BBC 2024-02-12 18:01:29

UN warns full Israeli invasion of Rafah would be ‘terrifying’ as offensive looms

BBC Arabic has been hearing from Abo Mohamed Attya, who was in Rafah when the overnight Israeli military operation happened.

He said: “We were sleeping and suddenly awoken by the sound of bombardment… thanks to God for the protection but others were in pieces”.

He had previously been living at the al-Nuseirat refugee camp further north in the Gaza Strip before being displaced. He said he would have been prepared to leave Rafah if prior warning had been given.

“We would have gone out of Rafah to anywhere they told us. We have no
problem, we would evacuate for our children. There is no safe place any more;
nowhere is safe, even the hospitals are unsafe.”

Israel rescues two hostages in Rafah amid deadly strikes

Israel said two Israeli-Argentine hostages have been rescued in a raid in Rafah, amid heavy Israeli air strikes on the southern Gazan city.

The Israeli military said the two men were in “good medical condition”.

The pair were named as Fernando Simon Marman, aged 60, and Louis Har, 70, from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak.

Some 1.5 million people are sheltering in Rafah. The Hamas-run health ministry said dozens had been killed in the overnight strikes.

It follows warnings from the international community over Israel’s planned offensive in the city.

The hostages were found on the second floor of a building in Rafah, said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

He said Israeli forces had engaged in “heavy exchanges of fire at several locations simultaneously, with many terrorists”.

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Abou Suhhaib, who lives in the Shaboura neighbourhood in Rafah, heard “heavy shooting” and “strong explosions” overnight.

“At approximately midnight, we heard the sounds of strong explosions, as if hell had opened on the civilians,” he told AFP news agency.

He described seeing a helicopter landing, adding, “there was heavy shooting, as if it was a very big battle”.

There are conflicting reports on Palestinian casualties from the air strikes: the AFP news agency reported that “around 100 people” were killed, citing Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that at least 50 people were killed, quoting local hospital officials.

In a statement on social media, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that during an overnight “joint operation between the IDF, ISA [Israel Security Agency or Shin Bet], and Israel Police, two Israeli hostages from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak were rescued: Fernando Simon Marman (60) and Louis Har (70)”.

The hostages were taken to Sheba Medical Center in central Israel for tests.

Armon Aek, its acting director, said: “I’m very happy to announce that this night, two released hostages landed here.

“They were received in our ER [examination room] and initial examination was conducted by our ER staff and they are in a stable condition.”

They had been kidnapped by Hamas, the IDF said, in the 7 October cross-border attack that triggered the ground invasion.

Mr Marman’s niece said she was still “shaking” from the news of her uncle’s rescue.

“When I saw him I couldn’t believe he was real,” Gefen Sigal Ilan told AFP.

Israel’s military launched its operations in the Gaza Strip after about 1,200 people were killed in southern Israel on 7 October by Hamas gunmen, who also took 253 people hostage. A number of those hostages were later released.

On Monday, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 164 people had been killed and 200 injured in Gaza over the last day, although it is not clear exactly how many died in Israeli attacks overnight. The ministry says 28,340 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 68,000 wounded in the Strip since 7 October.

A number of countries and international organisations have warned Israel against conducting its planned offensive in Rafah, where an estimated 1.5 million people have sought refuge. Most of them have fled from the rest of Gaza.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron earlier said “over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering in the area”, while Saudi Arabia warned of “very serious repercussions” if Rafah was stormed.

Rafah – on the border with Egypt – is the only open point of entry for humanitarian aid into Gaza.

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a Rafah offensive should not happen without measures to ensure the safety of civilians.

Mr Biden said Israel needed a “credible and executable plan” to protect the more than a million people in the city, according to the White House.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted it will go ahead and a plan is being prepared.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s Hamas rulers said there could be “tens of thousands” of casualties, warning that any operation would also undermine talks about a possible release of Israeli hostages held in the territory.

Why is Rafah the new focus in Gaza war?

Bowen: Gazans fled to Rafah for safety but now Israel wants to attack

More than a million displaced Palestinians have found shelter in the south of the Gaza strip after fleeing the fighting in the north.

Now Israel says it will expand its military operations all the way to the south – with heavy aerial bombardment reported in the Gaza area.

A ground invasion in the refugee-packed area could prove disastrous and the US has warned Israel not to attack without a “credible” plan to protect civilians.

International journalists are not allowed in Gaza. Our International editor Jeremy Bowen reports from the wall separating Bethlehem in the West Bank from Israeli-controlled Jerusalem.

Cameraman: Fred Scott

Video Journalist: Bruno Boelpaep

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Mahomes chasing Brady as leader of NFL’s new dynasty

If there was any lingering doubt about Patrick Mahomes’ greatness, it was extinguished with three seconds of overtime remaining at Super Bowl 58.

That was when he threw the touchdown pass that took the Kansas City Chiefs to glory.

Many now feel it’s just a case of when not if he can chase down Tom Brady’s records.

That dramatic late pass to Mecole Hardman not only gave the Chiefs a 25-22 win over the San Francisco 49ers and back-to-back Super Bowls, but put the rest of the NFL on notice that if you want to win a Lombardi Trophy these days, you have to find a way of beating Mahomes.

And as the confetti rained down in Las Vegas, what should really worry the other 31 teams in the league is that this could, and perhaps should, have been a good year to beat the Chiefs.

Mahomes had some of his lowest output totals across the board this season, his receivers led the league in dropped passes and he had to go on the road for the first time in the play-offs, winning their last three games as underdogs.

What the Chiefs proved, though, is that with Mahomes on board, they’re never beaten. As he put it himself: “The Kansas City Chiefs are never underdogs – just know that.”

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Why Mahomes can become NFL’s greatest

Stats only tell some of the story, but Mahomes already has a tonne of those to back up his case for greatness – not least winning all three of his Super Bowls, overturning a 10-point deficit in each one.

That is some achievement, given there have been only seven Super Bowl comebacks of 10 points or more in NFL history.

Such an air of invincibility is the sign of a true great, while his desire on that winning drive in overtime, using his legs as well as his arm, just showed how much he wanted it.

Opta stats tell us that no quarterback in the past 30 years has completed eight passes or more and had 27 rushing yards in a single drive – in any game – until Mahomes did it. And he did it in overtime at the Super Bowl.

The stats back up what we saw in Las Vegas. As just the third played to win back-to-back Super Bowl MVPs and third player to win it three times, he now only has Brady above him in those standings.

Mahomes is only 28, has been to the AFC Championship game in every season as a starter and after six full campaigns has the same Super Bowl rings as Brady had, but more appearances and more play-off wins – and he is well ahead in terms of touchdowns and passing yards.

His trajectory is heading into the stratosphere.

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The Chiefs cement their place as NFL dynasty

A third Super Bowl win – from their fourth appearance in five years – is undoubtedly dynasty territory now for Kansas City, and the scary prospect for the rest is that they did it the hard way.

They were plagued by receiver problems, missed out on a play-off bye and had the hardest-ever road to Super Bowl victory in terms of strength of opponents – they had to beat both number one seeds to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

Brady’s New England Patriots were the last back-to-back Super Bowl champions 19 years ago – and the fact that it’s the longest ever gap between repeat winners shows how hard it is to dominate these days with the salary cap and draft system.

So the fact that Mahomes had the highest salary cap hit of $37m, external and the Chiefs still managed to build a championship side around him is impressive.

There’s already talk of Mahomes restructuring his contract to free up money to sign other players, which is something Brady regularly did at the Patriots – just one way the Chiefs star is trying to emulate the consensus GOAT of the NFL.

The other is not resting on just winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

“We’re not done,” Mahomes said after lifting the trophy. “I know we’re going to celebrate tonight, but we’re not done. We’ve got a young team and we’re going to keep this thing going.

“I’m going to celebrate tonight. I’m going celebrate at the parade. And then I’m going to do whatever I can to be back in this game next year and try to go for that three-peat.

“I think Tom [Brady] said it best – once you win that championship and you have those parades and you get those rings, you’re not the champion any more.

“You have to come back with that same mentality, and I learned from guys like that, who have been the greatest of all time at the top of the level and so that’s my mindset.”

Another frightening prospect is that the Chiefs found a different way to win in terms of playing style this year, behind a young, ferocious defence that faced four of the top six offences in the league in the play-offs, two on the road, and allowed just under 16 points per game.

A defence like that will always keep you in the game, and Mahomes has evolved his play this year from a flashy gunslinger to a more cerebral passer, pulling out the big plays just when they’re needed.

With a veteran head coach in Andy Reid steering the ship, a front office that has shown they can build a team, and of course Mahomes, these Chiefs are not going anywhere any time soon.

If there’s a player you’d back to win three in a row, it is Mahomes. They used to say you can never bet against Brady, especially in the play-offs. Now they are saying it about the man who looks primed to take his crown.

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Back in hospital, Pentagon chief cancels Nato trip

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has cancelled an overseas trip to Nato headquarters after being admitted to hospital for the third time in as many months.

Mr Austin, 70, is in a critical care unit at a Washington DC area hospital. The Pentagon has said he is facing an “emergent bladder issue”.

The cabinet member’s duties have been transferred to his deputy.

He has faced scrutiny over the secrecy of his previous hospital admissions.

Mr Austin failed to disclose his prostate cancer diagnosis in December or his return to hospital in January, either publicly or to key figures in the US chain of command.

On Wednesday, he had been due to lead a meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group (UDCG) in Brussels, Belgium. It would have been his first overseas trip since his initial hospital admission.

He was also set to attend a meeting of the Nato Defense Ministerial chaired by Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday.

Mr Austin attended the last meeting of the UCDG virtually from his home on 23 January.

On Sunday afternoon, the Pentagon released a statement saying that Mr Austin had been taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland for treatment, adding that the White House and senior defence officials had been notified.

Later that afternoon, the Pentagon released a second statement saying Mr Austin has “transferred the functions and duties of the office” to Deputy Defence Secretary Kathleen Hicks.

Later on Sunday, the hospital provided an update saying that the secretary had been admitted into the critical care unit “for supportive care and close monitoring”.

Officials have not yet said how long the first black US defence secretary will be in hospital or when he might resume his duties.

The bladder issue was not expected to change Mr Austin’s “anticipated full recovery” from cancer, his doctors said.

Late last year, Mr Austin had surgery as part of his cancer treatment.

He was readmitted to hospital on New Year’s Day with severe pain in his leg, hip and abdomen because of complications related to the procedure. An evaluation found a urinary tract infection and he remained in hospital for more than two weeks.

Senior defence officials and the Biden administration did not know that Mr Austin was seriously ill until three days after his re-admission in January.

The defence secretary is just below the president in the chain of command for the US military, and is regarded as one of the most important members of the cabinet.

The incident stoked concerns over both transparency and security and prompted three separate investigations into Mr Austin’s handling of his illness and hospital stays. Some prominent Republicans called for him to be removed from his post.

At a press conference earlier this month, Mr Austin said he was “deeply sorry” for failing to provide appropriate notice and that he had apologised personally to President Joe Biden.

The defence secretary is due to testify at the end of the month about his failure to notify government leaders.