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Gaza ceasefire talks underway in Paris as air strikes continue

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Gaza truce talks were underway in Paris on Friday, marking the most serious push in weeks to halt the fighting in the battered Palestinian enclave and see Israeli and foreign hostages released.

Reuters reported that the talks had begun, with Israel’s head of the Mossad intelligence service meeting separately with each party – Qatar, Egypt and the United States, according to an anonymous source.

“There are budding signs of optimism about moving forward toward the start of serious negotiations,” the source was quoted as saying. Egypt’s Al Qahera TV News also reported that the talks had commenced.

An official from Hamas stated that the militant group had concluded ceasefire talks in Cairo and was now awaiting the outcome of the weekend talks with Israel mediated by others.

Mediators have intensified efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, aiming to prevent an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million displaced people are sheltering at the southern edge of the enclave.

Israel has threatened to attack the city if no truce agreement is reached soon. Washington has urged its close ally not to proceed, warning of vast civilian casualties if an assault on the city occurs.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met with Egyptian mediators in Cairo this past week to discuss a truce, marking his first visit since December.

Two Egyptian security sources confirmed that Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel would head to Paris for talks with the Israelis after wrapping up discussions with Haniyeh on Thursday. Israel has not publicly commented on the Paris talks, which are expected to continue through the weekend.

Reuters reported that the militant group did not offer any new proposals at the talks with the Egyptians but was waiting to see what the mediators would bring back from their discussions with the Israelis, citing a Hamas official who requested anonymity.

Ceasefire outline emerged from earlier talks

The last time similar talks were held in Paris, at the start of February, they produced an outline for the first extended ceasefire of the conflict, approved by Israel and the United States. Hamas responded with a counterproposal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then rejected as “delusional.”

Hamas, believed to still be holding more than 100 hostages seized in the October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the conflict, insists on their release only as part of a truce that includes an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel, on the other hand, refuses to withdraw until Hamas is eradicated.

Late on Thursday, Netanyahu presented his security cabinet with an official plan for Gaza once the fighting stops. He emphasized that Israel expects to maintain security control over the enclave after destroying Hamas and also sees no role there for the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank.

Washington favors a role for a reformed PA.

Two Palestinian officials familiar with the negotiations stated that Hamas has not changed its stance in the latest push to reach a deal and still demands that a truce end with an Israeli pullout.

“Israel’s position and its response to mediation has been negative and this poses many obstacles towards reaching an agreement,” senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on Friday during a press conference in Beirut.

“Netanyahu is procrastinating… He does not care about the release of his hostages, but rather uses this issue as a card to achieve his goals,” Hamdan said.

At least 29,514 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7, the Gaza health ministry said on Friday.

Source(s): CGTN

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Middle East countries voice concern over military escalation after alleged Israeli attack on Iran

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Countries in the Middle East have voiced their concern over military escalation in the region after Israel on Friday allegedly struck sites near the city of Isfahan, central Iran, in what appeared to be its military response to Iran’s recent retaliatory attack.

In a statement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry called on the two sides to exercise the utmost restraint and to fully comply with the rules of international law and the UN Charter, warning against widening the conflict and instability in the region.

Egypt stressed that it will continue to intensify communications with all concerned and influential parties to contain the ongoing escalation and tension.

In addition, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the ministry “is constantly monitoring the tension in the region,” expressing its deep concern about the attack targeting Isfahan on Friday morning.

The ministry said that the escalation must not distract attention from the destruction and loss of innocent lives in the Gaza Strip, renewing its call on the international community to perform its duties and work to stop the suffering of the Palestinian people, according to the statement.

Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi on Friday stressed the need to reduce the dangerous escalation in the region and reiterated that “Jordan will not allow it to be turned into an arena of conflict between Iran and Israel and to endanger its security and the safety of its citizens.”

Safadi, who also serves as the Jordanian foreign minister, added on social media platform X that “the current escalation only serves to divert attention away from the Israeli aggression on Gaza, stopping which must be the priority.”

The Israeli attack came after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed Saturday that it had launched missile and drone attacks on Israel in retaliation for earlier airstrikes by Israel on April 1 on the Iranian consulate building in the Syrian capital of Damascus, which killed seven Iranians.

So far, Israel has not officially acknowledged the strikes on Isfahan, while Iran has not publicly accused Israel of carrying them out.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Foreign Ministry on Friday condemned the Israeli strikes on Syrian military sites earlier in the day as a flagrant violation of Syrian sovereignty and a threat to regional stability.

In a statement, the ministry warned that such actions could escalate tensions in the region, potentially leading to a broader conflict, and urged the international community, including the UN Security Council, to condemn the attack and take decisive measures to halt the “crimes” committed by Israel.

In the early hours of Friday, the Israeli military launched a series of airstrikes targeting Syrian air defense sites in the southern region, according to the Syrian Defense Ministry. The strikes caused material losses, while no casualties were reported, it added.

The attack was also confirmed by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported that more than six Israeli aircraft were observed flying intensively in southern Syria.

The radar battalion responsible for monitoring the airspace, located in the east of Syria’s Daraa province, was targeted, the war monitor added.

Source(s): CGTN

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EU, Finnish leaders call for de-escalation amid Iran-Israel tensions

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HELSINKI, April 19 (Xinhua) — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo on Friday urged de-escalation amid Iran-Israel tensions.

They made these comments at a press conference held at southeastern Finland’s Lappeenranta airport on Friday. The event followed a visit to the Finnish eastern border near the town of Imatra.

“We must do everything possible to ensure that all sides refrain from escalating the situation in the region,” said von der Leyen. She emphasized the necessity for stabilizing in the region.

Orpo expressed hope that both sides would avoid retaliatory attacks.

According to local media reports, the purpose of their visit to the eastern border was to inspect a pilot fence, about three kilometers long, built near the Imatra border crossing.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Blinken says U.S. not involved in Israeli attack against Iran

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that he can’t speak to media reports about the details of an Israeli attack against Iran overnight, stressing that the United States was not involved in any offensive operations by Israel.

“The reports that you’ve seen, I’m not going to speak to that, except to say that the United States has not been involved in any offensive operations,” Blinken told a press conference in Italy as he wrapped up a meeting with foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) countries.

He was responding to a reporter’s question seeking confirmation of media reports saying Washington received advance warning from Israel on Thursday of an imminent strike against Iran in retaliation for Tehran’s assault on Israel last week.

“What we’re focused on, what the G7 is focused on, and again, it’s reflected in our statement and in our conversation, is our work to de-escalate tensions, to de-escalate from any potential conflict,” Blinken said in what were first public remarks on the Israeli attack by a cabinet member of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.

What Blinken also refused to address during that round of questions and answers was the White House’s assessment of whether the Israeli strikes were over and if Iran would retaliate.

Earlier on Friday, Iran’s air defense systems shot down several “flying objects” near the central city of Isfahan, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

The Israeli side has not yet made any announcement regarding the attack.

Source(s): CGTN

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