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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he arrives in Tel Aviv. Alamy Stock Photo

Blinken arrives in Israel as UN calls for investigation into number of journalists killed in Gaza

Two Al Jazeera reporters were killed on Sunday when their car was struck in southern Gaza’s city of Rafah, near the border with Egypt.


US SECRETARY OF State Antony Blinken has arrived in Tel Aviv as part of a regional tour seeking to avert regional escalation as Israel pounded Gaza and Lebanon’s Hezbollah said an Israeli strike killed a top commander.

Palestinian militants reported fierce ground combat in southern Gaza, where Israel says its focus has shifted along with the territory’s centre three months into its war with Hamas.

Sirens sounded today in central and southern Israel to warn of incoming rocket fire, and while battles raged in the besieged Gaza Strip, the situation to Israel’s north has also caused increasing regional and global concern.

Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, have engaged in regular cross-border fire during the ongoing conflict since Hamas’s attack against Israel on 7 October.

Today, Hezbollah announced the killing of a “commander” for the first time since October, naming him as Wissam Hassan Tawil.

A security official in Lebanon, requesting anonymity for security reasons, said Tawil “had a leading role in managing Hezbollah’s operations in the south”, and was killed there by an Israeli strike targeting his car.

The Israeli military said it struck Hezbollah “military sites” in Lebanon today, but did not immediately comment on Tawil’s death.

His is the second high-profile killing in Lebanon this month, following a strike in a Beirut stronghold of Hezbollah last week which killed Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Aruri, heightening fears of the conflict spreading.

smoke-rises-following-an-israeli-bombardment-in-the-gaza-strip-as-seen-from-southern-israel-monday-jan-8-2024-ap-photoleo-correa Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The Israeli army also said it had killed a “central figure” in Syria responsible for Hamas rocket attacks, naming him as Hassan Akasha.

The 7 October attack by Hamas resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Hamas, considered a “terrorist” group by the United States and the European Union, also took around 250 hostages, 132 of whom remain captive, Israel says. At least 25 are believed to have been killed.

Israel has responded with relentless bombardment and a ground invasion.

Today, the health ministry in Gaza said that at least 23,084 people have been killed in the besieged Palestinian territory since 7 October.

The ministry said in a statement that it had recorded 249 deaths in the past 24 hours, while a total of 58,926 people had been wounded in the Gaza Strip during the ongoing conflict.

‘Help Gaza recover’

Violence has also surged in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian health ministry reported three deaths by Israeli fire today.

Israeli police confirmed three were killed during a raid on Tulkarem, in the northern West Bank, to arrest a “wanted terrorist”.

Israeli forces and settler attacks in the West Bank since 7 October have killed at least 333 Palestinians, according to the Ramallah-based health ministry.

US Secretary of State Blinken, on his fourth regional trip since the current conflict began, met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman today after talks in the United Arab Emirates and ahead of his visit to Israel.

a-border-security-guard-inspects-a-truck-carrying-humanitarian-aid-to-the-gaza-strip-at-the-kerem-shalom-border-crossing-between-israel-and-gaza-southern-israel-monday-jan-8-2024-ap-photoleo-c A border security guard inspects a truck carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Before leaving Al Ula in Saudi Arabia, Blinken said: “We agreed to work together and coordinate our efforts to help Gaza stabilise and recover… and to work toward long term peace and security and stability.”

Washington, Israel’s main ally and arms supplier, has grown increasingly concerned over the conflict’s civilian death toll.

Speaking today, US President Joe Biden said he was working to get Israel to cut its military presence in Gaza, after protesters calling for a ceasefire disrupted him during a campaign speech.

“I’ve been quietly working with the Israeli government to get them to reduce and significantly get out of Gaza,” Biden said.

The Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of militant group Islamic Jihad, reported “fierce clashes” today, involving machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, with Israeli troops in the southern city of Khan Yunis.

Islamic Jihad, which has fought alongside Hamas in Gaza, later released a video it claimed showed an Israeli hostage alive in its custody.

Israel’s military reported its forces have “been working in recent days to expand” operations around Khan Yunis and said troops and warplanes struck 30 “significant” targets in the major city overnight. 

The fighting, now in its fourth month, has reduced swathes of the narrow Palestinian territory to rubble, and prompted international concern over dire humanitarian conditions.

Earlier today, the United Nations said it was “very concerned by the high death toll of media workers” in the territory.

rafah-gaza-07th-jan-2024-palestinians-check-the-car-in-which-two-journalists-mustafa-thuria-a-video-freelancer-for-afp-news-agency-and-hamza-wael-dahdouh-a-journalist-with-al-jazeera-televisio Palestinians check the car in which two journalists were killed in an Israeli strike Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

It came a day after Qatar-based Al Jazeera network said an Israeli strike had killed two of its journalists.

The broadcaster said the two journalists were killed when their car was struck in southern Gaza’s city of Rafah, near the border with Egypt, in what it claimed was an Israeli “targeted killing”.

They were named as Mustafa Thuria, a video stringer who also worked for AFP and other media organisations, and Hamza Wael Dahdouh, the son of Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief who had earlier lost his wife and two other children in an Israeli strike.

A third freelance journalist, Hazem Rajab, was seriously injured.

The UN rights office called for the deaths to be “thoroughly and independently investigated”.

International aid groups have said Israeli attacks on one of Gaza’s last functioning hospitals had forced them to evacuate.

The World Health Organization said Sunday it had evacuated more than 600 patients from the Al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza following “troubling reports of increasing hostilities”.

Médecins Sans Frontières said a day earlier it had evacuated its staff from the same hospital after a bullet penetrated a wall in the intensive care unit.

In a statement today, MSF said a shell broke through the wall of one of its shelters this morning, housing over 100 staff and their families in Khan Yunis.

Four people were injured, including the five-year-old daughter of an MSF staff member, who it said is in a “critical condition”. The staff and their families have now moved to another location.

“We are trying to understand what happened. MSF had informed Israeli Forces that this was an MSF shelter. MSF did not receive evacuation orders,” the statement read.

“We condemn this latest attack which shows yet again that no one and nowhere is safe in Gaza.

‘Everyone going hungry’

The Israeli military today showed journalists what a spokesman described as a cluster of weapons factories and tunnels in central Gaza used by Hamas to manufacture rockets.

Soldiers leading a media tour in Bureij said that what looked like cement factories and other industrial facilities were in fact used to make missiles and shells stored in deep shafts.

Elsewhere, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was in Cairo today to meet with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, a mediator in the conflict.

Most of Gaza’s population has been displaced, according to the United Nations, leaving people in overcrowded shelters or tents in the winter chill.

Many have fled to Rafah in Gaza’s far south, where a strike today ripped open a car killing two of Dahdouh’s nephews. 

“They say Rafah is safe, but we don’t see it is safe in Rafah. No place is safe,” said Mohammad Hejazy, overlooking the blood-soaked road.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of the risk of famine and disease, with only minimal aid entering the besieged territory.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem today said “everyone in Gaza is going hungry” as “direct results of Israel’s declared policy”.

Washington has said Blinken will press Israel on its compliance with international humanitarian law and ask for “immediate measures” to boost aid to Gaza.

© AFP 2024