Middle East war could widen beyond Israel and Hamas, US officials warn

Middle East war could widen beyond Israel and Hamas, US officials warn
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Above, smoke rises from an Israeli army position which was attacked by Hezbollah fighters near Alma Al-Shaab, a Lebanese border village with Israel, on Oct. 15, 2023. (AP)
Middle East war could widen beyond Israel and Hamas, US officials warn
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US President Joe Biden confers with his National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington DC on Oct. 11, 2023, following the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.å(Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 16 October 2023
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Middle East war could widen beyond Israel and Hamas, US officials warn

Middle East war could widen beyond Israel and Hamas, US officials warn
  • Security adviser Sullivan says US is telling Israel any actions should follow the law of war, and that “civilians should have a real opportunity to get to safety”
  • Risk of escalation cited, with Iran-backed Hezbollah possibly opening a second front in the north of Israel
  • Increased US military presence in the region meant "to deter any state or non-state actor seeking to escalate this war”

WASHINGTON: Top US officials warned on Sunday that the war between Israel and militant group Hamas could escalate, as American warships headed to the area amid growing clashes on the country’s northern border with Lebanon.

Israel has unleashed a ferocious bombing campaign over Gaza in retaliation for unprecedented attacks inside Israel by Hamas eight days ago that killed some 1,300 Israelis, mostly civilians.
Gaza authorities say more than 2,670 people have been killed there, a quarter of them children. Casualties are expected to rise as Israel prepares for a ground assault on the tiny, densely populated enclave that could start within days.
The conflict has sent tensions soaring.
“There is a risk of an escalation of this conflict, the opening of a second front in the north and, of course, Iran’s involvement,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced deployment of a second aircraft carrier group late on Saturday, calling it a sign of “our resolve to deter any state or non-state actor seeking to escalate this war.”
The aircraft carrier the Dwight Eisenhower will join a small fleet including the massive Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean.

“Iran is the elephant in the room,” a US official briefed on the situation said about the increasing military presence. “The carriers are accompanied by warships and attack planes. Every effort is being made to stop this from becoming a regional conflict.”
Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned on Sunday his country could act, telling al Jazeera that it had conveyed a message to Israeli officials that “if they do not cease their atrocities in Gaza, Iran cannot simply remain an observer.”
“If the scope of the war expands, significant damages will also be inflicted upon America,” he warned.
Violence on Israel’s northern border is already escalating. Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters launched attacks on Israeli army posts and a northern border village on Sunday; Israel retaliated with strikes in Lebanon.
The US is urging Israel to hold off on its ground offensive to allow humanitarian efforts for Gaza’s residents trapped in the area, several US officials said.
Sullivan discussed a new weapons package for Israel and Ukraine that would be “significantly higher” than the previously reported $2 billion. He told CBS that President Joe Biden planned to have intensive talks on the package this week with the US Congress, which has been hobbled by Republicans’ struggles to pick a new speaker of the House of Representatives.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, speaking in Tel Aviv on Sunday, said the US Senate could move first to approve more funding for Israel. “We’re not waiting for the House (of Representatives),” he said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday he is traveling to the region with other senators in coming days to push continued negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Graham said he intended to introduce a bill that would “allow military action by the United States in conjunction with Israel to knock Iran out of the oil business” if Iran attacks Israel.

Humanitarian crisis
US government officials also said they are mobilizing to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, anticipating a brutal ground offensive.
Israeli officials have made clear it will not be an easy or swift campaign. It faces the challenge that scores of hostages seized by Hamas on Oct. 7 could now be held in a warren of underground tunnels, which its soldiers must clear to destroy Hamas.
Biden, in a message posted on X, formerly Twitter, said: “We must not lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas’ appalling attacks, and are suffering as a result of them.”
The US has appointed former ambassador to Turkiye David Satterfield as a special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues. His focus would be on the Gaza crisis, “including work to facilitate the provision of life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable people and promote the safety of civilians,” the State Department said.
“We’re pushing Israel to delay any action on the ground,” said one US official briefed on the situation. Asked directly if the US was pushing Israel to delay its ground war for civilians, Sullivan told NBC “we are not interfering in their military planning or trying to give them instructions or requests specific to their military planning.”
However, he added, the US is telling Israel any actions should follow the law of war, and that “civilians should have a real opportunity to get to safety.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the Egyptian-controlled border crossing into Gaza would reopen and the US was working with Egypt, Israel and the United Nations to get assistance through it.
Hundreds of tons of aid from several countries have been held up in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula for days pending a deal for its safe delivery to Gaza and the evacuation of some foreign passport holders through the Rafah crossing.
Sullivan told NBC, “so far, we have not been able to get American citizens through the border crossing and I’m not aware of anyone else being able to get out at this time.”
He added that he wanted to make sure the civilian population that remained in Gaza had access to food, water and safe shelter, and in an interview with CNN said Israeli officials had recently “turned the water pipe back on in southern Gaza.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Reuters that the Israel assault on Gaza would be bloody.
“I expect urban warfare on steroids,” he said. “There will be cries from the international community for Israel to stand down, but I think it’s imperative that we give Israel the time and space to destroy Hamas.”


French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’

French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’
Updated 8 sec ago
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French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’

French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’
  • In a statement, Macron said France supports “a reformed and strengthened Palestinian Authority, able to carry out its responsibilities throughout the Palestinian territories"

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron urged Palestinian Authority chief Mahmud Abbas to “implement necessary reforms,” offering the “prospect of recognition of the state of Palestine” during a phone call Wednesday, his office said.

Macron “highlighted France’s commitment to building a common vision of peace with European and Arab partners, offering security guarantees for Palestinians and Israelis,” as well as “making the prospect of recognition of a state of Palestine part of a useful process,” Macron’s Elysee Palace said.
The readout of the call with the chief of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank follows Tuesday’s official recognition for a Palestinian state by fellow European nations Spain, Ireland and Norway, which drew ire from Israel.
Macron’s Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne earlier Wednesday accused France’s neighbors of “political positioning” ahead of June 9 European elections, rather than seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Macron had said Tuesday that he would be prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, but such a move should “come at a useful moment” and not be based on “emotion.”
France supports “a reformed and strengthened Palestinian Authority, able to carry out its responsibilities throughout the Palestinian territories, including in the Gaza Strip, for the benefit of the Palestinian people,” Macron told Abbas on Wednesday, according to the Elysee Palace readout.
Abbas’s office said in a statement that he expressed the Palestinian government’s commitment to “reform” during the talks with Macron.
He called on “European countries that have not recognized the state of Palestine to do so.”
Current fighting in Gaza, controlled by the PA’s rival Hamas, was sparked by the militant group’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel.
That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Macron called civilian casualties “intolerable” and offered his “sincere condolences to the Palestinian people” for the bombing of a displaced people’s camp in Rafah in southern Gaza.
He told Abbas that Paris was “determined to work with Algeria and its partners on the UN Security Council” so the body “makes a strong statement on Rafah.”
Algeria’s draft resolution calls on Israel to immediately halt military action in Rafah.


Car ramming attack kills two Israelis in West Bank

Car ramming attack kills two Israelis in West Bank
Updated 22 min 9 sec ago
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Car ramming attack kills two Israelis in West Bank

Car ramming attack kills two Israelis in West Bank
  • Videos posted on social media showed Israeli security forces subduing the suspect, and the vehicle was confiscated by Palestinian security forces.

JERUSALEM: A car ramming attack killed two Israelis near the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Israeli army said.
The army had earlier reported a car ramming attack near an Israeli settlement outside Nablus. It then told AFP “two Israeli citizens were killed.”
According to Israeli media, the army launched a manhunt for the suspected attacker, as violence in the West Bank flares during Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

The deadliest Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Hamas welcomed the attack near Nablus, saying in a statement it was a “natural response” against the “crimes of the enemy.”

 

 

 

 


Will proposed ICC arrest warrants for Gaza war figures deliver justice for Palestinians?

Will proposed ICC arrest warrants for Gaza war figures deliver justice for Palestinians?
Updated 30 May 2024
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Will proposed ICC arrest warrants for Gaza war figures deliver justice for Palestinians?

Will proposed ICC arrest warrants for Gaza war figures deliver justice for Palestinians?
  • International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan hopes to bring senior Israeli and Hamas leaders to trial
  • Some experts think the move is intended to nudge the warring parties toward a hostage deal and a ceasefire

LONDON: By applying for arrest warrants for senior Israeli ministers and Hamas commanders, Karim Khan, prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, has thrust the court itself into the spotlight, raising questions about the move’s likelihood of success and timing.

Calling it “totally absurd” and “a travesty of justice,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Khan’s decision to seek arrest warrants against him and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, together with several Hamas commanders, for war crimes.

A protester shows a sign bearing portraits of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu transformed to Nazi Germany's leader Adolf Hitler during a demonstration called by French organization "France Palestine Solidarite" in Paris, on May 27, 2024. (AFP)

For his part, Gallant labeled the proposed warrants against him and his prime minister as “disgraceful,” claiming that it was motivated by a desire to reverse the foundation of the state of Israel.

Considering the scant likelihood in this case of an ICC arrest warrant being acted upon — a move Hassan Imran, a senior legal adviser at human rights organization Law for Palestine, told Arab News would be “precedent-making” — it raises the question: What is motivating Khan?

Exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on April 30, 2024.  (AP/File) 

Julie Norman, a senior associate fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, believes the proposed arrest warrants could be intended to nudge the warring parties toward a deal.

“Supporters of the move are hoping the charges will add pressure for both sides to end the conflict, for Hamas to release the hostages, and for Israel to increase access to humanitarian aid in Gaza,” said Norman.

Although some have said the ICC’s action would complicate any ceasefire negotiations, Mark Kersten, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Canada’s University of the Fraser Valley, told a Middle Eastern news outlet that “complicated” did not necessarily equate to “worse” negotiations.

FASTFACTS

• The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization and tribunal seat in The Hague, Netherlands.

• The ICC is distinct from the International Court of Justice, a UN organ that hears disputes between states.

• The ICC was established in 2002 in a follow-up of the multilateral Rome Statute.

“Take Colombia, where the ICC had a decade-long preliminary examination,” he said. “Accountability processes negotiated during the peace process there translated into meaningful justice for many of the wartime atrocities committed by the government and the rebels.

“Moreover, for the ICC to undermine negotiations, there must be a realistic prospect of a peace process. If such negotiations do not exist, the claim that pursuing accountability will ruin them is likely a red herring — an argument intended to shield the perpetrators of atrocities.”

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a camp area housing internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27. (AFP)

Khan’s request has gone to the ICC’s pre-trial chamber, where it will now be down to the three sitting judges — Romania’s Iulia Motoc, Benin’s Reine Alapini-Gansou, and France’s Nicolas Guillou — to determine whether to take action or not.

After seven months of fact-finding, lawyers believe Khan’s case is strong: Netanyahu and Gallant have been accused of using starvation as a weapon of war, willfully causing suffering, willfully killing, intentionally attacking civilian populations, extermination and persecution.

Sergey Vasiliev, associate professor of law at the University of Amsterdam, told Turkiye’s Anadolu news agency that the ICC judges now have to decide whether there are reasonable grounds the accused committed the crimes and if an arrest, as opposed to a summons, is necessary.

“I expect the judges to grant the request. I assume the investigation has been conducted thoroughly over the past seven months, the evidence amply sufficient to meet the threshold and it to be a concise yet compelling legal narrative,” said Vasiliev. 

Judges of the committee of the International Criminal Court Committee are assembled at the ICC headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. (ICC file photo)

Justifying his position, Vasiliev said the standard for “reasonable grounds” was not as demanding as the more onerous “substantial grounds to believe,” adding that applications for arrest warrants were not “generally expected to provide elaborate analysis of the evidence.”

As to the timeline, some commentators expect the judges will make their decision in the near future.

“I think it is a matter of days until we know if the arrest warrants will be issued and then all 124 states that are members of the court are obligated to take action on them,” Gershon Baskin, Middle East director at the International Communities Organization, told Arab News. 

Children enjoy the luxury of riding atop a vehicle as many other Palestinians travel on foot along with their belongings to flee Rafah on May 28, 2024 , due to an Israeli military operation on May 28, 2024. (REUTERS)

Given that the ICC neither carries out arrests nor tries people in absentia, the question then becomes one of enforcement. There has been little sign of Israel handing over its own people, with Gallant stressing “it is not a party and does not recognize its authority.”

Nor do Gallant and Netanyahu have to worry about the US turning them over to the ICC. Khan’s move has engendered a rare moment of concord across the aisle, with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham pushing to censure the ICC.

Graham received a positive response from Secretary of State Antony Blinken after asking: “I want to take actions, not just words. Will you support a bipartisan effort to sanction the ICC — not only for the outrage against Israel but to protect, in the future, our own interests?”

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gives a statement to the press during his visit in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 29, 2024. (REUTERS)

Catching some off-guard, particularly given its vocal support for Israel and having echoed other European states in describing the ICC move as “deeply unhelpful,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed Germany would not defy an ICC arrest warrant were one to be issued.

On Monday, Israel’s Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Israel’s legal system is actively investigating allegations of possible criminal misconduct during the war in Gaza and that Khan’s request for arrest warrants was therefore hasty and inappropriate. 

“The states that established the court saw it as a tool for dealing with situations where there is ‘no law and no judge.’ That is not our situation,” Baharav-Miara told a conference of the Israel Bar Association.

Opinion

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“It would have been more correct for the prosecutor to wait until the internal state procedures were completed before making a decision. It would have been right to give the state of Israel a fair opportunity in this regard.”

Julia Roknifard, an assistant professor at the University of Nottingham’s School of Politics, History, and International Relations, says that in all likelihood, the ICC will not see a case actioned given the lack of jurisdiction it has over Israel itself.

“Netanyahu liked to travel to the US, but I don’t think he is welcome there now, and I don’t think he is in the mood right now to travel at all, so I think it is very unlikely that we would see an arrest were a warrant issued,” Roknifard told Arab News.

Echoing Roknifard, Baskin said it was highly unlikely that Gallant and Netanyahu would travel to any country in which they had any concern of being arrested and handed over to the ICC, describing warrants as “kind of a moot point.”

Roknifard does not believe Khan is pursuing warrants for mere symbolic reasons. “I wouldn’t read into the ICC motion more than it is supposed to be — to charge individuals with the crimes they have (allegedly) committed,” she said

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan. (AFP)

Instead, like Imran, Roknifard touts the importance of the case brought by South Africa to the International Court of Justice, which last week ordered Israel to cease its offensive in Rafah — an order that Israel has ignored.

Commenting on Khan’s proposed arrest warrants, Imran said he saw it as less about a particular case and more about the future, or lack thereof, of the ICC.

“European states, I think, now have to make a choice between the institutions they have been supporting financially and their calls for a rules-based order modeled around international law and their support for Israel,” Imran told Arab News.

“We have seen many of them criticize the court in the wake of Khan’s announcement, and now we see some stating they will respect the decision, but it’s hard to tell what they will do were Netanyahu to actually travel to their territory with an arrest warrant out for him.

“Some will try and beat around the bush. But if they did not apply the decision, they would be essentially disowning this international institution and basically disintegrating the ICC and, if they do, that means they will have to change their policy goals.”
 

 


Syria says Israeli strike kills girl, wounds 10 civilians

A handout picture released by Syrian Arab News Agency on May 29, 2024 shows damage caused inside an apartment in Baniyas.
A handout picture released by Syrian Arab News Agency on May 29, 2024 shows damage caused inside an apartment in Baniyas.
Updated 29 May 2024
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Syria says Israeli strike kills girl, wounds 10 civilians

A handout picture released by Syrian Arab News Agency on May 29, 2024 shows damage caused inside an apartment in Baniyas.
  • The girl was killed after an Israeli missile and Syrian air defense missile exploded and then fell on the coast
  • The Observatory said the Israeli strikes targeted “at least one military site... in the eastern countryside of Homs, causing plumes of smoke to rise“

BEIRUT: Syria’s defense ministry said an Israeli air strike Wednesday killed a girl and wounded 10 civilians on the country’s coast, with a war monitor reporting another raid killed three pro-Hezbollah fighters.
“The Israeli enemy launched an air attack from the direction of Lebanon, targeting a central site and a residential building in Baniyas city in the coastal region, killing a girl and wounding 10 civilians,” a ministry statement said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the girl was killed after an Israeli missile and Syrian air defense missile exploded and then fell on the coast.
“Two explosions resonated... in the coastal city of Baniyas, killing a girl,” said the Britain-based monitor, which put the number of civilians wounded higher at 20.
The Observatory said “the explosions resulted from an Israeli missile and a Syrian air defense missile falling.”
The Observatory also said the Israeli strike on central Syria killed three Syrian fighters working with Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.
“Three Syrian fighters working with the Lebanese Hezbollah group were killed in an Israeli strike targeting a military site... in the eastern countryside of Homs,” said the Observatory.
Earlier on Wednesday, state media had said air defenses intercepted Israeli “targets” over central Syria, and the Observatory reported an Israeli attack on a military site.
“Syrian air defense intercepts enemy targets in the skies of the city of Homs,” the official SANA news agency reported.
The Observatory said the Israeli strikes targeted “at least one military site... in the eastern countryside of Homs, causing plumes of smoke to rise.”
The monitor, which has a network of sources inside Syria, said the area also housed members of Iran-backed groups including Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah.
On Saturday, an Israeli drone strike in central Syria, near the border with Lebanon, killed two Hezbollah fighters, the Observatory had said.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes in Syria but has repeatedly said it will not allow its arch-enemy Iran to expand its presence there.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since the outbreak of the civil war in its northern neighbor, mainly targeting army positions and Iran-backed fighters including from Hezbollah.
The strikes have increased since Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip began on October 7, when the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group launched an unprecedented attack against Israel.
Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.


‘All Eyes on Rafah’ image garners millions of shares in latest social media solidarity campaign

‘All Eyes on Rafah’ image garners millions of shares in latest social media solidarity campaign
Updated 29 May 2024
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‘All Eyes on Rafah’ image garners millions of shares in latest social media solidarity campaign

‘All Eyes on Rafah’ image garners millions of shares in latest social media solidarity campaign
  • Image depicts tents in a camp arranged to spell out “All Eyes on Rafah”
  • By Wednesday morning, post surpassed 40 million shares on Instagram

LONDON: The image “All Eyes on Rafah” has garnered millions of shares in the latest social media solidarity campaign, drawing widespread attention to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza.

The post renewed advocacy efforts following a deadly Israeli airstrike on the city in southern Gaza.

According to Forbes, the slogan appears to have originated from a comment by Rik Peeperkorn, director of the World Health Organization’s Office of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

In February, Peeperkorn used the phrase to shift attention toward Rafah after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered an evacuation plan for the city ahead of planned attacks targeting what Netanyahu claims are the last remaining strongholds of the militant group Hamas.

By Wednesday morning, the post had surpassed 40 million shares on Instagram, with the hashtag #AllEyesonRafah trending across social media platforms.

The image, believed to be one of the first examples of AI-generated viral activist artwork, depicts tents in a camp arranged to spell out “All Eyes on Rafah.”

The phrase is intended to highlight the plight of Rafah, where local authorities reported the loss of at least 45 civilian lives following an Israeli airstrike on Sunday, which Netanyahu described on Monday as a “tragic mistake.”

Israel has faced international scrutiny for the attack, which is part of a broader offensive by the Israeli army in and around Rafah.

The decision has been widely condemned by world leaders who have urged Israel to halt its invasion in an area where about 1.4 million displaced Palestinians from elsewhere in the Gaza Strip had sought shelter.

Last Friday, the International Court of Justice ordered an immediate halt to the offensive, a position rejected by Israel.

In an opinion piece in The Jewish Chronicle on Wednesday, journalist Josh Kaplan described the post as “another vapid, lazy way to say ‘I care,’” arguing that the slogan “is one in the long canon of feel good posts that achieve very little but make the sharer feel, even just for a second, like they’re doing something to help.”

Kaplan wrote: “I understand that there is outrage at the way Israel is conducting its war. The images coming out of Gaza often feel indefensible. But what does sharing an AI image that looks nothing like Gaza actually do?”

He added: “To learn about the conflict and to formulate an opinion that maintains dignity for all sides is something that cannot be accomplished by sharing an Instagram post. All it does is make Israelis, who will have to be involved in any future peace process, feel, yet again, that the world doesn’t care about their suffering.”