Israel defense chief to discuss Gaza, Lebanon on US trip

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks during his meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (not pictured) at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2024. (Reuters)
Updated 23 June 2024
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Israel defense chief to discuss Gaza, Lebanon on US trip

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant headed to Washington on Sunday to discuss the next phase of the Gaza war and escalating hostilities on the border with Lebanon, where exchanges of fire with Hezbollah have stoked fears of wider conflict.
Iran-backed Hezbollah has been trading fire with Israel since the Gaza war erupted more than eight months ago. The group has said it will not stop until there is a ceasefire in Gaza.
“We are prepared for any action that may be required in Gaza, Lebanon, and in more areas,” Gallant said in a statement before setting off to Washington, where he said he will meet his counterpart Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Earlier in June, Hezbollah targeted Israeli towns and military sites with the largest volleys of rockets and drones in the hostilities so far, after an Israeli strike killed the most senior Hezbollah commander yet.
US envoy Amos Hochstein visited Israel and Lebanon last week in an attempt to cool tensions, amid an uptick in cross-border fire and an escalation in rhetoric on both sides.
Some Israeli officials have linked the ongoing Israeli push into Rafah, the southern area of Gaza where it says it is targeting the last battalions of militant Islamist group Hamas, to a potential focus on Lebanon.
Gallant appeared to make the same link in his statement.
“The transition to Phase C in Gaza is of great importance. I will discuss this transition with US officials, how it may enable additional things and I know that we will achieve close cooperation with the US on this issue as well,” Gallant said.
Scaling back Gaza operations would free up forces to take on Hezbollah, were Israel to launch a ground offensive or step up its aerial bombardments.
Officials have described the third and last phase of Israel’s Gaza offensive as winding down fighting while stepping up efforts to stabilize a post-Hamas rule and begin reconstruction in the enclave, much of which has been laid to waste.
Gallant, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has sparred with the premier in the past few months, calling for a clearer post-war plan for Gaza that will not leave Israel in charge, a demand echoed by the White House.
Netanyahu has been walking a tightrope as he seeks to keep his government together by balancing the demands of the defense establishment, including ex-generals like Gallant, and far-right coalition partners who have resisted any post-Gaza strategy that could open the way to a future Palestinian state.
The head of Israel’s parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Yuli Edelstein, told Army Radio on Sunday that fighting Hezbollah would be complex either way, now or later.
“We are not in the right position to conduct fighting on both the southern front and the northern front. We will have to deploy differently in the south in order to fight in the north,” said Edelstein, also a Likud member.
Edelstein criticized a video by Netanyahu released last week in which the prime minister said the Biden administration was “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.” The video led to a spat with the White House.
President Joe Biden’s administration paused a shipment of 2,000 pound and 500-pound bombs in May over concerns about their impact if used in densely-populated areas of Gaza. Israel was still due to get billions of dollars worth of US weaponry.
“I hope that in the discussions behind closed doors much more will be achieved than by attempts to create pressure with videos,” Edelstein said, referring to Gallant’s trip.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The offensive has killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population of the enclave homeless and destitute.


PM Sharif directs Pakistan’s tax authority to bring ‘wealthy’ citizens into tax net

Updated 26 min 48 sec ago
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PM Sharif directs Pakistan’s tax authority to bring ‘wealthy’ citizens into tax net

  • Sharif chairs important meeting on reforms in Pakistan’s tax agency, Federal Board of Revenue
  • Pakistani PM says FBR reforms to enhance country’s revenue, says tax refund system will be improved

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday tasked the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to increase its revenues by speeding up reforms, bringing “wealthy” people into the tax net and avoiding putting additional burden on the poor, as Islamabad seeks to enhance its revenues and avoid putting pressure on the poor. 
Pakistan last month passed a tax-heavy budget with an ambitious tax revenue target of 13 trillion rupees ($47 billion) for fiscal year 2025, a near 40 percent jump from the last fiscal year. The budget was instrumental in convincing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to enter into a $7 billion loan program with Pakistan. 
Pakistan’s opposition parties and government allies have criticized the tax-heavy budget, accusing authorities of overburdening the poor with taxes. PM Sharif’s government has vowed to carry out gradual fiscal consolidation, broaden Pakistan’s existing tax base and improve tax administration and debt sustainability while protecting the vulnerable.
The Pakistani prime minister chaired a meeting related to the FBR’s reforms and digitization in Islamabad on Thursday where he was informed that 4.9 million people who can afford taxes have been identified through modern technology. 
“The prime minister instructed to bring the wealthy and well-off people among these 4.9 million individuals to the tax net on a preferential basis and no additional burden should be put on the poor,” state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said. 
During the meeting, the Pakistani prime minister noted that the FBR had unearthed a fraud of Rs800 billion in tax refunds during the last four months, saying it reflected “positive results” by the authority. 
Sharif said the country’s tax refund system will be further improved, adding that reforms in the FBR can enhance the country’s revenue. 
“The Prime Minister said that the unnecessary delay in implementing several projects regarding the reforms in FBR is regrettable,” Radio Pakistan said. 
Sharif was told that the FBR’s trader-friendly mobile application has registered 150,000 retailers since April 1, 2024. He urged authorities to continue consultations with retailers to make this system more effective.


Netanyahu blocks minister’s order to build hospital for Gaza children

Palestinian children sit on the balcony of their house which was heavily damaged by Israeli bombardment.
Updated 24 min 20 sec ago
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Netanyahu blocks minister’s order to build hospital for Gaza children

  • Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced this week that he had ordered the building of a “temporary hospital” in Israel to treat sick children from Gaza
  • PM’s office announced suddenly on Thursday that Netanyahu “does not approve the establishment of a hospital for Gazans within Israeli territory”

JERUSALEM: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday overruled an order by his defense minister to build a field hospital in Israel to treat sick Gaza children, officials said.
The decision was a new sign of divisions within Netanyahu’s ruling coalition over its handling of the war in Gaza in the face of persistent international criticism of the high civilian toll.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced this week that he had ordered the building of a “temporary hospital” in Israel to treat sick children from Gaza.
Gallant discussed the project in a call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a government statement said Wednesday.
Reports said the hospital would be built close to Israel’s border with Gaza to help children suffering from cancer, diabetes and other illnesses who could not get treatment in the Palestinian territory.
But the prime minister’s office announced suddenly on Thursday that Netanyahu “does not approve the establishment of a hospital for Gazans within Israeli territory — therefore, it will not be established.”
An Israeli official told AFP the defense ministry first asked the prime minister’s office two weeks ago “to speed up the evacuation of patients, especially sick children,” from Gaza.
“No response was received, so the minister issued an order to the army to establish a field hospital within Israeli territory as an immediate solution for sick children.
“The prime minister canceled the order and, for political reasons, blocked a humanitarian solution,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Gallant and Netanyahu are longtime rivals. In March last year, the prime minister sacked his minister, a fomer general, after he spoke out against judicial reforms. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets and Netanyahu revoked his decision.


Body found, 9 men rescued in search for missing tanker crew off Oman

Updated 54 min 10 sec ago
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Body found, 9 men rescued in search for missing tanker crew off Oman

  • Six remaining crew from the Yemeni-bound and Comoros-flagged Prestige Falcon are still missing
  • Omani vessels and personnel, as well as an Indian Navy warship, joined the search

AL-MUKALLA: Nine crewmen from an oil tanker that capsized off Oman have been rescued and a body recovered, the Omani maritime agency said on Thursday.  

In a post on X, the Omani Marine Security Center said the rescued sailors, eight Indians and one Sri Lankan, are in “good health” and receiving medical attention.

Six remaining crew from the Yemeni-bound and Comoros-flagged Prestige Falcon are still missing after the tanker capsized 25 nautical miles southeast of Ras Madrakah, near the Omani port town of Duqm, on Monday.

“Search-and-rescue efforts are still ongoing to locate the remaining missing crew members,” the Omani center said.

Omani vessels and personnel, as well as an Indian Navy warship, joined the search.

The Omani Ministry of Transport, Communications, and Information Technology said in a statement on Wednesday that the Prestige Falcon “almost completely” sank, and that the cause of the incident is being investigated.

The ministry said that it has prioritized rescuing the missing crewmen, followed by righting the ship and dealing with any environmental hazards. 

This comes as Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi repeated threats on Thursday to continue attacks in the busy shipping lanes despite a recent strike that resulted in an oil spill in the Red Sea.

Al-Houthi said that 25 ballistic missiles, drones, and drone boats have been launched at ships in the past seven days alone.

He claimed that the militia attacks on 170 ships since November have left the Israeli port of Eilat facing bankruptcy, and forced the US aircraft carrier Eisenhower to “flee” the Red Sea.

“Operations at sea have a significant influence on American commercial activity, the economic position in America and Britain, and the Israeli enemy,” Al-Houthi said.

Environmentalists say that a leak from a tanker targeted by the Houthis in the Red Sea has resulted in a 200 km slick moving south, threatening the area’s already fragile ecosystem.

Wim Zwijnenburg, of the Humanitarian Disarmament Project at Dutch peace organization PAX, told Arab News that diesel from the ship’s engine is spreading to a marine conservation area near Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Island and Eritrea’s Dahlak archipelago.

“The Red Sea is home to various protected species, including turtles, sharks, and fish such as the coral grouper. But there are also indications that both pollution and climate change are affecting coastal fishing communities and coral reefs,” he said.

“This conflict-linked oil spill is just a sad continuation of further degradation of the unique ecosystems in the Red Sea.”

On Monday, a Houthi drone boat struck and damaged the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Chios Lion northwest of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah.

Since November, the Houthis have attacked ships in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean, claiming to be acting in support of the Palestinian people and to force Israel to cease its war in Gaza.

In response, the US launched retaliatory strikes on Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and branded the militia a terrorist group.

Houthi media said on Thursday that US and UK forces carried out three airstrikes on Hodeidah city airport in the western province of Hodeidah.


Pakistani religious party vows to continue pro-Palestine sit-in protest until demands are met

Updated 18 July 2024
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Pakistani religious party vows to continue pro-Palestine sit-in protest until demands are met

  • Thousands of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan supporters remain camped at Faizabad Interchange connecting Islamabad, Rawalpindi since last week 
  • TLP protesters demand Pakistan government officially boycott Israeli products, send aid to Gaza and declare Israeli PM a “terrorist”

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani religious party on Thursday vowed to continue its large pro-Palestine sit-in protest at a key junction connecting the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi until its demands are not met, as residents suffer traffic disruption. 
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), known for its hard-line stance on blasphemy laws, has previously staged sit-ins at the Faizabad Interchange. The presence of large numbers of protesters in the area significantly disrupts traffic, forcing drivers to take longer, alternative routes between the two cities.
The TLP workers, led by their young leader Saad Rizvi, took out a protest rally from Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi to Faizabad last Saturday before deciding to set up a protest camp at the interchange.
The TLP has asked the government to officially boycott Israeli products and send food and medical aid to Palestinians suffering Israel’s relentless military campaign in Gaza. They have also called on Pakistan’s government to declare Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “terrorist.”
“We are engaged with the government regarding our demands for the people of Palestine but no agreement has been reached yet,” Sajjad Saifi, a member of the TLP’s Shoura or consultative council, told Arab News over the phone.
“We will continue our dharna [sit-in] till all three of our demands are fully met.”
Saifi said TLP chief Rizvi was leading the party’s protest, adding that over 50,000 of their supporters were camped at the Faizabad Interchange. 
“If the government accepts our demands, it will earn a huge respect in the Muslim world,” he said.
Israel’s war on Gaza has so far claimed at least 39,000 lives, many of them women and children. The casualties have sparked anger and protests worldwide, including in Pakistan, where the country’s civil society and political factions have consistently led pro-Palestine rallies. 
When asked why the party decided to stage a sit-in protest nine months into the war, Saifi said the TLP had mobilized the public since October last year through rallies across Pakistan. 
 “Tens of thousands of our supporters have been waiting for the leadership’s call to join the dharna in Islamabad,” he said. 
“We are doing it for a cause, for the people of Palestine. We don’t have any political agenda to achieve through this dharna.”
The large number of protesters at the Faizabad Interchange have effectively blocked the Islamabad Expressway, causing difficulty for commuters and creating gridlocks in the area.
When asked about the protest and the inconvenience being caused to the public, Information Minister Attaullah Tara said: 
“Don’t worry, we are on it.”
‘STATE HAS SURRENDERED’
Political analysts called on the government to initiate strict action against the outfit to disperse them from the interchange. 
“Freedom of movement is a basic right of the public, therefore the government and the Supreme Court should take notice of the dharna and initiate measures to disperse the protesters,” political analyst Adnan Rehmat told Arab News. 
“If the government fails to initiate action against the TLP, it clearly means the state has surrendered before the outfit that doesn’t believe in any law and the constitution.”
Political science professor Rasul Bakhsh Rais agreed. 
“There is no rationale behind the TLP’s sit-in as Pakistan has already dispatched food and medicines to the people of Gaza,” Rais told Arab News. “It is unfortunate the government is silent over the mess and taking no steps to disperse them.”


British foreign secretary’s concern over former PM Johnson’s meeting with US presidential hopeful Trump

Updated 18 July 2024
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British foreign secretary’s concern over former PM Johnson’s meeting with US presidential hopeful Trump

  • Lammy admitted to LBC presenter Tom Swarbrick that he had not been aware the meeting was taking place

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary David Lammy expressed his concern on Thursday about a meeting between former UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Speaking on the LBC radio morning show, Lammy admitted to presenter Tom Swarbrick that he had not been aware the meeting was taking place.

Johnson posted a picture on social media of him meeting Trump at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, after which he said the former president was “on top form” and that they had discussed the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The foreign secretary was asked if Johnson had followed protocol by informing the UK Foreign Office of his meeting with Trump, to which Lammy replied: “I’m not sure that Boris Johnson consults either Keir Starmer or us on his plans. And I certainly didn’t know.”

Lammy refused to be drawn when pressed by Swarbrick on whether the meeting went against “UK national interests” or not.

“The record will show that I had a friendship with Barack Obama, prior to him becoming president of the United States of America, and about a year or so into office, he was dealing with David Cameron (as prime minister),” he said.

“I would never have done anything to prejudice the UK national interests at that time. So the point you’re making is a serious one. I would hope that all former prime ministers would act in the UK national interests and not cut across us, particularly two weeks into office.

“You know, I’m not interested, actually, in the past. I’m interested in the future.”