Israel accused of ‘unprecedented’ security escalation against Palestinians as Blinken visits region

Israel accused of ‘unprecedented’ security escalation against Palestinians as Blinken visits region
Israeli soldiers patrol the center of Jerusalem on January 30, 2023 as the authorities intensified security measures following last week’s shooting attack by a Palestinian man who killed seven people near a synagogue in the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of the city. (AFP)
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Updated 30 January 2023

Israel accused of ‘unprecedented’ security escalation against Palestinians as Blinken visits region

Israel accused of ‘unprecedented’ security escalation against Palestinians as Blinken visits region
  • Field leader of Fatah movement in Nablus expresses fear that settler groups could commit ‘massacres’

RAMALLAH: Israel faced fresh accusations of launching an unprecedented security escalation against Palestinians as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Jerusalem on Monday to urge a deescalation in deadly violence.

Blinken called for “urgent steps” to calm spiraling violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after high-level talks in Jerusalem.

Tensions have risen further since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power in December, with religious nationalists in key Cabinet posts promising tougher stances and enraging Palestinians.

The Israeli army deployed checkpoints across West Bank cities and towns, with unprecedented settler attacks against Palestinian citizens preventing movement on main roads.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for placing violent settlers on terrorist lists.

Palestinian factions have called for broad participation at an open sit-in protest in Khan Al-Ahmar, which will start at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

They stressed that Khan Al-Ahmar is a “red line in front of the policies of demolition, forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing” that Israel is promoting.

Palestinian activists also called for people to attend a central sit-in in Ramallah at 4 p.m on Tuesday in rejection of favorable US policy toward Israel.

The protest coincides with Blinken’s visit to the city.

Palestinian residents and activists called for the formation of protection committees to address settler attacks.

Birzeit University, one of the largest Palestinian universities, has returned to the virtual e-learning situation of the COVID-19 pandemic after thousands of students from the West Bank were unable to reach its campus over security fears.

Palestinians spend hours waiting at Israeli checkpoints deployed across the West Bank during the daytime, and become targets for settler violence at night.

Ahmad Al-Chami, a researcher in political science from Ramallah, told Arab News that Palestinian citizens were forced to protect themselves individually due to the inability of the Palestinian Authority to safeguard them from attacks in Area C as well the north and south of the West Bank.

“The Palestinian Authority has become unable to protect the Palestinian citizen who travels between Ramallah and Jenin or any other place in the West Bank in front of the attacks of the army and settlers, and he realizes that if he was also killed, the authority could not prosecute the killers,” Al-Chami told Arab News.

“Therefore, citizens are thinking of protecting themselves by their means, away from relying on the fragile authority,” he added.

The Palestinian Authority ended security cooperation with Israel on Jan. 27 following the murder of nine Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp.

But many Palestinians view the measure as having failed to stop Israeli armed forces and settler attacks, Al-Chami said.

He added: “Did the Palestinian Authority’s decision to stop the security coordination save the lives of the Palestinians, bring them closer to reaching a solution or restore their rights?”

Hisham Al-Sharabati, a human rights activist from Hebron, agreed with the researcher, telling Arab News that Israel was failing to apply its laws against violent settlers, with most attacks against Palestinians occurring in the presence of the Israeli army.

Al-Sharabati said that some violent incidents were left unattended by Israeli police for long periods of time, despite authorities receiving requests for help by Palestinian victims.

“If a Palestinian tries to defend himself against settler attacks, the Israeli army forces will arrest him,” said Al-Sharabati.

He added that settler communities, in the wake of Netanyahu’s return to power, had become more aggressive and violent after being empowered by the new administration.

“The settlers’ feeling that they have government political support motivates and encourages them to commit more attacks,” Al-Sharabati said.

He added that the Palestinian Authority must safeguard Palestinians in Area C — which is under complete Israeli security control — and transform it from a functional apparatus into an authority.

Taysir Nasrallah, one of the field leaders of the Fatah movement in the Nablus region, told Arab News that it had become essential to activate and strengthen popular protection committees in Palestinian villages to discourage settler attacks in Area C.

Nasrallah expressed his fear that settler groups would commit massacres against Palestinian citizens, describing the behavior of the settler community as “very violent” and “reprehensible.”

He told Arab News: “Even during the Israeli military operation Defensive Shield in 2002, the Israeli army was the only group which attacked Palestinians. But now the army and the settlers are together, sharing roles among themselves in abusing Palestinian citizens and their property.”

Israel’s right-wing Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich lives in a settlement in the West Bank, demonstrating the new government’s close ties to the settler community, the Fatah leader said.

January was the deadliest month for Palestinians killed in Israeli raids in the West Bank since 2015, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Monday — with an average of more than one person killed each day.

It added that 35 Palestinians had been killed by the Israeli military and settlers in the new year as of Jan. 30.

The figure includes eight Palestinian children and an older woman. Twenty of the deceased were from Jenin in the northern West Bank, a ministry statement said.

The death toll includes Omar Al-Saadi, 24, who was shot on Thursday during an Israeli raid on Jenin refugee camp that has been described as a “massacre.”

Al-Saadi, who died from his wounds on Sunday, was the 10th person killed as a result of the raid.

Another Palestinian was killed in clashes with the IDF in Al-Ram on Thursday.

Palestinian National Economy Minister Khaled Al-Osaily said on Monday that the annual losses of the Palestinian economy since 2020 amounted to $3.4 billion primarily due to Israeli restrictions on Area C.

Palestinians are barred from using land — 65 percent of the state’s territory — in the area, which contains vital economic resources.

Iran unveils drones armed with air-to-air missiles

Iran unveils drones armed with air-to-air missiles
Updated 10 December 2023

Iran unveils drones armed with air-to-air missiles

Iran unveils drones armed with air-to-air missiles
  • The drones have an operational range of up to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles)
  • Development of Iran’s military arsenal has sparked concern among many countries, particularly the US and Israel

TEHRAN: Iran has reinforced its air defense capabilities by adding combat drones equipped with air-to-air missiles to its arsenal, state media reported on Sunday.
“Dozens of Karrar drones armed with air-to-air missiles have been added for air defense in all border areas of the country,” the official IRNA news agency said.
The drones, with an operational range of up to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), were exhibited Sunday morning during a televised ceremony organized at a military academy in Tehran.
“The enemies will now have to rethink their strategies” because the Iranian forces have “become more powerful,” IRNA quoted the commander-in-chief of Iran’s army, General Abdolrahim Mousavi, as saying.
The Karrar interceptor drone, the first version of which was unveiled in 2010, has been equipped with a “Majid” thermal missile with a range of eight kilometers (five miles) “made entirely in Iran,” added the agency.
It “succeeded in its operational tests” during military exercises held in October, Mousavi said.
The development of Iran’s military arsenal has sparked concern among many countries, particularly the United States and Israel, the sworn enemies of the Islamic republic.
The latter accuse Tehran of providing fleets of drones to its allies in the Middle East, notably to Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, and to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Iran also backs the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has been engaged in a war with Israel since it launched deadly attacks there on October 7.
Tehran has been accused by Kyiv and its Western allies of providing Russia with drones for use in the Ukraine war, a claim Tehran denies.
Western governments, however, imposed several rounds of biting sanctions on Iran over the alleged arms sales.
Iran began manufacturing drones in the 1980s during its eight-year war with Iraq.

UN chief says he will not give up appeals for ceasefire in Gaza

UN chief says he will not give up appeals for ceasefire in Gaza
Updated 10 December 2023

UN chief says he will not give up appeals for ceasefire in Gaza

UN chief says he will not give up appeals for ceasefire in Gaza
  • Qatar will continue to pressure Israel and Hamas for a truce despite “narrowing” chances
  • UNRWA chief says immediate ceasefire needed to end ‘hell on earth’ in Gaza

DOHA: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday he will not give up appealing for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, adding that the war undermined the credibility and authority of the Security Council.
Gueterres was speaking at the Doha Forum conference as Washington vetoed on Friday a proposed UN Security Council demand for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas.
“I urged the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and I reiterated my appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared,” Guterres said.
“Regrettably, the Security Council failed to do it, but that does not make it less necessary,” he said.
“I will not give up,” Guterres added.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told the gathering that Doha will continue to pressure Israel and Hamas for a truce despite “narrowing” chances.
Qatar, where several political leaders of Hamas are based, has been leading negotiations between the group and Israel.
Sheikh Mohammed said hostages were released from Gaza because of negotiations and not because of Israel’s military actions.
The head of UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinians, said the dehumanization of Palestinians has allowed the international community to tolerate Israel’s continued attacks on Gaza.
“There is no doubt that a humanitarian ceasefire is needed if we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said.
The United States and Israel oppose a ceasefire because they believe it would only benefit Hamas. Washington instead supports pauses in fighting to protect civilians and allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas in a deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Guterres also urged leaders at the COP28 climate conference to agree on deep cuts to emissions and stop global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
He said that despite pledges, emissions are at a record high and fossil fuels are the major cause.
“I urge leaders at COP28 in Dubai to agree on deep cuts to emissions, in line with the 1.5-degree limit,” Guterres said adding that fossil fuel companies and their backers should use their enormous resources to lead the renewables revolution.

Polls open in Egypt presidential elections

Polls open in Egypt presidential elections
Updated 10 December 2023

Polls open in Egypt presidential elections

Polls open in Egypt presidential elections

CAIRO: Polls opened on Sunday in Egypt's presidential election in which Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is set to secure six more years in power.
Voting is spread over three days and runs from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. (0700-1900 GMT), with results due to be announced on Dec. 18.
Approximately 67 million Egyptians are eligible to vote, according to the election authority, out of a total population of 104 million.

Israel presses on with its Gaza offensive after US veto derails Security Council efforts to halt war

Israel presses on with its Gaza offensive after US veto derails Security Council efforts to halt war
Updated 10 December 2023

Israel presses on with its Gaza offensive after US veto derails Security Council efforts to halt war

Israel presses on with its Gaza offensive after US veto derails Security Council efforts to halt war
  • The State Department approves the sale of tank ammunition to Israel in a deal that bypasses Congress
  • In Gaza, residents reported airstrikes and shelling, including in southern city of Rafah near Egyptian border

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip: Israel’s military pushed ahead with its punishing air and ground offensive in Gaza on Saturday, bolstered by a US veto derailing UN Security Council efforts to end the war and word that an emergency sale of $106 million worth of tank ammunition had been approved by Washington.
Unable to leave Gaza, a territory 25 miles (40 kilometers) long by about 7 miles (11 kilometers) wide, more than 2 million Palestinians faced more bombardment Saturday, even in areas that Israel had described as safe zones.
The sale of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition was announced a day after the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, a measure that had wide international support. The US said Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined that “an emergency exists” in the national interest requiring the immediate sale, meaning it bypasses congressional review. Such a determination is rare.
A day after Israel confirmed it was rounding up Palestinian men for interrogation, some men told The Associated Press they had been treated badly, providing the first accounts of the conditions from the detentions.
Ahmad Nimr Salman showed his marked and swollen hands from zip ties. “They used to ask us, ‘Are you with Hamas?’ We say ‘no,’ then they would slap us or kick us,” he said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment when asked about the alleged abuse.
With the war in its third month, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,700, the majority women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.
Two hospitals in central and southern Gaza received the bodies of 133 people from Israeli bombings over the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said midday Saturday.
Israel holds the Hamas militants responsible for civilian casualties, accusing them of using civilians as human shields, and says it has made considerable efforts with evacuation orders to get civilians out of harm’s way. It says 97 Israeli soldiers have died in the ground offensive after Hamas raided southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 240 hostages.
Hamas said Saturday that it continued its rocket fire into Israel.
In Gaza, residents reported airstrikes and shelling, including in the southern city of Rafah near the Egyptian border — one area where the Israeli army had told civilians to go. In a colorful classroom there, knee-high children’s tables were strewn with rubble.
“We now live in the Gaza Strip and are governed by the American law of the jungle. America has killed human rights,” said Rafah resident Abu Yasser Al-Khatib.
In northern Gaza, Israel has been trying to secure the military’s hold, despite heavy resistance from Hamas. The military said that it found weapons inside a school in Shujaiyah, a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City, and that, in a separate incident, militants shot at troops from a UN-run school in the northern town of Beit Hanoun.
More than 2,500 Palestinians have been killed since the Dec. 1 collapse of a weeklong truce, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
The truce saw hostages and Palestinian prisoners released, but Israel says 137 hostages remain in Gaza.
On Saturday, a kibbutz that came under attack on Oct. 7 said 25-year-old hostage Sahar Baruch had died in captivity. His captors said Baruch was killed during a failed rescue mission by Israeli forces Friday. The Israeli military said Hamas killed him.
With no new cease-fire in sight and humanitarian aid reaching little of Gaza, residents reported severe food shortages. Nine of 10 people in northern Gaza reported spending at least one full day and night without food, according to a World Food Program assessment during the truce. Two of three people in the south said the same. The WFP called the situation “alarming.”
“I am very hungry,” said Mustafa Al-Najjar, sheltering in a UN-run school in the devastated Jabaliya refugee camp in the north. “We are living on canned food and biscuits and this is not sufficient.”
While adults can cope, “it’s extremely difficult and painful when you see your young son or daughter crying because they are hungry,” he said.
Israelis who had been taken hostage also saw the food situation deteriorate, the recently freed Adina Moshe told a rally of thousands of people in Tel Aviv seeking the rapid return of all. “We ended up eating only rice,” said Moshe, who was held for 49 days.
The rally speakers accused Israel’s government of not doing enough to bring loved ones home. “How can I sleep at night? How can I protect my daughter?” asked Eli Albag, the father of 18-year-old hostage Liri Albag.
On Saturday, 100 trucks carrying unspecified aid entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, said Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority. That is still well below the daily average before the war.
Despite growing international pressure, President Joe Biden’s administration remains opposed to an open-ended cease-fire, arguing it would enable Hamas to continue posing a threat to Israel.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has argued that “a cease-fire is handing a prize to Hamas.”
Blinken continued to speak with counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Turkiye and elsewhere amid open criticism of the US stance.
“From now on, humanity won’t think the USA. supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech.
Protesters at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai called for a cease-fire, despite restrictions on demonstrations.
Amid concerns about a wider conflict, Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen threatened to prevent any ship heading to Israeli ports from passing through the Red Sea and Arabian Sea until food and medicine can enter Gaza freely. Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree said in a speech that all ships heading to Israel, no matter their nationality, will be a target.
In southern Gaza, thousands were on the run after what residents called a night of heavy gunfire and shelling.
Israel has designated a narrow patch of barren southern coastline, Muwasi, as a safe zone. But Palestinians described desperately overcrowded conditions with scant shelter and no toilets. They faced an overnight temperature of around 52 degrees (11 degrees Celsius).
“I am sleeping on the sand. It’s freezing,” said Soad Qarmoot, who described herself as a cancer patient forced to leave her home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya.
As she spoke, her children huddled around a fire.

French frigate downs drones over Red Sea: military

French frigate downs drones over Red Sea: military
Updated 10 December 2023

French frigate downs drones over Red Sea: military

French frigate downs drones over Red Sea: military
  • Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia threatened to attack vessels heading to Israeli ports unless food and medicine were allowed into Gaza

PARIS: A French frigate shot down two drones in the Red Sea that were heading toward it from the coast of Yemen, the French military said on Sunday.
“The interception and destruction of these two identified threats” were carried out late Saturday by the frigate Languedoc, which operates in the Red Sea, the general staff said in a press release.
The interceptions happened at 2030 GMT and 2230 GMT, it added, and were 110 km (68 miles) from the Yemeni coast.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia on Saturday threatened to attack any vessels heading to Israeli ports unless food and medicine were allowed into the besieged Gaza Strip.
The latest warning comes amid heightened tensions in the Red Sea and surrounding waters following a series of maritime attacks by Houthi militia since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7.
In a statement posted on social media, the Houthis said they “will prevent the passage of ships heading to the Zionist entity” if humanitarian aid is not allowed into Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The Houthis have recently attacked ships they claim have direct links to Israel, but their latest threat expands the scope of their targets.
An American destroyer shot down three drones last week while providing assistance to commercial ships in the Red Sea targeted by attacks from Yemen, according to Washington, which denounced “a direct threat” to maritime security.