Heavy destruction, forced marches in ongoing Israeli raid

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 25th March 2024

Palestinians who fled an ongoing Israeli raid of Gaza’s main hospital described mass arrests, forced marches past bodies and crushed ambulances in interviews on Sunday, while the United Nations said Israel was now blocking its main agency helping Palestinians from sending food aid to the enclave’s devastated north. Israel’s military says it has killed more than 170 militants and detained about 480 suspects in the raid on Shifa Hospital that began on Monday, calling it a blow to Hamas and other armed groups it says had regrouped there as the war nears the six-month mark. The fighting highlights the resilience of Palestinian armed groups in a heavily-destroyed part of Gaza where Israeli troops have been forced to return after a similar raid in the war’s earliest weeks. Early Saturday, Israeli troops stormed the building and forced dozens of residents to leave. Men were forced to strip to their underwear and four were detained. The rest were blindfolded and ordered to follow a tank south as blasts thundered around them.

Israeli jets on Sunday launched several strikes near Shifa Hospital, which largely stopped functioning following the November raid. After claiming that Hamas maintained an elaborate command centre there, Israeli forces months ago exposed a single tunnel leading to a few underground rooms. Hardly any aid has been delivered in recent weeks to northern Gaza and Gaza City, where Shifa is located. The isolated area suffered widespread devastation in the early days of Israel’s offensive launched after the 7th October Hamas attack that triggered the war.

As of Sunday, Israel has told the UN agency for Palestinian refugees it will no longer approve agency food convoys to northern Gaza, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said on social media. “This is outrageous and makes it intentional to obstruct lifesaving-assistance during a man-made famine,” he said. The agency, Gaza’s biggest humanitarian provider, is repeatedly accused by Israel of having links to Hamas. Experts have said famine is imminent in northern Gaza, where more than 210,000 people suffer from catastrophic hunger. A day after standing near some of the estimated 7,000 aid trucks waiting to enter Gaza and calling the starvation a “moral outrage”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, the release of hostages held in Gaza and Israel’s removal of “obstacles” to allow a flood of aid delivery. “Looking at Gaza, it almost appears that the four horsemen of war, famine, conquest and death are galloping across it,” Guterres said in Egypt, adding that nothing justifies the collective punishment of Palestinians.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said that five wounded Palestinians trapped at Shifa Hospital died without food, water or medical services. The World Health Organisation’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described conditions as “utterly inhumane”. Witnesses, among thousands sheltering at Shifa when the current raid began, said tanks and armoured bulldozers ploughed into the hospital courtyard, crushing ambulances and civilian vehicles. They saw tanks drive over at least four bodies of people killed in the raid. “They left nothing intact,” they said.

Israel’s military early Sunday also stormed al-Amal and Nasser hospitals in the southern city of Khan Younis amid “very intense shelling”, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said. Israel’s military announced operations in Khan Younis targeting Hamas infrastructure but said troops weren’t currently operating in the hospitals. It accused Hamas of using hospitals as shields. The war has killed at least 32,226 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. It doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants in its toll, but says women and children make up around two-thirds of the dead. Israel says it has killed more than 13,000 militants. It blames civilian casualties on Hamas, accusing it of embedding in residential areas. More than 80 per cent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes, with most seeking refuge in the southernmost city of Rafah, which Israel calls the next target of its ground offensive. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects pleas from the United States and others to avoid a major ground operation there, calling it essential for defeating Hamas. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that he was travelling to the US at Washington’s invitation, with a goal of preserving “our ability to obtain air systems and munitions” for the war and maintaining critical ties with Israel’s top ally. The Hamas-led October 7 attack across southern Israel killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took scores hostage. Hamas still holds an estimated 100 hostages and the remains of 30 others. Most of the rest were freed in exchange for the release of some Palestinian prisoners in November.

Hamas dissatisfied with talks in Doha

As the United States, Qatar and Egypt are trying to broker another cease-fire and release of hostages, Ma’ariv quotes information disclosed by the al-Arabiya television network saying Hamas was dissatisfied with the positions presented in Doha by the Israeli delegation. “Israel – according to Hamas – did not refer to the ceasefire and the withdrawal of forces from Gaza”. According to the Saudi broadcaster, Hamas said, “Our requests were realistic but there is no desire on the part of Israel to reach an agreement. We want a clear and real mechanism for a ceasefire and for the return of displaced people.” Meanwhile, Times of Israel says CIA director Bill Burns, Mossad chief David Barnea and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar left Qatar late last night to brief their respective teams back home on the latest round of talks on a temporary truce in Gaza and the release of the 134 hostages still held by Hamas, a source briefed on the talks tells AFP. Channel 12 reports Israel was prepared to free close to 800 Palestinian security prisoners for 40 hostages. The offer was conveyed in a detailed document to Hamas and Israel anticipates a response from Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar in the next three days. It considers the prospects for a deal to be 50-50.

France raises alert level after Moscow attack

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced last night that he was “elevating” the Vigipirate plan to its highest level, “emergency attacks”, following the attack on Moscow claimed by ISIS. “Faced with the Islamic State claiming responsibility for the attack and the threats weighing on our country, we have decided to bring Vigipirate to its highest level: attack emergency”, Attal specified after the defence council held a meeting at the Elysée Palace.

Russia charges two men with act of terrorism

Russia has charged two of four suspects it says carried out the attack in a Moscow concert hall that killed at least 137 people. The BBC reports Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev and Saidakrami Murodali Rachabalizoda were pictured in a Moscow court as they faced a charge of committing an act of terrorism. Islamic State has said it carried out Friday’s outrage at Crocus City Hall. The AFP news agency said that Mirzoyev was named as a citizen of Tajikistan. The nationality of Rachabalizoda was not disclosed. Two other suspects were brought to the court, but have yet to be charged.

The suspects in the Russia concert hall attack, which left more than 130 dead, arrived at a Moscow district court on Sunday night. There was a heavy police presence around the Basmanny District Court, which is expected to determine pre-trial restrictions for the men, who are suspected of opening fire on crowds of concert-goers at the suburban Crocus City Hall on Friday. Russian authorities arrested four suspected attackers on Saturday, with seven more detained on suspicion of involvement in the attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a night-time address to the nation. He claimed they were captured while fleeing to Ukraine, something that Kyiv firmly denies. The attack, which has been claimed by an affiliate of the Islamic State group, is the deadliest on Russian soil in 20 years.

Family and friends of those still missing waited for news of their loved ones as Russia observed a day of national mourning on Sunday. Events at cultural institutions were cancelled, flags were lowered to half-staff and television entertainment and advertising were suspended, according to state news agency RIA Novosti. A steady stream of people added to a makeshift memorial near the burnt-out concert hall, creating a huge mound of flowers.

Meanwhile, a shopping centre in St Petersburg was evacuated Sunday after a man phoned police saying he had placed a bomb on the premises. The man was stopped by officers, according to local newspaper Fontanka. The shopping centre, the London Mall, was inspected by the police.

‘State of war’ as Russia targets Ukrainian power facilities

Nearly 90 missiles and over 60 Iranian-designed kamikaze drones were fired by Russia, causing damage to “dozens” of energy facilities, including power stations, in what Ukrainian officials described as an attempt to cripple the country’s electricity and heating network. At least three people were killed and more than 20 injured, according to the interior ministry and local officials.

In an interview to a pro-Kremlin newspaper published Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, “We are in a state of war.” This admission marks an escalation in official language used to describe the conflict, which the Kremlin initially referred to as a “special military operation”.

The Russian attacks struck at least nine regions – from Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia near the front lines to Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, hundreds of kilometres away from the fighting.

Zelensky urges Western support

Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s state-run power grid, reported that the recent Russian attack on Ukraine’s energy system was the most severe on record, causing damage to dozens of power facilities, including thermal and hydroelectric plants, major power lines, and regional grids. Emergency blackouts were implemented in seven regions. President Zelensky condemned the targeting of critical infrastructure by Russian forces, highlighting power plants, energy supply lines, a hydroelectric dam, residential buildings, and even a trolley-bus as key targets. He reiterated the need for Western support and criticised political indecision that he believes is costing Ukrainian lives, according to AFP reports. Ukraine’s air force reported shooting down 37 of the 88 missiles fired overnight and 55 of 63 drones. The strikes left around 700,000 consumers without electricity in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Poland demands answers for airspace violation

Warsaw on Sunday summoned Moscow’s ambassador to explain a violation of Polish airspace by a Russian cruise missile. Poland’s Armed Forces Operational Command said a cruise missile launched toward Ukraine from long-range bombers in Russia had violated Polish airspace near the village of Oserdow. Authorities said the missile had been in Polish airspace for 39 seconds, adding that it would have shot it down had there been any indication it was aimed at a Polish target. NATO member state Poland scrambled F-16 fighter jets in response to the brief incursion.

Pope Francis skips Palm Sunday homily

Pope Francis skipped reading his homily during a Palm Sunday Mass for tens of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square but continued presiding at the service, read his noon prayer and was driven around the crowd in a popemobile. In recent weeks the 87-year-old pope has been suffering on and off from bronchitis and influenza and has delegated an aide to read his addresses for him, but today his prepared text was not read at all. It is very unusual for a pope to totally skip a homily at a major event such as Palm Sunday, which marks the start of Holy Week, a busy period leading to Easter.

The Vatican gave no immediate explanation for why the pope skipped the homily. Vatican Television coverage showed only the crowd for a few minutes, instead of a close-up of the pope. After the Mass, the Pontiff delivered his weekly Sunday Angelus message and blessing from the altar and not from the window of the Apostolic Palace overlooking the square. That is not unusual on major occasions. In the prayer, he condemned the shooting attack that killed at least 133 people at a concert hall near Moscow as a vile and inhuman act that offends God. He again asked for prayers for all those suffering from wars, mentioning Ukraine and Gaza. At the end of the service, Francis was driven around the square in an open-top vehicle. He waved and smiled at people in the crowd and did not appear to have any difficulty.

Simon Harris to become Ireland’s youngest Prime Minister

Simon Harris is set to become Ireland’s youngest prime minister after he was confirmed on Sunday as the new leader of the Fine Gael party. The further and higher education minister, 37, is expected to replace Leo Varadkar, who made a shock resignation as prime minister on Wednesday. As the sole candidate for the leadership, Harris was confirmed as new party leader in Athlone by Willie Geraghty, chairman of Fine Gael’s executive council, after the nomination closed on Sunday afternoon. With the support of Fine Gael’s coalition partners, he will be formally elected as taoiseach in the Parliament on April 9 following the Easter recess.

Trump’s $454 million fraud judgment deadline looms

Donald Trump faces the severe risk that New York’s attorney general will begin trying to collect a $454 million civil business fraud judgment against him later today unless an appeals court gives the former president a last-minute reprieve. Trump’s son Eric, a co-defendant in the fraud case, accused Attorney General Letitia James on Sunday of trying to bankrupt his father with the judgment. Donald Trump’s lawyers have said he is unable to pay for an appeal bond that would prevent the AG from collecting the judgment as he seeks to overturn the fraud verdict – and James told an appeals court last week that it should reject his request to pause the judgment from taking effect. She aims to seize Trump’s golf course and Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, New York, to partially satisfy the judgment. “They’re trying to deprive him of his cash, they want to bankrupt him, they want to hurt him so badly,” Eric Trump told Fox News in an interview.

Hundreds of homes destroyed in deadly Brazil floods

Heavy rains have brought destruction to Brazil, killing at least 20 people and forcing thousands more to flee as flooding and landslides destroyed swaths of property in the country’s mountainous southeast. With more rain expected on Sunday, rescuers in the states of Espirito Santo and Rio de Janeiro raced to rescue trapped citizens.

Football’s fastest goals

Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner scored the fastest-ever international goal on Saturday, taking just six seconds to find the back of the net during his country’s 2-0 victory against Slovakia. Immediately after kick-off, he weaved through the Slovakian defence before rifling the ball into the net from well outside the box, sparking wild celebrations on and off the pitch as he was mobbed by his teammates and the travelling Austrian fans jumped up and down in the stands. The 24-year-old’s goal was even faster than Lukas Podolski’s strike for Germany against Ecuador in 2013, which clocked in at seven seconds and was the previous record. Austria had to wait more than 80 minutes for its second goal when Andreas Weinmann doubled its lead and secured a 2-0 victory. It wasn’t the only extremly early goal of the day. Later that evening, Florian Wirtz scored Germany’s fastest ever international goal as his team claimed a 2-0 victory against France in Lyon, taking just a second longer than Baumgartner to find the back of the net.

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