Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation
The pier was announced by US President Joe Biden in March and involved the military assembling the floating structure off the coast. (CENTCOM)
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Updated 24 May 2024
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Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

WASHINGTON: Three US troops suffered non-combat injuries in the effort to make a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza into a conduit for humanitarian aid, with one in critical condition at an Israeli hospital, US officials said on Thursday.

The injuries were the first for US forces during the latest operation to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The pier was announced by US President Joe Biden in March and involved the military assembling the floating structure off the coast. Estimated to cost $320 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 US service members, it went into operation last week.

US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the deputy commander of US Central Command, told reporters that two of the troops had a sprained ankle and a minor back injury.

“Two were very minor, routine injuries. Those individuals returned to duty,” Cooper said.

A third service member, injured on a ship at sea, was medically evacuated to a hospital in Israel, he said. A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the individual was in critical condition.

US lawmakers have voiced concern about the risks to positioning US troops off the coast of Gaza. Biden has said they will not step foot in the war-torn city itself.

The Pentagon has said it will prioritize the safety of US military personnel.

“We’re clear eyed and we continue to look at force protection all day, every day and as it stands now we assess the operations can continue,” Cooper said.

Social media images showed a US air defense system, known as the Counter Rockets, Artillery and Mortars (CRAM), firing into the sky while on the pier. US officials said troops were testing the system.

Daniel Dieckhaus of the US Agency for International Development said that since the pier opened last week, about 506 metric tons of aid had been handed off to humanitarian groups inside Gaza. About a third of that has not yet been distributed but would be soon, he said.


Netanyahu denounces tactical pauses in Gaza fighting to get in aid

Netanyahu denounces tactical pauses in Gaza fighting to get in aid
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Netanyahu denounces tactical pauses in Gaza fighting to get in aid

Netanyahu denounces tactical pauses in Gaza fighting to get in aid
  • He turned to his military secretary and made it clear that this was unacceptable to him
JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized plans announced by the military on Sunday to hold daily tactical pauses in fighting along one of the main roads into Gaza to facilitate aid delivery into the Palestinian enclave.
The military had announced the daily pauses from 0500 GMT until 1600 GMT in the area from the Kerem Shalom Crossing to the Salah Al-Din Road and then northwards.
“When the prime minister heard the reports of an 11-hour humanitarian pause in the morning, he turned to his military secretary and made it clear that this was unacceptable to him,” an Israeli official said.
The military clarified that normal operations would continue in Rafah, the main focus of its operation in southern Gaza, where eight soldiers were killed on Saturday.
The reaction from Netanyahu underlined political tensions over the issue of aid coming into Gaza, where international organizations have warned of a growing humanitarian crisis.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who leads one of the nationalist religious parties in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, denounced the idea of a tactical pause, saying whoever decided it was a “fool” who should lose their job.
DIVISIONS BETWEEN COALITION, ARMY
The spat was the latest in a series of clashes between members of the coalition and the military over the conduct of the war, now in its ninth month.
It came a week after centrist former general Benny Gantz quit the government, accusing Netanyahu of having no effective strategy in Gaza.
The divisions were laid bare last week in a parliamentary vote on a law on conscripting ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant voting against it in defiance of party orders, saying it was insufficient for the needs of the military.
Religious parties in the coalition have strongly opposed conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, drawing widespread anger from many Israelis, which has deepened as the war has gone on.
Lt. General Herzi Halevi, the head of the military, said on Sunday there was a “definite need” to recruit more soldiers from the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox community.

RESERVISTS UNDER STRAIN
Despite growing international pressure for a ceasefire, an agreement to halt the fighting still appears distant, more than eight months since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas fighters on Israel triggered a ground assault on the enclave by Israeli forces.
Since the attack, which killed some 1,200 Israelis and foreigners in Israeli communities, Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health ministry figures, and destroyed much of Gaza.
Although opinion polls suggest most Israelis support the government’s aim of destroying Hamas, there have been widespread protests attacking the government for not doing more to bring home around 120 hostages who are still in Gaza after being taken hostage on Oct. 7.
Meanwhile, Palestinian health officials said seven Palestinians were killed in two air strikes on two houses in Al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza Strip.
As fighting in Gaza has continued, a lower level conflict across the Israel-Lebanon border is now threatening to spiral into a wider war as near-daily exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia have escalated.
In a further sign that fighting in Gaza could drag on, Netanyahu’s government said on Sunday it was extending until Aug. 15 the period it would fund hotels and guest houses for residents evacuated from southern Israeli border towns.

Frankly Speaking: Can Lebanon ever have an ‘independent’ president?

Frankly Speaking: Can Lebanon ever have an ‘independent’ president?
Updated 16 June 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Can Lebanon ever have an ‘independent’ president?

Frankly Speaking: Can Lebanon ever have an ‘independent’ president?
  • Ziad Hayek explains how he would fix the economy and break the political deadlock without Hezbollah’s support
  • Presidential candidate weighs in on relations with the GCC bloc and whether a war with Israel is now inevitable

DUBAI: People familiar with Lebanon’s sectarian politics and power camps are typically skeptical about the likelihood and success of a truly independent candidate for the presidency — a position that has been vacant since October 2022.

However, Ziad Hayek, who claims to be an independent, says that the current parliamentary climate makes it possible to stand successfully and work effectively as a president representing none of the main political camps.

“The makeup of parliament for the first time in Lebanon is such that it allows us to do that,” said Hayek during an appearance on the Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking.”

“The two general factions that are defined by either pro-Hezbollah or against Hezbollah and pro-Western camp or pro-East, these two larger factions are almost equally divided in parliament. And neither side is able or has been able for the past year and a half to get their candidate elected. 

“And so I think that they need to come to terms with that situation. They need to focus on finding a president, a candidate that they can both feel comfortable with, and yet does not belong to either side.”

Challenged by “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen on whether he really stands a chance of success without aligning himself with Hezbollah, Hayek said only an independent could help the country to break with the past.

“The focus that I have today is on making sure that I’m an acceptable candidate to all sides, because all factions have to be comfortable, and I wouldn’t want to be the candidate of either side. That’s why I’m running as an independent candidate,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we are not going to move Lebanon from the mud … unless we really get to understand the issues that all the parties face and air concerns and allay their concerns. So that applies to Hezbollah and it applies to all the other parties.”

Independent presidential candidate Ziad Hayek outlined his political and economic vision for Lebanon during an appearance on the weekly Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking.” (AN Photo)

Hezbollah has significant support among the Shiite population of Lebanon and even among many Maronite Christians, including presidential contender Gebran Bassil — the son-in-law of former President Michel Aoun, who took office thanks to his backing of Hezbollah.

Given the political clout of Hezbollah and Lebanon’s other big parties, can an independent hope to break through? Hayek says it is precisely because these big hitters have consistently failed to get their own candidates elected that an independent can break the deadlock.

“Of course, I do understand that Hezbollah has an influential role in this election,” he said. “I don’t discount that. But so do other parties. Hezbollah has not been able to get its candidate elected so far, and neither have the other parties. 

“Yes, I do understand that people may think that my position is a bit unrealistic simply because Lebanon has not had this type of situation before. But I think it is in this situation that we have the opportunity to break away from the past and look to Lebanon’s future in a different way.”

Hayek is not new to Lebanese politics. In 2006, he joined the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, becoming secretary general of the Republic of Lebanon’s High Council for Privatization and PPP until he was nominated to be president of the World Bank in 2019. 

Having witnessed the devastating 2006 war, the financial crash of late 2019, the economic toll of the pandemic, the destruction of the Beirut port blast of Aug. 4, 2020, the government’s paralysis since October 2022, and now a low-intensity conflict on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, one has to wonder: Why on earth would he want to be president? 

“I want this job because I really feel that this place is one of the best countries in the world with so much potential,” he said. “And yet the political discourse in it has been going in the wrong direction. And I would like to change that. 

“I’m hoping to be able to change the political dialogue, focus more on socio-economic matters, how to develop the country, how to develop its economy, rather than continuing the conversation that usually takes place about ‘this faction wants this guy’ and ‘this faction wants that guy.’

“None of these candidates have presented any program, any vision for the future. So I would like to change the way that the Lebanese public looks at politics in general, and focus on policies.”

Bridging the political divide in Lebanon’s multi-confessional system that emerged after the civil war would be a tall order for any experienced politician with a party machine to back them up.

Hayek is confident that his background in finance, helping governments balance their books and facilitate reform, makes him ideally suited to getting even the bitterest of rivals to work together for the public good.

“I have made a career of being able to work with people that everybody else said: ‘No, you cannot work with this guy. You cannot work with this group,’” he said.

“The Lebanese public in general is really yearning for somebody that can address the needs that it has and the daily needs of the Lebanese citizen, not just the geopolitics of America and Iran and all this conversation that really leads nowhere at the end of the day for the common person on the street.”

A smoke plume rises after rockets fired from south Lebanon landed near Kfar Szold in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel on June 14. Fallout from the Gaza war is regularly felt on the Israeli-Lebanon frontier, where deadly cross-border exchanges have escalated. (AFP)

Like it or not, Lebanon’s destiny is tied up in geopolitics. In fact, Hezbollah’s Iranian backers and their Israeli rivals have turned the country into a battlefield in their ongoing shadow war.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel triggered the war in Gaza, Hezbollah has launched daily rocket and drone attacks against Israel’s northern territories to draw fire away from its Hamas allies.

Israel has retaliated with its own air and artillery strikes against southern Lebanon, leading to fears of an escalation that could drag the wider region into a major confrontation.

Asked whether a full-scale war can be averted, sparing Lebanon a devastating Israeli invasion it can ill afford to fight, Hayek said he was hopeful “cooler heads will eventually prevail.” 

“Both the Israelis and the Lebanese, including Hezbollah, have to realize, all of us, that these wars lead nowhere,” he said. “It’s just destruction on both sides. And at the end of the day, this conflict has gone on for decades. And all these wars end with some compromise and some agreement on a ceasefire that lasts for a certain period of time. 

“We need to move towards finding a lasting peace. And the makings of that were already starting to happen when Lebanon reached an agreement on the delineation of the maritime borders with Israel. There was work that was continuing, helped along by the Americans.

“Unfortunately, this Gaza situation came up and changed things. But I think when the dust settles, we do need to go back to working on the task of making sure that we build a lasting peace. 

“For now, it is a terrible situation. There is no doubt about it. I think that cooler heads will eventually prevail as they always do in every conflict. And we will see some agreement between the parties.”

Nevertheless, the rhetoric from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has continued to grow more hostile and the spate of cross-border attack more deadly, leaving some to conclude a full-scale war seems inevitable.

“Israel knows that it is in its best interest not to engage in a war in Lebanon that it cannot win,” said Hayek. “Lebanon is not Gaza. It’s going to be a lot more difficult. It’s something that Israel has experienced in the past, and I don’t think the Israelis wish to escalate the war in Lebanon. 

“But continuing to play with fire, tit for tat and all of that, is not helpful because we are a hair trigger away from an escalation. I mean, any day there can be a strike that goes wrong beyond the normally accepted, currently accepted type of trading fire between the two parties. 

“And such a situation can lead to a very fast escalation that may draw even regional powers into the equation. And I think that nobody wants that, really.”

Even if the region is spared a major war, Lebanon still has to contend with a broken economy, rampant corruption, shattered infrastructure, mass unemployment, extreme poverty, and a generation of young people who have fled abroad.

If he becomes president, how would Hayek go about untangling such a colossal mess?

Asked during his appearance on Frankly Speaking whether a full-scale war can be averted, sparing Lebanon a devastating Israeli invasion it can ill afford to fight, Hayek said he was hopeful “cooler heads will eventually prevail.”  (AN Photo)

“I have presented a plan specifically for Lebanon to get out of its financial crisis,” he said. “It is built on converting the bank deposits into tradeable CDs (certificates of deposit) on the Beirut Stock Exchange to enable the capital markets to come back to life again. 

“It involves using some of the gold reserves to create funds for social development and for economic development. It includes regaining the ability of the government not to raise taxes but to collect taxes in order to pay for the services it needs to deliver to the Lebanese public. So I do have some ideas. 

“I think that the International Monetary Fund’s approval is very important because we do need the seal of approval of the IMF to regain the confidence of investors. But I think there are many ways to discuss with the IMF what could be acceptable to them as well as taking the Lebanese reality into consideration.”

Hayek also wants to see Lebanon revive its economic ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council bloc, allowing Lebanese companies to prosper from investment opportunities, in particular Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 agenda.

“The relationship with the GCC is crucial,” he said. “Those countries are the hosts of hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands of Lebanese that are working there. So they are very important currently to our economy with the remittances of these people. 

“But also, of course, the Lebanese are contributing to the growth and development that is happening in the region because the Lebanese working there are highly educated, highly skilled, able to contribute in a big way. 

“This mutual relationship of benefits needs to be strengthened. I think that with Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia and other plans in the UAE and other countries, these are big opportunities for the Lebanese, big opportunities for Lebanon to solidify its relationships with those countries and governments and projects and as well as for them to see that they already know that Lebanon has much to offer to contribute towards their success.”

 


Afghan Taliban government says to attend third round of UN-hosted Doha talks

Afghan Taliban government says to attend third round of UN-hosted Doha talks
Updated 16 June 2024
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Afghan Taliban government says to attend third round of UN-hosted Doha talks

Afghan Taliban government says to attend third round of UN-hosted Doha talks
  • Mujahid told local media on Sunday the decision had been made to send a delegation, the members of which would be announced later, because it was deemed “beneficial to Afghanistan”

KABUL: Taliban authorities will attend the third round of United Nations-hosted talks on Afghanistan in the Qatari capital, a government spokesman told AFP on Sunday, after snubbing an invitation to the previous round.
“A delegation of the Islamic Emirate will participate in the coming Doha conference. They will represent Afghanistan there and express Afghanistan’s position,” Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said of the talks, which are scheduled to start June 30.
The participation of the Taliban authorities in the two-day conference of special envoys on Afghanistan had been in doubt after they were not included in the first round and then refused an invitation to the second round in February.
Mujahid told local media on Sunday the decision had been made to send a delegation, the members of which would be announced later, because it was deemed “beneficial to Afghanistan”.


Hamas response to Gaza ceasefire proposal ‘consistent’ with principles of US plan, leader says

Hamas response to Gaza ceasefire proposal ‘consistent’ with principles of US plan, leader says
Updated 16 June 2024
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Hamas response to Gaza ceasefire proposal ‘consistent’ with principles of US plan, leader says

Hamas response to Gaza ceasefire proposal ‘consistent’ with principles of US plan, leader says
  • Egypt and Qatar said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan

CAIRO: Hamas’ response to the latest Gaza ceasefire proposal is consistent with the principles put forward in US President Joe Biden’s plan, the group’s Qatar-based leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised speech on the occasion of the Islamic Eid Al-Adha on Sunday.
“Hamas and the (Palestinian) groups are ready for a comprehensive deal which entails a ceasefire, withdrawal from the strip, the reconstruction of what was destroyed and a comprehensive swap deal,” Haniyeh said, referring to the exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners.
On May 31, Biden laid out what he called a “three-phase” Israeli proposal that would include negotiations for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza as well as phased exchanges of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Egypt and Qatar — which along with the United States have been mediating between Hamas and Israel — said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan, without giving further details.
While Israel said Hamas rejected key elements of the US plan, a senior Hamas leader said that the changes the group requested were “not significant”.


Red Sea crisis intensifies economic strain on Yemenis ahead of Eid

Red Sea crisis intensifies economic strain on Yemenis ahead of Eid
Updated 16 June 2024
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Red Sea crisis intensifies economic strain on Yemenis ahead of Eid

Red Sea crisis intensifies economic strain on Yemenis ahead of Eid
  • Sales have decreased by 80 percent
  • Over 1.2 million civil servants have not received salaries in eight years, and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs

DUBAI: Yemen, suffering from nearly a decade of civil war, now faces an additional challenge: a crippled economy further strained by the escalating crisis in the Red Sea.

Market vendors in Sanaa’s Old City, the Al-Melh, claim that sales have decreased by 80 percent, according to a report by Chinese news agency Xinhua.

Shopkeepers attribute this decline to recent increases in sea shipping costs, which have driven up wholesale prices.

This situation reflects the broader economic crisis in Yemen, where rising sea shipping costs have increased prices across the board, making basic Eid essentials unaffordable for many. 

To help ease financial strain, an exhibition was organized in Al-Sabeen Park, where families were able to sell homemade goods. 

Despite these efforts, Yemen’s economic problems persist. According to the UN, the decade-long war has pushed millions into poverty. Over 1.2 million civil servants have not received salaries in eight years, and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs. The Norwegian Refugee Council reports that four out of five Yemenis face poverty, and over 18 million people urgently need humanitarian aid.