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Gaza bombed as fallout brings surging tensions to Lebanon, Yemen

Muslims perform the Friday noon prayer in front of a destroyed mosque in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, ahead of Eid al-Adha
Muslims perform the Friday noon prayer in front of a destroyed mosque in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, ahead of Eid al-Adha - Copyright AFP JUSTIN TALLIS
Muslims perform the Friday noon prayer in front of a destroyed mosque in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, ahead of Eid al-Adha - Copyright AFP JUSTIN TALLIS

Israel bombed and shelled Gaza on Saturday, witnesses and first responders said, with fallout from the war bringing a resurgence of tensions to the Lebanon border and Yemen.

In the ninth month of war between Palestinian Hamas militants and Israeli forces, the Civil Defence agency in Gaza City, in the territory’s north, reported 10 bodies recovered from Israeli strikes on three separate homes.

In Rafah, in Gaza’s far south near Egypt, witnesses reported clashes between militants and Israeli troops in the city’s west, and artillery fire towards a refugee camp in the city centre. AFPTV images showed streets largely deserted.

The United Nations says about one million people have been displaced from Rafah since early May, when Israel began ground operations in pursuit of Hamas militants.

Israel’s military has also been operating in central Gaza, where on Friday at a hospital in Deir al-Balah city a middle-aged man wept over the body of a younger man. Blood soaked through a white cloth around his neck.

The war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,266 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

Fears of a broader Middle East conflict have surged again, with Lebanon-based Hezbollah fighters, who are backed by Iran and allied with Hamas, launching waves of rockets and drones against Israeli military targets.

Hezbollah said intense strikes since Wednesday were retaliation for Israel’s killing of one of its commanders.

Israeli forces responded with shelling, the military said, also announcing air strikes on Hezbollah infrastructure across the border.

Two women were killed in a strike on Jannata in southern Lebanon, village official Hassan Shur said, the latest deaths in near-daily exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and the Israeli military since the Gaza war began.

On Friday plumes of smoke still billowed over the village.

– Ceasefire plan –

French President Emmanuel Macron said this week that his country and the United States would work separately with Israeli and Lebanese authorities to ease tensions.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant rejected the initiative, decrying “hostile policies against Israel” by France, which last month had barred Israeli firms from an arms trade show.

The Israeli prime minister’s office and senior foreign ministry officials distanced themselves from Gallant’s comments.

During a Middle East trip this week to push a Gaza truce plan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “the best way” to help resolve the Hezbollah-Israel violence was “a resolution of the conflict in Gaza and getting a ceasefire”.

That has not happened.

At a summit of the G7 group of advanced economies in Italy, US President Joe Biden called Hamas “the biggest hang-up so far” to reaching a Gaza truce and hostage release deal.

Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire — demands Israel has repeatedly rejected.

Blinken has said Israel backs the latest plan, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose far-right coalition partners are strongly opposed, has not publicly endorsed it.

The Gaza war’s only truce, one week in November, saw hostages freed and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel released.

– ‘Close to impossible’ –

World Food Programme deputy executive director Carl Skau said that “with lawlessness inside the Strip… and active conflict”, it has become “close to impossible to deliver the level of aid that meets the growing demands on the ground”.

“More than anything, people want this war to end,” he said after a two-day visit to Gaza. 

The fallout from the Gaza war also escalated this week off Yemen.

On Friday the US military said it destroyed two uncrewed surface vessels in the Red Sea belonging to Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels, as well as one drone and seven radars that allowed the rebels to target ships.

The latest reprisal strikes by American or British forces came as the rebels increase attacks against maritime traffic in waters vital to world trade.

Earlier Friday a maritime security agency said the crew of the MV Tutor abandoned it, leaving it drifting in the Red Sea, after a sea drone strike.

The rebels say they are acting in solidarity with the Palestinians.

– US sanctions –

The United States, Israel’s close ally, imposed sanctions Friday on an Israeli group whose activists have blocked aid convoys bound for Gaza, where the UN has warned of famine.

“Individuals from Tzav 9 have repeatedly sought to thwart the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, including by blockading roads, sometimes violently,” the US State Department said.

“They also have damaged aid trucks and dumped life-saving humanitarian aid onto the road.”

The US military said a pier it built to help bring aid into Gaza would be temporarily moved to an Israeli port to protect it from expected high seas.

The platform had only been reattached to Gaza’s shore a week before, after storm damage.

G7 leaders called for the “rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need”, and said the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, must be allowed to work in Gaza unhindered.

Israel had accused 12 of the agency’s 13,000 Gaza staff of involvement in the October 7 attack, prompting several donor governments to suspend their contributions.

An independent review said Israel had not yet provided evidence that UNRWA employed “terrorists”.

As Muslims worldwide prepare to mark Eid al-Adha starting Sunday, Gazans lamented the shortages of essential goods and lack of an Eid spirit.

burs-it/dv

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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