In biggest settler land grab since Oslo, Israel seizes 800 hectares in occupied West Bank

In biggest settler land grab since Oslo, Israel seizes 800 hectares in occupied West Bank
The United Nations human rights chief has reported a drastic acceleration in illegal settlement building since Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza began months ago. (AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2024
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In biggest settler land grab since Oslo, Israel seizes 800 hectares in occupied West Bank

In biggest settler land grab since Oslo, Israel seizes 800 hectares in occupied West Bank
  • Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich declares as ‘state lands’ the area in the northern Jordan Valley
  • Land grab launched as top US diplomat holds talks with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM/JEDDAH: Israel publicly humiliated America’s top diplomat on Friday by launching a massive settler land grab in the occupied West Bank while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.

Israel’s seizure of 800 hectares of land in the northern Jordan Valley on Friday was the single largest since the 1993 Oslo Accords. Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said the size of the seized area is the largest since 1993’s Oslo Accords, and that “2024 marks a peak in the extent of declarations of state land.”

Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich declared as “state lands” the area in the northern Jordan Valley, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel for Gaza war talks.




Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. (REUTERS/File Photo)

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

“While there are those in Israel and the world who seek to undermine our right over the Judea and Samaria area and the country in general, we are promoting settlement through hard work and in a strategic manner all over the country,” Smotrich said, using Israel’s term for the West Bank.

Settlements in the Palestinian territories are illegal under international law.

Smotrich, who heads the extreme-right Religious Zionism party, lives in a settlement.

Peace Now said the timing of the latest land grab was a “provocation.”

Despite opposition abroad, Israel has in recent decades build dozens of settlements across the West Bank.

They are now home to more than 490,000 Israelis, who live alongside around three million Palestinians in the territory.

The United Nations human rights chief has reported a drastic acceleration in illegal settlement building since Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza began months ago, and said this risks eliminating any likelihood of a viable Palestinian state.

Blinken has described settlement expansion as “counterproductive to reaching enduring peace” with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu rebuffs Blinken

After their talks, Netanyahu said he had told Blinken that Israel would not reverse plans to launch a military offensive against Rafah in southern Gaza, where up to 1.5 million Palestinians have sought shelter after being driven from their homes elsewhere in the enclave.

“I told him that I hope we will do it with the support of the US, but if we have to we will do it alone.”

Blinken said Washington shared Israel's goal of defeating Hamas but a major military ground operation in Rafah was not the way to do it.

“It risks killing more civilians. It risks wreaking greater havoc with the provision of humanitarian assistance. It risks further isolating Israel around the world and jeopardizing its long-term security and standing,” he said.

Blinken had said he would push Netanyahu to take urgent steps to allow more aid into Gaza, where mass death from famine is imminent. US officials say the number of aid deliveries via land needs to increase fast and that aid needs to be sustained over a long period.

“A hundred percent of the population of Gaza is experiencing severe levels of acute food insecurity. We cannot, we must not allow that to continue,” Blinken said.

Eight people were killed on Friday in an airstrike on a house in Al-Naser, east of Rafah. The dead included a father, a mother and five of their children, said mourner Turkiah Barbakh.

“They are all children, they haven’t resisted or done anything. What happened to them is unjust,” she said. “How much longer do we have to endure this?”

In their meeting, Netanyahu sternly rejected the visiting US secretary of state’s plea not to launch a ground invasion into Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, saying Friday “we will do it alone” if necessary.

The looming Rafah invasion has cast a shadow over ongoing efforts to forge a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas. Blinken told reporters “there’s still a lot of work to be done” as he wrapped up his sixth trip to the Mideast since the war began.

International aid officials say the entire population of the Gaza Strip — 2.3 million people — is suffering from food insecurity and that famine is imminent in the hard-hit north. 

Gaza’s Health Ministry raised the territory’s death toll to 32,070 people, with around 74,300 wounded. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Some 1,200 people were killed on Oct. 7 when Palestinian militants launched a surprise attack out of Gaza, triggering the war, and abducted another 250 people. Hamas is still believed to be holding some 100 Israelis hostage, as well as the remains of 30 others.

(With Agencies)

 

 


Egyptian president tours Prophet’s biography museum

Egyptian president tours Prophet’s biography museum
Updated 9 sec ago
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Egyptian president tours Prophet’s biography museum

Egyptian president tours Prophet’s biography museum
  • El-Sisi explored the various creative pavilions that illustrate aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life

RIYADH: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi visited the International Fair and Museum of the Prophet’s Biography and Islamic Civilization in Madinah, Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

During his tour on Friday, El-Sisi explored the various creative pavilions that illustrate aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life.

He viewed the panorama of the prophet’s chamber, which showcases authentic details of its construction and development through to the modern era.

El-Sisi was also introduced to a simulation of the Prophet’s pulpit, displayed through models and smart interactive screens. The exhibition highlighted the Kingdom’s efforts in serving the Qur’an and the Two Holy Mosques.

Expressing his admiration for the exhibition and museum project, El-Sisi extended his gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their efforts and hospitality.
 


8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza

8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza
Updated 6 min 17 sec ago
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8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza

8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza
  • The deaths will likely fuel calls for a ceasefire and heighten Israeli public anger over ultra-Orthodox exemptions from the military
  • In January, 21 Israeli troops were killed in a single attack by Palestinian militants in Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israel’s military said Saturday that eight soldiers were killed in southern Gaza in the deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months.
The troops were killed in an explosion, the army said, without elaborating. The deaths will likely fuel calls for a ceasefire and heighten Israeli public anger over ultra-Orthodox exemptions from the military.
In January, 21 Israeli troops were killed in a single attack by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Last month, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered an end to government subsidies for many ultra-Orthodox men who don’t serve in the army. A new draft law hasn’t been passed, but the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week voted in favor of extending exemptions for religious men. Although the vote was only procedural, it caused an uproar by being approved during a war in which hundreds of soldiers have died and many others remain inside Gaza or on the front lines against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
Yoav Gallant, Israel’s Defense Minister and member of the country’s War Cabinet, has insisted that all sectors of Israeli society should contribute equally during its war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s coalition government contains a powerful bloc of ultra-Orthodox parties that have been longtime partners of Netanyahu. If these parties leave the government, the country would be forced into new elections, with Netanyahu trailing significantly in the polls amid the war.
In Tel Aviv, anti-government protests have been ongoing for months, with many demonstrators calling for the immediate return of the hostages, along with Netanyahu’s resignation.
Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, who don’t give the breakdown of civilians and fighters. The war has also driven about 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes, and Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring in humanitarian aid, fueling widespread hunger.
Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. More than 100 hostages were released during a weeklong ceasefire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas is believed to be holding around 80 hostages and the remains of another 40.
Months of ceasefire negotiations have failed to find common ground between Israeli and Hamas. On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Hamas proposed changes to a US-backed plan, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.
Hamas has continually called for a permanent ceasefire and complete Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza as part of any deal that would see the hostages released. While the proposal announced by US President Joe Biden includes these two provisions, Hamas has expressed concern about whether Israel will commit to them.
Violence has flared in the West Bank since the Israel-Hamas war erupted. On Saturday, a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli forces near the northern city of Nablus, the Ramallah-based Health Ministry said. The Israeli army didn’t immediately respond to request for comment about the shooting.


UNICEF says Israel denied entry to aid convoy for Gaza 

UNICEF says Israel denied entry to aid convoy for Gaza 
Updated 23 min 44 sec ago
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UNICEF says Israel denied entry to aid convoy for Gaza 

UNICEF says Israel denied entry to aid convoy for Gaza 
  • UNICEF spokesman James Elder said such denials are “consistent and relentless,” with hundreds of similar incidents documented

LONDON: UNICEF has reported that one of its aid convoys was denied entry to northern Gaza this week, despite possessing all the necessary documents, in what the organization’s spokesman described as a common occurrence.

In an interview with the BBC’s “Today” program, UNICEF spokesman James Elder, who was in one of the aid lorries attempting to travel from southern to northern Gaza on Wednesday, said that despite having all the required paperwork it took the convoy 13 hours to travel approximately 40 kilometers (30 miles). After spending eight hours at checkpoints, they were ultimately denied entry to northern Gaza, he said, “so 10,000 children who were going to benefit from nutritional supplies, medical supplies, did not.”

Elder said the reasons behind the decision were unclear, but noted that such denials are “consistent and relentless,” with hundreds of similar incidents documented.

The Israeli army responded by claiming that the documentation for the UNICEF vehicle in the convoy was incorrectly filled out and accused Elder of presenting a “partial picture.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by James Elder (@james_unicef)

While waiting at one of the checkpoints, Elder said he witnessed a group of around eight men attempting to catch fish with a single net. “Suddenly we heard a tank coming down, we heard... automatic fire,” he said. “We saw two fishermen fleeing, one was shot in the back, one in the neck.”

The UN spokesman added that the WHO, which had paramedics in the convoy, requested permission from the Israeli Defense Forces to provide medical support to the injured men, but this request was denied. He later saw the fishermen’s wounds when their colleagues were allowed to retrieve their bodies.

Elder, who had last been in Gaza six weeks previously, said the situation is far worse now. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a real level of despondency,” he said. “They’re so despairing, they’re so broken, they’ve lost so many family members. They have nothing left.

“It’s very unsettling to see a child when their parent can’t protect them, it’s heartbreaking when a parent can’t protect their child,” he continued. “Increasingly I’m hearing people say, ‘I just want this over, I’m happy if there’s an airstrike on me tonight.’”
 


UNRWA slams Israeli allegations in Google Ads dispute

UNRWA slams Israeli allegations in Google Ads dispute
Updated 38 min 31 sec ago
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UNRWA slams Israeli allegations in Google Ads dispute

UNRWA slams Israeli allegations in Google Ads dispute
  • Israeli government’s claims appear as “sponsored links” at the top of Google search results for UNRWA

LONDON: The UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees has rejected claims made against it in Israeli advertisements on Google as “unrealistic.”

The Israeli government’s claims appear as “sponsored links” at the top of Google search results for UNRWA, Anadolu Agency reported.

These advertisements from the Tel Aviv administration’s website contain unsubstantiated allegations, including accusations of UNRWA employees’ involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks and that the agency has been infiltrated by Hamas and other groups.

UNRWA spokesman, Jonathan Fowler, said that the allegations of infiltration were baseless. Fowler noted that the agency had conducted repeated investigations and taken corrective actions when allegations of neutrality violations had arisen, both during and before the war in Gaza.

He stressed that there was no evidence linking any of the agency’s employees to the Oct. 7 operation on settlements adjacent to Gaza.

Earlier in April, an independent review headed by the French former foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, found that Israeli authorities had yet to provide any evidence to back up their allegations that a dozen people worked for UNRWA.

The wide-ranging 48-page report, seen by Arab News, also found that Israel had not previously expressed concerns about any individuals named on the agency staffing lists that it had been receiving since 2011.
 


UN experts say Sudan paramilitaries recruiting in Central Africa

UN experts say Sudan paramilitaries recruiting in Central Africa
Updated 15 June 2024
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UN experts say Sudan paramilitaries recruiting in Central Africa

UN experts say Sudan paramilitaries recruiting in Central Africa
  • “The spillover effect of the conflict in the Sudan has significantly affected the situation in the Central African Republic,” said the expert committee
  • This “continues to constitute a security threat to civilians and an impediment to humanitarian activities in the area“

UNITED NATIONS: Sudanese paramilitary forces are using the Central African Republic as a “supply chain,” including for recruitment of fighters, according to a report published Friday by UN experts, who are concerned about a “spillover effect.”
Sudan descended into war in April 2023 when the generals in charge of the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took up arms against each other in a fight for control, rejecting a plan to integrate.
“The spillover effect of the conflict in the Sudan has significantly affected the situation in the Central African Republic,” said the expert committee, formed by the UN Security Council to monitor sanctions on Central Africa.
They highlighted in particular the humanitarian situation, as the country sees an influx of millions of Sudanese refugees, as well as incursions by the two warring Sudanese parties — plus air raids by the Sudanese army in and around the Umm Dafog border post, where the RSF is present.
This “continues to constitute a security threat to civilians and an impediment to humanitarian activities in the area,” the experts said.
They insist the paramilitaries are also using the Am Dafok area in the Central African Republic on the border “as a key logistical hub.”
Because the RSF can “move between the two countries easily through a long-standing network” they have been able to recruit “from among armed groups in the Central African Republic.”
“Opposition armed groups from the Central African Republic have been reported to have actively recruited for, and sent members of their own groups to fight in, the Sudan under RSF,” the experts said.
They noted in particular fighters in Sudan since as early as August 2023 from the Central African rebel group Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central Africa (FPRC).
The experts said they are aware that this armed group and others “are still able to cross between the Sudan and the Central African Republic at will and use Sudanese territory to launch attacks.”
The experts thus called on Central African authorities to “counteract the surge in arms trafficking from neighboring countries, particularly given the current conflict situation in the Sudan.”
They also asked the leaders to combat “the infiltration of foreign fighters into the Central African Republic, which poses a significant long-term threat to the region.”