Palestinian cause ‘foremost issue’ for regional peace, says Lebanese PM

Special Palestinian cause ‘foremost issue’ for regional peace, says Lebanese PM
US special envoy Amos Hochstein, left, meets with Lebanon’s PM Najib Mikati, Beirut, Mar. 4, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 05 March 2024

Palestinian cause ‘foremost issue’ for regional peace, says Lebanese PM

Palestinian cause ‘foremost issue’ for regional peace, says Lebanese PM
  • Najib Mikati called on Israel to abide by international edicts, including Resolution 1701
  • Najib Mikati: ‘Situation poses great pressure on Lebanon and necessitates raising our voice to urge the international community to stop what is happening’

BEIRUT: Peace and development in the Middle East is contingent upon an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the Lebanese border, Lebanon’s prime minister has said.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, addressing the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development at the UN House in Beirut on Tuesday, called on Israel to abide by international edicts, including Resolution 1701.

He said that sustainable development and peace in the region “requires stopping the Israeli aggression against southern Lebanon and Gaza and moving toward the peaceful option.”

Mikati added: “The situation poses great pressure on Lebanon and necessitates raising our voice to urge the international community to stop what is happening, deter the Israeli enemy, and work to provide peaceful solutions to the region’s problems.”

He described the Palestinian cause as the “foremost” issue, adding that its “flame has not been extinguished” despite Israeli measures to “suppress it through killing, destruction and annihilation.”

The prime minister’s comments came a day after US envoy Amos Hochstein visited Lebanon and Tel Aviv.

During talks in Beirut, Hochstein warned that there is “no such thing as a limited war,” urging Hezbollah and Israel to avoid an escalation of violence that “is in no one’s interests.”

A diplomatic solution is the only way to resolve the 150-day limited conflict on Lebanon’s southern border, he added.

Any deal must enforce stability on both sides of the border and safeguard the return of displaced people in Lebanon and Israel, Hochstein said.

The day after the envoy’s visit, the head of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammed Raad, renewed his party’s position on the violence in the south.

Hezbollah “does not wish for war, nor does it seek it, but we are ready to confront it,” Raad said.

He added: “We are ready to confront the enemy if it miscalculates and seeks to deviate from the rules of deterrence that we have imposed on it.

“But, so far, we have been waiting so as to spare our country and our people the consequences of an open war in which there will be blood and losses — but the biggest and strategic loser will be the Zionist enemy.”

Raad said that Hezbollah is operating “according to precise calculations” and still maintains a considerable arsenal to fight Israel.

“We have not used all of our weapons, and we are yet to open the warehouses of the weapons of open war, and the enemy knows that,” he added.

The US plan for a settlement, relayed by Hochstein in Beirut and Tel Aviv, includes several conditions, the foremost of which being an immediate end to hostilities.

Washington also calls for Hezbollah’s withdrawal from south of the Litani River, a reinforcement of UNIFIL and Lebanese Army forces in the region, and the return of evacuated Israeli and Lebanese civilians to border settlements.

A second proposed phase will see negotiations between the Lebanese state and Israel to define land borders and resolve disputes over occupied zones in the Shebaa Farms and Kafr Shuba heights areas.

In 2022, Hochstein mediated indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to demarcate maritime borders.

On Monday, he also met top officials in the Israeli government. Israeli Channel 12 highlighted “encouraging signs and initial indications” during Hochstein’s talks in Lebanon, raising hopes of a diplomatic solution to the hostilities.

The channel claimed that Hezbollah may have given tacit approval for further diplomatic efforts toward a settlement.

A TV report said Hochstein had discussed Washington’s plan for resolving the issue with Israeli officials, but was rebuffed.

He was told that Israel will continue military operations in southern Lebanon “until an agreement is reached to return about 90,000 Israelis to their homes,” the report added.

Israeli Security Minister Yoav Gallant said after meeting Hochstein: “Our commitment to our citizens is greater than any other commitment. We are ready to resolve the crisis politically, but we are also prepared for all eventualities.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah and Israel continued to trade strikes on the southern border.

The Lebanese militia said its fighters had destroyed an Israeli Merkava tank in the Natua settlement using a guided missile, injuring or killing its crew.

Hezbollah also attacked military sites in Israel’s Barkat Risha and Al-Raheb.

On Monday night, Israeli jets shelled the border town of Al-Adisa, targeting a Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Health Authority center, killing three volunteer paramedics.

Israel also struck Al-Sultaniya and Siddiqin, causing minor injuries to some residents and significant destruction to vehicles and properties.

Senior militant among five reported dead in Israel strikes on Lebanon, Hezbollah

Senior militant among five reported dead in Israel strikes on Lebanon, Hezbollah
Updated 41 sec ago

Senior militant among five reported dead in Israel strikes on Lebanon, Hezbollah

Senior militant among five reported dead in Israel strikes on Lebanon, Hezbollah
  • Hezbollah said two of its members were among the dead, including Ali Jaafar Maatouq, said to be a commander of the elite Al Radwan operational unit
  • A separate Israeli strike on Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley killed Mohamad Jbara, a commander of Jamaa Islamiya, a military group close to Hamas

BEIRUT: Israeli strikes on Thursday killed at least five people, including the commander of a Hamas-allied group in Lebanon, militant groups and a security source said.
Since Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel sparked war in Gaza, Israel has repeatedly targeted militants of Jamaa Islamiya, whose armed wing has launched attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon over the past nine months.
A Lebanese security source said that an Israeli strike on a house near the southern village of Jmaijmeh killed three people and wounded several more.
Hezbollah said two of its members were among the dead, including Ali Jaafar Maatouq. A source close to the Islamist group described him as a commander of its elite Al Radwan operational unit.
The Israeli army confirmed that its air force had "eliminated" Ali Jaafar Maatouq in a strike against "a command centre where Hezbollah terrorists were operating in the Jmaijmeh region".
Hezbollah earlier announced the death of another member in an Israeli raid in southern Lebanon. The Israeli army confirmed that it had killed him "in the Qana area", adding that he had been "involved in numerous attacks against Israel".
The army said it killed another Al Radwan commander in Majdal Selm, near Jmaijmeh, which was not immediately confirmed by Lebanese sources.

Jamaa Islamiya, a military group close to Hamas, said in a statement that its commander Mohamad Jbara had died in a "despicable Zionist raid" in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley.
Hamas's armed wing also announced Jbara's death and said he was one of its commanders.
Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said Jbara was killed when an "enemy drone" targeted his vehicle in the village of Ghazze.
The Israeli military said it "eliminated" Jbara in a strike, who was "responsible for carrying out terror attacks and missile launches" against Israel.
Jamaa Islamiya, formed in the 1960s, has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks against Israel, including joint operations with Hamas in Lebanon.
The cross-border violence since October has killed 516 people in Lebanon, according to an AFP tally. Most of the dead have been fighters, but they have also included at least 104 civilians.
On the Israeli side, 18 soldiers and 13 civilians have been killed, according to authorities.
The violence has raised fears of all-out conflict between the two foes, who last went to war in the summer of 2006.

Israeli military says Tel Aviv blast apparently caused by drone

Israeli military says Tel Aviv blast apparently caused by drone
Updated 6 min 35 sec ago

Israeli military says Tel Aviv blast apparently caused by drone

Israeli military says Tel Aviv blast apparently caused by drone

TEL AVIV: The Israeli military said it was investigating an apparent drone attack that hit central Tel Aviv in the early hours of Friday but which did not trigger the air raid sirens.
The explosion occurred hours after the Israeli military confirmed it had killed a senior commander of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon.
“An initial inquiry indicates that the explosion in Tel Aviv was caused by the falling of an aerial target, and no sirens were activated. The incident is under thorough review,” the military said in a statement.
It said air patrols had been increased to protect Israeli airspace but said it had not ordered new civil defense measures.
The military spokesman of Yemen’s Houthi militants, which like Hezbollah are backed by Iran, said on the X social media website that the group would reveal details about a military operation that targeted Tel Aviv.
Police said the body of a man was found in an apartment close to the explosion and said the circumstances were being investigated.
Footage from the site showed broken glass strewn across the city pavements as crowds of onlookers gathered near a building bearing blast marks. The site was sealed off by police tape.
Hezbollah and the Houthis have stepped up attacks against Israel and Western targets, saying they are acting in solidarity with the Palestinians after Israel invaded the Gaza Strip following an attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel.

US announces $203 million in new aid to war-torn Sudan amid major humanitarian crisis

US announces $203 million in new aid to war-torn Sudan amid major humanitarian crisis
Updated 19 July 2024

US announces $203 million in new aid to war-torn Sudan amid major humanitarian crisis

US announces $203 million in new aid to war-torn Sudan amid major humanitarian crisis
  • US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield urges other countries to fulfill their financial pledges to address “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”
  • More than 11 million people had been forced to flee their homes since the war between two warlords plunged Sudan into chaos in April 2023

UNITED NATIONS: The US ambassador to the United Nations announced nearly $203 million in additional humanitarian assistance to Sudan on Thursday but warned that the money is not a “panacea” and urged other countries to fulfill their financial pledges to address what she called “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
World leaders pledged more than $2.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Sudan at a donors conference in Paris in April, but US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield said only about a quarter of the promised funds have been received three months later.
The northeastern African country descended into chaos in April 2023 when simmering tensions between the country’s military and a notorious paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, exploded into open fighting in the capital of Khartoum.
The devastating conflict has spread, especially to western Darfur, and has killed more than 14,000 people and wounded 33,000 others, according to the United Nations. It has also created the world’s largest displacement crisis, with more than 11 million people forced to flee their homes.
Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday’s contribution raises total US humanitarian assistance to Sudan to $1.6 billion since September 2023, making the United States Sudan’s largest single donor.
“We hope this new round of aid serves as a call to action for others to follow,” she said.
The ambassador said the additional $203 million will go toward food supplies, shelters, schools and health services, as well as cash assistance to refugees to help pay their rents. The funds also will help neighboring countries, where over 2 million Sudanese refugees have fled, she said.
The US mission to the UN said Thomas-Greenfield briefed UN diplomats on the hunger crisis in Sudan, where a record 25 million people face acute food insecurity and 755,000 people face famine in the coming months, according toa recent report by the UN global network monitoring the threat of famine.
Human rights experts working for the United Nations said both sides have used food and starvation as a weapon of war.
Thomas-Greenfield recalled her visit to a hospital in Chad run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders: “Children were so weak they lacked the energy to even cry.”
Global humanitarian aid organization Mercy Corps recently estimated that nine in 10 children suffer from life-threatening malnutrition in central Darfur, where the World Food Program has delivered aid in recent months after facing challenges negotiating access with armed groups.
Thomas-Greenfield said the US will continue diplomatic efforts to hold perpetrators of the violence accountable and reach a peace agreement between the warring parties.
Last week, representatives of the two sides arrived in Geneva for separate talks with the UN secretary-general’s personal envoy, Ramtane Lamamra, about protecting civilians through possible local ceasefires.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said late Thursday that Lamamra and his team have continued engaging separately with each of the delegations throughout this week on humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians. He said the talks are expected to conclude Friday.
They marked the second attempt at deescalation after talks in Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah broke down at the end of last year.

Gaza conflict is a ‘war on women,’ says UN official 

Gaza conflict is a ‘war on women,’ says UN official 
Updated 18 July 2024

Gaza conflict is a ‘war on women,’ says UN official 

Gaza conflict is a ‘war on women,’ says UN official 
  • UN Women’s representative in Occupied Palestinian Territories unprepared ‘for the total destruction and inhumanity that I saw’ during visit to enclave this week 
  • A million women and girls are bearing ‘the worst brunt of nine months of war,’ she says, and ‘there are no safe places to be a woman in Gaza’ 

NEW YORK CITY: Returning from a mission to the Gaza strip, an official from UN Women said that despite more 50 visits to the enclave in the six years since she took up her position, including one during the 2021 war, “nothing prepared me for the total destruction and inhumanity that I saw.” 

Speaking in Jerusalem on Thursday, Maryse Guimond, the agency’s representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territories said that what she witnessed exceeded her worst fears about the plight of women and girls living in Gaza, some of whom she has worked with for many years. 

“It was unbearable to witness the daily escalation of violence and destruction of a war on women, with no end in sight,” Guimond said, her voice choked by emotion. 

She said wars are never gender-neutral and that is “undoubtedly” the case in Gaza, where a million women and girls are bearing “the worst brunt of nine months of war.” 

Guimond added: “They are losing their lives. They are sick, hungry, exhausted, holding families together despite their constant fear and loss. Each woman I met has a story of loss.” 

UN Women said more than 10,000 Palestinian women have lost their lives in the war, which is now in its 10th month, more than 6,000 families have lost their mothers, and nearly a million women and girls have lost loved ones and “their life memories.” 

“Gaza is more than 2 million stories of loss,” said Guimond. “Women in Gaza are living in constant movement, constant fear, being constantly chased. 

“There are no safe places to be a woman in Gaza, where nine out of 10 people are displaced.” 

UN Women infographic

Almost a million women and girls have been displaced several times, forced to move to ever-smaller areas where they become targets of attacks and bombings, she added. 

“They move with no cash, with no possessions and with no clue how and where they’re going to live,” said Guimond. 

“Many women told me that they will not move again, as it does not make a difference for their safety or survival.” 

Gazans have endured 18 waves of displacements, with no guarantee of any safety for anyone, she added. 

When she arrived in the battered Strip on her latest visit, Guimond said she did not recognize it as the Gaza she once knew. 

“I entered the world of devastation and total deprivation; mosques, hospitals, shops, schools, universities have been destroyed,” she said. 

“Crowds of men, women and children trying to survive in makeshift tents and overcrowded shelters surrounded by rubble and total destruction, amid the continued sounds of fighting and drones.” 

She said she barely recognized women she had known before the war: “The last nine months are embedded on their faces, on their bodies.” 

UN Women estimates 557,000 Palestinian women are suffering from acute food insecurity. Guimond said that these women are “eating the last and the least” among their families, and “skipping meals and not eating healthy food for months and months.” 

She praised the women of Gaza for their “remarkable strength and humanity in their struggle to survive with hope and solidarity, despite the devastation. 

“I have met amazing women who are taking care of their families and their community in the face of starvation, of death and disease, of displacement.” 

She called on the international community to support the work of women-led organizations in Gaza, and ensure there are places for women at the table when decisions are being made. 

“The question is not what women need, the question should be what they don’t need,” said Guimond. “Women don’t want to die. They don’t want to bury their loved ones. They don’t want to be left alone to suffer.” 

She also echoed calls by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the opening of all land crossings to grant full access to the territory for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and for all Israeli hostages to be released. 

Militant groups defiant as Israel rapped for ‘cowardly assassination’ in southern Lebanon

Militant groups defiant as Israel rapped for ‘cowardly assassination’ in southern Lebanon
Updated 18 July 2024

Militant groups defiant as Israel rapped for ‘cowardly assassination’ in southern Lebanon

Militant groups defiant as Israel rapped for ‘cowardly assassination’ in southern Lebanon
  • Latest Israeli drone attack killed Mohammed Hamed Jabara, a leader in Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah
  • 466 dead, thousands of homes razed in more than 9 months of conflict; value of damage estimated at $1.7 billion
  • Hezbollah leader Nasrallah has warned that the group will target new Israeli settlements if Israel continues to ‘target civilians’ in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Israel’s assault on Lebanon extended beyond the southern border area to western Bekaa on Thursday, resulting in at least two deaths in separate attacks.

In the morning, an Israeli drone targeted an SUV on the road to the town of Ghazze in western Bekaa, resulting in the death of its driver.

The target was identified as Mohammed Hamed Jabara, a leader in Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah, or the Islamic Group. He hailed from the town of Qaraoun in western Bekaa.

He was an active militant in the party’s military wing, the Al-Fajr Forces, which is allied with Hezbollah in the confrontation with Israel.

According to a source from his hometown, Jabara had previously been pursued by Israel “due to his resistance activities and had faced multiple threats and assassination attempts, which only succeeded now.”

The Al-Fajr Forces described Jabara as “one of their leaders” in an obituary.

Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, also mourned Jabara as “one of their leaders.”

In another incident on Thursday morning, an Israeli drone targeted a vehicle on the road to Jbal El-Botm in the Tyre district in the south.

The driver tried to escape the drone but was pursued and killed by a missile.

He was identified as Hussein Ali Mhanna, a 40-year-old Hezbollah member from Jbal El-Botm.

In a third attack, an Israeli drone targeted a car between Hanniyeh and Zibqin, injuring a Hezbollah member and another passenger.

The Israeli army conducted a sweep with machine guns toward Wazzani and targeted Chihine with a guided missile.

Israeli airstrikes and artillery also hit Aita Al-Shaab, the hills extending between Taoumat Niha and the highlands of Ain Al-Tineh in western Bekaa, without any reported injuries.

The intense Israeli escalation followed Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s threat to “target more settlements if Israel continues targeting civilians.”

The Israeli response was “a message demonstrating the army’s capability to continue killings and its ability to monitor Hezbollah field leaders, and know their identities and type of missions,” said one political observer.

In a statement, the Islamic Group held Israel responsible for Jabara’s “cowardly assassination.”

The attack “will not deter us from performing our role and duty in defending our land and people in the south, nor from supporting our people in Palestine,” the party said.

Hezbollah responded to the Israeli attacks with hostile operations targeting military sites, including “newly installed espionage equipment” on a crane at the Hadab Yarin site.

Israeli jets broke the sound barrier over the south more than four times, causing panic and damage to homes, including the partial collapse a roof in the town of Kfar Tebnit. Residents escaped without injury.

The military escalation has led to increased casualties in southern Lebanon as Israel pursues an aggressive strategy against Hezbollah.

The number of civilian casualties exceeded 107 as of July 14, a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Total casualties amounted to 466, including Hezbollah-affiliated military personnel.

More than 98,000 people have been internally displaced in southern Lebanon after artillery reached within 12 km of the Blue Line.

Almost 98 percent of the displaced hail from the Bint Jbeil, Marjaayoun and Tyre districts, the OCHA report said.

Israeli airstrikes have also reached deep into the country, extending up to 100 km from the Blue Line.

The OCHA warned of severe damage to southern Lebanon’s water, electricity and telecommunications infrastructure, and roads.

Maintenance and repair workers have been injured or killed while trying to keep services running for the remaining residents, alongside medics and first responders.

“There has also been a noticeable increase in Israeli jets breaking the sound barrier over various Lebanese regions,” the report said, citing the South Council, which is responsible for assessing the damage.

Since Oct. 8 last year, about 3,000 housing units have been partially or entirely destroyed.

Additionally, 12,000 housing units have been severely damaged, and 20,000 units have sustained minor damage.

The report estimated the economic value of the damage at $1.7 billion.

The South Council reported that the agricultural sector lost 17 million sq. meters of land, mainly as a result of Israeli white phosphorus shelling, with effects that will last for years.

Farmers also cannot harvest crops from 12 million sq. meters of land, the council said.

The OCHA report said that at least 13 water infrastructure sites had been damaged due to cross-border hostilities, impacting supply for almost 200,000 people in the south and Nabatieh.

Water fee collection has fallen to almost zero in the southern and Nabatieh governorates, putting the South Lebanon Water Establishment in a challenging situation.

The agricultural sector has been heavily impacted. On July 8, more than 800 farm animals were killed in an Israeli attack on a farm in Jabal Tora, Jezzine.

Lebanon’s Agriculture Ministry condemned the attack and called on international intervention to “make those responsible pay and provide aid to farmers.”

According to the report, on July 11, UNIFIL expressed concern “about the high level of tension seen recently and the potential for miscalculations that could lead to a sudden and wider conflict.”

The OCHA said that 82 percent of the internally displaced live with host families, while 15 percent rent houses.

Another 2 percent have relocated to secondary residences. About 1 percent are housed across 16 shelters.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 19 percent of the displaced live in overcrowded conditions.

About 33 percent are children, while 34 percent are women and 33 percent men.