Hamas says it creates broad prospects for a ceasefire deal in Gaza

The United Nations Security Council adopted a US-drafted resolution supporting a ceasefire plan in Gaza, as Washington leads an intense diplomatic campaign to push Hamas to accept the proposal. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 June 2024
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Hamas says it creates broad prospects for a ceasefire deal in Gaza

  • Hamas submitted its formal response on Tuesday to a proposal outlined by US President Joe Biden on May 31
  • Group says answer “responsible, serious and positive” and “opens up a wide pathway” for an accord

JERUSALEM/CAIRO: Hamas on Wednesday said its “positive” response to a US ceasefire plan for the eight-month-old war in the Gaza Strip opened a “wide pathway” to reach an agreement, but the outlook was uncertain as neither the Palestinian group nor Israel publicly committed to a deal.
Hamas submitted its formal response on Tuesday to a proposal outlined by US President Joe Biden on May 31. Israel said the response was tantamount to a rejection while a Hamas official said the Palestinian group merely reiterated longstanding demands not met by the current plan.
Egypt and Qatar said they had received Hamas’ response but did not disclose the contents.
Early on Wednesday, Izzat Al-Rishq, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, said in a statement the group’s answer was “responsible, serious and positive” and “opens up a wide pathway” for an accord.
Another Hamas official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters on Tuesday the response reaffirmed the movement’s stance that a ceasefire must lead to a permanent end to hostilities in Gaza, withdrawal of Israeli forces, reconstruction of the Palestinian enclave and release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
“We reiterated our previous stance. I believe there are no big gaps. The ball is now in the Israeli courtyard,” the official said.
The United States has said Israel accepted its proposal, but Israel has not publicly stated this. As Israel has continued assaults in central and southern Gaza that are among the bloodiest of the war, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel would not commit to an end of its campaign in Gaza before Hamas is eliminated.
An Israeli official said on Tuesday the country had received Hamas’ answer via the mediators and that Hamas “changed all of the main and most meaningful parameters.”
The Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hamas “has rejected the proposal for a hostage release that was presented by President Biden.”
Earlier a non-Israeli official briefed on the matter, who declined to be identified, said Hamas proposed a new timeline for a permanent ceasefire with Israel and withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, including Rafah.
The UN Security Council on Monday voted in favor of a US resolution supporting the proposal outlined by Biden. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters on Tuesday that Hamas accepted the Security Council resolution and was ready to negotiate over the details of a ceasefire.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Tel Aviv to meet Israeli officials on Tuesday, described the comments by Hamas as a “hopeful sign” but said they were not conclusive.
More important “is the word coming from Gaza and from the Hamas leadership in Gaza. That’s what counts, and that’s what we don’t have yet,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv.

CEASEFIRE PLAN

Biden’s proposal envisages a ceasefire and phased release of Israeli hostages in Gaza in exchange for Palestinians jailed in Israel, ultimately leading to a permanent end to the war. This would be a three-phase plan starting with an initial six-week ceasefire with an Israeli military withdrawal from populated areas of Gaza and the release of some hostages while “a permanent end to hostilities” is negotiated through mediators. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Israeli official’s remarks on Tuesday. Earlier US officials said they were reviewing Hamas’ response, as did Qatar and Egypt.
For months, negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar have been trying to mediate a ceasefire in the enclave of 2.3 million people.
Separately, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday said in a report to the Security Council that Israel’s army and security forces as well as Palestinian militants Hamas and Islamic Jihad killed and maimed children in 2023.
Israel is retaliating against Hamas, which rules Gaza, over an Oct. 7 attack by its militants.
More than 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage by Hamas during the raids, according to Israeli tallies. More than 100 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza.
Israel launched an air, ground and sea assault on the Palestinian territory, killing more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities. Gaza is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis due to widespread hunger, scarcity of essentials, infrastructure destruction and continuing displacement of civilians.
The US military resumed bringing humanitarian aid into the enclave via a floating pier on Tuesday after a two-day halt due to bad weather, three US officials said.
The pier was out of operation for 10 days for repairs, and briefly re-opened on Saturday. The UN still is not moving aid from the pier to warehouses while it reviews security.


US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog

Updated 14 June 2024
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US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog

WASHINGTON: The US State Department said on Thursday that Washington and its allies were prepared to continue to increase pressure on Iran if Tehran does not cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran has rapidly installed extra uranium-enriching centrifuges at its Fordow site and begun setting up others, a UN nuclear watchdog report said earlier in the day. The State Department said the report showed that Iran aimed to continue expanding its nuclear program “in ways that have no credible peaceful purpose.”


Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military

Updated 38 min 26 sec ago
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Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military

  • Although attacks have caused major disruption to international shipping, casualties have been rare.

DUBAI: Two cruise missiles launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels struck a bulk cargo carrier in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday, severely injuring a sailor who was evacuated by American forces, the US military said.

The Houthis have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November 2023 in attacks they say are in solidarity with Palestinians during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Although this has caused major disruption to international shipping, casualties have been rare.

The M/V Verbena — a Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned, Polish-operated ship — “reported damage and subsequent fires on board. The crew continues to fight the fire. One civilian mariner was severely injured during the attack,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

“Aircraft from USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) medically evacuated the injured mariner to a partner force ship nearby for medical attention,” CENTCOM said.

“This continued reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”

The Houthis on Thursday said they had carried out attacks on three ships within the past 24 hours, including on the Verbena, “in retaliation to the crimes committed against our people in the Gaza Strip, and in response to the American-British aggression against our country.”

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) meanwhile reported an explosion close to a merchant vessel in the Red Sea about 80 nautical miles northwest of Yemen’s Hodeida port, with no damage or casualties.

The Houthis have launched scores of drone and missile attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November.

The first reported fatalities from the attacks on ships occurred in the Gulf of Aden in March.

On Wednesday, the Houthis struck the Tutor, a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier, southwest of Hodeida. They claimed to have used seaborne and aerial drones, and ballistic missiles.

CENTCOM later said the Tutor had been struck by a Houthi “unmanned surface vessel” that “caused severe flooding and damage to the engine room.”


UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
Updated 13 June 2024
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UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

  • Council adopted British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir — a city of 1.8 million people in Sudan’s North Dafur region — by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and an immediate end to fighting in the area.
The 15-member council adopted a British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir, the last big city in the vast, western Darfur region not under RSF control.
War erupted in Sudan in April last year between the Sudanese army (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), creating the world’s largest displacement crisis. Top UN officials have warned that the worsening violence around Al-Fashir threatens to “unleash bloody intercommunal strife throughout Darfur.”


Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

Updated 13 June 2024
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Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

  • The West Bank has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza
  • Troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said

QABATIYA, West Bank: Israeli forces raided a town in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, killing three Palestinians and detaining several others in what the army described as an operation to pre-empt militant attacks.
The West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
During the raid in Qabatiya, troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said. The two Palestinians were killed and witnesses saw the body of one them being lifted out by an armored bulldozer.
A third Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops elsewhere in the town, medical officials said.
There was no immediate claim of the dead men by any armed Palestinian faction. The army described the two killed in the building as “senior terrorists” without elaborating, and added that weapons were seized in the raid.
Several Palestinians were detained by troops, who also “exposed explosives planted into roads which were intended to be used to attack the forces,” the army statement said.
A soldier was wounded during exchanges of fire, it added.


Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA

Updated 13 June 2024
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Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA

  • Tehran is installing more cascades at the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow
  • A cascade is a series of centrifuges, machines used in the process of enriching uranium

VIENNA: Iran is further expanding its nuclear capacities, the UN atomic watchdog said Thursday, one week after the agency’s board of governors passed a resolution criticizing Tehran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA.
The International Atomic Energy Agency informed its members that Tehran told it that it was installing more cascades at the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow, according to a statement sent to AFP.
A diplomatic source deemed this development as “moderate.”
A cascade is a series of centrifuges, machines used in the process of enriching uranium.
The motion brought by Britain, France and Germany — but opposed by China and Russia — at the IAEA’s 35-nation board last week was the first of its kind since November 2022.
The resolution — which Tehran slammed as “hasty and unwise” — came amid an impasse over Iran’s escalating nuclear activities and as Western powers fear Tehran may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, a claim Iran denies.
Although symbolic in nature at this stage, the censure motion aims to raise diplomatic pressure on Iran, with the option to potentially refer the issue to the UN Security Council.
In the past, similar resolutions have prompted Tehran to retaliate by removing surveillance cameras and other equipment from its nuclear facilities and ratcheting up its uranium enrichment activities.
According to the IAEA, Iran is the only non-nuclear weapon state to enrich uranium to the high level of 60 percent — just short of weapons-grade — while it keeps accumulating large uranium stockpiles.
The IAEA has said that Tehran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs.
The Islamic republic has gradually broken away from its commitments under the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015.
The landmark deal provided Iran with relief from Western sanctions in exchange for curbs on its atomic program, but it fell apart after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States under then-president Donald Trump in 2018.
Efforts to revive the deal have so far failed.