NEW YORK: The Middle East is “on the cusp of a historic peace,” Israel’s prime minister said on Friday, referring to US-brokered efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia.
Addressing the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Benjamin Netanyahu said he believes Israel and Saudi Arabia are close to a “dramatic breakthrough” that would not only secure peace between the two states but “transform” the entire region and create “a new Middle East.”
He added: “Such a peace will go a long way to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, and will encourage other Arab states to normalize their relations with Israel while also enhancing the prospects of peace with the Palestinians.”
Should an agreement be finalized, it would build on the Abraham Accords, signed in 2020 between Israel on one hand and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan on the other.
Speaking two days after meeting US President Joe Biden in New York, Netanyahu said he felt that the Biden administration could secure a deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia in the same way that the Trump administration had facilitated the Abraham Accords.
“The Abraham Accords were a pivot of history and today we see the blessings, with trade and investment with our new peace partners booming as our nations cooperate in commerce, energy, water and agriculture, climate and many other fields,” Netanyahu added.
“In the G20 conference, President Biden, (Indian) Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi, and European and Arab leaders announced plans for a visionary corridor that will stretch across the Arabian Peninsula and into Israel.
“It will connect India to Europe with maritime, railroads, energy pipelines, fiber optic cables. This corridor will bypass maritime checkpoints, or choke points rather, and dramatically lower the cost of goods, communication and energy for over 2 billion people.”
However, he warned that the progress made in recent years could be undone by a “fly in the ointment,” saying Iran continues to spend significant amounts on its military and has made efforts to extend its influence worldwide.
“Iran’s aggression is largely met by indifference in the international community, and despite Western powers pledging that they’d snap back sanctions if Iran violated the nuclear deal, that hasn’t been the case,” he added.
“Iran is violating the deal, but the sanctions intended to stop its nuclear ambitions haven’t been re-imposed.
“This policy must change, the sanctions must be snapped back, and above all, Iran must face a credible nuclear threat.”
US VP Harris calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza
Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the US Vice President Kamala Harris meet in Dubai on the sidelines of COP28
King Abdullah stressed the need for the US to play a leading role in pushing for a political horizon for the Palestinian issue to reach peace on the basis of the two-state solution
Updated 5 sec ago
GAZA/CAIRO: US Vice President Kamala Harris said too many innocent Palestinians had been killed in Gaza as Israeli war planes and artillery bombarded the enclave on Saturday following the collapse of a truce with Hamas militants.
Speaking in Dubai, Harris said Israel had a right to defend itself, but international and humanitarian law must be respected and “too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”
“Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering, and the images and videos coming from Gaza, are devastating,” Harris told reporters.
On the sidelines of COP28, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the US Vice President met in Dubai, reported the Jordan News Agency.
King Abdullah stressed the need for the US to play a leading role in pushing for a political horizon for the Palestinian issue to reach peace on the basis of the two-state solution, during his meeting with Harris.
The King called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and protecting civilians, warning of the repercussions of the continued war on international peace and security, including further violence and conflict that could plunge the entire region into a catastrophe.
The two sides reaffirmed their rejection of any attempts of forced displacement of the Palestinians internally or outside Gaza, or attempts to re-occupy any parts of the Strip, reported Petra.
King Abdullah also stressed the importance of maintaining the uninterrupted delivery of sufficient aid, including food, water, fuel, and electricity, without any impediments, warning against the targeting of hospitals and hindering the delivery of medical supplies.
Meanwhile, Harris thanked King Abdullah for his continued leadership in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for Jordan’s leadership in providing vital humanitarian assistance to Gaza, including its three airdrops of medical supplies to the field hospital that it has established in Gaza.
She discussed the importance of the recent pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, and the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to supporting efforts to reach a new deal. She also discussed the US ideas for post-conflict planning in Gaza, including efforts on reconstruction, security, and governance.
The US vice president emphasized that these efforts can only succeed if they are pursued in the context of a clear political horizon for the Palestinian people, toward a state of their own led by a revitalized Palestinian Authority and backed by significant support from the international community and the countries of the region.
In a news conference in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later on Saturday that Israel was continuing to work in coordination with the US and international organizations to define “safe areas” for Gaza civilians.
“This is important because we have no desire to harm the population,” Netanyahu said. “We have a very strong desire to hurt Hamas.”
Harris also sketched out a US vision for post-conflict Gaza, saying the international community must support recovery and Palestinian security forces must be strengthened.
“We want to see a unified Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian voices and aspirations must be at the center of this work,” she said, adding that Hamas must no longer run Gaza.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority governs parts of the occupied West Bank. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ mainstream Fatah party and has ruled the enclave ever since.
Families of Bedouin hostages wait for news as Gaza fighting resumes
“There were tough times, we always had hope”
Bedouin Arabs make up about 4 percent of Israel’s population
Updated 28 min 5 sec ago
TIRABIN AL SANA, Israel: The family members of four Bedouin Arabs taken hostage on Oct. 7 during the assault on southern Israel by Hamas gunmen have welcomed the return of two of the captives but wait for news of the others as fighting resumes in the Gaza Strip.
Yosef Hamis Ziadna, his sons Hamza and Bilal and his daughter, Aisha, were working on the Holit farm on Israel’s border with Gaza when they were seized by the gunmen along with more than 200 other Israelis and foreigners.
Aisha and Bilal were handed over during the seven-day truce between Israel and Hamas that ended on Friday morning but Yosef and Hamza are still being held, along with two other Bedouins, Farhan Al-Qadi and Samer Al-Talalqa.
“There were tough times, we always had hope,” said their cousin Kamel Al-Ziadna. “We want the release of Yousef and Hamza and all those held hostages, and Samer and Farhan, may God bring them back to their families.”
Bedouin Arabs make up about 4 percent of Israel’s population, living mainly in the southern Negev desert and in northern Israel.
Kamel said the families were urging Hamas to release their hostages. “They are Arab, Muslim youth,” he said.
While they wait, like the families of other hostages released during the week-long pause, their emotions are mixed.
When the news came through that Aisha and Belal were to be released, there was a large gathering of family and friends that celebrated through the night.
“It was nice moments, but the happiness was missing something, so until the whole family is reunited with Hamza and Yousef, then we will hold a huge party, and we will gather with friends and family and all those who shared these difficult times with us,” he said.
No Christmas tree in Bethlehem as holiday pared down over war
Palestinians were in pain at the “many children, women, the elderly, the people who were martyred in this crazy war,” he said. Gazan authorities put the Palestinian death toll at more than 15,000
Updated 02 December 2023
BETHLEHEM: There will be no Christmas tree in Bethlehem this year as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth holds pared-down celebrations “without the fanfare and too many lights” in the shadow of the Gaza war.
Bethlehem, which neighbors Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, has been battered by Israeli-Palestinian clashes of years past. But many townspeople have been especially gripped by the current conflict in the Gaza Strip, 50 km away.
Triggered by an Oct. 7 killing and kidnapping spree in southern Israel by gunmen from Hamas, the war has seen much of the impoverished enclave devastated in an Israeli counter-offensive with no end in sight.
In the early days of every December, church leaders convene in Bethlehem to inaugurate the pre-Christmas Advent season, usually a major tourist draw.
We have never seen Bethlehem like this, not even during COVID. The town is empty, sad.
Father Ibrahim Faltas
But this year, the streets and plazas of the hilly town were largely empty and somber under a dry winter sun.
“We have never seen Bethlehem like this, not even during COVID. The town is empty, sad,” Father Ibrahim Faltas, a senior Franciscan friar, told Reuters in front of the Church of the Nativity. “Today was meant to be a joyous day.”
Palestinians were in pain at the “many children, women, the elderly, the people who were martyred in this crazy war,” he said. Gazan authorities put the Palestinian death toll at more than 15,000.
A Nov. 10 statement by church heads in the Holy Land voiced sympathy for people wracked by “the uncertain fate of those dear to them” — a possible reference to families and friends of some 240 people taken hostage by Hamas.
For the first time in many residents’ memories, no Christmas tree had been erected in Nativity Square, where the church prepared to hold religious services shorn of festive events.
“We will celebrate in sobriety,” said Father Francesco Patton of the Custody of the Holy Land church group.
“That means without the fanfare and too many lights, in the most spiritual way and more (among) families than in the square.”
Released Israeli hostages call for captives to be freed
Tens of thousands gathered at a rally in Tel Aviv outside Israel’s defense headquarters
A seven-day truce, during which Hamas had released more than 100 hostages, collapsed on Friday
Updated 02 December 2023
TEL AVIV: Israeli hostages released in the past week by Hamas in Gaza called on Saturday for the immediate release of fellow captives left behind, a day after a temporary truce that had allowed scores to come home broke down.
Tens of thousands gathered at a rally in Tel Aviv outside Israel’s defense headquarters, where they cheered Yelena Trupanov, 50, standing on a stage just two days after being freed.
“I came to thank you because without you I wouldn’t be here. Now we must bring back my (son) Sasha, and everyone. Now.”
Similar pleas from other released hostages were shown on video.
A seven-day truce, during which Hamas had released more than 100 hostages, collapsed on Friday.
Israel said on Saturday it had recalled a Mossad intelligence agency team from Qatar, host of indirect negotiations with Hamas, accusing the Palestinian faction of reneging on a deal that would have freed all children and women held hostage.
More than 240 people — Israelis and foreign nationals — were abducted to Gaza on Oct 7. by Hamas militants who burst through the border with Israel and killed 1,200 people, according to local authorities.
Israel, vowing to wipe out Hamas, responded with a bombing campaign and ground offensive that has destroyed large areas of Gaza and killed more than 15,000 people, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave.
Can US compel Israel to prioritize civilian protection and aid as Gaza truce gives way to renewed hostilities?
Israeli government faces pressure from Washington to have “clear plan” to protect civilians, avoid displacement and damage
War scholars say goal of destroying Hamas unrealistic, may prove impossible without very high civilian toll
Updated 02 December 2023
LONDON: Just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel to prioritize civilians in its campaign against the Palestinian group Hamas, the Israeli military marked the end of a fragile truce in the Gaza Strip with renewed aerial bombardment.
By Saturday morning, 200 Palestinians had been killed, according to Hamas-run health ministry officials, as Israeli forces launched attacks on the Khan Younis area in southern Gaza, where it claimed to have targeted more than 50 Hamas sites.
The Israeli military said overall it hit more than 400 targets across the Gaza Strip, including strikes in the north, which suggested that no place in the besieged enclave was safe anymore.
Some 2 million people — almost Gaza’s entire population — poured into the territory’s south after Israel asked Palestinian civilians to relocate from other places at the military campaign’s start.
The question many were asking on Saturday was whether the Israel War Cabinet would heed the call of America’s top diplomat to have “a clear plan in place” for protecting civilians and avoid further mass displacement and damage to critical infrastructure, like hospitals, power stations and water facilities.
Blinken’s comments, meant perhaps to shield the Biden administration from fresh criticism both at home and abroad, have left opinions divided among experts in war studies and geopolitics.
Tobias Borck, senior research fellow for Middle East security at RUSI, suspects that world leaders knew what was coming next after hearing those words, spoken to reporters in Jerusalem and Dubai.
“Blinken’s comments were made in anticipation of the truce coming to an end. This was the sense in Washington but also among the mediators, Egypt and Qatar,” he told Arab News.
“The option of a permanent ceasefire just did not seem viable to the Israeli government, which still felt it had a lot to do militarily. So, for Blinken the objective was to frame what came next, and was intended to show that the US was repositioning itself and making clear what its expectations were.”
Initially pegged as a four-day humanitarian pause to allow for the exchange of hostages by Hamas for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including many minors held in Israeli prisons without trial, the ceasefire lasted a week thanks to two extensions brokered by Qatar and Egypt.
After the end of the truce, militants in Gaza resumed firing rockets into Israel, and fighting also broke out between Israel and Hezbollah militants operating along its northern border with Lebanon, according to an Associated Press report.
This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)
With 110 of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas returned, the Israeli military announced officially that the truce was broken, saying it had intercepted rockets fired from Gaza a little after 6 a.m. on Friday morning.
The military subsequently dropped leaflets in densely populated parts of southern Gaza urging residents to leave, indicating an imminent widening of the offensive, and noting that Khan Younis was a “dangerous battle zone.”
As per reports, Blinken told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that were fighting to continue, Israel would need to find more effective measures for protecting civilians.
This meant acting in “compliance with international humanitarian law” and provision of “every possible measure to avoid civilian harm.” He also emphasized the need for “sustaining and building on humanitarian assistance getting to Gaza.”
While criticizing Hamas for a deadly attack in occupied Jerusalem on Thursday and the renewed rocket strikes, Blinken alluded to the leaflets and Israel’s publishing of an interactive map detailing safe sites for civilians to relocate to.
Released on social media and in Arabic, the Israeli military tweeted that the map “divides the territory of Gaza into zones according to recognizable areas. This enables the residents of Gaza to orient themselves and to evacuate from specific places for their safety if required.”
Sources linked to aid efforts in Gaza, however, rubbished the idea, one telling Arab News that aid blockages probably meant little fuel was available, leaving most people unable to charge devices to even see such a map.
Borck said a central problem when it came to the protection of civilians concerned merging of the political objective, “namely, destroying Hamas,” with the military objective, and in turn trying to ascertain whether there was a wider strategy beyond this.
“The purported aim, destroying Hamas, is a pretty maximalist one, both in the political sense and the military sense,” he said.
“But you must ask what it means by destroying Hamas. Does the killing of Mohammed Deif and Yahiya Sinwar, the two considered to have masterminded the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, achieve the objective? If so, you need look only to the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for a potential time scale.”
Oubai Shahbandar, a former Middle East defense adviser at the Pentagon, believes that in seeking to achieve its stated objective, Israel’s military will not be satisfied with simply “decapitating” the Hamas leadership hierarchy.
Rather, the intention is likely to ensure that Hamas’ capacity to put up any major asymmetrical military challenge is “totally degraded.” However, he said such a course of action was likely to play into Hamas’ hands.
“Sinwar probably had no illusions about the Israeli response to what happened on Oct. 7,” Shahbandar said.
“There aren’t any real signs that Netanyahu is going to seriously curtail the scope of airstrikes, artillery strikes and infantry assaults into southern Gaza to match the requests coming from the Biden White House.”
President Biden himself warned in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas it would be smart were Israel to learn from the mistakes the US had made in hunting the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
That warning, though, had another meaning for Borck: the US, among numerous allies of Israel, was urging Netanyahu to think about “the day after Day 1,” specifically about where it wanted to be when the war ended, adding this was pivotal for Gaza’s civilian population.
Michael Pregent, a former US intelligence officer and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said Blinken’s demands were not a “serious ask” but reflected the opinion of a swathe of the international community.
He argues that there is a certain impossibility in minimizing civilian casualties, adding that Hamas is following a playbook he saw in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, where groups with similar ideologies “invited civilian death” as it earned them capital in the international news media.
He also noted that in response to similar tactics adopted by Daesh in Iraq, the US itself ended up decimating more than 80 percent of the city of Mosul in its nine-month campaign to rout the militants beginning in October 2016.
• 170 People killed in Gaza since resumption of fighting.
• 14,800 People killed in Gaza since start of Israeli assault.
• 136 Hostages seized by Hamas on Oct. 7 still in Gaza.
Asked whether greater thought ought to be put into forging strategies in response to attacks like that of Oct. 7, and in general the threat posed by Hamas and its militant allies to both Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike, Pregent said one option was to exhort the people of Gaza to reject Hamas. But history showed that it did not work, he said.
“One need only look at Afghanistan, where the Taliban is back. Groups such as the Taliban and Hamas are familiar with the precedents. They tell civilians, ‘You support an uprising, but our opponents will eventually leave and we will still be here. And when they go, we will be back and we will kill you and your whole family.’”
Significantly, during his meeting with Netanyahu, Blinken said the US remained committed to supporting Israel’s right to self-defense and assured him that he could count on US support.
The Biden administration has rejected calls for a long-term ceasefire and backed Israel’s fight to remove Hamas from power in Gaza with no “red lines” as it were that would trigger US penalties.
Despite the US emphasis on protection of civilians, the Wall Street Journal reported that Washington had disclosed little about how many and what types of weapons it had sent to Israel during the Gaza conflict.
“The arsenal of artillery, bombs and other weapons and military gear that have been used by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya, among other places, usually target large groups of gathered enemy forces. In Gaza, by contrast, Israel is battling militants who are among civilians in dense urban environments,” the report said.
Against this backdrop, Shahbandar said history had repeatedly shown that Israel’s only realistic chance of dismantling Hamas as a military and political entity would not be found in the use of force.
“The way for Israel to achieve its aim is by helping to empower a Palestinian alternative to Hamas with real legitimacy,” he said. “But there seems very little appetite in the Netanyahu administration to pursue such a path.”
On Saturday, the International Rescue Committee, an aid group operating in Gaza, said the return of renewed fighting would “wipe out even the minimal relief” provided by the truce and “prove catastrophic for Palestinian civilians.”
Before the temporary truce took effect on Nov. 24, more than 13,300 Palestinians had been killed in Israel’s assault, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to Gaza health officials.
The renewal of hostilities has also heightened concerns for the 136 Israelis and foreigners who are still held captive by Hamas and other militant groups.
Although little optimism concerning the fate of Gazans can be discerned in the immediate term, Borck said he saw a “sliver” of it in the future.
Whereas the prevailing logic had been that the Middle East conflict could at best be “managed,” the past 54 days had “thoroughly dispelled that notion,” with governments in Washington, Paris and London, as well as Tel Aviv and Ramallah conscious now that it needed to end.
“Because of this recognition, I have been left slightly more confident we’ll see a resumption of work toward the two-state process,” Borck said.
“Look at the comments from Kier Starmer (UK opposition leader and odds-on favorite to win the next election) when he said Europe and the UK had given up on seeking peace in the Middle East because they felt it was too intractable.
“You sense, were he to become prime minister, this may lead to a change but, of course, he’s not as important as the person in the White House.”
Asked what he thought the agenda would be for the US when this war ends, Borck said that if Donald Trump returned, “all bets were off,” but were Biden to remain, he expected a greater focus on seeking peace, bringing the biggest win to Gaza’s embattled population.