Netanyahu rival’s visit to US highlights cracks within Israel’s wartime leadership

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz attend a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on October 28, 2023 amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (POOL/AFP)
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Updated 04 March 2024
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Netanyahu rival’s visit to US highlights cracks within Israel’s wartime leadership

  • Netanyahu reportedly had a “tough talk” with Benny Gantz and told him the country has “just one prime minister”
  • Gantz is a centrist political rival who joined Netanyahu’s wartime Cabinet following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack
  • A visit to the US, if met with progress on the hostage front, could further boost support for Gantz's political future

TEL AVIV, Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebuked a top Cabinet minister arriving in Washington on Sunday for talks with US officials, according to an Israeli official, signaling widening cracks within the country’s leadership nearly five months into its war with Hamas.

The trip by Benny Gantz, a centrist political rival who joined Netanyahu’s wartime Cabinet following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, comes as friction between the US and Netanyahu is rising over how to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and what the postwar plan for the enclave should look like.
An official from Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party said Gantz’s trip was planned without authorization from the Israeli leader. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Netanyahu had a “tough talk” with Gantz and told him the country has “just one prime minister.”
Gantz is scheduled to meet on Monday with US Vice President Kamala Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan and on Tuesday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to his National Unity Party. A second Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity said Gantz’s visit is intended to strengthen ties with the US, bolster support for Israel’s war and push for the release of Israeli hostages.
In Egypt, talks were underway to broker a ceasefire before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins next week.
Israel did not send a delegation because it is waiting for answers from Hamas on two questions, according to a third Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Israeli media reported that the government is waiting to learn which hostages are alive and how many Palestinian prisoners Hamas seeks in exchange for each.
All three Israeli officials spoke anonymously because they weren’t authorized to discuss the disputes with the media.
On Saturday, the US airdropped aid into Gaza. The airdrops came after dozens of Palestinians rushing to grab food from an Israel-organized convoy were killed last week, and they circumvented an aid delivery system that has been hobbled by Israeli restrictions, logistical issues and fighting in Gaza. Aid officials say airdrops are far less effective than deliveries made by trucks.
US priorities in the region have increasingly been hampered by Netanyahu’s Cabinet, which is dominated by ultranationalists. Gantz’s more moderate party at times acts as a counterweight.
Netanyahu’s popularity has dropped since the war broke out, according to most opinion polls. Many Israelis hold him responsible for failing to stop the Oct. 7 cross-border raid by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 people as hostages into Gaza, including women, children and older adults, according to Israeli authorities.
More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters. Around 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million have fled their homes, and UN agencies say hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.
Israelis critical of Netanyahu say his decision-making has been tainted by political considerations, a charge he denies. The criticism is particularly focused on plans for postwar Gaza. Netanyahu wants Israel to maintain open-ended security control over Gaza, with Palestinians running civilian affairs.
The US wants to see progress on the creation of a Palestinian state, envisioning a revamped Palestinian leadership running Gaza with an eye toward eventual statehood.
That vision is opposed by Netanyahu and the hard-liners in his government. Another top Cabinet official from Gantz’s party has questioned the handling of the war and the strategy for freeing the hostages.
Netanyahu’s government, Israel’s most conservative and religious ever, has also been rattled by a court-ordered deadline for a new bill to broaden military enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Many of them are exempted from military service so they can pursue religious studies. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers have been killed since Oct. 7, and the military is looking to fill its ranks.
Gantz has remained vague about his view of Palestinian statehood. Polls show he would earn enough support to become prime minister if a vote were held today.
A visit to the US, if met with progress on the hostage front, could further boost Gantz’s support.
Israel has essentially endorsed a framework of a proposed Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal, and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it, a senior US official said Saturday. He spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House to brief reporters.
Israelis, deeply traumatized by Hamas’ attack, have broadly backed the war effort as an act of self-defense, even as global opposition to the fighting has increased.
But a growing number are expressing their dismay with Netanyahu. Some 10,000 people protested late Saturday to call for early elections, according to Israeli media. Such protests have grown in recent weeks, but remain much smaller than last year’s demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul plan.
If the political rifts grow and Gantz quits the government, the floodgates will open to broader protests by a public that was already unhappy with the government when Hamas struck, said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Israeli strikes late Saturday in Rafah and in the Jabaliya refugee camp killed more than 30 people, including women and children, according to local health officials. And on Sunday two Israeli strikes southwest of Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza killed at least five people and destroyed an aid truck, according to witnesses and staff at Al Aqsa hospital.
Amid concerns about the wider regional conflict, White House senior adviser Amos Hochstein was going to Lebanon on Monday to meet officials, according to an administration official who was not authorized to comment. White House officials want Lebanese and Israeli officials to prevent tensions along their border from worsening.
 


Hezbollah says fired ‘dozens’ of rockets at Israeli positions

Updated 13 April 2024
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Hezbollah says fired ‘dozens’ of rockets at Israeli positions

  • Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported Israeli bombardment of several villages near the border

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group said it fired “dozens of Katyusha rockets” at Israeli artillery positions Friday, a bombardment it said was in response to Israeli strikes in the south.
Hamas ally Hezbollah has exchanged near-daily cross-border fire with the Israeli army since the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7 triggering war in Gaza.
Hezbollah fighters targeted “enemy artillery positions... with dozens of Katyusha rockets” the group said in a statement, adding it was “in response to the enemy’s attacks on... southern villages and civilian homes.”
The Israeli army said “approximately 40 launches were identified crossing from Lebanese territory, some of which were intercepted.”
“No injuries were reported,” it said, adding that it had earlier intercepted two Hezbollah attack drones that had crossed from Lebanon.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported Israeli bombardment of several villages near the border.
The violence has so far killed at least 363 people in Lebanon, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also including at least 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In Israel, the military says 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes on both sides of the border.
 

 


Libyan armed groups clash in capital Tripoli: media

Updated 13 April 2024
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Libyan armed groups clash in capital Tripoli: media

  • Authorities have not disclosed the reasons behind the fight, but local media said it began after the SSA detained Radaa members in retaliation for the detention of one of its members by the rival group

TRIPOLI: Clashes between powerful Libyan armed groups broke out in the capital Tripoli, sparking panic among locals celebrating the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, local media reported.
The clashes overnight Thursday into Friday lasted for about one hour but claimed no lives, the reports said.
Libya is still struggling to recover from years of war and chaos after the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Although relative calm has returned to the oil-rich country in the past four years, clashes periodically occur between its myriad armed groups.
Witnesses said they heard exchanges of fire, including from heavy weapons, in Tripoli’s Abu Salim neighborhood, an area controlled by the Stability Support Authority (SSA).
Gunmen from SSA clashed with elements of the Special Deterrence Force (Radaa), the media reports said.
Authorities have not disclosed the reasons behind the fight, but local media said it began after the SSA detained Radaa members in retaliation for the detention of one of its members by the rival group.
Both groups released the detainees the same night.
Families who were observing the second day of Eid Al-Fitr celebrations had to flee nearby cafes and parks during the clash, the media reports said.
SSA and the Special Deterrence Force evolved from the militias that filled a security vacuum following Qaddafi’s overthrow.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on Friday denounced “the recurring use of violence to settle disputes,” in a statement on X.
Condemning “chronic insecurity,” UNSMIL called for Libya to “prioritize elections to establish legitimate governing bodies.”
“Those responsible must be held accountable,” it said.
In Tripoli, the SSA and Radaa groups are not under the direct authority of the ministries of interior or defense, though they receive public funds.
They operate independently and received a special status from the prime minister and the presidential council in 2021.
The groups are most visible at roundabouts and main street intersections, where their often-masked members staff checkpoints, blocking traffic with weapon-mounted armored vehicles.
In August 2023, Tripoli’s worst armed clashes in a year left 55 people dead when Radaa and the 444 Brigade clashed.
In February this year, at least 10 people including SSA members were shot dead in Tripoli.
Interior Minister Imad Trabelsi then announced that armed groups in Tripoli agreed to leave and be replaced with regular forces.
He gave no time frame but suggested the measure would be implemented after Ramadan.
Libya is divided between the UN-recognized Tripoli-based government and a rival administration in the country’s east.
 

 


Tunisian man dead after self-immolating in protest against police

Updated 13 April 2024
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Tunisian man dead after self-immolating in protest against police

  • Tunisia has seen large numbers of people set themselves alight since the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation in late 2010 sparked the Arab Spring and led to the ousting of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

TUNIS: A young Tunisian man died after self-immolating in an act of protest against the police in the central region of Kairouan, his family said Friday.
Yassine Selmi, a 22-year-old construction worker, died Thursday in a hospital in Tunis, two days after setting himself on fire in front of a police station, his father Mansour Selmi told AFP.
He was attempting to “resolve a fight between two people and police officers near a police station” when the officers threatened to arrest him in Bou Hajjla, a small town in Kairouan, said his father.
The young man later came back to the police station with a gasoline container and “set himself on fire in protest” over the police’s threats, the father added.
He said he would seek justice for his son’s death.
Tunisia has seen large numbers of people set themselves alight since the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation in late 2010 sparked the Arab Spring and led to the ousting of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Many of the cases have been concentrated in non-coastal areas that are the hardest hit by Tunisia’s economic crisis.
The North African country’s debt currently hovers around 80 percent of its GDP, with a yearly inflation averaging up to 10 percent and an unemployment rate of 40 percent among its youth.
The latest incident came just days after another street vendor in the coastal city of Sfax set herself on fire after a dispute with the police.
Local media said the woman, who was originally from Kairouan, was taken to a hospital with severe burns.
Last year, Nizar Aissaoui, a professional football player in a local team also from Kairouan, self-immolated in protest against what he described as “the police state.”
The wider Kairouan region tops national rankings in unemployment, illiteracy and suicides.
It recorded 26 out of the nation’s 147 documented and attempted suicides in 2023, according to the non-government group FTDES.
 

 


Cable car accident in Turkiye sends 1 passenger to his death and injures 7, with scores stranded

Updated 13 April 2024
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Cable car accident in Turkiye sends 1 passenger to his death and injures 7, with scores stranded

ISTANBUL: One person was killed and seven injured Friday when a cable car pod in southern Turkiye hit a pole and burst open, sending the passengers plummeting to the mountainside below, officials and local media said. Scores of other people were left stranded late into the night after the entire cable car system came to a standstill.
Two children were among the injured in the accident at the Tunektepe cable car just outside the Mediterranean city of Antalya at about 6 p.m. during the busy Eid Al-Fitr holiday, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.
Anadolu identified the deceased as a 54-year-old Turkish man, and said six Turkish citizens and one Kyrgyz national were injured.
Five of the injured were ferried off the mountain by helicopter and efforts continued to remove the other two injured people, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said three hours after the accident. The rescue operation involved more than 160 first responders including air crews from the Coast Guard and mountaineering teams from different parts of Turkiye, the minister posted on social media site X.
Some 184 other passengers were trapped in 25 other cable car pods dozens of feet (tens of meters) above the ground as engineers tried to restart the system, Antalya Mayor Muhittin Bocek said in a statement. Helicopters with night vision imaging were heading to the site, he said.
Search and rescue agency AFAD later said 49 people had been rescued from the suspended pods, leaving 135 still stranded close to midnight — about six hours after the accident.
Images in Turkish media showed the battered car swaying from dislodged cables on the side of the rocky mountain as medics tended the wounded.
Friday was the final day of a three-day public holiday in Turkiye marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which sees families flock to coastal resorts.
The cable car carries tourists from Konyaalti beach to a restaurant and viewing platform at the summit of the 618-meter (2,010-feet) Tunektepe peak. It is run by Antalya Metropolitan Municipality.
Antalya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation. An expert commission including mechanical and electrical engineers and health and safety experts was assigned to determine the cause of the incident.


Blinken discusses ceasefire, entry of aid into Gaza with foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt

Updated 13 April 2024
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Blinken discusses ceasefire, entry of aid into Gaza with foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt

  • Parties stress need to remove all obstacles to ensure adequate supplies are sent
  • Blinken also spoke to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry

LONDON: Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on Friday received a phone call from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza, and attempts to transport sufficient aid into the area, especially through Jordan.

The parties stressed the need to remove all obstacles to ensure the adequate and immediate entry of aid into the besieged Palestinian territory, the Jordan News Agency reported.

The Jordanian minister stressed the importance of opening all crossings for the entry of aid, and the need for supplies to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the war.

He said that Jordan would be able to send hundreds of trucks to Gaza daily as soon as the northern crossings were opened, allowing the UN and its agencies to receive and distribute the aid.

Safadi also stressed the need to end the Israeli assault on Gaza, and warned of “the disastrous consequences of an Israeli ground offensive against Rafah” in the southern Gaza Strip, Petra added.

US State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, confirmed both officials focused on “diplomatic efforts to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza that provides lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

He provided details on their efforts to secure an immediate ceasefire, which they hoped would continue “over a period of at least six weeks” as part of a hostage release deal with Hamas.

“Blinken thanked Jordan for its leadership in facilitating the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, including through joint US-Jordan airdrops and deliveries by land,” Miller also said.

The two parties discussed regional developments and efforts to reduce escalation in the conflict by Iran, as well as a number of bilateral issues.

Blinken also spoke to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Friday, and the parties agreed to maintain “constant Egypt-US consultations to contain the crisis in Gaza, end the war, and sustain aid delivery,” said Ahmed Abu Zeid, the spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He added that Shoukry emphasized the “risks of regional conflict expansion and the unfolding consequences on (the) security and safety of the people.”