US vice president calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza

A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace shows King Abdullah II meeting US Vice President Kamala Harris on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, on Dec. 2, 2023. (AFP/Jordanian Royal Hashemite Court)
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Updated 03 December 2023
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US vice president calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza

  • Kamala Harris says Israel has a right to defend itself but must respect international, humanitarian law
  • King Abdullah stresses the need for the US to play a leading role in pushing for peace in Palestine

GAZA/CAIRO: US Vice President Kamala Harris said too many innocent Palestinians had been killed in Gaza as Israeli war planes and artillery bombarded the enclave on Saturday following the collapse of a truce with Hamas militants.
Speaking in Dubai, Harris said Israel had a right to defend itself, but international and humanitarian law must be respected and “too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”
“Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering, and the images and videos coming from Gaza, are devastating,” Harris told reporters.
On the sidelines of COP28, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the US Vice President met in Dubai, reported the Jordan News Agency.
King Abdullah stressed the need for the US to play a leading role in pushing for a political horizon for the Palestinian issue to reach peace on the basis of the two-state solution, during his meeting with Harris.
The King called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and protecting civilians, warning of the repercussions of the continued war on international peace and security, including further violence and conflict that could plunge the entire region into a catastrophe.
The two sides reaffirmed their rejection of any attempts of forced displacement of the Palestinians internally or outside Gaza, or attempts to re-occupy any parts of the Strip, reported Petra.
King Abdullah also stressed the importance of maintaining the uninterrupted delivery of sufficient aid, including food, water, fuel, and electricity, without any impediments, warning against the targeting of hospitals and hindering the delivery of medical supplies.
Meanwhile, Harris thanked King Abdullah for his continued leadership in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for Jordan’s leadership in providing vital humanitarian assistance to Gaza, including its three airdrops of medical supplies to the field hospital that it has established in Gaza.
She discussed the importance of the recent pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, and the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to supporting efforts to reach a new deal. She also discussed the US ideas for post-conflict planning in Gaza, including efforts on reconstruction, security, and governance.
The US vice president emphasized that these efforts can only succeed if they are pursued in the context of a clear political horizon for the Palestinian people, toward a state of their own led by a revitalized Palestinian Authority and backed by significant support from the international community and the countries of the region.
In a news conference in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later on Saturday that Israel was continuing to work in coordination with the US and international organizations to define “safe areas” for Gaza civilians.
“This is important because we have no desire to harm the population,” Netanyahu said. “We have a very strong desire to hurt Hamas.”
Harris also sketched out a US vision for post-conflict Gaza, saying the international community must support recovery and Palestinian security forces must be strengthened.
“We want to see a unified Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian voices and aspirations must be at the center of this work,” she said, adding that Hamas must no longer run Gaza.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority governs parts of the occupied West Bank. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ mainstream Fatah party and has ruled the enclave ever since.

* With Reuters 


Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

Updated 21 sec ago
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Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

  • Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament

JERUSALEM: Israelis voted Tuesday in twice postponed municipal elections that could offer a gauge of the public mood nearly five months into the war against Hamas in Gaza.
Soldiers had already cast their ballots over the past week at special polling stations set up in army encampments in Gaza as fighting raged.
Polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and closed at 10:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Tuesday, at which point turnout stood at around 49 percent, according to election authorities.
That was down from 59.5 percent in 2018.
Turnout in Jerusalem was 30.8 percent and in Tel Aviv it was 40 percent, the authorities said.
More than seven million people were eligible to vote in the elections for local councils across most of Israel, in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in Jerusalem and in parts of the annexed Golan Heights.
No major incidents were reported.
The vote, first scheduled for October 31, has been pushed back to November 2024 in towns and villages bordering the besieged Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where Hamas ally Hezbollah has fired rockets at Israel almost daily since the start of the Gaza war.
Nearly 150,000 Israelis have been displaced by hostilities in those areas.
Amit Peretz, 32, a Jerusalem city council candidate, said Jerusalem’s diverse make-up demands that “all voices are heard in the city in order to make everything work, because it’s very complex.”
Gita Koppel, an 87-year-old resident of Jerusalem, said she turned out because voting was “the only way you can have your voice heard.”
“I hope the right people come in and do the right thing for Jerusalem,” she said.
The elections were delayed after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of at least 1,160 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, most of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Two candidates for council chief in Gaza border areas were killed in the October 7 attack: Ofir Libstein in Kfar Aza and Tamar Kedem Siman Tov, who was shot dead at her home in Nir Oz with her husband and three young children.
In Jerusalem and other major cities, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish candidates aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political allies were running against government critics and more moderate candidates.
Netanyahu has faced increasing public pressure over the fate of hostages still held in Gaza, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.
Tel Aviv’s mayor of 25 years, Ron Huldai, is seeking re-election in a race against former economy minister Orna Barbivai, who could become the first woman in the job.
Lawyer Amir Badran, an Arab candidate who had initially announced he would run for Tel Aviv mayor, quit the race before election day but was still vying for a city council seat.
In Jerusalem, another Arab candidate, Sondos Alhoot, was running at the head of a joint Jewish-Arab party. If elected, she would be the first Arab woman on the city council since 1967.
The elections for municipal and regional councils are largely seen as local affairs, though some races can become springboards for politicians with national ambitions.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who had a brief stint as prime minister before Netanyahu returned to power in late 2022, said Tuesday’s vote shows “there is no problem” holding elections even during the war.
In a post on social media platform X, Lapid called for a snap parliamentary election “as soon as possible” to replace Netanyahu.
Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament.
Palestinian residents make up around 40 percent of the city’s population, but many of them have boycotted past elections.
Second round run-offs will be held where necessary on March 10.


One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says

Updated 27 February 2024
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One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says

  • One in six children under 2 years of age in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition
  • WFP “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau said

UNITED NATIONS: At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip — one quarter of the population — are one step away from famine, a senior UN aid official told the Security Council on Tuesday, warning that widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.
One in six children under 2 years of age in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting and practically all the 2.3 million people in the Palestinian enclave rely on “woefully inadequate” food aid to survive, Ramesh Rajasingham, director of coordination for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the council.
The World Food Programme “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau told the 15-member council.
“But in the meantime, the risk of famine is being fueled by the inability to bring critical food supplies into Gaza in sufficient quantities, and the almost impossible operating conditions faced by our staff on the ground,” he said.
The war in Gaza began when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza has since killed around 30,000 Palestinians, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say.


US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning

Updated 27 February 2024
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US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning

  • “We do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters
  • “The government of Israel has said publicly, and they have assured us privately, that they want to achieve a diplomatic path”

WASHINGTON: The United States called Tuesday for a focus on diplomacy to resolve tensions over Lebanon, after Israel warned it would pursue Hezbollah even if it achieves a ceasefire in Gaza.
“We do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“The government of Israel has said publicly, and they have assured us privately, that they want to achieve a diplomatic path,” he said.
“That’s what we’re going to continue to pursue and, ultimately, that would make military action unnecessary.”
Miller added that Israel faced a “real security threat” with thousands of people who have fled their homes near Lebanon, calling it a “legitimate issue that needs to be addressed.”
Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement which is backed by Iran, have been exchanging fire since October 7, when Palestinian militant group Hamas carried out a major attack inside Israel.
In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless military operation in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Raising fears of all-out war, Israel this week struck Hezbollah positions deep into Lebanese territory.
On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said there would be no let-up in Israeli action against Hezbollah even if ongoing diplomacy succeeds in reaching a Gaza ceasefire and the release of hostages seized on October 7.
France, with US support, has been pushing a plan in which Hezbollah and allied fighters would withdraw to around 12 kilometers (eight miles) from the border and Israel would halt attacks.


Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

Updated 27 February 2024
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Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

AL-MEAIBDI, Iraq: Iraq enjoys tremendous oil wealth but many hard-scrabble farmers in the north say crude spills have contaminated their lands, piling on pressure as they already battle drought.

Amid the hills of Salaheddin province, puddles of the viscous black liquid pollute the otherwise fertile and green fields, rendering vast swaths of farmland barren.

“The oil has damaged all that the land can give,” said one farmer, Abdel Majid Said, 62, who owns six hectares (15 acres) in the village of Al-Meaibdi.

“Every planted seed is ruined. This land has become useless.”

Oil spills in Iraq — a country ravaged by decades of conflict, corruption and decaying infrastructure — have contaminated farmland in the northern province, especially during the winter rains.

Authorities blame the militants of the Daesh group who overran large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and were only defeated in Iraq three years later.

The group blew up oil pipelines and wells and also dug primitive oil storage pits, causing crude to seep into the ground, from where annual rains wash it out again.

But the local farmers also complain that the state has been too slow to clean up the mess.

In Al-Meaibdi and the nearby hills of Hamrin, authorities are struggling to find a sustainable solution to the problem, which adds to a litany of environmental challenges.

Iraq, also battered by blistering summer heat and severe drought, is ranked by the United Nations as one of the five countries most vulnerable to key impacts of climate change.

In Hamrin, layers of sludge pile up as excavators build up dirt barriers — a temporary measure to stem the flow of contaminated water onto farmland below.

The oil not only damages the soil and crops but can also pollute groundwater in the water-scarce country.

Said, the farmer, said “the soil is no longer fertile — we have not been able to cultivate it since 2016.”

Some other farmers had already abandoned their lands, he added.

He pointed to a green plot of land so far untouched by the spills and said: “Look how the crops have grown there — but not even a grain has sprouted here.”

Oil spills have contaminated 500 hectares of wheat and barley fields in Salaheddin, said Mohamed Hamad from the environment department in the province.

Hamad pointed to the reign of Daesh, which collected revenues from oil production and smuggling by building makeshift refineries and digging primitive oil storage pits.

He said the group blew up the pipelines and wells of the oil fields of Ajil and Alas, causing crude oil to flood and collect in the Hamrin hills’ natural caves.

Earlier this month, due to heavy rain, oil remnants again poured into agricultural lands, Hamad said, and “unfortunately, the leak damaged land and crops.”

Authorities have buried the group’s makeshift storage pits, Amer Al-Meheiri, the head of the oil department in Salaheddin province, told Iraq’s official news agency INA last year.

Yet during the heavy rains, the oil continues to seep out.

Iraq’s crude oil sales make up 90 percent of budget revenues as the country recovers from years of war and political upheaval, leaving it overly reliant on the sector.

The country boasts 145 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, amounting to 96 years’ worth of production at the current rate, according to the World Bank.

But for many farmers, oil has been a scourge.

Abbas Taha, an agriculture official in Salaheddin, said “oil spills have been occurring frequently since 2016.”

“Farmers suffer a great loss because they no longer benefit from the winter season to grow wheat,” he said.

Some farmers have filed complaints against the state demanding compensation, only to find themselves lost in Iraq’s labyrinthine judicial system, tossed from one court to another.

But Taha insists that authorities plan to compensate those affected in a country where agricultural lands are shrinking as farmers are abandoning unprofitable plots hit by drought.

Due to the severe water scarcity, authorities are drastically reducing farm activity to ensure sufficient drinking water for Iraq’s 43 million people.

Hamad said his department had contacted the relevant authorities to remove oil remnants that would eventually seep through the soil to contaminate groundwater and wells.

The soil also needs to be treated by removing the top layer and replacing it, he said.

“We urged the prime minister, the agriculture minister and the oil minister to compensate the farmers suffering from this environmental disaster,” said 53-year-old farmer Ahmed Shalash.


‘I fear the world has failed the test of humanity’ in Gaza, Slovenia’s foreign minister tells Arab News

Updated 27 February 2024
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‘I fear the world has failed the test of humanity’ in Gaza, Slovenia’s foreign minister tells Arab News

  • Tania Fajon urges Washington to use its leverage over Israel to advance two-state solution
  • Fears Israel’s planned military offensive in Rafah will trigger regional unrest

NEW YORK CITY: Tanja Fajon, Slovenia’s minister of foreign and European affairs, has expressed deep disappointment at how the US has repeatedly used its veto power at the UN Security Council to block demands for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

On Feb. 20, the US vetoed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for the third time. It was the lone vote against the resolution put forward by Algeria. The UK was the sole abstention, with 13 votes in support.

With some 30,000 people killed in Gaza since Israel launched its military offensive last October and some 2 million now at risk of famine, Washington’s continued use of its veto at the security council to prevent censure of Israel has drawn condemnation.

“I fear that the world has failed the test of humanity,” Fajon, whose country is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2024-2025, told Arab News during an interview in New York.

On Feb. 20, the US vetoed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for the third time. (AFP)

“Seeing so many kids without shelter, without food, without schools, no hospitals. We see the unbearably high death toll among civilians, the violations of international humanitarian laws — this is on us all.”

Washington has sought to justify its veto, saying a ceasefire would jeopardize “sensitive” negotiations, led by the US, Qatar and Egypt, to broker an end to the hostilities in Gaza, the release of hostages held by Hamas, and to allow aid to enter the enclave.

Rather than veto resolutions, Fajon said the US should use its influence over Israel to demand a halt to its military operation in Gaza and commit to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

“It’s no secret that Americans have leverage on Israel,” she said.

“They really have to do everything that’s possible, first to start serious negotiations with Israel, to stop the violations in Gaza, to ensure a ceasefire, to reach an agreement on the release of hostages and political prisoners and really start working for the two-state solution.

“We are doing our part of the job on the European side. But we need everyone at the table.”

Washington’s continued use of its veto at the security council to prevent censure of Israel has drawn condemnation. (AFP/File)

Fajon fears the worst could still come if Israel follows through with its threat to launch a new ground offensive against Rafah, the last refuge of more than 1.5 million displaced Palestinians.

“I do expect that also in America they are aware of what might happen after the beginning of Ramadan if Israel makes its threats a reality,” she said. “If nothing happens, if a ceasefire is not urgently (implemented), I don’t know how we can move forward.”

Fajon believes that any large-scale operation in Rafah during Ramadan will provoke massive unrest across the Middle East and beyond.

“The anger is growing against Israel,” she said. “And when you have masses of people being frustrated, it’s always difficult to control and ensure peace. So, we are running the risk of a real escalation of violations in the Middle East.”

Slovenia’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict differs from the EU’s dominant foreign policy position, as mainly represented by large states such as Germany whose defense export approvals to Israel have increased nearly tenfold since Oct. 7, according to Reuters.

Although many European states have called for a ceasefire, they have remained broadly pro-Israel.

Washington has sought to justify its veto, saying a ceasefire would jeopardize “sensitive” negotiations. (AFP)

“We are a small country,” said Fajon. “I wouldn’t say we are either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinians, but we are for peace.”

She said Slovenians have been saddened by the images of suffering coming out of Gaza.

A large portion of the Slovenian electorate, especially the left, are critical of the foreign policy pursued by the US and Israel, which they view as “neo-colonial.”

Many hold a positive attitude toward the societies of the Global South and are broadly pacifist. Many believe the Slovenian government in Ljubljana is well-placed to act as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

Some historians believe these attitudes are a legacy of Slovenia’s time as part of Yugoslavia, which had a tradition of offering support to developing countries, and which was committed to non-alignment during the Cold War, backing neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact.

Fajon recently hosted the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan in Ljubljana. She said both came “with a message of gratitude because we really try to listen and be supportive in efforts to create viable or feasible peace plans.”

With the Arab ministers, Fajon said she discussed her country’s desire to hold a peace conference, bringing the Americans, Israelis and all other stakeholders to the table to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and discuss the recognition of a Palestinian state.

“That also means the well-being and safety of Israelis and Palestinians living side by side,” she said. “We are not there yet. I know there are still open questions on how to ensure stability in Gaza after the war.”

Some 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its military offensive last October. (AFP)

Slovenia is actively participating in proceedings at the UN’s highest court — the International Court of Justice at The Hague — examining “the ongoing violations by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967,” as well as policies in occupied East Jerusalem and allegations of “discriminatory legislation” against Palestinians.

The motion is seeking an advisory opinion on whether Israel’s activities have violated international law. The motion was requested by the UN General Assembly in 2022, and so pre-dates South Africa’s genocide allegations heard by the court last month.

“This is a very broad spectrum of alleged violations that have been committed in the region for decades and whose horrific consequences are still visible today,” Fajon said last month.

Speaking to Arab News about the case, Fajon said it was about upholding international law.

“We are using our legal arguments, speaking of an occupying force and its illegal wrongdoings on illegally occupied lands,” she said. “Our expert opinion shows clearly that we try and we always follow international law. And that is our main message at The Hague.”

Slovenia has consistently called for the EU to introduce sanctions against both Hamas and extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank, whose violence “we are following with great concern,” said Fajon.

The country has also joined efforts by Ireland and Spain to reconsider the EU’s cooperation agreement with Israel, which regulates trade relations and is bound by the provision that it respects human rights.

“We are a part of a like-minded group of six or seven countries in the EU that are really pushing hard to achieve a permanent ceasefire,” said Fajon.

Many people in Slovenia hold a positive attitude toward the societies of the Global South and are broadly pacifist. (Supplied)

“Yes, there are divisions inside the EU for different historical reasons. But from our perspective, I believe we are just very consistent in our foreign policy, meaning we respect international law (and) international humanitarian law. And we say that what we are seeing in Gaza are violations of international humanitarian law.”

In South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, the ICJ issued provisional measures ordering Israel to prevent and punish the commission or the incitement to commit genocide, to stop the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, and immediately enable the provision of humanitarian assistance to Gazans.

“We call on Israel to respect the measures from the ICJ Hague,” said Fajon.

“This is extremely important. We respect the work of international tribunals. And that is our clear call to Israel here. I think we don’t have any double standards. We can tell that to Israel, and we tell it to Russia in its war in Ukraine.”

She said both wars, Ukraine and Gaza, are a direct result of “regimes that don’t respect the UN Charter.”

“We call on Israel to respect the measures from the ICJ Hague,” said Fajon.

“In the case of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, that’s entering its third year, we fully understand and support Ukrainians’ fight for territorial sovereignty and integrity. Because no one, by force, can take your land away or change internationally recognized borders.

“We run a consistent foreign policy that is based on international law and the UN Charter.”

Slovenia is also one of the leaders of the Mutual Legal Assistance Initiative for the adoption of the Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and other International Crimes.

The Ljubljana-The Hague MLA Convention was adopted in May 2023 marking a landmark international treaty aiming to strengthen international legal cooperation to help reduce impunity for perpetrators of crimes and deliver justice to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“The Ljubljana-The Hague Convention is an important instrument because it somehow narrows the gap in the legislation (so) that the judiciary systems around the world can faster exchange evidence in persecuting, investigating, and punishing the worst war crimes everywhere,” said Fajon.

“So all those countries that are signing this convention will be in a much better position to move faster with the processes. And I hope that many countries will join in signing it.”

A large portion of the Slovenian electorate, especially the left, are critical of the foreign policy pursued by the US and Israel, which they view as “neo-colonial.” (AFP)

Above all, Fajon believes the international community has a responsibility to help those who desire peace — no matter which side they are on — to access the means to achieve it.

“In every country, be it an aggressive regime that runs a war or be it the victim, but especially in the country that has an aggressive regime, be it in Israel or be it in Russia, there are citizens and people that want to have peace.

“And we have to support these people. That is what I mean when I say we are neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinians. I mean exactly our support for these people who want to see peace.

“I think this is our role as politicians.”