Six dead as Israel, ignoring warnings and pleas, blasts Palestinians’ last refuge

Israel's military is poised to evacuate Palestinian civilians from Rafah and assault Hamas hold-outs in the southern Gaza Strip city, a senior Israeli defence official said on Wednesday, despite international warnings of humanitarian catastrophe. (AFP/File)
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Updated 26 April 2024
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Six dead as Israel, ignoring warnings and pleas, blasts Palestinians’ last refuge

  • Aid groups warn any invasion would add to already-catastrophic conditions for civilians
  • Government spokesman says Israel ‘moving ahead’ with its operation to go after Hamas in Rafah

GAZA STRIP/RIYADH: Six Palestinians died in airstrikes on Rafah in southern Gaza on Thursday as the Israeli military pounded the city in preparation for an expected ground offensive.

Global concern has mounted over the looming operation against Hamas militants in Rafah, where much of Gaza’s population has sought refuge from more than six months of war in the narrow coastal strip.

More than 1.5 million Palestinian civilians are crammed into the south of the enclave and the latest Israeli bombardment left terrified refugees with nowhere left to flee to.

Israel has threatened to launch an all-out assault on Rafah despite warnings by the US and other Western allies that there would be mass Palestinian civilian  casualties. But even before any ground operation the area has been regularly bombed, including overnight Wednesday-Thursday.

Aid groups warn any invasion would add to already-catastrophic conditions for civilians.

Escalating Israeli warnings about invading Rafah have persuaded some families to leave for the nearby Al-Mawasi coastal area.

But many said the past 200 days of war had taught them that nowhere was genuinely safe.

“We escape from one trap into another, searching for places Israel calls safe before they bomb us there. It is like the rat and trap game,” said Mohammad Nasser, 34, a father of three who left Rafah two weeks ago.

Nasser now lives in a shelter in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza to avoid being caught by surprise by an Israeli invasion and unable to escape.

“We are trying to adapt to the new reality, hoping it will become better, but I doubt it will,” he said.

At the city’s Al-Najjar Hospital on Thursday, two men knelt in front of a white body bag in grief, among other mourners gathered at the site.

Elsewhere in the city, Palestinians tried to salvage belongings from the rubble of bombarded buildings.

“We are afraid of what will happen in Rafah. The level of alert is very high,” said Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN. “Some are leaving, they are afraid for their families, but where can they go? They are not being allowed to go to the north and so are confined to a very small area.”

Medical staff in southern Gaza said five Israeli airstrikes on Rafah on Thursday hit at least three houses and killed at least six people, including a local journalist. Israeli forces also resumed bombarding northern and central areas of Gaza, and areas east of Khan Younis in the south.

In the north, Israel bombarded Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun, Jabalia and Zeitoun, and Hamas militants fought Israeli troops with rockets, mortar bombs and sniper fire.

In nearly seven months of war Israel has killed at least 34,305 Palestinians, mainly women and children, Gaza health authorities said.

It has laid waste to much of the enclave, displacing most of its 2.3 million people and leaving many with little food, water or medical care.

Israeli government spokesman David Mencer said Israel was “moving ahead” with its operation to go after four Hamas battalions in Rafah.

“They will be attacked,” he said.

The war began with an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people in Israel, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, with a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34,305 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Thursday’s toll included at least 43 more deaths over the previous day.

During their attack militants seized hostages, 129 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, a figure that includes 34 presumed dead.

Hamas on Wednesday released a video of an Israeli-American man who was one of those captured.

Also on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden signed a law authorizing $13 billion in additional military aid to close ally Israel.

Much of that funding is to support the country’s air defenses, which received an unprecedented test this month with Iran’s first-ever direct strike against its foe.

Iran fired more than 300 drones and missiles toward Israel, the Israeli military said, but most were shot down by that country and its allies.

The Iranian barrage followed what it said was a deadly Israeli strike against Tehran’s embassy consular annex in Syria.

The US legislation also included $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza, with Biden demanding it reaches reach Palestinians “without delay.”

The United Nations has warned of imminent famine and “access constraints” on the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Germany said it would resume cooperation with the main aid agency in Gaza, the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees, or UNRWA, after an independent review found Israel had not yet provided evidence for its allegations that its staff belonged to “terrorist” groups.

Regional tensions remain high as the Gaza war has led to violence between Israel and Iran’s proxies and allies.

Israel has struck increasingly deeper into Lebanon, while the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement has stepped up rocket fire and drone attacks on Israeli military bases across the border.

The violence has fueled fears of all-out conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, which last went to war in 2006.

On Thursday Lebanese state media and a Hezbollah source said one person was wounded in an Israeli drone attack on a fuel truck near Baalbek, the latest such incident away from the southern border.

In other regional fallout, US-led coalition forces shot down an anti-ship missile launched by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, American authorities said on Thursday.

The Israeli military on Thursday said its aircraft had struck more than 30 Hamas targets across Gaza over the previous day.

Witnesses reported clashes between militants and Israeli troops near the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, as the world’s attention is increasingly focused further south, on Rafah.

Netanyahu in early April gave no details but said “there is a date” for the Rafah operation, over which the United States and others have expressed grave concern because of the concentration of civilians there.

Citing Egyptian officials briefed on Israeli plans, The Wall Street Journal has said Israel was planning to move civilians to nearby Khan Yunis over a period of two to three weeks, before gradually sending in troops.

The hostage in the video released on Hamas’s official Telegram account identified himself as Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23.

In the video, the authenticity of which AFP has not been able to independently verify, Goldberg-Polin was missing a hand, a wound he suffered during his capture.

In an apparent reference to Jewish Passover which began this week, Goldberg-Polin, likely speaking under duress, told Israeli government members that “while you sit and have holiday meals with your families, think of us, the hostages, who are still here in hell.”

Hostage supporters and anti-government demonstrators have intensified protests — including again on Wednesday night in Jerusalem — for the government to reach a deal that would free the captives, accusing Netanyahu of prolonging the war.

The European Union, the UN rights office and the White House have called for a probe into mass graves found at Gaza’s two biggest hospitals after Israeli raids.

“We want answers,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday. “We want to see this thoroughly and transparently investigated.”

Israel has repeatedly targeted hospitals during the war, accusing Hamas of using them as command centers and to hold hostages. Hamas denies the accusations.

Gaza’s Civil Defense agency said nearly 340 bodies were uncovered at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis city.

Israeli army spokesman Major Nadav Shoshani said on X that “the grave in question was dug — by Gazans — a few months ago.”

The Israeli army acknowledged that “corpses buried by Palestinians” had been examined by soldiers searching for hostages, but did not directly address allegations that Israeli troops were behind the killings.

(With AFP)


Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers during fighting in northern Gaza

Updated 26 May 2024
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Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers during fighting in northern Gaza

  • Hamas spokesperson did not say how many Israeli soldiers were captured
  • Statement came hours after prospects for resumption of Gaza ceasefire talks grew

CAIRO: A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing said on Sunday its fighters had captured Israeli soldiers during fighting in Jabalia in northern Gaza on Saturday, though the Israeli military denied the claim.
The Hamas armed wing spokesman did not say how many soldiers had been abducted and showed no proof of the claim.
“Our fighters lured a Zionist force into an ambush inside a tunnel ... The fighters withdrew after they left all members of the force dead, wounded, and captured,” Abu Ubaida, the spokesman for Al Qassam Brigades, said in a recorded message broadcast by Al Jazeera early on Sunday.
The Israeli military on Sunday denied the claim by Hamas’ armed wing.
“The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) clarifies that there is no incident in which a soldier was abducted,” the military said in a statement.
Hamas released a video that appeared to show a bloodied person being dragged along the ground in a tunnel and photos of military fatigue and rifle. Reuters could not independently verify the identity of the person shown in the video nor his or her condition.
The comments by Abu Ubaida came hours after prospects for a resumption of mediated Gaza ceasefire talks grew on Saturday.
An official with knowledge of the matter said a decision had been taken to resume the talks next week after the chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency met the head of the CIA and the prime minister of Qatar.
The source, who declined to be identified by name or nationality, said it had been decided that “in the coming week negotiations will open based on new proposals led by the mediators, Egypt and Qatar and with active US involvement.”
A Hamas official later denied Israeli media reports the talks would resume in Cairo on Tuesday, telling Reuters: “There is no date.”
After more than seven months of war in Gaza, the mediators have struggled to secure a breakthrough, with Israel seeking the release of hostages held by Hamas and Hamas seeking an end to the war and a release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says. Israel began the operation in response to Hamas-led militants attacking southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.


Scuffles erupt between police, protesters demanding return of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza

Updated 26 May 2024
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Scuffles erupt between police, protesters demanding return of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza

  • Israel says around 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more
  • Around half of the 250 hostages taken by Hamas and other militants have been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel

JERUSALEM: Scuffles between Israeli police and protesters erupted in Tel Aviv on Saturday after thousands gathered to demonstrate against the government and demand that it bring back the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.
Meanwhile, a small US military vessel and what appeared to be a strip of docking area washed up on a beach near the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, not far from the US-built pier on which the Israeli military said humanitarian aid is moving into the Palestinian territory.
Also on Saturday, Israeli bombardments were reported in northern and central Gaza.
Some protesters in Tel Aviv carried photos of the female soldiers who appeared in a video earlier in the week showing them soon after they were abducted during the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 started the war between Israel and Hamas. Some held banners reading “Stop the war” and “Help.” They called on the government to reach a deal to release the dozens of hostages still in captivity.
The protesters also called for the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and demanded new elections.
“We all saw the video, we could not stay at home after the government abandoned all these people,” said Hilit Sagi, from the group “Women Protest for the Return of All Hostages.”
Divisions among Israelis have deepened over how Netanyahu has handled the war against Hamas after the attack that killed about 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. Israel says around 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

Israeli police detain a protester during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on May 26, 2024, by relatives and supporters of Israelis taken hostage by Palestinian militants in Gaza in the October 7 attacks. (AFP)

“Basically they are not doing enough in order for the hostages to come back, either with military force, with (a) hostages’ deal, negotiating. Nothing is being done,” said Snir Dahan, uncle of hostage Carmel Gat, still in captivity in Gaza.
Earlier in the week, the bodies of three hostages killed were recovered from Gaza, Israel’s army said Friday. The army said they were killed on the day of the attack and their bodies were taken to Gaza. The announcement came less than a week after the army said it found the bodies of three other Israeli hostages killed on Oct. 7.
Around half of the 250 hostages taken by Hamas and other militants have been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a weeklong ceasefire in November.
Netanyahu’s government has faced increasing pressure, both at home and abroad, to stop the war and allow humanitarian aid into the enclave that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, almost 80 percent of whom have been displaced.
Also this week, three European countries announced they would recognize a Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, along with Hamas officials.
On Friday the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and to open the nearby border crossing for crucial humanitarian aid. The top United Nations court also said Israel must give war crimes investigators access to Gaza.
However, the judges stopped short of ordering a full ceasefire across the entire Palestinian territory, and Israel is unlikely to comply with the court’s ruling. South Africa accuses Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians during the war in Gaza, which Israel vehemently denies.
“We were hoping the war would end,” said Islam Abu Kamar, who moved from Gaza City to Rafah following the ground operation launched by Israel after the Hamas attack in October.
In the past two weeks, more than a million Palestinians have fled Rafah as Israeli forces pressed deeper into the city. Israel’s takeover this month of the Rafah border crossing, a key transit point for fuel and supplies for Gaza, has contributed to bringing aid operations to near collapse, the UN and relief groups say.
Israel says it needs to invade Rafah to destroy Hamas’ last stronghold. Egypt said it agreed to send UN humanitarian aid trucks through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, Israel’s main entry point into southern Gaza. But it remains unclear if the trucks will be able to enter because fighting still rages in Rafah.
Israel said aid is moving into the Palestinian territory through northern Gaza and via the US-built pier. On Saturday, a small US military boat and what appeared to be a strip of docking area washed up on a beach near the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
The US Central Command said four of its vessels supporting the humanitarian aid mission were affected by rough seas with two of them anchoring near the pier off the Gaza coast and another two in Israel.
US officials said no injuries were reported and the US is working with the Israeli army to recover the vessels, Central Command said.
American officials hope the pier at maximum capacity can bring the equivalent of 150 truckloads of aid to Gaza daily. That’s a fraction of the 600 truckloads of food, emergency nutritional treatments and other supplies that USAID says are needed each day to bring people in Gaza back from the brink of famine and address the humanitarian crisis brought on by the 7-month-old Israel-Hamas war.
Israeli bombardments continued in the enclave on Saturday with reports of strikes northern and central Gaza. Witnesses said people were killed in strikes on the cities of Jabaliya and Nuseirat.
More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.


Tunisian president fires interior, social affairs ministers in partial cabinet reshuffle

Updated 26 May 2024
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Tunisian president fires interior, social affairs ministers in partial cabinet reshuffle

TUNIS: Tunisian president Kais Saied dismissed on Saturday the Interior Minister Kamel Feki as part of a partial cabinet reshuffle, the presidency said.

The partial cabinet reshuffle also included replacing the minister of social affairs, Malek Ezzahi.

Saied appointed Khaled Nouri as the new interior minister and Kamal Madouri as minister of social affairs.


At least one Iraqi Sunni fighter killed in attack north of Baghdad

Updated 26 May 2024
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At least one Iraqi Sunni fighter killed in attack north of Baghdad

BAGHDAD: At least one pro-Iraqi government Sunni fighter was killed in an explosive device attack at a checkpoint in Khan Beni Saad, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Baghdad, officials and security sources said early on Sunday.
Two fighters with the Iraqi pro-government Sunni tribal force Sahwa were killed and at least six people, including five Iraqi soldiers, were injured in the attack, according to two security sources and a medical source.
The Iraqi Security Media Cell, an official body responsible for disseminating security information, said one person was killed after two explosive devices were detonated near the checkpoint on Saturday evening. It also said in a statement four people had sustained minor injuries.


Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza

Updated 2 min 17 sec ago
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Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza

  • Al-Qassam Brigades spokesman: ‘Our fighters lured a Zionist force into an ambush inside a tunnel’
  • The Israeli military, in a statement, denied the claim of Hamas’ armed wing

CAIRO: A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing said on Sunday its fighters had captured Israeli soldiers during fighting in Jabalia in northern Gaza on Saturday, though the Israeli military denied the claim.
The Hamas armed wing spokesman did not say how many soldiers had been abducted and showed no proof of the claim.
“Our fighters lured a Zionist force into an ambush inside a tunnel ... The fighters withdrew after they left all members of the force dead, wounded, and captured,” Abu Ubaida, the spokesman for Al-Qassam Brigades, said in a recorded message broadcast by Al-Jazeera early on Sunday.
The Israeli military on Sunday denied the claim by Hamas’ armed wing.
“The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) clarifies that there is no incident in which a soldier was abducted,” the military said in a statement.
Hamas released a video that appeared to show a bloodied person being dragged along the ground in a tunnel and photos of military fatigue and rifle. Reuters could not independently verify the identity of the person shown in the video nor his or her condition.
The comments by Abu Ubaida came hours after prospects for a resumption of mediated Gaza ceasefire talks grew on Saturday.
An official with knowledge of the matter said a decision had been taken to resume the talks next week after the chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency met the head of the CIA and the prime minister of Qatar.
The source, who declined to be identified by name or nationality, said it had been decided that “in the coming week negotiations will open based on new proposals led by the mediators, Egypt and Qatar and with active US involvement.”
A Hamas official later denied Israeli media reports the talks would resume in Cairo on Tuesday, telling Reuters: “There is no date.”
After more than seven months of war in Gaza, the mediators have struggled to secure a breakthrough, with Israel seeking the release of hostages held by Hamas and Hamas seeking an end to the war and a release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says. Israel began the operation in response to Hamas-led militants attacking southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.