Israel military strikes northern Gaza in heaviest shelling in weeks

A Palestinian woman checks the rubble of a home hit by overnight Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 April 2024
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Israel military strikes northern Gaza in heaviest shelling in weeks

  • Army tanks made a new incursion east of Beit Hanoun on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip, though they did not penetrate far into the city
  • The renewed shelling and bombing of northern Gaza comes almost four months after the Israeli army announced it was drawing down its troops there

GAZA: Israel bombarded northern Gaza overnight in some of the heaviest shelling in weeks, causing panic among residents and flattening neighborhoods in an area from which the Israeli army had previously down its troops, residents said on Tuesday.
Army tanks made a new incursion east of Beit Hanoun on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip, though they did not penetrate far into the city, residents and Hamas media said. Gunfire reached some schools where displaced residents were sheltering.
In Israel, where government offices and businesses were shut to celebrate the Jewish Passover holiday, incoming rocket alerts sounded in southern border towns, although no casualties were reported.
The armed wing of Islamic Jihad, a group allied to Hamas, claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks on Sderot and Nir Am, indicating fighters were still able to launch them almost 200 days into the war, which has flattened large swathes of the enclave and displaced almost all of its 2.3 million people.
Thick black smoke could be seen rising in northern Gaza from across the southern Israeli border. Shelling was intense east of Beit Hanoun and Jabalia and continued on Tuesday morning in areas such as Zeitoun, one of Gaza City’s oldest suburbs, with residents reporting at least 10 strikes in a matter of seconds along the main road.
Just west of Beit Hanoun in Beit Lahiya, medics and Hamas media said strikes had hit a mosque and a crowd gathering on the coastal road to collect aid dropped from the air. Reuters could not immediately confirm those targets.
“It was one of those nights of horror that we had lived in at the start of the war. The bombing from tanks and planes didn’t stop,” said Um Mohammad, 53, a mother-of-six living 700 meters from Zeitoun.
“I had to gather with my children and my sisters who came to shelter with me in one place and pray for our lives as the house kept shaking,” she told Reuters via a chat app.
“I don’t know if we will make it alive before this war stops,” she added.
The Israeli army said rockets launched overnight into Israel had come from firing positions in northern Gaza. It had struck rocket launchers and killed several militants overnight, in what it called “targeted and precise” strikes.
“Over the past day, IAF fighter jets and additional aircraft struck approximately 25 terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip, including military infrastructure, observation posts, terrorists, launch posts,” it said in a statement.
Hitting areas where troops had withdrawn
The renewed shelling and bombing of northern Gaza comes almost four months after the Israeli army announced it was drawing down its troops there, saying Hamas no longer controlled those areas.
This month, Israel also drew down most of its forces in southern Gaza. But efforts to reach a ceasefire have failed, and Israeli bombardment and raids on territory where its troops have withdrawn are making it difficult for displaced Gazans to return to abandoned homes. Israel also struck Khan Younis in the south on Tuesday, a day after tanks raided eastern parts of that city.
Israel says it is seeking to eradicate Hamas, which controls the enclave, following an attack by the militant group on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and taking 253 hostages by Israeli tallies.
Across the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military strikes killed 32 Palestinians and wounded 59 others in the past 24 hours, Palestinian health authorities said. They say more than 34,000 people have been confirmed killed in the seven-month war, with thousands more bodies as yet unrecovered.
Residents also reported bombing east of Deir Al-Balah on Tuesday in a central zone separating the north from the south.
In Nasser Hospital, southern Gaza’s main health facility, authorities recovered a further 35 bodies from what they say is one of at least three mass graves found at the site, taking the total found there to 310 in one week.
Israel says it was forced to battle inside hospitals because Hamas fighters operated there, which medical staff and Hamas deny.


Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

Updated 2 sec ago
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Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack
More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank

ARIEL, Palestinian Territories: With many Israelis gripped by a sense of insecurity following Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, the number of women applying for gun permits has soared, while feminist groups have criticized the rush to arms.
According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack, with 18,000 approved, more than tripling the number of pre-war licenses held by women.
The surge has been enabled by the loosening of gun laws under Israel’s right-wing government and its far-right security minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with 10,000 enrolled in mandatory training, according to the ministry.
“I would have never thought of buying a weapon or getting a permit, but since October 7, things changed a little bit,” political science professor Limor Gonen told AFP during a weapons handling class at a shooting range in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
The October 7 attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
“We were all targeted (on October 7) and I don’t want to be taken by surprise, so I’m trying to defend myself,” Gonen said after the class, an obligatory step for acquiring a permit.
While the immediate trigger for the surge in gun buying was the Hamas attack, Ben Gvir was already pledging to reform firearms legislation when he became security minister in late 2022.
He promised to raise the number of civilians holding weapons and “increase self-defense capacity.”
Under Ben Gvir, the process for getting a gun license has been sped up, with Israeli media reporting that in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack the authorities were often clearing hundreds of permits per day.
Eligibility criteria for gun ownership in Israel now include being a citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18, having a basic command of Hebrew and medical clearance.
The full list of requirements makes it nearly impossible for non-Jews to obtain a permit.
In March, Ben Gvir, who is himself a settler in the West Bank, hailed civilian weapon ownership passing the 100,000 mark, while showing off his own gun at a rally.
But his rush to put deadly arms into the hands of ordinary Israelis has drawn criticism too.
The Gun Free Kitchen Tables Coalition, an Israeli initiative founded by feminist activists, condemned the civilian arms race.
It is “a strategy of far-right settlers to consider the arming of women to be a feminist act,” a spokesperson for the group of 18 organizations told AFP.
“The increase of weapons in the civilian space leads to an increase in violence and murder against women. It’s time for the state to understand that individual safety is its responsibility.”
Community manager Yahel Reznik, 24, said she now felt “a lot more safe” in Ariel, which sits three kilometers north of the Palestinian city of Salfit.
“Thanks to my training I will be able to defend myself and protect others” from an attack, she told AFP.
Violence in the West Bank, which was already rising before the war, has surged since October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli settlers and troops across the West Bank since the start of the Gaza war, according to the Palestinian Authority.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The surge in gun ownership is not limited to West Bank settlers. In the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, just north of Tel Aviv, Corine Nissim said she never leaves home without her gun.
The 42-year-old English teacher walked her three children to the park with a 9mm Smith & Wesson sticking out the back of her trousers.
“After October 7, I think like most people in Israel, I realized that the only person I can trust is myself,” she told AFP, adding she bought a gun not to feel “helpless.”
“The worst scenario that was going through my head was that, of course, terrorists attack me and my family in our own house,” the mother said.
Her decision to own a gun initially surprised some in the seaside town known for its tranquillity and safety, she said.
“People watched me and said, ‘This is so surreal to see you like this with a gun and with the baby’” said Nissim.
But, she said, others started to agree with her and said they would follow suit.
“Many women told me: ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to get a gun as well.’“

Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

Updated 9 min 59 sec ago
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Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

JERUSALEM: Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat.
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine with outside aid severely restricted.
Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from aid agencies that they are unable to deliver aid including vegetables.
Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.
“The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, also known as OCHA, said in a briefing late Friday.
“Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations.”
But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the United Nations over why the aid is stacking up.
It shared aerial footage of white and black containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.
The October Hamas attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
With civil order breaking down in the territory, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.
A deputy UN spokesman this week said the crossing “is operating with limited functionality, including because of fighting in the area.”
Israel’s coordinator for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, said Thursday “the content of 1,200 aid trucks awaits collection by UN aid agencies,” saying a lack of distribution was responsible.
Earlier in the week, COGAT spokesman Shimon Freedman told reporters at the crossing the daily pause on a southern road into Gaza was designed to allow the UN “to collect and distribute more aid” alongside an Israeli military presence.
He said most of the aid had not moved because “organizations have not taken sufficient steps to improve their distribution capacity.”
Aid agencies have instead pointed to Israel’s offensive on the southern city of Rafah, which pushed out more than a million people and closed a border crossing with Egypt, as a deepening humanitarian crisis hampered relief efforts.
The United States also sanctioned an extremist Israeli group last week, accusing it of blocking convoys and looting and burning trucks trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
And the UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by “desperate people.”
As both sides stall, it is the civilians in Gaza who are paying the price.
“We don’t see any aid. Everything we get to eat comes from our own money and it’s all very expensive,” said Umm Mohammad Zamlat, 66, from northern Gaza but now living in Khan Yunis in the south.
“Even agencies specialized in aid deliveries are not able to provide anything to us,” she added.
“We hope this war ends and we return to our homes and that we don’t need aid from anyone.”
NGO Doctors Without Borders said on Friday that six trucks with 37 tons of supplies, mostly essentially medical items, have been held up at the Egyptian part of Kerem Shalom since June 14.
“This is incomprehensible and unacceptable,” it said in a statement.
“It’s like asking a fireman to watch a house filled with people burn down, and preventing him putting out the fire.”


Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551

Updated 30 min 41 sec ago
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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551

  • The toll includes at least 120 deaths over the past 48 hours

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Saturday that at least 37,551 people have been killed in the territory during more than eight months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The toll includes at least 120 deaths over the past 48 hours, a ministry statement said, adding 85,911 had been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.


Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria

Updated 52 min 14 sec ago
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Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria

  • “An Iraqi member in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was killed, and two others were injured in a preliminary toll, as a result of an unknown airstrike,” the Observatory said
  • The Britain-based monitor said an explosion was heard coinciding with the strike “in Albukamal countryside...”

BEIRUT: An Iraqi fighter from an Iran-backed group was killed in an overnight airstrike in eastern Syria near the Iraq border overnight, the group and a war monitor said on Saturday.
The strike occurred in Deir Ezzor province, where Iran wields significant influence and which is regularly targeted by Israel and the United States, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“An Iraqi member in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was killed, and two others were injured in a preliminary toll, as a result of an unknown airstrike,” the Observatory said, referring to a loose alliance of Iran-backed groups.
The Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said an explosion was heard coinciding with the strike “in Albukamal countryside... a few kilometers away from Syrian-Iraqi borders.”
Iraq’s Sayyed Al-Shuhada Brigades announced the death of a fighter in a strike on “Friday which targeted his vehicle during a reconnaissance patrol on the Iraqi-Syrian border,” accusing the United States of being behind the attack.
Responsibility for the strike was not immediately claimed, but a spokesperson for the US-led military coalition formed in 2014 to fight the Daesh group told AFP that “neither the coalition nor US forces carried out overnight strikes in Deir Ezzor.”
The Observatory said that several hours before the strike, drones flew over the area.
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes primarily targeting pro-Iran groups — which it rarely comments on publically.
In late March, 16 Tehran-affiliated fighters, including an Iranian military adviser, were killed in strikes on eastern Syria.
The strikes also killed one civilian working for the World Health Organization.
Iran has long been a key ally of the Syrian government, most notably providing military advisers.


Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

Updated 22 June 2024
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Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

  • Popular rapper Toomaj Salehi was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme court has overturned a death sentence against popular rapper Toomaj Salehi who was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, his lawyer said Saturday.
“Salehi’s death sentence was overturned,” the rapper’s lawyer Amir Raisian said in a post on X, adding that the supreme court had ordered a retrial.