Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to a ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable and some not

Palestinian sit at a makeshift home, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, on June 12, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 13 June 2024
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Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to a ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable and some not

  • Without spelling out what changes Hamas sought, he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt and the US — will keep trying to “close this deal”
  • The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas

Without spelling out what changes Hamas sought, he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt and the US — will keep trying to “close this deal”

The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that mediators would keep trying to close an elusive ceasefire deal for Gaza after Hamas proposed changes to a US-backed plan, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.
The back-and-forth laid bare frustration over the difficulty of reaching an accord that could end eight months of war that has decimated the territory, killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and left scores of Israeli hostages still languishing in militant captivity. Previous moments of optimism have been repeatedly dashed by the differences between the two sides.
The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas. Blinken did not spell out what changes Hamas sought, but he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt and the US — will keep trying to “close this deal.” He put the onus on Hamas, accusing it of changing its demands.
“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table. ... Some of the changes are workable. Some are not,” Blinken told reporters in Qatar. “I believe that they (the differences) are bridgeable, but that doesn’t mean they will be bridged because ultimately Hamas has to decide.”
Blinken’s comments came as Lebanon’s Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into northern Israel to avenge the killing of a top commander, further escalating regional tensions.
Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of Hamas, has traded fire with Israel nearly every day since the Israel-Hamas war began and says it will stop only if there is a truce in Gaza. That has raised fears of an even more devastating regional conflagration.
Air-raid sirens sounded across northern Israel, and the military said about 215 projectiles were fired from southern Lebanon, making it one of the largest attacks since the fighting began. There were no immediate reports of casualties as some rockets were intercepted while others ignited brush fires.
Hamas asks for changes

Hamas conveyed its official reply to the proposal to mediators on Tuesday. Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told the Lebanese news outlet ElNashra that the “amendments” requested by the group aim to guarantee a permanent ceasefire and complete Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza.
The proposal announced by US President Joe Biden includes those provisions, but Hamas has expressed wariness about whether Israel will implement the terms. While the US says Israel has accepted the proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given conflicting statements, saying Israel is still intent on its goal of destroying Hamas.
Blinken, on his eighth visit to the region since the start of the war, said the deal on the table was “virtually identical” to one Hamas put forth on May 6. The UN Security Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan on Monday.
“At some point in a negotiation, and this has gone back and forth for a long time, you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already accepted, you have to question whether they’re proceeding in good faith or not,” he said.
Speaking alongside Blinken, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said there had been “counterproductive” actions by both sides.
The proposal’s three-phase plan would begin with a six-week ceasefire and the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas, and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes. Aid distribution would also increase.
At the same time, negotiations would start over the second phase, which is to bring “a permanent end to hostilities” and “full withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza in exchange for the release of all remaining hostages.
Phase three would see the launch of a reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of remains of deceased hostages.
A major hitch for both sides appears to be the negotiations for the second phase.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said Israel will demand that Hamas be removed from power as part of any agreement on that phase.
“One of our conditions is not only the release of the hostages, it’s also the future of Gaza,” Erdan told CNN’s “The Source” on Monday. “We cannot agree to Hamas continuing to be the rulers of Gaza because then Gaza will continue to pose a threat to Israel.”
He also said Israel opposes a provision extending the initial ceasefire as long as talks are going on, saying it would allow Hamas to “continue with endless and meaningless negotiations.”
Hamas, in turn, appears to want stronger guarantees up front that the talks will lead to the permanent ceasefire and withdrawal.
Netanyahu’s far-right coalition allies have rejected the proposal and threaten to bring down his government if he ends the war leaving Hamas intact. But Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring the hostages back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, have demonstrated in favor of the US-backed plan.
Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed over 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, who do not give the breakdown of civilians and fighters. The war has also driven some 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes, and Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring in humanitarian aid, fueling widespread hunger.
Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. Over 100 hostages were released during a weeklong ceasefire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas is believed to be holding around 80 hostages and the remains of another 40.
Revenge for slain commander
Netanyahu’s office said he was conducting a security assessment in light of Hezbollah’s barrage in the north and what it called Hamas’ “negative response” to the proposal.
Hezbollah said it fired missiles and rockets at two military bases in retaliation for the killing of Taleb Sami Abdullah, 55. Known within Hezbollah as Hajj Abu Taleb, he is the most senior commander killed since the fighting began eight months ago. The Israeli strike late Tuesday destroyed a house where Abdullah and three other officials were meeting, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border.
A Hezbollah official told The Associated Press that Abdullah was in charge of a large part of the Lebanon-Israel front, including the area facing the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, which Hezbollah has repeatedly attacked in recent days, causing fires in the area.
The official, who was not authorized to speak to media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abdullah had joined Hezbollah decades ago and took part in attacks against Israeli forces during their 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000.
Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon have killed over 400 people, most of them Hezbollah members, but the dead also include more than 70 civilians and noncombatants. On the Israeli side, 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed since the war in Gaza began.
Other groups allied with Iran, including powerful militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, have also attacked Israeli, US and other targets since the start of the war, often drawing Western retaliation. In April, Israel and Iran traded fire directly for the first time.
 


Iraq recovers remains of 139 likely Daesh victims from mass grave

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Iraq recovers remains of 139 likely Daesh victims from mass grave

MOSUL: Iraqi authorities have removed the remains of 139 people from a large pit believed to contain victims of Daesh, an official said on Sunday.
The Alo Antar hole — a natural desert feature turned into a mass grave by Daesh extremists — is located in Tal Afar, some 70 kilometers (40 miles) west of Mosul in northern Iraq.
It is not known how many bodies were dumped in the pit, but search efforts for other victims are ongoing.
“We have removed the remains of 139 persons and also human body parts,” said Dia Karim, director of the mass graves department at the Foundation of Martyrs — a government institution tasked with finding mass graves and identifying remains.
“They include women and men,” Karim said, adding that “according to testimonies, the victims date back to Daesh rule” or before when Al-Qaeda was present in the area.
Testimonies also suggest, according to Karim, that “the victims are Yazidis, Shiite Turkmen and security forces personnel from Mosul,” the de facto capital of Daesh’s self-declared “caliphate.”
At its peak, the group ruled over swathes of Syria and Iraq, while its fighters committed beheadings, torture and enslavement, turning life into a living hell and leaving behind many mass graves.
In northern Iraq, they committed some of their worst atrocities against the Yazidis — an ethnic and religious minority — including mass executions and sexual slavery.
Ahmed Assadi from the Foundation of Martyrs said the victims “were not buried but dumped in the hole,” whose full depth ranges between 42 and 12 meters.
“Some of the victims had been shot and others were found with their throats cut,” and several bodies were found in body bags.
Assadi added that some of the clothing found on them indicated that they might have been Yazidis or Turkmen, adding that other bodies were found in orange jumpsuits of the kind typically worn by Daesh hostages.
The bodies recovered from Alo Antar were taken to forensic departments to be identified using DNA testing.
The mass grave was discovered after Iraqi forces retook control of the area in 2017, but the work to recover the bodies only started in May of this year.
Iraqi authorities frequently announce the discovery of mass graves of Daesh victims, as well as those containing Daesh extremists themselves and others dating to the rule of dictator Saddam Hussein, but the identification process is slow, costly and complicated.
The United Nations estimates the extremists left behind more than 200 mass graves which might contain as many as 12,000 bodies.
A similar but much larger sinkhole known as Al-Khasfa in northern Iraq is also thought to contain the bodies of many Daesh victims.
In northern Syria, a 50-meter-deep gorge has been used as a dumping site for dead bodies during and after Daesh rule, according to a 2020 Human Rights Watch report.

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

Updated 9 min 33 sec ago
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UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

  • The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday

DUBAI: The UAE delivered three tonnes of medical supplies and a range of medicines to support the healthcare sector and hospitals still operating in the Gaza Strip, the UAE state news agency reported on Sunday.

The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday.

The medical aid includes medical supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries, insulin for diabetic patients, and other solutions to bolster the healthcare sector during the crisis.

The UAE on Sunday condemned Israel’s attack on refugee camps in Khan Younis, which claimed the lives of 100 people.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday expressed its strongest condemnation and denunciation of what it termed “continued genocidal massacres against the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli war machine.”


US, UK strike Houthi targets in Yemen’s northern Hajjah

Updated 23 min 17 sec ago
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US, UK strike Houthi targets in Yemen’s northern Hajjah

  • Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV said on Sunday that the US and UK “aggression” struck Medi district in Hajjah province

AL-MUKALLA: US and UK forces on Sunday hit a Houthi target in an area of north Yemeni region, while an EU naval operation destroyed a Yemeni militia drone in the Gulf of Aden. 

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV said on Sunday that the US and UK “aggression” struck Medi district in Hajjah province on Sunday, the latest round of strikes by the US and UK against the Houthis in retribution for the militia’s anti-ship operation.

The Houthi TV station did not provide details on the targeted area or any human or property damage.

This comes as the EU military operation in the Red Sea, known as Aspides, said on Sunday that its Greek warship Psara shot down a drone suspected to have been launched by the Houthis in the Gulf of Aden.

The warship was repelling a barrage of Houthi explosive-laden drones aimed at a commercial ship escorted by the EU mission. 

“This operation aims to protect the lives of seafarers, ensure global trade, protect global common goods, uphold freedom of navigation, and contribute to regional peace and security,” the EU naval mission said on X. 

In response to Houthi attacks on ships, which began in November, the US formed a coalition marine task force in the Red Sea, designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization, and launched strikes on Houthi military locations and mobile drone and missile launchers in Hodeidah, Sanaa and other areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthis.

The Houthis claim that their campaign against the ship is solely aimed at targeting Israel-bound ships and those linked to Israel to put pressure on Israel to halt its military operations in the Gaza Strip, as well as targeting US and UK ships after the two countries bombarded Yemeni territory under Houthi control.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s army said its soldiers in the southern city of Taiz repelled a Houthi attack on Saturday, killing and injuring six Houthis, according to SABA, the official news agency. 

In an attempt to take control of more areas in the besieged city of Taiz, the Houthis attacked the army’s mountainous sites in the city’s northeast on Saturday, resulting in fighting that killed two Houthis and injured four more.

The army said the Houthis were compelled to cease their attack and flee after failing to make any military advances. 

Despite a considerable decline in hostilities throughout Yemen since the UN-brokered ceasefire went into effect in April 2022, scores of government troops have been killed or injured in Houthi strikes on positions in Dhale, Taiz, Marib and other disputed districts.

Separately, one Yemeni soldier was killed and another was wounded on Saturday night while battling Al-Qaeda militants in a valley in the southern province of Abyan.

According to media channels funded by the Southern Transitional Council, Al-Qaeda assaulted the council’s soldiers in Abyan’s Omaran Valley with drones and heavy machine guns, killing one soldier and injuring another.

Since late 2022, more than 100 Yemeni soldiers have been killed in Al-Qaeda guerrilla raids as STC forces moved into the militia’s long-held hiding areas in rough and isolated valleys and mountains in Abyan and Shabwa. 


UK Foreign Secretary visits Israel and West Bank and calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza

Updated 14 July 2024
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UK Foreign Secretary visits Israel and West Bank and calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza

  • Lammy met Sunday in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

TEL AVIV: The new British foreign secretary called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Sunday, his second international trip since Labour’s resounding victory in elections earlier this month.
David Lammy said the ongoing war in Gaza is “intolerable” and stressed in meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leadership that Britain wants to assist with diplomatic efforts “securing a ceasefire deal and creating the space for a credible and irreversible pathway toward a two-state solution.”
Lammy met Sunday in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He will meet with Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Monday. During his visit, Lammy will also meet with families of hostages currently being held in Gaza who have ties to the UK He called for the release of all hostages and a dramatic increase in the amount of humanitarian aid entering Gaza.
Lammy demanded Israel halt settlement expansion in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, and said that the Palestinian Authority needs to be “reformed and empowered.”
Both Lammy’s Labour Party and the previous Conservative government initially avoided calling for an immediate ceasefire in the war, using phrases like “humanitarian pause.” But the language has got stronger. Prime Minister Keir Starmer told Netanyahu last week there was a “clear and urgent need for a ceasefire.”
Labour’s stance on the Gaza war cost it votes in this month’s UK election. Although the party won in a landslide, pro-Palestinian independents defeated Labour candidates in several seats with large Muslim populations.
Lammy’s comments came the day after Israel said it had targeted Hamas’ shadowy military commander in a massive strike Saturday in the crowded southern Gaza Strip that killed at least 90 people, including children, according to local health officials.
Top Hamas officials said on Sunday that the negotiations for a possible ceasefire deal had not been halted because of the attack. Hamas also denied that Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif, the target of the strike, was killed and said Israel’s “false claims are merely a cover-up for the scale of the horrific massacre.”
Deif and Hamas’ top official in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, are believed by Israel to be the chief architects of the Oct. 7 attack that killed some 1,200 people in southern Israel and kidnapped 250, triggering the Israel-Hamas war.
Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 38,400 people in Gaza and wounded more than 88,000, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. The ministry does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.


Israeli police kill car-ramming suspect after pedestrians injured

Updated 14 July 2024
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Israeli police kill car-ramming suspect after pedestrians injured

  • Paramedics said two of the injured were in a serious condition

JERUSALEM: Israeli police shot dead a car driver supected of ramming into pedestrians waiting at a bus stop in a town on Sunday and injured four people, a spokesman said.
Police called it a “suspected terrorist attack” and said the driver had been “neutralized” during the incident at Nir Tzvi near the city of Lod, in central Israel.
Video footage widely shared on social media and broadcast on Israeli television showed a white car on the pavement next to a bus shelter and uniformed men firing at the car. Traffic is halted on the major highway.
The four wounded were taken to hospital. Paramedics said two of the injured were in a serious condition, with police saying one of the victims was in a “critical” state.
In a statement released by a first aid group, the paramedic Michelle Rashkovski said, “When we arrived at the scene, we saw a vehicle that had hit pedestrians stopped at a bus shelter. We immediately called additional forces to the scene.”