Israel will defend itself, Netanyahu says, as West calls for restraint

Israel will make its own decisions about how to defend itself, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday. (File/AFP)
Israel will make its own decisions about how to defend itself, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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Israel will defend itself, Netanyahu says, as West calls for restraint

Israel will make its own decisions about how to defend itself, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday. (File/AFP)
  • Netanyahu met the German and British foreign ministers, who both traveled to Israel as part of a push to prevent confrontation between Israel and Iran from escalating
  • Earlier, Cameron said it was now apparent Israel planned to retaliate for the Iranian missile and drone strikes

JERUSALEM/CAIRO: Israel will make its own decisions about how to defend itself, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, as Western countries pleaded for restraint in responding to a volley of attacks from Iran.
The United States, European Union and G7 group of industrialized nations all announced plans to consider tighter sanctions on Iran, seen as aimed at mollifying Israel and persuading it to rein in its retaliation for the first ever direct Iranian strikes after decades of confrontation by proxy.
Netanyahu met the German and British foreign ministers, who both traveled to Israel as part of a coordinated push to keep confrontation between Israel and Iran from escalating into a regional conflict fueled by the Gaza war.
Netanyahu’s office said he thanked David Cameron and Annalena Baerbock for their support, while telling them: “I want to make it clear — we will make our own decisions, and the State of Israel will do everything necessary to defend itself.”
Earlier, Cameron said it was now apparent Israel planned to retaliate for the Iranian missile and drone strikes, which Tehran launched on Saturday in response to a presumed Israeli airstrike that killed military officers at its embassy in Syria.
Baerbock said escalation “would serve no one, not Israel’s security, not the many dozens of hostages still in the hands of Hamas, not the suffering population of Gaza, not the many people in Iran who are themselves suffering under the regime, and not the third countries in the region who simply want to live in peace.” More than six months into the Gaza war between Israel and the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas that has seen flare-ups across the Middle East, diplomats are searching for a way to avert direct battle between Israel and Iran.
The Iranian missiles and drones launched on Saturday were mostly shot down by Israel and its allies and caused no deaths. But Israel says it must retaliate to preserve the credibility of its deterrents. Iran says it considers the matter closed but will retaliate again if Israel does. Washington says it is planning to impose new sanctions targeting Iran’s missile and drone program in coming days and expects its allies will follow suit. EU leaders are due to discuss sanctions at a summit in Brussels, and sanctions are also on the agenda at G7 talks in Italy.

Since Hamas fighters triggered the war in Gaza by attacking southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages according to Israeli tallies, clashes have erupted between Israel and Iran-aligned groups based in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Inside Gaza, Israel has launched a massive air and ground assault, with nearly 34,000 people confirmed killed, according to Palestinian medics, and thousands of others feared dead, still lost among the ruins.
Apart from a single week of ceasefire in November when around half of the hostages were freed, diplomats have so far failed to hammer out terms for a truce.
This month, Israel abruptly pulled most of its troops out of southern Gaza, site of most of the heaviest fighting since the start of the year. Fighting in recent days has been focused in central Gaza, in the Nuseirat camp north of Deir Al-Balah, one of the few areas that Israeli troops have yet to storm.
At a hospital morgue in Deir Al-Balah, members of the Al-Nouri family bellowed in sorrow and anger over bodies in body bags, several the size of small children, in video obtained by Reuters. Authorities said 11 people had been killed in an Israeli strike on the family home on Tuesday.
“Oh people of the world, what is happening is wrong! Have mercy on us! Stop the war! Stop the war! Children are dying in the streets!” a man cried inside the crowded hospital.
Elsewhere, Hamas media reported Israeli forces had withdrawn from Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza after a 36-hour raid there. On Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where cross-border battles between Israeli forces and the Iran-aligned Hezbollah movement pose an escalation risk, Hezbollah said it had fired on a military target in an Israeli village in retaliation for Israeli strikes that killed Hezbollah members and commanders.
Western countries, including the United States, which initially strongly backed Israel’s campaign against Hamas, have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the high civilian death toll and have called for a ceasefire.
Israel says it will discuss a pause to free hostages but will not stop fighting until Hamas is wiped out; Hamas says it will not release hostages without a truce leading to an end to the war. The prime minister of Qatar, which has served as mediator, said negotiations were at a delicate phase. The Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, three of whose sons were killed in an Israeli strike in Gaza this month, is set to visit Turkiye in coming days for talks with President Tayyip Erdogan.
With the prospect of famine looming, the United States and Israel say access for aid has improved this month. Aid agencies say supplies of food and medicine are still too paltry to stave off humanitarian disaster.

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities

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G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate

G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate
Updated 4 sec ago
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G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate

G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate

DUBAI: The G7 has called on parties in Libya to engage in meaningful dialogue in good faith and without preconditions to overcome the current political stalemate, the Libyan News Agency reported.

In the draft final declaration of their summit in Italy, G7 members emphasized that a comprehensive political process led by Libyans and facilitated by the UN remained the only viable path towards free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections.

The statement reaffirmed the G7’s commitment to stability, independence, territorial integrity and national unity in Libya. It also urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint a new special representative without delay.

The 50th summit of the Group of Seven, which includes the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and Japan, began on Thursday.


Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy

Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy
Updated 18 June 2024
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Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy

Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy
  • The Houthis who control the north and center of the country and the government running the south use different currency notes with different exchange rates
  • Yemen has been torn by civil war ever since the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took over Sanaa and much of Yemen’s north and center in 2015

SANAA, Yemen: Yemen’s Houthi rebels and its internationally recognized government are locked in a fight for control of the country’s banks that experts warn is threatening to further wreck an economy already crippled by nearly a decade of war.
The rivalry over the banks is throwing Yemen’s financial system into deeper turmoil. Already, the Houthis who control the north and center of the country and the government running the south use different currency notes with different exchange rates. They also run rival central banks.
The escalating money divide is eroding the value of Yemen’s currency, the riyal, which had driven up prices for clothing and meat before the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha started on Sunday.
For weeks, Yemenis in Houthi-controlled areas have been unable to pull their money out of bank savings accounts, reportedly because the Houthi-run central bank, based in the capital, Sanaa, has stopped providing liquidity to commercial and government banks. Protests have broken out in front of some banks, dispersed by security forces.
Yemen has been torn by civil war ever since the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took over Sanaa and much of Yemen’s north and center in 2015. The Saudi-backed internationally recognized government and its nominal ally the Southern Transitional Council, a group supported by the United Arab Emirates, govern the south and much of the east, centered in the southern port city of Aden.
Yemen was already the Arab world’s poorest country before the war began. Punitive actions by each side against the other’s banks over the past week now threaten to undermine merchants’ ability to import food and basic commodities and to disrupt the transfer of remittances from Yemenis abroad, on which many families depend, said Edem Wosornu, director of operations and advocacy for the UN humanitarian coordination office known as OCHA.
“All these factors will likely deepen poverty, worsen food insecurity and malnutrition, and increase reliance on humanitarian assistance,” she told a UN Security Council briefing on Thursday. The dispute could escalate to the point that banks in Houthi-run areas are barred completely from international financial transactions, which she said would have “catastrophic ramifications.”
The internationally recognized government moved the central bank to Aden in 2016, and since then began issuing new banknotes to replace worn-out riyals. Houthi authorities, which set up their own central bank in Sanaa, banned the use of the new money in areas under their control.
In March, the Houthi-controlled central bank announced it was rolling out its own new 100-riyal coins. The international community and Yemen’s recognized government denounced the move, saying the Houthis were trying to set up their own financial system and warning it will deepen Yemen’s economic divide.
Adding to the confusion, the bills have different exchange rates — riyals issued in Sanaa go for about 530 to the dollar, while those from Aden are around 1,800 to the dollar.
In response, the Aden-based central bank gave banks 60 days to relocate their headquarters to the southern city and stop operating under Houthi policies, or else risk facing sanctions related to money laundering and anti-terrorism laws.
The central bank was “forced to make these decisions, especially after the Houthi group issued their own currency and took unilateral steps toward complete independence from the internationally recognized Central Bank in Aden,” said Mustafa Nasr, an economic expert and head of the Studies and Economic Media Center SEMC.
No banks met the deadline — either because they needed more time or because they feared Houthi sanctions if they moved, Nasr said.
When the deadline ran out last week, the central bank in Aden banned dealing with six banks headquartered in Sanaa, meaning currency exchange offices, money transfer agencies and banks in the south could no longer work with them.
In retaliation, the Houthi-run central bank in Sanaa banned all dealings with 13 banks headquartered in Aden. That means people in Houthi-controlled areas can’t deposit or withdraw funds through those banks or receive wire transfers made through them.
Even as the fight for control is going on, both sides are facing a cash crunch. The Houthi government has few sources of foreign currency and its new coins aren’t recognized outside its territory.
In January, the United States designated the Houthis as a global terror group in response to the rebels’ attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. The Houthis say the attacks are in retaliation for the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. Because of the US decision, banks around the world might be concerned and reluctant to continue any financial dealings with banks that have headquarters under Houthi control, said Youssef Saeed, a University of Aden economic professor.
The economy in Aden isn’t significantly better. The government’s revenues have been hit hard ever since Houthi attacks on oil ports in late 2022 forced a halt in oil exports, the main earner of foreign currency.
Since March, depositors in Houthi-run areas have been unable to pull money out of their accounts. The central bank in Sanaa hasn’t announced any formal restrictions, but several economists told The Associated Press that it has informally stopped releasing funds that individual banks have put in its coffers — in part because of a lack of liquidity.
At one bank that saw protests by depositors last month, the International Bank of Yemen, a note hung in the lobby said, “In coordination with the Central Bank, withdrawals from old accounts have been suspended until further notice.”
Um Ahmed, a 65-year-old woman who was among those protesting outside the bank, said that she was trying to withdraw money to help her son buy a motor scooter for work, but the bank refused.
“I served this country as a teacher for 35 years and saved every penny and deposited my money at the bank, but they took it all,” she said. “This money belongs to my husband and me and our children.”
 


Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage

Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage
Updated 18 June 2024
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Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage

Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage

ALGIERS: Protesters took to the streets for the second day Monday in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region, social media reports said, in rare demonstrations against severe shortages of drinking water.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had vowed to address the issue by the Eid Al-Adha holiday which began Sunday.
According to several social media accounts, demonstrations erupted and roads were blocked in Tiaret, southwest of the capital Algiers, from the start of Eid Al-Adha.
Images shared on social media showed at least two roads connecting Tiaret to the neighboring towns of Frenda and Boucheguif blocked by rocks and improvised barricades.
But neither official nor private domestic media reported on the protests.
“Your promises to the residents of Tiaret have been in vain. From the first day of Eid, many areas have been without water,” one user posted on the Algerian water company’s page.

Screenshot from Google map showing Tiaret, the site of protests in Algeria.

About 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the city of Tiaret, in Rahouia, images circulated online showed a gathering of citizens blocking the local district chief from leaving his headquarters until he heard their concerns.
Since May, all the tributaries of the semi-desert region and its Bakhedda dam have run dry.
Protests broke out at the start of June in Tiaret, with demonstrators burning tires and blocking roads at the time, according to social media posts.
Faced with the issue in the lead-up to early elections in September, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had called a cabinet meeting on June 2 and ordered the interior and water ministers to draw up an urgent plan to address the water shortages within 48 hours.
The following day, the two ministers traveled to Tiaret to present a plan to resolve the problem “before Eid Al-Adha.”
A system supplying water from wells connected to the water network resolved the issue in central Tiaret, but not in other parts of the region, according to online posts.
Protests have been rare since Tebboune’s election in December 2019 after his predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in the wake of mass Hirak movement demonstrations against him.
Tebboune has not yet declared whether he will seek reelection but has been very visible in the media and at public events.
 


Kamala Harris meets with former Israeli hostage who described being sexually assaulted in Gaza

Kamala Harris meets with former Israeli hostage who described being sexually assaulted in Gaza
Updated 18 June 2024
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Kamala Harris meets with former Israeli hostage who described being sexually assaulted in Gaza

Kamala Harris meets with former Israeli hostage who described being sexually assaulted in Gaza
  • Harris on Monday urged Hamas to accept a US-backed ceasefire proposal

WASHINGTON: Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday met with an Israeli lawyer who has publicly described being sexually assaulted while held hostage in Gaza, and said the story left her fearing more such accounts “will only increase as more hostages are released.”
Harris hosted an event highlighting efforts to reduce conflict-related sexual violence around the world and said she’d spoken with Amit Soussana, who was abducted from her home when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Soussana detailed for The New York Times being sexually assaulted while held in Gaza, before she was released, along with a group of other hostages, during a November ceasefire that briefly suspended fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Harris said that after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, “I saw images of bloody Israeli women abducted.”
“Then it came to light that Hamas committed rape and gang rape at the Nova music festival,” the vice president said, referring to the Tribe of Nova music that was overrun by Hamas militants. “And women’s bodies were found naked from the waist down, hands tied behind their back and shot in the head.”
Such accounts of atrocities are not new, but Harris detailing accusations of sexual violence surrounding the Israel-Hamas war comes as the Biden administration is working to broker another ceasefire to pause the fighting in Gaza.
Harris on Monday urged Hamas to accept a US-backed ceasefire proposal. She also said she heard stories from former Israeli hostages about what they “witnessed and heard in captivity,” and spoke with Soussana, who the vice president said “has bravely come forward with her account of sexual violence while she was held captive by Hamas.”
“These testimonies, I fear, will only increase as more hostages are released,” Harris said. “We cannot look away. And we will not be silent.”
Hamas has denied sexually assaulting people during the Oct. 7, 2024, attack, or the hostages it has held since, and false reports of abuse have sometimes helped fueled the conflict between the militant group and Israel.
But a United Nations report released in March found “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, “sexualized torture,” and other cruel and inhumane treatment of women during its Oct. 7, 2024, attack. The same report found there are “reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing.”
The vice president also said her “heart breaks for all these survivors and their families, and for all the pain and suffering over the last eight months in Israel and in Gaza.”
Harris said “sexual violence has been a tactic of war since ancient times,” though she noted that the international community has made recent progress recognizing it “as an attack on peace, stability and human rights.”
She said that the Biden administration had worked to prevent such violence by doing things like providing rape kits and heath care for survivors and helping to train militaries and back international peacekeepers. The US has also imposed economic sanctions on individuals associated with conflicts in places like Iraq, Sudan and the Central African Republic.
“It’s not enough. The crimes persist and, globally, our system of accountability remains inadequate,” Harris said. “More must be done.”


Iran’s presidential candidates debate economic policies ahead of the June 28 vote

Iran’s presidential candidates debate economic policies ahead of the June 28 vote
Updated 18 June 2024
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Iran’s presidential candidates debate economic policies ahead of the June 28 vote

Iran’s presidential candidates debate economic policies ahead of the June 28 vote
  • Five of the candidates are hard-liners while the sixth candidate, lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian, 69, is a heart surgeon who has the support of some pro-reformers

TEHRAN, Iran: Six presidential candidates on Monday discussed Iran’s economic problems in a four-hour live debate on state TV, ahead of the June 28 presidential election following a helicopter crash last month that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and seven others.
It was the first of five debates planned in the 10 days remaining before the vote in a shortened campaign to replace Raisi, a hard-line protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei once floated as a possible successor to the 85-year-old cleric.
The candidates were to discuss their proposals and plans for Iran’s spiraling economy, struggling under sanctions from the United States and other Western nations.
They all promised they would try and get the sanctions lifted and introduce reforms but none offered any details. The candidates also discussed inflation, the budget deficit, Iran’s housing problem and ways to fight corruption.
The June 28 election comes at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program, its arming of Russia in that country’s war on Ukraine and its wide-reaching crackdowns on dissent.
Iran’s support of militia proxy forces throughout the wider Middle East, meanwhile, have, been increasingly in the spotlight as Iran-backed Yemen’s Houthi rebels attack ships in the Red Sea over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
Five of the candidates are hard-liners while the sixth candidate, lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian, 69, is a heart surgeon who has the support of some pro-reformers.
The most prominent candidate remains Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, 62, a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. However, many remember that Qalibaf, as a former Guard general, was part of a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999. He also reportedly ordered live gunfire to be used against students in 2003 while serving as the country’s police chief.
Among those running for president are also Iran’s vice president, Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, 53, and the current Tehran mayor, Ali Reza Zakani 58. A member of Supreme National Security Council, 58-year-old Saeed Jalili and cleric Mostafa Pourmohammadi, 64, a previous interior minister under former relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani, are also in the race.
Qalibaf promised he would be a “strong” president who would support the poor, better manage the economy and effort to remove sanctions through diplomatic means.
Pezeshkian said the sanctions were a “disaster” and also lobbied for less restrictions on the Internet. Iran has long blocked Facebook, X, Instagram, Telegram and other major social media platforms and messaging systems, mainly over security concerns
All the candidates pledged to strengthen the country’s currency, the rial, which has plunged to 580,000 against the dollar. The rial was 32,000 to the dollar when Iran and world powers reached a deal with world powers in 2015 on capping Tehran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
The six stayed away from the topic of the tattered nuclear deal. Khamenei has final say on all major state matters, including nuclear, foreign policy, space and military programs.
Pro-reform figures such as former President Mohammad Khatami and former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal have backed Pezeshkian, though votes in his favor in his parliamentary constituency in the northwestern city of Tabriz declined from 36 percent to 24 percent of the vote in elections over the past eight years.
Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election in a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.