Syria’s Assad Should Be Put on Trial, Says French Foreign Minister 

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna speaks during a joint news conference with German, Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts after their talks on the Middle East peace process, at the Federal Foreign Office in Munich, Germany, Thursday May 11, 2023. (dpa via AP)
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna speaks during a joint news conference with German, Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts after their talks on the Middle East peace process, at the Federal Foreign Office in Munich, Germany, Thursday May 11, 2023. (dpa via AP)
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Syria’s Assad Should Be Put on Trial, Says French Foreign Minister 

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna speaks during a joint news conference with German, Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts after their talks on the Middle East peace process, at the Federal Foreign Office in Munich, Germany, Thursday May 11, 2023. (dpa via AP)
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna speaks during a joint news conference with German, Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts after their talks on the Middle East peace process, at the Federal Foreign Office in Munich, Germany, Thursday May 11, 2023. (dpa via AP)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be put on trial following "hundreds of thousands of deaths" and "chemical arms use" during the country's civil war, the French foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Asked during a television interview if she wanted Assad to be tried, Catherine Colonna said "the answer is yes", adding that "the battle against crime, against impunity is part of French diplomacy."

Assad last week returned to the regional scene with an appearance at a summit of the Arab League, where he had been banned from for a decade.

Colonna nevertheless said Paris would not be changing its policy towards the Syrian ruler.

"We have to remember who Bashar al-Assad is. He's a leader who has been the enemy of his own people for more than 10 years," she said.

A lifting of European Union sanctions on the Syrian regime was "certainly not" planned, she added.

"So long as he doesn't change, so long as he doesn't commit to reconciliation, to the fight against terrorism, the fight against drugs... so long as he doesn't fulfil his commitments, there's no reason to change our attitude towards him," Colonna said.

"I think it's up to him to change, it's not up to France to change our attitude," she added.



Israeli Forces Push into Southern Gaza

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI
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Israeli Forces Push into Southern Gaza

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI

Israeli forces pushed Sunday into southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled in search of shelter from bombardments and intense fighting with Hamas militants.
Aid groups have sounded the alarm on the "apocalyptic" humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory, warning it is on the brink of being overwhelmed by disease and starvation, AFP reported.
Hamas, which runs Gaza, said Sunday that Israel had launched a series of "very violent raids" targeting the southern city of Khan Yunis and the road from there to Rafah, near the border with Egypt.
A source close to Hamas and Palestinian militants Islamic Jihad told AFP both groups were involved in "fierce clashes" with Israeli forces on Sunday near Khan Yunis. An AFP journalist reported strikes in the area.
At least 17,700 people, mostly women and children, have died in two months of fighting in the narrow strip of territory, according to the latest figures from Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry.
Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas after the group's unprecedented attacks on October 7, when its fighters broke through Gaza's militarized border, killed about 1,200 people and seized hostages, according to Israeli officials.
Israel on Saturday said 137 captives remained in the Palestinian territory.
With few options for safety, people across the Gaza Strip sought refuge in hospitals on Saturday.
In the northern Gaza City, an AFP journalist said thousands were sheltering in the Al-Shifa hospital, which is no longer functioning and partly destroyed following an Israeli raid last month.
Hundreds of makeshift tents fashioned from scraps of fabric and plastic filled the hospital's courtyards and garden amid collapsed walls.
Suheil Abu Dalfa, 56, from the city's Shejaiya district, said he had fled heavy bombardment by Israeli planes and tanks.
"It was madness. A shell hit the house and wounded my 20-year-old son," he told AFP.

"We fled to the Old City, everything was just strikes and destruction... we didn't know where to go," he said.
"We don't know if they will storm the hospital again."
In central Gaza, Hamas health authorities said Saturday that 71 dead bodies had arrived at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah over 24 hours.
And in the south of the territory, 62 dead bodies had arrived at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, the health authorities said.
An AFP correspondent at the hospital saw a child on a makeshift stretcher and others waiting for care on the floor, while firefighters outside tried to douse a burning building hit by an Israeli strike.
The situation "is not just a catastrophe, it's apocalyptic", said Bushra Khalidi of Oxfam.
'Death sentence for children'
An estimated 1.9 million of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been displaced.
Blocked from leaving the narrow territory, they have turned Rafah, near the crossing with Egypt, into a vast camp.
The United Nations children's agency said Saturday that nearly one million children had been forcibly displaced by the conflict.
With fighting intensifying in southern Gaza, where Israel previously urged civilians to seek shelter, children are running out of safe places to go.
"They are now being pushed further and further south into tiny, overcrowded areas without water, food, or protection, putting them at increased risk of respiratory infections and waterborne disease," said Adele Khodr of UNICEF.
"The restrictions and challenges being placed on the delivery of lifesaving aid going into and across the Gaza Strip are another death sentence for children."
As alarm grew over Gaza's worsening humanitarian situation, Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi urged his forces to "press harder" in their campaign.
"We're seeing more and more terrorists killed, more and more terrorists wounded, and in recent days we're seeing terrorists surrendering -- this is a sign their network's falling apart," he said at a ceremony in Jerusalem.
National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi told Israeli TV that 7,000 "terrorists" had been killed, without elaborating on the source of the figure.
In Tel Aviv, some Israelis held a pro-peace demonstration.
Hundreds of others gathered in what has come to be known as Hostages Square, calling for action to save the captives held by Hamas with signs bearing messages such as "They trust us to get them out of hell".
The Israeli army says it has lost 93 soldiers in the campaign, with two others injured in a failed bid to rescue hostages on Thursday night.
Hamas said a hostage, 25-year-old Sahar Baruch, was killed in the operation, later confirmed by his kibbutz community in Beeri, one of the worst hit on October 7.
UN force hit
A rare UN Security Council vote on a ceasefire in the conflict was vetoed on Friday by the United States, whose envoy Robert Wood said the proposal was "divorced from reality" and would leave Hamas in power in Gaza.
Iran, which backs Hamas, warned of an "uncontrollable explosion in the situation of the region" following the veto.
In Yemen, Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened on Saturday to attack any vessels heading to Israeli ports unless food and medicine were allowed into Gaza.
The French military said Sunday that one of its frigates had shot down two drones in the Red Sea that were heading towards the vessel from the coast of Yemen.
Regular exchanges between Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement have further fuelled fears of a wider regional conflict.
Israel's army said it retaliated on Saturday after unspecified "launches" from Lebanon, including with fighter jets.
A United Nations peacekeeping position in southern Lebanon was hit on Saturday without causing casualties, the UN force said, adding it was seeking to verify the source of the fire.
Violence has also surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the health ministry said three people were killed on Saturday.

The military earlier said it has arrested 2,200 people in the West Bank, 1,800 of them Hamas members, since the Israel-Hamas war began.


Israelis on Edge as Fears Grow of Wider Lebanon Conflict

A general view picture shows the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on the left-hand-side of the Israel-Lebanon border, as seen from Kibbutz Misgav Am in northern Israel August 26, 2019. (Reuters)
A general view picture shows the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on the left-hand-side of the Israel-Lebanon border, as seen from Kibbutz Misgav Am in northern Israel August 26, 2019. (Reuters)
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Israelis on Edge as Fears Grow of Wider Lebanon Conflict

A general view picture shows the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on the left-hand-side of the Israel-Lebanon border, as seen from Kibbutz Misgav Am in northern Israel August 26, 2019. (Reuters)
A general view picture shows the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on the left-hand-side of the Israel-Lebanon border, as seen from Kibbutz Misgav Am in northern Israel August 26, 2019. (Reuters)

In northern Israel, residents fear a wider conflict emerging along the border with Lebanon, which snakes along a hill in the distance from Nahariya.

More than 120 people have been killed on the Lebanese side of the border since October 7, mostly Hezbollah fighters and more than a dozen civilians, according to an AFP tally.

Israel says six of its soldiers and four Israeli civilians have been killed in the area, and Lebanon lost its first soldier in the exchanges on Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah that if it "chooses to start a global war, then it will turn Beirut and South Lebanon... into Gaza and Khan Yunis with its own hands."

Business has slumped along the Nahariya seafront, and many more rifles have appeared, slung over people's shoulders.

Resident Nathalie Betito, 44, believes Hezbollah fighters could infiltrate the border. But she made a point of celebrating Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, with around 100 people at the central synagogue this week.

She and her husband Arie, 47, immigrated from France five years ago. Nahariya represents an attractive destination, with special tax breaks due to its exposed position.

Arie, who now helps new arrivals at the town hall, said residents were nonetheless living in peril.

Hezbollah has thousands of "missiles pointed at us", he said, stressing that he did not believe in escalating the conflict into a "total" war.

"The price to pay would be huge," he said. "Neither side wants that."

But people in Nahariya are preparing for the worst. Efi Dayan, 60, said he "knows there's going to be a war here".

"We're getting ready with food, clothes. We're waiting for it," he said calmly under the winter sun.

But the military job in Gaza needs to be completed first, said Bussidan, a former soldier himself.

"We have to finish Hamas and take care of all civilians on both sides," he said.


Syria Strikes Kill 6 Civilians in Opposition Bastion, Says Monitor

Workers clear the rubble after the Syrian army bombardment in Idlib - AFP
Workers clear the rubble after the Syrian army bombardment in Idlib - AFP
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Syria Strikes Kill 6 Civilians in Opposition Bastion, Says Monitor

Workers clear the rubble after the Syrian army bombardment in Idlib - AFP
Workers clear the rubble after the Syrian army bombardment in Idlib - AFP

Six civilians were killed and 25 others wounded on Saturday in Syrian army bombardment of the country's last major opposition bastion, a war monitor said.

"Regime forces directly targeted residential areas of the city of Idlib," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding that industrial areas were also hit, as well as "residential areas in the town of Sarmin" nearby, AFP reported.

Six civilians, "including two children and a woman", were killed in Idlib and Sarmin, while 25 others were wounded in the strikes in various areas of Idlib province, added the Britain-based Observatory.

Government forces fired "more than 35 missiles" during the bombardment, it added.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria branch, controls swathes of Idlib province and parts of the neighbouring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

HTS is considered a terrorist group by Damascus, as well as by the United States and the European Union.

Parts of the opposition bastion have seen fierce fighting in recent days, according to the Observatory.

On Friday, it said 11 pro-government forces and five HTS militants had been killed after the militants launched an attack in neighbouring Aleppo province a day earlier.

Late last month, Syrian government bombardment killed nine civilians including six children as they harvested olives in Idlib province, reported the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

Civil war erupted in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad crushed peaceful anti-government protests in 2011.

The conflict has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions after spiralling into a devastating war involving foreign armies, militias and militants.


UN Peacekeeping Position Hit in South Lebanon, No Casualties

Border fence between Lebanon and Israel (AFP)
Border fence between Lebanon and Israel (AFP)
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UN Peacekeeping Position Hit in South Lebanon, No Casualties

Border fence between Lebanon and Israel (AFP)
Border fence between Lebanon and Israel (AFP)

A United Nations peacekeeping position in southern Lebanon was hit on Saturday without causing casualties, the UN force said, adding it was seeking to verify the source of the fire.

Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA) reported that an "Israeli Merkava tank" targeted the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) position near the border across from Metula in northern Israel.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said: "We did not aim at UNIFIL, we did not hit a UNIFIL position".

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said the force was "verifying" the source of the fire, and said the incident caused "no casualties" but damaged a watchtower at the base.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, the frontier between Lebanon and Israel has seen intensifying exchanges of fire, mainly between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, raising fears of a broader conflagration, AFP reported.

More than 120 people have been killed on the Lebanese side since October, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also including more than a dozen civilians, according to an AFP tally.

UNIFIL was set up in 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces after they invaded Lebanon in reprisal for a Palestinian attack.

It was bolstered after Hezbollah and Israel fought a devastating war in 2006, and its roughly 10,000 peacekeepers are tasked with monitoring the ceasefire between the two sides.

Since the Hamas-Israel war began, UNIFIL has said its headquarters in southern Lebanon has been hit by shelling.

Late last month, UNIFIL said Israeli gunfire hit one of its patrols despite a temporary Hamas-Israel truce largely quietening the Lebanon-Israel border at that time.


Abbas Says US Veto Makes it Complicit in Israeli 'War Crimes'

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets  with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in the West Bank city Ramallah, on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.  (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in the West Bank city Ramallah, on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)
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Abbas Says US Veto Makes it Complicit in Israeli 'War Crimes'

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets  with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in the West Bank city Ramallah, on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.  (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in the West Bank city Ramallah, on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the US veto of a UN Security Council resolution demanding a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza made it complicit in what he described as war crimes against Palestinians.

Abbas also said he held the US responsible for the bloodshed of Palestinian children, women and the elderly in the Gaza Strip, a statement released by the presidency said.

The United States wielded its UN Security Council veto on Friday to shield Israel from a global demand for a ceasefire.
Thirteen of the Security Council's 15 members voted for the resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire that was blocked by Washington. Britain abstained.


Intensified Fighting Across Gaza as Israel Orders More Evacuations in Khan Younis

Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 9, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 9, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
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Intensified Fighting Across Gaza as Israel Orders More Evacuations in Khan Younis

Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 9, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 9, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Israel pounded the Gaza Strip from north to south on Saturday in an expanded phase of its two-month-old war against Hamas as it ordered residents out of the center of the enclave's main southern city Khan Younis.

Israel's Arabic-language spokesperson posted a map on X highlighting six numbered blocks of Khan Younis that residents were told to evacuate "urgently". They included parts of the city center that had not been subject to such orders before. No explanation was given.
Israel issued similar warnings at the start of this week before storming the eastern parts of the city. Residents said they feared new evacuation orders heralded a further assault.

Since a truce collapsed last week, Israel has expanded its ground campaign into the southern half of the Gaza Strip by launching the storming of Khan Younis. Simultaneously, both sides have reported a surge in fighting in the north.

The vast majority of Gaza's 2.3 million residents have already been forced from their homes, many fleeing multiple times. With fighting raging across the length of the territory, residents and UN agencies say there is now effectively nowhere safe to go, though Israel disputes this.

Israel has blocked Gazans from fleeing along the main north-south route down the spine of the narrow strip, and is shunting them instead towards the Mediterranean coast.

Fighting in the north has been its most intense in parts of Gaza City and settlements on its northern edge, where huge explosions could be seen from across the fence in Israel.


US, Morocco Hold Conference on Cybersecurity

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy Jennifer Bachus (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy Jennifer Bachus (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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US, Morocco Hold Conference on Cybersecurity

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy Jennifer Bachus (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy Jennifer Bachus (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The US aims to be a key partner in consolidating Morocco's position as a regional leader in cybersecurity, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jennifer Bachus has announced.

At its Dar America cultural center, the US Consulate General in Casablanca hosted a conference with Bachus on cybersecurity and cyber diplomacy, along with Moroccan Masters and Doctorate students from the Ben M'sik and Ain Chock Faculties of Sciences.

The conference was part of Bachus's official visit to Morocco from December 6 to 8.

Morocco is making great strides in digital transformation, and the United States is eager to support the Kingdom in its vision to become a regional leader in the tech space," Bachus said.

The official noted Morocco's progress and expressed Washington's desire to be a key partner in consolidating the Kingdom's position as a regional leader in this area.

"Among the top priorities of the US government, my Bureau is advancing global cyber stability through international partnerships and supporting trusted telecommunications infrastructure, including 5G," she recalled.

A statement from the US mission in Morocco, issued at the end of the meeting, indicated that the US official was impressed by Morocco and expressed Washington's readiness to be a key partner in strengthening Morocco's position as a field leader.

The statement highlighted that the rapid development of information and communications technology has resulted in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence emerging as fundamental pillars of global economic growth.

The US official confirmed that artificial intelligence has imposed itself as a significant driver for stimulating operational efficiency and opening new horizons for innovation, highlighting that integrating artificial intelligence into cybersecurity systems provides essential benefits.

Bachus called for international cooperation and the exchange of expertise to confront the increasing challenges associated with digital security, pointing out that global challenges in cybersecurity and digital policies are increasing significantly.

According to US officials, developing appropriate policies and providing investments in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence enhances economic growth by encouraging innovation, enhancing competitiveness, and enabling an environment for secure exchanges.

Integrating cybersecurity and artificial intelligence paves the way for new economic opportunities and provides innovative solutions to current challenges, ensuring sustainable and flexible economic development.


Arab-Islamic Summit Ministerial Committee Urges from Washington Immediate Gaza Ceasefire

Arab-Islamic Summit Ministerial Committee holds meeting in Washington (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Arab-Islamic Summit Ministerial Committee holds meeting in Washington (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Arab-Islamic Summit Ministerial Committee Urges from Washington Immediate Gaza Ceasefire

Arab-Islamic Summit Ministerial Committee holds meeting in Washington (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Arab-Islamic Summit Ministerial Committee holds meeting in Washington (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The ministerial committee assigned by the extraordinary joint Arab-Islamic Summit expressed unequivocal rejection of all violations and practices carried out by Israel against the Palestinians, including settlement operations, forced displacement, and the bombardment of civilian facilities.

Chaired by the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the committee, including his counterparts Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani of Qatar, Ayman Safadi of Jordan, and Sameh Shoukry of Egypt, held a press conference in Washington on Friday.

During the meeting, Prince Faisal bin Farhan warned of the “seriousness of the current situation,” citing a “significant increase in the number of civilian casualties and the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

“Our message is clear and straightforward; we believe it is crucial to end the conflict immediately,” said the top Saudi diplomat.

He expressed dissatisfaction with the apparent lack of priority given to ending the conflict in some quarters of the international community.

As for the Jordanian Foreign Minister, he expressed pessimism towards the current situation.

“Unfortunately, I am not optimistic. I believe Israel does not listen to anyone and continues its assaults with destructive consequences for everyone in the region, including Israel itself,” Safadi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“This aggression stems from anger and resentment, driven by a radical campaign, and that is why we are in Washington,” he clarified.

He added that the committee seeks to convey these messages during its meetings with officials in Washington.

In response to a question from Asharq Al-Awsat, the Egyptian Foreign Minister said: “The solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees is to end the military operations immediately.”

Shoukry emphasized that the current humanitarian situation poses a threat to international security and peace.

“The solution is a ceasefire and a plan by the Security Council to allow the flow of more humanitarian aid,” said Shoukry, explaining that these proposals could provide a temporary solution that might help avoid any forced or voluntary displacement.

“Any form of displacement is a violation of international law and constitutes a war crime,” affirmed Shoukry.

The committee, which held meetings and discussions in the capital, Washington, including a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, expressed its rejection of Israeli violations and practices in the Palestinian territories that violate international laws and norms.

The committee also held a conference at the Wilson Center in Washington.

It emphasized the importance of the international community taking serious and urgent steps to secure relief corridors for the delivery of urgent humanitarian, food, and medical assistance to Gaza.

The committee also stressed the importance of the commitment of UN Security Council member states to their responsibility to stop the violations committed by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza.

Furthermore, the committee pointed out that a return to the path of a fair, permanent, and comprehensive peace in Palestine requires serious action from the international community to implement international resolutions related to the two-state solution.


UN Chief Warns of Consequences of Displacing Palestinians in Egypt

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York City on December 8, 2023. (Photo by Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York City on December 8, 2023. (Photo by Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)
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UN Chief Warns of Consequences of Displacing Palestinians in Egypt

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York City on December 8, 2023. (Photo by Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York City on December 8, 2023. (Photo by Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has warned of a "total collapse" of the humanitarian support system in Gaza, saying it would have devastating consequences.

Guterres cautioned during a Security Council session on Friday that this would result in the complete breakdown of public order and increase pressure for mass displacement into Egypt.

He called for an immediate cessation of the fighting between Israel and Hamas.

The Security Council failed to pass a draft resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza on Friday.

The text, presented by the UAE, was vetoed by the United States, one of five permanent council members.

The vote was delayed several hours to overcome the objections of the US and the UK.

Western diplomats sought to postpone the vote to another day, hoping to reach a consensus on a decision that would be approved by all member states, or at least no veto will be used against it.

An Arab and Islamic ministerial delegation, chaired by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, held several meetings in Washington with senior US officials, namely Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

- Breaking point

Before the vote, the Security Council held a meeting Friday during which Guterres delivered a speech warning that the war poses a severe risk of aggravating existing threats to maintaining international peace and security.

Ahead of the session, the Sec-Gen announced an unprecedented decision to invoke Article 99, urging Council members to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and appealing for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared.

Guterres told the members that Gazans are going through "a spiraling humanitarian nightmare," noting that he wrote to the Security Council invoking Article 99 because "we are at a breaking point."

"We have already seen the spillover in the Occupied West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen."

He recalled that more than 130 UN staff had already been killed, many with their families.

However, Guterres asserted: "I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the UN is committed to stay and deliver for the people of Gaza."

"Nowhere in Gaza is safe," warned the Sec-Gen, adding that "Gazans are running out of food," and according to the World Food Program (WFP), there is a severe risk of starvation and famine.

He called upon Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release the Israeli captives, adding that "the brutality perpetrated by Hamas can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people."

- Palestine and Israel

Palestine's permanent observer Riyad Mansour warned that the Israeli occupation is planning for "ethnic cleansing" in Gaza, seizing the property of the Palestinian people and forcibly displacing them.

Mansour stressed that the war on Gaza aims to end the Palestinian cause and "prevent forever any prospect of Palestinian impudence and peace."

The diplomat praised Guterres's call for a ceasefire in Gaza, asserting that if anyone says they are against the destruction and displacement of Palestinian people, they have to be in favor of an immediate ceasefire.

"When you refuse to call for a ceasefire, you are refusing to call for the only thing that can put an end to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. This is how Israel is conducting the war, through atrocities," Mansour said.

Furthermore, Israel's Permanent Representative Gilad Erdan criticized the calls for a ceasefire, considering that regional security and stability can only be achieved "once Hamas is eliminated."

- Russia and China

Russia's Representative Dmitriy Polyansky stated that his country is working with China and the UAE to achieve an "immediate" ceasefire in Gaza, adding that the humanitarian truce was "insufficient."

Polyansky strongly criticized Israel and the US support, warning of "a new catastrophe," adding that Russia is ready to redouble its efforts to achieve a two-state solution following international resolutions and the 2002 Arab initiative.

Representative of China Zhang Jun paid tribute to the Secretary-General for his statement on the seriousness of the situation in Gaza.

He said China supports and co-sponsors the draft resolution submitted by the UAE because only an immediate ceasefire will save lives and pave the way for the two-state solution.

"A larger crisis is imminent," and regional peace and security are "on the precipice," said the Chinese diplomat, adding that the world is watching.

- The US position

US Deputy Permanent Representative Robert Wood said Washington still could not understand why the resolution's authors declined to include language condemning Hamas's attack on Israel.

He reiterated that the US does not support calls for an immediate ceasefire.

"There must be no enduring displacement or reduction in Gaza's territory. Under no circumstances would the US support forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank," he said.

Wood expressed concern about renewed acts of violence along the Blue Line on the Lebanese-Israeli border, adding that restoring stability is extremely important.

He condemned the Houthi attacks against commercial ships in international waters south of the Red Sea, saying Iran was involved in planning the operations.

He stressed that US officials extensively consulted with partners and allies to determine the appropriate next steps.

- France and Britain

France's Permanent Representative Nicolas de Riviere stressed that the Council must act in the face of this acute crisis, reiterating his country's demand for "a new, immediate and permanent humanitarian truce that leads to a permanent ceasefire."

He said that Paris is mobilizing its efforts to avoid the outbreak of a regional conflict, calling on all parties to exercise restraint.

UK's Ambassador Barbara Woodward said Hamas was responsible for the current situation, reiterating Israel's right to self-defense.

"Civilians must be protected," she underscored.

- Draft resolution

The UAE responded to Guterres' request to prepare a draft resolution that demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The Sec-Gen noted that international humanitarian law cannot be applied selectively.

It is binding on all parties equally at all times, and the obligation to observe it does not depend on reciprocity.

He called for the "immediate and unconditional release, as well as their humane treatment and visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross until they are freed."


France Freezes Aid to Lebanon, Pressuring Resolution for Army’s 'Vacuum Crisis’

Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati holding meeting with the French delegation (Dalati and Nohra)
Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati holding meeting with the French delegation (Dalati and Nohra)
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France Freezes Aid to Lebanon, Pressuring Resolution for Army’s 'Vacuum Crisis’

Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati holding meeting with the French delegation (Dalati and Nohra)
Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati holding meeting with the French delegation (Dalati and Nohra)

While France may acknowledge the growing challenge in foreseeing the election of a president in Lebanon, it has not yielded in its efforts to avert a leadership void in the country's paramount Maronite institution, the Lebanese army.

This comes after a year-long vacuum in the presidency and another void in the governance of the Central Bank of Lebanon.

The recent visit of the French presidential envoy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to Lebanon focused on this issue.

France’s strategy pivots towards the notion of “overcoming grievances.”

It implores the Lebanese to fulfill their “duty” by electing a president, aiming to reinstate constitutional order in a nation suffering from a profound economic and financial crisis.

Moreover, Lebanon confronts the mounting likelihood and considerable peril of being entangled in the persisting conflict in Gaza—a scenario separate from the minor attrition war orchestrated by Hezbollah along the southern borders, ostensibly in the name of “supporting the Palestinians.”

France senses a significant danger looming over Lebanon, with confrontations occurring at its southern borders and the threat of military and security vacuum haunting the country.

All these factors put its diplomacy on high alert.

This might explain the successive visits, both announced and undisclosed, by French officials to Lebanon in recent days, including a joint delegation from the defense and foreign ministries.

The deployment of 700 French soldiers in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) makes their readiness even more pronounced.

According to French diplomatic sources, the vacuum in the army’s leadership is “a security threat to France at the same level as the threat to Lebanon's security.”

Moreover, there is an Israeli threat hovering over Lebanon, and while the issue of the presidential election may wait for some time despite its importance, the vacuum in the leadership of the Lebanese army poses an immediate and unavoidable security nightmare.

France, as per a source who requested anonymity, will not intervene in “how to prevent the vacuum.”

Preventing a power vacuum may be achieved by either extending the term of Army Commander General Joseph Aoun or by filling the gap in the General Staff that could replace the army commander when his term ends in January.

“France does not insist on extending the army commander’s term,” the source told Asharq Al-Awsat, explaining that French officials have informed their Lebanese counterparts to do “what they deem appropriate to prevent the vacuum at the top of the military institution.”

The source also notes that Le Drian received assurances from Lebanese officials that the matter is being addressed.

France has taken steps to pressure Lebanese officials in this regard, and a decision has been made to link aid allocated to the army and cooperation projects with resolving this issue.