Gaza truce talks in Cairo as heavy fighting rages

The Israeli military said it intensified operations in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 March 2024
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Gaza truce talks in Cairo as heavy fighting rages

  • Israel boycotts talks, intensifies operations in Khan Younis
  • Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in Riyadh calls for ceasefire
  • US envoy Amos Hochstein to visit Beirut

RIYADH: Mediators in Cairo made a renewed push for a Gaza ceasefire, but differences remained as fighting raged on in the Palestinian territory gripped by desperate food shortages.

US, Qatari and Hamas envoys travelled to Cairo for the latest effort toward a six-week truce, stepped-up aid deliveries and the exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners.

Their goal has been to secure a truce by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on March 10 or 11.

But sticking points remained, including a Hamas demand that the Israeli armed forces entirely withdraw from the Gaza Strip after almost five months of devastating war.

Israel boycotted the ceasefire talks in Cairo after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages that are still alive, an Israeli newspaper reported.

A Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo for the talks, billed as a possible final hurdle before an agreement that would halt the fighting for six weeks. But by early evening there was no sign of the Israelis.

“There is no Israeli delegation in Cairo,” Ynet, the online version of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, quoted unidentified Israeli officials as saying.

A Hamas source on Sunday told AFP its delegation to Cairo is being led by senior leader Khalil Al-Haya.

“The delegation will meet Egyptian mediators and deliver the group’s response to the new Paris proposal,” the source said, in reference to negotiations held last month in the French capital with Israel’s presence.

In Riyadh, Arab foreign ministers on Friday stressed the importance of achieving an immediate ceasefire and ensuring the security of relief corridors for the delivery of humanitarian, food and medical aid.

The 159th regular session of the Foreign Ministerial Council was held at the GCC headquarters of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Joint ministerial meetings between the GCC countries and Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan were held to further strengthen cooperation and discuss urgent matters related to besieged Gaza.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan participated in the meetings, chaired by Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister and minister of foreign affairs.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that what was happening in Gaza is part of a systematic plan to annihilate Palestine, adding that “security solutions to the conflict have brought nothing but destruction to the region, and the escalation in Gaza (has) extended to the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandab.”

Pope Francis called for Gaza civilians to be given “safe access to the humanitarian aid they urgently need,” telling the faithful at the Vatican that he supports an “immediate ceasefire” and hostage release.

Washington has insisted the ceasefire deal is close and should be in place in time to halt fighting by the start of Ramadan.

But the warring sides have given little sign in public of backing away from previous demands.

After the Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo, a Palestinian official said the deal was “not yet there.” From the Israeli side, there was no official comment.

Also on Sunday, a senior Lebanese official said US envoy Amos Hochstein was due to visit Beirut on Monday to continue diplomatic efforts aimed at de-escalating the conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border and bringing stability,

Lebanon’s deputy parliament speaker Elias Bou Saab, one of the officials due to meet Hochstein, said he believed the timing of his visit pointed to progress in efforts to secure a Gaza truce “within the next few hours or days.”

The war began on October 7 with an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Gaza militants also abducted 250 hostages, of whom 130 remain in captivity according to Israel, a figure that includes 31 presumed dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive on the besieged Palestinian territory has killed 30,410 people, mostly women and children, the Gaza health ministry reported Sunday.

(With AFP)


Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

Updated 11 sec ago
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Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

  • Building plans in East Jerusalem being fast-tracked at ‘unprecedented speed,’ rights organization says

LONDON: Israel’s government has stepped up the building of settlements across East Jerusalem, with over 20 projects involving thousands of housing units advanced since it launched its war on Gaza six months ago, according to planning documents seen by the Guardian.
While many government bodies were shuttered or had limited operation following Oct. 7, planning authorities continued to advance plans at “unprecedented speed,” Sari Kronish, from the Israeli rights organization Bimkom — Planners for Planning Rights, told the Guardian.
“The fast-tracking of these plans has been unparalleled in the last six months,” Kronish added
Significantly, two new settlements were approved in East Jerusalem, the first such approvals in over a decade. One development involves the expansion of Kidmat Zion, a high-security settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras Al-Amud, which was decided on two days after the Oct. 7 attacks.
In the Palestinian community of Beit Safafa, encircled by these developments, work has also resumed on the Givat Hamatos and new Givat Shaked projects.
Givat Hamatos was shut down for a decade after international opposition. Work resumed in 2020, and last month the site was bustling with workers, heavy machinery, and trucks.
Givat Shaked, which received full planning permission on Jan. 4, will be built on the northwestern side of Beit Safafa.
It entails high-rise buildings with 700 housing units on the only land in Beit Safafa where the 17,000-strong Muslim majority could expand to accommodate young people. Palestinians are unable to build larger homes in the neighborhood, as well as elsewhere, due to bureaucratic and other restrictions.
The Givat Shaked project has faced significant opposition due to potential threats to the Oslo peace accords, leading to international criticism and a temporary halt urged by the US.
Despite this, the project gained momentum two years ago, endorsed by then Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
He rejected any claims of Palestinian control over Jerusalem’s east, and said it was “unthinkable to prevent development and construction in this area, or anywhere else in the city.”
“Our family has been here for 250 years … Now I have a black hole in my heart because I can’t see how my children and grandchildren can spend their lives here,” Ahmed Salman, the chair of Beit Safafa’s community council, told the Guardian.
“We had good relations with the municipality once, but not in recent years. Since the war, life goes on, but they approved the plan and dismissed all our objections. We are appealing, but I’m not optimistic,” the 71-year-old said.
Another contentious project, the Lower Aqueduct, was fully approved on Dec. 29. This settlement is planned adjacent to a Palestinian neighborhood, further complicating the demographic and political landscape.
“Many of the settlement plans are strategically designated for areas along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem,” Amy Cohen, of Israeli human rights NGO Ir Amim, said.
Cohen added: “If constructed, they would further fracture the Palestinian space … and create a ‘sealing-off’ effect of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank.
“Such moves directly undermine conditions necessary for a viable independent Palestinian state with a contiguous capital in East Jerusalem. All this while bringing planning and building for Palestinians in the city to a complete stop.”
The surge in settlement activity aligns with the goals of the Israeli settler movement, supported by Israel’s current government, which is described by a UN report as the most right-wing in the nation’s history.
Palestinians account for roughly 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population of around 1 million. Successive Israeli governments have sought to maintain the city’s Jewish majority.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move that was not recognized by the majority of the international community. International law prohibits the permanent settlement of militarily occupied territory.
This expansion challenges the possibility of a Palestinian state and strains Israel’s relations with the international community, including the Biden administration.
 


El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo

Updated 25 min 16 sec ago
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El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo

  • Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with Russia’s spy chief Sergei Naryshkin, and his accompanying delegation, in Cairo
  • Talks focused on the situation in the Middle East and ways to achieve regional stability amid the crisis in the Gaza Strip and escalating regional tensions

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi hosted Russian spy chief Sergei Naryshkin and his accompanying delegation in Cairo.

The meeting was attended by the director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel.

Talks focused on the situation in the Middle East and ways to achieve regional stability amid the crisis in the Gaza Strip and escalating regional tensions.

Ahmed Fahmy, presidential spokesman, said that El-Sisi and Naryshkin also discussed a number of African issues, counterterrorism efforts and the latest developments in the international arena, especially in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

They reviewed Egypt’s efforts to quell regional tensions. El-Sisi highlighted Egypt’s vision regarding the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid into the enclave. The Egyptian leader called for fundamental steps to defuse regional tensions.

Egypt also supports a just and comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian issue, and the establishment of the Palestinian state, along the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, El-Sisi said.

The two sides reiterated their commitment to coordination based on longstanding historical ties.

On April 11, El-Sisi spoke to Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer via telephone.

The Egyptian leader highlighted the importance of the international community preventing military escalation in Gaza and a humanitarian catastrophe.

He warned of the “extreme danger” of regional escalation, which “threatens the security and stability” of the Middle East.


US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones

Updated 17 April 2024
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US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones

  • Houthis fired two drones at US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea, but they were intercepted by US Navy forces before reaching their objectives
  • Houthis said that the US and UK launched two airstrikes on Bajil District in the western province of Hodeidah

AL-MUKALLA: The US Central Command said its forces destroyed on Tuesday two drones fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia, the latest round of skirmishes between the US-led marine coalition and the Houthis in the Red Sea.

On Tuesday morning, the Houthis fired two drones at US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea, but they were intercepted by US Navy forces before reaching their objectives. “There were no injuries or damage reported by U.S., coalition, or commercial ships. It was determined the UAVs presented an imminent threat to U.S., coalition, and merchant vessels in the region,” CENTCOM said in a statement on X on Wednesday morning.

The Houthis said that the US and UK launched two airstrikes on Bajil District in the western province of Hodeidah on Tuesday but provided no information about the targeted locations or if they caused any human or property damage.

Since November, the Houthis have launched hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones at commercial and navy ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and Gulf of Aden, claiming to be acting in sympathy with Palestinians. In response to the Houthi attacks, the US formed a coalition of marine forces to defend the Red Sea and launched hundreds of airstrikes on Houthi targets in Sanaa, Saada, and other Yemeni areas under Houthi control.


Israel-Hamas talks on Gaza truce ‘stalling’: mediator Qatar

A cloud of smoke erupts down the road as a man drives an animal-drawn cart loaded with jerrycans in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
Updated 17 April 2024
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Israel-Hamas talks on Gaza truce ‘stalling’: mediator Qatar

  • “We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this stalling,” Qatar’s prime minister said

DOHA: Negotiations between Israel and Hamas to secure a truce in Gaza and a release of hostages have stalled, Qatar’s prime minister said on Wednesday.
“We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this stalling,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a news conference with Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu.
Qatar, with the United States and Egypt, has been engaged in weeks of behind-the-scenes talks to secure a truce in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Negotiators are trying to “move forward and put an end to the suffering that the people in Gaza are experiencing and returning the hostages,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
The mediators had hoped to secure a ceasefire before the start of Ramadan, but progress repeatedly faltered without any cessation of hostilities in the Muslim holy month which ended last week.
Instead, fears have grown of the months-long war in Gaza spilling over into a regional conflict after Iran’s first-ever direct attack on its arch-foe Israel this weekend.
The Qatari premier said Doha had “warned from the beginning of this war against the expansion of the circle of conflict, and today we see conflicts on different fronts.”
“We constantly call on the international community to assume its responsibilities and stop this war,” he added, saying people of Gaza faced “siege and starvation” with humanitarian aid being used as a “tool for political blackmail.”
The war began when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel that resulted in about 1,170 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s military has waged a retaliatory offensive against Hamas that has killed 33,899 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Palestinian militants seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages during the October 7 attack on Israel, but dozens were released during a week-long truce in November.
Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.


Hezbollah says targeted Israel base in retaliation for fighters’ killing

Updated 17 April 2024
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Hezbollah says targeted Israel base in retaliation for fighters’ killing

  • Galilee Medical Center in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya said that it had received ‘14 wounded people... including two who are seriously wounded’
  • Hezbollah said the attack came ‘in response to the enemy assassinating a number of resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah group said it attacked an Israeli army base on Wednesday, with Israeli medics reporting the strike wounded 14 people, including two seriously, in a northern village.
Israel and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Hamas ally, have been exchanging near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7, triggering war in the Gaza Strip.
But Wednesday’s incident marked the third day in a row that Hezbollah strikes wounded people in Israel, with regional tensions high after Iran launched a direct attack on Israel over the weekend in retaliation for a deadly strike on Tehran’s Damascus consulate.
Hezbollah said it launched “a combined attack with guided missiles and explosive drones on a new military reconnaissance command center in Arab Al-Aramshe,” an Arab-majority village of northern Israel near the Lebanese border.
The Galilee Medical Center in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya said in a statement it had received “14 wounded people... including two who are seriously wounded.”
Hezbollah said the attack came “in response to the enemy assassinating a number of resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya” on Tuesday.
According to the Israeli army, “a number of launches from Lebanon were identified crossing into the area of Arab Al-Aramshe,” and Israeli forces struck the sources of the fire.
On Tuesday, Israel said its strikes in south Lebanon killed two local Hezbollah commanders and another operative, with the Iran-backed group saying three of its members were killed as it launched rockets in retaliation.
Local Israeli authorities said three people were wounded in a strike from Lebanon earlier that day.
On Monday, Hezbollah targeted Israeli troops with explosive devices, wounding four soldiers who crossed into Lebanese territory, the first such attack in six months of clashes.
The violence has killed at least 368 people in Lebanon, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also at least 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In Israel, the military says 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed near the northern border since hostilities began.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes on both sides of the border, with the violence fueling fears of all-out conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, which last went to war in 2006.