Diplomatic push for Gaza cease-fire as Israel, Hamas continue trading heavy fire

Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm self-propelled howitzer towards the Gaza Strip from their position along the border in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on May 20, 2021. (AFP)
Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm self-propelled howitzer towards the Gaza Strip from their position along the border in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on May 20, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 20 May 2021

Diplomatic push for Gaza cease-fire as Israel, Hamas continue trading heavy fire

Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm self-propelled howitzer towards the Gaza Strip from their position along the border in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on May 20, 2021. (AFP)
  • The latest attacks came from warplanes and artillery stationed on Gaza’s northern and eastern borders

GAZA CITY: Diplomatic efforts gathered pace Thursday for a ceasefire on the 11th day of deadly violence between Israel and armed Palestinian groups in Gaza, as air strikes again hammered the enclave.

The Israeli security cabinet was set to meet at 1600 GMT to discuss a possible ceasefire with the Hamas Islamist movement ruling the besieged and crowded coastal strip, official sources told AFP.

In the southern Gaza town of Rafah, devastating Israeli air strikes turned buildings into clouds of dust and rubble, as an ambulance sped across town to help the wounded, an AFP reporter said.

Rocket fire from Gaza intensified in the afternoon, sending Israelis living on its borders running into shelters, according to Israeli army warnings.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres told the UN General Assembly Thursday that "the fighting must stop immediately", calling the continued crossfire between Israeli forces and Palestinian groups "unacceptable".

“If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza,” Guterres added.

 

 

The news of the Israeli security meeting came after pressure mounted to end the bloodshed, following US President Joe Biden urging a “significant de-escalation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, set to attend the evening meeting with top security officials, earlier vowed to push on until the military campaign reaches its objective, “to restore quiet and security” for Israelis.

UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland was visiting Qatar for talks with Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Hamas, as part of an effort to “restore calm,” according to a diplomatic source.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “indirect talks” with Hamas were essential to advancing efforts toward an end of hostilities.

“Of course Hamas has to be included, because without Hamas there will be no cease-fire,” Merkel said, who also spoke to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas Thursday, where they agreed the need “for a speedy ceasefire.”

Her foreign minister, Heiko Maas, speaking earlier near Tel Aviv, expressed Germany's “solidarity” with Israel but also called for an end to the fighting.

“Israel has the right to defend itself against this massive and unacceptable attack,” Maas said of the rockets Hamas first fired on May 10, following violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

“The number of victims is rising every day and this greatly concerns us.”

 

 

A senior Hamas official told AFP: “We expect a return to calm in the coming hours, or tomorrow (Friday), but it depends on the cessation of the aggression of the occupation forces in Gaza and Jerusalem.

“But there is nothing definitive for the moment,” added the source, indicating that Qatar, an emirate financing aid to Gaza and where Haniyeh lives, was at the heart of “intense” negotiations.

The Israeli army said Hamas and other Islamist armed groups in Gaza have fired 4,070 rockets towards Israel, with the overwhelming majority of those that were bound for populated areas intercepted by its Iron Dome air defences.

The rockets have claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child, with one Indian and two Thai nationals among those killed, the police say.

Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, according to the Gaza health ministry, leaving vast areas in rubble and displacing some 120,000 people, according to the Hamas government.

Overnight, Israel continued to pound Gaza with air strikes and artillery fire aimed at destroying Hamas tunnels and other infrastructure, the military said.

One Israeli strike on Gaza on Wednesday killed a disabled man, his pregnant wife and their three-year-old child, the enclave's health ministry said.

“What did my brother do?” the man's bereaved brother Omar Saleha, 31, told AFP. “He was just sitting in his wheelchair.”

Israel says it takes all steps to avoid civilian casualties, including by phoning residents to warn them of imminent strikes, and blames Hamas for placing weapons and military sites in densely populated areas.

The US, a key Israel ally, has repeatedly blocked adoption of a joint UN Security Council statement calling for a halt to hostilities, including one proposed by France, saying it could undermine efforts to de-escalate the crisis.

Israel's bombing campaign has left the two million people of Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade for 14 years, desperate for relief.

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that people in both Gaza and Israel “urgently need respite from non-stop hostilities,” while the World Health Organization issued an appeal for $7 million in aid

The military conflict has sharply heightened tensions and sparked violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, while Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have repeatedly clashed with security forces.

In the West Bank, the army has killed 25 Palestinians since the outbreak of hostilities. The worst death toll in years in the occupied Palestinian territory includes several Palestinians who the Israeli army said had attempted to ram or stab Israeli forces at checkpoints.


Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support

Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support
Updated 36 sec ago

Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support

Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support
  • Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support
  • ‘We have called on the EU to provide its pledged aid without conditions,’ Palestinian PM says

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority has reiterated its appeal to the EU to provide its pledged aid without conditions.

The authority is concerned about the continuing uncertainty over the EU’s annual financial support for its budget despite holding several meetings with senior EU officials in recent months.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyieh, who met EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles in Brussels last week, urged the bloc to expedite the transfer of its financial support, which has been suspended for two years.

Shtayyieh pointed to a growing financial crisis caused by the drop in external support and the continuation of Israel’s deductions from the tax it collects on behalf of the PA.

“We have called on the European Union to provide its pledged aid without conditions. We hope to accomplish this very soon,” Shtayyieh said at the start of the Palestinian Authority’s weekly Cabinet session on Monday in Ramallah.

The EU postponed the transfer of $223 million in annual aid to the PA after EU members supported Hungary’s condition to change the curriculum in West Bank schools because it “contains incitement against Israel and anti-Semitic content.”

The EU contributed about $156 million annually to the PA budget of which $93 million went to pay the salaries of its civilian employees. Those workers have received between 70 and 80 percent of their salaries for five consecutive months.

The PA suffered a sharp decline in international aid to its budget from $1.3 billion in 2013 to $129 million in 2021.

Samir Hulileh, a Palestinian economist, told Arab News that the policy of European countries has recently been to provide direct support to the Palestinian private sector, marginalizing the PA.

“European countries continue to expand their support for the Palestinian private sector economy, but the official support provided to the Palestinian government is completely halted,” he said.

“This leads to the weak performance of the Palestinian Authority in its functional role and tasks — especially with the halt to US and Arab support for it.”

The value of the budget deficit had reached $1.3 billion, Hulileh said.

At the beginning of this month, the Palestinian Authority presented a broad reform program to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee to encourage donor countries — especially EU states — to resume their financial support for the PA, a Palestinian source told Arab News.

A senior European source told Arab News: “The EU continued to support UNRWA. What remains pending is the funding to the PA, which is still stuck in Brussels.”

Nevertheless, news reports said that the EU reduced its aid to the UNRWA by 40 percent for the 2022-24 period, from $135 million to $82 million.

The EU said that aid could return to normal levels by changing school curricula and removing what it termed incitement materials against Israel while it continues to delay the $156 million annual financial support to the PA.

The reduction in the EU budget comes amid intense pressure and incitement campaigns against UNRWA last year by Israeli institutions. That led the EU to condemn UNRWA’s use of educational materials, which it claimed incited hatred and violence against Israel and Jews in schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This was the first time the EU had condemned the UN relief agency for its curricula.

The EU demanded the UNRWA “immediately” remove the so-called inflammatory material, stating that its funding “should be conditioned” on the adaptation of educational materials to match the values of the UN that promote peace and tolerance.


Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries
Updated 16 May 2022

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries
  • The drivers and workers of the Tehran Bus Company decried the failure to implement a decision by the Supreme Labour Council to introduce a 10 percent salary increase
  • The strike comes days after Iranian media reported that a demonstrator had been killed in the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful during protests over rising food prices

TEHRAN: Dozens of bus drivers went on strike in the Iranian capital Monday to protest over their living conditions following demonstrations in other cities in past days, local media reported.
The drivers and workers of the Tehran Bus Company decried the failure to implement a decision by the Supreme Labour Council to introduce a 10 percent salary increase, reformist Shargh newspaper wrote on Twitter.
The strike comes days after Iranian media reported that a demonstrator had been killed in the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful during protests over rising food prices.
Demonstrators on Monday chanted slogans describing Tehran’s mayor as “incompetent” and calling on him to resign, as seen in a video of the protest tweeted by Shargh.
Tehran mayor Alireza Zakani attended a meeting with the striking workers and spoke with their representative, Mehr news agency reported.
The authorities announced last week a series of measures to tackle mounting economic challenges, such as changing a subsidy system and raising the prices of staple goods, including cooking oil and dairy products.
Hundreds took to the streets in a number of Iranian cities to protest the government’s decision, including in Tehran province, state news agency IRNA reported.
MP Ahmed Avai confirmed Saturday that one person had been killed during the demonstrations, according to the Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA).
IRNA had reported Friday that more than 20 people were arrested during the demonstrations in the cities of Dezful and Yasuj, but made no mention of any casualties.
Iran has been reeling under the effect of sanctions reimposed by the US in 2018 — exacerbated by rising prices worldwide since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Islamic republic has witnessed several waves of protests over living conditions in recent years, most notably in 2019 after a fuel price hike.
In recent months, teachers have held successive demonstrations demanding the speeding up of reforms that would see their salaries better reflect their experience and performance.


Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather
Updated 16 May 2022

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather
  • Flights at Kuwait International Airport resumed operating normally at 6 p.m. after a 1.5 hour period of inactivity
  • The final of the Amiri Cup has also been rescheduled to May 23 due to the adverse weather conditions

LONDON: All maritime operations at three Kuwaiti ports have been suspended after bad weather struck the Gulf country.

Shuwaikh port, Shuaiba port, and Doha port are temporarily supsnded, Kuwait News Agency reported.

Earlier, the news agency reported that navigation to and from Kuwait International Airport had been halted due to a dust storm reducing visibility across the country.

Flights later resumed operating normally at 6 p.m. after a 1.5 hour period of inactivity.

The final of the Amiri Cup has also been rescheduled due to the adverse weather conditions.

Kazma and Salmiya football clubs were due to play on Monday but will play on May 23 instead.


Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi

Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi
Updated 16 May 2022

Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi

Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi
  • The prince is the latest global figure to travel to the UAE capital to pay respects

ABU DHABI: Britain’s Prince William met newly-appointed UAE president Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on Monday to offer condolences on the death of Sheikh Khalifa.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the former president and ruler of Abu Dhabi, died on Friday aged 73.

The Duke of Cambridge, who made the trip on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, also offered congratulations to Sheikh Mohammed on his appointment as UAE president and ruler of Abu Dhabi.

The prince is the latest global figure to travel to the UAE capital to pay respects, following visits from other leaders including French president Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

William’s trip to the UAE capital followed a phone call to Sheikh Mohammed on Sunday from Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, who also offered condolences on the passing of Sheikh Khalifa and good wishes to Sheikh Mohammed on his appointment.

Queen Elizabeth also sent a message to Sheikh Mohamed, sharing her sadness over Sheikh Khalifa's death, adding: “He will be long remembered by all who work for regional stability, understanding between nations and between faiths, and for the conservation cause.”


Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings
Updated 16 May 2022

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings
  • Talks can put Libya on path to stability and security, Foreign Ministry says
  • ‘Time is running out fast and the Libyan people are more anxious than ever’: Acting UN envoy to Libya

CAIRO: The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has urged rival Libyan officials meeting in Cairo to “seize the opportunity of their presence together during this round of talks to address issues.”

The ministry said it was aware of the sensitivity and difficulty of the issues but affirmed its confidence in the capabilities and commitment of the participants to support the interests of the Libyan people.

A second round of talks began on Sunday in the presence of all members of the House of Representatives Committee, the “Higher Council of State,” and the acting UN envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams amid high hopes that a solution could be reached to end the political crisis.

The talks began with a speech by the host nation in which it expressed its support for the constitutional process on which the Libyans have pinned their hopes. The ministry said that the eyes of 7 million Libyans were on the talks and it hoped “the outcomes of these meetings rise to the ceiling of the aspirations of the Libyans in approving a constitutional framework.”

It also expressed its confidence that the efforts of the joint committee would put Libya on the path to stability, security and development, stressing that Cairo would continue to sponsor the Libyan constitutional track based on its ties and balanced relations with all parties.

The ministry confirmed that previous meetings, in Cairo in October 2020 and Hurghada in January and February 2021, and the first round of the current talks on April 13-18 had paved the way for the high-level political consultations held over the past two weeks.

It also commended the efforts of Williams, “and the work team of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya in facilitating this meeting, and supporting the task of the meeting with the ideas and tools necessary to complete it to the fullest.”

Williams said at the opening session: “Time is running out fast and the Libyan people are more anxious than ever for stability.

“As you know, the work of this committee began on April 13 and therefore we will finish its work on May 28, meaning within 45 days.

“In everything I do, my message is … After more than a decade of turmoil, the Libyan people are tired of war and endless competition over the Libyan executive and economic resources, and they want to choose their representatives so that their long-awaited dream of stability and prosperity can come true.”

She continued: “A month has passed since our last meeting, and Libya is still at the same critical juncture, for which there is no solution but to move toward comprehensive, fair, transparent and credible national elections to respect the will of the 2.8 million Libyan citizens who have registered to vote.”

The first round of consultations concluded last month without an agreement. The Supreme State is calling for the formulation of a constitutional rule that leads to elections, while Parliament demands the amendment of “controversial” texts between the two councils in the constitution in accordance with the 12th amendment it issued two months ago, provided that it is put to a referendum as a constitution, on the basis of which parliamentary and presidential elections are held.