BBC 2024-02-13 00:01:41

Palestinians sheltering in Rafah fear Israeli offensive

A Palestinian doctor in Rafah has said people are terrified about the prospect of an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza’s southern-most city, after a night of some of the worst air strikes he has experienced since arriving there.

In a series of messages sent to the BBC on Monday, Dr Ahmed Abuibaid described the air strikes as incessant and everywhere.

“[The] most popular question on people’s minds is, where can we go?” he said.

Last week, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he had ordered troops to prepare to expand its ground operation to Rafah.

More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million is now crammed into the city on the border with Egypt, which was home to only 250,000 people before the war between Israel and Hamas erupted in October.

Many of the displaced people are living in makeshift shelters or tents in squalid conditions, with scarce access to safe drinking water or food.

UN human rights chief Volker Türk warned an assault on Rafah would be “terrifying, given the prospect that an extremely high number of civilians, again mostly children and women, will likely be killed and injured”.

He also said it could mean that the “meagre” humanitarian aid getting into Gaza might stop, with most deliveries currently going through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing.

His warning followed unusually sharp criticism from the US last week, with President Joe Biden calling Israel’s retaliatory campaign in Gaza “over the top”. On Monday, Mr Biden said Israeli operations in Rafah “should not proceed without a credible plan for ensuring the safety” of civilians.

Speaking after a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Mr Biden also said the US was working on a ceasefire deal lasting “at least six weeks”.

The UK Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, on Monday urged allies of Israel to stop sending weapons, as “too many people” were being killed in Gaza.

In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said Israel was “working out a detailed plan” to move civilians to areas north of the city.

“Victory is within reach,” he said. “Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying, ‘lose the war, keep Hamas there.'”

The Israeli military launched a large-scale air and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas gunmen killed more than 1,200 people in southern Israel on 7 October and took 253 other people hostage.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 28,100 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting since then.

One of the displaced people in Rafah is Dr Abuibaid, who was forced to abandon his job at Nasser Hospital in the nearby city of Khan Younis after his home was destroyed in an Israeli air strike and his father suffered a traumatic spinal injury.

He is now facing the possibility of having to move out of Rafah – but it is unclear where would be safe for him to go.

“People are very scared about a possible military ground operation soon in the city,” he said.

Overnight Israeli strikes from Sunday into Monday, carried out during a operation to rescue two Israeli hostages, frightened many others who have sought refuge in the city.

Abo Mohamed Attya said he was sleeping in a tent with his family when he woke up to the sound of the bombardment.

“Suddenly… missiles are being hit everywhere and firing as well and airplanes everywhere, all of this is on the tents and the people in the streets,” he told the BBC.

Mr Attya, who previously fled Nuseirat refugee camp in the middle of the Gaza Strip after receiving Israeli evacuation orders, complained that there had been no warning from the Israeli military that they were going to target Rafah overnight.

“We hoped there was a warning to evacuate like they did in Nuseirat and we went to Rafah. We would have went out of Rafah to anywhere they told us. We have no problem, we would evacuate for our children,” he explained.

The Hamas-run Palestinian health ministry said at least 67 people had been killed in the Israeli strikes and hostage rescue raid in Rafah overnight.

“There is no safe place anymore; nowhere is safe, even the hospitals are unsafe. One hopes to die instead,” Mr Attya said.

Aside from the continuing threat of Israeli air strikes and an impending ground operation, the situation for people in Rafah is made more difficult by the dire living conditions, with little access to water, food and sanitation, and rapidly dwindling medical supplies.

Dr Abuibaid said he had observed many diseases among the people in Rafah and that they had been exacerbated by the “severe decrease in the availability of drugs and treatment”.

Another medic in Rafah, who did not want to be named, told the BBC that many people were living in cramped and unsanitary conditions.

“I live here with 20 people in two rooms… and I know people that are 100 people in three rooms.”

“We don’t have water to wash, we don’t have clothes, we don’t have the option to do hygiene stuff,” he said.

“My friends, all of the people I meet… all of them are having at least flu, cholera, diarrhoea, scabies, hepatitis A – which is a newcomer for us – and it’s getting worse and worse.”

“And the aid is less as the siege is increasing, the war is increasing, [Israeli soldiers] are getting closer to Rafah, and it feels very scary right now,” he said.

Despite being located next to the only crossing point for goods and people between Gaza and Egypt, Rafah has not received nearly enough aid to satisfy the needs of the people there.

One man in the city told the BBC that currently people were waiting days for aid deliveries, and that when they did arrive, supplies of water were insufficient.

“We can’t find water nor do we get enough of it, our throats are dry from the shortage of water,” another woman in Rafah said.

The head of the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which is the largest humanitarian organization in Gaza, said on Monday that civil order was breaking down, with members of the local Hamas-run police force being killed or reluctant to protect aid lorries because of fears for their own safety.

“Yesterday, for the first time, the UN could not operate with a minimum of protection, which was local police. And because we had no local police, our trucks, our convoys at the border have been looted, and trucks have been vandalised by hundreds of young people.”

‘No idea’ where to go

For some of the displaced, however, fears of what could come next are even overriding their daily anxieties of finding drinkable water and food.

“Before we were thinking about starvation for the food, for the shortage of water and electricity. But now we are traumatised about what’s the next step, where we should go. This is our daily life right now,” Ibrahim Isbaita told the BBC.

Asked where he and his family are considering going if they had to leave Rafah, Mr Isbaita said: “I have actually no idea.”

He said his mother needed dialysis treatment, which she is currently able to receive in Rafah when electricity supplies allow – though the treatment is less frequent than is needed. The fear is that if they move, she will not be able to find any treatment in the next place.

“I live besides the hospital because of my mother and we are trying our best to find a solution,” Mr Isbaita added.

What we know about Israel’s Rafah hostage rescue raid

Details have begun to emerge of an overnight Israeli military operation which freed two Israeli-Argentine hostages held captive by Hamas in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces carried out intense strikes in the area during the raid, which Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said killed dozens of people.

This is what we know so far about what happened.

Who are the freed hostages?

They have been named as Louis Har, 70, and Fernando Marman, 60, who were kidnapped from the kibbutz of Nir Yitzhak on 7 October.

Hundreds of Hamas gunmen infiltrated southern Israel that day, killing 1,200 people and taking another 250 back to Gaza as hostages. More than 28,100 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched a military campaign in response, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Both of the freed hostages have been taken to the Sheba Medical Center in central Israel, where they were said to be in a good condition.

Videos and photos showed the men walking around and embracing members of their families at the hospital.

What does Israel’s military say?

The first indications that something was taking place in Rafah were a series of intense Israeli strikes, which were reported shortly before 02:00 local time (00:00 GMT) on Monday and caused panic in a city that is sheltering the majority of the estimated 1.7 million Palestinians displaced by the war.

At 00:50, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed that they had conducted strikes on “terror targets” in the Shaboura area of Rafah.

One hour and 40 minutes later, the IDF put out a brief statement announcing the rescue of Louis Har and Fernando Marman in a joint operation with the Israel Police’s Yamam special forces unit and the Shin Bet security service.

In the morning, IDF spokesman Rear Adm Daniel Hagari provided more details about what he described as a “complex rescue operation under fire”, for which Israeli commandos had been preparing “for some time”.

“In the early morning, at 01:49, the special forces breached into a building in the heart of Rafah,” he told a news briefing. “On the second floor, Louis and Fernando were held by armed Hamas terrorists, who were present in the building along with terrorists who were in the adjacent buildings.”

  • Israel rescues two hostages in Rafah amid deadly strikes
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“From the moment of the breach and entry into the apartment, Yamam forces shielded Louis and Fernando with their bodies, initiating a daring battle and heavy exchanges of fire at several locations simultaneously, with many terrorists.”

Adm Hagari added: “By 01:50, aerial fire was activated by the Israeli Air Force and Southern Command, to enable the force’s disengagement and to strike Hamas terrorists in the area.

“At this stage, the forces extracted Louis and Fernando from the apartment and evacuated them under fire, accompanied by IDF forces who provided them protection in the Rafah area until they reached a safe zone.”

A soldier was lightly wounded in the operation, according to Israeli media.

“I salute our brave fighters for the daring action that led to their release. Only continued military pressure, until total victory, will bring about the release of all of our hostages,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

During a week-long ceasefire in late November, 105 Israeli and foreign hostages were released by Hamas. Israel says 134 hostages are still being held, although about two dozen of those are presumed to be dead.

What do Palestinians say?

Rafah residents said there was gunfire from attack helicopters and naval vessels in the early hours of Monday. At least two mosques and more than a dozen houses were reported to have been hit.

Photos and videos taken in the Shaboura area in the morning showed a huge pile of rubble where multiple buildings were reportedly destroyed in Israeli strikes.

Several large craters and the remains of plastic polytunnels could also be seen in adjoining agricultural land.

“We were asleep and then suddenly we saw heavy fire, lots of gunfire but we didn’t know what was going on,” resident Ziyad Seyam told Reuters news agency. “There were unimaginable strikes hitting the homes.”

Another man at the scene, Abu Abdullah al-Qadi, said his cousin was among those who were killed in the Israeli strikes.

“They stormed this building and it appears that they freed prisoners – and then they bombed it,” he told AFP news agency. “They bombed all the houses next to it.”

Night-vision video footage of the rescue operation released by the IDF on Monday afternoon showed a number of commandos entering one of the buildings at the location, as well as an air strike on an adjacent building.

Other photos and videos taken 1.6km (one mile) to the south-west showed that the al-Huda mosque in the centre of the city’s densely populated refugee camp was destroyed. A gaping hole could be seen extending down from the building’s roof.

Khaled al-Taweel said he saw Apache and Cobra helicopters attacking targets in the area, as well as F-16 jets and drones.

“So much terror. Something you’ve never seen. Not in Hollywood in the US, not in Libya, not in Syria… Only in Rafah,” he told Reuters news agency.

At the nearby Kuwait Speciality Hospital, a Palestinian girl receiving treatment for shrapnel wounds to her neck said her father was killed when a camp for displaced people was struck.

“We were in the tent, me and all my family, when the bullets all came at us. My father went to see what’s happening and said there were strikes, and a strike happened while he was talking,” Mai al-Najjar told Reuters.

Recent satellite images of the location where the hostages were held showed small clusters of tents less than 100m (330ft) away.

A doctor at Kuwait Speciality Hospital said some of the casualties brought there after the strikes had suffered traumatic amputations of their legs and hands, and that they included children, women and the elderly. Footage from the facility also showed dead and wounded children.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said in a statement on Monday morning that at least 67 people had been killed and that the number could rise as rescue and recovery operations continued.

Hamas described the attack as a continuation of Israel’s “genocidal war” against the Palestinian people, while the Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry condemned what it called an Israeli “massacre” in Rafah.

Trump seeks Supreme Court pause in 2020 election case

Ex-US President Donald Trump has asked the Supreme Court to suspend a lower court ruling that he does not have presidential immunity from prosecution.

He had claimed in his election interference case he could not be tried for acts carried out as president.

Three lower court judges disagreed, ruling that he can be prosecuted like any other citizen.

But Trump’s lawyers said he should not be tried during an election campaign.

“Conducting a months-long criminal trial of President Trump at the height of election season will radically disrupt President Trump’s ability to campaign against President Biden,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in the filing.

The Supreme Court will now decide if it will put the ruling on hold to allow Mr Trump to appeal.

The conservative-majority top court granting the request would lead to a long delay in the landmark criminal case alleging that Mr Trump plotted to illegally overturn the 2020 election, possibly until after the November election.

However, if the Supreme Court declines to put the ruling on pause, the federal trial overseen by Judge Tanya Chutkan will be scheduled, likely for spring.

As Mr Trump vies for the White House, he faces three other criminal trials in addition to this one.

He faces charges in Georgia for an alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 election results in the state and a seven-count indictment over his handling of classified documents after he left the White House.

The third is related to the alleged concealment of a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. He has pleaded not guilty against the charges in all the cases.

Mr Trump’s legal team has also made repeated attempts to delay his criminal trials until after the 2024 election.

In the federal election interference trial, Mr Trump has been charged with four counts: conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy against the rights of citizens.

He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, and his lawyers have argued that presidents are immune from prosecution for possible crimes committed while they are in office, even after they leave the White House.

Last week, this argument was rejected by a three-judge panel from the DC Circuit court, made up of one Republican appointee and two Democratic ones, who ruled that “any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as president no longer protects him against this prosecution”.

Now, Mr Trump’s lawyers are asking the Supreme Court to weigh in by putting the lower court’s ruling on hold to allow time for all active judges on the DC Circuit court to review the case.

In their filing, they warned that denying the former president immunity would set a precedent where “such prosecutions will recur and become increasingly common”.

“Without immunity from criminal prosecution, the Presidency as we know it will cease to exist,” Mr Trump’s lawyers argued.

If the lower circuit court declines a review, Mr Trump has asked that the ruling remain on hold while he files a formal appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court could respond to Mr Trump’s request in a few ways.

It could deny his ask to put the ruling on hold, which would resume the federal trial. It could deny Mr Trump’s request for a review, which would effectively shut down his immunity argument.

The court could also decide to hear Mr Trump’s appeal immediately, bypassing a review from the lower court. It could do so on a fast track, similar to a separate case it is currently weighing on whether Mr Trump is eligible to be on the ballot in the 2024 election.

It could also decide to hear it on the court’s usual schedule, which could likely delay a trial in the case well past November’s election date.

The Supreme Court previously denied a request late last year by Special Counsel Jack Smith, the lead prosecutor on the case, to issue an expedited ruling on Mr Trump’s immunity argument.

It is unclear when the Supreme Court might rule on Mr Trump’s request.

Gallagher scores twice as Chelsea win at Palace

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Why the trailer for Wicked has been slammed

The first teaser for the movie adaptation of the hit stage musical dropped during the Super Bowl – and some film fans are not impressed. “CGI sludge” is just one of the criticisms – but are the haters right?

Among all the film and TV trailers that dropped during this weekend’s Super Bowl game, none has been more discussed than the first teaser for the upcoming two-part movie adaptation of Wizard of Oz-inspired musical Wicked. In the opinion of certain sections of the internet, the result, far from defying gravity – to namecheck the show’s most beloved song – is a flop.

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Bad lighting and colouring; generic special effects. According to the haters, this snippet of Jon M Chu’s take on the subversive Broadway hit (which is essentially an origin story for the wicked witch from the classic 1939 movie) looks like a shonky Harry Potter spin-off. Or a Saturday Night Live skit. Either that or one of the much-hated offerings from the new phase of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies – the Wicked trailer is so visually flat that even its charismatic stars, Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande, resemble undercooked pancakes. A reddit user summed up their dismay: “This just looks like a pretty bland retelling with all the edge taken off in favour of tacky action CGI shots.” An online critic lamented what they described as the “CGI sludge”.

In the trailer, the spires of Emerald City look cut and pasted from a catalogue for drably fantastical homes

Any trailer with so many nods to the original Oz was always going to get a kicking. The flying monkeys, here, don’t fill us with dread. And the spires of Emerald City look cut and pasted from a catalogue for drably fantastical homes.

The trailer doesn’t just fail when compared to epics from the distant past. Set Wicked next to blockbusters from the last few years and, if the trailer is anything to go by, it still comes up short. Dune (divided into two parts, like Wicked, and made for roughly the same amount of money) was surreal and haunting. Ditto Oppenheimer. Meanwhile, Barbie’s Greta Gerwig gave us a spectacle that combined expensively colourful sets and effects with the most inventive and slyly witty of low-fi details.

Then again, let’s give Universal some credit. The beauty of Holzman and Schwartz’s musical is that, aside from the catchy songs and gritty plot machinations, it completely re-imagines the events of the 1939 classic, creating a whole new world of possibilities for green-skinned witch, Elphaba (Erivo), and her on-off buddy, stereotypical It girl, Glinda. Those coming to the material fresh will probably assume Michelle Yeoh’s character, university head, Madame Morrible, is some sort of inspirational, Dumbledore-esque mentor, who wants the young women to fulfil their potential. Yeoh’s line in the trailer feels a little robotic: “Once you learn to harness your emotions, the sky’s the limit”. But if you know what Morrible is up to, that works.

In the same way, those unacquainted with Jonathan Bailey, who plays Elphaba’s love interest, Fiyero, might think him unworthy of the mighty Erivo. But Bailey (who was insanely seductive as the Viscount in Bridgerton, as well as distractingly excellent as a hacker in Doctor Who) is an inspired choice. He and Erivo are the sort of wily actors who know exactly how to upend expectations, get us sobbing and/or create sexual heat. If anyone can make Elphaba and Fiyero sing, it’s these two.

Speaking of which, the trailer seems almost embarrassed that the film we’ll get to see in November is a musical. As in the trailers for Wonka and the recent Mean Girls musical film, trilling is kept to a minimum. But the tiny riff at the end (giving us a snatch of Defying Gravity, as we’ve never heard it before) allows Erivo to let rip. Her voice is scarily good, and this movie still has the potential to be wicked.

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