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EU to renew economic sanctions against Russia: diplomats, officials



The European Union will seek to renew economic sanctions against Russia when they expire at the end of July, EU diplomats and officials said.

The bloc imposed sanctions on Russia after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed separatist rebels in the east, helping drag relations between President Vladimir Putin and the West to a post-Cold War low.

While EU leaders have so far backed the sanctions, not all have done so with the same zeal.

After Trump’s campaign promises of warmer ties with Moscow the EU’s resolve to remain united on the issue was seen being tested.

But with the U.S. leader’s perceived shift in stance toward Russia, those pressures have eased, for now.

A more imminent risk to the EU’s united front, officials say, would be a surprise win for the far-right Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election on May 7.

“It seems a roll-over will be much less problematic than anyone expected,” said one EU diplomat from a member state keen to maintain the sanctions.

Among the strongest supporters of renewing the sanctions are Sweden, the Baltic states and Poland, whose voice has been weakened by Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

Those less convinced include Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary, Spain and Bulgaria, who argue that three years of sanctions have failed to sway Moscow, and would like to restore business ties.

“We don’t like the sanctions,” said a Brussels-based diplomat from one of these countries.

“It’s a huge business loss for us. But we will be with the majority,” the diplomat added, acknowledging that a renewal of the sanctions regime looked likely.

The EU last month extended until September a blacklist of Russian individuals and entities for their role in the turmoil in Ukraine.

And it is all but certain to extend separate restrictions on doing business in Crimea before the current ban expires in late June.

The renewal of sanctions requires unanimous support. An EU official dealing with the issue said this looked on track.

“First, we extend the Crimea ones. The economic ones should come after the June EU leaders’ summit. There are two things that can affect this: the French elections and Trump,” the official said.

Le Pen opposes Russia sanctions and wants them lifted. If she wins the presidency, France could block an extension.

The simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 10,000 people.

Germany and France, the EU’s two leading powers which brokered peace agreements between Kiev and the Russia-backed rebels in 2014 and 2015, play a leading role in sanction decision-making through their debriefings to other EU states.

While the U.S. has no direct involvement, it is a strong influencer.

Under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, the G7 group of industrialised economies used to seek a joint stance on Russia which the European members took back to other EU states.

This may happen again when G7 leaders meet on May 26 to May 27, a month ahead of the EU leaders’ meeting in Brussels. It will be the first such summit with Trump and will also include Germany, France, Italy and Britain.

A third EU diplomat said that after concerns at the start of the Trump presidency, there was now a growing sense the White House would not be at odds with the EU stance.

“People didn’t ask before for fear of getting the wrong answer,” said a senior EU diplomat.

“And it may prove the right strategy, the Americans seem to be turning around our way.”

A fourth EU diplomat said the United States appeared largely absent from the Russia sanctions discussion.

EU officials, though, do not rule out a thawing of Washington-Moscow relations at some point.

“A roll-over of sanctions is not in doubt now, but who knows further down the line, without U.S. support,” the diplomat said.

Foreign News

Israel Rejects Calls For Ceasefire Before UN Security Council



Israel at the United Nations Security Council in New York on Wednesday rejected calls for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza war.

Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan told the most powerful UN body that with a ceasefire in place, Israel would not be able to protect its citizens.

“Anyone who supports a ceasefire, basically supports Hamas’ continued reign of terror in Gaza,” he said.

One could not demand a ceasefire and at the same time claim to be seeking a solution to the conflict, Erdan said further, noting that the militant Hamas is not a partner for reliable peace.

“Hamas has publicly stated – you all saw it – that it will repeat Oct. 7 over and over again until Israel is no more.

“How would you respond and defend your citizens from such a clear threat with a ceasefire?” he queried.

Erdan maintained that there could only be an end to the violence if Hamas handed over all its hostages and everyone else involved in the attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

  • dpa
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Report of Israeli hostage family’s deaths overshadows negotiations on Gaza truce



Negotiations between Israel and Hamas to extend the Gaza truce were overshadowed at the last minute on Wednesday by an unconfirmed claim by Hamas that a family of Israeli hostages including a 10-month-old baby had been killed.

Shortly before the final release of women and children hostages scheduled under the truce, the military wing of Hamas said in a statement that the youngest hostage, baby Kfir Bibas, had been killed in an earlier Israeli bombing, along with his four-year-old brother Ariel and their mother.

Their father, who has also been held, was not mentioned in the statement.

Israeli officials said they were checking the Hamas claim, a highly emotive issue in Israel where the family is among the highest-profile civilian hostages yet to be freed.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is assessing the accuracy of the information,” the military said in a statement which added that it held Hamas responsible for the safety of all the hostages in Gaza.

Relatives had issued a special appeal for the family’s freedom after the children and their parents were excluded from the penultimate group freed on Tuesday.

An Israeli official said it would be impossible to extend the ceasefire on Thursday morning, due to a lapse, without a commitment to release all women and children among the hostages.

The official said Israel believed militants were still holding enough women and children to prolong the truce by 2-3 days.

Egyptian security sources also said negotiators believed a two-day extension was possible.

Families of those Israeli hostages due to be released later on Wednesday had already been informed earlier of their names, the final group to be freed under the truce unless negotiators succeeded in extending it.

Officials did not say at the time whether that included the Bibas family.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers published a list of 15 women and 15 teenage Palestinians to be released from Israeli jails in return for the hostages released on Wednesday.

The hostages were seized by militants in their deadly raid on Israel on Oct. 7.

For the first time since the truce began, the list of Palestinians to be freed included Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as residents of occupied territory.

So far, Gaza militants have freed 60 Israeli women and children from among 240 hostages, under the deal that secured the war’s first truce.

At least 21 foreigners, mainly Thai farmworkers, were also freed under separate parallel deals.

In return, Israel has released 180 Palestinian security detainees, all women and teenagers.

The initial four-day truce was extended by 48 hours from Tuesday, and Israel said it would be willing to prolong it further for as long as Hamas frees 10 hostages a day.

But with fewer women and children still in captivity, that could mean agreeing to terms governing the release of at least some Israeli men for the first time.

A Palestinian official said negotiators were hammering out whether Israeli men would be released on different terms than the exchange for three Palestinian detainees each that had previously applied to the women and children.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said Israel would consider any serious proposal, though he declined to provide further details.

“We are doing everything we can in order to get those hostages out. Nothing is confirmed until it is confirmed,” Levy told reporters in Tel Aviv.

“We’re talking about very sensitive negotiations in which human lives hang in the balance,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his earlier pledges to pursue the war to annihilate Hamas, once the ceasefire lapses.

“There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end.

“This is my policy. The entire cabinet stands behind it. The entire government stands behind it. The soldiers stand behind it. The people stand behind it. This is exactly what we will do,” he said in a statement.

Tuesday’s release also included for the first time hostages held by Islamic Jihad, a separate militant group, as well as by Hamas itself.

“The ability of Hamas to secure the release of hostages held by other factions had been an issue in earlier talks.

The truce has brought the first respite to a war launched by Israel to annihilate Hamas after the “Black Shabbat” raid by gunmen who killed 1,200 people on the Jewish rest day, according to Israel’s tally.

Israeli bombardment has since reduced much of Gaza to a wasteland, with more than 15,000 people confirmed killed, 40 percent of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations.

Many more are feared buried under the ruins. The Palestinian health ministry said another 160 bodies had been pulled out of rubble during the past 24 hours of the truce, and around 6,500 people were still missing.

  • Reuters
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Foreign News

Israeli army says it has opened door leading to tunnel under hospital



The Israeli army says it has broken open the sealed blast door at the end of a suspected Hamas tunnel under the al-Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip.

The military published two pictures on social media platform X, formerly called Twitter, Tuesday evening showing the open door in a tunnel.

What exactly is behind the door remained unclear at first.

“Just through this door, underneath the Shifa Hospital, are Hamas’ terrorists tunnels.

“Here’s the PROOF of Hamas’ terrorism festering underneath hospitals,” the Israel Defense Forces said in their post on X.

However, the photographs were published without context and could not be independently verified.

The military suspects a command centre of the Islamist Hamas under the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip.

Buildings in the vicinity of the hospital were also suspected.

According to the army, a shaft uncovered a few days ago in the grounds of the embattled hospital led to a tunnel, at the end of which there was a locked “explosion-proof door” after 55 metres.

Israel says the tunnel leads to a network of Hamas tunnels and bunkers.

In spite of international criticism, Israeli soldiers have been engaging in combat operations in and around the Shifa hospital for days.

Israel accuses Hamas of misusing the hospital for “terrorist purposes.”

But Hamas denies this.

  • dpa


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