Battle rages at Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital

Palestinians flee the area after Israeli bombardment in central Gaza City on March 18, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 19 March 2024
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Battle rages at Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital

  • Witnesses reported air strikes and tanks near the complex crowded with thousands of Palestinian patients and displaced people
  • UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said Monday he intended to visit Gaza but had been denied entry by “Israeli authorities”

GAZA STRIP: Fighting raged Monday in and around the besieged Gaza Strip’s largest hospital complex where Israel said its forces killed and arrested Hamas militants, as Palestinians fled by foot under heavy bombardment.
While the army launched the overnight raid at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, the Israeli government sent the head of its Mossad spy agency to Qatar for renewed talks toward a ceasefire and hostage release deal.
The devastating war since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel has left roughly half of Gazans — around 1.1 million people — experiencing “catastrophic” hunger, a UN-backed food security assessment warned.
The expert report is “exhibit A for the need for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, decrying an “entirely man-made disaster.”
“We must act now to prevent the unthinkable, the unacceptable and the unjustifiable,” he said.
Gaza’s soaring civilian death toll and large-scale destruction have hardened global opposition to Israel’s military operation and siege, including accusations of deliberate starvation of Palestinian civilians.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Israel’s military campaign had turned long-blockaded Gaza from the world’s “greatest open-air prison” into its biggest “open-air graveyard,” and that Israel was using famine as a “weapon of war.”
Foreign Minister Israel Katz replied that “Israel allows extensive humanitarian aid into Gaza” and accused Borrell of “attacking Israel.”
In the latest heavy battle, Israeli forces raided Al-Shifa in an operation the army said targeted senior Hamas militants.
Witnesses reported air strikes and tanks near the complex crowded with thousands of Palestinian patients and displaced people.
AFP images showed black smoke engulfing parts of the city after bombardment, with Palestinians fleeing by foot along rubble-strewn roads as others treated the wounded in the street.
The health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said nearby residents had reported dozens of casualties who could not be helped “due to the intensity of gunfire and artillery shelling.”
An AFP journalist witnessed air strikes on buildings in the area around Al-Shifa and reported seeing “hundreds of people, mostly children, women, and the elderly, fleeing their homes.”
The Israeli military, which had asked Gazans to evacuate the area, said 20 militants were killed and dozens of others were detained at the hospital.
The army identified one of the fatalities as Hamas internal security official Fayq Al-Mabhouh, saying that “weapons were located in the room adjacent to where he was eliminated.”
A Gaza police source confirmed his death and said he was a brigadier general in the force. Relatives said he was also the brother of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas’s armed wing slain in Dubai in 2010.
Israeli forces previously raided Al-Shifa in November, when ground operations were focused on northern Gaza. In January Israel said it had “completed the dismantling” of Hamas’s command structure in the area.
Israel has repeatedly said the complex housed an underground Hamas control base, which the militants have denied.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “terribly worried” about the renewed fighting around Al-Shifa which was “endangering health workers, patients and civilians.”
The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Militants also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 who are presumed dead.
Israel has carried out a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive that Gaza’s health ministry says has killed at least 31,726 people, most of them women and children.
As the fighting flared around Al-Shifa, elsewhere in Gaza City a massive crowd gathered at a UN food distribution center to collect bags of flour.
“There’s nothing to eat or drink. Children are dying,” said resident Umm Omar Al-Masharwai.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which operates the facility and coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has faced funding cuts since Israel accused about a dozen of its employees of involvement in the October 7 attack.
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said Monday he intended to visit Gaza but had been denied entry by “Israeli authorities,” a claim Israel did not immediately comment on.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi accused Israel of “starving children to death” in its siege of the Gaza Strip, and humanitarian charity Oxfam said Israel was “systematically and deliberately” blocking aid.
Global concern has focussed on Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah, where about 1.5 million Palestinians now live, many of them in crowded shelters and tent cities near the Egyptian border.
Repeated Israeli warnings of a looming ground invasion have raised fears of an even worse humanitarian catastrophe.
Responding to concerns voiced by top ally the United States and other governments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reiterated that civilians would be evacuated from Rafah before any ground attack, without detailing where to.
Mediation efforts toward a truce were expected to resume, following a week-long ceasefire in November.
A meeting in Qatar between Israel’s Mossad spy chief, David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Egyptian officials “is expected to take place today,” a source close to the talks said.
It follows the latest proposal submitted by Hamas for a six-week truce, vastly more aid into Gaza and the initial release of about 42 hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
During the proposed truce, Israeli forces would withdraw from “all cities and populated areas” in Gaza, according to a Hamas official.
Netanyahu’s office said on Friday that Hamas’s new proposal was “unrealistic” but that Israel would send a delegation to Doha.
The White House said US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu spoke on Monday in their first call for over a month, with tensions rising over the war and its impact on civilians.


Iraq resumes rice cultivation after two-year ban with new climate friendly strain

Updated 59 min 16 sec ago
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Iraq resumes rice cultivation after two-year ban with new climate friendly strain

  • Iraq is one of the world’s top 10 importers of rice and wheat, to supply a huge food rationing program held over from the era of former ruler Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD: Iraq has resumed rice cultivation after a two-year ban prompted by water scarcity, and is testing out a strain of the grain that consumes less water than traditionally planted versions.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture Mahdi Sahar Al-Jubouri told Reuters the country has earmarked 150 sq km (58 sq miles) for rice growing this season and forecast a yield of 150,000 tons, as officials said water is more abundant due to heavy winter rainfall and the promise of more water flows from Turkiye.
This follows a two-year production ban which saw just 5 to 10 sq km of rice planted annually for the purpose of seed extraction, amid a water crisis that experts say was tied to upstream dams built by Turkiye and Iran, less rainfall and other climate change-driven factors.
Iraq is one of the world’s top 10 importers of rice and wheat, to supply a huge food rationing program held over from the era of former ruler Saddam Hussein.
Decades ago, the country grew most of its own rice and exported wheat and barley and at one time was the world’s top exporter of dates, until problems with soil salinity, poor irrigation systems, drought and decades of conflict all hit its agricultural sector and made it a major buyer on world markets.
Iraq will still need to import around 1.25 million tons of rice this year to meet domestic demand, the same as last year, grain board officials said.

HYBRID VARIETY
Rice farming in Iraq typically begins in June and concludes with a harvest in November.
Several varieties of rice are grown, with the Amber rice, known for its unique aroma and flavour, the most popular.
Iraqi agricultural scientists have developed a new strain of rice, named Ghiri, which is a hybrid of the Amber and Jasmine varieties and can be planted using fixed sprayers without the need for flooding. It has been planted on a small scale this season under trial after being tested at the Al-Mishkhab Research Station last year.
Plans are in place to broaden its cultivation in future seasons, Jubouri said in an interview with Reuters.
The government aims for the sector to transition from the traditional irrigation method, which involves flooding the crop with water, to using fixed irrigation systems and mechanical seeders.
Farmers adopting modern agricultural methods like sprinkler systems will be offered incentives akin to the support provided for wheat production such as higher prices for their produce, Jubouri said.
For the current 2024 season, rice farming has been permitted in five provinces: Najaf, Diwaniyah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar and Babel. Najaf province has been allocated the largest share.
Muhsin Abdul Ameer, head of the farmers’ association in Najaf province, said that approximately 80 sq km of agricultural land in the province has been planted, representing about 37 percent of the total agricultural land allocated across the country. The planted varieties include Amber, Jasmine and Euphrates rice.
Abdul Ameer said the planting season in Najaf province, which began in the middle of June, has now been completed.
The water, agriculture and marshes committee in the Iraqi parliament said rainfall last winter and pledges from Turkiye to increase Iraq’s access to water released from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that originate in Turkiye had enabled the resumption of rice growing.
Lawmaker Hussain Mardan, deputy chairman of the committee, told Reuters that agricultural land will be expanded in the coming years by adopting drip irrigation methods for rice, which are currently under study, potentially reaching 1,000 sq km.


Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in Israel, Israeli police say

Updated 22 July 2024
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Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in Israel, Israeli police say

JERUSALEM: Israeli police said on Monday that a Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in a southern Israeli town and was "neutralised".
The police referred to the incident as a terrorist attack.


Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen

Updated 22 July 2024
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Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen

  • Hodeidah port is a vital entry point for fuel imports and international aid for Houthi-held areas of Yemen, a country where the United Nations says more than half the population relies on humanitarian assistance

HODEIDAH: Firefighting teams on Monday were struggling to contain a massive blaze at Yemen’s Hodeida port, days after a deadly Israeli strike hit oil tanks and a power plant in the harbor.
Heavy flames and black smoke were seen spiralling into the sky for a third consecutive day following the strike on Saturday, said an AFP correspondent in Hodeidah.
Firefighting teams appear to have made little progress, with the blaze seemingly expanding in some parts of the port, the correspondent said, amid fears it could reach food storage facilities.
High-resolution satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies showed flames consuming a heavily damaged fuel storage area at the Hodeidah harbor.
The fuel depot is run by the Yemen Petroleum Company which said late Sunday that the six people killed in the Israel strike were its employees.
The Houthis say more than 80 others were wounded in the attack, many of them with severe burns.
With black smoke billowing overhead, a funeral ceremony was held Monday for the victims of the strikes.
Their coffins were carried through the streets of Hodeidah, flanked by crowds and led by a Houthi marching band.
The strike on Saturday was the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country and came in response to a Houthi drone strike that breached Israel’s air defenses, killing one person in Tel Aviv the day before.
The Houthis, who are fighting Israel, have pledged a “huge” response to the strikes and threatened to once again attack Tel Aviv.
Yemeni port authorities said Hodeidah “is operating at its full capacity,” according to the rebels’ Saba news agency.
“We are working around the clock to receive all ships and there is no concern about the supply chain and supplies of food, medicine, and oil derivatives,” port official Nasr Al-Nusairi was quoted by Saba as saying on Sunday.
But the US-based Navanti Group said the strikes on Hodeidah destroyed five cranes and reduced the port’s fuel storage capacity from 150,000 to 50,000 tons.
Hodeidah port is a vital entry point for fuel imports and international aid for Houthi-held areas of Yemen, a country where the United Nations says more than half the population relies on humanitarian assistance.
“Hodeidah port is a vital lifeline for delivering humanitarian aid to Yemen,” the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in an emailed statement to AFP.
“Any impact on this infrastructure jeopardizes the entry of essential goods and hampers aid efforts.”


UAE jails 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, over riots

Updated 22 July 2024
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UAE jails 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, over riots

  • Life imprisonment handed to three people who called for the demonstrations to pressure their home government
  • The remaining 53 defendants received 10-year prison terms

ABU DHABI: The UAE has imprisoned 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, for inciting riots on Friday in several streets across the country, state news agency WAM reported.

The Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal handed the life imprisonment terms to three people who called for the demonstrations to pressure their home government.

The remaining 53 defendants received 10-year prison terms, with one, who entered the country illegally and took part in the riot, being sentenced to 11 years.

The Bangladeshi nationals will be deported after serving their sentences, WAM reported.

On Friday, UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif Al-Shamsi ordered an investigation into the arrest of several Bangladeshi nationals who were apprehended for inciting riots against their home country, which has been struggling to quell violent student-led protests over a controversial job quota scheme.

The investigation, led by a team of 30, confirmed the defendants’ involvement in assembling in public spaces, “inciting unrest, disrupting public security, and promoting such gatherings and protests,” WAM said.

They recorded and published audiovisual footage of their actions online. A court witness during the trial said that demonstrators did not respond to a police warning to disperse, according to WAM.

The witness confirmed that the defendants gathered and organised large-scale marches in several streets across the UAE in protest against decisions made by the Bangladeshi government.

Several of the defendants confessed to the crimes with which they were accused.


Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16

Updated 22 July 2024
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Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16

  • The military said it is planning to begin an operation against Hamas militants who have embedded themselves in the area
  • The area includes the eastern part of the Muwasi humanitarian zone, which is located in the southern Gaza Strip.

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip: Israeli tank shelling and airstrikes killed at least 16 Palestinians near Khan Younis, Gaza medics said on Monday, after Israel issued new orders to evacuate some neighborhoods following what it said were renewed attacks from those areas.
To facilitate evacuations, the military said, it was adjusting the boundaries of a humanitarian zone in Al-Mawasi to keep the civilian population away from areas of combat with Hamas-led Palestinian militants.
Palestinian health officials said at least 16 Palestinians were killed by Israeli tank salvoes in the town of Bani Suhaila just east of the southern city of Khan Younis, with the area also bombarded by air.
The Gaza health ministry said the dead included six children and four women. It added that dozens of others were wounded by Israeli fire. Hamas media put the number of the dead at 26.
The military statement said the new orders were due to renewed Palestinian militant attacks, including rockets launched from the targeted areas in eastern Khan Younis. The evacuation orders did not include health institutions, Palestinians said.
The Palestinians, the United Nations and international relief agencies have said there is no safe place left in Gaza. Earlier in July, dozens of Palestinians were killed in separate Israeli attacks in the humanitarian-designated Al-Mawasi area.
Israel said the attacks were aimed at armed militants, including some top Hamas military commanders. Palestinian officials called those allegations false and said they were used to justify the attacks.
Later on Monday, health officials at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis urged residents to donate blood because of the large number of casualties being rushed into the medical center.
Reuters footage showed casualties, including some women and children, arriving at Nasser Hospital in ambulances and others in private cars.
“A family, including children, were all torn to pieces while they were sleeping,” said a man who arrived in an ambulance bearing the bodies.
The Palestinian Civil Emergency Service said it had reports of dozens of people killed by Israeli aerial and tank fire on the eastern outskirts of Khan Younis but teams could not reach them because of the intensity of the bombardment.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military carried out air strikes on two houses in the Al-Bureij and Deir Al-Balah areas of the central Gaza Strip, wounding several people, medics said.
Another air strike in Gaza City in the north of the densely populated enclave killed two other Palestinians, they added.
Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas after militants killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages in a cross-border assault on Oct. 7 last year, according to Israeli tallies. At least 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory offensive since then, Gaza health authorities say.
A ceasefire effort led by Qatar and Egypt and backed by the United States has so far fallen short because of disagreements over terms between the combatants, who blame each other for the impasse.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday ordered a delegation charged with negotiating a hostage deal to be dispatched on Thursday, his office said, without giving the delegation’s destination.
Netanyahu held a meeting on Sunday with the delegation and senior members of Israel’s defense establishment, it said.