Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The war between two of the world’s largest exporters of food and energy led to a big surge in prices, especially for importers like Ghana. Consumer prices have gone up 30 percent for the year through June, according to data from the research firm Moody’s Analytics. For household essentials, annual inflation has reached 60 percent or more this year, the S&P data shows.

To illustrate this, consider the price of a barrel of oil in dollars versus the Ghanaian cedi. At the beginning of October last year, the price of oil stood at $78.52 per barrel, rising to nearly $130 per barrel in March before falling back to $87.96 at the beginning of this month, a one-year increase of 12 percent in dollar terms. Over the same period, the Ghanaian cedi has weakened over 40 percent against the dollar, meaning that the same barrel of oil that cost roughly 475 cedi a year ago now costs over 900 cedi, almost twice as much.

Adding to the problem are large state-funded subsidies, some taken on or increased through the pandemic, that are now weighing on government finances.

Ghana’s president cut fuel taxes in November 2021, losing roughly $22 million in projected revenue for the government — the latest available numbers.

In Egypt, spending on what the government refers to as “supply commodities,” almost all of which is wheat for its long-running bread subsidy, is expected to come in at around 7 percent of all government spending this year, 12 percent higher — or more than half a billion dollars — than the government budgeted.

As costs ballooned throughout the pandemic, governments took on more debt. Ghana’s public debt grew to nearly $60 billion from roughly $40 billion at the end of 2019, or to nearly 80 percent of its gross domestic product from around 63 percent, according to Moody’s.

It’s one of four countries listed by S&P, alongside Pakistan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, where interest payments alone account for more than half of the government’s revenues.

“We can’t forget that this is happening on the back end of a once-in-a-century pandemic in which governments, to try and support families as best they could, did borrow more,” said Frank Gill, an analyst at S&P. “This is a shock following up on another shock.”

In May, Sri Lanka defaulted on its government debt for the first time in its history. Over the past month, the governments of Egypt, Pakistan and Ghana have all reached out to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout as they struggle to meet their debt financing needs, no longer able to turn to international investors for more money.

“I don’t think there is a lot of appetite to lend money to some of these countries,” said Brian Weinstein, co-head of credit trading at Bank of America. “They are incredibly vulnerable at the moment.”

That vulnerability is already reflected in the bond market.

In 2016, Ghana borrowed $1 billion for 10 years, paying an interest rate of just over 8 percent. As the country’s financial position has worsened and investors have backed away, the yield — indicative of what it would now cost Ghana to borrow money until 2026 — has risen to above 35 percent.

It’s an untenable cost of debt for a country in Ghana’s situation. And Ghana is not alone. For bonds that also mature in 2026, yields for Pakistan have reached almost 40 percent.

“We have concerns where any country has yields that calls into question their ability to refinance in public markets,” said Charles Cohen, deputy division chief of monetary and capital market departments at IMF.

The risk of a sovereign debt crisis in some emerging markets is “very, very high,” said Jesse Rogers, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. Mr. Rogers likened the current situation to the debt crises that crushed Latin America in the 1980s — the last time the Fed sought to quell soaring inflation.

Already this year, more than $80 billion has been withdrawn from mutual funds and exchange-traded funds — two popular types of investment products — that buy emerging market bonds, according to EPFR Global, a data provider. As investors sell, the United States is often the beneficiary, further strengthening the dollar.

“It’s by far the worst year for outflows the market has ever seen,” said Pramol Dhawan, head of emerging markets at Pimco.

Even citizens in some of these countries are trying to exchange their money for dollars, fearful of what’s to come and of further currency depreciation — yet inadvertently also contributing to it.

“For pockets of emerging markets, this is a really challenging backdrop and one of the most challenging backdrops we have faced for many years,” Mr. Dhawan said.

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An Israel-Lebanon Border Deal Could Increase Natural Gas Supplies

Israel and Lebanon have been at war since 1948, but the countries are close to an agreement that could increase production of natural gas, helping energy-starved Europe.

Officials from the two countries have said they are close to resolving long-running disputes over their maritime borders, which would allow energy companies to extract more fossil fuels from offshore fields in the Mediterranean Sea.

The increased production won’t make up for the gas that Europe is no longer getting from Russia. But energy experts say an Israel-Lebanon agreement should give a vital push to efforts to produce more gas in that part of the world. Over the last four years, energy production in the eastern Mediterranean has been growing as Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Cyprus have worked together to take advantage of oil and gas buried under the sea.

“This is a very important step for the region to come into its own,” said Charif Souki, the Lebanese-American executive chairman of Tellurian, a liquefied natural gas company based in Houston. “Players are finally realizing that it’s better to cooperate than to continuously fight.”

The Israel-Lebanon negotiations will most directly affect the Karish field, which is set to produce gas for Israel’s domestic use. That fuel is expected to displace gas produced from other fields, which can then be exported. The new field is also expected to produce a small amount of oil.

Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil and gas company, and several smaller businesses are already producing gas from two larger fields off Israel’s coast. That fuel has increasingly replaced coal in the country’s power plants and factories. Israel now has so much gas that it has become a net exporter of energy, sending fuel to neighbors like Jordan and Egypt. Some of that gas has also found its way to Europe and other parts of the world from L.N.G. export terminals in Egypt.

The U.S. government, across several administrations, has encouraged the growth of the gas trade in the region by helping to negotiate deals between countries that have long had tense relations. The Ukraine crisis has accelerated efforts to explore and produce natural gas because of the soaring cost of the fuel in Europe, where countries are desperate to end their dependence on Russian gas.

Chevron and its Israeli partners are discussing the possibility of building a floating liquefied natural gas platform in the Leviathan gas field, Israel’s largest. The companies are expected to make a decision on the project in a few months.

But getting the gas out of the region will not be easy. Floating export terminals are vulnerable to terrorist attack. And, even if they could be adequately secured, the terminals will not be able to process as much gas as the larger coastal facilities used in major gas producers like the United States, Qatar and Australia. Building terminals on land can take several years, if not often longer, because of opposition from environmental and other groups.

“Energy infrastructure offshore is very volatile and vulnerable,” said Gal Luft, a former Israeli military officer who is the co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington. “You have to manage risk.”

Theoretically, transporting gas by pipelines would be easier than liquefying natural gas for export before converting it back into gas at its destination. But building long-distance pipelines is expensive and difficult. A long-running conflict between Turkey, Cyprus and Greece, for example, has made constructing a pipeline from Israel to southern Europe incredibly challenging, if not impossible.

Even an Israel-Lebanon border agreement faces risks. Hezbollah has threatened to attack the Karish field, and it sent unarmed drones over it in July; Israeli officials said they had shot down the ‌aircraft.

Still, Israeli and Lebanese officials have said in recent days that they are pressing on with the negotiations, with officials from the Biden administration acting as a go-between, and are close to a deal. The talks gathered momentum during the United Nations General Assembly last week.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati of Lebanon said on Thursday at the United Nations that he was confident about reaching an agreement with Israel. “Lebanon is well aware of the importance of the promising energy market in the eastern Mediterranean for the prosperity of all countries in the region,” he said, “but also to meet the needs of importing nations.”

U.S. and other Western oil companies have long shied away from Israel, in part because they do not want to alienate Arab countries. But, as relations between Israel and countries like Egypt, Jordan and, more recently, the United Arab Emirates have improved more companies have expressed interest in the eastern Mediterranean.

An agreement between Israel and Lebanon could accelerate that trend.

“I think it will appease many minds,” said Leslie Palti-Guzman, chief executive of Gas Vista, a consulting firm. “Companies that have been reluctant to invest could be more incentivized to develop additional projects.”

Gas fields in the Mediterranean are one of several new suppliers that Europe will need as it seeks a long-term replacement for Russian gas. Other suppliers include energy companies operating in the United States, Qatar, Africa, the Caspian Sea and the North Sea.

“There is no silver bullet,” said Paddy Blewer, spokesman for Energean, a London-based exploration company that hopes to begin producing gas in the Karish field. “The East Mediterranean is one of a series of marginal gains that Europe has to look at.”

Energean plans to begin production in the next few weeks, and has said it expects to produce up to 8 billion cubic meters of gas a year by 2025. If it is successful, the company could significantly add to Israel’s output. The country will produce roughly 22 billion cubic meters this year. Once an importer of almost all of its energy, Israel increased gas production by 22 percent in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2021. It exported roughly 40 percent of its gas, earning the government royalties of $250 million.

The agreement between Israel and Lebanon will also open the way to drilling in Lebanese waters by a consortium led by Eni of Italy and TotalEnergies of France. Lebanese officials view natural gas as a critical financial tool in its attempts to revive the country’s depressed economy. The government has wanted to drill offshore since at least 2014, but disputes with Israel over the border have delayed exploration.

“It’s not for sure Lebanon will find gas,” said Chakib Khelil, a former president of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. “But, if they do, Lebanon will get a big boost.”

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Live Updates: U.N. Secretary General Warns of ‘Colossal Global Dysfunction’

Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

The annual diplomatic gathering at the United Nations this week places the spotlight on its top chief, António Guterres, the secretary general, who is responsible for persuading an increasingly fractured and skeptical world that the U.N. — and, by extension, his position — is still vital for international order and multilateralism.

In his opening remarks Tuesday, Mr. Guterres said that the world was in peril, and geopolitical divides were undermining international law, trust in democratic institutions and all forms of international cooperation.

“We cannot go on like this,” Mr. Guterres said. “We have a duty to act. And yet we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction.”

In remarks that pivoted between alarm and hope, the secretary general made demands for collective action. He warned of a world burning because of climate change and said the U.N. charter and the ideals it presents are in jeopardy, alluding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the inequalities that have exploded as food and energy prices rise.

“Let’s have no illusions. We are in rough seas,” Mr. Guterres said in one of the most blunt speeches he has delivered to world leaders.

Mr. Guterres identified three areas where he said world leaders should come together: peace and security, the climate crisis and addressing inequality in developing countries.

The war in Ukraine, Mr. Guterres said, has “unleashed widespread destruction with massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”

The conflict unexpectedly elevated Mr. Guterres’s role as a humanitarian mediator. He has bluntly condemned Russia for violating the U.N. charter and called for investigations into potential crimes against humanity in Ukraine. And early on, he opened investigations into the rippling affects of the war on rising food and energy and economic downturn.

But Mr. Guterres also reminded the audience of other crises still posing a threat to global stability, such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Israel and Palestine.

Turning to climate, Mr. Guterres accused the fossil fuel industry of “feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits” and called on the leaders of wealthy countries to issue additional levies to help vulnerable nations facing the irreparable damages of climate change.

“Today, I am calling on all developed economies to tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies,” he told the heads of state and other government officials gathered at the United Nations General Assembly hall. “Those funds should be redirected in two ways: to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis, and to people struggling with rising food and energy prices.”

The call for action represents his most forceful comments yet on a lightning rod issue of loss and damage, which is polite diplomatic speak for reparations for poor countries that suffer the greatest effects of climate crisis but that bear little responsibility for it.

The issue of loss and damage financing is emerging as an important fault line in the upcoming climate negotiations in Egypt. The secretary general’s remarks sets up a potential showdown with the United States and the countries of Europe, who have long resisted the idea of a separate funding mechanism for loss and damage.

In the third part of his speech, Mr. Guterres emphasized the many challenges faced by developing countries, including food insecurity, debt and poverty, that has resulted in them “getting hit from all sides.”

“These cascading crises are feeding on each other, compounding inequalities, creating devastating hardship, delaying the energy transition, and threatening global financial meltdown,” Mr. Guterres said.

He called on banks to facilitate financial assistance for developing countries by lifting borrowing conditions and increasing their appetite for risk, while telling creditors to consider debt relief, particularly for climate funds. Mr. Guterres said the International Monetary Fund and major central banks must expand their liquidity facilities and currency lines significantly.

Somini Sengupta contributed reporting.

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IAEA board passes resolution calling on Russia to leave Zaporizhzhia

A Russian all-terrain armoured vehicle is parked outside the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant during the visit of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expert mission in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, September 1, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/

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  • Second resolution on Ukraine since war started
  • First was in March before Russia seized power plant
  • Twenty-six of 35 board members backed the text
  • Russia and China only countries to oppose it

VIENNA, Sept 15 (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation Board of Governors on Thursday passed a resolution demanding that Russia end its occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

The resolution is the second on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine passed by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board, and their content is very similar, though the first in March preceded Russian forces taking control of Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant. read more

Both resolutions were proposed by Canada and Poland on behalf of Ukraine, which is not on the board, the IAEA’s top policy-making body that meets more than once a year.

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The text, which says the board calls on Russia to “immediately cease all actions against, and at, the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and any other nuclear facility in Ukraine”, was passed with 26 votes in favour, two against and seven abstentions, diplomats at the closed-door meeting said. read more

The text was later posted on the IAEA’s website.

Russia and China were the countries that voted against while Egypt, South Africa, Senegal, Burundi, Vietnam, India and Pakistan abstained, the diplomats said.

The board “deplores the Russian Federation’s persistent violent actions against nuclear facilities in Ukraine, including forcefully seizing of control of nuclear facilities,” the resolution’s text reads.

Russia seized radioactive waste facilities in Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, at the start of the war but later withdrew.

Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly accused each other of shelling the Zaporizhzhia plant in southern Ukraine.

Russia’s mission to the IAEA called the text anti-Russian and said “the Achilles’ heel of this resolution” was that it said nothing about the “systematic shelling” of the plant.

“The reason is simple – this shelling is carried out by Ukraine, which is supported and shielded by Western countries in every possible way,” it said in a statement.

The resolution adds that Russia’s occupation of the plant significantly increases the risk of a nuclear accident. Ukrainian staff continue to operate the plant in conditions that the IAEA has described as endangering the site’s safety.

“This Board took up the issue in March and adopted a resolution that deplored Russia’s violent actions and called upon Russia to immediately cease all actions against and at nuclear facilities in Ukraine and return control of them to the competent Ukrainian authorities,” the U.S. statement to the board said.

“The very next day, Russia spurned that call by seizing the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. Russia is treating Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure as a military prize, seeking to deprive Ukraine of control over its own energy resources and to use the plant as a base for military action against Ukraine,” it added.

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Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Qatar Detains Workers Protesting Late Pay Before World Cup

By Associated Press
August 22, 2022

The move comes as Qatar faces intense international scrutiny over its labor practices ahead of the tournament.

Qatar recently arrested at least 60 foreign workers who protested going months without pay and deported some of them, an advocacy group said, just three months before Doha hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The move comes as Qatar faces intense international scrutiny over its labor practices ahead of the tournament. Like other Gulf Arab nations, Qatar heavily relies on foreign labor. The workers’ protest a week ago — and Qatar’s reaction to it — could further fuel the concern.

The head of a labor consultancy investigating the incident said the detentions cast new doubt on Qatar’s pledges to improve the treatment of workers. “Is this really the reality coming out?” asked Mustafa Qadri, executive director of the group Equidem.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Sunday night, Qatar’s government acknowledged that “a number of protesters were detained for breaching public safety laws.” It declined to offer any information about the arrests or any deportations.

Video footage posted online showed some 60 workers angry about their salaries protesting on Aug. 14 outside of the Doha offices of Al Bandary International Group, a conglomerate that includes construction, real estate, hotels, food service and other ventures. Some of those demonstrating hadn’t received their salaries for as many as seven months, Equidem said.

The protesters blocked an intersection on Doha’s C Ring Road in front of the Al Shoumoukh Tower. The footage matched known details of the street, including it having several massive portraits of Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, looking down on passers-by.

Al Bandary International Group, which is privately owned, did not respond to requests for comment and a telephone number registered in its name did not connect on multiple attempts to call it.

The Qatari government acknowledged that the firm hadn’t paid salaries and that its Labor Ministry would pay “all delayed salaries and benefits” to those affected.

“The company was already under investigation by the authorities for nonpayment of wages before the incident, and now further action is being taken after a deadline to settle outstanding salary payments was missed,” the government said.

Qadri said police later arrested the protesters and held them in a detention center where some described being in a stifling heat without air conditioning. Doha’s temperature this week reached around 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Qadri described police telling those held that if they can strike in hot weather, they can sleep without air conditioning.

One detained worker who called Equidem from the detention center described seeing as many as 300 of his colleagues there from Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Nepal and the Philippines. He said some had been paid salaries after the protest while others hadn’t. His comments could not be corroborated.

Qatar, like other Gulf Arab nations, has in the past deported demonstrating foreign workers, and tied residency visas to employment. The right to form unions remains tightly controlled and available only to Qataris, as is the country’s limited right to assembly, according to the Washington-based advocacy group Freedom House.

Qatar, a small, energy-rich nation on the Arabian Peninsula, is home to the state-funded Al Jazeera satellite news network. However, expression in the country remains tightly controlled. Last year, Qatar detained and later deported a Kenyan security guard who wrote and spoke publicly about the woes of the country’s migrant labor force.

Since FIFA awarded the tournament to Qatar in 2010, the country has taken some steps to overhaul the country’s employment practices. That includes eliminating its so-called kafala employment system, which tied workers to their employers, who had say over whether they could leave their jobs or even the country.

Qatar also has adopted a minimum monthly wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275) for workers and required food and housing allowances for employees not receiving that directly from their employers.

Activists like Qadri have called on Doha to do more, particularly when it comes to ensuring workers receive their salaries on time and are protected from abusive employers.

“Have we all been duped by Qatar over the last several years?” Qadri asked, suggesting that recent reforms might have been “a cover” for authorities allowing prevailing labor practices to continue.

The World Cup will start this November in Qatar.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Fire At Cairo Coptic Church Kills 41, Including 10 Children

Egypt’s health minister blamed the smoke and a stampede as people attempted to flee the fire for causing the fatalities.

A fire ripped through a packed Coptic Orthodox church during morning services in Egypt’s capital on Sunday, quickly filling it with thick black smoke and killing 41 worshippers, including at least 10 children.

Several trapped congregants jumped from upper floors of the Martyr Abu Sefein church to try to escape the intense flames, witnesses said. “Suffocation, suffocation, all of them dead,” said a distraught witness, who only gave a partial name, Abu Bishoy.

Sixteen people were injured, including four policemen involved in the rescue effort.

The cause of the blaze at the church in the working-class neighborhood of Imbaba was not immediately known. An initial investigation pointed to an electrical short-circuit, according to a police statement.

Weeping families waited outside for word on relatives still inside the church and at nearby hospitals where the victims were taken. Footage from the scene circulated online showed burned furniture, including wooden tables and chairs. Firefighters were seen putting out the blaze while others carried victims to ambulances.

Witnesses said there were many children inside the four-story building when the fire broke out.

“There are children, we didn’t know how to get to them,” said Abu Bishoy. “And we don’t know whose son this is, or whose daughter that is. Is this possible?”

A hospital document obtained by The Associated Press said the Imbaba public hospital received 20 bodies, including 10 children. Three were siblings, twins aged 5 and a 3-year-old, it said. The church bishop, Abdul Masih Bakhit, was also among the dead at the hospital morgue.

Twenty-one bodies were taken to other hospitals. It was not immediately known if children were among them.

Mousa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, told the AP that 5-year-old triplets, their mother, grandmother and an aunt were among those killed. He said funerals for the dead would take place at two churches in the nearby Waraq neighborhood.

Witness Emad Hanna said the church includes two places used as a day care and that a church worker managed to get some children out.

“We went upstairs and found people dead. And we started to see from outside that the smoke was getting bigger, and people want to jump from the upper floor,” Hanna said.

“We found the children,” some dead, some alive, he said.

The country’s health minister blamed the smoke and a stampede as people attempted to flee the fire for causing the fatalities. It was one of the worst fire tragedies in Egypt in recent years.

The church is located in a narrow street in one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Cairo. Sunday is the first working day of the week, and traffic jams clog the streets in Imbama and surrounding areas in the morning.

Some relatives criticized what they said were delays in the arrival of ambulance and firefighters. “They came after people died … They came after the church burned down,” shouted one woman standing outside the smoldering church.

Health Minister Khaled Abdel-Ghafar countered that the first ambulance arrived at the site two minutes after the fire was reported.

Fifteen firefighting vehicles were dispatched to the scene to put out the flames while ambulances ferried casualties to nearby hospitals, officials said.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi spoke by phone with Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences, the president’s office said. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam, and other government officials also offered condolences to the head of the Coptic church.

“I am closely following the developments of the tragic accident,” el-Sissi wrote on Facebook. “I directed all concerned state agencies and institutions to take all necessary measures, and immediately to deal with this accident and its effects.”

Abdel-Ghafar, the health minister, said in a statement that two of the injured were discharged from a hospital while the others were still being treated.

The Interior Ministry said it received a report of the fire at 9 a.m. local time, and first responders found that the blaze had broken out in an air conditioner on the building’s second floor.

The ministry, which oversees police and firefighters, blamed an electrical short-circuit for the fire, which produced huge amounts of smoke. Meanwhile, the country’s chief prosecutor, Hamada el-Sawy, ordered an investigation and a team of prosecutors were dispatched to the church. He said most victims died of smoke inhalation.

Later Sunday, emergency services said they managed to put out the blaze and the prime minister and other senior government officials arrived to inspect the site. Premier Mustafa Madbouly said surviving victims and families of the dead would receive payments as compensation and that the government would rebuild the church.

Egypt’s Christians account for some 10% of the nation’s more than 103 million people and have long complained of discrimination by the nation’s Muslim majority.

Sunday’s blaze was one of the worst fire tragedies in recent years in Egypt, where safety standards and fire regulations are poorly enforced. In March last year, a fire at a garment factory near Cairo killed at least 20 people and injured 24 more.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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As Israel-Palestinian Truce Holds, Gaza Power Plant Restarts

Over three days of fighting, 44 Palestinians were killed, including 15 children and four women, and 311 were wounded. No Israelis were killed.

With a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants holding after nearly three days of violence, Gaza’s sole power plant resumed operations Monday as Israel began reopening crossings into the territory.

Israel also lifted security restrictions on southern Israeli communities after the Egyptian-mediated truce took effect late Sunday. Fighting abated, and war-weary people in Gaza and Israel were left picking up the pieces after another round of violence — the worst since an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas last year.

Since Friday, Israeli aircraft had pummeled targets in Gaza while the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.

Over three days of fighting, 44 Palestinians were killed, including 15 children and four women, and 311 were wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. Islamic Jihad said 12 of those killed were militants. Israel said some of the dead were killed by rockets misfired from Gaza. No Israelis were killed.

The violence had threatened to spiral into another all-out war but was contained because Gaza’s ruling Hamas group stayed on the sidelines, possibly because it fears Israeli reprisals and undoing economic understandings with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents that bolster Hamas’ control over the coastal strip.

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the group overran the territory in 2007. Hamas had a strong incentive to avoid more conflict, which has exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents.

The outburst of violence in Gaza was a key test for Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who lacks experience leading military operations. He unleashed the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to keep the job — and may have gained political ground with it.

Israel began to reopen crossings into Gaza for humanitarian needs on Monday and said it would fully open them if calm is maintained. Fuel trucks were seen entering at the main cargo crossing headed for the power plant, which went offline Saturday after Israel closed the crossings into Gaza last week.

That added to misery at the height of summer heat in the territory, which is under a stifling Israeli-Egyptian blockade and suffers from a chronic power crisis that leaves residents with only a few hours of electricity a day.

Life for hundreds of thousands of Israelis was disrupted during the violence. Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted many of the rockets launched at Israel and no significant injuries were reported.

Israel launched its operation with a strike Friday on a leader of the Islamic Jihad, saying there were “concrete threats” of an anti-tank missile attack against Israelis in response to the arrest last week of another senior Islamic Jihad member in the West Bank. That arrest came after months of Israeli raids in the West Bank to round up suspects following a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israel.

It killed another Islamic Jihad leader in a strike on Saturday.

Both sides boasted of their successes. Speaking to reporters in Tehran on Sunday, Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah said the militant group remained strong, despite losing two of its leaders. “This is a victory for Islamic Jihad,” he said.

Despite that claim, the group undoubtedly sustained a blow during the fierce offensive. Beyond losing the two leaders, it reduced its arsenal by firing hundreds of rockets.

Israel said some of the deaths in Gaza were caused by errant militant rocket fire, including in the Jebaliya refugee camp, where six Palestinians were killed Saturday. On Sunday, a projectile hit a home in the same area of Jebaliya, killing two men. Palestinians held Israel responsible for the Sunday attack, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was struck by misfired rockets.

The cease-fire deal contained a promise that Egypt would work for the release of two senior Islamic Jihad detainees held by Israel, but there were no guarantees this would happen. The weekend fighting was also bound to complicate Islamic Jihad’s relations with Hamas.

A senior Israeli diplomatic official said the offensive was successful and had taken Islamic Jihad’s capabilities back “decades,” citing the loss of the two leaders and hits to the group’s rocket production and firing capabilities, among other blows. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation with the media.

U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed the cease-fire.

“Over these last 72-hours, the United States has worked with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, and others throughout the region to encourage a swift resolution to the conflict,” he said in a statement Sunday.

In the occupied West Bank on Monday, Israeli troops demolished the homes of two Palestinians suspected of carrying out a deadly attack against Israelis in the city of Elad in May. The soldiers faced a violent protest during the operation, the military said.

The U.N. Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting Monday on the violence. China, which holds the council presidency this month, scheduled the session in response to a request from the United Arab Emirates, which represents Arab nations on the council, as well as China, France, Ireland and Norway.

“We underscore our commitment to do all we can towards ending the ongoing escalation, ensuring the safety and security of the civilian population, and following-up on the Palestinian prisoners file,” said U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, in a statement.

The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired about 1,100 rockets toward Israel, with about 200 of them landing inside the Palestinian enclave. The army said its air defenses had intercepted 380 of them, including two fired toward Jerusalem. The military did not specify what happened to the remainder, but they likely fell in open areas or broke up in the air.

Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal. Both groups call for Israel’s destruction, but have different priorities, with Hamas constrained by the demands of governing.

Over the past year, Israel and Hamas have reached tacit understandings based on trading calm for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas overran the territory 15 years ago. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gaza laborers, and has held out the prospect of granting another 2,000 permits.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Israel and Militants in Gaza Agree to Cease-Fire

Credit…Yousef Masoud/Associated Press

Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza agreed to a cease-fire, the two parties announced late Sunday night, a move that was expected to end a three-day conflict that killed dozens of Palestinians, including children as well as key militant commanders; destroyed several residential buildings and militant bases in Gaza; and paralyzed parts of southern Israel.

The conflict, which began on Friday afternoon, when Israel launched airstrikes to foil what it said was an imminent attack from Gaza, has left the status quo in Israel and the occupied territories almost unchanged. A 15-year blockade of Gaza remains in place, and there is no prospect of peace talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The cease-fire officially took effect at 11:30 p.m. local time, 4:40 p.m. Eastern, but did not appear to have immediately been observed by either side, as rocket fire and airstrikes continued until in the minutes after the deadline.

Israeli officials declined to reveal further details about the agreement, but Islamic Jihad said it had received assurances from Egyptian officials who mediated the negotiations that Egypt would lobby Israel to release two leading members of the group currently detained in Israeli jails, Bassem Saadi and Khalil Awawdeh.

If the truce holds, the fighting will end with a death toll of at least 44 in Gaza, including 15 children, according to the health ministry there. Some 311 people were injured, the health ministry there said. Scores of Israelis were lightly injured while running for cover from Palestinian rockets, and an unexploded rocket fell in a residential area of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, officials and medics said.

The fighting has badly damaged Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second-largest militia. Two of its key leaders are now dead and many of its bases and weapons factories have been destroyed.

The eruption of violence also has driven a wedge between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the largest militia in Gaza, which opted to remain on the sidelines of the conflict.

And it has highlighted both the limits and strengths of Israel’s strategy of offering small economic concessions to ordinary Gazans — notably 14,000 work permits that help boost the Palestinian economy.

That approach failed to prevent the recent days of fighting, which was yet another conflagration involving Gaza, which has experienced at least six major bursts of violence since Hamas seized control there in 2007. But by helping to convince Hamas to stay out of this round of rockets and strikes, the strategy likely helped shorten the length of the fighting, which in the past has often run for weeks, rather than days.

Within Israel, the conflict also initially appeared to help burnish the credentials of Yair Lapid, Israel’s interim prime minister, who was long been accused by critics in Israel of lacking the experience necessary to lead the country in times of war.

Before the cease-fire was announced, Israeli analysts largely portrayed the episode as a victory and even a warning to Israel’s other enemies in the region — particularly Hezbollah, the Islamist militia in Lebanon — of the fate that awaits them should they also enter into full-scale combat with Israel in the near future.

By contrast, with no change to life or prospects in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians had little to celebrate and many families were left grieving over the loss of life.

Ghassan Abu Ramadan, 65, a retired civil engineer who has injured during an Israeli strike on Friday, was recovering in the hospital on Sunday as the cease-fire was being negotiated.

“We have a complicated life here in Gaza,” Mr. Abu Ramadan said, lying on a bed in the intensive care unit of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. “We don’t know what will happen, what our future will be.”

“How long will this continue?” Mr. Abu Ramadan added.

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Israeli Airstrike Kills 2nd Top Islamic Jihad Commander

The Islamic Jihad commander, Khaled Mansour, was killed in an airstrike on an apartment building in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza.

Israel said Sunday that it killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in a crowded Gaza refugee camp, the second such targeted attack since it launched its high-stakes military offensive against the militant group just before the weekend.

The Iran-backed militant group has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel in response, and the risk of the cross-border fighting turning into a full-fledged war remained high.

Gaza’s ruling Hamas group, which fought an 11-day war with Israel in May 2021, appeared to stay on the sidelines for now, possibly because it fears Israeli reprisals and undoing economic understandings with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents, that bolster its control.

The Islamic Jihad commander, Khaled Mansour, was killed in an airstrike on an apartment building in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza late Saturday.

Two other militants and five civilians were also killed in the attack, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 31 since the start of the Israeli offensive on Friday. Among the dead were six children and four women. The Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 250 people were wounded since Friday.

Israel says some of the deaths were caused by errant rocket fire, including one incident in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza in which six Palestinians were killed Saturday. On Sunday, a projectile hit a home in the same area of Jebaliya, killing two men. Palestinians held Israel responsible, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was hit by an errant rocket.

Mansour, the Islamic Jihad commander for southern Gaza, was in the apartment of a member of the group when the missile struck, flattening the three-story building and badly damaging nearby houses.

“Suddenly, without warning, the house next to us was bombed and everything became black and dusty with smoke in the blink of an eye,” said Wissam Jouda, who lives next to the targeted building.

Ahmed al-Qaissi, another neighbor, said his wife and son were among the wounded, suffering shrapnel injuries. To make way for rescue workers, al-Qaissi agreed to have part of his house demolished.

As a funeral for Mansour began in the Gaza Strip on Sunday afternoon, the Israeli military said it was striking suspected “Islamic Jihad rocket launch posts.” Smoke could be seen from the strikes as thumps from the strikes’ explosions rattled Gaza.

The Rafah strike was the deadliest so far in the current round of fighting, which was initiated by Israel on Friday with the targeted killing of Islamic Jihad’s commander for northern Gaza.

Israel has said it took action against the militant group because of concrete threats of an imminent attack, but has not provided details. Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who is an experienced diplomat but untested in overseeing a war, unleashed the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to keep the job.

In a statement Sunday, Lapid said the military would continue to strike targets in Gaza “in a pinpoint and responsible way in order to reduce to a minimum the harm to noncombatants.” Lapid said the strike that killed Mansour was “an extraordinary achievement.”

“The operation will continue as long as necessary,” Lapid said.

Israel estimates its airstrikes have killed about 15 militants.

Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas, and little is known about its weapons arsenal. Both groups call for Israel’s destruction, but have different priorities, with Hamas constrained by the demands of governing.

The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired some 580 rockets toward Israel. The army said its air defenses had intercepted many of them, with two of those shot down being fired toward Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas.

Air raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area for the first time Sunday since last year’s Israel-Hamas war.

Jerusalem is typically a flash point during periods of cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza. On Sunday, hundreds of Jews, including firebrand ultra-nationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, visited a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The visit, under heavy police protection, ended without incident, police said.

Such demonstrative visits by Israeli hard-liners seeking to underscore Israeli claims of sovereignty over contested Jerusalem have sparked violence in the past. The holy site sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is central to rival narratives of Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

In Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank, Israeli security forces said they detained 19 people on suspicion of belonging to the Islamic Jihad during overnight raids.

The fighting began with Israel’s killing of a senior Islamic Jihad commander in a wave of strikes Friday that Israel said were meant to prevent an imminent attack.

By Sunday, Hamas still appeared to stay out of the battle. The group has a strong incentive to avoid another war. Last year’s Israel-Hamas war, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles over the last 15 years, exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents.

Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have reached tacit understandings based on trading calm for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas overran the territory 15 years ago. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gaza laborers, and has held out the prospect of granting another 2,000 permits.

The lone power plant in Gaza ground to a halt at noon Saturday due to a lack of fuel. Israel has kept its crossing points into Gaza closed since Tuesday. With the new disruption, Gazans can use only four hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and deepening the territory’s chronic power crisis amid peak summer heat.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Israel And Gaza Militants Exchange Fire After Deadly Strikes

The fighting began with Israel’s killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in a strike.

Israeli jets pounded militant targets in Gaza on Saturday and rocket barrages into southern Israel persisted, raising fears of an escalation after a wave of Israeli airstrikes on the coastal enclave killed at least 12 people, including a senior militant and a 5-year-old girl.

The fighting began with Israel’s killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in a strike Friday. Gaza’s Hamas rulers so far appeared to stay on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained, for now. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the last 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Shortly before noon Saturday, Israeli warplanes stepped up airstrikes. After warning residents in phone calls, fighter jets dropped two bombs on the house of an Islamic Jihad member in a residential area of Gaza City, flattening the two-story structure and badly damaging surrounding homes. Women and children rushed out of the area, and there were no casualties.

“Warned us? They warned us with rockets and we fled without taking anything,” said Huda Shamalakh, who lived next door. She said 15 people lived in the targeted home.

Another airstrike hit an Islamic Jihad site nearby. Gaza militants continued to launch rounds of rockets into southern Israel around every half hour, though there were no reports of casualties.

The lone power plant in Gaza ground to a halt at noon Saturday for lack of fuel as Israel has kept its crossing points into Gaza closed since Tuesday. The shutdown deepens the densely packed territory’s chronic power crisis amid peak summer heat. With the new disruption, Gazans can get only 4 hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators.

The latest round of Israel-Gaza violence was sparked by the arrest this week of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, part of a monthlong Israeli military operation in the territory. Citing a security threat, Israel then sealed roads around the Gaza Strip and on Friday killed Islamic Jihad’s commander for northern Gaza, Taiseer al-Jabari, in a targeted strike.

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles.

“This government has a zero-tolerance policy for any attempted attacks — of any kind — from Gaza towards Israeli territory,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised speech Friday. “Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who are trying to harm its civilians.”

“Israel isn’t interested in a broader conflict in Gaza but will not shy away from one either.” he added.

The violence poses an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of elections in November, when he hopes to keep the position.

Lapid, a centrist former TV host and author, has experience in diplomacy having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has thin security credentials. A conflict with Gaza could burnish his standing and give him a boost as he faces off against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country during three of its four wars with Hamas.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle barely a year after the last war caused widespread devastation. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%.

Egypt intensified efforts to prevent escalation, communicating with Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. to keep Hamas from joining the fighting, an Egyptian intelligence official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman were among 12 killed in Gaza, along with more than 80 wounded. It did not differentiate between civilians and militants. The Israeli military said early estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed.

Hundreds marched in a funeral procession for the Jihad commander al-Jabari and others who were killed, with many mourners waving Palestinian and Islamic Jihad flags and calling for revenge. Al-Jabari had succeeded another militant killed in an airstrike in 2019, which at the time also set off a round of heavy fighting.

Overnight, Israeli media showed the skies above southern and central Israel lighting up with rockets and interceptors from Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. There were no immediate reports of casualties on the Israeli side. Israel said its overnight strikes in Gaza hit rocket launchers, rocket building sites and Islamic Jihad positions. It also arrested 19 Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank, the military said.

The U.N. special envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, said: “The launching of rockets must cease immediately, and I call on all sides to avoid further escalation.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve soldiers if needed while the military announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and limits placed on activities in communities within 50 miles of the border.

Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it braced for a revenge attack after Monday’s arrest of Bassam al-Saadi, an Islamic Jihad leader, in a military raid in the occupied West Bank. A teenage member of the group was killed in a gunbattle between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Hamas seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew from the coastal strip. Its most recent war with Israel was in May 2021. Tensions soared again earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.

Iran-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years, including the firing of rockets into Israel. It’s unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the territory since the Hamas takeover. Israel says the closure is needed to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities. Critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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