De-escalation eludes Lebanon as Israel and Hezbollah gird for all-out war

Special De-escalation eludes Lebanon as Israel and Hezbollah gird for all-out war
Black smoke billows following an Israeli air strike that targeted a house in the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the Lebanese-Israeli border on June 21, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 25 June 2024
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De-escalation eludes Lebanon as Israel and Hezbollah gird for all-out war

De-escalation eludes Lebanon as Israel and Hezbollah gird for all-out war
  • Cash-strapped country on brink of conflict as US-led diplomatic efforts to find a solution falter
  • Crisis compounds existing problem of internal turmoil, political discord and crumbling economy

BEIRUT: Efforts by American diplomats to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon have hit a dead end, leaving the region perched on the edge of a full-blown war. 

Since the eruption of hostilities on Oct. 8 last year, both sides have intensified their defense preparations, with leaks and official statements signaling that the Israeli military has authorized operational plans for strikes within Lebanese territory.

Meanwhile, reports carried by Hezbollah-aligned media outlets indicate that the powerful Shiite group has prepared extensively for a potential Israeli offensive, planning to counter various military scenarios and thwart attacks on Lebanese soil.

Lebanon, already weighed down by deep political divisions and a crumbling economy, now faces the specter of a devastating conflict that could tear apart its fragile unity. As diplomatic solutions falter, the prospect of war looms larger, raising grave concerns among Lebanese citizens and the international community alike.

Recent footage released by Hezbollah, showing aerial views of Israeli military installations captured by a Hudhud (hoopoe) drone, underscores the group’s formidable capabilities. However, images of Gaza, devastated by repeated Hamas-Israel conflicts, serve as a stark warning of the potential human and economic toll of renewed warfare.




Members of Israeli security forces inspect sites where rockets launched from southern Lebanon fell in Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel near the Lebanon border, on June 19, 2024. (AFP)

Since Oct. 8, the Lebanon-Israel border has witnessed almost daily exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and allied Palestinian militant groups and Israel’s military that have left more than 400 people dead in Lebanon.

Most of the fatalities were fighters and commanders, but they also included more than 80 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 16 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed over the past eight months.

Against this tense backdrop, Hezbollah’s actions affect not only Lebanon but also regional stability, hence its ability to avert or deal with a direct military confrontation with Israel will be crucial in the days ahead.

Last week Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Cyprus against allowing Israel’s military to use its airports on the island to bomb Lebanon should a full-blown war break out. This created a diplomatic crisis of sorts as Cyprus and Lebanon have had close and historic relations for decades, with the island hosting thousands of Lebanese during Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.

Adding to the sense of impending doom are growing signs of international alarm. Several embassies and diplomatic missions in Lebanon have issued advisories urging their citizens to leave immediately, citing escalating tensions and the risk of broader conflict.

Kuwait’s recent decision to advise against travel to Lebanon reflects a wider trend of concern among foreign governments.

Lebanon’s internal turmoil accentuates its vulnerability. The country has been without a president for nearly two years, relying on a caretaker government unable to make critical decisions amid rampant corruption and economic collapse.

More than half of Lebanon’s population now depends on aid for survival, while the remainder struggles to secure basic necessities such as education, fuel and electricity.




This photograph taken on January 8, 2024 shows a banner depicting Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah hanging on the building, which was hit by a drone attack on January 2, 2024. (AFP)

The gravity of Lebanon’s predicament was underscored by recent developments at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport. Reports in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper suggested that Hezbollah was using the airport to smuggle large quantities of Iranian weaponry, including short-range missiles — a claim that could potentially make the facility a target for Israeli airstrikes.

In Washington, President Joe Biden’s administration has reportedly reassured Israeli officials of unwavering US support, promising to provide Israel with all necessary security assistance.

This commitment comes amid reports of heightened military movements, including the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean — a move interpreted as a show of force and readiness to back Israel in any military confrontation.

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has issued a stark warning against Lebanon descending into the chaos and destruction witnessed in Gaza. The international community’s fear is palpable, as another conflict in Lebanon could unleash humanitarian and geopolitical consequences that would reverberate across the Middle East and beyond.




Emergency and security service members and residents gather around a car at the site of an Israeli strike in Al-Khiyara town in Lebanon’s Western Bekaa area on June 22, 2024. (AFP)

According to Harith Slieman, an academic and political analyst, Lebanon has effectively been in a state of war since Oct. 8. He believes that in the coming days, Israel may not seek a ground invasion of Lebanon, but could ratchet up hostilities through continued airstrikes, targeting infrastructure that would inflict significant damage.

“The missiles Israel intends to launch are more costly than the facilities they will destroy,” Slieman told Arab News, dismissing the notion of a “balance of terror” maintained by Hezbollah to forestall war.

“Hezbollah’s drones, such as the Hudhud, primarily gather intelligence rather than posing a direct security threat to Israel,” he said.

Slieman also rejects comparisons between Israel’s 1970s-80s-era conflict with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its current standoff with Hezbollah, arguing that the former was viewed as an existential threat whereas the latter is rooted in security concerns.




An Israeli air force multirole fighter aircraft flies over the border area between northern Israel and southern Lebanon on June 21, 2024. (AFP)

Regarding the displacement of nearly 60,000 residents of northern Israel caused by the cross-border fighting with Hezbollah, Slieman said this was a decision prompted by Israeli fears of an assault similar to the Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7 on southern Israel.

He believes that even if Israel pushes Hezbollah north of the Litani River, it would not be able to eliminate the threat to its security entirely. Instead, he suggests, Israel’s strategy aims to exert military pressure on Hezbollah to force negotiations that could relocate its citizens back to safer northern areas, in a tacit acknowledgement of Hezbollah’s entrenched presence in southern Lebanon.

Slieman nevertheless paints a bleak picture of Lebanon’s governance, describing it as in a state of collapse, with Hezbollah wielding substantial influence, Najib Mikati operating as a caretaker prime minister, and Nabih Berri, the parliament speaker, remaining politically beholden to the pro-resistance faction.

He says dealing with the Hezbollah question is a fundamentally internal political matter, and therefore only Lebanese stakeholders can resolve the underlying tensions.




This picture taken late on June 23, 2024 shows Israeli bombardment on the village of Khiam in south Lebanon near the border with Israel. (AFP)

Political observers say Hezbollah’s outsized role in Lebanese politics and its broader regional ambitions complicate efforts to achieve lasting peace. Since the 2006 war with Israel, the group has solidified its position, emerging as a key player in domestic governance and a formidable force in regional conflicts such as Syria’s civil war.

Charles Jabour, head of the Lebanese Forces party’s media and communications wing, laments the deepening polarization within Lebanese society.

Since the withdrawal of Syrian forces in 2005, the country has struggled to forge a unified national identity, with Hezbollah’s influence often seen as exacerbating sectarian tensions.

“The division is stark,” Jabour told Arab News. “Attempts to elect a president have repeatedly faltered, as Hezbollah asserts its own agenda independently of the state.”




Nasrallah, seen here delivering a live-streamed address, has ratcheted up the rhetoric of war in response to the elimination of numerous Hezbollah commanders. (AFP)

Hezbollah’s actions and alliances have also invited international scrutiny and condemnation. Its rejection of the international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, coupled with allegations of involvement in illicit activities like drug smuggling and money laundering, have further isolated Lebanon on the global stage.

The threat of war has prompted religious leaders to convene urgent meetings, seeking to address the growing crisis and its potential ramifications. From the headquarters of the Maronite patriarchate, leaders from across Lebanon’s religious spectrum recently called for unity and calm.

In a recent interview with Al-Hadath, Raghida Dergham, founder of the Beirut Institute, warned of Lebanon’s dangerous geopolitical trajectory, highlighted the interconnectedness of regional dynamics, particularly Hezbollah’s ties to Iran and its broader influence across the Middle East.

She said the problem now is one of interpreting Hezbollah’s claim that there is a connection between Gaza and Lebanon. Hamas leader “Yahya Sinwar has 120 hostages while Hassan Nasrallah has 4 million hostages,” Dergham told the current-affairs Arabic TV channel. “The situation is becoming dangerous. What may stop the Lebanon-Israel war is Iran more than America.”

Elaborating on the claim, she said: “As Iran is currently not ready to wage war with Israel and wishes to reconcile with the US administration, I think that Nasrallah worries that some deals are being done behind his back. Therefore, he has got to be extra careful in the way he goes about the matter.”

As Lebanon braces for what many fear is an inevitable conflict, the international community grapples with how best to avert or mitigate the crisis. Calls for diplomatic intervention and mediation grow louder, yet the complex web of regional alliances and historical grievances complicates efforts to find a peaceful resolution.

For now, Lebanon remains on the brink — a nation hamstrung by its own divisions and external pressures. The path forward is uncertain, with the fate of millions hanging in the balance.

As the world watches, hoping for a reprieve from the drums of war, Lebanon’s destiny seems inexorably intertwined with the volatile geopolitics of the Middle East.

 


Sudan fire kills nine

Sudan fire kills nine
Updated 12 sec ago
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Sudan fire kills nine

Sudan fire kills nine
PORT SUDAN: Fire tore through an apartment block in Port Sudan killing nine people in the city which the Sudanese army has made its base during fighting with rival paramilitaries, police said Saturday.
Emergency services rescued several people who had been trapped on the ground floor of the building when an electrical short circuit triggered the blaze.
At least four people remain in hospital but are in stable condition, the police said in a statement, without saying when the blaze took place.
Sudan has been gripped by war since April 2023.
The conflict between the regular army under Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, has left tens of thousands dead and forced more than 10 million from their homes, according to the United Nations.

US criticizes ICJ opinion that Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal

Israeli security forces close-off a main entrance to Huwara town in the occupied West Bank following attacks by Israeli settlers
Israeli security forces close-off a main entrance to Huwara town in the occupied West Bank following attacks by Israeli settlers
Updated 20 min 35 sec ago
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US criticizes ICJ opinion that Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal

Israeli security forces close-off a main entrance to Huwara town in the occupied West Bank following attacks by Israeli settlers
  • “We are concerned that the breadth of the court’s opinion will complicate efforts to resolve the conflict and bring about an urgently needed” peace: State Department

WASHINGTON: The United States criticized “the breadth” of the top UN court’s opinion in which the International Court of Justice said Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal, with Washington saying it will complicate efforts to resolve the conflict.
“We have been clear that Israel’s program of government support for settlements is both inconsistent with international law and obstructs the cause of peace,” a US State Department spokesperson said on Saturday in an email.
“However, we are concerned that the breadth of the court’s opinion will complicate efforts to resolve the conflict and bring about an urgently needed just and lasting peace, with two states living side-by-side in peace and security,” the State Department added.


Hezbollah, Hamas say launched rocket salvos at north Israel

Smoke rises from a fire after Hezbollah fired a barrage of projectiles towards Israel from Lebanon.
Smoke rises from a fire after Hezbollah fired a barrage of projectiles towards Israel from Lebanon.
Updated 20 July 2024
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Hezbollah, Hamas say launched rocket salvos at north Israel

Smoke rises from a fire after Hezbollah fired a barrage of projectiles towards Israel from Lebanon.
  • Hezbollah said it launched “dozens of Katyusha rockets” on Dafna, an area in Israel’s north, “in response to the attack on civilians”

BEIRUT: Hezbollah and its Palestinian ally Hamas said they launched rocket barrages at Israeli positions Saturday to avenge a strike that injured civilians in south Lebanon and the Gaza war toll.
Hezbollah has traded near-daily fire with Israeli forces in support of Hamas since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
Earlier Saturday, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said Syrian nationals, including children, had been injured after an “enemy drone targeted an empty four-wheel drive” near their tent, less than four kilometers from the border.
Doctor Mouenes Kalakesh who heads the Marjayoun government hospital said a woman and her three children, two of them minors, had been admitted for shrapnel injuries after the strike outside Burj Al-Muluk.
Among them was an 11-year-old boy in critical condition after he sustained shrapnel injuries and a head wound, Kalakesh told AFP.
Hezbollah said it launched “dozens of Katyusha rockets” on Dafna, an area in Israel’s north that the group said it was targeting for the first time, “in response to the attack on civilians.”
On Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had warned his Iran-backed group would hit new targets in Israel if more civilians were killed in Israeli strikes.
Later Saturday, Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said they fired a rocket salvo from south Lebanon toward an Israeli military position in the Upper Galilee “in response to the Zionist massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip.”
The Israeli army said a total of 45 “projectiles” had been fired from Lebanon Saturday afternoon, toward the occupied Golan Heights and the Galilee, reporting no casualties.
The army said it struck “the launcher... in southern Lebanon from which the projectiles were launched toward the Golan Heights,” also targeting “an additional Hezbollah launcher.”
On Thursday, Israeli strikes killed at least five people, including the commander of a Hamas-allied group in Lebanon, militant groups and a security source said.
On Tuesday, Lebanese official media said separate Israeli strikes in south Lebanon killed five Syrians, three of them children, with Hezbollah announcing rocket fire at Israel in retaliation.
The violence since October has killed at least 515 people in Lebanon, according to an AFP tally.
Most of the dead have been fighters, but they have included at least 104 civilians.
On the Israeli side, 18 soldiers and 13 civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.


Israeli warplanes pound Houthi-held Hodeidah

Israeli warplanes pound Houthi-held Hodeidah
Updated 28 min 25 sec ago
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Israeli warplanes pound Houthi-held Hodeidah

Israeli warplanes pound Houthi-held Hodeidah
  • Houthi officials vowed to retaliate. “We will respond more violently and harshly to this Zionist-American orgy,” Abdul Sallam Jahaf, a member of the Houthi Shura Council

AL-MUKALLA: Israeli warplanes struck the Houthi-held western Yemeni city of Hodeidah on Saturday, apparently in retaliation for the Houthi drone strike on Tel Aviv earlier this week.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that Israeli planes hit a power plant and a gasoline storage facility, killing and injuring several people.

Images circulating on social media showed a massive ball of fire and thick fog billowing from the targets.

Mohammed Abdul Sallam, the Houthi chief negotiator based in Muscat, said the airstrikes targeted “civilian” facilities to “pressure them to stop supporting Gaza,” vowing to continue attacks on ships and Israel itself until Israel ends its war in the enclave.

“We emphasize that this brutal aggression will only strengthen the determination and steadfastness of the Yemeni people and their valiant armed forces in their support for Gaza,” he said in a post on X.

Other Houthi officials vowed to retaliate. “We will respond more violently and harshly to this Zionist-American orgy,” Abdul Sallam Jahaf, a member of the Houthi Shura Council.

On Friday, the Houthis launched an explosive-laden drone into a Tel Aviv residential area, killing one person and injuring at least 10.

Critics of the militia argue the Houthis will use the bombings to legitimize their rule and crush dissidents in regions under their control.

“An Israeli airstrike is precisely what the #Houthis have long sought to legitimize their power consolidation. This event offers a pretext for increased repression of the population & violence in #Yemen and beyond. The Houthis excel at inviting conflict to sustain their authority,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. said on X.

 


UAE launches investigation into Bangladeshi expats arrested for alleged riots

UAE launches investigation into Bangladeshi expats arrested for alleged riots
Updated 20 July 2024
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UAE launches investigation into Bangladeshi expats arrested for alleged riots

UAE launches investigation into Bangladeshi expats arrested for alleged riots

DUBAI: UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif Al-Shamsi has ordered an investigation into the arrest of several Bangladeshi nationals who were apprehended for inciting riots across multiple streets in the UAE on Friday.

A dedicated team from the public prosecution has promptly begun investigating the arrested individuals, Emirates News Agency, WAM, reported on Saturday.

Preliminary findings suggest that the suspects engaged in criminal activities, including assembling in public spaces and protesting against their home government, WAM added.

These actions were allegedly intended to incite unrest, obstruct the enforcement of law, disrupt individual interests, endanger others and violate their rights, impede traffic, and cause damage to both public and private property.

It is alleged that the suspects deliberately disrupted transport networks, organized and promoted these demonstrations, and recorded and disseminated audiovisual footage of their actions online.

Such activities are considered offenses against state security and public order in the UAE.

The public prosecution has ordered the pre-trial detention of the suspects pending further investigations. Al-Shamsi has also directed that the suspects be referred to an expedited trial.

Massive protests have broken out in Bangladesh over student anger against quotas that set aside 30% of government jobs for the families of those who fought for independence from Pakistan.
Police have fired tear gas to scatter protesters in some areas while the government has banned public gatherings, imposed communications restrictions, deployed the army in some parts and imposed a curfew. Dozens have been killed in the past week.