US, Israeli Officials to Meet Virtually on Rafah, US Official Says

Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes with their families due to Israeli raids, walk next to the border fence with Egypt, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, 30 March 2024. (EPA)
Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes with their families due to Israeli raids, walk next to the border fence with Egypt, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, 30 March 2024. (EPA)
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US, Israeli Officials to Meet Virtually on Rafah, US Official Says

Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes with their families due to Israeli raids, walk next to the border fence with Egypt, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, 30 March 2024. (EPA)
Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes with their families due to Israeli raids, walk next to the border fence with Egypt, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, 30 March 2024. (EPA)

Senior US and Israeli officials planned to hold a virtual meeting on Monday to discuss the Biden administration's alternative proposals to an Israeli military invasion of Rafah, a US official said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called off a planned visit to Washington last week by a senior Israeli delegation after the US allowed passage of a Gaza ceasefire resolution at the United Nations on Monday, marking a new war-time low in his relations with President Joe Biden.

Two days later Israel asked the White House to reschedule a high-level meeting on military plans for Gaza's southern city of Rafah, officials said, in an apparent bid to ease tensions between the two allies.

The United States, concerned about a deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, wants Israel to consider alternatives to a ground invasion of Rafah, the last relatively safe haven for more than 1 million displaced Palestinian civilians.

The US team in the talks will be led by Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, the official said.

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed, including 63 in the past 24 hours, in Israel's six-month military offensive in Gaza, according to the Palestinian health authorities.

Israel's retaliation began after an Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas gunmen breached the Israeli border to kill 1,200 people and take 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.



UN Says Only 906 Aid Truckloads Reached Gaza since Israel’s Rafah Operation Began

 Displaced Palestinians, who fled their house due to Israeli strikes, shelter at a tent camp, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in the Al-Mawasi area in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 22, 2024. (Reuters)
Displaced Palestinians, who fled their house due to Israeli strikes, shelter at a tent camp, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in the Al-Mawasi area in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 22, 2024. (Reuters)
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UN Says Only 906 Aid Truckloads Reached Gaza since Israel’s Rafah Operation Began

 Displaced Palestinians, who fled their house due to Israeli strikes, shelter at a tent camp, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in the Al-Mawasi area in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 22, 2024. (Reuters)
Displaced Palestinians, who fled their house due to Israeli strikes, shelter at a tent camp, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in the Al-Mawasi area in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 22, 2024. (Reuters)

Aid access to the Gaza Strip is extremely limited with less than 1,000 truckloads of humanitarian assistance entering the enclave since May 7, after Israel began a military operation in southern Gaza's Rafah area, the United Nations said on Friday.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that between May 7 and May 23, only 906 truckloads entered the enclave of 2.3 million people, where a famine looms amid the war between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said about 800 of those truckloads were food supplies.

OCHA said 143 truckloads passed through the Israel-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza's south, while in Gaza's north 62 passed through the Erez crossing and 604 via Erez West. It said 97 truckloads have come through a U.S.-built floating pier in central Gaza that began operating a week ago.

The Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza has been closed since Israel began stepping up its military operation in the area, creating a backlog of aid in Egypt where some of the food supplies have begun to rot.

On Friday, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi agreed with US President Joe Biden by phone to temporarily send humanitarian aid and fuel to the UN via the Kerem Shalom crossing, the Egyptian presidency said.

"There are a lot of doorways into Gaza. ... Whether by land or by sea, we don't control those doorways, but we want them all to be open," Dujarric said on Thursday.

OCHA said on Friday its figures do not include commercial trucks because the UN has been unable to observe private-sector deliveries through Kerem Shalom crossing due to insecurity.

"Additionally, just over 1 million liters of fuel have entered the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the military operation in Rafah," OCHA said in an update posted online.

"This represents an average of 29% of fuel allocations that would have been received under arrangements in place prior to 6 May, further affecting the functioning of bakeries, hospitals, water wells, and other critical infrastructure," it said.

The UN says at least 500 trucks a day of aid and commercial goods need to enter Gaza. In April, an average of 189 trucks entered a day - the highest since the war started in October.

Israel is retaliating against Hamas, which rules Gaza, over an Oct. 7 attack by the Palestinian militants in which more than 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. Nearly 130 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza.

Israel launched an air, ground and sea assault on the blockaded Palestinian territory, killing more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.


After World Court Ruling, Palestinians Want Action Not Words

A Palestinian woman stands next to a damaged building after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 22, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (AFP)
A Palestinian woman stands next to a damaged building after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 22, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (AFP)
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After World Court Ruling, Palestinians Want Action Not Words

A Palestinian woman stands next to a damaged building after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 22, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (AFP)
A Palestinian woman stands next to a damaged building after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 22, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (AFP)

Forced from her home by Israel's seven-month-long Gaza offensive, Salwa al-Masri has little hope her plight will be alleviated by a ruling from the UN's top court ordering Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah.

"The massacres are only increasing," she said, as she cooked a meal on an open fire outside a tent in Deir al-Balah.

"They shouldn’t say one thing, while the action is something different," said Masri, who fled her home in northern Gaza earlier in the war. "We want these decisions to be implemented on the ground."

Judges at the World Court, also known the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ordered Israel on Friday to halt its offensive in Rafah governorate. It marked a landmark emergency ruling on a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide in its assault on the Gaza Strip.

But the World Court has no means to enforce its orders, and Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Israel would continue its "just and necessary" war against the Hamas militant group to return its hostages and ensure its security.

Hamas fighters killed some 1,200 people in Israel in the Oct. 7 attack and abducted around 250 more, according to Israeli tallies. Gaza health authorities say more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli retaliatory offensive which has laid waste to much of the enclave.

Israel has rejected South Africa's accusation that it is committing genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza war, arguing that it is acting to defend itself and fighting Hamas.

"Israel doesn’t care about the world, it acts as if it was above the law because the US administration is shielding it against punishment,” said Shaban Abdel-Raouf, a Palestinian displaced four times by the Israeli offensive.

"The world isn’t yet prepared to stop our slaughter at Israeli hands,” said Abdel-Raouf, who was reached by phone.

Israel began pushing into Rafah earlier this month, saying it aims to wipe out remaining Hamas fighters holed up there.

Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the northern and southern edges of Gaza this month have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing their homes, and have cut off the main access routes for aid, raising the risk of famine.

South Africa's lawyers asked the ICJ last week to impose emergency measures, saying Israel's attacks on Rafah must be stopped to ensure the survival of the Palestinian people.

Hamas said it welcomed the World Court ruling but said it was not enough "since the occupation aggression across the Gaza Strip and especially in northern Gaza is just as brutal and dangerous".

Palestinians needed an immediate halt to the war and they wanted to see action to achieve that, displaced Palestinian man Nabil Diab said. "We don’t need a declaration," he said.


World Court Ruling Shows Consensus to End Israel’s War in Gaza, Palestinian Authority Says

A displaced Palestinians boy carries pieces of scrap metal as he walks between destroyed buildings in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)
A displaced Palestinians boy carries pieces of scrap metal as he walks between destroyed buildings in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)
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World Court Ruling Shows Consensus to End Israel’s War in Gaza, Palestinian Authority Says

A displaced Palestinians boy carries pieces of scrap metal as he walks between destroyed buildings in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)
A displaced Palestinians boy carries pieces of scrap metal as he walks between destroyed buildings in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the World Court's order on Friday for Israel to halt its operations in the city of Rafah, saying it represents an international consensus to end the war in Gaza, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told Reuters.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, also issued a statement welcoming the decision, but told Reuters that it fell short of recognizing that other parts of the enclave are under attack.

"We believe it is not enough since the occupation's aggression across the Gaza Strip, especially in northern Gaza, is just as brutal and dangerous," senior Hamas official Basem Naim said.

Hamas called on the United Nations Security Council to implement the International Court of Justice decision, he said, adding that the group welcomes the court's request to allow investigation committees to reach the Gaza Strip to probe allegations of genocide against the Palestinian people.

Israel has strongly denied it has carried out acts of genocide in its war in Gaza, which is now in its eighth month.

"Hamas pledges to cooperate with the investigation committees," Naim told Reuters.


Reaction to World Court’s Order for Israel to Halt Rafah Assault in Gaza

 Smoke rises during an Israeli air strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 24, 2024. (Reuters)
Smoke rises during an Israeli air strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 24, 2024. (Reuters)
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Reaction to World Court’s Order for Israel to Halt Rafah Assault in Gaza

 Smoke rises during an Israeli air strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 24, 2024. (Reuters)
Smoke rises during an Israeli air strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 24, 2024. (Reuters)

Israel was ordered by the World Court on Friday to halt its military assault on the city of Rafah during the Gaza war.

Here are some reactions:

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY SPOKESPERSON NABIL ABU RUDEINEH  

"The presidency welcomes the decision issued by the International Court of Justice, which represents an international consensus on the demand to stop the all-out war on Gaza."

HAMAS OFFICIAL BASEM NAIM:

"We welcome the decision by the World Court that calls on the Zionist occupation forces to end its military aggression on Rafah. We believe it is not enough since the occupation aggression across the Gaza Strip and especially in northern Gaza is just as brutal and dangerous.

"We call upon the UN Security Council to immediately implement this demand by the World Court into practical measures to compel the Zionist enemy to implement the decision.

"We welcome the court's request to allow investigation committees to reach the Gaza Strip to investigate acts of war of genocide against the Palestinian people and Hamas pledges to cooperate with investigation committees."

ISRAEL

FINANCE MINISTER BEZALEL SMOTRICH: "Those who demand that the State of Israel stop the war, demand that it decree itself to cease to exist. We will not agree to that."

OPPOSITION LEADER YAIR LAPID: "The ICC arrest warrants are a complete moral failure, we cannot accept the outrageous comparison between Netanyahu and (Hamas leader) Sinwar, between the leaders of Israel and the leaders of Hamas.

"The fact that the court in the Hague did not make the connection in its ruling between the cessation of fighting in Rafah and the return of the hostages and Israel's right to defend itself against terrorism is a moral collapse and a moral disaster."

FORMER UN ENVOY DANNY DANON: "As ICJ judges in The Hague deliberate in comfort and return to their families, 125 hostages languish in tunnels. Israel will not cease the war until our hostages are brought back home and Hamas is completely defeated."

WAR CABINET MINISTER BENNY GANTZ: "The State of Israel set out on a just and necessary campaign following the brutal massacre of its citizens, abhorrent sexual violence perpetrated against its women, kidnapping of its children and rockets fired at its cities. The State of Israel is committed to continue fighting to return its hostages and promise the security of its citizens - wherever and whenever necessary - including in Rafah.

"We will continue operating in accordance with international law wherever we might operate, while safeguarding to the best extent possible the civilian population. Not because of the ICJ, but because of who we are and the values we stand for."

ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON before the ruling: "No power on Earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and going after Hamas in Gaza".

SOUTH AFRICAN OFFICIAL ZANE DANGOR

"South Africa welcomes the ruling made by the court today. ... This order is ground-breaking as it is the first time that explicit mention is made for Israel to halt its military action in any area of Gaza

"This is de facto calling for a ceasefire. It is ordering the major party in this conflict to end its belligerent action against the people of Palestine.

"This order like the others ... are binding and Israel has to adhere to them."

EU'S TOP DIPLOMAT JOSEP BORRELL:

"What is going to be the (EU's) answer to the ruling of the International Court of Justice that has been issued today, what is going to be our position? We will have to choose between our support to international institutions of the rule of law or our support to Israel."

BELGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER HADJA LAHBIB:

"The @CIJ_ICJ orders Israel to stop its military offensive in Rafah. (Belgium) calls for immediate implementation of the decision. The violence and human suffering in Gaza must stop. We call for a ceasefire, the release of the hostages and negotiations for two States."

GLOBAL RIGHTS COMPLIANCE NGO:

"The ruling today serves as another admonishment of Israel's flagrant disregard for international law and the obligation to protect civilians in conflict.

"Crucially, it gives critical recognition to survivors and the communities living under these attacks that they are unlawful. The ruling is likely to generate further pressure and international attention against Israel and their conduct of hostilities which has, to date, had all the hallmarks of starvation being used as a deliberate method of warfare.”

JORDAN FOREIGN MINISTER AYMAN SAFADI:

"Once again, the ICJ exposes Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. And once again, the Israeli Govt reacts with disdain to Int’l law, refusing to heed the Court’s orders. The SC (Security Council) must shoulder its responsibility, put an end to Israel’s impunity & to double standards in enforcing Int’l law."

REED BRODY, WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR:

"The ICJ has stepped up to the plate with an historic decision that responds to the escalating gravity of the situation in Gaza. The court has crossed a threshold, for the first time, by ordering Israel to halt specific military operations as well as to open the Rafah crossing and other crossings and allow access to international fact-finding missions.

"This legally binding and very specific ruling leaves Israel with very little wiggle room. Together with the ICC prosecutor’s request for indictments of Prime Minister Netanyahu and other top Israeli and Hamas officials, these actions are a 1-2 legal punch to the conduct of Israel’s war in Gaza." 


Top UN Court Orders Israel to Halt Military Offensive in Rafah

Magistrates arrive at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to hear South Africa's request for a Gaza ceasefire, in The Hague, on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)
Magistrates arrive at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to hear South Africa's request for a Gaza ceasefire, in The Hague, on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)
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Top UN Court Orders Israel to Halt Military Offensive in Rafah

Magistrates arrive at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to hear South Africa's request for a Gaza ceasefire, in The Hague, on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)
Magistrates arrive at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to hear South Africa's request for a Gaza ceasefire, in The Hague, on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)

The top United Nations court ordered Israel on Friday to immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah — but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire for the enclave. Although Israel is unlikely to comply with the order, it will ratchet up the pressure on the increasingly isolated country.

Criticism of Israel's conduct in the war in Gaza has been growing, particularly once it turned its focus to Rafah. This week alone, three European countries announced they would recognize a Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor for another international court requested arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, along with Hamas officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also under heavy pressure at home to end the war, which was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into Israel, killing 1,200 people, most civilians, and taking some 250 captive. Thousands of Israelis have joined weekly demonstrations calling on the government to reach a deal to bring the hostages home, fearing that time is running out.

While the ruling by the International Court of Justice is a blow to Israel's international standing, the court does not have a police force to enforce its orders. In another case on its docket, Russia has so far ignored a 2022 order by the court to halt its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier, Israel signaled it, too, would brush off an ICJ order to stop its operations. "No power on earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and going after Hamas in Gaza," Avi Hyman, the government spokesperson, said in a press briefing Thursday.

Immediately after the ruling, Netanyahu announced that he would hold a special ministerial meeting to decide how to respond. Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition, derided the decision.

"The fact that the ICJ did not even directly connect the end of the military operation in Rafah to the release of the hostages and to Israel’s right to defend itself against terror is an abject moral failure," he said.

The court’s president, Nawaf Salam, read out the ruling, as a small group of pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated outside.

Fears the court expressed earlier this year about an operation in Rafah have "materialized," the ruling said, and Israel must "immediately halt its military offensive" in the city and anything else that might result in conditions that could cause the "physical destruction in whole or in part" of Palestinians there.

Rafah is in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip, on the border with Egypt, and over 1 million people sought refuge there in recent months after fleeing fighting elsewhere, with many of them living in teeming tent camps. Israel has been vowing for months to invade Rafah, saying it was Hamas’ last major stronghold, even as several allies warned an all-out assault would spell disaster.

Israel started issuing evacuation orders about two weeks ago as it began operations on the edge of the city. Since then, the army says an estimated 1 million people have left as forces press deeper inside.

Rafah is also home to a critical crossing for aid, and the UN says the flow of aid reaching it has plunged since the incursion began, though commercial trucking has continued to enter Gaza.

The court ordered Israel to keep the Rafah crossing open, saying "the humanitarian situation is now to be characterized as disastrous."

But it did not call for a full ceasefire throughout Gaza as South Africa, which brought the case, requested at hearings last week.

South Africa's foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, said the country's allegation that a genocide is underway is getting "stronger and stronger by the day."

"We are really pleased that the court has given very serious consideration to the matters that we put before it and has affirmed that an urgent decision is needed from the court to pause this onslaught against innocent Palestinian people," she told South African state broadcaster SABC, adding that it's now up to the UN Security Council to determine how to protect the Palestinians.

Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said the court’s order "underlines the gravity of the situation facing Palestinians in Gaza, who have for months endured the blocking of basic services and humanitarian aid amid continued fighting."

"The ICJ’s decision opens up the possibility for relief, but only if governments use their leverage, including through arms embargoes and targeted sanctions, to press Israel to urgently enforce the court’s measures," Jarrah said.

The ceasefire request is part of a case filed late last year, accusing Israel of committing genocide during its Gaza campaign. Israel vehemently denies the allegations. The case will take years to resolve, but South Africa wants interim orders to protect Palestinians while the legal wrangling continues.

The court ruled Friday that Israel must ensure access for any fact-finding or investigative mission sent by the United Nations to investigate the genocide allegations.

At public hearings last week at the International Court of Justice, South Africa's ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusimuzi Madonsela, urged the panel of 15 international judges to order Israel to "totally and unconditionally withdraw" from the Gaza Strip.

The court has already found that Israel's military operations pose a "real and imminent risk" to the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Israel’s offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians. The operation has obliterated entire neighborhoods, sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes, and pushed parts of the territory into famine.

"This may well be the last chance for the court to act," Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, who is part of South Africa’s legal team, told judges last week.

Israel rejects the claims by South Africa, a nation with historic ties to the Palestinian people.

"Israel takes extraordinary measures in order to minimize the harm to civilians in Gaza," Tamar Kaplan-Tourgeman, a member of Israel’s legal team, told the court last week.

In January, ICJ judges ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza, but the panel stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive. In a second order in March, the court said Israel must take measures to improve the humanitarian situation.

The ICJ rules in disputes between nations. A few kilometers (miles) away, the International Criminal Court files charges against individuals it considers most responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

On Monday, its chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, said he has asked ICC judges to approve arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three top Hamas leaders — Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Israel is not an ICC member, so even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. But the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.


Syria Refugees Face Lebanon Expulsion

Syrian refugee Hassan Jaber al-Salloum sells vegetables at the roadside in the Lebanese village of Minyara. JOSEPH EID / AFP
Syrian refugee Hassan Jaber al-Salloum sells vegetables at the roadside in the Lebanese village of Minyara. JOSEPH EID / AFP
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Syria Refugees Face Lebanon Expulsion

Syrian refugee Hassan Jaber al-Salloum sells vegetables at the roadside in the Lebanese village of Minyara. JOSEPH EID / AFP
Syrian refugee Hassan Jaber al-Salloum sells vegetables at the roadside in the Lebanese village of Minyara. JOSEPH EID / AFP

For weeks, refugee Maryam Janhat has been living in fear of deportation as Lebanon cracks down on Syrians, with politicians ramping up calls for them to be forced home.
Refugees from Lebanon's war-torn neighbor face a dilemma: should they stay and contend with stricter measures and growing anti-Syrian sentiment, or should they return home and risk poverty and repression?
Standing at her husband's vegetable stall by the side of the road outside the village of Minyara in Lebanon's impoverished north, Janhat, 38, said she lives in a state of constant worry, reported AFP.
"I am scared when (my husband and children) come to work at the stall. I am afraid they could take my son at any moment... we are afraid to walk the streets," she said.
Syrians make up about half of Minyara's 8,000 residents, the municipality says, with most living in tent camps adjacent to vast agricultural fields.
Janhat, who took refuge in the village a decade ago after fleeing violence in the central Syrian province of Homs, feels lucky to be living in a house rather than a flimsy tent.
But she and her family have been unable to renew their residency in Lebanon, and they fear being deported to Syria where she says they have "no house, no work, and no security".
A few steps away, 70-year-old Ibrahim Mansour is offloading crates of fruit and vegetables from his van to sell.
Syrians "have stalls everywhere, competing with us in every sector", he said.
"When they leave, the situation will improve a lot."
'Open the seas'
Many Lebanese, including politicians, have long pushed for Syrians who have fled 13 years of civil war at home to return, blaming them for exacerbating Lebanon's woes, including a crushing economic crisis that began in late 2019.
Lebanon says it currently hosts around two million people from Syria -- the world's highest number of refugees per capita -- with almost 785,000 registered with the United Nations.
In recent months, politicians have ramped up anti-Syrian rhetoric, with Hassan Nasrallah, who heads the militant Hezbollah group, urging Beirut to open the seas for migrant boats to reach Europe to pressure for more Western aid.
Earlier this month, the European Union announced $1 billion in aid to Lebanon to help tackle illegal migration, mostly of Syrians to nearby Cyprus, the bloc's easternmost member.
Lebanon has long heavily relied on Syrians for manual labor, especially in agriculture and construction.
Minyara mayor Antoun Abboud said Syrians were needed in the workforce but that his village cannot accommodate large numbers of refugees or provide them with basic services.
"We are not telling them to leave. We just want to reduce... and organize Syrian presence" in Lebanon, he said.
'Can't sleep at night'
Lebanese security forces have intensified a crackdown on Syrians without residency permits, shutting down their businesses and forcing them to evacuate their homes.
"Hate campaigns, legal restrictions, and unprecedented measures to make it difficult to obtain residency" are on the rise, said Sahar Mandour, Amnesty International's Lebanon researcher.
This means most Syrians find themselves without legal residency, she said, adding that "voluntary returns are impossible in these conditions".
In one of the informal camps near the village, children play in the dirt, while men sit idle, too frightened to leave.
"Everyone is scared," said herder Hajem, 37, who declined giving his last name for security concerns.
"Syrians cannot move anymore. Even laborers in the fields are skipping work," he said, shearing his sheep near the camp, while women around him collected the wool.
He fled to Lebanon illegally eight years ago, at the height of Syria's war, and cannot return because he says he is wanted by Damascus.
He said he has been too scared to venture outside for work since security forces began to clamp down more forcefully on Syrians.
"I can't sleep at night because the army or security forces could deport us at any moment," he said.
His elderly father is also filled with worry.
"If we leave, we will die of hunger. There are no opportunities in our country," he said.
"It would be better to throw oneself into the sea."


Palestinian Official to Asharq Al-Awsat: European Recognitions a First Step towards Statehood

Warm applause from members of the Spanish government for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez after he announced recognition of the State of Palestine (AFP)
Warm applause from members of the Spanish government for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez after he announced recognition of the State of Palestine (AFP)
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Palestinian Official to Asharq Al-Awsat: European Recognitions a First Step towards Statehood

Warm applause from members of the Spanish government for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez after he announced recognition of the State of Palestine (AFP)
Warm applause from members of the Spanish government for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez after he announced recognition of the State of Palestine (AFP)

Leader in the Fatah movement, Mounir Al-Jaghoub, said that the strong Saudi pressure and Arab diplomacy in the past few months had a major role in influencing the three European countries, Spain, Norway, and Ireland, to recognize the Palestinian state.
Al-Jaghoub noted that several reasons led to this recognition, including the strong Saudi position regarding the establishment of the Palestinian state, Arab and Palestinian diplomacy, and the feeling of remorse in many countries that were unable to stop the Israeli crimes.
Norway, Spain, and Ireland announced the recognition of the State of Palestine, to come into effect on May 28, in a step that the Palestinians considered a strong support for the two-state solution.
The decisions came a few weeks after the meeting of the ministerial committee assigned by the joint extraordinary Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh, which was chaired by Saudi Arabia, and attended by foreign ministers of several countries, including the three European states.
The meeting discussed the recognition of the Palestinian state and the necessity to adopt a comprehensive approach towards a reliable and irreversible path to implementing the two-state solution in accordance with international law and agreed upon standards.
“Saudi Arabia has great political power. It has a pivotal and pressing role, and enjoys a strong economy,” the Palestinian official underlined.
The Palestinians widely welcomed the tripartite recognition of their state, describing it as a “historic moment,” but Israel pledged that the consequences would affect the Palestinians and the relevant countries.
Tel Aviv recalled its ambassadors to Ireland, Spain and Norway “to conduct emergency consultations,” and later rebuked the ambassadors of these countries to Israel. Israeli sources said that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considering taking further diplomatic steps against Norway, Ireland and Spain, “including canceling the official visit to Israel and entry visas for diplomats.”
President Mahmoud Abbas’ advisor for international relations, Riyad al-Maliki, said that the recognition of the State of Palestine by Spain, Norway, and Ireland is a pressure card on the Security Council countries to deal responsibly and seriously with the Palestinian request to become a “permanent member” of the United Nations.
Meanwhile, as Portugal was expected to join the rest of the European countries, Portuguese Foreign Minister Paulo Rangel said on Thursday that his country would maintain the position taken by the previous socialist government, which resigned last year, to be a mediator in the peace process while awaiting the right time to make this decision.
The Portuguese Foreign Ministry spokesman had stated that his country supports a two-state solution to the Middle East crisis, but does not consider the present time to be appropriate to issue this decision.

 

 

 


Israel Says Bodies of 3 More Hostages Killed on Oct 7. Recovered Overnight from Gaza 

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel on May 21, 2024. (AP)
Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel on May 21, 2024. (AP)
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Israel Says Bodies of 3 More Hostages Killed on Oct 7. Recovered Overnight from Gaza 

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel on May 21, 2024. (AP)
Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel on May 21, 2024. (AP)

The bodies of three more hostages killed on Oct 7. were recovered overnight from Gaza, Israel's army said Friday.

The bodies of Hanan Yablonka, Michel Nisenbaum, and Orion Hernandez were found and their families have been notified. The army said they were killed on the day of the attack at the Mefalsim intersection and their bodies were taken to Gaza.

The announcement comes less than a week after the army said it found the bodies of three other Israeli hostages killed on Oct. 7.

Hamas-led gunmen killed around 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and abducted around 250 others in the Oct. 7 attack. Around half of those hostages have since been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a weeklong ceasefire in November.

Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to both eliminate Hamas and bring all the hostages back, but he’s made little progress. He faces pressure to resign, and the US has threatened to scale back its support over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Israelis are divided into two main camps: those who want the government to put the war on hold and free the hostages, and others who think the hostages are an unfortunate price to pay for eradicating Hamas. On-and-off negotiations mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt have yielded little.

Anger is growing at home at the government’s handling of the hostage crisis.

Earlier this week a group representing the families of hostages released new video footage showing Hamas’ capture of five female Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border on Oct. 7.

The video shows several of the young soldiers bloody and wounded. In one scene, a militant tells one of the terrified women she is beautiful.

The video sparked more protests across the country calling for the hostages’ release.


Netanyahu Says Israel has ‘Surprising’ Plans for Lebanon

HANDOUT - 23 May 2024, Israel, Safed: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Israel's Northern Command Headquarters. Photo: Ma'ayan Toaf/GPO/dpa
HANDOUT - 23 May 2024, Israel, Safed: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Israel's Northern Command Headquarters. Photo: Ma'ayan Toaf/GPO/dpa
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Netanyahu Says Israel has ‘Surprising’ Plans for Lebanon

HANDOUT - 23 May 2024, Israel, Safed: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Israel's Northern Command Headquarters. Photo: Ma'ayan Toaf/GPO/dpa
HANDOUT - 23 May 2024, Israel, Safed: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Israel's Northern Command Headquarters. Photo: Ma'ayan Toaf/GPO/dpa

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that he has “surprising” military plans for Lebanon, adding that Israel has been able to eliminate “hundreds” of Hezbollah militants.
"We are constantly in action on the northern front. As of now we have eliminated hundreds of Hezbollah militants and we are still poised – even today”, said Netanyahu as he visited the Israeli army Northern Command Headquarters.
“I just received a briefing from the head of Northern Command and I also spoke with the division commanders. We have detailed, important, and even surprising plans”, he added.
Netanyahu stated that he “will not share these plans – which are designed to do two things, 1) to restore security to the north, and 2) to restore the residents safely to their homes... We are determined to achieve both of them together”.
Hezbollah has exchanged near-daily cross-border fire with the Israeli army since Hamas gunmen launched an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7 triggering war in Gaza.
On Thursday, Lebanese school children on a minibus had a narrow escape when an Israeli drone strike killed a Hezbollah fighter in the car ahead, blowing out the windscreen of their vehicle and wounding three pupils.


EU's Borrell Says Some European Countries Are Trying to Intimidate ICC Judges 

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell waits for the start of the EU-Moldova Association Council at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell waits for the start of the EU-Moldova Association Council at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP)
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EU's Borrell Says Some European Countries Are Trying to Intimidate ICC Judges 

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell waits for the start of the EU-Moldova Association Council at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell waits for the start of the EU-Moldova Association Council at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP)

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday some European countries were trying to intimidate International Criminal Court judges over a case against Israeli leaders, and must stop "meddling" and respect the court. 

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan announced on Monday that he had filed for arrest warrants against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three Hamas leaders. 

"The prosecutor has done nothing more than make an accusation and the court will decide," Borrell told Spanish broadcaster TVE. "In the meantime, I ask everyone, starting with the Israeli government and some European governments, not to intimidate the judges." 

"Don't threaten them, don't try to influence their decision, sometimes with threats and very harsh disqualifications," he added. 

Khan accused the three Hamas leaders of crimes including extermination, hostage taking and sexual violence, and the two Israeli leaders of crimes including extermination, using hunger as a weapon and intentionally attacking civilians. 

Israel denies committing war crimes in Gaza, says the ICC has no jurisdiction there and has called on countries to repudiate what it considers a politically motivated rogue court. Hamas has also rejected the accusations against its leaders. 

Several countries have denounced the ICC prosecutor's decision to seek the arrest of the Israelis, including the United States, Israel's closest ally, which is not a member of the ICC. Hungary on Thursday described the request for arrest warrants as a "political decision" that discredited the court. 

The International Court of Justice, a separate court also based in the Hague, was due later on Friday to rule on a separate request from South Africa to order Israel to halt its offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. 

In a further step that increased Israel's political isolation this week, Spain, Norway and Ireland have announced that they will recognize an independent Palestinian state. 

Israel says this amounts to rewarding Hamas for its Oct. 7 attacks on Israeli territory and would strengthen the armed group. Borrell rejected this criticism. 

"When it is said that this strengthens Hamas, I see it the other way round because the Palestinian world is divided between an authority that we recognize, that we fund, that we engage with... and a terrorist organization that we regard as such," he said. 

Israel launched its war in Gaza in retaliation for the Oct. 7 assault by Hamas-led fighters who killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel's subsequent assault on the enclave has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza's health ministry. 

Borrell said other European countries were considering recognizing a Palestinian state, but did not provide further details. He said that criticizing the Israeli government's actions should not be considered antisemitic. 

"Every time someone takes the decision to support Palestinian state-building, something that everyone in Europe supports...Israel's reaction is to turn it into an antisemitic attack."