Hezbollah barrages deal heavy damage in northern Israel

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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from Lebanon, amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, as seen from the Hula Valley in northern Israel, May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
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Smoke rises in a hill after it was hit by a rocket fired from Lebanon, in Hula Valley in the upper Galilee on May 23, 2024. (AFP)
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A police officer handles the remains of a rocket that hit a road after it was fired from Lebanon, amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, in the Hula Valley in northern Israel, May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 May 2024

Hezbollah barrages deal heavy damage in northern Israel

  • The barrages have dealt a heavy blow to Israeli towns and villages near the border which have been evacuated for more than six months
  • The Israeli defense ministry body responsible for rebuilding northern communities said it had received 930 reports of damage

SHTULA: A momentary shriek presages a bone-juddering blast, followed by a plume of thick black smoke. Refrigerator-sized holes mark where Hezbollah anti-tank missiles like this one have hit along Israel’s northern border.
Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has been exchanging near-daily cross-border fire with the Israeli army since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack triggered war in Gaza.
The Iran-backed militants have launched thousands of rockets, mortar rounds, anti-tank missiles and attack drones at northern Israel.
The exchanges of fire have killed at least 11 civilians and 14 soldiers in Israel, according to the army.
At least 429 people have been killed in Lebanon, mostly militants but also including at least 82 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
The barrages have dealt a heavy blow to Israeli towns and villages near the border which have been evacuated for more than six months. They have also served as a warning of the far greater destruction that would be wrought by a full-blown war.
The Israeli defense ministry body responsible for rebuilding northern communities said it had received 930 reports of damage — around a third of them categorized as moderate to critical — the vast majority of it inflicted on residential buildings.
Hundreds more cases remain unassessed in towns like Arab Al-Aramsheh, Menara and Metula because it is considered too hazardous for inspectors to enter.
The report did not cite an estimated cost, but a senior defense official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said reconstruction in the hardest hit locations could take months to a year.
In Kibbutz Menara, around 30 percent of buildings have suffered substantial damage, the official said.
At least 26 percent of the reported damage was caused by Israeli troops who have entrenched themselves in evacuated towns and villages along the 120-kilometer (75-mile) border, according to the Northern Horizon Directorate report.
The Israeli military said it “regrets any damage to the residents’ property” and is working to minimize damage as much as possible.
The most vulnerable communities were evacuated immediately after the outbreak of hostilities, displacing some 60,000 civilians. Access to them is restricted by the Israeli military.
But AFP reporters managed to visit Shtula, a village of 300 people sitting on the border that has 44 recorded cases of moderate to critical damage.
Although her neighbor’s house suffered a direct hit, and missiles pounded several other nearby buildings facing Lebanon, Ora Hatan, 60, is one of the few residents who has stayed on.
“An anti-tank missile flew over the chicken coop and right into the house,” said Hatan, pointing at a neighbor’s property.
“A direct hit. Fortunately, no one was home.”
Even after more than seven months of intense bombardment, Hatan won’t leave.
“It’s my house. It’s my land. It’s my country. Where would I go? Why should I go?” she told AFP on her balcony overlooking the Lebanese village of Raymeh two kilometers (little more than a mile) away.
As the war grinds on, and Hezbollah attacks show no sign of relenting, northern residents have grown weary of what many see as talk and little action.
For months, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said Israel will restore security — diplomatically or militarily. The two sides fought a devastating war in 2006.
Israel’s Channel 13 reported that National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told lawmakers Wednesday that “the cabinet hasn’t defined any clear objective concerning the north — not dates, not targets, not strategic aims.”
A poll published Thursday by Israel’s public broadcaster showed that 46 percent of respondents backed military action in Lebanon, while 29 percent opposed.
On Thursday, a few hundred activists set up a protest camp to demand urgent action to restore security and allow displaced residents to return to their homes in the north.
One of the organizers, Nisan Zeevi, lives in kibbutz Kfar Giladi and serves on its emergency response team.
Across the valley from his home, a fortified tower seven storys high looms over the kibbutzim in the valley below that have been frequent targets of drone and missile strikes.
A house in the neighboring kibbutz bears a gaping hole where a missile strike killed a woman and her son in January.
Zeevi said the camp aimed “to express our protest to the Israeli government and to the world until they find a solution to the severe security situation.”

$230m US humanitarian pier in Gaza operational for only 12 days

Updated 18 sec ago

$230m US humanitarian pier in Gaza operational for only 12 days

  • Pier has allowed for the delivery of approximately 250 truckloads of aid, which is less than half of the pre-war daily deliveries to Gaza

LONDON: The $230 million floating pier built by the US military for seaborne humanitarian deliveries to Gaza has been operational for only 12 days since its inauguration on May 17, The Guardian reported on Sunday.

On March 7, US President Joe Biden announced that the temporary pier “would enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day.”

The construction of the two necessary structures — a floating dock anchored offshore and a pier connected to the Gazan coast — took more than two months and involved about 1,000 soldiers, sailors and several ships, including the Royal Navy’s landing ship, Cardigan Bay, which served as accommodation.

Since its launch, the pier has allowed for the delivery of approximately 250 truckloads of aid, equating to 4,100 tonnes of supplies, which is less than half of the pre-war daily deliveries to Gaza. The aid arriving by sea has often remained on the beach due to a lack of trucks for distribution, a result of security concerns.

Rough seas in the eastern Mediterranean have posed unexpected challenges, rendering the joint logistics over-the-shore system less effective than anticipated. The structure was designed to operate in sea conditions up to “sea state 3,” with waves between 0.5 and 1.25 metres. However, it sustained damage during a storm on May 25 and has faced unseasonably choppy waters since then.

After repairs in Ashdod, Israel, the pier resumed operations on June 8 but faced further interruptions. It was dismantled again on June 14 as a precaution against impending storms. Despite being reinstalled, there are reports suggesting that the pier’s vulnerability to weather might lead to it being dismantled early, possibly as soon as next month.

“They just miscalculated,” Stephen Morrison, a senior vice-president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Guardian. “They didn’t fully understand what was going to happen with the weather … so the DoD [Department of Defence] walks away, humiliated in a fashion.”

While acknowledging the difficulties, the Pentagon has not confirmed plans for an early termination of the mission.

“We have not established an end date for this mission as of now, contrary to some press reporting on the matter,” chief spokesperson Maj Gen Patrick Ryder told The Guardian on Thursday.

The floating pier was intended to provide an alternative means of delivering aid to Gaza, bypassing Israeli land restrictions. However, aid workers expressed concerns that the significant resources invested in the effort detracted from political pressure on Israel to open land crossings, which remain the most effective way to deliver aid.

Ziad Issa, head of policy and research at Action Aid, noted a decline in aid deliveries to Gaza, with an average of fewer than 100 trucks arriving daily in early June.

The severe security conditions have hindered the distribution of aid in Gaza. The Rafah crossing from Egypt has been closed since May 7, following an Israeli military offensive, and the alternative Keren Shalom crossing in southern Israel has proved dangerous due to the volatile situation.

“It’s unsafe for aid workers and trucks to move because of the ongoing bombardments on Gaza,” Issa told The Guardian. The Israelis announced a “tactical pause” last week to allow an aid corridor through southern Gaza, but Issa said: “We haven’t seen any difference since these tactical pauses have come in place.”


Jordan, USAID to launch rehabilitation project in Salt

Updated 10 min 44 sec ago

Jordan, USAID to launch rehabilitation project in Salt

  • Works will improve the bus stop complex and Friday market square

AMMAN: Muhammad Hiyari, mayor of the Greater Salt Municipality in Jordan, on Sunday announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Municipal Support Program will implement a rehabilitation project in the Salt region.

The works will improve the bus stop complex and Friday market square. During a site tour, Hiyari said that the 10-dunum (one hectare) project will be completed in stages to minimize disruption to Friday market traders, Jordan News Agency reported.

The initiative includes the renovation of bus stops, upgrading infrastructure, sidewalks and sanitary facilities, as well as building aesthetic walls that reflect the region’s heritage.

Additionally, a modern hangar with contemporary designs will be built.

The project is expected to create approximately 100 job opportunities for local residents, with the municipality aiming to maximize the potential of Salt’s youth.


Jordan delivers 70 trucks of humanitarian aid to north Gaza

Updated 17 min 28 sec ago

Jordan delivers 70 trucks of humanitarian aid to north Gaza

  • Trucks include food parcels, medical supplies and medicines, will be distributed to Palestinian civilians

AMMAN: Jordan announced on Sunday that a convoy of 70 trucks containing humanitarian aid had entered northern Gaza, Jordan News Agency reported.

The contents of the trucks, including food parcels, medical supplies and medicines, will be distributed to Palestinian civilians via partner associations and organizations in the northern areas of the enclave.

The convoy was sent by the Jordanian Armed Forces-Arab Army and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization. It was sent in collaboration with the World Food Programme and funded by several organizations and businesses, among them Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Kuwait Society for Relief, Al-Imdaad Association, Taalof Alkhair and Arabian Medical Relief.

JHCO Secretary-General Hussein Shibli warned that the suffering of Gaza’s population could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe, with reports pointing to an impending famine in Gaza.

Shibli said that Jordanian efforts to deliver humanitarian aid are ongoing and that, to date, the number of trucks to have entered Gaza had reached 2,110, in addition to 53 planes via El-Arish in Egypt.


Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip

Updated 23 June 2024

Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip

  • Visit comes amid concerns over conflict spreading
  • Gallant wants clearer post-war plan for Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is headed to Washington on Sunday to discuss the next phase of the Gaza war and escalating hostilities on the border with Lebanon, where exchanges of fire with Hezbollah have stoked fears of wider conflict.
Iran-backed Hezbollah began attacking Israel shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault sparked the war in Gaza, and the sides have been trading blows in the months since then. Hezbollah has said it will not stop until there is a ceasefire in Gaza.
“We are prepared for any action that may be required in Gaza, Lebanon, and in more areas,” Gallant said in a statement before setting off to Washington, where he said he would meet his counterpart Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Earlier in June, Hezbollah targeted Israeli towns and military sites with the largest volleys of rockets and drones in the hostilities so far, after an Israeli strike killed the most senior Hezbollah commander yet.
US envoy Amos Hochstein visited Israel and Lebanon last week in an attempt to cool tensions, amid an uptick in cross-border fire and an escalation in rhetoric on both sides. An Israeli soldier was severely wounded on Sunday by a drone strike, the military said.
Some Israeli officials have linked the ongoing Israeli push into Rafah — the southern area of Gaza where it says it is targeting the last battalions of Hamas — to a potential focus on Lebanon.
Gallant appeared to make the same link in his statement.
“The transition to Phase C in Gaza is of great importance. I will discuss this transition with US officials, how it may enable additional things and I know that we will achieve close cooperation with the US on this issue as well,” Gallant said.
Scaling back Gaza operations would free up forces to take on Hezbollah, if Israel were to launch a ground offensive or step up its aerial bombardments.
Officials have described the third and last phase of Israel’s Gaza offensive as winding down fighting while stepping up efforts to stabilize a post-Hamas rule and begin reconstruction in the enclave, much of which has been laid to waste.
Gallant, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has sparred with the premier in the past few months, calling for a clearer post-war plan for Gaza that will not leave Israel in charge, a demand echoed by the White House.
Netanyahu has been walking a tightrope as he seeks to keep his government together by balancing the demands of the defense establishment, including ex-generals like Gallant, and far-right coalition partners who have resisted any post-Gaza strategy that could open the way to a future Palestinian state.
The head of Israel’s parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Yuli Edelstein, told Army Radio on Sunday that fighting Hezbollah would be complex either way, now or later.
“We are not in the right position to conduct fighting on both the southern front and the northern front. We will have to deploy differently in the south in order to fight in the north,” said Edelstein, also a Likud member.
Edelstein criticized a video by Netanyahu released last week in which the prime minister said the Biden administration was “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.” The video led to a spat with the White House.
President Joe Biden’s administration paused a shipment of 2,000 pound and 500-pound bombs in May over concerns about their impact if used in densely-populated areas of Gaza. Israel was still due to get billions of dollars worth of UA weaponry.
“I hope that in the discussions behind closed doors much more will be achieved than by attempts to create pressure with videos,” Edelstein said, referring to Gallant’s trip.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas fighters stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The offensive has killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population of the enclave homeless and destitute.

Red Sea ship damaged after Houthi drone attack

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen.
Updated 23 June 2024

Red Sea ship damaged after Houthi drone attack

  • The attack in the Red Sea came only hours after the Houthis claimed they had targeted ships in Israel, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea

AL-MUKALLA: A commercial ship cruising along Yemen’s Red Sea coast was damaged after being attacked by a drone suspected to have been operated by Yemen’s Houthi militia, two UK maritime security agencies said on Sunday.

The attack in the Red Sea came only hours after the Houthis claimed they had targeted ships in Israel, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations said it was notified by the master of a commercial ship about an uncrewed aircraft system hitting and damaging the ship in the Red Sea 65 nautical miles west of Hodeidah in Yemen, and that the ship’s crew members were safe.

“The vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” UKMTO said in a notice on X.

Ambrey, a UK maritime security service, said that the ship is a “fully cellular container ship” flying the Liberian flag.

This comes as the Houthis said on Sunday morning that they had conducted two combined military operations with the Islamic Resistance group in Iraq against five ships in Israel’s Haifa port and the Mediterranean.

In a televised statement, Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said that their forces and the Iraqi militia used drones to strike four ships in Haifa, including two cement ships and two cargo ships.

The second operation included firing a drone at the Shorthorn Express ship in the Mediterranean as it approached Haifa. 

Sarea claimed the five ships were targeted because they violated the militia’s ban on vessels visiting Israeli ports.

Hours earlier, a Houthi military spokesman claimed to have launched ballistic missile attacks on the US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Red Sea and the commercial ship Transworld Navigator in the Arabian Sea.

According to marinetraffic.com, which provides information regarding ship whereabouts and identities, the Transworld Navigator is a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier traveling from China to the Suez Canal and the Shorthorn Express, a cattle carrier sailing under the flag of Luxembourg, left Haifa for Malta on Sunday.

Since November, the Houthis have seized one commercial ship, sunk another, and launched hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones, and explosive-laden drone boats against commercial and navy vessels in international waters near Yemen, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean.

The Houthis say they solely targeted Israeli-linked ships and those ships heading to Israel to pressure Israel to cease its war in the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

At the same time, US Central Command said on Sunday morning that its forces had destroyed three Houthi drones in the Red Sea in the previous 24 hours and that the Houthis had also launched three anti-ship ballistic missiles into the Gulf of Aden from Yemeni territory under their control.

The missiles did not strike any US-led marine coalition ships or other commercial ships operating on critical commerce lanes off Yemen.

“This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” the US military said in a statement, denying the Houthi claims of attacking the Eisenhower.

“Recent claims about a successful attack by Houthi forces on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) are categorically false.”

On Monday, Centcom said that the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier is traveling to the Red Sea to prevent Houthi attacks on shipping, replacing the Eisenhower, which will return to the US.

Meanwhile, the Houthis freed a Bahai sect member in Sanaa after detaining him for more than a year. In a post on X, the Bahai International Community said on Saturday that the Houthis had freed Abdullah Al-Olofi but are still keeping four others, who were among 17 Bahais abducted by the Houthis in May 2023 after raiding their meeting in Sanaa, captive.

The Houthis have conducted a crackdown on Yemen’s Bahai minority, accusing them of being unbelievers and conspiring with the US and Israel.