This year over 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis have been killed, highest since 2005, UN says

An Israeli soldier aims a weapon during a search operation in the Palestinian village of Baita in the occupied West Bank, on August 21, 2023. (AFP)
An Israeli soldier aims a weapon during a search operation in the Palestinian village of Baita in the occupied West Bank, on August 21, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 22 August 2023
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This year over 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis have been killed, highest since 2005, UN says

This year over 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis have been killed, highest since 2005, UN says
  • US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield reiterated US support for a two-state solution and “good-faith dialogue” between the parties

UNITED NATIONS: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has killed over 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis so far this year – already surpassing last year’s annual figures and the highest number since 2005, the UN Mideast envoy said Monday.
Tor Wennesland told the UN Security Council that the upswing in violence is being fueled by growing despair about the future, with the Palestinians still seeking an independent state.
“The lack of progress toward a political horizon that addressed the core issues driving the conflict has left a dangerous and volatile vacuum, filled by extremists on all sides,” he said.
While Israelis and Palestinians have taken some actions toward stabilizing the situation, Wennesland said unilateral steps have continued to fuel hostilities.
He pointed to the unabated expansion of Israeli settlements – which are illegal under international law “and a substantial obstacle to peace” – as well as Israel’s demolition of Palestinian houses, its operations in the West Bank area under Palestinian administrative and police control, and attacks by Israeli settlers. He also cited “Palestinian militant activity.”
Wennesland said the current situation is compounded by “the fragility” of the Palestinian Authority’s financial situation and severe funding shortages facing UN agencies including the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
“While we must urgently focus on addressing the most critical issues and on de-escalating the situation on the ground, we cannot ignore the need to restore a political horizon,” he said.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who chaired the meeting, condemned violence by both sides and urged immediate steps to reduce the escalating violence.
She reiterated US support for a two-state solution and “good-faith dialogue” between the parties. And she acknowledged the appointment of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador Jordan as non-resident consul general in Jerusalem, adding that the US will support “any and all efforts that will bring us closer to a two-state solution.”
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky told the council the long-term stagnation of the peace process “is compounded by the ongoing illegal unilateral actions of Israel to create irreversible facts on the ground, which negates the prospects for reviving direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis.” He called the “unprecedented pace” of Israel’s settlement expansion the biggest threat.
Polyansky called a visit to the region by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, expected before the end of the year, “very timely.” And he reiterated Russia’s call for a meeting of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators – the UN, US, European Union and Russia — “to revive the peace process and direct Palestinian-Israeli talks on all final status issues.”
France’s political coordinator Isis Jaraud Darnault also condemned “the Israeli colonization of the Palestinian territories” that it wants for its future state, and continuing Israeli demolitions, including a school in the West Bank’s Ramallah region on Aug. 17 which was financed by European donors including France. She also condemned violence against Israelis.
Darnault told the council the UN and regional actors have an essential role to play in restoring “a credible political horizon.”
“The normalization of relations between Israel and several states in the region contributes to stability and security, but this dynamic will remain incomplete as long as it is not accompanied by a resumption of the political process toward a solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis,” she said.

 


US envoy to Yemen demands Houthis free detained international staff

Updated 4 sec ago
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US envoy to Yemen demands Houthis free detained international staff

US envoy to Yemen demands Houthis free detained international staff
DUBAI: The United States’ ambassador to Yemen on Thursday called on Yemen’s Houthi group to immediately release the detained staff of international organizations including employees of the US embassy in Sanaa.
The Iran-aligned Houthis detained 11 United Nations personnel in Yemen last week, according to UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.
On Thursday, the US ambassador condemned the detentions and called them “shocking.”
“The Houthis owe all of these Yemenis thanks, not false accusations and imprisonment. The people of Yemen deserve better than fanciful Houthi lies meant to bolster their abusive and autocratic rule,” ambassador Steven Fagin said in a statement.
The staff members — all Yemenis — were swept up by armed Houthi intelligence officials in a series of raids that also resulted in the detention of three employees of the US-funded pro-democracy group National Democratic Institute (NDI) and three employees of a local human rights group.
The Houthis have held around 20 Yemeni employees of the US embassy in Sanaa for the past three years. The embassy suspended operations after Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2014 and Houthis seized control of the capital.
The US mission to Yemen is currently located in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh.
Yemen’s Houthis said on Monday they had targeted an alleged “American-Israeli spy cell” that included former staff of the US embassy in Yemen, according to a television statement from Abdel Hakim Al Khaiwani, the Houthis’ intelligence chief.
“The American-Israeli spy cell carried out espionage and sabotage activities in official and unofficial institutions for decades in favor of the enemy,” he said.
The Houthis, who are aligned with Iran, have attacked shipping in the Red Sea in what they say are acts of solidarity with Palestinians amid the Gaza war, drawing airstrikes from the United States and Britain.

Fire at Iraqi oil refinery injures 10: civil defense

Fire at Iraqi oil refinery injures 10: civil defense
Updated 7 min 9 sec ago
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Fire at Iraqi oil refinery injures 10: civil defense

Fire at Iraqi oil refinery injures 10: civil defense
  • Firefighters worked through the night battling to extinguish the flames
  • The fire broke out in an asphalt tank on Wednesday night before spreading to a second refinery on a road southwest of Irbil

Irbil: A massive fire at an oil refinery in Iraqi Kurdistan injured at least 10 people including firefighters battling to control the blaze, which was ongoing Thursday, the civil defense agency reported.
The fire broke out in an asphalt tank on Wednesday night before spreading to a second refinery on a road southwest of Irbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region.
Firefighters worked through the night battling to extinguish the flames, which sent thick plumes of black smoke and balls of orange flame into the sky, an AFP photographer reported.
“More than 10 people were injured, mainly men from the Irbil civil defense,” the agency said in a statement, noting three fire trucks were burned.
The cause of the blaze was still unknown, it said.
“The fire started in one refinery before spreading to another,” the statement said. Four fuel tanks had been affected.
With Iraq experiencing scorching summers, the country has seen multiple fires in recent weeks, affecting shopping centers, warehouses and hospitals.
Iraq is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, and crude oil sales make up 90 percent of Iraqi budget revenues.
But exports from the Kurdistan region have been halted for more than a year in a dispute over legal and technical issues.


Israeli forces thrust deeper into Rafah as diplomacy falters

Israeli forces thrust deeper into Rafah as diplomacy falters
Updated 13 June 2024
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Israeli forces thrust deeper into Rafah as diplomacy falters

Israeli forces thrust deeper into Rafah as diplomacy falters
  • Israeli military denied in a statement it had launched any strikes inside the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone
  • Israel said its assault aimed to wipe out Hamas’ last intact combat units in Rafah

CAIRO: Israeli tanks advanced deeper into the western area of Rafah, amid one of the worst nights of bombardment from air, ground, and sea, forcing many families to flee their homes and tents under darkness, residents said on Thursday.
Residents said the Israeli forces thrust toward the Al-Mawasi area of Rafah near the beach, which is designated as a humanitarian area in all announcements and maps published by the Israeli army since it began its Rafah offensive in May.
The Israeli military denied in a statement it had launched any strikes inside the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone.
Israel said its assault aimed to wipe out Hamas’ last intact combat units in Rafah, a city which had sheltered more than a million people before the latest advance began. Most of those people have now moved north toward Khan Younis and Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military said in a statement it was continuing “intelligence-based, targeted operations” on Rafah, saying forces in the past day had located weapons, and killed Palestinian gunmen in close-range combat.
Over the past day, the military said it had struck 45 targets across the Gaza Strip from the air, including military structures, militant cells, rocket launchers, and tunnel shafts.
Israel has ruled out peace until Hamas is eradicated, and much of Gaza lies in ruins. But Hamas has proven resilient, with militants resurfacing to fight in areas where Israeli forces had previously declared to have defeated them and pulled back.
Ceasefire proposal
The group welcomed a new US ceasefire proposal but made some amendments, reaffirming its stance that any agreement must secure an end to the war, a demand Israel still rejects.
Israel described Hamas’s response to the new US peace proposal as total rejection. But the efforts to secure agreement are still continuing, according to mediators Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.
Since a brief week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed, with Hamas insisting on a permanent end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
Hamas precipitated the war when militants stormed from Israeli-blockaded Gaza into southern Israel in a lightning strike last Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking over 250 hostages back to the enclave, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel’s invasion and bombardment of Gaza since then has killed at least 37,000 people, according to the territory’s health ministry. Thousands more are feared buried dead under rubble, with most of the 2.3 million population displaced.


Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable

Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable
Updated 13 June 2024
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Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable

Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable
  • US secretary says said the mediators will keep trying to “close this deal
  • Ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel, Hamas

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that mediators would keep trying to close an elusive ceasefire deal for Gaza after Hamas proposed changes to a US-backed plan, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.
The back-and-forth laid bare frustration over the difficulty of reaching an accord that could end eight months of war that has decimated the territory, killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and left scores of Israeli hostages still languishing in militant captivity. Previous moments of optimism have been repeatedly dashed by the differences between the two sides.
The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas. Blinken did not spell out what changes Hamas sought, but he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt and the US — will keep trying to “close this deal.” He put the onus on Hamas, accusing it of changing its demands.
“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table. ... Some of the changes are workable. Some are not,” Blinken told reporters in Qatar. “I believe that they (the differences) are bridgeable, but that doesn’t mean they will be bridged because ultimately Hamas has to decide.”
Blinken’s comments came as Lebanon’s Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into northern Israel to avenge the killing of a top commander, further escalating regional tensions.
Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of Hamas, has traded fire with Israel nearly every day since the Israel-Hamas war began and says it will stop only if there is a truce in Gaza. That has raised fears of an even more devastating regional conflagration.
Air-raid sirens sounded across northern Israel, and the military said about 215 projectiles were fired from southern Lebanon, making it one of the largest attacks since the fighting began. There were no immediate reports of casualties as some rockets were intercepted while others ignited brush fires.
Hamas asks for changes
Hamas conveyed its official reply to the proposal to mediators on Tuesday. Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told the Lebanese news outlet ElNashra that the “amendments” requested by the group aim to guarantee a permanent ceasefire and complete Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza.
The proposal announced by US President Joe Biden includes those provisions, but Hamas has expressed wariness about whether Israel will implement the terms. While the US says Israel has accepted the proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given conflicting statements, saying Israel is still intent on its goal of destroying Hamas.
Blinken, on his eighth visit to the region since the start of the war, said the deal on the table was “virtually identical” to one Hamas put forth on May 6. The UN Security Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan on Monday.
“At some point in a negotiation, and this has gone back and forth for a long time, you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already accepted, you have to question whether they’re proceeding in good faith or not,” he said.
Speaking alongside Blinken, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said there had been “counterproductive” actions by both sides.
The proposal’s three-phase plan would begin with a six-week ceasefire and the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas, and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes. Aid distribution would also increase.
At the same time, negotiations would start over the second phase, which is to bring “a permanent end to hostilities” and “full withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza in exchange for the release of all remaining hostages.
Phase three would see the launch of a reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of remains of deceased hostages.
A major hitch for both sides appears to be the negotiations for the second phase.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said Israel will demand that Hamas be removed from power as part of any agreement on that phase.
“One of our conditions is not only the release of the hostages, it’s also the future of Gaza,” Erdan told CNN’s “The Source” on Monday. “We cannot agree to Hamas continuing to be the rulers of Gaza because then Gaza will continue to pose a threat to Israel.”
He also said Israel opposes a provision extending the initial ceasefire as long as talks are going on, saying it would allow Hamas to “continue with endless and meaningless negotiations.”
Hamas, in turn, appears to want stronger guarantees up front that the talks will lead to the permanent ceasefire and withdrawal.
Netanyahu’s far-right coalition allies have rejected the proposal and threaten to bring down his government if he ends the war leaving Hamas intact. But Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring the hostages back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, have demonstrated in favor of the US-backed plan.
Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed over 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, who do not give the breakdown of civilians and fighters. The war has also driven some 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes, and Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring in humanitarian aid, fueling widespread hunger.
Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. Over 100 hostages were released during a weeklong ceasefire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas is believed to be holding around 80 hostages and the remains of another 40.
Revenge for slain commander
Netanyahu’s office said he was conducting a security assessment in light of Hezbollah’s barrage in the north and what it called Hamas’ “negative response” to the proposal.
Hezbollah said it fired missiles and rockets at two military bases in retaliation for the killing of Taleb Sami Abdullah, 55. Known within Hezbollah as Hajj Abu Taleb, he is the most senior commander killed since the fighting began eight months ago. The Israeli strike late Tuesday destroyed a house where Abdullah and three other officials were meeting, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border.
A Hezbollah official told The Associated Press that Abdullah was in charge of a large part of the Lebanon-Israel front, including the area facing the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, which Hezbollah has repeatedly attacked in recent days, causing fires in the area.
The official, who was not authorized to speak to media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abdullah had joined Hezbollah decades ago and took part in attacks against Israeli forces during their 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000.
Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon have killed over 400 people, most of them Hezbollah members, but the dead also include more than 70 civilians and noncombatants. On the Israeli side, 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed since the war in Gaza began.
Other groups allied with Iran, including powerful militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, have also attacked Israeli, US and other targets since the start of the war, often drawing Western retaliation. In April, Israel and Iran traded fire directly for the first time.


Hamas proposed amendments to Gaza ceasefire plan ‘not significant’, says senior leader

Hamas proposed amendments to Gaza ceasefire plan ‘not significant’, says senior leader
Updated 13 June 2024
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Hamas proposed amendments to Gaza ceasefire plan ‘not significant’, says senior leader

Hamas proposed amendments to Gaza ceasefire plan ‘not significant’, says senior leader
  • Hamas demands it select a list of 100 Palestinians with long term sentences to be released from Israeli jails

DOHA: The changes that Hamas has requested to a ceasefire proposal by the United States are “not significant” and include the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip, a senior leader in the group told Reuters on Thursday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Hamas had proposed numerous changes, some unworkable, to the US-backed proposal, but that mediators were determined to close the gaps.
The US has said Israel has accepted its proposal, but Israel has not publicly stated that. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel will not commit to ending its campaign before Hamas is eliminated.
The senior Hamas leader said his organization had demanded to choose a list of 100 Palestinians with long sentences to be released from Israeli jails.
The Israeli document had excluded 100 prisoners with long sentences and restricted releases to only prisoners with sentences of less than 15 years remaining, the Hamas official said.
“There are no significant amendments that, according to Hamas leadership, warrant objection,” said the Hamas leader.
The group’s demands also include the reconstruction of Gaza; the lifting of the blockade, including opening border crossings; allowing the movement of people; and transporting goods without restrictions,” the senior Hamas leader said.
Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar have tried for months to mediate a ceasefire in the conflict — which has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and devastated the heavily populated enclave — and free the hostages, more than 100 of whom are believed to remain captive in Gaza.
Major powers are intensifying efforts to defuse the conflict in part to prevent it spiralling into a wider Middle East war, with a dangerous flashpoint being the escalating hostilities along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
The fighting in Gaza began on Oct. 7 when militants led by Hamas burst across the border and killed 1,200 Israelis and took more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel’s air and ground war since then has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, displaced most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million and devastated housing and infrastructure.