Nine migrants found dead off Tunisia: officials

Nine migrants found dead off Tunisia: officials
The Tunisian coastguard found nine migrants dead on Thursday aboard a vessel drifting in the Mediterranean off the southern port of Zarzis, authorities said. (AFP/File)
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Updated 15 February 2024
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Nine migrants found dead off Tunisia: officials

Nine migrants found dead off Tunisia: officials
  • Tunisian media said the boat had set sail for Europe from neighboring Libya
  • The passengers came from countries including Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan and Syria

TUNIS: The Tunisian coast guard found nine migrants dead on Thursday aboard a vessel drifting in the Mediterranean off the southern port of Zarzis, authorities said.
The boat, carrying more than 50 passengers of various nationalities, had “sustained damage caused by water getting in,” the National Guard said in a statement.
Tunisian media said the boat had set sail for Europe from neighboring Libya.
The provincial prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the death, spokesperson Lassad Horr told AFP.
“It’s very likely that they died after being overwhelmed by the fuel fumes at the bottom of the boat,” Horr said.
The passengers, all men, came from countries including Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan and Syria, he added.
Tunisia and Libya are the main north African departure points for thousands of irregular migrants who risk their lives every year in the hopes of having better lives in Europe.
The International Organization for Migration said 2,498 people died or went missing while trying to cross the central Mediterranean last year, a 75 percent increase on 2022.


Israel presses on in Gaza as world awaits response to Iran attack

Israel presses on in Gaza as world awaits response to Iran attack
Updated 3 sec ago
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Israel presses on in Gaza as world awaits response to Iran attack

Israel presses on in Gaza as world awaits response to Iran attack
  • Fears persisted over Israeli plans to send ground troops into Rafah, a far-southern city where the majority of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have taken refuge
  • Israeli army is calling up two reserve brigades for operational activities inside Gaza
  • On Monday death toll in Gaza reached 33,797 during more than six months of war

Palestinian Territories: Israel struck war-battered Gaza overnight, Hamas and witnesses said Monday, as world leaders urged de-escalation awaiting Israel’s reaction to Iran’s unprecedented attack that heightened fears of wider conflict.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Monday that at least 33,797 people have been killed in the territory during more than six months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The toll includes at least 68 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that 76,465 people have been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.
World powers have urged restraint after Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel late Saturday, though the Israeli military has said nearly all were intercepted.
The Israeli military said it would not be distracted from its war against Tehran-backed Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the Palestinian armed group’s October 7 attack.
“Even while under attack from Iran, we have not lost sight... of our critical mission in Gaza to rescue our hostages from the hands of Iran’s proxy Hamas,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said late Sunday.
As mediators eye a deal to halt the fighting, fears persisted over Israeli plans to send ground troops into Rafah, a far-southern city where the majority of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have taken refuge.
“Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza,” Hagari said of the roughly 130 people, including 34 presumed dead, who Israel says remain in the hands of Palestinian militants since the Hamas attack.
“We also have hostages in Rafah, and we will do everything we can to bring them back home,” the military spokesman told a briefing.
The army said it was calling up “two reserve brigades for operational activities,” about a week after withdrawing most ground troops from Gaza.
The Hamas government media office said Israeli aircraft and tanks launched “dozens” of strikes overnight on central Gaza, reporting several casualties.
Witnesses told AFP that strikes hit the Nuseirat refugee camp, with clashes also reported in other areas of central and northern Gaza.
Hamas’s attack that sparked the fighting resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,729 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday following the Iranian attack, where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the region was “on the brink” of war.
“Neither the region nor the world can afford more war,” the UN chief said.
“Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate.”
More than six months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Rumours of a reopened Israeli checkpoint on the coastal road from the territory’s south to Gaza City sent thousands of Palestinians heading north on Sunday, despite Israel denying it was open.
Attempting the journey back to northern Gaza, displaced resident Basma Salman said, “even if it (my house) was destroyed, I want to go there. I couldn’t stay in the south.”
“It’s overcrowded. We couldn’t even take a fresh breath of air there. It was completely terrible.”
In Khan Yunis, southern Gaza’s main city, civil defense teams said they had retrieved at least 18 bodies from under the rubble of destroyed buildings.
Responding late Saturday to the latest truce plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, Hamas said it insists on “a permanent ceasefire” and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
Israel’s Mossad spy agency called this a “rejection” of the proposal, accusing Hamas of “continuing to exploit the tension with Iran.”
But the United States said mediation efforts continue.
“We’re not considering diplomacy dead there,” said the National Security Council’s Kirby.
“There’s a new deal on the table... It is a good deal” that would see some hostages released, fighting halted and more humanitarian relief into Gaza, he said.


Top Syrian officer faces war crimes charges in Swedish court

Top Syrian officer faces war crimes charges in Swedish court
Updated 12 min ago
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Top Syrian officer faces war crimes charges in Swedish court

Top Syrian officer faces war crimes charges in Swedish court
  • Former brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, 65 who lives in Sweden, is accused of “aiding and abetting” war crimes and could get a life jail sentence

Stockholm: The highest-ranking Syrian military official to be tried in Europe on Monday appeared before a Stockholm court accused of war crimes during Syria’s civil war.
Former brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, 65 who lives in Sweden, is accused of “aiding and abetting” war crimes and could get a life jail sentence.
The war between President Bashar Assad’s regime and armed opposition groups, including Islamic State, erupted after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.
It has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions, and ravaged Syria’s economy and infrastructure.
Wearing a dark blue shirt, jeans and sneakers, Hamo listened carefully and took notes as prosecutor Karolina Wieslander read out the charges.
Wieslander said Hamo had contributed — through “advice and action” — to the Syrian army’s warfare, which “systematically included attacks carried out in violation of the principles of distinction, caution and proportionality.”
“The warfare was thus indiscriminate,” Wieslander told the court.
The charges concern the period of January 1 to July 20, 2012. The trial is expected to last until late May.
The prosecutor said the Syrian army’s “widespread air and ground attacks” caused damage “at a scale that was disproportionate in view of the concrete and immediate general military advantages that could be expected to be achieved.”
In his role as brigadier general and head of an armament division, Hamo allegedly helped coordinate and supply of arms to units.
Hamo’s lawyer, Mari Kilman, told the court her client denied criminal responsibility.
“In any case he has not had the intent toward the main charge, that indiscriminate warfare would be carried out by others,” Kilman said.
Kilman said the officer could not be held liable for the actions “as he had acted in a military context and had to follow orders.”
Hamo also denied all individual charges and argued that Syrian law should be applied.
Several plaintiffs are to testify at the trial, including Syrians from cities that were attacked and a British photographer who was injured during one strike.
“The attacks in and around Homs and Hama in 2012 resulted in widespread civilian harm and an immense destruction of civilian properties,” Aida Samani, senior legal adviser at rights group Civil Rights Defenders, told AFP.
“The same conduct has been repeated systematically by the Syrian army in other cities across Syria with complete impunity.”
This trial will be the first in Europe “to address these types of indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian army,” according to Samani, who added that it “will be the first opportunity for victims of the attacks to have their voices heard in an independent court.”
Hamo is the highest-ranking military official to go on trial in Europe, though other countries have tried to bring charges against more senior members.
In March, Swiss prosecutors charged Rifaat Assad, an uncle of President Bashar Assad, with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, it remains unlikely Rifaat Assad — who recently returned to Syria after 37 years in exile — will show up for the trial, for which a date has yet to be set.
Swiss law allows for trials in absentia under certain conditions.
In November, France issued an international arrest warrant for Bashar Assad, accusing him of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes over chemical attacks in 2013.
Three other international warrants were also issued for the arrests of Bashar Assad’s brother Maher, the de-facto chief of the army’s elite Fourth Division and two generals.
In January 2022, a German court sentenced former colonel Anwar Raslan to life jail for crimes against humanity. This was the first international trial over state-sponsored torture in Syria and was hailed by victims as a victory for justice.


UAE president discusses Gaza crisis with regional leaders

UAE president discusses Gaza crisis with regional leaders
Updated 25 min 53 sec ago
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UAE president discusses Gaza crisis with regional leaders

UAE president discusses Gaza crisis with regional leaders
  • The UAE, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar emphasized the imperative of preventing further regional escalation

DUBAI: UAE President, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, held telephone discussions on Monday with regional leaders, including Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, and King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain.

They addressed pressing regional issues, particularly the escalating crisis in the Gaza Strip, and the urgency of achieving a ceasefire and safeguarding civilian lives in accordance with international humanitarian laws.

They emphasized the imperative of preventing further regional escalation, they reiterated support for a just, comprehensive, and lasting peace through a two-state solution, crucial for ensuring stability and security across the region.

Coordination among Arab nations and concerted international efforts were highlighted as essential steps toward resolving conflicts and advancing peace initiatives.


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

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Updated 15 April 2024
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Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
  • Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday in a retaliatory strike against Israel
  • Washington says did have contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries but did not get notice 72 hours in advance

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

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

 


Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Smith, Resident of Tzur Hadassah

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