Netanyahu approves new Gaza ceasefire talks, Israel launches airstrikes on Syria - as it happened

Ahram Online , Friday 29 Mar 2024

Ahram Online provides coverage for the war on Gaza in its 175th day

Al-Aqsa
Muslims pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the third Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan in the Old City of Jerusalem, Friday, March 29, 2024. AP

18:00 The Biden administration has decided to reverse the sanctions imposed on Israeli settlers who were indicted for fatal attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank.

Israeli media reports indicate that the US administration has unfrozen the bank accounts of these settlers, following threats made by the Israeli Finance Minister to collaborate with Israeli banks in order to "collapse the Palestinian economy."

Previously, the US Department of Treasury had announced new sanctions against two illegal outposts in the occupied West Bank, which served as bases for extremist Israeli settlers involved in attacks against Palestinian civilians.

These sanctions had marked the first time the US had targeted entire outposts rather than individual perpetrators.

While the initial response from the Israeli government and settler movement was relatively mild, with many considering the move symbolic, Israeli banks swiftly suspended the settlers' bank accounts to comply with the new sanctions.

However, under pressure from the settler lobby, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called on Israeli banks to disregard the US sanctions, prompting the Ministry of Finance to explore ways to circumvent them.

In February, Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his concerns about the implications of the executive order in a phone call with President Biden.

16:30 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved Friday new talks on a Gaza ceasefire.

But despite a binding United Nations Security Council resolution this week demanding an "immediate ceasefire", fighting continued Friday, including around hospitals.

Regional fallout from the conflict also flared, with Israel saying it killed a Hezbollah rocket commander in Lebanon, and several Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria strikes that a war monitor blamed on Israel.

Netanyahu's office said new talks on a Gaza ceasefire and captives release will take place in Doha and Cairo "in the coming days... with guidelines for moving forward in the negotiations", days after they appeared stalled.

15:00 An Israeli strike on Friday in south Lebanon killed the deputy head of Hezbollah's rocket unit, the Israeli military said, the latest deadly cross-border violence since the Israeli war on Gaza erupted.

Hezbollah, which has a powerful arsenal of rockets and missiles, has exchanged near-daily fire with the Israeli army since the start of the bloody Israeli campaign into Gaza. 

The hostilities have raised fears of all-out conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a war in 2006.

Recent days have seen an uptick in deadly hostilities, and the White House on Thursday called on Israel and Lebanon to put a high priority on restoring calm.

The United Nations said this week it was "deeply disturbed" by attacks on health care facilities, after several strikes blamed on Israel killed rescue workers in southern Lebanon.

Cross-border fire since October has killed at least 347 people in Lebanon, mostly Hezbollah fighters, but also including at least 68 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

The fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people in southern Lebanon and in northern Israel, where the military says 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed.

14:00 Despite the significant restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation, tens of thousands of worshippers managed to perform the third Friday prayer of Ramadan at the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem.

As the holy month of Ramadan nears its end, the city appears to be more at ease compared to the initial weeks.

Although a substantial police presence was still observed, many officers were more heavily equipped than usual, carrying gear such as helmets and tear gas launchers.

However, signs indicate that Ramadan has been growing calmer as it progresses this year.

An encouraging change was the increased number of open shops, particularly in the predominantly poor Muslim areas of the Old City.

These areas heavily rely on tourism and pilgrims for their economic sustenance, making the presence of visitors a welcome relief.

This week, Christian worshippers on their way to Easter celebrations were also seen mingling in the city.

Police temporarily closed a section of Al Wad Street to allow a procession following the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus took to his crucifixion, to pass.

"Turn left for Al Aqsa—all gates are open!" announced a police megaphone, emphasizing that the barrier was not intended to provoke.

While there were a few raised voices in response, the commotion quickly subsided.

The relative lack of drama during this period serves as another indication that the Israeli authorities' decision to allow tens of thousands of Muslims to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque every Friday during Ramadan has contributed to a more peaceful atmosphere.

Although the decision was initially controversial inside Israel, with some far-right government ministers advocating for stricter limits, the current situation in Jerusalem for its Palestinian residents and Arab Israelis appears largely unchanged in terms of police restrictions compared to previous years.

 

13:00 The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah fired rockets with heavy warheads at towns in northern Israel, saying it used the weapons against civilian targets for the first time late on Thursday in retaliation for Israeli airstrikes the night before that killed nine, including what the group said were several paramedics.

There were no reports of Israelis hurt in the rocket attack, local media said.

The Israeli military did not immediately offer comment on the rocket attack.

Since the outbreak of the Israeli war on Gaza, concerns have grown that near-daily clashes along the border between Israel and Lebanon could escalate into a full-scale war.

12:10 Gaza's health ministry has stated that 71 Palestinians were martyred, and 112 injured by Israeli attacks in the past 24 hours. 

This brings the total death toll, since the start of the Israeli campaign on Gaza to 32,623 martyrs, with 75,092 injured.

12:00 The Syrian army says Israeli airstrikes early Friday near the northern city of Aleppo killed or wounded “a number of” people and caused damage.

An opposition war monitor said the strikes killed 42, most of them Syrian troops.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said Israeli strikes hit missile depots for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group in Aleppo’s southern suburb of Jibreen, near the Aleppo International Airport, and the nearby town of Safira, home to a sprawling military facility.

The Observatory said 36 Syrian troops and six Hezbollah fighters died, and dozens of people were wounded, calling it the deadliest such attack in years.

There was no immediate statement from Israeli officials on the strikes.

Israel, which has vowed to stop Iranian entrenchment in its northern neighbour, has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets in government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years, but it rarely acknowledges them.

Since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, there have been near-daily exchanges of fire along Israel's border with Lebanon and Syria as fears of a wider regional conflict grow. 

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