Gaza hostage talks ‘closest’ to deal since start of war: Qatar

Gaza hostage talks ‘closest’ to deal since start of war: Qatar
Family members, friends and supporters of hostages held in the Gaza Strip since the October 7 attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel, hold images of those taken during a protest calling for their release outside the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem (AFP)
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Updated 21 November 2023
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Gaza hostage talks ‘closest’ to deal since start of war: Qatar

Gaza hostage talks ‘closest’ to deal since start of war: Qatar
  • Qatar has helped broker talks aiming to free some of the 240 hostages in return for a temporary ceasefire
  • Israel has launched a relentless retaliatory bombing campaign and ground offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza, killing more than 13,300 people

DOHA: Negotiations to free hostages seized in Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel are at their “closest point” to a deal and have reached the “final stage,” mediator Qatar said Tuesday.
“We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement,” foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said, adding negotiations have reached a “critical and final stage.”
Qatar has helped broker talks aiming to free some of the 240 hostages in return for a temporary cease-fire, a mediation effort that has so far led to the release of four hostages.
“We are very optimistic, very hopeful,” Al-Ansari told a briefing.
“But we are also very keen for this mediation to succeed in reaching a humanitarian truce,” he said.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas in response to the October 7 attacks, which Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians.
Israel has launched a relentless retaliatory bombing campaign and ground offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza, killing more than 13,300 people, two-thirds of them women or children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The United States said Saturday it was still working to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas after the Washington Post reported there was a tentative agreement to free women and children hostages in exchange for a pause in fighting.
Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said all parties would halt combat operations for at least five days while some hostages were to be released in batches.
The White House quickly responded on Saturday evening with a message on X, formerly Twitter, to deny any major breakthrough.
“We have seen a lot of the leaks or the statements here and there but we would prefer to keep our statements until we have a final decision on the agreement,” Al-Ansari said.

Here is what we know:

Early Tuesday, Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a brief statement posted online: “We are close to reaching a deal on a truce.” Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources said details of the agreement would be announced officially by Qatar and other mediators. “We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement,” Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said later Tuesday, adding negotiations were at a “critical and final stage.”

Two sources close to the tentative deal have said that between 50 and 100 civilian hostages would be released, but no military personnel.

In exchange, Israel would release from its prisons 300 Palestinians, among them women and children.

The transfer would span several days, with 10 hostages and 30 Palestinians prisoners released each day.

But the same sources said Israel had insisted that captive soldiers should also be released if they are related to a civilian abductee freed by the militants — despite Hamas objections.

“Qatar and Egypt are currently working with the US administration to resolve that issue,” the sources said, adding that only then would a date for a truce be announced.

According to the same sources, the deal includes a “complete cease-fire” on the ground for five days, with Israel allowed to fly sorties over northern Gaza for 18 hours a day.

The deal also provides for between 100 and 300 trucks of food and medical aid, as well as fuel, to enter Gaza, the sources said.


Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right to self-determination

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right to self-determination
Updated 16 min 13 sec ago
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Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right to self-determination

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right to self-determination
  • ‘The establishment of the Israeli regime was done through a violent process’

The International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, on Thursday continued its hearing from dozens of states and three international organizations who question the legality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Representatives from countries including China, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Libya were expected to deliver their positions during the third day of the hearing at the ICJ, also known as the World Court.

Speakers from the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already demanded Israel end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, with the Kingdom’s envoy to the Netherlands Ziad Al-Atiyah stating Israel’s continued actions were legally indefensible.

Ma Xinmin, a foreign ministry legal adviser, said Beijing “has consistently supported the just cause of the Palestinian people in restoring their legitimate right”.

“In pursuit of the right to self-determination”, he mentioned, the Palestinian people’s use of force to “resist foreign oppression” and complete the establishment of an independent state is an “inalienable right”.

Reza Najafi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs. (ANP/AFP)

The Iranian representative said the Israeli occupation force continuously violated Palestinians right to self-determination.

“The establishment of the Israeli regime was done through a violent process which involved the forcible displacement of native Palestinian people to create a majority Jewish colony in line with the Zionist movement,” Reza Najafi, Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs said.

Najafi listed a series of supposed ongoing violations by the Israeli occupying regime: prolonged occupation; alteration of the demographic composition in the occupied territories; alteration of the character and the status of the Holy City; discriminatory measures and violations of the rights of Palestinian people to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources.

Najafi added that “the expansion of settlements, segregated roads and barriers as well as checkpoints has created a system of apartheid which is isolating Palestinian communities.”

In his closing remarks, Najafi said “the inaction or insufficient action of the Security Council” was one of the “main causes of prolonged occupation of the Palestinians,” and it was “paralysed due to the stalemate” caused by a “certain permanent member.”

Hayder Shiya Al-Barrak, center, ambassador and head of the legal department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iraq. (ANP/AFP)

Hayder Shiya Al-Barrak, ambassador and head of the legal department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, meanwhile called on the ICJ to stop the “systematic killing machine” against the Palestinian people and the end of “mass murder” and “genocide.”

Al-Barrak talked of Israel’s “barbaric acts”, including “air strikes and rocket attacks targeting civilians.”

“These acts constitute war crimes executed with a criminal intent” and are serious violations of the laws of war, the Iraqi representative said, and added that Israel “must be held accountable”.


Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies
Updated 22 February 2024
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Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

DUBAI: A missile attack Thursday targeted a vessel transiting the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire on board, two maritime agencies said, the latest in a flurry of strikes disrupting global shipping.

“A vessel was attacked by two missiles, resulting in a fire onboard,” the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said, adding that “coalition forces are responding.”

Security firm Ambrey also reported a fire aboard a Palau-flagged, British-owned general cargo ship following two missile strikes southeast of Yemen’s Aden.

The ship “appeared to be headed from Map Ta Phut, Thailand, and headed in the direction of the Red Sea,” Ambrey said.

“Merchant shipping is advised to stay clear of the vessel and proceed with caution,” it added.

There was no immediate claim for the attack but it follows a series of strikes on commercial vessels by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The Houthis say the attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.

The strikes have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
Updated 22 February 2024
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Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
  • Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship, was damaged in Sunday’s Houthi missile strike

DUBAI: A cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemeni rebels remains afloat and could be towed to Djibouti this week, its operator said on Thursday.
Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship carrying combustible fertilizer, was damaged in Sunday’s missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Its crew was evacuated to Djibouti after one missile hit the side of the ship, causing water to enter the engine room and its stern to sag, said its operator, the Blue Fleet Group.
A second missile hit the vessel’s deck without causing major damage, Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury said.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels had claimed on Monday the attack on the ship, saying it was “at risk of potential sinking in the Gulf of Aden” after receiving “extensive damage.”
Khoury said the ship was still afloat and shared an image captured on Wednesday that showed its stern low in the water.
“She will be towed to Djibouti but the tugboat has not yet arrived,” Khoury said. “It should be there in two to three days.”
When asked about the possibility of it sinking, Khoury said there was “no risk for now but always a possibility.”
Ship-tracking site TankerTrackers.com confirmed that the Rubymar had not sunk but warned that the vessel was leaking fuel oil.
The attack on the Rubymar has inflicted the most significant damage yet to a commercial ship since the Houthis started firing on vessels in November — a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority said the ship’s last port of call was the United Arab Emirates and it was destined for Belarus.
Its 24 crew members included 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indians and four Filipinos, the authority said in a statement on Monday.
“The vessel has on board 21,999 MT (metric tons) of fertilizer IMDG class 5.1,” the authority said on X, formerly Twitter, describing it as “very dangerous.”
The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement

One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement
Updated 52 min 39 sec ago
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One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement

One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement
  • Eight people with varying degrees of injuries were evacuated from the scene by medics
  • Violence was already on the increase across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Three Palestinian gunmen killed one person and wounded eight, among them a young pregnant woman, in a “terror attack” Thursday when they sprayed automatic weapons fire at vehicles near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, Israeli police said.
The shooters were “neutralized,” police said, and an AFP photographer later saw their bodies at the scene of the attack on a highway east of Jerusalem, where five cars were riddled with bullets.
“The three terrorists... got out of their vehicle and started shooting automatic weapons at vehicles that were in a traffic jam on the road toward Jerusalem,” police said in a statement about the attack near the Maale Adumim settlement.
“Two terrorists were neutralized on the spot,” police said. “In the searches conducted at the scene, another terrorist was located who tried to escape and he was also neutralized.”

The gunmen were identified as Mohammed Zawahrah, 26, his brother Kathim Zawahrah, 31, and Ahmed Al-Wahsh, also 31, by Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet.
Among those wounded was a 23-year-old pregnant woman who was in critical condition, said the emergency response service Magen David Adom and a spokesperson for the Shaare Tzedek Hospital.
Violence was already on the rise across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack, but has escalated since then to levels unseen in nearly two decades, with hundreds killed in recent months.
Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the site of Thursday’s attack where he told journalists: “The enemies... want to hurt us. They hate us.”
He argued that “we need to distribute more weapons” and that “our right to life is superior to the freedom of movement” of residents governed by the Palestinian Authority under president Mahmud Abbas.
“There should be more restrictions and we should put barriers around villages and limit the freedom of movement” of people from the West Bank, Ben Gvir added.

Israeli officials work at the scene of a shooting attack by Palestinian gunmen near the Maale Adumim settlement, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank Feb. 22, 2024. (REUTERS)

Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for a “firm security response... and colonization” by building thousands of new housing units in settlements like Maale Adumim and across the West Bank.
“Our enemies must know that any harm done to us would result in more construction, more development and even more control over the entire country,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.
The attack came after two people were shot dead last Friday at a bus stop in southern Israel near the town of Kiryat Malakhi.
The West Bank has seen frequent Palestinian attacks on Israelis and near-daily raids by the Israeli military that often turn deadly.
Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since the Gaza war broke out, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.
Israel captured the West Bank — including east Jerusalem, which it later annexed — in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

Four people have died, including three gunmen. (REUTERS)

Around 475,000 Jewish settlers currently live in the occupied West Bank, in settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and most of the international community.
The West Bank’s Palestinian population is about 2.9 million.
The Palestinians claim the territory as the heartland of a future independent state, a goal being discussed by the international community as the Gaza war rages into a fifth month.
Israel’s parliament Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
The Gaza war erupted after Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
At least 29,410 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory military offensive on Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting

Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting
Updated 22 February 2024
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Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting

Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting
  • Turkiye has harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and backed measures to have it tried for genocide at the World Court

ANKARA: Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan called on the international community to take a more active role toward an urgent ceasefire in Gaza and a two-state solution to the conflict during talks at the G20 meeting in Brazil, a Turkish diplomatic source said.
Turkiye, which has harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and backed measures to have it tried for genocide at the World Court, has repeatedly called for a ceasefire.
Unlike its Western allies and some Gulf nations, NATO member Turkiye does not view Hamas, the Palestinian militant group which runs Gaza and on Oct. 7 carried out an attack inside Israel that prompted the Israeli campaign, as a terrorist organization.
Fidan told a G20 foreign ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday that the “savagery” in Gaza must be stopped, and discussed steps to achieve an urgent ceasefire and get more aid into the enclave during talks with counterparts from the United States, Germany, and Egypt, the source said.
“Steps that can be taken to achieve a full ceasefire as soon as possible were discussed,” during talks between Fidan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the source said, adding Fidan also discussed “concrete steps” to stop the fighting with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
“The fact that a decision on a ceasefire did not come out of the UN Security Council once again, has shown that reform is a must,” Fidan told a session at the G20 meeting, according to one of his aides, referring to a third US veto on a ceasefire call at the 15-member body.
Ankara says the UN Security Council must be reformed to be more inclusive and representative of the world.
“The stance shown by Brazilian President Lula (Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva) is admirable,” the aide cited Fidan as saying, in reference to comments by Lula in which he likened the war in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two and which caused a diplomatic spat.