Israel destroys media building in Gaza as conflict rages on, death toll rises

Smoke billows as a bomb is dropped on the Jala Tower during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 15, 2021. (AFP)
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Smoke billows as a bomb is dropped on the Jala Tower during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 15, 2021. (AFP)
Israel destroys media building in Gaza as conflict rages on, death toll rises
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Smoke billows above buildings after an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City in the Gaza Strip early on May 15, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 15 May 2021

Israel destroys media building in Gaza as conflict rages on, death toll rises

Smoke billows as a bomb is dropped on the Jala Tower during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 15, 2021. (AFP)
  • The strike came nearly an hour after the military ordered people to evacuate the building
  • In east Jerusalem, video showed young Jewish nationalists firing pistols at Palestinians

GAZA: An Israeli airstrike destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets on Saturday, the latest step by the military to silence reporting from the territory amid its battle with the militant group Hamas.
The strike came nearly an hour after the military ordered people to evacuate the building, which also housed Al-Jazeera, other offices and residential apartments. The strike brought the entire 12-story building down, collapsing with a gigantic cloud of dust. There was no immediate explanation for why it was attacked.
The strike came hours after another Israeli air raid on a densely populated refugee camp in Gaza City killed at least 10 Palestinians from an extended family, mostly children, in the deadliest single strike of the current conflict. Both sides pressed for an advantage as cease-fire efforts gathered strength.
The latest outburst of violence began in Jerusalem and has spread across the region, with Jewish-Arab clashes and rioting in mixed cities of Israel. There were also widespread Palestinian protests Friday in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot and killed 11 people.


The spiraling violence has raised fears of a new Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising at a time when there have been no peace talks in years. Palestinians on Saturday were marking Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, when they commemorate the estimated 700,000 people who were expelled from or fled their homes in what was now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation. That raised the possibility of even more unrest.
US diplomat Hady Amr arrived Friday as part of Washington’s efforts to de-escalate the conflict, and the U.N. Security Council was set to meet Sunday. But Israel turned down an Egyptian proposal for a one-year truce that Hamas rulers had accepted, an Egyptian official said Friday on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.
Since Monday night, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has pounded the Gaza Strip with strikes. In Gaza, at least 139 people have been killed, including 39 children and 22 women; in Israel, eight people have been killed, including the death Saturday of a man killed by a rocket that hit in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv.
The strike on the building housing media offices came in the afternoon, after the building's owner received a call from the Israeli military warning that it would be hit. AP's staff and others in the building evacuated immediately.
Al-Jazeera, the news network funded by Qatar’s government, broadcast the airstrikes live as the building collapsed.
“This channel will not be silence. Al-Jazeera will not be silenced,” an on-air anchorwoman said, her voice thick with emotion. “We can guarantee you that right now.”
Earlier Saturday, an airstrike hit a three-story house in Gaza City’s Shati refugee camp, killing eight children and two women from an extended family.
Mohammed Hadidi told reporters his wife and five children had gone to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday with relatives. She and three of the children, aged 6 to 14, were killed, while an 11-year-old is missing. Only his 5-month-old son Omar is known to have survived.


Children’s toys and a Monopoly board game could be seen among the rubble, as well as plates of uneaten food from the holiday gathering.
“There was no warning,” said Jamal Al-Naji, a neighbor living in the same building. “You filmed people eating and then you bombed them?” he said, addressing Israel. “Why are you confronting us? Go and confront the strong people!”
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hamas said it fired a salvo of rockets at southern Israel in response to the airstrike.
A furious Israeli barrage early Friday killed a family of six in their house and sent thousands fleeing to UN-run shelters. The military said the operation involved 160 warplanes dropping some 80 tons of explosives over the course of 40 minutes and succeeded in destroying a vast tunnel network used by Hamas.


Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the military aims to minimize collateral damage in striking military targets. But measures it takes in other strikes, such as warning shots to get civilians to leave, were not “feasible this time.”
Israeli media said the military believed dozens of militants were killed inside the tunnels. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, but the military said the real number is far higher.
Gaza’s infrastructure, already in widespread disrepair because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas seized power in 2007, showed signs of breaking down further, compounding residents’ misery. The territory’s sole power plant is at risk of running out of fuel in the coming days.
The UN said Gazans are already enduring daily power cuts of 8-12 hours and at least 230,000 have limited access to tap water. The impoverished and densely populated territory is home to 2 million Palestinians, most of them the descendants of refugees from what is now Israel.
The conflict has reverberated widely. Israeli cities with mixed Arab and Jewish populations have seen nightly violence, with mobs from each community fighting in the streets and trashing each other’s property.
Late on Friday, someone threw a firebomb at an Arab family’s home in the Ajami neighborhood of Tel Aviv, striking two children. A 12-year-old boy was in moderate condition with burns on his upper body and a 10-year-old girl was treated for a head injury, according to the Magen David Adom rescue service.
In the occupied West Bank, on the outskirts of Ramallah, Nablus and other towns and cities, hundreds of Palestinians protested the Gaza campaign and Israeli actions in Jerusalem. Waving Palestinian flags, they trucked in tires that they set up in burning barricades and hurled stones at Israeli soldiers. At least 10 protesters were shot and killed by soldiers. An 11th Palestinian was killed when he tried to stab a soldier at a military position.


In east Jerusalem, online video showed young Jewish nationalists firing pistols as they traded volleys of stones with Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, which became a flashpoint for tensions over attempts by settlers to forcibly evict a number of Palestinian families from their homes.
On Israel’s northern border, troops opened fire when a group of Lebanese and Palestinian protesters on the other side cut through the border fence and briefly crossed. One Lebanese was killed. Three rockets were fired toward Israel from neighboring Syria without causing any casualties or damage. It was not immediately known who fired them.
The tensions began in east Jerusalem earlier this month, with Palestinian protests against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions and Israeli police measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a mount in the Old City revered by Muslims and Jews.
Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late Monday, in an apparent attempt to present itself as the champion of the protesters.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that Hamas will “pay a very heavy price” for its rocket attacks as Israel has massed troops at the frontier. U.S. President Joe Biden has expressed support for Israel while saying he hopes to bring the violence under control.
Hamas has fired some 2,000 rockets toward Israel since Monday, according to the Israeli military. Most have been intercepted by anti-missile defenses, but they have brought life to a standstill in southern Israeli cities, caused disruptions at airports and have set off air raid sirens in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.


Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low turnout amid opposition boycott

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low  turnout amid opposition boycott
Updated 13 June 2021

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low turnout amid opposition boycott

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low  turnout amid opposition boycott
  • A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — vied for the 407-seat legislature, once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on parliament

 

ALGIERS: Voter turnout was low midway through the day as Algerians voted on Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a “new Algeria.”

Tension surrounded the voting in the gas-rich North African nation. Activists and opposition parties boycotted the election.

Authorities have tightened the screws on the Hirak protest movement in recent weeks, with police stopping weekly marches and arresting dozens, the latest a Hirak figure and two journalists. The three prominent opposition figures, including journalist Khaled Drareni, a press freedom advocate, were freed early Saturday, three days after their arrests.

The early election is supposed to exemplify President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “new Algeria,” with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the political elite.

A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — are running for the 407-seat legislature, once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on parliament. Islamist parties all offered candidates.

FASTFACT

The three prominent opposition figures, including journalist Khaled Drareni, were freed early on Saturday, three days after their arrests.

It’s the first legislative election since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 after 20 years in power. Tebboune was elected eight months later, vowing to remake Africa’s largest country but with no sign of abandoning the preeminent though shadowy role of the army in governance.

“We are looking for change,” voter Mohammed Touait said at a polling station. “I am 84 years old, and today I woke up at 8 a.m. because I still have hope for change.”

The Constitutional Council announced on Saturday that it would be 15 days before results of the balloting are known because of the number of candidates and the need to ensure against fraud, which marked past elections.

The participation rate among Algeria’s 24 million voters was 10 percent midway through the day, the electoral authority announced.

The president, at the start of the day, brushed off as irrelevant the number of people who vote.

“What is important is that those the people vote for have sufficient legitimacy,” Tebboune said after casting his ballot in Algiers.


Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri
During the session, chaired by the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Saad Hariri discussed the obstacles to forming the government. (Supplied)
Updated 13 June 2021

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri
  • Supreme council meeting warns of ‘suffocating crisis’ facing the country

BEIRUT: The Supreme Islamic Sharia Council, which represents the Sunni community and its leaders in Lebanon, has renewed its support for Saad Hariri, the prime minister-designate, amid an escalating dispute over the failure to form a government in the country.

After a lengthy meeting on Saturday, in which Hariri participated, the council warned that “any quest for new definitions regarding the constitution or the Taif Agreement is not acceptable under any of the arguments.”
It was earlier reported that Hariri might announce during the meeting that he was stepping down from the task of establishing a new government entrusted to him by parliament last October.
The French initiative and the mediation of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri so far have failed to help form a government because of an escalating dispute between Hariri and President Michel Aoun, together with his political team represented by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement.
The meeting, which was held in Dar Al-Fatwa and attended by former prime ministers, said that the blame for delaying the formation of the government lies with those “who are trying to invent ways and methods that nullify the content of the National Accord Document, which enjoys the consensus of Lebanese leaders who are keen on Lebanon’s independence, unity, sovereignty and pan-Arabism.”
During the session, chaired by the grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Hariri discussed the obstacles to forming the government and steps he has taken to overcome them.
Those present at the meeting expressed their fear that “the suffocating crisis facing Lebanon will deteriorate into an endless abyss amid the indifference and random confusion that characterizes the behavior and actions of leaders who control citizens.”

BACKGROUND

The French initiative and the mediation of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri so far have failed to help form a government because of an escalating dispute between Hariri and President Michel Aoun.

The dispute over the formation of the government is a “futile debate,” they added.
Hariri later described the discussion as constructive.
“The country is witnessing a political and economic deterioration every day,” he said. ” What matters to us is the country at the end of the day.”
One of the participants in the meeting, who declined to be named, told Arab News that “Hariri presented the options before him, including resignation, but the attendees rejected the matter and pressured him to adhere to his constitutional powers and wait to see what Berri’s mediation might result in.”
The source said that “the importance of the statement issued by the meeting should not be underestimated because it is a statement issued by Dar Al-Fatwa and condemns the president and his son-in-law.”
Fouad Siniora, a former prime minister, said that the problem of forming the government is internal, and Aoun must respect the constitution. “Aoun violates the constitution every day and does not act as the one who unites the Lebanese,” he said.
Siniora said that “Hezbollah is hiding behind the president and MP Gibran Bassil. It wants the government-formation paper to remain in its hands to use as a negotiating card. Hezbollah is a major problem and a source of pain.”
Mustafa Alloush, vice president of the Future Movement, said that “there is pressure from the Sunni community on Hariri not to quit his assignment and not to hand over the government formation to people working as proxies.”
He added: “Dar Al-Fatwa’s statement gave a clear sign of support to Hariri, and dialogue is continuing between Hariri and former prime ministers.”


Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  
Zakira Hekmat aims to promote education, language learning, cultural programs, capacity building, and awareness campaigns among refugees. (Supplied)
Updated 13 June 2021

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  
  • Zakira Hekmat recognized by IGAM Research Center on Asylum and Migration after working with UNHCR

ANKARA: The Ankara-based IGAM Research Center on Asylum and Migration has recognized an Afghan doctor for her work helping refugees.
Zakira Hekmat, 33, was awarded $2,000 by the center, led by Metin Corabatir, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’s (UNHCR) former spokesperson in Turkey.
Hekmat, herself born an internally displaced person in Jaghuri district in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, said she considered herself lucky, which had driven her to help other Afghan refugees.
“I think that by giving back to my own community, I can best heal the pain of displacement, ruination of my homeland, and the suffering of my people,” she told Arab News. “I was lucky enough to have a house to live in and a university to attend when I first came to Turkey, but not everyone was lucky like me. So, I wanted to help them with all my capabilities because I know they face many challenges.”
Hekmat’s Afghan Refugees Solidarity Association (ARSA), which she started in 2014, worked tirelessly throughout the coronavirus disease pandemic to help people in need, including with those who lost homes and jobs or were left vulnerable, and she was recognized in 2020 by Washington-based charitable organization HasNa as one of its Peacebuilders of the Year for her work.
She graduated high school living under the Taliban while doubling up as a teacher due to a shortage of female staff in her area. Hekmat then briefly attended Kabul University as an undergraduate before leaving for the medical faculty of Erciyes University in Kayseri, Turkey, and then working at an immigrant health center in the city, predominately serving refugees, many coming from neighboring Syria fleeing the country’s civil war..
Hekmat said her formative years in Afghanistan shaped her identity. Teaching poor children in Ghazni, she said, shaped her lifelong commitment to social justice by reconnecting marginalized people with the rest of the society.

FASTFACT

Zakira Hekmat said her formative years in Afghanistan shaped her identity. Teaching poor children in Ghazni, she said, shaped her lifelong commitment to social justice by reconnecting marginalized people with the rest of the society. 

Now her focus is on refugees, especially widowed women, refugee girls and children, by promoting education, language-learning, cultural programs, capacity building, child-focused activities, translation services for refugees and conducting awareness programs.
ARSA, she added, had worked on dozens of voluntary projects with the financial support of the UNHCR and the Turkish government, including setting up a network of 370 refugees volunteers in 58 cities across Turkey to help newly-arrived refugees to settle into their cities, and producing and distributing items to protect them from the pandemic.
“By teaming up with our local volunteers, we produced protective masks and soap (to help prevent) contagion, and we distributed them free to NGOs in need across the country as well as to the refugees themselves,” Hekmat said. Her network produced about 1,000 face masks per day, she added.
In addition, with the UNHCR, ARSA helped around 600 needy Turks and Afghans by providing them with essential supplies for the winter, and delivered hygiene kits to over 6,000 families.
“I don’t care much about the country of birth, but I attach high importance to the country where I can breathe and live freely,” Hekmat said. “We can only overcome stereotypes and prejudices against refugees if we listen each other and come together around a cup of Turkish tea.”
Her current work also focuses on child protection, stopping underage marriages and domestic violence, and promoting social cohesion and awareness campaigns about asylum-seekers. She has also launched a project for women refugees to design accessories and other handicrafts.
“They produced about 600 items (so far) and we provided the raw material for them. It became a source of livelihood for them and served as a pathway to self-accomplishment,” she said.
Corabatir said Hekmat had acted as a bridge for more than a decade between each Afghan refugee and UN agencies in Turkey, and had tried to solve their problems with an extensive network she established herself over years in the medical sector and through her charity activities.
“We intend to raise awareness about these charity works and introduce these people to the attention of the authorities. She also showed to her peers that they have rights to enjoy as refugees. It is essential that these people inspire other refugees for raising awareness and leading social change in their communities,” Corabatir said.
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and about 330,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers of other nationalities, including Afghans and Pakistanis, according to the latest data of the UNHCR.


Egypt and Sudan will confront any unilateral Ethiopian action on the Renaissance Dam — FM

Egypt and Sudan will confront any unilateral Ethiopian action on the Renaissance Dam — FM
Updated 13 June 2021

Egypt and Sudan will confront any unilateral Ethiopian action on the Renaissance Dam — FM

Egypt and Sudan will confront any unilateral Ethiopian action on the Renaissance Dam — FM
  • Shoukry said Cairo is working with Israel to advance the peace process and achieve the aspirations of the Palestinian people

AMMAN: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Saturday that he anticipates negotiations with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam will continue to falter.
Speaking during a television program on Sada El-Balad channel, Shoukry said that the Nile waters concern every Egyptian, and the government deals with transparency and informs its people on all the negotiations that take place.
Shoukry said that his recent visit to Sudan came to confirm the close link between the two countries and to coordinate to assess the filling status of the dam, the pace of construction, and review all data related to this issue.
He said his country and Sudan will politically and decisively confront any unilateral action by Ethiopia on the dam, adding that the second filling of the dam will affect the course of negotiations and that Addis Ababa’s actions are contrary to international standards.
Ethiopia began the second phase of filling the reservoir behind its giant Grand Renaissance Dam in early May, a process expected to accelerate in July and August after seasonal rains.
Further construction work on the dam had already allowed for the second phase to start. Ethiopia began filling the reservoir behind the dam, which is still under construction on the Blue Nile close to the border with Sudan, last year.
“We hope that a breakthrough will be reached in the negotiations, but this depends on the Ethiopian political administration, and we affirm that the downstream countries will not compromise or give up their rights, in the event of serious damage occurring when filling and operating the Renaissance Dam,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, Shoukry addressed a letter to the UN Security Council to explain the developments of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue, and affirmed Egypt’s objection to Ethiopia’s announcement of its intention to continue filling the dam during the upcoming flood season.
On Palestine, Shoukry said Cairo is working with Israel to advance the peace process and achieve the aspirations of the Palestinian people, which is the establishment of a Palestinian state and the two-state solution.
“Egypt is committed to the need to establish a Palestinian state, and we will continue to work with the new Israeli government and international partners led by the United States to implement the goals of the Palestinian people.”
He also said President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has approved providing $500 million in aid, and they are coordinating with the Palestinian and Israeli sides to set appropriate frameworks that provide for reconstruction and speed up the provision of support to the Palestinian people.
(With Reuters)


Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor

Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor
Updated 12 June 2021

Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor

Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor
  • The artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where Syrian regime and Kurdish forces are both deployed
  • A doctor, three hospital staff, three women and a child died at Al-Shifaa hospital

BEIRUT: Shelling of the rebel-held city of Afrin in northern Syria killed at least 16 people Saturday, many of them when a hospital was struck, a war monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a doctor, three hospital staff, three women and a child died at Al-Shifaa hospital in the city which is held by Turkish-backed rebels.
The artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where Syrian regime and Kurdish forces are both deployed, the Britain-based group said.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a statement denying any involvement in the shelling.