Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas

Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas
Thai nationals gesture from a bus as they leave the Shamir Hospital in Ramle, Israel, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, on their way back to Thailand, after being released from Hamas custody. (AP)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas

Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas
  • International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said 10 Israelis and four Thai nationals were released late Wednesday from captivity in the Gaza Strip.
The hostages crossed into Egypt and were to be transferred to Israel.
It was the sixth such release under a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Israel is to release 30 Palestinian prisoners later Wednesday.
The cease-fire is set to expire early Thursday. International mediators are trying to extend the deal to facilitate the release of additional hostages held by Hamas.
The militant group captured some 240 people in an Oct. 7 cross-border attack that triggered the war. Some 150 people are believed to remain in captivity.
A new swap of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners in Israel got underway late Wednesday in the final hours of the current Gaza truce as international mediators raced to extend the halt of Israel’s air and ground offensive to allow further exchanges.
The Israeli military said a group of 10 Israeli women and children and four Thai nationals had been handed over by Hamas to the Red Cross in Gaza and were heading to exit the territory. Earlier, two Russian-Israeli women were freed by Hamas in a separate release. Israel was set to free 30 Palestinian prisoners in return.
Negotiators were working down to the wire to hammer out details for a further extension of the truce beyond its deadline of early Thursday. The talks appear to be growing tougher as most of the women and children held by Hamas are freed, and the militants are expected to seek greater releases in return for freeing men and soldiers.
International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza that has killed thousands of Palestinians, uprooted three quarters of the population of 2.3 million and led to a humanitarian crisis. Israel has welcomed the release of dozens of hostages in recent days and says it will maintain the truce if Hamas keeps freeing captives.
Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored on Wednesday that Israel will resume its campaign to eliminate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years and orchestrated the deadly attack on Israel that triggered the war
“After this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted, will Israel return to fighting? So my answer is an unequivocal yes,” he said. “There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end.”
He spoke ahead of a visit to the region planned this week by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to press for further extensions of the truce and hostage releases.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian boys — an 8-year-old an a 15-year-old — during a raid on the town of Jenin, Palestinian health officials said. Security footage showed a group of boys in the street who start to run, except for one who falls to the ground, bleeding.
The Israeli military said its troops fired on people who threw explosives at them but did not specify it was referring to the boys, who are not seen throwing anything. Separately, the military said its troops killed two Islamic Jihad militants during the raid.
So far, the Israeli onslaught in Gaza seems to have had little effect on Hamas’ rule, evidenced by its ability to conduct complex negotiations, enforce the cease-fire among other armed groups, and orchestrate the release of hostages. Hamas leaders, including Yehya Sinwar, have likely relocated to the south.
With Israeli troops holding much of northern Gaza, a ground invasion south will likely bring an escalating cost in Palestinian lives and destruction.
Most of Gaza’s population is now crammed into the south. The truce has brought them relief from bombardment, but the days of calm have been taken up in a frenzied rush to obtain supplies to feed their families as aid enters in greater, but still insufficient, amounts.
United States, Israel’s main ally, has shown greater reticence over the impact of the war in Gaza. The Biden administration has told Israel that if it launches an offensive in the south, it must operate with far greater precision.
ISRAEL’S HOSTAGE DILEMMA
The plight of the captives and shock from the Oct. 7 attack have galvanized Israeli support for the war. But Netanyahu is under pressure to bring the hostages home and could find it difficult to resume the offensive if there’s a prospect for more releases.
Since the initial truce began on Friday, both sides have been releasing women and children in their exchanges. After Friday’s releases, Gaza militants still hold around 20 women, accordding to Israeli officials. IF the truce continues at the current rate, they would be out in a few days.
After that, keeping the truce going depends on tougher negotiations over the release of around 126 men Israel says are held captive – including several dozen soldiers.
For men — and especially soldiers — Hamas is expected to push for comparable releases of Palestinian men or prominent detainees, a deal Israel may resist.
An Israeli official involved in hostage negotiations said talks on a further extension for release of civilian males and soldiers were still preliminary, and a deal would not be considered until all the women and children are out. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations were ongoing.
With Wednesday’s releases, a total of 73 Israelis, including dual nationals, have been freed during the six-day truce, most of whom appear physically well but shaken. Another 24 hostages — 23 Thais and one Filipino — have also been released. Before the cease-fire, Hamas released four hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza.
So far, most of the 180 Palestinians freed from Israeli prisons have been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several were women convicted by Israeli military courts of attempting to attack soldiers.
Palestinians have celebrated the release of people they see as having resisted Israel’s decades-long military occupation of lands they want for a future state.
The war began with Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel, in which it killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The militants kidnapped some 240 people back into Gaza, including babies, children, women, soldiers, older adults and Thai farm laborers.
Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion in Gaza have killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
The toll is likely much higher, as officials have only sporadically updated the count since Nov. 11 due to the breakdown of services in the north. The ministry says thousands more people are missing and feared dead under the rubble.
Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.
TENSE CALM IN GAZA
For Palestinians in Gaza, the truce’s calm has been overwhelmed by the search for aid and by horror as they see the extent of destruction.
In the north, residents described entire residential blocks leveled to the ground in Gaza City and surrounding areas. The smell of decomposing bodies trapped under collapsed buildings fills the air, said Mohmmed Mattar, a 29-year-old resident of Gaza City who along with other volunteers searches for the dead under rubble or left in the streets.
They have found and buried 46 so far during the truce, he said. Most were unidentified. More bodies remain inside rubble but can’t be reached without heavy equipment, or are left on streets that are unapproachable because of Israeli troops nearby, Mattar said.
In the south, the truce has allowed more aid to be delivered from Egypt, up to 200 trucks a day. But aid officials say it is not enough, given that most now depend on outside aid. Overwhelmed UN-run shelters house more than 1 million displaced people, with many sleeping outside in cold, rainy weather.
At a distribution center in Rafah, large crowds line daily up for newly arrived bags of flour. But supplies run out quickly before many can get their share.
“We’ve been searching for bread for our children,” said one woman in line, Nawal Abu Namous. “Every day, we come here … we spend money on transportation to get here, just to go home with nothing.”
Some markets and shops have reopened, but prices for the few items in stock have skyrocketed. Winter clothes are unavailable. One clothes shop owner in Deir Al-Balah told The Associated Press that he hates opening his doors in the morning, knowing he’ll spend most of the day apologizing to customers for not having winter items.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said some 111,000 people have respiratory infections and 75,000 have diarrhea, more than half of them under 5 years old. “More people could die from disease than bombings.”
“We are fed up,” said Omar Al-Darawi, who works at the overwhelmed Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in central Gaza. “We want this war to stop.”


US diplomats decry ‘worsening humanitarian situation’ in Sudan

US diplomats decry ‘worsening humanitarian situation’ in Sudan
Updated 13 sec ago
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US diplomats decry ‘worsening humanitarian situation’ in Sudan

US diplomats decry ‘worsening humanitarian situation’ in Sudan
  • 6m people face acute starvation, American envoy tells press briefing attended by Arab News
  • Assistant secretary of state on African affairs: ‘Continued fighting threatening the break-up of the country’

LONDON: US diplomats on Wednesday decried the deteriorating situation in Sudan, with the conflict there having displaced some 8 million people, according to the UN.

During a digital press briefing attended by Arab News, Assistant Secretary of State on African Affairs Molly Phee said she is “deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation” and the risk posed by Sudan’s fractious military forces.

With 6.2 million internally displaced and 1.8 million having been forced to flee abroad, “the continued fighting in Sudan is threatening the break-up of the country,” she added.

“I want to underscore upfront that the United States doesn’t support military governance, and will continue as we’ve done for decades to support the Sudanese people against military repression, and in their goal of charting a democratic future.”

More than 7 million Sudanese are contending with food insecurity, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey said of those affected by food insecurity, as many as 6 million face the very real prospect of acute starvation.

Godfrey and Phee both urged the conflicting parties to stop fighting so as to facilitate badly needed humanitarian access.

Godfrey said: “There’s urgent need to facilitate humanitarian assistance; it’s only becoming more urgent by the day.

“This includes facilitating cross-border assistance ahead of the impending rainy season, which will make roads impassable.

“We’re pressing for Sudan-related action in the UN Security Council, and insisting belligerents fulfill obligations under international humanitarian law.”

Conflict erupted last April between former allies who jointly seized power in a 2021 coup: the Sudanese Armed Forces and its breakaway paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

Efforts at broking a ceasefire between them have so far failed, as have efforts to ensure that they meet their obligations to protect civilians under both the Jeddah Declaration and international humanitarian law.

Consequently, Godfrey and Phee said neither party should participate in post-conflict governance as the US and partners, including Saudi Arabia, push for a restoration of civilian government.

Nor is Sudan the lone area of hostilities in the region, with Phee noting that during last week’s African Union Summit, the US had sought to reaffirm its committed support to those fighting against Somali militant group Al-Shabaab.    

“We consulted with our partners in the horn (of Africa) about how to focus on what we’re doing together to tighten up our effort to combat Al-Shabaab,” she said.

“That included discussions on helping Somalia develop. It was important also to speak with Somali partners about their continued focus on governance.”


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 47 min 35 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.