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Biden says US military to airdrop food and supplies into Gaza

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U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Friday plans to carry out a first military airdrop of food and supplies into Gaza, a day after the deaths of Palestinians queuing for aid threw a spotlight on an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in the crowded coastal enclave.

Biden said the U.S. airdrop would take place in the coming days but offered no further specifics. Other countries, including Jordan and France, have already carried out airdrops of aid into Gaza, Reuters reported.

“We need to do more and the United States will do more,” Biden told reporters, adding that “aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough.”

At the White House, spokesperson John Kirby stressed that airdrops would become “a sustained effort.” He added that the first airdrop would be likely be military MREs, or “meals ready-to-eat.”

“This isn’t going to be one and done,” Kirby said.

Biden told reporters that the U.S. was also looking at the possibility of a maritime corridor to deliver large amounts of aid into Gaza.

The airdrops could begin as early as this weekend, officials said.

At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip – one quarter of the enclave’s population – are one step away from famine, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces had killed more than 100 people trying to reach a relief convoy near Gaza City early on Thursday. Palestinians face an increasingly desperate situation nearly five months into the war that began with a Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

Israel blamed most of the deaths on crowds that swarmed around aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over. An Israeli official also said troops had “in a limited response” later fired on crowds they felt had posed a threat.

With people eating animal feed and even cactuses to survive, and with medics saying children are dying in hospitals from malnutrition and dehydration, the U.N. has said it faces “overwhelming obstacles” getting in aid.

While it is unclear which type of aircraft will be used, the C-17 and C-130 are best suited for the job.

David Deptula, a retired U.S. Air Force three-star general who once commanded the no-fly zone over northern Iraq, said airdrops are something the U.S. military can effectively execute.

“It is something that’s right up their mission alley,” Deptula told Reuters.

“There are a lot of detailed challenges. But there’s nothing insurmountable.”

The United States and others also expect aid would be boosted by a temporary ceasefire, which Biden said Friday he hoped would happen by the time of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on March 10.

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UN Security Council backs Israel-Hamas ceasefire plan

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The United Nations Security Council on Monday backed a proposal outlined by President Joe Biden for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and urged the Palestinian militants to accept the deal aimed at ending the eight-month-long war, Reuters reported.

Hamas welcomed the adoption of the U.S.-drafted resolution and said in a statement that it is ready to cooperate with mediators over implementing the principles of the plan “that are consistent with the demands of our people and resistance.”

Russia abstained from the U.N. vote, while the remaining 14 Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution supporting a three-phase ceasefire plan laid out by Biden on May 31 that he described as an Israeli initiative.

“Today we voted for peace,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council after the vote.

The resolution welcomes the new ceasefire proposal, states that Israel has accepted it, calls on Hamas to agree to it and “urges both parties to fully implement its terms without delay and without condition.”

Algeria, the only Arab member of the council, supported the resolution because “we believe it can represent a step forward toward an immediate and lasting ceasefire,” Algeria’s U.N. Ambassador Amar Bendjama told the council.

“It offers a glimmer of hope to the Palestinians,” he said. “It’s time to halt the killing.”

The resolution also goes into detail about the proposal, and spells out that “if the negotiations take longer than six weeks for phase one, the ceasefire will still continue as long as negotiations continue.”

ISRAEL’S GOALS

However, it did not contain enough detail for Moscow. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia asked what Israel had specifically agreed to and said the Security Council should not be signing up to agreements with “vague parameters.”

“We did not wish to block the resolution simply because it, as much as we understand, is supported by the Arab world,” Nebenzia told the council.

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan was present for the vote, but did not address the council. Instead, senior Israeli U.N. diplomat Reut Shapir Ben Naftaly told the body that Israel’s goals in Gaza had always been clear, read the report.

“Israel is committed to these goals – to free all the hostages, to destroy Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and to ensure that Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel in the future,” she said. “It is Hamas that is preventing this war from ending. Hamas and Hamas alone.”

The council in March demanded for an immediate ceasefire and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas.

For months, negotiators from the U.S., Egypt and Qatar have been trying to mediate a ceasefire. Hamas says it wants a permanent end to the war in the Gaza Strip and Israeli withdrawal from the enclave of 2.3 million people.

Israel is retaliating against Hamas, which rules Gaza, over an Oct. 7 attack by its militants, Reuters reported.

More than 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies. More than 100 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza.

Israel launched an air, ground and sea assault on the Palestinian territory, killing more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

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Israel’s centrist minister Benny Gantz quits Netanyahu government

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Israeli minister Benny Gantz announced his resignation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government on Sunday, withdrawing the only centrist power in the embattled leader’s far-right coalition amid a months-long war in Gaza, Reuters reported.

The departure of Gantz’s centrist party will not pose an immediate threat to the government. But it could have a serious impact nonetheless, leaving Netanyahu reliant on hardliners, with no end in sight to the Gaza war and a possible escalation in fighting with Lebanese Hezbollah.

Last month, Gantz presented Netanyahu with a June 8 deadline to come up with a clear day-after strategy for Gaza, where Israel has been pressing a devastating military offensive against the ruling Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Netanyahu brushed off the ultimatum soon after it was given, read the report.

On Sunday, Gantz said politics was clouding fateful strategic decisions in Netanyahu’s cabinet. Quitting while hostages were still in Gaza and soldiers fighting there was an excruciating decision, he said.

“Netanyahu is preventing us from advancing toward true victory,” Gantz said in a televised news conference. “That is why we are leaving the emergency government today, with a heavy heart but with full confidence.”

Netanyahu responded in a social media post, telling Gantz it was no time to abandon the battlefront.

With Gantz gone, Netanyahu would lose the backing of a centrist bloc that has helped broaden support for the government in Israel and abroad, at a time of increasing diplomatic and domestic pressure eight months into the Gaza war.

While his coalition remains in control of 64 of parliament’s 120 seats, Netanyahu will now have to rely more heavily on the political backing of ultra-nationalist parties, whose leaders angered Washington even before the war and who have since called for a complete Israeli occupation of Gaza.

This would likely increase strains already apparent in relations with the United States and intensify public pressure at home, with the months-long military campaign still not achieving its stated goals – the destruction of Hamas and the return of more than 100 remaining hostages held in Gaza.

Polls have shown Gantz, a former army commander and defence minister, to be the most formidable political rival to Netanyahu, whose image as a security hawk was shattered by the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, read the report.

Warning that the conflict in Gaza could take years, he urged Netanyahu to agree on an election date in the autumn, to avoid further political infighting at a time of national emergency.

Gantz joined a unity government soon after Oct. 7 as part of Netanyahu’s inner war cabinet where he, Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant alone had votes.

On Sunday, Gantz described Gallant, who has sparred with Netanyahu and some ultra-nationalists ministers, as a brave leader and called on him ‘to do the right thing,’ though he did not elaborate on what that meant.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir demanded Gantz’s now vacant seat at the war cabinet soon after the resignation was announced.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said in a statement Gantz was giving Israel’s enemies what they want, Reuters reported.

Asked whether he was worried about his departure impacting Israel’s standing abroad, Gantz said Gallant and Netanyahu both know “what should be done.”

“Hopefully they will stick to what should be done and then it will be okay,” he said.

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North Korea resumes sending trash balloons to South Korea

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North Korea has resumed sending balloons carrying trash over the border to South Korea, officials and news reports said on Sunday, a week after it vowed to continue if anti-North Korea leaflets are flown from the South.

Dozens of balloons with trash attached have been found in Seoul and in areas near the border overnight and early on Sunday, after the South Korean military said late on Saturday the North was again launching them, Reuters reported.

South Korea’s military said on Sunday it takes the balloons “very seriously” and was on alert to take action in response as necessary. It did not elaborate what actions it would take.

South Korea has warned it would take “unendurable” measures against the North for sending the trash balloons, which could include blaring propaganda broadcasts from huge loudspeakers set up at the border directed at the North.

The North Korean government has said the balloons were sent in retaliation to anti-North leaflets flown by South Korean activists as part of a propaganda campaign and launched hundreds of them starting late in May carrying trash and manure.

On June 2, it said it would temporarily halt sending the balloons because 15 tons of trash it sent was probably enough to get the message across how “unpleasant” it was. However, it vowed to resume if leaflets are again flown from the South by sending hundred times the amount.

A group of South Korean activists defied the warning and have since flown more balloons to the North with leaflets criticising its leader Kim Jong Un together with USB sticks containing K-pop videos and dramas, and U.S. dollar notes.

North Korea has shown some of the angriest reaction towards the leaflet campaign and the loudspeaker broadcasts, in some cases firing weapons at the balloons and the speakers in the past.

Experts have said the reaction was an indication Pyongyang considers the propaganda as a serious threat to controlling its public.

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