Far-right Israeli minister’s criticism of Biden sparks anger at a sensitive time for US ties

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister. (File/Reuters)
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 04 February 2024
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Far-right Israeli minister’s criticism of Biden sparks anger at a sensitive time for US ties

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister. (File/Reuters)
  • Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Biden was hindering Israel’s war effort

JERUSALEM: Criticism of President Joe Biden by a far-right minister in Israel’s government who said Donald Trump would allow more freedom to fight Hamas sparked outrage there on Sunday, highlighting the sensitivity of relations as Washington provides key support for the offensive against the militants in Gaza.
The Biden administration has skirted Congress to rush weapons to Israel and shielded it from international calls for a ceasefire in the four months since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war. But the White House has urged Israel to take greater measures to avoid harming civilians and facilitate the delivery of more aid to besieged Gaza. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Israel again this week on his latest trip to the region.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Biden was hindering Israel’s war effort.
“Instead of giving us his full backing, Biden is busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel (to Gaza), which goes to Hamas,” Ben-Gvir said. “If Trump was in power, the US conduct would be completely different.”
His remarks drew fire from Benny Gantz, a retired general and member of Netanyahu’s three-man War Cabinet, who said Ben-Gvir was “causing tremendous damage” to American-Israeli relations. Opposition leader Yair Lapid, also posting on X, said Ben-Gvir’s remarks prove that he “does not understand foreign relations.”
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned Ben-Gvir’s comments as “racist” and called for international sanctions against him, saying he threatens the region’s stability.
Netanyahu, without mentioning Ben-Gvir by name, appeared to refer to his remarks when addressing a weekly Cabinet meeting. The prime minister thanked Biden for his support while highlighting his own experience of dealing with multiple US administrations’ approaches to Israel’s most important alliance.
“There are those who say ‘no’ to everything, receiving applause at home, but they’re also endangering vital interests,” he said.
Ben-Gvir, along with other far-right figures, has called for “voluntary” mass emigration of Palestinians from Gaza and for the return of Jewish settlements, which Israel dismantled when it withdrew troops from the territory in 2005. The Biden administration is opposed to any such scenario.
Ben-Gvir and other key members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition have threatened to bring down the government if they believe he is too soft on Hamas. Netanyahu told the Cabinet that the military was carrying out “very aggressive raids” in northern and central Gaza while dealing with remaining Hamas battalions around Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah.
The war in Gaza has leveled vast swaths of the tiny enclave, displaced 85 percent of its population and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation. The Health Ministry in Gaza said 127 bodies had been brought to hospitals in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall death toll to 27,365. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says most of those killed were women and children.
In central Gaza, Israeli airstrikes hit a house and mosque in Deir Al-Balah and killed 15 people and wounded at least 45 others including children, according to an Associated Press journalist at the scene. At Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, a man wept next to a body covered in blankets.
Other Palestinians found shelter at the hospital but little relief. “Someone like me has been here for three months or two-and-a-half months, and I haven’t had a shower. What can we do? We want to go back to our home,” said Basemah Al-Haddad, who was displaced from Gaza City.
Two children were killed in separate airstrikes in Rafah, according to the registration office at the hospital where the bodies were taken. The first hit a house in the Jeneina refugee camp and killed a 12-year-old. The second hit a room west of the Rafah border crossing, killing a 2-year-old.
The bodies lay on the hospital floor. A female relative bent down to gently touch one child’s face.
More aid to Gaza will be a “top priority” as Blinken visits the region, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CBS.
Blinken is set to begin his visit Monday in Saudi Arabia and also will stop in Egypt, Qatar, Israel, and the West Bank.
Another focus is Israel’s tense negotiations mediated by the US, Qatar and Egypt aimed at freeing more than 100 remaining captives taken in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in return for a ceasefire and the release of Palestinians jailed in Israel.
“It’s up to Hamas to come forward and respond to what is a serious proposal,” Sullivan told NBC, adding there is no clear idea how many of the hostages remain alive.
Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in the Oct. 7 attack and abducted around 250. More than 100 captives, mostly women and children, were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
Hamas has said it won’t release any more hostages until Israel ends its offensive. It also demands the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Netanyahu has publicly ruled out both demands.
Hamas is expected to respond to the latest ceasefire offer in the coming days.


Source close to Hezbollah says 4 dead in Israeli strikes on Lebanon

Source close to Hezbollah says 4 dead in Israeli strikes on Lebanon
Updated 11 sec ago
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Source close to Hezbollah says 4 dead in Israeli strikes on Lebanon

Source close to Hezbollah says 4 dead in Israeli strikes on Lebanon
The source close to Hezbollah told AFP that “at least four Hezbollah fighters were killed in Israeli raids on two different sites in southern Lebanon“
The Israeli military said fighter jets struck “a Hezbollah terrorist cell”

BEIRUT: A source close to Hezbollah said four fighters were killed Monday in south Lebanon, with the Iran-backed group announcing two dead and a retaliatory attack, while Israel claimed strikes.
Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has traded near daily cross-border fire with Israeli forces since the Palestinian group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel that sparked the war in Gaza.
The source close to Hezbollah told AFP that “at least four Hezbollah fighters were killed in Israeli raids on two different sites in southern Lebanon,” identifying the locations as Naqura on the coast and Mais Al-Jabal, a border village to the east.
The Shiite Muslim movement said two of its fighters, both from Naqura, had been killed, without providing further details.
The Israeli military said fighter jets struck “a Hezbollah terrorist cell” and a launch post in the Mais Al-Jabal area, while Israeli army “artillery fired to remove a threat” in the Naqura area.
Hezbollah said it launched a heavy rocket attack at an Israeli army barracks in the country’s north “in retaliation” for the Naqura strike, while also announcing other attacks on Israeli positions.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) reported Israeli strikes on Mais Al-Jabal and Naqura, where it said Israel fired near Hezbollah-affiliated rescue personnel and wounded a civilian.
The fighting has killed at least 423 people in Lebanon, mostly militants but also including 82 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israel says 14 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed on its side of the border.
The violence has raised fears of all-out conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, which went to war in 2006.

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

War monitor says Israeli strikes kill six pro-Iran fighters in Syria
Updated 20 May 2024
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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 prosecutor seeks arrest warrant for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Netanyahu

ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrant for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Netanyahu
Updated 36 min 12 sec ago
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ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrant for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Netanyahu

ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrant for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Netanyahu
  • Karim Khan believes Benjamin Netanyahu, Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas.

Karim Khan said that he believes Netanyahu, his defense minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The prosecutor must request the warrants from a pre-trial panel of three judges, who take on average two months to consider the evidence and determine if the proceedings can move forward.

Israel is not a member of the court, and even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. But Khan’s announcement deepens Israel’s isolation as it presses ahead with its war, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Both Sinwar and Deif are believed to be hiding in Gaza as Israel tries to hunt them down. But Haniyeh, the supreme leader of the Islamic militant group, is based in Qatar and frequently travels across the region.

There was no immediate comment from either side.

Israel launched its war in response to an Oct. 7 cross-border attack by Hamas that killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 others hostage. The Israeli offensive has killed over 35,000 Palestinians, at least half of them women and children, according to the latest estimates by Gaza health officials. The Israeli offensive has also triggered a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, displacing roughly 80 percent of the population and leaving hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of starvation, according to UN officials.

Speaking of the Israeli actions, Khan said in a statement that “the effects of the use of starvation as a method of warfare, together with other attacks and collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are acute, visible and widely known. ... They include malnutrition, dehydration, profound suffering and an increasing number of deaths among the Palestinian population, including babies, other children, and women.”

The United Nations and other aid agencies have repeatedly accused Israel of hindering aid deliveries throughout the war. Israel denies this, saying there are no restrictions on aid entering Gaza and accusing the United Nations of failing to distribute aid. The UN says aid workers have repeatedly come under Israeli fire, and also says ongoing fighting and a security vacuum have impeded deliveries.

Of the Hamas actions on Oct. 7, Khan, who visited the region in December, said that he saw for himself “the devastating scenes of these attacks and the profound impact of the unconscionable crimes charged in the applications filed today. Speaking with survivors, I heard how the love within a family, the deepest bonds between a parent and a child, were contorted to inflict unfathomable pain through calculated cruelty and extreme callousness. These acts demand accountability.”

After a brief period of international support for its war, Israel has faced increasing criticism as the war has dragged on and the death toll has climbed.

Israel is also facing a South African case in the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide. Israel denies those charges.


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.