Israel Cautions that Egypt May Withdraw from Hostage Deal Mediation Efforts

Displaced Palestinians make their way as they flee Jabalia after the Israeli military called on residents to evacuate, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the northern Gaza Strip May 14, 2024. REUTERS/Dawoud Abu Alkas
Displaced Palestinians make their way as they flee Jabalia after the Israeli military called on residents to evacuate, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the northern Gaza Strip May 14, 2024. REUTERS/Dawoud Abu Alkas
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Israel Cautions that Egypt May Withdraw from Hostage Deal Mediation Efforts

Displaced Palestinians make their way as they flee Jabalia after the Israeli military called on residents to evacuate, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the northern Gaza Strip May 14, 2024. REUTERS/Dawoud Abu Alkas
Displaced Palestinians make their way as they flee Jabalia after the Israeli military called on residents to evacuate, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the northern Gaza Strip May 14, 2024. REUTERS/Dawoud Abu Alkas

Israeli officials have voiced concerns over Egypt’s probable withdrawal from a hostage deal mediation efforts in the Gaza Strip amid troubled ties between the two countries, Israeli Haaretz reported on Wednesday.
Relations tensed out between Egypt and Israel after the latter’s seizure of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing and its refusal to let humanitarian aid into Gaza.
According to the newspaper, Israeli officials expressed concern that cooperation at the military and intelligence levels with Egypt could dwindle unless the issue gets resolved.
The daily added that Israeli officials have also voiced concern that relations with Egypt could further deteriorate if the fighting in Gaza prolongs on, and if ceasefire talks fail between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz had on Tuesday accused Egypt of closing the Rafah crossing.
He said that Egypt must be "persuaded" to reopen the Rafah border crossing to "allow the continued delivery of international humanitarian aid" into Gaza.
His comment prompted an angry response from Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who said in a statement that Israel's seizure of the Rafah crossing and its military operations in the area were the main obstacles to aid entering Gaza.
Israel launched its Gaza operation after an attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas-led gunmen who killed some 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages.

The Palestinian death toll in the war has now surpassed 35,000, according to Gaza health officials, whose figures do not differentiate between civilians and fighters.



Dozens of Israeli Protesters Attack Truck in Apparent Effort to Block Gaza Aid

 A soldier holds a child as smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
A soldier holds a child as smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
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Dozens of Israeli Protesters Attack Truck in Apparent Effort to Block Gaza Aid

 A soldier holds a child as smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
A soldier holds a child as smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Dozens of Israeli protesters attacked a truck in the occupied West Bank, beating its driver and setting it on fire in an apparent attempt to prevent aid from reaching Gaza, the Israeli military said Friday.

Soldiers tried to intervene but were attacked by the protesters, lightly injuring two officers and a soldier, the military said. According to Israeli media, the truck was carrying ordinary commercial goods, not aid for Gaza.

Some 1.1 million Palestinians are on the brink of starvation in Gaza, according to the United Nations. Israeli restrictions on land border crossings and heavy fighting have hindered food and other supplies from reaching Palestinians.

On Friday, a newly built US floating pier on Gaza's coast started unloading trucks of aid for the besieged enclave. However, the US and aid groups warn that the sea corridor is not a substitute for land deliveries that could bring in all the food, water and fuel needed in Gaza.

At the UN's top court, Israel strongly denied charges it's committing genocide against the Palestinians, arguing Friday that it's doing everything it can to protect the civilian population during its military operation in Gaza. South Africa has asked the International Court of Justice to order a cease-fire.

Israeli forces are pushing into Rafah, a city along Gaza's southern border with Egypt, saying it's the last stronghold of Hamas. Fighting is also intensifying in northern Gaza, where Hamas has regrouped in areas Israel captured earlier in the conflict.

Seven months of Israel's war in Gaza have killed more than 35,000 people, most of them women and children, according to local health officials. Most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes by the fighting.

The war began Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people there, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 hostage. Israel says militants still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.


Israeli Military Finds Bodies of 3 Hostages in Gaza

 Palestinians walk past damaged and destroyed buildings in Gaza City on May 17, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Palestinians walk past damaged and destroyed buildings in Gaza City on May 17, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Israeli Military Finds Bodies of 3 Hostages in Gaza

 Palestinians walk past damaged and destroyed buildings in Gaza City on May 17, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Palestinians walk past damaged and destroyed buildings in Gaza City on May 17, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

The Israeli military said Friday its troops in Gaza found the bodies of three Israeli hostages taken by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack, including German-Israeli Shani Louk.

The military identified the other two bodies as those of a 28-year-old woman, Amit Buskila, and a 56-year-old man, Itzhak Gelerenter.

All three were killed by Hamas at the Nova music festival, an outdoor dance party near the Gaza border, military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said at a news conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deaths “heartbreaking,” saying, “We will return all of our hostages, both the living and the dead.”

The military said the bodies were found overnight, without elaborating, and did not give immediate details on where they were located. Israel has been operating in the Gaza Strip's southern city of Rafah, where it says it has intelligence that hostages are being held.

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 cease-fire in November.

Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more. Israel's war in Gaza since the attack has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials.

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.


Western Nations Urge Israel to Comply with International Law in Gaza 

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
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Western Nations Urge Israel to Comply with International Law in Gaza 

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)

Israel must comply with international law in Gaza and address the devastating humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave, a group of Western nations wrote in a letter to the Israeli government seen by Reuters on Friday.

All countries belonging to the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, apart from the United States, signed the letter, along with Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

The five-page letter comes as Israeli forces bear down on the southern Gaza city of Rafah as part of its drive to eradicate Hamas, despite warnings this could result in mass casualties in an area where displaced civilians have found shelter.

"In exerting its right to defend itself, Israel must fully comply with international law, including international humanitarian law," the letter said, reiterating "outrage" for the Oct. 7 Hamas raid into Israel which triggered the conflict.

Israel denies blocking humanitarian aid and says it needs to eliminate Hamas for its own protection.

The Western nations said they were opposed to "a full-scale military operation in Rafah" and called on Israel to let humanitarian aid reach the population "through all relevant crossing points, including the one in Rafah".

"According to UN estimates, an intensified military offensive would affect approximately 1.4 million people," the letter said, underscoring the need "for specific, concrete and measurable steps" to significantly boost the flow of aid.

The letter recognizes Israel made progress in addressing a number of issues, including letting more aid trucks into the Gaza Strip, the reopening of the Erez crossing into northern Gaza and the temporary use of Ashdod port in southern Israel.

But it called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to do more, including working towards a "sustainable ceasefire", facilitating further evacuations and resuming "electricity, water and telecommunication services".

Since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, Israel's Gaza offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, local health officials say. Hamas-led gunmen killed some 1,200 people and abducted 253 in their attack to Israel, according to Israeli tallies.


Fierce Fighting in Northern Gaza, as Aid Starts to Roll off US-Built Pier

Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
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Fierce Fighting in Northern Gaza, as Aid Starts to Roll off US-Built Pier

Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south gunmen attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza's eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.

As fighting raged in the north and south of the territory, the US military said trucks had started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier built off Gaza.

"Israel's focus is Jabalia now, tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world," said Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia.

"Shame on the world. Meanwhile, the Americans are going to get us some food," Rajab, a father-of-four, told Reuters via a chat app. "We want no food, we want this war to end and then we can manage our lives on our own."

Israel had said its forces had cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent the group re-establishing itself there.

The fighting has coincided with an assault on Rafah at the southern edge of the strip bordering Egypt sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from both ends of the territory at once. Thick smoke could be seen rising over Rafah on Friday.

The aid being delivered via the floating pier, built by the US military in the Israel port of Ashdod and towed into place off Gaza this week, is the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.

The United Nations said it was finalizing plans to distribute aid delivered via the route, through it reiterated that truck convoys by land - disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah - were the most efficient way of getting aid in.

"To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now," deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

HUMANITARIAN FEARS

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement troops had killed more than 60 militants in recent days and located a weapons warehouse close to a shelter complex in what it described as a "divisional-level offensive" in Jabalia.

A divisional operation would typically involve multiple brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.

"Even now, the soldiers are exchanging fire with terrorist cells in the area," the IDF said. "The 7th Brigade's fire control center directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure."

At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed in the war, according to figures from the enclave's health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and the threat of disease.

Doctors complain they have to perform surgery, including amputations, with no anesthetics or painkillers as the medical system in the territory has virtually collapsed.

Israel says it must complete its objective of destroying Hamas for its own safety after the deaths of 1,200 people on Oct. 7, and to free the 128 hostages still held out of 253 abducted by the gunmen, according to its tallies.

To achieve that, it says it must capture Rafah, where around half of the territory's 2.3 million people had sought shelter from the fighting further north.

Israel's operation against Rafah, which began in early May but has yet to escalate to an all-out assault, has ignited one of the biggest rifts in generations with its main ally, the United States. Washington held up a weapons shipment over fears of civilian casualties.

Underlining concerns among other Western nations that have generally backed Israel, a letter seen by Reuters on Friday and signed by more than a dozen democracies, including all members of the G7 apart from the US, urged Israel to comply with international humanitarian law in Gaza.

'TRAGIC WAR'

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they were firing anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said that since the military offensive on Rafah started on May 6, more than 630,000 people have been forced to flee Rafah.

"Many have sought refuge in Deir al-Balah, which is now unbearably overcrowded with dire conditions," it added. Deir al-Balah, up the coast from Rafah to the north, is the only other city in Gaza yet to be assaulted by Israeli forces.

At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.

Noam said Israel was fighting a war of self-defense and that the military operation in Rafah was not aimed at civilians but at dismantling the last Hamas stronghold.

"There is a tragic war going on, but there is no genocide" in Gaza, Noam said.

The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.


Israeli Cabinet Rifts Over Gaza Break Out into the Open 

Israeli tanks patrol near the security fence with Jabalia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in the background, southern Israel, 16 May 2024. (EPA)
Israeli tanks patrol near the security fence with Jabalia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in the background, southern Israel, 16 May 2024. (EPA)
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Israeli Cabinet Rifts Over Gaza Break Out into the Open 

Israeli tanks patrol near the security fence with Jabalia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in the background, southern Israel, 16 May 2024. (EPA)
Israeli tanks patrol near the security fence with Jabalia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in the background, southern Israel, 16 May 2024. (EPA)

Israeli government splits over the war in Gaza broke open this week, after the defense minister publicly demanded a clear strategy from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as troops returned to battle Hamas fighters in areas thought to have been cleared months ago.

The comments from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said he would not agree to setting up a military government in the enclave, reflect growing unease in the security establishment at the lack of direction from Netanyahu over who will be left to run Gaza when the fighting stops.

They also brought out the sharp split between the two centrist former army generals in the cabinet, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, who both backed Gallant's call, and the hard right nationalist religious parties led by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Internal Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who condemned the comments.

"That's no way to run a war," the right-wing Israel Today tabloid headlined its Thursday edition over a photo of Netanyahu and Gallant facing in different directions.

Apart from dismantling Hamas and returning some 130 hostages still held by the movement, Netanyahu has not articulated any clear strategic goal for the end of the campaign, which has killed some 35,000 Palestinians and left Israel increasingly isolated internationally.

However, backed by Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, both close to the West Bank settler movement, he has rejected any involvement in running postwar Gaza by the Palestinian Authority, set up under the Oslo interim peace accords three decades ago and generally seen internationally as the most legitimate Palestinian governing body.

Netanyahu, struggling to hold his increasingly fractious coalition together, has so far stuck to his pledge of total victory over Hamas. Afterwards, Gaza could be run by a "non-Hamas civilian administration with an Israeli military responsibility, overall military responsibility", he said in an interview with CNBC television on Wednesday.

Israeli officials have said that Palestinian clan leaders or other civil society figures may be recruited to fill the void but there has been no evidence that any such leaders, able or willing to replace Hamas, have been identified and no friendly Arab countries have stepped forward to help.

"From Israel the options are either they end the war, and they withdraw, or they establish for all intents and purposes a military government there, and they control the entire territory for who knows how long, because once they leave an area, Hamas will reappear," said Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House.

GUERRILLA TACTICS

Gallant's refusal to contemplate any form of permanent military government reflects the material and political costs of an operation that could stretch the military and the economy painfully, reviving memories of Israel's years-long occupation of southern Lebanon after the 1982 war.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest circulation newspaper, quoted a confidential assessment from the defense establishment on Friday which estimated the cost of maintaining a military government in the Gaza Strip at about 20 billion shekels ($5.43 billion) a year, in addition to the costs of reconstruction. The additional troop requirements would draw forces away from the northern border with Lebanon as well as central Israel and mean a sharp increase in reserve duty requirements, it said.

Taking full control of Gaza would require at least four divisions, or around 50,000 troops, said Michael Milshtein, a former intelligence officer and one of Israel's leading specialists on Hamas.

While thousands of Hamas fighters have been killed in the campaign and Israeli commanders say most of the movement's organized battalions have been broken down, smaller groups have popped up in areas the army left in the early stages of the war.

"They are a very flexible organization and they can adjust very quickly," Milshtein said. "They have adopted new patterns of guerrilla warfare."

The likely cost to Israel of a prolonged insurgency was illustrated on Wednesday, when five Israeli soldiers were killed by an Israeli tank in a so-called "friendly fire" incident, as Israeli troops fought fierce battles in the Jabalia area north of Gaza City.

Israel's military spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said the military's job was to "break down those places where Hamas is returning and trying to reassemble itself" but he said any question of an alternative government to Hamas would be a matter to be decided at the political level.

Although most surveys show Israelis still broadly back the war, that support has been slipping, with more and more prioritizing a return of the hostages over destroying Hamas. Such incidents may erode support further if they continue.

A taste of the broader social divisions likely to be unleashed has been seen in the long-running dispute over conscripting ultra-Orthodox Torah students into the military, a move backed by Gantz and his allies as well as by many secular Israelis but fiercely resisted by the religious parties.

Netanyahu has so far managed to avoid a walk-out by either side that could potentially bring his government down.

But Gallant, who has already led a revolt against Netanyahu from within the cabinet over plans to cut the power of judges last year, has clashed repeatedly with Smotrich and Ben-Gvir and his latest challenge to the prime minister may not be his last.


Hamas ‘Regrets’ Abbas’ Speech at Arab Summit, Stresses its Keenness on Palestinian Unity

Hamas fighters in Gaza. (AFP)
Hamas fighters in Gaza. (AFP)
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Hamas ‘Regrets’ Abbas’ Speech at Arab Summit, Stresses its Keenness on Palestinian Unity

Hamas fighters in Gaza. (AFP)
Hamas fighters in Gaza. (AFP)

The Hamas group expressed its “regret” at the statement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about its October 7 operation before the Arab League summit in Manama on Thursday.

He said the armed group “unilaterally” carried out the attack and “gave Israel more excuses to attack Gaza.”

Hamas responded by saying that “Israel does not need excuses to commit its crimes” against the Palestinian people.

Abbas added that Hamas continued to reject efforts to end the division between Palestinians “in service of an Israeli plot the occupation government was working on implementing weeks before October 7.”

The plot, he went on to say, aimed to consolidate the separation of Gaza from the West Bank and Jerusalem to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and weaken the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization.

Hamas dismissed Abbas’ remarks, saying it has “repeatedly expressed its keenness on restoring national unity.”

It added that it has shown the necessary “flexibility in an effort to strengthen the internal Palestinian front and unite the national rank.”


Hezbollah Introduces New Weapons, Tactics Against Israel as War in Gaza Drags On 

A picture taken from Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel shows smoke billowing over a southern Lebanese village following Israeli bombardment on May 16, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border clashes between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters. (AFP)
A picture taken from Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel shows smoke billowing over a southern Lebanese village following Israeli bombardment on May 16, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border clashes between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters. (AFP)
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Hezbollah Introduces New Weapons, Tactics Against Israel as War in Gaza Drags On 

A picture taken from Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel shows smoke billowing over a southern Lebanese village following Israeli bombardment on May 16, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border clashes between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters. (AFP)
A picture taken from Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel shows smoke billowing over a southern Lebanese village following Israeli bombardment on May 16, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border clashes between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters. (AFP)

The Lebanese group Hezbollah this week struck a military post in northern Israel using a drone that fired two missiles. The attack wounded three soldiers, one of them seriously, according to the Israeli military.

Iran-backed Hezbollah has regularly fired missiles across the border with Israel over the past seven months, but the one on Thursday appears to have been the first successful missile airstrike it has launched from within Israeli airspace.

The group has stepped up its attacks on Israel in recent weeks, particularly since the Israeli incursion into the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. It has struck deeper inside Israel and introduced new and more advanced weaponry.

“This is a method of sending messages on the ground to the Israeli enemy, meaning that this is part of what we have, and if needed we can strike more,” said Lebanese political analyst Faisal Abdul-Sater who closely follows Hezbollah.

While the cross-border exchanges of fire have been ongoing since early October, “complex attacks” by Hezbollah began a few days after Iran’s unprecedented drone and missile barrage attack on Israel in mid-April.

In the past two weeks, Hezbollah has escalated further in response to the Israeli incursion into the city of southern Rafah in the Gaza Strip, a Lebanese official familiar with the group’s operations said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to detail military information to the media.

The Thursday afternoon attack by a drone carrying missiles came just days after Hezbollah launched three anti-tank guided missiles at an Israeli military post that controlled a surveillance balloon flying over the border. They released camera footage afterward to show they had hit their mark. Hours later, the Israeli military confirmed that the spy balloon had been shot down over Lebanon.

The night before, Hezbollah had carried out its deepest attack in Israel to date using explosive drones to strike at a base in Ilaniya near the city of Tiberias about 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the Lebanon border. The Israeli military said the attack did not hurt anyone.

Rockets leave smoke trails behind as they are launched from southern Lebanon toward Israel on May 16, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border clashes between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters. (AFP)

Abdul-Sater, the analyst, said the Iran-led coalition known as the “Axis of Resistance”, which includes the Palestinian armed group Hamas, has warned that if Israeli troops launch a full-scale invasion of Rafah in an attempt to go after Hamas, other fronts will also escalate.

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi militias claimed Wednesday that they attacked a US destroyer while Iran-backed militants in Iraq have said they fired a series of drones toward Israel in recent weeks after having gone relatively quiet since February.

Hezbollah's use of more advanced weaponry, including drones capable of firing missiles, explosive drones and the small type of guided missile known as Almas, or Diamond, that was used to attack the base controlling the balloon has raised alarms within the Israeli military.

“Hezbollah has been escalating the situation in the north,” said military spokesman Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani. “They’ve been firing more and more.”

In adapting its attacks, Hezbollah has also managed to reduce the numbers of fighters lost compared with the early weeks of the conflict.

The group has lost more than 250 fighters so far, compared with 15 Israeli troops since fighting broke out along the Lebanon-Israel border a day after the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7.

According to a count by The Associated Press, Hezbollah lost 47 fighters in October and 35 in November, compared with 20 in April and 12 so far this month.

The official familiar with the group’s operations said Hezbollah had reduced the numbers of fighters along the border areas to bring down the numbers of casualties. While Hezbollah continues to fire Russian-made anti-tank Kornet missiles from areas close to the border, it has also shifted to firing drones and other types of rockets with heavy war heads — including Almas as well as Falaq and Burkan rockets — from areas several kilometers (miles) from the border.

Over the weekend, Hezbollah said it had launched a new rocket with a heavy warhead named Jihad Mughniyeh after a senior operative who was killed in an Israeli airstrike on southern Syria in 2015.

Eva J. Koulouriotis, a political analyst specialized in the Middle East and extremist groups wrote on the social media platform X that Hezbollah's recent escalation likely has several goals, including raising the ceiling of the group's demands in any future negotiations for a border deal, as well as raising military pressure on Israel's military in light of the preparations for the battle in Rafah.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed in a speech last week that “we will stand, we will achieve our goals, we will hit Hamas, we will destroy Hezbollah, and we will bring security.”

On Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah reiterated in a speech that there will be no end to the fighting along the Lebanon-Israel border until Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip come to an end.

“The main goal of Lebanon’s front is to contribute to the pressure on the enemy to end the war on Gaza,” Nasrallah said.

His comments were a blow to attempts by foreign dignitaries, including US and French officials, who have visited Beirut to try to put an end to the violence that has displaced tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border.

A day after Nasrallah spoke, Canada’s Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly visited Beirut and told Lebanon’s private LBCI TV station that she was pushing for a ceasefire.

“We need the people living in the south of Lebanon to be able to go back to their homes,” she said. “We need to make sure that the Israelis living in the northern part of Israel are able to get back to their homes also.”

Hezbollah’s deputy leader Naim Qassem warned Israel in a speech over the weekend against opening an all-out war.

“You have tried in the past and you were defeated and if you try again, you will be defeated,” he said, referring to the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah 34-day war that ended in a draw.


UNAMI: We are Witnessing an Iraq on Rise, Some Challenges Remain

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert - AFP
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert - AFP
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UNAMI: We are Witnessing an Iraq on Rise, Some Challenges Remain

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert - AFP
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert - AFP

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said that the country looks different from the one to which the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) was first deployed some 20 years ago.

“We are, so to speak, witnessing an Iraq on the rise,” she said, noting that corruption, factionalism, impunity, undue interference in State functions and armed actors operating outside State control remain.

Her remarks came amid calls from Security Council members to draw down the United Nations mission in Iraq.

"While the government is tackling these scourges, feelings of marginalization and exclusion are spreading in and among certain components, which risk fanning the flames of intra- and inter-community tension. The recent increase in mass unannounced executions of individuals convicted under anti-terrorism laws is a cause for great concern," she added.

On the legislative front, Plasschaert said that despite the successful holding of local elections in 13 of the 15 federal governorates in December 2023, two provinces — Diyala and Kirkuk — remain at an impasse, with no immediate resolution in sight. "And six months of negotiations to replace Iraq’s parliamentary speaker have failed to produce results."

She highlighted that nearly 10 years after ISIS committed a genocide against the Yazidi people, "Sinjar still lies in ruins," expressing hope that the upcoming tenth anniversary will not be wasted but rather used — by all authorities, actors and stakeholders — “to unite and step up to the plate with the sole aim of serving the people of Sinjar”.


Guterres: War in Gaza is an Open Wound

UN Secretary-General António Guterres - AFP
UN Secretary-General António Guterres - AFP
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Guterres: War in Gaza is an Open Wound

UN Secretary-General António Guterres - AFP
UN Secretary-General António Guterres - AFP

UN Secretary-General António Guterres repeated his longstanding call for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all hostages held in the enclave, and unimpeded access for aid delivery, in remarks to the Summit of the League of Arab States in Bahrain on Thursday.

“The war in Gaza is an open wound that threatens to infect the entire region,” he said.

“In its speed and scale, it is the deadliest conflict in my time as Secretary-General – for civilians, aid workers, journalists, and our own UN colleagues.”

He stressed that nothing can justify the abhorrent 7 October terror attacks by Hamas against Israel, or the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

The Secretary-General warned against an assault on Rafah, which would be “unacceptable” as “it would inflict another surge of pain and misery when we need a surge in life-saving aid.”

He also voiced concern over the tensions in the occupied West Bank, highlighting the spike in illegal Israeli settlements, settler violence and excessive use of force by the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as demolitions and evictions.

The Secretary-General told Arab leaders that the only permanent way to end the cycle of violence and instability between Israelis and Palestinians is through a two-State solution.

“The demographic and historical character of Jerusalem must be preserved."


Saied Blasts Foreign 'Interference' in Tunisian Affairs

A march to demand the release of imprisoned journalists, activists and opposition figures and to set a date for holding fair presidential elections in Tunisia (Reuters)
A march to demand the release of imprisoned journalists, activists and opposition figures and to set a date for holding fair presidential elections in Tunisia (Reuters)
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Saied Blasts Foreign 'Interference' in Tunisian Affairs

A march to demand the release of imprisoned journalists, activists and opposition figures and to set a date for holding fair presidential elections in Tunisia (Reuters)
A march to demand the release of imprisoned journalists, activists and opposition figures and to set a date for holding fair presidential elections in Tunisia (Reuters)

Tunisian President Kais Saied on Thursday denounced foreign "interference" following international criticism of a recent arrests of political commentators, lawyers and journalists in the North African country.

Saied, who in 2021 orchestrated a sweeping power grab, ordered the foreign ministry to summon diplomats and "inform them that Tunisia is an independent state".

Speaking during a televised meeting, the president told Mounir Ben Rjiba, state secretary to the foreign ministry, to "summon as soon as possible the ambassadors of a number of countries", without specifying which ones.

Ben Rjiba was asked to "strongly object to them that what they are doing is a blatant interference in our internal affairs".

"Inform them that Tunisia is an independent state that adheres to its sovereignty," Saied added, AFP reported.

"We didn't interfere in their affairs when they arrested protesters... who denounced the war of genocide against the Palestinian people," he added, referring to demonstrations on university campuses in the United States and elsewhere over the Israel-Hamas war.

The European Union on Tuesday expressed concern that Tunisian authorities were cracking down on dissenting voices.

France denounced "arrests, in particular of journalists and members of (non-governmental) associations", while the United States said they were "in contradiction" with "the universal rights explicitly guaranteed by the Tunisian Constitution".

The media union said Wednesday that Decree 54 was "a deliberate attack on the essence of press freedom and a vain attempt to intimidate journalists and media employees and sabotage public debate".