US criticizes Israel on Gaza civilian toll as UN to hear ceasefire demand

Update A man walks among the rubble of a building destroyed destroyed Israeli bombardment overnight in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on December 7, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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A man walks among the rubble of a building destroyed destroyed Israeli bombardment overnight in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on December 7, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Update US criticizes Israel on Gaza civilian toll as UN to hear ceasefire demand
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Israeli navy soldiers prepare ammunition and ships before setting out to the Mediterranean sea waters around the Gaza Strip, at the Israeli naval base in Ashdod, on December 7, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Update US criticizes Israel on Gaza civilian toll as UN to hear ceasefire demand
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An Israeli military fighter aircraft flies near the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 7, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 08 December 2023
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US criticizes Israel on Gaza civilian toll as UN to hear ceasefire demand

US criticizes Israel on Gaza civilian toll as UN to hear ceasefire demand
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken: ‘It remains imperative that Israel put a premium on civilian protection’
  • ‘And there does remain a gap between... the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground’

GAZA/WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his strongest public criticism of Israel’s conduct of the war on Hamas in south Gaza, said there was a gap between the government’s declared intentions to protect civilians and the casualties.

“As we stand here almost a week into this campaign into the south... it remains imperative that Israel put a premium on civilian protection,” Blinken told a press conference after meeting British Foreign Secretary David Cameron in Washington on Thursday.

“And there does remain a gap between... the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground.”

Israel says it must wipe out the Hamas militant group after its attack on Israel two months ago and is doing everything possible to get civilians out of harm’s way, including warnings about military operations.

US President Joe Biden spoke separately by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah on Thursday. Biden “emphasized the critical need to protect civilians and to separate the civilian population from Hamas including through corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities,” the White House said.

More than 17,170 Palestinians have been killed and 46,000 wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry, since Oct. 7, when Israel began bombarding Gaza in response to a cross-border rampage by Iran-backed Hamas militants, who control the enclave. The Hamas attack killed 1,200 people, with 240 people taken hostage, according to Israel’s tally.

The Israeli military on Friday said 92 of its soldiers had been killed in Gaza fighting since its ground incursions began on Oct. 20.

CEASEFIRE DEMAND AT UN AS GAZA FIGHTING RAGES

Hundreds more Palestinians were killed as Israel fought Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip’s biggest cities on Thursday — 350 people, according to Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra. Israel said its forces killed a number of gunmen in Khan Younis, including two who emerged firing from a tunnel.

Arab states have renewed their push for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza, with United Arab Emirates asking the UN Security Council to vote on Friday morning on a draft resolution.

The United States and ally Israel oppose a cease-fire, saying it would only benefit Hamas. Blinken is due to meet top diplomats from Arab states, including Egypt, on Friday in Washington.

The draft was amended to say both “the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law” and to “demand the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.”

A resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France or Britain — to be adopted. The US does not support any further action by the council at this time.

As pressure mounts on Israel over the civilian toll of its war to destroy Hamas, the Palestinian Authority is working with US officials on a plan to run Gaza after the war is over, Bloomberg News reported.

Citing Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, it said the preferred outcome would be for Hamas to become a junior partner under the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), helping to build a new independent state that includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

“If they (Hamas) are ready to come to an agreement and accept the political platform of the PLO, then there will be room for talk. Palestinians should not be divided,” Shtayyeh said, adding that Israel’s aim to fully defeat Hamas is unrealistic.

KEREM SHALOM BORDER CROSSING TO OPEN

In a development that should help smooth the way for more humanitarian aid to reach Gaza, Israel agreed to a US request to open the Kerem Shalom border crossing for the inspection of trucks and their cargo, a US official said on Thursday.

Egypt, along with the United Nations, has been lobbying Israel to speed up an inspection process, which requires the vehicles to drive to Egypt’s border with Israel before looping back to Rafah. The number of trucks crossing daily has dropped to fewer than 100, from nearly 200 during a Nov. 24-Dec. 1 truce, according to the United Nations.

Kerem Shalom sits at Gaza’s southern border with Israel and Egypt and the crossing was used to carry more than 60 percent of the truckloads going into Gaza before war erupted two months ago.

With no end in sight to the fighting, a top White House national security aide, Jon Finer, said the United States had not given Israel a firm deadline to end major combat operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

There are many “legitimate military targets” remaining in south Gaza, including “much if not most” of the Hamas leadership, Finer said at the Aspen Security Forum in Washington.

Meanwhile, hostages still held by Hamas have been kept incommunicado in Gaza despite Israel’s calls on the Red Cross to arrange visits and verify their wellbeing.

Marking two months since Hamas’ attack, the start of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah was a solemn moment for many in Israel.

Idit Ohel, whose son Alon, 22, was kidnapped by Hamas gunmen from an outdoor music festival where 364 people were killed, said she was hoping for a miracle.

“He doesn’t know it’s Hanukkah. I don’t think he knows the days, what’s day, what’s night,” said Ohel. “But he’s in our hearts all the time.”


Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel

Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel
Updated 2 min 6 sec ago
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Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel

Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel
  • Headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade and the airport barracks in Beit Hilal attacked

DUBAI: The armed wing of Palestinian militant group Hamas on Wednesday said it launched two missile salvos consisting of 40 Grad missiles from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
Al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement on its Telegram channel it had bombed the headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade and the airport barracks in Beit Hilal.


Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels

A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS file photo)
A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 28 February 2024
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Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels

A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS file photo)
  • The attack comes as the Houthis continue a series of assaults at sea over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as the US and its allies launch airstrikes trying to stop them

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A rocket exploded late Tuesday night off the side of a ship traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, authorities said, the latest suspected attack to be carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The attack comes as the Houthis continue a series of assaults at sea over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as the US and its allies launch airstrikes trying to stop them.
The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center, which oversees shipping in the Mideast, reported the attack happened about 110 kilometers (70 miles) off the coast of the Houthi-held port city of Hodeida. The rocket exploded several miles off the bow of the vessel, it said.
“The crew and vessel are reported to be safe and are proceeding to next port of call,” the UKMTO said.
The private security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel targeted appeared to be a Marshall Islands-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier in the area at the time. Another ship, a Panama-flagged, Emirati-owned chemical tanker was nearby as well, Ambrey said.
The Associated Press could not immediately identify the vessels involved.
The Houthis typically take several hours to claim their assaults and have not yet done so for the assault late Tuesday.
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 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. Last week, they severely damaged a ship in a crucial strait and downed 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.

 


Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood
Updated 28 February 2024
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Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood
  • Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament

JERUSALEM: Israelis voted Tuesday in twice postponed municipal elections that could offer a gauge of the public mood nearly five months into the war against Hamas in Gaza.
Soldiers had already cast their ballots over the past week at special polling stations set up in army encampments in Gaza as fighting raged.
Polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and closed at 10:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Tuesday, at which point turnout stood at around 49 percent, according to election authorities.
That was down from 59.5 percent in 2018.
Turnout in Jerusalem was 30.8 percent and in Tel Aviv it was 40 percent, the authorities said.
More than seven million people were eligible to vote in the elections for local councils across most of Israel, in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in Jerusalem and in parts of the annexed Golan Heights.
No major incidents were reported.
The vote, first scheduled for October 31, has been pushed back to November 2024 in towns and villages bordering the besieged Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where Hamas ally Hezbollah has fired rockets at Israel almost daily since the start of the Gaza war.
Nearly 150,000 Israelis have been displaced by hostilities in those areas.
Amit Peretz, 32, a Jerusalem city council candidate, said Jerusalem’s diverse make-up demands that “all voices are heard in the city in order to make everything work, because it’s very complex.”
Gita Koppel, an 87-year-old resident of Jerusalem, said she turned out because voting was “the only way you can have your voice heard.”
“I hope the right people come in and do the right thing for Jerusalem,” she said.
The elections were delayed after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of at least 1,160 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, most of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Two candidates for council chief in Gaza border areas were killed in the October 7 attack: Ofir Libstein in Kfar Aza and Tamar Kedem Siman Tov, who was shot dead at her home in Nir Oz with her husband and three young children.
In Jerusalem and other major cities, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish candidates aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political allies were running against government critics and more moderate candidates.
Netanyahu has faced increasing public pressure over the fate of hostages still held in Gaza, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.
Tel Aviv’s mayor of 25 years, Ron Huldai, is seeking re-election in a race against former economy minister Orna Barbivai, who could become the first woman in the job.
Lawyer Amir Badran, an Arab candidate who had initially announced he would run for Tel Aviv mayor, quit the race before election day but was still vying for a city council seat.
In Jerusalem, another Arab candidate, Sondos Alhoot, was running at the head of a joint Jewish-Arab party. If elected, she would be the first Arab woman on the city council since 1967.
The elections for municipal and regional councils are largely seen as local affairs, though some races can become springboards for politicians with national ambitions.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who had a brief stint as prime minister before Netanyahu returned to power in late 2022, said Tuesday’s vote shows “there is no problem” holding elections even during the war.
In a post on social media platform X, Lapid called for a snap parliamentary election “as soon as possible” to replace Netanyahu.
Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament.
Palestinian residents make up around 40 percent of the city’s population, but many of them have boycotted past elections.
Second round run-offs will be held where necessary on March 10.


One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says

One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says
Updated 27 February 2024
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One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says

One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says
  • One in six children under 2 years of age in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition
  • WFP “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau said

UNITED NATIONS: At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip — one quarter of the population — are one step away from famine, a senior UN aid official told the Security Council on Tuesday, warning that widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.
One in six children under 2 years of age in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting and practically all the 2.3 million people in the Palestinian enclave rely on “woefully inadequate” food aid to survive, Ramesh Rajasingham, director of coordination for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the council.
The World Food Programme “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau told the 15-member council.
“But in the meantime, the risk of famine is being fueled by the inability to bring critical food supplies into Gaza in sufficient quantities, and the almost impossible operating conditions faced by our staff on the ground,” he said.
The war in Gaza began when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza has since killed around 30,000 Palestinians, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say.


US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning

US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning
Updated 27 February 2024
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US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning

US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning
  • “We do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters
  • “The government of Israel has said publicly, and they have assured us privately, that they want to achieve a diplomatic path”

WASHINGTON: The United States called Tuesday for a focus on diplomacy to resolve tensions over Lebanon, after Israel warned it would pursue Hezbollah even if it achieves a ceasefire in Gaza.
“We do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“The government of Israel has said publicly, and they have assured us privately, that they want to achieve a diplomatic path,” he said.
“That’s what we’re going to continue to pursue and, ultimately, that would make military action unnecessary.”
Miller added that Israel faced a “real security threat” with thousands of people who have fled their homes near Lebanon, calling it a “legitimate issue that needs to be addressed.”
Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement which is backed by Iran, have been exchanging fire since October 7, when Palestinian militant group Hamas carried out a major attack inside Israel.
In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless military operation in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Raising fears of all-out war, Israel this week struck Hezbollah positions deep into Lebanese territory.
On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said there would be no let-up in Israeli action against Hezbollah even if ongoing diplomacy succeeds in reaching a Gaza ceasefire and the release of hostages seized on October 7.
France, with US support, has been pushing a plan in which Hezbollah and allied fighters would withdraw to around 12 kilometers (eight miles) from the border and Israel would halt attacks.