English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For December 31/2023
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 01/01-18/:”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on December 30-31/2023
Elias Bejjani-Video: Resolutions For the new year of 2024
Video-Text: Resolutions For the new year of 2024/Elias Bejjani/January 01/2024
UN Warns of Lebanon, Yemen Being Dragged into Gaza Conflict
For the second time in days.. Israel targets a house in Bint Jbeil, and Hezbollah launches its “strike planes”!
Netanyahu threatens: This is what we will do if the “party” expands the war!
Adraee claims to have targeted "the party's" infrastructure in Kafr Kila
With air, sniper, tank fire, IDF eliminates dozens of terrorists in Gaza/The Israeli Air Force continues to strike multiple Hezbollah targets in Southern Lebanon.
Hezbollah Border Presence Impacted by Strikes, Israel Says
Hezbollah Worried about Pressure from UNIFIL to Implement Resolution 1701 in S. Lebanon
Give us president and take 1701, Berri reportedly tells 5-nation group
Hezbollah's diplomatic gambit: The Presidential trade for Resolution 1701
Culture Minister Mortada’s call for ‘cultural resistance and true normalization’
Hezbollah mourns four martyrs from Lebanon’s Bekaa
US envoy's impending return to Lebanon: Seeking clarity from Hezbollah
Samir Geagea: Unilateral decision at southern borders not benefiting Gaza
Geagea Urges Holding Lebanon Presidential Elections the Soonest
Tensions mount on Lebanon’s southern border as Israel ratchets up threats to open a second front
Netanyahu Leaves Lebanon On The Brink/Mustafa Fahs/Asharq Al-Awsat/December 30/2023
Traffic and Vehicles Management Authority: Vehicle registration schedule revealed

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 30-31/2023
19 fighters killed, 18 wounded in airstrikes near Syria-Iraq border
Israel strikes Syria after rocket fire
Iraqi official: Unidentified aircraft targeted truck convoy in Syria
Israeli tanks advance deeper into Gaza districts, 12 weeks into war
Exhausted' Gazans Desperate for War to End as Israel Presses Offensive
Palestinian Group Says Captive Israeli Soldier Killed in Gaza by Israeli Air Strike
UKMTO receives report of incident near Yemen's Hodeidah - advisory note
The Biden administration once more bypasses Congress on an emergency weapons sale to Israel
Jordan king demands global push for Gaza ceasefire during call with Canadian PM
‘What kind of life is this?’ Dire conditions in increasingly cramped southern Gaza
Palestinian group says captive Israeli soldier killed in Gaza by Israeli air strike
Armistice Day march activist defends Hamas hostage-taking and says Israel mimics Nazis
US Navy Thwarts Houthi Attack in Red Sea, Militias Remain Defiant
Russia says 14 dead after ‘indiscriminate’ Ukrainian attack on city of Belgorod
Ukraine retaliates against Russian mass missile attack with mass drone attack
WHO sounds warning on Sudan health crisis

Titles For The Latest English LCCC  analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources on December 30-31/2023
The Iranian Regime's Killing Machine/Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/December 30, 2023
How feud between two Sudanese factions became 2023’s ‘forgotten other war’/ROBERT BOCIAGA/Arab News/December 30, 2023
GCC poised to meet 2024’s challenges/Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg/Arab News/December 30, 2023
Why Israel should choose peace — before time runs out/Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib/Arab News/December 30, 2023
Netanyahu will use his ‘poison machine’ to cling to power/Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/December 30, 2023
2024: Where Does the Pendulum Swing?/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al-Awsat/December 30/2023

Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on December 30-31/2023
Elias Bejjani-Video: Resolutions For the new year of 2024
January 01/2024

Video-Text: Resolutions For the new year of 2024
Elias Bejjani/January 01/2024
Video-Text: Resolutions For the new year of 2024
Elias Bejjani/January 01/2024
How healthy and fruitful would it be if each and every one of us is fully ready to welcome the new year of 2022 with a clear conscience and a joyful reconciliation with himself/herself, as well and with all others, especially those who are the beloved ones, e.g, parents, family members, friends, etc.
How self gratifying would be for any faithful and wise person to enter the new year of 2022 and he/she is completely free from all past heavy and worrying loads of hostility, hatred, enmities, grudges, strives and jealousy.
And because our life is very short on this mortal-perishable earthly world.
And due to the fact that, Our Heavenly Father, Almighty God may at any moment take back His Gift of life from any one of us.
Because of all these solid facts and realities, we are ought to leave behind all the 2021 hardships, pains and disappointments with no regrets at all.
We are ought to happily welcome and enter the 2022 new year with a totally empty page of our lives….ready for a new start.
Hopefully, every wise, loving, caring and faithful person would feel better in striving to begin this new year of 2022 with love, forgiveness, faith, hope, extended hands, open heart, and self-confidence.
I wish every one a Happy, Happy new Year that hopefully will carry with it all that is love, forgiveness, faith, hope, extended hands, open hearts, and self-confidence.

UN Warns of Lebanon, Yemen Being Dragged into Gaza Conflict
AP/30 December 2023
The UN Secretary-General on Friday voiced grave concerns over “further spillover” of the conflict in Gaza, as the Security Council discussed the situation in the Middle East against the backdrop of escalating violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the relentless Israeli bombardment in the war-ravaged enclave. “As the hostilities between Israel and Hamas and other groups in Gaza intensify, the Secretary-General remains gravely concerned about the further spillover of this conflict, which could have devastating consequences for the entire region,” said Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “There is a continued risk of wider regional conflagration, the longer the conflict in Gaza continues, given the risk of escalation and miscalculation by multiple actors,” he added in a statement. “The escalating violence in the occupied West Bank, including intensified Israeli security forces operations, high numbers of fatalities, settler violence and attacks on Israelis by Palestinians, is extremely alarming.” “The daily exchanges of fire across the Blue Line risk triggering a broader escalation between Israel and Lebanon and affecting regional stability,” he warned.
“The Secretary-General is increasingly concerned about the spillover effects of the continuing attacks by armed groups in Iraq and Syria, as well as the Houthi attacks against vessels in the Red Sea, which have escalated in recent days,” he continued. “The Secretary-General urges all parties to exercise maximum restraint and take urgent steps to de-escalate tensions in the region,” added. Dujarric. “He again appeals to all members of the international community to do everything in their power to use their influence on the relevant parties to prevent an escalation of the situation in the region,” he went on to say. “The Secretary-General reiterates his call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.”
Security Council
The Security Council, meanwhile, met at the request of the United Arab Emirates, to discuss the situation in Gaza. Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East at the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), informed Council members that the situation in the Middle East is alarming and continues to deteriorate, including “several interconnected theatres conflict”. He noted “intense” Israeli ground operations and fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas and other groups in most areas of Gaza, as Hamas and other Palestinian factions continue to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel. “Civilians from both sides [...] continue to bear the brunt of this conflict,” he said. Reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, Khiari warned that the risk of regional spillover of this conflict with potential devastating consequences for the entire region “remains high” given also a multitude of actors involved. He informed Council members of “continued daily exchanges” of fire across the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, posing a “grave risk” to regional stability.
“Increasingly, there have been strikes on civilian areas, with civilian casualties, on both sides of the Blue Line, in addition to a rising number of fatalities among combatants,” he added. Khiari also noted attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria, with the US conducting some airstrikes against groups suspected of these actions in Iraq and Syria. He also cited reports of Israeli air strikes inside Syria, as well as tensions in the Red Sea.

For the second time in days.. Israel targets a house in Bint Jbeil, and Hezbollah launches its “strike planes”!
Janubia/30 January 2023
Once again, within a week, the Israeli enemy, with its warplanes, targeted a house in the vibrant center of the city of Bint Jbeil (Al-Baraka neighborhood), completely destroying the aforementioned house, which consisted of two floors, causing the injury of one of the house’s owners and a Syrian worker, according to information reported in Bint. Byblos.
Today's aggression against Bint Jbeil, yesterday, was preceded by great intimidation by warplanes, which breached the sound barrier at a very low altitude, which prompted a large number of the town's residents to flee from it, since the raid, which targeted the Bazzi family's house, and the citizen Shorouq Saleh Hammoud was martyred inside. , from the town of Ainatha, her husband, Ibrahim Ahmed Bazzi, and his brother, Ali, and another person was injured.
The Israeli enemy, in its war with Hezbollah, distributed its attacks to Syrian lands, using military aircraft, as Hezbollah mourned four of its members, all from the Bekaa region, who fell in the Albukamal area. This afternoon, the Israeli round of attacks included the town of Yaroun, near Bint Jbeil. A drone targeted a municipal pickup truck, causing it to catch fire. It also launched similar raids on Aita al-Shaab and Kafr Kila, and artillery shelling on the surroundings of Hula, Blida, Naqoura, and Markba. Beit Lev and others. From the Lebanese side, Hezbollah targeted, with attack aircraft, an Israeli position in the Shebaa Farms, and targeted a gathering of occupation soldiers in the forest of Adathar and Tal al-Asi, opposite Mays al-Jabal and Beit Hilal, speaking about the recording of certain casualties among the ranks of the occupation soldiers.

Netanyahu threatens: This is what we will do if the “party” expands the war!
Alkalima online/December 30/2023
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday evening that the “Philadelphia Corridor” border area between Gaza and Egypt should be under Israel’s control. Netanyahu explained, in a speech broadcast on television, that Israel is fighting on “all fronts” in a war that he stated would continue for many more months until victory is achieved. The Israeli Prime Minister stated, "The war in the Gaza Strip is complicated, but we have the upper hand. We are striking their leaders, and we will reach them." Regarding Iran, Netanyahu said: “For Iran, it leads the axis of evil and we work against it in every way and every day.” He added, "Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons." He continued, "If Hezbollah expands the battle, they will receive strikes they have never witnessed before." Netanyahu also confirmed that "strong strikes are being directed at Hezbollah and we are destroying important targets belonging to it." This comes as Israel entered the thirteenth week of its war on the Gaza Strip, which followed an attack by Hamas, which led to other groups allied with Iran in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen launching attacks on it. Netanyahu continued, "To achieve victory, we need more time, and we do this by preserving the lives of our soldiers as much as possible." He added, "I did not prevent the Minister of Defense from meeting with the heads of Mossad and Shin Bet."

Adraee claims to have targeted "the party's" infrastructure in Kafr Kila
Alkalima online/December 30/2023
Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee wrote today, Saturday, in a post on his account on the “X” platform: “A series of massive raids in the Kafr Kila area in southern Lebanon - the IDF targets Hezbollah infrastructure.” He added, "Earlier today, Air Force warplanes raided Hezbollah infrastructure in the Kafr Kila area in southern Lebanon in a focused campaign that included two waves of raids targeting a series of targets in the morning and noon hours." He added, "The village of Kafr Kila is considered a stronghold for Hezbollah, as the organization uses its infrastructure for "terrorist" purposes and uses civil society as human shields for its activities."
He concluded: "Since the beginning of the fighting, Hezbollah has used the village numerous times to launch missiles toward Israeli territory."



With air, sniper, tank fire, IDF eliminates dozens of terrorists in Gaza/The Israeli Air Force continues to strike multiple Hezbollah targets in Southern Lebanon.
YAAKOV LAPPIN/JNS/December30/2023
In recent hours in Gaza, Israel Defense Forces troops eliminated dozens of terrorists via ground operations combined with aerial strikes and sniper and tank fire, the military announced on Friday.
During a critical engagement in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, an Israeli aircraft swiftly identified a terrorist armed with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) advancing towards the troops. IDF tanks neutralized the threat, preventing the attack.
IDF troops also targeted terrorist infrastructure in Khan Yunis on Thursday, the IDF said. While dismantling the structures, Israeli troops saw a terrorist retrieving an RPG from a shaft. They responded with a barrage of grenades, eliminating him.
An IDF drone strike killed a terrorist who was some 325 feet from the Israeli soldiers, and an Israeli Air Force fighter jet struck a building, eliminating the terrorist cell inside. The IDF also said on Friday that the Kfir infantry brigade has assisted operations in Khan Yunis, a Hamas stronghold, since last week, joining the 98th Division that was already active in the area. The two have destroyed many terrorist cells and recovered extensive weaponry and found many tunnels, the IDF said. The did so with artillery, air and armored assistance. Israeli troops evaded a Hamas ambush ploy—a doll dressed in a snowsuit, meant to look like a child—and they also destroyed explosive-rigged buildings. “Many weapons and tunnel shafts were located in the area,” the IDF said. Soldiers from the local combat team also found weapons in a child’s bedroom—some hidden in a child’s bag—in a house. They discovered grenades, vests, cartridges and intelligence materials and located a laboratory used for the production of explosive devices. In northern Gaza, IDF intelligence led forces to a residence on the outskirts of Jabalia belonging to a Hamas terrorist. There, troops found an array of weapons, Hamas military certifications and textbooks detailing IDF tactics. The IDF’s 5th Brigade, part of the Gaza Division, and soldiers from the Armored and Combat Engineering Corps began operations in Khirbat Ikhza’a, a focal point of Hamas activity in the southern Gaza Strip. The IDF said it is trying to gain control of Khirbat Ikhza’a—the staging area from which Hamas terrorists attacked Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7—and soldiers neutralized terrorists and destroyed significant terror infrastructure, including tunnel shafts and anti-tank missile launch posts. “Dozens of tunnel shafts have already been located, as well as large quantities of weapons, including AK-47s, rifles, grenades, mines, launchers and mortars,” in the area, the IDF said. “The combat engineering soldiers of the brigade’s combat team also destroyed terrorist infrastructure located in the residences of the terrorists who participated in the brutal massacre in Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7,” per the military. IDF forces persisted in striking terror sites across several key areas in the Gaza Strip, targeting locations such as Daraj and Tufah in the northern part, the al-Bureij camp in the central region and Khan Yunis in the south, where IDF operations were intensified.
Hamas leadership
Hamas told Egypt it rejects any outline, in which Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad would not be part of the leadership of the Gaza Strip after the war, according to a report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center on Friday.
Leaders of the terror organization said any postwar political scenario should be based on a Palestinian “consensus.”It also denied recent reports in Le Figaro that Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau in Lebanon, received a phone call from Yahya Sinwar, Hamas leader in Gaza, 30 minutes before the launch of the Oct. 7 mass murder attack. The French newspaper reported that Sinwar asked al-Arouri to update Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, about the attack.
Northern Israel
The IDF identified launches from Lebanon towards Israel on Friday, two of which crossed into Israeli territory. IDF artillery struck the sources of the fire. The Israeli military also struck a Hezbollah terrorist cell, which was responsible for launching anti-tank missiles in the area of Aitaroun in southern Lebanon, and a missile launcher used to attack the area of Bar’am, in northern Israel, earlier in the day. Lebanese media reported that a drone struck a vehicle in Aitaroun. Israeli fighter jets struck Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure, including launch sites and a military compound, in the area of Wadi Hamul, in Southern Lebanon, the military said. Earlier on Friday, IDF artillery units carried out strikes against the sources of a series of launches from Lebanon targeting Dovev and Bar’am, in northern Israel. Ali Damush, a senior aid to Nasrallah and deputy head of Hezbollah’s executive council, reportedly boasted on Friday that “the Israeli dilemma is today from Gaza to Lebanon,” per a Ynet report. “Hezbollah brought Israel into a daily war of attrition, uprooted residents from the border area and increased the internal dilemma,” the terrorist reportedly added.

Hezbollah Border Presence Impacted by Strikes, Israel Says

AFP/30 December 2023
Israel has completed a series of extensive strikes against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, a military spokesperson said on Friday, attacks which have impacted the Iran-backed group's positioning near the border. "We continue intensive strikes to hit Hezbollah's deployment close to the northern border," military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a televised statement. "It no longer looks as it did on October sixth, nor will it."Hezbollah has been trading fire with Israel at the border since its Palestinian ally Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, igniting a conflict that has drawn in the heavily armed group and other Iran-aligned factions across the Middle East. But the violence has largely been contained to areas at the border, shaped by what observers have called unwritten rules of engagement between adversaries that have long threatened each other with catastrophic damage in the event of war.
Israel has said it is not seeking to open a front in the north. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Beirut would be turned "into Gaza" if Hezbollah started an all-out war. Hagari said the targets of the recent air, tank and artillery strikes included launch pads, military compounds and militant squads.

Hezbollah Worried about Pressure from UNIFIL to Implement Resolution 1701 in S. Lebanon

Beirut: Paula Astih/Asharq Al-Awsat/December 30/2023
Tensions between Hezbollah and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) resurfaced after peacekeeping troops were confronted by locals in the South. A peacekeeper was hurt when a group of young men attacked a patrol and tried to stop it from moving through their village, UNIFIL said in a statement on Thursday. The incident took place on Wednesday night when residents of the village of Taybeh briefly blocked the peacekeepers' patrol travelling through the area, it added. The man wounded was an Indonesian soldier, a security source said. A vehicle was damaged, UNIFIL said. It called on Lebanese authorities to investigate the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice. In a second incident on Thursday morning, a peacekeepers' convoy travelling to UNIFIL's eastern headquarters was briefly blocked by residents, who let them go ahead after a brief discussion, UNIFIL spokesperson Kandice Ardiel said. A Lebanese security source said a group of men had hit the UNIFIL vehicles with sticks and rocks. The reason for the actions was not clear but in previous incidents, local people have objected to UNIFIL peacekeepers driving military vehicles through residential areas.
There was no comment from Hezbollah. The Iran-backed party avoids sending its members to such confrontations, but rather dispatches locals to intercept UNIFIL patrols, claiming they were operating “suspiciously”. Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that UNIFIL’s recent activity has raised its own suspicions among Hezbollah. They speculated that the activity may be an attempt to push for the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701. The persistence of such an approach will have “several repercussions” and lead to a “dangerous situation”, they warned. Meanwhile, Grand Jaafari Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan, who is close to Hezbollah, demanded in a statement that UNIFIL act as a “just force” and that it only serve Lebanon’s national interests. He stressed that UNIFIL will always be welcome when it works for Lebanon sovereignty. “Any violation of its duties against our national interests is forbidden and an act of suicide,” he warned. He added that any “adventure under any pretext will be confronted by our people who are teaching the world the meaning of freedom, sovereignty and independence.”
Dr. Sami Nader, Director of Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Hezbollah is trying to portray the current tensions as being between UNIFIL and residents of the South. In fact, the tensions are really between the party and the peacekeepers, he stressed. He explained that UNIFIL effectively represents international decisions, especially resolution 1701, which is really at the heart of the unrest in the South. The real implementation of the resolution would effectively close the open front between Lebanon and Israel, he remarked. At the moment, diplomatic pressure is being exerted for all parties to respect the resolution. The failure of diplomacy would force the concerned parties to resort to a military solution, he warned. Iran, however, will not agree to closing the southern front without extracting a certain price, given that it will be present at any discussions aimed at reaching a settlement, Nader stated. The implementation of resolution 1701 would ultimately cost Iran this diplomatic card in its possession, he went on to say. Meanwhile, the Renewal (Tajadod) Bloc stressed that now was the time to prevent Lebanon from being dragged into a conflict with Israel. However, instead of efforts being exerted to restore calm in the South, “we are witnessing repeated attacks against the peacekeepers.” It blamed Hezbollah for the attacks, saying it wants to deliver a message to the international community that the implementation of resolution 1701 will be met with chaos and violence.

Give us president and take 1701, Berri reportedly tells 5-nation group
Naharnet/December 29, 2023
Hezbollah has recently told the five-nation group for Lebanon and other diplomatic circles, through Speaker Nabih Berri and other officials, that it is “willing to implement Resolution 1701, but not under an authority that would be hostile to it,” diplomatic sources said. Hezbollah “wants a (Lebanese) authority that would represent a guarantee for it, seeing as it does not want to withdraw from the area south of Litani amid the presence of an authority and a president who would stab it in the back,” the sources told the Nidaa al-Watan newspaper in remarks published Saturday. “It is demanding political reassurances in return for the implementation of Resolution 1701,” the sources added. The report coincides with a stance by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who has said that “the presidency is not a consolation prize, neither at the level of the domestic situation, nor in terms of the strategic equations.”“The implementation of 1701 has nothing to do with the presidential post in any way whatsoever,” he stressed.

Hezbollah's diplomatic gambit: The Presidential trade for Resolution 1701
LBCI/December 29, 2023
Diplomatic sources revealed to "Nidaa al-Watan" that Hezbollah recently sent, through the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and others, to the Quintet Committee and diplomatic circles, expressing readiness to implement Resolution 1701.
However, Hezbollah does not accept the execution of the resolution under an authority hostile to it. Instead, Hezbollah demands authority that constitutes a guarantee to it so that its withdrawal from the south of the Litani River is not based on the existence of an authority and a president who stabs it in the back.
Moreover, Hezbollah demands political assurances in exchange for implementing Resolution 1701.

Culture Minister Mortada’s call for ‘cultural resistance and true normalization’
LBCI/December 29, 2023
The Minister of Culture, Mohammad Mortada, said during a cultural event titled “Maryam’s tears and Gaza’s tragedies” on Friday: “In the face of the tragedies that befall the people of Palestine, it is necessary to cling to all forms of resistance and resilience.” He said: “Perhaps cultural resistance is one of the most important chapters in the conflict with the occupying enemy. Its goal is to raise awareness among everyone about the dangers of this cancerous gland implanted in our land and its negative effects on our existence, rights, and future.”He continued: “In this context, I truly call for normalization, but in its true sense, meaning making things in accordance with nature. And because occupation is contrary to nature, violating human values, international laws, and national and ethnic rights, true normalization would be returning things to their natural state.”“This is done by removing this occupation and reclaiming the rights it seized, not by accepting it and promoting political, economic, and cultural relations with it. The idea of this true normalization becomes more important and relevant whenever a plane drops its bombs on the heads of the innocent,” Mortada added. Regarding the two-state solution, Mortada said: “I call for another solution called the ‘Return Solution’: Palestinians return to their cities, villages, fields, and homes across Palestine, and foreign settlers return to their original countries. This solution is the only way to end the conflict, and it will undoubtedly be achieved, God willing, soon.”

Hezbollah mourns four martyrs from Lebanon’s Bekaa
LBCI/December 29, 2023
On Saturday, Hezbollah mourned the death of four of its members who are:
-Hasan Akram Al-Mousawi, “Rabee, from the town of Qarha in the Bekaa.
-Mohammad Al-Mazawi, “Hamza, from the town of Al-Karak in the Bekaa.
-Abbas Mohammad Al-Ajami, “Abu Al-Fadel,” from the neighborhood of Al-Fikani in the Bekaa.
-Rakan Ali Seif al-Din, “Abu Ali al-Hurr,” from Halbata in the Bekaa.

US envoy's impending return to Lebanon: Seeking clarity from Hezbollah
LBCI/December 29, 2023
Informed sources have mentioned an imminent return of the US envoy Amos Hochstein to Lebanon, suggesting that he will likely visit Beirut in the second half of January. The sources, speaking to Al-Anbaa, emphasized the significance of this visit. They stated that Hochstein aims to obtain clear and specific answers from Hezbollah's readiness to retreat to the north of the Litani. The sources pointed out that Hezbollah, in turn, demands international guarantees for a similar withdrawal by Israel beyond the Blue Line. Hezbollah refuses to bear sole responsibility for violations of this decision, insisting that Israel has openly violated Resolution 1701 since 2006.

Samir Geagea: Unilateral decision at southern borders not benefiting Gaza
LBCI/December 29, 2023
Samir Geagea, the Lebanese Forces Party leader, affirmed that “what we are witnessing on our southern borders is not a legitimate Lebanese decision; neither the government convened and made it, nor was it discussed in the parliament, nor was there any agreement on it among Lebanese parties and factions.”
“This decision was made by one party based on non-Lebanese considerations, and it is being implemented unilaterally, disregarding its seriousness. Until now, we have between 80,000 and 100,000 displaced individuals from the south,” Geagea added.
He said, “Some believe that what is happening in the south falls under support for Gaza. For the record, we are 100 percent with Gaza and support and stand in solidarity with its people until the end. We condemn what it is subjected to; this is unacceptable on all levels. However, there is a question: How does the strike launched from the south help Gaza? Could Gaza experience something worse than what is happening now?”Geagea continued, “According to military science, each geographical area bears a certain military force, and the Israeli force attacking Gaza is the maximum that can be placed in an area of 365 km2, equivalent to the size of Gaza. Therefore, what is happening in the south does not benefit Gaza; it harms it somewhere.” Geagea’s remarks came during the annual dinner for expatriate engineers in the Lebanese Forces party at the party’s headquarters in Maarab.
In addition, he emphasized that “Gaza is the excuse,” confirming that “the goal of what is happening on our southern borders is to say Hezbollah and behind it the axis of resistance, reaching Iran for everyone, that they are present in the equation to preserve their position in it to obtain some gains later when the time for negotiation comes. Then, the Palestinians are the ones who fought in Gaza, while others will sit at the negotiating table.”He explained that “what is happening in the south harms Gaza; materially speaking, nothing has been accomplished, whether in terms of delaying the attack or mitigating its severity. The attack is relentless from all directions and with all types of weapons without interruption.” Furthermore, Geagea said, “What the Houthis are doing in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon appears as if Gaza events are part of a system or link in a series of Iranian militias in the region, starting from Lebanon, passing through Syria and Iraq, and reaching Yemen.”He added, “Organizing a demonstration, even a small one, in any capital in the world benefits Gaza, as it affects decision-makers. But what is happening today is drowning its cause, which is a legitimate issue, in another matter, which is the strategic presence of Iran in the Middle East as a whole. “The one who pays the price for all these adventures is the southern citizen, as we have between 80,000 and 100,000 displaced individuals today and approximately 170 southern citizens martyred, solely for the sake of preserving the right of the resistance axis to sit at the negotiating table when the time comes, and this is unacceptable,” Geagea concluded.

Geagea Urges Holding Lebanon Presidential Elections the Soonest
Beirut: Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2023
Head of the Lebanese Forces party Samir Geagea on Friday has stressed readiness to do all that is necessary to hold the presidential elections the soonest, asserting that the presidency is not a consolation prize. The LF leader made his remarks at the annual dinner of the Lebanese Forces’ Aley office in Maarab. “All we want is for the next head of state to be a president in the true sense of the word,” he stressed. “We will not accept the election of a president who will allow the current situation to persist,” Geagea insisted, stressing that the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 is not linked to the top post. He took the opportunity to explain the duties of the future president. Geagea added the president is “who will have to rebuild the state and who will be responsible for implementing reforms.” He must also be “the one who has no relations with the political parties that were in power during the previous period, especially as they are responsible for the current situation.” Regarding the extension of the term in office of the Army’s Commander-in-Chief, General Joseph Aoun, Geagea stressed that “the Lebanese Forces were not the only ones fighting for this, but they were at the origin of this initiative, and they played a central role in achieving this objective to maintain stability within the military institution and the security forces.” When asked why the LF had not exerted the same pressure regarding the presidential elections, Geagea affirmed that the party was deploying every possible effort to ensure that the elections take place as soon as possible. He added that the LF is not requesting a specific candidate and is not seeking ministerial portfolios. Since 2019, Lebanon has been grappling with an unprecedented economic and financial crisis amid a months-long vacuum at the top state post.

Tensions mount on Lebanon’s southern border as Israel ratchets up threats to open a second front

The Arab Weekly/December 30/2023
On the Lebanese side, around 74,500 people have been displaced by the fighting, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Nearly 160 people have been killed. Tensions are mounting on the Lebanon-Israel border as Israeli officials are stepping up threats against the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and as the two sides continue to trade fire. Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet, said Wednesday that if the international community and the Lebanese government do not “restrain” Hezbollah, Israel will. Israel’s army chief, Lt. General Herzi Halevi, said the military is in a state of “high readiness” and has approved plans in case it decides to open a second front in the north. In the meanwhile, Hezbollah, which has been careful to limit its attacks on Israel, is keeping open the possibility of a broader escalation. “If Israel goes too far, we will retaliate twice as much,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Kassem, warned on Thursday. “We will not fear either Israeli or American threats or intimidation.”The fighting along Israel’s northern border broke out when Hezbollah began firing rockets shortly after the October 7 cross-border attack by Hamas triggered the war in Gaza. While at a lower intensity than the battle in Gaza, the simultaneous fighting has caused destruction, displacement and death on both sides and raised fears of a wider regional war. Hezbollah fighters have been attacking Israeli posts and villages along the border, and the group has launched rockets and drones towards Israeli targets. Israeli tanks, artillery and aircraft have been striking areas on the Lebanese side of the border.
On the Lebanese side, around 74,500 people have been displaced by the fighting, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Nearly 160 people have been killed by Israeli airstrikes and shelling in Lebanon. Most of those were fighters with Hezbollah and allied groups, but at least 19 civilians have also been killed, including journalists and children. Human rights groups and local officials have also accused Israel of hitting Lebanese border areas with shells containing white phosphorus, a controversial incendiary munition. The strikes have burned hundreds of hectares (acres) of farm and woodland and injured civilians. Israel says all its actions conform with international law. Israel was also accused by rights groups of premeditating its attacks on reporters on the border. The Israeli military says more than 1,700 rockets have been fired from Lebanon towards Israel, killing 15 Israelis, including nine soldiers, and injuring more than 150 people. Israel estimates that Hezbollah has some 150,000 rockets and missiles in its arsenal, many of which can strike virtually anywhere in Israel, including the economic capital, Tel Aviv
Israel has evacuated about 60,000 people from more than 40 northern communities, including the main city of Kiryat Shemona, which has 22,000 residents. Israeli media outlets have aired footage of battered homes and barren communities, with Israeli soldiers guarding empty streets.
Until now, the almost-daily Hezbollah strikes have been calibrated not to trigger an all-out war. Some military experts say all however could spin out of control as Israeli military leaders find the current situation increasingly untenable.
Precarious balance
Hezbollah’s aim to ease pressure on the Gaza Strip, where Israel is fighting an unprecedented ground, air and sea offensive meant to topple Hamas and return some 129 people held captive in the territory. The militant party and its Iranian sponsor do not at this stage want a full-blown showdown in Lebanon.
But Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is seen as maintaining a precarious balancing act. Joining Hamas would risk dragging Lebanon — beset by economic calamity and internal political tensions — into a conflict it can ill afford, fueling domestic opposition to the group. The World Bank has already said the clashes are likely to seriously harm Lebanon’s economy. Lebanon is in the fourth year of a crippling economic crisis and is bitterly divided between Hezbollah and its allies and opponents, paralyzing the political system.
But staying entirely on the sidelines as Israeli troops battle in the Gaza Strip could compromise Hezbollah’s credibility and undermine Iran’s standing in the region. With its soldiers bogged down in Gaza, Israel has mostly sought to limit the fighting in its north. Still, Israeli officials seem increasingly willing to expand the fighting, saying that Hezbollah should be prepared to pay a price for the damage it has wrought over the past three months. Israel’s top ally, the US, which has sent military reinforcements to the region, says it prefers to see a negotiated solution to the mounting tensions rather than a second war front. Israel also wants Hezbollah to abide by a 2006 UN cease-fire agreement that states the border area in southern Lebanon must be “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons” other than Lebanese government forces and UN peacekeepers. Under the resolution, Hezbollah should not have military presence in the border region. Lebanon, meanwhile, argues that Israel violates the resolution with its air force’s frequent entry into Lebanese airspace and by its presence in Chebaa Farms, a disputed area along the country’s border with the Golan Heights, an area seized by Israel from Syria in 1967.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Wednesday that Hezbollah must respect the 2006 cease-fire. Otherwise, he warned, Nasrallah “must understand that he’s next.”In the meanwhile, Israel has bolstered forces in the north and could well turn its sights to the Lebanon front once it scales down or wraps up the war in Gaza even though its offensive there is slowed down by stiff resistance by Hamas.

Netanyahu Leaves Lebanon On The Brink
Mustafa Fahs/Asharq Al-Awsat/December 30/2023
Tehran's retaliation for the assassination of its senior “military advisor” in Syria, Quds Force Brigadier General Razi Mousavi, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike near Damascus, will probably not be any more forceful than its retaliation for the assassination of the former Quds Force Commander General Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad Airport three years ago. After the latter’s assassination, Iran merely launched 'Scud' missiles at the US Al-Asad Airbase - strikes that Tehran and Washington have agreed to before, per former US President Donald Trump. Since Tehran is somewhat committed to the rules of engagement in strategic arenas, namely Lebanon - despite the tensions there - and Syria, despite its calm, Iran does not seem inclined to push for escalation or allow things to get out of hand.
Since the 'Al-Aqsa Flood operation was launched, Tehran has been adhering to all the rules of engagement on hot fronts like Lebanon, despite the pressure that Hamas has come under and the systematic destruction of the Gaza Strip. It affords its proxies in other arenas the freedom to make tactical decisions themselves. That means it is not interested in entering any open-ended confrontations outside Gaza. At the same time, it is open to negotiations with Washington that limit the scale of the conflict and prevent it from spiraling out of control, as both parties are keen on avoiding its escalation into a regional war.
From Muscat to Doha, both parties have so far succeeded in containing the escalation. Tehran quickly understood the message conveyed through the introduction of US aircraft carriers. Accordingly, it opted for negotiations with Washington while maintaining pressure to bolster its negotiating position and rearrange its regional influence after the assault on Gaza ends. Tehran aims to shift from a strategy of expansion to a consolidation phase, through direct negotiations with the current US administration at the highest level. Tehran is taking advantage of the fact that the administration is dazed one month away from the start of the presidential race, which has somewhat incapacitated it. Tehran believes that Washington’s confusion presents it with a golden opportunity to secure its gains and avoid potential confrontation and losses.
The fact that the negotiation between the two parties being attended by high level officials, and their acceptable results so far in Muscat and other regional capitals, along with the fact that the Iranians have maintained discipline, strategically excluding Gaza from the “unity of the arena,” have allowed Iran to avoid total war and to limit the attacks by members of the axis to tactical strikes or diversions. This is evident in the Lebanese front, though Iran has not ruled out the possibility of opening another front.
On the contrary, the Israeli enemy has tried to escalate border tensions with Lebanon and attempted to lure Hezbollah into a broader conflict, hoping to benefit from the US negotiating pressure on Tehran and its absolute support in any war. Moreover, Tel Aviv is also betting that, with the US administration about to enter the election race, its ability to apply pressure on Israel to prevent the expansion of the conflict, as happened in the first week of the “Al-Aqsa Flood," will be limited.
The recent statements by Israeli officials suggest that there is a domestic consensus behind a Lebanon war under the pretext of implementing UN Resolution 1701, or that the threat from the northern border must be removed and that the settlers must return to their settlements. The Israel minister whom some see as the closest to Washington in the Israeli war government, Gantz, said as much. “The time for a diplomatic solution on the northern front is nearing its end.” In turn, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said, “We will force (Hezbollah) to retreat north of the Litani River, either through diplomacy or war.” The clearest statement was recently made by Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, who said that his forces are on high alert in the north, “the plans have been approved, and we are ready for a clash if necessary.”
It is clear that Tehran and Hezbollah are intent on avoiding war and are preparing to begin consolidating and capitalizing on their influence after the Gaza war ends. They are benefiting from US confusion and some disagreements within the Biden administration, especially with regard to UN Resolution 1701, as its understanding of the resolution differs from that of Israel. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv believes this is its last chance to fight a final war; thus, it is keen on overturning the negotiating table in Muscat and in dragging the US administration into its electoral field in the presidential race. With Netanyahu's intransigence and his push for a confrontation to the very end, the stability of Lebanon hangs in the balance.

Traffic and Vehicles Management Authority: Vehicle registration schedule revealed
LBCI/December 30/2023
The Traffic and Vehicles Management Authority - Vehicle Registration Department has announced the reception of citizens during the first week of the new year to complete the services previously announced as follows:
A- At the main center in Dekwaneh:
-Tuesday and Wednesday, January 2nd and 3rd, 2024, by appointment reservation through the authority's website. The appointment platform will be open on Monday, January 1st, 2024, at 4:00 PM.
-Thursday, January 4th, 2024, for citizens who could not book an appointment, provided that the individuals themselves attend and representatives are not accepted.
B- In other departments (Zahle, Sidon, Nabatieh, and Tripoli), in addition to the previous services, it is possible to complete new transactions related to the transfer of ownership of previously non-operational (scrapped) private tourist cars to a new owner. The required documents must be brought for inspection, and the work will be completed according to the following schedule:
-Tuesdays for vehicles and motorcycles/ for licenses ending with numbers (structure/sequence): 0, 1, 2, 3
-Wednesdays for vehicles and motorcycles/ for licenses ending with numbers (structure/sequence): 4, 5, 6
-Thursdays for vehicles and motorcycles/ for licenses ending with numbers (structure/sequence): 7, 8, 9 Note that the department will announce the availability of new services in the coming days.

.Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 30-31/2023
19 fighters killed, 18 wounded in airstrikes near Syria-Iraq border

AFP/December 29, 2023
Israel launched hundreds of air strikes on its northern neighbor since Syria’s civil war began in 2011 targeting Iran-backed forces
Air raids over eastern Syria near Iraqi border kill 6 Iran-backed militants
Jerusalem: The Israeli army said early Saturday that it was carrying out strikes in Syria after two rockets fired from the country fell into territory under its control.
“Following the report regarding sirens sounding in northern Israel, a short while ago two launches that were identified crossing from Syria fell in an open area,” the army said. “The IDF (military) is striking the sources of fire,” it added.
The Israeli army confirmed to AFP that the projectiles fired were rockets, but did not say the precise location where they fell.
Israel considers the annexed Golan Heights to be part of its northern region.
The observatory said the airstrikes targeted military positions in Albu Kamal and its surroundings in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province, adding that a weapons shipment from Iraq and an ammunition warehouse were also hit. Another three overnight airstrikes on eastern Syria were also carried Saturday near a strategic border crossing with Iraq killed six Iran-backed militants, two members of Iraqi militia groups told The Associated Press. The strikes on the border region of Boukamal came hours after an umbrella group of Iran-backed Iraqi militants — known as the Islamic Resistance — claimed an attack on a US military base in the city of Irbil in northern Iraq. The group has conducted over a hundred attacks on US positions in Iraq and eastern Syria since the onset of the Hamas-Israel war on Oct. 7. Four of the killed were from Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group while the other two militants were Syrian, the militants said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to talk to the press. Another two were injured, they added. Meanwhile, an activist collective that covers news in the area, Deir Ezzor 24, said the airstrikes hit two militant posts and a weapons warehouse that it says was recently stocked with rocket launchers and munitions. Elsewhere, Britain-backed opposition war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in addition to the weapons warehouse, the strikes targeted a militants’ convoy that had arrived from Iraq to Syria as well as a location where a militia affiliated with Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard was training. It added that the strikes killed nine people, three Syrians and six people from other nationalities. Washington did not immediately comment on the strike, though it has announced some were planned on Iran-backed militia positions following the surge of attacks over the past two months. The Boukamal region in Deir Ezzor, Syria, along the Iraqi border, has been a strategic area for Iran-backed militants after it was taken back from the extremist Daesh group in 2019. US coalition forces have conducted strikes targeting convoys there prior to recent tensions.

Israel strikes Syria after rocket fire
Agence France Presse/December 29, 2023
The Israeli army said early Saturday that it was carrying out strikes in Syria after two rockets fired from the country fell into territory under its control. "Following the report regarding sirens sounding in northern Israel, a short while ago two launches that were identified crossing from Syria fell in an open area," the army said."The IDF (military) is striking the sources of fire," it added. The Israeli army confirmed to AFP that the projectiles fired were rockets, but did not say the precise location where they fell. Israel considers the annexed Golan Heights to be part of its northern region. An Israeli strike targeted the area around the Syrian capital of Damascus on Thursday, the Syrian defense ministry and state media said. Israel rarely comments on individual strikes targeting Syria, but it has repeatedly said it will not allow arch-foe Iran, which backs President Bashar al-Assad's government, to expand its presence there. Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on its northern neighbor since Syria's civil war began in 2011, primarily targeting Iran-backed forces including Lebanese Hezbollah fighters as well as Syrian army positions. Since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas on October 7, the border between Lebanon and Israel has also seen frequent exchanges of fire between the Israeli army and Hezbollah as tensions rise across the Middle East. Those exchanges have killed more than 150 people on the Lebanese side of the border, according to an AFP count -- most of them Hezbollah fighters, but also more than 20 civilians, including three journalists. On the Israeli side, at least four civilians and nine soldiers have been killed, according to army figures. The exchanges of fire have been largely limited to the border area, but Israel has warned it is ready to intensify its military action if Hezbollah fighters do not pull back.

Iraqi official: Unidentified aircraft targeted truck convoy in Syria
LBCI/December 29, 2023
Iraqi security and border officials told Reuters that unidentified planes targeted several buildings and trucks used by armed factions allied with Iran in the Syrian city of Al-Bukamal, adjacent to a strategic border crossing with Iraq, late Friday evening. A local commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, a predominantly Shiite armed group, said the strikes resulted in the death of four individuals without specifying their nationalities. However, the official denied the killing or injury of any of the Popular Mobilization Forces fighters deployed near the Syrian border. Sources in contact with Syrian border officials reported that the strikes targeted a convoy of eight trucks, destroying at least four of them. The officials also stated that three buildings used by one of the armed factions allied with Iran were targeted.Currently, fighters allied with Iran, including the Lebanese Hezbollah group, control vast areas in eastern, southern, and northwestern Syria, as well as several areas around the capital, Damascus. For years, Israel has been carrying out attacks on what it describes as targets linked to Iran in Syria, where Tehran's influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war that erupted in 2011. A US military official stated that the United States did not conduct any defensive strikes last night."

Israeli tanks advance deeper into Gaza districts, 12 weeks into war
REUTERS/December 30, 2023
DEIR AL-BALAH: Israeli warplanes struck two urban refugee camps in central Gaza on Saturday, as the Biden administration approved a new emergency weapons sale to Israel despite persistent international cease-fire calls over mounting civilian deaths, hunger and mass displacement in the enclave.
Israel says it is determined to pursue its unprecedented air and ground offensive until it has dismantled Hamas, a goal viewed by some as unattainable because of the militant group’s deep roots in Palestinian society. The United States has shielded Israel diplomatically and has continued to supply weapons.
Israel argues that ending the war now would mean victory for Hamas, a stance shared by the Biden administration which at the same time urged Israel to do more to avoid harm to Palestinian civilians. The war, triggered by the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, has displaced some 85 percent of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million residents, sending swells of people seeking shelter in Israeli-designated safe areas that the military has nevertheless also bombed. That has left Palestinians with a harrowing sense that nowhere is safe in the tiny enclave.
Residents in the urban refugee camps of Nuseirat and Bureij, two recent hot spots of combat, reported Israeli airstrikes overnight and into Saturday. Nuseirat resident Mustafa Abu Wawee said a strike hit the home of one of his relatives, killing two people.
“The (Israeli) occupation is doing everything to force people to leave,” he said over the phone while searching along with others for four people missing under the rubble. “They want to break our spirit and will but they will fail. We are here to stay.”
A second strike late Friday in Nuseirat targeted the home of a journalist for Al-Quds TV, a channel linked to the group Islamic Jihad whose militants also participated in the Oct. 7 attack. The channel said the journalist, Jaber Abu Hadros and six members of his family were killed.
Bureij resident Rami Abu Mosab said sounds of gunfire echoed across the camp overnight, followed by heavy airstrikes Saturday.
With Israeli forces pushing deeper into Khan Younis and the camps of central Gaza, tens of thousands of Palestinians streamed into the already crowded city of Rafah at the southernmost end of Gaza in recent days.
Drone footage showed a vast camp of thousands of tents and makeshift shacks set up on what had been empty land on Rafah’s western outskirts next to UN warehouses. People arrived in Rafah in trucks, in carts and on foot. Those who did not find space in the already overwhelmed shelters put up tents on roadsides slick with mud from winter rains. The State Department said Friday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress he approved a $147.5 million sale for equipment, including fuses, charges and primers, that is needed for 155 mm shells Israel bought previously.
It marked the second time this month that the Biden administration is bypassing Congress to approve an emergency weapons sale to Israel.
The department cited the “urgency of Israel’s defensive needs” as a reason for the approval, and argued that “it is vital to US national interests to ensure Israel is able to defend itself against the threats it faces.”
The emergency determination means the purchase will bypass the congressional review requirement for foreign military sales. Such determinations are rare, but not unprecedented, when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers’ approval.
Blinken made a similar decision on Dec. 9 to approve the sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106 million.
Both moves have come as President Joe Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs remains stalled in Congress, caught up in a debate over US immigration policy and border security. Some Democratic lawmakers have spoken of making the proposed $14.3 billion in American assistance to its Mideast ally contingent on concrete steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza during the war with Hamas. More than a week after a UN Security Council resolution called for the unhindered delivery of aid at scale across besieged Gaza, conditions have only worsened, UN agencies warned.
Aid officials said the aid entering Gaza remains woefully inadequate. Distributing goods is hampered by long delays at two border crossings, ongoing fighting, Israeli airstrikes, repeated cuts in Internet and phone services and a breakdown of law and order that makes it difficult to secure aid convoys, they said.
Nearly the entire population is fully dependent on outside humanitarian aid, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. A quarter of the population is starving because too few trucks enter with food, medicine, fuel and other supplies — sometimes fewer than 100 trucks a day, according to UN daily reports.
UN monitors said operations at the Israeli-run Kerem Shalom crossing halted for four days this week because of security incidents, such as a drone strike and the seizing of aid by desperate Gaza residents. They said the crossing reopened Friday, and that a total of 81 aid trucks entered Gaza through Kerem Shalom and the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border — a fraction of the typical prewar volume of 500 trucks a day. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization warned that the spread of disease is accelerating, particularly in southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands have crammed into an ever-shrinking area to flee airstrikes and advancing Israeli ground forces. The agency reported more cases of upper respiratory infections, diarrhea, lice, scabies, chickenpox, skin rashes and meningitis. 100 Palestinians killed and 158 wounded in Israeli strikes in central Gaza during the past 24 hours, a senior health official said. The war has already killed over 21,500 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. Its count does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian deaths and injuries, saying the militants embed themselves within civilian infrastructure. Israeli officials, meanwhile, have vowed to bring back more than 100 hostages still held by the militants after their Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the war. The assault killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The military says 168 of its soldiers have been killed since the ground offensive began.

Exhausted' Gazans Desperate for War to End as Israel Presses Offensive
Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2023
After nearly three months of deadly strikes, incessant displacements and sputtering humanitarian aid, "exhausted" Gazans say they are desperate for an end to the fighting as Israel's war against Hamas looks set to grind on into the new year. The Israeli army kept up its campaign across the length of the Gaza Strip on Friday in the face of mounting international pushback, with UN chief Antonio Guterres reiterating his call for "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire", and South Africa initiating a case against Israel in international court, AFP said on Saturday. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, warned of the growing threat of infectious diseases as fighting displaces more and more Gazans, forcing them ever further south towards the already-overcrowded city of Rafah. "Enough with this war! We are totally exhausted. We are constantly displaced from one place to another in cold weather," said 49-year-old Um Louay Abu Khater from a camp in the southern border city. "The bombs keep falling on us every day and night. We expect missiles (at any moment), while others are preparing for New Year's Eve celebrations." The UN says more than 85 percent of Gaza's 2.4 million people have fled their homes, with many now going hungry and braving the winter rains in makeshift tents. An Israeli siege imposed after October 7, following years of crippling blockade, has led to dire shortages of food, safe water, fuel and medicine, with aid convoys offering only sporadic relief. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Friday that one such convoy had come under fire from Israeli forces the day before, without causing any casualties. Ahmed al-Baz, 33, said the year drawing to a close had been "the worst in my life". "It was a year of destruction and devastation," he said. "We went through hell and encountered death itself.""We just want the war to end and start the new year at our homes, with a ceasefire declared," he added.
The war in Gaza was triggered by Hamas's bloody October 7 attacks on Israel, which left about 1,140 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. The Palestinian Hamas group also took about 250 people hostage, more than half of whom remain inside the war zone, some of them believed dead. Israel's relentless military campaign since then has killed at least 21,507 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.Israel's army says 168 soldiers have been killed inside the territory. A Hamas delegation was in Cairo on Friday to discuss an Egyptian plan proposing renewable ceasefires, a staggered release of hostages for Palestinian prisoners, and ultimately an end to the war, sources close to Hamas say. Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, a Hamas official said the delegation would give "observations" on the proposal and seek "guarantees for a complete Israeli military withdrawal" from Gaza. Israel has yet to formally comment on the Cairo plan, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told families of hostages on Thursday that "we are in contact" with the Egyptian mediators and promised the captives that "we are working to bring them all back".
In Rafah, 27-year-old Youssef Ahras told AFP he hoped the negotiations could "stop the bloodshed... because the price of war is so high". "I don't know a lot about the political aspects because as locals, we are busy with our essential needs," he said.
'Genocide' claim
South Africa on Friday filed an application at the International Court of Justice to start proceedings against Israel for what it said were "genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza".In its filing, it asked the court to "protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people".

Palestinian Group Says Captive Israeli Soldier Killed in Gaza by Israeli Air Strike

EPA/30 December 2023
The armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said on Saturday that an Israeli soldier being held captive by the group in Gaza had been killed in an Israeli air strike that had also wounded some of his captors. In an audio speech broadcast by Al Araby television, a spokesperson for the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades group said the air strike took place following a failed attempt by Israeli commandos to free the soldier. The spokesperson gave no details of when the soldier had been taken captive, or where he was being held in Gaza. He said the group is still holding the body of the slain soldier. The Israeli military spokesperson's office declined to comment. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is the second biggest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) after Fatah.

UKMTO receives report of incident near Yemen's Hodeidah - advisory note
CAIRO (Reuters)December 30, 2023
United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) on Saturday received a report of an incident approximately 55 nautical miles (nM) south west of Yemen's Hodeidah port where "the master reported a loud bang and a flash on the port bow of the vessel."The vessel is proceeding to the next port of call, UKMTO said in an advisory note. Authorities are investigating and vessels are advised to transit with caution, UKMTO added. Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis, who control much of Yemen including the capital Sanaa, have stepped up attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea in protest against Israel's war in Gaza. Several shipping lines have suspended operations through the Red Sea waterway in response to the attacks, instead taking the longer journey around Africa. The Houthis have vowed to continue their attacks until Israel halts the conflict in Gaza, and warned that it would attack U.S. warships if the militia group itself was targeted.

The Biden administration once more bypasses Congress on an emergency weapons sale to Israel

AP/December 30, 2023
WASHINGTON: For the second time this month the Biden administration is bypassing Congress to approve an emergency weapons sale to Israel as Israel continues to prosecute its war against Hamas in Gaza under increasing international criticism. The State Department said Friday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had told Congress that he had made a second emergency determination covering a $147.5 million sale for equipment, including fuses, charges and primers, that is needed to make the 155 mm shells that Israel has already purchased function. “Given the urgency of Israel’s defensive needs, the secretary notified Congress that he had exercised his delegated authority to determine an emergency existed necessitating the immediate approval of the transfer,” the department said. “The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to ensure Israel is able to defend itself against the threats it faces,” it said. The emergency determination means the purchase will bypass the congressional review requirement for foreign military sales. Such determinations are rare, but not unprecedented, when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers’ approval. Blinken made a similar decision on Dec. 9, to approve the sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106 million. Both moves have come as President Joe Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs remains stalled in Congress, caught up in a debate over US immigration policy and border security. Some Democratic lawmakers have spoken of making the proposed $14.3 billion in American assistance to its Mideast ally contingent on concrete steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza during the war with Hamas. The State Department sought to counter potential criticism of the sale on human rights grounds by saying it was in constant touch with Israel to emphasize the importance of minimizing civilian casualties, which have soared since Israel began its response to the Hamas attacks in Israel on Oct. 7. “We continue to strongly emphasize to the government of Israel that they must not only comply with international humanitarian law, but also take every feasible step to prevent harm to civilians,” it said.
“Hamas hides behind civilians and has embedded itself among the civilian population, but that does not lessen Israel’s responsibility and strategic imperative to distinguish between civilians and Hamas terrorists as it conducts its military operations,” the department said. “This type of campaign can only be won by protecting civilians.”Bypassing Congress with emergency determinations for arms sales is an unusual step that has in the past met resistance from lawmakers, who normally have a period of time to weigh in on proposed weapons transfers and, in some cases, block them.
In May 2019, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an emergency determination for an $8.1 billion sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan after it became clear that the Trump administration would have trouble overcoming lawmakers’ concerns about the Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen. Pompeo came under heavy criticism for the move, which some believed may have violated the law because many of the weapons involved had yet to be built and could not be delivered urgently. But he was cleared of any wrongdoing after an internal investigation. At least four administrations have used the authority since 1979. President George H.W. Bush’s administration used it during the Gulf War to get arms quickly to Saudi Arabia.

Jordan king demands global push for Gaza ceasefire during call with Canadian PM

ARAB NEWS/December 30, 2023
LONDON: Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Friday received a phone call from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during which he called for international pressure toward an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, state media reported.
The king “stressed the importance of protecting civilians and increasing humanitarian aid for Gaza, while guaranteeing its sustained delivery, noting Jordan’s efforts in this regard,” Petra news agency said. The Jordanian monarch reaffirmed his country’s rejection of attempts to forcibly displace Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and called on the international community to help counter extremist settler violence in the West Bank. King Abdullah “reiterated that security and military solutions can never bring peace,” adding that the only way is to “create a political horizon that leads to just and comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution.” Tens of thousands of fleeing Palestinians sought shelter on Friday as Israeli tanks pushed through the central Gaza Strip, with more than 180 people reported killed in 24 hours of airstrikes and artillery barrages on the shattered enclave. This brings the death toll to 21,507, almost 1 percent of Gaza’s population, since the conflict began on Oct. 7 following a surprise attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages. Almost all of the besieged territory’s 2.3 million population have been forced to flee their homes, some more than once, while thousands more bodies are thought to be buried in the ruins of neighborhoods.* (With Reuters)

‘What kind of life is this?’ Dire conditions in increasingly cramped southern Gaza

Tim Lister and Kareem Khadder, CNN/December 30, 2023
Palestinians displaced inside Gaza as Israel pushes on with its ground offensive describe cramped living conditions, sky-high prices for food, children going hungry and poor sanitation, amid severe limits on food and supplies entering the coastal strip. CNN spoke by phone with several people trying to survive in the southern city of Rafah, where tens of thousands have fled to despite it already being the most densely populated part of Gaza. “The way I am getting by is by begging here and there and taking help from anyone,” said Abu Misbah, a 51-year-old building worker trying to support a family of 10.
Vegetables and fruit were unaffordable, he said. His children asked for oranges, but he was not able to buy them. “We never [been] through this situation before; we were a middle-class family,” he said. “Now since the war we are buying dates which we used to find everywhere for free. We want a solution to our miserable suffering.” He, like most others in blockaded Gaza, face what aid groups warn is a looming famine. The entire population of Gaza has already been classified in a state of crisis, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).
Israel closed its border with Gaza and launched an intensive bombing campaign in response to Hamas’ October 7 attacks, followed by an ongoing ground invasion. The fighting has triggered a humanitarian crisis throughout the Palestinian territory, forcing thousands from their homes.
This week Israel expanded its operation further into southern Khan Younis, warning residents to leave. But the United Nations says Gazans have nowhere safe to go.
‘What kind of life is this?’
Umm Omar, 50, is also displaced in Rafah, and lives in a tent with her family. During the truce, they had briefly returned home only to find all the windows and solar panels broken, and the kitchen destroyed. “We are nine people in a tent of two meters by one meter,” she said. “We have bought this camping tent ourselves; no-one helped us or provided it.”Omar said they were getting by on canned food and estimated that most foods were at least four times as expensive as before the war. Medication is also hard to find. “Life is difficult and humiliating; the word humiliating is not even close to describing it,” she told CNN.
Mahmoud Harara used to make a living selling produce from a cart. Now the 47-year old, from Al-Shujaiya, is also in Rafah, living with eight family members in the streets, including five school-age children. “My house was destroyed and two of my sons injured from a strike of our home,” he said. Like thousands of others, the family live in a makeshift tent made of nylon and roam the streets for food. They left home without any belongings and had no mattresses for the tent. Harara said his family was receiving no help, and the price of food was “beyond imagination…Your child asks you for a piece of bread and you can’t provide that for them. What kind of life is this?”Harara said he walks three kilometers to a hospital to be able to use toilets. The lack of sanitation for the displaced now packed into parts of southern Gaza has led to the spread of contagious and respiratory diseases.
It was also extremely difficult to access drinking water and his children were cold at nights, he said. None of the family had been able to take a shower in several weeks.
Aid groups warn of famine conditions
In recent days, crowds of civilians desperate for food have been seen surrounding aid trucks coming into Gaza. The United Nations has warned that the humanitarian situation in southern Gaza is deteriorating and warned that the volume of aid entering the enclave “remains woefully inadequate.”The youngest children in Gaza face high risk of severe malnutrition and preventable death as the risk of famine conditions continues to increase, according to a UNICEF statement last week. The children’s aid organization estimated that in the coming weeks, “at least 10,000 children under five years will suffer the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, known as severe wasting, and will need therapeutic foods.” “The threat of dying from hunger is already real” for many families in Gaza, UNICEF added. An IPC report the same week found that that approximately all of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents are now facing acute hunger and the entire population of the Gaza Strip is classified in a state of crisis – the highest share of people facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity that the IPC initiative has ever classified. “Many adults go hungry so children can eat,” IPC reported, saying humanitarian access must be restored throughout the region to enable the rapid delivery of life-saving aid. The organization added that “the IPC has emphasized that these conditions do not have to persist. Yesterday’s warning of famine in the coming weeks and months can still be averted. But we must act now.”UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has repeatedly said that a ceasefire is necessary to deliver aid to Gaza’s population at scale, and has warned of a potential “catastrophe with potentially irreversible consequences” in the making. “Amid constant bombardment by the Israel Defence Forces, and without shelter or the essentials to survive, I expect public order to break down soon due to the desperate situation, rendering even limited humanitarian assistance impossible,” he said.

Palestinian group says captive Israeli soldier killed in Gaza by Israeli air strike
CAIRO (Reuters)/December 30, 2023
The armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said on Saturday that an Israeli soldier being held captive by the group in Gaza had been killed in an Israeli air strike that had also wounded some of his captors. In an audio speech broadcast by Al Araby television, a spokesperson for the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades group said the air strike took place following a failed attempt by Israeli commandos to free the soldier. The spokesperson gave no details of when the soldier had been taken captive, or where he was being held in Gaza. He said the group is still holding the body of the slain soldier. The Israeli military spokesperson's office declined to comment. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is the second biggest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) after Fatah.

Armistice Day march activist defends Hamas hostage-taking and says Israel mimics Nazis

Will Hazell/The Telegraph/December 30, 2023
An activist involved in the Armistice Day pro-Palestine march has said that the taking of hostages was a “very important part” of any “act of resistance” and that Israel was “mimicking” Nazis.Anas Altikriti, a director of the Muslim Association of Britain, also criticised the designation of Hamas as a terrorist group and said reports that the group had perpetrated rape on October 7 were a “lie”. The Muslim Association of Britain was founded by the former Hamas chief Muhammad Kathem Sawalha, and was one of the organisations which organised the pro-Palestine march which took place in London on Armistice Day.
As well as being a director of the MAB, Dr Altikriti is the founder of The Cordoba Foundation. The foundation says it exists to promote “dialogue and a rapprochement between Islam and the West”, but in 2009 the then Conservative leader David Cameron said in the House of Commons that it was a UK front for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood – a claim which Dr Altikriti has denied. In a video recorded with the US imam Tom Facchine last month, Dr Altikriti was asked about Hamas’s taking of hostages. He said: “The taking of hostages is a very important part of any strategic sort of military action or act of resistance or the such because for every hostage you can then negotiate. “You have personnel who are vital and crucial at least in your thinking and your mind to your adversary, to your enemy, so it’s a negotiating power. “For the people of Gaza, for Hamas, for the resistance, call them as you may, a hostage is very, very valuable, and therefore they will be looked after, they will be cared for, they will be cared for even more than the actual citizens of Gaza simply because they provide cover for the resistance, they provide a negotiating card once the battle arrives at a point where people are sitting around the table or talking at least about some sort of deal. “Therefore those hostages were taken by Hamas in order to negotiate more freedoms, more rights, the breakout of this prison that we call Gaza, this concentration camp that we call Gaza.”The description of Gaza as a concentration camp is controversial because of its connotations with the Holocaust. According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, it can be anti-Semitic to draw “comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”.
The rapper Lowkey, in grey coat, was among those who attended today's protest outside Downing Street
In the video, Dr Altikriti also compared the foundation of the modern state of Israel with the Crusades. He said: “The project that was imposed on this region was a Zionist project in order to subjugate the entire region, to steal its riches. It was a colonial project. It was similar to the Crusades by the way.”
He has meanwhile made a number of controversial statements on X, formerly known as Twitter, since October 7. On the day of the Hamas attack, he tweeted: “What did we think was going to happen? That Palestinians would stay silent whilst forever subjugated, victimised, abused, violated, murdered and tortured?! This is for every time western governments stayed silent and whitewashed Israel’s crimes and violations.”On December 13, he indicated that he disagreed with Hamas being designated a terrorist group, tweeting: “The fact that our government, only a few years ago, decided to proscribe #Hamas, whilst dozens of other countries in the world, including our friends, consider them a national liberation movement and continue to deal with them, doesn’t make them terrorist, as much as it brings into question the political decision of our government, which in my estimation, is entirely and completely wrong.”
Rape allegations ‘false’
In another tweet the same day, he said: “Allegations of rape made by Israel are false. It’s a lie… Just like every other allegation made by Israel turns out to be a lie, including the mass slaughter of Israeli citizens on the 7th of October. That too was a lie.”This is despite detailed reports suggesting that Hamas fighters perpetrated sexual violence during the attack. The Campaign Against Antisemitism described his comments as “conspiratorial and propagandistic”. A spokesman for the CAA said: “It is time for the authorities to crack down on this wave of religious extremism that appears to excuse, defend and even promote anti-Semitic terrorist violence.”When approached for comment by The Telegraph, Dr Altikriti posted a comment on X saying he had “zero confidence that anything I respond with will be reflected or considered”. He added: “I’d rather use my time exposing the war crimes committed by Israel, the genocidal essence of #Zionism and the hypocrisy and inhumanity of western governments. I’ll keep my eyes peeled in anticipation for an article you pen addressing the fact that over 11,000 children to date have been butchered by the Nazi-mimicking entity called Israel.”The MAB said: “Dr. Anas Altikriti does not speak for, nor represent the views of the MAB. His social media accounts are entirely independent and represent his own opinions.“MAB is a grassroots British organisation founded in 1997 at a general assembly of over 200 diverse Muslim leaders from all over the UK. “We are dedicated to fostering a fair and just society for all within the United Kingdom. We stand by our commitment to these principles.”

US Navy Thwarts Houthi Attack in Red Sea, Militias Remain Defiant

Reuters/30 December 2023
An American warship shot down a drone and an anti-ship ballistic missile fired Thursday by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi militias, the US military said. In a post on the X platform on Thursday, the US Central Command (CENTCOM): “The USS MASON (DDG 87) shot down one drone and one anti-ship ballistic missile in the Southern Red Sea that were fired by the Houthis between 5:45 - 6: 10 p.m. (Sanaa time) on Dec. 28.” “There was no damage to any of the 18 ships in the area or reported injuries. This is the 22nd attempted attack by Houthis on international shipping since Oct. 19,” it noted. The Houthis have repeatedly targeted vessels in the vital Red Sea shipping lane with strikes they say are in support of Palestinians in Gaza, where Israel is battling Hamas. The attacks are endangering a transit route that carries up to 12 percent of global trade, prompting the United States to set up a multinational naval task force earlier this month to protect Red Sea shipping. In addition to US military action, the Treasury Department unveiled sanctions Thursday against a network involved in financing Houthi attacks. The Treasury said it had sanctioned the head of the Currency Exchangers Association in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, along with three exchanges in Yemen and Türkiye responsible for "facilitating the flow of Iranian financial assistance" to the Houthis. The Houthis say they are targeting Israel and Israeli-linked vessels to push for a stop to the offensive in the Gaza Strip. The Houthis remain defiant. Defense minister in its illegitimate government Mohammed al-Atefi said the militias “don’t recognize red lines,” claiming that they possess weapons with “unexpected” ranges. Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam threatened to turn the Red Sea into a battlefield after the US Navy shot down a Houthi drone. He warned the US against its continued “bullish” activity, saying the Houthis were justified in attacking vessels in the Red Sea after Washington and its allies turned the region into a military zone. He charged that the US and its allies are passing through the region solely to protect Israeli vessels. The latest round of the Israel-Hamas conflict began when the Palestinian militant group carried out a shock cross-border attack from Gaza on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. Following the attack, the United States rushed military aid to Israel, which has carried out a relentless campaign in Gaza that has killed at least 21,320 people, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry. Those deaths have sparked widespread anger in the Middle East and provided an impetus for attacks by armed groups across the region that are opposed to Israel.
US forces in Iraq and Syria have also repeatedly come under fire from drone and rocket attacks that Washington says are being carried out by Iran-backed armed groups. On Monday, a drone attack wounded three American personnel in northern Iraq, after which the US military struck three sites it said were used by Iran-backed forces in the country.

Russia says 14 dead after ‘indiscriminate’ Ukrainian attack on city of Belgorod

AFP/December 30, 2023
MOSCOW: Russia said 14 people including two children had been killed and 108 injured in “indiscriminate” Ukrainian strikes allegedly including cluster bombs on the nearby Russian provincial capital of Belgorod on Saturday, and vowed to retaliate. The Kommersant newspaper cited a source close to the Russian Investigative Committee as saying missiles fired from a multiple rocket launcher in Ukraine’s Kharkov region had hit a skating rink on the central Cathedral Square, a shopping center, residential buildings and a car. No official comment was immediately available from Kyiv, but the Ukrainian news outlet RBC-Ukraine quoted sources as saying Ukrainian forces had struck military targets in Belgorod in response to a massive Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities the previous day. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the state-run RIA news agency that Russia had requested a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the incident. Air raid sirens had sounded around the city as regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov urged all residents to move to shelters. The Belgorod region, which adjoins northern Ukraine, has like other Russian border zones suffered shelling and drone attacks all year that authorities have blamed on Ukraine. “Today, the Kyiv regime attempted an indiscriminate combined strike on the city of Belgorod with two ‘Olkha’ missiles in a banned cluster configuration, as well as Czech-made Vampire rockets,” the Defense Ministry said in a Telegram posting. “This crime will not go unpunished.”It said most of the rockets including both ‘Olkha’ missiles had been shot down, averting far greater casualties, although fragments had fallen on the city. Images posted by RIA showed at least three cars on fire, and other images posted online showed black smoke rising from the city. Two residents told Reuters they had seen air defense missiles rising into the sky followed by explosions in the air and then louder blasts. Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022 in what it calls a “special military operation,” had unleashed its biggest air attack of the war on Friday. Ukrainian officials said 39 civilians had been killed and 159 wounded as Russia launched 158 missiles and drones at cities and towns across Ukraine. Alexander Bogomaz, governor of the Bryansk region which also adjoins Ukraine, said on Saturday a child had been killed in strikes on “civilian objects” in two villages, without specifying when the attacks took place.

Ukraine retaliates against Russian mass missile attack with mass drone attack

The New Voice of Ukraine/December 30, 2023
Ukrainian forces struck military facilities in the Russian city of Belgorod in response to Russia’s mass missile and drone attack against Ukraine on Dec. 29, Ukrainian news outlet RBC-Ukraine reported on Dec. 30, citing a source in Ukraine’s intelligence services. "These are joint measures that were the result of the barbaric shelling of Dnipro, Kharkiv, Odesa, and the killing of civilians,” the RBC source said. “The measures are ongoing." Explosions rocked Belgorod on Dec. 30, with Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov stating that the city was under fire from the Ukrainian military. He claimed that Ukrainian fire had struck Belgorod’s residential sector, allegedly resulting in the deaths of two children. Pro-Russian Telegram channel Mash reported that the attack had killed four people as of 2:30 p.m. Over 70 drones were used in the attack, with explosions occurring in Moscow, Belgorod, Tula, and Tver, according to Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne. A group of drones also targeted Bryansk’s Kremniy El, a major microelectronics manufacturer for Russian military equipment, including long-range missiles and Pantsyr air defense systems.
Russian air defense systems intercepted and downed 32 drones within the country's airspace at night, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed. The drones were purportedly taken down over the regions of Bryansk, Oryol, Kursk, and Moscow oblasts. We’re bringing the voice of Ukraine to the world. Support us with a one-time donation, or become a Patron!

WHO sounds warning on Sudan health crisis

AFP/December 30, 2023
GENEVA: The WHO called for urgent action Friday to tackle the deepening health and humanitarian crises in Sudan and asked the international community to step up with financial aid. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, said the majority of health facilities in Sudanese regions affected by the war were not working, due to the fighting. Since April 15, Sudan has been gripped by a war pitting army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan against his former deputy, paramilitary Rapid Support Forces commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo. In Al-Jazira state, just south of Khartoum, more than half a million people had sought shelter after the fighting overwhelmed the Sudanese capital. This month, however, paramilitaries pressed deeper into the state and shattered one of the country’s few remaining sanctuaries, forcing more than 300,000 people to flee once again, the United Nations said. “Urgent action is needed to reverse Sudan’s worsening conflict amid the deepening humanitarian and health crises, with the fresh displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women and children,” Tedros said on X, formerly Twitter. Since the conflict broke out in April, the violence has killed more than 12,000 people, according to a conservative estimate by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. “While responding with partners to the acute health needs, including controlling disease spread and addressing malnutrition threats, WHO also calls for increased financial support from the international community to meet the pressing health needs of the affected populations,” said Tedros. “These include boosting provision of basic health services for the most vulnerable in affected states, where at least 70 percent of health facilities are not working due to the conflict,” he added. The United Nations says at least 7.1 million people have been displaced, including 1.5 million who fled across the border into neighboring countries. Former Ethiopian health minister Tedros has led the UN’s health agency since 2017.

Latest English LCCC  analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 30-31/2023
The Iranian Regime's Killing Machine
Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/December 30, 2023
In addition to increasing the level of enriched uranium to near nuclear-weapons grade; helping to fund and plan a genocidal war against Israel; attacking US troops in Syria and Iraq with its militias more than 100 times in just the last two months to try to force the US out of the region, and incontinently bogus-trialing, torturing (even children) and executing its own citizens, the Iranian regime has also been orchestrating the assassinations of individuals, particularly those considered opponents to the ruling mullahs' clerical establishment.
With Iran's nuclear bombs now well on their way, how much more harm does the Iranian regime have to do to finally be stopped?
In addition to increasing the level of enriched uranium to near nuclear-weapons grade; helping to fund and plan a genocidal war against Israel; attacking US troops in Syria and Iraq with its militias more than 100 times in just the last two months to try to force the US out of the region, and incontinently bogus-trialing, torturing (even children) and executing its own citizens, the Iranian regime has also been orchestrating the assassinations of individuals, particularly those considered opponents to the ruling mullahs' clerical establishment.
Authorities in Cyprus recently thwarted an Iranian plot to assassinate Israeli businessmen in the country. Cypriot police apprehended two Iranian asylum-seekers who were in communication with another Iranian linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Crops, as disclosed by a Cypriot official on December 19, 2023. The official conveyed that the arrest of the suspects resulted from a collaborative operation with Israel's Mossad security service. A statement released by the Israeli Prime Minister's office on behalf of the Mossad, said that Iran's utilization of Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus for "terrorist purposes" and as an "area of activity and transit to attack Israeli and Jewish targets" is a matter of great concern.
This is not the first time the Iranian regime has plotted to kill Israelis in Cyprus. The attempt marks the third reported instance of an Iranian plot to target Israelis and Jews in Cyprus within the span of roughly a year. In July 2023, Cypriot authorities foiled a terrorist plot involving an Iranian-backed assassination squad targeting Israelis and other members of the Cypriot Jewish community.
The Iranian regime is also increasingly attempting to assassinate Iranian dissidents abroad. Iranian dissidents have been pointing out that they are encountering intimidation, abductions, and assassination attempts by the Iranian regime across the globe.
Iranian operatives recently offered a human trafficker $200,000 to carry out the assassination of two news anchors, referred to as "the bride and the groom," outside their London studio.
The intent behind this terror plot was most likely to demonstrate to critics of the Iranian regime that it can harm or kill anyone at any given moment. The Iranian operatives had also reportedly devised plans to car-bomb the studios of the Persian-language news channel Iran International, located in a business park in West London. An investigation by ITV News exposed the plotter; thanks to video recordings and text messages obtained as part of the investigation, their detailed plans were unveiled.
Since the Biden administration came to office in January 2021, the Iranian regime has also been attempting to carry out terrorist and assassinations plots on US soil. On August 11, 2022, Shahram Poursafi (aka Mehdi Rezayi) was charged with attempting to hire an individual in the United States, offering $300,000 to carry out the murder of former National Security Advisor John Bolton. The second target was allegedly former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with an offer of $1 million for his assassination. On top of those, a man carrying an AK-47 assault rifle appeared at the Brooklyn, NY home of Iranian-American human rights activist Masih Alinejad.
By attempting to assassinate US citizens on American soil, Iran is deliberately infringing upon US sovereignty. The directives for these extraterritorial assassinations likely originate from the highest levels of political leadership within the Islamic Republic.
The Washington Post highlighted that Iran's attempted abduction of Alinejad serves as a significant warning to the Biden administration:
"The message for the Biden administration, which has frequently proclaimed its intention to defend pro-democracy dissidents, is that Iran and other foreign dictatorships won't shrink from launching attacks inside the United States unless deterred...".
It is really high-time to stop giving billions of dollars to the Iranian regime, which is enlisting individuals globally to intimidate, abduct and assassinate persons perceived as enemies of the regime. Bribing Iran sets a catastrophic precedent. As Sen. Joni Ernst, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee stated:
"President Biden's strategy of appeasement continues to risk the lives of Americans at home and abroad. Iran cannot be allowed to continue to attempt to kill U.S. citizens and Iranian dissidents with impunity. The world's number-one state sponsor of terrorism is not to be trusted. I'm holding President Biden accountable by preventing his administration from providing Tehran with another cent of sanctions relief. My PUNISH Act will put an end to this failed appeasement strategy and ensure Iran feels the maximum consequences of their actions from the United States."
With Iran's nuclear weapons now well on the their way, how much more harm does the Iranian regime have to do to finally be stopped?
**Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu
© 2023 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

How feud between two Sudanese factions became 2023’s ‘forgotten other war’
ROBERT BOCIAGA/Arab News/December 30, 2023
NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania: A vicious power struggle between two Sudanese factions captured the headlines for months earlier this year, but fell off the radar over time, despite the loss of 12,000 lives so far and the displacement of more than 7 million people.
The conflict, which erupted on April 15, began to lose traction as world powers shifted their attention to Israel’s war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas since Oct. 7 and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, African leaders, preoccupied with daunting domestic challenges, have been slow to address the Sudan crisis, Africa’s third-largest country.
Despite organizing conferences to end the war, they have struggled to rein in the warring sides, putting the region’s political and economic stability in jeopardy
The consequences of this combination of neglect and failure are becoming increasingly obvious.
African leaders, preoccupied with daunting domestic challenges, have been slow to address the Sudan crisis, Africa’s third-largest country.
The conflict between erstwhile allies — the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces — has devastated the country that they jointly seized in 2021 in a coup aimed at thwarting a transition to democratic governance.
The International Monetary Fund has forecast a nearly 20 percent contraction in Sudan’s economy this year, highlighting the dire impact of the conflict. Sudan now holds the dubious distinction of having the world’s largest number of internal refugees. A staggering 6.3 million people have been displaced since April alone, adding to the 3.7 million Sudanese who had already fled their homes in previous conflicts, along with 1.1 million foreigners who had earlier sought refuge in Sudan.
More than 1.4 million Sudanese have sought shelter in neighboring countries since the onset of the conflict, piling pressure on regional states already grappling with their own humanitarian issues and political upheavals.
Meanwhile, aid agencies warn that more than 6 million people are on the brink of famine. More concerning still are reports of ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region in harrowing echoes of the events of the early 2000s. During that period, the Janjaweed militia, a precursor to the RSF, mounted a campaign of genocide.
More than 1.4 million Sudanese have sought shelter in neighboring countries since the onset of the conflict.
Throughout 2023, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the UN adviser on genocide prevention, has issued statements shedding light on a disturbing rise in ethnically motivated violence in Sudan. Amid this catastrophe, Wad Madani, the capital of Al-Jazirah state, located roughly 85 miles southeast of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, stands as a somber testament to the relentless brutality of the conflict.
As the latest city to fall to the RSF this December, this once bustling urban center is now enduring the nightmare of looting, abuses against civilians, and open warfare.
Mohamad Abdel, a 32-year-old Sudanese, said his relatives have once again been forced to flee. “The thought of repeatedly reliving this nightmare is terrible,” he told Arab News. “My father finds himself on the road once again, fleeing the horrors of war. May someone finally put an end to this war,” he added, calling on the warring parties to agree to a ceasefire.
Towns and villages throughout Al-Jazirah state are now under the control of the RSF, marking a major strategic advance for the militia. The group’s tactics, characterized by information warfare and minimal fighting, have shifted the military dynamics in the region.
They have also raised concerns about food security and local health systems.
Jazira state produces significant quantities of cotton, peanuts, and wheat. Concerns about the potential impact on Sudan’s food supply have been echoed by the UN World Food Programme, which has emphasized the need for the state to continue farming. The Sudan Doctors’ Trade Union also highlighted the dire situation in Wad Madani. In a statement, the union said: “All 22 hospitals in the city are rendered completely non-operational following the RSF invasion.”
Since violence erupted in the eastern neighborhoods of Wad Madani, such as Abu Haraz and Hantoub, many residents have found they can no longer reach Sennar, the nearest urban area outside RSF control.
Muawiya Abdulrahman, a member of the Khartoum Resistance Committee, a grassroots pro-democracy movement, told Arab News he was turned back at one of the RSF’s newly established checkpoints.
He said: “I don’t know where to go next. We are just waiting for the right time to leave after determining our destination.”
Abdulrahman remains confined to the city’s Maki neighborhood, where he has witnessed “widespread looting, with militia members raiding empty houses, stealing money, gold jewelry, and cars, especially under the cover of night.”
Aid agencies warn that more than 6 million people are on the brink of famine.
Abdulrahman’s movements were already restricted under SAF rule, during which time he feared arbitrary arrests by Islamist factions and military intelligence.
“This was based on discriminatory grounds against those with origins in western Sudan, including Darfur and Kordofan,” he added.
As thousands flee eastwards to Gedaref and Kassala, many of them lacking food, medicines, and other basic necessities, the conflict has given rise to massive disease outbreaks.
Aid workers on the ground report a desperate situation, with limited resources available to address the growing health crisis.
Will Carter, Sudan country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Arab News: “This is one of the most underfunded humanitarian responses in the world.
“The fall of Al-Jazirah state has had a very, very deep impact on the restructured humanitarian operation.
“It’s a very precarious position to be in, in terms of security and stability, in terms of the logistics as well. It creates an even more limited space to help millions of people at the moment, just when they need us the most.”
Beyond the logistical challenges, the fall of Wad Madani has profound implications for public morale and the reputation of the SAF, which has been accused of strategic failures, relying too heavily on allied militias, and lacking sufficient troops despite its recruitment campaigns.
Some fear that these weaknesses could lead to the RSF’s eventual victory, which could have serious security implications for neighboring Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, and beyond.
As the SAF goes after the scalps of the commanders blamed for the abrupt withdrawal of troops from Al-Jazirah state, Carter says that the world’s loss of interest in the conflict has been a serious mistake.
“While conflicts in other parts of the world draw global attention, Sudan’s silent suffering remains largely neglected,” he said.
He pointed out that the influx of Sudanese refugees into already underserved and fragile areas, including South Sudan, eastern Chad, and regions in Ethiopia, “makes it exceedingly difficult to assist people in a fair and proper manner given the severely limited resources.”

GCC poised to meet 2024’s challenges

Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg/Arab News/December 30, 2023
The Gulf Cooperation Council played an outsized role in global affairs during 2023. Its economy has grown considerably to $2.3 trillion, more than a 12-fold increase in four decades, thus growing the revenues of its member states, firms and households to enable them to grow and engage more effectively with the global economy.
The GCC also expanded its reach during the year and diversified its strategic partnership portfolio to include major countries and organizations, especially from the Global South. For a long time after its founding in 1981, the organization was inward-looking, focusing on the internal integration between its member states. In 2008, during the global financial crisis, it decided to expand its external relations, starting from traditional relations with Europe and the US. From early 2020 to late 2022, COVID-19 and other factors made it difficult to continue outward expansion at the same pace.
As soon as the pandemic restrictions were relaxed, the GCC and China revived a proposal dating back to 2019. In December 2022, the GCC-China Summit, the first ever, was held in Riyadh. The summit sought to upgrade their mostly economic engagement, which goes back about two decades, to a “strategic partnership,” meaning that its scope will expand to include all areas of mutual interest, including closer security and political coordination. The leaders agreed on an ambitious five-year joint action plan and China, for the first time, took a public stand against some of Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region.
Their economic partnership strengthened during 2023, with China maintaining its position as the GCC’s top trading partner. Two-way merchandise trade exceeded $230 billion, accounting for more than 20 percent of total GCC trade. Thirty percent of China’s oil imports came from the GCC, as well as 10 percent of its gas. China was the destination of more than 25 percent of the GCC’s chemical and petrochemical exports. During the year, free trade negotiations came tantalizingly close to conclusion and two-way investments picked up following a slowdown during COVID-19.
In March, the decisions made at last December’s summit were put into action, as Beijing witnessed the signing of a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic relations after a seven-year rupture. China subsequently hosted follow-up meetings between the two countries to cement the new deal, generating a hopeful new spirit in the region.
In addition, during 2023, China and the GCC launched discussions about nuclear cooperation, focusing on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, nuclear security and the safety of nuclear installations. China offered unlimited support for training and capacity-building in these areas.
Strengthening ties with China was an important part of a larger drive toward strategic diversification. In July, the GCC held its first ever summit with the countries of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) in Jeddah. In October, it held a similar summit in Riyadh with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In each summit, the heads of state and government agreed on a joint program to guide their engagement, including political and security dialogue, trade and investment, and people-to-people engagement, for the next several years.
In late September, the GCC foreign ministers met for the first time as a group with their counterparts in the 25-member Association of Caribbean States and agreed to a joint program that includes political dialogue, investment and tourism. The ministerial meeting was a prelude to a summit at the level of heads of state and government contemplated for 2024.
In November, Saudi Arabia hosted a summit in Riyadh with the Caribbean Community, another Caribbean-based organization, also a first.
At the same time as they were exploring these new partnerships, Saudi Arabia and its GCC sisters sought to shore up their traditional alliances. In May, Jeddah hosted the Arab Summit, where new grounds were broken in an attempt to resolve the 12-year-old conflict in Syria. After months of negotiations, Syrian President Assad was invited to return to the Arab League. This followed the striking of a deal in Amman on a step-for-a-step roadmap toward de-escalation, leading to a UN-mediated political solution according to UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
The GCC and the US continued to meet in different formats to discuss specific elements of their strategic partnership, which was announced in 2015 during Barack Obama’s presidency. GCC foreign ministers met with the US secretary of state in Riyadh and New York to coordinate political views on regional and international issues. They agreed, for example, on the need to resume peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and also that the outcome of those talks should be two states along the 1967 borders and according to UN resolutions.
Strengthening ties with China was an important part of the GCC’s larger drive toward strategic diversification.
In addition to these ministerial meetings, GCC-US specialized working groups also met and were reenergized, dealing with issues such as Iran, maritime security, missile and air defenses, counterterrorism and trade and investment.
In September, Saudi Arabia, the EU and the Arab League, supported by Egypt, Jordan and other GCC countries, launched a new initiative in New York to reenergize Middle East peace negotiations. This launch was followed in October by a GCC-EU meeting in Oman, where foreign ministers from member states of the two blocs reviewed progress on their strategic partnership, which had been announced in February 2022 in Brussels. The EU and GCC have maintained close contacts since the founding of the latter in 1981, as the EU has served as the most successful model for regional integration.
As the GCC-EU meeting in Muscat took place on Oct. 9, two days after the Hamas attack on Israel, that conflict dominated much of the talks. After heated and sustained discussions, the two groups agreed on a consensus that was cobbled together, miraculously considering the diversity of views on the issue within the EU. It was most likely a reflection of the newly established strategic partnership.
The new elements in the GCC-EU partnership include security cooperation, climate change mitigation and a deeper political engagement. The EU’s partnership in reviving the Middle East peace process is part of the new dynamic, as are advanced discussions on maritime security, cybersecurity, counterterrorism and fighting organized crime.
The war in Gaza has made it even more imperative for the GCC and EU to cooperate on several fronts — ceasefire, humanitarian issues and to pick up the pace on what they agreed upon in Muscat and New York, i.e., to find ways to reach a political solution for the war and the wider Palestine question. During the Muscat meeting, the ministers endorsed recommendations regarding aid coordination, which was very timely considering the growing needs in Gaza and the obstacles imposed by Israel on aid accessibility.
To deal with the repercussions of the war on Gaza, the GCC foreign ministers held an emergency meeting in Oman on Oct. 17, when they laid out a common position on the war and on humanitarian assistance, pledging sizable amounts of new aid.
In November, Saudi Arabia convened an emergency joint meeting of the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Riyadh, which was attended by the leaders of Arab and Islamic countries and which presented a unified voice on the war. The summit also laid down a comprehensive set of practical measures for Gaza, including additional aid and the documentation of breaches of international humanitarian law to present to the International Criminal Court.
Perhaps the most important measure adopted by the Arab-Islamic Summit was the formation of a ministerial committee — led by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and which also included ministers from Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Qatar, Palestine and Turkiye — to follow up the decisions of the summit on Gaza and the Palestine question. This committee has so far met all five UNSC permanent members and others, urging a ceasefire and improved humanitarian access.
The GCC states have also played an important role in mediating conflicts outside their immediate regions. Saudi Arabia, for example, has led the intra-Sudanese talks in Jeddah, together with the US, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union. While this platform has yet to produce a peace deal, it has contributed to de-escalation and helped prevent the conflict from spilling over to other countries.
The economic role of the GCC states is not only a function of their growing economies and thriving markets, but also of their role in stabilizing energy markets at a time of global turmoil and energy insecurity. The fact that Dubai hosted Expo 2020, Qatar is currently hosting the International Horticultural Expo and Saudi Arabia is going to host Expo 2030 in Riyadh is a sign of the international recognition of the growing economic and strategic roles these countries play.
In a greatly polarized world, the GCC states have managed to keep working with all sides. On the Russia-Ukraine war, GCC foreign ministers met, individually and collectively, with their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts in Riyadh, Moscow, Kyiv, New York and elsewhere. The GCC side offered its help in mediating the conflict and succeeded in freeing some of the hostages and detainees held by the parties to the war. The GCC also argued repeatedly and strongly for continuing grain exports and preventing food shortages in developing countries that depend on those exports.
Similarly, when the US proposed the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, GCC members Saudi Arabia and the UAE joined the new venture, as they had earlier joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Healthy competition between superpowers could benefit the region and the cohabitation of the two initiatives could contribute to thwarting conflict.
The coming year is likely to present formidable political and security challenges for our region and beyond, but the GCC as an organization and its member states are poised to deal with those challenges effectively. By their actions, they present a model of the fruits of peace and stability that some of their neighbors could learn from, whether that is Israel or Iran, two countries that have chosen to live by the sword but have failed to achieve either peace or stability. By their readiness to engage and mediate with all parties, GCC states are able to lend a hand to these troubled lands.
*Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the Gulf Cooperation Council assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily represent the GCC. X: @abuhamad1

Why Israel should choose peace — before time runs out

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib/Arab News/December 30, 2023
Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, recently boasted that Papua New Guinea is planning to open a consulate in a West Bank settlement, a suggestion that arrogantly defies the international community and claims Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he wants to encourage the migration of Palestinians from Gaza, another way of saying he wants to promote expulsions. The Israeli government is doing everything it can to avoid talks about a political solution and peace agreement with the Palestinians. However, Israelis fail to realize that time is not on their side, and that the sooner they clinch a deal with the Palestinians, the better.
Israel’s attitude stems from the fact that it thinks it has the upper hand and can impose on Palestinians any solution that suits it. The problem is, as described by the veteran journalist Gideon Levy, Israelis live in a bubble, unaware of the brutality they inflict on Palestinians. Living in a world of their own, they do not realize they are at a disadvantage. Three factors are working against them: the change globally in the perception of Israel, the growing capability of their enemies, and internal divisions in Israeli society.
Ten years ago, no one could have imagined they would witness mass protests in support of Palestine. The Palestinian issue is no longer viewed as a conflict between two parties, but now is seen through a “social justice” lens. People across the world who have no connection with Palestine or to Palestinians are taking a stand against what they see as injustice. Israel has lost international sympathy. The perception that Israel is a refuge for Jews fleeing the Holocaust has been replaced by the view that it is a colonial power subjugating indigenous people.
Craig Mokhiber, the UN human rights official who resigned in protest over the Gaza war, said the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians is driven by an ethno-nationalist, colonial-settler ideology. This view is likely to grow stronger as more Palestinian civilians are killed. Political elites in the West are sympathetic to Israel, but the grassroots, especially younger generations, do not share the same outlook. The bad news for Israel is that political change follows social change. Therefore, even in the US, where Israel holds the core of its international support, the situation is likely to change, especially among members of the Democratic Party. Joe Biden might be the last US president to back Israel. What will Israel do when it no longer has US or European support? Joseph Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, bluntly accused Israel of breaching international law.
Living in a world of their own, Israelis do not realize they are at a disadvantage.
The second reason is the increasing capability of Israel’s enemies and potential challengers. The Oct. 7 attack showed Israelis what Hamas is capable of. That was a big shock, but also a wake-up call to a new reality. The reality is that Israel’s enemies are becoming stronger. A Hamas official vowed that Oct. 7 will happen again. Chances are that if it does reoccur, it will be even more brutal. Hamas is seen as the weaker enemy. They are confined to Gaza and have been under siege for 17 years. This is very different to Hezbollah, which has much more developed capabilities and a direct connection with Iran, while operating freely in Lebanon. The militant group has an arsenal of 150,000 missiles, many precision guided.
Iran is also improving its defense capabilities. As for Turkiye, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to make Israel pay for its crimes. During a pro-Palestine protest, Erdogan supporters chanted demands to send Turkish soldiers to Gaza. What would Israelis think about that?
Israel has to come to terms with a new reality — it does not hold a competitive technological edge over its neighbors. Turkish-made drones were able to change the tide of the war in Libya. Countries in the region are producing weapons that one day can threaten Israel. Israelis can no longer rely on the fact they are stronger and more advanced than anyone in the region and, hence, can impose their terms. Israel does not have the deterrent capability it had previously, and needs a peace agreement to guarantee its security.
The third reason is the internal division in Israeli society. Though now we see the effect of “rallying around the flag,” divisions are likely to reemerge and grow wider once the war is over. For all those reasons, time is not on Israel’s side. It is better off making peace with the Palestinians according to UN resolutions and generally accepted norms. This will allow Israel to be accepted and have good relations with neighboring countries, even Iran. If Israel reaches a fair settlement with the Palestinians, Tehran will have to accept it.
Peace will allow Israel to mend its internal divisions and work on national cohesion. Israelis should think of South Africa. White citizens got a very good deal. There was little or no wealth distribution. This is mainly because they realized two things early on: The international community would no longer support them, and the Black population could no longer be pacified. They sealed a deal while they were in a position of power and could have favorable terms.
Israelis should be aware that time is not on their side. The longer they wait and continue to subjugate Palestinians, the weaker their position. A deal today while they still have the support of the US is definitely better than a deal in 10 years when they will likely have little or no support.
**Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view

Netanyahu will use his ‘poison machine’ to cling to power
Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/December 30, 2023
For a glossary of the characteristics of Benjamin Netanyahu, here is a list of nouns that few associate with the Israeli prime minister, not only across the world, but also in Israel: integrity, humility, honor, honesty, decency, morality, altruism — you get the picture. If anyone thought that his unmitigated failure to defend his people on Oct. 7 would bring to the fore an inner self that was more reflective, uncontentious and self-effacing, they could not have been more mistaken. On that day, for a brief moment, Netanyahu and his political allies were stunned by the colossal failure to provide their people with the most basic of public goods they were tasked with supplying — namely, protecting their lives. But when it became apparent that the public had lost trust in him and wanted him gone, he and his cronies reverted to their default mode of cranking up their “poison machine” to full power in order to deflect any blame for what has become the worst crisis in Israel’s history.
By any acceptable standard of conduct in public life, Netanyahu’s time as prime minister should have long ago been confined to the pages of history. First, a prime minister who is a defendant in three corruption cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust should have at least stepped down for the duration of the trial, while fighting to prove his innocence like any other ordinary citizen. Instead, with the help of his close aides, he devised what became known as the “poison machine,” which in essence is a network of people and bots that disseminates a host of toxic, violent and inciting messages across social media against political rivals, their ideas and their activities. His targets are mainly on the left, but may include some of the right should this suit his political and personal interests. These messages are all laced with the most appalling terms and accusations, character assassinations spiced up with half-truths, to say nothing of sheer lies. One of the leading dubious characters in this destructive and shameless practice is none other than the prime minister’s son, Yair, who has become a frequent visitor to the courts in the course of being sued for defamation, and has already lost such cases on more than one occasion.
Anyone questioning Netanyahu’s suitability to run a country can expect to bear the brunt of vicious and often personal attacks and innuendo. On the balance of probability, at the last general election these underhand tactics enabled Netanyahu’s Likud party to legitimize the racist-xenophobic, religious-fundamentalist and belligerent parties of the far-right, which consequently did well and allowed him to form the most extreme right-wing government ever seen in Israel. This coalition harbors strong anti-democratic and anti-Arab sentiments aimed at destroying the democratic system at home, while putting an end to any chance of peace with the Palestinians based on the two-state solution. For Netanyahu this is a price worth paying in order to save his neck by ensuring that his corruption trial will never reach a conclusion, or at least one that is not to his liking.
Worse, Netanyahu also agreed to his coalition partners’ plan for an assault on the democratic system, and has already set this in motion, knowing full well that it will divide the country, as it has done most visibly. Months of mass protests have not changed his mind, as the political system became an instrument to serve the leader and not the country, while his poison machine has been turned against the leaders of these democratic protests.
The Israeli PM continues to blame everyone but himself for the worst security fiasco in the country’s history.
Netanyahu did not stop there, and it must be said, while fully acknowledging the criminal responsibility of Hamas for the atrocities of its Oct. 7 attacks, that he contributed to the disaster through his failed strategy regarding the Palestinian issue which saw him become an enabler of the militant group while weakening any Palestinian partner for peace. Yet, instead of immediately taking personal responsibility, apologizing to the nation, resigning his post and disappearing into the sunset in the immediate aftermath of the killing and hostage taking of so many of the very people he was elected to protect, in his typical manner, without compunction or conscience, he still clings obstinately to power and shows no sign of relinquishing it.
In the face of grieving families and those worried sick for loved ones taken hostage, he has spurned any responsibility, while embarking on a conflict whose objectives are unattainable, compromising the reputation of his country due to the way Israel is conducting that war by killing thousands upon thousands of innocent Palestinians. Meanwhile, he uses the poison machine to blame everyone but himself for the worst security fiasco in the country’s history, while threatening to turn Gaza into a military and political quagmire.
The chiefs of the Israeli Defense Forces and Shin Beit have also been on the receiving end of Netanyahu’s poison machine since Oct. 7, although they have already accepted responsibility, while continuing to lead their troops in the war. The machine is also being aimed at the leaders of the pro-democracy protests, although they were the ones who warned him that harming Israel’s democracy would compromise its military’s preparedness to face future threats. And, of course, there is also Netanyahu’s habit of blaming those behind the Oslo Accords, or the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza despite his support for it, while he counts on people’s short memories and his well-known dexterity in deception and deflection. Disgustingly, the poison machine has not spared the victims of the Hamas attack, as many have been characterized and vilified as leftist due to their social-economic profile, or are the families of the hostages whose only crime is demanding the government ensure the release of their loved ones, which seems less of a priority for this leadership with each passing day.
Let us not delude ourselves: At no point is there going to be a dignified Netanyahu resignation speech, before or after a ceasefire is declared, one that takes responsibility for the dire situation in which Israel has found itself under his premiership. As far as Israel’s prime minister is concerned, there is now only one option, and it is the Netanyahu option, which suggests that he might have an interest in prolonging the conflict for as long as possible in the belief — not always supported by history — that a country is unlikely to change its leader during a war. And when this war eventually does end, we will not be surprised to see him continue to spread unprecedented discord and division throughout the country, as he employs his poison machine in the most reckless manner. Because for him, Israel without Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister simply does not exist.
**Yossi Mekelberg is a professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. X: @YMekelberg

2024: Where Does the Pendulum Swing?
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al-Awsat/December 30/2023
If there is a pendulum that regulates world affairs it is important to know which way it may be swinging in the year that is about to start. Seen from one angle, the pendulum looks like swinging towards uncertainty. In 2024, many countries with major roles in international affairs are facing dicey elections.
The United States looks set for what could be the most difficult election season in its history. Will President Joe Biden, with his physical and mental fitness questioned by some, be able to run the final mile to his party’s nomination? Or will his Democrat Party be forced to rally around Kamala Harris at the last moment and out of desperation? The Republicans face an even less predictable prospect. Although Donald Trump continues to cast a large shadow on the whole process, a shadow is just a shadow after all. The alternative savior Ron DeSantis seems to be fading away, while Nikki Haley, a dark horse just a few weeks ago, is beginning to emerge as a serious pretender.
Even then, and regardless of who would win the keys to the White House next November, the United States will be on pilot mode for much of 2024 and thus, unable to take the tough decisions that only a well-settled administration could take.
The United Kingdom is also facing what is seen as the most difficult general elections it has experienced at east since the Suez Crisis of 1956. The Conservative Party seems to be in letdown mode, while the Labour Party appears unable to seize the opportunity to make a big comeback. The prospect of a hung parliament, with Labour forced to depend on the Scottish National Party (SNP) to form a government, signals a period of uncertainty as far as strategic decisions are concerned. In the European Union, the Netherlands is already without a stable government and is likely to remain so for months, while coalition-building goes on. In Germany, the EU’s big beast in economic terms, the shaky coalition led by Olaf Scholz could unravel at any moment, while the radical right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) waits to emerge as the arbiter of a divided political scene. Even France now seems to be heading for a period of instability as President Emmanuel Macron’s shaky coalition begins to crumble, while his government is unable to secure a majority in the parliament. The prospect of dissolution of parliament and snap elections is hanging above the scene like the Damocles’ sword of the myth.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin seems set to easily sail to victory on his bid for a new presidential term. But even there, the elections are likely to lead to a major reshuffle of the ruling elite, including the top brass and the inner circle of household oligarchs. After all, the thinly disguised failure in Ukraine must be blamed on someone, someone other than good old Volodia.
The only major power to appear stable at the moment is the People’s Republic of China. But there too, President Xi Jinping appears more focused on managing economic slowdown and the purge of the party than being dragged into international problems that promise nothing but trouble.
The pendulum is also swinging more sharply towards conflict, instability and state failures. In 2023, the list of “ungoverned” countries was limited to Syria, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan and, according to some, Afghanistan. In 2024 Sudan, caught in a war between rival military factions, is certain to join the category, while Myanmar, with areas controlled by Karen rebels expanding, is heading in the same direction. If you hope that the pendulum will swing towards peace, think again. In Ukraine both sides, that is to say Russia and NATO, appear in a zugzwang that keeps them in conflict for the foreseeable future.
The Gaza, war is set to continue in 2024. Even after Israel achieves its military objective, that is to say dismantling Hamas’ military machine, within weeks the gargantuan task of building a new status quo is certain to take much longer.
In the meantime, the Gaza war has already ricocheted to North Yemen, still under Houthi control, and parts of Lebanon, under Hezbollah’s total control. Fighting involving Iranian-controlled militias in Syria and Iraq with US-backed elements is also likely to get wider dimensions in Syria and Iraq.
There are indications that both Russia and Türkiye are also preparing for military action on a grander scale to secure the chunks of Syria under their control. For its part, the Islamic Republic in Iran is likely to face a sharp swing of the pendulum towards uncertainty in both domestic and foreign policy areas.
Another case of the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction concerns the United Nations and diplomacy in general. The Security Council is likely to remain inoperative for the foreseeable future, while the Secretary-General, having tripped over the Gaza war, has lost much of his authority as arbiter of international conflicts.At the end of the COP28 in Dubai earlier this month, there was much talk about multilateralism making a big comeback. But that may be nothing but wishful thinking. The coming year looks likely to see a further decline in multilateralism and an increase in bilateral efforts to deal with economic and security problems.
In some cases, lone-ranger policymaking is finding more advocates.
Hungary under Viktor Orban, for example, is defying the EU by hosting a Chinese manufacturer of electrical cars to compete with EU producers. Despite an agreement to coordinate immigration policy, EU members are developing divergent strategies likely to lead to diplomatic clashes in 2024.
A broader and potentially more important pendulum swing in 2024 would be away from the mushy consensus formed during the golden days of globalism. Almost everywhere we already witness a return to the narrowest concept of national interests. Fear of dependence on potentially hostile or unstable powers has forced many countries, especially in the EU, to lean towards economic nationalism and discard the “comparative advantage” argument. France, for example, has just unveiled a plan for self-sufficiency in a number of areas, notably pharmaceuticals, microchips and batteries for electrical vehicles. In a more folkloric move away from globalization, France has just revived growing a number of plants used in textile industry. Finally, the pendulum looks likely to swing in favor of small- and/or medium- sized nations capable of adopting non-ideological and effective policies in the interest of their people. After all, no nation is small or medium as such; it’s the leadership that makes a country small or great.