Israeli strikes kill 44 Palestinians in Rafah after Netanyahu says ground invasion coming

Update Israeli strikes kill 44 Palestinians in Rafah after Netanyahu says ground invasion coming
Displaced Palestinians have flooded into Rafah, where hundreds of thousands are sleeping in tents pushed up against the Egyptian border. (AP)
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Updated 10 February 2024

Israeli strikes kill 44 Palestinians in Rafah after Netanyahu says ground invasion coming

Israeli strikes kill 44 Palestinians in Rafah after Netanyahu says ground invasion coming
  • Israeli PM’s planned offensive on Rafah has drawn condemnation from rights groups and US
  • Hamas warns Israeli Rafah op may cause casualties in ‘tens of thousands’

Israeli airstrikes killed at least 44 Palestinians — including more than a dozen children — in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Saturday, hours after Israel’s prime minister said he had asked the military to plan for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people there ahead of a ground invasion.
Benjamin Netanyahu did not provide details or a timeline, but the announcement set off panic and warnings from diplomats. More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are packed into Rafah, many after following Israeli evacuation orders that now cover two-thirds of the territory. It’s not clear where they could run next.
Israel says that Rafah, which borders Egypt, is the last remaining stronghold for the Hamas militant group in Gaza after more than four months of war sparked by the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said any Israeli ground offensive on Rafah would have “disastrous consequences,” and asserted that Israel aims to eventually force the Palestinians out of their land.
Another mediator, Qatar, warned of disaster if Israel carries out a Rafah offensive, and Saudi Arabia warned of “very serious repercussions.” There is even increasing friction between Netanyahu and the United States, whose officials have said a Rafah invasion with no plan for the civilian population would lead to disaster.
Israel has carried out airstrikes in Rafah almost daily, even after telling civilians in recent weeks to seek shelter there from the current ground combat in Khan Younis just to the north.
Overnight into Saturday, three airstrikes on homes in the Rafah area killed 28 people, according to a health official and Associated Press journalists who saw the bodies arriving at hospitals. Each strike killed multiple members of three families, including a total of 10 children, the youngest 3 months old.
Fadel Al-Ghannam said one strike tore the bodies of his loved ones to shreds. He lost his son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren. He fears even worse with a ground invasion of Rafah, and said the world’s silence has enabled Israel to proceed.
Later on Saturday, an Israeli airstrike on a home in Rafah killed at least 11 people, including three children, according to Ahmed Al-Soufi, head of Rafah municipality. The dead were taken to Abu Youssef Al-Najjar hospital, according to an AP journalist there.
“This is what Netanyahu targets — the civilians,” said a neighbor, Samir Abu Loulya.
Two other strikes killed two policemen and three senior officers in the civil police, according to city officials.
In Khan Younis, Israeli forces opened fire at Nasser Hospital, the area’s largest, killing at least two people and wounding five, according to the medical charity Doctors Without Borders. Israeli tanks reached the hospital gates Saturday morning, Ahmed Maghrabi, a physician at the hospital, said in a Facebook post.
Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said hospital staff are no longer able to move between buildings because of the intense fire. He said 300 medical personnel, 450 patients and 10,000 displaced people are sheltering there.
The Israeli military said troops were not currently operating inside the hospital and called the surrounding area “an active combat zone.”
Israel’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi, said more than 2,000 Hamas fighters in Khan Younis had been killed in airstrikes and ground combat but the offensive in the city was far from over.
The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday that the bodies of 117 people killed in Israeli airstrikes were brought to hospitals over the past 24 hours, raising the overall death toll from the offensive to 28,064, mostly women and children. The ministry said more than 67,000 people have been wounded.
Israel declared war after several thousand Hamas militants burst across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,300 people and taking 250 others hostage. Not all are still alive.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian deaths because it fights from within civilian areas, but US officials have called for more surgical strikes. President Joe Biden said this week Israel’s response is “over the top.”
Netanyahu’s office says it is impossible to eliminate Hamas while leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah.
Egypt has warned that any movement of Palestinians into Egypt would threaten the four-decade-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The Rafah border crossing, which is mostly closed, serves as the main entry point for humanitarian aid.
Rafah had a prewar population of roughly 280,000. The United Nations says it is now home to some 1.4 million additional people who fled fighting elsewhere. Roughly 80 percent of Gaza’s people have been displaced, and the territory has plunged into a humanitarian crisis with shortages of food and medical services.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that an Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a “humanitarian catastrophe in the making,” adding on X that “the people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air.”
On Saturday, Israel’s military said it had discovered tunnels underneath the main headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza City, alleging that Hamas militants used the space.
An Israeli airstrike on the central town of Deir Al-Balah killed five people and wounded about 10 others, according to hospital officials and AP journalists.
In the Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City, two medics from the Palestinian Red Crescent were found dead in a destroyed ambulance after going missing 12 days ago. They had rushed to rescue 5-year-old Hind Rajab, who had been traveling with family to heed evacuation orders.
The PRC previously released a recording of a call from Hind’s cousin saying the car had come under fire and only she and Hind survived. The cousin went silent mid-call.
The PRC said the rescue mission was coordinated with Israel’s military, which had no comment.

Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 

Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
Updated 17 min 59 sec ago

Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 

Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
  • Lebanon hosts the greatest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world, placing additional strain on its economy 
  • The recent murder of a Lebanese Forces party official has triggered a fresh wave of violence and vitriol against Syrians 

LONDON: Syrian refugees in Lebanon are in an impossible fix, unable to safely return home while also facing mounting hostility from host communities and local authorities, especially following the death of a Lebanese Forces party official, allegedly at the hands of Syrian criminals.

Pascal Suleiman, the Byblos District coordinator of the Christian-based party, was reportedly kidnapped and later killed in a Syrian area near the Lebanese border. Seven Syrian nationals were arrested on suspicion of killing Suleiman in what was dubbed a botched carjacking.

The killing of Pascal Suleiman, the Byblos District coordinator of the Christian-based Lebanese Forces party, is being blamed on Syrians but party leaders are not convinced. (AFP/File Photo) 

The Lebanese Forces and its allies were not fully convinced that Syrians were behind the killing, which took place in an area controlled by its Hezbollah rivals, suggesting that Lebanese authorities were using the Syrians as a convenient patsy.

Although the scapegoating of Syrians in Lebanon has been commonplace since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, dispersing millions of refugees throughout the region, the murder of Suleiman has triggered a fresh wave of violence and vitriol against displaced households.

Haneen, a Syrian university student whose name has been changed for her safety, described recently witnessing a group of Lebanese men assaulting and hurling abuse at a man they labeled “Souri” (Syrian). 

“The slaps were so loud, I felt as if they were falling on my face,” she told Arab News.

Videos have emerged on social media in recent days showing Lebanese Forces supporters venting their fury on random Syrians in the street — many of them refugees. Angry mobs also vandalized cars with Syrian license plates and looted Syrian-owned businesses.

Supporters of the Lebanese Forces Party block a main highway in Byblos, Lebanon, on April 8, 2024, to protest the fate of a local official, who security forces later said was killed by a group of Syrians in an attempted carjacking. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

Other videos showed Lebanese men on motorcycles roaming the streets in various parts of the country, including Keserwan and Burj Hamoud, where they ordered Syrian occupants to leave their homes and businesses within 48 hours.

Intercommunal tensions in Lebanon have been stoked further by the rhetoric of Lebanese politicians, who frequently blame the country’s many ills on the presence of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Between April and May 2023, the Lebanese army arbitrarily arrested and deported thousands of Syrians, according to Human Rights Watch.

In a recent press conference, Bassam Mawlawi, the acting interior minister, said the country “will become stricter in granting residency permits and dealing with (Syrians) residing in Lebanon illegally.”

He claimed that “many crimes are being committed by Syrians” and stressed that the “Syrian presence in Lebanon can no longer be tolerated and is unacceptable.”

In October last year, he even sought to portray Syrian refugees as a danger to the country’s “existence” and “a threat to Lebanon’s demographics and identity.”

Echoing these sentiments was Abdallah Bou Habib, the acting foreign minister, who during a visit to the Greek capital Athens on April 8 described the number of Syrians in Lebanon as “a problem.”

Just days before Suleiman’s death, Amin Salam, Lebanon’s economy minister, said the caretaker government should declare a “state of emergency” regarding Syrian refugees.

Karam Shaar, a senior fellow at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, said Lebanese politicians were showing signs of “hysteria” over the Syrian presence in Lebanon.

While “part of that is understandable and fair,” Shaar told Arab News that “part of it is just Lebanese politicians scapegoating their failures and pinning them on Syrians.”

Omar Al-Ghazzi, an associate professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics, acknowledged that the influx had “made long-standing economic problems worse, whether in terms of infrastructure, public services and unemployment, particularly as Lebanese leaders stand accused of making financial profit from international aid.

“However, rather than blaming leaders and the political system for the collapsed economy in Lebanon, it became a convenient narrative to blame Syrians.”

Furthermore, he told Arab News: “Sunni-Shiite tensions during the Syrian war, and Christian fears of Muslim dominance, have made any discussion of Syrian refugees take the form of a toxic and violent discourse — as if anti-Syrianness is the one thing that the divided Lebanese could agree on.”

Anti-Syrian sentiments in Lebanon did not first emerge with the influx of refugees after 2011. They have far deeper historical roots. 

“Since Lebanon’s independence, Lebanese political culture has sustained a sense of superiority over the country’s Arab neighbors, mainly Palestinians and Syrians, as well as a sense of being threatened by their presence and influence,” said Al-Ghazzi.

“Following the end of the Lebanese civil war, the hegemony of the Syrian regime in Lebanon exacerbated an anti-Syrianness that often took the shape of discrimination against Syrian laborers.”

However, Al-Ghazzi believes “this renewed racism cannot be separated from the rise of fascism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the West that gives legitimacy to nationalist chauvinism on a global scale.

“Sadly, it is marginalized and vulnerable Syrians who are paying the price of this politics. In Lebanon, they face daily acts of discrimination, humiliation and violence as they have to confront bleak prospects whether they stay in Lebanon, attempt illegal migration to Europe, or go to Syria.”

The arrival of Syrian refugees over the past decade has placed a burden on Lebanon’s already stretched services and infrastructure.

Lebanon hosts the greatest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world, according to Lisa Bou Khaled, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in Lebanon.

“UNHCR fully recognizes the impact this is having on the country, notably while it is facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history, pushing the most vulnerable to the brink,” she told Arab News.

Likewise, Shaar of the Newlines Institute said: “Lebanon’s economy is actually struggling, and yet the number of Syrians is on the rise — just from natural increases. So, the problem that Lebanon faces is real.”

He stressed the need for “a systemic solution to this crisis — a concerted effort to actually address it because otherwise, my main worry is that there will be more xenophobic rhetoric and attacks against Syrians.”

In the last five years, Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 98 percent of its value, according to the World Bank. The spillover from the ongoing war in Gaza has also dealt a major blow to the country’s stability.

To make matters worse, funding for UN agencies to assist displaced communities is drying up fast amid the world’s multiple, overlapping humanitarian emergencies. 

According to Bou Khaled, “in 2024, UNHCR and the World Food Programme are able to assist 88,000 fewer refugee families than in 2023 with cash and food assistance, reflecting a 32 percent decrease in the number of beneficiaries.”

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are among the most vulnerable populations, with approximately 90 percent of households living in extreme poverty and 80 percent lacking legal residency.

Jasmin Lilian Diab, director of the Institute for Migration Studies at the Lebanese American University, said that “depriving Syrian refugees of proper documentation not only violates their fundamental human rights but also exacerbates their vulnerability.

“Without legal status, refugees face barriers accessing essential services such as healthcare, education, and employment, further marginalizing them within Lebanese society,” she told Arab News.

“This lack of documentation also increases the risk of exploitation, abuse, and detention, leaving refugees without legal recourse or protection. More recently, this has made them increasingly vulnerable to deportation amid ongoing raids and crackdowns.”

For Bou Khaled of UNHCR, housing is also a major concern. “More than half of the Syrian population (52 percent) live in dangerous, sub-standard or overcrowded shelters with the worst/most dangerous conditions reported in Mount Lebanon, (the) south and Beirut,” she said.

In March, a huge fire broke out in a Syrian refugee camp in Wadi Al-Arnab in the northeastern town of Arsal. The inferno, reportedly caused by an electrical fault, devoured more than 36 makeshift tents.

The fire was only the latest in a series of similar incidents to befall this vulnerable population. A similar blaze occurred in Hanine in Bint Jbeil District during a heatwave in July 2023, while another broke out in October 2022, reducing 93 tents to ashes.

Those living in rented accommodation are hardly better off. Average monthly rents in Lebanese pounds have “increased by 553 percent in 2023; from LBP 863,000 in 2022 to over 5.6 million LBP in 2023,” said Bou Khaled.

For Syrian refugees, unable to live under these circumstances but too frightened to return home, where they might face arrest, persecution, or conscription by the regime or one of the country’s armed factions, the most practical way out seems to be onward migration.

“UNHCR does not hinder the return of refugees to Syria,” said Bou Khaled. The UN agency “is also actively working to support durable solutions for Syrian refugees, including resettlement to third countries, and return to Syria.”

She added: “Resettlement allows responsibility sharing and show of solidarity with host countries like Lebanon, supporting large refugee populations.” This, however, “depends on quotas UNHCR receives by resettlement countries.

“Overall, since 2011 and up to the end of 2023, about 100,000 refugees have been resettled from Lebanon to third countries. In 2023, there was a 9.25-percent increase in resettlement departures when compared to 2022, and the highest number recorded since 2017.”

For many Syrians in Lebanon, onward migration through legal routes is out of reach. Hundreds have instead resorted to making the dangerous sea journey to the EU’s easternmost state, Cyprus, which is a mere 160 km from Lebanon.


Earlier this month, Cyprus expressed concern over the sudden surge in arrivals of Syrian refugees from Lebanon. With more than 600 Syrians crossing in small boats, the island’s reception capacity has reached breaking point, Reuters reported.

Shaar suspects “the number will only increase going forward as the situation becomes worse and worse” in Lebanon.

Diab of the Institute for Migration Studies at LAU said that “while sea journeys to Europe may seem like the only option for some Syrian refugees in Lebanon, safe alternatives do exist in theory — albeit a much slower process that many refugees cannot afford to wait for.”


Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues

Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues
Updated 17 April 2024

Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues

Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues
  • The meeting highlighted the importance of the upcoming Arab League Summit

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa met in Aqaba on Wednesday to discuss Arab solidarity and coordination, the Jordan News Agency reported.

The meeting highlighted the importance of the upcoming Arab League Summit, which opens in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 16, in the light of the challenges now facing the region.

King Abdullah praised Bahrain's efforts in organizing the event.

At the meeting, which was also attended by Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, the leaders emphasized the strong ties between Jordan and Bahrain and expressed their commitment to further cooperation and economic integration.

King Hamad commended Jordan for its role in promoting peace in the region and its support for Arab and Islamic causes, especially the Palestinian issue.

The leaders stressed the urgent need for international intervention to achieve a ceasefire agreement in Gaza and called on the UN Security Council to take immediate action to protect civilians, ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid and prevent the conflict from escalating.

They also voiced their opposition to any actions that might widen the conflict, including the Israeli ground offensive in Rafah or the displacement of Palestinians.

Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike
Updated 17 April 2024

Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

GAZA: When an Israeli shell struck Gaza’s largest fertility clinic in December, the explosion blasted the lids off five liquid nitrogen tanks stored in a corner of the embryology unit.

As the ultra-cold liquid evaporated, the temperature inside the tanks rose, destroying more than 4,000 embryos plus 1,000 more specimens of sperm and unfertilized eggs stored at Gaza City’s Al Basma IVF Center.

The impact of that single explosion was far-reaching — an example of the unseen toll Israel’s six-and-a-half-month-old assault has had on the 2.3 million people of Gaza.

The embryos in those tanks were the last hope for hundreds of Palestinian couples facing infertility.

“We know deeply what these 5,000 lives, or potential lives, meant for the parents, either for the future or for the past,” said Bahaeldeen Ghalayini, 73, the Cambridge-trained obstetrician and gynecologist who established the clinic in 1997.

At least half of the couples — those who can no longer produce sperm or eggs to make viable embryos — will not have another chance to get pregnant, he said.

“My heart is divided into a million pieces,” he said.

Asked on Wednesday about the incident, the Israeli military’s press desk said it was looking into the reports. Israel denies intentionally targeting civilian infrastructure and has accused Hamas fighters of operating from medical facilities, which Hamas denies.

Three years of fertility treatment was a psychological roller coaster for Seba Jaafarawi. The retrieval of eggs from her ovaries was painful, the hormone injections had strong side-effects and the sadness when two attempted pregnancies failed seemed unbearable.

Jaafarawi, 32, and her husband could not get pregnant naturally and turned to in vitro fertilization, which is widely available in Gaza.

Large families are common in the enclave, where nearly half the population is under 18 and the fertility rate is high at 3.38 births per woman, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics. Britain’s fertility rate is 1.63 births per woman.

Despite Gaza’s poverty, couples facing infertility pursue IVF, some selling TVs and jewelry to pay the fees, Al Ghalayini said.

At least nine clinics in Gaza performed IVF, where eggs are collected from a woman’s ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. The fertilized eggs, called embryos, are often frozen until the optimal time for transfer to a woman’s uterus. Most frozen embryos in Gaza were stored at the Al Basma center.

In September, Jaafarawi became pregnant, her first successful IVF attempt.

“I did not even have time to celebrate the news,” she said.

Two days before her first scheduled ultrasound scan, Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched an all-out assault that has since killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

Jaafarawi worried: “How would I complete my pregnancy? What would happen to me and what would happen to the ones inside my womb?“

Her ultrasound never happened and Ghalayini closed his clinic, where an additional five of Jaafarawi’s embryos were stored.

As the Israeli attacks intensified, Mohammed Ajjour, Al Basma’s chief embryologist, started to worry about liquid nitrogen levels in the five specimen tanks. Top ups were needed every month or so to keep the temperature below -180C in each tank, which operate independent of electricity.

After the war began, Ajjour managed to procure one delivery of liquid nitrogen, but Israel cut electricity and fuel to Gaza, and most suppliers closed.

At the end of October, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza and soldiers closed in on the streets around the IVF center. It became too dangerous for Ajjour to check the tanks.

Jaafarawi knew she should rest to keep her fragile pregnancy safe, but hazards were everywhere: she climbed six flights of stairs to her apartment because the elevator stopped working; A bomb leveled the building next door and blasted out windows in her flat; food and water became scarce.

Instead of resting, she worried.

“I got very scared and there were signs that I would lose (the pregnancy),” she said.

Jaafarawi bled a little bit after she and her husband left home and moved south to Khan Younis. The bleeding subsided, but her fear did not.

They crossed into Egypt on Nov. 12 and in Cairo, her first ultrasound showed she was pregnant with twins and they were alive.

But after a few days, she experienced painful cramps, bleeding and a sudden shift in her belly. She made it to hospital, but the miscarriage had already begun.

Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14

Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14
Updated 17 April 2024

Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14

Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14
  • Iran-backed group takes confrontations to new level, directly targets soldiers
  • Hezbollah said operation was a ‘response to the killing of several resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya in southern Lebanon’

BEIRUT: The Iran-backed Hezbollah launched on Wednesday “a combined attack with guided missiles and explosive drones on a military reconnaissance command center in Arab Al-Aramshe,” as it targeted the Israeli army south of the border with Lebanon.

The group claimed responsibility for the operation, saying that “it is in response to the killing of several resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya in southern Lebanon.”

Israeli media outlets announced that “a kamikaze drone struck an Israeli army gathering in Arab Al-Aramshe, western Galilee, resulting in six casualties, at least.”

They added: “An Israeli army helicopter was hit while rescuing the injured in Arab Al-Aramshe.”

The Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya said that it had received 14 injured people.

Hezbollah has adopted new tactics of late. According to a security source, these “were seen last week, when it (Hezbollah) detonated explosive devices targeting Israeli soldiers on the border, injuring four Golani Brigade members.”

The source added that Hezbollah “has taken the confrontations to another level by directly targeting Israeli soldiers.”

Israeli forces launched immediate retaliation by bombing and targeting phosphorus bombs on the border area.

This region included the outskirts of Rachaya Al-Fekhar, Fardis, Al-Habbariyeh, Alma Al-Shaab, Dhahira, Marwahin, and Yarin, as well as the city of Nabatieh, where a house belonging to the Sayyed family was destroyed.

No casualties were reported in the incidents, but the border region has witnessed the Israeli military’s dramatic targeting and killing of two key figures.

Hezbollah is mourning the death of Ismail Youssef Baz, a senior commander of the organization, while the Amal Movement — an ally of Hezbollah — has been coming to terms with the death of Hussein Qasim Karsht.

Israeli media reported that Baz, who was killed in his car following a drone attack, was “the commander of Hezbollah’s coastal sector.”

It added: “He was working on promoting and planning the launching of rockets and anti-tank missiles toward Israel from the Lebanese coastline. During this ongoing war, he organized and planned to carry out various plans against Israel.”

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities

Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war
Updated 17 April 2024

Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war
  • Building plans in East Jerusalem being fast-tracked at ‘unprecedented speed,’ rights organization says

LONDON: Israel’s government has stepped up the building of settlements across East Jerusalem, with over 20 projects involving thousands of housing units advanced since it launched its war on Gaza six months ago, according to planning documents seen by the Guardian.
While many government bodies were shuttered or had limited operation following Oct. 7, planning authorities continued to advance plans at “unprecedented speed,” Sari Kronish, from the Israeli rights organization Bimkom — Planners for Planning Rights, told the Guardian.
“The fast-tracking of these plans has been unparalleled in the last six months,” Kronish added
Significantly, two new settlements were approved in East Jerusalem, the first such approvals in over a decade. One development involves the expansion of Kidmat Zion, a high-security settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras Al-Amud, which was decided on two days after the Oct. 7 attacks.
In the Palestinian community of Beit Safafa, encircled by these developments, work has also resumed on the Givat Hamatos and new Givat Shaked projects.
Givat Hamatos was shut down for a decade after international opposition. Work resumed in 2020, and last month the site was bustling with workers, heavy machinery, and trucks.
Givat Shaked, which received full planning permission on Jan. 4, will be built on the northwestern side of Beit Safafa.
It entails high-rise buildings with 700 housing units on the only land in Beit Safafa where the 17,000-strong Muslim majority could expand to accommodate young people. Palestinians are unable to build larger homes in the neighborhood, as well as elsewhere, due to bureaucratic and other restrictions.
The Givat Shaked project has faced significant opposition due to potential threats to the Oslo peace accords, leading to international criticism and a temporary halt urged by the US.
Despite this, the project gained momentum two years ago, endorsed by then Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
He rejected any claims of Palestinian control over Jerusalem’s east, and said it was “unthinkable to prevent development and construction in this area, or anywhere else in the city.”
“Our family has been here for 250 years … Now I have a black hole in my heart because I can’t see how my children and grandchildren can spend their lives here,” Ahmed Salman, the chair of Beit Safafa’s community council, told the Guardian.
“We had good relations with the municipality once, but not in recent years. Since the war, life goes on, but they approved the plan and dismissed all our objections. We are appealing, but I’m not optimistic,” the 71-year-old said.
Another contentious project, the Lower Aqueduct, was fully approved on Dec. 29. This settlement is planned adjacent to a Palestinian neighborhood, further complicating the demographic and political landscape.
“Many of the settlement plans are strategically designated for areas along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem,” Amy Cohen, of Israeli human rights NGO Ir Amim, said.
Cohen added: “If constructed, they would further fracture the Palestinian space … and create a ‘sealing-off’ effect of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank.
“Such moves directly undermine conditions necessary for a viable independent Palestinian state with a contiguous capital in East Jerusalem. All this while bringing planning and building for Palestinians in the city to a complete stop.”
The surge in settlement activity aligns with the goals of the Israeli settler movement, supported by Israel’s current government, which is described by a UN report as the most right-wing in the nation’s history.
Palestinians account for roughly 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population of around 1 million. Successive Israeli governments have sought to maintain the city’s Jewish majority.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move that was not recognized by the majority of the international community. International law prohibits the permanent settlement of militarily occupied territory.
This expansion challenges the possibility of a Palestinian state and strains Israel’s relations with the international community, including the Biden administration.

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities