Hamas to press on with Gaza truce talks without Israelis

Displaced Palestinians walk around in an UNRWA school housing displaced Palestinians, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2024. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinians walk around in an UNRWA school housing displaced Palestinians, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 05 March 2024
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Hamas to press on with Gaza truce talks without Israelis

Displaced Palestinians walk around in an UNRWA school housing displaced Palestinians, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • Ceasefire talks are billed as a final hurdle to establish the first extended ceasefire of the war, in time for Ramadan which is expected to begin on Sunday

CAIRO/RAFAH: Hamas said on Monday it was pressing on with talks on securing a ceasefire in Gaza despite Israel’s decision not to attend, while Washington appeared to take a tougher line in demanding its ally Israel ease the plight of suffering civilians.
The ceasefire talks, which began on Sunday in Cairo, are billed as a final hurdle to establish the first extended ceasefire of the five-month-old war, in time for the Ramadan Muslim fasting month which is expected to begin on Sunday.
Israel has declined public comment on the Cairo talks or its decision not to attend. A source had earlier told Reuters Israel would stay away because Hamas had refused its request for a list of names of all hostages it is holding that are still alive, information the militants say they will provide only once terms are agreed.
“Talks in Cairo continue for the second day regardless of whether the occupation’s delegation is present in Egypt,” a Hamas official told Reuters on Monday.
Washington, which is both Israel’s closest ally and a sponsor of the talks, says a deal remains close, with an agreement already effectively agreed by Israel and only awaiting approval from Hamas.
“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire. Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on Sunday. “Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza.”
In a speech signalling an apparent change of tone from the administration of President Joe Biden toward its ally, Harris also used unusually forceful language to call for Israel to do more to alleviate the humanitarian plight of the Gaza Strip.
“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act,” she said. “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.”
A Palestinian official close to the talks disputed the US contention that Israel had agreed to the ceasefire deal and Hamas was holding it up, saying the position appeared aimed at deflecting blame away from Israel should the talks collapse.
“The Palestinian resistance, led by Hamas, has shown the flexibility needed, but at the same time they are determined to defend their people and achieve a deal that is acceptable to the Palestinian people,” the official said.
The proposal being discussed is for a ceasefire of around 40 days, during which militants would release around 40 of the more than 100 hostages they are still holding in return for around 400 detainees held in Israeli jails.
Israeli troops would pull back from some areas, more humanitarian aid would be allowed into Gaza, and residents would be permitted to return to abandoned homes.
But the deal does not appear to address directly a Hamas demand for a clear path to permanently ending the war. Nor does it resolve the fate of more than half of the remaining hostages — Israeli men excluded from both this and earlier agreements covering women, children, the elderly and the wounded.
Israel says it will not end the war until Hamas is eradicated. Hamas says it will not free all its hostages without a deal that ends the war. Mediators have indicated they hope to overcome the standoff with promises to resolve further issues in later phases.

Rafah strike kills family
The Gaza war erupted after Hamas fighters who control the enclave burst into Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israel has sealed off the coastal strip, stormed nearly all of its towns and pounded it from the sky. Palestinian authorities say more than 30,000 people have been confirmed killed, with thousands of other bodies unrecovered. Most of the population has been made homeless, and the United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people face famine.
An agreement to halt fighting by Ramadan would effectively head off a threatened Israeli assault on Rafah, the last town on the southern edge of Gaza, where more than half of the enclave’s population are now sheltering, mostly in makeshift tents.
The final days leading up to that deadline have been particularly bloody. Residents have described heavy fighting since Saturday just north of Rafah in Khan Younis, the main southern city, where Israeli forces have released video showing buildings obliterated in airstrikes.
In Rafah itself, airstrikes on homes have been killing families nightly as they sleep. At least 14 corpses of a family killed overnight were laid out at a hospital morgue in Rafah on Monday morning. One of the body bags was partially unzipped so weeping relatives could stroke the hair of a dead child.
Israel’s Channel 14 News reported on Monday that several officers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson’s unit were leaving their jobs, including chief international spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht. It said the large number leaving at once at a time of war was unusual.
The military denied media reports that chief spokesperson Rear-Admiral Daniel Hagari had resigned, but did not directly comment on reports of other officers leaving the unit. “The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit continues to fulfil its mission of sharing the truth with transparency and accuracy, while countering misinformation — including baseless claims such as these,” it said in a statement.


Gazans flood road north after ‘open checkpoint’ rumors

Gazans flood road north after ‘open checkpoint’ rumors
Updated 4 sec ago
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Gazans flood road north after ‘open checkpoint’ rumors

Gazans flood road north after ‘open checkpoint’ rumors
  • Israel has killed more than 33,686 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry
  • More than 1.5 million Palestinians have taken refuge in the southern city of Rafah, according to the UN

GAZA CITY: Thousands of Gazans flooded the coast road north on Sunday after hearing that several people managed to cross a closed checkpoint toward Gaza City despite Israel denying it was open.
An AFP journalist saw mothers holding their children’s hands and families piling onto donkey carts with their luggage as they journeyed. They hoped to cross a military checkpoint on Al-Rashid road south of Gaza City, but the Israeli army said that reports the route was open were “not true.”
On the other side, desperate families waited for their loved ones in the rubble of the battered main city in the Palestinian territory.
Mahmoud Awdeh said he was waiting for his wife, who has been in the southern city of Khan Younis since the start of the war on Oct. 7.
“She told me over the phone that people are leaving the southern part and heading to the north,” Awdeh said.
“She told me she’s waiting at the checkpoint until the army agrees to let her head to the north,” he said, hoping she could cross safely.
During the day, rumors also spread that the Israeli army was allowing women, children, and men over 50 to go to the north, a claim denied by the army.
Since Israel assaulted Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, the army has besieged the territory, telling Gazans to leave some areas and preventing them from moving across the narrow strip.
More than 1.5 million Palestinians have taken refuge in the southern city of Rafah, according to the UN.
Several Gazans said they came under attack on the route, and AFP footage showed people ducking for cover. The Palestinian official news agency Wafa said Israeli forces “bomb(ed) displaced Palestinians as they were trying to return to the north of Gaza Strip through Al-Rasheed Street.”
Wafa shared a video on X, showing people running away from a blast.
Nour, a displaced Gazan, said: “When we arrived at the (Israeli) checkpoint, they would let women pass or stop them, but they shot at men, so we had to return; we didn’t want to die.”
AFP has approached the Israeli military for comment.
Elsewhere in Gaza, the fighting continued on Sunday after Iran launched a huge drone and missile attack on Israel.
In Rafah on Sunday, Palestinians said Iran’s attack on Israel underwhelmed them.
“The Iranian response came so late, after 190 days of war,” Khaled Al Nems said. “You can see our suffering.”
“Their response is too little too late,” he added.
Walid Al Kurdi, a displaced Palestinian living in Rafah, said “Iran’s attack on Israel is not our business.”
“The only thing we care about is returning to our homes,” he said.
“We are waiting for the coming 48 hours to see if (Israel) responds to Iran or if they are playing with us and want to distract attention away from Rafah.”
Israel has said it plans to send ground forces into Rafah to eradicate remaining Hamas militants there.

 


Israeli airstrikes, artillery reach deep into Bekaa Valley as tensions soar

Israeli airstrikes, artillery reach deep into Bekaa Valley as tensions soar
Updated 8 min 36 sec ago
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Israeli airstrikes, artillery reach deep into Bekaa Valley as tensions soar

Israeli airstrikes, artillery reach deep into Bekaa Valley as tensions soar
  • Hezbollah modifies its tactics in south Lebanon amidst the backdrop of Iranian attack on Israel

BEIRUT: Israeli forces on Sunday struck a Hezbollah site in Lebanon’s east near the Syrian border as tensions soared following Iran’s direct attack on Israel.

Shelling heavily targeted Lebanese border villages and the Bekaa Valley on Saturday night, as the Israeli military carried out raids on Khiam, Kfarkila, and Odaisseh.

Artillery shelling also targeted Houla, Wadi Saluki, the vicinity of Deir Mimas, and areas along the Litani River.

The raid on Khiam resulted in the death of one person, and many civilians were injured in other villages.

BACKGROUND

Hezbollah has exchanged near-daily cross-border fire with Israel since the Palestinian group attacked southern Israel on October 7, triggering war in the Gaza Strip.

A missile exploded near a Lebanese Army intelligence office in the Jdeidet Marjayoun village.

The missile caused significant material damage to the facility and nearby houses, but miraculously, nobody was injured.

On Sunday morning, Israeli warplanes targeted the park in Jabal Safi adjacent to Jbaa and the outskirts of a village in Iqlim Al-Tuffah.

A sonic boom caused by missile fire damaged several houses, shops, and schools in Jbaa, while Israeli planes also targeted areas deep inside central Bekaa, specifically a three-floor building between the Saraain and Nabi Chit villages. Additionally, military aircraft were seen flying over Baalbek and its surroundings.

The Israeli military said that it struck “an important weapon manufacturing site for Hezbollah in Nabi Chit.”

Hezbollah’s own attacks were limited to Israeli military outposts repeatedly targeted since the outbreak of hostilities, including the air and missile defense headquarters at the Kaylaa outpost in the Golan Heights, which Hezbollah targeted with dozens of Katyusha missiles.

Following the Iranian attack on Israel overnight, Hezbollah’s supporters rallied in Beirut’s southern suburbs, holding the party’s banner and chanting slogans in support of Tehran.

News that the majority of the Iranian drones and missiles were intercepted before reaching Israeli airspace, however, prompted criticism of the attack online.

Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport closed for six hours after news of the impending attack broke on Saturday evening.

Lebanese people flocked to gas stations to fill their tanks in case escalating tensions affected supplies in the coming days.

The representative of the country’s fuel distributors, Fadi Abu Shaqra, said that “fuel is secured, and the quantities are sufficient for (the next several) days.”

He said gasoline and diesel were available, and there was no need for the public to worry about shortages.

Caretaker Public Works and Transportation Minister Ali Hamia said the airport will gradually return to work as normal.

“Closing the airport was a precautionary measure. It took into account the safety and security of people arriving and departing,” Hamia said.

“At 7 a.m., we suspended the closure decision. The airspace was opened, and work will gradually return to its normal course.”

Middle East Airlines said it had rescheduled a number of flights and announced the successful departure of flights to London and Dubai.

 

 


Egypt’s FM expresses need for restraint in calls to foreign ministers of Iran, Israel

Israeli Air Force heavy lift military transport helicopters fly over in the southern Negev desert on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
Israeli Air Force heavy lift military transport helicopters fly over in the southern Negev desert on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 24 min 13 sec ago
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Egypt’s FM expresses need for restraint in calls to foreign ministers of Iran, Israel

Israeli Air Force heavy lift military transport helicopters fly over in the southern Negev desert on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
  • Shoukry called on his Iranian and Israeli counterparts “to exercise utmost self-restraint and refrain from provocations”

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry expressed the need for restraint in phone calls with the foreign ministers of Iran and Israel on Sunday, Egypt said.
Shoukry called on his Iranian and Israeli counterparts “to exercise utmost self-restraint and refrain from provocations that would increase tension and instability in the region,” a foreign ministry statement said.
Egypt is ready to intensify its efforts to defuse the current crisis, “which has begun taking a dangerous turn as it coincides with the crisis in the Gaza Strip and adds tension to other hot spots in the region,” the statement added.
Shoukry also held a call on Sunday with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to discuss “what has become a serious threat to the security and stability” of the Middle East after Iran launched drones and missile on Israel early on Sunday.


Cyprus suspends processing of Syrian asylum applications

Cyprus suspends processing of Syrian asylum applications
Updated 36 min 11 sec ago
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Cyprus suspends processing of Syrian asylum applications

Cyprus suspends processing of Syrian asylum applications
  • According to Cyprus Interior Ministry statistics, some 2,140 people arrived by boat to EU-member Cyprus between Jan. 1 and April 4 of this year, the vast majority of them Syrian nationals departing from Lebanon

NICOSIA: Cyprus has said it’s suspending processing all asylum applications by Syrian nationals because large numbers of refugees from the war-torn country continue to reach the island nation by boat, primarily from Lebanon.
In a written statement, the Cypriot government said the suspension is also partly because of ongoing efforts to get the EU to redesignate some areas of the war-torn country as safe zones to enable repatriations.
The drastic step comes in the wake of Cypriot President Nicos Christodoulides’ visit to Lebanon early last week to appeal to authorities there to stop departures of migrant-laden boats from their shores. The request comes in light of a 27-fold increase in migrant arrivals to Cyprus so far this year over the same period last year.
According to Cyprus Interior Ministry statistics, some 2,140 people arrived by boat to EU-member Cyprus between Jan. 1 and April 4 of this year, the vast majority of them Syrian nationals departing from Lebanon. In contrast, only 78 people arrived by boat to the island nation in the corresponding period last year.
Last Monday, Christodoulides and Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on the EU to provide financial support to help cash-strapped Lebanon stop migrants from reaching Cyprus.
Just days prior to his Lebanon trip, the Cypriot president said that he had personally asked EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to intercede with Lebanese authorities to curb migrant boat departures.
Although the EU should provide “substantial” EU support to Lebanon, Christodoulides said any financial help should be linked to how effectively Lebanese authorities monitor their coastline and prevent boat departures.

 


Jordan PM says escalation in region would lead to ‘dangerous paths’

This video grab from AFPTV taken on April 14, 2024 shows explosions lighting up Jerusalem sky during Iranian attack on Israel.
This video grab from AFPTV taken on April 14, 2024 shows explosions lighting up Jerusalem sky during Iranian attack on Israel.
Updated 14 April 2024
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Jordan PM says escalation in region would lead to ‘dangerous paths’

This video grab from AFPTV taken on April 14, 2024 shows explosions lighting up Jerusalem sky during Iranian attack on Israel.
  • Jordan’s King Abdullah also told US President Joe Biden in a phone call on Sunday that Jordan “won’t be an arena for a regional war”

AMMAN: Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh said on Sunday any escalation in the region would lead to “dangerous paths” and that there was a need to reduce escalation by all parties.
In remarks to the cabinet, Khasawneh said the country’s armed forces would confront any attempt by any party that sought to endanger the kingdom’s security.
“There is need for all parties to act responsibly and exercise utmost degree of self restraint... and not be dragged toward any escalation that will no doubt have dangerous consequences,” Khasawneh said.
Two regional intelligences sources said US air defenses along with support from the UK and France had joined Jordan on Saturday to down dozens of Iranian drones and missiles that were flying over the country toward Jerusalem and across a wide range of targets in Israel.
Iranian drones that came from the direction of Iraq and flew over southern Jordan and the city of Aqaba that were heading to Israel’s Eilat port were also intercepted, they added.
“The army will respond to anything that will jeopardize the security and safety of the kingdom and the sanctity of its airspace and territory in the face of any danger from any party with all the available means,” Khasawneh said.
Jordan’s King Abdullah also told US President Joe Biden in a phone call on Sunday that Jordan “won’t be an arena for a regional war,” adding any “escalation by Israel would only widen the circle of conflict,” state-owned al Mamlaka public broadcaster said.
Jordan neighbors Syria and Iraq – both countries where Iranian proxy forces operate – and is also next door to Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
It has watched Israel’s war against the Palestinian group Hamas, another Iranian ally, with rising alarm.
Late last year, Amman asked Washington to deploy Patriot air defense systems to Jordan to bolster its border defenses.
Officials say the Pentagon had since increased its military aid to the kingdom, a major regional ally, where hundreds of US troops are based and hold extensive exercises with the Jordanian army throughout the year.