Kamala Harris at climate summit: World must ‘fight’ those stalling action

DUBAI — The vast, global efforts to arrest rising temperatures are imperiled and must accelerate, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told the world climate summit on Saturday. 

“We must do more,” she implored an audience of world leaders at the COP28 climate talks in Dubai. And the headwinds are only growing, she warned.

“Continued progress will not be possible without a fight,” she told the gathering, which has drawn more than 100,000 people to this Gulf oil metropolis. “Around the world, there are those who seek to slow or stop our progress. Leaders who deny climate science, delay climate action and spread misinformation. Corporations that greenwash their climate inaction and lobby for billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies.” 

Her remarks — less than a year before an election that could return Donald Trump to the White House — challenged leaders to cooperate and spend more to keep the goal of containing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. So far, the planet has warmed about 1.3 degrees since preindustrial times.

“Our action collectively, or worse, our inaction will impact billions of people for decades to come,” Harris said.

The vice president, who frequently warns about climate change threats in speeches and interviews, is the highest-ranking face of the Biden White House at the Dubai negotiations.

She used her conference platform to push that image, announcing several new U.S. climate initiatives, including a record-setting $3 billion pledge for the so-called Green Climate Fund, which aims to help countries adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. The commitment echoes an identical pledge Barack Obama made in 2014 — of which only $1 billion was delivered. The U.S. Treasury Department later specified that the updated commitment was “subject to the availability of funds.”

Meanwhile, back in D.C., the Biden administration strategically timed the release of new rules to crack down on planet-warming methane emissions from the oil and gas sector — a significant milestone in its plan to prevent climate catastrophe.

The trip allows Harris to bolster her credentials on a policy issue critical to the young voters key to President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign — and potentially to a future Harris White House run. 

“Given her knowledge base with the issue, her passion for the issue, it strikes me as a smart move for her to broaden that message out to the international audience,” said Roger Salazar, a California political strategist and former aide to then-Vice President Al Gore, a lifetime climate campaigner. 

Yet sending Harris also presents political peril. 

Biden has taken flak from critics for not attending the talks himself after representing the United States at the last two U.N. climate summits since taking office. And climate advocates have questioned the Biden administration’s embrace of the summit’s leader, Sultan al-Jaber, given he also runs the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned oil giant. John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, has argued the partnership can help bring fossil fuel megaliths to the table.

Harris has been on a climate policy roadshow in recent months, discussing the issue during a series of interviews at universities and other venues packed with young people and environmental advocates. The administration said it views Harris — a former California senator and attorney general — as an effective spokesperson on climate. 

“The vice president’s leadership on climate goes back to when she was the district attorney of San Francisco, as she established one of the first environmental justice units in the nation,” a senior administration official told reporters on a call previewing her trip. 

Joining Harris in Dubai are Kerry, White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi and John Podesta, who’s leading the White House effort to implement Biden’s signature climate law. 

Biden officials are leaning on that climate law — dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act — to prove the U.S. is doing its part to slash global emissions. Yet climate activists remain skeptical, chiding Biden for separately approving a series of fossil fuel projects, including an oil drilling initiative in Alaska and an Appalachian natural gas pipeline.

Similarly, the Biden administration’s opening COP28 pledge of $17.5 million for a new international climate aid fund frustrated advocates for developing nations combating climate threats. The figure lagged well behind other allies, several of whom committed $100 million or more.

Nonetheless, Harris called for aggressive action in her speech, which was followed by a session with other officials on renewable energy. The vice president committed the U.S. to doubling its energy efficiency and tripling its renewable energy capacity by 2030, joining a growing list of countries. The U.S. also said Saturday it was joining a global alliance dedicated to divorcing the world from coal-based energy. 

Like other world leaders, Harris also used her trip to conduct a whirlwind of diplomacy over the war between Israel and Hamas, which has flared back up after a brief truce.

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Harris would be meeting with “regional leaders” to discuss “our desire to see this pause restored, our desire to see aid getting back in, our desire to see hostages get out.”

The war has intruded into the proceedings at the climate summit, with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas both skipping their scheduled speaking slots on Friday. Iran’s delegation also walked out of the summit, objecting to Israel’s presence.

Kirby said Harris will convey “that we believe the Palestinian people need a vote and a voice in their future, and then they need governance in Gaza that will look after their aspirations and their needs.”

Although Biden won’t be going to Dubai, the administration said these climate talks are “especially” vital, given countries will decide how to respond to a U.N. assessment that found the world’s climate efforts are falling short. 

“This is why the president has made climate a keystone of his administration’s foreign policy agenda,” the senior administration official said.

Robin Bravender reported from Washington, D.C. Zia Weise and Charlie Cooper reported from Dubai. 

Sara Schonhardt contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.



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Can the Palestinian Authority lead a post-Hamas Gaza Strip?

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is working hard to involve the Palestinian Authority in a resolution of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Despite having a significant security apparatus, a civil service and other trappings of a state, the weaknesses of the internationally recognised Palestinian leadership mean it may not be well positioned to play a meaningful role in Gaza’s future.

Antony Blinken reiterated Washington’s opposition to Israel reoccupying the Gaza Strip once its war with Hamas ends at a G7 meeting in Japan on Wednesday. “Palestinian people must be central to governance in Gaza and the West Bank as well,” the US secretary of state told reporters, adding: “Gaza cannot continue to be run by Hamas.”

But Washington’s stated opposition to an Israeli occupation of Gaza begs a key question: Who can lead a post-Hamas Gaza Strip?

Blinken’s recent trip to see Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas may provide an insight into US thinking.

On November 5, Blinken passed through Israeli checkpoints on his way to Ramallah to meet with Abbas, his second trip to the region since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7 and his first to the Palestinian administrative capital.

Blinken reiterated that the United States would like to see the PA playing a central role in any post-Hamas Gaza.

But according to Palestinian media, Abbas told Blinken that the Gaza Strip is an integral part of the state of Palestine and that the PA could only have a role there if Israel ends its occupation of both Palestinian territories within the framework of a “comprehensive political solution that includes all of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip”.

“There are no words to describe the genocidal war and destruction that our Palestinian people in Gaza are enduring at the hands of the Israeli war machinery, with no regard for international law,” Abbas added.

The Palestinian Authority in 2023

Established in 1994 as a consequence of the Oslo AccordsYasser Arafat was elected PA president two years later. Today the PA formally exercises authority over only 18% of the West Bank, known as “Area A”. The remaining 82%, separated into Areas “B” and “C”, is controlled either jointly with or entirely by Israel.

Faced with the largest crisis in decades, Arafat’s successor appears more powerless than ever. The PA has been absent from the Gaza Strip since Hamas made gains in the 2006 legislative elections and its subsequent victory in the Battle of Gaza, which saw the Islamist group take complete control of the enclave in 2007.

Among Palestinians, the PA is deeply unpopular, seen as corrupt, repressive and in the service of Israel. But it has a semi-functioning political structure, a civilian administration, and security and intelligence services. It also receives financial support from the United States and the European Union as well as Saudi Arabia and other Arab League states.

There is limited data available about the Palestinian security apparatus in the West Bank but its forces are thought to number in the tens of thousands. These forces are divided among several agencies – including the Palestinian Civil Police, the National Security Forces and the internal Preventive Security Force, which includes the presidential guard – some of which are equipped with light armoured vehicles.

All of these forces loyal to Abbas are restricted to certain areas of the West Bank and have engaged in continuous security cooperation with the Israeli state.

Read more‘We are failing again’: UN, US resignations highlight splits over Israel’s Gaza assault

“The cooperation between the Palestinian and Israeli [security] services is extensive and has withstood any challenge. Every time Mahmoud Abbas has wanted to suspend security cooperation, the Americans have opposed it and he has fallen in line,” says Jean-Paul Chagnollaud, director of the Paris-based Institute for Research and Studies on the Mediterranean and Middle East (Institut de recherche et d’études Méditerranée Moyen-Orient).

“It’s an almost organic relationship, and for many Palestinians, security cooperation comes with no political return. That’s why many accuse the Palestinian Authority of a sort of collaboration.”

Chagnollaud says the idea that the PA would return to Gaza – with Israeli armoured vehicles – as part of an occupying army would be unacceptable to most Palestinians and politically untenable for Abbas and his government.

Can the Palestinian Authority govern Gaza again?

Frédéric Encel, a specialist in Middle Eastern politics at Sciences Po University in Paris, says the Palestinian Authority’s return to Gaza is the only viable solution.

Israel has no legitimacy and no intention of reoccupying, let alone annexing, the enclave,” he says. “Egypt, which occupied it until 1967, has no interest in taking charge. And no state will send peacekeepers to control the Gaza Strip.”

However, for a PA return to be possible, many preconditions need to be met.

“The first condition, which is not easy, is the demilitarisation of Hamas’s main forces, meaning its missiles and especially any terrorists who could enter Israel. As long as this condition remains unmet, the Israelis will not stop the war,” says Encel.

“The second condition is massive support from the international community. And the third is that the current Israeli government [of hard-right Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] collapses in the short term.”

Encel has “guarded expectations” that these conditions can be established, particularly given Netanyahu’s plummeting approval ratings in the wake of Hamas’s attack in southern Israel. “This combination of circumstances is certainly difficult, but not impossible. All opinion polls conducted in Israel since the Hamas massacre on October 7 consistently give substantial advantage to a centrist and centre-left cohort who are not at all opposed to the two-state solution and the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Read moreShock Hamas terror attack: The beginning of the end for Israel’s Netanyahu?

US bets on Abbas

The United States would like to have an “effective and revitalised Palestinian Authority take back governance and ultimately security responsibility in Gaza”, as Blinken told a Senate hearing in late October.

But the Biden administration’s hope faces clear obstacles, principally Hamas itself.  

Osama Hamdan, one of Hamas’s Lebanon-based leaders, said on Monday that his people “will not allow the United States to impose its plans to create an administration that suits it and that suits the [Israeli] occupation, and our people will not accept a new Vichy government” – a reference to the collaborationist government that controlled northern France during World War II. 

But the US project also faces opposition on the Israeli side.

Netanyahu once again rejected the possibility of a ceasefire in Gaza on Monday. He promised Israel would take “overall security responsibility” in the enclave after the war, prompting a round of denials from Washington, which made clear it would not support an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza.

But the US diplomatic initiative may have a long road ahead, since it would rely on an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and a future Israeli government – one run not by hawks and their far-right allies, but one willing to partner with the Palestinians to map out Gaza’s future.

This article is translated from the original in French.

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Israel Hamas war: Civil order ‘breaks down’ in Gaza as strikes damage hospital and death toll rises

All the latest developments from the Israel Hamas war.

Palestinian Red Crescent: Israeli strikes damaged Gaza hospital

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The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) has announced that Israeli strikes on Sunday damaged sections in the packed Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City, after receiving two phone calls from the Israeli military to evacuate.

A video the Red Crescent posted on X, formerly Twitter, of the hospital following the strikes shows rooms covered in debris and dust and the windows blown out. People covered their noses and mouths, panicking as they tried to leave the hospital with their children.

The PRCS-run hospital administration said that evacuating the hospital was impossible, as its hundreds of patients included children in incubators and wounded people in the intensive-care unit. In a statement, it said many of the 14,000 people seeking shelter there are Palestinians displaced by the ongoing Hamas-Israel war.

Israeli strikes targeted areas around the hospital throughout Sunday. The director-general of the World Health Organization has previously said that it would be “impossible” to evacuate hospitals without endangering people’s lives.

Hamas reports ‘violent fighting’ with Israeli army in northern Gaza

Hamas has reported “violent fighting” underway between its fighters and Israeli forces in the north of the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli army has been carrying out ground incursions since Friday evening.

“Our fighters are currently engaged in heavy combat using automatic and anti-tank weapons with the occupation forces carrying out an incursion into the northwest of Gaza,” said the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, in a statement.

The al-Qassam brigades also announced shortly beforehand that they had fired “mortar shells and rockets” at an Israeli military position in Erez, the main crossing point between the Palestinian territory and Israel, closed since the start of the war

Number of children killed in conflict soars

The number of children killed in the blockaded Gaza Strip since the start of the Hamas-Israel earlier this month has exceeded the number of children killed in armed conflict every year globally since 2019, international charity Save the Children has announced. 

In a statement, the charity cited numbers from the Gaza Health Ministry of at least 3,195 children killed in the war. It also mentioned the deaths of 33 children in the occupied West Bank and 29 children killed in Israel.

“The numbers are harrowing and with violence not only continuing but expanding in Gaza right now, many more children remain at grave risk,” Save the Children Country Director in the occupied Palestinian territory Jason Lee said in a statement. “One child’s death is one too many, but these are grave violations of epic proportions. A cease-fire is the only way to ensure their safety.”

UN Secretary General renews calls for humanitarian cease-fire

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that “the world is witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe taking place before our eyes” in Gaza, with over two million people denied the essentials of life and subjected to relentless bombardment.

“I urge all those with responsibility to step back from the brink,” he told reporters at a meeting with Nepal’s prime minister in Kathmandu on Sunday. “We must join forces to end this nightmare for the people of Gaza, Israel and all those affected around the world.”

The UN chief reiterated his appeal for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, the unconditional release of all hostages and delivery of aid at scale to Gaza.

Guterres again condemned Hamas’ “appalling attacks” on Israel on 7 October, stressing that “there is no justification, ever, for the killing, injuring and abduction of civilians.”

He also reiterated that all parties to conflict are required under international humanitarian laws to protect civilians and provide them with food, water, medicine and other essentials, stressing that “those laws cannot be contorted for the sake of expedience.”

“The number of civilians who have been killed and injured is totally unacceptable,” Guterres added.

Israel drops leaflets on Gaza, asking civilians to ‘surrender’

Israel’s military, which has said repeatedly that it is not at war with civilians in Gaza but rather with Hamas, dropped leaflets on the Gaza Strip Sunday asking civilians to “surrender.” Written in Arabic, the leaflets told civilians to lay down all their weapons, put their hands up, wave white flags and follow instructions from the Israeli military.

“Hamas leaders are exploiting you,” the flyers read. “They and their families are in safe places, while you die in vain.”

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Washington calls on Israel to make ‘distinction’ between Hamas and Palestinian civilians

The United States said on Sunday that Israel must make a “distinction” in its military operations between Hamas and Palestinian civilians, as the Israeli army intensifies its bombings and ground operations in the Gaza Strip.

“What we believe is that every hour, every day of this military operation, the Israeli government should take every possible measure at its disposal to distinguish between Hamas – terrorists who are legitimate military targets – and civilians who are not,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN.

Hamas militants killed near Erez crossing – Israel

Israel’s military have claimed that ground forces killed a number of Hamas militants as they were exiting a tunnel near the Erez crossing, which used to be the sole pedestrian passageway out of the coastal enclave into Israel before it was destroyed in the fighting. It was unclear how many militants were killed by Israeli forces.

Videos of the ground operation released by the military showed tanks traversing small, sandy hills and bulldozers clearing mountains of debris. Hamas has a sprawling network of tunnels underneath Gaza where it is believed to be stockpiling weapons, food, and other supplies.

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Sunak and Macron insist on the need for ‘urgent humanitarian support’ – Downing Street

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office says he has spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron about the importance of getting urgent humanitarian support into Gaza and maintaining regional security following the expansion of Israel’s military operation against Hamas.

The leaders “agreed to work together on efforts both to get crucial food, fuel, water and medicine to those who need it, and to get foreign nationals out,” Downing Street said in a statement on Sunday.

“They expressed their shared concern at the risk of escalation in the wider region, in particular in the West Bank. The Prime Minister and President Macron updated on the conversations they have had with leaders in the region to stress the importance of working to ensure regional stability,” the statement added.

Sunak and Macron agreed that it was important not to lose sight of the long-term future of the region and, in particular, the need for a two-state solution, the statement said, adding, “They underscored that Hamas does not represent ordinary Palestinians and that their barbarism should not undermine the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

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Pope calls for cease-fire and release of hostages

Pope Francis repeatedly called for a cease-fire in Gaza on Sunday.

“Let’s continue to pray for Ukraine and for the serious situation in Palestine and Israel and for other regions with wars,” Francis said.

“In particular, in Gaza, leave space to guarantee humanitarian aid. And let the hostages be freed immediately. Let no one abandon the possibility to stop the arms. Cease fire,” he added, speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace above St. Peter’s Square.

The pope cited the Reverend Ibrahim Faltas, the vicar of the Custody the Holy Land, as joining him in the urgent plea for a cease-fire.

“Stop yourselves brothers and sisters, war is always defeat. Always! Always!” he concluded.

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Netanyahu apologises after criticising security officials

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologised after criticising security officials for having underestimated the risks of a major Hamas attack.

He posted a message on X – formerly Twitter – which he later deleted before apologising.

“Never, under any circumstances, has the Prime Minister been alerted to the warlike intentions of Hamas,” Netanyahu wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

“All security officials, including the head of military intelligence and the head of internal security, believed that Hamas was afraid to act and was seeking an arrangement. This is the assessment that was submitted several times to the prime minister and to the cabinet by all security officials and the intelligence community. Until the moment the war broke out,” Netanyahu continued.

The post was removed in the morning and no longer appeared on X, only to be replaced a few minutes later by an apology.

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“I was wrong. What I said after the press conference should not have been said and I apologise for it. I fully support all security officials. I support the chief of staff, the commanders, and the soldiers of the IDF (Israeli Army) who are on the front lines and who are fighting for our home. Together we will win,” Netanyahu wrote.

During his press conference with Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, member of the Knesset, the Prime Minister admitted the Hamas attack was “a terrible failure” for Israel.

“There has been a terrible failure here and it will be examined to the end. I promise that there will not be a stone left unturned. For now my mission is to save the country and lead the soldiers to total victory over Hamas and the forces of evil,” Netanyahu declared.

Many political analysts in Israel believe that Netanyahu’s political career has been seriously compromised by not having been able to ensure the protection of his population – one of his electoral promises.

Thousands loot UN aid warehouses in Gaza as desperation grows and Israel widens ground offensive

Thousands of people broke into aid warehouses in Gaza to take flour and basic hygiene products, a UN agency said on Sunday, in a mark of growing desperation and the breakdown of public order three weeks into the war between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers.

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Thomas White, director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said the warehouse break-ins were “a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down after three weeks of war and a tight siege on Gaza. People are scared, frustrated and desperate.”

UNRWA provides basic services to hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza. Its schools across the territory have been transformed into packed shelters housing Palestinians displaced by the conflict. Israel has allowed only a small trickle of aid to enter from Egypt, some of which was stored in one of the warehouses that was broken into, UNRWA said.

Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for the agency, said the crowds broke into four facilities on Saturday. She said the warehouses did not contain any fuel, which has been in critically short supply since Israel cut off all shipments after the start of the war.

Situation in Gaza becomes ‘increasingly desperate’, warns UN chief

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has expressed alarm at an “increasingly desperate” situation in the Gaza Strip, deploring that Israel had “intensified its military operations” there.

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“The situation in Gaza is becoming more desperate by the hour. I regret that instead of a sorely needed humanitarian pause, supported by the international community, Israel has intensified its military operations,” Guterres said during a visit to Nepal, after a four-day trip to Qatar.

He described as “totally unacceptable” the number of civilians killed and injured in the war between Israel and Hamas, sparked by the Islamist movement’s bloody attack on 7 October on Israeli soil.

Israeli army increases troop numbers in Gaza – spokesperson

The Israeli army has increased the number of its troops entering the Gaza Strip where it is at war against Palestinian Hamas, its spokesperson announced on Sunday.

“During the night (Saturday to Sunday), we increased” the number of army forces entering the Gaza Strip “and they joined those already fighting there,” General Daniel Hagari said. 

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“We are gradually increasing ground operations and the extent of our forces in the Gaza Strip,” he added.

Palestinian Red Crescent: Israel says Al-Quds Hospital ‘going to be bombed’

The Palestinian Red Crescent – PRCS – say they have received “serious threats” from the Israeli forces to “immediately evacuate the Al-Quds Hospital as it is going to be bombed”.

Since this morning, there have been raids 50 metres away from the hospital, a statement on X – formerly Twitter – said.

Israel strikes near Gaza’s largest hospital after accusing Hamas of using it as a base

Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes early Sunday near Gaza’s largest hospital, which is packed with patients and tens of thousands of Palestinians seeking shelter. Israel has said Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers have a command post under the hospital, without providing much evidence.

The strikes came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a “second stage” in Israel’s war on Hamas, three weeks after Hamas launched a brutal incursion into Israel on 7 October. Ground forces pushed into Gaza over the weekend as Israel pounded the territory from air, land and sea.

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The bombardment – described by Gaza residents as the most intense of the war – knocked out most communications in the territory late Friday, largely cutting off the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people from the world. Communications were restored to many people in Gaza early Sunday, according to local telecoms companies, Internet-access advocacy group NetBlocks.org and confirmation on the ground.

Residents said the latest airstrikes destroyed most of the roads leading to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, which is part of the northern half of the besieged territory, which Israel has told people to evacuate. Israel says most residents have fled to the south, but hundreds of thousands remain in the north, in part because Israel has also bombarded targets in so-called safe zones. Tens of thousands are sheltering in Shifa, which is also packed with patients wounded in strikes.

“Reaching the hospital has become increasingly difficult,” Mahmoud al-Sawah, who is sheltering in the hospital, said over the phone. “It seems they want to cut off the area.” Another Gaza City resident, Abdallah Sayed, said the Israeli bombing over the past two days was “the most violent and intense” since the war started.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment when asked about reports of strikes near Shifa.

The army recently released computer-generated images showing what it said were Hamas installations in and around Shifa Hospital, as well as interrogations of captured Hamas fighters who might have been speaking under duress. Israel has made similar claims before, but has not substantiated them.

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Internet and telephone connectivity restored for many in Gaza

Internet and telephone connectivity has been restored for many people in Gaza, according to the telecoms company Paltel, Internet-access advocacy group NetBlocks.org and confirmation on the ground.

The besieged Gaza Strip had suffered a communication blackout since late Friday, leaving its 2.3 million residents cut off from the outside world amid heavy Israeli air and land bombardment.

Hamas Health Ministry announces death toll of more than 8,000

The Hamas health ministry has announced that more than 8,000 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the war with Israel.

“The death toll linked to Israeli aggression exceeds 8,000, half of whom are children,” on the night of Saturday to Sunday the ministry told AFP.

UN warns of collapse of ‘civil order’ after looting of aid centres

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned on Sunday of a collapse of “civil order” in the Gaza Strip after the looting of warehouses and food aid distribution centres it runs.

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“Thousands of people entered several UNRWA warehouses and distribution centres in the central and southern Gaza Strip,” the UN agency said in a statement. “It is a worrying sign that civil order is beginning to collapse after three weeks of war and a siege on Gaza,” they add.

Israel aims to bring back all the hostages

Netanyahu told the nationally televised news conference that Israel is determined to bring back all the hostages, and maintained that the expanding ground operation “will help us in this mission.” He said he couldn’t reveal everything that is being done due to the sensitivity and secrecy of the efforts.

“This is the second stage of the war, whose objectives are clear: to destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and bring the hostages home,” he said in his first time taking questions from journalists since the war began.

Netanyahu also acknowledged that the 7 October “debacle,” in which more than 1,400 people were killed, would need a thorough investigation, adding that “everyone will have to answer questions, including me.”

The Israeli military said it was gradually expanding its ground operations inside Gaza, while stopping short of calling it an all-out invasion.

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“We are proceeding with the stages of the war according to an organised plan,” Hagari, the military spokesman, said. The comments hinted at a strategy of staged escalation, instead of a massive and overwhelming offensive.

Despite the Israeli offensive, Palestinian militants have continued firing rockets into Israel, with the constant sirens in southern Israel a reminder of the threat.

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The longer Israel thinks, the more time Washington has to calm its wrath

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe. 

BEIRUT — “Once you break it, you are going to own it,” General Colin Powell warned former United States President George W. Bush when he was considering invading Iraq in the wake of 9/11.

And as the invasion plan came together, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blocked any serious postwar planning for how Iraq would be run once the country’s ruler Saddam Hussein had gone. As far as he was concerned, once “shock and awe” had smashed Iraq, others could pick up the pieces.

British generals fumed at this. And General Mike Jackson, head of the British army during the invasion, later described Rumsfeld’s approach as “intellectually bankrupt.”

That history is now worth recalling — and was likely on U.S. President Joe Biden’s mind when he urged the Israeli war cabinet last week not to “repeat mistakes” made by the U.S. after 9/11.

Despite Biden’s prompt, however, Israel still doesn’t appear to have a definitive plan for what to do with the Gaza Strip once it has pulverized the enclave and inflicted lasting damage on Hamas for the heinous October 7 attacks.

Setting aside just how difficult a military task Israel will face undertaking its avowed aim of ending Hamas as an organization — former U.S. General David Petraeus told POLITICO last week that a Gaza ground war could be “Mogadishu on steroids” — the lack of endgame here suggests a lack of intellectual rigor that disturbingly echoes Rumsfeld’s.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told lawmakers Friday that the country didn’t have plans to maintain control over Gaza after its war against Hamas had concluded, saying Israel would end its “responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip.” Among other minor matters, this raises the issue of where the coastal enclave of 2.3 million people will get life-sustaining energy and water, as Israel supplies most utility needs.

Israeli and Western officials say the most likely option would be to hand responsibility to the West Bank-based Palestinian National Authority, which oversaw the enclave until Hamas violently grabbed control in 2007. “I think in the end the best thing is that the Palestinian Authority goes back into Gaza,” Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said last week.

But it isn’t clear whether Mahmoud Abbas — the Palestinian Authority president and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is dominated by his Fatah party — would want Gaza on those terms, or whether he has the power to do much of anything with the enclave in the first place.

Abbas is already struggling to maintain his authority over the West Bank. He’s an unpopular leader, and his government is seen to be not only appallingly venal, but is perceived by many as ceding to the demands of the Israeli authorities too easily. 

Israel now controls 60 percent of the West Bank, and its encroaching settlements in the area — which are illegal under international law — haven’t helped Abbas. Nor have Israeli efforts to hold back the West Bank from developing — a process dubbed “de-developing” by critics and aimed, they say, at restricting growth and strangling Palestinian self-determination.

In West Bank refugee camps, Abbas’ security forces have now lost authority to armed groups — including disgruntled Fatah fighters. “It is unclear whether Abbas would be prepared to play such an obvious role subcontracting for Israel in Gaza. This would further erode whatever domestic standing the PA has left,” assessed Hugh Lovatt, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

But it isn’t only Gaza — or the West Bank — that risks breaking in the coming weeks.

Neighboring countries are watching events unfold with growing alarm, and they fear that if more thought isn’t given to Israel’s response to the savage Hamas attacks, and it isn’t developed in consultation with them, they’ll be crushed in the process. If Israel wants the support of these countries — or their help even — in calming the inevitable anger of their populations once a military campaign is launched, it needs their buy-in and agreement on the future of Gaza and Palestinians, and to stop using the language of collective punishment.

Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah — Hamas’ ally — has been intensifying its skirmishes along the border with Israel, is currently the most vulnerable. And Lebanese politicians are complaining they’re being disregarded by all key protagonists — Israel, the U.S. and Iran — in a tragedy they wish to have no part in.

Already on its knees from an economic crisis that plunged an estimated 85 percent of its population into poverty, and with a barely functioning caretaker government, the Lebanese are desperate not to become the second front in Iran’s war with Israel. Lebanon “could fall apart completely,” Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam said.

But the leaders of Egypt and Jordan share Lebanon’s frustrations, arguing that the potential repercussions for them are being overlooked. This is why Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called Saturday’s Cairo summit of regional and international leaders.

El-Sisi focused the conference on a longer-term political solution, hopefully a serious effort to make good on the 2007 Annapolis Conference’s resolution to set up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Egypt has much to lose if the war escalates — and the country’s officials are fuming at what they see as a careless attitude from Israel toward what happens to Gaza after Hamas is subjugated, potentially leaving a cash-strapped Egypt to pick up some of the pieces.

More than that, Egypt and Jordan harbor deep suspicions — as do many other Arab leaders and politicians — that as the conflict unfolds, Israel’s war aims will shift. They worry that under pressure from the country’s messianic hard-right parties, Israel will end up annexing north Gaza, or maybe all of Gaza, permanently uprooting a large proportion of its population, echoing past displacements of Palestinians — including the nakba (catastrophe), the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians in 1948.

This is why both el-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II are resisting the “humanitarian” calls for displaced Gazans to find refuge in their countries. They suspect it won’t be temporary and will add to their own security risks, as Gazans would likely have to be accommodated in the Sinai — where Egyptian security forces are already engaged in a long-standing counterinsurgency against Islamist militant groups.

And both countries do have grounds for concern about Israel’s intentions.

Some columnists for Israel Hayom —a newspaper owned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close friend, American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — are already calling for annexation. “My hope is that the enemy population residing there now will be expelled and that the Strip will be annexed and repopulated by Israel,” wrote Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who served 30 years in prison for spying for Israel before emigrating.

And last week, Gideon Sa’ar, the newly appointed minister in Netanyahu’s wartime government, said that Gaza “must be smaller at the end of the war . . . Whoever starts a war against Israel must lose territory.”

Given all this, there are now signs the Biden administration is starting to take the risks of the Gaza crisis breaking things far and wide fully on board — despite widespread Arab fears that it still isn’t. By not being fast enough to express sympathy for ordinary Gazans’ suffering as Israel pummels the enclave, Biden’s aides initially fumbled. And while that can easily be blamed on Hamas, it needs to be expressed by American officials loudly and often.

In the meantime, the unexplained delay of Israel’s ground attack is being seen by some analysts as a sign that Washington is playing for time, hoping to persuade the country to rethink how it will go about attacking Hamas, prodding Israel to define a realistic endgame that can secure buy-in from Arab leaders and help combat the propaganda of Jew-hatred.

Meanwhile, hostage negotiations now appear to be progressing via Qatar, after two American captives were freed Friday. There have also been reports of top Biden aides back-channeling Iran via Oman.

So, despite Arab condemnation, the Biden administration’s approach may be more subtle than many realize — at least according to Michael Young, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center. He said it was always inevitable that Washington would publicly back Israel but that a primary aim has been to “contain Israel’s reaction” to the Hamas attacks, while seemingly deferring to the country.

And time will help. The longer Israel thinks, the more opportunity Washington has to reason, to calm, and to explain the trail of cascading wreckage Israel risks leaving behind if it is unrestrained and fails to answer — as Biden put it — “very hard questions.”

But that might not be sufficient to prevent everything spinning out of control. Israel morally and legally has the right to defend itself from barbaric attacks that were more a pogrom, and it must ensure the safety of its citizens. There are also others — notably Iran — that want the destruction of the Jewish state, and even a scaled down response from Israel may trigger the escalation most in the region fear.



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The dogs of war are howling in the Middle East

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

BEIRUT — Against a dawning day, just hours after the fatal Gaza hospital explosion that killed hundreds, Israel’s border with Lebanon crackled with shelling and fighter jet strikes as Israeli warplanes responded to an uptick in shelling from Hezbollah.

Regardless of who struck the al-Ahli Arab Hospital, the needle is now rapidly shifting in a dangerous direction. And hopes are being pinned on United States President Joe Biden and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who is set to host an emergency summit in Cairo on Saturday. But the chances of a wider war engulfing Lebanon and the entire region being hurled into violent chaos once more are growing by the hour.

As Hezbollah announced “a day of rage” against Israel, protests have targeted U.S. missions in the region, more embassies in Beirut have started sending off non-essentials staff, and security teams are being flown in to protect diplomatic missions and European NGOs, preparing contingency plans for staff evacuation. An ever-growing sense of dread and foreboding is now gripping the Levant.

Currently, Israel insists the hospital explosion was caused by an errant rocket fired by Islamic Jihad — and the White House agrees. But the Palestinian militant group, which is aligned with Hamas, says this is a “lie and fabrication,” insisting Israel was responsible. Regardless of where the responsibility lies, however, the blast at the hospital — where hundreds of Palestinian civilians were sheltering from days of Israeli airstrikes on the coastal enclave of Gaza — is sending shock waves far and wide.

It has already blown Biden’s trip to the region off course, as his planned Wednesday meeting with Arab leaders in Jordan had to be axed. The meeting was meant to take place after his visit to Israel, where Biden had the tricky task of showing solidarity, while also pressing the country’s reluctant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

A statement from the White House said the the decision to cancel the meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egypt’s El-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been jointly made in light of the hospital strike.

But Arab leaders have made clear they had no hope the meeting would be productive. Abbas pulled out first, before Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi suggested a meeting would be pointless. “There is no use in talking now about anything except stopping the war,” he said, referencing Israel’s near-constant bombardment of Gaza.

Scrapping the Jordan stop lost the U.S. leader a major face-to-face opportunity to navigate the crisis, leaving American efforts to stave off a wider conflict in disarray.

The U.S. was already facing tough criticism in the region for being too far in Israel’s corner and failing to condemn the country for civilian deaths in Gaza. Meanwhile, Arab leaders have shrugged off U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s efforts to get them to denounce Hamas — they refuse to label the organization as a terror group, seeing the October 7 attacks as the inevitable consequence of the failure to deliver a two-state solution for Palestinians and lift Israel’s 17-year blockade on Gaza.

Whether anyone can now stop a bigger war is highly uncertain. But there was one word that stood out in Biden’s immediate remarks after the Hamas attacks, and that was “don’t.” “To any country, any organization, anyone thinking of taking advantage of the situation, I have one word,” he said. “Don’t.”

However, this is now being drowned out by furious cries for revenge. Wrath has its grip on all parties in the region, as old hatreds and grievances play out and the tit-for-tat blows accelerate. Much like Mark Antony’s exhortation in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war” is now the sentiment being heard here, obscuring reason and leaving diplomacy struggling in its wake.

In the immediate aftermath of last week’s slaughter, righteous fury had understandably gripped Israelis. Netanyahu channeled that rage, vowing “mighty vengeance” against Hamas for the surprise attacks, pledging to destroy the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group. “Every Hamas terrorist is a dead man,” he said days later.

However, Israel hasn’t officially announced it will launch a ground mission — something it has refrained from doing in recent years due to the risk of losing a high number of soldiers. But it has massed troops and armor along the border, drafted 300,000 reservists — the biggest call-up in decades — and two days after the Hamas attacks, Netanyahu reportedly told Biden that Israel had no choice but to launch a ground operation. Publicly, he warned Israelis the country faced a “long and difficult war.”

The one hope that havoc won’t be unleashed in the region now rests partly — but largely — upon Israel reducing its military goals and deciding not to launch a ground offensive on Gaza, which would be the most likely trigger for Hezbollah and its allies to commence a full-scale attack, either across the southern border or on the Golan Heights.

That was certainly the message from Ahmed Abdul-Hadi, Hamas’ chief representative in Lebanon. He told POLITICO that an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza would be one of the key triggers that could bring Hezbollah fully into the conflict, and that Hamas and Hezbollah are now closely coordinating their responses.

“Hezbollah will pay no attention to threats from anyone against it entering the war; it will ignore warnings to stay out of it. The timing of when Hezbollah wants to enter the war or not will relate to Israeli escalation and incidents on the ground, and especially if Israel tries to enter Gaza on the ground,” he said.

Lebanese politicians are now pinning their hopes on Israel not opting to mount a ground offensive on the densely populated enclave — an operation that would almost certainly lead to a high number of civilian casualties and spark further Arab outrage, in addition to a likely Hezbollah intervention. They see some possibility in Biden’s warning that any move by Israel to reoccupy Gaza would be a “big mistake” — a belated sign that Washington is now trying to impose a limit on Israel’s actions in retaliation for the Hamas attacks.

And how that dovetails with Netanyahu’s stated aim to “demolish Hamas”and “defeat the bloodthirsty monsters who have risen against us to destroy us” is another one of the major uncertainties that will determine if the dogs of war will be fully unleashed.

At the moment, however, an apparent pause in Israeli ground operations is giving some a reason to hope. While assembled units are on standby and awaiting orders, on Tuesday an Israel military spokesman suggested a full-scale ground assault might not be what’s being prepared.

Michael Young, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, suspects a “rethink” is underway, likely prompted by Israeli military chiefs’ realization that a ground offensive wouldn’t just be bloody, it wouldn’t rid Gaza of Hamas either. “When the PLO was forced out of Lebanon by Israel in 1982, it still was able to maintain a presence in the country and Yasser Arafat was back within a year in Lebanon,” he said.

Likewise, lawmaker Ashraf Rifi — a former director of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces — told POLITICO he thinks Israeli generals are likely just as behind the apparent hold as their Western allies. “Military commanders are always less enthusiastic about going to war than politicians, and Israeli military commanders are always cautious,” he said.

“Let’s hope so, otherwise we will all be thrown into hell.”



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The Abraham Accords: ‘Palestinian leaders don’t realise that the region is changing’

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Palestinian human rights lawyer and former diplomat Ghaith al-Omari, a prominent advocate of the two-state solution and negotiations with Israel, gave FRANCE 24 a lengthy interview on a recent visit to Paris. In this last of a three-part series, he discussed the Abraham Accords, which saw the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab countries. 

Ghaith al-Omari has long been a key player in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, acting as a Palestinian negotiator at the 2000 Camp David Summit convened by then-US president Bill Clinton and again at the 2001 Taba Summit in Egypt. He was an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas until 2006. With the peace process stalled since 2014, he now works as a senior fellow at the Washington Institute’s Irwin Levy Family Program on the US-Israel Strategic Relationship.  

Al-Omari was in Paris two weeks ago to unveil the Whispered in Gaza project – a series of short animated films based on the testimonies of Palestinians living in Gaza – at the French National Assembly.  

Former Palestinian negotiator Ghaith al-Omari pictured on March 22, 2023 in Paris. © Marc Daou, FRANCE 24

After speaking about the political situation in the occupied West Bank under the unbroken rule of the 87-year-old Abbas and the despair of Palestinian youth in the first two of this three-part interview series, al-Omari discusses the Abraham Accords, mediated by the US and signed in 2020. 

While the Palestinian cause remains popular among the Arab people, the signatories of the Accords have opened a new era for the region. Has this come at the expense of the Palestinian people?

I don’t believe that the signatories of the accords have turned their back on Palestinians. We are witnessing a new way of doing politics in the Middle East, centred in the Gulf. The Arab countries that are undertaking this new approach did this to pursue their national interests, and they have every right to do so. I think the Palestinian leaders don’t realise that the region is changing, they still live in the past, they still think that the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser [the former Egyptian president who championed pan-Arabism] will come back. They will not. Those good old days of ideologies such as pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism and Nasserism are slowly disappearing and no longer dominate (the region). 

This is the reality. And in this regard, Palestinians need to ask themselves if they can benefit from the new order when everyone else is focused on maximising their own interests, or are they going to remain on the sidelines and watch as history passes them by? I believe that there is a way for Palestinians to profit from the situation. As a former Palestinian negotiator, I can tell you that when we needed to effectively put pressure on the Israeli government, we call on Washington first, or course, and then Amman and Cairo. Why? Because the Arab countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Israel have the leverage to pressurise the nation’s leaders. And now, other Arab countries also have leverage. Let’s not forget that the United Arab Emirates have signed the Abraham Accords on condition that the Israeli government cease annexations of Palestinian territories. So, in a certain way, they’ve already delivered to the Palestinians. Palestinian leaders now have the choice of meeting with the leaders of these countries to express their respect of the decision to establish formal ties with Israel and seek out ways to profit from the situation, or do what they’re currently doing, which is condemning the new order and refusing to engage. 

How can the Palestinians benefit from the Accords? 

If they choose to engage, they will obtain strengthened political support from Arab countries. As we saw recently, the United Arab Emirates was willing to sponsor a UN Security Council resolution in support of the Palestinians in their fight against the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements. More than political support, there are also possibilities for economic benefits. Here’s an example: Two years ago Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates signed a deal to address each other’s shortcomings. Jordan is a regional leader in clean energy production thanks to solar power plants yet remains one of the world’s most water deprived countries. The deal was then to build solar power plants in Jordan and desalination stations in Israel [editor’s note: Israel is a world leader in water desalination but is lacking in energy, particularly in the south of the country], swapping solar energy and water so that the needs of both countries are met. The United Arab Emirates meanwhile financed the project knowing full well that all surpluses sold would profit themselves. It’s a win-win-win situation. The Palestinians would have been a perfect candidate for this kind of deal as there are many project ideas such as those that they could participate in. There is much to gain but they need to make the choice of joining. The region is changing, and the Abraham Accords are here to stay. And we can see that despite the current tension between the Israeli government and its Arab counterparts, they continue to develop economic and security ties. 

Regarding the current state of Israeli politics, do the Accords help restrain the most right-wing Israeli government in history?

At the end of the day, the Israeli considerations will be primarily domestic politics, like all countries on earth. Nevertheless, with the Abraham Accords countries, today Israel has to think twice before taking certain actions. I can even tell you that according to an Israeli official source, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli diplomatic offices as well as Israeli intelligence community are all very sensitive to criticisms from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. They almost got used to criticism from Egypt and Jordan; they don’t take it seriously that much. But due to the popularity of the Abraham Accords in Israel, when these new partners criticise, the Israelis listen. So it creates a counter-pressure. We know, for example, that Benjamin Netanyahu held back his Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir when the latter wanted to take more provocative steps in Jerusalem. It is the prime minister’s fear of the United Arab Emirates, which has rapidly developed strong ties with Israel, cutting the relation that is getting him to really pressure his minister to refrain from some of these provocative actions. He doesn’t always succeed, he may not always want to succeed, but Israel is finding itself under a new pressure, without which the extremist elements of this government would be much stronger and much more assertive. 

From a broader perspective, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which once stood at the centre of international relations, seems to have been relegated to a regional issue. Do you agree? Has this helped facilitate a reconciliation between the signatories of the Accords and Israel?

Nowadays, the international community considers certain issues to be much more important, such as the war in Ukraine, China’s expanding power, Iran’s nuclear threats, not to mention the various crisis in Yemen, Syria and Libya. In terms of immediate risks, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has thus been eclipsed by much more risky conflicts. At a certain point, in the 90s’ up to the early 2000s’, there was a sense of opportunity, the idea that if you invest politically in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you might get results. Today there is no sense of possibility. The Western world and regional players have understood that Palestinians are too weak to sign a deal and the Israelis are not interested anyways in such a deal. Political leaders are hence looking for an opportunity elsewhere, and that’s why the Abraham Accords are so popular. If you were a leader, would you want to engage in something that will fail? Even so, the world has moved on. In the end, it’s up to Palestinians and Israelis to re-capture the world’s attention on the issue of their conflict. Ironically, the extremist and sometimes racist policies of the current Israeli government attract a lot of scrutiny and generated many reactions internationally. The recent summoning of the Israeli ambassador to the US department of state in Washington was almost unprecedented. Even Israel’s new allies, such as the United Arab Emirates, have begun criticising the nation all the time. It’s one thing to ignore this conflict, but if there is a collapse, especially around Jerusalem, it can have spillover effects throughout the Arab world, throughout the Islamic world. So it’s a reminder that the issue cannot be completely ignored. 

This article was adapted from the original in French

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