Israel launches deadly Gaza strikes, says ready for new truce talks

A Palestinian girl looks out of the window of a shrapnel-pocked building in Jenin in the aftermath of a raid by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank city on May 23, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2024
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Israel launches deadly Gaza strikes, says ready for new truce talks

  • Gaza Strip’s civil defense agency said two pre-dawn air strikes had killed 26 people, including 15 children, in Gaza City alone
  • Agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said one strike hit a family house, killing 16 people, in the Al-Daraj area, and another killed 10 people inside a mosque compound

GAZA: Israel launched devastating air strikes on Gaza early Thursday while also saying it is ready to resume stalled talks on a truce and hostage release deal with Hamas to pause the war raging since October 7.
The Gaza Strip’s civil defense agency said two pre-dawn air strikes had killed 26 people, including 15 children, in Gaza City alone.
Agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said one strike hit a family house, killing 16 people, in the Al-Daraj area, and another killed 10 people inside a mosque compound.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
Fierce street battles also raged in Gaza’s Jabalia and Rafah where the armed wings of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad said they had fired mortar barrages at Israeli troops.
International pressure for a ceasefire has mounted on Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as three European countries said Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state.
The week started with the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor seeking arrest warrants on war crimes charges against Netanyahu and his defense minister as well as three Hamas leaders.
Israel has angrily rejected those moves, voicing “disgust” over the ICC request and labelling any recognition of Palestinian statehood a “reward for terrorism.”
But domestic pressure has also risen as supporters of hostages trapped in Gaza again rallied outside Netanyahu’s office, passionately demanding a deal to bring them home.
A newly released video showed five female Israeli soldiers, tied up and some with bloodied faces, in the hands of Palestinian militants during the attack more than seven months ago.
The three-minute clip, taken from a militant’s body camera footage, was released by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum on Wednesday after the Israeli army lifted censorship on it.
“The footage reveals the violent, humiliating and traumatising treatment the girls endured on the day of their abduction, their eyes filled with raw terror,” the forum said.
Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting Hamas to “ensure what we have seen tonight never happens again.”
But his office also said that the war cabinet had asked the Israeli negotiating team “to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages.”
The previous round of truce talks, involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, ended shortly after Israel launched its attack on Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah early this month.
Israel went ahead with the assault on the last city in Gaza to be entered by its ground troops in defiance of global opposition, including from top ally the United States.
Washington voiced concerns that about 1.4 million Palestinians who had been trapped in the city would be caught in the line of fire.
Israel has since ordered mass evacuations from the city, and the UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.
US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the Rafah operation “has been more targeted and limited” than feared and “has not involved major military operations into the heart of dense urban areas.”
But he stopped short of saying that Israel had addressed US concerns, adding that Washington was closely watching ongoing Israeli actions.
Israel’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi has meanwhile given a bleak assessment of the war to a meeting of parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, according to a report by Israel’s Channel 13.
He reportedly said that Israel has “not achieved any of the strategic aims of the war — not conditions for a hostage deal; we haven’t toppled Hamas; and we haven’t allowed residents of the (Gaza) periphery to safely return home.”
The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Heavy fighting raged again in Gaza, where the military said troops in Rafah had “dismantled a number of tunnel shafts and launchers in the area, and eliminated several terrorists during close-quarters encounters.”
Urban combat has also flared again in northern areas, including Jabalia, which Israeli forces first entered several months ago.
Israeli forces there “targeted several Hamas terrorists during strikes on military compounds” and located AK-47 rifles, grenades and other weaponry, the military said.
Israel has also imposed a siege that has deprived Gaza’s 2.4 million people of most clean water, food, medicines and fuel.
The sporadic arrival of aid by truck slowed further after Israeli forces took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
Jordan and others have airdropped relief goods into Gaza and some aid has been shipped in via a US-built pier, but many trucks have been quickly swarmed by desperate crowds.
Israel has faced ever greater opposition to the bloody war from around the world, and pro-Palestinian protests have swept university campuses.
Israel reacted with fury after Ireland, Norway and Spain said they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, a move praised by Palestinians and across the Arab world.
Israel recalled its envoys to Dublin, Oslo and Madrid and summoned the three ambassadors for a rebuke.
Most Western governments say they are willing to recognize Palestinian statehood one day, but not before thorny issues such as final borders and the status of Jerusalem are settled.
The White House said Biden opposed unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, saying it should be realized “through direct negotiations.”
Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris called the October 7 attack “barbaric” but stressed that “a two-state solution is the only way out of the generational cycles of violence.”


Iran says Canada terror designation for Guards ‘hostile’

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Iran says Canada terror designation for Guards ‘hostile’

Tehran: Iran on Thursday condemned as “irresponsible” and “hostile” a decision by Canada to designate the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist entity.
Ottowa announced on Wednesday it had placed the Guards on its terror blacklist over “disregard for human rights” and “willingness to destabilize the international rules-based order.”
In a statement Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani hit out at the Canadian move as “hostile” and “contrary to the accepted norms and principles of international law.”
“This irresponsible and provocative move is a continuation of the wrong path that the Canadian government has taken over the past decade,” he added.
Canada’s terror listing bars members of the Guards from entering Canada and Canadians from having any dealings with individual members or the group.
Any assets the organization or its members hold in Canada may also be seized.
The decision to add the Guards to Canada’s terror list comes amid tensions between Ottawa and Tehran which have not had formal diplomatic relations since 2012.
Canada and other nations have been engaged in legal action against Iran at the International Court of Justice over the downing of Flight PS752 in January 2020.
Iranian expats and families of the victims of from the flight, which was downed by Iran shortly after take-off from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents, have long pressed Ottawa to designate the militia as a terrorist entity.
Tehran said a missile strike on the aircraft was carried out by 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 listed the Guards as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2019.
Earlier this month, the European Union also sanctioned the Guards for allegedly supplying drones to Russia and its allies in the Middle East.

Iran condemns Canada's listing of Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group

Updated 20 June 2024
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Iran condemns Canada's listing of Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group

DUBAI: Iran condemned Canada's listing of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization as "an unwise and unconventional politically-motivated step," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency on Thursday.
"Canada's action will not have any effect on the Revolutionary Guards' legitimate and deterrent power," Kanaani said, adding that Tehran reserves the right to respond accordingly to the listing.
On Wednesday, Ottawa listed the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation, a step that could lead to the investigation of former senior Iranian officials now living in Canada.
The United States took a similar step in 2019 against the Revolutionary Guards, which Western nations accuse of carrying out a global terrorist campaign.
Tehran rejects such claims, saying that the elite force is a sovereign institution responsible for safeguarding national security.


Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

Updated 20 June 2024
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Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

  • “Hamas is an ideology, we cannot eliminate an ideology,” said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari
  • PM Netanyahu's office quickly rebuffed the spokesman's statement, saying Hamas has to be defeated

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army’s chief spokesman on Wednesday appeared to question the stated goal of destroying the Hamas militant group in Gaza in a rare public rift between the country’s political and military leadership.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted Israel will pursue the fight against Hamas, the group running the besieged Gaza Strip, until its military and governing capabilities in the Palestinian territory are eliminated. But with the war now in its ninth month, frustration has been mounting with no clear end or postwar plan in sight.
“This business of destroying Hamas, making Hamas disappear — it’s simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the military spokesperson, told Israel’s Channel 13 TV. “Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people — whoever thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong.”
Netanyahu’s office responded by saying that the country’s security Cabinet, chaired by the prime minister, “has defined the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities as one of the goals of the war. The Israeli military, of course, is committed to this.”
The military quickly issued a clarification, saying it was “committed to achieving the goals of the war as defined by the Cabinet” and that it has been working on this “throughout the war, day and night, and will continue to do so.”
Hagari’s comments, it said, “referred to the destruction of Hamas as an ideology and an idea, and this was said by him very clearly and explicitly,” the military statement added. “Any other claim is taking things out of context.”
There have already been open signs of discontent over the handling of the war by Netanyahu’s government, a coalition that includes right-wing hard-liners who oppose any kind of settlement with Hamas. Months of internationally mediated truce talks, including a proposal floated this month by President Joe Biden, have stalled.
Benny Gantz, a former military chief and centrist politician, withdrew from Netanyahu’s war Cabinet earlier this month, citing frustration over the prime minister’s conduct of the war.
And early this week, Netanyahu expressed displeasure with the army’s decision to declare a “tactical pause” in the southern Gaza city of Rafah to help deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged territory. An aide said Netanyahu was caught off guard by the announcement, and Israeli TV stations quoted him as saying “we have a country with an army, not an army with a country.”
Israel attacked Gaza in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack into southern Israel, which killed some 1,200 people and took 250 hostage.
Israel’s war effort initially enjoyed broad public support, but in recent months wide divisions have emerged. While Netanyahu has pledged “total victory,” a growing array of critics and protesters have backed a ceasefire that would bring home the roughly 120 hostages still in Gaza. The Israeli military has already pronounced more than 40 of them dead, and officials fear that number will rise the longer the hostages are held.
Inside Gaza, the war has killed more than 37,100 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. The war has largely cut off the flow of medicine, food and other supplies to Palestinians, who are facing widespread hunger.
The United Nations said Wednesday that its humanitarian workers were once again unable to pick up aid shipments at the Kerem Shalom border crossing from Israel because of a lack of law and order.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that although there were no clashes along the route where Israel has declared a daily pause in fighting, the lawlessness in the area prevented UN workers from picking up aid. This means that no trucks have been able to use the new route since Israel announced the daily pause on Sunday.
In recent weeks, Israel’s military has concentrated its offensive in the nearby city of Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt and where it says Hamas’ last remnants are holding out.
More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people had earlier taken shelter in Rafah to escape fighting elsewhere in the territory, and the city is now nearly empty as the Israeli military carries out airstrikes and ground operations.
The Israeli military says it has killed over 500 militants and inflicted heavy damage on Hamas’ forces, but officials expect the operation to continue for at least several more weeks.
Israel also has taken over a 14-kilometer (8-mile) corridor along Gaza’s border with Egypt, including the Rafah border crossing. Footage circulating on social media shows the crossing blackened and destroyed, with only the former passenger terminal remaining intact. Before Israel moved into the area, the crossing was used to deliver humanitarian aid and to allow Palestinians to leave the territory.
The head of the Rafah municipality, Ahmed Al-Sufi, said Wednesday that Israeli strikes have destroyed more than 70 percent of the facilities and infrastructure. He accused Israeli forces of systematically targeting camps in Rafah, adding that entire residential areas in one neighborhood have been destroyed. Al-Sufi didn’t immediately respond to a request for additional information.
In a separate incident, 11 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, said Dr. Saleh Al-Hamas of the nearby European Hospital. There were no further details and the Israeli military had no immediate comment.


Libyans want an end to country’s divisions and feuding politicians to hold elections, UN envoy says

Updated 20 June 2024
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Libyans want an end to country’s divisions and feuding politicians to hold elections, UN envoy says

  • Koury said there is consensus that the current “status quo is not sustainable” – and the political process needs to advance toward elections

UNITED NATIONS: Libyans from rival regions and all walks of life are fed up with the country’s divisions and want political players to end their years-long impasse and agree to hold national elections, a key step to peace in the oil-rich north African country, the UN deputy representative said Wednesday.
Stephanie Koury told the UN Security Council that she has been meeting political leaders, civil society representatives, academics, women’s groups, military leaders and others in the country’s rival east and west to listen to their views. She said there is consensus that the current “status quo is not sustainable” – and the political process needs to advance toward elections.
Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. In the chaos that followed, the country split, with rival administrations in the east and west backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.
The country’s current political crisis stems from the failure to hold elections on Dec. 24, 2021, and the refusal of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah — who led a transitional government in the capital of Tripoli — to step down. In response, Libya’s east-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister who was suspended. The east is now governed by Prime Minister Ossama Hammad while the powerful military commander Khalifa Haftar continues to hold sway.
Koury, the top UN official in Libya since the resignation of special representative Abdoulaye Bathily in April, said many Libyans she spoke to signaled the importance of a “pact” or agreement that would affirm, among other things, the rival parties’ respect for the outcome of elections. They also expressed deep concern at the country’s divisions and parallel governments, and provided ideas on a roadmap to elections, she said.
“While institutional and political divisions keep deepening, ordinary Libyans long for peace, stability, prosperity and reconciliation,” Koury said. “Resolute and united action to advance a political process is needed by Libyans with the support of the international community.”
In February, Bathily warned the country’s feuding political actors that if they didn’t urgently form a unified government and move toward elections Libya will slide into “disintegration.”
The three African nations on the council – Sierra Leone, Algeria and Mozambique joined by Guyana – said in a joint statement Wednesday that “the Security Council must remain committed to an inclusive Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process facilitated by the United Nations … for the holding of national elections.”
The four countries called on the rival political players “to move from the entrenched institutional and political positions, resolve their differences, build consensus and facilitate the holding of national election.”
US deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said the United States also continues to firmly support the UN political mission’s efforts “to bring Libya closer to unlocking a viable process toward long-overdue elections.”
“Progress toward greater military integration remains key to reaffirming Libyan sovereignty and preventing Libya from becoming enmeshed in regional turmoil,” he said.
Turning to Russia’s actions in Libya, Wood told the council the United States recently sanctioned “Russian state-owned enterprise Goznak for producing counterfeit currency globally and printing more than $1 billion worth of counterfeit Libyan currency, which exacerbated Libya’s economic challenges.”
Libya is under a UN arms embargo, and Wood said the United States also notes “with particular concern the recent reports of Russian Federation naval vessels unloading military hardware in Libya.”
Libya’s UN Ambassador Taher El-Sonni, who represents the internationally recognized government in the west, stressed that national reconciliation is the only way to rebuild social cohesion and trust between the rivals, unite the country and pave the way for elections.
“We are tired and fed up from the stalemate and the vicious cycle that we have been going through for decades now,” he said. “We are tired and fed up from being lectured on what to do and what not to do,” and from the Security Council’s inaction.
“We are tired and fed up to use Libya as a proxy for certain countries and regional powers for selfish greedy battles, some of which have colonial ambitions,” El-Sonni said.
He called on the Security Council “to leave Libya alone” and let the people decide their own future and “take their destiny in their own hands.”


US military’s stop-start Gaza pier to resume operations, officials say

Updated 20 June 2024
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US military’s stop-start Gaza pier to resume operations, officials say

  • The US military estimates the pier will cost more than $200 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 service members

WASHINGTON: The US military’s on-again, off-again floating pier in Gaza is expected to resume operations on Thursday to unload sorely needed humanitarian aid for Palestinians, two US officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the pier had been re-attached to the shore on Wednesday after being temporarily removed last Friday due to poor sea conditions.
Aid began arriving via the US-built pier on May 17, and the UN said it transported 137 trucks of aid to warehouses, some 900 metric tons.
But then rough seas damaged the pier, forcing repairs, and poor weather and security considerations have limited the number of days it has been operational.
US President Joe Biden announced in March the plan to put the pier in place for aid deliveries as famine loomed in Gaza, a Hamas-run enclave of 2.3 million people, during the war between Israel and the Palestinian militants.
The US military estimates the pier will cost more than $200 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 service members.
It is unclear how much longer it will be operational.
Speaking at the Pentagon on Tuesday, spokesperson Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder declined to say when the military might halt its pier operations altogether. He said the pier has so far allowed for a total of over 3,500 metric tons of aid to reach Gaza’s shores.
“With the caveat that this has always been intended to be a temporary pier, I’m not aware at this point of any established date of: ‘This is when we’re going to stop,’” he told reporters.
“And again, taking a step back here, the big picture: Whether it be by land, sea or air, (the United States is) employing all avenues to get assistance into Gaza.”