Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip

People walk next to rubble following Israeli bombardment on the security gate of the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City on June 23, 2024, amid the ongoing battle between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 23 June 2024
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Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip

  • Visit comes amid concerns over conflict spreading
  • Gallant wants clearer post-war plan for Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is 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 UA 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 fighters 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.


Jordan’s army shoots down drone carrying drugs from Syria

Updated 45 min 40 sec ago
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Jordan’s army shoots down drone carrying drugs from Syria

AMMAN: Jordanian military authorities foiled an attempt to use a drone to smuggle narcotics into the kingdom from Syria, state news agency Petra reported.

A military official on Saturday said that forces shot down the drone inside Jordanian territory.

“Border guard forces in the eastern military region, in coordination with the security services and the Anti-Narcotics Department, detected an attempt by a drone to cross the border illegally from Syrian territory to Jordanian territory,” the statement read.

The seized items were confiscated and transferred to the relevant authorities.

 


EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

Updated 21 July 2024
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EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

  • Sweeping opinion by Hague-based International Court of Justice called on Israel to end its occupation immediately
  • ICJ ruling not binding but comes amid mounting concern over death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas

BRUSSELS, Belgium: The top UN court’s ruling that Israel’s 57-year occupation of Palestinian land was “illegal” is “largely consistent with EU positions,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief said Saturday.
The sweeping opinion on Friday by The Hague-based International Court of Justice — which called for the occupation to end as soon as possible — was immediately slammed as a “decision of lies” by Israel.
But the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs said that the bloc had taken “good note” of the court’s ruling and urged further backing for the court’s opinion.
“In a world of constant and increasing violations of international law, it is our moral duty to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to all ICJ decisions in a consistent manner, irrespective of the subject in question,” Josep Borrell said.
He added in a statement that the opinion “will need to be analyzed more thoroughly, including in view of its implications for EU policy.”
The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas sparked by the group’s brutal October 7 attacks, as well as increased tensions in the West Bank.
Its intervention is likely to increase diplomatic pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza, as will the EU’s backing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ruling.
“The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land — not in our eternal capital Jerusalem, nor in our ancestral heritage of Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank), he said in a statement.
In June 1967, Israel seized the then-Jordan-annexed West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in a crushing six-day war against its Arab neighbors.
It then began to settle the 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of seized Arab territory.
The UN later declared the occupation of Palestinian territory illegal, and Cairo regained the Sinai under its 1979 peace deal with Israel.


Defiant Netanyahu to face US Congress amid Gaza tensions

Updated 21 July 2024
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Defiant Netanyahu to face US Congress amid Gaza tensions

  • Israel’s longest-serving premier will become the first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of the two chambers four times
  • Hamas has accused Netanyahu of seeking to block a deal being hammered out by Qatar, Egyptian and US mediators to end the Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to deliver a landmark speech to the US Congress on Wednesday as he fights off intense pressure to quickly cut a Gaza war ceasefire deal with Hamas.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, will become the first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of the two chambers four times — pulling ahead of Britain’s Winston Churchill on three.
But analysts say the Gaza war since the October 7 Hamas attacks has created worrying tensions between Israel and the United States, its main military and diplomatic backer.
Washington fears a backlash from the mounting civilian toll in the Gaza Strip, while protests in Israel by families of hostages taken by Hamas are also causing headaches for Netanyahu.
Biden and some Israeli ministers say a deal negotiated through Qatar, Egyptian and US mediators is possible. A plan outlined in May proposed a six-week ceasefire when some Israeli hostages would be swapped for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that negotiators were “inside the 10 yard line and driving toward the goal line.”
Hamas has accused Netanyahu of seeking to block a deal however and Blinken said he wants to “bring the agreement over the finish line” when Netanyahu is in Washington.
An expected meeting between Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden is still not confirmed.

Israel has intensified its air strikes on Gaza in recent weeks and Netanyahu has insisted that only piling on military pressure can free the hostages and beat Hamas.
“This double pressure is not delaying the deal — it is advancing it,” Netanyahu told troops in Gaza on Thursday.
The October 7 attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. Hamas militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 38,919 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Publicly, Biden has voiced strong support for Israel. But he expressed concern over an offensive on the southern city of Rafah in May and for a while suspended deliveries of heavy bombs to Israel. Supplies of 2,000-pound bombs remain embargoed.
“Never before has the atmosphere been so fraught,” said Council on Foreign Relations Middle East specialist Steven Cook.
“There is clearly tension in the relationship, especially between the White House and the Israeli prime minister,” Cook said in a commentary.

While US Republicans pressed to invite Netanyahu to address Congress, he has lost support among Democrats.
One Jewish senator, Democrat Brian Schatz of Hawaii, announced he would boycott Wednesday’s speech, saying he would not listen to “political rhetoric that will do nothing to bring peace in the region.”
Netanyahu said after being invited to Congress again that he would “present the truth about our just war against those who seek to destroy us.”
Cook said that Netanyahu has two aims for his Washington trip.
First, to show that he has not “undermined” Israel’s relations with the United States.
Netanyahu also “will endeavour to shift the conversation away from the conflict in Gaza toward the threat that Iran and its proxies pose” to Israel and the United States, Cook added.
Much attention will be focused on whether Netanyahu meets with Donald Trump or a figure close to the Republican presidential candidate.
Despite the tensions, the United States has defended Israeli interests while taking a key role in mediation efforts, and the military relationship remains strong, according to officials.
Washington’s support could prove crucial as Israel faces increasing international criticism over the growing humanitarian toll from nearly 300 days of war.
The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor in May asked judges to issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Warrants for three Hamas leaders have also been requested.
The Republican majority in the House of Representatives has called for sanctions against the ICC.
The International Court of Justice found Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories illegal on July 19 and in February called for the country to prevent any acts of genocide in its Gaza offensive.
 


Saudi Arabia says no involvement with strikes targeting Hodeidah

Updated 21 July 2024
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Saudi Arabia says no involvement with strikes targeting Hodeidah

  • Ministry of Defense spokesman says the Kingdom will not allow any entity to use its airspace for offensive action
  • Israeli warplanes struck targets in Houthi-controlled Hodeidah following a Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday said it had nothing to do with the Israeli air strikes on Yemen’s city of Hodeidah and that it will not allow anyone to use the Kingdom’s airspace for offensive purposes.

“The Kingdom has no relation or involvement in the targeting of Hodeidah, and the Kingdom will not allow any entity to violate its airspace,” Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Defense, said in a statement on the X social media app.

Israeli warplanes struck the Houthi-held western Yemeni city on Saturday in an apparent reprisal for the Houthi drone strike on a Tel Aviv apartment building before dawn Friday, killing one civilian.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the airstrike was meant to send a message to the Houthis that their attacks would not be left unanswered.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls a large part of Yemen, had been attacking commercial vessels passing through the Red Sea and the Bab-Al-Mandab straight in a sympathy action for the Palestinians in Gaza amid Israeli attacks.

The Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that the Israeli strikes hit a power plant and a gasoline storage facility, killing three and wounding 87 people.

Unfazed by the swift Israeli response, Houthi officials threatened to continue attacking ships doing commerce with Israel and on Israel itself.

“We emphasize that this brutal aggression will only strengthen the determination and steadfastness of the Yemeni people and their valiant armed forces in their support for Gaza,” Mohammed Abdul Sallam, the Houthi chief negotiator based in Muscat, posted on X.

Houthi Shura Council member Abdul Sallam Jahaf said: “We will respond more violently and harshly to this Zionist-American orgy.” 

 


Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

Updated 21 July 2024
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Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

  • Gallant: The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them

JERUSALEM: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Saturday that Israel struck the Houthis in Yemen in order to send a message after they harmed an Israeli citizen.
“The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear,” Gallant said in a statement. “The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”
On Friday, a long-range Iranian-made drone hit the center of Tel Aviv in an attack claimed by the Houthi militia and which killed one man and wounded four others.