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Netanyahu blocks Gaza aid funds after border flare-up



Netanyahu: Attack on Israeli-owned cargo ship ‘indeed Iranian action’

…As Family prepares for funeral of Israeli student killed in Australia***

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blocked millions in Qatari aid to the Gaza Strip in response to renewed border hostilities, risking increased tensions with the Palestinian territory’s Islamist rulers Hamas during Israel’s election campaign.

Weeks of relative calm in the Gaza Strip ended Tuesday when Israeli soldiers were fired on along the border with the enclave in two separate incidents.

One soldier was lightly injured when a bullet hit his helmet.

In response Israeli tanks struck two Hamas positions in Gaza, killing one militant, while overnight Israeli fighter jets struck what the army said was a Hamas military camp in northern Gaza.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 and fears of a fourth round remain.

However violence has abated since November as a result of an informal truce between the parties.

Under that agreement Israel has permitted Gulf state Qatar, a rare Hamas ally, to bring in aid to the strip, including $15 million a month to pay salaries of Hamas civil servants and provide aid to impoverished residents.

The January payment had been expected to enter Gaza on Wednesday or Thursday but Netanyahu has decided to block it after the border-flare up, an Israeli official confirmed.

This is the first time that Israel has admitted to obstructing the transfer, which was already delayed by two weeks.

The payment would be the third of six planned tranches, totalling $90 million, in connection with the truce.

Israel’s permission is required since the cash must be delivered via its territory.

Hamas is labelled a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, and banks are hesitant to make the transfer.

So far Hamas has stuck to indirect warnings against Israel but said Wednesday it held Israel fully responsible for any escalation.

At the funeral of the Hamas fighter Wednesday, mourners called for revenge as the body was accompanied by members of Hamas’s military wing.

Conditions desperate 
Israel maintains a crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip, the cramped territory wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean.

The Jewish state says it is necessary to isolate Hamas but critics say it amounts to collective punishment of the enclave’s two million residents.

The Qatari payments are controversial in Israel, where they have sparked opposition from right-wing activists and politicians.

In November Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned after accusing Netanyahu of being soft on Hamas following a flare-up.

The rightwing premier is now fighting a campaign ahead of April 9 elections, having long portrayed himself as “Mr Security” to Israelis.

Widely shared images of suitcases of cash being sent into Gaza through Israel could prove awkward for Netanyahu, running for a fifth term despite corruption allegations.

The father of Hadar Goldin — an Israeli soldier killed in the 2014 Gaza war and whose body Hamas is still believed to hold — told army radio Tuesday he believes the funds are ultimately going to Hamas.

“That’s what happens when you capitulate to terrorism,” Simha Goldin said.

The Gaza Strip came close to a new conflict a number of times in 2018, with Hamas-backed demonstrations along the border throughout the year.

The weekly protests have been calling for Palestinian refugees in Gaza to be able to return to their former lands now inside Israel.

Israel accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.

At least 244 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March, mostly during border clashes but also by tank fire and airstrikes.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed.

Hamas said in a statement it “never accepts shedding the blood of the Palestinian people to fuel the Israeli elections advertising.”

United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned Tuesday that the living conditions in Gaza remained desperate and the risk of new conflict was high.

“There is no status quo; there is only a deterioration that, if left unchecked, without a vision and the political will for peace, can only lead to endless conflict and the steady rise of radicalisation on all sides,” he told the UN Security Council.

In the meantime, the family of Aiia Maasarwe, an Israeli student, who was killed in Australia made final preparations for her funeral on Wednesday as her body arrived back in her home town.

Maasarwe, 21, was killed while walking home after a night out with friends in Melbourne, where she was studying.

She is a student at Shanghai University, who had been on a six-month exchange programme at Melbourne’s La Trobe University.

Mourners gathered along the sandstone walls of Maasarwe’s old school in Baqa Al-Gharbiyye near Haifa in northern Israel.

Relatives and neighbours filed into her family’s home to offer condolences.

Near the family’s front gate in the close-knit Arab town, relatives and neighbours had hung signs in Arabic saying “Stop picking our flowers’’.

The family said that was a reference to violence against young women.

Municipal offices shut down for the day.

Her body was found by passers-by early on Jan. 16, near the university’s Bundoora campus in the northeast of Australia’s second-largest city.

Her death has fuelled outrage in Australia, where thousands marched over the weekend calling for safety for women.

It was the second time in seven months that a young woman had been killed on her way home at night in Melbourne, which has an active night life and is popular with overseas university students.

A family member said Maasarwe was talking on the phone to her sister back home in Israel when she was attacked, and that she often made such calls to make her feel safer while walking home late at night.

Her uncle, Abed Katane, said she had chosen the university “because she’d never heard any problems about Melbourne’’ or other Australian cities.

“She had to decide between New York and Melbourne, and called me to ask what I think,’’ he said.

“We both felt that Australia is quieter and its people better-behaved.

“Our opinion turned out for the worse’’.

Maasarwe’s death has shocked Baqa al-Gharbiyye, a densely populated community, which lies next to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Its 30,000 residents are members of Israel’s Arab minority.

A 20-year-old man, who has been charged with murder, was remanded in custody on Monday.

The case was adjourned until June, according to a spokesperson for the Melbourne Magistrate Court.

Additional report from AFP

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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’



The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin



Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel



A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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