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
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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.


US envoy to Yemen demands Houthis free detained international staff

Updated 3 sec ago
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US envoy to Yemen demands Houthis free detained international staff

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 7 min 8 sec ago
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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 13 June 2024
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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
  • Israel said its assault aimed to wipe out Hamas’ last intact combat units in Rafah

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
The group welcomed a new US ceasefire proposal but made some amendments, reaffirming its stance that 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. But the efforts to secure agreement are still continuing, according to mediators Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.
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.
Hamas precipitated the war when militants stormed from Israeli-blockaded Gaza into southern Israel in a lightning strike last Oct. 7, killing around 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 buried dead under rubble, with most of the 2.3 million population displaced.


Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable

Updated 13 June 2024
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Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable

  • US secretary says said the mediators will keep trying to “close this deal
  • Ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel, Hamas

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that mediators would keep trying to close an elusive ceasefire deal for Gaza after Hamas proposed changes to a US-backed plan, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.
The back-and-forth laid bare frustration over the difficulty of reaching an accord that could end eight months of war that has decimated the territory, killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and left scores of Israeli hostages still languishing in militant captivity. Previous moments of optimism have been repeatedly dashed by the differences between the two sides.
The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas. Blinken did not spell out what changes Hamas sought, but he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt and the US — will keep trying to “close this deal.” He put the onus on Hamas, accusing it of changing its demands.
“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table. ... Some of the changes are workable. Some are not,” Blinken told reporters in Qatar. “I believe that they (the differences) are bridgeable, but that doesn’t mean they will be bridged because ultimately Hamas has to decide.”
Blinken’s comments came as Lebanon’s Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into northern Israel to avenge the killing of a top commander, further escalating regional tensions.
Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of Hamas, has traded fire with Israel nearly every day since the Israel-Hamas war began and says it will stop only if there is a truce in Gaza. That has raised fears of an even more devastating regional conflagration.
Air-raid sirens sounded across northern Israel, and the military said about 215 projectiles were fired from southern Lebanon, making it one of the largest attacks since the fighting began. There were no immediate reports of casualties as some rockets were intercepted while others ignited brush fires.
Hamas asks for changes
Hamas conveyed its official reply to the proposal to mediators on Tuesday. Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told the Lebanese news outlet ElNashra that the “amendments” requested by the group aim to guarantee a permanent ceasefire and complete Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza.
The proposal announced by US President Joe Biden includes those provisions, but Hamas has expressed wariness about whether Israel will implement the terms. While the US says Israel has accepted the proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given conflicting statements, saying Israel is still intent on its goal of destroying Hamas.
Blinken, on his eighth visit to the region since the start of the war, said the deal on the table was “virtually identical” to one Hamas put forth on May 6. The UN Security Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan on Monday.
“At some point in a negotiation, and this has gone back and forth for a long time, you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already accepted, you have to question whether they’re proceeding in good faith or not,” he said.
Speaking alongside Blinken, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said there had been “counterproductive” actions by both sides.
The proposal’s three-phase plan would begin with a six-week ceasefire and the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas, and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes. Aid distribution would also increase.
At the same time, negotiations would start over the second phase, which is to bring “a permanent end to hostilities” and “full withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza in exchange for the release of all remaining hostages.
Phase three would see the launch of a reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of remains of deceased hostages.
A major hitch for both sides appears to be the negotiations for the second phase.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said Israel will demand that Hamas be removed from power as part of any agreement on that phase.
“One of our conditions is not only the release of the hostages, it’s also the future of Gaza,” Erdan told CNN’s “The Source” on Monday. “We cannot agree to Hamas continuing to be the rulers of Gaza because then Gaza will continue to pose a threat to Israel.”
He also said Israel opposes a provision extending the initial ceasefire as long as talks are going on, saying it would allow Hamas to “continue with endless and meaningless negotiations.”
Hamas, in turn, appears to want stronger guarantees up front that the talks will lead to the permanent ceasefire and withdrawal.
Netanyahu’s far-right coalition allies have rejected the proposal and threaten to bring down his government if he ends the war leaving Hamas intact. But Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring the hostages back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, have demonstrated in favor of the US-backed plan.
Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed over 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, who do not give the breakdown of civilians and fighters. The war has also driven some 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes, and Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring in humanitarian aid, fueling widespread hunger.
Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. Over 100 hostages were released during a weeklong ceasefire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas is believed to be holding around 80 hostages and the remains of another 40.
Revenge for slain commander
Netanyahu’s office said he was conducting a security assessment in light of Hezbollah’s barrage in the north and what it called Hamas’ “negative response” to the proposal.
Hezbollah said it fired missiles and rockets at two military bases in retaliation for the killing of Taleb Sami Abdullah, 55. Known within Hezbollah as Hajj Abu Taleb, he is the most senior commander killed since the fighting began eight months ago. The Israeli strike late Tuesday destroyed a house where Abdullah and three other officials were meeting, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border.
A Hezbollah official told The Associated Press that Abdullah was in charge of a large part of the Lebanon-Israel front, including the area facing the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, which Hezbollah has repeatedly attacked in recent days, causing fires in the area.
The official, who was not authorized to speak to media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abdullah had joined Hezbollah decades ago and took part in attacks against Israeli forces during their 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000.
Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon have killed over 400 people, most of them Hezbollah members, but the dead also include more than 70 civilians and noncombatants. On the Israeli side, 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed since the war in Gaza began.
Other groups allied with Iran, including powerful militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, have also attacked Israeli, US and other targets since the start of the war, often drawing Western retaliation. In April, Israel and Iran traded fire directly for the first time.


Hamas proposed amendments to Gaza ceasefire plan ‘not significant’, says senior leader

Updated 13 June 2024
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Hamas proposed amendments to Gaza ceasefire plan ‘not significant’, says senior leader

  • Hamas demands it select a list of 100 Palestinians with long term sentences to be released from Israeli jails

DOHA: The changes that Hamas has requested to a ceasefire proposal by the United States are “not significant” and include the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip, a senior leader in the group told Reuters on Thursday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Hamas had proposed numerous changes, some unworkable, to the US-backed proposal, but that mediators were determined to close the gaps.
The US has said Israel has accepted its proposal, but Israel has not publicly stated that. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel will not commit to ending its campaign before Hamas is eliminated.
The senior Hamas leader said his organization had demanded to choose a list of 100 Palestinians with long sentences to be released from Israeli jails.
The Israeli document had excluded 100 prisoners with long sentences and restricted releases to only prisoners with sentences of less than 15 years remaining, the Hamas official said.
“There are no significant amendments that, according to Hamas leadership, warrant objection,” said the Hamas leader.
The group’s demands also include the reconstruction of Gaza; the lifting of the blockade, including opening border crossings; allowing the movement of people; and transporting goods without restrictions,” the senior Hamas leader said.
Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar have tried for months to mediate a ceasefire in the conflict — which has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and devastated the heavily populated enclave — and free the hostages, more than 100 of whom are believed to remain captive in Gaza.
Major powers are intensifying efforts to defuse the conflict in part to prevent it spiralling into a wider Middle East war, with a dangerous flashpoint being the escalating hostilities along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
The fighting in Gaza began on Oct. 7 when militants led by Hamas burst across the border and killed 1,200 Israelis and took more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel’s air and ground war since then has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, displaced most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million and devastated housing and infrastructure.