Israel Threatens to Bomb Beirut Airport If Used to Deliver Iranian Weapons

A general view shows Beirut's international airport, Lebanon. (Reuters)
A general view shows Beirut's international airport, Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Israel Threatens to Bomb Beirut Airport If Used to Deliver Iranian Weapons

A general view shows Beirut's international airport, Lebanon. (Reuters)
A general view shows Beirut's international airport, Lebanon. (Reuters)

Israel raised threats on Saturday of plans to bomb the Beirut airport if the terminal gets used as an Iranian weapons smuggling route, in a situation similar to what it did in Syria.

Israeli political sources in Tel Aviv said that Israel was aware of a report broadcast by “Al-Arabiya Channel” about Iran's plans to use a new smuggling corridor for its weapons through Beirut after the failure of the Damascus corridor.

The sources said that Tel Aviv is investigating Tehran’s attempt to smuggle weapons through civilian flights to Beirut airport.

They confirmed that Israel’s intensified air raids on Syria, in recent years, have proven beneficial in thwarting most of the Iranian weapons smuggling operations to its armed militias in Syria and to Hezbollah in Lebanon and destroying a number of Iranian air bases and sites on Syrian territory.

They stressed that Israel will not be lenient with the transport of Iranian weapons through Beirut airport, threatening to carry out harsh military strikes if the terminal is used for Iranian ammunition deliveries.

Sources in Tel Aviv linked the matter to a visit made by Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah two weeks ago to Syria where he met Syrian President Bashar Assad.

They said Nasrallah discussed the difficulties faced by Iran and Hezbollah in Syria as a result of the Israeli strikes there.

In 1968, Israel bombed Beirut airport in response to an attack carried out by the "Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine" on an Israeli civilian plane. The Palestinian organization had bases in Lebanon at the time. The Israeli raid destroyed a number of civilian aircrafts belonging to Middle East Airlines.



Yemen PM to Asharq Al-Awsat: Peace Is Weakening, 30% of Budget Is Spent on Electricity

Yemen's Prime Minister Ahmad bin Mubarak during a meeting with officials at the Aden Oil Refinery Company in the interim capital, Aden. (Yemeni Prime Minister’s Office)
Yemen's Prime Minister Ahmad bin Mubarak during a meeting with officials at the Aden Oil Refinery Company in the interim capital, Aden. (Yemeni Prime Minister’s Office)
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Yemen PM to Asharq Al-Awsat: Peace Is Weakening, 30% of Budget Is Spent on Electricity

Yemen's Prime Minister Ahmad bin Mubarak during a meeting with officials at the Aden Oil Refinery Company in the interim capital, Aden. (Yemeni Prime Minister’s Office)
Yemen's Prime Minister Ahmad bin Mubarak during a meeting with officials at the Aden Oil Refinery Company in the interim capital, Aden. (Yemeni Prime Minister’s Office)

In 2015, the Iran-backed Houthi militias kidnapped the Secretary-General of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC) not knowing he would soon rally Western powers and work to change their view of the Yemeni crisis.

This effort by the then NDC chief, now Yemeni prime minister, was part of a broader manifesto that includes transparency for Yemen’s domestic issues.

The Houthis are aware, however, that their recent attacks in the Red Sea, claimed to be in support of Gaza, have given a unique opportunity to the government headed by PM Dr. Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak.

These attacks have allowed his administration to leverage a situation that hasn’t been possible since the Yemeni crisis began with the coup on September 21, 2014.

Asharq Al-Awsat sat down for an interview with bin Mubark at the Yemeni Embassy in London. The meeting lasted over 20 minutes during which he detailed his government’s plans for both domestic and international policies.

He answered many questions about peace, recent political developments, his visit to the UK, the US response to Red Sea Houthi attacks, and the challenges of electricity, and public services.

Diminishing peace

Experts on the Yemeni crisis believe Houthi operations in the Red Sea have hurt peace prospects, despite the militias' claims that these actions are unrelated to peace efforts.

The UN said these operations have hindered the work of its special envoy, Hans Grundberg, who has faced indirect criticism from Yemen’s new foreign minister, Dr. Shae Al-Zandani.

Majed Al-Madhaji, head of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, highlighted several challenges for bin Mubarak’s government: political responses to Red Sea developments, potential Houthi military escalation, and the ongoing economic war.

Amid this, it was essential to ask bin Mubarak: Is peace still possible with Houthi escalation?

“For us, peace remains a strategic choice,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat. However, he noted that recent Houthi actions are reducing peace prospects.

“Their ideological stance outweighs the pragmatic benefits they could achieve by accepting proposed solutions,” explained bin Mubarak.

“The world is increasingly wary of the Houthis’ potential role in any future peace agreement,” said the prime minister.

He noted that “the international community is significantly concerned, especially due to the Houthis' capabilities and their close ties with Iran.” This relationship has complicated the peace process.

The prime minister emphasized the need to reconsider linking peace efforts with Red Sea operations.

When asked about Washington’s condition for the Houthis to stop their naval attacks to continue the peace process, bin Mubarak said: “The Yemeni government faces peace initiatives that often lead to more conflict and prolong the crisis.”

“In our discussions with the international community, we’ve always stressed – and you know the pressure we faced to go to Stockholm, where a peace agreement was announced but didn’t last hours – that in all new proposals, whether a truce or the current roadmap, it's crucial the international community supports a genuine peace plan,” he added.

“This plan should not hand Yemen over to the Houthis, who serve Iran’s agenda. This would be disastrous not only for Yemenis, who would reject them, but also for the region and the world,” he warned.

Bin Mubarak then asked: “Would the Houthis become a normal movement if they stopped their Red Sea operations today? Their actions in recent months have shown a clear ideological direction and strong ties to Iran’s agenda, posing a significant threat.”

“It’s less about how the US supports any future framework and more about ensuring support for what is sustainable. This approach helps Yemenis reach a framework where they can coexist and address their issues more effectively.”

Western shift in narrative

The narrative of the Yemeni war has changed significantly, stressed the premier.

“What we used to warn about is now being echoed by Western voices,” he elaborated.

“Previous claims that the Houthis could be brought to peace through economic incentives, that Iran’s influence on them is minimal, that they are just a domestic issue in Yemen, and that they pose no regional or direct threat to Western interests have all been debunked,” asserted bin Mubarak.

He believes this shift should lead to “a strategic change in how the Houthis are viewed—not just as a military or social faction, but as an ideological threat.”

“This ideology impacts not only Yemen but also the region and the world,” he cautioned.

First 100 days

Regarding his first 100 days in office, the PM said: “Certainly they have been tough, given the difficult circumstances. I came into office during a halt in oil exports, which cut off over 70% of the Yemeni government’s revenue.”

“This is a major part of the economic war, with blockades preventing goods from reaching government areas controlled by the Houthis, severely impacting government resources.”

“The halt in domestic gas exports from Marib and the ban on oil exports have intensified the economic pressure on the Yemeni government,” he elucidated.

The prime minister reflects on his first 100 days, acknowledging challenges amidst a backdrop of ongoing conflict.

“Despite some suggesting it is a peaceful phase, we’ve seen over 48 casualties in recent confrontations with the Houthis. Institutional building is also tough due to war conditions,” he revealed.

However, according to bin Mubarak, there have been notable strides.

“I’ve prioritized reform, transparency, and direct citizen engagement. We’ve optimized resource use, reformed key state institutions, and activated them in Aden,” he explained.

“Despite difficulties, we’ve reduced fuel expenditure by 35%-40% through transparent procedures. We’ve also focused on ministries directly impacting revenue generation and citizen service delivery,” said the PM.

Electricity woes

Power cuts have become a regular part of life rather than just a problem. Yemenis have to endure extreme heat or spoiled food due to lack of electricity, so it’s natural for them to complain.

“The energy sector has suffered for various reasons, even before the war. There hasn't been a strategic approach to this issue for a long time, and we’ve relied heavily on temporary fixes,” noted bin Mubarak.

The Yemeni government spends 30% of its resources on energy, with a huge chunk, 75%, going solely to fuel.

Under bin Mubarak’s leadership, the government is aiming to lower fuel prices directly.

“Our strategy first aims to stop excessive spending so we can save for the future,” he explained.

“For instance, we’ve slashed the price of fuel from $1,200 to $760 per ton, saving nearly half. Similar savings are expected in transporting crude oil to power stations, especially in Aden.”

“We're also pushing for a shift to cleaner energy sources like solar and wind power, working closely with partners like Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” revealed bin Mubarak.

According to the prime minister, fixing Yemen’s electricity sector will take time and significant investments, along with genuine partnerships with the private sector.

He stressed that private sector involvement depends on structural reforms, including legislative changes and improving distribution networks.

“We need to stop waste and losses due to weak networks and illegal tapping, and adjust tariffs while increasing collection rates. These are crucial steps for a better energy future,” he affirmed.


Israel Revokes Order to Cut AP Live Gaza Video Feed 

A ship transporting international humanitarian aid is moored at the US-built Trident Pier as Palestinians walk along a main road near Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas group. (AFP)
A ship transporting international humanitarian aid is moored at the US-built Trident Pier as Palestinians walk along a main road near Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas group. (AFP)
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Israel Revokes Order to Cut AP Live Gaza Video Feed 

A ship transporting international humanitarian aid is moored at the US-built Trident Pier as Palestinians walk along a main road near Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas group. (AFP)
A ship transporting international humanitarian aid is moored at the US-built Trident Pier as Palestinians walk along a main road near Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas group. (AFP)

Israel walked back its decision to shut down an Associated Press live video feed of war-torn Gaza on Tuesday, following a protest from the US news agency and concern from the White House.

Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said he had revoked an earlier order that accused the AP of breaching a new ban on providing rolling footage of Gaza to Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera.

"I have now ordered to cancel the operation and return the equipment to the AP agency," Karhi said in a statement, after Washington called on Israel to reverse the move.

"We've been engaging directly with the government of Israel to express our concerns over this action and to ask them to reverse it," a White House spokesperson said.

Karhi's original order earlier Tuesday said communications ministry inspectors had "confiscated the equipment" of AP on orders approved by the government "in accordance with the law".

AP said Israeli officials had seized its camera and broadcasting equipment at a location in the Israeli town of Sderot that overlooks the northern Gaza Strip.

In a statement issued after the order, the news agency said it "decries in the strongest terms" the move by the Israeli government.

Reacting after Israeli officials ordered the equipment to be returned, it added: "While we are pleased with this development, we remain concerned about the Israeli government's use of the foreign broadcaster law and the ability of independent journalists to operate freely in Israel."

AP said Al Jazeera was among thousands of clients that receive live video feeds from the agency.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said the government "went crazy".

"This is not Al Jazeera, this is an American media outlet that has won 53 Pulitzer Prizes," he wrote on social media platform X.

- 'Attack on press freedom' -

AFP global news director Phil Chetwynd said Israel's initial order was "an attack on press freedom".

"The free flow of verified information and images from reliable sources is vital in the current highly-charged context," he said in a statement.

"We would urge the authorities to immediately reverse this decision and to allow all journalists to work freely and without hindrance."

The United Nations said it was "shocking".

"The Associated Press, of all news organizations, should be allowed to do its work freely and free of any harassment," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera was taken off the air in Israel this month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government voted to shut it down over its coverage of the Gaza war.

Al Jazeera's Jerusalem offices were shuttered, its equipment confiscated, and its team's accreditations pulled.

The AP said communications ministry officials arrived at its location in Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment.

It said officials had handed the AP a piece of paper, signed by the communications minister, alleging it was violating the country's new foreign broadcast law.

The ministry later confirmed the incident.

It said the US news agency regularly took images of Gaza from the balcony of a house in Sderot, "including focusing on the activities of IDF (army) soldiers and their location".

"Even though the inspectors of the Ministry of Communications warned them that they were breaking the law and that they should cut off Al Jazeera from receiving their content and not transfer a broadcast to Al Jazeera, they continued to do so," it said.

- 'Outrageous censorship' -

The AP said it had been broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza before its equipment was seized, and that the live feed has generally shown smoke rising over the Palestinian territory.

"The AP complies with Israel's military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troops movements that could endanger soldiers," the agency added.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel said it was "alarmed" by the confiscation of the AP's equipment, calling it "a slippery slope".

It denounced Israel's "dismal" record on press freedom during the Gaza war, and called the move against AP "outrageous censorship".

In the 2024 press freedom index by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Israel ranked 101st out of 180 countries -- dropping four positions from the previous year.

After the order to restore AP's equipment was announced, RSF said on X that it was "good to see a rapid reversal of this outrageous decision, but @AP never should have been blocked".

"The ban on @AlJazeera must also be immediately reversed - and the international community should show the same support it showed today," it added.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Hamas also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.


Norway, Ireland and Spain Recognize a Palestinian State in a Historic Move 

Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre speaks during a news conference in Oslo, Norway, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Erik Flaaris Johansen/NTB Scanpix via AP)
Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre speaks during a news conference in Oslo, Norway, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Erik Flaaris Johansen/NTB Scanpix via AP)
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Norway, Ireland and Spain Recognize a Palestinian State in a Historic Move 

Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre speaks during a news conference in Oslo, Norway, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Erik Flaaris Johansen/NTB Scanpix via AP)
Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre speaks during a news conference in Oslo, Norway, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Erik Flaaris Johansen/NTB Scanpix via AP)

Norway, Ireland and Spain recognized a Palestinian state on Wednesday in a historic move that drew condemnation from Israel and jubilation from the Palestinians. Israel ordered back its ambassadors from Norway and Ireland. 

It was a lightning cascade of announcements. First was Norway, whose Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said “there cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.” 

Gahr Støre said the Scandinavian country will officially recognize a Palestinian state as of May 28. “By recognizing a Palestinian state, Norway supports the Arab peace plan,” he said. 

Several European Union countries have in the past weeks indicated that they plan to make the recognition, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region. 

Norway, which is not a member of the European Union but mirror its moves, has been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. 

“The terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and the state of Israel,” the Norwegian government leader said. “Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state.” 

The move comes as Israeli forces have led assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip in May, causing a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine. 

The Scandinavian country “will therefore regard Palestine as an independent state with all the rights and obligations that entails,” Gahr Støre said. 

The development comes more than 30 years after the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993. Since then, “the Palestinians have taken important steps towards a two-state solution,” the Norwegian government said. 

It said that the World Bank determined that a Palestinian state had met key criteria to function as a state in 2011, that national institutions have been built up to provide the population with important services. 

“The war in Gaza and the constant expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank still mean that the situation in Palestine is more difficult than it has been in decades,” the Norwegian government said. 

Also Wednesday, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris made his announcement, saying it was a move coordinated with Spain and Norway, “an historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine.” He said the move was intended to help move the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to resolution through a two-state solution. 

The Irish prime minister said he thinks other countries will join Norway, Spain and Ireland in recognizing a Palestinian state “in the weeks ahead.” 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that his country will recognize a Palestinian state also on May 28. Sánchez, Spain’s Socialist leader since 2018, made the expected announcement to the nation’s Parliament on Wednesday. 

Sánchez has spent months touring European and Middle Eastern countries to garner support for the recognition of a Palestinian state, as well as a possible ceasefire in Gaza. He has said several times that he was committed to the move. 

Earlier this month, Spain’s Foreign Minister José Albares said he had informed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken of his government’s intention of recognizing a Palestinian state. 

The fast-moving developments drew Israel's condemnation. Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz ordered Israel’s ambassadors from Ireland and Norway to immediately return to Israel, as Norway said it would recognize a Palestinian state and Ireland was expected to do the same. 

“Ireland and Norway intend to send a message today to the Palestinians and the whole world: terrorism pays,” Katz said. 

He said that the recognition could impede efforts to return Israel’s hostages being held in Gaza and makes a ceasefire less likely by “rewarding” Hamas and Iran.” He also threatened to recall Israel’s ambassador to Spain if the country takes a similar position. 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Norway’s recognition of a Palestinian state and called on other countries to follow. 

In a statement carried by the official Wafa news agency, he says Norway’s decision, announced Wednesday, will enshrine “the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination” and support efforts to bring about a two-state solution with Israel. 


UN Food Agency Warns That New US Sea Route for Gaza Aid May Fail Unless Conditions Improve 

A truck carries humanitarian aid across Trident Pier, a temporary pier to deliver aid, off the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, near the Gaza coast, May 19, 2024. US Army Central/Handout via Reuters
A truck carries humanitarian aid across Trident Pier, a temporary pier to deliver aid, off the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, near the Gaza coast, May 19, 2024. US Army Central/Handout via Reuters
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UN Food Agency Warns That New US Sea Route for Gaza Aid May Fail Unless Conditions Improve 

A truck carries humanitarian aid across Trident Pier, a temporary pier to deliver aid, off the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, near the Gaza coast, May 19, 2024. US Army Central/Handout via Reuters
A truck carries humanitarian aid across Trident Pier, a temporary pier to deliver aid, off the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, near the Gaza coast, May 19, 2024. US Army Central/Handout via Reuters

The UN World Food Program said Tuesday the new US $320 million pier project for delivering aid to Gaza may fail unless Israel starts ensuring the conditions the humanitarian groups need to operate safely. The operation was halted for at least two days after crowds looted aid trucks coming from the port and one Palestinian man was killed.

Deliveries were stopped Sunday and Monday after the majority of the trucks in an aid convoy Saturday were stripped of all their goods on the way to a warehouse in central Gaza, the WFP said. The first aid transported by sea had entered the besieged enclave on Friday.

The Pentagon said movement of aid from the secured area at the port resumed Tuesday, but the UN said it was not aware of any deliveries on Tuesday.

The UN food agency is now reevaluating logistics and security measures and looking for alternate routes within Gaza, said spokesperson Abeer Etefa. The WFP is working with the US Agency for International Development to coordinate the deliveries.

Only five of the 16 aid trucks that left the secured area on Saturday arrived at the intended warehouse with their cargo intact, another WFP spokesperson, Steve Taravella, told The Associated Press. He said the other 11 trucks were waylaid by what became a crowd of people and arrived without their cargo.

“Without sufficient supplies entering Gaza, these issues will continue to surface. Community acceptance and trust that this is not a one-off event are essential for this operation’s success,” Taravella said in an email. “We have raised this issue with the relevant parties and reiterated our request for alternative roads to facilitate aid delivery. Unless we receive the necessary clearance and coordination to use additional routes, this operation may not be successful.”

The WFP also said Tuesday it has suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah due to a lack of supplies and insecurity.

President Joe Biden ordered the US military’s construction of the floating pier for deliveries of food and other vital supplies. Israeli restrictions on shipments through land borders and overall fighting have put all 2.3 million residents of Gaza in a severe food crisis since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, and US and UN officials say famine has taken hold in the north of Gaza.

Authorities have offered limited details of what transpired with Saturday's aid convoy. However, Associated Press video shows Israeli armored vehicles on a beach road, then aid trucks moving down the road. Civilians watching from the roadside gradually start to clamber on top of the aid trucks, throwing aid down to people below. Numbers of people then appear to overrun the aid trucks and their goods.

At one point, people are shown carting a motionless man with a chest wound through the crowd. A local morgue later confirmed to the AP the man had been killed by a rifle shot. At another point, shots crackled, and some of the men in the crowd are shown apparently ducking behind aid boxes for cover.

It was not clear who fired the shots. The Israeli military is responsible for security for the aid when it reaches the shore. Once it leaves the secure area at the port, aid groups follow their own security protocols.

Asked about the shooting, the Israeli army told the AP, using the acronym for the Israel Defense Forces: “The IDF is currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organization Hamas.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that the aid convoys do not travel with armed security. He said the best security comes from engagement with various community groups and humanitarian partners so people understand that there will be a constant flow of aid. “That is not possible in an active combat zone," Dujarric said.

The Pentagon press secretary, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, said that as of Tuesday 569 metric tons of aid has been delivered to the secured area at the Gaza port. Some of it remains there, however, because distribution agencies are working to find alternative routes to warehouses in Gaza.

Asked if any aid from the pier had yet reached Gaza residents in need, Ryder said, “I do not believe so.” He said aid had resumed moving Tuesday from the secured area into Gaza, after what had been a two-day halt following Saturday's disruption. He gave no immediate details.

Etefa, the WFP spokesperson in Cairo, said she knew of no deliveries from the shore on Tuesday, however.

Biden announced the US mission to open a new sea route for humanitarian goods during his State of the Union address in March, as pressure built on the administration over civilian deaths in Gaza.

The war began in October after a Hamas-led attack killed about 1,200 people in Israel. Israeli airstrikes and fighting have killed more than 35,000 Palestinians since then, Gaza health officials say.

Many international humanitarian organizations were critical of the US project, saying that while any aid was welcome, surging food through the land crossings was the only way to curb the growing starvation. Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official now leading the Refugees International humanitarian organization, called the pier operation “humanitarian theater” and said it was being done for political effect.

The UN says some 1.1 million people in Gaza — nearly half the population — face catastrophic levels of hunger and that the territory is on the brink of famine. The crisis in humanitarian supplies has spiraled in the two weeks since Israel began an incursion into Rafah on May 6, vowing to root out Hamas fighters. Troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, which has been closed since.

Since May 10, only about three dozen trucks have made it into Gaza via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel because fighting makes it difficult for aid workers to reach it, the UN says.

Taravella said little aid or fuel — needed to run aid delivery trucks — is currently reaching any part of Gaza, and stocks of both are almost exhausted.

“The bottom line is that humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” he wrote.


UN Halts All Food Distribution in Rafah Due to Insecurity and After Running Out of Supplies 

Palestinians line up for free food during the ongoing Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip in Rafah, Jan. 9, 2024. (AP)
Palestinians line up for free food during the ongoing Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip in Rafah, Jan. 9, 2024. (AP)
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UN Halts All Food Distribution in Rafah Due to Insecurity and After Running Out of Supplies 

Palestinians line up for free food during the ongoing Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip in Rafah, Jan. 9, 2024. (AP)
Palestinians line up for free food during the ongoing Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip in Rafah, Jan. 9, 2024. (AP)

The United Nations suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Tuesday due to a lack of supplies and an untenable security situation caused by Israel’s expanding military operation. The UN warned that humanitarian operations across the territory were nearing collapse.

A senior United States official said Israel has addressed many of the Biden administration's concerns about a full-scale ground invasion of Rafah aimed at rooting out Hamas fighters there. US President Joe Biden had previously opposed a total military assault on a city filled with displaced civilians if plans did not prioritize the safety of innocent Palestinians. The US official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

The official said the administration stopped short of greenlighting the Israeli invasion plan, but said Israeli officials’ changes to the planning suggested they were taking the American administration’s concerns seriously.

Over the past two weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have fled Rafah in a chaotic exodus, seeking shelter in new tent camps or crowding into areas already devastated by previous Israeli offensives. Some 400,000 people are believed to still be in Rafah after around 900,000 rushed to escape, according to COGAT, the Israeli military office in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs.

Getting aid to displaced civilians has been hampered by closed and chaotic land crossings, as well as problems plaguing the US military’s new floating pier meant to provide an alternative sea route for aid into Gaza. Over the weekend, hungry Palestinians took aid from a UN vehicle convoy coming from the pier, and the UN said since then it had been unable to receive trucks there.

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters in Washington that for the past few days, forward movement of aid from the pier was paused but it resumed Tuesday. There was no confirmation from the UN.

The UN's World Food Program said it was running out of food for central Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people are now living.

“Humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” said Abeer Etefa, a WFP spokesperson. If food and other supplies don’t resume entering Gaza “in massive quantities, famine-like conditions will spread,” she said.

The warning came as Israel seeks to contain the international fallout from a request at the world’s top war crimes court for arrest warrants targeting both Israeli and Hamas leaders. The move garnered support from three European countries, including Israel's key ally France.

“Use of starvation as a method of warfare” was among the accusations against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant by the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court — charges they and other Israeli officials angrily deny. The prosecutor accused three Hamas leaders of war crimes over killings of civilians in the group's Oct. 7 attack.

The UN says some 1.1 million people in Gaza — nearly half the population — face catastrophic levels of hunger and that the territory is on the brink of famine. Throughout the war, Rafah has been filled with scenes of hungry children holding out pots and plastic containers at makeshift soup kitchens, with many families reduced to eating only one meal a day.

The humanitarian crisis deepened after Israeli forces pushed into Rafah on May 6. Tanks and troops seized the vital Rafah crossing into Egypt, and it's been closed ever since. After May 10, only about three dozen trucks made it into Gaza via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel because fighting made it dangerous for aid workers to reach it, the UN says.

Israel insists it puts no restriction on the number of trucks entering Gaza. COGAT said 450 trucks entered Tuesday from its side to Kerem Shalom and a small crossing in northern Gaza. It said more than 650 trucks are waiting on the Gaza side of Kerem Shalom to be retrieved, blaming “lack of logistical capabilities and manpower gaps” among aid groups.

For months, the UN has warned that an Israeli assault on Rafah could wreck the effort to get food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians across Gaza.

Asked about the ramifications of suspending aid, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said simply: “People don’t eat.”

Etefa said the WFP was still passing out hot meals and “limited distributions” of reduced food packages in central Gaza, but “food parcel stocks will run out within days,” she said.

The US touted the $320 million pier project as a route for accelerated deliveries. The first 10 trucks rolled off a ship onto the pier on Friday and were taken to a WFP warehouse. However, a second convoy on Saturday was met by Palestinian crowds who removed all the food from 11 trucks, and only five truckloads made it to the warehouse, Etefa said.

No further deliveries came from the pier Sunday or Monday, Etefa said.

“The responsibility of ensuring aid reaches those in need does not end at the crossings and other points of entry into Gaza — it extends throughout Gaza itself,” she said.

At the same time, battles have escalated in northern Gaza as Israeli troops conduct operations against Hamas fighters, who the military says regrouped in areas already captured in offensives months ago.

One of the main hospitals still operating in the north, Kamal Adwan, was forced to evacuate after it was “targeted” by Israeli troops, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Around 150 staff and dozens of patients fled the facility, including intensive care patients and infants in incubators “under fire from shelling,” it said. The Israeli military did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

The nearby Awda hospital has been surrounded by troops the past three days, and an artillery shell hit its fifth floor, the hospital administration said Tuesday. A day earlier, the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said Awda had run out of drinking water.

The war between began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 hostage. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan accused Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh of crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder and sexual violence.

Israel responded to the Oct. 7 with an offensive that has laid waste to Gaza and killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between noncombatants and fighters in its count.

Monday's call by Khan for arrest warrants deepens Israel’s global isolation at a time when it is facing growing criticism from even its closest allies over the war. France, Belgium, and Slovenia each said they backed Khan's decision.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz headed to France on Tuesday in response, urging it to “declare loud and clear” that the request for warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant “is unacceptable to you and to the French government.”

His meetings there could set the tone for how countries navigate the warrants — if they are eventually issued — and whether they could pose a threat to Israeli leaders. A panel of three ICC judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

Israel still has the support of its top ally, the United States, as well as other Western countries that spoke out against the decision. But if the warrants are issued, they could complicate international travel for Netanyahu and his defense minister, even if they do not face any immediate risk of prosecution because Israel itself is not a member of the court.


WHO Chief Asks Israel to Ease Curbs on Gaza Medical Aid

 Palestinians evacuate Kamal Adwan hospital following an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, May 21, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinians evacuate Kamal Adwan hospital following an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, May 21, 2024. (Reuters)
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WHO Chief Asks Israel to Ease Curbs on Gaza Medical Aid

 Palestinians evacuate Kamal Adwan hospital following an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, May 21, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinians evacuate Kamal Adwan hospital following an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, May 21, 2024. (Reuters)

The head of the World Health Organization called on Tuesday for Israel to lift restrictions on aid into Gaza saying that the primary pipeline for emergency medical aid into the enclave from Egypt had been cut off.

"At a time when the people of Gaza are facing starvation, we urge Israel to lift the blockade and let aid through. Without more aid flowing into Gaza, we cannot sustain our lifesaving support of hospitals," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference in Geneva.

Israel seized and closed the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt on May 7, disrupting a vital route for people and aid into and out of enclave.

Tedros said the move had impacted six hospitals and nine primary health centers and caused 70 shelters to lose their medical facilities.

"Daily consultations have fallen by close to 40% and immunization by 50%," he said. "Approximately 700 seriously ill patients who would have otherwise been evacuated for medical care elsewhere are stuck in a war zone."

Gaza's healthcare system has essentially collapsed since Israel began its military offensive there after the Oct. 7 cross-border attacks by Palestinian Hamas fighters on Israelis.

Tedros said that Gaza's Al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza remained under siege since Sunday, with 148 hospital staff and 22 patients and the people accompanying in them trapped inside. He said that fighting near Kamal Adwan Hospital, also in northern Gaza, had jeopardized its ability to care for patients.

"These are the only two functional hospitals remaining in northern Gaza," Tedros said. "Ensuring their ability to deliver health services is imperative."


UNRWA Says Food Distribution in Rafah Suspended Due to Insecurity

Displaced Palestinian children carry containers with food in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas group. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinian children carry containers with food in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas group. (AFP)
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UNRWA Says Food Distribution in Rafah Suspended Due to Insecurity

Displaced Palestinian children carry containers with food in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas group. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinian children carry containers with food in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas group. (AFP)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Tuesday that food distribution in Gaza's southern city of Rafah were currently suspended due to lack of supplies and insecurity.

UNRWA said in a statement on X that only seven out of its 24 health centers were operational and that it had not received any medical supplies in the past 10 days due to "closures/disruptions" at the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings into Gaza.

Israel mounted a new push in central Gaza on Monday, bombarding towns in the north of the Palestinian enclave and saying it intended to broaden operations in Rafah despite US warnings of the risk of mass casualties in the southern city.

Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the southern and northern edges of Hamas-ruled Gaza this month have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.


Israeli Officials Seize AP Equipment and Take Down Live Shot of Northern Gaza, Citing New Media Law

A screenshot taken from AP video showing a general view of northern Gaza as seen from Southern Israel, before it was seized by Israeli officials on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP)
A screenshot taken from AP video showing a general view of northern Gaza as seen from Southern Israel, before it was seized by Israeli officials on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP)
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Israeli Officials Seize AP Equipment and Take Down Live Shot of Northern Gaza, Citing New Media Law

A screenshot taken from AP video showing a general view of northern Gaza as seen from Southern Israel, before it was seized by Israeli officials on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP)
A screenshot taken from AP video showing a general view of northern Gaza as seen from Southern Israel, before it was seized by Israeli officials on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP)

Israeli officials seized a camera and broadcasting equipment belonging to The Associated Press in southern Israel on Tuesday, accusing the news organization of violating a new media law by providing images to Al Jazeera.

The Qatari satellite channel is among thousands of clients that receive live video feeds from the AP and other news organizations. The AP denounced the move.

“The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms the actions of the Israeli government to shut down our longstanding live feed showing a view into Gaza and seize AP equipment,” said Lauren Easton, vice president of corporate communications at the news organization.

“The shutdown was not based on the content of the feed but rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country’s new foreign broadcaster law. We urge the Israeli authorities to return our equipment and enable us to reinstate our live feed immediately so we can continue to provide this important visual journalism to thousands of media outlets around the world.”

Officials from the Communications Ministry arrived at the AP location in the southern town of Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment. They handed the AP a piece of paper, signed by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, alleging it was violating the country’s foreign broadcaster law.

Shortly before, the equipment was broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza. The AP complies with Israel’s military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troops movements that could endanger soldiers. The live shot has generally shown smoke rising over the territory.

The seizure followed a verbal order Thursday to cease the live transmission — which the news organization refused to do.

“In accordance with the government decision and the instruction of the communications minister, the communications ministry will continue to take whatever enforcement action is required to limit broadcasts that harm the security of the state,” the ministry said in a statement.

Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid called the move “an act of madness.”

“This is not Al Jazeera. This is an American news outlet,” he said. “This government acts as if it has decided to make sure at any cost that Israel will be shunned all over the world.”

Israeli officials used the law to close down the Al Jazeera offices on May 5 and confiscated the channel’s equipment, banned its broadcasts, and blocked its websites.

At the time, media groups warned of the serious implications for press freedom in the country since the law gives Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, who is a member of the hard-right flank of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, wide leeway to enforce it against other media.

“With this decision, Israel joins a dubious club of authoritarian governments to ban the station,” the Foreign Press Association in Israel, which represents dozens of international news outlets operating in the country and the Palestinian territories, said earlier this month. “And the government may not be done. The prime minister has the authority to target other foreign media that he deems to be ‘acting against the state.’”

“This is a dark day for the media. This is a dark day for democracy,” it said.

Israel has long had a rocky relationship with Al Jazeera, accusing it of bias against the country, and Netanyahu has called it a “terror channel” that spreads incitement.

Al Jazeera is one of the few international news outlets that has remained in Gaza throughout the war, broadcasting scenes of airstrikes and overcrowded hospitals and accusing Israel of massacres.

The war in Gaza began with a Hamas attack in Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since then, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count.


Israel Tries to Contain Fallout Over ICC Warrant Requests After Allies Voice Support for the Move 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem, May 6, 2024.  (Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem, May 6, 2024. (Reuters)
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Israel Tries to Contain Fallout Over ICC Warrant Requests After Allies Voice Support for the Move 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem, May 6, 2024.  (Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem, May 6, 2024. (Reuters)

Israel's foreign minister was headed to France on Tuesday in a bid to contain the fallout from the decision by the prosecutor of the world court to request arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, a move supported by several European countries, including key ally France.

France, as well as Belgium and Slovenia, each said Monday they backed the move by International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan, who accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Their support exposes divisions in the West's approach to Israel and deepens the country's global isolation over its conduct in the war in Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz' meetings with his French counterpart and other senior officials could set the tone for how countries navigate the warrants — if they are eventually issued — and whether they could pose a threat to Israeli leaders.

Israel still has the support of its top ally, the United States, as well as other Western countries that spoke out against the decision. But if the warrants are issued, they could complicate international travel for Netanyahu and Gallant. Israel itself is not a member of the court.

As the fallout from the prosecutor's decision spiraled, violence continued in the region, with an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank killing at least seven Palestinians, including a local doctor, according to Palestinian health officials.

In a late-night statement Monday about the ICC prosecutor's warrant requests, France said it “supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations.”

“France has been warning for many months about the imperative of strict compliance with international humanitarian law and in particular about the unacceptable nature of civilian losses in the Gaza Strip and insufficient humanitarian access,” the statement said.

France has a large Jewish community and has close trade and diplomatic ties with Israel, whose leaders frequently visit.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said Monday in a post on X that “crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators.”

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the prosecutor's move as disgraceful and antisemitic. US President Joe Biden also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. The United Kingdom called the move “not helpful,” saying the ICC does not have jurisdiction in the case, while Israeli ally Czech Republic called Khan's decision “appalling and completely unacceptable.”

A panel of three judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

Israel has faced rising criticism from even its closest allies over the war in Gaza, which is now in its eighth month. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not distinguish between noncombatants and fighters in its count. The war has sparked a humanitarian crisis that has displaced much of the coastal enclave's population and driven parts of it to starvation, which Khan said Israel used as a “method of warfare.”

The war between began on Oct. 7, following Hamas' deadly attack, when the fighters from Gaza crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 hostage. Khan accused Hamas' leaders of crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder and sexual violence.

Since the war began, violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank.

On Tuesday, an Israeli raid into the Jenin refugee camp and the adjacent city of Jenin killed at least seven Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The area has both has long been a bastion of armed struggle against Israel.

The military said its forces struck gunmen during the operation while the Palestinian Islamic Jihad armed group said its fighters battled the Israeli forces.

However, according to Wissam Abu Baker, the director of Jenin Governmental Hospital, the medical center’s surgery specialist Ossayed Kamal Jabareen was among the dead. He was killed on his way to work, Abu Baker said.

Jenin and the refugee camp, seen as a hotbed of militancy, have been frequent targets of Israeli raids, long before Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza broke out.

Since the start of the war, nearly 500 Palestinians have been killed in West Bank fighting, many of them gunmen, as well as others throwing stones or explosives at troops. Others not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.

Israel says it is cracking down on soaring militancy in the territory, pointing to a spike in attacks by Palestinians on Israelis. It has arrested more than 3,000 Palestinians since the start of the war in Gaza.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem, which it later annexed, and the Gaza Strip, which it withdrew troops and settlers from in 2005. The Palestinians seek those territories as part of their future independent state, hopes for which have been dimmed since the war in Gaza erupted.


Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi Group Claim they Shot Down another US Drone

FILE PHOTO: A military drone is launched from an unknown location in Yemen, February 15, 2022 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video. Houthi Military Media/Handout via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: A military drone is launched from an unknown location in Yemen, February 15, 2022 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video. Houthi Military Media/Handout via REUTERS
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Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi Group Claim they Shot Down another US Drone

FILE PHOTO: A military drone is launched from an unknown location in Yemen, February 15, 2022 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video. Houthi Military Media/Handout via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: A military drone is launched from an unknown location in Yemen, February 15, 2022 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video. Houthi Military Media/Handout via REUTERS

The Iran-backed Houthi group in Yemen claimed on Tuesday they shot down an American drone over the impoverished Arab country. The US military did not immediately acknowledge the claim.
If confirmed, this would be the second MQ-9 Reaper drone downed by the Houthis over the past week as they press their campaign over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, The Associated Press said.
Last Friday, the Houthis claimed downing an American drone over the province of Marib, hours after footage circulated online of what appeared to be the wreckage of an MQ-9 Reaper. And early Saturday, a vessel also came under attack in the Red Sea.
Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree said Tuesday the drone was shot down with a locally made surface-to-air missile. He did not say when it took place but alleged the drone “was carrying out hostile missions” over Yemen’s southern province of Bayda.
The US Mideast-based Central Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press regarding the incident.
Since Yemen's civil war started in 2014, when the Houthis seized most of the country’s north and its capital of Sanaa, the US military has lost at least five drones to the Houthis.
Reapers, which cost around $30 million apiece, can fly at altitudes up to 50,000 feet and have an endurance of up to 24 hours before needing to land.
The Houthis have also stepped up attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, demanding Israel ends the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians there. The war began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage.
The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the US Maritime Administration.
Shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has declined because of the threat.
The Houthis claimed last week that they fired a missile towards a US Navy destroyer in the Red Sea. However, the US military said the warship intercepted the anti-ship ballistic missile.