Israel Halts Electricity Supply to Gaza, Says Energy Minister

Plumes of smoke rise after Israeli aircraft bombed the Palestine Tower in Gaza (EPA)
Plumes of smoke rise after Israeli aircraft bombed the Palestine Tower in Gaza (EPA)
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Israel Halts Electricity Supply to Gaza, Says Energy Minister

Plumes of smoke rise after Israeli aircraft bombed the Palestine Tower in Gaza (EPA)
Plumes of smoke rise after Israeli aircraft bombed the Palestine Tower in Gaza (EPA)

Israel ordered its state-run electricity company to halt supply to the Gaza Strip on Saturday after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, the energy minister said.

"I have signed an order instructing (Israel) Electric Company to stop the electricity supply to Gaza," AFP quoted Energy Minister Israel Katz saying in a statement.

Also, the Israeli prime minister's office said the security cabinet had approved steps to destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad "for many years", including cutting electricity and fuel supplies and the entry of goods into Gaza.

At the White House, President Joe Biden went on national television to say Israel had the right to defend itself and issued a blunt warning to Iran and other countries hostile to Israel. "This is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks to seek advantage. The world is watching," he said.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters that the United States was working with other governments to make sure the crisis does not spread and is contained to Gaza.

Long after nightfall, residents had not been given the all-clear to go home.

"It's not over because the (army) hasn’t said the kibbutz is clear of terrorists," Dani Rahamim told Reuters by telephone from a shelter where he was hiding in Nahal Oz, close to the Gaza fence. Gunfire had subsided but regular explosions could still be heard.

Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri said the group was holding a large number of Israeli captives, including senior officials. He said Hamas had enough captives to make Israel free all Palestinians in its jails.

Hamas, which advocates Israel's destruction, said the attack was driven by what it said were Israel's escalated attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and against Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

"This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on earth," Hamas military commander Mohammad Deif said, announcing the start of the operation in a broadcast on Hamas media and calling on Palestinians everywhere to fight.

Gaza has been devastated by four wars and countless skirmishes between Hamas and Israel since the militants seized control of the strip in 2007. But the scenes of violence inside Israel itself exceeded anything there even at the height of the Palestinian Intifada uprisings of past decades.

That Israel was caught completely off guard was lamented as one of the worst intelligence failures in its history, a shock to a nation that boasts of its intensive infiltration and monitoring of militants.

Scores of Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded in clashes at Gaza's border into Israel, where fighters captured the crossing point and tore down fences. Some of the dead were civilians, among crowds that attempted to cross into Israel through the damaged gates.



One Year Later, Migrants Who Cheated Death Off Greece Seek Justice

A boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean. Reuters file photo
A boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean. Reuters file photo
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One Year Later, Migrants Who Cheated Death Off Greece Seek Justice

A boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean. Reuters file photo
A boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean. Reuters file photo

Desperate hands clutched at Ali Elwan's arms, legs and neck, and screams misted his ears, as he spat out saltwater and fought for three hours to keep afloat in the night, dozens of miles from land.
Although a poor swimmer, he lived — one of just 104 survivors from the wreck of a dilapidated old metal fishing boat smuggling up to 750 migrants from North Africa to Europe.
“I was so, so lucky,” the 30-year-old Egyptian told The Associated Press in Athens, Greece, where he works odd jobs while he waits to hear the outcome of his asylum application. “I have two babies. Maybe I stay(ed) in this life for them.”
Thousands have died in Mediterranean Sea shipwrecks in recent years as migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seek a better life in the affluent European Union.
But the sinking of the Adriana a year ago Friday in international waters 75 kilometers (45 miles) off Pylos in southern Greece was one of the worst. Only 82 bodies were recovered, so that hundreds of families still lack even the grim certitude that their relatives are dead.
Elwan, a cook whose wife and children are in Cairo, says he still gets phone calls from Egypt from mothers, brothers and wives of the missing.
“We (left) home to get the best life for the family and until now (their families) know nothing about them,” he said.
And after a year there are only hazy answers as to why so many lives were lost, what caused the shipwreck and who can be held answerable.
Migrant charities and human rights groups have strongly criticized Greece's handling of the sinking and its aftermath.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Thursday “a credible process for accountability” was needed.
“It is unconscionable that one year since this horrific tragedy, the investigation into the potential liability of (Greece’s) Coast Guard has barely progressed,” HRW official Judith Sunderland said in the groups' joint statement.
The Greek coast guard, migration ministry and other officials did not respond to AP requests for comment ahead of the anniversary.
Authorities had a coast guard boat on the scene and merchant ships in the vicinity during the trawler's last hours. They blame smugglers who crammed hundreds of people into an unseaworthy vessel — most in an airless hold designed to store a catch of fish — for a nightmare voyage from Libya to Italy.
They also say the Adriana capsized when its passengers — some of whom wanted to press on for Italy after five dreadful days at sea, others to seek safety in Greece — suddenly surged to one side, causing it to lurch and turn turtle. And they insist that offers to take the migrants off the ship were rebuffed by people set on reaching Italy.
Elwan — who says he was on deck with a clear view of what happened — and other survivors say the lurching followed a botched coast guard attempt to tow the trawler. He claimed the coast guard hurriedly cut the towline when it became evident the Adriana would sink and drag their boat down with it.
“If you find the ship (at the bottom of the sea), you will find this rope” still attached to it, he said.
But the logistics make such a feat nigh-on impossible, Greek authorities say, as the ship rests some 5 kilometers (more than 3 miles) down, at one of the Mediterranean's deepest points.
The coast guard has denied any towing attempt, and allegations that its vessel tried to shift the trawler into neighboring Italy's area of responsibility.
A naval court began investigating last June, but has released no information on its progress or findings.
Separately, in November Greece's state ombudsman started an independent probe into authorities' handling of the tragedy, bemoaning the coast guard's "express denial” to initiate a disciplinary investigation.
Last month, a Greek court dropped charges against nine Egyptians accused of crewing the Adriana and causing the shipwreck. Without examining evidence for or against them, it determined that Greece lacked jurisdiction as the wreck occurred in international waters.
Effie Doussi, one of the Egyptians' defense lawyers, argued that the ruling was “politically convenient” for Greek authorities.
“It saved the Greek state from being exposed over how the coast guard acted, given their responsibility for rescue,” she said.
Doussi said a full hearing would have included testimony from survivors and other witnesses, and let defense lawyers seek additional evidence from the coast guard, such as potential mobile phone data.
Zeeshan Sarwar, a 28-year-old Pakistani survivor, said he's still waiting for justice, “but apparently there is nothing.”
“I may be looking fine right now, but I am broken from the inside. We are not getting justice,” he told the AP. “We are not receiving any information about the people of coast guard ... that the court has found them guilty or not.”
Elwan, the Egyptian, said he can still only sleep for three or four hours a night.
“I remember every second that happened to me,” he said. “I can’t forget anything because (I) lost friends in this ship.”
The journey that preceded the wreck was also horrendous.
Survivors said Pakistanis were confined in the hold and beaten by the crew if they tried to stir. But Arabic-speaking Egyptians and Syrians enjoyed the relative luxury of the deck. For many, that spelled the difference between life and death when the ship capsized.
“Our condition was very bad on the first day because it was the first time in our life that we were traveling on the sea,” Sarwar said.
“If a person ... tried to vomit, then they used to say that you have to do it right here on your lap, you can’t get (outside),” he said. “On the fifth day, people were fainting because of hunger and thirst. One man died.”
Elwan said he left for Europe secretly, telling his wife he would be away for months, working at an Egyptian Red Sea resort.
He's upset that he's still to be granted asylum, unlike many Syrian survivors who, he said, have moved on to western Europe.
“Only people from Egypt can't get papers,” he said. “I've been working for 10 months to send money for my family ... If someone says come and move rubbish, I will go and move this rubbish, no problem for me.”
If he gets residence papers, Elwan wants to work in Greece and bring his family over.
Otherwise, “I will go to Italy, maybe Germany. I don't know.”