Christmas night thunderstorms and strong winds toppled a tree that killed one woman and cut power to 110,000 homes in eastern Australia, officials said today. People lost electricity as the storm wrought “catastrophic” damage, downing power lines in Brisbane and the Gold Coast area. Energy company Energex said some customers will not have power for days, adding: “we’re looking at catastrophic and widespread damage on the scale of a cyclone. Reports of further damage are coming through every minute”. Queensland’s ambulance service said a 59-year-old woman was struck by a falling tree on a street in the Gold Coast. Another falling tree trapped a woman in her car for more than an hour. Severe thunderstorms with damaging wind gusts, large hail and heavy rainfall were forecast for later today, the Bureau of Meteorology said, also issuing a major flooding alert for a river about 40 kilometres inland from the Gold Coast.
Israel’s Christmas strikes kill 250 in 24 hours
Israel reportedly continued its assault in the Gaza Strip on Christmas Day, with a wave of strikes on a refugee camp that killed at least 250 people over 24 hours. The Hamas-run Palestinian health ministry said in a statement on Monday that at least 250 Palestinians had been killed and 500 others injured during the past 24 hours, raising the death toll from Israeli attacks on the enclave since 7th October to 20,674, with 54,536 now injured. On Christmas Eve, at least 70 people were killed at the Maghazi refugee camp in the centre of Gaza in one of the deadliest strikes of the war. Palestinian media outlets reported that residents in the area experienced the worst night since the outbreak of the war as the airstrike, which began on Christmas Eve, continued into early Monday morning. Eight other people were killed near the refugee camp, and 23 were killed in an Israeli assault on Khan Younis.
Netanyahu visits troops in northern Gaza
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday visited his troops in northern Gaza and told lawmakers from his Likud Party that the war was far from over. He dismissed “media speculation” his government might call a halt to the fighting, saying Israel would not succeed in freeing its remaining hostages held by Hamas without applying military pressure. Meanwhile, family members of hostages sat in the chamber looking down on the premier, holding posters of their relatives behind the plexiglass and intermittently interrupting him. Protests broke out outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, as Israeli protesters expressed discontent, accusing their Prime Minister of bowing to American influence. Demonstrators chanted “expulsion, settlement, occupation” and “blue and white Gaza”. Netanyahu has vowed to keep up the fight against Hamas.
Israel’s ‘prerequisites for peace’
Netanyahu has laid out three “prerequisites for peace” in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal. They are to “destroy Hamas, demilitarise Gaza, and deradicalise the whole of Palestinian society”. “The US, UK, France, Germany, and many other countries support Israel’s intention to demolish Hamas, which they consider a terror group. To achieve that goal, its military capabilities must be dismantled and its political rule over Gaza must end. Israel must also ensure that Gaza is never again used as a base to attack Israel. Among other things, this will require establishing a temporary security zone on the perimeter of Gaza and an inspection mechanism on the border between Gaza and Egypt that meets Israel’s security needs and prevents smuggling of weapons into the territory,” the article read.
Sinwar says Hamas won’t surrender
In his first public message since 7th October, Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, on Monday remained defiant, while grossly inflating the terror group’s achievements in the war, according to The Times of Israel. Hamas is facing a “fierce, violent and unprecedented battle” against Israel, Sinwar acknowledged in a message to Hamas’s political leadership. He also claimed, however, that Hamas was on its way to crushing the Israel Defence Forces. Referring to Israel, he said Hamas will not submit to “the occupation’s conditions”.
The Times says his claim that the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, had “targeted” over 5,000 Israeli soldiers and officers and killed about third of them – that is, over 1,500 – is completely exagerated. It writes: “The actual figure of IDF deaths is one-tenth of what the terror leader alleged. According to the IDF, 156 soldiers have so far been killed in the ground operation in Gaza. Over 300 members of the security forces were killed in Hamas’s initial October 7 onslaught. Sinwar also gave inflated claims of the number of Israeli soldiers injured in the war, and the amount of Israeli military equipment that has been destroyed. He claimed that around 3,500 troops were seriously wounded or disabled, whereas that figure, according to the IDF, stands at less than 200. He further said that Hamas had completely or partially destroyed 750 Israeli military vehicles. While the IDF has not provided official figures, the commander of the IDF Technology and Maintenance Corps, Brig. Gen. Ariel Shima, said in early November that very few IDF vehicles had been severely damaged beyond repair, and that most vehicles that were hit returned to fighting.”
Sinwar’s announcement came as Hamas faces growing military pressure, with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant issuing a renewed personal threat against Sinwar, saying he would soon “meet the barrels of our guns”.
Egypt presents ceasefire proposal
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, on the basis of information received from Egypt, that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have rejected a proposal by Egypt to replace their government in Gaza in exchange for a permanent ceasefire. The Egyptian plan, supported by Qatar, provides for a new exchange of prisoners, followed by a permanent ceasefire and the future establishment of a government of technocrats in Gaza. A Hamas official denied that the group has rejected the Egyptian deal.
Biden orders strikes in Iraq against Hezbollah Brigades
US President Joe Biden directed strikes in Iraq against three locations used by the Kataib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) – a radical Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group – and “affiliated groups” on Monday night, the White House said. The airstrikes were in retaliation against attacks by Kataib Hezbollah terrorists earlier on Monday. A US Central Command statement said: “Early assessments indicate that these US airstrikes destroyed the targeted facilities and likely killed a number of Kataib Hezbollah militants. There are no indications that any civilian lives were affected”. General Michael Erik Kurilla said the airstrikes were intended to hold regional actors “accountable”.
Ukraine destroys Russian naval ship in the Black Sea
The Ukrainian Air Force said it destroyed a ship of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea suspected of carrying Iranian Shahed drones, used by Moscow in the conflict against Kiev. “The large landing ship ‘Novocherkassk’ was destroyed by our pilots,” the Ukrainian Air Force reported on Telegram. Kiev’s army did not specify the location of the attack, but Ukrainian Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk released a video showing an explosion at the Russian naval base of Feodosia in occupied Crimea. Shortly before, Moscow had said that Ukrainian forces had launched an attack near Feodosia. “The port area was cordoned off: there were explosions and a fire, now localised,” reported pro-Russian governor Sergei Aksyonov, adding that “the inhabitants of several houses” had been evacuated.
Russia says West trying to ‘destabilize’ Serbia
Russia on Monday accused Western countries of fomenting tensions in Serbia, a Moscow-friendly Balkan nation rocked by protests over alleged fraud in elections held on 17th December. Just a day before, demonstrators tried to storm the Belgrade city hall but were pushed back by police using force and pepper spray. They reject the results of parliamentary and local elections in which President Aleksandar Vucic’s party claimed a commanding victory. A few hundred protesters gathered in Belgrade on Monday blocking a street where the ministry of public administration and local-self government is located, AFP said. Russia’s ambassador to Belgrade, Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko, met with Vucic on Monday and accused Western countries of trying to retaliate against the Serbian leader.
Navalny traced to Siberian penal colony
Imprisoned Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is alive and being held in a penal colony in Siberia, after being reported missing for weeks, his team has announced. “We found Alexei Navalny,” spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Monday, adding that he was in a penal colony in northern Russia. His associates said he had been located at a prison colony above the Arctic Circle nearly three weeks after contact with him was lost. Considered to be the most prominent foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Navalny is serving a 19-year prison sentence on charges of extremism.
Unaccompanied 6-year-old put on wrong flight
An unaccompanied six-year-old child flying on Spirit Airlines to visit his grandmother in Fort Myers, Florida, was instead put on a flight to Orlando. In an emailed statement to CNN, Spirit Airlines apologised to the family, saying that, on 21st December, the child was supposed to fly from Philadelphia International Airport to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. Instead, Spirit Airlines said the child was “incorrectly boarded” on a plane to Orlando. “The child was always under the care and supervision of a Spirit Team Member, and as soon as we discovered the error, we took immediate steps to communicate with the family and reconnect them,” the airline told CNN.
Drunk ‘Santa’ crashes into house delivering gifts
A man in eastern Germany dressed up as Santa Claus had his driver’s license confiscated overnight after crashing into the facade of a house while trying to deliver gifts around the town of Mühlhausen. The sloshed Santa was on a central street in the town of around 36,000 people, not far from the church, when he lost control of his vehicle and hit the front of a house and a parked car. The house facade was seriously damaged, but the Christmas gifts were safe. Police said ‘Santa Claus’ was absolutely incapable of driving, at which point his ongoing journey was curtailed and a blood sample was taken.