Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package

Update Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package
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A Palestinian girl sits in front of her house after Israeli settlers attacked the village of Al-Mughayyer, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (REUTERS)
Update Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package
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A Palestinian man gestures as he stands inside his kitchen in the aftermath of an attacked by Israeli settlers in occupied West Bank village of Al-Mughayyir near Ramallah, on April 17, 2024. (AFP)
Update Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package
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A child kneels over the bodies of two Palestinian men, reportedly killed during an Israeli settlers’ attack on the village of Aqraba in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, during their funeral procession on April 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 22 April 2024
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Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package

Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package
  • ‘Every second we live in terror, even the sound of Israeli aircraft doesn’t stop’
  • Israeli strikes killed 22 people overnight, including 18 children, according to Palestinian health authorities

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Israeli strikes on the southern Gaza city of Rafah overnight killed 22 people, including 18 children, health officials said Sunday, as violence flared in the occupied West Bank.

The latest bombardments came as the US House of Representatives approved $13 billion in new Israeli military aid even as global criticism mounts over the death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

However, fears of wider war breaking out in the Middle East have eased somewhat after Iran downplayed Israel’s reported retaliation over its unprecedented missile and drone attack on the country a week ago.

Attention has turned back toward the war in Gaza, which Israel hit with several strikes overnight, according to the Palestinian territory’s Civil Defense agency.

Israel has carried out near-daily air raids on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has sought refuge from fighting elsewhere. It has also vowed to expand its ground offensive against the Hamas militant group to the city on the border with Egypt despite calls for restraint, including from the US.

“In the coming days, we will increase the political and military pressure on Hamas because this is the only way to bring back our hostages and achieve victory. We will land more and painful blows on Hamas — soon,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. He didn’t give details.

The first Israeli strike in Rafah killed a man, his wife and their 3-year-old child, according to the nearby Kuwaiti Hospital, which received the bodies. The woman was pregnant and the doctors saved the baby, the hospital said. The second strike killed 17 children and two women from an extended family.

Resident Umm Hassan Kloub, 35, said her children screamed when they “woke up to a nightmare of an explosion.”

“Every second we live in terror, even the sound of Israeli aircraft doesn’t stop,” she said.

“We don’t know whether we will live or die. This is not life.”

“These children were sleeping. What did they do? What was their fault?” asked one relative, Umm Kareem. Mohammed Al-Beheiri said that his daughter, Rasha, and her six children, the youngest 18 months old, were among those killed. A woman and three children were still under the rubble.

The Israel-Hamas war has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, at least two-thirds of them children and women. It has devastated Gaza’s two largest cities and left a swath of destruction. Around 80 percent of the territory’s population have fled to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave.

The $26 billion aid package approved by the US House of Representatives on Saturday includes around $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, which experts say is on the brink of famine. The US Senate could pass the package as soon as Tuesday, and President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

The conflict, now in its seventh month, has sparked regional unrest pitting Israel and the US against Iran and allied militant groups across the Middle East. Israel and Iran traded fire directly this month, raising fears of all-out war.

Tensions have also spiked in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israeli troops killed two Palestinians who the military says attacked a checkpoint with a knife and a gun near the southern West Bank town of Hebron early Sunday. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that the two killed were 18 and 19, from the same family. No Israeli forces were wounded, the army said.

Later, the military said its forces shot dead a 43-year-old Palestinian woman after she tried to stab a soldier in the northern West Bank near Beka’ot settlement.

The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said that it had recovered 14 bodies from an Israeli raid in the Nur Shams urban refugee camp in the West Bank that began late Thursday. Those killed include three militants from the Islamic Jihad group and a 15-year-old boy.

The military said it killed 14 militants and arrested eight suspects. Ten Israeli soldiers and one border police officer were wounded.

In a separate incident in the West Bank, an Israeli man was wounded in an explosion on Sunday, the Magen David Adom rescue service said. A video circulating online shows a man approaching a Palestinian flag planted in a field. When he kicks it, it appears to trigger an explosive device.

Israel blames Hamas for civilian casualties because the militants fight in dense, residential neighborhoods. The military rarely comments on individual strikes, which often kill women and children. The military says it has killed more than 13,000 Hamas fighters, without providing evidence.

US military aid

Much of the new military assistance approved by the US House of Representatives on Saturday was expected to be used to reinforce Israel’s air defenses.

Israel welcomed the aid, while Hamas condemned it as a “green light” for continued Israeli “aggression.”

The US bill said that more than $9 billion will also be earmarked to address “the dire need for humanitarian assistance for Gaza as well as other vulnerable populations around the world.”

The boost for Israel’s defenses comes after almost all of the more than 300 missiles and drones that Iran launched toward the country a week ago were intercepted, according to the Israeli military.

Israel had vowed to respond to Iran’s first-ever attack on its territory, which was itself retaliation for a deadly April 1 strike on Iran’s embassy consular annex in Damascus.

Iran blamed Israel for that attack.

Israel’s response appeared to come on Friday when explosions were reported in the central Iranian province of Isfahan.

Israeli officials have made no public comment, and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian downplayed the incident.

He told NBC News that Tehran would not respond “as long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the Israeli regime against Iran’s interests.”

On Sunday, Israel said it will hold a “protest talk” with ambassadors from several United Nations Security Council members which voted for the “State of Palestine” to become a full UN member.

France, Japan and others backed the bid which the United States vetoed.

Israel has faced growing global opposition to the war, which has turned vast areas of Gaza into rubble while a siege has left residents without enough water, food, medicines and other vital supplies.

The population “faces famine, malnutrition, and infectious disease outbreaks,” the International Rescue Committee charity warned this week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also come under pressure within Israel, including to reach a deal for the release of hostages still held by Hamas. Israel estimates 129 captives remain in Gaza, including 34 who the military says are dead.

Families of the hostages were among thousands attending an anti-government protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

Ofir Angrest, whose brother Matan was kidnapped on October 7, called for Jewish Israelis to leave an empty chair at their traditional Seder meals marking the beginning of the holiday Passover on Monday.

“Enough! After more than six months, you’re simply disrespecting me and the families of the hostages,” Angrest said, adding that he was addressing the Israeli cabinet.

(With Agencies)


UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause

UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause
Updated 19 June 2024
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UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause

UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause
  • The UN welcomed the move, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Tuesday

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations said on Tuesday it has been unable to distribute aid in the Gaza Strip from the Israel-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing because of lawlessness and panic among hungry people in the area, despite Israel’s daytime pause in military activity.
Israel’s military said on Sunday there would be a daily pause in its attacks from 0500 GMT until 1600 GMT until further notice along the road that leads from Israel via the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah Al-Din Road and northwards in Gaza.
The UN welcomed the move, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Tuesday, but added that “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need.” He said the area between Kerem Shalom and the Salah Al-Din road was very dangerous.
“Fighting is not the only reason for being unable to pick up aid ... The lack of any police or rule of law in the area makes it very dangerous to move goods there,” he said.
“But we are ready to engage with all parties to ensure that aid reaches people in Gaza, and we’ll continue to work with the authorities and with security forces, trying to see what can be done to have security conditions,” Haq said.
“When aid gets to a place, people are starving, and they’re worried that this may be the last food that they see,” he said. “They have to be assured that there’s going to be a regular flow of goods so that there’s not a panic when we get to the area.”
The United Nations and aid groups have long complained of the dangers and obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza, where the UN had warned a famine is looming.
Since the Israel-Hamas war began more than eight months ago, aid for 2.3 million Palestinians has primarily entered through two crossings into southern Gaza — the Rafah crossing from Egypt and the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel.
But deliveries were disrupted when Israel stepped up its military operations in Rafah last month with the stated aim of routing remaining units of Hamas fighters. Egypt closed the Rafah crossing due to the threat posed to humanitarian work and has routed a backlog of aid and fuel via Kerem Shalom.
Haq said on Tuesday that the Rafah crossing remained closed and there was limited access via Kerem Shalom. In Gaza’s north, he said the Erez crossing was not accessible due to an escalation of fighting, while the West Erez and Zikim crossings were operational.


Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew

Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew
Updated 18 June 2024
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Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew

Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew
  • Galaxy Leader management: ‘There is nothing to be gained by the Houthis in keeping the 25 crew members’
  • Houthis hold captive the Bulgarian ship master and chief officer, along with 17 Filipinos and other sailors from Ukraine, Mexico and Romania

Managers of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship on Tuesday renewed calls for the release of the vessel’s 25 crew being held by Yemen’s Houthi militants for seven months.
The militants used helicopters to attack the Bahamas-flagged ship on Nov. 19. They captured the Bulgarian ship master and chief officer, along with 17 Filipinos and other sailors from Ukraine, Mexico and Romania, the ship managers said.
“There is nothing to be gained by the Houthis in keeping the 25 crew members,” said the ship managers, who requested that they be released to their families without further delay.
The Houthis have used drones and missiles to assault ships in the Red Sea, the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden since November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war. Since then, they have sunk one ship, seized another vessel and killed three seafarers in separate attacks.
The International Chamber of Shipping, which represents ship owners, has called the Houthi attacks “unacceptable acts of aggression which threaten the lives of innocent seafarers and the safety of merchant shipping.”
Last week, Houthis notched up direct strikes on two ships — the Liberan-flagged Tutor coal carrier and Palau-flagged Verbena, which was loaded with wood construction material.
Those assaults prompted security experts to note a significant increase in the effectiveness of the Iran-aligned militants’ drone and missile attacks.
Rescuers evacuated crews from the damaged ships due to safety risks. One sailor from the Tutor remains missing. Both ships are now adrift and vulnerable to further attack or sinking.
US and British forces on Monday conducted airstrikes targeting Yemen’s Hodeidah International Airport and Kamaran Island near the port of Salif off the Red Sea.


Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’

Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’
Updated 18 June 2024
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Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’

Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’
  • “As part of the situational assessment, operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated," the military said
  • "Decisions were taken on the continuation of increasing the readiness of troops in the field"

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Tuesday operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were "approved and validated", as Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement engaged in cross-border exchanges of fire.
Senior Israeli military officials "held a joint situational assessment in the Northern Command. As part of the situational assessment, operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated," the military said in a statement.
"Decisions were taken on the continuation of increasing the readiness of troops in the field."
Lebanon's Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, and Israel have been trading near-daily fire since the Gaza war was trigged by the Palestinian militant group's October 7 attack on southern Israel.
The sign-off came as Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz earlier warned Hezbollah that it would be destroyed in the event of a "total war" between the two.
"We are very close to the moment when we will decide to change the rules of the game against Hezbollah and Lebanon. In a total war, Hezbollah will be destroyed and Lebanon will be hit hard," Katz said, according to a statement from his office.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this month that the military was ready for an intense operation in Lebanon if necessary, pledging to restore security to the country's northern border.
US special envoy Amos Hochstein was in Lebanon on Tuesday a day after meeting Israeli leaders, seeking "urgent" de-escalation on the Israel-Lebanon border.


Iran slaps one-year prison term on Nobel winner Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
Updated 18 June 2024
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Iran slaps one-year prison term on Nobel winner Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
  • Mohammadi refused to attend a trial session in Tehran earlier this month, and in March shared an audio message from prison in which she decried a ‘full-scale war against women’ in Iran

TEHRAN: An Iranian court has sentenced Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi to a year in prison for “propaganda against the state,” the jailed activist’s lawyer said on Tuesday.
Mohammadi, 52, has been jailed since November 2021 over several past convictions relating to her advocacy against the obligatory hijab for women and capital punishment in Iran.
Lawyer Mostafa Nili said on X that “Mohammadi was sentenced to one year in prison for propaganda against the system.”
Nili said “the reasons for issuing this sentence” include calls to boycott parliamentary elections, letters to Swedish and Norwegian lawmakers and “comments about Mrs.Dina Ghalibaf.”
Rights groups have said that Ghalibaf, a journalist and student, had been taken into custody after accusing security forces on social media of putting her in handcuffs and sexually assaulting her during a previous arrest at a metro station. Ghalibaf has since been released.
The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan Online website said on April 22 that Ghalibaf “had not been raped” and that she was being prosecuted for making a “false statement.”
Iranian police  have intensified enforcement of the country’s dress code for women.

 


Gaza conflict has caused major environmental damage: UN

Palestinian residents search the rubble of a family home destroyed in Israeli strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (AFP
Palestinian residents search the rubble of a family home destroyed in Israeli strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (AFP
Updated 18 June 2024
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Gaza conflict has caused major environmental damage: UN

Palestinian residents search the rubble of a family home destroyed in Israeli strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (AFP
  • Latest assessment adds to concerns about humanitarian crisis and environmental costs of war

GENEVA: The conflict in Gaza has created unprecedented soil, water, and air pollution in the region, destroying sanitation systems and leaving tonnes of debris from explosive devices, a UN report on the environmental impact of the war said on Tuesday.

The war between Israel and Hamas has swiftly reversed limited progress in improving the region’s water desalination and wastewater treatment facilities, restoring the Wadi Gaza coastal wetland, and investments in solar power installations, according to a preliminary assessment from the UN Environment Programme, or UNEP.
Explosive weapons have generated some 39 million tonnes of debris, the report said.

FASTFACT

UNEP is mandated to assist countries with pollution mitigation and control in areas affected by armed conflict or terrorism.

Each square meter of the Gaza Strip is now littered with more than 107 kg of debris. The report said that is more than five times the debris generated during the battle for Mosul, Iraq, in 2017.
“All of this is deeply harming people’s health, food security, and Gaza’s resilience,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
Gaza’s environment was already suffering from recurring conflicts, rapid urban growth, and high population density before the most recent conflict began on Oct. 7. The UN assessment adds to concerns about the unfolding humanitarian crisis and the environmental costs of war, with Ukraine also recording widespread ecological damage over the past two years.
“Understanding the environmental impacts of war is a grand challenge of our time,” said Eoghan Darbyshire, a senior researcher at the UK-based nonprofit Conflict and Environment Observatory.
“The impacts will not only be felt locally where the fighting is taking place but may be displaced or even felt at the global scale via greenhouse gas emissions.”
The UN assessment stems from a December 2023 request from the Palestinian Environment Quality Authority for UNEP to take stock of environmental damages. UNEP is mandated to assist countries with pollution mitigation and control in areas affected by armed conflict or terrorism.
Due to security concerns and access restrictions, the UN used remote sensing surveys, data from Palestinian technical entities, and damage assessments from the World Bank in their report.
Ground measurements, however, would be critical to understanding the extent of soil and water pollution, Darbyshire said.
The report found that the water, sanitation, and hygiene systems are almost entirely defunct, with Gaza’s five wastewater treatment plants shut down. Israel’s long-term occupation had already posed major environmental challenges in the Palestinian territories about water quality and availability, according to a 2020 report by the UN Development Program.
Over 92 percent of water in the Gaza Strip was then deemed unfit for human consumption.
The Gaza Strip had one of the highest densities of rooftop solar panels in the world, with the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies estimating 2023 some 12,400 rooftop solar systems.
But Israel has since destroyed a large proportion of Gaza’s burgeoning solar infrastructure, and broken panels can leak lead and heavy metal contaminants into the soil.
Since a week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed.
Looking at the scale of environmental destruction, “it is my opinion that large areas of Gaza will not be recovered to a safe state within a generation, even with limitless finance and will,” said Darbyshire.