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UN seeks immediate action to avoid another war in Gaza

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Palestinians

United Nations, Oct 19 : The United Nations envoy for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, has demanded that Palestine and Israel take immediate action to reduce current tensions in the area and avoid another armed conflict in Gaza.

“We remain on the brink of another potentially devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to prevent,” said Mladenov in a videoconference speech to the Council on Thursday.

“Barring substantial steps to reverse the current course, this precarious sense of calm is doomed to give way under the mounting pressure. It is already beginning to fray,” he said, reports Efe.

The diplomat called on Hamas and other groups to “immediately” halt all “provocations and attacks” and to stop all violence along the border, while adding that Israel must facilitate access of goods and people to Gaza and ensure that its security forces are acting with maximum restraint.

Mladenov addressed the Security Council to review the new escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, where on Wednesday Israel staged about 20 airstrikes in reprisal for the launching of rockets from the Palestinian enclave.

Mladenov, who is working with Egypt in negotiations to try and stabilize the situation in Gaza and facilitate reconciliation among the Palestinian factions, said that the arrangements that have maintained a certain calm in recent years are breaking down under growing pressure.

The UN official said he was afraid that there is no more time for mere words and that the international community and the local parties must act now.

The upsurge in violence is taking place as Israeli society and members of the country’s Cabinet debate whether to launch a broad new military operation against Gaza to guarantee calm, after six months of mobilizations in the Strip, the launching of hundreds of incendiary balloons and dozens of attempts to damage the border fence and infiltrate into Israel, some by armed militias.

These actions come amid the so-called Great March of Return, which began on March 30 resulting in the deaths of more than 200 Palestinians in demonstrations and in violent incidents or Israeli bombings against militias.

Mladenov emphasized that the situation in Gaza is absolutely not sustainable: “Gaza is collapsing. This is not hyperbole. It is not alarmism. It is a reality.”

He said that the economy of the Strip is in free fall, with unemployment of 53 percent, and 70 percent unemployment among young people.

All the key indicators – humanitarian, economic, security and political – continue to deteriorate, he said.

Mladenov emphasized that there is a clear and growing international consensus about the need to act to respond to the situation, above all with humanitarian initiatives, adding that reducing the humanitarian pressure on the ground will directly reduce the threat of escalation and provide space for efforts led by Egypt to return the legitimate Palestinian government to Gaza, which is currently under the control of the Islamist Hamas movement.

Middle East

US sanctions 17 Saudi officials over killing of Khashoggi

The sanctions were handed down after Saudi Arabia’s attorney general, Saud al-Mojeb, said Thursday that he would seek the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects charged in connection with the journalist’s death.

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journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Washington, Nov 16 (IANS) The United States’ government on Thursday sanctioned 17 Saudi Arabian officials for their alleged role in the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul early last month.

Among those sanctioned by the US Treasury Department is Saud al-Qahtani, one of the chief advisers to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Efe reported.

“The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi (on October 2). These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was quoted as saying in a press release.

“The government of Saudi Arabia must take appropriate steps to end any targeting of political dissidents or journalists,” he added.

The US Treasury Department accused al-Qahtani of helping to plan and execute the operation that led to the killing of Khashoggi.

The other people hit with sanctions are Saudi Arabia’s consul general, Mohammed al-Otaibi; al-Qahtani’s subordinate, Maher Mutreb, who allegedly coordinated and executed the operation; and 14 others who purportedly participated in the crime.

“As a result of these designations, any property or interests in property of the individuals designated today within or transiting US jurisdiction is blocked,” Thursday’s press release said.

“Additionally, US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with blocked persons, including entities 50 percent or more owned by designated persons.”

The sanctions were handed down after Saudi Arabia’s attorney general, Saud al-Mojeb, said Thursday that he would seek the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects charged in connection with the journalist’s death.

In a press conference in Riyadh, the top prosecutor said the crown prince had not had any prior knowledge of the operation.

Al-Mojeb said the investigation had shown that Khashoggi, a government critic and Washington Post columnist, died after being restrained and injected with a tranquilizer following a fight inside the consulate.

His body was then dismembered and handed over to a Turkish collaborator, the attorney general said.

Al-Mojeb said the then-deputy head of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, had masterminded the operation that was intended to get Khashoggi back to the kingdom.

He added that the order for the killing was given by the head of the delegation of agents that had traveled to Turkey, although he did not name that individual.

Khashoggi, long a part of the Saudi establishment, became estranged from Riyadh as a result of his criticism of the crown prince and had been living in self-imposed exile in the US since 2017.

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Middle East

Israel, Hamas trade heavy fire after deadly incursion

The fighting, which cast doubt over recent understandings brokered by Egypt and U.N. officials to reduce tensions, was triggered by a botched undercover Israeli military raid in Gaza the day before.

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Israel Hamas
Palestinian mourners carry the bodies of two of the seven Hamas militants who were killed in an Israeli raid late Sunday, during their funerals in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. ADEL HANA/AP

Palestinian militants bombarded Israel with dozens of rockets and mortar shells Monday while Israeli warplanes struck targets throughout the Gaza Strip in what appeared to be the most intense exchange of fire since the 2014 war.

Palestinian officials said at least three people, including two militants, were killed by Israeli fire and nine were wounded. In Israel, the national rescue service said at least seven people were wounded, including a 19-year-old man who was in critical condition.

The fighting, which cast doubt over recent understandings brokered by Egypt and U.N. officials to reduce tensions, was triggered by a botched undercover Israeli military raid in Gaza the day before.

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Middle East

Saudis close to Crown Prince discussed killing enemies: NYT

Saudi officials have portrayed Khashoggi’s death as a rogue killing ordered by an official who has since been fired.

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Mohammed bin Salman

New York, Nov 12 : Top Saudi intelligence officials close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asked a small group of businessmen last year about using private companies to assassinate enemies of the Kingdom, The New York Times reported.

The Saudis inquired at a time when Prince Mohammed, then the deputy crown prince and defence minister, was consolidating power and directing his advisers to escalate military and intelligence operations outside the Kingdom, informed sources told The Times on Sunday.

Their discussions, more than a year before the killing of The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, indicate that top Saudi officials have considered assassinations since the beginning of Prince Mohammed’s ascent.

Saudi officials have portrayed Khashoggi’s death as a rogue killing ordered by an official who has since been fired.

But that official, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, was present for a meeting in March 2017 in Riyadh where the businessmen pitched a $2 billion plan to use private intelligence operatives to try to sabotage the Iranian economy, the sources said.

During the discussion, part of a series of meetings where the men tried to win Saudi funding for their plan, General Assiri’s top aides inquired about killing Qassim Suleimani, the leader of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and a man considered a determined enemy of Saudi Arabia.

George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, arranged the meeting.

He had met previously with Prince Mohammed, and had pitched the Iran plan to Trump White House officials.

Another participant in the meetings was Joel Zamel, an Israeli with deep ties to his country’s intelligence and security agencies.

Both Nader and Zamel are witnesses in the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and prosecutors have asked them about their discussions with American and Saudi officials about the Iran proposal, The New York Times reported.

General Assiri was dismissed last month when the Saudi government acknowledged Khashoggi’s killing and said he had organised the operation.

On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government had handed over a recording of Khashoggi’s killing to the US, Saudi Arabia, Britain and France, pressuring President Donald Trump to more harshly punish the Saudis over the murder.

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