Far-right Israeli Cabinet minister visits contested Jerusalem holy site, raising tensions

Far-right Israeli Cabinet minister visits contested Jerusalem holy site, raising tensions
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Updated 22 May 2024
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Far-right Israeli Cabinet minister visits contested Jerusalem holy site, raising tensions

Far-right Israeli Cabinet minister visits contested Jerusalem holy site, raising tensions
  • The visit was a response to a move by three European countries to unilaterally recognize an independent Palestinian state

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israel’s far right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, visited Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound on Wednesday, declaring the contested holy site belongs “only to the state of Israel.”
Ben-Gvir said Wednesday’s visit was a response to a move by three European countries to unilaterally recognize an independent Palestinian state.
“We will not even allow a statement about a Palestinian state,” he said.
The hilltop compound is revered by Jews and Muslims, and the conflicting claims have led to numerous rounds of violence in the past.
Israel allows Jews to visit the compound, but not to pray there. But the visit is likely to be seen around the world as a provocation.
Norway, Ireland and Spain said Wednesday they are recognizing a Palestinian state in a historic move that drew condemnation from Israel and jubilation from the Palestinians. Israel immediately ordered back its ambassadors from Norway and Ireland.
The formal recognition will be made on May 28. The development is a step toward a long-held Palestinian aspiration that came against the backdrop of international outrage over the civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip following Israel’s offensive there.
It was a lightning cascade of announcements. First was Norway, whose Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said “there cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.”
“By recognizing a Palestinian state, Norway supports the Arab peace plan,” he said and added that the Scandinavian country will “regard Palestine as an independent state with all the rights and obligations that entails.”
Several European Union countries have in the past weeks indicated that they plan to make the recognition, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region. The decision may generate momentum for the recognition of a Palestinian state by other EU countries and could spur further steps at the United Nations, deepening Israel’s isolation.
Norway, which is not a member of the EU but mirror its moves, has been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and the state of Israel,” the Norwegian government leader said. “Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state.”
Since the unprecedented attack by Hamas-led militants on Israel on Oct. 7, Israeli forces have led assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip in May, causing a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.
Wednesday’s announcements come more than 30 years after the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993. Since then, “the Palestinians have taken important steps toward a two-state solution,” the Norwegian government said.
It added that the World Bank determined that a Palestinian state had met key criteria to function as a state in 2011, that national institutions have been built up to provide the population with important services.
“The war in Gaza and the constant expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank still mean that the situation in Palestine is more difficult than it has been in decades,” it said.
In making his announcement, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said the move was coordinated with Spain and Norway — and that it was a “historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine.” He said it was intended to help move the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to resolution through a two-state solution.
Harris said he thinks other countries will join Norway, Spain and Ireland in recognizing a Palestinian state “in the weeks ahead.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Socialist leader since 2018, made the expected announcement to the nation’s Parliament on Wednesday. He had spent months touring European and Middle Eastern countries to garner support for the recognition, as well as for a possible ceasefire in Gaza. He has said several times that he was committed to the move.
“We know that this initiative won’t bring back the past and the lives lost in Palestine, but we believe that it will give the Palestinians two things that are very important for their present and their future: dignity and hope,” Sánchez said.
“This recognition is not against anyone, it is not against the Israeli people,” Sánchez added, while acknowledging that it will most likely cause diplomatic tensions with Israel. “It is an act in favor of peace, justice and moral consistency.”
Sánchez argued that the move is needed to support the viability of a two-state solution that he said “is in serious danger” with the war in Gaza.
“I have spent weeks and months speaking with leaders inside and outside of the region and if one thing is clear is that Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu does not have a project of peace for Palestine, even if the fight against the terrorist group Hamas is legitimate,” the Spanish leader said.
Earlier this month, Spain’s Foreign Minister José Albares said he had informed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken of his government’s intention to recognize a Palestinian state.
Hugh Lovatt, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said “recognition is a tangible step toward a viable political track leading to Palestinian self-determination.”
But in order for it to have an impact, he said, it must come with “tangible steps to counter Israel’s annexation and settlement of Palestinian territory – such as banning settlement products and financial services.”
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz ordered Israel’s ambassadors from Ireland and Norway to immediately return to Israel. He spoke before Spain’s announcement.
“Ireland and Norway intend to send a message today to the Palestinians and the whole world: terrorism pays,” Katz said.
He said that the recognition could impede efforts to return Israel’s hostages being held in Gaza and makes a ceasefire less likely by “rewarding the jihadists of Hamas and Iran.” He also threatened to recall Israel’s ambassador to Spain if the country takes a similar position.
Regarding the Israeli decision to recall its ambassador in Oslo, Gahr Støre said “we will take note of that. This is a government with which we have many disagreements. What we agree on is to condemn Hamas’s cruel attack on Oct. 7.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking after Norway’s announcement, welcomed the move and called on other countries to follow.
In a statement carried by the official Wafa news agency, Abbas said Norway’s decision will enshrine “the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination” and support efforts to bring about a two-state solution with Israel.
Some 140 countries have already recognized a Palestinian state — more than two-thirds of United Nations members — but none of the major Western powers has done so. This move could put more pressure continental heavyweights France and Germany to reconsider their position.
The United States and Britain, among others, have backed the idea of an independent Palestinian state existing alongside Israel as a solution to the Middle East’s most intractable conflict. They insist, however, that Palestinian independence should come as part of a negotiated settlement.
The head of the Arab League called the step taken by the trio of European nations as “a courageous step.”
“I salute and thank the three countries for this step that puts them on the right side of history in this conflict,” Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit wrote on the social media platform X.
Turkiye also applauded the decision, calling it an important step toward the restoration of the “usurped rights of the Palestinians.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also said the move would help “Palestine gain the status it deserves in the international community.”

Battleground: Jerusalem
The biblical battle for the Holy City

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Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed
Updated 8 sec ago
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Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed
Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed
A source close to the group told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike

BEIRUT: Hezbollah said it fired “dozens” of rockets into northern Israel Thursday in retaliation for a deadly strike in south Lebanon, a day after a fiery speech from the group’s leader.
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.
Fears of a regional war rose after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Wednesday “no place” in Israel would be spared in case of all-out war against his group, and threatened the nearby island nation of Cyprus if it opened its airports to Israel.
Hezbollah on Thursday said that “in response to the assassination that the Israeli enemy carried out in the village of Deir Kifa,” fighters targeted an Israeli barracks “with dozens of Katyusha rockets.”
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) had reported one dead after an “enemy drone” struck a vehicle in south Lebanon’s Deir Kifa area.
Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed. A source close to the group, requesting anonymity, told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike.
The Israeli military said an air strike “eliminated” a Hezbollah operative in the Deir Kifa area, saying he was “responsible for planning and carrying out terror attacks against Israel and commanding Hezbollah ground forces” in south Lebanon’s Jouaiyya area.
Elsewhere, Israeli fighter jets struck “a Hezbollah surface-to-air missile launcher that posed a threat to aircraft operating over Lebanon,” the army statement added.
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.”
After the Hezbollah leader’s threats against Cyprus, Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Thursday that “relations between Lebanon and Cyprus are based on a rich history of diplomatic cooperation.”
Contacts and consultations continue between the two countries “at the highest levels,” a foreign ministry statement said, without making specific reference to Nasrallah’s remarks.
In a conversation with his Cyprus counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib expressed “Lebanon’s constant reliance on the positive role that Cyprus plays in supporting regional stability,” the NNA reported.
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides had denied his country’s involvement in the war and said it was “part of the solution.”
The cross-border violence has killed at least 479 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.

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan
Updated 26 min 38 sec ago
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UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan
  • Grandi said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access
  • The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said

JUBA: Humanitarian access to war-torn Sudan remains woefully “insufficient,” raising the risk of starvation among its population, Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, warned.
War has raged since April 2023 between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than ten million people, according to the United Nations.
In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Grandi, who leads the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR, said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access.
“We are asking all the parties to give access to humanitarians because our presence there is insufficient to help the people in need, and especially to bring the food and the other supplies that are needed for people that otherwise risk starvation,” he said.
Aid workers were able to get “a bit more” access than before, due to “insistence... on the part of the international community,” said Grandi, during a visit to South Sudan, which has seen a huge influx of returnees from Sudan since April last year.
The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said, “because otherwise we risk having more displacement, and even worse, we risk seeing people dying of hunger.”
“I am very worried because I was hoping at the beginning like many Sudanese did, that this would be a short-lived conflict.”
Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation.
Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Christos Christou, the international chief of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, on Thursday described Sudan as “one of the worst crises the world has seen for decades... yet the humanitarian response is profoundly inadequate.”
“There are extreme levels of suffering across the country, and the needs are growing by the day,” he said on X.


Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat
Updated 20 June 2024
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Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat
  • Temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
  • Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar

Kuwait City: Kuwait has announced temporary power cuts in some parts of the country during peak consumption hours, saying it is struggling to meet increased demand spurred by extreme summer heat.
In a statement on Wednesday, Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy said the scheduled cuts would occur for up to two hours a day, in the first such step for the OPEC member state as climate change causes temperatures to rise.
It blamed the cuts on “the inability of power plants to meet increased demand” during peak hours amid “a rise in temperatures compared to the same period in previous years.”
On Thursday, the ministry published a schedule of expected cuts across several parts of the country, after urging residents to ration consumption to ease the load on power plants.
Kuwait, one of the largest crude producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is considered one of the world’s hottest desert countries.
In recent years, climate change has made summer peaks hotter and longer.
The extreme heat raises reliance on energy-guzzling air conditioners which are ubiquitous in Kuwait during the summer months.
Temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, according to Kuwait’s Meteorological Department.
“What we are experiencing today is the result of climate change,” said Kuwaiti astronomer and scientist Adel Al-Saadoun, noting that temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
Last month, Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar, during the summer months. The contracts would last from June 1 to August 31.
Kamel Harami, a Kuwaiti energy expert, said that the Gulf state needed to revamp its energy infrastructure.
“The available energy is not sufficient, and instead of relying on oil and gas, we must go toward nuclear, solar and wind energy,” he told AFP.
“This is only the beginning of the crisis, and the programmed cuts of electricity will continue in the coming years if we do not accelerate the construction of power stations.”
Umm Mohammed, a Kuwaiti woman in her sixties, said she was left without power for two hours on Wednesday.
“We weren’t severely affected,” she told AFP, noting that the house remained cool during the brief outage.
“Some turn their homes into refrigerators, even when they are not inside, and this raises the load” on power plants, she said.


Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat

Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat
Updated 20 June 2024
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Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat

Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat
  • Iraq is grappling with a blistering summer, with temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius
  • The United Nations ranks Iraq among the world’s five most climate-vulnerable nations

Baghdad: In the sizzling Baghdad heat, Mussa Abdallah takes to the Tigris river during the day to cool off, while others opt for ice skating to escape the relentless temperatures.
“At the end of the day, I’m sweaty and exhausted because of the sun,” said Abdallah, a 21-year-old house painter in the Iraqi capital.
“At home, there’s no electricity. If I want to wash, the water is scalding hot,” he added, describing how water stored above ground virtually boils at this time of year.
Iraq is grappling with a blistering summer, with temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, exacerbated by declining rainfall, rampant desertification and frequent dust storms.
The United Nations ranks Iraq among the world’s five most climate-vulnerable nations.
Almost every day after work, Abdallah retreats to the Tigris to escape the sweltering heat.
“We’re young and want to have a good time — where else can we go?” the decorator said on the banks of the river, traces of white paint still visible on his temples and long-sleeved T-shirt.
While Abdallah puts his sandals back on, nearby others are taking the plunge and two bathers are washing their hair with soap.
As night brings little relief from the sweltering gusts, residents of Baghdad flock to the city’s lone indoor ice rink to find respite.
The rink is in one of the air-conditioned shopping malls that have sprung up in the capital in recent years, attracting up to 100 visitors on busy days, 25-year-old instructor Sajjad Mohamed said.
“Twenty-four hours a day, the electricity never goes out. There’s a cooling system” for the ice, Mohamed said.
Abbas, 26, discovered ice skating in Turkiye. Now back in Iraq, he is pursuing it enthusiastically.
“When we finish work in the afternoon, it’s either go home, or go to shopping malls and other places where it’s cold,” he said.
The soaring seasonal temperatures have become a troubling fact of life for the overwhelming majority of Iraq’s 43 million inhabitants.
Although it is rich in oil, Iraq has seen its infrastructure suffer after decades of conflict and failed public policy that has resulted in long power cuts on the public grid with generators unable to handle the strain.
On the banks of the Tigris, Rashid Al-Rashed takes off his T-shirt to dive into the Tigris.
“At home it’s hot, I can’t stay there for long. The public electricity is inadequate,” the 17-year-old garbage collector said.
To escape the heat, “I bathe every day, for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour,” he added.
Elsewhere on the river, a police boat moves along a dozen bathers from the water for their safety.
“When we make them leave, they come back,” said a policeman, seeking to explain everything was being done to prevent deaths from drownings.
But the danger is evident. On his phone, he displays the body of an 11-year-old boy found nearly 48 hours after drowning.
While the river — despite its danger — is free, those with more means can pay $10 for an afternoon with family or friends at Baghdad Aqua Park.
“This year summer came earlier, so we have more visitors,” one of the water park’s administrators Ali Yussef said. “People are coming after work or school,” he added.
Maitham Mahdi, 31, was on his second visit of the month. “I think I’ll be coming a lot during the summer,” the civil servant, still dressed in his swimsuit, said as he departed the indoor pool.
Mahdi also complained about the electricity at home. “We come here to get a bit of fresh air,” he explained.
Iraq has just gone through four years of drought, marked by water shortages and a drastic drop in river flow.
But on the back of a wet winter, officials are hoping the more generous rainfall will have a knock-on effect over the summer.
Despite those hopes, however, the thermometer continues to climb.
The meteorological service is forecasting 50 degrees Celsius this week in the capital and southern cities such as Basra and Nasiriyah.
Its director, Amer Al-Jaberi, said with its semi-desert climate, Iraq is expecting “heat waves,” particularly in the south, adding these intensifying phenomena are also the result of climate change.


Sudan one of world’s ‘worst crises’ in decades: medical charity

Sudan one of world’s ‘worst crises’ in decades: medical charity
Updated 20 June 2024
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Sudan one of world’s ‘worst crises’ in decades: medical charity

Sudan one of world’s ‘worst crises’ in decades: medical charity
  • War has raged for more than a year between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo
  • Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid

Port Sudan, Sudan: The ongoing civil war in Sudan has provoked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in decades, the international chief of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders said Thursday.
War has raged for more than a year between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
“Sudan is one of the worst crises the world has seen for decades... yet the humanitarian response is profoundly inadequate,” Christos Christou, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said on social media platform X.
“There are extreme levels of suffering across the country, and the needs are growing by the day,” he added.
The conflict, which began in April 2023 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and displaced more than nine million people, according to the United Nations.
Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation.
Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.