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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 3 APRIL 2024

Biden to meet with Muslim leaders; UK summons Israeli ambassador over Gaza aid worker deaths

Biden to meet with Muslim leaders; UK summons Israeli ambassador over Gaza aid worker deaths
Iranians burn Israel and US flags during an anti-Israeli demonstration at Palestine Square in Tehran, Iran, 1 April 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH)

US President Joe Biden will meet with a group of Muslim staffers to commemorate the holy month of Ramadan amid growing criticism over the White House’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

The UK Foreign Office said it summoned Israel’s ambassador after seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen were killed in Gaza, with Foreign Secretary David Cameron calling the deaths “completely unacceptable”.

Iran vowed revenge on Israel after blaming it for a deadly air strike on its embassy in Syria — a rare direct confrontation in the adversaries’ escalating conflict over the war in Gaza. 

Fitch Ratings affirmed Israel’s long-term sovereign debt rating at A+ while downgrading the country’s outlook to negative, taking a cautious approach to assessing the impact of the ongoing war in Gaza.  

Biden to meet with Muslim leaders during Ramadan

US President Joe Biden will meet with a group of Muslim staffers to commemorate the holy month of Ramadan amid growing criticism over the White House’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. 

Vice-President Kamala Harris and senior national security aides will join the small-group discussion, according to a White House official, who requested anonymity to share details of the meeting. The administration officials and community members were slated to pray together and share Iftar, a meal to break fast at sunset.

The session comes amid backlash from the Muslim community that threatens the president’s reelection bid. Michigan, a key 2024 battleground for Biden, is home to a large Arab-American population, many of whom criticized Biden for failing to stop strikes in Gaza following the deadly 7 October attacks in Israel by Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union. 

Read more: Biden’s Israel embrace sows re-election risk as protests grow 

UK summons Israeli ambassador over Gaza aid worker deaths

The UK Foreign Office said it summoned Israel’s ambassador after seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen (WCK) were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza, with Foreign Secretary David Cameron calling the deaths “completely unacceptable”.

Three of the seven aid workers were British, Foreign Office Minister Andrew Mitchell said in the statement on Tuesday. He said the ambassador had already attended a meeting with him. 

“I set out the government’s unequivocal condemnation of the appalling killing,” Mitchell said. “I requested a quick and transparent investigation, shared with the international community, and full accountability.” 

Mitchell said he had reiterated the need for Israel to put in place an “effective deconfliction mechanism immediately and urgently to scale up humanitarian access”.

The US-based WCK has helped oversee the construction of a pier and the delivery of aid through it to the northern Gaza Strip, where humanitarian agencies say hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are living in dire conditions, including malnutrition and hunger.

“This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable,” said WCK CEO Erin Gore, adding that the organisation was pausing operations in the region.

The seven killed were from “Australia, Poland, United Kingdom, a dual citizen of the US and Canada, and Palestine”, the group said. 

“Unfortunately, in the past day there was a tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, without specifying further. He added that Israel “will do everything so that this does not happen again”.

The war in Gaza started shortly after the militant group Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and abducting some 250 others. Israel started a military campaign against the group, in a conflict that has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to authorities in the Hamas-run enclave. 

The US was “heartbroken and deeply troubled” by the strike, White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said, calling on Israel to investigate quickly.  

Last month, the charity delivered the first shipment of aid via a sea route. Two more ships have set sail from Cyprus and arrived in Gaza. 

WCK staffers, along with thousands of volunteers and contractors, responded to disasters in nearly 20 countries last year — feeding war victims in Ukraine, delivering meal kits to earthquake survivors in Syria and Turkey and partnering with local aid groups in Gaza, Israel and surrounding countries to feed war victims and the families of hostages.

The WCK said on its website that its teams had set up a field kitchen in Rafah and created a network of community kitchens across Gaza. 

“I am heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends and our whole WCK family,” WCK’s founder, the celebrity chef José Andrés, said on X. “The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing. It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon.” 

Iran vows to punish Israel for strike on embassy in Syria

Iran vowed revenge on Israel after blaming it for a deadly air strike on its embassy in Syria — a rare direct confrontation in the adversaries’ escalating conflict over the war in Gaza.

Israel “will be punished. We will make them regret their crime”, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Tuesday, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

The strike in Damascus late on Monday destroyed the consulate building and killed at least 13 people including seven Iranian military personnel and six Syrian nationals, according to Iranian state media. 

Israel hasn’t confirmed the attack, in keeping with its usual response to accusations of targeting Iran. 

While Israel has frequently struck Iran-linked targets in Syria, Monday night’s attack would be the first time it had directly hit an Iranian diplomatic building. Its airstrikes have increased since the outbreak in October of the war with Hamas, an Iran-backed group.  

Without mentioning Monday’s strike specifically, Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, said on Tuesday that Israel was fighting a “multifront war” to “make it clear to anyone who threatens us — all over the Middle East — that the price for such action will be a big one”.

Among the dead was Mohammadreza Zahedi, a high-ranking general linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who previously led its Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon. 

Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia backed by Iran that’s been involved in near-daily tit-for-tat border attacks with Israel, vowed that the strike “won’t go without punishment and revenge against the enemy”. It described Zadehi as a “loyal friend” who had worked for years to support the group. 

Iran’s top security body also held a late-night meeting to discuss the incident. A statement said the Supreme National Security Council took “appropriate decisions”, without elaborating.  

Israel retains A+ rating as Fitch assesses ongoing Gaza war

Fitch Ratings affirmed Israel’s long-term sovereign debt rating at A+ while downgrading the country’s outlook to negative, taking a cautious approach to assessing the impact of the ongoing war in Gaza. 

The rating company’s Tuesday decision was the second to be published since the start of Israel’s campaign against Hamas almost six months ago, and contrasts with Moody’s decision in February to downgrade Israel’s rating for the first time due to economic uncertainties triggered by the conflict. 

Read More: Israel hit with first downgrade ever as Moody’s cites war impact

“Geopolitical risks associated with the war in Gaza remain elevated and escalation risks remain present, but Fitch believes the risks to the credit profile have broadened and their impact may take longer to assess,” wrote a team of analysts led by Cedric Berry. 

The negative outlook, said Fitch, reflects uncertainties around Israel’s fiscal policies and the war’s duration and intensity, including the risk of regional escalation.  

Israel agrees to US talks on Rafah after scrapping earlier visit

The US and Israel agreed to hold an in-person meeting to discuss their dispute over an expected Israeli invasion of the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, after  Netanyahu scrapped an earlier visit amid increasingly sour ties.

The meeting, which could take place as early as next week, was announced in a carefully worded readout from a video call of the two sides’ so-called Strategic Consultative Group. It said the US “expressed its concerns with various courses of action in Rafah”, while Israel “agreed to take these concerns into account and to have follow-up discussions between experts”.

That appeared to mark a concession, however small, by Netanyahu, who has so far publicly dismissed US warnings about his plans for a full-scale attack on Rafah as part of his forces’ bid to root out Hamas militants.

The US has urged Israel to protect the more than one million displaced Palestinians sheltering in Rafah, with Biden calling an invasion a “red line” and Secretary of State Antony Blinken warning an attack would worsen the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu has insisted his forces will go ahead once they come up with a plan to remove civilians from the area. DM

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  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    Step in the right direction, UK must also verify the origin of the weapons they might have been UK supplies, what an embarrassment God does not sleep and abandon innocent people.( Hamas not included)

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