Israeli real estate firm pushes settlement building in Gaza

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 20th December 2023

In an exclusive report, Al Jazeera says an Israeli real estate firm is pushing to build settlements for Israelis in Gaza, “in areas where the army’s bombardment has left Palestinian homes in ruins”. The report, which also carries maps and videos from the company showing a number of lots around Gaza, says that since Israel’s war began in October, real estate firm Harey Zahav has been posting videos of employees deployed as army reservists. In one video, the company’s CEO says: “We are here in the heart of Gaza, doing what we do.” An employee suggests he is on his way to start construction of a new neighbourhood in Gaza.

The company specialises in building settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law. Israel has used settlements to fragment the West Bank and deny Palestinians access to the land. As many as 700,000 Israeli settlers live there and hundreds of Palestinian homes have been destroyed to make way for them. Until 2005, thousands of Israelis lived in settlements in Gaza. Israeli has not, as yet, divulged its long-term plans for Gaza after the war, which many Palestinians describe as “a genocidal attempt” to force them from their land.

Netanyahu meets several hostage families

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Tuesday evening with a few of the families of Israelis held hostage in Gaza, as they piled on pressure for a new hostage release deal amid reports of some progress in indirect Israel-Hamas negotiations on a new deal. Controversy was reported as some families expressed anger that they were left out from the Tel Aviv meeting, amid suggestions Netanyahu chose to keep certain families away to avoid tension and calls for him  to resign. During Tuesday’s sit-down at IDF Headquarters, Netanyahu said he was “personally committed” to the release of all the hostages. Netanyahu once again argued that the advancement of the military offensive was key to securing a new hostage deal, and said efforts were being made on multiple fronts.

On Tuesday, all three major Hebrew TV networks reported Israel’s approach to negotiations, after what appeared to be a coordinated leak by government officials. According to the networks, Israel wants a “humanitarian” deal to include women and the elderly. It also wants those of all ages who are physically or mentally ill to be released in this group that it believes can amount to between 30 and 40 hostages. An Axios report late Tuesday said Israel would be willing to agree a week-long truce in a deal for 40 hostages. France 24 reports Qatar-based Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh is to visit Egypt today for talks on a ceasefire in Gaza and a prisoner exchange with Israel.

Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

Israel ready for truce in exchange for more hostages – Herzog

Israel is prepared for a second pause in the fighting with Hamas in exchange for the release of more of the hostages held in Gaza, President Isaac Herzog told a group of ambassadors from some 80 countries on Tuesday, instead of the traditional New Year reception. Herzog said Israel was “ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages”, more than 100 of whom Hamas still holds captive. He also urged international organisations to do more to facilitate the delivery of assistance into Gaza. “We are not fighting the people of Gaza,” he told the ambassadors. “They are not our enemies. We are fighting Hamas, they are the enemy. And in this respect, we are taking all possible humanitarian steps according to international humanitarian law.”

Photo: GPO

Security Council vote on Gaza gets further postponed

The UN Security Council vote on a resolution calling for a surge in humanitarian aid and an urgent halt to the Israel-Hamas war was again delayed Tuesday, a diplomat for a country on the panel told the Times of Israel. The vote is now slated to take place today. The council had scheduled a vote late Monday afternoon, but it was postponed until Tuesday to try to get the US to support the resolution or abstain and avoid yet another veto. The draft resolution on the table Monday morning called for an “urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities” but this language was watered down in a new draft circulated early Tuesday. It now “calls for the urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and for urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities”.

The United States has, in the past, opposed language on a cessation of hostilities. The latest draft also demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and adherence to international humanitarian law, which requires the protection of civilians and the homes, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure essential for their survival. It reiterates the Security Council’s “unwavering commitment to the vision of the two-state solution where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognised borders … and in this regard stresses the importance of unifying the Gaza Strip with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority”.

‘Humanitarian response on the brink’

At a Security Council meeting on Tuesday, UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland said the humanitarian response “is on the brink” and Israel’s limited responses “fall far short of what is needed to address the human catastrophe on the ground”. The UAE Deputy Ambassador told the council that “Gazans are experiencing unprecedented levels of starvation and thirst, while doctors lack even the most basic of medical supplies to treat the wounded and the growing threat of infection.” He said the resolution aims to meet their needs and stressed that “Israel must stop blocking the entry of aid”, commercial cargo, and aid workers.

The draft resolution circulated early Tuesday by the UAE expresses “deep concern at the dire and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and its grave impact on the civilian population.” It acknowledges civilians in Gaza don’t have access to sufficient food, water, sanitation, electricity, telecommunications, and medical services “essential for their survival”. It also reaffirms the council’s “strong concern for the disproportionate effect that the conflict is having on the lives and well-being of children, women, and other civilians in vulnerable situations”. The proposed resolution demands that parties to the conflict – Israel and Hamas, who are not named – facilitate aid deliveries by land, sea, and air throughout the Gaza Strip, including through the border crossing at Karem Shalom. It calls for the UN to establish a mechanism for monitoring the aid deliveries.

Photo: AFP

Colorado bars Trump from presidential ballot

Former US President Donald Trump cannot appear on the ballot in Colorado in next year’s presidential election due to his role in the 6th January 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters, the state’s top court ruled on Tuesday in a historic judgement that is likely to find its way to the US Supreme Court. The 4-3 ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court makes Trump the first presidential candidate in US history to be deemed ineligible for the White House under a rarely used provision of the US Constitution that bars officials who have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” from holding office. The court concluded that the US Constitution bars the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024 from appearing on the ballot because of his role instigating violence against the US government. The Colorado court said the ruling is stayed until 4th January 2024 to allow for appeals. Trump’s son, Eric, on Tuesday predicted the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision will boost the former President in the polls.

Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP

France passes controversial immigration bill

Lawmakers in the French parliament passed legislation on Tuesday that will bring in stricter controls on migration. President Emmanuel Macron had been facing a rebellion from within his party after the Bill won support from the far-right National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen. But in the end it passed through the lower house with votes from Macron’s centrist coalition and conservative lawmakers. For the Bill to pass, the government weakened measures that would have allowed some immigrants residency permits and also agreed to extend the duration of stay in France for migrants to be eligible to access welfare benefits. With the new legislation, access to housing benefits will be also be delayed for unemployed non-EU migrants by five years. In order to gain the support of the right, the government has also introduced migration quotas which will make it more difficult for immigrants’ children to become French. While now it will be easier for migrants working in sectors that lack labour to get a residency permit, it will also be easier to expel illegal migrants.

Photo: REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

Court orders repeat of 2021 election in parts of Berlin

A German court has ruled that voters in a fifth of Berlin’s constituencies will have to return to the polls if they want to make their vote count in the 2021 national election. A series of failings documented across hundreds of the capital’s polling stations means that Germany’s constitutional court has ordered the 2021 national election to be partially repeated. Infractions were identified in 455 of Berlin’s 2,256 constituencies, which by law will now have to hold a new vote within 60 days. The ruling comes more than two years after election day, 26 September 2021, when a host of logistical errors, inconsistencies, and loopholes marred the city’s voting mechanisms.

Photo: Uwe Anspach/Pool via Reuters

WHO calls new Covid strain a ‘variant of interest’

The World Health Organisation on Tuesday classified the JN.1 coronavirus strain as a “variant of interest”, but said it did not pose much threat to public health. “Based on the available evidence, the additional global public health risk posed by JN.1 is currently evaluated as low,” WHO said. The UN agency said current vaccines continue to protect against severe disease and death from JN.1 and other circulating variants of the COVID-19 virus. JN.1 was first detected in the US in September. Last week, China detected seven infections of the COVID subvariant.

Bavaria can hang the Holy Cross in state buildings

Holy Crosses mounted in the entrances of the state’s administrative buildings in Bavaria can stay up, Germany’s highest court for most administrative law disputes ruled on Tuesday. In 2018, Bavarian state premier Markus Söder of the Christian Social Union (CSU) ordered that all public buildings prominently hang a Holy Cross “as an expression of Bavaria’s historical and cultural character”. A Bavarian lobby group, advocating “the meaningful separation of church and state as well as the eradication of church privileges”, challenged the decree in court. It argued the move infringed on people’s freedom of religion and violated the state’s obligation to be neutral on such matters. The court, however, ruled the crosses had no legal impact on visitors’ religious freedom. Söder welcomed the decision on social media. The Bavarian group said it was considering its legal options, including taking the case to the Federal Constitutional Court, Germany’s highest.

Photo: Peter Kneffel/picture alliance

Russia is ready to talk on Ukraine says Putin

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia would be prepared to talk to Ukraine, the United States, and Europe about the future of Ukraine if they wanted to, but that Moscow would defend its national interests. He told a meeting of the defence leadership in Moscow: “We will not give up what is ours,” adding that Russia did not intend to fight with Europe. Putin said Russian troops now had the initiative on the battlefield. Russia controls about 17.5% of the territory that was internationally-recognised as part of Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and last year said the four additional regions of Ukraine that its troops partially control are part of Russia. Kyiv says it will not rest until every last Russian soldier is ejected from Ukraine.

Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File

Italy jails Pakistani parents in ‘honour killing’ case

An Italian court sentenced two parents to lifetime imprisonment on Tuesday for killing their teenage daughter after she refused to travel to Pakistan for an arranged marriage. The so-called honour killing of 18-year-old Saman Abbas, who went missing in April 2021, shocked Italy. Her father, Shabbar Abbas, was convicted by the court in Reggio Emilia along with the victim’s mother, who remains at large. The girl’s uncle was sentenced to 14 years in prison while two cousins were acquitted. Prosecutors said the family of Saman was angered when they found out she had a boyfriend in Italy. The verdict can be appealed.

Judge orders release of names in Epstein documents

A US federal judge has ordered the public disclosure of the identities of more than 150 people mentioned in a mountain of court documents related to the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, saying that most of the names were already public and that many had not objected to the release. The people whose names are to be disclosed, including sex abuse victims, litigation witnesses, Epstein’s employees – and even some people with only a passing connection to the scandal – have until 1st January to appeal the order, signed by Judge Loretta Preska. She noted that individuals’ names had emerged publicly in various ways, including at a trial two years ago of Epstein’s associate and former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, a former British socialite serving 20 years for child sex trafficking. Epstein died in prison in 2019 while awaiting trial on multiple sex-trafficking charges.

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