October 31, 2023

Israel-Hamas conflict: Israeli forces free soldier in Gaza; video of three hostages emerges; death toll continues to climb

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Wong steps up push for Gaza humanitarian corridor

In a continued effort to establish a safe humanitarian corridor out of Gaza, Foreign Minister Penny Wong has held phone calls with International Committee of the Red Cross president Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister Bou Habib and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Senator Wong spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi earlier in the week.

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

But a spokeswoman for Wong said efforts to secure a humanitarian passage through the Rafah crossing connect Egypt with Gaza “have not yet been successful”.

The department is in contact with 88 Australians in Gaza who have no way to exit the region, which is being blockaded by Israel.

Earlier this morning, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the government remained concerned about Australians trapped in Gaza and would continue to push for exits to be opened into Egypt.

“We want Australians and other citizens to be able to leave, and we’re continuing to work through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to try to achieve that,” he said.

With AAP


Israel-Hamas war already spilling over into Syria, UN envoy says

The Israel-Hamas war is spilling into Syria, fuelled by growing instability, violence and a lack of progress toward a political solution to its 12-year conflict, the United Nations special envoy for the country said.

Geir Pedersen told the Security Council that, on top of violence from the Syrian conflict, the Syrian people now face “a terrifying prospect of a potential wider escalation” following Hamas’ October 7 attacks on Israel and the ongoing retaliatory military action.

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen in 2021.Credit: AP

“Spillover into Syria is not just a risk; it has already begun,” Pedersen said.

Pedersen described Israel-linked airstrikes airports in Aleppo and Damascus, and retaliation by the United States against Iran-backed forces in Syrian territory, as fuel “being added to a tinderbox that was already beginning to ignite”.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States Ambassador to the UN, accused Syria of allowing Iran and terrorist groups to use its international airports for military purposes.

“We call on the regime to curb the activities of Iran-backed militias in Syria, stop the flow of foreign arms and fighters through its territory, and cease escalatory actions in the Golan Heights,” she said.



Watch: Former Israeli minister explains Sinai Desert plan

By Angus Thomson

More on that concept paper from Israel’s Intelligence Ministry detailing a proposal to relocate 2.3 million people from the Gaza Strip to tent cities in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

In this Al Jazeera interview from two weeks ago, former Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon elaborates on the plan, saying there was “almost endless space” in the Sinai desert just over the border from Gaza.

“The idea is for them to leave over to the open areas where we [Israel] and the international community will prepare the infrastructure … tent cities with food and with water,” he said.

He compared the plan to camps set up in Turkey for Syrian refugees fleeing the Assad regime, and said Egypt would “have to play ball” for it to work.

As we wrote earlier, that is unlikely. Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, has proposed Israel instead house Palestinians in its Negev Desert, which neighbours the Gaza Strip, until it ends its military operations.


Over 3000 children killed in Gaza, UN commissioner-general says

By Angus Thomson

Earlier we reported on comments from the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, who told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday that an immediate humanitarian ceasefire had become “a matter of life and death for millions” o Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

In another clip from the meeting (shown above), Philippe Lazzarini says more than 3000 children and 64 of his colleagues have been killed in the last three weeks.

“An entire population is being dehumanised,” he said. “The atrocities of Hamas do not absolve the state of Israel from its obligation under international humanitarian law.

“Every war has rules, and this one is no exception.”


‘Concept paper’ reveals proposal to move Palestinians to Egypt

Jerusalem: An Israeli government ministry has drafted a wartime proposal to transfer the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, drawing condemnation from the Palestinians and worsening tensions with Cairo.

In its report from October 13, the Intelligence Ministry – a junior ministry that conducts research but does not set policy – proposed moving Gaza’s civilian population to tent cities in northern Sinai, then building permanent cities and an undefined humanitarian corridor.

The Sinai Peninsula sits between Egypt’s Suez Canal and its border with Israel and the Gaza Strip. Credit: AP

A security zone would be established inside Israel to block the displaced Palestinians from entering. The report did not say what would become of Gaza once its population is cleared out.

Its conclusions deepened long-standing Egyptian fears that Israel wants to make Gaza into Egypt’s problem, and revived for Palestinians memories of their greatest trauma – the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of people who fled or were forced from their homes during the fighting surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.


Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said a mass displacement of Palestinians would be “tantamount to declaring a new war”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office played down the report compiled by the Intelligence Ministry as a hypothetical “concept paper”.

Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, has said a mass influx of refugees from Gaza would eliminate the Palestinian nationalist cause and would risk bringing militants into Sinai, where they would be able to launch attacks on Israel.



Vigil held at ABC headquarters for Palestinian journalist killed by airstrike

By Angus Thomson

Returning to Melbourne briefly, where journalists gathered outside the ABC’s headquarters in Southbank this afternoon to hold a silent vigil for Palestinian photojournalist Roshdi Sarraj, who was killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza earlier this month.

The 31-year-old had filmed material for the ABC’s 7.30 program just days before his death, presenter Sarah Ferguson said on air this week.

The ABC house committee, which represents Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance union members at the broadcaster, released a statement expressing their condolences to Sarraj’s family, saying: “Journalists working for the ABC in these dangerous situations deserve the ABC’s support.”

Sarraj had also worked as a fixer for Radio France since 2021, helping with translation, securing interviews and the logistics of reporting in a war zone.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that between October 7 and 30, some 31 journalists have been confirmed dead: 26 Palestinian, four Israeli and one Lebanese.

The watchdog has said this marks the deadliest period for journalists covering conflict since it began monitoring in 1992.


Deadly strikes on journalists in Lebanon were targeted, says watchdog

A watchdog group advocating for press freedom said that the strikes that hit a group of journalists in southern Lebanon earlier this month, killing one, were targeted rather than accidental and that the journalists were clearly identified as press.

Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, published preliminary conclusions Sunday in an ongoing investigation, based on video evidence and witness testimonies, into two strikes that killed Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah and wounded six journalists from Reuters, AFP and Al Jazeera as they were covering clashes on the southern Lebanese border on October 13.

Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah, who was killed in an air strike on the Lebanon-Israel border earlier this month.

The fact the journalists were “clearly identifiable” as press showed Abdallah’s death was not an accident, said the head of RSF’s Middle East desk, Jonathan Dagher, although he said there was not enough evidence at this stage to say the group was targeted specifically because they were journalists.

Carmen Joukhadar, an Al Jazeera correspondent who suffered shrapnel wounds to her arms and legs in the strikes, said the journalists were positioned 3 kilometres away from the fighting.

Mourners carry Abdallah’s body during a funeral procession in his hometown of Khiam, southern Lebananon.Credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

“Everything was on the other hill, nothing next to us,” Joukhadar said. “If there was shelling next to us, we would have left immediately.”

Israeli officials have said that they do not deliberately target journalists, and the incident is under review.



Gaza ‘overflowing with sewage’ as basic services crumble

The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees says has warned crumbling services and a lack of humanitarian aid will lead to looting and a breakdown of civil order that would make it impossible for the agency to continue operating in the enclave.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazarrini told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday that an immediate humanitarian cease-fire had become “a matter of life and death for millions” of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Philippe Lazzarini is seen on a screen speaking to members of the UN Security Council on Monday.Credit: AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz

Lazzarini said “the handful of convoys” allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt in recent days “is nothing compared to the needs of over 2 million people trapped in Gaza.”

“The system in place to allow aid into Gaza is geared to fail,” he said, “unless there is political will to make the flow of supplies meaningful, matching the unprecedented humanitarian needs.”

He said there is no safe place anywhere in Gaza, warning that basic services are crumbling, medicine, food, water and fuel are running out, and the streets “have started overflowing with sewage, which will cause a massive health hazard very soon.”



Israeli ads showing Hamas atrocities pop up in children’s video games

London: Maria Julia Assis was sitting down to a meal in her terraced home in north London when her six-year-old son ran into the dining room, his face pale.

The puzzle game on his Android phone had been interrupted by a video showing Hamas militants, terrified Israeli families and blurred graphic footage. Over a black screen, messages in capital letters from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the first-year student: “We’re being murdered in our homes, executed in our beds.… We will make sure that those who harm us pay a heavy price.”

Assis said that the ad left her son shaken and she quickly deleted the game.

“He literally said, ‘What is this bloody ad doing in my game?’”

Reuters has documented at least five other cases across Europe where the same pro-Israel video, which carried footage of rocket attacks, a fiery explosion, and masked gunmen, was shown to gamers, including several children.

In at least one case, the ads were played inside the popular Angry Birds game made by SEGA-owned developer Rovio, who confirmed that ads with disturbing content had appeared in the game and were now being blocked manually.

Read the full story, including statements from the Israel Defence Force and advertisers, here.



Where we stand at midday

By Olivia Ireland

Thanks for joining the blog so far, my colleague Angus Thomson will be taking over this afternoon. For now, here’s what made headlines this morning:

The Israeli military has announced the rescue of a female soldier Private Ori Megidish, who was captured during Hamas’ wide-ranging October 7 attack inside Israel, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised as an achievement.Israel has warned its citizens to leave northern Caucasus after a mob stormed an airport in Russia’s Dagestan region when a flight from Israel landed there.Netanyahu has rejected calls for a ceasefire, saying the war will be long and difficult and the calls are asking “for Israel to surrender to Hamas”.German-Israeli dual citizen Shani Louk, who was killed while fleeing Hamas’ October 7 attack on the Supernova festival, has been formally identified as dead.Hamas said its militants fired machine guns and anti-tank missiles toward Israeli forces in north and south Gaza early on Tuesday as Israel’s tanks and infantry attacked the enclave’s main city, raising concerns about the plight of Palestinian civilians.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: AP

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