Israelis stage largest anti-government protest since the war in Gaza began

Israelis stage largest anti-government protest since the war in Gaza began
People take part in a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP)
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Updated 31 March 2024
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Israelis stage largest anti-government protest since the war in Gaza began

Israelis stage largest anti-government protest since the war in Gaza began
  • Protesters blame Netanyahu for the failures of Oct. 7

JERUSALEM: Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered outside the parliament building in Jerusalem on Sunday in the largest anti-government demonstration since the country went to war in October. They urged the government to reach a ceasefire deal to free dozens of hostages held by the Hamas militant group in Gaza and to hold early elections.
Israeli society was broadly united immediately after Oct. 7, when Hamas killed some 1,200 people during a cross-border attack and took 250 others hostage. Nearly six months of conflict have renewed divisions over the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though the country remains largely in favor of the war.
Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and bring all the hostages home, yet those goals have been elusive. While Hamas has suffered heavy losses, it remains intact.
Roughly half the hostages in Gaza were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November. But attempts by international mediators to bring home the remaining hostages have failed. Talks resumed on Sunday with little expectation of a breakthrough.
Hostages’ families believe time is running out.
“We believe that no hostages will come back with this government because they’re busy putting sticks in the wheels of negotiations for the hostages,” said Boaz Atzili, whose cousin, Aviv Atlizi and his wife, Liat, were kidnapped on Oct. 7. Lait was released but Aviv was killed, and his body is in Gaza. “Netanyahu is only working in his private interests.”
PROTESTERS HAVE MANY GRIEVANCES
Protesters blame Netanyahu for the failures of Oct. 7 and say the deep political divisions over his attempted judicial overhaul last year weakened Israel ahead of the attack. Some accuse him of damaging relations with the United States, Israel’s most important ally.
Netanyahu is also facing a litany of corruption charges which are slowly making their way through the courts, and critics say his decisions appear to be focused on political survival over the national interest.
Many families of hostages had refrained from publicly denouncing Netanyahu to avoid antagonizing the leadership and making the hostages’ plight a political issue. But some now want to change course.
The crowd on Sunday stretched for blocks around the Knesset, or parliament building, and organizers vowed to continue the demonstration for several days. They urged the government to hold new elections nearly two years ahead of schedule. Thousands also demonstrated in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu, in a nationally televised speech before undergoing hernia surgery later Sunday, said he understood families’ pain. But he said calling new elections — in what he described as a moment before victory — would paralyze Israel for six to eight months and stall the hostage talks.
Netanyahu’s governing coalition appears to remain firmly intact, and even if he were ousted, top rival Benny Gantz is a war cabinet member and likely would continue many of his policies.
In his Sunday address, Netanyahu also repeated his vow for a military ground offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than half of territory’s population of 2.3 million now shelters after fleeing fighting elsewhere. “There is no victory without going into Rafah,” he said, adding that US pressure would not deter him. Israel’s military says Hamas battalions remain there.
In another reminder of Israel’s divisions, a group of reservists and retired officers demonstrated in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.
Ultra-Orthodox men for generations have received exemptions from military service, which is compulsory for most Jewish men and women. Resentment over that has deepened during the war. Netanyahu’s government has been ordered to present a new plan for a more equitable draft law by Monday.
Netanyahu, who relies heavily on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties, last week asked for an extension.
The Bank of Israel said in its annual report on Sunday that there could be economic damage if large numbers of ultra-Orthodox men continue not to serve in Israel’s military.
ISRAELI AIRSTRIKE HITS TENT CAMP AT HOSPITAL
Also Sunday, an Israeli airstrike hit a tent camp in the courtyard of a crowded hospital in central Gaza, killing two Palestinians and wounding another 15, including journalists working nearby.
An Associated Press reporter filmed the strike and aftermath at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, where thousands of people have sheltered. The Israeli military said it struck a command center of the Islamic Jihad militant group.
Tens of thousands of people have sought shelter in Gaza’s hospitals, viewing them as relatively safe from airstrikes. Israel accuses Hamas and other militants of operating in and around medical facilities, which Gaza’s health officials deny.
Those wounded in Sunday’s strike lay on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital floor and gasped while being treated, one clutching at the underside of a stretcher that held someone else.
Israeli troops have been raiding Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, for nearly two weeks and say they have killed scores of fighters, including senior Hamas operatives. Gaza’s Health Ministry said more than 100 patients remain with no potable water and septic wounds, while doctors use plastic bags for gloves.
Not far from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, dozens of Palestinian Christians gathered at the Holy Family Church to celebrate Easter, with incense wafting through the rare building that appeared untouched by war. “We are here with sadness,” attendee Winnie Tarazi said. About 600 people shelter in the compound.
GAZA’S DEATH TOLL NEARS 33,000 AND HUNGER GROWS
The United Nations and partners warn that famine could occur in devastated, largely isolated northern Gaza. Humanitarian officials say deliveries by sea and air are not enough and that Israel must allow far more aid by road. Egypt has said thousands of trucks are waiting.
The head of the World Food Program, Cindy McCain, told CBS it was able to get just nine trucks into Gaza on Thursday. “That’s nothing. We just cannot continue this way,” she said.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said Sunday that at least 32,782 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war. The ministry’s count does not differentiate between civilians and fighters, but it has said that women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.
Israel says over one-third of the dead are militants, though it has not provided evidence, and it blames Hamas for civilian casualties because the group operates in residential areas.
Amid concerns about a wider conflict in the region, Lebanese state media reported that an Israeli drone struck a car in the southern Lebanese town of Konin.
A Lebanese security official told The Associated Press that Hezbollah militant Ismail Al-Zain was killed, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Israel’s military called Al-Zain a “significant commander” in Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Forces’ anti-tank unit, which has conducted strikes into northern Israel. Hezbollah confirmed the death.


Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer
Updated 2 sec ago
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Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer
  • Popular rapper Toomaj Salehi was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death
TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme court has overturned a death sentence against popular rapper Toomaj Salehi who was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, his lawyer said Saturday.
“Salehi’s death sentence was overturned,” the rapper’s lawyer Amir Raisian said in a post on X, adding that the supreme court had ordered a retrial.

Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment

Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment
Updated 54 min 48 sec ago
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Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment

Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment
  • The explosives, found in a home in the Marka neighborhood northeast of Amman, were detonated onsite after the area was evacuated

AMMAN: Police in Jordan said on Saturday they had uncovered and detonated explosives stored in a residential area of the capital and were investigating the incident.
The explosives, found in a home in the Marka neighborhood northeast of the capital, were detonated onsite after the area was evacuated, according to a brief statement by public security directorate. Witnesses said the area was sealed by police.
The statement did not say if police suspected it was terrorism related or if arrests were made, or detail the quantity of explosives. It added more details would be published once the investigation was complete.
Over the past year, Jordan has said it has foiled many attempts to smuggle weapons by infiltrators linked to pro-Iranian militias in Syria, who it says have crossed its borders with rocket launchers and explosives, adding that some of the weapons managed to get through undetected.
Iran has denied being behind such attempts.
Most of the clandestine flow of arms into the country has been bound for the neighboring Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jordanian officials say.
There have also been arrests of several Jordanians linked to the Palestinian militant group Hamas suspected of involvement in smuggling arms to the West Bank, they add.


Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank

Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank
Updated 22 June 2024
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Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank

Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank
  • The military and Israeli police were investigating the circumstances of the death, the military said, without offering details

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said on Saturday that an Israeli civilian died after being shot near the occupied West Bank city of Qalqilya and that troops had launched an operation in the area.
The military and Israeli police were investigating the circumstances of the death, the military said, without offering details.
“IDF troops are currently operating in the area of Qalqilya after an Israeli civilian was pronounced dead, shortly after being found shot in the area,” the military said in a statement.
Israeli media reported that the dead man, who was in his 60s, was a Jewish Israeli citizen.
In recent days, there have been several violent incidents in Qalqilya and its vicinity.
On Friday, Israeli and Palestinian authorities said at least two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli operation in the city.
Israeli authorities said the two were militants from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.
Violence in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, has been on the rise for more than a year, particularly since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers across the West Bank since October 7, according to Palestinian officials.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.


Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems

Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems
Updated 22 June 2024
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Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems

Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems
  • Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates, five conservatives and a relative reformist
  • Election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions, compulsory headscarves for women

TEHRAN: With just a week remaining before a presidential election, Iranians are divided over whether voting will address pressing economic issues and mandatory hijab laws.
Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates — five conservatives and a relative reformist — to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.
The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women.
“They promise change, but won’t do much,” said Hamid Habibi, a 54-year-old shop owner at Tehran’s bustling Grand Bazar.
“I’ve watched the debates and campaigns; they speak beautifully but need to back their words with action,” he said.
Despite his skepticism, Habibi plans to vote next week.
The candidates have held two debates, each pledging to tackle the financial challenges impacting the country’s 85 million people.
“The economic situation is deteriorating daily, and I don’t foresee any improvements,” said Fariba, a 30-year-old who runs an online store.
“Regardless of who wins, our lives won’t change,” she said.

Others, like 57-year-old baker Taghi Dodangeh, remain hopeful.
“Change is certain,” he said, viewing voting as a religious duty and national obligation.
But Jowzi, a 61-year-old housewife, expressed doubts, especially about the candidate line-up.
“There’s hardly any differences between the six,” she said. “One cannot say any of them belongs to a different group.”
Iran’s Guardian Council approved six candidates after disqualifying most moderates and reformists.
Leading contenders include conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the sole reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian.
Keshvar, a 53-year-old mother, intends to vote for the candidate with the most robust economic plan.
“Young people are grappling with economic hardships,” she said.
“Raisi made efforts, but on the ground, things didn’t change much for the general public, and they were unhappy.”
In the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, many voters stayed away, resulting in a participation rate just under 49 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged a high voter turnout.
Yet, 26-year-old shopkeeper Mahdi Zeinali said he would only vote if a candidate proves to be “the right person.”
This election comes at a turbulent time, with the Gaza war raging between Iran’s adversary Israel and Tehran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, along with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Compulsory hijab laws remain contentious, particularly since mass protests triggered by the 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, was detained for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women, who are required to cover their heads and necks and wear modest clothing in public.
Despite increased enforcement, many women, especially in Tehran, defy the dress code.
Fariba expressed concern that after the election, “things would go back to where they were,” and young women won’t be able to remove their headscarves.
Jowzi, an undecided voter who wears a veil, regards it as a “personal” choice and opposes state interference.
“It makes no difference who becomes president,” she said.
“What’s important is what they actually do. It’s not important to me whether or not they have a turban. They need to act humanely.”


UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan
Updated 22 June 2024
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UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

DUBAI: The UAE will allocate $5 million to support the Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SHF) that would be managed by the United Nations, state-run WAM news agency reported. 
In an agreement with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UAE contribution to the Sudan Humanitarian Fund will be managed by OCHA, in order to “facilitate access to funds to address the most critical humanitarian needs and emergencies on the ground,” WAM reported. 
Martin Griffiths, Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, in a statement said: “We are deeply grateful to the Government and the people of the United Arab Emirates for your generous support of $70 million to help bring relief to the people of Sudan through the United Nations. With this allocation, we can bolster our lifesaving support to families and communities caught up in Sudan's unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”
“The UAE’s long-term support to Sudan is a testament to our dedication to fostering a prosperous Sudan and promoting stability in the region. We are pleased to partner with OCHA and other UN agencies to deliver vital aid to those most impacted,” according to Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s Assistant Minister for Political Affairs and Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“I reiterate the UAE’s unwavering position is to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, and a peaceful solution to the crisis,” she added.

Meanwhile, Emirati officials also signed an agreement with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) to address the humanitarian crisis in Sudan and prevent the imminent risk of famine. 

FAO has received US$5 million in funding from the UAE, which will be directed towards the project titled ‘Mitigating Famine in Sudan – Support to Conflict-Affected Vulnerable Smallholder Farming and Pastoralist Households’.

The FAO project, set to run for one year, aims to provide emergency crop, livestock, and veterinary assistance to 275,000 vulnerable smallholder farmer and pastoralist households, benefiting approximately 1,375,000 individuals.

The UAE contributions to OCHA and FAO are part of a broader commitment of $70 million dedicated to addressing urgent humanitarian needs in Sudan, through UN agencies and humanitarian organizations.

This funding is a substantial portion of the $100 million pledge made by the UAE in April at a global humanitarian conference for Sudan and its neighboring countries.
This contribution takes the total amount of UAE aid to Sudan in the past 10 years to more than $3.5 billion.