Israeli tanks hit evacuation zone west of Rafah, 21 dead, Gaza health officials say

A woman sits with a child in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 28, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 May 2024
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Israeli tanks hit evacuation zone west of Rafah, 21 dead, Gaza health officials say

  • It came two days after an Israeli airstrike on another camp stirred global condemnation
  • The attack site is a coastal area that Israel had advised civilians in Rafah to move to for safety

CAIRO: Israeli strikes on a tent camp in an evacuation area west of Rafah killed at least 21 on Tuesday, Gaza health authorities said, and tanks advanced to the center of the southern Gaza city for the first time after a night of heavy bombardment.
Two days after an Israeli airstrike on another camp stirred global condemnation, Gaza emergency services said four tank shells hit a cluster of tents in Al-Mawasi, a coastal area that Israel had advised civilians in Rafah to move to for safety.
At least 12 of the dead were women, according to medical officials in the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave. An Israeli military spokesperson said: “As of this time, we are not aware of this incident.”
In central Rafah, tanks and armored vehicles mounted with machine guns were spotted near Al-Awda mosque, witnesses told Reuters. The Israeli military said its forces continued to operate in the Rafah area, without commenting on reported advances into the city center.
International unease over Israel’s three-week-old Rafah offensive has turned to outrage after an attack on Sunday set off a blaze in a tent camp in a western district of the city, killing at least 45 people. Israel said it had targeted Hamas commanders and had not intended to cause civilian casualties.
Global leaders voiced horror at the fire in a designated “humanitarian zone” of Rafah where families uprooted by fighting elsewhere had sought shelter, and urged the implementation of a World Court order last week for a halt to Israel’s assault.
Tuesday’s attack occurred in an area designated by Israel as an expanded humanitarian zone, to which it had called on civilians in Rafah to evacuate for their own safety when it launched its incursion in early May.
In a diplomatic move purportedly aimed at reining in the violence, Spain, Ireland and Norway were to officially recognize a Palestinian state on Tuesday.
The three countries have said they hope their decision will accelerate efforts toward securing a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas militants, now in its eighth month, that has reduced much of the densely populated territory to rubble.
Residents said Rafah’s Tel Al-Sultan neighborhood, the scene of Sunday’s night-time strike in which tents and shelters were set ablaze as families settled down to sleep, was still being bombarded.
“Tank shells are falling everywhere in Tel Al-Sultan. Many families have fled their houses in western Rafah under fire throughout the night,” one resident told Reuters via a chat app.
Around one million people — many repeatedly displaced by shifting waves of the war — have fled the Israeli offensive in Rafah since early May, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) reported on Tuesday.
A video obtained by Reuters showed families on the move again, carrying their belongings through Rafah’s shattered streets, their weary children trailing behind them.
“There are a lot of attacks, smoke and dust. It is death from God...The (Israelis) are hitting everywhere. We’re tired,” said Moayad Fusaifas, pushing along belongings on two bicycles.

Israel says it’s in combat near Egypt border

Since Israel launched its incursion by seizing control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt three weeks ago, tanks had probed around the outskirts and entered some eastern districts but had not yet rumbled into the city in full force.
In recent days, Israeli tanks have thrust toward western neighborhoods and taken up positions on the Zurub hilltop in western Rafah. On Tuesday, witnesses reported gunbattles between Israeli troops and Hamas-led fighters in the Zurub area.
Witnesses in central Rafah said the Israeli military appeared to have brought in remote-operated armored vehicles and there was no immediate sign of personnel in or around them. An Israeli military spokesperson had no immediate comment.
The Israeli military said it operated overnight along the Philadelphi Corridor that separates Gaza from Egypt “based on intelligence indicating the presence of terror targets.”
Israeli troops were engaged in close-quarter combat and were locating tunnel shafts, weapons and militant infrastructure, it said in a statement.
Israel has kept up attacks despite the ruling by the International Court of Justice on Friday ordering it to stop given a high risk of civilian casualties. Israel has argued that the top UN court’s decision had left it some scope for military action there.
The ICJ also reiterated calls for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas.
More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says. Israel launched its air and ground war after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel says it wants to root out Hamas fighters holed up in Rafah and rescue hostages it says are being held in the area.
In Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, one of the largest of the enclave’s eight historic refugee camps, Israeli forces have been engaged in fierce fighting with Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters, residents said.
In some residential districts from which Israeli forces have retreated, civil emergency teams said they were recovering bodies from the ruins.


Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

Updated 24 June 2024
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Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

  • Almost daily exchanges of fire along Lebanon’s frontier with Israel threaten to escalate conflict
  • Last large-scale conflict between Israel, Hezbollah in 2006 killed 1,200 in Lebanon and 140 in Israel

BEIRUT: Thousands of fighters from Iran-backed groups in the Middle East are ready to come to Lebanon to join with the militant Hezbollah group in its battle with Israel if the simmering conflict escalates into a full-blown war, officials with Iran-backed factions and analysts say.
Almost daily exchanges of fire have occurred along Lebanon’s frontier with northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip staged a bloody assault on southern Israel in early October that set off a war in Gaza.
The situation to the north worsened this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets and explosive drones into northern Israel.
Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated end to push Hezbollah away from the border.
Over the past decade, Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan fought together in Syria’s 13-year conflict, helping tip the balance in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Officials from Iran-backed groups say they could also join together again against Israel.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Wednesday that militant leaders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries have previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but he said the group already has more than 100,000 fighters.
“We told them, thank you, but we are overwhelmed by the numbers we have,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah said the battle in its current form is using only a portion of Hezbollah’s manpower, an apparent reference to the specialized fighters who fire missiles and drones.
But that could change in the event of an all-out war. Nasrallah hinted at that possibility in a speech in 2017 in which he said fighters from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan “will be partners” of such a war.
Officials from Lebanese and Iraqi groups backed by Iran say Iran-backed fighters from around the region will join in if war erupts on the the Lebanon-Israel border. Thousands of such fighters are already deployed in Syria and could easily slip through the porous and unmarked border.
Some of the groups have already staged attacks on Israel and its allies since the Israel-Hamas war started Oct. 7. The groups from the so-called “axis of resistance” say they are using a “unity of arenas strategy” and they will only stop fighting when Israel ends its offensive in Gaza against their ally, Hamas.
“We will be (fighting) shoulder to shoulder with Hezbollah” if an all-out war breaks out, one official with an Iran-backed group in Iraq told The Associated Press in Baghdad, insisting on speaking anonymously to discuss military matters. He refused to give further details.
The official, along with another from Iraq, said some advisers from Iraq are already in Lebanon.
An official with a Lebanese Iran-backed group, also insisting on anonymity, said fighters from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, Afghanistan’s Fatimiyoun, Pakistan Zeinabiyoun and the Iran-backed rebel group in Yemen known as Houthis could come to Lebanon to take part in a war.

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march during Al-Quds or Jerusalem Day in Baghdad, Iraq on June 8, 2019. (AP/File photo)

Qassim Qassir, an expert on Hezbollah, agreed the current fighting is mostly based on high technology such as firing missiles and does not need a large number of fighters. But if a war broke out and lasted for a long period, Hezbollah might need support from outside Lebanon, he said.
“Hinting to this matter could be (a message) that these are cards that could be used,” he said.
Israel is also aware of the possible influx of foreign fighters.
Eran Etzion, former head of policy planning for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a panel discussion hosted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute on Thursday that he sees “a high probability” of a “multi-front war.”
He said there could be intervention by the Houthis and Iraqi militias and a “massive flow of jihadists from (places) including Afghanistan, Pakistan” into Lebanon and into Syrian areas bordering Israel.
Daniel Hagari, Israel’s military spokesman, said in a televised statement this past week that since Hezbollah started its attacks on Israel on Oct. 8, it has fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank missiles and drones toward Israel.
“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,” Hagari said. “Israel will continue fighting against Iran’s axis of evil on all fronts.”
Hezbollah officials have said they don’t want an all-out war with Israel but if it happens they are ready.

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen outside Sanaa on Jan. 22, 2024. (AP/File photo)

“We have taken a decision that any expansion, no matter how limited it is, will be faced with an expansion that deters such a move and inflicts heavy Israeli losses,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Kassem, said in a speech this past week.
The UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and the commander of the UN peacekeeping force deployed along Lebanon’s southern border, Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lázaro, said in a joint statement that “the danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real.”
The last large-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah occurred in the summer of 2006, when the two fought a 34-day war that killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon and 140 in Israel.
Since the latest run of clashes began, more than 400 people have been killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them fighters but including 70 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 16 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands have been displaced on both sides of the border.
Qassir, the analyst, said that if foreign fighters did join in, it would help them that they fought together in Syria in the past.
“There is a common military language between the forces of axis of resistance and this is very important in fighting a joint battle,” he said.=


Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

Updated 47 min 17 sec ago
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Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

  • Some advisers from Iraq are already in Lebanon, two Iraqi militia officials say
  • Israeli official says they are aware that there could be intervention by the Houthis and Iraqi militias and other jihadis 

BEIRUT: Thousands of fighters from Iran-backed groups in the Middle East are ready to come to Lebanon to join with the militant Hezbollah group in its battle with Israel if the simmering conflict escalates into a full-blown war, officials with Iran-backed factions and analysts say.
Almost daily exchanges of fire have occurred along Lebanon’s frontier with northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip staged a bloody assault on southern Israel in early October that set off a war in Gaza.
The situation to the north worsened this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets and explosive drones into northern Israel.
Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated end to push Hezbollah away from the border.
Over the past decade, Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan fought together in Syria’s 13-year conflict, helping tip the balance in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Officials from Iran-backed groups say they could also join together again against Israel.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Wednesday that militant leaders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries have previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but he said the group already has more than 100,000 fighters.
“We told them, thank you, but we are overwhelmed by the numbers we have,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah said the battle in its current form is using only a portion of Hezbollah’s manpower, an apparent reference to the specialized fighters who fire missiles and drones.
But that could change in the event of an all-out war. Nasrallah hinted at that possibility in a speech in 2017 in which he said fighters from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan “will be partners” of such a war.
Officials from Lebanese and Iraqi groups backed by Iran say Iran-backed fighters from around the region will join in if war erupts on the the Lebanon-Israel border. Thousands of such fighters are already deployed in Syria and could easily slip through the porous and unmarked border.
Some of the groups have already staged attacks on Israel and its allies since the Israel-Hamas war started Oct. 7. The groups from the so-called “axis of resistance” say they are using a “unity of arenas strategy” and they will only stop fighting when Israel ends its offensive in Gaza against their ally, Hamas.
“We will be (fighting) shoulder to shoulder with Hezbollah” if an all-out war breaks out, one official with an Iran-backed group in Iraq told The Associated Press in Baghdad, insisting on speaking anonymously to discuss military matters. He refused to give further details.
The official, along with another from Iraq, said some advisers from Iraq are already in Lebanon.
An official with a Lebanese Iran-backed group, also insisting on anonymity, said fighters from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, Afghanistan’s Fatimiyoun, Pakistan Zeinabiyoun and the Iran-backed rebel group in Yemen known as Houthis could come to Lebanon to take part in a war.

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march during Al-Quds or Jerusalem Day in Baghdad, Iraq on June 8, 2019. (AP/File photo)

Qassim Qassir, an expert on Hezbollah, agreed the current fighting is mostly based on high technology such as firing missiles and does not need a large number of fighters. But if a war broke out and lasted for a long period, Hezbollah might need support from outside Lebanon, he said.
“Hinting to this matter could be (a message) that these are cards that could be used,” he said.
Israel is also aware of the possible influx of foreign fighters.
Eran Etzion, former head of policy planning for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a panel discussion hosted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute on Thursday that he sees “a high probability” of a “multi-front war.”
He said there could be intervention by the Houthis and Iraqi militias and a “massive flow of jihadists from (places) including Afghanistan, Pakistan” into Lebanon and into Syrian areas bordering Israel.
Daniel Hagari, Israel’s military spokesman, said in a televised statement this past week that since Hezbollah started its attacks on Israel on Oct. 8, it has fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank missiles and drones toward Israel.
“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,” Hagari said. “Israel will continue fighting against Iran’s axis of evil on all fronts.”
Hezbollah officials have said they don’t want an all-out war with Israel but if it happens they are ready.

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen outside Sanaa on Jan. 22, 2024. (AP/File photo)

“We have taken a decision that any expansion, no matter how limited it is, will be faced with an expansion that deters such a move and inflicts heavy Israeli losses,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Kassem, said in a speech this past week.
The UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and the commander of the UN peacekeeping force deployed along Lebanon’s southern border, Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lázaro, said in a joint statement that “the danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real.”
The last large-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah occurred in the summer of 2006, when the two fought a 34-day war that killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon and 140 in Israel.
Since the latest run of clashes began, more than 400 people have been killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them fighters but including 70 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 16 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands have been displaced on both sides of the border.
Qassir, the analyst, said that if foreign fighters did join in, it would help them that they fought together in Syria in the past.
“There is a common military language between the forces of axis of resistance and this is very important in fighting a joint battle,” he said.=


Lebanese minister denies Hezbollah weapons at Beirut airport

Ali Hamieh. (Twitter @alihamie_lb)
Updated 24 June 2024
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Lebanese minister denies Hezbollah weapons at Beirut airport

  • Israel has for years accused Hezbollah of keeping precision rockets and missiles in different installations throughout Lebanon, including on a site near Beirut airport

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s transport minister denied on Sunday that Hezbollah was storing weapons at Beirut airport, as fears grow of all-out war between the militant group and Israel.
Ali Hamieh called a press conference to deny the allegations of “absurd articles” in the media, and attacked the British daily The Telegraph.
The newspaper said the Shiite militant group is storing missiles and rockets at the airport, where “whistleblowers” had reported the arrival of “unusually big boxes.”
Backed by Iran, Hezbollah has been exchanging near-daily fire with Israeli forces in support of its ally, Hamas. The Palestinian movement has been at war with Israel since October 7 when Hamas militants from Gaza attacked southern Israel.
“I am holding this press conference to clarify that everything that has been written in The Telegraph is false and to say that there are no weapons entering or leaving Beirut airport,” Hamieh told journalists.
He spoke from Beirut International Airport, located in an area south of the capital where Hezbollah is influential.
Hamieh invited ambassadors and journalists to inspect the airport on Monday morning in a visit “open to all“
The Lebanese air transport union condemned in a statement “simply erroneous statements and lies aimed at endangering Beirut airport and its employees, all civilians, and those who frequent it.”
Israel has for years accused Hezbollah of keeping precision rockets and missiles in different installations throughout Lebanon, including on a site near Beirut airport.
Hezbollah denies this.
More than eight months of exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and Israeli forces have left 480 people dead in Lebanon, mostly fighters, but also 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.
Cross-border exchanges and tension have escalated over the past two weeks after an Israeli air strike killed a senior Hezbollah commander.
 

 


An Israel offensive into Lebanon risks an Iranian military response, top US military leader says

Updated 24 June 2024
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An Israel offensive into Lebanon risks an Iranian military response, top US military leader says

  • US President Joe Biden’s senior adviser Amos Hochstein met with officials in Lebanon and Israel last week in an effort to deescalate tensions
  • Pentagon officials have said that Austin has also raised concerns about a broader conflict when he spoke to Gallant in a recent phone call

ESPARGOS, Cape Verde: The top US military officer said Sunday that an Israeli military offensive into Lebanon will risk an Iranian response in defense of Hezbollah, triggering a broader war that could put US forces in the region in danger.
Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran “would be more inclined to support Hezbollah.” He added Tehran supports Hamas, but would give greater backing to Hezbollah “particularly if they felt that Hezbollah was being significantly threatened.”
Brown spoke to reporters as he traveled to Botswana for a meeting of African defense ministers.
Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated end to push Hezbollah away from the border. Just days ago, Israel’s military said it had “approved and validated” plans for an offensive in Lebanon, even as the US works to prevent the months of cross-border attacks from spiraling into a full-blown war.
US officials have tried to broker a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The issue is expected to come up this week as Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visits Washington for meetings with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior US officials.
US President Joe Biden’s senior adviser Amos Hochstein met with officials in Lebanon and Israel last week in an effort to deescalate tensions. Hochstein told reporters in Beirut on Tuesday that it was a “very serious situation” and that a diplomatic solution to prevent a larger war was urgent.
Brown also said the US won’t likely be able to help Israel defend itself against a broader Hezbollah war as well as it helped Israel fight off the Iranian barrage of missiles and drones in April. It is harder to fend off the shorter-range rockets that Hezbollah fires routinely across the border into Israel, he said.
Pentagon officials have said that Austin has also raised concerns about a broader conflict when he spoke to Gallant in a recent phone call.
“Given the amount of rocket fire we’ve seen going from both sides of the border, we’ve certainly been concerned about that situation, and both publicly and privately have been urging all parties to restore calm along that border, and again, to seek a diplomatic solution,” said Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary last week.
A war between the two heavily-armed foes could be devastating to both countries and incur mass civilian casualties. Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal is believed to be far more extensive than Hamas’.
Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah have exchanged fire across Lebanon’s border with northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip staged a bloody assault on southern Israel in early October that set off the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
The situation escalated this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets and explosive drones into northern Israel and Israel responded with a heavy assault on the militant group.
Israeli strikes have killed more than 400 people in Lebanon, including 70 civilians. On Israel’s side, 16 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed.
An escalation in the conflict could also trigger wider involvement by other Iran-backed militant groups in the region, leading to all-out war.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech last Wednesday that militant leaders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries have previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but he said the group already has more than 100,000 fighters.

 


Heads of churches say Israeli government is demanding they pay property tax, upsetting status quo

Updated 23 June 2024
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Heads of churches say Israeli government is demanding they pay property tax, upsetting status quo

JERUSALEM: Leaders of major churches have accused Israeli authorities of launching a “coordinated attack” on the Christian presence in the Holy Land by initiating tax proceedings against them.
While Israeli officials have tried to dismiss the disagreement as a routine financial matter, the churches say the move upsets a centuries-old status quo and reflects mounting intolerance for the tiny Christian presence in the Holy Land.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, the heads of the major Christian denominations alleged that four municipalities across Israel had recently submitted warning letters to church officials cautioning them of legal action if they did not pay taxes.
“We believe these efforts represent a coordinated attack on the Christian presence in the Holy Land,” wrote the heads of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches. “In this time, when the whole world, and the Christian world in particular, are constantly following the events in Israel, we find ourselves, once again, dealing with an attempt by authorities to drive the Christian presence out of the Holy Land.”
Christians are a tiny minority, making up less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories. There are 182,000 Christians in Israel, 50,000 in the West Bank and Jerusalem and 1,300 in Gaza, according to the US State Department. The vast majority are Palestinians.
The churches, who are major landowners in the Holy Land, say they do not pay property taxes under longstanding tradition. They say their funds go to services that benefit the state, like schools, hospitals and homes for the elderly.
The letter said the municipalities of Tel Aviv, Ramla, Nazareth and Jerusalem in recent months have all either issued warning letters or commenced legal action for alleged tax debts.
The Jerusalem municipality told The Associated Press that the church had not submitted the necessary requests for tax exemptions over the last few years. It said that “a dialogue is taking place with the churches to collect debts for the commercial properties they own.”
The other municipalities did not immediately comment. It was unclear if the municipalities acted in a coordinated effort or whether the tax moves are coincidental.
In 2018, Christians closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — revered by Christians as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection — to protest a move by Israeli officials to impose taxes on commercial properties in the holy city.
The Christian leaders argued that the sites — like pilgrim hostels and information centers — served important religious and cultural purposes, and that taxing them would infringe on Christian religious observance in the Holy Land. After the public backlash, Netanyahu quickly suspended the plan.