Israeli Offensive Shifts to Crowded Southern Gaza, Driving up Death Toll Despite Evacuation Orders

A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 2, 2023, shows an explosion and smoke billowing over the Palestinian territory during an Israeli strike as battles resumed between Israel and Hamas militants. (AFP)
A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 2, 2023, shows an explosion and smoke billowing over the Palestinian territory during an Israeli strike as battles resumed between Israel and Hamas militants. (AFP)
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Israeli Offensive Shifts to Crowded Southern Gaza, Driving up Death Toll Despite Evacuation Orders

A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 2, 2023, shows an explosion and smoke billowing over the Palestinian territory during an Israeli strike as battles resumed between Israel and Hamas militants. (AFP)
A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 2, 2023, shows an explosion and smoke billowing over the Palestinian territory during an Israeli strike as battles resumed between Israel and Hamas militants. (AFP)

Israel pounded targets in the crowded southern half of the Gaza Strip on Saturday and ordered more neighborhoods designated for attack to evacuate, driving up the death toll even as the United States and others urged it to do more to protect Gaza civilians a day after a truce collapsed.

At least 200 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting resumed Friday morning following the weeklong truce with the territory’s ruling militant group Hamas, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. Several homes were hit across Gaza on Saturday, with multiple casualties reported in a strike that flattened a multi-story building on the outskirts of Gaza City.

Separately, the ministry announced that the overall death toll in Gaza since the Oct. 7 start of the Israel-Hamas war surpassed 15,200, a sharp jump from the previous count of more than 13,300 on Nov. 20. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it said 70% of the dead were women and children. It also said more than 40,000 people had been wounded since the war began.

The appeal from the United States, Israel's closest ally, to do more to protect civilians came after an air and ground offensive in the first weeks of the war devastated large areas of northern Gaza. Some 2 million Palestinians, almost the entire population of Gaza, are now crammed into the territory's southern half.

Israel’s military said Saturday that it had hit more than 400 Hamas targets across Gaza over the past day, using airstrikes and shelling from tanks and navy gunships. It included more than 50 strikes in the city of Khan Younis and surrounding areas in southern Gaza.

At least nine people, including three children, were killed in a strike on a house in Deir al-Balah city in the south, according to the hospital where the bodies were taken. The hospital also received seven bodies of others killed in overnight airstrikes, including two children.

In northern Gaza, an airstrike flattened a residential building hosting displaced families in the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya on the outskirts of Gaza City. The strike left dozens dead or wounded, said residents Hamza Obeid and Amal Radwan.

"There was a loud bang, then the building turned into a pile of rubble," Obeid said. AP video showed smoke rising from a fire as men, some in sandals, picked their way over the debris. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesperson, confirmed that the Israeli military was operating in Jabaliya.

Meanwhile, Palestinian militant groups in Gaza said they fired a barrage of rockets on southern Israel. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Lerner said Hamas had launched more than 250 rockets at Israel since the ceasefire ended.

In the clearest sign yet that a return to negotiations for further truces was unlikely, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed negotiators to return to Israel.

With the resumption of fighting, the Israeli military published an online map carving up the Gaza Strip into hundreds of numbered parcels and asked residents to familiarize themselves with the number of their location ahead of evacuation warnings.

On Saturday, the military listed more than two dozen parcel numbers in areas around Gaza City in the north and east of Khan Younis. Separately, it dropped leaflets with evacuation orders over towns east of Khan Younis.

One Khan Younis resident said a neighbor received a call from the Israeli army warning that houses in the area would be hit and everyone should leave. "We told them, ‘We have nothing here, why do you want to strike it?’" said the resident, Hikmat al-Qidra. Al-Qidra said the house was destroyed.

The maps and leaflets generated panic and confusion, especially in the crowded south. Unable to go to northern Gaza or neighboring Egypt, their only escape is to move around within the 220-square-kilometer (85-square-mile) area.

"There is no place to go," said Emad Hajar, who fled with his wife and three children from the north a month ago to Khan Younis. "They expelled us from the north, and now they are pushing us to leave the south."

Amal Radwan, who sheltered in the Jabaliya refugee camp, said she wasn't aware of such a map, adding that she and many others were not able to leave because of the relentless bombardment.

Mark Regev, a senior advisor to Netanyahu, said Israel was making "maximum effort to safeguard Gazan civilians" and the military has used leafleting, phone calls, and radio and TV broadcasts to urge Gazans to move from specific areas. "We’ve not asked the whole population of the south to relocate," he said.

Regev added that Israel is considering a future security buffer zone that would not allow Gazans direct access to the border fence on foot, adding that Israel does not plan to annex any territory from Gaza.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas operatives and blames civilian casualties on the militants, accusing them of operating in residential neighborhoods. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence. Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive in northern Gaza.

Also Saturday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said it had received the first convoy of aid trucks through the Rafah crossing since fighting resumed. Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority, said a convoy of 100 trucks entered Gaza, including three carrying 150,000 liters (nearly 40,000 gallons) of fuel.

"Current conditions do not allow for a meaningful humanitarian response, and I fear will spell disaster for the civilian population," Pascal Hundt, in charge of operations in Gaza for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Kamala Harris, in Dubai on Saturday for the COP28 climate conference, said in a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that "under no circumstances" would the United States permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, the besiegement of Gaza or redrawing of its borders, according to a US summary.

Harris was expected to outline proposals with regional leaders to "put Palestinian voices at the center" of planning the next steps for Gaza after the conflict, according to the White House. President Joe Biden’s administration has emphasized the need for an eventual two-state solution, with Israel and a Palestinian state coexisting.

The Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and other militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel, and around 240 people were taken captive.

The renewed hostilities have heightened concerns for 136 hostages who, according to the Israeli military, are still held by Hamas and other militants after 105 were freed during the truce. A 70-year-old woman held by Hamas was declared dead on Saturday, according to her kibbutz, bringing the total number of known dead hostages to eight.

During the truce, Israel freed 240 Palestinians from its prisons. Most of those released by both sides were women and children.

The truce's end also saw new activity along Israel's northern border. Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group said its fighters attacked at least five Israeli posts along the border, and Israeli forces struck several areas on the Lebanese side. There were no reports of casualties.



US: Israel Agreed to Framework for Gaza Ceasefire, Hamas Now Must Decide

A damaged building from Gaza is pictured, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from Southern Israel, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A damaged building from Gaza is pictured, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from Southern Israel, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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US: Israel Agreed to Framework for Gaza Ceasefire, Hamas Now Must Decide

A damaged building from Gaza is pictured, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from Southern Israel, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A damaged building from Gaza is pictured, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from Southern Israel, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israel has essentially endorsed a framework of a proposed Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal, and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it, a senior US administration official said Saturday, a day before talks to reach an agreement were to resume in Egypt.
International mediators have been working for weeks to broker a deal to pause the fighting before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10. A deal would also likely allow aid to reach hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinians in northern Gaza who aid officials worry are under threat of famine.
The Israelis “have more or less accepted” the proposal, which includes the six-week ceasefire as well as the release by Hamas of hostages considered vulnerable, which includes the sick, the wounded, the elderly and women, said the official.
“Right now, the ball is in the court of Hamas and we are continuing to push this as hard as we possibly can,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House to brief reporters.

A senior Egyptian official said mediators Egypt and Qatar are expected to receive a response from Hamas during the Cairo talks scheduled to start Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not publicly authorized to discuss the sensitive talks.


US Military Planes Airdrop About 38,000 Meals Into Gaza

Children look for salvageable items amid the rubble of a Mosque and makeshift shelters that were destroyed in Israeli strikes in Deir El-Balah in central Gaza on March 2, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Children look for salvageable items amid the rubble of a Mosque and makeshift shelters that were destroyed in Israeli strikes in Deir El-Balah in central Gaza on March 2, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
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US Military Planes Airdrop About 38,000 Meals Into Gaza

Children look for salvageable items amid the rubble of a Mosque and makeshift shelters that were destroyed in Israeli strikes in Deir El-Balah in central Gaza on March 2, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Children look for salvageable items amid the rubble of a Mosque and makeshift shelters that were destroyed in Israeli strikes in Deir El-Balah in central Gaza on March 2, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

US military C-130 cargo planes on Saturday dropped food in pallets over Gaza, the first American airdrop of humanitarian aid into the Palestinian enclave, three US officials said.
Three planes from Air Forces Central dropped 66 bundles containing about 38,000 meals into Gaza at 8:30 a.m. EST, according to two of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity before a public announcement.
The airdrop is expected to be the first of many announced by President Joe Biden on Friday. The aid will be coordinated with Jordan.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Friday that the airdrops were being planned to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance in a safe way to people on the ground.
The C-130 cargo plane is a widely used military jet to deliver aid to remote places due to its ability to land in austere environments and cargo capacity.
A C-130 can airlift as much as 42,000 pounds of cargo and its crews know how to rig the cargo, which sometimes can include even vehicles, onto massive pallets can be safely dropped out of the back of the aircraft.
Air Force loadmasters secure the bundles onto pallets with netting that is rigged for release in the back of a C-130, and then crews release it with a parachute when the aircraft reaches the intended delivery zone.

Other countries including France, Egypt and Jordan have carried out airdrops of aid into Gaza.

At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip - one quarter of the enclave's population - are one step from famine, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


Ship Attacked by Houthis Sinks in Red Sea

A handout photo shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024).  EPA
A handout photo shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024). EPA
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Ship Attacked by Houthis Sinks in Red Sea

A handout photo shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024).  EPA
A handout photo shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024). EPA

A ship attacked by Yemen's Houthi militias has sunk in the Red Sea after days of taking on water, officials said Saturday.

The Rubymar had been drifting after the attack in February. It marks the first ship sunk by the Houthis amid their monthslong attacks on shipping in the vital waterway.

Yemen's internationally recognized government, as well as a regional military official, confirmed the ship sank. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the information had not been cleared for publication.

A statement issued by the Yemeni Foreign Ministry on Friday urged all concerned nations and regional and international organizations tasked with preserving maritime environments to take swift practical action to save the Red Sea from an imminent environmental catastrophe.

“Leaving the ship to its fate will result in serious harm to marine ecosystems and hundreds of thousands of Yemenis who rely on fishing, as well as potential damage to desalination plants along the Yemeni coast,” said the statement.


Palestinian Authority Hopes for Gaza Ceasefire by Ramadan

Palestinians inspect the destroyed Al Bokhari mosque following an Israeli airstrike in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 02 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
Palestinians inspect the destroyed Al Bokhari mosque following an Israeli airstrike in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 02 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
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Palestinian Authority Hopes for Gaza Ceasefire by Ramadan

Palestinians inspect the destroyed Al Bokhari mosque following an Israeli airstrike in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 02 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
Palestinians inspect the destroyed Al Bokhari mosque following an Israeli airstrike in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 02 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER

The Palestinian Authority hopes a ceasefire can be agreed in the Gaza war in time for Ramadan, its foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, said on Saturday.

Speaking at a news conference at a diplomatic forum in Antalya, Türkiye, Maliki said the PA would be "the only legitimate authority" to run Gaza after the war.

The PA, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007.

Israel and Hamas have been negotiating through mediators over a possible ceasefire in Gaza, with the aim of halting fighting in time for Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, due to begin this year on March 10.


Gaza Ceasefire Talks to Resume in Cairo on Sunday, Egyptian Security Sources Say

A general view shows Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt July 13, 2020. (Reuters)
A general view shows Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt July 13, 2020. (Reuters)
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Gaza Ceasefire Talks to Resume in Cairo on Sunday, Egyptian Security Sources Say

A general view shows Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt July 13, 2020. (Reuters)
A general view shows Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt July 13, 2020. (Reuters)

Gaza ceasefire negotiations are due to resume in Cairo on Sunday, two Egyptian security sources said on Saturday.

The parties have agreed on the duration of a Gaza truce, as well as hostage and prisoner releases, they said.

The completion of the deal still requires an agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Gaza and a return of its residents, they added, according to Reuters.

The sources said that an incident on Thursday incident in which more than 100 Palestinians seeking aid were killed by Israeli fire according to Gazan authorities, had not slowed down the talks, but instead pushed negotiators to hasten in order to preserve progress.


Israeli Strike Kills 3 Hezbollah Fighters in Lebanon

A view shows an Israeli tank and military vehicles near Israel's border with Lebanon in northern Israel, October 9 - REUTERS
A view shows an Israeli tank and military vehicles near Israel's border with Lebanon in northern Israel, October 9 - REUTERS
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Israeli Strike Kills 3 Hezbollah Fighters in Lebanon

A view shows an Israeli tank and military vehicles near Israel's border with Lebanon in northern Israel, October 9 - REUTERS
A view shows an Israeli tank and military vehicles near Israel's border with Lebanon in northern Israel, October 9 - REUTERS

An Israeli drone strike killed three Hezbollah fighters in south Lebanon on Saturday, security sources in Lebanon said, the latest to die in months of cross-border hostilities that have been fought in parallel to the Gaza war.

The men were killed when the car they were in was targeted on a coastal road near the town of Naqoura, the sources said. The Israeli army said it was checking reports on the incident, The Associated Press reported.

Israeli strikes since October have killed more than 200 Hezbollah fighters and some 50 civilians in Lebanon, while attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli soldiers and five civilians. Tens of thousands of Israelis and Lebanese have fled villages on both sides of the frontier.

Hezbollah signalled this week that it would halt its attacks if Israel's Gaza offensive stops, but it is also ready to keep on fighting if the Gaza war continues. On Friday, Hezbollah announced the deaths of four members killed in Lebanon.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last Sunday indicated that Israel planned to increase attacks on Hezbollah in the event of a Gaza ceasefire, but was open to a diplomatic deal to withdraw Hezbollah fighters from the border.

Lebanon's caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati told Reuters on Thursday a halt to fighting in Gaza as early as next week would trigger indirect talks to end hostilities at the border.


France Demands Justice after Shooting of Palestinians in Gaza

France's President Emmanuel Macron, surrounded by officials, attends the inauguration ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic village in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)
France's President Emmanuel Macron, surrounded by officials, attends the inauguration ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic village in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)
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France Demands Justice after Shooting of Palestinians in Gaza

France's President Emmanuel Macron, surrounded by officials, attends the inauguration ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic village in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)
France's President Emmanuel Macron, surrounded by officials, attends the inauguration ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic village in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he was angered by what Gaza authorities said was the shooting of more than 100 Palestinians seeking humanitarian aid and demanded "truth and justice" regarding the role of Israeli soldiers in the incident.
Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces on Thursday shot dead more than 100 Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery.
Israel blamed the deaths on crowds that surrounded aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over. An Israeli official also said troops had "in a limited response" later fired on crowds they felt had posed a threat. He dismissed the casualty toll given by Gaza authorities but gave no figure himself.
"Deep indignation at the images coming from Gaza where civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers. I express my strongest condemnation of these shootings and call for truth, justice, and respect for international law," Macron said in a post on X.
He said it was imperative for an immediate ceasefire in the war to be put in place.
Speaking on France Inter radio on Friday, Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Paris would back the United Nations' call for an independent investigation.
"The humanitarian situation has been catastrophic for several weeks now and what happened is indefensible and unjustifiable. Israel needs to be able to hear it and it needs to stop," Sejourne told France Inter.
"We have gone a step further, people are fighting for food and there are riots. I heard the request from the Secretary General of the United Nations to open an independent investigation.”

France would not apply "double standards" to the Mideast conflict, Sejourne said, adding: "France calls things by their name".

"This applies when we designate Hamas as a terrorist group, but we must also call things by their name when there are atrocities in Gaza."

If an investigation should conclude that the Israeli shooting was a war crime, "then obviously this becomes a matter for the judiciary", he said.

Sejourne also said the thought of people dying of hunger in Gaza was "unbearable" for France.


Google Maps Sends UNIFIL Patrol into Hezbollah Trap

A patrol for the UNIFIL forces near the border with Israel (Reuters)
A patrol for the UNIFIL forces near the border with Israel (Reuters)
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Google Maps Sends UNIFIL Patrol into Hezbollah Trap

A patrol for the UNIFIL forces near the border with Israel (Reuters)
A patrol for the UNIFIL forces near the border with Israel (Reuters)

UN peacekeepers from the Indonesian battalion were "briefly detained" on Thursday night by locals associated with Hezbollah in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital.

Initial reports suggested the patrol entered the suburb accidentally. Locals associated with Hezbollah took them to a security committee headquarters for questioning.

The Lebanese army later intervened and relocated them to one of its bases nearby.

“The patrol was traveling from the south to Beirut and relied on Google Maps, which directed them through the suburb due to traffic,” a Lebanese security source, who requested anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Candice Ardell, deputy director of the UNIFIL media office, said that the peacekeeping vehicle was on a routine logistical tour when it ended up on an unplanned route.

“The vehicle was stopped, and local individuals detained peacekeepers who were later released,” she was quoted by the National News Agency as saying.

“We are looking into the circumstances of what happened, but peacekeepers were not harmed,” Ardell said, without mentioning the number of peacekeepers involved in the incident.

“We emphasize that, in addition to freedom of movement inside UNIFIL’s area of operations, peacekeepers have the freedom and authorization from the Lebanese government to move throughout Lebanon for administrative and logistical reasons,” she noted.

The incident underscores the delicate situation in southern Lebanon, where UN forces face increasing risks amid escalating tensions between Hezbollah and Israel.

According to a source close to UNIFIL, UN patrols in southern areas face challenges due to security risks and increased military activities between Hezbollah and Israel.

“UNIFIL leaders understand the situation’s sensitivity and handle it responsibly,” confirmed the source, who refused to be named.

It is worth noting that these attacks are not isolated incidents. They reflect broader tensions between international forces and local populations, adding strain to an already volatile region.


Yemen Renews Plea to Avert Sinking of ‘Rubymar’

Yemen’s Houthis have mobilized tens of thousands of recruits since the beginning of the war in Gaza (AFP)
Yemen’s Houthis have mobilized tens of thousands of recruits since the beginning of the war in Gaza (AFP)
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Yemen Renews Plea to Avert Sinking of ‘Rubymar’

Yemen’s Houthis have mobilized tens of thousands of recruits since the beginning of the war in Gaza (AFP)
Yemen’s Houthis have mobilized tens of thousands of recruits since the beginning of the war in Gaza (AFP)

As Western airstrikes persist in weakening Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea, the Yemeni government urged the international community to act to prevent an environmental disaster in those waters.

A statement issued by the Yemeni Foreign Ministry on Friday urged all concerned nations and regional and international organizations tasked with preserving maritime environments to take swift practical action to save the Red Sea from an imminent environmental catastrophe.

The appeal follows a Houthi attack on the Belize-flagged cargo ship Rubymar, which now faces the threat of sinking after being hit by missiles 12 days ago.

As Yemeni authorities work to salvage Rubymar, they expressed dismay over airstrikes hitting a Yemeni fishermen’s boat near the stranded vessel, causing casualties and damage.

The government warned that this second attack complicates rescue efforts and poses a significant environmental threat.

“The government emphasizes that this second targeting undermines rescue efforts and threatens to cause a widespread environmental disaster,” said the Foreign Ministry’s statement.

Rubymar, laden with hazardous cargo of fertilizers and oils, risks sinking near Yemeni shores, potentially harming marine life and livelihoods.

“Leaving the ship to its fate will result in serious harm to marine ecosystems and hundreds of thousands of Yemenis who rely on fishing, as well as potential damage to desalination plants along the Yemeni coast,” added the statement.

In related news, fresh Western airstrikes hit Houthi targets in Hodeidah province on Friday, according to the Iran-backed group’s media, which acknowledged two strikes they described as “American and British” targeting the Jabana area west of Hodeidah city.

These airstrikes follow four raids the day before, also confirmed by the Houthis, targeting areas in the Salif and Durayhimi districts, north and south of Hodeidah.


Tunisia Raises Drinking Water Prices by Up to 16% due to Drought

A general view shows the dry ground of the Chiba dam in the Nabeul Governorate, as the country battles with a drought, Nabeul, Tunisia April 1, 2023. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
A general view shows the dry ground of the Chiba dam in the Nabeul Governorate, as the country battles with a drought, Nabeul, Tunisia April 1, 2023. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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Tunisia Raises Drinking Water Prices by Up to 16% due to Drought

A general view shows the dry ground of the Chiba dam in the Nabeul Governorate, as the country battles with a drought, Nabeul, Tunisia April 1, 2023. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
A general view shows the dry ground of the Chiba dam in the Nabeul Governorate, as the country battles with a drought, Nabeul, Tunisia April 1, 2023. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

Tunisia has raised its drinking water prices by up to 16%, the official gazette said on Friday, in response to a drought that has lasted five years.

After years of drought, average rainfall has increased in recent months but government officials said this week that Tunisian dams have only reached 35% of their stock capacity.

The North African country last year imposed a quota system for drinking water and a ban on its use in agriculture. Since last summer, it has been cutting off water supplies at night.

The price of water will be unchanged for small consumers, according to Reuters.

Those whose consumption exceeds 40 cubic metres face about 12% increase to 1.040 Tunisian dinars ($0.33) per cubic metre and consumers of between 70 and 100 cubic metres per quarter will pay 13.7% more at 1.490 dinars per cubic metre with immediate effect.

The highest increase is for those whose consumption exceeds 150 cubic metres and for tourist facilities, for which the price per cubic metre has increased by 16% to 2.310 dinars.