Blinken meets with Netanyahu in Israel and urges Hamas to accept ceasefire proposal

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This handout photo released by the US State Department on June 10, 2024, shows US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. (AFP/US State Department)
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters after his meeting with the Egyptian president, at Cairo airport, on June 10, 2024. Blinken arrived in Egypt at the start of a regional tour to push for a much awaited Gaza ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Above, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at Cairo airport in Egypt on June 10, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 June 2024
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Blinken meets with Netanyahu in Israel and urges Hamas to accept ceasefire proposal

  • Israel and Hamas both doubled down on hard-line positions that have scuppered all previous attempts to end the fighting
  • Washington is now seeking a vote backing the ceasefire proposal at the UN Security Council

TEL AVIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his latest trip to the Middle East, where America’s top diplomat urged approval of a ceasefire proposal that faced new uncertainty following Israel’s hostage rescue operation that killed many Palestinians and turmoil in Netanyahu’s government.
With no firm public response yet from Hamas or Israel to the proposal they received 10 days ago, Blinken started his eighth visit to the region since the conflict began in October by meeting with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt, a key mediator with the militant Hamas group. He then flew to Israel for talks with Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.
Blinken once again called on Hamas to accept the plan, which he said has wide international support.
“If you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say ‘yes,’” he told reporters before leaving Cairo on the trip that also will take him to Jordan and Qatar. Blinken said Israel has accepted the proposal, though Netanyahu has expressed skepticism.
“I know that there are those who are pessimistic about the prospects,” Blinken said, putting the onus on Hamas. “That’s understandable. Hamas continues to show extraordinary cynicism in its actions, a disinterest not only in the well-being and security of Israelis but also Palestinians.”
While President Joe Biden, Blinken and other US officials have praised the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Saturday, the operation resulted in the deaths of 274 Palestinian civilians and may complicate the ceasefire push by emboldening Israel and hardening Hamas’ resolve to carry on fighting in the war that started with its Oct. 7 attack in Israel.
Blinken said the plan is the “single best way” to get to a ceasefire, release the remaining hostages and improve regional security.
In his talks with El-Sisi, Blinken also discussed plans for post-conflict governance and reconstruction in Gaza.
“It’s imperative that there be a plan, and that has to involve security, it has to involve governance, it has to involve reconstruction,” Blinken said.
Netanyahu and his government have resisted calls for any “day after” plan that would bar Israel from having some form of security presence in the territory. Blinken said he would urge Israel to come up with alternatives that would be acceptable.
“It would be very good if Israel put forward its own ideas on this, and I’ll be talking to the government about that,” he said. “But one way or another, we’ve got to have these plans, we’ve got to have them in place, we’ve got to be ready to go if we want to take advantage of a ceasefire.”
The three-phase plan calls for the release of more hostages and a temporary pause in hostilities that will last as long as it takes to negotiate the second phase, which aims to bring the release of all hostages, a “full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza” and “a permanent end to hostilities,” according to an American-drafted resolution put before the UN Security Council. The third phase calls for reconstruction in Gaza.
The Security Council voted Monday to approve the resolution, which welcomes the proposal and urges Hamas to accept it. The vote on the US-sponsored resolution was 14-0, with Russia abstaining.
But Hamas may not be the only obstacle.
Although the deal has been described as an Israeli initiative and thousands of Israelis have demonstrated to support it, Netanyahu has expressed skepticism, saying what has been presented publicly is not accurate and that Israel is still committed to destroying Hamas.
Netanyahu’s far-right allies have threatened to collapse his government if he implements the plan. Benny Gantz, a popular centrist, resigned on Sunday from the three-member War Cabinet after saying he would do so if the prime minister did not formulate a new plan for postwar Gaza.
In the aftermath of the hostage rescue, Netanyahu had urged him not to step down.
Blinken has met with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Gantz and Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid on nearly all his previous trips to Israel. Officials said Blinken is expected to meet with Gantz on Tuesday.
Despite Blinken’s roughly once-a-month visits to the region since the war began, the conflict has ground on with more than 37,120 Palestinians killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its counts. Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people in the Oct. 7 attack, mostly civilians, and took around 250 people hostage.
The war has severely hindered the flow of food, medicine and other supplies to the Palestinians in Gaza, who are facing widespread hunger. UN agencies say more than 1 million people in the territory could experience the highest level of starvation by mid-July.
In Jordan, Blinken will take part in an emergency international conference on improving the flow of aid to Gaza.


Saudi Arabia says no involvement with strikes targetting Hodeidah

Updated 17 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia says no involvement with strikes targetting Hodeidah

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday said it had nothing to do with the Israeli air strikes on Yemen's city of Hodeidah and that it will not allow anyone to use the Kingdom's airspace for offensive purposes.

“The Kingdom has no relation or involvement in the targeting of Hodeidah, and the Kingdom will not allow any entity to violate its airspace,” Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Defense, said in a statement on the X social media app.

Israeli warplanes struck the Houthi-held western Yemeni city on Saturday in an apparent reprisal for the Houthi drone strike on a Tel Aviv apartment building that killed a civilian in a Tel Aviv apartment building before dawn Friday.

Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the airstrike was meant to send a message to the Houthis that their attacks would not be left unanswered.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls a large part of Yemen, had been attacking commercial vessels passing through the Red Sea and the Bab-Al-Mandab straight in a sympathy action for the Palestinians in Gaza amid Israeli aattacks.

The Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV had acknowledged that the Israeli strikes hit a power plant and a gasoline storage facility, killing and injuring several people.


Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

Updated 21 July 2024
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Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

  • Gallant: The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them

JERUSALEM: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Saturday that Israel struck the Houthis in Yemen in order to send a message after they harmed an Israeli citizen.
“The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear,” Gallant said in a statement. “The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”
On Friday, a long-range Iranian-made drone hit the center of Tel Aviv in an attack claimed by the Houthi militia and which killed one man and wounded four others.


Israeli military: No security incident in city of Eilat

An Israeli navy missile boat patrols in the Red Sea off the coast of Israel's southern port city of Eliat on December 26, 2023.
Updated 21 July 2024
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Israeli military: No security incident in city of Eilat

JERUSALEM: Israel’s military said on Saturday there was no indication of a security incident in the Red Sea port city of Eilat after reports of explosions were heard there.
“A short while ago, reports were received regarding explosions heard in the area of Eilat. It was found that no projectiles were fired toward the area of the city and no interceptor was launched. There is no indication of a security incident,” the military said. 

 


What is driving the rise in marriages between Syrian women and local men in neighboring countries?

Updated 21 July 2024
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What is driving the rise in marriages between Syrian women and local men in neighboring countries?

  • More than a decade of war, displacement, hardship and uncertainty has chipped away at Syrian women’s sense of security
  • Many of these women agree to marry locals to avoid the harsh reality of being a single woman alone in a war-devastated country

LONDON: Informal advertisements for “affordable Syrian brides” have been circulating on Iraqi social media platforms in recent months, several of them perpetuating tropes about Syrian women with lines like: “Marry a Syrian woman for $100 and enjoy delectable dishes and an endearing dialect.”

The controversial posts, which have drawn local media attention, are captioned as though they are advertising chattel. One reads: “You can hear to’borni (a Syrian term of endearment) at home for as little as 500,000 dinars” — the equivalent of $380.

Men promoting the trend lament the exorbitant mahrs requested by Iraqi women, often ranging from $10,000 to $20,000, locals told Arab News. On top of this, they say, prospective Iraqi brides will also often request property, expensive jewelry and cars.

Mahr is a mandatory gift from a groom to his bride in Muslim societies as a form of security and respect, often with legal significance in marriage contracts.

Grooms and Syrian Kurdish brides during a mass wedding ceremony organized by the Barzani Charity Foundation in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. File photo for illustrative purpose only. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The sheer volume of online posts, especially on the video platform TikTok, suggests the trend is genuine. Commentators have expressed outrage at the posts, finding the rhetoric demeaning to both Syrian and Iraqi women.

More than a decade of violence, displacement, economic hardship and uncertainty has already chipped away at Syrian women’s dignity. Now, in neighboring countries where they have sought safety and economic security, they endure a form of commodification.

Many Syrian women, finding themselves as the sole breadwinners for their families, have sought employment in neighboring states, including Iraq, as the economic situation worsens in their home country.

Faced with the harsh reality of being a single woman alone in a conservative society and in countries where the law offers limited protection, some have agreed to marry locals for meager mahrs, if any at all.

Sattam Jadaan Al-Dandah, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, revealed in January that in 2023 alone, some 5,000 marriages between Syrian women and Iraqi men had been documented.

Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Sattam Jadaan Al-Dandah, has confirmed the trend about Syrian refugee women being married to Iraqis. (Supplied)

According to the UN Development Programme’s Gender Inequality Index for 2024, Iraq is the fifth worst country in the world for women and girls despite many recent efforts to address gender inequality.

“Syrian women in countries like Iraq, where the law does not provide adequate protection, often find themselves exposed to harassment, exploitation and even trafficking,” Mouna Khaity, a UK-based Syrian feminist and researcher, told Arab News.

“The main reasons Syrian women are agreeing to such arrangements — many even seeking them — in almost all neighboring host countries are the need for protection and the desire to escape a deteriorating economic situation.”

Thirteen years of conflict and economic sanctions have plunged 90 percent of Syria’s population below the poverty line, creating a new social norm where families struggle to survive without women’s labor.

Many Syrian women have found themselves as the sole breadwinners for their families after years of war in their country. (AFP)

“Under relatively normal circumstances women and girls’ communities and families would provide a level of protection, even though this sometimes entails unwanted intervention or even control,” said Khaity.

The erosion of this protection due to displacement has left Syrian women and girls more vulnerable.

About 5.4 million Syrians live in five countries across the region — Turkiye, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt — with more than 70 percent of them being women, according to UN figures.

After 13 years of civil conflict, lack of international funding has severely undercut the provision of basic services such as water, waste disposal and sanitation in displacement camps in northwest Syria, according to the United Nations. (AFP)

“Women in need of protection will accept a lower mahr compared to women who live within the protection of their families in their home countries,” said Khaity.

However, a woman’s decision to pursue marriage for economic reasons “is often not a personal choice but a collective family decision, with women — even girls — being persuaded this is an opportunity for a better life.

“This is often seen in displacement camps, where women don’t even have the option to choose, and marriage to a local can be perceived as a convenient way to transform from a charity recipient to a dignified and protected woman.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council in 2016 reported an alarming increase in occurence of child marriages within Syrian refugee communities, with girls as young as 13 being married off.

The increasing occurrence of child marriages within Syrian refugee communities has alarmed child protection advocates. Photo for illustration purposes only. (Getty Images)

A 2023 report by American Near East Refugee Aid, an NGO that addresses the needs of refugees and vulnerable communities in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan, found that 41 percent of Syrian refugee women aged 20 to 24 in Lebanon were married before turning 18.

Stressing that the situation has been created by “layers of discrimination and injustices,” Khaity said the blame for such marriages should not be placed solely on individuals or families, but on “entire systems” that have normalized the exploitation of Syrian women through a lack of accountability.

“Neighboring countries have not been seeking to integrate Syrian refugees, who are being excluded by local communities and exploited by politicians for economic benefits,” she said.

Deeply rooted gender-related economic inequalities have long disadvantaged women, and the war has only widened this gap, despite increasing the proportion of women who earn an income.

Many Syrian women have found themselves as the sole breadwinners for their families after years of war in their country. (AFP)

“Middle Eastern societies have historically accumulated wealth in men’s hands, forcing women to be largely dependent on men,” said Khaity, adding that this has been achieved through “political systems, social norms and religious institutions.”

“Obedience to husbands has often been linked to men’s financial superiority and dominance, and consequently women’s reliance on them. There are financial resources that women cannot access.”

She added: “The war has deepened inequities, impoverished the majority of the population, heightened women’s vulnerability and displaced millions — all of which has devastated Syrian society.

“Therefore, many Syrian women have sought marriages with locals in host countries as a means to protect themselves, and often their families too, from all kinds of indignities — particularly in societies that have shown them hostility.”

The erosion of this protection due to displacement has left Syrian women and girls more vulnerable. (AFP)

Since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, which forced millions to flee abroad, Syrians in Lebanon, Turkiye and Jordan have repeatedly encountered waves of violence and threats of deportation.

Douna Haj Ahmed, a UK-based Syrian human rights activist, believes this new status quo “has created a form of modern slavery where Syrian women are commodified and traded under the guise of marriage.”

She told Arab News that the marriage arrangements promoted on Iraqi social media “reduce women to mere objects for sale,” calling the phenomenon “a stark reminder of how conflict and poverty can lead to the resurgence of exploitative systems akin to slavery.”

She added: “Such exploitation is not only unethical but also profoundly inhumane. Marriage should be grounded in mutual respect and genuine affection, not in exploiting the more vulnerable party’s needs.”

Thirteen years of conflict and displacement have placed Syrian women in “a class of their own,” said Khaity. “There is tolerance for the dehumanization of Syrian women, who are now perceived as having fewer rights.”

Grooms and Syrian Kurdish brides during a mass wedding ceremony organized by the Barzani Charity Foundation in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. File photo for illustrative purpose only. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Both activists also believe Syrian women have been commodified by deceptive TV dramas. Iraqi TikTok posts promoting marriage to Syrian women even feature clips from controversial Syrian programs portraying Damascene women as part of an obedient, attentive harem.

Khaity says the drama genre known in Syria as “Al-Bi’a Al-Shamiyeh” — or Damascene culture — has propagated an “untrue, historically inaccurate, and unfair image of Syrian women and their role in society.”

Since the 1990s, numerous Syrian dramas have portrayed Damascene women as ravishing beauties with an innate talent for cooking, household management and seduction. They scurry to attend to their husbands’ needs, rub their feet, shower them with affection, and even hand feed them.

Syrian women had been portrayed in a popular drama series as the obedient servants to their husband, doing only domestic chores such as cooking and cleaning by day, and providing pleasuring by night. (AFP/File)

The popularity of Syrian drama series across the Arabic-speaking world has played a significant role in creating and reinforcing such harmful stereotypes.

“For decades, Syrian drama has perpetuated an image of the Syrian woman as the obedient servant to her husband, whose life revolves around meeting his needs through cooking and cleaning by day, and pampering and pleasuring by night,” said Haj Ahmed.

“This negative portrayal has reinforced outdated and misleading ideas about women’s roles in Syrian society.”

Syria's long-running war has rendered hundreds of thousands of women and children vulnerable to abuses. (AFP/File)

Haj Ahmed said that amid harsh economic circumstances, “many young men in Arab countries have seen the war in Syria as an opportunity to fulfill unhealthy desires for marriage.

“They have exploited the vulnerability of Syrian girls caused by war and poverty, forcing some Syrian families to make harsh compromises and accept any suitor for their daughters in a desperate bid to alleviate the family’s financial burden.”

She added that the social media trend promoting Syrian brides for $100 “goes beyond discrimination and hate speech” to “reflect the patriarchal mentality that objectifies women, particularly in times of war and disaster.

“This narrative confirms that women are among the first to suffer in such situations. What Syrian women are experiencing is a recurring scenario for women in all conflict zones.”
 

 


Lebanon state media says civilians injured in Israeli strike

Updated 20 July 2024
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Lebanon state media says civilians injured in Israeli strike

  • Hezbollah has traded near-daily cross-border fire with Israeli forces in support of Hamas

BEIRUT: An Israeli air strike in Lebanon about 30 kilometers from the border injured civilians on Saturday, Lebanese state media said, after Hezbollah and its Palestinian ally Hamas fired rockets and explosive-laden drones at Israeli positions.
Hezbollah has traded near-daily cross-border fire with Israeli forces in support of Hamas since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
“The Israeli enemy launched a raid on the town of Adloun” in south Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency said, adding that “a number of civilians have been injured” and traffic on the highway interrupted in both directions.
Videos circulating online showed several big explosions in the coastal town.
“Shrapnel from the explosions flew to surrounding villages,” the NNA said.
Earlier Saturday, NNA said Syrian nationals, including children, had been injured after an “enemy drone targeted an empty four-wheel drive” near their tent, close to the border.
Doctor Mouenes Kalakesh, who heads the Marjayoun government hospital, said a woman and her three children, two of them minors, had been admitted for shrapnel injuries after the strike outside Burj Al-Muluk.
Among them was an 11-year-old boy in critical condition after he sustained shrapnel injuries and a head wound, Kalakesh told AFP.
Hezbollah said it launched “dozens of Katyusha rockets” on Dafna, an area in Israel’s north that the group said it was targeting for the first time, “in response to the attack on civilians.”
Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said they also fired a rocket salvo from south Lebanon toward an Israeli military position in the Upper Galilee “in response to the Zionist massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip.”
Later on Saturday, the Iran-backed Hezbollah said it also had launched “explosive-laden drones” targeting “artillery and missile positions” and Israeli troops at a site in the Golan Heights as well as Iron Dome platforms.
Before the drone attack, the Israeli army said a total of 45 “projectiles” had been fired from Lebanon Saturday afternoon, toward the occupied Golan Heights and the Galilee, reporting no casualties.
The army said it struck “the launcher in southern Lebanon from which the projectiles were launched toward the Golan Heights,” also targeting “an additional Hezbollah launcher.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had warned that his Iran-backed group would hit new targets in Israel if more civilians were killed in Israeli strikes.
Israeli strikes on Thursday killed at least five people in Lebanon, including the commander of a Hamas-allied group, a security source and militant groups said.
The violence since October has killed at least 515 people in Lebanon, according to an AFP tally.
Most of the dead have been fighters, but they have included at least 104 civilians.
On the Israeli side, 18 soldiers and 13 civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.