Egypt agrees to send aid trucks through Israeli crossing to Gaza but impact is unclear

Hundreds of truckloads have been sitting on the Gaza side of the crossing unretrieved. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 May 2024
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Egypt agrees to send aid trucks through Israeli crossing to Gaza but impact is unclear

  • Israeli troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, which has been inoperative since
  • The UN says it cannot reach Kerem Shalom to pick up aid as it enters because fighting in the area makes it too dangerous

TEL AVIV, Israel: Egypt said Friday it has agreed to send United Nations humanitarian aid trucks through Israel’s main crossing into Gaza, but it was unclear if they will be able to enter the territory as fighting raged in the southern city of Rafah amid Israel’s escalating offensive there.
Gaza’s humanitarian crisis has spiraled as the UN and other aid agencies say the entry of food and other supplies to them has plunged dramatically since Israel’s Rafah offensive began more than two weeks ago. On Friday, the top UN court — the International Court of Justice — ordered Israel to halt the Rafah offensive, though Israel is unlikely to comply.
At the heart of the problem lie the two main crossings through which around 300 trucks of aid a day had been flowing into Gaza before the offensive began.
Israeli troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, which has been inoperative since. The nearby Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza has remained open, and Israel says it has been sending hundreds of trucks a day into it. But while commercial trucks have successfully crossed, the UN says it cannot reach Kerem Shalom to pick up aid as it enters because fighting in the area makes it too dangerous.
As a result, the UN says it has received only 143 trucks from the crossing in the past 19 days. Hundreds of truckloads have been sitting on the Gaza side of the crossing unretrieved, according to Israeli officials, who say UN manpower limitations are to blame. UN and other aid agencies had to rely on the far smaller number of trucks entering daily from a single crossing in northern Gaza and via a US-built pier bringing supplies by sea.
Humanitarian groups are scrambling to get food to Palestinians as some 900,000 people flee Rafah, scattering across central and southern Gaza. Aid workers warn Gaza is near famine. UNRWA, the main UN agency in the humanitarian effort, had to halt food distribution in Rafah city because it had run out of supplies.
The Egyptian announcement appeared to resolve a political obstacle on one side of the border.
Israel says it has kept the Rafah crossing open and asked Egypt to coordinate with it on sending aid convoys through it. Egypt refused, fearing the Israeli hold will remain permanent, and demanded Palestinians be put back in charge of the facility. The White House has been pressing Egypt to resume the flow of trucks.
In a phone call with US President Joe Biden on Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi agreed to allow trucks carrying humanitarian aid and fuel to go to the Kerem Shalom crossing until a solution is found for the Rafah crossing, El-Sisi’s office said in a statement.
But it remained unclear whether the UN will be able to access additional trucks coming from Egypt.
UNRWA did not immediately reply to requests for comment. In a post on social media outlet X on Thursday, it said, “We could resume (food distribution in Rafah) tomorrow if the crossing reopened & we were provided with safe routes.”
Mercy Corps, an aid group operating in Gaza, said in a statement Friday that the offensive had caused the “functional closure … of the two main lifelines” of aid and “has brought the humanitarian system to its knees.”
“If dramatic changes do not occur, including opening all border crossings to safely surge aid into these areas, we fear that a wave of secondary mortality will result, with people succumbing to the combination of hunger, lack of clean water and sanitation, and the spread of disease in areas where there is little medical care,” it said.
Fighting appeared to escalate in Rafah. Bombardment intensified Friday in eastern parts of the city, near Kerem Shalom, but shelling was also taking place in central, southern and western districts closer to the Rafah crossing, witnesses said.
Israeli leaders have said they must uproot Hamas fighters from Rafah to complete the destruction of the group after its Oct. 7 attack.
Hamas-led militants killed around 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and abducted around 250 others in the Oct. 7 attack. Around half of those hostages have since been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a weeklong ceasefire in November.
Israel’s campaign of bombardment and offensives in Gaza has killed more than 35,800 Palestinians and wounded more than 80,200, the Gaza Health Ministry said Friday. Its count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
The Israeli military said its troops overnight found the bodies of three people killed in the Oct. 7 attack and subsequently taken into Gaza and counted among the hostages.
The bodies of Hanan Yablonka, Michel Nisenbaum, and Orion Hernandez Radoux were found in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, where Israeli troops have been fighting for the past week with Hamas militants, the military said.
The announcement comes less than a week after the army said it found in the same area the bodies of three other Israeli hostages also killed on Oct. 7.
Nisenbaum, 59, was a Brazilian-Israeli from the southern city of Sderot. He was killed in his car as he went to get his 4-year-old granddaughter from a site near Gaza that came under attack by the militants.
Oryon Hernandez Radoux, 30, and Yablonka, 42, a father of two, were both killed as they tried to escape the Nova music festival, where the attackers killed hundreds of people. Hernandez Radoux had been attending the festival with his partner, German-Israeli Shani Louk, whose body was among those found by the army earlier.
Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of at least 39 more, while 17 bodies of hostages have been recovered.
The group representing the families of the hostages said the bodies had been returned to their families for burial. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country had a duty to do everything to return those abducted, both those killed and those who are alive.
French President Emmanuel Macron gave condolences to the family of Hernández-Radoux, a French-Mexican citizen, saying France remains committed to releasing the hostages.
CIA Director Bill Burns was meeting in Paris on Friday with Israeli and Qatari officials in informal talks aimed at getting hostage and ceasefire negotiations back on track, a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive discussions. Burns is in close contact with Egyptian officials, who like the Qataris have acted as mediators with Hamas, the US official said.
Ceasefire talks ground to a halt at the beginning of the month after a major push by the US and other mediators to secure a deal, in hopes of averting a planned Israeli invasion of the southern city of Rafah. The talks were stymied by a central sticking point: Hamas demands guarantees that the war will end and Israeli troops will withdraw from Gaza completely in return for a release of all the hostages, a demand Israel rejects.


South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks

Updated 6 sec ago
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South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks

  • The former rebel leader signed an agreement with President Salva Kiir in 2018 that ended a five-year civil war that killed about 400,000 people

JUBA, South Sudan: South Sudan ‘s vice president said Thursday that peace talks in neighboring Kenya have failed to acknowledge the country’s peace agreement established in 2018, alleging a new draft agreement is aimed at replacing the original peace deal.
Riek Machar in a protest letter to the talks’ mediator said the draft established alternative institutions to replace or run in parallel with those established by the previous peace agreement. He added that the current peace talks should complement and not obliterate the original deal.
The former rebel leader signed an agreement with President Salva Kiir in 2018 that ended a five-year civil war that killed about 400,000 people. Machar and Kiir were on opposite sides in the war and Machar was appointed vice president after the 2018 deal. His group isn’t part of the current talks, which are for groups that were not included in the 2018 agreement.
Despite the peace deal, violence in South Sudan has continued, most of it attributed to rebel groups and warring ethnic groups.
The body mandated with monitoring the implementation of the 2018 peace deal raised concerns in May over the slow implementation of election related tasks with only a few months left until December elections.
Opposition groups that were not part of the 2018 peace agreement have been in talks in Kenya since May 9 aimed at bringing groups on board ahead of the December elections.
The talks have resulted in a draft agreement that recommends an extension of the transitional period to provide more time for election preparations.
President Kiir on Thursday received a progress report from government representatives in the ongoing talks with the government spokesperson telling media that participants in the talks are close to reaching a final agreement.

 


Israel’s pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat as lawlessness blocks distribution

Updated 21 June 2024
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Israel’s pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat as lawlessness blocks distribution

  • Aid workers said they are working with the Israelis to find a solution, but that the security burden falls squarely on Israel’s shoulders

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Sunday that it was establishing a new safe corridor to deliver aid into southern Gaza. But days later, this self-declared “tactical pause” has brought little relief to desperate Palestinians.
The United Nations and international aid organizations say a breakdown in law and order has made the aid route unusable.
With thousands of truckloads of aid piled up, groups of armed men are regularly blocking convoys, holding drivers at gunpoint and rifling through their cargo, according to a UN official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media on the issue.
He said lawlessness has emerged as the main obstacle to aid distribution in southern Gaza — where an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians displaced from Rafah, or more than half of Gaza’s entire population, are now sheltering in tent camps and cramped apartments without adequate food, water, or medical supplies.
Here is a closer look at the security challenges facing the UN and aid organizations.
Israel’s ‘tactical pause’ stymied
Israel said Sunday it would observe daily pauses in combat along a route stretching from Kerem Shalom — the strip’s only operational aid crossing in the south — to the nearby city of Khan Younis. Before the pause, aid organizations had reported that the need to coordinate trucks’ movement with the Israelis in an active combat zone was slowing aid distribution.
The UN official familiar with the aid effort said that there has been no sign of Israeli activity along the route. The UN tried to send a convoy of 60 trucks down the road Tuesday to pick up aid at Kerem Shalom. But 35 of the trucks were intercepted by armed men, the official said.
In recent days, armed men have moved closer to the crossing and set up roadblocks to halt trucks loaded with supplies, the UN official said. They have rifled through the pallets in search of smuggled cigarettes, a rare luxury in a territory where a single smoke can go for $25.
The surge in lawlessness is a result of growing desperation in Gaza and the power vacuum that left by Hamas’s waning power over the territory, said Mkhaimar Abusada, an associate professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza who is now in Cairo.
With the territory’s police force targeted by Israel, he said, crime has reemerged as an untreated issue in Gaza.
“After Hamas came to power, one of the things that they brought under their control was the lawlessness of the so-called big clans,” said Abusada. “Now, that’s left for the Palestinians on their own to deal with it. So once again, we are seeing shootings between families, there are thefts, all the bad things are happening.”
UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, used to deploy local Palestinian police to escort aid convoys, but many refused to continue serving after airstrikes killed at least eight police officers in Rafah, the agency said.
Israel says the police are legitimate targets because they are controlled by Hamas.
Is any aid still getting into Gaza?
The situation has largely paralyzed aid distribution to the south — particularly since Gaza’s nearby Rafah crossing with Egypt was closed when Israel invaded the city early last month.
The UN official said that 25 trucks of flour used the route Tuesday. Some private commercial trucks also got through — many of which used armed security to deter groups seeking to seize their cargo. An AP reporter stationed along the road Monday saw at least eight trucks pass by, armed security guards riding on top.
Before Israel’s offensive into the city of Rafah, hundreds of fuel trucks routinely entered the area.
The UN has now begun rerouting some fuel trucks through northern Gaza. Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman, said five fuel trucks entered Gaza Wednesday. The UN humanitarian office reported that these were the first fuel deliveries since early June and supplies remain scarce.
Aid groups say only a ceasefire and a reopening of the Rafah crossing could significantly increase aid flow to the area.
The military body in charge of coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, COGAT, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Security concerns also afflict aid from US pier project
The US installed a pier off Gaza’s coast last month, aiming to provide an additional route for aid to enter Gaza. But the ambitious project has suffered repeated logistical and security setbacks.
Cyprus, a partner in the effort, said the pier was up and running again Thursday after being detached for a second time last week because of rough seas. COGAT said Thursday there were “hundreds of aid pallets awaiting collection and distribution by the UN aid agencies.”
But there, too, security concerns are hindering distribution of aid.
The UN suspended its cooperation with the pier on June 9 – a day after rumors swirled that the Israeli military had used the area in a hostage rescue operation that left over 270 Palestinians dead. Photos of the operation have shown an Israeli helicopter in the vicinity of the pier.
Both Israel and the US deny the pier was used in the operation. But the perception that the pier was used for military purposes could endanger humanitarian workers, and threaten humanitarian groups’ principles of of neutrality, the UN says.
Aid workers said they are working with the Israelis to find a solution, but that the security burden falls squarely on Israel’s shoulders.
UN and other humanitarian officials, including Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development, met with Israel’s military chief and COGAT officials this week to seek solutions.
USAID said afterward that the meeting ended with promises of specific actions, but gave no details.


Lebanon’s Hezbollah: What weapons does it have?

Updated 20 June 2024
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Lebanon’s Hezbollah: What weapons does it have?

  • Many of the Shiite Muslim group’s weapons are Iranian, Russian or Chinese models

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah has drawn on an expanded arsenal in ongoing hostilities with Israel, with leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah saying in a speech on Wednesday the Iran-backed group had obtained new weapons.
He did not identify the new weapons, but said they would “emerge in the field.”
Hezbollah’s latest conflict with Israel, which has raged in parallel with the Gaza war, has raised concerns of further escalation between the regional enemies, which last fought a major war in 2006.
Here is a snapshot of Hezbollah’s arsenal:

AN OVERVIEW
Hezbollah’s military strength is underpinned by upwards of 150,000 missiles and rockets of various types and ranges, according to the World Factbook of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Hezbollah says it has rockets that can hit all areas of Israel. Many of them are unguided, but it also has precision missiles, drones and anti-tank, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.
Hezbollah’s main supporter and weapons supplier is Iran. Analysts say Tehran sends arms to the group by land via Iraq and Syria, both Middle Eastern countries where Iran has close ties and influence. Many of the Shiite Muslim group’s weapons are Iranian, Russian or Chinese models.
Nasrallah said in 2021 the group has 100,000 fighters. The CIA World Factbook says it was estimated in 2022 to have up to 45,000 fighters, split between roughly 20,000 full-time and 25,000 reserve personnel.

ANTI-TANK MISSILES
Hezbollah used guided anti-tank missiles extensively in the 2006 war. It has deployed guided rockets again in the latest hostilities. These include the Russian-made Kornet.
Hezbollah has also used an Iranian-made guided missile known as “al-Mas,” according to a report by the pro-Iran Arabic broadcaster Al-Mayadeen.
A report by Israel’s Alma Research and Education Center published in April described the Al-Mas as an anti-tank weapon that can hit targets beyond the line of sight following an arched trajectory, enabling it to strike from above.
The missile is part of a family of weapons made by Iran through reverse engineering based on the Israeli Spike missile family, the report said. It said the missile was a “flagship product” of Iran’s defense industry in Hezbollah’s possession.
ANTI-AIRCRAFT MISSILES
Hezbollah said on June 6 it had fired at an Israeli warplane. A source familiar with its arsenal said it was the first time the group had done so, calling it a milestone, while declining to identify the weapon used.
Hezbollah has also shot down Israeli drones during this conflict using surface-to-air missiles.
The first such incident was on Oct. 29 when Hezbollah for the first time said it had used anti-aircraft weaponry it had long been thought to have.
Hezbollah has used such missiles several times since, downing Israeli Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 drones.

DRONES
Hezbollah has repeatedly launched explosive one-way drones, including in some of its more complicated attacks. It launched some to distract Israeli air defenses, while explosives-laden drones were flown at targets.
More recently, the group has announced attacks that use drones that drop bombs and return to Lebanon, rather than just flying at their targets.
Hezbollah’s drones include what it says are the locally-assembled Ayoub and Mersad models, which analysts say are cheap and relatively easy to produce.

LAND-ATTACK ROCKETS AND MISSILES
Unguided rockets comprised the bulk of Hezbollah’s missile arsenal in the last war with Israel in 2006, when the group fired about 4,000 of them into Israel — mostly Russian-made Katyusha-style missiles with a range of up to 30 km (19 miles).
Nasrallah has said the biggest change in Hezbollah’s arsenal since 2006 is the expansion of its precision guidance systems.
In 2022, he said Hezbollah had the ability within Lebanon to retrofit thousands of rockets with guidance systems to make them precision missiles.
Hezbollah has Iranian models, such as Raad (Arabic for Thunder), Fajr (Dawn) and Zilzal (Earthquake) rockets, which have a more powerful payload and longer range than Katyushas.
Rockets fired by Hezbollah at Israel during the Gaza conflict since October have included Katyushas and Burkan (volcano) missiles with an explosive payload of 300-500 kg.
Its Iranian-made Falaq 2 rockets it used for the first time on June 8, could carry a bigger warhead than the Falaq 1 used in the past.
Hinting at the damage it could do, Nasrallah in 2016 made a veiled threat that Hezbollah could hit ammonia storage tanks in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, saying the result would be “like a nuclear bomb.”

ANTI-SHIP MISSILES
Hezbollah first proved it had anti-ship missiles in 2006, when it hit an Israeli warship 16 km (10 miles) off the coast, killing four Israeli personnel and damaging the vessel.
Since the 2006 war, Hezbollah has acquired the Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missile with a range of 300 km (186 miles), sources familiar with its arsenal say. Hezbollah has not confirmed it has the weapon.
Hezbollah has also broadcast videos that it says show more of the same type of anti-ship missile used in 2006.

 


Activists file torture complaint against Iranian held in France

Bashir Biazar. (Photo/social media)
Updated 20 June 2024
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Activists file torture complaint against Iranian held in France

  • It accuses Biazar of complicity in torture due to his past work with Iranian state broadcasting conglomerate IRIB, describing him as a former director of production there

PARIS: Activists said on Thursday they were filing a torture complaint against an Iranian citizen held in France who was reportedly a former senior figure in state television in the country.
During strained relations between Paris and Tehran, Bashir Biazar has been held in administrative detention in France since June 3, pending expulsion from the country for separate reasons.
His lawyer has denounced his detention and planned expulsion as “political,” while officials in Iran have condemned France over his arrest and urged his release.
Activist group Iran Justice and victims of human rights violations filed the complaint against Biazar in Paris. If the court decides to follow up, he could be kept in France to stand trial.
It accuses Biazar of complicity in torture due to his past work with Iranian state broadcasting conglomerate IRIB, describing him as a former director of production there.
Iranian state media have described him as a “cultural figure.”
The complaint refers to the regular broadcasts by Iranian state television of statements by — and even interviews with — Iranian or foreign prisoners, which activists regard as forced confessions.
There are “serious indications” that Biazar could have been “personally involved” in recording such broadcasts, said lawyer Chirinne Ardakani.

 


Netanyahu says Israel needs US ammunition in ‘war for its existence’

Updated 20 June 2024
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Netanyahu says Israel needs US ammunition in ‘war for its existence’

  • The Israeli leader’s comments came after he angered Washington with a video statement this week accusing it of “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel“
  • US officials have said they were not aware of what Netanyahu was referring to

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday the country needs ammunition from the United States in “the war for its existence,” directly addressing the White House after it criticized him for complaining about arms deliveries related to the Gaza war.
“I am prepared to suffer personal attacks provided that Israel receives the ammunition from the US that it needs in the war for its existence,” he said in a statement.
The Israeli leader’s comments came after he angered Washington with a video statement this week accusing it of “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
US officials have said they were not aware of what Netanyahu was referring to.
“Those comments were deeply disappointing and certainly vexing to us, given the amount of support that we have and will continue to provide,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists earlier on Thursday.
Washington said that there is only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs that is under review because of concerns about their use in densely populated areas in Gaza.
Kirby separately said that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is due to meet his Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer on Thursday.
Washington is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has conducted more than eight months of operations against Hamas.