Hamas and Israel exchange recriminations over stalled Gaza talks

Hamas said Saturday it had submitted its response to Egyptian and Qatari mediators on a proposed truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip, insisting on a “permanent ceasefire.” (Reuters)
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Updated 14 April 2024
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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.


Turkiye signs deal with US to buy F-16 warplanes

Updated 2 sec ago
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Turkiye signs deal with US to buy F-16 warplanes

ISTANBUL: Turkiye and the United States have signed a contract for the sale of F-16 warplanes after Washington greenlighted the $23 billion deal following months of negotiations, Turkish defense ministry sources said Thursday.
“The contract was signed and delegations from both sides are negotiating the details,” the ministry sources said.
Under the deal, Turkiye will get 40 new F-16s and upgrades to 79 of the jets in its existing fleet.
The State Department last week hailed “a major step forward” in Turkiye’s purchase of new F-16 fighter jets calling them “the most advanced F-16 ever made available only to closest Allies and partners.”
“Just the latest example of US enduring commitment to security partnership with Turkiye,” it said in a social media post.
As required by law, the State Department notified Congress of the agreement in January, as well as a separate $8.6 billion sale of 40 F-35s to Greece.
The United States did not green light the transaction until Turkiye’s instruments of ratification of Sweden’s membership had arrived in Washington.
Turkiye’s parliament ratified Sweden’s NATO membership in January after more than a year of delays that upset Western to unite in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Erdogan is due to join NATO leaders’ summit in Washington next month.
He had been set for talks with US counterpart Joe Biden last month but what would have been their first White House meeting was postponed over scheduling problems.

Vessel reports being struck 129 NM east of Yemen’s Aden

Updated 2 min 56 sec ago
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Vessel reports being struck 129 NM east of Yemen’s Aden

  • Ambrey said it assessed the vessel to be aligned with “the Houthi target profile”

ADEN: A merchant vessel issued a distress call reporting a missile impacting the vessel approximately 129 nautical miles east of Yemen’s Aden while on route from Malaysia to Italy’s Venice, British maritime security firm Ambrey said on Thursday.
Ambrey said it assessed the vessel to be aligned with “the Houthi target profile.”
Iran-allied Houthis have attacked international shipping in the Red Sea region since November in solidarity with the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas. They have sunk one ship, seized another vessel, and killed three seafarers in another attack.
The group controls Yemen’s capital and most populous areas.
The Yemeni militants on Wednesday took responsibility for small watercraft and missile attacks that left a Greek-owned cargo ship taking on water and in need of rescue near Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah.


US envoy to Yemen demands Houthis free detained international staff

Updated 58 min 25 sec ago
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US envoy to Yemen demands Houthis free detained international staff

  • The Houthis have held around 20 Yemeni employees of the US embassy in Sanaa for the past three years.

DUBAI: The United States’ ambassador to Yemen on Thursday called on Yemen’s Houthi group to immediately release the detained staff of international organizations including employees of the US embassy in Sanaa.
The Iran-aligned Houthis detained 11 United Nations personnel in Yemen last week, according to UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.
On Thursday, the US ambassador condemned the detentions and called them “shocking.”
“The Houthis owe all of these Yemenis thanks, not false accusations and imprisonment. The people of Yemen deserve better than fanciful Houthi lies meant to bolster their abusive and autocratic rule,” ambassador Steven Fagin said in a statement.
The staff members — all Yemenis — were swept up by armed Houthi intelligence officials in a series of raids that also resulted in the detention of three employees of the US-funded pro-democracy group National Democratic Institute (NDI) and three employees of a local human rights group.
The Houthis have held around 20 Yemeni employees of the US embassy in Sanaa for the past three years. The embassy suspended operations after Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2014 and Houthis seized control of the capital.
The US mission to Yemen is currently located in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh.
Yemen’s Houthis said on Monday they had targeted an alleged “American-Israeli spy cell” that included former staff of the US embassy in Yemen, according to a television statement from Abdel Hakim Al Khaiwani, the Houthis’ intelligence chief.
“The American-Israeli spy cell carried out espionage and sabotage activities in official and unofficial institutions for decades in favor of the enemy,” he said.
The Houthis, who are aligned with Iran, have attacked shipping in the Red Sea in what they say are acts of solidarity with Palestinians amid the Gaza war, drawing airstrikes from the United States and Britain.


Fire at Iraqi oil refinery injures 10: civil defense

Updated 13 June 2024
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Fire at Iraqi oil refinery injures 10: civil defense

  • Firefighters worked through the night battling to extinguish the flames
  • The fire broke out in an asphalt tank on Wednesday night before spreading to a second refinery on a road southwest of Irbil

Irbil: A massive fire at an oil refinery in Iraqi Kurdistan injured at least 10 people including firefighters battling to control the blaze, which was ongoing Thursday, the civil defense agency reported.
The fire broke out in an asphalt tank on Wednesday night before spreading to a second refinery on a road southwest of Irbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region.
Firefighters worked through the night battling to extinguish the flames, which sent thick plumes of black smoke and balls of orange flame into the sky, an AFP photographer reported.
“More than 10 people were injured, mainly men from the Irbil civil defense,” the agency said in a statement, noting three fire trucks were burned.
The cause of the blaze was still unknown, it said.
“The fire started in one refinery before spreading to another,” the statement said. Four fuel tanks had been affected.
With Iraq experiencing scorching summers, the country has seen multiple fires in recent weeks, affecting shopping centers, warehouses and hospitals.
Iraq is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, and crude oil sales make up 90 percent of Iraqi budget revenues.
But exports from the Kurdistan region have been halted for more than a year in a dispute over legal and technical issues.


Israeli forces thrust deeper into Rafah as diplomacy falters

Updated 47 min 54 sec ago
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Israeli forces thrust deeper into Rafah as diplomacy falters

  • Israeli military denied in a statement it had launched any strikes inside the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone
  • Biden will urge G7 leaders to push Hamas to back ceasefire deal

CAIRO: Israeli tanks advanced deeper into the western area of Rafah, amid one of the worst nights of bombardment from air, ground, and sea, forcing many families to flee their homes and tents under darkness, residents said on Thursday.
Residents said the Israeli forces thrust toward the Al-Mawasi area of Rafah near the beach, which is designated as a humanitarian area in all announcements and maps published by the Israeli army since it began its Rafah offensive in May.
The Israeli military denied in a statement it had launched any strikes inside the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone.
Israel said its assault aimed to wipe out Hamas’ last intact combat units in Rafah, a city which had sheltered more than a million people before the latest advance began. Most of those people have now moved north toward Khan Younis and Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military said in a statement it was continuing “intelligence-based, targeted operations” on Rafah, saying forces in the past day had located weapons, and killed Palestinian gunmen in close-range combat.
Over the past day, the military said it had struck 45 targets across the Gaza Strip from the air, including military structures, militant cells, rocket launchers, and tunnel shafts.
Israel has ruled out peace until Hamas is eradicated, and much of Gaza lies in ruins. But Hamas has proven resilient, with militants resurfacing to fight in areas where Israeli forces had previously declared to have defeated them and pulled back.
Ceasefire proposal

US President Joe Biden will urge fellow leaders of Group of Seven nations to support ceasefire negotiations and encourage Hamas to accept a proposal backed by Israel, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of G7 leaders in southern Italy, Sullivan said the world should encourage the Palestinian militant group to accept the proposal and avoid stalemate.
Sullivan said Israel is standing behind a ceasefire proposal for the eight-month-old war in the Gaza Strip, and the goal is to bridge gaps with Hamas and get to a deal soon.
Hamas has welcomed the ceasefire proposal, but insists any agreement must secure an end to the war, a demand Israel still rejects. Israel described Hamas’s response to the new US peace proposal as total rejection.
Since a brief week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed, with Hamas insisting on a permanent end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
Sullivan said Hamas had submitted an amended proposal with some minor changes that could be worked out, as well as others that were not in line with what Biden had laid out or that had been embraced by the UN Security Council.
“Our goal is to figure out how we bridge the remaining gaps and get to a deal,” he said, adding that discussions would continue with Qatar and Egypt, who, in turn, would work with Hamas to reach agreement as quickly as possible.
Sullivan stressed that Israel was standing behind the ceasefire proposal Biden outlined in a May 31 speech, adding that he had heard no Israeli leader challenge the deal.
Hamas precipitated the war when militants from Israeli-blockaded Gaza stormed into southern Israel in a lightning strike last Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking over 250 hostages back to the enclave, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel’s invasion and bombardment of Gaza since then has killed at least 37,000 people, according to the territory’s health ministry. Thousands more are feared dead and buried under rubble, with most of the population of 2.3 million displaced.
Biden was expected to update G7 leaders on the ceasefire negotiations and how their countries could support the process, Sullivan said, underscoring the broader implications for increasing tension between Israel and Lebanon.
Biden would discuss “the increasing intensity and scope of the strikes by Hezbollah deeper into Israel, and including into civilian areas,” Sullivan said, adding that a ceasefire in Gaza would help bring calm to that region as well.
G7 leaders would also compare notes on what he called “the continuing threat posed by Iran, both with respect to its support for proxy forces, and with respect to the Iranian nuclear program, where we continue to have grave concerns.”