An airstrike kills 20 in central Gaza and fighting rages as Israel’s leaders air wartime divisions

An Israeli airstrike killed 20 people in central Gaza, mostly women and children, and fighting raged across the north on Sunday as Israel’s leaders aired divisions over who should govern Gaza after the war, now in its eighth month.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced criticism from his own War Cabinet, with his main political rival, Benny Gantz, threatening to leave the government if a plan is not formulated by June 8 that includes an international administration for postwar Gaza.

Explained | How bad is the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan was expected to meet with top Israeli leaders on Sunday to discuss an ambitious U.S. plan for Saudi Arabia to recognise Israel and help the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza in exchange for a path to eventual statehood.

Mr. Netanyahu, who is opposed to Palestinian statehood, has rejected those proposals, saying Israel will maintain open-ended security control over Gaza and partner with local Palestinians unaffiliated with Hamas or the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Gantz’ withdrawal would not bring down Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition government, but it would leave him more reliant on far-right allies who support the “voluntary emigration” of Palestinians from Gaza, full military occupation and the rebuilding of Jewish settlements there.

Even as the discussions of postwar planning take on new weight, the war is still raging with no end in sight. In recent weeks, Hamas has regrouped in parts of northern Gaza that were heavily bombed in the early days of the war and where Israeli ground troops had already operated.

The airstrike in Nuseirat, a built-up Palestinian refugee camp in central Gaza dating back to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, killed 20 people, including eight women and four children, according to records at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the nearby town of Deir al-Balah, which received the bodies.

A separate strike on a street in Nuseirat killed another five people, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service. In Deir al-Balah, a strike killed Zahed al-Houli, a senior officer in the Hamas-run police, and another man, according to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital.

Palestinians reported more airstrikes and heavy fighting in northern Gaza, which has been largely isolated by Israeli troops for months and where the World Food Programme says a famine is underway.

The Civil Defence says the strikes hit several homes near Kamal Adwan Hospital in the town of Beit Lahiya, killing at least 10 people. Footage released by the rescuers showed them trying to pull the body of a woman out of the rubble as explosions echo in the background and smoke rises.

In the urban Jabliya refugee camp nearby, residents reported a heavy wave of artillery and airstrikes.

Watch | Israel’s Rafah invasion | Explained

“The situation is very difficult,” said Abdel-Kareem Radwan, a 48-year-old in Jabaliya. He said the whole eastern side has become a battle zone where the Israeli fighter jets “strike anything that moves.”

Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for the Civil Defence, said rescuers had recovered at least 150 bodies, more than half of them women and children, since Israel launched the operation in Jabaliya last week. He said around 300 homes have been “completely destroyed.”

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas’ October 7 attack, in which Palestinian militants stormed into southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting some 250.

The war has killed at least 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Around 80% of the population of 2.3 million Palestinians have been displaced within the territory, often multiple times.

Israel says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames the high death toll and destruction on Hamas, which positions fighters, tunnels and rocket launchers in dense, residential areas.

Mr. Netanyahu’s critics, including thousands of protesters who took to the streets again on Saturday, accuse him of prolonging the war and rejecting a cease-fire deal that would release hostages so he can avoid a reckoning over the security failures that led to the attack.

Polls show that Mr. Gantz, a political centrist, would likely succeed Mr. Netanyahu if early elections are held. That would expose Mr. Netanyahu to prosecution on longstanding corruption allegations.

Mr. Netanyahu denies any political motives and says the offensive must continue until Hamas is dismantled and the estimated 100 hostages held in Gaza, and the remains of more than 30 others, are returned.

He has said it’s pointless to discuss postwar arrangements while Hamas is still fighting because the militants have threatened anyone who cooperates with Israel.

Netanyahu also faces pressure from Israel’s closest ally, the United States, which has provided crucial military aid and diplomatic cover for the offensive while expressing growing frustration with Israel’s conduct of the war.

President Joe Biden’s administration recently held up a shipment of 3,500 bombs of up to 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) each and said the U.S. would not provide offensive weapons for a full-scale invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, citing fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.

But last week, after Israel launched what it says is a limited operation in Rafah, the administration told legislators it would move forward with the sale of $1 billion worth of arms, tank ammunition, tactical vehicles and mortar rounds, according to congressional aides.

Mr. Sullivan is expected in Israel after meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday. The administration has been working on an ambitious plan in which Saudi Arabia would recognise Israel and join other Arab states in helping to administer and rebuild Gaza, in exchange for a U.S. defence pact and help in building a civilian nuclear programme.

But U.S. and Saudi officials say that deal requires Israel to agree to a credible path to eventual Palestinian statehood, something Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out.

In Mr. Gantz’ ultimatum, he expressed support for normalizing ties with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. But he also said “we will not allow any outside power, friendly or hostile, to impose a Palestinian state on us.”

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Palestinian statehood key to post-war Gaza rebuilding plans of Arab nations

Palestinians carry mock large keys during a mass ceremony to commemorate the Nakba Day, Arabic for catastrophe, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, May 15, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AP

As Israel keeps up its campaign against Hamas, Arab leaders are mapping out ways to support post-war Gaza, placing one major condition on their involvement: a pathway to Palestinian statehood.

Major obstacles lie ahead in gaining the support of both U.S. President Joe Biden and the Israeli government, which is currently led by hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch opponent of the two-state solution.

Also read: Israel’s Netanyahu rejects UN backing of Palestinian statehood bid

But the Arab quintet of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt have made clear that their financial and political support, which would be crucial to the future of the shattered Gaza Strip, comes at a cost.

“We have coordinated on this closely with the Palestinians. It needs to be truly a pathway to a Palestinian state,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a World Economic Forum meeting in Riyadh last month.

“Without a real political pathway… it would be very difficult for Arab countries to discuss how we are going to govern.”

It is not the first time Arab leaders have come together to chart a path towards a two-state solution, the cherished goal that they believe could defuse tensions in West Asia and help usher in a period of prosperity.

But with the Israel-Hamas war hobbling regional economies and spilling over into neighbouring countries, there is both urgency and opportunity.

Last month, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, European and Arab Foreign Ministers met to discuss how to advance the two-state solution.

Gaza will also be top of the agenda when leaders from the 22-member Arab League meet in Bahrain on Thursday.

Two goals

Arab countries are “pressuring the United States to achieve two things: establish a Palestinian state and recognising it in the United Nations”, said an Arab diplomat who is familiar with the talks.

“What is currently hindering these intensive efforts is the continuation of the war and Netanyahu’s intransigent rejection,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Arab leaders “have been trying to work with the Biden administration to mutually support the so-called day after” plan, said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Britain’s Chatham House think tank.

Central to their plan is the reform of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to clear the way for a reunified administration in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The PA has had almost no influence over Gaza since Hamas militants wrestled control of the territory from the Fatah movement of President Mahmud Abbas in 2007.

“We believe in one Palestinian government that should be in charge of the West Bank and Gaza,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said on Tuesday.

The transition should “not affect the Palestinian cause” or “undermine the Palestinian Authority”, he told the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha.

In March, the Palestinian President approved a government led by newly appointed Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa, who wants it to play a role in post-war Gaza. However, the biggest roadblock, according to Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent Emirati analyst, is the Israeli government. He noted that Arab outreach efforts have also included the Israeli opposition.

Earlier this month, the UAE’s Foreign Minister met Israeli Opposition leader Yair Lapid in Abu Dhabi. They discussed the need for negotiations on a two-state solution, according to a statement from the UAE Foreign Ministry. “There are promises that if the Israeli opposition prevails in (early) elections it may be more amenable and more cooperative,” Mr. Abdulla said. Arab leaders have largely ruled out taking part in the governance of Gaza or sending security forces under current conditions.

On Saturday, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said the country “refuses to be drawn into any plan aimed at providing cover for the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip”.

Last month, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said Arab states would not send troops to Gaza to avoid being associated with the “misery that this war has created”.

“As Arab countries, we have a plan. We know what we want. We want peace on the basis of the two-state solution,” he said in Riyadh. Oil-rich Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also hesitant to cover the reconstruction costs without guarantees. “They certainly don’t want to just be a piggy bank. They’re not willing to just clean up Israel’s mess and just pour money into it,” said Bernard Haykel, an expert on Saudi Arabia at Princeton University.

The UAE’s ambassador to the United Nations, Lana Nusseibeh, said in February: “We cannot keep refunding and then seeing everything that we have built destroyed.”

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After mass arrests at Columbia University, pro-Palestinian protests sweep U.S. college campuses

Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public on April 22 as some of the most prestigious U.S. universities sought to defuse campus tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas.

More than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia’s green were arrested last week, and similar encampments have sprouted up at universities around the country as schools struggle with where to draw the line between allowing free expression while maintaining safe and inclusive campuses.

NYPD officers from the Strategic Response Group form a wall of protection around Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Michael Gerber and Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kay Daughtry, not in the picture, during a press conference regarding the ongoing pro-Palestinians protest encampment at Columbia University in New York on April 22, 2024. 
U.S. colleges and universities are preparing for end-of-year commencement ceremonies with a unique challenge: providing safety for graduates while honoring the free speech rights of students involved in protests over the Israel-Hamas war
| Photo Credit:

At New York University, an encampment set up by students swelled to hundreds of protesters throughout the day Monday. The school said it warned the crowd to leave, then called in the police after the scene became disorderly and the university said it learned of reports of “intimidating chants and several antisemitic incidents.” Shortly after 8:30 p.m., officers began making arrests.

“It’s a really outrageous crackdown by the university to allow the police to arrest students on our own campus,” said New York University law student Byul Yoon.

“Antisemitism is never ok. That’s absolutely not what we stand for and that’s why there are so many Jewish comrades that are here with us today,” Yoon said

The protests have pitted students against one another, with pro-Palestinian students demanding that their schools condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza and divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel. Some Jewish students, meanwhile, say much of the criticism of Israel has veered into antisemitism and made them feel unsafe, and they point out that Hamas is still holding hostages taken during the group’s Oct. 7 invasion.

Tensions remained high Monday at Columbia, where the campus gates were locked to anyone without a school ID and where protests broke out both on campus and outside.

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and College Streets, in front of Woolsey Hall on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. on April 22, 2024. U.S. colleges and universities are preparing for end-of-year commencement ceremonies with a unique challenge: providing safety for graduates while honoring the free speech rights of students involved in protests over the Israel-Hamas war.

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and College Streets, in front of Woolsey Hall on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. on April 22, 2024. U.S. colleges and universities are preparing for end-of-year commencement ceremonies with a unique challenge: providing safety for graduates while honoring the free speech rights of students involved in protests over the Israel-Hamas war.
| Photo Credit:

U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat from North Carolina who was visiting Columbia with three other Jewish members of Congress, told reporters after meeting with students from the Jewish Law Students Association that there was “an enormous encampment of people” who had taken up about a third of the green.

“We saw signs indicating that Israel should be destroyed,” she said after leaving the Morningside Heights campus. Columbia announced Monday that courses at the Morningside campus will offer virtual options for students when possible, citing safety as their top priority.

A woman inside the campus gates led about two dozen protesters on the street outside in a chant of, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” — a charged phrase that can mean vastly different things to different groups. A small group of pro-Israel counter demonstrators protested nearby.

University President Minouche Shafik said in a message to the school community Monday that she was “deeply saddened” by what was happening on campus.

“To deescalate the rancor and give us all a chance to consider next steps, I am announcing that all classes will be held virtually on Monday,” Shafik wrote, noting that students who don’t live on campus should stay away.

A sign sits erected at the pro-Palestinian demonstration encampment at Columbia University in New York, on April 22, 2024.

A sign sits erected at the pro-Palestinian demonstration encampment at Columbia University in New York, on April 22, 2024.
| Photo Credit:

Protests have roiled many college campuses since Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel, when militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. During the ensuing war, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry, and at least two-thirds of the dead are children and women.

On Sunday, Elie Buechler, a rabbi for the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative at Columbia, sent a WhatsApp message to nearly 300 Jewish students recommending they go home until it’s safer for them on campus.

The latest developments came ahead of the Monday evening start of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Nicholas Baum, a 19-year-old Jewish freshman who lives in a Jewish theological seminary building two blocks from Columbia’s campus, said protesters over the weekend were “calling for Hamas to blow away Tel Aviv and Israel.” He said some of the protesters shouting antisemitic slurs were not students.

“Jews are scared at Columbia. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “There’s been so much vilification of Zionism, and it has spilled over into the vilification of Judaism.”

The protest encampment sprung up at Columbia on Wednesday, the same day that Shafik faced bruising criticism at a congressional hearing from Republicans who said she hadn’t done enough to fight antisemitism. Two other Ivy League presidents resigned months ago following widely criticized testimony they gave to the same committee.

In her statement Monday, Shafik said the Middle East conflict is terrible and that she understands that many are experiencing deep moral distress.

“But we cannot have one group dictate terms and attempt to disrupt important milestones like graduation to advance their point of view,” Shafik wrote.

Over the coming days, a working group of deans, school administrators and faculty will try to find a resolution to the university crisis, noted Shafik, who didn’t say when in-person classes would resume.

U.S. House Republicans from New York urged Shafik to resign, saying in a letter Monday that she had failed to provide a safe learning environment in recent days as “anarchy has engulfed the campus.”

In Massachusetts, a sign said Harvard Yard was closed to the public Monday. It said structures, including tents and tables, were only allowed into the yard with prior permission. “Students violating these policies are subject to disciplinary action,” the sign said. Security guards were checking people for school IDs.

The same day, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee said the university’s administration suspended their group. In the suspension notice provided by the student organization, the university wrote that the group’s April 19 demonstration had violated school policy, and that the organization failed to attend required trainings after they were previously put on probation.

The Palestine Solidary Committee said in a statement that they were suspended over technicalities and that the university hadn’t provided written clarification on the university’s policies when asked.

“Harvard has shown us time and again that Palestine remains the exception to free speech,” the group wrote in a statement.

Harvard did not respond to an email request for comment.

At Yale, police officers arrested about 45 protesters and charged them with misdemeanor trespassing, said Officer Christian Bruckhart, a New Haven police spokesperson. All were being released on promises to appear in court later, he said.

Protesters set up tents on Beinecke Plaza on Friday and demonstrated over the weekend, calling on Yale to end any investments in defense companies that do business with Israel.

In a statement to the campus community on Sunday, Yale President Peter Salovey said university officials had spoken to the student protesters multiple times about the school’s policies and guidelines, including those regarding speech and allowing access to campus spaces.

School officials said they gave protesters until the end of the weekend to leave Beinecke Plaza. The said they again warned protesters Monday morning and told them that they could face arrest and discipline, including suspension, before police moved in.

A large group of demonstrators regathered after Monday’s arrests at Yale and blocked a street near campus, Bruckhart said. There were no reports of any violence or injuries.

Prahlad Iyengar, an MIT graduate student studying electrical engineering, was among about two dozen students who set up a tent encampment on the school’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus Sunday evening. They are calling for a cease-fire and are protesting what they describe as MIT’s “complicity in the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” he said.

“MIT has not even called for a cease-fire, and that’s a demand we have for sure,” Iyengar said.

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Israel bombs Gaza, fights Hamas around hospitals

Israeli forces pounded besieged Gaza on March 27 in the war sparked by the October 7 attack and fought Hamas around several hospitals despite a UN Security Council demand for a ceasefire.

Talks in Qatar towards a truce and hostage release deal, involving U.S. and Egyptian mediators, have brought no result so far, with Israel and the Palestinian militant group blaming each other.

Tensions have risen between Israel and its top ally the U.S. over the soaring civilian death toll and dire food shortages in Gaza, and Israeli plans to push its ground offensive into the far-southern city of Rafah, which is packed with displaced civilians.

In heavy overnight bombardment, Israeli strikes again hit Gaza City and Rafah, where a fireball lit up the sky over the city crowded with up to 1.5 million people, most of them displaced by the war.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said 66 people were killed in overnight bombardment and combat.

Israeli forces have battled militants in and around three Gaza hospitals, raising fears for patients, medical staff and displaced people inside them.

Fighting has raged for nine days around Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest, and more recently near two hospitals in the main southern city of Khan Yunis, Al-Amal and Nasser.

The Army and Shin Bet security service said they were “continuing to conduct precise operational activities” in both cities “while preventing harm to civilians, patients, medical teams and medical equipment”.

The Army said “troops continued to eliminate terrorists and locate terror infrastructure and weapons” around al-Shifa.

“Thus far, hundreds of terrorists have been apprehended and dozens of terrorists have been killed in the area of the hospital,” it said.

Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles have also massed around the Nasser Hospital, the Gaza health ministry said, adding that shots were fired but no raid had yet been launched.

The Palestinian Red Crescent warned that thousands were trapped inside and “their lives are in danger”. The Israeli army has yet to comment on the situation in and around the hospital.

UN warns of ‘man-made famine’

Gaza has endured almost six months of war and a siege that has cut off most food, water, fuel and other supplies, and the UN has warned that its 2.4 million people are on the brink of a “man-made famine”.

The flow of aid trucks from Egypt has slowed amid the war and due to lengthy Israeli cargo inspections.

Donor governments have airdropped food into Gaza where desperate crowds have rushed towards aid packages drifting down on parachutes. At least 18 people have been reported killed in stampedes or drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

Hamas has urged an end to the airdrops and called for stepped-up road deliveries instead. The United States said it would keep airdropping humanitarian supplies while also pushing for more overland deliveries.

The war broke out when Hamas launched its unprecedented October 7 attack that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel says that, after an earlier truce and hostage deal, about 130 captives remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 32,414 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry.

Israel also charges that Palestinian militants sexually assaulted October 7 victims and hostages.

The New York Times published a report on the first Israeli woman to speak publicly about having been sexually abused, 40-year-old lawyer Amit Soussana.

Soussana, who was abducted from a kibbutz on October 7 and released in November, said she was repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted at gunpoint by her guard inside Gaza.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said that her abuse “is a wake up call to the world to act. To do everything and pressure Hamas. To free our hostages. To bring our hostages home.”

Death toll ‘far too high’

The UN Security Council on Monday passed its first resolution demanding an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza and the release of the captives.

The United States, which had blocked previous resolutions, abstained, drawing an angry rebuke from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The right-wing premier cancelled an Israeli delegation’s planned visit to Washington, although Defence Minister Yoav Gallant was already there.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin stressed, before meeting Gallant, that “the number of civilian casualties is far too high, and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low” in Gaza.

Despite the tensions, Rear Admiral Hagari said security cooperation was closer than ever, “encompassing the entire US military and the US intelligence services”.

Israeli and Hamas envoys have engaged in weeks of indirect talks aimed at halting the fighting, but both sides said this week the talks were failing.

Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari has said that, although the CIA and Mossad chiefs had left Doha, the talks were “ongoing” at a technical level.

Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad charged that Israel “is being intransigent and wants to keep the war going, despite international positions and in defiance to UN Security Council’s decision to cease fire during Ramadan,” the ongoing Muslim holy month of fasting.

“There has not been any progress in ceasefire talks or negotiations for prisoners’ exchange,” he said. “The Israeli government’s procrastination is just a way to gain time and keep their aggression going.”

Amid the bloodiest ever Gaza conflict, Israel has also exchanged daily cross-border fire with Hamas ally Hezbollah based in southern Lebanon.

The hostilities, in which Israel has also targeted Hamas militants, have raised fears of all-out conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war in 2006.

Hezbollah fired a barrage of rockets into northern Israel Wednesday killing a civilian, after Israel carried out a deadly pre-dawn strike in south Lebanon.

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The Hindu Morning Digest, March 20, 2024

Lokpal orders CBI probe into charges against Mahua Moitra

The Lokpal has directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to further probe the allegations made against former Lok Sabha member Mahua Moitra and submit a report on its findings within six months. “After careful evaluation and consideration of the entire material on record, there remains no doubt regarding the fact that the allegations levelled against the RPS (Respondent Public Servant), most of which are supported by cogent evidence, are extremely serious in nature, especially in view of the position held by her,” said the Lokpal’s judgment.

PM Modi, BJP slam Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on ‘Shakti’ as evidence that the Congress is anti-Hindu and anti-women

For the second successive day, the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked the Congress party and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi over his remarks on ‘Shakti’, making the issue an important theme in the party’s campaign for the Lok Sabha election. In Salem, the Prime Minister alleged at a public rally that the Congress and its allies, including Tamil Nadu’s ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), were out to “destroy Shakti”, but asserted that “they will get destroyed” instead.

Lok Sabha election | Congress plans to reach every household with 25 guarantees and ‘paanch nyay

Asserting that the BJP’s guarantees for 2024 Lok Sabha polls would be another “India shining” moment, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on March 19 urged its office-bearers to ensure that the party’s 25 guarantees and five pillars of justice or paanch nyay reached every household in India. After a three-hour discussion, the CWC approved the manifesto that will also include a section on electoral bonds. Former party chief Rahul Gandhi told the closed door CWC meeting that the electoral bond scheme had “exposed the BJP’s corruption and extortion tactics”.

SC directs States and Union Territories to give ration cards to 8 crore migrant workers

The Supreme Court on March 19 took exception to the delays in the implementation of its April 2023 order to provide ration cards to about eight crore migrant workers registered in the eShram portal but not covered under the National Food Security Act. The portal has 28.6 crore registrants. Of this, 20.63 crore find place in ration card data. A Bench led by Justice Hima Kohli directed States and Union Territories to provide ration cards to the remaining eight crore migrant and unorganised sector workers registered on the eShram portal in two months.

Schoolchildren at PM Modi’s Coimbatore road show | FIR registered, action to be taken against headmaster, report called for

The Sai Baba Colony Police registered a First Information Report (FIR) on Tuesday, against the management of a government-aided school for bringing schoolchildren to participate in a roadshow led by BJP leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Coimbatore on March 18.

Congress poll panel clears Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Kharge’s son-in-law as Lok Sabha candidates

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Congress leader and member from Baharampur in the outgoing Lok Sabha, is among the candidates whose names were cleared by the party’s central election committee (CEC). The CEC also cleared the name of Radhakrishnan D., the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge’s son-in-law, as the party’s candidate for Gulbarga. Mr. Kharge had represented the seat in 2009 and 2014, but lost it in 2019.

Regulator snubs revenue projections at Adani-controlled Thiruvananthapuram Airport

The Adani-controlled Thiruvananthapuram Airport’s projection of revenue from non-aeronautical services such as the sale of food and beverages — used to subsidise costs levied on airlines and passengers — is just a “miniscule” 12% of the norm, according to the country’s airport tariff regulator. In fact, it is only a third of what the airport earned before privatisation.

Activist calls for border march in Ladakh to mark land lost to China

Around 10,000 people from Ladakh will march to the border along China this month to showcase how much land has been lost to the neighbouring country, climate activist and education reformer Sonam Wangchuk said on Tuesday. Mr. Wangchuk has been protesting in open in sub-zero temperature in Leh, surviving only on salt and water for the past 14 days, to demand constitutional safeguards for the Union Territory.

Railways earned ₹1,230 crore from cancelled waiting list tickets in span of 3 years

The Indian Railways clocked earnings of ₹1,229.85 crore from cancelled waiting list tickets between 2021 and 2024 (till January), a reponse to a query under the Right to Information Act has revealed. The Railway Ministry response to the RTI application filed by Madhya Pradesh-based activist Vivek Pandey also showed that earnings from this source have increased year on year.

21 lakh SIM cards in use have fake proof: DoT

At least 21 lakh SIM cards have been activated using fake proof of identity or proof of address documents, according to analysis carried out by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). In an alert sent to Bharti Airtel, MTNL, BSNL, Reliance Jio, and Vodafone Idea, the DoT provided a list of suspicious subscribers and called for an urgent re-verification of their documents, and disconnection of those found to be bogus.

Army repurposes 21 Signal Group to research futuristic communications tech

The Army has transformed the 21 Signals Group into the Signals Technology Evaluation and Adaptation Group (STEAG). It will function as an elite technology Unit which will research and evaluate futuristic communication technologies like AI, 5G, 6G, machine learning and quantum technologies for defence applications. 

To solve for dietary preference of 100% vegetarians, Zomato introduces a ‘pure veg’ fleet

Food delivery platform Zomato on March 19 launched a “pure veg” delivery fleet that would deliver orders from restaurants that do not serve meat, fish or egg-based dishes. The fleet’s personnel are shown in promotional images wearing green uniforms and with green boxes on their bikes, and the company will not assign “pure veg” delivery partners to any orders from restaurants where food is not exclusively vegetarian.

Former Mumbai police officer gets life imprisonment in fake encounter case

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday awarded a life sentence to former Mumbai police officer Pradeep Sharma in the case related to the fake encounter killing of an alleged member of convicted gangster Chhota Rajan in 2006. The court also upheld the life sentence to 13 others, 12 of whom are police personnel (Dilip Palande, Nitin Sartape, Ganesh Harpude, Anand Patade, Prakash Kadam, Devidas Sakpal, Pandurang Kokam, Ratnakar Kamble, Sandeep Sardar, Tanaji Desai, Pradeep Suryavanshi and Vinayak Shinde) and one a civilian (Hitesh Solanki).

Police shoot dead man accused of murdering two minors in Uttar Pradesh

Police shot dead a man accused of murdering two boys aged 12 and 6 in Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday. A mob set ablaze a shop belonging to the accused man. Tension gripped Badaun district as news of the murder spread. The accused man, Mohd. Sajid, is said to have slit the throats of the minors who were brothers and also injured a third brother, aged 8, who managed to escape and share the horror with his parents. 

UN chief ‘alarmed’ by reports civilians killed in Myanmar air strikes

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has said he is “alarmed” by reports of ongoing Myanmar military air strikes on villages in Rakhine state, where locals told AFP more than 20 people were killed on March 18. Clashes have rocked Myanmar’s western Rakhine state since the Arakan Army (AA) attacked security forces in November, ending a ceasefire that had largely held since the military’s 2021 coup.

Trump says Jews who vote for Democrats ‘hate Israel’ and their religion

Former President Donald Trump on Monday charged that Jews who vote for Democrats “hate Israel” and hate “their religion,” igniting a firestorm of criticism from the White House and Jewish leaders. Mr. Trump, in an interview, had been asked about Democrats’ growing criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his handling of the war in Gaza as the civilian death toll continues to mount.

World Meteorological Organisation confirms 2023 as ‘hottest year’

In line with a host of observations by climate agencies in the preceding three months, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has officially confirmed 2023 to be the hottest year on record. The State of Global Climate Report, published Tuesday, stated that the global average near-surface temperature was 1.45 degrees Celsius (with a margin of uncertainty of ± 0.12 degrees Celsius) above the pre-industrial baseline. It was the warmest ten-year period on record.

Israel may be using starvation as ‘weapon of war’: U.N.

The U.N. said on March 19 that Israel’s severe restrictions on aid into war-ravaged Gaza coupled with its military offensive could amount to using starvation as a “weapon of war”, which would be a “war crime”. United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk denounced the rampant hunger and looming famine in Gaza.

IPL | I would like to see Dhoni smash the ball the way he loves to, says Vijay

Sameer Rizvi made the headlines in December 2023 when he became the most expensive uncapped player at the IPL auction. He was bought by Chennai Super Kings for a whopping 8.40 cr. The promising youngster from Uttar Pradesh is known for his power-hitting abilities in the middle-order, making him the ideal player to fill the role that Ambati Rayudu played for the five-time champion.

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Biden backs Schumer after U.S. Senator calls for new elections in Israel

President Joe Biden expressed support on March 15 for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after the senator called for new elections in Israel, the latest sign that the U.S. relationship with its closest Middle East ally is careening toward fracture over the war in Gaza.

Mr Schumer, a Jewish Democrat from New York, sent tremors through both countries this week when he said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “lost his way” and warned that “Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah” as the Palestinian death toll continues to grow.

“He made a good speech,” Mr. Biden said in the Oval Office during a meeting with Ireland’s prime minister. “I think he expressed serious concerns shared not only by him but by many Americans.”

The Democratic president did not repeat Mr. Schumer’s appeal for Israel to hold elections, a step that would likely end Netanyahu’s tenure because of mounting discontent with his leadership. But Biden’s comments reflect his own frustration with an Israeli prime minister who has hindered efforts to expand humanitarian assistance in Gaza and opposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The latest point of friction has been Israel’s goal of pursuing Hamas into Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have fled to avoid fighting in the north. Netanyahu’s office said Friday that it approved a military operation that would involve evacuating civilians, but U.S. officials are concerned about the potential for a new wave of bloodshed.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking from Vienna, said, “We have to see a clear and implementable plan” to safeguard innocent people from an Israeli incursion.

“We have not seen such a plan,” he said.

However, Mr. Blinken said tough conversations between Israeli and American leaders do not mean the alliance is fraying.

“That’s actually the strength of the relationship, to be able to speak clearly, candidly and directly,” he said.

It’s possible that an attack on Rafah could be avoided. Negotiations over a cease-fire and the release of hostages are underway in Qatar, where Netanyahu agreed to send a delegation to continue talks.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. would not have its own team at the negotiations but will remain engaged in the process.

He also said it’s “up to the Israeli people to decide” whether there should be elections. Asked about why Biden praised Schumer’s speech, Kirby said the president appreciated the senator’s “passion.”

Biden’s rhetoric on the war has evolved since the conflict began on Oct. 7, when Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis in a surprise attack. The president immediately embraced Netanyahu and Israel while also warning against being “consumed” by rage.

Since then, Israel has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza. And while Mr. Biden continues to back Israel’s right to defend itself, he’s increased his criticisms of Mr. Netanyahu.

After his State of the Union speech earlier this month, Mr. Biden said that he needed to have a “come to Jesus” conversation with Netanyahu. He also accused Netanyahu of “hurting Israel more than helping Israel” with his leadership of the war.

Mr. Biden is trying to navigate between a Republican Party with an “Israel right or wrong” mindset and a deeply divided Democratic Party, said Aaron David Miller, who has advised administrations from both parties on the Middle East.

He described the U.S. approach to Israel as “passive aggressive,” with escalating rhetoric but no concrete steps like withholding military assistance.

“I haven’t seen it,” Miller said. “And we’re six months into the war.”

Americans have increasingly soured on Israel’s military operation in Gaza, according to surveys from The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In January, 50% of U.S. adults said the military response from Israel in the Gaza Strip had gone too far, up from 40% in November. It’s a sentiment even more common among Democrats, with about 6 in 10 saying the same thing in both surveys.

Reckoning with shifts in Israeli and American politics has been challenging for Mr. Biden. A self-described Zionist, Mr. Biden’s political career began several decades ago when Israel was led by liberal leaders and the country enjoyed broad bipartisan support in its battle for survival against its Arab neighbors.

Since then, the failure of peace talks with Palestinians and the growing power of conservative Israeli politicians has led to a growing tension.

Biden’s praise for Schumer could upset Mr. Netanyahu, who has already chafed at what he sees as American meddling in Israeli politics.

“One would expect Sen. Schumer to respect Israel’s elected government and not undermine it,” said a statement from Likud, Netanyahu’s political party. “This is always true, and even more so in wartime.”

Mr. Netanyahu has a long history of defying U.S. presidents, particularly Democratic ones. He fought President Barack Obama’s push for a nuclear deal with Iran, and he accepted a Republican invitation to address Congress to demonstrate his opposition. Before that, he clashed with President Bill Clinton over efforts to create an independent state for Palestinians, who have lived for decades under Israeli military occupation.

Democratic anger over Israel’s siege of Gaza has focused on Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister who leads a right-wing coalition that includes ultranationalist politicians. He also faces corruption charges in a long-delayed trial and declining popularity over his failure to prevent Hamas’ attack or secure the return of all Israeli hostages being held in Gaza.

Public opinion surveys suggest that, if elections were held now, Mr. Netanyahu would likely lose to Benny Gantz, a former military leader who is a centrist member of Israel’s war cabinet.

“Netanyahu has an interest in buying time,” said Gideon Rahat, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and professor of political science at Hebrew University. “That’s always his interest, not to have elections, to stay in power.”

Rahat also said a different Israeli leader might approach the war differently, causing less strain with Washington.

“Another government would pursue not only a military but also a diplomatic and foreign affairs solution, one involving the PA,” a reference to the Palestinian Authority that operates in the West Bank, Rahat said. “Another government would give more aid to Gaza and would run the war with a better distinction between Hamas and the Palestinians.”

However, replacing Mr. Netanyahu would not necessarily end the war or stop the rightward shift that has been underway in Israel for years.

Jewish Israelis believe by a slim majority that their leaders’ judgment should be prioritized over coordinating with the U.S., according to a January poll from the Israel Democracy Institute. In addition, the Israeli Defense Forces receive wide support for their performance in Gaza.

Gantz also criticized Mr. Schumer’s remarks, although not as harshly as Likud did. He wrote on social media that the senator is “a friend of Israel” who “erred in his remarks.”

“Israel is a robust democracy, and only its citizens will decide its future and leadership,” Gantz said. “Any external interference on the matter is counter-productive and unacceptable.”

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Top U.S. Democrat Schumer calls for new elections in Israel, saying Netanyahu is an obstacle to peace

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on March 14 called on Israel to hold new elections, saying he believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “lost his way” and is an obstacle to peace in the region amid a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Mr. Schumer, the first Jewish majority leader in the Senate and the highest-ranking Jewish official in the U.S., strongly criticized Mr. Netanyahu in a 40-minute speech Thursday morning on the Senate floor. Mr. Schumer said the Prime Minister has put himself in a coalition of far-right extremists and “as a result, he has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.”

“Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah,” Mr. Schumer said.

The high-level warning comes as an increasing number of Democrats have pushed back against Israel and as President Joe Biden has stepped up public pressure on Mr. Netanyahu’s government, arguing that he needs to pay more attention to the civilian death toll in Gaza amid the Israeli bombardment. The U.S. this month began airdrops of badly needed humanitarian aid and announced it will establish a temporary pier to get more assistance into Gaza via sea.

Mr. Schumer has so far positioned himself as a strong ally of the Israeli government, visiting the country just days after the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and giving a lengthy speech on the Senate floor in December decrying ”brazen and widespread antisemitism the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations in this country, if ever.”

But he said on the Senate floor Thursday that the ”Israeli people are being stifled right now by a governing vision that is stuck in the past.”

Mr. Schumer says Mr. Netanyahu, who has long opposed Palestinian statehood, is one of several obstacles in the way of the two-state solution pushed by the United States. Netanyahu “has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel,” Mr. Schumer said.

The majority leader is also blaming right-wing Israelis, Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Until they are all removed from the equation, Mr. Schumer said, “there will never be peace in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank.”

The United States cannot dictate the outcome of an election in Israel, Mr. Schumer said, but “a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel, at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in the vision and direction of their government.”

At the White House, national security spokesman John Kirby declined to weigh in on Schumer’s call for new elections, saying the White House is most focused on getting a temporary cease-fire in place.

“We know Leader Schumer feels strongly about this and we’ll certainly let him speak to it and to his comments,” Mr. Kirby said. “We’re going to stay focused on making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself while doing everything that they can to avoid civilian casualties.”

The speech drew a swift reprisal from Republicans. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor immediately after Schumer’s remarks that “Israel deserves an ally that acts like one” and that foreign observers “ought to refrain from weighing in.”

The Democratic Party has an anti-Israel problem, McConnell said. “Either we respect their decisions or we disrespect their democracy,” he said.

And at a House GOP retreat in West Virginia, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., called Mr. Schumer’s speech “inappropriate.”

“It’s just plain wrong for an American leader to play such a divisive role in Israeli politics while our closest ally in the region is in an existential battle for its very survival,” the Republican speaker said.

Mr. Netanyahu has long had a more cozy relationship with Republicans in the United States, most notably speaking at a joint session of Congress in 2015 at the invitation of GOP lawmakers to try to torpedo former President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran. The move infuriated Obama administration officials, who saw it as an end run around Obama’s presidential authority and unacceptably deep interference in U.S. politics and foreign policy.

Just this week, Mr. Netanyahu was invited to speak to Republican senators at a party retreat. But Israeli ambassador Michael Herzog took his place due to last minute scheduling issues, according to a person familiar with the closed-door meeting.

Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who is Jewish, praised Mr. Schumer’s remarks.

“This is a gutsy, historic speech from Leader Schumer,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter. “I know he didn’t arrive at this conclusion casually or painlessly.”

It is unclear how Mr. Schumer’s unusually direct call will be received in Israel, where the next parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 2026. Many Israelis hold Netanyahu responsible for failing to stop the Oct. 7 cross-border raid by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and his popularity appears to have taken a hit as a result.

Protesters in Israel calling for early elections have charged that Netanyahu is making decisions based on keeping his right-wing coalition intact rather than Israel’s interests at a time of war. And they say he is endangering Israel’s strategic alliance with the United States by rejecting U.S. proposals for a post-war vision for Gaza in order to appease the far-right members of his government.

U.S. priorities in the region have increasingly been hampered by those far-right members of his Cabinet, who share Netanyahu’s opposition to Palestinian statehood and other aims that successive U.S. administrations have seen as essential to resolving Palestinian-Israeli conflicts long-term.

In a hot-mic moment while speaking to lawmakers after his State of the Union address, Mr. Biden promised a “come to Jesus” moment with Mr. Netanyahu.

And Vice President Kamala Harris, Schumer and other lawmakers met last week in Washington with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet and a far more popular rival of Mr. Netanyahu — a visit that drew a rebuke from the Israeli prime minister.

Gantz joined Mr. Netanyahu’s government in the War Cabinet soon after the Hamas attacks. But Gantz is expected to leave the government once the heaviest fighting subsides, signaling the period of national unity has ended. A return to mass demonstrations could ramp up pressure on Netanyahu’s deeply unpopular coalition to hold early elections.

Mr. Schumer said that as the highest ranking Jewish elected official in the United States, he feels an obligation to speak out. He said his last name derives from the Hebrew word Shomer, or “guardian.”

“I also feel very keenly my responsibility as Shomer Yisroel — a guardian of the People of Israel,” he said.

Schumer said that if Israel tightens its control over Gaza and the West Bank and creates a “de facto single state,” then there should be no reasonable expectation that Hamas and their allies will lay down arms. It could mean constant war, he said.

“As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let the chips fall where they may,” Schumer said. “But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice.”

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On eve of Ramadan, Jerusalem’s Old City offers little festivity as Gaza war rages

On the eve of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Jerusalem’s Old City bears few of its usual hallmarks of festivity.

Nearly half of the grotto-shaped gift shops are sealed behind metal shutters. The narrow streets that run toward Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, are eerily empty. Absent are the fairy lights and shining lanterns that would usually dangle above hurried worshippers.

Also read | Gaza war has “ruptured any sense of a shared humanity”: ICRC

Ramadan preparations in Jerusalem, the spiritual heart of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have been subdued because of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, now in its sixth month. With more than 30,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza and hundreds of thousands going hungry, there’s little room for expressions of joy.

“This will be the black Ramadan,” Abu Mousam Haddad said in front of his coffee stand near Damascus Gate, one of the Old City’s main entrances.

But over the next few days, attention is likely to shift from Gaza to Al-Aqsa, which has been a frequent flashpoint for quickly escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence in the past.

Hamas, which portrayed its Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel as a battle for Muslim rights at Al-Aqsa, seeks such an eruption now in the hopes of engaging Israeli forces on new fronts and improving its leverage in Gaza cease-fire talks.

The militants have urged Palestinians across Israel and the occupied West Bank to stream to the mosque during Ramadan to challenge anticipated Israeli restrictions on worship and movement.

Although such restrictions often triggered past clashes, it’s not clear if Palestinians will risk confrontations in the current climate in which Israeli forces are clamping down hard on any perceived threats.

“There is great fear among people about what Ramadan will look like this year and how the Israeli police will behave regarding the entry and exit … into the city,” said Imad Mona, who owns a bookshop outside the Old City.

Israel has limited access to Al-Aqsa to varying degrees over the years, including by barring young men, citing security concerns. The Israeli government has provided few details ahead of this year’s Ramadan, which could start as early as Sunday evening. But it has said some Palestinians from the West Bank will be allowed to pray at Al-Aqsa

In the past, Israeli forces raiding the sacred compound have clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians who barricaded themselves inside, at times to protest Israeli access restrictions. Such clashes have triggered escalations, including Hamas rocket fire, which set off a brief Israel-Hamas war in 2021.

The compound has long been a deeply contested religious space, as it stands on the Temple Mount, which Jews consider their most sacred site. It lies in east Jerusalem, a section of the city Israel occupied during the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed. Palestinians want to make it the capital of their own future state.

The United States and other international mediators had pushed for a Gaza cease-fire to coincide with the start of Ramadan. However, there has been no breakthrough.

Israel remains committed to continuing its invasion and annihilating Hamas, which killed about 1,200 people in Israel and took about 250 hostages on Oct. 7. The militant group freed dozens of hostages during a November truce, but it refuses to release more without guarantees of a complete end of hostilities.

Most Old City shop owners declined to share their views about the coming Ramadan. Scores of Palestinians have been detained by Israel over social media posts about the war in Gaza since it started.

Some who would speak said that more Israeli police have been deployed in the Old City since October. Young Palestinian men are reguarly barred from entering the Al-Aqsa compound for noon prayers on Fridays since the war started, according to the store owners. This has fueled speculation about other possible restrictions. The Israeli police did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Israeli media, the country’s firebrand National Security Minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, has been pushing to keep out all West Bank Palestinians, as well as young men who are among the more than 2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel. His spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The Israeli military body in charge of Palestinian affairs in the West Bank, known as COGAT, said Friday that some Muslims from the West Bank would be allowed in from the territory for Ramadan prayers, but it didn’t elaborate. Last year, hundreds of thousands were able to enter, most of them women, children and elderly men.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also been vague, saying only that similar numbers of people as last year would be allowed for prayers at Al-Aqsa during the first week of Ramadan. He said this will be evaluated on a weekly basis throughout the month. No further details were made public.

Under an informal arrangement since 1967, the compound is administered by a Jordanian-based Muslim religious body known as the Waqf. Jews are allowed to visit the compound, but not to pray there. The agreement has broken down in recent years as large groups of Jews, including hard-line religious nationalists, have regularly visited. Some among them have attempted to pray at the site.

In the days leading up to Ramadan, West Bank Palestinians have been unsure whether they would be able to attend prayers.

In general, Palestinians in the territory need a permit to enter east Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its united capital, though its annexation is not recognized by most of the international community. Since Oct. 7, Israel has forbidden Palestinians from entering Jerusalem or any part of Israel.

“It is the dream of every Palestinian, Muslim and Arab to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque” during Ramadan, said Akram al Baghdadi, a Ramallah resident who has extended family scattered across the West Bank and Gaza.

The holy month also threatens to heighten divisions within Israel’s unruly cabinet, with ministers already split over how to conduct the Gaza war.

In a post on X, Ben Gvir denounced Netanyahu’s decision to allow Palestinians access to Al-Aqsa for Ramadan prayers. He wrote that “Hamas celebrations on the Temple Mount” do not equate to “a complete victory,” a reference to Netanyahu’s wartime battle cry.

Ben Gvir, who has visited the Al-Aqsa compound several times, is also a vocal opponent of any cease-fire arrangement with Hamas. He has repeatedly called for the removal of Palestinians from Gaza and the establishment of Israeli settlements — ideas that most Cabinet members oppose.

Months of conflict and tension have also brought economic hardship, with a lack of tourists and Palestinians shopping in the Old City.

“Its not just my shop that is affected, but all the traders here, too,” said Jihad Abu Salih, a sweets and pastry merchant from the city. “It’s sad.”

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‘Massacre’ by Israeli troops at aid delivery site in Gaza draws condemnation

TOPSHOT – This image grab from a handout video released by the Israeli army on February 29, 2024, shows what the army says are Gazans around aid trucks in Gaza City. Israeli forces shot dead 104 people when a crowd rushed towards aid trucks on February 29, the Health Ministry in Gaza said.
| Photo Credit: AFP PHOTO / Handout / Israeli Army

Israeli troops in the northern Gaza Strip opened fire on Palestinians scrambling for food aid on February 29, in a chaotic incident that the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory said killed more than 100 people.

There were conflicting reports about how the pre-dawn incident unfolded.

Also read | Gaza Health Ministry says war deaths exceed 30,000 as famine looms

The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of Gazans surrounded a convoy of 38 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some people being run over.

An Israeli source said troops had opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat”.

The Gaza Health Ministry condemned the “massacre” in Gaza City, saying 112 people were killed and more than 750 wounded.

Reactions to the deaths have poured in from around the world.

U.S. ‘pressing for answers’

U.S. President Joe Biden said the incident would complicate delicate ceasefire negotiations in the almost five-month-old war, with the White House calling the deaths “tremendously alarming”.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the United States was “urgently seeking additional information on exactly what took place”.

Washington will be monitoring an upcoming investigation closely and “pressing for answers”, he said.

France says fire ‘unjustifiable’

France’s Foreign Ministry said “the fire by Israeli soldiers against civilians trying to access food is unjustifiable”.

The “tragic event” came as an “increasing and unbearable number of Palestinian civilians” were suffering from hunger and disease, it added, saying Israel must abide by international law and protect aid deliveries to civilians.

Writing on the social media platform X that Palestinian “civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers”, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “strongest condemnation” of the killings.

Turkey condemns ‘crime against humanity’

Turkey accused Israel of committing “another crime against humanity” and condemning Gazans to “famine” as civilians scavenge for dwindling supplies of food.

“The fact that Israel… this time targets innocent civilians in a queue for humanitarian aid, is evidence that [Israel] aims consciously and collectively to destroy the Palestinian people”, the Turkish foreign ministry said.

Colombia scraps Israel arms purchases

Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro denounced what he called a “genocide” of the Palestinian people and suspended purchases of weapons from Israel, a key supplier of his country’s security forces.

“Asking for food, more than 100 Palestinians were killed by (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu. This is called genocide and recalls the Holocaust,” Petro wrote on X.

“The world must block Netanyahu.”

Also read | Rediscovering Palestinian statehood

Spain condemns ‘unacceptable’ incident

“The unacceptable nature of what happened in Gaza, with dozens of Palestinian civilians dead as they were waiting for food, underlines the urgency of a ceasefire,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares wrote on X.

Italy demands ‘immediate ceasefire’ –

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza and urged Israel to protect the Palestinian population after the “tragic deaths”.

“We strongly urge Israel to protect the people in Gaza and to rigorously ascertain facts and responsibilities,” he said on X.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed her “deep dismay and concern” over the violence.

U.N. condemnation

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the incident and was “appalled by the tragic human toll of the conflict”, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“The desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the besieged north where the United Nations has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week,” Dujarric said.

EU decries ‘carnage’

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell denounced the deaths as “totally unacceptable”.

“I am horrified by news of yet another carnage among civilians in Gaza desperate for humanitarian aid,” he said on X.

Qatar denounces ‘heinous massacre’

Qatar’s foreign ministry condemned “in the strongest terms the heinous massacre committed by the Israeli occupation”, calling for “urgent international action” to halt the fighting in Gaza.

It went on to warn that Israel’s “disregard for Palestinian lives… will ultimately undermine international efforts aimed at implementing the two-state solution, and thus pave the way for the expansion of the cycle of violence in the region”.

Saudi calls for ceasefire

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry condemned the deaths and reiterated “the need to reach an immediate ceasefire”.

It also renewed its “demands to the international community to take a firm position to oblige Israel to respect international humanitarian law, immediately open safe humanitarian corridors, allow the evacuation of the injured, and enable the delivery of relief aid”.

China shocked, condemns deaths

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Chinese Mao Ning said China was shocked by the incident and strongly condemned the killing of Palestinians during an aid delivery.

“China urges the relevant parties, especially Israel, to cease fire and end the fighting immediately, earnestly protect civilians’ safety, ensure that humanitarian aid can enter, and avoid an even more serious humanitarian disaster,” Mao said.

Australia ‘horrified’

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said her country was “horrified by today’s catastrophe in Gaza and the ongoing humanitarian crisis that has led to it”.

“These events underscore why for months Australia has been calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza,” she said.

“I have instructed my department to express Australia’s views directly to the Israeli ambassador.”

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The Global South’s stand on Israel’s war in Gaza | Explained

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour attend a public hearing held by The International Court of Justice to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion in The Hague, Netherlands on February 19, 2024.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

The story so far: Israel’s war in Gaza in retaliation for the October 7 terror attacks by Hamas took centre-stage at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this week again, as the UN General Assembly raised the question of illegal Israeli settlements in the court, with public hearings that will end on February 26. The hearings sparked a further divide between Western countries, many of whom sought to defend Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as the “right to self-defence”, and were ranged against Global South countries, most of whom had supported South Africa’s bid to have the ICJ try Israel for “war-crimes” for its actions. The latest hearings opened in the backdrop of a major rift between Brazil and Israel.

What are the ICJ hearings about?

The current hearings of the ICJ at the Peace Palace in The Hague (The Netherlands) are not a consequence of the Israel-Hamas conflict of the past few months, but pre-date them. In December 2022, the UN General Assembly had asked the court for an “advisory opinion” on two specific questions pertaining to Israeli actions in the past: first, what are the “legal consequences” for Israel over its policy of “occupations, settlement and annexation” of Palestinian territories since the 1967 war, and attempts to change the demographic status of Jerusalem, and second, what legal consequences arise for all other states and the United Nations over Israel’s “discriminatory” policies towards Palestinians. As many as 52 states and three international organisations gave written and oral comments during the hearings scheduled from February 19-26, led by Palestine, and followed by South Africa.

Editorial | Momentous ruling: On Israel and the International Court of Justice order

Who were the key speakers and what have they said so far?

While a majority of the speakers at the hearings are from the Global South led by Brazil and South Africa, all P-5 members of the UN Security council submitted comments, although Israel chose not to participate. India was not among the speakers, but its neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh were strongly critical of Israel’s actions. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki gave a three-hour high-powered submission in which he said Israeli governments had left only three choices for Palestinians: “displacement, subjugation or death”, calling their actions: “ethnic cleansing, apartheid or genocide.” The U.S., U.K. and allies began submissions with condemnations of the October 7 attack in which more than 1,100 were killed in Israel. Ireland, however, has diverged quite dramatically from the West and the European Union in its criticism of Israel’s actions, countering arguments on the “right to self-defence” by saying that international law “limits the use of force in self-defence to no more than what is necessary and proportionate”. More than 29,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s bombardment began. While the ICJ case pertains to events pre-2022, it was clear that the destruction of nearly half of all structures in Gaza in four months are precipitating concerns that Israel plans to occupy and resettle that territory as well. Brazil’s ambassador in particular called for the ICJ to pronounce Israel’s actions of confiscating land, demolishing Palestinian homes, establishing Israeli settlements, and constructing the West Bank barrier wall as illegal.

Why have Brazil and Israel drawn daggers?

While Brazil and Israel have had close relations in the past, Brazil’s President Lula da Silva has been openly critical of “Zionism” in the past. For instance, he refused to visit the grave of Theodor Herzl during a visit to Jerusalem in 2010. Last week, Israel declared Mr. Lula a “persona non grata” who won’t be allowed to enter the country after he compared Israel’s bombardment of Palestinians to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany in which six million Jewish people were killed. Brazil has since recalled its ambassador to Israel.

What is India’s stand?

Despite its abstention in one vote calling for a ceasefire in October 2023, India has consistently voted in favour of UN resolutions that are critical of Israel’s occupation and annexation of Palestinian territory. Unlike the rest of the Global South, however, the Modi government has chosen to keep public comments on the issue to a minimum, and the decision not to speak at the ICJ is in line with that. Several factors complicate clarity on the Indian position. On the one hand, there is an expectation from the Arab world, particularly from close partners such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, for India to stand with Palestine. Qatar, for instance, may have expectations after the Prime Minister’s visit this month to thank the Emir for releasing eight Indian naval officers. This may explain why New Delhi has spoken strongly about zero tolerance for the October 7 terror attacks, but has not designated Hamas as a terror group so far.

Also read | South Africa tells top U.N. court that it’s accusing Israel of apartheid against Palestinians

On the other hand, there is India’s close defence and surveillance equipment cooperation with Israel. While India has been buying defence equipment from Israel, recently, it shipped drones made by Adani-Elbit Advanced Systems in Hyderabad to help Israeli operations. In addition, the government has green-lighted the recruitment of tens of thousands of Indian workers by Israeli companies dealing with labour shortages due to the expulsion of Palestinians from jobs post October 7 attacks. However, the area of greatest concern for Indian diplomacy will come if it is seen as an outlier to the Global South that India seeks leadership of, which has been clearly critical of Israel’s actions, and is increasingly speaking in one voice for international judicial accountability for them.

  • The current hearings of the ICJ at the Peace Palace in The Hague (The Netherlands) are not a consequence of the Israel-Hamas conflict of the past few months, but pre-date them.
  • While a majority of the speakers at the hearings are from the Global South led by Brazil and South Africa, all P-5 members of the UN Security council submitted comments, although Israel chose not to participate.
  • While Brazil and Israel have had close relations in the past, Brazil’s President Lula da Silva has been openly critical of “Zionism” in the past.

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