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Israeli Operation in Rafah Grows Imminent

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TOP HEADLINES:

  • Israel to Launch Rafah Incursion with US Coordination
  • Iran International Says Long-Missing Iranian General is Living in USA
  • UN Probes Alleged Mass Graves in Gaza; Israel Denies Allegations
  • Blinken to Visit Riyadh to Discuss Israel Normalization with Crown Prince
  • Egypt Denies its Supports Israeli Plans for Rafah Offensive

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★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

  1. Israel to Launch Rafah Incursion with US Coordination

The Israeli Broadcasting Authority reported that Israel’s army is set to invade Rafah in Gaza in coordination with the United States. The operation reportedly will involve evacuating over a million Palestinians to designated areas in southern and central Gaza, with international relief agencies preparing thousands of tents for the displaced. The staged invasion will divide Rafah into specific zones, informing residents in advance for phased evacuations, estimated to take 4 to 5 weeks. Despite initial American opposition due to concerns about civilian harm, a US-Israeli coordination center help will manage the operation, with the change in Washington’s attitude prompted by failed prisoner exchange negotiations with Hamas. 

  1. Largest Israeli Strikes on Hezbollah Positions Since October 7

The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon has escalated significantly, marking the most intense clashes since the October 7 attack on Israel. In the last few hours, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted over 14 airstrikes in the towns of Ayta Ash Shab and Ramiyeh. These strikes targeted approximately 40 Hezbollah positions, including weapon storage facilities, terror infrastructure, and other operational sites.

Prior to these strikes, Hezbollah had claimed responsibility for an attack on a building in Avivim, located on Israel’s northern border, housing Israeli soldiers. The area of Ayta ash Shab, a known Hezbollah stronghold, has been repeatedly used for launching attacks against Israeli civilians and military personnel.

Syrian media associated with the Iran-backed Axis of Resistance have described the IDF’s tactics in Ayta Ash Shab as a “belt of fire,” a term previously used only in the context of Gaza. As of now, there has been no response from the Lebanese side about the impact of these strikes, which are typically reported promptly.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant of Northern Command announced that half of Hezbollah’s leaders in southern Lebanon had been eliminated and the other half were in hiding.

  1. Protesters Decry U.S. Military Aid to Israel

The U.S. Senate recently approved a substantial $95 billion foreign aid package, a portion of which includes significant funding for Israel and humanitarian efforts. President Joe Biden praised the bipartisan nature of the support, highlighting the commitment to assisting allies and counteracting global threats. Among the allocations, $10.6 billion is earmarked specifically for bolstering Israel’s defense systems, an action that has been positively received by Israeli authorities, reinforcing the strong alliance between the two nations.

In response to the Senate’s decision, a group of protestors staged an “Emergency Order Night” outside the residence of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in New York. Demonstrators expressing their opposition to the military aid for Israel blocked the street leading to Schumer’s home and displayed a large “seder plate” at the protest with a message urging against arming Israel. 

  1. UN Probes Alleged Mass Graves in Gaza; Israel Denies

The UN is investigating the alleged discovery by Palestinian Civil Defense of over 300 bodies in mass graves at Khan Yunis’ Nasser Medical Complex, purportedly buried by Israeli forces. Israel has denied the allegation, labeling it “baseless.” US officials expressed shock at the images of the grave but cannot confirm their authenticity. Operations in the area were part of Israel’s efforts to locate hostages and counter Hamas, which Israel accused of using medical sites for military ends. UN officials claimed some bodies were handcuffed, prompting further investigations and escalating humanitarian concerns.

  1. Germany to Resume Cooperation with UN Relief Agency for Palestinians

Germany announced plans to resume cooperation with the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, following a neutral review that rebutted Israel’s claims of agency staff affiliations with Palestinian militant groups. These allegations had previously led to funding suspensions by the U.S. and other countries.

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★ IRAN

  1. Iran International Says Long-Missing IRGC General Asgari is Living in USA

Ali-Reza Asgari, a former IRGC Major General and deputy minister of defense, has been residing in the United States under a new identity for the past 17 years, according to an investigation by Iran International. The media outlet says Asgari defected in 2006 during a trip to Turkey and has since lived under the protection of the CIA’s witness protection program. His intelligence contributions were pivotal in preventing potential US military actions against Iran over nuclear weapons concerns in 2007. He reportedly provided key details that influenced US foreign policy and has lived in multiple states since his defection. 

  1. Russian Credit Cards to be Integrated into Iran’s Banking System

The Iranian Embassy in Russia announced the upcoming integration of Russian “Mir” credit cards into Iran’s banking infrastructure. The project, set to roll out within two months, aligns with efforts to strengthen economic ties between Iran and Russia, especially under the intensified Western sanctions against Moscow following its conflict with Ukraine. The adoption of Mir cards, a Russian initiative to replace Western payment systems like Visa and Mastercard, reflects a broader commitment to expand trade, which recently reached $4 billion annually, including potential growth in production and engineering technology.

  1. Russia Hosts Security Summit with Iran and China

Iran’s top security official, Ali Akbar Ahmadian, joined counterparts in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to discuss opposition to Western dominance in global security. The summit, which included discussions with Russian and Chinese security chiefs, focused on promoting multilateralism and addressing regional conflicts, notably the recent hostilities between Iran and Israel.

  1. Iranian President Raisi Faces Lukewarm Reception in Pakistan

During his visit to Islamabad, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi received a subdued welcome, greeted only by military leaders and the Minister for Housing, Riaz Hussain Pirzada. Critics highlight the contrast to the warm reception former President Hassan Rouhani received in 2016. This incident follows a pattern of perceived diplomatic slights during Raisi’s international engagements, including a controversial meeting incident in Russia.

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YEMEN

  1. Mediterranean Ports Face Congestion as Red Sea Tensions Redirect Shipping

Mediterranean ports are nearing full capacity, used as transit hubs by global shipping companies to avoid conflict zones such as the Red Sea. This shift has led to increased inventory costs and potential shortages for retailers and manufacturers in Europe. Recent attacks in the Red Sea involving drones, missiles, and hijackings have pushed companies to reroute via the much longer Cape of Good Hope. This shift has placed unforeseen pressure on Western Mediterranean ports like Gibraltar, Barcelona, and Tangier Med, which are now pivotal transit trade hubs, exacerbating congestion and operational challenges.

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★ IRAQ

  1. Washington Calls on Baghdad to Protect U.S. Forces Following New Militia Attacks

The U.S. military has urged the Iraqi government to protect American forces in Iraq and Syria after thwarting two attacks by Iran-aligned militants on Monday. This resurgence of hostility, including the first drone and missile attack since January’s deadly incident in Jordan, comes as tensions with Iran escalate. The Pentagon emphasized the need for Baghdad to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel, warning that continued attacks could prompt defensive actions by the U.S. Approximately 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, with an additional 900 in eastern Syria.

  1. Official Iraqi Media Say Militia Camp Explosion Was Caused by Stored Ammunition, not Israeli Strikes

Iraqi official media reported that the massive explosion at Camp Kalsu, used by the Iran-backed Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi forces, was caused by highly explosive weapons and materials stored on-site, not by a missile strike. Technical investigations confirmed no aircraft movement over Babil Province before, during, or after the incident. The explosion created a large, irregular crater and resulted in the death of a militia member, along with significant material losses and injuries.

  1. Hezbollah Brigades Deny Resuming Military Operations Against U.S. Forces in Iraq

The Iran-backed Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq have officially denied claims of reactivating military operations against U.S. forces after a three-month hiatus. The group reaffirmed its alignment with the Iraqi government’s stance toward U.S. forces. This clarification follows rumors circulated on social media and Telegram channels that the militias were restarting attacks on U.S. bases, particularly after an explosion at Camp Kalsu in Babil spawned speculation that Israel had conducted a strike. The Pentagon has urged the Iraqi government to protect U.S. forces, attributing recent failed attacks to factions allied with Iran.

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★ SYRIA

  1. US Warns of Retaliation If Attacks on Forces in Syria and Iraq Persist

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder stated that if attacks by “malign Iranian militias” on US forces in Syria and Iraq continue, the US will retaliate. These remarks followed two failed attacks in the region, marking the first such incidents since early February. Ryder emphasized the need for the Iraqi government to safeguard American forces. The US had previously responded to similar threats by targeting militias aligned with Iran, signaling a readiness to defend its forces as necessary.

  1. Jordanian Foreign Minister Warns of Major Decline in International Support for Syrian Refugees

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi cautioned against a significant decrease in international aid for Syrian refugees. Hosting Danish Refugee Council Secretary-General Charlotte Slente, Safadi stressed Jordan’s inability to fill the aid gap, affecting refugees’ living conditions. He urged greater global efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis and facilitate refugees’ voluntary return home. With approximately 1.3 million Syrians in Jordan, Safadi emphasized Jordan’s commitment to collaborating with partners to end Syrian suffering, preserve unity, combat terrorism, and create conditions for refugees’ voluntary return.

  1. “Captagon 2” Bill, Targeting Assad’s Narcotrafficking, is Headed to Biden’s Desk for Approval

The US Senate approved the “Captagon 2” bill targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and drug trafficking in Syria, following the House’s endorsement last week. The bill, part of a legislative package, passed with 79 votes in favor and 18 against. “Captagon 2” aims to empower the US government to act against Assad and affiliated networks, and anyone involved in Captagon drug trafficking, regardless of nationality. The bill now awaits President Joe Biden’s signature to become enforceable law.

  1. Washington Responds to Assad’s Statements on US-Syria Meetings

A US State Department spokesperson responded Tuesday night to Bashar al-Assad’s remarks hinting at occasional meetings with Washington to explore improving relations. Assad accused the US of occupying parts of Syria illegally, funding terrorism, and supporting Israel’s occupation. The US spokesperson told “Alhurra” that US policy remains unchanged, emphasizing there can be no normalization with Damascus without real progress towards a lasting political solution to the conflict. The spokesperson reiterated UN Security Council Resolution 2254 as the sole viable solution, reaffirming commitment to work with allies and partners towards its implementation.

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★ GULF REGION

  1. Aramco and China’s Rongsheng Petrochemical Seal Exchange Deal

Saudi Aramco plans to acquire a 50% stake in the Ningbo Zhongjin Petrochemical unit, owned by China’s Rongsheng Petrochemical, following a new cooperation agreement. In return, Rongsheng will gain a 50% share in Aramco’s SASREF refinery in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. This strategic exchange, building on Aramco’s recent $3.4 billion investment in Rongsheng, aims to enhance collaborative projects in both upstream and downstream sectors, reinforcing their industrial supply chain objectives.

  1. Saudi Arabia Aims for $80 Billion Mining Sector by 2030

Saudi Arabia is ambitiously transforming into a global mining power, targeting a contribution of $80 billion from this sector by 2030. This initiative, part of Vision 2030, seeks to diversify the economy away from oil. Recent increases in the kingdom’s untapped mineral resources—valued at approximately $2.5 trillion due to new discoveries—are driving efforts to enhance exploration and attract investments. The country has also started issuing licenses to international mining firms and has signed multiple cooperation agreements.

  1. Blinken to Visit Riyadh to Discuss Israel Normalization with Crown Prince

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia next weekend following his trip to China. He will participate in the World Economic Forum in Riyadh on April 28-29. Blinken is likely to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other regional leaders, with discussions possibly including access to Israel. This visit aligns with ongoing US efforts to broker a defense pact and address Saudi Arabia’s civilian nuclear program. However, progress may be hindered by ongoing Gaza conflict and Netanyahu’s political alliances. 

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★ EGYPT AND NORTH AFRICA

  1. Egypt Denies its Supports Israeli Plans for Rafah Offensive

Egypt has officially denied American media claims of military discussions with Israel about invading Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip. Egyptian authorities emphasize their staunch opposition to any invasion, which they predict would result in significant human losses and extensive destruction, echoing the severe impacts already witnessed in Gaza since Israel began its operations there last October. Egypt has reiterated warnings to Israel about the dire consequences of an attack on Rafah and continues to advocate for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and medical support for Gaza.

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★ TURKIYE

  1. Erdogan Calls Netanyahu “Modern-Day Hitler”

Turkish President Erdogan pledged to continue to expose what he called Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, condemning Prime Minister Netanyahu as a “modern-day Hitler” who won’t escape accountability. Erdogan said Turkey will present evidence to the International Court of Justice. Speaking upon returning from Iraq, Erdogan emphasized solidarity with Palestinians and warned against Israel’s control of Gaza.

  1. Turkey and Iraq to Open Joint Operations Center

Turkish Defense Minister Yaşar Guler announced a new agreement with Iraq to establish a joint operations center, aimed at enhancing military cooperation. This follows a high-profile visit to Baghdad by Turkish President Erdogan, where multiple bilateral agreements were signed and discussions on security and anti-terrorism measures took place. Guler also commented on positive ongoing confidence-building talks with Greece and mentioned ongoing negotiations for Turkey to acquire and upgrade F-16 aircraft, despite facing challenges in the US Congress.

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📌 Incase you missed it,

📰 THE EARLY PHOENIX  April 23 , 2024

📰 THE EARLY PHOENIX  April 22 , 2024
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