UN Chief Urges Free, Transparent Elections in Lebanon on May 15

United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres speaks during a courtesy visit to Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum in Maiduguri, Nigeria, May 3, 2022. (Reuters)
United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres speaks during a courtesy visit to Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum in Maiduguri, Nigeria, May 3, 2022. (Reuters)
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UN Chief Urges Free, Transparent Elections in Lebanon on May 15

United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres speaks during a courtesy visit to Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum in Maiduguri, Nigeria, May 3, 2022. (Reuters)
United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres speaks during a courtesy visit to Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum in Maiduguri, Nigeria, May 3, 2022. (Reuters)

The UN chief called for Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on May 15 to be "free, fair transparent and inclusive" in a report circulated Wednesday and urged the quick formation of a government afterward that gives priority to implementing reforms addressing the country’s multiple crises.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the report to the UN Security Council that political polarization in the country has deepened and the Lebanese people "are struggling daily to meet basic essential needs." He pointed to frequent protests across the country sparked by "public frustration with the political situation and the economic and financial crisis."

The May 15 elections for parliament are the first since Lebanon’s economic meltdown began in late 2019. The government’s factions have done virtually nothing to address the collapse, leaving Lebanese to fend for themselves as they plunge into poverty, without electricity, medicine, garbage collection or any other semblance of normal life.

The elections are also the first since the August 4, 2020, catastrophic explosion at Beirut port that killed more than 215 people and wrecked large parts of the city. The destruction sparked widespread outrage at the traditional parties’ endemic corruption and mismanagement.

Guterres, who visited Lebanon last December, said no one has yet been held accountable for the explosion and the Lebanese people are demanding "truth and justice." He reiterated his call for "a swift, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation" and stressed that "the independence of the judiciary must be respected."

In the May 15 election, a total of 103 lists with 1,044 candidates are vying for the 128-seat legislature, which is equally divided between Christians and Muslims.

Self-declared opposition groups remain divided along ideological lines on virtually every issue, including over how to revive the economy, and as a result, there are an average of at least three different opposition lists in each of the 15 electoral districts, a 20% increase from the 2018 elections.

Guterres noted that proposals submitted in the past two years for a women’s quota were still pending in parliament, and he urged that the new government be quickly formed "with full participation of women and young people."

The secretary-general's semi-annual report on implementation of a 2004 Security Council resolution reiterated that its key demands -- that the Lebanese government establish its sovereignty throughout the country and that all Lebanese militias disarm and disband -- have not been fulfilled.

Guterres said Hezbollah’s maintenance "of sizeable and sophisticated military capabilities outside the control of the government of Lebanon remains a matter of grave concern." He noted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s February announcement that it now has the ability to transform thousands of its missiles "into precision missiles" and has been manufacturing drones "for a long time."

The secretary-general urged the Lebanese state to "increase its efforts to achieve a monopoly over the possession of weapons and the use of force throughout its territory."

"I continue to urge the government and the armed forces of Lebanon to take all measures necessary to prohibit Hezbollah and other armed groups from acquiring weapons and building paramilitary capacity outside the authority of the state," the UN chief said, stressing that this violates Security Council resolutions.

Guterres said Hezbollah’s continued involvement in the war in neighboring Syria also risks entangling Lebanon in regional conflicts and undermining its stability.

He called on countries in the region with close ties to Hezbollah to encourage its disarmament and transformation into "a solely civilian political party." Both Syria and Iran have close ties to Hezbollah.



US military Says it Destroys Houthi Weapons

A Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft is prepared to conduct further strikes against Houthi targets, February 24, 2024. AS1 Eoin Kirwan-Taylor RAF/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS
A Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft is prepared to conduct further strikes against Houthi targets, February 24, 2024. AS1 Eoin Kirwan-Taylor RAF/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS
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US military Says it Destroys Houthi Weapons

A Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft is prepared to conduct further strikes against Houthi targets, February 24, 2024. AS1 Eoin Kirwan-Taylor RAF/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS
A Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft is prepared to conduct further strikes against Houthi targets, February 24, 2024. AS1 Eoin Kirwan-Taylor RAF/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS

The US military said on Monday it had destroyed three unmanned surface vessels and two anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to launch towards the Red Sea from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

The US military's Central Command also said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that it destroyed an aerial drone that was over the Red Sea. All the weapons "presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and to the US Navy ships in the region," it said.

Shipping risks have escalated due to repeated Houthi drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait since November in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

US and British forces have responded with several strikes on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.


OPCW: No Grounds ISIS’ 2017 Attack in Syria Involved Chemicals

The Palestinian Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, in December 2020 (EPA)
The Palestinian Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, in December 2020 (EPA)
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OPCW: No Grounds ISIS’ 2017 Attack in Syria Involved Chemicals

The Palestinian Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, in December 2020 (EPA)
The Palestinian Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, in December 2020 (EPA)

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Monday there were “no reasonable grounds” to conclude that a 2017 “attack” in Syria blamed on ISIS contained chemical weapons.

OPCW said Damascus in November 2017 reported “use of toxic chemicals in an attack by the terrorist organization ISIS against another terrorist group called Aknaf Beit Almaqdis.”

The alleged attack took place at the sprawling Yarmouk district in Damascus in October that year.

It resulted in several cases of breathing difficulties “and loss of consciousness in the ranks of Aknaf terrorist group,” Damascus told the OPCW.

But the Hague-based body said after investigating, its Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) concluded that “there are no reasonable grounds to determine that toxic chemicals were used as a weapon in the reported incident.”

Set up in 2014, the FFM investigates the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but it cannot identify the perpetrators behind the attacks.

The OPCW's investigators based their findings on chemical sample analyses, interviews with witnesses, video and photo evidence and documents and correspondence with the Syrian government.

“The samples analysis results provided no indication that chemicals were used as a weapon,” the OPCW said in a statement.

“There was no detection of the presence of scheduled chemicals, their precursors and, or their degradation products, nor of riot control agents, chlorinated organic chemicals or compounds containing chemically reactive chlorine,” it said.

The FFM also tried to interview witnesses who were present “in areas of interest at the time of the reported incident.”

This was unsuccessful because several witnesses had died, or were missing, while others who had initially agreed to provide testimony “ultimately declined to provide their account of the events to the FFM,” the OPCW said.

The war in Syria has killed more than half a million people since it erupted in March 2011.

Syria agreed in 2013 to join the OPCW, shortly after an alleged chemical gas attack killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus.

But the global watchdog had since accused President Bashar al-Assad's regime of continuing to attack civilians with chemical weapons in the Middle East country's brutal civil war.

Damascus denies the charges.


US Names New Special Envoy to Sudan in Push to End War

Smoke rises above buildings in the vicinity of Khartoum Airport. (AFP)
Smoke rises above buildings in the vicinity of Khartoum Airport. (AFP)
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US Names New Special Envoy to Sudan in Push to End War

Smoke rises above buildings in the vicinity of Khartoum Airport. (AFP)
Smoke rises above buildings in the vicinity of Khartoum Airport. (AFP)

The United States appointed a new special envoy for Sudan on Monday, as Washington seeks to bring an end to a war that has wrecked parts of the country and killed tens of thousands.

Former diplomat and US member of Congress Tom Perriello will assume the special envoy role, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement provided to Reuters ahead of the announcement, as the US seeks to bring increased focus to the conflict after the failure of talks so far.

In a statement, Perriello said he will build on efforts of partners across Africa and the Middle East to bring an end to the war, a humanitarian crisis and atrocities.

"This appointment reflects the urgency and importance President Biden and Secretary Blinken have placed on ending this war, putting a stop to rampant atrocities against civilians, and preventing an already horrific humanitarian situation from becoming a catastrophic famine," Perriello said.

The US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey has left his role, Blinken said in the statement.

Daniel Rubinstein will serve as interim charge d'affaires as director of the Office of Sudan Affairs, Blinken said. He will be based in Ethiopia.

War broke out in Sudan last April over disputes about the powers of the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) under an internationally-backed plan for a political transition towards civilian rule and elections.

The army and the RSF had shared power with civilians after the fall of former leader Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising in 2019, before staging a coup two years later.

The fighting has wrecked parts of Sudan including the capital Khartoum, killed more than 13,000 people according to UN estimates, drawn warnings of famine, and created an internal displacement crisis.

The Rapid Support Forces are accused by the US of participating in an ethnic cleansing campaign in West Darfur, along with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The army, which has carried out a widespread airstrike campaign, is also accused of war crimes by the US.

Perriello previously served as special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and as a US representative from Virginia.

Rubinstein recently led the US delegation at talks on Sudan in the Saudi city of Jeddah. Neither side maintained commitments made in the talks.

The US military evacuated American government personnel from Khartoum in April last year and suspended operations at its embassy there after fighting between Sudan's rival commanders broke out.


Jordan’s King Abdullah Warns of Dangers of Israel’s Planned Rafah Assault

 Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)
Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)
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Jordan’s King Abdullah Warns of Dangers of Israel’s Planned Rafah Assault

 Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)
Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)

Jordan's King Abdullah warned on Monday of the dangers of a military operation planned by Israel in Rafah and reiterated his appeal for an immediate ceasefire to help protect civilians in Gaza and bring in aid, the royal palace said.

The king also said the only way to end the decades-old conflict was to find a "political horizon" for Palestinians that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state on territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, including east Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week the Israeli security cabinet would approve military plans for Rafah - including the evacuation of more than a million displaced Palestinian civilians who have been sheltering there, and whose fate worries world powers.

Almost 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, Gaza medical officials say. The Hamas raid of Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people in Israel, which has also lost 241 soldiers in Gaza ground fighting that followed, according to official tallies.

The Jordanian army also arranged on Monday the biggest air drop operation so far to deliver aid to Gaza where the mostly displaced population of 2.3 million is facing crisis levels of hunger, an army statement said.

The operation deployed four C-130 planes including one belonging to the French air force, army spokesperson Mustafa Hiyari said.

Aid was dropped to 11 sites along the Gaza coast from its northern edge to the south for civilians to collect, Hiyari told Reuters. Previous air drops that parachuted in medicines and humanitarian provisions were sent to hospitals the Jordanian army runs in Gaza.


Four Workers Dead In Egypt Boat Sinking

Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
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Four Workers Dead In Egypt Boat Sinking

Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP

Four Egyptian construction workers died Sunday when their boat sank in a canal near Giza, state media reported, adding that five others were rescued and four passengers were still missing.

The small boat was carrying 13 workers when it went down near the northern Giza village of Nekla, around 30 kilometres (18 miles) northwest of the capital Cairo, state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram said.

"Rescuers managed to recover the bodies of four victims and save five others," while efforts to find the remaining four passengers were ongoing, the paper said, AFP reported.

The health ministry said four of the rescued had been transported to hospital, and three were later discharged.

They were suffering from "drowning-induced asphyxia", the ministry said, adding that one of them had remained "under observation" at the hospital.

AFP correspondents at the scene saw local fishermen pulling a body out of the water as anxious relatives watched the ad hoc rescue operation.

One of the volunteers, Yasser, told AFP they arrived on the scene more than an hour after the accident and had "pulled out four people".

He and the other fishermen requested anonymity to protect their privacy.

Speaking from a small wooden motorboat, Yasser said the volunteers are "self-funded with donations" from a nearby village to help respond to emergencies along the canal.


Arab States, Türkiye Ask World Court to Declare Israel’s Occupation Illegal 

A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
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Arab States, Türkiye Ask World Court to Declare Israel’s Occupation Illegal 

A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)

Arab states urged international judges on Monday to rule the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories illegal and Türkiye described the occupation as "the real obstacle to peace" on the final day of hearings in a case examining its legal status.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has been hearing arguments from more than 50 states following a request by the UN General Assembly in 2022 to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation.

On the sixth and last day of hearings, Türkiye’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yildiz told judges the occupation was the root cause of conflict in the region.

Yildiz also addressed the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel, which killed 1,200 people, and Israel's military response that has since killed over 29,000 Palestinians.

"The unfolding situation after October 7 proves once again that, without addressing the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there can be no peace in the region," he said, describing the occupation of Palestinian territories as "the real obstacle to peace" and urging the judges to declare it illegal.

Israel, which is not taking part in the hearings, has said the court's involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling the questions posed to the court prejudiced.

The Arab League's secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit described the occupation "an affront to international justice" in a statement read out by a representative.

It called upon the ICJ, also known as the World Court, to "confirm the illegality of this occupation and unambiguously rule on the legal consequences for all parties, especially those who turn a blind eye, facilitate, assist, or participate in any way in perpetuating this illegal situation".

Last week, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel's occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution to decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has now devastated Gaza.

The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue an opinion on the request.


Israel Strikes Deeper into Lebanon after Hezbollah Downs Drone

Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
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Israel Strikes Deeper into Lebanon after Hezbollah Downs Drone

Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)

Israeli warplanes struck Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Monday, killing at least two Hezbollah members in its deepest attack into Lebanese territory since hostilities erupted with the Iran-backed group last October, sources in Lebanon said.

Underlining the risks of escalation, Hezbollah responded by firing 60 rockets at an Israeli army headquarters in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the group's al-Manar television reported. An Israeli army spokesperson said dozens of rockets were fired towards the Golan Heights from Lebanon.

The attacks marked an intensification of the worst violence between the heavily armed Hezbollah and Israel since their 2006 war, fueling concern of the potential for further escalation and regional spillover of the Gaza war.

The Israeli army said its fighter jets had struck Hezbollah air defenses in the Bekaa Valley in response to the downing of an Israeli drone, which Hezbollah said it had shot down with a surface-to-air missile earlier on Monday.

The airstrikes hit part of the Bekaa Valley region near the Syrian border which is a political stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah. The targeted area was some 18 km (11 miles) from the city of Baalbek, which is known for its ancient ruins.

The sources said Israel had carried out simultaneous strikes in the area. A Lebanese security source and a source familiar with the matter said two Hezbollah members had been killed.

Lebanese television station Al-Jadeed broadcast images of plumes of smoke rising from the area.

In a separate attack, an Israeli airstrike hit a car in the town of Mjadel in southern Lebanon, killing a Hezbollah field commander, three security sources in Lebanon said.

Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said Israel had widened its strikes by hitting Baalbek and other areas, and was seeking to "compensate" for the downing of its drone.

"Its aggression on Baalbek or any other areas will not remain without response," he said in televised remarks delivered at the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter killed in recent days.

The Israeli military said it would "continue operating to defend the State of Israel from the threat of Hezbollah terrorist organization, including in aerial operations above Lebanese territory".

Hezbollah has been waging a campaign of attacks on targets at the border with Israel since the Oct. 7 raid from the Gaza Strip by its Palestinian ally Hamas. Hezbollah describes it as an effort to support Palestinians under Israeli fire in Gaza.

Israel says to ‘increase the fire’ on Hezbollah

The hostilities have largely played out in areas near the Lebanese-Israeli border, but last week widened when Israel struck an area just south of the coastal city of Sidon.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant indicated on Sunday that Israel planned to increase attacks on Hezbollah in the event of a possible ceasefire in the Gaza conflict.

"If a temporary pause is reached in Gaza, we will increase the fire in the north separately, and will continue until the full withdrawal of Hezbollah [from the border] and the return of Israeli citizens to their homes," he said.

The violence has uprooted tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border.

Hezbollah said earlier on Monday it had shot down an Israeli Hermes 450 drone over Lebanese territory with a surface-to-air missile.

The Israeli military said two missile launches had targeted an Israeli Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle operating over Lebanon. The first, it said, was intercepted by Israel's "David's Sling" Aerial Defense System but the drone "fell inside Lebanese territory" after a second launch.

Israeli strikes since October have killed some 50 civilians in Lebanon, in addition to some 200 Hezbollah fighters.

Attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli soldiers troops and five civilians.


Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of Blocking Aid to Gaza in Violation of UN Court Order 

A Palestinian boy sits in the back of a truck traveling along Al Rashid road after crossing from the northern Gaza Strip into the south of Gaza city, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
A Palestinian boy sits in the back of a truck traveling along Al Rashid road after crossing from the northern Gaza Strip into the south of Gaza city, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
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Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of Blocking Aid to Gaza in Violation of UN Court Order 

A Palestinian boy sits in the back of a truck traveling along Al Rashid road after crossing from the northern Gaza Strip into the south of Gaza city, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
A Palestinian boy sits in the back of a truck traveling along Al Rashid road after crossing from the northern Gaza Strip into the south of Gaza city, 25 February 2024. (EPA)

Israel has failed to comply with an order by the United Nations' top court to provide urgently needed aid to desperate people in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Monday, a month after a landmark ruling in The Hague ordered Israel to moderate its war.

In a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of genocide, the UN’s top court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza. It stopped short of ordering an end to its military offensive that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe in the tiny Palestinian enclave. Israel vehemently denies the charges against it, saying it is fighting a war in self-defense.

One month later and nearly five months into the war, preparations are underway for Israel to expand its ground operation into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have flooded into in search of safety.

Early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for Rafah as well as plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details.

The situation in Rafah, where dense tent camps have sprouted to house the displaced, has sparked global concern and Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against Hamas.

Also Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said he was submitting his government's resignation. The move, which still must be accepted by President Mahmoud Abbas, could open the door to US-backed reforms in the Palestinian Authority, which the US wants to rule postwar Gaza but in a revitalized shape.

In its ruling last month, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to follow six provisional measures, including taking “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

Under the orders, Israel also must submit a report on what it is doing to adhere to the measures within a month. While Monday marked a month since the court’s orders were issued, it was not immediately clear whether Israel had handed in such a report. The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.

Human Rights Watch said Israel was not adhering to the court’s order on aid provision, citing a 30% drop in the daily average number of aid trucks entering Gaza in the weeks following the court’s ruling. It said Israel was not adequately facilitating fuel deliveries to hard-hit northern Gaza and blamed Israel for blocking aid from reaching the north, where the World Food Program said last week it was forced to suspend aid deliveries because of increasing chaos in the isolated part of the territory.

“The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression, including further blocking lifesaving aid,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.

Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed humanitarian organizations operating inside Gaza, saying hundreds of trucks filled with aid sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The UN says it can’t always reach the trucks at the crossing because it is at times too dangerous.

Netanyahu’s office also said Monday the War Cabinet had approved a plan to deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza in a way that would “prevent the cases of looting.” It did not disclose further details.

The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, has unleashed unimaginable devastation in Gaza.

Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.

Fighting has flattened large swaths of Gaza's urban landscape, displacing about 80% of the territory’s 2.3 million people who have crammed into increasingly smaller spaces looking for elusive safety.

The crisis has pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation and raised fears of imminent famine, especially in the northern part of Gaza, which was the first focus of Israel’s ground invasion and where starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings.

“We have to feed the children. They keep screaming they want food. We cannot find food. We don’t know what to do,” said market vendor Um Ayad in northern Jabaliya, who showed off a leafy weed that people pick from the harsh, dry soil and eat.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the UN agency for Palestinians, said it has not been able to deliver food to northern Gaza since Jan. 23, adding on X, formerly Twitter, that “our calls to send food aid have been denied.”

Israel said that 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday, less than half the amount that entered daily before the war.

But Human Rights Watch, citing UN figures, said that between Jan. 27 and Feb. 21, the daily average of trucks entering stood at 93, compared to 147 trucks a day in the three weeks before the world court’s ruling. The daily average dropped further, to 57, between Feb. 9 and 21, the figures showed.

United Nations agencies and aid groups say the hostilities, the Israeli military’s refusal to facilitate deliveries and the breakdown of order inside Gaza make it increasingly difficult to get vital aid to much of the coastal enclave. In some cases, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded delivery trucks and stripped the supplies off them.

The UN has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the north, and to improve the coordination process.


Israeli Military Proposes ‘Plan for Evacuating’ Gaza Civilians 

A child standing inside a damaged building, stares at the Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on a foggy day on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
A child standing inside a damaged building, stares at the Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on a foggy day on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Israeli Military Proposes ‘Plan for Evacuating’ Gaza Civilians 

A child standing inside a damaged building, stares at the Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on a foggy day on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
A child standing inside a damaged building, stares at the Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on a foggy day on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Israel's military proposed a plan for evacuating civilians from "areas of fighting" in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office announced Monday, after he said a ground invasion of the Palestinian territory's southern city Rafah was necessary.

Foreign governments and aid organizations have repeatedly expressed fears that an invasion of Rafah would inflict mass civilian casualties.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians -- most of them displaced from elsewhere -- have converged on the last Gazan city untouched by Israel's ground troops.

It is also the entry point for desperately needed aid, brought in via neighboring Egypt.

Israel's military "presented the War Cabinet with a plan for evacuating the population from areas of fighting in the Gaza Strip, and with the upcoming operational plan", a statement in Hebrew from Netanyahu's office said Monday.

The statement did not give any details about how or where the civilians would be moved.

The announcement comes after Egyptian, Qatari and US "experts" met in Doha for talks also attended by Israeli and Hamas representatives, state-linked Egyptian media reported, the latest effort to secure a truce before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel's ally the United States said ongoing mediation efforts produced "an understanding" towards a ceasefire and hostage release, while a Hamas source said the group insisted on the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

But Netanyahu -- who has dismissed the withdrawal demand as "delusional" -- said a ground invasion of Rafah would put Israel within weeks of "total victory" over Hamas, whose October 7 attack triggered the war.

"If we have a (truce) deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen," he said of the ground invasion in an interview with CBS Sunday.

"It has to be done because total victory is our goal and total victory is within reach -- not months away, weeks away, once we begin the operation."

Amid a spiraling humanitarian crisis, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians urged political action to avert famine in Gaza.

Dire food shortages in northern Gaza are "a man-made disaster" that can be mitigated, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

"Famine can still be avoided through genuine political will to grant access and protection to meaningful assistance."

The UN has said it faces restrictions, particularly on aid deliveries to northern Gaza.

'No aid'

Nearly five months into the war, desperate families in Gaza's north have been forced to scavenge for something to eat.

"We have no food or drink for ourselves or our children," Omar al-Kahlout told AFP, as he waited near Gaza City for aid trucks to arrive.

"We are trapped in the north and there is no aid reaching us -- the situation is extremely difficult."

Hundreds of Palestinians headed south whichever way they could, walking down garbage-strewn roads between the blackened shells of bombed-out buildings, said an AFP correspondent.

Israeli forces have continued striking targets across the Palestinian territory, with the Hamas-run health ministry saying early Monday that 92 people were killed overnight.

Israel's military campaign has killed at least 29,692 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

The war broke out after Hamas's unprecedented attack, which killed about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

'Expanding the conflict'

Militants also took about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel's army confirmed Sunday the death of soldier Oz Daniel, 19, whose "body is still held captive", according to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which said he was killed on the day of Hamas's attack.

Mediators have voiced hope that a temporary truce and a hostage-prisoner exchange can be secured before the start of Ramadan on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.

Jordan's King Abdullah II warned fighting during the holy month "will increase the threat of expanding the conflict", according to a royal statement.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, whose country hosts Hamas leaders and had helped broker a one-week truce in November, is due in Paris this week, the French presidency said.

Media reports suggest the warring parties are weighing a six-week halt to fighting and the initial exchange of dozens of females, underage and ill hostages for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

Hezbollah threat

Inside Israel, pressure has grown on Netanyahu from families of hostages demanding swifter action, and resurgent anti-government protests.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said there would be no let-up in action against Hamas's Lebanese ally Hezbollah, whose militants have traded near-daily fire with Israeli forces since early October.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Israel's enemy Iran.

"If anyone thinks that when we reach a deal (with Hamas)... it will ease what is happening here -- they are wrong," he said.


Gallant: Gaza Deal Won’t Affect Israel’s Hezbollah Fight

 Israeli Defense minister Yoav Gallant (dpa)
Israeli Defense minister Yoav Gallant (dpa)
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Gallant: Gaza Deal Won’t Affect Israel’s Hezbollah Fight

 Israeli Defense minister Yoav Gallant (dpa)
Israeli Defense minister Yoav Gallant (dpa)

Israeli Defense minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday said there would be no let up in Israeli action against Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, even if a ceasefire and hostage deal is secured in Gaza, AFP reported.

Gallant visited the military's Northern Command in Safed, which was hit earlier this month by a militant rocket strike from southern Lebanon, killing a soldier.

The Minister said he was keen to assess how Israel was combating increased Hezbollah activity from across the heavily fortified border.

“f anyone thinks that when we reach a deal to release hostages in the south and the firing stops it will ease what is happening here they are wrong,” he said in a video message.

Israel's aim is to ensure the Iran-backed militants do not pose a threat from border areas in southern Lebanon, he added.

If a diplomatic solution to the situation is not possible, “we will do it by force,” Gallant warned.

Talks are underway towards a possible deal for Hamas to release hostages and pause the fighting in Gaza, which was sparked by the militants' attack on southern Israel on October 7.

Since then, there have been near-daily cross-border exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas's allies Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon, prompting fears of a regional escalation.

On Sunday, the Israeli military said it had intercepted a “suspicious aerial target” in the Upper Galilee region of northern Israel, and rockets were fired at a number of locations.

Since October 7, 10 Israeli soldiers and six civilians have been killed by hostilities in the north, according to an AFP tally.

On the Lebanese side, at least 276 people have been killed, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also 44 civilians, including three journalists.

In Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry says at least 29,692 have been killed in the war between the militants and Israel.