Khan Younis pullout ‘to prepare for Rafah attack,’ says Israeli defense chief

Khan Younis pullout ‘to prepare for Rafah attack,’ says Israeli defense chief
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Israeli army vehicles move in an area along the border with the Gaza Strip and southern Israel on April 4, 2024. On Sunday, most of Israel's troops pulled out of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Stirop after six months of war. (AFP)
Khan Younis pullout ‘to prepare for Rafah attack,’ says Israeli defense chief
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Palestinians who had taken refuge in Rafah in leave the city to return to Khan Younis after Israel pulled its ground forces out of the southern Gaza Strip, on April 7, 2024, six months into the devastating war sparked by the October 7 attacks. (AFP)
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Updated 08 April 2024
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Khan Younis pullout ‘to prepare for Rafah attack,’ says Israeli defense chief

Khan Younis pullout ‘to prepare for Rafah attack,’ says Israeli defense chief
  • Minister Yoav Gallant claims Hamas ceased to exist as ‘military framework’
  • Netanyahu said Israel was “one step away from victory,” but his military chief said "we are far from stopping"

JEDDAH:  Israeli troops pulled out of Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Sunday after months of fierce fighting half a year into the war sparked by the attack against Israel by Hamas militants on October 7.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the withdrawal was because “Hamas ceased to exist as a military framework” in Khan Younis, just north of Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering. He also said the pullout was “to prepare for future missions, including ... in Rafah.”

Israel said it had withdrawn more soldiers from southern Gaza, leaving just one brigade, as it and Hamas sent teams to Egypt for fresh talks on a potential ceasefire in the six-month conflict.

After troops left areas in and around the largely destroyed city of Khan Yunis, a stream of displaced Palestinians walked there, hoping to return to their homes from temporary shelters in Rafah, a little further south.




Israeli army vehicles move in an area along the border with the Gaza Strip and southern Israel on April 4, 2024. On Sunday, most of Israel's troops pulled out of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Stirop after six months of war. (AFP)

Khan Yunis is the hometown of Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, whom Israel accuses of being the mastermind of the October 7 attacks.

The Israeli army said a “significant force” would stay on elsewhere in the besieged territory as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “one step away from victory.”

“Israel is ready for a deal. Israel is not ready to surrender,” Netanyahu said to his Cabinet in a speech to mark six months since Hamas’s attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.

On a day when talks toward a truce deal were set to resume in Cairo, Netanyahu also stressed that “there will be no ceasefire without the return of hostages.”

He is facing intense pressure at home from families and supporters of captives seized by the militants as well as from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

“The war in Gaza continues, and we are far from stopping,” said Israel’s military Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi. “This is a long war, with varying intensity.”

Growing global opposition

World leaders have expressed alarm at the prospect of an invasion of the city, near the Egyptian border, where most of Gaza’s population has taken shelter.

The UN and international aid organizations decried the devastating toll of the war, warning that the Palestinian territory had become “beyond catastrophic.”

“Six months is an awful milestone,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said, warning that “humanity has been all but abandoned.”

The war broke out on Oct. 7 with an attack by Hamas militants that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people. Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants also took more than 250 hostages — 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 who the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,175 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas Health Ministry.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the “terrible” war “must end.” He said in a statement: “We continue to stand by Israel’s right to defeat the threat from Hamas terrorists and defend their security. But the whole of the UK is shocked by the bloodshed.
“This terrible conflict must end. The hostages must be released. The aid — which we have been straining every sinew to deliver by land, air and sea — must be flooded in.”

The outcry intensified after an Israeli drone strike killed seven aid workers — most of them Westerners — for the US-based food charity World Central Kitchen on April 1.

Vast areas of Gaza have been turned into a rubble-strewn wasteland with damage estimated at $18.5 billion to critical infrastructure, mostly housing, a World Bank report said.




Palestinians inspect destroyed residential buildings in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, after the Israeli military withdrew most of its ground troops on April 7, 2024. (REUTERS)

Charities have accused Israel of blocking aid, but Israel has defended its efforts and blamed shortages on aid organizations’ inability to distribute assistance once it gets in.

“The denial of basic needs — food, fuel, sanitation, shelter, security and health care — is inhumane and intolerable,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israeli security expert Omer Dostri predicted that, as more displaced Palestinians leave densely crowded Rafah, “within two months there will be a move in Rafah to destroy the remaining Hamas brigades.”

The partial withdrawal came as talks toward a truce and hostage release deal were expected to resume in Cairo, including United States, Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

United States President Joe Biden told Netanyahu on Thursday he wants a ceasefire and hostage release deal and ramped-up aid deliveries.

After the deaths of the seven aid workers, Biden — whose government is Israel’s top arms supplier and political backer — also hinted at making US support for Israel conditional on curtailing the killing of civilians and improving humanitarian conditions.

Hours after Biden’s comments, Netanyahu said Israel would allow “temporary” aid flow through Erez and Ashdod.




A man gestures from a vehicle moving past destroyed buildings along a road in Khan Yunis on April 7, 2024 after Israel pulled its ground forces out of the southern Gaza Strip, six months into the devastating war sparked by the October 7 attacks. (AFP)

Maha Thaer, a mother of four returning to Khan Yunis, said she would move back into her badly damaged apartment, “even though it is not suitable for living, but it is better than tents.”

Muhammad Yunis, 51, a Palestinian in northern Gaza, sees nothing but loss.

“Isn’t the bombing, death and destruction enough?” he asked. “There are bodies still under the rubble. We can smell the stench.”

(With AFP)

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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
Updated 22 June 2024
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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
  • “This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” Red Cross says
  • Humanitarian organization says Gaza office was ‘damaged’ in a shell attack Friday 

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
Updated 22 June 2024
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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
  • It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties”

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden

Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden
Updated 22 June 2024
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Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden

Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden
  • The Yemeni militant Houthi group has been launching drone and missile strikes in the key waterway since November in what it says is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza

DUBAI: A merchant vessel reported an explosion in its vicinity 126 nautical miles east of Yemen’s port city of Aden, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said late on Friday.
“The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” UKMTO said in an advisory note, without identifying the vessel.
The Yemeni militant Houthi group has been launching drone and missile strikes in the key waterway since November in what it says is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza.
In over 70 attacks, the group has sunk two vessels, seized another and killed at least three seafarers.

 


Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas
Updated 22 June 2024
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Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas
  • Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to “any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance’s position in ceasefire negotiations”
  • Israel has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry

MADRID: Qatar said Friday it was pursuing efforts to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and release Israeli hostages held there.
The Gulf emirate, the United States and Egypt, have been engaged in months of negotiations for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war that erupted on October 7.
There has been one seven-day pause in November which led to the release of more than 100 hostages. Efforts since have been deadlocked.
“We have continued our efforts without interruption over the last few days,” Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a news conference in Madrid with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares.
“There have been several meetings with the Hamas leadership to try to bridge the gap between the two parties and reach an agreement that will lead to a ceasefire and the release of the Israeli hostages,” he added.
The talks are based on a plan US President Joe Biden laid out on May 31 calling for an Israeli withdrawal from “major population centers” in Gaza and a six week ceasefire, which could be extended if negotiators need more time to seek a permanent deal.
“Efforts are continuing, but so far we have not reached a formula that we feel is the most appropriate and closest to what has been presented,” the Qatari prime minister said.
“As soon as this is done, we will communicate with the Israeli side to try to bridge the gap and reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” he added.
Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to “any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance’s position in ceasefire negotiations.”
Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire before the release of all hostages sought by Israel. The Israeli goverment has rejected the demands.
Haniyeh said “the priority is to stop the criminal war on our people.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
 

 


Lebanon’s FM meets with UN, French and US envoys in bid to prevent full-scale war

Lebanon’s FM meets with UN, French and US envoys in bid to prevent full-scale war
Updated 22 June 2024
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Lebanon’s FM meets with UN, French and US envoys in bid to prevent full-scale war

Lebanon’s FM meets with UN, French and US envoys in bid to prevent full-scale war
  • Lebanon counts on success of US diplomatic efforts to prevent full-scale war
  • Former ambassador to US tells Arab News: ‘No one has an interest in open war’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib met with French Ambassador Herva Magro, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and US Ambassador Lisa Johnson on Friday.

The minister reiterated Lebanon’s call for the full implementation of UN Resolution 1701.

Hennis-Plasschaert said there was “no inevitability (to wider conflict with Israel)” during her visit to UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.

Also on Friday, it was announced that German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will make shuttle visits to Lebanon, Israel, and the West Bank.

Concerned at the risk of Israel’s war on Gaza spreading across the region, US President Joe Biden sent his special envoy Amos Hochstein to embark on a new round of diplomacy last week. Hochstein called for “urgent” de-escalation during talks with Lebanon and Israel on Tuesday, informing both sides that “the threat of a full-scale war persists and must be avoided.”

It is widely believed in Lebanon that Hochstein convinced Israel to refrain from escalating its military actions against Lebanon for the time being.

In a meeting with visiting Israeli officials including National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer in Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the importance of “avoiding further escalation in Lebanon and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes,” according to a statement.

According to his spokesperson, Matthew Miller, Blinken also stressed America’s “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”

During his talks in Beirut, Hochstein reportedly reassured Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati that Biden’s proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza was being viewed positively, and that Qatar was working to make it happen.

Hochstein also reportedly told Mikati that “things are under control and positive when it comes to the war between Lebanon and Israel.”

Former Lebanese Ambassador to Washington, Riad Tabbarah, described threats of war as a “mere outburst.”

He told Arab News: “Since military operations began on the southern front about nine months ago, the Lebanese have been hearing that war is coming, but it never arrives.

“During diplomatic negotiations, it is common for both sides to face pressure and threats,” he continued. “It appears that there are numerous and diverse negotiations happening behind the scenes, including discussions between the Americans and Iranians, as well as between the Americans and Hezbollah.”

Tabbarah acknowledged the recklessness of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said the Israeli leader “has two options — either war or prison. And there is significant pressure on him, especially from the families of the hostages.”

Tabbarah noted that there are limits to what military action can achieve. “We still recall the time when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon crossed those limits in 1982 when he set the Litani Line as his target. However, he went beyond that and reached Beirut. As a result, international powers united to bring him back to the Litani Line.

“No one has an interest in war,” he continued. “Americans, Europeans, and Iranians are working in the opposite direction. The general trend is to avoid escalating to open war.”

Military operations on the Lebanese front decreased significantly on Friday, although the outskirts of Naqoura in the western sector were targeted by Israeli artillery, causing a fire in a house. In the morning, an Israeli military raid targeted the town of Wazzani.

Hezbollah made a series of announcements about their operations, which were “focused on specific targets within the rules of engagement.”

Hezbollah attacked the sites of Ramtha and Samaka in the occupied Lebanese Kfar Shouba Hills, the Zabadin site in the occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms, and carried out an air attack using drones on the Ras Al-Naqoura naval site, aiming at locations containing Israeli military personnel.

The Lebanese Ministry of Health said that, up to June 19, it has recorded a total of 1,774 casualties, including 432 fatalities, caused by Israeli attacks.