Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war
This handout picture courtesy of the Israeli Prime Minister's Office taken on April 14, 2024 shows Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) during a War Cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv. (AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2024
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Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war
  • “Hamas is an ideology, we cannot eliminate an ideology,” said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari
  • PM Netanyahu's office quickly rebuffed the spokesman's statement, saying Hamas has to be defeated

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army’s chief spokesman on Wednesday appeared to question the stated goal of destroying the Hamas militant group in Gaza in a rare public rift between the country’s political and military leadership.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted Israel will pursue the fight against Hamas, the group running the besieged Gaza Strip, until its military and governing capabilities in the Palestinian territory are eliminated. But with the war now in its ninth month, frustration has been mounting with no clear end or postwar plan in sight.
“This business of destroying Hamas, making Hamas disappear — it’s simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the military spokesperson, told Israel’s Channel 13 TV. “Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people — whoever thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong.”
Netanyahu’s office responded by saying that the country’s security Cabinet, chaired by the prime minister, “has defined the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities as one of the goals of the war. The Israeli military, of course, is committed to this.”
The military quickly issued a clarification, saying it was “committed to achieving the goals of the war as defined by the Cabinet” and that it has been working on this “throughout the war, day and night, and will continue to do so.”
Hagari’s comments, it said, “referred to the destruction of Hamas as an ideology and an idea, and this was said by him very clearly and explicitly,” the military statement added. “Any other claim is taking things out of context.”
There have already been open signs of discontent over the handling of the war by Netanyahu’s government, a coalition that includes right-wing hard-liners who oppose any kind of settlement with Hamas. Months of internationally mediated truce talks, including a proposal floated this month by President Joe Biden, have stalled.
Benny Gantz, a former military chief and centrist politician, withdrew from Netanyahu’s war Cabinet earlier this month, citing frustration over the prime minister’s conduct of the war.
And early this week, Netanyahu expressed displeasure with the army’s decision to declare a “tactical pause” in the southern Gaza city of Rafah to help deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged territory. An aide said Netanyahu was caught off guard by the announcement, and Israeli TV stations quoted him as saying “we have a country with an army, not an army with a country.”
Israel attacked Gaza in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack into southern Israel, which killed some 1,200 people and took 250 hostage.
Israel’s war effort initially enjoyed broad public support, but in recent months wide divisions have emerged. While Netanyahu has pledged “total victory,” a growing array of critics and protesters have backed a ceasefire that would bring home the roughly 120 hostages still in Gaza. The Israeli military has already pronounced more than 40 of them dead, and officials fear that number will rise the longer the hostages are held.
Inside Gaza, the war has killed more than 37,100 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. The war has largely cut off the flow of medicine, food and other supplies to Palestinians, who are facing widespread hunger.
The United Nations said Wednesday that its humanitarian workers were once again unable to pick up aid shipments at the Kerem Shalom border crossing from Israel because of a lack of law and order.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that although there were no clashes along the route where Israel has declared a daily pause in fighting, the lawlessness in the area prevented UN workers from picking up aid. This means that no trucks have been able to use the new route since Israel announced the daily pause on Sunday.
In recent weeks, Israel’s military has concentrated its offensive in the nearby city of Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt and where it says Hamas’ last remnants are holding out.
More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people had earlier taken shelter in Rafah to escape fighting elsewhere in the territory, and the city is now nearly empty as the Israeli military carries out airstrikes and ground operations.
The Israeli military says it has killed over 500 militants and inflicted heavy damage on Hamas’ forces, but officials expect the operation to continue for at least several more weeks.
Israel also has taken over a 14-kilometer (8-mile) corridor along Gaza’s border with Egypt, including the Rafah border crossing. Footage circulating on social media shows the crossing blackened and destroyed, with only the former passenger terminal remaining intact. Before Israel moved into the area, the crossing was used to deliver humanitarian aid and to allow Palestinians to leave the territory.
The head of the Rafah municipality, Ahmed Al-Sufi, said Wednesday that Israeli strikes have destroyed more than 70 percent of the facilities and infrastructure. He accused Israeli forces of systematically targeting camps in Rafah, adding that entire residential areas in one neighborhood have been destroyed. Al-Sufi didn’t immediately respond to a request for additional information.
In a separate incident, 11 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, said Dr. Saleh Al-Hamas of the nearby European Hospital. There were no further details and the Israeli military had no immediate comment.


Israeli PM Netanyahu says not certain that Hamas leader killed in Israeli strike

Israeli PM Netanyahu says not certain that Hamas leader killed in Israeli strike
Updated 7 sec ago
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Israeli PM Netanyahu says not certain that Hamas leader killed in Israeli strike

Israeli PM Netanyahu says not certain that Hamas leader killed in Israeli strike
“Either way, we will get to the whole of the leadership of Hamas,” Netanyahu said

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was still not clear whether Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif and his deputy were killed in an Israeli strike in Gaza on Saturday but he vowed to pursue Israel’s war aims to the end.
“Either way, we will get to the whole of the leadership of Hamas,” he told a televised news conference, adding that chances of an agreement to return Israeli hostages would be improved by increasing military pressure on Hamas.

Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears

Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears
Updated 13 July 2024
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Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears

Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears
  • Abdellatif Mekki is among a group of former politicians being investigated for the 2014 killing of a prominent physician
  • The challenges facing opposition candidates are a far cry from the democratic hopes felt throughout Tunisia a decade ago

TUNIS: As elections approach in Tunisia, potential candidates are facing arrest or being summoned to appear in court as authorities clamp down on those planning to challenge President Kais Saied.
On Friday, a judge in a Tunis court put a potential presidential candidate under a gag order and restricted his movements. Abdellatif Mekki, who served as Tunisia’s health minister and was a prominent leader of the Islamist movement Ennahda before founding his own political party, is among a group of former politicians being investigated for the 2014 killing of a prominent physician.
His political party, Work and Accomplishment, has decried the timing of the murder charges as politically motivated due to his plans to run against Saied in Tunisia’s October election.
“We strongly condemn these arbitrary measures, considering them political targeting of a serious candidate in the presidential elections,” it said in a statement Friday.
Mekki is the latest potential candidate to face legal obstacles before campaigning even gets underway in the 12 million person North African nation.
The challenges facing opposition candidates are a far cry from the democratic hopes felt throughout Tunisia a decade ago. The country emerged as one of the Arab Spring’s only success stories after deposing former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, holding peaceful, democratic elections and rewriting its constitution in 2014.
Since 2019, observers have been alarmed at growing signs of a democratic backslide. Saied has imprisoned political opponents, suspended parliament and rewritten the constitution to consolidate the power of the presidency. Despite Tunisia’s ongoing political and economic challenges, large segments of the population continue to support him and his populist rhetoric targeting corrupt elites and foreign interference into domestic affairs.
About a week before Mekki, Lotfi Mraihi, a physician and veteran politician who had also announced plans to run for president, was arrested on money laundering related charges.
Mraihi, the president of the nationalist Republican People’s Union party, was kept in custody after a judge issued an additional warrant adding to charges filed against him in January.
A court spokesperson in Tunis told Radio Mosaique that the arrest warrant was served “on suspicion of money laundering, transfer of assets and opening of bank accounts abroad without the Central Bank’s approval.”
Last January, the court sentenced Mraihi to a suspended six-month prison term as part of an investigation into a 2019 case related to vote-buying allegations.
The Tunisian non-governmental organization Legal Agenda described the arrest as a show of force.
“The arrest of the presumed candidate, Lotfi Mrahi, represents a new step by the authorities in tightening its grip on the electoral process, after announcing ‘tailor-made’ conditions for candidacy, while judicial rulings ensure that the rest of the candidates in the race are besieged,” it said in a statement last week.
The arrests add Mekki and Mraihi to the list of Tunisian politicians pursued by the courts in Saied’s Tunisia.
Amnesty International said in February that over the year prior more than 20 political critics of Saied’s government had been arrested, detained or convicted on charges related to their political activity.
The pursuit of Saied’s political opponents has spanned the political spectrum, from Tunisia’s lslamists like Ennahda’s 83-year-old leader Rached Ghannouchi and nationalists like Free Destourian Party President 49-year-old Abir Moussi.
Ghannouchi has been behind bars since May 2024, facing foreign interference charges that Ennahda, the country’s largest Islamist party, has decried as politically motivated.
Tunisia’s anti-terrorism court sentenced him to one year in prison and a fine following public statements he made at a funeral in February 2022, when he appeared to call the president “a tyrant.”
Ghannouchi continues to face legal challenges. This weekend, the court sentenced him to three years in prison on charges that he was involved in an illicit foreign financing scheme during the last presidential election.
Moussi, a popular right-wing figure who appeals to Tunisians nostalgic for the pre-revolution era, was arrested in October 2023. She was initially detained while being investigated under a controversial cybercrime law after Tunisia’s election authority filed a complaint against her. The complaint came after Moussi criticized a lack of transparency and the presidential decrees guiding the electoral process.
Moussi’s party had announced plans to challenge Saied in October before her arrest and confirmed them earlier this month, though she remains imprisoned.
The National Salvation Front — a coalition of secular and Islamist parties including Ennahda — has said Tunisia can’t hold a legitimate election in such a political climate. The group has denounced the process as a sham and said it won’t endorse or nominate a candidate.
This arrests have sparked outrage among individual political parties and inflamed worries about the country’s ailing political and economic atmosphere landscape.
Work and Accomplishment, Mekki’s party, said his Friday arrest would “confuse the general political climate, undermine the credibility of the electoral process and harm Tunisia’s image.”


GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine

GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine
Updated 13 July 2024
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GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine

GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine
  • Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi was speaking at an Arab Parliament plenary session in Cairo

LONDON: The Gulf Cooperation Council remains “firm and absolute” in its support of the Palestinian people, its secretary-general said on Saturday.

Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, who was speaking at an Arab Parliament plenary session in Cairo, said the GCC fully backs the Palestinians’ struggle to attain a state and their “legitimate rights.”

Albudaiwi also praised the role of the Arab Parliament and its efforts to promote collective action, especially while the Arab world was facing “immense and painful challenges,” foremost among them the Palestine cause, which, he added would “always remain the central and primary Arab priority,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

This had been consistently reflected in the “clear and unwavering positions adopted by the GCC since its establishment,” he said.

“The tragic situation under which the Palestinian people are suffering, represented in the continuing crimes and violations by the Israeli occupation forces in Gaza Strip and other Palestinian territories, is a deep wound in the heart of every Arab and Muslim,” he continued, adding that Israel’s actions were not only a violation of human rights and international laws, but also a “blatant challenge to all human values and principles.”

The GCC has repeatedly called on the international community to adopt effective measures to ensure an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. It has also called for a de-escalation of violence against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem and the holy Islamic sites, and a stop to settlement activities and land confiscation.

Albudaiwi reiterated the GCC’s call for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative and “all relevant international resolutions.”

He said cooperation between the GCC, the Arab Parliament and other Arab institutions stemmed from a belief that “unity and solidarity among Arab states is the optimal path to achieve security, stability, and prosperity for the region.”


Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt

Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt
Updated 13 July 2024
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Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt

Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt
  • Grundberg informed Houthis would only take part in talks with Yemeni government

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia on Saturday rejected a demand by UN Yemen Envoy Hans Grundberg to hold discussions with the Yemeni government to resolve knotty economic problems, especially the government’s punitive actions against Sanaa banks.

In a post on X, Hussein Al-Ezzi, the militia’s deputy foreign minister, said that Grundberg was informed that the Houthis would only take part in talks with the Yemeni government about implementing the UN-brokered road map to end the war in Yemen, undermining his efforts to end the country’s deepening economic divisions.

“There will be no negotiations save in the context of addressing the implementation of the agreed-upon road map,” Al-Ezzi said.

The UN Yemen envoy has asked the government and the Houthis to meet without preconditions to discuss financial issues and their effect on Yemen’s deteriorating humanitarian situation, his office said.

“We believe a dialogue, in good faith and without preconditions, is the best possible way to address several important economic issues, including the banking sector issue, and come to solutions that prioritize the interests of the Yemeni people,” Mayy El-Sheikh, director of strategic communications and public information at Grundberg’s office, told Arab News.

In a letter dated July 10, Grundberg urged the chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, to halt the government’s most recent decision to revoke the licenses of six banks in Houthi-held Sanaa that refused to relocate their offices to the southern city of Aden, the interim capital of Yemen.

Grundberg also encouraged the Yemeni government to engage in negotiations with the Houthis to resolve economic issues.

The envoy, in his letter, expressed sympathy for the Yemeni government’s anger over the Houthi attacks on oil terminals, which resulted in the cessation of oil exports.

But he also cautioned that the government’s punitive measures against the banks in Sanaa would worsen the living conditions of Yemenis and potentially reignite the war.

The PLC agreed on Friday to suspend the revocation of six Sanaa bank licenses and to begin talks with the Houthis on the condition that the dialogue would focus on resuming oil exports, unifying currencies, and addressing the Houthis’ measures against banking and trading, including trade harassment and the militia’s ban on imports from government-controlled areas.

The Houthis have prevented the circulation of banknotes printed by the Yemeni government, attacked oil terminals in government-controlled provinces, banned cooking gas imports from government-controlled Marib, and prohibited traders in areas they control from importing goods through Aden and other government ports, all in an effort to drive the Yemeni government into bankruptcy.

The government responded by directing banks and state bodies to relocate their offices from Sanaa to Aden, withdrawing old banknotes that were commonly used in Houthi areas, restricting the issuing or receiving of international transfers to authorized banks, and most recently, revoking the licenses of six banks in Sanaa.

Meanwhile, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said on Friday evening that militia forces targeted the Chrysalis ship twice in the Red Sea and the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, using ballistic missiles and drones, for allegedly breaching the group’s prohibition on sailing to Israel.

It is the latest in a series of claims by the Houthis concerning attacks on ships in the Red Sea and other vital maritime channels off Yemen.

The militia has described the campaign as an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Also on Friday, US Central Command said that its forces had destroyed three drones in a Houthi-controlled part of Yemen.


Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq

Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq
Updated 13 July 2024
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Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq

Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq
  • The clashes occurred while police and army forces conducted a search for militants
  • One of at least three police injured was in critical condition, police said


BAGHDAD: Four police officers were killed and at least three injured in clashes between Iraqi government forces and Daesh militants in Diyala province in eastern Iraq on Saturday, police and medical sources said.
The clashes occurred while police and army forces conducted a search for militants taking shelter in farmland areas in the town of Khan Bani Saad in Diyala province, police sources said.
Two police colonels said the clashes were ongoing and militants are using snipers to prevent police and soldiers from advancing.
One of at least three police injured was in critical condition, police said.
Iraq’s security situation has been relatively stable in recent years after the chaos of the 2003-US-led invasion and years of bloody sectarian conflict that followed.
Baghdad is now looking to draw down the U.S-led international coalition that helped defeat Daesh and still remain in the country in an advisory role, saying local security forces can handle the threat themselves.