Fighting in Gaza’s Rafah as tensions soar on Israel-Lebanon border

Fighting in Gaza’s Rafah as tensions soar on Israel-Lebanon border
Smoke plumes billow after Israeli drone strikes and shelling in the Sultan neighborhood northwest of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip earlier on June 18, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 19 June 2024
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Fighting in Gaza’s Rafah as tensions soar on Israel-Lebanon border

Fighting in Gaza’s Rafah as tensions soar on Israel-Lebanon border
  • More than eight months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territory
  • Israeli army earlier announced that its plans for an offensive in Lebanon had been approved

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Israeli air strikes and clashes between troops and Palestinian militants rocked Gaza on Wednesday, as Israel’s army warned it had readied an “offensive” against the Lebanese Hezbollah movement on the country’s northern front.
Witnesses and the civil defense agency in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip reported Israeli bombardment in western Rafah, where medics said drone strikes and shelling killed at least seven people.
The Israeli military has announced a daily humanitarian “pause” in fighting on a key road in eastern Rafah, but a UN spokesman said days later that “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need.”
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territory and repeated UN warnings of famine.
The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been shut since Israeli troops seized its Palestinian side in early May, while nearby Kerem Shalom on the Israeli border “is operating with limited functionality, including because of fighting in the area,” said UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
He told reporters that in recent weeks, there had been “an improvement” in aid reaching northern Gaza “but a drastic deterioration in the south.”
“Basic commodities are available in markets in southern and central Gaza. But... it’s unaffordable for many people.”
The war has sent tensions soaring across the region, with violence involving Iran-backed Hamas allies.
The Israeli military, which has traded near-daily cross-border fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah since October, said late Tuesday that “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.”
On Wednesday the military said its warplanes had struck Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon overnight, while reporting a drone had infiltrated near the border town of Metula in an attack claimed by Hezbollah and targeting troops.
The Iran-backed group also announced the death of two of its fighters.
Lebanon’s official National News agency reported Israeli strikes on several areas in south Lebanon on Wednesday morning, including on the border village of Khiam, where an AFP photographer saw a large cloud of smoke.
The army’s announcement that its plans for an offensive in Lebanon had been approved, along with a warning from Foreign Minister Israel Katz of Hezbollah’s destruction in a “total war,” came as US envoy Amos Hochstein visited the region to push for de-escalation.
Syrian state media said an Israeli strike on military sites in the country’s south killed an army officer on Wednesday. Israel has not commented on the report.
In Gaza, Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian armed group that has fought alongside Hamas, said its militants were battling troops amid Israeli shelling of western Rafah.
Witnesses reported seeing Israeli military vehicles enter the city’s Saudi neighborhood, followed by nighttime gunbattles.
Parts of central Gaza also saw fighting overnight, with witnesses reporting artillery shelling and heavy gunfire in Gaza City’s Zeitun neighborhood.
The October 7 attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,396 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
At least 24 people died over the past day, the ministry said.
A UN report issued Wednesday detailed six “indiscriminate and disproportionate” Israeli strikes that killed at least 218 people in the first two months of the war.
It said the strikes involved “the suspected use” of heavy bombs — a shipment of which the United States had paused in May over concerns Israel might use them in its Rafah assault.
The strikes targeted “densely populated” areas including refugee camps, a school and market, the UN rights office said, making the use of heavy bombs “highly likely to amount to a prohibited indiscriminate attack.”
UN human rights chief Volker Turk said: “The requirement to select means and methods of warfare that avoid, or at the very least minimize to every extent, civilian harm appears to have been consistently violated in Israel’s bombing campaign.”
More than six months since the attacks featured in the report, “there is no clarity as to what happened or steps toward accountability,” Turk said.


Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port

Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port
Updated 5 min 10 sec ago
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Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port

Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port
  • Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said the attack was “an expression of the aggressive behavior of the child-killing Israeli regime.”

TEHRAN: Iran has condemned Israel’s deadly retaliatory strike on the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah in Yemen that the miltia say killed six people and wounded dozens more.
Late on Saturday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani “strongly condemned” the attack saying it was “an expression of the aggressive behavior of the child-killing Israeli regime.”
Israeli warplanes on Saturday struck the vital port of Hodeidah in response to a deadly drone attack by the Iran-backed Houthis on Tel Aviv, which killed one civilian.
The Houthis have since threatened a “huge” retaliation against Israel.
Kanani added that Israel and its supporters, including the United States, were “directly responsible for the dangerous and unpredictable consequences of the continued crimes in Gaza, as well as the attacks on Yemen.”
Regional tensions have soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.
Yemen’s Houthis, along with the Hezbollah group in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza are part of a Tehran-aligned “axis of resistance” against Israel and its allies.
The Islamic republic has reiterated support for the groups but insisted they were independent in their decision-making and actions.


Archaeologists in Bahrain unearth Gulf’s earliest Christian structure

Archaeologists in Bahrain unearth Gulf’s earliest Christian structure
Updated 4 sec ago
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Archaeologists in Bahrain unearth Gulf’s earliest Christian structure

Archaeologists in Bahrain unearth Gulf’s earliest Christian structure
  • Located in Samahij, in the Bahraini city of Muharraq, the unearthed structure is considered “the first material evidence of this ancient community”
  • Digging at the site commenced at a mound within the Samahij cemetery, where archaeologists discovered the remains of a mosque.

DUBAI: Bahraini and British archaeologists say they have discovered what is believed to be the first Christian structure in the Arabian Gulf, dating back to the fourth century.

Located in Samahij, in the Bahraini city of Muharraq, the unearthed structure is considered “the first material evidence of this ancient community,” according to the Bahrain National Communications Center.

“While Christianity is not predominantly associated with the Gulf states today, the Church of the East, also known as the Nestorian Church, flourished in the region for centuries until the 7th century CE, coinciding with the widespread Islam amongst the communities in 610 CE,” the NCC said in a statement.

Archeologists said that radiocarbon dating of the Samahij site confirmed “the building was occupied between the mid-4th and mid-8th centuries CE, likely abandoned as Islam spread among the local population.”

Digging at the site commenced at a mound within the Samahij cemetery, where archaeologists discovered the remains of a mosque.

Further excavation revealed a large building with eight rooms, including a kitchen, dining room, workshop, and three living quarters. It is believed that the construction of the mosque on the site contributed to the preservation of the building below, the NCC added.

The findings suggest the building may have been the residence of the bishop of the local diocese, which included Samahij. Historical sources refer to this area as “Mishmahig” or “Mashmahig,” likely variations of Samahij.

Records also indicate a connection between the region and central church authorities, with one bishop dismissed in 410 and another condemned for challenging church unity in the seventh century.

The excavation project, a collaborative effort between the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities and a British team led by Prof. Timothy Insoll of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University, and Dr. Salman Al-Mahari of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, began in 2019 and culminated in these significant findings in 2023.

This discovery is unique due to its location in the heart of a modern, densely populated town, unlike previous Christian structures found in remote areas along the Gulf coast.

Notable finds include three plaster crosses, two adorning the building’s exterior and one possibly kept as a personal memento, along with wall carvings featuring a fish symbol and part of the “Chi Rho” symbol, representing “Christ.”

Al-Mahari explained that the excavation, now in its final stages, is an important piece of Bahraini history, providing valuable insights into the Christian presence in the region.

Initial studies suggested the site dated from the sixth to eighth centuries, but radiocarbon dating confirmed fourth century origins, making it one of the oldest Christian buildings in the Arabian Gulf. Recent findings include a clear Eastern cross on a plaster slab.

The excavation also revealed details about the building and its inhabitants’ lives. Constructed with stone walls coated in plaster and plaster floors, the building featured sockets and holes indicating door and seat placements. The kitchen contained built-in ovens with bases and storage areas. Artifacts suggest the inhabitants enjoyed a good standard of living, consuming meat, fish, shellfish, and various crops. The discovery of semi-precious agate beads and broken Indian pottery indicates the occupants were involved in trade, particularly with India. Small drinking glasses and 12 copper coins suggest the use of Sasanian Empire currency. Additionally, spindle whorls and copper needles hint at the possibility of cloth production for religious purposes.

Insoll said: “We stress the importance of this site and the need to preserve it, highlighting its historical and archaeological value.”

He added: “We were amused to find someone had drawn part of a face on a pearl shell using bitumen, possibly for a child who lived in the building. This is the first physical evidence of the Nestorian Church in Bahrain, providing a fascinating insight into how people lived, worked, and worshiped.”


Iraq to import electricity from Turkiye

Iraq to import electricity from Turkiye
Updated 21 July 2024
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Iraq to import electricity from Turkiye

Iraq to import electricity from Turkiye
  • PM Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani said the new line is a “strategic” step to link Iraq with neighboring countries

BAGHDAD: Iraq said Sunday a new power line will bring electricity from Turkiye to its northern provinces as authorities aim to diversify the country’s energy sources to ease chronic power outages.
The 115-kilometer (71-mile) line connects to Kisik power plant west of Mosul and will provide 300 megawatts from Turkiye to Iraq’s northern provinces of Nineveh, Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk, according to a statement by the prime minister’s office.
PM Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani said the new line is a “strategic” step to link Iraq with neighboring countries.
“The line started operating today,” Ahmed Moussa, spokesperson for the electricity ministry, told AFP.
Decades of war have left Iraq’s infrastructure in a pitiful state, with power cuts worsening the blistering summer when temperatures often reach 50 Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
Many households have just a few hours of mains electricity per day, and those who can afford it use private generators to keep fridges and air conditioners running.
Despite its vast oil reserves, Iraq remains dependent on imports to meet its energy needs, especially from neighboring Iran, which regularly cuts supplies.
Sudani has repeatedly stressed the need for Iraq to diversify energy sources to ease the chronic outages.
To reduce its dependence on Iranian gas, Baghdad has been exploring several possibilities including imports from Gulf countries.
In March, a 340-kilometer (210-mile) power line started operating to bring electricity from Jordan to Al-Rutbah in Iraq’s southwest.


Yemen’s Hodeidah battles port blaze after deadly Israel strike

Yemen’s Hodeidah  battles port blaze after deadly Israel strike
Updated 4 min 49 sec ago
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Yemen’s Hodeidah battles port blaze after deadly Israel strike

Yemen’s Hodeidah  battles port blaze after deadly Israel strike
  • Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said the militia’s “response to the Israeli aggression against our country is inevitably coming and will be huge.”
  • The strike killed six people and wounded 80, many of them with severe burns

HODEIDAH: Firefighting teams on Sunday were still battling a blaze at the Houthi-run port in Yemen’s Hodeidah, hours after an Israeli strike on the harbor triggered a massive fire and killed six people, according to the militia.
Saturday’s strike on the vital port, a key entry point for fuel and humanitarian aid, is the first claimed by Israel in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country, about 2,000 kilometers (1,300 miles) away.
It killed six people and wounded 80, many of them with severe burns, the rebel-run health ministry said in a statement carried by Houthi media.

On Sunday, Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said the militia’s “response to the Israeli aggression against our country is inevitably coming and will be huge.” 

Israel said it carried out the strike in response to a drone attack by the Houthis on Tel Aviv which killed one person on Friday.
More operations against the Houthis would follow “if they dare to attack us,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.
Following the strike, the Israeli military said Sunday it intercepted a missile fired from Yemen toward the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, noting that “the projectile did not cross into Israeli territory.”
Saree, the Houthi spokesman, said the militia had fired ballistic missiles toward Eilat, the latest in a string of Houthi attempts to hit the port city.
The militia announcement came as firefighters struggled to contain the blaze at the Hodeidah port, with thick plumes of black smoke shrouding the sky above the city, said an AFP correspondent in the area.
Fuel storage tanks and a power plant at the port where still ablaze amid “slow” firefighting efforts, said a Hodeidah port employee.
The port employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security concerns, said it could take days to contain the fire, a view echoed by Yemen experts.
“There is concern that the poorly equipped firefighters may not be able to contain the spreading fire, which could continue for days,” said Mohammed Albasha, senior Middle East analyst for the US-based Navanti Group, warning that it could reach food storage facilities at the harbor.
Hodeidah port, a vital entry point for fuel imports and international aid for militia-held areas of Yemen, had remained largely untouched through the decade-long war between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government propped up by neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis control swathes of Yemen, including much of its Red Sea coast, and the war has left millions of Yemenis dependent on aid supplied through the port.
Despite Houthi assurances of sufficient fuel stocks, Saturday’s strike triggered fears of worsening shortages, which war-weary Yemenis are ill-equiped to handle.
The attack is “going to have dire humanitarian effects on the millions of ordinary Yemenis living in Houthi-held Yemen,” Nicholas Brumfield, a Yemen expert, said on social media platform X.
It will drive up prices of fuel but also any goods carried by truck, the analyst said.
Yemen’s internationally-recognized government, which has been battling the Houthis for nearly a decade, condemned the strike, and held Israel responsible for a worsening humanitarian crisis.
A statement carried by the official Saba news agency said the Yemeni government holds “the Zionist entity fully responsible for any repercussions resulting from its air strikes, including the deepening of a humanitarian crises.”
It also warned the huthi militia against dragging the country into “senseless battles that serve the interests of the Iranian regime and its expansionist project in the region.”


‘Deeply concerned’ UN chief calls for restraint after Israel’s attack on Yemen

‘Deeply concerned’ UN chief calls for restraint after Israel’s attack on Yemen
Updated 21 July 2024
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‘Deeply concerned’ UN chief calls for restraint after Israel’s attack on Yemen

‘Deeply concerned’ UN chief calls for restraint after Israel’s attack on Yemen
  • The internationally recognised government of Yemen also condemned Israel's airstrikes as a violation of international laws

DUBAI: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed deep concern over Israel’s airstrikes on Saturday in and around the port of Hodeidah in Yemen.

Guterres called on all parties to “avoid attacks that could harm civilians and damage civilian infrastructure.”

In a statement, the secretary-general said that he “remains deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation in the region and continues to urge all to exercise utmost restraint.”

Israel’s stike on Hodeidah, apparently in retaliation for the Houthi drone strike on Tel Aviv earlier this week, left several dead and more than 80 people injured.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that Israeli planes struck a power plant and a fuel storage facility.

Meanwhile, the internationally recognised government of Yemen on Sunday condemned Israel's airstrikes as a violation of international laws, holding Israel responsible for worsening the humanitarian crisis and strengthening Houthi militias.

The government, in a statement, urged the Houthis to prioritize national interests and engage in peace, while calling on the international community to support Yemen's authority and implement Resolution 2216.

The government also reiterated support for the Palestinian people and called for an end to Israeli aggression.