Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Lull in Gaza Fighting Despite Blasts in South

17 June 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians walk among the rubble of houses destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on the second day of Eid al-Adha. (APA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa)
17 June 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians walk among the rubble of houses destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on the second day of Eid al-Adha. (APA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa)
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Lull in Gaza Fighting Despite Blasts in South

17 June 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians walk among the rubble of houses destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on the second day of Eid al-Adha. (APA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa)
17 June 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians walk among the rubble of houses destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on the second day of Eid al-Adha. (APA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa)

Israel struck Gaza on Monday and witnesses reported blasts in the besieged territory's south, but fighting had largely subsided on the second day of an army-declared "pause" to facilitate aid flows.

The relative calm came as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dissolved his war cabinet, reflecting the country's political fractures.

David Mencer, spokesman for the prime minister's office, said the body had been disbanded following the resignation of centrist leader Benny Gantz, who had required a war cabinet's formation in order to join a unity government.

Mencer said the war cabinet's duties will be taken over by the pre-existing security cabinet which had finalized decisions proposed by the war cabinet.

Israeli media said the move was meant to counter pressure from far-right politicians seeking a greater say in decision-making.

The daytime "pause" for aid deliveries around a southern Gaza route, announced at the weekend by Israel's military, appeared to be holding on Monday.

The health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said it had recorded 10 deaths over the previous 24 hours, in one of the lowest daily tolls since the war began.

- 'Catastrophic hunger' -

Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel triggered the war and resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The fighters also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas has killed at least 37,347 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.

Swathes of the territory's residential and other infrastructure have been reduced to rubble.

On Monday witnesses told AFP they could hear blasts in the center and west of the southernmost city of Rafah.

Palestinian officials there reported tank shelling early on Monday, before the start of the daily "local, tactical pause of military activity" announced by the army.

Elsewhere in the Palestinian territory an AFP correspondent said strikes and shelling have decreased.

In Gaza City, medics at Al-Ahli hospital said at least five people were killed in two separate air strikes, and witnesses reported tank shelling in the Zeitun district.

At least one strike hit Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, residents said.

The military said the pause "for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8:00 am (0500 GMT) until 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah al-Din road and then northwards".

- Fighting 'as planned' -

Troops were still operating in Rafah and central Gaza, reporting "close-quarters combat" that killed several militants, the military said.

Since ground forces went into Rafah against Hamas in early May, they have killed hundreds of gunmen and found "hundreds" of tunnel shafts, a military statement said on Monday.

"There was no change" in the military's policy and fighting "continues as planned", an Israeli official stressed, speaking on condition of anonymity to AFP.

Mahmud Basal, spokesman for Gaza's civil defense agency, said that apart from the deadly Gaza City strikes, "the other areas of the Gaza Strip are somewhat calm".

The UN says aid access to Gaza has been severely hindered by factors including insecurity, the closing of crossing points to the territory, and Israeli procedural delays.

The vital Rafah crossing with Egypt has been shut since Israeli forces seized its Palestinian side in early May.

"The idea behind the tactical pause in general is to allow for the UN to collect and distribute more aid," Shimon Freedman, spokesman for COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body overseeing Palestinian civilian affairs, told reporters at Kerem Shalom, near Rafah.

- 'Waiting' for Hamas -

In a message late Sunday for Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice, US President Joe Biden called for implementation of a ceasefire plan he outlined last month, saying it was "the best way to end the violence in Gaza".

Biden's plan would bring an initial six-week pause to fighting and Hamas would free hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces and a permanent ceasefire. Netanyahu's far-right coalition partners strongly oppose a ceasefire.

He is also facing regular street protests by tens of thousands demanding a deal to free the hostages.

But a senior Israeli negotiator, who told AFP that tens of hostages "are alive with certainty", said that Israel could not commit to ending the war until all the captives were released.

The official said the Israeli negotiating team had approved Biden's plan.

"We expect, and are waiting for, Hamas to say 'yes,'" he said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Two Attacks by Yemen's Houthis Strike Ships in Red Sea

FILE PHOTO: Greek-flagged bulk cargo vessel Sea Champion is docked to the port of Aden, Yemen to which it arrived after being attacked in the Red Sea, February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Greek-flagged bulk cargo vessel Sea Champion is docked to the port of Aden, Yemen to which it arrived after being attacked in the Red Sea, February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
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Two Attacks by Yemen's Houthis Strike Ships in Red Sea

FILE PHOTO: Greek-flagged bulk cargo vessel Sea Champion is docked to the port of Aden, Yemen to which it arrived after being attacked in the Red Sea, February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Greek-flagged bulk cargo vessel Sea Champion is docked to the port of Aden, Yemen to which it arrived after being attacked in the Red Sea, February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo

Two attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militias targeted ships in the Red Sea on Monday.

Three small Houthi vessels, two of which were crewed and another uncrewed, attacked the MT Bently I off the coast of Hodeidah, Yemen, according to British authorities.
The “reported unmanned small craft collided with the vessel twice and the 2 manned small craft fired at the vessel," the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center reported.

“The vessel conducted self-protection measures, after 15 minutes the small craft aborted the attack."

The captain later reported three separate waves of missile attacks that exploded in close proximity to the vessel.

Later on Monday, in a separate incident off the same coast, the MT Chios Lion, an oil tanker, was attacked by an uncrewed Houthi aerial vehicle, which “impacted on the port side causing some damage and light smoke,” the UKMTO said.

Both ships and all crew were reported safe, the UKMTO said in a warning to mariners.

Late Monday, the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attacks on Bently I and Chios Lion.

Early Tuesday, the US Central Command confirmed the attacks and identified the names and flags of the ship.

Also on Monday, the Central Command said CENTCOM forces successfully destroyed five Iranian-backed Houthi uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV), three over the Red Sea and two over Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

The militias claimed on Thursday targeting more than 166 vessels since November.

The Houthis maintain that their attacks target ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain, as part of the militias’ support for Hamas in its war against Israel. However, many of the ships attacked have little or no connection to the war.