Family says two American brothers detained in Israeli raid in Gaza

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Torak Alagha, one of the two American brothers detainmed by Israelis in Gaza, is shown with cousin Yasmeen Elagha in this undated image. (Yasmeen Elagha via AP)
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An Israeli soldier stands guard at the Nitzana border crossing with Egypt in southern Israel on Feb. 2, 2024. The family of two Palestinian American brothers trapped in Gaza says Israeli forces have detained the two US citizens in a raid on their home on Feb. 8. (AP Photo/File)
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Updated 09 February 2024
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Family says two American brothers detained in Israeli raid in Gaza

  • The Chicago-born brothers are among fewer than 50 US citizens known to still be trying to leave sealed-off Gaza
  • US State Department says it is seeking more information on the reported detentions

WASHINGTON: Israeli forces detained two young adult American brothers in Gaza and their Canadian father in an overnight raid on their home in the besieged Palestinian territory, relatives of the men said.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday the administration will be talking with Israeli authorities about the reported detentions of the brothers, as well as the Israeli military’s arrest of an American woman in the occupied West Bank earlier in the week. “We want to know more about the reasons here,” Kirby told reporters at the White House.
“Obviously, this is the kind of thing we take very seriously,” he said, and the US will be “trying to get information, more context here about what happened.”
Borak Alagha, 18, and Hashem Alagha, 20, two brothers born in the Chicago area, are among fewer than 50 US citizens known to still be trying to leave sealed-off Gaza, nearly four months into the Israeli-Hamas war.
Other US green-card holders and close relatives of the citizens and permanent residents also are still struggling and unable to leave, despite US requests they be allowed to exit, according to their American families and advocates.
Cousin Yasmeen Elagha, a law student at Northwestern University, said Israeli forces entered the family home in the town of Al-Masawi, near Khan Younis, around 5 a.m. Gaza time Thursday.
The soldiers tied up and blindfolded the women and children in the family, and placed them outside the home, the cousin said.
The two American brothers, their Canadian citizen father, a mentally disabled uncle and two other adult male relatives were taken away by the Israelis, and have not returned, Elagha said.
Men of a neighboring household were also taken away. So were other adult male relatives of another Alagha family household, for a total of about 20 family members detained, the US cousin said.
A family social media account from Gaza also described the detentions.
An advocate for American families who are still trying to get loved ones out of Gaza faulted US officials Thursday for not having moved more urgently to help get the Alagha brothers and other Palestinian Americans, US residents and close relatives out of harm’s way in Gaza.
Detention or death under an Israeli airstrike “were two of the biggest fears this family has had all along. And now the worst has happened,” said Maria Kari, an immigration attorney who has been advocating for the family. “It could have been avoided if the US had more timely advocated for this family.’
The State Department said Thursday it was seeking more information on the reported detentions. It cited privacy concerns for the brothers in not commenting further.
US officials in December said they had helped 1,300 Americans, green-card holders and their eligible close family members to leave Gaza since Oct. 7.
State Department officials in January declined to say how many people for whom the US has requested permission to leave remain in Gaza, citing the “fluidity” of the situation.
The brothers would be among three American citizens taken into custody by Israeli forces this week, during the same time Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting the region to try to mediate with ally Israel and regional Arab leaders.
Relations between Israel and the United States have fallen from their surge immediately after the Oct. 7 Hamas strikes in Israel that triggered the war. The two allies more recently have been out of sync publicly on efforts to ease the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, on the path toward peace there, and some other matters.
Earlier this week, a 46-year-old Palestinian American woman, Samaher Esmail, was taken from her home in the occupied West Bank on Monday and detained. The Israeli military said she had been arrested for “incitement on social media” and held for questioning.
The US Embassy in Israel said Thursday it had no updates on her case.
Esmail’s family said the US Embassy asked them on Thursday for a list of her medications but said it would not be able to have contact with her before Monday. Relatives said she needs the medication for uterine cancer. The family said it still does not know where she is being held.
The Israeli military and Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Israel and Egypt control the official exit lists that are the only authorized way out of Gaza for foreigners and Palestinians. US authorities say they are working with the two US allies to get more of the names of Americans, US residents and their close kin who are seeking to leave placed on the exit lists. The Alagha brothers’ family says they are among those who have been unable to get their names on the lists.
Israeli security forces in the course of the war have rounded up large numbers of Palestinian military-age men in Gaza, later releasing some. Israel says the mass detentions are a necessary part of fighting Hamas. Palestinians say Israel is unjustly including large numbers of civilian adult males in the sweeps.


Israel eyes scrapping free trade deal with Turkiye

Updated 18 May 2024
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Israel eyes scrapping free trade deal with Turkiye

  • War in Gaza has stirred public reaction significantly ahead of March 31 local elections

ANKARA: After Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced on Thursday that Israel intends to scrap its free trade agreement with Turkiye and impose a 100 percent tariff on other imports from the country in retaliation for Ankara’s recent decision to halt exports to Israel, eyes are now turning to imminent implications for regional trade.

The plan, which aims to reduce Israel’s dependence on Turkiye, has not been finalized yet and will have to be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

If approved, all reduced tariffs on goods imported from Turkiye under the current free trade agreement would be abolished, while a tariff of 100 percent of the value of the goods would be imposed on all imported products, in addition to the existing tariff.

Experts note that trade ties between the two countries had been mostly insulated from political disagreements in the past. Trade continued when diplomatic relations hit rock bottom, especially between 2010 and 2020, a politically tense period during which parties chose not to burn “trade bridges.”

But this time, Turkiye’s continuation of trade relations with Israel while at the same time being vocal in denouncing its war in Gaza stirred public reaction significantly ahead of the March 31 local elections, when large crowds and some Islamist breakaway parties criticized the government for not taking a hardline stance against Israel and for not matching rhetoric with action.

In late April, Turkiye, whose bilateral trade with Israel was worth about $7 billion a year, announced it would impose trade restrictions on 54 products exported to Israel until a permanent ceasefire in Gaza was declared.

The product range was diverse, from cement to dry food, iron, steel, and electrical devices.

However, companies have three months to fulfill existing orders via third countries.

In his statement, Smotrich described Turkiye’s move as a serious violation of international trade agreements to which Ankara is a signatory.

He added that Israel’s latest decision would last as long as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remained in power.

Turkiye and Israel have had a free trade agreement since the mid-1990s, making Ankara a key commercial partner for Israeli importers. Relatively cheap imports were transited quite quickly, and Turkiye was Israel’s fifth-largest source of imported goods.

Israel mainly imported steel, iron, motor vehicles, electrical devices, machinery, plastics, and cement products, as well as textiles, olive oil, and fruits and vegetables from Turkiye, while Turkiye mostly bought chemicals, metals, and some other industrial products from the Middle Eastern country, with Turkiye’s trade with Israel tilted in Ankara’s favor.

“Since Erdogan announced that Turkiye would impose a trade ban on imports and exports from Israel, Israeli officials have been trying to determine how best to respond,” Gabriel Mitchell, a policy fellow at the Mitvim Institute, told Arab News.

“The first was Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who criticized Turkiye’s decision and later announced that Turkiye had lifted many of the restrictions. This put pressure — once again — on Erdogan to show the Turkish public that he is willing to ‘put his money where his mouth is’ with Israel and forced the Turkish government to deny these rumors,” he said, adding that it also compelled “Erdogan to be even more vocal in his criticism of Israeli policy.”

According to Mitchell, Smotrich — who is a minister but not a member of the Likud party — saw this as an opportunity to make his own headlines in proposing the move to cancel the free trade agreement.

As this move requires Cabinet approval, Mitchell said he would be very surprised if it were approved.

“It would be an escalatory step and undoubtedly have serious short-term economic consequences,” he said.

“It is important to bear in mind the domestic situation in Israel. There is increasing pressure on Netanyahu, and as a result, the more radical voices feel that by pushing populist policies, they are in a win-win situation: Either their policy is adopted, and they get credit for the idea, or it is rejected by others in the government, and they can criticize them for being soft,” Mitchell added.

“Erdogan is very unpopular in Israel — arguably the most unpopular regional leader — so some believe that while there are voices in Israel that would oppose the decision, there are many that would go along with it without really understanding the economic implications.”

Mitchell also noted a caveat, saying that the free trade agreement would be canceled until Erdogan steps down.

“I don’t understand what that means, given that such agreements are made bilaterally. Who is to assume that in 2028, Erdogan will no longer be president, and whoever succeeds him will be interested in signing a free trade agreement with Israel? It is a risky approach,” he said.

“My final point, and it is worth considering, is that Smotrich also wrote (in) a letter to Netanyahu that ‘representatives of Turkiye’s president, the anti-Semitic enemy of Israel, Erdogan’ were involved in the hostage negotiations — so it all gets mixed up and confused,” Mitchell added.

Continuing its strong rhetoric, Turkiye recently announced that it would join South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

From its side, Israel filed a complaint to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development against Turkiye over the latter’s decision to suspend trade with Israel.

Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based think-tank EDAM and a visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe, says Israel’s latest decision should be seen as an economic and political response to the Turkish government’s earlier decision to impose a trade embargo on Israel.

“The economic impact can be significant, especially on some of Israel’s critical products imported from Turkiye, such as construction materials, including cement. However, this does not mean Israel couldn’t import these items from other countries.

“But for Israel, it would be a costly trade diversion, and it will increase the internal cost of these products and possibly have an impact on domestic inflation,” he told Arab News.

Israel imports about a third of its cement and almost 70 percent of its iron construction materials from Turkiye.

“Another consequence is that unlike Turkiye’s decision to impose a temporary trade embargo with conditions, Israel is now moving in the direction of essentially imposing a permanent and lasting measure, which is to cancel a free-trade agreement that has been in place since the mid-1990s,” Ulgen said.

After the Turkish boycott of all trade with Israel, prices, especially in the housing sector, are expected to increase gradually, pushing up the cost of living in Israel.

Ulgen noted, however, that Turkish products could still indirectly reach Israel through third countries, for example, by transiting from the EU because Turkiye and the EU have a customs union. However, alternative transportation trade routes that circumvent the restrictions can be longer, more complex, and costlier.


Israeli leaders split over post-war Gaza governance

Updated 18 May 2024
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Israeli leaders split over post-war Gaza governance

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war

JERUSALEM: New divisions have emerged among Israel’s leaders over post-war Gaza’s governance, with an unexpected Hamas fightback in parts of the Palestinian territory piling pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across Gaza for more than seven months while also exchanging near-daily fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah forces along the northern border with Lebanon.
But after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized, broad splits emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days.
Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.
The Israeli premier’s outright rejection of post-war Palestinian leadership in Gaza has broken a rift among top politicians wide open and frustrated relations with top ally the United States.
Experts say the lack of clarity only serves to benefit Hamas, whose leader has insisted no new authority can be established in the territory without its involvement.
“Without an alternative to fill the vacuum, Hamas will continue to grow,” International Crisis Group analyst Mairav Zonszein said.
Emmanuel Navon, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, echoed this sentiment.
“If only Hamas is left in Gaza, of course they are going to appear here and there and the Israeli army will be forced to chase them around,” said Navon.
“Either you establish an Israeli military government or an Arab-led government.”
Gallant said in a televised address on Wednesday: “I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza strip.”
The premier’s war planning also came under recent attack by army chief Herzi Halevi as well as top Shin Bet security agency officials, according to Israeli media reports.
Netanyahu is also under pressure from Washington to swiftly bring an end to the conflict and avoid being mired in a long counterinsurgency campaign.
Washington has previously called for a “revitalized” form of the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza after the war.
But Netanyahu has rejected any role for the PA in post-war Gaza, saying Thursday that it “supports terror, educates terror, finances terror.”
Instead, Netanyahu has clung to his steadfast aim of “eliminating” Hamas, asserting that “there’s no alternative to military victory.”
Experts say confidence in Netanyahu is running thin.
“With Gallant’s criticism of Netanyahu’s failure to plan for the day after in terms of governing Gaza, some real fissures are beginning to emerge in the Israeli war cabinet,” Colin P. Clarke, director of policy and research at the Soufan Group think tank, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“I’m not sure I know of many people, including the most ardent Israel supporters, who have confidence in Bibi,” he said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 125 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.
Israel’s military retaliation has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.
Many Israelis supported Netanyahu’s blunt goals to seek revenge on Hamas in the aftermath of the October 7 attack.
But now, hopes have faded for the return of the hostages and patience in Netanyahu may be running out, experts said.
On Friday, the army announced it had recovered bodies of three hostages who were killed during the October 7 attack.
After Israeli forces entered the far southern city of Rafah, where more than a million displaced Gazans were sheltering, talks mediated by Egypt, the United States and Qatar to release the hostages have ground to a standstill.
“The hostage deal is at a total impasse — you can no longer provide the appearance of progress,” said Zonszein of the International Crisis Group.
“Plus the breakdown with the US and the fact that Egypt has refused to pass aid through Rafah — all those things are coming to a head.”


Sudan paramilitaries say will open ‘safe passages’ out of key Darfur city

Updated 18 May 2024
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Sudan paramilitaries say will open ‘safe passages’ out of key Darfur city

  • El-Fasher has been in the grips of fighting as the RSF seeks to control it

PORT SUDAN: Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces have announced their willingness to open “safe passages” out of the former haven city of El-Fasher in Darfur, which has been gripped by fighting for weeks.
The RSF, battling the regular army for more than a year, affirmed in a post on X late Friday “the readiness of its forces to help citizens by opening safe passages to voluntarily leave to other areas of their choosing and to provide protection for them.”
El-Fasher, the state capital of North Darfur and once a key hub for humanitarian aid where many had gathered for shelter, has been in the grips of fighting as the RSF seeks to control it.
The paramilitaries called on residents of El-Fasher to “avoid conflict areas and areas likely to be targeted by air forces and not to respond to malicious calls to mobilize residents and drag them into the fires of war.”
Sudan has been in the throes of conflict for over a year between the regular army led by de facto ruler Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the RSF led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has killed as many as 15,000 people in the West Darfur state capital of El-Geneina alone, according to United Nations experts.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders on Wednesday said its hospital in North Darfur had received more than 450 people killed in the fighting since May 10, but noted that the actual death toll was likely much higher.
Also on Wednesday, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator said residents of Sudan were “trapped in an inferno of brutal violence” and increasingly at risk of famine due to the rainy season and blocked aid.
Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced since the war broke out in April 2023.
The UN on Friday warned it only had 12 percent of the $2.7 billion it sought in funding for Sudan, warning that “famine is closing in.”


Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home

Updated 18 May 2024
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Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home

  • Many residents of towns and villages on either side of the Israel-Lebanon border have evacuated their homes for safety

MAIS AL JABAL: For displaced south Lebanese villagers, funerals for those killed in months of cross-border clashes are a rare chance to return home and see the devastation caused by Israeli bombardment.
“My house is in ruins,” said Abdel Aziz Ammar, a 60-year-old man with a white beard, in front of a pile of rubble in the border village of Mais Al-Jabal.
Only a plastic water tank survived.
“My parents’ house, my brother’s house and my nephew’s house have all been totally destroyed,” said Ammar, who was back in Mais Al-Jabal this week for the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter from the village.
Many residents of towns and villages on either side of the Israel-Lebanon border have evacuated their homes for safety.
The Iran-backed Lebanese movement has been intensifying its attacks, while Israel has been striking deeper into Lebanese territory, in cross-border violence that has killed at least 419 people on the Lebanese side, according to an AFP tally.
Most of the dead are Hezbollah fighters, including seven from Mais Al-Jabal, but at least 82 are civilians, three of whom journalists.
Israel says 14 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed on its side of the border.
For funerals in the south, the Lebanese army informs United Nations peacekeepers, who then inform the Israeli military, a spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said.
The peacekeepers usually patrol near the border, and act as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel.
Ammar fled his village for Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, two weeks after the violence broke out.
The International Organization for Migration says more than 93,000 people have been displaced in south Lebanon, while authorities in Israel have evacuated tens of thousands from the country’s north.
“We come for the funerals, but we inspect our homes. Those whose houses haven’t been destroyed use the time to collect their belongings,” Ammar said.
“The house meant a lot to us, it was big,” with plenty of space for the children outside, he said of his home in Mais Al-Jabal.
“My daughter always tells me, ‘I miss the house, when will we go back?’”
An AFP photographer saw dozens of houses razed or partially destroyed in the village, which resembled a battlefield surrounded by green countryside.
A funeral procession crossed the rubble-strewn streets, with people chanting slogans in support of Hezbollah, not far from Israeli positions across the border.
Hezbollah flags fluttered in the wind as women in chadors walked together, some wearing yellow scarves -the color of the Shiite Muslim movement — or holding pictures of the fallen “martyr”.
“Whether I carry a weapon or not, just my presence in my village means I am a target for the Israelis,” Ammar said, noting the fighting does not always stop for the funerals.
On May 5, a man, his wife and two children were killed in a strike on Mais Al-Jabal while a funeral took place.
They had returned to the village to collect things from a store they owned, believing it to be a moment of calm, local media reported.
In front of a half-destroyed house, people piled a small truck with whatever they could — a washing machine, a child’s stroller, a motorbike and plastic chairs.
Amid rubble in the village, a sign was propped up reading: “Even if you destroy our houses, your missiles cannot break our will.”
Lebanese authorities are waiting for a ceasefire to fully assess the damage, but have estimated that some 1,700 houses have been destroyed and 14,000 damaged.
Emergency personnel have reported huge damage and villages emptied of residents, while many journalists have been reluctant to travel to the border areas due to the heavy bombardment.
The overall bill already exceeds $1.5 billion, authorities estimate, in a crisis-hit country where compensation procedures remain vague.
But to village resident Khalil Hamdan, 53, who also attended the funeral, “the destruction doesn’t make a difference.”
“We will rebuild,” he told AFP.


Oil tanker hit by missile off Yemen: security firm

Updated 18 May 2024
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Oil tanker hit by missile off Yemen: security firm

  • The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call: UKMTO
  • The incident occurred 76 nautical miles (140 kilometers) off Yemen’s Hodeidah

DUBAI: A crude oil tanker was hit by a missile off the coast of Yemen’s southwestern city of Mokha overlooking the strategic Bab Al-Mandeb strait, maritime security firm Ambrey said Saturday.
“A Panama-flagged crude oil tanker was reportedly ‘attacked’” about 10 nautical miles southwest of Mokha, Ambrey said, adding that information “indicated the vessel was hit by a missile and that there was a fire” in the ship’s rear.
The firm later said it had “received information that indicated that the tanker had received assistance. One of the steering units of the vessel was reportedly functional.”
The British navy’s maritime security agency said earlier it had received a report of a vessel “sustaining slight damage after being struck by an unknown object.”
“The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call,” United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) added.
It said the incident occurred 98 nautical miles (180 kilometers) south of Yemen’s Hodeidah, without specifying the type of vessel involved.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control much of Yemen have launched dozens of attacks on vessels in and around the Red Sea since November in a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in war-torn Gaza.
The attacks have prompted reprisal strikes by US and British forces and the formation of an international coalition to protect the vital shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.