Israeli troops kill 5 Palestinians in West Bank gun battles

Mourners carry the body of a Palestinian killed by Israeli soldiers during clashes near Jenin. (AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2021

Israeli troops kill 5 Palestinians in West Bank gun battles

  • Deadliest violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the West Bank in several weeks
  • Hamas confirmed that four of the dead were members of the militant group

JERUSALEM: Israeli troops conducted a series of arrest raids against suspected Hamas militants across the occupied West Bank early Sunday, sparking a pair of gunbattles in which five Palestinians were killed and two Israeli soldiers were seriously wounded.
It was the deadliest violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the West Bank in several weeks. The region has seen an increase in fighting in recent months, with tensions fueled by Israeli settlement construction, heightened militant activity in the northern West Bank and the aftermath of a bloody war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip last May.
Israeli officials said they had been tracking the Hamas militants for several weeks and that the raids were launched in response to immediate threats.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the militants were about to carry out attacks “in real time.” He praised the Israeli forces, saying they acted “as expected. They engaged the enemy and we back them completely.”
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, an Israeli army spokesperson, said Israeli forces came under fire while carrying out the arrest raids. He said at least four Hamas operatives were killed and several others were arrested in the overnight operation.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said two Palestinians were shot dead near the northern West Bank city of Jenin and three others were killed in Biddu, north of Jerusalem. The Israeli military said an officer and soldier suffered serious injuries during the arrest in Burqin, near Jenin, and were airlifted to a hospital for medical treatment.
Hamas confirmed that four of the dead, including all three killed in Biddu, were members of the Islamic militant group. Palestinian officials said a 16-year-old boy was also among the dead, though it was not immediately known if he was a militant.
The Palestinian Authority, which administers semi-autonomous areas in the West Bank, condemned the killings and said the Israeli government was “fully and directly responsible for this bloody morning and the crimes committed by the occupation forces.”
But Hamas also criticized the Palestinian Authority, which maintains security coordination with Israel in a shared struggle against the Islamic group.
Hamas spokesman Abdulatif Al-Qanou said that recent meetings between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli officials “encouraged the occupation again to pursue the resistance.”
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip after seizing it from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, praised those killed as “heroic martyrs.” It called on its supporters to “devise tactics and means that harm the enemy and drain it with all possible forms of resistance.”
Also Sunday, Israel released Khalida Jarrar, a prominent Palestinian lawmaker, after nearly two years in prison. Jarrar, a senior figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has been in and out of Israeli prisons for years — often without being charged.
The PFLP has an armed wing and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and Western countries, but Jarrar has not been implicated in attacks. She was sentenced to two years in prison in March for membership in a banned group but given credit for time already served. She was freed several weeks before her sentence was to end.
Recent months have seen a rise in violence in the West Bank, with more than two dozen Palestinians killed in sporadic clashes with Israeli troops and during protests.
Many of the clashes have occurred near Beita, a Palestinian village where residents regularly demonstrate against an unauthorized settlement outpost, and near Jenin, which is known as a militant stronghold.
Last month, Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian gunmen during a late night raid in Jenin, killing four Palestinians. Sunday’s clashes came a week after Israel recaptured the last of six Palestinian fugitives who tunneled out of a maximum-security Israeli prison earlier this month. The escapees were from Jenin, and two were caught there after an extensive search.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has established dozens of settlements where nearly 500,000 settlers reside. The Palestinians seek the West Bank as part of their future state and view the settlements as a major obstacle to resolving the conflict.


Lebanon’s Hezbollah says Israel mistaken to ‘act as it wants’ in disputed maritime border area

Updated 22 sec ago

Lebanon’s Hezbollah says Israel mistaken to ‘act as it wants’ in disputed maritime border area

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday Israel was not free to start drilling for oil and gas in the disputed maritime border area between the two countries.
“If the enemy thinks they can act as they please before reaching a solution to this issue they are wrong,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
Lebanon’s cabinet had raised the question to the United Nations permanent representative and others in the international community after Israel granted US oilfield services group Halliburton an offshore drilling contract in the Mediterranean, asking to clarify whether the drilling would take part in disputed areas.

Syria constitution talks stall at UN

Updated 2 sec ago

Syria constitution talks stall at UN

  • The government and the opposition traded barbs after the discussions, pointing the finger at each other for the lack of progress
  • “The discussion today was a big disappointment. We did not manage to achieve what we had hoped to achieve”: Pedersen

GENEVA: Talks on a new constitution for Syria this week ended in disappointment, the United Nations mediator concluded Friday, and without a proper understanding on how to move the process forward.
The sixth round of discussions between 15 representatives each from President Bashar Assad’s government, the opposition, and from civil society, were held this week at the UN in Geneva.
The government and the opposition traded barbs afterwards, pointing the finger at each other for the lack of progress.
“It was ups and downs,” UN envoy Geir Pedersen told a news conference following the Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC) talks.
“We had three days that went rather well and one day that was more difficult.”
This week, each delegation brought forward draft texts on different areas of the constitution: on Monday, the government on sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity; on Tuesday, the opposition on the armed forces and security; then civil society on the rule of law; and on Friday, the government on terrorism.
Pedersen wanted to wrap up Friday by striking a form of provisional agreement on the principles that had been discussed, either in part or in full — or if not, then agreeing on what the parties disagreed on.
“The discussion today was a big disappointment. We did not manage to achieve what we had hoped to achieve: that we would have a good discussion on how to reach forward for some kind of a consensus,” the Norwegian diplomat said.
“We lacked a proper understanding on how to move that process forward.”
Negotiations have not been held since January, when the fifth round of talks hit a brick wall.
No date was agreed for the next round of discussions.
The SCC was created in September 2019 and first convened a month later.
The tentative negotiations are aimed at rewriting the war-torn country’s constitution. It is hoped the talks could pave the way toward a broader political process.
Ahmad Kuzbari, the head of the government SCC delegation, said some opposition proposals were “far from reality and even reflected malign thought and aggressive agendas,” he told reporters afterwards.
He accused the opposition of “ceaseless attempts to lay obstacles and to make this round fail and lead it not to achieve any outcome.”
“Despite all that took place, our delegation reaffirms its will to carry on, to engage positively in the process,” he concluded.
Syrian opposition negotiations leader Hadi Al-Bahra said Kuzbari’s claims were “bare of any truth” and said the regime did not have the will to reach a solution.
“There were not even attempts to achieve a consensus,” he said.
Bahra said the opposition and the government’s position on Syrian independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity were interchangeable, “but still they are insisting that there is no consensus.”
But he said the talks in Geneva were the only international platform on which the Syrian opposition had a voice, so it was one “we must preserve.”
Pedersen said the participants “agreed that it could not continue like this,” but revealed that “a little bit of trust” had been established this week and he could “see that there are possibilities.”
Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011 after the violent repression of protests demanding regime change.
It quickly spiralled into a complex conflict that pulled in numerous actors, including jihadist groups and foreign powers. The war has left around half a million people dead.
Throughout the civil war, the UN has been striving to nurture a political resolution.


France urges Iran to curb nuclear activity, resume talks

Updated 22 October 2021

France urges Iran to curb nuclear activity, resume talks

  • US envoy Robert Malley joined counterparts from France, Britain and Germany at meetings in Paris
  • Iran’s new government has hinted it will return to the nuclear talks in Vienna but has balked at setting a date

PARIS: France on Friday urged Iran to curb nuclear activities of “unprecedented gravity” as US and European envoys met to discuss efforts aimed at reviving the troubled 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
US envoy Robert Malley joined counterparts from France, Britain and Germany at the meetings in Paris, at what the French Foreign Ministry called a “critical time” in efforts to salvage the accord.
“It is urgent and crucial for Iran to end the activities of unprecedented gravity that it is conducting in violation of the (agreement) and to immediately resume full-fledged cooperation” with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre said in an online briefing.
The IAEA is charged with monitoring the 2015 accord, which was aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions. The US pulled out of the accord under Donald Trump and re-imposed sanctions.
Since then Iran has stepped up nuclear activity and is now in violation of several aspects of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.
Iran’s nuclear activity includes enriching uranium which Western nations fear could be used to build an atomic bomb. Tehran denies any such ambitions.
The US and European partners are ready to return immediately to negotiations with Iran “in order to swiftly conclude an agreement on Iran’s return to its commitments and the United States’ return to the JCPOA,” Legendre said.
Iran’s new hard-line government led by President Ebrahim Raisi, which took power in August, has hinted it will return to the nuclear talks in Vienna but has balked at setting a date.


Israel designates six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorists

Updated 22 October 2021

Israel designates six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorists

  • The designations authorise Israeli authorities to close the groups' offices, seize their assets and arrest their staff in the occupied West Bank
  • Israel's defence ministry said the six Palestinian groups had ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

TEL AVIV: Israel on Friday designated six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations and accused them of funnelling donor aid to militants.
The charge was rejected by human rights watchdogs who said the move will stifle monitoring of potential abuses.
The designations authorize Israeli authorities to close the groups’ offices, seize their assets and arrest their staff in the occupied West Bank, watchdogs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint statement condemning the move.
Israel’s defense ministry said the six Palestinian groups had ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), a left-wing faction with an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis.
“(The) declared organizations received large sums of money from European countries and international organizations, using a variety of forgery and deceit,” the defense ministry said in a statement, alleging the money had supported PFLP’s activities.
The groups include leading Palestinian human rights organizations Al-Haq and Addameer, who document alleged rights violations by both Israel and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank.
Asked for comment, an official with PFLP, which is on the European Union’s terrorism blacklist, did not outright reject ties to the six groups but said they maintain relations with civil society organizations across the West Bank and Gaza.
“It is part of the rough battle Israel is launching against the Palestinian people and against civil society groups, in order to exhaust them,” PFLP official Kayed Al-Ghoul said.
Al-Haq did not immediately provide comment. Addameer and another one of the designated groups, Defense for Children International — Palestine, rejected the Israeli accusations as an “attempt to eliminate Palestinian civil society.”
The other three groups listed did not immediately provide comment.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said the “decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”
They added: “The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.”
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek the territories for a future state.


127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months

Updated 22 October 2021

127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months

  • 127 Gambian migrants were assisted to voluntarily return to The Gambia yesterday
  • Libya has become a key conduit for migrants, mainly from African countries south of the Sahara, seeking to reach Europe by sea

TRIPOLI: A group of Gambian migrants stranded in Libya have been repatriated, the United Nations’ migration agency said Friday, the first such evacuation flight in months.
“127 Gambian migrants were assisted to voluntarily return to The Gambia yesterday after IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return program received clearance to resume humanitarian flights from #Libya,” the International Organization for Migration said in a tweet.
Rocked by a decade of lawlessness and war, Libya has become a key conduit for migrants, mainly from African countries south of the Sahara, seeking to reach Europe by sea.
But many end up becoming stranded in Libya, where they face grave abuses, according to international rights groups and UN agencies.
The resumption of humanitarian flights came as Tripoli hosted an international conference to seek support for stability in Libya.
The UN’s vice-head for political affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, used the conference to urge authorities to speed up repatriations and release migrants in detention.
Libyan authorities faced international outcry earlier this month after carrying out sweeping raids described by Doctors without Borders as “violent mass arrests” that left at least one person dead.
Days later, guards had shot dead six migrants at the Al-Mabani detention facility in Tripoli, while at least 24 others were wounded, the IOM said.
Some 2,000 migrants escaped in the chaos.
The Libyan interior ministry said a “stampede” had left an “irregular migrant” dead and wounded others as well as several police officers.
The United Nations has in the past offered flights for migrants voluntarily seeking repatriation.
Its refugee agency, the UNHCR, organized one such flight to Rwanda in July with 133 asylum seekers on board — the only one authorized by Libyan authorities this year.
The UNHCR on Friday welcomed the resumption of humanitarian evacuation flights but warned that “it is not enough.”
“This is a positive development for some of the most vulnerable refugees, who have been waiting anxiously for many months to depart,” its regional envoy Vincent Cochetel said in a statement.
“But we also need to be realistic: resettlement or evacuation flights will only benefit a limited number of people.”
The UNHCR urged the Libyan government to “immediately address the dire situation of asylum seekers and refugees in a humane and rights-based manner.”
More than 1,000 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers are currently prioritized for humanitarian flights and awaiting their resumption, it said.

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