US warns Israel of ‘disaster’ if it sends troops into Gaza’s Rafah

Update US warns Israel of ‘disaster’ if it sends troops into Gaza’s Rafah
In televised remarks Wednesday, Netanyahu said he had ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in the city and that “total victory” over Hamas was just months away. (REUTERS)
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Updated 09 February 2024
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US warns Israel of ‘disaster’ if it sends troops into Gaza’s Rafah

US warns Israel of ‘disaster’ if it sends troops into Gaza’s Rafah
  • Israel’s armed forces stepped up its air strikes on the city on Thursday
  • Heavy fighting raged on despite international efforts toward a ceasefire

GAZA: The United States warned Israel Thursday that it risks “disaster” if it sends troops into Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians have sought refuge.
The warning came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah, the last major town in the Gaza Strip Israeli ground troops have yet to enter.
Israel’s armed forces stepped up its air strikes on the city on Thursday as fears of ground fighting grew among the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced from other parts of Gaza who are now sheltering in tents and bombed out buildings.
UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that a military push into Rafah “would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare.”
Heavy fighting raged on despite international efforts toward a ceasefire in the bloodiest ever Gaza war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel.
State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said Washington had “yet to see any evidence of serious planning” for a Rafah ground operation.
Noting that Rafah is also a crucial entry point for humanitarian aid destined for Gaza, Patel said such an assault was “not something we’d support.”
“To conduct such an operation right now with no planning and little thought... would be a disaster.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken conveyed Washington’s concerns to Netanyahu directly during their talks on Wednesday in Jerusalem, Patel said.
Publicly, the US top diplomat warned that any “military operation that Israel undertakes needs to put civilians first and foremost.”
Blinken left Israel without securing a pause in fighting, wrapping up his fifth crisis tour of the Middle East since the war started.
AFP journalists reported that Israel carried out at least seven air strikes overnight in the Rafah area, terrifying civilians crowded into shelters and makeshift camps.
“These strikes are proof there is no safety in Rafah,” said resident Umm Hassan, 48, whose home was damaged in the shelling of the nearby house of a local police chief.
“Look at the residential unit they just blew up,” he said. “Regarding Netanyahu’s threat to invade Rafah, we are people of faith. We are not worried. Life is one and God is one.”
Strikes and ground combat continued across the Hamas-ruled territory, now in its fifth month of war, where the health ministry said another 130 people were killed in 24 hours.
Blinken ended his fifth tour of the region, where US forces have been drawn into related conflicts from Iraq to Yemen.
On the ceasefire talks, Blinken insisted he still saw “space for agreement to be reached” to halt the fighting and bring home hostages.
Egypt was set to host new talks with Qatari and Hamas negotiators hoping to achieve “calm” in Gaza and a prisoner-hostage exchange, an Egyptian official said.
The Israeli prime minister had rejected what he labelled Hamas’s “bizarre demands” in the talks.
Blinken told reporters that Hamas’s counter-proposal had at least offered an opportunity “to pursue negotiations.”
“While there are some clear non-starters in Hamas’s response, we do think it creates space for agreement to be reached, and we will work at that relentlessly until we get there,” he said.
Hamas said a delegation led by Khalil Al-Hayya, a leading member of the group’s political bureau, was traveling to Cairo.
A Gaza-based Palestinian official close to the militant group later told AFP: “We expect the negotiations to be very complex and difficult.
“But Hamas is open to discussions and the movement is keen to reach a ceasefire,” added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7 resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and launched air strikes and a ground offensive that have killed at least 27,840 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Militants also seized around 250 hostages. Israel says 132 remain in Gaza, of whom 29 are believed to have died.
Months of bombardment and siege have deepened a humanitarian crisis, especially in southern Gaza.
“Their living conditions are abysmal,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said. “They lack the basic necessities to survive, stalked by hunger, disease and death.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk charged that Israel was committing a “war crime” with its reported destruction of buildings to create a “buffer zone” along the border inside Gaza.
Israel’s “extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, amounts to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a war crime,” he said in a statement.
The Gaza war has sparked a surge in violence across the region by Iran-backed groups operating in solidarity with Hamas, drawing retaliatory attacks from Israel and the United States and its allies.
A US air strike in Iraq on Wednesday killed a senior commander from a pro-Iran armed group who US Central Command said was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces.”
The strike came after Washington last week launched a wave of attacks on Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria following the killing of three US troops in neighboring Jordan.
The Israeli military confirmed it had targeted a commander of Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah that it held responsible for recent rocket fire into Israel from south Lebanon.
In other diplomatic attempts to end the war, Jordan’s King Abdullah II left on a tour of the United States, Canada, France and Germany, the royal court said.


Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
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Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
  • An Iranian source briefed on the matter said Iran had informed the US through diplomatic channels that included Qatar, Turkiye and Switzerland about the scheduled day of the attack, saying it would be conducted in a manner to avoid provoking a response
  • Israel has killed more than 33,700 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory

WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD/DUBAI: Turkish, Jordanian and Iraqi officials said on Sunday that Iran gave wide notice days before its drone and missile attack on Israel, but US officials said Tehran did not warn Washington and that it was aiming to cause significant damage.
Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday in a retaliatory strike after a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria.
Most of the drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory, though a young girl was critically injured and there were widespread concerns of further escalation.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Sunday that Iran gave neighboring countries and Israel’s ally the United States 72 hours’ notice it would launch the strikes.
Turkiye’s Foreign Ministry said it had spoken to both Washington and Tehran before the attack, adding it had conveyed messages as an intermediary to be sure reactions were proportionate.
“Iran said the reaction would be a response to Israel’s attack on its embassy in Damascus and that it would not go beyond this. We were aware of the possibilities. The developments were not a surprise,” said a Turkish diplomatic source.
One senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration denied Amirabdollahian’s statement, saying Washington did have contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries but did not get notice 72 hours in advance.
“That is absolutely not true,” the official said. “They did not give a notification, nor did they give any sense of ... ‘these will be the targets, so evacuate them.’“
Tehran sent the United States a message only after the strikes began and the intent was to be “highly destructive” said the official, adding that Iran’s claim of a widespread warning may be an attempt to compensate for the lack of any major damage from the attack.
“We received a message from the Iranians as this was ongoing, through the Swiss. This was basically suggesting that they were finished after this, but it was still an ongoing attack. So that was (their) message to us,” the US official said.
Iraqi, Turkish and Jordanian officials each said Iran had provided early warning of the attack last week, including some details.
The attack with drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles risked causing major casualties and escalating the conflict.
US officials said on Friday and Saturday they expected an imminent attack and urged Iran against one, with Biden tersely saying his only message to Tehran was: “Don’t.”

ESCALATION
Two Iraqi sources, including a government security adviser and a security official, said Iran had used diplomatic channels to inform Baghdad about the attack at least three days before it happened.
The exact timing of the attack was not disclosed at that point, but was passed to Iraqi security and military authorities hours before the strikes, allowing Baghdad to close its airspace and avoid fatal accidents.
“The government clearly understood from the Iranian officials that the US military in Iraq was also aware of the attack in advance,” said the Iraqi security official.
A senior Jordanian official said Iran had summoned Arab envoys in Tehran on Wednesday to inform them of their intention to carry out an attack, though it did not specify the timing.
Asked if Iran had also given details about the targets and kind of weapons to be used, the Jordanian source did not respond directly but indicated that that was the case.
An Iranian source briefed on the matter said Iran had informed the US through diplomatic channels that included Qatar, Turkiye and Switzerland about the scheduled day of the attack, saying it would be conducted in a manner to avoid provoking a response.
How far escalation can be avoided remains in question. Biden has told Israel the United States will not join any Israeli retaliation, the US official said.
However, Israel is still weighing its response and will “exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us,” Israeli minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday.

 


Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 15 April 2024
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Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
  • Israel has killed more than 33,686 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

JERUSALEM: The first direct attack on Israel by Iran has shaken Israelis and left them fearful that a bigger war is looming.
While the population has long been used to sirens warning of attacks from Hamas, the hundreds of drones and missiles sent from Iran over Saturday night marked a new element in the over-lapping Middle East conflicts.
Israel reported modest damage on Sunday after the military said it shot down almost all of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran.
But the attack still rattled Israelis, whose army has fought Hamas for years in Gaza but never engaged in direct warfare with regional superpower Iran. Iranian weapons and interceptors could be seen flashing over the sky at night.

I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop no.

Jeremy Smith, Resident of Tzur Hadassah

“I think it was quite scary when we started hearing booming in the middle of the night, and we did not know what it was. I mean, we knew what it was, but we didn’t know to what extent it would be,” said Jerusalem resident Cecile Smulowitz.
“But thank God the Israeli army came through, and so far it’s quiet, and we hope it will continue that way.”
Iran mounted its attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on Tehran’s embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, which killed 13 people. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the attack but is widely believed to have done so.
Following Iranian senior leader Ali Khamenei’s promise to hit back, Israelis were put on high alert.
Iran warned Israel and the US on Sunday of a “much larger response” if there was any retaliation for its mass drone and missile attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly told the world that Iran is an existential threat to the Jewish state, vowed Israel would achieve victory.
The threat of open warfare erupting between Iran and Israel and dragging the US into the conflict has put the region on edge.
Some Israelis said they did not want an escalation, but with the stakes so high, they are nervous despite having the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the region.
“I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop now,” said Jeremy Smith, 60, a resident of Tzur Hadassah.
“I imagine Israel will respond because, I mean, our whole country was covered in missiles and drones. So what can you do? But we have to stop it somehow.”
Before the Iranian attack, Israeli authorities had instructed the public not to hold large gatherings, to close all schools and venues for children’s camps during the Jewish holiday of Passover, and to close some beaches and travel sites.
“We didn’t want the war with Hamas. They attacked us. We don’t want a war with Iran, they attack us,” said Jerusalem resident Amy Friedlang Morgans, 71.
“We don’t want a war with Iran. They, somehow, cannot accept Jewish people living here. This is our homeland. It’s written in the Bible.”
The Iranian attack took place against the background of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, in which Israeli forces have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry figures.

 


Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
Updated 15 April 2024
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Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
  • Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said

CAIRO: British security firm Ambrey said on Sunday that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intercepted an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) near Eilat, stating that it assessed the UAV was launched from Yemen.
Ambrey said it also observed unprecedented levels of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS)interference off Eilat and neighboring Aqaba, Jordan, on Sunday.
“These were due to electronic warfare counter-measures,” the statement said.
“A Sa’ar 6-class corvette successfully intercepted a UAV that approached Israeli territory from the southeast using the ‘C-Dome’ Defense System earlier this evening,” the IDF posted on X.
Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said.
Eilat has been a frequent target for launches by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a show of support for Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza and is also backed by Iran.

 


US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
Updated 15 April 2024
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US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
  • The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A US judge has tossed out a series of civil lawsuits against a Libyan military commander who used to live in Virginia and was accused of killing innocent civilians in that country’s civil war.
At a court hearing Friday, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she had no jurisdiction to preside over a case alleging war crimes committed in Libya, even though the defendant, Khalifa Haftar, has US citizenship and lived for more than 20 years in the northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital as an exile from the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar. In 2022, Brinkema entered a default judgment against Haftar after he refused to sit for scheduled depositions about his role in the fighting that has plagued the country over the last decade.
But Haftar retained new lawyers who persuaded the judge to reopen the case and made Haftar available to be deposed. He sat for two separate depositions in 2022 and 2023 and denied orchestrating attacks against civilians.
Once a lieutenant to Qaddafi, Haftar defected to the US during the 1980s. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.
He returned to Libya in 2011 to support anti-Qaddafi forces that revolted against the dictator and killed him. During the country’s civil war, he led the self-styled Libyan National Army, which controlled much of the eastern half of Libya, with support from countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He continues to hold sway in the eastern half of the country.
In the lawsuits, first filed in 2019, the plaintiffs say family members were killed by military bombardments conducted by Haftar’s army in civilian areas.
The lawsuits also alleged that Haftar and his family owned a significant amount of property in Virginia, which could have been used to pay off any judgment that would have been entered against him.
While the lawsuits were tossed out on technical issues over jurisdiction, one of Haftar’s lawyers, Paul Kamenar, said Haftar denied any role in the deaths of civilians.
“He’s not this ruthless figure that everyone wants to portray him as,” Kamenar said in a phone interview Sunday.
Faisal Gill, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the three lawsuits that Brinkema tossed out Friday, said he plans to appeal the dismissal.
Mark Zaid, lawyer for another set of plaintiffs, called Brinkema’s ruling perplexing and said he believes that the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case had already been established at an earlier phase of the case.
“A US citizen committed war crimes abroad and thus far has escaped civil accountability,” Zaid said Sunday in an emailed statement.
In court papers, Haftar tried to claim immunity from the suits as a head of state. At one point, the judge put the cases on pause because she worried that the lawsuits were being used to influence scheduled presidential elections in Libya, in which Haftar was a candidate. Those elections were later postponed.


Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah
Updated 15 April 2024
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Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah
  • The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory

JERUSALEM: Israel said Sunday that Hamas is holding hostages in Rafah in southern Gaza, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to launch a ground invasion despite international outcry.
“Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza... We also have hostages in Rafah, and we will do everything we can to bring them back home,” Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a briefing.
In a separate statement, the army said it was calling “approximately two reserve brigades for operational activities on the Gazan front.”
It did not specify whether the brigades would be deployed inside Gaza.
The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory.