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Israel and Hamas agree Gaza truce, Biden pledges assistance

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(Last Updated On: May 21, 2021)

Israel and Hamas will cease-fire across the Gaza Strip border as of Friday, the United States said, bringing a potentially tenuous halt to the fiercest fighting in years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said his security cabinet had voted unanimously in favour of a “mutual and unconditional” Gaza truce proposed by Egypt, but added that the hour of implementation had yet to be agreed.

Hamas and Egypt said the truce would begin at 2 a.m. (2300 GMT Thursday), after 11 days of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.

In a televised address at 2200 GMT, U.S. President Joe Biden said both sides agreed the truce would begin “in less than two hours”.

The sides traded blows again in the countdown.

Sirens warned of incoming rockets in Israeli border communities, and a Reuters reporter heard an air strike in Gaza. A man in his 50s was lightly hurt in a direct hit on an Israeli factory, medics said.

Amid growing global alarm at the bloodshed, Biden had urged Netanyahu to seek de-escalation, while Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations sought to mediate.

Extending condolences to bereaved Israelis and Palestinians, Biden said Washington would work with the United Nations “and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance” for the reconstruction of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

He said aid would be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority – run by Hamas’ rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, and based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – “in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal”.

The United States was also committed to replenishing Iron Dome interceptors that helped Israel fend off the more than 4,300 rockets fired at it from Gaza during the this month’s conflict.

Hamas said the ceasefire would be “mutual and simultaneous”.

“The Palestinian resistance will abide by this agreement as long as the Occupation (Israel) does the same,” Taher Al-Nono, media adviser to Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, told Reuters.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had ordered two security delegations into Israel and the Palestinian Territories to work towards upholding the ceasefire, Egyptian state TV reported.

In a televised speech Abu Ubaida, spokesman of the Hamas armed wing, said: “With the help of God, we were able to humiliate the enemy, its fragile entity and its savage army.”

He threatened Hamas rocket fire that would reach throughout Israel if it violated the truce or struck Gaza before the hour of implementation.

Rocket attacks by Hamas and the allied Islamic Jihad had resumed after an eight-hour pause earlier on Thursday, as Israel pursued shelling that it said aimed to destroy the factions’ military capabilities and deter them from future confrontations after the current conflict.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Twitter that the Gaza offensive had yielded “unprecedented military gains”.

Speaking to his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin, Gantz said Israel’s defence establishment would “continue to work closely and in full cooperation with the Pentagon and the U.S. administration to stabilise the region,” Gantz’s office said.

Since the fighting began on May 10, health officials in Gaza said 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, had been killed and more than 1,900 wounded in aerial bombardments. Israel said it had killed at least 160 combatants in Gaza.

Authorities put the death toll in Israel at 12, with hundreds of people treated for injuries in rocket attacks that caused panic and sent people rushing into shelters.

The violence was triggered by Palestinian anger at what they viewed as Israeli curbs on their rights in Jerusalem, including during police confrontations with protesters at Al-Aqsa mosque.

Hamas previously demanded that any halt to the Gaza fighting be accompanied by Israeli drawdowns in Jerusalem. An Israeli official told Reuters there was no such condition in the truce.

“The only way there’ll be a Hamas-Jerusalem linkage is if they agree to us drowning them on ‘Jerusalem Beach’ in Tel Aviv,” security cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel’s top-rated Channel 12 TV earlier on Thursday.

Hamas is deemed a terrorist group in the West and by Israel, which it refuses to recognise.

The United Nations said its Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, was in Qatar on Thursday as part of truce efforts.

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Macron says French forces killed ISIS leader in Sahara

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that French military forces had killed Islamic State (ISIS) militant Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

“It’s another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel,” Macron said in a tweet, without disclosing the location of the operation.

Sahrawi was the historic leader of ISIS in the Sahel region of West Africa and his group targeted U.S. soldiers in a deadly attack in 2017, Macron’s office said.

In August 2020, Sahrawi personally ordered the killing of six French charity workers and their Nigerien driver, it added.

Macron said in July that France would soon begin reshaping its force in the Sahel, where it has been on the front line of the fight against ISIS, and would ultimately halve its military presence, Reuters reported.

With no apparent end in sight to France’s operations and political turmoil especially in Mali, Paris had grown frustrated.

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North Korea tests first ‘strategic’ cruise missile with possible nuclear capability

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2021)

North Korea carried out successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend, state-run television KRT said on Monday, seen by analysts as possibly the country’s first such weapon with a nuclear capability.

The weapons system “holds strategic significance” and the missiles flew 1,500 km before hitting their targets and falling into the country’s territorial waters during the tests on Saturday and Sunday, the KRT news presenter said.

The latest test highlighted steady progress in Pyongyang’s weapons program amid a gridlock over talks aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs in return for U.S. sanctions relief. The talks have stalled since 2019.

South Korea’s military did not disclose whether it had detected the North’s latest tests, but said on Monday it was conducting a detailed analysis in cooperation with the United States. The U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) said it was aware of the reports and was coordinating with its allies and partners.

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Biden and China’s Xi discuss managing competition, avoiding conflict in call

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(Last Updated On: September 10, 2021)

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke by phone with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for about 90 minutes on Thursday, a senior U.S. official said, with both leaders discussing the need to avoid letting competition between the world’s two largest economies veer into conflict.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been at their lowest point in decades and it was only the second call between the leaders since Biden took office in January.

A White House statement said the two leaders had “a broad, strategic discussion,” including “areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge.”

The conversation focused on economic issues, climate change, and COIVD-19, the senior U.S. official said.

Chinese state media said the conversation was “candid” and “in-depth”, adding that President Xi said U.S. policy on China imposes great difficulties on relations between the two.

The Chinese report added that both sides agreed to maintain frequent contact and to ask working-level teams to increase communications.

Occasional high-level meetings since Xi and Biden’s first call in February have yielded scant progress on a slew of issues, from climate change to human rights, and transparency over the origins of COVID-19.

During the ensuing months, the two sides have lashed out at each other on an almost constantly, often resorting to vitriolic public attacks, slapping sanctions on each other’s officials and criticizing the other for not upholding their international obligations.

“President Biden underscored the United States’ enduring interest in peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world and the two leaders discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict,” the statement said.

The Biden administration, preoccupied by a chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, has signaled that ending America’s longest war will give U.S. political and military leaders the space to focus on more pressing threats stemming from China’s rapid rise.

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