US sees ‘real progress’ on framework for release of hostages in Gaza

US sees ‘real progress’ on framework for release of hostages in Gaza
Supporters of hostages take part in a protest calling for their release, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, February 11, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 February 2024
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US sees ‘real progress’ on framework for release of hostages in Gaza

US sees ‘real progress’ on framework for release of hostages in Gaza

WASHINGTON: Negotiators working on a phased framework deal to secure the release of the remaining hostages held by the Islamist Hamas group in Gaza have made “real progress” over the last few weeks, a senior Biden administration official said on Sunday.
The hostage release deal was the main focus of a 45-minute telephone call between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, although there were still some “significant” gaps to close, the official said, adding, “It’s pretty much there.”
Biden in the call stressed that the United States did not support Israeli military operations in Rafah under the current circumstances, with some 1.3 million people sheltering there “with nowhere to go.”


Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis

Updated 6 sec ago
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Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis

Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis
  • Iran’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment
  • Iran is armed with the largest number of ballistic missiles in the region
DUBAI: Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Wednesday that Tehran’s sea-launched ballistic missile Ghadr has been made available to Yemen’s Houthis.
“Iran’s sea-launched ballistic missile, named Ghadr, now has been made available to Yemen’s (Houthi) fighters,” — reported Tasnim, which is believed to be affiliated to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
“Now, the missile … has become a weapon capable of presenting serious challenges to the interests of the United States and its main ally in the region, the Zionist regime,” Tasnim said.
Iran’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Iran supports the Houthis but has repeatedly denied arming the group.
The Houthis have been attacking shipping lanes in and around the Red Sea to show support for Palestinians in the Gaza war impacting a shipping route vital to trade.
According to the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Iran is armed with the largest number of ballistic missiles in the region. It is also a major producer of drones.

Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’

Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’
Updated 28 min 30 sec ago
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Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’

Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’
  • Calls on the ‘Islamic world’ to react after the latest deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza
  • Turkish premier hits out at fellow Muslim-majority countries for failing to take common action over the Israeli strike

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday hit out at the United Nations and called on the “Islamic world” to react after the latest deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza.
“The UN cannot even protect its own staff. What are you waiting for to act? The spirit of the United Nations is dead in Gaza,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his AKP party.
Erdogan’s comments came as the UN Security Council met to discuss a deadly Israeli attack on a displacement camp west of Rafah on Tuesday that killed 21 people, according to a civil defense official in Hamas-run Gaza.
The Turkish premier also hit out at fellow Muslim-majority countries for failing to take common action over the Israeli strike.
“I have some words to say to the Islamic world: what are you waiting for to take a common decision?” Erdogan, who leads a Muslim-majority country of 85 million people, told lawmakers from his AKP party.
“Israel is not just a threat to Gaza but to all of humanity,” he said.
“No state is safe as long as Israel does not follow international law and does not feel bound by international law,” Erdogan added, repeating an accusation that Israel is committing “genocide” in Gaza.


China’s Xi meets Egyptian leader El-Sisi in Beijing

China’s Xi meets Egyptian leader El-Sisi in Beijing
Updated 29 May 2024
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China’s Xi meets Egyptian leader El-Sisi in Beijing

China’s Xi meets Egyptian leader El-Sisi in Beijing
  • Top of the agenda will be the war between Israel and Hamas, which Xi has called for an “international peace conference” to resolve
  • Several Arab leaders are this week visiting Beijing, which is seeking to present a “common voice” on the conflict between Israel and Hamas
Beijing: President Xi Jinping welcomed Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Beijing on Wednesday, as the Chinese capital hosts a number of Arab dignitaries for a forum it hopes will deepen ties with the region.
Several Arab leaders are this week visiting Beijing, which is seeking to present a “common voice” on the conflict between Israel and Hamas and improve cooperation.
Xi met El-Sisi in a grand ceremony outside Beijing’s Great Hall of People on Wednesday afternoon, state media footage showed, with the national anthems of both countries blaring out.
Cairo has said the two will discuss “regional and international issues of common interest.”
“Discussions will tackle ways to forge closer bilateral relations and to unlock broader prospects for cooperation in an array of fields,” the Egyptian presidency said.
Beijing has sought to build closer ties with Arab states in recent years, and last year brokered a detente between Tehran and its long-time foe Saudi Arabia.
It has also historically been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And Beijing last month hosted rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah for “in-depth and candid talks on promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation.”
United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as well as a host of other regional leaders and diplomats, is also among the delegates attending the forum.
Xi is set to deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony on Thursday, Beijing has said, aimed at building “common consensus” between China and Arab states.
Top of the agenda will be the war between Israel and Hamas, which Xi has called for an “international peace conference” to resolve.
China sees a “strategic opportunity to boost its reputation and standing in the Arab world” by framing its efforts to end that conflict against US inaction, Ahmed Aboudouh, an associate fellow with the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme, told AFP.
“This, in turn, serves Beijing’s focus on undermining the US’s credibility and influence in the region,” he said.
“The longer the war, the easier for China to pursue this objective,” he added.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with counterparts from Yemen and Sudan in Beijing, saying he hoped to “strengthen solidarity and coordination” with the Arab world.
He also raised China’s concerns over disruptive attacks on Red Sea shipping by Iran-backed Houthi forces acting in solidarity with Hamas with his Yemeni counterpart Shayea Mohsen Al-Zindani.
“China calls for an end to the harassment of civilian vessels and to ensure the safety of waterways in the Red Sea,” state news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.

Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says

Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says
Updated 29 May 2024
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Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says

Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says
  • Israeli forces have kept up their offensive in Rafah, defying an order from the International Court of Justice

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said three soldiers had been killed in combat in southern Gaza on Wednesday, as it pressed ahead with its offensive in Rafah.
Three more soldiers were badly wounded in the same incident, the military said, though it provided no further details. Israel’s public broadcaster Kan radio said they were injured by an explosive device set off in a building in Rafah.
Defying an order from the International Court of Justice, Israeli forces have kept up their offensive in Rafah, where they aim to root out the last major intact formations of Hamas fighters and rescue hostages.
International unease over Israel’s three-week-old Rafah offensive has turned to outrage since an airstrike on Sunday set off a blaze in a tent camp in a western district of the city, killing at least 45 people.
Israel said it had been targeting two senior Hamas operatives and had not intended to cause civilian casualties. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “something unfortunately went tragically wrong.”
The Israeli military said it was investigating the possibility that munitions stored near a compound targeted by Sunday’s airstrike may have ignited.
Israel told around one million Palestinian civilians displaced by the almost eight-month-old war to evacuate from Rafah before launching its incursion in early May. Around that many have fled the city since then, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
On Tuesday, the United States, Israel’s closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah but said it did not believe such an operation was under way.


Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations

Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations
Updated 29 May 2024
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Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations

Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations
  • Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians
  • Five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria

BEKAA VALLEY: The soldiers came before daybreak, singling out the Syrian men without residence permits from the tattered camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. As toddlers wailed around them, Mona, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon for a decade, watched Lebanese troops shuffle her brother onto a truck headed for the Syrian border.
Thirteen years since Syria’s conflict broke out, Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians — half of whom are refugees formally registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR — in a country of approximately 4 million Lebanese.
They are among some five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria. Donor countries in Brussels this week pledged fewer funds in Syria aid than last year.
With Lebanon struggling to cope with an economic meltdown that has crushed livelihoods and most public services, its chronically underfunded security forces and typically divided politicians now agree on one thing: Syrians must be sent home.
Employers have been urged to stop hiring Syrians for menial jobs. Municipalities have issued new curfews and have even evicted Syrian tenants, two humanitarian sources told Reuters. At least one township in northern Lebanon has shuttered an informal camp, sending Syrians scattering, the sources said.
Lebanese security forces issued a new directive this month shrinking the number of categories through which Syrians can apply for residency — frightening many who would no longer qualify for legal status and now face possible deportation.
Lebanon has organized voluntary returns for Syrians, through which 300 traveled home in May. But more than 400 have also been summarily deported by the Lebanese army, two humanitarian sources told Reuters, caught in camp raids or at checkpoints set up to identify Syrians without legal residency.
They are automatically driven across the border, refugees and humanitarian workers say, fueling concerns about rights violations, forced military conscription or arbitrary detention.
Mona, who asked to change her name in fear of Lebanese authorities, said her brother was told to register with Syria’s army reserves upon his entry. Fearing a similar fate, the rest of the camp’s men no longer venture out.
“None of the men can pick up their kids from school, or go to the market to get things for the house. They can’t go to any government institutions, or hospital, or court,” Mona said.
She must now care for her brother’s children, who were not deported, through an informal job she has at a nearby factory. She works at night to evade checkpoints along her commute.
’Wrong $ not sustainable’
Lebanon has deported refugees in the past, and political parties have long insisted parts of Syria are safe enough for large-scale refugee returns.
But in April, the killing of a local Lebanese party official blamed on Syrians touched off a concentrated campaign of anti-refugee sentiment.
Hate speech flourished online, with more than 50 percent of the online conversation about refugees in Lebanon focused on deporting them and another 20 percent referring to Syrians as an “existential threat,” said Lebanese research firm InflueAnswers.
The tensions have extended to international institutions. Lebanon’s foreign minister has pressured UNHCR’s representative to rescind a request to halt the new restrictions and lawmakers slammed a one billion euro aid package from the European Union as a “bribe” to keep hosting refugees.
“This money that the EU is sending to the Syrians, let them send it to Syria,” said Roy Hadchiti, a media representative for the Free Patriotic Movement, speaking at an anti-refugee rally organized by the conservative Christian party.
He, like a growing number of Lebanese, complained that Syrian refugees received more aid than desperate Lebanese. “Go see them in the camps — they have solar panels, while Lebanese can’t even afford a private generator subscription,” he said.
The UN still considers Syria unsafe for large-scale returns and said rising anti-refugee rhetoric is alarming.
“I am very concerned because it can result in... forced returns, which are both wrong and not sustainable,” UNHCR head Filippo Grandi told Reuters.
“I understand the frustrations in host countries — but please don’t fuel it further.”
Zeina, a Syrian refugee who also asked her name be changed, said her husband’s deportation last month left her with no work or legal status in an increasingly hostile Lebanese town.
Returning has its own dangers: her children were born in Lebanon and do not have Syrian ID cards, and her home in Homs province remains in ruins since a 2012 government strike that forced her to flee.
“Even now, when I think of those days, and I think of my parents or anyone else going back, they can’t. The house is flattened. What kind of return is that?” she said.