Israel on high alert after rocket exchanges at Lebanon border

The UN force in Lebanon conducted intensive patrols along the southern border of the country on Tuesday, following hours of rocket exchanges between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters. (Reuters)
The UN force in Lebanon conducted intensive patrols along the southern border of the country on Tuesday, following hours of rocket exchanges between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 October 2023
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Israel on high alert after rocket exchanges at Lebanon border

Israel on high alert after rocket exchanges at Lebanon border
  • All public and private schools located south of the Litani Line, especially in the districts of Tyre and Bint Jbeil, were closed
  • Lebanese regions saw a rush of residents to gas stations for the second consecutive day

BEIRUT: The UN force in Lebanon conducted intensive patrols along the southern border of the country on Tuesday, following hours of rocket exchanges between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters.

Correspondents in the southern region reported “Israeli soldiers on high alert on the other side of the border and the deployment of the Lebanese army from the Lebanese side.”

The tensions led to the displacement of more people from the border area toward the cities of Sidon, Beirut and the Bekaa region, amid intense Israeli jet intrusions in Lebanese airspace.

All public and private schools located south of the Litani Line, especially in the districts of Tyre and Bint Jbeil, were closed.

The Lebanese University announced the closure of all its branches in the south, in Nabatieh, Tyre and Bint Jbeil, “due to the tense security situation on the southern border.”

Hezbollah officially mourned the loss of three of its members who were killed in an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of Marwahin, Boustane, az Zallutiyya, Yarine and Naqoura, and the town of Ayta ash Shab in the Bint Jbeil district.

This came after a group from Hezbollah launched an attack on Monday afternoon on the Israeli Pranit barracks, which serves as the command center of the Galilee Division, and the Avivim barracks, a command center of a battalion affiliated with the Western Brigade, with guided missiles and mortar shells. The party reported “inflicting human losses on the Israeli army.”

Lebanese regions saw a rush of residents to gas stations for the second consecutive day, as well as to shopping centers and warehouses, to stock up on supplies, amid fears that the confrontations on the border would escalate into a battle that spilled over into the Lebanese interior.

In the context of containing any repercussions from the events in the Gaza Strip, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri held a meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Berri also met US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea.

Mikati called for a Cabinet session on Thursday “to discuss the security situation in the country and the measures taken,” and held talks with the country’s top military officials.

The British Foreign Ministry, through its embassy in Lebanon, “advised travel to Lebanon only when necessary and not to go to certain areas south of the Litani River, which include the Naqoura-Tyre-Sidon-Beirut Highway and the areas west of it.”

It also warned “against going to the Hermel area, including the cities of Arsal, Ras Baalbek, Qaa, Labweh, and Nahle, and the Palestinian refugee camps, or within five kilometers of the border with Syria.”

British Ambassador Hamish Cowell stressed “the importance of Lebanon not being drawn into the conflict and remaining distant from it.”

A political observer told Arab News: “Lebanon and its economy cannot bear the repercussions of any new war with Israel that breaks out in the south and extends to the rest of the country.

“The tensions on the southern Lebanese border have not yet reached the point of opening a war front with Israel, and their objective seems to be to alleviate pressure on the Gaza front.

“The cost of the war on Lebanon is exorbitant, and it has previously gone through the experience. Lebanon’s infrastructure is run down, and it faces a monetary collapse if it gets involved in the war. Massive chaos with dangerous social repercussions might ensue, especially if Israel strikes vital facilities and ports.”

The Lebanese Kataeb Party warned, after a meeting of its political council, against Lebanon sliding into a new war “that is unnecessary and serves a plan aimed at stabilizing power equations in the region and prioritizing foreign interests over Lebanese interest.”

It added: “The use of Lebanese territory and linking it to the Palestinian arena is unacceptable, and Hezbollah or any of the Palestinian factions cannot speak on behalf of Lebanon, whether in war or peace, because this decision belongs to the Lebanese state and all its institutions.”

The party condemned “Israel resorting to the logic of force and violence that has brought nothing but destruction for 75 years, displacing the Palestinian people and leaving them at the mercy of agreements that have remained ink on paper.”

The Lebanese Press Editors Syndicate on Tuesday condemned “the attack on Al Arabiya reporter Mahmoud Shukr while he was covering the events in southern Lebanon.” He sustained injuries that required hospitalization.

The syndicate also condemned “the targeting of journalists, media personnel, and photographers as they perform their professional duty in covering the events of the Gaza Strip, which has led to the martyrdom of some of them and the destruction of press institutions, news agencies, and Radio Gaza.”


Top UN court to rule today on South Africa bid for ceasefire in Gaza

Top UN court to rule today on South Africa bid for ceasefire in Gaza
Updated 24 May 2024
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Top UN court to rule today on South Africa bid for ceasefire in Gaza

Top UN court to rule today on South Africa bid for ceasefire in Gaza
  • South Africa has petitioned International Court of Justice for emergency measures to order Israel to 'cease military operations in Gaza Strip'
  • The ICJ rulings are binding but it has no power to enforce them, but a ruling against Israel would increase the international legal pressure

THE HAGUE: The UN’s top court said it will rule Friday on a request by South Africa to order Israel to implement a ceasefire in Gaza.
South Africa has petitioned the International Court of Justice for emergency measures to order Israel to “cease its military operations in the Gaza Strip” including in Rafah city, where it is pressing an offensive.
The rulings of the ICJ, which rules on disputes between states, are binding but it has no power to enforce them — it has ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine to no avail, for example.
But a ruling against Israel would increase the international legal pressure after the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor said Monday he was seeking arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders.
In hearings last week, South Africa charged that what it described as Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza had hit a “new and horrific stage” with its assault on Rafah, the last part of Gaza to face a ground invasion.
The Rafah campaign is “the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people,” argued Vaughan Lowe, a lawyer for South Africa.
“It was Rafah that brought South Africa to the court. But it is all Palestinians as a national, ethnical and racial group who need the protection from genocide that the court can order,” he added.
Lawyers for Israel hit out at South Africa’s case as being “totally divorced” from reality that made a “mockery” of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention it is accused of breaching.
“Calling something a genocide again and again does not make it genocide. Repeating a lie does not make it true,” top lawyer for Israel Gilad Noam said.
“There is a tragic war going on but there is no genocide,” he added.
Israeli troops began their ground assault on parts of Rafah early this month, defying international opposition including from top ally the United States, which voiced fears for the more than one million civilians trapped in the city.
Israel has ordered mass evacuations from the city, where it has vowed to eliminate Hamas’s tunnel network and its remaining fighters.
The UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.


Top UN court to rule on S. Africa Gaza ceasefire bid

Top UN court to rule on S. Africa Gaza ceasefire bid
Updated 38 min 46 sec ago
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Top UN court to rule on S. Africa Gaza ceasefire bid

Top UN court to rule on S. Africa Gaza ceasefire bid
  • Israel wants the court to toss out the request, arguing an enforced ceasefire would allow Hamas fighters to regroup

The Hague: The top United Nations court on Friday will rule on a plea by South Africa to order a halt to the Israeli military offensive in Gaza, with Pretoria accusing Israel of “genocide.”
Pretoria has urged the International Court of Justice to order an “immediate” stop to Israel’s campaign, including in the southern area of Rafah, and facilitate access of humanitarian aid.
Israel wants the court to toss out the request, arguing an enforced ceasefire would allow Hamas fighters to regroup and make it impossible to recover hostages taken in their October 7 assault.
In a highly-charged ruling in January, the court ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.
South Africa argues that the recent Israeli operation in Rafah changed the situation on the ground and should compel the court to issue fresh emergency orders.
The ICJ rules in disputes between countries. Its orders are legally binding but it has no means to enforce them directly. The court has, for example, ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine to no avail.
Judges could agree to South Africa’s request, reject it out of hand or even issue a completely separate set of orders.
The ICJ’s ruling comes hot on the heels of a landmark request by the International Criminal Court’s lead prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders.
Prosecutor Karim Khan alleges that senior Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plus top Hamas officials, are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the October 7 attack and the war in Gaza.
In public hearings at the ICJ last week, South Africa’s ambassador Vusimuzi Madonsela alleged that “Israel’s genocide has continued apace and has just reached a new and horrific stage.”
“Although the present application was triggered by the unfolding situation in Rafah, Israel’s genocidal onslaught across Gaza has intensified over the past few days, also warranting the attention of this Court,” he said.
South Africa charges the only way to enable humanitarian aid in to ease the crisis in Gaza is a full halt to Israel’s military operations.
It wants the court to issue emergency orders — “provisional measures” in court jargon — while it weighs the broader South African case that Israel is breaching the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.
Israel counters that South Africa’s case is an “obscene exploitation of the most sacred convention” and the picture Pretoria paints to the court is “completely divorced from the facts and circumstances.”
“It makes a mockery of the heinous charge of genocide,” said top Israel lawyer Gilam Noam at hearings.
“Calling something a genocide, again and again, does not make it genocide. Repeating a lie does not make it true,” he added.
Noam described Rafah as a “focal point for ongoing terrorist activity” and said that operations there were “limited and localized,” with no harm meant to civilians.
Israel pressed ahead with the assault on Rafah, the last city in Gaza to be entered by its ground troops, in defiance of global opposition, including from top ally the United States.
Washington voiced concerns that about 1.4 million Palestinians trapped in the city would be caught in the line of fire.
Israel has since ordered mass evacuations from the city, and the UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.
The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Israel has also imposed a siege that has deprived Gaza’s 2.4 million people of most clean water, food, medicines and fuel.


Divisions, elections and Assad lay bare Europe’s Syrian quagmire

Divisions, elections and Assad lay bare Europe’s Syrian quagmire
Updated 24 May 2024
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Divisions, elections and Assad lay bare Europe’s Syrian quagmire

Divisions, elections and Assad lay bare Europe’s Syrian quagmire

PARIS: The European Union will convene donors next week to keep Syria on the global agenda, but as the economic and social burden of refugees on neighboring countries mounts the bloc is divided and unable to find solutions to tackle the issue, diplomats say.
Syria has become a forgotten crisis that nobody wants to stir amid the war raging between Israel and Islamist Palestinian militants Hamas and tensions growing between Iran and Western powers over its regional activities.
More than 5 million refugees mostly in Lebanon and Turkiye and millions more displaced internally have little prospect of returning home with political stability no closer than since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s rule began in 2011.
Funding to support them is dropping with the likes of the World Food Programme reducing its aid. Difficulties to host refugees are surfacing, notably in Lebanon, where the economic situation is perilous and a call to send Syrians home is one of the rare issues that unites all communities.
“We have no levers because we never resumed relations with the Assad regime and there are no indications anybody really will,” said a former European envoy to Syria.
“Even if we did, why would Syria offer carrots to countries that have been hostile to him and especially taking back people who opposed him anyway.”
Major European and Arab ministers along with key international organizations meet for the 8th Syria conference next Monday, but beyond vague promises and financial pledges, there are few signs that Europe can take the lead.
The talks come just ahead of the European elections on June 6-9 in which migration is a divisive issue among the bloc’s 27-member states. With far-right and populist parties already expected to do well, there is little appetite to step up refugee support.
The conference itself has changed from eight years ago. The level of participation has been downgraded. The likes of Russia, the key actor backing Assad, is no longer invited after its invasion of Ukraine. The global geopolitical situation and drop in the conflict’s intensity keeps it off radars.
There are divisions within the EU on the subject. Some countries such as Italy and Cyprus are more open to having a form of dialogue with Assad to at least discuss possible ways to step up voluntary returns in conjunction with and under the auspices of the UN.
However, others, like France which acknowledges the pressure the refugees are weighing on Lebanon and fears broader conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel, remain steadfast that there can be no discussion with the Assad regime until key conditions are met.
But the reality on the ground is forcing a discussion on the issue.
Demonstrating the tensions between the EU and the countries hosting refugees, Lebanese MPs threatened to reject the bloc’s 1 billion euro package announced earlier this month, slamming it as a “bribe” to keep refugees in limbo in Lebanon instead of resettling them permanently in Europe or sending them back home to Syria.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who unlike in previous years is not due to attend the Brussels conference, has said that Beirut would start dealing with the issue itself without proper international assistance.
The result has been an upswing in migrant boats from Lebanon to Europe, with nearby Cyprus and increasingly Italy, too, as the main destinations, prompting some countries to ring alarm bells fearing a flood of new refugees into the bloc.
“Let me be clear, the current situation is not sustainable for Lebanon, it’s not sustainable for Cyprus and it’s not sustainable for the European Union. It hasn’t been sustainable for years,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said this month during a visit to Lebanon.
Highlighting the divisions in Europe, eight countries — Austria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland — last week issued a joint statement after talks in Cyprus, breaking ranks with the bloc’s previous positions.
They argued that the dynamics in Syria had changed and that while political stability did not exist yet, things had evolved sufficiently to “re-evaluate the situation” to find “more effective ways of handling the issue.”
“I don’t think there will be a big movement in terms of EU attitude, but perhaps some baby steps to engage and see if more can be done in various areas,” said a diplomat from one of the countries that attended the talks in Cyprus.
Another was more blunt.
“Come Tuesday Syria will be swept under the carpet and forgotten. The Lebanese will be left to deal with the crisis alone,” said a French diplomat.


More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch

More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch
Updated 24 May 2024
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More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch

More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch
  • Crowds overrun some of the first trucks coming from the new US-led sea route and taking its contents over the weekend, leading to a two-day suspension of aid distribution
  • At maximum capacity, the pier would bring in enough food for 500,000 of Gaza’s people. US officials stressed the need for flow through open land crossings for the remaining 1.8 million

WASHINGTON: A six-day-old US pier project in Gaza is starting to get more aid to Palestinians in need but conditions are challenging, US officials said Thursday. That reflects the larger problems bringing food and other supplies to starving people in the besieged territory.

The floating pier had a troubled launch, with crowds overrunning some of the first trucks coming from the new US-led sea route and taking its contents over the weekend. One man in the crowd was shot dead in still-unexplained circumstances. It led to a two-day suspension of aid distribution.
The US military worked with the UN and Israeli officials to select safer alternate routes for trucks coming from the pier, US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper told reporters Thursday.
As a result, the US pier on Wednesday accounted for 27 of the 70 total trucks of aid that the UN was able to round up from all land and sea crossings into Gaza for distribution to civilians, the United States said.
That’s a fraction of the 150 truckloads of food, emergency nutrition treatment and other supplies that US officials aim to bring in when the sea route is working at maximum capacity.
Plus, Gaza needs 600 trucks entering each day, according to the US Agency for International Development, to curb a famine that the heads of USAID and the UN World Food Program have said has begun in the north and to keep it from spreading south.

Only one of the 54 trucks that came from the pier Tuesday and Wednesday encountered any security issues on their way to aid warehouses and distribution points, US officials said. They called the issues “minor” but gave no details.
A deepening Israeli offensive in the southern city of Rafah has made it impossible for aid shipments to get through the crossing there, which is a key source for fuel and food coming into Gaza. Israel says it is bringing aid in through another border crossing, Kerem Shalom, but humanitarian organizations say Israeli military operations make it difficult for them to retrieve the aid there for distribution.
The Biden administration last week launched the $320 million floating pier for a new maritime aid route into Gaza as the seven-month-old Israel-Hamas war and Israeli restrictions on land crossings have severely limited food deliveries to 2.3 million Palestinians.
For all humanitarian efforts, “the risks are manifold,” Daniel Dieckhaus, USAID’s response director for Gaza, said at a briefing with Cooper. “This is an active conflict with deteriorating conditions.”
Dieckhaus rejected charges from some aid groups that the pier is diverting attention from what the US, UN and relief workers say is the essential need for Israel to allow full access to land crossings for humanitarian shipments.
For instance, Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official now leading Refugees International, tweeted that “the pier is humanitarian theater.”
“I would not call, within a couple of days, getting enough food and other supplies for tens of thousands of people for a month theater,” Dieckhaus said Thursday when asked about the criticism.
At maximum capacity, the pier would bring in enough food for 500,000 of Gaza’s people. US officials stressed the need for flow through open land crossings for the remaining 1.8 million.
 


Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation
Updated 24 May 2024
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Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

WASHINGTON: Three US troops suffered non-combat injuries in the effort to make a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza into a conduit for humanitarian aid, with one in critical condition at an Israeli hospital, US officials said on Thursday.

The injuries were the first for US forces during the latest operation to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The pier was announced by US President Joe Biden in March and involved the military assembling the floating structure off the coast. Estimated to cost $320 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 US service members, it went into operation last week.

US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the deputy commander of US Central Command, told reporters that two of the troops had a sprained ankle and a minor back injury.

“Two were very minor, routine injuries. Those individuals returned to duty,” Cooper said.

A third service member, injured on a ship at sea, was medically evacuated to a hospital in Israel, he said. A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the individual was in critical condition.

US lawmakers have voiced concern about the risks to positioning US troops off the coast of Gaza. Biden has said they will not step foot in the war-torn city itself.

The Pentagon has said it will prioritize the safety of US military personnel.

“We’re clear eyed and we continue to look at force protection all day, every day and as it stands now we assess the operations can continue,” Cooper said.

Social media images showed a US air defense system, known as the Counter Rockets, Artillery and Mortars (CRAM), firing into the sky while on the pier. US officials said troops were testing the system.

Daniel Dieckhaus of the US Agency for International Development said that since the pier opened last week, about 506 metric tons of aid had been handed off to humanitarian groups inside Gaza. About a third of that has not yet been distributed but would be soon, he said.