Israel bombs southern Gaza as Hamas demands prisoner releases

Israel bombs southern Gaza as Hamas demands prisoner releases
Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters accompany a newly released Israeli hostage before handing her over to the Red Cross in Rafah, Gaza Strip, during a prisoner swap in Rafah,on November 28, 2023. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 11 December 2023
Follow

Israel bombs southern Gaza as Hamas demands prisoner releases

Israel bombs southern Gaza as Hamas demands prisoner releases
  • Hamas demands that all its members in Israeli prisons be freed in exchange for the hostages
  • Israel says there are still 137 hostages in Gaza, activists say around 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Israel bombed southern Gaza’s main city on Monday after Hamas warned no Israeli hostages would leave the territory alive unless its demands for prisoner releases were met.
Hamas triggered the conflict when it carried out the deadliest-ever attack on Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures, and taking about 240 hostages back to Gaza.
Israel has responded with a military offensive that has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 17,997 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
The ministry said on Monday that dozens of people had been killed in Israeli strikes across the Gaza Strip, while Israel’s army reported rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.
An AFP correspondent reported that Israeli strikes on Monday hit the main southern city of Khan Yunis, while Palestinian militants Islamic Jihad said they had blown up a house where Israeli soldiers were searching for a tunnel shaft.
Hamas on Sunday warned that Israel would not receive “their prisoners alive without an exchange and negotiation and meeting the demands of the resistance.”
Israel says there are still 137 hostages in Gaza, while activists say around 7,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jails.
Months of intense bombardment and clashes have left Gaza’s health system on the brink of collapse, with most hospitals no longer functioning and nearly two million people displaced.
AFP visited the bombed-out ruins of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City and found at least 30,000 people taking refuge amid the rubble after Israeli forces raided the medical facility last month.
“Our life has become a living hell, there’s no electricity, no water, no flour, no bread, no medicine for the children who are all sick,” said Mohammed Daloul, 38, who fled there with his wife and three children.

No safe place
The UN estimates 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced from their homes — roughly half of them children.
Israel had urged people to seek refuge in the south, but after expanding the war to include southern targets, there are few safe places for civilians to go.
Humanitarian organizations continued to press Israel for greater protection of civilians in the conflict.
Mapping software deployed by Israel’s army to try to reduce non-combatant deaths was condemned as inadequate Sunday by Lynn Hastings, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories.
“A unilateral declaration by an occupying power that patches of land where there is no infrastructure, food, water, health care, or hygiene are ‘safe zones’ does not mean they are safe,” she said.
Only 14 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are functioning at any capacity, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian agency OCHA.
“Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as the agency called for immediate, unimpeded aid deliveries.
Israel’s army chief Herzi Halevi said Sunday his troops were using “significant force” in Gaza, hailing “significant achievements” in the war.
The army told AFP on Monday that 101 soldiers have died in the Gaza ground offensive, and previously put the number of wounded at around 600.
It said Sunday it had struck more than 250 targets in 24 hours, including “a Hamas military communications site,” “underground tunnel shafts” in southern Gaza, and a Hamas military command center in Shejaiya in Gaza City.
Some 7,000 “terrorists” have been killed, according to National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.
“Hamas should not exist, because they are not human beings, after what I saw they did,” Menahem, a 22-year-old soldier wounded on October 7, told AFP during a military-organized tour that did not allow him to give his surname.

UN to demand ceasefire
The UN General Assembly will meet on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Gaza, its president said, after the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution for a ceasefire on Friday.
A draft of the text seen by AFP closely follows the language of Friday’s failed Security Council resolution, “expressing grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a leaders’ gathering in Qatar on Sunday that the Security Council’s “authority and credibility were severely undermined” by the US veto.
Qatar, where Hamas’s top leadership is based, said it was still working on a new truce like the week-long ceasefire it helped mediate last month that saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinian prisoners and humanitarian aid.
But Israel’s relentless bombardment was “narrowing the window” for success, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday again rejected a ceasefire.
“With Hamas still alive, still intact and... with the stated intent of repeating October 7 again and again and again, that would simply perpetuate the problem,” he told ABC News.
But Blinken also said the United States was “deeply, deeply aware of the terrible human toll that this conflict is taking on innocent men, women and children.”
There are fears of regional escalation with frequent cross-border exchanges between Israel and Lebanese militants, and attacks by pro-Iran groups against US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria.
Syria’s state news agency said Israel had carried out strikes near Damascus late Sunday, but air defense systems had prevented any significant damage.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the strikes had targeted Hezbollah sites in the Sayeda Zeinab district and near Damascus airport.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened to attack any vessels heading to Israel unless more aid was allowed into Gaza.
France said Sunday one of its frigates in the Red Sea had shot down two drones launched from Yemen.


23-hour ordeal ends for 175 holidaymakers stranded in Turkiye cable car

23-hour ordeal ends for 175 holidaymakers stranded  in Turkiye cable car
Updated 5 sec ago
Follow

23-hour ordeal ends for 175 holidaymakers stranded in Turkiye cable car

23-hour ordeal ends for 175 holidaymakers stranded  in Turkiye cable car
  • The stranded people had been stuck on the Tunektepe cable car, just outside the Mediterranean city of Antalya, since 5:30 p.m. on Friday
  • The cable car carries tourists from Konyaalti beach to a restaurant and viewing platform at the summit of the 618-meter Tunektepe peak

ISTANBUL: The last of 174 people stranded in cable cars high above a mountain in southern Turkiye were brought to safety Saturday, nearly 23 hours after one pod hit a pole and burst open, killing one person and injuring seven when they plummeted to the rocks below.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced the successful completion of the rescue operation on X Saturday afternoon.
A total of 607 search and rescue personnel and 10 helicopters were involved, including teams from Turkiye’s emergency response agency, AFAD, the Coast Guard, firefighting teams and mountain rescue teams from different parts of Turkiye, officials said. Helicopters with night-vision capabilities had continued rescuing people throughout the night.
The stranded people had been stuck on the Tunektepe cable car, just outside the Mediterranean city of Antalya, since 5:30 p.m. on Friday, when the accident occurred.
Istanbul resident Hatice Polat and her family were rescued seven hours into the ordeal. Speaking to the Anadolu agency, she said the power went out and the pod flipped four or five times.
“The night was awful, we were very scared. There were children with us, they passed out,” she said. “It was torture being up there for seven hours. It is swaying every second, you’re constantly in fear. ... It was very traumatic, I don’t know how we’ll get over this trauma.”
State-run Anadolu Agency identified the deceased as a 54-year-old Turkish man. Those injured included two children and were six Turkish citizens and one Kyrgyz national. They were all rescued by Coast Guard helicopters soon after the crash and sent for treatment. Images in Turkish media showed the battered car swaying from dislodged cables on the side of the rocky mountain as medics tended the wounded.
Yerlikaya also announced that 13 people rescued from other cars were also taken to hospitals for checkups.
Friday was the final day of a three-day public holiday in Turkiye marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which sees families flock to coastal resorts.
The cable car carries tourists from Konyaalti beach to a restaurant and viewing platform at the summit of the 618-meter (2,010-foot) Tunektepe peak. It is run by Antalya Metropolitan Municipality. The cable car line was completed in 2017 and receives a major inspection around the beginning of the year, as well as routine inspections throughout the year.
Antalya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation. An expert commission including mechanical and electrical engineers and health and safety experts was assigned to determine the cause of the incident.


Iran launches drones at Israel, airspace closed and defenses poised

Iran launches drones at Israel, airspace closed and defenses poised
Updated 13 min 12 sec ago
Follow

Iran launches drones at Israel, airspace closed and defenses poised

Iran launches drones at Israel, airspace closed and defenses poised
  • “Wing of Zion,” Israel’s version of US “Air Force One,” airborne
  • Israeli army spokesman said would take several hours for drones to arrive

JERUSALEM: Iran launched drones toward Israel late Saturday, the Israeli military announced, and Iran’s state-run media reported that dozens had been fired.
The Israeli army’s spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said it would take several hours for the aircraft to arrive and that the country was prepared. Iran had been threatening to attack Israel since an airstrike last week killed two Iranian generals in Syria. Israel has not commented on that attack, but Iran accused it of being behind it.
Israeli aviation authorities said they were closing the country’s airspace to all flights as of 12:30 a.m. local time (5:30 p.m. EDT).
The drone attack late Saturday marked the first time Iran had ever launched a full-scale military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In a statement carried by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard acknowledged launching “dozens of drones and missiles toward the occupied territories and positions of the Zionist regime.” The statement did not elaborate.
The White House said it would provide unspecified support for Israel’s defense against the ongoing attack. “The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defense against these threats from Iran,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
President Joe Biden was set to convene a principals meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the unfolding attack, the White House said. Biden had cut short a weekend trip to his beach house in Delaware to return to the White House and monitor the situation.
Earlier Saturday, the Israeli military said it was canceling school and limiting public gatherings to no more than 1,000 people as a precaution.
Hagari said Israel is “prepared and ready” with defensive and offensive actions. He also said there was “tight” cooperation with the US and other partners in the region.
The head of the US Central Command, Gen. Erik Kurilla, has been in Israel in recent days to coordinate with Israel about the Iranian threats.
Israel has a number of layers of air defense capable of intercepting everything from long-range missiles to UAV’s and short-range rockets. Hagari said Israel has an “excellent air defense system” but stressed it is not 100 percent effective and urged the public to listen to safety announcements.
For days, Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have threatened to “slap” Israel for its Syria strike.
Iran has largely avoided directly attacking Israel, despite its targeted killings of nuclear scientists and sabotage campaigns on Iran’s atomic sites. Iran has targeted Israeli or Jewish-linked sites through proxy forces.
Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip has inflamed decade-old tensions in the Middle East, and any new attack threatens to escalate that conflict into a wider regional war.
Flight-tracking data showed the airspace over Jordan empty, while few flights continued on their north-south routes over Iraq. A sole Middle East Airlines flight from Dubai to Beirut remained airborne over Syria.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported heavy Israeli airstrikes and shelling on multiple locations in south Lebanon following the launch of drones from Iran. The Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has been clashing with Israeli forces in the border area for more than six months.
Earlier Saturday, commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard rappelled from a helicopter onto an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel.
Iran’s state-run IRNA said a special forces unit of the Guard’s navy carried out the attack on the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime.
Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC. Geneva-based MSC acknowledged the seizure and said 25 crew members were on the ship.
“We are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel,” MSC said.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the crew was made up of Indian, Filipino, Pakistani, Russian and Estonian nationals and urged Iran to release them and the vessel.
IRNA said the Guard would take the vessel into Iranian territorial waters.
A Middle East defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, provided video of the attack to The Associated Press in which Iranian commandos are seen rappelling onto a stack of containers on the vessel’s deck.
The video corresponded with known details of the MSC Aries. The commandos rappelled from what appeared to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter, which both the Guard and the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen have used before to raid ships.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on nations to list the Guard as a terrorist organization. Iran “is a criminal regime that supports Hamas’ crimes and is now conducting a pirate operation in violation of international law,” Katz said.
The US, Israel’s main backer, has stood by the country despite growing concerns over Israel’s war on Gaza killing more than 33,600 Palestinians and wounding over 76,200 more. Israel’s war began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw some 250 others taken hostage.
The Pentagon said Saturday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart “to discuss urgent regional threats ... and made clear that Israel could count on full US support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies.” National security adviser Jake Sullivan also spoke with his counterpart to reinforce Washington’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”


Jordan’s civil aviation authority ‘temporarily’ closes Jordanian airspace

Jordan’s civil aviation authority ‘temporarily’ closes Jordanian airspace
Updated 13 April 2024
Follow

Jordan’s civil aviation authority ‘temporarily’ closes Jordanian airspace

Jordan’s civil aviation authority ‘temporarily’ closes Jordanian airspace
  • Commission said Jordanian airspace would be closed to all incoming, departing, and transiting flights

AMMAN: The Jordanian Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission on Saturday announced that Jordanian airspace will be closed “temporarily” for inbound and outbound flights in light of rising regional risks. 

The commission said in a statement that the decision has been taken to ensure the safety and security of Jordanian aerospace in light of the rising escalation and after assessment of the potential regional risks. 

Stopping short from giving further details on the source of these risks, the commission said that Jordanian airspace would be closed to all incoming, departing, and transiting flights temporarily starting from 20:00 UTC, 11:00pm local time, for several hours. 

It added that this measure would be continuously updated and reviewed according to developments. 

The commission said that this measure is taken "to ensure the safety and security of civil aviation in the Jordanian airspace.”


Hamas says submitted response to Gaza truce mediators

Hamas says submitted response to Gaza truce mediators
Updated 13 April 2024
Follow

Hamas says submitted response to Gaza truce mediators

Hamas says submitted response to Gaza truce mediators
  • Truce talks started on April 7 in Cairo but have so far brought no breakthrough on a plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators
  • Hamas said it was also ready “to conclude a serious and real prisoner exchange deal between the two parties“

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Hamas said Saturday it had submitted its response to Egyptian and Qatari mediators on a proposed truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip, insisting on a “permanent ceasefire.”
Truce talks started on April 7 in Cairo but have so far brought no breakthrough on a plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators.
In a statement, the Palestinian militant group said it “reaffirms adherence to its demands” including “a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of the occupation army from the entire Gaza Strip, the return of the displaced to their areas and places of residence, intensification of the entry of relief and aid, and the start of reconstruction.”
Hamas said it was also ready “to conclude a serious and real prisoner exchange deal between the two parties.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed a permanent ceasefire and vowed to send ground troops into Rafah, ignoring an international outcry against it, including from the United States.
Netanyahu’s office said Saturday “the only obstacle to obtaining the release of the abductees is Hamas and not any factor on the Israeli side.”
“Among other things, Hamas demands an end to the war and a complete withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip.
“The cabinet and the security forces are united in their opposition to these unfounded demands.”
“Hamas to this day has refused any deal and any compromise proposal,” it said.


Israelis rally against government amid deadlock on Gaza hostages

Israelis rally against government amid deadlock on Gaza hostages
Updated 13 April 2024
Follow

Israelis rally against government amid deadlock on Gaza hostages

Israelis rally against government amid deadlock on Gaza hostages
  • As concern mounts in Israel for the wellbeing of the 129 remaining hostages their families and friends have organized increasingly vocal demonstrations
  • They have dovetailed with activists who have long called for Netanyahu’s ouster given his trial on graft charges

TEL AVIV: Thousands of Israelis rallied against their government on Saturday, with some demanding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu call off the half-year-old war in Gaza amid a deadlock in diplomatic efforts to retrieve hostages held there by Hamas.
Hamas-led gunmen seized 253 people during an Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 others, according to officials. Some hostages were freed in a November truce but Egyptian- and Qatari-mediated efforts to secure another deal appear to have stalled.
As concern mounts in Israel for the wellbeing of the 129 remaining hostages, who cannot be contacted, their families and friends have organized increasingly vocal demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist government.
They have dovetailed with activists who have long called for Netanyahu’s ouster given his trial on graft charges — which he denies — and his attempts to overhaul the judiciary last year.
“Our country’s near the abyss. We’ve already started to drive down and we must stop it. I’m here to gather the force to tell the people that they need to come out and they need to tell our government that it’s time to stop,” said Marva Erez, 45, who was among demonstrators in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu said he will continue with the war to dismantle Hamas, despite alarm in Washington and other Western capitals at the civilian toll in Gaza, where medical officials say more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed.
Hamas has said any new hostage deal must bring about an end to the Gaza war and withdrawal of all Israeli forces.
“There will be a (hostage) deal,” Culture Minister Miki Zohar, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, told Channel 12 TV. “But not at any price.”
The anti-government protest in Tel Aviv was held separately to a smaller vigil for the hostages. Many of those taking part in the latter event soon merged with the bigger demonstration.
Michael Levy, whose brother Or is among the hostages, said he was protesting because “we have no time for the talks.”
“We need actions. We need to get them home,” he said.