Greenblatt: Peace Plan Does Not Use 'Two-State Solution' Phrase

US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat
US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat
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Greenblatt: Peace Plan Does Not Use 'Two-State Solution' Phrase

US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat
US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat

Jason Greenblatt, Special Representative for International Negotiations for US President Donald Trump, sat down for an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Washington about the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Greenblatt revealed that the Trump Administration is currently working on a 60-page political peace plan, which will be a second part to the economic plan released at a workshop in Bahrain in June. Greenblatt believes their plan can end the conflict, and create “better lives and a better future” for both Israelis and Palestinians, but it has not been decided when the plan will be released.

According to Greenblatt, the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and leaders of other Arab nations have not been consulted in the making of this plan.

Greenblatt told Asharq Al-Awsat that the plan will not feature the phrase “two-state solution,” because using that language “leads to nothing.” When asked about the fate of Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank, Greenblatt said he prefers to call them “neighborhoods and cities,” but cannot comment on the specifics of their plan until it is released.

When asked about rumors that Majed Faraj, head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Services, would be visiting Washington, Greenblatt said the rumors are not true and that he has not spoken to Faraj since 2017.

In the interview, Greenblatt emphasized that their plan will not be a “take-it or leave-it deal,” but will be one where both sides will have to come together in person, and engage in tough negotiations to work out a solution.

If the plan fails, Greenblatt says it will be detrimental to both sides, but the US cannot force them to accept anything.

Palestinian leadership boycotted the economic workshop in Bahrain, what are you planning on guaranteeing the Palestinians so that they do not reject the political side of your plan, and how will you get Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to negotiate on issues they strongly disagree on?
We don’t guarantee anything other than a sincere, dedicated effort to resolve the conflict. We aren’t paying people to come back to the table. What should make them come back to the table is when they see the political plan, which will be coupled to the economic plan they saw already, they will hopefully be excited about what we’ve created. That’s where we think the Palestinian people will realize the tremendous future that could be ahead of them. There’s no secret, the issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis are difficult and challenging, nobody could create a plan that both sides could embrace. What we can do, and what I think we’ve done, in about 60 plus pages plus exhibits, is create something that both sides can completely understand how they can get out of this conflict, how they can get better lives and a better future. The Palestinians, they can create something similar to Israel. They can be tremendously successful, prosperous, safe and secure, but the Palestinian leadership needs to take responsibility and ownership of the problem and needs to lead its people to a better future.

On Monday, you said in a speech at the Christians United for Israel Summit that Iran is “very likely to be a significant spoiler” of the Israeli Palestinian peace process. Can you elaborate on how you see Iran as a spoiler to the peace process?
I think Iran’s worst nightmare is to have a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. I think they are interested in just causing trouble in the region, they have interest in taking over much of the region, and I think the Palestinians are used as pawns. Hamas, in particular, is a terrorist organization that’s funded by Iran. I think Hezbollah is as well. They’re only interested in making trouble. If the Palestinians want a bright future, they should recognize that they shouldn’t be used as a tool by Iran or by anyone else for that matter. It would be a real tragedy for the Palestinian people if they allow Iran to cause trouble in the region. It’s also really bad for our allies, it’s bad for Israel, for Jordan, and for Saudi Arabia. One thing we are focused on is, how do we make sure that all of our friends and allies in the region are united together to fight the threat of Iran which is the biggest problem in the region.

Is there any effort by the Arab leaders to convince the Palestinians to be flexible and accept the economic or political plan?
I think it’s premature. The region doesn’t know what’s in the plan so it would be unfair to ask them to push the Palestinians into something, and the region doesn’t want to push the Palestinians, they want to help the Palestinians. Bahrain was an example of how the region got together, and no matter how the people among the Palestinian leadership are talking about the Bahrain workshop and how it “failed,” it didn’t fail. We actually view it as successful. The region came together with business leaders from around the world to understand what Jared Kushner put together with some very skilled people from the US government, and it’s an example to the Palestinians of what could be if we get to the end of the political conflict. What’s being said is that it’s an economic piece only… that’s not true. It’s an economic plan coupled with a political plan. If we succeed in the political plan, the economic plan will be implemented. There is no political plan without an economic plan that makes sure that the Palestinian people are taken care of in the days, weeks, months, and years later.

Jared Kushner mentioned in a conference call last week that he would announce the next steps of the political plan this week. Do you have anything to announce about the political plan?
I think his words were misconstrued, I wasn’t on the call but I don’t think he intended to say “steps on the political plan,” what he meant was the next steps on the economic plan. We created a workshop, and now we want feedback from all of those who came to the workshop, and we also want to get feedback from the Palestinian leadership. Now, they can continue to boycott it and to pretend it wasn’t successful, but all they’re doing is making themselves and their people unsuccessful. We’ll continue to work, we’ll continue to try and reach a peace agreement, we’ll continue to try and better the lives of the Palestinians, no matter what they say, but if they want to continue to be stubborn and pretend that we’re not trying to help, that’s their prerogative. It’s a shame for their people.
In your tweets, you sound very angry with the Palestinian Authority.
Are you talking about the “pay to slay” ones today? I think it’s tragic, they’re paying salaries at half the amount of money, these hard-working civil servants are getting so little money. They’re not paying for health care, which they blame the US for. Use your money to help your people! Do not use your money to reward terrorists, that’s not the way to run something. And by the way, if we reach a peace agreement, those games are over. You cant have a successful society if that is what your society is based on. I don’t think that’s what the general Palestinian public wants. I think that’s a warped view from the days of old. It’s not going to work.

Is there any kind of communication behind the scenes with the Palestinians? There are some rumors that Majed Faraj, head of the Palestinian intelligence is coming to Washington to meet you and the team in the White House.
It’s not true, I read the article in the Israeli paper that said that. It’s not true. A spokesman for the PA denied it and they are accurate. I have a lot of respect for Majed, we worked together in 2017, but there is no official contact since the end of 2017, but there is no official contact since then. I wish he were coming to speak to me, but it’s not true.

Some reports say that you were supposed to announce the political plan after the Israeli election. Is that true?
President Trump has not made a decision yet. We have a choice, right before the election, after the election before the government is formed, or after the government is formed. The first time we waited for the process, unfortunately now we are in a second process, but we are analyzing it and the president hasn’t made a decision yet.

Ehud Barack, who supports the two-state solution has announced that he is entering the Israeli election race. Some say that if you announce the political plan before the September election, that would indicate that you support the two-state solution. Is it an accurate assumption that you are for the two-state solution?
We don’t use that phrase. Using that phrase leads to nothing. You can't summarize a complex conflict like this with so many layers with a three-word slogan. I now that upsets people, but saying those words does not mean anything. We just ask that the people wait and when they get the 60-page plan they will understand how we think both sides can come out of this conflict in an excellent way, but it will require a lot of hard work. The political plan is separate from the economic plan and is roughly 60 pages.

Can you give any points or hints about it?
I’m afraid not, and let me explain why. Anything we say would lead to someone, or many people, who are against certain aspects of what we might leak out of the plan and start attacking it right away. This is such a delicate process and there is no reason to preview anything and allow people who are against it to start spoiling it. We want to lay out the entire solution, let people read it, and think about it, and say, “wow, this may be challenging, or upsetting, or difficult to compromise on, but look at all these other great things that could really be tremendous for us.” When they take it all in context, we think the criticism will be much more rational, fair, and appropriate. If we keep releasing little pieces, we will be creating months of news stories that will be attacking it for no reason. It doesn’t help our solution, it doesn’t help Israelis, it doesn’t help Palestinians.

In the same conference call, Mr. Kushner said that the political plan will be “pragmatic, fair, and workable.” Especially for the case of the refugees. How can you translate “pragmatic, fair, and workable?”
I think you’re going to have to wait. I would also add “realistic.” All of the talking points of the past have never lead to peace. We think we have taken those talking points and developed them very deeply and thoughtfully into something people will understand. What are the compromises we want to get out of it? It sort of goes back to your question about a two state solution. If we do nothing other than write a couple of points that people have used in the past, where does that get us? It got us nowhere. That’s why we’ve created something so long, so people could really understand what is the solution for refugees, or for all of the core issues. One that people dont talk about enough is what’s the solution for Gaza? How do we, not only handle the terrible suffering of the Gazans, how do we deal with Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad? They are among the biggest blockages to the bettering of Palestinian lives. Very few people talk about that. To me that’s as much a core issue as any of the other core issues.

A lot of Israelis, almost 400,000, live in settlements in the West Bank. A Lot of people see that as an obstacle to Palestinian self-governance. You just said you’re not using the phrase “two-state solution.” Does that mean that these Israelis in the settlements will be able to stay there? Or will something else happen to them?
I would say this. First, I prefer to say “neighborhoods and cities,” because they are. “Settlements” is a pejorative term that’s used as a biased form of putting a finger on the scale of one side of the conflict. As to how we resolve it, you’ll have to stay tuned.

What about borders, refugees, security, and all those obstacles?
Our plan covers all those issues and more.

Are you coming with a new vision that wasn’t presented before?
It depends. If you take refugees, most of the vision was a fair and just solution for refugees. What does that really mean? First of all, who really are refugees? How many are there? What is a fair solution? What is a just solution? What is a realistic solution? Do you know how many refugees there are today compared to when that line first appeared? 65,000,000 around the world. Where is the money coming from to help all of these refugees who are suffering? And the Palestinians who are real refugees, of course we want to help them, but there has to be something realistic. The promises that were made to them before cannot be fulfilled. What we've created is something that is good and exciting for them. We have to figure out who they really are. We think it’s an implementable solution. We could spend the next decades talking about this. It’s only going to get harder, not better. There is only a limited amount of money that will help Palestinians in addition to all the other conflicts around the world. Or we could recognize that we’ve created something that isn’t exactly what people wanted, but that we could actually pull off if the two sides are willing to negotiate and get to the finish-line.

Do you think both President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are willing to negotiate and trust each other?
I think we have to build trust between the two sides. Both of them have reasons not to trust each other. I think the prime minsters comments, including recent ones, have been helpful. He said he would be open-minded, that’s all we ask. Palestinian Authority comments are the opposite. President Abbas, I hope he will realize that this is a great opportunity. When members of the Palestinian leadership team say the peace plan will be “born dead,” that’s not helpful, and it’s not helpful to their people. They like to say that we’ve failed. We have not. The US is doing fine. We are trying to help them. Unfortunately it is the Palestinian people who will fail if we fail with this plan. That’s what people who criticize this plan do not realize.

Are you willing to give Palestinians leverage or guarantees that will make them more flexible and accepting of the political plan?
No. That has been tried before. What should make them accept the plan, and the Israelis, is looking at the plan and saying “is this a good solution for our people?” but we are not in the business of paying somebody to come back to the table and then not reach a deal. There’s not upside to that. I don’t mean money, but any “carrots” as the expression is. Are you willing to give carrots? For what. It is in the interest of the US to have a stable and secure Israel, a stable and secure region, which includes the Palestinian people. It’s also in our interest to help the people about the world which includes the Palestinian people. But we are not in the business of giving carrots to the people just to get them to come back to the table. We want to help, but the Palestinian leadership has to take responsibility and ownership of the problem, stop blaming everybody else, come back to the table like professionals, and see if we can get through this problem. But no, we’re not going to pay carrots of any kind to try to get them through this conflict.

Not even an invitation for the Palestinian president to the White House?
If at the right time, when we’re ready to unveil the plan, if that’s the way we decide to do it, we have not decided which way, but certainly President Abbas is the leader of those Palestinians in the West Bank, what I call “Judea and Samaria,” we want them engaged. The best thing for us would be President Abbas sitting here, rolling up his sleeves, and negotiating directly with the prime minister of Israel.

If the Palestinian President asks for some kind of clear vision about the two-state solution, about the obstacles from before about the sovereignty of the Palestinian state, is the Trump administration willing to offer something in that regard? What if the Evangelical Christians a huge portion of Trump’s supporters, are against it?
The first part of the question sounds like the carrots.

So, you’ll say “take it or leave it?”
No. This is a great basis for negotiations, it’s 60 pages, plus the very developed economic plan. Whether it’s here or in Ramallah, Abbas and the Prime Minister of Israel need to read it and negotiate it. I don’t think it’s realistic for us to say “take it or leave it,” I think both sides are going to insist on commenting on it and negotiating it and refining it. As far as the second part of your question, I think Evangelical Christians are huge supporters of Israel. They want what’s best for Israel, which is a peace agreement with the Palestinians. One that the Israeli government, which is a democratically elected government, signs. I think they would support it, but I would say that there will be a lot of people against parts of the plan. We are prepared for criticism from everyone, not just the Palestinians. It is unrealistic to think that anyone can put down a plan that won’t be heavily criticized. We just ask for the criticism to be rational and fair and appropriate, not to be irrational or hateful or inappropriate.

Have you discussed this political plan with any of the Arab leaders?
No, they tell us their positions, we float ideas, we have a very good sense of where everyone is. Israelis, Palestinians, Arab leaders, Europeans, and that’s part of the issue. They don’t all agree. We need to decide the timing of the release of our plans and we are in the process of working through those issues right now. We haven’t decided if we are going to discuss the political plan with Arab leaders before releasing it.

We also have a few questions about the economic side of the plan. Part of the economic plan includes provisions like “enabling high-speed data services to the Palestinians.” We are curious how you will get Israel to cooperate with demands like this if Israeli only approved 3G data speed for wireless technology last year.
The 3G service took a long amount of time. We didn’t start that, it was finished under our administration, but it was started during a prior administration. All of these initiated that were in the economic plan will only work if there is a comprehensive peace agreement. These economic provisions will not be implemented without it. It is similar to anything else, both sides are going to have to look at it and if the Israelis are uncomfortable with it, I hope they will be comfortable, we will not be able to pull it off. This whole plan, economic and political, will be presented to both sides and they will have to say what they can and cannot live with and we will work through it to decide how to fix it and make it better. I would be surprised if the Israelis can’t implement high speed data services in the context of this agreement, but I also don’t speak for them on that.

So the Israelis were not consulted on these provisions before?
No, these are our ideas and the less resistant, the more realistically we can pull it off.

Within the West Bank, there are natural resources that Israeli companies use and sell on the global market, like marble, stone and Dead Sea products. Will your plan help Palestinians get any profits from the selling of these natural resources?
I think that our plan, or “vision” as I like to call it, will address all of the issues, including what you speak about.

What will you do if in the end, Israel or the Palestinians, or both, cannot agree and reject the plan?
Great question. The answer is, nothing. People think that the US or the EU or the UN can force a deal. Nobody can force a deal. Either the two sides want to make a deal and will work hard to get there, or they won’t and then the status will continue as-is. It’s one of the reasons we avoid the talking points of the past, because it doesn’t help the two sides. The only thing that will help the two sides is getting into a room, and working with the issues. If we fail, like everyone who came before us, then we fail. Sadly, the Palestinians would continue to live how they live and that’s tragic. How can we prevent that? Hopeful the Palestinian leadership will come to their senses and come back into the room, and work hard to get there. Hopefully the Israeli leadership will work hard to get there too.

So the cost of failure is on the Palestinian side?
Well, Israel is a successful country. Let’s assume that the Palestinians are in the room and that they work hard to get there, the Israelis have a serious security problem they continue to have to live with. Meaning, it’s not that the Israelis get away free also, they have a very difficult, tough security situation to deal with. They want to get through this conflict too. The question for both sides is, are the compromises needed to get through the conflict worth it? The US can’t answer that. Only the Israeli people and the Palestinian people can answer that.



Israeli War Cabinet Member Gantz Says ‘Promising Early Signs’ on New Hostage Deal

 An Israeli tank fires into the Gaza Strip from Israel, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
An Israeli tank fires into the Gaza Strip from Israel, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
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Israeli War Cabinet Member Gantz Says ‘Promising Early Signs’ on New Hostage Deal

 An Israeli tank fires into the Gaza Strip from Israel, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
An Israeli tank fires into the Gaza Strip from Israel, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz said on Wednesday there were "promising early signs of progress" on a new deal to release hostages from Gaza amid regional talks to secure a pause in the war.

"There are ongoing attempts to promote a new hostage deal and there are promising early signs of possible progress," Gantz said in a televised press briefing.

"We will not stop looking for a way and we will not miss any opportunity to bring our girls and boys home."

But he added that if no new deal were struck, the Israeli military would keep fighting in Gaza even into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins next month.

"If a new hostage deal is not achieved, we will continue operating also during Ramadan," he said.


Israeli Parliament Backs Netanyahu’s Rejection of ‘Unilateral’ Recognition of Palestinian State

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the voting session for the impeachment of Hadash-Ta’al party MP Ofer Cassif in Jerusalem, 19 February 2024. (EPA)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the voting session for the impeachment of Hadash-Ta’al party MP Ofer Cassif in Jerusalem, 19 February 2024. (EPA)
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Israeli Parliament Backs Netanyahu’s Rejection of ‘Unilateral’ Recognition of Palestinian State

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the voting session for the impeachment of Hadash-Ta’al party MP Ofer Cassif in Jerusalem, 19 February 2024. (EPA)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the voting session for the impeachment of Hadash-Ta’al party MP Ofer Cassif in Jerusalem, 19 February 2024. (EPA)

Israeli lawmakers voted on Wednesday to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rejection of any "unilateral" recognition of a Palestinian state as international calls have grown for the revival of Palestinian statehood negotiations.

Issued amid the war in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas, the symbolic declaration also received backing from members of the opposition, with 99 of 120 lawmakers voting in support, the Knesset spokesperson said.

The Israeli position says that any permanent accord with the Palestinians must be reached through direct negotiations between the sides and not by international dictates.

"The Knesset came together in an overwhelming majority against the attempt to impose on us the establishment of a Palestinian state, which would not only fail to bring peace but would endanger the state of Israel," said Netanyahu.

The vote drew condemnation from the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, which accused Israel of holding the rights of the Palestinian people hostage by forceful occupation of territories where Palestinians seek to establish a state.

"The ministry reaffirms that the State of Palestine's full membership in the United Nations and its recognition by other nations does not require permission from Netanyahu," it said in a statement.

Little progress has been made towards achieving a two-state solution - a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza alongside Israel - since the signing of the interim Oslo Accords in the early 1990s.

Among the obstacles impeding Palestinian statehood are expanding Israeli settlements in territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Most countries regard the settlements, which in many areas cut Palestinian communities off from each other, as a violation of international law.

The two-state solution has long been a core Western policy in the region. Since the outbreak in October of the Gaza war, the United States has been trying to promote steps toward the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a broader Middle East deal that would include other Arab states officially normalizing relations with Israel.


Israeli Strike Kills Woman and Child in South Lebanon

Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the border with Israel on February 21, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. (AFP)
Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the border with Israel on February 21, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. (AFP)
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Israeli Strike Kills Woman and Child in South Lebanon

Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the border with Israel on February 21, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. (AFP)
Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the border with Israel on February 21, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. (AFP)

An Israeli air strike killed a woman and a child in south Lebanon on Wednesday, sources in Lebanon said, days after Hezbollah said it would inflict a price on Israel for killing civilians in the conflict across the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The woman and girl were killed in the strike near Majdal Zoun, a village some 6 km (4 miles) from the border, according to two security sources and a medical source.

The father of the six-year-old girl killed said she had asked to visit her village, which they had fled from after the eruption of hostilities last year, in comments broadcast by al-Akhbar newspaper.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah movement has been trading fire with Israel since the Oct. 7 attack by its Palestinian ally Hamas on southern Israel in a campaign Hezbollah says aims to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army said its warplanes had struck three Hezbollah operational command centers in southern Lebanon.

It said Israeli army artillery had also fired "to remove a threat" in the areas of Alma al-Shaab and Dhayra, both villages at the border.

The Israeli army did not respond to a request for comment about reports of the strike in Majdal Zoun.

Hezbollah signaled on Friday it would escalate attacks on Israel in response to the deaths of 10 Lebanese civilians in Israeli attacks last week.

Hezbollah announced more than half a dozen attacks on Israeli positions on Wednesday.

Israeli strikes since Oct. 8 have killed some 50 civilians in Lebanon, in addition to nearly 200 Hezbollah fighters.

Attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli soldiers and five civilians.

The violence has uprooted tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border.


Israeli Airstrike Kills Two People in Damascus, Says Syrian TV

Workers and people stand near a damaged building after, according to Syrian state media reports, several Israeli missiles hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district, Damascus, Syria  February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi
Workers and people stand near a damaged building after, according to Syrian state media reports, several Israeli missiles hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district, Damascus, Syria February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi
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Israeli Airstrike Kills Two People in Damascus, Says Syrian TV

Workers and people stand near a damaged building after, according to Syrian state media reports, several Israeli missiles hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district, Damascus, Syria  February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi
Workers and people stand near a damaged building after, according to Syrian state media reports, several Israeli missiles hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district, Damascus, Syria February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi

An Israeli airstrike hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district in Syria's capital Damascus on Wednesday, killing two people, Syrian state media and a security source said.

A military source cited by Syrian state TV said the strike at about 9:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) wounded a number of other people, identifying the dead as civilians.

Images published by Syrian state media showed the charred side of a multi-storey building. The security source said the "attack did not achieve its aims".

The neighborhood hosts residential buildings, schools and Iranian cultural centers, and lies near a large, heavily-guarded complex used by security agencies. The district was struck in an Israeli attack in February 2023 that killed Iranian military experts.

Witnesses heard several back-to-back explosions. The blasts scared children at a nearby school and ambulances rushed to the area, the witnesses told Reuters.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Iran's semi-official Student News Network said no Iranian citizens were killed in the strike.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Reuters witness heard another large blast in the capital that shook the windows of homes. Local Syrian outlet Sham FM said several explosions were heard in the capital without specifying the cause.

Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad during Syria's nearly 12-year-old conflict. Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular Israeli air strikes meant to curb Tehran's extraterritorial military power.

Those strikes have ramped up in line with flaring regional tensions since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.

As a result, the Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria and have planned to rely more on allied Shiite militia to preserve their sway there, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this month.

Iran, a backer of Hamas, has sought to stay out of the conflict itself even as it supports groups that have entered the fray from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria - the so-called "Axis of Resistance" that is hostile to Israeli and US interests. 


Sudanese Army Strikes Hemedti’s Hometown as Fighting Erupt Again in Khartoum 

Damage is seen following an army attack in El Daein. (Social media)
Damage is seen following an army attack in El Daein. (Social media)
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Sudanese Army Strikes Hemedti’s Hometown as Fighting Erupt Again in Khartoum 

Damage is seen following an army attack in El Daein. (Social media)
Damage is seen following an army attack in El Daein. (Social media)

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) said on Tuesday that at least 11 people were killed and dozens wounded in Sudanese army air raids on the city of El Daein, the capital of the East Darfur state and hometown of RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti.

The army confirmed that it carried out strikes on military targets in El Daein, saying it “hit and completely destroyed a weapons depot belonging to a terrorist militia”

The army’s WhatsApp channel said several “field commanders and Dagalo terrorist mercenaries” were killed in the attack.

In a post on the X platform, the RSF said nine of the victims were members of the same family and included women and children. Dozens of innocent civilians were wounded and hundreds of homes were damaged in the attack.

It accused the army of targeting the “al-Neem” refugee camp, a hospital and water plant in El Daein.

The city is the hometown of the Rizeigat tribe, whose members make up the majority of the RSF commanders and fighters.

The RSF accused the army of repeatedly attacking civilians with explosive bombs in “deliberate cowardly criminal acts.”

“The attack is the latest in the series of crimes committed by [army commander Abdul Fattah al-Burhan's] militia and remnants of the former regime,” it added.

It called on international rights and human rights groups to “condemn these barbaric extremist acts against innocent people.”

The RSF captured El Daein after the army retreated from it in November.

Activists on Facebook said the army’s strikes on Tuesday targeted residential areas, while others said they hit RSF positions, causing losses in lives and damaging military equipment.

Separately, witnesses said clashes erupted again in the capital Khartoum. They said the RSF shelled army positions with heavy artillery in the general command area.


Israel Pounds Gaza as US Vetoes UN Truce Resolution

Israel kept up its deadly bombardment of war-torn Gaza as Washington vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for a ceasefire in the Palestinian territory. SAID KHATIB / AFP
Israel kept up its deadly bombardment of war-torn Gaza as Washington vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for a ceasefire in the Palestinian territory. SAID KHATIB / AFP
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Israel Pounds Gaza as US Vetoes UN Truce Resolution

Israel kept up its deadly bombardment of war-torn Gaza as Washington vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for a ceasefire in the Palestinian territory. SAID KHATIB / AFP
Israel kept up its deadly bombardment of war-torn Gaza as Washington vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for a ceasefire in the Palestinian territory. SAID KHATIB / AFP

Israel kept up its deadly bombardment of war-torn Gaza as Washington vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for a ceasefire in the Palestinian territory.
Global powers trying to navigate a way out of the spiraling crisis have so far come up short, and mediation efforts have so far failed to secure a truce to halt the fighting, AFP said.
Adding to Gaza's woes, the UN's food agency said Tuesday that it had to stop desperately-needed deliveries to the north of the territory after facing "complete chaos and violence" there -- a decision condemned by Hamas.
The World Food Programme had only just resumed deliveries Sunday but said its convoy was met with gunfire, violence and looting, while a truck driver was beaten.
"We are shocked about this decision by the World Food Programme to suspend the delivery of food aid in northern Gaza, which means a death sentence and death for three-quarters of a million people," the Hamas government media office said Tuesday night.
Calling on the agency to "immediately reverse its disastrous decision", it said "we hold the United Nations and the international community responsible".
Since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, Gaza has been plunged into a food crisis, with outside aid severely restricted.
The UN has repeatedly sounded the alarm over the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, warning that food shortages could lead to an "explosion" of preventable child deaths.
More than four months of relentless fighting have flattened much of the coastal territory, pushing 2.2 million people to the brink of famine and displacing three-quarters of the population, according to UN estimates.
"We can't take it anymore. We do not have flour, we don't even know where to go in this cold weather," said Ahmad, a resident of Gaza city, where streets are strewn with rubble from destroyed buildings and garbage.
"We demand a ceasefire. We want to live," he said.
Ceasefire veto
But in New York, Washington vetoed a UN Security Council resolution drafted by Algeria, which demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the "unconditional" release of all hostages kidnapped in the October 7 attacks.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Washington's ambassador to the UN, called the vote "wishful and irresponsible" as it could put negotiations to free hostages in Gaza "in jeopardy".
The veto provoked criticism from countries including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and even close US allies France and Slovenia.
Hamas said the US veto equalled "a green light for the occupation to commit more massacres".
As world powers voted, Israeli strikes pounded Gaza early Wednesday as fighting on the ground raged on, leaving 103 people dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the territory.
Witnesses reported heavy fire in areas around Gaza, including the south of the territory's main city Khan Yunis and Rafah near the Egyptian border, where around 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have sought shelter.
'Graveyard'
Rafah, Gaza's last city to face a ground invasion by Israeli ground troops, is also the main entry point for desperately needed relief supplies via Egypt.
Qatar, which has played a key role in mediation efforts between Hamas and Israel, said Tuesday that medicines sent into Gaza under a deal co-negotiated by France had reached the hostages held by Hamas, in exchange for a shipment of humanitarian aid.
But overall, negotiation efforts have failed to secure a longterm truce and despite international pressure, Israel has insisted that a ground operation Rafah is essential to destroy Hamas.
The war started when Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.
Hamas also took about 250 hostages -- 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29,195 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by the territory's health ministry.

Leaders of global humanitarian groups said a ground offensive could turn the Rafah into a "graveyard", warning of the "truly unimaginable" consequences of a full-scale assault.
Israel has said that unless all the hostages are freed by the start of Ramadan on March 10 or 11, it will push on with its offensive during the Muslim holy month, including in Rafah.
G20 firestorm
On Wednesday, Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa -- is expected to land in Egypt and then head to Israel Thursday to advance a hostage deal.
McGurk will also reiterate US President Joe Biden's concerns about an Israeli operation in Rafah, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
Adding to the international chorus of criticism of Israel, Colombian President Gustavo Petro on Tuesday accused Israel of committing a "genocide" of the Palestinians in Gaza -- echoing comments made by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Lula sparked a diplomatic firestorm with his comments ahead of the G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro opening Wednesday, and Israel have declared him "persona non grata".


Aoun Continues to Break from Hezbollah: We Are Not Bound to Gaza by Defense Treaty

This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing from a site between the Lebanese villages of Odaisseh and Markaba during Israeli bombardment on February 19, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. (AFP)
This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing from a site between the Lebanese villages of Odaisseh and Markaba during Israeli bombardment on February 19, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. (AFP)
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Aoun Continues to Break from Hezbollah: We Are Not Bound to Gaza by Defense Treaty

This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing from a site between the Lebanese villages of Odaisseh and Markaba during Israeli bombardment on February 19, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. (AFP)
This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing from a site between the Lebanese villages of Odaisseh and Markaba during Israeli bombardment on February 19, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. (AFP)

Lebanese former President Michel Aoun continued to break away from his ally Hezbollah by openly criticizing the party for opening the southern front to wage clashes with Israel in solidarity with Gaza.

He said: “We are not bound to Gaza with a defense treaty.”

He is the latest Christian figure that has been calling for keeping Lebanon away from the war in Gaza.

In a televised interview to his Free Patriotic Movement-affiliated OTV, Aoun said Lebanon was not bound by a defense treaty to Gaza. “However, one segment of the Lebanese people has taken this choice, while the government is incapable of taking a position. A victory would be for the nation, not a portion of it,” he added.

Moreover, he dismissed claims that the decision to go to war was aimed at preempting an Israeli attack on Lebanon. “Getting involved in a confrontation doesn’t lessen the danger, but increases it,” he stressed.

Furthermore, he also dismissed efforts to tie the developments in Gaza and the South to a deal over the Lebanese presidency.

Lebanon has been without a president since Aoun’s term ended in October 2022. Bickering between political parties has thwarted the election of a successor.

The dispute over the presidency is another issue that has driven a wedge between the FPM and Hezbollah. The party backs the nomination of Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh, while the FPM does not. Its current leader, Gebran Bassil, has presidential aspirations even though he has not declared his candidacy.

Tensions deepened between the allies over Hezbollah’s participation in government sessions that approved various state appointments and its MPs’ participation in a parliament meeting that approved the extension of the term of the army commander.

The Christian Kataeb party has been another vocal critic of Hezbollah’s fighting against Israel in the South.

Following a meeting of its political bureau, headed by Kataeb leader MP Sami Gemayel, it slammed the “proliferation of destructive weapons in villages and residential areas and the phenomenon of tunnels that threaten to drag everyone and everything in the country to war that Lebanon and the Lebanese people don’t want.”

The only reasonable option available is for the Lebanese army to seize control of the situation, said the Kataeb in a statement. “Only the army has the authority before the people and international community to defend Lebanon and protect its borders” in cooperation with the United Nations peacekeeping force.

“Deterring attacks should not be entrusted to a militia that has usurped the state. Rather, it is the responsibility of legitimate institutions that operate according to the constitution and laws, and through active and effective diplomacy that supports the Lebanese army, demands a ceasefire and prevents the spillover of the war,” it stressed.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, refuses to discuss any issues related to the war before the conflict in Gaza is over.

Deputy party leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said in recent days: “Let it be clear, we have three ‘nos’: No backing down from supporting Gaza as long as the [Israeli] aggression continues. No to succumbing to Israeli or western threats, because we believe that defense is a duty and without it there can be no stability.”

“And no to any discussion about the future of southern Lebanon, both on the Lebanese and Palestinian side of the border, before the end of the aggression on Gaza,” he added.


UN Aid Agency Says Israel Hasn’t Shown Evidence Its Workers Joined Rampage

Palestinians who fled from the northern Gaza Strip and Rafah town, outside their shelters in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 20 February 2024. (EPA)
Palestinians who fled from the northern Gaza Strip and Rafah town, outside their shelters in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 20 February 2024. (EPA)
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UN Aid Agency Says Israel Hasn’t Shown Evidence Its Workers Joined Rampage

Palestinians who fled from the northern Gaza Strip and Rafah town, outside their shelters in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 20 February 2024. (EPA)
Palestinians who fled from the northern Gaza Strip and Rafah town, outside their shelters in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 20 February 2024. (EPA)

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees says the United Nations still has not received any evidence from Israel supporting its claims that 12 of the agency’s employees participated in the Oct. 7 rampage that sparked the war.

Israel released a document last month identifying the 12 workers along with the allegations against them, and accusing some of participating in kidnappings. But it has released little of the evidence collected against the workers.

The allegations prompted key donors, including the United States, to suspend funding to UNRWA. The agency, the main provider of aid in Gaza, has warned it will have to halt its operations if funding is not soon restored.

Philippe Lazzarini, the director of UNRWA, has dismissed the 10 surviving workers; the agency says the other two were killed in fighting. The UN has also opened two investigations into UNRWA’s operations.

In a podcast Tuesday, Lazzarini said Israel still has not presented formal evidence to the UN.

“The UN has never, never, ever received any written dossier, despite our repeated call for cooperation from the Israeli authorities,” he said. He added that agency investigators are looking into the allegations and called on anyone with evidence to share it with the investigation team.

Israel has long accused UNRWA of tolerating Hamas activities in and around UN facilities and in some cases even cooperating with the militant group. Lazzarini has denied this and says his agency has safeguards in place to discipline any employee who violates the UN ideals of neutrality.


Lebanese Warehouse Hit in Israeli Strike Burns for the Second Day Ghazieh

Firefighters extinguish a fire at a destroyed warehouse that was targeted on Monday by Israeli airstrikes, at an industrial district in the southern coastal town of Ghazieh, Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
Firefighters extinguish a fire at a destroyed warehouse that was targeted on Monday by Israeli airstrikes, at an industrial district in the southern coastal town of Ghazieh, Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
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Lebanese Warehouse Hit in Israeli Strike Burns for the Second Day Ghazieh

Firefighters extinguish a fire at a destroyed warehouse that was targeted on Monday by Israeli airstrikes, at an industrial district in the southern coastal town of Ghazieh, Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
Firefighters extinguish a fire at a destroyed warehouse that was targeted on Monday by Israeli airstrikes, at an industrial district in the southern coastal town of Ghazieh, Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)

Firefighters in southern Lebanon were battling a diesel fuel fire in a warehouse that was struck by Israeli jets for a second day Tuesday.

The Israeli military’s Arabic spokesperson Avichay Adraee said the attack Monday targeted a weapons warehouse that belonged to the militant group Hezbollah.

The strike that wounded 14 people was one of the largest near a major Lebanese city since clashes between the Israeli military and Hezbollah along the Lebanese-Israeli border erupted after the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7.

Mohamad Khalifa, the owner of the warehouse, denied allegations that the facility belonged to Hezbollah.

“This is a company registered for 11 years that works with electricity generators, open from morning until night, receiving customers all day,” he told The Associated Press. “There is nothing hidden here. The claim that this has weapons is a lie.”

The airstrike reduced the warehouse to scraps, with fuel fires slowly burning.


US Again Vetoes UN Action in Israel-Hamas War, Blocks Ceasefire Call

 Palestinian children wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies, as the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas continues, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, February 20, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinian children wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies, as the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas continues, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, February 20, 2024. (Reuters)
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US Again Vetoes UN Action in Israel-Hamas War, Blocks Ceasefire Call

 Palestinian children wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies, as the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas continues, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, February 20, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinian children wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies, as the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas continues, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, February 20, 2024. (Reuters)

The United States on Tuesday again vetoed a draft United Nations Security Council resolution on the Israel-Hamas war, blocking a demand for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire as it instead pushes the 15-member body to call for a temporary ceasefire linked to the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Thirteen council members voted in favor of the Algerian-drafted text, while Britain abstained. It was the third such US veto since the start of the current fighting on Oct. 7.

"A vote in favor of this draft resolution is support to the Palestinians right to life. Conversely, voting against it implies an endorsement of the brutal violence and collective punishment inflicted upon them," Algeria's UN Ambassador Amar Bendjama told the council before the vote.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield signaled on Saturday that the US would veto the draft resolution over concerns it could jeopardize talks between the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar that seek to broker a pause in the war and the release of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"Demanding an immediate, unconditional ceasefire without an agreement requiring Hamas to release the hostages will not bring about a durable peace. Instead, it could extend the fighting between Hamas and Israel," Thomas-Greenfield told the council ahead of the vote.

The Algerian-drafted resolution vetoed by the US did not link a ceasefire to the release of hostages. It separately demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.

"Simply calling for a ceasefire - as this resolution does - will not make it happen," Britain's UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward told the council after the vote. "The way to stop the fighting, and potentially stop it from restarting, is to begin with a pause to get hostages out and aid in."

Temporary ceasefire

The US has now proposed a rival draft resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and opposing a major ground offensive by its ally Israel in Rafah, according to the text seen by Reuters on Monday. It said it plans to allow time for negotiations and will not rush to a vote.

Until now, Washington has been averse to the word ceasefire in any UN action on the Israel-Hamas war, but the US text echoes language that President Joe Biden said he used last week in conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The US draft resolution would see the Security Council "underscore its support for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released, and calls for lifting all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale."

This is the second time since Oct. 7 that Washington has proposed a Security Council resolution on Gaza. Russia and China vetoed its first attempt in late October.

Washington traditionally shields Israel from UN action. But it has also abstained twice, allowing the council to adopt resolutions that aimed to boost aid to Gaza and called for extended pauses in fighting.

The war began when fighters from the Hamas militant group that runs Gaza attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. In retaliation, Israel launched a military assault on Gaza that health authorities say has killed nearly 29,000 Palestinians with thousands more bodies feared lost amid the ruins.

In December, more than three-quarters of the 193-member UN General Assembly voted to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. General Assembly resolutions are not binding but carry political weight, reflecting a global view on the war.