Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war

Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war
Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes. (AFP)
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Updated 12 May 2021

Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war

Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war
  • Israeli airstrikes have leveled two apartment towers in the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade
  • Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Rockets streamed out of Gaza and Israel pounded the territory with airstrikes early Wednesday as the most severe outbreak of violence since the 2014 war took on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict, with no endgame in sight.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militant groups have fired barrages of hundreds of rockets that at times have overwhelmed Israel’s missile defenses, causing air raid sirens and explosions to echo across Tel Aviv, Israel’s biggest metropolitan area, and other cities.
Israeli airstrikes have leveled two apartment towers in the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007. Warning shots have allowed civilians to evacuate the buildings, but the material losses will be immense. Israel faced heavy criticism over the tactic during the 2014 war.
Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes, targeting police and security installations, witnesses said. A wall of dark gray smoke rose over Gaza City. The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said airstrikes destroyed the central police headquarters in Gaza City, a compound with several buildings.
The death toll in Gaza rose to 35 Palestinians, including 12 children and three women, according to the Health Ministry. Some 233 people were wounded. Five Israelis, including three women and a child, were killed by rocket fire Tuesday and early Wednesday, and dozens of people were wounded.
The Israeli military said militants have fired more 1,050 rockets since the conflict began, with 200 of them falling short and landing inside Gaza. The military said it also shot down a drone that entered Israel from Gaza. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said two infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.
Samah Haboub, a mother of four in Gaza, said she was thrown across her bedroom in a “moment of horror” by an airstrike on an apartment tower next door. She and her children, aged three to 14, ran down the stairway of their apartment block along with other residents, many of them screaming and crying.
“There is almost no safe place in Gaza,” she said.
The destruction of apartment apartment towers was among several tactics used during the 2014 war that are now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible war crimes. Israel is not a member of the court and has rejected the probe.
In a brief statement, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she had noted “with great concern” the escalation of violence in the region and “the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute” that established the court.
Conricus said Israeli forces have strict rules of engagement and follow international laws on armed conflict. “We are definitely very mindful of civilian casualties in Gaza and we want to minimize them,” he said. “That’s the priority.”

 

 

 


The latest eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed police tactics during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point was the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. The conflicts ended after regional and international powers convinced both sides to accept an informal truce.
While the violence has been widely condemned, there is no sign that either side is willing to back down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive, saying “this will take time.”
The unrest in Jerusalem has spread across Israel itself, with an outbreak of communal violence in mixed Jewish-Arab communities, as Hamas has called for a full-scale Palestinian intifada, or uprising. The last such uprising also began with violence at the Al-Aqsa mosque, in 2000, and lasted more than five years.
The Gaza Health Ministry said the 35 dead include 12 children and 3 women, with another 233 people wounded. Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Kidra said the targeting of residential neighborhoods left people “in a state of panic.”
In the Israeli city of Lod, a 52-year-old man and his 16-year-old daughter were killed early Wednesday when a rocket had landed in the courtyard of their one-story home. Their car parked outside was wrecked and the interior of the house was filled by debris.
Lod also saw heavy clashes after thousands of mourners joined a funeral for an Arab man killed by a suspected Jewish gunman the previous night. The crowd fought with police, and set a synagogue and some 30 vehicles, including a police car, on fire, Israeli media reported. Paramedics said a 56-year-old man was seriously hurt after his car was pelted with stones.
“An intifada erupted in Lod, you have to bring in the army,” the city’s mayor, Yair Revivo, said. Authorities have declared a state of emergency and ordered the redeployment of nine paramilitary border police companies from the occupied West Bank as reinforcements.
In neighboring Ramle, ultra-nationalist Jewish demonstrators were filmed attacking cars belonging to Arabs. In the northern port town of Acre, protesters torched a Jewish-owned restaurant and hotel. Police said they arrested more than 150 people involved in “disturbances and riots” overnight in northern and central Israel.
Confrontations erupted last weekend at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism. Over four days, Israeli police fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs at the forces. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque.
On Monday evening, Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza. From there on, the escalation was rapid.
In a televised address, Hamas’ exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Israel bore responsibility. “It’s the Israeli occupation that set Jerusalem on fire, and the flames reached Gaza,” he said.
Hamas has not commented on Israel’s claims that it has killed a number of senior militants. Islamic Jihad confirmed that three senior commanders were killed in a strike on their hideout in a Gaza City apartment building.
The Israeli military on Wednesday released footage of an airstrike on what it said was the house of Salih Dahman, a “high-ranking operative” in Hamas, where weapons were stored.
Earlier, the military said it struck a building where Hassan Qahwaji and Wael Issa, two senior members of Hamas’ military intelligence wing, were present. Hamas activists tweeted that the two were killed in the strike in Gaza City, along with a woman and her son.
Netanyahu said Israel had attacked hundreds of targets. The fiercest attack was a set of airstrikes that brought down an entire 12-story building. The building housed important Hamas offices, as well as a gym and some start-up businesses. Israel fired a series of warning shots before demolishing the building, allowing people to flee and there were no casualties.
Israeli aircraft heavily damaged another Gaza City building early Wednesday. The nine-story structure housed residential apartments, medical companies and a dental clinic. A drone fired five warning rockets before the bombing. Israel said the building housed Hamas intelligence offices and the group’s command responsible for planning attacks on Israeli targets in the occupied West Bank.
Fighter jets struck the building again after journalists and rescuers had gathered around. There was no immediate word on casualties. The high-rise stood 200 meters (650 feet) away from the Associated Press bureau in Gaza City, and smoke and debris reached the office.
Soon after the bombing, Hamas announced that it would resume its attacks, and fired 100 rockets at the Israeli desert town of Beersheba. Hamas said the renewed barrage was in response to the strike on the building.
Diplomats sought to intervene, with Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations working to deliver a cease-fire. All three serve as mediators between Israel and Hamas.
The UN Security Council planned to hold its second closed emergency meeting in three days Wednesday on the escalating violence, an indication of growing international concern. Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said the UN’s most powerful body did not issue a statement because of US concerns that it could escalate tensions.

 

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Israel-Gaza violence erupts for first time since end of last month’s fighting

Israel-Gaza violence erupts for first time since end of last month’s fighting
Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 16 June 2021

Israel-Gaza violence erupts for first time since end of last month’s fighting

Israel-Gaza violence erupts for first time since end of last month’s fighting
  • A Hamas spokesman, confirming the Israeli attacks, said Palestinians would continue to pursue their “brave resistance and defend their rights and sacred sites” in Jerusalem

GAZA: Israel mounted air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, the first since the end of 11 days of cross-border fighting last month, in response to incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian territory.
The flare-up, a first test for Israel’s new government, followed a march in East Jerusalem on Tuesday by Jewish nationalists that had drawn threats of action by Hamas, the ruling militant group in Gaza.
The Israeli military said its aircraft attacked Hamas armed compounds in Gaza City and the southern town of Khan Younis and was “ready for all scenarios, including renewed fighting in the face of continued terrorist acts emanating from Gaza.”
The strikes, the military said, came in response to the launching of the balloons, which the Israeli fire brigade reported caused 20 blazes in open fields in communities near the Gaza border.
A Hamas spokesman, confirming the Israeli attacks, said Palestinians would continue to pursue their “brave resistance and defend their rights and sacred sites” in Jerusalem.
Hours earlier, thousands of flag-waving Israelis congregated around the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City before heading to Judaism’s holy Western Wall, drawing Palestinian anger and condemnation.
Israel, which occupied East Jerusalem in a 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that has not won international recognition, regards the entire city as its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state that would include the West Bank and Gaza.
Prior to Tuesday’s march, Israel beefed up its deployment of the Iron Dome anti-missile system in anticipation of possible rocket attacks from Gaza.
But as the marchers began to disperse after nightfall in Jerusalem, there was no sign of rocket fire from the enclave.
The procession was originally scheduled for May 10 as part of “Jerusalem Day” festivities that celebrate Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem.
At the last minute, that march was diverted away from the Damascus Gate and the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, but the move was not enough to dissuade Hamas from firing rockets toward Jerusalem, attacks that set off last month’s round of fighting.


Lebanon grapples with lifting subsidies on baby formula

Lebanon grapples with lifting subsidies on baby formula
Activists were enraged after video showing disposal of 20 tons of baby formula circulated on social media. (Supplied)
Updated 16 June 2021

Lebanon grapples with lifting subsidies on baby formula

Lebanon grapples with lifting subsidies on baby formula
  • The infant milk formula shortage is just one part of a food security problem brought on by economic collapse and worsened by Lebanon’s reliance on imports for basic necessities

BEIRUT: Lebanon has been running short of infant baby formula for months as the country has been dealing with a severe economic crisis. A video showing the disposal of 20 tons of the baby milk substitute has been circulating on social media and has only added to the public’s frustrations.
The Discriminatory Public Prosecution has commissioned the information department from the Internal Security Forces (ISF) to investigate as infant baby formula — which is supposed to be subsidized — has been missing from shops and pharmacies for weeks.
“There is a kind of social solidarity and government policy to control prices in the time of crises in the world, however, when there is a shortage of infant formula in the Lebanese market, it is not permitted to see it destroyed in front of our very own eyes,” activist Mahmoud Fakih told Arab News.
“Why did the state not prosecute the traders who monopolized and hid this milk? It seems that people are the last thing on the mind of traders who insist on continuing to make profits in dollars.”
The infant milk formula shortage is just one part of a food security problem brought on by economic collapse and worsened by Lebanon’s reliance on imports for basic necessities. Staggering inflation has impeded imports and slashed purchasing power.
The video surfaced on social media after Hani Bohsali, president of the Syndicate of Importers of Foodstuffs, Consumer Products, and Drinks, said “subsidies have been lifted on infant formula for ages one to three years old.”
The Lebanese government is avoiding lifting subsidies on items, fearing the resentful reactions and leaving the matter into the hands of the Banque Du Liban (BDL), which settles for the cessation of payments to importers on the basis of a lack of funds in dollars.
In defense of the infant baby formula disposal, the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) said: “It was requested to destroy these items in 2019 and 2020 in waste treatment facilities run by the CDR, in preparation for burying the waste in the sanitary landfill. This procedure is adopted for all the goods required to be damaged by their owners or by the competent official authorities.”

HIGHLIGHT

Internal Security Forces (ISF) were to investigate as baby formula has been missing from shops and pharmacies for weeks.

The company responsible for distributing food items in Lebanon said in a statement: “These expired products were withdrawn from the market three months before their expiry date in order to be disposed of and were in compliance with the protocols and expiry dates. Most of these products date back to 2018, 2019, and early 2020, and the process to obtain an agreement to destroy them required more than a year because of the total lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Bohsali pointed his finger at the BDL.
“The files of the infant formula for ages one to three years old, which is included in the subsidized items, have been withdrawn from BDL,” he said.
“The goods will be delivered to the markets at an unsubsidized rate. As for the price of milk for ages below one year old, it is subsidized, similarly to medicine, and traders cannot set its price.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun weighed in and called on the relevant agencies and departments to “strictly pursue monopolists and exploiters of the current circumstances who increase the prices and make illegal profits.”
According to his media office, Aoun added that “procedures were taken to address the fuel, medicine, medical supplies, and infant formula’s crisis.”
A joint report issued by the International Labour Organization and UNICEF in May warned that “canceling the only remaining form of social support funded by the Lebanese state will lead to a significant deterioration in the living standards of the poor and the middle class, if no comprehensive, sufficient and permanent social protection guarantees are implemented.”
In a previous statement, UNICEF warned: “the poorest families might face levels of deprivation we have not witnessed for many years.”
It is a critical time for the most vulnerable Lebanese citizens, said UNICEF Lebanon Representative Yukie Mokuo.
“If gaps are not quickly filled through strong long-term social assistance programs and at a time when most Lebanese face very difficult circumstances, those who are suffering from specific vulnerabilities will be simply left without support,” she said.
According to the video on social media, the infant baby formula disposal took place Tuesday morning. It provided even more ammunition for civil-society organizations, which held a protest march through the heart of Beirut on Tuesday afternoon.
The General Labor Union is scheduled to go on strike on Thursday to demand the formation of a new government. More labor unions continue to announce plans of joining the strike, including a syndicate of bank employees.
While waiting for a new government to rescue the country, there has been a renewed scene of cars queuing up near gas stations. Aggressive confrontations have occurred between drivers waiting in lines and desperate for gas.
Georges Fayyad, who heads the Association of Petroleum Importing Companies in Lebanon, expects the price of gasoline to increase if subsidies are completely lifted.
“Fuel-importing companies distributed millions of gasoline in the market on Monday and Tuesday, however, this is a temporary solution that will only last for 15 days,” Fayyad said.
“The decision to lift subsidies is not controlled by BDL, which clearly stated that it does not have any money. The decision should be made by the government.”


Raisi accused of using position at judiciary for mass executions

Raisi accused of using position at judiciary for mass executions
A supporter of Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi holds a picture of him with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at an election rally in Tehran. (AFP)
Updated 16 June 2021

Raisi accused of using position at judiciary for mass executions

Raisi accused of using position at judiciary for mass executions
  • Raisi’s only place is in the dock, not the presidency
  • Track record of Iran’s vote frontrunner — who has victory in sights on Friday — dismays activists

PARIS: Ebrahim Raisi, the favorite in Iran’s presidential election, has used his position at the heart of the judiciary for grave rights violations, including mass executions of political prisoners, activists say.

They say Raisi — who now has victory in his sights on Friday after even conservative rivals were disqualified in vetting — should face international justice rather than lead his country.
At 60, the mid-ranking cleric is still relatively young for a figure who has held a succession of key positions, starting almost immediately after the fall of the shah in the revolution of 1979.
At just 20, he was appointed prosecutor for the district of Karaj and then for Hamadan province, before in 1985 being promoted to deputy Tehran prosecutor.
It was in this role, campaigners allege, that Raisi played a key part in the executions of thousands of opposition prisoners — mostly suspected members of the proscribed People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK) — when, activists say, he was part of a four-man “Death Committee” that sent convicts to their death without a shred of due process.
Raisi, seen as a possible successor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has denied personal involvement in the 1988 killings, but also praised the decision to go ahead with the executions.
He subsequently became chief Tehran prosecutor in 1989, and then in 2004, deputy judiciary chief, a position he held for 10 years. Since 2019, he has served as head of the judiciary.
“Raisi’s only place is in the dock, not the presidency,” said Shadi Sadr, executive director of London-based Justice for Iran, which campaigns against impunity for crimes in Iran. “The mere fact he is currently the head of judiciary and running for president demonstrates the level of impunity that the perpetrators of the heinous crimes enjoy in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” she said.
The 1988 killings, which took place from July to September that year allegedly on the direct orders of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, remain a near taboo in modern Iran. Most rights groups and historians say between 4,000 and 5,000 were killed, but the political wing of the MEK, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), puts the figure at closer to 30,000.
Hossein Abedini, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the NCRI, described Raisi as a “stone hearted killer” with a “40-year track record of repression.”
Last year, seven special UN rapporteurs told the Iranian government that “the situation may amount to crimes against humanity” and urged an international probe if Tehran did not show full accountability.
Amnesty International came to a similar conclusion in a 2018 report, which identified Raisi as a member of the Tehran “death commission” that secretly sent thousands to their deaths in Evin Prison in Tehran and Gohardasht Prison in Karaj.
Former prisoners, now living in exile who said they had survived the massacres, testified they had personally seen Raisi working as a member of the commission.
The vast majority of the bodies were buried in unmarked mass graves and Iran continues to conceal the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their remains, it charged.


Sudan says progress made in peace talks with rebel leader

Sudan says progress made in peace talks with rebel leader
Abdelaziz Al-Hilu, leader of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, speaks in Kadugli, Sudan, on May 2. (GettyImages)
Updated 16 June 2021

Sudan says progress made in peace talks with rebel leader

Sudan says progress made in peace talks with rebel leader
  • Sudan’s transitional government has been engaging in peace talks with rebel groups over the past two years

JUBA, CAIRO: Sudanese authorities adjourned talks on Tuesday with the most powerful rebel leader from the country’s south, saying they had agreed on more than three quarters of a framework peace deal.
A deal with Abdelaziz Al-Hilu’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) would be a big step in efforts to resolve decades of internal conflict in Sudan following the overthrow of former leader Omar Bashir in 2019.
Some rebels from the south and from the troubled western region of Darfur signed what was meant to be a comprehensive peace agreement last year.
But Al-Hilu, who has control over significant forces and territory from his stronghold in South Kordofan, held out, as did the leader of the most active Darfur group, Abdel Wahed El-Nur.
Earlier this year, the SPLM-N and Sudan signed a declaration of principles to guarantee freedom of worship and separate religion from the state — a key demand for Al-Hilu.
That paved the way for peace talks that have been held over recent weeks in the capital of neighboring South Sudan, Juba.
Sudan’s ruling council, formed under a military-civilian power-sharing deal after Bashir’s ouster, cited the lead negotiator at the talks as saying all but four out of 19 points had been resolved.
A senior SPLM-N official said more than three quarters of a framework deal had been agreed on.
SPLM-N spokesperson Mohammad Kuku refused to give details on the points of disagreement, saying consultations would continue ahead of the next round of talks.
Tut Galuak, a security adviser to South Sudan’s president who led mediation efforts said Sudan and the SPLM-N agreed to end negotiations and conduct further consultations over their disputed points.
He said the two sides have reached “significant understandings of the disputed issues,” and that “only four out of 19 points” remain unsolved. He did not elaborate.
Galuak’s comments came in a statement released by Sudan’s ruling sovereign council.
Also in the statement, Gen. Shams Eddin Kabashi, a member of the sovereign council and the government’s chief negotiator, said the sides would return to the negotiating table “once conditions are more favorable.”
The rebel group’s chief negotiator, Ammar Amount, said they have agreed on between 75 percent to 80 percent of the deal and the remaining issues need further consultations with their leaders.
Neither side gave a time frame for a return to the talks.
SPLM-N operates in an area inhabited mainly by minority Christians and followers of indigenous beliefs, who had long complained of discrimination at the hands of Khartoum and Bashir’s regime.
Sudan’s transitional government has been engaging in peace talks with rebel groups over the past two years. It’s looking to stabilize the country and help its fragile path to democracy survive following the military’s overthrow of Bashir in April 2019. It reached a peace deal with another rebel alliance in October.


Biden names Israel ambassador days after new government

Biden names Israel ambassador days after new government
Updated 15 June 2021

Biden names Israel ambassador days after new government

Biden names Israel ambassador days after new government

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated veteran Democratic Party official Thomas Nides to be US ambassador to Israel, filling the post two days after the formation of a new government eager to renew ties.
Nides, a former top banker at Morgan Stanley who has spent his adult life in Democratic politics, served in the US State Department when Barack Obama was president and defended funding for the Palestinians.
He would mark a sharp departure from the last US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a forceful advocate for hawkish Israeli policies who was tapped by former president Donald Trump after serving his company as a bankruptcy lawyer.
Nides grew up in a Jewish home in Duluth, Minnesota, where his father was temple president. He is not known as an ideological figure on the Middle East or other issues.
While serving as deputy secretary of state for management and resources, Nides fought attempts by Republicans in Congress to stop US funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees -- a step taken by Trump but reversed by Biden.
Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington, wrote in a 2011 book that Nides once called him to argue passionately - and profanely - against attempts in Congress to defund the UN cultural agency UNESCO after it admitted Palestine as a member state.
Nides, Oren wrote, said with colorful language that Israel would not want to defund UNESCO as it has played a role in education about the Holocaust.
Nides, whose nomination had been rumored for weeks, needs to be confirmed by the Senate, where the Democrats are narrowly in control.
His nomination was announced two days after the fall from power from Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest serving prime minister who had toxic relations with Democrats after he rallied against Obama's Iran policy, rejected moves for a Palestinian state and aligned himself with Republicans.
Biden has quickly congratulated Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is a staunch defender of Jewish settlement in the West Bank but governs in coalition with centrists and leftists.