Israeli Lawmaker Chided for Wishing Palestinians ‘Disappear’

Matan Kahana, politicians from the Yamina party, headed by Naftali Bennett, attends a consultation with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the President's residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (AP)
Matan Kahana, politicians from the Yamina party, headed by Naftali Bennett, attends a consultation with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the President's residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (AP)
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Israeli Lawmaker Chided for Wishing Palestinians ‘Disappear’

Matan Kahana, politicians from the Yamina party, headed by Naftali Bennett, attends a consultation with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the President's residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (AP)
Matan Kahana, politicians from the Yamina party, headed by Naftali Bennett, attends a consultation with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the President's residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (AP)

An Israeli legislator came under fire on Tuesday for saying that if he could push a button to make all Palestinians disappear, he would.

Deputy Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana made the remarks to high school students in a West Bank settlement. In his comments, which were caught on video, he was explaining his view that clashing narratives between Israelis and Palestinians were a major obstacle to peace. He appeared to be making the point that Israelis and Palestinians had no choice but to find a way to live together.

"If there was a sort of button you could push that would make all the Arabs disappear, send them on an express train to Switzerland,” he said, "I would press that button."

"But what can you do? There is no such button," he added, in the video brought to light by Israeli public broadcaster Kan. ”Therefore it seems we were meant to exist (together) on this land in some way."

Kahana is part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's nationalist Yamina party which anchors a coalition of eight ideologically diverse parties, including for the first time in Israeli history an Arab Islamist faction.

While it has stumbled during its year in power and is teetering after a series of defections, the coalition has styled itself as a symbol of Jewish-Arab cooperation in a society where Israeli Jews and Palestinians often live separately and seldom interact.

The threat of forcible displacement is a sensitive subject for Palestinians, who in the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948 fled or were forced to flee their homes. A second uprooting occurred during the 1967 Mideast war.

Since then, some nationalist politicians in Israel have used the threat of forced transfer against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who under law are equal to Jewish Israelis but who face discrimination and who are seen by some as a fifth column because of their solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Kahana's remarks drew condemnation from Palestinian Israeli lawmakers and from his own coalition members. Opposition lawmaker Ahmad Tibi tweeted in response that he would make Kahana "disappear from the government and the Knesset," Israel's parliament. Michal Rozin, a lawmaker in the coalition with the dovish Meretz party, said the remarks were "more than intolerable."

After the uproar, Kahana posted on Twitter that some of the remarks within his speech were "worded poorly."

"I referenced that both Jewish and Arab populations aren’t going anywhere. As such, we must work to live in coexistence. Our coalition is a courageous step towards this goal."



Suicide Attempts among Syrian Prisoners Put Lebanon’s Deportation Standards under Scrutiny

A video clip leaked from a Lebanese prison is circulating about an attempt by prisoners to commit suicide.
A video clip leaked from a Lebanese prison is circulating about an attempt by prisoners to commit suicide.
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Suicide Attempts among Syrian Prisoners Put Lebanon’s Deportation Standards under Scrutiny

A video clip leaked from a Lebanese prison is circulating about an attempt by prisoners to commit suicide.
A video clip leaked from a Lebanese prison is circulating about an attempt by prisoners to commit suicide.

Four suicide attempts by Syrian prisoners in Lebanon have cast shadow on the difficult situation in prisons, prompting international human rights organizations to monitor the extent to which standards for deporting Syrians have been adopted after the expiration of their sentences in Lebanon.
An informed security source explained to Asharq Al-Awsat that the prisoners, who tried to hang themselves inside Roumieh prison, were “two brothers and two of their relatives, and they were among those who defected from the Syrian army months after the start of the uprising in Syria and joined armed organizations, and are being tried in terrorism cases in Lebanon.”
The security source revealed that the prisoners “tried to commit suicide after they were informed that Lebanese authorities had handed over the two brothers’ sibling to the Syrian regime on the first of March.”
The Lebanese government and the United Nations signed an agreement stipulating that no Syrian person would be extradited to his country if he was a defector from the regime forces or who joined the Syrian uprising.
The security source confirmed that United Nations organizations present in Lebanon are “closely monitoring the cases of Syrians tried in Lebanon, and tracking their fate after they have served their sentence.”
The growing number of Syrian prisoners exacerbates the prison crisis in Lebanon now that they represent 28.5 percent of the prison population, according to informed sources.
“There are 1,850 Syrians distributed in Lebanese prisons, in addition to dozens in temporary detention centers,” the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.
For his part, lawyer Mohammad Sablouh, the representative of a number of Islamist prisoners, warned of the danger of extraditing wanted Syrians to their country under the pretext of reducing the burden on Lebanon’s prisons or in implementation of judicial rulings requiring deportation after the end of the sentence.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the pretext of the high number of detained Syrian nationals does not justify the extradition of Syrian dissidents to their country. The number of opposition prisoners “is very, very small compared to those prosecuted for ordinary criminal charges”, he noted
“The suicide attempt in Roumieh prison is disturbing, and may encourage others to end their lives instead of being handed over to the Assad regime, which continues to torture them and then liquidate them,” Sablouh stated.


Israeli Army, Shin Bet Discuss ‘Worst-Case Scenarios’ in West Bank

An Israeli security officer stands guard as Muslim worshipers pass through a checkpoint near the Asbat Gate in Jerusalem to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for Friday prayers
An Israeli security officer stands guard as Muslim worshipers pass through a checkpoint near the Asbat Gate in Jerusalem to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for Friday prayers
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Israeli Army, Shin Bet Discuss ‘Worst-Case Scenarios’ in West Bank

An Israeli security officer stands guard as Muslim worshipers pass through a checkpoint near the Asbat Gate in Jerusalem to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for Friday prayers
An Israeli security officer stands guard as Muslim worshipers pass through a checkpoint near the Asbat Gate in Jerusalem to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for Friday prayers

Israeli security forces in Tel Aviv, along with the army and Shin Bet, are discussing worst-case scenarios and making plans for potential dangers during Ramadan.

With no ceasefire in Gaza and the Israeli government hesitating to take decisive action, concerns about escalation are rising.

The worst-case scenarios, according to Israeli security, involve a major security outbreak in the West Bank and Jerusalem, possibly leading to a third Intifada or uprising.

Reports from Palestinians in East Jerusalem’s Old City suggest heightened security measures, particularly around Al-Aqsa Mosque, with increased patrols, surveillance, and checkpoints.

Israeli authorities are still controlling the number of Muslims allowed to pray at al-Aqsa Mosque compound during Ramadan, while Jews continue to have access with police protection.

They’re also considering a plan to restrict West Bank residents from entering and reduce the number of Muslim visitors from East Jerusalem and Israeli citizens during this month.

Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs Sheikh Hatem Al-Bakri stated that Israeli forces entered Al-Aqsa Mosque 20 times last February and prevented the call to prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron 44 times.

He mentioned daily incursions by settlers at Al-Aqsa, tighter restrictions on Palestinians entering, constant identity checks, and detentions of worshippers.

The Palestinian minister clarified that the actions against Al-Aqsa aren’t about security but are aimed at undermining Palestinians’ religious rights.

Regarding other religious sites, he mentioned settlers damaging a mosque in Masafir Yatta near Hebron, vandalizing its contents, and stealing equipment.

Al-Bakri also noted Israeli forces raiding a mosque in the village of Al-Majaz in Masafir Yatta, causing destruction and desecration.


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.


Gaza Ceasefire Talks End with No Breakthrough as Ramadan Deadline Looms 

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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Gaza Ceasefire Talks End with No Breakthrough as Ramadan Deadline Looms 

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)

Ceasefire talks between Hamas and mediators broke up on Tuesday in Cairo with no breakthrough, with just days left to halt fighting in time for the start of Ramadan. 

Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told Reuters the group had presented its proposal for a ceasefire agreement to the mediators during two days of talks, and was now waiting for a response from the Israelis, who stayed away from this round. 

"(Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu doesn't want to reach an agreement and the ball now is in the Americans' court" to press him for a deal, Naim said. 

Israel has declined to comment publicly on the talks in Cairo. 

A source told Reuters earlier that Israel was staying away because Hamas had rejected its demand to furnish a list of all hostages who are still alive. Naim said this was impossible without a ceasefire first as hostages were scattered across the war zone and held by separate groups. 

The Cairo talks had been billed as a final hurdle to reach the war's first extended ceasefire - a 40-day truce during which dozens of hostages would be freed and aid would be pumped into Gaza to stave off a manmade famine, ahead of Ramadan, which is due to begin at the start of next week. 

Egyptian security sources said on Monday they were still in touch with the Israelis to allow the negotiations to continue without an Israeli delegation present. 

Washington, which is both Israel's closest ally and a sponsor of the ceasefire talks, has said an Israeli-approved deal is already on the table and it is up to Hamas to accept it. Hamas disputes this account as an attempt to deflect blame from Israel if the talks collapse with no deal. 

The United States has also called on Israel to do more to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, where more than 30,000 people have been killed by Israel's assault, launched after Hamas attacks that killed 1,200 people in October. 

Hunger stalks Gaza 

Famine is now gripping the besieged Gaza Strip as aid supplies, already sharply curtailed since the start of the war, have dwindled to barely a trickle over the past month. Whole swathes of the territory are completely cut off from food. Gaza's few functioning hospitals, already overwhelmed by the wounded, are now filling with children starving to death. 

Ahmed Cannan, a toddler with sunken eyes and an emaciated face, lay on a bed at Al-Awda clinic in Rafah, wrapped in a yellow cardigan. He had lost half his weight since the start of the war and now weighs just 6 kg (13 pounds). 

"His situation worsens each day. God protect us from what is coming," his aunt, Israa Kalakh, told Reuters. 

Nurse Diaa Al-Shaer said such emaciated children were now pouring into the clinic in unprecedented numbers: "We will face a large number of patients who suffer from this, which is malnutrition," she said. 

The situation is worst in the north of Gaza, beyond the reach of aid agencies or news cameras. Gaza health authorities say 15 children have died of malnutrition or dehydration at one hospital. 

Israel says it is willing to allow in more aid to Gaza through the two checkpoints on the southern edge of the territory it has permitted to open, and blames UN and other aid agencies for failing to distribute it more widely. 

The aid agencies say this has become impossible with a breakdown of law and order, and it is up to Israel, whose troops have stormed Gaza's towns and patrol them, to provide access and security for food distribution. 

"The sense of helplessness and despair among parents and doctors in realizing that lifesaving aid, just a few kilometers away, is being kept out of reach, must be unbearable," said Adele Khodr, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. 


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
TT

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.