Gaza sea corridor aid returns to Cyprus after Israel kills NGO workers

Gaza sea corridor aid returns to Cyprus after Israel kills NGO workers
A Cyprus Coast Guard patrol boat approaches the Guinea-Bissau-flagged cargo ship Jennifer, carrying food aid provided by US charity World Central Kitchen (WCK) bound for the Gaza Strip, off the coast of Cyprus’ southern port city of Laranca on Mar. 30, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 03 April 2024
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Gaza sea corridor aid returns to Cyprus after Israel kills NGO workers

Gaza sea corridor aid returns to Cyprus after Israel kills NGO workers
  • The barge was part of a four-vessel flotilla which set sail from Larnaca on March 30
  • “The tragic events must not discourage us,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said

NICOSIA: Seaborne aid for Gaza is returning to Cyprus after Israel killed seven aid workers of World Central Kitchen, Cypriot officials said on Tuesday, as the US-based charity said it would pause work in the occupied Palestinian territory.
World Central Kitchen (WCK) staff had just offloaded 100 tons of food aid from a barge which sailed from Cyprus when Israel attacked their vehicle convoy overnight on Monday in an airstrike.
The barge was part of a four-vessel flotilla which set sail from Larnaca, Cyprus, on March 30. Another vessel still loaded with 240 tons of food, the Jennifer, was heading back to Cyprus on Tuesday with the empty barge, a salvage boat and a tugboat after WCK suspended operations.
“They only managed to offload the barge,” a Cypriot official told Reuters. “One third (of the aid cargo) was delivered, and two thirds is coming back.”
Monday’s attack was a serious setback in attempts to expedite aid into Gaza, where international agencies say many are on the verge of famine as a result of the Israeli assault, which has killed more than 32,000 people.
Israel has said the attack was “tragic” and unintended, though WCK said it had coordinated movements with the Israeli military and two armored cars were emblazoned with the charity’s logo.
The United Arab Emirates, which had been the main financier for WCK’s aid efforts through the maritime corridor, said it was pausing humanitarian aid efforts though that channel pending further safety guarantees and a full investigation, a UAE official said.
“The tragic events must not discourage us. We need to double down on efforts to get aid to Gaza,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said after a meeting with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.
WCK has been active in Gaza since October, bringing food by land routes and also participating in air drops.
In March it launched an inaugural sea corridor transporting aid to the enclave from Cyprus.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos, who said Cypriot authorities had been in touch with WCK, said the strike occurred 12 km (7 miles) from the landing area for aid — a makeshift jetty created by the charity.
The aid workers had just ended a shift halfway through the offloading process, which was supposed to resume early on Tuesday, the Cypriot minister said.
“This is something that has now been frozen and since WCK has made the announcement — they will be leaving the area in order to come back, regroup and see and assess what the next steps are,” Kombos said.
Cyprus had played a pivotal role in establishing a maritime route to Gaza by offering a fast-track on-island security screening process overseen by Israel.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, the UAE and Cyprus expressed “profound condemnation” over Israel’s strike.

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Heavy rocket fire from Lebanon at northern Israel

Heavy rocket fire from Lebanon at northern Israel
Updated 4 sec ago
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Heavy rocket fire from Lebanon at northern Israel

Heavy rocket fire from Lebanon at northern Israel
JERUSALEM: Air raid sirens sounded across cities in northern Israel on Thursday and Israeli officials said about 40 rockets had been fired from Lebanon in the afternoon.
State broadcaster Kan aired footage of numerous mid-air interceptions of rockets above Israeli towns, including in Safed, some 12 km (7.5 miles) from the border.
Two people were wounded by shrapnel, Israel’s national ambulance service said.
Iran-backed Hezbollah opened a second front against Israel shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel that triggered the war in Gaza. The Israel-Lebanon border has seen increasing attacks in both directions since.
The violence escalated this week with Hezbollah firing even more rockets as part of a retaliation for an Israeli strike that killed one of its senior field commanders.
Washington on Thursday expressed concern that fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border could spiral into a full-out war and called for new security arrangements.

More than half of cropland in hungry Gaza is damaged, UN says

More than half of cropland in hungry Gaza is damaged, UN says
Updated 22 min 46 sec ago
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More than half of cropland in hungry Gaza is damaged, UN says

More than half of cropland in hungry Gaza is damaged, UN says
  • The data reveals a rise in the destruction of orchards, field crops and vegetables in the Palestinian enclave
  • 57 percent of Gaza’s permanent crop fields and arable lands essential for food security had shown a significant decline in density and health

GENEVA: More than half of Gaza’s agricultural land, crucial for feeding the war-ravaged territory’s hungry population, has been degraded by conflict, satellite images analyzed by the United Nations show.
The data reveals a rise in the destruction of orchards, field crops and vegetables in the Palestinian enclave, where hunger is widespread after eight months of Israeli bombardment.
The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that many people in Gaza were facing “catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions.”
Using satellite imagery taken between May 2017 and 2024, United Nations Satellite Center (UNOSAT) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that 57 percent of Gaza’s permanent crop fields and arable lands essential for food security had shown a significant decline in density and health.
“In May 2024, crop health and density across the Gaza Strip showed a marked decline compared to the average of the previous seven seasons,” UNOSAT said on Thursday.
“This deterioration is attributed to conflict-related activities, including razing, heavy vehicle movement, bombing, and shelling.”
The decline, UNOSAT said, marked a 30 percent increase in damaged agricultural land since it published its last analysis in April.
Israel’s ground and air campaign was triggered when Hamas stormed southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The offensive has killed more than 37,000 people in Gaza, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave, and has caused mass destruction and cut off routes for aid.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday there were more than 8,000 children under five years old in Gaza who had been treated for acute malnutrition.
As well as damage to crop fields and orchards, greenhouses across the Gaza Strip had also sustained significant damage, UNOSAT said.
The Gaza Strip has an estimated 151 square kilometers of agricultural land, which makes up about 41 percent of the coastal enclave’s territory, according to data from UNOSAT.


Iraq warns of ‘danger’ in Lebanon conflict expanding

Iraq warns of ‘danger’ in Lebanon conflict expanding
Updated 27 min 59 sec ago
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Iraq warns of ‘danger’ in Lebanon conflict expanding

Iraq warns of ‘danger’ in Lebanon conflict expanding
  • The exchanges between Israel and Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group, an ally of Hamas, have intensified in recent weeks, sparking fears of wider war
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s foreign minister on Thursday, receiving his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad, warned of the dangers of conflict expanding in southern Lebanon and its repercussions across the Middle East.
Near-daily cross-border fire between Lebanese-based militants and Israeli forces have occurred since Palestinian group Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7, triggering the ongoing aggression in the Gaza Strip.
The exchanges between Israel and Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group, an ally of Hamas, have intensified in recent weeks, sparking fears of wider war.
“If southern Lebanon is attacked, it will affect the entire region,” Iraq’s top diplomat Fuad Hussein said at a press conference with Iran’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri, who also voiced opposition to a regional escalation.
“The expansion of the war is a danger, not only for Lebanon but for the entire region,” Hussein said, repeating his call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
The Iranian minister similarly called for “putting an end as quickly as possible, and without preconditions,” to “war crimes” and “genocide” in the Gaza Strip.
He said Israel, in response to their “failure” in Gaza, “may seek to commit further wrongs and broaden the scope of their aggression,” but Iran would not allow anyone “to harm stability and regional security, even if only a little.”
Experts have said they believe risk of a wider war is limited.
Hezbollah, a major ally of Tehran’s, launched a barrage of rockets at northern Israel on Wednesday and promised to intensify its attacks after the killing of a top military commander the day before in an Israeli strike.
The Israeli military said more than 150 projectiles were fired from Lebanon into Israel in successive barrages, without any reported casualties, adding that they responded with strikes against several targets in southern Lebanon.

Most of Kuwait fire victims are Indians, minister says

Most of Kuwait fire victims are Indians, minister says
Updated 57 min 44 sec ago
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Most of Kuwait fire victims are Indians, minister says

Most of Kuwait fire victims are Indians, minister says
  • Victims will be repatriated to India by military aircraft
  • Kuwait’s Emir orders financial compensation for the families of the victims

KUWAIT: Most of the victims in a deadly blaze that engulfed a block housing immigrant workers were from India, Kuwait’s foreign minister said on Thursday, raising the death toll to 50.
Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Meshaal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah ordered financial compensation for the families of the victims, who will be repatriated to India in military aircraft, according to an official statement.

Three Filipinos were among the dead, Philippines officials said, after the fire sent black smoke billowing through the six-story building south of Kuwait City.
At least 43 more were injured in the fire in Mangaf, south of Kuwait City, which broke out around dawn on Wednesday at the ground level of the block housing nearly 200 workers.
“One of the injured died” overnight, Foreign Minister Abdullah Al-Yahya told reporters, after 49 people were declared dead on Wednesday.
“The majority of the dead are Indians,” he added. “There are other nationalities but I don’t remember exactly.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country is “doing everything possible to assist those affected by this gruesome fire tragedy,” in a post on X late on Wednesday.
Next of kin will receive payments of 200,000 rupees ($2,400), Modi’s office announced.
In Manila, the Department of Migrant Workers said three Filipinos died from smoke inhalation, with two more in critical condition while six escaped unharmed.
“We are in touch with the families of all the affected (workers), including the families of those two in critical condition and the families of the three fatalities,” Migrant Workers Secretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac said in a statement.
Kuwaiti officials have detained the building’s owner over potential negligence and have warned that any blocks that flout safety rules will be closed.

Since the fire broke out, Kuwaiti officials have carried out intensive inspections to demolish violating properties.
Stories of the victims

From a father-of-two who planned to leave his job to a 29-year-old due to visit his family in August, two dozen Indians from the southern state of Kerala died, leaving their families bereft.
Among the Keralite victims was Muralidharan Nair, who had been working in Kuwait for 32 years, including 10 as a senior supervisor in the company that owned the housing facility where the fire broke out.
“He came on leave in December for two months with a plan to end his career in Kuwait. The company called him back,” his brother, Vinu V Nair, told Reuters, adding that the family identified the 61-year-old from a list published by India’s embassy. His two roommates also died in the blaze.
For decades, a disproportionately large share of Indian workers in the Gulf have been drawn from Kerala, a densely packed state along southern India’s Arabian Sea coast.
News of the disaster spread quickly in Kerala. The family of Saju Varghese, 56, found out about the fire from television and social media, and confirmed his death from friends and relatives in Kuwait.
Working in the Gulf nation for the last 21 years, Varghese planned to visit Kerala later this month to arrange his daughter’s higher education.
“The family is in a state of shock,” their neighbor, George Samuel, said.
Another victim, Stephin Abraham Sabu, 29, was an engineer in Kuwait since 2019 and called home almost daily.
He had visited his hometown Kottayam “two or three times” since he left, and had booked air tickets to return in August for the housewarming of his family’s new home and to help them buy a new car, his friends said.
Sabu’s father has a small shop in Kottayam while his mother is a housewife. His brother, Febin, also works in Kuwait but lived separately.

With agencies


Turkiye signs deal with US to buy F-16 warplanes

Turkiye signs deal with US to buy F-16 warplanes
Updated 13 June 2024
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Turkiye signs deal with US to buy F-16 warplanes

Turkiye signs deal with US to buy F-16 warplanes
  • Under the deal, Turkiye will get 40 new F-16s and upgrades to 79 of the jets in its existing fleet

ISTANBUL: Turkiye and the United States have signed a contract for the sale of F-16 warplanes after Washington greenlighted the $23 billion deal following months of negotiations, Turkish defense ministry sources said Thursday.
“The contract was signed and delegations from both sides are negotiating the details,” the ministry sources said.
Under the deal, Turkiye will get 40 new F-16s and upgrades to 79 of the jets in its existing fleet.
The State Department last week hailed “a major step forward” in Turkiye’s purchase of new F-16 fighter jets calling them “the most advanced F-16 ever made available only to closest Allies and partners.”
“Just the latest example of US enduring commitment to security partnership with Turkiye,” it said in a social media post.
As required by law, the State Department notified Congress of the agreement in January, as well as a separate $8.6 billion sale of 40 F-35s to Greece.
The United States did not green light the transaction until Turkiye’s instruments of ratification of Sweden’s membership had arrived in Washington.
Turkiye’s parliament ratified Sweden’s NATO membership in January after more than a year of delays that upset Western to unite in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Erdogan is due to join NATO leaders’ summit in Washington next month.
He had been set for talks with US counterpart Joe Biden last month but what would have been their first White House meeting was postponed over scheduling problems.