WHO Board to Hold Emergency Meeting on Gaza Health Situation

Displaced Palestinians who fled from Khan Yunis, sit outside makeshift shelters at a camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 4, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinians who fled from Khan Yunis, sit outside makeshift shelters at a camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 4, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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WHO Board to Hold Emergency Meeting on Gaza Health Situation

Displaced Palestinians who fled from Khan Yunis, sit outside makeshift shelters at a camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 4, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinians who fled from Khan Yunis, sit outside makeshift shelters at a camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 4, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

The World Health Organization's executive board will hold an emergency session on Dec. 10 to discuss the health crisis in Gaza and the West Bank, with the Palestinian envoy seeking more medical aid and access for foreign healthcare workers.

The WHO confirmed on Monday it had received a request from 15 countries to hold the session, which will be convened by Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in consultation with the Qatari chair.

The Palestinian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, said the meeting would focus mostly on Gaza, engulfed by war between its Hamas rulers and Israel, but also cover attacks on the health sector in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"We want to empower the WHO and call for the Israeli side not to target the medical sector. We want to allow for fresh medical supplies," he told Reuters, adding that his diplomatic mission was drafting a motion to be reviewed by the board.

"One idea is to send more doctors in from around the world," he added, saying many countries had offered.

Only a fraction of Gaza's hospitals remain operational due to Israeli bombings and a lack of fuel, and those that are still functioning are increasingly overwhelmed by a new wave of wounded arriving.

A WHO database shows there have been 427 attacks on healthcare facilities in Palestinian territories since the Oct. 7 cross-border Hamas attack on Israel, and the latter's retaliatory aerial blitz and invasion of Gaza. The database does not touch on who is seen as responsible for the attacks.

Israel has accused Hamas of using ordinary Gazans as human shields by placing command centers and weapons inside hospitals and other civilian buildings.

A senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday Israel would facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to Gaza's civilians as fighting there resumed after a week-long truce collapsed.

The WHO has also warned of spreading disease which it has said could kill more people than bombardments in Gaza, with diarrhea cases among children rising to about 100 times normal levels.

As many as 80 percent of Gaza's 2.3 million people have fled their homes in an Israeli bombing campaign that has reduced much of the crowded coastal strip to a desolate wasteland.

The WHO's governing board is made up of 34 members and typically meets every January to fix the agenda for its annual assembly. The United States, France, China and Japan are among countries currently holding seats.



Hamas Official Says Group Would Lay Down its Weapons If a Two-state Solution is Implemented

Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
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Hamas Official Says Group Would Lay Down its Weapons If a Two-state Solution is Implemented

Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

A top Hamas political official told The Associated Press the group is willing to agree to a truce of five years or more with Israel and that it would lay down its weapons and convert into a political party if an independent Palestinian state is established along pre-1967 borders.
The comments by Khalil al-Hayya in an interview Wednesday came amid a stalemate in months of cease-fire talks. The suggestion that Hamas would disarm appeared to be a significant concession by the militant group officially committed to Israel’s destruction.
But it's unlikely Israel would consider such a scenario. It has vowed to crush Hamas following the deadly Oct. 7 attacks that triggered the war, and its current leadership is adamantly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state on lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Al-Hayya, a high-ranking Hamas official who has represented the Palestinian militants in negotiations for a cease-fire and hostage exchange, struck a sometimes defiant and other times conciliatory tone.
Speaking to the AP in Istanbul, Al-Hayya said Hamas wants to join the Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by the rival Fatah faction to form a unified government for Gaza and the West Bank. He said Hamas would accept “a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with the international resolutions,” along Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
If that happens, he said, the group's military wing would dissolve.
“All the experiences of people who fought against occupiers, when they became independent and obtained their rights and their state, what have these forces done? They have turned into political parties and their defending fighting forces have turned into the national army,” he said.
Over the years, Hamas has sometimes moderated its public position with respect to the possibility of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But its political program still officially “rejects any alternative to the full liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea" — referring to the area reaching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which includes lands that now make up Israel.
Al-Hayya did not say whether his apparent embrace of a two-state solution would amount to an end to the Palestinian conflict with Israel or an interim step toward the group’s stated goal of destroying Israel.
There was no immediate reaction from Israel or the Palestinian Authority — the internationally recognized self-ruled government that Hamas drove out when it seized Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections. After the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Palestinian Authority was left with administering semi-autonomous pockets of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority hopes to establish an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. While the international community overwhelmingly supports such a two-state solution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line government rejects it.
The war in Gaza has dragged on for nearly seven months and cease-fire negotiations have stalled. The war began with the deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel in which the Hamas-led group killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Hamas dragged some 250 hostages into the enclave. The ensuing Israeli bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to local health authorities, and displaced some 80% of Gaza's population of 2.3 million.
Israel is now preparing for an offensive in the southern city of Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians have fled to.
Israel says it has dismantled most of the initial two dozen Hamas battalions since the start of the war, but that the four remaining ones are holed up in Rafah. Israel argues that a Rafah offensive is necessary to achieve victory over Hamas.
Al-Hayya said such an offensive would not succeed in destroying Hamas. He said contacts between the political leadership outside and military leadership inside Gaza are “uninterrupted” by the war and “contacts, decisions and directions are made in consultation" between the two groups.
Israeli forces "have not destroyed more than 20% of (Hamas’) capabilities, neither human nor in the field,” he asserted. “If they can’t finish (Hamas) off, what is the solution? The solution is to go to consensus.”
In November, a weeklong cease-fire saw the release of more than 100 hostages in exchange for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. But talks for a longer-term truce and release of the remaining hostages are now frozen, with each side accusing the other of intransigence.
Israeli and US officials have accused Hamas of not being serious about a deal.
Al-Hayya denied this, saying Hamas has made concessions regarding the number of Palestinian prisoners it wants released in exchange for the remaining Israeli hostages. He said the group does not know exactly how many hostages remain in Gaza and are still alive.
But he said Hamas will not back down from its demands for a permanent cease-fire and full withdrawal of Israeli troops, both of which Israel has balked at. Israel says it will continue military operations until Hamas is definitively defeated and will retain a security presence in Gaza afterwards.
“If we are not assured the war will end, why would I hand over the prisoners?” the Hamas leader said of the remaining hostages.
Al-Hayya also implicitly threatened that Hamas would attack Israeli or other forces who might be stationed around a floating pier the US is scrambling to build along Gaza's coastline to deliver aid by sea.
“We categorically reject any non-Palestinian presence in Gaza, whether at sea or on land, and we will deal with any military force present in these places, Israeli or otherwise ... as an occupying power,” he said.
Al-Hayya said Hamas does not regret the Oct. 7 attacks, despite the destruction it has brought down on Gaza and its people. He denied that Hamas had targeted civilians during the attacks — despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — and said the operation succeeded in its goal of bringing the Palestinian issue back to the world’s attention.
And, he said, Israeli attempts to eradicate Hamas would ultimately fail to prevent future Palestinian armed uprisings.
"Let’s say that they have destroyed Hamas. Are the Palestinian people gone?” he asked.


US Coalition Warship Shoots Down Missile Fired by Yemen's Houthis over Gulf of Aden

A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: -/dpa
A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: -/dpa
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US Coalition Warship Shoots Down Missile Fired by Yemen's Houthis over Gulf of Aden

A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: -/dpa
A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: -/dpa

A warship — part of a US-led coalition protecting shipping in the Mideast — intercepted an anti-ship ballistic missile fired over the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday, the American military said, marking a new attack by Yemen's Houthis after a recent lull.
The Houthis claimed the assault, which comes after a period of relatively few attacks on shipping in the region over Israel's ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, The Associated Press said.
The explosion happened some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden, the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said in a statement.
Early Thursday, the US military's Central Command said a coalition warship shot down the missile likely targeting the MV Yorktown, a US-flagged, owned and operated vessel with 18 US and four Greek crew members.
“There were no injuries or damage reported by US, coalition or commercial ships," Central Command said.
Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a Houthi military spokesman, claimed the attack but insisted without evidence that the missile hit the Yorktown. Saree also claimed the Houthis targeted another ship in the Indian Ocean, without providing proof. The Houthis have made repeated claims that turned out to not be true during their yearslong war in Yemen.
The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sank another since November, according to the US Maritime Administration.
Houthi attacks have dropped in recent weeks as the militias have been targeted by a US-led airstrike campaign in Yemen and shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has declined because of the threat. American officials have speculated that the Houthis may be running out of weapons as a result of the US-led campaign against them and firing off drones and missiles steadily in the last months.
The Houthis have said they would continue their attacks until Israel ends its war in Gaza.
The ships targeted by the Houthis largely have had little or no direct connection to Israel, the US or other nations involved in the war. The group has also fired missiles toward Israel, though they have largely fallen short or been intercepted.


Iran Cuts Syria Presence after Strikes Blamed on Israel, Says Monitor

A Syrian flag flies as people walk across the Hafez al-Assad bridge across the Barada river in the center of Damascus on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
A Syrian flag flies as people walk across the Hafez al-Assad bridge across the Barada river in the center of Damascus on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
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Iran Cuts Syria Presence after Strikes Blamed on Israel, Says Monitor

A Syrian flag flies as people walk across the Hafez al-Assad bridge across the Barada river in the center of Damascus on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
A Syrian flag flies as people walk across the Hafez al-Assad bridge across the Barada river in the center of Damascus on April 14, 2024. (AFP)

Iran has reduced its military footprint in Syria after a succession of strikes blamed on Israel, a source close to Iran-backed Hezbollah and a war monitor said Wednesday.

Iran has provided military support to Syrian government forces through more than a decade of civil war but a series of strikes targeting its commanders in recent months has prompted a reshaping of its presence, the sources said.

"Iran withdrew its forces from southern Syria," including both Quneitra and Daraa provinces, which abut the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, the source close to Hezbollah said.

But it still maintains a presence in other parts of the country, the source added.

Recent months have seen a series of strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, widely blamed on Israel, culminating in an April 1 strike that levelled the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards, two of them generals.

That strike prompted Iran to launch a first-ever direct missile and drone attack against Israel on April 13-14 that sent regional tensions spiraling.

But Iran had already begun drawing down its forces after a January 20 strike that killed five Revolutionary Guards in Damascus, including their Syria intelligence chief and his deputy, the source close to Hezbollah said.

Britain-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Iranian forces had withdrawn from Damascus and southern Syria.

Iran-backed Lebanese and Iraqi fighters had taken their place, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Iran has said repeatedly that it has no combat troops in Syria, only officers to provide military advice and training.

But the Observatory says as many as 3,000 Iranian military personnel are present in Syria, supported by tens of thousands of Iranian-trained fighters from countries including Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abdel Rahman said that many of Iran's advisers had left Syria in recent months, especially after a strike in March killed a Revolutionary Guard and two others -- although some remained in Aleppo province in the north and Deir Ezzor province in the east.

People who have recently travelled to Damascus told AFP Iran's presence had become less visible in the Syrian capital, with several Iranian army offices in its Old City now closed.

The Iranian flags and portraits of Iran's leaders that hung in parts of Damascus have mostly disappeared, they added.

Now, the Iranian presence was visible only in Sayyida Zeinab, an important Shiite destination in the city's southern outskirts, they said.


Jordan Sets Sept 10 Date for Parliamentary Election

King of Jordan Abdullah II speaks while making a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 16 February 2024. (Reuters)
King of Jordan Abdullah II speaks while making a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 16 February 2024. (Reuters)
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Jordan Sets Sept 10 Date for Parliamentary Election

King of Jordan Abdullah II speaks while making a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 16 February 2024. (Reuters)
King of Jordan Abdullah II speaks while making a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 16 February 2024. (Reuters)

Jordan's independent electoral commission on Wednesday set Sept. 10 as the date for a parliamentary election after King Abdullah said earlier he hoped the polls would deliver long promised political reforms, state media reported.

The monarch, who visited the electoral commission before the announcement, said the polls would be a major milestone towards trying to modernize the country's political system under revamped laws that encourage licensed parties to run in multi-party elections.

Under the constitution, the nationwide polls are held within four months of the end of a four-year term of parliament that formally ends in November. The country's last election was held in November 2020.

The head of the Independent Election Commission Musa Al Maaytah, who announced the date of the election, said there were more than 5 million eligible voters on its lists.

The election comes as the country is reeling from the impact of the war in Gaza that has hit tourism, a main pillar of the economy, and affected businesses.


Hamas Issues Video Showing Israeli-American Hostage Goldberg-Polin

 Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas militants hold a portrait of US-Israeli Hersh Golgberg-Polin during a demonstration calling for the release of those taken near the residence of the Israeli prime minister in Jerusalem on April 20, 2024. (AFP)
Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas militants hold a portrait of US-Israeli Hersh Golgberg-Polin during a demonstration calling for the release of those taken near the residence of the Israeli prime minister in Jerusalem on April 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Hamas Issues Video Showing Israeli-American Hostage Goldberg-Polin

 Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas militants hold a portrait of US-Israeli Hersh Golgberg-Polin during a demonstration calling for the release of those taken near the residence of the Israeli prime minister in Jerusalem on April 20, 2024. (AFP)
Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas militants hold a portrait of US-Israeli Hersh Golgberg-Polin during a demonstration calling for the release of those taken near the residence of the Israeli prime minister in Jerusalem on April 20, 2024. (AFP)

The Palestinian movement Hamas released a video on Wednesday apparently showing Hersh Goldberg-Polin, an Israeli-American seized during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and taken hostage into Gaza, alive.

The short video, which is undated, showed the 23-year-old missing his lower arm, which was blown off during the Hamas-led attack in October, but otherwise apparently healthy.

His mother Rachel Goldberg-Polin has been campaigning actively for the release of her son, who was abducted at the Nova music festival that was attacked by Hamas gunmen early on Oct. 7 and is one of 133 Israeli hostages still in captivity after more than 100 were released last year.

Around 250 Israelis and foreigners were taken hostage by the gunmen, who killed some 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies, in the deadliest attack in Israel's history.

In response, Israel launched an assault on Gaza, pledging to destroy Hamas and bring the hostages home. The assault has so far killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to Gaza health authorities.


Israeli Strikes Hit Southern Lebanon as Cross-Border Fire Escalates

This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing above the Lebanese village of Odaisseh during Israeli bombardment on April 22, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (AFP)
This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing above the Lebanese village of Odaisseh during Israeli bombardment on April 22, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (AFP)
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Israeli Strikes Hit Southern Lebanon as Cross-Border Fire Escalates

This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing above the Lebanese village of Odaisseh during Israeli bombardment on April 22, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (AFP)
This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing above the Lebanese village of Odaisseh during Israeli bombardment on April 22, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (AFP)

The Israeli military said artillery and fighter jet strikes had hit around 40 targets in southern Lebanon on Wednesday as the intense fighting of recent days continued to escalate, with Hezbollah firing dozens of rockets at an Israeli border village.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel have been waging their worst hostilities in nearly two decades since war erupted in Gaza last October, stirring concern about the risk of a wider and more destructive conflict between the heavily armed foes.

The Israeli military said the strikes in the area of Ayta al-Shaab, about 3 km (1.6 miles) inside the Lebanese border, had hit infrastructure including storage facilities and weapons in an area it said was used extensively by Hezbollah forces.

"There is continuous offensive action by IDF forces in all of southern Lebanon as well as in other parts of Lebanon. The operational results are very impressive," Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement following an operational meeting at the military's Northern Command.

He said half of Hezbollah's commanders in southern Lebanon had been killed by Israeli forces.

A Hezbollah official dismissed the assertion as "completely worthless" and aimed only to boost Israeli morale. He said the group regularly published pictures and biographical details of fighters killed in the fighting.

On Wednesday, the movement held a funeral for a senior commander, Hussein Azkoul, killed earlier this week by Israel.

Speaking at the funeral, senior Hezbollah politician Hassan Fadlallah indicated that Azkoul had played a role in developing Hezbollah's drone and missile capabilities, taking the battle with Israel into "a new phase".

The Israeli strikes came a day after Hezbollah launched a drone attack on Israeli military bases north of the Israeli coastal city of Acre, its deepest strike yet in the hostilities that have flared in parallel to the Gaza war.

The attack appeared to be one of the most complicated announced by Hezbollah during the last six months, using drones designed to keep Israeli air defenses busy while others laden with explosives were flown at the Israeli targets.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah fired Katyusha rockets on the community of Shomera in response to Israeli strikes on Lebanese villages including one the day before on Hanin, which killed at least two people including an 11-year-old girl.

Though the latest hostilities have been the worst in years, the violence has largely been confined to areas at or near the Israeli-Lebanese border, with Israel occasionally striking deeper into the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon's east.

Israeli strikes have killed some 250 Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon since Oct. 7, in addition to a further 30 killed in Israeli strikes in neighboring Syria. Overall, this exceeds Hezbollah's losses in the 2006 war with Israel.

More than 70 civilians have been killed in Lebanon.

In Israel, 18 people - including soldiers and civilians - have been killed.


Germany to Resume Cooperation with Palestinian UNRWA Agency 

19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: A destroyed United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) school seen after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)
19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: A destroyed United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) school seen after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)
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Germany to Resume Cooperation with Palestinian UNRWA Agency 

19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: A destroyed United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) school seen after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)
19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: A destroyed United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) school seen after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)

The German government plans to resume cooperation with the UN agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) in Gaza, the foreign and development ministries said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The decision follows an investigation by the former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna into whether some UNRWA employees were involved in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

The Colonna-led review of the agency's neutrality on Monday concluded Israel had yet to back up its accusations that hundreds of UNRWA staff were operatives in Gaza terrorist groups.

The German ministries urged UNRWA to swiftly implement the report's recommendations, including strengthening its internal audit function and improving external oversight of project management.

"In support of these reforms, the German government will soon continue its cooperation with UNRWA in Gaza, as Australia, Canada, Sweden and Japan, among others, have already done," said the ministries in the statement.


Israel Says It Is Poised to Move on Rafah

A woman and a girl search for items through the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 24, 2024 following reported Israeli air strikes overnight. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
A woman and a girl search for items through the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 24, 2024 following reported Israeli air strikes overnight. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
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Israel Says It Is Poised to Move on Rafah

A woman and a girl search for items through the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 24, 2024 following reported Israeli air strikes overnight. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
A woman and a girl search for items through the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 24, 2024 following reported Israeli air strikes overnight. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israel's military is poised to evacuate Palestinian civilians from Rafah and assault Hamas hold-outs in the southern Gaza Strip city, a senior Israeli defense official said on Wednesday, despite international warnings of humanitarian catastrophe.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government said Israel was "moving ahead" with a ground operation, but gave no timeline.

The defense official said Israel's Defense Ministry had bought 40,000 tents, each with the capacity for 10 to 12 people, to house Palestinians relocated from Rafah in advance of an assault.

Video circulating online appeared to show rows of square white tents going up in Khan Younis, a city some 5 km (3 miles) from Rafah. Reuters could not verify the video but reviewed images from satellite company Maxar Technologies which showed tent camps on Khan Younis land that had been vacant weeks ago.

An Israeli government source said Netanyahu's war cabinet planned to meet in the coming two weeks to authorize civilian evacuations, expected to take around a month.

The defense official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that the military could go into action immediately but was awaiting a green light from Netanyahu.

Rafah, which abuts the Egyptian border, is sheltering more than a million Palestinians who fled the half-year-old Israeli offensive through the rest of Gaza, and say the prospect of fleeing yet again is terrifying.

"I have to make a decision whether to leave Rafah because my mother and I are afraid an invasion could happen suddenly and we won't get time to escape," said Aya, 30, who has been living temporarily in the city with her family in a school.

She said that some families recently moved to a refugee camp in coastal Al-Mawasi, but their tents caught fire when tank shells landed nearby. "Where do we go?"

HITTING HARD

Israel, which launched its war to annihilate Hamas after the group's Oct. 7 attacks on Israeli towns, says Rafah is home to four Hamas combat battalions reinforced by thousands of retreating fighters, and it must defeat them to achieve victory.

"Hamas was hit hard in the northern sector. It was also hit hard in the center of the Strip. And soon it will be hit hard in Rafah, too," Brigadier-General Itzik Cohen, commander of Israel's 162nd Division operating in Gaza, told Kan public TV.

But Israel's closest ally Washington has called on it to set aside plans for an assault, and says Israel can combat Hamas fighters there by other means.

"We could not support a Rafah ground operation without an appropriate, credible, executable humanitarian plan precisely because of the complications for delivery of assistance," David Satterfield, US special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issued, told reporters on Tuesday.

"We continue discussions with Israel on what we believe are alternate ways of addressing a challenge which we recognize, which is Hamas military present in Rafah."

Egypt says it will not allow Gazans to be pushed across the border onto its territory. Cairo had warned Israel against moving on Rafah, which "would lead to massive human massacres, losses (and) widespread destruction", its State Information Service said.

Israel has withdrawn most of its ground troops from southern Gaza this month but kept up air strikes and conducted raids into areas its troops abandoned. Efforts by the United States, Egypt and Qatar to broker an extended ceasefire in time to head off an assault on Rafah have so far failed.

Gaza medical officials say than 34,000 people have been killed in Israel's military campaign, with thousands more bodies feared buried under rubble.

Hamas killed 1,200 people and abducted 253 on Oct 7, according to Israeli tallies. Of those hostages, 129 remain in Gaza, Israeli officials say. More than 260 Israeli troops have been killed in ground fighting since Oct 20, the military says.

H. A. Hellyer, a senior associate fellow in international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said he expected the assault on Rafah "sooner rather than later" because Netanyahu is under pressure to meet his stated objectives of rescuing hostages and killing all the Hamas leaders.

"The invasion of Rafah is unavoidable because of the way he has framed all of this," he said. But it will not be possible for everyone to leave the city, so "if he sends the military into Rafah, there are going to be a lot of casualties". 


Mystery Still Surrounds Who Carried out Attack on Iraq’s Kalso Base 

A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion on late Friday, in Babil province, Iraq April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion on late Friday, in Babil province, Iraq April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
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Mystery Still Surrounds Who Carried out Attack on Iraq’s Kalso Base 

A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion on late Friday, in Babil province, Iraq April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion on late Friday, in Babil province, Iraq April 20, 2024. (Reuters)

An Iraqi military investigations committee announced on Tuesday that the attack on the Kalso base on Saturday was not carried out by jets or drones.

It said the attack in the southern Babil province was carried out by a rocket and that the base held three types of material that are used in manufacturing explosives.

One member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and eight others were wounded in the strike.

The committee said it found the fragments of five rockets 150 meters from the attack site. The size of the crater at the scene indicates that a very large explosion caused by weapons and very flammable material had taken place.

The committee noted a report from the air defense command that said it detected no fighter jets or drones in Babil before, during or after the explosion took place.

The United States often claims attacks that it carries out against pro-Iran armed factions or the PMF in Iraq, but it didn’t this time.

When the US doesn’t claim an attack, then that leaves no one but Israel responsible, Iraqi politicians told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The attack on Kalso took place hours after Israel fired two rockets at an air base in Iran’s city of Isfahan.

The Iraqi committee added that the extent of the blast indicates that the attack could not have been carried out by a rocket or several rockets that were launched from the air.

Tests on the soil and the rocket fragments proved the presence of three materials used in the manufacture of explosives and rockets. It identified the material as TNT, ammonium nitrate and dibutyl phthalate.

Truce holds

The phrasing of the report may be viewed as an attempt to calm the air between the armed factions and Americans, especially in wake of a visit concluded by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to the US last week where he met with President Joe Biden.

Trusted political sources said leading members in the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, notably former PM Nouri al-Maliki and head of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq Kais Khazali, were leaning towards maintaining the “truce” between the armed factions and the US.

In contrast, leaders of the Nujaba movement and Kataib Hezbollah were leaning towards ending the calm.

The sources said the outcomes of the military investigation reflect a desire by the government and a powerful party within the Framework to maintain the truce.

News of the explosion emerged no sooner had Sudani’s plane departed the US. Initial reports said the attack was carried out by the US, which would have been a signal that his visit was a failure, but those claims were quickly ruled out.

Hours later, reports emerged that Israel had carried out the attack and that it falls within the “rules of engagement between the Iranians and the Israelis, and also between the factions and the Israelis,” said an Iraqi politician.

Hours after the Kalso attack, five rockets were fired from Iraq’s Mosul at an American military base in Syria’s Hasakeh in what was seen as a test of force between the pro-Iran Iraqi factions and the Iraqi government.

The government described the attack as “an act carried out by outlaws.” Conflicting reports emerged from the armed factions, including Kataib Hezbollah, in claiming and distancing themselves from the attack.

The American base in Syria’s Ain al-Asad also came under attack hours later.

Who carried out the attack?

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the Iraqi factions were likely behind both attacks in Syria, signifying the end of the truce.

It said the attack by the Iran-backed factions was “carefully executed with no US casualties and no inferred claims of responsibility—indeed, a denial of involvement.”

“Efforts were thus made to avoid escalation that might draw Kataib Hezbollah and Iran into danger,” it added.


Türkiye's Erdogan Says Iraq Sees Need to Eliminate Kurdish PKK

A handout photo made available by the Turkish Presidential press office shows Former President of Iraqi Kurdistan Region and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Masoud Barzani (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) posing for the media before their meeting in Erbil, northern Iraq, 22 April 2024. (EPA/Murat Cetin Muhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout)
A handout photo made available by the Turkish Presidential press office shows Former President of Iraqi Kurdistan Region and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Masoud Barzani (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) posing for the media before their meeting in Erbil, northern Iraq, 22 April 2024. (EPA/Murat Cetin Muhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout)
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Türkiye's Erdogan Says Iraq Sees Need to Eliminate Kurdish PKK

A handout photo made available by the Turkish Presidential press office shows Former President of Iraqi Kurdistan Region and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Masoud Barzani (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) posing for the media before their meeting in Erbil, northern Iraq, 22 April 2024. (EPA/Murat Cetin Muhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout)
A handout photo made available by the Turkish Presidential press office shows Former President of Iraqi Kurdistan Region and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Masoud Barzani (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) posing for the media before their meeting in Erbil, northern Iraq, 22 April 2024. (EPA/Murat Cetin Muhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in remarks published on Tuesday he believed Iraq saw the need to eliminate the Kurdish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and had the will to do so, adding Ankara wanted Baghdad's support in that battle.

Erdogan was speaking after talks in Baghdad and Erbil on Monday, the first visit by a Turkish leader to Iraq since 2011, following years of tensions as Ankara carried out cross-border attacks on PKK militants based in northern Iraq.

Ties between the neighbors are entering a new phase, Erdogan said, after they agreed to cooperate against militants, boost economic relations via a new corridor and consider Iraq's needs for access to scarce water.

Speaking to reporters on his flight back from Iraq, Erdogan said Türkiye's battle with terrorism would continue in line with international law, and added he hoped to see concrete results of Baghdad labeling the PKK a "banned organization" last month.

The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Türkiye, the US and the European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the insurgency since then.

The conflict was long fought mainly in rural areas of southeastern Türkiye but is now more focused on the mountains of northern Iraq's mountainous, semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

"One would hope that our neighbors put the necessary stance forward against the threats directed at us from their lands, and we continue this battle jointly," Erdogan said, according to a text of the in-flight comments published by his office.

"Eliminating this threat is also to the benefit of Iraq. I believe they see this reality and they will now put forth a will for this issue to be removed," he said, adding he also discussed steps against the PKK during talks in Erbil.

Later on Tuesday, Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler said Türkiye and Iraq had agreed on forming a joint military operations center, an issue the two sides have long been discussing over Ankara's cross-border raids, and added Ankara and Baghdad would work together on "what we can do".

"Then, the responsibilities of the joint operations center will be determined. For now, the two sides have just taken the decision on its formation," Guler was cited by broadcaster NTV as telling reporters in parliament.

Asked about Iraq's needs for access to water, Erdogan said Türkiye was not a country with abundant water resources and also had to manage its own needs. He said plans taking into account "changing climate conditions" are needed for the sustainable use of water.

"Therefore, we need to take cautious steps. With evaluations to be held in that direction, it may be possible to find common ground," he said.

On Monday, the two countries agreed to a strategic framework agreement overseeing security, trade and energy as well as a 10-year deal on the management of water resources that would take Iraqi needs into account.