Jordan Says Israel Disavows Behavior of Top Minister Over Flag of Expanded Borders

Israel's Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich attends a meeting at the parliament, Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 20, 2023. (AFP)
Israel's Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich attends a meeting at the parliament, Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 20, 2023. (AFP)
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Jordan Says Israel Disavows Behavior of Top Minister Over Flag of Expanded Borders

Israel's Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich attends a meeting at the parliament, Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 20, 2023. (AFP)
Israel's Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich attends a meeting at the parliament, Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 20, 2023. (AFP)

Jordan said it has received assurance from Israel that the behavior of a top cabinet minister, who spoke at a podium adorned with an Israeli flag that appeared to include Jordan, did not represent their position, an official source said on Tuesday.

The source told Reuters that top Israeli officials rejected Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich's move during a speech on Monday, and said that they respected Jordan's borders and Israel's peace treaty with Jordan. Smotrich heads a religious-nationalist party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right coalition.

Amman late on Monday summoned the Israeli ambassador in Jordan and said Smotrich's move was a provocative act by an "extremist" and "racist" minister that violated international norms and Jordan's peace treaty with Israel.

"These statements are provocative, racist and come from an extremist figure and we call on the international community to condemn it," Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said at a news conference.

Safadi received a call from Israel's national security advisor, assuring him that Israel - which shares the longest border with its neighbor to the West of the Jordan River - respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, the source said.

Smotrich made the speech as Israeli and Palestinian officials met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for de-escalation talks ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover holiday.



Israel Presses on in Gaza as World Awaits Response to Iran Attack 

A Palestinian boy, who was displaced by Israel's military offensive with his family on south Gaza, holds his cat as he attempts to return to his home in north Gaza through an Israeli checkpoint, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the central Gaza Strip April 15, 2024. (Reuters)
A Palestinian boy, who was displaced by Israel's military offensive with his family on south Gaza, holds his cat as he attempts to return to his home in north Gaza through an Israeli checkpoint, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the central Gaza Strip April 15, 2024. (Reuters)
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Israel Presses on in Gaza as World Awaits Response to Iran Attack 

A Palestinian boy, who was displaced by Israel's military offensive with his family on south Gaza, holds his cat as he attempts to return to his home in north Gaza through an Israeli checkpoint, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the central Gaza Strip April 15, 2024. (Reuters)
A Palestinian boy, who was displaced by Israel's military offensive with his family on south Gaza, holds his cat as he attempts to return to his home in north Gaza through an Israeli checkpoint, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the central Gaza Strip April 15, 2024. (Reuters)

Israel struck war-battered Gaza overnight, Hamas and witnesses said Monday, as world leaders urged de-escalation awaiting Israel's reaction to Iran's unprecedented attack that heightened fears of wider conflict.

World powers have urged restraint after Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel late Saturday, though the Israeli military has said nearly all were intercepted.

Tehran's first direct assault on Israel, in retaliation for a deadly April 1 strike on its Damascus consulate, followed months of violence across the region involving Iranian proxies and allies who say they act in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Tensions in Iran "weaken the regime and rather serve Israel", the newspaper Israel Hayom said, adding that this suggested Israeli leaders would not rush to retaliate.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has warned that a "reckless" Israeli move would spark a "much stronger response", while foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Monday that Western nations should "appreciate Iran's restraint" in recent months.

Tehran has insisted the attack on Israel was an act of "self-defense" after the Damascus strike that killed seven Revolutionary Guards including two generals.

Gaza war grinds on

The Israeli military said it would not be distracted from its war against Tehran-backed Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the Palestinian armed group's October 7 attack.

"Even while under attack from Iran, we have not lost sight... of our critical mission in Gaza to rescue our hostages from the hands of Iran's proxy Hamas," military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said late Sunday.

As mediators eye a deal to halt the fighting, fears persisted over Israeli plans to send ground troops into Rafah, a far-southern city where the majority of Gaza's 2.4 million people have taken refuge.

"Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza," Hagari said of the roughly 130 people, including 34 presumed dead, who Israel says remain in the hands of Palestinian fighters since the Hamas attack.

"We also have hostages in Rafah, and we will do everything we can to bring them back home," the military spokesman told a briefing.

The army said it was calling up "two reserve brigades for operational activities", about a week after withdrawing most ground troops from Gaza.

The Hamas government media office said Israeli aircraft and tanks launched "dozens" of strikes overnight on central Gaza, reporting several casualties.

Witnesses told AFP that strikes hit the Nuseirat refugee camp, with clashes also reported in other areas of central and northern Gaza.

Hamas's attack that sparked the fighting resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,729 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Retaliation fears

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday following the Iranian attack, where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the region was "on the brink" of war.

"Neither the region nor the world can afford more war," the UN chief said.

"Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate."

G7 leaders also condemned Iran's attack and called for "restraint" on all sides, European Council President Charles Michel wrote on X after a video conference on Sunday.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday his government would help do everything to avoid a "conflagration" in the Middle East.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that after Israel's "success" in intercepting the Iranian launches, "our advice is to contribute to de-escalation".

Israel's top ally the United States has also urged caution and calm.

"We don't want to see this escalate," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told NBC.

After the attack, US President Joe Biden reaffirmed the Washington´s "ironclad" support for Israel.

However, a senior US official said Biden had also told Netanyahu that his administration would not offer military support for any retaliation on Iran.

Word of the impending attack prompted Israel to close schools and announce restrictions on public gatherings, with the army saying early Monday that those measures were being lifted for most of the country.

In Iran, airports in the capital and elsewhere reopened on Monday, state media said.

Fears of a wider regional conflict propelled stock markets lower on Monday.

Truce deal 'on the table'

More than six months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Rumors of a reopened Israeli checkpoint on the coastal road from the territory's south to Gaza City sent thousands of Palestinians heading north on Sunday, despite Israel denying it was open.

Attempting the journey back to northern Gaza, displaced resident Basma Salman said, "even if it (my house) was destroyed, I want to go there. I couldn't stay in the south."

"It's overcrowded. We couldn't even take a fresh breath of air there. It was completely terrible."

In Khan Younis, southern Gaza's main city, civil defense teams said they had retrieved at least 18 bodies from under the rubble of destroyed buildings.

Responding late Saturday to the latest truce plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, Hamas said it insists on "a permanent ceasefire" and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Israel's Mossad spy agency called this a "rejection" of the proposal, accusing Hamas of "continuing to exploit the tension with Iran".

But the United States said mediation efforts continue.

"We're not considering diplomacy dead there," said the National Security Council's Kirby.

"There's a new deal on the table... It is a good deal" that would see some hostages released, fighting halted and more humanitarian relief into Gaza, he said.


Top Syrian Officer Faces War Crimes Charges in Swedish Court 

The Stockholm District Court is pictured on April 15, 2024, as the main hearing against the former Syrian brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, who stands accused of aiding and abetting war crimes in Syria in 2012, starts here. (Photo by Oscar OLSSON / TT News Agency / AFP) /
The Stockholm District Court is pictured on April 15, 2024, as the main hearing against the former Syrian brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, who stands accused of aiding and abetting war crimes in Syria in 2012, starts here. (Photo by Oscar OLSSON / TT News Agency / AFP) /
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Top Syrian Officer Faces War Crimes Charges in Swedish Court 

The Stockholm District Court is pictured on April 15, 2024, as the main hearing against the former Syrian brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, who stands accused of aiding and abetting war crimes in Syria in 2012, starts here. (Photo by Oscar OLSSON / TT News Agency / AFP) /
The Stockholm District Court is pictured on April 15, 2024, as the main hearing against the former Syrian brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, who stands accused of aiding and abetting war crimes in Syria in 2012, starts here. (Photo by Oscar OLSSON / TT News Agency / AFP) /

The highest-ranking Syrian military official to be tried in Europe on Monday appeared before a Stockholm court accused of war crimes during Syria's civil war.

Former brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, 65 who lives in Sweden, is accused of "aiding and abetting" war crimes and could get a life jail sentence.

The war between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and armed opposition groups, including ISIS, erupted after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.

It has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions, and ravaged Syria's economy and infrastructure.

Wearing a dark blue shirt, jeans and sneakers, Hamo listened carefully and took notes as prosecutor Karolina Wieslander read out the charges.

Wieslander said Hamo had contributed -- through "advice and action" -- to the Syrian army's warfare, which "systematically included attacks carried out in violation of the principles of distinction, caution and proportionality."

"The warfare was thus indiscriminate," Wieslander told the court.

The charges concern the period of January 1 to July 20, 2012. The trial is expected to last until late May.

'Disproportionate'

The prosecutor said the Syrian army's "widespread air and ground attacks" caused damage "at a scale that was disproportionate in view of the concrete and immediate general military advantages that could be expected to be achieved."

In his role as brigadier general and head of an armament division, Hamo allegedly helped coordinate and supply of arms to units.

Hamo's lawyer, Mari Kilman, told the court her client denied criminal responsibility.

"In any case he has not had the intent towards the main charge, that indiscriminate warfare would be carried out by others," Kilman said.

Kilman said the officer could not be held liable for the actions "as he had acted in a military context and had to follow orders."

Hamo also denied all individual charges and argued that Syrian law should be applied.

Several plaintiffs are to testify at the trial, including Syrians from cities that were attacked and a British photographer who was injured during one strike.

'Complete impunity'

"The attacks in and around Homs and Hama in 2012 resulted in widespread civilian harm and an immense destruction of civilian properties," Aida Samani, senior legal advisor at rights group Civil Rights Defenders, told AFP.

"The same conduct has been repeated systematically by the Syrian army in other cities across Syria with complete impunity."

This trial will be the first in Europe "to address these types of indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian army", according to Samani, who added that it "will be the first opportunity for victims of the attacks to have their voices heard in an independent court".

Hamo is the highest-ranking military official to go on trial in Europe, though other countries have tried to bring charges against more senior members.

In March, Swiss prosecutors charged Rifaat al-Assad, an uncle of President Bashar al-Assad, with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

However, it remains unlikely Rifaat al-Assad -- who recently returned to Syria after 37 years in exile -- will show up for the trial, for which a date has yet to be set.

Swiss law allows for trials in absentia under certain conditions.

In November, France issued an international arrest warrant for Bashar al-Assad, accusing him of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes over chemical attacks in 2013.

Three other international warrants were also issued for the arrests of Bashar al-Assad's brother Maher, the de-facto chief of the army's elite Fourth Division and two generals.

In January 2022, a German court sentenced former colonel Anwar Raslan to life jail for crimes against humanity. This was the first international trial over state-sponsored torture in Syria and was hailed by victims as a victory for justice.


US to Announce Additional $100 ml in Aid to Respond to Sudan Conflict

Sudanese refugees gather as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams assist the war-wounded from West Darfur, Sudan, in Adre hospital, Chad, June 16, 2023 in this handout image. Courtesy of Mohammad Ghannam/MSF/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Sudanese refugees gather as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams assist the war-wounded from West Darfur, Sudan, in Adre hospital, Chad, June 16, 2023 in this handout image. Courtesy of Mohammad Ghannam/MSF/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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US to Announce Additional $100 ml in Aid to Respond to Sudan Conflict

Sudanese refugees gather as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams assist the war-wounded from West Darfur, Sudan, in Adre hospital, Chad, June 16, 2023 in this handout image. Courtesy of Mohammad Ghannam/MSF/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Sudanese refugees gather as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams assist the war-wounded from West Darfur, Sudan, in Adre hospital, Chad, June 16, 2023 in this handout image. Courtesy of Mohammad Ghannam/MSF/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

The United States will announce an additional $100 million in aid to respond to the conflict in Sudan, according to a statement seen by Reuters, as Washington seeks to spur international response ahead of Monday's anniversary of the war.

US Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power in the statement said the additional funding, first reported by Reuters, would go toward emergency food assistance, nutrition support and other life-saving aid.

Power is also set to call on the warring parties to stop hindering humanitarian access and participate in "good faith negotiations to reach a ceasefire" in order to prevent famine and further suffering, according to the statement.

"A year ago tomorrow, the people of Sudan awoke to a nightmare," Power said.

"The warring sides turned bustling neighborhoods into battle zones, killing thousands, leaving bodies in the streets, and trapping civilians in their homes without adequate food, water, and medicines."

War erupted in Sudan on April 15, 2023, between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), devastating the country's infrastructure.

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

The war has pushed millions into extreme hunger, created the world's largest displacement crisis, and triggered waves of ethnically driven killings and sexual violence in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

Washington's announcement of further assistance comes ahead of a humanitarian conference in France on April 15. The US has urged partners around the world to put greater priority on the conflict in Sudan and step up with further funding at the conference.

"We call on others to join us in increasing support to the people of Sudan and urgently mobilizing additional support for the Sudanese response," Power said.


Macron, EU Urge Iran-Israel De-Escalation 

France's President Emmanuel Macron addresses the media as France's Minister for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu listens during a visit to the powders and explosives company Eurenco plant in Bergerac, southwestern France, on April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
France's President Emmanuel Macron addresses the media as France's Minister for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu listens during a visit to the powders and explosives company Eurenco plant in Bergerac, southwestern France, on April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
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Macron, EU Urge Iran-Israel De-Escalation 

France's President Emmanuel Macron addresses the media as France's Minister for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu listens during a visit to the powders and explosives company Eurenco plant in Bergerac, southwestern France, on April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
France's President Emmanuel Macron addresses the media as France's Minister for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu listens during a visit to the powders and explosives company Eurenco plant in Bergerac, southwestern France, on April 11, 2024. (Reuters)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday urged Israel to avoid any further escalation in the Middle East following Iran's attack.   

Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday night in response to a suspected Israeli attack on the Tehran's consulate in Damascus that killed seven officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards including two senior commanders. 

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the April 1 airstrike on the consulate in Syria's capital. 

"We will do all we can to avoid things flaring up, escalating, " Macron said, urging Israel to aim to isolate Iran rather than escalate the situation.   

"We are all worried about a possible escalation," Macron told BFM TV and RMC radio. "The situation is very unstable today."   

Macron added that he would work to try and obtain ceasefires during the upcoming summer Olympics in Paris, in line with the Games' longstanding goal of promoting peace through sport.   

"We'll do all we can to have an Olympics truce," he said, saying he had the Middle East in mind, as well as Ukraine and Sudan.   

"China's president will visit Paris in a few weeks, I will ask him to help me (to get an Olympics truce)," Macron said. Xi Jinping is expected to visit Paris next month.   

"The Games are also a time for diplomacy, peace," Macron said.   

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday warned Iran not to launch another attack on Israel but said the Israeli government must also contribute to cooling tensions. 

‘Edge of the cliff’ 

The European Union's foreign policy chief said the Middle East stood "on the edge of the cliff" and called for de-escalation in the conflict between Israel and Iran. 

"We're on the edge of the cliff and we have to move away from it," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told Spanish radio station Onda Cero. "We have to step on the brakes and reverse gear." 

Borrell said he expected a response from Israel to the unprecedented aerial attack by Iran but hoped it would not spark further escalation. 

He said there was "profound division" within the Israel's right-wing governing coalition between hardliners seeking fierce retaliation and a "more moderate and sensible" faction. 

That faction advocates for retaliation, Borrell said, "but in a way that avoids a response to the response". 

Borrell, who spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian late on Sunday, said the EU needed to have the best possible relations with Iran despite the sanctions the bloc has imposed on Tehran over its disputed nuclear energy program and other issues. 

"It's in everyone's interest that Iran does not become a nuclear power and that the Middle East is pacified," he said. 


Official Silence as Damascus Returns to Normal After Night of Air Clashes

Syrians on a bridge crossing the Barada River in Marjeh Square in central Damascus on the morning of the Iranian drone attack on Israel (AFP)
Syrians on a bridge crossing the Barada River in Marjeh Square in central Damascus on the morning of the Iranian drone attack on Israel (AFP)
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Official Silence as Damascus Returns to Normal After Night of Air Clashes

Syrians on a bridge crossing the Barada River in Marjeh Square in central Damascus on the morning of the Iranian drone attack on Israel (AFP)
Syrians on a bridge crossing the Barada River in Marjeh Square in central Damascus on the morning of the Iranian drone attack on Israel (AFP)

Syrians had a tough night with explosions rocking the skies, especially in Damascus and the south, as Iran attacked Israel. Syrians waited for an official statement about the blasts, which locals said were caused by “air defenses intercepting enemy missiles.”

A UK-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that the explosions weren’t just from intercepting unknown projectiles, possibly Israeli.

“Some rockets came from southwest of Damascus towards Hezbollah areas, not just from Lebanon,” said Rami Abdulrahman, the Observatory’s director.

“They weren’t acknowledged publicly to avoid embarrassment for Damascus,” added Abdulrahman, clarifying that Israel didn't attack inside Syria but engaged in air defense to counter the Iranian threat on Israel.

Late Saturday into Sunday, powerful explosions rocked Damascus and its outskirts, especially around the Sayyida Zainab area and Damascus International Airport.

Similar blasts were heard in Daraa, Suwayda, Quneitra (south), western rural Homs, and Jableh on the Syrian coast.

Unofficial Syrian media reported “aerial clashes in Syrian skies between Syrian air defenses and Israeli missiles.”

Pro-government daily “Al-Watan” aired videos titled: “Syrian air defenses stand firm against Israeli missiles.”

On the flip side, media reports suggest that the sounds heard in Syrian skies were caused by Israel intercepting Iranian drones.

The “Voice of the Capital” website clarified that there was “no Israeli attack on military sites in Damascus and its outskirts,” attributing the explosions to “Israeli defenses intercepting Iranian drones and missiles before they reached the Golan Heights.”

As of now, there’s been no official statement about the Iranian attack on Israel and the events in Syrian airspace. Syrian coverage mainly relied on Iranian media reports.

Sunday evening saw Syria’s Foreign Ministry releasing a statement expressing support for Iran.

The ministry affirmed Iran’s right to self-defense and condemned Israeli aggression on Iranian diplomatic premises in Damascus, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

Life in Damascus appeared normal on Sunday morning after a night filled with the circulation of numerous images and videos purportedly showing Syrian air defenses intercepting Israeli missiles in the Syrian sky.

According to the “Voice of the Capital” website, air traffic resumed at Damascus International Airport after a brief halt due to the Iranian attack on Israel.


How Did Coordination with Allies Benefit Tel Aviv?

The daily life in Tel Aviv on the day following Iran's launch of drones and missiles towards Israel (Reuters)
The daily life in Tel Aviv on the day following Iran's launch of drones and missiles towards Israel (Reuters)
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How Did Coordination with Allies Benefit Tel Aviv?

The daily life in Tel Aviv on the day following Iran's launch of drones and missiles towards Israel (Reuters)
The daily life in Tel Aviv on the day following Iran's launch of drones and missiles towards Israel (Reuters)

Before many drones reached Israel, US, UK, French, and Jordanian troops dealt with a big chunk, aiding Israel in halting the Iranian drone attack. Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari called it a significant strategic win.

Stopping the drones gave Israel space to focus on Iranian missiles. Israel’s interception of the Iranian attack cost around a billion dollars. Now, Israel aims to build a lasting alliance after recognizing the importance of joint action.

Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the Iranian attack failed after intervention by the US, UK, France, and Jordan.

The newspaper praised this as another success for Israel, showing that these countries didn’t back down from Iran’s threats but fought effectively through careful planning.

Israel’s Channel 12 described Jordan’s involvement as unexpected, highlighting their strategic partnership with the US and their impressive interception of drones.

Despite typically cool relations, Jordan’s actions demonstrated a surprising and genuine strategic alliance with Israel.

According to Haaretz, the successful defense against the Iranian attack highlights the effectiveness of the US-led regional defense system.

Israel returned to normalcy on Sunday after the attack, with the Home Front Command stating that nationwide, Israelis no longer needed to stay close to protected areas, though gathering restrictions and the cancellation of educational activities and school trips remained.

Hagari said that 99% of the aerial threats were shot down, which he said was a strategic achievement.

President Joe Biden confirmed US assistance in destroying almost 300 drones and missiles launched at Israel by Iran.

US military aircraft and missile defense destroyers, deployed to the region last week, supported Israeli air defense systems in intercepting a significant wave of drones and missiles fired from Iran late Saturday night.

American officials confirmed US forces intercepted Iranian drones near As-Suwayda and Daraa in southern Syria, close to the Jordanian border, bound for Israel, without specifying the exact number.

Sources revealed that Jordanian aircraft downed numerous Iranian drones flying through Jordan towards Israel.


Palestinian Americans Fundraise for Gaza, as Aid Groups Receive Record Donations

Palestinians pray by the bodies of their relatives killed following Israeli bombardment, during their funeral in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on October 31, 2023, amid ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza. (Photo by Mahmud HAMS / AFP)
Palestinians pray by the bodies of their relatives killed following Israeli bombardment, during their funeral in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on October 31, 2023, amid ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza. (Photo by Mahmud HAMS / AFP)
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Palestinian Americans Fundraise for Gaza, as Aid Groups Receive Record Donations

Palestinians pray by the bodies of their relatives killed following Israeli bombardment, during their funeral in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on October 31, 2023, amid ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza. (Photo by Mahmud HAMS / AFP)
Palestinians pray by the bodies of their relatives killed following Israeli bombardment, during their funeral in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on October 31, 2023, amid ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza. (Photo by Mahmud HAMS / AFP)

Palestinian Americans and aid groups in the United States are raising funds for Gaza, which faces a deepening humanitarian crisis as the Israel-Hamas war enters its fourth week - but they have as yet limited ability to get supplies into the besieged enclave.

Aid organizations that serve civilians in Gaza say they are receiving record amounts of donations in a sign of public support for relief efforts even as a growing stock of supplies remain stalled at Egypt's Rafah border crossing.

In the Gaza Strip, where 2.3 million people live, civilians are in dire need of clean water, food and medicine, emergency medics say. Half of Gaza's population was already living in poverty before the crisis.

"We've seen a significant increase in donations, unlike we've ever seen before," said Steve Sosebee, president of the US-based Palestine Children's Relief Fund, which has a staff of 40 in Gaza that provide medical support. He said the fund, which usually has an annual budget of around $12 million, had raised $15 million in just 10 days.

However, with a web of political and logistical obstacles on getting aid in, much of the money and supplies intended for Gaza is in limbo, forcing aid groups to wait as they amass truckloads of goods.

There has been "a five-fold increase in the total number of donors versus typical past emergencies," said Derek Madsen, chief development officer of Anera, a nonpartisan emergency relief group for refugees throughout the Middle East, AFP reported.
The organization, which maintains the privacy of individual donors, said it had recently received the largest single donation from an individual in its 55-year-old history.

The majority of support comes from donors based in the United States, he added, with individual donations averaging around $138. The efforts mirror those of Jewish groups in the US and Canada who also fundraised millions for Israel.

Anera was using the last of its stocks this week to distribute meals and vegetable parcels in Gaza. Its staff of 12, like everyone in Gaza, were facing "unbelievable, unimaginable trauma," he said.

- GLUED TO THE TELEVISION

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, Rabia Shafie, national director of the Palestine Aid Society, said her group was speaking to student and Muslim groups on local university campuses and community centers to spread awareness and raise donations for the Red Crescent and UNRWA, the UN aid agency that serves Palestinian refugees.

"The money is needed to help people survive at this point of time. Medical support is so essential," she said.

"People are glued to the television ... watching the news moment to moment and very stressed out over the situation," said Shafie, adding that it was difficult as a Palestinian American to watch "the massacre and injustice done to our people back home."

Gaza, governed by Hamas, is one of the most densely packed places on earth and medical authorities there say over 8,000 Palestinians have been killed since airstrikes began, including more than 3,000 children.

Anera's Madsen called for a ceasefire and establishment of a humanitarian corridor "so that people literally do not starve to death, literally do not die of dehydration."

Last week, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, home to one of New York's largest Muslim and Arab communities, hundreds of protesters called for a ceasefire with signs written in Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew and Korean.

In Clifton, New Jersey, the Palestinian American Community Center's priority is advocating for US officials to support a ceasefire and for the hundreds of Americans trapped in Gaza, said Basma Bsharat, the education director of the center.

The center has also been collecting cash donations to send on to UNRWA. It has asked people not to donate supplies, which it has no easy way of sending to those in need in Gaza.

Last week, a woman came to the center anyway, hauling bags filled with goods.

"We didn't know how to say no," said Bsharat. "She was like, I just want to do something. I just want to help somehow."

"It's a very difficult time, and the fact that we do see the support coming in it, it gives some relief," she said. "It gives some kind of solace."


Israel Army Says Hamas Holding Hostages in Gaza's Rafah

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS
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Israel Army Says Hamas Holding Hostages in Gaza's Rafah

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS

Israel said Sunday that Hamas is holding hostages in Rafah in southern Gaza, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to launch a ground invasion despite international outcry.

"Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza... We also have hostages in Rafah, and we will do everything we can to bring them back home," Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a briefing, AFP reported.

In a separate statement, the army said it was calling "approximately two reserve brigades for operational activities on the Gazan front".

It did not specify whether the brigades would be deployed inside Gaza.

The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza's main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory.


Militias on Alert ahead of Possible New Round of Unrest in Libyan Capital

Security forces are seen in Tripoli, Libya. (Asharq Al-Awsat file photo)
Security forces are seen in Tripoli, Libya. (Asharq Al-Awsat file photo)
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Militias on Alert ahead of Possible New Round of Unrest in Libyan Capital

Security forces are seen in Tripoli, Libya. (Asharq Al-Awsat file photo)
Security forces are seen in Tripoli, Libya. (Asharq Al-Awsat file photo)

Libya’s Government of National Unity (GNU), headed by Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, has yet to comment on reports about the activities of armed militias loyal to it in the capital Tripoli amid concerns of a new flareup in fighting.

Witnesses and local sources said the “Hadiqa squadron” of Abdel Ghani al-Kakali, known as “Ghniwa”, was on alert in Tripoli’s Abou Sleem area.

Local media also said all militias and armed groups in the city were on high alert.

The “Libyan Institution for Human Rights” said it had received reports of the continued mobilization of armed groups that are loyal to the GNU in Tripoli.

It expected armed clashes to erupt in residential areas in the coming days.

In a statement overnight Saturday, it warned all parties against the “excessive use of arms.”

It also called for keeping the people away from armed disputes and the struggle for power between rival groups.

It urged the GNU, its interior and defense ministries and head of the Presidential Council, Mohammed al-Menfi, to act to defuse the tensions.

Moreover, it warned that “all armed groups have fortified themselves in residential areas so that civilians could be used as human shields.”

Armed clashes had erupted in Tripoli on Thursday. No one was killed or injured in the fighting. The interior ministry has deployed police to secure the city.


US Military Destroyed 80 Drones, 6 Missiles Launched from Iran, Yemen 

Houthi supporters hold up weapons during a rally marking the Al-Quds Day, in Sanaa, Yemen, 05 April 2024. (EPA)
Houthi supporters hold up weapons during a rally marking the Al-Quds Day, in Sanaa, Yemen, 05 April 2024. (EPA)
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US Military Destroyed 80 Drones, 6 Missiles Launched from Iran, Yemen 

Houthi supporters hold up weapons during a rally marking the Al-Quds Day, in Sanaa, Yemen, 05 April 2024. (EPA)
Houthi supporters hold up weapons during a rally marking the Al-Quds Day, in Sanaa, Yemen, 05 April 2024. (EPA)

US forces, supported by US European Command destroyers, on Saturday and Sunday destroyed more than 80 one-way attack drones and at least six ballistic missiles aimed at Israel from Iran and Yemen, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Monday.

This includes a ballistic missile on its launcher vehicle and seven UAVs destroyed on the ground prior to their launch in areas controlled by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen, CENTCOM said in a post on X.

Iran launched an attack late on Saturday on Israeli territory with drones and missiles in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria on April 1 that killed top Revolutionary Guards commanders.

The attack by more than 300 missiles and drones, mostly launched from inside Iran, caused only modest damage as most were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome defense system and with help from the United States, Britain, France and Jordan.

"CENTCOM remains postured to support Israel’s defense against these dangerous actions by Iran. We will continue to work with all our regional partners to increase regional security," the US military said.