Blinken says Gaza hostage deal still possible but ‘very hard’ issues remain

Relatives of hostages and supporters take part in a protest calling for their release in Tel Aviv on Feb. 15, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 February 2024
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Blinken says Gaza hostage deal still possible but ‘very hard’ issues remain

  • “We’re now in the process with our counterparts from Qatar, from Egypt, from Israel, in working on that,” Blinken said
  • “There are some very, very hard issues that have to be resolved”

TIRANA: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that a deal on the release of hostages held by Hamas remains possible but “very hard” issues remain to be resolved.
Talks involving intelligence chiefs from the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar on a deal that would see a pause in Israel’s four-month-old war in Gaza ended without a breakthrough on Tuesday.
Asked whether an agreement could be reached on a break in hostilities before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins on March 10, Blinken said an earlier response from Hamas on a potential deal had includes some “clear non-starters” but offered the possibility of working toward an agreement.
“We’re now in the process with our counterparts from Qatar, from Egypt, from Israel, in working on that and working very intensely on that with the goal of trying to find an agreement and I believe that it is possible,” Blinken said at a news conference during a visit to Albania.
“There are some very, very hard issues that have to be resolved. But we’re committed to doing everything we can to move forward and to see if we can reach an agreement,” Blinken said.
CIA director Bill Burns was in Israel on Thursday for further talks, according to a source familiar with the matter.


Interior ministers of Libya and Tunisia agree reopening of major border crossing

Updated 4 sec ago
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Interior ministers of Libya and Tunisia agree reopening of major border crossing

  • The GNU, which controls Tripoli and northwestern parts of Libya, is recognized internationally but not by the country’s eastern-based parliament

TRIPOLI: Interior ministers from Libya and Tunisia said on Wednesday they had agreed to partially reopen the border crossing at Ras Jdir on Thursday morning, and to fully reopen it on June 20 after more than three months of closure.
Libyan interior minister in Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli, Emad Trabulsi, said in a video statement with his Tunisian counterpart, Khaled Nouri, that the border crossing would be reopened “for the interest of the countries without harming any party.”
In mid-March, the Libyan interior ministry said it closed the border crossing due to armed clashes after the border was attacked by “outlaws.”
Ras Ijdir is the major border crossing between the two countries in Libya’s western region, where Libyans often go to Tunisia for medical treatment and trucks with goods coming in the opposite direction.
Libya has had little peace since a 2011 uprising and is split between eastern and western factions, with rival administrations governing each area.
The GNU, which controls Tripoli and northwestern parts of Libya, is recognized internationally but not by the country’s eastern-based parliament.
“The reopening will be tomorrow for humanitarian cases, special cases that have permits from the Tunisian and Algerian interior ministry, and medical cases,” said Trabulsi.
Trabulsi added that he would meet Nouri on June 20 at the border crossing “to hold a meeting and fully reopen it to all travelers.”
For his part, Nouri said they had supported the crossing with everything necessary “in order to facilitate movement and not disrupt travelers from both sides.”


Israel police say soldiers shoot Palestinian in Jerusalem’s Old City

Updated 2 min 43 sec ago
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Israel police say soldiers shoot Palestinian in Jerusalem’s Old City

  • A police statement said an “argument led to a quarrel” between four armed Israelis and “a number of locals” on an Old City street
  • “At a certain stage,” police said the armed Israelis “carried out a shooting that, according to the suspicions, in part hit at least one” Palestinian

JERUSALEM: Israeli police said a Palestinian man was seriously wounded Wednesday in a shooting incident in annexed east Jerusalem’s Old City during “a quarrel” between off-duty soldiers and Palestinians.
A police statement said an “argument led to a quarrel” between four armed Israelis and “a number of locals” on an Old City street. It was unclear what had triggered the confrontation.
“At a certain stage,” police said the armed Israelis “carried out a shooting that, according to the suspicions, in part hit at least one” Palestinian.
He was “in serious condition” while three others suffered mild injuries, the force said citing medics.
The armed men included three Israeli soldiers, two of them reservists, and a civilian, it said, adding that none of them were in uniform or on duty.
“According to one of the soldiers who opened fire, during the events he felt threatened, and this claim will be examined in the investigation,” the police said, adding they do not suspect a “terror attack” against the Israeli group.
Video footage circulating on social media, which AFP was unable to independently verify, showed four armed men in the middle of a busy market street as a wounded man lies on the ground next to a patch of blood.
The wounded man is seen holding his right arm where he was hit, as others, speaking Hebrew with an Arabic accent, try to calm the situation.
The historic Old City houses holy sites revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians. It is a frequent site of tensions and violence at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.


8,000 under-5s treated for malnutrition in Gaza

Updated 35 min 39 sec ago
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8,000 under-5s treated for malnutrition in Gaza

  • WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 28 of those children had died

GENEVA: More than 8,000 children aged under five have been treated in the Gaza Strip for acute malnutrition since war broke out, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 28 of those children had died and a significant proportion of Gaza’s population was now facing catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions.

“Despite reports of increased delivery of food, there is currently no evidence that those who need it most are receiving sufficient quantity and quality of food,” he told a press conference.

Tedros said the UN health agency and its partners had attempted to scale up nutrition services in the besieged Palestinian territory.

“Over 8,000 children under five years old have been diagnosed and treated for acute malnutrition,” he said. Among them, he said 1,600 were suffering from severe acute malnutrition, also known as severe wasting — the most deadly form of malnutrition.

However, due to insecurity and lack of access, only two stabilization centers for severely malnourished patients can currently operate, Tedros added.

“There have already been 32 deaths attributed to malnutrition, including 28 among children under five years old.”

Tedros said there was also an escalating health crisis in the West Bank, with attacks on healthcare, and movement restrictions, obstructing access to health services. “In the West Bank, as in Gaza, the only solution is peace. The best medicine is peace.”


Palestinian detainees say they faced abuse in Israeli jails

Updated 40 min 24 sec ago
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Palestinian detainees say they faced abuse in Israeli jails

GAZA: Palestinians held in Israeli detention since the start of the war in Gaza said they faced systematic ill-treatment by prison authorities whom they accused of deliberately withholding vital medical treatment.

Human rights groups and international organizations have alleged widespread abuse of inmates detained by Israel in raids in the occupied West Bank or during its military advance through in Gaza.

They described abusive and humiliating treatment including holding blindfolded and handcuffed detainees in cramped cages as well as beatings, intimidation and harassment.

“We have left but we call on you to get the rest out,” said former detainee Ataa Shbat, at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza, where he was taken following his release. He said many detainees believed their families assumed they were dead.

“People are dying. Torture which you cannot imagine unless you taste it (experience it). Suffering which you cannot imagine unless you experience it,” he said.

The Israeli military has said it is investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees at facilities in Israel but has declined to comment on specific cases. A spokesperson said on Wednesday that details of the investigation would be shared when they were ready.

At least 18 Palestinians have died in Israeli custody since the start of the war, the Palestinian Prisoners Association said on Wednesday, six of whom were from Gaza, including orthopedics surgeon Adnan Al-Bursh.

More than 9,170 Palestinians from the West Bank have been arrested by Israel since Oct. 7, it said, with thousands more “forcibly disappeared” from Gaza. It said their exact number was unknown as Israel has refused to disclose how many Palestinians from Gaza it was holding.

Last week, Israeli state attorneys said authorities had begun transferring prisoners from Sde Teiman, a former military base in the Negev desert, after groups including Association for Civil Rights in Israel demanded the closure of the site.

Widespread reports of mistreatment of detainees in Israeli prisons have added to international pressure on Israel for its conduct of the Gaza war, now in its ninth month. Last month, the US State Department said it was looking into allegations of Israeli abuse of Palestinian detainees.

The main UN relief agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, said in a report from April that prisoners reported ill-treatment throughout their detention. It said this included beatings, being deprived of food, denied access to water or toilets and having their hands and feet bound with plastic ties.


Houthis blamed for attack on cargo ship in Red Sea

Updated 12 June 2024
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Houthis blamed for attack on cargo ship in Red Sea

  • Vessel hit by small boat, ‘airborne projectile,’ maritime agencies say
  • Strike comes after US says it destroyed two anti-ship missile launchers in Houthi-controlled area

AL-MUKALLA: A commercial ship transiting the Red Sea was damaged on Wednesday in an attack by another vessel and a projectile thought to have been launched by the Houthi militia group, two UK maritime agencies said.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations said in an initial report that it received a message from the master of the cargo ship that it had sustained damage to its stern after being attacked by a small vessel about 66 nautical miles southwest of the port city of Hodeidah.

The smaller craft was “white in color and 5-7 meters in length. Authorities are investigating. Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity,” it said.

In updates, the UKMTO said the ship was also struck by an “unknown airborne projectile,” was taking on water and not under the control of the crew.

A second maritime security service, Ambrey, identified the cargo ship as the Greek-owned Tutor and said it had suffered damage to its engine room.

While the Houthis did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack, Ambrey said the boat seemed to have been launched by the militia group from Yemen.

Over the past eight months, the Houthis have launched hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and remote-controlled, explosive-laden boats at commercial and naval ships in international waters off Yemen and in the Indian Ocean, claiming their actions were intended to force Israel to end its war in Gaza.

But critics have said the group is taking advantage of the widespread condemnation of the killing of civilians in Gaza to shore up popular support while simultaneously recruiting and mobilizing fighters to attack the Yemeni government.

Wednesday’s attack came after the US Central Command said its forces had destroyed two anti-ship cruise missile launchers in a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen in the previous 24 hours.

US and UK forces conducted three airstrikes on Tuesday in Al-Salif district of Hodeidah province, according to Houthi media.

Meanwhile, the Houthis are coming under mounting pressure from around the world to free the scores of Yemeni employees of the UN and other foreign organizations who were abducted from their homes in Sanaa.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that a WHO employee was among those being held.

“We are working closely with our UN counterparts to ensure their safety. We urge an immediate and unconditional release. Humanitarian workers must never be a target,” he said.

Yemen’s Minister of Human Rights Ahmed Arman told Arab News this week that Dr. Abdul Nasser Al-Rabai, an immunization officer for the WHO’s Yemen office, was abducted in a raid on his home.

Meanwhile, the son of Judge Abdul Wahab Qatran said on Facebook on Wednesday that his father had been released after being held by the Houthis for five months.

Mohammed Abdul Wahab Qatran posted a photograph of himself with his father and siblings but said the Houthis were still holding his father’s phones and other items taken during a raid on his home.

“My free and heroic father was freed this afternoon but he is unable to access all of his accounts since his phones and accounts are still with the intelligence services,” he said.

Qatran Sr. was abducted in January and charged with denigrating a Houthi leader and publishing false news.

The judge was known for criticizing the Houthis for human rights violations and failing to pay public workers. Shortly before his abduction he voiced sympathy for a journalist who was attacked and beaten by the militia in Sanaa.