Israel defense chief to discuss Gaza, Lebanon on US trip

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

  • “We are prepared for any action that may be required in Gaza, Lebanon, and in more areas,” Gallant said
  • US envoy Amos Hochstein visited Israel and Lebanon last week in an attempt to cool tensions

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 began attacking Israel shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault sparked the war in Gaza, and the sides have been trading blows in the months since then. Hezbollah 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 would 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. An Israeli soldier was severely wounded on Sunday by a drone strike, the military said.
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 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, if Israel were to launch a ground offensive or step up its aerial bombardments.
Post-war plan
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.


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

Updated 18 sec ago
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Body found, 9 men rescued in search for missing tanker crew off Oman

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.


Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

Updated 18 July 2024
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Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

  • Resolution is symbolic but lays down marker before Netanyahu’s Washington trip
  • Palestinian state would cause existential danger to Israel and its citizens, says resolution

JERUSALEM: An Israeli parliament vote to oppose a Palestinian state as an “existential threat,” just days ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, brought Palestinian and international criticism on Thursday.
The 120-member Knesset late on Wednesday passed by 68 votes to nine a resolution that said a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel would “perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
The resolution is symbolic but lays down a marker before Netanyahu’s Washington trip as well as an opinion to be issued by the International Court of Justice over the legality of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
“The Knesset firmly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state (on land) west of Jordan,” said the resolution, referring to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which has been devastated by the war unleashed by the October 7 Hamas attacks.
“The creation of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel would constitute an existential danger for the state of Israel and its citizens, would perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
It predicted that Hamas would take over the state and turn it into “a radical Islamic terrorist base” seeking to destroy Israel.
The resolution said “promoting” a Palestinian state was “a reward for terrorism and would only encourage Hamas and its supporters” after the October 7 attacks.
The Palestinian Authority said there would be “neither peace nor security for anyone without the establishment of a Palestinian state.” It accused Israel’s ruling coalition of “plunging the region into an abyss.”
The French foreign ministry expressed “consternation” at the resolution that it said was “in contradiction with resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council.”
The Knesset voted by an even larger majority in February against countries unilaterally backing a Palestinian state. Spain, Ireland, Norway and Armenia have since said they recognized a Palestinian state.
The latest Knesset resolution was proposed by a right-wing deputy in opposition to Netanyahu’s coalition of conservative and far-right parties. However, coalition deputies and some centrist lawmakers voted in favor.


Netanyahu makes a surprise visit to southern Gaza, days before speech to US Congress

Israeli soldiers take positions during military operations in the Gaza Strip on July 18, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2024
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Netanyahu makes a surprise visit to southern Gaza, days before speech to US Congress

  • Netanyahu’s visit to Rafah was announced hours after Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to troops in southern Gaza on Thursday, his office said, just days before his speech to the US Congress.
Netanyahu’s visit to Rafah was announced hours after Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, a move that could disrupt the delicate Gaza ceasefire talks.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist settler leader, said he had gone up to the contested Jerusalem hilltop compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque to pray for the return of the hostages “but without a reckless deal, without surrendering.”
The move threatens to disrupt sensitive talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire in the 9-month-old Israel-Hamas war. Israeli negotiators landed in Cairo on Wednesday to continue talks.
The visit also came just days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves for a trip to the United States, where he will address Congress.
Ben-Gvir said while standing in front of the golden dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque that he “is praying and working hard” to ensure that Netanyahu will not give in to international pressure and will continue with the military campaign in Gaza.
Ben-Gvir last visited the site in May to protest countries unilaterally recognizing Palestinian statehood.
He has been convicted eight times for offenses that include racism and supporting a terrorist organization. As a teen, his views were so extreme that the army banned him from compulsory military service.
As security minister, Ben-Gvir oversees the country’s police force. As a key coalition partner, Ben-Gvir also has the power to rob Netanyahu of his parliamentary majority and try to force early elections.
Ben-Gvir has used his influence to push forward pet projects and encourage Netanyahu to press ahead with the war in Gaza in the face of widespread calls to reach a ceasefire deal that would bring home hostages.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit as a “provocative intrusion” that endangered the fragile status quo regarding the Jerusalem hilltop compound, which is considered holy for both Muslims and Jews.
The site is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, and by Muslims as Haram Al-Sharif, a holy site and important national symbol. Ben-Gvir has frequently visited the site during times of conflict, drawing condemnation. Tensions over the compound have fueled past rounds of violence.


Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses lawmakers in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem.
Updated 18 July 2024
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Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

  • “The Knesset firmly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state (on land) west of Jordan,” said the resolution
  • The French foreign ministry expressed “consternation” at the resolution

JERUSALEM: An Israeli parliament vote to oppose a Palestinian state as an “existential threat,” just days ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, brought Palestinian and international criticism on Thursday.
The 120-member Knesset late on Wednesday passed by 68 votes to nine a resolution that said a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel would “perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
The resolution is symbolic but lays down a marker before Netanyahu’s Washington trip as well as an opinion to be issued by the International Court of Justice over the legality of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
“The Knesset firmly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state (on land) west of Jordan,” said the resolution, referring to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which has been devastated by the war unleashed by the October 7 Hamas attacks.
“The creation of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel would constitute an existential danger for the state of Israel and its citizens, would perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
It predicted that Hamas would take over the state and turn it into “a radical Islamic terrorist base” seeking to destroy Israel.
The resolution said “promoting” a Palestinian state was “a reward for terrorism and would only encourage Hamas and its supporters” after the October 7 attacks.
The Palestinian Authority said there would be “neither peace nor security for anyone without the establishment of a Palestinian state.” It accused Israel’s ruling coalition of “plunging the region into an abyss.”
The French foreign ministry expressed “consternation” at the resolution that it said was “in contradiction with resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council.”
The Knesset voted by an even larger majority in February against countries unilaterally backing a Palestinian state. Spain, Ireland, Norway and Armenia have since said they recognized a Palestinian state.
The latest Knesset resolution was proposed by a right-wing deputy in opposition to Netanyahu’s coalition of conservative and far-right parties. However, coalition deputies and some centrist lawmakers voted in favor.


First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy

Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning.
Updated 18 July 2024
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First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy

  • Algerian president said he would seek a second term

ALGIERS: The leader of Algeria’s main Islamist party on Thursday kicked off the official candidate submissions for the upcoming presidential election in which the incumbent President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 78, is the frontrunner.
Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning, an AFP correspondent saw, hours before Tebboune was expected to do the same.
Tebboune, who was elected in 2019 following months of pro-democracy protests and the ousting of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said on July 11 he would seek a second term.
In March, he announced that the election would be held on September 7, three months ahead of schedule, but gave no reason for the decision.
Algeria, home to some 45 million people, is Africa’s largest country.
The hydrocarbon-rich nation is the continent’s main natural gas supplier, with neighboring Tunisia, Spain, and Italy heavily reliant on Algerian gas.
The final list of hopefuls for the election will be published on July 27.
To qualify to appear on the ballot, candidates are required to present a list of at least 50,000 individual signatures from registered voters or from 600 members from at least 29 of Algeria’s various provincial assemblies.
Ahmed Sadok, an MSP representative, told AFP that his party had already gathered “more than 90,000 petition signatures” in support of Hassani as well as the backing of “2,200 other elected representatives.”
With the Algerian Workers Party’s leader Louisa Hanoune dropping out of the race last week, only two female candidates — businesswoman Saida Nezgha and lawyer Zoubida Assoul — remain in contention.
But Tebboune is still the favorite, with endorsements from several political parties.
“Given the desire of many parties, political and non-political organizations and the youth, I announce my intention to run for a second term,” he said when announcing his candidacy.