US approves F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye, F-35s to Greece after Turkiye OKs Sweden’s entry to NATO

 An F-16 fighter jet takes off during a media day of NATO's
An F-16 fighter jet takes off during a media day of NATO's "Air Defender 23" military exercise at Spangdahlem US Air Base near the German-Belgian border in Spangdahlem, Germany June 14, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 27 January 2024
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US approves F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye, F-35s to Greece after Turkiye OKs Sweden’s entry to NATO

US approves F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye, F-35s to Greece after Turkiye OKs Sweden’s entry to NATO
  • NATO ally Turkiye has long sought to upgrade its F-16 fleet and had made its ratification of Sweden’s membership contingent on the approval of the sale of the new planes

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration has approved the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye following the Turkish government’s ratification this week of Sweden’s membership in NATO. The move is a significant development in the expansion of the alliance, which has taken on additional importance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The State Department notified Congress of its approval of the $23 billion F-16 sale to Turkiye, along with a companion $8.6 billion sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to Greece, late Friday. The move came just hours after Turkiye deposited its “instrument of ratification” for Sweden’s accession to NATO with Washington, which is the repository for alliance documents and after several key members of Congress lifted their objections.
The sale to Turkiye includes 40 new F-16s and equipment to modernize 79 of its existing F-16 fleet. The sale to Greece includes 40 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and related equipment.
NATO ally Turkiye has long sought to upgrade its F-16 fleet and had made its ratification of Sweden’s membership contingent on the approval of the sale of the new planes. The Biden administration had supported the sale, but several lawmakers had expressed objections due to human rights concerns.
Those objections, including from the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, have now been overcome, officials said.
Cardin said in statement Friday that he had still had concerns about Turkiye’s rights record, but had agreed to the sale based on commitments Turkiye has made to improve it. “I look forward to beginning this new chapter in our relationship with Turkiye, expanding the NATO alliance, and working with our global allies in standing up to ongoing Russian aggression against its peaceful neighbors,” he said.
Turkiye had delayed its approval of Sweden’s NATO membership for more than a year, ostensibly because it believed Sweden did not take Turkiye’s national security concerns seriously enough, including its fight against Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara considers to be security threats.
The delays had frustrated the U.S, and other NATO allies, almost all of whom had been swift to accept both Sweden and Finland into the alliance after the Nordic states dropped their longstanding military neutrality following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Sweden’s formal accession to NATO now depends on Hungary, which is the last remaining NATO ally not to have approved its membership. US and NATO officials have said they expect Hungary to act quickly, especially after Turkiye’s decision.

 

 


‘All Eyes on Rafah’ image garners millions of shares in latest social media solidarity campaign

‘All Eyes on Rafah’ image garners millions of shares in latest social media solidarity campaign
Updated 29 May 2024
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‘All Eyes on Rafah’ image garners millions of shares in latest social media solidarity campaign

‘All Eyes on Rafah’ image garners millions of shares in latest social media solidarity campaign
  • Image depicts tents in a camp arranged to spell out “All Eyes on Rafah”
  • By Wednesday morning, post surpassed 40 million shares on Instagram

LONDON: The image “All Eyes on Rafah” has garnered millions of shares in the latest social media solidarity campaign, drawing widespread attention to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza.

The post renewed advocacy efforts following a deadly Israeli airstrike on the city in southern Gaza.

According to Forbes, the slogan appears to have originated from a comment by Rik Peeperkorn, director of the World Health Organization’s Office of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

In February, Peeperkorn used the phrase to shift attention toward Rafah after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered an evacuation plan for the city ahead of planned attacks targeting what Netanyahu claims are the last remaining strongholds of the militant group Hamas.

By Wednesday morning, the post had surpassed 40 million shares on Instagram, with the hashtag #AllEyesonRafah trending across social media platforms.

The image, believed to be one of the first examples of AI-generated viral activist artwork, depicts tents in a camp arranged to spell out “All Eyes on Rafah.”

The phrase is intended to highlight the plight of Rafah, where local authorities reported the loss of at least 45 civilian lives following an Israeli airstrike on Sunday, which Netanyahu described on Monday as a “tragic mistake.”

Israel has faced international scrutiny for the attack, which is part of a broader offensive by the Israeli army in and around Rafah.

The decision has been widely condemned by world leaders who have urged Israel to halt its invasion in an area where about 1.4 million displaced Palestinians from elsewhere in the Gaza Strip had sought shelter.

Last Friday, the International Court of Justice ordered an immediate halt to the offensive, a position rejected by Israel.

In an opinion piece in The Jewish Chronicle on Wednesday, journalist Josh Kaplan described the post as “another vapid, lazy way to say ‘I care,’” arguing that the slogan “is one in the long canon of feel good posts that achieve very little but make the sharer feel, even just for a second, like they’re doing something to help.”

Kaplan wrote: “I understand that there is outrage at the way Israel is conducting its war. The images coming out of Gaza often feel indefensible. But what does sharing an AI image that looks nothing like Gaza actually do?”

He added: “To learn about the conflict and to formulate an opinion that maintains dignity for all sides is something that cannot be accomplished by sharing an Instagram post. All it does is make Israelis, who will have to be involved in any future peace process, feel, yet again, that the world doesn’t care about their suffering.”


Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US MQ-9 drone in Yemen’s Maareb

Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US MQ-9 drone in Yemen’s Maareb
Updated 29 May 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US MQ-9 drone in Yemen’s Maareb

Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US MQ-9 drone in Yemen’s Maareb
  • Houthis’s spokesman Yahya Sarea said that this drone “is the sixth UAV that has been shot down so far“

CAIRO: Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis said they downed a US MQ-9 drone in Yemen’s southeastern province of Maareb, the group’s military spokesman said in a televised speech on Wednesday.
Houthis’s spokesman Yahya Sarea said that this drone “is the sixth UAV that has been shot down so far.”
On May 21, Houthis shot down another drone over Al-Bayda province in Southern Yemen.
The group, which controls Yemen’s capital and most populous areas of the Arabian Peninsula state, has attacked international shipping in the Red Sea since November in solidarity with the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas militants, drawing US and British retaliatory strikes since February.


Israel says it seizes key Gaza-Egypt corridor

Israel says it seizes key Gaza-Egypt corridor
Updated 12 min 4 sec ago
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Israel says it seizes key Gaza-Egypt corridor

Israel says it seizes key Gaza-Egypt corridor
  • “Israel is using these allegations to justify continuing the operation on the Palestinian city of Rafah and prolonging the war for political purposes,” Egyptian source said
  • Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said, however, that the war could go on until the year’s end

GAZA: The Israeli army said it took control on Wednesday of a vital Gaza-Egypt corridor suspected of aiding weapons smuggling as it intensified its offensive against Hamas in the border city of Rafah.
The UN Security Council was set to meet for a second day of emergency talks after a strike at the weekend ignited a fire that Gaza officials said killed 45 people and injured about 250.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was among the many leaders to voice revulsion at the bloodshed, demanding that “this horror must stop.”
Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said, however, that the war could go on until the year’s end.
“We may have another seven months of fighting to consolidate our success and achieve what we have defined as the destruction of Hamas’s power and military capabilities,” Hanegbi said.
An Israeli military official later told reporters the army had taken “operational control” of the strategic, 14-kilometer (8.5-mile) Philadelphi corridor along the Gaza-Egypt border.
The corridor had served as a buffer between Gaza and Egypt, but since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, there were fears it was being used to channel weapons to armed groups in the Palestinian territory.
Its seizure comes weeks after Israeli forces took the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, which alleged Wednesday Israel was using claims of cross-border tunnels as cover for its Rafah offensive.
“Israel is using these allegations to justify continuing the operation on the Palestinian city of Rafah and prolonging the war for political purposes,” a high-level Egyptian source was quoted as saying by state-linked Al-Qahera News.
In besieged Rafah, witnesses reported escalated fighting with helicopters intensifying attacks, supported by artillery and smoke grenades.
Hamas’s military wing said it was firing rockets at Israeli troops.
AFPTV footage showed Palestinians with bloodied midriffs and bandaged limbs after being wounded in strikes near Khan Yunis, close to Rafah, being taken to the European Hospital on makeshift gurneys.
“The rockets fell directly on us. I was hurled three meters (yards)... I don’t know how I managed to get up on my feet,” said one who did not give his name.
Gaza’s civil defense said three bodies were recovered from a Khan Yunis house after it was shelled.
The United States has been among the countries urging Israel to refrain from a full-scale offensive into Rafah, the last Gaza city to see ground fighting, because of the risk to civilians.
However, the White House said Tuesday that so far it had not seen Israel cross President Joe Biden’s “red lines,” with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby saying: “We have not seen them smash into Rafah.”
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel to quickly devise a post-war strategy for Gaza, stressing: “In the absence of a plan for the day after, there won’t be a day after.”
A steady stream of civilians has been fleeing Rafah, the new hotspot in the gruelling war, many carrying belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.
Before the Rafah offensive began on May 7, the United Nations had warned that up to 1.4 million people were sheltering there. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Sunday’s strike and ensuing fire a “tragic accident.” The army said it had targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members of the group.
Israel’s military said it was investigating the strike, and its spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday that “our munition alone could not have ignited a fire of this size.”
Gaza civil defense agency official Mohammad Al-Mughayyir said 21 more people were killed in a similar strike Tuesday “targeting the tents of displaced people” in western Rafah.
The army denied this, saying it “did not strike in the humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi,” an area it had designated for displaced people from Rafah to shelter.
New fighting also hit other areas of the besieged Palestinian territory of 2.4 million people.
In the north, Israeli military vehicles unleashed intense gunfire east of Gaza City, an AFP reporter said, and residents reported strikes on Jabalia.
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Nearly eight months into the deadliest Gaza war, Israel has faced ever louder opposition and cases before two Netherlands-based international courts.
At the UN Security Council, Algeria has presented a draft resolution that “demands an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties” and the release of all hostages.
Algeria’s UN ambassador Amar Bendjama has not specified when he hopes to put the draft to a vote.
Chinese ambassador Fu Cong expressed hope for a vote this week as President Xi Jinping told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Beijing he was “deeply pained” by the situation in Gaza.
French UN ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said “it’s high time for this council to take action. This is a matter of life and death. This is a matter of emergency.”
US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, when asked about the draft resolution, said: “We’re waiting to see it and then we’ll react to it.”
Brazil, whose ties with Israel have soured over the war, on Wednesday recalled its ambassador, further raising tensions between the two.
Meanwhile, the World Central Kitchen nonprofit organization said it was stopping its operations in Rafah because of “ongoing attacks” in the southern city.


Lebanese army under attack from Israeli machine guns

Lebanese army under attack from Israeli machine guns
Updated 29 May 2024
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Lebanese army under attack from Israeli machine guns

Lebanese army under attack from Israeli machine guns
  • UNIFIL commander: ‘Death and destruction are heartbreaking’
  • Hezbollah said they had attacked “the newly installed espionage equipment at the Al-Raheb site, hitting it directly and destroying it”

BEIRUT: A Lebanese army site on the outskirts of the border town of Alma Al-Shaab came under machine gun fire from the Israeli army on Wednesday. Nobody was injured in the incident.
Israeli artillery also targeted the outskirts of Mays Al-Jabal, Wazzani, Jebbayn, Chihine and Kfarkela.
A statement from Hezbollah said it in turn had attacked “the newly installed espionage equipment at the Al-Raheb site, hitting it directly and destroying it.”
Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee said air defenses had intercepted a “suspicious aerial object” in the Ras Naqoura area without activating any sirens.
“Warplanes attacked a military building containing Hezbollah members in the Naqoura area. The planes also attacked Hezbollah buildings in Ramyah and Al-Tiri in southern Lebanon,” he said. A raid on the town of Naqoura caused minor injuries to several citizens.
The head of the United Nations Interim Force in southern Lebanon, Gen. Aroldo Lazaro, urged all parties to cease their fire, recommit to Resolution 1701, and begin the work toward a political and diplomatic solution, which he said was the only way to resolve the situation.
The security situation in the area meant UNIFIL did not hold any celebrations to mark the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers on Wednesday.
In a statement, Gen. Lazaro said: “The death and destruction we have seen on both sides of the Blue Line is heartbreaking. Too many lives have been lost and disrupted. Thousands of people remain displaced and have lost their homes and their livelihoods. As peacekeepers, we recommit each day to our work to restore stability.”
Peacekeepers from 49 nations are currently in the south and report regularly to the Security Council.
Yesterday, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French president’s special envoy to Lebanon, met with the head of Hezbollah’s Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammad Raad, at its office in Beirut.
He arrived on Tuesday evening on his sixth mission to discuss developments in the country with Lebanese officials.
Le Drian met with several officials, including caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, along with other heads of opposition Christian parties and the National Moderation bloc made up of mostly Sunni deputies.
According to the leaked information, the French official insisted on the need for consultation among Lebanese powers to name a president.
Le Drian warned: “Lebanon’s political feature will be gone if the crisis remains and if the presidential vacuum persists. Lebanon will save nothing but its geographical feature.”
Berri assured Le Drian that he would “be adhering to calling for unconditional consultations focused on the presidential election and moving to the parliament to conduct successive voting rounds with a list of candidates until a new president of the republic is elected.”


World Central Kitchen stops work in Rafah after ‘attacks’

World Central Kitchen stops work in Rafah after ‘attacks’
Updated 29 May 2024
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World Central Kitchen stops work in Rafah after ‘attacks’

World Central Kitchen stops work in Rafah after ‘attacks’
  • “In the face of Israeli operations in Rafah, countless families are being forced to flee once again,” the charity said on X
  • The charity had recently resumed its work in Gaza after suspending operations in April

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: The World Central Kitchen nonprofit, which provides meals in war-torn Gaza, said it had stopped its operations in the Palestinian territory’s southern city of Rafah due to “ongoing attacks” in the area.
The US-based charity was founded by celebrity Spanish-American chef Jose Andres to provide food to communities facing humanitarian crises and disasters.
“In the face of Israeli operations in Rafah, countless families are being forced to flee once again,” the charity said on social media platform X late on Tuesday.
“Ongoing attacks have forced us to pause work at our main kitchen in Rafah and relocate many of our community kitchens further north.”
The charity had recently resumed its work in Gaza after suspending operations in April following the killing of seven of its workers in three air strikes by an Israeli drone.
The deaths — of an Australian, three Britons, a North American, a Palestinian and a Pole — had triggered a global outrage over Israel’s military operations.
An internal Israeli military inquiry found that the drone team had made an “operational misjudgment” after spotting a suspected Hamas gunman shooting from the top of an aid truck.
In recent weeks, fighting in Rafah has intensified after the Israeli military began its ground assault there on May 7 after seizing control of the crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
Gaza officials said an Israeli strike on Sunday set ablaze a crowded camp for displaced people in Rafah, killing 45 and wounding dozens.
Israel’s military said it has launched an investigation into the strike but insisted its munitions alone “could not” have caused the deadly blaze.
Since the start of the Rafah assault, delivering aid into Gaza has become more difficult, aid agencies say.
Even when medical and other aid makes it into Gaza, it remains “very challenging” to transport and deliver the goods both in the south and to the north, Rik Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization’s representative in the Palestinian territories, told AFP on Tuesday.