Hamas accepts Gaza ceasefire; Israel says it will continue talks but launches strikes in Rafah

Palestinians react after Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal from Egypt and Qatar, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 6, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinians react after Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal from Egypt and Qatar, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 6, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 May 2024
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Hamas accepts Gaza ceasefire; Israel says it will continue talks but launches strikes in Rafah

Palestinians react after Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal from Egypt and Qatar, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • Uncertain whether a deal had been sealed to bring a halt to the seven-month war in Gaza
  • Palestinians in Rafah celebrated after announcement, hoping it meant the invasion would be averted

JERUSALEM: Hamas announced its acceptance Monday of an Egyptian-Qatari ceasefire proposal, but Israel said the deal did not meet its “core demands” and that it was pushing ahead with an assault on the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Still, Israel said it would continue negotiations.
The high-stakes diplomatic moves and military brinkmanship left a glimmer of hope alive — but only barely — for an accord that could bring at least a pause in the 7-month-old war that has devastated the Gaza Strip. Hanging over the wrangling was the threat of an all-out Israeli assault on Rafah, a move the United States strongly opposes and that aid groups warn will be disastrous for some 1.4 million Palestinians taking refuge there.
Hamas’s abrupt acceptance of the ceasefire deal came hours after Israel ordered an evacuation of some 100,000 Palestinians from eastern neighborhoods of Rafah, signaling an invasion was imminent.
Israel’s War Cabinet decided to continue the Rafah operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said. At the same time, it said that while the proposal Hamas agreed to “is far from meeting Israel’s core demands,” it would send negotiators to Egypt to work on a deal.
The Israeli military said it was conducting “targeted strikes” against Hamas in eastern Rafah. The nature of the strikes was not immediately known, but the move appeared aimed at keeping the pressure on as talks continue.
President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reiterated US concerns about an invasion of Rafah. US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said American officials were reviewing the Hamas response “and discussing it with our partners in the region.” An American official said the US was examining whether what Hamas agreed to was the version signed off to by Israel and international negotiators or something else.
It was not immediately known if the proposal Hamas agreed to was substantially different from one that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed the militant group to accept last week, which Blinken said included significant Israeli concessions.
Egyptian officials said that proposal called for a ceasefire of multiple stages starting with a limited hostage release and partial Israeli troop pullbacks within Gaza. The two sides would also negotiate a “permanent calm” that would lead to a full hostage release and greater Israeli withdrawal out of the territory, they said.
Hamas sought clearer guarantees for its key demand of an end to the war and complete Israeli withdrawal in return for the release of all hostages, but it wasn’t clear if any changes were made.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly rejected that trade-off, vowing to keep up their campaign until Hamas is destroyed after its Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war.
Netanyahu is under pressure from hard-line partners in his coalition who demand an attack on Rafah and could collapse his government if he signs onto a deal. But he also faces pressure from the families of hostages to reach a deal for their release.
Thousands of Israelis rallied around the country Monday night calling for an immediate agreement. About a thousand protesters swelled near the defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, where police tried to clear the road. In Jerusalem, about a hundred protesters marched toward Netanyahu’s residence with a banner reading, “The blood is on your hands.”
Israel says Rafah is the last significant Hamas stronghold in Gaza, and Netanyahu said Monday that the offensive against the town was vital to ensuring the militants can’t rebuild their military capabilities.
But he faces strong American opposition. Miller said Monday the US has not seen a credible and implementable plan to protect Palestinian civilians. “We cannot support an operation in Rafah as it is currently envisioned,” he said.
The looming operation has raised global alarm. Aid agencies have warned that an offensive will bring a surge of more civilian deaths in an Israeli campaign that has already killed 34,000 people and devastated the territory. It could also wreck the humanitarian aid operation based out of Rafah that is keeping Palestinians across the Gaza Strip alive, they say.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Monday called the evacuation order “inhumane.”
“Gazans continue to be hit with bombs, disease, and even famine. And today, they have been told that they must relocate yet again,” he said. “It will only expose them to more danger and misery.”
Israeli leaflets, text messages and radio broadcasts ordered Palestinians to evacuate eastern neighborhoods of Rafah, warning that an attack was imminent and anyone who stays “puts themselves and their family members in danger.”
The military told people to move to an Israel-declared humanitarian zone called Muwasi, a makeshift camp on the coast. It said Israel has expanded the size of the zone and that it included tents, food, water and field hospitals.
It wasn’t immediately clear, however, if that was already in place.
Around 450,000 displaced Palestinians already are sheltering in Muwasi. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, said it has been providing them with aid. But conditions are squalid, with few sanitation facilities in the largely rural area, forcing families to dig private latrines.
Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, condemned the “forced, unlawful” evacuation order to Muwasi.
“The area is already overstretched and devoid of vital services,” Egeland said.
The evacuation order left Palestinians in Rafah wrestling with having to uproot their families once again for an unknown fate, exhausted after months living in sprawling tent camps or crammed into schools or other shelters in and around the city. Israeli airstrikes on Rafah early Monday killed 22 people, including children and two infants.
Mohammed Jindiyah said that at the beginning of the war, he tried to hold out in his home in northern Gaza under heavy bombardment before fleeing to Rafah.
He is complying with Israel’s evacuation order this time, but was unsure whether to move to Muwasi or elsewhere.
“We are 12 families, and we don’t know where to go. There is no safe area in Gaza,” he said.
Sahar Abu Nahel, who fled to Rafah with 20 family members, including her children and grandchildren, wiped tears from her cheeks, despairing at a new move.
“I have no money or anything. I am seriously tired, as are the children,” she said. “Maybe it’s more honorable for us to die. We are being humiliated.”
Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 34,700 Palestinians, around two-thirds of them children and women, according to Gaza health officials. The tally doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants. More than 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million have been driven from their homes, and hundreds of thousands in the north are on the brink of famine, according to the UN
The war was sparked by the unprecedented Oct. 7 raid into southern Israel in which Palestinian militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted some 250 hostages. After exchanges during a November ceasefire, Hamas is believed to still hold about 100 Israelis as well the bodies of around 30 others.


Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote

Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote
Updated 21 June 2024
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Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote

Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote
  • Qalibaf is a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard

TEHRAN, Iran: In the second live debate on state television, six presidential candidates on Thursday discussed Iran’s economic problems ahead of the country’s June 28 election following a helicopter crash last month that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and seven others.
It was the second of five debates planned in the days 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.
Like the first debate, the second one also related to economics with the candidates discussing their proposals for Iran’s spiraling economy which is struggling under sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western nations.
The candidates also discussed inflation, the budget deficit, fuel consumption subsidies and education. They all promised to try to get the sanctions lifted and to introduce reforms, but none offered concrete details.
“Negotiation is a method of struggle,” said prominent candidate Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, 62, with regards to getting the Western sanctions on Iran lifted. Qalibaf is a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
He emphasized the destructiveness of the sanctions on the economy and said that Iranians have a right to a good life, not just an ordinary life.
Iran’s vice president, Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, 53, said he will continue Raisi’s unfinished administration and vowed to develop the tourism industry.
Regarding the health sector and the emigration of doctors and nurses abroad, Qalibaf said there should be a fundamental change in the way health workers are paid to increase the motivation to stay.
Many doctors and nurses reportedly have left Iran in recent years over its deepening economic woes and poor working conditions. Qalibaf’s call for more pay for health workers was repeated by the other candidates.
All the candidates said they believe the Education Ministry is the most important part of the government because “the next generation of the country is raised in this ministry.” Qalibaf said the ministry’s budget must be increased.
The one pro-reform candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian, who is backed by pro-reform figures such as former President Mohammad Khatami and former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, thinks the economic crisis can be resolved by solving party differences inside the country as well as external factors.
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, has 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.

 


South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks

South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks
Updated 21 June 2024
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South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks

South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks
  • The former rebel leader signed an agreement with President Salva Kiir in 2018 that ended a five-year civil war that killed about 400,000 people

JUBA, South Sudan: South Sudan ‘s vice president said Thursday that peace talks in neighboring Kenya have failed to acknowledge the country’s peace agreement established in 2018, alleging a new draft agreement is aimed at replacing the original peace deal.
Riek Machar in a protest letter to the talks’ mediator said the draft established alternative institutions to replace or run in parallel with those established by the previous peace agreement. He added that the current peace talks should complement and not obliterate the original deal.
The former rebel leader signed an agreement with President Salva Kiir in 2018 that ended a five-year civil war that killed about 400,000 people. Machar and Kiir were on opposite sides in the war and Machar was appointed vice president after the 2018 deal. His group isn’t part of the current talks, which are for groups that were not included in the 2018 agreement.
Despite the peace deal, violence in South Sudan has continued, most of it attributed to rebel groups and warring ethnic groups.
The body mandated with monitoring the implementation of the 2018 peace deal raised concerns in May over the slow implementation of election related tasks with only a few months left until December elections.
Opposition groups that were not part of the 2018 peace agreement have been in talks in Kenya since May 9 aimed at bringing groups on board ahead of the December elections.
The talks have resulted in a draft agreement that recommends an extension of the transitional period to provide more time for election preparations.
President Kiir on Thursday received a progress report from government representatives in the ongoing talks with the government spokesperson telling media that participants in the talks are close to reaching a final agreement.

 


Israel’s pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat as lawlessness blocks distribution

Israel’s pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat as lawlessness blocks distribution
Updated 21 June 2024
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Israel’s pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat as lawlessness blocks distribution

Israel’s pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat as lawlessness blocks distribution
  • Aid workers said they are working with the Israelis to find a solution, but that the security burden falls squarely on Israel’s shoulders

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Sunday that it was establishing a new safe corridor to deliver aid into southern Gaza. But days later, this self-declared “tactical pause” has brought little relief to desperate Palestinians.
The United Nations and international aid organizations say a breakdown in law and order has made the aid route unusable.
With thousands of truckloads of aid piled up, groups of armed men are regularly blocking convoys, holding drivers at gunpoint and rifling through their cargo, according to a UN official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media on the issue.
He said lawlessness has emerged as the main obstacle to aid distribution in southern Gaza — where an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians displaced from Rafah, or more than half of Gaza’s entire population, are now sheltering in tent camps and cramped apartments without adequate food, water, or medical supplies.
Here is a closer look at the security challenges facing the UN and aid organizations.
Israel’s ‘tactical pause’ stymied
Israel said Sunday it would observe daily pauses in combat along a route stretching from Kerem Shalom — the strip’s only operational aid crossing in the south — to the nearby city of Khan Younis. Before the pause, aid organizations had reported that the need to coordinate trucks’ movement with the Israelis in an active combat zone was slowing aid distribution.
The UN official familiar with the aid effort said that there has been no sign of Israeli activity along the route. The UN tried to send a convoy of 60 trucks down the road Tuesday to pick up aid at Kerem Shalom. But 35 of the trucks were intercepted by armed men, the official said.
In recent days, armed men have moved closer to the crossing and set up roadblocks to halt trucks loaded with supplies, the UN official said. They have rifled through the pallets in search of smuggled cigarettes, a rare luxury in a territory where a single smoke can go for $25.
The surge in lawlessness is a result of growing desperation in Gaza and the power vacuum that left by Hamas’s waning power over the territory, said Mkhaimar Abusada, an associate professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza who is now in Cairo.
With the territory’s police force targeted by Israel, he said, crime has reemerged as an untreated issue in Gaza.
“After Hamas came to power, one of the things that they brought under their control was the lawlessness of the so-called big clans,” said Abusada. “Now, that’s left for the Palestinians on their own to deal with it. So once again, we are seeing shootings between families, there are thefts, all the bad things are happening.”
UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, used to deploy local Palestinian police to escort aid convoys, but many refused to continue serving after airstrikes killed at least eight police officers in Rafah, the agency said.
Israel says the police are legitimate targets because they are controlled by Hamas.
Is any aid still getting into Gaza?
The situation has largely paralyzed aid distribution to the south — particularly since Gaza’s nearby Rafah crossing with Egypt was closed when Israel invaded the city early last month.
The UN official said that 25 trucks of flour used the route Tuesday. Some private commercial trucks also got through — many of which used armed security to deter groups seeking to seize their cargo. An AP reporter stationed along the road Monday saw at least eight trucks pass by, armed security guards riding on top.
Before Israel’s offensive into the city of Rafah, hundreds of fuel trucks routinely entered the area.
The UN has now begun rerouting some fuel trucks through northern Gaza. Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman, said five fuel trucks entered Gaza Wednesday. The UN humanitarian office reported that these were the first fuel deliveries since early June and supplies remain scarce.
Aid groups say only a ceasefire and a reopening of the Rafah crossing could significantly increase aid flow to the area.
The military body in charge of coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, COGAT, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Security concerns also afflict aid from US pier project
The US installed a pier off Gaza’s coast last month, aiming to provide an additional route for aid to enter Gaza. But the ambitious project has suffered repeated logistical and security setbacks.
Cyprus, a partner in the effort, said the pier was up and running again Thursday after being detached for a second time last week because of rough seas. COGAT said Thursday there were “hundreds of aid pallets awaiting collection and distribution by the UN aid agencies.”
But there, too, security concerns are hindering distribution of aid.
The UN suspended its cooperation with the pier on June 9 – a day after rumors swirled that the Israeli military had used the area in a hostage rescue operation that left over 270 Palestinians dead. Photos of the operation have shown an Israeli helicopter in the vicinity of the pier.
Both Israel and the US deny the pier was used in the operation. But the perception that the pier was used for military purposes could endanger humanitarian workers, and threaten humanitarian groups’ principles of of neutrality, the UN says.
Aid workers said they are working with the Israelis to find a solution, but that the security burden falls squarely on Israel’s shoulders.
UN and other humanitarian officials, including Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development, met with Israel’s military chief and COGAT officials this week to seek solutions.
USAID said afterward that the meeting ended with promises of specific actions, but gave no details.


Lebanon’s Hezbollah: What weapons does it have?

Lebanon’s Hezbollah: What weapons does it have?
Updated 20 June 2024
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Lebanon’s Hezbollah: What weapons does it have?

Lebanon’s Hezbollah: What weapons does it have?
  • Many of the Shiite Muslim group’s weapons are Iranian, Russian or Chinese models

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah has drawn on an expanded arsenal in ongoing hostilities with Israel, with leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah saying in a speech on Wednesday the Iran-backed group had obtained new weapons.
He did not identify the new weapons, but said they would “emerge in the field.”
Hezbollah’s latest conflict with Israel, which has raged in parallel with the Gaza war, has raised concerns of further escalation between the regional enemies, which last fought a major war in 2006.
Here is a snapshot of Hezbollah’s arsenal:

AN OVERVIEW
Hezbollah’s military strength is underpinned by upwards of 150,000 missiles and rockets of various types and ranges, according to the World Factbook of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Hezbollah says it has rockets that can hit all areas of Israel. Many of them are unguided, but it also has precision missiles, drones and anti-tank, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.
Hezbollah’s main supporter and weapons supplier is Iran. Analysts say Tehran sends arms to the group by land via Iraq and Syria, both Middle Eastern countries where Iran has close ties and influence. Many of the Shiite Muslim group’s weapons are Iranian, Russian or Chinese models.
Nasrallah said in 2021 the group has 100,000 fighters. The CIA World Factbook says it was estimated in 2022 to have up to 45,000 fighters, split between roughly 20,000 full-time and 25,000 reserve personnel.

ANTI-TANK MISSILES
Hezbollah used guided anti-tank missiles extensively in the 2006 war. It has deployed guided rockets again in the latest hostilities. These include the Russian-made Kornet.
Hezbollah has also used an Iranian-made guided missile known as “al-Mas,” according to a report by the pro-Iran Arabic broadcaster Al-Mayadeen.
A report by Israel’s Alma Research and Education Center published in April described the Al-Mas as an anti-tank weapon that can hit targets beyond the line of sight following an arched trajectory, enabling it to strike from above.
The missile is part of a family of weapons made by Iran through reverse engineering based on the Israeli Spike missile family, the report said. It said the missile was a “flagship product” of Iran’s defense industry in Hezbollah’s possession.
ANTI-AIRCRAFT MISSILES
Hezbollah said on June 6 it had fired at an Israeli warplane. A source familiar with its arsenal said it was the first time the group had done so, calling it a milestone, while declining to identify the weapon used.
Hezbollah has also shot down Israeli drones during this conflict using surface-to-air missiles.
The first such incident was on Oct. 29 when Hezbollah for the first time said it had used anti-aircraft weaponry it had long been thought to have.
Hezbollah has used such missiles several times since, downing Israeli Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 drones.

DRONES
Hezbollah has repeatedly launched explosive one-way drones, including in some of its more complicated attacks. It launched some to distract Israeli air defenses, while explosives-laden drones were flown at targets.
More recently, the group has announced attacks that use drones that drop bombs and return to Lebanon, rather than just flying at their targets.
Hezbollah’s drones include what it says are the locally-assembled Ayoub and Mersad models, which analysts say are cheap and relatively easy to produce.

LAND-ATTACK ROCKETS AND MISSILES
Unguided rockets comprised the bulk of Hezbollah’s missile arsenal in the last war with Israel in 2006, when the group fired about 4,000 of them into Israel — mostly Russian-made Katyusha-style missiles with a range of up to 30 km (19 miles).
Nasrallah has said the biggest change in Hezbollah’s arsenal since 2006 is the expansion of its precision guidance systems.
In 2022, he said Hezbollah had the ability within Lebanon to retrofit thousands of rockets with guidance systems to make them precision missiles.
Hezbollah has Iranian models, such as Raad (Arabic for Thunder), Fajr (Dawn) and Zilzal (Earthquake) rockets, which have a more powerful payload and longer range than Katyushas.
Rockets fired by Hezbollah at Israel during the Gaza conflict since October have included Katyushas and Burkan (volcano) missiles with an explosive payload of 300-500 kg.
Its Iranian-made Falaq 2 rockets it used for the first time on June 8, could carry a bigger warhead than the Falaq 1 used in the past.
Hinting at the damage it could do, Nasrallah in 2016 made a veiled threat that Hezbollah could hit ammonia storage tanks in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, saying the result would be “like a nuclear bomb.”

ANTI-SHIP MISSILES
Hezbollah first proved it had anti-ship missiles in 2006, when it hit an Israeli warship 16 km (10 miles) off the coast, killing four Israeli personnel and damaging the vessel.
Since the 2006 war, Hezbollah has acquired the Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missile with a range of 300 km (186 miles), sources familiar with its arsenal say. Hezbollah has not confirmed it has the weapon.
Hezbollah has also broadcast videos that it says show more of the same type of anti-ship missile used in 2006.

 


Activists file torture complaint against Iranian held in France

Bashir Biazar. (Photo/social media)
Bashir Biazar. (Photo/social media)
Updated 20 June 2024
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Activists file torture complaint against Iranian held in France

Bashir Biazar. (Photo/social media)
  • It accuses Biazar of complicity in torture due to his past work with Iranian state broadcasting conglomerate IRIB, describing him as a former director of production there

PARIS: Activists said on Thursday they were filing a torture complaint against an Iranian citizen held in France who was reportedly a former senior figure in state television in the country.
During strained relations between Paris and Tehran, Bashir Biazar has been held in administrative detention in France since June 3, pending expulsion from the country for separate reasons.
His lawyer has denounced his detention and planned expulsion as “political,” while officials in Iran have condemned France over his arrest and urged his release.
Activist group Iran Justice and victims of human rights violations filed the complaint against Biazar in Paris. If the court decides to follow up, he could be kept in France to stand trial.
It accuses Biazar of complicity in torture due to his past work with Iranian state broadcasting conglomerate IRIB, describing him as a former director of production there.
Iranian state media have described him as a “cultural figure.”
The complaint refers to the regular broadcasts by Iranian state television of statements by — and even interviews with — Iranian or foreign prisoners, which activists regard as forced confessions.
There are “serious indications” that Biazar could have been “personally involved” in recording such broadcasts, said lawyer Chirinne Ardakani.