Gaza ceasefire plan hangs in balance as US says Hamas seeking changes

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a joint press conference with the Qatari PM Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 12 June 2024

Gaza ceasefire plan hangs in balance as US says Hamas seeking changes

  • The United States has supported Israel’s goal of destroying Hamas after the October 7 attack
  • But US officials believe Hamas has already been degraded and are seeking what they see as more achievable metrics to end the war

DOHA: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Hamas had proposed numerous changes, some unworkable, to a US-backed proposal for a ceasefire with Israel in Gaza, but that mediators were determined to close the gaps.
Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan denied that the Palestinian group had put forward new ideas. Speaking to pan-Arab Al-Araby TV, he reiterated Hamas’ stance that it was Israel that was rejecting proposals and accused the US administration of going along with its close ally to “evade any commitment” to a blueprint for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday many of Hamas’ proposed changes were minor “and not unanticipated” while others differed more substantially from what was outlined in a UN Security Council resolution on Monday backing the plan put forward by US President Joe Biden.
Earlier on Wednesday, Izzat Al-Rishq, from Hamas’ political bureau based outside Gaza, said its formal response to the US proposal was “responsible, serious and positive” and “opens up a wide pathway” for an accord.
Hamas also wants written guarantees from the US on the ceasefire plan, two Egyptian security sources said.
Biden’s proposal envisages a truce and a phased release of Israeli hostages in Gaza in exchange for Palestinians jailed in Israel, ultimately leading to a permanent end to the war.
At a press conference with Qatar’s prime minister in Doha, Blinken said some of the counter-proposals from Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, had sought to amend terms that it had accepted in previous talks.

Months of talks
Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar have tried for months to mediate a ceasefire in the conflict — which has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and devastated the heavily populated enclave — and free the hostages, more than 100 of whom are believed to remain captive in Gaza.
“Hamas could have answered with a single word: Yes,” Blinken said. “Instead, Hamas waited nearly two weeks and then proposed more changes, a number of which go beyond positions that it had previously taken and accepted.”
The US has said Israel has accepted its proposal, but Israel has not publicly stated this.
Blinken said Washington would in coming weeks float ideas for a post-war Gaza administration and rebuilding of the enclave. “We have to have plans for the day after the conflict ends in Gaza, and we need to have them as soon as possible.”
Major powers are intensifying efforts to defuse the conflict in part to prevent it spiralling into a wider Middle East war, with a dangerous flashpoint being the escalating hostilities along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, backed by Iran, fired barrages of rockets at Israel on Wednesday in retaliation for the killing of a senior Hezbollah field commander. Israel said it had in turn attacked the launch sites from the air.
Taleb Abdallah, or Abu Taleb, was the most senior Hezbollah commander killed in the conflict, a security source said, and Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine vowed that the group would expand its operations against Israel.

UN findings on war crimes
The fighting in Gaza began on Oct. 7 when militants led by Hamas burst across the border and killed 1,200 Israelis and took more than 250 hostage, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel’s air and ground war since then has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, displaced most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million, caused widespread hunger and devastated housing and infrastructure.
A UN inquiry found that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes early in the Gaza war, and that Israel’s actions also constituted crimes against humanity because of the immense civilian losses.
The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) produced two parallel reports, one focusing on the Oct. 7 attacks and another on Israel’s response.
Israel, which did not cooperate, dismissed the findings as the result of anti-Israeli bias. Hamas did not immediately comment.
The reports released in Geneva, which cover the period to December, found both sides had committed war crimes including torture; murder or wilful killing; outrages upon personal dignity; and inhuman or cruel treatment.
Evidence gathered by such UN-mandated bodies can form the basis for war crimes prosecutions.
It could be drawn on by the International Criminal Court, where prosecutors last month requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defense minister and three Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes.
Israel continues assaults in Gaza
As diplomats sought a ceasefire deal, Israel continued assaults in central and southern Gaza that are among the bloodiest of the war.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel will not commit to end its campaign before Hamas is eliminated.
Residents said Israeli forces had pounded areas across Gaza on Wednesday as tanks advanced toward the northern part of the city of Rafah, which skirts the Egyptian border.
Palestinian health officials said six people had been killed in an airstrike on Gaza City in the north, and one man had been killed by a tank shell in Rafah.
Footage circulated on social media from Rafah’s “Saudi” neighborhood, which Reuters had not verified, showed swathes of destruction after tanks retreated.
In the central city of Deir Al-Balah, mother-of-two Huda said the displaced had lost hope that the war would end anytime soon. “We lost faith both in our leaders, and in the world,” she told Reuters via a chat app.
“Ceasefire promises by our leaders and the world are like words written in butter at night, they disappear with the first light of day.”

Sudan’s agriculture minister says there is no famine in the country

Updated 53 min 54 sec ago

Sudan’s agriculture minister says there is no famine in the country

  • Sudan has become the world's worst hunger crisis since the outbreak of a war
  • "755,000 citizens are not a significant percentage compared to the total population ... they cannot call that famine," said Abubakr al-Bushra

CAIRO/DUBAI: Sudan’s agriculture minister said there is no famine in the country and cast doubt on UN-backed data that 755,000 are experiencing catastrophic hunger, rejecting the idea of aid agencies overriding cross-border delivery restrictions.
Sudan has become the world’s worst hunger crisis since the outbreak of a war between the Sudanese army, whose head is also Sudan’s head of state, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, who have taken over wide swathes of the country.
“755,000 citizens are not a significant percentage compared to the total population ... they cannot call that famine,” said Abubakr Al-Bushra, in a news conference in Port Sudan, the country’s de facto capital.
Sudan has a population of 50 million.
The army has blocked aid and commerce from entering RSF-controlled areas, while supplies that reach those areas are expensive and frequently stolen, often by RSF soldiers, residents and aid agencies say.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an initiative of UN agencies, regional bodies and aid groups, had in late June said that while half the population were experiencing acute hunger, there were 14 spots across the country at risk of famine.
Famine can be declared if at least 20 percent of the population in an area experience catastrophic hunger, and thresholds on child malnutrition and death from starvation are met
Al-Bushra cast doubt on experts’ ability to measure data in RSF-controlled areas, and said the malnutrition indicators had not yet been determined.
Following the IPC data, an independent committee could declare a famine, potentially triggering Security Council orders overriding army restrictions on which crossings could be used for aid deliveries.
Al-Bushra said the government rejected such orders.
“We reject the opening of our borders by force because that could open the borders with opposing states, borders that the militia controls,” he said, while another official cast such a move as part of a conspiracy against the country.
Aid agencies say Al-Tina, the only crossing authorized by the government into the Darfur region, where most of the famine-risk hotspots are, is inaccessible due to rains. The army says that Adre, the crossing into West Darfur that aid agencies are asking to access, has been used to supply the RSF with weapons.

Netanyahu, Biden meet for tense Gaza ceasefire talks

Updated 7 min 30 sec ago

Netanyahu, Biden meet for tense Gaza ceasefire talks

  • Relations between Biden, Netanyahu strained over Israel’s conduct in war sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks
  • Israeli PM to meet Republican contender Donald Trump on Friday in Florida

WASHINGTON DC: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he was ready to work with Joe Biden for the rest of his presidency, as the two leaders met for the first time at the White House for talks on a Gaza ceasefire.
“I want to thank you for the 50 years of public service and 50 years of support for the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said after they shook hands in the historic setting of the Oval Office.
“And I look forward to discussing with you today and working with you in the months ahead.”
Biden stunned the world Sunday when he announced that he was bowing out of the US presidential election, with Vice President Kamala Harris now set to be the Democratic Party’s candidate.
Netanyahu will also meet Harris separately at the White House, in a reflection of the new political reality that will see Biden as a lame duck president for his remaining six months in office.
The Harris meeting comes amid speculation that if she wins in November it could herald a tougher approach on Israel’s war in Gaza.
Relations between Biden and Netanyahu are tense over Israel’s conduct in the war sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, but the US president has continued strong military and political support.
They have met just three times during his presidency, once in September last year in New York, and then when Biden traveled to Israel after the attacks and hugged Netanyahu on the airport tarmac at Tel Aviv.
The meetings come after Netanyahu vowed “total victory” against Hamas in a fiery speech Wednesday to the US Congress.
Biden and Netanyahu will later meet the families of US hostages held in Gaza.
The White House was surrounded by metal barriers and a heavy police presence, after rowdy protests broke out near the Capitol following Netanyahu’s speech.
Harris on Thursday condemned the “despicable” and “unpatriotic” burning of an American flag by protesters, after attempts by Donald Trump’s Republicans to paint Democrats as pro-Hamas.
In a primetime speech explaining his decision on Sunday to bow out of the US presidential election, Biden made clear that resolving the conflict would remain a top priority.
“I’m going to keep working to end the war on Gaza, bring home all the hostages to bring peace and security to the Middle East and end this war,” the US president said.
A senior US administration official said Wednesday that negotiations on a Gaza deal were in the “closing stages” and that Biden would try to close some “final gaps” with Netanyahu.
Harris has previously been more outspoken about Israel’s conduct of the war, prompting speculation she will shift her policy as presidential nominee.
The US official said there was “no daylight between the president and vice president,” who will meet Netanyahu at 4:30 p.m. (2030 GMT).
Netanyahu will meet Republican contender Donald Trump on Friday at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.
The ex-president on Thursday morning urged Israel to quickly “finish up” its war in Gaza, warning its global image was being tarnished.
Biden has offered Israel steadfast support since October 7.
But the US president has been increasingly critical of Israel over the Palestinian death toll in its offensive in Gaza, and criticized restrictions on the amount of aid getting through to the territory, much of which has been reduced to rubble.
The Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of 1,197 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Out of 251 people taken hostage that day, 111 are still being held inside the Gaza Strip, including 39 who the military says are dead.
More than 39,100 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip since the war began, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza, which does not give details of civilian and militant deaths.
According to the Israeli military 327 soldiers have been killed in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.

Iran releases cargo of oil tanker St. Nikolas, shipping source says

The vessel, M/T St. Nikolas, was laden with 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil destined for Turkiye when it was seized. (File)
Updated 25 July 2024

Iran releases cargo of oil tanker St. Nikolas, shipping source says

  • The cargo was transferred onto the Turkiye-flagged tanker T. Semahat earlier this week via a ship-to-ship transfer near Iran’s Larak Island
  • Iran seized the tanker in January in retaliation for the confiscation last year of the same vessel and its oil by the US

ATHENS: Iran has released the oil cargo of a Greek-owned, Marshall-Islands-flagged tanker it seized in the Gulf of Oman earlier this year, a shipping source told Reuters on Thursday.
The vessel, M/T St. Nikolas, is still being held by Iran, the source added. It was laden with 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil destined for Turkiye when it was seized.
“The cargo was released earlier this week after negotiations,” the source said.
The cargo was transferred onto the Turkiye-flagged tanker T. Semahat earlier this week via a ship-to-ship transfer near Iran’s Larak Island, said Claire Jungman, chief of staff at US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which tracks Iran-related tanker traffic via satellite data.
T.Semahat’s Turkiye-based operator Ditas, which is majority-owned by Turkish refiner Tupras, was not immediately available for comment.
The vessel had the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates as its destination and was sailing away from Iran on Thursday, LSEG shipping data showed.
LSEG data also showed T.Semahat had reached Larak Island earlier on July 21 and left that area close to being fully loaded with oil.
Iran seized the tanker in January in retaliation for the confiscation last year of the same vessel and its oil by the US, Iranian state media had reported at the time.
Iran’s foreign and oil ministries were not immediately available to comment.

Yemen airline resumes Sanaa-Jordan flights, banks rejoin global network under new deal

Updated 25 July 2024

Yemen airline resumes Sanaa-Jordan flights, banks rejoin global network under new deal

  • Yemenia said in a statement that three flights were scheduled to leave Sanaa airport for Amman on Thursday
  • Militia leader warns of ‘escalation’ after Hodeidah airstrikes as US launches raids on missile sites

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s national airline resumed flights from the Houthi-held city of Sanaa to Jordan on Thursday, while the international banking transfer system reconnected Sanaa banks to its network after an agreement was implemented between the Yemeni government and the militia.

Yemenia Airways said in a statement that three flights were scheduled to leave Sanaa airport for Amman on Thursday, and that it was seeking permits for flights from the same airport to Egypt and India. 

On Monday, the Yemeni government and the Houthis agreed to lift economic sanctions on banks and allow Yemenia Airways to increase its daily flights from Sanaa to Amman from one to three.

The agreement also allows the airline to arrange more flights to Cairo and Mumbai, and to organize meetings to resolve its difficulties. 

Last month, the Houthis seized three Yemeni aircraft at Sanaa airport, disrupting flights to Amman and stranding hundreds of Yemeni pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

The militia attempted to put pressure on the Yemeni government to reverse its decision for Yemenia to transfer its headquarters to the harbor city of Aden, Yemen’s temporary capital, and to stop selling tickets in Houthi-controlled regions.

Meanwhile, the Houthi official news agency reported on Wednesday that SWIFT had told Sanaa banks it had reconnected them to its system after the Yemeni government lifted punitive economic measures.

The Aden-based central bank revoked the licenses of six banks in Sanaa earlier this month for failing to comply with a directive to relocate their offices from Aden.

The Houthis also said their central bank had relaxed restrictions against financial institutions in government-controlled cities.

Meanwhile, US Central Command on Thursday said that two Houthi missiles had been destroyed on launchers in an area of Yemen held by the militia.

This came a day after the US military announced it had targeted a Houthi-held area to destroy three missile launchers. 

Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship, sunk two more, and launched hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones, and drone boats at commercial and naval ships in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean in what it claims are actions in support of the Palestinian people and to force Israel to cease military operations in the Gaza Strip.

On Thursday, the militia’s leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, pledged to respond to Israeli attacks on the Houthi-held western city of Hodeidah by initiating strikes on Israeli towns and attacking Israeli ships. 

“Our military operations will continue in the seas and deep into Palestine, and the attacks on our country will not stop us from escalating,” Al-Houthi said. 

Gaza casualty figures in war’s early stage accurate: Study

Updated 25 July 2024

Gaza casualty figures in war’s early stage accurate: Study

  • Independent group Airwars says its research backs up death toll compiled by enclave’s Health Ministry in first 17 days
  • ‘We have, per incident, more people dying than we’ve seen in any other campaign’

LONDON: The Gaza Health Ministry’s casualty figures in the first 17 days of Israel’s assault on the enclave were accurate, a new study has found.

British group Airwars said the Hamas-run ministry had identified 7,000 people in the first few weeks of the conflict killed by Israeli strikes.

It added that its own research, which assessed 350 incidents, had identified 3,000 casualties in the period in question, 75 percent of whom were also identified by the ministry, leading it to believe that the authorities’ reporting was likely to be largely accurate.

Airwars, which works to independently verify the effects of conflicts on civilians, said it used a methodology it also deployed to assess figures from conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Libya and elsewhere.

It added that there had been far more than 350 incidents in the period in question, and that it would continue to study the conflict, but said it believed that statistics in Gaza had become less accurate as the war dragged on, with widespread destruction in the territory hampering local authorities’ ability to do their jobs.

Emily Tripp, the group’s director, said the rate at which people had died in the conflict’s preliminary stages had stood out.

“We have, per incident, more people dying than we’ve seen in any other campaign,” she told the New York Times. “The intensity is greater than anything else we’ve documented.”

Numerous other international groups and experts have also said the ministry’s data was initially accurate.

Mike Spagat, a professor at Royal Holloway College, University of London, who reviewed Airwars’ findings, told the NYT that the group’s figures “capture a large fraction of the underlying reality” of what Gaza’s authorities reported in the early days of the war.

A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins in the US also found no evidence that the ministry’s data was significantly wrong up until early November. 

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who analyzed ID numbers from the ministry’s data compiled throughout October, found “no obvious reason” to query it.

But in December, Gaza’s authorities, citing the collapse of infrastructure in the enclave including at hospitals and morgues, announced that they would begin relying on “reliable media sources” for figures on casualties as well as what information could be gleaned on the ground.

The ministry’s most recent figures state that at least 39,000 people have been killed since Israel began its invasion in October. 

Israel has frequently queried the ministry’s figures based on its proximity to Hamas. Doubts have also been echoed by Israeli allies in the West, with US President Joe Biden at one stage saying he had “no confidence in the number (of deaths) that the Palestinians are using.” US officials have subsequently said the data is more accurate than initially believed to be.