‘I fear the world has failed the test of humanity’ in Gaza, Slovenia’s foreign minister tells Arab News

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Updated 27 February 2024
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‘I fear the world has failed the test of humanity’ in Gaza, Slovenia’s foreign minister tells Arab News

‘I fear the world has failed the test of humanity’ in Gaza, Slovenia’s foreign minister tells Arab News
  • Tania Fajon urges Washington to use its leverage over Israel to advance two-state solution
  • Fears Israel’s planned military offensive in Rafah will trigger regional unrest

NEW YORK CITY: Tanja Fajon, Slovenia’s minister of foreign and European affairs, has expressed deep disappointment at how the US has repeatedly used its veto power at the UN Security Council to block demands for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

On Feb. 20, the US vetoed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for the third time. It was the lone vote against the resolution put forward by Algeria. The UK was the sole abstention, with 13 votes in support.

With some 30,000 people killed in Gaza since Israel launched its military offensive last October and some 2 million now at risk of famine, Washington’s continued use of its veto at the security council to prevent censure of Israel has drawn condemnation.

“I fear that the world has failed the test of humanity,” Fajon, whose country is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2024-2025, told Arab News during an interview in New York.




On Feb. 20, the US vetoed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for the third time. (AFP)

“Seeing so many kids without shelter, without food, without schools, no hospitals. We see the unbearably high death toll among civilians, the violations of international humanitarian laws — this is on us all.”

Washington has sought to justify its veto, saying a ceasefire would jeopardize “sensitive” negotiations, led by the US, Qatar and Egypt, to broker an end to the hostilities in Gaza, the release of hostages held by Hamas, and to allow aid to enter the enclave.

Rather than veto resolutions, Fajon said the US should use its influence over Israel to demand a halt to its military operation in Gaza and commit to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

“It’s no secret that Americans have leverage on Israel,” she said.

“They really have to do everything that’s possible, first to start serious negotiations with Israel, to stop the violations in Gaza, to ensure a ceasefire, to reach an agreement on the release of hostages and political prisoners and really start working for the two-state solution.

“We are doing our part of the job on the European side. But we need everyone at the table.”




Washington’s continued use of its veto at the security council to prevent censure of Israel has drawn condemnation. (AFP/File)

Fajon fears the worst could still come if Israel follows through with its threat to launch a new ground offensive against Rafah, the last refuge of more than 1.5 million displaced Palestinians.

“I do expect that also in America they are aware of what might happen after the beginning of Ramadan if Israel makes its threats a reality,” she said. “If nothing happens, if a ceasefire is not urgently (implemented), I don’t know how we can move forward.”

Fajon believes that any large-scale operation in Rafah during Ramadan will provoke massive unrest across the Middle East and beyond.

“The anger is growing against Israel,” she said. “And when you have masses of people being frustrated, it’s always difficult to control and ensure peace. So, we are running the risk of a real escalation of violations in the Middle East.”

Slovenia’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict differs from the EU’s dominant foreign policy position, as mainly represented by large states such as Germany whose defense export approvals to Israel have increased nearly tenfold since Oct. 7, according to Reuters.

Although many European states have called for a ceasefire, they have remained broadly pro-Israel.




Washington has sought to justify its veto, saying a ceasefire would jeopardize “sensitive” negotiations. (AFP)

“We are a small country,” said Fajon. “I wouldn’t say we are either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinians, but we are for peace.”

She said Slovenians have been saddened by the images of suffering coming out of Gaza.

A large portion of the Slovenian electorate, especially the left, are critical of the foreign policy pursued by the US and Israel, which they view as “neo-colonial.”

Many hold a positive attitude toward the societies of the Global South and are broadly pacifist. Many believe the Slovenian government in Ljubljana is well-placed to act as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

Some historians believe these attitudes are a legacy of Slovenia’s time as part of Yugoslavia, which had a tradition of offering support to developing countries, and which was committed to non-alignment during the Cold War, backing neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact.

Fajon recently hosted the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan in Ljubljana. She said both came “with a message of gratitude because we really try to listen and be supportive in efforts to create viable or feasible peace plans.”

With the Arab ministers, Fajon said she discussed her country’s desire to hold a peace conference, bringing the Americans, Israelis and all other stakeholders to the table to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and discuss the recognition of a Palestinian state.

“That also means the well-being and safety of Israelis and Palestinians living side by side,” she said. “We are not there yet. I know there are still open questions on how to ensure stability in Gaza after the war.”




Some 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its military offensive last October. (AFP)

Slovenia is actively participating in proceedings at the UN’s highest court — the International Court of Justice at The Hague — examining “the ongoing violations by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967,” as well as policies in occupied East Jerusalem and allegations of “discriminatory legislation” against Palestinians.

The motion is seeking an advisory opinion on whether Israel’s activities have violated international law. The motion was requested by the UN General Assembly in 2022, and so pre-dates South Africa’s genocide allegations heard by the court last month.

“This is a very broad spectrum of alleged violations that have been committed in the region for decades and whose horrific consequences are still visible today,” Fajon said last month.

Speaking to Arab News about the case, Fajon said it was about upholding international law.

“We are using our legal arguments, speaking of an occupying force and its illegal wrongdoings on illegally occupied lands,” she said. “Our expert opinion shows clearly that we try and we always follow international law. And that is our main message at The Hague.”

Slovenia has consistently called for the EU to introduce sanctions against both Hamas and extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank, whose violence “we are following with great concern,” said Fajon.

The country has also joined efforts by Ireland and Spain to reconsider the EU’s cooperation agreement with Israel, which regulates trade relations and is bound by the provision that it respects human rights.

“We are a part of a like-minded group of six or seven countries in the EU that are really pushing hard to achieve a permanent ceasefire,” said Fajon.




Many people in Slovenia hold a positive attitude toward the societies of the Global South and are broadly pacifist. (Supplied)

“Yes, there are divisions inside the EU for different historical reasons. But from our perspective, I believe we are just very consistent in our foreign policy, meaning we respect international law (and) international humanitarian law. And we say that what we are seeing in Gaza are violations of international humanitarian law.”

In South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, the ICJ issued provisional measures ordering Israel to prevent and punish the commission or the incitement to commit genocide, to stop the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, and immediately enable the provision of humanitarian assistance to Gazans.

“We call on Israel to respect the measures from the ICJ Hague,” said Fajon.

“This is extremely important. We respect the work of international tribunals. And that is our clear call to Israel here. I think we don’t have any double standards. We can tell that to Israel, and we tell it to Russia in its war in Ukraine.”

She said both wars, Ukraine and Gaza, are a direct result of “regimes that don’t respect the UN Charter.”




“We call on Israel to respect the measures from the ICJ Hague,” said Fajon.

“In the case of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, that’s entering its third year, we fully understand and support Ukrainians’ fight for territorial sovereignty and integrity. Because no one, by force, can take your land away or change internationally recognized borders.

“We run a consistent foreign policy that is based on international law and the UN Charter.”

Slovenia is also one of the leaders of the Mutual Legal Assistance Initiative for the adoption of the Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and other International Crimes.

The Ljubljana-The Hague MLA Convention was adopted in May 2023 marking a landmark international treaty aiming to strengthen international legal cooperation to help reduce impunity for perpetrators of crimes and deliver justice to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“The Ljubljana-The Hague Convention is an important instrument because it somehow narrows the gap in the legislation (so) that the judiciary systems around the world can faster exchange evidence in persecuting, investigating, and punishing the worst war crimes everywhere,” said Fajon.

“So all those countries that are signing this convention will be in a much better position to move faster with the processes. And I hope that many countries will join in signing it.”




A large portion of the Slovenian electorate, especially the left, are critical of the foreign policy pursued by the US and Israel, which they view as “neo-colonial.” (AFP)

Above all, Fajon believes the international community has a responsibility to help those who desire peace — no matter which side they are on — to access the means to achieve it.

“In every country, be it an aggressive regime that runs a war or be it the victim, but especially in the country that has an aggressive regime, be it in Israel or be it in Russia, there are citizens and people that want to have peace.

“And we have to support these people. That is what I mean when I say we are neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinians. I mean exactly our support for these people who want to see peace.

“I think this is our role as politicians.”
 


Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike

Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike
Updated 9 sec ago
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Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike

Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike
Hezbollah said it had fired on several Israeli targets, including soldiers and spy equipment
The violence has killed at least 375 people in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Three Hezbollah fighters were killed Saturday in an Israeli strike on a house in southern Lebanon, a source close to the Iran-backed group told AFP.
“Three Hezbollah fighters were killed, and two others seriously wounded in an Israeli air strike on a house in the area of Al-Jebbayn,” the source, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported earlier on Saturday that “enemy aircraft carried out a strike targeting a house in Al-Jebbayn, and rescue teams were headed to the area.”
Hezbollah said it had fired on several Israeli targets, including soldiers and spy equipment.
Since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel triggered war in Gaza, there have been near-daily cross-border exchanges of fire between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.
The violence has killed at least 375 people in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In northern Israel, 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed, according to the army.
In recent days, Hezbollah has intensified its attacks against Israeli military positions, with tensions across the Middle East surging.
On April 13, Iran, which supports both Hezbollah and Hamas, launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel in retaliation for a deadly April 1 air strike which levelled its consulate in Damascus.

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again
Updated 8 min 21 sec ago
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Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again
  • Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones a week ago
  • The Iran attack was itself in retaliation for an air strike widely blamed on Israel

TEHRAN: Iran has dismissed as akin to child’s play Israel’s reported retaliation for an unprecedented Iranian strike, as both sides on Saturday appeared to step back from wider conflict stemming from the war in Gaza.
However, a deadly blast at an Iraqi military base emphasized the high tensions which persist in the region, as did more deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza and intensifying clashes in the West Bank.
Fears have soared this month that escalating tit-for-tat attacks between Israel and Iran could tip over into a broader war in the Middle East.
Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones a week ago in its first-ever direct attack on its arch enemy’s territory.
The Iran attack was itself in retaliation for an air strike — widely blamed on Israel — that levelled the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards on April 1.
The Israeli retaliation appeared to come on Friday, when Iranian media reported blasts in the central province of Isfahan.
Fars news agency reported “three explosions” close to Qahjavarestan, near Isfahan airport and the 8th Shekari army air base.
“What happened last night was no attack,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told NBC News.
“It was the flight of two or three quadcopters, which are at the level of toys that our children use in Iran,” he added.
“As long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the Israeli regime against Iran’s interests, we will have no response.”
Israeli officials have made no public comment on what — according to a senior US congressional source who spoke to AFP — were retaliatory Israeli strikes against Iran.
Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, said the reported Israeli strike had been “calibrated to avoid damage and further Iranian aggression.”
Iranian political expert Hamid Gholamzadeh said the incident in Isfahan, while “insignificant,” needs to be seen in the context of the “fight for balance of power” between the two countries.
“The region is on fire and an all-out war can be ignited any moment,” he said.
While tensions rose after the attack on Iran’s consulate, violence involving Iran-backed groups had already been surging across the Middle East since the outbreak of the Gaza war.
Officials in Iraq said one person was killed and eight wounded in an explosion at a military base south of Baghdad housing a coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Since the Gaza war began, violence has also flared in the other occupied Palestinian territory, the West Bank.
The Israeli army said Saturday that its forces killed 10 militants and arrested eight other people during a 40-hour raid on a refugee camp in the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry said 11 people were wounded in the Israeli raid, including a paramedic who was shot trying to get to the wounded.
Israel has faced growing global opposition over its military offensive in Gaza, which has reduced vast areas of the besieged Palestinian territory to rubble, while aids groups have warned the north is on the brink of famine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under pressure over the rising civilian toll, needs “further escalation and another war to distract the world attention” away from suffering in Gaza, Iranian analyst Gholamzadeh said.
There have been particular fears about Israel’s intention to send troops into the southernmost city of Rafah, where most of the population is now sheltering having fled violence elsewhere.
Foreign ministers of the G7 group of developed economies, meeting in Italy on Friday, said they opposed a “full-scale military operation in Rafah” because it would have “catastrophic consequences” for civilians.
But even without a full operation, the city has been under regular bombardment.
On Saturday, Gaza’s Civil Defense agency said an overnight Israeli strike in Rafah killed nine members of a family including six children.
Agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said the Israeli army had also hit several other areas of Rafah overnight, adding: “It has been a very hard night.”
The war was triggered by an attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel has responded with a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34,049 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Israel’s military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day, including the site in north Gaza from which a rocket was fired into the Israeli city of Sderot.
Witnesses in the central Nuseirat refugee camp said the Israeli army told them to evacuate one home, then several were destroyed.
“They instruct us to evacuate and return later, but where do we go back? To ruins?” asked resident Abu Ibrahim.
“How long will this farce continue?“
A UN report on Friday said “multiple obstacles” continue to impede delivery of urgently needed aid.
Despite some recent aid convoys being able to reach Gaza, the WFP cited “the real possibility of famine” in the north.
Efforts to seal a long sought-after truce have stalled, according to mediator Qatar.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch critic of Israel’s war in Gaza, met with Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday, calling for unity among Palestinians.
After Washington vetoed a Palestinian bid to become a full UN member state earlier this week, president Mahmud Abbas said his West Bank-based Palestinian Authority would “reconsider” its relationship with the US.


Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies
Updated 20 April 2024
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Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies
  • The meeting ‘is part of president’s attempts to reposition himself as credible defender of Palestinian cause,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, unlike Washington and Brussels

ANKARA: The meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday has sparked debate over Turkiye’s attempts to play a greater mediating role for the Palestinian cause amid domestic controversies over the ruling government, which has lost support among its conservative electoral base since local elections last month.
Haniyeh’s visit is his first meeting with Erdogan in Turkiye since the start of the Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
For Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London, the meeting is part of Erdogan’s attempts to reposition himself as a credible defender of the Palestinian cause after his recent electoral defeat.
“Hosting the Hamas leader is likely to reinforce the impression in the West that Turkiye is at best a transactional partner, not an ally,” he said.
Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, unlike Washington and Brussels. The country has also strongly criticized Israel’s military operation in Gaza, which Erdogan previously described as genocide. Hamas also established a presence in Istanbul in 2011, although not on par with its political office in Doha.
Ankara has also been a major humanitarian donor to Gaza, alongside several Gulf states, and has actively helped several Palestinians from Gaza receive medical treatment in Turkish hospitals.
“I will continue to defend the Palestinian struggle and be the voice of the oppressed Palestinian people as long as Allah gives me life, even if I am left alone,” Erdogan said in his speech to parliament last Wednesday.
The Turkish president has always been on friendly terms with Haniyeh.
In a recent phone call to the Hamas leader, Erdogan offered his condolences after three of his sons were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.
“Israel will definitely be held accountable before the law for the crimes against humanity it has committed,” Erdogan told Haniyeh, according to an AFP report.
For Betul Dogan Akkas, assistant professor of international relations at the department of international relations at Ankara University, given the current fragile situation in Gaza, there is a significant need for the mediation efforts by Qatar and Turkiye.
“With Haniyeh and other officials based in Qatar, there is now a more effective political bureau compared to the past. The current military balance in Gaza is very critical; they are cornered in Rafah. On the other hand, Hamas needs to build a more strategic power,” she told Arab News.
Akkas thinks that if this Saturday’s visit of Haniyeh contributes to further collaboration between Turkiye and Hamas to address that strategic power deficiency, it would be meaningful.
“Haniyeh could take on a more effective role due to Gaza’s current situation because they need a way out,” she added.
Domestically, however, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, has come under heavy criticism for its flourishing and uninterrupted trade with Israel, even during its military offensive in Gaza.
The AKP’s Islamist rival, the New Welfare Party or YRP, played this trade card during the local elections on March 31, highlighting Erdogan’s failure to halt economic ties with Israel despite his harsh rhetoric against the Jewish state.
The YRP accused the government of applying double standards by strongly criticizing Israel while continuing trade relations. After the elections, the YRP won some local administrations previously held by the AKP.
Turkiye’s exports to Israel exceeded $5.4 billion in 2023, accounting for 2.1 percent of its total exports, according to official data.
Following nationwide criticism, the Turkish Trade Ministry recently imposed restrictions on some 54 categories of exports to Israel, including cement, steel, machinery, construction materials, chemical compounds, and several metal products, and these restrictions are expected to remain in place until Israel declares a ceasefire in Gaza.
On April 16, Erdogan compared Hamas to Turkish independence fighters who resisted foreign occupiers during the liberation of the country and the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923.
His comments were seen as one of the most blatant endorsements by the Turkish leader since the start of the war in October.
According to Piccoli, while such words may play well with domestic audiences, they are unlikely to be welcomed in Western capitals, including Washington.
Erdogan will make his first official visit to the US since the election of President Joe Biden in 2020 on 9 May. The Palestinian cause is expected to feature in the talks.
Piccoli believes that Haniyeh’s visit is unlikely to lead to any concrete Turkish action against Israel.
“The economic restrictions and Haniyeh’s visit reflect Turkiye’s desire to ensure that the Gaza conflict is not overshadowed by tensions between Israel and Iran, including the Iranian attacks of April 13-14 and the Israeli strikes on Isfahan in the early hours of April 19,” he said.
Earlier this week, Erdogan blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel, Piccoli added.
On the other hand, how Turkiye will be able to mediate between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators is raising concerns, especially after Erdogan’s harsh criticism of Israel’s military actions in Gaza.
The fate of the hostages held by Hamas since Oct. 7 will also be a source of concern for such mediation efforts.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visited Qatar April 16-17 and met with Haniyeh and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al -Thani.
Turkiye was to host intense diplomatic negotiations on Saturday as Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was also expected to travel to the country to discuss the situation in Gaza with Fidan.
For Piccoli, while the recent negotiations may go some way to assuaging domestic public anger, the Erdogan government’s outreach to Hamas is likely to reinforce the impression in the US and the EU that Turkiye is no longer aligned with the West and is now — at best — a potential partner rather than an ally.
For the moment, Erdogan has been cautious about commenting on his meeting with Haniyeh.
“We will keep the agenda between us and Mr.Haniyeh,” he said when questioned by journalists on Friday.


Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says

Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says
Updated 20 April 2024
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Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says

Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says
  • Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership

CAIRO: The Palestinian Authority will reconsider bilateral relations with the US after Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with the official WAFA news agency.


Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid
Updated 20 April 2024
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Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid
  • “Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said
  • Eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid

TULKARM, Palestinian Territories: The Israeli army said Saturday that its security forces killed 10 militants in an ongoing raid around Nur Shams, a refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank.
“Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said in a statement.
The army said eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid.
An AFP journalist in nearby Tulkarem heard gunshots and blasts coming from Nur Shams on Saturday.
Residents contacted by AFP said there was a power outage and food was running short in the camp, saying nobody was allowed to enter or leave.
Since early last year violence has flared across the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967. The violence has further escalated since the war in Gaza broke out on October 7.
Israeli forces say their frequent raids in the West Bank target Palestinian militants, but civilians are often among the dead.
Around 480 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or settlers in the West Bank since the Hamas assault on Israel triggered the Gaza war, according to Palestinian official sources.