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Israel gives hostage deal 'last chance' before Rafah attack: Reports

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Tel Aviv, April 27 (IANS/DPA) Israel sees the latest efforts to achieve a ceasefire and a hostage deal in the Gaza war as a “last chance” before the planned attack on the city of Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip, according to media reports.

According to a senior Israeli official, the talks between Egyptian and Israeli representatives in Tel Aviv on Friday were “very good” and focused. The Egyptians were apparently prepared to put pressure on the Palestinian militant organization Hamas in order to reach an agreement.

Progress had been made in all areas of the talks, the Times of Israel quoted reports late on Friday evening. Previously, the state-affiliated Egyptian television station Al-Qahira News had also reported considerable progress.

The Israeli official was quoted as saying that Israel would not allow Hamas, in particular its leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya al-Sinwar, to delay a hostage deal in order to prevent the planned military offensive in Rafah.

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The army had mobilised two more reserve brigades a few days ago.

Al-Sinwar is considered to have been the mastermind of the massacre in Israel on October 7 last year, in which around 1,200 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed and more than 200 people were abducted to Gaza. Israeli forces believe al-Sinwar is hiding in tunnels below Rafah.

“This is the last chance before we go to Rafah,” the Times of Israel quoted the unnamed Israeli government official as saying. “It’s either an agreement in the future or Rafah.”

Israel wants to smash the last remaining Hamas battalions in the town in southern Gaza, which borders Egypt. According to Israeli media, Egypt wants to reach an agreement to avert the assault on Rafah. Egypt is concerned that large numbers of Palestinians could cross the border.

More than a million civilians have fled from the fighting in the rest of the Gaza Strip and sought refuge in Rafah.

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According to the Israeli media, the latest talks between Egyptian and Israeli representatives were initially intended to focus on a limited agreement with Hamas, whereby only some female, elderly and sick hostages would be released. Hamas had rejected a US proposal to release 40 such abductees.

According to them, there aren’t that many hostages left alive who fall into these categories. Hamas is calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, a demand which Israel’s government rejects.

–IANS/DPA

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International

2 killed, multiple injured in shooting in Texas

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San Francisco, June 16 (IANS) A shooting left two people dead and several wounded on Saturday night near the capital city of the US state of Texas, local police said.

The shooting took place before 11 p.m. Saturday (4 a.m. GMT Sunday) during a Juneteenth celebration at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, about 19 miles (30.4 km) north of Austin, reported Xinhua News Agency.

An altercation began between two groups during a concert at the event and resulted in the shooting, Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks said during a news conference at the scene. The two victims who died at the scene were not involved in the altercation, Allen said, adding that multiple wounded victims were transported to local hospitals.

An investigation was going on. Police did not know how many shooters were involved, and no suspect was yet in custody, he said.

–IANS

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Final document at Ukraine peace summit backed by 80 countries

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Vienna, June 16 (IANS/DPA) The final declaration of the Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland was approved by 80 of the 93 participating states at the close of the two-day event on Sunday.

Countries that did not sign include six states from the G20 group of the world’s most important economic powers — Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, India and Indonesia, according to a list published by the Swiss hosts.

Armenia, Bahrain, Thailand, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Colombia and the Vatican also did not back the document released at the Burgenstock mountain hotel resort near Lucerne.

Brazil, India, South Africa and the UAE are united with Russia in the so-called BRICS group and maintain a friendly relationship with Russia despite its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The draft of the final declaration took this into account and does not explicitly condemn Moscow for its actions.

Instead, it recalls the Charter of the United Nations: “In particular, we reaffirm our commitment to refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” the text reads.

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The principles of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine, must be respected, it stated.

The signatories also favour protecting the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya, which is occupied by Russia, and agree that any threat to use nuclear weapons should be condemned.

They also call for unhindered grain exports from Ukraine, which are particularly important for impoverished countries in Africa and other parts of the world.

The declaration also advocates the exchange of prisoners of war and the return of children and other civilians abducted from Ukraine to Russia.

Earlier in the day, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer anticipated an incomplete backing of the document, while downplaying the significance of this.

This was only because of its exact wording, according to Nehammer, rather than reflecting a lack of support for efforts to broker peace in Ukraine.

The basic common position would not be affected, he said: “That’s why I’m not so worried if not everyone signs now.”

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The question of the scope of a follow-up conference was also still difficult to answer. Before Russia also takes a seat at the negotiating table, another conference in a different format is conceivable, Nehammer added.

“You really have to see it as a process,” he said.

According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, the conference as such brought significant progress.

Kuleba said that all countries that were not present were also aware of the impetus provided by the meeting. Overall, the process that has been initiated is very welcome. He said: “We are on the right track.”

Kuleba again stressed the need to support Ukraine militarily with the highest quality weapons possible. The stronger Ukraine is, the more willing Moscow will be to negotiate peace, according to him.

The aim of the event was to initiate a peace process in which Russia would also be involved in the long term. Officials from Moscow were not invited on this occasion and did not express a wish to attend.

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–IANS/DPA

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India among 12 countries that avoid signing final communique of Ukraine Peace Summit

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New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) India on Sunday said that it has decided to “avoid association with the joint communique or any other document” emerging from the two-day ‘Summit on Peace in Ukraine’ being held at Burgenstock near Lucerne in Switzerland.

“Our participation in this summit and continued engagement with all stakeholders is with a view to understanding different perspectives, approaches and options to find a way forward for a sustainable resolution of the conflict,” said Pavan Kapoor, Secretary, West, at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) who led the Indian delegation at the event.

“In our view, only those options acceptable to both parties can lead to abiding peace,” Kapoor, India’s former Ambassador to Russia, added.

Around 100 delegations, including 57 heads of state and government, attended the summit which aimed at initiating the process for a lasting and just peace in Ukraine. Eighty countries and four European institutions signed the final joint communique.

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Besides India, several other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Armenia, Libya, Indonesia, Bahrain, Colombia and the United Arab Emirates, have also refrained from signing the final communique of the Peace Summit.

In his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held on the sidelines of the 50th G7 Summit in Italy’s Apulia on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reiterated that New Delhi continues to encourage peaceful resolution of the Russia-Ukraine conflict through dialogue and diplomacy.

“Had a very productive meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky. India is eager to further cement bilateral relations with Ukraine. Regarding the ongoing hostilities, reiterated that India believes in a human-centric approach and believes that the way to peace is through dialogue and diplomacy,” PM Modi posted on X after meeting Zelensky.

Last year, India had abstained from a vote at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on a resolution titled ‘Principles of the Charter of the United Nations underlying a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine’, citing that it “lacked basic concepts” for achieving a sustainable peace in the region.

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PM Modi has also consistently advocated that no solution can ever be arrived at the cost of human lives and that escalation of hostilities and violence is in no one’s interest. “India shares the global concerns over the situation in Ukraine and supports any collective desire to facilitate peaceful resolution of the conflict,” the MEA Secretary said in Switzerland on Sunday.

The countries and organisations which supported the joint communique include Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Comoros, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, the Council of Europe, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kosovo, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Palau, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Rwanda, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Serbia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor Leste, Turkiye, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay.

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–IANS

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Jordan says 14 pilgrims dead, 17 missing during Haj in Saudi Arabia

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Amman, June 16 (IANS) Jordan on Sunday confirmed the deaths of 14 citizens and the missing of 17 others who were performing Haj rituals in Saudi Arabia.

Sufian Qudah, the spokesperson for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that the Jordanian side is following up with concerned Saudi authorities on burials or home returns of the deceased at their families’ request, Xinhua news agency reported.

The Saudi authorities were also continuing the search for the 17 missing pilgrims, according to the statement.

The statement did not detail further nor disclose the cause of the tragedy, but the Jordanian Foreign Ministry reported a day earlier that six Jordanians had died of heat stroke during the Haj pilgrimage.

–IANS

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Iran, UAE urge effective measures to stop Israeli attacks in Gaza

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Tehran, June 16 (IANS) Iran and the UAE on Sunday highlighted the necessity of effective measures to stop the ongoing Israeli attacks against the Gaza Strip and ensure the entry of humanitarian aid into the enclave.

In a phone call, Iranian Caretaker Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan discussed the latest developments in Gaza and issues of common interest, according to a statement released by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Bagheri Kani pointed to Israel’s “brutal crimes” against Palestinians, stressing the need for Muslim states to “use all available tools” to stop the Israeli attacks in Gaza as soon as possible and deliver sufficient aid to its long-suffering people, Xinhua news agency reported.

The UAE Foreign Minister, for his part, stressed the urgency to send humanitarian aid to Gazans and implement effective measures to stop the Israeli offensive, adding that the UAE was making all-out efforts to those ends.

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The Israeli army has been conducting a large-scale offensive on Gaza since October 7, 2023, after Hamas carried out an unprecedented attack on the Israeli towns adjacent to the strip, killing nearly 1,200 people.

The Palestinian death toll from the ongoing Israeli attacks in the enclave has surpassed 37,000, with more than 85,000 people injured, according to the health authorities in Gaza.

–IANS

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