As Daesh terror attacks continue, what explains the group’s resilience in Syria?

Special As Daesh terror attacks continue, what explains the group’s resilience in Syria?
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Despite their territorial the militants continue to threaten communities across Syria. (AP)
Special As Daesh terror attacks continue, what explains the group’s resilience in Syria?
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Relatives of a fighter of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who were killed in an attack claimed by the Daesh group in Manbij carry his coffin during a funeral on March 27, 2019. (AFP/File photo)
Special As Daesh terror attacks continue, what explains the group’s resilience in Syria?
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Daesh’s territorial defeat in Syria was announced on March 23, 2019, after the Syrian Democratic Forces captured the extremist group’s last holdout in Baghouz, ending its reign of terror across the region, right. (AFP file)
Special As Daesh terror attacks continue, what explains the group’s resilience in Syria?
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Kurdish female fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather during a celebration at the iconic Al-Naim square in Raqa on October 19, 2017, after retaking the city from Daesh fighters. (AFP)
Special As Daesh terror attacks continue, what explains the group’s resilience in Syria?
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An image made available by Jihadist media outlet Welayat Raqa on June 30, 2014, shows Daesh fighters parading with a long-range missile on a street in the northern rebel-held Syrian city of Raqa. (AFP PHOTO / Welayat Raqa handout)
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Updated 24 August 2023
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As Daesh terror attacks continue, what explains the group’s resilience in Syria?

As Daesh terror attacks continue, what explains the group’s resilience in Syria?
  • Daesh has carried out thousands of attacks on military and civilian targets since its territorial defeat in 2019
  • Experts say the terror group has exploited geography and the wider conflict to maintain a continued presence

QAMISHLI, Syria: During the second week of August, the terror group Daesh carried out multiple attacks on Syrian regime soldiers in the governorates of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, leaving dozens dead and more injured.

With attacks in Syria’s central and eastern regions only continuing to grow in frequency and severity, some may wonder whether the group was truly eliminated when its defeat was announced in 2019.

Saturday, March 23, 2019, was a joyous occasion for the men and women of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the multi-ethnic, US-backed force which led the ground war against Daesh in Syria, as well as the people living in the autonomous regions of northern and eastern Syria.

From Manbij to Kobani, from Raqqa to Hasakah and Qamishli, the streets of cities in Syria’s northeast were packed with people from all walks of life celebrating Daesh’s final defeat at the Battle of Baghouz.




File photo shows Daesh militants parading in the Syrian city of Raqa on June 30, 2014, at the height of their reign of terror in parts of Syria and Iraq. (Welayat Raqa handout photo via AFP)

Little did they know that despite the group’s loss of territory, it would go on to maintain bases both inside and outside of the country, which it still uses to carry out operations in Syria.

“(Daesh) uses different frameworks for the continuation of its extremist ideology,” Sardar Mullah Darwish, a Syrian Kurdish journalist and director of Aso News Network, told Arab News.

The group “relies on cells spread in different areas in the governorates of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and southern Hasakah, and particularly in the Badia, where they are in areas that are not fully controlled by the coalition, the SDF, or even the armed forces of the regime and other military forces,” he said.

Darwish added that Daesh sustains itself via financial extortion, threatening wealthy residents and those working with international or local NGOs. He added that the use of motorcycles and the black veil known as the niqab are both ways in which the group attempts to camouflage itself among civilians.




A child stands by a bullet riddled wall in the northern Syrian city of Raqa, the former Syrian capital of the Daesh group, on August 21, 2019. (AFP file)

Daesh carries out attacks on both regime-held areas and regions held by the SDF. According to Darwish, these attacks are attempts “to show continued presence and strength.”

The divided nature of Syria complicates the response.

“What remains of the terrorist group’s remnants in our regions is limited to sleeper cells, and they are dealt with firsthand by our security and military forces in coordination and cooperation with the Global Coalition,” Abu Omar Al-Idlibi, commander of the SDF-aligned Northern Democratic Brigade, told Arab News.

“As for the rest of Syria’s geography, Daesh is still strong because it represents one of the reasons for the survival of the Syrian regime as well as a justification for the presence of its supporters, Russia and Iran.”

Al-Idlibi believes the presence of Daesh is used as a justification for Iran’s increasing military presence in Syria. Iranian-backed pro-regime militias, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Basij Forces, Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba, Kataib Hezbollah (also known as Iraqi Hezbollah), the Badr Organization, the Abu Al-Fadl Al-Abbas militia, the National Defense Forces, Liwa Al-Quds, Liwa Fatemiyoun and Liwa Zeynebiyoun, are all deployed across areas where Daesh remains strongest.




Abu Omar Al-Idlibi, commander of the SDF-aligned Northern Democratic Brigade. (AN Photo by Ali Ali)

Since its territorial defeat in Syria, Daesh has carried out more than 1,400 attacks on military and civilian targets across the country, resulting in the deaths of more than 3,000 people.

These statistics, sourced from publicly available datasets compiled by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, also show that more than 320 of these attacks were carried out even after the 2022 death of Daesh leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurayshi, the successor to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

According to the Monitoring and Documentation Department of the local North Press Agency, direct Daesh attacks claimed more than 262 lives across the country in the first half of 2023 alone, the majority of which were civilians.

In addition to this, the terror group kidnapped more than 160 people. A large number of the victims of Daesh attacks and kidnappings were truffle pickers, who resort to scouring vast, unsafe areas of the Syrian Badia in order to gather the lucrative fungi amid difficult economic conditions.

The Syrian Badia is a massive desert, covering more than half of the country’s territory and spanning eight of Syria’s 14 governorates. The region has a history of use by insurgent groups, having been used by the Iraqi resistance during the Iraq War from 2003 to 2011.

The Badia’s geography, a mostly vast and empty expanse of rocky desert with inhabited settlements few and far between, made it ideal for Daesh as a base of operations after its flight from Baghouz.




An image grab taken from a video made available by Jihadist media outlet Welayat Homs on July 4, 2015 shows 25 Syrian government soldiers kneeling in front of what appears to be children or teenagers wearing desert camouflage, in the ancient amphitheater in the city of Palmyra, ahead of being executed. (AFP/Welayat Homs handout photo/File)

The region’s proximity to the Iraqi border further added to its allure.

“This region was well known as an area controlled by smugglers, even before the Syrian war,” said Darwish. “The border crossing between the two countries has large gaps … and there is no control of military forces such as the regime, the SDF, or the Iraqi army, and so Daesh relies on this region for its activities.”

Darwish said Daesh had in recent years dug an extensive network of tunnels in the Iraqi-Syrian border region to aid in its smuggling operations between the two countries.

For the armed forces tasked with responding to the Daesh threat, these tunnels have proved a strategic headache.

“The geographical features of the region between Syria and Iraq have a great impact on the ease of movement by Daesh, especially in the areas under the control of Iran and its militias in Al-Bukamal and Al-Mayadeen, as these border areas are transit points for terrorist organizations and militias between Iraq and Syria,” said Al-Idlibi, the Northern Democratic Brigade commander.

Despite the large network of Iranian-backed, pro-regime militias deployed across central Syria, Al-Idlibi is doubtful that Damascus is serious about confronting Daesh remnants in the Badia.

“Daesh moves freely in the areas of the Syrian Badia … it has not been truly confronted in these areas due to the fact that they are under the control of the Syrian regime and its allies.”

At the end of 2019, Syrian regime forces were withdrawn from the Badia region to focus on Damascus’ new offensive aimed at retaking Idlib from the coalition of Syrian opposition and Islamist groups that held it. Although a ceasefire was declared in Idlib in 2020, the Badia had meanwhile become one of Daesh’s new havens in Syria.




A screen grab taken from a video released on July 1, 2014, shows Daesh militants parading on top of a truck on a street in the northern rebel-held Syrian city of Raqa. (AFP / Welayat Raqa handout/File)

“There are many vast and intertwined regions between the Syrian regime areas and Autonomous Administration (of North and East Syria) areas, with many natural crossings and land, and river routes,” said Al-Idlibi.

“This allows Daesh to move easily in order to infiltrate our areas in northern and eastern Syria … (Daesh) also finds support through sleeper cells present in our regions, and thus we see the terrorist group carrying out operations (here) from time to time.”

Both military personnel on the ground and civilian observers warn that the loosely held regime areas of the Syrian Badia are not the only stronghold for Daesh. Areas in the country’s north and northwest held by a coalition of militias known as the Syrian National Army, or SNA, have also served as a relatively safe area for Daesh militants for years.

“It has become an obvious fact that instability on the social, economic and subsistence level, as well as the spread of armed organizations, extremist ideology, inhumane and criminal practices, and the suppression of freedoms in the occupied areas controlled by the factions of the so-called (Syrian) National Army and terror group Al-Nusra Front, are what provide an incubator and required quagmire for the survival and existence of the leaders and emirs of terrorist organizations, foremost of which is the terror group Daesh,” Al-Idlibi added.




Officials of the Turkiye-backed opposition "Syrian National Army" opposition group led by Brigadier Adnan Ahmad, deputy chief of staff, hold a briefing meeting attended outside the village of al-Ghandurah northwest of Manbij in the north of Syria's Aleppo province on October 16, 2019, near the frontlines with Syrian Kurdish forces. (Aaref Watad/AFP)

Since 2019, coalition forces have carried out more than 13 air and drone strikes targeting Daesh in SNA-controlled areas, the latest of which killed a Daesh commander in a village near Jinderis, in the Afrin region, in April this year.

Furthermore, a 2021 report by Aso News Network compiled a list of 95 Daesh leaders among the ranks of SNA groups.

Darwish said that further research by Aso News Network uncovered information suggesting that the 2022 Daesh prison uprising in Hasakah, which claimed the lives of 121 SDF fighters and civilians, was supported by Daesh elements hiding out in SNA-held Ras Al-Ain.

The research also showed that several Daesh families had managed to escape the infamous Al-Hol camp and settle in Ras Al-Ain and neighboring Tal Abyad.




Members of an anti-terror unit of northeast Syria's Internal Security Forces, part of the SDF, are seen at a base in Qamishli. (AN Photo by Ali Ali)

General Michael Kurilla, commander of US Central Command, was in northeast Syria on Wednesday, where he visited the Al-Hol and Al-Roj Displaced Persons Camps and met with SDF officials to review the campaign to eliminate Daesh.

“The US, SDF, and the Global Coalition remain focused and committed on the enduring defeat of Daesh while addressing the humanitarian and security challenges at camps in northeast Syria,” Kurilla said in a statement. 

While the SDF and coalition continue to combat terrorism, the solution to the terrorism problem in Syria, says Al-Idlibi, is a political one.

“The real solution to rid Syria of terrorism once and for all lies in the need to implement a political solution in Syria, which was unanimously approved by the (UN) Security Council in 2015 via Resolution 2254,” said Al-Idlibi.

“The application of democracy is the ideal solution to eradicate the sources of extremism and terrorism … because tyranny and terrorism are inseparable and interdependent; they are the reasons for one another’s survival.”

 


UNRWA says around 1 million people have fled Rafah in past 3 weeks

UNRWA says around 1 million people have fled Rafah in past 3 weeks
Updated 8 sec ago
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UNRWA says around 1 million people have fled Rafah in past 3 weeks

UNRWA says around 1 million people have fled Rafah in past 3 weeks
  • Many Palestinians have complained they are vulnerable to Israeli attacks wherever they go
DUBAI: Around one million people have fled the Gazan city of Rafah in the past three weeks, the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) said on Tuesday.
The small city on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip had been sheltering more than a million Palestinians who fled Israeli assaults on other parts of the enclave.
Since early May, Israel’s military has been carrying out what it says is a limited operation in Rafah to kill fighters and dismantle infrastructure used by Hamas, which runs Gaza. It has told civilians to go to an “expanded humanitarian zone” some 20 kilometers away.
Many Palestinians have complained they are vulnerable to Israeli attacks wherever they go and have been moving up and down the Gaza Strip in the past few months.
UNRWA said the flight from Rafah “happened with nowhere safe to go and amidst bombardments, lack of food and water, piles of waste and unsuitable living conditions.”
Providing assistance and protection is becoming nearly “impossible,” the agency said.

International donors pledge $5.4 billion for Syrian refugees

International donors pledge $5.4 billion for Syrian refugees
Updated 28 May 2024
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International donors pledge $5.4 billion for Syrian refugees

International donors pledge $5.4 billion for Syrian refugees
  • Jordan’s foreign minister said the international community was abandoning Syrian refugees as funding to support them in host countries dwindles

BRUSSELS: International donors led by the EU on Monday pledged $5.4 billion (five billion euros) for Syrian refugees, as Brussels insisted they should not be “pushed back” to their war-torn homeland.

An annual gathering hosted by the EU and chaired by its foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saw the European Union commit 2.12 billion euros for 2024 and 2025.

That figure included 560 million euros already promised this year for Syrians displaced inside the country and in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, and the same amount for 2025.

The bloc also pledged one billion euros for Syrian refugees in neighboring Turkiye.

“The situation in Syria is more dire today than one year ago. In fact, it has never been so dire and humanitarian needs are at all time high,” Borrell said.

“Today 16.7 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, the highest level since the start of the crisis over 13 years ago.”

EU humanitarian chief Janez Lenarcic said that on top of the five billion euros in grants, a further 2.5 billion euros was promised by donors in loans.

He said the EU and its member states overall accounted for three quarters of the grants pledged.

The United States said it had also pledged nearly 545 million euros ($593 million) in humanitarian assistance for Syria. Washington “remains committed to assisting the Syrian people and encourages other donors to continue their support for Syrians,” a State Department statement added.

The donor drive came after the United Nations refugee agency warned its operations to support displaced Syrians remained “significantly underfunded at 15 percent almost six months into 2024.”

“While we welcome the pledges made today, the discussion remains far removed from the harsh realities Syrians face,” Oxfam’s Syria director, Moutaz Adham, said.

“Funding still fails to match the scale of needs and year after year, the number of people relying on aid grows.”

In the face of the shortfalls, regional countries hosting millions of refugees from Syria have been increasingly pushing for “voluntary” returns to the country.

But Borrell cautioned about any efforts to make people move back to Syria.

“We make a warning about the so-called voluntary returns of Syrian refugees to Syria,” he said.

“Voluntary returns mean voluntary. The refugees should not be pushed back to Syria.”

Borrell insisted that the international community should not “incentivise this by any means.”

“We consider that there is not the safe, voluntary, informed and dignified returns of refugees to Syria for the time being,” the EU’s top diplomat said.

Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.

More than a quarter of Syrians live in extreme poverty, the World Bank said Saturday, 13 years into a devastating civil war that has battered the economy and impoverished millions.

Borrell said that efforts to find a political solution to the conflict remained at an “impasse.”

“The Assad regime has shown no intention of engaging in any meaningful political process,” he said.

“We request everyone, including partners in the region, to use their political leverage to encourage a renewed impetus on the political process.”


Netanyahu says deadly Israeli strike in Rafah was the result of a ‘tragic mistake’

Netanyahu says deadly Israeli strike in Rafah was the result of a ‘tragic mistake’
Updated 28 May 2024
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Netanyahu says deadly Israeli strike in Rafah was the result of a ‘tragic mistake’

Netanyahu says deadly Israeli strike in Rafah was the result of a ‘tragic mistake’
  • “Despite our utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night there was a tragic mistake,” Netanyahu said Monday in an address to Israel’s parliament

TEL AVIV, Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that a “tragic mistake” was made in an Israeli strike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah that set fire to a camp housing displaced Palestinians and, according to local officials, killed at least 45 people.
The strike only added to the surging international criticism Israel has faced over its war with Hamas, with even its closest allies expressing outrage at civilian deaths. Israel insists it adheres to international law even as it faces scrutiny in the world’s top courts, one of which last week demanded that it halt the offensive in Rafah.
Netanyahu did not elaborate on the error. Israel’s military initially said it had carried out a precise airstrike on a Hamas compound, killing two senior militants. As details of the strike and fire emerged, the military said it had opened an investigation into the deaths of civilians.
Sunday night’s attack, which appeared to be one of the war’s deadliest, helped push the overall Palestinian death toll in the war above 36,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and noncombatants in its tally.
“Despite our utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night there was a tragic mistake,” Netanyahu said Monday in an address to Israel’s parliament. “We are investigating the incident and will obtain a conclusion because this is our policy.”
Mohammed Abuassa, who rushed to the scene in the northwestern neighborhood of Tel Al-Sultan, said rescuers “pulled out people who were in an unbearable state.”
“We pulled out children who were in pieces. We pulled out young and elderly people. The fire in the camp was unreal,” he said.
At least 45 people were killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and the Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service. The ministry said the dead included at least 12 women, eight children and three older adults, with another three bodies burned beyond recognition.
In a separate development, Egypt’s military said one of its soldiers was shot dead during an exchange of fire in the Rafah area, without providing further details. Israel said it was in contact with Egyptian authorities, and both sides said they were investigating.
An initial investigation found that the soldier had responded to an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants, Egypt’s state-owned Qahera TV reported. Egypt has warned that Israel’s incursion in Rafah could threaten the two countries’ decades-old peace treaty.
The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency closed meeting for Tuesday afternoon on the situation in Rafah at the request of Algeria, the Arab representative on the council, two council diplomats told The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement.
Rafah, the southernmost Gaza city on the border with Egypt, had housed more than a million people — about half of Gaza’s population — displaced from other parts of the territory. Most have fled once again since Israel launched what it called a limited incursion there earlier this month. Hundreds of thousands are packed into squalid tent camps in and around the city.
Elsewhere in Rafah, the director of the Kuwait Hospital, one of the city’s last functioning medical centers, said it was shutting down and that staff members were relocating to a field hospital. Dr. Suhaib Al-Hamas said the decision was made after a strike killed two health workers Monday at the entrance to the hospital.
Netanyahu says Israel must destroy what he says are Hamas’ last remaining battalions in Rafah. The militant group launched a barrage of rockets Sunday from the city toward heavily populated central Israel, setting off air raid sirens but causing no injuries.
The strike on Rafah brought a new wave of condemnation, even from Israel’s strongest supporters.
The US National Security Council said in a statement that the “devastating images” from the strike on Rafah were “heartbreaking.” It said the US was working with the Israeli military and others to assess what happened.
French President Emmanuel Macron was more blunt, saying “these operations must stop” in a post on X. “There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians. I call for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire,” he wrote.
The Foreign Office of Germany, which has been a staunch supporter of Israel for decades, said “the images of charred bodies, including children, from the airstrike in Rafah are unbearable.”
“The exact circumstances must be clarified, and the investigation announced by the Israeli army must now come quickly,” the ministry added. ”The civilian population must finally be better protected.”
Qatar, a key mediator in attempts to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas, said the Rafah strike could “complicate” talks, Negotiations, which appear to be restarting, have faltered repeatedly over Hamas’ demand for a lasting truce and the withdrawal of Israeli forces, terms Israeli leaders have publicly rejected.
The Israeli military’s top legal official, Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, said authorities were examining the strike in Rafah and that the military regrets the loss of civilian life.
Speaking to an Israeli lawyers’ conference, Tomer-Yerushalmi said Israel has launched 70 criminal investigations into possible violations of international law, including the deaths of civilians, the conditions at a detention facility holding suspected militants and the deaths of some inmates in Israeli custody. She said incidents of property crimes and looting were also being examined.
Israel has long maintained it has an independent judiciary capable of investigating and prosecuting abuses. But rights groups say Israeli authorities routinely fail to fully investigate violence against Palestinians and that even when soldiers are held accountable, the punishment is usually light.
Israel has denied allegations of genocide brought against it by South Africa at the International Court of Justice. Last week, the court ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, a ruling it has no power to enforce.
Separately, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three Hamas leaders, over alleged crimes linked to the war. The ICC only intervenes when it concludes that the state in question is unable or unwilling to properly prosecute such crimes.
Israel says it does its best to adhere to the laws of war. Israeli leaders also say they face an enemy that makes no such commitment, embeds itself in civilian areas and refuses to release Israeli hostages unconditionally.
Hamas triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attack into Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized some 250 hostages. Hamas still holds about 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a ceasefire last year.
Around 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes. Severe hunger is widespread, and UN officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.


UN Security Council set to meet over deadly Rafah strike

UN Security Council set to meet over deadly Rafah strike
Updated 28 May 2024
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UN Security Council set to meet over deadly Rafah strike

UN Security Council set to meet over deadly Rafah strike
  • The attack prompted a wave of international condemnation, with Palestinians and many Arab countries calling it a ‘massacre’
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: ‘There is no safe place in Gaza. This horror must stop’

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: The UN Security Council was set to convene an emergency meeting Tuesday over an Israeli strike that killed dozens in a displaced persons camp in Rafah, as three European countries were slated to formally recognize a Palestinian state.

AFP journalists on the ground early Tuesday reported fresh Israeli strikes overnight in the southern Gaza border city, where an Israeli attack targeting two senior Hamas members on Sunday night sparked a fire that ripped through a displacement center, killing 45, according to Gaza health officials.

The attack prompted a wave of international condemnation, with Palestinians and many Arab countries calling it a “massacre.” Israel said it was looking into the “tragic accident.”

“There is no safe place in Gaza. This horror must stop,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres posted on social media.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths pointed to the widespread warnings of civilian deaths that circulated ahead of Israel’s incursion into Rafah, saying in a statement: “We’ve seen the consequences in last night’s utterly unacceptable attack.”

“To call it ‘a mistake’ is a message that means nothing for those killed, those grieving, and those trying to save lives,” he added.

Diplomats said the UN Security Council would convene Tuesday for an emergency session called by Algeria to discuss the attack.

The EU’s foreign policy chief said he was “horrified by news” of the strike, while French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “outraged,” and a US National Security Council spokesperson said Israel “must take every precaution possible to protect civilians.”

The Israeli military said it was launching a probe.

Displaced Gazan Khalil Al-Bahtini was preparing to leave the impacted area, saying Monday that “last night, the tent opposite to ours was targeted.”

“We have loaded all our belongings, but we don’t know where to go.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told parliament the deaths occurred “despite our best efforts” to protect civilians.

The outcry over the strike came as Spain, Ireland and Norway were set to formally recognize a Palestinian state on Tuesday in a decision slammed by Israel as a “reward” for Hamas.

“Recognizing the state of Palestine is about justice for the Palestinian people,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said Monday in Brussels.

It was also “the best guarantee of security for Israel and absolutely essential for reaching peace in the region,” he said alongside his Irish and Norwegian counterparts.

On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he had told Spain’s consulate in Jerusalem to stop offering consular services to West Bank Palestinians from June 1 as a “preliminary punitive” measure.

Israel launched the deadly strike on Rafah late Sunday, hours after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at the Tel Aviv area, most of which were intercepted.

Israel’s army said its aircraft “struck a Hamas compound” in the city and killed Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar, senior officials for the militant group in the occupied West Bank.

Gaza’s civil defense agency said the strike ignited a fire that tore through a displacement center in northwestern Rafah near a facility of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

“We saw charred bodies and dismembered limbs... We also saw cases of amputations, wounded children, women and the elderly,” said civil defense agency official Mohammad Al-Mughayyir.

One survivor, a woman who declined to be named, said: “We heard a loud sound and there was fire all around us. The children were screaming.”

Adding to already heightened tensions since Israel launched its Rafah ground operation, the Israeli and Egyptian militaries reported a “shooting incident” on Monday that killed one Egyptian guard in the border area between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip.

Both forces said they were investigating.

Footage from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society showed chaotic nighttime scenes of paramedics racing to the attack site and evacuating the wounded.

Mughayyir said the rescue efforts were hampered by war damage and the impact of Israel’s siege, which has led to severe shortages of fuel and “water to extinguish fires.”

The Israeli attack sparked strong protests from Egypt and Qatar, both of which have played key roles as mediators in efforts to negotiate a ceasefire and hostage-prisoner exchange.

Egypt deplored what it called the “targeting of defenseless civilians,” saying it was part of “a systematic policy aimed at widening the scope of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip to make it uninhabitable.”

Qatar condemned a “dangerous violation of international law” and voiced “concern that the bombing will complicate ongoing mediation efforts” toward a truce.

The top world court, the International Court of Justice, on Friday ordered Israel to halt any offensive in Rafah and elsewhere that could bring about “the physical destruction” of the Palestinians.

The war in Gaza started after Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,050 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, which has been central to aid operations in the besieged territory during the war, said on social media platform X that “with every day passing, providing assistance & protection becomes nearly impossible.”

“The images from last night are testament to how Rafah has turned into hell on Earth,” he said.


New settler units on Palestinian land hand Israel a powerful demographic weapon

New settler units on Palestinian land hand Israel a powerful demographic weapon
Updated 27 May 2024
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New settler units on Palestinian land hand Israel a powerful demographic weapon

New settler units on Palestinian land hand Israel a powerful demographic weapon
  • Israeli authorities accused of exploiting Gaza war to create “more facts on the ground” in occupied West Bank
  • Uptick noticed in approvals for illegal settlements in East Jerusalem within or alongside Palestinian neighborhoods

LONDON: On July 11 last year, 68-year-old Nora Ghaith and her husband Mustafa Sub Laban lost their battle to hold on to their home in Jerusalem’s Old City — in which Ghaith was born — when Israeli police broke down their door and forcibly evicted the elderly couple.

The eviction of the last remaining Palestinians in an apartment building now filled with settlers was carried out under a controversial law. This legislation enables Jews to claim properties that supposedly belonged to their families before they were evicted in 1948, and were subsequently occupied by Palestinian refugees.

Since Oct. 7, plans for no fewer than eight new settlements in East Jerusalem have been fast-tracked. (AFP)

The Legal and Administrative Matters Law was passed in 1970 after Israel annexed East Jerusalem. The same law does not, however, permit the far larger number of Palestinians whose families were evicted from West Jerusalem in 1948 to reclaim the properties they lost.

In fact, the Absentee Property Law, passed in 1950 and amended in 1973, prevents Palestinians from reclaiming lost properties.

Both laws are doubly unjust, critics say, because Jews who left East Jerusalem in 1948 were later given Palestinian properties in West Jerusalem as compensation, and in being allowed to “reclaim” properties in East Jerusalem are being doubly compensated.

Israeli troops patrol the Palestinian refugee camp of Al-Fara, in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)

Last year, the “deeply shocking and heart-breaking” eviction of the Ghaith-Sub Laban family and many other Palestinian families in East Jerusalem was condemned by UN experts as “part of Israel’s apartheid machinery at work, designed to consolidate Jewish ownership of Jerusalem and racially dominate the city’s population.”

The human rights special rapporteurs said such evictions were “a gross violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime,” and evidence of “intention to annex and colonize the occupied territory in violation of international law.”

Between Oct. 7 last year and March 10, some 98 Palestinian homes were demolished, research reveals. (AFP)

Less than a year on, however, two Israeli human rights nongovernmental organizations said that while the global community’s attention has been focused on the death and destruction unfolding in Gaza, there has been “a major acceleration in the promotion and fast-tracking of new settlement plans in East Jerusalem and a dramatic spike in the rate of demolitions of Palestinian homes.”

The Israeli government “is clearly exploiting the war to create more facts on the ground to predetermine the final status of Jerusalem and thwart all prospects for a negotiated political agreement, while forcibly displacing Palestinians from their homes and the city,” Amy Cohen, director of international relations at Ir Amim, told Arab News.

Ir Amim, or City of Nations, is an Israeli NGO working “to render Jerusalem a more equitable and sustainable city for the Israelis and Palestinians who share it and to help secure a negotiated resolution on the city.”

Research, carried out jointly with Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights, reveals that between Oct. 7 last year and March 10, some 98 Palestinian homes were demolished — an almost two-fold monthly increase compared with the period preceding the war.

At the same time, there has been “a major uptick” in efforts to create illegal settlements in East Jerusalem either within or alongside Palestinian neighborhoods.

These plans provide for more than 12,000 housing units. With an average 6.5 births per woman among ultra-Orthodox Jewish families recorded in the period 2019 to 2021, this means tens of thousands of additional settlers will be moving into East Jerusalem.

From 2008 to May 12 this year, 1,498 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (AFP)

According to the most recent census, approximately 361,700 (61 percent) of East Jerusalem’s population are Palestinian Arabs. The remaining 234,000 (40 percent) are Jewish — all of whom are regarded by the international community as illegal settlers in the territory, which has been occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967.

The growing number of illegal settlements is especially concerning in light of the statistics for violent assaults in the West Bank. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, from 2008 to May 12 this year, 1,498 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — 10 times as many as the 149 Israeli deaths reported.

There is an even greater disparity in the number of injuries on both sides — 95,383 Palestinians and 2,373 Israelis.

The Israeli authorities “are certainly exploiting the circumstances right now, taking advantage of the fact that the international community is obviously overwhelmed with the horrific, catastrophic conditions in Gaza and all of its implications,” said Cohen.

The growing number of illegal settlements is especially concerning in light of the statistics for violent assaults in the West Bank. (AFP)

“So, while the attention is diverted there — and the Israeli government is complicit in this — the activists in the settler movement are really taking advantage of the circumstances to create more ‘facts on the ground.’”

These “facts” are motivated by the Israeli government’s policy “to ensure that Jerusalem remains what they often call the ‘united, eternal capital of Jerusalem,’ and to preserve the essence of the city being a Jewish capital.

“That means not only do they have to secure control over as much space as possible, but also over the demographic balance of the population — the demographic majority must be in favor of Jewish Israelis, which is being achieved by targeting the Palestinian population.”

She added: “These policies and these measures essentially put a cap on the Palestinian demographic, which serves as a form of — and it’s horrific to even say this — but a form of displacement and population control, to ensure that there will be a Jewish demographic majority in the city.

INNUMBERS

98 Palestinian homes demolished in Oct. 7-March 10 period in East Jerusalem.

12,000 Housing units planned in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem.

“And this has been playing out in the form of demolitions.”

Since Oct. 7, plans for no fewer than eight new settlements in East Jerusalem have been fast-tracked.

The fear, said Cohen, was that the situation was approaching a tipping point beyond which the implementation of a two-state solution would become impossible.

“If the international community were to come together today with representatives of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and begin to sit down and draw some sort of road map, it would look very, very different than it did 20 years ago, during Camp David or even before that during the Oslo Accords,” she said.

The Israeli government ‘is clearly exploiting the war to create more facts on the ground to predetermine the final status of Jerusalem,’ said Amy Cohen.

“Obviously, any road map would have to be adapted to the reality of today. You cannot reverse most of what has happened up until now in Jerusalem. But you can certainly prevent what Israel is trying to do right now.

“And so first and foremost is the need to really address the here and now, to halt the major developments on the ground for settlements and to halt the mechanisms of displacement, such as demolitions and evictions.”

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She added: “If the international community is really serious about a two-state solution, it needs to act now to hold Israel accountable to international law and the parameters of a two-state solution, and so far we haven’t seen that.”

Since the outbreak of the war there has been renewed discussion about the need to jump-start a new peace process, to renew dialogue toward an agreed-upon negotiated resolution.

The Absentee Property Law, passed in 1950 and amended in 1973, prevents Palestinians from reclaiming lost properties. (AFP)

“But with that, we have to bring back the centrality of Jerusalem in the debate, because without Jerusalem there is really no two-state solution.

“And as we all know, without a two-state solution, we will not be able to achieve peace and security for all of us, Israelis and Palestinians, living between the river and the sea.”