Moroccan King Pardons 958 Prisoners


Moroccan King Mohammed VI performed the Eid prayer on Monday. (MAP)
Moroccan King Mohammed VI performed the Eid prayer on Monday. (MAP)
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Moroccan King Pardons 958 Prisoners


Moroccan King Mohammed VI performed the Eid prayer on Monday. (MAP)
Moroccan King Mohammed VI performed the Eid prayer on Monday. (MAP)

Moroccan King Mohammed VI granted pardon to 958 prisoners on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the kingdom's Justice Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The statement said that 29 prisoners convicted of extremism and terrorism are among the pardoned people, noting they have participated in an initiative launched by the Moroccan government to rehabilitate terrorists.

Of these prisoners, 23 were released, while six got reductions in their sentences.

Called "Moussalaha," meaning "reconciliation" in Arabic, the program is offered to prisoners who have demonstrated willingness to disavow extremism.

Since 2002, Morocco has dismantled more than 2,000 militant cells and arrested more than 3,500 people accused of links to radical groups.



Jordanian King: We Will Continue to Provide Land and Air Assistance for Gaza

Jordanian Armed Forces members air drop aid parcels to several areas in northern Gaza, in this undated handout picture released on March 1, 2024. Jordanian Armed Forces/Handout via REUTERS
Jordanian Armed Forces members air drop aid parcels to several areas in northern Gaza, in this undated handout picture released on March 1, 2024. Jordanian Armed Forces/Handout via REUTERS
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Jordanian King: We Will Continue to Provide Land and Air Assistance for Gaza

Jordanian Armed Forces members air drop aid parcels to several areas in northern Gaza, in this undated handout picture released on March 1, 2024. Jordanian Armed Forces/Handout via REUTERS
Jordanian Armed Forces members air drop aid parcels to several areas in northern Gaza, in this undated handout picture released on March 1, 2024. Jordanian Armed Forces/Handout via REUTERS

Jordan’s King Abdullah stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, raising concerns over a prolonged war and escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
King Abdullah rejected all attempts aiming at dividing Gaza and the West Bank, and displacing the Palestinians, the Jordanian Royal Court said in a statement on Monday.
King Abdullah also stressed the need to continue providing relief and humanitarian aid to the war-torn Strip.
He affirmed Jordan’s continued protection of Islamic and Christian sanctities as part of Jordan's administration and custodianship of Jerusalem's Muslim holy sites.
Jordanian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the King will continue to “hold meetings with Palestinian political factions”.
Other official sources told the newspaper that some foreign and local accounts on social media, including Facebook and X platforms, are posting inciting content provoking distrust in the official Jordanian stance.
The “organized campaigns” come as part of schemes aiming to undermine Jordan’s relief and humanitarian air drop efforts to the war-torn enclave, they said.
The sources added: “These campaigns come in parallel with street marches carried out every Friday demanding a halt to trade with the occupation entity”. However, Jordanian ministers assured that trade agreements with Israel are linked to Jordanian traders and not the government, according to the sources.


JIAT Works on Addressing Incomplete Violation Claims in Yemen

Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) spokesman Mansour Al-Mansour (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) spokesman Mansour Al-Mansour (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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JIAT Works on Addressing Incomplete Violation Claims in Yemen

Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) spokesman Mansour Al-Mansour (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) spokesman Mansour Al-Mansour (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) in Yemen is dealing with incomplete reports of violations, but is working with claimants to gather more details for analysis and public disclosure.

According to JIAT spokesman Mansour Al-Mansour, the probe team is open to new information on specific cases for further review and announcement of results.

“We operate on a legal principle; cases do not expire due to statute of limitations, and if any new information emerges, we are prepared to study it and announce the results again,” Al-Mansour told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Al-Mansour also mentioned that the Arab Coalition’s Aid Committee has compensated some cases.

JIAT relies on three sources for information: international organizations, cases referred by the Coalition, and feedback from their own experts.

Al-Mansour added that JIAT is in talks with claimants to gather missing information for cases that don’t meet criteria, and will begin investigations once information is complete.

In a presser, Al-Mansour reviewed three cases that JIAT investigated and announced the results for.

Regarding the first case, Al-Mansour went over the results of a probe based on an incident in a Bani Makki residential area of the Midi district in Hajjah governorate on June 29, 2021, in which one person was killed and two others injured.

JIAT found that forces carried out an air mission on a military target on that date. A vehicle carrying arms for the Houthis in Abs was hit by a guided missile.

The Coalition forces did not carry out any missions the previous day or in the following 24 hours.

Specialists studied satellite images of the military target’s location and found that it was about 1,500 meters away from the nearest residential area.

JIAT confirmed that the vehicle, a light truck, was seen underneath a tree and the missile recorded a direct hit.

Al-Mansour also addressed another allegation that coalition forces targeted the Saqeen General Hospital in Saada governorate on May 30, 2015.

As for the second case, after evaluating various sources, including a Doctors for Human Rights report from March 2020 which claimed that Coalition aircraft carried out two airstrikes on the hospital and severely damaged it, JIAT conducted a thorough investigation.

Al-Mansour explained that this involved examining air tasking orders, mission schedules, post-mission reports, satellite images, open sources, the National Information Center’s website listing health centers, the coalition forces’ no-strike list, and focusing on international humanitarian law.

JIAT confirmed that Saqeen General Hospital is in the western part of Saada governorate and was on the coalition forces’ no-strike list.

The closest military target hit by coalition forces on May 30, 2015 was 13 km away from the hospital, the Iran-backed Houthi militia receiving a hit from a guided bomb.

By studying the daily mission schedule, JIAT found that on the previous day, coalition forces had carried out an air mission on a target 7,000 meters away from the hospital, using one guided bomb that hit its target. No air missions targeted Saqeen on May 31, 2015.

Specialists studied satellite images of the hospital and found no trace of damage caused by aerial targeting on the main building or its annexes.

The third case tackled the allegation of the targeting of a residential area in At-Tuhayta city in Hodeidah governorate, Yemen, on Nov. 12, 2021, in which a man and three children were killed, and two men injured.

After examining various documents, including air tasking orders, mission schedules, and satellite images, JIAT concluded that the claimed location lacked specific coordinates.

Analyzing coalition air missions on that day, JIAT found no evidence of operations in the Hodeidah governorate.


Vice President Harris Hosts Israeli War Cabinet Member as US Pushes to Get More Aid into Gaza 

Israel's War Cabinet member Benny Gantz (C) leaves a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (not pictured) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 04 March 2024. (EPA)
Israel's War Cabinet member Benny Gantz (C) leaves a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (not pictured) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 04 March 2024. (EPA)
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Vice President Harris Hosts Israeli War Cabinet Member as US Pushes to Get More Aid into Gaza 

Israel's War Cabinet member Benny Gantz (C) leaves a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (not pictured) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 04 March 2024. (EPA)
Israel's War Cabinet member Benny Gantz (C) leaves a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (not pictured) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 04 March 2024. (EPA)

Vice President Kamala Harris met on Monday with a member of Israel’s wartime Cabinet who came to Washington in defiance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the Biden administration intensifies its efforts to push more humanitarian aid into war-battered Gaza.

White House officials said Benny Gantz, a centrist political rival of Netanyahu, requested the meeting and that the Democratic administration believed it was important that Harris sit down with the prominent Israeli official despite Netanyahu's objections.

President Joe Biden, Harris and other senior administration officials have become increasingly blunt about their dissatisfaction with the mounting death toll in Gaza and the suffering of innocent Palestinians as the war nears the five-month mark.

"The president and I have been aligned and consistent from the very beginning," Harris said in an exchange with reporters shortly before meeting with Gantz. "Israel has a right to defend itself. Far too many Palestinian civilians, innocent civilians have been killed. We need to get more aid in, we need to get hostages out. and that remains our position."

The White House, in a statement following the meeting, said Harris and Gantz discussed the urgency of completing a hostage deal to free more than 100 people believed still to be in captivity in Gaza following Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel. She also reiterated the administration's support for a temporary extended ceasefire that would facilitate the release of hostages and allow for a surge of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza.

Although Gantz holds many of the same hardline views as Netanyahu, he has been seen as more open to compromise on critical issues, including the increased delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The meeting comes after the US on Saturday carried out the first of what are expected to be ongoing airdrops of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

The moment is reflective of the increasingly awkward dynamics in the US-Israel relationship, with the US forced to fly badly needed aid past its close ally as it looks to ramp up assistance for desperate civilians in Gaza. The first airdrop occurred just days after more than 100 Palestinians were killed as they were trying to get food from an Israel-organized convoy.

The White House agreed to the meeting with Gantz even as an official from Netanyahu’s nationalist Likud party said Gantz did not have approval from the prime minister for his meetings in Washington. Netanyahu gave Gantz a "tough talk" about the visit — underscoring a widening crack within Israel’s wartime leadership.

"We have been dealing with all members of the war Cabinet, including Mr. Gantz," White House national security spokesman John Kirby said. "We see this as a natural outgrowth of those discussions. We’re not going to turn away that sort of opportunity."

In addition to his talks with Harris, Gantz met with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and National Security Council Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk. Gantz also met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and on Tuesday will sit down with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Gantz, just before the start of his White House meetings, told a reporter with Israel’s public broadcaster Kan: "There will be an open and honest conversation between two friendly and important countries and partners."

Biden is at Camp David, the presidential retreat just outside Washington, until Tuesday as he prepares to deliver the annual State of the Union address later this week.

Over the weekend, Harris issued a forceful call for a temporary ceasefire deal in Gaza, which administration officials say would halt fighting for at least six weeks. She also increased pressure on Israel not to impede the aid that workers are trying to get into the region. The White House has been advocating for that framework deal for weeks.

Israel has essentially agreed to the deal, according to a senior Biden administration official, and the White House has emphasized that the onus is on Hamas to come on board.

Biden faces mounting political pressure at home over his administration's handling of the Israeli-Hamas war, which was triggered when militants in Gaza launched an attack, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 people hostage.

In last week's Michigan presidential primary, more than 100,000 Democratic primary voters cast ballots for "uncommitted." Biden still easily won the state's primary, but the "uncommitted" vote reflected a coordinated push by voters on the left to register their dissatisfaction with the president's unwavering support for Israel as its military operations in Gaza have left more than 30,000 Palestinians dead. The vote totals raise concerns for Democrats in a state Biden won by only 154,000 votes in 2020.

Gantz, who polls show could be a formidable candidate for prime minister if a vote were held today, is viewed as a political moderate. But he has remained vague about his view of Palestinian statehood — something that Biden sees as essential to forging a lasting peace once the conflict ends but that Netanyahu adamantly opposes.

It is also assumed that when the heavy fighting subsides, Gantz will leave the government, which would increase pressure for early elections.

Since Gantz joined Netanyahu’s three-minister war Cabinet in October, US officials have found him to be easier to deal with than either Netanyahu or Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Until now, calls for elections have been muted due to the war, but analysts think that when Gantz leaves the government, it will send a signal to the Israeli public that the need for national unity has passed and efforts to oust Netanyahu’s government can begin in earnest.

For his part, Gantz was aiming to strengthen ties with the US, bolster support for Israel’s war and push for the release of Israeli hostages, according to a second Israeli official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t allowed to publicly discuss the disputes within the Israeli government. Gantz is scheduled to head to London for meetings after his US visit.

It was unclear if Gantz during his White House talks diverged from Netanyahu's stances on Palestinian statehood or carrying out an expanded operation in the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah. The Biden administration has repeatedly warned Israel against a Rafah operation without a plan to protect civilians, and the White House said Harris reiterated that position in her meeting with Gantz.

"I don’t doubt there are some administration officials who believe just by meeting with Gantz they are undermining Netanyahu," said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative Washington think tank. "But if Gantz carries the government’s line on key issues of disagreement, these meetings are net-negative for the White House while helpful back home for Gantz."


Yemen’s Houthis Hit Container Vessel in Gulf of Aden with Missile, US CENTCOM Says 

Armed Houthi followers ride on the back of a pick-up truck during a parade in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and to show support to Houthi strikes on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, in Sanaa, Yemen January 29, 2024. (Reuters)
Armed Houthi followers ride on the back of a pick-up truck during a parade in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and to show support to Houthi strikes on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, in Sanaa, Yemen January 29, 2024. (Reuters)
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Yemen’s Houthis Hit Container Vessel in Gulf of Aden with Missile, US CENTCOM Says 

Armed Houthi followers ride on the back of a pick-up truck during a parade in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and to show support to Houthi strikes on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, in Sanaa, Yemen January 29, 2024. (Reuters)
Armed Houthi followers ride on the back of a pick-up truck during a parade in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and to show support to Houthi strikes on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, in Sanaa, Yemen January 29, 2024. (Reuters)

One of two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired by Yemen's Houthi militias at the container vessel M/V MSC SKY II in the Gulf of Aden hit the ship and caused "damage", the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Tuesday.

Initial reports indicated no injuries and the Liberian-flagged, Swiss-owned container vessel did not request assistance and continued on its way, CENTCOM said in a statement.

A military spokesperson for the Iran-aligned Houthis said on Monday that they targeted the vessel with "a number of suitable naval missiles". Houthis are targeting Red Sea shipping lanes in support of Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The US military said that Houthis also launched an anti-ship ballistic missile from Yemen into the southern Red Sea, however, it impacted the water with no damage or injuries to commercial or US Navy ships.

CENTCOM forces conducted "self-defense" strikes against two anti-ship cruise missiles that presented "an imminent threat" to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region, the statement added.

The United States and Britain have launched strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen and redesignated the militia as a terrorist group.

Houthis' Red Sea attacks have disrupted global shipping, forcing firms to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa, and stoked fears that the Israel-Hamas war could spread to destabilize the wider Middle East.


Diplomatic Push for Israel-Hamas Ceasefire Intensifies

Smoke and explosion following Israeli bombardment inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Smoke and explosion following Israeli bombardment inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
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Diplomatic Push for Israel-Hamas Ceasefire Intensifies

Smoke and explosion following Israeli bombardment inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Smoke and explosion following Israeli bombardment inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

International mediators and Hamas delegates were in Cairo Tuesday for talks to try to secure a pause in the war in Gaza ahead of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Envoys from the Palestinian group and the United States were expected to meet with Qatari and Egyptian mediators for a third day of negotiations over a six-week truce, the exchange of dozens of remaining hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and the flow of aid to Gaza, AFP said on Tuesday.
Israeli delegates have so far stayed away from the negotiations, despite growing diplomatic pressure for a truce before Ramadan early next week.
Israeli media reported that the country's mediators boycotted the talks after Hamas failed to provide a list of living hostages.
Senior Hamas leader Bassem Naim told AFP however, that details on the prisoners "were not mentioned in any documents or proposals circulated during the negotiation process".
Israel has said it believes 130 of the 250 captives taken by Hamas in the October attack that triggered the war remain in Gaza, but that 31 have been killed.
As conditions in the besieged Palestinian territory deteriorate and the specter of famine looms, Israel is facing increasingly sharp rebuke from its top ally the United States.
Vice President Kamala Harris expressed "deep concern about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza" during talks in Washington on Monday with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz.
The same day, the World Health Organization said an aid mission to two hospitals in northern Gaza had found horrifying scenes of children dying of starvation, amid dire shortages of food, fuel and medicines.
"The lack of food resulted in the deaths of 10 children," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus after the agency visited the Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan hospitals over the weekend.
In Gaza's main southern city Khan Yunis, which has seen heavy fighting, people described finding decomposing bodies lying in streets lined with destroyed homes and shops.
"We want to eat and live. Take a look at our homes. How am I to blame, a single, unarmed person without any income in this impoverished country?" said Nader Abu Shanab, pointing to the rubble with blackened hands.
UN tensions
The Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 resulted in about 1,160 deaths, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed 30,534 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Tensions between Israel and the United Nations erupted Monday, with Israel recalling its ambassador over the handling of allegations of sexual assault by Hamas group during the October attack.
Israel has accused the United Nations of taking too long to respond to the claims, as the body published a report on Monday that said there were "reasonable grounds to believe" rapes were committed in Hamas' attack, and that hostages taken to Gaza have also been raped.
"In most of these incidents, victims first subjected to rape were then killed, and at least two incidents relate to the rape of women's corpses," the report said.
Shortly before the report's release, Israel said it was recalling its UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan over what it said was an attempt by the body to "silence" information of sexual violence by Hamas.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's spokesman denied trying to suppress the report.
Israel previously accused about a dozen employees of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) of involvement in the October 7 Hamas attack that began the war.
UNRWA is at the center of efforts to provide humanitarian relief in Gaza, where aid groups warn of looming famine after nearly five months of war between Israel and the group.
UNRWA on Monday said members of its staff had been tortured by Israel, with Israel's army accusing the agency of employing more than 450 "terrorists".
Phillipe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, has said that Israel provided no evidence against his former employees.


US Senior Envoy in Beirut Says Gaza Truce May Not Necessarily Lead to Calm on Lebanon-Israel Border

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri shakes hands with US envoy Amos Hochstein in Beirut, Lebanon March 4, 2024. (Reuters)
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri shakes hands with US envoy Amos Hochstein in Beirut, Lebanon March 4, 2024. (Reuters)
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US Senior Envoy in Beirut Says Gaza Truce May Not Necessarily Lead to Calm on Lebanon-Israel Border

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri shakes hands with US envoy Amos Hochstein in Beirut, Lebanon March 4, 2024. (Reuters)
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri shakes hands with US envoy Amos Hochstein in Beirut, Lebanon March 4, 2024. (Reuters)

A senior US envoy visiting Beirut Monday said if a truce is reached in the Gaza Strip it would not automatically translate to calm along the volatile Lebanon-Israel border which has witnessed a rise in tensions.

Since the Israel-Hamas war started, Lebanon's militant group Hezbollah has been exchanging fire with Israel almost daily, displacing thousands of people and spiking fear the conflict may spread in the region.

Amos Hochstein ’s comments came hours after Hezbollah's deputy leader, Naim Qassem, reiterated that the only way to stop the war along the Lebanon-Israel border is to end the war in Gaza.

Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden, began his talks by meeting Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally. He later met caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and is scheduled to meet other officials and politicians during his visit.

“The United States remains committed to advancing lasting security solutions achieved through diplomatic process,” Hochstein told reporters after he met Berri. He said such a move would allow tens of thousands of Lebanese and Israelis who were displaced by the conflict “to safely return” to their homes.

Hochstein’s visit came as the US, Qatar and Egypt have been trying for weeks to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and to convince the Palestinian group to release some of the scores of hostages it is still holding since the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.

It also comes as Israeli rescuers said Monday a foreign worker was killed and several others wounded by an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon. The Magen David Adom rescue service said it treated seven people, including two in serious condition.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah said its fighters aborted two infiltration attempts the night before by Israeli troops into a border area in southern Lebanon.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, more than 215 Hezbollah fighters and nearly 40 civilians were killed on the Lebanese side while in Israel, nine soldiers and 10 civilians were left dead in the attacks.

“I’m mindful that my arrival comes on the heels of a tense few weeks on both sides of the border,” Hochstein said.

“An escalation will certainly not help Lebanon rebuild and advance forward at this critical time in Lebanon’s history,” he added in an apparent reference to Lebanon’s historic economic crisis that has been ongoing since 2019.

“A temporary ceasefire is not enough. A limited war is not containable and the security paradigm along the Blue Line has to change in order to guarantee everyone’s security,” Hochstein said referring to the Lebanon-Israel border.

Asked if a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip will include Lebanon, he said it is not necessary “that when you have a ceasefire in Gaza, it automatically extends. That is why we are here today to be able to have a conversation and discussions” on the situation in Lebanon.

Israeli officials have threatened a wider war in Lebanon if Hezbollah does not withdraw its elite fighters north of the Litani River as stipulated in a 2006 truce that ended a 34-day Israel-Hezbollah war.

Western diplomats have brought forward a series of proposals for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, most of which would hinge on Hezbollah moving its forces 7-10 kilometers (about 4-6 miles) away from the border.

Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, blasted the United States in a speech Monday during a conference held in the group’s stronghold south of Beirut attended by Muslim clerics from several regional states. He blamed Washington for using its veto power three times to prevent resolutions at the UN Security Council to end the war in Gaza.

“We have said it clearly that whoever wants to be a mediator should mediate to stop the aggression,” Qassem said in his speech. He added that those who don’t want the war to expand in the region should deal with the cause “which is the brutal and criminal aggression by America and Israel against Gaza.”

“Stop the aggression on Gaza and the war will stop in the region,” he said.


Belgium Joins Aid Airdrop Efforts for Gaza

This picture taken from a position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing in Gaza following Israeli bombardment on March 4, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
This picture taken from a position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing in Gaza following Israeli bombardment on March 4, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
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Belgium Joins Aid Airdrop Efforts for Gaza

This picture taken from a position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing in Gaza following Israeli bombardment on March 4, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
This picture taken from a position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing in Gaza following Israeli bombardment on March 4, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)

Belgium has decided to airdrop aid into Gaza and dispatched a military transport plane on Monday to begin delivering emergency support, after US cargo aircraft dropped food over the weekend.

The foreign ministry said that “due to the difficulties of access and the complex situation on the ground, the Belgian government has approved an airdrop operation for emergency aid.”

Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder in a post on X, formerly Twitter, said “40 military personnel will be deployed to carry out several drops in the coming days.”

The A400M transport plane was due to travel first to Jordan, which is coordinating efforts to supply aid by air, and from there be used to drop food and “hygiene products” into Gaza.

Since the war began, Israel has barred entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies, except for a trickle of aid entering the south from Egypt at the Rafah crossing and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing.

The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation. Aid officials have said that airdrops are not an efficient means of distributing aid and are a measure of last resort.


Israel Demolishes West Bank Home of Palestinian Accused of Attack

The debris of the Nablus house of Moaz al-Masry, a Palestinian accused of a deadly attack against Israeli settlers - Reuters
The debris of the Nablus house of Moaz al-Masry, a Palestinian accused of a deadly attack against Israeli settlers - Reuters
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Israel Demolishes West Bank Home of Palestinian Accused of Attack

The debris of the Nablus house of Moaz al-Masry, a Palestinian accused of a deadly attack against Israeli settlers - Reuters
The debris of the Nablus house of Moaz al-Masry, a Palestinian accused of a deadly attack against Israeli settlers - Reuters

Israeli troops on Monday blew up the home of a Palestinian accused of killing a British-Israeli woman and her two daughters in the occupied West Bank last year.

The apartment of Moaz al-Masry, who was killed by Israeli forces following the April 7 attack, was demolished in the early hours, Palestinian witnesses and the Israeli military told AFP.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said their medics treated about 15 people after Israeli forces fired tear gas during the raid on the West Bank city of Nablus.

Masry, along with two other attackers, was accused of shooting dead Israeli settler Leah Dee and her daughters Maia and Rina as they were driving near Hamra in the Jordan Valley.

Following a manhunt, the assailants were killed in a military raid on Nablus in May.

Troops overnight into Monday stormed the Al-Makhfiya neighbourhood in Nablus and surrounded Masry's house, a witness told AFP.

Israel routinely demolishes the homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks, arguing that such measures act as a deterrent, while critics say it amounts to collective punishment.

The Red Crescent told AFP they had evacuated multiple residents, including children, from the building housing Masry's apartment.

Violence in the West Bank had flared even before the war in the Gaza Strip between Hamas militants and Israel erupted on October 7.

Since the war broke out, at least 420 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli troops and settlers, according to the Palestinian health ministry based in Ramallah.

The latest fatality was 16-year-old Mustafa Abu Shalbak, who the ministry said was shot before dawn on Monday by Israeli forces near Ramallah.

Residents said Israeli forces came under fire as they raided a home in Amari refugee camp.

An AFP photographer saw troops marching two blindfolded Palestinians through a street, while multiple soldiers pointed their weapons at surrounding buildings.

The military said it carried out a "counter-terrorism operation" at the camp and apprehended two wanted suspects.

"During the operation, a violent riot developed, in which suspects hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces, who responded with live fire. A hit was identified," the military said in a statement.

During the violence an Israeli border police officer was also lightly injured, it added.

In recent months Palestinian militants have also carried out numerous attacks against Israeli troops and civilians in Israel and the West Bank, killing at least 17 people, according to Israeli figures.

Israel has occupied the West Bank -- including east Jerusalem, which it later unilaterally annexed -- since the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

Israeli settlements which are illegal under international law have ballooned over the decades and are seen as a key barrier to peace with the Palestinians.


UN Rights Chief: Gaza 'Powder Keg' Could Spark Wider War

Palestinians inspect damages following an Israeli raid at Kamal Adwan hospital, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas, in the northern Gaza Strip December 16, 2023. REUTERS/Fadi Alwhidifa
Palestinians inspect damages following an Israeli raid at Kamal Adwan hospital, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas, in the northern Gaza Strip December 16, 2023. REUTERS/Fadi Alwhidifa
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UN Rights Chief: Gaza 'Powder Keg' Could Spark Wider War

Palestinians inspect damages following an Israeli raid at Kamal Adwan hospital, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas, in the northern Gaza Strip December 16, 2023. REUTERS/Fadi Alwhidifa
Palestinians inspect damages following an Israeli raid at Kamal Adwan hospital, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas, in the northern Gaza Strip December 16, 2023. REUTERS/Fadi Alwhidifa

The Gaza war between Israel and Hamas is a "powder keg" with the potential to spark broader conflict in the Middle East, UN human rights chief Volker Turk said on Monday.

"The war in Gaza has already generated dangerous spillover in neighbouring countries, and I am deeply concerned that in this powder keg, any spark could lead to a much broader conflagration. This would have implications for every country in the Middle East and many beyond it," Turk said in his global update to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

He stressed that it was imperative to avoid any exacerbation of the war in Gaza, warning that any conflagration could have broad repercussions across the Middle East and beyond the region.

Turk also described the military escalation in southern Lebanon between Israel, Hezbollah and other armed groups as "extremely worrying".

"It is imperative to do everything possible to avoid a wider conflagration," he said.

The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah and Israel have been locked in hostilities for months in parallel to the Gaza war. It has marked the worst conflict between them since 2006.

The Gaza war began when Hamas stormed Israel on Oct. 7 in an attack that killed 1,200 people and resulted in another 253 being abducted, according to Israeli tallies.

The attack drew an Israeli offensive in Hamas-run Gaza. Health authorities in the enclave say more than 30,000 Palestinians have been confirmed killed during the offensive.

Turk said last week that war crimes had been committed by all parties in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. They should be investigated and those responsible be held accountable, he said.


Yemen’s Environmental Chief to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Urge Swift Action for Sinking 'Rubymar'

A satellite image of the British ship targeted by the Houthis in the Red Sea (AFP)
A satellite image of the British ship targeted by the Houthis in the Red Sea (AFP)
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Yemen’s Environmental Chief to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Urge Swift Action for Sinking 'Rubymar'

A satellite image of the British ship targeted by the Houthis in the Red Sea (AFP)
A satellite image of the British ship targeted by the Houthis in the Red Sea (AFP)

With limited resources, the Yemeni government is racing against time to tackle an environmental crisis caused by the sinking of the UK-registered ship “Rubymar” in the Red Sea.

The sinking of the Rubymar, which carried a cargo of fertilizer and oils and previously leaked fuel, could cause ecological damage to the Red Sea and its coral reefs, according to the head of Yemen’s General Authority for Environmental Protection, Faisal Al-Thalabi.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemen’s environmental chief revealed that the sunken ship “holds 200 tons of diesel and 80 tons of mazut (fuel oil), both highly dangerous.”

“These substances will seriously harm the Red Sea's unique wildlife and pollute nearby shores and islands,” warned Al-Thalabi.

“The attack on the ship by the Iran-backed Houthi group caused its sinking, complicating rescue efforts,” he added.

The Belize-flagged Rubymar had been drifting northward after being struck by a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile on February 18 in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a crucial waterway linking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Al-Thalabi cautioned that the environmental damage from the sunken ship will spread to both surface and nearby groundwater wells near the pollution sites.

Desalination plants, which rely on seawater for drinking water in islands or nearby areas, will also be affected.

Al-Thalabi explained that besides fuel leakage, the marine environment will also be contaminated by phosphate and sulfur fertilizers reacting with seawater.

This reaction releases sulfur and phosphorus ions, reducing oxygen levels and harming marine biodiversity.

Al-Thalabi pointed out that sea pollution will fuel algae growth, depleting oxygen and blocking sunlight for marine life.

He emphasized that these substances, leaking into the seas or sewage systems, harm both the environment and human health.

Government Action

Regarding what actions the government can take with limited resources, Al-Thalabi noted the government recently forming a crisis team, which has taken various measures.

The measures include tracking the ship’s owner and flag state and urging its retrieval.

“Unfortunately, these calls haven’t received responses yet,” said Al-Thalabi.

“Simultaneously, the state has taken urgent steps. A team was sent to inspect the ship, and a contract was made with a specialized company for its salvage,” he added.

According to Al-Thalabi, meetings were held with relief organizations, the United Nations, the International Maritime Organization, and others.

“An appeal was made, highlighting the urgent need for assistance in finding solutions to the challenging situation,” he explained.

The Yemeni official stressed that while the government’s crisis cell is always active, the urgency for immediate solutions has intensified following the ship’s sinking.

Regarding the immediate response to the sinking, Al-Thalabi explained that authorities have enacted a plan, including worst-case scenarios, monitoring coastal areas with the Maritime Affairs Authority cooperating with various groups.

Regarding the possibility of the ship’s hull breaking, causing the sinking, Al-Thalabi suggested this might be a factor due to possible damage from the Houthi missile strike.

However, confirmation requires specialized teams to assess the seabed, which has been delayed due to adverse weather conditions, clarified Al-Thalabi.

He mentioned that a team from the Maritime Affairs Authority, tasked with combating marine pollution, went to the Port of Mokha. After their mission, the crisis cell will have full information in the coming two days.

Urgent Call to Action

With growing concerns about the disastrous environmental impact of the shipwreck, Yemen’s Prime Minister has urged swift international action to address the situation.

During a meeting with US Ambassador Steven Fagin in Riyadh, Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak warned of a major environmental catastrophe caused by the sinking of the ship.

The premier emphasized the need for international cooperation, urging the formation of an emergency team to rescue the Red Sea and tackle the environmental crisis.