Spain to Recognize Palestinian Statehood by July

File photo: Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez leaves after a press conference at the end of the second and last day of the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 22, 2024. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
File photo: Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez leaves after a press conference at the end of the second and last day of the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 22, 2024. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
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Spain to Recognize Palestinian Statehood by July

File photo: Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez leaves after a press conference at the end of the second and last day of the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 22, 2024. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
File photo: Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez leaves after a press conference at the end of the second and last day of the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 22, 2024. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Spain will recognize Palestinian statehood by July, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told journalists during a Middle East tour, according to several reports published on Tuesday in Spanish media.
State news agency EFE and newspapers El Pais and La Vanguardia cited Sanchez as making the informal remarks to the traveling press corps late on Monday in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on the first day of visits to Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
According to the reports, Sanchez said he expected events to unfold in the conflict ahead of the European Parliament elections in early June and highlighted ongoing debates at the United Nations, Reuters reported.
He expected Spain to extend recognition to the Palestinians by July, he said, adding that he believed there would soon be a "critical mass" within the European Union to push several member states to adopt the same position, according to EFE.
At a European Council meeting on March 22, Sanchez said he had agreed with the leaders of Ireland, Malta and Slovenia to "take the first steps" towards recognizing statehood declared by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
At the time, he said he expected the recognition to happen during the current four-year legislature that began last year.
In response, Israel told the four countries that their plan constituted a "prize for terrorism" that would reduce the chances of a negotiated resolution to the Gaza conflict.
Arab states and the EU had agreed at a meeting in Spain in November that a two-state solution was the answer to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Since 1988, 139 out of 193 UN member states have recognized Palestinian statehood.



Review of UNRWA Found Israel Did Not Express Concern about Staff

A truck, marked with United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) logo, crosses into Egypt from Gaza, at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Rafah, Egypt, November 27, 2023. (Reuters)
A truck, marked with United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) logo, crosses into Egypt from Gaza, at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Rafah, Egypt, November 27, 2023. (Reuters)
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Review of UNRWA Found Israel Did Not Express Concern about Staff

A truck, marked with United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) logo, crosses into Egypt from Gaza, at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Rafah, Egypt, November 27, 2023. (Reuters)
A truck, marked with United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) logo, crosses into Egypt from Gaza, at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Rafah, Egypt, November 27, 2023. (Reuters)

An independent review of the neutrality of the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees found that Israel never expressed concern about anyone on the staff lists it has received annually since 2011. The review was carried out after Israel alleged that a dozen employees of the agency known as UNRWA had participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks.

In a wide-ranging 48-page report released Monday, the independent panel said UNRWA has “robust” procedures to uphold the UN principle of neutrality, but it cited serious gaps in implementation, including staff publicly expressing political views, textbooks with “problematic content” and staff unions disrupting operations.

From 2017 to 2022, the report said the annual number of allegations of neutrality being breached at UNRWA ranged from 7 to 55. But between January 2022 and February 2024 UN investigators received 151 allegations, most related to social media posts “made public by external sources," it said.

In a key section on the neutrality of staff, the panel, which was led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, said UNRWA shares lists of staff with host countries for its 32,000 staff, including about 13,000 in Gaza. But it said Israeli officials never expressed concern and informed panel members it did not consider the list “a screening or vetting process” but rather a procedure to register diplomats.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry informed the panel that until March 2024 the staff lists did not include Palestinian identification numbers, the report said.

Apparently based on those numbers, “Israel made public claims that a significant number of UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organizations,” the panel said. “However, Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of this.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ordered the UN internal watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, to carry out a separate investigation into the Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staffers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks. That report is eagerly awaited.

In its interim report on March 20, the panel noted UNRWA’s “significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the humanitarian principles of neutrality,” but also identified “critical areas that need to be addressed.”


Gaza Health System ‘Completely Obliterated’, Says UN Expert

02 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Gaza City: Palestinians inspect the damage at Al-Shifa Hospital complex, following a two-week military operation by the Israeli army in Gaza City. (dpa)
02 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Gaza City: Palestinians inspect the damage at Al-Shifa Hospital complex, following a two-week military operation by the Israeli army in Gaza City. (dpa)
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Gaza Health System ‘Completely Obliterated’, Says UN Expert

02 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Gaza City: Palestinians inspect the damage at Al-Shifa Hospital complex, following a two-week military operation by the Israeli army in Gaza City. (dpa)
02 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Gaza City: Palestinians inspect the damage at Al-Shifa Hospital complex, following a two-week military operation by the Israeli army in Gaza City. (dpa)

Israel's war in Gaza has from the start been a "war on the right to health" and has "obliterated" the Palestinian territory's health system, a UN expert said on Monday.

Tlaleng Mofokeng, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to health, accused Israel of treating human rights as an "a la carte menu".

Just days into the war that has been raging in Gaza since Hamas's unprecedented attacks inside Israel on October 7, "the medical infrastructure was irreparably damaged", she told reporters in Geneva.

Amid the unrelenting Israeli bombardment of Gaza, healthcare providers had for months been working under dire conditions with very limited access to medical supplies, she said.

"This has been a war on the right to health from the beginning," said Mofokeng, who is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but who does not speak on behalf of the United Nations.

"The health system in Gaza has been completely obliterated and the right to health has been decimated at every level".

There has been growing global opposition to Israel's offensive in Gaza, which has turned vast areas of the densely populated territory into rubble and sparked a dire humanitarian crisis including warnings of famine.

The Israeli offensive began after the October 7 attack, which killed 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

'Intentionally imposing famine'

Its hospitals, which are protected under international humanitarian law, have repeatedly come under attack.

Israel has accused Hamas of using them as command centers and to hold hostages abducted on October 7, claims denied by the gunmen.

On Sunday, Gaza's civil defense said its teams had discovered 50 bodies buried in the courtyard of the Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza's main southern city of Khan Younis.

And the World Health Organization said earlier this month that Al-Shifa, Gaza's largest hospital, had been reduced to ashes by an Israeli siege, leaving an "empty shell" with many bodies.

"The destruction of healthcare facilities continues to catapult to proportions yet to be fully quantified," said Mofokeng, a medical doctor from South Africa.

The expert said she had received no response from Israel to the concerns she had raised about the situation, and that she had not been able to visit the Palestinian territory, nor Israel.

But she said it was obvious that Israel was "killing and causing irreparable harm against Palestinian civilians with its bombardments".

"They are also knowingly and intentionally imposing famine, prolonged malnutrition and dehydration", the expert added, accusing Israel of "genocide".

The current situation in Gaza, she said, "is completely incompatible with the right to health".


Macron Discusses Mideast Crisis with Egypt’s Sisi, Israel’s Netanyahu

 French President Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati (not seen) before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)
French President Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati (not seen) before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Macron Discusses Mideast Crisis with Egypt’s Sisi, Israel’s Netanyahu

 French President Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati (not seen) before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)
French President Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati (not seen) before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)

French President Emmanuel Macron held phone calls on Monday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss ways of avoiding an escalation in the Middle East crisis, said France and Egypt.

The French presidency said Macron, in his call with Netanyahu, had reaffirmed Paris's desire to avoid an escalation in the Middle East and to stand up to what it said were Iran's efforts to destabilize the region.

The French presidency added that Macron had also reiterated to Netanyahu that France wanted an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza and said Paris was working to ease tensions arising from clashes on the border between Israel and Lebanon.

In a separate statement, Egyptian presidential spokesperson Ahmed Fahmy said Macron had also discussed the Middle East crisis with the Egyptian leader and that both Macron and Sisi had agreed on the need to avoid further regional escalation.


Drone, Rocket Attacks Targeted US Forces in Iraq, US Officials Say

An aerial file photo taken from a helicopter shows Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq, December 29, 2019. (AP)
An aerial file photo taken from a helicopter shows Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq, December 29, 2019. (AP)
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Drone, Rocket Attacks Targeted US Forces in Iraq, US Officials Say

An aerial file photo taken from a helicopter shows Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq, December 29, 2019. (AP)
An aerial file photo taken from a helicopter shows Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq, December 29, 2019. (AP)

US forces in Iraq and Syria faced two separate rocket and explosive drone attacks in less than 24 hours, Iraqi security sources and US officials told Reuters on Monday, the first reported after a near three-month pause.

At least one armed drone was launched at the Ain al-Asad air base that hosts US troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar, a US official said.

That followed five rockets fired from northern Iraq towards US forces at a base in Rumalyn in remote northeastern Syria, on Sunday, according to US and Iraqi officials.

There were no reports of casualties or significant damage from the drone attacks.

On Saturday, a massive explosion at a military base in Iraq killed a member of an Iraqi security force that includes Iran-backed groups.

The force commander said it was an attack while the army said it was investigating and that there were no warplanes in the sky at the time. The US. military denied involvement.

Near-daily rocket and drone strikes on US forces began in mid-October and were claimed by a group of Iran-backed Shiite armed groups known as the so-called “Islamic Resistance in Iraq”, who cited US backing for Israel's war in Gaza.

The attacks stopped in late January under pressure from Iraqi authorities and Iran, following deadly US retaliatory airstrikes in Iraq, after three US soldiers were killed in a drone strike on a small base on the Iraqi-Jordanian border.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani returned at the weekend from a week-long visit to the United States where he met President Joe Biden in an effort to turn a new page in US-Iraqi relations despite soaring regional tensions.

The US invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled longtime leader Saddam Hussein, withdrawing in 2011 before returning in 2014 at the head of an international military coalition at the Baghdad government's request to help fight ISIS extremists.

The US has some 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in eastern Syria on an advise-and-assist mission.


Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Resigns over Failure to Prevent Oct. 7 Attack

Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack on Israel are handed over by Hamas to the International Red Cross, as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel amid a temporary truce, in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, November 24, 2023. Hamas Military Wing/Handout via REUTERS
Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack on Israel are handed over by Hamas to the International Red Cross, as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel amid a temporary truce, in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, November 24, 2023. Hamas Military Wing/Handout via REUTERS
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Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Resigns over Failure to Prevent Oct. 7 Attack

Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack on Israel are handed over by Hamas to the International Red Cross, as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel amid a temporary truce, in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, November 24, 2023. Hamas Military Wing/Handout via REUTERS
Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack on Israel are handed over by Hamas to the International Red Cross, as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel amid a temporary truce, in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, November 24, 2023. Hamas Military Wing/Handout via REUTERS

The head of Israel's military intelligence directorate resigned on Monday over the failures surrounding Hamas' unprecedented Oct. 7 attack, the military said, becoming the first senior figure to step down over his role in the deadliest assault in Israel's history.
Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva's resignation sets the stage for what's expected to be more fallout from Israel's top security brass over Hamas' attack, when Hamas blasted through Israel's border defenses, rampaged through Israeli communities unchallenged for hours and killed 1,200 people, most civilians, while taking roughly 250 hostages into Gaza. That attack set off the war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its seventh month.
Shortly after the war, Haliva had publicly said that he shouldered blame for not preventing the assault as the head of the military department responsible for providing the government and the military with intelligence warnings and daily alerts.
The military said in the statement that the military chief of staff accepted Haliva’s request to resign and thanked him for his service.
While Haliva and others have accepted blame for failing to stop the attack, others have stopped short, most notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said he will answer tough questions about his role but has not outright acknowledged direct responsibility for allowing the attack to unfold. He has also not indicated that he will step down.
The Hamas attack, which came on a Jewish holiday, caught Israel and its vaunted security establishment entirely off guard. Israelis' sense of faith in their military — seen by most Jews as one of the country's most trustworthy institutions — was shattered in the face of Hamas' onslaught.
The attack set off the devastating war that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to local health officials, at least two-thirds of them children and women.
It has devastated Gaza’s two largest cities, and driven 80% of the territory’s population to flee to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave. The war has sparked a humanitarian catastrophe that has drawn warnings of imminent famine.
The attack also sent shock waves through the region. Tensions have rocked the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as well as cities and towns within Israel itself.


Iraq's Kataib Hezbollah Denies Saying It Resumes Attacks on US Forces

A member of Iraqi security forces is seen at Ain al-Asad airbase in the Anbar province, Iraq December 29, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/File Photo
A member of Iraqi security forces is seen at Ain al-Asad airbase in the Anbar province, Iraq December 29, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/File Photo
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Iraq's Kataib Hezbollah Denies Saying It Resumes Attacks on US Forces

A member of Iraqi security forces is seen at Ain al-Asad airbase in the Anbar province, Iraq December 29, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/File Photo
A member of Iraqi security forces is seen at Ain al-Asad airbase in the Anbar province, Iraq December 29, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/File Photo

Iraqi armed faction Kataib Hezbollah has denied issuing a statement saying it had resumed attacks on US forces, a statement from the group issued on the Telegram messaging app said. 

The denial came hours after a post circulated on groups thought to be affiliated with the Iran-backed armed faction that declared a resumption in the attacks some three months after they were suspended. 

Kataib Hezbollah described that as "fabricated news". 

On Sunday at least five rockets were launched from Iraq's town of Zummar towards a US military base in northeastern Syria, two Iraqi security sources and a US official told Reuters. 

The attack against US forces is the first since early February when Iranian-backed groups in Iraq stopped their attacks against US troops. 


2 Suspects Arrested after Car Attack in Jerusalem

A woman holds a poster bearing the image of 43-year-old Israeli hostage Dror Or as relatives and supporters of hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks block the Ayalon highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem near Latrun with burning barrels, during a protest calling for their release on April 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
A woman holds a poster bearing the image of 43-year-old Israeli hostage Dror Or as relatives and supporters of hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks block the Ayalon highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem near Latrun with burning barrels, during a protest calling for their release on April 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
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2 Suspects Arrested after Car Attack in Jerusalem

A woman holds a poster bearing the image of 43-year-old Israeli hostage Dror Or as relatives and supporters of hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks block the Ayalon highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem near Latrun with burning barrels, during a protest calling for their release on April 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
A woman holds a poster bearing the image of 43-year-old Israeli hostage Dror Or as relatives and supporters of hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks block the Ayalon highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem near Latrun with burning barrels, during a protest calling for their release on April 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Israeli police said they have arrested two people after a car slammed into pedestrians in Jerusalem on Monday, lightly wounding three.
Footage of the incident taken by a CCTV camera and aired by Israeli media showed a car plowing into three ultra-Orthodox Jews, sending at least two flying over the dashboard, The Associated Press said.
Palestinians have carried out periodic attacks on Israeli cities and towns since the country’s war against Hamas began on Oct. 7. During that time, violence has surged in the West Bank.
Also Monday, Palestinian civil defense in Gaza said it had found 210 bodies on the grounds of a Khan Younis hospital, and Israel's chief of military intelligence resigned over the failure to prevent the Oct. 7 attack, the first senior official to do so.
The conflict, now in its seventh month, has sparked regional unrest pitting Israel and the US against Iran and allied militant groups across the Middle East. Israel and Iran traded fire directly this month, raising fears of all-out war.
The war was sparked by the unprecedented Oct. 7 raid into southern Israel in which Hamas and other militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250 hostages. Israel says Hamas is still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.
The Israel-Hamas war has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, at least two-thirds of them children and women. It has devastated Gaza’s two largest cities and left a swath of destruction. Around 80% of the territory’s population have fled to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave.
The US House of Representatives approved a $26 billion aid package on Saturday that includes around $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, which experts say is on the brink of famine, as well as billions for Israel. The US Senate could pass the package as soon as Tuesday, and President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.


Halo Trust Calls for Focus on Peace Efforts, Mine Clearance in Yemen

Saudi Arabia’s Masam project has removed over half a million mines and unexploded ordnance in Yemen. (Masam)
Saudi Arabia’s Masam project has removed over half a million mines and unexploded ordnance in Yemen. (Masam)
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Halo Trust Calls for Focus on Peace Efforts, Mine Clearance in Yemen

Saudi Arabia’s Masam project has removed over half a million mines and unexploded ordnance in Yemen. (Masam)
Saudi Arabia’s Masam project has removed over half a million mines and unexploded ordnance in Yemen. (Masam)

Five months since the Iran-backed Houthi militias launched their first attack on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, an international organization called for a renewed focus on humanitarian development and peace efforts in Yemen, where people continue to endure one of the worst landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) crises in the world.

The HALO Trust, a humanitarian mine clearance organization, said in a statement last week that during the 2022 ceasefire, there was a 160% increase in UXO and mine accidents as people tried to return to their homes in Taiz.

“It is imperative that we don't forget the ordinary Yemeni men, women, and children living day-to-day in severe humanitarian need, and the dangers posed by unexploded weapons near their homes and communities,” Matt Smith, head of Region for Middle East and North Africa.

He said most of HALO’s work in Yemen is in crowded and complex urban environments and close to active frontlines and former battlefields, meaning it requires different skills and greater community liaison compared with clearance in rural areas.

Since 2019, HALO Yemen has been clearing mines and other explosives in the frontline in Taiz, a city divided by battle lines between the north and south of the country for the last nine years.

“Despite airstrikes under 20km away, and daily exchanges of fire across frontlines in the city, our teams haven't stopped working in the last six months,” said Smith.

As the only international NGO doing this work in Taiz city, HALO teams have responded to more than 100 call-outs to remove or destroy various dangerous items and has cleared minefields with trained teams and armored machines, handing safe land back to communities that regularly experience fatal or life-changing accidents.

Daily threats

Smith said that in many places, explosives including mines, rockets, mortars, anti-aircraft rounds and IEDs are found among homes, clinics, schools, and other amenities.

“These pose a daily threat to Yemeni civilians, particularly children. Many children are injured while they play, or when collecting scrap metal to sell and help feed their families,” he noted.

So far, HALO demining teams have made two million square meters of land safe in Taiz and Aden - the equivalent of around 280 football pitches - so that people can go to work and markets safely, and children can walk to school and play outside without fear of losing a limb, or worse.

Smith said that during the 2022 ceasefire, there was a 160% increase in UXO and mine accidents as people tried to return to their homes in Taiz, illustrating that mine action activities will need to play an integral part in the peace process for peacebuilding efforts to be successful.

“Urban recovery and reconstruction will also be hampered if the amount of explosive ordnance present in urban areas across Yemen isn’t addressed,” he warned.

The Halo Trust also affirmed that clearance of landmines and explosives is needed on key roads along frontlines proposed for re-opening under a UN-brokered truce.

The organization said it works closely with the Office of the UN Special Envoy (OSESGY) and other actors to address the complex threat should parties reach an agreement.


Qassam Resumes Attacks against Israel from Southern Lebanon 

A Long exposure photo taken from position in northern Israel near the border with southern Lebanon, shows a rocket fired from Israel heading towards southern Lebanon on April 17, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (AFP)
A Long exposure photo taken from position in northern Israel near the border with southern Lebanon, shows a rocket fired from Israel heading towards southern Lebanon on April 17, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (AFP)
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Qassam Resumes Attacks against Israel from Southern Lebanon 

A Long exposure photo taken from position in northern Israel near the border with southern Lebanon, shows a rocket fired from Israel heading towards southern Lebanon on April 17, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (AFP)
A Long exposure photo taken from position in northern Israel near the border with southern Lebanon, shows a rocket fired from Israel heading towards southern Lebanon on April 17, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (AFP)

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stressed on Sunday the military determination to return residents of northern Israel back to their homes and that it was preparing to carry out the task.

Speaking during a tour near the Syrian border, he said his forces were raising their readiness to carry out offensive missions to prevent Iranian entrenchment in the region.

In a post on the X platform, he added that he visited the Golan region to “assess the situation” on the border and operations against Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran.

Moreover, he spoke of raising the preparedness of the army to carry out a “possible military operation that would allow the residents of the north to return home after a change in the security situation.”

Meanwhile, the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement, entered the fray again on Sunday by firing over 20 grad rockets from southern Lebanon against Israel’s Shumira barracks.

In a statement, the group said the attack was in “retaliation to the Zionist enemy’s massacres in Gaza.”

The group had last carried out an operation against Israel from the South in February.

Hours earlier, Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem vowed that the Iran-backed party “would retaliate if Israel attacks Lebanon.”

In remarks to NBC News, he stressed that Hezbollah does not want another major war, but it will not allow the Israeli army to violate the unspoken “rules of engagement”.

“We will not accept that the Israelis transgress the rules of engagement that are currently set in the south” of Lebanon, he said. “If the Israelis increase their attacks, we will increase our attacks as well.”

Moreover, he said the fighting is now limited to the Lebanese-Palestinian border and it has its rules and limits. “The resistance is supporting Gaza and this support is serving its purpose,” Qassem added.

“Therefore, we will continue to do so, and we will not wage a full-scale war unless the Israelis decide to get into war against us,” he said. “Then we are ready for the full confrontation.”

Amid these threats, the Israeli army is forging ahead with its strategy of destroying homes and civilian infrastructure in Lebanese border regions.

It has so far completely destroyed 1,500 and partially damaged 5,000 houses in the South.

On the other hand, Hezbollah continues to target Israeli positions and houses Israeli settlements.

David Azoulay, the mayor of the Metulla settlement, said Hezbollah has destroyed over 140 houses in Metulla alone since the eruption of the border clashes in October.

Metulla, which lies adjacent to Lebanon’s towns of Khiam and Kfar Killa, has come under heavy attacks by Hezbollah in recent days targeting Israeli soldiers.


Iraq, Türkiye to Elevate Security, Economic Ties after Erdogan Visit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands as they attend a press conference, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 22, 2024. (AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands as they attend a press conference, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 22, 2024. (AP)
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Iraq, Türkiye to Elevate Security, Economic Ties after Erdogan Visit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands as they attend a press conference, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 22, 2024. (AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands as they attend a press conference, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 22, 2024. (AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said relations with Iraq were entering a new phase after the neighbors agreed to cooperate against Kurdish militants, boost economic ties via a new trade corridor and consider Iraq's needs for access to scarce water.

Erdogan was in Iraq on a long-awaited visit, the first by a Turkish leader since 2011, following years of strained relations as Ankara ramped up cross-border operations against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants based in mountainous, mainly Kurdish northern Iraq.

"I shared my belief that the PKK's presence in Iraq will end. We discussed the joint steps we can take against the terrorist organization PKK and its extensions targeting Türkiye," Erdogan said at a joint news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani in Baghdad.

The two countries agreed to a strategic framework agreement overseeing security, trade and energy as well as a 10-year deal on the management of water resources that would take Iraq's needs into account, Sudani said.

Sudani said the two countries would cooperate to bolster border security and act against non-state armed groups that could be working with terrorist organizations. He did not mention the PKK specifically.

An Iraqi government spokesperson said PKK members were welcome in Iraq so long as they did not engage in political activism or carry weapons. He did not elaborate.

The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and is designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and its Western allies. Türkiye has conducted a series of cross-border operations against the group in northern Iraq since 2019.

Ankara plans a new swoop on the militants this spring and has sought Iraqi cooperation, in the form of a joint operations room, as well as recognition by Baghdad of the PKK threat.

"Iraq must eradicate all sorts of terror," the Turkish presidency said in a statement after Erdogan held talks with Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid, the most senior Kurdish official in Iraq.

Rashid said Baghdad backed joint work to fight terrorism and was against its territory being used to attack any neighbors, But Rashid opposed any attacks on its soil.

Iraq has in recent months tried to assuage Türkiye’s concerns about the PKK while pursuing its own agenda focused on growing economic ties and increasing access to scarce water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that originate in Türkiye, amid growing drought at home.

DEVELOPMENT ROAD

Iraq and Türkiye signed more than 20 MoUs during Erdogan's one-day visit on everything from cultural and agricultural cooperation to education and health, a statement from Sudani's office said.

Erdogan and Sudani also oversaw the signing of a four-way memorandum of understanding between Türkiye, Iraq, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates for joint cooperation on Iraq's $17 billion Development Road project, with Qatari and Emirati ministers in attendance.

Launched last year, the 1,200-km (745-mile) road and rail project aims to turn Iraq into a transit hub, connecting Asia and Europe with a link between Iraq's Grand Faw Port in the oil-rich south and Türkiye in the north.

Türkiye’s bilateral trade with Iraq was worth $19.9 billion in 2023, down from $24.2 billion in 2022, official Turkish data showed. In the first three months of 2024, Turkish exports to Iraq rose by 24.5%, while imports fell by 46.2%.

After meetings in Baghdad, Erdogan was set to travel to Erbil, the provincial capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, for talks with Iraqi Kurdish officials.