Progress reported in Cairo talks toward hostage deal

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 14th February 2024

Israel and Hamas are reported to have made “positive” progress toward an extended truce and hostage release deal, according to Egyptian media. Tuesday’s meeting included Egypt, the United States, Qatar and Israel. Broadcaster al-Qahera News cites a high-level Egyptian source saying the talks would last three days. A Hamas source reported to CNN they consider the next 24 hours of ongoing talks in Cairo to be “crucial”, adding, “The picture will become clearer within the next 24 hours. There is a clear and strong determination among the mediators to reach a ceasefire agreement and initiate an exchange process to free prisoners from both sides and bring food, medical and oil supplies” to the battered Gaza Strip.

Earlier, two officials with direct knowledge of the talks said mediators had achieved “relatively significant” progress in the negotiations shortly before Mossad chief David Barnea, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, CIA chief Bill Burns, Egyptian intel chief Abbas Kamel and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani met in Cairo to advance the talks further. One official said the meetings would now focus on “crafting a final draft” of a six-week humanitarian pause, with guarantees that the parties would continue negotiations toward a permanent ceasefire. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not disclose the precise details of the emerging deal – including how many hostages would be released – which the sides have been discussing varying proposals for weeks.

According to Lebanese sources, reported by Haaretz, a Hamas delegation led by leader Yahya Sinwar is in Cairo to meet the head of Egyptian intelligence.

Netanyahu shoots down a Mossad proposal to release hostages

The Mossad, together with the Shin Bet and the Israeli military leaders had put together a new draft truce agreement with Hamas to achieve the release of the hostages. However, the Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported, the proposal was shot down by  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Details of the proposal were not released, but Kan points to the fact that it was drawn up by Mossad chief David Barnea, Shin Bet intelligence agency chief Ronen Bar and Major General Nitzan Alon, who is coordinating Mossad’s efforts to find the hostages still in the hands of Hamas. The proposal had been discussed with Netanyahu a number of times and was also raised in the final hours before the Cairo talks, in a preparatory meeting. But Netanyahu rejected the proposal and ordered the three to go to the talks in Cairo – to “only listen”, without presenting new ideas or offering a formal response to Hamas’ demands, which Netanyahu considers “delusional”. Faced with this Netanyahu position, Alon decided not to participate in the meeting in the Egyptian capital and sent his deputy instead… and Netanyahu sent one of his political assistants, Ophir Falk, to Cairo. Before the meeting, Israel was hesitant about sending a delegation to Cairo for today’s talks, but was pressured to do so by the United States.

South Africa seeks new ICJ action against Israel

South Africa has sent an urgent request to the International Court of Justice to seek a new emergency order against Israel’s military offensive in the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. The world court in The Hague, the highest United Nations judicial body, issued a ruling last month that ordered Israel to take steps to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and to ensure a supply of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territory. The emergency orders were a response to South Africa’s court application, which alleged that Israel is committing genocidal acts in Gaza. Less than three weeks later, Israel is in “serious and irreparable breach” of the world court’s orders and the 1948 Genocide Convention, according to a South African government statement on Tuesday. The government said it is “gravely concerned that the unprecedented military offensive against Rafah, as announced by the State of Israel, has already led to, and will result in, further large scale killing, harm and destruction”. Rafah, it said, is “the last refuge for surviving people in Gaza”. It said the court has the power “at any time” to examine the circumstances of a case and to issue emergency orders or to require compliance with existing orders. Israel has repeatedly denied the genocide allegations and says it is respecting international law in its Gaza bombing campaign and its siege of the territory. Israel is not a member of the ICC and has rejected its jurisdiction, but Palestine is recognised as an ICC member.

A separate international court in The Hague, the International Criminal Court, is also examining Israel’s military actions in Gaza and the West Bank. The ICC’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, has said he was deeply concerned by Israel’s bombardment of Rafah and its planned assault on the city. “All wars have rules and the laws applicable to armed conflict cannot be interpreted so as to render them hollow or devoid of meaning,” Khan said in his statement.

US investigating possible Israeli war crimesHuffington Post

The United States is investigating possible war crimes committed by Israel, despite publicly claiming otherwise, reports the Huffington Post. It quotes sources according to which the Biden administration has been evaluating possible violations of international laws for months. At the State Department, some officials are investigating Israeli actions in Gaza that may constitute violations. Human rights abuses that may violate American law are also being assessed.

“Israel has given Egypt a plan to evacuate Rafah civilians” – WSJ

Israel has prepared a plan involving the evacuation of civilians along the coast of Gaza and presented it to Egypt. This was reported by the Wall Street Journal according to which the plan – in view of the army’s announced military operation in the south – identifies 15 places, with 25,000 tents each, ranging from the southern tip of Gaza City to Moassi, north of Rafah city. In Rafah there are over 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, at risk of being involved in the military operation. According to Egyptian sources, cited by the WSJ, Israel estimates that the costs of the camps and with medical facilities would be borne by the US and Arab countries.

Egypt continues to bolster military presence at Gaza border

Egypt continued to bolster its security presence at its border with Gaza, sparking fears over a possible spillover of fighting in the region. More troops and machinery have been deployed to the Egyptian-Gaza border as a “precautionary” measure, Egyptian security officials told CNN, as the Israeli military begins its ground assault around the southern city of Rafah. Egyptian military helicopters were also seen flying on the Egyptian side, according to an eyewitness in Egypt and social media videos shot from the Gaza side of the border. Over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have fled to Rafah from their homes due to Israeli evacuation orders and airstrikes.

IDF shows the tunnel “where Sinwar lived

Meanwhile, Israel has obtained footage of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar in a Gaza tunnel surrounded by his wife and “two or three” of his children, Channel 12 reports without airing the video. Which has, nonetheles gone virqal on social media and other news portals. Channel 12 said the footage shows Sinwar and the family members being led by an operative from one tunnel to another under Khan Younis. It shows the operative leading the family through a tunnel with a flashlight. The video of about a minute is from Hamas surveillance footage from the tunnels and was retrieved by IDF troops operating in the Gazan city. It shows two bathrooms, a kitchen and millions of dollars and shekels. “In Gaza there is Khan Yunis ‘upstairs’ and there is Khan Yunis ‘downstairs’, a network of underground tunnels tens of kilometers long, with compounds designed for the stay of high-level Hamas figures,” said the army spokesman Brigadier General Daniel Hagari, when presenting the document to newsmen. “In recent days, special units have analysed tens of metres of video from a Hamas security camera,” he added.

Same sex-marriage divides Greek public

Greek lawmakers are set to vote tomorrow, Thursday, to legalise same-sex marriage, in a rare show of cross-party collaboration. But the decision is being met with scorn by the Orthodox Church. Approval would make Greece the first Orthodox Christian country to take that step, clearing multiple legal hurdles for gay couples who already have or want to have children. “I’ve been fighting for this ever since I figured out who I was,” says Stellia Belia, a 57-year-old drama teacher and head of the Greek same-sex family support group Rainbow Families. While Belia and her female partner split when her twin sons were aged 11, she still considers her ex to be the boys’ other mother. Although civil partnerships were extended to gay couples in Greece nearly a decade ago, only the biological parents of children in those relationships are currently recognised as legal guardians. The issue of children’s rights helped nudge public opinion toward narrowly favouring the Bill.

New York Democrat flips seat in blow to Republicans

Democrats successfully flipped a Republican congressional seat in New York, fighting off the steady gains that Trump’s party made in the district and their immigration attacks amid the state’s migrant crisis. Former US Representative Tom Suozzi won back his House seat in New York’s 3rd Congressional District on Tuesday, defeating Republican Mazi Pilip. AP called the race shortly after Suozzi received 58.7 per cent of the vote and Pilip at 41.3 per cent. The two were running to fill the vacancy left by expelled Representative George Santos. The race was projected to be a competitive one in a swing district that voted for Joe Biden by nine points in 2020 but elected Santos in 2022.

Jared Kushner not to return to the White House

Jared Kushner does not intend to participate in a possible Trump administration, preferring to dedicate himself to his investment company Affinity Partners. In an interview with Axios, Trump’s son-in-law, who was one of the former president’s closest advisers, said, “At this stage in my life my focus is on my company.”

Bilawal Bhutto withdraws from prime minister’s race

Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Tuesday withdrew from the race for the prime minister, saying that his party would support Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s candidate for the premier’s slot without being part of the government. Bilawal’s decision came hours after Pakistan’s former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif reaffirmed that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif will become the prime minister for a record fourth time. PTI founder Imran Khan on Tuesday dismissed the idea of forming a coalition government with any of the main political parties and termed them as the “biggest money launderers”.

Indonesian polling stations open in massive elections

Indonesians started voting this morning in areas across the archipelago in an election headlined by the race to succeed popular President Joko Widodo, whose influence could determine who takes the helm of the world’s third-largest democracy. Nearly 259,000 candidates are contesting 20,600 posts across the archipelago of 17,000 islands in the world’s biggest single-day election, but all eyes are on the presidency and the fate of Widodo’s ambitious agenda after a decade in charge of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. The race pits two former governors, Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan, against controversial frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces commander feared in the 1990s as a top lieutenant of Indonesia’s late strongman ruler Suharto. Defence Minister Prabowo is contesting his third election after twice losing to Widodo, better known as Jokowi, who is tacitly backing and betting on his former rival as a continuity candidate to preserve his legacy, including a role for his son as Prabowo’s running mate. Jokowi cannot run again. Surveys show Prabowo would win with 51.8 per cent support, with Anies and Ganjar 27 and 31 points adrift, respectively. To win outright, a candidate needs over 50 per cent of votes and to secure 20 per cent of the ballot in half of the country’s provinces.

Indian police use tear gas on protesting farmers

Indian police used tear gas on farmers who clashed with officers and tried to break barricades blocking their way to New Delhi to demand guaranteed crop prices in a repeat of 2021 protests, when they camped on the outskirts of the capital for more than a year. Police dropped tear gas canisters on the protesting farmers from a drone at one of the border points in northern Haryana state that leads to New Delhi, where tens of thousands of farmers were headed in tractors and trucks. Officers sealed multiple entry points into the capital with barriers of giant metal containers, barbed wire, spikes and cement blocks. The government banned large gatherings in the capital and suspended internet service in some districts of Haryana state to prevent communication among the protesters. Farmers are also pressing the government to keep its promise to double their income and waive their loans. They say they will protest in New Delhi until their demands are met.

WHO warning over swine flu strain outbreak

The World Health Organisation has issued a warning over outbreaks of swine and avian flu in multiple countries. It said cases of swine flu had been detected in Spain and Brazil, while cases of avian flu being transmitted to humans had occurred in Cambodia and China. The organisation raised fears over potential further spread of the avian virus between humans during the Lunar New Year celebrations in China this week. WHO said the Spanish case had been found in Lleida, in the Cataluña autonomous community, in a man who worked on a pig farm.

A fish can sense another’s fear, a study shows

Our capacity to care about others may have very, very ancient origins, a new study suggests. It might have been deep-rooted in prehistoric animals that lived millions of years ago, before fish and mammals like us diverged on the tree of life, according to researchers who published their study in the journal Science. The new study shows that fish can detect fear in other fish, and then become afraid too – and that this ability is regulated by oxytocin, the same brain chemical that underlies the capacity for empathy in humans. The researchers demonstrated this by deleting genes linked to producing and absorbing oxytocin in the brains of zebrafish, a small tropical fish often used for research. Those fish were then essentially antisocial – they failed to detect or change their behaviour when other fish were anxious. But when some of the altered fish received oxytocin injections, their ability to sense and mirror the feelings of other fish was restored – what scientists call “emotional contagion”. “They respond to other individuals being frightened. In that regard, they behave just like us,” said University of Calgary neuro-scientist Ibukun Akinrinade, a co-author of the study. Previous research has shown that oxytocin plays a similar role in transmitting fear in mice.

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