Biden says US helped Israel down nearly all Iran attacks

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An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, on April 14, 2024. (Reuters)
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Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, in Jerusalem April 14, 2024. (Reuters)
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Israel said on Saturday that a salvo of Iranian pilotless aircraft had been launched at it and that defense systems were poised to shoot them down. ((Reuters file photo)
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Updated 14 April 2024

Biden says US helped Israel down nearly all Iran attacks

  • Israeli military: 99 percent of 300 missiles and drones fired by Iran were shot down
  • Biden tells Netanyahu that he would oppose an Israeli counterattack against Tehran

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden said US forces helped Israel shoot down nearly all the drones and missiles fired by Iran Saturday, but appeared to guide the key US ally away from retaliating against Tehran by saying Israel had now shown its strength.

Biden added that he was convening fellow G7 leaders on Sunday to coordinate a diplomatic response against Tehran, in another sign that he is trying to avoid any further military escalation that could ignite a wider Middle East conflict.

The US president said he had called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reaffirm Washington’s “ironclad” support for Israel, after recent tense relations over Israel’s war in Gaza.

“I told him that Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks — sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel,” he said.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Sunday that British military jets shot down drones launched by Iran in its attack on Israel.

“I can confirm that our planes did shoot down a number of Iranian attack drones,” Sunak told broadcasters.

Israel’s chief military spokesperson said on Sunday that France was among the countries involved in defending against Iran’s overnight attack on Israel.

“France has very good technology, jets, radar – and I know they were contributing in patrolling airspace,” he said, adding that he did not have exact details on whether French jets had shot down any of the missiles launched by Iran.

The Israeli military said on Sunday that 99 percent of Iran’s barrage of drones and missiles were shot down, adding that the armed forces remained fully functional and were discussing follow-up options.

In a televised briefing, chief miliary spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari deemed Iran’s actions “very grave” and said they “push the region toward escalation.”

Israel reopened its airspace as of 7:30 a.m. (0430 GMT) on Sunday, the country’s airports authority said after an overnight attack by hundreds of Iranian missiles and drones.

It said flight schedules from Tel Aviv were expected to be affected and travellers should check flight times.

He said he had ordered US military aircraft and ballistic missile defense destroyers to the Middle East in recent days, as the likely threat following a presumed Israeli strike on Iranians in Damascus became clear.

“Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles,” Biden said.

Biden said he would on Sunday “convene my fellow G7 leaders to coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack.”

His comments hinted at the US balancing act between supporting its ally and wanting to deescalate tensions, amid fears of Washington being dragged into another Middle East war.

Those fears have mounted ever since a presumed Israeli strike on April 1 leveled an Iranian diplomatic building in Damascus, killing seven members of the elite Revolutionary Guards including two generals.

After launching the drone strikes, Tehran warned the United States Sunday to “stay away” from its conflict with Israel.

But US media reported that Biden was looking to de-escalate.

News outlet Axios said Biden had told Netanyahu that he would oppose an Israeli counterattack against Iran and that he should “take the win.” NBC said he had privately expressed concerns to others that Netanyahu was trying to drag the United States more deeply into a broader conflict.

Earlier Saturday, Biden had cut short a weekend trip to the Delaware coast and flew back to Washington for an emergency meeting at the White House with his top national security officials.

He posted a picture of the meeting in the wood-paneled White House Situation Room with officials including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA Director Bill Burns.

Biden’s handling of the Middle East conflict will also be under scrutiny in a US presidential election year.

Former US president Donald Trump, Biden’s rival in November’s election, said the Democratic incumbent was showing “weakness.”

“God bless the people of Israel. They are under attack right now. That’s because we show great weakness,” Republican Trump said at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.

Tensions had ratcheted up earlier in the day when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a container ship near the Strait of Hormuz that was “related to the Zionist regime,” the term it uses for Israel, state media reported.

The White House condemned the seizure of the British-owned vessel as an “act of piracy.”

The Strait of Hormuz connects the Gulf with the Indian Ocean and, according to the US Energy Information Administration, more than a fifth of global oil consumption passes through it each year.

Gaza war is ‘real genocide,’ Spanish defense minister says

Updated 7 sec ago

Gaza war is ‘real genocide,’ Spanish defense minister says

  • Defense Minister Margarita Robles says Spain’s recognition of Palestine is not a move against Israel, adding that it is designed to help end violence in Gaza

MADRID: The Spanish defense minister said on Saturday that the conflict in Gaza is a “real genocide” as relations between Israel and Spain worsen following Madrid’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state.

Israel has strongly rejected accusations made against it by South Africa at the International Court of Justice that it is committing genocide against Palestinians, saying it is waging war on Hamas.

The remark by Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles in an interview with TVE state television echoed a comment by Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz, who earlier this week also described the Gaza conflict as a genocide.

“We cannot ignore what is happening in Gaza, which is a real genocide,” Robles said in the interview, during which she also discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine and conflicts in Africa.

She also said Madrid’s recognition of Palestine was not a move against Israel, adding that it was designed to help “end violence in Gaza.” 

“This is not against anyone, this is not against the Israeli state, this is not against the Israelis, who are people we respect,” she said.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, and destroyed much of the enclave. Israel launched the operation to try to eliminate Hamas after the Palestinian group attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Spain, along with Ireland and Norway, declared this week it would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, prompting an angry response from Israel, which said it amounted to a “reward for terrorism” and recalled its ambassadors from the three capitals.

Judges at the ICJ, the top UN court, on Friday, ordered Israel to immediately halt its military assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, in a landmark emergency ruling in the case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide.

On Saturday, Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said that Israel must obey the court’s ruling.

In a post on the social media site X, he said, “The International Court of Justice’s precautionary measures, including the cessation of Israel’s offensive in Rafah, are mandatory. We demand their application.”

South Africa has accused Israel of failing to uphold its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Israel rejects the accusation, arguing it is acting to defend itself and fighting Hamas after the Oct. 7 attack.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday that if more nations recognized the Palestinian state, it would add to international pressure for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Egyptian sports critic to sue authorities in Israel after Shin Bet confuses him with Hamas member

Updated 25 May 2024

Egyptian sports critic to sue authorities in Israel after Shin Bet confuses him with Hamas member

  • Media expert Hassan Makawi says simple Internet search would have uncovered ‘appalling mistake’
  • He says fiasco shows Israeli media reports ‘must be scrutinized closely’

CAIRO: Egyptian sports critic Mohamed Shabana plans to sue authorities in Israel for defamation after Israeli security agency Shin Bet published his photograph by mistake instead of an image of a Hamas leader in Rafah who it believed had been killed.
Shabana said he would demand substantial compensation for the damage inflicted on him, his family, and his audience in the Egyptian media.
He also said his political career was being damaged following the incident.
He said he would donate the compensation to the “Palestinian cause — a cause we all fight for.”
Shin Bet sparked controversy on social media after posting a picture of Shabana, claiming that he was a Hamas leader killed in Rafah.
Local Israeli media initially reported the assassination of Mohammed Shabana in Rafah, a leader of the Rafah brigade of the Al-Qassam Brigades, using an image of the Egyptian media personality.
However, the Israeli media immediately corrected the error, acknowledging the failure of the assassination attempt, as reported by Yedioth Ahronoth.
The blunder sparked an initial social media uproar, with the Egyptian sports audience recognizing Shabana, making a mockery of the incident.
The fiasco also raised doubts about the capabilities of Shin Bet, which not only posted the incorrect image of a Hamas leader but also failed in the assassination attempt.
Shabana told Arab News that he came across a photo of himself trending on social media, accompanied by sarcastic comments about the Israeli army.
He said: “I did not understand what was happening and began reading to grasp what had occurred.”
Shabana said some friends and family also contacted him over the phone to express their disbelief.
He added: “They joked that the Israeli security service had assassinated me, which made me laugh too. But it did not take long before I realized how ignorant and backward the Israeli security agencies were, fabricating events, which makes me doubt everything they say.
“I know that Shin Bet is one of the strongest security agencies in Israel, and it’s unnatural for them to make such a mistake.
“But I think the chaos in the Israeli state made them fabricate or even mishandle the accuracy of their publications.
“Perhaps they Googled the name Mohammed Shabana, the leader in Hamas, and my photo popped up, so they published it, which is quite ridiculous.”
Media expert Hassan Makawi said: “What happened is a major blunder for the Israeli security forces. But the bigger blunder, in my opinion, is that of the Israeli media, which followed its agency without verifying the facts.”
Makawi said a simple Internet search would have “uncovered their appalling mistake.”
Makawi told Arab News: “It’s clear that Israel is not as strong as they claim, nor is their media as reliable as it describes itself.
“Therefore, we must scrutinize their statements and publications as they may contain many lies.”

Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says

Updated 25 May 2024

Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says

  • No injuries were reported and the aid pier remains fully functional

TAMPA: Heavy seas battered the US maritime humanitarian mission to Gaza on Saturday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said, with four vessels serving a floating aid delivery pier breaking free from their moorings.

No injuries were reported and the aid pier remains fully functional, CENTCOM said in a statement, adding that no US personnel would enter Gaza.

Two of the affected vessels were now anchored on the beach near the pier and the other two were beached on the coast of Israel near Ashkelon, CENTCOM said, adding that efforts to recover the vessels were under way with assistance from the Israeli Navy.

Rising cost of medicine in Egypt poses risk to ‘thousands of pharmacies’

Updated 25 May 2024

Rising cost of medicine in Egypt poses risk to ‘thousands of pharmacies’

  • That review followed pharmaceutical companies’ request for price increases for various medications
  • The EDA’s “decisions over (recent) years to raise the prices of certain types of medicine have resulted in the closure of about 1,500 pharmacies,” said Dr. Hatem El-Badawi

CAIRO: Pharmacy owners in Egypt have voiced concerns about the rising cost of pharmaceuticals in the country as they prepare for another price increase following the Egyptian Drug Authority’s recent review.
That review followed pharmaceutical companies’ request for price increases for various medications to “offset the rising costs of production, which have been exacerbated by the devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the dollar.”
The EDA’s “decisions over (recent) years to raise the prices of certain types of medicine have resulted in the closure of about 1,500 pharmacies,” said Dr. Hatem El-Badawi, secretary-general of the Pharmacy Division at the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, adding that the “uncontrolled” rise in medicine prices has not been matched by a corresponding increase in profit margins for pharmacists.
“We anticipate more closures in 2024,” he added. “In February, the General Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce appealed to the Central Bank governor to reactivate the low-interest rate loan of 5 percent for small and medium-sized pharmacies, capped at EGP500,000 ($10,600) per pharmacy.
“The goal was to safeguard pharmacies from economic challenges such as low purchasing power, cash payment demands from pharmaceutical companies, limited liquidity, rising operating costs, and shrinking profit margins.”
That proposal was rejected, however, and loans are currently only available at a 15-percent interest rate, which is, El-Badawi said, “far higher than a pharmacist’s profit margins and thus constitutes a loss.”
Pharmacy owner Dr. Sami Saad told Arab News: “We face several problems due to price increases, including reduced profit margins for pharmacists, dual pricing for drugs, and pharmaceutical companies not recalling expired products. All these issues could force us to close at any time because we are not making any profit.”
Saad added the Egyptian Drug Authority had not considered pharmacists’ demands or the crises they are facing.
“Every day is a struggle. And although I heard that the head of the authority plans to intervene to resolve these issues, there has been no progress so far,” he said.
Dr. El-Badawi reiterated: “I fear for the closure of pharmacies — a difficult situation that will only get worse. I am concerned for the 85,000 pharmacies across the country.
“The health of Egyptians is at risk,” he added. “I urge all responsible authorities to intervene.”

More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank

Updated 25 May 2024

More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank

  • 27 percent of Syrians — about 5.7 million individuals — live in extreme poverty
  • “Continued funding shortfalls and limited access to humanitarian assistance” have further strained poor Syrians, the World Bank said

BEIRUT: More than a quarter of Syrians live in extreme poverty, the World Bank said Saturday, 13 years into a devastating civil war that has battered the economy and impoverished millions.
The World Bank published two new reports on Syria, which found that “27 percent of Syrians — about 5.7 million individuals — live in extreme poverty.”
“Extreme poverty, while virtually non-existent before the conflict, affected more than one in four Syrians in 2022” and might have further deteriorated after a deadly earthquake last year, one of the reports said.
The quake killed about 6,000 people in the country.
According to the United Nations, about 90 percent of Syrians live in poverty, while it previously estimated that around 2 million lived in extreme poverty after more than a decade of war.
The report cited neighbor Lebanon’s economic meltdown in late 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, as having eroded the welfare of Syrian households in recent years.
The civil war in Syria has also ravaged the economy, infrastructure and industry, while Western sanctions have added to the country’s woes.
“Continued funding shortfalls and limited access to humanitarian assistance” have further strained poor Syrians, already coping with “soaring prices, reduced access to essential services and rising unemployment,” the World Bank said.
The UN told AFP previously that its humanitarian response plan for Syria for 2024 requires more than $4 billion but that it is only six percent funded.
The international community is set to meet in Brussels Monday to try and muster funds for Syria at a yearly pledging conference.
A lack of opportunities and dwindling aid has pushed many Syrians to rely on money sent from relatives abroad to survive, with the World Bank estimating that “in 2022, the total value of remittances received by Syrian households reached about $1.05 billion.”
Syria’s estimated GDP stood at around $6.2 billion in 2023.
Syria’s “real GDP is projected to contract by 1.5 percent in 2024, extending the 1.2 percent decline in 2023,” the report said.
“Inflation is anticipated to remain high in 2024 due to the pass-through effects of currency depreciation, along with persistent shortages and potential further subsidy cuts (for) food and fuel,” it said.
Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.