Heavy clashes, more deadly aid chaos in war-ravaged Gaza

Heavy clashes, more deadly aid chaos in war-ravaged Gaza
Heavy clashes and explosions shook Gaza, witnesses said on Saturday, as the Red Crescent reported several people killed during the latest chaotic aid distribution in the territory’s north, where famine looms. (AFP/File)
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Updated 30 March 2024
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Heavy clashes, more deadly aid chaos in war-ravaged Gaza

Heavy clashes, more deadly aid chaos in war-ravaged Gaza
  • The Palestine Red Crescent said five people were killed and dozens injured by gunfire and a stampede during an aid delivery in Gaza’s north
  • The Israeli military told AFP it “has no record of the incident described“

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Heavy clashes and explosions shook Gaza, witnesses said on Saturday, as the Red Crescent reported several people killed during the latest chaotic aid distribution in the territory’s north, where famine looms.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a new round of talks on a Gaza truce between Israel and Hamas militants, after a binding UN Security Council resolution last Monday demanded an “immediate ceasefire.”
A subsequent ruling by the world’s top court ordered Israel to ensure aid reaches civilians, whose desperation was again laid bare Saturday.
The Palestine Red Crescent said five people were killed and dozens injured by gunfire and a stampede during an aid delivery in Gaza’s north.
Eyewitnesses told AFP that Gazans overseeing the aid delivery shot in the air, but Israeli troops in the area also opened fire and some moving trucks hit people trying to get the food.
The Israeli military told AFP it “has no record of the incident described.”
Fighting has not eased — including around the territory’s largest hospital — and the latest toll from the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said at least 82 more people were killed in the previous 24 hours.
The Hamas press office reported more than 50 Israeli air strikes over the past day, with “civilian houses” targeted across the coastal territory, as well as tank fire in the Gaza City area and southern Gaza.
Israel’s military on Saturday said it had struck dozens of targets, including militants and their compounds in central and northern Gaza.
The war began with Hamas’s October 7 attack that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign against Hamas has killed at least 32,705 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.
Netanyahu’s office said new talks on a Gaza ceasefire and hostage release will take place in Doha and Cairo “in the coming days... with guidelines for moving forward in the negotiations.”
Talks had appeared deadlocked despite a push by the United States — which provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel — and fellow mediators Egypt and Qatar to secure a truce for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, now more than halfway through.
In its ruling, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague said it had accepted South Africa’s argument that the further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza required Israel to do more, with famine now “setting in.”
Saturday’s aid delivery chaos is the latest incident of its kind in north Gaza, where a UN-backed report has projected famine by May unless urgent intervention occurs.
The report released on March 19 warned that half of Gazans are feeling “catastrophic” hunger.
The Israeli defense ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, said the assessment contained inaccuracies and questionable sources.
Israel’s allies, and the UN, have blamed Israel for limitations on the aid flow but COGAT accused United Nations agencies of being unable to handle the quantity of assistance arriving daily.
With limited ground access, several nations have begun aid airdrops, and a ship was expected to depart Saturday from Cyprus with the second cargo of food assistance.
ICJ rulings are binding but it has little means of enforcement.
On Saturday Israel’s military said it was continuing operations around Gaza’s largest hospital Al-Shifa for a 13th day.
Most of the Palestinian territory’s hospitals are not functioning and its health system is “barely surviving,” the United Nations humanitarian agency, OCHA, said.
Israel’s military accuses Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group of hiding inside medical facilities, using patients, staff and displaced people for cover — charges the militants have denied.
Troops first raided Al-Shifa in November, but the army says Palestinian fighters have since returned. The army said it “continued to eliminate” militants and locate weapons in the area, adding to a toll of around 200 it earlier reported killed in the Al-Shifa operation.
On Saturday Hamas said that in addition to the ongoing Al-Shifa operation, Israeli troops continued “aggression” against Nasser Hospital and “besiege” Al-Amal Hospital in the same city.
The army said troops continue to operate in the Al-Amal area of Khan Yunis.
Gaza’s Christian minority are marking Easter weekend, but in Jerusalem fewer pilgrims were visible.
“There is a deep sadness you can feel in the air,” John Timmons, of Australia, said on Good Friday, when Christians in the walled Old City follow the path they believe Christ took to his crucifixion.
Fears of a wider regional conflagration intensified on Friday as Israel struck targets of Lebanon’s Hamas-allied Hezbollah movement in Syria and Lebanon.
Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran, Israel’s arch enemy.
The Israeli military said it killed the deputy commander of Hezbollah’s rocket unit in south Lebanon in an air strike.
In a new toll issued Saturday, a war monitor said the Israeli strikes in Syria on Friday killed seven Hezbollah members, seven Syrian pro-Iran fighters and 38 Syrian soldiers, the highest Syrian army toll in Israeli strikes since the Gaza war began.
“We have turned from the ones who are repelling Hezbollah to the ones who are chasing them. We reach all the places that Hezbollah is present,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on a visit to Northern Command, vowing to “speed up the pace.”
The United Nations said four of its military observers were wounded Saturday when a shell exploded near them in southern Lebanon.
In their October attack, Palestinian militants also seized about 250 hostages. Israel believes about 130 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.
Netanyahu is under domestic pressure, facing regular demonstrations, over his failure to bring home all of the captives.


Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel
Updated 24 June 2024
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Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

BEIRUT: Thousands of fighters from Iran-backed groups in the Middle East are ready to come to Lebanon to join with the militant Hezbollah group in its battle with Israel if the simmering conflict escalates into a full-blown war, officials with Iran-backed factions and analysts say.
Almost daily exchanges of fire have occurred along Lebanon’s frontier with northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip staged a bloody assault on southern Israel in early October that set off a war in Gaza.
The situation to the north worsened this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets and explosive drones into northern Israel.
Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated end to push Hezbollah away from the border.
Over the past decade, Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan fought together in Syria’s 13-year conflict, helping tip the balance in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Officials from Iran-backed groups say they could also join together again against Israel.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Wednesday that militant leaders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries have previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but he said the group already has more than 100,000 fighters.
“We told them, thank you, but we are overwhelmed by the numbers we have,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah said the battle in its current form is using only a portion of Hezbollah’s manpower, an apparent reference to the specialized fighters who fire missiles and drones.
But that could change in the event of an all-out war. Nasrallah hinted at that possibility in a speech in 2017 in which he said fighters from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan “will be partners” of such a war.
Officials from Lebanese and Iraqi groups backed by Iran say Iran-backed fighters from around the region will join in if war erupts on the the Lebanon-Israel border. Thousands of such fighters are already deployed in Syria and could easily slip through the porous and unmarked border.
Some of the groups have already staged attacks on Israel and its allies since the Israel-Hamas war started Oct. 7. The groups from the so-called “axis of resistance” say they are using a “unity of arenas strategy” and they will only stop fighting when Israel ends its offensive in Gaza against their ally, Hamas.
“We will be (fighting) shoulder to shoulder with Hezbollah” if an all-out war breaks out, one official with an Iran-backed group in Iraq told The Associated Press in Baghdad, insisting on speaking anonymously to discuss military matters. He refused to give further details.
The official, along with another from Iraq, said some advisers from Iraq are already in Lebanon.
An official with a Lebanese Iran-backed group, also insisting on anonymity, said fighters from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, Afghanistan’s Fatimiyoun, Pakistan Zeinabiyoun and the Iran-backed rebel group in Yemen known as Houthis could come to Lebanon to take part in a war.

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march during Al-Quds or Jerusalem Day in Baghdad, Iraq on June 8, 2019. (AP/File photo)

Qassim Qassir, an expert on Hezbollah, agreed the current fighting is mostly based on high technology such as firing missiles and does not need a large number of fighters. But if a war broke out and lasted for a long period, Hezbollah might need support from outside Lebanon, he said.
“Hinting to this matter could be (a message) that these are cards that could be used,” he said.
Israel is also aware of the possible influx of foreign fighters.
Eran Etzion, former head of policy planning for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a panel discussion hosted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute on Thursday that he sees “a high probability” of a “multi-front war.”
He said there could be intervention by the Houthis and Iraqi militias and a “massive flow of jihadists from (places) including Afghanistan, Pakistan” into Lebanon and into Syrian areas bordering Israel.
Daniel Hagari, Israel’s military spokesman, said in a televised statement this past week that since Hezbollah started its attacks on Israel on Oct. 8, it has fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank missiles and drones toward Israel.
“Hezbollah’s increasing aggression is bringing us to the brink of what could be a wider escalation, one that could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Hagari said. “Israel will continue fighting against Iran’s axis of evil on all fronts.”
Hezbollah officials have said they don’t want an all-out war with Israel but if it happens they are ready.

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen outside Sanaa on Jan. 22, 2024. (AP/File photo)

“We have taken a decision that any expansion, no matter how limited it is, will be faced with an expansion that deters such a move and inflicts heavy Israeli losses,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Kassem, said in a speech this past week.
The UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and the commander of the UN peacekeeping force deployed along Lebanon’s southern border, Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lázaro, said in a joint statement that “the danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real.”
The last large-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah occurred in the summer of 2006, when the two fought a 34-day war that killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon and 140 in Israel.
Since the latest run of clashes began, more than 400 people have been killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them fighters but including 70 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 16 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands have been displaced on both sides of the border.
Qassir, the analyst, said that if foreign fighters did join in, it would help them that they fought together in Syria in the past.
“There is a common military language between the forces of axis of resistance and this is very important in fighting a joint battle,” he said.=


Lebanese minister denies Hezbollah weapons at Beirut airport

Ali Hamieh. (Twitter @alihamie_lb)
Ali Hamieh. (Twitter @alihamie_lb)
Updated 24 June 2024
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Lebanese minister denies Hezbollah weapons at Beirut airport

Ali Hamieh. (Twitter @alihamie_lb)
  • Israel has for years accused Hezbollah of keeping precision rockets and missiles in different installations throughout Lebanon, including on a site near Beirut airport

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s transport minister denied on Sunday that Hezbollah was storing weapons at Beirut airport, as fears grow of all-out war between the militant group and Israel.
Ali Hamieh called a press conference to deny the allegations of “absurd articles” in the media, and attacked the British daily The Telegraph.
The newspaper said the Shiite militant group is storing missiles and rockets at the airport, where “whistleblowers” had reported the arrival of “unusually big boxes.”
Backed by Iran, Hezbollah has been exchanging near-daily fire with Israeli forces in support of its ally, Hamas. The Palestinian movement has been at war with Israel since October 7 when Hamas militants from Gaza attacked southern Israel.
“I am holding this press conference to clarify that everything that has been written in The Telegraph is false and to say that there are no weapons entering or leaving Beirut airport,” Hamieh told journalists.
He spoke from Beirut International Airport, located in an area south of the capital where Hezbollah is influential.
Hamieh invited ambassadors and journalists to inspect the airport on Monday morning in a visit “open to all“
The Lebanese air transport union condemned in a statement “simply erroneous statements and lies aimed at endangering Beirut airport and its employees, all civilians, and those who frequent it.”
Israel has for years accused Hezbollah of keeping precision rockets and missiles in different installations throughout Lebanon, including on a site near Beirut airport.
Hezbollah denies this.
More than eight months of exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and Israeli forces have left 480 people dead in Lebanon, mostly fighters, but also 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.
Cross-border exchanges and tension have escalated over the past two weeks after an Israeli air strike killed a senior Hezbollah commander.
 

 


An Israel offensive into Lebanon risks an Iranian military response, top US military leader says

An Israel offensive into Lebanon risks an Iranian military response, top US military leader says
Updated 24 June 2024
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An Israel offensive into Lebanon risks an Iranian military response, top US military leader says

An Israel offensive into Lebanon risks an Iranian military response, top US military leader says
  • US President Joe Biden’s senior adviser Amos Hochstein met with officials in Lebanon and Israel last week in an effort to deescalate tensions
  • Pentagon officials have said that Austin has also raised concerns about a broader conflict when he spoke to Gallant in a recent phone call

ESPARGOS, Cape Verde: The top US military officer said Sunday that an Israeli military offensive into Lebanon will risk an Iranian response in defense of Hezbollah, triggering a broader war that could put US forces in the region in danger.
Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran “would be more inclined to support Hezbollah.” He added Tehran supports Hamas, but would give greater backing to Hezbollah “particularly if they felt that Hezbollah was being significantly threatened.”
Brown spoke to reporters as he traveled to Botswana for a meeting of African defense ministers.
Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated end to push Hezbollah away from the border. Just days ago, Israel’s military said it had “approved and validated” plans for an offensive in Lebanon, even as the US works to prevent the months of cross-border attacks from spiraling into a full-blown war.
US officials have tried to broker a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The issue is expected to come up this week as Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visits Washington for meetings with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior US officials.
US President Joe Biden’s senior adviser Amos Hochstein met with officials in Lebanon and Israel last week in an effort to deescalate tensions. Hochstein told reporters in Beirut on Tuesday that it was a “very serious situation” and that a diplomatic solution to prevent a larger war was urgent.
Brown also said the US won’t likely be able to help Israel defend itself against a broader Hezbollah war as well as it helped Israel fight off the Iranian barrage of missiles and drones in April. It is harder to fend off the shorter-range rockets that Hezbollah fires routinely across the border into Israel, he said.
Pentagon officials have said that Austin has also raised concerns about a broader conflict when he spoke to Gallant in a recent phone call.
“Given the amount of rocket fire we’ve seen going from both sides of the border, we’ve certainly been concerned about that situation, and both publicly and privately have been urging all parties to restore calm along that border, and again, to seek a diplomatic solution,” said Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary last week.
A war between the two heavily-armed foes could be devastating to both countries and incur mass civilian casualties. Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal is believed to be far more extensive than Hamas’.
Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah have exchanged fire across Lebanon’s border with northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip staged a bloody assault on southern Israel in early October that set off the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
The situation escalated this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets and explosive drones into northern Israel and Israel responded with a heavy assault on the militant group.
Israeli strikes have killed more than 400 people in Lebanon, including 70 civilians. On Israel’s side, 16 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed.
An escalation in the conflict could also trigger wider involvement by other Iran-backed militant groups in the region, leading to all-out war.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech last Wednesday that militant leaders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries have previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but he said the group already has more than 100,000 fighters.

 


Heads of churches say Israeli government is demanding they pay property tax, upsetting status quo

Heads of churches say Israeli government is demanding they pay property tax, upsetting status quo
Updated 23 June 2024
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Heads of churches say Israeli government is demanding they pay property tax, upsetting status quo

Heads of churches say Israeli government is demanding they pay property tax, upsetting status quo

JERUSALEM: Leaders of major churches have accused Israeli authorities of launching a “coordinated attack” on the Christian presence in the Holy Land by initiating tax proceedings against them.
While Israeli officials have tried to dismiss the disagreement as a routine financial matter, the churches say the move upsets a centuries-old status quo and reflects mounting intolerance for the tiny Christian presence in the Holy Land.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, the heads of the major Christian denominations alleged that four municipalities across Israel had recently submitted warning letters to church officials cautioning them of legal action if they did not pay taxes.
“We believe these efforts represent a coordinated attack on the Christian presence in the Holy Land,” wrote the heads of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches. “In this time, when the whole world, and the Christian world in particular, are constantly following the events in Israel, we find ourselves, once again, dealing with an attempt by authorities to drive the Christian presence out of the Holy Land.”
Christians are a tiny minority, making up less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories. There are 182,000 Christians in Israel, 50,000 in the West Bank and Jerusalem and 1,300 in Gaza, according to the US State Department. The vast majority are Palestinians.
The churches, who are major landowners in the Holy Land, say they do not pay property taxes under longstanding tradition. They say their funds go to services that benefit the state, like schools, hospitals and homes for the elderly.
The letter said the municipalities of Tel Aviv, Ramla, Nazareth and Jerusalem in recent months have all either issued warning letters or commenced legal action for alleged tax debts.
The Jerusalem municipality told The Associated Press that the church had not submitted the necessary requests for tax exemptions over the last few years. It said that “a dialogue is taking place with the churches to collect debts for the commercial properties they own.”
The other municipalities did not immediately comment. It was unclear if the municipalities acted in a coordinated effort or whether the tax moves are coincidental.
In 2018, Christians closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — revered by Christians as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection — to protest a move by Israeli officials to impose taxes on commercial properties in the holy city.
The Christian leaders argued that the sites — like pilgrim hostels and information centers — served important religious and cultural purposes, and that taxing them would infringe on Christian religious observance in the Holy Land. After the public backlash, Netanyahu quickly suspended the plan.


Bahrain and Iran agree to start talks on resuming political relations

Bahrain and Iran agree to start talks on resuming political relations
Updated 24 June 2024
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Bahrain and Iran agree to start talks on resuming political relations

Bahrain and Iran agree to start talks on resuming political relations
  • Bahrain’s minister of foreign affairs Abdullatif Al-Zayani and Iran’s acting foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani met in Tehran

LONDON: Bahrain and Iran agreed on Sunday to start talks aimed at resuming political relations between the two countries, Bahrain News Agency reported.

A joint statement was released after a meeting that brought together Bahrain’s minister of foreign affairs Abdullatif Al-Zayani and Iran’s acting foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani in Tehran.

According to the statement carried by BNA, the discussions were held “within the framework of the historical fraternal relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the ties of religion, neighborhood, common history and mutual interests between them.”