Fireworks, war and quakes as world tumbles into 2024

Airstrikes mar the year's earliest hours in Gaza, Israel and Ukraine, and earthquake hits Japan

By AFP

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Smoke billowing over central Gaza following Israeli strikes on January 1. — AFP
Smoke billowing over central Gaza following Israeli strikes on January 1. — AFP

Published: Mon 1 Jan 2024, 7:18 PM

Fireworks lit up skies across the world to welcome 2024, but air strikes marred the year's earliest hours in Gaza, Israel and Ukraine, and a major earthquake hit Japan triggering tsunami warnings.

Many around the world may wish to shake off high living costs, global tumult and extreme weather in 2024, which heralds elections for half the planet's population of more than eight million.

Yet with the new year barely started there were already ominous signs.

At the stroke of midnight, several rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, where they were intercepted. Some Israeli revellers ran for cover. Others continued to party.

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Israel pounded targets the length of the heavily populated Gaza Strip, where the United Nations says 85 per cent of people have fled their homes, killing at least 24 people, according to officials in the besieged Palestinian territory.

On Monday, tens of thousands marched through the Turkish city of Istanbul to protest at the scale of death and destruction caused by Israel's response to the October 7 attack by Hamas.

Since then, Israel has reduced vast areas of Gaza to wasteland and killed at least 21,978 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.

In Ukraine, the authorities said they had foiled a "record" number of Russian drones — 90 — on New Year's Eve, after a week of intense Russian bombardment and one of the biggest single attacks in the two-year war.

Russia reported more Ukrainian drone strikes on its Belgorod region near the countries' common border.

In his New Year's message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces would feel the "wrath" of his country's weapons in 2024.

His Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, did not mention Ukraine in his traditional address but vowed on New Year's Day to intensify attacks on military targets in Ukraine.

Fireworks light up the sky by the landmark Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the world’s tallest building, in Dubai at midnight on new year's eve. — AFP
Fireworks light up the sky by the landmark Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the world’s tallest building, in Dubai at midnight on new year's eve. — AFP

January 1 has been declared a day of mourning for the dead in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

In central Japan, a huge earthquake early on the New Year's Day holiday damaged homes, set off a major fire, closed highways and prompted authorities to urge people to run to higher ground.

Tsunami waves over a metre high crashed into the coast after the 7.6-magnitude quake, and more, up to five metres high, were possible within 300 kilometres of the epicentre, US and Japanese weather agencies said.

Hours earlier in Sydney, the self-proclaimed "New Year's capital of the world", more than a million partygoers had packed the harbour to cheer in the new year.

In New York City, thousands watched the annual dropping of a giant illuminated ball in Times Square.

Revellers danced in the streets in Greece and bathed in the nude in southern France.

In Italy, New Year fireworks killed one person and injured 274, police said.

A dozen police officers were hurt in clashes in the German capital, Berlin, and more than 230 people were arrested.

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On Rio's Copacabana beach, a three-dimensional firework show was accompanied by a live orchestra.

"Today we have positive thoughts so that we have a wonderful 2024, in which we make our dreams come true and with health," Francielle Marinho, 39, told AFP, her feet in the sand.

In Rome, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of conflicts around the globe, including the people of Sudan and the "martyred Rohingya" of Myanmar.

"At the end of a year, have the courage to ask how many lives have been torn apart in armed conflicts, how many deaths?" the 87-year-old pontiff said.

2023 was the hottest year since records began in 1880 and saw a spate of climate-fuelled disasters across the world.

It also saw the worst conflict in the Middle East in years.

With once-bustling Gaza City neighbourhoods reduced to rubble, there were few places in the Palestinian territory left to mark the new year -- and fewer loved ones to celebrate with.

"It was a black year full of tragedies," said 37-year-old Abed Akkawi, who fled the city with his wife and children to a UN shelter in southern Gaza.

"God willing this war will end, the new year will be a better one, and we will be able to return to our homes and rebuild them, or even live in a tent on the rubble," he told AFP.

In Tel Aviv, Israel, 24-year-old Ran Stahl preferred to work at a wine bar during New Year's Eve, saying he didn't have the heart to celebrate.

"The minute I start dancing, the sadness and mourning come back," said Stahl, whose friend died at a trance music festival during Hamas's October 7 attack.

Some in Putin's Russia were also weary of conflict, this time in Ukraine.

"I would like the war to end, a new president and a return to normal life," said 55-year-old theatre decorator Zoya Karpova.


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