Israel notes ‘significant gaps’ at ceasefire talks with US, Qatar, Egypt but says constructive

Israel notes ‘significant gaps’ at ceasefire talks with US, Qatar, Egypt but says constructive
Palestinians fleeing Khan Younis, due to the Israeli ground operation, move towards Rafah, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the southern Gaza Strip. (REUTERS)
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Updated 29 January 2024
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Israel notes ‘significant gaps’ at ceasefire talks with US, Qatar, Egypt but says constructive

Israel notes ‘significant gaps’ at ceasefire talks with US, Qatar, Egypt but says constructive
  • Tentative sign of progress on potential agreement could see Israel pause military operations against Hamas
  • US announced first military deaths in region since the war began and blamed Iran-backed militants

RAFAH: Israel said “significant gaps” remain after ceasefire talks Sunday with the United States, Qatar and Egypt but called them constructive and said they would continue in the week ahead, a tentative sign of progress on a potential agreement that could see Israel pause military operations against Hamas in exchange for the release of remaining hostages.
The US announced its first military deaths in the region since the war began and blamed Iran-backed militants for the drone strike in Jordan that killed three American service members amid concerns about a wider conflict.
The statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on the ceasefire talks did not say what the “significant gaps” were. There was no immediate statement from the other parties.
The war has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, destroyed vast swaths of Gaza and displaced nearly 85 percent of the territory’s people. Israel says its air and ground offensive has killed more than 9,000 militants, without providing evidence. The Oct. 7 Hamas attack in southern Israel killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and militants took about 250 hostages.
With Gaza’s 2.3 million people in a deepening humanitarian crisis, the United Nations secretary-general called on the United States and others to resume funding the main agency providing aid to the besieged territory, after Israel accused a dozen employees of taking part in the Hamas attack that ignited the war.
Communications Director Juliette Touma warned that the agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, would be forced to stop its support in Gaza by the end of February.
Ceasefire talks to continue
Sunday’s intelligence meeting included CIA Director Bill Burns, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.
Ahead of the meeting, two senior Biden administration officials said US negotiators were making progress on a potential agreement that would play out over two phases, with the remaining women, elderly and wounded hostages to be released in a first 30-day phase. It also would call for Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza. The officials requested anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations.
More than 100 hostages, mainly women and children, were released in November in exchange for a weeklong ceasefire and the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, speaking to troops, said that “these days we are conducting a negotiation process for the release of hostages” but vowed that as long as hostages remain in Gaza, “we will intensify the (military) pressure and continue our efforts — it’s already happening now.”
At least 17 Palestinians were killed in two Israeli airstrikes that hit apartment buildings in central Gaza, according to an Associated Press journalist who saw the bodies at a local hospital. One hit a building in Zawaida, killing 13 people, and the other an apartment block in the Nuseirat refugee camp, killing four.
Also Sunday, 10 Palestinians were killed in a strike that hit a residential building in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, said Dr. Moataz Harara, a physician at Shifa Hospital, where the dead were taken.
Israel’s military said troops were engaging in close combat with Hamas in neighborhoods of the southern city of Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest.
US deaths highlight regional tensions
The three deaths announced by Biden were the first US fatalities in months of strikes against American forces across the Middle East by Iranian-backed militias amid the war in Gaza. US Central Command said 25 service members were injured.
US officials were working to conclusively identify the group responsible for the attack, but assessed that one of several Iranian-backed groups was responsible. Jordanian state television quoted a government spokesperson as contending the attack happened across the border in Syria. US officials insisted it took place in Jordan, which US troops have long used as a basing point.
The US in recent months has struck targets in Iraq, Syria and Yemen to respond to attacks on American forces and to deter Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from continuing to threaten commercial shipping in the Red Sea.
The war in Gaza has sparked concerns about a regional conflict. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has increasingly called for restraint in Gaza and for more humanitarian aid to be allowed into the territory while supporting the offensive.
A Gaza lifeline at risk of ‘collapse’
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “the abhorrent alleged acts” of staff members accused in the Oct. 7 attack “must have consequences,” but added the agency should not be penalized by the withholding of funding, and “the dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”
The United States, the agency’s largest donor, cut funding over the weekend, followed by eight other countries including Britain and Germany. Together, they provided nearly 60 percent of UNRWA’s budget in 2022.
Guterres said that of the 12 employees accused, nine were immediately terminated, one was confirmed dead and two were still being identified. He said they would be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.
UNRWA provides basic services for Palestinian families who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding the country’s creation. The refugees and their descendants are the majority of Gaza’s population.
Since the war began, most of the territory’s 2.3 million people depend on the agency’s programs for “sheer survival,” including food and shelter, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said.
A quarter of Gaza’s population is facing starvation as fighting and Israeli restrictions hinder the delivery of aid, which has been well below the daily average of 500 trucks before the war
In the past week, hostages’ family members and supporters have blocked aid trucks from entering at the Kerem Shalom crossing. Dozens again blocked the entry on Sunday, chanting “No aid will cross until the last hostages return.”
The military later declared the area around the crossing a closed military zone, which would prohibit protests there.
With Gaza’s future being debated, thousands, including far-right lawmakers in Netanyahu’s coalition and senior Cabinet ministers, gathered in Jerusalem to call for renewing Jewish settlement in Gaza. Settlements there were evacuated in 2005, ending a 38-year-occupation, during a unilateral withdrawal of troops that bitterly divided Israel.
Crowds chanted “death to terrorists” as far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir took the stage and declared it was “time to encourage immigration” of Palestinians from Gaza.
The international community, including the US, has said it will oppose any attempts to expel Palestinians from Gaza. It also overwhelmingly considers settlements on occupied territory illegal.
Netanyahu has said such views do not reflect official policy and he has no plans to resettle Gaza, but he has released few details of a postwar vision for the territory.


War monitor says Israeli strikes kill six pro-Iran fighters in Syria

Updated 5 sec ago
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War monitor says Israeli strikes kill six pro-Iran fighters in Syria

War monitor says Israeli strikes kill six pro-Iran fighters in Syria
  • A Hezbollah source said that at least one fighter from the group was killed in Israeli strikes in the Qusayr area
Beirut: A war monitor said at least six pro-Iran fighters were killed Monday in Israeli strikes in Syria near the Lebanese border, in an area where Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group holds sway.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “Israeli strikes targeted two positions of pro-Iran groups in the Homs region,” including “a Hezbollah site in the Qusayr area” near the border where “six Iran-backed fighters were killed.”
The Observatory did not specify their nationalities.
A Hezbollah source told AFP that at least one fighter from the group was killed in Israeli strikes in the Qusayr area.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes in Syria but has repeatedly said it will not allow its arch-enemy Iran to expand its presence there.
On Saturday, the Observatory said an Israeli drone strike near the Lebanese border targeted a vehicle carrying “a Hezbollah commander and his companion,” without reporting casualties.
Hezbollah did not announce any deaths among its ranks on Saturday.
On May 9, Israeli strikes on Syria targeted facilities belonging to Iraq’s Al-Nujaba armed movement, the Observatory and the pro-Iran group said, with Damascus saying an unidentified building was attacked.
The Israeli military has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since the outbreak of the civil war in its northern neighbor in 2011, mainly targeting army positions and Iran-backed fighters including from Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.
But the strikes increased after Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip began on October 7, when the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group launched an unprecedented attack against Israel.
Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.

ICC asks for arrest warant against Israeli prime minister Netanyahu

ICC asks for arrest warant against Israeli prime minister Netanyahu
Updated 5 min 5 sec ago
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ICC asks for arrest warant against Israeli prime minister Netanyahu

ICC asks for arrest warant against Israeli prime minister Netanyahu
  • Arrest warrants are against Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and Israeli defense minister gallant

International criminal court asks for arrest warrant against Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and Israeli defense minister gallant for alleged war crimes.

ICC prosecutor said there are reasonable grounds to believe Israeli prime minister Netanyahu bears criminal responsibility for war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

According to a statment by court the prosecutors also applied for arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders.


Israel intends to broaden Rafah sweep, Defense Minister Gallant tells Washington

Israel intends to broaden Rafah sweep, Defense Minister Gallant tells Washington
Updated 20 May 2024
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Israel intends to broaden Rafah sweep, Defense Minister Gallant tells Washington

Israel intends to broaden Rafah sweep, Defense Minister Gallant tells Washington
  • After weeks of public disagreements with Washington over the Rafah planning, Israel on May 6 ordered Palestinian civilians to evacuate parts of the city and began troop and tank incursions.

JERUSALEM: Israel intends to broaden its military operation in Rafah, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday told a senior aide to US President Joe Biden, who has warned against major action in the southern Gazan city that may risk mass civilian casualties.
Israel describes Rafah, which abuts the Gaza Strip’s border with the Egyptian Sinai, as the last stronghold of Hamas Islamists whose governing and combat capabilities it has been trying to dismantle during the more than seven-month-old war.
After weeks of public disagreements with Washington over the Rafah planning, Israel on May 6 ordered Palestinian civilians to evacuate parts of the city and began troop and tank incursions.
“We are committed to broadening the ground operation in Rafah to the end of dismantling Hamas and recovering the hostages,” a statement from Gallant’s office quoted him as telling visiting US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Israel believes dozens of hostages from the cross-border Hamas rampage on Oct. 7 are being held in Rafah.
Western powers and Egypt have voiced concern for the fate of hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians sheltering there, despite Israeli assurances about humanitarian safeguards.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said on Monday that it estimated 810,000 people had fled Rafah since May 6 — potentially more than half of the city’s wartime population.
There was no immediate US comment on the Gallant talks.
The statement from Gallant’s office said he “presented to (National Security) Adviser Sullivan the provisions Israel implemented for evacuating the population from the Rafah area and for setting up the appropriate humanitarian response.”
Israel says its forces in Rafah have discovered dozens of tunnels from the Sinai, a potential embarrassment for Cairo. The Egyptian state information service has previously dismissed speculation about cross-border smuggling to Gaza as “lies.”


Ireland’s top diplomat concerned over slow pace of justice in peacekeeper’s killing in Lebanon

Ireland’s top diplomat concerned over slow pace of justice in peacekeeper’s killing in Lebanon
Updated 20 May 2024
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Ireland’s top diplomat concerned over slow pace of justice in peacekeeper’s killing in Lebanon

Ireland’s top diplomat concerned over slow pace of justice in peacekeeper’s killing in Lebanon
  • Lebanon’s military tribunal last June charged four men with the killing of Pvt. Seán Rooney, 24, of Newtown Cunningham, Ireland, following a half-year probe. Rooney was killed on Dec. 14, 2022.

BEIRUT: Ireland’s top diplomat in a visit to Lebanon on Monday expressed his concern over the slow progress in criminal proceedings against several Lebanese men charged with the killing of an Irish peacekeeper in 2022 in the tiny Mediterranean country.
Micheál Martin, Irish foreign and defense minister, said he was “very, very concerned” about the case. He met with Irish peacekeepers in south Lebanon and with Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib and a representative of the Lebanese defense ministry.
Lebanon’s military tribunal last June charged four men with the killing of Pvt. Seán Rooney, 24, of Newtown Cunningham, Ireland, following a half-year probe. Rooney was killed on Dec. 14, 2022.
Only one of the suspects, Mohammed Ayyad, was arrested. However, he was released on bail in November, with officials citing his medical condition. The four others facing charges — Ali Khalifeh, Ali Salman, Hussein Salman, and Mustafa Salman — remain at large.
All five are allegedly linked with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Hezbollah has repeatedly denied any role in the killing.
On the fatal night, Rooney and several other Irish soldiers from UNIFIL were on their way from their base in southern Lebanon to the Beirut airport. Two UN vehicles apparently took a detour through Al-Aqbiya, which is not part of the area under the peacekeepers’ mandate.
Initial reports said angry residents confronted the peacekeepers, but the indictment concluded that the shooting was a targeted attack. The UN peacekeeper vehicle reportedly took a wrong turn and was surrounded by vehicles and armed men as they tried to make their way back to the main road.
“We want justice to be done” and for the killers to be “brought to justice,” Martin told reporters. “We understand the separation of powers. But we are concerned at the slow pace of the trial. And the Irish people want justice”
UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after Israel’s 1978 invasion, and its mission was expanded following the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.
Relative calm prevailed in the border region after that war until the beginning of Israel’s war against Hamas, a Hezbollah ally, in Gaza in October. For more than seven months, Hezbollah and allied groups have clashed near-daily with Israeli forces, with no apparent immediate prospects for a halt to hostilities.


Reactions to the death of Iran’s president in a helicopter crash

Reactions to the death of Iran’s president in a helicopter crash
Updated 20 May 2024
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Reactions to the death of Iran’s president in a helicopter crash

Reactions to the death of Iran’s president in a helicopter crash
  • Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offer their condolences
  • Pakistan to observe a day of mourning and Pakistani flags to fly at half mast as a mark of respect

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offered their condolences to Iran the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash which also killed Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, state news agency SPA has reported.

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed on X said: “I extend my deepest condolences to the Iranian government and people over the passing of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and those accompanying them following a tragic accident. We pray that God grants them eternal rest and we extend our heartfelt sympathies to their families. The UAE stands in solidarity with Iran at this difficult time.”

UAE Prime Minister and Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid also posted on X: “Our condolences and sincere sympathies to the brotherly Iranian people and their leadership on the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his Foreign Minister in a painful accident. Our hearts are with you in this difficult time. Our prayers are that God will cover them with His vast mercy and dwell them in His spacious Paradise.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei expressed on Monday his condolences, state media said.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, in a statement said: “Raisi and Abdollahian were known as “true, reliable friends of our country”.

“Their role in strengthening mutually beneficial Russian-Iranian cooperation and trusting partnership is invaluable.

“We sincerely extend our condolences to the families and friends of the victims, as well as to the entire friendly people of Iran. Our thoughts and hearts are with you in this sad hour.”

Russia’s embassy in Tehran also offered condolences over Raisi’s death, state news agency TASS reported.

China’s President Xi Jinping has expressed condolences over Raisi’s death, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday expressed his condolences for the death of Raisi and Amirabdollahian, saying Raisi was a “valuable colleague and brother”.

“As a colleague who personally witnessed his efforts for the peace of the Iranian people and our region during his time in power, I remember Mr. Raisi with respect and gratitude,” Erdogan said on social media platform X, adding Turkey stood by Iran in this difficult time.

Turkish foreign minister Hakan Fidan also extended condolences to the Iranian people on the death of Raisi and Amirabdollahian.

The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad on X said: “Sincere condolences to the government and people of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdullahian, and the accompanying officials in the painful helicopter accident, asking God Almighty for mercy and forgiveness for them and for their families with patience and solace. We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return.”

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Monday extended his condolences for the deaths of Raisi and Amirabdollahian in a helicopter crash.

“Egypt mourns, with great sadness and grief” the Iranian president and Tehran’s top diplomat, “who passed away on Sunday following a painful accident,” the presidency said in a statement.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani said in a statement: “With great sadness and sorrow, we have received the news of the death of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, along with their companions, in the unfortunate plane crash in northern Iran.”

He added, “We extend our sincere condolences and sympathy to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Mr. Ali Khamenei, and to the government and people of Iran. We express our solidarity with the brotherly Iranian people and the responsible officials in the Islamic Republic during this painful tragedy.

“We ask God to have mercy on the departed, and may He grant patience and solace to their families and loved ones.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad in a statement also offered condolences to Iran’s Supreme Leader over death of the president and the foreign minister.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Monday he was “deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic demise” of Raisi after Iranian media reported he had died in a helicopter crash.

“My heartfelt condolences to his family and the people of Iran,” Modi posted on X, formerly Twitter. “India stands with Iran in this time of sorrow.”

Pakistani prime minister Shehbaz Sharif posted on X: “I along with the government and people of Pakistan extend our deepest condolences and sympathies to the Iranian nation on this terrible loss. May the martyred souls rest in heavenly peace. The great Iranian nation will overcome this tragedy with customary courage.

“Pakistan had the pleasure of hosting President Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian on a historic visit, less than a month ago. They were good friends of Pakistan. Pakistan will observe a day of mourning and the flag will fly at half mast as a mark of respect for President Raisi and his companions and in solidarity with Brotherly Iran.”

European Council president Charles Michel posted on X: “The EU expresses its sincere condolences for the death of President Raisi and Foreign Minister Abdollahian, as well as other members of their delegation and crew in a helicopter accident. Our thoughts go to the families.”

A Hamas statement conveyed Hamas’ “deepest condolences and solidarity” to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Iranian government, and the Iranian people for “this immense loss.”

It praised the deceased Iranian leaders for supporting the Palestinian cause and resistance against Israel and expressed confidence that Iran’s “deep-rooted institutions” will enable it to overcome “the repercussions of this great loss.”

Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, head of Yemen’s Houthi Supreme Revolutionary Committee, posted on X: “Our deepest condolences to the Iranian people, the Iranian leadership, and the families of President Raisi and the accompanying delegation on their reported martyrdom. We ask God to grant their families patience and solace. Verily we belong to Allah and to Him we shall return. The Iranian people will remain adhering to the loyal leaders of their people, by God’s will.”

Lebanon’s Hezbollah expressed condolences to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for the death of President Raisi, a statement said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said he was “deeply saddened” by the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in a helicopter crash, noting their shared commitment to bolstering ties.

“I am deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several other officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said in a statement on social media.