Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

Former US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

The US should slap sanctions on International Criminal Court officials who seek an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a top foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Tuesday after meeting the Israeli leader.
Robert O’Brien, who served as Trump’s fourth and final national security adviser, made the comments in a Jerusalem interview with Reuters after meeting Netanyahu and other Israeli officials during a multi-day visit to the US ally.
O’Brien, who said Trump would be briefed on the results of the trip, discussed what he called the ICC’s “irrational decision” to issue a warrant for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with three Palestinian Hamas leaders, in his meetings with the Israeli officials.
“We can sanction the bank accounts, the travel. We can put visa restrictions on these corrupt prosecutors and judges. We can show some real mettle here,” O’Brien told Reuters from Jerusalem.
O’Brien was joined by former US Ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta and former Ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen.
The trip, first reported by Reuters, was a rare case of Trump allies traveling abroad as part of an organized delegation to meet foreign officials. It took place amid strains between Israel and the Biden administration about the US Middle East ally’s conduct of the war in Gaza.
In addition to Netanyahu, the delegation met in recent days with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, and Gallant, O’Brien said. Their itinerary did not include Palestinian leaders.
O’Brien said rescuing all remaining hostages held by Hamas and capturing Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that prompted Israel’s Gaza offensive, would be key to declaring victory over the militant group.
“This is something I did share with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Herzog and Benny Gantz from the war cabinet: We’ve got to move quickly,” O’Brien told Reuters. “Israel has to defeat Hamas in Rafah.”
The group said they did not go to Israel at Trump’s behest.
But O’Brien, Rakolta and McMullen all speak regularly to Trump who, despite facing four criminal trials, is ahead of his Nov. 5 presidential election rival, Democratic President Joe Biden, in opinion polls in most battleground states.
In addition to meeting political leaders, members of the delegation traveled to areas of Israel that were targeted in the Hamas attack in October, including the site of the Nova Music Festival and the Nir Oz kibbutz, both near Gaza.
More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s seven-month-old assault on the Gaza Strip, according to health officials in the Hamas-ruled enclave. The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 others, according to Israeli tallies. Israel says that more than 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, including several Americans.
On Monday, the ICC’s prosecutor in The Hague, Karim Khan, requested the warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant and three Palestinian leaders, alleging they had committed war crimes.
In the Reuters interview, O’Brien said he was throwing his support behind Republican-led legislation in Congress that would sanction ICC employees that investigate officials in the US or in allied countries that do not recognize the court, like Israel.
It was unclear how much bipartisan support that bill could garner, though both Democratic and Republican officials have been sharply critical of the ICC.
In 2020, Trump issued an executive order to restrict travel and freeze assets of court staff involved in investigating US conduct in Afghanistan, sanctions which were reversed in the opening months of the Biden administration.
O’Brien’s comments suggest Trump’s advisers would be willing to reimpose and expand sanctions should the former president return to the White House. While the US has at times engaged with the ICC in a limited fashion, it has never been a member of the court, and many US political leaders argue the ICC’s international jurisdiction threatens national sovereignty.
Throughout the interview, O’Brien, Rakolta and McMullen rejected assessments by many US, Palestinian and international officials who say Israel is not doing enough to protect civilian life.
“The Israelis are conducting themselves in a really fine tradition of a modern, humanitarian military, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway from the meetings we’ve had in my view,” O’Brien said.
The Biden administration has at times dissented from that view, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying earlier in May that Israel lacked a credible plan to protect civilians in Rafah.
While the Trump administration backed a two-state solution to Middle East conflict, O’Brien said the conflict in Gaza and Palestinians’ hostile attitude toward Israel makes discussing it a moot point at the moment.
The US government has long held that the pathway to a lasting peace runs through the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Since Oct. 7, however, Trump has indicated in interviews and on the campaign trail that he is rethinking his stance.


UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

Updated 15 min 50 sec ago
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UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

  • The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel
  • The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah

GENEVA/LONDON: A group of United Nations experts on Thursday warned arms and ammunitions manufacturers against taking part in the transfer of weapons to Israel, saying it could make them complicit in human rights abuses and violations of international law.

The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel, “even if they are executed under existing export licenses.”

“These companies, by sending weapons, parts, components, and ammunition to Israeli forces, risk being complicit in serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian laws,” the experts said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Israel which has repeatedly denied carrying out abuses during its Gaza operations, saying it is acting to defend itself and is fighting Hamas militants, not the Palestinian population.

The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah in the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, in a landmark emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide.

“In this context, continuing arms transfers to Israel may be seen as knowingly providing assistance for operations that contravene international human rights and international humanitarian laws and may result in profit from such assistance,” the experts said.

Israel has rejected the genocide accusations as false and grossly distorted.

Also on Thursday, British weapons manufacturers were warned that their selling of military equipment to Israel could lead to criminal charges for failing to prevent war crimes amid the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Four anti-arms trade campaign groups, including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), highlighted “potential criminal liability for atrocity crimes currently taking place in Gaza” in a letter to 20 UK firms who contribute parts or software used in F-35 fighter jets being used by the Israeli air force to bomb the Hamas-held Palestinian enclave.

The letter cited a section in the 2001 International Criminal Court Act, where it is states it is an offense under English and Welsh law “to engage in ‘conduct ancillary’ to a war crime or a crime against humanity” in foreign jurisdictions.

The firms targeted by the activists include the UK arm of Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, the Guardian reported.

The UN human rights office said on Wednesday that Israeli forces may have repeatedly violated the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in the Gaza conflict. Israel dismissed the findings as flawed.

Israel’s air and ground offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, according to health authorities there.

Israel launched its assault after Hamas fighters stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

* With Reuters


Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Updated 20 June 2024
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Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

  • Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed
  • A source close to the group told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike

BEIRUT: Hezbollah said it fired “dozens” of rockets into northern Israel Thursday in retaliation for a deadly strike in south Lebanon, a day after a fiery speech from the group’s leader.
Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese movement allied with Hamas, have traded near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel which triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
Fears of a regional war rose after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Wednesday “no place” in Israel would be spared in case of all-out war against his group, and threatened the nearby island nation of Cyprus if it opened its airports to Israel.
Hezbollah on Thursday said that “in response to the assassination that the Israeli enemy carried out in the village of Deir Kifa,” fighters targeted an Israeli barracks “with dozens of Katyusha rockets.”
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) had reported one dead after an “enemy drone” struck a vehicle in south Lebanon’s Deir Kifa area.
Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed. A source close to the group, requesting anonymity, told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike.
The Israeli military said an air strike “eliminated” a Hezbollah operative in the Deir Kifa area, saying he was “responsible for planning and carrying out terror attacks against Israel and commanding Hezbollah ground forces” in south Lebanon’s Jouaiyya area.
Elsewhere, Israeli fighter jets struck “a Hezbollah surface-to-air missile launcher that posed a threat to aircraft operating over Lebanon,” the army statement added.
The exchanges between the foes, which last went to war in 2006, have escalated in recent weeks, and the Israeli military said Tuesday that “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.”
After the Hezbollah leader’s threats against Cyprus, Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Thursday that “relations between Lebanon and Cyprus are based on a rich history of diplomatic cooperation.”
Contacts and consultations continue between the two countries “at the highest levels,” a foreign ministry statement said, without making specific reference to Nasrallah’s remarks.
In a conversation with his Cyprus counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib expressed “Lebanon’s constant reliance on the positive role that Cyprus plays in supporting regional stability,” the NNA reported.
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides had denied his country’s involvement in the war and said it was “part of the solution.”
The cross-border violence has killed at least 479 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.


UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

Updated 20 June 2024
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UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

  • Grandi said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access
  • The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said

JUBA: Humanitarian access to war-torn Sudan remains woefully “insufficient,” raising the risk of starvation among its population, Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, warned.
War has raged since April 2023 between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than ten million people, according to the United Nations.
In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Grandi, who leads the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR, said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access.
“We are asking all the parties to give access to humanitarians because our presence there is insufficient to help the people in need, and especially to bring the food and the other supplies that are needed for people that otherwise risk starvation,” he said.
Aid workers were able to get “a bit more” access than before, due to “insistence... on the part of the international community,” said Grandi, during a visit to South Sudan, which has seen a huge influx of returnees from Sudan since April last year.
The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said, “because otherwise we risk having more displacement, and even worse, we risk seeing people dying of hunger.”
“I am very worried because I was hoping at the beginning like many Sudanese did, that this would be a short-lived conflict.”
Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation.
Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Christos Christou, the international chief of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, on Thursday described Sudan as “one of the worst crises the world has seen for decades... yet the humanitarian response is profoundly inadequate.”
“There are extreme levels of suffering across the country, and the needs are growing by the day,” he said on X.


Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

Updated 20 June 2024
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Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

  • Temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
  • Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar

Kuwait City: Kuwait has announced temporary power cuts in some parts of the country during peak consumption hours, saying it is struggling to meet increased demand spurred by extreme summer heat.
In a statement on Wednesday, Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy said the scheduled cuts would occur for up to two hours a day, in the first such step for the OPEC member state as climate change causes temperatures to rise.
It blamed the cuts on “the inability of power plants to meet increased demand” during peak hours amid “a rise in temperatures compared to the same period in previous years.”
On Thursday, the ministry published a schedule of expected cuts across several parts of the country, after urging residents to ration consumption to ease the load on power plants.
Kuwait, one of the largest crude producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is considered one of the world’s hottest desert countries.
In recent years, climate change has made summer peaks hotter and longer.
The extreme heat raises reliance on energy-guzzling air conditioners which are ubiquitous in Kuwait during the summer months.
Temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, according to Kuwait’s Meteorological Department.
“What we are experiencing today is the result of climate change,” said Kuwaiti astronomer and scientist Adel Al-Saadoun, noting that temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
Last month, Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar, during the summer months. The contracts would last from June 1 to August 31.
Kamel Harami, a Kuwaiti energy expert, said that the Gulf state needed to revamp its energy infrastructure.
“The available energy is not sufficient, and instead of relying on oil and gas, we must go toward nuclear, solar and wind energy,” he told AFP.
“This is only the beginning of the crisis, and the programmed cuts of electricity will continue in the coming years if we do not accelerate the construction of power stations.”
Umm Mohammed, a Kuwaiti woman in her sixties, said she was left without power for two hours on Wednesday.
“We weren’t severely affected,” she told AFP, noting that the house remained cool during the brief outage.
“Some turn their homes into refrigerators, even when they are not inside, and this raises the load” on power plants, she said.


Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat

Updated 20 June 2024
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Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat

  • Iraq is grappling with a blistering summer, with temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius
  • The United Nations ranks Iraq among the world’s five most climate-vulnerable nations

Baghdad: In the sizzling Baghdad heat, Mussa Abdallah takes to the Tigris river during the day to cool off, while others opt for ice skating to escape the relentless temperatures.
“At the end of the day, I’m sweaty and exhausted because of the sun,” said Abdallah, a 21-year-old house painter in the Iraqi capital.
“At home, there’s no electricity. If I want to wash, the water is scalding hot,” he added, describing how water stored above ground virtually boils at this time of year.
Iraq is grappling with a blistering summer, with temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, exacerbated by declining rainfall, rampant desertification and frequent dust storms.
The United Nations ranks Iraq among the world’s five most climate-vulnerable nations.
Almost every day after work, Abdallah retreats to the Tigris to escape the sweltering heat.
“We’re young and want to have a good time — where else can we go?” the decorator said on the banks of the river, traces of white paint still visible on his temples and long-sleeved T-shirt.
While Abdallah puts his sandals back on, nearby others are taking the plunge and two bathers are washing their hair with soap.
As night brings little relief from the sweltering gusts, residents of Baghdad flock to the city’s lone indoor ice rink to find respite.
The rink is in one of the air-conditioned shopping malls that have sprung up in the capital in recent years, attracting up to 100 visitors on busy days, 25-year-old instructor Sajjad Mohamed said.
“Twenty-four hours a day, the electricity never goes out. There’s a cooling system” for the ice, Mohamed said.
Abbas, 26, discovered ice skating in Turkiye. Now back in Iraq, he is pursuing it enthusiastically.
“When we finish work in the afternoon, it’s either go home, or go to shopping malls and other places where it’s cold,” he said.
The soaring seasonal temperatures have become a troubling fact of life for the overwhelming majority of Iraq’s 43 million inhabitants.
Although it is rich in oil, Iraq has seen its infrastructure suffer after decades of conflict and failed public policy that has resulted in long power cuts on the public grid with generators unable to handle the strain.
On the banks of the Tigris, Rashid Al-Rashed takes off his T-shirt to dive into the Tigris.
“At home it’s hot, I can’t stay there for long. The public electricity is inadequate,” the 17-year-old garbage collector said.
To escape the heat, “I bathe every day, for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour,” he added.
Elsewhere on the river, a police boat moves along a dozen bathers from the water for their safety.
“When we make them leave, they come back,” said a policeman, seeking to explain everything was being done to prevent deaths from drownings.
But the danger is evident. On his phone, he displays the body of an 11-year-old boy found nearly 48 hours after drowning.
While the river — despite its danger — is free, those with more means can pay $10 for an afternoon with family or friends at Baghdad Aqua Park.
“This year summer came earlier, so we have more visitors,” one of the water park’s administrators Ali Yussef said. “People are coming after work or school,” he added.
Maitham Mahdi, 31, was on his second visit of the month. “I think I’ll be coming a lot during the summer,” the civil servant, still dressed in his swimsuit, said as he departed the indoor pool.
Mahdi also complained about the electricity at home. “We come here to get a bit of fresh air,” he explained.
Iraq has just gone through four years of drought, marked by water shortages and a drastic drop in river flow.
But on the back of a wet winter, officials are hoping the more generous rainfall will have a knock-on effect over the summer.
Despite those hopes, however, the thermometer continues to climb.
The meteorological service is forecasting 50 degrees Celsius this week in the capital and southern cities such as Basra and Nasiriyah.
Its director, Amer Al-Jaberi, said with its semi-desert climate, Iraq is expecting “heat waves,” particularly in the south, adding these intensifying phenomena are also the result of climate change.