Blinken to return to Israel, West Bank as truce extended

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken walks to board his aircraft prior to departure from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, November 27, 2023, as he travels to Brussels for a NATO Foreign Ministers meeting. (REUTERS)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken walks to board his aircraft prior to departure from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, November 27, 2023, as he travels to Brussels for a NATO Foreign Ministers meeting. (REUTERS)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Blinken to return to Israel, West Bank as truce extended

Blinken to return to Israel, West Bank as truce extended
  • The trip comes as mediator Qatar announced a 48-hour extension of a truce between Israel and Hamas, opening the way for further releases of hostages and the arrival of humanitarian aid into the war-battered Gaza Strip

BRUSSELS: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will pay his third wartime visit to the Middle East this week, a US official said Monday, just as mediators announced an extension of a truce in Gaza.
Blinken will also head this week to Dubai to represent the United States at the COP28 climate summit, which President Joe Biden is skipping after two previous years of attending to highlight US leadership.
A senior US official, speaking as Blinken arrived in Brussels for NATO meetings, said the top US diplomat would meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah.
“In his meetings in the Middle East, the secretary will stress the need to sustain the increased flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, secure the release of all hostages and improve protection to civilians in Gaza,” the official said.
“The secretary will discuss with partners in the region the principles he laid out for the future of Gaza and the need to establish an independent Palestinian state,” the official said.
The trip comes as mediator Qatar announced a 48-hour extension of a truce between Israel and Hamas, opening the way for further releases of hostages and the arrival of humanitarian aid into the war-battered Gaza Strip.
There was no immediate confirmation from Israel, which has vowed to keep up the fight to destroy Hamas.
The United States has been pressing Israel to work with the Palestinian Authority and rein in settlers who have attacked Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7, but Netanyahu has been a long-time critic of Abbas and of a two-state solution.

Blinken and Biden have vowed support for Israel after Hamas militants stormed into the US ally on October 7 and killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Israel’s deadliest-ever attack.
But US officials have also voiced increasing concern about the Israeli reprisals’ toll on civilians, which have galvanized public opinion in much of the world.
The bombing and ground campaign has left almost 15,000 people dead, mostly Palestinian civilians, according to Gaza’s Hamas government.
Blinken will head Friday to COP28 in Dubai, which opens on Thursday in the largest-yet UN-led summit on climate change.
Biden has attended the last two annual summits, in Scotland and Egypt, in hopes of showing that the United States has turned the page from his climate skeptic predecessor Donald Trump, who is seeking the White House again.
The Biden administration has pushed through billions of dollars of investment in the green economy, including electric cars.
Another US official earlier said that Biden would not attend COP28, whose attendees include Pope Francis. Officials did not give a reason. Biden has been consumed by the Middle East but is seeking to focus on his domestic agenda with less than a year to go before the presidential election.
Blinken will also seek to rally support for Ukraine in talks with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels and then at a meeting in North Macedonia of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“We anticipate that he’ll engage in a good discussion with our OSCE colleagues about support for Ukraine,” said James O’Brien, the top US diplomat for Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that North Macedonia, which has joined Western sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, has agreed to let him attend the annual meeting of the pan-European security body in which Russia is a member.
Russian state media said that EU member Bulgaria has informed Moscow it would allow Lavrov’s plane to cross its airspace.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said there would not be a meeting with Blinken.
“No, (they) haven’t asked, (they) won’t ask and there won’t be a meeting” he told Russian state news agencies.”
Last year, OSCE host Poland refused to let Lavrov attend, sparking an angry response from Russia.
US officials have cut most top-level contact with Russia since the February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, although Blinken briefly met Lavrov in March on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in India.
 

 


Egypt’s foreign minister, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, discuss humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip

Egypt’s foreign minister, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, discuss humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip
Updated 9 sec ago
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Egypt’s foreign minister, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, discuss humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip

Egypt’s foreign minister, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, discuss humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip
  • ICRC president briefed Sameh Shoukry on the organization’s assessments of the conditions endured by Palestinians in the various regions inside Gaza
  • Mirjana Spoljaric Egger spoke of the high number of civilian casualties, including medical and humanitarian personnel, in the Gaza Strip

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry met the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Mirjana Spoljaric Egger on the sidelines of Geneva meetings of the high-level segment of the Human Rights Council and the Conference on Disarmament.

The meeting looked at the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, and the ICRC president briefed Shoukry on the organization’s assessments of the conditions endured by Palestinians in the various regions inside Gaza. She spoke of the high number of civilian casualties, including medical and humanitarian personnel, in the Gaza Strip. 

Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesman at Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the discussions also addressed talks related to reaching a new deal in the region, enforcing de-escalation, and swapping hostages and detainees.

Shoukry stressed the necessity of halting Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilians and avoiding escalation and more bloodshed during the month of Ramadan, noting the repercussions of expanding the cycle of violence and the security dangers of exacerbating the situation inside the occupied Palestinian territories and in the region.

Shoukry paid tribute to the important role played by the ICRC within the framework of neutrality and independence to provide support and protection to Palestinian civilians.

He stressed the necessity for international parties to act toward halting Israeli violations against Palestinians, in compliance with the provisions of international humanitarian law and within the framework of Israel’s obligations as the occupying power and in a manner that required the issue of a Security Council resolution enforcing a ceasefire.

He spoke of the full implementation of Security Council Resolution No. 2720 for the provision of humanitarian and relief aid to the population of the Gaza Strip, including northern Gaza.

Spoljaric Egger expressed her appreciation of the pivotal role played by Egypt since the beginning of the crisis in attempting to contain the repercussions of the violence while endeavoring to put an end to it.

She spoke of the existing cooperation between the Egyptian Red Crescent and international relief organizations and agencies to provide and deliver urgent humanitarian aid to the population of the Gaza Strip.

She affirmed her support of continued coordination with the Egyptian side to help alleviate the humanitarian suffering of Palestinians.


Lebanon’s Hezbollah will halt fire if Hamas OKs Gaza truce, sources say

Lebanon’s Hezbollah will halt fire if Hamas OKs Gaza truce, sources say
Updated 22 min 38 sec ago
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Lebanon’s Hezbollah will halt fire if Hamas OKs Gaza truce, sources say

Lebanon’s Hezbollah will halt fire if Hamas OKs Gaza truce, sources say
  • “The moment Hamas announces its approval of the truce, and the moment the truce is declared, Hezbollah will adhere to the truce,” one of the two sources said
  • If Israel continued shelling Lebanon, Hezbollah would not hesitate to carry on fighting, both sources said

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah will halt fire on Israel if its Palestinian ally Hamas agrees to a proposal for a truce with Israel in Gaza — unless Israeli forces keep shelling Lebanon, two sources familiar with Hezbollah’s thinking told Reuters on Tuesday.
Hezbollah has been exchanging near-daily fire with Israel across Lebanon’s southern border since Oct. 8, a day after a bloody Hamas assault in southern Israel that triggered a fierce Israeli land, air and sea offensive on the Gaza Strip.
A temporary truce between Hamas and Israel to allow for hostage and prisoner releases led to a week of calm across the Lebanese-Israeli border in late November.
Hamas is now weighing a new proposal, agreed by Israel at talks with mediators in Paris last week, for a deal that would suspend fighting for 40 days, which would be the first extended pause of the five-month-old war.
“The moment Hamas announces its approval of the truce, and the moment the truce is declared, Hezbollah will adhere to the truce and will stop operations in the south immediately, as happened the previous time,” one of the two sources close to the heavily armed, Shiite Muslim group said.
But if Israel continued shelling Lebanon, Hezbollah would not hesitate to carry on fighting, both sources said.
The Hezbollah media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said earlier this month the group’s attacks on Israel would only end when Israel’s “aggression” against Gaza ends.
Hezbollah is one of several Iran-aligned groups around the Middle East that have entered the fray since the Gaza war began, waging campaigns they say aim to support Palestinians under Israeli bombardment in Gaza.
The Houthis of Yemen have been firing on shipping in the Red Sea, prompting US strikes on the group, and Iran-backed Iraqi groups have fired on US troops at bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. A drone attack late last month in northeast Jordan killed three US soldiers, prompting US retaliatory strikes.

NO TALKS UNTIL GAZA CEASEFIRE
In Lebanon, Israeli air and missile strikes have killed nearly 200 Hezbollah fighters and almost 50 civilians. Attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli soldiers and half as many civilians.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides of the frontier.
Foreign envoys have sought to secure a diplomatic resolution to the fighting, reflecting worry about further escalation.
Earlier this month, France delivered a written proposal to Beirut aimed at ending hostilities. It included negotiations to settle the disputed Lebanon-Israel frontier and a withdrawal of Hezbollah’s elite unit 10 km (6 miles) from the border.
Hezbollah, which exercises significant sway over the Lebanese state, has insisted it will discuss no arrangements for southern Lebanon until a permanent ceasefire has been agreed for Gaza. The two sources told Reuters this stance has not changed.
The first source said Hezbollah had previously specified that there would be no talks with the group until after a Gaza ceasefire, and it stood by this position.
While hostilities have largely been limited to the border zone, Israeli fighter jets on Monday hit the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, the most far-reaching strikes in Lebanon during the current conflict.
On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant indicated that Israel planned to increase attacks on Hezbollah in the event of a possible ceasefire in the Gaza conflict. He said the goal was to secure a Hezbollah withdrawal from the border region, either through a diplomatic agreement or by force.


Head of UN peacekeeping force warns further strikes in south Lebanon could jeopardize political solution to conflict

Head of UN peacekeeping force warns further strikes in south Lebanon could jeopardize political solution to conflict
Updated 39 min 33 sec ago
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Head of UN peacekeeping force warns further strikes in south Lebanon could jeopardize political solution to conflict

Head of UN peacekeeping force warns further strikes in south Lebanon could jeopardize political solution to conflict
  • Israel shells 50 km into Lebanon after Hezbollah targets Meron base with 40 missiles
  • Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lazaro Saenz: We have continued our active work with the parties to reduce tensions and prevent dangerous misunderstandings

BEIRUT: The head of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon on Tuesday warned that an escalation of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah could jeopardize a political solution to the conflict.

UNIFIL mission commander, Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lazaro Saenz, highlighted an “alarming shift in recent days in the exchange of fire along the southern Lebanese border,” adding that “the expansion and intensification of strikes” could hinder ceasefire negotiations.

His comments came a day after Israel targeted Hezbollah positions near the Lebanese city of Baalbek. Hezbollah hit back by firing dozens of missiles at the Meron air control base on Jabal Al-Jarmaq (Mount Meron).

Lazaro said that the ongoing exchanges between the Israeli army and Hezbollah had “claimed the lives of a very large number of people, caused severe damage to homes and public infrastructure, endangered livelihoods, and changed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians on both sides of the Blue Line.”

He added: “In recent days, we have continued our active work with the parties to reduce tensions and prevent dangerous misunderstandings, but recent events have the potential to jeopardize the political solution to this conflict.

“We urge all concerned parties to cease hostilities to prevent further escalation and leave room for a political, diplomatic solution that can restore stability and ensure the safety of people in this region.”

On Tuesday, Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati held talks with the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka to discuss the “mechanisms” for implementing a UN Security Council resolution calling for a full cessation of hostilities.

According to the PM’s media office, Wronecka urged “all parties to calm down and work toward diplomatic solutions.”

Israel’s mobile Iron Dome air-defense system intercepted several missiles fired by Hezbollah toward the Meron base. The Israeli army responded with a fighter-jet raid on the outskirts of Bissariye near Sidon, more than 50 km away from the Lebanese border. No casualties were reported. Warplanes also hit the towns of Jibchit, Mansouri, and Hanniyeh, where a woman was wounded.

An Israeli army spokesperson said: “Thirty-five rockets were fired from Lebanon toward Jabal Al-Jarmaq, but no damage or injuries occurred after targeting the air surveillance base.

“In response to these rockets, warplanes attacked a military site and several Hezbollah military infrastructures in southern Lebanon.”

The Meron air control facility sits atop Jabal Al-Jarmaq, the tallest mountain peak in northern Israel. It serves as the only hub for managing, monitoring, and controlling air traffic in the area, alongside Mitzpe Ramon in the south.

Hezbollah media reported that the Meron base focused on “arranging, coordinating, and overseeing all air activities toward Syria, Lebanon, Turkiye, Cyprus, and the northern region of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It serves as a significant hub for electronic interference operations in these areas, and a large number of elite officers and soldiers work in this base.”

An exchange of artillery shelling between the two sides continued on Tuesday afternoon but was confined to an area south of the Litani River.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army at the Miskaf Am settlement shot at a bread van crossing a road near to a Lebanese army checkpoint. The driver and his wife escaped injured.


Fertilizer-laden Red Sea ship ‘at risk of sinking,’ says Yemeni minister

Fertilizer-laden Red Sea ship ‘at risk of sinking,’ says Yemeni minister
Updated 27 February 2024
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Fertilizer-laden Red Sea ship ‘at risk of sinking,’ says Yemeni minister

Fertilizer-laden Red Sea ship ‘at risk of sinking,’ says Yemeni minister
  • Houthis launched missiles at the M/V Rubymar badly damaging it and causing a large oil slick in the Red Sea
  • Yemen’s government has issued a frantic plea to nations and marine conservation bodies to assist in rescuing the ship

AL-MUKALLA: Tawfeeq Al-Sharjabi, Yemen’s water and environment minister, said they are in a race against time to save a sinking ship laden with thousands of tonnes of fertilizer in the Red Sea, urging international assistance to prevent an ecological disaster. 

On Feb. 18, Yemen’s Houthi militia launched missiles at the MV Rubymar, a Belize-flagged and Lebanese-operated ship, badly damaging it and causing a large oil slick in the Red Sea.

Yemen’s government organized an emergency committee on Saturday and issued a frantic plea to nations and marine conservation bodies to assist in rescuing the ship and preventing a possible environmental calamity in the Red Sea. “The situation is grave, and the ship is at risk of sinking,” Al-Sharjabi told Arab News by telephone. 

Yemeni officials said the Houthi missiles damaged the ship’s engine room, causing saltwater to fill it, and that they are now in touch with the ship’s owners and international organizations to send tugs to tow it after draining it of water. The danger, according to the Yemeni minister, stems from the ship’s cargo of 22,000 tonnes of ammonium phosphate-sulfate NPS fertilizer, which, although unaffected by the missiles, might explode or flow into the ocean if the ship sunk or struck the coast. “Efforts are now underway to bring a tugboat to remove water from the ship, balance it, return it to its usual position, and then tow it to the closest shore,” Al-Sharjabi said.

The Houthis vowed this week to trade the recovery of the British-owned ship for humanitarian supplies to Gaza, raising concerns that they may use the ship as leverage. Despite stating that they have not received formal threats from the Houthis, Al-Sharjabi urged the militia not to obstruct the ship’s rescue attempts, adding that Yemenis throughout the nation, including those living in Houthi-controlled regions, will suffer from an ecological calamity. “This is a worthless bargain and just balloons in the air,” he said.

Capt. Yeslem Mubarak, vice executive chairman of the Maritime Affairs Authority and a member of the government’s commission dealing with the sinking ship, told Arab News on Tuesday that the ship is 16 nautical miles from Yemen’s Red Sea town of Mocha and 20 nautical miles from the island of Hanish. He added that it has no connection to Israel and is owned by a Syrian businessman. “The ship is in an unstable condition and is going to sink,” Mubarak said.

Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship and fired hundreds of drones and missiles at commercial and naval ships going through the Red Sea, enforcing a ban on Israel-linked or Israel-bound vessels transiting through the key maritime channel. The Houthis claim that their activities are intended to push Israel to remove its blockade of Gaza.

To halt the Houthi attacks on ships, the US and its allies have launched hundreds of airstrikes on Sanaa, Saada, and other Houthi-controlled regions in Yemen, hitting ammunition, drone and missile storage facilities, drone and missile launchers, and other targets.

On Tuesday morning, the US Central Command said it had foiled Houthi assaults on ships on Monday by destroying three drone boats, two anti-ship cruise missiles, and a drone in Yemen that were all intended to target commercial and navy ships in the Red Sea. 


Egypt warns of ‘catastrophic repercussions’ if Israeli attacks Rafah

Egypt warns of ‘catastrophic repercussions’ if Israeli attacks Rafah
Updated 27 February 2024
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Egypt warns of ‘catastrophic repercussions’ if Israeli attacks Rafah

Egypt warns of ‘catastrophic repercussions’ if Israeli attacks Rafah
  • Israel has said a truce with Hamas would delay, not prevent, a ground invasion of Rafah
  • “The world is witnessing the most heinous crimes and violations against the Palestinian people,” Shoukry said

GENEVA: Egypt warned on Tuesday that Israel’s planned ground invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza would have “catastrophic repercussions” for peace in the Middle East.
Foreign ministers from Arab League countries told the United Nations Human Rights Council that some nations were turning a blind eye to the suffering in Gaza.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the extreme polarization exposed by the Gaza war had laid bare the double standards of some members of the UN’s top rights body.
Israel has said a truce with Hamas would delay, not prevent, a ground invasion of Rafah on the Egyptian border, where an estimated 1.4 million Palestinian civilians have sought refuge from the war.
“The world is witnessing the most heinous crimes and violations against the Palestinian people,” Shoukry said.
He called for an immediate ceasefire and urged Israel not to attack Rafah.
“Any military action in the present circumstances would have catastrophic repercussions that undermine peace in the region,” he warned.
The war in Gaza began after the Hamas militant group that controls the Palestinian territory launched an attack on October 7 that killed about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.
Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza.
Israel’s retaliatory bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza have killed at least 29,878 people, most of them women and children, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.
Shoukry said some countries on the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva were shying away from the firm action they had taken over other conflicts.
“It seems that life in Gaza is not worthy enough of their attention, that the massacre of tens of thousands of children fails to shake their otherwise all-too-sensitive conscience,” he said.
“The lives of Gaza’s children are seemingly less valuable than others.
“This preludes the... collapse of the international system, including this council.”
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Abdullah Al-Yahya said the “brutal crimes of the Israeli occupation forces against defenseless civilians” had led to “catastrophic crisis and destruction.”
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said the world “cannot keep turning a blind eye” to the “unprecedented human disaster” in Gaza.
Qatari International Cooperation Minister Lolwah Al-Khater said Gaza was witnessing a “genocidal war,” while the situation in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was also deteriorating.
“Sponsoring this Israeli exceptionalism above international law by some global powers should stop,” she told the council.
Meanwhile Tunisian Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar, speaking via video-link, said human rights were being violated in Gaza “with the utmost barbarism” and said the international community had been “paralyzed because of a handful of countries.”