War of Words Escalates Between Two Conflicting Parties in Libya

LNA Commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar during a ceremony in central Benghazi to mark the 69th anniversary of Libya’s independence (Reuters)
LNA Commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar during a ceremony in central Benghazi to mark the 69th anniversary of Libya’s independence (Reuters)
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War of Words Escalates Between Two Conflicting Parties in Libya

LNA Commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar during a ceremony in central Benghazi to mark the 69th anniversary of Libya’s independence (Reuters)
LNA Commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar during a ceremony in central Benghazi to mark the 69th anniversary of Libya’s independence (Reuters)

A war of words has escalated between Libya’s two conflicting parties, threatening the recent United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL)-sponsored ceasefire agreement.

Regional and international parties have contacted Libyan National Army (LNA) Commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj to urge them to halt this escalation that threatens the collapse of a truce concluded in October, according to Libyan sources.

“US and international pressures aim to defuse the crisis and stop the mutual media war to secure the atmosphere for a decisive meeting of the Joint Military Committee, known as (5 + 5),” sources explained.

Military officials from both sides said their forces have received military reinforcements over the past hours and have taken combat positions along the lines of contact in the vicinity of Sirte and al-Jufra cities.

This amassing of forces means confrontation is nearing despite their commitment to the fragile ceasefire, they added.

Haftar’s remarks during the 69th anniversary of Libya’s independence and replies by GNA-affiliated military officials threatened the return of war.

In his statements, Haftar called on his fighters to “drive out” Turkish forces backing the UN-recognized government.

“There will be no peace in the presence of a colonizer on our land,” he said on Thursday.

“We will therefore take up arms again to fashion our peace with our own hands... and, since Turkey rejects peace and opts for war, prepare to drive out the occupier by faith, will, and weapons,” he stressed.

He noted that the international community did not stop the aggressors who continued to send mercenaries and weapons in a declaration of war on Libyans, in defiance to the international will and in an underestimation of human values.

Turkey thinks it will achieve its dreams of expansion and influence and its ambitions to control the oil fields and its export ports to address its collapsing economy through Libya’s wealth, Haftar stated.

He addressed the Turkish-loyal mercenaries saying firing their first bullet “means preparing for death,” stressing that all patriots shall be prepared to confront those who manipulate billions of dollars of Libyans’ money.

On Thursday, the GNA celebrated, in the presence of Turkish ambassador to Libya Sarhan Aksan, the 69th anniversary of Libya’s independence by organizing military parades in the center of the capital, Tripoli, in light of widespread security deployment.



Jordan’s King Abdullah Warns of Dangers of Israel’s Planned Rafah Assault

 Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)
Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)
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Jordan’s King Abdullah Warns of Dangers of Israel’s Planned Rafah Assault

 Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)
Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)

Jordan's King Abdullah warned on Monday of the dangers of a military operation planned by Israel in Rafah and reiterated his appeal for an immediate ceasefire to help protect civilians in Gaza and bring in aid, the royal palace said.

The king also said the only way to end the decades-old conflict was to find a "political horizon" for Palestinians that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state on territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, including east Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week the Israeli security cabinet would approve military plans for Rafah - including the evacuation of more than a million displaced Palestinian civilians who have been sheltering there, and whose fate worries world powers.

Almost 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, Gaza medical officials say. The Hamas raid of Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people in Israel, which has also lost 241 soldiers in Gaza ground fighting that followed, according to official tallies.

The Jordanian army also arranged on Monday the biggest air drop operation so far to deliver aid to Gaza where the mostly displaced population of 2.3 million is facing crisis levels of hunger, an army statement said.

The operation deployed four C-130 planes including one belonging to the French air force, army spokesperson Mustafa Hiyari said.

Aid was dropped to 11 sites along the Gaza coast from its northern edge to the south for civilians to collect, Hiyari told Reuters. Previous air drops that parachuted in medicines and humanitarian provisions were sent to hospitals the Jordanian army runs in Gaza.


Four Workers Dead In Egypt Boat Sinking

Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
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Four Workers Dead In Egypt Boat Sinking

Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP

Four Egyptian construction workers died Sunday when their boat sank in a canal near Giza, state media reported, adding that five others were rescued and four passengers were still missing.

The small boat was carrying 13 workers when it went down near the northern Giza village of Nekla, around 30 kilometres (18 miles) northwest of the capital Cairo, state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram said.

"Rescuers managed to recover the bodies of four victims and save five others," while efforts to find the remaining four passengers were ongoing, the paper said, AFP reported.

The health ministry said four of the rescued had been transported to hospital, and three were later discharged.

They were suffering from "drowning-induced asphyxia", the ministry said, adding that one of them had remained "under observation" at the hospital.

AFP correspondents at the scene saw local fishermen pulling a body out of the water as anxious relatives watched the ad hoc rescue operation.

One of the volunteers, Yasser, told AFP they arrived on the scene more than an hour after the accident and had "pulled out four people".

He and the other fishermen requested anonymity to protect their privacy.

Speaking from a small wooden motorboat, Yasser said the volunteers are "self-funded with donations" from a nearby village to help respond to emergencies along the canal.


Arab States, Türkiye Ask World Court to Declare Israel’s Occupation Illegal 

A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
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Arab States, Türkiye Ask World Court to Declare Israel’s Occupation Illegal 

A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)

Arab states urged international judges on Monday to rule the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories illegal and Türkiye described the occupation as "the real obstacle to peace" on the final day of hearings in a case examining its legal status.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has been hearing arguments from more than 50 states following a request by the UN General Assembly in 2022 to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation.

On the sixth and last day of hearings, Türkiye’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yildiz told judges the occupation was the root cause of conflict in the region.

Yildiz also addressed the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel, which killed 1,200 people, and Israel's military response that has since killed over 29,000 Palestinians.

"The unfolding situation after October 7 proves once again that, without addressing the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there can be no peace in the region," he said, describing the occupation of Palestinian territories as "the real obstacle to peace" and urging the judges to declare it illegal.

Israel, which is not taking part in the hearings, has said the court's involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling the questions posed to the court prejudiced.

The Arab League's secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit described the occupation "an affront to international justice" in a statement read out by a representative.

It called upon the ICJ, also known as the World Court, to "confirm the illegality of this occupation and unambiguously rule on the legal consequences for all parties, especially those who turn a blind eye, facilitate, assist, or participate in any way in perpetuating this illegal situation".

Last week, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel's occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution to decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has now devastated Gaza.

The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue an opinion on the request.


Israel Strikes Deeper into Lebanon after Hezbollah Downs Drone

Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
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Israel Strikes Deeper into Lebanon after Hezbollah Downs Drone

Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)

Israeli warplanes struck Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Monday, killing at least two Hezbollah members in its deepest attack into Lebanese territory since hostilities erupted with the Iran-backed group last October, sources in Lebanon said.

Underlining the risks of escalation, Hezbollah responded by firing 60 rockets at an Israeli army headquarters in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the group's al-Manar television reported. An Israeli army spokesperson said dozens of rockets were fired towards the Golan Heights from Lebanon.

The attacks marked an intensification of the worst violence between the heavily armed Hezbollah and Israel since their 2006 war, fueling concern of the potential for further escalation and regional spillover of the Gaza war.

The Israeli army said its fighter jets had struck Hezbollah air defenses in the Bekaa Valley in response to the downing of an Israeli drone, which Hezbollah said it had shot down with a surface-to-air missile earlier on Monday.

The airstrikes hit part of the Bekaa Valley region near the Syrian border which is a political stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah. The targeted area was some 18 km (11 miles) from the city of Baalbek, which is known for its ancient ruins.

The sources said Israel had carried out simultaneous strikes in the area. A Lebanese security source and a source familiar with the matter said two Hezbollah members had been killed.

Lebanese television station Al-Jadeed broadcast images of plumes of smoke rising from the area.

In a separate attack, an Israeli airstrike hit a car in the town of Mjadel in southern Lebanon, killing a Hezbollah field commander, three security sources in Lebanon said.

Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said Israel had widened its strikes by hitting Baalbek and other areas, and was seeking to "compensate" for the downing of its drone.

"Its aggression on Baalbek or any other areas will not remain without response," he said in televised remarks delivered at the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter killed in recent days.

The Israeli military said it would "continue operating to defend the State of Israel from the threat of Hezbollah terrorist organization, including in aerial operations above Lebanese territory".

Hezbollah has been waging a campaign of attacks on targets at the border with Israel since the Oct. 7 raid from the Gaza Strip by its Palestinian ally Hamas. Hezbollah describes it as an effort to support Palestinians under Israeli fire in Gaza.

Israel says to ‘increase the fire’ on Hezbollah

The hostilities have largely played out in areas near the Lebanese-Israeli border, but last week widened when Israel struck an area just south of the coastal city of Sidon.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant indicated on Sunday that Israel planned to increase attacks on Hezbollah in the event of a possible ceasefire in the Gaza conflict.

"If a temporary pause is reached in Gaza, we will increase the fire in the north separately, and will continue until the full withdrawal of Hezbollah [from the border] and the return of Israeli citizens to their homes," he said.

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

Hezbollah said earlier on Monday it had shot down an Israeli Hermes 450 drone over Lebanese territory with a surface-to-air missile.

The Israeli military said two missile launches had targeted an Israeli Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle operating over Lebanon. The first, it said, was intercepted by Israel's "David's Sling" Aerial Defense System but the drone "fell inside Lebanese territory" after a second launch.

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

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


Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of Blocking Aid to Gaza in Violation of UN Court Order 

A Palestinian boy sits in the back of a truck traveling along Al Rashid road after crossing from the northern Gaza Strip into the south of Gaza city, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
A Palestinian boy sits in the back of a truck traveling along Al Rashid road after crossing from the northern Gaza Strip into the south of Gaza city, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
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Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of Blocking Aid to Gaza in Violation of UN Court Order 

A Palestinian boy sits in the back of a truck traveling along Al Rashid road after crossing from the northern Gaza Strip into the south of Gaza city, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
A Palestinian boy sits in the back of a truck traveling along Al Rashid road after crossing from the northern Gaza Strip into the south of Gaza city, 25 February 2024. (EPA)

Israel has failed to comply with an order by the United Nations' top court to provide urgently needed aid to desperate people in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Monday, a month after a landmark ruling in The Hague ordered Israel to moderate its war.

In a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of genocide, the UN’s top court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza. It stopped short of ordering an end to its military offensive that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe in the tiny Palestinian enclave. Israel vehemently denies the charges against it, saying it is fighting a war in self-defense.

One month later and nearly five months into the war, preparations are underway for Israel to expand its ground operation into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have flooded into in search of safety.

Early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for Rafah as well as plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details.

The situation in Rafah, where dense tent camps have sprouted to house the displaced, has sparked global concern and Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against Hamas.

Also Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said he was submitting his government's resignation. The move, which still must be accepted by President Mahmoud Abbas, could open the door to US-backed reforms in the Palestinian Authority, which the US wants to rule postwar Gaza but in a revitalized shape.

In its ruling last month, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to follow six provisional measures, including taking “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

Under the orders, Israel also must submit a report on what it is doing to adhere to the measures within a month. While Monday marked a month since the court’s orders were issued, it was not immediately clear whether Israel had handed in such a report. The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.

Human Rights Watch said Israel was not adhering to the court’s order on aid provision, citing a 30% drop in the daily average number of aid trucks entering Gaza in the weeks following the court’s ruling. It said Israel was not adequately facilitating fuel deliveries to hard-hit northern Gaza and blamed Israel for blocking aid from reaching the north, where the World Food Program said last week it was forced to suspend aid deliveries because of increasing chaos in the isolated part of the territory.

“The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression, including further blocking lifesaving aid,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.

Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed humanitarian organizations operating inside Gaza, saying hundreds of trucks filled with aid sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The UN says it can’t always reach the trucks at the crossing because it is at times too dangerous.

Netanyahu’s office also said Monday the War Cabinet had approved a plan to deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza in a way that would “prevent the cases of looting.” It did not disclose further details.

The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, has unleashed unimaginable devastation in Gaza.

Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.

Fighting has flattened large swaths of Gaza's urban landscape, displacing about 80% of the territory’s 2.3 million people who have crammed into increasingly smaller spaces looking for elusive safety.

The crisis has pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation and raised fears of imminent famine, especially in the northern part of Gaza, which was the first focus of Israel’s ground invasion and where starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings.

“We have to feed the children. They keep screaming they want food. We cannot find food. We don’t know what to do,” said market vendor Um Ayad in northern Jabaliya, who showed off a leafy weed that people pick from the harsh, dry soil and eat.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the UN agency for Palestinians, said it has not been able to deliver food to northern Gaza since Jan. 23, adding on X, formerly Twitter, that “our calls to send food aid have been denied.”

Israel said that 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday, less than half the amount that entered daily before the war.

But Human Rights Watch, citing UN figures, said that between Jan. 27 and Feb. 21, the daily average of trucks entering stood at 93, compared to 147 trucks a day in the three weeks before the world court’s ruling. The daily average dropped further, to 57, between Feb. 9 and 21, the figures showed.

United Nations agencies and aid groups say the hostilities, the Israeli military’s refusal to facilitate deliveries and the breakdown of order inside Gaza make it increasingly difficult to get vital aid to much of the coastal enclave. In some cases, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded delivery trucks and stripped the supplies off them.

The UN has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the north, and to improve the coordination process.


Israeli Military Proposes ‘Plan for Evacuating’ Gaza Civilians 

A child standing inside a damaged building, stares at the Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on a foggy day on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
A child standing inside a damaged building, stares at the Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on a foggy day on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Israeli Military Proposes ‘Plan for Evacuating’ Gaza Civilians 

A child standing inside a damaged building, stares at the Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on a foggy day on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
A child standing inside a damaged building, stares at the Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on a foggy day on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Israel's military proposed a plan for evacuating civilians from "areas of fighting" in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office announced Monday, after he said a ground invasion of the Palestinian territory's southern city Rafah was necessary.

Foreign governments and aid organizations have repeatedly expressed fears that an invasion of Rafah would inflict mass civilian casualties.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians -- most of them displaced from elsewhere -- have converged on the last Gazan city untouched by Israel's ground troops.

It is also the entry point for desperately needed aid, brought in via neighboring Egypt.

Israel's military "presented the War Cabinet with a plan for evacuating the population from areas of fighting in the Gaza Strip, and with the upcoming operational plan", a statement in Hebrew from Netanyahu's office said Monday.

The statement did not give any details about how or where the civilians would be moved.

The announcement comes after Egyptian, Qatari and US "experts" met in Doha for talks also attended by Israeli and Hamas representatives, state-linked Egyptian media reported, the latest effort to secure a truce before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel's ally the United States said ongoing mediation efforts produced "an understanding" towards a ceasefire and hostage release, while a Hamas source said the group insisted on the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

But Netanyahu -- who has dismissed the withdrawal demand as "delusional" -- said a ground invasion of Rafah would put Israel within weeks of "total victory" over Hamas, whose October 7 attack triggered the war.

"If we have a (truce) deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen," he said of the ground invasion in an interview with CBS Sunday.

"It has to be done because total victory is our goal and total victory is within reach -- not months away, weeks away, once we begin the operation."

Amid a spiraling humanitarian crisis, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians urged political action to avert famine in Gaza.

Dire food shortages in northern Gaza are "a man-made disaster" that can be mitigated, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

"Famine can still be avoided through genuine political will to grant access and protection to meaningful assistance."

The UN has said it faces restrictions, particularly on aid deliveries to northern Gaza.

'No aid'

Nearly five months into the war, desperate families in Gaza's north have been forced to scavenge for something to eat.

"We have no food or drink for ourselves or our children," Omar al-Kahlout told AFP, as he waited near Gaza City for aid trucks to arrive.

"We are trapped in the north and there is no aid reaching us -- the situation is extremely difficult."

Hundreds of Palestinians headed south whichever way they could, walking down garbage-strewn roads between the blackened shells of bombed-out buildings, said an AFP correspondent.

Israeli forces have continued striking targets across the Palestinian territory, with the Hamas-run health ministry saying early Monday that 92 people were killed overnight.

Israel's military campaign has killed at least 29,692 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

The war broke out after Hamas's unprecedented attack, which killed about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

'Expanding the conflict'

Militants also took about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel's army confirmed Sunday the death of soldier Oz Daniel, 19, whose "body is still held captive", according to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which said he was killed on the day of Hamas's attack.

Mediators have voiced hope that a temporary truce and a hostage-prisoner exchange can be secured before the start of Ramadan on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.

Jordan's King Abdullah II warned fighting during the holy month "will increase the threat of expanding the conflict", according to a royal statement.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, whose country hosts Hamas leaders and had helped broker a one-week truce in November, is due in Paris this week, the French presidency said.

Media reports suggest the warring parties are weighing a six-week halt to fighting and the initial exchange of dozens of females, underage and ill hostages for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

Hezbollah threat

Inside Israel, pressure has grown on Netanyahu from families of hostages demanding swifter action, and resurgent anti-government protests.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said there would be no let-up in action against Hamas's Lebanese ally Hezbollah, whose militants have traded near-daily fire with Israeli forces since early October.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Israel's enemy Iran.

"If anyone thinks that when we reach a deal (with Hamas)... it will ease what is happening here -- they are wrong," he said.


Gallant: Gaza Deal Won’t Affect Israel’s Hezbollah Fight

 Israeli Defense minister Yoav Gallant (dpa)
Israeli Defense minister Yoav Gallant (dpa)
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Gallant: Gaza Deal Won’t Affect Israel’s Hezbollah Fight

 Israeli Defense minister Yoav Gallant (dpa)
Israeli Defense minister Yoav Gallant (dpa)

Israeli Defense minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday said there would be no let up in Israeli action against Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, even if a ceasefire and hostage deal is secured in Gaza, AFP reported.

Gallant visited the military's Northern Command in Safed, which was hit earlier this month by a militant rocket strike from southern Lebanon, killing a soldier.

The Minister said he was keen to assess how Israel was combating increased Hezbollah activity from across the heavily fortified border.

“f anyone thinks that when we reach a deal to release hostages in the south and the firing stops it will ease what is happening here they are wrong,” he said in a video message.

Israel's aim is to ensure the Iran-backed militants do not pose a threat from border areas in southern Lebanon, he added.

If a diplomatic solution to the situation is not possible, “we will do it by force,” Gallant warned.

Talks are underway towards a possible deal for Hamas to release hostages and pause the fighting in Gaza, which was sparked by the militants' attack on southern Israel on October 7.

Since then, there have been near-daily cross-border exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas's allies Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon, prompting fears of a regional escalation.

On Sunday, the Israeli military said it had intercepted a “suspicious aerial target” in the Upper Galilee region of northern Israel, and rockets were fired at a number of locations.

Since October 7, 10 Israeli soldiers and six civilians have been killed by hostilities in the north, according to an AFP tally.

On the Lebanese side, at least 276 people have been killed, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also 44 civilians, including three journalists.

In Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry says at least 29,692 have been killed in the war between the militants and Israel.


Captagon File Grows ‘More Complicated’ with Damascus Announcing Seizure of Shipment Bound to Iraq

An Iraqi patrol is seen near the al-Qaim crossing at the Iraqi-Syrian border. (Reuters file photo)
An Iraqi patrol is seen near the al-Qaim crossing at the Iraqi-Syrian border. (Reuters file photo)
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Captagon File Grows ‘More Complicated’ with Damascus Announcing Seizure of Shipment Bound to Iraq

An Iraqi patrol is seen near the al-Qaim crossing at the Iraqi-Syrian border. (Reuters file photo)
An Iraqi patrol is seen near the al-Qaim crossing at the Iraqi-Syrian border. (Reuters file photo)

Damascus announced on Sunday the seizure of a shipment of captagon pills bound to Iraq.

State television said the shipment had arrived in Syria from a neighboring country that it did not name. It did not disclose the amount of narcotics that were busted.

The announcement came a day after Iraqi Interior Minister Abdul Amir Al-Shammari said Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani was planning for Iraq to become the “security hub” in combating drugs, reported the state news agency (INA).

He also announced the formation of a joint liaison cell between Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to combat drug smuggling.

Al-Shammari praised the major cooperation with neighboring countries in cracking down on drug smuggling. The cooperation is part of a comprehensive strategy that was prepared in early 2023 and should span three years and aim to achieve 15 goals with 24 partners.

Thorny file

Informed sources in Damascus told Asharq Al-Awsat that the drug file was “growing more complicated” because of the involvement of Iran-aligned militias and several powerful officials.

In 2021, the American New Lines Institute estimated that $5.7 billion was being generated annually by the drug trade.

Damascus appears helpless in answering pressure from Jordan and other Arab countries in cracking down on the illicit business.

Syria is languishing under Iranian debts and a crumbling economy, so it needed to look for alternative sources of income, such as the drug trade, to remain afloat. This has put it in hot water with various Arab countries that have complained about the rise in drug use in the region.

Besides Syria, Lebanon and Iraq have witnessed a spike in drug production that thrived on instability in these countries.

The growing phenomenon has become a threat to Arab peace and national security, most notably in Jordan and the Gulf region.

British and American estimates have said that Syria is the source of 80 percent of the captagon in the world. In 2023, Washington slapped sanctions on several Syrian and Lebanese figures involved in the trade.

Observers have said that the threat of drugs was one of the main reasons why Jordan led efforts to reinstate Syria’s membership in the Arab League, which was seen as precursor to Arab countries normalizing relations with it.

Other issues on the table were the Syrian refugee file and reaching a political solution to the Syrian conflict in line with United Nations resolutions.

However, drug smuggling did not diminish with Syria’s return to the Arab League. Jordan has since dispatched the army to the border with Syria where it often clashes with smugglers.

The Jordanian air force has even carried out strikes against smugglers inside Syria. One attack left ten civilians dead in the Sweida region.

Tensions in relations have since spiked between Amman and Damascus. This did not prevent armed opposition groups in predominantly Druze Sweida to declare they were ready to cooperate with Jordan in cracking down on the smugglers to avert more strikes and civilian casualties.

Jordan has since cast doubt on Damascus’ ability in curbing the illicit activity.


Netanyahu Says Will Conduct Operation in Rafah Even if Hostage Deal is Reached

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (EPA)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (EPA)
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Netanyahu Says Will Conduct Operation in Rafah Even if Hostage Deal is Reached

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (EPA)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (EPA)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday an Israeli military operation into Gaza’s Rafah would hand Israel “total victory” over Hamas within the time span of just a few weeks.

“If we have a (ceasefire) deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen,” he told CBS.

“If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway. It has to be done because total victory is our goal and total victory is within reach—not months away, weeks away, once we begin the operation,” the PM added.

Netanyahu said if Hamas goes down from its “delusional claims and bring them down to earth, then we'll have the progress that we all want.”

The PM’s comments came while state-linked Egyptian media reported Sunday that negotiations for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza have resumed in Doha between “experts from Egypt, Qatar, the United States and Israel” as well as Hamas representatives.

Lately, an Israeli delegation led by Mossad chief David Barnea was in Paris discussing possibilities of a deal to ensure a fresh ceasefire and the release of captives held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

International pressure for a ceasefire has mounted in recent weeks, as the death toll from Israel's military offensive on the Palestinian territory nears 30,000, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

Israel has pledged not to stop its campaign in Gaza until Hamas is destroyed.

On Sunday, the Israeli war on Gaza reached its 142nd consecutive day while the humanitarian crisis is quickly worsening. The UN World Food Program (WFP) highlighted that a quarter of Gazans (576,600 people) have exhausted their food supplies and coping capacities. It said 90 percent of children under the age of 2 face severe food poverty.

And while all areas in the Gaza Strip suffer from a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, residents in the north endure the most. Around 800,000 Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip who are grappling with hunger have resorted to grinding animal feed to make bread due to the prolonged scarcity of wheat flour amid Israel's blockade of humanitarian aid.

Raed Nims, the spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said reports issued by the Health Ministry and government authorities documented the death of children and elderly people due to hunger.

He said the Israeli army is preventing the delivery of aid to the North and Gaza city.

Nims told the Arab World Press that an average of 80 aid trucks entered the Strip following the ceasefire. “We demanded that more trucks be delivered due to the deteriorating situation. However, the number was brought down and less aid trucks are currently delivered to the area.”


Sudan Authorities Block Cross-border Aid to Stricken Darfur

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan queue to collect drinking water from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) distribution point at Ourang refugee camp in Adre, Chad on December 7, 2023 - AFP
Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan queue to collect drinking water from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) distribution point at Ourang refugee camp in Adre, Chad on December 7, 2023 - AFP
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Sudan Authorities Block Cross-border Aid to Stricken Darfur

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan queue to collect drinking water from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) distribution point at Ourang refugee camp in Adre, Chad on December 7, 2023 - AFP
Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan queue to collect drinking water from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) distribution point at Ourang refugee camp in Adre, Chad on December 7, 2023 - AFP

Authorities loyal to the army in war-ravaged Sudan have blocked cross-border aid to the western Darfur region, a move decried by aid workers and the United States.

The vast Darfur region, bordering Chad, has been one of the hardest hit parts of Sudan since war began 10 months ago between the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

RSF are descendants of the Janjaweed militia which began a scorched earth campaign in Darfur more than two decades ago.

In their current battle against the army, which started last April, the RSF have taken over four out of the five Darfur state capitals.

More than 694,000 people have fled over the border to Chad, according to the International Organization for Migration, but many more remain trapped in Darfur and in need of assistance.

The United Nations has had to limit its work in Darfur to cross-border operations from Chad, but last week the UN's World Food Program (WFP) country director Eddie Rowe told reporters that "authorities have restricted the Chad cross-border operation".

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller on Friday said the United States is deeply concerned by the army's "recent decision to prohibit cross border humanitarian assistance from Chad and reports that the SAF is obstructing assistance from reaching communities in areas controlled by the RSF".

Sudan's foreign ministry, loyal to the army, expressed "confusion and rejection" of the "false accusations" by Washington, AFP reported.

The ministry said the Sudan-Chad border "is the main crossing point for weapons and equipment" used to commit "atrocities" against Sudanese.

A United Nations experts' report in January cited credible evidence that the United Arab Emirates was funnelling "military support" through Chad to the RSF. The UAE has denied the allegations.

Miller, of the State Department, also expressed concern about RSF "looting homes, markets and humanitarian assistance warehouses".

In Brussels, Rowe of WFP said his agency was "engaging with the authorities to ensure this critical lifeline" from Chad remains operational.

It is essential, an international aid worker told AFP on Sunday from Darfur, requesting anonymity so as not to jeopardise their mission.

"Children and babies are already dying from hunger and malnutrition. There will be an immense human impact... and quite possibly large-scale mortality rates," the aid worker said.

"The highest levels of diplomacy need to unblock this situation immediately because millions of lives hang in the balance," the aid worker said, calling it "a huge region already facing an imminent and immense food security crisis on top of a civil war, ethnic violence and state service collapse".

The war has killed thousands, including up to 15,000 in the West Darfur city of El Geneina alone, according to the UN experts.

Washington has accused both sides of war crimes, and said the RSF also carried out ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.