Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Smoke rises during Israeli bombardment in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 15, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the Hamas group. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2024
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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

  • Residents say Israeli bulldozers demolishing homes, shops in Jabalia
  • Hamas says US floating aid pier no substitute for end to Israeli siege

CAIRO: Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south militants attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.
“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.
Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Islamist militants re-grouping there.
In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.
“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, UN humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north toward the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.
As the fighting raged, the US military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.
The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land — disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah — were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.
“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
US aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.
Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade.”
The White House said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas militants rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.
A group of US medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

Humanitarian fears
The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive.”
A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.
“The 7th Brigade’s fire control center directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.
At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.
Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.
Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.
In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honorable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”
Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

‘Tragic war’
Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.
“They’re moving to areas where there is no water — we’ve got to truck it in — and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.
At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.
The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.


Iran summons Italy envoy over Canada sanctions: state media

Updated 5 sec ago
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Iran summons Italy envoy over Canada sanctions: state media

Tehran: Iran has summoned the Italian ambassador, who represents Canadian interests in Tehran, after Ottawa listed the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist entity, state media said on Friday.
Tensions have been high between the two countries, which broke off diplomatic relations in 2012. In the absence of a diplomatic mission, Canada’s interests in Iran have been represented by Italy.
Canada on Wednesday listed the Guards as “a terrorist entity,” citing “disregard for human rights” and “willingness to destabilize the international rules-based order.”
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani called the move “hostile” and contrary to international law.
On Thursday, the ministry summoned the Italian ambassador to Tehran, Paola Amadei, “to convey our country’s firm protest against the Canadian government’s illegal action,” the official IRNA news agency reported.
In a post on social media platform X, Iran’s acting foreign minister, Ali Bagheri, said the “Canadian government will be responsible for the consequences of this provocative and irresponsible decision.”
Ottawa’s designation bars Revolutionary Guards members from entering Canada and prohibits Canadians from dealing with them. It also allows for the seizure of any assets the Guards or its members hold in Canada.
Canada and other nations are pursuing legal action against Iran at the International Court of Justice over the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 in January 2020.
The passenger jet was shot down shortly after take-off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Iran said the missile strike was a mistake.
Ottawa has previously listed the Quds Force, the Guards’ foreign operations arm, as a terrorist entity and, in 2022, permanently denied entry to more than 10,000 Iranian officials, including Guards members.
The United States designated the Guards as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2019 and the European Union sanctioned them this month for allegedly supplying drones to Russia and its allies in the Middle East.

Hundreds in Yemen receive KSrelief food aid 

Updated 49 min 55 sec ago
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Hundreds in Yemen receive KSrelief food aid 

RIYADH: Saudi aid agency KSrelief delivered food aid to 242 families in the Al-Mahra governorate in Yemen on Thursday, reported Saudi Press Agency.

The support benefited 1,694 individuals and is part of the organization’s ongoing project to distribute lifesaving food aid to Yemeni families who are most in need.


Five killed as blaze rips through settlements in southeast Turkiye

Updated 4 min 24 sec ago
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Five killed as blaze rips through settlements in southeast Turkiye

  • The fire was brought under control early on Friday

ISTANBUL: Five people died and dozens were hurt as a huge wildfire swept through several villages in the Kurdish southeastern Turkiye overnight, the health minister said Friday.
Images posted on social media showed flames raging over a large area, lighting up the night sky as vast clouds of smoke billowing into the air.
“Five people died and 44 were injured, 10 seriously,” when the blaze swept through two areas between the provinces of Diyarbakir and Mardin, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said the fire started late on Thursday, when a “a stubble burn” some 30 kilometers south of Diyabakir spread quickly due to strong winds, affecting five villages.
The health minister said seven emergency teams and 35 ambulances were sent to the scene.
Turkiye’s pro-Kurdish DEM party in a post on X urged the authorities to “quickly intervene” to tackle the blaze from the air as it raged early on Friday.
“So far, intervention from the ground has not been enough. The authorities need to intervene more comprehensively and from the air without wasting time,” it said.
According to the latest figures from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), Turkiye has suffered 74 wildfires so far this year, which have ravaged 12,910 hectares of land.
In the summer of 2021, Turkiye suffered its worst-ever wildfires which claimed nine lives and destroyed huge swathes of forested land across its Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.
The disaster prompted a political crisis after it emerged that Turkiye had no functioning firefighting planes, heaping pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was forced to accept international help.
It also prompted Ankara to push through Turkiye’s delayed ratification of the Paris Climate Accord, becoming the last of the Group of 20 major economies to do so.
Experts say climate change is set to fuel more fires and other disasters in Turkiye unless measures are taken to tackle the problem.


US’s Gaza aid pier effort hit by repeated setbacks

Updated 21 June 2024
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US’s Gaza aid pier effort hit by repeated setbacks

  • The UN has said it welcomes all efforts to bring in aid, but that land routes are the most important routes for the arrival of assistance

WASHINGTON: The controversial US effort to boost Gaza aid deliveries by building a temporary pier has faced repeated problems, with bad weather damaging the structure and causing other interruptions to the arrival of desperately needed assistance.
More than 4,100 metric tons (nine million pounds) of aid has been delivered via the $230 million pier project so far, but it has only been operational for limited periods, falling short of President Joe Biden’s pledge that it would enable a “massive increase” in assistance reaching Gaza “every day.”
The coastal territory has been devastated by more than eight months of Israeli operations against Palestinian militant group Hamas, uprooting Gaza’s population and leaving them in dire need of aid.
“The Gaza pier regretfully amounted to an extremely expensive distraction from what is truly needed, and what is also legally required,” said Michelle Strucke, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Humanitarian Agenda.
That is “safe and unimpeded humanitarian access for humanitarian organizations to provide aid for a population in Gaza that is suffering historic levels of deprivation,” she said.
US forces have also dropped aid by air, but that plus deliveries via the pier “were never meant to substitute for scaled, sustainable access to land crossings that provided safe access by humanitarian workers to provide aid,” Strucke said.
“Pursuing them took away decision makers’ time, energy, and more than $200 million US taxpayer dollars.”
Biden announced during his State of the Union address in March that the US military would establish the pier and American troops began constructing it the following month, initially working offshore.
But in a sign of issues to come, high seas and winds required construction to be relocated to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
The pier was completed in early May, but weather conditions meant it was unsafe to immediately move it into place, and it was not attached to the Gaza coast until the middle of the month.
High seas caused four US Army vessels supporting the mission to break free of their moorings on May 25, beaching two of them, and the pier was damaged by bad weather three days later, requiring sections to be repaired and rebuilt at Ashdod.
It was reattached to the coast on June 7, but aid deliveries were soon paused for two days due to bad weather conditions.
The pier then had to be removed from the shore and moved to Ashdod on June 14 to protect it from high seas. It was returned to Gaza this week and aid deliveries have now resumed.
Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation research group, said the “pier effort has yet to produce the results that the Biden administration hoped.”
“Aside from the weather issues, it’s been quite expensive and has not fixed the operational challenges of getting aid into Gaza,” he said.
Cohen said that despite the issues with the pier, it does provide another entry point for aid and allows assistance to be brought in even when land crossings are closed — a persistent problem that has worsened the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.
And he said the effort may also help improve future deployments of the military’s temporary pier capability, which was last used operationally more than a decade ago in Haiti.
In addition to weather, the project is facing a major challenge in terms of the distribution of aid that arrives via the pier, which the UN World Food Programme decided to halt while it assesses the security situation — an evaluation that is still ongoing.
That announcement came after Israel conducted a nearby operation earlier this month that freed four hostages but which health officials in Hamas-ruled Gaza said killed more than 270 people.
The UN has said it welcomes all efforts to bring in aid, but that land routes are the most important routes for the arrival of assistance.
Strucke emphasized that “what Gazans need is not the appearance of aid — they need actual aid to reach them.”
Washington “should be very careful not to support actions that may look good on paper to increase routes to provide assistance, but do not result in aid actually reaching Palestinians in need at scale,” she said.


US destroys six Houthi drones in Red Sea

Updated 21 June 2024
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US destroys six Houthi drones in Red Sea

  • The Houthis are engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises

WASHINGTON: The US military said Thursday that it had destroyed four Houthi nautical drones and two aerial ones over the Red Sea off Yemen.
The Iran-backed Houthis have launched scores of drones and missiles at commercial vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November, describing the attacks as being in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
The United States and its allies, particularly Britain, have responded with an increased naval presence to defend shipping in the vital waterway and with retaliatory strikes on Houthi targets.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement Thursday night that its forces had “destroyed four Iranian-backed Houthi uncrewed surface vessels (USV) in the Red Sea and two uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) over the Red Sea” in the past 24 hours.
CENTCOM said the day before that it had destroyed “one ground control station and one command and control node” in a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen.
This week, a merchant ship whose hull was breached in an earlier Houthi attack, the M/V Tutor, was believed to have sunk in the Red Sea after its crew was evacuated, according to a maritime security agency run by the British navy.
A Filipino sailor aboard the vessel was killed in the attack.
A Sri Lankan crew member on another ship, the M/V Verbena, was seriously injured in a separate attack, and the vessel had to be abandoned.
US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller condemned those attacks in a statement and said Washington would “continue to take necessary action to protect freedom of navigation and commercial shipping.”
He also called on the Houthis “to release all detainees, including the United Nations, diplomatic, and non-governmental organization staff they detained earlier this month.”
The Houthis earlier this month arrested a number of people they claimed were part of a US-Israeli spy network, adding that those held worked under “the cover of international organizations and UN agencies.”
The heads of six United Nations agencies and three international NGOs subsequently issued a joint call for the release of their staff, with UN rights chief Volker Turk dismissing the spying accusations as “outrageous.”
The Houthis are engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. More than half of the population is dependent on aid in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.