Living conditions in Gaza turning grim under Israeli siege

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s army on Thursday retrieved the bodies of two shepherds killed by Israeli fire.

The bodies of the two shepherds, Rabih Ahmed Al-Awad, 20, and Amjad Abdallah Al-Mohammed, 22, who were from the town of Al-Wazzani, were transported by the Lebanese Red Cross and escorted by the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL.

The two shepherds had been reported missing on Wednesday as they herded their flock through their hometown near the border.

Caretaker Agriculture Minister Abbas Hajj Hassan mourned the two shepherds on social media platform X.

“Rabih Ahmed Al-Awad and Amjad Abdallah Al-Mohammed, two Lebanese farmers who care for livestock, have risen to the rank of ‘martyr citizens’ after they were killed in cold blood,” he said.

His remarks came as caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib urged Western countries and Israel’s allies to pressure Israel to stop its military attacks on southern Lebanon and its verbal threats to destroy Lebanon.

For the first time, UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti declared that “approaching the Blue Line is always a highly critical issue, but it is becoming even more critical in the current situation.”

Tenenti warned that “the line is undefined in several places, and it may be hard to determine its exact location on the ground.

“We urge people to stay away to avoid accidentally crossing it, which could have tragic consequences.”

Lebanon’s southern border has seen tit-for-tat exchanges, mainly between Israel and Hamas ally Hezbollah, since Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Israel exerted pressure on Hezbollah a day before Hezbollah leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, was due to make a speech.

Friday’s speech will be his first since the start of the Al-Aqsa Flood operation.

The Israeli army launched drone strikes and artillery shelling on Lebanese border villages, targeting Hezbollah cells.

Israeli airstrikes targeted Iqlim Al-Tuffah, an area to the north of the Litani River.

Israel sent warning messages to Hezbollah through army spokesmen, Avichay Adraee and Daniel Hagari, in an attempt to “pressure Nasrallah on the one hand and to incite the Lebanese against Hezbollah on the other,” a Lebanese political observer said.

Hagari addressed Hezbollah, stressing that “the Israeli army is fully prepared to respond forcefully to anyone who attempts to undermine the security situation in the north.

“We are well prepared on the northern borders.”

Adraee spoke via X about “targeting Hezbollah’s military targets on the Blue Line in the north and aiming to eliminate cells that plan to launch anti-tank missiles, rockets and mortar shells toward the Israeli territory.”

“We are ready and fully prepared to respond forcefully to anyone attempting to infringe on the sovereignty of the state in the north,” he said.

Hezbollah has not commented on the reports, with its statements limited to announcing the targets of its military operations on the Lebanese southern border.

The militia reported on Thursday that it targeted the spy system at the Al-Abad site, and that it was directly hit.

It also targeted the Israeli Al-Manara site with a guided missile.

The Israeli shelling of border towns with phosphorus shells continued, targeting Wadi Al-Aliq — located between the cities of Al-Bustan and Marwahin.

As of 4 p.m., the Israeli media reported that 25 missiles and shells targeted Israeli army positions along the border with Lebanon.

The visit of the Apostolic Nuncio in Lebanon, Monsignor Paolo Borgia, to border villages in Bint Jbeil was a significant development, including those of Debel, Rmeish and Ain Ebel.

He conveyed the Pope’s blessing to villagers, the Lebanese News Agency reported.

To assess local preparedness for the possibility of war, caretaker Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi toured the cities of Sidon, Nabatieh and Tyre.

He said that “activating the emergency plan in all governorates is necessary, to reassure people, not scaring them.” 

Ahmed Al-Mandhari, regional director of the World Health Organization for the Eastern Mediterranean, said from Beirut on Thursday: “An increased spillover of hostilities into southern Lebanon would concerningly place even more civilians at risk of death or injury and potentially threaten the health security of the entire region.”

He said that hostilities had expanded beyond the border into southern Lebanon, with 42 people killed, 193 injured and almost 29,000 internally displaced since the start of the cross-border conflict.

Al-Mandhari held talks with Lebanese officials to reinforce the health system’s preparedness for a potential escalation of the conflict.

He said: “We call for a cease-fire in Gaza, so that further loss and suffering can be prevented.

“As part of regional preparedness efforts, we are working to ensure that Lebanon’s health system is better prepared to manage the mass casualty and to provide health services to people displaced without compromising existing health services for people living in the area.”

WHO said in a statement: “The health system in Lebanon has been challenged by the ongoing economic crisis and the impact of the Beirut blast of August 2022, and overwhelmed by the increasing burden of Syrian refugees’ needs.

“Critical shortages of specialized medical doctors and health workers, medicines and medical equipment, and other health supplies, have added more complexity to the challenges facing the health system and the population’s health.

“Together with support from WHO and health partners, the Ministry of Public Health has scaled-up preparedness and readiness of the health system to support mass casualty management and the provision of emergency health care services to people affected by a potential escalation of conflict.

“WHO has supported establishing and operationalizing the Public Health Emergency Operation Center at the Ministry of Public Health to coordinate and support all health preparedness and response activities.”

On Oct. 31, WHO pre-positioned enough trauma supplies for 800 people in eight public hospitals to scale-up their capacity to potentially receive more significant numbers of injured patients.

“More trauma and surgical supplies, enough for 3,000 people, will be delivered in the coming days to 30 referral hospitals to strengthen their emergency response capacity,” it said.

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