France steps up Mideast effort with FM’s Lebanon trip

France steps up Mideast effort with FM’s Lebanon trip
France’s foreign minister Catherine Colonna travels to Lebanon on Saturday as part of diplomatic efforts by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to help contain the Middle East conflict. (AFP)
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Updated 15 December 2023
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France steps up Mideast effort with FM’s Lebanon trip

France steps up Mideast effort with FM’s Lebanon trip
  • “We must avoid a regional eruption,” foreign ministry spokesman Christophe Lemoine said ahead of Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna’s trip
  • Colonna will call for “restraint” and “responsibility” to avoid a new front line on the Israeli-Lebanese border

PARIS: France’s foreign minister travels to Lebanon on Saturday as part of diplomatic efforts by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to help contain the Middle East conflict.
Fears of a widening war have been growing, with Iran-backed groups targeting US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria, and daily exchanges of fire along Israel’s border with Lebanon.
“We must avoid a regional eruption,” foreign ministry spokesman Christophe Lemoine said ahead of Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna’s trip.
Colonna will call for “restraint” and “responsibility” to avoid a new front line on the Israeli-Lebanese border, he said.
There have been near-daily cross-border exchanges between Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Hamas ally in Lebanon, and Israel since the Palestinian group’s unprecedented October 7 attacks on Israel that Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
In response, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched an unrelenting military offensive on Gaza that has left swathes of the besieged Palestinian territory in ruins. The health ministry in the Hamas-run strip says more than 18,700 people have been killed.
Along the Israel-Lebanon border violence has remained relatively limited, with 128 killed in total, including 90 Hezbollah combatants and at least 11 Israelis.
French officials are also seeking the release of the French hostages among the around 240 seized by Hamas militants, as the Israeli army announced Friday that it had recovered the body of French-Israeli hostage Elya Toledano, a 28-year-old seized at a desert rave party when the attack occurred.
Hamas released dozens of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a week-long truce last month, but several are still being held and others have been found dead.
Colonna said her country was “deeply saddened to hear the Israeli armed forces announce the death of our compatriot Elya Toledano, a Hamas hostage whose body was found in Gaza.”
“We share the grief of his family and loved ones. The release of all hostages is our priority,” she wrote on X.
But Israel has stepped up its shelling while issuing warnings to the Hezbollah leadership.
“If Hezbollah chooses to wage a full-fledged war on us, then it will transform, with its own hands, Beirut and South Lebanon into Gaza and Khan Yunis (a city in southern Gaza),” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week during a visit to troops along the Lebanese border.
Western governments, notably the United States and France, are stepping up behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to stop the situation from worsening.
The risk of full-out war is “very real” if the Lebanese side underestimates Israel’s determination to protect its borders in the aftermath of the traumatic October attack, a French diplomatic source said.
But French diplomats and security officials also believe that Israel needs to be reminded that any wider conflict would not guarantee regional security, the source said.
Colonna will therefore “reiterate French appeals for responsibility and restraint,” Lemoine said.
The head of the French external intelligence service, Bernard Emie, gave a similar message when he met Lebanese officials in Beirut last week.
Israel’s current objective is that Hezbollah forces move back from the border by 40 kilometers (25 miles), a Western diplomatic source in Beirut said.
In particular, they want Hezbollah’s elite Al-Radwan unit, equipped with heavy artillery, to back off, said the source, requesting anonymity.
Hezbollah meanwhile says it has no visible presence in the border region.
France maintains that the United Nations Security Council’s resolution 1701, which states that only the official Lebanese army and the UN’s UNIFIL force can be deployed in southern Lebanon, is a promising basis for discussions.
This stance is shared by Israel, but Hezbollah’s second-in-command Naim Qassem said this week that “we won’t discuss any deployment in southern Lebanon with anybody while the attack on Gaza continues.”
The Western diplomatic source said mediation efforts are focusing on settling an ongoing border dispute between both countries, by which Israel would withdraw from farms in the town of Chebaa and from the Lebanese part of the village of GHajjar.
France is the biggest contributor to UNIFIL with 700 soldiers, to whom Colonna could pay a visit on Saturday.
The UN force has been targeted by Israeli fire since the start of the violence, with France condemning “any violation of the safety” of the UN soldiers.
Colonna is scheduled to travel to Israel and the occupied West Bank on Sunday.


Iran’s foreign minister calls EU sanctions ‘regrettable’

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Iran’s foreign minister calls EU sanctions ‘regrettable’

Iran’s foreign minister calls EU sanctions ‘regrettable’
  • EU foreign ministers agreed in principle to expand sanctions on Iran by agreeing to extend restrictive measures on Tehran’s weapons exports
DUBAI: European Union sanctions announced following Iran’s attack against Israel are “regrettable” because the country was acting in self-defense, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian posted on X on Tuesday.
Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles on Israel in what it said was retaliation against a suspected Israeli bombing of its embassy compound in Damascus.
On Monday, EU foreign ministers agreed in principle to expand sanctions on Iran by agreeing to extend restrictive measures on Tehran’s weapons exports of any drone or missile to Iranian proxies and Russia.
“It is regrettable to see the EU deciding quickly to apply more unlawful restrictions against Iran just because Iran exercised its right to self-defense in the face of Israel’s reckless aggression,” Amirabdollahian said on X, before calling on the EU to apply sanctions on Israel instead.
More work will need to follow in Brussels to approve a legal framework before the expansion of the sanctions can take effect.

Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report

Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report
Updated 23 April 2024
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Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report

Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report
  • Rights issues include credible reports of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and torture, says report
  • Israeli military's conduct has come under scrutiny as its forces have killed over 34,000 in Gaza since Oct. 7

WASHINGTON: The war between Israel and Hamas that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis has had “a significant negative impact” on the human rights situation in the country, the US State Department said in its annual report on Monday.

Significant human rights issues include credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings, enforced disappearance, torture and unjustified arrests of journalists among others, said the State Department’s 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

The report added that the Israeli government has taken some credible steps to identify and punish the officials who may have been involved in those abuses.

Israel’s military conduct has come under increasing scrutiny as its forces have killed 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the enclave’s health authorities, many of them civilians and children. The Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip has been reduced to a wasteland, and extreme food shortages have prompted fears of famine.

Israel launched its assault in response to a Hamas attack on Oct. 7, in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed.

Rights groups have flagged numerous incidents of civilian harm during the Israeli army’s offensive in Gaza, as well as raised alarm about rising violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinian Health Ministry records show Israeli forces or settlers have killed at least 460 Palestinians since Oct. 7. But so far the Biden administration has said it has not found Israel in breach of international law.

Washington gives $3.8 billion in annual military assistance to its longtime ally. Leftist Democrats and Arab American groups have criticized the Biden administration’s steadfast support for Israel, which they say provides it with a sense of impunity.

But this month, President Joe Biden for the first time threatened to condition support for Israel, and insisted that it take concrete steps to protect humanitarian aid workers and civilians.


Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report

Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report
Updated 23 April 2024
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Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report

Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report
  • The Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip has been reduced to a wasteland, and extreme food shortages have prompted fears of famine

WASHINGTON: The war between Israel and Hamas that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis has had “a significant negative impact” on the human rights situation in the country, the US State Department said in its annual report on Monday.
Significant human rights issues include credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings, enforced disappearance, torture and unjustified arrests of journalists among others, said the State Department’s 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
The report added that the Israeli government has taken some credible steps to identify and punish the officials who may have been involved in those abuses.
Israel’s military conduct has come under increasing scrutiny as its forces have killed 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the enclave’s health authorities, many of them civilians and children. The Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip has been reduced to a wasteland, and extreme food shortages have prompted fears of famine.
Israel launched its assault in response to a Hamas attack on Oct. 7, in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed.
Rights groups have flagged numerous incidents of civilian harm during the Israeli army’s offensive in Gaza, as well as raised alarm about rising violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinian Health Ministry records show Israeli forces or settlers have killed at least 460 Palestinians since Oct. 7. But so far the Biden administration has said it has not found Israel in breach of international law.
Washington gives $3.8 billion in annual military assistance to its longtime ally. Leftist Democrats and Arab American groups have criticized the Biden administration’s steadfast support for Israel, which they say provides it with a sense of impunity.
But this month, President Joe Biden for the first time threatened to condition support for Israel, and insisted that it take concrete steps to protect humanitarian aid workers and civilians.


Nobel laureate urges protest against Iran’s ‘war on women’

Nobel laureate urges protest against Iran’s ‘war on women’
Updated 23 April 2024
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Nobel laureate urges protest against Iran’s ‘war on women’

Nobel laureate urges protest against Iran’s ‘war on women’
  • Narges Mohammadi issues plea from Evin prison amid new crackdown by Tehran’s morality police

JEDDAH: Jailed Iranian Nobel laureate Narges Mohammadi urged Iranians on Monday to protest against the clerical regime’s “war against women” amid a new crackdown forcing women to cover their heads.
Mohammadi, who is being held in Evin prison in Tehran, called on Iranian women to share their stories of arrest and sexual assault at the hands of the authorities.
Iran launched a nationwide operation this month to enforce the wearing of the headscarf. Women have been arrested and taken to police stations by the morality police, and the Farsi hashtag meaning “war against women” has been trending on social media.
“People of Iran, I ask you, artists, intellectuals, workers, teachers, and students ... inside and outside the country to protest against this war against women,” Mohammadi said in a message from inside the prison. “Do not underestimate the power of sharing your experiences. Doing so will expose the misogynistic government and bring it to its knees.” She accused the authorities of bringing “a full-scale war against all women to every street in Iran.”
Mohammadi said she had been joined in jail by Dina Ghalibaf, a journalist and student who was arrested after accusing security forces on social media of putting her in handcuffs and sexually assaulting her during a previous arrest at a metro station. “For years, we have witnessed many women who have endured assault, abuse, and beatings by government agents,” Mohammadi said.
Mohammadi, 52, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year in recognition of her campaign for human rights in Iran, which has led to her spending much of the past two decades in and out of jail. She has been imprisoned since November 2021 and has not seen her husband and twin children, who live in Paris, for several years.


Bahrain’s crown prince discusses developments in Gaza with US secretary of state

Bahrain’s crown prince discusses developments in Gaza with US secretary of state
Updated 23 April 2024
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Bahrain’s crown prince discusses developments in Gaza with US secretary of state

Bahrain’s crown prince discusses developments in Gaza with US secretary of state
  • Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad reiterates his nation’s ‘firm stance’ in support of the Palestinian cause; Antony Blinken thanks Bahrain for its contributions to maritime security

LONDON: Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad of Bahrain and the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, on Monday discussed the latest developments in Gaza, along with other regional and global issues of common interest.

During their telephone conversation, the Prince “reviewed the strength of the Bahrain-US partnership, highlighting the importance of bolstering joint coordination to achieve common goals and interests,” the Bahrain News Agency reported.

During their talks about the current situation in the Middle East, and in particular the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the crown prince reiterated Bahrain’s “firm stance toward the Palestinian cause and its unwavering commitment to reaching a peaceful, lasting and fair solution in support of Palestinians’ legitimate right to establish an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

He also highlighted the important need to protect civilians and deescalate the violence in Gaza, which he said threatens regional security and stability.

The US State Department said both officials “reinforced their shared commitment to preventing the spread of regional conflict,” and Blinken thanked Bahrain for its contributions to maritime security.

They also discussed ways in which “cooperation under the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement continues to strengthen the strategic partnership” between their countries, spokesperson Matthew Miller added.