Israel Battles Militants in Gaza’s Main Cities, with Civilians Trapped in the Fighting

Palestinians use a donkey-pulled cart to flee Khan Yunis in southern Gaza Strip further south toward Rafah, along the Salah Al-Din road, on December 10, 2023. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinians use a donkey-pulled cart to flee Khan Yunis in southern Gaza Strip further south toward Rafah, along the Salah Al-Din road, on December 10, 2023. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
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Israel Battles Militants in Gaza’s Main Cities, with Civilians Trapped in the Fighting

Palestinians use a donkey-pulled cart to flee Khan Yunis in southern Gaza Strip further south toward Rafah, along the Salah Al-Din road, on December 10, 2023. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinians use a donkey-pulled cart to flee Khan Yunis in southern Gaza Strip further south toward Rafah, along the Salah Al-Din road, on December 10, 2023. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Palestinians dug under crushed buildings Monday to recover the bodies of families killed in strikes around Gaza as Israeli forces battled militants in the territory’s two largest cities, where many thousands of civilians are still trapped by the fighting.

Residents said battles went on in and around the southern city of Khan Younis, where Israeli ground forces opened a new line of attack last week. Battles were also still underway in parts of Gaza City and the urban Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, where large areas have been reduced to rubble.

Israel has pledged to keep fighting until it removes Hamas from power, dismantles its military capabilities and gets back all of the hostages taken by militants during Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack into Israel that ignited the war. The Israeli campaign has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians and driven nearly 85% of the territory’s 2.3 million people from their homes.

In central Gaza, an Israeli airstrike overnight flattened a residential building where some 80 people were staying in the Maghazi refugee camp, residents said.

Ahmed al-Qarah, a neighbor who was digging through the rubble for survivors, said he knew of only six people who made it out. “The rest are under the building,” he said. At a nearby hospital, family members sobbed over the bodies of several of the dead from the strike.

In Khan Younis, Radwa Abu Frayeh saw heavy Israeli strikes overnight around the European Hospital, where the UN humanitarian office says tens of thousands of people have sought shelter. She said one hit a home close to hers late Sunday.

“The building shook,” she said. “We thought it was the end and we would die.”

Hussein al-Sayyed, who fled Gaza City earlier in the war with his three daughters, is staying in a three-story home in the city with around 70 others. He said they have been rationing food for days. “I don’t know where to go,” he said. “No place is safe.”

Hamas on Monday fired a barrage of rockets that set off sirens in Tel Aviv. One person was lightly wounded, according to the Magen David Adom rescue service. Israel's Channel 12 television broadcast footage of a cratered road and damage to cars and buildings in a suburb.

FIERCE FIGHTING In northern Gaza, Israeli forces and militants have been fighting in the refugee camp of Jabaliya and the Gaza City district of Shijaiya.

Large swaths of Gaza City and other parts of the north have been obliterated by weeks of bombardment and fighting, but tens of thousands of people are believed to remain, huddled in homes, UN shelters and hospitals.

The UN humanitarian office, known as OCHA, described a harrowing journey through the battle zone by a UN and Red Crescent convoy over the weekend that made the first delivery of medical supplies to the north in more than a week. It said an ambulance and UN truck were hit by gunfire on the way to Al-Ahly Hospital to drop off the supplies.

The convoy then evacuated 19 patients but was delayed for inspections by Israeli forces on the way south. OCHA said one patient died, and a paramedic was detained for hours, interrogated and reportedly beaten.

The fighting in Jabaliya has trapped hundreds of staff, patients and displaced people inside a number of hospitals, most of them unable to function.

Two staff members were killed over the weekend by clashes outside Al-Awda Hospital, OCHA said. Shelling and live ammunition hit Al-Yemen Al-Saeed Hospital, killing an unknown number of displaced people sheltering inside, it said. It did not say which side was behind the fire.

Israel says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames their deaths on Hamas, saying it endangers residents by fighting in dense areas and positioning weapons, tunnels and rocket launchers in or near civilian buildings.

The military said five soldiers were killed Sunday in a battle in southern Gaza after militants fired at them from a school and set off an explosive device. Military officials said the troops, backed by aircraft and tanks, returned fire and killed the militants.

HARSH CONDITIONS IN THE SOUTH With Israel allowing little aid into Gaza and the UN largely unable to distribute it amid the fighting, Palestinians face severe shortages of food, water and other basic goods.

Israel has urged people to flee to what it says are safe areas in the south. The fighting in and around Khan Younis has pushed tens of thousands toward the town of Rafah and other areas along the border with Egypt.

Still, airstrikes have continued even in areas to which Palestinians are told to flee. A strike in Rafah early Monday heavily damaged a residential building, killing at least nine people, all but one of them women, according to Associated Press reporters who saw the bodies at the hospital.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders said people in the south are also falling ill as they pack into crowded shelters or sleep in tents in open areas.

Nicholas Papachrysostomou, the group's emergency coordinator in Gaza, said “every other patient” at a clinic in Rafah has a respiratory infection after prolonged exposure to cold and rain.

“In some shelters, 600 people share a single toilet. We are already seeing many cases of diarrhea. Often children are the worst affected,” he said.

With almost all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people crowded in the south, some worry that Palestinians will be forced out of the territory altogether in a repeat of the mass exodus from what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.

“Expect public order to completely break down soon, and an even worse situation could unfold, including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a forum in Qatar on Sunday.

Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesman, called allegations that Israeli intends to drive people from Gaza “outrageous and false.” But other Israeli officials have discussed such a scenario, raising alarm in Egypt and other Arab countries that refuse to accept any refugees.

Palestinians in Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied West Bank observed a general strike Monday called by activists to demand a ceasefire, after the US vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for one on Friday. A similar, nonbinding vote is planned in the General Assembly on Tuesday.

The US has provided unwavering diplomatic and military support for the campaign, even as it has urged Israel to minimize civilian casualties and further mass displacement.

With the war in its third month, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,900, most of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

Some 1,300 people have died on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed during the Oct. 7 attack. The toll also includes 104 soldiers who have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive since late October.

During the Oct. 7 attack, militants took more than 240 people captive. After exchanges during a weeklong ceasefire last month. Israel says Hamas still has 117 hostages and the remains of 20 people who died in captivity or during the initial attack.



Deaths in Gaza Pass 30,000, Witnesses Say Israeli Forces Fire on Crowd Waiting for Aid

People mourn following an early morning incident when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds rushing at an aid distribution point in Gaza City on February 29, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
People mourn following an early morning incident when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds rushing at an aid distribution point in Gaza City on February 29, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
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Deaths in Gaza Pass 30,000, Witnesses Say Israeli Forces Fire on Crowd Waiting for Aid

People mourn following an early morning incident when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds rushing at an aid distribution point in Gaza City on February 29, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
People mourn following an early morning incident when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds rushing at an aid distribution point in Gaza City on February 29, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Israeli troops fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy in Gaza City on Thursday, witnesses said. More than 100 people were killed, bringing the death toll since the start of the Israel-Hamas war to more than 30,000, according to health officials.

Israeli officials acknowledged that troops opened fire, saying they did so after the crowd approached in a threatening way. The officials insisted on anonymity to give details about what happened, after the military said in a statement that “dozens were killed and injured from pushing, trampling and being run over by the trucks.”

Gaza City and the surrounding areas in the enclave's north were the first targets of Israel’s air, sea and ground offensive, launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

While many Palestinians fled the Israeli invasion in the north, a few hundred thousand are believed to remain in the area, which has suffered widespread devastation and has been largely isolated during the conflict.

Trucks carrying food reached northern Gaza this week, the first major aid delivery to the area in a month, officials said Wednesday.

Aid groups say it has become nearly impossible to deliver humanitarian assistance in most of Gaza because of the difficulty of coordinating with the Israeli military, ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order, with crowds of desperate people overwhelming aid convoys. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians face starvation; around 80% have fled their homes.

Kamel Abu Nahel, who was being treated for a gunshot wound at Shifa Hospital, said he and others went to the distribution point in the middle of the night because they heard there would be a delivery of food. “We've been eating animal feed for two months,” he said.

He said Israeli troops opened fire on the crowd as people pulled boxes of flour and canned goods off the trucks, causing them to scatter, with some hiding under cars. After the shooting stopped, people went back to the trucks, and the soldiers opened fire again. He was shot in the leg and fell over, and then a truck ran over his leg as it sped off, he said.

Alaa Abu Daiya, a witness to the violence, said Israeli troops opened fire and also that a tank fired a shell.

Medics arriving at the scene on Thursday found “dozens or hundreds” lying on the ground, according to Fares Afana, the head of the ambulance service at Kamal Adwan Hospital. He said there were not enough ambulances to collect all the dead and wounded and that some were being brought to hospitals in donkey carts.

Another man in the crowd — who gave only his first name, Ahmad, as he was being treated at a hospital for gunshot wounds to the arm and leg — said he waited for two hours before someone with a horse-pulled cart had room to take him to Shifa.

Dr. Mohammed Salha, the acting director of the Al-Awda Hospital, said the facility received 161 wounded patients, most of whom appeared to have been shot. He said the hospital can perform only the most essential surgeries because it is running out of fuel to power emergency generators.
In addition to at least 104 people killed, around 760 were wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said. The Health Ministry described it as a “massacre.”
Separately, the Health Ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war has climbed to 30,035, with another 70,457 wounded.


Austrian FM Urges Israel, Hezbollah Against Escalating the Conflict

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, right, meets with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, right, meets with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
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Austrian FM Urges Israel, Hezbollah Against Escalating the Conflict

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, right, meets with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, right, meets with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Austria’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Israel and Hezbollah against escalating the conflict along the Israel-Lebanon border.
The Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said after meeting his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut.
Schallenberg said he came to Lebanon after visiting Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Since the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7, Hezbollah started attacking Israeli posts, drawing return fire from Israel in daily exchanges. More than 210 Hezbollah fighters and nearly 40 civilians have been killed since then on the Lebanese side.
In Israel, nine soldiers and nine civilians have been killed in Hezbollah attacks since Oct. 7.
“Everybody is asked not to escalate and it always takes two sides,” Schallenberg said.
“The region has accounted enough devastation, enough cruelty and we should try to solve the problems and not create further problems,” he added.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib called for a deal for a disputed stretch of the Israel-Lebanon border, similar to the deal reached through US mediation in 2022 over the two countries' disputed maritime border. He said the problem can be solved when Israel withdraws from disputed areas, including Shebaa Farms, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.
“Israel would return all the Lebanese land to us and then the problem of Hezbollah and Israel will be at least partly solved,” Bouhabib said.


Israeli Strike Hits Hezbollah Truck Near Lebanese-Syrian Border, Kills at Least One Fighter

A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
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Israeli Strike Hits Hezbollah Truck Near Lebanese-Syrian Border, Kills at Least One Fighter

A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI

An Israeli strike hit a Hezbollah truck near the Lebanese-Syrian border on Thursday killing at least one fighter, a security source familiar with the Iran-aligned group told Reuters.

Israel has been carrying out an unprecedented wave of deadly strikes in Syria targeting cargo trucks, infrastructure and people involved in Iran's weapons lifeline to its proxies in the region, sources with direct knowledge of the matter had previously told Reuters.

The sources said Israel had shifted strategies following the Oct. 7 rampage by Hamas fighters into Israeli territory and the ensuing Israeli bombing campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon.


Israel Says it's Still Reviewing Access to Al Aqsa During Ramadan

A Muslim woman uses her phone to take a picture of the Dome of the Rock shrine, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A Muslim woman uses her phone to take a picture of the Dome of the Rock shrine, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
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Israel Says it's Still Reviewing Access to Al Aqsa During Ramadan

A Muslim woman uses her phone to take a picture of the Dome of the Rock shrine, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A Muslim woman uses her phone to take a picture of the Dome of the Rock shrine, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Israel is reviewing possible curbs on access to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem over the upcoming Ramadan fasting month, a government spokesperson said after media reports that the far-right minister for police might be overruled on the issue.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said last week there would be a quota for members of Israel's 18% Muslim minority who wish to take part in peace prayers at Al Aqsa.

That would compound the clampdown Israel has already placed on Palestinians since the Hamas' cross-border rampage from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, codenamed "Al Aqsa Flood", which triggered the ongoing Gaza war.

But Israel's top-rated Channel 12 TV reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would overrule Ben-Gvir.

"The specific issue of prayer on the Temple Mount, in Al Aqsa, is currently still under discussion by the cabinet," government spokesperson Avi Hyman said in a briefing on Thursday.

He added that a final decision would take security and public health, as well as the freedom of worship, into account.

A Ben-Gvir spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, Ben-Gvir posted on X that any attempt to override his authority would amount to a "capitulation to terror", and urged Netanyahu to deny the Channel 12 report.


US Concerns Rising of an Israeli Ground Incursion into Lebanon

Smoke rises from a site hit by an airstrike after, what Lebanon's state media said, was a series of Israeli strikes, near the town of Ghaziyeh on Lebanon's coast around 60 km north of the border with Israel, Lebanon February 19, 2024. REUTERS/Hassan Hankir
Smoke rises from a site hit by an airstrike after, what Lebanon's state media said, was a series of Israeli strikes, near the town of Ghaziyeh on Lebanon's coast around 60 km north of the border with Israel, Lebanon February 19, 2024. REUTERS/Hassan Hankir
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US Concerns Rising of an Israeli Ground Incursion into Lebanon

Smoke rises from a site hit by an airstrike after, what Lebanon's state media said, was a series of Israeli strikes, near the town of Ghaziyeh on Lebanon's coast around 60 km north of the border with Israel, Lebanon February 19, 2024. REUTERS/Hassan Hankir
Smoke rises from a site hit by an airstrike after, what Lebanon's state media said, was a series of Israeli strikes, near the town of Ghaziyeh on Lebanon's coast around 60 km north of the border with Israel, Lebanon February 19, 2024. REUTERS/Hassan Hankir

Officials in the US administration and intelligence voiced concerns over a possible Israeli plan to carry out a land inclusion into Lebanon in the late spring or early summer if diplomatic efforts with Hezbollah fail to make it retreat from Israel’s north border.
CNN quoted a senior Biden administration official as saying: “We are operating on the assumption that an Israeli military operation is in the coming months. Not necessarily imminently in the next few weeks but perhaps later this spring. An Israeli military operation is a distinct possibility”, he said.
“I think what Israel is doing is they are raising this threat in the hope that there will be a negotiated agreement,” said the senior official, who has heard differing opinions within the Israeli government about the need to go into Lebanon.
“Some Israeli officials suggest that it is more of an effort at creating a threat that they can utilize. Others speak of it more as a military necessity that’s going to happen,” the official said.
Another senior official in the Biden administration said some officials in the Israeli government and army support a ground incursion into Lebanon.
Since October, around 80 thousand Israelis have been displaced from North Israel.
“The State of Israel will not return to the pre-war status quo in which Hezbollah poses a direct and immediate military threat to its security along the Israel-Lebanon border”, the Israeli embassy in Washington wrote.
Another person familiar with the US intelligence said: “There are fears this will grow to an expansive air campaign reaching much further north into populated areas of Lebanon and eventually grow to a ground component as well”.
Israel‘s top general Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi visited the northern border Tuesday and said that Hezbollah “must pay a heavy price” for its actions since October 7.


Egypt's President Praises Gulf Support

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during the "Differently Abled" event in New Cairo (Egyptian presidential website)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during the "Differently Abled" event in New Cairo (Egyptian presidential website)
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Egypt's President Praises Gulf Support

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during the "Differently Abled" event in New Cairo (Egyptian presidential website)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during the "Differently Abled" event in New Cairo (Egyptian presidential website)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi thanked the UAE and its President, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, for the vast Emirati investment deal as part of the Ras el-Hekma project.
On Friday, Egypt signed an investment partnership agreement with the United Arab Emirates to develop the Ras al-Hikma peninsula west of Alexandria, with investments worth $150 billion. It includes pumping about $35 billion in direct foreign investment into the Egyptian treasury within two months.
"I want to thank our brothers in the UAE, led by my brother, his Excellency the President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed," Sisi said while attending a "Differently Abled" event in New Cairo.
"I want to tell you it is not easy for anyone to deposit $35 billion over two months; there is nothing like that in the world ... This is a form of support and standing (with us), clearly," Sisi added.
He pointed out that every measure, problem, or crisis that occurs anywhere in the world has an impact on Egypt, referring to the COVID-19 crisis, which was followed by the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and then the Israeli war against the Gaza Strip.
Egypt is struggling to provide the foreign currency necessary to import goods and has to meet the deadlines for foreign debt maturities and a budget deficit.
Sisi announced that the Central Bank received the first tranche of UAE's multi billion-US dollar investment on Tuesday, and the second tranche will arrive on Friday.
According to the Egyptian Official Gazette, Sisi issued a presidential decree allocating a plot of state-owned land with an area of 170.8 million square meters in the Matrouh governorate to develop Ras el-Hekma city.
Egypt hopes this project will become "the largest tourism project on the Mediterranean."
- Difficult challenges
The Egyptian President stated that the world and region face numerous challenges and crises, necessitating unity, resilience, and action.
"We have chosen the path of patience, sacrifice, and confidence in our abilities, inspired by the determination and success of our people, especially our children."
- Egypt did not close Rafah crossing
Sisi asserted that his country has always kept the Rafah border crossing with Gaza open.
"Egypt has never closed the crossing, but to be able to act in a fighting situation, we have to be cautious not to cause a problem," he said.
"From the first day, we have been very keen that the Rafah crossing becomes an avenue to deliver aid."


Germany Attacks Houthi Targets for the First Time

The US and the UK launched hundreds of air strikes against Houthis targets (Reuters)
The US and the UK launched hundreds of air strikes against Houthis targets (Reuters)
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Germany Attacks Houthi Targets for the First Time

The US and the UK launched hundreds of air strikes against Houthis targets (Reuters)
The US and the UK launched hundreds of air strikes against Houthis targets (Reuters)

Germany deployed a naval frigate to the Red Sea for the first time to confront Houthi attacks, becoming the second European country, after France, to carry out such operations.
Since Jan. 12, the United States and the UK began launching strikes against the Houthis, who say they are launching attacks in support of the Palestinians in Gaza and to prevent the navigation of ships linked to Israel.
The Western strikes have included over 300 raids targeting Houthi sites in Sanaa, Hodeidah, Taiz, Hajjah, Saada, and Dhamar.
However, the Houthi group said they did not impact its military capabilities, saying the strikes were merely to "save face."
The German army said in a statement on the "X" platform that the Hessen frigate of the Navy shot down two drones at two separate times without any casualties.
On Feb. 19, the European Union launched Operation "Aspides" to preserve freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Meanwhile, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed in a statement that the US aircraft and a coalition warship shot down five Iranian-backed Houthi unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the Red Sea.
CENTCOM forces identified these UAVs originating from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy and coalition ships in the region.
"These actions will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for US Navy and merchant vessels."
The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKTMO) said it had received a report of an incident 60NM west of Hodeidah. The vessel and the crew are reported to be safe and proceeding to the next port of call.
The rocket was sighted on the vessel's starboard side, which then exploded 3-4NM from the port bow, read the statement.
Meanwhile, the Houthi media reported that the US and the UK targeted the group's site on Labwan Island in Hodeidah.
- British warning
On Wednesday, Britain warned of an environmental catastrophe as a result of the Houthi attack on the MV Rubymar vessel, which is now at risk of leaking into the Red Sea.
"Despite years of international effort to avert a crisis with the FSO SAFER, the Houthis are threatening another environmental disaster with the reckless attack on the MV Rubymar," said UK on X platform.
The Yemeni government called on international aid to prevent the ship from sinking in the Red Sea, as this threatens an environmental disaster.
Yemeni officials said the vessel is at risk of drowning within days as water leaks into it.
The government asserted that Western strikes against the Houthis would be of no use in limiting the military group's capabilities and that the alternative is to support the legitimate forces to restore the state.
Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak denied the Houthi narrative regarding the naval attacks.
According to official media, bin Mubarak believes the Houthi attacks have nothing to do with supporting the Palestinian people and their just cause.
The Houthis admitted that 22 militants were killed in the Western strikes, in addition to ten who were killed on Dec. 31 in the Red Sea, after the US Navy destroyed their boats in response to their attempt to seize a vessel.
Last December, Washington launched Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect navigation in the Red Sea before launching 25 strikes against the Houthis and carrying out dozens of operations to confront Houthi missiles, drones, and explosive boats.
 


US Appoints New Envoy to Sudan Amid Conflicting Responses

Sudanese refugees escaping conflict regions (AFP)
Sudanese refugees escaping conflict regions (AFP)
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US Appoints New Envoy to Sudan Amid Conflicting Responses

Sudanese refugees escaping conflict regions (AFP)
Sudanese refugees escaping conflict regions (AFP)

The US administration is striving to contain growing criticism of its attempts at controlling the situation in Sudan amid increasing concerns about deteriorating security and humanitarian conditions.

Washington responded to the persistent demands of US lawmakers and appointed Tom Perriello as the seventh envoy to Sudan in 23 years.

US President Joe Biden's allies and the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, welcomed the new appointment.

Sullivan quickly highlighted the administration's "deep commitment to ending the conflict and addressing the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Sudan and the region."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the Special Envoy will coordinate the US policy on Sudan and "advance our efforts to end the hostilities, secure unhindered humanitarian access, and support the Sudanese people as they seek to fulfill their aspirations for freedom, peace, and justice."

- Challenges and obstacles

IISS analyst and consultant on African peace, security, and governance issues Cameron Hudson believes appointing a special envoy to Sudan may be the right diplomatic step.

However, it would only be effective if his efforts were boosted to lead the track of the US government and diplomatic talks with Sudan and stakeholders there.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Hudson warned that if the appointment was merely an attempt to contain the ongoing criticism of Washington for not working enough to solve the crisis, it would fail and the situation would be much worse.

The former Charge d'Affaires of the US Embassy in Sudan, Alberto Fernandez, voiced Hudson's approach, telling Asharq Al-Awsat that he doubts appointing special envoys in general yields results.

Fernandez explained that appointing envoys embodies Washington's attempt to appear as if it cares about a specific issue without actually achieving much.

Both Hudson and Fernandez's analysis reflects the fears of many officials who have been calling since the outbreak of the crisis to intensify diplomatic efforts and push for Congress-approved sanctions against the parties responsible for the conflict.

Most US legislators demand a presidential envoy with powers to carry out his duties.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch said the temporary appointment of a special envoy to Sudan, ten months into the war, "shouldn't be viewed as recognition by the Biden Admin of the significance of this crisis. Instead, it demonstrates another failure in its response. Sudan must be a higher priority."

Risch and other Senators released the following statement on the Biden Administration's temporary appointment of Perriello as special envoy for Sudan.

The statement explained the approach of the legislators who called on the administration to appoint a presidential envoy subject to the approval of Congress to give him sufficient powers to deal with the file.

It warned that the war has significant consequences for innocent Sudanese and the entire region.

"As such, Congress began calling for a special envoy who reports directly to the president on a bipartisan basis immediately after the war began. We regret that after all these months, the administration still failed to appoint a more permanent presidential envoy."

They addressed issues of bureaucracy, saying the Department will argue it chose to avoid Senate confirmation due to the urgency of the situation, "it sat on this decision as the interagency argued about resources, reporting lines, and how this position will be used."

Former special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth explained to Asharq Al-Awsat that the special envoy must be the primary person to engage and discuss with the warring parties, those affected by the conflict, and external involved parties.

Regarding Sudan, Booth noted that it would be easier to see the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces agreeing to commit to a political path once their supporters are prepared to pressure them.

- Molly Phee and her "obstructing role"

Sources in Congress, who refused to be named, discussed the "obstructive" role of Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee in Sudan.

The sources noted that Phee controlled the Sudanese file and refused anyone else assuming the role.

However, Fernandez did not hesitate to criticize Phee publicly, voicing his belief that her role was very harmful to Sudan since the military coup in October 2021.

The expert added that Perriello's appointment begs the question of who will have the final decision in the Sudan file and whether it would be the new envoy or the official who has more influence in the State Department, meaning Phee.

Fernandez feared Perriello will have to spend most of his time facing bureaucratic issues in Washington instead of working to stop the actual war in Sudan.

Hudson believed that the failure of high-level officials, such as the Secretary of State, to resolve the conflict in Sudan and the assignment of people like Phee led to the absence of a solution to the crisis.

He indicated the file should not have been handed to mid-level diplomats, who need to gain experience in managing transitional processes or have weak records in responding to conflicts.

- Consecutive resignations

Critics of Phee's role point to the successive resignations of officials in the Sudan file.

Hudson stated that Washington has shown weakness in commitment in naming the diplomats assigned to Sudan, threatening its efforts for peace in the country.

Fernandez explained that he worked with three special envoys in Sudan, noting that there are many challenges facing the official, such as his knowledge and experience, the time and effort that he will devote to the file, and the administration's support, which is essential.

The expert concluded that there could be good policies and bad envoys, but the truth usually reflects the opposite reality: policies are unclear or unrealistic, and the envoy's qualities do not matter because the problem is politics.

However, Booth pointed out that the special envoy's duties include coordinating Washington's approach to resolving the conflict, adding that he needs to be involved in the talks that formulate policies and enjoy the support of high-ranking officials to ensure a succeeded mission.


Gaza Health Ministry Says War Deaths Exceed 30,000 as Famine Looms

Aid entering Gaza passes through Rafah, where Israel plans to launch a ground offensive. AFP
Aid entering Gaza passes through Rafah, where Israel plans to launch a ground offensive. AFP
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Gaza Health Ministry Says War Deaths Exceed 30,000 as Famine Looms

Aid entering Gaza passes through Rafah, where Israel plans to launch a ground offensive. AFP
Aid entering Gaza passes through Rafah, where Israel plans to launch a ground offensive. AFP

The Hamas-run health ministry said Thursday more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the war between the group and Israel began nearly five months ago.
While mediators say a truce deal between Israel and Hamas could be just days away, aid agencies have sounded the alarm of a looming famine in Gaza's north, AFP said.
Children have died "due to malnutrition, dehydration and widespread famine" at Gaza City's Al-Shifa hospital, said the health ministry, whose spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra has called for "immediate action" from international organizations to prevent more of these deaths.
Citing the deteriorating conditions in Gaza, USAID head Samantha Power said Israel needed to open more crossings so that "vitally needed humanitarian assistance can be dramatically surged".
"This is a matter of life and death," Power said in a video posted on social media platform X.
The latest overall toll for Palestinians killed in the war came after at least 79 people died overnight across the war-torn Gaza Strip, the health ministry said Thursday.
Mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been seeking a six-week pause in the war sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, which in response vowed to eliminate the Palestinian group that rules in Gaza.
Negotiators are hoping a truce can begin by the start of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month that kicks off March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
The proposals reportedly include the release of some Israeli hostages held in Gaza in exchange for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
Short of the complete withdrawal Hamas has called for, a source from the group said the deal might see Israeli forces leave "cities and populated areas", allowing the return of some displaced Palestinians and humanitarian relief.
US President Joe Biden is "pushing all of us to try to get this agreement over the finish line", said his secretary of state, Antony Blinken.
Famine 'imminent'
The crucial southern Gaza city of Rafah is the main entry point for aid crossing the border from neighboring Egypt.
But the World Food Program said no humanitarian group had been able to deliver aid to the north for more than a month, accusing Israel of blocking access.
Neighboring Jordan has coordinated efforts to air-drop supplies over southern Gaza.
"If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza," the World Food Programme's deputy executive director Carl Skau said.
Israeli officials have denied blocking supplies, and the army on Wednesday said "50 trucks carrying humanitarian aid" had made it to northern Gaza in recent days.
The war was triggered by an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Hamas also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
In a sign of growing desperation among Gazans over living conditions, a rare protest was held Wednesday by residents over the soaring prices of commodities.
"Everyone is suffering inside these tents," said Amal Zaghbar, who was displaced and sheltering in a makeshift camp.
"We're dying slowly."
Israel has repeatedly threatened a ground offensive on Rafah, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying a truce would only delay it, as such an operation was needed for "total victory" over Hamas.
Egypt -- which borders Rafah -- says an assault on the overcrowded city would have "catastrophic repercussions".
No one 'left behind'
While Israel's plans for post-war Gaza exclude any mention of the Palestinian Authority, its top ally the United States and other powers have called for a revitalized PA, which governs the occupied West Bank, to take charge of the territory.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said a "technocratic" government without Gaza's rulers Hamas was needed to "stop this insane war" and facilitate relief operations and reconstruction.
His government, based in the West Bank, resigned this week, with prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh citing the need for change after the war ends.
A government that includes Hamas -- longtime rivals of president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party, which controls the PA -- would "be boycotted by a number of countries", Maliki told a news conference in Geneva.
On Thursday, Palestinian factions -- including Hamas and Fatah -- were expected to arrive in Moscow for a meeting at Russia's invitation.
In Israel, Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure to bring the hostages home.
A group of 150 Israelis started a four-day march from Reim, near the Gaza border, to Jerusalem, calling for the government to reach a deal.


Eight Migrants Found Dead Off Morocco

Hundreds of sub-Saharan African migrants set up their makeshift home on the edge of Morocco's coastal port city of Casablanca © FADEL SENNA / AFP
Hundreds of sub-Saharan African migrants set up their makeshift home on the edge of Morocco's coastal port city of Casablanca © FADEL SENNA / AFP
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Eight Migrants Found Dead Off Morocco

Hundreds of sub-Saharan African migrants set up their makeshift home on the edge of Morocco's coastal port city of Casablanca © FADEL SENNA / AFP
Hundreds of sub-Saharan African migrants set up their makeshift home on the edge of Morocco's coastal port city of Casablanca © FADEL SENNA / AFP

The bodies of eight migrants have been found after their vessel sank off Morocco's northern coast, local authorities said Wednesday, adding that nine others were rescued.

The migrants took off from Morocco's northern Nador region seeking to "cross the Mediterranean aboard an inflatable boat", authorities were quoted by the state news agency MAP as saying.

The boat sank on Tuesday "due to poor weather conditions", it said.

The authorities said "the search is continuing for missing people" after nine had been rescued, and that an investigation had been opened into the incident.

The migrants' nationalities were not immediately specified.

Morocco is a frequent launching point for many irregular migrants who make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean or the Atlantic in a bid to find better lives in Europe.

In the past weeks, the Moroccan navy announced it had intercepted or rescued dozens of migrants during various operations at its southwestern coast.