Canada, Australia, NZ call for immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza; warn Israel assault on Rafah would be 'catastrophic' - as it happened

Ahram Online , Thursday 15 Feb 2024

Israel's vow to push ahead with a powerful attack on Gaza's Rafah was met with a growing chorus of international condemnation on Thursday, with leaders warning against "catastrophic" consequences for the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped there.

File Photo: A speaker addresses a crowd gathered in central Sydney for a rally to support Palestinians in Gaza. AP


22:45 The prime ministers of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand on Thursday called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, according to a joint statement released on Thursday.

The statement comes amid Israel's pronounced plans to carry out a ground invasion of Rafah where 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter from mad Israeli bombing all over the Gaza Strip.

"An immediate humanitarian ceasefire is urgently needed. Hostages must be released. The need for humanitarian assistance in Gaza has never been greater. Rapid, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian relief must be provided to civilians. The International Court of Justice has been clear: Israel must ensure the delivery of basic services and essential humanitarian assistance and must protect civilians. The Court's decisions on provisional measures are binding," read the statement.

"We are gravely concerned by indications that Israel is planning a ground offensive into Rafah. A military operation into Rafah would be catastrophic," stressed the statement.

The statement marks a significant shift in the position of the three Western countries who declared their support for Israel's so-called "right to defend itself" in its aggression against Gaza after 7 October and opposed previous attempts to reach a ceasefire in the war.

"Ultimately, a negotiated political solution is needed to achieve lasting peace and security. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand remain steadfast in their commitment to a two-state solution, including the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in peace, security, and dignity,| added the statement.

22:30 President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi reviewed in a telephone call with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau Egypt’s efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, exchange prisoners, and give access to humanitarian aid in large and sufficient quantities to the people of the Strip.

According to the Egyptian Presidency, El-Sisi warned in the call he received from the Canadian PM of the danger of military escalation, stressing the importance of working to stop the expansion of the conflict, and the necessity of activating the path of the two-state solution, leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian State.

The Canadian prime minister expressed his appreciation for the Egyptian efforts, stressing the need to protect civilians, and expressed his country’s support for all efforts to reach a ceasefire, warning of the danger of escalation, according to the Egyptian Presidency.

22:00 Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon talks to journalists with demonstrators from Code Pink for Peace while rallying in support of Palestinians and to demand a ceasefire in Gaza outside the Capitol Hill offices of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) on Thursday in Washington, DC. 



21:30 Hundreds of Israelis, led by the families of tens of Israelis held captive by Hamas in Gaza since 7 October, blocked roads outside the headquarters of the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening to demand the government implement a prisoner swap deal with the Palestinian factions immediately.

Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu has been stalling on agreeing to a lengthy truce and prisoner swap deal with Hamas which is being mediated by Egypt, Qatar, and the US.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu unilaterally prevented the heads of Mossad and Shabak from returning to Cairo to talk with Egyptian, Qatari, and US intelligence officials on a truce deal as he continues warmongering with threats to launch a ground assault on Rafah.


21:00 The Palestinian News Agency WAFA reported on Thursday that at least three Palestinians were killed, and 5 others injured, in an Israeli strike targeting a vehicle and a group of civilians on Al Jalaa Street in Gaza City.

The Israeli army also launched intense air strikes on the Al Sabra and Al Zaytoun neighborhoods south of the city killing at least 10 civilians, WAFA reported citing medical sources.

Moreover, at least six Palestinians were killed by Israeli artillery shelling on the Tal al Zaatar area in Jabalia, north of the Gaza Strip.

Elsewhere, intense air strikes targeted the Tal al Hawa neighborhood and the Sheikh Ajlin neighborhood southwest of Gaza City, WAFA added.

The latest casualties come after the Israeli army killed at least 87 Palestinians and wounded 104 others, during the past 24 hours.

Medical sources say this brings the Palestinian death toll in Gaza to 28,663 and the number of wounded to 68,395, since the start of the Israeli war on the territory on 7 October.

Many more Palestinians remain missing under the rubble or on the roads as Israel has made it impossible to reach them with indiscriminate bombardment everywhere in the strip.

On the other side, the Israeli army announced on Thursday hours ago that an Israeli soldier was killed in southern Gaza.

This brings the Israeli army death toll to 570 soldiers killed fighting in Gaza since 7 October, including 233 since the beginning of the army’s ground invasion on 27 October, according to Israeli media outlets.

Regarding the injured, the Israeli army announced that 15 Israeli soldiers had been injured in the Gaza Strip over the last 24 hours, according to Middle East Monitor.

In total, Israeli army figures say at least 2,909 Israeli soldiers have been injured since October 7, including some 1,361 soldiers since Israel launched its ground invasion in the Gaza Strip on 27 October.

20:00 North Sinai Governor Mohamed Abdel-Fadil Shousha denied the rumors about the construction of camps to accommodate Palestinians in case they are forced to leave Gaza, the Al-Arabiya Satellite channel reported on Thursday.

The governor indicated the ongoing work in the Egyptian city of Rafah -- located to the west of the Palestinian Rafah across the Egypt-Gaza border -- concerns cataloging buildings demolished during the country's recent war on terrorism.

The Egyptian authorities demolished these houses during its war against terrorism in 2014 and 2015 to create a buffer zone in the far northeast of the Sinai Peninsula along the border with Gaza, which separates the Palestinian Rafah in the east and the Egyptian Rafah in the west.

The establishment of the buffer zone was part of the government's battle against a decade-long campaign by terrorist groups in the Sinai Peninsula that peaked in the year and a half following the ouster of late Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 during the 30 June Revolution.

Shousha's statement to Al-Arabiya comes in light of circulating reports claiming Egypt has started building displacement camps to shelter Palestinian refugees inside Sinai – near the borders with the Gaza Strip.

These rumors, which alleged “establishing a secured zone bordered by walls to accommodate Gaza refugees in case of mass displacement," come amid Israeli threats to launch a ground offensive against the Palestinian Rafah.

The Palestinian Rafah, home to 280,000 residents, has seen its population surge to over 1.5 million, accounting for approximately three-quarters of Gaza's 2.4 million population, as Israel pushed the residents of the strip from the northern parts to the southernmost governorate in the strip declaring it a 'safe zone."

Egypt has reiterated multiple times its complete rejection of the idea of displacing Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Sinai, a proposal previously suggested by Israeli officials.

In early January, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi re-emphasized during a meeting with a US Congress delegation in Cairo the nation's outright rejection of any attempt to liquidate the Palestinian cause through the forced displacement of Palestinians.

In November 2023, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry slammed remarks made by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich calling for the “voluntary” displacement of Palestinians from Gaza.

Shoukry said at the time that Israeli policies of forcing Palestinians from their homes constitute "a full-fledged war crime under the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.”

19:00 Palestinian Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra on Thursday said the Israeli army stormed Nasser Medical Complex and turned it “into a military barracks after demolishing the southern wall."

"The occupation targets the ambulance headquarters and the tents of the displaced, and bulldozes the mass graves inside the Nasser Medical Complex," he said in a statement posted online as videos have circulated online showing the chaos unleashed by the Israeli army inside the premises.

The Israeli military had ordered medics to move all patients into an older building that was not properly equipped for their treatment and that the evacuations were carried out "under bombardment and threats," the spokesperson added, noting that the hospital would run out of fuel within the next 24 hours.

Separately, in an interview with Al Jazeera, he noted that “many cannot evacuate, such as those with lower limb amputations, severe burns, or the elderly.”

Moreover, Israel shelled the hospital early Thursday despite having told medical staff and patients they could remain, medical charity Medicins San Frontieres (MSF) said on X (formerly Twitter), adding that their staff were forced to evacuate the hospital leaving patients behind, before being detained by Israeli forces at a checkpoint outside the hospital.

The prior day, some Palestinians who attempted to leave were shot at and so returned to the hospital, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing Mohammad al Moghrabi who had been sheltering inside the compound.

"This morning they said there was a safe passage, so we left, but it wasn't safe. They approached us with a bulldozer and a tank, they insulted us and left us for four hours under the sun," al Moghrabi added.

18:00 Seventy-two of the 99 journalists killed in 2023 were killed in the Israel war in Gaza, making the last 12 months the deadliest for the media in almost a decade, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

Killings of reporters would have dropped globally year-on-year had it not been for the deaths in Gaza, Israel, and Lebanon, the CPJ said, although fatalities were stable in Somalia and the Philippines.

The toll is the highest since 2015 and an increase of nearly 44 percent on 2022's figures.

"In December 2023, CPJ reported that more journalists were killed in the first three months of the Israel-Gaza war than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year," the CPJ said.

The 72 journalists killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict also include three Lebanese and two Israeli victims, the organization said.

"Journalists in Gaza are bearing witness on the frontlines," said CPJ chief executive Jodie Ginsberg.

"The immense loss suffered by Palestinian journalists in this war will have long-term impacts for journalism not just in the Palestinian territories but for the region and beyond. Every journalist killed is a further blow to our understanding of the world."

On 7 February, the New York-based press freedom organization said the number of journalists killed in the Gaza conflict had risen to 85.

CPJ has previously attacked what it calls "persecution" of journalists by Israeli forces, and is investigating whether a dozen journalists killed in the Gaza conflict were deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers, which would constitute "a war crime."

16:30 President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and his Brazilian counterpart Lula da Silva called for a ceasefire in the Gaza war, releasing captives and prisoners on both sides of the conflict, and entry of more humanitarian aid to the strip to protect Palestinian civilians.

This came during a joint press conference after the two leaders held a summit at the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace in Cairo,

During the press conference, President El-Sisi praised Brazil for being among the first countries to recognize the Palestinian state.

Both leaders stressed the need to find a post-war political solution for the Palestinian cause that ensures the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital on the 4 June 1967  borders.

President Lula da Silva said: "There is no justification for the Israeli reaction in Gaza which is killing women and children."

The war on Gaza "is unprecedented at any moment in the history of the world," he added.

"Israel has violated all resolutions, laws, and international norms in its aggression against the stip."

 "There is no justification for the Israeli response to Hamas attack on 7 October," Lula said.

"Using the pretext of fighting Hamas, it is killing women and children, in an unprecedented manner," Lula said during the presser,

15:45 Israeli settlers established a record number of wildcat outposts in the occupied West Bank in 2023, a watchdog said.

Twenty-six settlements not recognized by the Israeli government were established last year, including around 10 since the war in the Gaza Strip broke out on October 7, the Israeli group Peace Now said in a report.

Peace Now said 2023 saw the highest number of wildcat outposts -- those established without the approval of the Israeli authorities -- since the phenomenon began in 1996. 

The previous record, 23, was in 2002 during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, it said.

By comparison, only five were established in 2022.

According to the United Nations, some 700,000 settlers live in 279 settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, up from 520,000 in 2012. More than 3 million Palestinians who live in the same area are subjected to Israeli military rule that rights groups say amounts to apartheid.

15:30 A Hezbollah commander, two other fighters, and seven civilians were killed in an Israeli strike in south Lebanon's Nabatiyeh, a security source said Thursday, raising the toll from a raid a day earlier.

The Hezbollah commander, Ali al-Debs, had already been targeted and wounded in an Israeli drone strike in the southern Lebanon city of Nabatiyeh on February 8, the security source said.

Two other Hezbollah fighters who were on the ground floor with Debs and "seven civilians from the same family" on the building's first floor were also killed in Wednesday's strike on the building in the city, the source added.

15:00 The US military said it had seized an Iranian weapons shipment in January that was destined for Yemen's Houthi rebels, who have been attacking vessels in the Red Sea.

The US Navy "seized advanced conventional weapons and other lethal aid originating in Iran and bound to Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen from a vessel in the Arabian Sea on Jan. 28," the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on social media.

The shipment contained over 200 packages carrying missile components, explosives, and other devices, the statement said.

"This is yet another example of Iran's malign activity in the region," CENTCOM chief Michael Erik Kurilla was quoted as saying.

"Their continued supply of advanced conventional weapons to the Houthis ... continues to undermine the safety of international shipping and the free flow of commerce," he added.

13:45 The Palestinian health ministry said at least 28,663 people have been killed in the Israeli strikes in Gaza since 7 October.

The toll includes 87 fatalities over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, while 68,395 people have been wounded in Gaza since the war erupted.

13:00 Ireland announced that it will provide 20 million euros to the embattled UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA.

“People are in dire need of the most basic lifesaving provisions – food, water, and shelter. In these most harrowing conditions, facing the prospect of further military escalation, UNRWA is the backbone of the humanitarian response,” said Ireland’s Foreign Minister Micheál Martin during a visit by UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini to Dublin.

In 2023, Ireland provided 18 million euros to the UN agency.

12:00 Cashflows at the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) will turn negative in March, and its financial problems will accelerate in April if funding suspended by several countries does not resume, the head of the agency said.

“We will hit a negative cashflow as from March, and then it will be accelerated in April unless this frozen contribution is unlocked,” UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini told Irish national broadcaster RTE before a meeting in Dublin with the country’s foreign minister.

Several nations halted funding for the agency after Israeli accusations that at least 12 of the UN agency’s workers participated in the Hamas operation on 7 October.

11:30 Israeli forces stormed the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the main hospital in southern Gaza, hours after Israeli fire killed a patient and wounded six others inside the complex, the Palestinian health ministry said.

The hospital’s maternity ward, orthopedics unit, and emergency room were targeted, according to Al Jazeera, saying that dozens have been wounded in the attacks.

“Military checkpoints were set up, and Palestinians were told to come in groups of five – doctors, nurses, and those with injuries. A large number of young people were detained,” Al Jazeera correspondent said.

The Israeli army confirmed its special forces are operating inside Nasser Hospital, claiming it had credible information that the bodies of captives may be in the facility.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) reported “very intense shelling” in the vicinity of the Al-Amal Hospital overnight.

11:00: Hassan Fadlallah, senior Hezbollah official and member of parliament, said that Israel would face reprisal after two sets of strikes on southern Lebanon the previous day killed ten civilians, half of whom were children.

“The enemy [Israel] will pay the price for these crimes,” Fadlallah told Reuters when asked about the armed group’s reaction.

The civilian death toll from two Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon has risen to 10, Lebanese state media reported Thursday, making the previous day the deadliest in more than four months of cross-border exchanges.

More Israeli strikes were reported in south Lebanon on Thursday, and Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the escalation.

“At a time where we are insisting on calm and call all sides not to escalate, we find the Israeli enemy extending its aggression,” read a statement from his office.

10:00: The US Joe Biden administration and a small group of Arab partners are rushing to complete a detailed, comprehensive plan for long-term peace between Israel and Palestinians, including a firm timeline for the establishment of a Palestinian state, that could be announced as early as the next several weeks, the Washington Post reported.

The urgency of the effort is tied directly to a proposed pause in the fighting and release of captives held in Gaza that the United States, Qatar, and Egypt are negotiating.

An initial ceasefire, projected to be at least six weeks, would provide time to make the plan public, recruit additional support, and take the initial steps toward its implementation, including forming an interim Palestinian government, the Post said, citing US and Arab officials.

The plan includes the withdrawal of many, if not all, settler communities on the West Bank; a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem; the reconstruction of Gaza; and security and governance arrangements for a combined West Bank and Gaza, according to the officials.

The hope is that Israel would also be offered specific security guarantees and normalization with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states that would be hard to refuse, the Post said.

Planners hope a captive agreement can be reached before the beginning of Ramadan.

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