Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package

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A Palestinian girl sits in front of her house after Israeli settlers attacked the village of Al-Mughayyer, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (REUTERS)
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A Palestinian man gestures as he stands inside his kitchen in the aftermath of an attacked by Israeli settlers in occupied West Bank village of Al-Mughayyir near Ramallah, on April 17, 2024. (AFP)
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A child kneels over the bodies of two Palestinian men, reportedly killed during an Israeli settlers’ attack on the village of Aqraba in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, during their funeral procession on April 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 22 April 2024
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Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package

  • ‘Every second we live in terror, even the sound of Israeli aircraft doesn’t stop’
  • Israeli strikes killed 22 people overnight, including 18 children, according to Palestinian health authorities

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Israeli strikes on the southern Gaza city of Rafah overnight killed 22 people, including 18 children, health officials said Sunday, as violence flared in the occupied West Bank.

The latest bombardments came as the US House of Representatives approved $13 billion in new Israeli military aid even as global criticism mounts over the death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

However, fears of wider war breaking out in the Middle East have eased somewhat after Iran downplayed Israel’s reported retaliation over its unprecedented missile and drone attack on the country a week ago.

Attention has turned back toward the war in Gaza, which Israel hit with several strikes overnight, according to the Palestinian territory’s Civil Defense agency.

Israel has carried out near-daily air raids on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has sought refuge from fighting elsewhere. It has also vowed to expand its ground offensive against the Hamas militant group to the city on the border with Egypt despite calls for restraint, including from the US.

“In the coming days, we will increase the political and military pressure on Hamas because this is the only way to bring back our hostages and achieve victory. We will land more and painful blows on Hamas — soon,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. He didn’t give details.

The first Israeli strike in Rafah killed a man, his wife and their 3-year-old child, according to the nearby Kuwaiti Hospital, which received the bodies. The woman was pregnant and the doctors saved the baby, the hospital said. The second strike killed 17 children and two women from an extended family.

Resident Umm Hassan Kloub, 35, said her children screamed when they “woke up to a nightmare of an explosion.”

“Every second we live in terror, even the sound of Israeli aircraft doesn’t stop,” she said.

“We don’t know whether we will live or die. This is not life.”

“These children were sleeping. What did they do? What was their fault?” asked one relative, Umm Kareem. Mohammed Al-Beheiri said that his daughter, Rasha, and her six children, the youngest 18 months old, were among those killed. A woman and three children were still under the rubble.

The Israel-Hamas war has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, at least two-thirds of them children and women. It has devastated Gaza’s two largest cities and left a swath of destruction. Around 80 percent of the territory’s population have fled to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave.

The $26 billion aid package approved by the US House of Representatives on Saturday includes around $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, which experts say is on the brink of famine. The US Senate could pass the package as soon as Tuesday, and President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

The conflict, now in its seventh month, has sparked regional unrest pitting Israel and the US against Iran and allied militant groups across the Middle East. Israel and Iran traded fire directly this month, raising fears of all-out war.

Tensions have also spiked in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israeli troops killed two Palestinians who the military says attacked a checkpoint with a knife and a gun near the southern West Bank town of Hebron early Sunday. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that the two killed were 18 and 19, from the same family. No Israeli forces were wounded, the army said.

Later, the military said its forces shot dead a 43-year-old Palestinian woman after she tried to stab a soldier in the northern West Bank near Beka’ot settlement.

The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said that it had recovered 14 bodies from an Israeli raid in the Nur Shams urban refugee camp in the West Bank that began late Thursday. Those killed include three militants from the Islamic Jihad group and a 15-year-old boy.

The military said it killed 14 militants and arrested eight suspects. Ten Israeli soldiers and one border police officer were wounded.

In a separate incident in the West Bank, an Israeli man was wounded in an explosion on Sunday, the Magen David Adom rescue service said. A video circulating online shows a man approaching a Palestinian flag planted in a field. When he kicks it, it appears to trigger an explosive device.

Israel blames Hamas for civilian casualties because the militants fight in dense, residential neighborhoods. The military rarely comments on individual strikes, which often kill women and children. The military says it has killed more than 13,000 Hamas fighters, without providing evidence.

US military aid

Much of the new military assistance approved by the US House of Representatives on Saturday was expected to be used to reinforce Israel’s air defenses.

Israel welcomed the aid, while Hamas condemned it as a “green light” for continued Israeli “aggression.”

The US bill said that more than $9 billion will also be earmarked to address “the dire need for humanitarian assistance for Gaza as well as other vulnerable populations around the world.”

The boost for Israel’s defenses comes after almost all of the more than 300 missiles and drones that Iran launched toward the country a week ago were intercepted, according to the Israeli military.

Israel had vowed to respond to Iran’s first-ever attack on its territory, which was itself retaliation for a deadly April 1 strike on Iran’s embassy consular annex in Damascus.

Iran blamed Israel for that attack.

Israel’s response appeared to come on Friday when explosions were reported in the central Iranian province of Isfahan.

Israeli officials have made no public comment, and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian downplayed the incident.

He told NBC News that Tehran would not respond “as long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the Israeli regime against Iran’s interests.”

On Sunday, Israel said it will hold a “protest talk” with ambassadors from several United Nations Security Council members which voted for the “State of Palestine” to become a full UN member.

France, Japan and others backed the bid which the United States vetoed.

Israel has faced growing global opposition to the war, which has turned vast areas of Gaza into rubble while a siege has left residents without enough water, food, medicines and other vital supplies.

The population “faces famine, malnutrition, and infectious disease outbreaks,” the International Rescue Committee charity warned this week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also come under pressure within Israel, including to reach a deal for the release of hostages still held by Hamas. Israel estimates 129 captives remain in Gaza, including 34 who the military says are dead.

Families of the hostages were among thousands attending an anti-government protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

Ofir Angrest, whose brother Matan was kidnapped on October 7, called for Jewish Israelis to leave an empty chair at their traditional Seder meals marking the beginning of the holiday Passover on Monday.

“Enough! After more than six months, you’re simply disrespecting me and the families of the hostages,” Angrest said, adding that he was addressing the Israeli cabinet.

(With Agencies)


Top UN court says to rule Friday on South Africa Gaza ceasefire bid

Updated 2 sec ago
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Top UN court says to rule Friday on South Africa Gaza ceasefire bid

THE HAGUE: The UN’s top court said it will rule Friday on a request by South Africa to order Israel to implement a ceasefire in Gaza.
South Africa has petitioned the International Court of Justice for emergency measures to order Israel to “cease its military operations in the Gaza Strip” including in Rafah city, where it is pressing an offensive.
The rulings of the ICJ, which rules on disputes between states, are binding but it has no power to enforce them — it has ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine to no avail, for example.
But a ruling against Israel would increase the international legal pressure after the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor said Monday he was seeking arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders.
In hearings last week, South Africa charged that what it described as Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza had hit a “new and horrific stage” with its assault on Rafah, the last part of Gaza to face a ground invasion.
The Rafah campaign is “the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people,” argued Vaughan Lowe, a lawyer for South Africa.
“It was Rafah that brought South Africa to the court. But it is all Palestinians as a national, ethnical and racial group who need the protection from genocide that the court can order,” he added.
Lawyers for Israel hit out at South Africa’s case as being “totally divorced” from reality that made a “mockery” of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention it is accused of breaching.
“Calling something a genocide again and again does not make it genocide. Repeating a lie does not make it true,” top lawyer for Israel Gilad Noam said.
“There is a tragic war going on but there is no genocide,” he added.
Israeli troops began their ground assault on parts of Rafah early this month, defying international opposition including from top ally the United States, which voiced fears for the more than one million civilians trapped in the city.
Israel has ordered mass evacuations from the city, where it has vowed to eliminate Hamas’s tunnel network and its remaining fighters.
The UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.

Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on

Updated 6 min 27 sec ago
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Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on

  • The week started with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants over war crimes
  • Newly released video showed five female Israeli soldiers, tied up and some with bloodied faces, in the hands of Palestinian militants

Jerusalem: Israel bombed Gaza on Thursday even as it said it was ready to resume stalled talks on a truce and hostage release deal with Hamas to pause the war raging since October 7.
Global pressure for a ceasefire has mounted on Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as three European countries said Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state.
The week started with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants over war crimes against Netanyahu and his defense minister as well as three Hamas leaders.
Israel has angrily rejected those moves, voicing “disgust” over the ICC move and labelling a recognition of the State of Palestine now a “reward for terrorism.”
But domestic pressure has also risen as supporters of hostages trapped in war-torn Gaza again rallied outside Netanyahu’s office, passionately demanding steps to free them.
A newly released video showed five female Israeli soldiers, tied up and some with bloodied faces, in the hands of Palestinian militants during the attack more than seven months ago.
The three-minute clip, taken from a militant’s body camera footage, was released by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum on Wednesday after the Israeli army lifted censorship on it.
“The footage reveals the violent, humiliating and traumatising treatment the girls endured on the day of their abduction, their eyes filled with raw terror,” the forum said.
Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting Hamas to “ensure what we have seen tonight never happens again,” and more bombardment rained down overnight on targets in the devastated Gaza Strip.
But his office also said that the war cabinet had asked the Israeli negotiating team “to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages.”
The previous round of truce talks, involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, ended shortly after Israel launched its attack on Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah early this month.
Israel went ahead with the assault on the last Gaza city so far spared a major ground offensive in defiance of global opposition, including from top ally the United States.
Washington voiced concerns that 1.4 million Palestinians who had been trapped in crowded tent cities and shelters there would be caught in the line of fire.
Israel has since ordered mass evacuations from the city, and the UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.
US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Wednesday the Rafah operation “has been more targeted and limited” than feared and “has not involved major military operations into the heart of dense urban areas.”
But he stopped short of saying that Israel had addressed US concerns, adding that Washington was closely watching ongoing Israeli actions.
Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi has meanwhile given a bleak assessment of the war so far to a meeting of the parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, according to a report by Israel’s Channel 13.
He reportedly said that Israel has “not achieved any of the strategic aims of the war — not conditions for a hostage deal, we haven’t toppled Hamas, and we haven’t allowed residents of the (Gaza) periphery to return safely home.”
The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 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, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Heavy fighting raged again in Gaza, where an AFP team reported fresh strikes early Thursday around Rafah.
Troops in the city had “dismantled a number of tunnel shafts and launchers in the area, and eliminated several terrorists during close-quarters encounters,” said the military.
Urban combat has also flared again in northern areas, including Jabalia, which Israeli forces first entered several months ago.
Israeli forces there “targeted several Hamas terrorists during strikes on military compounds” and located AK-47 and sniper rifles, grenades and other weaponry, the military said.
Israel has also imposed a siege that has deprived Gaza’s 2.4 million people of most drinking water, food, medical and fuel supplies.
The sporadic arrival of aid by truck slowed further after Israeli forces took control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
Jordan and others have kept up aid airdrops, and relief goods have been shipped in via a US-built pier, but many trucks were quickly swarmed by desperate crowds.
Israel has faced ever greater opposition to the bloody war around the world, and pro-Palestinian protests have swept US and other university campuses.
Israel reacted with fury after Ireland, Norway and Spain said they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, a move praised by Palestinians and across the Arab world.
Israel recalled its envoys to Dublin, Oslo and Madrid and summoned their ambassadors for a rebuke.
Most Western governments say they are willing to recognize Palestinian statehood one day, but not before thorny issues such as final borders and the status of Jerusalem are settled.
The White House said Biden opposed unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, saying it should be realized “through direct negotiations.”
Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris called the October 7 attack “barbaric” but stressed that “a two-state solution is the only way out of the generational cycles of violence.”


Vessel targeted by ‘missile’ attack off Yemen: security firms

Updated 23 May 2024
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Vessel targeted by ‘missile’ attack off Yemen: security firms

  • The vessel was “suspiciously approached” 68 nautical miles (125 kilometers) off Hodeidah
  • No injuries or damages reported

SANAA: A missile attack targeted a commercial vessel transiting southwest of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah without causing any damage or casualties, maritime security firms said on Thursday.
The vessel was “suspiciously approached” 68 nautical miles (125 kilometers) off Hodeidah, Ambrey said, without identifying the ship or the flag that it was flying.
“The vessel had undergone what she described as a ‘missile attack’ at the location,” it added, noting that “no injuries or damages were reported.”


The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, run by the Royal Navy, also reported an incident at the same location, with “a missile impacting the water in close proximity” to the ship.
“Vessel and all crew are safe and proceeding to next port of call,” it said in an advisory.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have launched a flurry of attacks against ships since November.
The group, which controls the Yemeni capital Sanaa and much of the country’s Red Sea coast, say their campaign is in solidarity with Palestinians amid the Gaza war.
Their attacks have prompted US and British reprisal strikes and the formation of an international naval coalition to protect the vital trade route.
On Wednesday, US military forces shot down four drones in Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said.
“It was determined these systems presented an imminent threat to US coalition forces, and merchant vessels in the region,” CENTCOM posted on social media platform X.

 


Iran prepares to bury late president, foreign minister and others killed in helicopter crash

Updated 23 May 2024
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Iran prepares to bury late president, foreign minister and others killed in helicopter crash

  • President Ebrahim Raisi’s burial later Thursday at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad caps days of processionals through much of Iran

DUBAI: Iran on Thursday prepared to inter its late president at the holiest site for Shiite Muslims in the Islamic Republic, a final sign of respect for a protégé of Iran’s supreme leader killed in a helicopter crash earlier this week.
President Ebrahim Raisi’s burial at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad caps days of processionals through much of Iran, seeking to bolster the country’s theocracy after the crash killing him, the country’s foreign minister and six others.
However, the services have not drawn the same crowd as those who gathered for services for Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in 2020, slain by a US drone strike in Baghdad.
It’s a potential sign of the public’s feelings about Raisi’s presidency that saw the government harshly crack down on all dissent during protests over the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, detained for allegedly not wearing her mandatory headscarf to authorities’ liking.
That crackdown, as well as Iran’s struggling economy, have gone unmentioned in the hours of coverage provided by state television and in newspapers. Also never discussed was Raisi’s involved in the mass execution of an estimated 5,000 dissidents at the end of the Iran-Iraq war.
Prosecutors have warned people against showing any public signs of celebrating Raisi’s death and a heavy security force presence has been seen in Tehran since the crash.
Thursday morning, thousands in black gathered along a main boulevard in the city of Birjand, Raisi’s hometown in Iran’s South Khorasan province along the Afghan border. A semitruck bore his casket down the street, with mourners reached out to touch it and tossing scarves and other items to be placed against it for a blessing. A sign on the truck read: “This is the shrine.”
Later, Raisi will be buried at the Imam Reza Shrine, where Shiite Islam’s 8th imam is buried. The region long has been associated with Shiite pilgrimmage. A hadith attributed to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad says anyone with sorrow or sin will be relieved through visiting there.
In 2016, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Raisi to run the Imam Reza charity foundation, which manages a vast conglomerate of businesses and endowments in Iran, as well as oversees the shrine. It is one of many bonyads, or charitable foundations, fueled by donations or assets seized after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
These foundations offer no public accounting of their spending and answer only to Iran’s supreme leader. The Imam Reza charity, known as “Astan-e Quds-e Razavi” in Farsi, is believed to be one of the biggest in the country. Analysts estimate its worth at tens of billions of dollars as it owns almost half the land in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city.
Raisi will be the first top politician in the country to be buried at the shrine, which represents a major honor for the cleric.
The death of Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six others in the crash on Sunday comes at a politically sensitive moment for Iran, both at home and abroad.
Raisi, who was 63, had been discussed as a possible successor to Iran’s supreme leader, the 85-year-old Khamenei. None of Iran’s living past presidents — other than Khamenei, who was president from 1981 until 1989 — could be seen in state television footage of Wednesday’s prayers. The authorities gave no explanation for their apparent absence.
Iran has set June 28 as the next presidential election. For now, there’s no clear favorite for the position among Iran’s political elite — particularly no one who is a Shiite cleric, like Raisi. Acting President Mohammad Mokhber, a relatively unknown first vice president until Sunday’s crash, has stepped into his role and even attended a meeting between Khamenei and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday.


Families forum release video of Israeli women troops being seized on Oct 7

Updated 23 May 2024
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Families forum release video of Israeli women troops being seized on Oct 7

  • The three-minute clip showed the women sitting on the ground, some with blood on their faces, with their hands tied
  • The footage was taken from a two-hour video filmed on a body camera by Hamas militants

JERUSALEM: An Israeli campaign group on Wednesday released footage of five Israeli female soldiers being captured by Palestinian militants from a military base during Hamas’s October 7 attack, after their families gave permission.

The three-minute clip showed the women sitting on the ground, some with blood on their faces, with their hands tied following their capture from the Nahal Oz base in southern Israel.

The footage was taken from a two-hour video filmed on a body camera by Hamas militants during the attack, the campaign group the Hostage and Missing Families Forum said in a statement.

“The footage reveals the violent, humiliating, and traumatising treatment the girls endured on the day of their abduction, their eyes filled with raw terror,” the forum said as it released the footage to the media for publication.

Towards the end of the clip, the women are seen being taken away by militants in a military jeep amid screams.

“It’s time to act, otherwise the blood of my sister and other hostages will be on the hands” of the Israeli authorities, Sasha Ariev, sister of one of the seized soldiers, told AFP.

“Everyone has now seen these young girls taken captive in their pyjamas... the only victory is to bring them back quickly and alive.”

After the base was stormed by Hamas militants on October 7, more than 50 Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack, 15 of whom were women.

Seven female soldiers were taken hostage and one has since been freed in an Israeli military operation, while the body of another was found and brought to Israel.

Hamas said the video footage was “manipulated” with a selection of images aimed at supporting “false allegations” to “tarnish the image of the resistance.”

Some of the soldiers were bleeding or sustained minor injuries, “but there was no physical aggression against any of them,” the Palestinian Islamist movement said in a statement.

Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 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.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under intense pressure from the families of the hostages to negotiate the return of their loved ones from Gaza.

Netanyahu vowed in a statement on Wednesday to continue fighting Hamas to “ensure what we have seen tonight never happens again.”

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.

The Israeli military says 287 soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.