Blinken says Israeli assault on Gaza’s Rafah would be a ‘mistake’

Government ministers from five Arab countries, a Palestinian official, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pose for a photo in Cairo on Thursday. (@MfaEgypt)
Government ministers from five Arab countries, a Palestinian official, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pose for a photo in Cairo on Thursday. (@MfaEgypt)
Short Url
Updated 21 March 2024
Follow

Blinken says Israeli assault on Gaza’s Rafah would be a ‘mistake’

Blinken says Israeli assault on Gaza’s Rafah would be a ‘mistake’
  • Arab ministers called for “a comprehensive and immediate ceasefire” and the “opening of all crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip”

CAIRO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday a major Israeli ground assault on the southern Gaza town of Rafah would be “a mistake” and unnecessary to defeating Hamas, underscoring the further souring of relations between the United States and Israel.
Blinken, on his sixth urgent Mideast mission since the war began, spoke after huddling with top Arab diplomats in Cairo for discussions over efforts for a ceasefire and over ideas for Gaza’s post-conflict future. He said an “immediate, sustained ceasefire” with the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas was urgently needed and that gaps were narrowing in indirect negotiations that US, Egypt and Qatar have spent weeks mediating.

Arab ministers, along with a Palestinian official, in Cairo briefed Blinken on their vision on the current situation in Gaza and the necessity of a ceasefire followed by a political settlement via the implementation of a two-state solution, a statement from the Egyptian Foreign ministry said.

The Cairo talks gathered Blinken with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as a top official from the Palestine Liberation Organization, the internationally recognized body representing the Palestinian people. 

In a joint statement after a meeting earlier in the day, the Arab ministers called for “a comprehensive and immediate ceasefire” and the “opening of all crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan participated in a series of consultative ministerial meetings on the evolving situation in the Palestinian territories, Saudi Press Agency reported.  

Ahead of visiting Israel on Friday, Blinken said he agreed with the ministers to gather experts in the coming days “to identify the urgent, practical and concrete steps that can and should be taken to increase the flow of assistance.”
“Israel needs to do more” on humanitarian aid, Blinken added. 
Blinken will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet in Friday. The growing disagreements between Netanyahu and President Joe Biden over the prosecution of the war will likely overshadow the talks — particularly over Netanyahu’s determination to launch a ground assault on Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have sought refuge from devastating Israeli ground and air strikes further north.
Netanyahu has said that without an invasion of Rafah, Israel can’t achieve its goal of destroying Hamas after its deadly Oct. 7 attack and taking of hostages that triggered Israel’s bombardment and offensive in Gaza.
“A major military operation in Rafah would be a mistake, something we don’t support. And, it’s also not necessary to deal with Hamas, which is necessary,” Blinken told a news conference in Cairo. A major offensive would mean more civilian deaths and worsen Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, he said, adding that his talks on Rafah in Israel on Friday and next week in Washington will be to share alternative action.
Gaza’s Health Ministry raised the territory’s death toll on Thursday to nearly 32,000 Palestinians since the war began on its soil. Also, UN officials stepped up warnings that famine is “imminent” in northern Gaza.
In an earlier meeting with Blinken, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire and warned against the “dangerous repercussions” of any Israeli offensive in Rafah, according to a statement issued by El-Sisi’s spokesperson.
Both parties had renewed their rejection of the forced displacement of Gazans and agreed on the importance of taking all necessary measures to ensure the arrival of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, the statement said.
Blinken said “gaps are narrowing” in talks over a ceasefire. A day earlier at his tour’s first stop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Blinken told the Saudi Al-Hadath network that the mediators had worked with Israel to put a “strong proposal” on the table. He said Hamas rejected it, but came back with other demands that the mediators are working on.
Netanyahu’s office said Thursday that the head of the Mossad spy agency will return to Qatar on Friday to meet with the head of the CIA and other key mediators in the talks. The office said Thursday that Qatar’s prime minister and Egypt’s intelligence chief would also join the talks.
The United States is seeking a swift vote on a newly revised and tougher UN resolution demanding “an immediate and sustained ceasefire” to protect civilians and enable humanitarian aid to be delivered. The US deputy ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, said he hoped a vote could take place by the end of the week.


Houthis, Yemen government reach financial ‘de-escalation’ deal: UN envoy

Houthis, Yemen government reach financial ‘de-escalation’ deal: UN envoy
Updated 20 sec ago
Follow

Houthis, Yemen government reach financial ‘de-escalation’ deal: UN envoy

Houthis, Yemen government reach financial ‘de-escalation’ deal: UN envoy
  • The Houthis and the government had in December committed to a UN-led roadmap to end the war
  • Houthis run their own central bank and use different bank notes with different exchange rates
DUBAI: Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have agreed to halt tit-for-tat banking sanctions as they wrestle for control of the country’s financial institutions, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
The Houthis have been fighting a coalition since March 2015, months after they seized the capital Sanaa and most of Yemen’s population centers, forcing the internationally recognized government south to Aden.
The rebels and the government had in December committed to a UN-led roadmap to end the war, agreeing to work toward “the resumption of an inclusive political process.”
But Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping since November and subsequent US and British retaliation have put peace talks on hold.
On Monday, the two sides informed Hans Grundberg, the UN envoy to Yemen, that they “agreed on several measures to de-escalate,” said a statement from Grundberg’s office.
It came as the warring parties were locked in a fight for control over the country’s banks, with both facing a severe financial crunch.
Their latest agreement involves “canceling all the recent decisions and procedures against banks by both sides and refraining in the future from any similar decisions or procedures,” the envoy’s office said.
In May, the government-controlled central bank banned transactions with six banks in Houthi-held Sanaa for failing to abide by an order to relocate to Aden.
As a result, currency exchange offices, money transfer agencies and banks in government-held areas could no longer work with those financial institutions.
The rebels, who run their own central bank and use different bank notes with different exchange rates, said the move was a disguised attempt to exert financial pressure on the Houthi banking system.
The Houthis retaliated by banning any dealings with 13 banks in Aden, which means those in rebel-held areas could no longer receive remittances through them or withdraw and deposit funds.
After striking their latest agreement, the warring parties will convene “meetings to discuss all economic and humanitarian issues based on the (UN) roadmap,” said Grundberg’s office.
It stressed “the need for the parties to collaborate toward an economy that benefits all Yemenis and supports the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire and the resumption of an inclusive political process.”
The statement said the warring parties have also agreed to settle disputes over Yemenia, the country’s national airline, which has accused the Houthis of freezing its funds held in Sanaa banks.
Meetings will be “convened to address the administrative, technical, and financial challenges faced by the company,” the statement said.
Yemenia flights will resume between Sanaa and Jordan, and the number of trips will be raised to three daily, according to the deal. Yemenia will also operate flights to Cairo and India “daily or as needed,” the statement said.

WHO ‘extremely worried’ at prospect of polio, other outbreaks in Gaza

WHO ‘extremely worried’ at prospect of polio, other outbreaks in Gaza
Updated 23 July 2024
Follow

WHO ‘extremely worried’ at prospect of polio, other outbreaks in Gaza

WHO ‘extremely worried’ at prospect of polio, other outbreaks in Gaza
  • Number of people in the Gaza Strip now needing to be evacuated from the territory for medical care may have risen to 14,000

GENEVA: A top WHO official said Tuesday he was “extremely worried” over possible outbreaks in war-torn Gaza after poliovirus was detected in the sewage, that communicable diseases could cause more deaths than injuries.
Ayadil Saparbekov, the World Health Organization’s head of health emergencies in the occupied Palestinian territories, also said the number of people in the Gaza Strip now needing to be evacuated from the territory for medical care may have risen to 14,000.


Besieged Palestinian develops desalination system for clean water

Besieged Palestinian develops desalination system for clean water
Updated 23 July 2024
Follow

Besieged Palestinian develops desalination system for clean water

Besieged Palestinian develops desalination system for clean water
  • Severe water crisis from Israel’s war, blockade on Gaza
  • Ahmed Atef Afana uses stones, sand, cotton, charcoal

A Palestinian in Jabaliya refugee camp has developed a homemade desalination system amidst Israel’s war and aid blockade on Gaza.

Ahmed Atef Afana, who has been displaced for more than 50 days, said: “Unfortunately, we have no water. The water crisis here is really bad. You could say only 1 percent can hope of getting water.”

Afana’s system uses stones, sand, cotton and charcoal. “I thought I could combine all these aspects together and experiment with the sea water to see what I could come up with,” he said.

Many people on social media have praised him for his resilience and creativity.

“I used to think what I would do if the world was ending and I needed to be creative to survive. Palestinians have shown me everything I need to know,” said one person.

“This is truly incredible and wise. Palestinian people always find a way, no matter the circumstances,” another person said.

According to Palestine’s health ministry, the Gaza death toll has surpassed 38,900, with more than 89,000 Palestinians injured since Oct. 7.

Approximately 1 million residents have been displaced or uprooted. In addition, 10.4 percent of 17,757 children screened by the UN between January and May face extreme malnutrition.


Israel’s Netanyahu says hostage deal could be near for hostages in Gaza

Israel’s Netanyahu says hostage deal could be near for hostages in Gaza
Updated 23 July 2024
Follow

Israel’s Netanyahu says hostage deal could be near for hostages in Gaza

Israel’s Netanyahu says hostage deal could be near for hostages in Gaza
  • Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington: ‘The conditions (for a deal) are undoubtedly ripening. This is a good sign’
  • Efforts to reach a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas have gained momentum over the past month

JERUSALEM/CAIRO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told families of hostages held in Gaza that a deal that would secure their release could be near, his office said on Tuesday, as fighting raged in the battered Palestinian enclave.
Israeli forces pressed on with a new raid into Gaza’s southern area of Khan Younis after ordering civilians to evacuate some districts they said had been used for renewed attacks by Palestinian militants.
Thousands of people were fleeing for safer areas as Israeli airstrikes hit, UN officials said.
Netanyahu is currently in Washington and is expected to meet US President Joe Biden later this week after making an address to Congress.
Speaking in the US capital on Monday to families of hostages, he said: “The conditions (for a deal) are undoubtedly ripening. This is a good sign.”
Efforts to reach a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas, outlined by Biden in May and mediated by Egypt and Qatar, have gained momentum over the past month.
“Unfortunately, it will not take place all at once; there will be stages. However, I believe that we can advance the deal and leave us in possession of the leverage to bring about the release of the others (hostages not freed in first stage),” Netanyahu said.
Ruby Chen, the father of dual US-Israeli citizen Itai Chen, a soldier whose body is being held in Gaza, was one of the family members who met with Netanyahu.
“He did say that conditions were ripening but I’m taking that with a pinch of salt,” Chen told Israeli Army Radio.
Chen said he hoped Biden, who on Sunday withdrew his bid for reelection and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic candidate in November’s US election, would apply more pressure on Netanyahu to secure the deal.
A Palestinian official close to the mediation effort accused Netanyahu of stalling.
“Hamas has shown the flexibility needed for an agreement to be reached and the ball is in his court,” the official said.
An Israeli negotiation team was due on Thursday to resume talks that would include hostages being released in return for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. In a week-long truce in November, 105 hostages were freed in return for 240 Palestinian prisoners.
The hostages were seized in the Hamas raid into southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which about 1,200 people were killed and around and 250 taken captive, according to Israeli tallies.
Hamas and other militants are still holding 120 hostages, around a third of whom have been declared dead in absentia by Israeli authorities.
The death toll among Palestinians in Israel’s retaliatory offensive since then has reached more than 39,000, according to Gaza health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and much of the enclave laid to waste by airstrikes and artillery bombardments.
FEAR AND DISPLACEMENT
In Gaza on Tuesday, Israeli air raids hit the southern city of Khan Younis as Israeli troops and Palestinian militants fought in its shattered streets, forcing civilians to flee.
“Thousands of people on the move again, fleeing strikes & military operations. The situation is impossible. The cycle of fear & displacement has gone on too long. Everyone is exhausted,” the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA said on X.
The Israeli military said dozens of militants had been killed in Khan Younis by its tanks and warplanes or in close-quarter combat. Weapon caches and tunnels used by the militants had been destroyed, it said.
Palestinian medics said one person was killed in an Israeli airstrike in the area on Tuesday, after dozens were reported killed by Israeli attacks there on Monday. Gaza’s health ministry does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. Health officials have said most those killed have been civilians.
Further north, in Gaza City, Israeli bombing killed 16 people, medics said.
In Rafah, next to the border with Egypt where Israel has said it was stamping out Hamas’ last units, an Israeli airstrike killed two Palestinians.
Hamas said its fighters were combating Israeli soldiers in Rafah. Residents said tanks have operated in most of the city, but have yet to gain full control of the northern and western areas.


Prominent Algerian opposition figures blast ‘authoritarian climate’ ahead of presidential election

Prominent Algerian opposition figures blast ‘authoritarian climate’ ahead of presidential election
Updated 23 July 2024
Follow

Prominent Algerian opposition figures blast ‘authoritarian climate’ ahead of presidential election

Prominent Algerian opposition figures blast ‘authoritarian climate’ ahead of presidential election
  • Under the rule of military-backed President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, freedom of expression has witnessed a rollback, experts say

ALGIERS: Eleven prominent Algerian opposition figures wrote an open letter this week, denouncing “the authoritarian climate” surrounding the country’s upcoming presidential election and calling for a broad democratic transition.
Under the rule of military-backed President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, freedom of expression has witnessed a rollback, experts say, with journalists and opposition members facing prison time and critical media outlets losing state advertising funding they have relied on to stay afloat.
In their open letter Sunday, the opposition figures — including well-known politicians, lawyers and academics — said the Sep. 7 election was a rubber stamp exercise in futility. They said the lack of civil liberties makes holding a legitimate election impossible
“No to electoral charades under dictatorship!” they wrote. “Yes to genuine democracy and popular sovereignty.” They also underscored how the government’s security policy in preparation for the election “continues to trample on the will of the people.”
“Today’s Algeria is in a more critical situation than before, with short- and medium-term prospects that are even more complex and perilous,” they added.
The letter came nearly two weeks after renowned Algerian Workers’ Party leader Louisa Hanoune announced she would withdraw from the race and her party would boycott the election. She was viewed as an opposition voice that many believed legitimized the election as contested and therefore democratic. A perennial candidate who has run several times before, Hanoune said this year’s election was being held under unfair conditions and “a regressive and anti-democratic legislative framework.”
Such disillusionment is hardly new in the gas-rich North African nation. Political participation has long been low and parties have for decades boycotted elections, unconvinced that they can usher in meaningful change in a country where the military plays an influential role in politics.
Little has changed since large weekly protests known as the “Hirak” movement pushed Algeria’s octogenarian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, five years ago. A quick and widely boycotted election saw 78-year-old political veteran Tebboune, supported by the powerful military, replace him.
Besides Tebboune, 14 candidates will run in the election. Campaigning is scheduled to hit full swing in the coming couple of weeks.