Netanyahu aims for ‘local officials’ to govern Gaza

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 23rd February 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night presented his security Cabinet with ‘a document of principles’ regarding the management of Gaza after the war, aiming to install “local officials” unaffiliated with terrorism to administer services in the Strip instead of Hamas and also promote a “de-radicalisation plan… in all religious, educational and welfare institutions in Gaza”.

‘Times of Israel’ reports the subsequently publicised document, a one-pager released overnight in Israel, is largely a collection of principles the premier has been vocalizing since the beginning of the war, but it is the first time they have formally been presented to the Cabinet for approval. Notably, the document of principles Netanyahu presented to security Cabinet ministers doesn’t specifically name the PA or rule out its participation in the post-war governance of Gaza. Instead, it says that civil affairs in Gaza will be run by “local officials” who have “administrative experience” and who aren’t tied to “countries or entities that support terrorism.” The language is vague, but it could cover groups that receive funding from Qatar and Iran – as Hamas does – or possibly the PA, whose welfare programme includes payments to convicted terrorists and their families. A statement from Netanyahu’s office said the document is based on principles broadly accepted by the public and that it would serve as the basis for future discussions regarding the post-war management of Gaza.

The plan begins by stipulating a principle for the immediate term: The IDF will continue the war until achieving its goals, which are the destruction of the military capabilities and governmental infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the return of the hostages abducted on October 7, and the removal of any security threat from Gaza Strip long-term. The plan states that Israel will move forward with its already-in-motion project to establish a security buffer zone on the Palestinian side of the Strip’s border, adding that it will remain in place “as long as there is a security need for it”. This plan is directly at odds with one of the Biden administration’s own principles for post-war Gaza, which states that there will be no reduction in the enclave’s territory.

The document presented by Netanyahu also offers the most concrete details to date regarding Israel’s plans for the Egyptian-Gaza border, which has been plagued by smuggling both above and below ground. It states that Israel will enforce a “southern closure” on the border to prevent the revival of terror activity. The closure will be upheld with assistance from the US and in cooperation with Egypt “as much as possible”, the document states in an apparent acknowledgment of Cairo’s disapproval of the plan due to the ostensible violation of its sovereignty.

Also in the intermediate stage, Israel will maintain security control “over the entire area west of Jordan” – from the land, air and sea – “to prevent the strengthening of terrorist elements in the [West Bank] and the Gaza Strip and to thwart threats from them towards Israel,” the document states. Netanyahu’s plan envisions Gaza’s “complete demilitarisation… beyond what is required for the needs of maintaining public order”. It adds that Israel will be responsible for realising this goal for the foreseeable future, potentially leaving the door open for other forces to finish the job down the line.

Netanyahu’s plan concludes by reiterating a pair of principles adopted earlier this week by both the cabinet and the Knesset: that Israel outright rejects any international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, which should only be reached through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions; and that Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, which it views as a “reward for terror”.

Analysts, however, have also expressed heavy skepticism of Netanyahu’s goals.

Israel to advance 3,000 settler homes in West Bank

Israel will advance plans for the construction of more than 3,000 settlement homes in response to the deadly terror shooting in the West Bank, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced late Thursday night. It was the latest demonstration of the influence that the far-right minister holds in Netanyahu’s government, as the premier continues to rely on the support of his Orthodox coalition partners in order to remain in power. “May every terrorist planning to harm us know that lifting a finger against Israeli citizens will be met with a death blow and destruction in addition to the deepening of our eternal grip on the entire Land of Israel,” Smotrich said, calling the decision “an appropriate Zionist response”.

G20 voices support for independent Palestinian state

G20 nations broadly backed a two-state solution to the conflict in the Middle East, host Brazil said yesterday after a meeting of top diplomats, adding to pressure on Israel to accept an independent Palestinian state. The message from the meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro came a day after Israel’s parliament overwhelmingly voted for a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to oppose any “unilateral” recognition of a Palestinian state. More than four months into Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip, the Group of 20 leading economies voiced “virtual unanimity for the two-state solution as the only possible solution” to the crisis, Brazil’s top diplomat, Mauro Vieira, told journalists at the close of the two-day meeting, which brought together top diplomats including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Borrell had urged Vieira to use his closing statement “to explain to the world that at the G20, everybody was in favour” of a two-state solution, with an independent Palestine co-existing with Israel. “It was a strong request for a two-state solution,” Borrell told journalists. “The common denominator is that there’s not going to be peace, there’s not going to be sustainable security for Israel, unless the Palestinians have a clear political prospect to build (their) own state.” Blinken, too, called for a “concrete pathway to a Palestinian state,” according to his prepared remarks.

Lavrov clashes with West oner Ukraine, Navalny

The G20 meeting also tackled Russia’s war in Ukraine, which enters its third year tomorrow, and the need to reform global institutions like the United Nations, which have struggled to respond to mounting conflicts, crises and polarisation. Vieira said “various countries” had reiterated their condemnation of Russia’s invasion. But there was little sign of diplomatic progress.

Russia’s Lavrov clashed out at the West for its criticism following the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in prison Friday. “They (the West) act like prosecutor, accuser, judge and executioner – all in one. This hysteria over Navalny’s death has shown this convincingly,” he told journalists. He said he had had no direct contact with Western officials at the meeting, despite sitting in the same room. His last meeting with Blinken was a tense encounter on the sidelines of a G20 gathering in India in March last year.

UN says impact of Russia’s war to be ‘felt for generations’

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk says Russia’s war in Ukraine has inflicted a terrible human cost, causing huge suffering for millions. Speaking ahead of the second anniversary of the invasion, Türk said the damage caused by the war would be felt for decades. He also repeated his call for Moscow to immediately end the conflict and also called for full and unbiased investigations into all violations of human rights in the war. Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced and thousands have lost their homes. Meanwhile, hundreds of hospitals and schools have been damaged or destroyed. “Victims should be afforded reparations,” he said. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said in its latest report that it had been able to verify the conflict-related deaths of 10,582 civilians since February 24, 2022. “The actual numbers are likely significantly higher,” it stressed.

IMF to give Ukraine another $880 million

Meanwhile, it has been announced that the International Monetary Fund will provide $880 million to Ukraine in the third phase of a $15.6 billion aid package approved last year as Kiev fights the Russian invasion. The allocation has yet to be approved by the IMF’s executive board. An IMF panel said Ukraine will need $486 billion to rebuild from the war.

Navalny’s mother says she’s being pressured into ‘secret’ burial

The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in an Arctic prison last week, said yesterday officials were pressuring her to agree to a “secret” burial for her son. The Navalny case remained in the international spotlight with US President Joe Biden meeting the Russian politician’s widow and daughter, Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya, in San Francisco yesterday. Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic, said she had been shown his body in a morgue in Salekhard, the nearest town to the remote prison, after several days of being refused access. “Yesterday evening they secretly took me to the morgue where they showed me Alexei,” she said in a video released on social media by Navalny’s team. But she said investigators wanted her son, who was 47, to be buried “secretly, without a chance to say goodbye”. “They are blackmailing me, they put conditions for where, when and how Alexei should be buried. This is illegal,” she said. Navalny, whose death was announced last Friday, galvanised mass protests against Putin, winning popularity with a series of investigations into state corruption. Western governments and Russian opposition figures have accused the Kremlin of being responsible for Navalny’s death on February 16.

Russian investigators ‘threatening’

Biden met privately with the Navalny’s widow and daughter “to express his heartfelt condolences for their terrible loss”. The White House also backed the mother’s campaign to retrieve Navalny’s body. “The Russians need to give her back her son,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. Personal tensions between Biden and Putin increased after the US leader called his Russian counterpart a “crazy SOB” at an election campaign event late Wednesday. Putin responded with his sarcasm, referring to his recent remark that he would prefer the more “predictable” Biden over Donald Trump in the White House.

Israeli strikes kill scores across Gaza

Israeli strikes killed at least 48 people in southern and central Gaza overnight, half of them women and children, health officials said today. The attack comes as European foreign ministers and US agencies call for a ceasefire, with alarm rising over the catastrophic humanitarian crisis and potential starvation in the enclave. More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million is crowded into Rafah on the Egyptian border after fleeing fighting and bombardment elsewhere in the north.

Army leaves Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis

Israeli forces ended operations inside the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis in the south of the Strip and withdrew from that facility Thursday, according to the Palestinian news agency Shehab and Israel’s public radio Kan. Previously, the Israeli army had reported finding vehicles used by Hamas to launch the October 7 attack and also cars stolen on that occasion from a nearby kibbutz in the perimeter of that hospital. In all, the army arrested 200 Palestinians suspected of participating in Hamas operations in the hospital.

New attempts at ceasefire in Gaza

Further efforts to strike a ceasefire deal in Gaza are currently underway, according to Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet. “Initial signs indicate a possibility of moving forward,” the former military chief and defence minister said. Despite the promising statement, Gantz added that Israel will launch a ground offensive on Rafah during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan if Hamas doesn’t agree to release the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza. Meanwhile, US National Security spokesman John Kirby said discussions on an agreement for the release of Hamas hostages in Gaza were “progressing well”.

One dead, 5 wounded in West Bank shooting spree

Three gunmen opened fire Thursday morning on the road near a checkpoint in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, killing one Israeli and wounding at least five, police said.  It is the latest outbreak of violence in the territory as tensions soar due to the Israel-Hamas war. Police said gunmen took advantage of a traffic jam during morning rush hour on the main highway east of Jerusalem, opening fire with automatic weapons at several cars. Security forces on the scene, including a policeman on his way to work, killed two of the gunmen. The third fled but was soon apprehended by police and detained after being wounded. Eight people with varying degrees of injuries were evacuated from the scene by medics, the police said.

Frankfurt to host new EU anti-money laundering agency

A new EU body designed to clamp down on money laundering and schemes to circumvent sanctions will be based in the German city of Frankfurt, the Belgian presidency of the EU announced on Thursday. Nine cities – Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, Madrid, Paris, Riga, Rome, Vienna, and Vilnius – were in the running to be the host city for the bloc’s Anti-Money Laundering Authority (AMLA). The European Parliament and the European Council agreed the agency should be based in the German financial capital, which is also home to the European Central Bank. The agency, tasked with combatting money laundering and terrorist financing, will have over 400 staff and start operations in mid-2025 to help coordinate the fight against illegal cross-border financial activities.

EU simplification package for agriculture

The European Commission has presented a package of proposals that outlines the first possible actions to help reduce the administrative burdens placed on farmers. The document, which will be discussed with member states at the Agricultural Council on Monday, lists a number of short- and medium-term actions that can be taken to achieve simplification. “With this series of actions, we are keeping the commitment we made to our farmers,” underlined Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Boy recovers sight with gene therapy eye drops

Thanks to gene therapy administered with eye drops, a young patient who was blind due to the consequences of a rare disease, dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, recovered his sight in the treated eye. This is what was announced in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’ by Arianna Tovar Vetencourt of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. The therapy is called beremagene geperpavec (B-VEC).

Football: Argentina’s cancelled China friendlies rescheduled for US

Argentina has scheduled exhibitions against El Salvador and Nigeria in the United States next month as part of Copa America preparations, replacing a China tour cancelled after Lionel Messi didn’t play at Inter Miami’s preseason game in Hong Kong. Argentina will play El Salvador on March 22 at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field and Nigeria four days later at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Argentina Football Association said Thursday. Argentina, the defending world and South American champion, opens the Copa América against Canada or Trinidad and Tobago on June 20 at Atlanta, then plays Chile five days later at East Rutherford, New Jersey, and Peru on June 29 at Miami Gardens, Florida.

Photo: AFP

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