US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says

US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says
This picture released by the Israeli Army on April 14, 2024 shows an Israeli Air Force fighter aircraft at an undisclosed airfield reportedly after a mission to intercept incoming airborne threats. (AFP)
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Updated 14 April 2024
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US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says

US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says
  • The US will continue to help Israel defend itself, but does not want war: John Kirby, the White House’s top national security spokesperson

JERUSALEM/DUBAI/WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the US will not take part in a counter-offensive against Iran if Israel decides to retaliate for a mass drone and missile attack on Israeli territory overnight, a White House official said.
The threat of open warfare erupting between the arch Middle East foes and dragging in the United States has put the region on edge, triggering calls for restraint from global powers and Arab nations to avoid further escalation.
US media reported earlier on Sunday that Biden had informed Netanyahu he would not participate in retaliatory action in a phone call overnight. The remarks were confirmed to Reuters by a White House official.
The US will continue to help Israel defend itself, but does not want war, John Kirby, the White House’s top national security spokesperson, told ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday.
Iran launched the attack over a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Syria on April 1 that killed top Revolutionary Guards commanders and followed months of clashes between Israel and Iran’s regional allies, triggered by the war in Gaza.
However, the attack from more than 300 missiles and drones, mostly launched from inside Iran, caused only modest damage in Israel as most were shot down with the help of the US, Britain and Jordan.
An Air Force base in southern Israel was hit, but continued to operate as normal and a 7-year old child was seriously hurt by shrapnel. There were no other reports of serious damage.
Two senior Israeli ministers signalled on Sunday that retaliation by Israel is not imminent and it would not act alone.
“We will build a regional coalition and exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us,” centrist minister Benny Gantz said ahead of a war cabinet meeting.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also said Israel had an opportunity to form a strategic alliance against “against this grave threat by Iran which is threatening to mount nuclear explosives on these missiles, which could be an extremely grave threat,” he said. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
Iranian army chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned on television that “our response will be much larger than tonight’s military action if Israel retaliates against Iran” and told Washington its bases could also be attacked if it helped Israel retaliate.
Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian said Tehran had informed the United States its attack on Israel would be “limited” and for self defense and that regional neighbors had also been informed of its planned strikes 72-hours in advance.
A Turkish diplomatic source said Iran had informed Turkiye in advance of what would happen.
Iran said the attack was aimed at punishing “Israeli crimes” but it now “deemed the matter concluded.”
Russia, China, France and Germany as well as Arab states Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates urged restraint and the UN Security Council was set to meet at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Sunday.
“We will do everything to stop a further escalation,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on a visit to China. “We can only warn everyone, especially Iran, against continuing this way.”
Turkiye also warned Iran it did not want further tension in the region.
Escalation
Analysts debated how far Iran’s attack was calibrated to cause genuine devastation in Israel, or to save face at home after vows of revenge while avoiding a major new war.
“I think the Iranians took into consideration the fact that Israel has a very, very strong multi-layer anti-missile system and they probably took into consideration that there will not be too many casualties,” said Sima Shine, a former senior Mossad official at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
But if Iran was hoping for a muted response, like with its missile attacks on US forces in Iraq after the killing of Guards commander Qassem Soleimani in 2020, she warned “I don’t think Israel sees it this way.”
On Saturday Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized an Israel-linked cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important energy shipping routes, underscoring the risks to the world economy of a wider conflict.
Some flights were suspended in countries across the region.
The war in Gaza, which Israel invaded after an attack by Iran-backed Hamas on Oct. 7, has spread to fronts with Iran-aligned groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Iran’s most powerful ally in the region, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah fired rockets at an Israeli base overnight. Israel said it struck a Hezbollah site deep inside Lebanon on Sunday morning.
Yemen’s Houthis, who have been firing missiles at ships in the Red Sea in what they say is support for the Palestinians, called Iran’s attack legitimate.
The Oct. 7 attack in which Israel says 1,200 were killed and 253 taken hostage, along with internal discontent with the government and international pressure over the war in Gaza, form the backdrop to Netanyahu’s decisions over a response. At least 33,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its military offensive, according to authorities in the enclave.
The Israeli prime minister has for years advocated a tough military line against Iran, pushing the United States for harder action over Tehran’s nuclear program and its backing for Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups in the region.
In Israel, although there was alarm at the first direct attack from another country in more than three decades, the mood was in contrast to the trauma after the Hamas-led attack on Oct.7.
“I think we’ve been given license to respond now. I mean it was a major attack from Iran... I imagine Israel will respond and may be over quickly and get back to normal life,” said Jeremy Smith, 60.
In Iran, state television showed small gatherings in several cities celebrating the attack, but in private some Iranians were worried about Israel’s response.
“Iran gave Netanyahu a golden opportunity to attack our country. But we, the people of Iran, will bear the brunt of this conflict,” said Shima, a 29-year-old nurse, from Tehran.


Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
  • “Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said

CARACAS: Iran on Saturday said it will send experts to its ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators in hospitals it said had been stopped due to Western sanctions.
Venezuela requested Iran’s help, according to a message on the social media platform X by the Iranian government attributed to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
“Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said.
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients.
Venezuela is also an ally of Russia and China.
The return of US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry has made its alliance with Iran critical to keeping its lagging energy sector afloat. Washington last year temporarily relaxed sanctions on Venezuela’s promise to allow a competitive presidential election. The US now says only some conditions were met. 

 


Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
  • Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said

BUCHAREST: Romanian rescue teams on Saturday were scouring the Black Sea for three Syrian sailors who went missing when their cargo ship sank off the coast, the naval authority said.
The Mohammed Z sank with 11 crew on board, 26 nautical miles off the Romanian town of Sfantu Gheorghe in the Danube delta in the Black Sea on Saturday morning, officials said in a statement.
The ship sailing under the Tanzanian flag was carrying nine Syrian and two Egyptian nationals, it said.
After receiving an alert at “around 4:00am,” naval authorities and border police were dispatched, with two nearby commercial vessels also joining the search and rescue operation.
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said.
The cause of the accident was unclear.
According to the specialist website Marine Traffic, the ship departed from the Turkish port of Mersin and was heading to the Romanian port of Sulina.
Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, drifting sea mines have posed a constant threat for ships in the Black Sea, with countries bordering it doubling down on demining efforts.
Ensuring safe passage through the Black Sea has gained particular importance since Romania’s Danube ports became hubs for the transit of grain following the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports.
 

 


Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
  • A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s lawmakers failed to elect a speaker on Saturday as neither of the two main candidates secured a majority during a tense session of parliament.
It is the latest in a series of failed attempts to replace the former head of parliament who was dismissed in November, with political bickering and divisions between key Sunni parties derailing every attempt so far.
Saturday’s vote was the closest yet to selecting a new head of the 329-member parliament, with 311 lawmakers showing up for the session and the leading candidate falling just seven votes short.
The parliament’s media office announced that 137 lawmakers chose Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, the oldest MP, while 158 picked Salem Al-Issawi.
However, candidates require at least 165 votes to win.
Many lawmakers did not return for a second attempt on Saturday, with local media sharing videos of a brief brawl between MPs and reporting that at least one of them was injured.
The parliament’s media office then announced that the session had been adjourned.
Iraq, a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups, is governed by complex power-sharing arrangements.
The largely ceremonial role of president traditionally goes to a Kurd, that of prime minister to a Shiite, while the speaker of parliament is usually Sunni.
But parliament is dominated by a coalition of pro-Iran Shiite parties, reflecting the country’s largest religious group.
A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc.
The new speaker will replace Halbussi, the influential politician dismissed by Iraq’s top court in November last year after a lawmaker accused him of forging a resignation letter.
Halbussi had been the country’s highest-ranking Sunni official since he first became a speaker in 2018.
The new speaker’s stint will not last long with the general election due in 2025.
 

 


Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli

Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli
Updated 19 May 2024
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Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli

Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli
  • Libya is divided between the UN-recognized Tripoli-based government and a rival administration in the country’s east

TRIPOLI: Clashes between Libyan armed groups broke out on Friday night in the city of Zawiya, some 40 kilometers west of the capital Tripoli, a security official told AFP.
An official at the city’s security directorate told AFP the clashes were ongoing but “intermittent” on Saturday.
“The southern areas of the city of Zawiya have been witnessing clashes between armed groups since last night,” the official said.
Libya is still struggling to recover from years of war and chaos after the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
On Saturday morning, schools in Zawiya were suspended as some roads leading to the city were shut down amid a “casual” exchange of fire between the groups, the official said.
Media reports said the fighting left casualties, but authorities in Tripoli have yet to confirm any.
The Tripoli-based health ministry said in a statement it was working to evacuate parts of the city and taking injured people to hospitals.
The Libyan Red Crescent said it had evacuated some families from areas affected by the fights.
Authorities have not disclosed the reasons behind the fight.
Videos shared since Friday night on social media, which AFP could not verify, showed armed men in SUVs firing heavily at other armed groups.
Other videos showed smoke rising from parts of the city.
Although relative calm has returned to the oil-rich country in the past few years, clashes periodically occur between its myriad armed groups.
Last month, clashes broke out in the capital Tripoli, sparking panic among locals who were celebrating the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
In August 2023, Tripoli’s worst armed clashes in a year left 55 people dead when two powerful groups fought.
Libya is divided between the UN-recognized Tripoli-based government and a rival administration in the country’s east.
 

 


How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse

How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse
Updated 19 May 2024
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How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse

How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse
  • UN Women has described ongoing Israel offensive as a “war on women” with at least 10,000 female deaths since last October
  • Deprived of access to adequate services, more than 1 million women and girls face daily challenges and serious health risks

LONDON: Deprived of adequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services, Palestinian women and girls in Gaza are bearing the brunt of the prolonged and deepening humanitarian emergency caused Israel’s ongoing military offensive.

With no resolution to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in sight, more than a million displaced women and girls in the embattled Palestinian enclave continue to endure daily challenges in increasingly dire conditions.

UN Women has described the Israeli military operation in Gaza, which began in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, as a “war on women,” with at least 10,000 killed since the start of the conflict — among them more than 6,000 mothers.

Those figures, published in April, are now likely far higher as Israel expands its operation and bombing raids into eastern Rafah — Gaza’s southernmost city, now home to some 1.4 million displaced Palestinians.

According to UN figures, this latest operation has forced an estimated 150,000 Palestinians to flee central and northern Rafah.

While the biggest risk to women and girls in Gaza is injury or death under Israeli bombardment, “the unhygienic conditions and lack of water in Gaza are also having a very negative impact on women and girls’ health and dignity,” Fikr Shalltoot, the Gaza programs director at Medical Aid for Palestinians, told Arab News.

Israel denies deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure, accusing Hamas of using residential areas for cover.

As summer approaches, soaring temperatures worsen the spread of communicable diseases caused by a lack of hygiene facilities, water, and access to proper food. The heat itself is also a significant danger to children and the elderly.

A Palestinian woman holding her children reacts outside a hospital where casualties are brought following Israeli bombardment in Bureij, central Gaza Strip, on April 8, 2024. (AFP)

“During a recent heatwave, a 5-year-old girl tragically died in her tent due to extreme heat,” Shalltoot said.

Analysis of satellite imagery by BBC Verify found that the Israeli operation in Gaza has damaged or destroyed more than half (53 percent) of the territory’s vital water and sanitation facilities.

The analysis, based on images acquired in March and April, also confirmed that four of the six wastewater treatment plants in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. These facilities were critical to preventing sewage buildup.

Fidaa Al-Araj, Oxfam’s food security, cash, and protection coordinator in Gaza, said the water, sanitation, and hygiene situation facing women and girls in the enclave was “challenging,” leaving them unable to access clean toilets or private shower spaces.

A woman reacts upon seeing the body of a relative killed in Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024. (AFP)

“Having been displaced into camps or even in a host community, the numbers of people, of internally displaced persons, are very, very high,” Al-Araj told Arab News. “So, there is (overcrowding), there are many difficulties in having access to toilets, bathrooms, showers.”

She added: “Even if you have the facilities, and even if by any stretch they are enough for the IDPs residing in any given space, there is the issue of lack of running water to supply those facilities and to have them up and running all the time.

Displaced Palestinian women roll dough at their pizza making project at a makeshift shelter in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024. Lack of water has made the work much difficult.  (AFP)

“So, the hygiene conditions are very compromised, to say the least. When it comes to women and girls, there are issues of privacy, which is completely lacking.”

Where washrooms are present, people have “to wait in line with all sorts of people, even strangers, men and women, just to use the toilet. You have people banging on the door of the toilet while you’re in there, asking you to hurry up because the line is still very long.”

INNUMBERS

• 700,000 Women and girls now hosted in Rafah who have nowhere else to go. 

• 93% Women surveyed who feel unsafe in their own homes or in displacement.

• 6/10 Women who reported complications in pregnancy since Oct. 7.

Source: UN Women

This also makes management of menstruation especially challenging, as women and girls “endure longer hours without changing a pad, without washing,” Al-Araj added.

According to UN figures, there are more than 690,000 menstruating women and adolescent girls in the Gaza Strip. But aid agencies, which have had very limited access to the enclave due to the Israeli blockade, have been unable to meet the high demand for hygiene kits.

A girl ponders over what the future holds for her as she stands between barbed-wire patches at a camp housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 30, 2024. (AFP)

And since Israel took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7 and closed the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing, the already limited flow of commercial goods and humanitarian aid has been further strangulated.

MAP’s Shalltoot confirmed that women’s sanitary products were “scarce in the local market,” highlighting that this has had “a psychological and physical health impact on women and girls.”

She said: “They resort to homemade, makeshift alternatives, which negatively impact their health by putting them at risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections and protection-related risks.

“This also negatively impacts their psychological well-being, anxiety and insecurity.”

Even the simple act of taking a shower has been almost impossible for women in Gaza for several months.

A woman gives a baby a bath inside a tent at a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 18, 2024. (AfP)

“It’s very difficult to find a spot designated to take showers, and if it’s there, it’s very difficult to have water,” Oxfam’s Al-Araj said. “And if the water is there, it’s very difficult to find time to take an adequate shower.”

She added: “As a woman and as a mother of girls, I’ve been through all of this. To overcome these circumstances, you space out the shower times, so you take a shower when it’s absolutely needed.

“Sometimes you could spend a couple of weeks or even more without taking a shower.”

The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres told the BBC that the destruction of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities has led to “disastrous health consequences for the population,” notably a significant rise in gastric complaints in Rafah.

A Palestinian woman brushes a girl's hair outside a tent at a refugee camp in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 9, 2024. (AFP)

Contaminated water has also led to a spike in hepatitis A cases, with women and girls facing a heightened risk of exposure to the disease due to their traditional domestic responsibilities and caring for the sick, according to UN Women’s April gender alert report.

The report, titled “Scarcity and Fear,” highlighted that the lack of adequate and dignified facilities also exposes women and girls to reproductive and urinary tract infections.

“This situation could develop into dangerous or concerning health conditions for the women and girls, and I’m really sorry to say that it’s not given priority,” said Al-Araj.

“The heightening demand on the time, resources, and capacity of the medical facilities and staff makes prioritizing women’s issues or girls’ issues very difficult.”

Moreover, there are no quick fixes. Even if sufficient aid is permitted to enter Gaza, facilities need to be carefully planned in order to meet the necessary standards of privacy, cleanliness, and safety.

A Palestinian girl carries a toddler as people flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip to a safer location on May 11, 2024, Israeli strikes. (AFP)

“It’s not enough to build a shower or a toilet,” said Al-Araj. “It’s not enough to provide it with water and that’s it. You have to think of the site … Is it safe for women and girls, is it accessible at all times … is it targeted maybe by different threats?

“You also have to think about the supplies. You don’t give a hygiene kit or a dignity kit once, for example, and that’s it, your work is done. You need to regularly provide those kinds of kits.”

Al-Araj also emphasized the need for “complementary services,” including extending responses “to enhancing access to sexual and reproductive health care system.

“I can only wish that the aftereffects of all of this wouldn’t linger for long or have irreversible results.”