Israeli finance minister suspends funds to Arab towns, East Jerusalem

Israeli finance minister suspends funds to Arab towns, East Jerusalem
Arab citizens, most of whom are descendants of Palestinians who stayed in the new Israeli state after the 1948 war surrounding its creation, make up about a fifth of Israel’s population (AFP)
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Updated 08 August 2023
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Israeli finance minister suspends funds to Arab towns, East Jerusalem

Israeli finance minister suspends funds to Arab towns, East Jerusalem
  • Funds were meant to narrow socio-economic gaps
  • Lawmakers, colleges criticize decision as racist

JERUSALEM, Aug 8 : Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has frozen funds for Arab towns and Palestinian education programs in East Jerusalem, citing crime and safety fears and prompting accusations of racism.
Smotrich, a key member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious government, said on Monday some of the budget funds meant for Arab local councils were a political pay-off by the previous cabinet that could end up in the hands of “criminals and terrorists.”
“The priorities of our national government... are different from those of the previous leftist government and we should not apologize for that,” said Smotrich, head of the pro-settler Religious Zionism party whose past comments about the Palestinians have drawn international condemnation.
Israel’s public broadcaster Kan first reported the freeze on Sunday when it published a letter from Interior Minister Moshe Arbel to Smotrich, urging him to release 200 million shekels ($54 million) of the funds at stake that are intended for administration and another 100 million for economic development.
Lawmaker Mansour Abbas who heads the United Arab List accused Smotrich of racism.
“Arab citizens are entitled to those funds, which were meant to close the gaps between Arab and Jewish communities,” he told Reuters.
Arab citizens, most of whom are descendants of Palestinians who stayed in the new Israeli state after the 1948 war surrounding its creation, make up about a fifth of Israel’s population.
Netanyahu’s office did not respond to a request for comment, while opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid also accused Smotrich of racism, “abusing Arab citizens simply because they are Arab.”
Israel’s Arab minority has for decades faced social and economic disparities compared with Jewish citizens, including high poverty rates, overcrowded towns lacking in infrastructure and poorly-funded schools.
The extra funds, designated in 2022 for 67 Arab councils, were the state’s acknowledgement of years of insufficient resource allocation to Arab localities, said Ameer Bisharat, head of the National Committee of Arab Local Councils in Israel.
The freeze could mean that councils are unable to provide basic services such as garbage collection or reopening schools after the summer holiday, he said.
’HATRED AND RACISM’
Smotrich said a separate 200 million shekels for encouraging academic studies among Palestinians from East Jerusalem would also be frozen until what he described as “extremist Islamic activity” on campus was eradicated.
In May, the government extended a 2018 2.1 billion shekel five-year plan meant to improve education, employment, health and infrastructure in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move unrecognized internationally.
It includes programs to help Palestinians — who make up almost 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population, with almost two thirds below the poverty line — integrate into Israeli academic institutions.
Smotrich said the new East Jerusalem plan would have a total increased budget but that although encouraging academic studies among the city’s Palestinians was a worthy cause, this also had unwelcome consequences.
“In recent years, radical Islamic cells have developed in Israeli universities and colleges, over and over again they express solidarity with Israel’s enemies,” he said on Facebook, responding to Kan’s report.
It was unclear on what data or research Smotrich had based his radicalization claim, though he cited pro-Palestinian student protests during the 2021 Israel-Gaza war. The academic institutions involved rejected his claim.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, along with three other institutions, expressed shock at Smotrich’s funding decision, which will affect hundreds of Palestinian students, and urged Netanyahu not to let “voices that promote hatred and racism” prevail.
Security chiefs have made clear that Smotrich’s decision will be counterproductive, the university added.


1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says

1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says
Updated 16 sec ago
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1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says

1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says
  • Over half of Gaza’s households have sold or exchanged clothes to buy food, says UN report
  • Israeli authorities have tight control over entry into Gaza, movements require military permission

LONDON: More than 495,000 people in Gaza, representing one in five of the enclave’s population, are now facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity, characterized by extreme lack of food, starvation, and exhaustion, according to a forthcoming UN report.

The latest “Special Snapshot” of Gaza from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification will be published on Tuesday, The Guardian reported.

The UN report will also reveal that more than half of Gaza’s households have had to sell or exchange clothes to buy food, as the risk of famine remains high across the territory following recent violence.

Israeli authorities have tight control over entry into Gaza, and movements require military permission. Rubble has damaged the roads, fuel is in short supply, and power and communication networks are barely functional.

At the start of the war Israel imposed a complete siege on Gaza, which has only been gradually eased under US pressure. The war has significantly reduced Gaza’s ability to produce its own food.

The IPC noted that food deliveries and nutritional services to northern Gaza increased significantly in March and April, preventing a famine and improving conditions in the territory’s south. However, the situation has deteriorated again as a result of renewed hostilities, and the risk of famine remains in the Gaza Strip as long as the conflict continues and humanitarian access is limited, according to a draft report obtained by The Guardian.

More than half of households reported frequently running out of food at home, and more than 20 percent go entire days and nights without eating, The Guardian reported. The most recent trajectory is negative and highly unstable. If this trend continues, the improvements seen in April may be quickly reversed.

UN agencies and aid organizations report difficulties in reaching Kerem Shalom border crossing due to ongoing fighting, Israeli restrictions, coordination issues with the army, and the breakdown of law and order.

Although the IPC has not officially declared a famine — which requires a stringent set of conditions — the situation in Gaza is dire. Stage 5 hunger, which affects 22 percent of Gaza’s population, is comparable to famine conditions.

A formal famine declaration requires 20 percent of households to have an extreme lack of food, 30 percent of children to suffer from acute malnutrition, and at least two adults or four children per 10,000 people to die each day.

Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has said that Israel’s restrictions on humanitarian aid into Gaza may constitute the war crime of deliberate starvation. The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization have warned that by the middle of July, more than 1 million people could be dead or starving.

A joint statement from Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and the European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said: “The crisis in Gaza has reached another breaking point … The delivery of any meaningful humanitarian assistance inside Gaza has become almost impossible and the very fabric of civil society is unraveling.”

Ahead of the release of the IPC’s report on Gaza, Kate Phillips-Barrasso, vice president of global policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps, said: “People are enduring subhuman conditions, resorting to desperate measures like boiling weeds, eating animal feed, and exchanging clothes for money to stave off hunger and keep their children alive.

“The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly, and the specter of famine continues to hang over Gaza … Humanitarian aid is limited … The international community must apply relentless pressure to achieve a ceasefire and ensure sustained humanitarian access now. The population cannot endure these hardships any longer.”


Iran’s presidential election dominated by Khamenei loyalists

Iran’s presidential election dominated by Khamenei loyalists
Updated 27 min 34 sec ago
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Iran’s presidential election dominated by Khamenei loyalists

Iran’s presidential election dominated by Khamenei loyalists
  • Iranians will select successor to Ebrahim Raisi on Friday
  • Outcome likely to influence succession to Supreme Leader, 85

DUBAI: Iranians choose a president on Friday in a tightly controlled election following Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash last month, with the outcome expected to influence the succession to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top decision-maker.
With Iran’s supreme leader now 85, it is likely that the next president will be closely involved in the eventual process of choosing a successor to Khamenei, who has ensured candidates sharing his hard-line views dominate the presidential contest.
The election coincides with escalating regional tensions due to the Israel-Hamas conflict, increased Western pressure on Iran over its rapidly advancing nuclear program, and growing domestic dissent over political, social, and economic crises.
However, the looming succession to the fiercely anti-Western Khamenei is the overriding concern among Iran’s clerical elite.
The Guardian Council, a hard-line vetting body of clerics and jurists aligned to Khamenei, has approved five hard-liners and one low-profile moderate candidate from an initial pool of 80.
Prominent among the hard-liners are Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, parliament speaker and former head of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, and Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator.
The sole moderate candidate, Massoud Pezeshkian, has the endorsement of Iran’s politically-sidelined reformist camp that advocates detente with the West.
The fiercely anti-Western Khamenei has not backed any candidate publicly. However, in a televised speech on Tuesday he said: “One who thinks that nothing can be done without the favor of America will not manage the country well.”
His adviser Yahya Rahim Safavi has urged voters to elect “a president whose views do not conflict with those of the supreme leader,” state media reported.
“The people should choose a president who considers himself the second in command ... The president should not create division,” said Safavi, a former chief commander of the Guards.
While the president’s role has a high international profile, real power rests with the supreme leader, who has the final say on state matters like foreign or nuclear policies and controls all branches of government, the military, media and the bulk of financial resources.
Raisi was widely seen as a potential successor to Khamenei, and his sudden death has sparked a race among hard-liners seeking to influence the selection of Iran’s next top leader.

Divided nation
An Iranian insider close to Khamenei, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the Supreme Leader “has no tolerance for political infighting when cohesion among those in power is essential.”
“A president, who is loyal and aligns completely with the supreme leader while also a trusted ally of the Revolutionary Guards, can significantly contribute to a seamless transition of power,” said the insider.
While devout supporters of the clerical establishment are expected to vote for hard-liners, many Iranians may choose to abstain amid limited electoral options, discontent over a crackdown on dissent, and anger over worsening living standards.
The chances of Pezeshkian, who is also strongly loyal to Khamenei, depend on attracting millions of disillusioned mainly young voters who have stayed home in elections since 2020 and also on persistent splits among the five hard-line candidates.
The reformists’ electoral strength remains uncertain, however, as some voters believe they failed to deliver greater freedoms during their past tenures in power.
Unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, in custody in 2022, exposed a widening divide between reformists and their power base, after leaders distanced themselves from demonstrators who demanded a “regime change.”
Reformists remain faithful to Iran’s theocratic rule but advocate detente with the West, economic reform, social liberalization and political pluralism.
Khamenei called for a high turnout that he said “will silence the Islamic Republic’s enemies.”
Iranian dissidents, both domestically and abroad, have called for an election boycott, distributing the hashtag #ElectionCircus widely on the social media platform X, arguing that a high turnout would legitimize the Islamic Republic.
Narges Mohammadi, the imprisoned Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in a message from Tehran’s Evin prison that the vote would be a “sham” election.
The government relied on repression to maintain power, and its aim in holding the election “is not to uphold democracy and people’s rights, but to reinforce power and tyranny,” she said.
However, prominent reformist politicians have warned that low voter turnout will allow hard-liners to maintain control over all arms of the state.
Raisi clinched victory in 2021 on a turnout of about 49 percent — a significant drop from the 70 percent seen in 2017 and 76 percent in 2013 — largely amid widespread voter apathy.
The five hard-line candidates have largely avoided discussing social and political freedoms during their campaigns and television debates, while acknowledging the country’s economic woes without offering specific plans to tackle the crisis.
Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old former health minister, advocates social freedoms and has spoken up for the rights of women and ethnic minorities. He has pledged to foster a more pragmatic foreign policy.
If no candidate wins at least 50 percent plus one vote of all ballots cast, including blank votes, a run-off round between the top two candidates will be held.


Israel prefers diplomacy to end Hezbollah conflict, security adviser says

Israel prefers diplomacy to end Hezbollah conflict, security adviser says
Updated 45 min 42 sec ago
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Israel prefers diplomacy to end Hezbollah conflict, security adviser says

Israel prefers diplomacy to end Hezbollah conflict, security adviser says
  • Israel is discussing with Washington a possible joint effort by the United States, European and some Arab countries to find a replacement for Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip.

JERUSALEM: Israel will spend the coming weeks trying to resolve the conflict with Lebanon’s Iran-backed group Hezbollah and would prefer a diplomatic solution, Israel’s national security adviser said on Tuesday.
National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said Israel had been discussing with US officials the possibility that an expected end of intense Israeli military operations in Gaza would allow an “arrangement” to be reached with Hezbollah.
Iran-backed Hezbollah began attacking Israel from the north shortly after Palestinian Islamist group Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel, which sparked the war in Gaza.
Shelling on Israel’s northern border has led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from areas on both sides of the frontier, and has escalated in recent weeks, leading to fears of an all-out conflict.
“We and the Americans believe and we will dedicate weeks now in an attempt to reach an arrangement,” Hanegbi said at the Herzliya conference.
“If there will not be an arrangement through diplomatic means, everyone understands that there must be an arrangement through other means. For now we prefer to focus on the diplomatic campaign,” he said.
Hanegbi also said Israel was discussing with Washington a possible joint effort by the United States, European and some Arab countries to find a replacement for Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip.


Israeli supreme court says ultra-Orthodox must serve in military

Israeli supreme court says ultra-Orthodox must serve in military
Updated 25 June 2024
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Israeli supreme court says ultra-Orthodox must serve in military

Israeli supreme court says ultra-Orthodox must serve in military
  • Israel supreme court rules religious seminary students must be drafted to military

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled unanimously that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men for military service, a decision that could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel continues to wage war in Gaza.
The court ruled that in the absence of a law that distinguishes between Jewish seminary students and other draftees, Israel’s compulsory military service system applies to the ultra-Orthodox like any other citizens.
Under longstanding arrangements, ultra-Orthodox men have been exempt from the draft, which is compulsory for most Jewish men and women. These exemptions have long been a source of anger among the secular public, a divide that has widened during the eight-month-old war.


Israeli airstrikes kill at least 24 in Gaza City, say Gaza officials

Israeli airstrikes kill at least 24 in Gaza City, say Gaza officials
Updated 30 min 17 sec ago
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Israeli airstrikes kill at least 24 in Gaza City, say Gaza officials

Israeli airstrikes kill at least 24 in Gaza City, say Gaza officials
  • Israeli airstrikes hit two schools, a house in Gaza City
  • Tanks plow deeper into Rafah in southern Gaza

CAIRO: Israeli forces killed at least 24 Palestinians in three separate airstrikes early on Tuesday on Gaza City and the dead included a sister of Ismail Haniyeh, the chief of the militant Islamist Hamas group, Gaza health officials and medics said.
Israeli tanks also pressed deeper into western areas of Rafah in the south of the enclave overnight, blowing up homes, residents said.
Two of the Israeli airstrikes hit two schools in Gaza City, killing at least 14 people, medics said. Another strike on a house in the Shati (Beach) camp, one of the Gaza Strip’s eight historic refugee camps, killed 10 others.
The house in Shati belonged to the extended family of Hamas political chief Haniyeh, who is based in Qatar, killing one of his sisters along with other relatives too, family members and medics said.
Haniyeh, who leads Hamas’ diplomacy and is the public face of the group that has been running Gaza, has lost many relatives in Israeli air strikes since Oct. 7, including three sons.
Israel’s military said its forces had targeted militants overnight in Gaza City who had been involved in the planning of attacks on Israel. The militants included some involved in holding hostages captive and some who had taken part in Hamas’ cross-border attack on Oct. 7.
The Israeli Air Force struck two structures “used by Hamas terrorists in Shati and Daraj Tuffah in the northern Gaza Strip. The terrorists operated inside school compounds that were used by Hamas as a shield for its terrorist activities,” the military statement said.
Hamas denies using civilian facilities such as schools and hospitals for military purposes.
The group described the attacks on the two schools and the house in Shati camp as “massacres.”
“We hold the administration of US President Joe Boden responsible for the continued war of genocide against our Palestinian people in Gaza Strip through continuing to offer the Zionist government and its criminal army political and military cover,” Hamas said in a statement.
Separately, the armed wings of Hamas and the allied Islamic Jihad groups said in a joint statement their fighters had fired mortar bombs overnight against Israeli forces in the Yibna neighborhood of eastern Rafah.
In nearby Khan Younis, medics said Israeli tank shelling had wounded several people at a tent camp in the west of the city.

Hezbollah conflict
More than eight months into the fighting, international mediation backed by the United States has so far failed to bring a ceasefire agreement. Hamas says any agreement must bring an end to the war, while Israel says it will agree only temporary pauses in fighting until Hamas is eradicated.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday the phase of intense fighting against Hamas would end “very soon,” freeing up more forces for deployment on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where fighting with Iran-backed Hezbollah has escalated.
Israel’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said on Tuesday Israel would spend the coming weeks trying to resolve the conflict with Hezbollah and would prefer a diplomatic solution there. Shelling has led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli offensive in retaliation has killed almost 37,600 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and has left the tiny, densely populated Gaza Strip in ruins.
Since early May, fighting has focused on Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge abutting the border with Egypt, where around half of the enclave’s 2.3 million people have been sheltering after fleeing other areas.
Gaza’s health ministry said on Tuesday that hospitals and medical centers in the enclave were experiencing a severe shortage of medicines and medical supplies due to the continued Israeli offensive, Israel’s control and closure of all crossings and its targeting of the health sector in Gaza.
In particularly short supply are medications needed for emergency, anaesthesia, intensive care and operations, the ministry said in a statement.
Shortages of medicine
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli offensive in retaliation has killed almost 37,600 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and has left the tiny, densely populated Gaza Strip in ruins.
Gaza’s health ministry said on Tuesday that hospitals and medical centers in the enclave were experiencing a severe shortage of medicines and medical supplies due to the continued Israeli offensive, Israel’s control and closure of all crossings and its targeting of the health sector in Gaza.
In particularly short supply are medications needed for emergency, anaesthesia, intensive care and operations, the ministry said in a statement, while cancer patients were unable to travel to hospitals.
Since early May, fighting has focused on Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge abutting the border with Egypt, where around half of the enclave’s 2.3 million people have been sheltering after fleeing other areas.
Residents said fierce fighting had taken place overnight in western areas of Rafah, where tanks have extended their incursion in recent days, blowing up several homes in the area.