Egypt, India to Boost Military Cooperation

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and India's Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar (Egyptian Presidency)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and India's Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar (Egyptian Presidency)
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Egypt, India to Boost Military Cooperation

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and India's Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar (Egyptian Presidency)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and India's Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar (Egyptian Presidency)

Egypt and India affirmed they would deepen military cooperation and explore new initiatives to intensify military cooperation.

A joint statement bythe two countries referred to elevating their relationship to the level of a strategic partnership to ramp up the defense, political, energy, and economic ties.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the progress in implementing the outcome of the ninth meeting of the Joint Defense Committee, which was held in Cairo in November 2019.

Both leaders hoped to convene the tenth meeting of this committee soon in India, the statement said.

Sisi arrived in New Delhi at the invitation of Modi to participate in celebrations marking "Republic Day," the date on which the Constitution of India came into effect in 1950.

According to a statement by the Egyptian presidential spokesman, Bassam Radi, the two leaders hoped the trade volume would reach $12 billion in the next five years by diversifying the trade basket and increasing the added value, the statement concluded.

The joint statement pointed out that Cairo and New Delhi affirmed their commitment to multilateralism, the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law, the founding values of the Non-Aligned Movement, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states.

They affirmed their intention to cooperate in trade in strategic commodities required to achieve food security so that the two countries can contain the repercussions of the global food crisis.

According to the joint statement, Sisi and Modi appreciated that the military cooperation between their armed forces has reached new levels through joint exercises, transit operations, and high-level bilateral visits.

They agreed to further enhance and deepen defense cooperation in all fields, especially by exchanging technology between defense industries, widening the footprint of military exercises, and exchanging best practices.

Sisi and Modi were concerned about spreading terrorism worldwide, stressing that terrorism constitutes one of humanity's most severe security threats.

The two leaders condemned the use of terrorism as a tool of foreign policy, calling for zero tolerance towards those who encourage, support, finance, or provide sanctuaries for terrorists.

They also stressed the need for the international community to coordinate action to eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including cross-border terrorism.

The Egyptian President and the Indian Prime Minister reiterated their condemnation of all efforts to use religion to justify, support, or sponsor terrorism against other countries.

They renewed their joint determination to promote peace, tolerance, and inclusiveness, reiterating the need to convene the joint committee on combating terrorism regularly to exchange information and best practices.

Sisi and Modi highlighted the pioneering role of Egypt and India in maintaining international peace and security, being among the top ten countries contributing military and police forces to UN peacekeeping missions.

On Thursday, Sisi received at his residence in New Delhi the Vice President of India, Jagdeep Dhankhar.

The Vice President welcomed the President's visit to New Delhi, lauding the outstanding relations between the Egyptian and Indian peoples.

He confirmed India's keenness to support Egypt's efforts to achieve comprehensive development, which witnessed significant progress over the past period.

Dhankhar stressed his country's interest in strengthening the partnership between the two countries in various fields, particularly in trade and investments.



US Says UN Agency Has Agreed to Help in Distribution of Aid to Gaza via Sea Route

 19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians inspect the largely destroyed homes and roads after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)
19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians inspect the largely destroyed homes and roads after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)
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US Says UN Agency Has Agreed to Help in Distribution of Aid to Gaza via Sea Route

 19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians inspect the largely destroyed homes and roads after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)
19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians inspect the largely destroyed homes and roads after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)

The UN World Food Program has agreed to help deliver aid for the starving civilians of Gaza once the US military completes a pier for transporting the humanitarian assistance by sea, US officials said Friday.

The involvement of the UN agency could help resolve one of the major obstacles facing the US-planned project — the reluctance of aid groups to handle on-the-ground distribution of food and other badly needed goods in Gaza absent significant changes by Israel.

An Israeli military attack April 1 that killed seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen intensified international criticism of Israel for failing to provide security for humanitarian workers or allow adequate amounts of aid across its land borders.

President Joe Biden, himself facing criticism over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza while supporting Israel's military campaign against Hamas, announced March 8 that the US military would build the temporary pier and causeway, as an alternative to the land routes.

The US Agency for International Development confirmed to The Associated Press that it would partner with the WFP on delivering humanitarian assistance to Gaza via the maritime corridor.

“This is a complex operation that requires coordination between many partners, and our conversations are ongoing. Throughout Gaza, the safety and security of humanitarian actors is critical to the delivery of assistance, and we continue to advocate for measures that will give humanitarians greater assurances,” USAID said in its statement to the AP.

US and WFP officials were working on how to deliver the aid to Palestinian civilians "in an independent, neutral, and impartial manner,” the agency said.

There was no immediate comment from the WFP, and an WFP spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

Israel promised to open more border crossings into Gaza and increase the flow of aid after its drone strikes killed the seven aid workers, who were delivering food into the Palestinian territory.

The war was sparked when Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking some 250 others hostage. The Israeli offensive in Gaza, aimed at destroying Hamas, has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,800 people, according to local health officials. Hundreds of UN and other humanitarian workers are among those killed by Israeli strikes.

International officials say famine is imminent in northern Gaza, where 70% of people are experiencing catastrophic hunger.

The US military will be constructing what’s known as a modular causeway as part of the maritime route, in hopes that handling the inspection and processing of the aid offshore will speed the distribution to Gaza's people.

Offshore, the Army will build a large floating platform where ships can unload pallets of aid. Then the aid will be transferred by Army boats to a motorized string of steel pier or causeway sections that will be anchored to the shore.

Several Army vessels and Miliary Sealift Command ships are already in the Mediterranean Sea, and are working to prepare and build the platform and pier.

That pier is expected to be as much as 1,800 feet (550 meters) long, with two lanes, and the Pentagon has said it could accommodate the delivery of more than 2 million meals a day for Gaza residents.

Army Col. Sam Miller, commander of the 7th Transportation Brigade, which is in charge of building the pier, said about 500 of his soldiers will participate in the mission. All together, Pentagon officials have said about 1,000 US troops will be involved.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, told reporters this week that the US in on track to have the system in place by the end of the month or early May. The actual construction of the pier had been on hold as US and international officials hammered out agreements for the collection and distribution of the aid.

He said the US has been making progress, and that Israel has agreed to provide security on the shore. The White House has made clear that there will be no US troops on the ground in Gaza, so while they will be constructing elements of the pier, they will not transport aid onto the shore.

US Navy ships and the Army vessels will provide security for US forces building the pier.


Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces Post Hit in Air Strike, Sources Say

 A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion on late Friday, in Babel Province, Iraq April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion on late Friday, in Babel Province, Iraq April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
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Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces Post Hit in Air Strike, Sources Say

 A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion on late Friday, in Babel Province, Iraq April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion on late Friday, in Babel Province, Iraq April 20, 2024. (Reuters)

Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces, an official security force, said its command post at Kalso military base about 50 km (30 miles) south of Baghdad was hit by a huge explosion late on Friday, and two security sources said it resulted from an air strike.

One PMF fighter was killed and six were wounded, two sources at a hospital in the nearby city of Hilla said.

"The blast has caused material damage and injuries," PMF said in a statement, adding that a team was investigating.

The two security sources said it was not known who was responsible for the air strike. A US official said there had been no US military activity in Iraq.

Israel carried out an attack on Iranian territory on Friday, sources said, days after Iran struck Israel with a barrage of drones and missiles.

The PMF started out as a grouping of armed factions, many close to Iran, that was later recognized as a formal security force by Iraqi authorities.

Factions within the PMF took part in months of rocket and drone attacks on US forces in Iraq amid Israel’s Gaza campaign but halted attacks since early February.


UN Refugee Agency Tells Cyprus to Stick to the Law in Its Efforts at Sea to Thwart Refugee Boats

Migrants sit on a Cyprus marine police boat as they are brought to a harbor after being rescued from their own vessel off the Mediterranean island nation's southeastern coast of Protaras, Cyprus, on Jan. 14, 2020. (AP)
Migrants sit on a Cyprus marine police boat as they are brought to a harbor after being rescued from their own vessel off the Mediterranean island nation's southeastern coast of Protaras, Cyprus, on Jan. 14, 2020. (AP)
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UN Refugee Agency Tells Cyprus to Stick to the Law in Its Efforts at Sea to Thwart Refugee Boats

Migrants sit on a Cyprus marine police boat as they are brought to a harbor after being rescued from their own vessel off the Mediterranean island nation's southeastern coast of Protaras, Cyprus, on Jan. 14, 2020. (AP)
Migrants sit on a Cyprus marine police boat as they are brought to a harbor after being rescued from their own vessel off the Mediterranean island nation's southeastern coast of Protaras, Cyprus, on Jan. 14, 2020. (AP)

The United Nations' refugee agency said Friday that Cypriot efforts at sea to stop numerous Syrian refugee-laden boats departing Lebanon from reaching the European Union-member island nation mustn’t contravene international human rights laws or put passengers at risk.

Cypriot authorities have reportedly dispatched police patrol vessels just outside Lebanese territorial waters to thwart boat loads of Syrian refugees from reaching the island about 110 miles (180 kilometers) away.

The Cypriot government says a crumbling Lebanese economy coupled with the uncertainty brought on by the Israeli-Hamas war and the recent tit-for-tat strikes between Israel and Lebanon has resulted in a huge number of rickety boats overloaded with migrants – almost all Syrians – reaching the island.

Earlier this week, Cypriot patrol craft reportedly intercepted five boats carrying hundreds of Syrian refugees and migrants. The boats turned back and the passengers disembarked safely.

UNCHR spokesperson in Cyprus Emilia Strovolidou told The Associated Press that according to testimonies of passengers’ relatives, Cypriot authorities “forcibly pushed back” the boats using “violence” and “techniques to destabilize the boat.”

Strovolidou said the UN agency was “not in a position to confirm” those testimonies.

A Cypriot senior official strenuously denied that any coercion was used in any way to get the boats to return to Lebanon, insisting that the Cypriot government doesn’t engage in any pushbacks and acts “fully in accordance with international law.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he cannot disclose details of ongoing operations, dismissed as “lies” allegations that Cypriot authorities resorted to using any type of force.

Strovolidou said Cyprus is also bound by international law not to return individuals to any country which could in turn deport them to their homeland where they could be at risk of harm or persecution.

The Lebanon office of UNHCR said in a statement that it was aware of more than 220 people who had disembarked from the returned boats in northern Lebanon on Wednesday. Of those, 110 were refugees registered with UNHCR and all of them were released, it said.

Saadeddine Shatila, executive director of the Cedar Center for Legal Studies, a Lebanon-based human rights organization that tracks migration issues, said his group had information that the Lebanese army had detained and possibly deported Syrians from at least one of the returning boats who weren’t registered with UNCHR.

The Lebanese army has in the past occasionally deported all Syrians aboard seized migrant boats, including registered refugees, a practice that drew an outcry from human rights organizations.

Lebanese political officials have been calling for years for the international community to either resettle the refugees in other countries or assist in returning them to Syria, and security forces have stepped up deportations of Syrians over the past year. Some of the deportees have reportedly faced detention and torture upon their return.

The Cypriot official said the Cyprus government in coordination with the European Commission is preparing an additional financial support package for Lebanon to help the country stop migrant boat departures. He said that support is conditional on Lebanon’s effectiveness in stopping migrant boat departures.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides and European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen are due in Beirut May 2 to discuss the aid package.

The official said people smugglers are exploiting people’s fears over the ongoing conflicts in the region and are brazenly advertising in Lebanese coffee shops available seats on boats to Cyprus for $3,000 a head – a bargain compared to the $7,000 required for a trip to Italy.

Cyprus will convene a meeting of other EU countries next month to elicit additional support for its initiative for the bloc to formally redesignate some areas of Syria as safe zones. The Czech Republic and Denmark are behind the idea.

According to the Cypriot official, doing so wouldn’t mean that Syrians hailing from those safe zones are deported back to their country, but they would lose any allowances, benefits and the right to work, creating a disincentive to others to come to Cyprus.

He said Denmark is already implementing such a policy on its own and it’s a measure that the Cypriot government could consider if arrivals continue to increase.


US Sanctions Fundraisers for Extremist West Bank Settlers Who Commit Violence against Palestinians

The US Treasury Department building, June 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP)
The US Treasury Department building, June 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP)
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US Sanctions Fundraisers for Extremist West Bank Settlers Who Commit Violence against Palestinians

The US Treasury Department building, June 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP)
The US Treasury Department building, June 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP)

The Biden administration on Friday imposed sanctions on two entities accused of fundraising for extremist Israel settlers already sanctioned, as well as the founder of an organization whose members regularly assault Palestinians.

The Treasury Department announcement comes as the West Bank has seen some of its worst violence perpetrated by extremist settlers against Palestinians since the war in nearby Gaza began.

There is also friction between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose far-right government has reacted angrily to previous sanctions imposed against West Bank settlers.

Included in the Friday sanctions are two entities — Mount Hebron Fund and Shlom Asiraich — accused of raising funds for sanctioned settlers Yinon Levi and David Chai Chasdai.

Both men were previously sanctioned by the Biden administration for violently attacking Palestinians in the West Bank.

The penalties aim to block them from using the US financial system and bar American citizens from dealing with them.

The fundraising campaigns established by Mount Hebron Fund for Levi and by Shlom Asiraich for Chasdai generated the equivalent of $140,000 and $31,000, respectively, according to US Treasury.

In Levi's case, the fund now sanctioned by the Biden administration is linked to the settler council in the area, a body that receives state money. The Biden order Friday stopped short of sanctioning the settler council itself.

Rights groups say that the expansion of illegal settler outposts in the West Bank is enthusiastically supported by the local settler councils and nudged along by Israel’s current national government — the most far-right in the country’s history.

The Biden order also skirted sanctioning crowdfunding websites where funds were raised, GiveChak and New York-based Charidy.

In Chasdai's case, the fundraiser on Charidy was organized by Shlom Asiraich, which raises money for imprisoned Jewish extremists.

Both online fundraisers have now been taken down. But at least one fundraiser linked to a settler previously sanctioned by the Biden administration, Moshe Sharvit, remains online. As of Friday, the page on GiveChak had raised the equivalent of over $879,000.

Additionally, the State Department is designating Ben-Zion Gopstein, the founder and leader of Lehava, an organization whose members have assaulted Palestinian civilians.

Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said the organizations "undermine the peace, security, and stability of the West Bank. We will continue to use our tools to hold those responsible accountable.”

In February, Biden issued an executive order that targets Israeli settlers in the West Bank who have been accused of attacking Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in the occupied territory.


West Bank Villagers Vigilant but Vulnerable after Settler Attacks

A Palestinian man inspects the damage following clashes with settlers the previous night in the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyir, near Ramallah, 13 April 2024. EPA/ALAA BADARNEH
A Palestinian man inspects the damage following clashes with settlers the previous night in the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyir, near Ramallah, 13 April 2024. EPA/ALAA BADARNEH
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West Bank Villagers Vigilant but Vulnerable after Settler Attacks

A Palestinian man inspects the damage following clashes with settlers the previous night in the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyir, near Ramallah, 13 April 2024. EPA/ALAA BADARNEH
A Palestinian man inspects the damage following clashes with settlers the previous night in the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyir, near Ramallah, 13 April 2024. EPA/ALAA BADARNEH

Sitting around a fire in the hills of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Ibrahim Abu Alyah and some friends stood watch over his herd in the aftermath of a settler attack on their village.
"We are here so that we can put away the sheep and tell people to protect their homes in case settlers come," Abu Alyah told AFP.
After 14-year-old Israeli herder Benjamin Achimeir went missing on April 12 in the nearby illegal settler outpost of Malachi Hashalom, dozens of Jewish settlers raided his village of Al-Mughayyir, north of Ramallah.
Armed with rifles and Molotov cocktails, they set houses ablaze, killed sheep, wounded 23 people and displaced 86, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, AFP said.
One Palestinian was also killed in the violence.
Abu Alyah, a shepherd, lost "20 or 30 sheep" and the cash he made from selling milk products when his house was set alight.
Al-Mughayyir's mayor, Amin Abu Alyah, said the settlers, who were part of the search party for Achimeir, burnt "everything they found in front of them" including houses, a bulldozer and vehicles.
Several citizens tried to organize protection committees to defend themselves from raids, but were prevented from doing so, he said.
"We currently have more than 70 prisoners inside Israeli prisons on charges of joining protection committees or trying to form an organized body," he said.
Duma, struck twice
In the nearby village of Duma, five kilometers (three miles) north of Al-Mughayyir, old fears came true when hundreds of settlers came down through the surrounding fields on Saturday.
That day, Achimeir's body was found bearing marks of a stabbing attack. People watched powerless as settlers rampaged through the village.
"Hundreds of settlers entered the village followed by more than 300 Israeli soldiers who stormed the village and declared it a closed military zone," Suleiman Dawabsha, head of Duma's village council, told AFP.
Mahmud Salawdeh, a 30-year-old iron worker whose house was torched in the attack, felt vulnerable when he realized the soldiers were not stopping the attack.
"We feel helpless because we are unable to protect ourselves, and the settlers are protected by the army," he said.
"I lost all my money and my future," he added from the ground floor of his charred house on the outskirts of Duma, near the fields the attackers came through.
At his feet, burnt furniture and shattered glass covered the floor, while walls black with soot served as a reminder of the firebombs thrown at the building.
His workshop in the adjacent room was torched, charred remnants of old tools lay around, while a large wooden box where he had been raising 70 chicks was now empty.
The incident opened old wounds for Duma residents, who still remember the tragedy that struck the Dawabsha family.
In 2015, the family's home was set ablaze by a settler extremist, killing the couple and their toddler, and leaving only one surviving member, four-year-old Ahmed Dawabsha.
'We will never leave'
Duma residents, like many West Bank villagers, say they are protected neither by Palestinian security, which is only allowed to operate in 40 percent of the territory, nor by Israel, which controls the rest.
Israeli soldiers do not always restrain settlers from attacking Palestinians, OCHA said.
In January, "in nearly half of all recorded incidents (of settler violence) after 7 October, Israeli forces were either accompanying or reported to be supporting the attackers," it said.
OCHA recorded 774 instances of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians since war broke in Gaza on October 7, and said 37 communities had been affected by violence between April 9 and 15, "triple the number" of the preceding week.
Nine Israelis, including five in Israeli forces, were killed in the West Bank over the same timeframe, OCHA said.
At least 462 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or settlers in the West Bank during that period, according to Palestinian official figures.
The West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, has seen a surge in violence since early last year, which has intensified since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza erupted.
Despite the hardships, "we will never leave", the herder Abu Alyah told AFP.
But the 29-year-old already had to move from his former herding grounds on the other side of Al-Mughayyir, closer to the settlement outpost, in September.
The weekend's attacks marked a peak in violence due to the sheer number of people who took part in them, but also reflects a wider trend in the West Bank, NGOs said.
"It is clear that the escalation of violence in the West Bank has occurred in tandem with the crisis in Gaza," charity ActionAid said in a statement.
On Wednesday evening, settlers were planting Israeli flags along the road that runs between Al-Mughayyir and Malachi Hashalom.


Israel Targets Air Defense System in Syria, State News Agency Says 

A picture taken early on 21 January, 2019 shows Syrian air defense batteries responding to what the Syrian state media said were Israeli missiles targeting Damascus. (AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken early on 21 January, 2019 shows Syrian air defense batteries responding to what the Syrian state media said were Israeli missiles targeting Damascus. (AFP/Getty Images)
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Israel Targets Air Defense System in Syria, State News Agency Says 

A picture taken early on 21 January, 2019 shows Syrian air defense batteries responding to what the Syrian state media said were Israeli missiles targeting Damascus. (AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken early on 21 January, 2019 shows Syrian air defense batteries responding to what the Syrian state media said were Israeli missiles targeting Damascus. (AFP/Getty Images)

Israel carried out a missile strike targeting an air defense unit in its south and causing material damage, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency quoted a military statement as saying Friday.

The warplanes were seen around the time loud noises and drones were reported near a major Iranian air base and nuclear site early Friday. That area of Syria is directly west of Isfahan, some 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away, and east of Israel. Iran fired air defense batteries early Friday and some flights were diverted or grounded after reports of explosions near a major airbase and nuclear site where drones were spotted.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken didn’t comment about the latest Middle East developments as he arrived for the final session Friday morning of a Group of Seven foreign ministers’ meeting in Capri, Italy.

Israel has vowed to respond to Iran’s unprecedented weekend attack, leaving the region bracing for further escalation after months of fighting in Gaza. Allies have urged Israel to hold back on any response to the attack that could spiral.

The United States and Britain announced Thursday that they were imposing a new round of sanctions on Iran. The moves came as European Union leaders meeting in Brussels vowed to ramp up sanctions on Iran to target its drone and missile deliveries to proxies in Gaza, Yemen and Lebanon.

Regional tensions have increased since the start of the latest Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad — two armed groups backed by Iran — carried out a cross-border attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel responded with an offensive in Gaza that has caused widespread devastation and killed more than 33,900 people, according to local health officials.


Attack Blamed on ISIS Militants Kills 22 Pro-Government Fighters in Central Syria 

Despite their defeat in Syria in March 2019, ISIS sleeper cells have been blamed for deadly attacks against both Syrian government forces and against members of the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. (Getty Images/AFP)
Despite their defeat in Syria in March 2019, ISIS sleeper cells have been blamed for deadly attacks against both Syrian government forces and against members of the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Attack Blamed on ISIS Militants Kills 22 Pro-Government Fighters in Central Syria 

Despite their defeat in Syria in March 2019, ISIS sleeper cells have been blamed for deadly attacks against both Syrian government forces and against members of the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. (Getty Images/AFP)
Despite their defeat in Syria in March 2019, ISIS sleeper cells have been blamed for deadly attacks against both Syrian government forces and against members of the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. (Getty Images/AFP)

An attack on pro-government fighters by suspected members of the ISIS group in central Syria killed 22 pro-government fighters, an opposition war monitor and pro-government media reported Friday.

Gunmen attacked a bus carrying members of the Quds Brigade, a government and Russian-backed faction of mostly Palestinian fighters in Syria, near the town of Sukhna late Thursday night. Sukhna was once an ISIS stronghold.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but both the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based opposition war monitor, and the pro-government radio station Sham FM said ISIS was behind the attack.

Both the Observatory and Sham FM said 22 fighters were killed. Sham FM said they were all Quds Brigade gunmen, while the Observatory said the majority belonged to the group.

The Quds Brigade fought on the side of Syrian government forces during the country’s 13-year conflict, which has killed half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

The Quds Brigade is different from the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, which uses the same name.

Despite their defeat in Syria in March 2019, ISIS sleeper cells have been blamed for deadly attacks against both Syrian government forces and against members of the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.


US Vetoes Widely Supported Resolution Backing Full UN Membership for Palestine 

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour speaks after US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood voted against members of the Security Council allowing Palestinian UN membership during a Security Council at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, April 18, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour speaks after US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood voted against members of the Security Council allowing Palestinian UN membership during a Security Council at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, April 18, 2024. (Reuters)
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US Vetoes Widely Supported Resolution Backing Full UN Membership for Palestine 

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour speaks after US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood voted against members of the Security Council allowing Palestinian UN membership during a Security Council at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, April 18, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour speaks after US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood voted against members of the Security Council allowing Palestinian UN membership during a Security Council at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, April 18, 2024. (Reuters)

The United States vetoed a widely backed UN resolution Thursday that would have paved the way for full United Nations membership for Palestine, a goal the Palestinians have long sought and Israel has worked to prevent.

The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 12 in favor, the United States opposed and two abstentions, from the United Kingdom and Switzerland. US allies France, Japan and South Korea supported the resolution.

The strong support the Palestinians received reflects not only the growing number of countries recognizing their statehood, but almost certainly the global support for Palestinians facing a humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Gaza, now in its seventh month.

The resolution would have recommended that the 193-member UN General Assembly, where there are no vetoes, approve Palestine becoming the 194th member of the United Nations. Some 140 countries have already recognized Palestine, so its admission would have been approved, likely by a much higher number of countries.

US deputy ambassador Robert Wood told the Security Council that the veto "does not reflect opposition to Palestinian statehood but instead is an acknowledgment that it will only come from direct negotiations between the parties."

The United States has "been very clear consistently that premature actions in New York — even with the best intentions — will not achieve statehood for the Palestinian people," deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said.

His voice breaking at times, Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour told the council after the vote: "The fact that this resolution did not pass will not break our will and it will not defeat our determination."

"We will not stop in our effort," he said. "The state of Palestine is inevitable. It is real. Perhaps they see it as far away, but we see it as near."

This is the second Palestinian attempt for full membership and comes as the war in Gaza has put the more than 75-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict at center stage.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas first delivered the Palestinian Authority’s application for UN membership in 2011. It failed because the Palestinians didn’t get the required minimum support of nine of the Security Council’s 15 members.

They went to the General Assembly and succeeded by more than a two-thirds majority in having their status raised from a UN observer to a non-member observer state in 2012. That opened the door for the Palestinian territories to join UN and other international organizations, including the International Criminal Court.

Algerian UN Ambassador Amar Bendjama, the Arab representative on the council who introduced the resolution, called Palestine’s admission "a critical step toward rectifying a longstanding injustice" and said that "peace will come from Palestine’s inclusion, not from its exclusion."

In explaining the US veto, Wood said there are "unresolved questions" on whether Palestine meets the criteria to be considered a state. He pointed to Hamas still exerting power and influence in the Gaza Strip, which is a key part of the state envisioned by the Palestinians.

Wood stressed that the US commitment to a two-state solution, where Israel and Palestine live side-by-side in peace, is the only path for security for both sides and for Israel to establish relations with all its Arab neighbors.

"The United States is committed to intensifying its engagement with the Palestinians and the rest of the region, not only to address the current crisis in Gaza, but to advance a political settlement that will create a path to Palestinian statehood and membership in the United Nations," he said.

Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, reiterated the commitment to a two-state solution but asserted that Israel believes Palestine "is a permanent strategic threat."

"Israel will do its best to block the sovereignty of a Palestinian state and to make sure that the Palestinian people are exiled away from their homeland or remain under its occupation forever," he said.

He demanded of the council and diplomats crowded in the chamber: "What will the international community do? What will you do?"

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been stalled for years, and Israel’s right-wing government is dominated by hard-liners who oppose Palestinian statehood.

Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan called the resolution "disconnected to the reality on the ground" and warned that it "will cause only destruction for years to come and harm any chance for future dialogue."

Six months after the Oct. 7 attack by the Hamas armed group, which controls Gaza, and the killing of 1,200 people in "the most brutal massacre of Jews since the Holocaust," he accused the Security Council of seeking "to reward the perpetrators of these atrocities with statehood."

Israel’s military offensive in response has killed over 32,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, and destroyed much of the territory, which speaker after speaker denounced Thursday.

After the vote, Erdan thanked the United States and particularly President Joe Biden "for standing up for truth and morality in the face of hypocrisy and politics."

He called the Palestinian Authority — which controls the West Bank and the US wants to see take over Gaza where Hamas still has sway — "a terror supporting entity."

The Israeli UN ambassador referred to the requirements for UN membership – accepting the obligations in the UN Charter and being a "peace-loving" state.

Despite the Palestinian failure to meet the criteria for UN membership, Erdan said most council members supported it.

"It’s very sad because your vote will only embolden Palestinian rejectionism every more and make peace almost impossible," he said.


WHO to Asharq Al-Awsat: Sudanese Hospitals on the Verge of Collapse

Patients receiving treatment at Gedaref Hospital in eastern Sudan (AFP)
Patients receiving treatment at Gedaref Hospital in eastern Sudan (AFP)
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WHO to Asharq Al-Awsat: Sudanese Hospitals on the Verge of Collapse

Patients receiving treatment at Gedaref Hospital in eastern Sudan (AFP)
Patients receiving treatment at Gedaref Hospital in eastern Sudan (AFP)

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that Sudan’s hospitals are on the verge of collapse.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, the WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Hanan Hassan Balkhi, revealed that about 70 to 80 percent of hospitals in the war-torn provinces were not operating, either due to prolonged attacks, shortage of medical supplies and equipment, or lack of health workers.”
Moreover, the WHO regional director attributed part of the crisis in hospitals to “lack of security,” in addition to the fact that the health system in Sudan “was already exhausted before the war, and is now on the verge of collapse.”
She urged the international community to expedite the delivery of humanitarian aid and work to end the ongoing hostilities in the country, stressing the need to implement the decisions of the recent Paris conference.
On her recent visit to Sudan in mid-march, Balkhi said: “My observations on the ground have confirmed the devastating humanitarian crisis of frightening proportions that the ongoing conflict has made 25 million people need urgent assistance this year, while the war forced the displacement of 8.6 million people, and at least 14,600 people were killed, and 33,000 others injured.”
According to the WHO regional director, the outbreaks of diseases are increasing, including cholera, measles, malaria, poliovirus type 2, dengue fever, and hepatitis E, in light of the disruption of basic public health services...

Food insecurity has reached a record level, as nearly half of the children suffer from acute malnutrition, she emphasized.
Balkhi said that the World Health Organization was deploying all possible efforts “within the available capabilities.”
“We are pursuing all possible means and working with local and international partners to make life-saving health care accessible to millions of the most vulnerable people,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.
For a whole year, according to Balkhi, the WHO and its partners maintained a large presence on the ground. The organization offered aid to about 2.5 million people, while mobile clinics provided services to 3.3 million individuals, including cholera, measles, and rubella vaccines to millions of people in different states.
Since the beginning of the war in Sudan, “the organization has verified at least 62 attacks on health care, resulting in 38 deaths and 45 injuries,” she said, adding: “We condemn in the strongest terms the continued attacks on health care in Sudan, and the occupation of health facilities. These attacks must stop.”

 

 


Sudanese Army Strikes Darfur, RSF Advances on Kordofan

A member of the army walks amid damaged houses in Omdurman in Khartoum earlier in April. (Reuters)
A member of the army walks amid damaged houses in Omdurman in Khartoum earlier in April. (Reuters)
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Sudanese Army Strikes Darfur, RSF Advances on Kordofan

A member of the army walks amid damaged houses in Omdurman in Khartoum earlier in April. (Reuters)
A member of the army walks amid damaged houses in Omdurman in Khartoum earlier in April. (Reuters)

The Sudanese army carried out on Thursday a series of air raids on Rapid Support Forces (RSF) positions in the Al-Fashir city, the capital of the North Sudan state, and Nyala in South Darfur in the country’s west.

Meanwhile, sources from the RSF said they were advancing “to liberate Kordofan state” in southern Sudan from the military.

Fierce fighting has been reported for days in Darfur and Kordofan. They intensified on Thursday, deepening the suffering of the people and displacing tens of thousands.

A resident of Al-Fashir told the Arab World Press Agency (AWPA) that prices of goods and fuel have spiked amid the displacement of the people from the countryside to the city.

Over 25,000 families from 31 villages have sought refuge in the city. They are being housed in 15 centers, said a support group for the villages of the Al-Fashir countryside.

The refugees are in deep need of essential goods, such as food, medicine and health services, it added.

Meanwhile, cracks appeared in the sole bridge that connects the northern and southern parts of Nyala city, raising fears of its collapse. Locals said the bridge was damaged in shelling between the army and RSF.

The bridge was built 40 years ago and is vital for Nyala as it connects it with other regions in the south and west. It is the main route for the delivery of goods and the provision of various services.

Kordofan

In Kordofan, an RSF source said the force has caused heavy losses to the army in fighting in the state’s northern region.

The RSF also seized the Jebel al-Dair camp in the Sidra military zone.

Speaking on condition of anonymity to the AWPA, the source added that the RSF also captured six combat vehicles.

The RSF is advancing to liberate Kordofan from the army, it stated.

On the other hand, the army posted on its official Facebook page a video of its drones striking an alleged RSF position without specifying the location of the target.

In a statement, the military said its drones “were continuing to strike the Janjaweed” - a reference to the RSF. It destroyed dozens of RSF combat vehicles, leaving “massive losses in the ranks of the mercenary militia.”

It stressed that it was ensuring that infrastructure and public and private properties are not targeted and that the rules of engagement were being respected.

800 casualties

In the central Gezira state, the “Madani resistance committees” said that since the army’s withdrawal four months ago, “the RSF has not spared any area from its worst form of violations, killings, looting, rapes and terrorization.”

They accused the RSF of the killing of over 800 people in the state. Other sources said the number could not be confirmed.

The committees warned that cases of rape and violations against women and children were on the rise, saying this could lead to a social disaster in the future.

Moreover, they revealed that the RSF had kicked off in recent days a “new wave of violations” by attacking several towns in Al-Hasaheisa in Gezira, looting cars and crops.

Several sources have said the RSF has committed killings against locals in villages in central Sudan. The RSF has denied the claims.

In addition, the committees accused the army of using barrel bombs in Gezira, leaving dozens of casualties and injuries among the civilians and in complete disregard of rules of engagement.

Two people were killed and others wounded in military strikes on Wednesday on central areas of Wad Madani, continued the committees.