US tells Israel any military operation in Gaza must avoid further civilian displacement

US tells Israel any military operation in Gaza must avoid further civilian displacement
Palestinians walk on the rubble of destroyed buildings in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, on the fifth day of the temporary ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. (AP)
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Updated 28 November 2023

US tells Israel any military operation in Gaza must avoid further civilian displacement

US tells Israel any military operation in Gaza must avoid further civilian displacement
  • The US wants Israel to carefully think its military campaign due to mounting pressure caused by Palestinian death toll
  • Benjamin Netanyahu has already indicated Israeli forces will restart military operation after the conclusion of ceasefire

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration has told Israel that it must work to avoid “significant further displacement” of Palestinian civilians in southern Gaza if it renews its ground campaign aimed at eradicating the Hamas militant group, senior US officials said.
The administration, seeking to avoid more large-scale civilian casualties or mass displacement like that seen before the current temporary pause in the fighting, underscored to the Israelis that they must operate with far greater precision in southern Gaza than they did in the north, the officials said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.
Amid mounting international and domestic pressure about the rising Palestinian death toll, the White House has begun to put greater pressure on Israel that the manner of the coming campaign must be “carefully thought through,” according to one of the officials. The Israelis have been receptive when administration officials have raised these concerns, the official said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that Israeli Defense Forces will eventually restart military operations after the conclusion of the current, temporary ceasefire that has allowed for an exchange of hostages taken by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. The two sides agreed Monday to extend the truce for an additional two days and to continue swapping hostages for prisoners.
President Joe Biden has said he would like to see the pause — which has also allowed a surge of much-needed humanitarian aid to get into Gaza — continue as long as feasible. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return this week to the Middle East as the US hopes to find a way to extend the ceasefire and get more hostages released, the State Department said Monday. It will be his third trip to the region since Israel’s war with Hamas began last month.
Still, Biden and top officials have also been clear-eyed about Israel’s desire to continue operations focused on Hamas that over the last seven weeks have largely focused on the north. They have said they support Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas’ control over Gaza and the threat it poses to Israeli civilians, but have grown more vocal about the need to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians. Hamas has been known to seek shelter among the territory’s civilian population, and Israeli officials have released videos from northern Gaza of what they said are weapons stockpiles and firing locations placed among civilian infrastructure.
More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on Oct. 7, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. More than 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial attack. At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive.
The US believes roughly 2 million Palestinians are now in south and central Gaza. Biden administration officials have made clear to the Israelis that an already stretched humanitarian support network would be unable to cope with the sort of displacement that those from northern Gaza have endured in Israel’s retaliatory strikes and ground operations.
Biden administration officials have also told the Israelis they expect them to conduct operations in a way that will be “maximally deconflicted” with the operation of humanitarian aid facilities, United Nations-supported shelters and core infrastructure, including electricity and water.
The World Health Organization has warned that the war has caused a burgeoning public health crisis that is a recipe for epidemics as displaced Palestinians have been forced to take shelter in cramped homes and camps.
One administration official said vaccines are among the medical goods flowing into Gaza, but there has also been a focus on potable water supplies and sanitation to prevent outbreaks of typhoid and cholera. To that end, the White House has also pushed to get as much fuel into Gaza as possible — something the Israelis resisted, particularly in the first weeks of war, citing concerns that it would be siphoned by Hamas.
The officials said the US on Tuesday would dispatch the first of three US military humanitarian aid flights to northern Egypt carrying medical supplies, food aid and winter items for Gaza’s civilian population.

Israeli strike in south Lebanon kills 3 Hezbollah fighters

Israeli strike in south Lebanon kills 3 Hezbollah fighters
Updated 3 sec ago

Israeli strike in south Lebanon kills 3 Hezbollah fighters

Israeli strike in south Lebanon kills 3 Hezbollah fighters
BEIRUT: An Israeli strike on a car in south Lebanon Saturday killed three Hezbollah fighters, a security source said, the latest in almost five-months of escalating cross-border fire between the Iran-backed group and Israel.
Since war erupted between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7, Hezbollah has been launching near-daily attacks from Lebanon into northern Israeli in support of its ally Hamas, while Israel has been striking south Lebanon.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that “an enemy drone targeted a car this morning on the road to Naqura,” a coastal town near the Israeli border, adding that ambulances rushed to the scene.
A security source told AFP that three Hezbollah fighters were killed in the strike.
In separate statements Saturday, Hezbollah said three of its fighters were “martyred on the road to Jerusalem,” the phrase the group uses to refer to members killed by Israeli fire.
Images taken by an AFP correspondent showed a burnt-out car on a seaside road.
In a statement, the Israeli army said its aircraft targeted a car in southern Lebanon transporting “a number of terrorists who launched rockets into Israeli territory.”
Before the strike, Hezbollah said its fighters had launched a drone attack on an Israeli military post.
The cross-border violence has raised fears of all-out conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, which last went to war in 2006.
Hezbollah had announced the deaths of four fighters after an Israeli strike Friday night on a house in south Lebanon’s Ramia area, while Israel said it struck Hezbollah “military” buildings in the region.
The fighting has displaced tens of thousands on both sides of the border and killed at least 296 people in Lebanon, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 46 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In Israeli, 10 soldiers and six civilians have been killed.
Hezbollah has said it will stop fighting once Israel ends its Gaza offensive, while Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said there will be no let-up in Israeli action against Hezbollah even if a Gaza ceasefire and hostage deal is secured.

In former haven, Sudanese terrified by paramilitaries

In former haven, Sudanese terrified by paramilitaries
Updated 19 min ago

In former haven, Sudanese terrified by paramilitaries

In former haven, Sudanese terrified by paramilitaries
  • One resident told AFP that Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces shot at dozens of people in the village of Baranko last week
  • Al-Jazira, in central Sudan, had become a refuge for those fleeing the fighting in and around the capital Khartoum

PORT SUDAN, Sudan: A communications blackout has made information scarce from Sudan’s Al-Jazira state, which paramilitaries pushed into in December, but rare interviews with residents have detailed grim conditions in the former safe haven.
One resident, who requested anonymity for their safety, told AFP that Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) shot at dozens of people in the village of Baranko last week.
The testimony adds to a litany of abuses during more than 10 months of war between Dagalo’s forces and Sudan’s army led by Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
The United Nations human rights chief on Friday said Sudanese civilians are living in “sheer terror” and both sides had consistently acted with impunity for multiple rights violations.
“On February 22, the militia fired on dozens of residents who were protesting against the arrest of several young people guarding the houses,” said the resident of Baranko, about halfway between state capital Wad Madani and Khartoum to the north.
Multiple local sources reported 18 wounded in the shooting, a few of whom managed to reach a hospital in Shendi, 250 kilometers to the north, by taking side roads.
Breaking the communications siege via a rare satellite phone call, the anonymous resident told AFP that young men have been taking turns guarding houses at night.
It is a modest attempt to protect the homes from pillage, a signature RSF tactic.
The paramilitary force is the descendant of the Janjaweed militia, which began a scorched earth campaign in Sudan’s western Darfur area more than two decades ago under strongman Omar Al-Bashir.
Washington has accused both sides of war crimes, and said the RSF also carried out ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Al-Jazira, in central Sudan, had become a refuge for those fleeing the fighting in and around the capital Khartoum.
But in December, the RSF swept into the former breadbasket and proceeded to kill and plunder, witnesses told AFP at the time.
The war has killed thousands, uprooted eight million people and led the country to the edge of famine, aid agencies have warned.
According to UN figures, nearly half a million people had sought refuge in Al-Jazira, including in Wad Madani, but the fighting eventually caught up with them there too, sending thousands fleeing again.
Then on February 7, the Internet and telephones were cut off.
Many residents hope to leave Al-Jazira for somewhere safe, but getting away is not easy, said another Al-Jazira resident, Al-Samani, who only gave his first name out of fear of reprisal.
He lives in the village of Tabet, 80 kilometers northwest of Wad Madani, and spoke to AFP during a brief window of phone signal.
Buses have either been stolen or run out of fuel in a country where service stations have not been resupplied because of closed roads or challenges moving between areas under rival control.
Even for those lucky enough to find a bus and fuel, they need funds but “leaving is difficult because you have to pay, but online payment applications are paralyzed” without Internet, said Samani.
In the past 10 months in Sudan, the economy has gone mostly virtual, after a rise in cash thefts that often ruined families.
The mobile app for the country’s main bank allows users to wire money, to collect tickets and pay for purchases in stores. But it requires an Internet connection, which is no longer functioning.
“For a week, militiamen have been attacking houses and terrorizing women to steal their gold jewelry,” an essential dowry in Sudan, Samani told AFP.
“And there is not a tractor or agricultural tool they have not looted.”
In the nearby village of Abu Adara, “five inhabitants were killed by the RSF on February 25,” a local group, known as a resistance committee, reported.
The resistance committees used to organize pro-democracy protests but now provide aid during the war.
Throughout Al-Jazira during the past week, the resistance committee recorded 86 deaths, as well as others wounded, in 53 villages hit by RSF violence.
Amid the blackout, prices are constantly rising, residents say.
One liter of fuel now costs 25,000 Sudanese pounds, or about $20.
One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of meat, once priced at 6,000 Sudanese pounds before the RSF arrived, has doubled in cost.
RSF fighters took over swathes of land in Al-Jazira, leaving farmers unable to tend their crops, and accelerating economic damage on top of the looting.
With Sudan having lost “80 percent of its income because of the war,” according to Finance Minister Gibril Ibrahim, an army loyalist, imports have nearly disappeared, compounding the struggle for survival in Al-Jazira state.

Ship earlier attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels sinks in the Red Sea

Ship earlier attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels sinks in the Red Sea
Updated 02 March 2024

Ship earlier attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels sinks in the Red Sea

Ship earlier attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels sinks in the Red Sea
  • Rubymar drifted northward after being attacked on Feb. 18 in the Bab El-Mandeb Strait
  • Yemen’s recognized government, as well as a regional military official, confirmed the ship sank

DUBAI: A ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels has sunk in the Red Sea after days of taking on water, officials said Saturday, the first vessel to be fully destroyed as part of their campaign over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The sinking of the Rubymar comes as shipping through the crucial waterway for cargo and energy shipments moving from Asia and the Middle East to Europe has been affected by the Houthi attacks.

Already, many ships have turned away from the route. The sinking could see further detours and higher insurance rates put on vessels plying the waterway — potentially driving up global inflation and affecting aid shipments to the region.

The Belize-flagged Rubymar had been drifting northward after being struck by a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile on Feb. 18 in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a crucial waterway linking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government, as well as a regional military official, confirmed the ship sank. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as no authorization was given to speak to journalists about the incident.

The Rubymar’s Beirut-based manager could not be immediately reached for comment.

Yemen’s exiled government, which has been backed by a Saudi-led coalition since 2015, said the Rubymar sank late Friday as stormy weather took hold over the Red Sea. The vessel had been abandoned for 12 days after the attack, though plans had been made to try and tow the ship to a safe port.

The Iran-backed Houthis, who had falsely claimed the ship sank almost instantly after the attack, did not immediately acknowledge the ship’s sinking.

The US military’s Central Command previously warned the vessel’s cargo of fertilizer, as well as fuel leaking from the ship, could cause ecological damage to the Red Sea.

Satellite pictures analyzed by The Associated Press from Planet Labs PBC showed smaller boats alongside the Rubymar on Wednesday. It wasn’t immediately clear whose vessels those were.

The private security firm Ambrey separately reported Friday about a mysterious incident involving the Rubymar.

“A number of Yemenis were reportedly harmed during a security incident which took place” on Friday, Ambrey said. It did not elaborate on what that incident involved and no party involved in Yemen’s yearslong war claimed any new attack on the vessel.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over the Israel-Hamas war. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo bound for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor, and an aid ship later bound for Houthi-controlled territory.

Despite over a month of US-led airstrikes, Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. That includes the attack on the Rubymar and the downing of an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars. The Houthis insist their attacks will continue until Israel stops its combat operations in the Gaza Strip, which have enraged the wider Arab world and seen the Houthis gain international recognition.

However, there has been a slowdown in attacks in recent days. The reason for that remains unclear.

Palestinian Authority hopes for Gaza ceasefire by Ramadan

Palestinian Authority hopes for Gaza ceasefire by Ramadan
Updated 52 min 1 sec ago

Palestinian Authority hopes for Gaza ceasefire by Ramadan

Palestinian Authority hopes for Gaza ceasefire by Ramadan
  • Death toll in Gaza reaches 30,320 after 92 new fatalities were recorded in past 24 hours

ANKARA: The Palestinian Authority hopes a ceasefire can be agreed in the Gaza war in time for Ramadan, its foreign minister, Riyad Al-Maliki, said on Saturday.
Israel and Hamas have been negotiating through mediators over a possible ceasefire in Gaza, with the aim of halting fighting in time for Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, due to begin this year on March 10.
“We hope that we will be able to achieve a ceasefire before Ramadan, we hope to be able to achieve one today, yesterday, but we have failed,” he said at a news conference at a diplomatic forum in Antalya, Turkiye.
Egyptian security sources said on Saturday that ceasefire negotiations were due to resume in Cairo on Sunday.
Hamas, which precipitated the war in Gaza by attacking Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages according to Israeli tallies, has said it will not free all its captives without a comprehensive deal to end the war.
Israel, which has assaulted the Gaza Strip, killing more than 30,000 people according to Palestinian health authorities, has said it will agree only to temporary pauses in fighting to release hostages, and will not end the war until Hamas is eradicated.
Maliki called on the international community to make more efforts for a ceasefire.
When asked about the PA’s role for the governance of Gaza after the war, Al-Maliki said: “The only legitimate authority that will operate and continue to operate Gaza is the Palestinian Administration. This is how we see the situation in post-war Gaza.”
The PA, which exercises limited self rule in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, lost control of Gaza to the Hamas militant group in 2007.
Maliki also said the PA President Mahmoud Abbas will pay a visit to Ankara on Tuesday and meet Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said on Saturday the wartime death toll in the Palestinian territory had reached 30,320 after 92 new fatalities were recorded in the previous 24 hours.
The ministry also said 71,533 people have been wounded in Gaza since the war broke out on October 7.

Palestinian women detained by Israel allege abuse while in custody

Palestinian women detained by Israel allege abuse while in custody
Updated 02 March 2024

Palestinian women detained by Israel allege abuse while in custody

Palestinian women detained by Israel allege abuse while in custody
  • Six weeks in Israeli custody that included repeated beatings and interrogations
  • Rights groups accuse Israel of ‘disappearing’ Gaza Palestinians

JERUSALEM: Nabela thought the United Nations school in Gaza City was a safe haven. Then, the Israeli army arrived.
Soldiers stormed the place, ordering men to undress and hauling women to a mosque for strip searches, she said. So began six weeks in Israeli custody that she says included repeated beatings and interrogations.
“The soldiers were very harsh, they beat us and screamed at us in Hebrew,” said the 39-year-old from Gaza City, who spoke on condition that her last name not be used for fear of being arrested again. “If we raised our heads or uttered any words, they beat us on the head.”
Palestinians detained by Israeli forces in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war have alleged widespread physical abuse and neglect. It’s not known how many women or minors have been detained.
Nabela said she was shuttled between facilities inside Israel in a coed group before arriving at Damon Prison in the north, where she estimated there were at least 100 women.
Rights groups say Israel is “disappearing” Gaza Palestinians — detaining them without charge or trial and not disclosing to family or lawyers where they’re held. Israel’s prison service says all “basic rights required are fully applied by professionally trained prison guards.”
Israel declared war after Hamas-led militants killed about 1,200 people and took roughly 250 others hostage on Oct. 7.
Since then, ground troops have arrested hundreds of Palestinians to search for suspected militants and gather intelligence. Images of blindfolded men kneeling, heads bowed and hands bound, have sparked worldwide outrage. In northern Gaza and the southern city of Khan Younis, troops rounded up dozens at a time from UN schools and hospitals, including medical personnel.
The military said it makes detainees undress to search for explosives, bringing detainees into Israel before releasing them back into Gaza if they’re deemed innocent.
For Nabela, that process took 47 harrowing days.
Despite Israeli evacuation orders, Nabela and her family had decided not to leave Gaza City, believing nowhere in Gaza was safe. Troops entered the school where they sheltered on Dec. 24.
“I was terrified, imagining they wanted to execute us and bury us there,” she said.
Forces separated Nabela from her 13-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son and loaded her onto a truck bound for a facility in southern Israel. According to the Israeli group Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, or PHRI, all detainees in Gaza are first brought to the Sde Teiman military base.
“We were freezing and forced to remain on our knees on the ground,” Nabela told The Associated Press from a school-turned-shelter in Rafah where she’s staying with other recently released female detainees. “Loud music, shouting and intimidation — they wanted to humiliate us. We were handcuffed, blindfolded, and our feet were tied in chains.”
Moved between several prisons, Nabela said she was subjected to repeated strip searches and interrogations at gunpoint.
Asked about her connection to Hamas and knowledge of the militants’ extensive underground tunnel network, she maintained her innocence, telling interrogators she was a housewife and her husband worked for Hamas’ rival, the Palestinian Authority.
One woman detained from Gaza, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of another arrest, told the AP that during a medical check before she was moved to Damon Prison, Israeli forces ordered her to kiss an Israeli flag. When she refused, a soldier grabbed her by the hair, smashing her face into a wall, she said.
In a report by PHRI, former detainees from Gaza alleged similar mistreatment.
One, whose name was redacted, said he was urinated on by guards at Ketziot Prison in southern Israel, and witnessed strip searches where guards forced naked detainees to stand close to each other and inserted search devices into their buttocks.
PHRI described Israel’s prisons, also housing Palestinians from the West Bank and east Jerusalem held on security-related charges, as “an apparatus of retribution and revenge.” It alleged the prison service and military “have been granted free rein to act however they see fit.”
At the beginning of the war, prisons entered “lockdown mode,” confining detainees to their cells for two weeks, the report said. Under wartime emergency measures, Israel’s parliament in October suspended normal cell capacity requirements. Since then, inmates have slept on mattresses in overcrowded cells.
Phone privileges have been completely suspended, the report said. At some facilities, security wings were disconnected from electricity and water, plunging detainees into darkness for most of the day and rendering showers and sinks unusable.
During eight days at an unknown facility in southern Israel, Nabela said she did not shower and had no access to menstrual pads or toiletries. Food was scarce. Once, Nabela said, guards threw down the detainees’ meals and told them to eat from the floor.
The military said each detainee receives clothing, blankets and a mattress. It denied that cells were overcrowded, saying detainees had sufficient access to toilets, food, water and medical care.
“The violent and antagonistic treatment of detainees described in the allegations is prohibited,” the military said in response to an AP request for comment. “Cases of inappropriate behavior will be dealt with.”
It referred questions about Ketziot and Damon prisons to the Israeli Prison Service, which did not comment on the allegations beyond saying it was uninvolved in the arrests and interrogation of Palestinians from Gaza.
Nabela said she never spoke with a lawyer or a judge.
Under a wartime revision to Israeli law, all detainees from Gaza can be held for 45 days without charge or trial.
Designated “unlawful combatants,” they aren’t granted the same protections under international law as prisoners of war. Their appearance before a court can be delayed and access to an attorney withdrawn, according to PHRI. The Israeli rights group HaMoked said there are 600 people from Gaza held as unlawful combatants in Israeli prisons, and more could be held in military facilities.
Palestinian detainees told PHRI that adequate medical care was rare, even for those needing insulin or chemotherapy treatments.
An official document obtained by the AP, laying out operations at the Sde Teiman military medical facility, specified that unlawful combatants be treated handcuffed and blindfolded.
Medical staff’s names were kept anonymous “to maintain the safety, well-being and lives of the caregivers,” it said. It did not require patient consent for medical procedures and said confidential medical information could be passed to detention center staff.
The military said the handcuffing of detainees was “done in accordance with their assessed level of danger and medical state.” Israel’s Ministry of Health did not respond to requests for comment.
Eleven Palestinian detainees have died in Israeli custody since Oct. 7, according to the advocacy group the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, and the most recent was just this week. At least five had chronic health conditions, which PHRI says raises concerns that they died because of medical neglect.
The Israeli military said it would examine the deaths.
Nabela’s fortunes improved when she arrived at Damon. There, she met Palestinian women detained from the West Bank.
She said the women were kind. She had electricity and warm showers. Her interrogator wondered aloud why Nabela was detained.
A month and a half after her arrest, a prison administrator announced Nabela would be released with about 20 other women. Israeli buses brought them to a Gaza crossing, where they made their way to UN shelters in the southern city of Rafah, full of displaced Palestinians. She cannot travel to Gaza City, where her family remains.
Nabela, her face bruised, recalled one of her final interrogations. She had begun to weep, and her interrogator told her:
“Don’t cry about it. You’re better living here than Gaza.”