Israel escalates its criticism of UN agency in Gaza; says 450 of its workers are militants

Israel escalates its criticism of UN agency in Gaza; says 450 of its workers are militants
An Israeli Apache helicopter fires flares over the Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, Monday, March 4, 2024. The army is battling Palestinian militants across Gaza in the war ignited by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack into Israel. (AP)
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Updated 05 March 2024
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Israel escalates its criticism of UN agency in Gaza; says 450 of its workers are militants

Israel escalates its criticism of UN agency in Gaza; says 450 of its workers are militants
  • UNRWA, which employs roughly 13,000 people in Gaza, is the biggest aid provider in the enclave

JERUSALEM: Israel ramped up its criticism of the embattled UN agency for Palestinian refugees Monday, saying 450 of its employees were members of militant groups in the Gaza Strip, though it provided no evidence to back up its accusation.
Major international funders have withheld hundreds of millions of dollars from the agency, known as UNRWA, since Israel accused 12 of its employees of participating in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel that killed 1,200 people and left about 250 others held hostage in Gaza, according to Israeli authorities.
The UN envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, said Monday there were “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, “sexualized torture,” and other cruel and inhuman treatment of women during the attack.
The attack sparked an Israeli invasion of the enclave of 2.3 million people that Gaza’s Health Ministry says has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians. Aid groups say the fighting has displaced most of the territory’s population and sparked a humanitarian catastrophe.
UNRWA, which employs roughly 13,000 people in Gaza, is the biggest aid provider in the enclave.
The allegations Monday were a significant escalation in the accusations against the agency. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, Israel’s chief military spokesperson, did not provide names or other evidence to back up the vastly increased number of UNRWA employees it said were militants.
“Over 450 UNRWA employees are military operatives in terror groups in Gaza — 450. This is no mere coincidence. This is systematic. There is no claiming, ‘we did not know,’” Hagari said.
UNRWA in a statement accused Israel of detaining several of its staffers and forcing them, using torture and ill treatment, into giving false confessions about the links between the agency, Hamas and the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
“These forced confessions as a result of torture are being used by the Israeli Authorities to further spread misinformation about the agency as part of attempts to dismantle UNRWA,” the statement said. “This is putting our staff in Gaza at risk and has serious implications on our operations in Gaza and around the region.’’
After Israel’s initial accusation against UNRWA, the agency fired the accused employees and more than a dozen countries suspended funding worth about $450 million, almost half its budget for the year.
Juliette Touma, director of communications for UNRWA, had no direct comment on the new Israeli allegations.
“UNRWA encourages any entity that has any information on the very serious allegations against UNRWA staff to share it with the ongoing UN investigation,” she said.
Two UN investigations into Israel’s allegations were already underway when the EU said Friday it will pay 50 million euros ($54 million) to UNRWA after the agency agreed to allow EU-appointed experts to audit the way it screens staff to identify extremists.
Hagari also released a recording of a call he said was of an UNRWA teacher describing his role in the Oct. 7 attack.
“We have female captives. I caught one,” the male voice is heard saying in Arabic. A man on a second call, alleged to be an Islamic Jihad militant who Israel also claimed was an UNRWA teacher, is heard saying “I’m inside with the Jews.”
The military named the men, though the man in the first call identified himself in the recording by a different name. The military said that name may have been a nickname. The military did not provide evidence as to their employment with UNRWA.
The accusations came as Benny Gantz, a top member of Israel’s wartime Cabinet, met with US officials in Washington while talks were underway in Egypt to broker a ceasefire in Gaza before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins next week.
Meanwhile, violence flared between Israel and Lebanon, amid inflamed tensions across the region.
An anti-tank missile fired into northern Israel from Lebanon killed a foreign worker and wounded seven others Monday, Israel’s Magen David Adom rescue service said. The Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon did not immediately claim responsibility for Monday’s strike.
Hours later an Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon killed three paramedics from Hezbollah’s health arm, Lebanon’s state media said.
US envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Beirut on Monday to meet with Lebanese officials in an attempt to tamp down tensions.
The near-daily clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli forces have killed more than 200 Hezbollah fighters and at least 37 civilians in Lebanon. Around 20 people have been killed on the Israeli side, including civilians and soldiers.


Rising violence strikes fear into West Bank school

Rising violence strikes fear into West Bank school
Updated 8 sec ago
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Rising violence strikes fear into West Bank school

Rising violence strikes fear into West Bank school
URIF: A rusty barbed wire fence towers above the students entering Urif high school in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where spiralling violence since October 7 has struck fear into Palestinians.
“We tell the students ... to come to school together and not on their own, because we do not know when their (settlers) attack will be,” said Mazin Shehadeh, vice-principal for the high school located in a village south of the city of Nablus.
On the hill above the village sits the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar, from where Palestinians say settlers descend to attack them.
“Every day when we arrive, we inspect the area around the school for fear that there might be explosive devices,” said the educator, whose office floor was charred black by what he said was an arson attack.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and now some 490,000 Israelis live across the Palestinian territory in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.
Palestinians have long faced harassment by settlers.

Recalling an attack on the school, one 15-year-old student said, “We were in class, and the settlers attacked us from the back of the school. They threw stones at the windows.”
“The (Israeli) soldiers were standing above, near the water tank, firing tear gas and stun grenades toward the school.”
Now the pupils fear an attack at any moment.
“At the slightest noise, at the slightest gunshot or at the slightest explosion near the town, we say to ourselves that the (Israeli) army or the settlers have attacked the school,” said Qais.
Since October 7, 519 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers or settlers, according to the health ministry in Ramallah.
More checkpoints and other Israeli military installations have been erected since the start of the war, complicating the journey to school.
“Sometimes the army harasses us, sends us tear gas bombs and sound bombs and prevents us from going to school,” said a 12-year-old student.
The school year, which ended on Wednesday, turned into “a nightmare” for Palestinian students, the United Nation’s children’s agency UNICEF has said.
Some 27.5 percent of elementary school students do not feel safe at school, according to a study by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
Between October 7 and May 7, 60 children were killed in the West Bank, 345 injured and 68 schools targeted by acts of vandalism, according to the Palestinian education ministry.
It said another 125 students have been detained by the Israeli military, who when asked by AFP about the arrests said they were part of their “counter-terrorism activities“
Last week, a 15-year-old boy was shot dead while evacuating from his school by bicycle during an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
Even before the war, violence between communities in the West Bank near the school reached a record high.
In June 2023 two residents of Urif village, members of the armed group Hamas, killed four Israelis in an attack to the south.
In response, dozens of masked settlers could be seen in footage reviewed by AFP setting fire to a school and trees, and throwing stones at homes in the village.
In response to repeated attacks by settlers, school administrators in Urif said they had spent the equivalent of 62,500 euros on a tarpaulin to catch thrown stones and they have also installed barbed wire.
In the classrooms, thick purple curtains are drawn over barred windows, and staff run regular evacuation drills.
The violence and consequent fortifications have made students feel like they are trapped and “entering a prison,” said Shehadeh.
The school has had many of its “most hardworking and brilliant students” drop out, he added.
Others have left to help their parents, who have been without an income since Israel placed increased restrictions on Palestinians working in Israel.
Those pupils who remain only attend in-person classes three days a week and do the rest remotely due to the security concerns and the Palestinian Authority not paying teachers their full salaries.
However, not all students have the electronic devices or Internet connections needed to learn remotely, said Refat Sabbah, founder of the Teacher Creativity Center, a charity.
“In such a context, when students feel at risk at every moment, how can they learn? The psychological impact is huge on the students and the teachers,” he added.

Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency

Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency
Updated 11 min 23 sec ago
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Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency

Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency

TEHRAN: Israel sent messages to Tehran via Egypt that it would “compromise” in Gaza to avert an Iranian response to an attack on Iran’s embassy in Syria, the Tasnim news agency reported.
The Iranian news agency’s report cited the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force.
Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in April in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike for what it said was an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate, in which seven officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed.
“Israel sent messages through Egypt’s foreign minister that it will compromise in the war in Gaza to avoid Iran’s retaliation,” Amirali Hajjizadeh said.


Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor

Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor
Updated 25 min 26 sec ago
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Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor

Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor
  • The attack Tuesday on the Laax comes as the Houthis continue their attacks on shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier that came under attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia earlier this week had a cargo of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor, authorities said Thursday.
The attack on the Laax comes as the Houthis continue their attacks on shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor, part of a campaign they say aims at pressuring Israel and the West over the war in Gaza. However, as shipping through that artery has dropped during the months of attacks, the militia have struck vessels associated with Iran, as well as Tehran’s economic lifelines of China and Russia.
Initially after the attack, the Laax had listed its destination as Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. On Thursday, however, its listed destination instead appeared to be Bandar Khomeini, Iran.
A statement released by French naval forces based in the UAE that patrol the Middle East also identified the vessel’s grain shipment as being bound for Iran. It said that a team from Djibouti had inspected the damage caused by the attack, which it said involved both drones and missiles, and found no remaining dangerous explosives onboard the ship.
Images released by the French navy showed damage both at the waterline of the vessel, as well as on its deck.
Tuesday’s attack saw five missiles hit the Laax during the hourslong assault, the private security firm LSS-SAPU told The Associated Press. LSS-SAPU, which earlier helped evacuate mariners from the Houthi-attacked Rubymar that later sunk, said there had been no prior warning by radio from the Houthis.
LSS-SAPU had three armed security guards onboard the Laax at the time of the attack. Among the ship’s crew were 13 Filipinos and one Ukrainian, the Philippine Department of Migrant Workers said in a statement.
The Houthis in recent months have stepped up attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, demanding that Israel end the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians there. The war began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage.
The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, killed three sailors, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the US Maritime Administration.
On Wednesday, another US MQ-9 Reaper drone apparently crashed in Yemen, with the Houthis claiming they fired a surface-to-air missile at it. The US Air Force didn’t report any aircraft missing, leading to suspicion that the drone may have been piloted by the CIA. As many as three may have been lost this month alone.


Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support

Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support
Updated 30 May 2024
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Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support

Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support
  • Universities in the US were rocked by pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April, triggering campus clashes with police and the arrest of dozens of people

TEHRAN: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has praised university students in the United States for their protests over the rising death toll in the war in Gaza.
“You have now formed a branch of the Resistance Front,” said Khamenei, referring to Tehran-aligned armed groups across the Middle East arrayed against arch-foe Israel which is also known as the Axis of Resistance.
“As the page of history is turning, you are standing on the right side of it,” he said in a letter published on his official website on Thursday.
Universities in the United States were rocked by pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April, triggering campus clashes with police and the arrest of dozens of people.
The demonstrations began at Columbia University in New York and later spread across the country as well as to Europe and elsewhere.
Tehran has reiterated support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas since the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip.
The assault resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry
Regional tensions have since soared, drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
Tit-for-tat escalations led to Tehran launching hundreds of missiles and rockets directly at Israel last month.


Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip
Updated 30 May 2024
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Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip
  • The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there

RAFAH: Rafah residents reported intense artillery shelling and gunfire Thursday in Gaza’s far-southern city after Israel said it had seized a strategic corridor on the Palestinian territory’s border with Egypt.
The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there.
A strike over the weekend that started a fire and killed dozens in a displacement camp drew a wave of fresh condemnation, including a social media campaign with the slogan “All eyes on Rafah” that has been shared by tens of millions of users.
Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari announced Israel had taken “operational control” of the narrow border area, where he said troops had “discovered around 20 tunnels.”
Egypt, a longtime mediator in the conflict which has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of the Israeli operation, has rejected claims of smuggling tunnels running beneath the buffer zone.
“Israel is using these allegations to justify continuing the operation on the Palestinian city of Rafah and prolonging the war for political purposes,” a high-level Egyptian source was quoted as saying by state-linked Al-Qahera News.
Egyptian officials have said a potential Israeli takeover of Philadelphi could violate the two countries’ landmark 1979 peace deal, though there has been no official comment from Cairo since the military’s announcement.
On a visit in Beijing, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi called for increased humanitarian assistance to besieged Gaza, and reiterated his country’s longstanding opposition to “any attempt at forcing Palestinians to forcibly flee their land.”
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, meanwhile, called on Thursday for a “broad-based, authoritative and effective international peace conference” to address the war, as he hosted Arab leaders including El-Sisi.
On the ground in the Gaza Strip, witnesses reported fighting in central and western Rafah.
Witnesses also said Israeli forces had demolished several buildings in the city’s eastern areas where the Israeli incursion began on May 7, initially focusing on the vital Rafah border crossing, a key entry point for humanitarian aid.


An AFP correspondent reported artillery and gunfire in Gaza City’s southern neighborhood of Zeitun, in the territory’s north, where witnesses saw thick plumes of smoke rising over Jabalia refugee camp and Beit Lahia.
A steady stream of civilians have fled Rafah, transporting their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.
Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people were sheltering there. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported late Wednesday that two of its paramedics “were killed as a result of the Israeli occupation’s direct bombing” of an ambulance near Rafah.
The weekend Israeli strike and ensuing fire which tore through the camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, killed 45 people, according to Gaza officials and has prompted two days of discussions at the UN Security Council.
Israel has said it targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members.
In the wake of the strike, Algeria presented a draft UN resolution that “demands an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties” and the release of all hostages, but it was not clear when it would be put to a vote.
In a phone call with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday, France’s Emmanuel Macron said Paris was “determined to work with Algeria” to ensure the council “makes a strong statement on Rafah.”
He also called on Abbas to “implement necessary reforms,” offering the “prospect of recognition of the state of Palestine.”
Decisions by Spain, Norway and Ireland to formally recognize the State of Palestine this week have sparked a debate over the issue, and Macron said it should take place at a “useful moment.”
Israel’s has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza since October 7, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the war could go on until the year’s end.
“We may have another seven months of fighting to consolidate our success and achieve what we have defined as the destruction of Hamas’s power and military capabilities,” Hanegbi said.
The United States has been among the countries urging Israel to refrain from a full-scale Rafah offensive because of the risk to civilians.
However, the White House said Tuesday that so far it had not seen Israel cross President Joe Biden’s “red lines.”
The New York Times and CNN, citing weapons experts and analysis of video from the scene of the weekend Rafah strike, reported that the bomb believed to have started the fatal fire was a US-made GBU-39 guided munition.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel to quickly devise a post-war strategy for Gaza, stressing: “In the absence of a plan for the day after, there won’t be a day after.”