‘Constructive’ UN-British Meeting on Libya

Acting Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Stephanie Williams with the United Kingdom Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, on Friday, July 31, 2020 (UNSMIL)
Acting Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Stephanie Williams with the United Kingdom Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, on Friday, July 31, 2020 (UNSMIL)
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‘Constructive’ UN-British Meeting on Libya

Acting Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Stephanie Williams with the United Kingdom Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, on Friday, July 31, 2020 (UNSMIL)
Acting Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Stephanie Williams with the United Kingdom Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, on Friday, July 31, 2020 (UNSMIL)

The Libyan crisis has cast a shadow over the official greetings of diplomatic organizations and missions operating in Libya on the occasion of Eid al-Adha.

All have expressed hope that security and peace would prevail in the country and that the Eid would be an opportunity to “end the fighting among Libyans.”

Acting Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Stephanie Williams met with the UK Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, on Friday to discuss the Libyan crisis.

She said this occasion is an opportunity to end the fighting between rival parties, hoping that “love, tolerance and unity would prevail among Libyan people.”

According to a UNSMIL statement, the meeting was “very constructive.”

Williams expressed her appreciation to “UK’s continuous support to UN efforts to bring an end to Libya’s crisis through an inclusive political solution.”

Meanwhile, European Union Ambassador to Libya Alan Bugeja affirmed the EU’s continuous work with its partners to achieve a permanent ceasefire in Libya and resume the political process necessary for the country to move towards peace and reconciliation.

He also greeted Libyans on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, wishing peace would prevail.

“We sympathize with the innocent people who are victims of the ongoing conflict and instability that has hit the country over the past decade.”

In other news, figures from the internationally-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) resumed efforts to maintain the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat in 2015.

The GNA and all its supporters in western Libya adhere to the agreement as a “single and basic reference” for resolving the political dispute, unlike authorities in eastern Libya, where Libyan National Army commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar has recently announced the deal dead.

A GNA politician has defended the agreement.

“We will focus on introducing some amendments to the agreement in line with the political situation in the country and away from any initiative that aims to undermine the country's legitimate authority,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat, in reference to the GNA.

His remarks were in light of the recent talks held in Morocco between Speaker of the east-based Libyan parliament Aguila Saleh and Head of the High Council of State Chief Khalid al-Mishri on amending the Skhirat agreement.

According to the official, Saleh didn’t comment negatively on the agreement, but rather on its implementation.



Ship Comes Under Houthi Attack off Coast of Yemen

FILED - 27 January 2024, Yemen, Gulf of Aden: The Marlin Luanda vessel on fire in the Gulf of Aden after it was reportedly struck by an anti-ship missile fired from a Houthi controlled area of Yemen. Photo: Indian Navy via ZUMA Wire/dpa
FILED - 27 January 2024, Yemen, Gulf of Aden: The Marlin Luanda vessel on fire in the Gulf of Aden after it was reportedly struck by an anti-ship missile fired from a Houthi controlled area of Yemen. Photo: Indian Navy via ZUMA Wire/dpa
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Ship Comes Under Houthi Attack off Coast of Yemen

FILED - 27 January 2024, Yemen, Gulf of Aden: The Marlin Luanda vessel on fire in the Gulf of Aden after it was reportedly struck by an anti-ship missile fired from a Houthi controlled area of Yemen. Photo: Indian Navy via ZUMA Wire/dpa
FILED - 27 January 2024, Yemen, Gulf of Aden: The Marlin Luanda vessel on fire in the Gulf of Aden after it was reportedly struck by an anti-ship missile fired from a Houthi controlled area of Yemen. Photo: Indian Navy via ZUMA Wire/dpa

A ship traveling in the Gulf of Aden came under attack Thursday, officials said, the latest assault likely carried out by Yemen's Houthis over Israel's ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The attack comes after the US military said early Thursday an allied warship shot down a Houthi missile targeting a vessel the day before near the same area. The Houthis claimed Wednesday's assault, which comes after a period of relatively few attacks on shipping in the region over Israel’s ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In Thursday's attack, a ship was targeted just over 25 kilometers (15 miles) southwest of Aden, the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said.
The captain “reports a loud bang heard and a splash and smoke seen coming from the sea,” the UKMTO said. “Vessel and all crew are safe.”
The attack was also reported by the private security firm Ambrey.
The Houthis did not immediately claim the attack, though it typically takes them hours to acknowledge an assault. European Union forces separately shot down a drone launched from Houthi territory on Thursday, Gen. Robert Brieger said.
The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sank another since November, according to the US Maritime Administration.
Houthi attacks have dropped in recent weeks as the group has been targeted by a US-led airstrike campaign in Yemen and shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has declined because of the threat.
American officials have speculated that the Houthis may be running out of weapons as a result of the US-led campaign against them and firing off drones and missiles steadily in the last months.
However, Wednesday's attack was the first one by the Houthis in some time. An explosion struck some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden, the UKMTO said.
Early Thursday, the US military’s Central Command said the explosion came from a coalition warship shooting down the missile likely targeting the MV Yorktown, a US-flagged, owned and operated vessel with 18 US and four Greek crew members.
“There were no injuries or damage reported by US, coalition or commercial ships,” Central Command said.
Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a Houthi military spokesman, claimed the attack but insisted without evidence that the missile hit the Yorktown. Saree also claimed the Houthis targeted another ship in the Indian Ocean, without providing proof. The Houthis have made repeated claims that turned out to not be true during their yearslong war in Yemen.
The Houthis have said they will continue their attacks until Israel ends its war in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians there. The war began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 others hostage.
Most of the ships targeted by the Houthis have had little or no direct connection to Israel, the US or other nations involved in the war.


Israel in 'Offensive Action' in South Lebanon

Lebanese villagers flash victory signs from their house which was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Kfar Kila, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
Lebanese villagers flash victory signs from their house which was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Kfar Kila, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
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Israel in 'Offensive Action' in South Lebanon

Lebanese villagers flash victory signs from their house which was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Kfar Kila, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
Lebanese villagers flash victory signs from their house which was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Kfar Kila, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Israel said Wednesday its forces were carrying out "offensive action" in Lebanon after launching cross-border strikes targeting Hamas ally Hezbollah as Israeli aircraft and tanks pounded the Gaza Strip.
Since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7, Lebanon's powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group and Israeli forces have traded near-daily fire, heightening fears of a wider conflict breaking out, said AFP.
In war-battered Gaza, there has been mounting concern over Israeli plans to launch an assault on the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where 1.5 million people have sought refuge, many in makeshift encampments.
Aid groups warn any invasion would create catastrophic conditions for civilians. However, government spokesman David Mencer said Israel was "moving ahead" with its operation in Rafah, which Israeli officials have described as the "last" major Hamas stronghold where militants may be holding hostages.
Hamas meanwhile released a video of an Israeli-American man who was one of the 129 hostages Israel estimates remain in Gaza, a figure that includes 34 presumed dead.
Also on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden signed a bill authorizing $13 billion in military aid to close ally Israel.
The bill also included $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza, which Biden demanded Israel allow reach Palestinians "without delay".
Middle East tensions remain high more than 200 days into the devastating war, which has also seen rising violence between Israel and Iran's proxies and allies in the region.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that "many forces are deployed" along Israel's northern border, claiming the military has eliminated "half of Hezbollah's commanders in southern Lebanon" over months of violence.
Israel has struck increasingly deeper into Lebanon, while Hezbollah has stepped up rocket fire and drone attacks on Israeli military bases across the border.
Israeli forces are “currently carrying out offensive action throughout southern Lebanon", Gallant said, without specifying whether ground troops had crossed the border.
A spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, told AFP that "we didn't detect any ground crossing today."
The Israeli army had earlier said its forces struck around 40 Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, with Lebanese official media reporting at least 13 strikes on several villages.
The war in Gaza began with an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of around 1,170 people, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
In retaliation, Israel launched a military offensive that has killed at least 34,262 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.


Israel Moving Forward with Rafah Assault to Pressure Hamas on Hostages

Palestinians mourn by the bodies of relatives killed in Israeli bombardment as they transport them for burial from the al-Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 25, 2024. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Palestinians mourn by the bodies of relatives killed in Israeli bombardment as they transport them for burial from the al-Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 25, 2024. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
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Israel Moving Forward with Rafah Assault to Pressure Hamas on Hostages

Palestinians mourn by the bodies of relatives killed in Israeli bombardment as they transport them for burial from the al-Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 25, 2024. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Palestinians mourn by the bodies of relatives killed in Israeli bombardment as they transport them for burial from the al-Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 25, 2024. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israel's biggest newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said on Thursday that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will move forward with plans for an all-out assault on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip to pressure Hamas to resume hostage negotiations.

The daily said that Israel would attack Rafah to put more pressure on Hamas and increase chances for an agreement on the hostages who were taken by the militant group in its Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Netanyahu's government said Israel was "moving ahead" with its plans for a ground operation on Rafah but gave no timeline.

The war, now in its seventh month, has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities. The offensive has laid to waste much of the enclave, displacing most of its 2.3 million people and creating a humanitarian crisis.


Lebanon: Theft Gangs on Beirut Airport Road Terrify Passers-by

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi during a visit to Beirut airport on Wednesday (National News Agency)
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi during a visit to Beirut airport on Wednesday (National News Agency)
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Lebanon: Theft Gangs on Beirut Airport Road Terrify Passers-by

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi during a visit to Beirut airport on Wednesday (National News Agency)
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi during a visit to Beirut airport on Wednesday (National News Agency)

Lebanon’s airport road that links the country’s Rafik Hariri International Airport to the capital Beirut and to other areas has turned into a haven for outlaws and armed theft gangs leaving victims petrified and sometimes dead.
Months after security chaos, Lebanon’s security forces decided to take action and succeeded at arresting several members of these gangs mainly of Lebanese and Syrian nationalities. The arrests took place in the southern suburbs of Beirut and in the Bekaa region.
Sources following up closely on the file, said the “belated security awakening” came after a “green light” given by the Hezbollah party who lifted the cover off these gangs.
“These gangs roam freely in Hezbollah’s security square (in the southern suburb of Beirut). They have turned into a burden on the party. They tend to run into the southern suburbs for shelter each time they carry out a theft”, the sources said.
They tend to execute their crimes either late at night or at dawn fishing for people coming or heading to the airport, according to the sources.
A security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the armed gangs tend to carefully choose the timing when road traffic is low, taking strategic positions that make their escape an easy one.
He said: “More than thirty incidents have been reported since the beginning of the year”. The gangs “have exploited the absence of security presence on the airport road. Security forces do not patrol that area 24/7 like they used to before the economic crisis”.
Meanwhile, security and strategic expert, Naji Malaeb, told Asharq Al-Awsat that what is happening on the airport road is the result of self-imposed security that some people advocate for in Lebanon.
He said the southern suburbs area has turned into a haven for outlaws when Hezbollah turned it into a security zone outside the state’s control.
In March, a theft incident left a taxi driver dead inside the airport tunnel. Also, video footage circulating on social media recently showed two men, one of them carrying a rifle, on a motorbike chasing a man on a motorcycle.
A source close to Hezbollah denied claims that the party is providing shelter for those. He said the party provides the security forces with information about gangs.


Sisi Warns of ‘Catastrophic’ Consequences of an Israeli Assault on Rafah

FILED - 18 October 2023, Egypt, Cairo: President of Egypt Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is pictured in Cairo. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa Pool/dpa
FILED - 18 October 2023, Egypt, Cairo: President of Egypt Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is pictured in Cairo. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa Pool/dpa
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Sisi Warns of ‘Catastrophic’ Consequences of an Israeli Assault on Rafah

FILED - 18 October 2023, Egypt, Cairo: President of Egypt Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is pictured in Cairo. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa Pool/dpa
FILED - 18 October 2023, Egypt, Cairo: President of Egypt Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is pictured in Cairo. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa Pool/dpa

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday warned against any Israeli military assault on Rafah in the Gaza Strip.
Presidential spokesman Ahmed Fahmy said that Sisi’s concerns came during a telephone call with Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte.

Sisi warned against what he described as “catastrophic” humanitarian consequences of any military act on Rafah, according to the Arab World Press.
The spokesman added in a statement published by the Egyptian presidency on its Facebook page that the war in Gaza must be brought to a halt, pointing to the dire consequences of an aggression against Rafah and its impact on regional peace and stability.
“It emphasizes the need for the international community to implement the related UN resolutions”, he said according to the statement.
Fahmy also pointed out that Sisi and Rutte stressed the need for joint swift efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza to allow the entry of humanitarian relief aid to the Palestinians in the Strip.
They also emphasized the importance of reaching a two-state solution to restore regional stability and peace.
On Tuesday, head of Egypt’s State Information Service Diaa Rashwan confirmed that Egypt has never discussed any plans with the Israeli side of a ground invasion on Rafah, denying reports published in US newspapers on this matter.
He stressed Egypt’s “firm and well-known” stance and complete rejection of this assault. “The Egyptian leadership has warned that any assault on Rafah will lead to massacres, heavy human losses, and widespread destruction", he stated.
Moreover, Egyptian security sources said that military and security coordination between Egypt and Israel over any Israeli incursion into Rafah did not mean approval of it.
Egypt welcomed the return of Palestinians northwards from Rafah, believing it to be in the interest of the population, the sources added.


White House Says ‘We Want Answers’ Over Reports of Mass Graves in Gaza

People and health workers unearth bodies found at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on April 23, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
People and health workers unearth bodies found at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on April 23, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
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White House Says ‘We Want Answers’ Over Reports of Mass Graves in Gaza

People and health workers unearth bodies found at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on April 23, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
People and health workers unearth bodies found at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on April 23, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

US officials have been in touch with Israeli counterparts about deeply disturbing reports of mass graves being found in Gaza, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday.

"Those reports were deeply disturbing," Sullivan said at a news briefing. "We have been in touch at multiple levels with the Israeli government. We want answers. We want to understand exactly what happened."

UN rights chief Volker Turk said on Tuesday he was "horrified" by the destruction of the Nasser and Al-Shifa medical facilities in Gaza and reports of mass graves containing hundreds of bodies there, according to a spokesperson.

Palestinian authorities reported finding hundreds of bodies in mass graves at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis this week after it was abandoned by Israeli troops. Bodies were also reported at the Al-Shifa site following an Israeli special forces operation.


Hamas Official Says Group Would Lay Down its Weapons If a Two-state Solution is Implemented

Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
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Hamas Official Says Group Would Lay Down its Weapons If a Two-state Solution is Implemented

Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

A top Hamas political official told The Associated Press the group is willing to agree to a truce of five years or more with Israel and that it would lay down its weapons and convert into a political party if an independent Palestinian state is established along pre-1967 borders.
The comments by Khalil al-Hayya in an interview Wednesday came amid a stalemate in months of cease-fire talks. The suggestion that Hamas would disarm appeared to be a significant concession by the militant group officially committed to Israel’s destruction.
But it's unlikely Israel would consider such a scenario. It has vowed to crush Hamas following the deadly Oct. 7 attacks that triggered the war, and its current leadership is adamantly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state on lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Al-Hayya, a high-ranking Hamas official who has represented the Palestinian militants in negotiations for a cease-fire and hostage exchange, struck a sometimes defiant and other times conciliatory tone.
Speaking to the AP in Istanbul, Al-Hayya said Hamas wants to join the Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by the rival Fatah faction to form a unified government for Gaza and the West Bank. He said Hamas would accept “a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with the international resolutions,” along Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
If that happens, he said, the group's military wing would dissolve.
“All the experiences of people who fought against occupiers, when they became independent and obtained their rights and their state, what have these forces done? They have turned into political parties and their defending fighting forces have turned into the national army,” he said.
Over the years, Hamas has sometimes moderated its public position with respect to the possibility of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But its political program still officially “rejects any alternative to the full liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea" — referring to the area reaching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which includes lands that now make up Israel.
Al-Hayya did not say whether his apparent embrace of a two-state solution would amount to an end to the Palestinian conflict with Israel or an interim step toward the group’s stated goal of destroying Israel.
There was no immediate reaction from Israel or the Palestinian Authority — the internationally recognized self-ruled government that Hamas drove out when it seized Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections. After the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Palestinian Authority was left with administering semi-autonomous pockets of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority hopes to establish an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. While the international community overwhelmingly supports such a two-state solution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line government rejects it.
The war in Gaza has dragged on for nearly seven months and cease-fire negotiations have stalled. The war began with the deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel in which the Hamas-led group killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Hamas dragged some 250 hostages into the enclave. The ensuing Israeli bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to local health authorities, and displaced some 80% of Gaza's population of 2.3 million.
Israel is now preparing for an offensive in the southern city of Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians have fled to.
Israel says it has dismantled most of the initial two dozen Hamas battalions since the start of the war, but that the four remaining ones are holed up in Rafah. Israel argues that a Rafah offensive is necessary to achieve victory over Hamas.
Al-Hayya said such an offensive would not succeed in destroying Hamas. He said contacts between the political leadership outside and military leadership inside Gaza are “uninterrupted” by the war and “contacts, decisions and directions are made in consultation" between the two groups.
Israeli forces "have not destroyed more than 20% of (Hamas’) capabilities, neither human nor in the field,” he asserted. “If they can’t finish (Hamas) off, what is the solution? The solution is to go to consensus.”
In November, a weeklong cease-fire saw the release of more than 100 hostages in exchange for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. But talks for a longer-term truce and release of the remaining hostages are now frozen, with each side accusing the other of intransigence.
Israeli and US officials have accused Hamas of not being serious about a deal.
Al-Hayya denied this, saying Hamas has made concessions regarding the number of Palestinian prisoners it wants released in exchange for the remaining Israeli hostages. He said the group does not know exactly how many hostages remain in Gaza and are still alive.
But he said Hamas will not back down from its demands for a permanent cease-fire and full withdrawal of Israeli troops, both of which Israel has balked at. Israel says it will continue military operations until Hamas is definitively defeated and will retain a security presence in Gaza afterwards.
“If we are not assured the war will end, why would I hand over the prisoners?” the Hamas leader said of the remaining hostages.
Al-Hayya also implicitly threatened that Hamas would attack Israeli or other forces who might be stationed around a floating pier the US is scrambling to build along Gaza's coastline to deliver aid by sea.
“We categorically reject any non-Palestinian presence in Gaza, whether at sea or on land, and we will deal with any military force present in these places, Israeli or otherwise ... as an occupying power,” he said.
Al-Hayya said Hamas does not regret the Oct. 7 attacks, despite the destruction it has brought down on Gaza and its people. He denied that Hamas had targeted civilians during the attacks — despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — and said the operation succeeded in its goal of bringing the Palestinian issue back to the world’s attention.
And, he said, Israeli attempts to eradicate Hamas would ultimately fail to prevent future Palestinian armed uprisings.
"Let’s say that they have destroyed Hamas. Are the Palestinian people gone?” he asked.


US Coalition Warship Shoots Down Missile Fired by Yemen's Houthis over Gulf of Aden

A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: -/dpa
A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: -/dpa
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US Coalition Warship Shoots Down Missile Fired by Yemen's Houthis over Gulf of Aden

A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: -/dpa
A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: -/dpa

A warship — part of a US-led coalition protecting shipping in the Mideast — intercepted an anti-ship ballistic missile fired over the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday, the American military said, marking a new attack by Yemen's Houthis after a recent lull.
The Houthis claimed the assault, which comes after a period of relatively few attacks on shipping in the region over Israel's ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, The Associated Press said.
The explosion happened some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden, the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said in a statement.
Early Thursday, the US military's Central Command said a coalition warship shot down the missile likely targeting the MV Yorktown, a US-flagged, owned and operated vessel with 18 US and four Greek crew members.
“There were no injuries or damage reported by US, coalition or commercial ships," Central Command said.
Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a Houthi military spokesman, claimed the attack but insisted without evidence that the missile hit the Yorktown. Saree also claimed the Houthis targeted another ship in the Indian Ocean, without providing proof. The Houthis have made repeated claims that turned out to not be true during their yearslong war in Yemen.
The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sank another since November, according to the US Maritime Administration.
Houthi attacks have dropped in recent weeks as the militias have been targeted by a US-led airstrike campaign in Yemen and shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has declined because of the threat. American officials have speculated that the Houthis may be running out of weapons as a result of the US-led campaign against them and firing off drones and missiles steadily in the last months.
The Houthis have said they would continue their attacks until Israel ends its war in Gaza.
The ships targeted by the Houthis largely have had little or no direct connection to Israel, the US or other nations involved in the war. The group has also fired missiles toward Israel, though they have largely fallen short or been intercepted.


Iran Cuts Syria Presence after Strikes Blamed on Israel, Says Monitor

A Syrian flag flies as people walk across the Hafez al-Assad bridge across the Barada river in the center of Damascus on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
A Syrian flag flies as people walk across the Hafez al-Assad bridge across the Barada river in the center of Damascus on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
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Iran Cuts Syria Presence after Strikes Blamed on Israel, Says Monitor

A Syrian flag flies as people walk across the Hafez al-Assad bridge across the Barada river in the center of Damascus on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
A Syrian flag flies as people walk across the Hafez al-Assad bridge across the Barada river in the center of Damascus on April 14, 2024. (AFP)

Iran has reduced its military footprint in Syria after a succession of strikes blamed on Israel, a source close to Iran-backed Hezbollah and a war monitor said Wednesday.

Iran has provided military support to Syrian government forces through more than a decade of civil war but a series of strikes targeting its commanders in recent months has prompted a reshaping of its presence, the sources said.

"Iran withdrew its forces from southern Syria," including both Quneitra and Daraa provinces, which abut the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, the source close to Hezbollah said.

But it still maintains a presence in other parts of the country, the source added.

Recent months have seen a series of strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, widely blamed on Israel, culminating in an April 1 strike that levelled the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards, two of them generals.

That strike prompted Iran to launch a first-ever direct missile and drone attack against Israel on April 13-14 that sent regional tensions spiraling.

But Iran had already begun drawing down its forces after a January 20 strike that killed five Revolutionary Guards in Damascus, including their Syria intelligence chief and his deputy, the source close to Hezbollah said.

Britain-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Iranian forces had withdrawn from Damascus and southern Syria.

Iran-backed Lebanese and Iraqi fighters had taken their place, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Iran has said repeatedly that it has no combat troops in Syria, only officers to provide military advice and training.

But the Observatory says as many as 3,000 Iranian military personnel are present in Syria, supported by tens of thousands of Iranian-trained fighters from countries including Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abdel Rahman said that many of Iran's advisers had left Syria in recent months, especially after a strike in March killed a Revolutionary Guard and two others -- although some remained in Aleppo province in the north and Deir Ezzor province in the east.

People who have recently travelled to Damascus told AFP Iran's presence had become less visible in the Syrian capital, with several Iranian army offices in its Old City now closed.

The Iranian flags and portraits of Iran's leaders that hung in parts of Damascus have mostly disappeared, they added.

Now, the Iranian presence was visible only in Sayyida Zeinab, an important Shiite destination in the city's southern outskirts, they said.


Jordan Sets Sept 10 Date for Parliamentary Election

King of Jordan Abdullah II speaks while making a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 16 February 2024. (Reuters)
King of Jordan Abdullah II speaks while making a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 16 February 2024. (Reuters)
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Jordan Sets Sept 10 Date for Parliamentary Election

King of Jordan Abdullah II speaks while making a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 16 February 2024. (Reuters)
King of Jordan Abdullah II speaks while making a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 16 February 2024. (Reuters)

Jordan's independent electoral commission on Wednesday set Sept. 10 as the date for a parliamentary election after King Abdullah said earlier he hoped the polls would deliver long promised political reforms, state media reported.

The monarch, who visited the electoral commission before the announcement, said the polls would be a major milestone towards trying to modernize the country's political system under revamped laws that encourage licensed parties to run in multi-party elections.

Under the constitution, the nationwide polls are held within four months of the end of a four-year term of parliament that formally ends in November. The country's last election was held in November 2020.

The head of the Independent Election Commission Musa Al Maaytah, who announced the date of the election, said there were more than 5 million eligible voters on its lists.

The election comes as the country is reeling from the impact of the war in Gaza that has hit tourism, a main pillar of the economy, and affected businesses.