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U.S. Pulls Back from Sanctions on Israeli Military Units

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TOP HEADLINES:

  • US Delays Sanctions on Israeli Military Units Accused of Rights Violations
  • Saudi Arabia to Host Ministerial Meeting on Gaza’s Future on Monday
  • Iranian Regime Sentences Prominent Rapper to Death
  • Masoud Barzani Says KDP Will Boycott Elections if Minority Quotas Are Not Reinstated
  • Saudi Economy Grew to $1.07 Trillion in 2023
  • Lobbyists Seek Cancellation of Erdogan’s Visit to the United States

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★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

  1. US Delays Sanctions on Israeli Military Units Accused of Rights Violations

The Biden administration will withhold sanctions, for now, on Israeli military units accused of human rights abuses in Gaza. The Biden administration has identified that three Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) battalions committed significant human rights violations against Palestinians in the West Bank, according to an undisclosed letter from Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson. Despite these findings, Blinken said these units will continue to receive U.S. military aid as Israel claims to be taking corrective measures, which the U.S. will monitor for effectiveness. 

  1. US Military Begins Construction of Pier Off Gaza Coast

The US military has initiated the construction of a maritime pier off Gaza, expected to be completed within days to facilitate the influx of humanitarian aid. Announced by President Biden in March, this project aims to alleviate access constraints via land routes into Gaza. While no US troops will be stationed on the ground, their operational activities at the pier will be secured by the Israeli military. The pier has come under mortar attack by Hamas-linked militants in recent days.

  1. Biden and 17 Global Leaders Demand Immediate Hostage Release by Hamas

President Joe Biden, along with leaders from 17 other nations, issued a collective demand for Hamas to release all hostages in Gaza and agree to a ceasefire. Despite past differences, these leaders, including from France, Germany, the UK, Thailand, and Colombia, have now aligned due to the dire hostage situation, highlighting a prepared deal that promises an immediate ceasefire contingent on the release of the most vulnerable hostages.

  1. Israeli Cabinet Approves Foreign Observers’ Visits to Hamas Prisoners

Israel’s extended cabinet authorized visits by an Israeli judge and two foreign observers to Palestinian detainees linked to Hamas’s Nukhba forces. While Security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir opposed the visits, citing concerns over deterrence and sovereignty, the decision marks a trial period with Israel vetting observers.

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★ IRAN

  1. Iran Appeals to BRICS for Intervention in Gaza

Iran has urged the BRICS nations to intervene and force a halt to Israeli actions in Gaza, emphasizing the need for sending humanitarian aid and supporting legal actions against Israel at the International Court of Justice. Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, stressed the importance of decisive measures beyond mere statements to ensure compliance with international demands, highlighting ongoing struggles and calling for comprehensive support for the Palestinian cause.

  1. Iranian Regime Sentences Rapper Toomaj to Death for “Corrupting Society”

Toomaj Salehi, a prominent Iranian rapper known for his anti-government lyrics, has been sentenced to death as part of Iran’s crackdown on dissent. Salehi, a key figure in the 2022 protests sparked by human rights concerns, was charged with crimes related to these events. His music, which critiques corruption and repression in Iran, has resonated with young Iranians and drawn international condemnation of his sentence. Advocates worldwide, including politicians and rights groups, are calling for his release and condemning the Iranian regime’s harsh tactics against its critics.

  1. Russian Defense Minister Shoigu Signals Expanded Military Collaboration with Iran

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu expressed willingness to enhance military cooperation with Iran during talks with Iranian counterpart Gharaei Ashtiani. The meeting, held within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Kazakhstan, underscores growing ties between the two nations’ defense sectors.

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YEMEN

  1. CENTCOM Reports Houthi Missile Launch Toward Aden Gulf

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that the Houthi militia fired an anti-ship ballistic missile from Yemen toward the Gulf of Aden, which resulted in no casualties or damage to U.S., coalition, or commercial ships. In response, CENTCOM destroyed a Houthi-controlled unmanned boat and drone. This incident follows a recent successful interception by coalition forces of a similar missile likely targeting the U.S.-flagged MV Yorktown, manned by an American and Greek crew. Additionally, CENTCOM reported the destruction of four Houthi drones in separate engagements.

  1. Houthi Leader Pledges Expansion of Maritime Attacks to Indian Ocean

Abdul Malik al-Houthi, leader of the Houthi movement, declared an expansion of their naval operations to the Indian Ocean, continuing recent attacks on ships in the Red Sea. In a video statement, he linked the persistence of these attacks to the ongoing Israeli war and blockade on Gaza. Al-Houthi claimed that every two days, a ship associated with Israel is targeted and claimed the Houthis have hit 102 Israeli ships in the past 202 days. He also noted that these actions have significantly increased insurance costs for American companies to $50 million per ship.

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★ IRAQ

  1. Turkey Reduces Security Demands on Iraq Regarding PKK Confrontation

Turkey reportedly has reduced its security demands on Iraq, which originally included armed involvement against the PKK in northern Iraq. After sharp criticism from Iraqi Shia factions and parties, the agreement anticipated during President Erdogan’s visit to Baghdad will be limited to a joint security committee to further assess the two countries’ military cooperation. Turkish officials have expressed readiness to assist Iraq with border security technologies to prevent PKK movements.

  1. Water Resource Management Agreement with Turkey Stirs Controversy Among Iraqi Experts

Iraq’s recent 10-year water resource management agreement with Turkey, aimed at securing Iraq’s “fair share” of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, has incited backlash from Iraqi water experts. Critics argue the agreement lacks clarity in terms of water quantities to be released and fails to resolve the dispute over whether these rivers are international or Turkish domestic waters. While the agreement includes collaborative water management projects, experts express concerns over vague commitments and the absence of a clear mechanism to ensure equitable water distribution. The water dispute between the two countries has become a major political issue in Iraq as the country suffers drought, especially in lands drained by the Tigris.

  1. Iran-Backed Iraqi Militias Claim 243 Operations Since Gaza War Outbreak

The Iran-backed Islamic Resistance in Iraq reported conducting 243 operations across Iraq, Syria, and Israel over 200 days since the Gaza war began following Hamas’s unprecedented attack in October 2023. These operations targeted 90 sites in Iraq, 65 in Syria, and 88 in Israel. The group’s latest action included an attack on Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights on April 21. In response, U.S. airstrikes targeted Iraqi militia leaders, resulting in several casualties among the faction’s leadership.

  1. Masoud Barzani Says KDP Will Boycott Elections if Minority Quotas Are Not Reinstated

KDP leader Masoud Barzani reaffirmed his party’s stance: no participation in Kurdistan’s elections unless minority quotas are reinstated. The region is scheduled to hold elections on June 10, but a delay looks increasingly likely. The KDP announced its position earlier this month in response to unprecedented rulings from Iraq’s federal court mandating changes to the Kurdistan region’s electoral system.

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★ SYRIA

  1. Israelis Warn Syrian Troops to Leave Restricted Zone Near Golan Heights

Israeli aircraft distributed warning leaflets in the countryside of Quneitra, close to the Golan Heights, warning Syrian government forces against military presence in the demilitarized zone, which Israel says would violate the longstanding disengagement agreement between the two countries. This action follows Israeli strikes on Damascus government positions, cited as responses to violations of the established ceasefire terms.

  1. SDF Ends Large-Scale Security Lockdown on Villages in Deir Ezzor

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have ended a three-day security lockdown on the villages of Al-Hissan, Shakra, and Al-Jnaina in Deir Ezzor’s countryside. The lockdown, which involved extensive raids and detentions, was lifted following interventions by tribal leaders from the Bakara tribe. Sheikh Hajem al-Bashir appealed for the removal of the siege and the release of detainees. The siege included internet shutdowns, curfews, and restrictions on food entry as the SDF sought to arrest individuals suspected of carrying out attacks against SDF personnel.

  1. UN Envoy Geir Pedersen Calls for Return to Diplomacy to Solve Syrian Crisis

UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, emphasized the necessity of a comprehensive resolution to the Syrian conflict, warning against mere containment strategies. In his monthly briefing to the UN Security Council, Pedersen highlighted the escalation of military activities and the ongoing disputes within Syria and underscored the urgency of a ceasefire and a robust political path forward. He advocated for inclusive discussions involving all stakeholders, stressing that partial measures would not achieve lasting peace or address the roots of the crisis. Pedersen also highlighted the dire humanitarian situation, urging increased aid and a unified international response to ensure Syria’s sovereignty and the well-being of its people.

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LEBANON

  1. Hezbollah Kills Israeli Civilian in Border Ambush

An Israeli civilian was killed by Hezbollah during an attack on an Israeli military convoy in the Kfarshouba Hills, according to the Israeli army. The incident occurred late Thursday night, involving Hezbollah anti-tank missiles and artillery and resulting in the destruction of two vehicles. The Israeli army responded with strikes on Hezbollah infrastructure and positions in the area. The deceased Israeli civilian, identified as Sharif Suad from Sallama, was reportedly working on infrastructure in the region at the time of the attack.

  1. French Proposal Seeks Resolution of Lebanese-Israeli Border Conflict

In anticipation of French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné’s visit to Lebanon, a new French proposal aims to stabilize the Lebanese-Israeli border by implementing UN Resolution 1701 and endorsing a presidential candidate belonging to neither pro-Hizballah or anti-Hizballah political blocs. The French proposal coincides with U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein’s recent offers to facilitate a truce between Israel and Hizballah. However, local Lebanese sources say that discussions on southern Lebanon are unlikely to proceed before a Gaza ceasefire is in place.

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★ GULF REGION

  1. Saudi Arabia to Host Ministerial Meeting on Gaza’s Future on Monday

Saudi Arabia plans to convene a meeting in Riyadh to discuss the future of Gaza with Arab and foreign officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to Bloomberg. Scheduled for Monday, the talks will not include Israeli or Hamas representatives. Participants will include the British Foreign Secretary and officials from the EU, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, and the Palestinian Authority. The discussions will occur alongside a special edition of the World Economic Forum, as global and regional powers seek to address the humanitarian crisis and reconstruction in Gaza.

  1. Saudi Arabia to Spearhead New UN Resolution for Gaza Cease-Fire

Saudi Arabia is set to propose a new UN resolution to the Arab Group at the UN General Assembly aimed at achieving a ceasefire in Gaza. The Saudi Permanent Representative to the UN, Abdulaziz Al-Wasil, announced that discussions would take place next Monday. The resolution might also seek to resubmit Palestine’s request for full UN membership, previously vetoed by the U.S. last week. Additionally, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan highlighted emerging support within the EU for recognizing the state of Palestine.

  1. Aramco and FIFA Announce Four-Year Global Partnership

Saudi Aramco has entered into a four-year global partnership with FIFA, becoming its main global partner and the exclusive energy category sponsor. The deal includes sponsorship rights for major events like the 2026 Men’s World Cup and the 2027 Women’s World Cup. The partnership will run until the end of 2027.

  1. Saudi Economy Grew to $1.07 Trillion in 2023

Saudi Arabia’s economy grew to approximately $1.07 trillion in 2023, marking a 60% increase since the launch of the Kingdom’s “Vision 2030” development plan. The annual report highlights the significant role of non-oil activities, which now comprise 50% of the GDP. Unemployment fell to 7.7%, nearing the 2030 goal of 7%. Female workforce participation reached 35.5%. Over 200 global companies have established headquarters in Riyadh by the end of 2023, with the vision’s initiatives 87% complete. The Public Investment Fund managed assets worth $750 billion, surpassing its annual target.

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★ EGYPT AND NORTH AFRICA

  1. Egyptian President Sisi to Visit Turkey Next Week

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is set to visit Turkey next week, aiming to bolster bilateral relations and address Gaza, Eastern Mediterranean, and other regional issues. The visit follows Turkish President Erdogan’s invitation during his February Cairo trip, signaling continued reconciliation after a decade-long rift. Trade between the two countries, valued at $6.6 billion in 2023, is poised to rise with Egypt targeting $15 billion in bilateral trade in the coming years.

  1. Egyptian Delegation Heads to Israel Seeking Gaza Ceasefire

Israel’s Military Cabinet has authorized negotiations with an Egyptian delegation to discuss a potential Gaza truce and the release of hostages. The talks, which aim to increase flexibility in negotiations with Hamas, are part of broader efforts led by Egypt to de-escalate tensions and establish a truce in Gaza. This comes as Qatar’s mediation role is diminishing, with Cairo stepping up to try to prevent a potential Israeli military operation in Rafah, a key Hamas stronghold. 

  1. Egypt Activates Emergency Plan to Respond to Potential Israeli Incursion in Rafah

Egyptian authorities are initiating an emergency plan starting next Tuesday in preparation for a possible Israeli invasion of Rafah. This plan involves heightened readiness across several governorates, including the cancellation of vacations for medical and foreign affairs personnel to handle potential emergencies. This follows a high-level meeting in Cairo involving Israeli and Egyptian officials, where ongoing concerns about the operation were discussed. As these preparations get underway, the U.S. is attempting to revive a prisoner deal to mitigate the operation’s impact. Meanwhile, Egyptian officials have been clear that they have not been part of planning the invasion, stressing the potential humanitarian consequences and rejecting any involvement.

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★ TURKIYE

  1. Lobbyists Seek Cancellation of Erdogan’s Visit to the United States

Media outlets circulated reports that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s scheduled May 9 visit to the United States may be cancelled due to political pressure, though Turkey’s “Hurriyet” newspaper said Ankara has made no official decision about the visit and both Turkish and US delegations are still arranging the agenda. “Hurriyet” reported that a US-Israeli lobby group is seeking to halt the visit following Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s recent visit to Turkey. Expected topics for Erdogan-Biden talks include Gaza, defense cooperation, and counterterrorism to mend historical US-Turkey ties. Haniyeh’s visit followed reports of Hamas seeking a new base outside Qatar, later denied by both Hamas and Qatar.

  1. Türkiye Says PKK/YPG Can Have no Role in Syria’s Future

At a UN Security Council session, Türkiye’s representative, Ahmet Yildiz, declared that the PKK/YPG, which he described as a terrorist organization, should have no role in Syria’s future due to its separatist and disruptive actions in northeast Syria. He emphasized the significant threat the group poses to Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity. Yildiz highlighted the need for international cooperation to tackle the ongoing crisis in Syria, now in its 14th year, involving security, economic, and humanitarian challenges. He stressed the importance of adhering to UN Security Council Resolution 2254 to rejuvenate the political process and advocated for the prompt convening of the Constitutional Committee. The session also saw the Syrian representative criticizing Türkiye’s terminology in referring to the Syrian government, to which Yildiz responded by urging a focus on future progress.

  1. PKK-Linked Istanbul Bomber Receives Life Sentence for 2022 Bombing

A Turkish court has sentenced Ahlam Albashir, the main suspect in the 2022 Istanbul Istiklal street bombing, to seven life terms and an additional 1,794 years in prison. The attack, which occurred on the busy pedestrian street in November 2022, resulted in six deaths and injured 99 others. Albashir, a 23-year-old Syrian woman, was accused of offenses including undermining state unity and multiple counts of premeditated murder. Turkish authorities have linked the attack to the Kurdish YPG, which is seen by Ankara as an extension of the PKK, although the YPG denies involvement. 

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