Can US compel Israel to prioritize civilian protection and aid as Gaza truce gives way to renewed hostilities?

Analysis Can US compel Israel to prioritize civilian protection and aid as Gaza truce gives way to renewed hostilities?
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Updated 02 December 2023
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Can US compel Israel to prioritize civilian protection and aid as Gaza truce gives way to renewed hostilities?

Can US compel Israel to prioritize civilian protection and aid as Gaza truce gives way to renewed hostilities?
  • Israeli government faces pressure from Washington to have “clear plan” to protect civilians, avoid displacement and damage
  • War scholars say goal of destroying Hamas unrealistic, may prove impossible without very high civilian toll

LONDON: Just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel to prioritize civilians in its campaign against the Palestinian group Hamas, the Israeli military marked the end of a fragile truce in the Gaza Strip with renewed aerial bombardment.

By Saturday morning, 200 Palestinians had been killed, according to Hamas-run health ministry officials, as Israeli forces launched attacks on the Khan Younis area in southern Gaza, where it claimed to have targeted more than 50 Hamas sites.

The Israeli military said overall it hit more than 400 targets across the Gaza Strip, including strikes in the north, which suggested that no place in the besieged enclave was safe anymore.

Some 2 million people — almost Gaza’s entire population — poured into the territory’s south after Israel asked Palestinian civilians to relocate from other places at the military campaign’s start.

The question many were asking on Saturday was whether the Israel War Cabinet would heed the call of America’s top diplomat to have “a clear plan in place” for protecting civilians and avoid further mass displacement and damage to critical infrastructure, like hospitals, power stations and water facilities.




The Israeli military said overall it hit more than 400 targets across the Gaza Strip since the end of the truce. (AP/File)

Blinken’s comments, meant perhaps to shield the Biden administration from fresh criticism both at home and abroad, have left opinions divided among experts in war studies and geopolitics.

Tobias Borck, senior research fellow for Middle East security at RUSI, suspects that world leaders knew what was coming next after hearing those words, spoken to reporters in Jerusalem and Dubai.

“Blinken’s comments were made in anticipation of the truce coming to an end. This was the sense in Washington but also among the mediators, Egypt and Qatar,” he told Arab News.

“The option of a permanent ceasefire just did not seem viable to the Israeli government, which still felt it had a lot to do militarily. So, for Blinken the objective was to frame what came next, and was intended to show that the US was repositioning itself and making clear what its expectations were.”

Initially pegged as a four-day humanitarian pause to allow for the exchange of hostages by Hamas for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including many minors held in Israeli prisons without trial, the ceasefire lasted a week thanks to two extensions brokered by Qatar and Egypt.

After the end of the truce, militants in Gaza resumed firing rockets into Israel, and fighting also broke out between Israel and Hezbollah militants operating along its northern border with Lebanon, according to an Associated Press report.

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With 110 of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas returned, the Israeli military announced officially that the truce was broken, saying it had intercepted rockets fired from Gaza a little after 6 a.m. on Friday morning.

The military subsequently dropped leaflets in densely populated parts of southern Gaza urging residents to leave, indicating an imminent widening of the offensive, and noting that Khan Younis was a “dangerous battle zone.”

As per reports, Blinken told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that were fighting to continue, Israel would need to find more effective measures for protecting civilians.

This meant acting in “compliance with international humanitarian law” and provision of “every possible measure to avoid civilian harm.” He also emphasized the need for “sustaining and building on humanitarian assistance getting to Gaza.”

While criticizing Hamas for a deadly attack in occupied Jerusalem on Thursday and the renewed rocket strikes, Blinken alluded to the leaflets and Israel’s publishing of an interactive map detailing safe sites for civilians to relocate to.




Israeli soldiers work on armored military vehicles along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. (AP)

Released on social media and in Arabic, the Israeli military tweeted that the map “divides the territory of Gaza into zones according to recognizable areas. This enables the residents of Gaza to orient themselves and to evacuate from specific places for their safety if required.”

Sources linked to aid efforts in Gaza, however, rubbished the idea, one telling Arab News that aid blockages probably meant little fuel was available, leaving most people unable to charge devices to even see such a map.

Borck said a central problem when it came to the protection of civilians concerned merging of the political objective, “namely, destroying Hamas,” with the military objective, and in turn trying to ascertain whether there was a wider strategy beyond this.

“The purported aim, destroying Hamas, is a pretty maximalist one, both in the political sense and the military sense,” he said.

“But you must ask what it means by destroying Hamas. Does the killing of Mohammed Deif and Yahiya Sinwar, the two considered to have masterminded the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, achieve the objective? If so, you need look only to the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for a potential time scale.”

Oubai Shahbandar, a former Middle East defense adviser at the Pentagon, believes that in seeking to achieve its stated objective, Israel’s military will not be satisfied with simply “decapitating” the Hamas leadership hierarchy.

Rather, the intention is likely to ensure that Hamas’ capacity to put up any major asymmetrical military challenge is “totally degraded.” However, he said such a course of action was likely to play into Hamas’ hands.

“Sinwar probably had no illusions about the Israeli response to what happened on Oct. 7,” Shahbandar said.

“There aren’t any real signs that Netanyahu is going to seriously curtail the scope of airstrikes, artillery strikes and infantry assaults into southern Gaza to match the requests coming from the Biden White House.”




Some 2 million people — almost Gaza’s entire population — poured into the territory’s south. (AP)

President Biden himself warned in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas it would be smart were Israel to learn from the mistakes the US had made in hunting the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

That warning, though, had another meaning for Borck: the US, among numerous allies of Israel, was urging Netanyahu to think about “the day after Day 1,” specifically about where it wanted to be when the war ended, adding this was pivotal for Gaza’s civilian population.

Michael Pregent, a former US intelligence officer and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said Blinken’s demands were not a “serious ask” but reflected the opinion of a swathe of the international community.

He argues that there is a certain impossibility in minimizing civilian casualties, adding that Hamas is following a playbook he saw in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, where groups with similar ideologies “invited civilian death” as it earned them capital in the international news media.

He also noted that in response to similar tactics adopted by Daesh in Iraq, the US itself ended up decimating more than 80 percent of the city of Mosul in its nine-month campaign to rout the militants beginning in October 2016.

INNUMBERS

• 170 People killed in Gaza since resumption of fighting.

• 14,800 People killed in Gaza since start of Israeli assault.

• 136 Hostages seized by Hamas on Oct. 7 still in Gaza.

Asked whether greater thought ought to be put into forging strategies in response to attacks like that of Oct. 7, and in general the threat posed by Hamas and its militant allies to both Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike, Pregent said one option was to exhort the people of Gaza to reject Hamas. But history showed that it did not work, he said.

“One need only look at Afghanistan, where the Taliban is back. Groups such as the Taliban and Hamas are familiar with the precedents. They tell civilians, ‘You support an uprising, but our opponents will eventually leave and we will still be here. And when they go, we will be back and we will kill you and your whole family.’”

Significantly, during his meeting with Netanyahu, Blinken said the US remained committed to supporting Israel’s right to self-defense and assured him that he could count on US support.

The Biden administration has rejected calls for a long-term ceasefire and backed Israel’s fight to remove Hamas from power in Gaza with no “red lines” as it were that would trigger US penalties.

Despite the US emphasis on protection of civilians, the Wall Street Journal reported that Washington had disclosed little about how many and what types of weapons it had sent to Israel during the Gaza conflict.




Residents of Hamad Town residential complex in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, sit with some of their belongings as they flee their homes after an Israeli strike. (AFP)

“The arsenal of artillery, bombs and other weapons and military gear that have been used by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya, among other places, usually target large groups of gathered enemy forces. In Gaza, by contrast, Israel is battling militants who are among civilians in dense urban environments,” the report said.

Against this backdrop, Shahbandar said history had repeatedly shown that Israel’s only realistic chance of dismantling Hamas as a military and political entity would not be found in the use of force.

“The way for Israel to achieve its aim is by helping to empower a Palestinian alternative to Hamas with real legitimacy,” he said. “But there seems very little appetite in the Netanyahu administration to pursue such a path.”

On Saturday, the International Rescue Committee, an aid group operating in Gaza, said the return of renewed fighting would “wipe out even the minimal relief” provided by the truce and “prove catastrophic for Palestinian civilians.”

Before the temporary truce took effect on Nov. 24, more than 13,300 Palestinians had been killed in Israel’s assault, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to Gaza health officials.

The renewal of hostilities has also heightened concerns for the 136 Israelis and foreigners who are still held captive by Hamas and other militant groups.

Although little optimism concerning the fate of Gazans can be discerned in the immediate term, Borck said he saw a “sliver” of it in the future.




With 110 of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas returned, the Israeli military announced officially that the truce was broken. (AP)

Whereas the prevailing logic had been that the Middle East conflict could at best be “managed,” the past 54 days had “thoroughly dispelled that notion,” with governments in Washington, Paris and London, as well as Tel Aviv and Ramallah conscious now that it needed to end.

“Because of this recognition, I have been left slightly more confident we’ll see a resumption of work toward the two-state process,” Borck said.

“Look at the comments from Kier Starmer (UK opposition leader and odds-on favorite to win the next election) when he said Europe and the UK had given up on seeking peace in the Middle East because they felt it was too intractable.

“You sense, were he to become prime minister, this may lead to a change but, of course, he’s not as important as the person in the White House.”

Asked what he thought the agenda would be for the US when this war ends, Borck said that if Donald Trump returned, “all bets were off,” but were Biden to remain, he expected a greater focus on seeking peace, bringing the biggest win to Gaza’s embattled population.


Yemen’s Houthis ballistic missile misses US tanker Torm Thor

Yemen’s Houthis ballistic missile misses US tanker Torm Thor
Updated 21 sec ago
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Yemen’s Houthis ballistic missile misses US tanker Torm Thor

Yemen’s Houthis ballistic missile misses US tanker Torm Thor
CAIRO: The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said early on Monday that Yemen’s Houthis launched one anti-ship ballistic missile likely targeting the MV Torm Thor, but missed the US-flagged, owned and operated oil tanker, in the Gulf of Aden on Feb. 24.
The missile impacted the water causing no damage nor injuries, CENTCOM added in a post on X.
The Iran-aligned group said on Sunday that they targeted the tanker, as the militants continue to attack shipping lanes in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
The US military also shot down in “self-defense” two one-way unmanned aerial attack vehicles over the southern Red Sea on Sunday, said CENTCOM.
The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, have launched exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels since Nov. 19 as a protest against Israel’s military operations in Gaza.
The turmoil from Israel’s war with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has spilled over to some extent into other parts of the Middle East. Apart from the Houthi attacks on vital shipping lanes, Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group has traded fire with Israel along the Israel-Lebanon border and Iraqi militia have attacked bases that host US forces.

Calls on compatriots to choose between being a democratic state or an apartheid one

Calls on compatriots to choose between being a democratic state or an apartheid one
Updated 26 February 2024
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Calls on compatriots to choose between being a democratic state or an apartheid one

Calls on compatriots to choose between being a democratic state or an apartheid one
  • Israeli journalist Gideon Levy accuses Israel of dehumanizing, demonizing Palestinians
  • Calls on compatriots to choose between being a democratic state or an apartheid one

DUBAI: With the war in Gaza heading toward its sixth month, some are wondering if there is any end in sight to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. What is certain, however, is that Israel carries out a policy of dehumanization of Palestinians to justify its occupation, according to one of Israel’s most famous journalists.

“Israel systematically, from its first day, dehumanized and demonized the Palestinians in order to maintain their occupation, to maintain even the creation of the state of Israel,” Gideon Levy said.

He said Israel “is very efficient in manipulating propaganda and brainwashing all over the world,” and is “the only occupier in history which presents itself as a victim.”

Levy, who has spent over four decades as a journalist writing for the Israeli daily Haaretz covering mainly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, made these remarks on the Arab News current affairs show “Frankly Speaking.”

Gideon Levy has spent over four decades as a journalist and columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz. He spoke to Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News current affairs show. (AN photo)

Levy has been harshly critical of Israel’s actions, particularly those carried out in the wake of the Hamas attack in southern Israel in October 2023 which resulted in 1,200 deaths and the kidnapping of 240 people. According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, nearly 30,000 people, many of which are women and children, have been killed so far in Israel’s retaliatory offensive.

Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, have been putting pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire or scale back its offensive. The Kingdom has made the establishment of a Palestinian state a prerequisite for any normalization deals, with Israeli officials keen on the idea of improved relations with Arab states.

Levy, however, doubts that any Israeli prime minister, including current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would go that far.

“I don’t see them … putting an end to the occupation,” he told Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking.”

Israeli politicians might be hoping for a repeat of the 2020-2021 Abraham Accords, which saw Israel normalize relations with the UAE and Bahrain.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (2-R) grins from ear to ear after signing the so-called Abraham Accords with Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani (L) and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (R), brokered by the US government under President Donald Trump (2-R), at the White House in Washington, DC, on Sept. 15, 2020. (AFP/File)

Israel quickly also normalized ties with Morocco and Sudan.

“Maybe they also hope that, like in the Abraham Accords, in which they got quite a good deal without changing the policy toward the Palestinians, only by all kind of lip services for this,” he said.

“I think that all the candidates for being prime minister in Israel, not only Netanyahu but also the opposition, would still prefer to maintain an occupation rather than to have normal relations with an important country like Saudi Arabia.”

Even beyond the Arab world, Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza has triggered international backlash, including South Africa’s landmark court case against Israel in the International Court of Justice. However, Levy sees most of this as empty words.

This photo taken on January 26, 2024, shows the International Court of Justice panel assembled in The Hague during the reading of the genocide case filed by South Africa against Israel over its attacks on civilians in the Gaza Strip. (X: @CIJ_ICJ)

“Sympathy toward the Palestinians is very deep rooted among the grass roots, but I don't see many leaders really care about the Palestinians. Unfortunately, they fall between the chairs for many years now, when many statesmen give their lip service about solidarity with them, but finally almost nobody is doing for them anything and they are left quite alone, especially in (the) last years,” Levy said.

“Yes, there is a lot of talking going on; condemnations, resolutions, rulings, rules, hearings, many, many things. There is only one thing lacking, and this is action. That is, taking measures.

“The world never took real measures and the US, in particular, never took any measures to promote its interest, to promote its ideas. The US claims that it wants to see this war ended. And (at the same time) it is supplying Israel with more ammunition and more arms.”

Israel has learned “that you can very easily ignore the talk and stick to its policy, because Israel doesn’t pay any price for its policy,” Levy said.

A shipment of 155mm artillery shells supplied by the US for use by the Israeli army is transported on a truck along a highway between the Jerusalem and Beersheba in southern Israel on October 14, 2023. (AFP)

With Palestinians themselves and leaders across the world calling for peace, Levy is not certain that peace should be the top priority when it comes to talks on Palestine, but rather justice for the Palestinian people.

“I am calling for justice, not for peace … maybe peace will be the bonus that we’ll get out of it. But I am not sure that two people are ready for peace, but there is one people who deserve justice. And this must be pushed by the world.”

From 1978 to 1982, Levy worked as an aide and spokesman for Shimon Peres, the then leader of the Israeli Labor Party. In 1982 he began to write for Haaretz, and later worked there as a deputy editor.

He has long written of his support for a one-state solution in which Jews, Arabs, and all citizens have equal rights — a controversial opinion among both Israelis and Palestinians.

“There are 700,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Nobody is going to evacuate them. And there is no viable Palestinian state with 700,000 Jewish settlers, part of them very violent, all of them very ideological. I don’t see (a two-state solution) happening.”

Objects are scattered more than a week after Jewish settlers attacked the occupied West Bank village of Wadi al Seeq on October 24, 2023. (AFP/File)

He added: “If not the two-state solution, what is left? Only the one state … the only problem is that it’s not a democracy.

“I have to tell my fellow Israelis, you can’t have it all. If you wanted a Jewish state, you had to pull out from the occupied territories a long time ago.

“If you want a democratic state, you should give up the Jewish state because you cannot have it both, because there are two peoples here. Either you are an apartheid state or you are a democracy.”

As the Israeli bombardment continues across the entirety of Gaza, many Palestinians have begun to lose hope in their own officials. Even one month prior to the start of the most recent Israel-Hamas war, 78 percent of Palestinians wanted the resignation of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Feb. 7, 2024, during a Middle East tour, his fifth urgent trip to the region since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza erupted in October. (POOL / AFP)

Observers now speculate whether there could be a replacement for Abbas, one that could carry out reforms and to revitalize the PA.

For Levy, jailed Palestinian dissident Marwan Barghouti could be a contender.

“He was the only one who would really unite the Palestinian people, Hamas and Fatah, together. I believed also that he is a man of peace. And he proved it in many ways,” he said.

Barghouti was arrested by Israel in Ramallah in 2002, and two years later was sentenced to five cumulative life sentences on five counts of murder.

“I hope he’s still capable of leading the Palestinians. I don’t have a better idea. I’m not sure Hamas will accept him today. Twenty years ago, yes, (but) I’m not sure today,” Levy said.

“I’m a great believer of him. And because I believe in him, and because so many people believe in him, Israel will never release him. And that’s so tragic.”

The portrait of jailed Palestinian dissident Marwan Barghouti (R) is seen along with that of the  late South African president Nelson Mandela at an office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Barghouti, in Israeli custody for nearly two decades after being convicted over multiple killings during the second intifada, is being compared to Mandela, who successfully led the resistance to apartheid in South Africa. (AFP/File)

Particularly since October, the popular rhetoric in Israel has increasingly turned against Palestinians, something that Levy blames on a combination of racism and dehumanization.

“If you conduct such a brutal occupation over so many years, if you teach your soldiers and your young people, generation after generation, that there is nothing cheaper, and there is nothing cheaper than the life of a Palestinian, I can tell you, if the Israeli army would have killed so many dogs as it did (people) in Gaza, it would be a huge, huge scandal in Israel.”

In addition to this, Israeli news media, which Levy explains “doesn’t cover the suffering of Gaza,” has played a role in inflaming racist attitudes in the country.

“They know Israelis don’t want to see it, don’t want to hear about it. It’s an outcome of decades of brainwashing, decades of humanization; as I said before, decades of demonization of the Palestinians.

“Israelis don’t meet Palestinians anymore at all, because of the barrier of the (West Bank) separation wall. There’s almost no contact anymore between the two peoples,” Levy said, explaining that the Oct. 7 attack has led Israelis to lump all Palestinians in the same category as Hamas and the perpetrators of the attack.

Participants run past a section of Israel's controversial separation barrier during the "Freedom of Movement Palestine Marathon" in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on March 10, 2023. (AFP/File)

“We are in a very, very low moment in history. And obviously the racism is now politically correct in Israel. It's enough to have one attack, like this terrible attack on the 7th of October, to make all the incorrect political ideas as politically correct.

“Because after what they have done to us, most of Israelis think, we have now the right to do and say whatever we want, because of those horrible things they did.

In the minds of Israelis now, Levy said, “all Palestinians must take responsibility for the October 7 crimes, all of them took part in it.”

 


WTO convenes ministers in UAE with slim hopes for breakthrough

WTO convenes ministers in UAE with slim hopes for breakthrough
Updated 26 February 2024
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WTO convenes ministers in UAE with slim hopes for breakthrough

WTO convenes ministers in UAE with slim hopes for breakthrough

ABU DHABI: The world’s trade ministers gathered in the UAE on Monday for a high-level WTO meeting with no clear prospects for breakthroughs, amid geopolitical tensions and disagreements.
The World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference (MC13), scheduled to run until Thursday in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is the first in two years.
The WTO is hoping for progress, particularly on fishing, agriculture and electronic commerce.
But big deals are unlikely as the body’s rules require full consensus among all 164 member states — a tall order in the current climate.
“I don’t have hopes that a very substantive agreement will be announced,” said Marcelo Olarreaga, Professor of Economics at the University of Geneva.
“My impression is that the negotiators are dealing with tactical positions — how to make it look like it is the other (side) who is blocking negotiations,” he told AFP.
Even WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said she expects the meeting to be challenging due to the “economic and political headwinds” — from the war in Ukraine, attacks in the Red Sea, inflation, rising food prices and economic difficulties in Europe and China.
Her team is working around the clock to draft agreements for the talks, she told journalists this month, noting that “negotiating positions are still quite tough,” notably on agriculture.

During the WTO’s last ministerial meeting, held at its Geneva headquarters in June 2022, trade ministers nailed down a historic deal banning fisheries subsidies harmful to marine life and agreed to a temporary patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines.
They also committed themselves to re-establishing a dispute settlement system which Washington had brought to a grinding halt in 2019 after years of blocking the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s appeals court.
“Replicating the success, the miracle, of MC12 in 2022 will be extremely challenging,” European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said this month.
“Negotiations on the big-ticket items” — such as fisheries, agriculture and the e-commerce moratorium — will “remain open until the final phase of the conference,” he added.
“Negotiations on dispute settlement reform and potentially some parts of the outcome document will also be challenging.”
However, the WTO faces pressure to eke out progress on reform in Abu Dhabi ahead of the possible re-election of Donald Trump as US president.
During his four years in office from 2017 to 2021, Trump threatened to pull the United States out of the trade body and disrupted its ability to settle disputes.
“There will be the US elections in November...so this is the last chance,” a diplomatic source in Geneva told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“Postponing anything until after MC13 is not a good strategy.”
Earlier this month, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai underlined Washington’s “commitment to reforming the WTO and creating a more durable multilateral trading system.”
But Olarreaga of the University of Geneva said the other members of the WTO “cannot expect huge concessions” from the administration of US President Joe Biden in an election year.

While there is doubt over progress at the WTO on major issues such as agriculture, there is hope for small advances on other fronts, particularly aid for developing countries.
On Monday, two new countries, the Comoros and East Timor, are expected to be accepted as WTO members.
More than 120 countries and regions, including China and the European Union, but not the United States, issued a ministerial declaration early Monday, marking the finalization of an agreement aimed at facilitating international investments in development.
They also issued a submission requesting the official integration of the deal into the WTO, but some diplomats fear opposition from India, which rejects any agreement that does not include all member states.
But amid the difficulty of obtaining full consensus, more and more plurilateral agreements — deals with a narrower number of signatories — are being reached, applying only to the participating countries.
Adding to the challenges for those gathering in the UAE, is the ongoing war in Gaza and related attacks by Yemeni rebels on ships in the Red Sea, a campaign that has disrupted global maritime trade.
“The current situation is characterized by geopolitical tensions,” said a European diplomat who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity.
“High expectations from developing nations following the financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as economic tensions due to inflation... (add to the) risk of fragmentation of the global economy,” the diplomat said.

 


Most UK exporters hit by Red Sea disruption, survey shows

Most UK exporters hit by Red Sea disruption, survey shows
Updated 26 February 2024
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Most UK exporters hit by Red Sea disruption, survey shows

Most UK exporters hit by Red Sea disruption, survey shows
  • 55 percent of exporters reported disruption, British Chambers of Commerce reports
  • Houthi militants have launched repeated drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea

LONDON: Most British exporters and manufacturers have felt an impact from disruption in the Red Sea caused by attacks on shipping by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, according to a survey.
The British Chambers of Commerce said 55 percent of exporters reported disruption, as did 53 percent of manufacturers and business-to-consumer services firms, a category that includes retailers and wholesalers. Across all businesses, 37 percent reported an impact.
“There has been spare capacity in the shipping freight industry to respond to the difficulties, which has bought us some time,” the BCC’s head of trade policy, William Bain, said.
“But our research suggests that the longer the current situation persists, the more likely it is that the cost pressures will start to build,” he added.
Some businesses reported container hire costs had quadrupled, while others faced delivery delays of three to four weeks, as well as cashflow difficulties and shortages of parts.
The Bank of England has highlighted the Red Sea disruption as one of the main upside risks to inflation this year, although to date the attacks and broader conflict in the Middle East has had less economic impact in Britain than it originally feared.
Houthi militants have launched repeated drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait and Gulf of Aden since November in support of Palestinians, as the Israel-Hamas war continues.
Last week the Houthis said they would step up attacks on shipping with links to Israel, the United States and Britain.
The BCC conducted its survey between Jan. 15 and Feb. 9 with responses from 1,087 firms, 90 percent of which had under 250 employees.
On Thursday, the S&P Purchasing Managers’ Index showed British businesses’ costs rose at the fastest rate in six months in February. Higher freight costs related to Red Sea disruption were cited by many manufacturers, but rising wage bills were a bigger factor for most.


Gaza deal won’t affect Israel’s Hezbollah fight: defense minister

Gaza deal won’t affect Israel’s Hezbollah fight: defense minister
Updated 26 February 2024
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Gaza deal won’t affect Israel’s Hezbollah fight: defense minister

Gaza deal won’t affect Israel’s Hezbollah fight: defense minister
  • Talks are underway toward a possible deal for Hamas to release hostages and pause the fighting in Gaza

JERUSALEM:  Defense minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday said there would be no let up in Israeli action against Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, even if a ceasefire and hostage deal is secured in Gaza.

Gallant visited the military’s Northern Command in Safed, which was hit earlier this month by a militant rocket strike from southern Lebanon, killing a soldier.

Talks are underway toward a possible deal for Hamas to release hostages and pause the fighting in Gaza, which was sparked by the militants’ attack on southern Israel on October 7.

Since then, there have been near-daily cross-border exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas’s allies Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon, prompting fears of a regional escalation.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

Gallant said he was keen to assess how Israel was combating increased Hezbollah activity from across the heavily fortified border.

“If anyone thinks that when we reach a deal to release hostages in the south and the firing stops it will ease what is happening here they are wrong,” he said in a video message.

Israel’s aim is to ensure the Iran-backed militants do not pose a threat from border areas in southern Lebanon, he added.

If a diplomatic solution to the situation is not possible, “we will do it by force,” Gallant warned.

On Sunday, the Israeli military said it had intercepted a “suspicious aerial target” in the Upper Galilee region of northern Israel, and rockets were fired at a number of locations.

Jets then struck a “terrorist cell exiting a Hezbollah military compound” and two “military compounds” on the Lebanese side of the border, it added.

Since October 7, 10 Israeli soldiers and six civilians have been killed by hostilities in the north, according to an AFP tally.

On the Lebanese side, at least 276 people have been killed, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also 44 civilians.

Hamas’s attacks on October 7 left around 1,160 people dead and saw 250 hostages taken, of whom about 130 are still thought to be in Gaza, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

In Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry says at least 29,692 have been killed in the war between the militants and Israel.