Israel pounds Gaza as Iran attack threat puts region on edge

Palestinians transport belongings as people fleeing conflict leave their homes, in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on Apr. 12, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 12 April 2024
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Israel pounds Gaza as Iran attack threat puts region on edge

  • Residents of Al-Nusseirat camp in central Gaza said dozens were dead or wounded after Israeli bombardment from air, land and sea
  • Meshaal said: “It is an important round on the path of liberating Palestine and defeating the Zionist project“

GAZA: Residents reported heavy Israeli fire in central Gaza on Friday, with regional tensions soaring after Iran threatened reprisals over a strike in Syria this month that killed two Iranian generals.
As talks for a truce and hostage release dragged on, fears that Iran could soon launch an attack on Israel prompted the United States to announce it was sending reinforcements to the Middle East as a deterrent.
US President Joe Biden said he expected Iran to attempt to strike Israel soon but warned it against attacking the US ally in retaliation for the April 1 strike on its Damascus consulate.
Authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza reported dozens of new air strikes in the central region where most Israeli troops have regrouped in recent days.
Israel’s military said its aircraft had struck more than 60 militant targets in Gaza over the previous day.
The Hamas media office said 25 people were taken to hospital in Deir Al-Balah “as a result of an air strike on a house.”
Mohammed Al-Rayes, 61, told AFP that he fled Israeli “air strikes and artillery shelling” in Nuseirat overnight.
“It was all fire and destruction, with so many martyrs lying in the street,” he said.
Another resident, Laila Nasser, 40, reported “shells and missiles” throughout the night.
“They will do to Nuseirat what they did to Khan Yunis,” said Nasser, vowing to flee to the southernmost city of Rafah, like most of Gaza’s population.
The war began with Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack against Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,634 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The latest bombardments in Gaza came after Israel said it had strengthened air defenses and paused leave for combat units, following a deadly April 1 air strike that destroyed Iran’s consulate building in Damascus.
Iran blamed its arch foe Israel, which has stepped up strikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria since the Gaza war began.
The White House said on Friday that the threat from Iran remained “real.”
Asked what his message was to Iran on striking Israel, Biden said: “Don’t.”
“We are devoted to the defense of Israel, we will support Israel, we will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed,” he said.
A defense official said the Pentagon was “moving additional assets to the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts and increase force protection for US forces.”
Biden sent the head of US Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, to Israel for urgent talks on the threat from Iran.
After meeting Kurilla on Friday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel and the United States stood “shoulder to shoulder,” despite recent differences over the conduct of the war in Gaza.
“Our enemies think that they can pull apart Israel and the United States, but the opposite is true — they are bringing us together and strengthening our ties,” Gallant said.
Washington, which has had no diplomatic relations with Tehran since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, also asked its allies to use their influence with Iran to urge restraint, the State Department said.
After calls with his Australian, British and German counterparts Thursday, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said: “Iran does not seek to expand the scope of the war.”
But he added that it felt it had no choice but to respond to the deadly attack on its diplomatic mission after the UN Security Council failed to take action.
Lebanon’s Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah said it fired “dozens of Katyusha rockets” at Israeli artillery positions Friday, a bombardment it said was in response to Israeli strikes in the south.
The Israeli army said approximately 40 launches were identified, some of which were intercepted. “No injuries were reported,” it added.
France warned its nationals against traveling to Iran, Israel, Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, after the US embassy in Israel announced it was restricting the movements of its diplomats over security fears.
German airline Lufthansa said its planes would no longer use Iranian airspace as it extended a suspension of flights to and from Tehran.
In their October attack, Hamas militants seized about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.
The European Union on Friday imposed sanctions on the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad for “widespread” sexual violence during the October 7 attack.
The bloc said fighters from the two militant groups — already on the EU’s terrorism blacklist — “committed widespread sexual and gender-based violence in a systematic manner, using it as a weapon of war.”
Washington has ramped up pressure on Netanyahu to increase aid flows to Gaza in the face of UN warnings of imminent famine.
The Israeli army said that an undisclosed number of aid trucks had been allowed to enter Gaza Thursday through a newly opened border crossing into the north of the territory.
“The first food aid trucks entered through the new northern crossing from Israel into Gaza yesterday,” the Israeli defense ministry body that oversees Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, said.
Despite repeated AFP requests for comment, Israeli authorities did not disclose the exact location of the new crossing, which Israeli media reported to be close to the Zikim kibbutz.
Gallant had trumpeted the new crossing on Wednesday, promising to “flood Gaza with aid,” but on Thursday the UN Security Council said “more should be done.”


Bahrain’s King Hamad says he is looking forward to improved relations with Iran

Russian President Vladimir receives Bahrain's King Hamad at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2024. (BNA)
Updated 57 min 15 sec ago
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Bahrain’s King Hamad says he is looking forward to improved relations with Iran

  • King meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin 

RIYADH: Bahrain’s King Hamad said his country was looking forward to improving its relations with Iran during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.
The king added that there was no reason for Bahrain to postpone the resumption of diplomatic relations with Iran, the Bahrain News Agency reported on Thursday.
The king and Putin discussed the war in Gaza, regional and international efforts aimed at reaching a ceasefire, and the release of hostages and detainees. They also focused on providing humanitarian aid without obstacles to the territory’s civilian population.
They highlighted the importance of advancing the course of diplomatic action to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and achieving a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The leaders also said efforts to recognize the Palestinian state and accept it as a permanent member of the UN should be supported.
They also stressed the importance of the UN Security Council assuming its responsibilities toward resolving and ending global conflicts, and working to settle them in accordance with the rules of international law and the UN Charter to maintain international peace and security.
The king informed the Russian president of the outcomes of the Arab Summit held recently in Bahrain, adding that Arab countries appreciated Russia’s sympathy for just Arab causes.
The king and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the convening of an international conference at the summit, which would take place under the auspices of the UN, to resolve the Palestinian issue on the basis of a two-state solution.
The king added that he hoped to host the conference and requested Russia’s support for it.


Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state

Updated 23 May 2024
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Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state

  • The parliament described the move as a victory for justice and the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state
  • Growing international recognition of a Palestinian state represented a practical response to Israel’s plans to “liquidate the Palestinian cause, which will not succeed”

CAIRO: The Arab Parliament has welcomed a decision by the governments of Spain, Norway and Ireland to recognize the state of Palestine.
The prime ministers of the three countries said on Wednesday that they would formally recognize Palestine as a state on May 28.
All three said they hoped the decision would accelerate efforts toward securing a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its eighth month.
The parliament described the move as a victory for justice and the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state.
It said the decision was a “new victory for the Palestinian cause and Palestinian diplomacy,” and an important step toward recognition by many countries worldwide.
The parliament said the recognition supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, foremost of which is the establishment of an independent state with the city of Jerusalem as its capital.
It said that the announcements come at a time when Israel is working to destroy the Palestinian cause through “ethnic cleansing and forced displacement against civilians, including children, women, and the elderly, against whom war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed.”
Growing international recognition of a Palestinian state represented a practical response to Israel’s plans to “liquidate the Palestinian cause, which will not succeed,” it added.
The parliament called on countries that have not yet recognized the state of Palestine to take a step toward “ending the historical injustice to which the Palestinian people have been exposed for decades of occupation and per the internationally recognized two-state solution based on international legitimacy resolutions.”
It called on the international community and all countries to stand with the Palestinian people and their just cause.
Ireland has said it will upgrade its representative office in the West Bank to a full embassy, while the Palestinian mission in Ireland will also be offered full embassy status.


Egyptians held nearly a year over deadly shipwreck are released from Greek jail after case dismissed

Updated 23 May 2024
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Egyptians held nearly a year over deadly shipwreck are released from Greek jail after case dismissed

  • The Egyptians’ defense team had argued that the nine were not crew members of the ill-fated trawler
  • Eight of the nine were released from a jail outside the southern city of Nafplio on Wednesday evening

NAFPLIO, Greece: A group of Egyptians jailed for nearly a year pending trial for a deadly shipwreck were released from jail Wednesday, a day after a Greek court threw out the case against them on grounds that it had no jurisdiction to try it.
Nine Egyptians had been charged with being part of the crew of the Adriana, a massively overcrowded trawler that capsized and sank near Greece last June with an estimated 700 people on board while sailing from Libya to Italy. Only 104 people survived – all men, mostly from Syria, Egypt and Pakistan — and 82 bodies were recovered.
The nine, who have been in pretrial custody since their rescue last year, had been charged with being members of a migrant smuggling ring and were accused of having caused the shipwreck. They had faced several life sentences if convicted.
But a court in the southern Greek city of Kalamata on Tuesday ruled it had no jurisdiction to try the case, as the shipwreck occurred in international waters, none of those involved had been trying to enter Greece, the ship was not Greek flagged and no Greek citizens were on board.
The Egyptians’ defense team had argued that the nine were not crew members of the ill-fated trawler but had been paying passengers who were mistakenly identified as crew by nine other survivors, and that they were being used as scapegoats by authorities eager to put all the blame for the tragedy on the trawler’s crew.
Eight of the nine were released from a jail outside the southern city of Nafplio on Wednesday evening. They were transferred to a police station in the city, where they were to remain in custody overnight pending further procedures. It was not immediately clear when they would be fully released from custody.
The ninth defendant was to be released from a different jail.
The massive loss of life in the sinking of the Adriana in the early hours of June 14, 2023, renewed pressure on European governments to protect the lives of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the continent. The European border protection agency Frontex says illegal border detections at EU frontiers increased for three consecutive years through 2023, reaching the highest level since the 2015-2016 migration crisis, driven largely by arrivals by sea.
The exact circumstances of how the Adriana sank remain unclear. The trawler was sailing in international waters but within Greece’s search and rescue area of operations, and a coast guard patrol boat and passing merchant ships were near the vessel for several hours. Greek authorities have said the trawler’s crew repeatedly refused offers of help, insisting it wanted to continue to Italy.
Several survivors have said the boat capsized after the Greek coast guard attempted to tow it, an accusation Greek authorities have vehemently denied. A Naval Court investigation into the sinking is still underway.
Speaking at the courthouse after the case was dismissed on Tuesday, Dimitris Choulis, one of the lawyers in the defense team for the nine Egyptians, said attention should turn to how the Adriana sank.
“The court today had to be very brave to issue this decision, and to say that these people are not the smugglers,” Choulis said.
The lawyer blamed the tragedy on the Greek coast guard and Europe’s migration policies, and said it was essential to “make sure that nothing like that would happen again.”


From wedding photographer to water queue: Gaza mother mourns lost dream life

Updated 23 May 2024
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From wedding photographer to water queue: Gaza mother mourns lost dream life

  • The mother of seven is one of over two million Gazans who struggle to survive in the eighth month of an Israeli siege
  • "I'm a wedding photographer. Someone like me should be going out and living well and spending money on their children," Abdulati said

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip: Falasteen Abdulati mourns her vanished good life as a wedding photographer as she wearily queues day after day for scarce drinking water in a rubble-strewn street in south Gaza, fearing for the future of her children.
The mother of seven is one of over two million Gazans who struggle to survive in the eighth month of an Israeli siege and invasion triggered by a cross-border Hamas attack, with food, drinking water, medical care and safe shelter hard to find.
"I'm a wedding photographer. Someone like me should be going out and living well and spending money on their children," Abdulati, 35, said, laboriously filling a few buckets with water from a battered barrel in the city of Khan Younis.
"Our life has (been reduced) to the simplest needs. It is work and exhaustion. Nothing else. The dream that I had as a wedding photographer to open a studio and to get cameras and to make people happy, is lost. My dream is lost."
She continued: "Every morning we wake up at 7 o’clock and of course the first thing we think about is water," she said. "We come here and wait in the long queue, just to fill up four buckets with water. Other than that, our shoulders hurt. There are no men to carry it for us. There is no one but us. Women are the ones working these days."
Israel's assault on the tiny, heavily urbanised coastal enclave has displaced over three-quarters of the 2.3 million Palestinian population and demolished its infrastructure.
"The future of my children that I worked tirelessly for is lost. There are no schools (functioning), no education. There is no more comfort in life," said Abdulati.
"No safety," she added, referring to the threat of shelling or raids that Israel says target Hamas militants holed up in densely-packed residential neighbourhoods.
Abdulati, dressed in a body-length robe and head-covering, said the upheaval of war had turned the lives of Gaza women upside down. "Women are now like men. They work hard just like men. They're no longer comfortable at home."
Her husband is hospitalised with war injuries.
Breathing heavily, she lugged her buckets along a shattered, sand-covered street and up a dingy flight of cement stairs into the family flat. There she heated up the fresh water over a makeshift fire stove in a cluttered, cramped room dark for lack of electricity, watched intently by her young children.
"We are suffering due to a lack of gas because the border crossings are shut," she said, referring to Israel's siege that has severely restricted humanitarian aid shipments into Gaza.
"The water that I filled up must be rationed. I heat it up so I can wash the children, in addition to doing the dishes and washing clothes. The four buckets I can get per day are just not enough. I have to go back again and again."


Poverty in Lebanon tripled over a decade, World Bank says

Updated 23 May 2024
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Poverty in Lebanon tripled over a decade, World Bank says

  • The findings showed stark differences in poverty levels between different areas of the country
  • Among Lebanese surveyed, the poverty rate in 2022 was 33 percent, while among Syrians it reached 87 percent

BEIRUT: Poverty in Lebanon tripled over the course of a decade during which the small Mediterranean country slid into a protracted financial crisis, the World Bank said Thursday.
The percentage of people in Lebanon living below the poverty line rose from 12 percent in 2012 to 44 percent in 2022, the bank said in a report based on surveys conducted in five of the country’s eight governorates.
The data provided the most detailed snapshot to date on the economic circumstances of the country’s population since the crisis that began in late 2019, although World Bank officials acknowledged it was incomplete as surveyors were not given access to three governates in the south and east of the country.
The findings showed stark differences in poverty levels between different areas of the country and between Lebanese citizens and the country’s large population of Syrian refugees.
In the Beirut governate, in contrast to the rest of the country, poverty actually declined from 4 percent to 2 percent of the population during the decade surveyed, while in the largely neglected Akkar region in the north, the rate increased from 22 percent to 62 percent.
Among Lebanese surveyed, the poverty rate in 2022 was 33 percent, while among Syrians it reached 87 percent. While the survey found an increase in the percentage of Lebanese citizens working in unskilled jobs like agriculture and construction, it found that most Lebanese still work in skilled jobs while the majority of Syrians do unskilled labor.
The report also measured “multidimensional poverty,” which takes into account access to services like electricity and education as well as income, finding that some 73 percent of Lebanese and 100 percent of non-Lebanese residents of the country qualify as poor under this metric.
Beginning in late 2019, Lebanon’s currency collapsed, while inflation skyrocketed and the country’s GDP plummeted. Many Lebanese found that the value of their life savings had evaporated.
Initially, many saw an International Monetary Fund bailout as the only path out of the crisis, but since reaching a preliminary agreement with the IMF in 2022, Lebanese officials have made limited progress on reforms required to clinch the deal, including restructuring the ailing banking sector.
An IMF delegation visiting Beirut this week found that “some progress has been made on monetary and fiscal reforms,” the international financial institution said in a statement, including on “lowering inflation and stabilizing the exchange rate,” but it added that the measures “fall short of what is needed to enable a recovery from the crisis.”
It noted that reforms to “governance, transparency and accountability” remain “limited” and that without an overhaul of the banking sector, the “cash and informal economy will continue to grow, raising significant regulatory and supervisory concerns.”
The World Bank has estimated that the cash economy makes up 46 percent of the country’s GDP, as Lebanese distrustful of banks in the wake of the crisis have sought to deal in hard currency.
The flourishing cash economy has created fertile ground for money laundering and led to concerns that Lebanon could be placed on the Paris-based watchdog Financial Action Task Force’s “grey list” of countries with a high risk of money laundering and terrorism financing.