Hamas leader visits Egypt amid intensive talks on new ceasefire

Update Hamas leader visits Egypt amid intensive talks on new ceasefire
An Israeli military vehicle drives near damaged buildings in the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, on Dec. 19, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 December 2023
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Hamas leader visits Egypt amid intensive talks on new ceasefire

Hamas leader visits Egypt amid intensive talks on new ceasefire
  • Qatar-based Ismail Haniyeh heads ‘high-level’ delegation for talks with Egyptian officials
  • Israel was insisting all remaining women and infirm men among hostages be released

CAIRO: The leader of Hamas paid his first visit to Egypt for more than a month on Wednesday, a rare personal intervention in diplomacy amid what a source described as intensive talks on a new ceasefire to let aid reach Gaza and get more hostages freed.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who normally resides in Qatar, typically wades publicly into diplomacy only when progress seems likely. He last traveled to Egypt in early November before the announcement of the only deal on a ceasefire in the Gaza war so far, a week-long pause that saw the release of about 110 of 240 hostages taken by Hamas in its Oct. 7 rampage into Israel.
Islamic Jihad, a smaller Palestinian militant group which is also holding hostages in Gaza, said its leader would also visit Egypt in coming days to discuss a possible end to the war.
A source briefed on negotiations said envoys were discussing which of the hostages still held by Palestinian Islamist militants in Gaza could be freed in a new truce, and what prisoners Israel might release in return.
Israel was insisting all remaining women and infirm men among hostages be released, the source said, declining to be identified. Palestinians convicted of serious offenses could be on the list of prisoners to be freed by Israel. The source described the negotiations as intensive and said a breakthrough could be possible within days.
But there remains a huge gulf between the two sides’ publicly stated positions on any halt to fighting. Hamas rejects any further temporary pause and says it will discuss only a permanent ceasefire. Israel has ruled that out, and says it will agree only limited humanitarian pauses until Hamas is defeated.
“Hamas’ stance remains: they don’t have a desire for humanitarian pauses. Hamas wants a complete end to the Israeli war on Gaza,” a Palestinian official said.

NETANYAHU DEFIANT ON CEASEFIRE CALLS
Haniyeh was “in Cairo today to listen to whether Israel has made new proposals or whether Cairo has some too. It is early to speak of expectations,” the Palestinian official said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in remarks that suggested any new truce under consideration would be short-lived, repeated that the war would end only with Hamas eradicated, all hostages freed and Gaza posing no more threat.
“Whoever thinks we will stop is detached from reality...All Hamas terrorists, from the first to the last, are dead men walking,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Israel has faced increasing pressure from its Western allies to curb a military onslaught in Gaza that has laid waste to much of the densely populated coastal enclave in retaliation for the Hamas killing and kidnapping spree on Oct. 7.
Washington, Israel’s closest ally, has publicly called over the past week for it to scale down its all-out war into a more targeted campaign against Hamas leaders and end what US President Joe Biden called “indiscriminate bombing.”
In a serious spillover from the war, Yemen’s Houthi forces have been firing missiles and drones at commercial shipping in the Red Sea to underline support from Iran’s Arab militia proxies for the Palestinians against Israel, and the US this week set up a multinational force to ward off the attacks.
On Wednesday, the Houthis’ leader warned they would strike US warships if their forces were targeted by Washington.

UN VOTE DELAYED
Inside Gaza, Reuters saw wounded victims of Israeli bombing, including at least two small children covered in blood and dust, carried into the Nasser hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis. At the hospital morgue, women wearing black abaya robes wailed by bodies laid out in black bags and white shrouds.
At the UN Security Council, where Washington has twice used its veto to shield Israel from international demands for a ceasefire, negotiators put off a vote on the latest resolution for another day in hope of reaching an agreed text.
Since the last truce collapsed on Dec. 1, the war has entered a more intensive phase, with ground combat previously confined to the northern half of the Gaza Strip now spread across the length of the territory.
Israel has sworn to defeat Hamas, which rules Gaza, since its fighters killed 1,200 people and captured 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies, on Oct. 7. Gaza health officials say nearly 20,000 people have since been confirmed killed in Israeli strikes, with thousands more believed lost and buried under rubble.
In the north, which Israeli forces claimed to have largely subdued last month, fighting has been fiercer than ever. Flames and smoke towered into the sky as seen from across the boundary fence in Israel, as Israeli warplanes pounded the area at dawn.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli forces had besieged its ambulance depot in Jabalia, a northern settlement that has been embattled for weeks. There are 127 people in the facility including workers, displaced people and wounded.
In the south, where most civilians are now sheltering after fleeing other areas, there has been intense fighting around the center of Khan Younis, which Israeli forces have partly stormed.
“All night, the bombing didn’t stop. Their focus now is Khan Younis. People here have to deal with two wars all the time, bombing and hunger,” said Samir Ali, 45, a father-of-five from Gaza City in the north now sheltering in Khan Younis.
Hamas’ armed wing said a number of Israeli soldiers were killed and wounded when militants detonated a booby-trapped shaft of a tunnel east of the city.
Israel says it does what it can to shield civilians, including warning them in advance of strikes, and that Hamas is to blame for harm to them by operating in their midst. Hamas denies this.
International aid groups say the enclave’s 2.3 million people have been driven to the brink of catastrophe by wholesale destruction that has left displaced 90 percent of them and left many malnourished and gravely short of clean water and medical care.


Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule

Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule
Updated 12 sec ago
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Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule

Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule
  • Syrians are voting for members of a new parliament in an election that is expected to hold few surprises
  • Syrians who’ve left their country due to the war are not eligible to vote in parliamentary elections
DAMASCUS: Syrians were voting for members of a new parliament in an election Monday that was expected to hold few surprises but could pave the way for a constitutional amendment to extend the term of President Bashar Assad.
The vote is the fourth in Syria since mass anti-government protests and a brutal crackdown by security forces spiraled into an ongoing civil war in 2011.
There are 1,516 government-approved candidates running this year for the 250-seat People’s Assembly.
The number of eligible voters has not been announced. In parliamentary elections, unlike presidential elections, the millions of diaspora Syrians — whose numbers have ballooned since the civil war — are not eligible to vote.
Some 8,151 polling stations were set up in 15 voting districts in government-held areas.
In the Druze-majority southern province of Sweida, where anti-government protests have been taking place regularly for nearly a year, many called for a boycott of the polls. Videos posted online showed protesters seizing ballot boxes off a truck in an attempt to stop them arriving to polling stations.
Elsewhere, campaigning was low key and candidates’ campaigns largely revolved around general slogans such as national unity and prosperity.
Assad’s Baath Party won 166 seats in the 2020 elections, representing nearly two-thirds of its membership, in addition to 17 members from allied parties. Another 67 seats went to independent candidates.
Vladimir Pran, an independent adviser on transitional political and electoral processes, said the competitive part of the Syrian election process comes before voters go to the polls, during the Baath Party primary process, when party members vote on which candidates’ names are sent to the party’s central command to make the final list.
“Elections are really already finished... with the end of the primary process,” he said. Once the Baath party list is completed, “you can check the list and the results, and you will see that literally all of them will be in the Parliament.”
The number of incumbents who made the final list this year was relatively low, suggesting a reshuffling within the Baath party.
Maroun Sfeir, a consultant on transitional electoral and political processes, said the 169 candidates put forward by the Baath party alone is past the margin of 167 MPs needed to propose a constitutional amendment, protect the president from being accused of treason and veto legislation.
Adding to that 16 candidates from Baath-allied parties running on the same list, he said, “you’re only three MPs short of three quarters of the parliament, which is required for (passing) a constitutional amendment.”
While that leaves 65 slots open for independent candidates, Sfeir said they should not be expected to present a real opposition bloc.
“They are all pre-vetted... to ensure that they’re all loyal or without any threat,” he said.
With Assad facing term limits that would end his presidency in 2028, the next parliament is widely expected to try to pass a constitutional amendment to extend his term.

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
Updated 15 July 2024
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Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
  • The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The civil defense agency in Hamas-run Gaza said Sunday that 15 people were killed in a strike on a school sheltering war displaced where the Israeli military said it had targeted “terrorists.”
The strike on the UN-run Abu Araban site in central Gaza’s Nuseirat camp was the fifth on a school-turned-shelter in eight days.
The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children.
Schools in Nuseirat were the target for two of the earlier school strikes as Israel keeps up its offensive against Hamas Palestinian militants who triggered the war with their October 7 attack on Israel.
The Israeli military said its air force “struck a number of terrorists who were operating in the area of UNRWA’s Abu Araban school building in Nuseirat.”
It said the building had “served as a hideout” and base for “attacks” on Israeli troops.
AFPTV images showed the three-story complex standing, with clothes and bedding airing out over its railings. A wall bearing the UN logo had been blown out, and rooms inside were damaged.
On July 6, Israeli aircraft hit Al-Jawni school, also run by the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), in Nuseirat. UNRWA said about 2,000 people were sheltering there at the time.
The following day, four people died in a strike on the church-run Holy Family school in Gaza City, in the territory’s north, according to the Civil Defense agency.
On Monday, Israel hit another Nuseirat school, again saying it was targeting “terrorists.”
The next day, a hospital source said at least 29 people died in a strike at the entrance to Al-Awda school in the Khan Yunis area, southern Gaza.
Israel says Hamas uses schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure for military purposes. Hamas denies the accusation.
France and Germany on Wednesday called for an investigation into the school strikes.
After the Al-Jawni strike, UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma told AFP that when the war began “we closed the schools and they became shelters.”
UNRWA is the main relief agency in Gaza but more than half, or 190, of its facilities have been hit — “some more than once” — in the military response to the October 7 Hamas attacks, she said.
 

 


As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
Updated 14 July 2024
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As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
  • About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian

TEL AVIV: Comedian Ayman Nahas said he has kept a “low profile” since Oct. 7, fearing reprisals as an Arab artist in Israel while the country wages war in the Gaza Strip.
He is one of many Arab artists in Israel or annexed East Jerusalem who describe facing increasing hostility and harassment and fearing looming funding cuts or arrests.
“You never know where your place is, and that is not the right atmosphere to perform,” said Nahas, the artistic director at the Arabic-language Sard theater in Haifa, in Israel’s north.
He said that his theater depends on government subsidies “like 99 percent of cultural spaces” in Israel.
But he fears the money could be cut, as happened in 2015 to Al-Midan, another theater in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa, after it put on a play inspired by the story of a prisoner jailed by Israel over an attack on troops.
One 25-year-old performer, who asked to use the pseudonym Elias to avoid a backlash, said he has put acting aside and became a swimming pool attendant because he was fed up with only getting stereotyped roles.
Other Arab actors say that since the war, they can no longer find work in Israel. Elias has finally found a role in Berlin.
“I have had to go into exile to practice my art,” he said in a Tel Aviv cafe.
“I don’t wear my ‘Free Palestine’ bracelet anymore, and I take care of what I put on social media. I have friends who the police have visited.”
Nonprofit group Mossawa has documented an increase in human rights violations against Israel’s Arab minority since October, including arrests, discrimination at work, and harassment at schools, as well as curbs on the right to protest.
Singer Dalal Abu Amneh, who is also a neuroscientist, was detained for 48 hours for a social media post after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that said “the only victor is God.”
Abu Amneh later said she had been harassed in her Jewish-majority hometown of Afula in northern Israel. Her lawyer said she had received hundreds of “death threats.”
About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian.
They say they are frequently the targets of discrimination by the Jewish majority, and those complaints have grown through more than nine months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Huda Imam, who promotes Palestinian cultural sites in Jerusalem, said that “a cultural silence has taken hold since Oct. 7.”
“There has been a shock, an inability to produce out of fear and respect” for the war’s victims, she added.
“There was a Palestinian cultural life before the war, especially in east Jerusalem,” Imam said, referring to the sector Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by most of the international community.
“Now people don’t go out.”
And it is primarily exiles “who give a voice to Palestine,” said Imam, highlighting the rapper Saint Levant, who played at the Coachella music festival in the US in April, and the European-based singer and flute player Nai Barghouti.
Palestinians still express themselves through their “living heritage, like drinking coffee or dancing dabkeh,” a traditional dance, said artist Hani Amra.
Some artists wondered about the relevance of their work now.
“You turn on the television, and you see the war live. The reality is more powerful than any artistic work,” Amer Khalil, the director of east Jerusalem’s Al-Hakawati, also known as the Palestinian National Theater.
The theater, founded in 1984, “has been closed more than 200 times in 40 years” and is again in the crosshairs of Israeli authorities, said Khalil.
“Running a theater is always difficult, but after Oct. 7 things became even more complicated,” he said, adding that Al-Hakawati was preparing a play about that day.
“It is a game, like censorship. It comes and goes.”

 


UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
Updated 14 July 2024
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UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
  • The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday
  • The aid includes supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries and insulin

DUBAI: The UAE delivered three tonnes of medical supplies and a range of medicines to support the healthcare sector and hospitals still operating in the Gaza Strip, the UAE state news agency reported on Sunday.

The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday.

The medical aid includes medical supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries, insulin for diabetic patients, and other solutions to bolster the healthcare sector during the crisis.

The UAE on Sunday condemned Israel’s attack on refugee camps in Khan Younis, which claimed the lives of 100 people.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday expressed its strongest condemnation and denunciation of what it termed “continued genocidal massacres against the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli war machine.”


Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth
Updated 14 July 2024
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Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth
  • Its statement added expenses were estimated at 24.5 billion dinars and revenues at 18.9 billion dinars

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait's budget is projected to show a deficit of 5.6 billion dinars ($18.33 billion) for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Sunday citing the Ministry of Finance. 

Its statement added expenses were estimated at 24.5 billion dinars and revenues at 18.9 billion dinars.

Government spending must be fixed at 24.5 billion Kuwaiti dinars in the 2027-2028 budget to control budget growth, the ministry also said.

The liquidity of the General Reserve Fund, from which the budget deficit is financed, decreased to 2 billion dinars last March from 33.6 billion ten years ago due to increasing withdrawals, it added.