Sunday, February 25, 2024

Middle East crisis live: US should rethink military aid to Israel, EU foreign policy chief indicates

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US should rethink military aid to Israel, EU foreign policy chief indicates

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made a thinly veiled call on Monday for the United States to rethink its military aid to Israel due to the high number of civilian casualties in the war in Gaza.

Borrell recalled that US president Joe Biden said last week that Israel’s response to the 7 October Hamas attack had been “over the top” and US officials had repeatedly said that too many civilians were being killed in Gaza, Reuters reported.

“Well, if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people being killed,” Borrell told reporters after a meeting of EU development aid ministers in Brussels.

“If the international community believes that this is a slaughter, that too many people are being killed, maybe we have to think about the provision of arms,” he added.

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Key events

The Israeli raid in southern Gaza overnight lasted less than 90 minutes. The two hostages rescued were being held in an apartment guarded by Hamas gunmen, and the Associated Press offers a time line, in the local time zone (GMT +2hrs).

Local officials said 67 Palestinians were killed in heavy airstrikes launched to cover the Israeli military operation.

At 1.49am Israeli special forces stormed the apartment in Rafah where the hostages were being held.A gun battle erupted with Hamas captors.

At 1.50am, Israeli warplanes and attack helicopters used airstrikes to provide cover, flattening several residential blocks in a built-up refugee camp dating all the way back to the 1948 war, when the state of Israel was established.

At 2.30am the first reports of Palestinian casualties from Israeli strikes emerge.

At 3.14am freed hostages Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har in hospital in Israel by helicopter, where relatives await them.

At 5.30am hospitals in Rafah report Palestinians were killed in the air strikes.

At 9.59am Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomem the hostages home and praised the forces who rescued them.

At 10.17am the Gaza Health Ministry said 67 Palestinians were killed in the operation, with the toll likely to rise as recovery efforts continue.

People stand around craters caused by Israeli bombardment in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip, on Monday on February 12, 2024. Photograph: Ismael Mohamad/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

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Lisa O’Carroll

The EU’s foreign affairs chief has called on US to stop sending arms to Israel as it did in 2006 when Tel Aviv failed to heed a growing international backlash over the then war with Lebanon.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative, also sharply criticised Benjamin Netanyahu plan to launch an offensive in Rafah, where many Palestinans have fled for safety.

It comes as a Dutch appeals court ordered the Netherlands government to block the delivery of parts for F-35 fighter jets to Israel over concerns they are being used to violate international law, something Israel denies.

“Netanyahu doesn’t listen to anyone. [He says] they are going to evacuate [the people]. Where? To the moon? Where are they going to evacuate this people to? he told reporters in Brussels after a meeting with the head of UNWRA, the UN agency funding Palestinian schools and hospitals.

With his patience clearly tested over the continuing bombing of Gaza, Borrell told reporters that leaders, including Joe Biden, who decry the killing, needed to stop arming Israel.

“How many times have you heard the most prominent leaders of the world saying too many people are being killed.

“President Biden has said this [killing] is too much, said it is not proportional.

“Well if you believe that too many people are being killed maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people being killed. That is logical,” said Borrell.

“In 2006 the world … the US already took this decision. They already a took the decision to halt the supply of arms to Israel because Israel didn’t want to stop the war. Exactly the same thing happens today. Everybody goes to Tel Aviv begging ‘Please, don’t do that, protect civilians; don’t kill so many. How many is too many?”

UNWRA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini revealed the organisation was facing a funding gap of hundreds of millions of euro after some countries paused or suspended payments in the light of allegations that some of its staff were involved in the 7 October Hamas attacks.

Before the allegations the UN agency had funds sufficient to operate until July including a now at risk €82m tranche from the EU in early March.

Now, Lazzarini said it would be “negative” to the tune of €30m to €40m in March, “significantly negative” from April. “Just to cover salaries of 30,000 staff across the region, we need at minimum €60m just .. for the salaries.

He warned that if UNWRA was closed it would have “devastating” consequences in terms of food supplies and post-war on education of “traumatised boys and girls”.

Ashifa Kassam

Ashifa Kassam

The Dutch government has been ordered to halt the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, after a Dutch appeals court ruled that there was a “clear risk” that the planes could be used to violate international humanitarian law.

Several human rights organisations launched the legal challenge in December, calling for the continued transfer of aircraft parts to be reevaluated in the context of Israel’s current military actions in Gaza.

On Monday the appeals court appeared to side with campaigners. “It is undeniable that there is a clear risk that the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said in its ruling.

The Dutch government said it would file an appeal with the country’s supreme court, amid concerns that the order had over-stepped the state’s responsibility to formulate its own foreign policy.

“The delivery of US F-35 parts to Israel in our view is not unjustified,” the country’s trade minister, Geoffrey van Leeuwen, said. He said the F-35s were crucial for Israel’s security and its ability to protect itself from threats in the region, “for example from Iran, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon”.

The Netherlands is home to one of three European regional warehouses that contain US-owned F-35 parts to be shipped to various partners, including Israel, as per existing export agreements.

The appeals court said it was likely that the F-35s were being used in Gaza. “Israel does not take sufficient account of the consequences for the civilian population when conducting its attacks,” the court decision noted, adding that the military offensive in Gaza has “caused a disproportionate number of civilian casualties, including thousands of children.”

Israel’s aerial and ground offensive in the densely populated Gaza Strip has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to local health authorities, and displaced most of the territory’s 2.3 million people from their homes.

Israel launched its offensive in response to cross-border raid by Hamas on southern Israel during which 1,200 Israelis were killed and hundreds more taken hostage. Israeli officials have said that Hamas deliberately uses civilians to protect its military infrastructure and fighters, a charge denied by the Islamist group.

Palestinians check the rubble of buildings damaged by Israeli airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, Feb. 12, 2024. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

US should rethink military aid to Israel, EU foreign policy chief indicates

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made a thinly veiled call on Monday for the United States to rethink its military aid to Israel due to the high number of civilian casualties in the war in Gaza.

Borrell recalled that US president Joe Biden said last week that Israel’s response to the 7 October Hamas attack had been “over the top” and US officials had repeatedly said that too many civilians were being killed in Gaza, Reuters reported.

“Well, if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people being killed,” Borrell told reporters after a meeting of EU development aid ministers in Brussels.

“If the international community believes that this is a slaughter, that too many people are being killed, maybe we have to think about the provision of arms,” he added.

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Summary of the day so far..

  • The UK announced new sanctions on “four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank,” the Foreign Office said.

  • Israel freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah on Monday under the cover of airstrikes which local health officials said killed 67 Palestinians and injured dozens in the southern Gaza city that is the last refuge of about a million displaced civilians. The freed hostages were named by the Israel Defense Forces as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, who were taken from the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz in the 7 October Hamas attacks.

  • There are growing international concerns about the prospect of a ground offensive on the southern city of Rafah. The Australian government warned that Israel’s plans for a military offensive on Rafah could have “devastating consequences” for Palestinian civilians sheltering there. The foreign minister, Penny Wong, also suggested on Monday that a failure to ensure special care for more than 1 million civilians in the area, many in makeshift tents, would “cause serious harm to Israel’s own interests”. The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, meanwhile, said he is “extraordinarily concerned” about Benjamin Netanyahu’s threats to launch attacks on Rafah with no evacuation plan and no prospect of refugee camps in Egypt. On Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, said: “I am especially concerned by the recent attacks on Rafah where the majority of Gaza’s population has fled the destruction.” The official spokesperson for Rishi Sunak, the UK’s prime minister, said they were “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah. Echoing these concerns, the UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah, adding that many of the people in the city had already fled from other areas and have nowhere else to go.

  • A Dutch appeals court ordered the Dutch government to block all exports of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel within seven days, according to Reuters. “It is undeniable that there is a clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said.

  • Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 28,340 Palestinians and injured 67,984 since 7 October, the health ministry in Gaza said.

  • The UK government has a duty not just to support the orders of the International Court of Justice, but to change UK policy by suspending the supply of arms to Israel, David Cameron has been told by 30 UK-based organisations including legal and atrocity prevention groups.

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Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the United Nations’ agency UNRWA, said on Monday he had “no intention to resign” after allegations that some staff members participated in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on 7 October.

The UN agency provides aid to Palestinians in Gaza and since the allegations were made a number of donor countries have suspended funding. UNRWA has launched an investigation and dismissed staff accused of involvement in the attack.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has been holding a press conference alongside Lazzarini in Brussels.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have warned that Israel’s war in Gaza and the related attacks on shipping through the Red Sea pose threats to the global economy, AFP reports.

The four-month-old war has hit the Middle East and north Africa region’s economy, said the IMF’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, said.

“I fear most a longevity of the conflict because, if it goes on and on, the risk of spillover goes up,” Georgieva told the World Government Summit, an annual gathering of business and political leaders in Dubai.

“Right now we see a risk of spillover in the Suez Canal,” she said, as Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have attacked Red Sea shipping leading to the crucial maritime passage.

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Giving more details about the hostage rescue in Rafah, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Adm Daniel Hagari said Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, were found “deep inside Rafah … held in harsh conditions”.

“They were intentionally held in the middle of a civilian neighbourhood, inside a civilian building, to try and prevent us from rescuing them. But we did,” BBC News quoted him as saying.

Geneva Abdul

Geneva Abdul

A woman evacuated from Gaza to the UK is desperate to help her family exit the territory amid warnings of an Israeli military ground offensive in Rafah which was hit by heavy airstrikes overnight.

Islam Alashi, 38, found herself amid the war after travelling to Gaza from Liverpool to visit her father in September. After nearly 60 days under Israeli bombardment, Alashi was able to evacuate and return to her family in the UK in December, where she has since started a fundraising campaign to evacuate her father, sister and niece as they shelter with more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population in Rafah.

“My mind is still there, to be honest, I just came to be beside my kids and my husband,” said Alashi, who has not been able to return to work or her routine before the war. “Nothing changed for me because yes I saved myself, but I can’t save the rest of my family.”

Palestinians check the rubble of buildings damaged by Israeli airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Following reports of airstrikes in Rafah last night, Alashi, who last spoke with her sister two days ago, said she is “terrified” for her family sheltering in a tent near the border, which cost them $1,000. The only option to evacuate her family now, said Alashi, is paying for them to cross into Egypt.

“If we pay $5,000 for each one of the adults and $2,500 for the baby they can be evacuated the next week,” said Alashi. The Guardian previously reported on bribes being paid up to $10,000 (£7,850) to help Palestinians leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.

When her name appeared on the list of evacuees at the Rafah border crossing in December, Alashi took her father, who is Palestinian, and sister, who holds a Yemeni passport, and niece as well, hoping they’d be able to cross with her. Her family was returned to Rafah, recalled Alashi, who was too upset to turn her head as she left.

“When I can connect with my sister she’s crying all the time, and I cry, she says ‘please save us, please do something for us’,” said Alashi. “But I can’t do anything to them because it’s about governments.”

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The Sanremo Italian song festival – Italy’s biggest showbiz event – has been criticised by Israel after a rapper competing in the contest’s final appealed to “stop genocide” during his appearance on stage.

Alon Bar, Israel’s ambassador to Italy, said the festival, which draws in millions of TV viewers and is used to pick the Italian candidate for the Eurovision song contest, had been exploited to “spread hatred and provocation in a superficial, irresponsible way” after the appeal by Ghali.

“In the 7 October massacre, among the 1,200 victims were over 360 young people slaughtered and raped during the Nova music festival,” Bar posted to social media. “Another 40 of them were kidnapped and are still in the hands of the terrorists. The Sanremo festival could have expressed solidarity with them. It is a shame this didn’t happen.”

You can read the full story by the Guardian’s Rome correspondent, Angela Giuffrida, here:

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UK government ‘deeply concerned’ about planned offensive in Rafah

The official spokesperson for Rishi Sunak, the UK’s prime minister, said they were “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

The city, on the border with Egypt, is one of the few regions not yet targeted by an Israeli ground offensive and is providing refuge to more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population who have fled fighting elsewhere.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said:

We are obviously deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

Over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering there and that crossing is vital to ensuring aid can reach the people who desperately need it.

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah, which was hit by heavy airstrikes overnight.

Cameron said many of the people in Rafah had already fled from other areas and said there is nowhere else for them to go.

Speaking to reporters in East Kilbride, Scotland, he said:

We are very concerned about what is happening in Rafah because, let’s be clear, the people there, many of whom have moved four, five, six times before getting there.

It really, we think, is impossible to see how you can fight a war among these people, there is nowhere for them to go.

They can’t go south into Egypt, they can’t go north and back to their homes because many have been destroyed.

So we are very concerned about the situation and we want Israel to stop and think seriously before it takes any further action.

But above all, what we want is an immediate pause in the fighting. We want that pause to lead to a ceasefire, a sustainable ceasefire without a return to further fighting. That is what should happen now.

We need to get those hostages out, including the British nationals. We need to get the aid in. The best way to do that is to stop the fighting now and turn that into a permanent, sustainable ceasefire.

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Israel says Hamas forces halved with more than 12,000 gunmen killed

An Israeli government spokesperson said that Hamas had been reduced to half its fighting force, Reuters reported.

“We’re talking about three-quarters of Hamas’ battalions that have been shattered … with over 12,000 terrorists who have been killed,” spokesperson Eylon Levy said.

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UK sanctions extremist settlers in the West Bank

The United Kingdom has announced new sanctions on “four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank,” the Foreign Office said.

The foreign secretary, David Cameron, said in a statement:

Today’s sanctions place restrictions on those involved in some of the most egregious abuses of human rights. We should be clear about what is happening here. Extremist Israeli settlers are threatening Palestinians, often at gunpoint, and forcing them off land that is rightfully theirs. This behaviour is illegal and unacceptable.

Israel must also take stronger action and put a stop to settler violence. Too often, we see commitments made and undertakings given, but not followed through.

Extremist settlers, by targeting and attacking Palestinian civilians, are undermining security and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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Francesca Albanese, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, will not be allowed to enter Israel or the Palestinian territories, the Israeli government has announced.

#BREAKING: UN’s @franceskalbs, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories, will not be allowed to enter Israel or the Palestinian territories after recent comment – Israel’s foreign minister @Israel_katz and interior minister Moshe Arbel announce

— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) February 12, 2024

Discussions will take place today in Israel on the question of whether to send a delegation to Cairo tomorrow, the Israeli public broadcaster reports.

American officials see talks in Egypt as an “important event”, and Israeli officials say that this boosts chances that Israel will participate, according to the broadcaster.

בישראל יקיימו היום דיונים בנוגע לשליחת משלחת לפסגת קהיר שתתקיים מחר. גורמים בישראל הבהירו בימים האחרונים כי התשובה תלויה בשינוי עמדת חמאס, אולם בשל העובדה שהממשל האמריקני רואה בפסגה “אירוע חשוב”, גורמים ישראלים אומרים כי זה מעלה את הסיכוי שישראל תשתתף בו@AmichaiStein1

— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 12, 2024

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, is in the region today.

Rutte, who is considered a frontrunner to become the next Nato secretary-general, said he has three priorities: the need for more humanitarian aid, the release of hostages and a reduction in the intensity of Israeli operations.

Vandaag ben ik in Israël en de Palestijnse gebieden. Hier voer ik gesprekken met @IsraeliPM Netanyahu en met de Palestijnse minister-president @DrShtayyeh. Drie dingen hebben nu de grootste prioriteit: er is massief meer humanitaire hulp nodig in Gaza, Hamas moet de meer dan 100…

— Mark Rutte (@MinPres) February 12, 2024

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