Displaced Lebanese return to southern border to mourn, pray over Eid

Relatives visit the graves of killed Hezbollah fighters during Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice in the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura near the border with Israel on June 17, 2024. (AFP)
Relatives visit the graves of killed Hezbollah fighters during Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice in the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura near the border with Israel on June 17, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 18 June 2024
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Displaced Lebanese return to southern border to mourn, pray over Eid

Displaced Lebanese return to southern border to mourn, pray over Eid
  • Israel and Hezbollah have traded near-daily cross-border fire since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack

NAQURA, Lebanon: Some displaced residents of southern Lebanon returned Monday to their towns for a key Muslim holiday to pray and mourn loved ones killed in months of cross-border violence between Israel and Hezbollah.
“Today is Eid Al-Adha, but it’s completely different this year,” said teacher Rabab Yazbek, 44, at a cemetery in the coastal town of Naqura, from which many residents have fled.
Every family has lost someone, “whether a relative, friend or neighbor,” Yazbek said, adding that two people she had taught had been killed.
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.
The violence has killed at least 473 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 92 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.
At the cemetery, women in black chadors consoled each other at the shiny new graves adorned with flowers and large pictures of the dead, including Hezbollah fighters.
The Naqura municipality said it had coordinated with the Lebanese army so that residents could safely visit the cemetery and mosque for two hours for Eid Al-Adha, which for many Shiite Muslims in Lebanon began on Monday.
Residents reportedly returned to a number of south Lebanon border villages on Monday morning as part of similar initiatives.
Yellow Hezbollah flags and green ones belonging to the group’s ally the Amal movement flew at the recently established cemetery near the sea, located just a stone’s throw from the United Nations peacekeepers’ headquarters.
Lebanese soldiers accompanied the residents as they entered the town.
The army coordinates with the UN peacekeepers, who in turn communicate with the Israeli side as part of efforts to maintain calm.
In Naqura, a damaged sign reading “thank you for your visit” lay along the highway.
Amid the concrete rubble and twisted metal of one building, the shattered glass of a family photo lay scattered on the ground.
Nearby, potted plants hung from the veranda rails of another devastated structure, with a pink child’s toy car among the debris.
Rawand Yazbek, 50, was inspecting her clothing shop, whose glass store front had been destroyed, though the rest remained largely intact.
“A thousand thanks to God,” she said, grateful that not all was lost.
“As you can see... our stores are full of goods,” she said, pointing to shelves and racks of colorful clothes.
Hezbollah stepped up attacks against northern Israel last week after an Israeli strike killed a senior commander from the movement.
The Iran-backed group has not claimed any attacks since Saturday afternoon.
Lebanese official media reported Israeli bombardment in the country’s south over the weekend, as well as a deadly strike on Monday. Hezbollah said later that one of its fighters had been killed.
Like other residents who support the Hezbollah and Amal movements, Naqura municipality head Abbas Awada called attacks on the town “cowardly.”
Last week, a strike there blamed on Israel killed an employee of the area’s public water company.
More than 95,000 people in Lebanon have been displaced by the hostilities, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.
Tens of thousands have also been displaced on the Israeli side of the frontier.
Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Ezzedine, among a large crowd that attended prayers at the Naqura mosque, said the turnout was a message that “this land is ours, we will not leave it.”
“We support this resistance (Hezbollah) because it’s what protects us, it’s what defends us,” he said.


Iraq resumes rice cultivation after two-year ban with new climate friendly strain

Iraq resumes rice cultivation after two-year ban with new climate friendly strain
Updated 59 min 35 sec ago
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Iraq resumes rice cultivation after two-year ban with new climate friendly strain

Iraq resumes rice cultivation after two-year ban with new climate friendly strain
  • Iraq is one of the world’s top 10 importers of rice and wheat, to supply a huge food rationing program held over from the era of former ruler Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD: Iraq has resumed rice cultivation after a two-year ban prompted by water scarcity, and is testing out a strain of the grain that consumes less water than traditionally planted versions.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture Mahdi Sahar Al-Jubouri told Reuters the country has earmarked 150 sq km (58 sq miles) for rice growing this season and forecast a yield of 150,000 tons, as officials said water is more abundant due to heavy winter rainfall and the promise of more water flows from Turkiye.
This follows a two-year production ban which saw just 5 to 10 sq km of rice planted annually for the purpose of seed extraction, amid a water crisis that experts say was tied to upstream dams built by Turkiye and Iran, less rainfall and other climate change-driven factors.
Iraq is one of the world’s top 10 importers of rice and wheat, to supply a huge food rationing program held over from the era of former ruler Saddam Hussein.
Decades ago, the country grew most of its own rice and exported wheat and barley and at one time was the world’s top exporter of dates, until problems with soil salinity, poor irrigation systems, drought and decades of conflict all hit its agricultural sector and made it a major buyer on world markets.
Iraq will still need to import around 1.25 million tons of rice this year to meet domestic demand, the same as last year, grain board officials said.

HYBRID VARIETY
Rice farming in Iraq typically begins in June and concludes with a harvest in November.
Several varieties of rice are grown, with the Amber rice, known for its unique aroma and flavour, the most popular.
Iraqi agricultural scientists have developed a new strain of rice, named Ghiri, which is a hybrid of the Amber and Jasmine varieties and can be planted using fixed sprayers without the need for flooding. It has been planted on a small scale this season under trial after being tested at the Al-Mishkhab Research Station last year.
Plans are in place to broaden its cultivation in future seasons, Jubouri said in an interview with Reuters.
The government aims for the sector to transition from the traditional irrigation method, which involves flooding the crop with water, to using fixed irrigation systems and mechanical seeders.
Farmers adopting modern agricultural methods like sprinkler systems will be offered incentives akin to the support provided for wheat production such as higher prices for their produce, Jubouri said.
For the current 2024 season, rice farming has been permitted in five provinces: Najaf, Diwaniyah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar and Babel. Najaf province has been allocated the largest share.
Muhsin Abdul Ameer, head of the farmers’ association in Najaf province, said that approximately 80 sq km of agricultural land in the province has been planted, representing about 37 percent of the total agricultural land allocated across the country. The planted varieties include Amber, Jasmine and Euphrates rice.
Abdul Ameer said the planting season in Najaf province, which began in the middle of June, has now been completed.
The water, agriculture and marshes committee in the Iraqi parliament said rainfall last winter and pledges from Turkiye to increase Iraq’s access to water released from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that originate in Turkiye had enabled the resumption of rice growing.
Lawmaker Hussain Mardan, deputy chairman of the committee, told Reuters that agricultural land will be expanded in the coming years by adopting drip irrigation methods for rice, which are currently under study, potentially reaching 1,000 sq km.


Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in Israel, Israeli police say

Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in Israel, Israeli police say
Updated 22 July 2024
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Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in Israel, Israeli police say

Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in Israel, Israeli police say

JERUSALEM: Israeli police said on Monday that a Canadian citizen attempted a stabbing attack in a southern Israeli town and was "neutralised".
The police referred to the incident as a terrorist attack.


Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen

Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen
Updated 22 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 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: 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.”


UAE jails 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, over riots

UAE jails 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, over riots
Updated 22 July 2024
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UAE jails 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, over riots

UAE jails 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, over riots
  • Life imprisonment handed to three people who called for the demonstrations to pressure their home government
  • The remaining 53 defendants received 10-year prison terms

ABU DHABI: The UAE has imprisoned 57 Bangladeshis, including 3 for life, for inciting riots on Friday in several streets across the country, state news agency WAM reported.

The Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal handed the life imprisonment terms to three people who called for the demonstrations to pressure their home government.

The remaining 53 defendants received 10-year prison terms, with one, who entered the country illegally and took part in the riot, being sentenced to 11 years.

The Bangladeshi nationals will be deported after serving their sentences, WAM reported.

On Friday, UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif Al-Shamsi ordered an investigation into the arrest of several Bangladeshi nationals who were apprehended for inciting riots against their home country, which has been struggling to quell violent student-led protests over a controversial job quota scheme.

The investigation, led by a team of 30, confirmed the defendants’ involvement in assembling in public spaces, “inciting unrest, disrupting public security, and promoting such gatherings and protests,” WAM said.

They recorded and published audiovisual footage of their actions online. A court witness during the trial said that demonstrators did not respond to a police warning to disperse, according to WAM.

The witness confirmed that the defendants gathered and organised large-scale marches in several streets across the UAE in protest against decisions made by the Bangladeshi government.

Several of the defendants confessed to the crimes with which they were accused.


Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16

Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16
Updated 22 July 2024
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Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16

Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16
  • The military said it is planning to begin an operation against Hamas militants who have embedded themselves in the area
  • The area includes the eastern part of the Muwasi humanitarian zone, which is located in the southern Gaza Strip.

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip: Israeli tank shelling and airstrikes killed at least 16 Palestinians near Khan Younis, Gaza medics said on Monday, after Israel issued new orders to evacuate some neighborhoods following what it said were renewed attacks from those areas.
To facilitate evacuations, the military said, it was adjusting the boundaries of a humanitarian zone in Al-Mawasi to keep the civilian population away from areas of combat with Hamas-led Palestinian militants.
Palestinian health officials said at least 16 Palestinians were killed by Israeli tank salvoes in the town of Bani Suhaila just east of the southern city of Khan Younis, with the area also bombarded by air.
The Gaza health ministry said the dead included six children and four women. It added that dozens of others were wounded by Israeli fire. Hamas media put the number of the dead at 26.
The military statement said the new orders were due to renewed Palestinian militant attacks, including rockets launched from the targeted areas in eastern Khan Younis. The evacuation orders did not include health institutions, Palestinians said.
The Palestinians, the United Nations and international relief agencies have said there is no safe place left in Gaza. Earlier in July, dozens of Palestinians were killed in separate Israeli attacks in the humanitarian-designated Al-Mawasi area.
Israel said the attacks were aimed at armed militants, including some top Hamas military commanders. Palestinian officials called those allegations false and said they were used to justify the attacks.
Later on Monday, health officials at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis urged residents to donate blood because of the large number of casualties being rushed into the medical center.
Reuters footage showed casualties, including some women and children, arriving at Nasser Hospital in ambulances and others in private cars.
“A family, including children, were all torn to pieces while they were sleeping,” said a man who arrived in an ambulance bearing the bodies.
The Palestinian Civil Emergency Service said it had reports of dozens of people killed by Israeli aerial and tank fire on the eastern outskirts of Khan Younis but teams could not reach them because of the intensity of the bombardment.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military carried out air strikes on two houses in the Al-Bureij and Deir Al-Balah areas of the central Gaza Strip, wounding several people, medics said.
Another air strike in Gaza City in the north of the densely populated enclave killed two other Palestinians, they added.
Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas after militants killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages in a cross-border assault on Oct. 7 last year, according to Israeli tallies. At least 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory offensive since then, Gaza health authorities say.
A ceasefire effort led by Qatar and Egypt and backed by the United States has so far fallen short because of disagreements over terms between the combatants, who blame each other for the impasse.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday ordered a delegation charged with negotiating a hostage deal to be dispatched on Thursday, his office said, without giving the delegation’s destination.
Netanyahu held a meeting on Sunday with the delegation and senior members of Israel’s defense establishment, it said.