UK’s Sunak speaks of disappointment at new fighting in Gaza in call with Netanyahu

UK’s Sunak speaks of disappointment at new fighting in Gaza in call with Netanyahu
Britain’s PM Rishi Sunak speaks to journalists during a visit to a medical training center at the University of Surrey in Guildford, southern England, Nov. 30, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 06 December 2023
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UK’s Sunak speaks of disappointment at new fighting in Gaza in call with Netanyahu

UK’s Sunak speaks of disappointment at new fighting in Gaza in call with Netanyahu
  • Downing Street spokesperson: ‘The PM expressed disappointment about the breakdown of the pause in fighting in Gaza, which had allowed hostages to be released’
  • Spokesperson: ‘The leaders discussed urgent efforts to ensure all remaining hostages are safely freed and to allow any remaining British nationals in Gaza to leave’

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his disappointment about the breakdown of the pause in fighting in Gaza in a call with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, his office said in a readout.
“The Prime Minister spoke to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this afternoon. He expressed disappointment about the breakdown of the pause in fighting in Gaza, which had allowed hostages to be released,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
“The leaders discussed urgent efforts to ensure all remaining hostages are safely freed and to allow any remaining British nationals in Gaza to leave.”
Sunak’s spokeperson said the British prime minister stressed the need for Israel to take greater care to protect civilians in Gaza and for humanitarian aid to be allowed to enter the Palestinian enclave.
Defense minister Grant Shapps said Britain was considering sending a military support vessel to provide medical and humanitarian aid in the Middle East.


Hamas says it presses on with Gaza truce talks without Israelis

Hamas says it presses on with Gaza truce talks without Israelis
Updated 10 sec ago
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Hamas says it presses on with Gaza truce talks without Israelis

Hamas says it presses on with Gaza truce talks without Israelis
  • Ceasefire talks billed as a final hurdle to establish first extended ceasefire of five-month-old war in time for Ramadan 
  • Washington appeared to take a tougher line in demanding its ally Israel ease the plight of suffering civilians

CAIRO/RAFAH: Hamas said on Monday it was pressing on with talks on securing a ceasefire in Gaza despite Israel’s decision not to attend, while Washington appeared to take a tougher line in demanding its ally Israel ease the plight of suffering civilians.
The ceasefire talks, which began on Sunday in Cairo, are billed as a final hurdle to establish the first extended ceasefire of the five-month-old war, in time for the Ramadan Muslim fasting month which is expected to begin on Sunday.
Israel has declined public comment on the Cairo talks or its decision not to attend. A source had earlier told Reuters Israel would stay away because Hamas had refused its request for a list of names of all hostages it is holding that are still alive, information the militants say they will provide only once terms are agreed.
“Talks in Cairo continue for the second day regardless of whether the occupation’s delegation is present in Egypt,” a Hamas official told Reuters on Monday.
Washington, which is both Israel’s closest ally and a sponsor of the talks, says a deal remains close, with an agreement already effectively agreed by Israel and only awaiting approval from Hamas.
“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire. Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on Sunday. “Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza.”
In a speech signalling an apparent change of tone from the administration of President Joe Biden toward its ally, Harris also used unusually forceful language to call for Israel to do more to alleviate the humanitarian plight of the Gaza Strip.
“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act,” she said. “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.”
A Palestinian official close to the talks disputed the US contention that Israel had agreed to the ceasefire deal and Hamas was holding it up, saying the position appeared aimed at deflecting blame away from Israel should the talks collapse.
“The Palestinian resistance, led by Hamas, has shown the flexibility needed, but at the same time they are determined to defend their people and achieve a deal that is acceptable to the Palestinian people,” the official said.
The proposal being discussed is for a ceasefire of around 40 days, during which militants would release around 40 of the more than 100 hostages they are still holding in return for around 400 detainees held in Israeli jails.
Israeli troops would pull back from some areas, more humanitarian aid would be allowed into Gaza, and residents would be permitted to return to abandoned homes.
But the deal does not appear to address directly a Hamas demand for a clear path to permanently ending the war. Nor does it resolve the fate of more than half of the remaining hostages — Israeli men excluded from both this and earlier agreements covering women, children, the elderly and the wounded.
Israel says it will not end the war until Hamas is eradicated. Hamas says it will not free all its hostages without a deal that ends the war. Mediators have indicated they hope to overcome the standoff with promises to resolve further issues in later phases.

Rafah strike kills family
The Gaza war erupted after Hamas fighters who control the enclave burst into Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israel has sealed off the coastal strip, stormed nearly all of its towns and pounded it from the sky. Palestinian authorities say more than 30,000 people have been confirmed killed, with thousands of other bodies unrecovered. Most of the population has been made homeless, and the United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people face famine.
An agreement to halt fighting by Ramadan would effectively head off a threatened Israeli assault on Rafah, the last town on the southern edge of Gaza, where more than half of the enclave’s population are now sheltering, mostly in makeshift tents.
The final days leading up to that deadline have been particularly bloody. Residents have described heavy fighting since Saturday just north of Rafah in Khan Younis, the main southern city, where Israeli forces have released video showing buildings obliterated in airstrikes.
In Rafah itself, airstrikes on homes have been killing families nightly as they sleep. At least 14 corpses of a family killed overnight were laid out at a hospital morgue in Rafah on Monday morning. One of the body bags was partially unzipped so weeping relatives could stroke the hair of a dead child.
Israel’s Channel 14 News reported on Monday that several officers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson’s unit were leaving their jobs, including chief international spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht. It said the large number leaving at once at a time of war was unusual.
The military denied media reports that chief spokesperson Rear-Admiral Daniel Hagari had resigned, but did not directly comment on reports of other officers leaving the unit. “The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit continues to fulfil its mission of sharing the truth with transparency and accuracy, while countering misinformation — including baseless claims such as these,” it said in a statement.


Houthis attack ship off Yemen’s Aden

Houthis attack ship off Yemen’s Aden
Updated 35 sec ago
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Houthis attack ship off Yemen’s Aden

Houthis attack ship off Yemen’s Aden
  • Vessel reported an incident around 91 nautical miles southeast of Yemen’s port city of Aden
  • UN official said that attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militia on ships in the Red Sea have quadrupled global shipping costs and cut cargo movement by 30 percent

AL-MUKALLA: The UK Maritime Trade Operations agency cautioned ships crossing the Red Sea on Monday to exercise care after a vessel reported an incident around 91 nautical miles southeast of Yemen’s port city of Aden.

This came as a UN official said on Monday that attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militia on ships in the Red Sea have quadrupled global shipping costs and cut cargo movement by 30 percent. 

Oleg Kobyakov, director of the office for liaison with Russia at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, told the Russian news agency TASS that what he called the Houthis’ “blockade” of the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandab Strait has led to an increase in the price of goods across the globe, hurt the movement of goods, increased fuel bills for ships by an average of 15 percent, and pushed many shipping companies into taking the “8,000 km” route through the Cape of Good Hope to travel between Asia and Europe to avoid Houthi attacks. 

“The blockade of Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea by the Houthis is hurting global food trade. The cost of chartering a ship to travel along this route has almost quadrupled while cargo traffic has dropped by 30 percent,” he said.

Since November, the Houthis have targeted scores of commercial and naval ships going through international seas near Yemen, seized a commercial ship, and blocked the Red Sea before all Israel-bound ships. The Houthis claim their assaults are intended to push Israel to break its embargo on Gaza. 

On Feb. 18, Houthi missiles targeted the MV Rubymar, a Belize-flagged and Lebanese-operated ship, severely damaging it and triggering a big oil leak in the Red Sea.

The ship, carrying more than 21,000 tonnes of fertilizer, sank on Saturday, raising global fears about a possible environmental disaster in the Red Sea as well as hazards to trade along the critical route.

Similarly, the Houthis have accused the US of exaggerating the environmental damage of the ship and its contents. 

The ship’s around 21,000 tonnes of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer are good for fish and coral reefs, as well as helping plants grow in seawater, according to Houthi media official Nasr Al-Din Amer, who purportedly cited a study by an “international” fertilizer production business. 

Amer said in a post on X that the study “refutes American propaganda about the ‘Red Sea disaster.’” 

Meanwhile, the Houthis have announced the mobilization of thousands of fighters in the central province of Marib under the banner of “supporting people in Palestine,” raising concerns in Yemen that the Houthis are using public outrage over Israel’s war in Gaza to resume a military offensive in Marib.

The Houthis said on Sunday that 4,000 of their armed militants journeyed for three days and 100 km from the Harf Sufyan District in the province of Amran to Marib’s Majzar District, where they would settle in preparation for instructions from their commanders to “reinforce” Palestinians.

Another 2,500 infantry Houthi men marched from the same Amran province to Marib on Saturday, allegedly to help Palestinians, according to Houthi official media.

Between January 2021 and April 2022, thousands of civilians and combatants were killed in the province of Marib when the Houthis began a massive military assault to capture control of the region.

Despite moving closer to the city, the Houthis lost thousands of men, failed to seize Marib, and were forced to halt their attack in April 2022 under a UN-brokered ceasefire.

With the current Houthi military rallies outside Marib, Yemen’s government authorities have raised the alarm about a possible Houthi assault on the city under the pretext of battling Israel.


Egyptian FM, UN official discuss ways to boost Gaza relief

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (AP)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (AP)
Updated 26 min 20 sec ago
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Egyptian FM, UN official discuss ways to boost Gaza relief

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (AP)
  • Shoukry stressed the necessity of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza before the month of Ramadan so that the flow of humanitarian aid and relief materials can be increased in quantities sufficient for the needs of the residents

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has stressed the humanitarian and legal responsibility of the UN Security Council to ensure the full implementation of the provisions of Resolution 2720.

He made the comments during talks with Sigrid Kaag, the UN’s senior coordinator for humanitarian affairs and reconstruction in Gaza.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said that Shoukry and Kaag discussed in depth the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in areas of the Gaza Strip due to starvation and the targeting of civilians and humanitarian aid convoys by the Israeli military.

Shoukry stressed the necessity of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza before the month of Ramadan so that the flow of humanitarian aid and relief materials can be increased in quantities sufficient for the needs of the residents.

He noted the humanitarian risks resulting from systematic attempts to target the work of UNRWA and the suspension of funding to the agency by some donors.

UN official Kaag expressed her appreciation for Egypt’s pivotal role since the beginning of the crisis in Gaza.

Kaag emphasized her keenness to continue consultation and coordination with Egypt to ensure the implementation of her tasks related to increasing aid delivery to the strip.

Shoukry was keen to hear from the visiting UN official about developments in work to activate the UN mechanism established by Security Council Resolution 2720 to facilitate, coordinate, and monitor the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip and how to overcome the existing obstacles that prevent her from being able to implement the mandate more than two months after the adoption of the resolution.

Shoukry said Israel must be pressured to comply with the provisions of international law and remove the obstacles it places to bringing aid in to the enclave, including facilitating the use of all available roads into and from the Gaza Strip, including border crossings and using the most direct paths for aid to reach those who need it.

 


Withholding essential aid from Palestinians is tantamount to a death sentence, says Arab League chief

Withholding essential aid from Palestinians is tantamount to a death sentence, says Arab League chief
Updated 04 March 2024
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Withholding essential aid from Palestinians is tantamount to a death sentence, says Arab League chief

Withholding essential aid from Palestinians is tantamount to a death sentence, says Arab League chief
  • Ahmed Aboul Gheit was speaking during a meeting with Sigrid Kaag, the UN’s senior coordinator for humanitarian affairs and reconstruction in Gaza
  • Kaag gave a detailed overview of the humanitarian situation in Gaza amid the ongoing Israeli military operations in the territory

CAIRO: Withholding essential, life-saving aid from Palestinians is tantamount to a death sentence and collective punishment, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.

He was speaking during a meeting with Sigrid Kaag, the UN’s under-secretary-general and senior coordinator for humanitarian affairs and reconstruction in Gaza, at the Arab League’s headquarters in Cairo.

Kaag gave a detailed overview of the humanitarian situation in Gaza amid the ongoing Israeli military operations in the territory and the blockade that is affecting more than 2 million Palestinians.

Jamal Rushdi, a spokesperson for Aboul Gheit, said the discussion focused on the severe deterioration in the humanitarian situation in recent weeks and proposed plans for the delivery of aid.

The Arab League chief said the international community shares responsibility for the tragedy unfolding in Gaza as a result of the tacit approval granted by some significant world powers to Israel, which has allowed authorities in the country to engage in aggressive acts during their war against Hamas in a reprehensible and dehumanizing manner.

Kaag discussed with Aboul Gheit several ideas for delivering aid and the difficulties that have been experienced in achieving this as a result of Israeli intransigence.

Both agreed that the urgent return of Palestinian Authority control of the Gaza Strip is necessary for reconstruction to begin, Rushdi said.

Aboul Gheit reiterated that the current priority is to achieve an immediate ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, halt the bloodshed, and prevent famine among Palestinians in Gaza.


Frankly Speaking: Understanding Ireland’s stance on Israel

Frankly Speaking: Understanding Ireland’s stance on Israel
Updated 04 March 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Understanding Ireland’s stance on Israel

Frankly Speaking: Understanding Ireland’s stance on Israel
  • Trade minister says Dublin prefers collective EU action, but is ready to impose unilateral sanctions on violent settlers
  • Simon Coveney wants Israel to abide by parameters of international law, not ‘become a monster to defeat a monster’ in Gaza

DUBAI: The Republic of Ireland will look at the option of imposing sanctions unilaterally on extremist Israeli settlers on Palestinian land if the European Union is unable to agree on a collective response, according to the country’s minister for enterprise, trade and employment.

Appearing on the Arab News current affairs show “Frankly Speaking,” Simon Coveney said Ireland would prefer to act collectively with its EU partners, but could be compelled to follow Spain in acting unilaterally if a deal is not agreed.

“Yes, we’ll look to try to do that, but we would much rather that these sanctions were imposed collectively by the European Union. There are 26 of the 27 countries that are in agreement in terms of doing that,” he said in course of a wide-ranging interview.

“Let’s not forget the US too has introduced sanctions on violent settlers in the West Bank to send a very strong signal that they regard what is happening in part of the West Bank in terms of violence against Palestinians as totally unacceptable.”

Violence in the occupied West Bank has increased since the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 sparked Israel’s military operation in Gaza, with extremist Israeli settlers using the chaos to seize more Palestinian land.

Ireland has been among the most vocal international critics of Israel’s military campaign, which to date has cost the lives of more than 30,000 people, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry. Another 7,000 people remain missing and at least 70,450 are injured.

Coveney himself was recently quoted as saying that Israel was behaving like a “rogue state” in Gaza. “My comments in relation to the war in Gaza were a reflection of the frustration of many Irish people, but also many other people around the world that want to see progress on finding the basis for a ceasefire,” he told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister for enterprise, trade and employment, said Ireland provides significant funding to support programs for Palestinians across the West Bank and previously across Gaza as well. (AN Photo)

He continued: “And then, of course, trying to make that ceasefire permanent so that we can focus on responding to the extraordinary human suffering that we’re seeing across Gaza now.

“That’s not in any way to diminish the strong Irish criticism and condemnation of the terror attacks that happened to Israeli citizens on Oct. 7 last. But since that awful attack on Israel, we have seen a level of military activity in Gaza that has been devastating.

“We’ve seen almost 30,000 lives lost, many of them women and children. And, of course, a population within Gaza now that is close to starvation. And we need to respond in the context of international law, international humanitarian law, the UN Charter.

“My comments were about responding to the fact that Israel seems not to be listening to many of its partners and allies who are now encouraging restraint and trying to find a basis for a ceasefire.”

Coveney has also said that Israel should not “behave like a monster in order to defeat a monster,” in reference to the country’s military retaliation to the Oct. 7 attack, which saw 1,200 Israelis and other foreign nationals killed and 240 taken hostage.

“When I said you can’t become a monster to defeat a monster, really what I’m referring to there is that a democratic state like Israel has got to abide by the parameters of international law,” he said.

“Even war has rules. We all have a responsibility to hold each other to account in the international community. And in our view, in Ireland, what Israel is doing in Gaza is completely disproportionate to what’s required, as necessary for the defense of Israel.

“The thousands and thousands of children and women who’ve lost their lives under buildings that have collapsed on top of them, this is something that needs to stop and needs to be called out, and is not necessary for the defense of Israel.

“Of course, there must be a consequence to what Hamas did on Oct. 7. And Israel has a right to defend itself.

“But the extent of what has happened, and the loss of life and injury in Gaza, is in my view not justified and is certainly a breach of many aspects of international law and humanitarian law that needs to be called out, which is why we are such a strong advocate for a ceasefire.”

Palestinian child eats bread in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)

The World Food Programme has warned that a famine is imminent in northern Gaza, which has received very little aid in recent weeks, and where an estimated 300,000 people are living with little food or clean water.

On Thursday, at least 112 Palestinians were killed and 760 injured while trying to get desperately needed aid in Gaza City in the presence of Israeli tanks.

Hamas has accused Israel of firing at civilians, but Israel said most died in a stampede after its troops fired warning shots. Leaders around the world have called for a full investigation.

“Even in the absence of conflict, the efforts that the international community are going to need to put in place in Gaza to prevent starvation, to respond to the extraordinary challenges around healthcare and basic provisions is huge,” Coveney said.

“There are only a few hospitals left that are actually functioning in Gaza.”

Given the incredible destruction, the sheer size of what has taken place in the enclave, would Ireland be willing to step in and help with reconstruction efforts when the war eventually comes to an end?

“Absolutely,” said Coveney.

He explained that Ireland provides significant funding to support programs for Palestinians across the West Bank and previously across Gaza as well.

“We’re one of the strongest supporters of UNRWA, as really the only scaled-up humanitarian organization that can provide the scale of supports that Palestinians need, in Gaza and indeed across the West Bank,” he said, referring to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which supports the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees.

“So, even in the last number of weeks, Ireland has, while other countries have actually been pulling their funding or freezing their funding to UNRWA because of a potential scandal of some UNRWA staff being involved in the terror attacks of October 7, even though a very small number may have been involved, let’s wait and see what the investigation determines.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister for enterprise, trade and employment,  told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” that “since that awful attack on Israel, we have seen a level of military activity in Gaza that has been devastating.” (AN Photo)

Separately, Ireland has tried to give a signal to other donors that, given the scale of human suffering in Gaza at the moment, UNRWA is an organization that needs to be supported, Coveney said.

“And so we have increased our funding by 20 million in the last number of weeks, which means now that we will be giving more than €40 million ($50.628 million) to UNRWA. And we hope that that gives a signal to other countries that are funders and supporters of UNRWA that they need to continue to do that,” he said.

The primary focus of Coveney’s visit to the region was the World Trade Organization’s 13th Ministerial Conference, which took place Feb. 26 to 29 in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.

Given the current geopolitical situation, however, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the tensions in the Red Sea naturally became talking points on the sidelines of Coveney’s interactions with this Gulf counterparts.

“It’s impossible to come to this part of the world and not talk about what is currently happening in Gaza, because everybody is watching and is horrified by the human suffering and loss of life,” he said.

“People know when they speak to an Irish government minister that we are both interested and engaged in this debate.

“So, yes, on the sidelines of a lot of the trade discussions, of course, we’re talking about regional conflict and it’s impossible not to focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict that we’re seeing right now in Gaza.

“Also, the tension that we’re seeing in terms of the Red Sea and what Houthi rebels are doing in terms of targeting shipping in the Red Sea, which essentially is targeting global trade, because about 30 percent of global goods trade transits through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, which is significantly being disrupted right now.”

Asked if he noticed a contradiction between the Biden administration’s calls for Israeli restraint in Gaza and sending of weapons and shells to Israel, Coveney responded that the situation required for a realistic appraisal.

“The signal that would be sent to the broader Middle East region of the US preventing arms coming from the US to Israel would potentially be a dangerous one in terms of the signal to Iran and others who are enemies of Israel,” he said.

“I think the US knows that. So, we need to be realistic here on what’s possible.”