Battles rage in Rafah after US says Gaza truce still possible

A Palestinian woman stands among the rubble of a damaged building, which was destroyed during Israel’s military offensive in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, June 12, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 June 2024
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Battles rage in Rafah after US says Gaza truce still possible

  • Israeli ground forces have been operating in Rafah since early May, despite widespread alarm over the fate of Palestinian civilians there
  • Western areas of Rafah came under heavy fire on Thursday from the air, sea and land, residents said

GAZA: Israeli helicopters struck Gaza’s Rafah Thursday, residents said, with Hamas militants reporting street battles in the southern city after top US diplomat Antony Blinken said a truce was still possible.
But the war raged on, and tensions soared on Israel’s northern border with more attacks by Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah forces targeting military positions.
Israel, which has traded near-daily fire with Hamas ally Hezbollah since the start of the Gaza war, said it would respond “with force.”
Israeli ground forces have been operating in Rafah since early May, despite widespread alarm over the fate of Palestinian civilians there, including in a ruling by the International Court of Justice later that month.
Western areas of Rafah came under heavy fire on Thursday from the air, sea and land, residents said.
“There was very intense fire from warplanes, Apaches (helicopters) and quadcopters, in addition to Israeli artillery and military battle ships, all of which were striking the area west of Rafah,” one told AFP.
Hamas said its fighters were battling Israeli troops on the streets in the city, near the besieged Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt.
The Gaza war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory military offensive has left at least 37,232 people dead in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.
The latest toll includes at least 30 more deaths over the previous day, it said.
Efforts to reach a truce stalled when Israel began ground operations in Rafah, but US President Joe Biden in late May launched a new effort to secure a deal.
On Monday the UN Security Council adopted a US-drafted resolution supporting the plan.
Blinken, in Doha on Wednesday to promote Biden’s ceasefire roadmap, said Washington would work with regional partners to “close the deal.”
Hamas responded to mediators Qatar and Egypt late Tuesday. Blinken said some of its proposed amendments “are workable and some are not.”
Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said the group sought “a permanent ceasefire and complete withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza, demands repeatedly rejected by Israel.
The plan includes a six-week ceasefire, a hostage-prisoner exchange and Gaza reconstruction.
It would be the first truce since a week-long November pause in fighting saw hostages freed and Palestinians released from Israeli jails.
Blinken said Israel was behind the plan, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government has far-right members strongly opposed to the deal, has not publicly endorsed it.
Blinken expressed hopes that an agreement could be reached.
“We have to see... over the course of the coming days whether those gaps are bridgeable,” he said.
A UN investigation concluded Wednesday that Israel had committed crimes against humanity during the war, while Israeli and Palestinian armed groups had both committed war crimes.
The independent Commission of Inquiry’s report is the first in-depth investigation by UN experts into Gaza’s bloodiest-ever war.
Israel’s foreign ministry dismissed it as “biased and tainted by a distinct anti-Israeli agenda.”
The war has led to widespread destruction, with hospitals out of service and the UN warning of famine.
The World Health Organization said more than 8,000 children aged under five have been treated for acute malnutrition in Gaza, where only two stabilization centers for severely malnourished patients currently operate.
“Despite reports of increased delivery of food, there is currently no evidence that those who need it most are receiving sufficient quantity and quality of food,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Israeli campaign group the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which seeks a negotiated return of the hostages, said Hamas’s response “represents another step toward accepting Israel’s hostage deal proposal,” a reference to the Biden plan.
Some Gazans have called on Hamas to do more to secure an agreement.
“Hamas does not see that we are tired, we are dead, we are destroyed,” said a man called Abu Shaker.
“What are you waiting for? The war must end at any cost.”
Israel’s military on Thursday said troops carried out “targeted operations in the area of Rafah,” where they found weapons and killed several militants “in close-quarters encounters.”
More than 10 militants were killed in central Gaza, it said.
An AFP reporter reported overnight strikes and shelling elsewhere in the coastal territory.
Gaza’s civil defense agency said three bodies were recovered from a home in Nuseirat, central Gaza, after an Israeli strike.
On Wednesday Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis attacked a merchant ship in the Red Sea, part of a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians.
On Thursday, a merchant ship caught fire after being hit by two “projectiles” in the Gulf of Aden, Britain’s navy-run United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said.
Fallout from the Gaza war is also regularly felt on the Israeli-Lebanon frontier, where deadly cross-border exchanges have escalated.
Hezbollah on both Wednesday and Thursday said it attacked military targets in Israel with barrages of rockets and drones, in retaliation for an Israeli strike that killed one of its commanders.
The Israeli military said most launches had been intercepted while others ignited fires.
Government spokesman David Mencer told a press briefing that “Israel will respond with force to all aggressions by Hezbollah.”
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, speaking during a visit to Baghdad by Iran’s acting foreign minister, said the potential “expansion of the war is a danger, not only for Lebanon but for the entire region.”


Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis

Updated 4 sec ago
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Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis

  • Egypt called on Israel to cease its disregard for the lives of unarmed civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law

CAIRO: Egypt has condemned the Israeli airstrikes on the Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

The deaths in Al-Mawasi, an Israeli-designated “safe zone” where aid groups said hundreds of thousands of people were sheltering, drew condemnation from governments across the region.

The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said at least 92 people had been killed, more than half of them women and children, and 300 wounded in Saturday’s strike

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates, Egypt condemned in the strongest terms the Israeli bombing of Al-Mawasi, which is crowded with displaced people, resulting in the death and injury of dozens of innocent Palestinian civilians.

Egypt called on Israel to cease its disregard for the lives of unarmed civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law.

It also stressed that such crimes would not be subject to a statute of limitations and could not be justified under any pretext.

Egypt emphasized that these continuous violations against Palestinian civilians add serious complications to the current efforts aimed at reaching de-escalation and a ceasefire and exacerbate their suffering amid disgraceful international silence and inaction.

 


Palestinian president Abbas blames Hamas for continuing war in Gaza

Updated 34 min 40 sec ago
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Palestinian president Abbas blames Hamas for continuing war in Gaza

  • His comments signal rising tension between Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas group

RAMALLAH: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel and the US were responsible for an attack that killed dozens in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, but the Western-backed leader also blamed Hamas for the continuing war in Gaza.
His comments signal rising tension between Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas group, which accused the Palestinian president of taking Israel’s side.
Israel said the attack was aimed at killing the Hamas military chief Mohammad Deif and his aide. It remained unclear whether Deif or his deputy were killed in the strike that left at least 90 Palestinians dead and 300 wounded, according to Gaza health ministry.
“The Palestinian presidency condemns the slaughter and holds the Israeli government fully responsible, also the US administration that provides all kinds of support to the occupation and its crimes,” said Abbas in a statement published by his office.
But Abbas, whose authority maintains a limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, assigned some blame to Hamas, whose Oct 7 attack inside Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed and around 250 others were abducted, kicked off the nine-month war in Gaza.
“The presidency sees that by escaping national unity, and providing free pretexts to the occupation state, the Hamas movement is a partner in bearing legal, moral and political responsibility for the continuation of the Israeli war of genocide in Gaza Strip,” the statement said.
Hamas has run Gaza since its 2007 takeover of the coastal territory from Abbas loyalists.
Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters Abbas’s statement meant the Palestinian Authority “has chosen to be in the same trench with the occupation.”
“Such an attitude will not succeed in blackmailing the resistance or pressuring it,” said Abu Zuhri.
Efforts by Arab mediators, led by Egypt, have so far failed to reconcile power struggles between the two sides.
Another Hamas leader, Basem Naim, who took part in previous reconciliation talks with Abbas’s Fatah faction, said Abbas was to blame for the failure to reach a unity deal.
Naim said Abbas’s comments made him and his authority “partner to the Zioinist enemy and its crimes not only in Gaza but also in all of the Palestinian land.”


Iraq recovers remains of 139 likely Daesh victims from mass grave

Updated 38 min 33 sec ago
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Iraq recovers remains of 139 likely Daesh victims from mass grave

  • The Alo Antar hole — a natural desert feature turned into a mass grave by Daesh extremists — is located in Tal Afar

MOSUL: Iraqi authorities have removed the remains of 139 people from a large pit believed to contain victims of Daesh, an official said on Sunday.
The Alo Antar hole — a natural desert feature turned into a mass grave by Daesh extremists — is located in Tal Afar, some 70 kilometers (40 miles) west of Mosul in northern Iraq.
It is not known how many bodies were dumped in the pit, but search efforts for other victims are ongoing.
“We have removed the remains of 139 persons and also human body parts,” said Dia Karim, director of the mass graves department at the Foundation of Martyrs — a government institution tasked with finding mass graves and identifying remains.
“They include women and men,” Karim said, adding that “according to testimonies, the victims date back to Daesh rule” or before when Al-Qaeda was present in the area.
Testimonies also suggest, according to Karim, that “the victims are Yazidis, Shiite Turkmen and security forces personnel from Mosul,” the de facto capital of Daesh’s self-declared “caliphate.”
At its peak, the group ruled over swathes of Syria and Iraq, while its fighters committed beheadings, torture and enslavement, turning life into a living hell and leaving behind many mass graves.
In northern Iraq, they committed some of their worst atrocities against the Yazidis — an ethnic and religious minority — including mass executions and sexual slavery.
Ahmed Assadi from the Foundation of Martyrs said the victims “were not buried but dumped in the hole,” whose full depth ranges between 42 and 12 meters.
“Some of the victims had been shot and others were found with their throats cut,” and several bodies were found in body bags.
Assadi added that some of the clothing found on them indicated that they might have been Yazidis or Turkmen, adding that other bodies were found in orange jumpsuits of the kind typically worn by Daesh hostages.
The bodies recovered from Alo Antar were taken to forensic departments to be identified using DNA testing.
The mass grave was discovered after Iraqi forces retook control of the area in 2017, but the work to recover the bodies only started in May of this year.
Iraqi authorities frequently announce the discovery of mass graves of Daesh victims, as well as those containing Daesh extremists themselves and others dating to the rule of dictator Saddam Hussein, but the identification process is slow, costly and complicated.
The United Nations estimates the extremists left behind more than 200 mass graves which might contain as many as 12,000 bodies.
A similar but much larger sinkhole known as Al-Khasfa in northern Iraq is also thought to contain the bodies of many Daesh victims.
In northern Syria, a 50-meter-deep gorge has been used as a dumping site for dead bodies during and after Daesh rule, according to a 2020 Human Rights Watch report.


UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

Updated 14 July 2024
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UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

  • The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday

DUBAI: The UAE delivered three tonnes of medical supplies and a range of medicines to support the healthcare sector and hospitals still operating in the Gaza Strip, the UAE state news agency reported on Sunday.

The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday.

The medical aid includes medical supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries, insulin for diabetic patients, and other solutions to bolster the healthcare sector during the crisis.

The UAE on Sunday condemned Israel’s attack on refugee camps in Khan Younis, which claimed the lives of 100 people.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday expressed its strongest condemnation and denunciation of what it termed “continued genocidal massacres against the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli war machine.”


US, UK strike Houthi targets in Yemen’s northern Hajjah

Updated 14 July 2024
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US, UK strike Houthi targets in Yemen’s northern Hajjah

  • Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV said on Sunday that the US and UK “aggression” struck Medi district in Hajjah province

AL-MUKALLA: US and UK forces on Sunday hit a Houthi target in an area of north Yemeni region, while an EU naval operation destroyed a Yemeni militia drone in the Gulf of Aden. 

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV said on Sunday that the US and UK “aggression” struck Medi district in Hajjah province on Sunday, the latest round of strikes by the US and UK against the Houthis in retribution for the militia’s anti-ship operation.

The Houthi TV station did not provide details on the targeted area or any human or property damage.

This comes as the EU military operation in the Red Sea, known as Aspides, said on Sunday that its Greek warship Psara shot down a drone suspected to have been launched by the Houthis in the Gulf of Aden.

The warship was repelling a barrage of Houthi explosive-laden drones aimed at a commercial ship escorted by the EU mission. 

“This operation aims to protect the lives of seafarers, ensure global trade, protect global common goods, uphold freedom of navigation, and contribute to regional peace and security,” the EU naval mission said on X. 

In response to Houthi attacks on ships, which began in November, the US formed a coalition marine task force in the Red Sea, designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization, and launched strikes on Houthi military locations and mobile drone and missile launchers in Hodeidah, Sanaa and other areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthis.

The Houthis claim that their campaign against the ship is solely aimed at targeting Israel-bound ships and those linked to Israel to put pressure on Israel to halt its military operations in the Gaza Strip, as well as targeting US and UK ships after the two countries bombarded Yemeni territory under Houthi control.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s army said its soldiers in the southern city of Taiz repelled a Houthi attack on Saturday, killing and injuring six Houthis, according to SABA, the official news agency. 

In an attempt to take control of more areas in the besieged city of Taiz, the Houthis attacked the army’s mountainous sites in the city’s northeast on Saturday, resulting in fighting that killed two Houthis and injured four more.

The army said the Houthis were compelled to cease their attack and flee after failing to make any military advances. 

Despite a considerable decline in hostilities throughout Yemen since the UN-brokered ceasefire went into effect in April 2022, scores of government troops have been killed or injured in Houthi strikes on positions in Dhale, Taiz, Marib and other disputed districts.

Separately, one Yemeni soldier was killed and another was wounded on Saturday night while battling Al-Qaeda militants in a valley in the southern province of Abyan.

According to media channels funded by the Southern Transitional Council, Al-Qaeda assaulted the council’s soldiers in Abyan’s Omaran Valley with drones and heavy machine guns, killing one soldier and injuring another.

Since late 2022, more than 100 Yemeni soldiers have been killed in Al-Qaeda guerrilla raids as STC forces moved into the militia’s long-held hiding areas in rough and isolated valleys and mountains in Abyan and Shabwa.