Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home

Women walk past the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli bombardment after attending the funeral of a Hezbollah militant killed in an Israeli strike in the southern Lebanese village of Meis Al-Jabal. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2024
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Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home

  • Many residents of towns and villages on either side of the Israel-Lebanon border have evacuated their homes for safety

MAIS AL JABAL: For displaced south Lebanese villagers, funerals for those killed in months of cross-border clashes are a rare chance to return home and see the devastation caused by Israeli bombardment.
“My house is in ruins,” said Abdel Aziz Ammar, a 60-year-old man with a white beard, in front of a pile of rubble in the border village of Mais Al-Jabal.
Only a plastic water tank survived.
“My parents’ house, my brother’s house and my nephew’s house have all been totally destroyed,” said Ammar, who was back in Mais Al-Jabal this week for the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter from the village.
Many residents of towns and villages on either side of the Israel-Lebanon border have evacuated their homes for safety.
The Iran-backed Lebanese movement has been intensifying its attacks, while Israel has been striking deeper into Lebanese territory, in cross-border violence that has killed at least 419 people on the Lebanese side, according to an AFP tally.
Most of the dead are Hezbollah fighters, including seven from Mais Al-Jabal, but at least 82 are civilians, three of whom journalists.
Israel says 14 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed on its side of the border.
For funerals in the south, the Lebanese army informs United Nations peacekeepers, who then inform the Israeli military, a spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said.
The peacekeepers usually patrol near the border, and act as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel.
Ammar fled his village for Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, two weeks after the violence broke out.
The International Organization for Migration says more than 93,000 people have been displaced in south Lebanon, while authorities in Israel have evacuated tens of thousands from the country’s north.
“We come for the funerals, but we inspect our homes. Those whose houses haven’t been destroyed use the time to collect their belongings,” Ammar said.
“The house meant a lot to us, it was big,” with plenty of space for the children outside, he said of his home in Mais Al-Jabal.
“My daughter always tells me, ‘I miss the house, when will we go back?’”
An AFP photographer saw dozens of houses razed or partially destroyed in the village, which resembled a battlefield surrounded by green countryside.
A funeral procession crossed the rubble-strewn streets, with people chanting slogans in support of Hezbollah, not far from Israeli positions across the border.
Hezbollah flags fluttered in the wind as women in chadors walked together, some wearing yellow scarves -the color of the Shiite Muslim movement — or holding pictures of the fallen “martyr”.
“Whether I carry a weapon or not, just my presence in my village means I am a target for the Israelis,” Ammar said, noting the fighting does not always stop for the funerals.
On May 5, a man, his wife and two children were killed in a strike on Mais Al-Jabal while a funeral took place.
They had returned to the village to collect things from a store they owned, believing it to be a moment of calm, local media reported.
In front of a half-destroyed house, people piled a small truck with whatever they could — a washing machine, a child’s stroller, a motorbike and plastic chairs.
Amid rubble in the village, a sign was propped up reading: “Even if you destroy our houses, your missiles cannot break our will.”
Lebanese authorities are waiting for a ceasefire to fully assess the damage, but have estimated that some 1,700 houses have been destroyed and 14,000 damaged.
Emergency personnel have reported huge damage and villages emptied of residents, while many journalists have been reluctant to travel to the border areas due to the heavy bombardment.
The overall bill already exceeds $1.5 billion, authorities estimate, in a crisis-hit country where compensation procedures remain vague.
But to village resident Khalil Hamdan, 53, who also attended the funeral, “the destruction doesn’t make a difference.”
“We will rebuild,” he told AFP.


At least 90 Palestinians killed, Gaza officials say, as Israel targets Hamas military chief

Updated 14 July 2024
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At least 90 Palestinians killed, Gaza officials say, as Israel targets Hamas military chief

  • Hamas says Israel’s claims it targeted its leaders are false, aimed at justifying attack
  • Many wounded in strike, including women and children, taken to Nasser Hospital

GAZA: An Israeli airstrike killed at least 90 Palestinians in a designated humanitarian zone in Gaza on Saturday, the enclave’s health ministry said, in an attack that Israel said targeted Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif.
It was unclear whether Deif was killed. “We are still checking and verifying the results of the strike,” an Israeli military official told reporters.
The militant Islamist group Hamas said in a statement that Israeli claims it had targeted leaders of the group were false and aimed at justifying the attack, which was the deadliest Israeli attack in Gaza in weeks.
Displaced people sheltering in the area said their tents were torn down by the force of the strike, describing bodies and body parts strewn on the ground.
“I couldn’t even tell where I was or what was happening,” said Sheikh Youssef, a resident of Gaza City who is currently displaced in the Al-Mawasi area.
“I left the tent and looked around, all the tents were knocked down, body parts, bodies everywhere, elderly women thrown on the floor, young children in pieces,” he told Reuters.
The Israeli military said the strike against Deif also targeted Rafa Salama, the commander of Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade, describing them as two of the masterminds of the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the nine-month war in Gaza.
Deif has survived seven Israeli assassination attempts, the most recent in 2021 and has topped Israel’s most wanted list for decades, held responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings.
The Gaza health ministry said at least 91 Palestinians were killed in the strike and 300 were injured, the deadliest toll in weeks in the conflict-shattered enclave.
Al-Mawasi is a designated humanitarian area that the Israeli army has repeatedly urged Palestinians to head to after issuing evacuation orders from other areas.
Reuters footage showed ambulances racing toward the area amidst clouds of smoke and dust. Displaced people, including women and children, were fleeing in panic, some holding belongings in their hands.
The Israeli military published an aerial photo of the site, which Reuters was not immediately able to verify, where it said “terrorists hid among civilians.”
“The location of the strike was an open area surrounded by trees, several buildings, and sheds,” it said in a statement.
The Israeli military official said the area was not a tent complex, but an operational compound run by Hamas and that several more militants were there, guarding Deif.

HOSPITAL ‘FULL OF PATIENTS’
Many of those wounded in the strike, including women and children, were taken to the nearby Nasser Hospital, which hospital officials said had been overwhelmed and was “no longer able to function” due to the intensity of the Israeli offensive and an acute shortage of medical supplies.
“The hospital is full of patients, it’s full of wounded, we can’t find beds for people,” said Atef Al-Hout, director of the hospital, adding that it was the only one still operating in southern Gaza.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was holding special consultations, his office said, in light of “developments in Gaza.”
It was unclear how the strike would affect ceasefire talks underway in Doha and Cairo.
“Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s not good. I don’t know about Mohammed Deif, I know that keeping the war is bad for all of us,” said Ayala Metzger, the daughter-in-law of an Israeli hostage who was taking part in a hostage solidarity march just outside Jerusalem on Saturday.
“We need to bring the hostages back,” she told Reuters.
“If (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu killed Mohammed Deif then he has his picture of victory so bring them back now.”
ATTACK HIT CALM AREA, WITNESSES SAY
Separately on Saturday, at least 20 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli attack on a prayer hall at a Gaza camp for displaced people in west Gaza City, Palestinian health and civil emergency officials said.
A senior Hamas official did not confirm whether Deif had been present in the attack on Khan Younis and called the Israeli allegations “nonsense.”
“All the martyrs are civilians and what happened was a grave escalation of the war of genocide, backed by the American support and world silence,” Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters, adding the strike showed Israel was not interested in reaching a ceasefire deal.
Critics have accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians, which Israel denies. It characterises its actions as self-defense to prevent another attack like Oct. 7, though the International Court of Justice ordered Israel in January to take action to prevent acts of genocide.
Hamas-led militants killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages in the cross-border raid into southern Israel on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel has retaliated with its military action in Gaza that has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, medical authorities in Gaza say.
Witnesses said the Khan Younis attack came as a surprise as the area had been calm, adding more than one missile had been fired. Some of the wounded who were being evacuated were rescue workers, they said.
“They’re all gone, my whole family’s gone ... where are my brothers? They’re all gone, they’re all gone. There’s no one left,” said one tearful woman, who did not give her name.
Rising up the Hamas ranks over 30 years, Deif developed the group’s network of tunnels and its bomb-making expertise, Hamas sources say.
In March, Israel said it killed Deif’s deputy, Marwan Issa. Hamas has not confirmed or denied his death.


Syria says soldier killed, three wounded in Israeli strikes

Updated 14 July 2024
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Syria says soldier killed, three wounded in Israeli strikes

  • Sunday’s strikes targeted “a number of our military sites in the southern region and one of the residential buildings in the Kafar Souseh area in the city of Damascus,” the Syrian army said in a statement

DAMASCUS: One Syrian soldier was killed and three others were injured in Israeli air strikes against military sites and a residential building in Damascus early on Sunday, the Syrian army said.
The army said in a statement that the attacks were launched from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
For years Israel has been carrying out attacks against what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar Assad in the civil war that started in 2011.
Israeli strikes on Syria increased after the start of the war in Gaza last October.
Sunday’s strikes targeted “a number of our military sites in the southern region and one of the residential buildings in the Kafar Souseh area in the city of Damascus,” the Syrian army said in a statement.
“Our air defense systems confronted the enemy’s missiles despite their density and shot down a considerable number of them.”
Israel’s army said its strikes were in response to the launch of two drones from Syria toward the north of Eilat on Saturday, which it said were intercepted.
“Overnight, the IDF struck a Syrian military command center and infrastructure sites. Additionally, terror targets used by the Syrian military’s Aerial Defense Unit were struck,” it added.
 


Hamas leader slams Israel’s ‘heinous massacres’

Updated 14 July 2024
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Hamas leader slams Israel’s ‘heinous massacres’

  • Haniyeh denounced comments made by Netanyahu as well as “new conditions and points” in the ceasefire proposal that was first outlined by US President Joe Biden in May

GAZA CITY: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday accused Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of seeking to block a ceasefire in the Gaza war with “heinous massacres” carried out by Israeli forces, a statement by the Palestinian militant group said.
The head of the political bureau of the group, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and several other countries, called on international mediators to act following two attacks in Gaza that Palestinian officials said killed more than 100 people.
An Israeli strike on the Al Mawasi camp for displaced persons, which Israel said had targeted the Hamas military chief, left at least 90 dead and 300 wounded, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Hamas’ political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh. (AFP file photo)

The civil defense agency said at least 20 people were killed in a strike on a makeshift mosque at Al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza.
The Hamas statement said Haniyeh contacted officials in Qatar and Egypt, which are seeking to mediate in the war set off by the Hamas October 7 attacks, as well as Oman and Turkiye to discuss the “brutal massacres.”
He said Hamas had shown “a positive and responsible response” to new proposals for a ceasefire and prisoner exchange, but “the Israeli position taken by Netanyahu was to place obstacles that prevent reaching an agreement,” according to the Hamas statement.
Haniyeh also denounced comments made by Netanyahu as well as “new conditions and points” in the ceasefire proposal that was first outlined by US President Joe Biden in May.
“This is also linked to the heinous massacres committed by the occupation army today,” he was quoted as saying.
Haniyeh called on the mediators “to do what is necessary with the American administration and others to stop these massacres.” Qatar and Egypt have both condemned the Israeli strikes.
The statement said Haniyeh would hold more contacts.
Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will destroy Hamas and bring back all hostages taken during the October 7 attack.
Following talks this week, Netanyahu also introduced a new condition that Israel must retain control of territory on Gaza’s border with Egypt to stop arms smuggling to Hamas.
Netanyahu told a press conference on Saturday that Israel’s military pressure had forced Hamas to seek a ceasefire, and that Hamas had sought 29 changes to the ceasefire proposal.
“I am not moving a millimeter from the outline that President Biden’s gave his blessing to, but I am also not allowing Hamas to move a millimeter,” Netanyahu said.
 

 


Tunisia arrests opposition party official in continuing crackdown on critics

Updated 14 July 2024
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Tunisia arrests opposition party official in continuing crackdown on critics

  • Ajami Lourimi, secretary-general of the Ennahdha Party, was detained with two others without judicial permission, party says
  • Ennahdha was the largest party in parliament until President Kais Saied dissolved the legislature in July 2021

TUNIS: A leader of Tunisia’s Islamist-inspired opposition party Ennahdha was arrested Saturday, his party said in a statement on Facebook.
The party, whose chief Rached Ghannouchi has been in jail since April last year, did not give any reason for the arrest.
“Ajami Lourimi, the secretary-general of the Ennahdha Party, was detained without judicial permission along with two companions in Borj Al Amrim,” around 37 kilometers (23 miles) west of the capital Tunis, the statement said.
Ennahdha was the largest party in parliament until President Kais Saied dissolved the legislature in July 2021.
He has since ruled by decree in the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the region more than a decade ago.
Last September, two leaders of Ennahdha, former prime minister Hamadi Jebali and Mondher Ounissi, who had served as Ennahdha’s acting chairman since Ghannouchi’s arrest, were arrested.
Saied’s government closed Ennahdha’s offices across Tunisia after Ghannouchi’s arrest over charges related to “terrorism.”
He is the best-known opposition figure imprisoned in Tunisia since Saied dismissed parliament and seized all state power in 2021.
Ennahdha had dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolt that toppled the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and launched the region’s Arab Spring revolts.
Ghannouchi was among more than 20 of Saied’s political opponents and other prominent figures, including former ministers and business executives, arrested early last year.
The arrests came as the North African country readies for its general presidential elections, set to take place in October.
Saied has not yet announced if he will seek another term.


Hezbollah fires rockets after Israeli strike on Lebanon

Updated 14 July 2024
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Hezbollah fires rockets after Israeli strike on Lebanon

  • Hezbollah had already launched multiple attacks against Israeli military positions along the border on Saturday

BEIRTU, Lebanon: Lebanon’s Hezbollah launched rockets at Israel on Saturday after an Israeli air strike that according to a Lebanese security source killed two civilians in the country’s south.
The Israeli military, whose forces have been trading regular cross-border fire with Hezbollah since early October, said its raid had targeted two operatives from the Iran-backed group.
The Shiite Muslim movement said it had retaliated by launching dozens of rockets at the border town of Kiryat Shmona, in Israel’s north.
The Israeli military said four soldiers were wounded including one “severely,” after air defenses intercepted most of the “approximately 15 launches... identified crossing from Lebanon.”
Israeli aircraft then “struck a Hezbollah field commander who was operating in the area of (Kfar) Tebnit in southern Lebanon,” the military added.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) reported multiple wounded in an Israeli drone strike on a vehicle near Kfar Tebnit.
Hezbollah had already launched multiple attacks against Israeli military positions along the border on Saturday.
The Lebanese security source, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that “two civilians were filling up water from a roadside spring” in south Lebanon’s Deir Mimas area when they were killed in an “Israeli air strike.”
A source close to Hezbollah, also requesting anonymity, said one of the men was a member of the group and the father of a fighter who had been killed, while the second man was a member of Hezbollah ally the Amal movement.
The pair were “civilians, not fighters,” the source added.
The Israeli army said in a statement that “soldiers identified two Hezbollah terrorists preparing to launch projectiles toward Israeli territory in the area of Deir Mimas in southern Lebanon.”
“Shortly following the identification, the IAF (air force) struck the terrorists,” the statement added.
Hezbollah said it had launched rockets “in response to the aggressions by the Israeli enemy against the villages... and civilians in the south.”
Hezbollah has traded almost daily fire with Israeli forces in support of ally Hamas since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
The NNA said an “enemy drone” killed two men on Saturday in the same area, identifying one of them as a local council member for the Amal movement in the nearby village of Kfar Kila.
It said they were collecting water from the spring “to take it for livestock in Kfar Kila.”
The Amal movement released a statement saying one of its members, born in 1964, was killed.
In Lebanon, the cross-border violence since October has killed more than 500 people, mostly fighters but also including more than 90 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
On the Israeli side, at least 29 people have been killed, the majority of them soldiers, according to the authorities.
The violence, largely restricted to the border area, has raised fears of all-out conflict between the foes, which last went to war in the summer of 2006.