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Israeli airstrike on Rafah kills 2 top Hamas commanders, dozens of civilians

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Israeli airstrike on Rafah kills 2 top Hamas commanders, dozens of civilians

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An Israeli airstrike on a Hamas compound in the Gazan city of Rafah has killed two top Hamas officials as well as dozens of civilians. 

While the exact number of killed remains unclear at this time, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed that it struck a Hamas compound in Rafah in which “significant Hamas terrorists were operating.”

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The IDF, citing intelligence that it said indicated Hamas’ use of the area, said it carried out the strike “against legitimate targets under international law.”

Fire rages after an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced Palestinians amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gazan city of Rafah on May 26, 2024. (Reuters/Reuters TV TPX Images of the Day)

IDF sources told Fox News Digital the strike eliminated Yassin Rabia, the commander of Hamas’ leadership in Judea and Samaria, as well as Khaled Nagar, a senior official in Hamas’ Judea and Samaria wing.

The IDF said that both men had perpetrated numerous terrorist attacks in the early 2000s in which Israeli civilians and soldiers were killed.

The IDF acknowledged reports that “several civilians in the area were harmed” from the airstrike and a subsequent fire. It said the incident is “under review.”

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HAMAS LAUNCHES ROCKET BARRAGE INTO ISRAEL FROM RAFAH, SOUNDING ALARMS IN TEL AVIV

Palestinian health and civil emergency service officials, meanwhile, say the airstrike killed at least 35 Palestinians and wounded dozens more.

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said the death toll is likely to rise as search and rescue efforts continue in Rafah’s Tal al-Sultan neighborhood, more than a mile northwest of the city center.

The Red Crescent Society said Israel had designated the location a “humanitarian area.” The neighborhood is not included in areas that Israel’s military ordered evacuated this month.

Footage from the scene showed heavy destruction. 

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The airstrike was reported hours after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza that set off air raid sirens as far away as Tel Aviv.

Smoke seen after Israeli strike on Rafah

Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP via Getty Images)

There were no immediate reports of casualties in what appeared to be the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January. Hamas’ military wing claimed responsibility. Israel’s military said eight projectiles crossed into Israel after being launched from Rafah and “a number” were intercepted and the launcher was destroyed.

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The war between Israel and Hamas has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters in its count. Israel blames civilian deaths on Hamas because the militants operate in dense, residential areas.

Around 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes, severe hunger is widespread and U.N. officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.

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Palestinians flee Rafah

Displaced Palestinians arrive in central Gaza after fleeing from the southern Gazan city of Rafah on May 9. (AP/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Hamas triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attack inside Israel in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized some 250 hostages. Hamas still holds some 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a cease-fire last year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel must take over Rafah to eliminate Hamas’ remaining battalions and achieve “total victory” over the militants, who recently regrouped in other parts of Gaza.

Sunday’s strike came two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population sought shelter before Israel’s incursion this month. Tens of thousands of people remain in the area while many others have fled.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The fate of the latest cease-fire proposal hinges on Netanyahu and Hamas’ leader in Gaza

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The fate of the latest cease-fire proposal hinges on Netanyahu and Hamas’ leader in Gaza

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — The fate of the proposed cease-fire deal for Gaza hinges in many ways on two men: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.

Each leader faces significant political and personal pressures that may be influencing their decision-making. And neither seems to be in a rush to make concessions to end the devastating eight-month-long war and free hostages taken by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack.

Hamas has accepted the broad outline of the plan but requested “amendments.” Netanyahu has publicly disputed aspects of it, even though the U.S. has framed it as an Israeli plan.

Among the major sticking points is how to move from an initial temporary truce in the deal’s first phase to a permanent cease-fire that includes an end to the fighting and full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Here is a look at what may be driving the two leaders:

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Netanyahu is ‘buying time’

Throughout the war, the long-serving Israeli leader has been criticized for letting political considerations get in the way of his decision-making.

His government is buoyed by two ultranationalist parties that oppose cease-fire deals. Instead, they prefer continuous military pressure to try to defeat Hamas and free the hostages. They also talk about “encouraging” Palestinians to leave and reestablishing Israeli settlements, which were dismantled when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation.

Netanyahu himself has taken a tough line on the cease-fire, saying he will not end the war until Hamas’ military and governing capabilities are destroyed.

But with his hard-line partners pledging to topple the government if a cease-fire is struck, Netanyahu has been pushed even farther into the corner. His reliance on them to remain in power recently intensified after a centrist member of his war Cabinet, former military chief Benny Gantz, quit over frustrations with Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict.

Netanyahu has had to balance internal pressures against demands from the Biden administration, which is promoting the latest cease-fire proposal, and from families of hostages who believe only a deal can set their loved ones free. Tens of thousands of Israelis have joined mass protests in support of the hostage families.

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Netanyahu appears to be siding with his far-right governing partners for the moment, knowing they hold the key to his immediate political survival, although he says he has the country’s best interests in mind.

Their departure from the government could lead to new elections, which would open him up to a vote that could end his rule and likely the start of investigations into the failures of Oct. 7.

Netanyahu is also on trial for corruption, proceedings that have continued throughout the war yet have faded from the public consciousness. A cease-fire deal could refocus attention on the charges, which have dogged the Israeli leader for years and which he adamantly denies.

Netanyahu’s political fortunes appear to have improved over the course of the war. His public support plummeted in the aftermath of Hamas’ surprise attack on southern Israel. But over time it has gradually ticked up. While he would still face a tough path toward reelection, he isn’t a write-off.

“He runs the war as he wants, which means very slowly. He’s buying time,” said Gideon Rahat, a senior fellow at the Israeli Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think thank, and chairman of the political science department at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

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Rahat said Netanyahu is also keen to push on with the war in the hopes that former U.S. President Donald Trump returns to office, possibly giving Israel more leeway in its fight against Hamas.

“I don’t see any cease-fire that really comes close to being something he adopts,” Rahat said. “But he’s not the only one that controls reality.”

Sinwar’s mission is to survive

Hamas’ leader in Gaza also appears to be in no rush to sign on to a deal.

The militant group’s exiled leadership is somewhat varied in its opinion on how to approach a cease-fire agreement. But Sinwar — the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attacks — has particular weight on the matter.

As a Hamas stalwart who spent decades in Israeli prisons, he has incentives to keep the war going.

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On a personal level, his life may be on the line. Israel vowed to kill him in response to the October assault, and Sinwar is believed to be hiding deep within Gaza’s underground tunnels surrounded by Israeli hostages.

If a cease-fire takes hold, Sinwar will be taking a great risk stepping out in public.

“I think he understands that he’s kind of a dead man walking. But it’s a matter of how long can he hold out?” said Khaled el-Gindy, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute think tank.

But Sinwar is motivated by more than just his own personal fate. Steeped in Hamas’ radical ideology, Sinwar seeks Israel’s destruction and has made political gains by watching the war harm Israel’s international standing and boost support for the Palestinian cause.

Israel has faced surging international criticism — from its Western allies, from the international justice system, from protesters around the world — over its conduct during the war. That has deepened Israel’s global isolation, brought accusations that it is committing genocide against Palestinians and driven the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court to seek the arrests of Israeli leaders.

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Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, wrote on the social platform X that Sinwar was also “counting on the sustained global outcry due to the horrendous killing of Gazans to force Israel to stop the war eventually,” on his own terms.

But Sinwar could face some difficult questions of his own when the war ends — not only over his personal role in the atrocities of Oct. 7 but also from the Palestinian public as the full extent of the wartime devastation and the years-long process of reconstruction sink in.

El-Gindy said Sinwar wasn’t deterred by the high price Palestinian civilians in Gaza are paying in the war, seeing it as an unavoidable sacrifice on the road toward liberation.

From Sinwar’s perspective, continuing to fight Israel’s powerful army, even if only through pockets of resistance, denies Israel a victory, el-Gindy said.

“Their whole mission is to survive,” he said. “If they survive, they win.”

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Associated Press writers Julia Frankel and Jack Jeffery contributed from Jerusalem.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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Nationwide blackout reported in Ecuador

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Nationwide blackout reported in Ecuador

A failure in an energy transmission line on Wednesday produced an unexpected blackout throughout Ecuador, the government said, days after announcing that there would be power outages in the country due to production problems.

Ecuador’s Minister of Energy Roberto Luque said in a message posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the failure was reported by the country’s National Electricity Operator and caused “a cascade disconnection,” leaving the nation without energy service.

He added that efforts are being made to solve the problem and repair faulty power lines as soon as possible.

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In some sectors of the country the outage lasted 20 minutes, but media outlets and social media users reported that the problem continued in most cities.

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People walk outside of a metro station after a blackout affected the entire country, in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. In some sectors of the country the outage lasted 20 minutes, but media outlets and social media users reported that the problem continued in most cities. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Emilia Cevallos, a waitress in a restaurant north of the capital, Quito, said the blackout was surprising.

“We thought it was only in this sector, but when we left we realized that while some stores had connected generators, the majority did not have electricity,” she said. “The traffic lights were not working either.”

The Quito municipality said on X that traffic agents were mobilized to coordinate the flow of traffic. Quito Metro, the company that operates the city’s subway system, said service was suspended as a result of the electrical failure.

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Since last year, Ecuador has faced an electricity generation crisis that has led to rationing throughout the country. In April, the government of President Daniel Noboa began to ration electricity in the country’s main cities as a drought linked to the El Niño weather pattern depleted reservoirs and limited output at hydroelectric plants that produce about 75% of the nation’s power.

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Residents evacuated from Athens suburb as wildfire season hits Greece

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Residents evacuated from Athens suburb as wildfire season hits Greece

Over 70 firefighters and 13 planes and helicopters worked to control the blaze, which closed traffic along a main highway connecting Athens to its airport.

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Greece is bracing itself for what is expected to be a long wildfire season spurred by an unprecedentedly hot June, according to the country’s national meteorological service.

Firefighters were called to put out a blaze that erupted in the southern suburb of Athens, Vari, which started in an uninhabited area covered by olive trees and shrubs.

Additionally, authorities issued text message evacuation alerts to the two nearby settlements of Lambrika and Kitsi.

Although no injuries were reported, fire service spokesman Vassilis Vathrakogiannis said the blaze spread quickly due to strong winds.

“We have a new fire breaking out every 10 minutes,” Vathrakogiannis said in a televised message, adding that the situation remained “difficult”.

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Over 70 firefighters and 13 planes and helicopters worked to control the blaze, which closed traffic along a main highway connecting Athens to its airport.

Images on local television showed a storage facility alight with flames searing across fields of olive trees.

Residents on the Cycladean island of Naxos were also issued evacuation alerts, while those living in the village of Moutsouna were told to leave their homes as a precaution.

Scores of wildfires tackled but risks remain

The Greek fire service announced it had tackled 41 wildfires in total between Monday and Tuesday evening.

According to the National Meteorological Service, winds in Greece are predicted to be as strong as 74 kilometres per hour as temperatures climb above 40C.

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Greece’s Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias warned against accidentally triggering wildfires, which can spread rapidly due to wind.

Commenting on the arrest of a 30-year-old agricultural worker who caused a fire in the city of Nigrita, Kilkias said on X that “even the smallest fire can rapidly turn into a fiery front.”

The European Commission recorded last year’s wildfire season as one of the worst in this century, with fires leading to at least 20 deaths in Greece.

Video editor • Abby Chitty

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