Frankly Speaking: Is the Biden plan still the best deal to stop Gaza bloodshed?

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Updated 24 June 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Is the Biden plan still the best deal to stop Gaza bloodshed?

  • Slovenia’s representative to UNSC believes negotiators should be given time to help bring about a ceasefire
  • Samuel Zbogar explains why his government recognized Palestine state, blames EU disunity for passive role in Gaza crisis

DUBAI: The fact that Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas are both uncomfortable with the Gaza peace plan presented by US President Joe Biden means that “the deal is a good one,” said Samuel Zbogar, Slovenia’s representative to the UN Security Council.

On June 10, the council adopted Resolution 2735 — a ceasefire proposal to end the conflict in Gaza. However, according to reports, Hamas has refused to accept the plan without amendments, which Israel has rejected.

Appearing on the Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking,” Zbogar said the world should not lose hope in the Biden peace plan and should allow time for negotiators to help bring about a ceasefire.

“I wouldn’t give up on the Biden plan yet,” he said. “We understand the talks are still ongoing, mediated by Qatar, by Egypt, and the US, of course.

“I think the US put its authority behind this plan, so we hope that we will see it implemented. We want to give peace a chance. We haven’t been discussing in the council this week the situation in Gaza precisely to give negotiators time to finally come to a ceasefire.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will not agree to a ceasefire without the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities. Zbogar, however, believes compromises are required on both sides.

“I believe that problems are on both sides,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s one side that is rejecting the deal. I would think that both sides somehow are not comfortable, which means that the deal is a good one.

“We really hope that it’s implemented to stop this killing and suffering of civilians in Gaza.”

Asked whether the Security Council could be applying more pressure on the Israeli government to halt its operation in Gaza, which threatens to spill over into Lebanon and other countries in the region, Zbogar said only a unified position would prove effective.




Appearing on the Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking,” Samuel Zbogar said the world should not lose hope in the Biden peace plan and should allow time for negotiators to help bring about a ceasefire. (AN Photo)

“The Security Council is the most effective, or maybe the only time that it’s effective, really, is when it is completely united,” he said. “When we have 15 votes in favor, I think then, maybe, it will be a strong enough message to Israel and to Hamas that enough is enough.

“But so far, in the last resolution, Russia abstained. In the previous resolutions the US abstained. And this is always a message to one or to the other side that, maybe, there is still room to maneuver.”

Ignoring the protests of numerous governments, Israel mounted an offensive on May 6 against Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where about 1.4 million Palestinian refugees had sought shelter having fled the bombardment in the north.

Asked whether institutions like the European Union could have done more to prevent the Rafah assault, Zbogar said it was another example of a failure of unity.

“The Rafah assault is really something that will be haunting us, I think, as members of the council and as a human society in the future,” Zbogar told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen.

“All council members in the chamber, as well as in consultations, were saying Rafah should not happen. I was warning Israel not to go against Rafah. And yet we witnessed that it happened.

“This is something that is difficult to live with, to see the neverending suffering of people, of Palestinians, of Gazans.

“Couldn’t the EU do more? Yes, it could, it should. But unfortunately, we are not united. The EU is strong when it’s united. Then really we can be a strong player in international relations. On this topic, unfortunately, we have different views inside the EU.

“There are a lot of countries inside who are supportive of the Palestinian cause and who recognize Palestine, but still we are not united.”

Elaborating the point, Zbogar said: “As the Gaza crisis continued and deepened, there was more and more understanding on the European side that maybe supporting Israel and its right to self-defense, which we did at the beginning, was not appropriate anymore. So, we don’t hear that anymore from European leaders. Josep Borrell, the EU high representative for foreign and security affairs, took a very clear position all along the crisis. But, yes, we are not united and that’s why we are not the real player in this crisis.”

Since the Israeli military launched its operation in Gaza in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, aid convoys sent to the embattled enclave have faced blockades and thorough inspections by Israeli authorities, delaying the relief response.

Once inside the Gaza Strip, aid convoys have been mobbed by crowds of starving Palestinians and come under intense Israeli fire, despite assurances by Israeli forces they would be permitted to pass.

Zbogar said only an end to the fighting would create the security conditions needed to help stricken communities. “I think it’s one word — a ceasefire,” he said. “Nothing less than a ceasefire would allow enough distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

“It’s very difficult to distribute aid at this moment when rockets are flying, where Israel is rejecting more than half of the trucks because of the dual use (issue), where there is public disorder now in Gaza after so many months and the desperate situation that people are in.

“We have seen so many times when the humanitarian workers had an approved road on which they could deliver the aid, and yet they were targeted.

“Like we were seeing with the World Central Kitchen a few weeks ago or months ago. How they had all the approvals, they were in touch with (the military coordinating unit) COGAT on the Israeli side, and yet they were targeted one after the other.

“How can you expect humanitarian workers to go into this situation even if they have promises from Israel that today we will not target? How do you expect people to sacrifice their lives when they see that 200 of their colleagues distributing aid were killed? And that’s why the ceasefire is the only way we can distribute more aid inside Gaza.”

It was because of this carnage and suffering in Gaza that on June 4 this year Slovenia followed Ireland, Norway and Spain in recognizing a Palestinian state, citing the need for two equally sovereign parties to negotiate future relations.

“We believe that after the destruction of Gaza, we see even more clearly that we need two equal parties,” he said.

“We need two sovereign, two parties that will be equally sovereign, Palestine and Israel, in order for them to be able to negotiate their future relations. Otherwise, as long as you have one party that is weaker, then it’s not a proper discussion. And that’s why that prevailed, then, in our reflection as well. We need a Palestine that is on the same level as Israel.”

Zbogar said Slovenian recognition of a Palestinian state was intended to send a message to the Palestinians that they are not alone, while telling the Israeli government it is on the wrong course.

“We are hoping for Palestine to open its embassy in Slovenia. And we already have a person on the ground in Ramallah who is representing Slovenia with the Palestinian Authority. So, officially we implemented the decision of the parliament,” he said.

“We’ve been discussing in Slovenia for years about this recognition. There was always a political process that we were waiting for. Now, since things began happening in Gaza, we thought it’s time for us to send a message.

“This is a message for Palestinians. It’s not a message to Israel. It’s not a message to Hamas. Neither of them really care for their citizens. They’re using Palestinians and hostages as an instrument of pressure on each other.

“This is, for us, a message to Palestinians that no matter how difficult it looks at the moment and that the world is abandoning them, that we do recognize their right to have a state, to live in their own state. And it’s time to do that.”

He added: “We have been friends, and we continue to be friends, with Israel. And we think this is a message to them as well, that what they’re doing is not right. I think they’re on the wrong course.

“But Israel is much more than the current government. And I believe that people in Israel will recognize that what we did was a good thing, to help bring peace to the region.”




Asked whether the Security Council could be applying more pressure on the Israeli government to halt its operation in Gaza, Zbogar said only a unified position would prove effective. (AN Photo)

Zbogar is concerned that a failure to respond to the carnage in Gaza will result in the youth of the region turning against the international community.

“You have the whole population in the region that might be turning against the international community, that we are not doing enough to stop the bloodshed in Gaza,” he said.

“I think we might be losing the whole young population across the region. That’s the message we are getting from all the countries, all the special representatives there, that it’s for the future relations between the West and these countries that is a very dangerous situation.”

Once the war ends in Gaza, the question will turn to who should govern the war-scarred territory — Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, an external power, or a multilateral agency.

Zbogar believes Gaza will need a transitional period to guarantee its own and Israel’s security and to rebuild. But he does not believe this is something the Palestinian Authority can do on its own, calling instead for UN involvement.

Indeed, a recent poll of Gaza and the West Bank by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed huge dissatisfaction with the Palestinian Authority, with more than 60 percent supporting its dissolution, and close to 90 percent wanting President Mahmoud Abbas to resign.

“I don’t think it’s surprising — this dissatisfaction — because the Palestinian authorities don’t have power to deliver to their people. And that’s why people are disappointed,” Zbogar said.

“They continue to see Israeli occupation. They continue to see what’s happening in Gaza. And, of course, they are disappointed that their authority is not protecting them and cannot do anything about it.

“But they really cannot do anything about it if you are serious. So, who should run Palestine or Gaza? I think it’s for Palestinians to decide. I don’t think it should be foreigners to decide. They should decide who should govern.

“Of course, there probably will be some transition period in Gaza after all this is over. There will need to be a transition period with regard to security, to re-establishment of security, to provide security to Israel. There will be a need to rebuild Gaza. There will be a lot of needs.

“But I don’t think Palestinian authorities can do that on their own. I think probably the UN should be involved, should be helping them, coordinating all the assistance and all the support that was coming from abroad, in re-establishing Gaza as a place to live.”

 

 


UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is `resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists

Updated 5 sec ago
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UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is `resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists

  • Israel has attacked targets in Syria linked to Iran for years, but the strikes have escalated over the past five months as the war in Gaza and conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border continue

UNITED NATIONS: The top UN envoy for Syria told the Security Council on Monday that the threat of terrorism is “resurging” with attacks by Daesh extremists set to double this year, endangering civilians already facing a “protracted state of displacement and dire humanitarian conditions.”
UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said Syria is “riddled with armed actors, listed terrorist groups, foreign armies and front-lines” 13 years after President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on peaceful protests against his government turned to civil war. Nearly a half million people have died in the conflict and half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million has been displaced.
The Daesh group declared a self-styled caliphate in a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq that it seized in 2014. It was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017 following a three-year battle that killed tens of thousands of people and left cities in ruins, but its sleeper cells remain in both countries.
Pedersen warned the Security Council of Syria’s delicate security situation.
“The threat of regional conflict cascading over Syria has not abated, particularly with an uptick in Israeli strikes on Syria,” Pedersen said.
Israel has attacked targets in Syria linked to Iran for years, but the strikes have escalated over the past five months as the war in Gaza and conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border continue.
US deputy ambassador Robert A. Wood blamed Iran, Assad’s greatest regional supporter, for the violence in Syria.
“Iran and its proxies and partners have only brought death and destruction and do nothing to help the Syrian people,” Wood said, calling on Assad to curb Iran’s influence.
The Syrian, Iranian, and Russian ambassadors to the UN strongly condemned Israel’s strikes on Syria.
Iranian Ambassador Amir Saeed Iravani said the attacks “flagrantly violate international humanitarian law” and are a “serious threat to regional peace and security.” He said Israel’s strikes add to the chaos created by Syria’s civil war.
Over 16 million people in Syria currently need humanitarian assistance and 7.2 million remain displaced in the “worst humanitarian crisis since the start of the conflict,” Ramesh Rajasingham, coordination director in the U,N. humanitarian office, told the council.
He added that “severely reduced humanitarian funding” exacerbates Syrians’ suffering during months of extreme heat, when rainwater dries up and a lack of basic sanitation infrastructure increases the risk of water-borne diseases.
In rebel-held northwest Syria, over 900,000 people, more than half children, are not receiving “critical water and sanitation support,” Rajasingham said.
Rajasingham and Pedersen called for increased humanitarian access to Syria and international funding. The 2024 UN humanitarian appeal for $4 billion remains only 20 percent funded, “seriously constraining” humanintarian work, Rajasingham said.
On the political front, Pedersen urged the Security Council to pursue Syrian-led peace negotiations with the involvement of “all major international stakeholders,” in line with a unanimously adopted 2015 resolution by the council.
“The conflict is ultimately a political one that can only be resolved when the Syrian parties are able to realize their legitimate aspirations,” Pedersen said.
Last week, Syria announced that all 185 candidates from Assad’s Baath party won parliamentary seats in the country’s elections, a seven-seat increase to the party’s majority.
Pedersen said the elections are “not a substitute” for the political process outlined in the 2015 Security Council resolution, while Wood called the elections a “sham” and a “rubber stamp on Bashar Assad’s continued dictatorship.”
Wood said the US “will not normalize relations with the Syrian regime or lift sanctions absent an authentic and enduring political solution.”

 


UK warned Israel over ‘out of control’ troops in 2002: archives

Updated 36 min 18 sec ago
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UK warned Israel over ‘out of control’ troops in 2002: archives

  • Then-US president George W. Bush complained in private call with UK prime minister Tony Blair that the hardline policies of Sharon were turning Arafat into a martyr similar to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, the files show
  • Israel has killed at least 39,006 Palestinians in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory

LONDON: Britain accused Israel of allowing its troops to run "out of control" during a huge military operation in the occupied West Bank two decades ago, UK government archives showed Tuesday.
The newly-released files highlight Western concern over the Palestinian death toll during Operation Defensive Shield launched by then-Israeli premier Ariel Sharon in March 2002.
The comments are similar to concerns expressed by some Western allies over Israel's current military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Britain's ambassador to Israel at the time warned Sharon's foreign policy adviser that the incursion by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was a "major strategic mistake" which was undermining support for Israel among its allies.
"If some of the reports we were receiving were credible, the IDF's behaviour was more worthy of the Russian army than that of a supposedly civilised country," Sherard Cowper-Coles told the adviser, according to his report of the meeting.
"I was not suggesting that such behaviour was a matter of policy. But there was no doubt that individual soldiers were out of control and committing acts which were outraging international opinion," the diplomat added.
The operation came amid the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which occurred between 2000 and 2005.
Sharon launched the operation in the West Bank after a wave of suicide attacks claimed dozens of Israeli lives.
The Israeli military surrounded the compound of then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
Troops cut off phone lines and power supplies, while intense street-to-street fighting raged for eight days further north in the Jenin refugee camp.

The offensive was at the time the largest military operation in the Palestinian territories since Israel captured them in 1967.
Then-US president George W. Bush complained in private call with UK prime minister Tony Blair that the hardline policies of Sharon were turning Arafat into a martyr similar to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, the files show.
"While Arafat had effectively been marginalising himself, Sharon had succeeded in making a martyr of him -- building him up to the point where he was becoming the new bin Laden," Bush complained, according to a note of the call by the then-UK leader's office.
"The US had tried to persuade Sharon privately, but he just would not listen. The bottom line was that Sharon was undermining the US's ability to pursue the war on terrorism. That was not the action of a good ally," the note added.
Operation Defensive Shield lasted just over a month and resulted in the deaths of about 500 Palestinians, according to estimates by the United Nations.
Israel's current war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 44 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 39,006 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

 


Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’

Updated 23 July 2024
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Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’

  • Joe Biden: “I’ll be working very closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end"

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden vowed Monday to continue working to end the war in Gaza during his final months in office, after he bowed out of his reelection bid.
“I’ll be working very closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end, and Middle East peace, and get all those hostages home,” Biden said in a public call into his campaign headquarters, which has transitioned to supporting Vice President Kamala Harris.
 

 


Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

Updated 23 July 2024
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Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

  • The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria
  • Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war

BAGHDAD: Iraq wants troops from a US-led military coalition to begin withdrawing in September and to formally end the coalition’s work by September 2025, four Iraqi sources said, with some US forces likely to remain in a newly negotiated advisory capacity.
The Iraqi position is being discussed with US officials in Washington this week at a security summit and there is no formal agreement on ending the coalition or any associated timetable yet, the Iraqi sources and US officials said.
US State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller told a news briefing that both sides were meeting in Washington this week to determine how to transition the US-led coalition’s mission based on the threat posed by Daesh, adding he had no further details.
US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, toppled former leader Saddam Hussein and then withdrew in 2011, only to return in 2014 to fight Daesh at the head of the coalition.
The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria.
They are housed at three main bases, one in Baghdad, one in western Anbar province and another in the northern Kurdistan region.
It is unclear how many troops would leave under a deal, with Iraqi sources saying they expected most to eventually depart but US officials saying many may remain under a newly negotiated advise and assist mission.
US officials are keen to have some military footprint in Iraq on a bilateral basis, in part to help support its presence across the border in Syria, where it has around 900 troops.
The issue is highly politicized, with mainly Iran-aligned Iraqi political factions looking to show that they are pushing out the country’s one-time occupier again, while US officials want to avoid giving Iran and its allies a win.
There are also concerns about Daesh’s ability to regroup.
The jihadist group was declared territorially defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019 but still carries out attacks in both countries and is on track to double its attacks in Syria this year compared to 2023, the US military said.
The group and its affiliates have also in recent months carried out attacks in Iran and Russia, as well as in Oman last week for the first time.
While the coalition’s mission is to advise and assist Iraqi forces in the fight against the Daesh, Western officials say the US and its allies also see its presence in Iraq as a check on Iranian influence.
Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.
An agreement to draw down the coalition could be a political win for Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, who has been under pressure from Iran-aligned factions to push out US forces but has sought to do so in a way that balances Iraq’s delicate position as an ally of both Washington and Tehran.

 

 


Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?

Updated 23 July 2024
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Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?

  • The attack destroyed most of the port’s fuel storage capacity of 150,000 tons, leaving the Hodeida governorate with an overall capacity of 50,000, the US-based Navanti Group said, citing merchants
  • The ship “remains operational,” but “all 780,000 liters of fuel stock was likely destroyed,” said Pierre Honnorat, WFP’s Yemen country director, adding that all the agency’s staff were safe and accounted for

DUBAI: Israeli strikes on Saturday hit a power plant and fuel storage facilities in Hodeida, the main port under the control of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Here is what we know about the damage caused by the attack, which set oil tanks ablaze for days and came a day after the first fatal strike by the Houthis in Israel.

Saturday’s long-distance strike, the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country, hit the Hodeida harbor, a key gateway for fuel and international aid into Houthi-held parts of Yemen.

A satellite image shows a closer view of burning oil tanks after an Israeli air strike on Houthi military targets in Hodeidah, Yemen, July 21, 2024. (REUTERS)

The Houthis, who control swathes of the country including much of its Red Sea coast, said the attack struck fuel storage facilities at the harbor, killing six people, all of them port employees of the Yemen Petroleum Company.
A nearby power plant was also targeted, according to the rebels.
AFPTV images showed huge flames and black smoke spiralling into the sky from burning oil tanks at the port. Debris covered the dock where equipment was damaged.
High-resolution satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies showed flames consuming a heavily damaged fuel storage area, which still appeared to be burning on Monday, according to an AFP correspondent.

Debris litters a loading dock a day after Israeli strikes on the port of Yemen's Huthi-held city of Hodeida on July 21, 2024. (AFP)

A Hodeida port employee who was at the harbor the day of the attack said several tanks exploded sequentially.
But “the port, with its dock, containers, and ships, is intact,” said the employee who spoke on condition of anonymity over security concerns.
Analysis of satellite imagery from Planet by Dutch peace organization PAX showed at least 33 destroyed oil storage tanks, said Wim Zwijnenburg, a project leader with the organization.
“We expect (to find) more damage, as not all storage tanks are visible because of heavy smoke” from the fire and burning fuel, Zwijnenburg told AFP.

According to Zwijnenburg, the bombing has resulted in tens of thousands of liters of oil burning.
“Localized coastal pollution is expected from wastewater and leaking fuel,” said the expert, who specializes in the environmental impacts of war.
Maritime security firm Ambrey said satellite imagery following the strikes showed “extensive damage to the oil products storage facilities,” clarifying, however, that “the bulk terminal storage facilities appeared to be unaffected.”
The attack destroyed most of the port’s fuel storage capacity of 150,000 tons, leaving the Hodeida governorate with an overall capacity of 50,000, the US-based Navanti Group said, citing merchants.
The Israeli army on Sunday published a video showing them hitting two container yard cranes at the harbor.
The Navanti Group said five cranes are now “most likely non-operational.”
Ambrey said two merchant vessels were alongside the yard at the time the cranes were hit, but it did not specify if they were damaged.
The British agency had earlier observed four merchant vessels in the port at the time of the strikes and another eight in the anchorage.
“No vessel arrivals or departures have occurred since the Israeli attack on Hodeida,” Ambrey reported on Monday.

The World Food Programme on Monday told AFP that there had been “minor” damage to a crane on one of its aid vessels in the port and that its fuel storage facility was impacted.
The ship “remains operational,” but “all 780,000 liters of fuel stock was likely destroyed,” said Pierre Honnorat, WFP’s Yemen country director, adding that all the agency’s staff were safe and accounted for.
“WFP will source enough fuel supplies to ensure this loss has no significant effect on our operations,” he said.
Yemeni port authorities have said Hodeida “is operating at its full capacity,” according to the rebels’ Saba news agency.
“We are working around the clock to receive all ships and there is no concern about the supply chain and supplies of food, medicine, and oil derivatives,” port official Nasr Al-Nusairi was quoted by Saba as saying on Sunday.
A Houthi transport official on Monday said “work is underway to receive and unload food and fuel shipments within 24 hours.”
While firefighting teams were still struggling to contain the blaze at the harbor, a fire that erupted at a nearby power plant was nearly under control on Monday, according to Mohammed Albasha, the Navanti Group’s senior Middle East analyst.
“Repairs have started” as electricity gradually returns to the city following outages over the weekend, the analyst said.