Lull in Gaza fighting as Biden urges truce in Eid message

This handout picture released by the Israeli army shows an Israeli tank on the ground in the Gaza Strip on June 17, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2024
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Lull in Gaza fighting as Biden urges truce in Eid message

  • In a holiday message late Sunday, US President Joe Biden called for the implementation of a ceasefire plan he outlined last month

GAZA: Israel struck Gaza on Monday and witnesses reported blasts in the besieged territory’s south, but fighting has largely subsided after a day of relative calm and as Muslims marked Eid Al-Adha.
In a holiday message late Sunday, US President Joe Biden called for the implementation of a ceasefire plan he outlined last month, saying it was “the best way to end the violence in Gaza” and to help civilians suffering “the horrors of the war between Hamas and Israel.”
A daytime “pause” for aid deliveries announced at the weekend by Israel’s military around a southern Gaza route appeared to be holding, while elsewhere in the Palestinian territory an AFP correspondent said strikes and shelling have decreased.
In Gaza City, medics at Al-Ahli hospital said at least five people were killed in two separate air strikes, and witnesses reported tank shelling in the southern neighborhood of Zeitun.
At least one strike hit Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, residents said.
Palestinian officials in the far-southern city of Rafah reported tank shelling early on Monday, before the start of the daily “local, tactical pause of military activity” announced by the army.
It said the pause “for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8:00 am (0500 GMT) until 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah Al-Din road and then northwards.”
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP “there was no change” in the military’s policy and stressed fighting “continues as planned.”
An army spokeperson told AFP the pause was in effect on Monday, and the military in a statement said troops were still operating in Rafah and central Gaza, reporting “close-quarters combat” that killed several militants.
Witnesses told AFP they could hear blasts in Rafah’s city center and west on Monday morning.

A map released by the army showed the declared humanitarian route extending up to Rafah’s European Hospital, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Kerem Shalom.
Mahmud Basal, spokesman for the civil defense agency in the Hamas-ruled territory, said that apart from the deadly Gaza City strikes overnight, “the other areas of the Gaza Strip are somewhat calm.”
He reported military movements and gunfire in parts of Rafah as well as Bureij camp in central Gaza.
On Sunday, the first day of Eid Al-Adha, or the feast of the sacrifice, the spokesman said “calm has prevailed across all of Gaza.”
The United Nations has welcomed the Israeli announcement of the pause, although “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.
He called for “further concrete measures by Israel to address longstanding issues” on humanitarian needs.
Gazans “urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter, and health care, with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks,” Laerke said.
Dire shortages of food and other essentials in the Gaza Strip have been exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized its Palestinian side in early May.
The military said the pause was in effect as part of efforts to “increase the volumes of humanitarian aid” following discussions with the United Nations and other organizations.
It was announced a day after eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast near Rafah and three more troops died elsewhere, in one of the heaviest losses for the army in more than eight months of war against Hamas militants.

The war was triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel that 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 offensive aimed at wiping out Hamas has killed at least 37,337 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators have been pushing for a new Gaza truce, so far without success.
Washington has been pressing Israel and Hamas to formally accept Biden’s truce plan, which would allow an initial six-week pause to fighting.
“I strongly believe that the three-phase ceasefire proposal Israel has made to Hamas and that the UN Security Council has endorsed is the best way to end the violence in Gaza and ultimately end the war,” the US president said.
The only previous truce lasted one week in November and saw many hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, while increased aid flowed into Gaza.
Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire — demands Israel has repeatedly rejected.


Iraq resumes rice cultivation after two-year ban with new climate friendly strain

Updated 59 min 16 sec ago
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Iraq resumes rice cultivation after two-year ban with new climate friendly strain

  • Iraq is one of the world’s top 10 importers of rice and wheat, to supply a huge food rationing program held over from the era of former ruler Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD: Iraq has resumed rice cultivation after a two-year ban prompted by water scarcity, and is testing out a strain of the grain that consumes less water than traditionally planted versions.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture Mahdi Sahar Al-Jubouri told Reuters the country has earmarked 150 sq km (58 sq miles) for rice growing this season and forecast a yield of 150,000 tons, as officials said water is more abundant due to heavy winter rainfall and the promise of more water flows from Turkiye.
This follows a two-year production ban which saw just 5 to 10 sq km of rice planted annually for the purpose of seed extraction, amid a water crisis that experts say was tied to upstream dams built by Turkiye and Iran, less rainfall and other climate change-driven factors.
Iraq is one of the world’s top 10 importers of rice and wheat, to supply a huge food rationing program held over from the era of former ruler Saddam Hussein.
Decades ago, the country grew most of its own rice and exported wheat and barley and at one time was the world’s top exporter of dates, until problems with soil salinity, poor irrigation systems, drought and decades of conflict all hit its agricultural sector and made it a major buyer on world markets.
Iraq will still need to import around 1.25 million tons of rice this year to meet domestic demand, the same as last year, grain board officials said.

HYBRID VARIETY
Rice farming in Iraq typically begins in June and concludes with a harvest in November.
Several varieties of rice are grown, with the Amber rice, known for its unique aroma and flavour, the most popular.
Iraqi agricultural scientists have developed a new strain of rice, named Ghiri, which is a hybrid of the Amber and Jasmine varieties and can be planted using fixed sprayers without the need for flooding. It has been planted on a small scale this season under trial after being tested at the Al-Mishkhab Research Station last year.
Plans are in place to broaden its cultivation in future seasons, Jubouri said in an interview with Reuters.
The government aims for the sector to transition from the traditional irrigation method, which involves flooding the crop with water, to using fixed irrigation systems and mechanical seeders.
Farmers adopting modern agricultural methods like sprinkler systems will be offered incentives akin to the support provided for wheat production such as higher prices for their produce, Jubouri said.
For the current 2024 season, rice farming has been permitted in five provinces: Najaf, Diwaniyah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar and Babel. Najaf province has been allocated the largest share.
Muhsin Abdul Ameer, head of the farmers’ association in Najaf province, said that approximately 80 sq km of agricultural land in the province has been planted, representing about 37 percent of the total agricultural land allocated across the country. The planted varieties include Amber, Jasmine and Euphrates rice.
Abdul Ameer said the planting season in Najaf province, which began in the middle of June, has now been completed.
The water, agriculture and marshes committee in the Iraqi parliament said rainfall last winter and pledges from Turkiye to increase Iraq’s access to water released from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that originate in Turkiye had enabled the resumption of rice growing.
Lawmaker Hussain Mardan, deputy chairman of the committee, told Reuters that agricultural land will be expanded in the coming years by adopting drip irrigation methods for rice, which are currently under study, potentially reaching 1,000 sq km.


Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in Israel, Israeli police say

Updated 22 July 2024
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Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in Israel, Israeli police say

JERUSALEM: Israeli police said on Monday that a Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in a southern Israeli town and was "neutralised".
The police referred to the incident as a terrorist attack.


Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen

Updated 22 July 2024
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Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen

  • Hodeidah port is a vital entry point for fuel imports and international aid for Houthi-held areas of Yemen, a country where the United Nations says more than half the population relies on humanitarian assistance

HODEIDAH: Firefighting teams on Monday were struggling to contain a massive blaze at Yemen’s Hodeida port, days after a deadly Israeli strike hit oil tanks and a power plant in the harbor.
Heavy flames and black smoke were seen spiralling into the sky for a third consecutive day following the strike on Saturday, said an AFP correspondent in Hodeidah.
Firefighting teams appear to have made little progress, with the blaze seemingly expanding in some parts of the port, the correspondent said, amid fears it could reach food storage facilities.
High-resolution satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies showed flames consuming a heavily damaged fuel storage area at the Hodeidah harbor.
The fuel depot is run by the Yemen Petroleum Company which said late Sunday that the six people killed in the Israel strike were its employees.
The Houthis say more than 80 others were wounded in the attack, many of them with severe burns.
With black smoke billowing overhead, a funeral ceremony was held Monday for the victims of the strikes.
Their coffins were carried through the streets of Hodeidah, flanked by crowds and led by a Houthi marching band.
The strike on Saturday was the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country and came in response to a Houthi drone strike that breached Israel’s air defenses, killing one person in Tel Aviv the day before.
The Houthis, who are fighting Israel, have pledged a “huge” response to the strikes and threatened to once again attack Tel Aviv.
Yemeni port authorities said Hodeidah “is operating at its full capacity,” according to the rebels’ Saba news agency.
“We are working around the clock to receive all ships and there is no concern about the supply chain and supplies of food, medicine, and oil derivatives,” port official Nasr Al-Nusairi was quoted by Saba as saying on Sunday.
But the US-based Navanti Group said the strikes on Hodeidah destroyed five cranes and reduced the port’s fuel storage capacity from 150,000 to 50,000 tons.
Hodeidah port is a vital entry point for fuel imports and international aid for Houthi-held areas of Yemen, a country where the United Nations says more than half the population relies on humanitarian assistance.
“Hodeidah port is a vital lifeline for delivering humanitarian aid to Yemen,” the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in an emailed statement to AFP.
“Any impact on this infrastructure jeopardizes the entry of essential goods and hampers aid efforts.”


UAE jails 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, over riots

Updated 22 July 2024
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UAE jails 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, over riots

  • Life imprisonment handed to three people who called for the demonstrations to pressure their home government
  • The remaining 53 defendants received 10-year prison terms

ABU DHABI: The UAE has imprisoned 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, for inciting riots on Friday in several streets across the country, state news agency WAM reported.

The Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal handed the life imprisonment terms to three people who called for the demonstrations to pressure their home government.

The remaining 53 defendants received 10-year prison terms, with one, who entered the country illegally and took part in the riot, being sentenced to 11 years.

The Bangladeshi nationals will be deported after serving their sentences, WAM reported.

On Friday, UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif Al-Shamsi ordered an investigation into the arrest of several Bangladeshi nationals who were apprehended for inciting riots against their home country, which has been struggling to quell violent student-led protests over a controversial job quota scheme.

The investigation, led by a team of 30, confirmed the defendants’ involvement in assembling in public spaces, “inciting unrest, disrupting public security, and promoting such gatherings and protests,” WAM said.

They recorded and published audiovisual footage of their actions online. A court witness during the trial said that demonstrators did not respond to a police warning to disperse, according to WAM.

The witness confirmed that the defendants gathered and organised large-scale marches in several streets across the UAE in protest against decisions made by the Bangladeshi government.

Several of the defendants confessed to the crimes with which they were accused.


Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16

Updated 22 July 2024
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Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16

  • The military said it is planning to begin an operation against Hamas militants who have embedded themselves in the area
  • The area includes the eastern part of the Muwasi humanitarian zone, which is located in the southern Gaza Strip.

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip: Israeli tank shelling and airstrikes killed at least 16 Palestinians near Khan Younis, Gaza medics said on Monday, after Israel issued new orders to evacuate some neighborhoods following what it said were renewed attacks from those areas.
To facilitate evacuations, the military said, it was adjusting the boundaries of a humanitarian zone in Al-Mawasi to keep the civilian population away from areas of combat with Hamas-led Palestinian militants.
Palestinian health officials said at least 16 Palestinians were killed by Israeli tank salvoes in the town of Bani Suhaila just east of the southern city of Khan Younis, with the area also bombarded by air.
The Gaza health ministry said the dead included six children and four women. It added that dozens of others were wounded by Israeli fire. Hamas media put the number of the dead at 26.
The military statement said the new orders were due to renewed Palestinian militant attacks, including rockets launched from the targeted areas in eastern Khan Younis. The evacuation orders did not include health institutions, Palestinians said.
The Palestinians, the United Nations and international relief agencies have said there is no safe place left in Gaza. Earlier in July, dozens of Palestinians were killed in separate Israeli attacks in the humanitarian-designated Al-Mawasi area.
Israel said the attacks were aimed at armed militants, including some top Hamas military commanders. Palestinian officials called those allegations false and said they were used to justify the attacks.
Later on Monday, health officials at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis urged residents to donate blood because of the large number of casualties being rushed into the medical center.
Reuters footage showed casualties, including some women and children, arriving at Nasser Hospital in ambulances and others in private cars.
“A family, including children, were all torn to pieces while they were sleeping,” said a man who arrived in an ambulance bearing the bodies.
The Palestinian Civil Emergency Service said it had reports of dozens of people killed by Israeli aerial and tank fire on the eastern outskirts of Khan Younis but teams could not reach them because of the intensity of the bombardment.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military carried out air strikes on two houses in the Al-Bureij and Deir Al-Balah areas of the central Gaza Strip, wounding several people, medics said.
Another air strike in Gaza City in the north of the densely populated enclave killed two other Palestinians, they added.
Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas after militants killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages in a cross-border assault on Oct. 7 last year, according to Israeli tallies. At least 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory offensive since then, Gaza health authorities say.
A ceasefire effort led by Qatar and Egypt and backed by the United States has so far fallen short because of disagreements over terms between the combatants, who blame each other for the impasse.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday ordered a delegation charged with negotiating a hostage deal to be dispatched on Thursday, his office said, without giving the delegation’s destination.
Netanyahu held a meeting on Sunday with the delegation and senior members of Israel’s defense establishment, it said.