Frankly Speaking: Where will Gazans go after Rafah’s invasion?

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Updated 13 May 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Where will Gazans go after Rafah’s invasion?

Frankly Speaking: Where will Gazans go after Rafah’s invasion?
  • Arab League assistant secretary general says Israel “mean and malignant” in seeking to drive Palestinians out and take the land for itself
  • Hossam Zaki also sets out expansive agenda of the upcoming Arab League summit in Bahrain

DUBAI: If Arab countries really cared about Gaza, they would throw open their borders to Palestinian refugees. That is a claim made repeatedly by Israel since the Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7 last year sparked the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

According to Ambassador Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general to the Arab League, this argument is deeply flawed — ignoring the fact that Arab nations already host millions of Palestinian refugees.

Furthermore, Zaki believes this argument ignores the stark reality that once the people of Gaza are displaced, the Israeli government is unlikely to permit their return — opting instead to seize the land for the state of Israel.

“If we really want the truth, the Israeli wish is to see that the Palestinian population would disappear from the Occupied Territories,” Zaki told Katie Jensen, host of the Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking.”




Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, appearing on “Frankly Speaking.” (AN photos)

He added: “From the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, they would love for the Palestinians just to vanish. We all know that, because we know that they want the land. They want to grab the territory. They want to annex the territory to their state.”

In a wide-ranging interview, in which he discussed the forthcoming Arab League summit in Bahrain on May 16, efforts to halt Israel’s assault on Rafah, and the diminishing prospects for a two-state solution, Zaki said previous mass displacements would not be repeated.

“The Palestinians have learned from the mistakes of the past — from the 1948 war and 1967 war — that once they move out of their territory, the territory is confiscated by Israel, taken under control by Israel. And it seems to be such an uphill battle to get it back,” he said.

“The hope of getting back territory is ever so pale. So, what we are doing is, we are assisting the Palestinians to hold on to their territory, to hold on to their land, and not to move out of the land, because they know the consequences of moving out.”

Zaki was equally vehement in his rejection of the Israeli suggestion that the Arab states had failed to offer sanctuary to Palestinian refugees.

“They (the Israelis) can criticize us all they want,” he said. “We have Palestinians living in all Arab countries, some in refugee camps — very, very few — but most living like the normal citizens of these countries.

“In Egypt and in the Gulf countries, in Jordan, in North Africa, all Arab countries, you have Palestinians living.

“Normally, that is a criticism that we are willing to take, because we know that whatever is said in this regard means only to evacuate the territory for the benefit of the Israelis who want to grab it.”

Since the war in Gaza began seven months ago, the Arab League has been actively involved in trying to secure a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, to arrange for sufficient aid to enter the enclave, and to keep the goal of Palestinian statehood on the agenda.




Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, speaks to “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen. (AN photos)

Zaki said the Arab League and its “heavyweight members” — including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Jordan — had continued to promote the Arab Peace Initiative, first unveiled 20 years ago, and were working to stop the “killing madness” continuing.

“But nothing has been successful so far,” he said. “Even the only resolution that the UN Security Council was able to adopt in order to stop the war, to cease the fire, was not implemented. It’s been adopted since, what, one month now? Nothing. As if there is nothing.”

Zaki believes Israel has been allowed to act with impunity owing to the protection and largesse of the US.

“Israel is basically a country that is pampered by the US, pampered by many of its allies, accomplices, so-called friends in the West,” he said.

“They condone what it is doing and they cannot stop it. They cannot stop this madness. Unfortunately, they gave it a carte blanche since the beginning and this is where we are.

“Seven months in this war — this criminal war — and nothing is happening. They are not capable of reigning in this country, this government of extremists.”

Asked whether the Arab League itself shares part of the blame for failing to bring an end to the conflict, Zaki laid responsibility entirely on Washington.

“Why would we — how could we — blame the Arab League?” he said. “The Arab League is not an accomplice in this. The Arab League is not giving bombs to Israel. The Arab League is not giving ammunition to Israel. The Arab League is not funding the Israeli aggression.

“The Arab League is a regional organization, a respectable regional organization, that is seeking peace, that is talking politics. It’s a diplomatic organization. We are willing to engage with whomever is seeking peace as well on the other side.

“Why do we say the US and the West? Because it is the US that’s funding Israel. It keeps transferring money to Israel, aid to Israel, munitions, bombs, weapons, whatever — you name it.”

Israel’s months-long bombardment and strangulation of aid flows has devastated Gaza’s infrastructure. Zaki believes Israel has deliberately sought to make Gaza inhospitable to compel the Palestinian population to abandon their land and accept refugee status abroad.

“The Israelis, in the nasty, very nasty, war against the Palestinians in Gaza, what they’re trying to do is not only to kill Palestinians … they did something which is much more nasty, actually: They have destroyed the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip,” he said.

“They’ve destroyed the health infrastructure, the education infrastructure, the water infrastructure, the electricity infrastructure. This is mean and malignant, and they want to make it a point for the Palestinians who remain in the Gaza Strip — most of the inhabitants — to find this place uninhabitable.

“When the war ends, all the Palestinians would look around and see that this has become totally uninhabitable, so they would want to leave. But surprise to them, I would tell you from now — and mark my words — that is not going to happen.

“They’re going to reconstruct their state, their country. They’re going to reconstruct Gaza, and the Arabs are going to help them. You bet on that. And the international community has enough decent people, enough peace-loving people, who believe in Palestinian rights and who will help them rebuild their country after all the crimes that Israel has committed there.”

Furthermore, Israel has threatened to take over the Philadelphi Corridor — a narrow strip of land along the Gaza-Egypt border, established under the Philadelphi Accord in 2005 and which authorized Egypt to deploy 750 border guards to police its side of the border.

If Israel were to seize control of the Philadelphi Corridor, it could undermine the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, in which Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai in exchange for peace with Egypt and created the current border that bisects Rafah.

“They are playing with fire, and I think they know that,” said Zaki, himself an Egyptian diplomat.

“Those who are taking decisions on the Israeli side are taking a big risk. I do not think that, in their right mind, they would want to see an undermining of the main pillar of peace in the region, which is the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979.”

Preparations are underway for the 33rd Arab League summit, during which the leaders of the 22 member states will discuss common challenges facing the region.

With multiple conflicts blighting the Middle East and North Africa, Zaki said there would be “a hefty agenda” this year. “Obviously the issue of the war on Gaza is going to be left, right and center in all of this,” he said.

“Sudan is a big issue for us. The war on Sudan has not receded. It’s been going on for more than a year. It’s unfortunate. We need to address that. The situation in Libya. The situation with Yemen is still a problem. Syria is still an issue for us.

“And, we have a set of other socioeconomic resolutions that are prepared for the leaders to adopt in their meetings. So we do have quite a hefty agenda for our summit this year.”

High on that agenda will no doubt be the prospects of reviving the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There is no alternative to that solution,” said Zaki. “The Palestinians should have their own state. They should have their own independent contiguous state. Nothing should stand in their way and nothing, really, should justify assisting Israel in diluting this solution.”

But, given the destruction in Gaza, the ongoing spread of settlements in the West Bank, and the deep hostility felt on both sides, some might argue the region is moving further away from the two-state solution.

“No, we’re not moving further away,” said Zaki. “I think the world — which has pretty much paid lip service to this two-state solution for a couple of decades now — is now realizing that, well, lip service is not useful anymore, and we should really engage in active steps, like many European leaders have been saying, active steps.

“Even US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that several months ago. We should all engage in active steps to make true the Palestinian state — to make it come about and to make it a reality.




Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, speaks to “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen. (AN photos)

“This is going to happen in the UN; one step closer, one step closer to Palestinian statehood. And things are going to move in this direction.

“The Israelis will have to resist that as they want to, and as they refuse to engage in peace talks, and they refuse to agree on Palestinian statehood. But it’s not up to them.

“We are trying to convince the rest of the world, especially the Western world, that Palestinian statehood should not be subject to an Israeli veto. Because if we do give the Israelis the veto over this, I think they will never agree on it. And a Palestinian state will never see the light of day.”
 

 


Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say

Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say
Updated 58 min 26 sec ago
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Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say

Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say
  • Residents say Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses
  • Israeli military says it is continuing ‘intelligence-based, targeted operations’ in the Rafah area

CAIRO: Israeli tanks advanced to the edge of the Mawasi displaced persons’ camp in the northwest of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday in fierce fighting with Hamas-led fighters, residents said.
Images of two Israeli tanks stationed on a hilltop overlooking the coastal area went viral on social media, but Reuters could not independently verify them.
“The fighting with the resistance has been intense. The occupation forces are overlooking the Mawasi area now, which forced families there to head for Khan Younis,” said one resident, who asked not to be named, on a chat app.
More than eight months into Israel’s war in the Hamas-administered Palestinian enclave, its advance is focused on the two areas its forces have yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza’s southern tip and the area surrounding Deir Al-Balah in the center.
Residents said Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses.
The Israeli military said it was continuing “intelligence-based, targeted operations” in the Rafah area and had located weapons stores and tunnel shafts, and killed Palestinian gunmen.
The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement said their fighters had attacked Israeli forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and pre-planted explosive devices.
Elsewhere, an Israeli airstrike killed eight Palestinians in Sabra, a suburb of Gaza City in the north, and another strike killed two people in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
The military said it had struck dozens of targets throughout the Strip.
On Saturday, Palestinian health officials said at least 40 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli strikes in some northern Gaza districts, where the Israeli army said it had attacked Hamas’s military infrastructure. Hamas said the targets were the civilian population.
In Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, health officials at Kamal Adwan Hospital said a baby had died of malnutrition, taking the number of children dead of malnutrition or dehydration since Oct. 7 to at least 30, a number that health officials say reflects under-recording.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza 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, killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population homeless and destitute.


Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’

Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’
Updated 23 June 2024
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Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’

Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’
  • Top Israeli officials lobbied their US counterparts at ‘the highest levels... at all levels’ for speedier weapons deliveries’

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday a row with the United States over weapons delays relating to the Gaza war would be resolved soon, amid simmering tensions between the allies.
“About four months ago, there was a dramatic drop in the supply of armaments arriving from the US to Israel. We got all sorts of explanations, but... the basic situation didn’t change,” he told a cabinet meeting.
“In light of what I have heard in the last day, I hope and believe that this issue will be resolved in the near future,” he added.
He said top Israeli officials lobbied their US counterparts at “the highest levels... at all levels” for speedier weapons deliveries.
“After months of no change in this situation, I decided to give it a public expression,” he said.
Netanyahu irked Washington with a video statement earlier this week accusing it of “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
US officials have said they were not aware of what Netanyahu was referring to.
Netanyahu’s latest comments came as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant flew to Washington for talks about the Gaza war.
On Thursday, the prime minister said Israel needed American ammunition to fight a “war for its existence” as it battles Hamas militants in Gaza and trades fire with Lebanese Hezbollah on its northern border.
Washington is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has been fighting Hamas militants for more than eight months.


Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid
Updated 23 June 2024
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Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid
  • Social media video verified by Reuters showed Palestinian resident of Jenin on jeep that passed through two ambulances
  • Israeli military said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him

JERUSALEM: Israeli army forces strapped a wounded Palestinian man to the hood of a military jeep during an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday. A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances.
The Israeli military in a statement said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him.
Soldiers then violated military protocol, the statement said. “The suspect was taken by the forces while tied on top of a vehicle,” it said.
The military said the “conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values” of the Israeli military and that the incident will be investigated and dealt with.
The individual was transferred to medics for treatment, the military said.
Reuters was able to match the location from corroborating and verified footage shared on social media that shows a vehicle transporting an individual tied on top of a vehicle in Jenin. The date was confirmed by an eyewitness interviewed by Reuters.
According to the family of Azmi, there was an arrest raid, and he was injured during the raid, and when the family asked for an ambulance, the army took Mujahed, strapped him on the hood and drove off.
Violence in the West Bank, already on the rise before the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, has escalated since then with frequent army raids on militant groups, rampages by Jewish settlers in Palestinian villages, and deadly Palestinian street attacks.


Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death

Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death
Updated 23 June 2024
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Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death

Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death
  • Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since the Gaza war erupted
  • On Saturday, the Jamaa Islamiya group announced the death of one of its commanders, Ayman Ghotmeh

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group said Sunday it had targeted a military position in northern Israel with an armed drone in response to the killing of an Islamist commander.
Israel and the powerful Iran-backed group, a Hamas ally, have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since the Gaza war erupted on October 7.
Hezbollah’s announcement came hours after it published a video excerpt purporting to show locations in Israel along with their coordinates, amid heightening fears of an all-out conflict between the two foes.
On Saturday, the Jamaa Islamiya group announced the death of one of its commanders, Ayman Ghotmeh, saying he was killed “in a treacherous Zionist raid” in Khiara in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa area.
Israel later confirmed it had carried out the strike, saying Ghotmeh was responsible for supplying the Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, and Hamas with weapons in the area.
Hezbollah on Sunday said its fighters launched a strike “with an attack drone” on a military leadership position in the Beit Hillel barracks “in response to the assassination carried out by the Israeli enemy in the town of Khiara.”
The Israeli military meanwhile said in a statement that a drone had “crossed from Lebanon and fell in the area of Beit Hillel,” adding that “no injuries were reported.”
Cross-border tensions have surged over the past days, with Israel’s military announcing on Tuesday that a plan for an offensive in Lebanon had been “approved and validated.”
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah responded with threats that no part of Israel would be spared in the event of an all-out war.
The Lebanese armed group on Saturday evening published a video showing Israeli positions and coordinates, along with an excerpt of Nasrallah’s speech in which he says “if war is imposed on Lebanon, the resistance will fight without restrictions or rules.”
Days earlier, it had circulated a nine-minute video showing aerial footage purportedly taken by the movement over northern Israel, including what it said were sensitive military, defense and energy facilities and infrastructure in the city and port of Haifa.
The cross-border violence has killed at least 480 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.


Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency

Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency
Updated 23 June 2024
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Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency

Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency
  • Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen

DUBAI: A merchant ship was damaged by a drone attack in the Red Sea near Yemen early Sunday morning, though no injuries were reported, according to a British maritime security agency.
Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who say they are acting in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
The attack occurred about 65 nautical miles (120 kilometers) west of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, said the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy.

 


“The Master of a merchant vessel reports being hit by uncrewed aerial system (UAS), resulting in damage to the vessel. All crew members are reported safe, and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” said a bulletin from the agency.
“Authorities are investigating,” it added, offering no attribution for the attack.
On Saturday, the US Central Command, which has carried out retaliatory strikes against the Houthis over their attacks on shipping, said it had destroyed three nautical drones belonging to the group over the past 24 hours.
It also said the group had launched three anti-ship missiles into the Gulf of Aden, but no injuries or significant damage were reported.