Iranian Revolutionary Guard Amass on Iraq’s Kurdistan Border

A still image from a video shows an Iranian missile launched towards the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in September 2022. (AFP)
A still image from a video shows an Iranian missile launched towards the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in September 2022. (AFP)
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Iranian Revolutionary Guard Amass on Iraq’s Kurdistan Border

A still image from a video shows an Iranian missile launched towards the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in September 2022. (AFP)
A still image from a video shows an Iranian missile launched towards the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in September 2022. (AFP)

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is mobilizing forces along the border area between Iraq and Iran in the Kurdistan Region, suggested information from the Sulaymaniyah province in the Kurdistan Region.

The development comes just three days before the expiration of the deadline set by Tehran for the disarmament of separatist Iranian groups present in the Kurdistan Region.

Iran had recently announced its agreement with Iraq to close down the separatists’ headquarters and disarm them by no later than September 19.

The agreement stipulates the closure of military facilities belonging to the groups in northern Iraq.

A source closely associated with Iranian opposition parties informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has amassed a substantial force along the border strip with the Kurdistan Region.

The move appears to be an effort to exert pressure on both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region to expedite the implementation of the agreement.

According to the source, who requested anonymity, Iraqi border guards have also deployed along the area to enforce the agreement.

The source did not rule out the possibility of the Revolutionary Guard launching attacks within Iraqi territory, whether by missiles or drones, as they have frequently done against anti-Tehran parties in Iraq.

Moreover, the source said it was impossible to predict whether Iranian forces would enter the Iraqi territories, but it was a means to pressure Baghdad to follow through with agreement.

Ghayath Al-Sourji, a leader in the Kurdistan National Union Party, emphasized in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat that while the Iranian build-up along the border is evident, it may also be connected to “Iran's domestic affairs.”

Tehran is bracing for the one-year anniversary of the killing of Iranian Kurdish young woman Mahsa Amini by Iranian police, raising the potential for new protests in Kurdish areas within Iran.



Iraq: Sudani Heads to Michigan to Meet Arab Americans at a Tense Time for the Middle East

5 April 2024, US, Arlington: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani meets with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon. Photo: Mc1 Alexander Kubitza/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
5 April 2024, US, Arlington: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani meets with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon. Photo: Mc1 Alexander Kubitza/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
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Iraq: Sudani Heads to Michigan to Meet Arab Americans at a Tense Time for the Middle East

5 April 2024, US, Arlington: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani meets with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon. Photo: Mc1 Alexander Kubitza/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
5 April 2024, US, Arlington: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani meets with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon. Photo: Mc1 Alexander Kubitza/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

The leader of Iraq traveled to Michigan on Thursday following a sit-down with President Joe Biden to meet with the state's large Iraqi community and update them on escalating tensions in the Middle East following Iran’s weekend aerial assault on Israel.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani's trip to both Washington and Michigan to discuss US-Iraq relations had been planned well before Saturday's drone and missile launches from Iran-backed groups. The visit has been thrust into the spotlight as tensions in the region escalate following the strike, which included drone and missile launches that overflew Iraqi airspace and others that were launched from Iraq by Iran-backed groups.
Michigan holds one of the largest populations of Iraqis in the nation and many local Democrats have pushed back against US support for Israel's war in Gaza following the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. The state holds the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the country, The Associated Press said.
The Iraqi prime minister was met by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans upon arrival Thursday in addition to multiple leaders within the area's Arab American community, including Deputy Wayne County Executive Assad I. Turfe and Dearborn’s state Rep. Alabas Farhat.
A motorcade of over 40 cars then traveled to a mosque in Dearborn Heights where the prime minister met with Iraqi community members and officials to give an update on his meeting with Biden talking about the economic relations between Iraq and the US.
Local Wayne County leaders emphasized that the meeting had been planned before this weekend's developments, saying that a goal of the trip was to build relationships in a community that holds the largest Iraqi population outside of the Middle East.
There are just over 90,000 residents in Michigan of Iraqi descent, the largest of any state, according to the most recent US Census. In Wayne County, home to the cities of Detroit and Dearborn, 7.8% of residents identified of Middle Eastern and North African ancestry, alone or in any combination, the highest percentage of any US county.
The concentration of those residents in the outskirts of Detroit has led to multiple visits to the area from officials engaged in Middle Eastern relations.
Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to Biden, traveled to metro Detroit in March to meet with Lebanese Americans and discuss efforts to prevent the conflict from expanding along Israel’s northern border, where Hezbollah operates. Multiple White House officials also traveled to Dearborn in February to meet with Arab American leaders to discuss the conflict.
Fears over the war expanding grew over the weekend following the strikes and the developments have raised further questions about the viability of the two-decade American military presence in Iraq. However, a US Patriot battery in Irbil, Iraq, which is designed to protect against missiles, did shoot down at least one Iranian ballistic missile, according to American officials — one of dozens of missiles and drones destroyed by US forces alongside Israeli efforts to defeat the attack.


Guterres Warns Mideast on Brink of 'Full-scale Regional Conflict'

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City on April 18, 2024. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City on April 18, 2024. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
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Guterres Warns Mideast on Brink of 'Full-scale Regional Conflict'

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City on April 18, 2024. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City on April 18, 2024. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday painted a dark picture of the situation in the Middle East, warning that spiraling tensions over the war in Gaza and Iran's attack on Israel could devolve into a "full-scale regional conflict."

"The Middle East is on a precipice. Recent days have seen a perilous escalation -- in words and deeds," Guterres told a high-level Security Council meeting, with several foreign ministers present, including from Jordan and Iran.

"One miscalculation, one miscommunication, one mistake, could lead to the unthinkable --- a full-scale regional conflict that would be devastating for all involved," he said, calling on all parties to exercise "maximum restraint."

Iran unleashed a barrage of missiles and drones on Israel over the weekend, after an attack on its consulate in Damascus widely blamed on Israel.

Israeli officials have not said when or where they would retaliate, but the country's military chief has vowed a response.

Guterres condemned both the consulate attack and the flurry of drones, saying that the latter constituted a "serious escalation."

"It is high time to end the bloody cycle of retaliation," he said. "It is high time to stop."

"The international community must work together to prevent any actions that could push the entire Middle East over the edge, with a devastating impact on civilians. Let me be clear: the risks are spiraling on many fronts."

For Guterres, de-escalation of the situation would begin by ending fighting in the Gaza Strip, where at least 33,970 people have been killed in Israeli attacks, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

"I reiterate my calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the immediate release of all hostages held in Gaza," Guterres said.

"In Gaza, six and a half months of Israeli military operations have created a humanitarian hellscape," he lamented, and while he said Israel had made "limited progress" on allowing more aid into the territory, he called for more to be done.

"Our aid operations are barely functional. They cannot operate in an organized, systematic way; they can only seize opportunities to deliver aid whenever and wherever possible," he said.

"Delivering aid at scale requires Israel's full and active facilitation of humanitarian operations."

The UN chief also called on Israel to put a stop to settler violence in the occupied West Bank, after the killing of a 14-year-old Israeli boy sparked Israeli attacks in dozens of Palestinian villages.

"I call on Israel, as the occupying power, to protect the Palestinian population of the occupied West Bank against attacks, violence and intimidation," he told the Security Council.


Hamas Sources to Asharq Al-Awsat: Talks for Ceasefire in Gaza Almost at Standstill

A photo distributed by Hamas of the release of Israeli hostages on November 24 as part of a ceasefire truce (Reuters)
A photo distributed by Hamas of the release of Israeli hostages on November 24 as part of a ceasefire truce (Reuters)
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Hamas Sources to Asharq Al-Awsat: Talks for Ceasefire in Gaza Almost at Standstill

A photo distributed by Hamas of the release of Israeli hostages on November 24 as part of a ceasefire truce (Reuters)
A photo distributed by Hamas of the release of Israeli hostages on November 24 as part of a ceasefire truce (Reuters)

Sources in the Hamas movement told Asharq Al-Awsat that the talks on a ceasefire in Gaza “have not collapsed,” but were almost suspended, due to the recent developments.

The movement’s statement came as Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani said on Wednesday that talks for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and the release of detainees were going through a sensitive phase and were witnessing some obstacles.

Al Thani’s statement confirmed the failure of the last round of negotiations, after Hamas stuck to its positions regarding the need for Israel to stop the war, withdraw its forces, and allow the return of the displaced.

Hamas issued a statement, on Wednesday, on the occasion of the Palestinians’ commemoration of “Prisoner’s Day,” saying: “The goal of liberating our prisoners is at the heart of the ongoing (Al-Aqsa Flood) battle, and will remain our top priority. The movement will spare no effort to achieve a deal for them.”

The Hamas movement adhered to its declared positions to reach a truce agreement in the Gaza Strip, in its latest response to a new proposal put forward by the mediators.

It stipulated that the release of Israeli detainees in the first phase of the deal be conditional on the negotiators providing guarantees that Israel agrees in the second phase to a permanent ceasefire, a complete withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza, and the return of the Palestinians to the northern Gaza Strip without hindrance.


Sudani: There are No Combat Forces in Iraq to Withdraw

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shiaa al-Sudani at the beginning of a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on Monday, April 15, 2024. (dpa)
US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shiaa al-Sudani at the beginning of a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on Monday, April 15, 2024. (dpa)
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Sudani: There are No Combat Forces in Iraq to Withdraw

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shiaa al-Sudani at the beginning of a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on Monday, April 15, 2024. (dpa)
US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shiaa al-Sudani at the beginning of a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on Monday, April 15, 2024. (dpa)

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shiaa Al-Sudani said that the justification for the presence of the international coalition against ISIS, which consists of 86 countries, has ended, after Iraq was able to defeat the terrorist organization.
Sudani was speaking during a meeting with media correspondents on Tuesday night in Washington, where he met with US President Joe Biden and a number of officials.
In response to a question by Asharq Al-Awsat regarding the controversy surrounding the presence of US combat forces in Iraq, and whether the discussions he held with the American administration included a clear schedule for their withdrawal, Al-Sudani said: “There are no combat forces in Iraq for them to withdraw,” indicating that the US forces have left the country, and only an advisory body was still present.
The Iraqi premier added that the joint military technical committees were discussing mechanisms for ending the international coalition’s mission in Iraq and moving to a bilateral relationship between Iraq and the coalition members, mainly the US.
“Iraq in 2024 is different from Iraq in 2014 when the work of the coalition forces began,” Sudani said, noting that ending the work of the coalition was an Iraqi demand, part of the government program that was approved by Parliament, and the subject of discussion between the Iraqi government and the United States since August 2023.
He also stressed that the escalation between Iran and Israel affects the stability of Iraq and the region, saying: “We will use our legal and diplomatic rights to protect our lands from any aggression.”
The Iraqi Prime Minister denied that his country had received reports or indications from Iran about launching missiles and drones in the attack on Israel.
According to Sudani, the cause of the current escalation was the failure to address the Palestinian issue, as well as the continued Israeli aggression on Gaza and the deliberate targeting of civilians.
Asked about US promises to lift US Treasury sanctions against Iraqi banks involved in money laundering operations on behalf of Iran, Sudani said that the current government has worked to implement financial and banking reforms during the last period, and has achieved progress in controlling more than 80 percent of the financial transactions conducted by Iraqi banks in accordance with international standards.
The Iraqi Prime Minister announced that his country has launched promising projects and set a clear timetable to invest in liquefied gas and natural gas through contracts with companies operating in the Kurdistan region, with the aim of achieving self-sufficiency within a period of three to five years and discussing new oil and gas projects with US companies in Houston and Michigan.

 


UN Agency Helping Palestinians in Gaza Seeks Support against Israel's Demands for its Dissolution

Palestinians flee their homes in the city of Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas group. (Photo by AFP)
Palestinians flee their homes in the city of Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas group. (Photo by AFP)
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UN Agency Helping Palestinians in Gaza Seeks Support against Israel's Demands for its Dissolution

Palestinians flee their homes in the city of Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas group. (Photo by AFP)
Palestinians flee their homes in the city of Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas group. (Photo by AFP)

The head of the UN agency that has helped millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank for decades urged the Security Council on Wednesday to ensure its survival as Israel again demanded its dissolution, accusing the agency of becoming part of Hamas’ “terror war machine.”
Philippe Lazzarini told the council that dismantling the agency known as UNRWA would deepen Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and speed up the onset of famine. International experts have warned of imminent famine in northern Gaza and said half the territory’s 2.3 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation if the six-month Israeli-Hamas war intensifies, The Associated Press said.
Lazzarini said ending the agency's operations also would have other “lasting repercussions” on Gaza, leaving a half million children without education and “fueling anger, resentment and endless cycles of violence.” In addition, it would jeopardize the transition when the war ends by depriving Gaza’s population of essential services, including health care, food and other humanitarian aid, he said.
Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan claimed, without providing evidence, that UNRWA has been totally infiltrated by Hamas, which controlled Gaza before the war. He also accused UNRWA of being part of a Palestinian plot to annihilate Israel and becoming “the world’s biggest advocate for a one-state solution” run by Palestinians.
“Today in Gaza, UNRWA is Hamas and Hamas is UNRWA,” Erdan said.
”Israel cannot and will not allow UNRWA to continue in Gaza as it did in the past,” he said, telling the council there are alternative aid organizations and UN agencies that can help Palestinians in the territory. “The time has come to defund UNRWA,” he said.
The clash over UNRWA follows Israeli allegations that 12 of the agency's 13,000 workers in Gaza participated in the surprise Oct. 7 Hamas attack into southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people and forced 250 others into captivity.
The allegations led to the suspension of contributions to UNRWA by the United States and more than a dozen other countries.
It also sparked two investigations — one by the UN’s internal watchdog of the 12 UNRWA staff who have been fired and a second, independent probe into how the UN agency ensures its neutrality.
A report on the second investigation is to be released Monday, and Lazzarini pledged to implement its recommendations and strengthen safeguards to ensure UNRWA is neutral.
He argued that the real aim of Israel’s efforts to end UNRWA’s operations is “about ending the refugee status of millions of Palestinians.” He called allegations that UNRWA is perpetuating their refugee status “false and dishonest.”
“The agency exists because a political solution does not,” Lazzarini said.
He accused the international community of containing rather than resolving the more than 75-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said when a Palestinian state that can deliver education, health care and social support is established, UNRWA’s role will be finished.
Israel got no support for getting rid of UNRWA at the Security Council meeting. All 15 council members, including the United States, Israel’s closest ally, voiced support for the agency along with Arab and European representatives.
The delighted Palestinian UN ambassador, Riyad Mansour, told reporters after the meeting: “Wasn’t today’s debate impressive? Everyone except one” backed UNRWA.
US deputy ambassador Robert Wood said the United States recognizes “ UNRWA’s indispensable role in distributing humanitarian assistance and maintaining continuity of care in Gaza.” He called UNRWA “the bedrock of support for the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank.”
Wood urged Israel to end its ban on UNRWA delivering desperately needed aid to Gazans, saying “the lifting of restrictions on its work” is critical to averting famine.
Lazzarini told the council that since Oct. 7, 178 UNRWA personnel have been killed and over 160 of its premises that were mostly used to shelter Palestinians have been damaged or destroyed, killing more than 400 people. He said some UNRWA premises vacated by the agency have been used by Israeli forces, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, and its headquarters has been occupied “militarily,” amid allegations of tunnels under the premises.
“We demand an independent investigation and accountability for the blatant disregard for the protected status of humanitarian workers, operations and facilities under international law,” he said.
At the start of the council meeting, members and diplomats in the chamber observed a minute of silence in tribute to all humanitarian workers who had been killed.
Wood said the United States is “deeply concerned Israel has not done enough to protect humanitarian aid workers or civilians.”
He reiterated demands from President Joe Biden to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 4 that Israel “implement a series of specific, concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering and the safety of aid workers.”
Lazzarini told reporters after the meeting that he has never received any documents from Israel on its allegations about Hamas’ involvement in UNRWA.
“There is a lot of disinformation going on,” he said, and allegations must be substantiated so UNRWA can take proper action.
The US Congress has suspended any money for the agency until March 2025. The United States was UNRWA’s biggest donor. Lazzarini said for the current US fiscal year it contributed nearly $400 million, and the agency will have to compensate for that shortfall.
He said most countries have resumed funding UNRWA, with “just a handful” waiting for Monday’s report on its operations before taking a final decision. UNRWA now has funding until the end of June, he said.


Military Escalation Mounting in South Lebanon amid Iranian Vows to Attack Israel

A vehicle of the United Nations peacekeeping forces, moves past a destroyed house that was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Alma al-Shaab, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
A vehicle of the United Nations peacekeeping forces, moves past a destroyed house that was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Alma al-Shaab, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
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Military Escalation Mounting in South Lebanon amid Iranian Vows to Attack Israel

A vehicle of the United Nations peacekeeping forces, moves past a destroyed house that was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Alma al-Shaab, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
A vehicle of the United Nations peacekeeping forces, moves past a destroyed house that was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Alma al-Shaab, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Cross-border exchange of fire between Lebanon’s Hezbollah party and Israel escalated on Wednesday leading to the injury of 18 Israelis, as Hezbollah continues to retaliate against Israel’s killing of its leaders.
Hezbollah targeted an Israeli outpost with a drone yesterday, triggering an Israeli shelling on villages and towns in south Lebanon.
The recent escalation comes amid ambiguity in Israeli’s military response to Iran’s Sunday attack that targeted two of Israel’s military bases. Tehran has retaliated to a deadly strike on its Damascus consulate bombing earlier this month.
On Wednesday, Hezbollah claimed responsibility for bombing a military outpost in Arab al-Aramshe village in Israel located south of the Lebanese border.
In a statement the party said it fired missiles at Israeli military positions in retaliation to the killing of Hezbollah leaders in Ain Baal and al-Shahabiyeh.
Israeli paramedics said 18 Israelis, including soldiers, were taken to the Nahariya hospital, four of whom suffered from serious injuries as a result of missiles fired by Hezbollah drones from south Lebanon.
Military and strategic researcher Mustafa Asaad told Asharq al-Awsat that a retaliation from Hezbollah was expected knowing that several leaders of the party were killed by Israel. He described the recent development as a “dangerous one.”

However, he pointed out that from Israel’s perspective any exchange of fire with Hezbollah will not stand to substitute for a strike against Iran.
“It will not be a substitute, from the Israeli perspective for striking Iran, because Tel Aviv’s response will be directed to the inside not the outside, carrying a message that it retains a massive power”.
On Wednesday, Israeli shelling targeted the al-Dhaiyra, the outskirts of Alma al-Shaab, Yarin and Merwahin in southern Lebanon. Israeli reconnaissance planes continued to hover over the area.

Hezbollah and Israeli forces have been exchanging fire since a day after the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7.


China and Indonesia Call for Ceasefire in Gaza

Internally displaced Palestinians who fled from the northern Gaza strip walk along Al Rashid road as they attempt to return from the southern Gaza strip, 14 April 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
Internally displaced Palestinians who fled from the northern Gaza strip walk along Al Rashid road as they attempt to return from the southern Gaza strip, 14 April 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
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China and Indonesia Call for Ceasefire in Gaza

Internally displaced Palestinians who fled from the northern Gaza strip walk along Al Rashid road as they attempt to return from the southern Gaza strip, 14 April 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
Internally displaced Palestinians who fled from the northern Gaza strip walk along Al Rashid road as they attempt to return from the southern Gaza strip, 14 April 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER

The Chinese and Indonesian foreign ministers called for an immediate and lasting cease-fire in Gaza after a meeting in Jakarta on Thursday, condemning the humanitarian costs of the ongoing war that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians.
Indonesia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi told reporters that the two countries share the same view about the importance of a cease-fire and of resolving the Palestinian problem through a two-state solution, The Associated Press said.
“I am sure that China would use its influence to prevent escalation,” Marsudi said, adding that China and Indonesia "would also fully support Palestine’s membership in the UN”
The meeting took place on the second day of a six-day tour during which Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will also visit Papua New Guinea and Cambodia.
Wang blamed the United States for holding up ceasefire resolutions at the UN
“The conflict in Gaza has lasted for half a year and caused a rare humanitarian tragedy in the 21st century. The United Nations Security Council responded to the call of the international community and continued to review the resolution draft on the ceasefire in Gaza, but it was repeatedly vetoed by the United States,” Wang told reporters.
The US vetoed a number of proposed Security Council resolutions because they didn't tie cease-fire directly to the release of Israel hostages or condemn Hamas’ attacks that prompted the war, before allowing a resolution to a pass with an abstention in late March.
American officials have argued that the cease-fire and hostage releases are linked, while Russia, China and many other council members favored unconditional calls for a cease-fire.
“This time, the US did not dare to stand in opposition to international morality and chose to abstain. However, the US claimed that this resolution was not binding," Wang said. “In the eyes of the United States, international law seems to be a tool that can be used whenever it finds useful and discarded if it does not want to use it.”
The two ministers also discussed their countries' economic relationship and the South China Sea.
China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner, with the trade volume reaching more than $127 billion. China is also one of Indonesia's largest foreign investors, with investment flows of more than $7.4 billion in 2023.
Later Thursday, Wang is also scheduled to meet Indonesian President Joko Widodo and president-elect Prabowo Subianto, who is currently defense minister.


Israel Reserves ‘Right to Protect Itself’ after Iran Attack, Says Netanyahu

 17 April 2024, Israel, Jerusalem: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, arrives for a joint meeting with Annalena Baerbock (not pictured), Germany's Foreign Minister. (dpa)
17 April 2024, Israel, Jerusalem: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, arrives for a joint meeting with Annalena Baerbock (not pictured), Germany's Foreign Minister. (dpa)
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Israel Reserves ‘Right to Protect Itself’ after Iran Attack, Says Netanyahu

 17 April 2024, Israel, Jerusalem: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, arrives for a joint meeting with Annalena Baerbock (not pictured), Germany's Foreign Minister. (dpa)
17 April 2024, Israel, Jerusalem: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, arrives for a joint meeting with Annalena Baerbock (not pictured), Germany's Foreign Minister. (dpa)

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday his country will decide how to respond to Iran's unprecedented attack as world leaders called for restraint to avoid escalation.

The Israeli military has vowed to respond to Iran's missile and drone weekend attack, prompting a diplomatic flurry aiming to calm a region already on the edge due to the Israel-Hamas war raging in Gaza since October 7.

Washington and Brussels have pledged to ramp up sanctions against Iran, while British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock became the first Western envoys to visit Israel after the attack.

Netanyahu told the visiting ministers that Israel "will reserve the right to protect itself," his office said.

The pair offered "all kinds of suggestions and advice" during a meeting, Netanyahu said. "However, I would also like to clarify: we will make our decisions ourselves."

For his part, Cameron said that "we're very anxious to avoid escalation and to say to our friends in Israel: It's a time to think with head as well as heart."

Baerbock emphasized that "the region must not slide into a situation whose outcome is completely unpredictable."

Tehran has vowed to hit back if its arch foe Israel responds to the Saturday attack, which itself was launched in retaliation to a deadly strike on Iran's Damascus consulate building earlier this month.

Iran military parade

As Iran marked its annual Army Day, it showed off a range of its weapons Wednesday, including attack drones and longer-range ballistic missiles, in a military parade in Tehran.

President Ebrahim Raisi has warned after the attack that "the slightest act of aggression" by Israel would lead to "a fierce and severe response".

In the large-scale assault late Saturday, Iran and allied groups launched over 300 missiles and drones carrying a combined payload of 85 tons at Israel, according to the Israeli army.

Damage and casualties were limited as Israel's air defenses intercepted most of them with the help of US, British, French and Jordanian forces.

Israel's military chief Herzi Halevi has vowed "a response" to Iran's first ever direct attack, while military spokesman Daniel Hagari stressed that Iran would not get off "scot-free".

It remained unclear how and when Israel might strike, and whether it would target Iran directly or attack its interests or allies abroad in places such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group and Israeli forces have been exchanging near daily cross-border fire with Israel since the Gaza war began.

Hezbollah said it launched drones and missiles into Israel on Wednesday, which the army said wounded 14 soldiers, six of whom seriously.

US, EU to toughen sanctions

Israel's top ally the United States has made clear it won't join any attack on Iran, vowing instead to level more sanctions targeting Iran's missile and drone program, its Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian defense ministry.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Brussels was also working to expand sanctions against Iran, including its supply of drones and other weapons to Russia and to proxy groups around the Middle East.

Germany's Baerbock said that Berlin and Paris were in favor of a European sanctions regime against Iranian drones to be extended to include "missile technologies in Iran's arsenal".

Cameron also urged the G7 to adopt new "coordinated sanctions against Iran," ahead of a meeting with counterparts from the Western-led grouping in Italy.

Deadly strikes in Gaza

The sharply heightened Israel-Iran tensions have threatened to overshadow the Gaza war, even as deadly bombardment and combat raged on unabated in the besieged territory.

Talks toward a truce and hostage release deal have stalled for now, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, a key mediator, despite months of effort also involving US and Egyptian officials.

The Israeli military said Wednesday its aircraft had "struck over 40 terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip" over the past day.

When one strike hit the southernmost city of Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering, Jamalat Ramidan said she "woke up to the sounds of girls shouting 'mama, mama, mama'."

As she fled the carnage alongside children, they stumbled over "body parts and corpses scattered all over the place," Ramidan told AFP.

Vast areas of Gaza have been devastated by more than six months of war, while its 2.4 million people have suffered under an Israeli siege that has blocked most water, food, medicines and other vital supplies.

The war was triggered by an unprecedented attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also took about 250 hostages, of whom Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

Israel's devastating retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,899 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Israel rejects famine claims

Israel has faced growing global opposition to the relentless fighting in Gaza, which the United Nations and aid agencies have warned has pushed the north of the territory to the brink of famine.

But Netanyahu rejected any claims about famine on Wednesday, saying Israel is doing "above and beyond" what is needed "on the humanitarian issue," his office said.

The UN said it would launch an appeal on Wednesday for $2.8 billion to help Palestinians in Gaza and in the occupied West Bank.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war has also revived the push for Palestinian statehood as part of a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict.

The UN Security Council was preparing to vote Thursday on an Algeria-drafted resolution for full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state, diplomatic sources said.

However, the veto-wielding United States has repeatedly expressed opposition to the move.


Italy’s Leader Keeps the Focus on Migration on Her Fourth Visit to Tunisia in a Year

In this photo provided by the Tunisian Presidency, Tunisian President Kais Saied, right, shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, in Tunis, Wednesday April 17, 2024. (Tunisian Presidential Palace via AP)
In this photo provided by the Tunisian Presidency, Tunisian President Kais Saied, right, shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, in Tunis, Wednesday April 17, 2024. (Tunisian Presidential Palace via AP)
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Italy’s Leader Keeps the Focus on Migration on Her Fourth Visit to Tunisia in a Year

In this photo provided by the Tunisian Presidency, Tunisian President Kais Saied, right, shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, in Tunis, Wednesday April 17, 2024. (Tunisian Presidential Palace via AP)
In this photo provided by the Tunisian Presidency, Tunisian President Kais Saied, right, shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, in Tunis, Wednesday April 17, 2024. (Tunisian Presidential Palace via AP)

The head of Italy's right-wing government acknowledged Wednesday that Tunisia cannot serve as a dumping ground for migrants, days after Tunisia's president reaffirmed his unwillingness to let Europe outsource migration problems by sending those not welcome there to his country.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said during a visit to Tunisia — her fourth in the past year — that the North African nation “cannot become the arrival point for migrants coming from the rest of Europe.”

However, she sidestepped tensions over how to manage migration via the Mediterranean Sea and instead praised Tunisia and Italy's shared priorities in fighting human traffickers and repatriating African migrants back to their home countries.

Meloni and Tunisian President Kais Saied signed new accords as part of Italy's “Mattei Plan” for Africa, a continent-wide strategy aimed at growing economic opportunities and preventing migration to Europe.

They included education initiatives and 50 million euros (about $53 million) in a budgetary aid package earmarked for renewable energy projects. Meloni also promised to expand efforts to repatriate migrants to their home countries and expand legal migration pathways for Tunisians to work in Italy.

“It is essential that we work together to continue to fight the slavers of the third millennium, the mafia organizations that exploit the legitimate aspirations of those who would like a better life,” Meloni said, referring to smugglers who facilitate migrants' perilous sea journeys.

European leaders often frame migration as a human trafficking issue, though migrants are known to make the trip in various ways and for a variety of reasons.

Nearly 16,000 migrants have made the treacherous journey from North Africa to Italy so far in 2024, travelling thousands of kilometers (miles) from Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, mainly to islands off the Italian mainland. Arrivals tend to increase through spring and summer.

As weather warmed early this year, more migrants arrived with each passing month — a trend that's on track to maintain its pace through April.

Less than half as many migrants had arrived in Italy as of April 15, compared to the same period in 2023, according to figures from the UN refugee agency. That’s in part because of Tunisia's border patrol force, which this year intercepted about 21,000 migrants before they crossed into European waters.

Despite the interceptions, Saied has long insisted he is unwilling to let his country become Europe's “border guard” or accept migrants that Europe wants to deport.

Earlier this week, he said he had no intention of opening detention centers for migrants in an agreement similar to Italy's deal with Albania on asylum seekers. “We will not accept the presence of people outside the law, and Tunisia will not be a victim," Saied said.

North African countries, from Morocco to Egypt, enjoy some leverage in their relations with Europe due to their role in helping control the flow of migrants. Italy and its European Union counterparts have pledged substantial financial support to countries on the other side of the Mediterranean to help prevent migration and trafficking.

But most of the more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) promised to Tunisia as part of an EU agreement brokered in July is contingent on the country reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund on a stalled bailout package that could require painful spending cuts.

The broader EU package includes 105 million euros ($112 million) earmarked for migration. Romdhane Ben Amor, a spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, which closely follows the migration assistance, said much of it has yet to be disbursed.


UN Security Council to Vote Friday on Palestinian UN Membership

Smoke rises during an Israeli military operation in Al Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, 17 April 2024. (EPA)
Smoke rises during an Israeli military operation in Al Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, 17 April 2024. (EPA)
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UN Security Council to Vote Friday on Palestinian UN Membership

Smoke rises during an Israeli military operation in Al Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, 17 April 2024. (EPA)
Smoke rises during an Israeli military operation in Al Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, 17 April 2024. (EPA)

 

The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to vote Friday on a Palestinian request for full UN membership, said diplomats, a move that Israel ally the United States is expected to block because it would effectively recognize a Palestinian state.

The 15-member council is due to vote at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT) Friday on a draft resolution that recommends to the 193-member UN General Assembly that "the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations," diplomats said.

A council resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, Britain, France, Russia or China to pass. Diplomats say the measure could have the support of up to 13 council members, which would force the US to use its veto.

Council member Algeria, which put forward the draft resolution, had requested a vote for Thursday afternoon to coincide with a Security Council meeting on the Middle East, which is due to be attended by several ministers.

The United States has said that establishing an independent Palestinian state should happen through direct negotiations between the parties and not at the United Nations.

"We do not see that doing a resolution in the Security Council will necessarily get us to a place where we can find ... a two-state solution moving forward," US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Wednesday.

The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a de facto recognition of statehood that was granted by the 193-member UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.

'PEACE-LOVING STATES'

The UN Security Council has long endorsed a vision of two states living side by side within secure and recognized borders. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, all territory captured by Israel in 1967.

Little progress has been made on achieving Palestinian statehood since the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the early 1990s.

The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Palestinian Hamas fighters in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israel's UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said earlier this month that "whoever supports recognizing a Palestinian state at such a time not only gives a prize to terror, but also backs unilateral steps which are contradictory to the agreed-upon principle of direct negotiations."

A Security Council committee on the admission of new members - made up of all 15 council members - met twice last week to discuss the Palestinian application and agreed to a report on the issue on Tuesday.

"Regarding the issue of whether the application met all the criteria for membership ... the Committee was unable to make a unanimous recommendation to the Security Council," the report said, adding that "differing views were expressed."

UN membership is open to "peace-loving states" that accept the obligations in the founding UN Charter and are able and willing to carry them out.