Gaza truce talks end inconclusively as Rafah braces for Israeli assault

Gaza truce talks end inconclusively as Rafah braces for Israeli assault
A woman reacts as she stands before a vehicle loaded with items secured by rope as people flee from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 13, 2024 north towards the centre of the Palestinian territory amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2024
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Gaza truce talks end inconclusively as Rafah braces for Israeli assault

Gaza truce talks end inconclusively as Rafah braces for Israeli assault
  • South Africa asked the World Court on Tuesday to consider whether Israel’s plan to extend its offensive into Rafah required additional emergency measures to safeguard the rights of Palestinians

CAIRO/JERUSALEM/GAZA: Talks involving the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar on a Gaza truce ended without a breakthrough on Tuesday as calls grew for Israel to hold back on a planned assault on the southern end of the enclave, crammed with over a million displaced people.
The city of Rafah, whose pre-war population was about 300,000, teems with homeless people living in tent camps and makeshift shelters who fled there from Israeli bombardments in areas of Gaza farther north during more than four months of war.
Israel says it wants to flush out Hamas militants from hideouts in Rafah and free Israeli hostages being held there. Its military is making plans to evacuate Palestinian civilians. But no plan has been forthcoming and aid agencies say the displaced have nowhere else to go in the shattered territory.
With Palestinians in Rafah “starting death in the face,” United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths said an Israeli ground invasion there would make humanitarian relief nearly impossible.
“Military operations in Rafah could lead to a slaughter in Gaza. They could also leave an already fragile humanitarian operation at death’s door,” Griffiths said in a statement.
Israeli tanks shelled the eastern sector of Rafah overnight, causing waves of panic, residents said.
They said displaced people — dozens so far — had begun to leave Rafah after Israeli shelling and air strikes in recent days.
“Last night in Rafah was very tough. We’re going back to Al-Maghazi out of fear — displaced from one area to another,” said Nahla Jarwan, referring to the coastal refugee camp from which she fled earlier in the conflict. “Wherever we go, there is no safety.”
Rafah neighbors Egypt, but Cairo has made clear it will not allow a refugee exodus over the border.
Gaza health officials announced 133 new Palestinian deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 28,473 killed and 68,146 wounded since Oct. 7, when 1,200 people were killed in a Hamas rampage across the border into Israel, triggering the war.
Many other people are believed to be buried under rubble of destroyed buildings across the densely populated Gaza Strip, much of which is in ruins. Supplies of food, water and other essentials are running out and diseases are spreading.
About half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are now squeezed into Rafah.
“Since Israel said they are invading Rafah soon..., we read our last prayers every night. Every night we say farewell to one another and to relatives outside Rafah,” said Aya, 30, who is living in a tent with her mother, grandmother and five siblings.

INCONCLUSIVE TRUCE TALKS
In Cairo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi conducted talks with CIA Director William Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani aimed at agreeing a Gaza truce, protecting civilians and delivering more aid into the enclave, Egypt’s state information service said.
In a statement on its website, it cited a “keenness to continue consultation and coordination” on the key issues, indicating that no breakthrough was made.
The Egyptian statement made no mention of Israel. The Israeli delegation left Cairo for home, a Reuters reporter said. The Israeli prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israel has vowed to fight on, for many months if necessary, until it eradicates Hamas.
A Palestinian official said earlier the sides were seeking a formula acceptable to Hamas, which insists that Israel commit to ending its war and pulling its forces from Gaza.
A Hamas official said Hamas had told the participants it does not trust Israel not to renew the war if the Israeli hostages being held by Palestinian militants are released.
The hostages were seized in Hamas’ raid into southern Israel on Oct. 7. Securing their return is a priority for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as well as wiping out Hamas, which governs the small coastal territory.

‘PRETTY MUCH UNLIVABLE’
South Africa asked the World Court on Tuesday to consider whether Israel’s plan to extend its offensive into Rafah required additional emergency measures to safeguard the rights of Palestinians.
In a case brought by South Africa, the International Court of Justice last month ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent its troops committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. Israel denies it is committing genocide and had asked the court to reject the case outright.
Pretoria’s government voiced concern that an offensive would result in further large-scale killing, harm and destruction.
Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, said it had not been informed of any Israeli evacuation plan for Rafah and was not part of it.
“Where are you going to evacuate people to, as no place is safe across the Gaza Strip, the north is shattered, riddled with unexploded weapons, it’s pretty much unlivable,” she said.
US President Joe Biden said on Monday that Washington was working on a hostage deal to bring “immediate and sustained” calm to Gaza for at least six weeks.
Biden has urged Israel to refrain from a Rafah offensive without a viable plan to protect civilians.
In the latest bloodshed, Israel’s military said its forces had killed dozens of Palestinian fighters in clashes in southern and central Gaza over the last 24 hours.
Gaza health officials said an Israeli strike on a house in Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza killed 16 Palestinians overnight. They said another air strike on a car in Gaza City later on Tuesday killed six people including children.
Israeli sniper fire killed three Palestinians and injured 10 others on Tuesday at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, the Palestinian health ministry said in a statement.


As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls
Updated 13 July 2024
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As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls
  • The boxing club where girls once learned to jab, build their stamina, and make friends has been demolished
  • There are no protective equipment in the open-air sandy space between tents where displaced girls now practice

GAZA: Israel’s offensive in Gaza has pulverized most of its sports facilities and equipment, but that has not stopped boxing coach Osama Ayoub from training Palestinian girls in a tent camp that offers no protection from airstrikes or shelling.
The boxing club where girls once learned to jab, build their stamina, and make friends has been demolished.
There are no protective equipment, ring, or punch bags in the open-air sandy space between the tents where displaced girls now practice — a mattress and pillow will have to do — but Ayoub says the training has helped them overcome their fear of war.
“They started going out on the street. They started going out at night. Their personalities became much stronger, and even their families saw they were stronger,” he said.
It’s all about improvization. One young girl unleashes barehanded punches and weaves left and right to dodge imaginary fists. “Throw a right,” yells the coach, who puts up his fists for the girls to punch.
“They have determination, they have contentment, they have courage. At first, they were afraid of the war we are living in, but through boxing, they have benefited a lot,” he said.
Gaza offered playgrounds, football, tennis, karate, and other sports before terrifying bombs began dropping from the skies, flattening entire neighborhoods.
Attempts to restart sports are risky, even when played outside. On Tuesday, an Israeli missile slammed into a football match at a tent encampment, killing at least 29 people, Palestinian officials said.
Yet the boxers dream of international competitions overseas worlds away from Gaza. This tiny, densely populated enclave suffered from poverty and high unemployment even long before Hamas triggered the war on Oct. 7.
“I hope that this war will end and that our message will reach everyone in the name of the girls of Gaza,” said one of the boxers, Bilsan Ayoub.
The chances of that happening soon are slim. Months of mediation by the US, Egypt, and Qatar have failed to secure a truce between Israel and its arch-enemy Hamas, never mind a permanent ceasefire.
So, all the boxers can do is keep practicing as each side demands concessions from the other, and the conflict rages.
“We do not have anything left, being displaced. We do not have clips, gloves, teeth protection, said Ayoub, who has to improvise daily to keep her dream of international competition alive.
“The tools are very simple, but we want to continue in this game until we achieve our dream and end the war,” she said.


UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September

UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September
Updated 13 July 2024
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UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September

UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September
  • UN chief Antonio Guterres earlier pleaded for help from donors to fund the embattled agency, warning that Palestinians would lose a “critical lifeline” without UNRWA

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Friday it had enough funds to continue operating through September, following a pledging conference for the embattled body where UN chief Antonio Guterres pleaded for help from donors.
“We have worked tirelessly with partners to restore confidence in the agency,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said, after several nations withheld funding following Israeli allegations in January that a number of UNRWA’s employees participated in the October 7 attack by Hamas.
Lazzarini said new pledges of funds would help ensure emergency operations until September.
Guterres had pleaded with donors to fund the embattled UN agency, warning that Palestinians would lose a “critical lifeline” without UNRWA.
“Let me be clear — there is no alternative to UNRWA,” he said.
“Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse in Gaza — somehow, appallingly, civilians are being pushed into ever deeper circles of hell,” Guterres added.
According to Guterres, 195 UNRWA staff members have been killed in the war, the highest death toll for staff in UN history.
The US Congress has barred further funding for UNRWA. President Joe Biden’s administration has instead directed funding for Palestinian civilians to other bodies while saying that UNRWA is uniquely equipped to distribute aid.
The war started with Hamas’s October attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,345 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
 


Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel

Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel
Updated 13 July 2024
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Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel

Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel
  • The US, European Union and several other countries long put a terrorist designation on Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip before its current war with Israel
  • Israel has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, displaced over 80 percent of the territory’s people and triggered a humanitarian disaster

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: Argentina designated Hamas a terrorist organization Friday and ordered a freeze on the financial assets of the Palestinian group, a largely symbolic move as President Javier Milei seeks to align Argentina strongly with the US and Israel.
Announcing the decision, Milei’s office cited the militant Palestinian group’s cross-border attack on Israel last Oct. 7 that killed some 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage, in the deadliest assault in Israel’s 76-year history.
The statement also mentioned Hamas’ close ties to Iran, which Argentina blames for two deadly militant attacks on Jewish sites in the country.
The move comes just days before the 30th anniversary of one of those attacks, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. It killed 85 people and wounded hundreds more in the worst such attack in Argentina’s modern history.
The other attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, in 1992, killed more than 20 people. Argentina’s judiciary has accused members of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group of carrying out the two attacks.
Friday’s announcement professed Milei’s “unwavering commitment to recognizing terrorists for what they are,” adding that “it’s the first time that there is a political will to do so.”
The US, European Union and several other countries long put a terrorist designation on Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip before its current war with Israel.
Previous left-leaning Peronist governments in Argentina, home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America, have maintained friendly ties with Israel but also voiced support for Palestinian statehood.
Since coming into office in December, Milei has set himself apart from even Israel’s closest allies in his vocal support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A huge swell in global pressure has left Israel deeply isolated over its military campaign in Gaza, which has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, displaced over 80 percent of the territory’s people and triggered a humanitarian disaster.
“Argentina must once again align itself with Western civilization,” Milei’s office said Friday.
For his first state visit as president earlier this year, Milei flew to Jerusalem in a show of support for the Israeli government and promised to move his nation’s embassy to the contested capital — drawing praise from Netanyahu and ire from Hamas.
Although raised a Roman Catholic, Milei says he has a deep spiritual connection with Judaism.

 


Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China

Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China
Updated 13 July 2024
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Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China

Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China
  • Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon, has pledged to promote a pragmatic foreign policy, ease tensions over now-stalled negotiations with major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact and improve prospects for social liberalization and political pluralism

DUBAI: The United States should realize that Iran will not respond to pressure, President-elect Masoud Pezeshkian said in a statement published on Saturday, in which he also highlighted his country’s friendship with China and Russia.
Pezeshkian, a relative moderate who beat a hard-line rival in elections, also reiterated that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, adding that Tehran would expand ties with neighbors and engage with Europe.
“The United States...needs to recognize the reality and understand, once and for all, that Iran does not — and will not — respond to pressure (and) that Iran’s defense doctrine does not include nuclear weapons,” Pezeshkian said in the statement, titled “My message to the new world” and published in the daily Tehran Times.
Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon, has pledged to promote a pragmatic foreign policy, ease tensions over now-stalled negotiations with major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact and improve prospects for social liberalization and political pluralism.
However many Iranians are skeptical about his ability to fulfil his campaign promises as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not the president, is the ultimate authority in the Islamic Republic.
“China and Russia have consistently stood by us during challenging times. We deeply value this friendship.
“Russia is a valued strategic ally and neighbor to Iran and my administration will remain committed to expanding and enhancing our cooperation,” Pezeshkian said, adding that Tehran would actively support initiatives aimed at ending the conflict in Ukraine.
“The Iranian people have entrusted me with a strong mandate to vigorously pursue constructive engagement on the international stage while insisting on our rights, our dignity and our deserved role in the region and the world.
“I extend an open invitation to those willing to join us in this historic endeavour,” Pezeshkian said. (

 


Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says

Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says
Updated 13 July 2024
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Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says

Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says
  • The invasion’s aftermath effectively divided the island along ethnic lines, with some 170,000 Greek Cypriots fleeing the north to be replaced by some 40,000 Turkish Cypriots displaced from the government-held south

NICOSIA: The breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus hopes to end its international isolation, its leader Ersin Tatar told AFP in an interview, as the Mediterranean island marks fives decades of division.
“Every day, we are working for recognition,” said the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in 1983 but which is recognized only by Ankara.
“Turkish Cypriots have been (put) under a lot of disadvantages — embargoes, isolation,” Tatar said in the interview conducted on Thursday.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Turkiye’s invasion of the north, five days after a coup orchestrated by the junta then in power in Athens sought to unite the whole island with Greece.
The invasion’s aftermath effectively divided the island along ethnic lines, with some 170,000 Greek Cypriots fleeing the north to be replaced by some 40,000 Turkish Cypriots displaced from the government-held south.
But international recognition has always eluded the Turkish Cypriots, with knock-on effects on the northern economy.
All flights to northern Cyprus have to make at least a stopover in Turkiye, hampering the development of large-scale tourism.
The rejection of a UN peace plan by Greek Cypriot voters in a 2004 referendum meant Cyprus entered the European Union that year still a divided island, with Turkish Cypriots denied the full benefits of membership.
“I would very much hope to see a resolution from the United Nations Security Council saying that we do recognize the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus,” Tatar said.
“Greek Cypriots are obviously having a bigger part of the cake. Tourism is prospering, their economy is prospering,” he added.
UN-backed efforts to reunify the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation have been at a standstill since the last round of talks collapsed in 2017.
The Turkish Cypriot leadership says that with the UN-backed reunification talks dead, a two-state solution is the only forward.
Greek Cypriot leaders say they remain committed to the UN-backed process.

The United Nations, whose peacekeepers patrol a buffer zone behind the former front line between the two sides, is pressing for talks to resume between the leaders of the two communities.
“All I want is concerted efforts to find a practical, fair, just and sustainable settlement. But on an equal basis, a sovereign equal basis,” said Tatar.
For Tatar, “1974 was a turning point for Turkish Cypriots, a new hope,” said the leader, who was a 13-year-old pupil at the English School in Nicosia at the time and on holiday in London when he heard the news.
Citing violence and discrimination against the minority community in the decade leading up to the invasion, he insisted Turkish troops landed to “protect the Turkish Cypriots.”
A controversial treaty between Britain, Greece and Turkiye that accompanied the island’s independence in 1960 gave the three powers the right to intervene to guarantee the island’s constitution.
The treaty also outlawed partition and the union of any part of the island with Greece or Turkiye.
“This is why we call it Turkish intervention as a result of the right given to Turkiye by the 1960 agreement,” Tatar said.
He said the Turkish troop contingent in northern Cyprus — around 40,000 soldiers, according to the United Nations — was a “deterrent force” that had “ensured that we had peace on the island.”
Despite the many challenges, “what we have achieved is basically to develop our state from nothing to a consolidated state with all the functions and faculties that you would have in any modern state,” Tatar said.