Yemen's Presidential Leadership Calls for Support, Pressuring Houthis

Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) President Rashad al-Alimi, during his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) President Rashad al-Alimi, during his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
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Yemen's Presidential Leadership Calls for Support, Pressuring Houthis

Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) President Rashad al-Alimi, during his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) President Rashad al-Alimi, during his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) President Rashad al-Alimi accused the Houthi group of obliterating decades of developments in the country since their coup.

Speaking at the Sustainable Development Goals Summit on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly meetings in New York, Alimi urged the international community to push the Houthis toward peace.

The Yemeni official called for intensified pressure on the Houthis to end the politicization of humanitarian issues, asserting that this is as important as humanitarian aid.

He explained that Yemen is lagging in its development commitments due to the strains of war and a deepening humanitarian crisis that the Iran-backed Houthi militias continue exacerbating for the ninth consecutive year.

Alimi added that the war has shifted developmental priorities in Yemen, especially in light of the cessation of oil exports for an entire year following Houthi attacks on export ports and international shipping lanes.

Discussing sustainable development objectives, which involve widespread societal participation in decision-making, production, and employing technology for job creation and improving life quality, the Yemeni leader stressed that such discussions are now impossible in densely populated militia-controlled areas.

He blamed the Houthi group for barring life-saving vaccines from reaching their territories, leading to a resurgence of deadly diseases eradicated two decades ago.

- Destruction of achievements

Alimi discussed the impacts of the Houthi war and its dire consequences across various service, developmental, and humanitarian sectors.

Recently, he said millions of Yemeni students returned to school under extremely harsh conditions, adding that the governmental protection network that should be bolstering the education sector has collapsed.

He emphasized that the Houthis' actions have destroyed Yemen's economic achievements over the past decades.

- Diplomatic Initiatives

He held a series of meetings with UN and international officials in New York to shed light on the crisis in Yemen and pressure the Houthi rebels to embrace peace, according to official sources.

Alimi and PLC Vice President Aidrous al-Zubaidi met with the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken.

They discussed the evolving situation in Yemen and the commendable mediation efforts led by Saudi Arabia and Oman to renew the truce and initiate a comprehensive political process under the UN's auspices.

Alimi acknowledged the US humanitarian interventions to alleviate the hardships intensified by Houthi attacks on oil installations and international shipping routes.

Additionally, he met with the UN Under-Secretary-General, Vladimir Voronkov, and discussed the wide-ranging implications of the Houthi war.

State-owned Saba news agency reported that Alimi briefed the UN official on the escalating threats fuelled by the Houthi militias.

He highlighted the need for international support to rebuild the state institutions, law enforcement agencies, counterterrorism, and organized crime authorities and enhance their capability to counter security threats in coordination with regional allies and international partners.

Furthermore, Alimi met with the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, addressing the economic and humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Yemen's official media reported that Alimi discussed with international officials the humanitarian consequences of the Houthi attacks on oil facilities and discussed the required international support for the Yemeni government to fulfill its obligations.

The head of Yemen's governing council expressed appreciation for the facilities provided by the IMF, notably its Special Drawing Rights (SDR).

He indicated his openness to various offers to mobilize global support alongside government reforms and measures in coordination with regional and international allies.

Alimi lauded the generous Saudi support for Yemen's state budget and its pivotal role in stabilizing Yemen's economic and service sectors.



Oil Slick in Red Sea from British-Owned Ship Attack by Yemen’s Houthis, US Military Says

A handout picture released by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) on February 23, 2024, shows the M/V Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, UK-owned bulk carrier leaking oil in the Gulf of Aden after taking significant damage after an attack by Iran-backed Houthis on February 18, which caused an 18-mile oil slick. (Photo by US Central Command (CENTCOM) / AFP)
A handout picture released by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) on February 23, 2024, shows the M/V Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, UK-owned bulk carrier leaking oil in the Gulf of Aden after taking significant damage after an attack by Iran-backed Houthis on February 18, which caused an 18-mile oil slick. (Photo by US Central Command (CENTCOM) / AFP)
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Oil Slick in Red Sea from British-Owned Ship Attack by Yemen’s Houthis, US Military Says

A handout picture released by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) on February 23, 2024, shows the M/V Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, UK-owned bulk carrier leaking oil in the Gulf of Aden after taking significant damage after an attack by Iran-backed Houthis on February 18, which caused an 18-mile oil slick. (Photo by US Central Command (CENTCOM) / AFP)
A handout picture released by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) on February 23, 2024, shows the M/V Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, UK-owned bulk carrier leaking oil in the Gulf of Aden after taking significant damage after an attack by Iran-backed Houthis on February 18, which caused an 18-mile oil slick. (Photo by US Central Command (CENTCOM) / AFP)

An attack by Yemeni Houthi militias on a Belize-flagged ship earlier this month caused an 18-mile (29-kilometer) oil slick, the US military said Saturday. It also warned of the danger of a spill from the vessel's cargo of fertilizer.

The Rubymar, a British-registered, Lebanese-operated cargo vessel, was attacked on Feb. 18 while sailing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait that connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, US Central Command said.

The missile attack forced the crew to abandon the vessel, which had been on its way to Bulgaria after leaving Khorfakkan in the United Arab Emirates. It was transporting more than 41,000 tons of fertilizer, CENTCOM said in a statement.

The vessel suffered significant damage, which led to the slick, said the CENTCOM statement, warning that the ship's cargo “could spill into the Red Sea and worsen this environmental disaster.”

“The Houthis continue to demonstrate disregard for the regional impact of their indiscriminate attacks, threatening the fishing industry, coastal communities, and imports of food supplies,” it said.

The Associated Press, relying on satellite images from Planet Labs PBC of the stricken vessel, reported Tuesday that the vessel was leaking oil in the Red Sea.

Separately, CENTCOM said it launched attacks on Houthi-held areas in Yemen on Friday, destroying seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to launch toward the Red Sea.

It described the strikes as “self-defense,” saying that the missiles “presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and to the US Navy ships in the region.”

CENTCOM didn’t give further details. Houthi-run media, however, reported strikes by the US and the UK on the district of Durayhimi in the Red Sea province of Hodeidah.

The US military has in recent weeks launched waves of strikes on Houthi-held areas inside Yemen in response to the Houthis’ attacks on shipping routes in the Red Sea.

Since November, the militias have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters. They claim to be acting over Israel’s war targeting Hamas in the Gaza Strip, however they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe. The targeted vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis' main benefactor.


Head of Al Mada Foundation in Iraq Miraculously Escapes Assassination in Baghdad

Fakhri Karim is seen with Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia al-Sudani (R) during the inauguration of the Iraq International Book Fair. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim is seen with Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia al-Sudani (R) during the inauguration of the Iraq International Book Fair. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Head of Al Mada Foundation in Iraq Miraculously Escapes Assassination in Baghdad

Fakhri Karim is seen with Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia al-Sudani (R) during the inauguration of the Iraq International Book Fair. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim is seen with Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia al-Sudani (R) during the inauguration of the Iraq International Book Fair. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Prominent Iraqi publisher and former presidential aide Fakhri Karim survived an assassination attempt in Baghdad on Thursday after gunmen intercepted his vehicle and shot it with eleven bullets.

Karim was on his way home after visiting the Iraq International Book Fair in Baghdad that is being sponsored by the Al Mada Foundation for Media, Culture and Art, which he founded in the 1990s.

Before leaving the fair, Karim attended a panel discussion attended by former Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi. Karim complained about “the little room there it is to maneuver in the Iraqi political scene”. An hour later, he was the victim of a failed attempt on his life.

A security cable, received by Asharq Al-Awsat, revealed that Karim’s vehicle was intercepted by a pickup truck at 9 pm sharp on Thursday night. The gunmen fired eleven shots at his car. He was miraculously unharmed.

Karim was aide to late former President Jalal Talabani from 2006 to 2014.

A source close to his family told Asharq Al-Awsat that Karim was sitting in the passenger seat at the time of the attack.

The gunmen got out of their truck and fired their weapons at the car. As another gunman approached Karim’s side of the car, a government patrol happened to be passing by the area, prompting the assailants to flee before they could complete the job.

The source stressed that Karim was doing well and that he had miraculously escaped with his life.

“This was not a threat, but an attempt to take him out in an ugly way,” he added.

In a statement condemning the attack, Al Mada said: “The failed and heinous attempt underscores that the powers of darkness and backwardness are responsible for the destruction in Iraq.”

“They are displeased with Iraqis participating in a major and influential cultural event, such as the Iraq International Book Fair, which has been underway for days in Baghdad and visited by hundreds of thousands of people” from across the country, it stated.

“The failed assassination reflects the influential role Karim and the Al Mada group play in political and cultural life in Iraq and this has upset some people who don’t wish this country well,” it went on to say.

Al Mada demanded an “immediate” probe be launched into the attack to uncover “the parties behind it who are spiteful of Iraq’s cultural and social prosperity.”

Karim played a pivotal role in the post-2003 political process in Iraq. He was a prominent opponent of Saddam Hussein’s regime for three decades.


US Criticized as G20 Demands Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gets off the plane on the runway at Jorge Newbery Airfield in Buenos Aires. (AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gets off the plane on the runway at Jorge Newbery Airfield in Buenos Aires. (AP)
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US Criticized as G20 Demands Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gets off the plane on the runway at Jorge Newbery Airfield in Buenos Aires. (AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gets off the plane on the runway at Jorge Newbery Airfield in Buenos Aires. (AP)

The United States was criticized on Friday during two-day meetings of senior G20 diplomats for its opposition to an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The public criticisms first surfaced from Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira, whose country hosted the annual G20 meeting.

Vieira condemned the UN Security Council's "paralysis" on the ongoing conflicts" in Gaza and Ukraine, adding that the situation was costing "innocent lives."

Open mic

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy and Common Security Josep Borrell participated in a session that was supposed to remain closed to the media.

Senior diplomats exchanged their views on several geopolitical issues.

However, a few journalists were accidentally able to listen to the proceedings of the session without the knowledge of the Brazilian hosts because the microphones were not turned off.

Australia, a close US ally, supported an immediate ceasefire, warning of "further devastation" that would result from the Israeli war on Gaza.

"We say again to Israel — do not go down this path," said Australian Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, who was representing Canberra at the meeting. "This would be unjustifiable."

South African envoy Naledi Pandor criticized world leaders for "allowing impunity to hold sway."

She said: "We failed the people of Palestine."

Naledi said that if the international community had rallied behind the principles put forward in the UN Charter, "the tragedy in Palestine would not have lasted over three months."

The statements appeared conflicting with last year's G20 meeting in India, where Blinken sought to unite global powers to denounce Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Attendees were more receptive to his demand for adherence to the United Nations Charter and the principles of state sovereignty.

However, Blinken told reporters that despite solid differences on an immediate ceasefire, the G20 is united mainly regarding the goals of the conflict.

He said, "We're joined in having the shared objectives in this moment of getting hostages out, getting an extended humanitarian ceasefire in, along with more humanitarian assistance, and ending the conflict."

"There may be differences over tactics, and there may be differences over the Security Council resolution," said the Secretary, adding that "if we're trying to focus on actually getting results, actually making a change, making a difference, we think what we're focused on is the best way to do that."

Brazilian FM Vieira announced that "every (minister) that addressed the issue voiced support" for a two-state solution, "and it was a lot" of ministers.

He stressed that all members of the group highlighted fears of the war in Gaza and the danger of expanding conflict in the Middle East.

Two-state solution

Borrell had urged Vieira to use his closing statement "to explain to the world that at the G20, everybody was in favor" of a two-state solution, with an independent Palestine co-existing with Israel.

"It was a strong request for a two-state solution," Borrell told journalists.

He added: "Everyone here, I haven't heard anyone oppose that."

"The common denominator is that there's not going to be peace, there's not going to be sustainable security for Israel unless the Palestinians have a clear political prospect to build (their) own state."

He said he hoped to see a proposal from the Arab world to that effect in the coming days.


Scores Killed Overnight in Gaza, Israeli Negotiators in Paris

People take part in a pro-Palestine rally outside the RAI national public broadcaster headquarters in Milan, Italy, 14 February 2024. EPA/Mourad Balti Touati
People take part in a pro-Palestine rally outside the RAI national public broadcaster headquarters in Milan, Italy, 14 February 2024. EPA/Mourad Balti Touati
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Scores Killed Overnight in Gaza, Israeli Negotiators in Paris

People take part in a pro-Palestine rally outside the RAI national public broadcaster headquarters in Milan, Italy, 14 February 2024. EPA/Mourad Balti Touati
People take part in a pro-Palestine rally outside the RAI national public broadcaster headquarters in Milan, Italy, 14 February 2024. EPA/Mourad Balti Touati

More than 100 people were reported killed early Saturday in overnight strikes across Gaza, as Israel's spy chief was in Paris for talks seeking to "unblock" progress towards a truce and the return of hostages held by Palestinian Hamas group.
The Paris negotiations come after a plan for a post-war Gaza unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew criticism from key ally the United States and was rejected by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on Friday.
They also come as fears for civilians in the territory are deepening, with the UN warning of the growing risk of famine and its main aid body for Palestinians, UNWRA, saying early Saturday that Gazans were "in extreme peril while the world watches on".
AFP footage showed distraught Gazans queuing for food in the territory's devastated north on Friday and staging a protest decrying their living conditions.
"Look, we are fighting each other over rice," said Jabalia resident Ahmad Atef Safi. "Where are we supposed to go?"
"We have no water, no flour and we are very tired because of hunger. Our backs and eyes hurt because of fire and smoke," fellow Jabalia resident Oum Wajdi Salha told AFP.
"We can't stand on our feet because of hunger and lack of food."
In a Friday night statement on social media platform X, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said: "Without adequate food and water supplies, as well as health and nutrition services, the elevated risk of famine in #Gaza is projected to increase."
Post-war plan
The war started after Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Hamas also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,514 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza's health ministry on Friday.
An Israeli air strike Friday destroyed the Gaza home of well-known Palestinian comedian Mahmoud Zuaiter, killing at least 23 people and injuring dozens more, the health ministry said.


Chinese Fleet Heads to Red Sea amid Rising Tensions

Houthi supporters hold up weapons during a protest against the US and Israel and in support of Palestinians, in Sanaa, Yemen, 23 February 2024. (EPA)
Houthi supporters hold up weapons during a protest against the US and Israel and in support of Palestinians, in Sanaa, Yemen, 23 February 2024. (EPA)
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Chinese Fleet Heads to Red Sea amid Rising Tensions

Houthi supporters hold up weapons during a protest against the US and Israel and in support of Palestinians, in Sanaa, Yemen, 23 February 2024. (EPA)
Houthi supporters hold up weapons during a protest against the US and Israel and in support of Palestinians, in Sanaa, Yemen, 23 February 2024. (EPA)

China has decided to dispatch a fleet to the region amid the rising tensions sparked by the Iran-backed Houthi militias’ attacks on vessels in the Red Sea.

The 46th fleet of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy sailed for the region on Wednesday, departing Zhanjiang, a coastal city in Guangdong province, reported the Xinhua News Agency.

The deployment is part of China's ongoing efforts to secure the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia. It replaces the 45th fleet.

The 46th fleet's naval mission includes the guided-missile destroyer Jiaozuo, the missile frigate Xuchang and the comprehensive replenishment vessel Honghu, said Xinhua.

Over 700 officers and soldiers are on board, along with two helicopters.

Meanwhile, the US military said on Friday it had destroyed Houthi drones and anti-ship cruise missiles in Yemen and the Red Sea after determining they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships.

The strikes hit four drones and two cruise missiles that were prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Red Sea, the military's Central Command said.

The military also shot down three Houthi one-way attack drones near commercial ships operating in the Red Sea, it said.

The strikes were conducted on Thursday and Friday, the Central Command said. There was no damage to any ships, it added.


UN Report: Violations Committed by Warring Parties in Sudan Could Amount to War Crimes

Army commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (left) and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) in 2019 (AFP)
Army commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (left) and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) in 2019 (AFP)
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UN Report: Violations Committed by Warring Parties in Sudan Could Amount to War Crimes

Army commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (left) and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) in 2019 (AFP)
Army commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (left) and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) in 2019 (AFP)

Both sides in Sudan's civil war have committed abuses that may amount to war crimes including indiscriminate attacks on civilian sites like hospitals, markets and even camps for the displaced, the UN human rights office said on Friday.
Efforts have so far failed to end the 10-month-old conflict that pits Sudan's regular armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Thousands of people have been killed and some six million forced to flee their homes, making it the country with the largest displaced population in the world.
“Some of these violations would amount to war crimes,” Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement accompanying a report. “The guns must be silenced, and civilians must be protected.”
The US has already formally determined that the warring parties have committed war crimes and said the RSF and allied militias were involved in ethnic cleansing in West Darfur.
Both sides have said they would investigate reports of killings and abuses and prosecute any fighters found to be involved.
The United Nations report is based on interviews with over 300 victims and witnesses as well as footage and satellite imagery.
It says that sometimes those fleeing for their lives or displaced by the violence became victims of explosive weapons attacks.
Women and Children
In one incident, dozens of displaced people were killed when their camp in Zalingei, Darfur was shelled by the RSF between Sept. 14-17, the report said. Some 26 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed on Aug. 22 by shells reportedly fired by the Sudanese Armed Forces while sheltering under a bridge.
The report also says the RSF had adopted a military strategy of using human shields, citing testimonies of victims involved.
It describes incidents in the capital Khartoum where dozens of individuals were arrested and placed near RSF military posts to deter air strikes from Sudanese fighter jets.
UN investigators have so far documented cases of sexual violence affecting 118 people, including one women who was detained and repeatedly gang-raped for weeks. Many of the rapes were committed by RSF members, the report said.
The war in Sudan erupted last April over disputes about the powers of the army and the RSF under an internationally-backed plan for a political transition towards civilian rule and elections.
Resumption of Jeddah Talks
Separately, sources revealed on Friday that negotiations between the army and the RSF will resume through the Jeddah platform early in March.
The sources, who asked not to be identified, told the Arab World Press that the two sides will discuss in Jeddah the document signed last month in the Bahraini capital, Manama, between the army representative General Shamseldin Kabbashi and the RSF representative General Abdelrahim Dagalo, a brother of RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The document includes a declaration of principles including maintaining the unity of Sudan and its military. It also agreed on the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including those wanted by the International Criminal Court, and the dismantling of the Islamic Movement regime.
The sources expressed concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood leadership would obstruct the negotiations, noting that such attempts were made in previous rounds of talks.
Since May 2023, Saudi Arabia and the US co-facilitated talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, between representatives of the Sudanese army and the RSF.
Entebbe Workshop
Also, the sources told the Arab World Press that the Rapid Support Forces held a workshop in the Ugandan city of Entebbe, from February 15 to 20.
The workshop was attended by RSF members who participated in the Jeddah Platform talks, in addition to all members of the Commander’s advisory bureau, the tribal communities in the regions of Kordofan and Darfur fighting alongside the RSF, and media activists.


Palestinians Cling to Life in Rafah, a Town Likely to Be Israel's Next Focus in the War on Hamas

Destroyed buildings stand along a rubble-strewn street, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Gaza, in this still image taken from video released February 15, 2024. UNRWA/Handout via REUTERS
Destroyed buildings stand along a rubble-strewn street, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Gaza, in this still image taken from video released February 15, 2024. UNRWA/Handout via REUTERS
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Palestinians Cling to Life in Rafah, a Town Likely to Be Israel's Next Focus in the War on Hamas

Destroyed buildings stand along a rubble-strewn street, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Gaza, in this still image taken from video released February 15, 2024. UNRWA/Handout via REUTERS
Destroyed buildings stand along a rubble-strewn street, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Gaza, in this still image taken from video released February 15, 2024. UNRWA/Handout via REUTERS

In the narrow crevices between the tents that crowd nearly every inch of the southern Gaza town of Rafah, Palestinians cling to life amid the grinding war with Israel.
A barefoot boy wears a pot on his head and beams a smile. A child lugs a jerry can half his size full of water. Men sit at half-empty tables selling canned goods. A tapestry of laundry hangs from every line, The Associated Press said.
The world’s gaze is on Rafah, the once-sleepy town along the Egyptian border that is likely Israel’s next focus in its fight against Hamas.
Rafah has swelled in size in recent weeks. Hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have splayed out across the town in tents or at the homes of friends or relatives. The estimated 1.5 million people sheltering there — more than half of Gaza’s population — have nowhere to flee in the face of an offensive that has leveled large swaths of the urban landscape in the rest of the territory.
UN officials warn that an attack on Rafah will be catastrophic, with more than 600,000 children in the path of an assault. A move on the town and surrounding area also could cause the collapse of the humanitarian aid system struggling to keep Gaza’s population alive. Israel’s Western allies have also expressed concern.
Israel says it must take Rafah to ensure Hamas’ destruction and to free hostages held by the group.
Food, like everywhere in the Gaza Strip, is scarce. Throngs of people crowd around a bakery, hoping for a few pitas to feed their families. Others bake their own in mud stoves with whatever flour they could get. One child, seated on an older child’s shoulders, reveled in the first bite of the fluffy bread.
The streets with no tents are packed with crowds of Palestinians hustling to sustain their families.
The mundane drumbeat of life continues in some places. A boy gets a haircut. A girl dons an oversized sheer pink floral dress. Women and a child avoid a large puddle near a mass of tents.
And in a surreal snapshot of joy, children spin around on a makeshift, manually operated Ferris wheel, turning and turning as the war — now in its fifth month — rolls on.


Protesters Partially Shut Libya Oilfield, Demand Unpaid Wages

A general view shows Libya's Sharara oilfield. (File photo: Reuters)
A general view shows Libya's Sharara oilfield. (File photo: Reuters)
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Protesters Partially Shut Libya Oilfield, Demand Unpaid Wages

A general view shows Libya's Sharara oilfield. (File photo: Reuters)
A general view shows Libya's Sharara oilfield. (File photo: Reuters)

Members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) in Libya announced that an armed group took control and shut down oil and gas fields in the southwest, demanding their unpaid salaries and other benefits.

In a statement, the protestors said they had granted the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) a 48-hour deadline to meet their demands, but "to no avail."

They noted that head of the GNU Abdulhamid Dbeibeh had ordered authorities to grant them their dues, but nothing happened.

The statement said there was "no adherence" to any of Dbeibeh’s instructions to "consider the situation of the PFG and its members, restore their full rights, and implement the decisions regarding their financial dues."

Members of the PFG lined up in front of the North Hamada field in southern Libya to protest the authorities’ neglect of their legitimate demands.

They said they had held several peaceful protests without sabotaging or violating state property.

Since Libya slid into chaos after the 2014 revolt, various forces have used oil revenues as a "pressure card" against politicians to meet their demands.

The PFG said they were loyal "soldiers to the Libyan people," pointing out that since the Feb. 17 revolution, they had left their jobs and families to "protect the homeland and source of the Libyans' livelihood", including oil and gas fields.

They said they had resorted to the partial closure after having grown "fed up" with the authorities for failing to meet their demands.

Last Tuesday, employees of the Petroleum Facilities Guard at the Zawiya Refinery announced the closure of the refinery and the Mellitah and Misrata oil complexes, demanding their rights, including unpaid salaries and settlements.

They also demanded the implementation of the decision to grant them health insurance, similar to the employees of the National Oil Corporation.

Libya’s oil production will once again fall victim to the cycle of "partial closure" if the Petroleum Facilities Guard continue the shutdown.

On Jan. 3, "Youth and Women in Fezzan" protesters shut down the Sharara oilfield, forcing the National Oil Corporation (NOC) to declare force majeure.

It lifted the "force majeure" on Jan. 23 and announced the resumption of production.


Blinken Says Israel’s New Settlements in West Bank ‘Inconsistent’ with International Law

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a press conference at La Casa Rosada government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. (AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a press conference at La Casa Rosada government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. (AP)
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Blinken Says Israel’s New Settlements in West Bank ‘Inconsistent’ with International Law

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a press conference at La Casa Rosada government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. (AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a press conference at La Casa Rosada government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. (AP)

Israel's expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank were inconsistent with international law, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday, signaling a return to long-standing US policy on the issue, which had been reversed by the previous administration of Donald Trump.

The Trump administration in 2019 effectively backed Israel's right to build West Bank settlements by abandoning a long-held US position that they were "inconsistent with international law".

Speaking at a news conference during a trip to Buenos Aires, Blinken said the United States was disappointed in Israel's announcement of plans for building new housing in the occupied West Bank, saying they were counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace.

"They're also inconsistent with international law. Our administration maintains a firm opposition to settlement expansion, and in our judgment, this only weakens, doesn't strengthen Israel's security," Blinken said.

In November 2019, Trump's then secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced that Washington no longer viewed Israel's settlements on West Bank land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war as "inconsistent with international law", a reversal of four decades of US policy.

Palestinians and the international community view the transfer of any country's civilians to occupied land as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and UN Security Council resolutions. Many countries condemned the announcement.


Gaza Ceasefire Talks Underway in Paris, Source Says

Palestinians perform Friday prayers in the ruins of Al-Huda Mosque after it was destroyed by the Israeli army, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 23 February 2024. (EPA)
Palestinians perform Friday prayers in the ruins of Al-Huda Mosque after it was destroyed by the Israeli army, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 23 February 2024. (EPA)
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Gaza Ceasefire Talks Underway in Paris, Source Says

Palestinians perform Friday prayers in the ruins of Al-Huda Mosque after it was destroyed by the Israeli army, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 23 February 2024. (EPA)
Palestinians perform Friday prayers in the ruins of Al-Huda Mosque after it was destroyed by the Israeli army, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 23 February 2024. (EPA)

Gaza truce talks were under way in Paris on Friday, in what appears to be the most serious push for weeks to halt the fighting in the battered Palestinian enclave and see Israeli and foreign hostages released.

A source briefed on the ceasefire talks, who could not be identified by name or nationality, said talks had begun with Israel's head of Mossad intelligence service meeting separately with each party - Qatar, Egypt and United States.

"There are budding signs of optimism about being able to move forward toward the start of a serious negotiation," the source said. Egypt's Al Qahera TV News also reported that the talks had begun.

An official from Hamas said the militant group had wrapped up ceasefire talks in Cairo and was now waiting to see what mediators bring back from the weekend talks with Israel.

Mediators have ramped up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than a million displaced people are sheltering at the southern edge of the enclave.

Israel says it will attack the city if no truce agreement is reached soon. Washington has called on its close ally not to do so, warning of vast civilian casualties if an assault on the city goes ahead.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a truce this past week on his first visit since December. Israel is now expected to participate in talks this weekend in Paris with US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

Two Egyptian security sources confirmed that Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel would head on Friday to Paris for the talks with the Israelis, after wrapping up talks with Hamas chief Haniyeh on Thursday. Israel has not publicly commented on the Paris talks.

The Hamas official, who asked not to be identified, said the militant group did not offer any new proposal at the talks with the Egyptians, but was waiting to see what the mediators brought back from their upcoming talks with the Israelis.

"We discussed our proposal with them (the Egyptians) and we are going to wait until they return from Paris," the Hamas official said.

The last time similar talks were held in Paris, at the start of February, they produced an outline for the first extended ceasefire of the war, approved by Israel and the United States. Hamas responded with a counterproposal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then rejected as "delusional".

Hamas, which is still believed to be holding more than 100 hostages seized in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, says it will free them only as part of a truce that ends with an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel says it will not pull out until Hamas is eradicated.

Late on Thursday, Netanyahu presented his security cabinet with an official plan for Gaza once the fighting stops. He emphasized that Israel expects to maintain security control over the enclave after destroying Hamas, and also sees no role there for the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank.

Washington favors a role for a reformed PA.

Two Palestinian officials familiar with the negotiations said Hamas has not changed its stance in the latest push to reach a deal, and still demands that a truce end with an Israeli pullout.

RAFAH UNDER FIRE

Israeli planes and tanks pounded areas across Gaza Strip overnight, residents and health officials said. The Gaza health ministry said 104 people had been killed and 160 others were wounded in Israeli military strikes in the past 24 hours.

The Israeli military said it had killed dozens of militants and seized weapons across Gaza since Thursday.

In Rafah, where over half of Gaza's 2.3 million people are sheltering, an Israeli air strike on a house killed 10 people.

At a morgue in Rafah, a family knelt by the body of their child, killed by overnight Israeli strikes. They tenderly touched and stroked the small body through a shroud.

Airstrikes also killed civilians overnight in Deir al-Balah, in central Gaza, one of the few other areas yet to be stormed by the Israelis.

In video obtained by Reuters, bereaved families crowded a hospital, where Ahmed Azzam held up the body of his dead baby son wrapped in a shroud, shouting: "You killed them Netanyahu. You killed this innocent child!"

Israel says it is doing its best to minimize harm to civilians as it battles militants in urban areas.

At least 29,514 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since Oct.7, the Gaza health ministry said on Friday.

Israel launched its months-long military campaign after militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on Oct 7.