Belgium requests Iran return jailed aid worker

The family of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele. Belgium has formally asked Iran to repatriate jailed Vandecasteele from Tehran. (AFP/File)
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Updated 18 April 2023
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Belgium requests Iran return jailed aid worker

  • Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib wrote on social media “I denounced his conditions of detention and requested a visit by our ambassador in Iran”
  • Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib wrote on social media “I denounced his conditions of detention and requested a visit by our ambassador in Iran”

BRUSSELS: Belgium on Tuesday said it had formally asked Iran to repatriate jailed aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele from Tehran, after a disputed prisoner exchange treaty entered into force.
Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said she had informed her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian of the “transfer request for our compatriot Olivier Vandecasteele.”
“I denounced his conditions of detention and requested a visit by our ambassador in Iran,” she wrote in a social media post.
Iran arrested Vandecasteele, 42, in February 2022 and sentenced him to 40 years for spying, in a move condemned as “hostage diplomacy” by his backers.
Brussels is eyeing a swap for Iranian official Assadollah Assadi, jailed in Belgium after he was convicted of masterminding a plot to blow up a 2018 Iranian opposition event outside Paris.
But a potential exchange was held up for months after a legal challenge by an Iranian opposition group to a prisoner exchange treaty with Tehran.
The complaint was dismissed by Belgium’s Constitutional Court last month, fueling hopes that Vandecasteele could be returned home.
The treaty formally entered into force on Tuesday.
The family of Vandecasteele, who worked for aid organizations in Iran for six years, said he was transferred to Tehran’s Evin prison 10 days ago and was being held in solitary confinement.
They said he complained in a brief phone call that “he could no longer sleep and could barely stand up straight because of excruciating muscle and nerve pain.”
“He is not being treated for this. His detention conditions have not changed and he is not given enough food to preserve his health,” the family said.
“Olivier is totally worn out. He cannot remain the pawn of talks between two countries. His life is at stake,” they said.


UAE announces cabinet reshuffle

Updated 14 sec ago
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UAE announces cabinet reshuffle

DUBAI: UAE announced new cabinet reshuffle said Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in a statment on X on Sunday morning. 

 


EU naval mission says it destroyed aerial drone in Gulf of Aden

Updated 22 min 24 sec ago
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EU naval mission says it destroyed aerial drone in Gulf of Aden

ATHENS: The EU naval mission protecting ships crossing the Red Sea said that its frigate Psara had destroyed an unmanned aerial drone in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday.
The Aspides mission began in February in response to drone and missile attacks by Iranian-aligned Houthi militants on vessels in the region. The Houthis describe the attacks as acts of solidarity with Palestinians in Israel’s war in Gaza.
Other countries, including the United States, also have naval forces operating in the area.


Senior Hamas official says group withdraws from Gaza truce talks

Updated 21 min 23 sec ago
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Senior Hamas official says group withdraws from Gaza truce talks

  • Senior Hamas official tells AFP group has withdrawn from Gaza ceasefire talks because of Israeli “massacres”
  • Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif ‘fine’ after Israeli strike, another official confirms

GAZA STRIP: A senior Hamas official told AFP Sunday that the Palestinian militant group has withdrawn from talks on a ceasefire in the Gaza war because of Israeli “massacres” and its attitude in negotiations.
Another Hamas official said the group’s military leader Mohammed Deif was “fine” and working despite Israel’s huge bomb attack on a southern Gaza camp that it said targeted the wanted Hamas commander.
Gaza’s health ministry said the attack left 92 dead.
Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh told international mediators Qatar and Egypt of the end of the talks on a ceasefire plan first outlined by US President Joe Biden in May, according to the senior official.
The first phase of the deal would have seen a six-week ceasefire with the exchange of most hostages taken in Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Haniyeh said Hamas would “halt negotiations due to the occupation’s (Israel) lack of seriousness, continued policy of procrastination and obstruction, and the ongoing massacres against unarmed civilians,” according to the official.
“Hamas has shown great flexibility to reach an agreement and end the aggression and is ready to resume negotiations when the occupation government demonstrates seriousness in reaching a ceasefire agreement and a prisoner exchange deal.
Haniyeh said in a statement late Saturday that he had called the mediators and other countries to urge them to put pressure on Israel to halt the attacks.
Israel said Deif, who it considers one of the “masterminds” of the October 7 attacks, was the target of the strikes on the Al-Mawasi camp in southern Gaza where tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians from other districts have gathered.
But Hamas, without confirming that Deif was at the camp, said he was alive and working.
“Commander Mohammed Deif is well and directly overseeing Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades and resistance operations,” the official said, referring to Hamas’s armed wing.
The October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 42 the military says are dead.
Israel has responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,443 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to figures from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


At least 90 Palestinians killed, Gaza officials say, as Israel targets Hamas military chief

Updated 14 July 2024
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At least 90 Palestinians killed, Gaza officials say, as Israel targets Hamas military chief

  • Hamas says Israel’s claims it targeted its leaders are false, aimed at justifying attack
  • Many wounded in strike, including women and children, taken to Nasser Hospital

GAZA: An Israeli airstrike killed at least 90 Palestinians in a designated humanitarian zone in Gaza on Saturday, the enclave’s health ministry said, in an attack that Israel said targeted Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif.
It was unclear whether Deif was killed. “We are still checking and verifying the results of the strike,” an Israeli military official told reporters.
The militant Islamist group Hamas said in a statement that Israeli claims it had targeted leaders of the group were false and aimed at justifying the attack, which was the deadliest Israeli attack in Gaza in weeks.
Displaced people sheltering in the area said their tents were torn down by the force of the strike, describing bodies and body parts strewn on the ground.
“I couldn’t even tell where I was or what was happening,” said Sheikh Youssef, a resident of Gaza City who is currently displaced in the Al-Mawasi area.
“I left the tent and looked around, all the tents were knocked down, body parts, bodies everywhere, elderly women thrown on the floor, young children in pieces,” he told Reuters.
The Israeli military said the strike against Deif also targeted Rafa Salama, the commander of Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade, describing them as two of the masterminds of the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the nine-month war in Gaza.
Deif has survived seven Israeli assassination attempts, the most recent in 2021 and has topped Israel’s most wanted list for decades, held responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings.
The Gaza health ministry said at least 91 Palestinians were killed in the strike and 300 were injured, the deadliest toll in weeks in the conflict-shattered enclave.
Al-Mawasi is a designated humanitarian area that the Israeli army has repeatedly urged Palestinians to head to after issuing evacuation orders from other areas.
Reuters footage showed ambulances racing toward the area amidst clouds of smoke and dust. Displaced people, including women and children, were fleeing in panic, some holding belongings in their hands.
The Israeli military published an aerial photo of the site, which Reuters was not immediately able to verify, where it said “terrorists hid among civilians.”
“The location of the strike was an open area surrounded by trees, several buildings, and sheds,” it said in a statement.
The Israeli military official said the area was not a tent complex, but an operational compound run by Hamas and that several more militants were there, guarding Deif.

HOSPITAL ‘FULL OF PATIENTS’
Many of those wounded in the strike, including women and children, were taken to the nearby Nasser Hospital, which hospital officials said had been overwhelmed and was “no longer able to function” due to the intensity of the Israeli offensive and an acute shortage of medical supplies.
“The hospital is full of patients, it’s full of wounded, we can’t find beds for people,” said Atef Al-Hout, director of the hospital, adding that it was the only one still operating in southern Gaza.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was holding special consultations, his office said, in light of “developments in Gaza.”
It was unclear how the strike would affect ceasefire talks underway in Doha and Cairo.
“Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s not good. I don’t know about Mohammed Deif, I know that keeping the war is bad for all of us,” said Ayala Metzger, the daughter-in-law of an Israeli hostage who was taking part in a hostage solidarity march just outside Jerusalem on Saturday.
“We need to bring the hostages back,” she told Reuters.
“If (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu killed Mohammed Deif then he has his picture of victory so bring them back now.”
ATTACK HIT CALM AREA, WITNESSES SAY
Separately on Saturday, at least 20 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli attack on a prayer hall at a Gaza camp for displaced people in west Gaza City, Palestinian health and civil emergency officials said.
A senior Hamas official did not confirm whether Deif had been present in the attack on Khan Younis and called the Israeli allegations “nonsense.”
“All the martyrs are civilians and what happened was a grave escalation of the war of genocide, backed by the American support and world silence,” Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters, adding the strike showed Israel was not interested in reaching a ceasefire deal.
Critics have accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians, which Israel denies. It characterises its actions as self-defense to prevent another attack like Oct. 7, though the International Court of Justice ordered Israel in January to take action to prevent acts of genocide.
Hamas-led militants killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages in the cross-border raid into southern Israel on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel has retaliated with its military action in Gaza that has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, medical authorities in Gaza say.
Witnesses said the Khan Younis attack came as a surprise as the area had been calm, adding more than one missile had been fired. Some of the wounded who were being evacuated were rescue workers, they said.
“They’re all gone, my whole family’s gone ... where are my brothers? They’re all gone, they’re all gone. There’s no one left,” said one tearful woman, who did not give her name.
Rising up the Hamas ranks over 30 years, Deif developed the group’s network of tunnels and its bomb-making expertise, Hamas sources say.
In March, Israel said it killed Deif’s deputy, Marwan Issa. Hamas has not confirmed or denied his death.


Syria says soldier killed, three wounded in Israeli strikes

Updated 14 July 2024
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Syria says soldier killed, three wounded in Israeli strikes

  • Sunday’s strikes targeted “a number of our military sites in the southern region and one of the residential buildings in the Kafar Souseh area in the city of Damascus,” the Syrian army said in a statement

DAMASCUS: One Syrian soldier was killed and three others were injured in Israeli air strikes against military sites and a residential building in Damascus early on Sunday, the Syrian army said.
The army said in a statement that the attacks were launched from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
For years Israel has been carrying out attacks against what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar Assad in the civil war that started in 2011.
Israeli strikes on Syria increased after the start of the war in Gaza last October.
Sunday’s strikes targeted “a number of our military sites in the southern region and one of the residential buildings in the Kafar Souseh area in the city of Damascus,” the Syrian army said in a statement.
“Our air defense systems confronted the enemy’s missiles despite their density and shot down a considerable number of them.”
Israel’s army said its strikes were in response to the launch of two drones from Syria toward the north of Eilat on Saturday, which it said were intercepted.
“Overnight, the IDF struck a Syrian military command center and infrastructure sites. Additionally, terror targets used by the Syrian military’s Aerial Defense Unit were struck,” it added.