English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For February 16/2024
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it
Saint Matthew 07/13-27: “‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name? ” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell and great was its fall!’

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 15-16/2024
To Israel and the entire world: Lebanon is not Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is not Lebanon/Elias Bejjani/February 15/2024
The 19th Anniversary of PM Rafik Hariri’s Assassination and the stalled accountability under Iranian occupation/Elias Bejjani/February 14/2024
Lebanese condemn deadly Israeli attack on Nabatiyeh
Gallant warns Israel can strike 'at 50 kms, in Beirut and anywhere else'
US calls for 'diplomatic path' on Lebanon after Israel strikes
A look at the arsenals of Israel and Hezbollah as cross-border strikes escalate
UNIFIL's Tenenti condemns targeting of civilians as 'war crimes'
Hezbollah shells Kiryat Shmona in response to Israel's killing of civilians
10 civilians killed in Lebanon in a single day, Hezbollah vows to retaliate
Hezbollah commander among 10 dead in Israeli strike on Nabatiyeh
Israel-Hezbollah border clashes: Latest developments
Lebanon family 'invited to dinner' finds death in Israel strike
Berri urges int'l community to 'stop Israeli killing machine'
Qaouq says Hezbollah to meet 'escalation with escalation'
Mikati condemns Israeli strikes that killed 10 civilians in single day
Sami Gemayel condemns Israel, criticizes Hezbollah over Nabatiyeh massacre

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 15-16/2024
World leaders urge Israel to avoid 'catastrophic' Rafah operation
Families of hostages demand Netanyahu immediately continue hostage negotiations
Leaders of Egypt and Brazil call for Gaza ceasefire
Israel complains after Vatican denounces 'carnage' in Gaza
Israel is urging the top UN court to reject a new South African request on Gaza provisional orders
Israeli siege has placed Gazans at risk of starvation − prewar policies made them vulnerable in the first place
Israeli forces storm Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis after prolonged standoff
Blinken offers condolences on reported killings of two Americans in West Bank and calls for investigation
US conducted cyberattack on suspected Iranian spy ship, NBC News reports
Germany Says Turkey and Greece to Join Missile-Defense Plan
France and Ukraine to sign a security agreement in Paris in the presence of President Zelenskyy
UN Envoy: Military Escalation in Red Sea Slows Down Peace Efforts in Yemen
On the USS Eisenhower, 4 months of combat at sea facing Houthi missiles and USVs

Titles For The Latest English LCCC  analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources on February 15-16/2024
Understanding Islam: Theory vs Practice/Raymond Ibrahim/February 15/2024
A Political & Strategic analysis by Colonel Charbel Baraket addressing, Israeli PM, Netanyahu's Peace Regional planes, and Iranian Mullahs' Destructive Schemes
Netanyahu and Iran/Colonel Charbel Barakat/February 16/ 2024
At WGS, Artificial Intelligence dominated more than just discussions/Faisal J. Abbas/Arab News/February 15, 2024
Saudi foreign minister arrives in Germany to head delegation at Munich Security Conference/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Faisal J. Abbas/Arab News/February 15, 2024
Biden’s age could ultimately decide the outcome of the US presidential election/Dr. Amal Mudallali/Arab News/February 15, 2024

Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 15-16/2024
To Israel and the entire world: Lebanon is not Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is not Lebanon.
Elias Bejjani/Text- Arabic Video/To Israel and the entire world: Lebanon is not Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is not Lebanon....Hezbollah is Actual Lebanon's enemy
Elias Bejjani/February 15/2024

Elias Bejjani/To Israel and the entire world: Lebanon is not Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is not Lebanon....Hezbollah is Actual Lebanon's enemy
Elias Bejjani/February 15/2024

If Israel genuinely aims to address the significant threats posed by the terrorist Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, it should direct its efforts towards, Hezbollah's operatives and leaders, along with their masters, the Iranian Mullahs, rather than implicating Lebanon as a whole.
It is a common knowledge, that the international community, including Israeli leadership, are all fully cognizant that Hezbollah does not represent Lebanon, or the majority of its peace loving people. Therefore, Lebanon and its citizens should not bear any responsibility what so ever for the actions of this Iranian terrorist-jihadist armed organization.
Furthermore, the current Lebanese Mikati government, is completely aligned with Hezbollah, fails to serve Lebanon's interests or to represent its people. Instead, it operates as a mere puppet entity controlled by Hezbollah and its Iranian masters.
Meanwhile, All heinous crimes committed in southern Lebanon in particular, or elsewhere, are the result of actions by Hezbollah, which is non-Lebanese, but an Iranian-backed militia waging Iran's wars in Lebanon and beyond.
By God's will, the day of reckoning for Hezbollah's leaders and operatives will inevitably arrive, regardless of their current immorality or indulgence in hallucinations, day dreaming, delusions and false triumphs.
Based on all the above facts, Israel, as a significant regional power, should acknowledge the Hezbollah's Jihadist, terrorist , Iranian mere affiliations, and adjust its military and political strategies accordingly, refraining from threats against Lebanon and its people.
In conclusion, Israel ought to address its issues with Iran and its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, which occupies and hijacks Lebanon, controls its government and confiscates its decision making process...and not Lebanon or the Lebanese peace life loving people.

The 19th Anniversary of PM Rafik Hariri’s Assassination and the stalled accountability under Iranian occupation
Elias Bejjani/February 14/2024
Today, on February 14, 2024, Lebanon and its people solemnly commemorate the 19th anniversary of the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. This heinous act, perpetrated in broad daylight in the heart of Beirut, continues to evoke feelings of anger and sorrow among the Lebanese populace.
The perpetrators of this crime, as conclusively determined by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), were identified as high-ranking members of Hezbollah’s military and intelligence apparatus. Even prior to the STL’s findings, the Lebanese people had already pointed fingers towards Hezbollah, recognizing the cold-blooded nature of the massacre and its orchestrated execution.
It was widely acknowledged that Hezbollah, acting under the directives of the Syrian and Iranian regimes, orchestrated this barbaric act of violence, with the active involvement of Syrian and Iranian intelligence agencies, and the complicity of their Lebanese proxies, the assassination of Rafik Hariri was meticulously planned and executed.
Despite the considerable financial resources invested in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon—amounting to approximately one billion dollars—true accountability remains elusive. While the court managed to identify the individuals directly involved in the assassination, it fell short of apprehending or prosecuting them. Furthermore, it failed to address the pivotal questions concerning the masterminds behind the crime, namely the Syrian and Iranian oppressive regimes, along with those who provided the financial and logistical support.
Regrettably, the lack of accountability extends beyond Hariri’s assassination, encompassing numerous other politically motivated killings that have plagued Lebanon’s history, dating back to the early sixties. The perpetrators of these crimes, whether operating under Palestinian, Syrian, or Iranian occupations, continue to evade justice, perpetuating a culture of impunity.
In the absence of genuine judicial accountability, the memory of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and all the martyrs of Lebanon remains tarnished.
As we reflect on this somber anniversary, let us remember and honor the sacrifices of these patriotic Lebanese individuals, and pray for the peace of their souls.

Lebanese condemn deadly Israeli attack on Nabatiyeh
NAJIA HOUSSARI/Arab News/February 15, 2024
BEIRUT: An Israeli strike killed a Hezbollah commander, two fighters and seven civilians in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatiyeh, a security source said on Thursday, raising fears of further escalation. Eight civilians were wounded, including an infant who was pulled from rubble. The attack, widely condemned by the Lebanese public, caused panic among the city’s residents. Universities and schools in Nabatiyeh were closed on Thursday, while the city’s governor closed government offices and businesses in the area. Najib Mikati, caretaker prime minister, said: “An urgent new complaint will be filed to the UN Security Council against Israel. While we call on all parties to commit to de-escalation, we find the Israeli enemy persisting in its aggression, prompting us to question the international parties concerned with initiatives taken to restrain the enemy.”Nabatiyeh is situated north of the Litani Line, outside the area where hostile operations between Hezbollah and Israel have been ongoing for 131 days. The Israeli military has violated the rules of engagement more than once, extending its attacks to the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Rescue and civil defense teams continued to search for missing individuals under the rubble of the targeted three-story building. They pulled alive the infant, Hussein Ali Amer, after more than four hours of searching. They retrieved five deceased — Hussein Ahmed Daher Berjawi, his daughters Amani and Zeinab, his sister Fatima and his grandson Mahmoud Ali Amer — and transferred them to hospitals in Nabatiyeh. The search continued for the bodies of Berjawi's wife Amal Mahmoud Audi and his niece Ghadeer Tarhini. Berjawi’s son-in-law Ali Amer and several wounded individuals were also sent to hospitals in Nabatiyeh. Israeli bombing of southern Lebanese border towns resumed its previous intensity on Thursday. Israeli army radio reported: “The security service assessed the internal front’s readiness for the scenario of war in the northern region.” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant informed his US counterpart Lloyd Austin that “there will be no leniency in responding to Hezbollah attacks.”According to Al-Arabiya channel, Gallant said: “Our planes in the skies of Beirut carry heavy bombs capable of hitting distant targets, and the current escalation against Hezbollah is only a 10th of what we can do. We can attack up to 50 km deep in Beirut and any other place.”
Hezbollah announced on Thursday that it had targeted “espionage equipment at the Israeli Al-Marj military site, scoring a direct hit.”It also targeted “the Israeli Zibdin barracks in the occupied Shebaa Farms using a Falaq-1 rocket, resulting in a direct hit,” as well as “espionage equipment at the Israeli military site in the Al-Raheb area with suitable weaponry, also achieving a direct hit,” and “the radar site belonging to the Israeli army in the occupied Shebaa Farms.”Meanwhile, Hezbollah mourned its members Ali Al-Dabs, Hussein Ahmed Aqil and Hassan Ibrahim Issa. A flurry of diplomatic efforts has been underway to stave off further escalation. Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun held discussions with Joanna Wronecka, special representative of the UN secretary-general in Lebanon, on “developments along the southern borders.”
Stephane Dujarric, the secretary-general’s spokesperson, said the “dangerous” escalation “must stop.” He highlighted observations by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, indicating a shift in the exchange of fire between Israeli forces and armed groups in Lebanon, with incidents occurring beyond the Blue Line.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator Imran Riza said in a statement: “The deliberate targeting of civilians is deeply troubling. Among the casualties are innocent children, mothers, and grandparents. “The rules of engagement are crystal clear: all parties involved must safeguard civilians, and these principles must be upheld. Innocent civilians should never be caught in the crossfire.”French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “The situation in Lebanon is serious, but it has not yet reached the point of no return. France is actively involved in seeking a resolution to the conflict, aiming to prevent further bloodshed and the onset of a new war in Lebanon.”
Meanwhile, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller voiced “Washington’s apprehension regarding the escalating tensions between the parties involved,” adding: “Diplomatic efforts are underway to quell the situation and find a peaceful resolution.”Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, a member of Hezbollah’s Central Council, said: “The conflict persists as long as aggression continues against Gaza.”He highlighted the unwavering resolve of the resistance to counter Israel’s persistent threats with equal measures of escalation, displacement and destruction.
The attack in Nabatiyeh triggered widespread condemnation in Lebanon. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri labeled it “a premeditated and calculated atrocity, placing responsibility for the victims’ blood squarely on international envoys, the UN, and human rights organizations. “Urgent action is demanded to halt Israel’s lethal actions and restrain the leaders of the occupying entity, who are steering the region toward a catastrophic war.” Progressive Socialist Party leader and MP Taymur Jumblatt warned of “the potential expansion of the conflict due to the actions of Israel, the US, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” Jumblatt highlighted Hezbollah’s efforts “to de-escalate tensions and stabilize the situation.”Kataeb Party leader and MP Sami Gemayel unequivocally rejected and condemned all Israeli justifications for targeting civilians. He also highlighted “the toll borne by the Lebanese population due to Hezbollah’s unilateral actions to engage in the southern battle in solidarity with Gaza.”

Gallant warns Israel can strike 'at 50 kms, in Beirut and anywhere else'
Naharnet/February 15, 2024
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant noted Thursday that the Israeli military has stepped up its attacks against Hezbollah by “one level out of ten,” warning that “the Air Force planes flying currently in the skies of Lebanon have heavier bombs for more distant targets.”Speaking during a war simulation carried out by the so-called emergency preparedness committee, Gallant said the conferees were gathered after “an intense day in the north,” in reference to a deadly rocket barrage on the Israeli army’s Northern Command headquarters in Safad and Israel’s subsequent deadly response in south Lebanon. He said Hezbollah went up half a step, while Israel went up a full one with its response, “but it’s one step out of ten.”“We can attack not only at 20 kilometers (from the border), but also at 50 kilometers, and in Beirut and anywhere else,” Gallant said. “We do not want to reach this situation, we do not want to enter into a war, but rather are interested in reaching an agreement that will allow the safe return of residents of the north to their homes, under an agreement process,” he said, referring to tens of thousands of Israelis displaced by the conflict. “But if there is no choice, we will act to bring (the residents) back and create the appropriate security for them. This should be clear to both our enemies and our friends. And as the State of Israel, the defense establishment, and the IDF (Israeli army) have proven in recent months, when we say we mean it,” he added. The meeting, attended by several government ministers, defense officials, and other civilian officials, simulated a war scenario in northern Israel with potential damage to power lines, issues with transporting food, and complex medical evacuations, according to the Defense Ministry.

US calls for 'diplomatic path' on Lebanon after Israel strikes

Agence France Presse/February 15, 2024
At least 10 people, mostly civilians, were killed on Wednesday in Israeli strikes on south Lebanon, while the Israeli army said it lost a soldier in cross-border rocket fire. While the rocket attack was not immediately claimed, the exchanges of fire -- and the worst single-day civilian death toll in Lebanon since cross-border hostilities began in October -- raised fears of a broader conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. On Wednesday evening, seven civilians from the same family including two women and a child were killed in an Israeli strike on a residential building in the city of Nabatiyeh. "The residents of the apartment targeted have no links to Hezbollah," a source requesting anonymity said as they were not authorised to speak to the media. Earlier, Lebanon's state-run National News Agency (NNA) said Israeli warplanes targeted a house in south Lebanon's Souaneh, killing three members of the same family, identifying them as a Syrian woman and her child, aged two, and stepchild, 13. The agency said another Israeli attack targeting the village of Adshit killed one person, whom Hezbollah announced was one of its fighters, and wounded 10 others, destroying a building and causing significant damage nearby.
The Israeli army said in a statement that Sergeant Omer Sarah Benjo, 20, was killed "as a result of a (rocket) launch carried out from Lebanese territory on a base in northern Israel". Fighter jets struck a series of "Hezbollah terror targets" in several areas of south Lebanon including Adshit and Souaneh, the military said. The Israeli military and the Iran-backed Lebanese group have been trading near daily cross-border fire since the Israel-Hamas war began in October. Hezbollah said a second fighter was killed elsewhere in south Lebanon on Wednesday, but claimed no attacks on Israeli troops or positions.
'Heavy price' -Israel's Magen David Adom emergency service had said seven people were wounded in fire from Lebanon, five of them in the town of Safed. An AFP photographer saw medics and troops evacuating a wounded person by military helicopter from Safed's Ziv hospital. Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi said after meeting commanders near the Lebanese border that Israel's "next campaign will be very much on the offensive, and we will use all the tools and all capabilities". "We are intensifying the strikes all the time, and Hezbollah are paying an increasingly heavy price," he said in a statement. Senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine on Wednesday said that "this aggression... will not go unanswered". A day earlier, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said that fire from southern Lebanon would end "when the attack on Gaza stops and there is a ceasefire" between the group's Palestinian allies Hamas and arch-foe Israel. "If they (Israel) broaden the confrontation, we will do the same," Nasrallah warned. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border amid soaring regional tensions. Fears have been growing of another full-blown conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, who last went to war in 2006.
'Diplomatic path'
The U.N. secretary-general's spokesman Stephane Dujarric warned that "the recent escalation is dangerous indeed and should stop."Peacekeepers from the United Nations mission in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, had noticed "a concerning shift in the exchanges of fire between the Israeli armed forces and armed groups in Lebanon", he added. The attacks included the "targeting of areas far from the Blue Line", he said, referring to the withdrawal line demarcated by the U.N. in 2000 after Israeli troops pulled out of southern Lebanon. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that Washington would continue to push for a "diplomatic path" to resolve the cross-border tensions. "We continue to believe that there is a diplomatic path forward and we will continue to push forward to try to resolve this issue diplomatically," Miller told reporters. "We continue to be concerned about escalation in Lebanon," he said. "One of our primary objectives from the outset of this conflict is to see that it not be widened." The United States and France have been pushing a plan that hopes to keep Lebanon out of the Israel-Hamas conflict, including by bolstering Lebanon's fledgling national forces.

A look at the arsenals of Israel and Hezbollah as cross-border strikes escalate
Associated Press/February 15, 2024
The slow-simmering cross-border conflict between Lebanon's Hezbollah and Israeli forces escalated Wednesday, reviving fears that the daily clashes could expand into an all-out war. A rocket fired from Lebanon struck the northern Israeli town of Safed, killing a 20-year-old female soldier and wounding at least eight people. Israel responded with airstrikes that killed at least 13 people in southern Lebanon, including a Syrian woman, her two children, seven members of another family and three Hezbollah fighters. At least nine people were wounded. The cross-border violence was triggered by the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, which in turn was set off by the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas. Hezbollah did not claim responsibility for Wednesday's strike. But it has vowed to continue its attacks until there is a cease-fire in Gaza. Amid fears of a further escalation, here's a look at the arsenals of the two sides:
Hezbollah is the Arab world's most significant paramilitary force with a robust internal structure as well as a sizable arsenal. Backed by Iran, its fighters have gained experience during Syria's 13-year conflict in which they helped tip the balance of power in favor of government forces. Hezbollah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, had boasted that the group has 100,000 fighters, though other estimates put its troop strength at less than half that. Israel wants Hezbollah to withdraw its elite Radwan Force from the border so tens of thousands Israelis displaced from northern towns and villages can return home. Hezbollah holds a vast arsenal of mostly small, portable and unguided surface-to-surface artillery rockets, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. The U.S. and Israel estimate Hezbollah and other militant groups in Lebanon have some 150,000 missiles and rockets. Hezbollah also has been working on precision-guided missiles. Hezbollah has previously launched drones into Israel and in 2006, hit an Israeli warship with a surface-to-sea missile. Its forces also have assault rifles, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, roadside bombs and other weaponry. During the current conflict, Hezbollah has frequently used Russian-made portable anti-tank Kornet missiles. More rarely, it has launched Burkan rockets that, according to Nasrallah, can carry a warhead that weighs between 300 kilograms and 500 kilograms. In recent weeks, Hezbollah has introduced new weapons including a surface-to-surface missile with a range of 10 kilometers and a warhead weighing 50 kilograms.
Israel's military has long been supported by the United States, with $3.3 billion in annual funding, plus $500 million toward missile defense technology. Israel is one of the best-armed nations in the wider Middle East. Its air force includes the advanced American F-35 fighter jet, missile defense batteries including the American-made Patriot, the Iron Dome rocket-defense system and a pair of missile-defense systems developed with the U.S., the Arrow and David's Sling. Israel has armored personnel carriers and tanks, and a fleet of drones and other technology available to support any street-to-street battles. Israel has some 170,000 troops typically on active duty and has called up some 360,000 reservists for the war — three-fourths of its estimated capacity, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British think tank. With the war now in its fifth month, many of those reservists have returned home. Israel has also long maintained an undeclared nuclear weapons program.
While most analysts believe there is little appetite for a full-blown war by either Hezbollah or Israel, there are fears that a miscalculation by either side could trigger a major escalation. The U.S., France and other countries have dispatched diplomats in recent weeks to try to tamp down tensions on the border. Speaking on Tuesday, Nasrallah responded to threats by Israeli officials to launch an offensive if his group does not pull its forces back from the border. "If you expand (the conflict), we will expand," he said. Wednesday's exchange of strikes, some of which hit relatively far from the border area, is a clear indication of the risks that the violence could spill out of control. The two sides fought a 34-day war in 2006 that ended in a draw.

UNIFIL's Tenenti condemns targeting of civilians as 'war crimes'
Associated Press/February 15, 2024
The U.N. peacekeeping force deployed along the Lebanon-Israel border, known as UNIFIL, expressed concerns Thursday over the latest “exchanges of fire,” and urged all sides involved to halt hostilities to prevent further escalation.“Attacks targeting civilians are violations of international law and constitute war crimes,” UNIFIL’s spokesman Andrea Tenenti said in a statement. “The devastation, loss of life, and injuries witnessed are deeply concerning.”The U.N. secretary-general's spokesman Stephane Dujarric had warned Wednesday that "the recent escalation is dangerous indeed and should stop."Peacekeepers from the United Nations mission in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, had noticed "a concerning shift in the exchanges of fire between the Israeli armed forces and armed groups in Lebanon", he added. The attacks included the "targeting of areas far from the Blue Line", he said, referring to the withdrawal line demarcated by the U.N. in 2000 after Israeli troops pulled out of southern Lebanon. Ten civilians, mostly women and children, were killed Wednesday in Israeli airstrikes on Nabatiyeh and Souaneh, after rockets fired from Lebanon struck the northern Israeli town of Safed, killing a female Israeli soldier and wounding eight others, all soldiers.

Hezbollah shells Kiryat Shmona in response to Israel's killing of civilians

Agence France Presse/Associated Press/February 15, 2024
Hezbollah on Thursday fired dozens of rockets into Israel’s Kiryat Shmona, a day after Israeli raids killed 15 people mostly civilians. "In a first response to the massacres in Nabatiyeh and Sawaneh, Islamic resistance fighters fired dozens of Katyusha-type rockets at Kiryat Shmona," an Israeli town near the Lebanese border, Hezbollah said in a statement. There was no immediate word on casualties from the Israeli town, where most residents have joined the tens of thousands who have fled the area since the fighting began in October. Israeli reports however said that there was material damage.

10 civilians killed in Lebanon in a single day, Hezbollah vows to retaliate

Associated Press/February 15, 2024
The civilian death toll from two Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon has risen to 10, Lebanese state media reported Thursday, making the previous day the deadliest one in more than four months of cross-border exchanges. Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for the strikes, which hit in the city of Nabatiyeh and a village in southern Lebanon, just hours after projectiles from Lebanon killed an Israeli soldier. In Nabatiyeh, the strike knocked down part of a building, killing seven members of the same family, including a child, the state-run National News Agency said. A boy initially reported missing was found alive under the rubble. Initial reports had said four people were killed. In the village of Souaneh, a woman and her two young children were killed. The Lebanese civilian death toll included six women and three children. Three Hezbollah fighters were also killed on Wednesday. Amal Atwi, whose son was killed in Souaneh, said martyrdom has become a way of life in southern Lebanon. "He’s my only son and I have no one else," she said. "Let Israel take as much as they want, and we have more to give. Let’s see who will get tired first. It will be them, not us." The fire from Lebanon earlier Wednesday struck the northern Israeli town of Safed, killing a female Israeli soldier and wounding eight people. The fatalities marked a significant escalation in more than four months of daily cross-border exchanges triggered by the Oct. 7 outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. The war began with the surprise attack in southern Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, an ally of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah commander among 10 dead in Israeli strike on Nabatiyeh

Agence France Presse/February 15, 2024
A Hezbollah commander, two other fighters and seven civilians were killed in an Israeli strike in south Lebanon's Nabatiyeh, a security source said Thursday, raising the toll from a raid a day earlier. The deaths brought to 10 the total number of civilians killed in Israeli strikes on Wednesday, the highest such toll since cross-border hostilities began in October, further raising fears of a broader conflict between Israel and militant group Hezbollah. The Hezbollah commander, Ali al-Debs, had already been targeted and wounded in an Israeli drone strike in the southern Lebanon city of Nabatiyeh on February 8, the security source said, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media. Two other Hezbollah fighters who were on the ground floor with Debs and "seven civilians from the same family" on the building's first floor were also killed in Wednesday's strike on the building in the city, the source added.
Hezbollah announced Thursday that three of its fighters including Debs had been killed, without specifying where they had died. It had said two members were killed on Wednesday. The Israeli army said Wednesday a soldier was killed in unclaimed rocket fire from Lebanon and that its jets carried out strikes on Lebanon. The official National News Agency had previously identified five of the dead civilians in Nabatiyeh as Hussein Barjawi, his two daughters, his sister and his grandson. His wife and niece were also killed.Emergency responders pulled a boy alive from the rubble, it added, while another relative and at least six other people were taken to hospital. The agency said the Israeli strike was carried out by "a drone with a guided missile".
Israel confirms killing -
The Israeli military on Thursday confirmed it had killed a Hezbollah commander, his deputy and another fighter in an air strike in Lebanese territory. Ali al-Debs and the other two fighters were killed Wednesday night "in a precise air strike" carried out by an Israeli army aircraft on, the military said in a statement, describing the residential building in Nabatiyeh as "a Hezbollah military structure".
Rising tolls -
An AFP photographer said the ground and first floors of the three-storey residential building were hit, with pieces of furniture strewn among the rubble. Also Wednesday, the NNA said Israeli warplanes targeted a house in south Lebanon's Sawwaneh, killing three members of the same family -- a Syrian woman and her child, aged two, and stepchild, 13. The Israeli military and Hezbollah have been trading near daily cross-border fire since the Israel-Hamas war began in October. Fears have been growing of another full-blown conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, which last went to war in 2006. The Shiite Muslim group on Thursday claimed attacks on Israeli "spy equipment" and a barracks, while the Israeli military said fighter jets struck "dozens" of Hezbollah targets in south Lebanon. Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is due to speak on Friday, his second such address this week. The cross-border violence has killed at least 259 people on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 40 civilians, according to an AFP tally. On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and six civilians have been killed, according to the Israeli army.

Israel-Hezbollah border clashes: Latest developments

Agence France Presse/February 15, 2024
Israeli warplanes carried out Thursday several airstrikes on Wadi Slouqi in south Lebanon as the civilian death toll from Wednesday's airstrikes rose to 10. Israel's air force also struck the border towns of Labbouneh, Majdal Selm, Maroun al-Rass, Blida and Houla. The Israeli military said Thursday's strikes targeted Hezbollah infrastructure and launch posts. The Israeli army would continue to respond to Hezbollah’s regular attacks, said spokesperson Avi Hyman from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office. “Our message to Hezbollah has and always will be: Don’t try us.”Hezbollah for its part targeted Thursday the Zebdine Barracks and surveillance equipment in the Rweissat al-Alam post, both in the occupied Shebaa Farms. The group also attacked surveillance equipment in the al-Raheb and al-Marj posts. On Wednesday, Israel carried out airstrikes in southern Lebanon that killed three Hezbollah fighters and 10 civilians, including six women and three children, in response to a rocket attack on a military base in Safed that killed a female soldier and wounded eight people. Hezbollah vowed to retaliate although the group did not claim the attack on the northern Israeli town. While the rocket attack was not claimed, the exchanges of fire -- and the worst single-day civilian death toll in Lebanon since cross-border hostilities began in October -- raised fears of a broader conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. The cross-border violence has killed at least 253 people on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 37 civilians. On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and six civilians have been killed, according to the Israeli army.

Lebanon family 'invited to dinner' finds death in Israel strike
Agence France Presse/Associated Press/February 15, 2024
Hussein Berjawi had invited his daughter, her husband and their two young sons to dinner in south Lebanon, but an Israeli strike nearly wiped them all out.
At least five family members -- Hussein Barjawi, his daughters Amani and Zeinab, his sister Fatima and Zeinab's son Mahmoud Amer -- were killed in the strike on the city of Nabatiyeh. It was the bloodiest civilian toll from a single strike on Lebanon since cross-border hostilities erupted in October between Israel and Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement. And the death toll could go even higher, with NNA reporting that Berjawi's wife and niece were still unaccounted for, while Hussein Amer, a small boy, was pulled alive from the rubble. Amin Shomar, a local official in south Lebanon, said Ali Amer, his wife and their two sons, aged three and four, had been "invited over to his father-in-law's house in Nabatiyeh for dinner".Amer was "badly wounded" in the strike and was taken to hospital, Shomar told AFP, while his wife and son were killed and his other son was pulled out from the rubble alive. Video circulating on social media purportedly showed the rescue of the boy, his face bloody and wearing a blue tracksuit, a mattress among the debris beside him. An AFP photographer said the ground and first floors of the three-storey residential building were hit, with pieces of furniture strewn among the rubble.
Authorities had cordoned off the area as the search continued, he added. Schools, universities and local administrative offices in Nabatiyeh were closed on Thursday following the attack. The Israeli military and the Hezbollah have been trading near daily cross-border fire since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October. The Lebanese group saying it is acting in support of Palestinians.
Ten people including two Hezbollah fighters were killed in Israeli strikes in south Lebanon on Wednesday, the NNA and the group said, while an Israeli soldier was killed by unclaimed rocket fire from Lebanon. A woman, her child, aged two, and stepchild, 13, in the village of Souaneh were among those killed in the Israeli strikes Wednesday, according to the NNA. Tarek Mroueh, 35, who works in a pharmaceutical company, expressed shock at the sudden violence that rocked his neighborhood in Nabatiyeh. He said he initially thought a Hezbollah member's house might have been targeted. "But then we learnt that it was Hussein Berjawi's building. He's a civilian, not affiliated with any political party," Mroueh said. Mohammed Bdeir, a mechanic whose workshop is nearby, said that "civilians were targeted and everybody knows it"."There is no military objective here," the 67-year-old added. Hussein Badir, a neighbor of the Berjawi family, said he and other neighbors had rushed to the street to dig through the rubble. He said the family was “decent and respectable" and "not involved in anything.”For Badir, the strike brought back memories of Israeli bombardment during its 2006 war with Hezbollah and also during a 1996 offensive. “Nobody is doing anything to help us,” he said. “It’s our right to defend ourselves in our country in Lebanon.”Nabatiyeh had been relatively spared the cross-border violence until last week. An Israeli drone strike on a car seriously wounded a Hezbollah commander in the city on February 8, sources on both side of the frontier said, with the group firing a salvo of rockets at northern Israel in response. The cross-border hostilities have killed at least 254 people on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 38 civilians, according to an AFP tally. On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and six civilians have been killed, according to the Israeli army.

Berri urges int'l community to 'stop Israeli killing machine'
Naharnet/February 15, 2024
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday described Israel’s deadly drone strike on a building in Nabatiyeh as “a new massacre” that Israel has added to “its record that is full of murder, terrorism and genocidal wars.”Lamenting a “premeditated massacre,” Berri called on the international envoys who are visiting Lebanon, the United Nations and human rights organizations to address “the bloodshed in Nabatiyeh, Houla, Sawwaneh and Adshit.” “Don’t condemn and deplore but rather act instantly to stop the Israeli killing machine and rein in the leaders of the occupation entity who are taking the region to a destructive war,” the Speaker added. Seven civilians and three Hezbollah fighters including a commander were killed in the overnight strike in Nabatiyeh. The raid resulted in the highest civilian death toll in a single strike in Lebanon since cross-border hostilities began in October, raising fears of a broader conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. A woman and two children were killed in a strike the same day on the southern town of Sawwaneh. The cross-border violence has killed at least 257 people on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 38 civilians.

Qaouq says Hezbollah to meet 'escalation with escalation'
Associated Press/February 15, 2024
Senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Nabil Qaouq said Thursday at an event in south Lebanon that his group is “prepared for the possibility of expanding the war” with Israel, a day after the fiercest escalation since the beginning of clashes. Hezbollah will meet “escalation with escalation, displacement with displacement, and destruction with destruction,” Qaouq warned. At least 10 civilians were killed and several others were wounded in Israeli airstrikes Wednesday across south Lebanon. The airstrikes followed the death of an Israeli soldier and the wounding of seven others in a rocket attack on the Israeli army’s northern headquarters in Safad, some 12 kilometers away from the Lebanese border. Hezbollah has not claimed responsibility for the attack but many of its officials have vowed a response to the killing of civilians. The cross-border violence has killed at least 254 people on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 38 civilians.

Mikati condemns Israeli strikes that killed 10 civilians in single day
Naharnet/February 15, 2024
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned Thursday the escalation as more Israeli strikes were reported in south Lebanon. "At a time where we are insisting on calm and call all sides to not escalate, we find the Israeli enemy extending its aggression," read a statement from Mikati's office. The fatalities Wednesday marked a significant escalation in more than four months of daily cross-border exchanges since Oct. 8. Ten people, mostly women and children, were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Nabatiyeh and Souaneh. Three Hezbollah fighters were also killed Wednesday. Government institutions, schools and the Lebanese University closed on Thursday in Nabatiyeh as a security precaution. In the northern Israeli town of Safed, a female Israeli soldier was killed and eight others were wounded by rockets fired from Lebanon Wednesday. Hezbollah did not claim the strike.
Mikati said Lebanon will file a complaint to the U.N. Security Council against Israel.

Sami Gemayel condemns Israel, criticizes Hezbollah over Nabatiyeh massacre
Naharnet/February 15, 2024
Kataeb Party leader MP Sami Gemayel on Thursday stressed that “all the Israeli excuses for targeting civilians are rejected and condemned,” hours after ten Lebanese civilians were killed in Israeli airstrikes across south Lebanon. “The bill for the theories of ‘supporting Gaza’ and ‘distracting Israel’ should not be paid by innocent Lebanese,” Gemayel said in a post on the X platform, apparently hitting out at Hezbollah’s arguments for its involvement in the ongoing conflict. “The residents of the South are daily paying from their blood, souls and properties the price of a war imposed on them by Hezbollah following a unilateral decision,” Gemayel added. “Yesterday it was the turn of Nabatiyeh, where children and mothers fell as martyrs, and we offer warm condolences to their families,” he said. The raid late Wednesday in Nabatiyeh resulted in the highest civilian death toll in a single strike in Lebanon since cross-border hostilities began in October, raising fears of a broader conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. The cross-border violence has killed at least 254 people on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 38 civilians.

Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 15-16/2024
World leaders urge Israel to avoid 'catastrophic' Rafah operation

Agence France Presse./February 15, 2024
Israel's vow to push ahead with a "powerful" operation in Gaza's Rafah was met with a growing chorus of international condemnation Thursday, with leaders warning against catastrophic consequences for the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped there. Australia, Canada and New Zealand warned Israel "not to go down this path", issuing a rare joint statement in the latest urgent appeal seeking to avert further mass civilian casualties. "An expanded military operation would be devastating," they said. "There is simply nowhere else for civilians to go." Hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have been driven into Gaza's southernmost city by Israel's relentless military campaign, seeking shelter in a sprawling makeshift encampment near the Egypt border. Despite pressure from foreign governments and aid agencies not to invade, Israel insists it must push into Rafah and eliminate Hamas battalions. "We will fight until complete victory and this includes a powerful action also in Rafah after we allow the civilian population to leave the battle zones," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Wednesday. His threats of an imminent incursion come as mediators race for a truce in the four-month-old war, which has flattened vast swathes of Gaza, displaced most of the territory's population and pushed people to the brink of starvation. Should the Israeli assault on Rafah go ahead, the risk of atrocities is "serious, real and high", the United Nations' special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, said Wednesday.
'Delusional demands' -
In Cairo, mediators from the United States, Qatar and Egypt are seeking to broker a deal that would suspend fighting and see the release of the roughly 130 hostages still in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. "Israel did not receive in Cairo any new proposal of Hamas on the release of our hostages," Netanyahu's office said in a statement following Israeli media reports that the country's delegation was told not to rejoin negotiations until Hamas softens its stance. While he did not comment directly on the reports, Netanyahu said: "I insist that Hamas drop their delusional demands, and when they drop these demands we can move forward." On Tuesday, CIA director William Burns joined the talks with David Barnea, head of Israel's Mossad intelligence service, while a Hamas delegation was in Cairo Wednesday. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, who governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank, called on Hamas to "rapidly" agree to a truce and stave off further tragedy for Palestinians. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation meanwhile revealed that its director, Christopher Wray, had made an unannounced trip to Israel to meet with the country's law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Wray also met with FBI agents based in Tel Aviv, according to a statement from the bureau.
Hospitals 'besieged' -
While truce negotiations enter their third day, Israel's military has kept up its bombardment of Gaza. On Thursday, the Hamas-run ministry of health said 107 people, "mostly women and children," were killed in overnight attacks. One person was killed and several wounded in shelling on Nasser Hospital's orthopaedics department, it added. The medical facility, the largest in southern Gaza, has been the site of heavy fighting for weeks. Doctors Without Borders has condemned the Israeli military's order to evacuate thousands of patients, staff and displaced people from the hospital. The organization said its staff are continuing to treat patients there "amid near impossible conditions". Nurse Mohammed al-Astal told AFP the facility had been "besieged" for a month, with no food or drinking water left. "At night, tanks opened heavy fire on the hospital and snipers on the roofs of buildings surrounding Nasser Hospital opened fire and killed three displaced people," he said. The World Health Organization has said it was denied access to the hospital and lost contact with its staff there, while its Palestine representative said most of the organization's mission requests have been denied since January. Speaking from Rafah, Rik Peeperkorn said Gaza's hospitals were "completely overwhelmed". Patients were frequently undergoing unnecessary amputations of limbs that could have been saved under ordinary circumstances, he said. The United Nations said a week ago there were no fully functioning hospitals left in Gaza, where more than 68,200 people have been wounded according to the latest Gaza health ministry toll. The ministry says at least 28,576 people, mostly women and children, have been killed during Israel's assault on the Palestinian territory since October 7. The Hamas attack that launched the war resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
'War in the north'
With regional tensions high, the Israeli army said Wednesday that rocket fire from Lebanon killed an Israeli soldier, while Lebanese sources said Israeli strikes had killed nine people, seven of them civilians. Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, Hezbollah has traded near-daily fire with Israeli troops, with tens of thousands displaced on both sides. But the worst single-day civilian death toll in Lebanon since October raised fears of a broader conflict between Israel and militant group Hezbollah. After meeting commanders near the Lebanese border, Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi said Israel is "now focused on being ready for war in the north".

Families of hostages demand Netanyahu immediately continue hostage negotiations

Lauren Irwin/The Hill./February 15, 2024
The family members of hostages taken by Hamas demanded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately continue negotiations Thursday, as efforts for a cease-fire have stalled. “We want a deal. As members of hostage families, we want our family members home immediately. If there’s not a deal immediately, then we want to see the people who need to be at the negotiating table come back to the table,” Abbey Onn, the cousin of one of the hostages, said in a statement. “We need to see Israel at the table with their partners and trying to make diplomacy work.”
Onn and other family members gathered for a virtual press conference Thursday to press Netanyahu after he rejected Hamas’s response to secure the release of hostages in exchange for a pause in fighting. Netanyahu accused Hamas of dragging the negotiations by having “delusional” demands. His remarks came after reports found that he ordered his Israeli delegation to stop negotiations in Egypt. Israel did not receive a new proposal from Hamas militants in Cairo, and called for them to change their proposal, The Associated Press reported. Of the more than 200 hostages taken on Oct. 7, there are about 130 remaining and about a fourth of them are said to be dead, The AP noted. Family members are concerned that Netanyahu isn’t listening to their demands, and argued they must speak with the war cabinet, as Israeli soldiers prepare to enter the southern city of Rafah in Gaza, which is sheltering more than 1.5 million Palestinians. Netanyahu has consistently called for Hamas to release hostages and vowed to use military force to demolish Hamas in order to get the remaining hostages back, but relatives are questioning his motives. Since Israel launched its counteroffensive, more than 28,000 Palestinians have died, the Gaza Health Ministry reported. “If the Prime Minister was committed to releasing the hostages, there would be a team in Cairo negotiating,” Liz Naftali, the great aunt of a former hostage, said in a statement.

Leaders of Egypt and Brazil call for Gaza ceasefire
Associated Press/February 15/2024
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and reiterated their support for an independent Palestinian state. “We agreed on the importance of a cease-fire in the Gaza strip and the release of (Israeli) hostages and (Palestinian) prisoners and the passage of as much humanitarian aid as possible in order to preserve the lives of civilians,” al-Sisi said in a news conference attended by Lula in Cairo. The Brazilian leader was visiting Egypt as part of a trip strengthening relations with Africa. “Peace cannot be achieved without the establishment of an independent Palestinian state,” Lula told reporters. He also said his country supported the genocide case filed by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice. “Brazil had strongly denounced the Hamas attack on Israel and we called it a terrorist attack," Lula said. "However, there is no justification for the way Israel reacted. Unfortunately, it is killing women and children.”

Israel complains after Vatican denounces 'carnage' in Gaza

Associated Press/February 15/2024
Israel has formally complained after a senior Vatican official spoke of "carnage" in Gaza and what he termed a disproportionate Israeli military operation following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. The Israeli Embassy to the Holy See called the comments by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, "regrettable." In a statement Wednesday, the embassy said Parolin hadn't considered what it called the relevant facts in judging the legitimacy of Israel's actions. Speaking Tuesday at a reception, Parolin condemned the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks against Israel and all forms of antisemitism. But he questioned Israel's claim to be acting in self-defense by inflicting "carnage" on Gaza. "Israel's right to self-defense has been invoked to justify that this operation is proportional, but with 30,000 dead, it's not," he said. Israel has objected previously to the Vatican position on the war, including when Pope Francis spoke about "terrorism." Francis, who speaks daily via videoconference to a Gaza parish housing Palestinian civilians, has since tried to be more balanced in his comments and recently wrote a letter to the Jewish people in which he reaffirmed the special relationship between Christians and Jews. In its statement complaining about Parolin, the Israeli Embassy accused Hamas of turning the Gaza Strip into "the biggest terrorist base ever seen." It said Israeli armed forces were acting according to international law and said the proportion of Palestinian civilians to "terrorists" killed was less than in other conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Italian language statement originally emailed to Vatican journalists, the embassy used the term "deplorevole" or deplorable to describe Parolin's comments. On Thursday, the embassy clarified that its original statement was written in English and had referred to Parolin's comments as "regrettable." In a front-page editorial Thursday in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano titled "Stop the Carnage," Vatican editorial director Andrea Tornielli doubled down on the Vatican position. Tornielli quoted a Rome-based Holocaust survivor, Edith Bruck, who has been highly critical of the Israeli government's response, which she has blamed for the rise in antisemitic acts against Jews around the world. "No one can define what is happening in the Strip as 'collateral damage' from the fight against terrorism," Tornielli wrote. "The right of defense, the right of Israel to ensure justice for those responsible for the October massacre, cannot justify this carnage."

Israel is urging the top UN court to reject a new South African request on Gaza provisional orders

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP)/February 15, 2024
Israel on Thursday urged the United Nations’ highest court to reject an urgent South African request to consider whether Israel’s military operations targeting the southern Gaza city of Rafah breach provisional orders the court handed down last month in a case alleging genocide.
South Africa asked the International Court of Justice to decide whether Israel’s strikes on Rafah, and its intention to launch a ground offensive on the city where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering, breaches both the U.N. Genocide Convention and preliminary orders handed down by the court last month in a case accusing Israel of genocide. In a three-page submission released Thursday by the court, Israel labeled the new South African request “ highly peculiar and improper."It goes on to say the request is “evidence of a renewed and cynical effort by South Africa to use provisional measures as a sword, rather than a shield, and to manipulate the Court to protect South Africa’s longtime ally Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organization, from Israel’s inherent right and obligation to defend itself” and seek to free the more than 130 hostages still being held by Hamas.Israel strongly denies committing genocide in Gaza and says it does all it can to spare civilians and is only targeting Hamas militants. It says Hamas’ tactic of embedding in civilian areas makes it difficult to avoid civilian casualties. Israel’s assault has wrought destruction in Gaza, with more than 28,000 people killed, over 70% of them women, children and young teens, according to local health officials in the Hamas-controlled enclave. Around 80% of the population has been displaced and the U.N. says more than a quarter of Palestinians in Gaza are being pushed toward starvation.
Israel says it has killed thousands of militants in its aim of crushing Hamas in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attacks on southern Israel. About 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and 250 were taken hostage. In a statement Tuesday, South Africa’s government called Rafah “the last refuge for surviving people in Gaza.” It asked the top U.N. court to consider using its powers to issue additional preliminary orders telling Israel to halt the deaths and destruction there. South Africa already alleged Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people in its war against the Hamas militant group in Gaza and filed a case with the world court in December. A ruling on the genocide allegation could take years. In its latest submission to the world court, Israel says South Africa “now seeks essentially to relitigate — through a truncated process in which it alarmingly sought to deprive Israel of the right to be heard — what the Court has only recently considered and decided” following hearings last month. Israel says that the situation in Gaza is “not qualitatively different” to what South Africa claimed in its original request for urgent measures and says South Africa misuses one of the court's rules in filing its latest request. “What is more, nothing in South Africa’s present request establishes that the provisional measures already indicated by the Court would no longer be sufficient,” Israel's document says. It also notes that the request came “less than three weeks after the Court delivered its Order indicating provisional measures, and a very short time prior to the due date for the submission by Israel of a report pursuant to that Order.” It is not clear when the court will make a decision on South Africa's request.

Israeli siege has placed Gazans at risk of starvation − prewar policies made them vulnerable in the first place
Yara M. Asi, University of Central Florida/The Conversation/Thu, February 15, 2024
The stories of hunger emerging from war-ravaged Gaza are stark: People resorting to grinding barely edible cattle feed to make flour; desperate residents eating grass; reports of cats being hunted for food. The numbers involved are just as despairing. The world’s major authority on food insecurity, the IPC Famine Review Committee, estimates that 90% of Gazans – some 2.08 million people – are facing acute food insecurity. Indeed, of the people facing imminent starvation in the world today, an estimated 95% are in Gaza. As an expert in Palestinian public health, I fear the situation may not have hit its nadir. In January 2024, many of the top funders to UNRWA, the U.N.’s refugee agency that provides the bulk of services to Palestinians in Gaza, suspended donations to the agency in response to allegations that a dozen of the agency’s 30,000 employees were possibly involved in the Oct. 7, 2023, attack by Hamas. The agency has indicated that it will no longer be able to offer services starting in March and will lose its ability to distribute food and other vital supplies during that month. With at least 28,000 people confirmed dead and an additional 68,000 injured, Israeli bombs have already had a catastrophic human cost in Gaza – starvation could be the next tragedy to befall the territory. Indeed, two weeks after Israel initiated a massive military campaign in the Gaza Strip, Oxfam International reported that only around 2% of the usual amount of food was being delivered to residents in the territory. At the time, Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam’s Middle East director, commented that “there can be no justification for using starvation as a weapon of war.” But four months later, the siege continues to restrict the distribution of adequate aid.
Putting Palestinians ‘on a diet’
Israeli bombs have destroyed homes, bakeries, food production factories and grocery stores, making it harder for people in Gaza to offset the impact of the reduced imports of food. But food insecurity in Gaza and the mechanisms that enable it did not start with Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attack. A U.N. report from 2022 found that a year before the latest war, 65% of Gazans were food insecure, defined as lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food. Multiple factors contributed to this food insecurity, not least the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and enabled by Egypt since 2007. All items entering the Gaza Strip, including food, become subject to Israeli inspection, delay or denial. Basic foodstuff was allowed, but because of delays at the border, it can spoil before it enters Gaza. A 2009 investigation by Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz found that foods as varied as cherries, kiwi, almonds, pomegranates and chocolate were prohibited entirely. At certain points, the blockade, which Israel claims is an unavoidable security measure, has been loosened to allow import of more foods; for example, in 2010 Israel started to permit potato chips, fruit juices, Coca-Cola and cookies.
By placing restrictions on food imports, Israel seems to be trying to put pressure on Hamas by making life difficult for the people in Gaza. In the words of one Israeli government adviser in 2006, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”
To enable this, the Israeli government commissioned a 2008 study to work out exactly how many calories Palestinians would need to avoid malnutrition. The report was released to the public only following a 2012 legal battle. The blockade also increased food insecurity by preventing meaningful development of an economy in Gaza. The U.N. cites the “excessive production and transaction costs and barriers to trade with the rest of the world” imposed by Israel as the primary cause of severe underdevelopment in the occupied territories, including Gaza. As a result, in late 2022 the unemployment rate in Gaza stood at around 50%. This, coupled with a steady increase in the cost of food, makes affording food difficult for many Gazan households, rendering them dependent on aid, which fluctuates frequently.
Hampering self-sufficency
More generally, the blockade and the multiple rounds of destruction of parts of the Gaza Strip have made food sovereignty in the territory nearly impossible. Much of Gaza’s farmland is along the so-called “no-go zones,” which Israel had rendered inaccessible to Palestinians, who risk being shot if they attempt to access these areas. Gaza’s fishermen are regularly shot at by Israeli gunboats if they venture farther in the Mediterranean Sea than Israel permits. Because the fish closer to the shore are smaller and less plentiful, the average income of a fisherman in Gaza has more than halved since 2017. Meanwhile, much of the infrastructure needed for adequate food production – greenhouses, arable lands, orchards, livestock and food production facilities – have been destroyed or heavily damaged in various rounds of bombing in Gaza. And international donors have hesitated to hastily rebuild facilities when they cannot guarantee their investment will last more than a few years before being bombed again. The latest siege has only further crippled the ability of Gaza to be food self-sufficient. By early December 2023, an estimated 22% of agricultural land had been destroyed, along with factories, farms, and water and sanitation facilities. And the full scale of the destruction may not be clear for months or years. Meanwhile, Israel’s flooding of the tunnels under parts of the Gaza Strip with seawater risks killing remaining crops, leaving the land too salty and rendering it unstable and prone to sinkholes.
Starvation as weapon of war
Aside from the many health effects of starvation and malnutrition, especially on children, such conditions make people more vulnerable to disease – already a significant concern for those living in the overcrowded shelters where people have been forced to flee. In response to the current hunger crisis in Gaza, Alex de Waal, author of “Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine,” has made clear: “While it may be possible to bomb a hospital by accident, it is not possible to create a famine by accident.” He argues that the war crime of starvation does not need to include outright famine – merely the act of depriving people of food, medicine and clean water is sufficient. The use of starvation is strictly forbidden under the Geneva Conventions, a set of statutes that govern the laws of warfare. Starvation has been condemned by United Nations Resolution 2417, which decried the use of deprivation of food and basic needs of the civilian population and compelled parties in conflict to ensure full humanitarian access. Human Rights Watch has already accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war, and as such it accuses the Israeli government of a war crime. The Israeli government in turn continues to blame Hamas for any loss of life in Gaza. Yet untangling what Israel’s intentions may be – whether it is using starvation as a weapon of war, to force mass displacement, or if, as it claims, it is simply a byproduct of war – does little for the people on the ground in Gaza. They require immediate intervention to stave off catastrophic outcomes. As one father in Gaza reported, “We are forced to eat one meal a day – the canned goods that we get from aid organizations. No one can afford to buy anything for his family. I see children here crying from hunger, including my own children.” This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization bringing you facts and trustworthy analysis to help you make sense of our complex world. It was written by: Yara M. Asi, University of Central Florida.

Israeli forces storm Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis after prolonged standoff
Associated Press/February 15, 2024
Israeli forces stormed the main hospital in southern Gaza on Thursday, hours after Israeli fire killed a patient and wounded six others inside the complex, the Gaza Health Ministry said. The raid came a day after the army sought to evacuate thousands of displaced people who had taken shelter at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. The southern city has been the main target of Israel's offensive against Hamas in recent weeks. Separately, Israeli airstrikes killed at least 13 people in southern Lebanon on Wednesday, 10 civilians — mostly women and children — and three fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, an ally of Gaza's Hamas militants. The strikes came just hours after a rocket attack from Lebanon killed an Israeli soldier in what was the deadliest of daily exchanges of fire along the border since the Oct. 7 start of the war in Gaza. It also underscored the risks of a broader conflict. Negotiations over a cease-fire in Gaza appear to have stalled, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive until Hamas is destroyed and scores of hostages taken during the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war are returned.
Nasser Hospital, in the southern city of Khan Younis, has been the latest focus of operations that have gutted Gaza's health sector as it struggles to treat scores of patients wounded in daily bombardments. Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals and other civilian structures to shield its fighters.
Video of the aftermath of the strike showed medics scrambling to wheel patients on stretchers through a corridor filled with smoke or dust. A medic used a cellphone flashlight to illuminate a darkened room where a wounded man screamed out in pain as gunfire echoed outside. The Associated Press could not authenticate the videos but they were consistent with its reporting. Dr. Khaled Alserr, one of the remaining surgeons at Nasser Hospital, told the AP that the seven patients hit early Thursday were already being treated for past wounds. On Wednesday, a doctor was lightly wounded when a drone opened fire on the upper stories of the hospital, he said.
"The situation is escalating every hour and every minute," he said.
The Israeli military said Wednesday that it had opened a secure corridor for displaced people to leave the hospital but would allow doctors and patients to remain there. Videos circulating online showed scores of people walking out of the facility on foot carrying their belongings on their shoulders.
The military had ordered the evacuation of Nasser Hospital and surrounding areas last month. But as with other health facilities, medics said patients were unable to safely leave or be relocated, and thousands of people displaced by fighting elsewhere remained there. Palestinians say nowhere is safe in the besieged territory, as Israel continues to carry out strikes in all parts of it. "People have been forced into an impossible situation," said Lisa Macheiner of the aid group Doctors Without Borders, which has staff in the hospital. "Stay at Nasser Hospital against the Israeli military's orders and become a potential target, or exit the compound into an apocalyptic landscape where bombings and evacuation orders are a part of daily life."
The war began when Hamas militants burst through Israel's formidable defenses on Oct. 7 and rampaged through several communities, killing some 1,200 people and taking another 250 hostage. More than 100 of the captives were freed during a cease-fire last year in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Around 130 captives remain in Gaza, a fourth of whom are believed to be dead. Netanyahu has come under intense pressure from families of the hostages and the wider public to make a deal to secure their freedom, but his far-right coalition partners could bring down his government if he is seen as being too soft on Hamas.
Israel responded to the Oct. 7 attack by launching one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history. Over 28,000 Palestinians have been killed, 80% of the population have fled their homes and a quarter are starving amid a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. Large areas in northern Gaza, the first target of the offensive, have been completely destroyed Hamas has continued to attack Israeli forces in all parts of Gaza, and says it will not release all the remaining captives until Israel ends its offensive and withdraws. Hamas is also demanding the release of a large number of Palestinian prisoners, including top militants. Netanyahu has rejected those demands, calling them "delusional," and says Israel will soon expand its offensive into Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, on the Egyptian border. Over half of Gaza's population of 2.3 million has sought refuge in Rafah after fleeing fighting elsewhere in the coastal enclave. At least 28,576 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, mostly women and children, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Over 68,000 people have been wounded in the war. In northern Israel, meanwhile, a rocket attack killed a female soldier and wounded eight people when one of the projectiles hit a military base in the town of Safed on Wednesday. Israel carried out airstrikes in southern Lebanon in response that killed three Hezbollah fighters and 10 civilians, including six women and three children. Israel and Hezbollah have traded fire along the border nearly every day since the start of the war in Gaza. Hezbollah has not claimed responsibility for Wednesday's rocket attack.

Blinken offers condolences on reported killings of two Americans in West Bank and calls for investigation

Jennifer Hansler, CNN/February 15, 2024
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday offered his “deepest condolences” to the families of two Palestinian-American teenagers “who reportedly were killed” in the West Bank and said that there must be an investigation into their deaths. “We’ve made clear that with regard to the incidents you’ve alluded to, there needs to be an investigation. We need to get the facts. And if appropriate, there needs to be accountability,” Blinken said at a press conference in Albania in response to a question from CNN’s Alex Marquardt. Two 17-year-old Palestinian-Americans were reportedly killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces in less than a month. 17-year-old Mohammad Ahmed Mohammad Khdour was shot in the head by Israeli forces on Saturday while traveling by car in the town of Biddu, according to the organization “Defense for Children – Palestine.” CNN has reached out to the Israel Defense Forces about the reported shooting. The US Office of Palestinian Affairs said in a post on X that it was “devastated by the killing.”Last month, another American, 17-year-old Tawfic Abdel, was fatally shot in the head, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA. The IDF and Israeli police told CNN that they had opened an investigation into the incident. A number of American citizens have also been detained by Israeli forces in recent weeks. Blinken would not give details on their cases, citing privacy laws.
“I can just say in general, without reference to specific cases, we insist that people be treated fairly, that they be treated with due process, and that they be treated humanely,” he said. “That’s something that, regardless of where an American citizen might be detained, we insist on. And we’ll continue to insist on.”
Two Americans, Hashem Alagha, 20, and Borak Alagha, 18, were detained by Israeli forces during a raid of a home in Gaza last week, according to a family member in the United States. An American woman, Samaher Esmail, was taken from her home in the West Bank and detained more than a week ago by Israeli forces. Her family alleges that she was beaten and denied medication in custody. A spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service told CNN that she is “being held in accordance with the law” and “given medical treatment for medical problems that arose even before her arrest.”In a statement to CNN Tuesday, the IDF said Esmail was arrested during “a battalion operation that took place in the area of the village of Silwad to arrest terror suspects” on February 5. “All those arrested in the operation were transferred to the security forces for further treatment,” the IDF said. The IDF did not address the family’s claims about Esmail’s mistreatment in custody and referred further questions to the Israel Prison Service, to whom CNN has reached out. The IDF response also did not provide further details about the alleged “incitement on social media.”According to the family, Esmail was detained because of “10-year-old Facebook posts and political cartoons she shared.”Posts from Esmail’s Facebook seen by CNN show cartoons favorably depicting Hamas and two photos of her holding a gun. Family spokesperson Jonathan Franks said the gun is in Louisiana, where Esmail also resides and legally owns the firearm.
“Ms. Esmail’s opinions may be disfavored in Israel proper, but the inescapable reality is they were protected speech which no rational person could consider an incitement to violence,” the statement released by Franks on behalf of the family said.

US conducted cyberattack on suspected Iranian spy ship, NBC News reports
Reuters/February 15, 2024
The United States conducted a cyberattack recently against an Iranian military ship in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden that had been collecting intelligence on cargo vessels, NBC News reported on Thursday, citing three U.S. officials. The cyberattack took place a week ago as part of a government response to a drone attack by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan late last month and wounded dozens of others, the report said. NBC reported that the operation was intended to inhibit the ship’s ability to share intelligence with Houthi militants in Yemen. The Iran-aligned Houthi, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, have launched a wave of exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in recent weeks, calling it a response to Israel's military operations in Gaza and a show of solidarity with Palestinians. The attacks have slowed trade between Asia and Europe and raised fears of supply bottlenecks. The U.S. military has responded with strikes against the group. President Joe Biden said in January that strikes on Houthi targets would continue even as he acknowledged they may not be halting their attacks.The White House National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the NBC News report.

Germany Says Turkey and Greece to Join Missile-Defense Plan
Bloomberg/February 15, 2024
Turkey and Greece will formally join a German-led missile-defense project Thursday, taking the number of members of the so-called European Sky Shield Initiative to 21, according to German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius. “This is a considerable number in such a short time,” Pistorius told reporters before a meeting with his NATO counterparts in Brussels. The push to bolster Europe’s air defenses by the government in Berlin was first announced by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a speech in Prague in August 2022. It involves countries jointly procuring air- and missile-defense systems and is designed to increase cost efficiency and flexibility. However, the move has upset France, which has not joined up, because it wants European nations to purchase systems made by the continent’s own contractors rather than rely partly on equipment produced in the US and Israel. Both Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Dendias and the Turkish Defense Ministry confirmed a signing ceremony would take place Thursday. Pistorius also told reporters that he’ll sign a purchase contract Thursday with his Slovenian counterpart for an IRIS-T SLM air-defense system.

France and Ukraine to sign a security agreement in Paris in the presence of President Zelenskyy
PARIS (AP)/February 15, 2024
French President Emmanuel Macron will sign a bilateral security agreement with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on Friday in Paris to provide “long-term support” to the war-ravaged country which has been battling Russia's full-scale invasion for nearly two years. The French presidency said in a statement Thursday that Macron and Zelenskyy's bilateral meeting in late afternoon will be followed by a news conference and a working dinner at the Elysee presidential palace. It did not release specific details about the agreement. Macron said earlier this year that France was negotiating a bilateral deal on the model the one Ukraine recently agreed with the United Kingdom, which covers 10 years and provides a package worth 2.5 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) over the next fiscal year. It is the largest the U.K. has given to Ukraine since the war began. A French official, speaking anonymously because he was not allowed to disclosed the details of the deal, said the agreement aims to “provide long-term support” to Ukraine as well as sending a "message of determination." He said it was part of a “collective approach” from the Group of Seven most advanced economies, as per commitments made at a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July. The Group of Seven then vowed to provide weapons and military equipment, including combat airpower, as well as more military training for Ukraine’s beleaguered army. Zelenskyy asked that these assurances last at least until Ukraine joins NATO. The French-Ukrainian agreement will include financial and economic support, in addition to military and security commitments, the official said. This will be Zelenskyy's third visit to Paris since the Russian invasion, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago, following his trips in February and May 2023. The French presidency said Macron and Zelenskyy will discuss the situation on the front line, Ukraine’s military, economic and humanitarian needs, as well as negotiations on the country's efforts to join the European Union, which France fully supports. Ukraine's presidential office said Zelenskyy will also visit Germany on Friday, where he will meet with Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, before traveling to Paris. On Saturday, he will take part in the Munich Security Conference, where he will hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines, including with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Czech President Petr Pavel, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the statement said. Zelenskyy's trip also comes after leaders of the 27 European Union countries sealed a deal earlier this month to provide Ukraine with 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in support for its battered economy.

UN Envoy: Military Escalation in Red Sea Slows Down Peace Efforts in Yemen
Asharq Al Awsat/February 15/2024
The United Nations envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, has warned of the dangers of military escalation in the Red Sea and said that tension had begun to slow down peace efforts in Yemen. “Mediation efforts in Yemen cannot be neatly cordoned off. What happens regionally impacts Yemen, and what happens in Yemen can impact the region,” Grundberg said Wednesday at a Security Council briefing on Yemen.
He expressed his gratitude for the roles of Saudi Arabia and Oman in supporting the UN mediation. "Rising regional tensions linked to the war in Gaza, and in particular the military escalation in the Red Sea, are slowing down the pace of the peace efforts in Yemen," he said. The UN envoy urged Yemeni parties to “stop public provocations and refrain from military opportunism inside Yemen at this delicate juncture. Escalation in Yemen is a choice.”“The parties need to refocus on safeguarding the progress made thus far toward reaching an agreement.”Meanwhile, UK’s Ambassador Barbara Woodward told the Council that “there is no military solution to this conflict.” “We are cautiously encouraged to hear the support of parties for peace,” said the diplomat. Woodward warned of Houthis’ “destabilizing attacks in the Red Sea,” saying they disrupt maritime shipping and freedom of navigation in the region and risk further regional escalation. Commenting on the US-British strikes on Houthi sites, the British Ambassador said the navies attacked targets linked to the Houthis in the Red Sea, asserting the two nations' commitment to the peace process in Yemen. She recalled that the UK has committed over $110 million in humanitarian aid during this financial year.
Visit to Taiz
Yemen’s political parties and the public did not receive the UN Envoy's second visit to Taiz well, coming from Aden, the temporary capital. The visit was part of a regional tour to various countries ahead of his briefing to the Security Council.
Grundberg reiterated his concern about the Houthi escalation in the Red Sea during his meeting with Taiz’s local authorities, stressing that this escalation affects the besieged governorate and the efforts to achieve peace and establish a road map.
The Envoy is seeking to revive the security efforts amid fears that the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea will affect navigation. He called for continued work to ensure no return to military action, focus on reducing the escalation in the Red Sea, overcome all challenges to reach a road map that includes engaging in a political process, and prepare for a comprehensive peace that the Yemenis seek.
Closed roads
Taiz local authorities announced that Governor Nabil Shamsan discussed the local situation and efforts to achieve peace with Grundberg, where he focused on the importance of opening roads to alleviate human suffering. The recent developments in the Red Sea led to a price hike of goods and foodstuff, increased transport costs resulting from the blockade, the continuation of the attacks, and the ongoing escalation on the fronts. Shamsan also called for accommodating the humanitarian and development needs of the governorate. A Yemeni government source believed the UN envoy was trying to revive his efforts before the expected renewal of his mandate, which did not achieve any progress in the peace efforts, aside from a fragile ceasefire.
New developments
The source, who preferred not to be named, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Grundberg sought to deliver a warning to the Houthi group to suggest a change in the international position on the Yemeni crisis and the proposed solutions. Yemeni writer and researcher Mustafa al-Jabzi said Grundberg’s visit to Taiz reflects a desire to show that he is concerned more about issues that matter to the public. In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, the researcher noted that Houthi interventions in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden stopped all the Envoy’s efforts, saying his latest moves were an attempt at salvaging what could be saved. Yemeni writer Bassem Mansour criticized Grundberg's visit to Taiz, saying it does not achieve any progress, describing it as a mere opportunity to restore his role and endeavors.

On the USS Eisenhower, 4 months of combat at sea facing Houthi missiles and USVs
Associated Press/February 15/2024
Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its accompanying warships have spent four months straight at sea defending against ballistic missiles and flying attack drones fired by Iranian-backed Houthis, and are now more regularly also defending against a new threat — fast unmanned vessels that are fired at them through the water. While the Houthis have launched unmanned surface vessels, or USVs, in the past against Saudi coalition forces that have intervened in Yemen's civil war, they were used for the first time against U.S. military and commercial in the Red Sea on Jan. 4. In the weeks since, the Navy has had to intercept and destroy multiple USVs. It's "more of an unknown threat that we don't have a lot of intel on, that could be extremely lethal — an unmanned surface vessel," said Rear Adm. Marc Miguez, commander of Carrier Strike Group Two, of which the Eisenhower is the flagship. The Houthis "have ways of obviously controlling them just like they do the (unmanned aerial vehicles), and we have very little little fidelity as to all the stockpiles of what they have USV-wise," Miguez said. The Houthis began firing on U.S. military and commercial vessels after a deadly blast at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza on Oct. 17, a few days after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. The rebels have said they will continue firing on commercial and military vessels transiting the region until Israel ceases its military operations inside Gaza. The Eisenhower has been on patrol here since Nov. 4, and some of its accompanying ships have been on location for even longer, since October. In those months the Eisenhower's fleet of fighter and surveillance aircraft have worked non-stop to detect and intercept the missiles and drones fired by the Houthis at ships in the Red Sea, Bab-al-Mandeb strait and Gulf of Aden. The carriers' F/A-18 fighter jets are also frequently launched to take out missile sites they detect before munitions are fired.
As of Wednesday, the carrier strike group, which includes the cruiser USS Philippine Sea, the destroyers USS Mason and Gravely, and additional U.S. Navy assets in the region including the destroyers USS Laboon and USS Carney have conducted more than 95 intercepts of drones, anti-ship ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles and made more than 240 self-defense strikes on more than 50 Houthi targets. On Wednesday, the strike group intercepted and destroyed seven additional anti-ship cruise missiles and another explosive USV prepared to launch against vessels in the Red Sea. "We are constantly keeping an eye on what the Iranian-backed Houthis are up to, and when we find military targets that threaten the ability of merchant vessels, we act in defense of those ships and strike them precisely and violently," said Capt. Marvin Scott, commander of the carrier air wing's eight squadrons of warplanes. But the USV threat, which is still evolving, is worrisome, Miguez said. "That's one of the most scary scenarios, to have a bomb-laden, unmanned surface vessel that can go in pretty fast speeds. And if you're not immediately on scene, it can get ugly extremely quick," Miguez said.
U.S. Central Command also reported Thursday that the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Clarence Sutphin Jr. boarded a vessel in the Arabian Sea that was bound for Yemen on Jan. 28 and seized ballistic missile parts, USV components and military grade communications equipment. That pace has meant the ships have spent four months at a constant combat pace with no days off with a port call. That takes a toll on sailors, the commander of the Eisenhower, Capt. Christopher "Chowdah" Hill said in an interview with The Associated Press aboard the Eisenhower. The ship keeps up morale by letting sailors know how important their job is and by giving them wi-fi access so they can stay connected with their families back home.
"I was walking through the mess decks the other day and I could hear a baby crying because someone was teleconferencing with their infant that they haven't even met yet," Hill said. "It's just extraordinary, that sort of connection."The destroyers don't have wi-fi because of bandwidth limitations, which can make it harder for those crews. Joselyn Martinez, a second class gunner's mate aboard the destroyer Gravely said not being in touch with home and being in a fighting stance at sea for so long has been hard, "but we have each other's backs here."When a threat is detected, and an alarm sounds directing the crew to respond, "it is like a rush of adrenaline," Martinez said. "But at the end of the day, we just do what we come here to do and, you know, defend my crew and my ship."

Latest English LCCC  analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 15-16/2024
Understanding Islam: Theory vs Practice

Raymond Ibrahim/February 15/2024
The gulf between understanding Islam in theory and in practice is wide and telling. Based on the findings of a recent study, what Western peoples think of Islam when relying on secondhand information from the powers-that-be (the media, the political “elite,” etc.) is vastly different from what they think of Islam after personally experiencing it. According to the report, In 2009, Public Issue investigated, for the first time in Greece, the attitudes of Greeks towards Islam, the social perceptions of the concepts and symbols associated with the Islamic religion, the degree of knowledge and familiarity of citizens with the Islamic tradition, as well as the existing social beliefs regarding Islam-West and Islam-Greece relations. The study found a dramatic shift of opinion among Greeks between 2009, when Muslims in Greece were few and far between—meaning Greek opinion on Islam was theoretical and largely shaped by the media, etc.—and 2023, seven years after large Muslim migrant populations first began landing in or passing through Greece in 2016. Now, after experiencing Islam firsthand, “Greek public opinion … treats the Muslim world clearly more negatively or even hostilely,” the report found.
For example, in 2009, more than 5 out of 10 Greeks held a neutral attitude towards traditional concepts and symbols of the Islamic world, stating that they have “neither a positive nor a negative impression” of words associated with Islam, beginning with the word “Islam” itself. If only 23 percent of Greeks surveyed associated that word with negative feelings in 2009, by 2023 that number had more than doubled: now 59 percent of Greeks negatively associate the word “Islam.” Similar words, including “Arabs,” “Muslims,” “Koran,” “Prophet Muhammad,” and “mosque” also hold more negative connotations for Greeks than in 2009.
Little wonder. Since 2016, Greeks have had a major taste of Islam, leading to a “Crime explosion in Greece—55% of prisoners are migrants,” to quote the title of another recent report.
Aside from the massive spike in general criminality, the hate—from Islam to Christianity—is especially palpable. As discussed in this 2022 article, there were 2,339 incidents of church desecrations in Greece between just 2015 and 2020, when the tiny nation, seen as Europe’s eastern gateway, was flooded with migrants from the Islamic world. One report found “a correlation between the increase in illegal migration and the incidents of attacks on Greek Orthodox religious churches and religious spaces during the five year period which occurred during the peak of the migration crisis.”
Specific examples are many. In 2016, the Church of All Saints in Kallithea near Athens was set aflame by “Arabic speakers.” In April 2021, Muslim migrants entered into and utterly desecrated a small church. Proud of their handiwork, they also videotaped portions of the vandalism and uploaded it on TikTok. Before being removed, the video showed a topless migrant dancing to rap music as he walks towards and inside the church. The next clip shows the aftermath: devastation inside the church, with smashed icons and the altar overthrown.
In 2020, Muslim migrants ransacked and transformed another church into their personal toilet. “The smell inside is unbearable,” said a local of what was once the St. Catherine Church in Moria, a small town on the island of Lesvos, which was overwhelmed with migrants who arrived via Turkey. “[T]he metropolitan of Mytilene is aware of the situation in the area, nevertheless, he does not wish to deal with it for his own reasons.”
That 2020 report adds that
This is only the latest incident … [I]t has become extremely common for Greek Orthodox Churches to be vandalised and attacked by illegal immigrants on Lesvos. As a deeply religious society, these attacks on churches are shocking to the Greek people and calls to question whether these illegal immigrants seeking a new life in Europe are willing to integrate and conform to the norms and values of their new countries. In fact, the Greeks of Lesvos are paradigmatic of the change taking place in Greece:
These continued attacks have ultimately seen the people of Lesvos, who were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, become increasingly frustrated by the unresolved situation that has restricted and changed their lives as they no longer feel safe on their once near crime-free island.
It is further consistent and telling that Greeks polled in 2023 held a stronger dislike for migrants from those Muslim nations renowned for their “radical” tendencies—with Pakistan and Afghanistan at the top of the list. No doubt migrants from those nations, where Christians and other “infidels” are treated as subhuman and worse, have left an especially lasting impression.
At the same time, it is interesting to note that these changes are not as dramatic as one might expect. For starters, it should be understood that Greece is not just any Western nation: due to its proximity to the Muslim world, it has centuries of horrific experiences with Islam, especially in the guise of the Ottoman Empire. As such, the average Greek has always had a more negative view of Islam compared to the average Western European or American. Even in 2009, 67 percent of Greeks believed there was a “clash of cultures” between Christianity and Islam.
Although public opinion towards Islam is negatively shifting, these changes are not as pronounced as might be expected—underscoring the power of generations’ worth of indoctrination. In other words, abstract theory—enshrined by the notion that Islam is the otherwise forever “misunderstood” religion of “peace,” etc.—is still having an influence. The recent poll found, for example, that “the percentage of citizens who accept that there is an ‘Islamic danger’ has increased from 27% in 2009 to [only] 39% today (+12%).”
If this is Greece, what more will Western Europe need to experience to begin having the same, relatively modest, misgivings about Islam?

Biden’s Age Is a Campaign Problem, Not a Governing One
Michelle Goldberg/The New York Times/February 15/2024
Last fall I found myself at a dinner party that included a former Biden administration official and a Democratic donor, and the conversation turned, naturally, to President Biden’s age and his prospects for re-election.
The ex-official said that from inside the White House, where people experience the policymaking process firsthand, Biden was overwhelmingly seen as an effective leader who should run again. The donor, on the other hand, saw Biden mostly at the fund-raisers where watching the president’s meandering speeches left him terrified about the upcoming campaign. The gulf in their perceptions, I think, speaks to the fact that Biden’s age has impaired his ability to campaign much more than his ability to govern, which has created an impossible dilemma for the Democratic Party.
I have argued since 2022 that Biden shouldn’t run again because he’s too old, but there’s never been much sign that his advanced age affects his performance in office. I’m not aware of any leaks from the White House suggesting that Biden is confused, exhausted or forgetful when setting priorities or making decisions. It’s not just Democratic partisans who find Biden more impressive up close than his frail, halting image in the media would suggest. As Politico reported of the ousted House speaker Kevin McCarthy, “On a particularly sensitive matter, McCarthy mocked Biden’s age and mental acuity in public, while privately telling allies that he found the president sharp and substantive in their conversations.”
There are obviously things Biden does that I disagree with; I wish he’d take a much harder line with Israel over civilian casualties in Gaza. But while his reluctance to publicly criticize Israel might stem from an anachronistic view of the country — Biden likes to talk about the Labor Zionist prime minister Golda Meir, who left office 50 years ago — his position is a mainstream one in the Democratic Party and can’t be attributed to senescence. Because Biden has delivered on many Democratic priorities, there was never any real push within the party to get him to step aside. But it’s obvious to most people watching the president from afar that he looks fragile and diminished and that his well-known propensity for gaffes has gotten worse. Poll after poll shows that voters are very concerned about his age. That’s why the special counsel Robert Hur’s gratuitous swipes at Biden as someone who might seem to a jury like a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” have caused an epic freakout among Democrats. His words brought to the surface deep, terrifying doubts about Biden’s ability to do the one part of his job that matters above all others, which is beating Donald Trump.
That’s true even though the report by Hur, a former Trump appointee tapped by Merrick Garland to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents, looks like a partisan hit job. (Democratic attorneys general have a terrible habit of appointing Republican special counsels in an effort to display their own impartiality — a type of moral preening that Republican administrations rarely fall victim to.)
Since Hur decided not to charge Biden with any crimes, his comments about Biden’s age, particularly his claim that Biden couldn’t remember the year his son Beau died, seemed designed to shiv him politically. If so, it worked.
Some Democrats are now comparing the media fixation on Biden’s age to the saturation coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails eight years ago, and there are similarities.
Trump’s scandals are so multifarious that each one tends to get short shrift, while his opponents’ weaknesses and missteps can be examined at length precisely because there are fewer of them. This asymmetry worked to Trump’s advantage in 2016, and it’s helping him now.
But there’s also a crucial difference between Clinton’s emails and Biden’s years. Clinton’s vulnerability was never really about her insufficient care with information security protocols. Instead, the emails became a symbol of a powerful but inchoate sense, magnified by disproportionate press attention, that she was devious and deceptive. Biden’s age is a much more straightforward issue; people think he’s too old because of how he looks and sounds. Pretending it’s not a problem isn’t going to make voters worry about it less; it’s just going to make them feel they’re being lied to.
Instead, Biden’s campaign should be candid about the challenges of aging — which, of course, the increasingly incoherent Trump shares — while doing its best to demonstrate that Biden’s judgment and grasp of complicated issues are still strong.
That means doing a lot more interviews and events, especially those focused on policy questions, letting the American people see the version of Biden visible to those who work with him. He’ll almost certainly make plenty of verbal slips, but as they pile up, they might start to seem like old news, especially if he’s not defensive about them. And if he’s not up for a major change in strategy? It might sound extreme, but in that case, he should find some medical pretext to step aside in time for a replacement to be chosen at the Democratic convention. Biden’s greatest contribution to this country was saving us from another Trump term. If his unwillingness to face his own limitations now clears the way for Trump’s restoration, it will be not just a mistake but a tragedy.

A Political & Strategic analysis by Colonel Charbel Baraket addressing,  Israeli PM, Netanyahu's Peace Regional planes, and Iranian Mullahs' Destructive Schemes
Netanyahu and Iran
Colonel Charbel Barakat/February 16/ 2024
Between Netanyahu and Iran lies a long-standing conflict. Since the inception of the Iranian nuclear project, Netanyahu has been determined to combat it, convinced that it poses an existential threat to the state of Israel. He has repeatedly attempted to persuade Western allies, particularly the United States, of the necessity to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons, which he believes would lead to the destruction of the entire Middle East, including Israel. Consequently, Mr. Netanyahu has tried on several occasions to confront what was initially a pressure lobbying group composed of some Iranian immigrants within the United States, promoting Iran as a future ally to the West. They argued that a strong Iran, weakens the large bloc of Islamic countries, extending from central Asia to the Atlantic Ocean, and from Indonesia to Russia, consequently controlling the world's largest energy reserves and transportation routes between Europe, Asia, and Africa. Iran is capable of dividing the Islamic world between the Shia sect, which the Mullahs and some Middle Eastern minorities belong to, and the Sunni sect, which the majority of Muslim countries adhere to.
Mr. Netanyahu, is considered one of the greatest Prime Ministers of Israel, and in the disguisable patriotic status of Ben Gurion and the founders of the state. He may soon end his political career and decide to retire, as he will turn seventy-five this year. He led the right-wing "Likud party" for a long time and served as Prime Minister for 16 years, the longest tenure for a Prime Minister in the state of Israel. Mr. Netanyahu, insisted on working to remove the Iranian “existential threat" that jeopardizes the future of the Hebrew state. He therefore focused heavily on the issue, especially after it became apparent that President Obama, who occupied the White House from 2008 to 2016, adopted the Iranian lobby's idea and somewhat abandoned the traditional US allies in the Middle East by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and their regimes, and tolerating the rule of the Mullahs, which excelled greatly. Conversely, Obama's bias was very clear in the nuclear agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that allowed the release of $150 billion of Iranian funds frozen in the United States. It later became clear that the Iranian regime used part of this money to support what was known as the “Nuclear Agreement Lobby”. This lobbying group hindered President Trump's tenure and prevented him from renewing his term, leading to Biden's election as president and the return of the Obama team, which rushed to impose a policy of reconciliation with Tehran trying to reintroduce the agreement. This encouraged the Iranian regime, which had expanded into Syria and Iraq, after the rapid withdrawal of the US army ordered by President Obama and the revolution in Syria. Then extended towards Yemen to establish a base under the Houthis' umbrella to pressure Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and threaten international maritime routes.
During Obama's presidency, Netanyahu's warnings of the great danger posed by leniency towards Iran fell on deaf ears at the White House. Therefore, he turned to Congress and then to the Arab Gulf states, which fear Iranian control, especially after what happened in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia's Qatif, hoping to find someone who understands his position there. This facilitated the start of peaceful talks with these countries. However, the impact of the White House policy and the lobby mentioned above emerged in the political crisis that followed three consecutive elections in Israel between 2019 and 2020. Which had happened during Trump's turn, Trump himself faced a paralysis of his capabilities during that period. Afterwards, everyone's focus on the Covid global crisis, which halted all initiatives. Then efforts tried to tarnish the PM, Netanyahu’s image and judicial charges were put against him to keep him preoccupied with personal matters defending himself instead of defending the country and working to avert the looming danger it faces.
On the Iranian side, Hamas has been reintroduced into the arena despite having withdrawn from the axe of Syria and Iran during the bloody events in Syria, which displaced millions of Syrians Sunnis and attempts to alter the demographics by implanting non-Arab communities loyal to Iran. However, Netanyahu managed, through an alliance with the religious parties, to form again the government and attempt to alleviate the pressures of the judiciary by announcing reforms in the judicial system. But the Iranians did not leave him in peace; they introduced the principle of "unity of battle arenas" to distract him from focusing on advancing their nuclear project. The October 7th attack was the straw that broke the camel's back, reminding the events of 1948 and the Arab slogan of “throwing the Jews into the sea and kick them back to the countries they came from”.
Despite the strides made with the Abraham Accords and normalization with the Gulf states, the recent swift attack, along with the killings and kidnappings perpetrated by Hamas, has reignited fervor among the Arab populace. This operation, backed by Iran, garnered support from the Arab street. In contrast, Netanyahu found himself cast as the defender of his people and state against these acts of violence, as any retaliatory measures he might take would result in further horrors. It has become evident that Hamas not only encouraged its fighters to attack Israeli civilians around Gaza, but also Palestinian civilians, blurring the line between combatants and non-combatants. This stance has rendered the reconciled Arab States, participants in the Abraham Accord, incapable of demanding a cessation of these acts or, of holding Hamas accountable. Tragedies continue unabated, with little regard for civilian lives or property, as the perpetrators seek to exploit such events to sway global opinion in their favor.
On the Lebanese front, Hezbollah initiated provocations and threats without staging a display similar to Hamas's actions, despite its Secretary-General's previous statements implying Israel's vulnerability and readiness of Al-Redwan Forces to pray in Jerusalem. This restraint was influenced by the intervention of the United States and Western countries, who deployed large forces to prevent escalation towards Netanyahu's inclination to strike Tehran. Some observers interpret Biden's mobilization as a move to avert a major war, potentially involving the United States in striking Iran's nuclear facilities and rallying Arab countries to support Netanyahu. The aim is to end conflicts in the Middle East, foster peace agreements, and redirect the battle away from escalation. The intention was not merely to support Israel but to prevent further escalation and steer the conflict toward resolution.
The Iranian maneuver, aimed at constraining the response and framing the conflict as one between the "wounded" Gaza and the "aggressive" Israel, hindered Arab nations from adopting a constructive stance. Despite recognizing Iran's involvement, these countries refrained from confronting the situation head-on, fearing repercussions amidst the media campaign led by Iranian lobby groups. This intimidation tactic also extended to anyone advocating for action against Iran, with threats of being labeled as supporters of “crimes against humanity”. Additionally, instances of support for Iran have been observed through the Houthis’ attacks, disrupting maritime navigation routes. Interestingly, these attacks occurred after the removal of the Houthis from terrorism lists following President Biden's inauguration. Notably, Arab nations bordering the Red Sea, such as Egypt, refrained from joining alliances against the Houthis. This reluctance suggests that the alliances may not be aimed at containing the Houthis but rather amplifying their role and that of their Iranian sponsor, who orchestrates operations to disrupt navigation in the Red Sea.
The question is, will Netanyahu, who is betrayal conspiracies from friends before enemies, succeed in extricating himself from this predicament and manage to correct the course of the war by dragging Iran into a battle, through which its nuclear program can be eliminated, and perhaps getting rid of the Mullahs' regime in a bid to restore openness to the region's countries and cooperation among them, thus overriding the Mullahs hegemony over the neighborhood, and put an end to their dealings with superiority with everyone? Or will the pretext of the US elections prolong the crisis and the suffering of the people and allow the expansionist Tehran’s regime to continue, preventing peace and tagging as an enemy anyone who does not comply with its vicious schemes.?

At WGS, Artificial Intelligence dominated more than just discussions

Faisal J. Abbas/Arab News/February 15, 2024
As the World Governments Summit concluded in Dubai on Wednesday, after its various forums spent nearly three days delving deep into a comprehensive agenda, there was widespread agreement that — in a sign of the times — one theme dominated most discussions from curtain raiser to closing remarks: artificial intelligence. This shouldn’t be surprising. As we have learned every day since last year, AI is not — and will not be — a standalone topic: it is going to influence every aspect of our lives. As one leading UAE official put it, AI will impact us in the same way that the invention of the wheel did, with so many applications already in use and much uncharted territory ahead: from curing cancers, to space exploration, to better understanding the human mind — about which, despite all our knowledge, we still comprehend so little.One thing we must do is to take AI out of the traditional “capital vs. labor” discussion
One thing we must do is to take AI out of the traditional “capital vs. labor” discussion, as one senior technology company officer explained to me. We must accept that there will be a huge impact on future jobs, and move beyond that to the bigger picture of what AI means for all of humanity, and specifically for our region. As it stands, we Arabs — particularly Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE — are well placed to be at the heart of the AI revolution. We have three competitive edges: a young population with curious, global minds; huge resources to deploy; and governments that are making this a priority. The UAE has the world’s first AI minister, and officials in Saudi Arabia have often spoken of the need to be at the forefront of technology. It is a priority because they understand that whoever masters this will have an edge for the rest of the century.
In fact, at last year’s World Governments Summit a senior official said during a private briefing that competition and cooperation between countries would no longer be over geopolitics, but techno-politics. The 5G conflict is an example, information warfare another. The UAE has the world’s first AI minister, and officials in Saudi Arabia have often spoken of the need to be at the forefront of technology
In his opening remarks on Monday, the UAE Minister of Cabinet Affairs Mohammed Al-Gergawi gave the audience a glimpse of what AI had already achieved in just one year. Its capacity for learning has multiplied 1,000-fold, for example, and that trajectory will continue exponentially. However, there is a flip side: the number of deep fakes has tripled in a year, with 500,000 on social media last year. This, too, will only multiply. In the world of journalism, it says much about where traditional media models are going that an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin by the prominent US talk-show host Tucker Carlson can generate more than 150 million online views — and this on his own channel under his own brand, since he no longer has a presence on mainstream TV.
If anything, I would argue that the need for high-quality professional journalism could not be greater. However, the truth is that from free content supported by advertising to subscription-only behind a paywall, and everything in between, we have not yet decided on a business model that would best suit the future.
There will be more on this next week, when I report from the Saudi Media Forum, where this topic will be discussed.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Germany to head delegation at Munich Security Conference

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Faisal J. Abbas/Arab News/February 15, 2024
While much of the attention in discussions about climate change often focuses on areas such as the Arctic or small island nations, the effects on regions such as the Middle East, and particularly Iraq, is often overlooked.
Yet, the consequences of climate change in Iraq are profound and far-reaching, affecting not only the environment but also exacerbating existing social, economic and political challenges. As the world grapples with the wider existential threat, it is critical that we shed light on the plight of Iraq and outline the actions both the country and the international community must take to address this pressing issue.
In recent years, discourse about climate change has shifted from mere scientific concern to a global rallying cry for urgent action. And Iraq, historically considered “the cradle of civilization,” is facing a climate crisis that poses a threat to its very existence. The country is experiencing rising temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns, prolonged droughts, and desertification, all of which have severe implications for its agriculture, water resources and public health.
The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which have sustained civilizations for millennia, are dwindling as a result of reduced snowpack in the mountains and increased demand for water from neighboring countries. Extreme heatwaves pose significant risks to public health, particularly in urban areas
This dwindling water supply not only threatens agriculture, which is the backbone of Iraq’s economy, but also exacerbates tensions with neighboring countries over water rights. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani highlighted the critical nature of the situation when he said: “Our two rivers are exposed to the brunt of the effects of drought resulting from climate change. We have an urgent need to preserve rights to water resources and international river basins.”According to the Ministry of Water Resources, experts predict that the nation could face the dire prospect of the Euphrates being entirely depleted by 2040. The effects of climate change are acutely felt by Iraq’s most vulnerable populations. Farmers, who rely on predictable weather patterns for their livelihoods, are facing crop failures and economic hardship. Displacements caused by drought and desertification are exacerbating social tensions and contributing to internal movement and migration.Additionally, extreme heatwaves pose significant risks to public health, particularly in urban areas where access to reliable electricity supplies and cooling systems is limited.
In the face of these challenges, both Iraq and the international community must take decisive action to mitigate the effects of climate change and build resilience. First of all, vulnerable communities and ecosystems ought to be prioritized in the implementation of climate-adaptation measures, to help protect them.
Steps that can be taken include investment in water-efficient agriculture, the promotion of sustainable land-management practices, and enhanced early-warning systems for extreme weather events. Furthermore, Iraq ought to focus on diversifying its economy away from dependence on oil and invest in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. By reducing its carbon footprint and embracing clean energy alternatives, Iraq can both mitigate the effects of climate change and foster economic development.
However, it cannot tackle climate change alone. The international community must step up its support and assistance to help Iraq build resilience and adapt to a changing climate. This includes financial assistance, the facilitation of technology transfers, and capacity-building support to help enhance the nation’s ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Diplomatic initiatives, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, provide mechanisms for international cooperation and must be leveraged to improve dialogue and collaborations on climate action.
The effects of climate change are acutely felt by Iraq’s most vulnerable populations.
Moreover, neighboring countries can engage in cooperative efforts to manage shared water resources and address transboundary challenges.
More fundamentally, efforts to address climate change in Iraq require a holistic approach that takes into account the interconnected nature of environmental, social and economic issues. In other words, environmental conservation efforts must be integrated with initiatives to alleviate poverty, improve education, and enhance public health to ensure a sustainable and equitable future for all Iraqis.
This must include the empowerment of local communities, particularly women and marginalized groups, to participate in decision-making processes and help implement climate-resilient solutions that are tailored to their specific needs and circumstances.
In addition, it is important to point out that efforts to tackle the root causes of conflict and instability in Iraq are crucial for building resilience to climate change as well. Ongoing conflicts and political instability in the region have exacerbated environmental degradation and hindered efforts to address climate change. The promotion of peace, stability and good governance in Iraq is therefore essential to the creation of an enabling environment for climate action and sustainable development.
Finally, it is critical to recognize the fact that action to address climate change is not just an environmental issue but a moral imperative. It is about safeguarding the rights and well-being of future generations and guaranteeing they will have a planet that is habitable for all.
In Iraq, as in many parts of the world, the effects of climate change are already being felt and the window of opportunity to act is rapidly closing. Therefore, robust and decisive actions are needed at all levels of society, from grassroots initiatives to international treaties, to mitigate the worst effects of climate change and build a more sustainable and resilient future for Iraq and the world.
The impact of climate change in Iraq is undeniable and the stakes could not be higher. Urgent action is needed to mitigate the effects, build resilience, and secure a sustainable future for the country and its people.
Both Iraq and the international community must work together to address this existential threat by adopting a comprehensive and collaborative approach that integrates environmental, social and economic considerations.
Failure to act now will not only jeopardize the future of Iraq but also threaten the stability and prosperity of the entire region. The time to act is now and the stakes could not be higher.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian American political scientist. X: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Biden’s age could ultimately decide the outcome of the US presidential election
Dr. Amal Mudallali/Arab News/February 15, 2024
One sentence in Special Prosecutor Robert Hur’s report last week caused panic when it came to US President Joe Biden’s campaign for reelection and ignited a firestorm within the Democratic Party.
His report was the kind of nightmare scenario campaigns dread because of its timing and the sensitivity of the issue, the age of the president, and the questions it raised about his mental capacity.
Democrats have had a tough few months trying to prevent Biden’s age from becoming the main issue in the campaign. Then the nightmare fully descended upon them, presenting Republican opponent Donald Trump with the perfect gift.
Hur’s report described Biden as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with poor memory.” This single sentence propelled the age of the president, who is 81 years old, to the top of the election agenda and created a crisis among Democrats, who are worried that the issue of age might cost them the presidency for the next four years.
The special prosecutor was investigating the case of classified documents that were found in Biden’s home. He concluded, following interviews with the president, that there was not enough to charge the president with any wrongdoing. He could have chosen to simply announce his conclusion but instead he decided to comment on the memory of the president.
The report handed Biden a legal victory but wounded him politically. It should have been good news for him but the political damage caused by the language Hur used to describe the president’s state of mind and memory was huge, lending credence to existing concerns about his age.
He described gaps in the president’s memory when asked about specific events and documents, but most damaging for the president was perhaps the assertion that he did not even remember the date of his son’s death.
Democrats are rallying around the president, defending his mental faculties and record. The report came at a critical time for the president and his reelection campaign. Polls were already suggesting that Americans are worried about his age. Meanwhile, his approval rating has been declining, reaching 37 percent, the lowest it has ever been. Many Americans are not happy about his handling of immigration and border issues, or the economy, even though the economy is doing well. In addition, there is opposition to his stance on the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, as well as divisions within the Democratic Party on the issue.The publication of Hur’s report provoked a storm of media coverage and debates about the age of the president. His allies defended him and refuted the comments about poor memory, accusing the special prosecutor of having a political agenda.
Vice President Kamala Harris described the report as “gratuitous, inaccurate and inappropriate.” Other high-ranking US officials insisted the president was sharp, tough and in control.
Republicans naturally jumped on the opportunity to adopt “elderly man with bad memory” as a slogan in their campaigning against him.
The president did not help his own case. During a press conference that was supposed to reassure the American people about his memory and debunk the picture the report painted of him, Biden described President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi of Egypt as the president of Mexico.
This came hot on the heels of two other incidents this month in which he talked about conversations with French President Francois Mitterrand, who died in 1996, instead of Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who died in 2017, instead of Angela Merkel.
The report and the repeated gaffes by the president have resulted in growing concerns among Democrats, strategists, donors and ordinary voters across the US, according to the American media.
The Washington Post captured the mood among Democrats when, after the president’s ill-fated press conference, it said: “The broad conclusion, both inside and outside Biden’s inner circle, is that a dangerous and misleading caricature of the president’s performance is at risk of setting in, pushed by the biting prose of a special prosecutor they suspected of seeking political revenge.”
If Hur’s report was not enough, opinion polls after it was published added to the panic. An ABC News/Ipsos poll on Feb. 11 found an overwhelming majority of Americans that were questioned, 86 percent, thought Biden was too old to run for another term. A smaller majority, 62 percent, believed 77-year-old Donald Trump was also too old to be president again.
Interestingly, 59 percent of those polled believed both Biden and Trump were too old to be president, suggesting that age will be a very important factor in the election. However, the poll also found that Republicans were not so concerned about the age of their candidate as Democrats were: 73 percent of Democrats said Biden was too old to be president, but only 35 percent of Republicans said Trump was too old to serve. Even among independents, 91 percent said Biden is too old, compared with 71 percent who said the same about Trump.
Republican candidate Nikki Haley, who is challenging Trump for the Republican nomination, criticized both him and Biden over their ages, describing them in a campaign video as “grumpy old men.” She highlighted instances in which both became confused about facts, including one in which Trump mixed her up with Nancy Pelosi, former speaker of the House of Representatives.
Haley, who has called for competency tests for candidates over the age of 75 and champions younger leaders, said this week that both Trump and Biden “would use the Oval Office” as a “taxpayer-subsidized nursing home.”
Political pundits close to the Democrats are worried that efforts to ensure the issue of age sticks to Biden is an attempt to distract from his achievements in office, in a similar way to which Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign against Trump in 2016 was derailed by allegations about an insecure computer server and leaked emails.
Others are speculating about whether it is still possible for the Democrats to nominate a different candidate, angering the Biden campaign. A headline in Politico magazine this week, for example, read “Democrats Might Need a Plan B.”
Even though the article was exploring hypothetical scenarios, any such talk is damaging to the Biden campaign and to the chances of the Democrats securing the presidency. On a more practical level, it is unrealistic and difficult to imagine it could happen now. Democrats are rallying around the president, defending his mental faculties and record. They believe the stakes are too high for the party to consider alternatives this late in the game, as it would be a dangerous strategy to change horses at this point in the race.
Biden believes he is the only Democrat who can defeat Donald Trump because he did it before. The rest of the party is circling the wagons and hoping Trump will implode and scare off voters, pointing to his latest statement about NATO this week, which angered Europe and alarmed Washington.
However, there is no sign the former president has been negatively affected by any of his rhetoric, or his legal troubles. On the contrary, he is growing more confident — and now his campaign has been lucky enough to find fresh ammunition in the form of Hur’s editorializing about Biden’s age.
Biden and his campaign team are struggling to change the subject and ensure the election is a referendum on issues such as the future of democracy in America and, as his campaign ads say, his desire “to finish the job” he began four years ago.
The Republicans, meanwhile, will do all they can to make sure the focus remains on Biden’s memory and not his “sympathetic character.”
**Dr. Amal Mudallali is a consultant on global issues. She is a former Lebanese ambassador to the UN.