More captives to be freed as Israel-Hamas truce extended

More captives to be freed as Israel-Hamas truce extended
Qassam, left, and Nasrallah reunite with their father Iyad Al-Awar after both were released from an Israeli prison as part of a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, at their home in East Jerusalem. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2023
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More captives to be freed as Israel-Hamas truce extended

More captives to be freed as Israel-Hamas truce extended
  • US, Israeli spy chiefs in Doha to discuss ‘next phase’ of deal, fueling hopes for prolonged halt to violence

GAZA STRIP: A new group of Israeli hostages are due to be freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, as Israel and Hamas accused each other of violating an extended truce in their devastating seven-week war.

The temporary cessation of hostilities and releases of captives have been hailed as a glimpse of hope in the conflict sparked by deadly Hamas attacks that prompted an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

As a two-day extension to the pause in hostilities began, US and Israeli intelligence chiefs were in Doha, capital of truce mediator Qatar, to discuss the “next phase” of the deal, fueling hopes for a prolonged halt to the violence.

Israel and Hamas are under international pressure not to return to all-out fighting when the latest truce ends on Thursday, but instead to build on the prisoner swaps to find a solution to the conflict.

A source close to Hamas said that 10 hostages held in Gaza would be freed in return for 30 prisoners released from Israeli prisons on Tuesday.

In addition to those releases, “some foreign workers held in Gaza” will also be freed, the source said.

Israeli leaders, however, have so far insisted that their campaign to crush Hamas will resume once they have received as many hostages as possible in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

And on Tuesday, each side accused the other of breaking the truce agreement.

Palestinian movements denounced what they dubbed “truce violations by the occupier,” and a journalist saw an Israeli tank fire three times in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City as Palestinians attempted to make use of the lull to return to their homes.

The Israeli military described the shelling as “warning shots,” saying a tank fired as suspected militants approached army positions. At least one person was hurt, the reporter saw.

The Israeli military meanwhile alleged that three explosive devices were detonated near its forces in the northern Gaza strip, “violating the framework of the operational pause.”

The IDF said: “In one of the locations, terrorists also opened fire at the troops, who responded with fire. A number of soldiers were lightly injured during the incidents.

“In both incidents, the troops were located in positions as per the framework of the operational pause.”

Israel’s ground and air operation in the Gaza Strip has killed almost 15,000 people, mostly civilians, according to the territory’s Hamas government.

TV images show buildings several stories high flattened by the Israeli bombardments in the central Gaza Strip and residents walking through the rubble of ruined homes.

Israel has vowed to stick to its war aim of destroying Hamas and rescuing all 240 hostages.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari said that his government would use the extension to work for a “sustainable truce.”

The heads of the US and Israeli intelligence agencies were in Qatar to discuss the “next phase” of the Gaza deal, a source briefed on their visit said.

“The director of the CIA and the director of the Israeli National Intelligence Agency are in Doha to meet with the Qatari prime minister,” the source said, requesting anonymity.

The discussions, he said, aim “to build on the progress of the extended humanitarian pause agreement and to initiate further discussions about the next phase of a potential deal.”

The latest round of exchanges on Monday night brought the total number of people released under the truce to 50 Israeli hostages, and 150 Palestinian prisoners, all women and minors.

Another 19 hostages have been freed under separate deals, including Thai workers and a dual Russian-Israeli citizen.

Sharon Calderon, the aunt of 16-year-old Sahar and 12-year-old Erez who were released on Monday, called for their father Ofer to be freed also. Two other family members were killed on Oct. 7.

“We’ve got Erez and Sahar here and we’re very, very happy we got them home. We have to get Ofer and the rest of the kidnapped and bring them here ... to be again a big happy family.”

Shortly after the arrival of the hostages was confirmed, Israel’s prison authority said 33 Palestinian inmates had been released.

In annexed East Jerusalem, Palestinian prisoner Muhammad Abu Al-Humus called his release “an indescribable joy” and kissed his mother’s hand as he entered his home.

“I’m very happy. I hope that others will soon be released — my friends, my cousins.”

Israel views the truce as a temporary measure to secure hostage releases and says it plans to continue its military offensive.

The government has agreed a 30.3 billion shekel ($8.2 billion) war budget that will now go to parliament.

But Israel faces increasing pressure for a more lasting ceasefire and the ramp-up of humanitarian aid to Gaza, where an estimated 1.7 million people have been displaced, according to the UN.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to pay his third wartime visit to the Middle East this week, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

US officials said the United States was sending three military aircraft to Egypt from Tuesday to bring medicine, food and “winter items” for Gaza via northern Egypt.

In Gaza, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said no fuel had arrived for generators at hospitals in the territory’s north, despite the truce.

The World Food Programme said it had delivered food to 121,161 people in Gaza since Friday, when the truce began, but that a high risk of famine remained. “What we see is catastrophic,” said WFP’s director for the Middle East, Corinne Fleischer.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF said aid flows into northern Gaza had increased since the truce began, but spokesman James Elder warned that given the destruction “all this aid is triage (minimum emergency care) ... It’s not even enough for triage.”


Jordanian, Irish educational institutions discuss collaboration

Jordanian, Irish educational institutions discuss collaboration
Updated 18 sec ago
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Jordanian, Irish educational institutions discuss collaboration

Jordanian, Irish educational institutions discuss collaboration
  • Talks include joint scientific projects and research, faculty and student exchange programs

AMMAN: Officials from Jordan and Ireland met on Monday to discuss cooperation on higher education and scientific research, Jordan News Agency reported.
Vice President of the University of Jordan (Aqaba) Nazeeh Btoush held talks with Irish Ambassador to Jordan Marianne Bolger.
Bolger proposed several collaborative opportunities, including carrying out joint scientific projects and research, implementing faculty and student exchange programs, and promoting the exchange of scientific information.
Btoush highlighted the university’s dedication to establishing international partnerships, pointing out the mutual benefits of exchanging knowledge and experience.
He highlighted the significance of such collaborations in enhancing the university’s educational and research activities.
Bolger expressed the Irish embassy’s keenness to forge strong links with Jordanian educational institutions, praising the university’s distinguished reputation and array of scientific units and centers.
UoJ Aqaba specializes in marine science and is involved in research and monitoring initiatives. The aim is to establish environmental baselines along the Jordanian coastline of the Gulf of Aqaba, while also tackling applied coastal and marine research.
 


Hamas says it presses on with Gaza truce talks without Israelis

Hamas says it presses on with Gaza truce talks without Israelis
Updated 28 min 10 sec ago
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Hamas says it presses on with Gaza truce talks without Israelis

Hamas says it presses on with Gaza truce talks without Israelis
  • Ceasefire talks billed as a final hurdle to establish first extended ceasefire of five-month-old war in time for Ramadan 
  • Washington appeared to take a tougher line in demanding its ally Israel ease the plight of suffering civilians

CAIRO/RAFAH: Hamas said on Monday it was pressing on with talks on securing a ceasefire in Gaza despite Israel’s decision not to attend, while Washington appeared to take a tougher line in demanding its ally Israel ease the plight of suffering civilians.
The ceasefire talks, which began on Sunday in Cairo, are billed as a final hurdle to establish the first extended ceasefire of the five-month-old war, in time for the Ramadan Muslim fasting month which is expected to begin on Sunday.
Israel has declined public comment on the Cairo talks or its decision not to attend. A source had earlier told Reuters Israel would stay away because Hamas had refused its request for a list of names of all hostages it is holding that are still alive, information the militants say they will provide only once terms are agreed.
“Talks in Cairo continue for the second day regardless of whether the occupation’s delegation is present in Egypt,” a Hamas official told Reuters on Monday.
Washington, which is both Israel’s closest ally and a sponsor of the talks, says a deal remains close, with an agreement already effectively agreed by Israel and only awaiting approval from Hamas.
“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire. Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on Sunday. “Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza.”
In a speech signalling an apparent change of tone from the administration of President Joe Biden toward its ally, Harris also used unusually forceful language to call for Israel to do more to alleviate the humanitarian plight of the Gaza Strip.
“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act,” she said. “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.”
A Palestinian official close to the talks disputed the US contention that Israel had agreed to the ceasefire deal and Hamas was holding it up, saying the position appeared aimed at deflecting blame away from Israel should the talks collapse.
“The Palestinian resistance, led by Hamas, has shown the flexibility needed, but at the same time they are determined to defend their people and achieve a deal that is acceptable to the Palestinian people,” the official said.
The proposal being discussed is for a ceasefire of around 40 days, during which militants would release around 40 of the more than 100 hostages they are still holding in return for around 400 detainees held in Israeli jails.
Israeli troops would pull back from some areas, more humanitarian aid would be allowed into Gaza, and residents would be permitted to return to abandoned homes.
But the deal does not appear to address directly a Hamas demand for a clear path to permanently ending the war. Nor does it resolve the fate of more than half of the remaining hostages — Israeli men excluded from both this and earlier agreements covering women, children, the elderly and the wounded.
Israel says it will not end the war until Hamas is eradicated. Hamas says it will not free all its hostages without a deal that ends the war. Mediators have indicated they hope to overcome the standoff with promises to resolve further issues in later phases.

Rafah strike kills family
The Gaza war erupted after Hamas fighters who control the enclave burst into Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israel has sealed off the coastal strip, stormed nearly all of its towns and pounded it from the sky. Palestinian authorities say more than 30,000 people have been confirmed killed, with thousands of other bodies unrecovered. Most of the population has been made homeless, and the United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people face famine.
An agreement to halt fighting by Ramadan would effectively head off a threatened Israeli assault on Rafah, the last town on the southern edge of Gaza, where more than half of the enclave’s population are now sheltering, mostly in makeshift tents.
The final days leading up to that deadline have been particularly bloody. Residents have described heavy fighting since Saturday just north of Rafah in Khan Younis, the main southern city, where Israeli forces have released video showing buildings obliterated in airstrikes.
In Rafah itself, airstrikes on homes have been killing families nightly as they sleep. At least 14 corpses of a family killed overnight were laid out at a hospital morgue in Rafah on Monday morning. One of the body bags was partially unzipped so weeping relatives could stroke the hair of a dead child.
Israel’s Channel 14 News reported on Monday that several officers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson’s unit were leaving their jobs, including chief international spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht. It said the large number leaving at once at a time of war was unusual.
The military denied media reports that chief spokesperson Rear-Admiral Daniel Hagari had resigned, but did not directly comment on reports of other officers leaving the unit. “The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit continues to fulfil its mission of sharing the truth with transparency and accuracy, while countering misinformation — including baseless claims such as these,” it said in a statement.


Houthis attack ship off Yemen’s Aden

Houthis attack ship off Yemen’s Aden
Updated 28 min 35 sec ago
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Houthis attack ship off Yemen’s Aden

Houthis attack ship off Yemen’s Aden
  • Vessel reported an incident around 91 nautical miles southeast of Yemen’s port city of Aden
  • UN official said that attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militia on ships in the Red Sea have quadrupled global shipping costs and cut cargo movement by 30 percent

AL-MUKALLA: The UK Maritime Trade Operations agency cautioned ships crossing the Red Sea on Monday to exercise care after a vessel reported an incident around 91 nautical miles southeast of Yemen’s port city of Aden.

This came as a UN official said on Monday that attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militia on ships in the Red Sea have quadrupled global shipping costs and cut cargo movement by 30 percent. 

Oleg Kobyakov, director of the office for liaison with Russia at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, told the Russian news agency TASS that what he called the Houthis’ “blockade” of the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandab Strait has led to an increase in the price of goods across the globe, hurt the movement of goods, increased fuel bills for ships by an average of 15 percent, and pushed many shipping companies into taking the “8,000 km” route through the Cape of Good Hope to travel between Asia and Europe to avoid Houthi attacks. 

“The blockade of Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea by the Houthis is hurting global food trade. The cost of chartering a ship to travel along this route has almost quadrupled while cargo traffic has dropped by 30 percent,” he said.

Since November, the Houthis have targeted scores of commercial and naval ships going through international seas near Yemen, seized a commercial ship, and blocked the Red Sea before all Israel-bound ships. The Houthis claim their assaults are intended to push Israel to break its embargo on Gaza. 

On Feb. 18, Houthi missiles targeted the MV Rubymar, a Belize-flagged and Lebanese-operated ship, severely damaging it and triggering a big oil leak in the Red Sea.

The ship, carrying more than 21,000 tonnes of fertilizer, sank on Saturday, raising global fears about a possible environmental disaster in the Red Sea as well as hazards to trade along the critical route.

Similarly, the Houthis have accused the US of exaggerating the environmental damage of the ship and its contents. 

The ship’s around 21,000 tonnes of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer are good for fish and coral reefs, as well as helping plants grow in seawater, according to Houthi media official Nasr Al-Din Amer, who purportedly cited a study by an “international” fertilizer production business. 

Amer said in a post on X that the study “refutes American propaganda about the ‘Red Sea disaster.’” 

Meanwhile, the Houthis have announced the mobilization of thousands of fighters in the central province of Marib under the banner of “supporting people in Palestine,” raising concerns in Yemen that the Houthis are using public outrage over Israel’s war in Gaza to resume a military offensive in Marib.

The Houthis said on Sunday that 4,000 of their armed militants journeyed for three days and 100 km from the Harf Sufyan District in the province of Amran to Marib’s Majzar District, where they would settle in preparation for instructions from their commanders to “reinforce” Palestinians.

Another 2,500 infantry Houthi men marched from the same Amran province to Marib on Saturday, allegedly to help Palestinians, according to Houthi official media.

Between January 2021 and April 2022, thousands of civilians and combatants were killed in the province of Marib when the Houthis began a massive military assault to capture control of the region.

Despite moving closer to the city, the Houthis lost thousands of men, failed to seize Marib, and were forced to halt their attack in April 2022 under a UN-brokered ceasefire.

With the current Houthi military rallies outside Marib, Yemen’s government authorities have raised the alarm about a possible Houthi assault on the city under the pretext of battling Israel.


Egyptian FM, UN official discuss ways to boost Gaza relief

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (AP)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (AP)
Updated 54 min 20 sec ago
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Egyptian FM, UN official discuss ways to boost Gaza relief

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (AP)
  • Shoukry stressed the necessity of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza before the month of Ramadan so that the flow of humanitarian aid and relief materials can be increased in quantities sufficient for the needs of the residents

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has stressed the humanitarian and legal responsibility of the UN Security Council to ensure the full implementation of the provisions of Resolution 2720.

He made the comments during talks with Sigrid Kaag, the UN’s senior coordinator for humanitarian affairs and reconstruction in Gaza.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said that Shoukry and Kaag discussed in depth the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in areas of the Gaza Strip due to starvation and the targeting of civilians and humanitarian aid convoys by the Israeli military.

Shoukry stressed the necessity of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza before the month of Ramadan so that the flow of humanitarian aid and relief materials can be increased in quantities sufficient for the needs of the residents.

He noted the humanitarian risks resulting from systematic attempts to target the work of UNRWA and the suspension of funding to the agency by some donors.

UN official Kaag expressed her appreciation for Egypt’s pivotal role since the beginning of the crisis in Gaza.

Kaag emphasized her keenness to continue consultation and coordination with Egypt to ensure the implementation of her tasks related to increasing aid delivery to the strip.

Shoukry was keen to hear from the visiting UN official about developments in work to activate the UN mechanism established by Security Council Resolution 2720 to facilitate, coordinate, and monitor the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip and how to overcome the existing obstacles that prevent her from being able to implement the mandate more than two months after the adoption of the resolution.

Shoukry said Israel must be pressured to comply with the provisions of international law and remove the obstacles it places to bringing aid in to the enclave, including facilitating the use of all available roads into and from the Gaza Strip, including border crossings and using the most direct paths for aid to reach those who need it.

 


Withholding essential aid from Palestinians is tantamount to a death sentence, says Arab League chief

Withholding essential aid from Palestinians is tantamount to a death sentence, says Arab League chief
Updated 04 March 2024
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Withholding essential aid from Palestinians is tantamount to a death sentence, says Arab League chief

Withholding essential aid from Palestinians is tantamount to a death sentence, says Arab League chief
  • Ahmed Aboul Gheit was speaking during a meeting with Sigrid Kaag, the UN’s senior coordinator for humanitarian affairs and reconstruction in Gaza
  • Kaag gave a detailed overview of the humanitarian situation in Gaza amid the ongoing Israeli military operations in the territory

CAIRO: Withholding essential, life-saving aid from Palestinians is tantamount to a death sentence and collective punishment, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.

He was speaking during a meeting with Sigrid Kaag, the UN’s under-secretary-general and senior coordinator for humanitarian affairs and reconstruction in Gaza, at the Arab League’s headquarters in Cairo.

Kaag gave a detailed overview of the humanitarian situation in Gaza amid the ongoing Israeli military operations in the territory and the blockade that is affecting more than 2 million Palestinians.

Jamal Rushdi, a spokesperson for Aboul Gheit, said the discussion focused on the severe deterioration in the humanitarian situation in recent weeks and proposed plans for the delivery of aid.

The Arab League chief said the international community shares responsibility for the tragedy unfolding in Gaza as a result of the tacit approval granted by some significant world powers to Israel, which has allowed authorities in the country to engage in aggressive acts during their war against Hamas in a reprehensible and dehumanizing manner.

Kaag discussed with Aboul Gheit several ideas for delivering aid and the difficulties that have been experienced in achieving this as a result of Israeli intransigence.

Both agreed that the urgent return of Palestinian Authority control of the Gaza Strip is necessary for reconstruction to begin, Rushdi said.

Aboul Gheit reiterated that the current priority is to achieve an immediate ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, halt the bloodshed, and prevent famine among Palestinians in Gaza.