Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable

A Palestinian walks among the rubble of damaged buildings, which were destroyed during Israel’s military offensive, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, June 12, 2024. (REUTERS)
Short Url
Updated 13 June 2024
Follow

Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable

  • US secretary says said the mediators will keep trying to “close this deal
  • Ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel, 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.


Arab Parliament speaker in Washington to discuss key issues with World Bank chief

Updated 8 sec ago
Follow

Arab Parliament speaker in Washington to discuss key issues with World Bank chief

  • Al-Asoumi will also talk about the role that the World Bank can play in development and humanitarian issues

CAIRO: Arab Parliament Speaker Adel Abdulrahman Al-Asoumi will discuss the challenges faced by women and children in the occupied Palestinian territories with President of the World Bank Ajay Banga during a visit to Washington DC.

Al-Asoumi will also talk about the role that the World Bank can play in development and humanitarian issues.

Al-Asoumi, who arrived in the US at the invitation of the World Bank president, will also discuss ways for the bank to support development projects in the Arab world.

The visit’s agenda includes extensive meetings with World Bank officials, a number of executive directors, heads of various sectors, and representatives of Arab countries at the World Bank.

The visit will conclude with an expanded meeting of the Arab Parliament delegation, with the World Bank chief to put the final touches on a joint action plan between the two parties, especially those related to women, youth and children.


Israeli army attacks kill five Lebanese in 24 hours, including two women

Updated 16 July 2024
Follow

Israeli army attacks kill five Lebanese in 24 hours, including two women

  • Hezbollah responds by shelling Kiryat Shmona; warns of ‘severe response’ if Israel launches large-scale war in Lebanon
  • A Hezbollah member and his 2 sisters died on Monday night in an attack on their home, and 2 people on a motorcycle were killed on Tuesday by a drone attack

BEIRUT: Israel continued to target Hezbollah members on Tuesday with attacks by combat drones, less than 24 hours after a member of the party and his two sisters were killed in an air assault on their home in the town of Bint Jbeil.

On Tuesday afternoon, an Israeli drone launched a missile at a motorcycle on the Khardali road, a strategic route connecting the Nabatieh area to Marjayoun, killing two people.

An eyewitness said: “The motorcycle was carrying two persons, and when several citizens tried to approach the targeted motorcycle, it was subjected to a second airstrike with a guided missile.”

On Monday evening, Israeli warplanes had conducted intense raids on the towns of Bint Jbeil, Kfarkela, Mays Al-Jabal and Marwahin, destroying several homes and causing significant damage.

One of the strikes hit the home of Amer Jamil Dagher and his sisters, Taghreed and Fawzia, in Bint Jbeil, destroying it and killing all three, who were said to be in their 40s and 50s.

Hezbollah mourned their deaths and they were buried on Tuesday afternoon in their hometown, 18 people from which have been killed since fighting in southern Lebanon began on Oct. 8.

The Israeli army said it had “targeted Hezbollah infrastructure in several areas in southern Lebanon on Monday night to eliminate threats.”

Hezbollah said it responded to the attacks by “shelling the Kiryat Shmona settlement with dozens of Falaq and Katyusha rockets.”

Meanwhile, Israeli forces also shelled the outskirts of Deir Mimas and the town of Yohmor Al-Shaqif, along the Litani River.

Lebanese Civil Defense teams and paramedics from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement reportedly worked through the night fighting fires in forests alongside the river caused by Israeli phosphorus shells.

Hezbollah said it had targeted a “gathering of Israeli enemy soldiers around the Pranit barracks opposite the Lebanese border town of Rmeish,” “spy equipment at the Al-Raheb site” and “Al-Samaqa site in the occupied Kfarchouba hills.”

MP Mohammed Raad, the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, threatened Israel with “a severe response if the Israeli army launches a large-scale war in Lebanon.”

He added: “The Israeli army knows this. We know the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, and it knows we know its weaknesses.”

Raad urged the “enemy to stop its evil against Lebanon and Gaza; we are ready to cease fire on the Lebanese front if the aggression on Gaza stops and the enemy will comply with this.”


Israeli drone strike along Lebanon-Syria border kills Syrian businessman close to the government

Updated 16 July 2024
Follow

Israeli drone strike along Lebanon-Syria border kills Syrian businessman close to the government

  • Mohammed Baraa Katerji was killed when a drone strike hit his car near the area of Saboura, a few kilometers inside Syria
  • Strike came as Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group have been exchanging fire on an almost daily basis since early October

BEIRUT: An Israeli drone strike on a car Monday near the Lebanon-Syria border killed a prominent Syrian businessman who was sanctioned by the United States and had close ties to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to pro-government media and an official from an Iran-backed group.
Mohammed Baraa Katerji was killed when a drone strike hit his car near the area of Saboura, a few kilometers or miles inside Syria after apparently crossing from Lebanon. Israel’s air force has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in recent years, mainly targeting members of Iran-backed groups and Syria’s military. But it has been rare to hit personalities from within the government.
The strike also came as Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group have been exchanging fire on an almost daily basis since early October, after the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
An official from an Iran-backed group said that Katerji was killed instantly while in his SUV on the highway linking Lebanon with Syria. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
The pro-government Al-Watan daily quoted unnamed “sources” as saying that Katerji, 48, was killed in a “Zionist drone strike on his car.” It gave no further details.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based opposition war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that Katerji was killed while in a car with Lebanese license plates, adding that he was apparently targeted because he used to fund the “Syrian resistance” against Israel in the Golan Heights, as well as his links to Iran-backed groups in Syria.
Israel, which has vowed to stop Iranian entrenchment in its northern neighbor, has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets in government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years, but it rarely acknowledges them.
The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, sanctioned Katerji in 2018 as Assad’s middleman to trade oil with the Daesh group and for facilitating weapons shipments from Iraq to Syria.
The US Treasury declined Associated Press requests for comment. The sanctions imposed on Katerji were authorized under an Obama-era executive order issued in 2011 that prohibits certain transactions with Syria. A search of the OFAC database indicates that the sanctions were still in effect against Katerji and his firm at the time of his death.
OFAC said in 2018 that Katerji was responsible for import and export activities in Syria and assisted with transporting weapons and ammunition under the pretext of importing and exporting food items. These shipments were overseen by the US­ designated Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, according to OFAC.
It added that the Syria-based Katerji Company is a trucking company that has also shipped weapons from Iraq to Syria. Additionally, in a 2016 trade deal between the government of Syria and IS, the Katerji Company was identified as the exclusive agent for providing supplies to IS-controlled areas, including oil and other commodities.
Katerji and his brother, Hussam — widely referred to in Syria as the “Katerji brothers” — got involved in oil business a few years after the country’s conflict began in March 2011. Hussam Katerji is a former member of Syria’s parliament.


US military destroys 5 Houthi drones amid escalating ship attacks

Updated 16 July 2024
Follow

US military destroys 5 Houthi drones amid escalating ship attacks

  • Centcom: It was determined these UAVs presented an imminent threat to US, coalition forces and merchant vessels in the region
  • Houthis also fired an explosive and remotely controlled boat at the MT Chios Lion, a Greek-operated, Marshall Islands-owned, crude oil tanker

AL-MUKALLA: US naval forces in the Red Sea destroyed a barrage of drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis as the militia increased drone, boat and missile strikes on ships in international commercial channels.

The US military said in a statement on Tuesday that its forces intercepted three Houthi unmanned aerial vehicles over the Red Sea and two more over Houthi-held areas of war-torn Yemen during the past 24 hours, all of which were aimed against international commercial and navy ships.

“It was determined these UAVs presented an imminent threat to US, coalition forces and merchant vessels in the region. These actions were taken to protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure,” US Central Command said on X.

During the last 24 hours, the Houthis targeted a Panama-flagged, Israel-owned, Monaco-operated tanker vessel, MT Bentley I, which was transporting vegetable oil from Russia to China. The militia deployed three surface ships, one explosive-laden drone boat and two small boats, causing no damage to the ship or casualties, according to the US military.

The Houthis subsequently launched a ballistic missile from Yemeni territory toward the same ship in the Red Sea.

The Houthis also fired an explosive and remotely controlled boat at the MT Chios Lion, a Greek-operated, Marshall Islands-owned crude oil tanker operating under the Liberian flag in the Red Sea, inflicting damage to the ship but no reported casualties.

The US statement came hours after Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea claimed in a televised statement that the militia’s naval, drone and missile forces launched a joint attack against MT Bentley I in the Red Sea, and struck the Chios Lion oil tanker ship with a drone boat.

The two ships were targeted because their owners defied the militia’s warnings against traveling to Israeli ports.

Sarea said that a third operation was carried out with the assistance of the Iraqi Islamic Resistance, targeting the Olvia ship in the Mediterranean.

Olvia was recognized by ship monitoring apps as a crude oil tanker flying the Cyprus flag when it left the Israeli port of Haifa on Saturday.

Since November, the Houthis have fired hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and drone boats at more than 100 ships on international trade routes near Yemen, forcing major commercial firms to divert ships away from the Red Sea and on to longer and more costly routes via Africa.

The Houthis maintain that they solely strike Israeli-linked and Israeli-bound ships to put pressure on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. Critics say that the Houthis are using Yemenis’ fury over Israel’s war in Gaza to silence vocal voices calling for salary payments and public service improvements, as well as to recruit fighters.

On Tuesday, Houthi militia leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi promised to keep striking ships until Israel stops its war in Gaza.

“Our missile and naval operations will continue and expand until the aggression ends and the Israeli embargo on Gaza is removed,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s internationally recognized government reiterated on Tuesday its request for international groups to shift their offices from Houthi-held Sanaa to the southern city of Aden, Yemen’s temporary capital.

Rashad Al-Alimi, chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council, demanded during a meeting with US Ambassador to Yemen Steven Fagin that international donors fulfill their commitments to the humanitarian response plan in Yemen and that international organizations relocate their main offices to Aden after the Houthis kidnapped dozens of aid workers in Sanaa.

Yemeni Minister of Interior Ibrahim Haidan reiterated the same request during a meeting with Mahmoud Salah, head of the Foreign Committee of the Red Cross mission in Aden on Tuesday.


Israeli military to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox seminary students next week

Updated 16 July 2024
Follow

Israeli military to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox seminary students next week

  • In June, Israel’s Supreme Court mandated the government to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military will next week begin issuing military draft summons to ultra-Orthodox seminary students who were previously exempt from military service, the military said on Tuesday.
The issue is especially sensitive amid the war against Hamas in Gaza and related fighting on other fronts that have caused the worst Israeli casualties — mostly among secular draftees and reservists — in decades.
In June, Israel’s Supreme Court mandated the government to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students into the military, creating new political strains for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
An Israeli military statement said that starting next Sunday “the process of issuing initial summons orders for the first call-up” ahead of the upcoming July recruitment cycle would commence.
Netanyahu’s coalition includes two ultra-Orthodox parties that regard the exemptions as key to keeping their constituents in religious seminaries and away from a melting-pot military that might test their conservative values.
The issue has prompted protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up 13 percent of Israel’s 10 million population — a figure expected to reach 19 percent by 2035. Their refusal to serve in wars they generally support is a long festering schism in Israeli society.
Israel’s 21 percent Arab minority is also largely exempted from the draft, under which men and women are generally called up at the age of 18, with men serving 32 months and women 24 months.