Netanyahu promises ‘safe passage’ to Palestinians ahead of Rafah operation

Netanyahu promises ‘safe passage’ to Palestinians ahead of Rafah operation
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his intention to extend Israel’s military operation to Rafah. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 February 2024
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Netanyahu promises ‘safe passage’ to Palestinians ahead of Rafah operation

Netanyahu promises ‘safe passage’ to Palestinians ahead of Rafah operation
  • Rafah has become the last major Gaza city that troops have yet to enter
  • Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry warned Saturday of “very serious repercussions of storming and targeting” Rafah

GAZA: The threat of an Israeli incursion into Gaza’s southernmost town of Rafah persisted Sunday, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising “safe passage” to civilians displaced there.
In an interview airing Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated his intention to extend Israel’s military operation to the city.
Despite international alarm over the potential for carnage in a city crammed with more than half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.4 million people, Netanyahu told ABC News: “We’re going to do it.”
He conceded he agrees “with the Americans” that the operation will need to first plan for the impact on civilians.
“We’re going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave,” he said, according to published extracts of the interview.
But it is unclear where such a large number of people, who are pressed up against the border with Egypt and sheltering in makeshift tents, can go.
When asked, Netanyahu would only say they are “working out a detailed plan.”
As Israeli forces have extended steadily southwards, Rafah has become the last major Gaza city that troops have yet to enter, even as it is bombarded by air strikes almost daily.
“They said Rafah is safe, but it is not. All places are being targeted,” Palestinian Mohammed Saydam said after an Israeli strike destroyed a police vehicle in Rafah on Saturday.
The Israeli premier, who contends “victory” over Hamas cannot be achieved without clearing battalions in Rafah, directed his military on Friday to prepare for the operation. His announcement set off a chorus of concern from world leaders and aid groups.
“The people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on social media platform X, adding that an Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a “humanitarian catastrophe in the making.”
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry warned Saturday of “very serious repercussions of storming and targeting” Rafah and called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting, while UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he is “deeply concerned” about the prospective offensive.
“The priority must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out,” he wrote.

Intense fighting
The war in Gaza was sparked by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a massive military offensive in Gaza that the territory’s health ministry says has killed at least 28,064 people, mostly women and children.
Militants also seized 250 hostages, 132 of whom are still in Gaza although 29 are presumed dead, Israel has said.
Netanyahu announced the plan for a ground operation in Rafah only days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel seeking a ceasefire and hostage-prisoner exchange.
Netanyahu has rejected the proposed truce after what he said were “bizarre demands” from Hamas.
But Israel’s plans for Rafah have drawn sharp rebuke from main ally and military backer Washington, with the State Department warning that if not properly planned, such an operation risks “disaster.”
In unusually sharp criticism, US President Joe Biden on Thursday called Israel’s retaliatory campaign “over the top.”
Gaza’s Hamas rulers warned on Saturday that a full-scale Israeli invasion of Rafah could cause “tens of thousands” of casualties.
The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said the move “threatens security and peace in the region and the world” and is “a blatant violation of all red lines.”
The Israeli military said it killed two “senior Hamas operatives” in a strike on Rafah Saturday.
It was part of a wider bombardment that killed at least 25 people in the city, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hamas tunnels
To the north in Gaza City, Israel’s military claimed that its troops uncovered a Hamas tunnel under the evacuated headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called for its head, Philippe Lazzarini, to quit.
Lazzarini said the agency had not operated from the compound since October 12 when staff evacuated it under instruction from Israeli forces.
Already under pressure after Israel claimed 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas attack, he called for an independent investigation into the latest Israeli accusations.
An AFP photographer was among a number of journalists taken to the compound and tunnel by the Israeli military on Thursday.
UN premises are considered “inviolable” in international law and immune from “search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference.”
Hamas has repeatedly denied Israeli accusations that it has dug a network of tunnels under schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure as cover for its activities.

Public fury
The war, now in its fifth month, has spawned intensifying public fury in Israel.
Protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night to demand the release of the hostages, Netanyahu step down and fresh elections be called.
“It’s clear Netanyahu is dragging out the war, he has no idea what to do on the day after,” Israeli protester Gil Gordon said.
The war has had far-reaching impact well bedyond Israel and Gaza, with violence involving Iran-backed allies of Hamas surging across the Middle East.
A senior Hamas officer survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Lebanon, Palestinian and Lebanese security sources told AFP, but two other people including a Hezbollah member were killed in the attack.
And in Syria, Israeli strikes near Damascus killed three people, a war monitor said, adding the targeted neighborhood hosted villas for top military and civilian officials.
 


Gaza hospital says 20 killed in Israeli strike on Nuseirat

Gaza hospital says 20 killed in Israeli strike on Nuseirat
Updated 13 sec ago
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Gaza hospital says 20 killed in Israeli strike on Nuseirat

Gaza hospital says 20 killed in Israeli strike on Nuseirat
  • Hospital statement: Israeli air strike targeted a house belonging to the Hassan family in Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza
GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: A Gaza hospital said Sunday that an Israeli air strike targeting a house at a refugee camp in the center of the Palestinian territory killed at least 20 people.
“We received 20 fatalities and several wounded after an Israeli air strike targeted a house belonging to the Hassan family in Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza,” the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital said in a statement.
Witnesses said the strike occurred around 3:00 a.m. local time. The Israeli army said it was checking the report.
Palestinian official news agency Wafa reported that the wounded included several children, and rescuers were searching for missing people trapped under the rubble.
Fierce battles and heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp since the military launched a “targeted” operation focussing on the southern city of Rafah in early May.
Palestinian militants and Israeli troops have also clashed in north Gaza’s Jabalia camp for days now.
Witnesses said several other houses were targeted in air strikes during the night across Gaza, and that air strikes and artillery shelling also hit parts of Rafah during the night.
The Israeli military said two more soldiers were killed in Gaza the previous day.
The military said 282 soldiers have been killed so far in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.

Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea

Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea
Updated 19 May 2024
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Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea

Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea
  • The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call: UKMTO
  • The incident occurred 76 nautical miles (140 kilometers) off Yemen’s Hodeidah

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia launched an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Red Sea on Saturday morning, striking an oil tanker traveling from Russia to China, according to US Central Command, the latest in a series of Houthi maritime strikes. 

CENTCOM said that at 1 a.m. on Saturday, a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile struck a Panamanian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated oil tanker named M/T Wind, which had just visited Russia and was on its way to China, causing “flooding which resulted in the loss of propulsion and steering.”

Slamming the Houthis for attacking ships, the US military said: “The crew of M/T Wind was able to restore propulsion and steering, and no casualties were reported. M/T Wind resumed its course under its power. This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”

Earlier on Saturday, two UK naval agencies said that a ship sailing in the Red Sea suffered minor damage after being hit by an item thought to be a missile launched by Yemen’s Houthi militia from an area under their control.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors ship attacks, said on Saturday morning that it received an alarm from a ship master about an “unknown object” striking the ship’s port quarter, 98 miles south of Hodeidah, inflicting minor damage.

“The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call,” UKMTO said in its notice about the incident, encouraging ships in the Red Sea to exercise caution and report any incidents.

Hours earlier, the same UK maritime agency stated that the assault happened 76 nautical miles northwest of Hodeidah.

Ambrey, a UK security firm, also reported receiving information regarding a missile strike on a crude oil tanker traveling under the Panama flag, around 10 nautical miles southwest of Yemen’s government-controlled town of Mokha on the Red Sea, which resulted in a fire on the ship.

The Houthis did not claim responsibility for fresh ship strikes on Saturday, although they generally do so days after the attack.

Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship, sunk another, and claimed to have fired hundreds of ballistic missiles at international commercial and naval ships in the Gulf of Aden, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and Red Sea in what the Yemeni militia claims is support for the Palestinian people.

The Houthis claim that they solely strike Israel-linked ships and those traveling or transporting products to Israel in order to pressure the latter to cease its war in Gaza.

The US responded to the Houthi attacks by branding them as terrorists, forming a coalition of marine task forces to safeguard ships, and unleashing hundreds of strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen.

Local and international environmentalists have long warned that Houthi attacks on ships carrying fuel or other chemicals might lead to an environmental calamity near Yemen’s coast.

The early warning came in February when the Houthis launched a missile that seriously damaged the MV Rubymar, a Belize-flagged and Lebanese-operated ship carrying 22,000 tonnes of ammonium phosphate-sulfate NPS fertilizer and more than 200 tonnes of fuel while cruising in the Red Sea. 

The Houthis have defied demands for de-escalation in the Red Sea and continue to organize massive rallies in regions under their control to express support for their campaign. On Friday, thousands of Houthi sympathizers took to the streets of Sanaa, Saada, and other cities under their control to show their support for the war on ships.

The Houthis shouted in unison, “We have no red line, and what’s coming is far worse,” as they raised the Palestinian and militia flags in Al-Sabeen Square on Friday, repeating their leader’s promise to intensify assaults on ships.

Meanwhile, a Yemeni government soldier was killed and another was injured on Saturday while fending off a Houthi attack on their position near the border between the provinces of Taiz and Lahj.

According to local media, the Houthis attacked the government’s Nation’s Shield Forces in the contested Hayfan district of Taiz province, attempting to capture control of additional territory.

The Houthis were forced to stop their attack after encountering tough resistance from government troops.

The attack occurred a day after the Nation’s Shield Forces sent dozens of armed vehicles and personnel to the same locations to boost their forces and repel Houthi attacks. 


Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved
Updated 19 May 2024
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Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved
  • The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.


Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
  • “Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said

CARACAS: Iran on Saturday said it will send experts to its ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators in hospitals it said had been stopped due to Western sanctions.
Venezuela requested Iran’s help, according to a message on the social media platform X by the Iranian government attributed to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
“Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said.
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients.
Venezuela is also an ally of Russia and China.
The return of US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry has made its alliance with Iran critical to keeping its lagging energy sector afloat. Washington last year temporarily relaxed sanctions on Venezuela’s promise to allow a competitive presidential election. The US now says only some conditions were met. 

 


Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
  • Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said

BUCHAREST: Romanian rescue teams on Saturday were scouring the Black Sea for three Syrian sailors who went missing when their cargo ship sank off the coast, the naval authority said.
The Mohammed Z sank with 11 crew on board, 26 nautical miles off the Romanian town of Sfantu Gheorghe in the Danube delta in the Black Sea on Saturday morning, officials said in a statement.
The ship sailing under the Tanzanian flag was carrying nine Syrian and two Egyptian nationals, it said.
After receiving an alert at “around 4:00am,” naval authorities and border police were dispatched, with two nearby commercial vessels also joining the search and rescue operation.
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said.
The cause of the accident was unclear.
According to the specialist website Marine Traffic, the ship departed from the Turkish port of Mersin and was heading to the Romanian port of Sulina.
Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, drifting sea mines have posed a constant threat for ships in the Black Sea, with countries bordering it doubling down on demining efforts.
Ensuring safe passage through the Black Sea has gained particular importance since Romania’s Danube ports became hubs for the transit of grain following the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports.