Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says

About 900,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah in recent weeks after the population swelled to about 1.5 million. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says

  • Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

CAIRO: Israel has addressed many of President Joe Biden’s concerns over its long-simmering plan to carry out a widescale military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah aimed at rooting out Hamas, a senior Biden administration official said Tuesday.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity, said that in talks over the weekend with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Israeli officials incorporated many changes into their planning that seem to meet concerns about deepening an operation in an area that has been flooded with Palestinian refugees during the seven-month war.
Biden had previously said he opposed a widescale operation in Rafah that did not prioritize the safety of innocent Palestinian civilians.
The official said the administration stopped short of greenlighting the Israeli plan but said Israeli officials’ altered planning suggested they were taking the American administration’s concerns seriously.
About 900,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah in recent weeks after the population swelled to about 1.5 million.

The United Nations suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Tuesday due to a lack of supplies and an untenable security situation caused by Israel’s expanding military operation. It warned that humanitarian operations across the territory were nearing collapse.
Along with closed and chaotic land crossings, problems also plagued the US military’s floating pier meant to provide an alternative route for aid into Gaza by sea. Over the weekend, hungry Palestinians took aid from a UN vehicle convoy coming from the pier, and the UN said since then it had been unable to receive trucks there.
Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters in Washington that for the past few days, forward movement of aid from the pier was paused but it resumed Tuesday. There was no confirmation from the UN
The UN has not specified how many people stayed in Rafah since the Israeli military began its intensified ground and air campaign there two weeks ago, but apparently several hundred thousand Palestinians remain. The UN’s World Food Program said it was also running out of food for central Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people sought shelter in a chaotic exodus after fleeing Rafah, setting up new tent camps or crowding into areas already devastated by previous Israeli offensives.
“Humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” said Abeer Etefa, a WFP spokesperson. If food and other supplies don’t resume entering Gaza “in massive quantities, famine-like conditions will spread,” she said.
The warning came as Israel seeks to contain the international fallout from a request at the world’s top war crimes court for arrest warrants targeting both Israeli and Hamas leaders. The move garnered support from three European countries, including Israel’s key ally France.
The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged “use of starvation as a method of warfare,” a charge they and other Israeli officials angrily deny. The prosecutor accused three Hamas leaders of war crimes over killings of civilians in the group’s Oct. 7 attack.
The UN says some 1.1 million people in Gaza — nearly half the population — face catastrophic levels of hunger and that the territory is on the brink of famine. The humanitarian crisis deepened after Israeli forces pushed into Rafah on May 6, vowing to root out Hamas fighters. Tanks and troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, closing it ever since. After May 10, only about three dozen trucks made it into Gaza via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel because fighting makes it dangerous for aid workers to reach it, the UN says.
Israel insists it puts no restriction on the number of trucks entering Gaza. COGAT, the Israeli military office in charge of coordinating aid, said 450 trucks entered Tuesday from its side to Kerem Shalom and a small crossing in northern Gaza. It said more than 650 trucks are waiting on the Gaza side of Kerem Shalom to be retrieved, blaming “lack of logistical capabilities and manpower gaps” among aid groups.
For months, the UN has warned that an Israeli assault on Rafah could wreck the effort to get food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians across Gaza. Throughout the war, Rafah has been filled with scenes of hungry children holding out pots and plastic containers at makeshift soup kitchens, with many families reduced to eating only one meal a day. The city’s population had swelled at one point to some 1.3 million people, most of whom fled fighting elsewhere.
Around 810,000 people have streamed out of Rafah, although Israel says its operations in Rafah are not the full-scale invasion of the city it had planned. The US says Israel never presented “credible” plan for evacuating the population or keeping it safe.
The main agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced the suspension of distribution in Rafah in a post on X, without elaborating beyond citing the lack of supplies. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the UNRWA distribution center and the WFP’s warehouses in Rafah were “inaccessible due to ongoing military operations.”
Asked about the ramifications of suspending aid, Dujarric said simply: “People don’t eat.”
Etefa said the WFP had also stopped distribution in Rafah after exhausting its stocks. It is still passing out hot meals and “limited distributions” of reduced food packages in central Gaza, but “food parcel stocks will run out within days,” she said.
The US depicted the floating aid pier as a potential route for accelerated deliveries. The first 10 trucks rolled off a ship onto the pier on Friday and were taken to a WFP warehouse. But a second shipment of 11 trucks on Saturday was met by Palestinian crowds who took supplies, and only five trucks made it to the warehouse, Etefa said.
No further deliveries came from the pier on Sunday or Monday, she said.
“The responsibility of ensuring aid reaches those in need does not end at the crossings and other points of entry into Gaza — it extends throughout Gaza itself,” she said.
At the same time, battles have escalated in northern Gaza as Israeli troops conduct operations against Hamas fighters, who the military says regrouped in areas already targeted in offensives months ago.
One of the main hospitals still operating in the north, Kamal Adwan, was forced to evacuate after it was “targeted” by Israeli troops, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Around 150 staff and dozens of patients fled the facility, including intensive care patients and infants in incubators “under fire from shelling,” it said. The Israeli military did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The nearby Awda hospital has been surrounded by troops the past three days, and an artillery shell hit its fifth floor, the hospital administration said Tuesday. A day earlier, the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said Awda had run out of drinking water.
The war between began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 hostage. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan accused Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh of crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder and sexual violence.
Israel responded to the Oct. 7 with an offensive that has laid waste to Gaza and killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between noncombatants and fighters in its count.
Monday’s call by Khan for arrest warrants deepens Israel’s global isolation at a time when it is facing growing criticism from even its closest allies over the war. France, Belgium, and Slovenia each said they backed Khan’ decision.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz headed to France on Tuesday in response, urging it to “declare loud and clear” that the request for warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant “is unacceptable to you and to the French government.”
His meetings there could set the tone for how countries navigate the warrants — if they are eventually issued — and whether they could pose a threat to Israeli leaders. A panel of three ICC judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.
Israel still has the support of its top ally, the United States, as well as other Western countries that spoke out against the decision. But if the warrants are issued, they could complicate international travel for Netanyahu and his defense minister, even if they do not face any immediate risk of prosecution because Israel itself is not a member of the court.
 

 


Once fruitful, Libyan village suffers climate crisis

Updated 17 June 2024
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Once fruitful, Libyan village suffers climate crisis

KABAW, Libya: In the Libyan village of Kabaw in the Nafusa Mountains, M’hamed Maakaf waters an ailing fig tree as climate change pushes villagers to forsake lands and livestock.
Once flourishing and known for its figs, olives, and almonds, fields around Kabaw, located some 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Tripoli, are now mostly barren and battered by climate change-induced drought.
The area was once “green and prosperous until the beginning of the millennium,” Maakaf recalled. “People loved to come here and take walks but today it has become so dry that it’s unbearable.”
“We no longer see the green meadows we knew in the 1960s and ‘70s,” added the 65-year-old, wearing a traditional white tunic and sirwal trousers.
Kabaw, like many villages in the Nafusa Mountains, is primarily inhabited by Amazigh people, a non-Arab minority.

The old and abandoned village of Kabaw stands on arid land not far from the newer constructions in the Nafusa mountains on May 26, 2024. (AFP)

Pounded by the sun and dry winds, the mountainous area now struggles to bear fruit, facing a lack of rainfall and temperatures high above seasonal norms.
Libya — where around 95 percent of land is desert — is one of the world’s most water-scarce countries, according to the United Nations.
Its annual precipitation in coastal areas has fallen from 400 millimeters in 2019 to 200 millimeters today, with water demand higher than what is available.
The Nafusa Mountains, sitting at an altitude of almost 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) in western Libya, are home to around half a million people out of Libya’s population of seven million.
Driven out by increasing water stress, local villagers and their livestock have been gradually moving out of the Nafusa Mountains and surrounding plains.

‘How can we be patient?’

Mourad Makhlouf, mayor of Kabaw, says that drought in the last decade has pushed hundreds of families to leave for the capital Tripoli and other coastal cities, where water is easier to access.
“It’s not just about water scarcity or crops dying due to drought,” said Makhlouf. “There is a demographic and human dimension with the exodus of hundreds of families toward the capital and coastal towns.”

Sheep and goats gather in the shade under trees in an arid field in the Libyan village of Kabaw in the Nafusa mountains on May 26, 2024. (Photo by Mahmud Turkia/AFP)

Suleiman Mohammed, a local farmer, fears that climate change will soon cause everyone to leave, as “living without water is certain death.”
“How can we be patient?” he said. “It has gotten to the point where breeders sell their livestock because keeping them costs twice their value.”
Standing by a cluster of dead tree trunks, Maakaf decries the loss of “thousands of olive trees.”
“Some were 200 years old and inherited from our grandfathers,” he said.
Hoping to alleviate the burden, local authorities began selling subsidized water for 25 Libyan dinars (about $5) per 12,000 liters.
Tanker trucks make the trip between the water stations and the village, traveling up to 50 kilometers and allowing some of those in need to hold on.
“We manage to water our fields two to three times a week but water is expensive,” Maakaf said, adding that they also rely on private tanker trucks selling the same amount for up to 160 dinars.

Relief plan needed
The hydrocarbon-rich country hosts the world’s largest irrigation project, the Great Man-Made River, its main source of water supply built in the 1980s under the rule of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Drawing fossil water from aquifers in the heart of the southern desert, the network of pipes supplies about 60 percent of the national need.
But the supplies remain insufficient amid increasing drought.

A road leading to the Libyan village of Kabaw in the Nafusa mountains, winds between arid hills on May 26, 2024.(AFP)

According to the World Resources Institute, an environmental research organization, Libya will face “extremely high” water stress by 2050.
The World Bank predicts that by 2030, the Middle East and North Africa region will fall below the “absolute water scarcity” threshold.
“Water scarcity is one of the greatest emerging threats facing Libya,” the UN Development Programme said in a study.
“The country needs to ensure equitable access to water for domestic and economic purposes.”
“Climate smart agricultural methods should reduce the overuse of water resources and... practices that contribute to soil erosion and desertification, which further impact productive sectors and food security.”
Libya signed the 2015 United Nations framework convention on climate change and ratified the Paris Climate Accord in 2021.
Yet the North African country has shown little progress toward the development of disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation strategies, as it continues to grapple with divisions and conflict after the fall of Qaddafi in 2011.
“The drought does not only concern the Nafusa Mountains, but the entire country,” said Mayor Makhlouf.
“Libya needs a relief plan, which will not be the solution to everything, but will allow us to adapt.”


Biden adviser will be in Israel on Monday to avoid escalation between Israel, Lebanon

US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2024
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Biden adviser will be in Israel on Monday to avoid escalation between Israel, Lebanon

WASHINGTON: A senior Biden adviser will travel to Israel on Monday for meetings to avoid further escalation between Israel and Lebanon, a White House official said.
Amos Hochstein will advance efforts to avoid further escalation along the “Blue Line” between Israel and Lebanon, said the official, who did not wish to be identified.
Attacks between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon have led to worries of a deeper war across the Middle East.


Israel warns of escalation from cross-border fire from Hezbollah

Updated 17 June 2024
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Israel warns of escalation from cross-border fire from Hezbollah

  • Hezbollah says it will not halt fire unless Israel stops its military offensive on Gaza

JERUSALEM: Intensified cross-border fire from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement into Israel could trigger serious escalation, the Israeli military said on Sunday.
“Hezbollah’s increasing aggression is bringing us to the brink of what could be a wider escalation, one that could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a video statement in English.
Iran-backed Hezbollah last week launched the largest volleys of rockets and drones yet in the eight months it has been exchanging fire with the Israeli military, in parallel with the Gaza war.
After the relatively heavy exchanges over the past week, Sunday saw a marked drop in Hezbollah fire, while the Israeli military said that it had carried out several air strikes against the group in southern Lebanon.
The US and France are working on a negotiated settlement to the hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border. Hezbollah says it will not halt fire unless Israel stops its military offensive on Gaza.
“Israel will take the necessary measures to protect its civilians — until security along our border with Lebanon is restored,” Hagari said.


‘No joy’: Gazans mark somber Eid in shadow of war

Updated 17 June 2024
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‘No joy’: Gazans mark somber Eid in shadow of war

  • Many Palestinians forced to spend holiday without their loved ones
  • I hope the world will put pressure to end the war on us because we are truly dying, and our children are broken

GAZA STRIP: In tents in the stifling heat and bombed-out mosques, Gazans on Sunday marked the start of the Eid Al-Adha holiday, devoid of the usual cheer as the Israel-Hamas war raged on.

“There is no joy. We have been robbed of it,” said Malakiya Salman, a 57-year-old displaced woman now living in a tent in Khan Younis City in the southern Gaza Strip.
Gazans, like Muslims the world over, would usually slaughter sheep for the holiday — whose Arabic name means “feast of the sacrifice” — and share the meat with the needy.
Parents would also give their children new clothes and money for the celebration.
But this year, after more than eight months of a devastating Israeli campaign that has flattened much of Gaza, displaced most of the besieged territory’s 2.4 million people, and sparked repeated warnings of famine, the Eid is a day of misery for many.
“I hope the world will put pressure to end the war on us because we are truly dying, and our children are broken,” said Salman.
Her family was displaced from the far-southern city of Rafah, a recent focus of the fighting which began after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.
The military on Sunday morning announced a “tactical pause of military activity” around a Rafah-area route to facilitate the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid to Gazans.
AFP correspondents said there were no reports of strikes or shelling since dawn, though the Israeli military stressed there was “no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip.”
The brief respite in fighting allowed worshippers a rare moment of calm on holiday.
Many gathered for the Eid Al-Adha morning prayer in the courtyard of Gaza City’s historic Omari Mosque, which was heavily damaged in Israeli bombardment, placing down their frayed prayer mats next to mounds of rubble.
The sound of prayers traveled down some of the city’s destroyed and abandoned streets.
“Since this morning, we’ve felt a sudden calm with no gunfire or bombings ... It’s strange,” said 30-year-old Haitham Al-Ghura from Gaza City.
He hoped the pause meant a permanent ceasefire was near, though truce mediation efforts have stalled for months.
In several areas of the war-battered territory, especially in Gaza City, young boys were seen manning roadside shops selling perfumes, lotions, and other items against the backdrop of piles of rubble from destroyed buildings and homes.
Many vendors used umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching sun as they sold household items on Gaza City’s main market street. But there were few buyers.
Food and other goods can reach four or five times their usual price, but those who cling to the holiday traditions can still afford them.
In Khan Younis, displaced man Majdi Abdul Raouf spent 4,500 shekels ($1,200) — a small fortune for most Gazans — on a sheep to sacrifice.
“I was determined to buy it despite the high prices, to perform these rituals and bring some joy and happiness to the children in the displacement camp,” said the 60-year-old, who fled his home in Rafah.
“There is sadness, severe pain, and suffering, but I insisted on having a different kind of day.”
The deadliest-ever Gaza war began after Hamas’s unprecedented Oct. 7 attack.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,337 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Health Ministry in the territory.
For many, a halt in fighting can never bring back what has been lost.
“We’ve lost many people, there’s a lot of destruction,” said Umm Mohammed Al-Katri from Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza.
“This Eid is completely different,” she said, with many Gazans forced to spend the holiday without their loved ones killed or displaced during the war.
Grieving families on Sunday flocked to cemeteries and other makeshift burial sites, where wooden planks marked the graves.
“I feel comfort here,” said Khalil Diab Essbiah at the cemetery where his two children are buried.
Even with the constant buzzing of Israeli drones overhead, visitors at the cemetery “can feel relieved of the genocide we are in and the death and destruction,” he said.
Hanaa Abu Jazar, 11, also displaced from Rafah to the tent city in Khan Yunis, said: “We see the (Israeli) occupation killing children, women and the elderly.”
“How can we celebrate?” asked the girl.

 


Jordan conducts three airdrops in southern Gaza

Updated 17 June 2024
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Jordan conducts three airdrops in southern Gaza

  • Aid packages containing food, clothing, and sweets were delivered to various locations in the southern Gaza

AMMAN: Jordan’s armed forces conducted three airdrops to the southern part of Gaza on Sunday, in collaboration with Egypt, to mark the first day of Eid Al-Adha, Jordan News Agency reported.
Aid packages containing food, clothing, and sweets were delivered to various locations in the southern Gaza Strip by two planes from the Royal Jordanian Air Force and an aircraft from Egypt.
Earlier on Saturday, a 45-truck humanitarian aid convoy arrived in Gaza, sent by the JAF and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO).
In cooperation with its regional and international allies, the Jordanian armed forces have carried out 261 airdrops and delivered 1,970 trucks of aid since the beginning of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “a significant proportion of Gaza’s population is now facing catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions,” as Israel continues to impose severe restrictions on the supply of food, water, medicine, and fuel to the Strip.