Israel’s Netanyahu pledges to unfreeze funds for Arab towns

Israel’s Netanyahu pledges to unfreeze funds for Arab towns
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich arrive at a press conference in Jerusalem. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 10 August 2023
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Israel’s Netanyahu pledges to unfreeze funds for Arab towns

Israel’s Netanyahu pledges to unfreeze funds for Arab towns
  • Netanhayu said the money would be transferred after a review but gave no details
  • Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich doubled down on the fund freeze

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Wednesday to release at least $54 million to Arab towns after his finance minister’s decision to withhold them drew accusations of racism.
Netanhayu said the money would be transferred after a review but gave no details on what that would entail or how long it would take. His spokesperson declined further comment.
“Israel’s Arab citizens deserve what all citizens do and I’m committed to this. I demand this of all government ministries and it will be carried out following an evaluation to ensure that funds are transferred for their designated purpose – Israel’s Arab citizens,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
At the same time, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich doubled down on the fund freeze at a press briefing.
Echoing his earlier announcement, Smotrich, a member of Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition, told reporters on Wednesday that he was withholding budget funds marked for Arab local councils out of fear that the money would end up in the hands of criminals and terrorists.
Arab community leaders said the minister was guided by racism.
“The finance minister is continuing his campaign of incitement against Arab society and its elected leaders,” said the National Committee of Arab Local Councils in Israel.
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.
Palestinian citizens in Israel have for decades faced social and economic disparities with Jewish citizens, including high poverty, overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure and poorly funded schools.
The funding, earmarked for basic services and development in 67 Arab local councils, is an effort to correct years of insufficient budget allocations and to narrow the gaps between Jewish Israeli and Palestinian communities, said Ameer Bisharat, CEO of the National Committee of Arab Local Councils in Israel.


Missile barrage hits northern Israel, emergency services report

Missile barrage hits northern Israel, emergency services report
Updated 4 sec ago
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Missile barrage hits northern Israel, emergency services report

Missile barrage hits northern Israel, emergency services report
The military said that warning sirens had sounded in northern Israel and emergency services said teams were searching the area
Television footage on Friday showed damaged buildings and cars as well as brush fires in several locations caused by strikes

JERUSALEM: Israeli emergency services reported dealing with a string of fires in northern Israel on Friday after dozens of missiles were fired from southern Lebanon into the area around the border town of Kiryat Shemona.
The military said that warning sirens had sounded in northern Israel and emergency services said teams were searching the area, where they reported there was property damage but no casualties.
Television footage on Friday showed damaged buildings and cars as well as brush fires in several locations caused by strikes or falling debris amid heatwave conditions.
The Israeli military has exchanged regular fire with Hezbollah forces across the border in southern Lebanon ever since the start of the war in Gaza in October.
Neither side has appeared to wish a wider conflict, but there has been growing worry that the steady intensification of strikes could push the situation out of control with the risk of a wider conflict in a region that has already seen direct exchanges between Israel and Iran.
The latest salvo came after an Israeli strike killed a senior commander from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon on Tuesday, drawing the heaviest bombardment of northern Israel since the start of the war in October last year.
Tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated from their homes on both sides of the border, creating growing pressure to resolve the stand-off, but diplomatic efforts have so far proved fruitless.
On Friday, the Israeli military said fighter jets and anti-aircraft systems had intercepted 11 of the 16 drones launched by Hezbollah against Israel in the past 72 hours.
“The Israeli Air Force is continuing to operate at all times to thwart terrorist activities and protect Israel’s skies from any threat,” it said in a statement.

Sweden summons Iraqi diplomat to protest death penalties reportedly handed to 2 Swedes

Sweden summons Iraqi diplomat to protest death penalties reportedly handed to 2 Swedes
Updated 11 min 24 sec ago
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Sweden summons Iraqi diplomat to protest death penalties reportedly handed to 2 Swedes

Sweden summons Iraqi diplomat to protest death penalties reportedly handed to 2 Swedes
  • Two Swedes have been sentenced to death in Iraq after being convicted of killing a member of criminal gang
  • “We condemn the use of the death penalty,” Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said

COPENHAGEN: Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said officials summoned the Iraqi chargé d’affaires Friday to protest against death sentences handed down to Swedes in Iraq.
Swedish media reported in recent days that two Swedes have been sentenced to death in Iraq after being convicted of killing a member of criminal gang there. On Friday, Sweden’s news agency TT cited the foreign ministry in Stockholm’s confirmation that at least one person with a Swedish passport has received a death sentence.
“We condemn the use of the death penalty. We oppose it always, everywhere and regardless of the circumstances,” Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said in a statement.
He said officials conveyed Sweden’s protests at the meeting and demanded that the sentences not be enforced.
TT reported that another two Swedes have been detained for alleged involvement in the murder of a criminal in Iraq.
The killing earlier this year is believed to be linked to an internal gang war between two Swedish groups that has resulted in numerous killings and attempted murders, some occurring outside Sweden. The Foxtrot network and its rival, Rumba, have for years been involved in deadly feuds.
Sweden has grappled with gang violence for years and criminal gangs often recruit teenagers in socially disadvantaged immigrant neighborhoods to carry out hits. Swedish police recorded 109 shootings so far this year, including 14 fatal shootings. Last year, 53 people were killed and 109 were wounded in a total of 363 shootings.


G7 warns Iran over continuing nuclear program escalation

G7 warns Iran over continuing nuclear program escalation
Updated 14 June 2024
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G7 warns Iran over continuing nuclear program escalation

G7 warns Iran over continuing nuclear program escalation
  • Iran has rapidly installed extra uranium-enriching centrifuges at its Fordow site and begun setting up others according to UN reports

BARI: The Group of Seven leaders warned Iran on Friday against advancing its nuclear enrichment program and said they would be ready to enforce new measures if Tehran were to transfer ballistic missiles to Russia, according to a draft communique.
“We urge Tehran to cease and reverse nuclear escalations, and stop the continuing uranium enrichment activities that have no credible civilian justifications,” the statement seen by Reuters said.
Iran has rapidly installed extra uranium-enriching centrifuges at its Fordow site and begun setting up others, a UN nuclear watchdog report said on Thursday.
Iran is now enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to the 90 percent of weapons grade, and has enough material enriched to that level, if enriched further, for three nuclear weapons, according to an IAEA yardstick.
“Iran must engage in serious dialogue and provide convincing assurances that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful, in full cooperation and compliance with the IAEA’s monitoring and verification mechanism, including the Board of Governors’ resolution of 5 June,” the G7 said.
Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
The leaders also warned Iran about concluding a deal to send ballistic missiles to Russia that would help it in its war against Ukraine, saying they were prepared to respond with significant measures if it were to happen.
“We call on Iran to stop assisting Russia’s war in Ukraine and not to transfer ballistic missiles and related technology, as this would represent a substantive material escalation and a direct threat to European security,” they said.


The US pier in Gaza is facing its latest challenge — whether the UN will keep delivering the aid

The US pier in Gaza is facing its latest challenge — whether the UN will keep delivering the aid
Updated 14 June 2024
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The US pier in Gaza is facing its latest challenge — whether the UN will keep delivering the aid

The US pier in Gaza is facing its latest challenge — whether the UN will keep delivering the aid
  • US and Israel say no part of the pier was used in the raid but an Israeli helicopter used a spot near the pier.
  • UN has paused its work with the pier since June 8

WASHINGTON: The US-built pier to bring food to Gaza is facing one of its most serious challenges yet — its humanitarian partner is deciding if it’s safe to keep delivering supplies arriving by sea to starving Palestinians.
The United Nations, the player with the widest reach delivering aid within Gaza, has paused its work with the pier after a June 8 operation by Israeli security forces that rescued four Israeli hostages and killed more than 270 Palestinians.
Rushing out a mortally wounded Israeli commando after the raid, Israeli rescuers opted against returning the way they came, across a land border, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters. Instead, they sped toward the beach and the site of the US aid hub on Gaza’s coast, he said. An Israeli helicopter touched down near the US-built pier and helped whisk away hostages, according to the US and Israeli militaries.
For the UN and independent humanitarian groups, the event made real one of their main doubts about the US sea route: Whether aid workers could cooperate with the US military-backed, Israeli military-secured project without violating core humanitarian principles of neutrality and independence and without risking aid workers becoming seen as US and Israeli allies — and in turn, targets in their own right.
Israel and the US deny that any aspect of the month-old US pier was used in the Israeli raid.
The UN World Food Program, which works with the US to transfer aid from the $230 million pier to warehouses and local aid teams for distribution within Gaza, suspended cooperation as it conducts a security review. Aid has been piling up on the beach since.
“You can be damn sure we are going to be very careful about what we assess and what we conclude,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said.
Griffiths told reporters at an aid conference in Jordan this week that determining whether the Israeli raid improperly used either the beach or roads around the pier “would put at risk any future humanitarian engagement in that operation.”
The UN has to look at the facts as well as what the Palestinian public and militants believe about any US, pier or aid worker involvement in the raid, spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.
“Humanitarian aid must not be used and must not be perceived as taking any side in a conflict,” Haq said. “The safety of our humanitarian workers depends on all sides and the communities on the ground trusting their impartiality.”
Rumors have swirled on social media, deepening the danger to aid workers, humanitarian groups say.
“Whether or not we’ve seen the pier used for military purposes is almost irrelevant. Because the perception of people in Gaza, civilians and armed groups, is that humanitarian aid has been instrumentalized” by parties in the conflict, said Suze van Meegen, head of operations in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Oxfam International and some other aid organizations said they are waiting for answers from the US government because it’s responsible for the agreements with the UN and other humanitarian groups on how the pier and aid deliveries would function.
Questions include whether the Israeli helicopters and security forces used what the US had promised aid groups would be a no-go area for the Israeli military around the pier, said Scott Paul, an associate director at Oxfam.
The suspension of deliveries is only one of the problems that have hindered the pier, which President Joe Biden announced in March as an additional way to get aid to Palestinians. The US has said the project was never a solution and have urged Israel to lift restrictions on aid shipments through land crossings as famine looms.
The first aid from the sea route rolled onto shore May 17, and work has been up and down since:
— May 18: Crowds overwhelmed aid trucks coming from the pier, stripping some of the trucks of their cargo. The WFP suspended deliveries from the pier for at least two days while it worked out alternate routes with the US and Israel.
— May 24: A bit more than 1,000 metric tons of aid had been delivered to Gaza from the pier, and the US Agency for International Development later said all of it was distributed within Gaza.
— May 25: High winds and heavy seas damaged the pier and four US Army vessels ran aground, injuring three service members, one critically. Crews towed away part of the floating dock in what became a two-week pause in operations.
— June 8: The US military announced that deliveries resumed off the repaired and reinstalled project. The Israeli military operation unfolded the same day.
— Sunday: World Food Program chief Cindy McCain announced a “pause” in cooperation with the US pier, citing the previous day’s “incident” and the rocketing of two WFP warehouses that injured a staffer.
“The WFP, of course, is taking the security measures that they need to do, and the reviews that they need to do, in order to feel safe and secure and to operate within Gaza,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said this week.
The pier has brought to Gaza more than 2,500 metric tons (about 5.6 million pounds) of aid, Singh said. About 1,000 metric tons of that was brought by ship Tuesday and Wednesday — after the WFP pause — and is being stored on the beach awaiting distribution.
Now, the question is whether the UN will rejoin the effort.
For aid workers who generally work without weapons or armed guards, and for those they serve, “the best guarantee of our security is the acceptance of communities” that aid workers are neutral, said Paul, the Oxfam official.
Palestinians already harbored deep doubts about the pier given the lead role of the US, which sends weapons and other support to its ally Israel, said Yousef Munayyer, a senior fellow at Washington’s Arab Center, an independent organization researching Israeli-Arab issues.
Distrustful Palestinians suffering in the Israel-Hamas war are being asked to take America at its word, and that’s a hard sell, said Munayyer, an American of Palestinian heritage.
“So you know, perception matters a lot,” he said. “And for the people who are literally putting their lives on the line to get humanitarian aid moving around a war zone, perception gets you in danger.”


US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog

US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog
Updated 14 June 2024
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US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog

US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog

WASHINGTON: The US State Department said on Thursday that Washington and its allies were prepared to continue to increase pressure on Iran if Tehran does not cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran has rapidly installed extra uranium-enriching centrifuges at its Fordow site and begun setting up others, a UN nuclear watchdog report said earlier in the day. The State Department said the report showed that Iran aimed to continue expanding its nuclear program “in ways that have no credible peaceful purpose.”