Israel-Hamas truce extended for a day

Israel-Hamas truce extended for a day
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A Palestinian man sits in an armchair outside a destroyed building in Gaza City on Nov. 29, 2023, the sixth day of the temporary ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. (AP)
Israel-Hamas truce extended for a day
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Above, Hamas militants hand over hostages to members of the International Committee of the Red Cross in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, in this screengrab taken from video released Nov. 26, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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Israel-Hamas truce extended for a day

Israel-Hamas truce extended for a day
  • There had been pressure to extend the pause to allow more hostage releases and additional aid into Gaza

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: A truce between Israel and Hamas will continue, both sides said Thursday, moments before the deal was due to expire, though details of any official agreement remained unclear.

Minutes before the halt in fighting was due to expire at 0500GMT, Israel’s military said the “operational pause” would be extended, without specifying for how long.

“In light of the mediators’ efforts to continue the process of releasing the hostages and subject to the terms of the framework, the operational pause will continue,” it said.

Hamas meanwhile said there was an agreement to “extend the truce for a seventh day,” without further details.

Qatar, which has led the truce negotiations, confirmed the pause had been extended until Friday.

There had been pressure to extend the pause to allow more hostage releases and additional aid into devastated Gaza, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arriving in Israel for talks Wednesday night.

The truce has brought a temporary halt to fighting that began on October 7 when Hamas militants poured over the border into Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping about 240, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel’s subsequent air and ground campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 15,000 people, also mostly civilians, according to Hamas officials, and reduced large parts of the north of the territory to rubble.

The truce agreement allows for extensions if Hamas can release another 10 hostages a day, and a source close to the group said Wednesday that it was willing to prolong the pause by four days.

But with just an hour to go before the truce was due to expire, Hamas said its offer to free another seven hostages, and hand over the bodies of another three it said were killed in Israeli bombardment, had been refused.

Both sides had earlier said they were ready to return to fighting, with Hamas’s armed wing warning its fighters to “maintain high military readiness... in anticipation of a resumption of combat if it is not renewed,” according to a message posted on its Telegram channel.

IDF spokesman Doron Spielman said troops would “move into operational mode very quickly and continue with our targets in Gaza,” if the truce expired.

Overnight, 10 more Israeli hostages were freed under the terms of the deal, with another four Thai hostages and two Israeli-Russian women released outside the framework of the arrangement.

Video released by Hamas showed masked gunmen handing hostages to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Among those freed was Liat Beinin, who also holds American citizenship, and works as a guide at Israel’s Holocaust museum Yad Vashem.

US President Joe Biden said he was “deeply gratified” by the release.

“This deal has delivered meaningful results,” he said of the truce.

Shortly after the hostages arrived in Israel, the country’s prison service said 30 Palestinian prisoners had been released, including well-known activist Ahed Tamimi.

Since the truce began on November 24, 70 Israeli hostages have been freed in return for 210 Palestinian prisoners.

Around 30 foreigners, most of them Thais living in Israel, have been freed outside the terms of the deal.

Israel has made clear it sees the truce as a temporary halt intended to free hostages, but there are growing calls for a more sustained pause in fighting.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded a “true humanitarian cease-fire,” warning Gazans are “in the midst of an epic humanitarian catastrophe.”

And China, whose top diplomat Wang Yi was in New York for Security Council talks on the violence, urged an immediate “sustained humanitarian truce,” in a position paper released Thursday.

The hostage releases have brought joy tinged with agony, with families anxiously waiting each night to learn if their loved ones will be freed, and learning harrowing details from those who return.

Four-year-old Abigail was captured after crawling out from under the body of her father, killed by militants, covered in his blood, her great aunt Liz Hirsh Naftali said.

“It’s a miracle,” she said of the little girl’s survival and release.

However Israel’s army also said Wednesday it was investigating a claim by Hamas’s armed wing that a 10-month-old baby hostage, his four-year-old brother and their mother had all been killed in an Israeli bombing in Gaza.

Israel pounded the Gaza Strip relentlessly before the truce, forcing an estimated 1.7 million people to leave their homes and limiting the entry of food, water, medicine and fuel.

Conditions in the territory remain “catastrophic,” according to the World Food Programme, and the population faces a “high risk of famine.

Israeli forces targeted several hospitals in northern Gaza during the fighting, accusing Hamas of using them for military purposes.

The spokesman for the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry, Ashraf Al-Qudra, told AFP Wednesday that doctors found five premature babies dead in Gaza City’s Al-Nasr hospital, which medical staff had been forced to abandon.

The truce has allowed those displaced to return to their homes, but for many there is little left.

“I discovered that my house had been completely destroyed — 27 years of my life to build it and everything is gone,” said Taghrid Al-Najjar, 46, after returning to her home in southeastern Gaza.

The violence in Gaza has also raised tensions in the West Bank, where nearly 240 Palestinians have been killed by either Israeli soldiers or settlers since October 7, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

An eight-year-old boy and a teenager were the latest deaths in the occupied territory, with Israel saying it “responded with live fire... and hits were identified” after suspects hurled explosive devices toward troops.


Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon

Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon
Updated 34 min 27 sec ago
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Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon

Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon
  • Their home is hit as Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling targets several towns and villages in the southwest of the country
  • US congressional delegation holds talks with Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and other Lebanese officials in Beirut

BEIRUT: A mother and her young daughter were killed on Wednesday in an Israeli attack on the town of Majdal Zoun in the Tyre District of Lebanon’s South Governorate.

Khadija Mohammed Salman, who was said to be in her 40s, and her 5-year-old daughter Amal Hassan Al-Durr died when their house was hit. Several other people in the vicinity were injured and taken to hospitals in Tyre.

Majdal Zoun was one of several towns and villages in southwestern Lebanon hit by Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling. Others included Shehin, the outskirts of Alma Al-Shaab, Al-Dhahira, Al-Jabeen and Tayr Harfa. The most recent targets included Hula, Blida, Aita, Kafr Kila, and Khiam. Earlier, artillery fire that hit Ramia, Al-Naqoura and Alma Al-Shaab on Tuesday night caused extensive damage to crops, olive groves and buildings.

Hezbollah responded to the Israeli attacks within hours by launching 10 military operations against Israeli army positions. The group said its forces “targeted a military position of Israeli soldiers in the Evin Menachem settlement and another military position in the Shomera settlement,” as well as “two buildings in which enemy soldiers were stationed in the Avivim settlement, the Ruwaisat Al-Alam site in the Lebanese Shebaa Farms, and a gathering of enemy soldiers in the vicinity of the Al-Marj military site and the Zibdin military site in the Shebaa Farms.” It said it also targeted “the Metulla settlement and the positions of enemy soldiers there … achieving direct hits.”

Israeli media reported that “a missile hit a building in the Metulla settlement after sirens went off in this settlement in the Finger of Galilee.”

Israeli warplanes broke the sound barrier as they flew over the regions of Tyre, Sidon and Nabatiyeh, causing fear and terror among schoolchildren and families. Widely shared video footage showed teachers attempting to calm terrified pupils in a school by explaining that the sonic boom generated by the planes was just a loud noise and not an attack. Still, many people assumed the noise was caused by airstrikes or other explosions, given the ongoing Israeli attacks extending far into southern Lebanon.

A teacher from a school in Nabatiyeh said: “At first, I thought that a new raid targeted the village of Ghazieh, similar to what happened a few days ago, or that the raid was on Nabatiyeh, due to the intensity of the sound that hurt our ears. I used my phone to find out what was happening and it turned out that it was a plane breaking the sound barrier.”

Meanwhile, caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi visited the city of Sidon where he chaired a meeting of security chiefs in the south. He said Lebanese authorities were “working with existing capabilities to help the displaced from the south.”

He called for “the south and Lebanon to be spared from the calamity of war” and said “the injustice to which innocent people are subjected is unacceptable.”

Amid growing diplomatic tensions between Lebanon and Israel, the Lebanese mission to the UN reacted to the Israeli envoy’s threats to “implement Resolution 1701 by force in the coming weeks.” Resolution 1707 was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2006 with the aim of resolving the war that year between Hezbollah and Israel. It called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and for all armed groups in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, to disarm.

The Lebanese delegation at the UN said: “The one violating Resolution 1701 is Israel, and its land, sea and air violations have been documented by the Security Council since 2006.

“The number of violations has exceeded 30,000, in addition to the daily attacks on southern Lebanese villages, which have led to the killing of dozens of civilians, the displacement of tens of thousands of citizens due to concentrated bombing, daily raids, the use of smart attack drones, and internationally banned white phosphorus shells, which destroyed more than 100,000 olive trees.

“Lebanon repeatedly confirmed, through the statements of its senior officials, that it never wanted a war and does not seek a war in the future. The country has also affirmed that it is fully committed to negotiating and searching for peaceful solutions that preserve its legitimate rights through the comprehensive and balanced implementation of the provisions of Resolution 1701.”

The Lebanese mission continued: “The threats made by senior Israeli officials promising death, chaos and destruction, including the statements of the Israeli representative to the UN, reveal Israel’s underlying intentions to expand the scope of the war and try to find a pretext to launch aggression against Lebanon.

“Therefore isn’t it time, Lebanon wonders, for Israel to give reason, logic and peace a chance instead of carrying on with its policy that relies on force, occupation, intimidation, killing and war?

“Lebanon asks the relevant UN bodies, especially the Security Council, to oblige Israel to stop its attacks and violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty, initiate negotiations through the UN to ensure full adherence to Resolution 1701 and withdraw from the occupied Lebanese territories, in order to work toward the desired political solution and preserve regional peace and security.”

A US congressional delegation held talks with several Lebanese officials in Beirut on Wednesday. A spokesperson for Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri said “he met a delegation consisting of senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Coons, accompanied by the US ambassador to Lebanon, Lisa Johnson. This visit comes in light of the continued daily Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon.”


Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution

Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution
Updated 21 February 2024
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Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution

Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution
  • Condemnation from Cairo came after the US’ third veto of a Security Council draft resolution
  • Resolution was backed by 13 out of the 15 members — but the US vetoed it, while the UK abstained

CAIRO: Egypt’s leaders have warned that the UN Security Council’s repeated failure to adopt a peace resolution and ceasefire in the Gaza Strip was setting “a shameful precedent” for the body.

The condemnation from Cairo came after the US’ third veto of a Security Council draft resolution — proposed by Algeria on behalf of the Arab Group — demanding an immediate end to fighting.

The resolution was backed by 13 out of the 15 members. But the US vetoed it, while the UK abstained.

In a statement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that obstructing the passage of a resolution “calling for a ceasefire in an armed conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 29,000 civilians, most of them children and women, is a shameful precedent” in the history of the Security Council.

It added that the international community had a moral and human responsibility to end the daily suffering of Palestinian civilians caught in the line of Israeli fire.

The ministry statement said: “Egypt strongly denounces … selectivity and double standards in dealing with wars and armed conflicts in various regions of the world, which has come to question the credibility of the rules and working mechanisms of the current international architecture, especially the UN Security Council, which is entrusted with the responsibility of preventing and settling conflicts and halting wars.”

Cairo would continue to demand an immediate ceasefire and safe passage for humanitarian aid in the Strip, while opposing any attempts to displace Palestinians outside of their territories, it added.

It also noted Egypt’s opposition to Israeli military operations in the Palestinian city of Rafah.

Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN, Osama Abdelkhalek, said: “(Cairo) calls on the Security Council and all responsible international powers to save the peace option ... through the immediate implementation of the ceasefire.

“This will not hinder the ongoing mediation efforts, but rather provide them with the appropriate conditions to succeed.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the latest American veto “clearly indicates its political and moral responsibility for the continuation of the war.”

He added that the US stance “undermines the credibility of the UN system and reinforces the state of paralysis witnessed by the UN.

“(It) provides political cover for Israel to continue the aggression in light of the international community’s inability to stop the heinous crimes committed every day against Palestinian civilians.”

Algeria’s draft resolution aimed to give priority to the humanitarian dimensions in a bid to save hundreds of thousands of Palestinians “who remain vulnerable to the Israeli killing machine, starvation, and disease if the war continues.”

In a statement, the Arab Parliament warned that the Security Council was failing in its duty to control international security and stability and pointed out that system reforms were required.


UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report

UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report
Updated 21 February 2024
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UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report

UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report
  • Munther Isaac says Justin Welby’s aides warned him against sharing platform with Jeremy Corbyn at rally
  • ‘It’s shameful. This sums up the Church of England. They lack the courage to say things’

LONDON: The UK’s archbishop of Canterbury canceled plans to meet Munther Isaac, the Bethlehem-based pastor who has criticized Israel’s war on Gaza, for fear of angering Britain’s Jewish community, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.

Justin Welby, the senior bishop of the Church of England, rejected the meeting after Isaac shared a platform with former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at a pro-Palestinian rally last weekend, the Lutheran pastor and theologian said.

Corbyn, who led the party in opposition for five years from 2015 to 2020, has been a prominent critic of Israeli policies.

He withdrew from the leadership in part due to controversy surrounding alleged antisemitism within the party.

Isaac has been highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza, and a Christmas sermon he delivered last year went viral.

He was invited to speak at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally last week by Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to the UK.

Isaac told The Guardian that Welby’s aides had informed him that no meeting could take place if he shared a platform with Corbyn.

Isaac said: “It’s shameful. It’s not my type of Christianity not to be willing to meet another pastor because you don’t want to explain why you met him.

“This sums up the Church of England. They danced around positions, and ended up saying nothing. They lack the courage to say things.”

Welby is thought to be concerned with rising antisemitism in the UK, and is balancing condemnation of Israel with avoiding outrage among Britain’s Jewish community.

He feared a meeting with Isaac would have caused “huge problems” for British Jews, The Guardian reported.

Lambeth Palace, Welby’s official residence, declined to comment on the matter when asked by The Guardian.

Isaac said: “The small Christian community in Gaza has discovered what is hell on earth. Most of them have lost their homes: 45 destroyed completely and 55 partially destroyed.

“There is no life left for them. This war will most likely bring an end to Christian life in Gaza. Everyone wants to leave.

“It is so painful for us to see the Christian church turn a blind eye to what is happening, offering words of concern and compassion, but for so long they have been silent in the face of obvious war crimes.

“Churches seem paralyzed, and they seem willing to sacrifice the Christian presence in Palestine for the sake of avoiding controversy and not criticizing Israel. I have had so many difficult conversations with church leaders.”

Isaac added: “I know from meeting many church leaders that in private, they say one thing, and then in public, they say another thing. I’ve had the same experience with many politicians and diplomats.”


Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia

Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia
Updated 21 February 2024
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Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia

Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia
  • The traffickers transferred relatively small groups of up to 20 people on each of four trips, charging fees of up to 6,000 euros per person
  • The trip, on a crowded and less seaworthy vessel, would normally cost under 1,000 euros per migrant

ROME: Italian police said on Wednesday they had arrested 12 suspected human traffickers for allegedly organizing high-speed transfers for at least 73 illegal migrants from Tunisia to Europe.
Expert pilots operated the speed boats crossing from Tunisia to Marsala in Sicily between June and September last year, police said in a statement, describing them as “VIP trips.”
The traffickers transferred relatively small groups of up to 20 people on each of four trips, charging fees of up to 6,000 euros ($6,500) per person, the statement said.
The trip, on a crowded and less seaworthy vessel, would normally cost under 1,000 euros per migrant, an official with knowledge of the matter said.
Italy and other European governments have taken an increasingly
hard line
on immigration in recent years amid a surge of arrivals of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. EU data shows fewer than 100,000 irregular migrants made to it Europe in 2020, but that rose to 250,000 last year.
Six Tunisians and six Italians were detained as part of an investigation coordinated by European police body Europol and the Italian anti-mafia police unit.
The investigators identified a Tunisian former police officer as the head of the trafficking organization.
They also held 19 illegal migrants and arrested eight Tunisian boat operators last year during the initial part of the investigation. Four of the boat crew were also charged over firing naval flares at a military vessel during an attempt to evade being apprehended by authorities.
Since the beginning of the year, 4,247 illegal migrants have landed on Italy’s shores, data from the home affairs ministry shows. That is down from more than 12,500 at the same stage in 2023, when Italy recorded unprecedented pressure from the number of people trying to reach Europe.
Tunisia has replaced Libya as North Africa’s main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict elsewhere in Africa and across the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.
This month, 17 migrants coming from Tunisia went missing during their sea voyage and at least nine died in two separate accidents.


Israeli war cabinet member Gantz says ‘promising early signs’ on new hostage deal

Israeli war cabinet member Gantz says ‘promising early signs’ on new hostage deal
Updated 9 min 6 sec ago
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Israeli war cabinet member Gantz says ‘promising early signs’ on new hostage deal

Israeli war cabinet member Gantz says ‘promising early signs’ on new hostage deal
  • If no new deal were struck, the Israeli military would keep fighting in Gaza even into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz said on Wednesday there were “promising early signs of progress” on a new deal to release hostages from Gaza amid regional talks to secure a pause in the war.
“There are ongoing attempts to promote a new hostage deal and there are promising early signs of possible progress,” Gantz said in a televised press briefing.
“We will not stop looking for a way and we will not miss any opportunity to bring our girls and boys home.”
But he added that if no new deal were struck, the Israeli military would keep fighting in Gaza even into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins next month.
“If a new hostage deal is not achieved, we will continue operating also during Ramadan,” he said.