Hezbollah ramps up military action amid fears of Israeli escalation

Special Hezbollah ramps up military action amid fears of Israeli escalation
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Hezbollah has conducted nine military operations against Israel, from Lebanon, in the last 48 hours, some involving advanced ballistics. (AFP)
Special Hezbollah ramps up military action amid fears of Israeli escalation
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Smoke billows, following an Israeli air raid on a reported hangar, close to the main coastal highway and near the southern Lebanese town of Ghaziyeh, 30 km from the border with Israel, Feb. 19, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2024
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Hezbollah ramps up military action amid fears of Israeli escalation

Hezbollah ramps up military action amid fears of Israeli escalation
  • Central council member Kaouk says party takes Israeli threats ‘seriously’ and is prepared for ‘all potential scenarios’
  • Number of individuals displaced from border villages surpasses 80,000 fighting ratchets up

BEIRUT: Sirens sounded at the Israeli Zarit military site in Western Galilee on Monday afternoon when three missiles were launched from Lebanon, Israeli media reported.

The Israel Defense Forces announced “the closure of four main road axes in Upper Galilee and the areas adjacent to the border with Lebanon” after one of the missiles struck the Pranit Barracks in Western Galilee.

Hezbollah said in a series of statements it had conducted nine military operations in the last 48 hours, some involving advanced ballistics.

The group targeted “a gathering of enemy soldiers in the vicinity of Al-Baghdadi site, a position of soldiers in Al-Taihat triangle, Al-Samaqa site in the occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms, and the Ruwaisat Al-Alam site in the occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms with a Burkan missile.”

It also targeted “an assembly of enemy troops in Horsh Ramim, and a group of enemy soldiers in the settlement of Evin Menachem. The assault resulted in casualties among the soldiers.”

Hezbollah indicated that its operations targeted “a position of enemy soldiers in the Shomera settlement and a building in which enemy soldiers are stationed in the Yaroun settlement.”

Israeli warplanes raided the outskirts of the border towns of Yarin and Al-Adisa in response. Drones were also used by the IDF, one of which reportedly entered the airspace of the city of Sidon at low altitude, outside the scope of the rules of engagement. IDF personnel also fired heavy machine guns at an area adjacent to the town of Ramia.

An Israeli government spokesman reiterated the country’s position that “Hezbollah must retreat from our borders, and we will achieve this diplomatically or militarily.”

Local Lebanese media reports on Monday said that Hezbollah and the Amal Movement “raised their military measures in the front and rear towns and villages, in anticipation of developments in the coming days.”

The reports implied Israel could be set to broaden its activities in southern Lebanon.

The number of individuals displaced from Lebanese border villages has surpassed 80,000, with some opting to rent homes in distant locations such as Beirut and Mount Lebanon. Meanwhile, hundreds of families have sought refuge in the city of Tyre, with many accommodated in a local school complex.

Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, a member of Hezbollah’s central council, confirmed during an event for the party on Monday that “Hezbollah is engaged in a genuine confrontation of endurance along the border with Israel.

“The enemy remains undeterred by UN resolutions, unaffected by the decisions of the International Court of Justice and unswayed by all statements of condemnation and concern,” he said.

“The enemy is confused as the resistance actively pursues it behind walls and settlements. This is evidence that the party continues to shape strategic equations. Despite the enemy’s threats to Lebanon and its evident apprehension about confrontation, the party takes these warnings seriously. It diligently prepares for all potential scenarios, readying itself to present the enemy with unexpected surprises,” he added.

“Any war involving Lebanon would inevitably accelerate (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s downfall,” Kaouk continued. “The party should not be swayed by threats and intimidation, as safeguarding the security of our people and country takes precedence over all considerations. The party’s response to the Nabatieh and Sowana massacres, which targeted civilians, is an ongoing commitment and extends beyond the bombing of Kiryat Shmona. The upcoming days will further prove this.”

Kaouk stressed that Hezbollah’s position remains clear: “There will be no ceasefire until the aggression against Gaza comes to a halt, even in the face of any imposed pressures on us.”


Hundreds rally in support of Tunisia president

Hundreds rally in support of Tunisia president
Updated 6 sec ago
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Hundreds rally in support of Tunisia president

Hundreds rally in support of Tunisia president
  • ‘No to foreign interference, because we are a sovereign state,’ say protesters

TUNIS: Hundreds of people rallied Sunday in downtown Tunis in support of President Kais Saied.

President Saied on Thursday blasted the international criticism as foreign “interference” and ordered the Tunisian Foreign Ministry to summon the ambassadors of several countries.

“No to foreign interference, because we are a sovereign state,” said Saber Rzigue, a protester on Sunday.

“We support the Tunisian leadership, particularly President Kais Saied.”

“We are against foreign interference and against traitors, even if they are Tunisian,” said Mohamed Hentati, another protester.

“Today, we want to contribute to history and stand against anyone who wants to occupy our country and try to change its social fabric,” he added.

Sunday’s rally also came after a protest and strike by lawyers earlier in the week over police raids and arrests in the national bar association.

But Saied replied on Thursday by saying the arresting of two lawyers was “in full respect for Tunisian law, which guarantees equality and the right to a fair trial.”

Demonstrators on Sunday defended the president. “Kais Saied is above all of us,” said Mahmoud, a protester who chose not to give his full name.

“It is in him that we trust. He brought us security and peace.”

Separately, Tunisia recovered the bodies of four migrants off the country’s coast, the national guard said, amid an increase in migrant boats heading from Tunisia toward Italy in recent weeks.

The force said the coast guard separately rescued 52 migrants. The national guard arrested nine smugglers, and boats were seized.

At least 23 Tunisian migrants were missing after setting off in a boat for Italy, the national guard said.

Tunisia is facing a migration crisis and has replaced Libya as the main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe. 


UN aid chief warns of ‘apocalyptic’ consequences of Gaza shortages

UN aid chief warns of ‘apocalyptic’ consequences of Gaza shortages
Updated 48 min 26 sec ago
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UN aid chief warns of ‘apocalyptic’ consequences of Gaza shortages

UN aid chief warns of ‘apocalyptic’ consequences of Gaza shortages
  • Famine is “looming,” UN’s humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said

DOHA: The stranglehold on aid reaching Gaza threatens an “apocalyptic” outcome, the UN’s humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said on Sunday as he warned of famine in the besieged territory.
“If fuel runs out, aid doesn’t get to the people where they need it, that famine, which we have talked about for so long, and which is looming, will not be looming anymore. It will be present,” Griffiths said.
“And I think our worry, as citizens of the international community, is that the consequence is going to be really, really hard. Hard, difficult, and apocalyptic,” he told AFP on the sidelines of meetings with Qatari officials in Doha.
An Israeli incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, launched in the face of international outcry, has deepened an already perilous humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Griffith, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said some 50 trucks of aid per day could reach the hardest-hit north of Gaza through the reopened Erez crossing.
But battles near the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings in Gaza’s south meant the vital routes were “effectively blocked,” he explained.
“So aid getting in through land routes to the south and for Rafah, and the people dislodged by Rafah is almost nil,” Griffiths added.

The UN said on Saturday that 800,000 people had been “forced to flee” Israel’s assault on Hamas militants in Rafah.
With fuel, food and medicine running out, Griffiths said the military action in the southern Gazan city was “exactly what we feared it would be.”
“And we all said that very clearly, that a Rafah operation is a disaster in humanitarian terms, a disaster for the people already displaced to Rafah. This is now their fourth or fifth displacement,” he said.
With key land crossings closed, some relief supplies began flowing in this week via a temporary, floating pier constructed by the United States.
Griffiths said the maritime operation was “beginning to bring in some truck loads of aid” but he cautioned “it’s not a replacement for the land routes.”
The war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Out of 252 people taken hostage from Israel during the October 7 attack, 124 remain held in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.
On Thursday, the Arab League called for a UN peacekeeping force to be deployed in the Palestinian territories and for an international conference to resolve the Palestinian issue on the basis of the two-state solution.
Griffiths said the statement from the 22-member bloc in Manama was “very important because it focused on the future.”

He explained there were a “number of different conferences being mooted and potentially planned” to discuss humanitarian arrangements in Gaza, including in Jordan.
“I feel very strongly and I know that the Secretary-General feels very strongly that the United Nations needs to be present at the table when all these things are being discussed,” the UN aid chief said.
But he cautioned on the likelihood of a UN peacekeeping force for the Palestinian territories. A proposed deployment could be blocked by a veto from permanent Security Council members, while it would also require the acceptance from the warring parties of the UN’s presence.
The UN announced in March that Griffiths, a British barrister, would step down in June over health concerns.
He said that in recent years he had observed that “the norms that were built up very painfully, indeed since the founding of the United Nations... but particularly in the last couple of decades, seem to have been set aside.”
“There is no consensus on methods of dialogue and negotiation, or mediation, which need to be, in my view, prioritized. And so we have an angry world,” Griffiths said.


UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza
Updated 19 May 2024
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UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza
  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.
 


Intense search for Iran’s President Raisi after helicopter ‘accident’

The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
Updated 19 May 2024
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Intense search for Iran’s President Raisi after helicopter ‘accident’

The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
  • Expressions of concern and offers to help came from abroad, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar and Turkiye, as well as from the European Union

TEHRAN: Iran launched a large-scale search and rescue effort to scour a fog-shrouded mountain area after President Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter went missing Sunday in what state media described as an “accident.”
Fears grew for the 63-year-old ultraconservative after contact was lost with the helicopter carrying him as well as Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and others in East Azerbaijan province, reports said.
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged Iranians to “not worry” about the leadership of the Islamic republic, saying “there will be no disruption in the country’s work.”
“We hope that Almighty God will bring our dear president and his companions back in full health into the arms of the nation,” he said in on state TV.
Expressions of concern and offers to help came from abroad, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar and Turkiye, as well as from the European Union which said it activated its rapid response mapping service to aid in the search effort.
State television reported that “an accident happened to the helicopter carrying the president” in the Jolfa region of the western province, while some officials described it as a “hard landing.”
“The harsh weather conditions and heavy fog have made it difficult for the rescue teams to reach the accident site,” said one broadcaster.
More than 40 rescue teams using search dogs and drones were sent to the site, reported the IRNA news agency as TV stations showed pictures of rows of waiting emergency response vehicles.
Raisi was visiting the province where he inaugurated a dam project together with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, on the border between the two countries.
Raisi’s convoy included three helicopters, and the other two had “reached their destination safely,” according to Tasnim news agency.
Foreign countries were closely following the search effort at a time of high regional tensions over the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas since October 7 that has drawn in other armed groups in the Middle East.
A US State Department spokesman said: “We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister.
“We have no further comment at this time.”
An Iranian Red Crescent team was seen walking up a slope in thick fog and drizzling rain, while other live footage showed worshippers reciting prayers in the holy city of Mashhad, Raisi’s hometown.
In neighboring Iraq, Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani “instructed the interior ministry and the Iraqi Red Crescent and other relevant authorities to offer available resources... to aid in the search.”
Azeri President Aliyev said in a post on X that “we were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran.”
“Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with President Ebrahim Raisi and the accompanying delegation,” he said, noting that his country “stands ready to offer any assistance needed.”
The accident happened in the mountainous protected forest area of Dizmar near the town of Varzaghan, said the official IRNA news agency.
Military personnel along with the Revolutionary Guards and police had also deployed teams to the area, said army chief-of-staff Mohammad Bagheri.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said one of the helicopters “made a hard landing due to bad weather conditions” and that it was “difficult to establish communication” with the aircraft.
Raisi has been president since 2021 when he succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, for a term during which Iran has faced crisis and conflict.
He took the reins of a country in the grip of a deep social crisis and an economy strained by US sanctions against Tehran over its contested nuclear program.
Iran saw a wave of mass protests triggered by the death in custody of Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September 2022 after her arrest for allegedly flouting dress rules for women.


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
  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses comments as "washed-up words"
  • Broad splits emerge in Israeli war cabinet as Hamas regroups in northern Gaza

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.