Senior US envoy presses for a diplomatic solution to Israel-Hezbollah conflict during talks in Beirut

Senior US envoy presses for a diplomatic solution to Israel-Hezbollah conflict during talks in Beirut
US special envoy Amos Hochstein (R) leaves the government palace in Beirut, accompanied by Lebanese protocal official Lahoud Lahoud (L), after his meeting with Lebanon's caretaker prime minister. (AFP)
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Updated 04 March 2024
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Senior US envoy presses for a diplomatic solution to Israel-Hezbollah conflict during talks in Beirut

Senior US envoy presses for a diplomatic solution to Israel-Hezbollah conflict during talks in Beirut
  • Temporary ceasefire is not enough, says presidential advisor Amos Hochstein, as he warns of risks should fighting continue to escalate

BEIRUT: Senior US envoy envoy Amos Hochstein said during a visit to Beirut on Monday that a diplomatic solution is the key to ending nearly five months of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel that broke out after the start of the war in Gaza.

Hochstein, a senior advisor to President Joe Biden, held meetings with Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and several other political figures.

His visit came amid escalating Israeli threats of a war against Lebanon to force Hezbollah to retreat, and to press Lebanese authorities to implement the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was adopted in 2006 with the aim of resolving the war that year between Israel and Hezbollah.

It also came amid further escalations in fighting along the southern Lebanese front, including reported attempts by Israel to infiltrate Lebanese territory and resultant confrontations with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah said “a hostile Israeli force attempted to infiltrate Lebanese territory in the Qatamoun Valley area opposite Rmeish on Sunday night and was targeted with rockets.”

An Israeli unit of the Golani Brigade reportedly tried to enter Lebanon from the direction of Khirbet Zarit, near the Lebanese town of Ramia, and Hezbollah responded by targeting the unit with a large explosive device.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah intensified strikes against Israeli sites. An attack on the Margaliot settlement left one person dead and 10 injured, two of them critically. According to the Israeli ambulance service, an anti-tank missile was fired at the settlement from Lebanon. Israeli media reported that the dead and injured were foreign workers.

In a separate incident, Hezbollah said they targeted “Zarait Barracks and its surroundings” early on Monday with artillery fire.

Elsewhere, the Israeli army reportedly fired shots in the air in the vicinity of farmers spraying crops near the town of Wazzani in Marjayoun district. Israeli forces also targeted the towns of Hula and Markab, overlooking Wadi Hunayn and the Margaliot settlement, with phosphorus and smoke bombs, and Israeli warplanes carried out raids on the outskirts of the town of Shihin.

Hochstein previously visited Beirut in January as part of US efforts to broker ceasefires in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon. Lebanese authorities him to return in February, when he visited Tel Aviv, but that did not happen.

In the meantime there have been no dramatic shifts in the balance of military power in southern Lebanon, despite the growing intensity of confrontations and expansions of targets by both the Israeli army and Hezbollah.

Lebanese authorities have said Israel must fully implement the provisions of UN Resolution 1701 by halting attacks, addressing disputed border points, of which six remain, withdrawing from the occupied Shebaa Farms and Kfarchouba hills, and respecting international borders. Hezbollah has also linked the end of hostilities on the southern front to the end of Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Hochstein noted that the friction along the border between Israel and Lebanon had increased in recent weeks.

“Escalation of violence is in no one’s interest and there is no such thing as a limited war,” he said after his meeting the Berri, who is an ally of Hezbollah. “A temporary ceasefire is not enough. A limited war is not containable.”

A truce in Gaza would not automatically trigger peace in southern Lebanon, he said, but he added that he remains “hopeful” that a diplomatic solution to the border conflict can be achieved.

“It does not necessarily happen that when you have a ceasefire in Gaza, it just automatically extends” to Lebanon, Hochstein said.

The US “remains committed to advancing lasting security solutions, achieved through a diplomatic process that will allow Lebanese residents to safely return to their homes, as well as allowing Israelis to return to their homes safely in northern Israel,” he added.

The aim of his visit was “to find a diplomatic solution to end the conflict on Lebanon’s southern borders” he said, adding: “Our position on the hostilities has been consistent and remains clear.”

Washington “believes a diplomatic solution is the only way to end the current hostilities along the Blue Line that will achieve a lasting, fair security arrangement between Lebanon and Israel,” Hochstein said.

“The people of Lebanon and Israel have the right to live in peace and prosperity. Let me acknowledge the global unity of this position.

“An important part of any understanding will include international support for Lebanon, for the Lebanese people and for strengthening its institutions, military, civilian and the economy. But this can only start when we can reach a way forward.”

The US continues to work with the government in Lebanon in pursuit of such a diplomatic solution that allows for prosperity and security, Hochstein said.

“What we want to see is a diplomatic solution here on the border … to ensure that there is a cessation of hostilities and that precautions are made so that everybody, on both sides of the line, can return to their homes safely and securely and have a future that is free of fear.”


Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency

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Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency

Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency
TEHRAN: Israel sent messages to Tehran via Egypt that it would “compromise” in Gaza to avert an Iranian response to an attack on Iran’s embassy in Syria, the Tasnim news agency reported.
The Iranian news agency’s report cited the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force.
Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in April in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike for what it said was an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate, in which seven officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed.
“Israel sent messages through Egypt’s foreign minister that it will compromise in the war in Gaza to avoid Iran’s retaliation,” Amirali Hajjizadeh said.

Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor

Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor
Updated 10 min 18 sec ago
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Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor

Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor
  • The attack Tuesday on the Laax comes as the Houthis continue their attacks on shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier that came under attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia earlier this week had a cargo of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor, authorities said Thursday.
The attack on the Laax comes as the Houthis continue their attacks on shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor, part of a campaign they say aims at pressuring Israel and the West over the war in Gaza. However, as shipping through that artery has dropped during the months of attacks, the militia have struck vessels associated with Iran, as well as Tehran’s economic lifelines of China and Russia.
Initially after the attack, the Laax had listed its destination as Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. On Thursday, however, its listed destination instead appeared to be Bandar Khomeini, Iran.
A statement released by French naval forces based in the UAE that patrol the Middle East also identified the vessel’s grain shipment as being bound for Iran. It said that a team from Djibouti had inspected the damage caused by the attack, which it said involved both drones and missiles, and found no remaining dangerous explosives onboard the ship.
Images released by the French navy showed damage both at the waterline of the vessel, as well as on its deck.
Tuesday’s attack saw five missiles hit the Laax during the hourslong assault, the private security firm LSS-SAPU told The Associated Press. LSS-SAPU, which earlier helped evacuate mariners from the Houthi-attacked Rubymar that later sunk, said there had been no prior warning by radio from the Houthis.
LSS-SAPU had three armed security guards onboard the Laax at the time of the attack. Among the ship’s crew were 13 Filipinos and one Ukrainian, the Philippine Department of Migrant Workers said in a statement.
The Houthis in recent months have stepped up attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, demanding that Israel end the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians there. The war began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage.
The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, killed three sailors, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the US Maritime Administration.
On Wednesday, another US MQ-9 Reaper drone apparently crashed in Yemen, with the Houthis claiming they fired a surface-to-air missile at it. The US Air Force didn’t report any aircraft missing, leading to suspicion that the drone may have been piloted by the CIA. As many as three may have been lost this month alone.


Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support

Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support
Updated 30 May 2024
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Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support

Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support
  • Universities in the US were rocked by pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April, triggering campus clashes with police and the arrest of dozens of people

TEHRAN: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has praised university students in the United States for their protests over the rising death toll in the war in Gaza.
“You have now formed a branch of the Resistance Front,” said Khamenei, referring to Tehran-aligned armed groups across the Middle East arrayed against arch-foe Israel which is also known as the Axis of Resistance.
“As the page of history is turning, you are standing on the right side of it,” he said in a letter published on his official website on Thursday.
Universities in the United States were rocked by pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April, triggering campus clashes with police and the arrest of dozens of people.
The demonstrations began at Columbia University in New York and later spread across the country as well as to Europe and elsewhere.
Tehran has reiterated support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas since the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip.
The assault resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry
Regional tensions have since soared, drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
Tit-for-tat escalations led to Tehran launching hundreds of missiles and rockets directly at Israel last month.


Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip
Updated 30 May 2024
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Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip
  • The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there

RAFAH: Rafah residents reported intense artillery shelling and gunfire Thursday in Gaza’s far-southern city after Israel said it had seized a strategic corridor on the Palestinian territory’s border with Egypt.
The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there.
A strike over the weekend that started a fire and killed dozens in a displacement camp drew a wave of fresh condemnation, including a social media campaign with the slogan “All eyes on Rafah” that has been shared by tens of millions of users.
Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari announced Israel had taken “operational control” of the narrow border area, where he said troops had “discovered around 20 tunnels.”
Egypt, a longtime mediator in the conflict which has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of the Israeli operation, has rejected claims of smuggling tunnels running beneath the buffer zone.
“Israel is using these allegations to justify continuing the operation on the Palestinian city of Rafah and prolonging the war for political purposes,” a high-level Egyptian source was quoted as saying by state-linked Al-Qahera News.
Egyptian officials have said a potential Israeli takeover of Philadelphi could violate the two countries’ landmark 1979 peace deal, though there has been no official comment from Cairo since the military’s announcement.
On a visit in Beijing, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi called for increased humanitarian assistance to besieged Gaza, and reiterated his country’s longstanding opposition to “any attempt at forcing Palestinians to forcibly flee their land.”
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, meanwhile, called on Thursday for a “broad-based, authoritative and effective international peace conference” to address the war, as he hosted Arab leaders including El-Sisi.
On the ground in the Gaza Strip, witnesses reported fighting in central and western Rafah.
Witnesses also said Israeli forces had demolished several buildings in the city’s eastern areas where the Israeli incursion began on May 7, initially focusing on the vital Rafah border crossing, a key entry point for humanitarian aid.


An AFP correspondent reported artillery and gunfire in Gaza City’s southern neighborhood of Zeitun, in the territory’s north, where witnesses saw thick plumes of smoke rising over Jabalia refugee camp and Beit Lahia.
A steady stream of civilians have fled Rafah, transporting their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.
Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people were sheltering there. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported late Wednesday that two of its paramedics “were killed as a result of the Israeli occupation’s direct bombing” of an ambulance near Rafah.
The weekend Israeli strike and ensuing fire which tore through the camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, killed 45 people, according to Gaza officials and has prompted two days of discussions at the UN Security Council.
Israel has said it targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members.
In the wake of the strike, Algeria presented a draft UN resolution that “demands an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties” and the release of all hostages, but it was not clear when it would be put to a vote.
In a phone call with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday, France’s Emmanuel Macron said Paris was “determined to work with Algeria” to ensure the council “makes a strong statement on Rafah.”
He also called on Abbas to “implement necessary reforms,” offering the “prospect of recognition of the state of Palestine.”
Decisions by Spain, Norway and Ireland to formally recognize the State of Palestine this week have sparked a debate over the issue, and Macron said it should take place at a “useful moment.”
Israel’s has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza since October 7, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the war could go on until the year’s end.
“We may have another seven months of fighting to consolidate our success and achieve what we have defined as the destruction of Hamas’s power and military capabilities,” Hanegbi said.
The United States has been among the countries urging Israel to refrain from a full-scale Rafah offensive because of the risk to civilians.
However, the White House said Tuesday that so far it had not seen Israel cross President Joe Biden’s “red lines.”
The New York Times and CNN, citing weapons experts and analysis of video from the scene of the weekend Rafah strike, reported that the bomb believed to have started the fatal fire was a US-made GBU-39 guided munition.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel to quickly devise a post-war strategy for Gaza, stressing: “In the absence of a plan for the day after, there won’t be a day after.”


Iran opens registration period for presidential election after Raisi’s fatal helicopter crash

Iran opens registration period for presidential election after Raisi’s fatal helicopter crash
Updated 30 May 2024
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Iran opens registration period for presidential election after Raisi’s fatal helicopter crash

Iran opens registration period for presidential election after Raisi’s fatal helicopter crash
  • The election comes as Iran grapples with the aftermath of the May 19 crash
  • The five-day period will see those between the ages of 40 to 75 with at least a master’s degree register as potential candidates

TEHRAN: Iran opened a five-day registration period Thursday for hopefuls wanting to run in the June 28 presidential election to replace the late Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash earlier this month with seven others.
The election comes as Iran grapples with the aftermath of the May 19 crash, as well as heightened tensions between Tehran and the United States, and protests including those over the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini that have swept the country.
While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 85, maintains final say over all matters of state, presidents in the past have bent the Islamic Republic of Iran toward greater interaction or increased hostility with the West.
The five-day period will see those between the ages of 40 to 75 with at least a master’s degree register as potential candidates. All candidates ultimately must be approved by Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council, a panel of clerics and jurists ultimately overseen by Khamenei. That panel has never accepted a woman, for instance, nor anyone calling for radical change within the country’s governance.
Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, won Iran’s 2021 presidential election after the Guardian Council disqualified all of the candidates with the best chance to potentially challenge him. That vote saw the lowest turnout in Iran’s history for a presidential election. That likely was a sign of voters’ discontent with both a hard-line cleric sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in mass executions in 1988, and Iran’s Shiite theocracy over four decades after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Who will run — and potentially be accepted — remains in question. The country’s acting president, Mohammad Mokhber, a previously behind-the-scenes bureaucrat, could be a front-runner, because he’s already been seen meeting with Khamenei. Also discussed as possible aspirants are former hard-line President Mohammad Ahmadinejad and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami — but whether they’d be allowed to run is another question.
The five-day registration period will close on Tuesday. The Guardian Council is expected to issue its final list of candidates within 10 days afterwards. That will allow for a shortened two-week campaign before the vote in late June.
The new president will take office while the country now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a drone and missile attack on Israel amid the war in Gaza. Tehran also has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.
Meanwhile, Iran’s economy has faced years of hardship over its collapsing rial currency. Widespread protests have swept the country, most recently over Amini’s death following her arrest over allegedly not wearing her mandatory headscarf to the liking of authorities, A UN panel says the Iranian government is responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.
Raisi is just the second Iranian president to die in office. In 1981, a bomb blast killed President Mohammad Ali Rajai in the chaotic days after the Islamic Revolution.