Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says

Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says
About 900,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah in recent weeks after the population swelled to about 1.5 million. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says

Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says
  • Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

CAIRO: Israel has addressed many of President Joe Biden’s concerns over its long-simmering plan to carry out a widescale military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah aimed at rooting out Hamas, a senior Biden administration official said Tuesday.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity, said that in talks over the weekend with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Israeli officials incorporated many changes into their planning that seem to meet concerns about deepening an operation in an area that has been flooded with Palestinian refugees during the seven-month war.
Biden had previously said he opposed a widescale operation in Rafah that did not prioritize the safety of innocent Palestinian civilians.
The official said the administration stopped short of greenlighting the Israeli plan but said Israeli officials’ altered planning suggested they were taking the American administration’s concerns seriously.
About 900,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah in recent weeks after the population swelled to about 1.5 million.

The United Nations suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Tuesday due to a lack of supplies and an untenable security situation caused by Israel’s expanding military operation. It warned that humanitarian operations across the territory were nearing collapse.
Along with closed and chaotic land crossings, problems also plagued the US military’s floating pier meant to provide an alternative route for aid into Gaza by sea. Over the weekend, hungry Palestinians took aid from a UN vehicle convoy coming from the pier, and the UN said since then it had been unable to receive trucks there.
Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters in Washington that for the past few days, forward movement of aid from the pier was paused but it resumed Tuesday. There was no confirmation from the UN
The UN has not specified how many people stayed in Rafah since the Israeli military began its intensified ground and air campaign there two weeks ago, but apparently several hundred thousand Palestinians remain. The UN’s World Food Program said it was also running out of food for central Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people sought shelter in a chaotic exodus after fleeing Rafah, setting up new tent camps or crowding into areas already devastated by previous Israeli offensives.
“Humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” said Abeer Etefa, a WFP spokesperson. If food and other supplies don’t resume entering Gaza “in massive quantities, famine-like conditions will spread,” she said.
The warning came as Israel seeks to contain the international fallout from a request at the world’s top war crimes court for arrest warrants targeting both Israeli and Hamas leaders. The move garnered support from three European countries, including Israel’s key ally France.
The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged “use of starvation as a method of warfare,” a charge they and other Israeli officials angrily deny. The prosecutor accused three Hamas leaders of war crimes over killings of civilians in the group’s Oct. 7 attack.
The UN says some 1.1 million people in Gaza — nearly half the population — face catastrophic levels of hunger and that the territory is on the brink of famine. The humanitarian crisis deepened after Israeli forces pushed into Rafah on May 6, vowing to root out Hamas fighters. Tanks and troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, closing it ever since. After May 10, only about three dozen trucks made it into Gaza via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel because fighting makes it dangerous for aid workers to reach it, the UN says.
Israel insists it puts no restriction on the number of trucks entering Gaza. COGAT, the Israeli military office in charge of coordinating aid, said 450 trucks entered Tuesday from its side to Kerem Shalom and a small crossing in northern Gaza. It said more than 650 trucks are waiting on the Gaza side of Kerem Shalom to be retrieved, blaming “lack of logistical capabilities and manpower gaps” among aid groups.
For months, the UN has warned that an Israeli assault on Rafah could wreck the effort to get food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians across Gaza. Throughout the war, Rafah has been filled with scenes of hungry children holding out pots and plastic containers at makeshift soup kitchens, with many families reduced to eating only one meal a day. The city’s population had swelled at one point to some 1.3 million people, most of whom fled fighting elsewhere.
Around 810,000 people have streamed out of Rafah, although Israel says its operations in Rafah are not the full-scale invasion of the city it had planned. The US says Israel never presented “credible” plan for evacuating the population or keeping it safe.
The main agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced the suspension of distribution in Rafah in a post on X, without elaborating beyond citing the lack of supplies. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the UNRWA distribution center and the WFP’s warehouses in Rafah were “inaccessible due to ongoing military operations.”
Asked about the ramifications of suspending aid, Dujarric said simply: “People don’t eat.”
Etefa said the WFP had also stopped distribution in Rafah after exhausting its stocks. It is still passing out hot meals and “limited distributions” of reduced food packages in central Gaza, but “food parcel stocks will run out within days,” she said.
The US depicted the floating aid pier as a potential route for accelerated deliveries. The first 10 trucks rolled off a ship onto the pier on Friday and were taken to a WFP warehouse. But a second shipment of 11 trucks on Saturday was met by Palestinian crowds who took supplies, and only five trucks made it to the warehouse, Etefa said.
No further deliveries came from the pier on Sunday or Monday, she said.
“The responsibility of ensuring aid reaches those in need does not end at the crossings and other points of entry into Gaza — it extends throughout Gaza itself,” she said.
At the same time, battles have escalated in northern Gaza as Israeli troops conduct operations against Hamas fighters, who the military says regrouped in areas already targeted in offensives months ago.
One of the main hospitals still operating in the north, Kamal Adwan, was forced to evacuate after it was “targeted” by Israeli troops, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Around 150 staff and dozens of patients fled the facility, including intensive care patients and infants in incubators “under fire from shelling,” it said. The Israeli military did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The nearby Awda hospital has been surrounded by troops the past three days, and an artillery shell hit its fifth floor, the hospital administration said Tuesday. A day earlier, the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said Awda had run out of drinking water.
The war between began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 hostage. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan accused Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh of crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder and sexual violence.
Israel responded to the Oct. 7 with an offensive that has laid waste to Gaza and killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between noncombatants and fighters in its count.
Monday’s call by Khan for arrest warrants deepens Israel’s global isolation at a time when it is facing growing criticism from even its closest allies over the war. France, Belgium, and Slovenia each said they backed Khan’ decision.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz headed to France on Tuesday in response, urging it to “declare loud and clear” that the request for warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant “is unacceptable to you and to the French government.”
His meetings there could set the tone for how countries navigate the warrants — if they are eventually issued — and whether they could pose a threat to Israeli leaders. A panel of three ICC judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.
Israel still has the support of its top ally, the United States, as well as other Western countries that spoke out against the decision. But if the warrants are issued, they could complicate international travel for Netanyahu and his defense minister, even if they do not face any immediate risk of prosecution because Israel itself is not a member of the court.
 

 


Nine Palestinians killed in Israeli strike on citizens waiting for aid in Gaza: medical sources

Mourners react next to the bodies of Palestinians, killed in Israeli strikes due to a military operation in Rafah.
Mourners react next to the bodies of Palestinians, killed in Israeli strikes due to a military operation in Rafah.
Updated 26 min 3 sec ago
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Nine Palestinians killed in Israeli strike on citizens waiting for aid in Gaza: medical sources

Mourners react next to the bodies of Palestinians, killed in Israeli strikes due to a military operation in Rafah.
  • More than eight months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territory and repeated UN warnings of famine

GAZA: Nine Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike that hit a group of citizens and merchants in the southern Gaza Strip as they waited for convoys of aid trucks carrying goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing, medical sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

Eight people were also killed on Wednesday when Israeli tanks backed by warplanes and drones advanced deeper into the western part of the Gaza Strip city of Rafah, according to residents and Palestinian medics.
Residents said the tanks moved into five neighborhoods after midnight. Heavy shelling and gunfire hit the tents of displaced families in the Al-Mawasi area, further to the west of the coastal enclave, they said.
Some eight months into the war, there has been no sign of let up in the fighting as efforts by international mediators, backed by the United States, have so far failed to persuade Israel and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.


Military escalation in southern Lebanon after US envoy’s visit

Military escalation in southern Lebanon after US envoy’s visit
Updated 21 min 55 sec ago
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Military escalation in southern Lebanon after US envoy’s visit

Military escalation in southern Lebanon after US envoy’s visit
  • Hochstein reassures Mikati on ‘positive atmosphere’ regarding Biden’s Gaza ceasefire plan
  • Hezbollah shells Kiryat Shmona after 3 members were killed in raid on Yaroun

BEIRUT: Hostilities flared between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in southern Lebanon on Wednesday following a visit by US envoy Amos Hochstein to Beirut and Tel Aviv.

Opinions varied on the outcome of Hochstein’s visit, which aimed to reduce tensions between Hezbollah and Israel on Lebanon’s southern border.

A political observer noted an “unsettling atmosphere” amid the visit — Hochstein’s trip coincided with Hezbollah’s release of aerial drone footage captured inside Israel, showing military bases and the Haifa port.

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati receives US special envoy Amos Hochstein in Beirut on Tuesday. (AFP)

The footage, released by the group on Tuesday, alarmed and angered Israeli military observers.

Media reports on Wednesday from Beirut said that Hochstein reassured caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati that the atmosphere was “positive” regarding US President Joe Biden’s initiative for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Hochstein said that the situation was “under control.”

BACKGROUND

Wednesday’s clash came a day after the Israeli military said it had approved operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon.

Hezbollah has said that any ceasefire on Lebanon’s southern border will only be reached following a truce in the Gaza Strip.

A Paris meeting earlier this month between President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron focused on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Several Hezbollah members and civilians were killed and injured in fresh violence as Hochstein left the region.

Hezbollah said on Wednesday it fired dozens of Katyusha rockets and artillery rounds at a barracks in Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel, in retaliation for the Israeli attacks on Yarun and Khiam.

The group said it targeted the headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade — affiliated with the 91st Division — at the Kiryat Shmona barracks with rockets and artillery shells.

Israeli media reported that about 20 rockets were launched from Lebanon toward Kiryat Shmona.

Haaretz quoted the Israeli army as saying that about 10 rockets were fired toward the town, causing damage to infrastructure and property.

Sirens and Israel’s Iron Dome air defense was activated in Israeli settlements near the Lebanese border.

Since Wednesday morning, southern Lebanon has faced Israeli attacks, injuring civilians residing near targeted sites.

Army artillery shelled the outskirts of the border towns of Taybeh and Hula.

The city of Khiam was targeted with heavy shells, causing significant damage to a healthcare center belonging to the Amel Association International.

Israeli aerial and artillery attacks targeted the outskirts of the towns of Aita Al-Shaab, Shebaa, Odaisseh, Rachaya Al-Foukhar, Tallouseh, Bani Haiyyan and Mays Al-Jabal.

The head of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, MP Fadi Alame, counted “more than 5,000 Israeli attacks on Lebanon since the southern front opened over eight months ago, resulting in the death of more than 400 people and over 15,000 injuries.”

The MP added that Israel had used “internationally banned phosphorous bombs, affecting more than 12,000 hectares of land, while more than 75 schools were damaged.”

Israeli aerial and artillery attacks reached the outskirts of Aita Al-Shaab, Chebaa, Odaisseh, Rachaya Al-Fakhar, Tallouseh, Bani Haiyyan and Mays Al-Jabal.

Israeli jets raided Yaroun in Bint Jbeil, killing three people. Hezbollah mourned the deaths of Hassan Mohammed Ali Saab, 54, from Yaroun in southern Lebanon; Jihad Ahmad Hayek, 25, from the south of the village of Adshit; and Hassan Al-Mujtaba Youssef Ahmad, 27, from Rchaf.

An Israeli military drone targeted a car in Wazzani, but the driver escaped by jumping out of the vehicle upon seeing the drone.

The coastal area between Borgholiyeh and Chabriha in Tyre was also targeted.

In response to the raid on Borgholiyeh, Hezbollah carried out “an aerial attack with a fleet of attack drones targeting gatherings and positions of Israeli soldiers inside the Metula settlement, causing confirmed hits.”

According to an Israeli army investigation reported on by Israel’s Ynet, one of the three Hezbollah surveillance drones that infiltrated Israeli airspace was shot down.

Also on Wednesday, Hezbollah commemorated the death of a senior field commander, Taleb Sami Abdallah, in Beirut’s southern suburb. He was killed by Israel a week ago.

 


Hezbollah chief says nowhere in Israel will be spared in case of full-blown war

An image grab taken from Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV on June 19, 2024, shows Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah giving an address.
An image grab taken from Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV on June 19, 2024, shows Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah giving an address.
Updated 19 June 2024
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Hezbollah chief says nowhere in Israel will be spared in case of full-blown war

An image grab taken from Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV on June 19, 2024, shows Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah giving an address.
  • Hezbollah chief: “There will be no place safe from our missiles and our drones” in Israel in the event of broader war
  • Nasrallah also threatened Cyprus for the first time, saying it had been allowing Israel to use its airports and bases for military exercises

BEIRUT: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday warned “no place” in Israel would be spared in case of full-blown war against the Lebanese group, and threatened Cyprus if it opened its airports to Israel.
“The enemy knows well that we have prepared ourselves for the worst... and that no place... will be spared our rockets,” Nasrallah said in a televised address.
Israel must expect “us on land, by sea and by air,” he said.
“The enemy really fears that the resistance will penetrate Galilee” in northern Israel, he said, adding that this was possible “in the context of a war that could be imposed on Lebanon.”
Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese movement allied with Hamas, have traded near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel which triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
The exchanges between the foes, which last went to war in 2006, have escalated in recent weeks, and the Israeli military said Tuesday that “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.”
Earlier, Foreign Minister Israel Katz had warned of Hezbollah’s destruction in a “total war.”
Nasrallah said his Iran-backed group had been informed that Israel could use airports and bases in Cyprus if Hezbollah struck Israeli airports.
Cyprus, a European Union member, has good relations with Israel and Lebanon, and lies close to the coast of both countries.
“Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war,” Nasrallah threatened.
Britain has also retained sovereign control over two base areas in its former colony Cyprus under the terms of the treaties that granted the island independence in 1960.

Nasrallah’s statements came a day after US envoy Amos Hochstein — who in 2022 brokered a maritime border deal between Israel and Lebanon — called for “urgent” de-escalation during a visit to Lebanon.
He also met with senior officials in Israel on his regional tour.
“Everything the enemy says and that the mediators convey, including with threats of war on Lebanon... this doesn’t scare us,” Nasrallah said.
On Tuesday, Hezbollah released a more than 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.
Nasrallah said the footage was taken by a drone that “flew for long hours” over the Haifa port.
He also warned that his group had only used “a part of” its weapons since October.
“We have obtained new weapons,” Nasrallah said, without elaborating.
“We have developed some of our weapons... and we are keeping others for the days that will come,” he said.
“Years ago we talked about 100,000 fighters... today, we have greatly exceeded” that number, Nasrallah added.
“The resistance has more (manpower) than it needs... even in the worst circumstances,” he said.
Hezbollah on Wednesday claimed several attacks on Israeli troops and positions in northern Israel, and announced the death of four of its fighters.
The cross-border violence has killed at least 478 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 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.


Jerusalem official takes on French consulate after Israel arms show ban

Jerusalem’s deputy mayor has asked for rubbish not to be collected from the French consulate (pictured above).
Jerusalem’s deputy mayor has asked for rubbish not to be collected from the French consulate (pictured above).
Updated 19 June 2024
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Jerusalem official takes on French consulate after Israel arms show ban

Jerusalem’s deputy mayor has asked for rubbish not to be collected from the French consulate (pictured above).
  • Organizers of the Eurosatory trade show just outside Paris said last month French authorities had banned Israeli firms
  • A City Hall statement said King’s request would not be implemented

JERUSALEM: Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, an ultranationalist Israeli politician, has asked for rubbish not to be collected from the French consulate after Paris barred Israeli firms from an arms show.
Organizers of the Eurosatory trade show just outside Paris said last month French authorities had banned Israeli firms, with the French defense ministry attributing the decision the Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip’s Rafah city.
Deputy Mayor Arieh King posted on social media platform X a letter he had addressed to the municipal sanitation department, asking “to instruct Jerusalem municipal maintenance workers to cease immediately garbage removal service from the French consulate building.”
A City Hall statement said King’s request would not be implemented.
In his letter, he denounced “traitorous and anti-Israeli conduct” by French President Emmanuel Macron, who King said aimed “to harm the State of Israel and Israeli industry,” in an apparent reference to the French expo move.
“As the City Hall of Israel’s capital, we must not stand idly by and accept the French president’s decision to stand alongside the Hamas terrorist organization,” King wrote.
France has an embassy in the coastal city of Tel Aviv and a consulate in Jerusalem which also serves Palestinians in the city’s Israeli-annexed east as well as the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent state, while Israel considers the whole of Jerusalem as its indivisible capital.
The Jerusalem City Hall told AFP in a statement that garbage collection would continue at the French consulate.
“The Jerusalem municipality removes trash from all parts of the city on a professional basis and provides the best service to all its residents,” it said.
A municipal official, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the press, told AFP King has no authority to decide on such a move.
French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu has told French media it was inappropriate to host Israeli weapons manufacturers and defense firms at the expo given Macron’s calls for an end to the fighting in Rafah, which went unheeded.
Israel, which has vowed to crush Hamas militants in Gaza following the group’s October 7 attack, sent ground troops into the far-southern city in early May despite widespread concern for Palestinian civilians sheltering there.
Seventy-four Israeli firms were set to take part in the Eurosatory event which opened on Monday. Organizers said about 10 of them were planning to exhibit weapons.
“By decision of the government authorities, there will be no stand for the Israeli defense industry at the Eurosatory 2024 fair,” Coges Events had said in a statement confirming the ban.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last week condemned “hostile policies against Israel” by France, in remarks rejected by other senior officials.


Germany cancels arrest warrant for Lebanon’s ex-central bank chief

German authorities have canceled their arrest warrant for Lebanon’s former central bank chief Riad Salameh for technical reasons
German authorities have canceled their arrest warrant for Lebanon’s former central bank chief Riad Salameh for technical reasons
Updated 19 June 2024
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Germany cancels arrest warrant for Lebanon’s ex-central bank chief

German authorities have canceled their arrest warrant for Lebanon’s former central bank chief Riad Salameh for technical reasons
  • The cancelation had come after an appeal from the defendant, and because he no longer held the position of central bank chief
  • The regional court of Munich had “confirmed the urgent suspicion with regard to the offenses charged against the defendant“

MUNICH/BEIRUT: German authorities have canceled their arrest warrant for Lebanon’s former central bank chief for technical reasons, but are continuing their probe and keeping his assets frozen, the Munich prosecutor’s office told Reuters on Wednesday.
Riad Salameh, 73, was Lebanon’s central bank governor for 30 years until July 2023. In his final months as governor, Germany issued an arrest warrant for him on corruption charges, two sources in Lebanon told Reuters.
Responding to questions from Reuters, a spokeswoman for the Munich prosecutor’s office confirmed on Wednesday that the arrest warrant was canceled on June 10.
The spokeswoman said the cancelation had come after an appeal from the defendant, and because he no longer held the position of central bank chief — meaning there was “no longer any risk that he will suppress evidence in this function.”
She said the regional court of Munich had “confirmed the urgent suspicion with regard to the offenses charged against the defendant” and that Germany’s “investigations are ongoing.”
Salameh declined a Reuters request for comment on the development.
Salameh and his brother Raja are being investigated in Lebanon and at least five European countries for allegedly taking hundreds of millions of dollars from Lebanon’s central bank and laundering the funds abroad. They deny the accusations.
Germany confirmed in February that it was conducting money laundering investigations into Salameh and his brother, and had issued an arrest warrant.
The Munich public prosecutor’s office said in February it had also seized three commercial properties in Munich and Hamburg with a total value of around 28 million euros, and shares worth around seven million euros in a Duesseldorf-based property company, as part of the case.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office said it had “dismissed as unfounded” an appeal against the seizure order, which it said dated back to Jan. 26, 2023.
Lebanese judge Helene Iskandar, who has charged Salameh in a separate case in Lebanon and has been following up on the foreign probes into him, confirmed on Wednesday that the warrant had been canceled but that Germany’s investigation into Salameh would remain open.
Salameh still faces an arrest warrant in France as part of its own investigation into whether he embezzled public funds, as well as a resultant Interpol red notice.