Deadly strikes hit Gaza as US envoy visits Israel

Update Deadly strikes hit Gaza as US envoy visits Israel
Smoke billows after an Israeli strike in the central Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024. Heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp since the military launched a ‘targeted’ operation focusing on Rafah in early May. (AFP)
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Updated 19 May 2024
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Deadly strikes hit Gaza as US envoy visits Israel

Deadly strikes hit Gaza as US envoy visits Israel
  • Rescue workers continuing to search for missing people under the rubble
  • Heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp

GAZA: An Israeli strike killed 31 people in central Gaza Sunday, the Palestinian territory’s civil defense agency said, as US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan visited for talks on the conflict.
Israeli troops have moved in on the Gaza Strip’s far-southern city of Rafah, which the army describes as the last Hamas stronghold and where the United States says 800,000 civilians have been newly displaced by the fighting.
Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said it was targeting Israeli forces stationed at Rafah crossing — a vital conduit for humanitarian aid that is now closed — with mortar fire.
Israel has also fought and bombed resurgent Hamas forces in northern and central areas of the coastal territory previously considered to be under army control, sparking US warnings that it could become mired in a lengthy counterinsurgency campaign.
In the latest aerial bombardment overnight, Gaza’s civil defense agency said an Israeli strike killed 31 people and wounded 20 in a home in the central Nuseirat refugee camp.
Israel’s military, which on Sunday reported its aircraft had “struck dozens of terror targets” over the past 24 hours, said it was checking the reports.
Witness Yasser Abu Oula told AFP an entire residential complex “was destroyed” and “there are still bodies under the rubble.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to keep fighting Hamas in Gaza, following its October 7 attack that sparked the war, until the group is defeated and all remaining hostages are released.
But he has faced intense opposition and calls to announce a plan for Gaza’s post-war governance — from top ally Washington, from mass street protests and now also from members of his war cabinet.
Centrist politician Benny Gantz threatened Saturday to quit the governing hard-right coalition unless Netanyahu approves a post-war “action plan” by June 8.
Amid the political turmoil, Sullivan met his Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi and Netanyahu in Jerusalem for talks on the brutal Gaza conflict and post-war scenarios.
The US embassy released video footage from the meetings, but did not elaborate on Sullivan’s discussions with Israeli officials.

Gantz demanded steps to defeat Hamas, to bring home the hostages, and toward forming an “American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip.”
Netanyahu dismissed Gantz’s comments as “washed-up words,” saying they would lead to “a defeat for Israel” and “the establishment of a Palestinian state,” which he fiercely opposes.
Washington has pushed for a post-war plan for Gaza involving Palestinians and supported by regional powers.
US President Joe Biden called Sunday for an immediate Gaza ceasefire and said he was pushing for a regional peace deal “to get a two-state solution, the only solution.”
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Hamas also took about 250 hostages during the October 7 attack, of whom 124 remain held in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,456 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Israel has imposed a siege on the long-blockaded Gaza Strip, depriving its 2.4 million people of normal access to clean water, food, medicines and fuel, the suffering eased only by sporadic aid shipments by land, air and sea.
The head of the UN agency helping Palestinians said that “despite all the calls by the international community not to launch an offensive in Rafah, in reality an offensive started on May 6.”
Since then, “we have again about half of the population of Gaza being on the road forced to flee” for safety once more, though “we keep saying there is absolutely nowhere to go,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Amman.
“There is absolutely no safe place in the Gaza Strip,” he added.
Lazzarini said that because of the fighting, “almost nothing in terms of aid is crossing” into Gaza, raising fears that recent gains made “to prevent a looming famine ... might quickly be reversed.”
Truck arrivals have slowed after the Rafah crossing with Egypt closed when Israel launched its operation in the city.
After a series of attacks on Gaza-bound trucks in Israel, a group of Israeli activists on Sunday traveled with an aid convoy to protect it, an AFP correspondent said.
“Each truck can be the one tool that saves the life of a five-year-old child,” said activist Oshra Bar, 36.
Aid has also begun entering via a temporary US-built floating pier, where shipments sent from Cyprus are offloaded for distribution.
The United Arab Emirates said Sunday a shipment of “252 tons of humanitarian relief supplies for the people of Gaza was successfully unloaded” after arriving from the Cypriot port of Larnaca.
The UN’s humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned that if dire fuel shortages are not alleviated, the “famine which we have talked about for so long, and which is looming, will not be looming anymore. It will be present.”
“Our worry ... is that the consequence is going to be really, really hard,” he told AFP in Qatar. “Hard, difficult, and apocalyptic.”


UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses
Updated 5 sec ago
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UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses
The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel
The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah

GENEVA: A group of United Nations experts on Thursday warned arms and ammunitions manufacturers against taking part in the transfer of weapons to Israel, saying it could make them complicit in human rights abuses and violations of international law.
The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel, “even if they are executed under existing export licenses.”
“These companies, by sending weapons, parts, components, and ammunition to Israeli forces, risk being complicit in serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian laws,” the experts said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from Israel which has repeatedly denied carrying out abuses during its Gaza operations, saying it is acting to defend itself and is fighting Hamas militants, not the Palestinian population.
The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah in the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, in a landmark emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide.
“In this context, continuing arms transfers to Israel may be seen as knowingly providing assistance for operations that contravene international human rights and international humanitarian laws and may result in profit from such assistance,” the experts said.
Israel has rejected the genocide accusations as false and grossly distorted.
The UN human rights office said on Wednesday that Israeli forces may have repeatedly violated the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in the Gaza conflict. Israel dismissed the findings as flawed.
Israel’s air and ground offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, according to health authorities there.
Israel launched its assault after Hamas fighters stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed
Updated 57 min 1 sec ago
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Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed
  • Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed
  • A source close to the group told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike

BEIRUT: Hezbollah said it fired “dozens” of rockets into northern Israel Thursday in retaliation for a deadly strike in south Lebanon, a day after a fiery speech from the group’s leader.
Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese movement allied with Hamas, have traded near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel which triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
Fears of a regional war rose after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Wednesday “no place” in Israel would be spared in case of all-out war against his group, and threatened the nearby island nation of Cyprus if it opened its airports to Israel.
Hezbollah on Thursday said that “in response to the assassination that the Israeli enemy carried out in the village of Deir Kifa,” fighters targeted an Israeli barracks “with dozens of Katyusha rockets.”
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) had reported one dead after an “enemy drone” struck a vehicle in south Lebanon’s Deir Kifa area.
Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed. A source close to the group, requesting anonymity, told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike.
The Israeli military said an air strike “eliminated” a Hezbollah operative in the Deir Kifa area, saying he was “responsible for planning and carrying out terror attacks against Israel and commanding Hezbollah ground forces” in south Lebanon’s Jouaiyya area.
Elsewhere, Israeli fighter jets struck “a Hezbollah surface-to-air missile launcher that posed a threat to aircraft operating over Lebanon,” the army statement added.
The exchanges between the foes, which last went to war in 2006, have escalated in recent weeks, and the Israeli military said Tuesday that “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.”
After the Hezbollah leader’s threats against Cyprus, Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Thursday that “relations between Lebanon and Cyprus are based on a rich history of diplomatic cooperation.”
Contacts and consultations continue between the two countries “at the highest levels,” a foreign ministry statement said, without making specific reference to Nasrallah’s remarks.
In a conversation with his Cyprus counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib expressed “Lebanon’s constant reliance on the positive role that Cyprus plays in supporting regional stability,” the NNA reported.
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides had denied his country’s involvement in the war and said it was “part of the solution.”
The cross-border violence has killed at least 479 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.


UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan
Updated 20 June 2024
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UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan
  • Grandi said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access
  • The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said

JUBA: Humanitarian access to war-torn Sudan remains woefully “insufficient,” raising the risk of starvation among its population, Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, warned.
War has raged since April 2023 between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than ten million people, according to the United Nations.
In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Grandi, who leads the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR, said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access.
“We are asking all the parties to give access to humanitarians because our presence there is insufficient to help the people in need, and especially to bring the food and the other supplies that are needed for people that otherwise risk starvation,” he said.
Aid workers were able to get “a bit more” access than before, due to “insistence... on the part of the international community,” said Grandi, during a visit to South Sudan, which has seen a huge influx of returnees from Sudan since April last year.
The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said, “because otherwise we risk having more displacement, and even worse, we risk seeing people dying of hunger.”
“I am very worried because I was hoping at the beginning like many Sudanese did, that this would be a short-lived conflict.”
Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation.
Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Christos Christou, the international chief of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, on Thursday described Sudan as “one of the worst crises the world has seen for decades... yet the humanitarian response is profoundly inadequate.”
“There are extreme levels of suffering across the country, and the needs are growing by the day,” he said on X.


Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat
Updated 20 June 2024
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Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat
  • Temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
  • Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar

Kuwait City: Kuwait has announced temporary power cuts in some parts of the country during peak consumption hours, saying it is struggling to meet increased demand spurred by extreme summer heat.
In a statement on Wednesday, Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy said the scheduled cuts would occur for up to two hours a day, in the first such step for the OPEC member state as climate change causes temperatures to rise.
It blamed the cuts on “the inability of power plants to meet increased demand” during peak hours amid “a rise in temperatures compared to the same period in previous years.”
On Thursday, the ministry published a schedule of expected cuts across several parts of the country, after urging residents to ration consumption to ease the load on power plants.
Kuwait, one of the largest crude producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is considered one of the world’s hottest desert countries.
In recent years, climate change has made summer peaks hotter and longer.
The extreme heat raises reliance on energy-guzzling air conditioners which are ubiquitous in Kuwait during the summer months.
Temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, according to Kuwait’s Meteorological Department.
“What we are experiencing today is the result of climate change,” said Kuwaiti astronomer and scientist Adel Al-Saadoun, noting that temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
Last month, Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar, during the summer months. The contracts would last from June 1 to August 31.
Kamel Harami, a Kuwaiti energy expert, said that the Gulf state needed to revamp its energy infrastructure.
“The available energy is not sufficient, and instead of relying on oil and gas, we must go toward nuclear, solar and wind energy,” he told AFP.
“This is only the beginning of the crisis, and the programmed cuts of electricity will continue in the coming years if we do not accelerate the construction of power stations.”
Umm Mohammed, a Kuwaiti woman in her sixties, said she was left without power for two hours on Wednesday.
“We weren’t severely affected,” she told AFP, noting that the house remained cool during the brief outage.
“Some turn their homes into refrigerators, even when they are not inside, and this raises the load” on power plants, she said.


Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat

Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat
Updated 20 June 2024
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Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat

Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat
  • Iraq is grappling with a blistering summer, with temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius
  • The United Nations ranks Iraq among the world’s five most climate-vulnerable nations

Baghdad: In the sizzling Baghdad heat, Mussa Abdallah takes to the Tigris river during the day to cool off, while others opt for ice skating to escape the relentless temperatures.
“At the end of the day, I’m sweaty and exhausted because of the sun,” said Abdallah, a 21-year-old house painter in the Iraqi capital.
“At home, there’s no electricity. If I want to wash, the water is scalding hot,” he added, describing how water stored above ground virtually boils at this time of year.
Iraq is grappling with a blistering summer, with temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, exacerbated by declining rainfall, rampant desertification and frequent dust storms.
The United Nations ranks Iraq among the world’s five most climate-vulnerable nations.
Almost every day after work, Abdallah retreats to the Tigris to escape the sweltering heat.
“We’re young and want to have a good time — where else can we go?” the decorator said on the banks of the river, traces of white paint still visible on his temples and long-sleeved T-shirt.
While Abdallah puts his sandals back on, nearby others are taking the plunge and two bathers are washing their hair with soap.
As night brings little relief from the sweltering gusts, residents of Baghdad flock to the city’s lone indoor ice rink to find respite.
The rink is in one of the air-conditioned shopping malls that have sprung up in the capital in recent years, attracting up to 100 visitors on busy days, 25-year-old instructor Sajjad Mohamed said.
“Twenty-four hours a day, the electricity never goes out. There’s a cooling system” for the ice, Mohamed said.
Abbas, 26, discovered ice skating in Turkiye. Now back in Iraq, he is pursuing it enthusiastically.
“When we finish work in the afternoon, it’s either go home, or go to shopping malls and other places where it’s cold,” he said.
The soaring seasonal temperatures have become a troubling fact of life for the overwhelming majority of Iraq’s 43 million inhabitants.
Although it is rich in oil, Iraq has seen its infrastructure suffer after decades of conflict and failed public policy that has resulted in long power cuts on the public grid with generators unable to handle the strain.
On the banks of the Tigris, Rashid Al-Rashed takes off his T-shirt to dive into the Tigris.
“At home it’s hot, I can’t stay there for long. The public electricity is inadequate,” the 17-year-old garbage collector said.
To escape the heat, “I bathe every day, for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour,” he added.
Elsewhere on the river, a police boat moves along a dozen bathers from the water for their safety.
“When we make them leave, they come back,” said a policeman, seeking to explain everything was being done to prevent deaths from drownings.
But the danger is evident. On his phone, he displays the body of an 11-year-old boy found nearly 48 hours after drowning.
While the river — despite its danger — is free, those with more means can pay $10 for an afternoon with family or friends at Baghdad Aqua Park.
“This year summer came earlier, so we have more visitors,” one of the water park’s administrators Ali Yussef said. “People are coming after work or school,” he added.
Maitham Mahdi, 31, was on his second visit of the month. “I think I’ll be coming a lot during the summer,” the civil servant, still dressed in his swimsuit, said as he departed the indoor pool.
Mahdi also complained about the electricity at home. “We come here to get a bit of fresh air,” he explained.
Iraq has just gone through four years of drought, marked by water shortages and a drastic drop in river flow.
But on the back of a wet winter, officials are hoping the more generous rainfall will have a knock-on effect over the summer.
Despite those hopes, however, the thermometer continues to climb.
The meteorological service is forecasting 50 degrees Celsius this week in the capital and southern cities such as Basra and Nasiriyah.
Its director, Amer Al-Jaberi, said with its semi-desert climate, Iraq is expecting “heat waves,” particularly in the south, adding these intensifying phenomena are also the result of climate change.