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Israel Threatens to Occupy Southern Lebanon if Hezbollah Doesn’t Back Down

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TOP HEADLINES:

  • Israel Threatens to Occupy Southern Lebanon if Hezbollah Doesn’t Withdraw
  • Blinken:  No Credible Israeli Plan Addressing U.S. Concerns Over Rafah Operation
  • Hamas: Israel’s Offer Aligns with Our Terms but Includes “Trojan Clauses”
  • Kurds Question U.S. Priorities After Defense of Israel and Neglect of Iraqi Kurdistan
  • U.S. Approves $250M Military Training Sale to Saudi Navy

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★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

  1. Blinken:  No Credible Israeli Plan Addressing U.S. Concerns Over Rafah Operation

The U.S. has expressed concerns over Israel’s planned military operation in Rafah, citing the lack of a credible plan that addresses these worries. This comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Israel to advocate for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, emphasizing the need for the release of hostages and the continuation of aid to the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite international concern, has vowed to proceed with the operation. Blinken’s visit also highlighted the first Jordanian truck convoy delivering aid to Gaza through the reopened Erez crossing, marking significant but incomplete progress.

  1. Blinken in Tel Aviv:  Biden to Work with Egypt, Qatar on Deal Terms

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has arrived in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after visits to Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This marks his seventh trip to the region amid Israel’s ongoing conflict with Gaza, which began last October. Blinken’s discussions are aimed at securing a truce and advancing prisoner exchanges. He has urged Hamas to agree to a ceasefire and has emphasized increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza. Concurrently, President Joe Biden is coordinating with Egypt and Qatar to ensure the implementation of the ceasefire terms, focusing on the release of detainees. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been clear that Israel will proceed with military actions in Rafah regardless of ceasefire negotiations, stressing that Israel will not withdraw completely from Gaza. 

  1. Israel Bars UNRWA Chief Entry to Israel and Gaza

Israel has denied entry to Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, by rejecting his visa application to visit Israel and Gaza. This decision by Israeli Interior Minister Moshe Arbel follows allegations by the Israeli army that a significant number of UNRWA’s employees in Gaza have ties to Hamas. Specifically, the army claims that of UNRWA’s 1,200 employees in Gaza, 440 are activists in Hamas’ military wing, 2,000 are non-military activists, and 7,000 have first-degree relatives with Hamas members. Following these claims, several countries initially suspended their funding to UNRWA, although Germany, Canada, and Sweden later resumed their support after the publication of a report that countered the allegations in the Israeli report.

  1. Israeli Army Plans New “Safe Zone” in Central Gaza for Rafah Evacuees

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli army intends to establish a new “safe zone” in central Gaza to shelter Palestinians to be evacuated from Rafah in the south. This area will border Nusairat and Bureij, near an Israeli military passage. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted at Rafah civilians’ evacuation and an Israeli a ground assault. However, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazarini stated Rafah residents haven’t been asked to evacuate yet.

  1. Hamas: Israel’s Offer Aligns with Our Terms but Includes “Trojan Clauses”

Hamas leader Yousef Hamdan has stated that Israel’s recent ceasefire and detainee exchange proposal aligns closely with Hamas’s conditions but contains “trojan clauses” that could undermine the agreement’s implementation. Despite U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s pressure on Hamas to accept what he characterizes as a generous offer, Hamdan emphasizes that Hamas will remain focused on the proposal’s substance and is awaiting Israel’s response to their feedback. Blinken has accused Hamas of being the sole barrier to reaching a detainee exchange agreement. Meanwhile, efforts for a truce continue, with Egypt mediating and the U.S. pushing for an end to hostilities in Rafah, amidst a generally positive atmosphere for negotiations.

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★ IRAN

  1. Iran Welcomes Over 130 IAEA Inspectors for Nuclear Site Audits

Iran has authorized the presence of over 130 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to monitor its nuclear sites. Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, confirmed that these inspections are part of ongoing efforts to ensure nuclear activities are purely peaceful. The IAEA continues regular checks, maintaining dialogue over several undisclosed sites. Upcoming talks with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi aim to clarify remaining issues and reinforce cooperation.

  1. UK Scrutinizes Counter-Terrorism Strategy with Focus on Iran

The UK Foreign Affairs Committee recently held a session to evaluate its counter-terrorism policy, with a focus on the threats posed by Iran. Testimonies from experts, including former MI6 chief Sir Alex Younger and Professor Ali Ansari from the University of St Andrews, highlighted the challenges of state-supported terrorism. They emphasized the need for a robust, coordinated response, not only targeting Iran’s activities but also incorporating lessons from adversaries and strengthening ideological and cultural defenses within security services. The next committee session is scheduled for May 7, 2024.

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YEMEN

  1. Houthis Pledge to Join Iran in Any Regional Conflict Against Israel

Houthi spokesperson Nasr al-Din Amer affirmed the movement’s commitment to support Iran or its regional allies in a potential comprehensive regional war. The statement follows recent heightened tensions triggered by an Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus and subsequent escalated confrontations. Amer emphasized the Houthi’s pivotal role in defending allies within the “Axis of Resistance,” promising unwavering support in any conflicts, highlighting their strategic readiness against perceived Western aggression towards any allied state.

  1. Yemen’s Legitimate Government Nears Internet Deal with Starlink, Challenging Houthi Control

Yemen’s recognized government is finalizing a licensing deal with Elon Musk’s Starlink to provide satellite internet services, a significant move given the Houthis’ control over the telecom sector. This initiative, which could take another month to complete, is expected to dramatically improve internet speeds in Yemen, currently among the slowest worldwide. 

  1. Houthi Drone Attack Hits Portuguese-Flagged Ship in Arabian Sea

A Portuguese-flagged container ship, the MSC Orion, was struck by a drone in the Arabian Sea, 375 miles from the Yemeni coast, marking a significant reach for the Houthi rebels. The attack, which occurred last Friday and resulted in minor damage and no crew injuries, suggests the involvement of advanced capabilities, possibly supported by Iran. This incident underscores the expanding scope of Houthi operations, which traditionally have been concentrated near Yemen’s shores in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

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★ IRAQ

  1. Iraq Boosts Air Force Capabilities with $550M US Helicopter Purchase

Iraq will enhance its air force by acquiring 21 multi-purpose helicopters from the United States, including 12 Bell 412s and 9 Bell 407s. This $550 million deal, announced during Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani’s visit to Washington, also includes military aid with additional training helicopters. The purchase supports Iraq’s broader strategy to diversify its military assets and improve combat readiness, coinciding with joint military exercises with the Italian Air Force and ongoing cooperation with the US to counter regional threats and continue the fight against ISIS.

  1. Kurds Question U.S. Priorities After Defense of Israel and Neglect of Iraqi Kurdistan

The U.S. response to Iran’s ballistic missile attack aimed at Israel from Erbil on April 13 raised concerns among Iraqi Kurds about the selective use of American defense systems. Despite intercepting a missile bound for Israel, the U.S. had not activated defense systems during Iran’s January missile attack on Erbil, which targeted a location falsely claimed to house Mossad and killed four civilians. This inconsistency has sparked debates among Kurds regarding their strategic value to the U.S., especially given the lack of similar protection during multiple attacks on the region.

  1. US Consultants to Spearhead Iraq’s $17 Billion Development Road Project

The Iraqi Ministry of Transport has engaged US-based consultancy Oliver Wyman to advance its $17 billion Development Road project, aimed at enhancing domestic and international transport links. This project will connect Al-Faw Grand Port to the Turkish border through expanded road and railway networks. The collaboration is part of a broader agreement with Turkey, the UAE, and Qatar meant to enhance Iraq’s position in global logistics and boosting regional economic growth through improved infrastructure.

  1. China’s Military Drone Showcase Signals Competition in Middle East Arms Market

At Baghdad’s annual Security and Defense exhibition, China’s CH-5 drone garnered attention as Beijing leverages U.S. military export restrictions to Middle Eastern countries to promote its arsenal. The CH-5 drone, capable of extended flight durations and versatile in both military and civil operations, underscores China’s expanding footprint in the regional arms trade. This development hints at an emerging challenge to U.S. dominance in military exports to the region, with China offering cost-effective and unrestricted alternatives.

  1. Gas Production Resumes at Iraqi Kurdistan Field After Iranian Attack

Dana Gas, a UAE-based company, has announced the resumption of production at the Khor Mor gas field in Iraqi Kurdistan. The decision follows significant enhancements in security measures by the Iraqi and Kurdish governments after the site was targeted by a drone attack, which resulted in the deaths of four Yemeni workers. Production is restarting gradually, with new safety protocols to ensure maximum security for all personnel and facilities.

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★ SYRIA

  1. US Envoy Says Iranian and Russian Support for Assad Hinders Political Resolution for Syria

Ethan Goldrich, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, emphasized the continued support of the United States for imposing further sanctions on the Syrian regime and its backers, notably Iran and Russia, whom he accused of obstructing the implementation of UN Resolution 2254. This resolution aims to initiate a political process in Syria involving a ceasefire and political reforms. Speaking at the eighth Brussels conference on Syria, Goldrich highlighted ongoing Russian and Iranian support for the Syrian regime as a significant barrier to achieving these goals. The U.S. is also actively discouraging any attempts by other nations to normalize relations with Syria, stressing that such moves are futile without significant political progress in Syria. 

  1. US and EU Warn Assad Regime Against Crackdown in Druze Province

The United States and the European Union have issued warnings regarding the Assad regime’s potential use of force against demonstrators in Suwayda, Syria. These warnings come as the regime has recently deployed significant military reinforcements to the area, which has been experiencing ongoing protests against the government. Luis Bueno, a spokesman for the European Union, specifically condemned any potential excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators and urged all parties to avoid violence. Similarly, a U.S. State Department official expressed condemnation of any harsh measures against demonstrators, supporting the rights to peaceful assembly and expression. Local religious and social leaders in Suwayda, including Sheikh Hikmat Al-Hijri, have also spoken out against escalation and supported the peaceful demands of the protesters, emphasizing the necessity of peace and stability in the region.

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LEBANON

  1. Israel Threatens to Occupy Southern Lebanon if Hezbollah Doesn’t Withdraw

Israel has escalated its military actions against Hezbollah by threatening to occupy significant areas in southern Lebanon if Hezbollah does not withdraw. This was communicated by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz to his French counterpart amidst ongoing skirmishes and assassination attempts on Hezbollah leaders by Israel. The heightened tension comes after Israel extended its targeting beyond the Litani River, citing the need to restore calm and ensure the safety of its northern borders. The situation has intensified fears of a broader conflict, as Israel continues its airstrikes into Lebanese territory and assassination attempts, while Hezbollah has responded with missile attacks on Israeli settlements.

  1. Surge in Syrian Refugees Leaving Lebanon for Cyprus as Aid Decreases

Amy Pope, head of the International Organization for Migration, reports a significant increase in Syrian refugees leaving Lebanon for Cyprus, driven by reduced aid and deteriorating conditions. In 2023, around 3,000 Syrians have already left, surpassing the total of 4,500 in the previous year. Cypriot authorities have halted Syrian asylum applications and increased patrols to intercept migrant boats. The reduction in aid, exacerbates the situation. High-level discussions involving Cypriot and EU officials are set for Beirut to address potential aid responses.

  1. Hezbollah Dismisses French Proposal, Vows it Will Not Lose War With Israel

Despite the renewal of French diplomatic efforts in Lebanon, Hezbollah has shown little interest in the French initiative aimed at mitigating tensions in southern Lebanon. Lebanese leaders Nabih Berri and Najib Mikati have received the proposal, which seeks to link the cessation of hostilities in southern Lebanon with the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Hezbollah views the initiative as insufficient to alter its current stance, raising fears of a potential escalation into a broader conflict.

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★ GULF REGION

  1. U.S. Approves $250M Military Training Sale to Saudi Navy

The U.S. State Department has approved a potential $250 million sale of military training programs and related logistic services to the Saudi Naval Forces. This move, intended to enhance the capabilities of the Saudi Navy, aligns with U.S. foreign policy and security objectives by bolstering a key ally responsible for regional stability and economic progress in the Gulf. The proposal also aims to improve Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities against regional threats, support American naval operations, and increase interoperability with U.S. and Gulf military systems.

  1. Bahrain Seeks Investors for Key Oil Pipeline from Saudi Arabia

Bahrain is actively seeking investors to acquire a stake in a major pipeline transporting crude oil from Saudi Arabia, according to Bloomberg. This strategic move could potentially raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Bahrain, the smallest economy in the Gulf, by capitalizing on its energy assets. The pipeline, with a capacity of 350,000 barrels per day, links Saudi oil processing facilities in Abqaiq to Bahrain’s BAPCO refinery. The sale is part of Bahrain’s broader effort to open its historically closed energy sector to foreign investment.

  1. Qatari Official Warns Israeli Operations in Rafah Could Derail Hostage Deal

A senior Qatari official warned that an Israeli military operation in Rafah could jeopardize the chances of reaching a ceasefire agreement and endanger the lives of hostages. Despite ongoing negotiations, facilitated by Egyptian efforts, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed his commitment to proceed with the operation in Rafah, aiming to dismantle Hamas brigades, irrespective of the negotiation outcomes. The Qatari official expressed skepticism about Israel’s intentions to end the fighting, highlighting challenges in mediation efforts due to perceived lack of commitment to reaching an agreement from both Israel and Hamas.

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★ EGYPT AND NORTH AFRICA

  1. US Plans to Bring Palestinians from Gaza as Refugees

The U.S. government is considering a plan to resettle Palestinians from the Gaza Strip as refugees in coordination with Egypt, as reported by CBS News. This initiative, intended for Palestinians with close relatives in the U.S., involves granting refugee status through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Eligible individuals, having fled to Egypt, would undergo thorough checks and receive resettlement benefits, including housing assistance and a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

  1. Israel Prepares “Last Chance” Delegation Before Rafah Operation

Israel is poised to send a “last chance” delegation to Cairo for crucial talks with Egypt, seeking to broker a ceasefire with Hamas before initiating a military operation in Rafah, Gaza. As tension escalates, Israel waits for Hamas’ response to the ceasefire proposal, pivotal for progressing the negotiations aimed at ending the fighting and securing the release of Israeli hostages. Israeli officials express that this discussion represents the final opportunity to avert the planned assault on Rafah—a move that Prime Minister Netanyahu vows to undertake irrespective of the negotiation outcome, prompting concerns about substantial civilian casualties. 

  1. Israeli Military Opens Fire on Suspected Smugglers on Egypt Border

The Israeli army reported opening fire on suspected drug smugglers at the border with Egypt after detecting an attempted drug smuggling operation. The incident, involving damage to the border fence’s infrastructure, occurred in the Jabal Harif area of the Negev desert. The Bardelas Brigade, part of the Border Guard, engaged the suspects, resulting in injuries. This is part of a pattern of occasional drug smuggling and exchanges of gunfire on this generally calm border. Recently, an Egyptian spokesman denied Israeli claims about weapons smuggling from Egypt to Gaza.

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★ TURKIYE

  1. French Assembly’s Assyrian-Chaldean Massacres Resolution Creates New Tension in Franco-Turkish Relations

A new crisis has emerged between Turkey and France following a French National Assembly resolution that urges the government to recognize the Ottoman Empire’s actions against the Assyrian-Chaldean community during World War I as genocide. Turkey vehemently denies these claims, asserting they lack historical and legal basis and contravene international law. This issue adds to existing tensions between the two nations, which include disagreements over Turkey’s EU membership bid and conflicts in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. 

  1. Egypt-Turkey Military Cooperation Expands

Military cooperation between Egypt and Turkey is intensifying following years of diplomatic tension. This collaboration was highlighted by the recent visit of Egypt’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Osama Askar, to Ankara, marking the most significant Egyptian military visit in over a decade. Discussions focused on various aspects of military partnership, including potential joint manufacturing and the exchange of advanced technologies like Turkish drones. These talks precede an anticipated visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Turkey, suggesting a strong mutual interest in deepening military ties alongside improving diplomatic relations.

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📌 Incase you missed it,

📰 THE EARLY PHOENIX  April 30 , 2024

📰 THE EARLY PHOENIX  April 29 , 2024

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