Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable

Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable
A Palestinian walks among the rubble of damaged buildings, which were destroyed during Israel’s military offensive, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, June 12, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 13 June 2024
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Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable

Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable
  • US secretary says said the mediators will keep trying to “close this deal
  • Ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel, Hamas

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that mediators would keep trying to close an elusive ceasefire deal for Gaza after Hamas proposed changes to a US-backed plan, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.
The back-and-forth laid bare frustration over the difficulty of reaching an accord that could end eight months of war that has decimated the territory, killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and left scores of Israeli hostages still languishing in militant captivity. Previous moments of optimism have been repeatedly dashed by the differences between the two sides.
The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas. Blinken did not spell out what changes Hamas sought, but he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt and the US — will keep trying to “close this deal.” He put the onus on Hamas, accusing it of changing its demands.
“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table. ... Some of the changes are workable. Some are not,” Blinken told reporters in Qatar. “I believe that they (the differences) are bridgeable, but that doesn’t mean they will be bridged because ultimately Hamas has to decide.”
Blinken’s comments came as Lebanon’s Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into northern Israel to avenge the killing of a top commander, further escalating regional tensions.
Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of Hamas, has traded fire with Israel nearly every day since the Israel-Hamas war began and says it will stop only if there is a truce in Gaza. That has raised fears of an even more devastating regional conflagration.
Air-raid sirens sounded across northern Israel, and the military said about 215 projectiles were fired from southern Lebanon, making it one of the largest attacks since the fighting began. There were no immediate reports of casualties as some rockets were intercepted while others ignited brush fires.
Hamas asks for changes
Hamas conveyed its official reply to the proposal to mediators on Tuesday. Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told the Lebanese news outlet ElNashra that the “amendments” requested by the group aim to guarantee a permanent ceasefire and complete Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza.
The proposal announced by US President Joe Biden includes those provisions, but Hamas has expressed wariness about whether Israel will implement the terms. While the US says Israel has accepted the proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given conflicting statements, saying Israel is still intent on its goal of destroying Hamas.
Blinken, on his eighth visit to the region since the start of the war, said the deal on the table was “virtually identical” to one Hamas put forth on May 6. The UN Security Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan on Monday.
“At some point in a negotiation, and this has gone back and forth for a long time, you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already accepted, you have to question whether they’re proceeding in good faith or not,” he said.
Speaking alongside Blinken, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said there had been “counterproductive” actions by both sides.
The proposal’s three-phase plan would begin with a six-week ceasefire and the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas, and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes. Aid distribution would also increase.
At the same time, negotiations would start over the second phase, which is to bring “a permanent end to hostilities” and “full withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza in exchange for the release of all remaining hostages.
Phase three would see the launch of a reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of remains of deceased hostages.
A major hitch for both sides appears to be the negotiations for the second phase.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said Israel will demand that Hamas be removed from power as part of any agreement on that phase.
“One of our conditions is not only the release of the hostages, it’s also the future of Gaza,” Erdan told CNN’s “The Source” on Monday. “We cannot agree to Hamas continuing to be the rulers of Gaza because then Gaza will continue to pose a threat to Israel.”
He also said Israel opposes a provision extending the initial ceasefire as long as talks are going on, saying it would allow Hamas to “continue with endless and meaningless negotiations.”
Hamas, in turn, appears to want stronger guarantees up front that the talks will lead to the permanent ceasefire and withdrawal.
Netanyahu’s far-right coalition allies have rejected the proposal and threaten to bring down his government if he ends the war leaving Hamas intact. But Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring the hostages back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, have demonstrated in favor of the US-backed plan.
Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed over 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, who do not give the breakdown of civilians and fighters. The war has also driven some 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes, and Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring in humanitarian aid, fueling widespread hunger.
Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. Over 100 hostages were released during a weeklong ceasefire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas is believed to be holding around 80 hostages and the remains of another 40.
Revenge for slain commander
Netanyahu’s office said he was conducting a security assessment in light of Hezbollah’s barrage in the north and what it called Hamas’ “negative response” to the proposal.
Hezbollah said it fired missiles and rockets at two military bases in retaliation for the killing of Taleb Sami Abdullah, 55. Known within Hezbollah as Hajj Abu Taleb, he is the most senior commander killed since the fighting began eight months ago. The Israeli strike late Tuesday destroyed a house where Abdullah and three other officials were meeting, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border.
A Hezbollah official told The Associated Press that Abdullah was in charge of a large part of the Lebanon-Israel front, including the area facing the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, which Hezbollah has repeatedly attacked in recent days, causing fires in the area.
The official, who was not authorized to speak to media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abdullah had joined Hezbollah decades ago and took part in attacks against Israeli forces during their 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000.
Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon have killed over 400 people, most of them Hezbollah members, but the dead also include more than 70 civilians and noncombatants. On the Israeli side, 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed since the war in Gaza began.
Other groups allied with Iran, including powerful militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, have also attacked Israeli, US and other targets since the start of the war, often drawing Western retaliation. In April, Israel and Iran traded fire directly for the first time.


US not seen a detailed post-war plan from Israel: Gen. Brown

US not seen a detailed post-war plan from Israel: Gen. Brown
Updated 10 sec ago
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US not seen a detailed post-war plan from Israel: Gen. Brown

US not seen a detailed post-war plan from Israel: Gen. Brown
WASHINGTON: The top US general said on Thursday Israel still has not shared much of its “day after” planning for Gaza once the war with Hamas ends.
The remarks by Air Force General C.Q. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, followed a speech to Congress on Wednesday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that sketched only a vague outline for a “deradicalized” post-war Gaza.
“There’s not a lot of detail that I’ve been able to see from a plan from them,” Brown told a Pentagon press conference. “This is something that we’ll continue to work with them on.”
For months, Washington has repeatedly urged Israel to craft a realistic post-war plan for Gaza and warned that the absence of it could trigger lawlessness and chaos as well as a comeback by Hamas in the Palestinian territory.
“As far as the day after, we have talked to the Israelis about this, how to make a transition. We’ve talked to them a number of times,” Brown said.
Palestinians have previously said only an end to Israeli occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state will bring peace.
But in his speech to Congress, Netanyahu made no mention of creating a pathway to Palestinian statehood following the war in Gaza. That is something he and his far-right coalition partners have staunchly opposed even as the Biden administration has pushed Israel to give ground on the issue.
Netanyahu stopped short of ruling out a role for the West Bank-led Palestinian Authority, whose place in a future two-state solution is favored by the Biden administration but opposed by Netanyahu’s coalition partners.
Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2006 after Israeli soldiers and settlers withdrew in 2005. Israel controls access to Gaza.
Israel’s war has devastated the Palestinian enclave and killed more than 39,000 of its residents, according to Gaza health officials. Hamas fighters triggered the war on Oct. 7 by storming into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 captives, according to Israeli tallies.

Sudan’s agriculture minister says there is no famine in the country

Sudan’s agriculture minister says there is no famine in the country
Updated 25 July 2024
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Sudan’s agriculture minister says there is no famine in the country

Sudan’s agriculture minister says there is no famine in the country
  • Sudan has become the world's worst hunger crisis since the outbreak of a war
  • "755,000 citizens are not a significant percentage compared to the total population ... they cannot call that famine," said Abubakr al-Bushra

CAIRO/DUBAI: Sudan’s agriculture minister said there is no famine in the country and cast doubt on UN-backed data that 755,000 are experiencing catastrophic hunger, rejecting the idea of aid agencies overriding cross-border delivery restrictions.
Sudan has become the world’s worst hunger crisis since the outbreak of a war between the Sudanese army, whose head is also Sudan’s head of state, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, who have taken over wide swathes of the country.
“755,000 citizens are not a significant percentage compared to the total population ... they cannot call that famine,” said Abubakr Al-Bushra, in a news conference in Port Sudan, the country’s de facto capital.
Sudan has a population of 50 million.
The army has blocked aid and commerce from entering RSF-controlled areas, while supplies that reach those areas are expensive and frequently stolen, often by RSF soldiers, residents and aid agencies say.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an initiative of UN agencies, regional bodies and aid groups, had in late June said that while half the population were experiencing acute hunger, there were 14 spots across the country at risk of famine.
Famine can be declared if at least 20 percent of the population in an area experience catastrophic hunger, and thresholds on child malnutrition and death from starvation are met
Al-Bushra cast doubt on experts’ ability to measure data in RSF-controlled areas, and said the malnutrition indicators had not yet been determined.
Following the IPC data, an independent committee could declare a famine, potentially triggering Security Council orders overriding army restrictions on which crossings could be used for aid deliveries.
Al-Bushra said the government rejected such orders.
“We reject the opening of our borders by force because that could open the borders with opposing states, borders that the militia controls,” he said, while another official cast such a move as part of a conspiracy against the country.
Aid agencies say Al-Tina, the only crossing authorized by the government into the Darfur region, where most of the famine-risk hotspots are, is inaccessible due to rains. The army says that Adre, the crossing into West Darfur that aid agencies are asking to access, has been used to supply the RSF with weapons.


Netanyahu, Biden meet for tense Gaza ceasefire talks

Netanyahu, Biden meet for tense Gaza ceasefire talks
Updated 25 min 30 sec ago
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Netanyahu, Biden meet for tense Gaza ceasefire talks

Netanyahu, Biden meet for tense Gaza ceasefire talks
  • Relations between Biden, Netanyahu strained over Israel’s conduct in war sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks
  • Israeli PM to meet Republican contender Donald Trump on Friday in Florida

WASHINGTON DC: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he was ready to work with Joe Biden for the rest of his presidency, as the two leaders met for the first time at the White House for talks on a Gaza ceasefire.
“I want to thank you for the 50 years of public service and 50 years of support for the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said after they shook hands in the historic setting of the Oval Office.
“And I look forward to discussing with you today and working with you in the months ahead.”
Biden stunned the world Sunday when he announced that he was bowing out of the US presidential election, with Vice President Kamala Harris now set to be the Democratic Party’s candidate.
Netanyahu will also meet Harris separately at the White House, in a reflection of the new political reality that will see Biden as a lame duck president for his remaining six months in office.
The Harris meeting comes amid speculation that if she wins in November it could herald a tougher approach on Israel’s war in Gaza.
Relations between Biden and Netanyahu are tense over Israel’s conduct in the war sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, but the US president has continued strong military and political support.
They have met just three times during his presidency, once in September last year in New York, and then when Biden traveled to Israel after the attacks and hugged Netanyahu on the airport tarmac at Tel Aviv.
The meetings come after Netanyahu vowed “total victory” against Hamas in a fiery speech Wednesday to the US Congress.
Biden and Netanyahu will later meet the families of US hostages held in Gaza.
The White House was surrounded by metal barriers and a heavy police presence, after rowdy protests broke out near the Capitol following Netanyahu’s speech.
Harris on Thursday condemned the “despicable” and “unpatriotic” burning of an American flag by protesters, after attempts by Donald Trump’s Republicans to paint Democrats as pro-Hamas.
In a primetime speech explaining his decision on Sunday to bow out of the US presidential election, Biden made clear that resolving the conflict would remain a top priority.
“I’m going to keep working to end the war on Gaza, bring home all the hostages to bring peace and security to the Middle East and end this war,” the US president said.
A senior US administration official said Wednesday that negotiations on a Gaza deal were in the “closing stages” and that Biden would try to close some “final gaps” with Netanyahu.
Harris has previously been more outspoken about Israel’s conduct of the war, prompting speculation she will shift her policy as presidential nominee.
The US official said there was “no daylight between the president and vice president,” who will meet Netanyahu at 4:30 p.m. (2030 GMT).
Netanyahu will meet Republican contender Donald Trump on Friday at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.
The ex-president on Thursday morning urged Israel to quickly “finish up” its war in Gaza, warning its global image was being tarnished.
Biden has offered Israel steadfast support since October 7.
But the US president has been increasingly critical of Israel over the Palestinian death toll in its offensive in Gaza, and criticized restrictions on the amount of aid getting through to the territory, much of which has been reduced to rubble.
The Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of 1,197 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Out of 251 people taken hostage that day, 111 are still being held inside the Gaza Strip, including 39 who the military says are dead.
More than 39,100 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip since the war began, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza, which does not give details of civilian and militant deaths.
According to the Israeli military 327 soldiers have been killed in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.


Iran releases cargo of oil tanker St. Nikolas, shipping source says

The vessel, M/T St. Nikolas, was laden with 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil destined for Turkiye when it was seized. (File)
The vessel, M/T St. Nikolas, was laden with 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil destined for Turkiye when it was seized. (File)
Updated 25 July 2024
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Iran releases cargo of oil tanker St. Nikolas, shipping source says

The vessel, M/T St. Nikolas, was laden with 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil destined for Turkiye when it was seized. (File)
  • The cargo was transferred onto the Turkiye-flagged tanker T. Semahat earlier this week via a ship-to-ship transfer near Iran’s Larak Island
  • Iran seized the tanker in January in retaliation for the confiscation last year of the same vessel and its oil by the US

ATHENS: Iran has released the oil cargo of a Greek-owned, Marshall-Islands-flagged tanker it seized in the Gulf of Oman earlier this year, a shipping source told Reuters on Thursday.
The vessel, M/T St. Nikolas, is still being held by Iran, the source added. It was laden with 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil destined for Turkiye when it was seized.
“The cargo was released earlier this week after negotiations,” the source said.
The cargo was transferred onto the Turkiye-flagged tanker T. Semahat earlier this week via a ship-to-ship transfer near Iran’s Larak Island, said Claire Jungman, chief of staff at US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which tracks Iran-related tanker traffic via satellite data.
T.Semahat’s Turkiye-based operator Ditas, which is majority-owned by Turkish refiner Tupras, was not immediately available for comment.
The vessel had the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates as its destination and was sailing away from Iran on Thursday, LSEG shipping data showed.
LSEG data also showed T.Semahat had reached Larak Island earlier on July 21 and left that area close to being fully loaded with oil.
Iran seized the tanker in January in retaliation for the confiscation last year of the same vessel and its oil by the US, Iranian state media had reported at the time.
Iran’s foreign and oil ministries were not immediately available to comment.


Yemen airline resumes Sanaa-Jordan flights, banks rejoin global network under new deal

Yemen airline resumes Sanaa-Jordan flights, banks rejoin global network under new deal
Updated 25 July 2024
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Yemen airline resumes Sanaa-Jordan flights, banks rejoin global network under new deal

Yemen airline resumes Sanaa-Jordan flights, banks rejoin global network under new deal
  • Yemenia said in a statement that three flights were scheduled to leave Sanaa airport for Amman on Thursday
  • Militia leader warns of ‘escalation’ after Hodeidah airstrikes as US launches raids on missile sites

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s national airline resumed flights from the Houthi-held city of Sanaa to Jordan on Thursday, while the international banking transfer system reconnected Sanaa banks to its network after an agreement was implemented between the Yemeni government and the militia.

Yemenia Airways said in a statement that three flights were scheduled to leave Sanaa airport for Amman on Thursday, and that it was seeking permits for flights from the same airport to Egypt and India. 

On Monday, the Yemeni government and the Houthis agreed to lift economic sanctions on banks and allow Yemenia Airways to increase its daily flights from Sanaa to Amman from one to three.

The agreement also allows the airline to arrange more flights to Cairo and Mumbai, and to organize meetings to resolve its difficulties. 

Last month, the Houthis seized three Yemeni aircraft at Sanaa airport, disrupting flights to Amman and stranding hundreds of Yemeni pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

The militia attempted to put pressure on the Yemeni government to reverse its decision for Yemenia to transfer its headquarters to the harbor city of Aden, Yemen’s temporary capital, and to stop selling tickets in Houthi-controlled regions.

Meanwhile, the Houthi official news agency reported on Wednesday that SWIFT had told Sanaa banks it had reconnected them to its system after the Yemeni government lifted punitive economic measures.

The Aden-based central bank revoked the licenses of six banks in Sanaa earlier this month for failing to comply with a directive to relocate their offices from Aden.

The Houthis also said their central bank had relaxed restrictions against financial institutions in government-controlled cities.

Meanwhile, US Central Command on Thursday said that two Houthi missiles had been destroyed on launchers in an area of Yemen held by the militia.

This came a day after the US military announced it had targeted a Houthi-held area to destroy three missile launchers. 

Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship, sunk two more, and launched hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones, and drone boats at commercial and naval ships in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean in what it claims are actions in support of the Palestinian people and to force Israel to cease military operations in the Gaza Strip.

On Thursday, the militia’s leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, pledged to respond to Israeli attacks on the Houthi-held western city of Hodeidah by initiating strikes on Israeli towns and attacking Israeli ships. 

“Our military operations will continue in the seas and deep into Palestine, and the attacks on our country will not stop us from escalating,” Al-Houthi said.