Palestinian militants release video of Israeli hostage alive in Gaza

Palestinian militants release video of Israeli hostage alive in Gaza
An image grab from a video released by the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad on May 28, 2024, shows an Israeli hostage held in Gaza, identified by Israeli media as 28-year-old Russian-Israeli hostage Sasha Trupanov, speaking to the camera. (AFP)
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Updated 29 May 2024
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Palestinian militants release video of Israeli hostage alive in Gaza

Palestinian militants release video of Israeli hostage alive in Gaza

GAZA STRIP: Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad released a video on Tuesday showing an Israeli hostage alive and held in the Gaza Strip.

The captive, identified by Israeli media as Sasha Trupanov, 28, is seen speaking in Hebrew in the 30-second clip.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum campaign group identified him as Alexander (Sasha) Trupanov, and called on the Israeli authorities to secure the release of all captives held in Gaza.

It was unclear when the footage, in which he is seen wearing a T-shirt, was taken.

Trupanov, a Russian-Israeli dual national, was captured on October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Oz along with his mother, grandmother and girlfriend.

The three women were freed during a truce between Hamas and Israel at the end of November, which led to the release of 105 hostages.

“Seeing my Sasha on television today is very heartening, but it also breaks my heart that he has been in captivity for such a long time,” said his mother, Yelena Trupanov, in a short message published by the families’ forum.

Israel’s government has instructed its negotiating team to continue talks with mediators to secure a deal for the release of the hostages, but no new round of talks has begun.

“The Israeli government must give a significant mandate to the negotiating team, which will be able to lead to a deal for the return of all the hostages — the living to rehabilitation and the murdered to burial,” a families’ forum statement said after the release of Trupanov’s video.

Trupanov’s father was killed in the October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,096 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals

Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals
Updated 22 June 2024
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Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals

Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals
  • Worshippers parade through villages on horseback as part of traditional festivities

CAIRO: As Egyptian pilgrims return from their spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia, waiting families have begun plans for celebrations in homes decorated with special murals.

Festive images depict Hajj symbols such as airplanes, the Kaaba, Mount Arafat, and camels, celebrating the fulfillment of the sacred pilgrimage. 

Emad Abdel Latif, a folklore professor at Assiut University, told Arab News that the “deep-rooted tradition begins as soon as the pilgrim departs for the holy lands.”

He said the homes “are initially painted, typically in blue, and then adorned with murals that symbolize aspects of the Hajj, including the Kaaba and the aircraft transporting the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.”

Abdel Latif added: “This custom also includes inscribing phrases such as ‘Labaik Allahumma Labaik’ (Here I am, O God, here I am), ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is the Greatest), along with wishes for a blessed Hajj and forgiven sins.”

Traditionally, celebrations included a religious ceremony, during which returning pilgrims might parade through their village on horseback, while sweets are distributed among onlookers. 

Said Al-Badri, a mural artist from Giza, described the intricate planning that goes into creating the artworks.

“Depending on the complexity, a single mural can take one to two hours, while a complete home mural might require a full day of work,” he said.

“These murals visually narrate the pilgrim’s journey — boarding the plane, circling the Kaaba, the ritual walk between Safa and Marwa, standing at Mount Arafat, and visiting the Prophet’s tomb. They are enriched with Qur’anic verses and popular phrases of congratulation.”

Al-Badri learnt the art from his father, and has dedicated himself to preserving this cultural tradition.

“Each year, as pilgrims return, I continue this legacy, enhancing our local heritage through these festive decorations,” he said.

Amira Mahmoud’s mother was one of more than 1.8 million people who undertook the Hajj pilgrimage this year. The murals “add to our celebration,” she said.

“Our community deeply values these traditions, which embellish our homes, and reinforce familial and communal bonds.”

Mahmoud highlights the significance of these murals in preserving cultural heritage.

“These artworks are more than decorations. They are a vibrant testament to our rich traditions, inviting every returning pilgrim to the heart of community life.”


Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips

Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips
Updated 22 June 2024
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Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips

Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips
  • The prime minister presided over a crisis cell meeting initiated by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, focusing on the deaths of Egyptian pilgrims
  • Preliminarily, 16 travel agencies were identified as circumventing regulations and transporting pilgrims without offering proper services

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has ordered 16 tourism companies to be stripped of their licenses and referred their managers to the public prosecutor’s office for illegally facilitating pilgrims’ travel to Makkah.
The prime minister presided over a crisis cell meeting initiated by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, focusing on the deaths of Egyptian pilgrims.
A report discussed at the meeting highlighted that the rise in the deaths of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims stemmed from some companies that “organized the Hajj programs using a personal visit visa, which prevents its holders from entering Makkah” via official channels.
It emerged that attempts to bypass the official process included trekking through desert paths and the absence of suitable accommodation at other sacred sites, leading to exhaustion among unregistered pilgrims due to severe heat.
Preliminarily, 16 travel agencies were identified as circumventing regulations and transporting pilgrims without offering proper services.
The prime minister ordered the immediate revocation of these companies’ licenses, referred the responsible people to public prosecution, and imposed fines to benefit the bereaved families of the deceased pilgrims.
During the meeting, measures were discussed to prevent such incidents in the future, including enforcing immediate actions against companies or entities that facilitated these irregular pilgrimages.
Madbouly said that although the official Egyptian Hajj delegation comprises more than 50,000 pilgrims, it was difficult to ascertain the number of unregistered travelers due to the absence of recorded data.
An official source, preferring anonymity, told Arab News that high fatality numbers reported might include many who traveled under visit visas — not Hajj visas.
He suggested that those responsible for “these transgressions face severe repercussions, possibly extending beyond license revocation to criminal prosecution.”
The French news agency AFP reported that the death toll among Egyptian pilgrims for this year’s Hajj had risen to 600, indicating the majority were not part of the official delegation.
Regarding legal responsibilities, Egyptian lawyer Ahmed Abul Saud said that travel agencies bear criminal responsibility if they knowingly facilitate these illegal activities.
Conversely, he said that if they were unaware and merely issued visas based on client requests, it would be easier to hold them accountable if it was proven they had explicit knowledge of the pilgrims’ intentions.
Saturday’s discussions also revealed that some companies possibly knew what the unofficial pilgrims planned, while others may have been unaware, issuing visas without knowing the intended misuse.
This situation underscores the complexity of ensuring that all travel facilitators adhere strictly to legal and ethical standards, emphasizing the need for robust oversight and accountability measures to prevent future occurrences.
Officials said that ensuring all travel facilitators adhere to legal and ethical standards required robust oversight and accountability measures.


EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling
Updated 22 June 2024
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EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling
  • The EU condemns the shelling which damaged the ICRC office in Gaza

BRUSSELS: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on Saturday called for a probe into deadly shelling that damaged an office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza.


“The EU condemns the shelling which damaged the ICRC office in Gaza and led to dozens of casualties. An independent investigation is needed and those responsible must be held accountable,” Borrell wrote on X.


Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader
Updated 22 June 2024
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Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader
  • “A leader of the Al-Fajr Forces of the Jamaa Islamiya, Ayman Ghotmeh, was killed in an Israeli strike in Khiara in the western Bekaa,” the source said
  • The Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, was established in 1982 to fight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon

BEIRUT: A security source said a leader of the Lebanese Islamist group Jamaa Islamiya, an ally of Hamas, was killed Saturday in an Israeli strike on a vehicle in eastern Lebanon.
Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7, Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement and other groups allied with the Palestinian militants have traded near-daily fire with Israel across the southern border.
“A leader of the Al-Fajr Forces of the Jamaa Islamiya, Ayman Ghotmeh, was killed in an Israeli strike in Khiara in the western Bekaa,” 10 kilometers (six miles) from the border with Syria, the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, was established in 1982 to fight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
The group has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks against Israel, including joint operations with Hamas in Lebanon. It is estimated to number around 500 men.
Lebanon’s state-run ANI news agency reported one person killed when a car was targeted in Khiara, and that the victim was from the nearby village of Lala, without giving further details.
Israel’s military said an aircraft carried out a “precise strike in the Beqaa area in Lebanon in order to eliminate the terrorist” Ayman Ghotmeh, who they said supplied weapons to Hamas and Jamaa Islamiya in Lebanon.
He was targeted for his “involvement in the promotion and execution of terrorist activities against Israel,” the Israeli statement added.
Jamaa Islamiya, which has had seven fighters killed in Lebanon since October 7, did not immediately announce any deaths.
On April 26, the group said two of their leaders were killed in an Israeli strike in eastern Lebanon.
More than eight months of violence on the Israel-Lebanon border has left at least 480 people dead in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including at least 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
On the Israeli side, at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.
Heightened tensions in recent days on the Israel-Lebanon border have raised fears of an expanded regional conflict.


Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath
Updated 22 June 2024
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Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath
  • According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack
  • More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank

ARIEL, Palestinian Territories: With many Israelis gripped by a sense of insecurity following Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, the number of women applying for gun permits has soared, while feminist groups have criticized the rush to arms.
According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack, with 18,000 approved, more than tripling the number of pre-war licenses held by women.
The surge has been enabled by the loosening of gun laws under Israel’s right-wing government and its far-right security minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with 10,000 enrolled in mandatory training, according to the ministry.
“I would have never thought of buying a weapon or getting a permit, but since October 7, things changed a little bit,” political science professor Limor Gonen told AFP during a weapons handling class at a shooting range in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
The October 7 attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
“We were all targeted (on October 7) and I don’t want to be taken by surprise, so I’m trying to defend myself,” Gonen said after the class, an obligatory step for acquiring a permit.
While the immediate trigger for the surge in gun buying was the Hamas attack, Ben Gvir was already pledging to reform firearms legislation when he became security minister in late 2022.
He promised to raise the number of civilians holding weapons and “increase self-defense capacity.”
Under Ben Gvir, the process for getting a gun license has been sped up, with Israeli media reporting that in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack the authorities were often clearing hundreds of permits per day.
Eligibility criteria for gun ownership in Israel now include being a citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18, having a basic command of Hebrew and medical clearance.
The full list of requirements makes it nearly impossible for non-Jews to obtain a permit.
In March, Ben Gvir, who is himself a settler in the West Bank, hailed civilian weapon ownership passing the 100,000 mark, while showing off his own gun at a rally.
But his rush to put deadly arms into the hands of ordinary Israelis has drawn criticism too.
The Gun Free Kitchen Tables Coalition, an Israeli initiative founded by feminist activists, condemned the civilian arms race.
It is “a strategy of far-right settlers to consider the arming of women to be a feminist act,” a spokesperson for the group of 18 organizations told AFP.
“The increase of weapons in the civilian space leads to an increase in violence and murder against women. It’s time for the state to understand that individual safety is its responsibility.”
Community manager Yahel Reznik, 24, said she now felt “a lot more safe” in Ariel, which sits three kilometers north of the Palestinian city of Salfit.
“Thanks to my training I will be able to defend myself and protect others” from an attack, she told AFP.
Violence in the West Bank, which was already rising before the war, has surged since October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli settlers and troops across the West Bank since the start of the Gaza war, according to the Palestinian Authority.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The surge in gun ownership is not limited to West Bank settlers. In the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, just north of Tel Aviv, Corine Nissim said she never leaves home without her gun.
The 42-year-old English teacher walked her three children to the park with a 9mm Smith & Wesson sticking out the back of her trousers.
“After October 7, I think like most people in Israel, I realized that the only person I can trust is myself,” she told AFP, adding she bought a gun not to feel “helpless.”
“The worst scenario that was going through my head was that, of course, terrorists attack me and my family in our own house,” the mother said.
Her decision to own a gun initially surprised some in the seaside town known for its tranquillity and safety, she said.
“People watched me and said, ‘This is so surreal to see you like this with a gun and with the baby’” said Nissim.
But, she said, others started to agree with her and said they would follow suit.
“Many women told me: ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to get a gun as well.’“