UN Security Council meeting today on Israeli raid in Syria

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 2nd April 2024

The UN Security Council will hold an open meeting this evening, requested by Moscow, on the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus: this was announced by the first deputy permanent Russian representative to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, as reported by Tass. “The Iranians have turned to the UN Security Council to condemn this action. Following their letter, we requested an open UN Security Council briefing. The Maltese presidency has set it for 3pm New York time (9pm Malta time) on April 2,” Polyansky said on social media.

Israeli strike on Iran’s consulate in Syria kills 11

At least three senior commanders and four officers overseeing Iran’s covert operations in the Middle East were killed on Monday when Israeli warplanes struck a building in Damascus that is part of the Iranian Embassy complex, according to Iranian and Syrian officials. The New York Times reports that the strike in the Syrian capital appeared to be among the deadliest attacks in a years-long shadow war between Israel and Iran that has included the assassinations of Iranian military leaders and nuclear scientists. That covert war has moved into the open as tensions between the countries have intensified over Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, the Iranian-backed militia that led the October 7 attack on Israel.

Four Israeli officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters, confirmed that Israel had been behind the strike in Damascus, but denied that the building had diplomatic status. But the Syrian ambassador to Iran, Shafiq Dayoub, said the strike had targeted a diplomatic building and was a “clear and complete violation of all international conventions and norms”. A video circulating on social media after the strike showed a destroyed building next to the embassy, and photographs showed an entrance gate with a sign identifying it as the consular section. The embassy said on X that the building housed a consular section and the ambassador’s residence. Footage broadcast by Iranian and Syrian news agencies showed a ruined building, burned cars, shattered glass and debris on the ground.

The dead included Gen. Mohamad Reza Zahedi, 65, who oversaw Iran’s covert military operations in Syria and Lebanon, two other generals and four officers in the Quds Force, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said in a statement. Ali Vaez, the Iran director for the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit that seeks to prevent wars, said that targeting a diplomatic facility would be “akin to targeting Iran on its own soil.” Israeli officials said the building was an outpost of the Revolutionary Guards, making it a legitimate military target. Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, strongly condemned the strike and said he had spoken to his Syrian counterpart about the attack. In a statement referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Abdollahian said: “Netanyahu has lost his mental balance because he has faced back-to-back defeat in Gaza and has not achieved the Zionists’ ambitious goals.”

In Washington, officials expressed fears that the strike could escalate hostilities in the region. After the strike, American troops based in southern Syria knocked down a one-way attack drone, a US Defence Department official said on Monday night. It was the first attack aimed at US troops in Iraq or Syria in nearly two months. No injuries or damage were reported, the official said.

Israel withdraws from ‘devastated’ Shifa Hospital

The Damascus strike came as Israeli soldiers withdrew from Gaza’s largest hospital complex, Al-Shifa, leaving it badly battered after a two-week raid in which the Israeli military said it had killed about 200 Palestinian militants and arrested hundreds of others after extended firefights. Dr. Taysir al-Tanna, a longtime vascular surgeon at the Gaza City hospital, said that many of the main buildings – including the emergency, obstetrics and surgical wards – had been badly damaged in the fighting and the main gate smashed. “Now it looks like a wasteland,” Dr. al-Tanna said.

Osama al-Ashi, a Gazan who went to the area to check on his apartment after hearing that the Israeli military had withdrawn, said that he was immediately struck by the stench of decomposing bodies and that he had seen mountains of rubble and burned buildings. “The whole time we were walking,” he said, “we were stepping on body parts.” al-Ashi said that many of the dead appeared to have been shot. Others, he said, appeared to have been unearthed when Israeli forces bulldozed temporary cemeteries on hospital grounds. Many buildings around the hospital had been destroyed by bombs, missiles and tank shells, he said. “The scenes there were difficult to tolerate as a human being,” he said. “You feel like you are in a horror movie.”

The Israeli military said that the Palestinians killed had been militants and that those who were arrested had been suspected militants, including some believed to be senior commanders of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It said two Israeli soldiers had been killed and eight others wounded in the raid. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, blamed militants for the destruction at the hospital, saying they had fortified themselves in hospital wards, fired on soldiers and refused calls to surrender. “We had to fire on the buildings in order to stop that and to kill the terrorists,” he said. Prime Minister Netanyahu described the operation as precise and surgical. The IDF described the raid as among the most successful operations during the ground operation in Gaza it launched in the wake of the terror attack by Hamas and other militants in southern Israel on October 7, in which 1,200 people were killed and some 250 hostages taken.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian news agency Wafa quotes the Palestinian health ministry saying at least 32,845 Palestinians have been killed and 75,392 injured in Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip since October 7. It added there have been 63 Palestinians killed and 94 injured in the past 24 hours.

World Central Kitchen workers killed in Israel raid

Several people who worked for chef José Andres’ US NGO World Central Kitchen were killed in an air raid by the Israeli army. It was José Andres himself who gave the news, saying he was devastated by the loss. “These people are angels,” José Andres wrote on X. Hamas’ Health Ministry had previously announced the death of four foreign aid workers and their Palestinian driver following an Israeli attack on their vehicle in the centre of the Gaza Strip. The strike occurred two days after a three-ship convoy left a port in Cyprus with 400 tons of food and other supplies for Gaza amid concerns about an imminent famine in the territory. The US has said it hopes the maritime route from Cyprus could provide an alternative lifeline for northern Gaza. World Central Kitchen said the shipments bound for Gaza were loaded with rice, pasta, flour, legumes, canned vegetables and proteins, and contained enough food to prepare more than 1 million meals. Also on board were dates, which are traditionally eaten to break the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

Israeli government to shut down Al Jazeera

Israel’s Knesset on Monday approved a new law allowing the government to temporarily shut down the operations of foreign broadcasters deemed to be a security threat, which backers say is aimed at the Qatari-funded Al Jazeera news channel. Israeli lawmakers approved the measure in an overwhelming 71-10 vote, under which the country’s prime minister, in consultation with other top-level government officials, is authorised to stop the broadcasts of a foreign channel, close its offices, take down its website if based in Israel or seize its equipment if it is causing “real harm to state security”. The Bill stipulates such actions, which must initiated by the country’s communications minister, can be enforced for 45 days, with the option for an extension for an additional 45 days. The measure will remain in effect until 3st July or the end of the Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza, whichever comes first. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement he will immediately enforce the law against Al Jazeera, which he accused of “aiding Hamas terrorists” during their deadly October 7 surprise attack against Israel.

New French draft at the UN for Gaza’s ‘permanent truce’

“France today introduces a new comprehensive draft resolution, which first calls for a ceasefire in Gaza without a time limit, as well as the immediate release of all hostages, and condemns the October 7 attack by Hamas,” Nicolas de Riviere, the Paris ambassador to the UN, announced before the closed-door consultations of the 15-member Security Council, now presided over by Malta. “The Security Council must do more, we cannot wait”, he added, underlining that it is an “ambitious project”.

Palestinians to push for April vote for full UN membership

The Palestinian Authority wants the United Nations Security Council to vote this month to make it a full member of the world body, the Palestinian UN envoy tells Reuters – a move that can be blocked by the United States. Riyad Mansour, who has permanent observer status in the UN, tells Reuters that the aim is for the Security Council to make a decision at an April 18 ministerial meeting on the Middle East, but that a vote has yet to be scheduled. He says a 2011 Palestinian application for full membership was still pending because the 15-member council never made a formal decision. “The intention is to put the application to a vote in the Security Council this month,” he adds. An application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council – where the United States can cast a veto – and then by at least two-thirds of the 193-member General Assembly.

During last month’s EU summit in Brussels, EU Council President Charles Michel revealed that Spain, Ireland, Malta, and Slovenia had expressed that they were prepared to recognise the state of Palestine once appropriate conditions are met and he said this would be used as leverage to initiate peace negotiations.

Trump posted $175 million bail

Donald Trump has posted $175 million bail to suspend the verdict on his companies’ inflated assets while he proceeds with appeals. The bail suspends the huge fine of $454 million that was imposed on him for having inflated the assets of his companies to obtain better conditions from insurance companies and banks. The payment avoids the seizure of his assets. If Trump’s appeals are unsuccessful, the former president will be required to pay the entire fine imposed on him. In January, Judge Arthur Engoron fined Trump and his co-defendants, including his adult sons and his company, $464 million, finding they fraudulently inflated the value of the former president’s assets to obtain better loan rates. Trump had been given 30 days to post the bond for the full amount of the judgement while he appealed, as is required by state law, but his attorneys said he could not find an insurance company to underwrite that large of a bond. That prompted state Attorney General Letitia James to take steps to prepare to seize Trump’s assets in the event Trump failed to post bond. When the 30-day deadline hit, however, the New York appeals court stepped in and lowered the bond to $175 million, giving Trump an additional 10 days. “As promised, President Trump has posted bond,” Trump attorney Alina Habba said in a statement. “He looks forward to vindicating his rights on appeal and overturning this unjust verdict.” Trump also posted a $91.6 million bond last month in the E. Jean Carroll defamation case while he appeals that verdict against him.

‘An autumn election in UK is more likely than a summer one’

An autumn general election in the UK is more likely than a summer one,  business minister Kevin Hollinrake hinted yesterday. He talked up the Conservatives’ chances despite a string of dire poll results, saying there’s ‘a lot of water to flow under the bridge’ before the next election. In a hint the Government will wait until much later in the year to call the poll, he insisted there was still time to turn around Tory fortunes if tax cuts and falling inflation and interest rates are given enough time to kick in. It comes amid speculation about whether Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could call an election as early as June or July rather than wait until autumn. Government sources say to hold one in autumn is the current ‘working assumption’, with the latest it can legally be held being January 2025.

The speculation was fuelled by the Prime Minister unveiling a surprise Easter honours list on Thursday. The announcement being outside the traditional New Year and King’s Birthday lists sparked speculation about a summer election, with Labour claiming it was the action of ‘someone who doesn’t expect to be PM much longer’. But Hollinrake appeared to suggest that the strategy is to wait until later this year. Recent polls, including one in Monday’s Daily Mail, projected the Tories could be reduced to fewer than 100 seats from their current 348 in their worst election defeat in history.

Germany legalises limited amounts of marijuana

Germany has partially legalised the possession of marijuana with new legislation taking effect on April 1. Public possession of 25g of cannabis is decriminalised and people will be allowed to possess up to 50g of cannabis at home and cultivate three plants. The new law, however, bans advertising for marijuana and prohibits consumption by minors or in front of minors. Smoking will also be banned within 200 metres of schools, playgrounds, and sports fields. Smoking marijuana in “pedestrian zones” between 7:00 am and 8:00 pm is also prohibited. From July, the law allows for non-commercial cannabis clubs to be established with a limit of 500 members who would have access to specific amounts of the drug. Those members must be adults who live in Germany. The government plans to launch an education campaign about the effects and risks of cannabis.

Adidas stops sales of number 44 jerseys over Nazi likeness

German athletic apparel giant Adidas said Monday that it would stop the online sales of the number 44 German national team jersey due to its likeness to a Nazi symbol forbidden in Germany. The font design for the 44 jersey, as social media users have noticed, bears a resemblance to the “lightning bolts” insignia of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS). The SS was a paramilitary organisation that assisted Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and helped carry out the Holocaust. The public display and dissemination of the SS symbol is banned in Germany and can be met with criminal prosecution.

Rescued ‘baby hedgehog’ turns out to be hat bobble

A woman who thought she had rescued a “baby hedgehog” later discovered she was in fact caring for a hat bobble. The inanimate object was brought to the Lower Moss Nature Reserve and Wildlife Hospital by a conscientious member of the public last week. But upon arrival at the facility in Knutsford, Cheshire, volunteers realised the hoglet was a “faux furry friend”. Dr Janet Kotze, the vet on shift, said an elderly lady brought it in after spotting “something that looked like a hedgehog” on the roadside. Dr Kotze told The Independent: “From a distance you take it at face value. She didn’t handle it at all, she scooped it in a box with some cat food and left it alone in a warm, dark place. She did everything so well. She barely peeked at it because she didn’t want to stress it out.” Dr Kotze quickly realised the item in the box was a hat, not an animal. She said: “It was pretty obvious to us but I can also see how she was mistaken. I went back out and said: ‘I’m sorry it’s just a bobble.’ “She said: ‘You’re joking! Oh my goodness, how did I do that?’”

Photo: AP/Omar Sanadiki

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