Israel pounded Gaza with more air strikes on Thursday, as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak followed US President Joe Biden on visits to demonstrate support for the war against Hamas while urging Israel to ease the plight of besieged Gazans.
Sunak, who landed in Tel Aviv hours after Biden left, borrowed a phrase associated with Churchill, promising to stand by Israel “in its darkest hour” following the Oct. 7 rampage by Hamas gunmen who killed 1,400 Israelis.
“Above all, I’m here to express my solidarity with the Israeli people. You have suffered an unspeakable, horrific act of terrorism and I want you to know that the United Kingdom and I stand with you,” Sunak told Israeli reporters after landing.
Later appearing beside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said: “I know that you are taking every precaution to avoid harming civilians in direct contrast to the terrorists of Hamas which seeks to put civilians in harm’s way.”
Biden flew home on Wednesday night after an eight-hour trip having pledged to stand with Israel but having only limited success in his other mission, to persuade Israel to ease the plight of 2.3 million Gazans under a total siege.
Biden said he had secured an offer from Egypt to allow 20 aid trucks to reach Gaza in coming days, still a fraction of the 100 per day that UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council were needed.
Two Egyptian security sources said equipment was sent on Thursday through the crossing to repair roads on the Gaza side for aid to cross. More than 100 trucks were waiting on the Egyptian side although none were expected to cross before Friday at the earliest.
Israel said it would allow limited aid to reach Gaza from Egypt, but only provided none of it benefited Hamas. It repeated its position that it will open its own checkpoints to let in aid only when all of the more than 200 hostages captured by the gunmen were set free.
And it made clear there would be no let-up in its bombing campaign: “In the Gaza Strip, every place where Hamas has touched or is touching will be struck and destroyed,” a colonel identified as the commander of Israel’s Ramat David air base told public broadcaster Kan.
“We really are a war machine that knows how to do two or three times what is being done now.”
‘It has never been this brutal’
Gaza residents scoffed at the gesture of promising just 20 truckloads of aid for 2.3 million people cut off from food, water, fuel and medical supplies.
“About the aid, this is something frivolous. We want nothing from Arab and foreign countries except to stop the violent bombardment on our houses,” said El-Awad El-Dali, 65, speaking near the rubble of ruined homes.
Health officials say bombing has so far killed nearly 3,500 people and wounded more than 12,000.
In Khan Younis, in the south of the Gaza Strip, an area of shops was reduced to rubble as far as the eye could see, with a toddler’s pink cot overturned on the ground, windows blown off a clothing store and damaged vehicles.
Rafat Al-Nakhala, who had come there after obeying Israel’s order for civilians to flee Gaza City in the north, said nowhere was safe.
“I’m over 70 years old, I’ve lived through several wars, it’s never been like this, it has never been this brutal, no religion and no conscience. Thank God. We only have hope in God, not in any Arab or Muslim country or anyone in the world, except for God.”
Elsewhere in Khan Younis, a man kissed the body of small baby wrapped in a shroud before it was lowered into a grave. Mourners said four small children were buried there and three others at another site, among a family killed when a three-storey building was hit.
In Gaza’s north, footage obtained by Reuters from the Jabaliya refugee camp showed residents digging with their bare hands inside a damaged building to free a small boy and girl trapped under masonry. The body of a man was hauled out of the ruins on a stretcher as residents tried to light up the site with torches on their mobile phones.
The United Nations says around half of Gazans have been made homeless, still trapped inside the enclave, one of the most densely populated places on earth.
Rage in the Middle East
The plight of Gaza civilians has enraged the Middle East, making it harder for Biden and other Western leaders to rally Arab allies to prevent the war from spreading.
An explosion at a hospital in Gaza on the eve of Biden’s visit scuppered his plans to meet Arab leaders, who called off a summit with him. Palestinians blamed the explosion on an Israeli air strike; Israel said it was caused by a failed rocket launch by Palestinian fighters, and Biden said US evidence supported the Israeli account.
It fell to Sunak to be the first Western leader to visit an Arab country since the war broke out. He was due to travel after Israel to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who had been on the brink of agreeing to normalise relations with Israel before the Hamas attack.
Before Biden left, he made a plea for Israelis to rein in their wrath: “While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. And while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”
Later he told reporters aboard Air Force One: “Israel has been badly victimized but the truth is they have an opportunity to relieve suffering of people who have nowhere to go… it’s what they should do.”
Hundreds still stranded, plants closed in India’s Chennai
Volunteers waded through stagnant water to hand out food and supplies, and some manufacturing plants remained shut in India’s southern tech-and-auto hub district of Chennai on Friday, four days after cyclone Michaung lashed the coast.
At least 14 people, most of them in Chennai and its state of Tamil Nadu, have died in the flooding, triggered by torrential rains that started on Monday.
The cyclone itself made landfall further north in Andhra Pradesh state on Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities said some low-lying areas of the state were still inundated and government officials and volunteers were taking supplies to people stuck in their homes in slums and other areas.
The larger Chennai area is home to the Indian units of several global firms including Hyundai Motor (005380.KS), Daimler and Taiwan’s Foxconn (2317.TW) and Pegatron (4938.TW) which do contract manufacturing for Apple (AAPL.O).
While many of them including Pegatron and Foxconn resumed operations within a day or two of the cyclone making landfall, some plants of the TVS group located in the worst-affected areas are yet to open, industry sources said.
Adani Krishnapatnam Port (APSE.NS) in Andhra Pradesh, said on Friday the cyclone had “very badly affected” its operations and it was declaring a force majeure period starting Dec. 3.
Force majeure is a notice used to describe events outside a company’s control, such as a natural disaster, which usually releases it from contractual obligation without penalty.
State-run Madras Fertilizers (MDFT.NS) notified stock exchanges that its Chennai plant has been shut and is tentatively expected to resume operations within two to four weeks.
Information technology (IT) services providers told staff to work from home for the week, while schools and colleges closed. A few schools and colleges were converted into temporary shelters.
This week’s floods in Chennai brought back memories of the extensive damage caused by floods eight years ago which killed around 290 people.
In Andhra Pradesh, the damage from the cyclone was relatively contained, with roads damaged and trees uprooted as big waves crashed into the coast.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited Chennai on Thursday and announced New Delhi will release a second instalment of 4.5 billion rupees ($54 million) to Tamil Nadu to help manage the damage. The federal government has also approved a 5.6 billion-rupee project for flood management in Chennai, he said.
Chennai residents questioned the ability of the city’s infrastructure to handle extreme weather.
“Not only has urbanisation itself caused a problem, but the nature of the urbanisation has preyed upon open spaces, holding areas like marshlands and flood plains,” social activist Nityanand Jayaraman said.
Experts have, however, said better stormwater drainage systems would not have been able to prevent the flooding caused by very heavy and extremely heavy rains.
“This solution would have helped a lot in moderate and heavy rainfall, but not in very heavy and extremely heavy rains,” Raj Bhagat P, a civil engineer and geo-analytics expert, said on Wednesday.
Gunman described as struggling academic with ‘target list’
The gunman who killed three professors and wounded one at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was a financially struggling academic whose job applications were rejected by several higher-education institutions in Nevada, police said on Thursday.
Anthony James Polito, 67, also had mailed nearly two dozen suspicious letters to faculty at universities across the country and had prepared a “target list” of people at both UNLV and a North Carolina university where he once worked, police said.
Polito, facing eviction from his home in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, had a criminal record of computer trespass dating to 1992 in Virginia, but police said there were no advance signs of violence.
The Taurus 9mm handgun he used in the shooting was legally purchased in 2022, according to Sheriff Kevin McMahill of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He said Polito, who police shot dead after the attacks, was believed to have acted alone.
The precise motive for the rampage remained to be determined, though officials said it appeared students were not the primary target.
All four people shot on Wednesday inside Beam Hall, the campus building that houses UNLV’s business school, were faculty members.
Two of the dead were identified as professor Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang, 64, and assistant professor Patricia Navarro Velez, 39. The identity of the third slain professor was being withheld pending notification of family.
The surviving victim remained hospitalized, and his condition worsened on Thursday, McMahill said.
Letters and list
Detectives learned Polito had visited a post office shortly before the shooting and mailed 22 letters with no return address to university personnel across the United States, and had a list of people he was seeking on the UNLV campus as well as faculty from his former employer, East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.
His LinkedIn profile described Polito as a semi-retired associate professor of business who taught at East Carolina from 2001-2017.
Authorities intercepted the letters before any were delivered and found a suspicious white powdery substance in at least one of them, McMahill said at a news briefing on Thursday.
The letters’ contents remained under investigation, the sheriff told reporters, warning that anyone in higher education who received such an envelope should exercise caution and contact authorities.
He said officials were working to notify the intended recipients and had contacted nearly everyone on the separate target list to make sure all were safe.
“None of the individuals listed on the target list became a victim,” he told reporters.
He said detectives also had uncovered evidence that Polito was struggling financially, including an eviction notice taped to the entrance of his apartment. He said a document that appeared to be a will was found inside.
“We know he had applied numerous times for jobs with several Nevada higher-education institutions,” McMahill added, but he did not say whether UNLV was one of them.
Police searching Polito’s home also recovered ammunition similar to the 150 rounds he was carrying.
The UNLV campus will remain closed through Friday. The UNLV website said classes had been canceled through Dec. 10.
Israel says Reuters journalist Abdallah was killed in combat zone
The Israeli military, responding on Friday to a Reuters investigation that determined its forces killed a Reuters journalist in southern Lebanon on Oct. 13, said the incident took place in an active combat zone and was under review.
Without directly addressing the death of visuals journalist Issam Abdallah, a military statement said Lebanese Hezbollah fighters had at the time attacked across the border and Israeli forces opened fire to prevent a suspected armed infiltration.
A Reuters special report published on Thursday found that an Israeli tank crew killed Abdallah and wounded six reporters by firing two shells in quick succession from Israel while the journalists were filming cross-border shelling.
Israel’s statement on Friday said that on Oct. 13, Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants launched an attack on multiple targets within Israeli territory along the Lebanese border.
“One incident involved the firing of an anti-tank missile, which struck the border fence near the village Hanita. Following the launch of the anti-tank missile, concerns arose over the potential infiltration of terrorists into Israeli territory,” the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said in a statement.
“In response, the IDF used artillery and tank fire to prevent the infiltration. The IDF is aware of the claim that journalists who were in the area were killed.
“The area is an active combat zone, where active fire takes place and being in this area is dangerous. The incident is currently under review,” it said.
The strikes killed Abdullah, 37, and severely wounded Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Christina Assi, 28, just over a kilometre from the Israeli border near the Lebanese village of Alma al-Chaab.
Amnesty International said on Thursday that the Israeli strikes were likely to have been a direct attack on civilians and must be investigated as a war crime.
In a separate report Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the two Israeli strikes were “an apparently deliberate attack on civilians and thus a war crime” and said those responsible must be held to account. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday it was important that Israel’s inquiry into the killing reach a conclusion and for the results to be seen.
“My understanding is that Israel has initiated such an investigation, and it will be important to see that investigation come to a conclusion, and to see the results of the investigation,” Blinken said at a press conference.
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