Israel vows to fight Hamas to Gaza’s southern border, fuels tension with Egypt

Update Israel vows to fight Hamas to Gaza’s southern border, fuels tension with Egypt
A Palestinian mourns over the shrouded body of a relative killed in Israeli bombardment before a group burial, at the Najjar hospital in Rafah (AFP)
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Updated 25 January 2024
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Israel vows to fight Hamas to Gaza’s southern border, fuels tension with Egypt

Israel vows to fight Hamas to Gaza’s southern border, fuels tension with Egypt
  • More than 1 million Palestinians – nearly half of Gaza’s population — crowded into Rafah
  • Israeli military says it has killed over 9,000 Hamas militants and lost 220 soldiers in 3-1/2-month-old war

GAZA: Israel faces a growing risk of damaging its peace with neighboring Egypt as its military pushes the offensive against Hamas further south in the Gaza Strip. Already, the two sides are in a dispute over a narrow strip of land between Egypt and Gaza.
Israeli leaders say that to complete their destruction of Hamas, they must eventually widen their offensive to Gaza’s southernmost town, Rafah, and take control of the Philadelphi Corridor, a tiny buffer zone on the border with Egypt that is demilitarized under the two countries’ 1979 peace accord.
In a news conference last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas continues to smuggle weapons under the border – a claim Egypt vehemently denies — and that the war cannot end “until we close this breach,” referring to the corridor.
That brought a sharp warning from Egypt that deploying Israeli troops in the zone, known in Egypt as the Salaheddin Corridor, will violate the peace deal.
“Any Israeli move in this direction will lead to a serious threat to Egyptian-Israeli relations,” Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt’s State Information Service, said Monday.
EGYPT’S CONCERNS
Egypt fears that an Israeli attack on Rafah will push a massive wave of Palestinians fleeing across the border into its Sinai Peninsula.
More than 1 million Palestinians – nearly half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million — are crowded into Rafah and its surroundings on the border, most driven there after fleeing Israeli bombardment and ground offensives elsewhere in Gaza.
If Israeli troops assault Rafah, they have nowhere to flee. Palestinians have broken through before: In 2008, early in the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt after the Hamas takeover, Hamas blew open the border wall. Thousands of people stormed into Egypt.
Egypt told the Israelis that before any ground assault on Rafah, Israel must let Palestinians return to northern Gaza, a senior Egyptian military official involved in coordination between the two countries told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about the internal discussions.
Israel says it has largely driven Hamas out of northern Gaza but is likely to resist allowing Palestinians back in the near term. Israel’s bombardment and ground assault have reduced much of the north to rubble, leaving many without homes.
ISRAEL’S DILEMMA
The dispute puts Israel in a bind. If it stops its offensive without taking Rafah, it falls short on its top war goal of crushing Hamas. If its military pushes to the border, it risks undermining its peace deal with Egypt — a foundation of stability in the Mideast for decades — and upsetting its closest ally, the United States.
Israel and the US are already divided over Gaza’s post-war future. The Israeli military is working to create an informal buffer zone about a kilometer (half a mile) wide inside Gaza along the border with Israel to prevent militants from attacking nearby communities. The US says it opposes any attempt by Israel to shrink Gaza’s territory.
Israel vows to expunge the militants from the entire Gaza Strip and has done so by a strategy of systematic destruction, at a huge cost in civilian lives. Starting in north Gaza, it leveled large swaths of the urban landscape, saying it was eliminating Hamas tunnels and infrastructure while battling militants. It is working its way down the territory, doing the same in central Gaza and the southern city of Khan Younis.
Netanyahu has said Israel intends to keep open-ended security control over Gaza to ensure Hamas cannot repeat its Oct. 7 attacks that triggered Israel’s assault. He has been vague on what form that would take but said ensuring control over the Philadelphi Corridor is crucial.
“There are a few options on how we can close it, we are checking all of them, and we haven’t made a decision, except for one thing: It must be closed,” he said.
Egypt warned Israel and the US that any military operations in the zone “could tear apart our peace,” a second Egyptian official said. “We will not tolerate such a move.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
IMPORTANCE OF THE PHILADELPHI CORRIDOR
The corridor is a narrow strip – about 100 meters (yards) wide in parts – running the 14-kilometer (8.6-mile) length of the Gaza side of the border with Egypt. It includes the Rafah crossing into Egypt, Gaza’s sole outlet not controlled by Israel.
The corridor is part of a larger demilitarized zone along both sides of the entire Israel-Egypt border. Under the peace accord, each side is allowed to deploy only a tiny number of troops or border guards in the zone. At the time of the accord, Israeli troops controlled Gaza, until Israel withdrew its forces and settlers in 2005.
Hamas has had free rein of the border since its 2007 takeover.
Smuggling tunnels were dug under the Gaza-Egypt border to get around the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Some of the tunnels were massive, large enough for vehicles. Hamas brought in weapons and supplies, and Gaza residents smuggled in commercial goods, from livestock to construction materials.
That changed over the past decade, as Egypt battled Islamic militants in the Sinai. The Egyptian military cracked down on the tunnels and destroyed hundreds of them, saying they were being used to funnel weapons into the Sinai. It bolstered its border wall above and below ground and cleared the population from a 5-kilometer-deep (3-mile) area adjacent to Gaza where only military and police forces are allowed.
During the fight against Sinai militants, Egypt negotiated with Israel and the US to allow the deployment of its military in Zone C, as the demilitarized zone is known on its side of the border.
DEVELOPMENTS DURING THE WAR
In mid-December, Israel made an official request to Egypt to deploy its forces in the Philadelphi corridor, the Egyptian military official said. Egypt rejected the request. Egypt’s main fear is that any ground operation in the area would result in thousands of Palestinians storming into Sinai, he said.
Since the war began, Egypt has pushed back hard against calls that it take in a mass exodus of Palestinians. It fears Israel won’t allow them to return to Gaza and says it doesn’t want to abet ethnic cleansing. It has also warned that would bring Israel’s conflict with Hamas onto its territory, potentially wrecking the peace accord.
Israel contends it must have control over the border to prevent weapons smuggling to Hamas.
Rashwan, of Egypt’s State Information Service, called Israeli claims of continued smuggling “lies” aimed at justifying a takeover of the corridor. After destroying 1,500 tunnels, Egypt has “complete control” over the border, he said.
Kobi Michael, senior researcher with Israeli think tanks Institute for National Security Studies and the Misgav Institute, said the quantity of Hamas weapons found during the offensive shows smuggling continues and Israel must have power to monitor the border.
“The only way such quantities of weapons could have reached the Gaza Strip are via the Philadelphi Corridor,” he said.
But Alon Ben-David, military affairs correspondent for Israel’s Channel 13 TV, said 90 percent of the weapons in Gaza were produced in Gaza and that Egypt’s crackdown largely shut down smuggling.
“The tunnels were really taken care of comprehensively by the Egyptians,” he said.


Ahead of another donor conference for Syria, humanitarian workers fear more aid cuts

Ahead of another donor conference for Syria, humanitarian workers fear more aid cuts
Updated 54 min 4 sec ago
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Ahead of another donor conference for Syria, humanitarian workers fear more aid cuts

Ahead of another donor conference for Syria, humanitarian workers fear more aid cuts
  • Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been pulled into poverty, and struggle with accessing food and health care as the economy deteriorates across the country’s front lines
  • id organizations are making their annual pitches to donors ahead of a fundraising conference in Brussels for Syria on Monday

BEIRUT: Living in a tent in rebel-held northwestern Syria, Rudaina Al-Salim and her family struggle to find enough water for drinking and other basic needs such as cooking and washing. Their encampment north of the city of Idlib hasn’t seen any aid in six months.
“We used to get food aid, hygiene items,” said the mother of four. “Now we haven’t had much in a while.”
Al-Salim’s story is similar to that of many in this region of Syria, where most of the 5.1 million people have been internally displaced — sometimes more than once — in the country’s civil war, now in its 14th year, and rely on aid to survive.
UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations have for years struggled with shrinking budgets, further worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and conflicts elsewhere. The wars in Ukraine and Sudan, and more recently Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip are the focus of the world’s attention.
Syria’s war, which has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of of 23 million, has long remained largely frozen and so are also efforts to find a viable political solution to end it. Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been pulled into poverty, and struggle with accessing food and health care as the economy deteriorates across the country’s front lines.
Along with the deepening poverty, there is growing hostility in neighboring countries that host Syrian refugees and that struggle with crises of their own.
Aid organizations are now making their annual pitches to donors ahead of a fundraising conference in Brussels for Syria on Monday. But humanitarian workers believe that pledges will likely fall short and that further aid cuts would follow.
“We have moved from assisting 5.5 million a year to about 1.5 million people in Syria,” Carl Skau, the UN World Food Program’s deputy executive director, told The Associated Press. He spoke during a recent visit to Lebanon, which hosts almost 780,000 registered Syrian refugees — and hundreds of thousands of others who are undocumented.
“When I look across the world, this is the (aid) program that has shrunk the most in the shortest period for time,” Skau said.
Just 6 percent of the United Nations’ appeal for aid to Syria in 2024 has so far been secured ahead of Monday’s annual fundraising conference organized by the European Union, said David Carden, UN deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria.
For the northwestern region of Syria, that means the UN is only able to feed 600,000 out of the 3.6 million people facing food insecurity, meaning they lack access to sufficient food. The UN says some 12.9 million Syrians are food insecure across the country.
The UN hopes the Brussels conference can raise more than $4 billion in “lifesaving aid” to support almost two-thirds of the 16.7 million Syrians in need, both within the war-torn country and in neighboring countries, particularly Turkiye, Lebanon and Jordan.
At last year’s conference, donors pledged $10.3 billion — about $6 billion in grants and the rest in loans — just months after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkiye and much of northern Syria, killing over 59,000 people, including 6,000 in Syria.
For northwestern Syria, an enclave under rebel control, aid “is literally a matter of life and death” this year, Carden told the AP during a recent visit to Idlib province. Without funding, 160 health facilities there would close by end of June, he said.
The International Rescue Committee’s head for Syria, Tanya Evans, said needs are “at their highest ever,” with increasing numbers of Syrians turning to child labor and taking on debt to pay for food and basics.
In Lebanon, where nearly 90 percent of Syrian refugees live in poverty, they also face flagging aid and increasing resentment from the Lebanese, struggling with their own country’s economic crisis since 2019. Disgruntled officials have accused the refugees of surging crime and competition in the job market.
Lebanon’s bickering political parties have united in a call for a crackdown on undocumented Syrian migrants and demand refugees return to so-called “safe zones” in Syria.
UN agencies, human rights groups and Western governments say there are no such areas.
Um Omar, a Syrian refugee from Homs, works in a grocery store in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli — an impoverished community that once warmly welcomed Syrian refugees.
For her work, she gets to bring home every day a bundle of bread and some vegetables to feed her family of five. They live rent-free in a tent on a plot of land that belongs to the grocery store’s owners.
“I have to leave the kids early in the morning without breakfast so I can work,” she said, asking to be identified only by her nickname, Arabic for “Omar’s mother.” She fears reprisals because of heightened hostilities against Syrians.
The shrinking UN aid they receive does not pay the bills. Her husband, who shares her fears for their safety, used to work as a day laborer but has rarely left their home in weeks.
She says deportation to Syria, where President Bashar Assad’s government is firmly entrenched, would spell doom for her family.
“If my husband was returned to Syria, he’ll either go to jail or (face) forced conscription,” she explains.
Still, many in Lebanon tell her family, “you took our livelihoods,” Um Omar said. There are also those who tell them they should leave, she added, so that the Lebanese “will finally catch a break.”


Aid trucks from Egypt enter Gaza via Kerem Shalom crossing: media

Aid trucks from Egypt enter Gaza via Kerem Shalom crossing: media
Updated 26 May 2024
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Aid trucks from Egypt enter Gaza via Kerem Shalom crossing: media

Aid trucks from Egypt enter Gaza via Kerem Shalom crossing: media
  • All aid from Egypt is inspected by Israeli authorities and distributed via the UN

CAIRO: Aid trucks from Egypt began entering the Gaza Strip on Sunday through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing, state-linked media Al-Qahera News reported.

A total of “200 trucks” had moved from the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, which has been shut since early May when Israel seized the Palestinian side of the terminal, to the Kerem Shalom crossing, some 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to the south.

Egypt has refused to coordinate aid through Rafah as long as Israeli troops control the Palestinian side.

But on Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi agreed in a call with his US counterpart Joe Biden to allow aid through Kerem Shalom, the other entry point into southern Gaza, the White House said.

Al-Qahera News did not specify how many trucks had made their way through inspection into besieged Gaza, but said “four fuel trucks” had already crossed and were heading to hospitals.

All aid from Egypt is inspected by Israeli authorities and distributed via the United Nations.

The remainder of the 200 trucks were “expected to cross into Gaza today,” Khaled Zayed, head of the Egyptian Red Crescent in Al-Arish — where the bulk of aid arrives — said.


Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza

Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza
Updated 26 May 2024
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Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza

Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza
  • Al-Qassam Brigades spokesman: ‘Our fighters lured a Zionist force into an ambush inside a tunnel’
  • The Israeli military, in a statement, denied the claim of Hamas’ armed wing

CAIRO: A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing said on Sunday its fighters had captured Israeli soldiers during fighting in Jabalia in northern Gaza on Saturday, though the Israeli military denied the claim.
The Hamas armed wing spokesman did not say how many soldiers had been abducted and showed no proof of the claim.
“Our fighters lured a Zionist force into an ambush inside a tunnel ... The fighters withdrew after they left all members of the force dead, wounded, and captured,” Abu Ubaida, the spokesman for Al Qassam Brigades, said in a recorded message broadcast by Al Jazeera early on Sunday.
The Israeli military on Sunday denied the claim by Hamas’ armed wing.
“The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) clarifies that there is no incident in which a soldier was abducted,” the military said in a statement.
Hamas released a video that appeared to show a bloodied person being dragged along the ground in a tunnel and photos of military fatigue and rifle. Reuters could not independently verify the identity of the person shown in the video nor his or her condition.
The comments by Abu Ubaida came hours after prospects for a resumption of mediated Gaza ceasefire talks grew on Saturday.
An official with knowledge of the matter said a decision had been taken to resume the talks next week after the chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency met the head of the CIA and the prime minister of Qatar.
The source, who declined to be identified by name or nationality, said it had been decided that “in the coming week negotiations will open based on new proposals led by the mediators, Egypt and Qatar and with active US involvement.”
A Hamas official later denied Israeli media reports the talks would resume in Cairo on Tuesday, telling Reuters: “There is no date.”
After more than seven months of war in Gaza, the mediators have struggled to secure a breakthrough, with Israel seeking the release of hostages held by Hamas and Hamas seeking an end to the war and a release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says. Israel began the operation in response to Hamas-led militants attacking southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.


Scuffles erupt between police, protesters demanding return of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza

Scuffles erupt between police, protesters demanding return of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza
Updated 26 May 2024
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Scuffles erupt between police, protesters demanding return of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza

Scuffles erupt between police, protesters demanding return of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza
  • Israel says around 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more
  • Around half of the 250 hostages taken by Hamas and other militants have been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel

JERUSALEM: Scuffles between Israeli police and protesters erupted in Tel Aviv on Saturday after thousands gathered to demonstrate against the government and demand that it bring back the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.
Meanwhile, a small US military vessel and what appeared to be a strip of docking area washed up on a beach near the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, not far from the US-built pier on which the Israeli military said humanitarian aid is moving into the Palestinian territory.
Also on Saturday, Israeli bombardments were reported in northern and central Gaza.
Some protesters in Tel Aviv carried photos of the female soldiers who appeared in a video earlier in the week showing them soon after they were abducted during the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 started the war between Israel and Hamas. Some held banners reading “Stop the war” and “Help.” They called on the government to reach a deal to release the dozens of hostages still in captivity.
The protesters also called for the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and demanded new elections.
“We all saw the video, we could not stay at home after the government abandoned all these people,” said Hilit Sagi, from the group “Women Protest for the Return of All Hostages.”
Divisions among Israelis have deepened over how Netanyahu has handled the war against Hamas after the attack that killed about 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. Israel says around 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

Israeli police detain a protester during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on May 26, 2024, by relatives and supporters of Israelis taken hostage by Palestinian militants in Gaza in the October 7 attacks. (AFP)

“Basically they are not doing enough in order for the hostages to come back, either with military force, with (a) hostages’ deal, negotiating. Nothing is being done,” said Snir Dahan, uncle of hostage Carmel Gat, still in captivity in Gaza.
Earlier in the week, the bodies of three hostages killed were recovered from Gaza, Israel’s army said Friday. The army said they were killed on the day of the attack and their bodies were taken to Gaza. The announcement came less than a week after the army said it found the bodies of three other Israeli hostages killed on Oct. 7.
Around half of the 250 hostages taken by Hamas and other militants have been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a weeklong ceasefire in November.
Netanyahu’s government has faced increasing pressure, both at home and abroad, to stop the war and allow humanitarian aid into the enclave that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, almost 80 percent of whom have been displaced.
Also this week, three European countries announced they would recognize a Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, along with Hamas officials.
On Friday the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and to open the nearby border crossing for crucial humanitarian aid. The top United Nations court also said Israel must give war crimes investigators access to Gaza.
However, the judges stopped short of ordering a full ceasefire across the entire Palestinian territory, and Israel is unlikely to comply with the court’s ruling. South Africa accuses Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians during the war in Gaza, which Israel vehemently denies.
“We were hoping the war would end,” said Islam Abu Kamar, who moved from Gaza City to Rafah following the ground operation launched by Israel after the Hamas attack in October.
In the past two weeks, more than a million Palestinians have fled Rafah as Israeli forces pressed deeper into the city. Israel’s takeover this month of the Rafah border crossing, a key transit point for fuel and supplies for Gaza, has contributed to bringing aid operations to near collapse, the UN and relief groups say.
Israel says it needs to invade Rafah to destroy Hamas’ last stronghold. Egypt said it agreed to send UN humanitarian aid trucks through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, Israel’s main entry point into southern Gaza. But it remains unclear if the trucks will be able to enter because fighting still rages in Rafah.
Israel said aid is moving into the Palestinian territory through northern Gaza and via the US-built pier. On Saturday, a small US military boat and what appeared to be a strip of docking area washed up on a beach near the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
The US Central Command said four of its vessels supporting the humanitarian aid mission were affected by rough seas with two of them anchoring near the pier off the Gaza coast and another two in Israel.
US officials said no injuries were reported and the US is working with the Israeli army to recover the vessels, Central Command said.
American officials hope the pier at maximum capacity can bring the equivalent of 150 truckloads of aid to Gaza daily. That’s a fraction of the 600 truckloads of food, emergency nutritional treatments and other supplies that USAID says are needed each day to bring people in Gaza back from the brink of famine and address the humanitarian crisis brought on by the 7-month-old Israel-Hamas war.
Israeli bombardments continued in the enclave on Saturday with reports of strikes northern and central Gaza. Witnesses said people were killed in strikes on the cities of Jabaliya and Nuseirat.
More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.


Tunisian president fires interior, social affairs ministers in partial cabinet reshuffle

Tunisian president fires interior, social affairs ministers in partial cabinet reshuffle
Updated 26 May 2024
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Tunisian president fires interior, social affairs ministers in partial cabinet reshuffle

Tunisian president fires interior, social affairs ministers in partial cabinet reshuffle

TUNIS: Tunisian president Kais Saied dismissed on Saturday the Interior Minister Kamel Feki as part of a partial cabinet reshuffle, the presidency said.

The partial cabinet reshuffle also included replacing the minister of social affairs, Malek Ezzahi.

Saied appointed Khaled Nouri as the new interior minister and Kamal Madouri as minister of social affairs.