Israel PM orders army to prepare to evacuate civilians from Gaza’s Rafah

Update Israel PM orders army to prepare to evacuate civilians from Gaza’s Rafah
Southern Gaza’s Rafah city is one of the few areas spared an Israeli ground offensive, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week he had ordered troops to ‘prepare to operate’ there. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 February 2024
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Israel PM orders army to prepare to evacuate civilians from Gaza’s Rafah

Israel PM orders army to prepare to evacuate civilians from Gaza’s Rafah
  • Gazans fear Israeli advance on Rafah would ‘end in massacres’
  • Rafah population now five times its pre-war size since Israel-Hamas conflict erupted in October

GAZA: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the army to prepare to “evacuate” hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza’s Rafah, his office said Friday, after Washington warned it would not support any ground assault on the city.
The show of defiance against Israel’s main ally came after President Joe Biden issued his strongest criticism yet of Netanyahu’s conduct of the war, warning the response to Hamas’s October 7 attack had been “over the top.”
Netanyahu told military and security officials to “submit to the cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions” of Palestinian militant group Hamas holed up in Rafah, a statement from his office said.
The city is the last main population center in the Gaza Strip that Israeli troops have yet to enter but is also the main point of entry for desperately needed relief supplies.
Palestinians displaced from other Gaza towns and cities have flooded into Rafah, sending its population soaring to an estimated 1.3 million, more than half of the territory’s 2.4 million population.
The United States is Israel’s main international backer, providing it with billions of dollars in military aid.
But the US State Department said it does not support a ground offensive in Rafah, warning that, if not properly planned, such an operation risked “disaster.”
And in a sign of his growing frustration with Israel’s leadership, Biden said its military retaliation for the October 7 attack had gone too far.
“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top,” the US president said.
“There are a lot of innocent people who are starving... in trouble and dying, and it’s got to stop.”
Witnesses reported new strikes on Rafah overnight, after the Israeli military intensified air raids.
AFP images showed scenes of devastation in Rafah’s streets, where people queued for increasingly scarce water.
The Hamas-run territory’s health ministry said more than 100 people were killed in overnight bombardment, including at least eight in Rafah.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said three children were killed in a strike in Rafah, where many displaced are trapped in tents pushed up against the Egyptian border.
“We heard the sound of a huge explosion next to our house... we found two children martyred in the street,” said Jaber Al-Bardini, 60.
“There is no safe place in Rafah. If they storm Rafah we will die in our homes. We have no choice. We don’t want to go anywhere else.”
The Israeli army said its forces had “eliminated 15 terrorists” in the past day in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza’s biggest city. It also reported fighting in central and northern Gaza.
Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
In response, Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas and launched air strikes and a ground offensive that have killed at least 27,947 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.
Militants seized 250 hostages, 132 of whom are still in Gaza, but 29 are presumed dead, Israel has said.
State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said Washington had “yet to see any evidence of serious planning” for an Israeli ground operation in Rafah but 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,” Patel warned.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken had conveyed Washington’s concerns to Netanyahu directly during talks this week in Jerusalem, he added.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said news of the coming Israeli push into Rafah was “alarming,” saying it “would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare.”
The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, warned against a major Israeli operation in Rafah.
“There’s a sense of growing anxiety and growing panic in Rafah. People have absolutely no idea where to go after Rafah,” said its chief, Philippe Lazzarini.
On the ceasefire talks, Blinken insisted he still saw “space for agreement to be reached” to halt the fighting and bring home Israeli hostages, even after Netanyahu rejected what he labelled Hamas’s “bizarre demands.”
Cairo hosted new talks Friday with Qatari and Hamas negotiators seeking a Gaza ceasefire and an agreement for a hostage-prisoner exchange.
A Hamas source told AFP there had been “positive and good discussions” in the Egyptian capital so far and expressed hopes for more progress.
The impact of the war has been felt widely, with violence involving Iran-backed allies of Hamas across the Middle East surging since October and drawing in US forces among others.
Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement said Friday it had fired dozens of rockets into Israel overnight in response to attacks in its south, including the city of Nabatiyeh.
It came a day after an Israeli strike on a car in Nabatiyeh seriously wounded a Hezbollah commander, sources on both sides of the border said.
On the same day, the US military struck four unmanned surface vessels and seven cruise missiles it said Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia had been set to launch against ships in the Red Sea.
The strike came after US forces 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.


Houthi agency says Israeli, US, British ships banned from Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea

Houthi agency says Israeli, US, British ships banned from Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea
Updated 22 February 2024
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Houthi agency says Israeli, US, British ships banned from Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea

Houthi agency says Israeli, US, British ships banned from Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea
Ships that are wholly or partially owned by Israeli individuals or entities and Israel-flagged vessels are banned from the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea, said statements from an agency controlled by Yemen’s Houthi group seen by Reuters on Thursday.
The statements, sent to shipping insurers and firms from the Houthi’s Humanitarian Operations Coordination Center, also said ships owned by US or British individuals or entities, or sailing under their flags, are also banned.

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Jordan says Israeli occupation ‘unlawful, inhumane and must end’

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Jordan says Israeli occupation ‘unlawful, inhumane and must end’
Updated 22 February 2024
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Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Jordan says Israeli occupation ‘unlawful, inhumane and must end’

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Jordan says Israeli occupation ‘unlawful, inhumane and must end’
  • ‘Israel is violating the rights of Muslims and Christians to the freedom of worship’

The International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, on Thursday continued its hearing from dozens of states and three international organizations who question the legality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Representatives from countries including China, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Libya were expected to deliver their positions during the third day of the hearing at the ICJ, also known as the World Court.

Speakers from the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already demanded Israel end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, with the Kingdom’s envoy to the Netherlands Ziad Al-Atiyah stating Israel’s continued actions were legally indefensible.

Ahmad Ziadat, Minister of Justice of Jordan, center, and Ayman Safadi, right, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan, at the International Court of Justice hearing in The Hague. (ANP/AFP)

Ayman Safadi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan, said that “Israel is violating the rights of Muslims and Christians to the freedom of worship by banning Muslims from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque and not protecting priests from humiliation and abuse from Israeli extremists.”

Safadi said that the “occupation was unlawful, inhumane and it must end.”

“Israel has been systematically consolidating the occupation, denying the Palestinians’ rights to self-determination.”

Safadi closed his remarks, saying “Palestinians are being killed in the hundreds every day in Gaza and in the West Bank because Israel is not being held accountable for its war crimes and violation of international law… rule that the Israel occupation, the source of all evil, must end.”

Hayder Shiya Al-Barrak, center, ambassador and head of the legal department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iraq. (ANP/AFP)

Hayder Shiya Al-Barrak, ambassador and head of the legal department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, called on the ICJ to stop the “systematic killing machine” against the Palestinian people and the end of “mass murder” and “genocide.”

Al-Barrak talked of Israel’s “barbaric acts”, including “air strikes and rocket attacks targeting civilians.”

“These acts constitute war crimes executed with a criminal intent” and are serious violations of the laws of war, the Iraqi representative said, and added that Israel “must be held accountable”.

Reza Najafi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs. (ANP/AFP)

The Iranian representative said the Israeli occupation force continuously violated Palestinians right to self-determination.

“The establishment of the Israeli regime was done through a violent process which involved the forcible displacement of native Palestinian people to create a majority Jewish colony in line with the Zionist movement,” Reza Najafi, Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs said.

Najafi listed a series of supposed ongoing violations by the Israeli occupying regime: prolonged occupation; alteration of the demographic composition in the occupied territories; alteration of the character and the status of the Holy City; discriminatory measures and violations of the rights of Palestinian people to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources.

Najafi added that “the expansion of settlements, segregated roads and barriers as well as checkpoints has created a system of apartheid which is isolating Palestinian communities.”In his closing remarks, Najafi said “the inaction or insufficient action of the Security Council” was one of the “main causes of prolonged occupation of the Palestinians,” and it was “paralysed due to the stalemate” caused by a “certain permanent member.”

Ma Xinmin, a foreign ministry legal adviser, meanwhile said Beijing “has consistently supported the just cause of the Palestinian people in restoring their legitimate right”.

“In pursuit of the right to self-determination”, he mentioned, the Palestinian people’s use of force to “resist foreign oppression” and complete the establishment of an independent state is an “inalienable right”.


Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies
Updated 22 February 2024
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Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

DUBAI: A missile attack Thursday targeted a vessel transiting the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire on board, two maritime agencies said, the latest in a flurry of strikes disrupting global shipping.

“A vessel was attacked by two missiles, resulting in a fire onboard,” the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said, adding that “coalition forces are responding.”

Security firm Ambrey also reported a fire aboard a Palau-flagged, British-owned general cargo ship following two missile strikes southeast of Yemen’s Aden.

The ship “appeared to be headed from Map Ta Phut, Thailand, and headed in the direction of the Red Sea,” Ambrey said.

“Merchant shipping is advised to stay clear of the vessel and proceed with caution,” it added.

There was no immediate claim for the attack but it follows a series of strikes on commercial vessels by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The Houthis say the attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.

The strikes have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
Updated 22 February 2024
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Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
  • Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship, was damaged in Sunday’s Houthi missile strike

DUBAI: A cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemeni rebels remains afloat and could be towed to Djibouti this week, its operator said on Thursday.
Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship carrying combustible fertilizer, was damaged in Sunday’s missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Its crew was evacuated to Djibouti after one missile hit the side of the ship, causing water to enter the engine room and its stern to sag, said its operator, the Blue Fleet Group.
A second missile hit the vessel’s deck without causing major damage, Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury said.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels had claimed on Monday the attack on the ship, saying it was “at risk of potential sinking in the Gulf of Aden” after receiving “extensive damage.”
Khoury said the ship was still afloat and shared an image captured on Wednesday that showed its stern low in the water.
“She will be towed to Djibouti but the tugboat has not yet arrived,” Khoury said. “It should be there in two to three days.”
When asked about the possibility of it sinking, Khoury said there was “no risk for now but always a possibility.”
Ship-tracking site TankerTrackers.com confirmed that the Rubymar had not sunk but warned that the vessel was leaking fuel oil.
The attack on the Rubymar has inflicted the most significant damage yet to a commercial ship since the Houthis started firing on vessels in November — a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority said the ship’s last port of call was the United Arab Emirates and it was destined for Belarus.
Its 24 crew members included 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indians and four Filipinos, the authority said in a statement on Monday.
“The vessel has on board 21,999 MT (metric tons) of fertilizer IMDG class 5.1,” the authority said on X, formerly Twitter, describing it as “very dangerous.”
The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement

One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement
Updated 22 February 2024
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One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement

One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement
  • Eight people with varying degrees of injuries were evacuated from the scene by medics
  • Violence was already on the increase across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Three Palestinian gunmen killed one person and wounded eight, among them a young pregnant woman, in a “terror attack” Thursday when they sprayed automatic weapons fire at vehicles near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, Israeli police said.
The shooters were “neutralized,” police said, and an AFP photographer later saw their bodies at the scene of the attack on a highway east of Jerusalem, where five cars were riddled with bullets.
“The three terrorists... got out of their vehicle and started shooting automatic weapons at vehicles that were in a traffic jam on the road toward Jerusalem,” police said in a statement about the attack near the Maale Adumim settlement.
“Two terrorists were neutralized on the spot,” police said. “In the searches conducted at the scene, another terrorist was located who tried to escape and he was also neutralized.”

The gunmen were identified as Mohammed Zawahrah, 26, his brother Kathim Zawahrah, 31, and Ahmed Al-Wahsh, also 31, by Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet.
Among those wounded was a 23-year-old pregnant woman who was in critical condition, said the emergency response service Magen David Adom and a spokesperson for the Shaare Tzedek Hospital.
Violence was already on the rise across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack, but has escalated since then to levels unseen in nearly two decades, with hundreds killed in recent months.
Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the site of Thursday’s attack where he told journalists: “The enemies... want to hurt us. They hate us.”
He argued that “we need to distribute more weapons” and that “our right to life is superior to the freedom of movement” of residents governed by the Palestinian Authority under president Mahmud Abbas.
“There should be more restrictions and we should put barriers around villages and limit the freedom of movement” of people from the West Bank, Ben Gvir added.

Israeli officials work at the scene of a shooting attack by Palestinian gunmen near the Maale Adumim settlement, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank Feb. 22, 2024. (REUTERS)

Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for a “firm security response... and colonization” by building thousands of new housing units in settlements like Maale Adumim and across the West Bank.
“Our enemies must know that any harm done to us would result in more construction, more development and even more control over the entire country,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.
The attack came after two people were shot dead last Friday at a bus stop in southern Israel near the town of Kiryat Malakhi.
The West Bank has seen frequent Palestinian attacks on Israelis and near-daily raids by the Israeli military that often turn deadly.
Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since the Gaza war broke out, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.
Israel captured the West Bank — including east Jerusalem, which it later annexed — in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

Four people have died, including three gunmen. (REUTERS)

Around 475,000 Jewish settlers currently live in the occupied West Bank, in settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and most of the international community.
The West Bank’s Palestinian population is about 2.9 million.
The Palestinians claim the territory as the heartland of a future independent state, a goal being discussed by the international community as the Gaza war rages into a fifth month.
Israel’s parliament Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
The Gaza war erupted after Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
At least 29,410 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory military offensive on Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.