Israel presses ground offensive in southern Gaza, air strikes intensify

Israel presses ground offensive in southern Gaza, air strikes intensify
Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel on December 4, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 05 December 2023
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Israel presses ground offensive in southern Gaza, air strikes intensify

Israel presses ground offensive in southern Gaza, air strikes intensify
  • Intense Israeli air strikes hit the south of the Gaza Strip, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians
  • Operation has transformed much of the north, including large parts of Gaza City, into a rubble-filled wasteland

Intense Israeli air strikes hit the south of the Gaza Strip on Monday, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians, including in areas where Israel had told people to seek shelter, residents and journalists on the ground said.

Israeli troops and tanks also pressed the ground campaign against Hamas in the south of the enclave after having largely gained control of the now-devastated north.

Early on Monday, Israel ordered Palestinians to leave parts of Gaza’s main southern city, Khan Younis. But residents said that areas which they had been told to go to were also coming under fire.

Israel’s military posted a map on social media platform X with around a quarter of Khan Younis marked off in yellow as territory that must be evacuated at once.

Three arrows pointed south and west, telling people to head toward the Mediterranean coast and toward Rafah, a major town near the Egyptian border.

Desperate Gazans in Khan Younis packed their belongings and headed toward Rafah. Most were on foot, walking past ruined buildings in a solemn and silent procession.

But the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza (UNRWA), Thomas White, said people in Rafah were themselves being forced to flee.

“People are pleading for advice on where to find safety. We have nothing to tell them,” he said on X.

In the territory’s northern part, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said at least 50 people were killed in an Israeli air strike that hit two schools sheltering displaced people in the Daraj neighborhood of Gaza City.

The Gaza health ministry could not be reached for comment on the report and it was not immediately possible to verify it independently. A spokesperson for the Israeli army said it was looking into the report.

Separately, the health ministry said at least 15,899 Palestinians, 70 percent of them women or under 18s, have now been killed in Israeli bombardments of the Hamas-ruled enclave in eight weeks of warfare. Thousands more are missing and feared buried in rubble.

Israel launched its assault to wipe out Hamas in retaliation for an Oct. 7 cross-border attack by its gunmen. They killed 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies — the deadliest single day in Israel’s 75-year history.

BIG CRATER

Bombing at one site in Rafah overnight had torn a crater the size of a basketball court out of the earth. A dead toddler’s bare feet and black trousers poked out from under a pile of rubble. Men struggled with their bare hands to move a chunk of the concrete that had crushed the child.

Later they chanted “God is greatest” and wept as they marched through the ruins carrying the body in a bundle, and that of another small child wrapped in a blanket.

“We were asleep and safe,” said Salah Al-Arja, owner of one of the houses destroyed at the site. “There were children, women and martyrs,” he said. “They tell you it is a safe area, but there is no safe area in all of the Gaza Strip.”

Israel accuses Hamas of putting civilians in danger by operating from civilian areas, including in tunnels which can only be destroyed by large bombs. Hamas denies it does so.

As many as 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes in the Israeli bombing campaign that has reduced much of the crowded coastal strip to a desolate wasteland.

Israeli forces largely captured the northern half of Gaza in November, and since a week-long truce collapsed on Friday they have swiftly pushed deep into the southern half.

Tanks have driven into Gaza from the border fence and cut off the main north-south route, residents say. The Israeli military said the central road out of Khan Younis to the north “constitutes a battlefield” and was now shut.

Hamas said its fighters clashed with Israeli forces in northern Khan Younis overnight.

ISRAEL’S GOALS IN NORTH ALMOST MET

The commander of Israel’s armored corps, Brig.-General Hisham Ibrahim, told Army Radio the military had almost achieved its goals in northern Gaza.

“We are beginning to expand the ground maneuver to other parts of the Strip, with one goal — to topple the Hamas military group,” he said.

The military released footage of troops patrolling in tanks and on foot, in fields and in badly damaged urban areas, and firing from weapons, without specifying the location in Gaza.

Israel says its evacuation orders are aimed at protecting civilians from harm, and called on international organizations to help encourage Gazans to move to the areas labelled safe on Israeli maps.

The United Nations said the areas in the south that Israel has ordered evacuated in the three days since the truce ended had housed over 350,000 people before the war — not counting the hundreds of thousands now sheltering there from other areas.

In Khan Younis, many of those taking flight on Monday were already displaced from other areas. Abu Mohammed told Reuters it was now the third time he had been forced to flee since abandoning his home in Gaza City in the north.

“Why did they eject us from our homes in Gaza (City) if they planned to kill us here?” he said.

Israel’s closest ally the United States has called on it to do more to safeguard civilians in the southern part of Gaza than in last month’s campaign in the north.

But about 900 people have been killed in Israeli air strikes since the truce ended on Friday, Gaza health authorities said.

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters: “All indications and reports suggest that the same pattern – of dropping heavy-duty bombs and using artillery in densely populated areas – is continuing.”


Two dead in Israeli raids on Baalbek

Two dead in Israeli raids on Baalbek
Updated 4 sec ago
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Two dead in Israeli raids on Baalbek

Two dead in Israeli raids on Baalbek
  • Hezbollah downs Israeli drone north of Litani Line
  • Mohammed Raad warns of ‘consequences’ if Israel ‘miscalculates their actions’ in Lebanon

BEIRUT: On Monday, the scope of the 142-day confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah Lebanon’s southern border expanded after Israeli warplanes raided two sites near the city of Baalbek.

The strikes on the city, deep in the Bekaa, killed two people and lead to numerous injuries among Hezbollah members, civilians, and Lebanese Armed Forces personnel.

A few hours later, an Israeli drone targeted a car in Al-Majadel plain in Tyre, southern Lebanon. Initial reports indicated that Hezbollah members were killed in the strike, but the identities of the victims are as yet unknown.

The raids, the first of their kind on an area west of the city of Baalbek, where Hezbollah centers are located, resulted in the deaths of Hussein Ali Younis, from Brital, and an as yet unnamed young man from the town of Chmistar.

Lebanese Army soldier Ali Fayyad Salem and his child, Joud, aged 4, were among four people injured.

The raids targeted two Hezbollah centers in the Adous plain in Bodai and in the town of Haouch Tall Safiyeh in the vicinity of Baalbek. Initial reports indicated that the two raids targeted “supply warehouses belonging to one of Hezbollah’s institutions.”

Locals shared pictures of smoke rising from the two sites on their mobile phones. A correspondent for Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said that one of the two raids “targeted an empty, three-story building.”

Hezbollah confirmed in its initial position that “the Israeli strike on Baalbek will not go without a response.”

Israel Defense Forces spokesman Avichay Adraee said on social media that the IDF “will continue to protect Israel and operate in Lebanese airspace against Hezbollah.”

Adraee acknowledged that “warplanes launched raids on complexes used by Hezbollah’s air defense unit in the Bekaa, in response to the firing of surface-to-air missiles at a Zik drone.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah downed an Israeli drone in the Iqlim Al-Tuffah area using a surface-to-air missile.

The escalation on Monday began with Hezbollah’s air defense unit shooting down the drone that had been flying for hours over the Nabatieh and Iqlim Al-Tuffah areas, north of the Litani Line.

Two consecutive explosions were heard around 8:45 a.m., and dozens of people managed to capture images on their phones of white smoke in the sky of Iqlim Al-Tuffah, followed by the drone catching fire before crashing into a forested area nearby.

Hezbollah announced in a statement that “the drone was a Hermes 450 and was targeted with a surface-to-air missile above the Iqlim Al-Tuffah area, and it was seen falling with the naked eye.”

Israeli media confirmed that “an Israeli settler was injured by missile fragments during the shelling of Shtula with an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon.”

The use of Israeli drones to carry out assassinations inside Lebanon marked a dangerous turning point in the ongoing conflict.

Israel has flown Hermes 900 drones over Lebanon, which weighs 350 kg and has various capabilities like surveillance, intelligence gathering and target acquisition. The drone has a laser, flies at 30,000 feet, can stay airborne for 36 hours, scanning vast areas.

Hermes 450 drones, like that shot down on Monday, have also often been used. This drone is designed for long-term tactical operations in the IDF’s reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering units.

Another drone deployed in Lebanon on Monday afternoon over the south was the Heron TP. This drone is considered “dangerous” and has used to carry out most drone-based assassinations in Lebanon.

Mohammed Raad, the leader of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc, warned Israel that they would face severe consequences if they “miscalculate their actions towards us in Lebanon.”

Raad stressed that “the enemy’s pain is what makes them overreact at times, but they still adhere to the boundaries of deterrence established by the resistance with a great deal of discipline.”

He stated that the battle against Israel in Lebanon is “a crucial and delicate one, with its own strategic considerations. The aim “is to prevent the enemy from achieving their objectives, while the enemy seeks to draw us into a broader conflict to their advantage, exploiting tyrannic international support. We intend to lure the enemy into a battle on our terms and for our benefit.”

 


Jordan’s King Abdullah warns of dangers of Israel’s planned Rafah assault

This picture shows President Mahmud Abbas (L) being welcomed by Jordan's King Abdullah II ahead of their meeting in Amman.
This picture shows President Mahmud Abbas (L) being welcomed by Jordan's King Abdullah II ahead of their meeting in Amman.
Updated 26 February 2024
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Jordan’s King Abdullah warns of dangers of Israel’s planned Rafah assault

This picture shows President Mahmud Abbas (L) being welcomed by Jordan's King Abdullah II ahead of their meeting in Amman.
  • King also said only way to end the decades-old conflict was to find a “political horizon” for Palestinians that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah warned on Monday of the dangers of a military operation planned by Israel in Rafah and reiterated his appeal for an immediate ceasefire to help protect civilians in Gaza and bring in aid, the royal palace said.
The king also said the only way to end the decades-old conflict was to find a “political horizon” for Palestinians that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state on territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, including east Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week the Israeli security cabinet would approve military plans for Rafah — including the evacuation of more than a million displaced Palestinian civilians who have been sheltering there, and whose fate worries world powers.
Almost 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, Gaza medical officials say. The Hamas raid of Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people in Israel, which has also lost 241 soldiers in Gaza ground fighting that followed, according to official tallies.
The Jordanian army also arranged on Monday the biggest air drop operation so far to deliver aid to Gaza where the mostly displaced population of 2.3 million is facing crisis levels of hunger, an army statement said.
The operation deployed four C-130 planes including one belonging to the French air force, army spokesperson Mustafa Hiyari said.
Aid was dropped to 11 sites along the Gaza coast from its northern edge to the south for civilians to collect, Hiyari told Reuters. Previous air drops that parachuted in medicines and humanitarian provisions were sent to hospitals the Jordanian army runs in Gaza.


IAEA increasingly concerned over Iran’s nuclear weapon capability

In recent years, Iran has gradually decreased its cooperation with the IAEA by deactivating surveillance devices.
In recent years, Iran has gradually decreased its cooperation with the IAEA by deactivating surveillance devices.
Updated 55 min 31 sec ago
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IAEA increasingly concerned over Iran’s nuclear weapon capability

In recent years, Iran has gradually decreased its cooperation with the IAEA by deactivating surveillance devices.
  • Grossi reiterated his call on Tehran to “cooperate fully and unambiguously with the agency”
  • Iran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog has voiced growing concern over Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons, fueled by public statements in the country, a confidential report seen by AFP on Monday said.
Tensions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have repeatedly flared up since a 2015 deal curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanction relief fell apart.
In the report, IAEA head Rafael Grossi said that “public statements made in Iran regarding its technical capabilities to produce nuclear weapons only increase the director general’s concerns about the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations.”
In recent years, Iran has gradually decreased its cooperation with the IAEA by deactivating surveillance devices needed to the nuclear program and barring inspectors among other measures.
Grossi reiterated his call on Tehran to “cooperate fully and unambiguously with the agency,” as relations between the two parties have been steadily deteriorating.
“Only through constructive and meaningful engagement can these concerns be addressed,” Grossi said in a confidential quarterly report.
While Tehran denies seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons, some politicians and officials have made concerning statements about the country’s technical capabilities, a diplomatic source said.
At the same time, Iran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs.
In a separate confidential report seen by AFP ahead of an IAEA board of governors’ meeting next week, the agency said that Iran’s estimated stockpile of enriched uranium had reached 27 times the limit set out in the 2015 accord.
Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was estimated at 5,525.5 kilogrammes as of February 10, up by 1,038.7 kilogrammes from October, the report said.
Nuclear weapons require uranium enriched to 90 percent, while 3.67 percent set out in the deal is enough for nuclear power stations.
According to the report, Iran has 712.2 kilogrammes of uranium enriched at up to 20 percent and 121.5 kilogrammes at up to 60 percent.
EU-mediated efforts to revive the deal — bringing the US back on board and Iran back into compliance — have so far been fruitless.
Grossi also “deeply regrets” that Iran has not yet reversed its decision to ban several of its inspectors.
Iran in September withdrew the accreditation of several inspectors, a move Teheran described as retaliation for “political abuses” by the United States, France, Germany and Britain.
The IAEA has condemned the move — which targets eight top inspectors, with French and German nationals among them, according to a diplomatic source.
Iran’s “unprecedented” move has “directly and seriously affected” the UN body’s work.
Faced with increased criticism, the Iranian government announced last week that it had invited Grossi to come to Tehran in May for an international conference on energy.


UN voices alarm as Israel says preparing for Rafah invasion

Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Updated 26 February 2024
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UN voices alarm as Israel says preparing for Rafah invasion

Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • Guterres said Rafah is “the core of the humanitarian aid operation” in the besieged Gaza Strip
  • Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children

GAZA STRIP: The UN chief warned Monday that an invasion of Rafah in far-southern Gaza would “put the final nail in the coffin” of aid operations, after Israel said its army had readied a plan to move civilians out of the packed city.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Rafah — where 1.4 million Palestinians live in crowded shelters near the Egyptian border — is also “the core of the humanitarian aid operation” in the besieged Gaza Strip.
As tensions simmered across the region, Israel fired the first strikes on Lebanon’s east since the start of the Gaza war, killing two Hezbollah fighters.
In another shock impact of the almost five-month-old war, Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in the occupied West Bank handed in his government’s resignation to the head of the Palestinian Authority, president Mahmud Abbas.
Shtayyeh cited “the new reality” in Gaza and “the escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” where deadly violence has surged since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7 with the Palestinian group’s attack.
Israel’s top ally Washington and other powers discussing a post-war Gaza have called for a reformed Palestinian Authority to take charge of both the West Bank and Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since 2007.
Shtayyeh urged intra-Palestinian consensus after years of rift and the “extension of the Authority’s rule over the entire land of Palestine.”
Heavy fighting raged on in Gaza, where Israeli forces launched strikes and ground operations, killing 92 people overnight according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.
Displaced Gazan Sharif Muammar said his son’s body had been pulled from the rubble in Rafah.
“There was no one here — only children, they are all children,” he told AFP.
“There were no fighters at all. We weren’t launching missiles... We barely live.”
Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the ministry.
The war broke out after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack which killed 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Sunday that, despite ongoing talks toward a ceasefire, the army will launch a ground invasion of Rafah to achieve “total victory” over Hamas.
Once land operations are launched there, an Israeli victory would be “weeks away,” he said, adding that any truce deal would delay, not prevent, the operation.
On Monday Netanyahu’s office said the military had shown Israel’s war cabinet its plan for evacuating civilians from Rafah.
But no details have been released on where those displaced people could go in war-torn Gaza.
Neighbouring Egypt has built a large walled enclosure next to Gaza, but Cairo has denied any plans to allow the mass flight of refugees across the border.
Foreign governments and aid groups have issued dire warnings that a Rafah invasion would inflict mass casualties.
Guterres warned “an all-out Israeli offensive on the city would not only be terrifying for more than a million Palestinian civilians sheltering there; it would put the final nail in the coffin of our aid programs.”
He said that “nothing can justify Hamas’s deliberate killing, injuring, torturing and kidnapping of civilians” and “nothing justifies the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Desperate families in Gaza’s north have scavenged for food as most aid trucks have been halted, with many people eating animal fodder and the meat of slaughtered horses.
“We have no food or drink for ourselves or our children,” Omar Al-Kahlout told AFP, as he waited near Gaza City for aid to arrive.
Dire food shortages in northern Gaza are “a man-made disaster” that can be mitigated, said Philippe Lazzarini, chief of the UN aid agency for Palestinians.
“Famine can still be avoided through genuine political will to grant access and protection to meaningful assistance.”
Aid entering Gaza has halved in February from the previous month, he said.
Mediators meanwhile continued stuttering negotiations toward a ceasefire and hostage release deal, with hopes it can be in place before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks.
Media reports suggest the warring parties are weighing a six-week halt to fighting and the initial exchange of dozens of hostages for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
An unnamed Israeli official told news site Ynet the “direction is positive,” and Israeli media reported that military and intelligence officials were headed to Qatar for further talks on a deal.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani — whose country hosts Hamas leaders and helped broker a one-week truce in November — is due in Paris this week, the French presidency said.
Sheikh Tamim has met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Doha and discussed efforts “aimed at reaching an immediate and permanent ceasefire agreement” in Gaza, the official Qatar News Agency said.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned that fighting during Ramadan “will increase the threat of expanding the conflict” which has drawn in armed groups elsewhere in the Middle East.
Israel has exchanged near-daily cross-border fire with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hamas ally Hezbollah since early October.
Israeli strikes near the Hezbollah-dominated city of Baalbek killed two group members Monday, security sources told AFP, in a rare attack far from the border.
Israel confirmed the strike and said it targeted sites used by Hezbollah for its aerial defense system, after a missile downed an Israeli drone earlier Monday.
Hezbollah fired a volley of 60 rockets at an Israeli military base in response, the group said.


Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns
Updated 26 February 2024
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Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns
  • Move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up Palestinian Authority
  • Shtayyeh says he is resigning to allow broader consensus among Palestinians following Israel’s war on Gaza

RAMALLAH: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday he was resigning to allow for the formation of a broad consensus among Palestinians about political arrangements following Israel’s war against the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority as international efforts have intensified to stop the fighting in Gaza and begin work on a political structure to govern the enclave after the war.
His resignation must still be accepted by Abbas, who may ask him to stay on as caretaker until a permanent replacement is appointed.
In a statement to cabinet, Shtayyeh, an academic economist who took office in 2019, said the next stage would need to take account of the emerging reality in Gaza, which has been laid waste by nearly five months of heavy fighting.
He said the next stage would “require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks, and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus.”
In addition, it would require “the extension of the Authority’s authority over the entire land, Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority, formed 30 years ago under the interim Oslo peace accords, exercises limited governance over parts of the occupied West Bank but lost power in Gaza following a struggle with Hamas in 2007.
Fatah, the faction that controls the PA, and Hamas have made efforts to reach an agreement over a unity government and are due to meet in Moscow on Wednesday. A senior Hamas official said the move had to be followed by a broader agreement on governance for the Palestinians.
“The resignation of Shtayyeh’s government only makes sense if it comes within the context of national consensus on arrangements for the next phase,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.