Blinken meets Israeli PM for talks on Gaza truce plan

Update US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during his meeting with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during his meeting with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 February 2024

Blinken meets Israeli PM for talks on Gaza truce plan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during his meeting with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem.
  • Hamas proposed 135-day truce and hostage-prisoner exchange, according to Reuters

TEL AVIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday to push for a ceasefire as the Gaza war enters its fifth month.
Israel and Hamas have been weighing a proposal, brokered by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, that would be expected to temporarily halt the fighting and see Gaza hostages freed and Palestinian prisoners released.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Blinken said in Doha late on Tuesday after earlier stops in Saudi Arabia and Egypt on his fifth Middle East crisis tour since the October 7 attack sparked the war.
“But we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential, and we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it,” the US top diplomat told reporters.
For now, the war raged on unabated in Hamas-ruled Gaza, where the health ministry said at least 100 people were killed overnight and AFP journalists reported more heavy bombing of southern cities.
Israeli forces, in their campaign to destroy Hamas, have pushed steadily south, with the heaviest combat raging in the city of Khan Yunis in recent weeks.
Fear has grown among the more than one million Palestinians now crowded into Gaza’s far south, around the city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, as the battlefront has crept ever closer.
“I am terrified that Israel will begin a ground operation in Rafah,” said Dana Ahmed, 40, who was displaced from Gaza City with her three children and now lives in a tent in Rafah.
She said she spent a sleepless night as Israeli fighter jets roared through the sky and explosions shook the ground.
“I cannot imagine what will happen to us,” she said. “Where will we go now? The situation is catastrophic. I feel like I am living a horror movie.”

Intense fighting
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned earlier this week that the army “will reach places where we have not yet fought... right up to the last Hamas bastion, which is Rafah.”
The UN aid coordination office OCHA voiced alarm about looming major combat in the densely crowded area.
“Intensified hostilities in Rafah in this situation could lead to large-scale loss of civilian lives, and we must do everything possible within our power to avoid that,” said its spokesman Jens Laerke.
The bloodiest ever Gaza war started with Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Militants also seized around 250 hostages. Israel says 132 remain in Gaza, of whom 29 are believed to have died.
Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and launched air strikes and a ground offensive that have killed at least 27,585 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.
The campaign has devastated swathes of Gaza and displaced the majority of its 2.4 million people who have also endured dire shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine.
The humanitarian situation in long-blockaded Gaza has become “beyond catastrophic,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Tuesday.

Hamas proposes truce
To bring relief, the warring parties have discussed a possible new ceasefire deal which would follow a first, week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 hostages freed, the Israelis among them in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
Last week, a Hamas source said the proposed new truce calls for a six-week pause to fighting and a hostage-prisoner exchange, as well as more aid for Gaza, but negotiations have continued since.
Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said on Tuesday that Hamas had responded to a new proposal, adding that “the reply includes some comments, but in general it is positive.”
Blinken said he would discuss Hamas’s reply with Israeli leaders and Netanyahu’s office said the “details are being thoroughly evaluated” by the spy agency Mossad.
Netanyahu — who had yet to comment directly on the Hamas response — stressed that Israel’s overall war aim remained unchanged: “We are on the way to the total victory and we will not stop.”
Amid the Gaza war, Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched attacks in support of Hamas, and Israel, the United States and its allies have launched strikes on them.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels have for weeks targeted what they say are Israel-linked ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, disrupting global trade and prompting reprisals by US and British forces.
Last week, the United States also carried out strikes on Iran-backed groups in Syria and Iraq, killing dozens in retaliation for an attack that killed three US troops in Jordan.
Israel has also traded deadly cross-border fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and has repeatedly bombed Iran-linked targets in Syria.
Israeli strikes on the Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday killed 10 people, including at least six civilians, according to the Britain-based war monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


Explosion in Tel Aviv building, bomb disposal experts on site: Israeli police

Explosion in Tel Aviv building, bomb disposal experts on site: Israeli police
Updated 24 min 37 sec ago

Explosion in Tel Aviv building, bomb disposal experts on site: Israeli police

Explosion in Tel Aviv building, bomb disposal experts on site: Israeli police

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military is checking whether an explosion in central Tel Aviv in the early hours of Friday was caused by a drone attack, the army said.
Ambulance services said at least two people were wounded slightly in the blast and large police forces were present at the scene.
“Earlier tonight (Friday), an explosion sounded in the area of central Tel Aviv. We are looking into the reports that it was an aerial target. The incident is under review,” the military said in a brief statement.
No aerial sirens were reported prior to the blast, which occurred hours after the Israeli military confirmed it had killed a senior commander of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon.

US announces $203 million in new aid to war-torn Sudan amid major humanitarian crisis

US announces $203 million in new aid to war-torn Sudan amid major humanitarian crisis
Updated 19 July 2024

US announces $203 million in new aid to war-torn Sudan amid major humanitarian crisis

US announces $203 million in new aid to war-torn Sudan amid major humanitarian crisis
  • US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield urges other countries to fulfill their financial pledges to address “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”
  • More than 11 million people had been forced to flee their homes since the war between two warlords plunged Sudan into chaos in April 2023

UNITED NATIONS: The US ambassador to the United Nations announced nearly $203 million in additional humanitarian assistance to Sudan on Thursday but warned that the money is not a “panacea” and urged other countries to fulfill their financial pledges to address what she called “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
World leaders pledged more than $2.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Sudan at a donors conference in Paris in April, but US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield said only about a quarter of the promised funds have been received three months later.
The northeastern African country descended into chaos in April 2023 when simmering tensions between the country’s military and a notorious paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, exploded into open fighting in the capital of Khartoum.
The devastating conflict has spread, especially to western Darfur, and has killed more than 14,000 people and wounded 33,000 others, according to the United Nations. It has also created the world’s largest displacement crisis, with more than 11 million people forced to flee their homes.
Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday’s contribution raises total US humanitarian assistance to Sudan to $1.6 billion since September 2023, making the United States Sudan’s largest single donor.
“We hope this new round of aid serves as a call to action for others to follow,” she said.
The ambassador said the additional $203 million will go toward food supplies, shelters, schools and health services, as well as cash assistance to refugees to help pay their rents. The funds also will help neighboring countries, where over 2 million Sudanese refugees have fled, she said.
The US mission to the UN said Thomas-Greenfield briefed UN diplomats on the hunger crisis in Sudan, where a record 25 million people face acute food insecurity and 755,000 people face famine in the coming months, according toa recent report by the UN global network monitoring the threat of famine.
Human rights experts working for the United Nations said both sides have used food and starvation as a weapon of war.
Thomas-Greenfield recalled her visit to a hospital in Chad run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders: “Children were so weak they lacked the energy to even cry.”
Global humanitarian aid organization Mercy Corps recently estimated that nine in 10 children suffer from life-threatening malnutrition in central Darfur, where the World Food Program has delivered aid in recent months after facing challenges negotiating access with armed groups.
Thomas-Greenfield said the US will continue diplomatic efforts to hold perpetrators of the violence accountable and reach a peace agreement between the warring parties.
Last week, representatives of the two sides arrived in Geneva for separate talks with the UN secretary-general’s personal envoy, Ramtane Lamamra, about protecting civilians through possible local ceasefires.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said late Thursday that Lamamra and his team have continued engaging separately with each of the delegations throughout this week on humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians. He said the talks are expected to conclude Friday.
They marked the second attempt at deescalation after talks in Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah broke down at the end of last year.

Gaza conflict is a ‘war on women,’ says UN official 

Gaza conflict is a ‘war on women,’ says UN official 
Updated 18 July 2024

Gaza conflict is a ‘war on women,’ says UN official 

Gaza conflict is a ‘war on women,’ says UN official 
  • UN Women’s representative in Occupied Palestinian Territories unprepared ‘for the total destruction and inhumanity that I saw’ during visit to enclave this week 
  • A million women and girls are bearing ‘the worst brunt of nine months of war,’ she says, and ‘there are no safe places to be a woman in Gaza’ 

NEW YORK CITY: Returning from a mission to the Gaza strip, an official from UN Women said that despite more 50 visits to the enclave in the six years since she took up her position, including one during the 2021 war, “nothing prepared me for the total destruction and inhumanity that I saw.” 

Speaking in Jerusalem on Thursday, Maryse Guimond, the agency’s representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territories said that what she witnessed exceeded her worst fears about the plight of women and girls living in Gaza, some of whom she has worked with for many years. 

“It was unbearable to witness the daily escalation of violence and destruction of a war on women, with no end in sight,” Guimond said, her voice choked by emotion. 

She said wars are never gender-neutral and that is “undoubtedly” the case in Gaza, where a million women and girls are bearing “the worst brunt of nine months of war.” 

Guimond added: “They are losing their lives. They are sick, hungry, exhausted, holding families together despite their constant fear and loss. Each woman I met has a story of loss.” 

UN Women said more than 10,000 Palestinian women have lost their lives in the war, which is now in its 10th month, more than 6,000 families have lost their mothers, and nearly a million women and girls have lost loved ones and “their life memories.” 

“Gaza is more than 2 million stories of loss,” said Guimond. “Women in Gaza are living in constant movement, constant fear, being constantly chased. 

“There are no safe places to be a woman in Gaza, where nine out of 10 people are displaced.” 

UN Women infographic

Almost a million women and girls have been displaced several times, forced to move to ever-smaller areas where they become targets of attacks and bombings, she added. 

“They move with no cash, with no possessions and with no clue how and where they’re going to live,” said Guimond. 

“Many women told me that they will not move again, as it does not make a difference for their safety or survival.” 

Gazans have endured 18 waves of displacements, with no guarantee of any safety for anyone, she added. 

When she arrived in the battered Strip on her latest visit, Guimond said she did not recognize it as the Gaza she once knew. 

“I entered the world of devastation and total deprivation; mosques, hospitals, shops, schools, universities have been destroyed,” she said. 

“Crowds of men, women and children trying to survive in makeshift tents and overcrowded shelters surrounded by rubble and total destruction, amid the continued sounds of fighting and drones.” 

She said she barely recognized women she had known before the war: “The last nine months are embedded on their faces, on their bodies.” 

UN Women estimates 557,000 Palestinian women are suffering from acute food insecurity. Guimond said that these women are “eating the last and the least” among their families, and “skipping meals and not eating healthy food for months and months.” 

She praised the women of Gaza for their “remarkable strength and humanity in their struggle to survive with hope and solidarity, despite the devastation. 

“I have met amazing women who are taking care of their families and their community in the face of starvation, of death and disease, of displacement.” 

She called on the international community to support the work of women-led organizations in Gaza, and ensure there are places for women at the table when decisions are being made. 

“The question is not what women need, the question should be what they don’t need,” said Guimond. “Women don’t want to die. They don’t want to bury their loved ones. They don’t want to be left alone to suffer.” 

She also echoed calls by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the opening of all land crossings to grant full access to the territory for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and for all Israeli hostages to be released. 

Militant groups defiant as Israel rapped for ‘cowardly assassination’ in southern Lebanon

Militant groups defiant as Israel rapped for ‘cowardly assassination’ in southern Lebanon
Updated 18 July 2024

Militant groups defiant as Israel rapped for ‘cowardly assassination’ in southern Lebanon

Militant groups defiant as Israel rapped for ‘cowardly assassination’ in southern Lebanon
  • Latest Israeli drone attack killed Mohammed Hamed Jabara, a leader in Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah
  • 466 dead, thousands of homes razed in more than 9 months of conflict; value of damage estimated at $1.7 billion
  • Hezbollah leader Nasrallah has warned that the group will target new Israeli settlements if Israel continues to ‘target civilians’ in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Israel’s assault on Lebanon extended beyond the southern border area to western Bekaa on Thursday, resulting in at least two deaths in separate attacks.

In the morning, an Israeli drone targeted an SUV on the road to the town of Ghazze in western Bekaa, resulting in the death of its driver.

The target was identified as Mohammed Hamed Jabara, a leader in Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah, or the Islamic Group. He hailed from the town of Qaraoun in western Bekaa.

He was an active militant in the party’s military wing, the Al-Fajr Forces, which is allied with Hezbollah in the confrontation with Israel.

According to a source from his hometown, Jabara had previously been pursued by Israel “due to his resistance activities and had faced multiple threats and assassination attempts, which only succeeded now.”

The Al-Fajr Forces described Jabara as “one of their leaders” in an obituary.

Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, also mourned Jabara as “one of their leaders.”

In another incident on Thursday morning, an Israeli drone targeted a vehicle on the road to Jbal El-Botm in the Tyre district in the south.

The driver tried to escape the drone but was pursued and killed by a missile.

He was identified as Hussein Ali Mhanna, a 40-year-old Hezbollah member from Jbal El-Botm.

In a third attack, an Israeli drone targeted a car between Hanniyeh and Zibqin, injuring a Hezbollah member and another passenger.

The Israeli army conducted a sweep with machine guns toward Wazzani and targeted Chihine with a guided missile.

Israeli airstrikes and artillery also hit Aita Al-Shaab, the hills extending between Taoumat Niha and the highlands of Ain Al-Tineh in western Bekaa, without any reported injuries.

The intense Israeli escalation followed Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s threat to “target more settlements if Israel continues targeting civilians.”

The Israeli response was “a message demonstrating the army’s capability to continue killings and its ability to monitor Hezbollah field leaders, and know their identities and type of missions,” said one political observer.

In a statement, the Islamic Group held Israel responsible for Jabara’s “cowardly assassination.”

The attack “will not deter us from performing our role and duty in defending our land and people in the south, nor from supporting our people in Palestine,” the party said.

Hezbollah responded to the Israeli attacks with hostile operations targeting military sites, including “newly installed espionage equipment” on a crane at the Hadab Yarin site.

Israeli jets broke the sound barrier over the south more than four times, causing panic and damage to homes, including the partial collapse a roof in the town of Kfar Tebnit. Residents escaped without injury.

The military escalation has led to increased casualties in southern Lebanon as Israel pursues an aggressive strategy against Hezbollah.

The number of civilian casualties exceeded 107 as of July 14, a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Total casualties amounted to 466, including Hezbollah-affiliated military personnel.

More than 98,000 people have been internally displaced in southern Lebanon after artillery reached within 12 km of the Blue Line.

Almost 98 percent of the displaced hail from the Bint Jbeil, Marjaayoun and Tyre districts, the OCHA report said.

Israeli airstrikes have also reached deep into the country, extending up to 100 km from the Blue Line.

The OCHA warned of severe damage to southern Lebanon’s water, electricity and telecommunications infrastructure, and roads.

Maintenance and repair workers have been injured or killed while trying to keep services running for the remaining residents, alongside medics and first responders.

“There has also been a noticeable increase in Israeli jets breaking the sound barrier over various Lebanese regions,” the report said, citing the South Council, which is responsible for assessing the damage.

Since Oct. 8 last year, about 3,000 housing units have been partially or entirely destroyed.

Additionally, 12,000 housing units have been severely damaged, and 20,000 units have sustained minor damage.

The report estimated the economic value of the damage at $1.7 billion.

The South Council reported that the agricultural sector lost 17 million sq. meters of land, mainly as a result of Israeli white phosphorus shelling, with effects that will last for years.

Farmers also cannot harvest crops from 12 million sq. meters of land, the council said.

The OCHA report said that at least 13 water infrastructure sites had been damaged due to cross-border hostilities, impacting supply for almost 200,000 people in the south and Nabatieh.

Water fee collection has fallen to almost zero in the southern and Nabatieh governorates, putting the South Lebanon Water Establishment in a challenging situation.

The agricultural sector has been heavily impacted. On July 8, more than 800 farm animals were killed in an Israeli attack on a farm in Jabal Tora, Jezzine.

Lebanon’s Agriculture Ministry condemned the attack and called on international intervention to “make those responsible pay and provide aid to farmers.”

According to the report, on July 11, UNIFIL expressed concern “about the high level of tension seen recently and the potential for miscalculations that could lead to a sudden and wider conflict.”

The OCHA said that 82 percent of the internally displaced live with host families, while 15 percent rent houses.

Another 2 percent have relocated to secondary residences. About 1 percent are housed across 16 shelters.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 19 percent of the displaced live in overcrowded conditions.

About 33 percent are children, while 34 percent are women and 33 percent men.

Amnesty urges ‘end to incommunicado detention of Gazans’

Amnesty urges ‘end to incommunicado detention of Gazans’
Updated 18 July 2024

Amnesty urges ‘end to incommunicado detention of Gazans’

Amnesty urges ‘end to incommunicado detention of Gazans’
  • Amnesty called for the repeal of the Unlawful Combatants Law
  • The law “enables rampant torture”

JERUSALEM: Amnesty International has called on Israel to end the indefinite detention of Gaza Palestinians and what it called “rampant torture” in its prisons.
“Israeli authorities must end their indefinite incommunicado detention of Palestinians from the occupied Gaza Strip, without charge or trial ... (which is) in flagrant violation of international law,” the rights group
said in a statement.
Amnesty called for the repeal of the Unlawful Combatants Law, amended following the beginning of the Gaza war, which allows Israeli forces to hold people without charge or trial for months.
The law “enables rampant torture and, in some circumstances, institutionalizes enforced disappearance,” Amnesty said.
It said the law allows Israeli troops to arrest security suspects “for indefinitely renewable periods without having to produce evidence to substantiate the claims.”
Amnesty said it had documented 27 cases of Palestinians, including five women and a 14-year-old boy, who were detained “for up to four and a half months” without being able to contact their families.
All 27 told of how “they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment,” the organization said.
The detainees were seized across the Gaza Strip from shelters, homes, hospitals, and checkpoints.
Said Maarouf, a 57-year-old pediatrician detained for 45 days in the Sde Teiman camp in southern Israel, told Amnesty “that detention guards kept him blindfolded and handcuffed for the entire duration of his detention, and described being starved, repeatedly beaten, and forced to sit on his knees for long periods.”
Contacted by AFP this week about similar accusations made by the Palestinian Authority minister for prisoner affairs, the Israeli military said it “rejects outright allegations concerning systematic abuse of detainees in the ‘Sde Teiman’ detention facility, including allegations of sexually abusing
It said that Israel’s detention conditions were within international law.
Under the amended Unlawful Combatants Law, Israel can detain prisoners for 45 days without an administrative process, compared with 96 hours previously.
Prisoners can be held for 75 days without a court hearing, up from 14 days, which can be extended to 180 days.
All of the Palestinians quoted by Amnesty said that during their detention, “Israeli military, intelligence, and police forces subjected them to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
The Israeli Prison Service told Israeli NGO Hamoked that as of July 1, there were 1,402 Palestinians detained under the law, excluding those held on an initial 45-day period without a formal order.
According to the Prisoners Club, a Palestinian watchdog, about 9,600 Palestinians are currently in Israeli jails, including hundreds under administrative detention.
The NGO estimates that arrests have doubled since Oct. 7 compared to the same period last year.