Israel faces new calls for truce after killing of hostages raises alarm about its conduct in Gaza

Israel faces new calls for truce after killing of hostages raises alarm about its conduct in Gaza
Israeli right wing protesters demonstrate near the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on December 16, 2023, close to another demonstration of friends and relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attack. (AFP)
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Updated 17 December 2023
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Israel faces new calls for truce after killing of hostages raises alarm about its conduct in Gaza

Israel faces new calls for truce after killing of hostages raises alarm about its conduct in Gaza
  • The war has flattened large parts of northern Gaza, killed thousands of civilians and driven most of the population to the southern part of the besieged territory

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip: Israel’s government faced calls for a cease-fire from some of its closest European allies on Sunday after a series of shootings, including the mistaken killing of three Israeli hostages, fueled global concerns about the conduct of the 10-week-old war in Gaza.
Israeli protesters are urging their government to renew negotiations with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, whom Israel has vowed to destroy. Israel is also expected to face pressure to scale back major combat operations when US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits Monday. Washington is expressing growing unease with civilian casualties even as it provides vital military and diplomatic support.
The war has flattened large parts of northern Gaza, killed thousands of civilians and driven most of the population to the southern part of the besieged territory, where many are in crowded shelters and tent camps. Some 1.9 million Palestinians — about 90 percent of Gaza’s population — have fled their homes.
They survive off a trickle of humanitarian aid. Dozens of desperate Palestinians surrounded aid trucks after they drove in through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, forcing some to stop before climbing aboard, pulling down boxes and carrying them off. Other trucks appeared to be guarded by masked people carrying sticks.
Israel said aid passed directly from Israel into Gaza for the first time Sunday, with 79 trucks entering from Kerem Shalom, where around 500 trucks entered daily before the war. Another 120 trucks entered via Rafah along with six trucks carrying fuel or cooking gas, said Wael Abu Omar, Palestinian Crossings Authority spokesman.
Aid workers say it’s still far from enough. “You cannot deliver aid under a sky full of airstrikes,” a spokesperson with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Juliette Touma, said on social media, while the agency estimated that more than 60 percent of Gaza’s infrastructure had been destroyed in the war.
Telecom services in Gaza gradually resumed after a four-day communications blackout, the longest of several outages during the war that groups say complicate rescue and delivery efforts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel “will continue to fight until the end,” with the goal of eliminating Hamas, which triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people that day, mostly civilians, and captured scores of hostages.
Netanyahu vows to bring back the estimated 129 hostages still in captivity. Anger over the mistaken killing of hostages is likely to increase pressure on him to renew Qatar-mediated negotiations with Hamas over swapping more of the remaining captives for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.
CALLS FOR A NEW CEASE-FIRE
In Israel on Sunday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna called for an “immediate truce” aimed at releasing more hostages, getting larger amounts of aid into Gaza and moving toward “the beginning of a political solution.”
France’s Foreign Ministry earlier said an employee was killed in an Israeli strike on a home in Rafah on Wednesday. It condemned the strike, which it said killed several civilians, and demanded clarification from Israeli authorities.
The foreign ministers of the UK and Germany, meanwhile, called for a “sustainable” cease-fire, saying too many civilians had been killed.
“Israel will not win this war if its operations destroy the prospect of peaceful co-existence with Palestinians,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote in the UK’s Sunday Times.
The US defense secretary is set to travel to Israel to continue discussions on a timetable for ending the war’s most intense phase. Israeli and US officials have spoken of a transition to more targeted strikes aimed at killing Hamas leaders and rescuing hostages, without saying when it would occur.
Hamas has said no more hostages will be released until the war ends, and that in exchange it will demand the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners, including high-profile militants.
Hamas released over 100 of more than 240 hostages captured on Oct. 7 in exchange for the release of scores of Palestinian prisoners during a brief cease-fire in November. Nearly all freed on both sides were women and minors. Israel has rescued one hostage.
The Israeli military said Sunday it had discovered a large tunnel in Gaza close to what was once a busy crossing into Israel, raising new questions about how Israeli surveillance missed such conspicuous attack preparations by Hamas.
SHOOTINGS DRAW SCRUTINY
Military officials said Saturday that the three hostages who were mistakenly shot by Israeli troops had tried to signal that they posed no harm. It was Israel’s first such acknowledgement of harming hostages in the war.
The hostages, all in their 20s, were killed Friday in the Gaza City area of Shijaiyah, where troops are engaged in fierce fighting with Hamas. An Israeli military official said the shootings were against the army’s rules of engagement and were being investigated at the highest level.
Israel says it makes every effort to avoid harming civilians and accuses Hamas of using them as human shields. But Palestinians and rights groups have repeatedly accused Israeli forces of recklessly endangering civilians and firing on those who do not threaten them, both in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, which has seen a surge of violence since the war began.
Pope Francis on Sunday called for peace, saying “unarmed civilians are being bombed and shot at, and this has even happened inside the Holy Family parish complex, where there are no terrorists but families, children and sick people with disabilities, nuns.” He spoke after the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said two Christian women at a church compound in Gaza were killed by Israeli sniper fire.
A British lawmaker, Layla Moran, said several family members were among hundreds sheltering in the compound. “This is a church. It’s a week before Christmas. This is Advent. This is an important time in the Christian family’s religious calendar. And there is a sniper killing women and firing at children,” she asserted.
In Gaza, Palestinians on several occasions have said Israeli soldiers opened fire at fleeing civilians.
The offensive has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians, the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory said Thursday in its last update before the communications blackout. It has said that thousands more casualties are buried under the rubble. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but has said that most of those killed were women and children.
On Sunday, five people were killed and many injured after a reported Israeli airstrike hit near a UN-run school in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis where displaced Palestinians were sheltering. A cameraman with The Associated Press counted five bodies delivered to a hospital.
The plight of Palestinian civilians has gotten little attention inside Israel, where many are still deeply traumatized by the Oct. 7 attack and where support for the war remains strong.
Israel’s military says 121 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza offensive. It says it has killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.


Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy

Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy
Updated 18 June 2024
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Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy

Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy
  • The Houthis who control the north and center of the country and the government running the south use different currency notes with different exchange rates
  • Yemen has been torn by civil war ever since the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took over Sanaa and much of Yemen’s north and center in 2015

SANAA, Yemen: Yemen’s Houthi rebels and its internationally recognized government are locked in a fight for control of the country’s banks that experts warn is threatening to further wreck an economy already crippled by nearly a decade of war.
The rivalry over the banks is throwing Yemen’s financial system into deeper turmoil. Already, the Houthis who control the north and center of the country and the government running the south use different currency notes with different exchange rates. They also run rival central banks.
The escalating money divide is eroding the value of Yemen’s currency, the riyal, which had driven up prices for clothing and meat before the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha started on Sunday.
For weeks, Yemenis in Houthi-controlled areas have been unable to pull their money out of bank savings accounts, reportedly because the Houthi-run central bank, based in the capital, Sanaa, has stopped providing liquidity to commercial and government banks. Protests have broken out in front of some banks, dispersed by security forces.
Yemen has been torn by civil war ever since the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took over Sanaa and much of Yemen’s north and center in 2015. The Saudi-backed internationally recognized government and its nominal ally the Southern Transitional Council, a group supported by the United Arab Emirates, govern the south and much of the east, centered in the southern port city of Aden.
Yemen was already the Arab world’s poorest country before the war began. Punitive actions by each side against the other’s banks over the past week now threaten to undermine merchants’ ability to import food and basic commodities and to disrupt the transfer of remittances from Yemenis abroad, on which many families depend, said Edem Wosornu, director of operations and advocacy for the UN humanitarian coordination office known as OCHA.
“All these factors will likely deepen poverty, worsen food insecurity and malnutrition, and increase reliance on humanitarian assistance,” she told a UN Security Council briefing on Thursday. The dispute could escalate to the point that banks in Houthi-run areas are barred completely from international financial transactions, which she said would have “catastrophic ramifications.”
The internationally recognized government moved the central bank to Aden in 2016, and since then began issuing new banknotes to replace worn-out riyals. Houthi authorities, which set up their own central bank in Sanaa, banned the use of the new money in areas under their control.
In March, the Houthi-controlled central bank announced it was rolling out its own new 100-riyal coins. The international community and Yemen’s recognized government denounced the move, saying the Houthis were trying to set up their own financial system and warning it will deepen Yemen’s economic divide.
Adding to the confusion, the bills have different exchange rates — riyals issued in Sanaa go for about 530 to the dollar, while those from Aden are around 1,800 to the dollar.
In response, the Aden-based central bank gave banks 60 days to relocate their headquarters to the southern city and stop operating under Houthi policies, or else risk facing sanctions related to money laundering and anti-terrorism laws.
The central bank was “forced to make these decisions, especially after the Houthi group issued their own currency and took unilateral steps toward complete independence from the internationally recognized Central Bank in Aden,” said Mustafa Nasr, an economic expert and head of the Studies and Economic Media Center SEMC.
No banks met the deadline — either because they needed more time or because they feared Houthi sanctions if they moved, Nasr said.
When the deadline ran out last week, the central bank in Aden banned dealing with six banks headquartered in Sanaa, meaning currency exchange offices, money transfer agencies and banks in the south could no longer work with them.
In retaliation, the Houthi-run central bank in Sanaa banned all dealings with 13 banks headquartered in Aden. That means people in Houthi-controlled areas can’t deposit or withdraw funds through those banks or receive wire transfers made through them.
Even as the fight for control is going on, both sides are facing a cash crunch. The Houthi government has few sources of foreign currency and its new coins aren’t recognized outside its territory.
In January, the United States designated the Houthis as a global terror group in response to the rebels’ attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. The Houthis say the attacks are in retaliation for the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. Because of the US decision, banks around the world might be concerned and reluctant to continue any financial dealings with banks that have headquarters under Houthi control, said Youssef Saeed, a University of Aden economic professor.
The economy in Aden isn’t significantly better. The government’s revenues have been hit hard ever since Houthi attacks on oil ports in late 2022 forced a halt in oil exports, the main earner of foreign currency.
Since March, depositors in Houthi-run areas have been unable to pull money out of their accounts. The central bank in Sanaa hasn’t announced any formal restrictions, but several economists told The Associated Press that it has informally stopped releasing funds that individual banks have put in its coffers — in part because of a lack of liquidity.
At one bank that saw protests by depositors last month, the International Bank of Yemen, a note hung in the lobby said, “In coordination with the Central Bank, withdrawals from old accounts have been suspended until further notice.”
Um Ahmed, a 65-year-old woman who was among those protesting outside the bank, said that she was trying to withdraw money to help her son buy a motor scooter for work, but the bank refused.
“I served this country as a teacher for 35 years and saved every penny and deposited my money at the bank, but they took it all,” she said. “This money belongs to my husband and me and our children.”
 


Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage

Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage
Updated 18 June 2024
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Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage

Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage

ALGIERS: Protesters took to the streets for the second day Monday in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region, social media reports said, in rare demonstrations against severe shortages of drinking water.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had vowed to address the issue by the Eid Al-Adha holiday which began Sunday.
According to several social media accounts, demonstrations erupted and roads were blocked in Tiaret, southwest of the capital Algiers, from the start of Eid Al-Adha.
Images shared on social media showed at least two roads connecting Tiaret to the neighboring towns of Frenda and Boucheguif blocked by rocks and improvised barricades.
But neither official nor private domestic media reported on the protests.
“Your promises to the residents of Tiaret have been in vain. From the first day of Eid, many areas have been without water,” one user posted on the Algerian water company’s page.

Screenshot from Google map showing Tiaret, the site of protests in Algeria.

About 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the city of Tiaret, in Rahouia, images circulated online showed a gathering of citizens blocking the local district chief from leaving his headquarters until he heard their concerns.
Since May, all the tributaries of the semi-desert region and its Bakhedda dam have run dry.
Protests broke out at the start of June in Tiaret, with demonstrators burning tires and blocking roads at the time, according to social media posts.
Faced with the issue in the lead-up to early elections in September, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had called a cabinet meeting on June 2 and ordered the interior and water ministers to draw up an urgent plan to address the water shortages within 48 hours.
The following day, the two ministers traveled to Tiaret to present a plan to resolve the problem “before Eid Al-Adha.”
A system supplying water from wells connected to the water network resolved the issue in central Tiaret, but not in other parts of the region, according to online posts.
Protests have been rare since Tebboune’s election in December 2019 after his predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in the wake of mass Hirak movement demonstrations against him.
Tebboune has not yet declared whether he will seek reelection but has been very visible in the media and at public events.
 


Kamala Harris meets with former Israeli hostage who described being sexually assaulted in Gaza

Kamala Harris meets with former Israeli hostage who described being sexually assaulted in Gaza
Updated 18 June 2024
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Kamala Harris meets with former Israeli hostage who described being sexually assaulted in Gaza

Kamala Harris meets with former Israeli hostage who described being sexually assaulted in Gaza
  • Harris on Monday urged Hamas to accept a US-backed ceasefire proposal

WASHINGTON: Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday met with an Israeli lawyer who has publicly described being sexually assaulted while held hostage in Gaza, and said the story left her fearing more such accounts “will only increase as more hostages are released.”
Harris hosted an event highlighting efforts to reduce conflict-related sexual violence around the world and said she’d spoken with Amit Soussana, who was abducted from her home when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Soussana detailed for The New York Times being sexually assaulted while held in Gaza, before she was released, along with a group of other hostages, during a November ceasefire that briefly suspended fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Harris said that after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, “I saw images of bloody Israeli women abducted.”
“Then it came to light that Hamas committed rape and gang rape at the Nova music festival,” the vice president said, referring to the Tribe of Nova music that was overrun by Hamas militants. “And women’s bodies were found naked from the waist down, hands tied behind their back and shot in the head.”
Such accounts of atrocities are not new, but Harris detailing accusations of sexual violence surrounding the Israel-Hamas war comes as the Biden administration is working to broker another ceasefire to pause the fighting in Gaza.
Harris on Monday urged Hamas to accept a US-backed ceasefire proposal. She also said she heard stories from former Israeli hostages about what they “witnessed and heard in captivity,” and spoke with Soussana, who the vice president said “has bravely come forward with her account of sexual violence while she was held captive by Hamas.”
“These testimonies, I fear, will only increase as more hostages are released,” Harris said. “We cannot look away. And we will not be silent.”
Hamas has denied sexually assaulting people during the Oct. 7, 2024, attack, or the hostages it has held since, and false reports of abuse have sometimes helped fueled the conflict between the militant group and Israel.
But a United Nations report released in March found “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, “sexualized torture,” and other cruel and inhumane treatment of women during its Oct. 7, 2024, attack. The same report found there are “reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing.”
The vice president also said her “heart breaks for all these survivors and their families, and for all the pain and suffering over the last eight months in Israel and in Gaza.”
Harris said “sexual violence has been a tactic of war since ancient times,” though she noted that the international community has made recent progress recognizing it “as an attack on peace, stability and human rights.”
She said that the Biden administration had worked to prevent such violence by doing things like providing rape kits and heath care for survivors and helping to train militaries and back international peacekeepers. The US has also imposed economic sanctions on individuals associated with conflicts in places like Iraq, Sudan and the Central African Republic.
“It’s not enough. The crimes persist and, globally, our system of accountability remains inadequate,” Harris said. “More must be done.”


Iran’s presidential candidates debate economic policies ahead of the June 28 vote

Iran’s presidential candidates debate economic policies ahead of the June 28 vote
Updated 18 June 2024
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Iran’s presidential candidates debate economic policies ahead of the June 28 vote

Iran’s presidential candidates debate economic policies ahead of the June 28 vote
  • Five of the candidates are hard-liners while the sixth candidate, lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian, 69, is a heart surgeon who has the support of some pro-reformers

TEHRAN, Iran: Six presidential candidates on Monday discussed Iran’s economic problems in a four-hour live debate on state TV, ahead of the June 28 presidential election following a helicopter crash last month that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and seven others.
It was the first of five debates planned in the 10 days remaining before the vote in a shortened campaign to replace Raisi, a hard-line protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei once floated as a possible successor to the 85-year-old cleric.
The candidates were to discuss their proposals and plans for Iran’s spiraling economy, struggling under sanctions from the United States and other Western nations.
They all promised they would try and get the sanctions lifted and introduce reforms but none offered any details. The candidates also discussed inflation, the budget deficit, Iran’s housing problem and ways to fight corruption.
The June 28 election comes at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program, its arming of Russia in that country’s war on Ukraine and its wide-reaching crackdowns on dissent.
Iran’s support of militia proxy forces throughout the wider Middle East, meanwhile, have, been increasingly in the spotlight as Iran-backed Yemen’s Houthi rebels attack ships in the Red Sea over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
Five of the candidates are hard-liners while the sixth candidate, lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian, 69, is a heart surgeon who has the support of some pro-reformers.
The most prominent candidate remains Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, 62, a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. However, many remember that Qalibaf, as a former Guard general, was part of a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999. He also reportedly ordered live gunfire to be used against students in 2003 while serving as the country’s police chief.
Among those running for president are also Iran’s vice president, Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, 53, and the current Tehran mayor, Ali Reza Zakani 58. A member of Supreme National Security Council, 58-year-old Saeed Jalili and cleric Mostafa Pourmohammadi, 64, a previous interior minister under former relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani, are also in the race.
Qalibaf promised he would be a “strong” president who would support the poor, better manage the economy and effort to remove sanctions through diplomatic means.
Pezeshkian said the sanctions were a “disaster” and also lobbied for less restrictions on the Internet. Iran has long blocked Facebook, X, Instagram, Telegram and other major social media platforms and messaging systems, mainly over security concerns
All the candidates pledged to strengthen the country’s currency, the rial, which has plunged to 580,000 against the dollar. The rial was 32,000 to the dollar when Iran and world powers reached a deal with world powers in 2015 on capping Tehran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
The six stayed away from the topic of the tattered nuclear deal. Khamenei has final say on all major state matters, including nuclear, foreign policy, space and military programs.
Pro-reform figures such as former President Mohammad Khatami and former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal have backed Pezeshkian, though votes in his favor in his parliamentary constituency in the northwestern city of Tabriz declined from 36 percent to 24 percent of the vote in elections over the past eight years.
Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election in a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.

 


Israeli anti-government protesters rally in Jerusalem

Israeli anti-government protesters rally in Jerusalem
Updated 18 June 2024
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Israeli anti-government protesters rally in Jerusalem

Israeli anti-government protesters rally in Jerusalem
  • Israel has killed at least 37,347 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry

JERUSALEM: Anti-government protesters took to the streets of Jerusalem on Monday, clashing with police near the house of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and calling for new elections.
Netanyahu once again sits atop one of the most right-wing coalitions in Israel’s history after a wartime unity government fell apart a week ago when two centrist former generals, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, quit.
Netanyahu is now dependent on ultra-Orthodox and far-right partners, whose hard-line agenda caused a major rift in Israeli society even before Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault sparked the war in Gaza.
The often weekly demonstrations have yet to change the political landscape, and Netanyahu still controls a stable majority in parliament.
Following the departures of Gantz and Eisenkot, opposition groups declared a week of street protests that include blocking highways and mass demonstrations.
By sundown, a crowd of thousands had gathered outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, before marching to Netanyahu’s private home in the city.
The demonstration grew rowdy. After reaching Netanyahu’s house, some of the protesters broke off and tried to break through barriers set up by the police, who pushed them back. At one point a bonfire was lit in the street. Police used a water canon to disperse the demonstration.
Many waved Israeli flags. Others carried signs criticizing Netanyahu’s handling of pivotal issues, like promoting a divisive military draft bill that exempts ultra-Orthodox Jews from otherwise mandatory service, as well as his handling of the war with Hamas in Gaza and fighting with Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
“The healing process for the country of Israel, it starts here. After last week when Benny Gantz and Eisenkot left the coalition, we are continuing this process and hopefully this government will resign soon,” said protester Oren Shvill.