Mikati condemns ‘dangerous targeting’ of UN observers in Lebanon

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati. (AFP file photo)
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 31 March 2024
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Mikati condemns ‘dangerous targeting’ of UN observers in Lebanon

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati. (AFP file photo)
  • UNIFIL launches probe after 3 observers, translator injured in shelling

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister on Saturday condemned a “dangerous incident” in which UN staff were wounded by shelling.

The three UN observers and a translator had been carrying out a patrol in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah and Israel have traded blows since Oct. 8 last year.

UNIFIL, the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, is investigating the source of the attack, spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said.

Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry filed an urgent complaint before the UN Security Council over the attack, accusing Israel of targeting the patrol.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati spoke with UNIFIL commander Aroldo Lozaro, condemning the “targeting” and wounding of the peacekeepers, according to a statement from his office.

It was reported that an SUV belonging to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization observers near the B37 point on the Blue Line was attacked at around 10:15 a.m. next to Rmaych village.

A shell hit the vehicle, injuring the three observers and translator, who are from Australia, Chile, Norway and Lebanon, respectively.

They were taken on a UNIFIL helicopter to Saint George Hospital in Beirut for treatment.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry statement said: “The attack is part of Israel’s deliberate policy to disrespect resolutions of international legitimacy and its representatives since 1948, and its constant desire to eliminate all matters relating to the work of such legitimacy, including its endeavor to halt the financing of UNRWA, to eliminate the rights of the Palestinian people.”

The ministry described the attack as “a violation of international law and humanitarian law,” adding that it follows the “targeting of journalists, first responders, children, women and civilians.”

The incident took place amid hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, with cross-border strikes occurring almost daily since October last year.

On Saturday, an Israeli drone targeted a Lebanese army site in Aita Al-Shaab, with no casualties reported.

Over the past two weeks, Israel has stepped up its drone campaign to monitor and assassinate Hezbollah fighters and officials in southern Lebanon, reaching the far north of Bekaa.

Israeli drones have struck people going in and out of houses and cafes, as well as ambulances, killing civilians, first responders and Hezbollah members.

The campaign has led to claims that the injured UN staff had been hit by an Israeli drone.

But one source in contact with UNIFIL told Arab News that the organization “cannot accuse any party before investigating the matter.”

Lebanese media reports from the south claimed that an Israeli drone hit the UNIFIL vehicle, with the incident “resembling similar daily attacks that occur in the south.”

The Israeli army, through its spokesman Avichay Adraee, denied Israeli involvement in the attack.

The source close to UNIFIL said that the observers were conducting a routine patrol near Rmaych.

“The location of the attack is geographically a valley, not a confrontation zone. These observers were north of the Blue Line, meaning within Lebanese territory, and did not cross the line,” they added.

The source highlighted recent reports submitted by the UNIFIL to the UN that held Israel responsible for shelling civilians, as well as health and ambulance teams.

“Perhaps this is what disturbed Israel, so it sent a message,” they added.

Tenenti, UNIFIL’s spokesman, said: “UNTSO observers support UNIFIL in carrying out its mandate.”

He urged the need to “ensure the safety and security of UN personnel,” warning that all parties have a responsibility under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians.

The spokesman called for an end to “the heavy exchange of fire before more people become unnecessarily vulnerable to harm.”

Meanwhile, Israel continued its campaign against Hezbollah, shelling the towns of Maroun Al-Ras, Yaroun and Taybeh, and destroying three uninhabited houses. The cities of Blida and Naqoura were also targeted.

Hezbollah said it had hit Israel military assets at the Al-Malikiyah site and Ramim barracks using Burkan rockets. The group also struck a radar site in the occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms.

 

 


Israeli army says it used small munitions in Rafah airstrike, and fire was caused by secondary blast

Israeli army says it used small munitions in Rafah airstrike, and fire was caused by secondary blast
Updated 3 sec ago
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Israeli army says it used small munitions in Rafah airstrike, and fire was caused by secondary blast

Israeli army says it used small munitions in Rafah airstrike, and fire was caused by secondary blast
Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesman, said Tuesday that the military fired two 17-kilogram munitions that targeted two senior Hamas militants
He said the military is looking into the possibility that weapons were stored in the area

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip: The Israeli military says an initial investigation into a strike that sparked a deadly weekend fire in a tent camp in the southern Gaza city of Rafah has found the blaze was caused by a secondary explosion.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesman, said Tuesday that the military fired two 17-kilogram (37-pound) munitions that targeted two senior Hamas militants. He said the munitions would have been too small to ignite a fire on their own and the military is looking into the possibility that weapons were stored in the area.
Palestinian health officials say at least 45 people, around half of them women and children, were killed in Sunday’s strike. The fire also could have ignited fuel, cooking gas canisters or other materials in the densely populated camp housing displaced people.
The strike caused widespread outrage, including from some of Israel’s closest allies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was the result of a “tragic mishap.”
New strikes in the same western Tel Al-Sultan district of Rafah that was hit Sunday killed at least 16 Palestinians, the Palestinian Civil Defense and the Palestinian Red Crescent said Tuesday. Residents reported an escalation of fighting in the southern Gaza city once seen as the territory’s last refuge.
An Israeli incursion launched in early May has caused nearly 1 million to flee from Rafah, most of whom had already been displaced in the war between Israel and Hamas. They now seek refuge in squalid tent camps and other war-ravaged areas.
The United States and other allies of Israel have warned against a full-fledged offensive in the city, with the Biden administration saying that would cross a red line and refusing to provide offensive arms for such an undertaking. On Friday, the International Court of Justice called on Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, an order it has no power to enforce.
Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead, saying Israeli forces must enter Rafah to dismantle Hamas and return hostages taken in the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war.
Israel says it is carrying out limited operations in eastern Rafah along the Gaza-Egypt border. But residents reported heavy bombardment overnight in Tel Al-Sultan.
“It was a night of horror,” said Abdel-Rahman Abu Ismail, a Palestinian from Gaza City who has been sheltering in Tel Al-Sultan since December. He said he heard “constant sounds” of explosions overnight and into Tuesday, with fighter jets and drones flying over the area.
He said it reminded him of the Israeli invasion of his neighborhood of Shijaiyah in Gaza City, where Israel launched a heavy bombing campaign before sending in ground forces in late 2023. “We saw this before,” he said.
Sayed Al-Masri, a Rafah resident, said many families have been forced to flee their homes and shelters, with most heading for the crowded Muwasi area, where giant tent camps have been set up on a barren coastline, or to Khan Younis, a southern city that suffered heavy damage during months of fighting.
“The situation is worsening” in Rafah, Al-Masri said.

Syria, donors must step up to help refugees return, UN refugee chief says

Syria, donors must step up to help refugees return, UN refugee chief says
Updated 17 min 28 sec ago
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Syria, donors must step up to help refugees return, UN refugee chief says

Syria, donors must step up to help refugees return, UN refugee chief says
  • Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the Gaza war and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict showed what happens if refugee questions are left unaddressed
  • “If you leave it unattended ... it comes back with a vengeance”

BRUSSELS: The Syrian government and international aid donors must both do more if they want millions of Syrians forced to flee the country by war to return home, the UN’s refugee chief has said.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the Gaza war and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict showed what happens if refugee questions are left unaddressed.
“If you leave it unattended ... it comes back with a vengeance,” Grandi told Reuters in Brussels on the sidelines of a European Union-led conference on aid for Syrians.
The forum yielded pledges of 7.5 billion euros in grants and loans for coming years, the EU said on Monday evening.
But 13 years after an uprising against President Bashar Assad spiralled into war, the fate of more than five million Syrian refugees living outside the country is increasingly contentious.
Lebanese politicians have been pushing for more refugees to be sent home. Some 800,000 Syrians are registered with the UN refugee agency in Lebanon, whose authorities say the true number of Syrians in the country is around two million.
The issue has also risen up Europe’s political agenda, with EU member Cyprus concerned that large numbers of refugees unwelcome in Lebanon will arrive on its shores.
But Western nations have not resumed ties with Assad, regarding him as a war criminal — an accusation he denies — and saying Syria is still unsafe for large-scale returns.
Some Arab states began re-engaging with Assad in the aftermath of a deadly 2023 earthquake but had little success in convincing him to create conditions for refugee returns.
Speaking on Monday evening, Grandi said he could not tell Western countries how to engage with Assad, but they could fund humanitarian work inside Syria by organizations such as his own.
“Something has got to give in all this, you know?” he said. “You cannot have the cake and eat it. You have to invest if you want solutions.”

VOLUNTARY RETURNS
Grandi said refugees should only return voluntarily – and this could only happen if they felt safe in Syria and could rely on basics such as housing and ways to earn a living.
For Syrian authorities, this meant providing security and solving bureaucratic problems such as documentation.
“It’s slow progress, but we’re working on it,” Grandi said. He said he told Assad last year he had a “huge confidence gap” with his own people, who need convincing they can trust him.
More than 500,000 people have been killed in the Syrian war and about 150,000 remain unaccounted for.
Many of the country’s schools, water supplies and electricity stations have been destroyed. A devastating economic crunch has added to the country’s woes in recent years.
Western aid donors had an important part to play too, Grandi said, with more funding for projects inside Syria.
“We have a program in Syria, but it is not very well funded,” he said, adding one flagship scheme had only received between 30 percent and 35 percent of the required funding.
“We need to invest more to create conditions for people to go back,” he said.


Netanyahu says deadly Israeli strike in Rafah was the result of a ‘tragic mistake’

Netanyahu says deadly Israeli strike in Rafah was the result of a ‘tragic mistake’
Updated 28 May 2024
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Netanyahu says deadly Israeli strike in Rafah was the result of a ‘tragic mistake’

Netanyahu says deadly Israeli strike in Rafah was the result of a ‘tragic mistake’
  • Israeli strike in Rafah that set fire to camp housing displaced Palestinians killed at least 45 people
  • Strike has added to surging international criticism Israel has faced over its war with Hamas

TEL AVIV, Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that a “tragic mistake” was made in an Israeli strike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah that set fire to a camp housing displaced Palestinians and, according to local officials, killed at least 45 people.
The strike only added to the surging international criticism Israel has faced over its war with Hamas, with even its closest allies expressing outrage at civilian deaths. Israel insists it adheres to international law even as it faces scrutiny in the world’s top courts, one of which last week demanded that it halt the offensive in Rafah.
Netanyahu did not elaborate on the error. Israel’s military initially said it had carried out a precise airstrike on a Hamas compound, killing two senior militants. As details of the strike and fire emerged, the military said it had opened an investigation into the deaths of civilians.
Sunday night’s attack, which appeared to be one of the war’s deadliest, helped push the overall Palestinian death toll in the war above 36,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and noncombatants in its tally.
“Despite our utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night there was a tragic mistake,” Netanyahu said Monday in an address to Israel’s parliament. “We are investigating the incident and will obtain a conclusion because this is our policy.”
Mohammed Abuassa, who rushed to the scene in the northwestern neighborhood of Tel Al-Sultan, said rescuers “pulled out people who were in an unbearable state.”
“We pulled out children who were in pieces. We pulled out young and elderly people. The fire in the camp was unreal,” he said.
At least 45 people were killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and the Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service. The ministry said the dead included at least 12 women, eight children and three older adults, with another three bodies burned beyond recognition.
In a separate development, Egypt’s military said one of its soldiers was shot dead during an exchange of fire in the Rafah area, without providing further details. Israel said it was in contact with Egyptian authorities, and both sides said they were investigating.
An initial investigation found that the soldier had responded to an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants, Egypt’s state-owned Qahera TV reported. Egypt has warned that Israel’s incursion in Rafah could threaten the two countries’ decades-old peace treaty.
The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency closed meeting for Tuesday afternoon on the situation in Rafah at the request of Algeria, the Arab representative on the council, two council diplomats told The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement.
Rafah, the southernmost Gaza city on the border with Egypt, had housed more than a million people — about half of Gaza’s population — displaced from other parts of the territory. Most have fled once again since Israel launched what it called a limited incursion there earlier this month. Hundreds of thousands are packed into squalid tent camps in and around the city.
Elsewhere in Rafah, the director of the Kuwait Hospital, one of the city’s last functioning medical centers, said it was shutting down and that staff members were relocating to a field hospital. Dr. Suhaib Al-Hamas said the decision was made after a strike killed two health workers Monday at the entrance to the hospital.
Netanyahu says Israel must destroy what he says are Hamas’ last remaining battalions in Rafah. The militant group launched a barrage of rockets Sunday from the city toward heavily populated central Israel, setting off air raid sirens but causing no injuries.
The strike on Rafah brought a new wave of condemnation, even from Israel’s strongest supporters.
The US National Security Council said in a statement that the “devastating images” from the strike on Rafah were “heartbreaking.” It said the US was working with the Israeli military and others to assess what happened.
French President Emmanuel Macron was more blunt, saying “these operations must stop” in a post on X. “There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians. I call for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire,” he wrote.
The Foreign Office of Germany, which has been a staunch supporter of Israel for decades, said “the images of charred bodies, including children, from the airstrike in Rafah are unbearable.”
“The exact circumstances must be clarified, and the investigation announced by the Israeli army must now come quickly,” the ministry added. ”The civilian population must finally be better protected.”
Qatar, a key mediator in attempts to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas, said the Rafah strike could “complicate” talks, Negotiations, which appear to be restarting, have faltered repeatedly over Hamas’ demand for a lasting truce and the withdrawal of Israeli forces, terms Israeli leaders have publicly rejected.
The Israeli military’s top legal official, Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, said authorities were examining the strike in Rafah and that the military regrets the loss of civilian life.
Speaking to an Israeli lawyers’ conference, Tomer-Yerushalmi said Israel has launched 70 criminal investigations into possible violations of international law, including the deaths of civilians, the conditions at a detention facility holding suspected militants and the deaths of some inmates in Israeli custody. She said incidents of property crimes and looting were also being examined.
Israel has long maintained it has an independent judiciary capable of investigating and prosecuting abuses. But rights groups say Israeli authorities routinely fail to fully investigate violence against Palestinians and that even when soldiers are held accountable, the punishment is usually light.
Israel has denied allegations of genocide brought against it by South Africa at the International Court of Justice. Last week, the court ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, a ruling it has no power to enforce.
Separately, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three Hamas leaders, over alleged crimes linked to the war. The ICC only intervenes when it concludes that the state in question is unable or unwilling to properly prosecute such crimes.
Israel says it does its best to adhere to the laws of war. Israeli leaders also say they face an enemy that makes no such commitment, embeds itself in civilian areas and refuses to release Israeli hostages unconditionally.
Hamas triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attack into Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized some 250 hostages. Hamas still holds about 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a ceasefire last year.
Around 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes. Severe hunger is widespread, and UN officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.


Iraq’s Sadr demands closure of US embassy after Rafah strike

Iraq’s Sadr demands closure of US embassy after Rafah strike
Updated 28 May 2024
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Iraq’s Sadr demands closure of US embassy after Rafah strike

Iraq’s Sadr demands closure of US embassy after Rafah strike
  • Moqtada Sadr Sadr condemned the Israeli strike and Washington’s “shameless” support for the “genocide”

BAGHDAD: Influential Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr renewed his calls to close the US embassy in Baghdad Tuesday after an Israeli strike killed dozens of civilians in a camp in Gaza.
Health officials in Gaza said the Sunday night strike killed at least 45 people in a displaced persons’ camp in Rafah, the south Gaza city where Israel launched a controversial offensive earlier this month.
Sadr condemned the Israeli strike and Washington’s “shameless” support for the “genocide” he charged was under way in Gaza.
“I reiterate my demand to expel” the US ambassador and “close the embassy through diplomatic means without bloodshed,” he said in a statement on X.
He said that would be a more effective deterrent than the use of force and would mean US officials “don’t have an excuse to destabilize Iraq.”
Sadr once led a militia fighting US-led forces after the 2003 invasion that toppled longtime dictator Saddam Hussein.
He retains a devoted following of millions among the country’s Shiite Muslim majority community, and wields great influence over Iraqi politics.
The Iraqi foreign ministry condemned the “criminal acts that the occupation continues to commit” in Gaza, and urged the international community to take “deterrent” steps and impose sanctions on Israel.
The Israeli strike prompted a wave of international condemnation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a “tragic accident” but vowed to push on with the military campaign to destroy Hamas.
The war in Gaza began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the death of around 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,050 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
All of Iraq’s political parties support the Palestinian cause. Like its neighbor Iran, Iraq does not recognize the Israeli state.


Vessel tilts off of Yemen’s coast after missile attack, Ambrey says

Vessel tilts off of Yemen’s coast after missile attack, Ambrey says
Updated 51 min 19 sec ago
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Vessel tilts off of Yemen’s coast after missile attack, Ambrey says

Vessel tilts off of Yemen’s coast after missile attack, Ambrey says
  • The vessel issued a distress call stating it had sustained damage

SANAA: A merchant vessel off the Yemeni coast took on water and tilted to one side after being targeted with three missiles, British security firm Ambrey said on Tuesday.
The vessel issued a distress call stating it had sustained damage to the cargo hold and was taking on water approximately 54 nautical miles southwest of Yemen’s Hodeidah, Ambrey added.
“According to the distress call, the vessel was listing,” it said.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have launched repeated drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea region since November, later expanding to the Indian Ocean in what they say is solidarity with Palestinians.