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82 killed in Baghdad COVID-19 hospital fire: Interior ministry

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(Last Updated On: April 25, 2021)

A fire sparked by an oxygen tank explosion killed at least 82 people and injured 110 at a hospital in Baghdad that had been equipped to house COVID-19 patients, an Interior Ministry spokesman said on Sunday.

“We urgently need to review safety measures at all hospitals to prevent such a painful incident from happening in future,” spokesman Khalid al-Muhanna told state television, announcing the toll.

The fire erupted on Saturday at the Ibn Khatib hospital in the Diyala Bridge area.

Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights, had said earlier a final death toll had not yet been officially announced but it could be between 30 to 45.

Patients’ relatives scrambled during the blaze to save their loved ones.

A man who had been visiting his brother described people jumping out of windows to escape.

“The fire spread, like fuel … I took my brother out to the street, next to the checkpoint. Then I came (back) and went up from there. To the last floor, that did not burn. I found a girl suffocating, about 19 years old, she was suffocating, she was about to die,” said Ahmed Zaki.

“I took her on my shoulders and I ran down. People were jumping… Doctors fell on the cars. Everyone was jumping. And I kept going up from there, got people and come down again,” Zaki said.

Patients were moved to other hospitals, medical sources said. But several families were still at the hospital hours after the fire had been extinguished, after failing to find them elsewhere.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered an investigation.

“Such an incident is evidence of negligence and therefore I directed that an investigation be launched immediately and for the hospital’s manager and the heads of security and maintenance to be detained along with all those concerned until we identify those negligent and hold them accountable,” he said in a statement.

Iraq’s healthcare system, ruined by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, has been stretched during the coronavirus crisis. The country has recorded a total of 102,5288 infections, including 15,217 deaths, the health ministry said on Saturday.

Security has improved in recent years but Iraq still suffers from political violence, including militia rocket attacks on foreign forces and a low-level Islamic State insurgency.

Accidents due to neglect and wrecked infrastructure have compounded the woes of ordinary Iraqis.

In 2019, at least 90 people died when an overloaded ferry carrying families on an outing sank in the Tigris river in the northern city of Mosul.

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35 killed in Gaza, 5 in Israel, as violence escalates

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

Hostilities between Israel and Hamas escalated on Wednesday, with at least 35 killed in Gaza and five in Israel in the most intensive aerial exchanges for years.

Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza into Wednesday morning, as the Islamist group and other Palestinian militants fired multiple rocket barrages at Tel Aviv and Beersheba.

One multi-story residential building in Gaza collapsed and another was heavily damaged after they were repeatedly hit by Israeli air strikes.

Israel said its jets had targeted and killed several Hamas intelligence leaders early on Wednesday. Other strikes targeted what the military said were rocket launch sites, Hamas offices and the homes of Hamas leaders.

It was the heaviest offensive between Israel and Hamas since a 2014 war in Gaza, and prompted international concern that the situation could spiral out of control.

U.N. Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland tweeted: “Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation.

“The cost of war in Gaza is devastating & is being paid by ordinary people. UN is working w/ all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now,” he wrote.

Gazans homes shook and the sky lit up from Israeli attacks, outgoing rockets and Israeli air defence missiles intercepting them. At least 30 explosions were heard within a matter of minutes just after dawn on Wednesday.

Israelis ran for shelters or flattened themselves on pavements in communities more than 70 km (45 miles) up the coast and into southern Israel amid sounds of explosions as interceptor missiles streaked into the sky.

In the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, near Tel Aviv, two people were killed after a rocket hit a vehicle in the area. Lod and other mixed towns have been gripped by angry demonstrations over the Gaza violence and tensions in Jerusalem.

Hamas’s armed wing said it fired 210 rockets towards Beersheba and Tel Aviv in response to the bombing of the tower buildings in Gaza City. Israel’s military says that around a third of the rockets have fallen short, landing within Gaza.

For Israel, the militants’ targeting of Tel Aviv, its commercial capital, posed a new challenge in the confrontation with the Islamist Hamas group, regarded as a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States.

The violence followed weeks of tension in Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the compound revered by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

These escalated in recent days ahead of a – now postponed – court hearing in a case that could end with Palestinian families evicted from East Jerusalem homes claimed by Jewish settlers.

Violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank, where a 26-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire during stone-throwing clashes in a refugee camp near the city of Hebron.

‘A VERY HEAVY PRICE’

There appeared no imminent end to the violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that militants would pay a “very heavy” price for the rockets, which reached the outskirts of Jerusalem on Monday during a holiday in Israel commemorating its capture of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

The outbreak of hostilities led Netanyahu’s political opponents to suspend negotiations on forming a coalition of right-wing, leftist and centre-left parties to unseat him after an inconclusive March 23 election.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid has three weeks left to establish a government, with a new election – and another chance for Netanyahu to retain power – likely if he fails.

The Arab League, some of whose members have warmed ties with Israel over the last year, accused it of “indiscriminate and irresponsible” attacks in Gaza and said it was responsible for “dangerous escalation” in Jerusalem.

Hamas named its rocket assault “Sword of Jerusalem”, seeking to marginalise Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to present itself as the guardians of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

The militant group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Israel had “ignited fire in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa and the flames extended to Gaza, therefore, it is responsible for the consequences.”

Haniyeh said that Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations had been in contact urging calm but that Hamas’s message to Israel was: “If they want to escalate, the resistance is ready, if they want to stop, the resistance is ready.”

The White House said on Tuesday that Israel had a legitimate right to defend itself from rocket attacks but applied pressure on Israel over the treatment of Palestinians, saying Jerusalem must be a place of coexistence.

The United States was delaying U.N. Security Council efforts to issue a public statement on escalating tensions because it could be harmful to behind-the-scenes efforts to end the violence, according to diplomats and a source familiar with the U.S. strategy. State Department spokesman Ned Price urged calm and “restraint on both sides”, saying: “The loss of life, the loss of Israeli life, the loss of Palestinian life, It’s something that we deeply regret.”

He added: “We are urging this message of de-escalation to see this loss of life come to an end.”

PLUMES OF BLACK SMOKE

Israel said it had sent 80 jets to bomb Gaza, and dispatched infantry and armour to reinforce the tanks already gathered on the border, evoking memories of the last Israeli ground incursion into Gaza to stop rocket attacks in 2014.

More than 2,100 Gazans were killed in the seven-week war that followed, according to the Gaza health ministry, along with 73 Israelis, and thousands of homes in Gaza were razed by Israeli forces.

Video footage on Tuesday showed three plumes of thick, black smoke rising from a 13-story Gaza residential and office block as it toppled over after being demolished by Israeli airstrikes.

The Israeli military said the building, in Gaza City’s Rimal neighbourhood, housed “multiple” Hamas offices, including ones for military research and development and military intelligence.

The existence of one Hamas office, used by political leaders and officials dealing with the news media, was widely known locally.

Residents in the block and the surrounding area had been warned to evacuate the area before the airstrike, according to witnesses and the Israeli military.

A second residential and office building in the same neighbourhood was heavily damaged in Israeli attacks shortly before 2 a.m. on Wednesday. Residents and journalists working in the building had already left.

On Tuesday Gaza health ministry officials put the death toll at 32, but a Hamas-affiliated radio station later said three more people, including a woman and a child, were killed shortly before 2 a.m. on Wednesday in an Israeli airstrike on an apartment above a restaurant.

Israeli political leaders and the military said they had killed “dozens” of militants, and hit buildings used by Hamas.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Israel had carried out “hundreds” of strikes, and that “buildings will continue to crumble.”

Gaza’s health ministry said that of the people reported dead, 10 were children and one was a woman.

Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said a 50-year-old woman was killed when a rocket hit a building in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion, and that two women had been killed in rocket strikes on Ashkelon.

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Palestinian rocket fire, Israeli strikes in Gaza run into second day

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(Last Updated On: May 11, 2021)

Palestinians fired uninterrupted barrages of rockets into Israel, as its military pounded Gaza with air strikes through the early hours of Tuesday, in a dramatic escalation of clashes in Jerusalem, Reuters reported.

Explosions shook buildings throughout Gaza and rocket sirens sent Israelis in many southern towns scurrying for shelter overnight. Two Palestinians were killed and more than 100 wounded in air strikes, Palestinian officials said.

Six Israelis were wounded by a rocket, medics said.

Nine children were among the 20 dead in Gaza on Monday and scores of rockets were launched into Israel, many that were intercepted by missile defences, Reuters reported.

The events were unleashed by Gaza militants firing on the Jerusalem area for the first time since a 2014 war, crossing what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “red line”.

Reuters reported the upsurge in violence came as Israel celebrated “Jerusalem Day”, marking its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The escalation began with confrontations at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the heart of the walled Old City on the compound known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary – the most sensitive site in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said more than 300 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli police, who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas in the compound. Police said 21 officers were hurt in the skirmishes.

Although the trouble died down after a few hours, there were other focal points of tension, such as the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem just north of the Old City, where several Palestinian families face eviction from homes claimed by Jewish settlers in a long-running legal case, Reuters reported.

Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, set an evening deadline for Israel to remove its police from Al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah. When it expired, sirens wailed in Jerusalem and rockets pounded the city’s outskirts.

Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern part annexed after the 1967 war in a move that has not secured international recognition.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of a state they seek in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group claimed responsibility for the rocket fire on Jerusalem.

Tension had been building for weeks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, amid clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters prompting international concern that events could spiral out of control.

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Israeli police throw stun grenades during clashes at Al-Aqsa mosque

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Reuters
(Last Updated On: May 10, 2021)

Palestinian protesters threw rocks and Israeli police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes outside the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on Monday.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said more than 180 Palestinians were injured in the violence, of whom more than 80, including one person in critical condition, were transferred to hospitals, Reuters reported.

Tensions in the city were particularly high as Israel was marking “Jerusalem Day”, its annual celebration of the capture of East Jerusalem, and the walled Old City that is home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy places, in a 1967 war.

Reuters reported that al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest site, has been a focal point of violence in Jerusalem at the height of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The clashes have raised international concern..

In an effort to ease the situation, Israeli police said they had banned Jewish groups from paying Jerusalem Day visits to the holy plaza that houses al-Aqsa, and which Jews revere as the site of biblical Jewish temples.

Live video showed Palestinians hurling rocks at police in riot gear on al-Aqsa’s stone-strewn plaza and police firing stun grenades. The skirmishes appeared to be less fierce than clashes late last week.

Police said they had deployed thousands of officers in Jerusalem streets and on rooftops to keep the peace, Reuters reported.

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