Hamas says Gaza truce deal ‘close’

Hamas says Gaza truce deal ‘close’
A flare fired by the Israeli military flies over Gaza, as seen from southern Israel, on November 20, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 21 November 2023
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Hamas says Gaza truce deal ‘close’

Hamas says Gaza truce deal ‘close’
  • Negotiators have tried to pin down a deal to free some of the estimated 240 hostages
  • Only a handful of those taken have been released, or their bodies have been recovered

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Tuesday a truce agreement with Israel was in sight, raising hopes that his militant group could soon release dozens of people taken hostage in the October 7 attacks.

“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Haniyeh said, according to a statement sent by his office.

For weeks, as the war in Gaza has raged, negotiators have tried to pin down a deal to free some of the estimated 240 hostages held by Palestinian militants.

The majority of the hostages taken during Hamas’s brutal assault last month are Israeli civilians, some of them young children and elderly people.

Only a handful of those taken have been released, freed by Israeli ground troops, or their bodies have been recovered.

The precise whereabouts of the rest are not publicly known, although they are believed to be held in Gaza, where Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in retaliation for the deadliest attack in its history.

Hamas killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, during its horrific October 7 raids.

According to the Hamas government in Gaza, the war has killed more than 13,300 people, thousands of them children.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources from Hamas and Islamic Jihad — a separate Palestinian militant group that also took part in the October 7 attacks — confirmed that their movements had agreed to the terms of a truce deal.

The tentative deal includes a five-day truce, comprised of a cease-fire on the ground and limits to Israeli air operations over southern Gaza.

In return, between 50 and 100 people held by the Palestinian militant groups would be released.

They would include Israeli civilians and people of other nationalities, but no military personnel.

Under the proposed deal, some 300 Palestinians, among them women and children, would also be released from Israeli jails.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden had said he believed a deal to free the hostages was close, as hopes grew for talks brokered by Qatar, where Hamas has a political office and which has behind-the-scenes diplomatic links with Israel.

Separately, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that its president had traveled to Qatar to meet Hamas’s Haniyeh “to advance humanitarian issues related to the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza.”

As well as spelling the release of hostages, the agreement could bring respite for Gazans who have lived for more than six weeks under Israel bombardment and an expanding ground offensive.

Large parts of Gaza have been destroyed by air strikes that have numbered in the thousands, and the territory is under siege, with minimal food, water and fuel allowed to enter.

According to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources, the deal would also allow for up to 300 trucks of food and medical aid to enter Gaza.

Israel has been wary of allowing fuel into the strip for fear it could be used by Hamas in rockets or for other paramilitary means.

Israel has vowed to press ahead with its offensive, pledging to crush Hamas and ensure the hostages are released.

“We will not stop fighting until we bring our hostages home,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared after meeting relatives of those abducted.

In Gaza, medics and patients were again caught on the front line on Tuesday, as Israel expanded its operation across the north of the territory.

Officials in the Hamas-run health ministry said Israel struck the Indonesian Hospital on Monday, killing 12 people, before moving in ground forces.

“The Israeli army is laying siege to the Indonesian Hospital,” ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra said.

The Hamas government said dozens of tanks and armored vehicles were deployed around the outskirts of the hospital and were firing toward the facility.

“We fear the same thing will happen there as it did in Al-Shifa,” Qudra added, referring to Gaza’s largest hospital which has been besieged and scoured by Israeli troops.

Twenty-eight premature babies were evacuated from Al-Shifa to Egypt on Monday.

The Indonesian Hospital sits on the fringe of Gaza’s largest refugee camp Jabalia, which has become a new focus for the war and has been the scene of intense Israeli bombing in recent days.

The health ministry official stated there still were about 400 patients inside the hospital, as well as 2,000 people seeking shelter.

Around 200 people were evacuated from the hospital on Monday and bused to the relative safety of a hospital in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

At the Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, an AFP reporter witnessed bloodied children being carried into the facility and lying dazed on gurneys as chaos swirled around them.

“We miraculously got out,” said one man who said he escaped the Indonesian Hospital. “We still have brothers there. I just can’t...” he said, his voice trailing off.

Israel says Hamas uses medical facilities to hide fighters and as the base for operations, making them legitimate military objectives — while insisting it does everything possible to limit harm to civilians.

But a fierce international backlash has only grown in recent weeks, with protests erupting across the world, international agencies laying allegations of war crimes and some governments breaking diplomatic ties with Israel.

The World Health Organization said it was “appalled” by Monday’s strike on the Indonesian Hospital and reported it was just one of 164 documented attacks on health facilities and workers since the war began.

“The world cannot stand silent while these hospitals, which should be safe havens, are transformed into scenes of death, devastation, and despair,” the organization said in a statement.

The Indonesian Hospital was opened almost a decade ago, and was funded by donations from Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Monday “strongly condemned the Israeli attack” on the hospital and described it a “clear violation of international humanitarian law.”

Marsudi added that the ministry had not been able to contact three Indonesian volunteers believed to have been working at the hospital.


Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan
Updated 29 February 2024
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Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan
  • Al Aqsa, Israel’s third-holiest shrine, is a focus of Palestinian statehood hopes
  • Israeli controls on access have often stoked political friction, especially during Ramadan

JERUSALEM: Israel is reviewing possible curbs on access to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem over the upcoming Ramadan fasting month, a government spokesperson said after media reports that the far-right minister for police might be overruled on the issue.
Al Aqsa, Israel’s third-holiest shrine, is a focus of Palestinian statehood hopes. The site is also revered by Jews as vestige of their two ancient temples. Israeli controls on access have often stoked political friction, especially during Ramadan.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said last week there would be a quota for members of Israel’s 18 percent Muslim minority who wish to take part in peace prayers at Al Aqsa.
That would compound the clampdown Israel has already placed on Palestinians since the Hamas’ cross-border rampage from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, codenamed “Al Aqsa Flood,” which triggered the ongoing Gaza war.
But Israel’s top-rated Channel 12 TV reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would overrule Ben-Gvir.
“The specific issue of prayer on the Temple Mount, in Al Aqsa, is currently still under discussion by the cabinet,” government spokesperson Avi Hyman said in a briefing on Thursday.
He added that a final decision would take security and public health, as well as the freedom of worship, into account.
A Ben-Gvir spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, Ben-Gvir posted on X that any attempt to override his authority would amount to a “capitulation to terror,” and urged Netanyahu to deny the Channel 12 report.


Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq
Updated 29 February 2024
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Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq
  • Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them

MOSUL, Iraq: A Turkish drone strike in northern Iraq on Thursday killed two fighters from the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Iraqi security sources said.
Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them, two security sources told Reuters.
There has been a long-running Turkish campaign in Iraq and Syria against militants of the PKK, YBS and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which are all regarded as terrorist groups by Ankara.


Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows
Updated 29 February 2024
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Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called voting a religious duty
  • Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda
DUBAI: Iran holds a parliamentary election on Friday seen as a test of the clerical establishment’s popularity at a time of growing dissent over an array of political, social and economic crises.
The vote will be the first formal gauge of public opinion after anti-government protests in 2022-23 spiralled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Critics from inside and outside the ruling elite, including politicians and former lawmakers, say the legitimacy of Iran’s theocratic system could be at stake due to economic struggles and a lack of electoral options for a mostly young population chafing at political and social restrictions.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called voting a religious duty. He accused the country’s “enemies” — a term he normally uses for the United States and Israel — of trying to create despair among Iranian voters.
The commander of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Wednesday that “each vote is like a missile launched at the enemy’s heart.”
But Iranians still have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in 2022, which was quelled by a violent state crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.
Economic hardships pose another challenge. Many analysts say that millions have lost hope that Iran’s ruling clerics can resolve an economic crisis fomented by a combination of US sanctions, mismanagement and corruption.
While establishment supporters will likely vote for hard-line candidates, widespread public anger at worsening living standards and pervasive graft may keep many Iranians at home.
Prices for basic goods like bread, meat, dairy and rice have skyrocketed in past months. The official inflation rate stands at about 40 percent. Analysts and insiders put it at over 50 percent.
The US 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, and its reimposition of sanctions, have hit Iran’s economy hard. Efforts to revive the pact have failed.
Reformists shun ‘meaningless’ vote
Iranian activists and opposition groups are distributing the Twitter hashtags #VOTENoVote widely on social media, arguing that a high turnout will legitimize the Islamic Republic.
With heavyweight moderates and conservatives staying out of Friday’s race and reformists calling it an “unfree and unfair election,” the vote will pit hard-liners and low-key conservatives against each other, all proclaiming loyalty to Iran’s Islamic revolutionary ideals.
The interior ministry said 15,200 candidates will run for the 290-seat parliament, with a vetting body called the Guardian Council approving 75 percent of initially registered hopefuls.
The unelected Guardian Council, made up of six clerics and six legal experts generally within Khamenei’s orbit, has the authority to scrutinize laws and election candidates.
Ballots will mostly be counted manually, so the final result may not be announced for three days, although partial results may appear sooner.
On the same day, Iranians also vote for the Assembly of Experts, which appoints and can dismiss the supreme leader. The 88-member clerical body rarely intervenes directly in policy but is expected to help choose the 84-year-old Khamenei’s successor.
Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda. These are determined by Khamenei who holds the utmost authority in the country’s unique dual system of clerical and republican rule.
Polling has projected turnover of about 41 percent, while former lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi said on Monday that surveys showed the participation could be as low as 27 percent, significantly lower than 42 percent in a 2020 parliamentary vote.
Discredited after years of failed attempts at widening political and social freedoms, the pro-reform opposition suffered further unpopularity in 2022 when protesters scorned its mantra of gradual change.
The Reform Front coalition has said it will not take part in the “meaningless” election but has not boycotted the vote.

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor
Updated 29 February 2024
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Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor
  • Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria

Beirut: Israel killed a Hezbollah fighter in a strike on Syria, close to the Lebanese border, also hitting near Damascus Thursday, a war monitor said, hours after similar attacks.
Hezbollah holds sway over Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria, as well as some regions on the other side of the border including Qusayr, the target of Thursday’s strike.
“An Israeli drone strike on a truck killed a Hezbollah fighter in the Qusayr area near the Syrian-Lebanese border,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At the same time, Israeli strikes targeted Syrian air defense and radar sites near Damascus, said the Britain-based monitor with a network of sources inside Syria.
An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard faraway explosions.
Syrian state media did not report the strikes.
Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups have been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces following the eruption of civil war.
Since Syria’s war began in 2011, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes against its northern neighbor, primarily targeting pro-Iran forces, among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Syrian army.
But the strikes have multiplied during the almost five-month-old war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
On Wednesday evening, Israel struck near Damascus, killing two Syrian pro-Hezbollah fighters, the Observatory had said.
Last week, an Israeli strike on a truck in Syria near the Lebanese border killed two Hezbollah members, also according to the Observatory.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria.
Syria’s war has claimed the lives of more than half a million people and displaced millions since it broke out in March 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.


UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict

UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict
Updated 29 February 2024
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UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict

UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict
  • UN human rights office had recorded ‘many incidents that may amount to war crimes by Israeli forces’

GENEVA: UN human rights chief Volker Turk on Thursday said war crimes had been committed by all parties in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, calling for them to be investigated and for those responsible to be held accountable.
“Clear violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, including war crimes and possibly other crimes under international law, have been committed by all parties,” Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“It is time — well past time — for peace, investigation and accountability.”
Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages in an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
The attack sparked an Israeli offensive in Hamas-run Gaza, which it says is intended to rescue the remaining hostages and eradicate Hamas. Health authorities in Gaza say some 30,000 people have been confirmed killed during the offensive.
Turk, who was presenting a report on the human rights situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said his office had recorded “many incidents that may amount to war crimes by Israeli forces.”
He said there were also indications that Israeli forces have engaged in “indiscriminate or disproportionate targeting” in violation of international law.
Israel has said it is doing all it can to minimize harm to civilians.
Turk said Palestinian armed groups launching indiscriminate projectiles across southern Israel and the holding of hostages also violated international humanitarian law.
Last month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.
Turk said the prospect of an Israeli ground assault in the southern border town of Rafah, where some 1.5 million people are estimated to be crammed after fleeing their homes further north to escape Israel’s offensive, “would take the nightmare being inflicted on people in Gaza into a new, dystopian, dimension.”
“For my part, I fail to see how such an operation could be consistent with the binding provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice,” he said.
Turk added that such a ground offensive would incur massive loss of life, increase the risk of atrocity crimes, spur more displacement and “sign a death warrant for any hope of effective humanitarian aid.”