Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Israeli Tanks Push Deeper into Rafah, Forcing People to Flee Again

 Smoke plumes billow during ongoing battles in the Sultan neighborhood in the northwest of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 18, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Smoke plumes billow during ongoing battles in the Sultan neighborhood in the northwest of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 18, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Israeli Tanks Push Deeper into Rafah, Forcing People to Flee Again

 Smoke plumes billow during ongoing battles in the Sultan neighborhood in the northwest of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 18, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Smoke plumes billow during ongoing battles in the Sultan neighborhood in the northwest of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 18, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

Israeli tanks backed by warplanes and drones advanced deeper into the western part of the Gaza Strip city of Rafah on Wednesday, killing eight people, according to residents and Palestinian medics.

Residents said the tanks moved into five neighborhoods after midnight. Heavy shelling and gunfire hit the tents of displaced families in the Al-Mawasi area, further to the west of the coastal enclave, they said.

Some eight months into the war, there has been no sign of let up in the fighting as efforts by international mediators, backed by the United States, have so far failed to persuade Israel and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.

Nine people were also killed on Wednesday when an Israeli strike hit a group of citizens and merchants in Salah al-Din Road in the southern Gaza Strip as they waited for convoys of aid trucks carrying goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing, medical sources told Reuters.

Israeli forces have laid waste to much of Gaza and seized most of the Palestinian territory but have yet to achieve their stated goal of wiping out Hamas and freeing Israeli hostages.

Medics and Hamas media said eight Palestinians were killed in Al-Mawasi and many families fled north in panic. They did not identify the fatalities and the Israeli military said it was looking into the report.

Residents said Israeli army forces blew up several homes in western Rafah, which had sheltered over half of Gaza's 2.3 million people before last month, when Israel began its ground offensive and forced most of the population to head northwards.

Some United Nations and Palestinian figures put those who remained at under 100,000 people.

"Another night of horror in Rafah. They opened fire from planes, drones and tanks on the western areas to cover for their invasion," said one Rafah resident, who asked not to be named.

"Bullets and shells landed in the Mawasi area near where people slept, killing and wounding many," he told Reuters via a chat app.

An Israeli commander briefing military correspondents in Rafah on Tuesday named two more locations there - Shaboura and Tel Al-Sultan - where the army planned to take on Hamas fighters.

"The Hamas battalions there are not yet well worn down and we need to dismantle them completely. We estimate it at more or less a month, at this intensity," Colonel Liron Batito, head of the Givati Brigade, told Army Radio.

The Israeli military remained in control of the borderline between Rafah and Egypt. Footage circulated on social media showed the Rafah crossing, the only window for most of Gaza's population with the outside world, was destroyed, buildings burnt, and Israeli tanks positioned there with the flag of Israel flying over some places.

The Israeli military said aid into Gaza had not been impeded by the damage.

Further north, Israel sent a column of tanks back into the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City and residents reported heavy fire from tanks and warplanes but also sounds of gun battles with Hamas-led fighters.

In another Gaza City suburb, Sheikh Radwan, an Israeli air strike on a house killed four Palestinians, including a child, medics said. A total of 20 people had been killed across Gaza.

The armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said fighters battled Israeli forces with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs, and have in some areas detonated pre-planted explosive devices against army units.

Later on Wednesday, Palestinian gunmen fired rockets at the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza, the Israeli military said.

Israel's ground and air campaign was triggered when Hamas-led fighters stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The offensive has left Gaza in ruins, killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left much of the population homeless and destitute.

Since a week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed, with Hamas insisting on an end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Netanyahu refuses to end the war before Hamas is eradicated and the hostages are freed.

On Wednesday, the United Nations human rights office said Israeli forces may have repeatedly violated fundamental principles of the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in their Gaza campaign.

In a report assessing six Israeli attacks that caused a high number of casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, the UN Human Rights Office said Israeli forces "may have systematically violated the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precautions in attack".

Israel's permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva called the analysis "factually, legally, and methodologically flawed".



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : New PMF Draft Law in Iraq Raises Questions about Fayyadh’s Electoral Ambitions 

Members of the PMF are seen during a military operation. (PMF on Telegram – file photo)
Members of the PMF are seen during a military operation. (PMF on Telegram – file photo)
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New PMF Draft Law in Iraq Raises Questions about Fayyadh’s Electoral Ambitions 

Members of the PMF are seen during a military operation. (PMF on Telegram – file photo)
Members of the PMF are seen during a military operation. (PMF on Telegram – file photo)

Head of Iraq’s Taqaddum party and former parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi expressed on Tuesday his fierce opposition to a draft law related to the enlistment and retirement of members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

In a post on the X platform, Halbousi accused PMF leader Faleh al-Fayyadh of abusing his position for “partisan goals.”

Parliament is expected to discuss the draft law on Wednesday.

The law raised questions over political influence within the PMF, a military group that was formed in 2014 and that became an official state institution in 2016.

The law in Iraq prohibits military officials from using their position for electoral purposes or to work in politics. They must resign from their position before pursuing political interests. Fayyadh has repeatedly been accused of flouting this law.

Fayyadh is already the head of a political bloc that enjoys influence in a number of provinces. It is currently vying for government posts in the Nineveh council.

Fayyadh has also been accused of using PMF funds to finance his al-Ataa movement.

Halbousi criticized the draft law for undermining the independence of the military and security agencies as stipulated in the constitution.

The law allows the leader of the PMF to also act as a head of a political party and therefore, he would be able to employ the PMF and its forces for his political agenda, added Halbousi.

He wondered whether the draft law would be used for “unacceptable electoral and political purposes”.

A source close to the Taqaddum party said Fayyadh designed the draft law to “serve his electoral ambitions.”

In remarks to Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt, he added that the law “sets no boundaries between Fayyadh’s political role and his position as head of the PMF.”

Moreover, he noted that the law allows Fayyadh to send into retirement any member of the PMF, a power he could use against a vast number of members to secure their vote in elections.

A leading member of the pro-Iran Coordination Framework said Halbousi’s attack against Fayyadh may be supported by some Shiite forces that want to remove him from his post.

The official revealed that the Asaib Ahl al-Haq group was among Halbousi’s strongest backers in this regard.

The group has long been planning on ousting Fayyadh, 68, so the draft law is unlikely to be ratified without amendments, he went on to say.

Leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq Qais al-Khazali had previously called for Fayyadh’s ouster because he has exceeded the legal age for the position and because he is the leader of a political party.

As of 2024, the PM boasts 238,075 members. It initially had no more than 60,000 when it was first formed in 2014 to fight the ISIS extremist group.

The number of its members kept growing even after ISIS’ defeat in Iraq, sparking accusations that leading members were adding fake names to the PMF for financial gain.

In 2019, former Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi accused some PMF leaders of “mysteriously making fortunes from public funds.”

On Monday, independent MP Sajjad Salem called for “criminalizing the possession of weapons outside the state and merging the PMF with the security forces to prevent Iran from exerting its influence through its proxies in factions and militias.”

The Iraqi state budget revealed that around 3 billion dollars (some 4.5 trillion dinars) are allotted to the PMF with hundreds of billions of dinars dedicated to salaries and the purchase of weapons.