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Putin orders a temporary cease-fire in Ukraine

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(Last Updated On: January 5, 2023)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed the country’s Defense Minister to order a cease-fire in Ukraine over Orthodox Christmas.

The ceasefire will kick in for 36 hours starting at noon on Friday, January 6. Orthodox Christmas is traditionally celebrated by many on January 6 and 7.

According to the Kremlin’s press service, Putin made the announcement in response to an earlier call by Russian Patriarch Kirill for guns to go silent over the Orthodox holiday.

“Due to the fact that a large number of citizens of the Orthodox faith live in several areas of the conflict zone, we call on the Ukrainian side to observe a ceasefire and allow them to visit Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services,” said a statement posted to the Kremlin website.

Patriarch Kirill has been an avid supporter of the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine — including telling Russian soldiers that dying for the cause would “wash away all sins.”

Earlier on Thursday, in a call with Putin, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked the Russian leader to implement a unilateral cease-fire to support efforts to end the war.

In response, Putin repeated Russian demands that Ukraine accepts Moscow’s recent annexation of four regions of Ukraine before serious peace negotiations could begin.

The annexation moves have been widely condemned as illegal, and Russian forces have failed to maintain control over the territories.

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Reactions to the death of Iran’s president in a helicopter crash

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(Last Updated On: May 20, 2024)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner long seen as a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was killed in a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain near the Azerbaijan border, Reuters quoted officials and state media said on Monday.

The following are reactions to the news:

HAMAS STATEMENT:

The statement conveyed Hamas’ “deepest condolences and solidarity” to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Iranian government, and the Iranian people for “this immense loss.”

It praised the deceased Iranian leaders for supporting the Palestinian cause and resistance against Israel and expressed confidence that Iran’s “deep-rooted institutions” will enable it to overcome “the repercussions of this great loss.”

MOHAMMED ALI AL-HOUTHI, HEAD OF YEMEN’S HOUTHI SUPREME REVOLUTIONARY COMMITTEE, ON X, FORMERLY TWITTER:

“Our deepest condolences to the Iranian people, the Iranian leadership, and the families of President Raisi and the accompanying delegation on their reported martyrdom. We ask God to grant their families patience and solace. Verily we belong to Allah and to Him we shall return. The Iranian people will remain adhering to the loyal leaders of their people, by God’s will.”

INDIAN PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI ON X, FORMERLY TWITTER:

“Deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic demise of Dr. Seyed Ebrahim Raisi, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. His contribution to strengthening India-Iran bilateral relationship will always be remembered. My heartfelt condolences to his family and the people of Iran. India stands with Iran in this time of sorrow.”

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Saudi crown prince, US national security adviser meet on Gaza, bilateral deal

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(Last Updated On: May 19, 2024)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met to discuss a broad bilateral agreement and Israel’s war in Gaza, the Saudi state news agency reported on Sunday.

The meeting in the Saudi city of Dhahran reviewed “the semi-final version of the draft strategic agreements between the two countries, which are almost being finalised,” a statement read.

Washington and Riyadh have been discussing U.S. security guarantees and civilian nuclear assistance as part of a broader deal that the U.S. hopes would lead to normalising Saudi-Israeli relations.

The de facto Saudi leader and President Joe Biden’s top security aide also discussed the need to find a “credible track for bringing about the two-state solution” for Israel and the Palestinians, stop the war against Hamas militants in Gaza and facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid, the statement said.

The Biden administration and Saudi Arabia have been seeking to finalise the nuclear agreement, Reuters reported early this month, even as Israel-Saudi normalisation, part of a Middle East “grand bargain”, remains elusive.

The White House said on Friday that Sullivan would visit Saudi Arabia and Israel to discuss bilateral and regional matters, including Gaza and efforts to achieve lasting peace and security in the region.

Saudi Arabia, as the world’s largest oil exporter, is not an obvious candidate for a nuclear pact typically aimed at building power plants.

But the kingdom is seeking to generate substantial renewable energy and reduce emissions under an ambitious long-term plan, while critics say Riyadh might want nuclear expertise in case it someday wished to acquire nuclear weapons, despite safeguards enshrined in any deal with Washington to prevent this.

 

(Reuters)

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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2024)

Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south Hamas attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armour had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance, Reuters reported.

“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.

Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Hamas re-grouping there.

In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.

“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, U.N. humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north towards the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.

As the fighting raged, the U.S. military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.

The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land – disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah – were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.

“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

U.S. aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.

Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade”.

The White House said U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.

A group of U.S. medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

HUMANITARIAN FEARS

The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive”.

A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.

“The 7th Brigade’s fire control centre directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.

At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.

Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.

Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.

In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honourable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”

Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

‘TRAGIC WAR’

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

UNRWA, the main U.N. aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.

“They’re moving to areas where there is no water – we’ve got to truck it in – and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.

At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.

The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.

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