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Iran-backed rebels seize cargo ship in Red Sea, says Israel; al-Shifa Hospital is a ‘death zone’ – UN

Iran-backed rebels seize cargo ship in Red Sea, says Israel; al-Shifa Hospital is a ‘death zone’ – UN
A Yemen Houthi follower wears a jacket with a picture of the Houthi-movement leader Abdulmalik Badr Al-den Al-Houthi as people participate in a pro-Palestinian march against the escalating Israeli military actions in Gaza on 18 November 2023 in Sana'a, Yemen. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud / Getty Images)

Israel’s government said on Sunday that Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen hijacked a cargo ship in the Red Sea, endangering a key global shipping route.

Al-Shifa Hospital was a “death zone” and “desperate,” according to a UN team allowed to visit Gaza’s largest hospital, and team members saw a mass grave near the entrance holding possibly 80 bodies.

Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said there had been “good progress” in the past few days on reaching an agreement between Israel and Hamas to release hostages. 

Israel’s air, sea and land forces fought enemies on two fronts early on Sunday, destroying infrastructure belonging to Hezbollah in Lebanon and that of Hamas in Gaza, the military said.

Latest developments

Houthi rebels hijack cargo ship in Red Sea

Israel said on Sunday that Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen hijacked a cargo ship in the Red Sea, endangering a key global shipping route. No Israelis were among the ship’s crew. 

“This is another act of Iranian terrorism which expresses a leap forward in Iran’s aggression against the citizens of the free world,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. Iran hasn’t commented. 

The vessel, named Galaxy Leader, is owned by Israeli businessman Rami Ungar, according to a person familiar with the matter. It is registered in the UK, the person said, asking not to be identified, citing the sensitivity of the matter. 

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have threatened to strike Israel since its war against Hamas began in early October, and have launched failed missile attacks that were believed to have targeted Israel.

Sunday’s incident marks the first big escalation in the threat posed by Houthis against global maritime shipping since the latest conflict began.

Read more: Israel says Yemen’s Houthi rebels hijack cargo ship in Red Sea

Houthis are believed to be getting training, technical expertise and increasingly sophisticated weapons — including drones, ballistic and cruise missiles — from Iran.

Hostage deal is closer, says Biden aide 

An agreement for Hamas to release hostages taken during its 7 October attack on Israel may be the closest yet and would require a multiday pause in the fighting in Gaza, a top US aide said. 

Read more: Deal to free Hamas hostages is closer, says Biden aide 

Gaza needs 160,000 litres of fuel daily, says aid agency

Gaza needs 160,000 litres of fuel daily to maintain “a reasonable level of humanitarian services,” said Adnan Abu Hassna, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesperson. “If we receive the fuel, it is absolutely impossible for any Palestinian political or non-political faction to access any portion of this fuel,” he added.

The fuel is needed for water desalination, sewage treatment plants, wells and hospitals, as well as hundreds of vehicles for UNRWA’s operations. Israel said it would allow the entry of nearly 70,000 litres of fuel per day, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 

Hundreds of Gaza cancer patients will head to Turkey  

Some 351 cancer patients in Gaza will travel to Turkey to resume treatment, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said. 

The patients had been receiving treatment at the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital, the only oncology hospital in Gaza, which was shut down shortly after the start of Israel’s ground assault.  

Meanwhile, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said it evacuated 31 premature babies from al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza in coordination with the World Health Organization and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). They’ll be transferred to a UAE-run hospital in the Egyptian border city of Rafah. 

Iran’s Khamenei repeats call to isolate Israel 

Iran’s Supreme Leader urged Muslim countries to cut off diplomatic ties with Israel “at least for a limited time.” 

“Some Muslim states have ostensibly condemned Israel in conventions and some haven’t, but this is unacceptable,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday, according to his Telegram account. “The principal task is to cut off Israel’s lifelines, and Muslim governments must stop the supply of energy and goods to this regime.”

Khamenei spoke at a military exhibition in Tehran, where the country showcased drones as well as an upgraded model of the “Fatah” hypersonic missile. 

Qatar sees ‘good progress’ in reaching a hostage deal 

Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said there had been “good progress” in the past few days on reaching an agreement between Israel and Hamas to release hostages. 

Al Thani, who’s also the foreign minister, said he was “more confident” about sealing a deal, with the remaining challenges “practical and logistical.” He spoke at a joint press conference with European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell. 

Israel ‘raids residences of senior Hamas officials in Gaza’

Israeli paratroopers and other forces operated in the Sheikh Ijlin and Rimal areas of northern Gaza “in order to identify and destroy Hamas infrastructure and assets”, the defence force said in an operational update.  

“The soldiers located approximately 35 tunnel shafts as well as a large number of weapons and eliminated terrorists,” according to the update. “Embedded in the Rimal area are the residences of senior Hamas officials.”

The troops also located a military base belonging to Hamas’ military intelligence unit, as well as ammunition depots and seven rocket launchers. Israel’s claims can’t be independently verified. 

Israeli forces engage enemies in north and south 

Israel’s air, sea and land forces fought enemies on two fronts early on Sunday, destroying infrastructure belonging to Hezbollah in Lebanon and that of Hamas in Gaza, the military said.

Air-raid sirens blared in Israel’s southern and northern towns, while mortar shell launches from Lebanon fell in open areas. Hezbollah said it attacked two Israeli sites, Al Manar TV reported.

About 2,500 people vacated al-Shifa Hospital – UN agency

Some 2,500 internally displaced persons, along with patients and staff, vacated Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital on 18 November, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. That followed orders from Israel’s military, which continued its operations within the compound for a fourth consecutive day, OCHA said.

About 123,000 litres of fuel entered Gaza from Egypt on 18 November, according to the UN agency. Israel said it would allow entry of nearly 70,000 litres of fuel per day, which “is well below the minimum requirements for essential humanitarian operations,” according to OCHA.

Al-Shifa Hospital a ‘death zone’, says UN 

Al-Shifa Hospital was a “death zone” and “desperate,” according to a UN team allowed to visit Gaza’s largest hospital, and team members saw a mass grave near the entrance holding possibly 80 bodies. The team, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), was allowed one hour at the hospital facilitated by the Israeli military, the group said in a press release.

Though the team said al-Shifa was “essentially” no longer operating as a hospital, there remained 291 patients, including 32 babies “in extremely critical condition.” The “vast majority” of patients were suffering war wounds, including amputations, burns and spinal trauma, WHO said. 

Israel to turn south in war’s ‘next stage’  

Israel said it was entering the “next stage” of its war against Hamas, as attention turns from the rubble of Gaza City to the city of Khan Younis in the south. Netanyahu, at a news conference, wouldn’t say if he believed top Hamas leaders were hiding there. “We’ll get to them,” he said. “All Hamas leaders are dead men walking.”

“The places where Hamas can circulate are shrinking,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said at the news conference of Israel’s war Cabinet. “Whoever was on the western side of the city understands that well — they’ve already met the deadly power of the IDF. Those on the eastern side are understanding that tonight and will understand it more in the next few days.”

In recent days Israel has dropped leaflets in Khan Younis — the hometown of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar — warning residents to leave the city for a safe zone in the south of the strip where humanitarian aid is available. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have moved to the safe zone since the war began, defying Hamas efforts to prevent them from fleeing the battle zone. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

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