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)
Short Url
Updated 25 February 2024
Follow

Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

  • Israeli delegation that went to Paris for talks on hostage deal returned on Saturday night
  • Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal

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.
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.


Iran warns Israel against retaliation, global powers urge restraint

Updated 42 min 26 sec ago
Follow

Iran warns Israel against retaliation, global powers urge restraint

  • Tehran had informed the US its attack on Israel would be ‘limited’ and for self defense

JERUSALEM/DUBAI/WASHINGTON: Iran warned Israel and the United States on Sunday of a much larger response if there is any retaliation for its mass drone and missile attack on Israeli territory overnight, as Israel said “the campaign is not over yet.”

The threat of open warfare erupting between the arch Middle East foes and dragging in the United States has put the region on edge as Washington said America did not seek conflict with Iran but would not hesitate to protect its forces and Israel.

Iran launched the attack over a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Syria on April 1 that killed top Revolutionary Guards commanders and followed months of clashes between Israel and Iran’s regional allies, triggered by the war in Gaza.

However, the attack from hundreds of missiles and drones, mostly launched from inside Iran, caused only modest damage in Israel as most were shot down with the help of the US, Britain and Jordan.

An Air Force base in southern Israel was hit, but continued to operate as normal and a 7-year old child was seriously hurt by shrapnel. There were no other reports of serious damage.

“We intercepted, we repelled, together we shall win,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on social media ahead of a planned 1230 GMT meeting of the war cabinet to discuss a response to the attack.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said despite thwarting the attack, the military campaign was not over and “we must be prepared for every scenario.”

Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official overnight as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack.

Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian said Tehran had informed the United States its attack on Israel would be “limited” and for self defense.

He said Israel’s neighbors had also been informed of its planned strikes 72-hours in advance.

Global powers Russia, China, France and Germany as well as Arab states Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates urged restraint.

“We will do everything to stop a further escalation,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters during a visit to China. “We can only warn everyone, especially Iran, against continuing this way.”

Turkiye also warned Iran it did not want further tension in the region.

The Islamic Republic’s mission to the United Nations said its actions were aimed at punishing “Israeli crimes,” but that it now “deemed the matter concluded.”

Iranian army chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned on television that “our response will be much larger than tonight’s military action if Israel retaliates against Iran” and told Washington its bases could also be attacked if it helped Israel retaliate.

US President Joe Biden has pledged “ironclad” support for Israel against Iran, but did not announce any military response on Saturday night, saying instead he would coordinate a diplomatic response with other Western leaders.

The UN Security Council was set to meet at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Sunday.

ESCALATION

Analysts debated how far Iran’s attack was calibrated to cause genuine devastation in Israel, or to save face at home after vows of revenge while avoiding a major new war.

“I think the Iranians took into consideration the fact that Israel has a very, very strong multi-layer anti-missile system and they probably took into consideration that there will not be too many casualties,” said Sima Shine, a former senior Mossad official at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

But if Iran was hoping for a muted response, like with its missile attacks on US forces in Iraq after the killing of Guards commander Qassem Soleimani in 2020, she warned “I don’t think Israel sees it this way.”

On Saturday Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized an Israel-linked cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important energy shipping routes, underscoring the risks to the world economy of a wider conflict.

Some flights were suspended in countries across the region and share prices fell in stock markets in Israel and Gulf states.

The war in Gaza, which Israel invaded after an attack by Iran-backed Hamas on Oct. 7, has spread to fronts with Iran-aligned groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Iran’s most powerful ally in the region, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah fired rockets at an Israeli base overnight. Israel said it struck a Hezbollah site deep inside Lebanon on Sunday morning.

Yemen’s Houthis, who have been firing missiles at ships in the Red Sea in what they say is support for the Palestinians, called Iran’s attack legitimate.

The Oct. 7 attack in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and 253 taken hostage, along with internal discontent with the government and international pressure over the war in Gaza, form the backdrop to Netanyahu’s decisions over a response.

The Israeli prime minister has for years advocated a tough military line against Iran, pushing the United States for harder action over Tehran’s nuclear program and its backing for Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups in the region.

In Jerusalem on Sunday, Israelis described their fear during the attack, when sirens wailed and the night sky was shaken by blasts, but differed on how the country should respond.

“I think we’ve been given license to respond now. I mean it was a major attack from Iran... I imagine Israel will respond and may be over quickly and get back to normal life,” said Jeremy Smith, 60.

In Iran, state television showed small gatherings in several cities celebrating the attack, but in private some Iranians were worried about Israel’s response.

“Iran gave Netanyahu a golden opportunity to attack our country. But we, the people of Iran, will bear the brunt of this conflict,” said Shima, a 29-year-old nurse, from Tehran.


Hamas and Israel exchange recriminations over stalled Gaza talks

Updated 14 April 2024
Follow

Hamas and Israel exchange recriminations over stalled Gaza talks

  • Without explicitly rejecting the draft deal, Hamas reiterated its long-standing demands for a permanent ceasefire

JERUSALEM: Israel and Hamas have accused each other of undermining negotiations for a truce in Gaza and a hostage release deal, although the talks have not collapsed.

On Saturday, while Hamas-backer Iran was preparing to launch hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel in retaliation for a deadly Damascus strike, the Palestinian militant group announced that it had delivered its response to the latest ceasefire proposal.

Without explicitly rejecting the draft deal, Hamas reiterated its long-standing demands for a permanent ceasefire and the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, which Israeli officials have repeatedly opposed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instead reiterated his determination to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, the last city in Gaza yet to face such a fate and which Israel insists is Hamas’s last major holdout.

On Saturday, Netanyahu accused Hamas of being the “only obstacle” to a deal that would free the hostages still held by Gaza militants.

“The cabinet and the security forces are united in their opposition to these unfounded demands,” he said, adding that Hamas “has refused any deal and any compromise proposal.”

On Sunday, Israel’s Mossad spy agency said in a statement released by Netanyahu’s office that Hamas had rejected the proposal, and said it “proves” that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar “does not want a humanitarian deal and the return of the hostages.”

Sinwar was “continuing to exploit the tension with Iran,” Mossad said, and was aiming for “a general escalation in the region.”

The comments came just hours before Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel, the vast majority of which intercepted according to Israel.

Mossad said Israel would “continue to work to achieve the objectives of the war against Hamas with all its might, and will turn every stone to bring back the hostages from Gaza.”

Despite the apparent gulf between the two sides, the talks, mediated by Egypt, the United States and Qatar, are ongoing in the Egyptian capital.

“The negotiations are not at a standstill” but the mediators will have to go back to the drawing board, said Hasni Abidi of CERMAM, a Geneva-based think tank specializing in the Mediterranean and the Arab world.

A framework being circulated in Cairo would halt fighting for six weeks and see the exchange of about 40 hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, as well as more aid deliveries into the besieged Gaza Strip.

A Hamas source told AFP that, ultimately, later stages of the ceasefire would see all hostages released, Israel withdrawing all its forces from Gaza, the lifting of the siege and the reconstruction of the territory.

However, so far every attempt to negotiate a durable ceasefire in the six-month-long war has failed.

In November, a seven-day truce enabled the exchange of 80 hostages for 240 Palestinian prisoners, as well as 25 captives freed outside of the truce mechanism.

The war broke out with Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory attack, aimed at destroying Hamas, has killed at least 33,729 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Palestinian militants also took about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel withdrew most of its troops from the Gaza Strip on the six-month anniversary of the war, leaving only a single brigade in central Gaza, while continuing to launch air strikes and bombardments.

Netanyahu has repeated his determination to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, where around 1.5 million Gazans are sheltering from the war, despite opposition from Israel’s top ally the United States.

He also faces increasing pressure from the Israeli public and the families of the hostages, with mass weekly demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem demanding an end to his government and the return of the captives.


Iraq PM arrives in Washington

Updated 14 April 2024
Follow

Iraq PM arrives in Washington

Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shiaa Al-Sudani arrived in Washington, DC, on Sunday embarking on an official visit at the invitation of US President Joe Biden.

Discussions during Al-Sudani's visit will encompass various aspects of the bilateral relationship between the US and Iraq, including security and defense partnership and economic ties.

This emphasis on economic cooperation comes amidst ongoing negotiations between Washington and Baghdad concerning the future of the US-led military coalition in Iraq. As both parties engage in dialogue, the visit presents a significant opportunity to bolster economic collaboration and deepen the longstanding ties between the United States and Iraq.


Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon reopen airspace after Iran attacks

Updated 14 April 2024
Follow

Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon reopen airspace after Iran attacks

  • Jordan’s state TV said the country had resumed air traffic operations, citing aviation authorities
  • Tehran’s Mehrabad airport and airports in several other Iranian cities have canceled domestic flights

CAIRO: Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon have reopened their airspace on Sunday after closing it late on Saturday as Iran launched drone and missile attacks against Israel, the three countries said on Sunday.

Jordan’s state TV said the country had resumed air traffic operations, citing aviation authorities. The opening of its airspace came more than three hours earlier than scheduled. 

Jordan announced the closure of its airspace to all incoming, departing, and transiting flights temporarily starting from 20:00 UTC, 11:00pm local time on Saturday, for several hours. 

The commission said at the time that the decision was taken to ensure the security and safety of civil aviation in the Jordanian airspace.

Iraq’s aviation authority said security risks had now been overcome.

Many flying objects were spotted over Jordan with images and videos circulated on social media showing air-defense systems shooting them down over the capital Amman and the northwestern regions on the borders with Syria and Israel.

Following a cabinet meeting early on Sunday, Jordanian government called for self-restraint and de-escalation, the Jordanian news agency, Petra, reported.

The government also said that Jordan dealt with some “flying objects” over the Kingdom on Sunday night and shot them down, adding that some shrapnels fell on uninhabited areas and no injuries were reported.

Lebanon said its airport will resume its activities after the overnight closure, state TV reported.

Tehran’s Mehrabad airport and airports in several other Iranian cities have canceled domestic flights until Monday morning due to Middle East tensions, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Sunday, as the country’s western airspace remains off limits to flights.

Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel late on Saturday — its first direct attack on Israeli territory in a retaliatory strike that raises the threat of wider regional conflict.

Jordan, which lies between Iran and Israel, had readied air defenses to intercept any drones or missiles that violated its territory, two regional security sources said.

US and British warplanes were involved in shooting down some Israel-bound drones over the Iraq-Syria border area, Israel’s Channel 12 reported.

Iranian airports cancel flights until Monday morning

Several Iranian airports including Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International have canceled flights until Monday, Iranian state media reported on Sunday, as tensions flared in the Middle East with Iran’s attack on Israel overnight.

“All flights from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport have been canceled until 6 a.m. (0230 GMT) following an announcement by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization,” the airport’s executive told the Iranian Student News Agency.
Domestic flights from Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport and airports in Shiraz, Isfahan, Bushehr, Kerman, Ilam, and Sanandaj have also been canceled until Monday morning, according to Iran’s Airports and Air Navigation Company, as the country’s western airspace remains off limits to flights.
Major airlines across the Middle East have announced the cancelation of some of their flights, while having to reroute others.

 


Israel’s Netanyahu vows victory after Iran strikes, fears of wider conflict grow

Updated 14 April 2024
Follow

Israel’s Netanyahu vows victory after Iran strikes, fears of wider conflict grow

  • Iran had relied on its proxies across the region to attack Israeli and US targets in a show of support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas
  • Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday his country would achieve victory after the military said it shot down almost all the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran in a sharp escalation of the Middle East conflict.
Tehran’s attacks late on Saturday, launched after a suspected Israeli air strike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 that killed officers of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, raised the threat of a wider regional conflict.
Iran had relied on its proxies across the region to attack Israeli and US targets in a show of support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza war with Israel, which shows no sign of easing despite numerous mediations efforts.
“We intercepted, we repelled, together we shall win,” Netanyahu posted on X.
The Israeli military said the armed forces had shot down more than 99 percent of the Iranian drones and missiles and were discussing follow-up options.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack.
The war in Gaza, which Israel invaded after an attack by Iran-backed Hamas on Oct. 7, has ratcheted up tensions in the region, spreading to fronts with Lebanon and Syria and drawing long-range fire at Israeli targets from as far away as Yemen and Iraq.

Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi warned Sunday Israel and its allies against any “reckless” actions after Tehran’s drone and missile attack in retaliation for a deadly strike on its Damascus consulate.

“If the Zionist regime (Israel) or its supporters demonstrate reckless behavior, they will receive a decisive and much stronger response,” Raisi said in a statement.

’Push toward escalation'
Iran’s most powerful ally in the region, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah — which has been exchanging fire with Israel since the Gaza war began — said early on Sunday it had fired rockets at an Israeli base.
Drones were also reportedly launched against Israel by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, which has attacked shipping lanes in an around the Red Sea to show solidarity with Hamas, British maritime security company Ambrey said in a statement.
Those clashes now threaten to morph into a direct open conflict pitting Iran and its regional allies against Israel and its main supporter, the United States. Regional power Egypt urged “utmost restraint.”
Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, called Iran’s actions “very grave,” telling a televised briefing they “push the region toward escalation.”
Iran launched dozens of ground-to-ground missiles at Israel, including more than 10 cruise missiles, and most were intercepted outside Israeli borders, Hagari said.
The Iranian salvo caused light damage to one Israeli military facility, he said.
The Israeli military said it was not advising residents to prepare to take shelter, revising an earlier alert in an apparent signal of the end of the threat.
UN Security Council to meet
Iran had vowed retaliation for what it called the Israeli strike on its embassy compound that killed seven Revolutionary Guard officers, including two senior commanders. Tehran said its strike was punishment for “Israeli crimes.” Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the consulate attack.
“Should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” the Iranian mission to the United Nations said, warning the US to “stay away.” However, it also said Iran now “deemed the matter concluded.”
US President Joe Biden, who spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he would convene a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven major economies on Sunday to coordinate a diplomatic response to what he called Iran’s brazen attack.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said America did not seek conflict with Iran but would not hesitate to act to protect US forces and support defense of Israel.
The UN Security Council was set to meet at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Sunday after Israel requested it condemn Iran’s attack and designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.
Iran’s Fars news agency quoted a source as saying Tehran was closely watching Jordan, which might become the next target is case of any moves in support of Israel.
Israel and Lebanon said they were closing their airspace on Saturday night. Israel reopened its airspace at 0430 GMT on Sunday, its airports authority said. Jordan, which lies between Iran and Israel, had readied air defenses to intercept any drone or missile that violated its territory, two regional security sources said.
Residents in several Jordanian cities said they heard heavy aerial activity.
Syria, an ally of Iran, said it was putting its ground-to-air defense systems around the capital and major bases on high alert, army sources there said.
The European Union, Britain, Japan, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Mexico, the Netherlands and Norway condemned Iran’s attack.