Gazans back in war-ravaged Jabalia ‘shocked’ by destruction

Gazans back in war-ravaged Jabalia ‘shocked’ by destruction
Palestinians inspect the damage after Israeli forces withdrew from Jabalia refugee camp, following a raid, in the northern Gaza Strip, May 31, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 June 2024
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Gazans back in war-ravaged Jabalia ‘shocked’ by destruction

Gazans back in war-ravaged Jabalia ‘shocked’ by destruction
  • Israeli forces carried out a massive bombardment campaign in Jabalia in recent weeks
  • Men, women and children were walking through streets where their houses once stood, now full of grey concrete slabs

JABALIA, Palestinian Territories: Mohammed Al-Najjar, a 33-year-old Gazan, said Saturday he was “shocked” and feeling “lost” as he returned home, only to find much of Jabalia refugee camp in ruins after an Israeli offensive
“All the houses have been reduced to rubble,” Najjar told AFP in Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip.
“You are lost, you do not know where exactly your house is in the middle of this massive destruction.”
Israeli forces carried out a massive bombardment campaign in Jabalia in recent weeks, part of a fierce ground offensive in northern Gaza — an area the military had previously said was out of the control of Hamas militants.
“I was shocked by the extent of the destruction in the latest aggression on Jabalia camp,” said Najjar.
In recent days, AFP correspondents have seen scores of Palestinians streaming into the area, trying to find their homes and salvage whatever belongings are left.
Men, women and children were walking through streets where their houses once stood, now full of grey concrete slabs.
Charred furniture, beds and mangled iron doors littered almost every street in the camp, an area once bustling with activity and home to more than 100,000 people, according to UN figures from before the war.
Many families carried their belongings on donkey carts, while others walked with beds and mattresses on their heads.
“We have no other place other than our homes,” said Suad Abu Salah, 47, who has also returned after having fled the area earlier on in the Israel-Hamas war, now nearing its eighth month.
But “Jabalia has been wiped off the map,” she said.
The war was sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented 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 36,379 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Despite the destruction, Najjar said people were “determined” to return to the neighborhoods they had left to avoid the fighting.
Residents were willing to “set up tents and temporary shelters in the middle of the rubble,” he said, even though “there’s fear, fear that the (Israeli) occupation might come back.”
“But we will stay on our land. We have nowhere else.”
On Friday the Israeli military announced it had completed its mission in eastern Jabalia, where it had previously said Hamas militants had regrouped.
On Saturday Jabalia residents said they could still hear constant gunfire and artillery shelling from the east.
Fresh fighting erupted in the north in early May, around the same time Israeli troops took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt.
During the latest operation, Israeli forces in Jabalia had retrieved the bodies of seven hostages, and last month the military reported “perhaps the fiercest” fighting there since the start of the war.
Mahmud Assaliyah, 50, said “houses have been torn apart and entire apartment blocks have been completely destroyed in Jabalia.”
“There’s not a single house that has not been targeted by the Israeli occupation army.”
He has returned to find his house, too, had been flattened.
“Cement pillars have fallen, walls have been destroyed, furniture has been scattered, burnt down and torn apart,” Assaliyah said.
Abu Salah said many residents are tired of being displaced and just want to stay put, whatever happens.
“We want to live like other people in the world,” she said.
“We need a solution and an end to this war, so that we can live in peace.”


Palestinian officials say Israel troops kill 5 in West Bank raid

Palestinian officials say Israel troops kill 5 in West Bank raid
Updated 55 min 47 sec ago
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Palestinian officials say Israel troops kill 5 in West Bank raid

Palestinian officials say Israel troops kill 5 in West Bank raid

Palestinian officials said Israeli troops killed five Palestinians, including two women, in a pre-dawn raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.
The deaths came when Israeli forces raided the Tulkarem camp, the head of its popular committee, Faisal Salamah, told AFP. An activist at the camp confirmed the toll. The Israeli military did not immediately comment.


Palestinian factions sign declaration to end divisions after talks in China

Palestinian factions sign declaration to end divisions after talks in China
Updated 23 July 2024
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Palestinian factions sign declaration to end divisions after talks in China

Palestinian factions sign declaration to end divisions after talks in China
  • Palestinian factions including Hamas and Fatah met in Beijing this week in a renewed bid for reconciliation
  • Hamas and Fatah have been bitter rivals since Hamas fighters ejected Fatah from the Gaza Strip

BEIJING: Various Palestinian factions have agreed to end their divisions and strengthen Palestinian unity by signing the Beijing Declaration on Tuesday morning in China, according to Chinese state media.

The declaration was signed at the closing ceremony of a reconciliation dialogue among the factions held in Beijing from July 21-23, state broadcaster CCTV said.

A total of 14 Palestinian factions including the leaders of rival groups Fatah and Hamas also met with the media, with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi present, CGTN said in a social media post.

Rival factions Hamas and Fatah met in China in April to discuss reconciliation efforts to end around 17 years of disputes.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi hailed the agreement by 14 Palestinian factions to set up an “interim national reconciliation government” to govern Gaza after the war.

Palestinian factions including Hamas and Fatah met in Beijing this week in a renewed bid for reconciliation.

As the meeting wrapped up on Tuesday, China’s top diplomat said the groups had committed to “reconciliation.”

“The most prominent highlight is the agreement to form an interim national reconciliation government around the governance of post-war Gaza,” Wang said following the signing of the “Beijing declaration” by the factions in the Chinese capital.

“Reconciliation is an internal matter for the Palestinian factions, but at the same time, it cannot be achieved without the support of the international community,” Wang said.

China, he added, was keen to “play a constructive role in safeguarding peace and stability in the Middle East.”

Hamas and Fatah have been bitter rivals since Hamas fighters ejected Fatah from the Gaza Strip after deadly clashes that followed Hamas’s resounding victory in a 2006 election.

The Islamist Hamas movement has ruled Gaza since seizing control of it in 2007.

The secularist Fatah movement controls the Palestinian Authority, which has partial administrative control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.


Israeli government quietly sends millions to unauthorized West Bank settler outposts

Israeli government quietly sends millions to unauthorized West Bank settler outposts
Updated 23 July 2024
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Israeli government quietly sends millions to unauthorized West Bank settler outposts

Israeli government quietly sends millions to unauthorized West Bank settler outposts
  • Some of those outposts have been linked to settler violence against Palestinians and are sanctioned by the US
  • Palestinians say all settlements are illegal or illegitimate and undermine hopes for a two-state solution

JERUSALEM: The Israeli government has budgeted millions of dollars to protect small, unauthorized Jewish farms in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, underwriting tiny outposts meant to grow into full-fledged settlements, according to an anti-settlement monitoring group.
Documents uncovered by Peace Now illustrate how Israel’s pro-settler government has quietly poured money into the unauthorized outposts, which are separate from its more than 100 officially recognized settlements. Some of those outposts have been linked to settler violence against Palestinians and are sanctioned by the US.
Palestinians and the international community say all settlements are illegal or illegitimate and undermine hopes for a two-state solution.
The Ministry of Settlements and National Mission, which is headed by a far-right settler leader, confirmed it budgeted 75 million shekels ($20.5 million) last year for security equipment for “young settlements” — the term it uses for unauthorized Jewish farms and outposts in the West Bank. The money was quietly authorized in December while the country’s attention was focused on the war against Hamas in Gaza.
Peace Now said the funds have been used for vehicles, drones, cameras, generators, electric gates, fences and new roads that reach some of the more remote farms.
The group estimates approximately 500 people live on the small, unauthorized farms and 25,000 more live in larger outposts. Those outposts, while not officially authorized by the government, often receive tacit support before they are retroactively legalized.
Hagit Ofran, director of Peace Now’s “settlement watch” program, said the funding was the first time the Israeli government has channeled money to the outposts so openly.
Rights groups say the expanding network of remote farms atop West Bank hilltops are the primary drivers of violence and displacement of Palestinians.
In the last month alone, Israel’s government has legalized five formerly unauthorized settlements and made the largest land grab in the West Bank in three decades, declaring a wide swath of the territory state land in preparation for new construction.
Palestinians say violence by people associated with these farms has soared since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, which sparked Israel’s war against the militant group in the Gaza Strip.
On Friday, the top United Nations court said Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territories is unlawful and called for an immediate halt to settlement construction. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly denounced the nonbinding opinion, saying the territories are part of the Jewish people’s historic homeland.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — areas claimed by the Palestinians for a future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. It has settled over 500,000 Jews in the West Bank, most of whom live on authorized settlements, in addition to over 200,000 others in contested east Jerusalem, which it claims as part of its capital.
Netanyahu’s far-right government is dominated by West Bank settlers and pro-settler politicians. Netanyahu has placed his finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, in a new position inside the Defense Ministry overseeing settlement construction and development.
The United States, Britain, and the European Union have imposed international sanctions on 13 hard-line Israeli settlers, some of whom are associated with the outpost farms — as well as two affiliated outposts and four groups — over accusations of attacks and harassment against Palestinians. The measures are meant as a deterrent, and they expose people to asset freezes and travel and visa bans, though the freezes have been less effective.
The office of Orit Strock, the Minister of Settlements and National Mission, said the funds were coordinated with the Defense Ministry and “carried out in accordance with all laws.” It added that Strock, herself a longtime settler leader, “sees great importance in strengthening settlements” despite international condemnation.
The budget was approved in December and predates the sanctions. The government did not publish a list of the farms and outposts that received funding, so it’s unclear if the sanctioned farms and outposts are among them. But it’s likely that at least some of them are since the budget supported 68 of the nearly 70 farms identified by Peace Now, Ofran said. The number of farms has since grown to more than 90.
Peace Now said it learned of the funding decision from recordings and presentations shared at a conference of the pro-settler Religious Zionism Party last month at the “Shaharit Farm” outpost in the northern West Bank. Strock and Smotrich were in attendance.
US officials including President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have repeatedly raised concerns about the surge in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. Israel’s former top general in the West Bank raised similar concerns in a recent retirement speech.
Israel has said it is taking action against such attacks and argues that the sanctions are unnecessary.


Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen

Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen
Updated 23 July 2024
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Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen

Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen
  • Hodeidah port is a vital entry point for fuel imports, international aid for Houthi-held areas
  • The strike on Saturday was the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country

HODEIDAH: Firefighting teams on Monday were struggling to contain a massive blaze at Yemen’s Hodeida port, days after a deadly Israeli strike hit oil tanks and a power plant in the harbor.
Heavy flames and black smoke were seen spiralling into the sky for a third consecutive day following the strike on Saturday, said an AFP correspondent in Hodeidah.
Firefighting teams appear to have made little progress, with the blaze seemingly expanding in some parts of the port, the correspondent said, amid fears it could reach food storage facilities.
High-resolution satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies showed flames consuming a heavily damaged fuel storage area at the Hodeidah harbor.
The fuel depot is run by the Yemen Petroleum Company which said late Sunday that the six people killed in the Israel strike were its employees.
The Houthis say more than 80 others were wounded in the attack, many of them with severe burns.
With black smoke billowing overhead, a funeral ceremony was held Monday for the victims of the strikes.
Their coffins were carried through the streets of Hodeidah, flanked by crowds and led by a Houthi marching band.
The strike on Saturday was the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country and came in response to a Houthi drone strike that breached Israel’s air defenses, killing one person in Tel Aviv the day before.
The Houthis, who are fighting Israel, have pledged a “huge” response to the strikes and threatened to once again attack Tel Aviv.
Yemeni port authorities said Hodeidah “is operating at its full capacity,” according to the rebels’ Saba news agency.
“We are working around the clock to receive all ships and there is no concern about the supply chain and supplies of food, medicine, and oil derivatives,” port official Nasr Al-Nusairi was quoted by Saba as saying on Sunday.
But the US-based Navanti Group said the strikes on Hodeidah destroyed five cranes and reduced the port’s fuel storage capacity from 150,000 to 50,000 tons.
Hodeidah port is a vital entry point for fuel imports and international aid for Houthi-held areas of Yemen, a country where the United Nations says more than half the population relies on humanitarian assistance.
“Hodeidah port is a vital lifeline for delivering humanitarian aid to Yemen,” the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in an emailed statement to AFP.
“Any impact on this infrastructure jeopardizes the entry of essential goods and hampers aid efforts.”

 


Tunisia’s sandy beaches eaten away by coastal erosion

Tunisia’s sandy beaches eaten away by coastal erosion
Updated 23 July 2024
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Tunisia’s sandy beaches eaten away by coastal erosion

Tunisia’s sandy beaches eaten away by coastal erosion

HAMMAMET, Tunisia: In Tunisia’s seaside town of Hammamet, bulldozers diligently shovel sand from a nearby desert onto a popular beach in an attempt to stop it from disappearing due to erosion.

“This beach is the postcard image of Hammamet,” said environmentalist Chiheb Ben Fredj peering nostalgically at the town’s iconic Yasmine beach.

“It has been seared in our minds since our childhood,” he added, as laborers worked to restore the central Tunisian waterfront to its former sandy glory.

Like many other coastal areas in North Africa, severe erosion has led to many of Hammamet’s sandy beaches vanishing in recent years, taking a toll on the holiday hotspot about 65 kilometers (40 miles) east of the capital Tunis.

Coastlines across the world are in a constant natural flux, with the seas claiming and depositing sediment.

But human activity, including coastal property development and offshore sand mining, significantly accelerates beach erosion.

Among other impacts, construction and coastal defenses in one area can stop sediment from traveling along a coastline, leaving existing beaches deprived of new material.

Studies have also shown the impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures and sea levels, exacerbate the phenomenon.

In the Mediterranean, where the British National Oceanography Center says sea levels have risen at a higher rate over the past 20 years than the entirety of the 20th century, shorelines are changing rapidly.

The sea is also warming 20 percent faster than the rest of the world, according to the United Nations.

Tunisia’s coastline has been a major asset for the Mediterranean country with a struggling economy, as it aims to host some 10 million tourists this year.

Tourism accounts for up to 14 percent of the country’s GDP, providing tens of thousands of jobs in a country where unemployment tops 16 percent and 40 percent among young people.

Tunisia has already lost more than 90 kilometers of beaches to erosion, according to official figures from last year.

Of the country’s 570 kilometers of sandy beaches suitable for swimming, 190 kilometers are at imminent risk of disappearing, according to Tunisian reports.

A majority of the beaches most affected by erosion are located near cities.

Tunisia’s environmental groups, as well as the government’s Coastal Protection and Development Agency (APAL), blame the rapid erosion mostly on human activity and construction on the coast, which they say is further aggravated by climate change.

“Construction projects have not been designed to respect coastal dynamics,” an APAL official told AFP.

To save the Hammamet beach, one of Tunisia’s worst-affected according to the World Bank, authorities last month began trucking in around 750 lorry loads filled with sand from the inland desert province of Kairouan, about 110 kilometers away.

APAL, which operates under the environment ministry, was in a race against time to refill the beach before the peak of tourist season.

But while the rebuilding of beaches, known as beach nourishment, may be a quick fix, “it’s not a sustainable solution,” said Ben Fredj.

“This sand may not last long,” added the secretary general of the Environmental Education Association.

“It can be swallowed in a few days in the event of a storm,” he said, as was the case in the summer of 2023.

The process can also prove expensive.

Coastal authorities estimated the cost of restoring sand to three beaches in Hammamet, Monastir and Sfax at 3.9 million Tunisian dinars ($1.25 million).

But for locals, restoring their priceless seafront is worth the money.

The Yasmine beach “is a showcase for Hammamet,” said Narjess Bouasker, who runs the town’s Menara hotel and leads the regional hotel federation.

“We must take back our beach that the sea has swallowed,” she said, calling for a balance between safeguarding the landscape, cherished by locals and foreign visitors alike, and fighting coastal erosion.

“For us, the priority is not to touch the beauty of the city,” she said.

Bouasker said she has seen increasing awareness among authorities, but refilling beaches with sand is still a gamble.

“We don’t know how the sea will react,” she added.