Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike
Palestinians ride bicycles past Al Basma IVF Centre, Gaza’s largest fertility clinic which was struck by an Israeli shell during the ongoing conflict. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 April 2024
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Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

GAZA: When an Israeli shell struck Gaza’s largest fertility clinic in December, the explosion blasted the lids off five liquid nitrogen tanks stored in a corner of the embryology unit.

As the ultra-cold liquid evaporated, the temperature inside the tanks rose, destroying more than 4,000 embryos plus 1,000 more specimens of sperm and unfertilized eggs stored at Gaza City’s Al Basma IVF Center.

The impact of that single explosion was far-reaching — an example of the unseen toll Israel’s six-and-a-half-month-old assault has had on the 2.3 million people of Gaza.

The embryos in those tanks were the last hope for hundreds of Palestinian couples facing infertility.

“We know deeply what these 5,000 lives, or potential lives, meant for the parents, either for the future or for the past,” said Bahaeldeen Ghalayini, 73, the Cambridge-trained obstetrician and gynecologist who established the clinic in 1997.

At least half of the couples — those who can no longer produce sperm or eggs to make viable embryos — will not have another chance to get pregnant, he said.

“My heart is divided into a million pieces,” he said.

Asked on Wednesday about the incident, the Israeli military’s press desk said it was looking into the reports. Israel denies intentionally targeting civilian infrastructure and has accused Hamas fighters of operating from medical facilities, which Hamas denies.

Three years of fertility treatment was a psychological roller coaster for Seba Jaafarawi. The retrieval of eggs from her ovaries was painful, the hormone injections had strong side-effects and the sadness when two attempted pregnancies failed seemed unbearable.

Jaafarawi, 32, and her husband could not get pregnant naturally and turned to in vitro fertilization, which is widely available in Gaza.

Large families are common in the enclave, where nearly half the population is under 18 and the fertility rate is high at 3.38 births per woman, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics. Britain’s fertility rate is 1.63 births per woman.

Despite Gaza’s poverty, couples facing infertility pursue IVF, some selling TVs and jewelry to pay the fees, Al Ghalayini said.

At least nine clinics in Gaza performed IVF, where eggs are collected from a woman’s ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. The fertilized eggs, called embryos, are often frozen until the optimal time for transfer to a woman’s uterus. Most frozen embryos in Gaza were stored at the Al Basma center.

In September, Jaafarawi became pregnant, her first successful IVF attempt.

“I did not even have time to celebrate the news,” she said.

Two days before her first scheduled ultrasound scan, Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched an all-out assault that has since killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

Jaafarawi worried: “How would I complete my pregnancy? What would happen to me and what would happen to the ones inside my womb?“

Her ultrasound never happened and Ghalayini closed his clinic, where an additional five of Jaafarawi’s embryos were stored.

As the Israeli attacks intensified, Mohammed Ajjour, Al Basma’s chief embryologist, started to worry about liquid nitrogen levels in the five specimen tanks. Top ups were needed every month or so to keep the temperature below -180C in each tank, which operate independent of electricity.

After the war began, Ajjour managed to procure one delivery of liquid nitrogen, but Israel cut electricity and fuel to Gaza, and most suppliers closed.

At the end of October, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza and soldiers closed in on the streets around the IVF center. It became too dangerous for Ajjour to check the tanks.

Jaafarawi knew she should rest to keep her fragile pregnancy safe, but hazards were everywhere: she climbed six flights of stairs to her apartment because the elevator stopped working; A bomb leveled the building next door and blasted out windows in her flat; food and water became scarce.

Instead of resting, she worried.

“I got very scared and there were signs that I would lose (the pregnancy),” she said.

Jaafarawi bled a little bit after she and her husband left home and moved south to Khan Younis. The bleeding subsided, but her fear did not.

They crossed into Egypt on Nov. 12 and in Cairo, her first ultrasound showed she was pregnant with twins and they were alive.

But after a few days, she experienced painful cramps, bleeding and a sudden shift in her belly. She made it to hospital, but the miscarriage had already begun.

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Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities

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Israeli army continues drone warfare against Hezbollah

Israeli army continues drone warfare against Hezbollah
Updated 6 sec ago
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Israeli army continues drone warfare against Hezbollah

Israeli army continues drone warfare against Hezbollah
  • Hezbollah said in a statement that it targeted the Ras Naqoura naval site with artillery in response to the drone strike

BEIRUT: Israel widened its drone attacks on Hezbollah and Hamas fighters in Lebanon on Saturday, with strikes near the Lebanese-Syrian border in parallel with attacks in the south of the country.

An Israeli combat drone struck a car carrying two people on the road between the Lebanese General Security and Syrian General Security checkpoints.

The Syrian Observatory confirmed the attack, saying that “the target in the car was a Hezbollah leader and his companion.”

Footage taken by passersby on the border road showed the vehicle on fire, with flames and smoke rising from surrounding areas, suggesting that more than one missile struck the target.

Sham FM radio, which is close to the Syrian regime, later confirmed that an Israeli attack destroyed a car and killed both occupants near a military checkpoint on the Damascus-Beirut highway.

Unconfirmed media reports said the military vehicle belonged to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah later launched dozens of attacks on Israeli military sites.

According to a statement, these included surveillance equipment at the Ramtha site, “technical systems and spy equipment at the Raheb site,” the headquarters of the Liman Battalion, surveillance equipment at the Hadab Yarin site, and the Al-Samaqa site in the Kfarshuba hills.

The latest attack came less than 18 hours after an Israeli drone struck a car on the Majdal Anjar road, killing a senior Hamas figure.

Izz El-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades identified the victim as Sharhabeel Ali Al-Sayyid, a mujahid leader.

Another person accompanying Ali Al-Sayyid was badly injured in the strike.

Early on Saturday, an Israeli drone struck a motorcycle on the road to Naqoura town on Lebanon’s southern border, injuring the rider, a fisherman returning home from work.

The injured man was taken to hospital in Tyre.

Hezbollah said in a statement that it targeted the Ras Naqoura naval site with artillery in response to the drone strike.

Repeated Israeli attacks have added to tension in the southern and Bekaa areas, with traffic on the main roads noticeably reduced.

Hezbollah also targeted a group of Israeli soldiers near the Pranit Barracks with missiles, causing “a direct hit,” according to the statement.

Israeli fighter planes raided the town of Khiam at dawn on Saturday, continuing their assaults on Aita Al-Shaab.

 


Israel eyes scrapping free trade deal with Turkiye

Israel eyes scrapping free trade deal with Turkiye
Updated 18 May 2024
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Israel eyes scrapping free trade deal with Turkiye

Israel eyes scrapping free trade deal with Turkiye
  • War in Gaza has stirred public reaction significantly ahead of March 31 local elections

ANKARA: After Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced on Thursday that Israel intends to scrap its free trade agreement with Turkiye and impose a 100 percent tariff on other imports from the country in retaliation for Ankara’s recent decision to halt exports to Israel, eyes are now turning to imminent implications for regional trade.

The plan, which aims to reduce Israel’s dependence on Turkiye, has not been finalized yet and will have to be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

If approved, all reduced tariffs on goods imported from Turkiye under the current free trade agreement would be abolished, while a tariff of 100 percent of the value of the goods would be imposed on all imported products, in addition to the existing tariff.

Experts note that trade ties between the two countries had been mostly insulated from political disagreements in the past. Trade continued when diplomatic relations hit rock bottom, especially between 2010 and 2020, a politically tense period during which parties chose not to burn “trade bridges.”

But this time, Turkiye’s continuation of trade relations with Israel while at the same time being vocal in denouncing its war in Gaza stirred public reaction significantly ahead of the March 31 local elections, when large crowds and some Islamist breakaway parties criticized the government for not taking a hardline stance against Israel and for not matching rhetoric with action.

In late April, Turkiye, whose bilateral trade with Israel was worth about $7 billion a year, announced it would impose trade restrictions on 54 products exported to Israel until a permanent ceasefire in Gaza was declared.

The product range was diverse, from cement to dry food, iron, steel, and electrical devices.

However, companies have three months to fulfill existing orders via third countries.

In his statement, Smotrich described Turkiye’s move as a serious violation of international trade agreements to which Ankara is a signatory.

He added that Israel’s latest decision would last as long as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remained in power.

Turkiye and Israel have had a free trade agreement since the mid-1990s, making Ankara a key commercial partner for Israeli importers. Relatively cheap imports were transited quite quickly, and Turkiye was Israel’s fifth-largest source of imported goods.

Israel mainly imported steel, iron, motor vehicles, electrical devices, machinery, plastics, and cement products, as well as textiles, olive oil, and fruits and vegetables from Turkiye, while Turkiye mostly bought chemicals, metals, and some other industrial products from the Middle Eastern country, with Turkiye’s trade with Israel tilted in Ankara’s favor.

“Since Erdogan announced that Turkiye would impose a trade ban on imports and exports from Israel, Israeli officials have been trying to determine how best to respond,” Gabriel Mitchell, a policy fellow at the Mitvim Institute, told Arab News.

“The first was Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who criticized Turkiye’s decision and later announced that Turkiye had lifted many of the restrictions. This put pressure — once again — on Erdogan to show the Turkish public that he is willing to ‘put his money where his mouth is’ with Israel and forced the Turkish government to deny these rumors,” he said, adding that it also compelled “Erdogan to be even more vocal in his criticism of Israeli policy.”

According to Mitchell, Smotrich — who is a minister but not a member of the Likud party — saw this as an opportunity to make his own headlines in proposing the move to cancel the free trade agreement.

As this move requires Cabinet approval, Mitchell said he would be very surprised if it were approved.

“It would be an escalatory step and undoubtedly have serious short-term economic consequences,” he said.

“It is important to bear in mind the domestic situation in Israel. There is increasing pressure on Netanyahu, and as a result, the more radical voices feel that by pushing populist policies, they are in a win-win situation: Either their policy is adopted, and they get credit for the idea, or it is rejected by others in the government, and they can criticize them for being soft,” Mitchell added.

“Erdogan is very unpopular in Israel — arguably the most unpopular regional leader — so some believe that while there are voices in Israel that would oppose the decision, there are many that would go along with it without really understanding the economic implications.”

Mitchell also noted a caveat, saying that the free trade agreement would be canceled until Erdogan steps down.

“I don’t understand what that means, given that such agreements are made bilaterally. Who is to assume that in 2028, Erdogan will no longer be president, and whoever succeeds him will be interested in signing a free trade agreement with Israel? It is a risky approach,” he said.

“My final point, and it is worth considering, is that Smotrich also wrote (in) a letter to Netanyahu that ‘representatives of Turkiye’s president, the anti-Semitic enemy of Israel, Erdogan’ were involved in the hostage negotiations — so it all gets mixed up and confused,” Mitchell added.

Continuing its strong rhetoric, Turkiye recently announced that it would join South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

From its side, Israel filed a complaint to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development against Turkiye over the latter’s decision to suspend trade with Israel.

Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based think-tank EDAM and a visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe, says Israel’s latest decision should be seen as an economic and political response to the Turkish government’s earlier decision to impose a trade embargo on Israel.

“The economic impact can be significant, especially on some of Israel’s critical products imported from Turkiye, such as construction materials, including cement. However, this does not mean Israel couldn’t import these items from other countries.

“But for Israel, it would be a costly trade diversion, and it will increase the internal cost of these products and possibly have an impact on domestic inflation,” he told Arab News.

Israel imports about a third of its cement and almost 70 percent of its iron construction materials from Turkiye.

“Another consequence is that unlike Turkiye’s decision to impose a temporary trade embargo with conditions, Israel is now moving in the direction of essentially imposing a permanent and lasting measure, which is to cancel a free-trade agreement that has been in place since the mid-1990s,” Ulgen said.

After the Turkish boycott of all trade with Israel, prices, especially in the housing sector, are expected to increase gradually, pushing up the cost of living in Israel.

Ulgen noted, however, that Turkish products could still indirectly reach Israel through third countries, for example, by transiting from the EU because Turkiye and the EU have a customs union. However, alternative transportation trade routes that circumvent the restrictions can be longer, more complex, and costlier.


Israeli leaders split over post-war Gaza governance

Israeli leaders split over post-war Gaza governance
Updated 18 May 2024
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Israeli leaders split over post-war Gaza governance

Israeli leaders split over post-war Gaza governance
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war

JERUSALEM: New divisions have emerged among Israel’s leaders over post-war Gaza’s governance, with an unexpected Hamas fightback in parts of the Palestinian territory piling pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across Gaza for more than seven months while also exchanging near-daily fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah forces along the northern border with Lebanon.
But after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized, broad splits emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days.
Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.
The Israeli premier’s outright rejection of post-war Palestinian leadership in Gaza has broken a rift among top politicians wide open and frustrated relations with top ally the United States.
Experts say the lack of clarity only serves to benefit Hamas, whose leader has insisted no new authority can be established in the territory without its involvement.
“Without an alternative to fill the vacuum, Hamas will continue to grow,” International Crisis Group analyst Mairav Zonszein said.
Emmanuel Navon, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, echoed this sentiment.
“If only Hamas is left in Gaza, of course they are going to appear here and there and the Israeli army will be forced to chase them around,” said Navon.
“Either you establish an Israeli military government or an Arab-led government.”
Gallant said in a televised address on Wednesday: “I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza strip.”
The premier’s war planning also came under recent attack by army chief Herzi Halevi as well as top Shin Bet security agency officials, according to Israeli media reports.
Netanyahu is also under pressure from Washington to swiftly bring an end to the conflict and avoid being mired in a long counterinsurgency campaign.
Washington has previously called for a “revitalized” form of the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza after the war.
But Netanyahu has rejected any role for the PA in post-war Gaza, saying Thursday that it “supports terror, educates terror, finances terror.”
Instead, Netanyahu has clung to his steadfast aim of “eliminating” Hamas, asserting that “there’s no alternative to military victory.”
Experts say confidence in Netanyahu is running thin.
“With Gallant’s criticism of Netanyahu’s failure to plan for the day after in terms of governing Gaza, some real fissures are beginning to emerge in the Israeli war cabinet,” Colin P. Clarke, director of policy and research at the Soufan Group think tank, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“I’m not sure I know of many people, including the most ardent Israel supporters, who have confidence in Bibi,” he said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 125 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.
Israel’s military retaliation has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.
Many Israelis supported Netanyahu’s blunt goals to seek revenge on Hamas in the aftermath of the October 7 attack.
But now, hopes have faded for the return of the hostages and patience in Netanyahu may be running out, experts said.
On Friday, the army announced it had recovered bodies of three hostages who were killed during the October 7 attack.
After Israeli forces entered the far southern city of Rafah, where more than a million displaced Gazans were sheltering, talks mediated by Egypt, the United States and Qatar to release the hostages have ground to a standstill.
“The hostage deal is at a total impasse — you can no longer provide the appearance of progress,” said Zonszein of the International Crisis Group.
“Plus the breakdown with the US and the fact that Egypt has refused to pass aid through Rafah — all those things are coming to a head.”


Sudan paramilitaries say will open ‘safe passages’ out of key Darfur city

Sudan paramilitaries say will open ‘safe passages’ out of key Darfur city
Updated 18 May 2024
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Sudan paramilitaries say will open ‘safe passages’ out of key Darfur city

Sudan paramilitaries say will open ‘safe passages’ out of key Darfur city
  • El-Fasher has been in the grips of fighting as the RSF seeks to control it

PORT SUDAN: Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces have announced their willingness to open “safe passages” out of the former haven city of El-Fasher in Darfur, which has been gripped by fighting for weeks.
The RSF, battling the regular army for more than a year, affirmed in a post on X late Friday “the readiness of its forces to help citizens by opening safe passages to voluntarily leave to other areas of their choosing and to provide protection for them.”
El-Fasher, the state capital of North Darfur and once a key hub for humanitarian aid where many had gathered for shelter, has been in the grips of fighting as the RSF seeks to control it.
The paramilitaries called on residents of El-Fasher to “avoid conflict areas and areas likely to be targeted by air forces and not to respond to malicious calls to mobilize residents and drag them into the fires of war.”
Sudan has been in the throes of conflict for over a year between the regular army led by de facto ruler Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the RSF led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has killed as many as 15,000 people in the West Darfur state capital of El-Geneina alone, according to United Nations experts.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders on Wednesday said its hospital in North Darfur had received more than 450 people killed in the fighting since May 10, but noted that the actual death toll was likely much higher.
Also on Wednesday, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator said residents of Sudan were “trapped in an inferno of brutal violence” and increasingly at risk of famine due to the rainy season and blocked aid.
Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced since the war broke out in April 2023.
The UN on Friday warned it only had 12 percent of the $2.7 billion it sought in funding for Sudan, warning that “famine is closing in.”


Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home

Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home
Updated 18 May 2024
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Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home

Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home
  • Many residents of towns and villages on either side of the Israel-Lebanon border have evacuated their homes for safety

MAIS AL JABAL: For displaced south Lebanese villagers, funerals for those killed in months of cross-border clashes are a rare chance to return home and see the devastation caused by Israeli bombardment.
“My house is in ruins,” said Abdel Aziz Ammar, a 60-year-old man with a white beard, in front of a pile of rubble in the border village of Mais Al-Jabal.
Only a plastic water tank survived.
“My parents’ house, my brother’s house and my nephew’s house have all been totally destroyed,” said Ammar, who was back in Mais Al-Jabal this week for the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter from the village.
Many residents of towns and villages on either side of the Israel-Lebanon border have evacuated their homes for safety.
The Iran-backed Lebanese movement has been intensifying its attacks, while Israel has been striking deeper into Lebanese territory, in cross-border violence that has killed at least 419 people on the Lebanese side, according to an AFP tally.
Most of the dead are Hezbollah fighters, including seven from Mais Al-Jabal, but at least 82 are civilians, three of whom journalists.
Israel says 14 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed on its side of the border.
For funerals in the south, the Lebanese army informs United Nations peacekeepers, who then inform the Israeli military, a spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said.
The peacekeepers usually patrol near the border, and act as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel.
Ammar fled his village for Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, two weeks after the violence broke out.
The International Organization for Migration says more than 93,000 people have been displaced in south Lebanon, while authorities in Israel have evacuated tens of thousands from the country’s north.
“We come for the funerals, but we inspect our homes. Those whose houses haven’t been destroyed use the time to collect their belongings,” Ammar said.
“The house meant a lot to us, it was big,” with plenty of space for the children outside, he said of his home in Mais Al-Jabal.
“My daughter always tells me, ‘I miss the house, when will we go back?’”
An AFP photographer saw dozens of houses razed or partially destroyed in the village, which resembled a battlefield surrounded by green countryside.
A funeral procession crossed the rubble-strewn streets, with people chanting slogans in support of Hezbollah, not far from Israeli positions across the border.
Hezbollah flags fluttered in the wind as women in chadors walked together, some wearing yellow scarves -the color of the Shiite Muslim movement — or holding pictures of the fallen “martyr”.
“Whether I carry a weapon or not, just my presence in my village means I am a target for the Israelis,” Ammar said, noting the fighting does not always stop for the funerals.
On May 5, a man, his wife and two children were killed in a strike on Mais Al-Jabal while a funeral took place.
They had returned to the village to collect things from a store they owned, believing it to be a moment of calm, local media reported.
In front of a half-destroyed house, people piled a small truck with whatever they could — a washing machine, a child’s stroller, a motorbike and plastic chairs.
Amid rubble in the village, a sign was propped up reading: “Even if you destroy our houses, your missiles cannot break our will.”
Lebanese authorities are waiting for a ceasefire to fully assess the damage, but have estimated that some 1,700 houses have been destroyed and 14,000 damaged.
Emergency personnel have reported huge damage and villages emptied of residents, while many journalists have been reluctant to travel to the border areas due to the heavy bombardment.
The overall bill already exceeds $1.5 billion, authorities estimate, in a crisis-hit country where compensation procedures remain vague.
But to village resident Khalil Hamdan, 53, who also attended the funeral, “the destruction doesn’t make a difference.”
“We will rebuild,” he told AFP.