Israel seeks immediate resumption of talks on citizens held in Gaza

Ultra-Orthodox Jews cross an empty road during a lockdown to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)
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Updated 07 April 2020

Israel seeks immediate resumption of talks on citizens held in Gaza

  • Israel linked any future coronavirus aid to Gaza on progress in efforts to recover two soldiers who went missing in the 2014 war and two civilians who separately slipped into the enclave
  • Yehya Al-Sinwar, Hamas chief in Gaza, has rejected the linkage to coronavirus aid

JERUSALEM/GAZA, April 7 : Israel called on Tuesday for the immediate resumption of talks on the return of four Israelis held for years in the Gaza Strip after the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers said they might be willing to move forward on the issue.
Last week, Israel linked any future coronavirus aid to Gaza on progress in efforts to recover two soldiers who went missing in the 2014 war and two civilians who separately slipped into the enclave. Hamas holds all four.
The Islamist group has never stated whether the two soldiers are dead or alive, but neither has it provided a sign of life, as it has done in a previous similar case.
It has said that returning the four would require negotiating a prisoner swap and would not be done in exchange for humanitarian aid.
In a statement on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said his national security team “stands ready to take constructive action with the goal of returning the fallen and the missing and of ending the affair, and are calling for an immediate dialogue via mediators.”
In past rounds of talks, Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have served as intermediaries.
Yehya Al-Sinwar, Hamas chief in Gaza, has rejected the linkage to coronavirus aid but on Thursday said he saw “a possible initiative to revive this issue” of the Israelis held in the territory if Israel frees jailed Palestinians.
“A prisoner swap will exact a big price” from Israel, he told Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, saying that were it to start by releasing sick, old and female prisoners “we may offer something partial in return.”
Hamas, hoping to head off a contagion it says has so far caused 13 cases in blockaded Gaza, wants Israel to ease economic conditions. Israel is also loathe to deal with a new humanitarian crisis on its border with Gaza, now sealed by both sides.
Israel in the past has freed hundreds of jailed Palestinians, including many militants, in exchange for the recovery of dead or captive Israelis.
But rightists in Netanyahu’s ent coalition government, including Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, opppose any further releases of Palestinian militants.


Afghans condemn Iranian police after refugees killed in car blaze

Updated 7 min 45 sec ago

Afghans condemn Iranian police after refugees killed in car blaze

  • Footage posted on social media showed a boy escaping from the blazing car with burns on parts of his body

KABUL: Afghans have taken to social media to denounce Iranian police after a video of a car carrying with Afghan refugees set ablaze in Iran went viral, arousing new anger weeks after Afghan officials accused Iranian border guards of drowning migrants.
Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday three Afghans were killed and four injured in Iran’s central Yazd province after their vehicle was shot at by Iranian police, triggering the fire.
Video footage posted on social media showed a boy escaping from the blazing car with burns on parts of his body and begging for water. The ministry said the video was genuine and Afghans in Iran were trying to identify the victims.
The boy’s plea of “give me some water, I am burning” was widely circulated on social media and taken up by rights group demanding justice.
“Iran has no right to kill Afghan refugees, they can seal their borders, expel all Afghans but not kill them,” said Ali Noori, a lawyer and rights activist said on Facebook.
Afghans have for decades sought refuge in Iran from war and poverty in their homeland.
Iran says about 2.5 million Afghan migrants, both legal and undocumented, live there. Facing its own economic problems worsened by international sanctions, Iran has at times tried to send Afghans home.
Last month, Afghan officials said Iranian border guards killed 45 Afghan migrant workers by forcing them at gunpoint into a mountain torrent on the border.
At the time, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi issued a statement saying only that the incident in question had taken place on Afghan soil.
Iranian embassy officials in Afghan capital, Kabul were not immediately available for comment on the latest incident.