Hezbollah ramps up military action amid fears of Israeli escalation

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Hezbollah has conducted nine military operations against Israel, from Lebanon, in the last 48 hours, some involving advanced ballistics. (AFP)
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Smoke billows, following an Israeli air raid on a reported hangar, close to the main coastal highway and near the southern Lebanese town of Ghaziyeh, 30 km from the border with Israel, Feb. 19, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2024

Hezbollah ramps up military action amid fears of Israeli escalation

  • Central council member Kaouk says party takes Israeli threats ‘seriously’ and is prepared for ‘all potential scenarios’
  • Number of individuals displaced from border villages surpasses 80,000 fighting ratchets up

BEIRUT: Sirens sounded at the Israeli Zarit military site in Western Galilee on Monday afternoon when three missiles were launched from Lebanon, Israeli media reported.

The Israel Defense Forces announced “the closure of four main road axes in Upper Galilee and the areas adjacent to the border with Lebanon” after one of the missiles struck the Pranit Barracks in Western Galilee.

Hezbollah said in a series of statements it had conducted nine military operations in the last 48 hours, some involving advanced ballistics.

The group targeted “a gathering of enemy soldiers in the vicinity of Al-Baghdadi site, a position of soldiers in Al-Taihat triangle, Al-Samaqa site in the occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms, and the Ruwaisat Al-Alam site in the occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms with a Burkan missile.”

It also targeted “an assembly of enemy troops in Horsh Ramim, and a group of enemy soldiers in the settlement of Evin Menachem. The assault resulted in casualties among the soldiers.”

Hezbollah indicated that its operations targeted “a position of enemy soldiers in the Shomera settlement and a building in which enemy soldiers are stationed in the Yaroun settlement.”

Israeli warplanes raided the outskirts of the border towns of Yarin and Al-Adisa in response. Drones were also used by the IDF, one of which reportedly entered the airspace of the city of Sidon at low altitude, outside the scope of the rules of engagement. IDF personnel also fired heavy machine guns at an area adjacent to the town of Ramia.

An Israeli government spokesman reiterated the country’s position that “Hezbollah must retreat from our borders, and we will achieve this diplomatically or militarily.”

Local Lebanese media reports on Monday said that Hezbollah and the Amal Movement “raised their military measures in the front and rear towns and villages, in anticipation of developments in the coming days.”

The reports implied Israel could be set to broaden its activities in southern Lebanon.

The number of individuals displaced from Lebanese border villages has surpassed 80,000, with some opting to rent homes in distant locations such as Beirut and Mount Lebanon. Meanwhile, hundreds of families have sought refuge in the city of Tyre, with many accommodated in a local school complex.

Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, a member of Hezbollah’s central council, confirmed during an event for the party on Monday that “Hezbollah is engaged in a genuine confrontation of endurance along the border with Israel.

“The enemy remains undeterred by UN resolutions, unaffected by the decisions of the International Court of Justice and unswayed by all statements of condemnation and concern,” he said.

“The enemy is confused as the resistance actively pursues it behind walls and settlements. This is evidence that the party continues to shape strategic equations. Despite the enemy’s threats to Lebanon and its evident apprehension about confrontation, the party takes these warnings seriously. It diligently prepares for all potential scenarios, readying itself to present the enemy with unexpected surprises,” he added.

“Any war involving Lebanon would inevitably accelerate (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s downfall,” Kaouk continued. “The party should not be swayed by threats and intimidation, as safeguarding the security of our people and country takes precedence over all considerations. The party’s response to the Nabatieh and Sowana massacres, which targeted civilians, is an ongoing commitment and extends beyond the bombing of Kiryat Shmona. The upcoming days will further prove this.”

Kaouk stressed that Hezbollah’s position remains clear: “There will be no ceasefire until the aggression against Gaza comes to a halt, even in the face of any imposed pressures on us.”

Reactions to the crash of the Iranian president’s helicopter

Updated 4 sec ago

Reactions to the crash of the Iranian president’s helicopter

  • Iraqi government said it instructed relevant bodies to offer help to neighboring Iran in the search mission

LONDON: Following are reactions from foreign governments and officials to the news that a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister crashed as it flew over mountain terrain in heavy fog on Sunday.

“We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

A spokesperson for President Biden, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president had been briefed on the situation. She did not elaborate.

AZERI PRESIDENT ILHAM ALIYEV (Raisi was returning from Iran’s border with Azerbaijan when his helicopter crashed).
“Today, after bidding a friendly farewell to the (visiting) President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, we were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran.”
“Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with President Ebrahim Raisi and the accompanying delegation. As a neighbor, friend, and brotherly country, the Republic of Azerbaijan stands ready to offer any assistance needed.”

The Iraqi government said in a statement it had instructed its interior ministry, the Red Crescent and other relevant bodies to offer help to neighboring Iran in the search mission.

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

Updated 19 May 2024

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.

Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
Updated 37 min 12 sec ago

Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

  • IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials

DUBAI: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister made a rough landing on Sunday as it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian news agencies said.
The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and state TV carried prayers for his safety.
IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials.
Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.
Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.
In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.
But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi's main policies.

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Updated 19 May 2024

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses comments as "washed-up words"
  • Broad splits emerge in Israeli war cabinet as Hamas regroups in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 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, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas 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.

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

Updated 19 May 2024

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

  • Washington called on Tehran to rein in proxy forces
  • Officials sat in separate rooms with Omani intermediaries passing messages

LONDON: US and Iranian officials held talks in Oman last week aimed at reducing regional tensions, the New York Times reported.

Through intermediaries from Oman, Washington’s top Middle East official Brett McGurk and the deputy special envoy for Iran, Abram Paley, spoke with Iranian counterparts.

It was the first contact between the two countries in the wake of Iran’s retaliatory missile and drone attack on Israel in April.

The US officials, who communicated with their Iranian counterparts in a separate room — with Omani officials passing on messages — requested that Tehran rein in its proxy forces across the region.

The US has had no diplomatic contact with Iran since 1979, and communicates with the country using intermediaries and back channels.

Since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October, Iran-backed militias — including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and armed groups in Syria and Iraq — have ramped up attacks on Israeli and American targets.

But US officials have determined that neither Hezbollah nor Iran want an escalation and wider war.

After Israel struck Iran’s consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, Tehran retaliated with hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones.

The attack — which was intercepted by air defense systems from Israel, the US and the UK, among others — was the first ever direct Iranian strike on Israel, which has for years targeted Iranian assets in Syria, whose government is a close ally of Tehran.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a news conference this week that the “Iranian threat” to Israel and US interests “is clear.”

He added: “We are working with Israel and other partners to protect against these threats and to prevent escalation into an all-out regional war through a calibrated combination of diplomacy, deterrence, force posture adjustments and use of force when necessary to protect our people and to defend our interests and our allies.”