China’s Xi Calls on West to Lift Sanctions against War-Ravaged Syria

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in eastern Hangzhou city, in this handout picture released by Sana on September 22, 2023, Syria. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in eastern Hangzhou city, in this handout picture released by Sana on September 22, 2023, Syria. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
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China’s Xi Calls on West to Lift Sanctions against War-Ravaged Syria

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in eastern Hangzhou city, in this handout picture released by Sana on September 22, 2023, Syria. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in eastern Hangzhou city, in this handout picture released by Sana on September 22, 2023, Syria. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

China's President Xi Jinping called on the West to lift sanctions on Syria and offered Beijing's help in rebuilding the war-shattered country on Friday during rare talks with Syria's long ostracized leader Bashar al-Assad.

Their meeting in the Chinese city of Hangzhou gave a boost to Assad's campaign to return to the global stage while allowing China to advance its strategic interests in the Middle East.

"China opposes interference by external forces in Syria's internal affairs... and urges all relevant countries to lift illegal unilateral sanctions against Syria," said a readout of the talks published by Chinese state media.

Xi also told Assad that China would help Syria to rebuild its ruined economy and counter domestic unrest, by upgrading ties to a "strategic partnership".

Xi's endorsement should strengthen Assad's efforts to plot a path back from what is effectively pariah status. Syria joined China's Belt and Road Initiative in 2022 and was welcomed back into the Arab League in May.

In Chinese diplomacy, a "strategic partnership" implies closer coordination on regional and international affairs, including in the military sphere. It is one grade below what Beijing calls a "comprehensive strategic partnership".

Western sanctions on Syria have been steadily tightened since the early days of a civil war that began in 2011 with a crackdown on protests and went on to kill hundreds of thousands of people and displace millions.

Assad's government, backed by Russia and Iran, now controls most Syrian territory and has re-established ties in recent years with Arab neighbors.

Sanctions deterrent

Syria desperately needs foreign investment for its infrastructure and industry. Its dire economic situation has triggered protests in southern Syria in which crowds have called for the president's removal.

However, analysts doubt that Chinese firms will rush back to Syria as they would risk becoming entangled in US sanctions under the 2020 Caesar Act that can freeze the assets of anyone dealing with the country.

Chinese investors will also have to consider Syria's poor security and parlous financial situation.

Beijing has stepped up its diplomatic engagement with the Middle East in recent years, and in March helped broker a surprise deal between long-standing regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran to end their seven-year diplomatic rift.

Citing flagship initiatives aimed at building up infrastructure along the ancient Silk Road and promoting China's approach to global security, Xi extended support for Syrian efforts to improve relations with other Arab countries. 



Egypt Maintaining Efforts to Restore Calm in Gaza

 Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and French President Emmanuel Macron pose for a family photo, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 1, 2023. (Reuters)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and French President Emmanuel Macron pose for a family photo, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 1, 2023. (Reuters)
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Egypt Maintaining Efforts to Restore Calm in Gaza

 Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and French President Emmanuel Macron pose for a family photo, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 1, 2023. (Reuters)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and French President Emmanuel Macron pose for a family photo, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 1, 2023. (Reuters)

Egypt is persistently engaged in efforts to restore calm between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip.

“Cairo is currently seeking to restore calm and strengthen the truce and to prepare the way for the resumption of the peace process,” an Egyptian security source said.

On Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reviewed his country’s efforts to calm the situation and extend the humanitarian truce to reach a ceasefire in Gaza, as well as Egyptian efforts to receive the wounded Palestinians and evacuate foreign nationals.

During his meeting with world leaders on the sidelines of the 28th Session of Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai, he underlined Egypt’s efforts to restore calm.

He stressed the need to provide the necessary protection for civilians, while striving to find the appropriate political path to reach a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.

Sisi received several European officials in Cairo over the past week to discuss Gaza.

He met with Hungary’s President Katalin Novák and the foreign ministers of Slovakia and Portugal, in addition to the prime ministers of Spain and Belgium.

According to official statements, talks underscored the vital importance of reaching a permanent ceasefire, and to propose political solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

During a meeting between Sisi and French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the COP28 conference in Dubai, the leaders agreed on the vital importance of reaching urgent solutions to the ongoing crisis and taking action to ensure the access of humanitarian assistance.

They stressed the need to launch a comprehensive political process aimed at reaching a just settlement to the conflict based on the two-state solution and in line with the relevant international resolutions.

Sisi met with British PM Rishi Sunak, and they agreed on the gravity of the current situation in the Gaza Strip, especially in light of the uncalculated consequences of expanding the conflict on the stability of the region.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian security source said on Friday that “Egypt made urgent contacts with both the Israeli and Palestinian sides as soon as the Israeli attacks renewed on Gaza.”

According to the German news agency, dpa, the source said Egypt and Qatar coordinated immediately after Israel resumed its attacks.

The source noted that both countries have initiated contacts with all parties involved in the implementation, monitoring and mediation of the truce, mainly the US, which joined Egypt and Qatar to help broker the now expired ceasefire.

The source confirmed that the talks were part of intensive negotiations held on Thursday night to extend the humanitarian ceasefire that lasted around seven days.


Israeli Shells Hit Southern Lebanon in Second Day of Violence after Israel-Hamas Truce Ends

Smoke and fire rise from a building following an Israeli strike on what the Israeli military says are Hezbollah targets in a location given as Lebanon, amid the ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, in this screengrab taken from an undated handout video released on November 24, 2023.  Israeli army/Handout via REUTERS
Smoke and fire rise from a building following an Israeli strike on what the Israeli military says are Hezbollah targets in a location given as Lebanon, amid the ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, in this screengrab taken from an undated handout video released on November 24, 2023. Israeli army/Handout via REUTERS
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Israeli Shells Hit Southern Lebanon in Second Day of Violence after Israel-Hamas Truce Ends

Smoke and fire rise from a building following an Israeli strike on what the Israeli military says are Hezbollah targets in a location given as Lebanon, amid the ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, in this screengrab taken from an undated handout video released on November 24, 2023.  Israeli army/Handout via REUTERS
Smoke and fire rise from a building following an Israeli strike on what the Israeli military says are Hezbollah targets in a location given as Lebanon, amid the ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, in this screengrab taken from an undated handout video released on November 24, 2023. Israeli army/Handout via REUTERS

Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants exchanged fire across the Israel-Lebanon border on Saturday in a second day of hostilities after the collapse of a truce in Gaza between Palestinian group Hamas and Israel.
Iran-backed Hezbollah said in a statement that one of its fighters was killed but did not specify when. Three people in south Lebanon were killed by Israeli shelling on Friday in south Lebanon, according to Lebanon's state news agency. Hezbollah said two of the dead were its fighters, Reuters reported.
Hezbollah also said it fired rockets at an Israeli position. Israel's military said two mortar bombs launched from Lebanon fell in open areas in Shomera, across the border from the south Lebanon village of Marwahin. The military said it responded by attacking the launch site and elsewhere in south Lebanon.
Earlier on Saturday, shelling from Israel hit close to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) headquarters near the coastal town of Naqoura and around the border village of Rmaych, a UNIFIL spokesperson said.
The Israeli military said it carried out shelling near Naqoura after spotting "unusual activity" in the area.
UNIFIL also detected fire around 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) from the area of Tayr Harfa, about a mile from the Israeli frontier, toward Israel, the spokesperson said.
Following the eruption of the Hamas-Israel war on Oct. 7, Hezbollah mounted near-daily rocket attacks on Israeli positions at the frontier while Israel waged air and artillery strikes in south Lebanon. But the border was largely calm during the week-long truce in the Gaza war.
It has been the worst fighting since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.
Just over 100 people in Lebanon have been killed during the hostilities, 83 of them Hezbollah fighters. Tens of thousands of people have fled both sides of the border.


Two Pro-Hezbollah Members Killed in Israeli Strikes Near Damascus

Smoke billows above buildings after an Israeli strike on the outskirts of Damascus on November 22, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
Smoke billows above buildings after an Israeli strike on the outskirts of Damascus on November 22, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
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Two Pro-Hezbollah Members Killed in Israeli Strikes Near Damascus

Smoke billows above buildings after an Israeli strike on the outskirts of Damascus on November 22, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
Smoke billows above buildings after an Israeli strike on the outskirts of Damascus on November 22, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Two pro-Hezbollah Syrian fighters have been killed in Israeli air strikes near Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.
The air attack targeted positions of the Iran-backed party in Damascus.
“Two Syrian fighters loyal to Hezbollah have been killed and seven other fighters working with the party were wounded overnight in Israeli air strikes on positions near Sayyida Zeinab” in the southeast of the capital, observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France-Presse.
Successive violent explosions sounded in Damascus in parallel with anti-aircraft missiles fired by the Syrian regime at the Israeli missiles.
The bombing is the second this week, said the Observatory. On November 26 Israel bombed an Air Defense Forces base in the al-Mazzeh area and Damascus International Airport, putting the airport out of service and wounding an officer and two other personnel.
According to the Observatory, Israel has targeted Syrian territory 56 times since the beginning of this year, 41 of which were air strikes and 15 ground strikes.
The missile strikes destroyed 115 targets including weapons and ammunition depots, positions and vehicles. It also killed 102 military personnel, wounded 120 others in addition to civilians.


Egypt Concerned by US Plan to Displace Palestinians to Neighboring Countries

Palestinians flee from Gaza City to the south at the beginning of the Israeli war on the Strip. (AFP)
Palestinians flee from Gaza City to the south at the beginning of the Israeli war on the Strip. (AFP)
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Egypt Concerned by US Plan to Displace Palestinians to Neighboring Countries

Palestinians flee from Gaza City to the south at the beginning of the Israeli war on the Strip. (AFP)
Palestinians flee from Gaza City to the south at the beginning of the Israeli war on the Strip. (AFP)

Cairo fears that Israel is continuing its efforts to displace the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, pushing them by various means towards Egyptian territory and other nearby countries.

Israel Hayom newspaper published this week a report saying Israel submitted a new initiative to the US Congress calling for conditioning American aid to Arab countries on their willingness to receive refugees from Gaza.

The Israeli proposal, which reportedly has support from senior officials in Republican and Democratic parties, calls on the US to condition foreign aid to Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and Türkiye for accepting a certain number of refugees.

It said those countries will accept “voluntary, not forced” migration of Palestinians to their territories.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has already categorically rejected a forced resettlement of Palestinians in his country.

He has expressed his country’s “rejection and denouncement of policies of displacement or attempts to eradicate the Palestinian cause at the expense of neighboring countries.”

Earlier this week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said forced displacement remains a goal for Israel, “as it seeks to drive Palestinians from their land by making life in the Gaza Strip impossible.”

In the early stages of the war on Gaza, the US administration announced it would oppose the forced displacement of Gaza residents from the enclave.

On Friday, Israel Hayom said the Israeli proposal was shown to key figures in the House and Senate from both parties. It said Rep. Joe Wilson has expressed open support for it and described the proposal as “the only moral solution to ensure that Egypt opens its borders and allows for the refugees to flee from the control of Hamas and Israel.”

Wilson said the US Government provides Egypt with approximately $1.3 billion in foreign aid, and these funds can be allocated to the refugees from Gaza who will be allowed into Egypt.

He noted that Egypt should not shoulder the entire burden, but other regional countries should chip in.

“Iraq and Yemen receive an approximate $1 billion in US foreign aid, and Türkiye receives more than $150 million,” he said, adding that each of these countries receive enough foreign aid and have a large enough population to be able to accept refugees adding up to less than 1% of their population.

Former Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy described the proposal as a “political hallucination,” noting that Israelis have for years adopted a strategy aimed at decreasing the Palestinian populations in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Fahmy told Asharq Al-Awsat that even if Washington adopted such a proposal, Egypt firmly rejects any measures to eradicate the Palestinian cause, including the forced displacement of Gazans.

Last month, Cairo publicly condemned Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who said the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians is the “right humanitarian solution” for Gaza.

Smotrich was commenting on an op-ed piece written by Danny Danon and Ram Ben-Barak published for the Wall Street Journal last month, calling for “countries around the world to accept limited numbers of Gazan families who have expressed a desire to relocate.”

On Friday, Rakha Ahmed Hassan, a member of Egypt's foreign affairs committee, who served as the country's ambassador to Germany, described the new proposal referred to by Israel Hayom as “unrealistic.”

Hassan told Asharq Al-Awsat that the displacement of Palestinians could not be compared to hosting of Syrian refugees by Egypt and other countries. “The Syrian crisis is temporary and the displaced Syrians will return home.”

However, he said, sending Palestinians from Gaza to neighboring countries means the complete eradication of the Palestinian cause and the end of “any hopes to establish an independent state.”


Israel Plans to Kill Hamas Leaders Around the World After War

Former Chief of Hamas’ Political Bureau Khaled Meshaal (Reuters)
Former Chief of Hamas’ Political Bureau Khaled Meshaal (Reuters)
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Israel Plans to Kill Hamas Leaders Around the World After War

Former Chief of Hamas’ Political Bureau Khaled Meshaal (Reuters)
Former Chief of Hamas’ Political Bureau Khaled Meshaal (Reuters)

Israel’s intelligence services are preparing to kill Hamas leaders around the world when the war in the Gaza Strip winds down, setting the stage for a yearslong campaign to hunt down thousands of fighters in the Strip, Israeli officials told The Wall Street Journal.
With orders from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s top spy agencies are working on plans to hunt down Hamas leaders living in Lebanon, Türkiye and Qatar, the officials said.
The assassination campaign would be an extension of Israel’s decadeslong clandestine operations, the WSJ wrote.
It said Israeli assassins have hunted Palestinian militants in Beirut while dressed as women, and killed a Hamas leader in Dubai while disguised as tourists. Israel has used a car bomb to assassinate a Hezbollah leader in Syria and a remote-controlled rifle to kill a nuclear scientist in Iran, according to former Israeli officials.
The new plans would mark a second chance for Netanyahu, who ordered a botched 1997 attempt to poison Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Jordan, according to WSJ.
The well-documented attempt instead led to the release of Hamas’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
To the consternation of some Israeli officials who want the latest plans to remain a mystery, Netanyahu telegraphed his intentions in a nationwide address on Nov. 22.
“I have instructed the Mossad to act against the heads of Hamas wherever they are,” he said, referring to Israel’s foreign-intelligence service.
In the same address, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas leaders are living on “borrowed time.”
“They are marked for death,” he said. “The struggle is worldwide, both the terrorists in Gaza and those who fly in expensive planes.”
While Israel typically tries to keep such efforts secret, the nation’s leaders have shown few reservations about revealing their intentions to hunt down everyone responsible for the Oct. 7 attack, just like they did to those responsible for the Palestinian attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
WSJ said the evolving plans are an extension of Israel’s war in Gaza and a reflection of its intentions to ensure that Hamas can never again pose a serious threat to Israel—just as the US led a global coalition against ISIS militants who set up a self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.
As part of the effort, Israel is also looking at whether it could forcibly expel thousands of low-level Hamas fighters from Gaza as a way to shorten the war.
“Targeted killings abroad can violate international law and run the risk of blowback from nations in which assassins operate without their permission,” WSJ wrote, adding that in practice, however, Israel and others have pursued targeted killings and weathered the repercussions.
Citing the officials, the newspaper said that some Israeli officials wanted to launch an immediate campaign to kill Meshaal and other Hamas leaders living abroad.
It said Israel isn’t known to have carried out any targeted-killing operations in Qatar, and doing so after Oct. 7 could have torpedoed continuing efforts to negotiate the release of those held hostage, the officials said.
Those concerns helped temper efforts to immediately embark on the assassination campaign, but the planning continues, the sources said.
Also, the newspaper said that Qatar has become the central hub for the hostage talks, with the head of the Mossad, David Barnea, meeting CIA chief William Burns in Doha earlier this week for more discussions.
Doha has helped to secure the release of dozens of Israeli hostages held by Gaza militants in return for the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
Efraim Halevy, a former Mossad director, called the plan to kill Hamas leaders abroad “ill-advised.”
“Killing Hamas leaders won’t eliminate the threat. It has the potential to instead inflame the group’s followers and accelerate creation of even worse threats,” he said.
“Pursuing Hamas on a worldwide scale and trying to systematically remove all its leaders from this world is a desire to exact revenge, not a desire to achieve a strategic aim,” said Halevy, who called the plan “far-fetched.”
However, Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli general who once led the military’s intelligence agency, said the campaign “is what justice demands.”
“All the Hamas leaders, all those who participated in the attack, who planned the attack, who ordered the attack, should be brought to justice or eliminated,” Yadlin said. “It’s the right policy.”
The newspaper said that the campaigns to assassinate Hamas leaders have sometimes backfired.
In 1997, Netanyahu, then serving his first term as prime minister, ordered Israeli spies to kill Meshaal, a Hamas founder who was then living in Jordan. One Israeli assassin sprayed a toxin into Meshaal’s ear but he was captured along with another member of the team before they could escape.
Meshaal fell into a coma, and Jordan threatened to terminate its peace treaty with Israel. Then-President Bill Clinton pressed Netanyahu to end the crisis by sending his Mossad chief to Amman with the antidote that saved Meshaal’s life.

Israel then secured the freedom of its operatives in Jordan by agreeing to release Yassin, the Hamas spiritual leader, and 70 other Palestinian prisoners.
In 2010, a team of Israeli operatives using forged European passports flew to Dubai, where they masqueraded as tourists while awaiting the arrival of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a founder of the Hamas military wing. Surveillance video later captured members of the team, dressed as tennis players, following Mabhouh to his room, where the Israelis paralyzed and then suffocated the Hamas leader.
While it initially appeared that Mabhouh had died of natural causes, Dubai officials eventually identified the hit team and accused Israel of the assassination.
It took years to repair the damage to Israel’s relations with the United Arab Emirates.


Egyptian Expats Begin Vote in Presidential Elections

Egyptian men wear T-shirts with pictures of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as they wait to register their names for voting in the Egyptian presidential elections at a polling station set up in the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, 01 December 2023. (EPA)
Egyptian men wear T-shirts with pictures of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as they wait to register their names for voting in the Egyptian presidential elections at a polling station set up in the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, 01 December 2023. (EPA)
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Egyptian Expats Begin Vote in Presidential Elections

Egyptian men wear T-shirts with pictures of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as they wait to register their names for voting in the Egyptian presidential elections at a polling station set up in the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, 01 December 2023. (EPA)
Egyptian men wear T-shirts with pictures of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as they wait to register their names for voting in the Egyptian presidential elections at a polling station set up in the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, 01 December 2023. (EPA)

Egypt’s presidential elections kicked off on Friday with expatriates casting their vote in a three-day process.

Elections in Egypt will be held on December 10 to 12. The results will be announced on December 18.

Three candidates are running against incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is expected to win a third term, lasting six years.

Expatriates cast their vote at 137 Egyptian embassies and consulates in 121 countries.

Authorities have not disclosed the number of expats eligible to vote, but Minister of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs Suha al-Gendy said earlier this week that she was confident of a heavy turnout.

Egypt boasts around 14 million expatriates.

A 2021 report from the Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics revealed that the majority of expats live in Arab countries followed by North America.

The candidates competing against Sisi are head of the opposition Social Democratic Party Farid Zahran, head of the liberal Wafd Party Abdel-Sanad Yamama and head of the liberal People’s Republican Party Hazem Omar.

Egypt’s state Middle East News Agency reported a heavy turnout on the first day of voting, especially in the Arab Gulf region.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti Dr. Shawki Allam had called on Egyptians abroad to vote in the election, saying it was a national duty.

The last presidential elections were held in 2018 with turnout of 24.3 million out of 59.1 eligible voters.


Syrian Air Defenses Repel Israeli Attack on Vicinity of Damascus

Syria intercepted Israeli missiles over the capital Damascus and its southern suburbs. Reuters file photo
Syria intercepted Israeli missiles over the capital Damascus and its southern suburbs. Reuters file photo
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Syrian Air Defenses Repel Israeli Attack on Vicinity of Damascus

Syria intercepted Israeli missiles over the capital Damascus and its southern suburbs. Reuters file photo
Syria intercepted Israeli missiles over the capital Damascus and its southern suburbs. Reuters file photo

Syrian air defenses repelled an Israeli rocket attack against targets in the vicinity of Damascus early on Saturday, Syrian state media reported, adding defenses shot down most of the missiles.
"The Israeli enemy carried out an air aggression from the direction of the occupied Syrian Golan, targeting some points in the vicinity of the city of Damascus," the Syrian state news agency said, citing a military source.
There were only material damages, it added.


UN Ends Political Mission in Sudan Where Conflict Continues

The United Nations headquarters building is seen from inside the General Assembly hall, on Sept. 21, 2021. (AP)
The United Nations headquarters building is seen from inside the General Assembly hall, on Sept. 21, 2021. (AP)
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UN Ends Political Mission in Sudan Where Conflict Continues

The United Nations headquarters building is seen from inside the General Assembly hall, on Sept. 21, 2021. (AP)
The United Nations headquarters building is seen from inside the General Assembly hall, on Sept. 21, 2021. (AP)

The United Nations Security Council voted Friday to end its political mission of a few hundred people dedicated to ending the civil war in Sudan.

Russia abstained from the unanimous vote to end UNITAMS, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan. The United States' and United Kingdom's ambassadors expressed dismay over the decision to pull out from Sudan but said the move was inevitable, given the Sudanese government's desire to end the mission's presence.

While the United States voted in favor of this resolution in order to enable a safe and orderly drawdown, US deputy ambassador Robert Wood said, “we are gravely concerned that a reduced international presence in the Sudan will only serve to embolden the perpetrators of atrocities.”

A paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces has been at war against the Sudanese military since mid-April, when months of tension exploded into open fighting in the capital, Khartoum, and other urban areas.

The conflict has wrecked the country and forced more than 6 million people out of their homes, either to safer areas inside Sudan or to neighboring countries.

United Nations officials say that the UN will keep trying to help Sudanese people with the continuing presence of various humanitarian agencies.

“What is clear and what should be clear to everyone is that the United Nations is not leaving Sudan,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told reporters on Thursday.

But the end of UNITAMS removes a tool, albeit a flawed one, for trying to bring a measure of stability to Sudan, said Cameron Hudson, a former US official specializing in Africa and now a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“What we are looking at now is potentially an extended period of time when there is no overarching UN presence in the country,” Hudson said Friday.


Southern Gaza under Bombardment after Israel-Hamas Truce Collapses

Palestinians carry wounded children following an Israeli strike on a house, after a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel expired, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Hatem Khaled
Palestinians carry wounded children following an Israeli strike on a house, after a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel expired, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Hatem Khaled
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Southern Gaza under Bombardment after Israel-Hamas Truce Collapses

Palestinians carry wounded children following an Israeli strike on a house, after a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel expired, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Hatem Khaled
Palestinians carry wounded children following an Israeli strike on a house, after a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel expired, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Hatem Khaled

Israeli air strikes and artillery bombardments hit Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip on Saturday as Israel pressed its offensive against Hamas militants with renewed force after the collapse of a truce in the nearly two-month-old war, Reuters said.
Palestinian residents said houses and open areas had been hit and three mosques destroyed in Khan Younis in the past hours. Columns of smoke were rising into the sky.
In Deir Al-Balah city in the central Gaza Strip nine Palestinians, including children, were killed in an air strike, Gaza health officials said.
The Israeli military said that in the last 24 hours combined attacks by its ground, air and naval forces had hit 400 militant targets and killed an unspecified number of Hamas fighters.
Hamas media said about 200 Palestinians had been killed since the end of the truce - adding to the more than 15,000 dead in Gaza since the start of the war, according to health authorities in the enclave.
The warring sides blamed each other for the collapse of the seven-day truce, during which Hamas had released hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
The United Nations said the fighting would worsen an extreme humanitarian emergency. "Hell on Earth has returned to Gaza," said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office in Geneva.
The first aid trucks since the end of the truce entered through the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing on Saturday, Egyptian security and Red Crescent sources told Reuters.
The conflict broke out on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants crossed into southern Israel and killed 1,200 people, in a rampage against kibbutzim and other communities. More than 200 hostages were taken back into Gaza.
Israel responded with a ferocious bombing campaign and a ground offensive which has destroyed large areas of Gaza and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in what has become the bloodiest episode of the wider Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Friday saw intense bombing in Khan Younis and Rafah in the south, medics and witnesses said.
Displaced Gazans have been sheltering there because of fighting in the north of the densely populated enclave but residents said they feared Israel was preparing for ground troops to move on the south.
Leaflets dropped by Israel on eastern areas of Khan Younis ordered residents of four towns to evacuate - not to other areas in Khan Younis as in the past, but further south to Rafah.
"You have been warned," the leaflets said in Arabic.
Residents took to the road with belongings heaped up in carts, searching for shelter further west.
In Rafah, residents carried several small children, streaked with blood and covered in dust, out of a house that had been struck. Mohammed Abu-Elneen, whose father owns the house, said it was sheltering people displaced from elsewhere.
Islamic Jihad's armed wing Al-Quds Brigades said its fighters had fired mortar bombs against Israeli forces massed in Kissufim in southern Gaza Strip east of Khan Younis and Deir Al-Balah.
TRADING BLAME
The Israeli military said it had killed many squads of fighters in northern Gaza, including in a gunbattle at a mosque used by Islamic Jihad militants as a command post. Signaling that it was deepening its grip on the north, it also instructed civilians in several districts of Gaza City to evacuate immediately.
In southern Israel, rocket sirens sounded early on Saturday in communities near the border with Gaza, but there were no reports of serious damage or casualties.
Reuters could not confirm the battlefield accounts.
The truce that started on Nov. 24 had been extended twice. But after seven days during which women, children and foreign hostages were freed as well as a number of Palestinian prisoners, mediators failed to find a formula to release more.
Israel accused Hamas of refusing to release all the women it held. A Palestinian official said the breakdown occurred over female Israeli soldiers.
Qatar, which has played a central mediating role, said negotiations were continuing with Israelis and Palestinians to restore the truce but Israel's renewed bombardment of Gaza had complicated matters.
An Israeli official in Washington said it was a "very high priority" to get as many hostages released as possible.
"And for that, under agreed terms, Israel is willing to give additional pauses," the official said, while adding: "We can negotiate while we still fight."
Meanwhile, US Vice President Kamala Harris was due to lay out American objectives for when the Israel-Hamas conflict ends.
Harris, who will attend the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, will stress that the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank should ultimately be reunified under one governing entity, a White House official said of her remarks.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' mainstream Fatah party and has ruled the enclave ever since.
However, Türkiye’s President Tayyip Erdogan said in Istanbul that the chance for peace in Gaza after the pause was lost for now due to what he called Israel's uncompromising approach.
In a sign of the danger that the war is spreading to other fronts, Israel shelled Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon for a second day. Hezbollah said one of its fighters was killed.
A spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said shelling from Israel hit close to its headquarters near the coastal town of Naqoura and around the border village of Rmaych. The Israeli military said it carried out shelling near Naqoura as a warning after spotting "unusual activity" in the area.


At Climate Summit, Türkiye, South Africa Hit Out at Israel over Gaza War

 South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 UN Climate Summit, Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP)
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 UN Climate Summit, Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP)
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At Climate Summit, Türkiye, South Africa Hit Out at Israel over Gaza War

 South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 UN Climate Summit, Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP)
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 UN Climate Summit, Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP)

As the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas collapsed, some world leaders at the UN climate summit criticized Israel on Friday and called for the Gaza war to end, while US and UK officials held meetings on the conflict on the gathering's sidelines.

The war's prominence in speeches at the Dubai event served to highlight international divisions over the bloodshed and presented a distraction for a summit where nations are trying to find consensus on the shared threat posed by climate change.

"While discussing the climate crisis, we cannot ignore the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Palestinian territories right beside us," Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told leaders during his formal speech to the COP28 conference.

"The current situation in Gaza constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity; those responsible must be held accountable under international law," he said.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa echoed the sentiment.

"South Africa is appalled by the cruel tragedy that is under way in Gaza. The war against the innocent people of Palestine is a war crime that must be ended now," he said in his address.

Jordan's King Abdullah II said it was difficult to focus on global warming while the fighting was going on.

"This year's conference of the parties must recognize even more than ever that we cannot talk about climate change in isolation from the humanitarian tragedies unfolding around us," he said.

A group of demonstrators at the conference, some wearing shirts that spelled "ceasefire", chanted "Free Palestine". Elsewhere on the summit grounds, a display of shoes was meant to represent the thousands killed in Gaza.

An Israeli official told Reuters the military was abiding by international law and was intent on destroying the militant group Hamas.

"Today was pretty awful," Mohammed Ursof, a Palestinian student from Gaza based in Qatar and attending the summit, said of the resumption in fighting. The "international youth delegate" said he would try to raise awareness at the COP28 conference of the Palestinian cause.

Bilaterals

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that he met officials from Arab states and discussed the future of the Gaza Strip on the sidelines of the COP28. A senior State Department official said Blinken met foreign ministers from Qatar, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain, alongside representatives of the Palestinian Authority.

The office of the British prime minister said Rishi Sunak and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, both at the Dubai conference, discussed their deep regret over the collapse of the temporary pause in fighting.

Israel's President Isaac Herzog was also at COP28, where a day earlier he met UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE is one of few Arab states with official ties with Israel

But Herzog, who stood in the traditional "family photo" with other world leaders, did not give his scheduled address on Friday.

Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General Oded Joseph told Reuters that Israel remained intent on freeing those held hostage by Hamas and destroying the militant group.

Israel's bombardment and invasion of Gaza has killed over 15,000 Palestinians, according to Gazan health officials. It was launched in retaliation for an attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 Israelis and foreigners, and led to 240 hostages being taken into Gaza.

The assault sparked outrage in the Arab world, though most Western leaders have supported what they say is Israel's right to defend itself. Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza on Friday.

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Iraq's President Abdul Latif Rashid called for an end to the war.

Iran's delegation left the summit in protest at Israel's presence, Iranian media reported, while Colombia's President Gustavo Petro linked environmental issues with the war.

"If Palestine could be free today then tomorrow humanity will escape alive out of the throes of the climate crisis," he said.