The Palestinian death toll from the war between Israel and Hamas has soared past 25,000, said the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, while the Israeli government appeared far from achieving its goals of crushing the militant group and freeing more than 100 hostages.
The level of death, destruction and displacement from the war is without precedent in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli officials say the fighting is likely to continue for several more months.
The conflict and the plight of hostages held in Gaza have divided Israelis and their leaders while the offensive threatens to ignite a wider war involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen that support the Palestinians.
On Sunday, the Israeli Air Force carried out two series of strikes on “terrorist infrastructure,” including a military building, a launch post and an observation post belonging to the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, the Israeli military said. Israel said it also struck several locations in southern Lebanon, including a Hezbollah command center and military compound.
Earlier, on Saturday, at least five Iranians were killed in an Israeli strike on Damascus, Syria’s capital city, which targeted a building used by the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, according to Syrian and Iranian officials.
And, on Thursday, Yemen-based Houthi rebels launched missiles at a merchant vessel owned by the United States, the Pentagon said, marking the latest attack from the militant group, which is similarly backed by Iran, on commercial ships in and around the Red Sea. It was the rebel group’s third strike last week targeting U.S.-owned vessels.
Violence has also spiked in the occupied West Bank. On Friday, a Palestinian-American teenager was shot and killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank, a Palestinian official told Reuters.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah forces have engaged in near-daily clashes with Israeli troops along the border.
An Israeli airstrike on Sunday hit a car near a Lebanese army checkpoint in the southern town of Kafra, killing at least one person and injuring several others, Lebanese state media reported. The identities of those killed and injured were not immediately clear. Israel’s military said it doesn’t comment on reports in foreign media.
The United States, which has provided essential diplomatic and military support for Israel’s offensive, has had limited success in persuading Israel to minimize the risk to civilians and to facilitate the delivery of more humanitarian aid.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected U.S. and international calls for postwar plans that would include a path to Palestinian statehood. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the refusal to accept a two-state solution “totally unacceptable.”
“The Middle East is a tinderbox. We must do all we can to prevent conflict igniting across the region,” Guterres added Sunday. “And that starts with an immediate humanitarian cease-fire to relieve the suffering in Gaza.”
The war began with Hamas’ surprise attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostages back to Gaza.
Israel responded with a bombing campaign and ground invasion that laid waste to entire neighborhoods in northern Gaza and spread south from there. Ground operations are now focused on the southern city of Khan Younis and built-up refugee camps in central Gaza dating back to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
Israel continues to carry out airstrikes throughout the besieged territory, including areas in the south where it told civilians to seek refuge. Many Palestinians have ignored evacuation orders, saying nowhere feels safe.
Since the war started, 25,105 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while another 62,681 have been wounded, the Health Ministry said. The toll included the 178 bodies brought to Gaza’s hospitals since Saturday, Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said. Another 300 people were wounded in the past day, he said.
The overall toll is thought to be higher because many casualties remain buried under the rubble from Israeli strikes or in areas where medics cannot reach them, Al-Qidra said.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures but says around two-thirds of the people killed in Gaza were women and minors. The ministry is part of the Hamas-run government, but its casualty figures from previous wars were largely consistent with those of U.N. agencies and even the Israeli military.
The Israeli military says it has killed around 9,000 militants, without providing evidence, and blames the high civilian death toll on Hamas because it positions fighters, tunnels and other militant infrastructure in dense neighborhoods, often near homes, schools or mosques.
The military says 195 soldiers have been killed since the start of the Gaza offensive.
The war has displaced some 85% of Gaza’s residents from their homes, with hundreds of thousands packing into U.N.-run shelters and tent camps in the southern part of the tiny coastal enclave. U.N. officials say a quarter of the population of 2.3 million is starving as a trickle of humanitarian aid reaches them because of the fighting and Israeli restrictions.
“Bread does not suffice for one hour,” said Ahmad Al-Nashawi, who accepted donated food at a camp of plastic tents in the southern city of Rafah. “You can see how many children we have other than women and men. What matters most for a child is to eat.”
Netanyahu has vowed to keep up the offensive until Israel achieves “complete victory” over Hamas and returns all remaining hostages. But even some top Israeli officials have begun to acknowledge that those goals might be mutually exclusive.
Hamas is believed to be holding the captives in tunnels and using them as shields for its top leaders. Israel has managed to rescue just one hostage, and Hamas says several have been killed in Israeli airstrikes or during failed rescue operations.
A member of Israel’s War Cabinet, former army chief Gadi Eisenkot, said last week that the only way to free the hostages was through a cease-fire. In an implicit criticism of Netanyahu, he said claims to the contrary amounted to “illusions.”
Hamas has said it will not free more hostages until Israel ends its offensive. The group is expected to make any further releases conditional on securing freedom for thousands of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, including high-profile militants involved in attacks that killed Israelis.
Israel’s government has ruled that out for now, but it faces growing pressure from families of the hostages, who are pushing for an exchange like the one that took place during a weeklong November cease-fire.
Some Israelis also are frustrated by the security failures that preceded the Oct. 7 attack and by Netanyahu’s handling of the war. Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv over the weekend to call for new elections.
But Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners are pushing him to step up the offensive, with some calling for the “voluntary” emigration of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza and the re-establishment of Jewish settlements there. Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers from the territory in 2005, two years before Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces.
•Firefighters battle a fire raging on a building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Feb. 29, 2024. (Xinhua)
At least 43 people were killed Thursday night after a devastating fire tore through a high-rise building in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.
Minister of Health and Family Welfare of Bangladesh Samanta Lal Sen told Xinhua early Friday that they had confirmed the deaths.
The minister said 33 bodies were brought to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital and 10 others to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in Dhaka.
Anwarul Islam, an inspector of the Fire Service and Civil Defence Headquarters in Dhaka, earlier told Xinhua that around 75 people, including 42 in an unconscious state, were rescued from the “Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall” and were rushed to several hospitals.
Islam said rescuers were working at the site. He said they sent the firefighters after receiving information about the fire around 9:30 p.m. Thursday local time. At least 12 firefighting units rushed to the spot and doused the fire at about 11:30 p.m.
The official said the seven-storyed building houses a restaurant, an outlet and several other shops.
The death toll in the devastating inferno is likely to rise, warned another fire official, who did not want to be named.
TV reports early Friday showed fires were still raging in some parts of the building. The cause of the fire could not be known immediately. (Xinhua)
The number of international students taking up postgraduate places at UK universities has fallen sharply, according to commercial data that sparked further warnings about the financial health of the higher education sector.
The figures from Enroly, used to manage one in three offers to overseas students, showed a 37 per cent drop in the number of international offers for UK postgraduate courses in January 2024 compared with January last year.University leaders warned that the findings, based on Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) documents issued by universities to support visa applications for about 40,000 students, sounded an alarm bell for the sector.
The data offered the first broad statistical snapshot of postgraduate enrollments since a recent toughening of government migration policy.
Last year Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a ban on masters students bringing family members to the UK following concerns that the system was being abused by some education institutions.
Vivienne Stern, the chief executive of Universities UK, which represents more than 140 universities, said the Enroly data painted a “stark and concerning” picture for the wider sector.
“Its findings are further confirmation that policy changes by the government are already having a significant impact on international student demand — and we are now at serious risk of an overcorrection,” she said.
The sector is also facing other headwinds to international recruitment, including a currency crisis in Nigeria and increased competition from rival markets such as Canada, the US and Australia that have bounced back strongly after Covid-19 shutdowns.
In 2019 the government’s International Education Strategy set a target of attracting 600,000 international students and delivering annual educational exports of £35bn.
The number of international students studying in the UK grew from 500,000 in 2018-19 to 680,000 in 2021-22, the last year for which there was complete data.
The Department for Education said that since applications continued to September it was too early to draw conclusions about enrolment numbers for the 2024-25 academic year.
The Enroly data pointed towards a divergence between postgraduate and undergraduate international applicants.
In January, the number of CAS issued for undergraduate courses was 23 per cent higher than at this point last year, according to Enroly data.
Similarly, earlier this month, data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service showed undergraduate international applications were 0.7 per cent higher than the previous year as of January — though most undergraduate applications from overseas students come later in the year.
UK universities are increasingly reliant on international students to make ends meet. Non-EU overseas student fees accounted for a fifth of total university income in 2022, data from Higher Education Statistics Agency showed. Most overseas students come to the UK for postgraduate courses.
Tim Bradshaw, the chief executive of the Russell Group of elite universities, said the early data suggested that the government’s policies were affecting the UK’s attractiveness as a study destination.
“This is a shame as the UK is a fantastic place for international students to study. There will be knock-on consequences for university finances too,” he added.
CAS numbers were 70 per cent lower for Nigerian students and 33 per cent lower for Indian students across all levels of study when compared with January 2023, according to Enroly. Those countries had been both strong growth markets since 2018.
Rachel Hewitt, the head of MillionPlus, which represents former vocational colleges and polytechnics that became universities in 1992, said the drop in deposits on such a scale had “serious implications” for all tiers of UK universities leading to losses that would further stretch university budgets.The education department said the higher education sector had received financial support of nearly £6bn a year in addition to £10bn a year in tuition fee loans for domestic students.
“We are fully focused on striking the right balance between acting decisively to tackle net migration, which we are clear is far too high, and attracting the brightest students to study at our universities,” it added.
At least 15 Catholic worshippers were killed in a Burkina Faso village on Sunday when gunmen attacked a community as they gathered for prayers in the country’s conflict-hit northern region, church officials said.
The violence in the village of Essakane was a “terrorist attack” that left 12 of the Catholic faithful dead at the scene, while three others died later as they were being treated for their wounds, according to a statement issued by Abbot Jean-Pierre Sawadogo, vicar-general of the Catholic Diocese of Dori, where the attack happened.
No further details were provided about the attack, which no group claimed responsibility for. But suspicion fell on jihadis who have frequently attacked remote communities and security forces, especially in the northern region.
“In this painful circumstance, we invite you to pray for the rest in God for those who have died in faith, for the healing of the wounded and … for the conversion of those who continue to sow death and desolation in our country,” Sawadogo said in a statement.
About half of Burkina Faso is outside government control as jihadi groups have ravaged the country for years. Fighters have killed thousands and displaced more than 2 million people, further threatening the stability of the country that had two coups in 2022.
The country’s junta has struggled to restore peace in violence hot spots since the first coup in January 2022, the number of people killed by jihadis has nearly tripled compared with the 18 previous months, according to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in August.
In addition to the junta’s limited capacity, the security situation also has been worsened by the country’s porous borders with Mali and Niger, both of which are also run by juntas and which also struggle with security crises.