahmoud Salah, head of the Foreign Committee of the Red Cross mission in Aden on Tuesday.


Israeli military to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox seminary students next week

Updated 9 sec ago
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Israeli military to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox seminary students next week

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military will next week begin issuing military draft summons to ultra-Orthodox seminary students who were previously exempt from military service, the military said on Tuesday.
The issue is especially sensitive amid the war against Hamas in Gaza and related fighting on other fronts that have caused the worst Israeli casualties — mostly among secular draftees and reservists — in decades.
In June, Israel’s Supreme Court mandated the government to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students into the military, creating new political strains for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
An Israeli military statement said that starting next Sunday “the process of issuing initial summons orders for the first call-up” ahead of the upcoming July recruitment cycle would commence.
Netanyahu’s coalition includes two ultra-Orthodox parties that regard the exemptions as key to keeping their constituents in religious seminaries and away from a melting-pot military that might test their conservative values.
The issue has prompted protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up 13 percent of Israel’s 10 million population — a figure expected to reach 19 percent by 2035. Their refusal to serve in wars they generally support is a long festering schism in Israeli society.
Israel’s 21 percent Arab minority is also largely exempted from the draft, under which men and women are generally called up at the age of 18, with men serving 32 months and women 24 months.

US-supplied bombs used in Israeli strike of Gaza ‘safe zone’ — weapons experts

Updated 16 July 2024
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US-supplied bombs used in Israeli strike of Gaza ‘safe zone’ — weapons experts

  • A sliver of munition seen in a video of the blast site circulating online was a tail fin from a US-made Joint Direct Attack Munition
  • Former US Army explosive ordnance disposal technician: ‘it’s 100 percent a JDAM kit’ made in the United States

JERUSALEM: Israel’s deadly strike on Al-Mawasi, one of the bloodiest attacks in more than nine months of war in Gaza, used massive payload bombs provided by the United States, according to weapons experts.
The bombing of the Israeli-declared “safe zone” transformed the tent city on the Mediterranean coast into a charred wasteland, with nearby hospitals overrun with casualties.
According to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory, the barrage killed at least 92 people and wounded more than 300.
The Israeli military said it targeted two “masterminds” of the October 7 attacks by Hamas that triggered the war. It said a top commander, Rafa Salama, was killed in the strike, but uncertainty remains over Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif.
AFP videos of the attack showed a white mushroom cloud billowing over a busy street, leaving behind a huge crater strewn with the wreckage of tents and a building blown to bits.
Here is what we know about the weaponry used in the attack:
Two weapons experts said that a sliver of munition seen in a video of the blast site circulating online was a tail fin from a US-made Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). AFP could not independently verify the video.
The GPS-aided kit converts unguided free-fall bombs — so-called “dumb bombs” — into precision-guided “smart” munitions that can be directed toward single or multiple targets.
The United States developed the kit to improve accuracy in adverse weather after Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
The first JDAMs were delivered in 1997 and, according to the US Air Force, have a 95 percent system reliability.
Trevor Ball, a former US Army explosive ordnance disposal technician, concluded from images of the Al-Mawasi strike “it’s 100 percent a JDAM kit” made in the United States.
He said that given the types of bombs compatible with the guidance system and the size of the fin fragment, the JDAM was most likely used with either a 1,000 or 2,000 pound (450 or 900 kilogram) payload.
He said the fragment could also be compatible with the BLU-109 “bunker buster” warhead, which is designed to penetrate concrete.
Ball said it was not possible to definitively determine where the payload itself was made without “very specific fragments of the bomb body.”
Repeated use of such large bombs in the densely populated Gaza Strip has sparked humanitarian outcry and heaped pressure on US President Joe Biden to reconsider the munitions supplied to Israel.
On July 12, Israel’s main military backer announced it was ending a pause on supplying 500-pound bombs, though Biden said the 2,000-pound type would be withheld.
The White House has repeatedly voiced frustration over the civilian death toll in Gaza as Israel attempts to eradicate Hamas.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told two top Israeli officials on Monday that the civilian toll was “unacceptably high,” his spokesman said.
Israeli officials said their “precise strike” in Al-Mawasi hit an open area that housed a Hamas compound and not a civilian camp.
When contacted by AFP regarding the weapons used, the Israeli military declined to comment.
Based on Israel’s stated target, Wes Bryant, a retired US Air Force master sergeant and strike and joint targeting expert, said it would have been feasible to avoid collateral damage in the surrounding area.
“My assessment is that any civilians killed in this strike were in the compound — not in the surrounding vicinity. So the IDF either failed to assess presence of civilians, or... deemed the risk to civilians proportional to the military advantage of taking out the Hamas leaders.”
The strike left Al-Mawasi a scene of “absolute destruction” with no water, electricity or sewage treatment, the Islamic Relief charity said.
It condemned Israel for its willingness “to kill innocent men, women and children in pursuit of its end goals.”
Hamas said that by arming Israel, the Biden administration is “legally and morally responsible” for spawning a “major humanitarian catastrophe.”
It said US-supplied weapons used by Israel included GPS-guided bombs, dumb bombs, bunker busters and JDAMs.
After repeated high-casualty strikes in recent days, a Hamas official said the group was withdrawing from indirect talks for a truce and hostage release deal with Israel.
The war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,664 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.


Oman says oil tanker capsized off coast, 16 crew missing

Updated 16 July 2024
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Oman says oil tanker capsized off coast, 16 crew missing

  • The vessel was headed for the Yemeni port city of Aden

MUSCAT: A Comorian-flagged oil tanker capsized off Oman on Monday, the sultanate’s Maritime Security Center (MSC) said, adding that a search was under way for its missing crew of 16.
The MSC, which is run by the Omani defense ministry, did not specify the cause of the capsize.
In a post on social media platform X, it said a “Comoros-flagged oil tanker capsized” 25 nautical miles southeast of Ras Madrakah, near the port town of Duqm on Monday.
Search and rescue operations were “initiated with the relevant authorities,” it added, without providing further details.
In a statement on Tuesday, the MSC identified the vessel as Prestige Falcon, saying it had 16 crew on board — 13 Indians and three Sri Lankans.
“The crew of the ship are still missing,” it said, as the search continued.
The vessel was headed for the Yemeni port city of Aden, according to shipping website marinetraffic.com.


Israeli strikes across Gaza kill at least 17, Palestinian health officials say

Updated 16 July 2024
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Israeli strikes across Gaza kill at least 17, Palestinian health officials say

  • Israeli military say troops continue ‘intelligence-based’ activities in Rafah
  • Air strikes had targeted militants, tunnels, and other Hamas military infrastructure

CAIRO/GAZA: Israeli forces battled Hamas-led fighters in several parts of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, and Palestinian health officials said at least 17 people were killed in Israeli bombardments of southern and central areas.

The Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas has accused Israel of stepping up attacks in Gaza to try to derail efforts by Arab mediators and the United States to reach a ceasefire deal. Israel says it is trying to root out Hamas fighters.

In Rafah, a southern border city where Israeli forces have been operating since May, five Palestinians were killed in an airstrike on a house. In nearby Khan Younis, a man, his wife and two children were killed, they said.

In the historic Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, at least four Palestinians were killed in separate shelling and aerial strikes in central Gaza, medics said. An Israeli airstrike killed four in Sheikh Zayed in northern Gaza, they said.

The Israeli military said troops continued “intelligence-based” activities in Rafah, and that airstrikes had targeted militants, tunnels, and other Hamas military infrastructure.

It said the Israeli air force had struck around 40 targets across the enclave, including sniping and observation posts, military structures, and buildings rigged with explosives.

The armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a Hamas ally, said their fighters had attacked Israeli forces in several locations with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs.

Islamic Jihad’s armed wing said it had fired missiles at Sderot in southern Israel. There was no word of any deaths or serious damage.

Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas after its militants killed 1,200 people and took over 250 hostages in an attack on southern Israeli communities last Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.

More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory offensive, according to health authorities in Gaza, much of which has been devastated. Israel also says 326 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza.

Relatives visited Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza to say farewell to relatives before funerals.

“This is so unfair the number of martyrs (victims), every minute there is a martyr,” elderly Palestinian Sahar Abu Emeira said. “We’re exhausted, we’re devastated, we are extremely tired, our patience is over. Whether Hamas or the others (Israel) they need to agree as soon as possible.”

TALKS PAUSED

Efforts mediated by Egypt and Qatar to end the conflict and release the hostages, as well as Palestinians in Israeli jails, had appeared to be making some progress, negotiators had said.

The talks stalled on Saturday after three days of intense negotiations failed to produce a viable outcome, Egyptian security sources said, and after an Israeli strike targeting Hamas’ top military chief, Mohammed Deif.

The attack in the Khan Younis area killed more than 90 people and wounded hundreds, Gaza health authorities said.

A Palestinian official close to the negotiations told Reuters Hamas was keen not to be seen as halting the talks despite the stepped-up Israeli attacks.

“Hamas wants the war to end, not at any price. It says it has shown the flexibility needed and is pushing the mediators to get Israel to reciprocate,” said the official.

He said Hamas believed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to avoid a deal by adding more conditions that restrict the return of displaced people to northern Gaza and to maintain control over the Rafah border with Egypt,

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday that two senior advisers to Netanyahu had said Israel is still committed to reaching a ceasefire.