Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting

An Israeli air force attack helicopter releases flares while flying over northwest of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 24, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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An Israeli air force attack helicopter releases flares while flying over northwest of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 24, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting
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A Palestinian woman grieves as she bids farewell to a relative, killed the day before in a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (AFP)
Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting
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A Palestinian woman grieves as she waits to take a relative for burial, killed the day before in a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (AFP)
Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting
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A man walks across fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (AFP)
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Updated 25 June 2024
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Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting

Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting
  • There is “almost no one left” in Rafah, Abu Taha said, barring a handful of people who refused to leave their homes or who also came back later
  • The distress of the 2.4 million people in the narrow strip of land that is Gaza, already impoverished before the war, has increased with the fighting

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Rafah city center in Gaza lies deserted after most residents fled weeks of fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups led by Hamas that punctuated daily life there.
Those who are left in the city feel trapped.
Israeli officials have described Rafah as the last Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip.
In early May troops entered the city in the south of the Palestinian territory, bombarding areas near the border with Egypt and forcing tens of thousands of residents to leave.
“There is no more water or food. We are totally trapped,” said Haitham Abu Taha.
He is one of the few Palestinians who returned to Rafah with his family after Israel’s army recently announced a daily pause on a southern route.
“It was better than staying in tents or with relatives because we were separated from each other,” he remembered thinking, before returning to find that soldiers “had not really withdrawn.”
There is “almost no one left” in Rafah, Abu Taha said, barring a handful of people who refused to leave their homes or who also came back later.
Over the desolate city’s sea of rubble, Palestinians say Israeli drones fly precise maneuvers at low altitudes.
Almost silent, they offer a detailed view of the terrain and have been used, Palestinians say, to carry out precision strikes since the Israel-Hamas war began more than eight months ago.

Abu Taha, 30, spoke of the “danger of quadcopter drones which mercilessly target anyone walking” in the streets.
“Many people were killed” by the quadcopters, 22-year-old Ismail Abu Shaar told AFP, claiming to have stayed at home to “protect” the area.
“The artillery, the shooting and the clashes” never stop, he said.
The Israeli military said on Monday it was “continuing intelligence-based targeted operations” in and around Rafah, adding that it had found “large amounts of weapons.”
“We are clearly approaching the point where we can say we have dismantled the Rafah Brigade (of Hamas), that it is defeated not in the sense that there are no more terrorists, but in the sense that it can no longer function as a fighting unit,” army chief Herzi Halevi said in a statement after touring Rafah late on Sunday.
However, Palestinian armed groups, notably Hamas armed wing the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, say they regularly operate in the area.
William Schomburg, representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Rafah, told journalists on Saturday that the city is now a “ghost town.”
“We see very few people, very significant destruction,” he said.
The distress of the 2.4 million people in the narrow strip of land that is Gaza, already impoverished before the war, has increased with the fighting.

International organizations have said for months they face extreme difficulties in providing humanitarian aid to civilians, while the Israeli authorities say they have allowed the aid in but it has not been collected for distribution.
Plumes of smoke rise regularly above Rafah, to which Egypt partly controlled access until the war changed the situation on the ground.
Before the Israeli ground offensive on the city began in early May, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians took refuge there, displaced from across the territory as the fighting intensified.
Many have left homes where they had lived for years or apartments they had rented at high prices after the war began — or tents erected in haste as the war tightened its grip on the city.
At the end of May, AFP correspondents saw hundreds of Palestinians fleeing Tal Al-Sultan, a district of Rafah which had just been hit by an Israeli strike that left 45 dead, according to the local authorities in the Hamas-run territory.
After strikes last week killed dozens, the east and center of the city are becoming even more empty as the people flee.
On flatbed vans and donkey carts, families piled patched-up solar panels, foam mattresses covered with flowers, wooden planks and plastic pipes.
A young boy pushed sheets of metal on an office chair.
Many say they simply do not have the means to embark on a new move, as the war closes in on the few who remain behind with them.
“We’re afraid to move because we fear being killed,” said Abu Taha.
 

 


UK warned Israel over 'out of control' troops in 2002: archives

Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon (C) attends his cabinet meeting, 03 July 2005. (AFP file photo)
Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon (C) attends his cabinet meeting, 03 July 2005. (AFP file photo)
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UK warned Israel over 'out of control' troops in 2002: archives

Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon (C) attends his cabinet meeting, 03 July 2005. (AFP file photo)
  • Then-US president George W. Bush complained in private call with UK prime minister Tony Blair that the hardline policies of Sharon were turning Arafat into a martyr similar to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, the files show
  • Israel has killed at least 39,006 Palestinians in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory

LONDON: Britain accused Israel of allowing its troops to run "out of control" during a huge military operation in the occupied West Bank two decades ago, UK government archives showed Tuesday.
The newly-released files highlight Western concern over the Palestinian death toll during Operation Defensive Shield launched by then-Israeli premier Ariel Sharon in March 2002.
The comments are similar to concerns expressed by some Western allies over Israel's current military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Britain's ambassador to Israel at the time warned Sharon's foreign policy adviser that the incursion by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was a "major strategic mistake" which was undermining support for Israel among its allies.
"If some of the reports we were receiving were credible, the IDF's behaviour was more worthy of the Russian army than that of a supposedly civilised country," Sherard Cowper-Coles told the adviser, according to his report of the meeting.
"I was not suggesting that such behaviour was a matter of policy. But there was no doubt that individual soldiers were out of control and committing acts which were outraging international opinion," the diplomat added.
The operation came amid the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which occurred between 2000 and 2005.
Sharon launched the operation in the West Bank after a wave of suicide attacks claimed dozens of Israeli lives.
The Israeli military surrounded the compound of then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
Troops cut off phone lines and power supplies, while intense street-to-street fighting raged for eight days further north in the Jenin refugee camp.

The offensive was at the time the largest military operation in the Palestinian territories since Israel captured them in 1967.
Then-US president George W. Bush complained in private call with UK prime minister Tony Blair that the hardline policies of Sharon were turning Arafat into a martyr similar to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, the files show.
"While Arafat had effectively been marginalising himself, Sharon had succeeded in making a martyr of him -- building him up to the point where he was becoming the new bin Laden," Bush complained, according to a note of the call by the then-UK leader's office.
"The US had tried to persuade Sharon privately, but he just would not listen. The bottom line was that Sharon was undermining the US's ability to pursue the war on terrorism. That was not the action of a good ally," the note added.
Operation Defensive Shield lasted just over a month and resulted in the deaths of about 500 Palestinians, according to estimates by the United Nations.
Israel's current war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 44 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 39,006 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

 


Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’

Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’
Updated 23 July 2024
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Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’

Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’
  • Joe Biden: “I’ll be working very closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end"

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden vowed Monday to continue working to end the war in Gaza during his final months in office, after he bowed out of his reelection bid.
“I’ll be working very closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end, and Middle East peace, and get all those hostages home,” Biden said in a public call into his campaign headquarters, which has transitioned to supporting Vice President Kamala Harris.
 

 


Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say
Updated 23 July 2024
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Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say
  • The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria
  • Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war

BAGHDAD: Iraq wants troops from a US-led military coalition to begin withdrawing in September and to formally end the coalition’s work by September 2025, four Iraqi sources said, with some US forces likely to remain in a newly negotiated advisory capacity.
The Iraqi position is being discussed with US officials in Washington this week at a security summit and there is no formal agreement on ending the coalition or any associated timetable yet, the Iraqi sources and US officials said.
US State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller told a news briefing that both sides were meeting in Washington this week to determine how to transition the US-led coalition’s mission based on the threat posed by Daesh, adding he had no further details.
US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, toppled former leader Saddam Hussein and then withdrew in 2011, only to return in 2014 to fight Daesh at the head of the coalition.
The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria.
They are housed at three main bases, one in Baghdad, one in western Anbar province and another in the northern Kurdistan region.
It is unclear how many troops would leave under a deal, with Iraqi sources saying they expected most to eventually depart but US officials saying many may remain under a newly negotiated advise and assist mission.
US officials are keen to have some military footprint in Iraq on a bilateral basis, in part to help support its presence across the border in Syria, where it has around 900 troops.
The issue is highly politicized, with mainly Iran-aligned Iraqi political factions looking to show that they are pushing out the country’s one-time occupier again, while US officials want to avoid giving Iran and its allies a win.
There are also concerns about Daesh’s ability to regroup.
The jihadist group was declared territorially defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019 but still carries out attacks in both countries and is on track to double its attacks in Syria this year compared to 2023, the US military said.
The group and its affiliates have also in recent months carried out attacks in Iran and Russia, as well as in Oman last week for the first time.
While the coalition’s mission is to advise and assist Iraqi forces in the fight against the Daesh, Western officials say the US and its allies also see its presence in Iraq as a check on Iranian influence.
Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.
An agreement to draw down the coalition could be a political win for Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, who has been under pressure from Iran-aligned factions to push out US forces but has sought to do so in a way that balances Iraq’s delicate position as an ally of both Washington and Tehran.

 

 


Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?

Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?
Updated 23 July 2024
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Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?

Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?
  • The attack destroyed most of the port’s fuel storage capacity of 150,000 tons, leaving the Hodeida governorate with an overall capacity of 50,000, the US-based Navanti Group said, citing merchants
  • The ship “remains operational,” but “all 780,000 liters of fuel stock was likely destroyed,” said Pierre Honnorat, WFP’s Yemen country director, adding that all the agency’s staff were safe and accounted for

DUBAI: Israeli strikes on Saturday hit a power plant and fuel storage facilities in Hodeida, the main port under the control of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Here is what we know about the damage caused by the attack, which set oil tanks ablaze for days and came a day after the first fatal strike by the Houthis in Israel.

Saturday’s long-distance strike, the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country, hit the Hodeida harbor, a key gateway for fuel and international aid into Houthi-held parts of Yemen.

A satellite image shows a closer view of burning oil tanks after an Israeli air strike on Houthi military targets in Hodeidah, Yemen, July 21, 2024. (REUTERS)

The Houthis, who control swathes of the country including much of its Red Sea coast, said the attack struck fuel storage facilities at the harbor, killing six people, all of them port employees of the Yemen Petroleum Company.
A nearby power plant was also targeted, according to the rebels.
AFPTV images showed huge flames and black smoke spiralling into the sky from burning oil tanks at the port. Debris covered the dock where equipment was damaged.
High-resolution satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies showed flames consuming a heavily damaged fuel storage area, which still appeared to be burning on Monday, according to an AFP correspondent.

Debris litters a loading dock a day after Israeli strikes on the port of Yemen's Huthi-held city of Hodeida on July 21, 2024. (AFP)

A Hodeida port employee who was at the harbor the day of the attack said several tanks exploded sequentially.
But “the port, with its dock, containers, and ships, is intact,” said the employee who spoke on condition of anonymity over security concerns.
Analysis of satellite imagery from Planet by Dutch peace organization PAX showed at least 33 destroyed oil storage tanks, said Wim Zwijnenburg, a project leader with the organization.
“We expect (to find) more damage, as not all storage tanks are visible because of heavy smoke” from the fire and burning fuel, Zwijnenburg told AFP.

According to Zwijnenburg, the bombing has resulted in tens of thousands of liters of oil burning.
“Localized coastal pollution is expected from wastewater and leaking fuel,” said the expert, who specializes in the environmental impacts of war.
Maritime security firm Ambrey said satellite imagery following the strikes showed “extensive damage to the oil products storage facilities,” clarifying, however, that “the bulk terminal storage facilities appeared to be unaffected.”
The attack destroyed most of the port’s fuel storage capacity of 150,000 tons, leaving the Hodeida governorate with an overall capacity of 50,000, the US-based Navanti Group said, citing merchants.
The Israeli army on Sunday published a video showing them hitting two container yard cranes at the harbor.
The Navanti Group said five cranes are now “most likely non-operational.”
Ambrey said two merchant vessels were alongside the yard at the time the cranes were hit, but it did not specify if they were damaged.
The British agency had earlier observed four merchant vessels in the port at the time of the strikes and another eight in the anchorage.
“No vessel arrivals or departures have occurred since the Israeli attack on Hodeida,” Ambrey reported on Monday.

The World Food Programme on Monday told AFP that there had been “minor” damage to a crane on one of its aid vessels in the port and that its fuel storage facility was impacted.
The ship “remains operational,” but “all 780,000 liters of fuel stock was likely destroyed,” said Pierre Honnorat, WFP’s Yemen country director, adding that all the agency’s staff were safe and accounted for.
“WFP will source enough fuel supplies to ensure this loss has no significant effect on our operations,” he said.
Yemeni port authorities have said Hodeida “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.
A Houthi transport official on Monday said “work is underway to receive and unload food and fuel shipments within 24 hours.”
While firefighting teams were still struggling to contain the blaze at the harbor, a fire that erupted at a nearby power plant was nearly under control on Monday, according to Mohammed Albasha, the Navanti Group’s senior Middle East analyst.
“Repairs have started” as electricity gradually returns to the city following outages over the weekend, the analyst said.
 

 


Israelis due in Doha for talks on Gaza truce requests

Israelis due in Doha for talks on Gaza truce requests
Updated 23 July 2024
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Israelis due in Doha for talks on Gaza truce requests

Israelis due in Doha for talks on Gaza truce requests
  • The source said the points were negotiable and an agreement was “doable,” provided Israel does not remain in Gaza “indefinitely” and a solution is found for the Philadelphi corridor, with Egyptian mediators leading these efforts

DOHA: An Israeli delegation will travel to Doha on Thursday to discuss new demands for a Gaza truce and hostage-prisoner exchange, a source with knowledge of the talks said.
The delegation would meet with mediator Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani to discuss three Israeli requests, including control over the return of civilians to northern Gaza, the source said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of talks.
Qatar, along with Egypt and the United States, has been engaged in months of behind-the-scenes efforts to broker a Gaza truce and a hostage-prisoner swap.
A proposed cessation of hostilities focuses on a phased approach, beginning with an initial truce.
Recent discussions have centered on a framework outlined by US President Joe Biden in late May, which he said had been proposed by Israel.
The source said Israel had requested its forces remain in the so-called Philadelphi corridor, a 14-kilometer (8.5-mile) stretch along the Gaza-Egypt border, and that it controls the return of displaced Gazan civilians to the north of the Palestinian territory.
Israel has also asked that its troop positions in Gaza be resolved before the truce begins, the source added.
The source said the points were negotiable and an agreement was “doable,” provided Israel does not remain in Gaza “indefinitely” and a solution is found for the Philadelphi corridor, with Egyptian mediators leading these efforts.
But the source said Israel’s return with extra demands was “a recurring theme” in the talks and Israel had “moved the goalposts.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left for Washington on Monday under significant domestic and international pressure to agree to a truce and hostage-prisoner exchange in Gaza.
Despite this pressure, Netanyahu maintains that increased military pressure on the militants is the best route to a deal.
On Sunday, the premier’s office said he was sending a negotiating team for new talks on a truce deal.
Except for a one-week truce in November, during which 80 Israeli hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, talks have repeatedly foundered over differences between the parties.