Plea for Lebanon to remain neutral amid Israel-Hezbollah hostilities

Plea for Lebanon to remain neutral amid Israel-Hezbollah hostilities
Smoke billows from a compound in the southern Lebanese village of Odaisseh on Monday following Israeli bombardment amid ongoing cross-border tensions. (AFP)
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Updated 25 December 2023

Plea for Lebanon to remain neutral amid Israel-Hezbollah hostilities

Plea for Lebanon to remain neutral amid Israel-Hezbollah hostilities
  • Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi says Lebanon ‘is a land of dialogue and peace’ while condemning Gaza genocide

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi reiterated his plea for Lebanon to remain neutral on Monday amid continuing hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israel forces.

In his Christmas sermon, the patriarch spoke about “the families afflicted by the genocidal war on Gaza and our families in southern Lebanon because of the extension of this ill-fated and rejected war to their towns and villages, with the deaths it left behind, the destruction of homes, and the destruction of property.”

Al-Rahi condemned the “brutal genocide taking place in Gaza.”

He said: “We reject its spread to the southern villages. Lebanon is not a land of war but a land of dialogue and peace.”

Al-Rahi said: “The spread of the war to southern Lebanon contradicts Resolution 1701. Lebanon must return to its neutrality as a defender, through diplomacy, of any lost rights.

“The Baabda Declaration in 2012, unanimously approved by the political blocs, affirmed Lebanon’s neutrality with the expression ‘distancing itself’ and adopted it.

“Lebanon’s neutrality has been at the core of Lebanon’s identity since 1860, and it is politically neutral in that it neither fights nor is fought.”

Al-Rahi’s new appeal came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army entered a new phase.

The attacks are now targeting residential houses on both sides of the Blue Line along the border, with some military operations transgressing the rules of engagement.

A security source told Arab News: “Scenes of destruction can be observed in residential neighborhoods in the border areas targeted by Israeli bombing.”

Hezbollah’s attacks are now hitting targets as far as 10 km inside Israel.

Sheikh Naim Kassem, deputy secretary-general, reiterated that the movement’s military operations on the southern front “are to support Gaza, and no one believes that this matter is isolated from protecting Lebanon.”

He said: “We are in one situation; the enemy is one, and this enemy is expansionist. Israel’s strategy is to target one group at a time, aiming to annihilate all.”

On Monday, Hezbollah announced that it had “targeted buildings in the Misgav Am settlement with missile weapons, in response to bombing villages and civilian homes” in southern Lebanon.

On Sunday, Hezbollah announced “targeting a residential building in the Avivim settlement, causing confirmed casualties.”

For the past 79 days, Hezbollah’s hostilities on the southern border have been limited to Israeli military outposts and gatherings of Israeli soldiers.

However, during the past week, the Israeli forces mainly targeted houses belonging to Hezbollah members and cadres in some border villages.

Israel targeted a house in Kfarkila with three shells on Monday, setting it on fire, after targeting a residential home on Sunday in Markaba.

Hezbollah announced the death of the house owner, Wissam Khalil Hammoud, who is one of its members.

Hezbollah also announced on Saturday the death of Ibrahim Salameh from the Aytaroun village after Israeli shelling targeted his house.

Hezbollah said it targeted a deployment of Israeli soldiers in the vicinity of the Metat barracks on Monday.

Since Monday morning, there has been a tense atmosphere in the border villages.

The outskirts of Naqoura, Hanin, and Wadi Hamul were targeted by Israeli artillery shelling.

Hezbollah declared that it initiated missile strikes on the Beit Hilal military base located east of Kiryat Shmona, the Israeli military site of Jal Al-Alam, and a gathering of Israeli soldiers near the Birkat Risha site.

Israeli forces conducted a series of attacks in the areas surrounding Aita Al-Shaab, Tallet Al-Raheb, Kafr Kila, and the Marjayoun Plain.

Additionally, Israeli warplanes targeted the outskirts of Aitaroun and Mays Al-Jabal, launching air-to-surface missiles that caused explosions heard in the Bint Jbeil area.

The Israeli forces used Burkan missiles, phosphorus bombs, and artillery in Monday’s bombardment and installed a surveillance balloon above the towns of Al-Dhahira and Alma Al-Shaab.

According to statistics gathered by journalists in southern Lebanon, the total number of casualties from Israeli airstrikes during the clashes in southern Lebanon over the past 79 days reached 159, including 107 in the south and 14 in Syria.

Among the casualties were 17 civilians in southern Lebanon, including three journalists, one soldier from the Lebanese Army, one from the Amal movement, one from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, two from the Jamaa Islamiyya, and seven from the Islamic Jihad Movement, as well as nine casualties from the Hamas movement in Lebanon.

Iran sanctions take center stage in presidential campaign

Updated 6 sec ago

Iran sanctions take center stage in presidential campaign

Iran sanctions take center stage in presidential campaign
  • Sanctions have sharply reduced Iran’s oil revenues, heavily restricted trade and contributed to soaring inflation, high unemployment
Tehran: Iranians broadly deplore Western sanctions that have battered the economy, but the country’s six presidential candidates offer differing solutions — assuming the winner gets a say on foreign policy.
Punishing US sanctions, reimposed following Washington’s withdrawal from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, have brought years of economic hardships, fueling political malaise and wide popular discontent.
With the June 28 snap election fast approaching, debates between the candidates vying for Iran’s second-highest office have featured a key question: should Tehran mend ties with the West?
Under the late president Ebrahim Raisi, who died last month in a helicopter crash, Western governments have expanded sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program as well as its support for militant groups across the Middle East and for Russia in its war in Ukraine.
The sanctions have sharply reduced Iran’s oil revenues, heavily restricted trade and contributed to soaring inflation, high unemployment and a record low for the Iranian rial against the US dollar.
At Tehran’s bustling Grand Bazaar, shopkeeper Hamid Habibi, 54, said years of sanctions “have hit people very hard.”
“Sanctions should be removed and ties mended with the US and European countries,” he said.
In two televised debates focused on the economy ahead of the presidential polls, “almost all the candidates explained that the sanctions have had devastating effects,” said Fayyaz Zahed, a professor of international relations at the University of Tehran.
“It is crucial to resolve this issue to alleviate the people’s suffering,” he said.
While the six contenders — five conservatives and a sole reformist — have all vowed to tackle the economic hardships, they offered varying views on Iran’s relations with the West.
“If we could lift the sanctions, Iranians could live comfortably,” said reformist candidate Massoud Pezeshkian, considered one of three frontrunners.
Pezeshkian, who is backed by key reformist groups in Iran, called for “constructive relations” with Washington and European capitals in order to “get Iran out of its isolation.”
On the campaign trail, he had the support of Mohammad Javad Zarif, a former foreign minister who helped secure the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and insists it had positive impact on the Iranian economy.
Since the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018, Iran has gradually reduced its commitment to its terms, meant to curb nuclear activity which Tehran has maintained was for peaceful purposes.
Diplomatic efforts to revive the deal have long stalled as tensions between Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency repeatedly flared.
Former president Hassan Rouhani, whose government negotiated the deal, said the sanctions cost Iranians “$100 billion a year, directly or indirectly, from the sale of oil and petrochemicals and the discounts they give” — in reference to preferential trade with China, a signatory to the 2015 agreement.
Ultraconservative presidential candidate Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator, has called for Tehran to press ahead with its long-running anti-Western policy.
“The international community is not made up of just two or three Western countries,” Jalili has repeatedly said in debates and campaign rallies.
He said Iran should bolster its ties with China and Russia, and forge stronger relations with Arab countries, particularly regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
Conservative candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the incumbent parliament speaker, has offered a more pragmatic approach, saying Iran should negotiate with Western countries only if it stands to gain an “economic advantage.”
Ghalibaf called for increasing Tehran’s nuclear capabilities, a strategy he said was already “forcing the West to negotiate with Iran.”
Zahed, the international relations professor, said Jalili has positioned himself as “the most inflexible candidate on the diplomatic level.”
In any case, the expert added, the next president will have limited say over strategic issues in the Islamic republic where supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 85, wields ultimate authority.
On Saturday, Khamenei urged the candidates to avoid making any remarks that would “please the enemy” — in reference to the West, mainly the United States.
The president “could only influence foreign policy” if he “earned the trust” of Khamenei and Iran’s most influential government institutions, Zahed said.

EU adopts sanctions against six over Sudan civil war

EU adopts sanctions against six over Sudan civil war
Updated 52 min 54 sec ago

EU adopts sanctions against six over Sudan civil war

EU adopts sanctions against six over Sudan civil war

EU countries adopted sanctions against six people in Sudan on Monday over the war between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that has engulfed the country.
The listings include a general commanding the RSF in West Darfur, who the EU Council said is responsible for committing atrocities, instigating ethnically motivated killings, sexual violence and the looting and burning of communities.
They also include the RSF’s financial adviser, as well as a prominent tribal leader of the Mahamid clan affiliated with the RSF in West Darfur.
On the side of the Sudanese army, sanctions target the director of Defense Industry Systems and the commander of the Sudanese Air Force for their responsibility in the “indiscriminate aerial bombing of densely populated residential areas,” the EU Council said.
Former Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Ahmed Karti Mohamed is also listed.
The six are now subject to an asset freeze and travel ban in the 27-nation European Union.

Israel kills senior Gaza health official, tanks push deeper into Rafah

Israel kills senior Gaza health official, tanks push deeper into Rafah
Updated 24 June 2024

Israel kills senior Gaza health official, tanks push deeper into Rafah

Israel kills senior Gaza health official, tanks push deeper into Rafah
  • Israeli military said that the strike targeted Mohammad Salah, who it said was responsible for developing Hamas weaponry
  • killing of Hani Al-Jaafarawi brought the number of medical staff killed by Israeli fire since Oct 7 to 500

CAIRO: An Israeli air strike at a medical clinic in Gaza City killed the director of Gaza’s Ambulance and Emergency Department, the enclave’s health ministry said, while Israel’s military said the strike had killed a senior Hamas armed commander.
The health ministry said the killing of Hani Al-Jaafarawi brought the number of medical staff killed by Israeli fire since Oct 7 to 500. At least 300 others have so far been detained.
In a statement, the Israeli military said the strike targeted Mohammad Salah, who it said was responsible for developing Hamas weaponry.
“Salah was part of a project to develop strategic weaponry for the Hamas terrorist organization, and he commanded a number of Hamas terrorist squads that worked on developing weapons,” it said.
More than eight months into the fighting, international mediation backed by the United States has so far failed to bring a ceasefire agreement. Hamas says any agreement must bring an end the war, while Israel says it will agree only temporary pauses in fighting until Hamas is eradicated.
In Rafah, near the border with Egypt, Israeli forces which took control of the eastern, southern, and central parts of the city pursued their raid into the western and northern areas, said residents, describing heavy fighting.
On Sunday, residents had said Israeli tanks had advanced to the edge of the Mawasi displaced persons’ camp in the northwest of Rafah, forcing many families to leave northward to Khan Younis and to Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, the only city in the enclave where tanks have not yet invaded.
“The situation in Tel Al-Sultan, in western Rafah, remains very dangerous. Drones and Israeli snipers are hunting people who try to check on their houses, and tanks continue to take over areas overseeing Al-Mawasi further west,” said Bassam, a resident of Rafah.
“We know about people killed in the streets and we know and we see that dozens of houses had been destroyed by the occupation,” he told Reuters via a chat app.
Israel denies targeting civilians and blames Hamas for provoking civilian casualties by fighting among them, which Hamas denies.
The Israeli military said forces continued “intelligence-based targeted operations” in Rafah, locating weapons and rocket launchers and killing militants “who posed threats to them.”
In the north of the enclave, where Israel had said its forces completed operations months ago, residents said tanks had pushed back into Gaza City’s Zeitoun suburb and were pounding several areas there.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli offensive in retaliation has killed almost 37,600 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and has left Gaza in ruins.
Since early May, fighting has focused on Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge where around half of the enclave’s 2.3 million people had been sheltering after fleeing other areas.
Netanyahu said the phase of intense fighting against Hamas would end “very soon,” but that the war would not end until the Islamist group no longer controls the Palestinian enclave.
In an interview with Israel’s channel 14, he said forces based in Gaza would be freed to move to the north, where Israel has warned of a potential full-blown war against Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which has struck the border region in what it says is solidarity with the Palestinians.
“After the intense phase is finished, we will have the possibility to move part of the forces north. And we will do this,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 14.

Netanyahu will only agree to ‘partial’ ceasefire, but not end to Gaza war

Netanyahu will only agree to ‘partial’ ceasefire, but not end to Gaza war
Updated 14 min 54 sec ago

Netanyahu will only agree to ‘partial’ ceasefire, but not end to Gaza war

Netanyahu will only agree to ‘partial’ ceasefire, but not end to Gaza war
  • Viability of US-backed peace proposal cast into doubt with Israeli leader’s comments
  • Netanyahu’s remarks could further strain Israel’s ties to the US, its top ally

TEL AVIV: The viability of a US-backed proposal to wind down the eight-month-long war in Gaza was cast into doubt on Monday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would only be willing to agree to a “partial” ceasefire deal that would not end the war, comments that sparked an uproar from families of hostages held by Hamas.
In an interview broadcast late Sunday on Israeli Channel 14, a conservative, pro-Netanyahu station, the Israeli leader said he was “prepared to make a partial deal — this is no secret — that will return to us some of the people,” referring to the roughly 120 hostages still held in the Gaza Strip. “But we are committed to continuing the war after a pause, in order to complete the goal of eliminating Hamas. I’m not willing to give up on that.”
Netanyahu’s comments did not deviate dramatically from what he has said previously about his terms for a deal. But they come at a sensitive time as Israel and Hamas appear to be moving further apart over the latest ceasefire proposal, and they could represent another setback for mediators trying to end the war.
Netanyahu’s comments stood in sharp contrast to the outlines of the deal detailed late last month by US President Joe Biden, who framed the plan as an Israeli one and which some in Israel refer to as “Netanyahu’s deal.” His remarks could further strain Israel’s ties to the US, its top ally, which launched a major diplomatic push for the latest ceasefire proposal.
The three-phased plan would bring about the release of the remaining hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. But disputes and mistrust persist between Israel and Hamas over how the deal plays out.
Hamas has insisted it will not release the remaining hostages unless there’s a permanent ceasefire and a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. When Biden announced the latest proposal last month, he said it included both.
But Netanyahu says Israel is still committed to destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities, and ensuring it can never again carry out an Oct. 7-style assault. A full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, where Hamas’ top leadership and much of its forces are still intact, would almost certainly leave the group in control of the territory and able to rearm. In the interview, Netanyahu said that the current phase of fighting is ending, but that didn’t mean the war was over.
During the initial six-week phase, the sides are supposed to negotiate an agreement on the second phase, which Biden said would include the release of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers, and Israel’s full withdrawal from Gaza. The temporary ceasefire would become permanent.
Hamas appears concerned that Israel will resume the war once its most vulnerable hostages are returned. And even if it doesn’t, Israel could make demands in that stage of negotiations that were not part of the initial deal and are unacceptable to Hamas — and then resume the war when Hamas refuses them.
Netanyahu’s remarks reinforced that concern. After they were aired, Hamas said they represented “unmistakable confirmation of his rejection” of the US-supported deal, which also received the backing of the United Nations’ Security Council.
In a statement late Sunday after Netanyahu’s lengthy TV interview, the Palestinian militant group said his position was “in contrast” to what the US administration said that Israel had approved. The group said that its insistence that any deal should include a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of all Israeli forces out of the entire Gaza Strip “was an inevitable necessity to block Netanyahu’s attempts of evasion, deception, and perpetuation of aggression and the war of extermination against our people.”
Netanyahu shot back and in a statement from his office said Hamas opposed a deal. He said Israel would not withdraw from Gaza until all 120 hostages are returned.
Hamas welcomed the broad outline of the US plan but proposed what it said were “amendments.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a visit to the region earlier this month, said some of Hamas’ demands were “workable” and some were not, without elaborating.
Netanyahu and Hamas both have incentives to keep the devastating war going despite the catastrophic toll it has had on civilians in Gaza and the mounting anger in Israel that after so many months Israel has not reached its aims of returning the hostages and defeating Hamas.
The families of hostages have grown increasingly impatient with Netanyahu, seeing his apparent reluctance to move ahead on a deal as tainted by political considerations. A group representing the families condemned Netanyahu’s remarks, which it viewed as an Israeli rejection of the latest ceasefire proposal.
“This is an abandonment of the 120 hostages and a violation of the state’s moral duty toward its citizens,” it said, noting that it held Netanyahu responsible for returning all the captives.
In its Oct. 7 cross-border assault, Hamas-led militants killed 1,200 people and took 250 people captive, including women, children and older people. Dozens were freed in a temporary ceasefire deal in late November and of the 120 remaining hostages, Israeli authorities say about a third are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory war has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. It has sparked a humanitarian crisis and displaced most of the territory’s 2.3 million population.

Suspected Yemen Houthi attack targets vessel in waters further away than many previous assaults

Suspected Yemen Houthi attack targets vessel in waters further away than many previous assaults
Updated 24 June 2024

Suspected Yemen Houthi attack targets vessel in waters further away than many previous assaults

Suspected Yemen Houthi attack targets vessel in waters further away than many previous assaults
  • Attack on Monday morning in the Gulf of Aden about 450 kilometers southeast of Nishtun, close to the border with Oman
  • Attack also just off to the northeast of Yemen’s Socotra Island, which is held by allies of the exiled government

DUBAI: A possible attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Monday targeted a ship further away from nearly all of the previous assaults they’ve launched in the Gulf of Aden, officials said, potentially part of a widening escalation by the group.
The attack comes as the US has sent the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower back home after an eight-month deployment in which it led the American response to the Houthi assaults. Those attacks have reduced shipping drastically through the route crucial to Asian, Middle East and European markets in a campaign the Houthis say will continue as long as the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip rages on.
The attack happened Monday morning in the Gulf of Aden some 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of Nishtun, a town in the far reaches of Yemen that’s close to the border with Oman, according to the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center. That region for long has been held by forces allied to Yemen’s exiled government, which has battled the Houthis since the rebels took the capital, Sanaa, back in 2014.

The attack was just off to the northeast of Yemen’s Socotra Island, also held by allies of the exiled government.
“The master of a merchant vessel reports an explosion in close proximity to the vessel,” the UKMTO said. “The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call.”
It offered no other immediate information about the attack.
Suspicion immediately fell on the Houthis, who did not immediately claim the assault. It can take the rebels hours or even days to acknowledge their attacks. Somali pirates have been known to operate in the region as well, though they typically seize vessels for ransom rather than launch attacks against them.
However, the attack happened near the outer reaches of the Gulf of Aden where it becomes the Arabian Sea and then ultimately the Indian Ocean. Of the more than 60 attacks launched by the Houthis since November that specifically targeted vessels, this would be one of the furthest.
In May, a Portuguese-flagged container ship came under attack by a drone in the far reaches of the Arabian Sea in an attack claimed by the Houthis. However, the distance at which it was struck led experts to question whether Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor, could have launched the attack. The Houthis have claimed attacks later assessed to have been conducted by Iran, including the 2019 attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields that temporarily halved the kingdom’s energy production.
The Houthis have made a series of claims without evidence they’ve targeted vessels at even greater distances, even though there’s been no independent confirmation of any of those attacks actually taking place.
The rebels have fired off other missiles and drones in their campaign that has killed a total of four sailors. They have seized one vessel and sunk two since November. A US-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis since January, with a series of strikes on May 30 killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the rebels say.
The Houthis have maintained that their attacks target ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain. However, many of the ships attacked have little or no connection to the Israel-Hamas war — including those bound for Iran.