Casus belli

A relative points to a hole in the floor of a building caused by a projectile that injured seven-year-old Bedouin girl Amina in her village, not recognised by Israeli authorities, in the southern Negev desert on April 14, 2024. Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles towards Israel in its unprecedented attack overnight, injuring at least 12 people, an Israeli army spokesman said on April 14. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The Pascal Sleiman affair awakens unsolved sectarian tensions in Lebanon on the 49th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, Increasing fear of deportation hits Syrians in Lebanon as Lebanese Foreign Minister asks for EU help to solve the refugees crisis, Cyprus suspends asylum applications for Syrians as arrivals rise, Iran launched dozens of drones and missiles in its first ever direct attack on Israeli territory, UN Security Council meeting over the Iran attack after Israel’s request, Negotiations’ attempts to bring ceasefire in Gaza failed again, Hezbollah and Israel to exchange attacks in southern Lebanon, The Israeli army opened fire on Al-Mayadeen’s journalists in Marjayoun, Israeli forces launched a new offensive in the central Gaza Strip, Settler violence escalates in the West Bank, Palestinian prisoner Walid Daqqa dies in Israeli prison at the age of 63, The Washington Post detailed the list of goods that Israel has banned from entering the Gaza Strip, Lebanese money changer Mohammad Srour found shot to death in Beit Mery, An-Nahar newspaper launched a fully functioning artificial intelligence’s President for Lebanon, Global and regional leaders met in Paris to spotlight Sudan and mark the one-year anniversary of the country’s brutal civil conflict, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has unconditionally released more than 1,500 prisoners in the largest royal pardon since the 2011 Bahraini uprising

Bloody anniversary, the 13th of April, forty-nine years ago. ‘Ain el-Remmaneh, 1975, a bus passing through while transporting Arab Liberation Front guerilla fighters and Palestinians returning from a wedding and heading to the refugee camp of Tel al-Zaatar – tragically gunned down by militiamen of the Kataeb party. All the twenty-seven passengers, except the driver, died on the spot. A few hours earlier, four Christians were killed outside a nearby church while the  the Phalangist leader Pierre Gemayel was attending mass. That day – a Sunday – marked the start of the fifteen-year long Lebanese Civil War.

What today, in a contested, not shared, and still largely oral and therefore biased history, we consider the caesura, the beginning act, the inauspicious day to be cursed in remembering what was destroyed – 150,000 deaths – lost – 17,500 forced disappeared – gone – more than a million displaced – was nothing more than a casus belli – an occasion for war – for the explosion of pre-existing sectarian and economic tensions. Conflicts, especially if fratricidal, never break out at any moment, nor through episodic cases, isolated events: but from the sedimentation of ancient alliances and antipathies, a palimpsest of historical resentments, economic crises, social collisions. Casus belli – symbolic drop by which the vase full of hatred overflows.

Another Sunday in April – fifty years later: Kharbed, Jbeil district, Pascal Sleiman, coordinator of the Lebanese Forces, was returning from the funeral of a relative. It may be a coincidence that all the symbolic dates, in the tormented and wounded history of this small country, have to do with the celebration of a religious rite that performs the birth, love or death of someone. Killed in an attempted theft of his car, his body would not be found until the following day, April 8, across the border: in the district of Homs.

Lebanese authorities arrested seven Syrians suspected of being involved in the murder, including four people who the army claims are the kidnappers themselves. According to the official version, they belong to a group specializing in car theft between Lebanon and Syria, which includes nationals from both countries. The response, though, has been ethnically connoted. Residents in mainly Christian areas have attempted to impose curfews on Syrians, to force them to leave, setting the deadline of mass evictions on Friday, security and UN sources confirmed. Dangerous reactions of intimidation had spread in and outside Beirut, Tabarja, and Byblos – where some of the violence has been captured on videos, widely shared on social media, showing refugees being assaulted in random streets or subjected to public humiliation by groups of unidentified men.

The result: Eid, for a Syrian in Lebanon, this year assumed the shape of hiding. Moving to a safer neighborhoods, postponing the celebrations. To reach the house of a family member or friend – taking dark streets and hidden alleys, praying, avoiding running into anyone.

Now it is the moment to ask ourselves whether in a few decades, the agitated developments on the day of Pascal Sleiman’s disappearance, the photograph of the reactions of local leaders – in the absence of other types of fresh information, at least in the early stages – will take on the appearance of a page of history to look at when we’ll wonder about the casus belli of yet another latent conflict, exploded in the hands of enraged citizens, helpless refugees, and – perhaps – unaware criminals. At least until proven otherwise. Whether we’ll end up looking at the kidnapping and murder of Pascal Sleiman as we now do at the massacre-accident of ‘Ain el-Remmaneh, the bus of April 13, 1975; or at July 12, 2006, the Hezbollah rockets on Zar’it and Shlomi, the capture of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldav Regev, the two Israeli soldiers taken hostage and returned – dead. Because there is no way to establish which price is appropriate to pay in war, and which is too high. This is not the question that we should ask ourselves, as non-participating observers of an era.

Responsibility, if it is true that history always repeats itself, this time will be to tell the immediate, popular effects of the great caesuras: which might shake history, but do not write it. The effort to take our eyes off the agency news, from the official press releases of the security forces, and stick our noses out of our windows, in the neighborhoods of the great and lively Lebanon, cosmopolitan Lebanon, segregated, sectarian Lebanon. Where a pogrom is taking place – and not just for a week. Syrian refugees – scapegoat of the country of today, forty-nine years later.


In Lebanon

The Pascal Sleiman affair: Unofficial checkpoints, curfews, and assault threatened Syrians in Lebanon ahead of Lebanese Forces’ official Pascal Sleiman’s funeral, five days after he was killed in a carjacking on Sunday, April 7, and then taken to Syria, where his corpse was found on Monday, according the Lebanese Army’s account. Following Syrian authorities’ repatriation of Sleiman’s remains and the Lebanese Army’s autopsy, on Wednesday LF supporters accompanied the hearse to Jbeil ahead of Friday’s official ceremony at Saint George’s Church in Jbeil, officiated by Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai. Sleiman was then buried in the cemetery of Notre-Dame d’Elige.

The army arrested seven suspects, including four suspects lured back to Lebanese territory from Syria by the army, who were part of a Lebanese-Syrian car theft gang. The car used to intercept Sleiman had reportedly been stolen days prior, while the official account of the killing is that the assailants only initially intended to abduct Sleiman to a remote location to avoid his reporting of the crime. 

While LF supporters initially doubted the army’s account, presenting the possibility that it was a politically motivated killing – Hezbollah facing accusations of preventing tighter border controls and implication in the underlying issues (e.g. proliferation of illegal weapons) that set the scene for the crime – various parties, including the Free Patriotic Movement and the LF, as well as government officials, used the incident as part of an ongoing anti-Syrian rhetoric.

Head of the Lebanese Forces Party, Samir Geagea stated on Friday that the answer is very simple and clear: “in times of danger, there are the [Lebanese] forces.” “The confrontation continues, and will continue until a shore of actual, real, stable and final safety is reached,” he added.

Commenting on Sleiman’s murder, the Kataeb party called on those involved from the political, security, and judicial authorities to “reveal the details of who instigated, planned and carried out the crime, and what are the real motives behind it in order to resolve all the ambiguities surrounding the case,” the National News Agency (NNA) reported. The party added that the crime was accompanied by “suspicious data and media misinformation.”

Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), speaking about the assassination of Sleiman during a press conference held on Tuesday in Beirut, said that “it is up to the Lebanese Army and the Lebanese justice system to punish those who committed this crime, and it is up to the army and the security forces to maintain security in the country and prevent it from being dragged into conflict.” Bassil expressed his condolences to Sleiman’s family, the Lebanese Forces, and “to all Lebanese.” “We all worked all night on Sunday and all day on Monday to try to save Pascal and protect the country,” he told reporters, claiming to have “felt the danger of an internal conflict.” Referring to a security practice that would mean the resurgence of militias, Bassil feared the implementation of personal security, “as long as we have official security institutions:” this route, according to him, would “open the door to gangs in every town, village, and street.”


Blame on them: During a joint press conference with Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis, Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said that “the crisis of migrants has spiraled out of control due to the absence of sustainable solutions,” stating that “Lebanon is no longer able to bear it.” The Lebanese Foreign Minister also warned that “the crisis has come knocking on the doors of Cyprus and perhaps Greece,” according to remarks reported by the state-run NNA. “Countries that share the same ideas such as Lebanon, Greece, and Cyprus must work together to change EU policy to help migrants return to Syria and support them in rebuilding their destroyed villages and towns,” he said.

Lebanon currently has 784,884 registered Syrian refugees with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to December 2023 figures. The official estimate remains around 1.5 million, including those not registered with UNHCR, making Lebanon the country with the highest refugee population per capita in the world. The issue of Syrian migrants has been at the heart of a series of discussions last week in Beirut, between Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides and caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, after Nicosia requested on Wednesday that the European Union take measures to stem the recent wave of Syrian refugees arriving on its shores.

On Sunday, April 14, following their visit to Lebanon, Cyprus’ authorities announced the country has suspended the processing of asylum applications from Syrians following a sharp increase in arrivals this month. More than 1,000 people have arrived in Cyprus on boats from Lebanese shores this month amid deepening tensions in the Middle East. It recorded more than 2,000 arrivals by sea in the first three months this year, compared with just 78 over the same period in 2023. “This is an emergency measure, it’s a difficult decision to protect the interests of Cyprus,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides told reporters on Sunday. In practice, the measure means asylum seekers will be confined to two reception camps offering food and shelter, with no other benefit. Those who choose to leave those facilities will automatically forfeit any kind of benefit and will not be allowed to work, government sources said.


Escalating: Syrian nationals in Lebanon told local reporters they either feared leaving their homes or resorted to exceptional measures after encountering unofficial checkpoints checking the nationality of drivers or seeing videos that spread online purportedly showing discriminatory assaults. There have been numerous incidents since Monday of Syrians being assaulted and beaten in the streets by supporters of the Christian party, while whole municipalities have enacted bylaws that restrain Syrians from leaving their homes.

Another incident on Wednesday involved an attack by unidentified assailants on a Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP) office in Jdita, in the Beqaa Valley. The office windows were smashed and someone had poured petrol in an attempt to set the building on fire, before fleeing – leaving behind a Lebanese Forces flag. On Thursday morning, moreover, several local media outlets reported that an ambulance affiliated with the SSNP had been set on fire in Baysour, a Druze village in Aley district.

The Lebanese Forces condemned the “barbaric acts to which some Syrians are exposed,” in a statement on Thursday, while still calling for Syrian refugees to leave the country. “The LF has always called and continues to call for the return of Syrian refugees to their homes, especially as security has been established in Syria,” the statement reads. “There is absolutely no reason to keep them in Lebanon.”

Among others, Walid Joumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) condemned the incident, calling on the security forces to “take immediate action to clarify the circumstances” of the crime and arrest those responsible. In a text cited by the NNA, the PSP said that “moral standards must be raised, especially in view of what is happening in the country.”

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati sought to de-escalate tensions, contacting LF leader Samir Geagea, who assured him that his party had no connection to the acts of vandalism. During the phone call, Mikati also highlighted the importance for all Lebanese leaders to “avoid anything that could provoke discord and division” in the country.


The southern front: Meanwhile, Hezbollah and Israel are continuing to exchange attacks, as southern Lebanon witnesses shelling, airstrikes, and gunfire targeting homes, forests, and the outskirts of towns across the area. On Friday, April 12, the Israeli army opened fire on the vehicle of a team of journalists from the Al-Mayadeen channel in Adaisseh, Marjayoun, the media outlet announced on X, adding that no one was injured in the attack. Al-Mayadeen journalists Farah Omar and Rabih Maamari were killed in Israeli strikes in the south on November 21.

A source at the Electricité du Liban (EDL) branch in Marjeyoun told L’Orient-Le Jour that an electrician from the private company Mrad, who was carrying out maintenance work on the line, was hit by Israeli fire. According to the public operator, the man survived after his car was hit by more than ten bullets fired by the Israeli Defense Forces from the settlement of Misgav Am, as he drove to the eastern entrance of Adaisseh to carry out electrical maintenance on the Taybe water project. On the Instagram post announcing the shooting at Al-Mayadeen’s car, the channel had referred to the attack on “workers repairing an electrical fault.”

Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad on Wednesday reiterated the party’s warning that if Israel defeats Hamas in Gaza, it will launch an offensive on Hezbollah in Lebanon. The party has rebranded its support front for Gaza as a means of deterring the threat of an Israeli offence on Lebanon – which predates October 7, according to the party’s account. 

On Tuesday, Free Patriotic Movement chief Gebran Bassil called for international action to bring about a cease-fire in southern Lebanon “regardless of what is happening in Gaza,” expressing concern over Israel’s reported desire to drag Lebanon into “a war according to its scale, desires, and capabilities.” Also the Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani expressed his country’s support for the Lebanese Army in an interview with Al Arabiya TV on Wednesday, asserting that Lebanon could ensure regional de-escalation.

Hezbollah officials, on their side, regularly assert that they seek to enforce “rules of engagement” with Israeli forces to avoid an escalation that Israel attempts to impose. 


Bullet-riddled: Money changer Mohammad Srour, a Lebanese man under US sanctions for allegedly funneling money from Iran to Palestinian militant group Hamas, was found shot to death in Beit Mery, a security source told AFP on Tuesday. Srour’s family said in a press conference he’d been missing for a week prior to his discovery in Beit Mery – where he had been shot five times and left carrying a sum of money untouched by the assailants, the security source told AFP. 

Lebanese security circles confirmed to Al-Mayadeen that Srour was subjected to severe torture before he was killed, and it is strongly believed that the Israeli Mossad was behind the operation. Moreover, Srour was subjected to interrogation while he was handcuffed, and the killers were in direct contact with ‘Tel Aviv’ during the interrogation, according to security sources.

In August 2019, the US Treasury sanctioned Srour for his role as a middleman transferring “tens of millions of dollars per year” between the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force and Hamas’ military wing, al-Qassam Brigades. He also “has an extensive history working at Hezbollah’s sanctioned bank, Bayt al-Mal,” the Treasury said. Washington blacklisted Bayt al-Mal in 2006.

Last month, top US Treasury representative Jesse Baker met with political and financial officials in Beirut, asking them to prevent funds from transiting through Lebanon to Hamas, media reports said at the time. However, a source at Lebanon’s Central Bank told Reuters that the country had denied such transfers were taking place.


Artificial President: Lebanon has introduced the world’s first artificial intelligence designed to perform presidential duties for the country. After having been without a sitting President for the last two years, and following thirteen failed attempts of the Lebanese parliament to elect one, An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon built and launched a fully functioning AI version.

The new AI President of Lebanon has been trained through “deep learning 90 years of impartial journalism” that featured in An-Nahar’s pages since the 1930s, the launching statement reads. It analyses not only the historical data provided through the pages of An-Nahar, but also current events, and formulates answers for all political, legal and government questions. By tapping into this vast knowledge base, the AI President has a deep understanding of Lebanon’s past, as well as an unbiased perspective on the challenges that the country faces today. 

The new AI President was launched in a live broadcast as an interview by Nayla Tueni, the editor-in-chief of An-Nahar newspaper, where she asked the AI President pertinent questions about the current state of the country, and what would be the best ways forward. The newspaper has also converted its print edition into one that completely focuses on the new President’s guidance on topics ranging from the economy to the environment.

The AI President is already accessible to all through a dedicated site – – and will answer questions related to Lebanon and its politics. Analysing current and historical events, it is understood that government officials will also be using the tool to help build directives, state-run National News Agency reported. 

Nayla Tueni commented on the campaign, “As Lebanese people, and especially An-Nahar, we refuse to sit back and allow things to go on as they have. To not have a President for this long is unacceptable and has impacted the country negatively. If the parliament will not do its job to elect a President, then the people will bring to Lebanon a President.” 


In The Region 

Iran’s retaliation: Iran launched nearly 300 explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel late on Saturday in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike that raised the threat of a wider regional conflict, as the US pledged ‘ironclad’ backing for Israel.

“Dozens of surface-to-surface missile launches from Iran were identified approaching Israeli territory,” the Israeli Defense Forces posted on X in the immediate aftermath, adding that “the IDF Aerial Defense Array successfully intercepted the majority of the launches using the Arrow Aerial Defense System, together with Israel’s strategic allies, before the launches crossed into Israeli territory. A small number of hits were identified, including at an IDF base in southern Israel, where minor damage was caused to infrastructure.” Sirens wailed and Reuters journalists in Israel reportedly heard distant heavy thuds and bangs from what local media called aerial interceptions of explosive drones. Authorities said a 7-year-old girl from an unrecognized Bedouin village was critically injured.

On the same night, President Joe Biden reinforced solidarity with Israel after meeting with his national security team to discuss Iran’s drone and missile attack on the US ally, which prompted concerns about a wider conflagration in the Middle East. Biden cut short a weekend trip to his home state of Delaware and returned to Washington to meet with cabinet members and other top US officials. “I just met with my national security team for an update on Iran’s attacks against Israel,” Biden said in a post on X after the meeting. “Our commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad.”

The President of the United States claimed he will convene G7 leaders to coordinate a diplomatic response, while Prime Minister of Italy Giorgia Meloni – the country holding the rotating presidency of the G7 – expressed deep concern over possible escalation, hoping the Israeli government would show restraint in its response against Iran, avoiding “a counterattack to the counterattack.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council was set to meet on Sunday after Israel requested the council condemn Iran’s attack and designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, outlined the request in a post on X. “The Iranian attack is a serious threat to global peace and security and I expect the Council to use every means to take concrete action against Iran,” Erdan wrote.


Legitimate self-defense: As a response, the permanent Islamic Republic of Iran mission to the UN claimed that “conducted on the strength of Article 51 of the UN Charter pertaining to legitimate defense, Iran’s military action was in response to the Zionist regime’s aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus. The matter can be deemed concluded.” In a post on X, the Iranian mission to the UN added that, however, “should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe. It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the US must stay away.”

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has issued a statement on Sunday morning hailing the “brave men” of the IRGC who “taught a lesson to the Zionist regime.” “The punishment of the aggressor, which was the true promise of the supreme leader, was fulfilled,” Raisi said. He added that the operation was “within the framework of rights for legitimate self-defense” in response to Israel’s aggressive actions.

Raisi also said that Iran over the past six months, as well as in recent weeks, used all tools to show “the horrible impacts” of the UN Security Council’s inaction in regards to Israel’s violation of international laws. “We recommend the supporters of the occupying regime to appreciate this responsible and appropriate action carried out by the Islamic Republic and stop blind support of this aggressor regime,” he added.

The Islamic Republic seems to want to de-escalate. It targeted only military sites and advertised the attack in advance – which analysts described as an effort to avoid casualties. Iran has also signaled that it would not strike further unless attacked. However, even if this largest drone attack in history doesn’t result in massive destruction and high military casualties, Iran’s ability to bring the war to Israel and inflict this level of disruption to everyday life, is a significant strategic blow to Israel. What the Iranians are trying to do, analysts said, is to come up with a measured, calculated attack in order to regain deterrence and not to be seen as weak in front of their own proxies.


Serious escalation: Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack. A video released by Reuters showed an object flying over Syria’s capital city early on Sunday, following Iran’s attack on Israel. It remains unclear what it was, and which direction it was moving. The Syrian state media has yet to report on it.

Moreover, a Russian navy frigate equipped with Kinzhal supersonic missiles has entered the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal as part of a planned naval exercise, Russia’s Defense Ministry stated. The ship, Marshal Shaposhnikov, will continue performing the tasks assigned under the expedition plan. Last week, the Kremlin called for all countries in the Middle East to show restraint and prevent the region slipping into complete chaos after tensions were raised by Israel’s deadly air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1. “Right now it is very important for everyone to maintain restraint in order not to lead to a complete destabilization of the situation in the region, which does not exactly shine with stability and predictability,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

On the Persian Gulf front, meanwhile, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the cargo ship MSC Aries in the Strait of Hormuz, before taking the Portuguese-flagged vessel into Iranian waters. The ship’s operator MSC leased the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime – partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer -, Zodiac said in a statement, adding that MSC was responsible for all the vessel’s activities.


Predictable: Washington has been expecting Tehran or its regional proxies to launch significant retaliatory attacks against Israel, following the strike on April 1 on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, according to reports in multiple American media outlets, where 16 people were killed, including two civilians. Among the victims of Israel’s airstrike in Damascus was Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a high-ranking member of the Revolutionary Guards, his deputy Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi, and five other officers. 

A source close to American intelligence previously told Bloomberg that it is more a matter of ‘when’ these attacks would have occurred than ‘if’ – after Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told his German counterpart on Thursday that Iran is determined to respond to Israel’s deadly strike, but will do so in an “appropriate” and “limited” way, a source with direct knowledge of the call told Axios.

According to two Israeli officials cited by Axios, General Erik Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), visited Israel on Thursday to coordinate the response to a potential attack from Tehran and its allies, meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and senior officials from the Israeli armed forces. The two aforementioned officials added that they were preparing for an unprecedented direct attack launched from Iranian soil using ballistic missiles, drones, and cruise missiles against Israeli targets, to which Israel would respond with a direct attack on Iran.

During a meeting with Yoav Gallant on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “reiterated the United States’ support for Israel’s security and clearly indicated that the United States would stand by Israel against any threat from Iran and its proxies,” according to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Quoted by Axios, a senior Israeli official added that Tel Aviv and Washington have been coordinating for several days to establish a joint air and missile defense in the region in anticipation of an offensive from Tehran. According to a source familiar with the matter interviewed by the American news site, the Saudi, Emirati, Qatari, and Iraqi foreign ministers spoke on the phone with their Iranian counterpart on Wednesday after receiving calls from the White House asking them to convey a message to Tehran about the need for de-escalation.

Last week, some unconfirmed reports had indicated that in exchange for imposing a cease-fire in Gaza, Iran had expressed readiness not to retaliate against the Israeli strike of April 1. Initially expected before Ramadan and then before Eid al-Fitr, however, a truce deal between Hamas and Israel has not yet been reached.

Moreover, according to experts, the Iranian attack is a useful diversion domestically and beyond for Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu as it shifted the attention away from Gaza and from the criticism Israel is receiving for the way it’s conducting the war, reversing sympathies in the Western capitals as they embrace the Israeli narrative once again.


Failed attempt: Mediation efforts have so far failed to reach a compromise. On Thursday, Israel accused Hamas of “turning its back” on a “very reasonable offer.” The latest proposal put forward by Qatar, the United States and Egypt called for a six-week truce, the release of 42 hostages held in Gaza in exchange for 800 to 900 Palestinians incarcerated by Israel, and the return to their homes of northerners displaced by the war, according to a Hamas source.

Before any agreement is reached, however, Hamas is demanding a definitive cease-fire, Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a major increase in humanitarian aid, the return of displaced persons and a “serious” agreement to exchange Palestinian hostages and prisoners. Hamas also asked for “enough time and security” to be able to locate the hostages who “are in different places in the hands of different groups,” said Bassem Naim, a member of the group’s leadership, on Thursday.

Later on Saturday, the Palestinian militant group submitted its response to Egyptian and Qatari mediators, demanding a “clear written commitment” that Israel will withdraw from the Gaza Strip during the second of a three-phase ceasefire deal. “We confirm our readiness to reach a deal regarding a serious exchange of prisoners between the two sides,” Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed Hamas official as saying.

An unnamed Egyptian official, acknowledging Hamas’ requests, said mediators will carefully review the response before calling for another round.

Crutches and chocolate croissants: As famine takes hold in Gaza, particularly in the north of the besieged Strip, and figures for the increase in aid in recent days are disputed by humanitarian organizations, in a report entitled ‘Crutches and chocolate croissants’ The Washington Post detailed the list of goods that Israel has banned from entering the enclave. In addition to food, water and blankets, goods entering Gaza require special authorization from the Israeli authorities, who sometimes reject authorized goods in other cases, or finally authorize them following a request for review. When a product is banned, the entire truck is sent back.

The Washington Post reached 25 aid groups, UN agencies and donor countries about the kinds of aid they have tried to get into Gaza. Food, water and blankets do not require approvals, but agencies submit requests for items they think have a chance of getting rejected, such as communications equipment and sanitation or shelter items. Pre-dispatch approvals and border inspections have been inconsistent, they said, with some items rejected in one instance but approved in others. In some cases, organizations were able to get rejections overturned upon appeal. Other requests have remained in limbo.

Among the goods in question are anesthetics, oxygen cylinders, crutches, X-ray machines, bulletproof vests for humanitarian aid workers, pet food, chocolate buns, toys in wooden boxes. A long list of other products considered by Israel to be dual-use – civilian and military – has also been banned since the blockade imposed on the Strip back in 2007, the daily reported.

COGAT, the Israeli military agency responsible for coordinating relief in Gaza, said the allegations that it restricts aid are “false” and that it largely permits the entry of humanitarian supplies, subject to a security inspection. COGAT has in turn accused UN agencies of delays in aid delivery. Last month, responding to a video from United Nations’ Secretary General António Guterres showing miles of stalled trucks at the Rafah border crossing, COGAT posted on social media that the United Nations “must scale up logistics and stop blaming Israel for its own failures.”

Fewer than 1.5 percent of the total trucks have been denied entry at the crossings, COGAT said, adding that 20,900 tons of medical equipment have entered Gaza since the start of the war. Overall, the agency says 22,105 trucks were allowed into Gaza since October 7, an average of about 118 trucks per day – about a fifth of the number that entered prewar. Last week, COGAT said that Israel was “surging” aid into the territory and that more than 1,200 aid trucks were inspected and transferred to Gaza over three days.

UN and other aid agencies say, however, that Israel still controls when they can retrieve the goods from the Gaza side of the crossings – and also must approve the routes the aid trucks take within the enclave.


New offensive: Israeli air force and ground troops launched a new offensive on Thursday near the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, with the aim of reinforcing their control over the area known as the Netzarim corridor, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. This area, whose center is occupied by an east-west road, crosses the Gaza Strip and enables the army to control the movement of Palestinians between the north and south of the enclave.

According to the Israeli media, the troops said the operation – which is expected to last around a week – was aimed at killing Hamas members and destroying its assets in the region. It also claimed to have hit dozens of surface and underground targets before the ground troops entered.

Only one day prior, on Wednesday, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh confirmed the killing of his sons Hazem, Amir, and Mohammad in an interview with Al Jazeera. He said that the Israeli attack also killed a number of his grandchildren. “There is no doubt that this criminal enemy is driven by the spirit of revenge and the spirit of murder and bloodshed, and it does not observe any standards or laws,” Haniyeh said, clarifying that 60 of his family members have been killed since the start of the war. The massacre, however, would not soften his position in the negotiations.


Settler violence on the rise: Violence surged in the West Bank on Saturday as armed Jewish settlers blocked roads, vandalized property, and clashed with Palestinians, according to witnesses and medical sources. The unrest followed the death of an Israeli settler teenager in what has been labelled a suspected terrorist attack, igniting tensions in the region.

The Palestinian Health Ministry reported that a 17-year-old Palestinian, Omar Hamed, succumbed to injuries after being shot by a settler near Ramallah. At least 20 other Palestinians sustained injuries during the confrontations, as reported by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. In Duma, several homes and cars were set ablaze; in Qusra, south of Nablus, three homes and several cars were reported to have been damaged by the fires; and in Beit Furik, east of Nablus, there were reports of confrontations between settlers and Palestinians. Israel’s top newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, moreover, disclosed that one of its photographers was assaulted by settlers, some dressed in Israeli army uniforms. 

In response to the escalating violence, Israeli authorities have increased security presence, aiming to prevent further spread amidst the ongoing Gaza war, now in its seventh month. Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid criticized “violent riots” by settlers in the occupied West Bank and urged the country’s leadership to intervene to avoid more killing. “The violent riots of the settlers are a dangerous violation of the law, and they interfere with the security forces operating in the area,” Lapid posted on X. However, while illegal settlers increased their attacks, the Israeli army escalated its operations, killing at least 463 Palestinians, injuring 4,750, and detaining more than 8,000 others, according to Palestinian sources.


A life in prison: Walid Daqqa, one of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners in Israel, died of cancer on Sunday at the age of 63 after almost four decades of incarceration. A spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service on Monday confirmed Daqqa’s death and said in a statement that his death will be investigated “like any event of this nature.”

There are currently 9,400 Palestinians prisoners in Israeli jails, according to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society. Daqqa’s death brings the number of Palestinians that have died in Israeli custody since 1967, the start of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, to 251, according to the Palestinian Commission of Detainee Affairs. And since October 7 of last year, Daqqa is the 14th Palestinian prisoner to have died in Israeli custody, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society.

Daqqa’s case was unique, the Commission of Detainees Affairs reported. At the time of his death, he was the longest imprisoned Palestinian in Israel, with the second-longest sentence served overall, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society. He was also one of the few Palestinian prisoners to have been continuously incarcerated since prior to the Oslo Accords, a series of agreements between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s that resulted in a number of Palestinians being released from Israeli prisons. Born in the Israeli town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye in the northern ‘triangle’ region, Daqqa was a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

Arrested in March 1986, he was sentenced to life in prison after an Israeli court convicted him of commanding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) militant group, which abducted and killed 19-year-old Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984. Daqqa was not convicted of carrying out the murder but of commanding the group, which he denied, Amnesty International said. In 2012, Israel reduced his sentence to 37 years, which he completed in 2023. He was then charged by an Israeli court with smuggling mobile phones to prisoners, and was given an added sentence of two years, according to the Palestinian Commission of Detainee Affairs. He died before his scheduled release date of March 24, 2025.

The Commission and the Palestinian Prisoners Society, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said in a statement that during his detention, Daqqa “faced the policies of torture, assault, deprivation and isolation, in addition to successive medical crimes.”

Moreover, Daqqa’s health had deteriorated in prison. In 2015, he was diagnosed with neuromuscular disease after suffering from various health conditions, and in 2022 with myelofibrosis, a rare form of bone marrow cancer and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. In 2023, Amnesty International called on Israel to release Daqqa so he could receive specialist medical care – alleging that after the cancer diagnosis, “negligence” in providing urgent medical intervention meant the disease progressed and reached a “critical level three notches above the danger threshold.”

After his death, a tent set up for mourners to gather on Monday in Baqa al-Gharbiyye was stormed by Israeli police, according to a statement from the Palestinian Prisoners Society and Al Jazeera video. Amnesty International on Monday called on Israeli authorities to return Daqqa’s body to his family so they could give him a “peaceful and dignified burial and allow them to mourn his death without intimidation,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Research, Advocacy, Policy and Campaigns.


One year of atrocities: As global and regional leaders met in Paris to spotlight Sudan and mark the one-year anniversary of the country’s brutal conflict between Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF), “they should make clear that those responsible for ongoing atrocities and other violations of international humanitarian law will be held to account,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday, April 12. “This includes widespread intentional killings of civilians, unlawful attacks on civilian infrastructure, as well as the deliberate looting of aid, which constitute war crimes.”

On Monday, April 15, France alongside Germany and the European Union are co-hosting a conference on Sudan to press for an end to the fighting and for a significant uptick in global funding for the grossly under-resourced response as a hunger and broader humanitarian crisis unravels in the country and in refugee hosting countries. The governmental meeting in Paris is expected to publicly support efforts to investigate ongoing abuses on the ground, as the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced in July 2023 that it is investigating recent crimes committed in Darfur as part of his office’s ongoing Darfur investigations. The independent international fact-finding mission on Sudan, established by the UN Human Rights Council in October, and mandated to investigate violations across Sudan, including in Khartoum and Darfur, should be given full support and access, and be renewed as needed until investigations are complete, HRW stated.

The conference came a year after conflict broke out between the SAF and RSF in Khartoum on April 15, 2023, before spreading to other regions including Darfur and central Sudan. Despite the magnitude of suffering and violations by the warring parties, the situation in Sudan has received an underwhelming response from the international community. Almost 15,000 people are known to have been killed since then, almost certainly an underestimate. The conflict has uprooted 8.5 million people, most internally, making Sudan the world’s largest internal displacement crisis. Around 1.76 million people have fled into neighboring countries. 

Without significant humanitarian assistance, moreover – massively and arbitrarily restricted by both sides’ bureaucratic authorities, who have sought to restrict aid going to and through the opposing parties’ areas of control, which has put Khartoum under a de facto blockade since late 2023 and also hampered aid access in Darfur – five million people could risk starvation in the coming months. In this regard, on March 6, Sudanese authorities informed the UN that they would only allow cross-border movement through specific crossings under the control of forces allied to the military, adding more financial and logistical challenges for humanitarian organizations. On March 21, the RSF had released a statement on their official X account saying they would not allow aid from Port Sudan to reach El Fashir, the capital of North Darfur, saying this plan will be used for rearmament purposes by SAF and their allies.

Both warring parties have committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, amounting in some cases to war crimes and other atrocity crimes, Human Rights Watch said. The SAF have unlawfully killed civilians, carried out airstrikes that have deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure, and repeatedly obstructed humanitarian aid among other violations. The RSF has carried out widespread civilian killings, many of which appear to be ethnically targeted notably in West Darfur, while also hampering aid including by widespread looting of humanitarian supplies. They have used heavy explosive weapons in densely populated areas and engaged in widespread sexual violence and pillage. Both forces and their allies have recruited children and arbitrarily detained civilians.


Unconditionally: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has unconditionally released more than 1,500 prisoners, including political detainees, in the largest royal pardon since the 2011 Bahraini uprising. The released prisoners included some serving life sentences and others convicted on charges related to the 2011 protests, as the mostly Shia opposition staged a failed anti-government uprising that was crushed with the help of Saudi Arabia’s troops. Since then, the Gulf state – Shia majority ruled by a Sunni royal dynasty – has imprisoned thousands of protesters, journalists and activists, some in mass trials. 

The surprise amnesty coincided with Eid Al-Fitr and the king’s Silver Jubilee in power. Many of the detainees were welcomed back by their families after years of imprisonment, with some having not been home for as long as a decade. Meanwhile, Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), said the release came as a complete shock as there “had been no prior indication.”

According to the New Arab, hundreds of former political prisoners released on Tuesday chanted support for Palestine upon their release. Commenting on X, Bahraini human rights defender and activist Maryam Al-Khawaja said the prisoners left the jail “with their heads held high and chanting for Palestine.” Despite the government’s normalisation of ties with Tel Aviv in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords, in fact, solidarity with Palestine remains strong among Bahraini citizens.

On Monday, the Bahrain News Agency (BNA) said that “this royal decree reflects his majesty’s keenness to maintain the cohesion and stability of the Bahraini society while protecting its social fabric.” The pardons cover “those convicted for riot and criminal cases,” and were announced as King Hamad marks 25 years since his ascension to the throne, BNA added. The move, which comes after years of campaigning by international human rights groups, is seen as a positive step, although activists believe that there are still approximately 600 political prisoners remaining behind bars, including some on death row.

The royal pardon can also be seen as an opportunity for Manama to enhance its global image, attract foreign direct investment, and promote tourism, and The Guardian noted that the release may have been influenced by a recent visit to Saudi Arabia by Bahrain’s crown Prince, potentially leading to a Saudi endorsement of the move.


What We’re Reading

From abduction to assassination: NOW reported about the abduction and subsequent killing of Pascal Sleiman, the Lebanese Forces’ coordinator in Jbeil, and the consequent tensions and skepticism in Lebanon, spotlighting the country’s pervasive insecurity and potential political motives behind such incidents.

The shadow over Lebanon: Political psychologist Ramzi Abou Ismail explored for NOW the broader implications of the rhetoric used by Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, particularly following the recent war on Gaza, and how this rhetoric may be influencing the current political climate in Lebanon.

Optimum Invest: NOW’s Maan Barazy unveiled an independent commission report of a 8 billion dollars Ponzi scheme related to Lebanese debt papers, raising questions on staggering financial irregularities and possible collusion with Lebanon’s Central Bank. The scheme, disclosed by the Central Market Authority (CMA) in 2015 and a report by Kroll’s forensic unit last week, indicates that Optimum Invest SAL, a Lebanese brokerage firm, received special favors from former Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh on illicit commissions for trading.


Lebanon +

Confessions from a War: Marking the 49th anniversary of the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War, on April 13, Cinema Royal in Bourj Hammoud organised a screening of the documentary ‘Confessions from a War’ – directed by Sean Thompson. Nearly 34 years after the end of the fighting, former enemies of the fifteen-year-long conflict have come together to deliver their poignant testimonies, laying the foundations for an honest dialogue and a necessary convergence to rebuild the Lebanon we dream of. More than 200 hours of interviews were recorded with ex-combatants from different camps, now united by a sense of guilt, remorse, and a desire to pass on their experience to younger generations.

The New Arab Weekly: Last week on The New Arab Weekly podcast, Hugo Goodridge and his guests, Charlie Houle and Nadda Osman, looked at the recent increase in Israeli attacks against Hezbollah in Lebanon and the war of words, the killing of Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh’s children and grandchildren, the withdrawal from Khan Younis, the death of Walid Daqqa, and the release of prisoners in Bahrain.