Blinken tells Netanyahu ‘imperative’ to protect Gaza civilians

Blinken tells Netanyahu ‘imperative’ to protect Gaza civilians
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Tel Aviv on Nov. 30, 2023 following the announcement of an extenstion of the truce between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 01 December 2023
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Blinken tells Netanyahu ‘imperative’ to protect Gaza civilians

Blinken tells Netanyahu ‘imperative’ to protect Gaza civilians
  • Stresses imperative of accounting for humanitarian and civilian protection needs in southern Gaza

TEL AVIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday stepped up calls for Israel to comply with international law and spare civilians as it wages its war against Hamas in Gaza.
On his third trip to the Middle East since the war began on Oct. 7, Blinken said the US remains committed to supporting Israel’s right to self defense. But he also said it is imperative that Israel protect civilians if it starts major military operations in southern Gaza.
His message aligns with the Biden administration’s shifting rhetoric on the war, which began as a full-throated embrace of Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks but gradually tempered as the number of Palestinian civilian casualties began to rise dramatically. The death toll and scale of destruction has prompted widespread international criticism, including from members of President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party.
Meeting in Jerusalem just hours after Israel and Hamas agreed at the last minute to a third extension of a cease-fire agreement under which Israel has paused most military activity in return for the release of hostages held by Hamas, Blinken assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he could count on US support.
But he added that such support requires Israel’s “compliance with international humanitarian law,” and he “urged Israel to take every possible measure to avoid civilian harm.”
To prevent a further major increase in civilian casualties, Blinken said he “made clear the imperative before any operations go forward in southern Gaza there’ll be a clear plan in place that puts a premium on protecting civilians, as well as sustaining and building on humanitarian assistance getting to Gaza.”
He told reporters the Israeli government had “agreed to that approach” but declined to offer specifics on how Israel would follow through. However, he suggested that Netanyahu and others understood that that ”the massive levels of civilian life and displacement scale we saw in the north not be repeated in the south.”
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought shelter in southern Gaza after fleeing their homes in the northern part of the territory due to the conflict, and US officials have been warning Israel that any offensive in southern Gaza must take into account the safety of the civilian population there.
In addition, Blinken “urged immediate steps to hold settler extremists accountable for violence against Palestinians in the West Bank” and said the US places great importance on the resumption of a peace process that would eventually lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Israeli officials have pledged to the US on multiple occasions that Israeli settler violence will be punished, but the Palestinians have complained of inaction on that front. And, Netanyahu is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, having told Israelis that he is the only political leader who can prevent it.
Netanyahu’s office released a statement about the meeting with Blinken that contained no mention of settler violence or a two-state solution.
Instead, in a recorded message, Netanyahu noted that his talks with Blinken had taken place shortly after a Hamas-claimed attack in which two Palestinian gunmen opened fire on commuters at the entrance to Jerusalem, killing at least three people and wounding more than a dozen others, including two US citizens.
Netanyahu said he told Blinken, “This is the same Hamas that carried out the terrible massacre on Oct. 7, the same Hamas that tries to murder us everywhere. I told him: We swore, and I swore, to eliminate Hamas. Nothing will stop us.”
“We will continue this war until we achieve the three goals — to release all our abductees, to eliminate Hamas completely and to ensure that Gaza will never again face such a threat,” Netanyahu said.
Blinken met with Netanyahu and his war Cabinet in Jerusalem before traveling to the occupied West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and then back to Tel Aviv where he saw Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and opposition leader Yair Lapid.
In his meeting with Abbas, Blinken focused on efforts to increase the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza and condemned Jewish settler attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank. Blinken told Abbas “he would continue to insist on full accountability for those responsible,” the State Department said.
Blinken also told Abbas that “the United States remains committed to advancing tangible steps for a Palestinian state,” it said.
Gallant, the defense minister, repeatedly referred to the fight against Hamas as “a just war” that would not end until Israel’s goals are achieved.
“We are going to fight Hamas until we prevail no matter how long it takes,” he told Blinken. “It’s a just war. It’s a war to (defeat) Hamas, the Daesh of Gaza, and it’s a war to bring the hostages back home. As long as it takes.”
Blinken said Thursday had “started off in a very terrible and negative way with another terrorist attack that took the lives of innocent Israelis in Jerusalem, a reminder of what Israel and every Israeli citizen has to face every day.”
“We condemn it and we also mourn the loss of these innocent lives as we mourn the loss of any innocent life,” he said, adding that, at the same time, the truce had been extended.
“We want every hostage to come home,” Blinken said. “We look to see if this can continue. Certainly, that would be a good thing, and it’s also allowed much more humanitarian assistance to get in to the Gazans who need it. But it’s going to be up to Hamas whether they will continue to do this.”
The top US diplomat will close out his latest Mideast tour in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, where he will discuss the Gaza situation with Arab leaders gathered in Dubai for the COP28 climate change conference.


Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel

Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel
Updated 2 min 6 sec ago
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Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel

Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel
  • Headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade and the airport barracks in Beit Hilal attacked

DUBAI: The armed wing of Palestinian militant group Hamas on Wednesday said it launched two missile salvos consisting of 40 Grad missiles from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
Al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement on its Telegram channel it had bombed the headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade and the airport barracks in Beit Hilal.


Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels

A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS file photo)
A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 28 February 2024
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Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels

A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS file photo)
  • The attack comes as the Houthis continue a series of assaults at sea over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as the US and its allies launch airstrikes trying to stop them

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A rocket exploded late Tuesday night off the side of a ship traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, authorities said, the latest suspected attack to be carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The attack comes as the Houthis continue a series of assaults at sea over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as the US and its allies launch airstrikes trying to stop them.
The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center, which oversees shipping in the Mideast, reported the attack happened about 110 kilometers (70 miles) off the coast of the Houthi-held port city of Hodeida. The rocket exploded several miles off the bow of the vessel, it said.
“The crew and vessel are reported to be safe and are proceeding to next port of call,” the UKMTO said.
The private security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel targeted appeared to be a Marshall Islands-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier in the area at the time. Another ship, a Panama-flagged, Emirati-owned chemical tanker was nearby as well, Ambrey said.
The Associated Press could not immediately identify the vessels involved.
The Houthis typically take several hours to claim their assaults and have not yet done so for the assault late Tuesday.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over the Israel-Hamas war. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor, and an aid ship later bound for Houthi-controlled territory.
Despite over a month of US-led airstrikes, Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. Last week, they severely damaged a ship in a crucial strait and downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars. The Houthis insist their attacks will continue until Israel stops its combat operations in the Gaza Strip, which have enraged the wider Arab world and seen the Houthis gain international recognition.

 


Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood
Updated 28 February 2024
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Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood
  • Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament

JERUSALEM: Israelis voted Tuesday in twice postponed municipal elections that could offer a gauge of the public mood nearly five months into the war against Hamas in Gaza.
Soldiers had already cast their ballots over the past week at special polling stations set up in army encampments in Gaza as fighting raged.
Polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and closed at 10:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Tuesday, at which point turnout stood at around 49 percent, according to election authorities.
That was down from 59.5 percent in 2018.
Turnout in Jerusalem was 30.8 percent and in Tel Aviv it was 40 percent, the authorities said.
More than seven million people were eligible to vote in the elections for local councils across most of Israel, in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in Jerusalem and in parts of the annexed Golan Heights.
No major incidents were reported.
The vote, first scheduled for October 31, has been pushed back to November 2024 in towns and villages bordering the besieged Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where Hamas ally Hezbollah has fired rockets at Israel almost daily since the start of the Gaza war.
Nearly 150,000 Israelis have been displaced by hostilities in those areas.
Amit Peretz, 32, a Jerusalem city council candidate, said Jerusalem’s diverse make-up demands that “all voices are heard in the city in order to make everything work, because it’s very complex.”
Gita Koppel, an 87-year-old resident of Jerusalem, said she turned out because voting was “the only way you can have your voice heard.”
“I hope the right people come in and do the right thing for Jerusalem,” she said.
The elections were delayed after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of at least 1,160 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, most of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Two candidates for council chief in Gaza border areas were killed in the October 7 attack: Ofir Libstein in Kfar Aza and Tamar Kedem Siman Tov, who was shot dead at her home in Nir Oz with her husband and three young children.
In Jerusalem and other major cities, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish candidates aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political allies were running against government critics and more moderate candidates.
Netanyahu has faced increasing public pressure over the fate of hostages still held in Gaza, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.
Tel Aviv’s mayor of 25 years, Ron Huldai, is seeking re-election in a race against former economy minister Orna Barbivai, who could become the first woman in the job.
Lawyer Amir Badran, an Arab candidate who had initially announced he would run for Tel Aviv mayor, quit the race before election day but was still vying for a city council seat.
In Jerusalem, another Arab candidate, Sondos Alhoot, was running at the head of a joint Jewish-Arab party. If elected, she would be the first Arab woman on the city council since 1967.
The elections for municipal and regional councils are largely seen as local affairs, though some races can become springboards for politicians with national ambitions.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who had a brief stint as prime minister before Netanyahu returned to power in late 2022, said Tuesday’s vote shows “there is no problem” holding elections even during the war.
In a post on social media platform X, Lapid called for a snap parliamentary election “as soon as possible” to replace Netanyahu.
Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament.
Palestinian residents make up around 40 percent of the city’s population, but many of them have boycotted past elections.
Second round run-offs will be held where necessary on March 10.


One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says

One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says
Updated 27 February 2024
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One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says

One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says
  • One in six children under 2 years of age in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition
  • WFP “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau said

UNITED NATIONS: At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip — one quarter of the population — are one step away from famine, a senior UN aid official told the Security Council on Tuesday, warning that widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.
One in six children under 2 years of age in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting and practically all the 2.3 million people in the Palestinian enclave rely on “woefully inadequate” food aid to survive, Ramesh Rajasingham, director of coordination for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the council.
The World Food Programme “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau told the 15-member council.
“But in the meantime, the risk of famine is being fueled by the inability to bring critical food supplies into Gaza in sufficient quantities, and the almost impossible operating conditions faced by our staff on the ground,” he said.
The war in Gaza began when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza has since killed around 30,000 Palestinians, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say.


US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning

US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning
Updated 27 February 2024
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US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning

US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning
  • “We do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters
  • “The government of Israel has said publicly, and they have assured us privately, that they want to achieve a diplomatic path”

WASHINGTON: The United States called Tuesday for a focus on diplomacy to resolve tensions over Lebanon, after Israel warned it would pursue Hezbollah even if it achieves a ceasefire in Gaza.
“We do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“The government of Israel has said publicly, and they have assured us privately, that they want to achieve a diplomatic path,” he said.
“That’s what we’re going to continue to pursue and, ultimately, that would make military action unnecessary.”
Miller added that Israel faced a “real security threat” with thousands of people who have fled their homes near Lebanon, calling it a “legitimate issue that needs to be addressed.”
Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement which is backed by Iran, have been exchanging fire since October 7, when Palestinian militant group Hamas carried out a major attack inside Israel.
In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless military operation in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Raising fears of all-out war, Israel this week struck Hezbollah positions deep into Lebanese territory.
On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said there would be no let-up in Israeli action against Hezbollah even if ongoing diplomacy succeeds in reaching a Gaza ceasefire and the release of hostages seized on October 7.
France, with US support, has been pushing a plan in which Hezbollah and allied fighters would withdraw to around 12 kilometers (eight miles) from the border and Israel would halt attacks.