Jumblatt Meets Aoun to Mend Relations, Prevent Strife in Mount Lebanon

Aoun and Jumblatt during their meeting in Baabda on Monday (Dalati & Nohra)
Aoun and Jumblatt during their meeting in Baabda on Monday (Dalati & Nohra)
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Jumblatt Meets Aoun to Mend Relations, Prevent Strife in Mount Lebanon

Aoun and Jumblatt during their meeting in Baabda on Monday (Dalati & Nohra)
Aoun and Jumblatt during their meeting in Baabda on Monday (Dalati & Nohra)

The head of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), former deputy Walid Jumblatt, made a surprise visit to the Baabda Palace on Monday to meet with President Michel Aoun, for the first time in nearly a year, despite the deep disagreement between them, and the direct attack by Jumblatt and his team against the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).

Sources close to the matter told Asharq Al-Awsat that the main reason behind the meeting was to ease tension in Mount Lebanon and prevent a lurking clash.

According to the sources, MP Farid Boustani, a member of Aoun’s parliamentary bloc, sought to mediate between the two sides, “in order to prevent a further political escalation” between Christians and Druze in the region.

The same sources noted that the meeting touched on the upcoming meeting in Baabda, which would gather the heads of political blocs to discuss the economic rescue plan recently adopted by the government.

Jumblatt apologized for not being able to attend the gathering for health reasons, but said he would present his written comments to the president, according to the sources.

In remarks following the meeting, the PSP leader said he agreed with the president on the need to tackle controversial issues with “rationality.”

“I visited President Aoun in a goodwill initiative, in order to clear the dispute with the (Free Patriotic Movement),” he noted.

Jumblatt stressed that he was not part of any bilateral or tripartite alliances, saying: “My own calculations are based on the necessity to shape the relationship and manage the dispute with the FPM.”



Israeli Air Strikes in South Lebanon Evokes Memories of 2006 House Bombings

Israeli strike in Aita Shaab (AP)
Israeli strike in Aita Shaab (AP)
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Israeli Air Strikes in South Lebanon Evokes Memories of 2006 House Bombings

Israeli strike in Aita Shaab (AP)
Israeli strike in Aita Shaab (AP)

The recent Israeli airstrikes in southern Lebanon have reignited memories of the intense battles experienced in the south during the 2006 war.

The escalation, the most severe in two months, coincides with Hezbollah's use of a drone carrying explosives that detonated at an Israeli command post two kilometers from the border.

Israeli aircraft were spotted flying over Beirut and northern Lebanon.

The border region had not experienced such intense air bombardment since the war began on October 8.

Explosions rocked the border area, particularly between the towns of Yaroun, Kounine, and Bint Jbeil.

Social media activists shared videos of approximately six simultaneous airstrikes targeting densely forested areas.

Less than two hours later, airstrikes targeted a residential neighborhood in Aitaroun, destroying several homes, damaging others, and completely leveling a residential block.

Ambulance crews rushed to the scene, where they rescued four injured individuals, as Israeli fighter jets flew at medium and high altitudes over Beirut, its southern suburbs, and Mount Lebanon, all the way to the north.

Sources in south Lebanon told Asharq Al-Awsat that the airstrikes were the most intense since the war began.

They indicated that in the ten days of intensified bombardment, the Israeli forces relied on artillery and drone strikes, while extensive airstrikes were sporadic and geographically dispersed.

The sources highlighted that Sunday's escalation was particularly intense in the central sector, with Israel primarily relying on airstrikes, reminiscent of the 2006 war, where air raids heavily targeted homes and residential areas in the south and Beirut suburbs.

It appeared that the Israeli military expanded its fire range, especially in the central sector, where Hezbollah's military operations against Israeli positions have been relentless.

The shift from targeting open areas to residential neighborhoods was evident, with recent days witnessing repeated airstrikes on populated locations, including a residential area in Aitaroun, three days after a similar attack in Aita al-Shaab.

The National News Agency (NNA) reported that the strikes in Aitaroun destroyed a neighborhood, with many homes razed and others damaged.

- Hezbollah Expands its Targets

In response, Hezbollah expanded its range of targets, announcing drone attacks on a newly established Israeli military headquarters in the western sector.

Hezbollah's Military Media said in a statement that its fighters "launched an aerial attack with assault drones on a newly established command headquarters of the Israeli occupation army in the western sector south of the Ya'ara barracks."

The Israeli military, for its part, reported that "suspicious aerial targets" crossed from Lebanon, intercepting two targets.

It also mentioned that two Israeli soldiers suffered moderate injuries, while others were slightly wounded from shrapnel and smoke inhalation.

Media sources close to Hezbollah stated that the group distracted the occupation at several points before the drone attack on the barracks to disable its air defenses in the western sector before launching the drones.

Ya'ara barracks, 2 km from the Lebanese border and targeted for the first time, signals Hezbollah's updated intelligence from inside Israel.

Hezbollah separately announced military operations against Israeli targets in the eastern and western sectors, while the Iron Dome was activated in an attempt to intercept the rockets fired towards Israel on the western border.

The group ramped up the strikes, carrying out three simultaneous attacks targeting a fortified military structure at the al-Abbad site, a gathering of Israeli soldiers at the Hounin Castle, and the Birkat Risha site.

The statement affirmed that the strikes caused direct hits and losses upon occupation forces.

Israeli artillery continued throughout Sunday, targeting the Lebanese border towns of Blida, Ayta al-Shaab, Aytaroun, Al-Khiam, Kfar Kila, Yaroun, and Rmeish.

Journalists in Rmeich reported that five shells fell in forests near a hotel housing reporters in the area.

The airstrikes broke windows of houses, shops, and a school in Rmeich, Toni Elias, a priest in Rmeich, told Reuters by phone
A drone also launched a missile near a mosque in Marouhine.

The NNA reported that debris fell from an Israeli interceptor missile near the UNIFIL watchtower in Naqoura.

- Hezbollah Rejects Israeli Demands

Hezbollah rejected international discussions and messages reaching Lebanon, demanding the group's removal from the border area north of the Litani River and the implementation of Resolution 1701.

A senior Hezbollah official, Sheikh Ali Daamoush, asserted that the Israeli enemy is not in a position to impose its will on Lebanon.

Daamoush said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war minister issued "empty threats," saying the enemy is well aware that Lebanon is undeterred by intimidation.

He emphasized that "the resistance will continue to exhaust the enemy and will not stop unless the aggression on Gaza and Lebanon ceases."

The enemy's air raids and drones' attacks on villages and towns will not go unanswered, he asserted, adding that the resistance's response is strong, precise, and painful, leaving no safe military location for the enemy along the Lebanese-Palestinian border.

The official asserted that the resistance is achieving victories, forcing the enemy to pay heavy prices, and will not allow infringements on Lebanese sovereignty or any gains for Israel at the expense of the national authority.

Hezbollah parliamentary bloc member Hassan Fadlallah echoed the stance during a Sunday tour of the border area.

Fadlallah asserted that the enemy is deluded, adding that the occupation forces are witnessing significant failure in the field, whether in Gaza or south Lebanon.

The MP asserted that Israeli Forces have been hit hard, and all its leaders' talk is an additional indication of its transformation into a false propaganda machine, exposed by daily military losses.


Sudan’s Generals Agree to Meet in Effort to End Bloody War, Regional Bloc Says

Sudanese refugees gather as "Doctors Without Borders" teams provide assistance to war-wounded individuals from West Darfur, Sudan, at Adre Hospital in Chad (Reuters).
Sudanese refugees gather as "Doctors Without Borders" teams provide assistance to war-wounded individuals from West Darfur, Sudan, at Adre Hospital in Chad (Reuters).
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Sudan’s Generals Agree to Meet in Effort to End Bloody War, Regional Bloc Says

Sudanese refugees gather as "Doctors Without Borders" teams provide assistance to war-wounded individuals from West Darfur, Sudan, at Adre Hospital in Chad (Reuters).
Sudanese refugees gather as "Doctors Without Borders" teams provide assistance to war-wounded individuals from West Darfur, Sudan, at Adre Hospital in Chad (Reuters).

Sudan’s warring generals agreed to hold a face-to-face meeting as part of efforts to establish a cease-fire and initiate political talks to end the country’s devastating war, an African regional bloc said Sunday. Meanwhile, Sudan's government ordered the expulsion of 15 diplomats from the United Arab Emirates over Abu Dhabi's alleged support of rebel forces.

Sudan slipped into chaos after soaring tensions between military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, exploded into open fighting in mid-April in the capital, Khartoum, and elsewhere across the country.

The country has been in turmoil for several years, ever since a popular uprising forced the removal of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The short-lived transition to democracy was derailed when the two generals joined forces to lead a military coup in October 2021. After they fell out, war followed 18 months later, The Associated Press.

The conflict has wrecked the country and killed up to 9,000 people as of October, according to the United Nations. However, activists and doctors’ groups say the real toll is far higher.

In a meeting of the leaders of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, a grouping of East African countries, both Sudanese generals agreed to “an unconditional cease-fire and resolution of the conflict through political dialogue,” and to hold a “a one-to-one meeting,” the bloc said in a statement Sunday.

Burhan, who chairs Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council, attended the meeting Saturday in Djibouti, which holds the rotating IGAD presidency.

Dagalo, whose whereabouts are unknown, spoke by phone with IGAD leaders.

The statement gave no further details, including when and where the two generals would meet.

However, Alexis Mohamed, an adviser to Djibouti's president, said Sunday on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the Sudanese generals “accepted the principle of meeting within 15 days in order to pave the way for a series of confidence-building measures” that would eventually lead to political talks on ending the conflict in Sudan.

There was no immediate comment from either the Sudanese military or the RSF.

The administration of US President Joe Biden welcomed the generals' commitment to a cease-fire and a face-to-face meeting and called for them to “abide by these commitments and enter talks without delay,” said Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the State Department.


Moroccan Protesters Decry Gaza 'Genocide'

Palestinians stand among rubble following Israeli strikes on a residential building, in Gaza City, October 9, 2023. (Reuters)
Palestinians stand among rubble following Israeli strikes on a residential building, in Gaza City, October 9, 2023. (Reuters)
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Moroccan Protesters Decry Gaza 'Genocide'

Palestinians stand among rubble following Israeli strikes on a residential building, in Gaza City, October 9, 2023. (Reuters)
Palestinians stand among rubble following Israeli strikes on a residential building, in Gaza City, October 9, 2023. (Reuters)

Several thousand Moroccans demonstrated on Sunday in Rabat to condemn "genocide" in the Gaza Strip and demand the end of diplomatic relations with Israel, AFP journalists reported.

They marched through the city behind a huge banner denouncing "the Holocaust in Gaza" and calling for ties with Israel to be repealed.

Morocco and Israel established full relations in 2020 in exchange for the United States recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

On Sunday, demonstrators waving Palestinian flags and wearing keffiyeh scarves marched against "war crimes and genocide" in Gaza, and calling for an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

The demonstration was organized by the "National Action Group for Palestine".

Protester Saoussane, 41, said she was there "to express support for the Palestinian people, and for the children they are killing who have nothing to do with Hamas".

"How can we talk about collateral damage with 17,000 dead?" she asked. "It is genocide -- it is not even a war any more."

According the Hamas health ministry in Gaza, 17,997 people have been killed by Israel's relentless air strikes and ground invasion, mostly women and children.

In retaliation for Hamas's unprecedented attack on October 7 in the south of Israel, Israel's military launched a campaign to "annihilate" Hamas.

Since the war began, huge demonstrations across Morocco have called for an end to the North African country's diplomatic normalization with Israel.

"Gaza, under siege for 17 years, is experiencing the worst genocide with the blessing of the United Nations which is unable to take firm decisions to stop it, with the participation of the United States and Western countries", said another demonstrator, Halima Chouika.

At the end of November, Morocco's King Mohammed VI condemned Israel's "flagrant violation of international law and humanitarian values" in its reprisals against Hamas.

He said he rejected Israel's "policy of collective punishment, forced displacement and any attempt to impose new facts on the ground", in a message addressed to the United Nations.


Israel Carries Out Strikes Near Damascus

Smoke rising over the capital, Damascus, after an Israeli raid in 2022 (File- Reuters)
Smoke rising over the capital, Damascus, after an Israeli raid in 2022 (File- Reuters)
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Israel Carries Out Strikes Near Damascus

Smoke rising over the capital, Damascus, after an Israeli raid in 2022 (File- Reuters)
Smoke rising over the capital, Damascus, after an Israeli raid in 2022 (File- Reuters)

Israel carried out air strikes near Syria's capital Damascus late Sunday, Syrian state news agency SANA said.

"At around 23:05 (2105 GMT) the Israeli enemy carried out an air assault... targeting various points on the outskirts of Damascus," a security source told the agency, AFP reported.

"Our anti-aircraft defences shot down some missiles while others caused limited material damage."

An AFP correspondent reported strong explosions in the suburbs of Damascus, which have been previously targeted by strikes that Syrian authorities have blamed on Israel.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the strikes had targeted "Hezbollah sites" in the Sayeda Zeinab district and near Damascus airport.

The Israeli army declined to comment on the incident, but said separately that shots had been fired from Lebanon towards northern Israel on Sunday evening.

"The army retaliated by targeting the source of the fire. Earlier in the day, we had struck a Hezbollah terrorist cell," it said in a statement.

Israel's army chief Herzi Halevi visited his forces near the northern border with Lebanon on Sunday, where he spoke of the need "to kill Hezbollah operatives, to demonstrate our superiority".

"It can also come in the form of a strike and war," he said.


Algeria to Open Two Border Crossings with Mauritania Soon

Algerian Interior Minister Brahim Merad inspects works at one of the two crossings with Mauritania (Interior Ministry)
Algerian Interior Minister Brahim Merad inspects works at one of the two crossings with Mauritania (Interior Ministry)
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Algeria to Open Two Border Crossings with Mauritania Soon

Algerian Interior Minister Brahim Merad inspects works at one of the two crossings with Mauritania (Interior Ministry)
Algerian Interior Minister Brahim Merad inspects works at one of the two crossings with Mauritania (Interior Ministry)

Algerian Interior Minister Brahim Merad said on Saturday that the two fixed joint border crossings with Mauritania will open “soon.”

The two countries had previously announced that the border crossings would start operating in October 2023.

At the end of his visit to Tindouf, Merad said on Saturday that the progress of works at the two Algerian-Mauritanian border crossings has exceeded 99%, and therefore will be soon delivered.

He said the two crossings are highly necessary for trade exchanges between Algeria and Mauritania.

The Algerian government has a plan to develop trade with countries that share borders with Algeria, especially Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.


Houthis' Escalating Threat to Shipping Lines Signals Red Sea Militarization

Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader ship, claiming it was an Israeli tanker (EPA)
Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader ship, claiming it was an Israeli tanker (EPA)
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Houthis' Escalating Threat to Shipping Lines Signals Red Sea Militarization

Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader ship, claiming it was an Israeli tanker (EPA)
Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader ship, claiming it was an Israeli tanker (EPA)

Fears among Yemenis are mounting over the militarization of the Red Sea as the French, US, and British navies join forces to counter Houthi attacks in one of the world's most vital trade routes.
On Sunday, the French navy announced the destruction of two Houthi drones in the Red Sea that were heading towards the frigate "Languedoc" operating in the Red Sea.
"The interception and destruction of these two identified threats" were carried out late Saturday by the frigate Languedoc, which operates in the Red Sea, the general staff said in a press release.
Amid the Gaza conflict, the Houthi group saw an opportunity to divert attention from its internal crisis, recently escalating threats to target all international ships in the Red Sea heading to Israel.
The group, which the Yemeni government accuses of being an Iranian proxy, seized the Galaxy Leader vessel last month and transported it to the Hodeidah coast.
Yemeni politicians are skeptical about the effectiveness of the latest US sanctions.
They doubt Washington will engage in a decisive military confrontation with the group and are skeptical the Houthis would launch a significant attack that would pose a real threat to US or international forces in the Red Sea.
Washington recently announced sanctions against 13 individuals and entities. It accused them of providing tens of millions of dollars from the sale and shipment of Iranian goods to support the Houthis, with assistance from Iran's al-Quds Force.
- Intervention serves Houthis
Yemeni journalist Abdullah al-Sunami believes that France's involvement in the military action against the Houthis in the Red Sea could inadvertently benefit the group.
Sunami explained to Asharq Al-Awsat that defensive military actions in the Red Sea would further inflame the situation because any military operation in the international shipping lane affects it.
He noted that Houthis will then benefit from the situation and claim the West supports Israel.
According to the journalist, the gradual and successive Houthi escalation, including the announcement of targeting any ships to and from Israel, will usher the conflict in the region into a new phase, which is expected based on the geopolitical conflict history over Yemen's geography.
The complexities of global events, such as the conflict in Ukraine, the situation in China, the US debt issue, and the conflict in Palestine, all hinder any effective action against the Houthis, said Sunami.
He believes the situation may remain as it is, which will not have a significant impact, as long as Bab al-Mandab is relatively far from the Houthis.
He does not rule out the possibility of a military conflict over Bab al-Mandab, a Houthi strategic target.
The conflict in Yemen is approaching the "important" stage of controlling the shipping lane in the Red Sea.
Sunami believes that peace efforts will be significantly affected by the events. However, given the intertwining of interests and goals, it is a false cover for what each party wants.
- International threat
Yemeni political analyst and journalist Ramah al-Jabri believes that the French presence in the Red Sea confirmed that the international community is sensing the danger of the Houthi group.
Jabri remarked that throughout the years of conflict in Yemen, particularly under the stewardship of UN Envoy Martin Griffiths and, subsequently, the Biden administration, the Houthis were afforded numerous incentives that fueled their ambitions for governance in Yemen.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that it began with acknowledging them as a political entity and a de facto authority, along with the revocation of their classification as a terrorist organization.
The group enjoyed international leniency despite perpetrating ongoing war crimes and acts against humanity, he noted, adding that the clemency persists even as the group hinders global peace initiatives.
Jabri remarked that the international community will pay the price for its misguided policy in dealing with the Houthi group, and Yemenis will pay an additional price as the Yemeni coasts and territorial waters may become a battlefield for global conflict.
Jabri believes that if the Houthi threat becomes strong enough to endanger the interests of major countries, the international community will be forced to engage in a military operation in Yemen.
They could aim to liberate Hodeidah and the west coast up to the port of Midi in Hajjah to protect maritime navigation and international trade.
According to Jabri's assessment, the scenario may not align with the current regional reluctance to return to war.
Yemeni parties may currently reach an agreement and a prolonged truce, which would primarily benefit the Houthis, said Jabri.
- Deterrent Measures
Yemen's Undersecretary Minister of Information Fayyad al-Numan emphasized the need for deterrent measures against what he calls "Houthi terrorism," threatening Yemen, the region, and the world.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Numan called for adopting a system of deterrent measures by influential countries in the region.
Actions should not be limited to sanctions against Houthi figures and their supporters, he said, adding that the group should be stopped according to international law, preventing threats to national security and maritime navigation in the Red Sea.

Numan also called on concerned countries to counter the Houthi threat and boost international and regional cooperation to protect vital maritime routes from terrorist acts.
The Yemeni official noted that the Yemeni crisis is a significant card in the regional portfolio, and the Houthi practices have a substantial impact on efforts to revive the UN-sponsored peace process.
While Houthis may have ignited the Yemeni war, Numan asserted that they could not be a party in achieving a comprehensive peace.


KSrelief's Masam Project Dismantles 733 Mines within a Week in Yemen

Houthi mines that have been removed by Masam. (Saba)
Houthi mines that have been removed by Masam. (Saba)
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KSrelief's Masam Project Dismantles 733 Mines within a Week in Yemen

Houthi mines that have been removed by Masam. (Saba)
Houthi mines that have been removed by Masam. (Saba)

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center's (KSrelief) Masam Project, dedicated to clearing mines in Yemen, successfully dismantled 733 mines in the first week of December 2023.

The count includes 4 anti-personnel mines, 110 anti-tank mines, 618 unexploded ordnance, and one explosive device, SPA reported.
Since the project's inception, a total of 424,527 mines have been dismantled.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, represented by KSrelief, aims to clear Yemeni lands of all mines, which have tragically caused the death and injury of innocent children, women, and the elderly.


Israel Bombs South Gaza after Hamas Hostage Threat

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 Bombs South Gaza after Hamas Hostage Threat

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)

Israel bombed southern Gaza's main city on Monday after Hamas warned no Israeli hostages would leave the territory alive unless its demands for prisoner releases were met.Hamas triggered the conflict when it carried out the deadliest-ever attack on Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures, and taking about 240 hostages back to Gaza.Israel has responded with a military offensive that has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 17,997 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.The ministry said on Monday that dozens of people had been killed in Israeli strikes across the Gaza Strip, while Israel's army reported rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.An AFP correspondent reported that Israeli strikes on Monday hit the main southern city of Khan Yunis, while Palestinian militants Islamic Jihad said they had blown up a house where Israeli soldiers were searching for a tunnel shaft.Hamas on Sunday warned that Israel would not receive "their prisoners alive without an exchange and negotiation and meeting the demands of the resistance".Israel says there are still 137 hostages in Gaza, while activists say around 7,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jails.Months of intense bombardment and clashes have left Gaza's health system on the brink of collapse, with most hospitals no longer functioning and nearly two million people displaced.AFP visited the bombed-out ruins of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City and found at least 30,000 people taking refuge amid the rubble after Israeli forces raided the medical facility last month."Our life has become a living hell, there's no electricity, no water, no flour, no bread, no medicine for the children who are all sick," said Mohammed Daloul, 38, who fled there with his wife and three children.'Collapsing' health systemThe UN estimates 1.9 million of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been displaced from their homes -- roughly half of them children.Israel had urged people to seek refuge in the south, but after expanding the war to include southern targets, there are few safe places for civilians to go.Humanitarian organizations continued to press Israel for greater protection of civilians in the conflict.Mapping software deployed by Israel's army to try to reduce non-combatant deaths was condemned as inadequate Sunday by Lynn Hastings, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories."A unilateral declaration by an occupying power that patches of land where there is no infrastructure, food, water, health care, or hygiene are 'safe zones' does not mean they are safe," she said.Only 14 of Gaza's 36 hospitals are functioning at any capacity, according to the United Nations' humanitarian agency OCHA."Gaza's health system is on its knees and collapsing," said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as the agency called for immediate, unimpeded aid deliveries.Israel's army chief Herzi Halevi said Sunday his troops were using "significant force" in Gaza, hailing "significant achievements" in the war.The army told AFP on Monday that 101 soldiers have died in the Gaza ground offensive, and previously put the number of wounded at around 600.It said Sunday it had struck more than 250 targets in 24 hours, including "a Hamas military communications site", "underground tunnel shafts" in southern Gaza, and a Hamas military command center in Shejaiya in Gaza City.Some 7,000 "terrorists" have been killed, according to National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi."Hamas should not exist, because they are not human beings, after what I saw they did," Menahem, a 22-year-old soldier wounded on October 7, told AFP during a military-organized tour that did not allow him to give his surname.UN credibility 'undermined'The UN General Assembly will meet on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Gaza, its president said, after the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution for a ceasefire on Friday.A draft of the text seen by AFP closely follows the language of Friday's failed Security Council resolution, "expressing grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip".UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a leaders' gathering in Qatar on Sunday that the Security Council's "authority and credibility were severely undermined" by the US veto.Qatar, where Hamas's top leadership is based, said it was still working on a new truce like the week-long ceasefire it helped mediate last month that saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinian prisoners and humanitarian aid.But Israel's relentless bombardment was "narrowing the window" for success, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday again rejected a ceasefire."With Hamas still alive, still intact and... with the stated intent of repeating October 7 again and again and again, that would simply perpetuate the problem," he told ABC News.But Blinken also said the United States was "deeply, deeply aware of the terrible human toll that this conflict is taking on innocent men, women and children".There are fears of regional escalation with frequent cross-border exchanges between Israel and Lebanese militants, and attacks by pro-Iran groups against US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria.Syria's state news agency said Israel had carried out strikes near Damascus late Sunday, but air defense systems had prevented any significant damage.The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the strikes had targeted Hezbollah sites in the Sayeda Zeinab district and near Damascus airport.Meanwhile, Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened to attack any vessels heading to Israel unless more aid was allowed into Gaza.France said Sunday one of its frigates in the Red Sea had shot down two drones launched from Yemen.


Violence Escalates between Israel, Lebanon’s Hezbollah

 Smoke billows across the horizon along the hills in southern Lebanon from Israeli bombardment from a position along the border in northern Israel on December 10, 2023. (AFP)
Smoke billows across the horizon along the hills in southern Lebanon from Israeli bombardment from a position along the border in northern Israel on December 10, 2023. (AFP)
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Violence Escalates between Israel, Lebanon’s Hezbollah

 Smoke billows across the horizon along the hills in southern Lebanon from Israeli bombardment from a position along the border in northern Israel on December 10, 2023. (AFP)
Smoke billows across the horizon along the hills in southern Lebanon from Israeli bombardment from a position along the border in northern Israel on December 10, 2023. (AFP)

Violence escalated at Lebanon's border with Israel on Sunday as Hezbollah launched explosive drones and powerful missiles at Israeli positions and Israeli air strikes rocked several towns and villages in south Lebanon.

Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah have been trading fire since the war in Gaza erupted two months ago, in their worst hostilities since a 2006 conflict. The violence has largely been contained to the border area.

Israeli attacks in south Lebanon included air strikes on the town of Aitaroun which destroyed and damaged numerous houses, Lebanon's National News Agency said. It did not say if there were any casualties.

The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senior Hezbollah politician Hassan Fadlallah, in a statement sent to Reuters, said Israeli air strikes were a "new escalation" to which the group was responding with new types of attacks, be it "in the nature of the weapons (used) or the targeted sites".

The Israeli army earlier said "suspicious aerial targets" had crossed from Lebanon and two were intercepted. Two Israeli soldiers were moderately wounded and a number of others lightly injured from shrapnel and smoke inhalation, it said.

Israeli fighter jets carried out "an extensive series of strikes on Hezbollah terror targets in Lebanese territory", it said. Sirens sounded in Israel at several locations at the border.

In Beirut, residents saw what appeared to be two warplanes streaking across a clear blue sky, leaving vapor trails behind them.

Hezbollah statements say its attacks aim to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Ali Damoush said in a speech on Sunday the group would continue in its effort to "exhaust the enemy, and will not stop unless the aggression against Gaza and Lebanon stops".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Beirut would be turned "into Gaza" if Hezbollah started an all-out war.

In one of several attacks announced by Hezbollah on Sunday, the group said it had launched the explosive drones at an Israeli command position near Ya'ara. In another, Hezbollah said it had fired Burkan (Volcano) missiles, which carry hundreds of kilograms of explosives.

Israeli air strikes were also reported on the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Yaroun, not far from the location of another of the Israeli positions Hezbollah said it had targeted on Sunday.

Those air strikes broke windows of houses, shops and a school in the nearby village of Rmeich, Toni Elias, a priest in Rmeich, told Reuters by phone.

Violence at the border has killed more than 120 people in Lebanon, including 85 Hezbollah fighters and 16 civilians. In Israel, the hostilities have killed seven soldiers and four civilians.


Gaza ‘Catastrophic’ Health Situation Almost Impossible to Improve, Warns WHO

Palestinians carry bags of foodstuff in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 10, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas. (AFP)
Palestinians carry bags of foodstuff in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 10, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas. (AFP)
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Gaza ‘Catastrophic’ Health Situation Almost Impossible to Improve, Warns WHO

Palestinians carry bags of foodstuff in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 10, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas. (AFP)
Palestinians carry bags of foodstuff in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 10, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas. (AFP)

The World Health Organization chief said on Sunday it will be all but impossible to improve the "catastrophic" health situation in Gaza even as the board passed an emergency WHO motion by consensus to secure more medical access.

The emergency action, proposed by Afghanistan, Qatar, Yemen and Morocco, seeks passage into Gaza for medical personnel and supplies, requires the WHO to document violence against healthcare workers and patients and to secure funding to rebuild hospitals.

"I must be frank with you: these tasks are almost impossible in the current circumstances," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Tedros told the 34-member board in Geneva that medical needs in Gaza had surged and the risk of disease had grown, yet the health system had been reduced to a third of its pre-conflict capacity.

Gaza hospitals have come under bombardment and some have been besieged or raided as part of Israel's response to Hamas' deadly Oct. 7 attacks. Those that remain open are overwhelmed by the numbers of dead and wounded arriving and sometimes procedures are carried out without anesthetics.

A WHO database shows there have been 449 attacks on healthcare facilities in Palestinian territories since Oct. 7, without assigning blame.

Tedros said that it would be hard to meet the board's requests given the security situation on the ground and said he deeply regretted that the United Nations Security Council could not agree on a ceasefire following a US veto.

"Resupplying health facilities has become extremely difficult and is deeply compromised by the security situation on the ground and inadequate resupply from outside Gaza," he said.

Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila deplored the critical shortages of medicines. "The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated," she told the WHO meeting by video link.

WHO board member the United States signaled in the meeting that it would not oppose the text of the motion which was adopted without a vote later on Sunday.

The motion was criticized by Israel, which has said it puts disproportionate focus on Israel and does not address what it describes as Hamas' use of civilians as human shields, by placing command centers and weapons inside hospitals.

"If this session serves any purpose at all, it will only encourage Hamas' actions," Israeli ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar told the meeting. Israel is not a WHO board member.

WHO emergency sessions are rare and have occurred during health crises including during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and during West Africa's Ebola epidemic in 2015. Qatar, which has mediated in the Israel-Hamas conflict, chaired the session.