Lebanese Sunni militant group head says coordination with Shiite Hezbollah is vital to fight Israel

Lebanese Sunni militant group head says coordination with Shiite Hezbollah is vital to fight Israel
The Secretary-General of the Islamic Group Sheikh Mohammed Takkoush, speaks during an interview with AP in Beirut on Mar. 26, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 26 March 2024
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Lebanese Sunni militant group head says coordination with Shiite Hezbollah is vital to fight Israel

Lebanese Sunni militant group head says coordination with Shiite Hezbollah is vital to fight Israel
  • “We decided to join (the battle) as a national, religious and moral duty,” the Secretary-General of the Islamic Group, Sheikh Mohammed Takkoush, said
  • Takkoush said he believed Israel has ambitions to seize more territory “not only in Palestine but in Lebanon too”

BEIRUT: The head of a Lebanese Sunni political and militant group that has joined the Shiite militant group Hezbollah in its fight against Israel on Lebanon’s border said Tuesday that the conflict has helped strengthen cooperation between the two groups.
The Secretary-General of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, or the Islamic Group, Sheikh Mohammed Takkoush said his faction decided to join the fighting along the Lebanon-Israel border because of Israel’s crushing offensive on the Gaza Strip and its strikes against Lebanese towns and villages killing civilians, including journalists, since the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct.7.
“We decided to join (the battle) as a national, religious and moral duty. We did that to defend our land and villages,” Takkoush told The Associated Press at his group’s headquarters in Beirut. “We also did so in support of our brothers in Gaza,” where he said Israel was committing an “open massacre.”
Hamas led a surprise attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7 that killed around 1,200 people and took another 250 hostage. The ensuing Israeli bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians there, according to local health officials. Since then, violence along the Lebanon-Israel border intensified, displacing tens of thousands of people on both sides
Takkoush said he believed Israel has ambitions to seize more territory “not only in Palestine but in Lebanon too.”
The Islamic Group is one of Lebanon’s main Sunni factions but has kept a low profile politically over the years. It has one member in Lebanon’s 128-seat legislature. Elections within the group in 2022 brought its leadership closer to Hamas.
Like Hamas, it is inspired by the ideology of the Pan-Arab Islamist political movement The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 by a schoolteacher-turned-Islamic ideologue Hassan Al-Banna.
It carries out attacks against Israel mainly from the southern city of Sidon where the group once enjoyed wide influence.
Takkoush said his group makes its own decisions in the field but coordinates closely with Hezbollah, and with the Lebanese branch of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
“Part of (the attacks against Israeli forces) were in coordination with Hamas, which coordinates with Hezbollah,” he said adding that direct cooperation with Hezbollah “is on the rise and this is being reflected in the field.” He did not elaborate further.
While the Lebanese border area is seen as a Hezbollah stronghold and its population is primarily Shiite, it also has Sunni villages, where the Islamic Group primarily operates.
The tensions between Islam’s two main sects — Sunni and Shiite — originated following the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632. It has reverberated across the wider Middle East till the present day thus making cooperation between Hezbollah and Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya all the more rare.
The Islamic Group’s armed wing, known as the Fajr Forces, has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks along the Lebanon-Israel border since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.
They have lost five fighters so far, Takkoush said, with three killed in an Israeli airstrike in a border area earlier this month.
The other two were killed in a Jan. 2, Israeli strike on an apartment in Beirut that targeted top Hamas official Saleh Arouri.
The group’s use of weapons against Israel is not new. It founded its Fajr Forces in 1982 at the height of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 ending an 18-year occupation. But the Lebanese government says Israel still occupies the disputed Chebaa Farms and Kfar Chouba hills that Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Mideast war.
In the current conflict, “coordinating and cooperating with a movement like Hamas, the most honorable liberation movement, is an honor,” Takkoush said.
Regarding his group’s relations with Hezbollah, Takkoush said it had gone through ups and downs. They had differences regarding the conflicts in Syria and Yemen but put them aside “to resist the Israeli occupation of parts of our Lebanese territories,” he said.
“Our relations with Hezbollah are good and growing and it is being strengthened as we go through war,” Takkoush said.
Takkoush added that all the weapons they use, from bullets to rockets, are from their own arsenal. “We did not get even a bullet from any side,” he said.
As Hezbollah has solidified its position as the most powerful political and military entity in Lebanon, the country’s Sunni community has floundered in the absence of a strong leader.
Asked whether the Islamic Group is trying to fill the gap in Lebanon’s Sunni political leadership left behind by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri who quit politics two years ago, Takkoush said that Prime Minister Saad Hariri still has a base of support and popularity, but his group was not in the habit of filling anyone’s absence.
“We introduce ourselves as partners in building generations and (state) institutions but we do not replace anyone,” he said.


Iran president-elect says ready for ‘constructive dialogue’ with EU

Iran president-elect says ready for ‘constructive dialogue’ with EU
Updated 2 sec ago
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Iran president-elect says ready for ‘constructive dialogue’ with EU

Iran president-elect says ready for ‘constructive dialogue’ with EU
Tehran: Iran’s president-elect Masoud Pezeshkian said he looks forward to improved relations with Europe, even though he accused the continent of reneging on commitments to mitigate the impact of US sanctions.
“Despite these missteps, I look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with European countries to set our relations on the right path, based on principles of mutual respect and equal footing,” Pezeshkian wrote late Friday in the English-language Tehran Times newspaper.

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls
Updated 13 July 2024
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As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls
  • The boxing club where girls once learned to jab, build their stamina, and make friends has been demolished
  • There are no protective equipment in the open-air sandy space between tents where displaced girls now practice

GAZA: Israel’s offensive in Gaza has pulverized most of its sports facilities and equipment, but that has not stopped boxing coach Osama Ayoub from training Palestinian girls in a tent camp that offers no protection from airstrikes or shelling.
The boxing club where girls once learned to jab, build their stamina, and make friends has been demolished.
There are no protective equipment, ring, or punch bags in the open-air sandy space between the tents where displaced girls now practice — a mattress and pillow will have to do — but Ayoub says the training has helped them overcome their fear of war.
“They started going out on the street. They started going out at night. Their personalities became much stronger, and even their families saw they were stronger,” he said.
It’s all about improvization. One young girl unleashes barehanded punches and weaves left and right to dodge imaginary fists. “Throw a right,” yells the coach, who puts up his fists for the girls to punch.
“They have determination, they have contentment, they have courage. At first, they were afraid of the war we are living in, but through boxing, they have benefited a lot,” he said.
Gaza offered playgrounds, football, tennis, karate, and other sports before terrifying bombs began dropping from the skies, flattening entire neighborhoods.
Attempts to restart sports are risky, even when played outside. On Tuesday, an Israeli missile slammed into a football match at a tent encampment, killing at least 29 people, Palestinian officials said.
Yet the boxers dream of international competitions overseas worlds away from Gaza. This tiny, densely populated enclave suffered from poverty and high unemployment even long before Hamas triggered the war on Oct. 7.
“I hope that this war will end and that our message will reach everyone in the name of the girls of Gaza,” said one of the boxers, Bilsan Ayoub.
The chances of that happening soon are slim. Months of mediation by the US, Egypt, and Qatar have failed to secure a truce between Israel and its arch-enemy Hamas, never mind a permanent ceasefire.
So, all the boxers can do is keep practicing as each side demands concessions from the other, and the conflict rages.
“We do not have anything left, being displaced. We do not have clips, gloves, teeth protection, said Ayoub, who has to improvise daily to keep her dream of international competition alive.
“The tools are very simple, but we want to continue in this game until we achieve our dream and end the war,” she said.


UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September

UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September
Updated 13 July 2024
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UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September

UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September
  • UN chief Antonio Guterres earlier pleaded for help from donors to fund the embattled agency, warning that Palestinians would lose a “critical lifeline” without UNRWA

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Friday it had enough funds to continue operating through September, following a pledging conference for the embattled body where UN chief Antonio Guterres pleaded for help from donors.
“We have worked tirelessly with partners to restore confidence in the agency,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said, after several nations withheld funding following Israeli allegations in January that a number of UNRWA’s employees participated in the October 7 attack by Hamas.
Lazzarini said new pledges of funds would help ensure emergency operations until September.
Guterres had pleaded with donors to fund the embattled UN agency, warning that Palestinians would lose a “critical lifeline” without UNRWA.
“Let me be clear — there is no alternative to UNRWA,” he said.
“Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse in Gaza — somehow, appallingly, civilians are being pushed into ever deeper circles of hell,” Guterres added.
According to Guterres, 195 UNRWA staff members have been killed in the war, the highest death toll for staff in UN history.
The US Congress has barred further funding for UNRWA. President Joe Biden’s administration has instead directed funding for Palestinian civilians to other bodies while saying that UNRWA is uniquely equipped to distribute aid.
The war started with Hamas’s October attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,345 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
 


Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel

Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel
Updated 13 July 2024
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Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel

Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel
  • The US, European Union and several other countries long put a terrorist designation on Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip before its current war with Israel
  • Israel has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, displaced over 80 percent of the territory’s people and triggered a humanitarian disaster

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: Argentina designated Hamas a terrorist organization Friday and ordered a freeze on the financial assets of the Palestinian group, a largely symbolic move as President Javier Milei seeks to align Argentina strongly with the US and Israel.
Announcing the decision, Milei’s office cited the militant Palestinian group’s cross-border attack on Israel last Oct. 7 that killed some 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage, in the deadliest assault in Israel’s 76-year history.
The statement also mentioned Hamas’ close ties to Iran, which Argentina blames for two deadly militant attacks on Jewish sites in the country.
The move comes just days before the 30th anniversary of one of those attacks, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. It killed 85 people and wounded hundreds more in the worst such attack in Argentina’s modern history.
The other attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, in 1992, killed more than 20 people. Argentina’s judiciary has accused members of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group of carrying out the two attacks.
Friday’s announcement professed Milei’s “unwavering commitment to recognizing terrorists for what they are,” adding that “it’s the first time that there is a political will to do so.”
The US, European Union and several other countries long put a terrorist designation on Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip before its current war with Israel.
Previous left-leaning Peronist governments in Argentina, home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America, have maintained friendly ties with Israel but also voiced support for Palestinian statehood.
Since coming into office in December, Milei has set himself apart from even Israel’s closest allies in his vocal support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A huge swell in global pressure has left Israel deeply isolated over its military campaign in Gaza, which has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, displaced over 80 percent of the territory’s people and triggered a humanitarian disaster.
“Argentina must once again align itself with Western civilization,” Milei’s office said Friday.
For his first state visit as president earlier this year, Milei flew to Jerusalem in a show of support for the Israeli government and promised to move his nation’s embassy to the contested capital — drawing praise from Netanyahu and ire from Hamas.
Although raised a Roman Catholic, Milei says he has a deep spiritual connection with Judaism.

 


Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China

Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China
Updated 13 July 2024
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Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China

Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China
  • Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon, has pledged to promote a pragmatic foreign policy, ease tensions over now-stalled negotiations with major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact and improve prospects for social liberalization and political pluralism

DUBAI: The United States should realize that Iran will not respond to pressure, President-elect Masoud Pezeshkian said in a statement published on Saturday, in which he also highlighted his country’s friendship with China and Russia.
Pezeshkian, a relative moderate who beat a hard-line rival in elections, also reiterated that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, adding that Tehran would expand ties with neighbors and engage with Europe.
“The United States...needs to recognize the reality and understand, once and for all, that Iran does not — and will not — respond to pressure (and) that Iran’s defense doctrine does not include nuclear weapons,” Pezeshkian said in the statement, titled “My message to the new world” and published in the daily Tehran Times.
Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon, has pledged to promote a pragmatic foreign policy, ease tensions over now-stalled negotiations with major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact and improve prospects for social liberalization and political pluralism.
However many Iranians are skeptical about his ability to fulfil his campaign promises as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not the president, is the ultimate authority in the Islamic Republic.
“China and Russia have consistently stood by us during challenging times. We deeply value this friendship.
“Russia is a valued strategic ally and neighbor to Iran and my administration will remain committed to expanding and enhancing our cooperation,” Pezeshkian said, adding that Tehran would actively support initiatives aimed at ending the conflict in Ukraine.
“The Iranian people have entrusted me with a strong mandate to vigorously pursue constructive engagement on the international stage while insisting on our rights, our dignity and our deserved role in the region and the world.
“I extend an open invitation to those willing to join us in this historic endeavour,” Pezeshkian said. (