Israel sets Ramadan deadline for captives release or else Rafah ground offensive; Brazil recalls ambassador to Tel Aviv - as it happened

Ahram Online , Monday 19 Feb 2024

Israel has threatened to invade Gaza's Rafah by the start of the holy month of Ramadan if Hamas does not return the remaining captives by then, despite international pressure to protect Palestinian civilians sheltering in the southern city.

A woman walks between dead bodies of Palestinians killed in the Israeli bombardments of the Gaza Strip, in front of the morgue at Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah. AP


21:00 EU countries, except Hungary, called on Monday for an "immediate humanitarian pause" in the Gaza war, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

The European Union has struggled for a united response to Israel's military operation following 7 October.

Borrell said foreign ministers from 26 member states had agreed on a statement calling for "an immediate humanitarian pause that would lead to a sustainable ceasefire."

20:00 Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has recalled his ambassador to Israel for consultations, according to a column in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo published on Monday.

The Brazilian ambassador had previously been summoned by Israel's foreign minister for a reprimand following comments by Lula likening the war against Hamas militants in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War II.

19:00 UN human rights experts called on Monday for an independent probe into alleged Israeli abuses against Palestinian women and girls, including killings, rapes, and sexual assault.

The independent experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but who do not represent the United Nations, also pointed to the "arbitrary detention of hundreds of Palestinian women and girls," including human rights defenders, journalists, and humanitarians.

The statement by the seven independent UN experts has prompted an angry reaction from Israel, which rejected the "despicable and unfounded claims."

The experts voiced alarm at "credible allegations of egregious human rights violations" targeting women and girls in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

18:00 The United States has proposed a rival draft United Nations Security Council resolution that would underscore the body's "support for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable," according to the text seen by Reuters on Monday.

The draft text also "determines that under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighbouring countries."

It said such a move "would have serious implications for regional peace and security, and therefore underscores that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances."

17:30 Two airstrikes hit near the town of Ghaziyeh on Lebanon's coast around 60km (37 mi) north of the border with Israel on Monday, according to witnesses in the area.

Israel has been carrying out airstrikes along the border area in south Lebanon against the armed group Hezbollah, which has fired rockets across the frontier. Israel has carried out strikes only rarely further north of the frontier zone.

17:00 Israel's GDP shrunk by almost one-fifth in the final quarter of 2023, compared to the three months prior, according to official figures published on Monday. 

The 19.4 percent fall in the final quarter was attributed to the scale of the ongoing Gaza war's effect on the high-tech nation's economy. 

Overall, Israel's GDP grew by 2.0 percent in 2023, short of the 2.3 percent projection made by the Bank of Israel after the outbreak of war in October, the Central Bureau of Statistics figures showed.

It was the single worst quarter for the Israeli economy in terms of GDP per capita since the opening quarter of the Covid pandemic in early 2020.

16:00 Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry welcomed a delegation of US House of Representatives members in Cairo, headed by Rep. Adam Smith, democratic leader of the House Armed Services Committee.

Shoukry leveraged the meeting to reaffirm Egypt’s rejection of a potential military operation in Rafah as well as any actions seeking to displace Palestinians from Gaza.

Shoukry emphasized the urgency of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the importance of taking concrete measures toward initiating a serious and true peace process.

This should lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within a specified and short timeframe, he stressed. 

14:40 Conflict mediator Qatar on Monday criticized comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which it said he asked the Gulf state to pressure Hamas into freeing Israeli captives, describing them as a new attempt to prolong the Gaza war.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said at the weekend that the pattern of negotiations for a framework ceasefire deal for the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza was "not very promising" in recent days.

"The Israeli Prime Minister's recent statements in which he calls on Qatar to pressure Hamas into releasing the [Israeli] hostages are nothing but a new attempt by him to delay and prolong the war for reasons that have become clear to everyone," Qatar's foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari posted in a statement on social media platform X.

13:30 The European Union on Monday officially launched a mission to help protect international shipping in the Red Sea from attacks by Yemen's Houthis, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said.

"Europe will ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, working alongside our international partners," the European Commission president wrote on X.

Meanwhile, a US-owned cargo ship has reported a "missile attack" off Yemen and called for military assistance, maritime security firm Ambrey said on Monday.

"A Greece-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier called for military assistance stating a 'missile attack'," Ambrey said, adding that radio communications had stated that "the crew was unharmed."

13:00 Israel has declared Brazil’s President Lula da Silva a “persona non grata” over comments he made, in which he accused Israel of carrying out a genocide in Gaza, which he compared to the actions of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.

Israel's foreign ministry has summoned Brazil’s ambassador for a reprimand. In contrast, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that President Lula is considered persona non grata in Israel until he takes back his comments.

Lula told reporters in Addis Ababa, where he was attending an African Union summit, that what was happening in the Gaza Strip "isn't a war, it's a genocide."

"What's happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people hasn't happened at any other moment in history. It happened when Hitler decided to kill the Jews," he said.

12:45 The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that at least 29,092 people have been killed and 69,028 injured by the Israeli war on Gaza since 7 October.

A total of 107 people died in the last 24 hours, it added in a statement.

12:35 Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki told the UN's top court the Palestinian people were suffering "colonialism and apartheid" under the Israeli occupation as judges weigh the legal consequences of Israel's occupation.

The minister urged the court to declare the occupation illegal and order it to stop "immediately, totally and unconditionally."

"Justice delayed is justice denied and the Palestinian people have been denied justice for far too long," he said.

"It is time to put an end to the double standards that have kept our people captive for far too long."

12:30 The UN's top court will from Monday hold hearings on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967, with an unprecedented 52 countries expected to give evidence.

Nations including the United States, Russia, and China will address judges in a week-long session at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the seat of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

In December 2022, the UN General Assembly asked the ICJ for a non-binding "advisory opinion" on the "legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem."

12:00: Norway has agreed to assist in the transfer of frozen tax funds earmarked for the Palestinian Authority (PA) that were collected by Israel, the Norwegian government said on Sunday.

"Together we have agreed on a temporary solution in which Norway will serve as an intermediary for holding the portions of the clearance revenues tax that Israel has withheld since 7 October," the government said in a statement late Sunday.

"The Palestinian Authority is then willing to accept the other funds. The Palestinian Authority has welcomed this arrangement and appreciates the effort to find a temporary solution in this extraordinary situation," the statement added.

Under a 1994 agreement, the PA receives taxes, so-called clearance revenues, that Israel collects on its behalf.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to accept any transfers unless Israel changes its decision, an impasse that has lasted for several months.

The clearance revenues account for about 65 percent of the PA's income.

11:30: Amnesty International said that Israel must end its brutal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as public hearings begin at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to examine the legal consequences of Israel’s prolonged occupation.

"The world must recognize that ending Israel’s illegal occupation is a prerequisite to stopping the recurrent human rights violations in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories," said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general.

Callamard stressed: “Israel’s occupation of Palestine is the longest and one of the most deadly military occupations in the world." She noted that "for decades it has been characterized by widespread and systematic human rights violations against Palestinians."

Callamard added that the occupation has also enabled and entrenched Israel’s system of apartheid imposed on Palestinians.

10:00 A missile attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels damaged a Belize-flagged ship travelling through the Bab El-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, forcing the crew to abandon the ship, authorities said on Monday.

The attack on the ship came as the US military acknowledged conducting new airstrikes targeting the rebels, including one that targeted the first Houthi underwater drone seen since the rebels began launching their attacks on shipping in November.

The ship targeted in the Houthi attack Sunday reported sustaining damage after “an explosion close to the vessel,” the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) centre reported.

“Military authorities report crew has abandoned the vessel,” UKMTO said. “Vessel at anchor and all crew are safe,” it added.

Houthi Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree issued a statement claiming the attack, saying the vessel was “now at risk of potentially sinking.”

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war targeting Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperilling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast, and Europe.

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