Fears grow for Rafah as Israel-Hamas war rages on 200th day

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People rush to landing humanitarian aid packages dropped over the northern Gaza Strip on April 23, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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This handout satellite image courtesy of Maxar Technologies shows tent camps for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 23, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant Hamas group. (AFP)
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Updated 24 April 2024
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Fears grow for Rafah as Israel-Hamas war rages on 200th day

  • Citing Egyptian officials briefed on the Israeli plans, the Wall Street Journal said Israel was planning to move civilians from Rafah to nearby Khan Yunis over a period of two to three weeks
  • Israel has killed at least 34,183 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The Israel-Hamas war entered its 200th day on Tuesday as aid groups warned that Israeli plans to invade the southern city of Rafah where most Gazans have taken refuge would create an “apocalyptic situation.”
Fears have been rising that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon follow through on repeated threats to send troops into Rafah, where 1.5 million people have sought shelter, many in makeshift encampments.
“Everybody seems to be on a countdown to war across the largest displacement camp on Earth, which is Rafah,” Norwegian Refugee Council chief Jan Egeland told AFP.
Egeland warned that a ground assault on Rafah would be an “apocalyptic situation” and that humanitarian groups “are completely in the dark on how to mitigate this countdown to a catastrophe.”
Also on Tuesday, the United Nations rights office said it was “horrified” at reports of mass graves found at the Gaza Strip’s two biggest hospitals after Israeli sieges and raids.
Israel has repeatedly targeted Gazan medical facilities during the war, accusing Hamas of using them as command centers and to hold hostages abducted on October 7. Hamas denies the accusation.
Over the past three days, Gaza’s Civil Defense agency said nearly 340 bodies were uncovered of people killed and buried by Israeli forces at the Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis.
Israel’s army responded by saying that claims it had buried Palestinian bodies were “baseless and unfounded,” without directly addressing allegations that Israeli troops were behind the killings.
The army said that “corpses buried by Palestinians” had been examined by Israeli troops searching for hostages and then “returned to their place.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk called for an “independent” probe into the deaths at Nasser and Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospitals, noting the “special protection” awarded to medical facilities under international law.
UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said some of the bodies found at Nasser were allegedly “found with their hands tied and stripped of their clothes,” adding that efforts were underway to corroborate the reports.
AFP images from the scene showed numerous bodies under white shrouds in front of the bombed-out Nasser Hospital.
The White House said it would discuss the subject with Israel.
“Obviously scenes of mass graves in general are deeply concerning but I don’t have anything that can confirm the veracity of those,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

The Israeli army carried out intense shelling overnight of Gaza City, AFP correspondents and witnesses said.
Shelling and loud explosions were heard in southwest Gaza and Khan Yunis city, while strikes hit the Bureij and Nuseirat refugee camps in central Gaza.
The war began with an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 that resulted in the death of around 1,170 people, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
In retaliation, Israel launched a military offensive that has killed at least 34,183 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
The Israeli army announced the death of a soldier in Gaza, raising its toll to 261 since the ground operation began.
Israel estimates that 129 of the roughly 250 people abducted during the Hamas attack remain in Gaza, including 34 who the military says are dead.
Public pressure has mounted on Netanyahu’s government to strike a truce deal that would secure the release of the remaining hostages.
Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, said that “after 200 days, the enemy remains trapped in the sands of Gaza” and the hostages would “most likely” not return home soon.
At a rally near Netanyahu’s home in the coastal town of Caesarea, protesters including relatives of hostages set fire to a symbolic Passover table at the start of the week-long Jewish holiday on Monday.
Dalit Shtivi, whose son Idan was kidnapped on October 7, said she was struggling to cope without him during Passover, also known as the “holiday of freedom.”
“It’s so hard. I cannot explain the pain. I cannot... think of celebrating without him,” she said.

Outcry has been growing around the world against Israel’s offensive, which has turned vast areas of Gaza to rubble and sparked fears of famine.
Hundreds of students have been arrested in recent days at pro-Palestinian demonstrations on the campuses of prominent universities in the United States, Israel’s top ally and military supplier.
In Gaza, the United Nations says “multiple obstacles” continue to impede delivery of urgently needed aid for Gazans desperate for food, water, shelter and medicine.
But Netanyahu has vowed to press on with a planned offensive on Rafah, on the besieged territory’s border with Egypt.
Citing Egyptian officials briefed on the Israeli plans, the Wall Street Journal said Israel was planning to move civilians from Rafah to nearby Khan Yunis over a period of two to three weeks.
Satellite images shared by Maxar Technologies showed tent camps that had recently been set up in that area.
The Journal reported that Israel would then send troops into Rafah gradually, targeting areas where Hamas’s leaders are thought to be hiding, in a military operation that would last six weeks.

The European Union’s humanitarian chief Janez Lenarcic called on international donors to fund the United Nations agency UNRWA, which has been central to aid operations in Gaza.
His comment came after a much-awaited independent report found that “Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence” for its claim that UNRWA employs “terrorists.”
The report did find “neutrality-related issues,” such as agency staff sharing biased posts on social media.
After the report was released, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini called for an investigation into the “blatant disregard” for UN operations in Gaza, adding that 180 of the agency’s staff have been killed since the war began.
While some countries have renewed funding for the agency, the US and Britain are among the hold-outs.
The White House would “have to see real progress” before it restores funding, Kirby said.
The Gaza war has triggered violence across the region, with deadly cross-border exchanges on Tuesday between the Israeli army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.
The Iran-backed Lebanese group said it launched drones at northern Israeli army bases in retaliation for a strike deep into Lebanon that killed a Hezbollah fighter.
A woman and a girl were killed in an Israeli strike on southern Lebanon later on Tuesday, local rescuers and official media said.
 

 


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

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

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.