Israel frees two hostages, Gaza officials say airstrikes kill 67

People inspect the damage in the rubble of a mosque following Israeli bombardment, in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the damage in the rubble of a mosque following Israeli bombardment, in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 12 February 2024
Follow

Israel frees two hostages, Gaza officials say airstrikes kill 67

People inspect the damage in the rubble of a mosque following Israeli bombardment, in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip.
  • The Gaza health ministry said 67 Palestinians had been killed overnight and the number could rise as rescue operations were under way
  • The Argentine government thanked Israel for the rescue of the two men, who it said were dual nationals

DOHA/JERUSALEM: An Israeli rescue operation freed two Israeli-Argentine hostages held by Hamas militants in Rafah on Monday, but supporting airstrikes killed nearly 70 Palestinians in the southern Gaza city where about one million displaced civilians have sought refuge from months of bombardments.
The mission by the Israeli military, the Shin Bet security service and a special police unit freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70, the military said. They were among 250 people seized during the Oct. 7 raid by Hamas militants that triggered Israel’s war on Gaza.
More than four months on, much of the densely-populated strip of land on the Mediterranean is in ruins, with 28,340 Palestinians dead and 67,984 wounded, according to Gaza health officials, with many others believed to be buried under rubble.
The Israeli military says 31 hostages have died in that time, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday’s rescue showed that military pressure should continue and he brushed aside international alarm at its plans for a ground assault on Rafah.
“Fernando and Louis, welcome home,” he said, saluting the Israeli forces who rescued them. “Only continued military pressure, until total victory, will bring about the release of all of our hostages.”
The Gaza health ministry said 67 Palestinians had been killed overnight and the number could rise as rescue operations were under way. A Reuters journalist at the scene saw a vast area of rubble where buildings, including a mosque, had been destroyed.
“I’ve been collecting my family’s body parts since the morning, said Ibrahim Hassouna as a woman knelt over the body of a young child nearby. “I only recognized their toes or fingers.”
An Israeli military spokesman said the hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with explosives during the raid amid heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings.
“We’ve been working a long time on this operation,” Lt Col. Richard Hecht said. “We were waiting for the right conditions.”
The Argentine government thanked Israel for the rescue of the two men, who it said were dual nationals. Video footage showed them hugging relatives in Israel’s Sheba hospital, looking frail but relieved.

“Last prayers”
Israel’s military said airstrikes had coincided with the raid to allow its forces to be extracted.
Hassouna, displaced with his relatives from northern Gaza, said they were killed at least 4 km (2 miles) from the military operation.
“We have nothing to do with anything. Why did you bomb us?” he asked.
People in Rafah said two mosques and several residential buildings were hit in more than an hour of strikes by Israeli warplanes, tanks and ships which caused widespread panic.
“Death was so near as shells and missiles landed 200 meters from our tent camp,” businessman Emad, a father of six, told Reuters via a chat app. He said it was the worst night of bombing since they arrived in Rafah last month.
Some feared Israel had begun a long-expected ground offensive in the city, where more than a million people displaced by the war are sheltering with nowhere else to go.
“My family and I said our last prayers,” Emad said.
A relative of one of the hostages said he had seen both freed men following their rescue and found them “a bit frail, a bit thin, a bit pale” but overall in good condition.
Idan Bejerano, Hare’s son-in-law, said the hostages had been sleeping when “within a minute” the commandos were in the building and covering them as they fought the captors.
Hamas said the attack on Rafah was a continuation of a “genocidal war” and forced displacement attempts Israel has waged against the Palestinian people.
Hamas militants killed 1,200 people in southern Israel, in the Oct. 7 incursion that sparked the war, according to Israeli tallies. Israel said it had killed more than 12,000 Hamas militants and taken out three-quarters of its battalions, of which it said earlier that four were in Rafah.

Dutch court blocks export of fighter jet parts to Israel
Many Western leaders have expressed alarm at Israel’s offensive while continuing to support the country.
However, a Dutch appeals court said it had blocked the export of F-35 fighter jets parts to Israel over a “clear risk of violations of international humanitarian law” in Gaza.
Israeli government spokeperson Eylon Levy said Israel was fighting to prevent “extremism and terrorism from spiralling further in Europe” and expected its allies to stand by it.
Britain urged Israel to agree to a truce to free its hostages rather than attack Rafah where people were trapped.
Foreign Secretary David Cameron said: “We think it is impossible to see how you can fight a war among these people. There’s nowhere for them to go.”
US President Joe Biden says Israel needs a credible evacuation plan. Israel’s Levy called on UN aid agencies to help. “Work with us to find a way,” he said.
Aid agencies say an assault on Rafah would be catastrophic. Egypt has reinforced its border with the city, saying it fears Gazans will be pushed across, never to return.
An Israeli official has said people will be evacuated further north, but its forces are also active in central Gaza. Palestinian medics said 15 people had been killed in an airstrike in the central town of Deir Al-Balah.
A senior Hamas leader said at the weekend that any Israeli ground offensive in Rafah would “blow up” hostage-exchange negotiations.
The US and other Western leaders hope Middle Eastern countries will help rebuild Gaza after the war. The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United Nations said for that to happen, there must be an “irreversible progression” toward a two-state solution to decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict — each side recognizing the other’s right to their own state.


Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike

Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike
Updated 9 sec ago
Follow

Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike

Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike
Hezbollah said it had fired on several Israeli targets, including soldiers and spy equipment
The violence has killed at least 375 people in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Three Hezbollah fighters were killed Saturday in an Israeli strike on a house in southern Lebanon, a source close to the Iran-backed group told AFP.
“Three Hezbollah fighters were killed, and two others seriously wounded in an Israeli air strike on a house in the area of Al-Jebbayn,” the source, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported earlier on Saturday that “enemy aircraft carried out a strike targeting a house in Al-Jebbayn, and rescue teams were headed to the area.”
Hezbollah said it had fired on several Israeli targets, including soldiers and spy equipment.
Since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel triggered war in Gaza, there have been near-daily cross-border exchanges of fire between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.
The violence has killed at least 375 people in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In northern Israel, 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed, according to the army.
In recent days, Hezbollah has intensified its attacks against Israeli military positions, with tensions across the Middle East surging.
On April 13, Iran, which supports both Hezbollah and Hamas, launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel in retaliation for a deadly April 1 air strike which levelled its consulate in Damascus.

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again
Updated 8 min 21 sec ago
Follow

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again
  • Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones a week ago
  • The Iran attack was itself in retaliation for an air strike widely blamed on Israel

TEHRAN: Iran has dismissed as akin to child’s play Israel’s reported retaliation for an unprecedented Iranian strike, as both sides on Saturday appeared to step back from wider conflict stemming from the war in Gaza.
However, a deadly blast at an Iraqi military base emphasized the high tensions which persist in the region, as did more deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza and intensifying clashes in the West Bank.
Fears have soared this month that escalating tit-for-tat attacks between Israel and Iran could tip over into a broader war in the Middle East.
Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones a week ago in its first-ever direct attack on its arch enemy’s territory.
The Iran attack was itself in retaliation for an air strike — widely blamed on Israel — that levelled the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards on April 1.
The Israeli retaliation appeared to come on Friday, when Iranian media reported blasts in the central province of Isfahan.
Fars news agency reported “three explosions” close to Qahjavarestan, near Isfahan airport and the 8th Shekari army air base.
“What happened last night was no attack,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told NBC News.
“It was the flight of two or three quadcopters, which are at the level of toys that our children use in Iran,” he added.
“As long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the Israeli regime against Iran’s interests, we will have no response.”
Israeli officials have made no public comment on what — according to a senior US congressional source who spoke to AFP — were retaliatory Israeli strikes against Iran.
Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, said the reported Israeli strike had been “calibrated to avoid damage and further Iranian aggression.”
Iranian political expert Hamid Gholamzadeh said the incident in Isfahan, while “insignificant,” needs to be seen in the context of the “fight for balance of power” between the two countries.
“The region is on fire and an all-out war can be ignited any moment,” he said.
While tensions rose after the attack on Iran’s consulate, violence involving Iran-backed groups had already been surging across the Middle East since the outbreak of the Gaza war.
Officials in Iraq said one person was killed and eight wounded in an explosion at a military base south of Baghdad housing a coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Since the Gaza war began, violence has also flared in the other occupied Palestinian territory, the West Bank.
The Israeli army said Saturday that its forces killed 10 militants and arrested eight other people during a 40-hour raid on a refugee camp in the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry said 11 people were wounded in the Israeli raid, including a paramedic who was shot trying to get to the wounded.
Israel has faced growing global opposition over its military offensive in Gaza, which has reduced vast areas of the besieged Palestinian territory to rubble, while aids groups have warned the north is on the brink of famine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under pressure over the rising civilian toll, needs “further escalation and another war to distract the world attention” away from suffering in Gaza, Iranian analyst Gholamzadeh said.
There have been particular fears about Israel’s intention to send troops into the southernmost city of Rafah, where most of the population is now sheltering having fled violence elsewhere.
Foreign ministers of the G7 group of developed economies, meeting in Italy on Friday, said they opposed a “full-scale military operation in Rafah” because it would have “catastrophic consequences” for civilians.
But even without a full operation, the city has been under regular bombardment.
On Saturday, Gaza’s Civil Defense agency said an overnight Israeli strike in Rafah killed nine members of a family including six children.
Agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said the Israeli army had also hit several other areas of Rafah overnight, adding: “It has been a very hard night.”
The war was triggered by an attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel has responded with a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34,049 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Israel’s military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day, including the site in north Gaza from which a rocket was fired into the Israeli city of Sderot.
Witnesses in the central Nuseirat refugee camp said the Israeli army told them to evacuate one home, then several were destroyed.
“They instruct us to evacuate and return later, but where do we go back? To ruins?” asked resident Abu Ibrahim.
“How long will this farce continue?“
A UN report on Friday said “multiple obstacles” continue to impede delivery of urgently needed aid.
Despite some recent aid convoys being able to reach Gaza, the WFP cited “the real possibility of famine” in the north.
Efforts to seal a long sought-after truce have stalled, according to mediator Qatar.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch critic of Israel’s war in Gaza, met with Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday, calling for unity among Palestinians.
After Washington vetoed a Palestinian bid to become a full UN member state earlier this week, president Mahmud Abbas said his West Bank-based Palestinian Authority would “reconsider” its relationship with the US.


Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies
Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies
  • The meeting ‘is part of president’s attempts to reposition himself as credible defender of Palestinian cause,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, unlike Washington and Brussels

ANKARA: The meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday has sparked debate over Turkiye’s attempts to play a greater mediating role for the Palestinian cause amid domestic controversies over the ruling government, which has lost support among its conservative electoral base since local elections last month.
Haniyeh’s visit is his first meeting with Erdogan in Turkiye since the start of the Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
For Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London, the meeting is part of Erdogan’s attempts to reposition himself as a credible defender of the Palestinian cause after his recent electoral defeat.
“Hosting the Hamas leader is likely to reinforce the impression in the West that Turkiye is at best a transactional partner, not an ally,” he said.
Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, unlike Washington and Brussels. The country has also strongly criticized Israel’s military operation in Gaza, which Erdogan previously described as genocide. Hamas also established a presence in Istanbul in 2011, although not on par with its political office in Doha.
Ankara has also been a major humanitarian donor to Gaza, alongside several Gulf states, and has actively helped several Palestinians from Gaza receive medical treatment in Turkish hospitals.
“I will continue to defend the Palestinian struggle and be the voice of the oppressed Palestinian people as long as Allah gives me life, even if I am left alone,” Erdogan said in his speech to parliament last Wednesday.
The Turkish president has always been on friendly terms with Haniyeh.
In a recent phone call to the Hamas leader, Erdogan offered his condolences after three of his sons were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.
“Israel will definitely be held accountable before the law for the crimes against humanity it has committed,” Erdogan told Haniyeh, according to an AFP report.
For Betul Dogan Akkas, assistant professor of international relations at the department of international relations at Ankara University, given the current fragile situation in Gaza, there is a significant need for the mediation efforts by Qatar and Turkiye.
“With Haniyeh and other officials based in Qatar, there is now a more effective political bureau compared to the past. The current military balance in Gaza is very critical; they are cornered in Rafah. On the other hand, Hamas needs to build a more strategic power,” she told Arab News.
Akkas thinks that if this Saturday’s visit of Haniyeh contributes to further collaboration between Turkiye and Hamas to address that strategic power deficiency, it would be meaningful.
“Haniyeh could take on a more effective role due to Gaza’s current situation because they need a way out,” she added.
Domestically, however, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, has come under heavy criticism for its flourishing and uninterrupted trade with Israel, even during its military offensive in Gaza.
The AKP’s Islamist rival, the New Welfare Party or YRP, played this trade card during the local elections on March 31, highlighting Erdogan’s failure to halt economic ties with Israel despite his harsh rhetoric against the Jewish state.
The YRP accused the government of applying double standards by strongly criticizing Israel while continuing trade relations. After the elections, the YRP won some local administrations previously held by the AKP.
Turkiye’s exports to Israel exceeded $5.4 billion in 2023, accounting for 2.1 percent of its total exports, according to official data.
Following nationwide criticism, the Turkish Trade Ministry recently imposed restrictions on some 54 categories of exports to Israel, including cement, steel, machinery, construction materials, chemical compounds, and several metal products, and these restrictions are expected to remain in place until Israel declares a ceasefire in Gaza.
On April 16, Erdogan compared Hamas to Turkish independence fighters who resisted foreign occupiers during the liberation of the country and the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923.
His comments were seen as one of the most blatant endorsements by the Turkish leader since the start of the war in October.
According to Piccoli, while such words may play well with domestic audiences, they are unlikely to be welcomed in Western capitals, including Washington.
Erdogan will make his first official visit to the US since the election of President Joe Biden in 2020 on 9 May. The Palestinian cause is expected to feature in the talks.
Piccoli believes that Haniyeh’s visit is unlikely to lead to any concrete Turkish action against Israel.
“The economic restrictions and Haniyeh’s visit reflect Turkiye’s desire to ensure that the Gaza conflict is not overshadowed by tensions between Israel and Iran, including the Iranian attacks of April 13-14 and the Israeli strikes on Isfahan in the early hours of April 19,” he said.
Earlier this week, Erdogan blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel, Piccoli added.
On the other hand, how Turkiye will be able to mediate between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators is raising concerns, especially after Erdogan’s harsh criticism of Israel’s military actions in Gaza.
The fate of the hostages held by Hamas since Oct. 7 will also be a source of concern for such mediation efforts.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visited Qatar April 16-17 and met with Haniyeh and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al -Thani.
Turkiye was to host intense diplomatic negotiations on Saturday as Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was also expected to travel to the country to discuss the situation in Gaza with Fidan.
For Piccoli, while the recent negotiations may go some way to assuaging domestic public anger, the Erdogan government’s outreach to Hamas is likely to reinforce the impression in the US and the EU that Turkiye is no longer aligned with the West and is now — at best — a potential partner rather than an ally.
For the moment, Erdogan has been cautious about commenting on his meeting with Haniyeh.
“We will keep the agenda between us and Mr.Haniyeh,” he said when questioned by journalists on Friday.


Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says

Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says
Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says

Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says
  • Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership

CAIRO: The Palestinian Authority will reconsider bilateral relations with the US after Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with the official WAFA news agency.


Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid
Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid
  • “Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said
  • Eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid

TULKARM, Palestinian Territories: The Israeli army said Saturday that its security forces killed 10 militants in an ongoing raid around Nur Shams, a refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank.
“Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said in a statement.
The army said eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid.
An AFP journalist in nearby Tulkarem heard gunshots and blasts coming from Nur Shams on Saturday.
Residents contacted by AFP said there was a power outage and food was running short in the camp, saying nobody was allowed to enter or leave.
Since early last year violence has flared across the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967. The violence has further escalated since the war in Gaza broke out on October 7.
Israeli forces say their frequent raids in the West Bank target Palestinian militants, but civilians are often among the dead.
Around 480 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or settlers in the West Bank since the Hamas assault on Israel triggered the Gaza war, according to Palestinian official sources.