Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

This handout picture released by the Israeli army on February 23, 2024 shows Israeli army soldiers on patrol at an unspecified location in the Gaza Strip amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 25 February 2024

Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

  • Several Israeli media outlets said Israel tacitly approved a deal and that Israel would send a delegation to Qatar for further discussions
  • Health ministry in Gaza says war death toll at 29,692

JERUSALEM: Israel’s war cabinet has discussed the next steps for negotiations toward a hostage deal and ceasefire in its war with Hamas, as concern deepens over the increasingly desperate situation faced by civilians in the devastated Gaza Strip.

Mediators made progress on an agreement for a weekslong cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and the release of dozens of hostages held in Gaza as well as Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, Israeli media reported Sunday.

Several Israeli media outlets, citing unnamed officials, said it tacitly approved the deal and that Israel would send a delegation to Qatar for further discussions.
Hamas says it has not yet been involved in the latest proposal developed by the United States, Egypt and Qatar, but the reported outline largely matches its earlier demands for the first phase of a truce. 

State-linked Egyptian media reported Sunday that negotiations for a ceasefire in Gaza have resumed in Doha between “experts from Egypt, Qatar, the United States and Israel”, as well as Hamas representatives. 

The talks are a “continuation of what was discussed in Paris" and "will be followed by meetings in Cairo”, reported Al-Qahera News, which is linked to Egyptian state intelligence services. 

Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation that had traveled to Paris for fresh talks on a hostage deal returned to brief the country’s war cabinet on Saturday night, according to an official and local media reports.
National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a televised interview shortly before the meeting that the “delegation has returned from Paris — there is probably room to move toward an agreement.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the meeting would discuss the “next steps in the negotiations.”
Local media later reported that the meeting had concluded with the cabinet agreeing to send a delegation to Qatar in the coming days to continue the talks.
As with a previous week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 hostages freed, Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal.
Domestic pressure on the government to bring the captives home has also steadily mounted, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv Saturday night at what has come to be known as “Hostages Square” to demand swifter action.
“We keep telling you: bring them back to us! And no matter how,” said Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan was kidnapped on October 7.
Anti-government protesters were also out in Tel Aviv, blocking streets and calling for Netanyahu’s government to step down as authorities deployed water cannon and mounted officers in a bid to disperse them.
“They are not choosing the right path for us. Whether it’s (the) economy, whether it’s peace with our neighbors,” 54-year-old software company CEO Moti Kushner said of the government, adding “it looks like they never want to end the war.”
After more than four months of shortages inside the besieged Gaza Strip, the World Food Programme said this week its teams had reported “unprecedented levels of desperation,” while the United Nations warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.
In northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, bedraggled children held out plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food was available.
Supplies are running out, with aid agencies unable to get into the area because of the bombing, while the trucks that do try to get through face frenzied looting.
“We the grown-ups can still make it, but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?” one man said angrily.
Residents have resorted to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves.
The health ministry said on Saturday that a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of “malnutrition” in Gaza City.
Save the Children said the risk of famine would continue to “increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza.”
Israel has defended its track record on allowing aid into Gaza, saying that 13,000 trucks carrying relief supplies had entered the territory since the start of the war.
The war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,606 people, mostly women and children, according to a Saturday tally from Gaza’s health ministry.
The ministry said early Sunday that another 98 people had been killed overnight, with the Hamas media office reporting strikes along the length of the territory, from Beit Lahia in the north to Rafah in the south.
An AFP reporter said there had been a number of air strikes on Saturday evening in Rafah, a city along the territory’s southern border with Egypt where hundreds of thousands of Gazans have fled to escape fighting elsewhere.
The presence of so many civilians packed into the area has sparked concerns over Israeli plans for troops to finally push into the city, the last major urban center they have yet to enter.
Despite the concerns, including from key ally the United States, Netanyahu signalled Saturday night that the expected push had not been abandoned, adding that “at the beginning of the week, I will convene the cabinet to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population from there.”
“Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war’s goals,” he added.
Netanyahu this week unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.
It also says Israel will continue with the establishment of a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.
The plan has been rejected by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and drawn criticism from Washington.

Hezbollah says 2 fighters killed in Israeli strikes

Updated 18 April 2024

Hezbollah says 2 fighters killed in Israeli strikes

  • GPS interference affecting both sides of Lebanese border, source says

BEIRUT: Two Hezbollah fighters were killed on Wednesday as Israel intensified strikes on south Lebanon following an attack by the Iran-backed group that wounded 14 Israeli soldiers.

Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, triggering war in the Gaza Strip.

A security source said: “Hezbollah’s complex attack against the Israeli army in Wadi Al-Aramshe early on Wednesday, which led to the injury of 14 Israeli soldiers, including six with serious injuries, was absorbed by the Israeli side after the painful blow it directed at the party by assassinating three of its field officials.”

The Israeli army responded to the Wadi Al-Aramshe operation on Wednesday night by targeting the town of Iaat in the Bekaa Valley, 5 km from Baalbek. A drone strike hit a warehouse belonging to a member of the Al-Zein family, resulting in light wounds to one civilian.

Israel continues to jam GPS around the Lebanese southern border region, especially during military operations.

A security source said: “This interference negatively affects both the Israeli army and Hezbollah in targeting objectives.”

Hezbollah announced a series of operations since dawn on Thursday, targeting Israeli military sites opposite the Lebanese border.

The group targeted an Israeli force attempting to withdraw a military vehicle that was targeted on Wednesday at Metula, opposite the Lebanese town of Kfarkela.

At dawn, Israeli soldiers in Al-Malikiyah, opposite the Lebanese town of Aitaroun, were targeted by Hezbollah using missiles.

The group also targeted Israeli soldiers in Al-Marj.

“After careful monitoring and anticipation of the enemy’s movement at Al-Marj … they were targeted with missile weapons and suffered a direct hit; some died while others were injured,” the group said in a statement.

Hezbollah attacked Israeli soldiers using missiles in the Hanita forest, opposite the Lebanese town of Alma Al-Shaab.

On Thursday, the party mourned two members killed in Wednesday night’s shelling of Kfarkela. Mohammed Jamil Al-Shami from Kfarkela and Ali Ahmed Hamadeh from Doueir were killed in the Israeli operation.

The Israeli army targeted Lebanese towns with heavy shelling until dawn on Thursday. The town of Khiam was a priority target; correspondents in the area counted seven strikes and 128 artillery and phosphorous shells impacting between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.

A young man from Habboush, Ahmed Hassan Al-Ahmed, was killed in the shelling and mourned by residents of his town.

Jets struck Hezbollah targets in Khiam, including infrastructure and two military buildings, the Israeli army said.

Israeli drones targeted a house on the outskirts of Markaba and in Blida on Thursday, with casualties reported.

The Israeli army also targeted Kfarkela with two missiles from a drone, and with artillery and phosphorous shells. From Metula opposite the border, Israeli soldiers combed the town with heavy machine guns.

The outskirts of Dhayra, Al-Bustan and Aita Al-Shaab were hit by gunfire from the Israeli position in Birkat Risha and other positions adjacent to the Blue Line.

German airline Lufthansa announced on Thursday it had extended the suspension of flights to Beirut and Tehran until April 30.

The decision was taken on the night of the Iranian attack on Israel last weekend.

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said that the organization’s peacekeepers “remain in their positions and carry out their duties, as well as our civilian staff.”

He added: “The safety and security of UN staff and their families are our priority.”

Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy desert city

Updated 18 April 2024

Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy desert city

  • Rains were the heaviest experienced by the United Arab Emirates in the 75 years that records have been kept
  • Flooding trapped residents in traffic, offices and homes, houses’ roofs leaked and malls were overrun with water 

DUBAI: Dubai, a city in the desert proud of its futuristic gloss, was on Thursday busy clearing its waterclogged roads and drying out flooded homes two days after a record storm saw a year’s rain fall in a day.
Dubai International Airport, a major travel hub, struggled to clear a backlog of flights and many roads were still flooded in the aftermath of Tuesday’s deluge.
The rains were the heaviest experienced by the United Arab Emirates in the 75 years that records have been kept. They brought much of the country to a standstill and caused significant damage.
Flooding trapped residents in traffic, offices and homes. Many reported leaks at their homes, while footage circulated on social media showed malls overrun with water pouring from roofs.
Traffic remained heavily disrupted. A highway through Dubai was reduced to a single lane in one direction, while the main road that connects Dubai with the capital Abu Dhabi was closed in the Abu Dhabi direction.
“This was like nothing else. It was like an alien invasion,” Jonathan Richards, a Dubai resident from Britain told Reuters.
“I woke up the other morning to people in kayaks with pet dogs, pet cats, suitcases all outside my house.”
Another resident, Rinku Makhecha, said the rain swamped her freshly renovated house she moved into two weeks ago.
“My entire living room is just like ... all my furniture is floating right now,” she said.
In Dubai’s streets, some vehicles, including buses, could be seen almost entirely submerged in water. Long queues formed at petrol stations.
Dubai airport had yet to resume normal operation after the storm flooded taxiways, forcing flight diversions, delays and cancelations.
Dubai Airports Chief Operating Officer Majed Al Joker told Al Arabiya TV he expected Dubai International Airport to reach 60-70 percent capacity by the end of Thursday and full operational capacity within 24 hours.
The airport struggled to get food to stranded passengers with nearby roads flooded and overcrowding limited access to those who had confirmed bookings.
The storm, which hit neighboring Oman on Sunday, pounded the UAE on Tuesday, with 20 reported dead in Oman and one in the UAE.
While some roadways into hard-hit communities remain flooded, delivery services across Dubai, whose residents are used to ordering everything at the click of a mouse, slowly began returning to the streets.
Rains are rare in the UAE and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, which is typically known for its dry desert climate. Summer air temperatures can soar above 50 degrees Celsius.
Following Tuesday’s events, questions were raised whether cloud seeding, a process that the UAE frequently conducts, could have caused the heavy rains.
But climate experts blame global warming for such extreme weather events.
Researchers anticipate that climate change will lead to heightened temperatures, increased humidity and a greater risk of flooding in parts of the Gulf region. Countries like the UAE where there is a lack of drainage infrastructure to cope with heavy rains can suffer the most.
A UAE government agency that oversees cloud seeding — a process of manipulating clouds to increase rainfall — denied conducting any such operations before the storm.
President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said in a statement he had ordered authorities to assess the damage and provide support to families impacted by the storm.
Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum said on X that the safety of citizens, residents and visitors was the utmost priority.
“At a meeting with government officials in Dubai, we set directives to prepare comprehensive plans in response to natural crises’ such as the unexpected current weather conditions,” he said.

Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official

Updated 18 April 2024

Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official

  • Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit met with the UN’s Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat
  • UNTSO chief briefed the secretary-general on conflicts in several areas monitored by the UN

CAIRO: Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit has told a senior UN official that he fears the conflict in Gaza could spiral out control and threaten regional security.

In a meeting in Cairo with Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat, head of mission and chief of staff of the UN Truce Supervision Organization, Aboul Gheit highlighted the need to implement the UN Security Council’s ceasefire resolution, and provide urgent humanitarian aid to the famine-stricken population in Gaza.

Gamal Roshdy, a spokesperson for the Arab League chief, said that the meeting discussed the regional situation, with Aboul Gheit saying that Israel’s war on Gaza violated international law and humanitarian principles.

The UNTSO chief briefed the secretary-general on conflicts in several areas monitored by the UN, including the Blue Line, which delineates the truce between Lebanon and Israel.

Aboul Gheit said that political resolutions remain the most effective means to ensure security for all parties.

However, achieving such resolutions remains challenging while Israel pursue its objectives through military force and by targeting civilians, he said.

According to the UNTSO website, the Security Council, in Resolution 50 (1948), called for a cessation of hostilities in Palestine on May 29, 1948, and decided that the UN Mediator should supervise the truce with the assistance of a group of military observers.

The first group of military observers, established in 1949 to supervise the implementation of the Israel-Arab Armistice Agreements, became known as the UN Truce Supervision Organization.

UNTSO observers in the Middle East to monitor ceasefires, supervise armistice agreements, prevent isolated incidents from escalating, and assist other UN peacekeeping operations in the region.

King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis

Updated 18 April 2024

King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis

  • Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Hamad pledge joint action to address the escalating crisis in Gaza
  • King Hamad and El-Sisi also discussed the agenda for the 33rd Arab Summit, which Bahrain will host next month

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Hamad of Bahrain have pledged joint action to address the escalating crisis in Gaza and its effects on the region.

El-Sisi received King Hamad in Cairo on Wednesday, where the leaders expressed hope that peace efforts would lead to a new path for the region, offering a future in which they work together toward prosperity.

King Hamad told a joint press conference that the president and he also discussed the agenda for the 33rd Arab Summit, which Bahrain will host next month.

The leaders emphasized the need for clear policies to promote peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

The king said he discussed several issues with El-Sisi to enhance Arab cooperation.

El-Sisi said he and King Hamad deliberated “on our countries’ efforts and joint Arab action to address this untenable situation, bring it to an end, and, above all, prevent its recurrence.”

The Egyptian leader added: “For this to happen, the international community shall stand united to enforce an immediate, urgent, and lasting ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, end any attempts of coerced displacement, starvation, or collective punishment of the brotherly Palestinian people, and ensure the full-fledged, unfettered and sustainable flow of sufficient quantities of desperately needed humanitarian aid and relief to the sector.

“In parallel, the parties shall immediately embark, in earnest, on tracks conducive to a just and enduring political solution to the Palestinian cause, based on the two-state solution and the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state, along the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, enjoying both international acknowledgment and full membership of the UN.”

El-Sisi said Egypt had repeatedly warned of the dire consequences likely to result from the ongoing war in occupied Palestine, where the conflict leads to calls for escalation and retribution, creating a cycle of violence that destroys any chance for peace and stability in the region.

“Indeed, over the past few months, the region has been experiencing the devastating consequences of the ongoing war as its flames spiraled outward, creating the current intensely fraught and perilous state in the region that gravely jeopardizes the security, stability, and future of our people,” he added.

El-Sisi said that the leaders “thoroughly discussed these troubling regional developments and our visions for addressing them, driven by our shared belief in the crucial importance of safeguarding the security and stability of the region and its peoples against multiple threats and of not abandoning their fate to the will of warmongers. This commitment is grounded in the principle of prioritizing common Arab security, which we consider as indivisible.”

El-Sisi said that the two leaders agreed on the need to exert and encourage immediate and intensive efforts toward de-escalation in the Palestinian territories and at regional level.

“We also discussed the importance of urging the parties to adopt a rational approach, embrace political solutions, and abandon military solutions and notions of dominance and hegemony,” the president said.

El-Sisi said: “Today, we are gathering at a time of great peril as a result of the bloody Israeli war on the Gaza Strip and the inexorable loss of thousands of helpless and innocent civilians in scenes of untold horror.

“They have done nothing more than live in their land, clinging to their homes and homeland, and yearning for a life with dignity, pride, and humanity.

“It is unequivocally a watershed moment that will endure in the annals of history, given the outrageous use of military force to terrorize, starve, and inflict unimaginable suffering on innocent civilians, collectively and indiscriminately, to terrify them into abandoning their homes and forcibly displace them from their land.

“All this unfolds while the international community stands by idly, with its ability or will to uphold justice and enforce international law, international humanitarian law, or even the basic tenets of humanity, utterly crippled,” El-Sisi said.

US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Updated 18 April 2024

US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

  • Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted 16 people and two entities in Iran that produce engines that power the drones used in the April 13 attack on Israel
  • UK is targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s drone and ballistic missile industries

WASHINGTON: The United States and the United Kingdom announced widespread sanctions against Iran’s military drone program on Thursday in response to its weekend attack against Israel.
Washington is targeting “16 individuals and two entities enabling Iran’s UAV production, including engine types that power Iran’s Shahed variant UAVs, which were used in the April 13 attack,” the Treasury Department said in a statement, referring to Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle program.
The United Kingdom is also imposing sanctions “targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s UAV and ballistic missile industries,” the Treasury Department said.
Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus — widely blamed on Israel — that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals.
The large-scale attack involved more than 300 drones and missiles, most of which were shot down by Israel and its allies including the US and the UK, causing little damage.
In response to the attacks, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel reserves the right to protect itself.
“Today, in coordination with the United Kingdom and in consultation with partners and allies, we are taking swift and decisive action to respond to Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“We’re using Treasury’s economic tools to degrade and disrupt key aspects of Iran’s malign activity, including its UAV program and the revenue the regime generates to support its terrorism,” she continued.
“We will continue to deploy our sanctions authority to counter Iran with further actions in the days and weeks ahead,” she added.
Alongside its sanctions against Iran’s UAV program, the US is also sanctioning five companies providing parts for Iran’s steel industry.
“Iran’s metals sector generates the equivalent of several billion dollars in revenue annually, with the majority coming from steel exports,” the Treasury Department said, adding it had also sanctioned an automaker involved in providing “material support” to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.