Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip

Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip
People walk next to rubble following Israeli bombardment on the security gate of the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City on June 23, 2024, amid the ongoing battle between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 23 June 2024
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Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip

Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip
  • Visit comes amid concerns over conflict spreading
  • Gallant wants clearer post-war plan for Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is headed to Washington on Sunday to discuss the next phase of the Gaza war and escalating hostilities on the border with Lebanon, where exchanges of fire with Hezbollah have stoked fears of wider conflict.
Iran-backed Hezbollah began attacking Israel shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault sparked the war in Gaza, and the sides have been trading blows in the months since then. Hezbollah has said it will not stop until there is a ceasefire in Gaza.
“We are prepared for any action that may be required in Gaza, Lebanon, and in more areas,” Gallant said in a statement before setting off to Washington, where he said he would meet his counterpart Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Earlier in June, Hezbollah targeted Israeli towns and military sites with the largest volleys of rockets and drones in the hostilities so far, after an Israeli strike killed the most senior Hezbollah commander yet.
US envoy Amos Hochstein visited Israel and Lebanon last week in an attempt to cool tensions, amid an uptick in cross-border fire and an escalation in rhetoric on both sides. An Israeli soldier was severely wounded on Sunday by a drone strike, the military said.
Some Israeli officials have linked the ongoing Israeli push into Rafah — the southern area of Gaza where it says it is targeting the last battalions of Hamas — to a potential focus on Lebanon.
Gallant appeared to make the same link in his statement.
“The transition to Phase C in Gaza is of great importance. I will discuss this transition with US officials, how it may enable additional things and I know that we will achieve close cooperation with the US on this issue as well,” Gallant said.
Scaling back Gaza operations would free up forces to take on Hezbollah, if Israel were to launch a ground offensive or step up its aerial bombardments.
POST-WAR PLAN
Officials have described the third and last phase of Israel’s Gaza offensive as winding down fighting while stepping up efforts to stabilize a post-Hamas rule and begin reconstruction in the enclave, much of which has been laid to waste.
Gallant, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has sparred with the premier in the past few months, calling for a clearer post-war plan for Gaza that will not leave Israel in charge, a demand echoed by the White House.
Netanyahu has been walking a tightrope as he seeks to keep his government together by balancing the demands of the defense establishment, including ex-generals like Gallant, and far-right coalition partners who have resisted any post-Gaza strategy that could open the way to a future Palestinian state.
The head of Israel’s parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Yuli Edelstein, told Army Radio on Sunday that fighting Hezbollah would be complex either way, now or later.
“We are not in the right position to conduct fighting on both the southern front and the northern front. We will have to deploy differently in the south in order to fight in the north,” said Edelstein, also a Likud member.
Edelstein criticized a video by Netanyahu released last week in which the prime minister said the Biden administration was “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.” The video led to a spat with the White House.
President Joe Biden’s administration paused a shipment of 2,000 pound and 500-pound bombs in May over concerns about their impact if used in densely-populated areas of Gaza. Israel was still due to get billions of dollars worth of UA weaponry.
“I hope that in the discussions behind closed doors much more will be achieved than by attempts to create pressure with videos,” Edelstein said, referring to Gallant’s trip.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas fighters stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The offensive has killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population of the enclave homeless and destitute.


First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy

First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy
Updated 48 min 6 sec ago
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First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy

First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy
  • Algerian president said he would seek a second term

ALGIERS: The leader of Algeria’s main Islamist party on Thursday kicked off the official candidate submissions for the upcoming presidential election in which the incumbent President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 78, is the frontrunner.
Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning, an AFP correspondent saw, hours before Tebboune was expected to do the same.
Tebboune, who was elected in 2019 following months of pro-democracy protests and the ousting of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said on July 11 he would seek a second term.
In March, he announced that the election would be held on September 7, three months ahead of schedule, but gave no reason for the decision.
Algeria, home to some 45 million people, is Africa’s largest country.
The hydrocarbon-rich nation is the continent’s main natural gas supplier, with neighboring Tunisia, Spain, and Italy heavily reliant on Algerian gas.
The final list of hopefuls for the election will be published on July 27.
To qualify to appear on the ballot, candidates are required to present a list of at least 50,000 individual signatures from registered voters or from 600 members from at least 29 of Algeria’s various provincial assemblies.
Ahmed Sadok, an MSP representative, told AFP that his party had already gathered “more than 90,000 petition signatures” in support of Hassani as well as the backing of “2,200 other elected representatives.”
With the Algerian Workers Party’s leader Louisa Hanoune dropping out of the race last week, only two female candidates — businesswoman Saida Nezgha and lawyer Zoubida Assoul — remain in contention.
But Tebboune is still the favorite, with endorsements from several political parties.
“Given the desire of many parties, political and non-political organizations and the youth, I announce my intention to run for a second term,” he said when announcing his candidacy.


Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament

Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament
Updated 18 July 2024
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Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament

Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament
  • Elections for 250 parliamentary seats were held Monday at 8,151 centers in government-held areas of the country
  • The voting was repeated in several districts after election officials said there had been irregularities

DAMASCUS: The results of Syria’s parliamentary elections, announced Thursday, showed that President Bashar Assad’s Baath Party has won a majority of seats, as expected.
The elections for 250 parliamentary seats were held Monday at 8,151 centers in government-held areas of the country, but the voting was repeated in several districts — including Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Daraa — after election officials said there had been irregularities, including voters casting ballots twice.
The heads of some electoral centers were referred to the judiciary for alleged electoral violations.
Altogether, 1,516 candidates were competing for the 250 seats. However, only 65 of those seats were seen as truly up for competition, as the Baath Party and allied parties presented a list of 185 candidates. Typically, all candidates who make it through the Baath Party primaries and appear on the final list win seats.
The results announced Thursday showed that all 185 candidates from the Baath Party and its allies won seats as expected, an increase from the 177 seats won by the coalition in 2020.
Turnout was 38 percent of the 19.3 million eligible voters, election officials said.
Unlike presidential elections, Syrians in the diaspora are not eligible to vote in parliamentary elections.
The head of the Supreme Judicial Committee for Elections, Jihad Murad, who announced the results, said they “reflected the broadest representation of the Syrian people in their various groups and sectors.”
The vote is the fourth since the country’s civil war began in March 2011.
With Assad facing term limits that would end his presidency in 2028, the next parliament is widely expected to try to pass a constitutional amendment to extend his term.
An amendment requires a three-quarters majority, or 188 votes, just over the number of seats held by the Bath Party and its allies. However, nominally independent candidates are also generally seen as loyal to the government.


Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah

Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah
Updated 18 July 2024
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Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah

Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah
  • One Israeli airstrike kills six people in Zawayda town in central Gaza
  • An Israeli airstrike killed three people in a car in Deir Al-Balah

CAIRO: Israeli forces bombarded the Gaza Strip’s historic refugee camps in the center of the enclave and struck Gaza City in the north on Thursday, killing at least 13 people, and tanks pushed deeper into Rafah in the south, health officials and residents said.
One Israeli airstrike killed six people in Zawayda town in central Gaza and two other people were killed in a strike on a house in Bureij camp. An Israeli air strike killed three people in a car in Deir Al-Balah, a city packed with people displaced from elsewhere in Gaza, health officials said.
In Gaza City in the north, medics said two Palestinians were killed in another airstrike.
The Israeli military said in a statement its forces killed two senior Islamic Jihad commanders in two airstrikes in Gaza City, including one whom it said had taken part in the Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that triggered the Gaza war.
In Rafah, residents said Israeli tanks advanced deeper in the western side of the city and took position on a hilltop there. The Israeli military said forces located several tunnels and killed several gunmen.
The armed wing of militant group Hamas and its allies said they fired mortar bombs at Israeli forces in southwest Rafah on Thursday.
More than a million people had sought shelter in Rafah from fighting further north, but most have scattered again since Israel launched an offensive in and around the city in May.
The fighting has pushed the 60-bed Red Cross field hospital in Rafah to the brink of capacity, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement on Thursday.
“The repeated mass casualty events resulting from the unrelenting hostilities have stretched to breaking point the response capacity of our hospital – and all health facilities in southern Gaza – to care for those with life-threatening injuries,” said William Schomburg, head of the ICRC’s subdelegation in Gaza.
CEASEFIRE EFFORTS STALLED
More than nine months into the war, Palestinian fighters led by Hamas are still able to attack Israeli forces with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs, occasionally firing rocket barrages into Israel.
Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas after its militants killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages in the Oct. 7 attack, according to Israeli tallies. More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory offensive since then, Gaza health authorities say.
On Tuesday, Israel said it had eliminated half of the leadership of Hamas’ military wing and killed or captured about 14,000 fighters since the start of the war. Israel says 326 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza.
Hamas doesn’t release figures of casualties among its ranks and said Israel was exaggerating to portray a “fake victory.”
Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators to halt the hostilities, backed by the United States, appear on hold, though all sides say they are open to more talks, including Israel and Hamas.
A deal would aim to end the war and release Israeli hostages in Gaza in return for many Palestinians jailed by Israel.
Hamas was awaiting an Israeli response to a ceasefire offer drafted by the United States based on ideas announced by President Joe Biden, a Palestinian official close to the mediation effort said.
“The feeling in Hamas is that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is stalling and that he might not say anything before he goes to the United States next week,” said the official, who asked not to be named.


Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say

Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say
Updated 18 July 2024
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Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say

Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say
  • The brothers were killed in a shoot-out with security officers

MUSCAT: Perpetrators in the shooting that targeted a Shi’ite mosque in Oman’s Wadi al-Kabir area near the capital Muscat were all Omani citizens, state news agency ONA said on Thursday.

The perpetrators were brothers and were killed in a shoot-out with security officers, according to a statement released by the Omani police.

Monday’s shooting killed at least six people -- four Pakistanis, an Indian and an Omani police officer -- and wounded 28, authorities have said.

Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack in a rare operation in one of the most stable countries in the Middle East, the group said in a statement on Telegram on Tuesday.

The police said in their statement on Thursday that the perpetrators “were influenced by misguided ideas.”

 


Lebanese media, Hamas-allied group says Israel strike kills commander

Lebanese media, Hamas-allied group says Israel strike kills commander
Updated 18 July 2024
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Lebanese media, Hamas-allied group says Israel strike kills commander

Lebanese media, Hamas-allied group says Israel strike kills commander
  • Jamaa Islamiya, formed in the 1960s, has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks against Israel

Beirut, Lebanon: Official media in Lebanon and a Hamas-allied group said one of its commanders had been killed in an Israeli strike on Thursday in the country’s eastern Bekaa valley.
Since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war in the Gaza Strip, Israel has repeatedly targeted the commanders and members of Jamaa Islamiya, whose armed wing in the past nine months has launched attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon.
Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) said that “Jamaa Islamiya commander Mohammed Hamed Jbara” was killed when an “enemy drone” targeted his vehicle in the village of Ghazze, in the Bekaa valley.
Jamaa Islamiya and its armed wing the Fajr Forces in a statement said Jbara, a commander also known as Abu Mahmud, was killed in a “treacherous Zionist raid” in the Bekaa.
Jamaa Islamiya, formed in the 1960s, has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks against Israel, including joint operations with Hamas in Lebanon.
The Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, was established in 1982 to fight against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
In June, an Israeli strike on a vehicle in east Lebanon killed a Jamaa Islamiya leader who Israel’s military said supplied weapons to the group and to Hamas.
The cross-border violence since October has killed 512 people in Lebanon, mostly fighters — nine of them from Jamaa Islamiya — according to an AFP tally, but also including at least 104 civilians.
On the Israeli side, 17 soldiers and 13 civilians have been killed, according to authorities.
The exchanges of fire — mostly between Hezbollah and Israeli forces — have largely been restricted to the Lebanon-Israel border area, although Israel has repeatedly struck deeper inside Lebanese territory.
The violence has raised fears of all-out conflict between the two foes, who last went to war in the summer of 2006.