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Hamas also pressed on, launching rockets from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel. One slammed into a synagogue in the southern city of Ashkelon hours before evening services for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Israeli emergency services said. No injuries were reported.

In the Israeli air assault early Sunday, families were buried under piles of cement rubble and twisted rebar. A yellow canary lay crushed on the ground. Shards of glass and debris covered streets blocks away from the major downtown thoroughfare where the three buildings were hit over the course of five minutes around 1 a.m.

The hostilities have repeatedly escalated over the past week, marking the worst fighting in the territory that is home to 2 million Palestinians since Israel and Hamas’ devastating 2014 war.

“I have not seen this level of destruction through my 14 years of work,” said Samir al-Khatib, an emergency rescue official in Gaza. “Not even in the 2014 war.”

Rescuers furiously dug through the rubble using excavators and bulldozers amid clouds of heavy dust. One shouted, “Can you hear me?” into a hole. Minutes later, first responders pulled a survivor out. The Gaza Health Ministry said 16 women and 10 children were among those killed, with more than 50 people wounded.

Haya Abdelal, 21, who lives in a building next to one that was destroyed, said she was sleeping when the airstrikes sent her fleeing into the street. She accused Israel of not giving its usual warning to residents to leave before launching such an attack.

“We are tired,” she said, “We need a truce. We can’t bear it anymore.”

The Israeli army spokesperson’s office said the strike targeted Hamas “underground military infrastructure.”

As a result of the strike, “the underground facility collapsed, causing the civilian houses’ foundations above them to collapse as well, leading to unintended casualties,” it said.

Among those reported killed was Dr. Ayman Abu Al-Ouf, the head of the internal medicine department at Shifa Hospital and a senior member of the hospital’s coronavirus management committee. Two of Abu Al-Ouf’s teenage children and two other family members were also buried under the rubble.

The death of the 51-year-old physician “was a huge loss at a very sensitive time,” said Mohammed Abu Selmia, the director of Shifa.

Gaza’s health care system, already gutted by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed in 2007 after Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces, had been struggling with a surge in coronavirus infections even before the latest conflict.

Israel’s airstrikes have leveled a number of Gaza City’s tallest buildings, which Israel alleges contained Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was the building housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets.

Sally Buzbee, the AP’s executive editor, called for an independent investigation into the airstrike that destroyed the AP office on Saturday.

Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building and said Sunday any evidence would be shared through intelligence channels. Neither the White House nor the State Department would say if any had been seen.

“It’s a perfectly legitimate target,” Netanyahu told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Asked if he had provided any evidence of Hamas’ presence in the building in a call Saturday with U.S. President Joe Biden, Netanyahu said: “We pass it through our intelligence people.”

Buzbee called for any such evidence to be laid out. “We are in a conflict situation,” Buzbee said. “We do not take sides in that conflict. We heard Israelis say they have evidence; we don’t know what that evidence is.”

Meanwhile, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders asked the International Criminal Court on Sunday to investigate Israel’s bombing of the AP building and others housing media organizations as a possible war crime.

The Paris-based group said in a letter to the court’s chief prosecutor that the offices of 23 international and local media organizations have been destroyed over the past six days. It said the attacks serve “to reduce, if not neutralize, the media’s capacity to inform the public.”

The AP had operated from the building for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas. The news agency’s cameras, operating from its top floor office and roof terrace, offered 24-hour live shots as militant rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surroundings.

“We think it’s appropriate at this point for there to be an independent look at what happened yesterday — an independent investigation,” Buzbee said.

The latest outbreak of violence began in east Jerusalem last month, when Palestinians clashed with police in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. A focus of the clashes was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a hilltop compound revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Hamas began firing rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza.

At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, with 1,230 people wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed in some of the 3,100 rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged 20 fighters killed in the fighting. Israel says the real number is far higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen alleged operatives it says were “eliminated.”

The assault has displaced some 34,000 Palestinians from their homes, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, where eight foreign ministers spoke about the conflict.

Efforts by China, Norway and Tunisia to get the U.N. body to issue a statement, including a call for the cessation of hostilities, have been blocked by the United States, which, according to diplomats, is concerned it could interfere with diplomatic efforts to stop the violence.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki urged the Security Council to take action to end Israeli attacks. Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, urged the council to condemn Hamas’ “indiscriminate and unprovoked attacks.”

The turmoil has also fueled protests in the occupied West Bank and stoked violence within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property.

On Sunday, a driver rammed into an Israeli checkpoint in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families have been threatened with eviction , injuring six officers before police shot and killed the attacker, Israeli police said.

The violence also sparked pro-Palestinian protests in cities across Europe and the United States.

Israel appears to have stepped up strikes in recent days to inflict as much damage as possible on Hamas as international mediators work to end the fighting and stave off an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza.

The Israeli military said it destroyed the home Sunday of Gaza’s top Hamas leader, Yahiyeh Sinwar, in the southern town of Khan Younis. It was the third such attack in the last two days on the homes of senior Hamas leaders, who have gone underground.

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Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

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“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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