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)
Short Url
Updated 25 June 2024
Follow

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.

 


Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
Updated 15 July 2024
Follow

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
  • The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The civil defense agency in Hamas-run Gaza said Sunday that 15 people were killed in a strike on a school sheltering war displaced where the Israeli military said it had targeted “terrorists.”
The strike on the UN-run Abu Araban site in central Gaza’s Nuseirat camp was the fifth on a school-turned-shelter in eight days.
The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children.
Schools in Nuseirat were the target for two of the earlier school strikes as Israel keeps up its offensive against Hamas Palestinian militants who triggered the war with their October 7 attack on Israel.
The Israeli military said its air force “struck a number of terrorists who were operating in the area of UNRWA’s Abu Araban school building in Nuseirat.”
It said the building had “served as a hideout” and base for “attacks” on Israeli troops.
AFPTV images showed the three-story complex standing, with clothes and bedding airing out over its railings. A wall bearing the UN logo had been blown out, and rooms inside were damaged.
On July 6, Israeli aircraft hit Al-Jawni school, also run by the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), in Nuseirat. UNRWA said about 2,000 people were sheltering there at the time.
The following day, four people died in a strike on the church-run Holy Family school in Gaza City, in the territory’s north, according to the Civil Defense agency.
On Monday, Israel hit another Nuseirat school, again saying it was targeting “terrorists.”
The next day, a hospital source said at least 29 people died in a strike at the entrance to Al-Awda school in the Khan Yunis area, southern Gaza.
Israel says Hamas uses schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure for military purposes. Hamas denies the accusation.
France and Germany on Wednesday called for an investigation into the school strikes.
After the Al-Jawni strike, UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma told AFP that when the war began “we closed the schools and they became shelters.”
UNRWA is the main relief agency in Gaza but more than half, or 190, of its facilities have been hit — “some more than once” — in the military response to the October 7 Hamas attacks, she said.
 

 


As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
Updated 14 July 2024
Follow

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
  • About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian

TEL AVIV: Comedian Ayman Nahas said he has kept a “low profile” since Oct. 7, fearing reprisals as an Arab artist in Israel while the country wages war in the Gaza Strip.
He is one of many Arab artists in Israel or annexed East Jerusalem who describe facing increasing hostility and harassment and fearing looming funding cuts or arrests.
“You never know where your place is, and that is not the right atmosphere to perform,” said Nahas, the artistic director at the Arabic-language Sard theater in Haifa, in Israel’s north.
He said that his theater depends on government subsidies “like 99 percent of cultural spaces” in Israel.
But he fears the money could be cut, as happened in 2015 to Al-Midan, another theater in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa, after it put on a play inspired by the story of a prisoner jailed by Israel over an attack on troops.
One 25-year-old performer, who asked to use the pseudonym Elias to avoid a backlash, said he has put acting aside and became a swimming pool attendant because he was fed up with only getting stereotyped roles.
Other Arab actors say that since the war, they can no longer find work in Israel. Elias has finally found a role in Berlin.
“I have had to go into exile to practice my art,” he said in a Tel Aviv cafe.
“I don’t wear my ‘Free Palestine’ bracelet anymore, and I take care of what I put on social media. I have friends who the police have visited.”
Nonprofit group Mossawa has documented an increase in human rights violations against Israel’s Arab minority since October, including arrests, discrimination at work, and harassment at schools, as well as curbs on the right to protest.
Singer Dalal Abu Amneh, who is also a neuroscientist, was detained for 48 hours for a social media post after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that said “the only victor is God.”
Abu Amneh later said she had been harassed in her Jewish-majority hometown of Afula in northern Israel. Her lawyer said she had received hundreds of “death threats.”
About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian.
They say they are frequently the targets of discrimination by the Jewish majority, and those complaints have grown through more than nine months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Huda Imam, who promotes Palestinian cultural sites in Jerusalem, said that “a cultural silence has taken hold since Oct. 7.”
“There has been a shock, an inability to produce out of fear and respect” for the war’s victims, she added.
“There was a Palestinian cultural life before the war, especially in east Jerusalem,” Imam said, referring to the sector Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by most of the international community.
“Now people don’t go out.”
And it is primarily exiles “who give a voice to Palestine,” said Imam, highlighting the rapper Saint Levant, who played at the Coachella music festival in the US in April, and the European-based singer and flute player Nai Barghouti.
Palestinians still express themselves through their “living heritage, like drinking coffee or dancing dabkeh,” a traditional dance, said artist Hani Amra.
Some artists wondered about the relevance of their work now.
“You turn on the television, and you see the war live. The reality is more powerful than any artistic work,” Amer Khalil, the director of east Jerusalem’s Al-Hakawati, also known as the Palestinian National Theater.
The theater, founded in 1984, “has been closed more than 200 times in 40 years” and is again in the crosshairs of Israeli authorities, said Khalil.
“Running a theater is always difficult, but after Oct. 7 things became even more complicated,” he said, adding that Al-Hakawati was preparing a play about that day.
“It is a game, like censorship. It comes and goes.”

 


UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
Updated 14 July 2024
Follow

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
  • The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday
  • The aid includes supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries and insulin

DUBAI: The UAE delivered three tonnes of medical supplies and a range of medicines to support the healthcare sector and hospitals still operating in the Gaza Strip, the UAE state news agency reported on Sunday.

The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday.

The medical aid includes medical supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries, insulin for diabetic patients, and other solutions to bolster the healthcare sector during the crisis.

The UAE on Sunday condemned Israel’s attack on refugee camps in Khan Younis, which claimed the lives of 100 people.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday expressed its strongest condemnation and denunciation of what it termed “continued genocidal massacres against the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli war machine.”


Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth
Updated 14 July 2024
Follow

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth
  • Its statement added expenses were estimated at 24.5 billion dinars and revenues at 18.9 billion dinars

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait's budget is projected to show a deficit of 5.6 billion dinars ($18.33 billion) for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Sunday citing the Ministry of Finance. 

Its statement added expenses were estimated at 24.5 billion dinars and revenues at 18.9 billion dinars.

Government spending must be fixed at 24.5 billion Kuwaiti dinars in the 2027-2028 budget to control budget growth, the ministry also said.

The liquidity of the General Reserve Fund, from which the budget deficit is financed, decreased to 2 billion dinars last March from 33.6 billion ten years ago due to increasing withdrawals, it added.


Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis

Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis
Updated 14 July 2024
Follow

Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis

Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis
  • Egypt called on Israel to cease its disregard for the lives of unarmed civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law

CAIRO: Egypt has condemned the Israeli airstrikes on the Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

The deaths in Al-Mawasi, an Israeli-designated “safe zone” where aid groups said hundreds of thousands of people were sheltering, drew condemnation from governments across the region.

The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said at least 92 people had been killed, more than half of them women and children, and 300 wounded in Saturday’s strike

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates, Egypt condemned in the strongest terms the Israeli bombing of Al-Mawasi, which is crowded with displaced people, resulting in the death and injury of dozens of innocent Palestinian civilians.

Egypt called on Israel to cease its disregard for the lives of unarmed civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law.

It also stressed that such crimes would not be subject to a statute of limitations and could not be justified under any pretext.

Egypt emphasized that these continuous violations against Palestinian civilians add serious complications to the current efforts aimed at reaching de-escalation and a ceasefire and exacerbate their suffering amid disgraceful international silence and inaction.