World must ‘accelerate debate’ about Gaza’s postwar governance, Greek FM Giorgos Gerapetritis tells Arab News

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Updated 12 January 2024
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World must ‘accelerate debate’ about Gaza’s postwar governance, Greek FM Giorgos Gerapetritis tells Arab News

World must ‘accelerate debate’ about Gaza’s postwar governance, Greek FM Giorgos Gerapetritis tells Arab News
  • Says Greece is concerned by the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the conflict’s potential spillover into the wider region
  • Calls Saudi Arabia and Greece “pillars of stability and prosperity” in respective regions who should develop relations

RIYADH: The international community must strengthen its humanitarian response in Gaza, while also “accelerating the debate” about the shape of postwar governance of the territory, Giorgos Gerapetritis, the minister for foreign affairs of Greece, told Arab News during a special interview on Thursday.

In a wide-ranging interview in Riyadh, where Gerapetritis later met with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the top diplomat laid out proposals for ending the conflict in Gaza, while also discussing the deepening of ties between Greece and Saudi Arabia.

Asked what Greece is doing to put pressure on Israel to accept a ceasefire in Gaza and to allow more aid into the embattled territory, Gerapetritis said his government’s target was twofold.

“First is to further strengthen humanitarian aid, which means first to create sustainable humanitarian corridors, then to enable further checkpoints through which the humanitarian aid could cross,” he said.




Greek FM Giorgos Gerapetritis, left, spoke to Arab News in Riyadh before meeting his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan. (Abdulrahman Shalhoub for AN)

Aid agencies have accused Israel of hampering the flow of relief supplies into Gaza, where a sustained Israeli bombing campaign since Oct. 7 has displaced much of the population and left many on the brink of famine.

“Secondly, we are trying to put pressure not only on Israel but also on the international community, because we need to accelerate this debate concerning the postwar situation,” said Gerapetritis.

There are several possibilities for how Gaza might be governed when the war ends, with many in the international community calling for a Palestinian entity to manage the enclave’s affairs, but one that excludes Hamas.

The Palestinian militant group, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, launched an unprecedented cross-border attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and kidnapping a further 240, sparking the current conflict.

Some in the international community believe the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, should resume control of Gaza once the war ends, a possibility that Israel has been reluctant to accept.

“It is important to provide further legitimacy to the Palestinian Authority because in the postwar era, we need to have some credible interlocutor on the part of the Palestinians,” said Gerapetritis.

“It goes without saying that we need to have a strong administration in Gaza originated by the Palestinian people themselves, but obviously disassociated from any form of terrorism.”




Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas (L) meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Aqaba on January 10, 2024. (Jordanian Royal Palace photo via AFP) 

Gerapetritis said he had already met to discuss these proposals with European and Arab ministers, the new Israeli foreign minister, Yisrael Katz, and will soon host the Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad Al-Maliki, in Athens. He will also visit Jordan and Egypt for talks.

He said he believes securing a ceasefire in Gaza is imperative to prevent the conflict escalating into a regional war. His comments came amid a spate of attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by the Houthis in Yemen, and mounting tensions between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanese border.

Like Hamas, the Houthis and Hezbollah are part of the Axis of Resistance, a coalition of Iran-backed militia proxies operating across the Middle East. Any escalation involving these groups could drag the entire Arab region into a devastating conflict with Israel.

“The truth is now that there is an increasing concern about the spillover of the situation, both in the Red Sea and in northern Israel and Lebanon. We work hard in order to try and contain the hostilities,” said Gerapetritis.




Houthi fighters brandish their weapons during a march in solidarity with the Palestinian people in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa on January 11, 2024, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the militant Hamas group in Gaza.(AFP) 

He believes an international summit, bringing together the Israelis and Palestinians alongside regional states, would help accelerate the search for lasting solutions.

“The important thing at the moment is to hold an international (conference) of the two basic stakeholders, Israel and Palestine, alongside key countries which have performed a constructive role in this respect, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, and of course the US,” said Gerapetritis.

“I think there must be active involvement by the international community, and then the modalities of the peace formula will come.”

Meanwhile, he said, pressure should be applied on Israel to limit the number of civilian casualties in Gaza, where more than 23,000 people have been killed since Oct. 7, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

“What we try to (convey) to the Israeli government, alongside other allies, is that we need to minimize the actual cost, the human cost, of this operation,” said Gerapetritis.

“Any sort of self-defense ought to operate within the boundaries of international law and the special international humanitarian law, which means apart from humanitarian aid, it means that we have to pay proper respect to the lives of civilian people.”

He added: “For us, it is a key issue that there is no forcible displacement or collective punishment whatsoever, which is, in any case, prohibited by international law.”




A Palestinian man carries a victim of an Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 7, 2023. Bombed-out neighbourhoods, mass graves dug in the sand, spreading hunger and disease — as the bloodiest ever Gaza war nears 100 days, besieged Palestinians have endured ever new horrors. (AFP) 

When a ceasefire agreement has been secured in Gaza, Gerapetritis said the international community should turn its attention to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue by reviving efforts to create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“We need to work on a sustainable solution for the Palestinian issue,” he said. “As you know, Greece has a principle, a route-based approach on what is happening in Palestine.

“We support a two state solution based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council, and we are trying to work together with our allies in this respect.”

Given the ongoing conflict and the antipathy felt by the warring sides, Gerapetritis accepts that a ceasefire and the humanitarian imperatives in Gaza are the more immediate priorities.

“I think we need to actively promote the two-state solution. It is, however, essential at the same time to provide for a sustainable peace,” he said.

“It is important that at this very moment, with a huge number of civilian casualties, we need to establish a pause, a humanitarian pause that would allow us to discuss the future of Palestine. Obviously, it’s not easy to actually discuss under the huge pressure of hostages being kept and human casualties.

“We need to increase the humanitarian pauses in order to be able to discuss the future in the Middle East without these huge burdens. So it is important to actually set up the premises in order to go into further discussions.”

The visit by Gerapetritis to Saudi Arabia and other regional capitals is a sign of Greece’s growing international clout and its pursuit of new partnerships in diplomacy, investment and energy.

The minister views relations with Saudi Arabia as a particular priority because of the Kingdom’s emergence as a major regional player in terms of diplomacy and development.

“I think it is very important, especially under these volatile circumstances in our broader regions, that the two countries are stability and prosperity pillars in their respective regions,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia is indeed the stability pillar in this region, with a moderate attitude in its foreign policy, but on the other hand with a very ambitious and visionary plan for the future, especially Vision 2030, which provides huge investment opportunities for other countries.

“Greece, which has been a stability pillar in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans, one of the oldest members of the EU, I think it is with mutual benefit that we develop further our relations.”

The two countries have signed several agreements in recent years to advance mutual trade and investment, and cooperation on sources of renewable energy and electrical and digital connectivity.

“We have developed our strategic partnership,” said Gerapetritis. “As you know, in 2022, we signed an agreement for a high-level strategic council to be launched. We expect that in the very near future we will be able to effectively launch it. In this respect, we are going to have full-fledged cooperation.

“I place particular emphasis on energy and investments; investments because there are a lot of places and a lot of fields where we can develop bilateral investments, both important exports but also direct investments.”

As European states transition to renewable sources of energy in line with their climate commitments and the need to bolster energy security, many are looking at Saudi Arabia’s investment in hydrogen power as a potential sustainable alternative.


READ MORE: Saudi green hydrogen production costs could be lowest in the world: KAPSARC 


“In this respect, we have also signed an important agreement with Saudi Arabia and a memorandum between the two ministers of energy concerning the transfer not only of renewable-energy sources, but mostly of green hydrogen,” said Gerapetritis.

“We can be the bridge between Saudi Arabia and Europe in this respect. The EU has decided to develop a gigaproject concerning Greek energy, and high green hydrogen takes a prominent part in this respect.

“Saudi Arabia can provide, I think, at least 50 percent of this green hydrogen to Europe. And this is a very important transfer.”

 


Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
Updated 8 sec ago
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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
  • “This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” Red Cross says
  • Humanitarian organization says Gaza office was ‘damaged’ in a shell attack Friday 

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
Updated 22 June 2024
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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
  • It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties”

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden

Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden
Updated 22 June 2024
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Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden

Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden
  • The Yemeni militant Houthi group has been launching drone and missile strikes in the key waterway since November in what it says is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza

DUBAI: A merchant vessel reported an explosion in its vicinity 126 nautical miles east of Yemen’s port city of Aden, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said late on Friday.
“The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” UKMTO said in an advisory note, without identifying the vessel.
The Yemeni militant Houthi group has been launching drone and missile strikes in the key waterway since November in what it says is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza.
In over 70 attacks, the group has sunk two vessels, seized another and killed at least three seafarers.

 


Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas
Updated 22 June 2024
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Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas
  • Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to “any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance’s position in ceasefire negotiations”
  • Israel has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry

MADRID: Qatar said Friday it was pursuing efforts to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and release Israeli hostages held there.
The Gulf emirate, the United States and Egypt, have been engaged in months of negotiations for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war that erupted on October 7.
There has been one seven-day pause in November which led to the release of more than 100 hostages. Efforts since have been deadlocked.
“We have continued our efforts without interruption over the last few days,” Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a news conference in Madrid with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares.
“There have been several meetings with the Hamas leadership to try to bridge the gap between the two parties and reach an agreement that will lead to a ceasefire and the release of the Israeli hostages,” he added.
The talks are based on a plan US President Joe Biden laid out on May 31 calling for an Israeli withdrawal from “major population centers” in Gaza and a six week ceasefire, which could be extended if negotiators need more time to seek a permanent deal.
“Efforts are continuing, but so far we have not reached a formula that we feel is the most appropriate and closest to what has been presented,” the Qatari prime minister said.
“As soon as this is done, we will communicate with the Israeli side to try to bridge the gap and reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” he added.
Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to “any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance’s position in ceasefire negotiations.”
Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire before the release of all hostages sought by Israel. The Israeli goverment has rejected the demands.
Haniyeh said “the priority is to stop the criminal war on our people.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
 

 


Lebanon’s FM meets with UN, French and US envoys in bid to prevent full-scale war

Lebanon’s FM meets with UN, French and US envoys in bid to prevent full-scale war
Updated 16 min 1 sec ago
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Lebanon’s FM meets with UN, French and US envoys in bid to prevent full-scale war

Lebanon’s FM meets with UN, French and US envoys in bid to prevent full-scale war
  • Lebanon counts on success of US diplomatic efforts to prevent full-scale war
  • Former ambassador to US tells Arab News: ‘No one has an interest in open war’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib met with French Ambassador Herva Magro, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and US Ambassador Lisa Johnson on Friday.

The minister reiterated Lebanon’s call for the full implementation of UN Resolution 1701.

Hennis-Plasschaert said there was “no inevitability (to wider conflict with Israel)” during her visit to UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.

Also on Friday, it was announced that German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will make shuttle visits to Lebanon, Israel, and the West Bank.

Concerned at the risk of Israel’s war on Gaza spreading across the region, US President Joe Biden sent his special envoy Amos Hochstein to embark on a new round of diplomacy last week. Hochstein called for “urgent” de-escalation during talks with Lebanon and Israel on Tuesday, informing both sides that “the threat of a full-scale war persists and must be avoided.”

It is widely believed in Lebanon that Hochstein convinced Israel to refrain from escalating its military actions against Lebanon for the time being.

In a meeting with visiting Israeli officials including National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer in Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the importance of “avoiding further escalation in Lebanon and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes,” according to a statement.

According to his spokesperson, Matthew Miller, Blinken also stressed America’s “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”

During his talks in Beirut, Hochstein reportedly reassured Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati that Biden’s proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza was being viewed positively, and that Qatar was working to make it happen.

Hochstein also reportedly told Mikati that “things are under control and positive when it comes to the war between Lebanon and Israel.”

Former Lebanese Ambassador to Washington, Riad Tabbarah, described threats of war as a “mere outburst.”

He told Arab News: “Since military operations began on the southern front about nine months ago, the Lebanese have been hearing that war is coming, but it never arrives.

“During diplomatic negotiations, it is common for both sides to face pressure and threats,” he continued. “It appears that there are numerous and diverse negotiations happening behind the scenes, including discussions between the Americans and Iranians, as well as between the Americans and Hezbollah.”

Tabbarah acknowledged the recklessness of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said the Israeli leader “has two options — either war or prison. And there is significant pressure on him, especially from the families of the hostages.”

Tabbarah noted that there are limits to what military action can achieve. “We still recall the time when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon crossed those limits in 1982 when he set the Litani Line as his target. However, he went beyond that and reached Beirut. As a result, international powers united to bring him back to the Litani Line.

“No one has an interest in war,” he continued. “Americans, Europeans, and Iranians are working in the opposite direction. The general trend is to avoid escalating to open war.”

Military operations on the Lebanese front decreased significantly on Friday, although the outskirts of Naqoura in the western sector were targeted by Israeli artillery, causing a fire in a house. In the morning, an Israeli military raid targeted the town of Wazzani.

Hezbollah made a series of announcements about their operations, which were “focused on specific targets within the rules of engagement.”

Hezbollah attacked the sites of Ramtha and Samaka in the occupied Lebanese Kfar Shouba Hills, the Zabadin site in the occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms, and carried out an air attack using drones on the Ras Al-Naqoura naval site, aiming at locations containing Israeli military personnel.

The Lebanese Ministry of Health said that, up to June 19, it has recorded a total of 1,774 casualties, including 432 fatalities, caused by Israeli attacks.