‘Drugs Emperor’ Arrested in Beirut

Logo of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF)
Logo of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF)
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‘Drugs Emperor’ Arrested in Beirut

Logo of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF)
Logo of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF)

Lebanese security forces arrested on Wednesday a “drug emperor” who is the kingpin of the most dangerous drug-trafficking networks in Beirut and Mount Lebanon.
 
In a statement, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) announced the arrest of the suspected leader of a drug dealing gang, who was identified as Lebanese national Aa.A., born in 1978 and wanted on 72 drug related charges.
 
The new operation comes within the framework of a campaign launched by the security forces last year, in Beirut and the southern suburbs in particular, to pursue wanted persons and mainly drug traffickers, after the aggravation of this phenomenon and the increasing number of drug users in various areas of the country.
 
The statement noted that the man was arrested on Jan. 4 during a raid by the ISF Information Branch on his residence in the Bekaa area of Hrabta.
 
The suspect has admitted to leading a drug trafficking network in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, under the pseudonym Youssef. He also admitted to selling drugs to a large number of users, according to the ISF statement.
 
The operation comes few days after the arrest of a person named Maher Mohammed Tleiss, in the Bekaa area of Brital. The man is wanted by the Interpol on charges of forming a car-stealing gang, kidnapping and producing counterfeit money, attacking members of the Army, as well as on suspicion of arms and drug trafficking.
 
“As a result of monitoring and follow-up, a force from the Directorate of Intelligence raided the home of Maher Mohamad Tleiss and arrested him in his hometown of Brital, in the Bekaa,” a statement from the Lebanese Armed Forces said.



Kidnapping, Murder Gangs Surge in Lebanon, Syria

Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Basam Mawlawi (NNA)
Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Basam Mawlawi (NNA)
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Kidnapping, Murder Gangs Surge in Lebanon, Syria

Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Basam Mawlawi (NNA)
Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Basam Mawlawi (NNA)

Lebanese authorities investigating the killing of Pascal Sleiman, a coordinator for the Lebanese Forces Party in Jbeil, have arrested Syrian nationals suspected of involvement.

This sheds light on organized crime between Lebanon and Syria, including kidnappings for ransom and cross-border abductions.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, gangs are likely operating on both sides of the Lebanese- Syrian border with the cover of security elements.

The Lebanese Army’s Intelligence Directorate has captured most of the Syrian gang members responsible for Sleiman’s abduction, a security source told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Currently, six individuals are detained, with two still at large in Syria.

Those detained confessed to killing Sleiman during a car theft in Jbeil and moving his body to Syria.

Lebanon’s acting Interior Minister, Basam Mawlawi, stated that investigations into Sleiman’s murder are ongoing with the army.

In statements to Asharq Al-Awsat, Mawlawi emphasized that only the final investigation results can answer questions about whether the incident was a simple theft or more.

The minister added that they are currently tracking the stolen car used in the kidnapping to see if the perpetrators attempted other crimes before Sleiman’s abduction.

He highlighted the involvement of criminal gangs on the Syrian border not only in kidnappings but also in smuggling drugs and people into Lebanon through illegal routes.

“The criminal gangs operating on the Syrian border are not only involved in kidnappings but also in smuggling Captagon and Syrians into Lebanon through illicit crossings,” said Mawlawi.

Mawlawi stated that Syria needs to take responsibility for pursuing these gangs.

“The Syrian government has a responsibility and role in pursuing these gangs, which it currently does not fulfill,” he noted.

The minister also mentioned the Lebanese authorities refusing a request from Damascus to remove surveillance towers on the border.

“We rejected a Syrian request to remove surveillance towers on the border. Instead, we insist on their activation to combat these operations,” said Mawlawi.

Jawad Adra, the head of the regional research and consultancy firm “Information International,” highlighted a significant increase in kidnapping and murder cases in 2024.

He noted that ransom kidnappings have spiked to 8 incidents in the first three months of the year, up from 3 during the same period last year. Adra also mentioned a rise in casualties, from 34 to 83.

Mohammed Shamseddine, a researcher at the institute, suggested that the actual number of kidnappings might be higher due to unreported cases where families pay ransoms directly.

He mentioned organized gangs involved in monitoring, executing, and negotiating in these operations.

Shamseddine added that while criminal murders increased from 29 to 42 during the first three months of the year, car thefts decreased from 328 incidents last year to 185 this year.


IRC: Sudan On Course to Become World’s Largest Hunger Crisis

A camp for Sudanese refugees in Adre, Chad (AFP)
A camp for Sudanese refugees in Adre, Chad (AFP)
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IRC: Sudan On Course to Become World’s Largest Hunger Crisis

A camp for Sudanese refugees in Adre, Chad (AFP)
A camp for Sudanese refugees in Adre, Chad (AFP)

Sudan is on course to become the world’s largest hunger crises, warned the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in a report released on Friday.

“This crisis and the humanitarian situation in the country will continue to deteriorate until parties to the conflict agree to stop the fighting, protect civilians and ensure they have unrestricted access to lifesaving humanitarian aid,” the report said.

IRC said that one year since fighting broke out between the Sudanese

Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the conflict has had a catastrophic impact on almost every aspect of day-to-day life in the country.

“We stand at a critical juncture in Sudan's history, where the choices we make today will shape the future of generations to come,” Eatizaz Yousif, IRC Country Director for Sudan said.

She added that the past year has been marked by immense challenges and hardships for the people of Sudan.

“The conflict has resulted in significant loss of life, displacement, and economic strain. Beyond the figures, our new report aims to show the very real, multifaceted, human impact of the crisis on the people that have become displaced due to an entire year of this conflict,” she said.

The ongoing fighting has resulted in significant loss of life, with over 14,700 people killed and almost 30,000 injured.

More than 8.2 million people have fled their homes since the conflict started on April 15, 2023, making the conflict in Sudan the world’s largest displacement crisis.

Also, close to 25 million people (around half of the population) are in immediate need of assistance, including 18 million people facing acute food insecurity.

“With almost two million people already displaced into neighboring countries like Chad, Uganda and South Sudan which were already struggling with meeting humanitarian needs themselves, it is critical that the low-income fragile countries who have opened their doors to refugees are better supported by the international community, especially by fully funding their humanitarian and refugee response plans,” the IRC report said.

It added that while the European Union is readying an $9 billion aid package for Egypt amid fears that the conflicts in Gaza and Sudan will raise immigration pressure on Europe, the UN’s $2.7 billion humanitarian appeal for Sudan is only 6% funded.

The report showed that as the fighting continues in Sudan, humanitarian agencies like IRC are facing impediments that prevent them from reaching and providing aid to those in need.

“The IRC's efforts to provide water, health care, and protection services to those who have fled the conflict are vital and must continue,” it said.

According to IRC, the Sudan crisis will not abate until the fighting comes to a stop, which requires a reinvigoration of diplomatic efforts to bring parties to the table to agree to a cessation of hostilities and bring forward a long-term resolution to the conflict.

In the meantime, it is critical that both parties respect their commitments to protect civilians and remove all obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and morally incumbent that donors urgently increase the funding needed to support an expansion of operations.

The IRC said it adapted and scaled up its programming in Sudan to address increased humanitarian needs.

It is supporting people who have been displaced internally through economic empowerment services, health and nutrition, and water, sanitation, and hygiene programs.

The IRC also provided protection and empowerment services for women and children, including gender-based violence survivors in Blue Nile, Gedaref, White Nile and Khartoum states and has have established offices in new regions, including Port Sudan, and launched an emergency response in River Nile state to deliver cash assistance, safe water, and sanitation and hygiene services to vulnerable communities.

IRC is also working to establish a presence in new locations, such as Darfur, to address gaps in humanitarian coverage and expand its programming in response to the enduring humanitarian crisis in Sudan.

World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva on Friday that time was running out to avoid a catastrophe in Sudan.

“Without a stop to the fighting and unhindered access for the delivery of humanitarian aid, Sudan’s crisis will dramatically worsen in the months to come and could impact the whole region” in terms of more refugees, the spread of disease and food insecurity.

“We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he added.

Lindmeier warned that 70 to 80 percent of Sudanese hospitals and clinics were not functioning due to the conflict.


US Urges Sudanese Warring Parties to Return to Negotiating Table

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield (The AP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield (The AP)
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US Urges Sudanese Warring Parties to Return to Negotiating Table

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield (The AP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield (The AP)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged the warring parties in Sudan to stop the fighting and get back to the negotiating table in Jeddah and find a way out of the fighting that broke out on April 15, 2023.

Thomas then called on the Sudanese Armed Forces, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to immediately ensure lifesaving aid is delivered and distributed, or the Security Council will intervene including, if necessary, through a cross-border mechanism.

The Ambassador then accused the Rapid Support Forces, led by Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, nicknamed “Hemedti,” of committing mass killings and atrocities, amid fears of widespread famine and disease.

At a US Department press briefing in Washington marking one year of civil war in Sudan, Thomas mentioned the trip of Special Envoy Tom Perriello to Chad last week and his visit to Adré Refugee Camp right along the border of Sudan.

The US Ambassador, who had visited that same refugee camp in September, said hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees had fled for this camp in the months prior – 90 percent of them women and children.

She said April 11th should be a historic occasion as we mark the five-year anniversary of the revolution that toppled the Omar al-Bashir’s regime.

“Five years ago, you could practically taste the spirit of freedom, peace, and democracy in the air as women and young people took to the streets demanding change,” Thomas said.

She revealed that nearly 25 million Sudanese people live in dire need of humanitarian assistance and protection; three-quarters of them face acute food insecurity and about 8 million have had to flee their homes in what has become the world’s largest internal displacement crisis.

Thomas mentioned reports of gang rape, mass murder at the hands of the Rapid Support Forces militia, of girls sold into sexual slavery, boys being made into child soldiers, of urban areas destroyed by arial weapons, and entire villages burned to the ground.

And yet, she said, as communities barrel toward famine, as cholera and measles spread, as violence continues to claim countless lives, the world has largely remained silent.

“And that must change and it has to change now. The international community must give more, it must do more, and it has to care more,” the Ambassador warned.

She revealed that just 5 percent of the UN’s humanitarian appeal for Sudan has been met.

“Already, the World Food Program has had to cut assistance to over 7 million people in Chad and South Sudan, and that includes 1.2 million refugees like the ones I met in Adré, people who were already struggling to feed themselves and their families,” she said.

Thomas also referred to experts warnings that the coming weeks and months, over 200,000 more children could die of starvation, and affirmed that in addition to lacking aid, humanitarian workers have been systematically obstructed from delivering aid to those in need.

From the beginning, brave people have been on the ground, often putting their lives at risk, to save people in Sudan, she said.

But at every turn, the ambassador added, combatants on both sides of the war have undermined their work. That includes the SAF, which has impeded the major humanitarian aid crossings from Chad into Darfur.

“Should the SAF not reverse course immediately, the Security Council must intervene to ensure lifesaving aid is delivered and distributed, including, if necessary, through a cross-border mechanism,” she warned.

 

 


UN Refugee Chief Says Sudanese Refugees May Head to Europe If Aid Not Provided

Sudanese refugees wait for their turns to fetch water from wells made available by the NGO Doctors Without B (MSF) at the Farchana refugee camp near the East Chad Sudan border, 07 April 2024.(Issued 09 April 2024). (EPA)
Sudanese refugees wait for their turns to fetch water from wells made available by the NGO Doctors Without B (MSF) at the Farchana refugee camp near the East Chad Sudan border, 07 April 2024.(Issued 09 April 2024). (EPA)
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UN Refugee Chief Says Sudanese Refugees May Head to Europe If Aid Not Provided

Sudanese refugees wait for their turns to fetch water from wells made available by the NGO Doctors Without B (MSF) at the Farchana refugee camp near the East Chad Sudan border, 07 April 2024.(Issued 09 April 2024). (EPA)
Sudanese refugees wait for their turns to fetch water from wells made available by the NGO Doctors Without B (MSF) at the Farchana refugee camp near the East Chad Sudan border, 07 April 2024.(Issued 09 April 2024). (EPA)

The United Nations refugee chief said on Friday that Sudanese refugees could be making their way to Europe if humanitarian aid was not adequately provided to the people of the war-torn country.

War erupted in Sudan on April 15, 2023, between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), devastating the country's infrastructure, prompting warnings of famine and displacing millions of people inside and outside the country.

Thousands of civilians have been killed, although death toll estimates are highly uncertain, and both sides have been accused of committing war crimes.

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the humanitarian crisis in Sudan could prompt desperate Sudanese to flee beyond neighboring countries, where nearly two million people have already sought shelter.

"We know very well that this region is full of criminals that want to take advantage of the misery of refugees and displaced and help them move on at a cost towards North Africa, towards Europe," Grandi told Reuters at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

"I'm making the case for more support to be given to those that are displaced inside Sudan or immediately in the neighboring countries, because otherwise they will become refugees along those routes."

Arrivals of refugees and other migrants, particularly those who reach countries by irregular means, is a significant and divisive political issue in a number of European nations.

Statistics published by UNHCR show increased movements of Sudanese refugees to Europe, with 6,000 arriving in Italy from Tunisia and Libya since the beginning of 2023.

That figure represents an almost sixfold increase compared to the previous year, although Sudanese people still represent a small percentage of arrivals in Italy.

"Is humanitarian aid going to stop everybody from moving? Of course not," said Grandi, who will take part in a donor conference on Sudan in Paris on Monday.

"But certainly, it is a stabilizing factor that reduces the incentives for people to be trafficked and smuggled on."

In separate comments on Friday, the World Health Organization said the crisis in Sudan will worsen in the months to come if the fighting does not stop and unhindered access for the delivery of humanitarian aid is not secured.

"We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and the situation could be much more dire," WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said, stressing that 15 million people were in need of urgent health assistance and that diseases such as cholera, malaria and dengue were spreading.

Lindmeier said medical supplies in the country were estimated at about 25% of the needs, and 70 to 80% of Sudanese health facilities were not functioning due to the conflict.


Somalia Says It Will Never Accept Ethiopian Naval Base in Somaliland

 The port of Berbera in Somaliland offers Ethiopia access to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal further north. (AFP)
The port of Berbera in Somaliland offers Ethiopia access to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal further north. (AFP)
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Somalia Says It Will Never Accept Ethiopian Naval Base in Somaliland

 The port of Berbera in Somaliland offers Ethiopia access to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal further north. (AFP)
The port of Berbera in Somaliland offers Ethiopia access to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal further north. (AFP)

Somalia will never accept Ethiopia's plan to build a naval base in its breakaway region of Somaliland, but it would consider granting Ethiopia commercial port access if discussed bilaterally, Somalia's state minister for foreign affairs said on Friday.

Landlocked Ethiopia sparked a diplomatic row with Mogadishu in January by signing a deal with Somaliland to lease 20 km (12 miles) of its coastline in return for recognizing the region as an independent state.

Somalia called the deal illegal as it considers Somaliland as part of its territory even though it has had effective autonomy since 1991.

"Somalia will never accept (a) naval base ... Somalia is ready for commercial access in accordance with the international law of the sea," Somalia's state minister for foreign affairs Ali Omar told Reuters.

He added that Somalia was willing to discuss proposals so long as they meet the country's interests which are to "safeguard (our) sovereignty, political independence and unity".


UN Says Waterborne Illnesses Spread in Gaza Due to Heat, Unsafe Water

Palestinians families flee during an Israeli military operation in the Al-Nusseirat refugee camp, Gaza Strip, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Palestinians families flee during an Israeli military operation in the Al-Nusseirat refugee camp, Gaza Strip, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
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UN Says Waterborne Illnesses Spread in Gaza Due to Heat, Unsafe Water

Palestinians families flee during an Israeli military operation in the Al-Nusseirat refugee camp, Gaza Strip, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Palestinians families flee during an Israeli military operation in the Al-Nusseirat refugee camp, Gaza Strip, 12 April 2024. (EPA)

Waterborne diseases are spreading in Gaza due to a lack of clean water and rising temperatures, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Gaza said on Friday.

"It is becoming very hot there," Jamie McGoldrick told reporters via video link from Jerusalem. "People are getting much less water than they need, and as a result, there have been waterborne diseases due to lack of safe and clean water and the disruption of the sanitation systems."

"We have to find a way in the months ahead of how we can have a better supply of water into the areas where people are currently crowded at the moment," he said, after making his final visit to Gaza at the end of his three-month assignment.

Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery and hepatitis A, according to the World Health Organization.

Since mid-October, following the assault on Gaza in response to deadly attacks in southern Israel by Hamas, WHO has recorded more than 345,000 cases of diarrhea, including more than 105,000 in children under 5.

Israel has committed to facilitate the ability of humanitarian organizations to scale up aid in Gaza, and has approved the resumption of the operation of the water pipeline in northern Gaza.

The Gaza Strip's only natural source of water is the Coastal Aquifer Basin, which runs along the eastern Mediterranean coast from the northern Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, through Gaza and into Israel.

Its quality over the years has deteriorated rapidly, largely because it had been pumped out to meet the demands of Gaza's population more rapidly than it could be replaced by rainwater.


Israeli Forces Kill Two Palestinians Including Hamas Gunman in West Bank

An interior view of a damaged car where one of two people were killed during an Israeli raid, in the West Bank city of Tubas, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
An interior view of a damaged car where one of two people were killed during an Israeli raid, in the West Bank city of Tubas, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
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Israeli Forces Kill Two Palestinians Including Hamas Gunman in West Bank

An interior view of a damaged car where one of two people were killed during an Israeli raid, in the West Bank city of Tubas, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
An interior view of a damaged car where one of two people were killed during an Israeli raid, in the West Bank city of Tubas, 12 April 2024. (EPA)

Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians, including a member of the armed wing of Hamas, near Tubas in the occupied West Bank on Friday following a raid on the town earlier in the morning, the military said.

It said Mohammad Omar Daraghmeh, whom it described as the head of Hamas infrastructure in the Tubas area of the Jordan valley was killed during an exchange of fire with security forces. It said a number of weapons and military-style equipment, including automatic rifles were found in his vehicle.

Hamas confirmed Daraghmeh's death and his membership of its armed Al-Qassem Brigades.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said another man was killed by Israeli forces conducting a raid in the Al-Fara refugee camp in Tubas. Hamas said it mourned the man's death but did not claim him as a member.

The military said forces carrying out the operation opened fire on Palestinians who threw explosive devices and killed one man it said was attempting to attack them.

The incident was the latest in a wave of confrontations in the West Bank between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, including both gunmen and unarmed protestors, since the start of the war in Gaza last October.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, most of them armed fighters but some of them unarmed civilians, and thousands have been arrested or detained. In the same period more than a dozen Israelis have been killed by Palestinian attackers.


Thousands of People Mourn Slain Lebanese Forces Official

Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
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Thousands of People Mourn Slain Lebanese Forces Official

Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)

Thousands of Lebanese on Friday mourned a slain Lebanese Forces official authorities said was killed by a Syrian gang, with supporters pointing the finger at Lebanon's Hezbollah group.

Pascal Sleiman was a coordinator in the Jbeil area north of Beirut for the Lebanese Forces (LF) Christian party, which opposes the government in neighboring Syria and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

On Monday, the army said that Sleiman, who had gone missing the day before, was killed in a carjacking by Syrian gang members who then took his body across the border.

His party said it would consider Sleiman's death a "political assassination until proven otherwise".

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has denied that his party was involved.

Speaking after Sleiman's funeral, LF leader Samir Geagea called for the "failed, corrupt" authorities in Lebanon to be changed.

Geagea blamed their failure, among other things, on "illegal weapons" -- a barely veiled reference to Hezbollah.

The Iran-backed group is the only party in Lebanon that has kept its weapons arsenal after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, and it wields great influence on the country's political life.

Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7, Hezbollah has traded near-daily cross-border fire with Israeli forces in actions opposed by the LF and other parties.

"We don't want to wake up one day, as we did now, and find ourselves involved in a never-ending war," Geagea said Friday.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, spiritual leader of Lebanon's largest Christian sect, held back tears as he presided over Sleiman's funeral in Jbeil.

Outside the St Georges church, LF supporters waved the party's white flag with its cedar tree -- the symbol of Lebanon -- circled in red.

Mourners told AFP they were unconvinced by the army's version that car thieves killed Sleiman.

"This story never convinced me. It is not coherent at all," said Jean Habshi, 50, who came to pay his respects.

"Enough with Hezbollah, enough with the illegal weapons," Roba Hajal, 24, told AFP outside the church.

"If they (Hezbollah) did not kill him, at the very least they allowed the Syrians in. We are all at risk of meeting Pascal's fate," she said.

Lebanon has a long history of political assassinations that have taken place with impunity.

Years of economic meltdown have further strained a weak judiciary that has been widely accused of succumbing to political interference.

Ziad Hawat, an LF lawmaker from Jbeil, on Friday called for a "serious, transparent" probe into Sleiman's murder, adding that the party had concerns "based on past experiences".

"We do not want the killer to be known to all," he added, while "remaining unknown to the judiciary".

On Tuesday, caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi vowed to get tough on Syrians after several were arrested on suspicion of involvement in Sleiman's killing.


Israel Pounds Gaza as Iran Attack Threat Puts Region on Edge

A boy stands in the rubble of a house during an Israeli military operation in Al-Nusseirat refugee camp south of Gaza City,12 April 2024. (EPA)
A boy stands in the rubble of a house during an Israeli military operation in Al-Nusseirat refugee camp south of Gaza City,12 April 2024. (EPA)
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Israel Pounds Gaza as Iran Attack Threat Puts Region on Edge

A boy stands in the rubble of a house during an Israeli military operation in Al-Nusseirat refugee camp south of Gaza City,12 April 2024. (EPA)
A boy stands in the rubble of a house during an Israeli military operation in Al-Nusseirat refugee camp south of Gaza City,12 April 2024. (EPA)

Residents reported heavy Israeli fire in central Gaza on Friday, with regional tensions soaring after Iran threatened reprisals over a strike in Syria this month that killed two Iranian generals.  

As talks for a truce and hostage release dragged on, fears that Iran could soon launch an attack on Israel spurred France to recommend its citizens avoid travelling to the region.  

Mohammed al-Rayes, 61, told AFP that he fled Israeli "air strikes and artillery shelling" in Al-Nusseirat, central Gaza overnight.  

"It was all fire and destruction, with so many martyrs lying in the street," he said.

Another resident, Laila Nasser, 40, reported "shells and missiles" throughout the night.

"They will do to Nuseirat what they did to Khan Y0unis," said Nasser, vowing to flee to the southernmost city of Rafah, like most of Gaza's population.  

Israeli troops pulled out of the devastated city of Khan Younis last week after months of heavy fighting, but officials said the move was in preparation for and assault on Hamas militants in Rafah.  

Authorities in the Hamas-ruled territory reported dozens of new air strikes in Gaza's central region.  

Israel's military said its aircraft had struck more than 60 militant targets in Gaza over the previous day.  

The Hamas media office said 25 people were taken to hospital in Deir al-Balah city "as a result of an air strike on a house".  

'Shoulder to shoulder'

The war began with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack against Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.  

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,634 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.  

The latest bombardments in Gaza came after Israel said it had strengthened air defenses and paused leave for combat units, following a deadly April 1 air strike that destroyed Iran's consulate building in Damascus.  

Iran blamed its arch foe Israel, which has stepped up strikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria since the Gaza war began.  

US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that Iran was "threatening to launch a significant attack" and sent the head of US Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, to Israel for urgent talks.  

The White House said on Friday that the threat from Iran remained "real".  

After meeting Kurilla, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel and the United States were "shoulder to shoulder" in facing the threat from Iran, despite recent differences over the conduct of the war in Gaza.  

"Our enemies think that they can pull apart Israel and the United States, but the opposite is true -- they are bringing us together and strengthening our ties," Gallant said. "We stand shoulder to shoulder."

Washington, which has had no diplomatic relations with Tehran since the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, also asked its allies to use their influence with Iran to urge restraint, the State Department said.  

After calls with his Australian, British and German counterparts Thursday, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said: "Iran does not seek to expand the scope of the war."  

But he added that it felt it had no choice but to respond to the deadly attack on its diplomatic mission after the UN Security Council failed to take action.  

Khaled Meshaal, a senior Hamas official, said its six-month-old battle with Israel would "break the enemy soon".

He spoke at an event in Doha, Qatar, to mourn members of Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh's family killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Wednesday.  

"This is not the final round," he said. "It is an important round on the path of liberating Palestine and defeating the Zionist project."

New crossing for aid

France on Friday warned its nationals against travelling to Iran, Israel, Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, after the US embassy in Israel announced it was restricting the movements of its diplomats over security fears.  

Moscow and Berlin urged restraint.

In their October attack, Hamas militants seized about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.  

Washington has ramped up pressure on Netanyahu to agree to a truce, increase aid flows and abandon plans to send troops into Rafah.  

The Israeli army said Friday that an undisclosed number of aid trucks had been allowed to enter Gaza through a newly opened border crossing into the north of the territory.  

"The first food aid trucks entered through the new northern crossing from Israel into Gaza yesterday," the Israeli defense ministry body that oversees Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, said.  

Despite repeated AFP requests for comment, Israeli authorities did not disclose how many trucks entered Thursday nor the exact location of the new crossing, which Israeli media reported to be close to the Zikim kibbutz.  

Gallant had trumpeted the new crossing on Wednesday, promising to "flood Gaza with aid", but on Thursday the UN Security Council said "more should be done to bring the required relief given the scale of needs in Gaza".  

The UN says famine is imminent in Gaza, much of which has been reduced to a bombed-out wasteland.  

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said an assessment team that visited Khan Younis found "destruction disproportionate to anything one can imagine" and three medical centers that were no longer functioning.  

Truce talks which started on Sunday in Cairo have brought no breakthrough on a plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, which Hamas said it was studying.  

The framework plan would halt fighting for six weeks and see the exchange of about 40 hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, as well as more aid deliveries.


Egypt Pardons Thousands of Prisoners on Eid al-Fitr

Ambassador Moushira Khattab, President of the National Council for Human Rights, in a previous visit to the Correction and Rehabilitation Center of the Ministry of Interior (National Council for Human Rights)
Ambassador Moushira Khattab, President of the National Council for Human Rights, in a previous visit to the Correction and Rehabilitation Center of the Ministry of Interior (National Council for Human Rights)
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Egypt Pardons Thousands of Prisoners on Eid al-Fitr

Ambassador Moushira Khattab, President of the National Council for Human Rights, in a previous visit to the Correction and Rehabilitation Center of the Ministry of Interior (National Council for Human Rights)
Ambassador Moushira Khattab, President of the National Council for Human Rights, in a previous visit to the Correction and Rehabilitation Center of the Ministry of Interior (National Council for Human Rights)

Egypt released more than 3,000 prisoners, in a usual annual amnesty on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr.

The Egyptian Ministry of Interior said, on Thursday, that the Ministry’s Community Protection Sector examined the cases of inmates, both male and female, in correctional and rehabilitation centers across the country, to determine those deserving of pardon, in implementation of the decision of the President of the Republic, on the occasion of the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.

The official Middle East News Agency reported that the families of the released prisoners have expressed their “happiness at the change they saw in their children’s behavior” as a result of their presence in the rehabilitation centers, expressing gratitude for “giving them a new opportunity to engage within society.”

A number of human rights organizations say that Egyptian prisons suffer from overcrowding and weak health services.

In this regard, MP Tariq Radwan, head of the Human Rights Committee in the Egyptian House of Representatives, said: “The decision to pardon detainees confirm that the Egyptian state is seeking new policies towards human rights and the right of expression.”

In a statement, Radwan noted that the decision was a “positive step” towards a real and effective national dialogue, stressing that “the Egyptian state confirms its determination to provide an adequate atmosphere that meets the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

Caption: Ambassador Moushira Khattab, President of the National Council for Human Rights, in a previous visit to the Correction and Rehabilitation Center of the Ministry of Interior (National Council for Human Rights)