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Hamas Remains Obstacle to Gaza Ceasefire, Israel Has Moved in a ‘Significant Way,’ US Says

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas, in this handout picture released on Jan. 2, 2024. Photo: Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS

Hamas is the barrier to a ceasefire being implemented in Gaza, according to US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Israel moved in a “significant way” to submit a reasonable and “incredibly significant” proposal in the ongoing talks to reach a ceasefire and release the Israeli hostages still in Gaza, Miller told reporters during a press briefing on Monday.

“There was a deal on the table that would achieve much of what Hamas claims it wants to achieve, and they have not taken that deal,” Miller added. “The bottom line is that they have rejected it, and if they did accept it, it would allow for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza of at least six weeks, which would benefit the Palestinian people whom they claim to represent. It would also allow us to continue improvements in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

Miller said the US is still pursuing a deal that would implement a ceasefire lasting at least six weeks, allow more aid into Gaza, and secure the release of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas during the Palestinian terrorist group’s Oct. 7 invasion of southern Israel. The Hamas atrocities, including the massacre of 1,200 people, launched the current war in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which borders Israel.

The US, Egypt, and Qatar have been mediating ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas. Over the past few months, Hamas has rejected all ceasefire offers, while Israel agreed to a deal that would end fighting for six weeks and release 700 Palestinian terrorists from jail, in exchange for 40 hostages seized during Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

More recently, Hamas rejected the latest Israeli proposal that had been discussed over the past week.

Israel has said any truce must include the release of all remaining hostages and be temporary, warning that a long-term truce would allow Hamas to regroup and strengthen its position to continue attacking the Jewish state. Hamas leaders have pledged to carry out massacres against Israel like the one on Oct. 7 “again and again.”

Meanwhile, Hamas has demanded that any truce must include a permanent ceasefire and full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. Hamas has reportedly presented its own hostage release proposal to mediators in which it demands a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, implemented over three six-week phases. The proposal suggests that Israel would need to observe a six-week ceasefire before receiving any of the roughly 130 hostages still held by the terrorist group since Oct. 7 — a likely non-starter for Jerusalem.

According to Miller, the onus is on Hamas to explain why it didn’t accept the latest Israeli proposal.

“The bottom line is Hamas needs to take that deal, and they need to explain to the world and to the Palestinian people why they aren’t taking it because it is Hamas right now that is the barrier and the obstacle to a ceasefire in Gaza,” he said.

The post Hamas Remains Obstacle to Gaza Ceasefire, Israel Has Moved in a ‘Significant Way,’ US Says first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Iranian President Raisi’s Memorial Muted Amid Public Discontent

A picture of the late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is seen on his coffin during a funeral ceremony held in Tabriz, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran, May 21, 2024. Photo: Stringer/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

Thousands of Iranians turned out to mourn President Ebrahim Raisi in the city of Tabriz on Tuesday, after he was killed in a helicopter crash near the Azerbaijan border over the weekend along with his foreign minister and seven others.

State TV broadcast live images of mourners, many of them dressed in black, beating their chests while a truck covered in white flowers carrying the caskets wrapped in the national flag was driven slowly through the crowd.

“Everyone has come to bid farewell to the martyred president and his companions regardless of their faction, ethnicity, or language,” said Tabriz lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian.

However, although state TV said a large crowd appeared in Tabriz, some insiders see a stark contrast in public grief compared with past commemorations for the deaths of other senior figures in the Islamic Republic’s 45-year history.

While Iran proclaimed five days of mourning for Raisi, there was little of the emotional rhetoric that accompanied the death of Qasem Soleimani, a senior commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards killed by a US missile in 2020 in Iraq, whose funeral drew huge crowds of mourners, weeping with sorrow and rage.

Raisi’s body was flown from Tabriz, the closest major city to the remote crash site, to Tehran airport before heading to the holy Shi’ite Muslim city of Qom. From there, it will return to the capital to lie at Tehran’s Grand Mosalla Mosque before being transferred to his hometown of Mashahd, in eastern Iran, for burial on Thursday.

Mourners carried posters bearing images of Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the Friday prayer leader of Tabriz city, and other officials who were also killed in the crash.

DEEPENING CRISIS

The death of the president came at a time of deepening crisis between the clerical leadership and society at large over issues from tightening social and political controls to economic hardship.

To restore damaged legitimacy following a historic low turnout of around 41 percent in March’s parliamentary election, Iran‘s rulers must stir up public enthusiasm to secure high participation in the early presidential election that will be held on June 28.

But Iranians still have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in 2022, which was quelled by a violent state crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.

Widespread public anger at worsening living standards and pervasive graft may also keep many Iranians at home.

Some analysts say that millions have lost hope that Iran‘s ruling clerics can resolve an economic crisis fomented by a combination of US sanctions, mismanagement, and corruption.

Raisi enacted the hardline policies of his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, aimed at entrenching clerical power, cracking down on opponents, and adopting a tough line on foreign policy issues such as the nuclear talks with Washington to revive Iran‘s 2015 nuclear pact.

Any candidate entering the race must first be vetted by the Guardian Council, a hardline watchdog that has often disqualified even prominent conservative and moderate officials, meaning the broad direction of policy is unlikely to change.

While widely seen as a leading candidate to take over from the 85-year-old supreme leader when he dies, two sources said Raisi’s name had been taken off a list of potential successors some six months ago because of his sagging popularity.

Raisi’s death has introduced “great uncertainty” in the succession, analysts said, stirring rivalries in the hardliners’ camp over who will succeed Khamenei as the country’s ultimate authority.

The post Iranian President Raisi’s Memorial Muted Amid Public Discontent first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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US Says Israel-Saudi Normalization Needs Gaza Quiet, Talks on Palestinian Rule

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog attend a wreath-laying ceremony marking Israel’s national Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Jerusalem, May 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen/Pool

Forging formal Israeli-Saudi relations as part of an emerging trilateral deal involving Washington would require a calming of the Gaza war and a discussion of prospects for Palestinian governance, the US envoy to Jerusalem said on Tuesday.

“There’s going to have to be some period of quiet, I think, in Gaza, and there’s going to have to be a conversation about how do you deal with the question of the future of Palestinian governance,” Ambassador Jack Lew said.

“My view is, that strategic benefit is worth taking the risk of getting into that conversation about. But that’s a decision that the government of Israel will have to make and the people of Israel will have to make,” he told a conference hosted by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) think tank.

The United States on Monday described as “near final” a bilateral defense pact with Saudi Arabia. Once completed, it would be part of a broad deal presented to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to decide whether to make concessions to secure a normalization of ties with Riyadh.

Netanyahu has long promoted such a diplomatic prize. But, seven months into a war with Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip whom Israel has sworn to eradicate, a ceasefire is elusive and he says it is premature to discuss day-after Palestinian rule.

“Of course we want to expand the circle of peace. We haven’t been shy about this,” Israeli government spokesperson Tal Heinrich said. “[But] any peace initiative that jeopardizes Israel‘s security is not something that we see as real peace.”

Addressing the IDI event separately, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, argued that bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia would be a setback to Iranian-backed Hamas, which sparked the war with an Oct. 7 cross-border rampage.

“I very much hope that this possibility is being seriously considered, as the empire of evil sought on October 7 to destroy the chance for normalization,” Herzog said.

“Our struggle, in the end, is not only a fight against Hamas. It is a wider, strategic, global, and historic battle, and we must do everything to integrate into the grand vision of normalization.”

The Netanyahu government, however, has said a failure to defeat Hamas could harm Israeli credibility in the eyes of US-aligned Arab Sunni powers, which worry about Islamist militancy.

The post US Says Israel-Saudi Normalization Needs Gaza Quiet, Talks on Palestinian Rule first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Israel, US Blast ‘Outrageous’ ICC Request for Netanyahu’s Arrest

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Jerusalem, Feb. 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday issued blistering condemnations of the International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor’s demand for arrest warrants for the Israeli premier, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Hamas terror chief Yahye Sinwar.

Biden said the move by Karim Khan was “outrageous” and “shameful,” adding, “Let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken added that the US “fundamentally rejects the announcement.”

In a video message, Netanyahu called the warrant application “absurd and false” and said it “was not directed only against the prime minister of Israel and the defense minister, but against the entire State of Israel and against the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers, who are fighting with otherworldly heroism against the depraved Hamas murderers who attacked us with savage butchery on the seventh of October.”

Addressing the chief prosecutor, Netanyahu continued: “With what chutzpah do you dare compare the monsters of Hamas to the soldiers of the IDF, the most moral army in the world? With what audacity do you compare between Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, raped, and kidnapped our brothers and sisters, and the IDF soldiers who are fighting a just war that is incomparable, with a morality that is unmatched?”

In addition to Sinwar, the request also called for the arrests of Hamas’ political leader in Qatar, Ismail Haniyeh, and the Palestinian terror group’s military head, Mohammed Deif, on charges of war crimes.

Blinken called the prosecutor’s equivalence of Israel with Hamas “shameful.”

“Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and is still holding dozens of innocent people hostage, including Americans,” Blinken said.

He emphasized that the ICC had “no jurisdiction” over the war, and noted that both Israel and the US are not parties of the Rome Statute, the international treaty that established the court. The top US diplomat also called into question “deeply troubling processes” by Khan, who was supposed to send a team to Israel on Monday to coordinate his own visit next week.

“Israel was informed that they did not board their flight around the same time that the prosecutor went on cable television to announce the charges. These and other circumstances call into question the legitimacy and credibility of this investigation,” Blinken said.

An unprecedented majority in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset — 106 out of 120 MKs — signed a petition on Monday afternoon against what they said was an “unerasable historical crime.”

“The scandalous comparison by the Hague prosecutor between Israel’s leaders and the heads of terror organizations is an unerasable historical crime and a clear expression of antisemitism,” the petition read. “We reject this with revulsion. Eighty years after the Holocaust, no one will prevent the Jewish state from defending itself.”

Israel will likely lobby the US Congress to pursue sanctions against the ICC. Several Republican senators last month warned against issuing warrants, saying they would push for sanctions against Khan including barring entry to the US.

One of them, US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said on Monday he will “feverishly work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to levy damning sanctions against the ICC,” adding that “Prosecutor Khan is drunk with self-importance and has done a lot of damage to the peace process and to the ability to find a way forward.”

Former US national security adviser John Bolton also called for the US to impose sanctions on the ICC, saying the Hague court had proved its “fundamental illegitimacy.”

“To aid our ally Israel, the US should take steps both in Congress and in the White House to condemn the ICC and impose sanctions,” he wrote on X/Twitter.

The ICC action also received strong criticism in Europe.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala called Khan’s decision “appalling and completely unacceptable.”

“We must not forget that it was Hamas that attacked Israel in October and killed, injured, and kidnapped thousands of innocent people,” he wrote on X. “It was this completely unprovoked terrorist attack that led to the current war in Gaza and the suffering of civilians in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon.”

Other European leaders, however, supported the ICC move.

“Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib wrote. “The fight against impunity wherever crimes occur is a priority for Belgium.”

The call for arrest warrants “is an important step in the investigation of the situation in Palestine,” she added.

The post Israel, US Blast ‘Outrageous’ ICC Request for Netanyahu’s Arrest first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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