Top US diplomat warns Israel of global isolation if it attacks Rafah

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, during his visit to Cairo, Egypt March 21, 2024. (REUTERS)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, during his visit to Cairo, Egypt March 21, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 23 March 2024
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Top US diplomat warns Israel of global isolation if it attacks Rafah

Top US diplomat warns Israel of global isolation if it attacks Rafah
  • Israel claims Rafah is the last bastion for the Hamas militants
  • Washington says a ground assault on Rafah would be a mistake

TEL AVIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday that Israel risked further global isolation if it attacks the Palestinian city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip.
Blinken met one-on-one with Netanyahu during a peace mission to the Middle East at a time of strain in relations over Israel’s assault in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which has killed 32,000 Palestinians, with many more feared dead under the rubble, Gaza health authorities say.
“We share Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas... though, a major military ground operation in Rafah is not the way to do it,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv.
“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,” Blinken added.
Netanyahu said earlier that Israel would go it alone if Washington remained opposed to plans to push into Rafah against the territory’s southern border fence, where more than a million Gazans have taken refuge in makeshift shelters.
The Israeli leader said he told Blinken that he appreciated US support in its fight against Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, and that Israel recognizes it needs to protect civilians.
“I also said that we have no way to defeat Hamas without going into Rafah and eliminating the rest of the battalions there. And 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,” he said in a video statement to reporters.
While Israel has talked about destroying Hamas entirely in the past, it is unclear how they would be able to do so and experts doubt that is even possible.
Israel claims Rafah is the last bastion for Hamas militants, and that it has a plan to evacuate civilians before an attack, though it has not shared one publicly nor with close ally Washington.
Washington says a ground assault would be a mistake and cause too much harm to those displaced there.
Senior Israeli and US officials were scheduled to meet in Washington next week, when the United States will present to the Israelis alternative ways to hunt down Hamas without resorting to a full-on assault in Rafah.
“We believe a major ground offensive is a mistake” and would be a “disaster,” White House spokesperson John Kirby told a briefing.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, provides billions of dollars a year in military aid and regularly uses its diplomatic clout to protect Israeli interests.
In the latest diplomatic duel at the UN Security Council, Russia and China vetoed a US-proposed resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and an Israel-Hamas hostage deal, saying it effectively green lights a Rafah invasion.
The text reflected a toughening of Washington’s stance toward Israel — Washington had earlier in the war been averse to the word “ceasefire” — but Moscow and Beijing said it would still not do enough to restrain Israel.
They support an alternative text that Washington says is not strong enough in pushing Hamas toward ongoing diplomacy. Hamas last week released its own ceasefire and hostage-prisoner exchange proposal. France was also said to be working on an alternative resolution. The Security Council was due to vote again on Saturday.
In a statement, Hamas said it appreciated the veto by Russia and China, “who rejected the American project biased toward aggression against our people.”
In Gaza, Israel claimed on Friday to have killed or captured hundreds of Hamas fighters in a five-day operation at the Al Shifa hospital complex, one of the only medical facilities even partially functioning in the north. Hamas and medical staff deny fighters were present there.

STRAIN IN RELATIONS
A strain in ties between the United States and Israel has become increasingly public, with US President Joe Biden calling Israel’s campaign in Gaza “over the top” and saying it has had too great a toll on civilian lives.
The war was triggered by a raid into southern Israel by Hamas fighters who killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages, by Israeli tallies.
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.
Israel, which inspects all shipments to Gaza and has sealed off the fence on the north of the enclave, denies restricting food and says it believes enough is getting through.
“As much as we know, by our analysis, there is no starvation in Gaza. There is a sufficient amount of food entering Gaza every day,” Col. Moshe Tetro, head of Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza, told reporters.
This is contrary to reports from international experts who warn that there are extreme food shortages in parts of the Gaza Strip and that mass death is imminent.

AIRSTRIKE KILLS EIGHT
Eight people were killed on Friday in an airstrike on a house in Al-Naser, east of Rafah. Video images showed crowds of mourners around white shrouded corpses, while a red rag doll lay in the rubble of a crushed house.
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?“
US Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday said there was no safe exit for civilians from Rafah. It is unclear where civilians would go within Gaza or whether neighboring country Egypt would accept them.
Meetings were taking place in Doha on Friday aimed at securing a ceasefire. The truce talks are focused on a proposal for a six-week halt to fighting during which some 40 Israeli hostages being held by Hamas would be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Israel is prepared to commit only to a temporary pause in fighting, while Hamas wants a permanent end to the war.
 

 


Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour

Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour
Updated 58 min 32 sec ago
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Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour

Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour
  • Opinion polls consistently put Labour on course for a victory that would end 14 years of Conservative government

LONDON: Billionaire John Caudwell, one of the governing Conservative Party’s biggest donors before Britain’s last national election in 2019, said on Tuesday he would instead be backing Keir Starmer’s Labour Party at the upcoming July 4 vote.
“I can declare publicly that I will vote for Labour, and I encourage everybody to do the same,” Caudwell said in a statement.
“We need a very strong Labour Government that can take extremely bold decisions and you can rest assured that I will be doing my best to influence them wherever I can, in putting the great back in Britain.”
Opinion polls consistently put Labour on course for a victory that would end 14 years of Conservative government. A poll published by Ipsos on Tuesday estimated Labour could win 453 seats to the Conservatives’ 115, giving them a huge parliamentary majority of 256.
Caudwell made nearly 1.5 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) in 2006 when he sold his mobile phone retailer Phones 4u.
He said he had been despairing about the Conservatives’ performance in government for “many years.”
Previously, in an interview with Reuters, Caudwell had expressed frustration at the Conservatives but described Labour as untested.
On Tuesday he cited current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s handling of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic — when he was finance minister — and what he said was a lowering of ethical standards under former leader Boris Johnson. He described Liz Truss’s brief spell in charge, which spooked financial markets, as a “debacle.”
Caudwell said he liked the focus on accelerating economic growth in Labour’s manifesto: “As I have always said, the government must be much more commercially minded to grow GDP in order to finance the public services that benefit all of society without increasing taxes.”
Labour leader Starmer welcomed the endorsement.
“I’m delighted that John, someone with such a successful track-record in business, has today thrown his support behind the changed Labour Party that I lead,” he said.
“The message is clear: business backs change and economic stability with Labour, and rejects 5 more years of chaos and decline with the Tories.”


Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia

Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia
Updated 18 June 2024
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Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia

Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia
  • Riots broke out in mid-May after anger over voting reform spilled into weeks of deadly protests

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday called on residents of the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia to dismantle barricades after weeks of unrest, adding the situation remained “unacceptable.”
In a public appeal, Macron called for “the firm and definitive lifting of all blockades” and “the condemnation of violence.”
New Caledonia, which is located between Australia and Fiji, has been ruled from Paris since the 19th century but many indigenous Kanaks want greater autonomy or independence.
Riots broke out in mid-May after anger over voting reform spilled into weeks of deadly protests.
French authorities insist Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, is back under their control, although barricades remain and pro-independence demonstrators have said they are determined to stay in the streets.
In a sign of a slow return to normality after five weeks of unrest, schools reopened on Monday, as did Noumea’s international airport.
Last week Macron announced that the controversial voting reform would be “suspended” in light of upcoming snap parliamentary polls in France.
In the letter published by local media in New Caledonia, Macron called for dialogue and patience.
Caledonian pro-independence movements had already considered reform dead given Macron’s call for snap elections.
Macron has called the snap parliamentary elections three years early in a dramatic gamble to shake up politics in France after the far right trounced his centrist camp in EU elections.
With the first round of voting set to take place on June 30, polls have underlined fears that his alliance risks being squeezed by new coalitions on the left and right.

 


Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes

Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes
Updated 18 June 2024
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Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes

Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes
  • Tax hikes last year led to several opposition protests which sometimes degenerated into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators

NAIROBI: Kenyan police fired tear gas and arrested at least a dozen demonstrators on Tuesday as hundreds of people gathered near parliament to protest tax hikes, according to journalists at the scene.
The East African economic powerhouse has struggled with a cost-of-living crisis, which critics say will only worsen under the levies laid out in a bill due to be debated in parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
Kenya’s government on Tuesday walked back plans to impose multiple tax hikes, the presidency said, announcing amendments to the controversial bill.

BACKGROUND

Kenya’s government has walked back plans to impose multiple tax hikes, the presidency said, announcing amendments to the controversial bill.

“The Finance Bill has been amended to remove the proposed 16 per cent VAT on bread, transportation of sugar, financial services, foreign exchange transactions as well as the 2.5 per cent Motor Vehicle Tax,” the presidency said in a statement.
The new taxes contained in the finance bill were expected to help the cash-strapped administration generate some 346.7 billion shillings ($2.7 billion) to boost revenue and cut government borrowing.
In addition to the proposed motor vehicle tax, the amendments will also do away with increased taxes on financial and mobile services.
“We are going to end up with a product in parliament that came from the executive and has been interrogated by the legislature. Through public participation, the people of Kenya have had a say,” President William Ruto told his party’s lawmakers.
Parliament must pass the final version of the bill before June 30.
Tax hikes last year led to several opposition protests which sometimes degenerated into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators.
Hundreds of black-clad protesters marched toward parliament in Nairobi’s business district, but were kept back by police officers lobbing tear gas at the crowds.
“I am tired. The prices of everything have gone up. Life is no longer affordable,” said 29-year-old Rara Eisa.
Eisa, who said she had never protested before Tuesday, described the hikes as oppressive.
“They are not lenient in any way,” she said.
Student Paloma Njoroge, 22, who was protesting, rejected pro-government claims that the demonstrations amounted to “social media activism that yields nothing.”
“I have my bottle of water and running shoes. They have to feel our disgust,” she said.
Dubbed “Occupy Parliament,” news of the protest was shared online after an activist leaked MPs’ contact details, urging people to bombard them with calls and messages to shoot down a bill proposing the new hikes.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission urged police to “stop the arrests.”
“Our constitution grants us the right to protest. Still, if the arrests persist, we won’t be deterred,” KHRC said on X, formerly Twitter.
Ruto came to power in 2022 on a promise to revive the economy and put money in the pockets of the downtrodden, but his policies have sparked widespread discontent.
Last year’s tax hikes led to opposition protests, sometimes degenerating into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators.
While Kenya is among the most dynamic economies in East Africa, roughly a third of the 51.5 million population lives in poverty.

 


Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says

Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says
Updated 18 June 2024
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Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says

Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says
  • Federal judges reject case presented by Save the Children, on the grounds that there is no legal obligation on the government to bring citizens home
  • The judgment means they might wait years to be released from what home affairs minister has acknowledged is a ‘dangerous and damaging detention’

SYDNEY: About 40 Australian women and children could be stuck in Syrian detention camps for years, after a court on Tuesday dismissed a legal challenge calling for their government to bring them home.
Federal court judges rejected the case, brought by Save the Children, on the grounds that there is no legal obligation on Australian authorities to bring its citizens home.
However, they noted in their ruling that if the federal government had “the political will” to repatriate the 10 women and 30 children from Syria “it would be a relatively straightforward exercise.”
Instead, the judgment means they might wait years to be released from what Australia’s home affairs minister has acknowledged is a “dangerous and damaging detention,” The Guardian newspaper reported.
They are the wives, widows and children of slain or jailed Daesh fighters. None of them have been charged with any crimes or face arrest but they have been held in Al-Roj and Al-Hol camps for years. The Red Cross said several of the children were born inside the camps and know no life outside of them. They live in “dire” conditions; illness and malnutrition are rife and security is “extremely volatile.”
Chief Justice Debra Mortimer, and justices Geoffrey Kennett and Christopher Horan, accepted evidence that many countries, including Australia, have successfully repatriated citizens from the detention camps, with assistance from Kurdish authorities.
“If the Commonwealth has the political will to bring the … women and children back to Australia, on the evidence before the court, it would be a relatively straightforward exercise,” they said, adding that it had been “amply proven” that authorities had the “means” to end the detention of the women and children.
“But that is distinct from a finding that the Commonwealth exercises control over them and their custody,” they said.
Mat Tinkler, the CEO of Save the Children Australia, said: “Our commitment to helping bring the remaining children back to Australia, where they belong, remains unshakable regardless of today’s outcome.
“These are innocent Australian kids who have experienced immense trauma and suffering but are left to languish in desert camps, where they are rapidly losing hope.
“What I find difficult to comprehend is that the Australian government could end their suffering right now by bringing them home and providing the chance for a real life but our political leaders are choosing not to act.”


Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia

Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia
Updated 18 June 2024
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Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia

Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia
  • Kyiv has carried out several similar attacks on Russian energy facilities in recent months
  • Some 200 firefighters and emergency personnel were deployed to deal with the blaze

KYIV: Ukrainian forces launched an overnight drone attack that set several oil storage tanks ablaze near the town of Azov in southern Russia, a defense source in Kyiv told AFP on Tuesday.
Kyiv has carried out several similar attacks on Russian energy facilities in recent months, arguing they are fair targets given that they fuel Moscow’s military.
Russia has also staged dozens of devastating attacks on Ukrainian power plants throughout its two-year invasion, crippling the country’s energy grid.
“Oil product tanks caught fire in Azov as a result of a drone attack. According to preliminary data, there were no casualties,” said the governor of the local Rostov region, Vasily Golubev.
Video published by Russia’s emergencies ministry showed thick smoke and flames billowing out of what appeared to be multiple oil storage tanks in an undisclosed location.
Ukraine did not say how many drones were involved in the attack.
The defense source, who asked not to be named, described it as a “successful” attack and said it caused “powerful fires in the installations.”
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) “will continue to impose ‘drone sanctions’ on Russia’s oil refining complex and reduce the enemy’s economic potential, which provides the aggressor with resources to wage war against Ukraine,” the source said.
It also claimed that SBU drones have carried out more than 20 successful attacks on Russian oil facilities in various regions.
Some 200 firefighters and emergency personnel were deployed to deal with the blaze, which spanned an area of at least 3,200 square meters (3,800 square yards), Russia’s emergencies ministry said.
The Rostov region sits directly across the border from Ukraine and is home to the operational headquarters overseeing Russia’s invasion.
On the battlefield, Ukraine said Russian forces were fighting to enter the outskirts of Chasiv Yar, a flashpoint town in the east whose capture could accelerate Russian advances.
Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk, where war-scarred Chasiv Yar lies, has borne the brunt of fighting over more than two years and the Kremlin claims the region is part of Russia.
“The enemy keeps trying to advance to the micro-district Novy in the town of Chasiv Yar,” a Ukrainian military official said in a briefing.
Further south, the military said Moscow’s forces were also pushing toward Pokrovsk, where they were closing in on a key road that would complicate supplies between strategic hubs in the region.
A 24-year-old Ukrainian serviceman, who identified himself with his call-sign Dykyi, dismissed concerns Russians could render the road impassable for Ukraine.
A colleague, who did not give his name, noted that Russian forces were already flying drones and launching missile attacks at the road.
“It will definitely not be blocked for the military,” Dykyi told AFP at a training ground in the Donetsk region, however, over the sounds of gunfire.
He said that even if Russian forces do advance toward the thoroughfare, military engineers could craft new routes or fix alternative roads in bad repair.
“As long as the weather is good, there are routes everywhere,” he said.
Ukraine’s air force meanwhile said it had downed 10 Iranian-designed attack drones launched by Russian forces overnight.
In a separate incident, Ukraine’s prosecutor general accused Russian forces of beheading a Ukrainian serviceman in the eastern Donetsk region.
Ukraine’s national grid operator Ukrenergo meanwhile said the country will face rolling electricity blackouts throughout Wednesday after Russian strikes on Ukrainian power plants.
On the diplomatic front, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that China’s support for Russia’s defense industry is prolonging the Ukraine war and “has to stop.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian earlier urged NATO to “stop shifting blame” over the Ukraine war after the alliance’s chief Jens Stoltenberg accused Beijing of worsening the conflict through support of Russia.
At a summit in Switzerland on Sunday, world leaders backed Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, and the need for eventual talks with Russia on ending the war — but left the key questions of how and when unresolved.
Moscow doubled down on its demand for Kyiv’s effective surrender as a starting point for negotiations.