Iraq says talks resume on US-led coalition withdrawal

US army soldiers walk around at the K1 Air Base northwest of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. (File/AFP)
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US army soldiers walk around at the K1 Air Base northwest of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. (File/AFP)
Iraq says talks resume on US-led coalition withdrawal
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People carry the coffin of slain Iraqi militia commander Abu Baqir al-Saadi during a funeral in Najaf, Iraq on February 9, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 12 February 2024
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Iraq says talks resume on US-led coalition withdrawal

US army soldiers walk around at the K1 Air Base northwest of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. (File/AFP)
  • A first round of talks opened on January 27 but was suspended after a drone attack killed three US soldiers at a base in Jordan
  • Washington has 2,500 soldiers in Iraq and some 900 troops in Syria as part of the coalition against Daesh

BAGHDAD: Iraq said Sunday it had resumed talks with the United States on the future of the anti-jihadist coalition, expressing hope that they would not be disrupted and lead to an outcome soon.

A first round of talks opened on January 27 but was swiftly suspended after a drone attack killed three US military personnel at a base in Jordan the following day, leading to US reprisal strikes.
“The supreme Iraqi military commission resumed on Sunday its meetings with international coalition forces in Baghdad,” General Yehia Rasool, military spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, said in a statement.
“As long as nothing disrupts the serenity of these talks, the meetings will take place regularly to achieve the commission’s works as soon as possible,” he added.
Rasool said the meetings were aimed at setting up a “timeline” for a “progressive pullout” of coalition forces from Iraq, leading to the end of its mission.
The US-led military coalition was formed in 2014 to fight the Daesh group — the year the jihadist group overran nearly a third of Iraq’s territory and swathes of neighboring Syria.
US and allied troops have been targeted more than 165 times in the Middle East since mid-October, in attacks linked to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
The majority of the attacks have been claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-backed groups angered by US support for Israel.
The United States has retaliated with several deadly strikes targeting these groups.
Washington has 2,500 soldiers in Iraq and some 900 troops in Syria as part of the coalition against Daesh.
Its troops in Iraq are deployed at the invitation of Baghdad, but those in Syria are stationed in areas outside Syrian government control.
Currently, US troops in Iraq provide assistance to government forces to prevent a re-emergence of the IS jihadists.
In Sunday’s statement, Rasool said discussions were now focusing on evaluating the threat posed by IS, which has been defeated in Iraq and Syria but still has sleeper cells that carry attacks.
The talks were also centering on “the capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces,” he added.
To replace the international coalition, Iraqi authorities want to engage in bilateral military cooperation with the member states contributing to the force.
But the process is likely to be long. A statement Thursday from the coalition said the objective now was “to assess” the progress made in defeating the jihadists, and to “discuss the future transition” of the coalition’s mission.


GCC foreign ministers meet counterparts from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco in Riyadh to discuss Gaza war

GCC foreign ministers meet counterparts from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco in Riyadh to discuss Gaza war
Updated 21 sec ago
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GCC foreign ministers meet counterparts from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco in Riyadh to discuss Gaza war

GCC foreign ministers meet counterparts from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco in Riyadh to discuss Gaza war

Hamas delegation arrives in Cairo for Gaza ceasefire talks

Hamas delegation arrives in Cairo for Gaza ceasefire talks
Updated 15 min ago
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Hamas delegation arrives in Cairo for Gaza ceasefire talks

Hamas delegation arrives in Cairo for Gaza ceasefire talks
  • A Hamas official says a ceasefire in Gaza may be secured if Israel accepts group's demands
  • Meanwhile, the Israeli military intensified operations in Khan Younis

Delegations from Hamas, Qatar and the United States have arrived in Egypt "to resume a new round of negotiations" for a truce in the Gaza war, state-linked Al-Qahera News reported Sunday.
The Hamas delegation is being led by Hamas' deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil Al-Hayya, a senior official told Reuters.

A senior Hamas official told AFP that a ceasefire in Gaza may be secured "within 24 to 48 hours" if Israel accepts the Palestinian group's demands in ongoing talks.
"If Israel agrees to Hamas demands, which include the return of displaced Palestinians to northern Gaza and increasing humanitarian aid, that would pave the way for a (truce) agreement within the next 24 to 48 hours," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue, as negotiations were set to resume in Cairo.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it intensified operations in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, destroying dozens of Hamas targets in a blitz of air and artillery strikes.
The air force and artillery hit about 50 targets within six minutes, it said, in a bid to "intensify operational achievements in the area."
"During the strikes, the troops destroyed terrorist infrastructure and eliminated Hamas terrorists who were operating from civilian facilities in urban areas," it said.
Residents in the area said they were surprised by the swift advancement of Israeli tanks, which sparked fresh battles with Palestinian gunmen. In one housing project some families took to social media, saying they were unable to leave their homes with the tanks in the streets.
Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said it attacked two tanks with rockets and blew up a building where soldiers had entered.
Khan Younis has been a focus of Israel's military offensive in recent weeks.


Israel on board with Gaza peace deal, as US airdrops begin

Israel on board with Gaza peace deal, as US airdrops begin
Updated 03 March 2024
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Israel on board with Gaza peace deal, as US airdrops begin

Israel on board with Gaza peace deal, as US airdrops begin
  • International mediators have been working for weeks to broker a deal to pause fighting
  • Ball is in Hamas’ camp now, says senior US administration official on Gaza peace deal

WASHINGTON DC: Israel has broadly accepted a ceasefire deal with Hamas, a senior US official said Saturday, as the first American air drops of humanitarian aid were carried out over war-ravaged Gaza.
The framework agreement envisages a six-week cessation of hostilities, which could begin immediately if the Palestinian militant group signs off on the release of the most vulnerable hostages it holds, the official told reporters on a call.
“The Israelis have more or less accepted it,” the administration official said. “Right now, the ball is in the camp of Hamas.”
The announcement came hours after US military cargo planes began airdropping humanitarian aid into the besieged Gaza Strip.
The United Nations has warned of famine in Gaza, and more than 100 people were left dead earlier this week in a frenzied scramble for food from a truck convoy delivering aid, with Israeli forces opening fire on the crowd.
Saturday’s drop, which included 38,000 meals, was conducted “to provide essential relief to civilians affected by the ongoing conflict,” the US Central Command said.
A CENTCOM official told AFP that the meals were made up of US military rations that did not contain pork, the consumption of which is prohibited by Islam.
Negotiators from regional powers have been working around the clock to secure a Gaza truce by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in about one week.
“It will be a six-week ceasefire in Gaza starting today if Hamas agrees to release the defined category of vulnerable hostages... the sick, the wounded, elderly and women,” the administration official said.
Hamas militants took about 250 hostages during their unprecedented cross-border attack on Israel on October 7, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 that Israel says are presumed dead. It was unclear how many of the remaining hostages are deemed vulnerable.
The United States hopes any truce would create space for a more enduring peace. A Hamas delegation was expected to fly to Cairo on Saturday for talks on a truce, a source close to the group told AFP.
The administration official said a ceasefire would also allow a “significant surge” in humanitarian aid to Gaza, with airdrops not seen as a replacement for full-scale relief convoys.
“None of these — maritime corridors, airdrops — are an alternative to the fundamental need to move assistance through as many land crossings as possible. That’s the most efficient way to get aid in at scale,” a second US official told reporters.
The brutal October 7 attack by Hamas resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, according to official figures.
Israel responded with a relentless assault on Hamas-controlled Gaza that has taken a devastating toll on civilians trapped there, killing more than 30,000 people, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The amount of aid brought into Gaza by truck has plummeted during nearly five months of war, and Gazans are facing dire shortages of food, water and medicines.
Some foreign militaries have airdropped supplies to Gaza, sending long lines of aid pallets floating down into the war-torn territory on parachutes.
Jordan has been conducting many of the operations with the support of countries including Britain, France and the Netherlands, while Egypt sent several military planes on an air drop Thursday together with the United Arab Emirates.
Biden has pushed Israel to reduce civilian casualties and allow aid in, while at the same time he has maintained military assistance for the key US ally.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby described the airdrops as a “tough military operation” that required careful planning by the Pentagon for the safety of both Gazan civilians and US military personnel.


Palestinian Scout Association members volunteer to assist displaced people in war-torn Gaza

Palestinian Scout Association members volunteer to assist displaced people in war-torn Gaza
Updated 9 min 18 sec ago
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Palestinian Scout Association members volunteer to assist displaced people in war-torn Gaza

Palestinian Scout Association members volunteer to assist displaced people in war-torn Gaza
  • More than 150 volunteers helping families living in makeshift shelters cope with life
  • More than 150 volunteers helping families living in makeshift shelters cope with life

BEIRUT: More than 150 members of the Palestinian Scout Association have been risking their lives to support children, women, and displaced families in war-torn Gaza.

Basic life necessities such as food, water, shelter, electricity, healthcare, and education have vanished since Israel launched its unprecedented military assault on the Strip following the Hamas Oct. 7 attacks.

With around 2 million Gazans displaced and taking refuge in shelters and makeshift tents, often with little if any food and water available, the PSA stepped in and commissioned members as volunteers to help people cope with daily life in the temporary camps.

Palestinian Scout Association leader Sahar Abu-Zaid during a group session activity with women of Gaza inside a classroom at one of the shelters. (Supplied)

Scout group leader Sahar Jamal Abu-Zaid was among those helping out.

She told Arab News: “It is our duty and obligation to help and support displaced people and traumatized kids.”

Describing the situation in Gaza as “difficult, disastrous, and extremely dangerous,” she said: “These are our people. We are committed to supporting them as much as possible, despite the deep wounds and scars that the war has inflicted on them.”

Abu-Zaid noted that scouts were trained in outdoor survival techniques.

“We have been helping the displaced people through applying our scouting skills by teaching them how to use ropes to make laundry lines, setting up tents for sleeping, making fireplaces to stay warm, and building makeshift ovens to cook,” she added.

Caption

The scouts have been joined by volunteers from Sharek Youth Forum — an NGO operating in Gaza and the West Bank — in providing psychological support to displaced children and adults.

The scout volunteers have been managing a kitchen in cooperation with World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit NGO devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters.

Accounting graduate Abu-Zaid, 31, said: “Scout members are cooking huge meals, as they used to do in camps. We package the food meals and distribute them.

“We also have a bread project, whereby we bake bread on woodfire and distribute them along with the meals. So far, we have been able to provide over 10,000 meals.”

As part of the efforts of Qatar’s Education Above All Foundation and the UN Population Fund in responding to the Gaza crisis, scout members have also been volunteering in different support activities and programs for refugees, especially children.

Palestinian Scout Association volunteers during a clean up campaign in a Gaza makeshift camp for refugees. (Supplied)

The campaign Participate with Your People was launched by the SYF to organize individual and group activities for children and support women and parents in identifying and managing children’s trauma symptoms.

“Today, we are living minute by minute, and we are at risk of getting killed by an Israeli airstrike at any moment. Yet, we have to keep moving forward.

“We are committed to drawing smiles on the faces of traumatized children by involving them in different fun activities and games that we learnt at scouts.

“We are also involving grownups, mainly women, in group discussions and other activities that could help them learn how to survive amid this warzone.

“It is only an immediate ceasefire that would save our lives. We are surrounded by nonstop massacres. People die every minute, and this has got to stop instantly,” Abu-Zaid, who joined the PSA in 2017, added.

alestinian Scout Association volunteers teaching refugees how to build up laundry lines at a makeshift camp in Gaza. (Supplied)

Mai Al-Afifi, a volunteer displaced from Gaza City to Deir al-Balah, told The Guardian: “We do see the games and singing make a difference … for just a little while, the children can relieve their psychological stress.

Nader al-Raqab, the PSA’s leader in Khan Younis, was apprehended by Israelis several weeks ago and has not been heard from since.


Houthi leader says UK’s Sunak has chance to recover Rubymar by letting aid into Gaza

This satellite image taken by Maxar Technologies shows the Belize-flagged ship Rubymar in the Red Sea on Friday, March 1, 2024.
This satellite image taken by Maxar Technologies shows the Belize-flagged ship Rubymar in the Red Sea on Friday, March 1, 2024.
Updated 03 March 2024
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Houthi leader says UK’s Sunak has chance to recover Rubymar by letting aid into Gaza

This satellite image taken by Maxar Technologies shows the Belize-flagged ship Rubymar in the Red Sea on Friday, March 1, 2024.
  • The Houthis insist their attacks will continue until Israel stops its combat operations in the Gaza Strip, which have enraged the wider Arab world and seen the Houthis gain international recognition

CAIRO: A senior Houthi leader said on Saturday he held British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his government responsible for the sinking of the UK-owned Rubymar.
Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, head of Yemen’s Houthi supreme revolutionary committee, also said on X: “Sunak has a chance to recover the Rubymar by allowing aid trucks into Gaza.”
Yemen’s internationally recognized government said earlier on Saturday that the Rubymar, which was attacked by Houthi militants last month, had sunk in the Red Sea and warned of an “environmental catastrophe” from the ship’s cargo of fertilizer.