Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu
Former US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

The US should slap sanctions on International Criminal Court officials who seek an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a top foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Tuesday after meeting the Israeli leader.
Robert O’Brien, who served as Trump’s fourth and final national security adviser, made the comments in a Jerusalem interview with Reuters after meeting Netanyahu and other Israeli officials during a multi-day visit to the US ally.
O’Brien, who said Trump would be briefed on the results of the trip, discussed what he called the ICC’s “irrational decision” to issue a warrant for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with three Palestinian Hamas leaders, in his meetings with the Israeli officials.
“We can sanction the bank accounts, the travel. We can put visa restrictions on these corrupt prosecutors and judges. We can show some real mettle here,” O’Brien told Reuters from Jerusalem.
O’Brien was joined by former US Ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta and former Ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen.
The trip, first reported by Reuters, was a rare case of Trump allies traveling abroad as part of an organized delegation to meet foreign officials. It took place amid strains between Israel and the Biden administration about the US Middle East ally’s conduct of the war in Gaza.
In addition to Netanyahu, the delegation met in recent days with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, and Gallant, O’Brien said. Their itinerary did not include Palestinian leaders.
O’Brien said rescuing all remaining hostages held by Hamas and capturing Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that prompted Israel’s Gaza offensive, would be key to declaring victory over the militant group.
“This is something I did share with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Herzog and Benny Gantz from the war cabinet: We’ve got to move quickly,” O’Brien told Reuters. “Israel has to defeat Hamas in Rafah.”
The group said they did not go to Israel at Trump’s behest.
But O’Brien, Rakolta and McMullen all speak regularly to Trump who, despite facing four criminal trials, is ahead of his Nov. 5 presidential election rival, Democratic President Joe Biden, in opinion polls in most battleground states.
In addition to meeting political leaders, members of the delegation traveled to areas of Israel that were targeted in the Hamas attack in October, including the site of the Nova Music Festival and the Nir Oz kibbutz, both near Gaza.
More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s seven-month-old assault on the Gaza Strip, according to health officials in the Hamas-ruled enclave. The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 others, according to Israeli tallies. Israel says that more than 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, including several Americans.
On Monday, the ICC’s prosecutor in The Hague, Karim Khan, requested the warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant and three Palestinian leaders, alleging they had committed war crimes.
In the Reuters interview, O’Brien said he was throwing his support behind Republican-led legislation in Congress that would sanction ICC employees that investigate officials in the US or in allied countries that do not recognize the court, like Israel.
It was unclear how much bipartisan support that bill could garner, though both Democratic and Republican officials have been sharply critical of the ICC.
In 2020, Trump issued an executive order to restrict travel and freeze assets of court staff involved in investigating US conduct in Afghanistan, sanctions which were reversed in the opening months of the Biden administration.
O’Brien’s comments suggest Trump’s advisers would be willing to reimpose and expand sanctions should the former president return to the White House. While the US has at times engaged with the ICC in a limited fashion, it has never been a member of the court, and many US political leaders argue the ICC’s international jurisdiction threatens national sovereignty.
Throughout the interview, O’Brien, Rakolta and McMullen rejected assessments by many US, Palestinian and international officials who say Israel is not doing enough to protect civilian life.
“The Israelis are conducting themselves in a really fine tradition of a modern, humanitarian military, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway from the meetings we’ve had in my view,” O’Brien said.
The Biden administration has at times dissented from that view, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying earlier in May that Israel lacked a credible plan to protect civilians in Rafah.
While the Trump administration backed a two-state solution to Middle East conflict, O’Brien said the conflict in Gaza and Palestinians’ hostile attitude toward Israel makes discussing it a moot point at the moment.
The US government has long held that the pathway to a lasting peace runs through the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Since Oct. 7, however, Trump has indicated in interviews and on the campaign trail that he is rethinking his stance.


Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military

Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military
Updated 13 sec ago
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Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military

Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military

DUBAI: Two cruise missiles launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels struck a bulk cargo carrier in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday, severely injuring a sailor who was evacuated by American forces, the US military said.

The Houthis have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November 2023 in attacks they say are in solidarity with Palestinians during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Although this has caused major disruption to international shipping, casualties have been rare.

The M/V Verbena — a Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned, Polish-operated ship — “reported damage and subsequent fires on board. The crew continues to fight the fire. One civilian mariner was severely injured during the attack,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

“Aircraft from USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) medically evacuated the injured mariner to a partner force ship nearby for medical attention,” CENTCOM said.

“This continued reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”

The Houthis on Thursday said they had carried out attacks on three ships within the past 24 hours, including on the Verbena, “in retaliation to the crimes committed against our people in the Gaza Strip, and in response to the American-British aggression against our country.”

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) meanwhile reported an explosion close to a merchant vessel in the Red Sea about 80 nautical miles northwest of Yemen’s Hodeida port, with no damage or casualties.

The Houthis have launched scores of drone and missile attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November.

The first reported fatalities from the attacks on ships occurred in the Gulf of Aden in March.

On Wednesday, the Houthis struck the Tutor, a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier, southwest of Hodeida. They claimed to have used seaborne and aerial drones, and ballistic missiles.

CENTCOM later said the Tutor had been struck by a Houthi “unmanned surface vessel” that “caused severe flooding and damage to the engine room.”


UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
Updated 13 June 2024
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UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
  • Council adopted British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir — a city of 1.8 million people in Sudan’s North Dafur region — by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and an immediate end to fighting in the area.
The 15-member council adopted a British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir, the last big city in the vast, western Darfur region not under RSF control.
War erupted in Sudan in April last year between the Sudanese army (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), creating the world’s largest displacement crisis. Top UN officials have warned that the worsening violence around Al-Fashir threatens to “unleash bloody intercommunal strife throughout Darfur.”


Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid
Updated 13 June 2024
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Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid
  • The West Bank has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza
  • Troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said

QABATIYA, West Bank: Israeli forces raided a town in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, killing three Palestinians and detaining several others in what the army described as an operation to pre-empt militant attacks.
The West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
During the raid in Qabatiya, troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said. The two Palestinians were killed and witnesses saw the body of one them being lifted out by an armored bulldozer.
A third Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops elsewhere in the town, medical officials said.
There was no immediate claim of the dead men by any armed Palestinian faction. The army described the two killed in the building as “senior terrorists” without elaborating, and added that weapons were seized in the raid.
Several Palestinians were detained by troops, who also “exposed explosives planted into roads which were intended to be used to attack the forces,” the army statement said.
A soldier was wounded during exchanges of fire, it added.


Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA

Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA
Updated 13 June 2024
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Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA

Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA
  • Tehran is installing more cascades at the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow
  • A cascade is a series of centrifuges, machines used in the process of enriching uranium

VIENNA: Iran is further expanding its nuclear capacities, the UN atomic watchdog said Thursday, one week after the agency’s board of governors passed a resolution criticizing Tehran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA.
The International Atomic Energy Agency informed its members that Tehran told it that it was installing more cascades at the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow, according to a statement sent to AFP.
A diplomatic source deemed this development as “moderate.”
A cascade is a series of centrifuges, machines used in the process of enriching uranium.
The motion brought by Britain, France and Germany — but opposed by China and Russia — at the IAEA’s 35-nation board last week was the first of its kind since November 2022.
The resolution — which Tehran slammed as “hasty and unwise” — came amid an impasse over Iran’s escalating nuclear activities and as Western powers fear Tehran may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, a claim Iran denies.
Although symbolic in nature at this stage, the censure motion aims to raise diplomatic pressure on Iran, with the option to potentially refer the issue to the UN Security Council.
In the past, similar resolutions have prompted Tehran to retaliate by removing surveillance cameras and other equipment from its nuclear facilities and ratcheting up its uranium enrichment activities.
According to the IAEA, Iran is the only non-nuclear weapon state to enrich uranium to the high level of 60 percent — just short of weapons-grade — while it keeps accumulating large uranium stockpiles.
The IAEA has said that Tehran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs.
The Islamic republic has gradually broken away from its commitments under the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015.
The landmark deal provided Iran with relief from Western sanctions in exchange for curbs on its atomic program, but it fell apart after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States under then-president Donald Trump in 2018.
Efforts to revive the deal have so far failed.


Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades

Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades
Updated 13 June 2024
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Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades

Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades
  • Bus driver says the opening of Al-Houban road reminds him of the fall of the Berlin Wall
  • Yemeni government military officials urged the Houthis to unlock the seven city entrances that remain closed

AL-MUKALLA: The besieged Yemen city of Taiz was filled with jubilation on Thursday as people crossed into the city from Houthi-controlled areas for the first time in years.

In a surprise move, the Houthis opened a key road, raising hopes of an end to the militia’s blockade of Yemen’s main city after almost a decade.

The arrival of the first car from Al-Houban in Taiz sparked huge celebrations among hundreds of Yemenis, who crowded the government side of the city to wave the national flag and sing patriotic chants.

Abdul Kareem Shaiban, the head of the government’s delegation at talks with the Houthis, told Arab News that the opening of the Al-Houban-Taiz city road would alleviate over nine years of suffering for local residents. The move would connect the city to Taiz, Ibb, Sanaa, and other Yemeni centers, allow food and supplies to be delivered, and reduce travel costs.

“Today, we were relieved that our families, mothers, sisters and brothers arrived and exited Taiz after the opening of this road and that the family finally united after years of separation,” Shaiban said. He also called on the Houthis not to harass individuals who crossed into their area, to open the city’s remaining blocked exits, and to lift their siege altogether.

The Houthi militia laid siege to the city of Taiz in early 2015 after their forces were unable to seize control due to stiff opposition from Yemeni government troops and allied resistance fighters.

The group barricaded the city’s major exits, posted snipers and laid landmines to prevent civilians from leaving or entering. The blockade has forced more than two million civilians to use perilous dirt tracks to leave or enter the city.

Local and international relief and rights organizations have long chastised the Houthis for impeding the delivery of essential humanitarian supplies and products to the besieged city, driving people to starvation.

As well as the Al-Houban road, they have reopened a route connecting Marib with Sanaa via Al-Bayda and have committed to consider lifting blockades on additional restricted highways. 

Responding to the Houthi proposal, the Yemeni government in Taiz sent bulldozers to clear trees, dunes, and barriers, while deminers cleared landmines from its side of the route.

Abu Mohammed, a bus driver from Taiz, said the opening of the road reminded him of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He added that he could now travel to his mother and other relatives in the countryside in one hour instead of seven, the length of his journey while the road was closed.

“This is an extremely significant event. This year’s Eid (Al-Adha) will be very joyful since I’m bringing my family from the city to see my mother in the countryside,” he told Arab News joyfully.

Other Yemenis from Taiz residing overseas, including politicians, journalists, businesspeople, and activists, expressed similar excitement.

“Thanks to the productive efforts of all serious people, smiles returned today to brighten the faces of the residents of Taiz, with the reopening of the major artery,” Shawki Ahmed Hayel Saeed, a prominent businessman from Taiz, said on X.

At the same time, Yemeni government military officials urged the Houthis to unlock the seven city entrances that remain closed and allow large vehicles carrying food and other supplies to enter the city via the newly opened route.

“This is a partial lifting of the siege on Taiz because the militia only allowed small cars and pedestrians to enter or leave Taiz through this road and does not yet allow trucks or food supplies to enter the city,” Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni military official in Taiz, told Arab News.