UN peacekeepers try to stay safe amid Lebanon-Israel border flare-ups

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Irish peacekeepers sit together inside a bunker during a Reuters’ visit at Camp Shamrock where Irish and Polish peacekeepers of the UNIFIL are stationed near Maroun Al-Ras village close to the Lebanese-Israeli border, on Nov. 29, 2023. (Reuters)
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A UN vehicle drives, during a Reuters’ visit at Camp Shamrock where Irish and Polish peacekeepers of the UNIFIL are stationed near Maroun Al-Ras village close to the Lebanese-Israeli border on Nov. 29, 2023. (Reuters)
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Polish peacekeepers stand together at Camp Shamrock where Irish and Polish peacekeepers of the UNIFIL are stationed near Maroun Al-Ras village close to the Lebanese-Israeli border on Nov. 29, 2023. (Reuters)
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UN peacekeepers stand together during Reuters' visit at Camp Shamrock where Irish and Polish peacekeepers of the UNIFIL are stationed near Maroun al-Ras village close to the Lebanese-Israeli border, in southern Lebanon on Nov. 29, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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UN peacekeepers try to stay safe amid Lebanon-Israel border flare-ups

  • Troops from the UNIFIL have repeatedly sheltered in bunkers during “intense shelling and rocket launches,” said Lt. Col. Stephen MacEoin
  • He hoped the truce in Gaza between Hamas and Israel would be extended, as it was civilians “who suffer most”

MAROUN AL-RAS, Lebanon: While trying to fulfil their mandate to keep the peace, UN soldiers deployed along Lebanon’s border with Israel during the worst hostilities there in nearly 20 years have another urgent concern: keeping their own forces safe.
Since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza seven weeks ago, troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have repeatedly sheltered in bunkers during “intense shelling and rocket launches,” a senior commander said during a Reuters visit to a UNIFIL base in southern Lebanon.
“I’ve got to maintain force protection as a priority while also carrying out the mission,” said Lt. Col. Stephen MacEoin, battalion commander of the Irish and Polish soldiers stationed at Camp Shamrock in the village of Tiri, near Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.
The conflict in Gaza, some 200 km (124 miles) away to the south, has seen Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, trading fire daily along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Israeli attacks have killed about 100 people in Lebanon — 80 of them Hezbollah fighters — since Oct. 7.
MacEoin said he hoped the truce in Gaza between Hamas and Israel would be extended, as it was civilians “who suffer most” from conflict, be it in Lebanon or Gaza, and the violence in Gaza was linked to the situation in southern Lebanon.
“The concerns of the mission are that, after so many weeks of exchanges of fire, now we have a truce, a moment of calm, but that intensive changes of fire can really trigger a much wider cycle of conflict,” said UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti.
“This is the real warning and danger that everyone is facing not only in the south but in the region.”
He said UNIFIL communicated with both sides in the flare-ups on the Lebanon-Israel border to try to “de-escalate tensions.”
No peacekeepers have been killed since the escalation of hostilities. But two peacekeepers have been injured in two separate incidents and UNIFIL compounds and bases have been hit and damaged by mortar shells several times, Tenenti told Reuters.
“We’ve had a lot of firing north and south of the Blue Line...a lot of close incidents,” MacEoin said, referring to a 120-km (74 mile) demarcation drawn by the United Nations that marks the line to which Israeli forces withdrew when they left south Lebanon in 2000.
In the latest incident, a UNIFIL patrol was hit by Israeli gunfire in the vicinity of Aytaroun of southern Lebanon, although there were no casualties. The UN force called the attack on “deeply troubling.”
UNIFIL was established by the Security Council in 1978 after Israel invaded Lebanon. Its scope and size were expanded after a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah that killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 158 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
The force is deployed in southern Lebanon with the primary role of helping maintain international peace and security.
The mission says it currently has about 10,000 troops drawn from 47 countries, and about 800 civilian staff, stationed in 45 positions throughout a 1,060 square km (409 square mile) area between the Litani River and the Blue Line.
Last December, an Irish soldier serving in UNIFIL was killed after the UNIFIL vehicle he was traveling in was fired on as it traveled in southern Lebanon. Seven people were charged by a Lebanese military tribunal in January for his death, the first fatal attack on UN peacekeepers in Lebanon since 2015.
Calm had prevailed on the border since Hamas and Israel agreed a temporary truce that began on Nov. 24. But on Thursday morning the Israeli military said it intercepted an “aerial target” that crossed from Lebanon. Earlier on Thursday the two sides struck a last-minute agreement to extend the truce.


Maintaining GCC-Egypt diplomatic links vital to regional security: Egyptian foreign minister

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry speaks in Riyadh.
Updated 03 March 2024
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Maintaining GCC-Egypt diplomatic links vital to regional security: Egyptian foreign minister

  • Gulf ministers briefed on breakdown in talks over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

CAIRO: Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Sunday highlighted the importance of Cairo maintaining its strong links with Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

His comments came as he took part in a joint consultative meeting of Egypt and GCC foreign ministers in Riyadh.

In a speech, Shoukry noted the increased significance of political consultation in tackling key issues of mutual concern and the shared social and economic strategic interests of Egypt and council member nations.

He also pointed out that solid relations between the parties were vital in working toward stability in the region and dealing with the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that during the meeting in the Saudi capital, Shoukry warned of the disastrous humanitarian repercussions of any ground military operation by Israel in the city of Rafah and the threat such action would pose to regional security.

And he called on Israel to stop obstructing the access of humanitarian aid to the Strip.

The Egyptian minister also discussed with his GCC counterparts continued Iran-backed Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea, along with the latest situations in Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Somalia.

Regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Shoukry highlighted what he described as Ethiopia’s uncompromising approach to tackling project issues with its neighbors, a stance that had led Cairo to withdraw from negotiations.

GCC Secretary-General Jasem Al-Budaiwi said it was crucial that Arab nations cooperated in dealing with regional challenges including bringing about a Gaza ceasefire and ensuring Nile water security for Egypt and Sudan.


Egyptian envoy highlights support for Lebanon stability efforts

Alaa Moussa participates in a meeting of ambassadors of five-nation group in Lebanon with caretaker PM Najib Mikati.
Updated 03 March 2024
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Egyptian envoy highlights support for Lebanon stability efforts

  • The ambassador emphasized Egypt’s support for electing a new president for Lebanon 16 months after the position became vacant
  • He also stressed the urgency of completing this process due to the regional situation

CAIRO: Alaa Moussa, Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon, participated in a meeting of the ambassadors of the five-nation group in Lebanon with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, France, the US, and Qatar.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo said Egypt participated in the meeting to support Lebanon and promote its stability.

The ambassador emphasized Egypt’s support for electing a new president for Lebanon 16 months after the position became vacant.

He also stressed the urgency of completing this process due to the regional situation.

Moussa and other ambassadors emphasized the five-nation group’s role: to assist Lebanese parties in reaching a fair and transparent agreement on electing the president through dialogue or consultation.

The five-nation group will not interfere with the appointment of the next Lebanese president, which is the exclusive role of the Lebanese parliament.

Mikati said he appreciated the five countries’ efforts to support Lebanon in facing its current challenges.

He also said electing a new president is crucial in completing Lebanon’s state institutions and implementing necessary political and economic reforms to overcome the current crises.

The Arab and international community launched the coordination framework last year to support Lebanon, which has been without a president since the end of former President Michel Aoun’s term in October 2022.


Houthis vow to sink more UK ships in the Red Sea 

UK-owned vessel Rubymar, which had sunk in the Red Sea after being struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile fired by Houthis.
Updated 03 March 2024
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Houthis vow to sink more UK ships in the Red Sea 

  • The US military confirmed on Saturday that the UK-owned vessel Rubymar had sunk after being struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia vowed on Sunday to target more UK ships in the Red Sea, despite growing worldwide outrage over the sinking of a vessel carrying thousands of tonnes of fertilizer. 

Hussein Al-Ezzi, the group’s deputy foreign minister, said that its forces would continue sinking ships in the Red Sea, even if it meant causing an ecological disaster off Yemen’s coasts. He also blamed the UK for participating in US-led strikes against Houthi areas, as well as supporting Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip.

Al-Ezzi said in a post on X: “Yemen will continue to sink more British ships, and any repercussions or other damage will be added to Britain’s bill, as it is a rogue state that attacks Yemen and partners with America in sponsoring the ongoing crime against civilians in Gaza.”

The Houthi threats came a day after the Yemeni government and the US Central Command announced that the Belize-flagged Rubymar, which was hit by the militia’s missiles last month, sank with a cargo of more than 21,000 tonnes of fertilizer, raising concerns about possible environmental disaster for Red Sea coral reefs, along with shipping using the route.

The Houthis said that the ship was owned by the UK and was targeted in retribution for the country’s strikes on Yemen, as well as its backing for Israel’s blockade and bombing of Gaza.

The Houthis have seized the commercial ship Galaxy Leader and launched hundreds of drones and missile strikes against commercial and naval vessels in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab, and the Gulf of Aden, since November.

The group says it has banned any Israel-bound ships from passing across the Red Sea in order to force Israel to allow humanitarian assistance into the besieged Gaza Strip.

Yemen’s Minister of Transport Abdul Salam Humaid said in a statement on Saturday that he had asked the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea & Gulf of Aden, based in Jeddah, and other marine conservation bodies for assistance in containing any pollution from the ship, as well as help in forming a legal commission to force the ship’s owners to remove the vessel and its cargo.

The US Central Command said on Sunday that the ship’s cargo of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer constituted a hazard to nautical life, and that the sinking ship was also a risk to other vessels passing through the Red Sea.

The US military said in a statement: “As the ship sinks, it also presents a subsurface impact risk to other ships transiting the busy shipping lanes of the waterway. The Houthis pose a heightened threat to global maritime activities.”

Despite worldwide condemnation and warnings about the consequences of its actions, the Houthis have renewed threats to obstruct a rescue mission for the ship prior to humanitarian aid arriving in Gaza.

Yemen’s Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi blamed the sinking of the Rubymar on UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his government, saying on Saturday that his group would only let the world rescue the ship if Israel lifted its siege of Gaza.

Al-Houthi said on X: “We say to Sunak, you and your government are responsible for the (sinking of the) ship MV Rubymar, as well as for supporting genocide and the blockade of Gaza.”

The militia has said it would release the crew of the Galaxy Leader if requested to do so by Hamas.

Nasr Al-Din Amer, a Houthi media official, said: “Given that the crew was operating on a ship related to Israel, their governments may make a request to the brothers in the Hamas organization, and if they accept, we have no objections.”


Born and died during Gaza war, infant twins are buried in Rafah

Updated 03 March 2024
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Born and died during Gaza war, infant twins are buried in Rafah

  • The twins — a boy and a girl — were among five children killed in the strike on a house in Rafah
  • The members of the Abu Anza family killed in the strike were lined up in black body bags

RAFAH: Born a few weeks into the Gaza war, infant twins Wesam and Naeem Abu Anza were buried on Sunday, the youngest of 14 members of the same family whom Gaza health authorities say were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah overnight.
Their mother, Rania Abu Anza, held one of the twins, its tiny body wrapped in a white shroud, to her cheek and stroked its head during the funeral on Sunday. A mourner held the second baby close by, pale blue pyjamas visible beneath a shroud.
“My heart is gone,” wept Abu Anza, whose husband was also killed, as mourners comforted her. She resisted when asked to release the body of one of the babies ahead of burial. “Leave her with me,” she said, in a low voice.
The twins — a boy and a girl — were among five children killed in the strike on a house in Rafah, according to the health ministry in Gaza. Abu Anza said she had given birth to them — her first children — after 11 years of marriage.
“We were asleep, we were not shooting and we were not fighting. What is their fault? What is their fault, what is her fault?” Abu Anza said.
“How will I continue to live now?“
Relatives said the twins had been born some four months ago, about a month into the war which began on Oct. 7, when Hamas stormed Israel, in an attack that killed 1,200 people and resulted in another 253 being abducted, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel’s offensive has killed more than 30,000 people in the Gaza Strip since then, according to Gaza health authorities, laying waste to the territory and uprooting most of its population.
The members of the Abu Anza family killed in the strike were lined up in black body bags. A man wept over the body of one of the dead, a child wearing pyjamas. “God have mercy on her, God have mercy on her,” said another man, consoling him.
Abu Anza said she had been wishing for a ceasefire before Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month which begins around March 10.
US President Joe Biden has expressed hope one will be agreed by then. “We were preparing for Ramadan, how am I supposed to live my life? How?” she said.


Arab foreign ministers meet in Riyadh to discuss Gaza war

Updated 03 March 2024
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Arab foreign ministers meet in Riyadh to discuss Gaza war

  • Meeting held on the sidelines of GCC ministerial session
  • Foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Morocco discuss Gaza

RIYADH: The Gulf Cooperation Council carried its 159th ministerial session in Riyadh on Sunday, while separate meetings were held involving the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

Joint ministerial meeting held on the sidelines between the GCC and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that what is happening in Gaza is a systematic plan to liquidate the Palestinian cause. Adding that "Security solutions to the conflict have brought nothing but destruction to the region, and the escalation in Gaza extended to the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab"

Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Jasem Mohammed Al-Budaiwi firmly reiterated the collective stance of the GCC nations, denouncing the severe Israeli infringements of international humanitarian law in Gaza, particularly its consistent and direct targeting of civilians. Al-Budaiwi also underscored the immediate need for a ceasefire.

Al-Budaiwi also pointed out GCC rejection of any measure that would affect Egypt’s right to the Nile waters and stressed the necessity to reach an agreement on the Renaissance Dam.