Aoun Expresses Hope for Israel Border Talks

In this photo released by the Lebanese government, Lebanese president Michel Aoun addressees a speech, in the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese government via AP)
In this photo released by the Lebanese government, Lebanese president Michel Aoun addressees a speech, in the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese government via AP)
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Aoun Expresses Hope for Israel Border Talks

In this photo released by the Lebanese government, Lebanese president Michel Aoun addressees a speech, in the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese government via AP)
In this photo released by the Lebanese government, Lebanese president Michel Aoun addressees a speech, in the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese government via AP)

Lebanon’s president said Wednesday he wants maritime border talks with Israel to succeed and that disagreements during the last round of negotiations can be resolved based on international law.

President Michel Aoun spoke during a meeting with John Desrocher, the US mediator for the negotiations, who was in Beirut for discussions with Lebanese leaders.

The fourth round of talks, which was scheduled to take place Wednesday, was postponed until further notice, officials in the two countries said.

The negotiations are the first non-security talks to be held between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war following decades of conflict. Resolving the border issue could pave the way for lucrative oil and gas deals on both sides.

Israel and Lebanon each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. During the second round of the talks the Lebanese delegation — a mix of army officers and experts — offered a new map that pushes for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles).

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said in an interview with Army Radio last week that “the Lebanese presented positions that are a provocation,” but he added that all negotiations start with “excessive demands and provocations.”

“I hope that in a few months we’ll be able to reach a breakthrough,” he added, The Associated Press reported.

A statement released by Aoun’s office quoted him as telling Desrocher that Lebanon wants the talks to succeed because “this will strengthen stability in the south and allow us to invest in natural resources of oil and gas.”

He said difficulties that surfaced during the last round can be solved through discussions based on the Law of the Sea. Aoun said if the talks stall then “other alternatives can be put forward,” without elaborating.

The last round of talks were held in November and hosted by the United Nations in a border post between the two countries.

Israel has already developed offshore natural gas rigs, producing enough for domestic consumption and export abroad. Lebanon hopes that its own oil and gas discoveries will help alleviate its long-running economic troubles.



Disappointment in Lebanon Over Postponement of Paris Conference to Support Army

A Lebanese Army patrol. (EPA)
A Lebanese Army patrol. (EPA)
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Disappointment in Lebanon Over Postponement of Paris Conference to Support Army

A Lebanese Army patrol. (EPA)
A Lebanese Army patrol. (EPA)

Lebanese circles expressed disappointment over the postponement of the Lebanese Army Support Conference, which was scheduled to be held in Paris on Feb. 27.

They said the decision “contradicts the international community’s desire to strengthen the army’s capabilities to assume its responsibilities, especially with regards to the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701.”

However, sources close to caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati told Asharq Al-Awsat that the postponement was linked to ongoing talks between countries concerned with the conference, pending the “appropriate conditions” that would allow the event to be held.

They stressed that there was no backing down from supporting the army.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Defense Minister Maurice Slim said the Lebanese Army would “remain committed to its national responsibility and its defense and security tasks throughout all Lebanese lands.”

“The Paris conference reflected the extent of international interest in supporting the military establishment in Lebanon,” he said, noting that the army’s weapons and equipment are supplied by “friendly countries.”

The army is always committed to its national role despite its low numbers and weak equipment, he stated.

Slim added that resolution 1701, issued in 2006, stipulates the deployment of 15,000 Lebanese soldiers on the southern border, but the army does not have enough troops to do so.

He underlined the need for the support of “friendly countries interested in stability in the region, and the commitment of all parties to international resolutions.”

The army, in cooperation with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), has been deployed in the South since the end of the July 2006 war.

This cooperation was a factor of stability in the South despite the Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.

The minister stressed that the army’s cooperation with the international forces in the South “remains strong and solid and in compliance with international resolutions.”

“The Lebanese state adheres to Security Council resolutions, especially resolution 1701, but violations always come from the Israeli enemy, by land, sea and air,” he underlined.

The minister went on to say: “We told all the foreign officials we met that we urgently have to equip combat soldiers, and that we also need to create new combat units if necessary to increase the number of the troops in the South.”

The postponement or cancellation of the Paris conference was on the agenda of meetings of the Foreign Relations Committee delegation in the US Congress in Beirut last week.

Sources who followed the preparations of the conference said the decision “does not mean abandoning support for the military establishment, but rather allows some space to secure the best conditions for the meeting’s success.”

Former coordinator between the Lebanese government and the UNIFIL, Brigadier General Mounir Shehadeh, said several reasons could be behind the postponement of the Paris conference, including disputes between the United States and France within the Quintet Committee.


New Maritime Trade Route to Connect Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Spain

The Tunisian authorities have recently shown great interest in all types of maritime transport. (Diwan of Maritime and Commercial Ports)
The Tunisian authorities have recently shown great interest in all types of maritime transport. (Diwan of Maritime and Commercial Ports)
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New Maritime Trade Route to Connect Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Spain

The Tunisian authorities have recently shown great interest in all types of maritime transport. (Diwan of Maritime and Commercial Ports)
The Tunisian authorities have recently shown great interest in all types of maritime transport. (Diwan of Maritime and Commercial Ports)

Trade between Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, and Spain is set to receive a boost from a new maritime trade route that is slated to open in March.

The route will be dedicated specifically to container transportation and will link the port of Sfax with destinations in Morocco, Spain, and Libya.

Malek Aloui, the spokesperson for this new maritime venture, disclosed in an interview with TAP that final preparations on both administrative and logistical fronts are rapidly nearing completion.

Travel to Morocco will be accomplished in just four days, while voyages to Spain will take a mere six days. Departures from Sfax will occur twice a month, promising increased connectivity for businesses, he added.

Experts said that this new route would witness a remarkable success given the significant commercial ties that bring these countries together, and their relatively distant location from the commercial paralysis in the Red Sea.

The current maritime shipment turmoil and the Russian war crisis could also benefit the new route, the experts added.

The route avoids passing through Algeria which hints at the limited commercial ties between Tunisia and Libya on one hand and Algeria on the other.

The Tunisian Ministry of Transport stated that this route is part of a strategy to reinforce Tunisia as a maritime commercial hub in the Mediterranean Sea.

The trade volume between Tunisia and Libya reached $970 million in 2022 and between Morocco and Tunisia $215.7 million in 2021. Trade between Tunisia and Spain totaled 1.9 billion euros (exports and imports) in 2022, recording a 27 percent increase in imports and 36 percent in exports.


Jordan’s King Participates in Gaza Aid Airdrop

The Jordanian King, accompanied by military leaders, monitored the delivery of aid to the residents of Gaza on Tuesday. (Military Media)
The Jordanian King, accompanied by military leaders, monitored the delivery of aid to the residents of Gaza on Tuesday. (Military Media)
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Jordan’s King Participates in Gaza Aid Airdrop

The Jordanian King, accompanied by military leaders, monitored the delivery of aid to the residents of Gaza on Tuesday. (Military Media)
The Jordanian King, accompanied by military leaders, monitored the delivery of aid to the residents of Gaza on Tuesday. (Military Media)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday participated in an airdrop of humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip, according to the military.

"Six C130 aircraft, including three from the Royal Jordanian Air Force and three from the UAE, Egypt, and France, took off from the capital Amman as part of a humanitarian aid operation aimed at alleviating the suffering of Gaza residents,'' the army said in a statement.

It said the king directly monitored the preparation and loading process before the plane departed from King Abdullah II Air Base.

The move is the second by the monarch as official media had earlier shared a video of him during a relief airdrop operation to Gaza on Feb 11.

The operation "aimed at delivering aid to the population directly and drop it along the coast of the Gaza Strip from north to south," the Jordanian army statement said.

It comprised "relief and food supplies, including ready-made meals of high nutritional value, to alleviate the suffering of the people of the Gaza Strip.”

"One of the aircraft was allocated to the Jordanian field hospital in the southern Gaza Strip, which suffers from a severe shortage of essential supplies,'' it added.

The Jordanian Armed Forces announced on Monday that they conducted four airdrops to deliver humanitarian aid to the people in the Gaza Strip.

The airdrops were carried out by four C130 aircraft, one of which belongs to the French Armed Forces, it said.

JAF said that the participation of the French army in the operation underscores international support for Jordan’s humanitarian commitment to the people of Gaza.

“It also reflects the strong bilateral relations between Jordan and France and reaffirms Jordan’s pivotal role in coordinating international efforts to deliver essential aid to the war-torn strip.”

Aid was dropped to 11 sites along the Gaza coast from its northern edge to the south for civilians to collect, army spokesperson Mustafa Hiyari said.

Jordan has conducted a total of 16 air-drop operations since the war broke out on October 7.


UN: A Quarter of Gaza's Population is One Step from Famine

A volunteer distributes rations of red lentil soup to displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
A volunteer distributes rations of red lentil soup to displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
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UN: A Quarter of Gaza's Population is One Step from Famine

A volunteer distributes rations of red lentil soup to displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
A volunteer distributes rations of red lentil soup to displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

At least one quarter of Gaza’s population – 576,000 people – are one step away from famine and virtually the entire population desperately needs food resulting in some aid trucks being shot at, looted and overwhelmed by hungry people, top UN officials said Tuesday.

The officials from the UN humanitarian office and the UN’s food and agriculture organizations painted a dire picture of all 2.3 million people in Gaza facing crisis levels of food insecurity or worse, and civil order breaking down especially in the north where food and other humanitarian supplies are scarce.
And as grim as the picture is today, UN humanitarian coordinator Ramesh Ramasingham told the UN Security Council that “there is every possibility for further deterioration.”
According to The Associated Press, he said that in addition to a quarter of Gaza's population close to famine, 1 in 6 children under the age of two in northern Gaza are suffering from “acute malnutrition and wasting,” where the body becomes emaciated.
Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Program, said that is “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world.” And he warned that “If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza” -- the initial target of Israel’s military offensive following Hamas’ surprise attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7 that killed some 1,200 people and led to about 250 being taken captive.
In the latest example of the breakdown of civil order, Skau said WFP resumed deliveries to northern Gaza for the first time in three weeks on Feb. 18, and hoped to send 10 trucks a day for seven days to address immediate food needs and provide some reassurance to people that sufficient food would be arriving.
But on both Feb. 18 and Feb. 19, he said, WFP convoys faced delays at checkpoints, gunfire and other violence and the looting of food.
“At their destination, they were overwhelmed by desperately hungry people,” he said.
Skau said “the breakdown in civil order, driven by sheer desperation, is preventing the safe distribution of aid – and we have a duty to protect our staff.”
As a result, he said, WFP has suspended aid deliveries to the north until conditions are in place to ensure the security of its staff and the people receiving assistance.
Maurizio Martina, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s deputy director general, described the horrific state of farmland, greenhouses, bakeries and irrigation systems that are essential to produce, process and distribute food.
Since Oct. 9 – two days after the Hamas attacks – “the government of Israel’s reinforced blockade has included stopping or restricting food, electricity and fuel supplies, as well as commercial goods,” he said.
This has affected the entire food supply chain in different ways, Martina said.
As examples, he said, severe restrictions on fuel shipments are crippling water supplies and the functioning of desalination plants, with the water supply at only 7% of pre-October levels. Fuel shortages have also crippled the production and delivery of food and electricity, and seriously hampered the ability of bakeries to produce bread, he said.
Martina said the collapse of agricultural production in the north is already happening and in the most likely scenario will be complete by May. And as of Feb. 15, over 46% of all crop land in Gaza was assessed to be damaged, he said.
The FAO official presented more alarming figures from Israel’s offensive -- a high number of animal shelters and sheep and dairy farms destroyed, over one-quarter of water wells destroyed, and 339 hectares of greenhouses destroyed. And he said the war has also heavily impacted the harvest of olives and citrus fruits, a key Palestinian money earner.
As for animals, Martina said, many livestock owners report substantial losses, all poultry have likely been slaughtered, and as many as 65% of calves and 70% of beef cattle are assumed to have died.


UNIFIL Warns of ‘Concerning’ Shift in War in Southern Lebanon

A picture shows destruction at the site of an Israeli air strike that targeted a house in the southern Lebanese village of Jibshit on February 27, 2024. (AFP)
A picture shows destruction at the site of an Israeli air strike that targeted a house in the southern Lebanese village of Jibshit on February 27, 2024. (AFP)
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UNIFIL Warns of ‘Concerning’ Shift in War in Southern Lebanon

A picture shows destruction at the site of an Israeli air strike that targeted a house in the southern Lebanese village of Jibshit on February 27, 2024. (AFP)
A picture shows destruction at the site of an Israeli air strike that targeted a house in the southern Lebanese village of Jibshit on February 27, 2024. (AFP)

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) warned on Tuesday of a “concerning shift” in the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in southern Lebanon as Israel escalated its operations against its northern neighbor.

Israel expanded the scope of its attacked against Lebanon on Monday and Tuesday, targeting the region of al-Hanieh in the Tyre province and al-Baysarieh in the Zahrani province for the first time since the conflicted erupted it between it and Hezbollah in October.

“This conflict has already claimed too many lives and caused significant damage to houses and public infrastructure. It has jeopardized the livelihoods and changed the life of tens of thousands of civilians on both sides of the Blue Line. Yet we now see an expansion and intensification of strikes,” UNIFIL head of mission and force commander Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lazaro said in a statement.

“In recent days, we have continued our active engagement with the parties to decrease tensions and prevent dangerous misunderstandings, but recent events have the potential to put at risk a political solution to this conflict,” he added.

“We urge all parties involved to halt hostilities to prevent further escalation and leave space to a political and diplomatic solution that can bring back stability and ensure the safety of the people in this region,” he urged.

UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka also urged “de-escalation”, saying the “gradual expansion in the exchange of fire” increased the risks of a broader conflagration.

She briefed caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati of her recent tour of the region and the mechanism that would allow the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701. She urged all parties to restore calm and work on diplomatic solutions.

Violent escalation

The UNIFIL warning came amid the most violent escalation since the beginning of the war. Israel carried out on Monday raids near the eastern city of Baalbek, around 100 kms from the south, in retaliation to Hezbollah’s downing of a drone.

Hezbollah fired back by launching 60 katyusha rockets towards the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Three Hezbollah members and two members of the Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian “Islamic Jihad”, were killed in Israel’s attack on Monday.

The escalation continued on Tuesday, with Israel saying it detected a total of 20 launches from Lebanon. The military said some were intercepted by air defense systems while others landed in open areas.

Hezbollah claimed two strikes on the Meron air control installation Tuesday, the first of which it said was in retaliation for the Baalbek attack.

The party claimed the second strike “led to the damage and complete destruction” of some of the facility’s “technical and espionage equipment.”

Israel said it detected 35 rockets fired from southern Lebanon towards Meron. It said no one was harmed and no damage was incurred by the attack.

Israel fired back by attacking Hezbollah targets in the al-Baysarieh region for the first time during the conflict and the first time since the 2006 July war. The region lies 35 kms from the nearest Israeli border point.


US Cautions Against Escalating Tensions Between Israel, Hezbollah

A man checks the site of an Israeli air strike that targeted a house in the southern Lebanese village of Jibshit on February 27, 2024. (Photo by MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP)
A man checks the site of an Israeli air strike that targeted a house in the southern Lebanese village of Jibshit on February 27, 2024. (Photo by MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP)
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US Cautions Against Escalating Tensions Between Israel, Hezbollah

A man checks the site of an Israeli air strike that targeted a house in the southern Lebanese village of Jibshit on February 27, 2024. (Photo by MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP)
A man checks the site of an Israeli air strike that targeted a house in the southern Lebanese village of Jibshit on February 27, 2024. (Photo by MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP)

The United States does not want to see tensions rise further between Israel and Hezbollah, the US State Department said on Tuesday.

It said Israel has assured Washington it wants a diplomatic solution to the issue.

Hezbollah said it had launched a volley of rockets at an Israeli aerial surveillance base earlier on Tuesday in response to the Israeli military's deepest attack yet into Lebanese territory, with no immediate reports of casualties from the rockets.

The army said it detected a total of 20 launches from Lebanon on Tuesday. It said some were intercepted by air defense systems while others landed in open areas.


US Aircraft, Coalition Ship Shoot Down 5 Houthi Attack Drones

A Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4 has Paveway IV weapons loaded by Weapon Technicians in support of current ongoing operations against Houthi targets in Yemen, February 22, 2024. As1 Tomas Barnard/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS
A Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4 has Paveway IV weapons loaded by Weapon Technicians in support of current ongoing operations against Houthi targets in Yemen, February 22, 2024. As1 Tomas Barnard/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS
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US Aircraft, Coalition Ship Shoot Down 5 Houthi Attack Drones

A Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4 has Paveway IV weapons loaded by Weapon Technicians in support of current ongoing operations against Houthi targets in Yemen, February 22, 2024. As1 Tomas Barnard/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS
A Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4 has Paveway IV weapons loaded by Weapon Technicians in support of current ongoing operations against Houthi targets in Yemen, February 22, 2024. As1 Tomas Barnard/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said US aircraft and a coalition warship on Feb. 27 shot down five one-way attack drones in the Red Sea that originated from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen.

The drones "presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and to the US Navy and coalition ships in the region," CENTCOM said in a statement on Wednesday.

Houthis said on Tuesday they could only reconsider their missile and drone attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea once Israel ends its "aggression" in the Gaza Strip.

Shipping risks have escalated due to repeated Houthi strikes in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait since November in what they describe as acts of solidarity with Palestinians against Israel in the Gaza war.


Bin Mubarak: Houthis Have Militarized Yemeni Waters

Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Bin Mubarak: Houthis Have Militarized Yemeni Waters

Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak stressed on Tuesday that the Iran-backed Houthi militias have militarized Yemeni regional waters and are using the Israeli war on Gaza as an excuse to achieve goals in Yemen.

Bin Awad, who is also foreign minister, was in Moscow where he met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov for talks on supporting Yemen economically and politically.

He was also seeking to change the international view of the Houthis and explain that they are impeding peace efforts in Yemen.

Meanwhile, the US military's Central Command said an American and an allied warship shot down five Houthi bomb-carrying drones in the Red Sea on Tuesday night.

The drones originated “from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and (it was) determined they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and to the US Navy and coalition ships in the region,” Central Command said in a statement.

Since November, the Houthis have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over the Israel-Hamas war. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor, and an aid ship later bound for Houthi-controlled territory.

Despite over a month of US-led airstrikes, the Houthis remain capable of launching significant attacks.

Last week, they severely damaged a ship in a crucial strait and downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars. The Houthis insist their attacks will continue until Israel stops its combat operations in the Gaza Strip.

The Yemeni government has said that the western strikes against the Houthis will not achieve their goal in limiting the militias’ military capabilities. It argues that the only way to do so lies in supporting the legitimate forces in restoring the state and ending the Houthi coup.

During his meeting with Lavrov, Bin Mubarak dismissed the Houthi claims that the Red Sea attacks were in support of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

He said: “The militias’ actions have internal goals and have nothing to do with championing the Palestinian people and their just cause.”

He also pointed to how the Houthis continue to deepen the suffering of the Yemeni people by attacking oil installations and maintaining their siege on Taiz city.

Moreover, he stressed that the American and British operations in Yemen have led to the tightening of the siege and led to negative repercussions that have impacted civilian marine navigation.

The Houthi actions are the main reason why the Red Sea has become militarized, he declared, adding that the peace negotiations in Yemen have also been obstructed due to the militias’ escalation at sea.

For his part, Lavrov said that securing marine navigation in the Red Sea must be a priority for all influential political actors.


Egypt Exerts Efforts to Alleviate the Suffering of Palestinians

Recreational activities for Gaza children inside a Khan Yunis camp. (Egyptian Red Crescent)
Recreational activities for Gaza children inside a Khan Yunis camp. (Egyptian Red Crescent)
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Egypt Exerts Efforts to Alleviate the Suffering of Palestinians

Recreational activities for Gaza children inside a Khan Yunis camp. (Egyptian Red Crescent)
Recreational activities for Gaza children inside a Khan Yunis camp. (Egyptian Red Crescent)

The Egyptian air force carried out an airdrop of humanitarian aid Tuesday in the Gaza Strip, while Cairo has finished the preparation of a second refugee camp in Gaza.

The airdrop was conducted in cooperation with Jordan and the UAE, said state-run Al-Qahera News, citing high-level sources.

“Some 45 tons of Egyptian humanitarian aid were dropped in the northern and central Gaza Strip,” it said.

Egypt "intensifies its efforts by land and air to relieve the stricken areas in the northern Gaza Strip and supply them with urgent aid,” said Al-Qahera News.

It said Egypt plans to airdrop 50 tons of urgent humanitarian aid in the northern and central Gaza Strip.

Egypt is setting up a third refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and preparing a field hospital for Palestinians displaced by Israeli attacks, Al-Qahera News reported.

The camp will be in northern Deir el-Balah province in central Gaza, the Egyptian TV channel said, citing a security source. It said Egypt had already finished its second camp in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

The Egyptian Red Crescent, in cooperation with the Palestinian Red Crescent, set up the first camp for the displaced in Khan Yunis.

More than 2,200 Palestinians wounded in the Gaza Strip have crossed into Egypt through the Rafah border since Nov. 1, 2023, the Egyptian Ministry of Health said. The statement said 47 hospitals in eight Egyptian provinces treated the wounded and performed more than 1,300 surgeries.

Diaa Rashwan, the head of Egypt’s State Information Service, denied media reports alleging that Egypt is building camps on the Egyptian side of the border in Sinai to accommodate displaced Palestinians from Gaza.

Rashwan reiterated Egypt’s rejection of any “forced or voluntary” displacement of Palestinians outside their lands, especially to Egypt. Any such displacement would result in the “certain liquidation of the Palestinian issue, and [would be] a direct threat to Egyptian sovereignty and national security,” he added.


UN Envoy Invites Syrian Opponents for Constitution Talks in Geneva Despite Russia’s Opposition

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters at his hotel in the Syrian capital Damascus, on September 11, 2021. (Getty Images/AFP)
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters at his hotel in the Syrian capital Damascus, on September 11, 2021. (Getty Images/AFP)
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UN Envoy Invites Syrian Opponents for Constitution Talks in Geneva Despite Russia’s Opposition

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters at his hotel in the Syrian capital Damascus, on September 11, 2021. (Getty Images/AFP)
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters at his hotel in the Syrian capital Damascus, on September 11, 2021. (Getty Images/AFP)

The UN special envoy for Syria issued formal invitations to the Syrian government and opposition groups on Tuesday to meet in Geneva in late April to resume negotiations on revising the country’s constitution, despite opposition from Damascus’ key ally Russia.

Moscow insists the Swiss city is not a neutral venue because Switzerland's government supports Ukraine.

Geir Pedersen told the UN Security Council that he has tried unsuccessfully for more than 18 months to get the parties to agree on a venue to continue meetings of the Constitutional Committee, whose hoped-for revised document is a key step on the road map to peace in the war-torn country.

The Syria conflict that broke out in March 2011 has killed half a million people and displaced half of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million.

Pedersen said he reminded the parties they agreed on Geneva as the venue and stressed “that the process should take place without foreign interference" and as the facilitator for the Syrian-led negotiations on the constitution, he was designated to find a way forward, including exploring all possible alternatives.

“I believe the only way forward at this time is to reconvene in Geneva at least as a bridging proposal while there is no consensus on an alternative venue, while also remaining open to an alternative venue for future sessions if consensus is found,” he said.

He said it’s important for the Constitutional Committee to meet as soon as possible and to continue its work.

At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution, with a smaller 45-member body to do the actual drafting including 15 members each from the government, opposition and civil society. It took until September 2019 for the committee to be formed.

A 2012 UN roadmap to peace in Syria approved by representatives of the UN, Arab League, European Union, Türkiye and all five permanent Security Council members called for the drafting of a new constitution and a UN-supervised election with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate. A Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015 unanimously endorsed the road map.

In late October 2021, Pedersen told the council the government delegation presented a proposed constitutional text on Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and submitted a second text on terrorism and extremism. Representatives of the exiled opposition presented a text on the armed forces, security and intelligence agencies while civil society groups submitted a section on the rule of law, he said.

But he said that committee talks the previous week failed mainly because the Syrian government refused to negotiate revisions to the constitution.