Israel presses on with its Gaza offensive after US veto derails Security Council efforts to halt war

Israel presses on with its Gaza offensive after US veto derails Security Council efforts to halt war
People gather amid the destruction following an early morning Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 9, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 10 December 2023
Follow

Israel presses on with its Gaza offensive after US veto derails Security Council efforts to halt war

Israel presses on with its Gaza offensive after US veto derails Security Council efforts to halt war
  • The State Department approves the sale of tank ammunition to Israel in a deal that bypasses Congress
  • In Gaza, residents reported airstrikes and shelling, including in southern city of Rafah near Egyptian border

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip: Israel’s military pushed ahead with its punishing air and ground offensive in Gaza on Saturday, bolstered by a US veto derailing UN Security Council efforts to end the war and word that an emergency sale of $106 million worth of tank ammunition had been approved by Washington.
Unable to leave Gaza, a territory 25 miles (40 kilometers) long by about 7 miles (11 kilometers) wide, more than 2 million Palestinians faced more bombardment Saturday, even in areas that Israel had described as safe zones.
The sale of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition was announced a day after the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, a measure that had wide international support. The US said Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined that “an emergency exists” in the national interest requiring the immediate sale, meaning it bypasses congressional review. Such a determination is rare.
A day after Israel confirmed it was rounding up Palestinian men for interrogation, some men told The Associated Press they had been treated badly, providing the first accounts of the conditions from the detentions.
Ahmad Nimr Salman showed his marked and swollen hands from zip ties. “They used to ask us, ‘Are you with Hamas?’ We say ‘no,’ then they would slap us or kick us,” he said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment when asked about the alleged abuse.
With the war in its third month, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,700, the majority women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.
Two hospitals in central and southern Gaza received the bodies of 133 people from Israeli bombings over the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said midday Saturday.
Israel holds the Hamas militants responsible for civilian casualties, accusing them of using civilians as human shields, and says it has made considerable efforts with evacuation orders to get civilians out of harm’s way. It says 97 Israeli soldiers have died in the ground offensive after Hamas raided southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 240 hostages.
Hamas said Saturday that it continued its rocket fire into Israel.
In Gaza, residents reported airstrikes and shelling, including in the southern city of Rafah near the Egyptian border — one area where the Israeli army had told civilians to go. In a colorful classroom there, knee-high children’s tables were strewn with rubble.
“We now live in the Gaza Strip and are governed by the American law of the jungle. America has killed human rights,” said Rafah resident Abu Yasser Al-Khatib.
In northern Gaza, Israel has been trying to secure the military’s hold, despite heavy resistance from Hamas. The military said that it found weapons inside a school in Shujaiyah, a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City, and that, in a separate incident, militants shot at troops from a UN-run school in the northern town of Beit Hanoun.
More than 2,500 Palestinians have been killed since the Dec. 1 collapse of a weeklong truce, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
The truce saw hostages and Palestinian prisoners released, but Israel says 137 hostages remain in Gaza.
On Saturday, a kibbutz that came under attack on Oct. 7 said 25-year-old hostage Sahar Baruch had died in captivity. His captors said Baruch was killed during a failed rescue mission by Israeli forces Friday. The Israeli military said Hamas killed him.
With no new cease-fire in sight and humanitarian aid reaching little of Gaza, residents reported severe food shortages. Nine of 10 people in northern Gaza reported spending at least one full day and night without food, according to a World Food Program assessment during the truce. Two of three people in the south said the same. The WFP called the situation “alarming.”
“I am very hungry,” said Mustafa Al-Najjar, sheltering in a UN-run school in the devastated Jabaliya refugee camp in the north. “We are living on canned food and biscuits and this is not sufficient.”
While adults can cope, “it’s extremely difficult and painful when you see your young son or daughter crying because they are hungry,” he said.
Israelis who had been taken hostage also saw the food situation deteriorate, the recently freed Adina Moshe told a rally of thousands of people in Tel Aviv seeking the rapid return of all. “We ended up eating only rice,” said Moshe, who was held for 49 days.
The rally speakers accused Israel’s government of not doing enough to bring loved ones home. “How can I sleep at night? How can I protect my daughter?” asked Eli Albag, the father of 18-year-old hostage Liri Albag.
On Saturday, 100 trucks carrying unspecified aid entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, said Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority. That is still well below the daily average before the war.
Despite growing international pressure, President Joe Biden’s administration remains opposed to an open-ended cease-fire, arguing it would enable Hamas to continue posing a threat to Israel.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has argued that “a cease-fire is handing a prize to Hamas.”
Blinken continued to speak with counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Turkiye and elsewhere amid open criticism of the US stance.
“From now on, humanity won’t think the USA. supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech.
Protesters at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai called for a cease-fire, despite restrictions on demonstrations.
Amid concerns about a wider conflict, Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen threatened to prevent any ship heading to Israeli ports from passing through the Red Sea and Arabian Sea until food and medicine can enter Gaza freely. Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree said in a speech that all ships heading to Israel, no matter their nationality, will be a target.
In southern Gaza, thousands were on the run after what residents called a night of heavy gunfire and shelling.
Israel has designated a narrow patch of barren southern coastline, Muwasi, as a safe zone. But Palestinians described desperately overcrowded conditions with scant shelter and no toilets. They faced an overnight temperature of around 52 degrees (11 degrees Celsius).
“I am sleeping on the sand. It’s freezing,” said Soad Qarmoot, who described herself as a cancer patient forced to leave her home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya.
As she spoke, her children huddled around a fire.


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
Follow

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
Follow

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
Follow

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
Follow

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.


Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers
Updated 27 February 2024
Follow

Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

AL-MEAIBDI, Iraq: Iraq enjoys tremendous oil wealth but many hard-scrabble farmers in the north say crude spills have contaminated their lands, piling on pressure as they already battle drought.

Amid the hills of Salaheddin province, puddles of the viscous black liquid pollute the otherwise fertile and green fields, rendering vast swaths of farmland barren.

“The oil has damaged all that the land can give,” said one farmer, Abdel Majid Said, 62, who owns six hectares (15 acres) in the village of Al-Meaibdi.

“Every planted seed is ruined. This land has become useless.”

Oil spills in Iraq — a country ravaged by decades of conflict, corruption and decaying infrastructure — have contaminated farmland in the northern province, especially during the winter rains.

Authorities blame the militants of the Daesh group who overran large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and were only defeated in Iraq three years later.

The group blew up oil pipelines and wells and also dug primitive oil storage pits, causing crude to seep into the ground, from where annual rains wash it out again.

But the local farmers also complain that the state has been too slow to clean up the mess.

In Al-Meaibdi and the nearby hills of Hamrin, authorities are struggling to find a sustainable solution to the problem, which adds to a litany of environmental challenges.

Iraq, also battered by blistering summer heat and severe drought, is ranked by the United Nations as one of the five countries most vulnerable to key impacts of climate change.

In Hamrin, layers of sludge pile up as excavators build up dirt barriers — a temporary measure to stem the flow of contaminated water onto farmland below.

The oil not only damages the soil and crops but can also pollute groundwater in the water-scarce country.

Said, the farmer, said “the soil is no longer fertile — we have not been able to cultivate it since 2016.”

Some other farmers had already abandoned their lands, he added.

He pointed to a green plot of land so far untouched by the spills and said: “Look how the crops have grown there — but not even a grain has sprouted here.”

Oil spills have contaminated 500 hectares of wheat and barley fields in Salaheddin, said Mohamed Hamad from the environment department in the province.

Hamad pointed to the reign of Daesh, which collected revenues from oil production and smuggling by building makeshift refineries and digging primitive oil storage pits.

He said the group blew up the pipelines and wells of the oil fields of Ajil and Alas, causing crude oil to flood and collect in the Hamrin hills’ natural caves.

Earlier this month, due to heavy rain, oil remnants again poured into agricultural lands, Hamad said, and “unfortunately, the leak damaged land and crops.”

Authorities have buried the group’s makeshift storage pits, Amer Al-Meheiri, the head of the oil department in Salaheddin province, told Iraq’s official news agency INA last year.

Yet during the heavy rains, the oil continues to seep out.

Iraq’s crude oil sales make up 90 percent of budget revenues as the country recovers from years of war and political upheaval, leaving it overly reliant on the sector.

The country boasts 145 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, amounting to 96 years’ worth of production at the current rate, according to the World Bank.

But for many farmers, oil has been a scourge.

Abbas Taha, an agriculture official in Salaheddin, said “oil spills have been occurring frequently since 2016.”

“Farmers suffer a great loss because they no longer benefit from the winter season to grow wheat,” he said.

Some farmers have filed complaints against the state demanding compensation, only to find themselves lost in Iraq’s labyrinthine judicial system, tossed from one court to another.

But Taha insists that authorities plan to compensate those affected in a country where agricultural lands are shrinking as farmers are abandoning unprofitable plots hit by drought.

Due to the severe water scarcity, authorities are drastically reducing farm activity to ensure sufficient drinking water for Iraq’s 43 million people.

Hamad said his department had contacted the relevant authorities to remove oil remnants that would eventually seep through the soil to contaminate groundwater and wells.

The soil also needs to be treated by removing the top layer and replacing it, he said.

“We urged the prime minister, the agriculture minister and the oil minister to compensate the farmers suffering from this environmental disaster,” said 53-year-old farmer Ahmed Shalash.