Ship Sunk by Houthis Threatens Red Sea Environment

A handout photo made available by Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV 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/Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV
A handout photo made available by Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV 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/Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV
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Ship Sunk by Houthis Threatens Red Sea Environment

A handout photo made available by Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV 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/Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV
A handout photo made available by Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV 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/Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV

A UK-owned ship attacked by Houthi militants last month sank in the Red Sea, the US military confirmed on Saturday, as it echoed a warning from Yemen's internationally recognized government that the vessel's cargo of hazardous fertilizer posed a risk to marine life.
The Belize-registered Rubymar is the first vessel lost since the Houthis began targeting commercial ships in November. Those drone and missile assaults have forced shipping firms to divert ships to the longer route around southern Africa, disrupting global trade by delaying deliveries and sending costs higher, Reuters said.
The sinking bulk carrier also "presents a subsurface impact risk to other ships transiting the busy shipping lanes of the waterway," US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in its statement on social media platform X.
The Iran-aligned Houthis, who control the north of Yemen and other large centers, say their campaign is a show of solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
The Houthi attacks have prompted a series of strikes against their positions by the United States and Britain, and have led other navies to send vessels to the region to try to protect the vital Suez Canal trade route.
The Rubymar went down in the southern Red Sea late on Friday or early on Saturday, according to statements from the Yemen government and CENTCOM.
The US military previously said the Feb. 18 missile attack had significantly damaged the bulk vessel and caused an 18-mile (29-km) oil slick. The ship was carrying about 21,000 metric tons of fertilizer, CENTCOM said on Saturday.
Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, the foreign minister in Yemen's internationally recognized government in Aden, said in a post on X: "The sinking of the Rubymar is an environmental catastrophe that Yemen and the region have never experienced before.
"It is a new tragedy for our country and our people. Every day we pay the price for the adventures of the Houthi militia ..."
MARINE LIFE THREATENED
The release of such large amounts of fertilizer into the Red Sea poses a serious threat to marine life, said Ali Al-Sawalmih, director of the Marine Science Station at the University of Jordan.
The overload of nutrients can stimulate excessive growth of algae, using up so much oxygen that regular marine life cannot survive, said Al-Sawalmih, describing a process called eutrophication.
"An urgent plan should be adopted by countries of the Red Sea to establish a monitoring agenda of the polluted areas in the Red Sea as well as adopt a cleanup strategy," he said.
The overall impact depends on how ocean currents deplete the fertilizer and how it is released from the stricken vessel, said Xingchen Tony Wang, assistant professor at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College.
The ecosystem of the southern Red Sea features pristine coral reefs, coastal mangroves and diverse marine life.
Last year, the area avoided a potential environmental disaster when the United Nations removed more than 1 million barrels of oil from a decaying supertanker moored off the Yemen coast. That type of operation may be more difficult in the current circumstances.
The Houthi attacks have stoked fears that the Israel-Hamas war could spread, destabilizing the wider Middle East.
In a separate report, the UKMTO agency said it had received a report of a ship being attacked 15 nautical miles west of Yemen's port of Mokha.
"The crew took the vessel to anchor and were evacuated by military authorities," the UKMTO said in an advisory note.
Italy's defense ministry also said that one of its naval ships had shot down a drone flying towards it in the Red Sea.
The Houthi Transport Ministry, meanwhile, said there had been a "glitch" in undersea communication cables in the Red Sea as a result of actions by US and British naval vessels. It did not give further details. 



Sudanese Diplomat Criticizes His Country’s Absence from Paris Conference

Displaced Sudanese children play near tents at a camp in southern Gadaref state for people who fled Khartoum and Jazira states, in war-torn Sudan, on March 20, 2024. (AFP)
Displaced Sudanese children play near tents at a camp in southern Gadaref state for people who fled Khartoum and Jazira states, in war-torn Sudan, on March 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Sudanese Diplomat Criticizes His Country’s Absence from Paris Conference

Displaced Sudanese children play near tents at a camp in southern Gadaref state for people who fled Khartoum and Jazira states, in war-torn Sudan, on March 20, 2024. (AFP)
Displaced Sudanese children play near tents at a camp in southern Gadaref state for people who fled Khartoum and Jazira states, in war-torn Sudan, on March 20, 2024. (AFP)

Sudan’s ambassador to France Dr. Khaled Farah expressed his surprise and condemnation at the absence of his government from a conference in Paris that will focus on the situation in his country.

The event, which will take place at the French Foreign Ministry on Monday, is being organized in cooperation with Germany and the European Union, in the absence of official Sudanese representation.

“The conference addresses a matter that concerns an independent and sovereign state. It was arranged without consulting Sudan,” he said, adding that the legitimate government was not invited to participate at any level.

Farah pointed out that the Rapid Support Forces will be “implicitly present and strongly participating in this conference, through political allies and sympathizers... such as the so-called Democratic and Civil Forces (Taqaddum) ... and other non-governmental organizations, civil society groups, and representatives of some political organizations and individuals.”

He expressed alarm that the conference will ultimately be used to prop up the RSF and back it with diplomatic and financial support “under the pretext of concern for the tragedy of the Sudanese people.”

The Sudanese diplomat criticized equating his government with the “rebel Rapid Support militia” - RSF - rejecting some of the common expressions that describe the ongoing war as between “two warring parties” or “the two sides of the conflict.”

“The matter is simply a failed military coup for the purpose of seizing power, with the support and complicity of some regional and international circles,” he remarked.


Disintegration of the State Allows Israeli Mossad to Deeper Infiltrate Lebanon

Hezbollah supporters attend a ceremony in Beirut’s southern suburbs honoring members killed in clashes with Israel. (Reuters)
Hezbollah supporters attend a ceremony in Beirut’s southern suburbs honoring members killed in clashes with Israel. (Reuters)
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Disintegration of the State Allows Israeli Mossad to Deeper Infiltrate Lebanon

Hezbollah supporters attend a ceremony in Beirut’s southern suburbs honoring members killed in clashes with Israel. (Reuters)
Hezbollah supporters attend a ceremony in Beirut’s southern suburbs honoring members killed in clashes with Israel. (Reuters)

The Israeli Mossad appears to have breached Lebanon in wake of its economic and financial collapse that have weakened state institutions and its security services

In the past two years, the Mossad has been able to penetrate Hezbollah’s circles, and this has led to the assassination of dozens of field commanders and members since the beginning of the clashes in southern Lebanon on Oct. 8.

The murder of Mohammad Srour in Beit Meri in Lebanon’s northern Metn area has led to speculation that he may have been killed by Israeli intelligence, a theory that was consolidated by the Israeli press.

Lebanese judicial sources backed this view by pointing to his role in transferring money from Iran to Hezbollah and the Hamas movement in Lebanon, and the fact that he is on the US sanctions list.

Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the judicial and security investigations put forward multiple scenarios for his assassination, noting that they were looking for evidence to confirm whether external parties were behind the crime.

Former Minister Rashid Derbas said the Beit Meri operation bore the hallmarks of the Mossad, stressing that any crime that occurs in Lebanon is the “natural result of the collapse of the state and its structure.”

“No party, entity, or militia can replace the state, no matter how strong it is,” Derbas said, added that the disintegration of the state is due to “the duality of power and Hezbollah’s control over it.”

The Information Division of the Internal Security Forces has been able, in the past two years, to arrest around 20 agents working for Israel, including people who had joined Hezbollah.

The investigations revealed that the Mossad “was luring these people with money, communicating with them through an unmonitored network, holding meetings with them in countries such as Türkiye, Greece, Cyprus, and Africa, and assigning them security tasks.”

The former head of the military court, Brigadier General Khalil Ibrahim, who previously tried hundreds of these agents, noted that Mossad’s security activity in Lebanon never stopped, but its decline for a period was due to the vigilance of the security services and their ability to dismantle dozens of networks.

He explained that Israel “has espionage networks that are active in a country with fragile security,” stressing that Lebanon’s economic crisis has had negative repercussions on the military and security institutions and their technical, operational and intelligence capabilities.


Iranian Revenge Looms Large over Upcoming Meeting between Iraqi PM, Biden

 Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani (Reuters)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani (Reuters)
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Iranian Revenge Looms Large over Upcoming Meeting between Iraqi PM, Biden

 Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani (Reuters)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani (Reuters)

Iran’s response to Israel’s attack on its consulate in Syria will loom large over the meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and US President Joe Biden in Washington next week.

The leaders are scheduled to meet on April 15.

Iran has vowed to retaliate to the April 1 attack, which killed a top Iranian general, and that marked an escalation in the violence that has spread through the region since the Gaza war began.

Tehran has carefully avoided any direct role in the regional spillover, while backing groups which have waged attacks from Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

Iranian-backed Shiite militias have not attacked US troops in Syria and Iraq since early February.

In Washington, Sudani will focus on the security cooperation and the situation of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition deployed in Iraq amid growing calls in his country for its withdrawal.

He will also discuss US sanctions on Iraqi banks, said an Iraqi government source.

Iraqi military spokesman Yahya Rasool said on Tuesday that the Iraqi military committee and its counterpart in the anti-ISIS coalition agreed to form a “firm security partnership with the US.”

A statement from the committee said the US will help in bolstering and developing the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces to boost the security of Iraq and the region.

The government source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Biden will discuss with Sudani the role of Iran in Iraq and the need to limit the activities of its proxies.

He will likely also address the role Iraq can play in halting the Iranian escalation in wake of the consulate attack.

US Middle East envoy Brett McGurk has called the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Iraq to ask them to deliver a message to Iran urging it to lower tensions, a source with knowledge of the situation said according to Reuters on Thursday.

Two Shiite sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian response is unlikely to take place in Iraq.

The pro-Iran factions will not reopen the Iraqi scene to confront the Americans, they added.


Plan to Eliminate PKK on Erdogan’s Agenda During Baghdad Visit

18 December 2023, Hungary, Budapest: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during a press conference in Budapest. (dpa)
18 December 2023, Hungary, Budapest: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during a press conference in Budapest. (dpa)
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Plan to Eliminate PKK on Erdogan’s Agenda During Baghdad Visit

18 December 2023, Hungary, Budapest: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during a press conference in Budapest. (dpa)
18 December 2023, Hungary, Budapest: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during a press conference in Budapest. (dpa)

Preparations for the major plan to eliminate the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq are almost complete, confirmed Turkish sources.

The plan will be discussed during a visit to Baghdad by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 22.

The sources said Ankara has completed the steps it will take to eliminate the PKK from border regions leading to al-Sulaymaniyah. The plan aims to clear Iraqi border regions that fall within Türkiye's Operation Claw of PKK forces. The are stretches 378 kms and runs 40 kms deep into Iraq.

Türkiye has carried out a similar operation into northern Syria to rid the area of Kurdish forces.

The Baghdad and Erbil governments are expected to provide Türkiye with intelligence support and to take measures against the PKK in al-Sulaymaniyah and Sinjar.

An official at the Turkish Defense Ministry confirmed last month that an agreement had been reached with Iraqi officials over the establishment of a 40-km deep safe zone in northern Iraq by summer.

Türkiye's pro-government Hürriyet daily quoted informed sources as saying that Ankara will deploy the Russian S-400 missile system along its border with Iraq as part of the plan and in coordination with Baghdad and Erbil.

A ground offensive will be launched to counter PKK drone attacks, added the daily.

The S-400 system was at the heart of a dispute between Türkiye, the United States and NATO.

The US argues there is a risk that sensitive technological information could be leaked if it is used alongside Western equipment such as the F-35 jet.

Washington slapped sanctions on Akara for the acquisition of the Russian system and has prevented it from also acquiring the F-35 jets.

Hürriyet said Syrian armed factions that are loyal to Ankara will support the Turkish forces in their operation against the PKK.


Netanyahu Says Israel Preparing for Scenarios in Other Areas than Gaza

HANDOUT - 11 April 2024, Israel, Rehovot: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Tel Nof Airbase. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO/dpa
HANDOUT - 11 April 2024, Israel, Rehovot: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Tel Nof Airbase. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO/dpa
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Netanyahu Says Israel Preparing for Scenarios in Other Areas than Gaza

HANDOUT - 11 April 2024, Israel, Rehovot: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Tel Nof Airbase. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO/dpa
HANDOUT - 11 April 2024, Israel, Rehovot: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Tel Nof Airbase. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO/dpa

Israel is keeping up its war in Gaza but is also preparing for scenarios in other areas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.
"Whoever harms us, we will harm them. We are prepared to meet all of the security needs of the State of Israel, both defensively and offensively," he said in comments released by his office following a visit to the Tel Nof air force base in southern Israel.
Israel has been bracing for possible Iranian retaliation for the killing of a senior general and six other Iranian officers in an airstrike on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus on April 1. Israel has not said it was responsible but Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, said on Wednesday Israel "must be punished and it shall be" for the attack.
Netanyahu made his comments as Israeli troops and warplanes started an operation in central Gaza overnight which the military said was aimed at destroying infrastructure of armed Palestinian groups.
Most Israeli troops have been pulled out of Gaza, in preparation for an assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians are sheltering, but fighting has continued in various areas of the enclave.
Israeli military strikes killed 63 Palestinians and wounded 45 others in the past 24 hours, the Gaza Health Ministry said.
At least 33,545 Palestinians have now been killed since the Israeli offensive began, the ministry said, with most of the 2.3 million population displaced and much of the enclave laid to waste.


Israel: Netanyahu Not Consulted on Killing of Haniyeh's Sons

Onlookers check the car in which three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in al-Shati camp, west of Gaza City on April 10, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (Photo by AFP)
Onlookers check the car in which three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in al-Shati camp, west of Gaza City on April 10, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (Photo by AFP)
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Israel: Netanyahu Not Consulted on Killing of Haniyeh's Sons

Onlookers check the car in which three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in al-Shati camp, west of Gaza City on April 10, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (Photo by AFP)
Onlookers check the car in which three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in al-Shati camp, west of Gaza City on April 10, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (Photo by AFP)

Israeli forces killed three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in an air strike in Gaza without consulting senior commanders or political leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli media reported on Thursday.
Quoting senior Israeli officials, Walla news agency said neither Netanyahu nor Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had been told in advance of the strike, which was coordinated by the Israeli military and the Shin Bet intelligence service.
It said Amir, Mohammad and Hazem Haniyeh had been targeted as fighters and not because they were the sons of Hamas's political leader. The Israeli military did not comment on reports that four of Haniyeh's grandchildren had also been killed.
The killing of Haniyeh's relatives has added a potential complication to negotiations aimed at securing a halt in the fighting in Gaza in exchange for the return of the 133 Israeli hostages still believed to be held in the besieged enclave.
Haniyeh said Hamas had "clear and specific" demands for agreeing to any pause in the fighting.
"The enemy will be delusional if it thinks that targeting my sons, at the climax of the negotiations and before the movement sends its response, will push Hamas to change its position," Haniyeh said on Wednesday.
Global calls for a ceasefire have been growing as the war has entered its seventh month but there has been little sign of progress in the talks.
Hamas is demanding an end to the Israeli offensive, a withdrawal of Israeli forces and permission for Gaza's displaced Palestinians to return to their homes.
Israel wants to secure the return of the hostages but says it will not end the war until Hamas is destroyed as a military force, and that it is still planning to assault the southern city of Rafah, where more than a million civilians have taken refuge.


Israel on Alert after Iranian Threat as Gaza War Grinds On

Onlookers check the car in which three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in al-Shati camp, west of Gaza City on April 10, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (Photo by AFP)
Onlookers check the car in which three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in al-Shati camp, west of Gaza City on April 10, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (Photo by AFP)
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Israel on Alert after Iranian Threat as Gaza War Grinds On

Onlookers check the car in which three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in al-Shati camp, west of Gaza City on April 10, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (Photo by AFP)
Onlookers check the car in which three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in al-Shati camp, west of Gaza City on April 10, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (Photo by AFP)

Israel was on alert Thursday after its arch foe Iran threatened reprisals over a strike in Syria this month that killed two Iranian generals, and as the war against Hamas ground on in Gaza.
Days after Israel strengthened its air defenses and paused leave for combat units, the United States also warned of the risk of an attack by Iran or its allied groups at a time when Middle East tensions have soared.
Iran is "threatening to launch a significant attack on Israel," US President Joe Biden said Wednesday, pledging "ironclad" support for its top regional ally despite diplomatic tensions over Israel's military conduct in Gaza.
Israel was widely blamed for an April 1 attack that destroyed Iran's consulate building in Damascus and killed seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including two generals.
Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, on Wednesday warned that Israel "must be punished and will be punished", days after one of his advisors had said that Israeli embassies are "no longer safe".
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz swiftly replied to Khamenei on social media site X that "if Iran attacks from its territory, Israel will respond and attack Iran".
Biden said later Wednesday that he had told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that "our commitment to Israel's security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad".
"Let me say it again -- ironclad. We're going to do all we can to protect Israel's security."
The Axios news site reported that US Central Command chief Michael Kurilla was set to visit Israel to discuss the situation with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
German airline Lufthansa said it had suspended flights to and from Tehran, probably until Thursday, "due to the current situation in the Middle East".
And Russia warned its citizens to refrain from traveling to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
Israel and the United States have long faced off against Iran and the so-called "Axis of Resistance" coalition of militant groups based in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The Syria strike killed Iranian IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who led the foreign operations wing the Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon.
Gaza truce talks
Regional tensions have been stoked by the Gaza war which broke out after Hamas launched their October 7 attack against Israel, which left 1,170 people dead, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
Palestinian Hamas also took about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.
Iran has said it had no advance knowledge of the October 7 attack but has hailed the assault against its decades-old enemy.
Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,482 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.
The Israeli military reported overnight operations in central Gaza which had also involved its navy and air force "to eliminate terrorist operatives".
Much of the long blockaded territory has been reduced to a bomb-cratered wasteland of destroyed buildings with yet more bodies feared under the mountains of rubble.
An Israeli siege has deprived Gaza's 2.4 million people of most food, water, fuel, medicines and other basic supplies, the dire shortages only alleviated by sporadic aid deliveries.
Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz said on Wednesday that "Hamas is defeated" militarily but pledged to keep fighting "what remains of it" in the years to come.
An Israeli air strike on Wednesday killed three sons of Hamas's Qatar-based leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Haniyeh's brother Nahed told AFP inside Gaza that their family are "in the same situation" as other Gazans.
"There is no difference between the sons of leaders and the sons of the people," he said.
Haniyeh insisted that his sons' deaths would not influence the group's position in ongoing talks in Cairo on a possible temporary ceasefire and hostage release deal.
Those talks, which started Sunday, have brought no signs of a breakthrough on a plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, which Hamas said it was studying.
Biden said that "it's now up to Hamas, they need to move on the proposal that's been made".
'Destabilizing Middle East'
Washington has also ramped up pressure on Netanyahu to agree to a truce, increase aid flows and abandon plans to invade the territory's far-southern city of Rafah.
About 1.5 million civilians are sheltering in Rafah, the last Gazan city yet to face a ground incursion.
Biden labeled Netanyahu's handling of the war a "mistake" in an interview broadcast on Tuesday.
Washington's tougher line has brought some results, the US Agency for International Development said.
Recent days had seen a "sea change" in aid deliveries, said USAID administrator Samantha Power, although she insisted Israel needs to do more.
Gallant promised Israel would "flood Gaza with aid", using a crossing point on its border with Gaza, streamlined checks and two new routes organized with Jordan.
He said they expected to hit 500 aid trucks entering Gaza a day, the average pre-war level.
Israel has faced a chorus of international criticism over its handling of the war.
Spain is among several Western nations, including Ireland and Australia, to have suggested they would recognize a Palestinian state in the near future as a starting point for wider peace talks.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned that Israel's "disproportionate response" in Gaza risked "destabilizing the Middle East and, as a consequence, the entire world".
Israel's foreign ministry slammed Ireland's new prime minister Simon Harris for not mentioning the hostages held in Gaza during a speech to parliament.
The ministry charged that "after the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust... there are those in Ireland who persist on being on the wrong side of history".


A Mission of Mercy, then a Fatal Strike: How an Aid Convoy in Gaza Became Israel’s Target

Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024. (Ismael Abu Dayyah/AP)
Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024. (Ismael Abu Dayyah/AP)
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A Mission of Mercy, then a Fatal Strike: How an Aid Convoy in Gaza Became Israel’s Target

Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024. (Ismael Abu Dayyah/AP)
Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024. (Ismael Abu Dayyah/AP)

It was hours after sundown when the eight aid trucks drove from the makeshift jetty, cobbled together from tons of wreckage left across Gaza by months of war.
The trucks were escorted by three vehicles carrying aid workers from the World Central Kitchen, the relief organization that had arranged the massive food shipment. All seven aid workers wore body armor. The cars were marked, including on the roof, with the group’s emblem, a multi-colored frying pan, said The Associated Press.
After a grueling crawl along a beaten-up road, it seemed like a mission accomplished. The convoy dropped off its precious cargo at a warehouse, and the team prepared to head home.
There wasn’t much more than a sliver of moon that night. The roads were dark, except for occasional patches where light spilled from buildings with their own generators.
By a few minutes after 10 p.m., the convoy was moving south on Al Rashid Street, Gaza’s coastal road.
The first missile struck a little more than an hour later.
Soon after, all seven aid workers were dead.
A crucial effort to ward off famine. The path to the April 1 attack started months ago, as aid groups desperately looked for ways to feed millions cut off from regular food deliveries. Gaza was sealed off by Israeli forces within hours of the Oct. 7 attack by the Hamas group that ignited the war. Since then, more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 80% of the enclave’s 2.3 million people displaced.
Hunger has become commonplace. Famine, UN officials warn, has become increasingly likely in war-ravaged northern Gaza.
With the situation growing increasingly dire and deliveries through Gaza's land crossings with Israel and Egypt limited, World Central Kitchen pioneered an effort to deliver aid by sea.
The relief group, founded in 2010 by celebrity chef José Andrés, has worked from Haiti to Ukraine, dispatching teams that can quickly provide meals on a mass scale in conflict zones and after natural disasters. The group prides itself on providing food that fits with local tastes.
Its first ship arrived in mid-March, delivering 200 tons of food, water and other aid in coordination with Israel.
On March 30, three ships and a barge left Cyprus carrying enough rice, pasta, flour, canned vegetables, and other supplies to prepare more than 1 million meals, the group said.
Two days later, some of those supplies were ready to be trucked into the heart of Gaza.
April 1, 10 p.m. The eight-truck World Central Kitchen convoy turned south after leaving the pier, driving along the coast toward a warehouse about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away.
The World Central Kitchen team traveled in two armored cars and a third unarmored vehicle. They included a Palestinian driver and translator, Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, a young businessman whose mother was hoping to find him a wife; and security consultant Jacob Flickinger, a dual American-Canadian citizen saving to build a house in Costa Rica where he and his girlfriend could raise their 18-month-old son.
There were three British military veterans, an Australian beloved for her big hugs and relentless work ethic, and a Polish volunteer heralded by the group as “builder, plumber, welder, electrician, engineer, boss, confidant, friend, and teammate.”
The team had established a “deconfliction” plan ahead of time with Israeli forces, so the military would know when they would travel and what route they would take.
Aid organizations use complex systems to try to keep their teams safe. Typically, they send an advance plan to COGAT, the Israeli defense agency responsible for Palestinian civilian matters, which then shares it with the Israeli army, said a military official. As deliveries unfold, the aid groups can communicate with the military in real time, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with army briefing rules.
Workers for World Food Kitchen carry GPS transmitters that track their locations, according to an organization employee who spoke on condition of anonymity because he didn't have permission to talk to the media.
Many relief workers have expressed concerns about the deconfliction system.
“It hasn’t been working well,” said Chris Skopec, a Washington-based official with the aid group Project Hope, citing poor communication and coordination. “And when it doesn’t work well, people die.”
10:28 p.m. Things began to go wrong a few miles from the pier.
An Israeli officer, watching from a drone, saw what he thought was a Hamas gunman climb on top of one truck and fire into the air.
Gunmen are a daily part of life in Gaza, which has been run by Hamas since 2007. They could be Hamas fighters, members of Hamas-supervised police or privately employed guards.
Some relief groups hire armed guards, aid officials said, often plain-clothed men who brandish guns or large sticks to beat back hungry Palestinians trying to snatch supplies.
The World Central Kitchen sometimes uses armed guards, the employee said, though it was not clear if they had been employed for the April 1 convoy. The employee and other aid officials insisted their guards were not part of Hamas or its militant ally, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but did not elaborate on the guards' affiliation. Despite such denials, it is unlikely anyone riding on top of an aid truck wouldn't have at least tacit permission from Hamas.
Israeli military spokesperson Maj. Nir Dinar said soldiers try to distinguish between armed security guards and Hamas militants when determining targets. He said he could not rule out the possibility that the armed men accompanying the World Central Kitchen convoy were security guards.
10:46 p.m. In grainy aerial footage that the Israeli military showed to journalists, people swarmed around the convoy when it arrived at a World Central Kitchen warehouse in the city of Deir Al-Balah. The military said two to four of the men were armed, though that was not clear in the aerial footage shown to journalists.
10:55 p.m. The trucks remained at the warehouse but the three World Central Kitchen vehicles began driving south to take the workers to their accommodations. Another vehicle that had joined the convoy – which the Israelis say held gunmen – drove north toward another warehouse.
Planning messages sent by World Central Kitchen had made clear that the aid workers would not remain with the trucks but would travel on by car.
But Israeli officials say the soldiers monitoring the convoy had not read the messages. Then, an Israeli officer believed he saw someone step into a World Central Kitchen vehicle with a gun.
“The state of mind at that time was the humanitarian mission had ended and that they were tracking Hamas vehicles with at least one suspected gunman,” said retired Gen. Yoav Har-Evan, who led the military's investigation into the strike.
Because of the darkness, Israeli officials said the World Central Kitchen emblems on the cars’ roofs were not visible.
11:09 p.m. The first missile struck one of the armored cars as it drove along the coastal road. Aid workers fled the damaged vehicle for the other armored car, which Israel struck two minutes later.
The survivors piled into the third vehicle. It, too, was soon hit.
Abdel Razzaq Abutaha, the brother of the slain driver, said other aide workers called him after the blasts, telling him to check on his brother.
He repeatedly called his brother’s phone. Eventually a man answered, and said he’d found the phone around 200 meters (656 feet) from one of the bombed-out cars.
“Everyone in the car was killed,” the man told Abdel Razzaq.
Abdel Razzaq had believed his brother's work would be safe. “It is an American international institution with top coordination,” he said. “What is there to fear?”
The aftermath When the sun rose the next morning, the burned husks of the three vehicles were spread along a mile or so of Al Rashid Street.
Israel quickly admitted it had mistakenly killed the aid workers, and launched an investigation.
“It’s a tragedy,” military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters. “It shouldn’t have happened. And we will make sure that it won’t happen again.”
On Friday, Israel said it had dismissed two officers and reprimanded three more for their roles, saying they had mishandled critical information and violated the army’s rules of engagement, which require multiple reasons to identify a target.
In the wake of the deadly strike, Israel and COGAT have set up a special “war room” where COGAT and military officials sit together to streamline the coordination process.
Israel’s promises have done little to quiet growing international anger over its offensive.
More than 200 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the war began, including at least 30 killed in the line of duty, according to the UN Many aid workers noted the convoy strike stood out only because six of those killed were not Palestinian.
Aid workers are, in many ways, a hard community to define. Some are experts who earn a good living traveling from disaster to disaster. Some are volunteers looking for a way to do some good. Some are driven by ambition, others by faith.
In Gaza, though, everyone understood the risks.
John Flickinger’s son Jacob, a Canadian military veteran, was a member of the convoy’s security team.
“He volunteered to go into Gaza, and he was pretty clear-eyed,” Flickinger told the AP. “We discussed it, that it was a chaotic situation.”
While World Central Kitchen and a few other aid groups suspended operations in Gaza after the attacks, many of the largest organizations, including Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam International, barely slowed down.
The convoy strike “wasn’t outside of things that we could have predicted, unfortunately,” said Ruth James, a UK-based Oxfam regional humanitarian coordinator. Except for one canceled trip, Oxfam staff simply kept working.
“What keeps them going?” she asked. “I can only guess.”


Mideast on Alert for Iranian Attack as Lufthansa Suspends Tehran Flights

FILE PHOTO: Lufthansa planes stand parked in Frankfurt, Germany, March 7, 2024. REUTERS/ Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Lufthansa planes stand parked in Frankfurt, Germany, March 7, 2024. REUTERS/ Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo
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Mideast on Alert for Iranian Attack as Lufthansa Suspends Tehran Flights

FILE PHOTO: Lufthansa planes stand parked in Frankfurt, Germany, March 7, 2024. REUTERS/ Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Lufthansa planes stand parked in Frankfurt, Germany, March 7, 2024. REUTERS/ Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

The German airline Lufthansa on Thursday extended the suspension of its flights to Tehran due to the situation in the Middle East, which is on alert for Iranian retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on Iran's embassy in Syria.

An Iranian news agency had published an Arabic report on the social media platform X saying all airspace over Tehran had been closed for military drills, but then removed the report and denied issuing such news.

The region and the United States have been on alert for a retaliatory attack by Iran since April 1, when Israeli warplanes were suspected of bombing the Iranian embassy compound in Syria.

Lufthansa on Thursday said it had suspended flights to and from Tehran until probably April 13, extending its suspension by two days.

A spokesperson said it had decided not to operate a flight from Frankfurt to Tehran last weekend to avoid the crew having to disembark to spend the night in Tehran.

Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines.

Austrian Airlines, which is owned by Lufthansa and flies from Vienna to Tehran six times a week, said it was still planning to fly on Thursday but was adjusting timings to avoid an overnight layover.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said Israel "must be punished and it shall be" for the strike, which killed seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, among them a senior commander in its elite overseas unit, the Quds Force.

Israel, which launched a war in the Gaza Strip six months ago against Iran-backed Hamas, has not confirmed it was behind the strike on Damascus, but the Pentagon has said it was.


Russia Tells Citizens to Refrain from Travel to Middle East

Smoke rises on the Lebanese side of the border between Israel and Lebanon after an Israeli strike, as seen from northern Israel, April 10, 2024. REUTERS/Ayal Margolin
Smoke rises on the Lebanese side of the border between Israel and Lebanon after an Israeli strike, as seen from northern Israel, April 10, 2024. REUTERS/Ayal Margolin
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Russia Tells Citizens to Refrain from Travel to Middle East

Smoke rises on the Lebanese side of the border between Israel and Lebanon after an Israeli strike, as seen from northern Israel, April 10, 2024. REUTERS/Ayal Margolin
Smoke rises on the Lebanese side of the border between Israel and Lebanon after an Israeli strike, as seen from northern Israel, April 10, 2024. REUTERS/Ayal Margolin

Russia's foreign ministry told citizens on Thursday that they should refrain from travelling to the Middle East, especially to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

"The tense situation in the Middle East region persists," said the foreign ministry, which first issued such travel advice in October when it urged Russians not to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories after Hamas attacked Israel.

"The situation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone, as well as in the area of the 'Blue Line' between Lebanon and Israel, remains unstable."

"We strongly recommend that Russian citizens refrain from traveling to the region, especially to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, except in cases of extreme necessity," it said.

Russia said the security situation in Jordan remained stable.

The United States and its allies believe major missile or drone strikes by Iran or its proxies against military and government targets in Israel are imminent, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing US and Israeli security sources.