Israel says Palestinian militants fired rockets after raid

Update Israel says Palestinian militants fired rockets after raid
Israel's forces conducted strikes in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after rockets were fired from the area, a day after a raid in the flashpoint city of Nablus sparked clashes in which 11 Palestinians were killed and over 100 wounded. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2023

Israel says Palestinian militants fired rockets after raid

Israel says Palestinian militants fired rockets after raid
  • Earlier the military said six rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Palestinian militants fired six rockets from the Gaza Strip toward the country’s south early Thursday, hours after an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank triggered a fierce gunbattle in which 11 Palestinians were killed.
The rocket attacks, which were not immediately claimed by Palestinian militant groups, appear to be triggered by the Wednesday morning raid in Nablus.
The Israeli military said air defenses intercepted five of the rockets which were fired toward the cities of Ashkelon and Sderot. One missile landed in an open field. Israeli aircraft then struck several targets in northern and central Gaza. There were no reports of injuries in Israel or Gaza.
Among the dead in Nablus were three Palestinian men, ages 72, 66 and 61, and a 16-year-old boy, according to health officials. Scores of others were wounded.
It was one of the bloodiest battles in nearly a year of fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and raised the likelihood of further bloodshed. Israeli police said they were on heightened alert, while the Hamas militant group in Gaza said its patience was “running out.” Islamic Jihad, another militant group, vowed to retaliate.
The four-hour operation left a broad swath of damage in a centuries-old marketplace in Nablus, a city known as a militant stronghold.
In one emotional scene, an overwhelmed medic pronounced a man dead, only to notice the lifeless patient was his father. Elsewhere, an amateur video showed two men, apparently unarmed, being shot as they ran in the street.
Israel has been carrying out stepped-up arrest raids of wanted militants in the West Bank since a series of deadly Palestinian attacks in Israel last spring.
Israeli officials liken these operations to “mowing the lawn,” saying they are necessary to prevent a difficult situation from turning worse. But the raids have shown few signs of slowing the violence, and in cases like Wednesday’s operation, can raise the likelihood of reprisals.
The Israeli military said it entered Nablus, the West Bank’s commercial center, to arrest three militants suspected in previous shooting attacks. The main suspect was wanted in the killing of an Israeli soldier last fall.
The military usually conducts raids at night in what it says is a tactic meant to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. But military spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said forces moved quickly after intelligence services tracked down the men in a hideout.
Hecht said Israeli forces surrounded the building and asked the men to surrender, but instead they opened fire. One militant who tried to flee the building was shot and killed. He said the military then fired missiles at the house, flattening the building and killing the other two men.
At the same time, he said, troops that had set up an outside perimeter came under heavy fire, setting off an intense gunfight. The military said others hurled rocks and explosives at the troops, and officials released a video taken from inside an armored vehicle as crowds of Palestinian youths pelted it with stones. There were no Israeli casualties.
The influx of wounded overwhelmed the city’s Najah Hospital, said Ahmad Aswad, the head nurse of the cardiology department.
The 36-year-old medic told The Associated Press that he saw many patients shot in the chest, head and thighs. “They shot to kill,” he said.
In a moment he said will haunt him, he and a colleague carefully extracted a bullet from a 61-year-old man’s heart. After the chaos subsided and they pronounced their patient dead, they looked at the man’s face. It was his colleague’s father, Abdelaziz Ashqar.
His colleague, Elias Ashqar, was overcome and went silent. “It didn’t feel like we were in reality,” Aswad said.
In the Old City of Nablus, people stared at the rubble that had been a large home in the centuries-old marketplace. From one end to the other, shops were riddled with bullets. Parked cars were crushed. Blood stained the cement ruins. Furniture from the destroyed home was scattered among mounds of debris.
Time-stamped security footage widely shared online appeared to show two young men running down a street. Gunshots are heard, and both fall to the ground, with one’s hat flying off his head.
The two men did not appear to be armed, but the video did not show the events that led to the shooting.
Hecht called the video “problematic,” and said the military was looking into it.
Various Palestinian militant groups claimed six of the dead — including the three targeted in the raid — as members. There was no immediate word on whether the others belonged to armed groups. Later, officials said a 66-year-old man had died from tear gas inhalation.
As the bodies were paraded through the crowd on stretchers, thousands of people packed the streets, chanting in support of the militants. Masked men fired into the air.
Israel’s police force said it was beefing up security in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in anticipation of violence.
Last month, Israeli troops killed 10 people in a similar raid in the northern West Bank. In response, Palestinian militants fired rockets from Gaza. The following day, a lone Palestinian gunman opened fire near a synagogue in an east Jerusalem settlement, killing seven people.
Days later, five Palestinian militants were killed in an Israeli arrest raid elsewhere in the West Bank. That was followed by a Palestinian car ramming that killed three Israelis, including two young brothers, in Jerusalem.
The fighting comes at a sensitive time, less than two months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new hard-line government took office.
The government is dominated by ultranationalists who have pushed for tougher action against Palestinian militants and vowed to entrench Israeli rule in the occupied West Bank. Israeli media have quoted top security officials as expressing concern that this could lead to even more violence as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches.
The Cabinet includes a number of West Bank settler leaders. In a move that could further raise tensions, Yesha, the settlement council, announced that Israeli planning officials had granted approval to nearly 2,000 new homes in settlements across the West Bank. There was no immediate confirmation from the government, but an announcement was expected Thursday.
The Palestinians and most of the international community say settlements built on occupied lands are illegal and obstacles to peace. Over 700,000 settlers now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for a future state.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US recognizes Israel’s “very real” security concerns, but was also “deeply concerned” about the deaths and injuries from the raid.
He urged both sides to avoid steps that could “inflame tensions,” including the possible approval of new settlements.
The Israeli decision comes in the wake of a UN presidential statement that strongly criticized settlements. The US blocked what would have been a stronger, legally binding council resolution.
American diplomats claimed to have extracted an Israeli pledge to halt unilateral action to block the resolution. The approval of new settlements by Israel would appear to undermine that claim.
The Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, urged the international community “to put an end to these massacres against our people.”
In the Gaza Strip, Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the ruling Hamas militant group, warned that Hamas’ “patience is running out,” he said.
Late Wednesday, Palestinian activists burned tires along Gaza’s frontier with Israel in protest.
Hamas has battled Israel in four wars since seizing control of Gaza in 2007.
Islamic Jihad leader Ziyad Al-Nakhala called the Israeli raid a “huge crime.”
“It is our duty as resistance forces to respond to this crime without hesitation,” he said.
Nearly 60 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year, according to an AP tally.
Last year, nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in those areas, making it the deadliest year there since 2004, according to figures by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Some 30 people on the Israeli side were killed in Palestinian attacks.

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive
Updated 11 sec ago

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive
  • Two of Gaza’s zoos have closed

GAZA: Large paintings of a bear, an elephant and a giraffe decorate the outer walls of NAMA Zoo in Gaza City, but none of these wild creatures is represented live among those caged inside.

Six years ago, the lone tiger died, and despite visitors’ frequent demands for a replacement, the owners have not been able to afford to buy or feed a new one.

There were once six zoos in Gaza, a narrow coastal enclave which has been closed off behind security walls since 2007.

But with the economy crippled by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, two of the zoos have closed.

“Because of the lack of resources and capabilities and the high prices of animals it is difficult to replace an animal you lose,” said Mahmoud Al-Sultan, the medical supervisor of the NAMA zoo.

The original animals at the zoo were smuggled through tunnels from Egypt over a decade ago. 

As well as four pairs of lions, each of which goes through 60 kg of meat a week, the zoo has crocodiles, hyenas, foxes, deer and monkeys, as well as a lone ibex and a solitary wolf.

At the lions’ cages, children stand to take pictures from a distance and giggle as they touch the bars on the cages of deer and birds. 

A ticket costs less than $1 because people can’t afford more, Sultan said.

“I come here to have some fun, but I see the same animals every time,” said nine-year-old Fouad Saleh. “I wish I could see an elephant, a giraffe or a tiger.”

For the moment, that appears unlikely. Gaza lacks the medical facilities to treat animals like lions and tigers.

In the past, the Four Paws international animal welfare group has had to rescue animals and find them new homes in Israel, Jordan or as far away as South Africa.

“We struggle to afford the food,” said Sultan. “Sometimes we provide frozen food, chicken, turkeys, and sometimes if a donkey is injured we have it slaughtered and shared out between the lions.”

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag
Updated 3 min 53 sec ago

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

DUBAI: The UAE is tightening insurance requirements for vessels registered under its flag, according to a government advisory, amid growing concerns over ships sailing without top tier cover in the event of an oil spill.

Ships typically have protection and indemnity insurance which covers liability claims including environmental damage and injury. Separate hull and machinery policies cover vessels against physical damage.

About 90 percent of the world’s ocean going tonnage is covered by the 12 ship insurers that make up the International Group.

P&I insurers outside of the IG that cover UAE flagged ships will need to meet a number of requirements including providing evidence of membership of a recognized maritime related professional agency or regulatory body, the UAE’s Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure said in a June 2 advisory posted on its website.

Other requirements include providing details of the five largest settled claims or details of claims over $10 million, the advisory said, adding that applications needed to be submitted before June 30.

The advisory, which was also addressed to ship owners, said evidence would need to be shown about so-called blue cards, which cover pollution damage.

The UAE flagged fleet includes dozens of oil tankers — many of which are old — and over 200 offshore vessels typically used in oil related trading, according to shipping data on public database Equasis.

Hundreds of “ghost” tankers, which are not fully regulated, have joined an opaque parallel shipping trade over the past few years, carrying oil from countries hit by Western sanctions and restrictions, including Russia and Iran.

The number of incidents last year, including groundings, collisions and near misses involving these ships reached the highest in years, a Reuters investigation showed.

Ports in China’s Shandong province are demanding more detailed information about oil tankers that are more than 15 years old that call at their terminals, sources with knowledge of the matter said this week.

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’
Updated 10 min 6 sec ago

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’
  • Residents of Tuti island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages

KHARTOUM: Battles raged in Sudan’s war-torn capital of Khartoum on Tuesday, witnesses said, and the residents of an island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages.

Eight weeks of fighting have pitted army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan against his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

A number of broken ceasefires have offered brief lulls but no respite for residents of the city, where witnesses again reported “the sound of heavy artillery fire” in northern Khartoum.

Witnesses also said there were “clashes with various types of weapons” in south Khartoum, where “the sound of explosions shook our walls.”

In the city center, at the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers, the island of Tuti is “under total siege” by RSF forces, resident Mohammed Youssef said.

Paramilitaries have blocked the only bridge to the island and prevented residents from going by boat to other parts of the capital.

“We can’t move anyone who’s sick to hospitals off the island,” Youssef said. “If this continues for days, stores will run out of food.”

Since the fighting began on April 15, more than 1,800 people have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Al Arabiya channel reported that the warring parties had resumed indirect ceasefire talks in Jeddah on Tuesday.

The UN says that more than a million and a half people have been displaced, both within the country and across its borders.

For those still in Khartoum and the western region of Darfur — which together have seen the worst of the fighting — the situation is growing increasingly dire.

“We face a massive humanitarian crisis that is only going to get worse with the collapse of the economy, collapse of the health care system,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned.

The danger will increase with “the flood season fast approaching and the looming hunger crisis and disease outbreaks that now are becoming more inevitable.”

Sudan’s annual rainy season begins in June, and medics have repeatedly warned that it threatens to make parts of country inaccessible, raising the risks of malaria, cholera and water-borne diseases.

How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps

How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps
Updated 45 min 59 sec ago

How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps

How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps
  • Poor access to hygiene products impacts the lives of millions in the world’s conflict and crisis zones
  • Camp overcrowding “can lead to a lack of dignity and privacy, which can also impact mental health”

LONDON: Every month, women and girls living in camps for displaced people face a common challenge — one that, despite being a natural occurrence, disrupts their daily lives in everything from queuing for meals to participating in social life.

Long a relatively neglected health issue, aid agencies say that poor access to menstrual hygiene management products impacts the lives of millions in the world’s crisis-hit regions, deepening gender inequality.

“The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities can be a significant barrier to the participation of displaced women and girls in training programs and other activities,” said Samara Atassi, CEO and co-founder of Souriyat Across Borders, a women-led charity that supports refugees and internally displaced people in Jordan, Syria and the UK.

Insufficient access to such products and facilities often forces women and girls to resort to “unhygienic practices, such as using dirty rags, leaves or even sand to manage their periods,” Atassi told Arab News.

Social stigma and embarrassment often pose an additional challenge, leading to “isolation and a sense of shame,” taking a toll on their mental wellbeing, she said. Overcrowding in camps in particular “can lead to a lack of dignity and privacy, which can also impact their mental health.” 

Further exacerbating the problem are issues such as inadequate access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. 

A woman sits outside a tent at a camp for those displaced by conflict in the countryside near Syria’s northern city of Raqqa. (AFP/File)

These conditions “can make it difficult to manage menstrual hygiene, further increasing the risk of infections and other health problems,” Sahar Yassin, Oxfam MENA regional gender advocacy adviser, told Arab News.

“Period poverty” is defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or a combination of these.

In 2019, experts from academic institutions, NGOs, governments, UN organizations and elsewhere came together to form the Global Menstrual Collective to research the issue. It defined menstrual health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.”

It noted that people should have access to information about menstruation, life changes and hygiene practices, the ability to care for themselves during menstruation, as well as access to water, sanitation and hygiene services.

It also highlighted the importance of the ability to receive a diagnosis for menstrual cycle disorders and access to health care, a positive, supportive environment in which to make informed decisions, and the ability to participate in all aspects of life, such as going to work and school.

Period poverty affects an estimated 500 million people worldwide — but is perhaps more keenly felt by those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, or those reaching puberty while living in overcrowded and poorly equipped camp settings.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates that women and girls account for about 50 percent of any displaced or stateless population.

At the end of 2021, the Middle East and North Africa accounted for about 16 million forcibly displaced and stateless people, with the largest numbers fleeing conflict in Syria and Yemen, according to the UNHCR figures.

However, the reproductive health of women and girls in refugee and internal displacement camps continues to face neglect by donors. A 2019 survey by UNHCR found that just 55 percent of women’s needs were met with regard to menstruation products.

Nicola Banks, advocacy manager at the UK-based charity Action for Humanity, told Arab News that the UK had recently reduced “funding for its flagship program on sexual and reproductive health, Women’s Integrated Sexual Health,” which supports marginalized populations in Asia and Africa.

“Cuts to SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) programs ... could result in reduced access to menstrual hygiene products, education and reproductive health services, potentially exacerbating period poverty,” Banks said.

A displaced Iraqi woman who fled Mosul sits with her child as they wait to enter Syria. (AFP/File)

During humanitarian crises, relief and aid efforts are chiefly focused on what are considered the most immediate needs — food, shelter and medicine — while menstrual hygiene products are often ignored, according to a report published in September 2022 by the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA.

Another critical challenge to menstrual hygiene management is a lack of education, which can lead to misconceptions about menstruation, further perpetuating stigma and shame, said Atassi of Souriyat Across Borders.

Owing to this pervasive sense of stigma and shame, many girls aged 10-18 in refugee camps in Turkiye continue to have limited access to accurate information about menstruation, meaning few are fully informed before reaching menarche, or the first menstrual cycle, according to the UNFPA report.

The study, “Menstrual hygiene management among refugee women and girls in Turkiye,” emphasized that this important yet vulnerable population lacked a complete and accurate conception of menstruation, with the main source of information being the mother or another female family member.



A 2019 UNHCR study found that only 55 percent of women’s needs were met in regard to menstruation products.

Oxfam’s Yassin says that this lack of education, combined with period poverty, “is closely linked to gender-based violence in the MENA region, where the cultural taboo surrounding menstruation precludes women and girls from discussing it openly, leading to misinformation and/or lack of information.”

Forms of gender-based violence, or GBV, linked to menstruation include “early marriage, lack of privacy, safety, and sexual harassment,” she said.

To conceal evidence of their menstruation, women in displacement and refugee camps often find themselves forced to venture alone to secluded areas, which exposes them to the potential for sexual violence. But the threat is also present in toilet spaces inside the camps.

A 2021 statement by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, revealed that “one in five refugees or internally displaced women have faced sexual violence,” adding that the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the issue.

Syrian-Kurdish displaced women stand behind a wire fence at the Qushtapa refugee camp. (AFP/File)

“In many cases, GBV is a result of violations of SRHR, such as female genital mutilation/cutting, child marriage, intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence,” said Banks of Action for Humanity.

“While education, empowerment, and ending violence are critical components of gender equality, they cannot be addressed in isolation from SRHR.”

For Oxfam’s Yassin, “by addressing period poverty and providing better menstrual hygiene management infrastructure and accessible facilities, we can not only promote gender equality and prevent gender-based violence but also support women’s and girls’ health, economic empowerment and well-being.”

Despite efforts by several NGOs and UN agencies to alleviate the burdens caused by period stigma and poverty, menstrual hygiene management remains a largely unaddressed issue in refugee and displacement camps.

“As an organization that is committed to empowering women, we recognize the importance of providing comprehensive sexual education,” said Atassi of Souriyat Across Borders. “Unfortunately, we currently do not have an education project inside the IDPs camps. 

“However, we strive to support women’s health and hygiene needs through all our relief campaigns.

“Even in the emergency response situations, such as during the (Feb. 6 Syria-Turkiye) earthquakes ... we prioritized the inclusion of women’s hygiene baskets in our relief efforts.

“We believe that by addressing women’s basic needs, we can help them feel supported, safe and empowered.”

Lebanese party seeks Damascus’s approval after rejecting Hezbollah presidential candidate

Lebanese party seeks Damascus’s approval after rejecting Hezbollah presidential candidate
Updated 06 June 2023

Lebanese party seeks Damascus’s approval after rejecting Hezbollah presidential candidate

Lebanese party seeks Damascus’s approval after rejecting Hezbollah presidential candidate
  • Aoun’s presidential term ended on October 31 of last year, and the presidency has remained vacant since then due to political jostling that led to the FPM abandoning its alliance with Hezbollah over Frangieh’s nomination

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s former president Michel Aoun has traveled to Syria to shore up relations with Damascus after his party rejected Hezbollah’s preferred presidential candidate.

The Free Patriotic Movement said Aoun, its leader, “traveled on Tuesday to Damascus on a visit during which he will meet with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.”

It came days after the FPM announced it backed opposition candidate Jihad Azour for the Lebanese presidency and rejected Hezbollah’s preference Suleiman Frangieh, who is a close friend of Assad.

Aoun was accompanied by former minister Pierre Raffoul. A source close to the FPM stated that Aoun’s goal was “to confirm the continuation of the relationship and the strategic positioning of the FPM.

“In return, Aoun will explain to Assad that the FPM’s rejection of Frangieh has nothing to do with this positioning, and he will warn that clinging to Frangieh would pose a danger to Christian consensus.”

Aoun’s presidential term ended on October 31 of last year, and the presidency has remained vacant since then due to political jostling that led to the FPM abandoning its alliance with Hezbollah over Frangieh’s nomination.

Aoun was quoted during a meeting of the FPM parliamentary bloc on Monday evening as saying that Azour, who previously held the position of finance minister, “is a technocrat and works at the IMF (as Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department), which is what Lebanon needs, while the head of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Frangieh, is an integral part of the ruling system that has brought Lebanon to where it is."

Political parties are scrambling to secure the votes of MPs for the forthcoming presidential contest, set down by the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, for June 14.

So far, more than 30 out of 128 MPs have not yet decided on their position regarding supporting Azour. Some independent and undecided MPs say they are yet to make a decision while others will not disclose their choice.

The parliamentary bloc of the Democratic Gathering (the Progressive Socialist Party) will meet on Thursday to discuss its choice.

Others yet to make their choice public are the National Consensus (Faisal Karami and his allies), National Moderation (North), and the Independent Parliamentary Gathering which includes MPs Imad Hawat, Bilal al-Hashimi, Nabil Badr, Neeemat Ferm, and Jamil Abboud.

Armenian MPs, the three MPs of Sidon-Jezzine and about 10 MPs from the Change bloc plus some other unaffiliated independents, make up the list of those undecided.

MP Hassan Fadlallah from Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said it would “exercise its constitutional and legal rights in full, and we are now in a stage of discussion. We have time until the session date, and we will take a common position and proceed to implement it at the designated time.”

“We have not imposed our opinion on anyone, nor have we imposed a candidate on anyone. Instead, we said that there is a candidate, and let’s come to the discussion. The natural outcome is dialogue.”

It is all but guaranteed that 86 or more MPs will vote in the first round, meaning it will meet the legal threshold for legitimacy. However, neither candidate is expected to win two-thirds of all MPs’ votes, meaning a second round will be required where the threshold is reduced to 65 votes.

Supporters of Azour claim that he has secured between 65 and 70 votes. However, the second round of voting remains subject to the possibility of not reaching the quorum.

Previously, a joint-veto was placed on Frangieh by the Christian parliamentary blocs. There is concern that a joint-Shia veto will now be placed on Azour, who as yet has no declared support from that bloc.

The Amal Movement, Hezbollah and their allies previously resorted to obstructing the quorum of the second round of voting, as happened in the 11 sessions that were held during the nomination phase of MP Michel Moawad.

“The second round of voting will be an opportunity to reveal the limitations of everyone and to move from this stage to a more serious stage in the search for a moderate presidential candidate,” said the political observer.

Razi El Hage, a member of the parliamentary bloc of the Lebanese Forces which supports Azour, said that the campaign against him by opponents “does not indicate a positive approach to dealing with the election.

“Azour was not previously a candidate of any of the blocs that now support him, and he is not a candidate of challenge or maneuvering. Everyone converged around him to achieve the presidential mandate.

“They must respect the choice of the MPs, and let them apply the provisions of the Constitution and allow the successive rounds of voting, and they will see that the MPs are capable of electing Azour with an absolute majority.”