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Netanyahu:  Israel Will Enter Rafah With or Without Ceasefire

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TOP HEADLINES:

  • Netanyahu Says Israel Will Enter Rafah with or without Ceasefire Agreement
  • Report:  Israel Assassinated Revolutionary Guard Officer on Iranian Soil
  • Iraq’s New Law on Homosexuality Strains Relations with the US
  • White House Says it Blocked New Congressional Sanctions on Assad
  • Final Touches on Saudi-U.S. Security Agreement

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★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

  1. Netanyahu Says Israel Will Enter Rafah with or without Ceasefire Agreement

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israeli forces will act against Hamas in Rafah, regardless of whether the two sides reach a hostage agreement or ceasefire. Netanyahu said there has been no change in Israel’s war objectives and that ending the war before achieving Israeli objectives is not an option. He stated that Palestinians are being evacuated from the city in preparation for imminent operations. Following Israel’s 2023 offensive on Gaza, Rafah has become a forced home for displaced Palestinians, enduring harsh humanitarian conditions.

  1. Report:  Israel Assassinated Revolutionary Guard Officer on Iranian Soil

Iranian media revealed that Israel carried out an assassination inside Iran of a Revolutionary Guard officer allegedly involved in attacks on Jewish targets in Germany. Details are scarce about the assassination or its orchestrators. The Germany attack reportedly took place in December and was thwarted by a joint operation involving Mossad, Shin Bet, and local authorities, resulting in arrests. German reports implicated Lebanese and Egyptian suspects in weapons possession for planned attacks on Jewish facilities.

  1. Congress Warns ICC Against Issuing Arrest Warrants for Israeli Officials

A bipartisan group of US Congress members warned the International Criminal Court against issuing arrest warrants for Israeli officials, Axios reports. If ICC warrants emerge, Congress plans legislation against the ICC. House Speaker Mike Johnson condemned the rumored warrants as “disgraceful” and “lawless,” and urged ICC restraint. Israeli PM Netanyahu, meanwhile, has appealed to President Biden to intervene to stop the ICC from acting, and Biden administration officials have voiced support for Israel’s stance against ICC actions.

  1. US Military’s Gaza Aid Pier Will Cost $320 Million

A US-led initiative in which Navy and Army vessels will construct a floating pier off of Gaza’s coast will cost $320 million, according to Pentagon estimates of the cost of equipment transportation, pier construction, and aid delivery. The pier is scheduled to be operational by early May, after which aid loaded onto ships in Cyprus will be transferred to Gaza via the floating causeway.

  1. Hamas Considers Egyptian Cease-Fire Proposal Favorable

A Hamas official praised an Egyptian cease-fire proposal and called it the most promising potential deal in recent times. Key elements of the Egyptian proposal would include IDF withdrawal from Gaza and the identity of Palestinian prisoners to be released. Hamas remains in discussions, with sources indicating the group’s willingness to adjust the cease-fire duration based on hostage releases. Despite skepticism from Jerusalem, Hamas is set to respond to the proposal by Wednesday. 

  1. Fatah, Hamas Pursue Unity Talks in China

Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas continue discussions for reconciliation, now in Beijing, following similar efforts in Moscow. Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas, seeks to form a unified Palestinian government with Hamas, aiming to overcome longstanding divisions. Delegations from both sides, including senior officials, are engaged in talks facilitated by China’s Foreign Ministry. The push for unity follows previous dialogues in Moscow and Doha.

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★ IRAN

  1. Blinken Urges Gulf States to Strengthen Defense Against Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, attending a ministerial conference in Saudi Arabia, called for Persian Gulf states to collaborate on an integrated defense strategy to address threats from Iran. He emphasized the need for a unified approach in light of Iran’s recent attack on Israel, describing Iran as a significant threat to regional stability. Blinken’s remarks were made at a meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council Foreign Ministers, setting the stage for further U.S.-GCC defense cooperation against Iran’s actions in the region.

  1. Pakistan’s Dilemma: The Stalled Iran Gas Pipeline Project

Pakistan faces severe challenges with the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, known as the Peace Pipeline, intended to alleviate the country’s energy shortages. Despite Iran completing its section, Pakistan has been unable to finish its part of the pipeline due to sanctions and pressure from the U.S. The pipeline, which started over a decade ago, is stuck as Pakistan balances complex relationships with both Iran and the U.S., and faces significant financial penalties if the project remains incomplete.

  1. Leaked Iranian Document Exposes Alleged Abuse and Killing of Iranian Teen Protester by Security Forces

A leaked document reportedly from Iran’s security forces details the abuse and subsequent death of 16-year-old Nika Shakarami, who disappeared after participating in a 2022 anti-regime protest. The document, which the BBC verified through extensive checks, alleges that Nika was sexually assaulted and beaten in a security van, leading to her death. This contradicts the Iranian government’s claim that she committed suicide. Despite widespread outcry and evidence, the implicated security personnel have not been held accountable.

  1. Publisher Apologizes for Listing Khomeini Among “World’s Most Evil Men” in Indian Textbook

In India, a textbook publisher sparked outrage by listing Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, among the “most evil men in the world.” This text led to strong protests from the Indian Shia Muslim community, who condemned it as promoting hate against Islam and demanded legal action against the publisher. The book compared Khomeini to dictators like Hirohito and Genghis Khan, attributing millions of deaths to his policies. Following the backlash, the publisher, Q Connects Book, issued an apology.

  1. IMF Forecasts Economic Slowdown for Iran

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Iran is expected to experience a deceleration in economic growth and oil export levels. While the nation’s GDP grew by 4.7% last year, it is projected to slow to 3.3% in 2024 and further to 3.1% in 2025. Oil production gains are also anticipated to be minimal in the upcoming years. This slowdown comes despite a temporary increase in oil exports, which face constraints from current global oil prices and Iran’s need for significantly higher prices to balance its budget.

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YEMEN

  1. Vessel Bound for Israel Attacked and Sinking in the Red Sea

The vessel CYCLADES was severely damaged by a coordinated attack involving missiles and drones by Houthi forces from Sanaa. This attack, which occurred after the ship ignored multiple warnings including live fire, may cause the ship to drift and potentially sink in the coming hours. Houthi sources claimed the vessel had been under surveillance and had falsely declared its destination, leading to its targeting on April 21 as it headed towards the port of Eilat.

  1. New Houthi Attacks on Shipping in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea

Houthi rebels have launched new attacks on international shipping, targeting the MSC Orion container ship in the Indian Ocean with drones. This assault is part of an ongoing campaign that has expanded to include the commercial vessel Cyclades and two American destroyers in the Red Sea. These actions have drastically affected global supply chains, forcing ships to reroute and significantly increasing maritime shipping and insurance costs.

  1. Satellite Images Reveal Houthi Construction of Underground Military Facilities

Satellite imagery has exposed the Houthi militia’s efforts to construct substantial underground military installations, a strategic move to enhance their defenses against future conflicts. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, this development marks a significant advancement from the group’s earlier use of simple caves and tunnels. The Houthis are now renovating pre-war Yemeni army tunnels and creating entirely new underground facilities, preparing for potential confrontations with the United States and its allies.

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★ IRAQ

  1. Iraq’s New Law on Homosexuality Strains Relations with the US

Iraq’s parliament recently passed legislation criminalizing same-sex relations, sparking international criticism and potentially affecting its relationship with the United States. The amended Anti-Prostitution law also targets sex-change operations and public advocacy related to these issues. U.S. Ambassador Alina L. Romanowski expressed concerns about the law’s impact on Iraq’s economic diversity and foreign investment prospects. The move, defended by prominent Shiite leaders as necessary for moral preservation, has also faced backlash on social media, with accusations of it stifling political dissent and ideological propaganda.

  1. Erbil Advocates for Election Postponement

In recent discussions in Baghdad regarding the postponement of the regional elections in Iraqi Kurdistan, set for June 10, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) delegation, led by Nechirvan Barzani, proposed a three-month delay to address legal issues, receiving a non-committal response from Baghdad’s main political forces. However, this stance faced firm opposition from other Kurdish parties, notably the Kurdistan Union Party and the New Generation Movement, who emphasized the importance of proceeding with the elections as planned, rejecting any postponement. They argue that the KDP’s proposal is an attempt to maintain political control, and they continue to prepare for the upcoming elections, asserting their independence and dedication to the democratic process.

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★ SYRIA

  1. White House Says it Blocked New Congressional Sanctions on Assad

Washington Post reporter Josh Rogin reported on Tuesday that while the Biden administration publicly opposes normalizing relations with Assad’s regime in Syria, advocating sanctions until the violence ceases, behind the scenes the Biden administration is gradually relaxing these pressures. Biden administration officials told Rogin that they blocked passage of recent legislation intended to prevent normalization of relations with Assad. This policy shift from the White House is sparking criticism from bipartisan lawmakers and Syrian American groups.

  1. Iraq Repatriates 700 Linked to ISIS from Syria

Iraq recently repatriated 700 individuals from families associated with ISIS who had been detained in Syria’s Al-Hawl camp. Most returnees are women and children, now in a camp near Mosul, Iraq. They will participate in a rehabilitation program aimed at deterring extremist ideologies, supported by international agencies. This move is part of ongoing efforts to manage the risks associated with former ISIS members and their families, ensuring they do not pose a security threat.

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LEBANON

  1. Lebanon Receives Revised French Proposal as Hochstein Plans Return to Beirut

Lebanon officially received France’s modified proposal aimed at de-escalating tensions and halting fighting in the south. French President Emmanuel Macron’s adjustments followed consultations with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Formal discussions on Lebanon’s response are forthcoming. Mikati hailed the initiative as a practical framework for implementing UN Resolution 1701, emphasizing Lebanon’s commitment to its full execution. Preparations are underway for the official visit of Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, focused on enhanced financial support and institution bolstering. Meanwhile, U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein is still engaged in Lebanese affairs and planning a return to Lebanon as he visit the Middle East. The French proposal, which mirrors proposals Hochstein previously made, signals U.S.-French coordination.

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★ GULF REGION

  1. Saudi Arabia Eyes Normalization with Israel

A diplomatic source told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Saudi Arabia has decided to normalize relations with Israel and is deliberating the optimal timing for the announcement of this shift, which could be made in the coming weeks or after the U.S. presidential election. The move is contingent on advancements towards Palestinian statehood, with the U.S. pushing for this as part of the agreement under the Abraham Accords. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted ongoing efforts toward normalization, emphasizing the inclusion of a pathway to a Palestinian state as essential. The Saudis have paused negotiations following recent conflicts but remain committed to normalization, seeking guarantees on Palestinian statehood progress.

  1. Riyadh Hosts Tripartite Meeting on Gaza and Two-State Solution

In Riyadh, foreign ministers from Arab, Islamic, and European nations convened to discuss the Gaza conflict and the broader Palestinian issue, including the two-state solution. Chaired by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and his Norwegian counterpart, Espen Barth Eide, the meeting focused on the humanitarian situation in Gaza and advancing Palestinian state recognition. The Saudi minister emphasized the non-negotiable right of Palestinians to statehood, urging European partners to persuade Israel to embrace peace, highlighting the dire conditions in Gaza, including the discovery of mass graves.

  1. Final Touches on Saudi-U.S. Security Agreement

Saudi Arabia and the United States are close to finalizing a security agreement, focused heavily on the situation in Gaza and the broader Palestinian issue. This was highlighted during multiple meetings at the World Economic Forum in Riyadh, involving key figures like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The discussions emphasized the need for a credible pathway to establish a Palestinian state and a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. Blinken also urged Hamas to accept a significant Israeli proposal to advance normalization efforts between Israel and regional countries.

  1. UAE-Iran Joint Committee Meets After a Decade

For the first time in ten years, the UAE-Iran Joint Economic Cooperation Committee is reconvening in Abu Dhabi, reflecting Tehran’s intent to enhance Gulf relations despite U.S. pressures. Attended by Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development, Mehrdad Bazrpash, and UAE’s Minister of Economy, Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri, the meeting marks a pivotal moment in diplomatic engagements. This initiative follows a period of reduced ties since 2016 and symbolizes a significant step in revitalizing long-standing trade relationships, with the UAE remaining a major trade partner for Iran.

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★ EGYPT AND NORTH AFRICA

  1. Israel Decides Against Sending Delegation to Cairo for Ceasefire Talks

Israel has opted not to send its delegation to Cairo for ceasefire negotiations in Gaza until receiving a response from Hamas regarding Egyptian proposals for a prisoner swap deal. A senior Israeli political official stated that they have decided against the Cairo trip. Tel Aviv will await Hamas’ response on the new deal proposals until next Wednesday before deciding on further negotiations. The nature of the responses awaited from Hamas by Tel Aviv has not been specified. Meanwhile, preparations for a potential military operation in Rafah are underway if new negotiations with Hamas fail.

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📌 Incase you missed it,

📰 THE EARLY PHOENIX  April 29 , 2024

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