Battle rages at Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital

Update Palestinians flee the area after Israeli bombardment in central Gaza City on March 18, 2024. (AFP)
Palestinians flee the area after Israeli bombardment in central Gaza City on March 18, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 19 March 2024
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Battle rages at Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital

Palestinians flee the area after Israeli bombardment in central Gaza City on March 18, 2024. (AFP)
  • Witnesses reported air strikes and tanks near the complex crowded with thousands of Palestinian patients and displaced people
  • UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said Monday he intended to visit Gaza but had been denied entry by “Israeli authorities”

GAZA STRIP: Fighting raged Monday in and around the besieged Gaza Strip’s largest hospital complex where Israel said its forces killed and arrested Hamas militants, as Palestinians fled by foot under heavy bombardment.
While the army launched the overnight raid at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, the Israeli government sent the head of its Mossad spy agency to Qatar for renewed talks toward a ceasefire and hostage release deal.
The devastating war since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel has left roughly half of Gazans — around 1.1 million people — experiencing “catastrophic” hunger, a UN-backed food security assessment warned.
The expert report is “exhibit A for the need for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, decrying an “entirely man-made disaster.”
“We must act now to prevent the unthinkable, the unacceptable and the unjustifiable,” he said.
Gaza’s soaring civilian death toll and large-scale destruction have hardened global opposition to Israel’s military operation and siege, including accusations of deliberate starvation of Palestinian civilians.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Israel’s military campaign had turned long-blockaded Gaza from the world’s “greatest open-air prison” into its biggest “open-air graveyard,” and that Israel was using famine as a “weapon of war.”
Foreign Minister Israel Katz replied that “Israel allows extensive humanitarian aid into Gaza” and accused Borrell of “attacking Israel.”
In the latest heavy battle, Israeli forces raided Al-Shifa in an operation the army said targeted senior Hamas militants.
Witnesses reported air strikes and tanks near the complex crowded with thousands of Palestinian patients and displaced people.
AFP images showed black smoke engulfing parts of the city after bombardment, with Palestinians fleeing by foot along rubble-strewn roads as others treated the wounded in the street.
The health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said nearby residents had reported dozens of casualties who could not be helped “due to the intensity of gunfire and artillery shelling.”
An AFP journalist witnessed air strikes on buildings in the area around Al-Shifa and reported seeing “hundreds of people, mostly children, women, and the elderly, fleeing their homes.”
The Israeli military, which had asked Gazans to evacuate the area, said 20 militants were killed and dozens of others were detained at the hospital.
The army identified one of the fatalities as Hamas internal security official Fayq Al-Mabhouh, saying that “weapons were located in the room adjacent to where he was eliminated.”
A Gaza police source confirmed his death and said he was a brigadier general in the force. Relatives said he was also the brother of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas’s armed wing slain in Dubai in 2010.
Israeli forces previously raided Al-Shifa in November, when ground operations were focused on northern Gaza. In January Israel said it had “completed the dismantling” of Hamas’s command structure in the area.
Israel has repeatedly said the complex housed an underground Hamas control base, which the militants have denied.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “terribly worried” about the renewed fighting around Al-Shifa which was “endangering health workers, patients and civilians.”
The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Militants also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 who are presumed dead.
Israel has carried out a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive that Gaza’s health ministry says has killed at least 31,726 people, most of them women and children.
As the fighting flared around Al-Shifa, elsewhere in Gaza City a massive crowd gathered at a UN food distribution center to collect bags of flour.
“There’s nothing to eat or drink. Children are dying,” said resident Umm Omar Al-Masharwai.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which operates the facility and coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has faced funding cuts since Israel accused about a dozen of its employees of involvement in the October 7 attack.
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said Monday he intended to visit Gaza but had been denied entry by “Israeli authorities,” a claim Israel did not immediately comment on.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi accused Israel of “starving children to death” in its siege of the Gaza Strip, and humanitarian charity Oxfam said Israel was “systematically and deliberately” blocking aid.
Global concern has focussed on Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah, where about 1.5 million Palestinians now live, many of them in crowded shelters and tent cities near the Egyptian border.
Repeated Israeli warnings of a looming ground invasion have raised fears of an even worse humanitarian catastrophe.
Responding to concerns voiced by top ally the United States and other governments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reiterated that civilians would be evacuated from Rafah before any ground attack, without detailing where to.
Mediation efforts toward a truce were expected to resume, following a week-long ceasefire in November.
A meeting in Qatar between Israel’s Mossad spy chief, David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Egyptian officials “is expected to take place today,” a source close to the talks said.
It follows the latest proposal submitted by Hamas for a six-week truce, vastly more aid into Gaza and the initial release of about 42 hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
During the proposed truce, Israeli forces would withdraw from “all cities and populated areas” in Gaza, according to a Hamas official.
Netanyahu’s office said on Friday that Hamas’s new proposal was “unrealistic” but that Israel would send a delegation to Doha.
The White House said US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu spoke on Monday in their first call for over a month, with tensions rising over the war and its impact on civilians.


Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in fatal assault sinks in Red Sea in second-such sinking

Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in fatal assault sinks in Red Sea in second-such sinking
Updated 19 June 2024
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Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in fatal assault sinks in Red Sea in second-such sinking

Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in fatal assault sinks in Red Sea in second-such sinking
  • The Tutor came under attack about a week ago by a bomb-carrying Houthi drone boat in the Red Sea

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A bulk carrier sank days after an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels believed to have killed one mariner on board, authorities said early Wednesday, the second-such ship to be sunk in the rebel campaign.
The sinking of the Tutor in the Red Sea marks what appears to be a new escalation by the Iranian-backed Houthis in their campaign targeting shipping through the vital maritime corridor over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
The attack comes despite a monthslong US-led campaign in the region that has seen the Navy face its most-intense maritime fighting since World War II, with near-daily attacks targeting commercial vessels and warship.
The Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned-and-operated Tutor sank in the Red Sea, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said in a warning to sailors in the region.
“Military authorities report maritime debris and oil sighted in the last reported location,” the UKMTO said. “The vessel is believed to have sunk.”
The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge the sinking. The US military as well did not immediately acknowledge the sinking and did not respond to requests for comment.
The Tutor came under attack about a week ago by a bomb-carrying Houthi drone boat in the Red Sea. John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, said Monday that the attack killed “a crew member who hailed from the Philippines.” The Philippines has yet to acknowledge the death, but the man who had been aboard the Tutor has been missing for over a week in the Red Sea, which faces intense summertime heat.
The use of a boat loaded with explosives raised the specter of 2000’s USS Cole attack, a suicide assault by Al-Qaeda on the warship when it was at port in Aden, killing 17 on board. The Cole is now part of a US Navy operation led by the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Red Sea to try and halt the Houthi attacks, though the rebels continue their assaults.
The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, killing four sailors. They’ve seized one vessel and sunk two since November, according to the US Maritime Administration. A US-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis since January, with a series of strikes May 30 killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the rebels say.
In March, the Belize-flagged Rubymar carried a load of fertilizer sank in the Red Sea after taking on water for days following a rebel attack.
The Houthis have maintained their attacks target ships linked to Israel, the US or the UK However, many of the ships they’ve attacked have little or no connection to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
The war in Gaza has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians there, while hundreds of others have been killed in Israeli operations in the West Bank. It began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage.
A recent report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency acknowledged container shipping through Red Sea has declined by 90 percent since December over the attacks. As much as 15 percent of the world’s maritime traffic flows through that corridor.

 


UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause

UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause
Updated 19 June 2024
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UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause

UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause
  • The UN welcomed the move, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Tuesday

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations said on Tuesday it has been unable to distribute aid in the Gaza Strip from the Israel-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing because of lawlessness and panic among hungry people in the area, despite Israel’s daytime pause in military activity.
Israel’s military said on Sunday there would be a daily pause in its attacks from 0500 GMT until 1600 GMT until further notice along the road that leads from Israel via the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah Al-Din Road and northwards in Gaza.
The UN welcomed the move, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Tuesday, but added that “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need.” He said the area between Kerem Shalom and the Salah Al-Din road was very dangerous.
“Fighting is not the only reason for being unable to pick up aid ... The lack of any police or rule of law in the area makes it very dangerous to move goods there,” he said.
“But we are ready to engage with all parties to ensure that aid reaches people in Gaza, and we’ll continue to work with the authorities and with security forces, trying to see what can be done to have security conditions,” Haq said.
“When aid gets to a place, people are starving, and they’re worried that this may be the last food that they see,” he said. “They have to be assured that there’s going to be a regular flow of goods so that there’s not a panic when we get to the area.”
The United Nations and aid groups have long complained of the dangers and obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza, where the UN had warned a famine is looming.
Since the Israel-Hamas war began more than eight months ago, aid for 2.3 million Palestinians has primarily entered through two crossings into southern Gaza — the Rafah crossing from Egypt and the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel.
But deliveries were disrupted when Israel stepped up its military operations in Rafah last month with the stated aim of routing remaining units of Hamas fighters. Egypt closed the Rafah crossing due to the threat posed to humanitarian work and has routed a backlog of aid and fuel via Kerem Shalom.
Haq said on Tuesday that the Rafah crossing remained closed and there was limited access via Kerem Shalom. In Gaza’s north, he said the Erez crossing was not accessible due to an escalation of fighting, while the West Erez and Zikim crossings were operational.


Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew

Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew
Updated 18 June 2024
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Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew

Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew
  • Galaxy Leader management: ‘There is nothing to be gained by the Houthis in keeping the 25 crew members’
  • Houthis hold captive the Bulgarian ship master and chief officer, along with 17 Filipinos and other sailors from Ukraine, Mexico and Romania

Managers of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship on Tuesday renewed calls for the release of the vessel’s 25 crew being held by Yemen’s Houthi militants for seven months.
The militants used helicopters to attack the Bahamas-flagged ship on Nov. 19. They captured the Bulgarian ship master and chief officer, along with 17 Filipinos and other sailors from Ukraine, Mexico and Romania, the ship managers said.
“There is nothing to be gained by the Houthis in keeping the 25 crew members,” said the ship managers, who requested that they be released to their families without further delay.
The Houthis have used drones and missiles to assault ships in the Red Sea, the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden since November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war. Since then, they have sunk one ship, seized another vessel and killed three seafarers in separate attacks.
The International Chamber of Shipping, which represents ship owners, has called the Houthi attacks “unacceptable acts of aggression which threaten the lives of innocent seafarers and the safety of merchant shipping.”
Last week, Houthis notched up direct strikes on two ships — the Liberan-flagged Tutor coal carrier and Palau-flagged Verbena, which was loaded with wood construction material.
Those assaults prompted security experts to note a significant increase in the effectiveness of the Iran-aligned militants’ drone and missile attacks.
Rescuers evacuated crews from the damaged ships due to safety risks. One sailor from the Tutor remains missing. Both ships are now adrift and vulnerable to further attack or sinking.
US and British forces on Monday conducted airstrikes targeting Yemen’s Hodeidah International Airport and Kamaran Island near the port of Salif off the Red Sea.


Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’

Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’
Updated 18 June 2024
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Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’

Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’
  • “As part of the situational assessment, operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated," the military said
  • "Decisions were taken on the continuation of increasing the readiness of troops in the field"

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Tuesday operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were "approved and validated", as Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement engaged in cross-border exchanges of fire.
Senior Israeli military officials "held a joint situational assessment in the Northern Command. As part of the situational assessment, operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated," the military said in a statement.
"Decisions were taken on the continuation of increasing the readiness of troops in the field."
Lebanon's Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, and Israel have been trading near-daily fire since the Gaza war was trigged by the Palestinian militant group's October 7 attack on southern Israel.
The sign-off came as Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz earlier warned Hezbollah that it would be destroyed in the event of a "total war" between the two.
"We are very close to the moment when we will decide to change the rules of the game against Hezbollah and Lebanon. In a total war, Hezbollah will be destroyed and Lebanon will be hit hard," Katz said, according to a statement from his office.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this month that the military was ready for an intense operation in Lebanon if necessary, pledging to restore security to the country's northern border.
US special envoy Amos Hochstein was in Lebanon on Tuesday a day after meeting Israeli leaders, seeking "urgent" de-escalation on the Israel-Lebanon border.


Iran slaps one-year prison term on Nobel winner Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
Updated 18 June 2024
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Iran slaps one-year prison term on Nobel winner Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
  • Mohammadi refused to attend a trial session in Tehran earlier this month, and in March shared an audio message from prison in which she decried a ‘full-scale war against women’ in Iran

TEHRAN: An Iranian court has sentenced Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi to a year in prison for “propaganda against the state,” the jailed activist’s lawyer said on Tuesday.
Mohammadi, 52, has been jailed since November 2021 over several past convictions relating to her advocacy against the obligatory hijab for women and capital punishment in Iran.
Lawyer Mostafa Nili said on X that “Mohammadi was sentenced to one year in prison for propaganda against the system.”
Nili said “the reasons for issuing this sentence” include calls to boycott parliamentary elections, letters to Swedish and Norwegian lawmakers and “comments about Mrs.Dina Ghalibaf.”
Rights groups have said that Ghalibaf, a journalist and student, had been taken into custody after accusing security forces on social media of putting her in handcuffs and sexually assaulting her during a previous arrest at a metro station. Ghalibaf has since been released.
The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan Online website said on April 22 that Ghalibaf “had not been raped” and that she was being prosecuted for making a “false statement.”
Iranian police  have intensified enforcement of the country’s dress code for women.