Energy Firm Starts Tests at Sensitive Israel-Lebanon Border Gas Field

London-based Energean's drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. (Reuters)
London-based Energean's drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. (Reuters)
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Energy Firm Starts Tests at Sensitive Israel-Lebanon Border Gas Field

London-based Energean's drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. (Reuters)
London-based Energean's drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. (Reuters)

London-listed firm Energean on Sunday began testing pipes between Israel and the Karish offshore gas field, a key step towards production from the eastern Mediterranean site, a source of friction between neighbors Israel and Lebanon.

Israel has maintained that Karish falls entirely within its territory and is not a subject of negotiation at ongoing, US-mediated maritime border talks with Lebanon.

The two countries remain technically at war.

Beirut has reportedly made claims to parts of Karish, and the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah party in Lebanon has previously threatened attacks if Israel began production from the field.

In a statement Sunday, Energean said that "following approval received from the Israeli Ministry of Energy to start certain testing procedures, the flow of gas from onshore to the FPSO has commenced", referring to the Karish floating production storage offloading facility.

The tests, set to take a number of weeks, were "an important step" towards extracting gas from the Karish, Energean said.

Lebanon and Israel have engaged in on-off indirect talks since 2020 to delineate their Mediterranean border, which could allow both countries to boost offshore natural gas exploration.

A draft agreement floated by US envoy Amos Hochstein aims to settle competing claims over offshore gas fields and was delivered to Lebanese and Israeli officials in recent days.

Israel had welcomed the terms set out by Hochstein and said they would be subjected to legal review, but gave no indication if it sought substantive changes.

Lebanon presented its response to Washington's proposal on Tuesday.

Israel said two days later that it planned to reject a proposed Lebanese amendment, even if that jeopardizes a possible agreement.

Israel reiterated this week that production at Karish would begin as soon as possible, regardless of Lebanon's demands.

Two Lebanese officials involved in the talks told AFP on Sunday the US mediator had informed Beirut that the operation at Karish was only a test.

Negotiations on the maritime border are still going on, one official said.

On Saturday, the French foreign ministry said Paris was "actively contributing to the American mediation".

Under the terms of the US draft agreement leaked to the press, all of Karish would fall under Israeli control, while Qana, another potential gas field, would be divided but its exploitation would be under Lebanon's control.

French company Total would be licensed to search for gas in the Qana field, and Israel would receive a share of future revenue.



Palestinian FM Says Hamas Knows It Cannot Be in New Govt

 Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki speaks during a press conference on the sideline of the 55th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 28, 2024. (AFP)
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki speaks during a press conference on the sideline of the 55th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 28, 2024. (AFP)
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Palestinian FM Says Hamas Knows It Cannot Be in New Govt

 Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki speaks during a press conference on the sideline of the 55th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 28, 2024. (AFP)
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki speaks during a press conference on the sideline of the 55th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 28, 2024. (AFP)

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said Wednesday he believes Hamas understands why it should not be part of a new government in the Palestinian territories.

Maliki told a press conference that a "technocratic" government was needed, without the group which is fighting a bitter war against Israel.

"The time now is not for a national coalition government," Maliki said.

"The time now is not for a government where Hamas will be part of it, because, in this case, then it will be boycotted by a number of countries, as happened before," he told the UN correspondents' association.

"We don't want to be in a situation like that. We want to be accepted and engaging fully with the international community," he explained.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced Monday the resignation of his government, which rules parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, citing the need for change after the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza ends.

A decree from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said the government will stay on in an interim capacity until a new one is formed.

Maliki said the priority was engaging the international community on to help provide emergency relief to Palestinians, and then looking at how Gaza could be reconstructed.

"Later, when the situation is right, then we could contemplate that option. But what comes first is how to salvage the situation. How to salvage innocent Palestinian lives. How to stop this insane war and how to be able to protect Palestinian people," he said.

"That's why I think Hamas should understand this, and I do believe that they are in support of the idea to establish, today, a technocratic government.

"A government that is based on experts, individuals who are completely committed to take up the reins and the responsibility for this period -- a difficult one -- and to move the whole country into a period of transition into a stable kind of situation where, at the end, we might be able to think about elections.

"And after elections, the outcome of the elections will determine the type of government that will govern the state of Palestine later."

Maliki is in Geneva to attend the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The war in Gaza began after the Hamas militant group that controls the Palestinian territory launched an attack on October 7 that killed about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.

Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza.

Israel's retaliatory bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza have killed at least 29,954 people, most of them women and children, according to the territory's Hamas-run health ministry.


Aid Groups Make First Deliveries to North Gaza in a Month

 Children push a cart filled with water containers near a camp for internally displaced Palestinians in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Children push a cart filled with water containers near a camp for internally displaced Palestinians in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Aid Groups Make First Deliveries to North Gaza in a Month

 Children push a cart filled with water containers near a camp for internally displaced Palestinians in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Children push a cart filled with water containers near a camp for internally displaced Palestinians in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Aid groups this week have made their first deliveries of food in a month to northern Gaza, where the UN has warned of worsening starvation among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians amid Israel’s ground operations.

A convoy of 31 trucks carrying food entered northern Gaza on Wednesday, the Israeli military office that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs said. The office, known by the acronym COGAT, said nearly 20 other trucks entered the north on Monday and Tuesday. Associated Press footage showed people carrying sacks of flour from the distribution site.

As of Sunday, the UN had been unable to deliver food to northern Gaza since Jan. 23, according to Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees that has led the aid effort during the war.

On Feb. 18, the World Food Program attempted a delivery to the north for the first time in three weeks but much of the convoy’s cargo was taken on route by desperate Palestinians, and it was only able to distribute a small amount in the north.

Northern Gaza has largely been cut off and much of it has been leveled since Israeli ground troops invaded in late October. Several hundred thousand Palestinians are believed to remain there, and many have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive.

The UN says 1 in 6 children under 2 in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting, and that 576,000 people across Gaza – a quarter of the population – are a step away from famine.

Since launching its assault on Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, 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.

Despite international calls to allow in more aid, the number of supply trucks entering has dropped dramatically in recent weeks.

The UN has called for Israel to open crossings in the north to aid deliveries and guarantee safe corridors for convoys.


Many Pregnant Women in Gaza Malnourished, Aid Group Warns

Children sit in a destroyed car in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Children sit in a destroyed car in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Many Pregnant Women in Gaza Malnourished, Aid Group Warns

Children sit in a destroyed car in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Children sit in a destroyed car in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)

A humanitarian group operating a clinic in the Gaza Strip says 21% of the pregnant women it has treated in the last three weeks are suffering from malnutrition.

Project Hope, which runs a primary health clinic in the central town of Deir al-Balah, said Wednesday that 11% of the children under 5 it has treated during the same period are also malnourished.

UN officials say the Israel-Hamas war has pushed a quarter of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians to the brink of famine.

Project Hope says “people have reported eating nothing but white bread as fruit, vegetables, and other nutrient-dense foods are nearly impossible to find or too expensive.”

Malnutrition is especially dangerous for pregnant women and newborns, who require additional nutrients.

Israel says it does not restrict the entry of humanitarian aid, but the number of trucks entering each day is far below the 500 that entered daily before the war.

UN agencies and humanitarian groups say the distribution of aid within Gaza has largely collapsed because of the difficulty of coordinating shipments with the Israeli military, ongoing fighting in many places and the breakdown of law and order.

Hamas-run police forces have stopped escorting convoys after being targeted by Israeli strikes, and crowds of desperate people have in many cases made it impossible to safely deliver aid.


Officials Warn of Devastating Consequences If UNRWA Funding Is Not Restored

Members of the Zourub family, displaced from the central Gaza Strip, keep warm by a fire outside their tent, near the border separating the Gaza Strip and Egypt, in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip 27 February 2024. (EPA)
Members of the Zourub family, displaced from the central Gaza Strip, keep warm by a fire outside their tent, near the border separating the Gaza Strip and Egypt, in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip 27 February 2024. (EPA)
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Officials Warn of Devastating Consequences If UNRWA Funding Is Not Restored

Members of the Zourub family, displaced from the central Gaza Strip, keep warm by a fire outside their tent, near the border separating the Gaza Strip and Egypt, in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip 27 February 2024. (EPA)
Members of the Zourub family, displaced from the central Gaza Strip, keep warm by a fire outside their tent, near the border separating the Gaza Strip and Egypt, in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip 27 February 2024. (EPA)

If funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees is not restored soon, it will have devastating consequences for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, officials warned on Wednesday.

“The decision to stop funding UNRWA constitutes a collective punishment for every Palestinian inside Palestine and in the diaspora countries, especially in Lebanon,” Lebanese Member of Parliament Fadi Alame told reporters Wednesday after touring the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp near the southern port city of Sidon with an UNRWA delegation.

Some 250,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon depend on UNRWA for services including healthcare, schooling and cash assistance for the poorest families.

Last month, Israel alleged that 12 UNRWA employees took part in the Oct. 7 attack, prompting the United States and other donors to suspend funding. UNRWA immediately fired the 10 surviving employees and has launched investigations. The agency says if funding is not restored, it will have to halt operations in April.

Dorothee Klaus, UNRWA’s director in Lebanon, said that a halt to the agency’s services would have “security and stability” as well as “humanitarian” consequences.


Hamas Chief Haniyeh Says Group Showing Flexibility in Talks but Ready to Continue Fight 

Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, speaks in a pre-recorded message shown on a screen during a press event for Al Quds International Institution in Beirut, Lebanon February 28, 2024. (Reuters)
Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, speaks in a pre-recorded message shown on a screen during a press event for Al Quds International Institution in Beirut, Lebanon February 28, 2024. (Reuters)
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Hamas Chief Haniyeh Says Group Showing Flexibility in Talks but Ready to Continue Fight 

Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, speaks in a pre-recorded message shown on a screen during a press event for Al Quds International Institution in Beirut, Lebanon February 28, 2024. (Reuters)
Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, speaks in a pre-recorded message shown on a screen during a press event for Al Quds International Institution in Beirut, Lebanon February 28, 2024. (Reuters)

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said on Wednesday the group was showing flexibility in negotiations with Israel over the Gaza war but at the same time was ready to continue fighting.

In a televised speech, Haniyeh also called on Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank to march to Al-Aqsa Mosque to pray on the first day of Ramadan on March 10, raising the stakes in the indirect talks for a truce deal to have come into force by then.

Israel said on Monday it would allow Ramadan prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque during the upcoming holy month but set limits according to security needs, setting the stage for possible clashes if crowds of Palestinians turn up.

US President Joe Biden said on Monday he hoped that a ceasefire in Gaza would be agreed by next Monday, March 4, following negotiations in Qatar also aimed at freeing hostages.

Haniyeh also called on the self-styled Axis of Resistance - allies of Iran consisting of Lebanon's Hezbollah, Yemen's Houthis, and the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” - to step up their support for the Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel says its blockade on Gaza is essential to destroy Hamas, which it sees as an existential threat since the militants' Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, but that it is allowing in aid, trading blame with aid agencies for shortfalls they say have led to acute hunger.


Hamas Says it Launched 40 Rockets from South Lebanon Into Northern Israel

Smoke rises in northern Israel following a rocket strike from southern Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Smoke rises in northern Israel following a rocket strike from southern Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
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Hamas Says it Launched 40 Rockets from South Lebanon Into Northern Israel

Smoke rises in northern Israel following a rocket strike from southern Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Smoke rises in northern Israel following a rocket strike from southern Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The armed wing of Hamas on Wednesday said it launched two rocket salvos consisting of 40 Grad rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.

Al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement on its Telegram channel it had bombed the headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade and the airport barracks in Beit Hilal.

The Israeli military said it identified around 10 launches and intercepted a number of them. Israeli media said a building was damaged in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona.

The military said it struck the sources of the rocket fire as well as a Hezbollah arsenal and military structures. There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side.

Hezbollah has traded fire with Israel on a near-daily basis since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack triggered the war in Gaza. The relatively low-intensity exchanges have displaced tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border and raised fears of a wider conflict.


Israel Presses on with Settlement Plans

A picture taken in the village of Turmus Ayya near Ramallah city shows the nearby Israeli Shilo settlement in the background, in the occupied West Bank on February 18, 2024. (Photo by Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
A picture taken in the village of Turmus Ayya near Ramallah city shows the nearby Israeli Shilo settlement in the background, in the occupied West Bank on February 18, 2024. (Photo by Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
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Israel Presses on with Settlement Plans

A picture taken in the village of Turmus Ayya near Ramallah city shows the nearby Israeli Shilo settlement in the background, in the occupied West Bank on February 18, 2024. (Photo by Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
A picture taken in the village of Turmus Ayya near Ramallah city shows the nearby Israeli Shilo settlement in the background, in the occupied West Bank on February 18, 2024. (Photo by Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich pledged to continue expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank, defying international pressure on Israel to stop building on land Palestinians see as the core of a future independent state.
Late on Tuesday, Smotrich announced the approval of a new settlement called Mishmar Yehuda, in Gush Etzion, a cluster of Jewish settlements located south of Jerusalem, and said work would continue on authorizing further settlements, Reuters reported.
"We will continue the momentum of settlement throughout the country," he said in a statement.
The move comes just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington considered Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be inconsistent with international law, reverting to a longstanding US position that was overturned by the administration of former President Donald Trump.
The Palestinians say that the expansion of settlements across the West Bank is part of a deliberate Israeli policy to undermine its ambition of creating an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Last week, Israeli ministers agreed to convene a planning council to approve some 3,300 homes to be built in settlements, a decision that Blinken said had disappointed Washington, which has been pushing a resumption of efforts for a two state solution to the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Smotrich, the influential leader of one of the hard-right pro-settler parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government, himself lives in a settlement and has consistently backed further settlement building.


Disappointment in Lebanon Over Postponement of Paris Conference to Support Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jordan’s King Participates in Gaza Aid Airdrop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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