Egypt’s FM heads to US for talks with top officials

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry traveled to the US on Tuesday to meet House of Representatives and Senate members in Washington. (Reuters/File Photo)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry traveled to the US on Tuesday to meet House of Representatives and Senate members in Washington. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 05 December 2023
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Egypt’s FM heads to US for talks with top officials

Egypt’s FM heads to US for talks with top officials
  • Shoukry will meet Congress foreign policy committee officials with the aim of advancing and strengthening strategic relations
  • Visit will also include talks with a number of American think tanks and research centers

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry traveled to the US on Tuesday to meet House of Representatives and Senate members in Washington.

Shoukry will meet Congress foreign policy committee officials with the aim of advancing and strengthening strategic relations, according to Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid.

The visit will also include talks with a number of American think tanks and research centers, in addition to media engagements, he said.

Abu Zeid said that Shoukry will also join an Arab-Islamic ministerial committee meeting on Dec. 7.

The committee will hold meetings with the US secretary of state, a number of Congress members and the US media in an effort to stop the war in Gaza, in line with the mandate issued by the recent Arab-Islamic Extraordinary Summit.

Meanwhile, Shoukry affirmed Egypt’s categorical rejection of attempts to force Palestinians out of Gaza.

The foreign minister made the remarks during a phone call with Colombian counterpart Alvaro Leyva.

Shoukry and Leyva discussed the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, the necessity of an immediate ceasefire and the opportunity to establish humanitarian truces to bring in aid.


Two dead in Israeli raids on Baalbek

Two dead in Israeli raids on Baalbek
Updated 4 sec ago
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Two dead in Israeli raids on Baalbek

Two dead in Israeli raids on Baalbek
  • Hezbollah downs Israeli drone north of Litani Line
  • Mohammed Raad warns of ‘consequences’ if Israel ‘miscalculates their actions’ in Lebanon

BEIRUT: On Monday, the scope of the 142-day confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah Lebanon’s southern border expanded after Israeli warplanes raided two sites near the city of Baalbek.

The strikes on the city, deep in the Bekaa, killed two people and lead to numerous injuries among Hezbollah members, civilians, and Lebanese Armed Forces personnel.

A few hours later, an Israeli drone targeted a car in Al-Majadel plain in Tyre, southern Lebanon. Initial reports indicated that Hezbollah members were killed in the strike, but the identities of the victims are as yet unknown.

The raids, the first of their kind on an area west of the city of Baalbek, where Hezbollah centers are located, resulted in the deaths of Hussein Ali Younis, from Brital, and an as yet unnamed young man from the town of Chmistar.

Lebanese Army soldier Ali Fayyad Salem and his child, Joud, aged 4, were among four people injured.

The raids targeted two Hezbollah centers in the Adous plain in Bodai and in the town of Haouch Tall Safiyeh in the vicinity of Baalbek. Initial reports indicated that the two raids targeted “supply warehouses belonging to one of Hezbollah’s institutions.”

Locals shared pictures of smoke rising from the two sites on their mobile phones. A correspondent for Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said that one of the two raids “targeted an empty, three-story building.”

Hezbollah confirmed in its initial position that “the Israeli strike on Baalbek will not go without a response.”

Israel Defense Forces spokesman Avichay Adraee said on social media that the IDF “will continue to protect Israel and operate in Lebanese airspace against Hezbollah.”

Adraee acknowledged that “warplanes launched raids on complexes used by Hezbollah’s air defense unit in the Bekaa, in response to the firing of surface-to-air missiles at a Zik drone.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah downed an Israeli drone in the Iqlim Al-Tuffah area using a surface-to-air missile.

The escalation on Monday began with Hezbollah’s air defense unit shooting down the drone that had been flying for hours over the Nabatieh and Iqlim Al-Tuffah areas, north of the Litani Line.

Two consecutive explosions were heard around 8:45 a.m., and dozens of people managed to capture images on their phones of white smoke in the sky of Iqlim Al-Tuffah, followed by the drone catching fire before crashing into a forested area nearby.

Hezbollah announced in a statement that “the drone was a Hermes 450 and was targeted with a surface-to-air missile above the Iqlim Al-Tuffah area, and it was seen falling with the naked eye.”

Israeli media confirmed that “an Israeli settler was injured by missile fragments during the shelling of Shtula with an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon.”

The use of Israeli drones to carry out assassinations inside Lebanon marked a dangerous turning point in the ongoing conflict.

Israel has flown Hermes 900 drones over Lebanon, which weighs 350 kg and has various capabilities like surveillance, intelligence gathering and target acquisition. The drone has a laser, flies at 30,000 feet, can stay airborne for 36 hours, scanning vast areas.

Hermes 450 drones, like that shot down on Monday, have also often been used. This drone is designed for long-term tactical operations in the IDF’s reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering units.

Another drone deployed in Lebanon on Monday afternoon over the south was the Heron TP. This drone is considered “dangerous” and has used to carry out most drone-based assassinations in Lebanon.

Mohammed Raad, the leader of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc, warned Israel that they would face severe consequences if they “miscalculate their actions towards us in Lebanon.”

Raad stressed that “the enemy’s pain is what makes them overreact at times, but they still adhere to the boundaries of deterrence established by the resistance with a great deal of discipline.”

He stated that the battle against Israel in Lebanon is “a crucial and delicate one, with its own strategic considerations. The aim “is to prevent the enemy from achieving their objectives, while the enemy seeks to draw us into a broader conflict to their advantage, exploiting tyrannic international support. We intend to lure the enemy into a battle on our terms and for our benefit.”

 


Jordan’s King Abdullah warns of dangers of Israel’s planned Rafah assault

This picture shows President Mahmud Abbas (L) being welcomed by Jordan's King Abdullah II ahead of their meeting in Amman.
This picture shows President Mahmud Abbas (L) being welcomed by Jordan's King Abdullah II ahead of their meeting in Amman.
Updated 26 February 2024
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Jordan’s King Abdullah warns of dangers of Israel’s planned Rafah assault

This picture shows President Mahmud Abbas (L) being welcomed by Jordan's King Abdullah II ahead of their meeting in Amman.
  • King also said only way to end the decades-old conflict was to find a “political horizon” for Palestinians that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah warned on Monday of the dangers of a military operation planned by Israel in Rafah and reiterated his appeal for an immediate ceasefire to help protect civilians in Gaza and bring in aid, the royal palace said.
The king also said the only way to end the decades-old conflict was to find a “political horizon” for Palestinians that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state on territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, including east Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week the Israeli security cabinet would approve military plans for Rafah — including the evacuation of more than a million displaced Palestinian civilians who have been sheltering there, and whose fate worries world powers.
Almost 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, Gaza medical officials say. The Hamas raid of Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people in Israel, which has also lost 241 soldiers in Gaza ground fighting that followed, according to official tallies.
The Jordanian army also arranged on Monday the biggest air drop operation so far to deliver aid to Gaza where the mostly displaced population of 2.3 million is facing crisis levels of hunger, an army statement said.
The operation deployed four C-130 planes including one belonging to the French air force, army spokesperson Mustafa Hiyari said.
Aid was dropped to 11 sites along the Gaza coast from its northern edge to the south for civilians to collect, Hiyari told Reuters. Previous air drops that parachuted in medicines and humanitarian provisions were sent to hospitals the Jordanian army runs in Gaza.


IAEA increasingly concerned over Iran’s nuclear weapon capability

In recent years, Iran has gradually decreased its cooperation with the IAEA by deactivating surveillance devices.
In recent years, Iran has gradually decreased its cooperation with the IAEA by deactivating surveillance devices.
Updated 55 min 31 sec ago
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IAEA increasingly concerned over Iran’s nuclear weapon capability

In recent years, Iran has gradually decreased its cooperation with the IAEA by deactivating surveillance devices.
  • Grossi reiterated his call on Tehran to “cooperate fully and unambiguously with the agency”
  • Iran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog has voiced growing concern over Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons, fueled by public statements in the country, a confidential report seen by AFP on Monday said.
Tensions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have repeatedly flared up since a 2015 deal curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanction relief fell apart.
In the report, IAEA head Rafael Grossi said that “public statements made in Iran regarding its technical capabilities to produce nuclear weapons only increase the director general’s concerns about the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations.”
In recent years, Iran has gradually decreased its cooperation with the IAEA by deactivating surveillance devices needed to the nuclear program and barring inspectors among other measures.
Grossi reiterated his call on Tehran to “cooperate fully and unambiguously with the agency,” as relations between the two parties have been steadily deteriorating.
“Only through constructive and meaningful engagement can these concerns be addressed,” Grossi said in a confidential quarterly report.
While Tehran denies seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons, some politicians and officials have made concerning statements about the country’s technical capabilities, a diplomatic source said.
At the same time, Iran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs.
In a separate confidential report seen by AFP ahead of an IAEA board of governors’ meeting next week, the agency said that Iran’s estimated stockpile of enriched uranium had reached 27 times the limit set out in the 2015 accord.
Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was estimated at 5,525.5 kilogrammes as of February 10, up by 1,038.7 kilogrammes from October, the report said.
Nuclear weapons require uranium enriched to 90 percent, while 3.67 percent set out in the deal is enough for nuclear power stations.
According to the report, Iran has 712.2 kilogrammes of uranium enriched at up to 20 percent and 121.5 kilogrammes at up to 60 percent.
EU-mediated efforts to revive the deal — bringing the US back on board and Iran back into compliance — have so far been fruitless.
Grossi also “deeply regrets” that Iran has not yet reversed its decision to ban several of its inspectors.
Iran in September withdrew the accreditation of several inspectors, a move Teheran described as retaliation for “political abuses” by the United States, France, Germany and Britain.
The IAEA has condemned the move — which targets eight top inspectors, with French and German nationals among them, according to a diplomatic source.
Iran’s “unprecedented” move has “directly and seriously affected” the UN body’s work.
Faced with increased criticism, the Iranian government announced last week that it had invited Grossi to come to Tehran in May for an international conference on energy.


UN voices alarm as Israel says preparing for Rafah invasion

Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Updated 26 February 2024
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UN voices alarm as Israel says preparing for Rafah invasion

Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • Guterres said Rafah is “the core of the humanitarian aid operation” in the besieged Gaza Strip
  • Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children

GAZA STRIP: The UN chief warned Monday that an invasion of Rafah in far-southern Gaza would “put the final nail in the coffin” of aid operations, after Israel said its army had readied a plan to move civilians out of the packed city.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Rafah — where 1.4 million Palestinians live in crowded shelters near the Egyptian border — is also “the core of the humanitarian aid operation” in the besieged Gaza Strip.
As tensions simmered across the region, Israel fired the first strikes on Lebanon’s east since the start of the Gaza war, killing two Hezbollah fighters.
In another shock impact of the almost five-month-old war, Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in the occupied West Bank handed in his government’s resignation to the head of the Palestinian Authority, president Mahmud Abbas.
Shtayyeh cited “the new reality” in Gaza and “the escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” where deadly violence has surged since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7 with the Palestinian group’s attack.
Israel’s top ally Washington and other powers discussing a post-war Gaza have called for a reformed Palestinian Authority to take charge of both the West Bank and Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since 2007.
Shtayyeh urged intra-Palestinian consensus after years of rift and the “extension of the Authority’s rule over the entire land of Palestine.”
Heavy fighting raged on in Gaza, where Israeli forces launched strikes and ground operations, killing 92 people overnight according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.
Displaced Gazan Sharif Muammar said his son’s body had been pulled from the rubble in Rafah.
“There was no one here — only children, they are all children,” he told AFP.
“There were no fighters at all. We weren’t launching missiles... We barely live.”
Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the ministry.
The war broke out after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack which killed 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Sunday that, despite ongoing talks toward a ceasefire, the army will launch a ground invasion of Rafah to achieve “total victory” over Hamas.
Once land operations are launched there, an Israeli victory would be “weeks away,” he said, adding that any truce deal would delay, not prevent, the operation.
On Monday Netanyahu’s office said the military had shown Israel’s war cabinet its plan for evacuating civilians from Rafah.
But no details have been released on where those displaced people could go in war-torn Gaza.
Neighbouring Egypt has built a large walled enclosure next to Gaza, but Cairo has denied any plans to allow the mass flight of refugees across the border.
Foreign governments and aid groups have issued dire warnings that a Rafah invasion would inflict mass casualties.
Guterres warned “an all-out Israeli offensive on the city would not only be terrifying for more than a million Palestinian civilians sheltering there; it would put the final nail in the coffin of our aid programs.”
He said that “nothing can justify Hamas’s deliberate killing, injuring, torturing and kidnapping of civilians” and “nothing justifies the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Desperate families in Gaza’s north have scavenged for food as most aid trucks have been halted, with many people eating animal fodder and the meat of slaughtered horses.
“We have no food or drink for ourselves or our children,” Omar Al-Kahlout told AFP, as he waited near Gaza City for aid to arrive.
Dire food shortages in northern Gaza are “a man-made disaster” that can be mitigated, said Philippe Lazzarini, chief of the UN aid agency for Palestinians.
“Famine can still be avoided through genuine political will to grant access and protection to meaningful assistance.”
Aid entering Gaza has halved in February from the previous month, he said.
Mediators meanwhile continued stuttering negotiations toward a ceasefire and hostage release deal, with hopes it can be in place before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks.
Media reports suggest the warring parties are weighing a six-week halt to fighting and the initial exchange of dozens of hostages for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
An unnamed Israeli official told news site Ynet the “direction is positive,” and Israeli media reported that military and intelligence officials were headed to Qatar for further talks on a deal.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani — whose country hosts Hamas leaders and helped broker a one-week truce in November — is due in Paris this week, the French presidency said.
Sheikh Tamim has met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Doha and discussed efforts “aimed at reaching an immediate and permanent ceasefire agreement” in Gaza, the official Qatar News Agency said.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned that fighting during Ramadan “will increase the threat of expanding the conflict” which has drawn in armed groups elsewhere in the Middle East.
Israel has exchanged near-daily cross-border fire with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hamas ally Hezbollah since early October.
Israeli strikes near the Hezbollah-dominated city of Baalbek killed two group members Monday, security sources told AFP, in a rare attack far from the border.
Israel confirmed the strike and said it targeted sites used by Hezbollah for its aerial defense system, after a missile downed an Israeli drone earlier Monday.
Hezbollah fired a volley of 60 rockets at an Israeli military base in response, the group said.


Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns
Updated 26 February 2024
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Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns
  • Move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up Palestinian Authority
  • Shtayyeh says he is resigning to allow broader consensus among Palestinians following Israel’s war on Gaza

RAMALLAH: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday he was resigning to allow for the formation of a broad consensus among Palestinians about political arrangements following Israel’s war against the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority as international efforts have intensified to stop the fighting in Gaza and begin work on a political structure to govern the enclave after the war.
His resignation must still be accepted by Abbas, who may ask him to stay on as caretaker until a permanent replacement is appointed.
In a statement to cabinet, Shtayyeh, an academic economist who took office in 2019, said the next stage would need to take account of the emerging reality in Gaza, which has been laid waste by nearly five months of heavy fighting.
He said the next stage would “require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks, and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus.”
In addition, it would require “the extension of the Authority’s authority over the entire land, Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority, formed 30 years ago under the interim Oslo peace accords, exercises limited governance over parts of the occupied West Bank but lost power in Gaza following a struggle with Hamas in 2007.
Fatah, the faction that controls the PA, and Hamas have made efforts to reach an agreement over a unity government and are due to meet in Moscow on Wednesday. A senior Hamas official said the move had to be followed by a broader agreement on governance for the Palestinians.
“The resignation of Shtayyeh’s government only makes sense if it comes within the context of national consensus on arrangements for the next phase,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.