Why survivors of 2020 Beirut port blast have lost faith in Lebanese-led inquiry

Special Why survivors of 2020 Beirut port blast have lost faith in Lebanese-led inquiry
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The massive explosion that hit Beirut Port two years ago has sparked shortages of essential items that continue to this day. (AFP file photo)
Special Why survivors of 2020 Beirut port blast have lost faith in Lebanese-led inquiry
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This file photo shows a view of the Lebanese capital Beirut with its grain silos on May 24, 2020, months before the catastrophic August 4 , 2020 explosion. (AFP)
Special Why survivors of 2020 Beirut port blast have lost faith in Lebanese-led inquiry
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In this July 29, 2022 photo, smoke rises from what was left of Beirut's iconic grain silos after the Aug 4, 2020 explosion. Fire hit the remaining silos last month. (AFP)
Special Why survivors of 2020 Beirut port blast have lost faith in Lebanese-led inquiry
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What remains of the silos in the port of Beirut after the massive Aug. 4, 2020, burn on July 14, 2022 in a fire linked to rising temperatures. (AFP)
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Updated 04 August 2022

Why survivors of 2020 Beirut port blast have lost faith in Lebanese-led inquiry

Why survivors of 2020 Beirut port blast have lost faith in Lebanese-led inquiry
  • Despairing and demoralized, families of victims are turning to foreign courts
  • Many oppose govt. plan to demolish port’s grain silos before completion of full inquiry

DUBAI: Two years ago, on Aug. 4, 2020, Ghassan Hasrouty walked into his office at the port of Beirut where he had worked a steady job for the past 38 years. He would not return home that day.

At 6:07 p.m. local time, hundreds of tons of hazardously stored ammonium nitrate ignited in Warehouse 12 where Hasrouty was working. He and several of his colleagues were killed instantly.

The third biggest non-nuclear explosion ever recorded in history devastated the port and a whole district of the Lebanese capital.

At least 220 people were killed, more than 7,000 wounded, and a city already in the throes of economic and political crisis was left paralyzed under a mushroom cloud of pink smoke.

“The investigation of the port explosion will be transparent. Take five days, and any officials involved will be held accountable,” Mohammed Fahmi, Lebanon’s interior minister at the time, said after the blast.

And yet, two years on, as families still reel from the loss of their homes, businesses and loved ones, the official Lebanese state’s investigation remains stagnant.

On July 31, part of the port’s now grimly iconic grain silos collapsed, sending a cloud of dust over the capital, reviving traumatic memories of the blast.

The Lebanese Cabinet recently approved plans for the controlled demolition of the silos, which were badly damaged but miraculously survived the 2020 blast, having sustained much of its force.




Plans to demolish what remained of Beirut's grains silos has sparked outrage among victims’ support groups, who want the structures preserved until a full probe into the blast is concluded. (AFP)

The decision has sparked outrage among Beirut residents and victims’ support groups who have called for the silos to be preserved until a full and proper investigation into the blast is concluded.

Many place the blame for the blast and its aftermath on corruption and mismanagement within the Lebanese government.

With a status quo originating from the days of the 1975 to 1990 civil war, which has rendered those in power effectively untouchable, the inquiry has descended into little more than a finger-pointing match as it moves from one presiding judge to the next.

With that, politicians have effectively ensured the complete impunity of officials who have long been wanted for questioning, arrest and prosecution.




Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal movement burn a portrait of Judge Tarek Bitar, the Beirut blast lead investigator, during a gathering in October 2021 to demand the Judge's dismissal. (AFP)

Officials potentially implicated in the blast have filed more than 25 requests demanding the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar and others involved in overseeing the inquiry.

Judge Bitar had charged four former senior officials with intentional negligence resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people in the explosion.

In response, some of the suspects have filed legal complaints against the judge, which led to the near-total suspension of the investigation in December 2021.

Two of these officials, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zaaiter, were just reelected as members of parliament.

“After seeing how the officials reacted after the blast, I know the path for justice is going to be long. Two years in, all the corrupt state is doing is just blocking investigations and escaping justice,” Tatiana Hasrouty, Ghassan’s daughter, told Arab News.




Relatives of victims of the Beirut port blast voice their anger. (AFP)

“This corruption is well rooted and was on full display when the director general of the Internal Security Forces, Maj. Gen. Imad Othman, was observed in the presence of Ghazi Zaaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil — two men he was supposed to be issuing arrest warrants against but did nothing instead,” she said.

“My father deserves better than this, and we, as his family, as Lebanese citizens, and as those affected by the blast, deserve to know who did this to us and why. I would not want it to happen to anyone. Nobody deserves to live through this kind of pain.”

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Despairing and demoralized, survivors and the families of victims have turned to courts outside Lebanon in pursuit of justice.

Alongside local and international organizations, they have called on the UN Human Rights Council to put forward a resolution at its upcoming session in September to create an independent and impartial “fact-finding mission” to get to the bottom of the matter.

It is hoped that such an investigation will record the facts, assess the aftermath, determine the root causes of the explosion and establish individual responsibility.

“We’ve been working with the victims and survivors since September 2020 on this request,” Antonia Mulvey, executive director of Legal Action Worldwide and power of attorney for a number of blast survivors, told Arab News. 

 

 

“While a domestic investigation is preferable, we understand that the system in Lebanon is very flawed and is incapable of delivering truth when it entails standing up to senior members of government.

“If the resolution is passed, UN members can be deployed on a time-bound mission of one year to support and assist the criminal investigation. The only thing blocking the resolution from passing is France and we cannot work out why.

Mulvey believes that French President Emmanuel Macron’s statements and visit to Lebanon following the blast have, paradoxically, become an impediment to the delivery of justice.




French President Emmanuel Macron (C), surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut on August 6, 2020, two days after a massive explosion. (AFP)

After arriving in Lebanon just two days after the explosion, Macron said that “an international, open and transparent probe is needed to prevent things from remaining hidden and doubt from creeping in.”

Many hoped that this call signaled a shift from the traditional French policy of propping up Lebanon’s political class. But now they fear the politicians have been thrown a lifeline by Macron’s “road map” toward reform.

Critics of French actions at the UN Human Rights Council say they stand in stark contrast to the commitments Macron made to the port blast victims.

Mulvey says the situation is intolerable because the slow pace of justice is compounding the grief of the survivors and the families of the victims.




Injured people are treated at a hospital in Beirut following an explosion near the capital city's on August 4, 2020. (AFP)

“One hundred and twenty survivors and victims describe to me how every day is like torture to them. They can’t move on but have no choice but to move forward, particularly those who lost their children,” she said.

“The memorial coming up doesn’t make much of a difference when every day is difficult. We have allegations against senior government and security officials. We must have hope and fight for this. If we don’t, we will still be looking at the same situation 20 and 30 years down the line.”

Another lawsuit has been filed in the US state of Texas by nine Lebanese American plaintiffs and relatives of victims of the blast.

Seeking $250 million in compensation, the lawsuit, launched by the Swiss foundation Accountability Now, was filed against US-Norwegian firms, such as TGS, which are suspected of being involved in bringing the explosive materials to the port.




Support groups for victims of the Beirut Port blast of Aug. 4, 2020 are taking legal actions against everyone responsible, including Lebanese politicians who have been trying muzzle judicial proceedings. (HRW photo)

“This lawsuit will help circumvent the muzzling of the Lebanese judiciary,” Zena Wakim, co-counsel to the plaintiffs and board president of Accountability Now, told Arab News.

“Through the powerful tool of discovery, the victims will unveil the network of corruption that made the blast possible. The politicians have filed removal requests against the judges who could have ruled over their motions to dismiss. They filed a claim against the Lebanese state for gross negligence of Judge Bitar,” effectively freezing the proceedings.

Wakim added: “Although the victims had all recognized the need to give the Lebanese judiciary a chance, they have now come to the conclusion that justice will never happen in Lebanon. Justice needs to be sought elsewhere, in any other possible jurisdiction, through whatever available legal avenues.”

The disregard shown by Lebanese authorities toward survivors and the families of victims manifests not only in the efforts to impede the investigation. Hasrouty recalls the struggle of trying to locate her father’s body, which took almost two weeks after the blast.

After several days, the Lebanese Army called off the search for Ghassan Hasrouty’s remains and those of other people lost in the rubble.




Tatiana Hasrouty and her father Ghassan who died in the blast. (Supplied)

“Nobody talked about them, the people who worked at the silos. The authorities did not want to search for them until we pressured them to,” Tatiana Hasrouty told Arab News.

“My brother was provided maps by my father’s colleagues who survived, and they worked day in, day out, trying to locate the bodies.

“We used to go to the port every day waiting for some news and to visit every hospital. On Aug. 18, my brother got the only official call saying that his DNA matched a body that was found. My father and six of his colleagues were under the rubble of the silos.”

 

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Negotiators optimistic about progress on Iran nuclear deal

Negotiators optimistic about progress on Iran nuclear deal
Updated 08 August 2022

Negotiators optimistic about progress on Iran nuclear deal

Negotiators optimistic about progress on Iran nuclear deal
  • Negotiators from Iran, the US and the European Union resumed indirect talks over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal Thursday after a months-long standstill in negotiations

VIENNA: Top negotiators in renewed talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal indicated Sunday that they are optimistic about the possibility of reaching an agreement to impose limits on Tehran’s uranium enrichment.
“We stand 5 minutes or 5 seconds from the finish line,” Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov told reporters outside Vienna’s Palais Coburg, four days into the talks. He said there are “3 or 4 issues” left to be resolved.
“They are sensitive, especially for Iranians and Americans,” Ulyanov said. “I cannot guarantee, but the impression is that we are moving in the right direction.”
Enrique Mora, the European Union’s top negotiator, also said he is “absolutely” optimistic about the talks’ progress so far.
“We are advancing, and I expect we will close the negotiations soon,” he told Iranian media.
Negotiators from Iran, the US and the European Union resumed indirect talks over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal Thursday after a months-long standstill in negotiations.
Since the deal’s de facto collapse, Iran has been running advanced centrifuges and rapidly growing its stockpile of enriched uranium.
Iran struck the nuclear deal in 2015 with the US, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China. The deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Then US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the accord in 2018, saying he would negotiate a stronger deal, but that didn’t happen. Iran began breaking the deal’s terms a year later.


‘Fragile’ Gaza truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad holds

‘Fragile’ Gaza truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad holds
Updated 08 August 2022

‘Fragile’ Gaza truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad holds

‘Fragile’ Gaza truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad holds
  • The Egyptian-brokered cease-fire took effect at 11:30 p.m. (2030 GMT; 4:30 p.m. EDT)
  • Israeli aircraft have pummeled targets in Gaza since Friday, while the Iran-backed Palestinian Jihad militant group has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel in response

GAZA CITY:  A “fragile” Egypt-brokered truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza appeared to be holding early Monday, raising hopes that the recent intense conflict that has left at least 44 Palestinians dead, including 15 children, has ended.
The truce, which officially started at 11:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) Sunday night, aims to stem the worst fighting in Gaza since an 11-day war last year devastated the Palestinian coastal territory.
Though a flurry of strikes and rocket attacks took place in the run-up to the truce, with sirens sounding in southern Israel moments before and after the deadline, neither side had reported any major violations of the agreement after four hours.
In a statement sent three minutes after the cease-fire began, Israel’s army said that “in response to rockets fired toward Israeli territory, the (military) is currently striking a wide range of targets” belonging to Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
In a subsequent statement, the army clarified that its “last” strikes took place at 11:25 pm.

A fireball rises from the site of an Israeli airstrike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip Sunday night shortly before a ceasefire took effect. (AFP)

While both sides had agreed to the truce, each had warned the other that it would respond with force to any violence.
US President Joe Biden welcomed the cease-fire, thanking Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for his country’s role in brokering it. Biden also called for investigations into civilian casualties, which he called a “tragedy.”
In a statement, UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said: “The situation is still very fragile, and I urge all parties to observe the cease-fire.”

US President Joe Biden said he welcomed the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza-based militants.
“Over these last 72-hours, the United States has worked with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, and others throughout the region to encourage a swift resolution to the conflict,” he said in a statement.
The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday on the violence. China, which holds the council presidency this month, scheduled the session in response to a request from the United Arab Emirates, which represents Arab nations on the council, as well as China, France, Ireland and Norway.
“We underscore our commitment to do all we can toward ending the ongoing escalation, ensuring the safety and security of the civilian population, and following-up on the Palestinian prisoners file,” said UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office late Sunday thanked “Egypt for its efforts” as it agreed to the truce, but said it that “if the cease-fire is violated,” Israel “maintains the right to respond strongly.”
Islamic Jihad member Mohammad Al-Hindi had already confirmed the militants had accepted the truce, but the group added in a statement that it too “reserves the right to respond” to any aggression.

Israeli aircraft have pummeled targets in Gaza since Friday, while the Iran-backed Palestinian Jihad militant group has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel in response. The risk of the cross-border fighting turning into a full-fledged war remained as long as no truce was reached. Israel says some of the dead were killed by misfired rockets.

In addition to the 44 people killed, 15 of them children, the Gaza health ministry said 360 people had been wounded in the Palestinian enclave, which is run by the Islamist group Hamas.
Israel insists several children in the territory have been killed by stray militant rockets.

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system fires to intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Ashkelon, Israel just before a cease-fire took effect Sunday night. (AP)

Three people in Israel have been wounded by shrapnel, while 31 others have been lightly hurt, emergency services said.

Islamic Jihad’s Hindi said the cease-fire deal “contains Egypt’s commitment to work toward the release of two prisoners.”

The pair were named as Bassem Al-Saadi, a senior figure in the group’s political wing who was recently arrested in the occupied West Bank, and Khalil Awawdeh, a militant also in Israeli detention.

Gaza’s ruling Hamas group remained on the sidelines, possibly because it fears Israeli reprisals and undoing economic understandings with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents, that bolster its control.
Israel launched its operation with a strike Friday on a leader of the Islamic Jihad, and followed up on Saturday with another targeted strike on a second prominent leader.

The second Islamic Jihad commander, Khaled Mansour, was killed in an airstrike on an apartment building in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza late Saturday, which also killed two other militants and five civilians.
Mansour, the Islamic Jihad commander for southern Gaza, was in the apartment of a member of the group when the missile struck, flattening the three-story building and badly damaging nearby houses.
“Suddenly, without warning, the house next to us was bombed and everything became black and dusty with smoke in the blink of an eye,” said Wissam Jouda, who lives next to the targeted building.
Ahmed Al-Qaissi, another neighbor, said his wife and son were among the wounded, suffering shrapnel injuries. To make way for rescue workers, Al-Qaissi agreed to have part of his house demolished.

As a funeral for Mansour began in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the Israeli military said it was striking suspected “Islamic Jihad rocket launch posts.” Smoke could be seen from the strikes as thumps from their explosions rattled Gaza. Israeli airstrikes and rocket fire followed for hours as sirens wailed in central Israel. As the sunset call to prayer sounded in Gaza, sirens wailed as far north as Tel Aviv.
Israel says some of the deaths during this round were caused by errant rocket fire, including one incident in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza in which six Palestinians were killed Saturday. On Sunday, a projectile hit a home in the same area of Jebaliya, killing two men. Palestinians held Israel responsible, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was struck by an errant rocket.
Israel’s Defense Ministry said mortars fired from Gaza hit the Erez border crossing into Israel, used by thousands of Gazans daily. The mortars damaged the roof and shrapnel hit the hall’s entrance, the ministry said. The crossing has been closed amid the fighting.
The Rafah strike was the deadliest so far in the current round of fighting, which was initiated by Israel on Friday with the targeted killing of Islamic Jihad’s commander for northern Gaza.

Israel said it took action against the militant group because of concrete threats of an imminent attack, but has not provided details. Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who is an experienced diplomat but untested in overseeing a war, unleashed the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to keep the job.

In a statement Sunday, Lapid said the military would continue to strike targets in Gaza “in a pinpoint and responsible way in order to reduce to a minimum the harm to noncombatants.” Lapid said the strike that killed Mansour was “an extraordinary achievement.”
“The operation will continue as long as necessary,” Lapid said.
Israel estimates its airstrikes killed about 15 militants.
Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal. Both groups call for Israel’s destruction, but have different priorities, with Hamas constrained by the demands of governing.

The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired about 580 rockets toward Israel. The army said its air defenses had intercepted many of them, with two of those shot down being fired toward Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas.
Air raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area for the first time Sunday since last year’s Israel-Hamas war.
Jerusalem is typically a flashpoint during periods of cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza. On Sunday, hundreds of Jews, including firebrand ultra-nationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, visited a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The visit, under heavy police protection, ended without incident, police said.
Such demonstrative visits by Israeli hard-liners seeking to underscore Israeli claims of sovereignty over contested Jerusalem have sparked violence in the past. The holy site sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is central to rival narratives of Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
In Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank, Israeli security forces said they detained 19 people on suspicion of belonging to the Islamic Jihad during overnight raids.
By Sunday, Hamas still appeared to stay out of the battle. The group has a strong incentive to avoid another war. Last year’s Israel-Hamas war, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles over the last 15 years, exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents.
Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have reached tacit understandings based on trading calm for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas overran the territory 15 years ago. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gaza laborers, and has held out the prospect of granting another 2,000 permits.
The lone power plant in Gaza ground to a halt at noon Saturday due to lack of fuel. Israel has kept its crossing points into Gaza closed since Tuesday. With the new disruption, Gazans can use only four hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and deepening the territory’s chronic power crisis amid peak summer heat.


Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare

Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare
Updated 08 August 2022

Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare

Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare
  • Humanitarian situation worsened and civilian toll rose as Israeli military targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad
  • Israel claimed militants in Gaza were planning attacks in retaliation for arrest of a PIJ official in the West Bank

DUBAI: What began as a routine Israeli security operation on Aug. 1 in a flashpoint Palestinian town in the West Bank quickly took on the trappings of a full-blown conflict. As of Sunday night, the death toll on the Palestinian side stood at 43, including 15 children, with an Egyptian-brokered truce agreement providing a glimmer of hope to the Gaza Strip’s war-weary population.

The target of the Israeli military’s “Operation Breaking Dawn” was the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, which is backed by Iran and has its headquarters in the Syrian capital Damascus. But the idea of a “quick, clean war,” with minimal civilian suffering and confined to just the Gaza Strip, could yet elude Israel if the ceasefire deal falls through.

During a recent visit to Tehran to meet the Iranian leadership, Ziad Al-Nakhalah, the PIJ general-secretary, warned that all Israeli towns — including Tel Aviv — could be struck by rockets and urged other Palestinian factions to join forces. For days, Israeli media had been showing images of the skies above the southern and central parts of the country lighting up with rockets and interceptors from the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Predictably, parallels were being drawn between the current flare-up and the 11-day conflict in May 2021 that left more than 200 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis dead. The big difference this time was that Hamas, the Palestinian group which controls Gaza, did not jump into the fray, a move that cannot be ruled out if the truce fails to hold and civilian casualties continue to mount.

 Children react following an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Aug.6, 2022. (AFP)

As is invariably the case when Israel launches an assault on Palestinian militant groups, ordinary residents of Gaza neighborhoods in the military’s crosshairs pay the biggest price. Images of half-destroyed buildings and damaged possessions of impoverished civilians starkly contradicted the official Israeli narrative of “a pre-emptive counterterror operation against an immediate threat” posed by the PIJ.

On Saturday, flames poured out of a building in Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike while wounded Palestinians were evacuated by medics. Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that “a five-year-old girl, targeted by the Israeli occupation” was among those killed. “This is not Ukraine! This is #Gaza Strip yesterday!” tweeted Jasika, a Palestinian, along with four photos of destruction under the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack.

Mourners pray over the bodies of six children killed in an explosion in Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip on  Aug. 6, 2022. (AP/Abdel Kareem Hana) 

Abdullah Al-Arayshi summed up the collective plight of Palestinians in Gaza when he told the AFP news agency: “The country is ravaged. We’ve had enough of wars. Our generation has lost its future.” The reference was to the many wars and battles Israel and Hamas have fought since 2007 and which have imposed a staggering cost on Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Palestinians inspect the ruins of a building destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on August 6, 2022. (AFP)

Egypt, whose mediation has helped to end many Gaza flare-ups in the past, once again stepped in, reportedly sending a delegation of officials to Israel to act as a go-between. The PIJ leadership may not have been in the mood to negotiate, but its options were limited.

On Saturday, the group lost a second senior commander, Khaled Mansour, in an Israeli military strike on a house in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza. The previous day, the PIJ had acknowledged the death of senior leader Taysir Al-Jabari in an airstrike on a building in the west of Gaza City.

Relatives react during the funeral of Khaled Mansour, an Islamic Jihad commander killed in an Israeli air strike on Rafah on August 7, 2022. (Said Khatib / AFP)

The killing of Al-Jabari’s predecessor, Baha Abu Al-Ata, in Gaza by the Israeli military in 2019 sparked a five-day conflict that left 34 Palestinians, including many PIJ fighters, dead and 111 injured. Then, as now, Israel claimed that the PIJ was plotting an imminent attack.

This time around, Israel said that PIJ militants in Gaza were planning to hit southern Israel in retaliation for the arrest on Aug. 1 of Bassem Al-Saadi, a senior member of the PIJ’s political wing in the West Bank, during a security operation in Jenin. Al-Saadi had been living there since February 2013, when he was released from an Israel jail after serving two years.

In this photo taken on April 17, 2022, Islamic Jihad fighters enter an underground tunnel in the Gaza strip. (Mahmud Hams / AFP) 

Jenin has been a frequent target of Israeli arrest operations in the West Bank since a wave of deadly attacks by Palestinians hit Israel in late March as two of the attackers came from the town.

“It seems that Israel acted on intelligence reports that the PIJ was about to launch a number of attacks against Israel and Israel decided to take the initiative in this case to deliver a big blow to the PIJ,” Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer and Middle East analyst at Reichman University, told Arab News.

“Based on this thesis, it was difficult for Israel to avoid this action. If you know your enemy is going to attack, then you take away the initiative from it, and that really turns the tables on your enemy.”

Israel’s rationale, though, failed to convince not only Palestinian civilians in the line of fire but also critics of the military doctrine of pre-emptive force, including the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a tweet on Saturday, Francesca Albanese said: “I condemn Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza to allegedly ‘deter’ Islamic Jihad’s possible retaliation for its leader’s arrest. As Intl’ Law only permits the use of force in self-defense, Operation Breaking Dawn is a flagrant act of aggression. Illegal. Immoral. Irresponsible.”

In addition to the diplomatic backlash, Israel’s government, led by Yair Lapid, a politician with no military record or experience in senior security posts, would sooner or later have had to contend with the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

There has been almost no reconstruction in Gaza since the May 2021 war, and the population remains mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50 percent. Israel has closed its crossing with the territory and, on Saturday, reports said the only power station there shut down after Israel called off an expected fuel delivery.

Yahya Al-Sarraj, the mayor of Gaza City, said on Sunday that municipal services were being affected by the lack of power. “This will minimize the supply of domestic water (at a time of peak consumption during July and August),” he said. “Raw sewage will be spilled to the sea because the plants are not functioning in full capacity.”

Unsurprisingly, the potential of a propaganda coup was not lost on the PIJ’s patrons in Tehran. President Ebrahim Raisi was quoted by Iran’s Fars News agency as saying that “the resistance of the people of Gaza will speed up the decline of this child-killing (Zionist) regime.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Ziyad Nakhaleh, secretary-general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement, in Tehran on August 4, 2022. (WANA via REUTERS)

Separately, in remarks reported by Iranian state television on Saturday, Gen. Hossein Salami, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said: “The Israelis will pay yet another heavy price for their recent crime.”

Earlier, Iran’s Tasnim news agency quoted Salami as saying: “In Lebanon, tens of thousands, even more than one hundred thousand missiles, are ready to be fired to create a hell for the Zionists at the moment of making the divine predestination happen.”

Javedanfar considers the PIJ-Iranian nexus a probable second reason for Israel’s decision to crack down on the group. “Given that the Israeli attacks happened when the head of the PIJ was in Tehran, the Iranian context of the current operation cannot be overlooked,” he told Arab News.

Palestinians rally in Lebanon's refugee camp of Burj al-Barajneh on Aug. 7, 2022, in support of the Islamic Jihad group march in its fight with Israel. (Anwar Amro / AFP) 

“The PIJ is an Iranian proxy, much more an Iranian proxy than Hamas, and is more dependent on Iran than Hamas. Israel does not want to let Iran dictate the rules of the game through its proxy in Gaza. I think Israel is trying to disarm Iran’s options for undermining Israeli security in both Gaza and Syria.”

Lapid, the Israeli prime minister, had averred that “Israel isn’t interested in a broader conflict in Gaza but will not shy away from one either.” A broader conflict was sure to expose Israel to not just higher civilian casualties but also greater political heat, including potentially from the Arab signatories of the Abraham Accords.

In the best-care scenario for Israel, the PIJ’s military wing would have been decapitated, the diplomatic storm would have passed quickly, and the civilian death toll in Gaza would have stayed low. But given the dark shadow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to cast over the new geopolitical alignments in the Middle East, Israel could well have ended up wining the battle yet losing the war.

 

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More than 250 migrants ‘rescued’ off Tunisia

More than 250 migrants ‘rescued’ off Tunisia
Updated 07 August 2022

More than 250 migrants ‘rescued’ off Tunisia

More than 250 migrants ‘rescued’ off Tunisia
  • The attempted crossings — 17 in total — took place on the night of Friday to Saturday from the east of Tunisia, according to National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli

TUNIS: Tunisian coast guards “rescued” more than 250 migrants who were attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, the North African country’s National Guard said on Sunday.

Maritime authorities “were able ... to rescue 255 would-be migrants, including 170 people of various African nationalities, with the remainder Tunisians,” the National Guard said in a statement on Facebook.

The attempted crossings — 17 in total — took place on the night of Friday to Saturday from the east of Tunisia, according to National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli. The statement did not indicate whether any vessels had got into difficulty or sunk, but did note that an unspecified sum of cash was seized during the operations.

The National Guard also on Friday carried out a “pre-emptive operation,” arresting five people who were “preparing to lead an illegal immigration bid departing from the coast of Sousse province in the east of the country,” Jebabli said.

The Tunisian coast guard announced in mid-July that 455 migrants had been “rescued” in several operations off the northern, eastern and southern coasts of the country.

Attempts by migrants to reach Europe from the North African coastline tend to increase in spring and summer, due to the lower risk of stormy seas.

Tunisia and Libya are principal departure points and Italy a favored destination.


Palestinians sift through rubble at Gaza camp hit in Israeli strike

Palestinians sift through rubble at Gaza camp hit in Israeli strike
Updated 07 August 2022

Palestinians sift through rubble at Gaza camp hit in Israeli strike

Palestinians sift through rubble at Gaza camp hit in Israeli strike
  • On Sunday morning, residents sifted through the rubble at the camp, a warren of alleys that is home to Palestinians whose families fled or were expelled from towns and villages in 1948 during the war of Israel’s creation

GAZA: When Israeli rockets slammed into her neighborhood in a crowded refugee camp in the Gaza strip on Saturday night, nine-year-old Leen Matar said she was so scared that she began to recite Islam’s final prayers.

“We were at my grandfather’s house when suddenly the rubble started to fall on us,” she told Reuters from a hospital bed, her father beside her as she was treated for a broken leg.

“We started to cry until the neighbors arrived and rescued us.”

“I was saying the last prayers; I didn’t expect I would live until the moment they rescued me,” she said.

“We sat like this for 10 minutes until they broke down the door.”

Matar was wounded in an Israeli strike that killed a senior commander with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group late on Saturday evening, the second day of a major flare-up in violence between Israel and Palestinian fighters in Gaza.

On Sunday morning, residents sifted through the rubble at the camp, a warren of alleys that is home to Palestinians whose families fled or were expelled from towns and villages in 1948 during the war of Israel’s creation.

Some carried away a small bike and some books. Another dragged pieces of furniture away. Others looked for family documents and photo albums.

The casualties add to the toll of the most serious escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in more than a year.

The sides have agreed to observe an Egyptian-proposed truce from Sunday evening, sources said.

Israel began mounting airstrikes on Friday against what it described as Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.

Around 30 Palestinians have been killed, at least a third of them civilians. Israel says it does not target civilians.

Islamic Jihad has fired hundreds of missiles into Israel, where anti-missile defenses have prevented casualties but people have still been driven into shelters.

Palestinian residents said six homes had been destroyed in Rafah. The senior Israeli officer said Israel had destroyed the house Mansour was in and not the surrounding houses, and the strike was timed to minimize “collateral damage.”

Ahmed Temraz, whose house was damaged, said six missiles had hit the area and there had been no forewarning of the attack.

“It was a horrifying scene, words can’t explain — injustice, terror and the fear of children and women,” Temraz, 46, told Reuters. “It was very scary. People were dismembered.”

Residents had joined emergency workers and medics in rescue operations that continued until dawn, witnesses said.

Ashraf Al-Qaissi, whose house was about 50 meters from the targeted area, described chaotic scenes as residents sought to flee while aiding casualties.

“They hit the area without forewarning, I ran with my children, and my daughter got wounded in her hand,” said Qaissi, 46.

He spoke sitting atop the ruins of his home, saying he had allowed rescue workers to knock it down so they could access the targeted area with a bulldozer to help search for victims under rubble.

“The trapped people are more precious,” Qaissi said.