UN voices alarm as Israel says preparing for Rafah invasion

Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 26, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 26, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 February 2024
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UN voices alarm as Israel says preparing for Rafah invasion

Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • Guterres said Rafah is “the core of the humanitarian aid operation” in the besieged Gaza Strip
  • Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children

GAZA STRIP: The UN chief warned Monday that an invasion of Rafah in far-southern Gaza would “put the final nail in the coffin” of aid operations, after Israel said its army had readied a plan to move civilians out of the packed city.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Rafah — where 1.4 million Palestinians live in crowded shelters near the Egyptian border — is also “the core of the humanitarian aid operation” in the besieged Gaza Strip.
As tensions simmered across the region, Israel fired the first strikes on Lebanon’s east since the start of the Gaza war, killing two Hezbollah fighters.
In another shock impact of the almost five-month-old war, Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in the occupied West Bank handed in his government’s resignation to the head of the Palestinian Authority, president Mahmud Abbas.
Shtayyeh cited “the new reality” in Gaza and “the escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” where deadly violence has surged since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7 with the Palestinian group’s attack.
Israel’s top ally Washington and other powers discussing a post-war Gaza have called for a reformed Palestinian Authority to take charge of both the West Bank and Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since 2007.
Shtayyeh urged intra-Palestinian consensus after years of rift and the “extension of the Authority’s rule over the entire land of Palestine.”
Heavy fighting raged on in Gaza, where Israeli forces launched strikes and ground operations, killing 92 people overnight according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.
Displaced Gazan Sharif Muammar said his son’s body had been pulled from the rubble in Rafah.
“There was no one here — only children, they are all children,” he told AFP.
“There were no fighters at all. We weren’t launching missiles... We barely live.”
Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the ministry.
The war broke out after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack which killed 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Sunday that, despite ongoing talks toward a ceasefire, the army will launch a ground invasion of Rafah to achieve “total victory” over Hamas.
Once land operations are launched there, an Israeli victory would be “weeks away,” he said, adding that any truce deal would delay, not prevent, the operation.
On Monday Netanyahu’s office said the military had shown Israel’s war cabinet its plan for evacuating civilians from Rafah.
But no details have been released on where those displaced people could go in war-torn Gaza.
Neighbouring Egypt has built a large walled enclosure next to Gaza, but Cairo has denied any plans to allow the mass flight of refugees across the border.
Foreign governments and aid groups have issued dire warnings that a Rafah invasion would inflict mass casualties.
Guterres warned “an all-out Israeli offensive on the city would not only be terrifying for more than a million Palestinian civilians sheltering there; it would put the final nail in the coffin of our aid programs.”
He said that “nothing can justify Hamas’s deliberate killing, injuring, torturing and kidnapping of civilians” and “nothing justifies the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Desperate families in Gaza’s north have scavenged for food as most aid trucks have been halted, with many people eating animal fodder and the meat of slaughtered horses.
“We have no food or drink for ourselves or our children,” Omar Al-Kahlout told AFP, as he waited near Gaza City for aid to arrive.
Dire food shortages in northern Gaza are “a man-made disaster” that can be mitigated, said Philippe Lazzarini, chief of the UN aid agency for Palestinians.
“Famine can still be avoided through genuine political will to grant access and protection to meaningful assistance.”
Aid entering Gaza has halved in February from the previous month, he said.
Mediators meanwhile continued stuttering negotiations toward a ceasefire and hostage release deal, with hopes it can be in place before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks.
Media reports suggest the warring parties are weighing a six-week halt to fighting and the initial exchange of dozens of hostages for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
An unnamed Israeli official told news site Ynet the “direction is positive,” and Israeli media reported that military and intelligence officials were headed to Qatar for further talks on a deal.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani — whose country hosts Hamas leaders and helped broker a one-week truce in November — is due in Paris this week, the French presidency said.
Sheikh Tamim has met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Doha and discussed efforts “aimed at reaching an immediate and permanent ceasefire agreement” in Gaza, the official Qatar News Agency said.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned that fighting during Ramadan “will increase the threat of expanding the conflict” which has drawn in armed groups elsewhere in the Middle East.
Israel has exchanged near-daily cross-border fire with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hamas ally Hezbollah since early October.
Israeli strikes near the Hezbollah-dominated city of Baalbek killed two group members Monday, security sources told AFP, in a rare attack far from the border.
Israel confirmed the strike and said it targeted sites used by Hezbollah for its aerial defense system, after a missile downed an Israeli drone earlier Monday.
Hezbollah fired a volley of 60 rockets at an Israeli military base in response, the group said.


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.

 


Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
Updated 15 April 2024
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Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
  • Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said

CAIRO: British security firm Ambrey said on Sunday that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intercepted an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) near Eilat, stating that it assessed the UAV was launched from Yemen.
Ambrey said it also observed unprecedented levels of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS)interference off Eilat and neighboring Aqaba, Jordan, on Sunday.
“These were due to electronic warfare counter-measures,” the statement said.
“A Sa’ar 6-class corvette successfully intercepted a UAV that approached Israeli territory from the southeast using the ‘C-Dome’ Defense System earlier this evening,” the IDF posted on X.
Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said.
Eilat has been a frequent target for launches by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a show of support for Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza and is also backed by Iran.

 


US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
Updated 15 April 2024
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US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
  • The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A US judge has tossed out a series of civil lawsuits against a Libyan military commander who used to live in Virginia and was accused of killing innocent civilians in that country’s civil war.
At a court hearing Friday, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she had no jurisdiction to preside over a case alleging war crimes committed in Libya, even though the defendant, Khalifa Haftar, has US citizenship and lived for more than 20 years in the northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital as an exile from the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar. In 2022, Brinkema entered a default judgment against Haftar after he refused to sit for scheduled depositions about his role in the fighting that has plagued the country over the last decade.
But Haftar retained new lawyers who persuaded the judge to reopen the case and made Haftar available to be deposed. He sat for two separate depositions in 2022 and 2023 and denied orchestrating attacks against civilians.
Once a lieutenant to Qaddafi, Haftar defected to the US during the 1980s. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.
He returned to Libya in 2011 to support anti-Qaddafi forces that revolted against the dictator and killed him. During the country’s civil war, he led the self-styled Libyan National Army, which controlled much of the eastern half of Libya, with support from countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He continues to hold sway in the eastern half of the country.
In the lawsuits, first filed in 2019, the plaintiffs say family members were killed by military bombardments conducted by Haftar’s army in civilian areas.
The lawsuits also alleged that Haftar and his family owned a significant amount of property in Virginia, which could have been used to pay off any judgment that would have been entered against him.
While the lawsuits were tossed out on technical issues over jurisdiction, one of Haftar’s lawyers, Paul Kamenar, said Haftar denied any role in the deaths of civilians.
“He’s not this ruthless figure that everyone wants to portray him as,” Kamenar said in a phone interview Sunday.
Faisal Gill, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the three lawsuits that Brinkema tossed out Friday, said he plans to appeal the dismissal.
Mark Zaid, lawyer for another set of plaintiffs, called Brinkema’s ruling perplexing and said he believes that the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case had already been established at an earlier phase of the case.
“A US citizen committed war crimes abroad and thus far has escaped civil accountability,” Zaid said Sunday in an emailed statement.
In court papers, Haftar tried to claim immunity from the suits as a head of state. At one point, the judge put the cases on pause because she worried that the lawsuits were being used to influence scheduled presidential elections in Libya, in which Haftar was a candidate. Those elections were later postponed.


Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah
Updated 15 April 2024
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Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah
  • The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory

JERUSALEM: Israel said Sunday that Hamas is holding hostages in Rafah in southern Gaza, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to launch a ground invasion despite international outcry.
“Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza... We also have hostages in Rafah, and we will do everything we can to bring them back home,” Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a briefing.
In a separate statement, the army said it was calling “approximately two reserve brigades for operational activities on the Gazan front.”
It did not specify whether the brigades would be deployed inside Gaza.
The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory.