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A View From the Ground: The Latest in Gaza, Lebanon — and Israeli Casualties

An Israeli tank maneuvers, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, near the Israel-Gaza Border, in southern Israel, May 7, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Despite various statements by interested parties, the negotiations between Israel and Hamas are still stuck. Hamas continues to demand a total cessation of Israel’s military operations and withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Gaza, and the opening of Gaza for unimpeded and unchecked imports (i.e., the ability to import weapons to rebuild their forces) in return for a slow dribble of kidnappees totaling approximately 30 to 35 (including dead ones) of the 132 (including dead) kidnappees still in Palestinian hands.

In other words, Hamas demands the ability to rehabilitate its control over Gaza to be able to continue to attack Israel.

The Israeli government has so far refused to accept these terms. It is willing to exchange some imprisoned Palestinian terrorists (the exact numbers are not clear — before the war there were approximately 5,000 Palestinians in custody for terrorist activity and during the war many more have been captured — a few thousand in Judea and Samaria and a few thousand in Gaza) and accept a temporary ceasefire only. The issue of whether to accept or not has caused friction inside Israel, with some groups demanding the government accede to the terms. Currently the majority of Israelis, according to polls, still support the government’s position.

Fighting inside Gaza continues as described in previous reports: low-intensity guerrilla warfare. Hamas and other groups conduct small-scale raids or ambushes against Israeli units and Israeli forces reciprocate.

Despite incessant American and European and Egyptian demands that Israel not conduct its planned offensive into the Rafah area, Israel commenced this operation over the past week. Initially, leaflets were dropped recommending the population in the eastern area of Rafah move west and northwest. To aid the movement of the population, the IDF has provided thousands of tents (there are reports the IDF procured some 40,000 tents in all) and other provisions to be located in the area to which the population is being told to move. The movement directions were gradual; every couple of days an area further west was declared dangerous prior to the entrance of IDF units.

Then, after series of airstrikes on known locations of Hamas positions, an Israeli combined-arms division advanced several kilometers to the outskirts of the city of Rafah. According to reports on Palestinian social media, the attack is being conducted on separate axes: one near the border with Egypt, which has the Rafah terminal through which all official travel between Gaza and Egypt takes place; and the other some kilometers further north. Facing them is the Rafah brigade of Hamas, reinforced by other terrorist groups. There are probably at least 5,000 enemy combatants.

After a couple of days clearing the taken area (mopping up Hamas units that had not yet retreated, destroying above-ground and underground storage sites for weapons and other military equipment), the Israelis began dropping leaflets on the next section of ground. By May 14, there were reports that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had moved in the direction recommended by the IDF.

The general humanitarian effort continues. The Egyptians are refusing to send trucks through the Rafah terminal while it is in Israeli hands, but the other crossings are open, including a new one in northern Gaza. (Previously, provisions for northern Gaza were sent through the southern crossings from Israel and Egypt.) However, as the majority of trucks entered Gaza from Egypt, their refusal to allow the trucks to continue using the Rafah terminal has reduced the total flow considerably. Parachuting of supplies continues, and the Americans have completed preparations of a floating dock located near the Gaza coast. Israel has prepared a pier on the shore for the unloading of supplies just south of Gaza City.

The Egyptians have also threatened to reduce the level of diplomatic relations with Israel and to join the South African lawsuit at the International Criminal Court.

Lebanon:

The exchange of fire on the Israel-Lebanon border continues at a varying but fairly low intensity. Over the past few weeks, Israeli attacks have escalated in the choice of targets, which are no longer only near the border but also include Hezbollah installations in central and northern Lebanon. Hezbollah has responded by increasing the size of its rocket and exploding drone salvos into Israel.

Hezbollah has fired more than 4,500 rockets and exploding drones into Israel, as well as a few hundred guided anti-tank missiles (mostly Kornets, some the latest Russian version with ranges of up to 10 kilometers). Over the past month, Hezbollah stated that some of the rockets and exploding drones it fired were new models.

According to the Lebanese government, from October 7, 2023, through April 30, 2024, the IDF conducted approximately 4,010 strikes inside Lebanon using aircraft, artillery, tanks, and other weapons systems. The Israeli count is approximately 1,450 strikes. The discrepancy is probably due to what each side counts as a separate strike — i.e., the Israelis count as one strike the hitting of separate targets within the context of a one particular action, whereas the Lebanese count each individual target as a separate strike even if they occur more or less simultaneously.

Israeli casualties on the Lebanese border since October 7 are 18 soldiers (four more since my last report), and six civilians and several dozen wounded (including about a dozen more since my last report).

Hezbollah has admitted that so far, 299 of its personnel have been killed (another 26 since my last report). This figure does not include non-Shiite members of Hezbollah who probably add at least a couple of dozen more to the list.

Other Lebanese and Lebanese-based Palestinian organizations have also participated in the exchange and approximately 70 members of these have been killed too.

Total Lebanese military casualties are now two killed and half a dozen wounded.

Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, exploited the timing of Israel’s Independence Day to give a speech extolling the success of Hamas and Hezbollah in this war. He claimed that Israel has lost 1,500 soldiers and is hiding the true number (the actual number is 620). He added that polls in Israel show that 30% of its Jews have lost hope for Israel’s existence and that many are already emigrating. He claimed that the decision of many states to recognize the existence of a Palestinian state was one of the victories of the war, and that the many demonstrations calling Israel a genocidal state rather than one adhering to liberal democracy were the result of the successful prosecution of the war against Israel.

Nasrallah went on to say that Israel’s policy and strategy are at a dead end because it has failed to destroy and replace Hamas, and the Arab states that had reached accommodation with Israel are refusing to help it. Hezbollah’s attacks on northern Israel would not cease, he said, until Israel surrenders to Hamas’ demands in Gaza, and the Israeli refugees from the north will not be able to return to their homes until this happens.

Israeli casualties:

The total number of Israelis confirmed killed on and since October 7is now 1,559, with another approximately 15,000 wounded.

There are still 132 kidnapped Israelis and non-Israelis in Gaza. How many of them are alive and how many are dead is not known, though the current estimate is that at least 30 are dead and probably more. In negotiations with Hamas, Israel has demanded a list of those alive and those dead, but Hamas has refused to provide this information. Furthermore, Hamas claims not to know the whereabouts of more than a few dozen of the kidnappees. Some are said to be in the hands of other groups or even of “private” clans who joined the assault on Israel in the third wave of the Hamas attack on October 7.

In addition, 19 Israeli civilians have been killed in the Hamas rocket attacks and six by Hezbollah.

As of May 14, a total of 620 IDF soldiers have been killed on all fronts (16 more than my previous report).

Of the approximately 15,000 Israeli wounded, nearly 2,000 were wounded on October 7. Of the total, approximately 3,500 are civilians and approximately 11,500 are soldiers (career personnel, conscripts and reserves). The IDF has published that since the beginning of the war, 7,200 soldiers have been admitted to rehabilitation treatments. Approximately 3,000 more were wounded but released after initial treatment without needing extensive rehabilitation treatment.

Initially the number of Israelis who were forced to leave their homes in 64 villages and towns along the borders with Gaza and Lebanon reached approximately 250,000. The number of those returning to their homes has grown, mostly in the areas around Gaza. The current number of Israeli refugees is approximately 150,000.

Dr. Eado Hecht, a senior research fellow at the BESA Center, is a military analyst focusing mainly on the relationship between military theory, military doctrine, and military practice. He teaches courses on military theory and military history at Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, and Reichman University and in a variety of courses in the Israel Defense Forces. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

The post A View From the Ground: The Latest in Gaza, Lebanon — and Israeli Casualties first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

The post One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial

A Russian secret court found U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, accurately called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”

Gershkovich, a 32-year-old Jewish American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.

He was the first U.S. journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many U.S. and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Gershkovich did not commit any crime and has been wrongfully detained.

“We are pushing hard for Evan’s release and will continue to do so,” Biden said in a statement. “Journalism is not a crime.”

Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.

Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”

The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count towards the 16-year sentence.

Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.

“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.

“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”

Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”

Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.

Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.

The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.

Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.

Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.

Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.

‘WRONGFULLY DETAINED’

Gershkovich, his newspaper and the U.S. government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington was working every day to bring home Gershkovich, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and other Americans.

He declined to go into details when asked why Putin would reach a deal on Gershkovich’s release ahead of the U.S. election.

“Any effort to bring any American home is going to be part of a process of back and forth, of discussion, potentially of negotiation,” Blinken said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“Depending on what the other side is looking for, they’ll reach their own conclusions about whether it meets whatever their needs are, and we can bring someone home – and I don’t think that’s dependent on an election in the United States or anywhere else,” he said.

Mark Warner, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, called Gershkovich’s sentence “outrageous,” and said he thinks “it’s clear that the Russians view Evan almost as a bargaining chip at this point.”

Speaking in an interview with Reuters, Warner declined to discuss whether efforts are underway to arrange an exchange for Gershkovich’s release, but said “all options have to stay on the table” with regards to how the Biden administration responds.

Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.

At court appearances over the past 16 months – most recently with his head shaven – he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.

Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.

The post Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will headline a fundraiser in Massachusetts on Saturday as President Joe Biden faces continued pressure from fellow Democrats and big money donors to end his floundering campaign.

Biden and top aides on Friday vowed to continue with the campaign, even as major donors signaled they were unwilling to open their checkbooks unless the 81-year-old president stepped aside.

The crisis-in-confidence in Biden’s ability to win has placed a huge spotlight on Harris, widely believed to be the most likely replacement if he steps down.

Her fundraising events, including the one on Saturday in Provincetown, Massachusetts are getting added interest from donors who want to signal they are willing to coalesce around her potential bid for the White House, according to three Democratic fundraisers.

More than one in 10 congressional Democrats have now publicly called on Biden, who is isolating at his Delaware home with a case of COVID-19, to drop out following a disastrous debate last month against Republican former President Donald Trump that raised questions about the incumbent’s ability to win the Nov. 5 election or carry out his duties for another four years.

Biden’s campaign hoped to raise some $50 million in big-dollar donations in July for the Biden Victory Fund but was on track for less than half that figure as of Friday, according to two sources familiar with the fundraising efforts.

The campaign called reports of a July fundraising slump overstated, noting that it anticipated a drop-off in large donations due to vacations. It said the campaign still has 10 fundraisers on the schedule this month.

Harris assured major Democratic donors on Friday that the party would prevail in the presidential election as more lawmakers called for her running mate, Biden, to stand down.

“We are going to win this election,” she said on a call arranged on short notice to calm donors, according to a person on the call. “We know which candidate in this election puts the American people first: Our president, Joe Biden.”

Harris attended the call “at the direct request of senior advisers to the president,” one of the people said, an account confirmed by another person familiar with the matter.

The post VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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