IMF approves Egypt’s expanded, $8 billion loan program

IMF approves Egypt’s expanded, $8 billion loan program
A general view shows a crowd and shops at Al Ataba, a market in central Cairo. The Gaza crisis, aggravated by Houthi attacks from Yemen on shipping in the Red Sea, has slowed down revenues from tourism and shipping, two of Egypt’s main sources of foreign exchange. (REUTERS/File Photo)
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Updated 30 March 2024
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IMF approves Egypt’s expanded, $8 billion loan program

IMF approves Egypt’s expanded, $8 billion loan program
  • The Gaza crisis has affected Egypt's tourism industry and Houthi attacks on Red Sea vessels has slowed down Suez Canal revenues
  • Tourism and shipping are two of Egypt’s main sources of foreign exchange

CAIRO: Egypt received approval on Friday from the International Monetary Fund’s executive board for an expanded, $8 billion financial support program that enables the immediate release of $820 million, the IMF said in a statement.

The IMF agreed to widen the agreement after Egypt’s wobbly economy was further hurt by the Gaza crisis, which slowed growth in tourism and triggered attacks from Yemen on shipping in the Red Sea, halving Suez Canal revenue. Tourism and shipping are two of Egypt’s main sources of foreign exchange.
“The difficult external environment generated by Russia’s war in Ukraine was subsequently aggravated by the conflict in Gaza and Israel, as well as tensions in the Red Sea,” the IMF statement said.
The agreement expanded on an earlier $3 billion, 46-month Extended Fund Facility signed in December 2022 which was put on hold after Egypt did not follow through on pledges to unpeg its currency, speed up the sale of state assets and implement other reforms.

The expanded agreement was first announced on March 6, when Egypt’s central bank hiked key interest rates by six percentage points and allowed the country’s currency to plummet against the dollar.
“A strong economic stabilization plan is being implemented to correct policy slippages,” the IMF said, focusing on a liberalized foreign exchange system, tightening of fiscal and monetary policy, reduced public investment and greater space for the private sector.
This would include a continued reduction of subsidies, which consume a large portion of government expenditures. Last week Egypt raised prices on a wide range of fuel products.
“It remains essential to replace untargeted fuel subsidies with targeted social spending as part of a sustained fuel price adjustment package,” the IMF statement said.
The IMF also said Egypt had established a new framework to monitor and control public investment that would help manage excess demand, but that the state and military would need to withdraw from economic activity.
“Integrating transparently off-budget investment into macroeconomic policy decision making will be critical,” it added.
Egypt has come under pressure to reduce spending on large public projects, especially a new $60 billion capital it has been building the desert east of Cairo.
Egypt last month agreed to sell the rights to develop prime land at Ras El Hekma on the Mediterranean coast to the United Arab Emirates for $24 billion. This month Egypt also received pledges of $6 billion in financing from the World Bank Group and $8.1 billion from the European Union.
The statement projected that Egypt’s growth would slow to 3 percent in the financial year to end-June 2024 from 3.8 percent in 2022/23, before recovering to about 4.5 percent in 2024/25.


Quake kills four, injures 120 in northeastern Iran: state media

Quake kills four, injures 120 in northeastern Iran: state media
Updated 18 June 2024
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Quake kills four, injures 120 in northeastern Iran: state media

Quake kills four, injures 120 in northeastern Iran: state media
  • The US Geological Survey said it hit at a depth of 10 kilometers

TEHRAN: At least four people were killed and 120 injured Tuesday in a 4.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Iran’s northeastern city of Kashmar, state media reported.
The quake struck at 1:24 p.m. (0954 GMT), state television and the local governor said, while the US Geological Survey said it hit at a depth of 10 kilometers (six miles).


Israeli forces deepen Rafah invasion, kill 17 in central camps

Israeli forces deepen Rafah invasion, kill 17 in central camps
Updated 18 June 2024
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Israeli forces deepen Rafah invasion, kill 17 in central camps

Israeli forces deepen Rafah invasion, kill 17 in central camps
  • Residents reported heavy bombardments from tanks and planes in several areas of Rafah
  • Israeli tanks were operating inside Tel Al-Sultan, Al-Izba, and Zurub areas in Rafah’s west, as well as Shaboura at the heart of the city

CAIRO: Israeli airstrikes on Tuesday killed at least 17 Palestinians in two of the Gaza Strip’s historic refugee camps and Israeli tanks pushed deeper into the enclave’s southern city of Rafah, residents and medics said.
Residents reported heavy bombardments from tanks and planes in several areas of Rafah, where more than a million people had taken refuge before May. Most of the population has fled northwards since then as Israeli forces invaded the city.
“Rafah is being bombed without any intervention from the world, the occupation (Israel) is acting freely here,” a Rafah resident and father of six told Reuters via a chat app.
Israeli tanks were operating inside Tel Al-Sultan, Al-Izba, and Zurub areas in Rafah’s west, as well as Shaboura at the heart of the city. They also continued to occupy the eastern neighborhoods and outskirts as well as the border with Egypt and the vital Rafah border crossing.
“There are Israeli forces in most areas, there is heavy resistance too and they are making them pay dearly but the occupation is not ethical and they are destroying the city and the refugee camp,” the resident said.
Palestinian health officials said one man was killed in the morning by Israeli fire on the eastern side of Rafah. Medics said they believed many others had been killed in the past days and weeks but rescue teams could not reach them.
The Israeli military said it was continuing “precise, intelligence-based activity” in Rafah, killing many Palestinian gunmen over the past day in close-range combat and seized weapons. The air force struck dozens of targets across the Gaza Strip in the past day, it added.
In the central Gaza Strip, two separate Israeli air strikes on two houses killed 17 Palestinians in Al-Nuseirat and Al-Bureij, two designated refugee camps that are home to families and descendants of people who fled to Gaza in the 1948 war around the creation of Israel, medics said.
“Every more hour of delay, Israel kills more people, we want a ceasefire now,” said Khalil, 45, a teacher from Gaza, now displaced with his family in Deir Al-Balah city in the central Gaza Strip.
“Enough of our blood, I say it to Israel, America, and our leaders too. The war must stop,” he told Reuters via a chat app.
The Israeli military statement did not comment directly on the 17 deaths but said forces continued to operate against militant factions in central Gaza areas.
The commander of an Islamic Jihad sniper cell was killed by an Israeli warplane, and troops also “eliminated” a militant cell, it said.
The armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said fighters confronted Israeli forces in combat zones with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs, and have in some areas detonated pre-planted explosive devices against army units.
Israel’s ground and air campaign was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The offensive has left Gaza in ruins, killing more than 37,400 people, according to its health authorities, and left much of the population homeless and destitute.
Since a week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed, with Hamas insisting on a permanent end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Netanyahu refuses to end the war before Hamas is eradicated and the hostages are freed.


Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,372

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,372
Updated 18 June 2024
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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,372

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,372
  • The toll includes at least 25 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Tuesday that at least 37,372 people have been killed in the territory during more than eight months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The toll includes at least 25 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that a total of 85,452 people had been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.


US wants to avoid ‘greater war’ along Lebanon-Israel border, envoy says

US wants to avoid ‘greater war’ along Lebanon-Israel border, envoy says
Updated 10 min 24 sec ago
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US wants to avoid ‘greater war’ along Lebanon-Israel border, envoy says

US wants to avoid ‘greater war’ along Lebanon-Israel border, envoy says
  • US envoy Amos Hochstein: ‘The conflict... between Israel and Hezbollah has gone on for long enough’

BEIRUT: The US is trying to avert a greater war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, American envoy Amos Hochstein said on Tuesday, following an escalation in cross-border fire between the foes along Lebanon’s southern frontier.

Hochstein described the situation on the border between Lebanon and Israel as “very critical and very dangerous.”

Hochstein, who arrived in Beirut from Tel Aviv, said during a series of meetings with Lebanese officials that “further escalation between Israel and Lebanon must be avoided so we won’t reach an open war. We seek to stop the escalation in order to avoid a major war.”

He said a ceasefire in Gaza might end the war in southern Lebanon and allow displaced people to return to their homes, adding that “the conflict along both sides of the Blue Line has been going on for too long and ending it is in everyone’s interest.”

The situation on the southern front has escalated in the past couple of days with Hezbollah’s recent unprecedented attacks.

A Hezbollah reconnaissance Hudhud-1 drone released on Tuesday detailed footage of the port of Haifa Bay area and the Carmel area specifically, as well as a military manufacturing company and other military bases in Nahariya, Safad and Kiryat Shmona.

Hezbollah said the drone was equipped with the latest photography technology “to identify its targets and the enemy’s gatherings and equipment.”

It added that “the drone is characterized by its small size and radar, which makes it difficult to detect, follow and down with air defense missiles.

“It is also known for its small amount of thermal radiation, reducing its likelihood of being hit by infrared missiles. It is also characterized by its low acoustic fingerprint, making it hard to identify in a battle atmosphere.”

Hochstein met Lebanese army chief Joseph Aoun in the presence of the US Ambassador to Lebanon Lisa Johnson.

The discussions revolved around the general situation in Lebanon and the region, as well as developments on the southern border.

The US is highly concerned that hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army could escalate into an open war.

Aoun visited the Pentagon for the first time last week, where the escalating tensions with Israel were discussed.

After an hour-long meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Hochstein told reporters that his visit “comes under difficult circumstances, and this is why he was dispatched by President Joe Biden to Lebanon.”

He said he had a positive meeting with Berri, where they discussed the proposed deal in relation to Gaza, “which gives an opportunity to end the conflict on both sides of the Blue Line.”

Hochstein added that “the deal proposed by President Biden on May 31, 2024, which includes the release of the hostages and a full and complete ceasefire leading to the end of the war in Gaza, and which was approved by the Israeli side, Qatar, Egypt, the G7 and the UN Security Council, could end the war in Gaza and plan the withdrawal of the Israeli forces. If this is what Hamas wants, it should accept the deal.”

He noted: “A ceasefire in Gaza and/or an alternative diplomatic solution could also bring the conflict across the Blue Line to an end, creating conditions for displaced Lebanese civilians to go home in the south, and for Israeli civilians to go home in their north. The conflict along the Blue Line between Israel and Hezbollah has gone on for long enough. Innocent people are dying. Property is damaged. Families are shattered, and the Lebanese economy continues to decline. The country is suffering for no good reason. It’s in everyone’s interest to resolve it quickly and diplomatically. That is both achievable. And it is urgent.”

Prime Minister Najib Mikati told Hochstein that “Lebanon does not seek escalation, and what is required is to stop the ongoing Israeli aggression against Lebanon and return to calm and stability on the southern border.” 

He said: “We continue to strive to stop the escalation, establish security and stability, and stop the ongoing violations of Lebanese sovereignty and the systematic killing and destruction committed by Israel. However, the continuous Israeli threats to Lebanon will not prevent us from continuing our efforts to establish calm, which is a priority for us and all of Lebanon’s friends.”

Hochstein said: “We are going through dangerous times and critical moments, and we are working together to find ways to prevent further escalation.”

In Tel Aviv, the head of the National Unity Party, Benny Gantz, told Hochstein: “Time is running out for an internationally mediated arrangement on the northern border with Lebanon.”

Gantz wrote on social media that during his meeting with Hochstein, “I emphasized my commitment to removing the threat Hezbollah to the citizens of northern Israel, regardless of developments on the war in Gaza, and will support any responsible and effective political or military decision on the matter from outside the government.”

Israeli Channel 12 reported: “Israel informed Hochstein that operations in Rafah, Gaza Strip, were nearing completion and the end of operations in Rafah would affect the region and the Lebanon front.”

According to the Israeli army, Hezbollah has fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank shells, and explosive drones into northern Israel since Oct. 8.

Hezbollah halted its hostile operations for 48 hours, despite Israel not stopping its targeting of party members. The latest of these attacks was on Tuesday afternoon when a combat drone targeted a man driving a car to the town of Borgholiyeh, north of the city of Tyre.

Another drone targeted a Hezbollah member driving a vehicle on Monday on the road linking the towns of Selaa and Chehabiyeh in the Tyre area, leading to his death.

Israeli warplanes also conducted violent raids on the town of Chaqra, which hosts displaced people from frontline villages.

Hezbollah announced on Tuesday that it targeted “a Merkava tank inside the Hadab Yarin site with an assault drone, hitting it directly.”


UAE allocates $70 million in humanitarian aid for Sudan

UAE allocates $70 million in humanitarian aid for Sudan
Updated 18 June 2024
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UAE allocates $70 million in humanitarian aid for Sudan

UAE allocates $70 million in humanitarian aid for Sudan
  • Since the onset of the crisis, the UAE has launched an air bridge with Sudan and Chad

DUBAI: The UAE has said 70 percent of the $100 million pledge it announced for UN agencies last April will go towards supporting humanitarian aid efforts in Sudan, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the funds would be directed to key UN partners, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization. The money will provide food and health support, protect women and children, and offer livelihoods and shelter in emergencies.
Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem bint Ibrahim Al-Hashemi emphasized the UAE’s commitment to humanitarian support for the Sudanese people. She highlighted ongoing efforts to provide aid in cooperation with the WFP, including operations in El-Fasher and other areas in Sudan.
Since the onset of the crisis, the UAE has launched an air bridge with Sudan and Chad, delivering 9,500 tons of food and medical supplies through 148 relief flights and a ship carrying some 1,000 tons of urgent supplies. Additionally, the UAE has supported Sudanese refugee camps in Chad and South Sudan by providing food.