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.
 

 


DR Congo thwarts Kinshasa ‘coup attempt’: army

DR Congo thwarts Kinshasa ‘coup attempt’: army
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DR Congo thwarts Kinshasa ‘coup attempt’: army

DR Congo thwarts Kinshasa ‘coup attempt’: army
  • Army spokesman said around 40 of the attackers, some of them foreigners, had been arrested, and four — including their leader — were killed
  • The coup plotters reportedly carried flags of Zaire, the DRC's name under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997

KINSHASA: The DR Congo military on Sunday said it had thwarted an “attempted coup” near the offices of President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa involving “foreigners and Congolese.”

It happened in the early hours of the morning outside the residence of Economy Minister Vital Kamerhe, in the Gombe area in the north of the capital, near the Palais de la Nation that houses the president’s offices, a spokesman said.
“An attempted coup d’etat has been stopped by the defense and security forces,” said General Sylvain Ekenge in a message broadcast on national television.
Shots were also heard near the Palais de la Nation at the time of the coup attempt, according to a number of sources.
Later on Sunday, army spokesman General Sylvain Ekenge said several Americans and a British man were part of the group involved in the operation.
The coup bid was led by Christian Malanga, a Congolese man who was a “naturalized American” and had been “definitively neutralized” — killed — by the security forces, Ekenge said in a broadcast on Sunday evening.
The group was made up of “several nationalities,” Ekenge said, adding that around 40 of the attackers had been arrested, and four — including Malanga — killed.
“We also have a naturalized British subject, the number two of the group,” the spokesman added. Malanga’s son, Marcel Malanga, was also among the attackers, he said.

Links to deposed dictator

Kamerhe and his family were not harmed in the attack but two police officers looking after them were killed, said a source close to the minister.
The group had planned to attack the home of the new Prime Minister Judith Suminwa, and the residence of Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba.
But they “could not identify the home” of Suminwa and had not been able to find Bemba at his residence.
After the attack at Kamerhe’s home, the group then went to the Palais de la Nation, brandishing flags of Zaire, the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997.
“I am shocked by the events this morning and very worried by the reports of American citizens allegedly being involved,” Lucy Tamlyn, the US ambassador to the DRC, posted on X, formerly Twitter.
“Rest assured that we are cooperating with authorities in DRC to the fullest extent possible, as they investigate these criminal acts and hold accountable any American citizen involved.”
France’s ambassador had reported automatic weapon fire in the area, urging nationals to avoid it.

During the day, certain streets near the Palais de la Nation remained closed to traffic, but the situation appeared calm, AFP journalists reported.
“I’m a little afraid to move around like that in Gombe, there aren’t many people... But I have to sell my goods,” bread-seller Jean-Mbuta said.

Videos on social media showed men in fatigues at the Palais de la Nation, brandishing flags of Zaire.

The Zaire flag was mostly green while the DRC one is largely blue.
“The time has arrived, long live Zaire, long live the children of Mobutu,” a man who appeared to be the head of the group said in Lingala, a language spoken in parts of the DRC.
“Felix has fallen... we are victorious,” he added.
AFP was also unable to verify the videos.
Tshisekedi was re-elected at the end of December when he received more than 70 percent of votes in the first round.
The parties backing him won around 90 percent of seats in the parliamentary elections held the same day.
But he is yet to form a government some five months after the elections.
Kamerhe on April 23 was named as a candidate for president of the National Assembly, the DRC’s main legislative body.
 


Daesh group claims deadly Afghanistan attack on tourists

A Taliban security personnel stands guard in Nangarhar province. (AFP file photo)
A Taliban security personnel stands guard in Nangarhar province. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 May 2024
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Daesh group claims deadly Afghanistan attack on tourists

A Taliban security personnel stands guard in Nangarhar province. (AFP file photo)
  • The attack is believed to be the first deadly assault on foreign tourists since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 in a country where few nations have a diplomatic presence

KABUL: The Daesh group on Sunday claimed responsibility for an attack targeting tourists in Afghanistan that killed three Spaniards and three Afghans.
The terrorist group said in a statement on its Telegram channels that “fighters shot at Christian tourists and their Shiite companions with machine guns” in the mountainous city of Bamiyan on Friday.
The tour group was fired on while shopping in a market in Bamiyan, around 180 kilometers (110 miles) west of the capital Kabul.
The terrorists said they attacked a “bus of tourists who are citizens of coalition countries,” referring to a US-led coalition that has battled Daesh in the Middle East.
“The attack comes in line with the directives of the leaders of the Daesh to target nationals of coalition countries wherever they may be,” the statement added.
Taliban officials said on Saturday they had arrested seven suspects in the aftermath of the attack.
The number of bombings and suicide attacks in Afghanistan has reduced dramatically since the Taliban authorities took power.
However, a number of armed groups, including IS, remain a threat.
The terrorists have repeatedly targeted the historically persecuted Shiite Hazara community, considering them heretics.
Hazaras make up the majority of the population in Bamiyan province, Afghanistan’s top tourist destination.
The attack is believed to be the first deadly assault on foreign tourists since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 in a country where few nations have a diplomatic presence.
Increasing numbers of visitors have traveled to Afghanistan as security has improved since the Taliban ended their insurgency after ousting the Western-backed government.
The Taliban government has yet to be officially recognized by any foreign government.
It has, however, supported a fledgling tourism sector, with more than 5,000 foreign tourists visiting Afghanistan in 2023, according to official figures.
Western nations advise against all travel to the country, warning of elevated risks of kidnappings and attacks.
The group targeted in Friday’s attack was made up of 13 travelers from various countries, including six Spanish nationals.
Spanish officials said Sunday that all three Spaniards killed in the attack were from Catalonia.
They included a mother and a daughter and a 63-year-old man who worked as an engineer.
An 82-year-old Spanish retiree was seriously wounded and was evacuated to a Kabul hospital operated by the Italian NGO Emergency, where she and others injured in the attack were stabilized.
“She is progressing favorably from her injuries, but her prognosis is uncertain,” the Spanish foreign ministry said Sunday.
Spanish diplomats had traveled to Afghanistan and had been working to repatriate the bodies of the dead and transfer the wounded, in coordination with a European Union delegation in Kabul.
The Spanish embassy in Kabul was evacuated in 2021, along with other Western missions, after the Taliban took back control of the Afghan capital.

 


Elon Musk launches Starlink service in Indonesia

Elon Musk launches Starlink service in Indonesia
Updated 19 May 2024
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Elon Musk launches Starlink service in Indonesia

Elon Musk launches Starlink service in Indonesia
  • Indonesia is the third Southeast Asian country where Starlink will operate
  • Starlink expected to improve internet access for thousands of Indonesian health centers 

JAKARTA: Elon Musk and Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin launched SpaceX’s satellite internet service on Sunday, aiming to boost connectivity in the world’s largest archipelago.

Musk, the billionaire head of SpaceX and Tesla, arrived in Bali by private jet on Sunday morning, before attending Starlink’s launch at a community health center in the provincial capital Denpasar. 

Wearing a green batik shirt, he inaugurated Starlink together with Sadikin, Communications Minister Budi Arie Setiadi and Maritime, and Fisheries Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, and said that the satellite service would help millions in Indonesia to access the internet. 

“We’re focusing this event on Starlink and the benefits that high-bandwidth connectivity can bring to a rural island and to remote communities,” Musk told reporters in Denpasar. 

“I think it’s really important to emphasize the importance of internet connectivity and how much of a life-changer that could be.” 

Indonesia, an archipelagic state comprising over 17,000 islands, is home to more than 270 million people and three different time zones. Following the launch, Musk said that internet connectivity was also integral for learning and business. 

“You can learn anything if you’re connected to the internet, but if you’re not connected, it’s very difficult to learn,” Musk said. “And then if you have some virtual services that you wish to sell to the world, even if you’re in a remote village, you can now do so with an internet connection. So, it can bring a lot of prosperity, I think, to rural communities.”

Indonesia is the third Southeast Asian country where Starlink will operate. Neighboring Malaysia issued the firm a license to provide internet services last year, while a Philippine-based firm signed a deal with SpaceX in 2022. 

On Sunday, Starlink was launched at three Indonesian health centers, two of which are located in Bali and one on the remote island of Aru in Maluku. Officials say the services will be prioritized for health and education, and in outer and underdeveloped regions. 

Starlink is expected to bring high-speed connectivity to thousands of health centers across the country, Sadikin said, allowing Indonesians in remote areas to access services that were previously not available to them. 

“With Starlink … 2,700 community health centers that had difficulties getting internet access and another 700 that didn’t have internet access, now can have them. So, the services will not differ with health centers … that are located in the cities,” the health minister said. 

The arrival of Starlink in Indonesia is expected to boost equal internet access across Southeast Asia’s largest economy. 

“A satellite-based internet service like Starlink will certainly be very beneficial for the country because there are still many regions which don’t have internet access,” said Pratama Persadha, chairman of the Communication and Information System Security Research Center. 

Other sectors in Indonesia, such as education and the digital economy, will also get a boost from Starlink, he added. 

“Wherever the location that requires good internet connection, whether on top of the mountain, in the middle of the forest, or in the middle of the sea, they can still enjoy the internet through satellite-based services like this.” 


Suspected rebels kill political activist in Indian-administered Kashmir

Suspected rebels kill political activist in Indian-administered Kashmir
Updated 19 May 2024
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Suspected rebels kill political activist in Indian-administered Kashmir

Suspected rebels kill political activist in Indian-administered Kashmir
  • Two Indian tourists visiting the Himalayan territory were also wounded in a separate attack in Anantnag
  • Rebel groups opposed to Indian rule have for decades waged an insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Suspected rebels shot dead an activist from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in Indian-administered Kashmir, local authorities said Sunday after the latest violent attack in the disputed region.

Police named the victim as Aijaz Ahmad, a local leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was fired upon in Shopian district on Saturday evening, days after the region began voting in India’s six-week national elections.

The BJP’s local office in Kashmir confirmed Sunday that Ahmad had died and announced plans to stage a protest against the attack.

Two Indian tourists visiting the Himalayan territory were also wounded in a separate attack by suspected rebels in nearby Anantnag on the same day, police said, adding that both had been hospitalized.

Security forces had cordoned off the surrounding area to find those responsible for separate incidents, police said.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947, with both claiming the Himalayan territory in full.

Rebel groups opposed to Indian rule have for decades waged an insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir, demanding either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

India accuses Pakistan of backing the militants — charges Islamabad denies.

The conflict has left tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and militants dead.

Violence has drastically reduced since 2019, when Modi’s government canceled the Muslim-majority region’s limited autonomy and brought it under direct rule from New Delhi.

Security forces have reported a spate of clashes in Kashmir since voting began last month in ongoing general election.

Earlier this month suspected rebels killed an Indian air force member and injured four others in an ambush on a military convoy.
 


Pakistani students return from Kyrgyzstan after mob violence in Bishkek 

Pakistani students return from Kyrgyzstan after mob violence in Bishkek 
Updated 19 May 2024
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Pakistani students return from Kyrgyzstan after mob violence in Bishkek 

Pakistani students return from Kyrgyzstan after mob violence in Bishkek 
  • At least 5 Pakistani citizens injured in clashes in Bishkek
  • Islamabad is arranging special flights to get students home

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government has repatriated 140 students from Kyrgyzstan after mobs attacked foreign citizens in the capital, Bishkek, over the weekend. 

A special flight bringing the first batch of Pakistani students home landed at an airport in Lahore on Saturday night, with Islamabad planning to use more such flights to bring back citizens who want to leave Bishkek after violent incidents in the Kyrgyz capital.

On Friday, hundreds of Kyrgyz men in Bishkek attacked buildings where foreign students live, including Pakistan citizens who are among thousands studying and working in the Central Asian country. 

The angry mob reportedly targeted these residences after videos of a brawl earlier this month between Krygyz and Egyptian students went viral online, prompting anti-foreigner sentiment over the past week. The Kyrgyz government deployed forces on Friday to mitigate the violence. 

“Our first concern is the safe return of Pakistani students,” Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi said. 

“God willing, more students would be brought back via additional flights (on Sunday).”

Students who spoke to Arab News said that the Pakistan Embassy in Kyrgyzstan advised them to stay indoors after the mob attack. But when they ran out of food and water and some became fearful of potential riots, they asked authorities to evacuate them. 

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that the return to Pakistan of citizens who wished to do so would be “facilitated at the government’s expense.”

Sharif is sending a two-member delegation, including Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, to Bishkek on Sunday to meet with Kyrgyz officials and provide assistance for Pakistani students. 

“The decision to send this delegation was made to ensure necessary support and facilities for Pakistani students,” a statement issued by Sharif’s office reads. 

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it had summoned and handed a note of protest to Kyrgyzstan’s top diplomat in the country in response to the violence in Bishkek. 

Five Pakistani medical students were injured in the mob attack, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Hassan Zaigham said, with one student admitted to a local hospital with a jaw injury. 

“No Pakistani was killed or raped in the violence,” he told Arab News over the phone, dispelling rumors circulating on social media. 

“The situation is under control now as Bishkek authorities have dispersed all the miscreants.”