Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’

Four ships from the United States and France are transporting aid from Larnaca port to the Gaza Strip amid the spiralling humanitarian crisis there, the Cyprus presidency said on Tuesday. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’

  • 1,000 tons of aid were shipped from Cyprus to the besieged Palestinian territory between Friday and Sunday
  • The vessels were shuttling between Gaza and the east Mediterranean island

NICOSIA: Four ships from the United States and France are transporting aid from Larnaca port to the Gaza Strip amid the spiralling humanitarian crisis there, the Cyprus presidency said on Tuesday.
Victor Papadopoulos from the presidential press office told state radio 1,000 tons of aid were shipped from Cyprus to the besieged Palestinian territory between Friday and Sunday.
He said the vessels were shuttling between Gaza and the east Mediterranean island, a distance of about 360 kilometers (225 miles).
Large quantities of aid from Britain, Romania, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and other countries have accumulated at Larnaca port.
Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides told reporters on Tuesday the maritime aid effort was “on track.”
“We have substantial assistance from third countries that want to contribute to this effort,” he said.
The aid shipped from Cyprus is entering Gaza via a temporary US-built floating pier, where the shipments are offloaded for distribution.
The United Nations has warned of famine as Gaza’s 2.4 million people face shortages of food, safe water, medicines and fuel amid the Israel-Hamas war that has devastated the coastal territory.
Aid deliveries by truck have slowed to a trickle since Israeli forces took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing with Egypt in early May.
The war in Gaza broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Two days after the war broke out, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” on the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to figures provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Israel’s Netanyahu requests meeting with former President Trump, Politico reports

Updated 6 sec ago
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Israel’s Netanyahu requests meeting with former President Trump, Politico reports

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has requested an in-person meeting with former President Donald Trump while in the US this week, Politico reported on Monday citing people familiar with the outreach.
Netanyahu and Trump’s teams have met in recent days to explore the idea of a meeting but Trump has yet to agree, the report added.


Moroccan ex-minister who defended government critics sentenced to five years

Updated 13 min 47 sec ago
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Moroccan ex-minister who defended government critics sentenced to five years

  • The verdict marks the latest development in one of the freedom of expression cases that has drawn condemnation from Morocco’s international allies and human rights organizations

RABAT, Morocco: Mohamed Ziane, an ex-Moroccan minister of human rights, was sentenced to five years in prison on Friday in a corruption case that his attorney described as retribution for outspokenness and work defending political prisoners.
An appeals court in Rabat handed down the sentence after a hearing in which the frail 81-year-old Ziane — once known for his loud and combative rhetoric — was silent as a form of protest.
The court had earlier found him and two other colleagues guilty of corruption and embezzling from their political party during Morocco’s 2015 election campaign.
Ali Reda Ziane — his attorney who is also his son — strenuously denied the charges faced by his father and his two colleagues. He said the court had not followed typical procedures in the case or any of its appeals, all 17 of which the defense lost.
He also linked the proceedings to his father’s defense of journalists and activists who had faced charges for unrelated offenses after criticizing the government.
“It means freedom of expression has been curtailed in Morocco,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday.
The verdict marks the latest development in one of the freedom of expression cases that has drawn condemnation from Morocco’s international allies and human rights organizations. It supplements a three-year sentence issued in 2022, in which Ziane was found guilty of 11 charges including defamation, adultery, sexual harassment and insulting a public official.
In a statement Sunday, the Moroccan Association In Support of Political Prisoners called the charges arbitrary and the proceedings unfair. The group described the case against Ziane as “purely political, aiming to humiliate and subjugate the man and discourage him from expressing his opinions.”
Ziane was among those profiled in a 2022 Human Rights Watch report on how Morocco has harshly cracked down on the freedom of expression of those critical of its government.
“Moroccan authorities, since the mid-2010s, have increasingly accused and prosecuted high-profile journalists and activists of non-speech crimes, including crimes involving consensual sex,” the report said.
Morocco’s government dismissed the report as biased and said it was full of false allegations. The government spokesperson did not respond to questions about Ziane’s sentencing on Monday.
The report documented how authorities convicted one of Ziane’s sons for hiding a witness and obstructing justice after a woman scheduled to testify in a human rights case that Ziane was defending slept at their home for security reasons before having to appear in court.
It also chronicled how pro-government media published leaked images and videos — including ones showing nudity — and suggested Ziane was engaged in an affair with a client. His son and attorney told The Associated Press that the legal complaints filed against him began after he accused Morocco’s intelligence services of being behind the leak — a charge the country’s Interior Ministry denied.
In 2023, Amnesty International said Ziane’s legal troubles were based on “bogus charges that stem from his work defending activists, journalists and victims of human rights abuses.”
Those who Ziane has defended as an attorney include Taoufik Bouachrine, the former editor of the independent Arabic language daily newspaper, Akhbar Al-Youm, and Nasser Zefzafi, an activist who helped lead an anti-government protest movement in northern Morocco’s Rif region last decade.
Bouachrine is currently serving a 15-year sentence for human trafficking, blackmail and sexual misconduct. Zefzafi is serving a 20-year sentence for undermining public order and threatening national unity.
Ziane’s defense of both men followed decades of human rights activism that began after he resigned as Morocco’s Human Rights Minister, a position he served in from 1996 to 1997. After serving as president of the Rabat Bar Association, he began defending activists and journalists critical of the government in 2017, becoming a rare dissenting voice who had once served in Morocco’s government.


Sonic booms heard over Beirut as Israeli raids on Lebanon continue

Updated 23 min 19 sec ago
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Sonic booms heard over Beirut as Israeli raids on Lebanon continue

  • Lebanon expects extension of UNIFIL mandate for another year, PM says
  • Mikati: ‘No one can guarantee Israel’s intentions’

BEIRUT: Israeli warplanes broke the sound barrier over Beirut, Sidon and other parts of Lebanon on Monday.

The planes conducted mock raids over the Hasbaya area and the occupied Shebaa Farms, reaching as far as Bekaa.

Although hostile operations on the southern front have significantly decreased, sporadic strikes continue.

One Israeli air raid targeted a house in the town of Chihine in the Tyre district.

The raid resulted in injuries, and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party reported that one of its members was killed.

A Lebanese Army unit, meanwhile, found the wreckage of a drone in the town of Aaiha in the Rashaya district. Army command did not clarify the nature of the drone or whether it was Israeli-made or from another source.

A Lebanese Army watchtower was attacked by Israel on Sunday night on the outskirts of the town of Alma Al-Shaab in southern Lebanon, resulting in “moderate injuries to two soldiers, who were transferred to a hospital for treatment,” according to the military.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, targeted the Israeli military site of Al-Malikiyah with an attack drone, hitting one of its bunkers.

The developments in the south and the issue of renewing UNIFIL’s mandate, which is on the UN Security Council’s agenda, have been the focus of internal political attention.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said at a meeting with key officials that recent developments “naturally call for caution, but we continue to discuss with concerned parties and engage in necessary diplomatic contacts to prevent matters from spiraling into undesirable consequences.”

He added: “We cannot say there are reassurances and guarantees, as no one can guarantee the Israeli enemy’s intentions. However, we continue our diligent efforts to address the situation.”

Regarding the renewal of the mandate for the international forces operating in the south of Lebanon, Mikati said: “We continue diplomatic contacts to ensure a calm extension of UNIFIL’s mandate, whose essential role in the south we highly appreciate, along with the fruitful cooperation between them and the army.

“From the contacts we have made, we have sensed a keenness to maintain this role, especially under the delicate circumstances the south is going through.”

Speaking after a meeting with Mikati, Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib said he informed the prime minister that “there is a quasi-agreement to renew the work of UNIFIL forces for one year, under the same conditions and without any modifications.”

Bou Habib, who briefed Mikati upon his return from New York, also said that US and European officials he met with emphasized “the importance of not expanding the war and working to avoid escalating military actions in the south.”

He added: “There is a kind of optimism, or less pessimism, about the outbreak of a wide war in Lebanon.”

Also on Monday, a group of opposition MPs submitted a petition requesting Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri hold a session to discuss the repercussions of the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and the Israeli military, now in its 10th month. 

The opposition MPs — Georges Okais, Mark Daou, Ashraf Rifi, and Salim Sayegh — demanded Berri “hold a parliamentary session at the earliest opportunity to discuss the ongoing war, prevent its escalation, and ensure that the government fulfills its constitutional duties.”

In their petition, the parliamentarians called for diplomatic efforts to return to the 1949 ceasefire agreement and fully implement UN Resolution 1701.

They stressed the need to put an end to military actions “outside the framework of the Lebanese state and its institutions, declare a state of emergency in the south, hand over control to the army, and allow it to respond to any attack on Lebanese territory.”

They referred to the “escalation and threats reaching the highest level since Oct. 8, and the increasing fears of the expansion of the ongoing war, which has cost us hundreds of Lebanese lives and thousands of destroyed residential units so far, in addition to the economic and environmental damage caused by daily Israeli attacks, and the repercussions of this in light of the political and economic crises plaguing the country, and the obstruction of electing a president for the country.”

Nabil Qaouk, a member of the Central Council of Hezbollah, stated that Israel had put the region “on a path of escalation.”

He said that “the support fronts in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen have entered a new phase, introducing new field equations through which we hope to increase pressure on the Israeli enemy to stop the aggression on the Gaza Strip.”


Israeli parliament votes to label UN relief agency a terror organization

A displaced Palestinian girl sits next to sacks of humanitarian aid at the UNRWA distribution center in Rafah, Gaza.
Updated 22 July 2024
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Israeli parliament votes to label UN relief agency a terror organization

  • UNRWA provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria
  • Israel has said hundreds of UNRWA staff are members of terrorist groups but has yet to provide evidence to a UN-appointed review

JERUSALEM: The Israeli parliament gave preliminary approval on Monday to a bill that declares the main United Nations relief organization for Palestinians a terrorist organization and proposes to sever relations with the body.
The vote against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) is the latest step in a Israeli push against the agency, which Israeli leaders have accused of collaborating with Hamas in Gaza.
The bill was approved in a first reading and will be returned to the foreign affairs and defense committee for further deliberation, the Knesset information service said.
The bill’s sponsor, Yulia Malinovsky, was quoted as describing UNRWA as a “fifth column within Israel.”
UNRWA provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It has long had tense relations with Israel but relations have deteriorated sharply since the start of the war in Gaza and Israel has called repeatedly for UNRWA to be disbanded.
“It’s another attempt in a wider campaign to dismantle the agency,” UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma said. “Such steps are unheard of in the history of the United Nations.”
Israel has said hundreds of UNRWA staff are members of terrorist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but has yet to provide evidence to a UN-appointed review.
Several donor countries halted funding to UNRWA following the Israeli accusations but many have since reversed the decision, including Britain which said last week it would resume funding.
Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority condemned the Israeli vote, and Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior ally of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called on the international community to resist attempts to dissolve the agency.


Sonic booms heard over Beirut as Israeli raids on Lebanon continue

Updated 22 July 2024
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Sonic booms heard over Beirut as Israeli raids on Lebanon continue

  • Lebanon expects extension of UNIFIL mandate for another year, PM says
  • Mikati: ‘No one can guarantee Israel’s intentions’

BEIRUT: Israeli warplanes broke the sound barrier over Beirut, Sidon and other parts of Lebanon on Monday.

The planes conducted mock raids over the Hasbaya area and the occupied Shebaa Farms, reaching as far as Bekaa.

Although hostile operations on the southern front have significantly decreased, sporadic strikes continue.

One Israeli air raid targeted a house in the town of Chihine in the Tyre district.

The raid resulted in injuries, and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party reported that one of its members was killed.

A Lebanese Army unit, meanwhile, found the wreckage of a drone in the town of Aaiha in the Rashaya district. Army command did not clarify the nature of the drone or whether it was Israeli-made or from another source.

A Lebanese Army watchtower was attacked by Israel on Sunday night on the outskirts of the town of Alma Al-Shaab in southern Lebanon, resulting in “moderate injuries to two soldiers, who were transferred to a hospital for treatment,” according to the military.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, targeted the Israeli military site of Al-Malikiyah with an attack drone, hitting one of its bunkers.

The developments in the south and the issue of renewing UNIFIL’s mandate, which is on the UN Security Council’s agenda, have been the focus of internal political attention.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said at a meeting with key officials that recent developments “naturally call for caution, but we continue to discuss with concerned parties and engage in necessary diplomatic contacts to prevent matters from spiraling into undesirable consequences.”

He added: “We cannot say there are reassurances and guarantees, as no one can guarantee the Israeli enemy’s intentions. However, we continue our diligent efforts to address the situation.”

Regarding the renewal of the mandate for the international forces operating in the south of Lebanon, Mikati said: “We continue diplomatic contacts to ensure a calm extension of UNIFIL’s mandate, whose essential role in the south we highly appreciate, along with the fruitful cooperation between them and the army.

“From the contacts we have made, we have sensed a keenness to maintain this role, especially under the delicate circumstances the south is going through.”

Speaking after a meeting with Mikati, Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib said he informed the prime minister that “there is a quasi-agreement to renew the work of UNIFIL forces for one year, under the same conditions and without any modifications.”

Bou Habib, who briefed Mikati upon his return from New York, also said that US and European officials he met with emphasized “the importance of not expanding the war and working to avoid escalating military actions in the south.”

He added: “There is a kind of optimism, or less pessimism, about the outbreak of a wide war in Lebanon.”

Also on Monday, a group of opposition MPs submitted a petition requesting Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri hold a session to discuss the repercussions of the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and the Israeli military, now in its 10th month. 

The opposition MPs — Georges Okais, Mark Daou, Ashraf Rifi, and Salim Sayegh — demanded Berri “hold a parliamentary session at the earliest opportunity to discuss the ongoing war, prevent its escalation, and ensure that the government fulfills its constitutional duties.”

In their petition, the parliamentarians called for diplomatic efforts to return to the 1949 ceasefire agreement and fully implement UN Resolution 1701.

They stressed the need to put an end to military actions “outside the framework of the Lebanese state and its institutions, declare a state of emergency in the south, hand over control to the army, and allow it to respond to any attack on Lebanese territory.”

They referred to the “escalation and threats reaching the highest level since Oct. 8, and the increasing fears of the expansion of the ongoing war, which has cost us hundreds of Lebanese lives and thousands of destroyed residential units so far, in addition to the economic and environmental damage caused by daily Israeli attacks, and the repercussions of this in light of the political and economic crises plaguing the country, and the obstruction of electing a president for the country.”

Nabil Qaouk, a member of the Central Council of Hezbollah, stated that Israel had put the region “on a path of escalation.”

He said that “the support fronts in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen have entered a new phase, introducing new field equations through which we hope to increase pressure on the Israeli enemy to stop the aggression on the Gaza Strip.”