HomePoliticsBriefingThe land of contradictions

The land of contradictions

Wreckage of a destroyed coffee stall litters the street at the site of Israeli shelling which also hit a supermarket in the southern Lebanese village of Adaysseh near the border with Israel on December 8, 2023, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues with Hamas militants in the southern Gaza Strip. (Photo by Hassan FNEICH / AFP)

The empty rhetorics of human rights, Global strike for Palestine, The endless spiral of Israeli offensive, Heavy bombardments hamper aid efforts in the southern Gaza Strip, Who will run post-war Gaza, Al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards threaten already-unstable Lebanese sovereignty, UN Resolution 1701 under implementation, Lebanon faces growing institutional vacuum, US vetoes United Nations’ ceasefire call, First Lebanese soldier killed by Israeli strikes, Ongoing investigations on Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah’s death, US approves $106 million emergency ammunition sale to Israel, Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar is a ‘walking dead’, The Houthis and the Read Sea front, Towards Egypt presidential elections, AUB seminar “Lebanon in its Second Century: A Forward Vision” fourth session discusses culture and identity


A dialogue of the deaf. A domino-effect chain of inertia and impotence. It is the fifth time in history that two things have happened, this week: one denying, in clear contradiction, the other.

For the fifth time in its history, the United Nations has referred to Article 99 of its Charter, an exceptional and emergency instrument invoked to discuss any matter which, in the opinion of the Secretary-General, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security: and that in this case, if in agreement, would guarantee the UN Security Council with additional powers – including imposing sanctions and deploying an international force – to ensure that a ceasefire resolution is implemented in Gaza.

On the other hand, for the (at least) fifth time in history, the US State Department has approved the emergency sale of ammunition to a foreign country while bypassing congressional review, which is usually a requirement for foreign military sales, in the interest of the States’ national security. The rare action, used when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers’ approval, would provide Israel with  14,000 rounds of tank cartridges and related equipment for an estimated $106.5 million, to enforce its genocidal war in Gaza: the same war that the US vetoed a resolution of ceasefire for.

In the last week, in fact, Israel has sharply intensified its strikes on the besieged Strip, the death toll nearing 18,000 in a new, expanded phase of the war that Washington said contradicted Benjamin Netanyahu’s promises to do more to protect civilians. Here it is, a further face of America’s double agent and contradiction, while those of Israel, whose occupying army continues to praise moral qualities and whose colonial government boasts democratic values, seems to have ceased to amaze. At least until a new face of the well-known brutality emerges.

The footage published on Thursday of dozens of civilian Palestinian men stripped of their clothes, blindfolded, their hands tied, naked in the cold, before being detained and taken to an undisclosed location, showed that there is no limit to the imaginable limits of humiliation, far exceeded in the past two months’ conflict. Diaa al-Kahlout, a journalist working for Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, was identified amongst them, while an eyewitness said at least seven men were shot dead by troops for not complying with the soldiers’ orders fast enough, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor reported, claiming that doctors, academics, journalists and seniors were among those detained.

And as if that wasn’t enough, to fill the rhetorical void of contradiction, two global commemorations marked the bloody time of the last week: the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, on December 9, established 75 years ago – the inauspicious year in which the promise of land for a persecuted people began the longest occupation in history; and the International Human Rights Day, observed each year on December 10, when, also in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed.

On this occasion, the Arab Parliament, the legislative body of the Arab League, emphasized that the war crimes and genocide committed by the Israeli occupying forces against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip are one of the most heinous violations of the principles of human rights and of international humanitarian law witnessed in our contemporary history, and underlined that the shameful silence of the international community and disregard for these crimes made it a key partner in the Israeli war machine consisting of killing women, children and elders. Remarkable, if only Bashar al-Assad was not readmitted to sit on the League’s table.

Just to give an example, article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;” article 7: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination;” article 9: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

And just as the rhetoric of genocide prevention and respect for universal human rights has been emptied of its meaning and transformed into a vacuous annual commemoration, both by Arab leaders and Western nations, likewise, the normalization of the violation of those same principles, the brutal enforcement of those same crimes, now seems to go unnoticed in Israel. As a settler-colonial society, in fact, the Jewish state is continuously expanding its territory and using genocidal language to justify its colonization. An analysis conducted by The New Arab has unmasked this narrative strategy.

“We are fighting human animals, and we are acting accordingly,” Israel’s Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, said, describing the Israeli military’s response just days after Hamas’ attack, while Benjamin Netanyahu evoked a biblical analogy referring to the Israelites’ enemy, largely interpreted as a genocidal call to wipe out Gaza, and others have suggested to leave the enclave as a monument, after making it the land of Israel, “just like Sodom.” Moshe Feiglin, the founder of Israel’s right-wing Zehut Party and former Likud representative in Israel’s parliament, called for the one and only solution of “destruction like what happened in Dresden and Hiroshima, without nuclear weapons,” while Minister for Heritage Amichai Eliyahu earlier said that a nuclear attack on Gaza could be an option. Prominent figures in the Knesset like Nissim Vaturi, deputy speaker for Israel’s Parliament, and Ariel Kallner, have outright called for a repeat of the Nakba, suggesting a massive expulsion of Palestinians into Egypt and evoking this days as the “Israeli Pearl Harbour,” Kallner declared, adding, “right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48. A Nakba in Gaza and a Nakba for anyone who dares to join.”

This inflammatory rhetoric, largely based on the weaponization of Holocaust memory and antisemitism, has been replicated online, spreading inside the Zionist society, among Israeli citizens, armed colonial settlers in the occupied West Bank, and pro-Zionist communities in the world – this hatred being used against every Palestinians, regardless of their involvement in the attacks of October 7, and evidently reversing the roles of genocide’s historical victim and its current perpetuator. But if the history of the Holocaust has pointed to the importance of accountability, despite limited, in the case of Israel’s assault on Palestine – a 75-year history of unpunished crimes – accountability needs to begin from what is very clear: that even if  the debate about genocide in Israel’s current assault on Gaza will undoubtedly continue for years, perhaps also in international courts, the incitement to genocide – which is punishable under article 3 of the recently-commemorated UN Genocide Convention – as well as Israeli war crimes and continuous violations of international humanitarian law, are beyond dispute, and clearly show that everything else – the veto of a ceasefire, the right of a state to its own defense, the sale of weapons to foreign countries, the protection of human rights, of democratic values, of peoples’ self-determination – are nothing more than a giant, double-standard contradiction.


In Lebanon

Strike for Palestine: Lebanese public administrations, private and public schools, universities, and archaeological sites will be closed on Monday, December 11, in solidarity with the Palestinian people, the Grand Serail and the Ministries of Education and Culture announced, after Palestinian activists and grassroots organizations have called for a global strike to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The call for the strike has been given by the National and Islamic Forces, a coalition of major Palestinian factions, to Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and supporters across the world to participate in a strike that would include all aspects of public life, in a show of solidarity amid relentless Israel attacks.

In response to the call, in a statement, The Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, Judge Mahmoud Makki, announced the closure of public administrations, institutions and municipalities “in solidarity with the Palestinians and our people in Gaza and the Lebanese border villages.”

Caretaker Minister of Education Abbas Al-Halabi, in conjunction with the Prime Minister’s stance, issued a decision to close all schools, official and private technical institutes, and public and private higher education institutions, calling on the countries of the world and their students to raise their voices loudly in the face of the governments that stand by Israel in its brutal aggression against Palestine and south Lebanon. The caretaker Minister of Culture, Mohammad Mortada, also announced that “the Ministry’s offices and archaeological sites will be closed on Monday.”

Similarly, the Central Bank of Lebanon and the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced they will be observing the Prime Minister’s closure decision.


The Lebanese Hamas: Last Monday, Palestinian Hamas announced from Beirut the establishment of a new unit, the al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards, aimed at emphasizing  “the role of the Palestinian people, wherever they may be, in resisting the occupation by all legitimate means available.” Hamas-Lebanon, as communicated in the group’s military media through its Telegram channel, called on “the youth and men of our people to join the vanguard resistance fighters and take part in shaping the future and liberating Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque.”

In the midst of the Israel-Hamas war, this announcement sounded to many Lebanese like a reversal of multiple international resolutions, as well as a repeat of the 1969 scenario, when the Cairo Agreement was signed, giving legitimacy to the Palestinian armed struggle from southern Lebanon and establishing the so-called ‘Fatah Land,’ especially around the region of ‘Arqub.

Nevertheless, the risk of turning south Lebanon into a new ‘Hamas Land’ seems averted. Speaking on the Nharkom Said morning talk show on LBCI, Ayman Shanaa, a member of the political leadership of the Hamas movement in Lebanon, stated that “in the face of this Zionist aggression, it was necessary to have a framework that unites all our Palestinian people who support the resistance project and reject the attacks on Gaza and the West Bank.” However, he clarified that resistance does not only mean weaponry, but it encompasses various forms of resistance such as material support, intellectual support, scientific support, and cultural support. “We respect Lebanese sovereignty, and we are guests in this country, respecting Lebanese laws,” he concluded by saying.

Through this initiative, Hamas-Lebanon is willing to engage all the Palestinian youths who have been exiled during the Nakba and offer them an opportunity to participate in the struggle. On Friday, as internal sources confirmed, the newly-established unit started collecting signatures for enrolment in the Palestinian refugee camps of Beirut’s southern suburbs, which boast a years-long history of support for the Islamic resistance movement, and where increasing backing-up and encouragement has been rapidly emerging after October 7.

However, fear of a further violation of Lebanese sovereignty by both militias and Israeli occupation forces is rising among nationals, especially in light of Lebanon’s past history of self-defense’s failure: to contain fedayeen attacks, on the one hand, and to succumb to Israeli massive retaliation on the other.


Implementing 1701: Meeting local leaders of Israel’s northern border towns on Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel “will restore security to Israeli residents through an international political arrangement to remove Hezbollah beyond the Litani river, based on UN Resolution 1701,” according to the Israeli army radio network, adding that if the arrangement is not successful, “Israel will act militarily to remove Hezbollah from the border.”

“When we complete the fighting in Gaza, we will be in a different reality, in which the military efforts will be redirected largely to the north,” Gallant told the group, in remarks provided by his office.

The same Resolution, though, also provides for the cessation of hostilities and the respect of the Blue Line, that Israel has been continuously violating through its near-daily aerial incursions into Lebanese airspace, longer before October 8, when Hezbollah militias started to launch rockets across the southern borders in support for Palestine, and Israel responded with massive attacks against Lebanese villages. “The Israeli violations have exceeded 30,000 breaches since 2006,”  caretaker Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Abdallah Bou Habib, said on Friday, as the National News Agency reported. Bou Habib received the Director-General for Political and Security Affairs at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Frédéric Mondoloni, and the Director-General for International and Strategic Relations at the French Ministry of the Armed Forces, Alice Rufo.

During the meeting, Bou Habib affirmed Lebanon’s welcoming of the full implementation of UN Resolution 1701, asking that “Israeli encroachments on the Lebanese borders must also stop. The land borders must also be revealed and withdrawal must take place from the occupied territories and points, while refraining from using the Lebanese airspace to attack Syria.”

Furthermore, Bou Habib underlined that “supporting the Lebanese army remains essential for implementing Resolution 1701,” calling as well for the support of Lebanese governmental institutions. Looking at the latest statements by Israeli authorities, this proves to be the most urgent.

In the aforementioned Wednesday meeting, Israeli Defense Minister Gallant suggested that, if a diplomatic solution to calm tensions along the border will not be possible, “reaching a different agreement, which could be similar to UN Resolution 1701, mediated by international parties,” Israel will be forced to act. “We don’t want war, but if we get to a situation where we need to establish security here, we will not hesitate, just as we did not hesitate in the south,” Gallant threatened, adding: “Every person in Lebanon can take the map, the aerial photograph of Gaza, place it on an aerial photograph of Beirut, and ask themselves if this is what they want to happen there.”


Vacuum: Also Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri had stressed that Lebanon has been and is still committed to Resolution 1701 and its implementation: however, rejecting any modification of the resolution, in comments published by Al Liwaa on Friday, he stated that no diplomats talked to him about the implementation of 1701 based on the desire of Israel.

As for the army chief file – since current army chief General Joseph Aoun is set to retire at the start of January with no apparent successor -, Berri previously ensured that his “active intervention” would have begun as of December 1, and that he would call for a legislative session before December 15  to decide the future of the Lebanese Army’s leadership. He also called for electing a new president as soon as possible, reiterating that inter-Maronite disagreement is behind the protracted delay, in reference to the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces.

Amid the ongoing presidential vacuum, in fact, while the Lebanese Forces and Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi have backed a proposal to extend the retirement age for army commanders to 61, the Free Patriotic Movement has opposed the extension.

Last week, caretaker Defense Minister Maurice Slim – who is loyal to the Free Patriotic Movement – said it would be illegal for him to delay the retirement of military personnel, especially the army chief. Moreover, Slim told al-Rahi that appointing an army chief would not infringe on the next president’s prerogatives, adding that the next president can, when appointed, reverse the decision.

Several official positions remain occupied by interim chiefs amid the more than one-year-long presidential vacuum. Aoun’s retirement would add another gap to crisis-hit Lebanon’s withering and paralyzed institutions, as the country has also been without a top spy chief to head its General Security Directorate since March, and without a central bank governor.

A meeting of the Bureau of the Parliament had been called on Monday, December 11, but due to the global strike for Palestine, it has been postponed to Tuesday, December 12, as reported by the National News Agency.


The first soldier: On Tuesday, two people were killed in Israeli bombings against south Lebanon, and other injured. The victims of two separate attacks were a Syrian national and a soldier, the first to be killed since the start of the conflict.

In a statement released on Tuesday evening, the army identified the soldier killed as Sergeant Abdel Karim Mokdad, 27 years old, from Lassa, in the Jbeil district. This immediately provoked the regret of the French Foreign Ministry, which issued a statement in which “deplores the Israeli shelling that killed a member of the Lebanese Armed Forces and offers its heartfelt condolences to his loved ones.”

On Wednesday, Arabic-speaking military spokesperson Avichay Adraee said that the Israeli army was not targeting Lebanese soldiers, apologized and claimed to have opened an investigation into the “accident.” This comes after the US envoy Amos Hochstein has repeatedly called for a return to calm in south Lebanon, claiming that “the United States does not want to see the conflict in Gaza escalate and spread to Lebanon.”

However, what Israeli sources claim to be a mistake, is often perceived by analysts and military experts as a deliberate, controversial attack aimed at sending a strong message to Hezbollah and the Lebanese authorities.

The deadly strike against one of the Lebanese army posts, debatably, came at the same time that Israel is calling for an implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which provides for a massive deployment of the army – the same army that has been at the center of the IDF’s escalating provocations – across the southern borders.

By pushing Hezbollah militias away from the border, Israel would manage to replace its internally-displaced communities that fled the north in the aftermath of the pro-Iranian military group response in support for Palestine, already on October 8, that the movement’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, has not hesitated to define war.


The first (of many) journalist: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomed the reports by Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights WatchReuters, and Agence France-Presse into the October 13 Israeli strike on journalists in southern Lebanon, which killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and injured six others. All the reports reiterated the call for an “immediate, independent, and transparent investigation that holds the perpetrators to account,” the CPJ stated.

Using witness testimony, satellite imagery, and analysis of videos, audio, and munition remnants, the human rights groups and wire services concluded that the attack was likely a deliberate assault by the Israel Defense Forces on civilians, which constitutes a war crime.

Despite Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy previously denying that Israel targeted journalists, Reuters’ investigation concluded that Abdallah, who was clearly marked as press in southern Lebanon, was killed by the first of two Israeli tank shells fired in quick succession. AFP’s findings aligned with Reuters’s, noting that the type of shell that killed Abdallah, a 120-mm fin-stabilized tank shell, revealed to be used only by Israeli tanks. Moreover, the strikes likely came from southeast of the journalists’ location, near the village of Jordeikh, where Israeli tanks were operating.

Amnesty International stressed that Israel’s targeting of journalists should be investigated as a war crime. The evidence, testimony, and weapon fragments their investigation relied on indicated that the Israeli army was aware, or should have been aware, that the targeted group was civilian. Amnesty found no evidence of fighters or military personnel at the target site, indicating that the targeting of journalists was intentional.

Directly targeting civilians or civilian objects is strictly forbidden under the laws of armed conflict, such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which have been ratified by all U.N. member states. Neither Israel nor Lebanon are signatories to the International Criminal Court, whose 124 member states accept its jurisdiction in the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. However, Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the investigations will be appended to a complaint filed to the UN.

The attack was the first of two deadly strikes in the space of six weeks on reporters in Lebanon covering clashes between the Israeli military and Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants along the border. Two journalists from Lebanese broadcaster Al Mayadeen were killed by a strike on November 21 as they filmed near the border with Israel: and while Al Mayadeen blamed the IDF for their deaths, the Israeli military said in a statement it was a dangerous area to be in because of “active hostilities.”

As the Israel-Gaza war continues, on December 8, at least 63 journalists and media workers were among the more than 18,000 people killed since the conflict began on October 7: moreover, this deadly toll on journalists’ lives is coupled with “harassment, detentions, and other reporting obstructions as they go about their work across the region,” the CPJ stated. These findings echo some of those in CPJ’s May 2023 report, which showed a deadly pattern of IDF force that killed 20 journalists over the last 22 years, for which no one has ever been charged or held to account, and that additionally found that at least 13 of the 20 journalists killed were clearly identified as members of the media or were inside vehicles with press insignia at the time that they were attacked.


On culture and identity-building: In the fourth roundtable of the seminar “Lebanon in its Second Century: A Forward Vision,” launched through an initiative of the American University of Beirut, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Department of History and Archaeology, the discussion looked at the issue of culture as a drive for Lebanese national identity.

The meeting, as reported by Maan Barazy, explored concerns about current existential threats to Lebanon’s identity through an understanding of its cultural models, analyzing the country’s history of openness and tolerance that marked its exceptionality in the region, characterized by growing authoritarianism.

The panel was led by a multiplicity of figures from the Lebanese cultural and academic scene. At the microphone took turns Wissam Saadeh, researcher in political thought and the history of ideas, as well as professor at the Institute of Political Science at Saint Joseph University; Hadi Zakak, author and director; Youssef Bazzi, author and journalist; and Hassan Mneimneh, professor at the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C., with the moderation of journalist Diana Moukalled.

The panelists agreed on the need to pave the way for a cultural common vision which could restore Lebanon’s distinctive role and position in the Arab global cultural map. At the end of the first century of its inspection, in fact, the risk of imminent collapse for the country has already manifested itself in different ways, first and foremost economically, in the severe devaluation of the currency, and the related inflation and unemployment, but also politically. Media, education, documentation and cinema, are all identarian pillars for Lebanon’s identity: and they cannot rely on the state to enhance their intellectual infrastructure.

In this regard, at the conclusion of the roundtable, Dr. Mneimneh underlined that despite the multiple material problems facing the country, the real underlying issue is the loss of trust between its political leaders and its citizens: therefore, there is an urgent need for a pluralistic exchange of ideas which could make a new cultural and political discourse flourish.


In The Region

Post-war Gaza: As the genocide in Gaza is ongoing, discussions on the future governance of the Palestinian enclave exclude the besieged population’s aspirations and visions.

In last Thursday’s interview with Bloomberg, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh pointed out that US officials visited him earlier this week to discuss a plan to run the Gaza Strip once the war is over. If Hamas is undefeatable and Israel’s aim to fully eradicate it unrealistic, in the eye of Shtayyeh, it could at least be reducible: and the militant group should instead join the Palestinian Authority under a new governing structure.

Asked why Israel can’t eliminate Hamas, Shtayyeh said: “Hamas is in Lebanon, everybody knows Hamas leadership is in Qatar and they are here in the West Bank.”

The Palestinian Prime Minister, who’s been running the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas since 2019, said his preferred outcome of the conflict would be for Hamas to become a junior partner under the broader Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), helping to build a new independent state that includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

After Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections on 25 January 2006, the group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh was nominated Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, establishing a Palestinian national unity government with Fatah. Though, with the outbreak of the violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah, the Hamas-led government effectively collapsed, leading to the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas on 14 June 2007, the appointment of Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister, and the establishment of a new Ramallah-based Palestinian government’s authority that became limited to the West Bank.

“Hamas before October 7 is one thing and after is another thing,” said Shtayyeh. “If they are ready to come to an agreement and accept the political platform of the PLO, then there will be room for talk. Palestinians should not be divided.”

If this is the pragmatic line of the Palestinian Authority and of US officials, though, it is not taking into consideration the Israeli destructing hysteria. Netanyahu has in fact answered that “there will be no Hamas; we will eliminate it,” adding that “the mere fact that this is the proposal of the Palestinian Authority only reinforces my policy: the Palestinian Authority is not the solution,” he remarked in a post on X.

According to Bloomberg, Shtayyeh’s weekend visit to Qatar was due to ask Doha to switch its substantial financial support for Hamas of recent years over to the Palestinian Authority, giving it more resources to achieve postwar aims. However, reports from the meeting held on Sunday between Shtayyeh and Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar, did not openly confirm this request.


Erasing the south: Since Wednesday, Israel’s military says its forces in Gaza were operating for the first time in the heart of Khan Younis, the biggest city in the south of the besieged enclave and the second largest in the whole Strip, identified as a symbol of Hamas’ military and administrative rule.

Before the temporary truce, Khan Yunis governorate was designated as a safe zone, and the Israeli army pushed Palestinians to move there from northern areas. After the truce ended, it was considered a dangerous combat zone, as Israel’s military designated about 20 percent of the city for immediate evacuation. Al-Jazeera reported on Monday that 215,000 displaced people are sheltering in 34 UNRWA shelters there, joining the original population of 430,000. On the same day, an UNRWA report concluded that almost one million displaced people have moved into once-declared-safe Middle, Khan Yunis, and Rafah areas, fleeing bombardments and a ground invasion in the Central and North areas of the Strip.

On the humanitarian front, the World Food Programme (WFP) stressed that the distribution of humanitarian aid was now “almost impossible” in the Gaza Strip and that the resumption of hostilities “will only intensify the catastrophic food crisis which already threatens to overwhelm the civilian population.” According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Rafah is now the only place in Gaza where humanitarian aid is still distributed, in limited quantities. Aid practically no longer arrives in Khan Younis, and access to areas further north has been cut off since the resumption of fighting.

According to a new report by the WFP, at least nine out of 10 people are going a full day and night without food in the south of Gaza. Additionally, more than one-third of households are suffering from high to severe levels of hunger, while 97 percent of households in northern Gaza have “inadequate food” to meet their needs.

Meanwhile, footage from Deir al-Balah, in the central Strip, shared on Wednesday and Thursday showed queues of desperate Palestinians outside food distribution centers, as resources continue to deplete rapidly, and the prices of what is left have skyrocketed. It would be enough to consider that the cost of a bag of flour now costs around 500 shekels ($150), or that people have testified going up to three days without food.

The process toward opening a second crossing into Gaza seems underway. The Kerem Shalom crossing, which sits at the meeting point of Israel, Gaza, and Egypt’s borders, could become another point of entry for aid into the besieged enclave. Carl Skau, Deputy Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, said on Friday that this crossing would allow for the first pipeline of humanitarian aid from Jordan. “We have front-loaded our internal resources so that we have food available in Egypt and in Jordan to reach some 1,000,000 people in one month. We are ready to roll. The trucks are ready to move,” he said, cited by Reuters.

However, there is still a question for how long this can continue, considering the collapse and the insufficiency of the humanitarian operation. Moreover, as the process for inspecting aid at the Kerem Shalom crossing is being tested, and efforts to get permission for trucks to enter through the crossing and ramp up relief are still ongoing, people in Gaza continue to suffer from starvation.


Veto: On Friday, the US used its veto in the United Nations Security Council to block a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. The draft resolution proposed by the United Arab Emirates received support from thirteen members of the Security Council, with Britain choosing to abstain.

The voting took place after UN secretary general Antonio Guterres on Wednesday officially alerted the 15-member council about the international risks posed by the war, deploying the rarely-used Article 99 of the UN Charter to discuss “any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” The article, which was not invoked in the Syrian, Yemeni or Ukrainian wars, would provide, if in agreement, that the UN Security Council would have additional powers – including imposing sanctions and deploying an international force – to ensure that the ceasefire resolution is implemented. Previously, it has only been invoked four times: in Congo (1960), East Pakistan (1971), Iran (1979) and Lebanon (1989), without ever succeeding in bringing peace.

Deputy US ambassador to the UN Robert Wood told reporters ahead of the vote that the resolution was “divorced from reality” and “would have not moved the needle forward on the ground”.

“While the US strongly supports a durable peace in which both Israel and Palestine can live in peace and security, we do not support calls for an immediate ceasefire. This would only plant the seeds for the next war, because Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace, to see a two-state solution,” said Wood, claiming that the situation is too difficult to be solved in a fingers’ snap. Rather than a ceasefire, Washington supports pauses in fighting to protect civilians and allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas in October 7 attacks.

“Other countries must understand that you can’t on the one hand support the elimination of Hamas and on the other call for an end to the war, which would prevent Hamas from being eliminated,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the day following the vetoed UN call for ceasefire, according to AFP.

The US had already used its veto on October 18 against a resolution that would have condemned Hamas’s attack on Israel while calling for a pause in the fighting to allow humanitarian assistance into Gaza. Twelve other council members had voted in favor, while Russia and the UK had abstained.

This time, though, humanitarian and diplomatic pressure is exponentially stronger, as firm condemnations of the US’ veto on the ceasefire vote have confirmed. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the veto of the discussed UN Security Council resolution made America complicit and responsible in what he describes as “bloodshed” and war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza; Iran’s Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian has warned UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of the threat of an “uncontrollable explosion” of the situation in the Middle East; while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the UN Security Council needs to be urgently reformed.


Ammunition for sale: In the meanwhile, the US State Department has approved the emergency sale of 14,000 rounds of tank cartridges and related equipment to Israel for an estimated $106.5 million: the sale would be from US Army inventory and would consist of 120mm M830A1 High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer (MPAT) tank cartridges and related equipment, as the Pentagon reported in a statement on Saturday.

The State Department said it had notified Congress of the sale late Friday after Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined “an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale” of the munitions in the US national security interest. The purchase will therefore bypass congressional review, which is usually a requirement for foreign military sales. The action is rare, though not unheard of, when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers’ approval.

At least four administrations have used the authority since 1979, according to The Associated Press. President George H.W. Bush’s administration used it during the Persian Gulf War to get arms quickly to Saudi Arabia, to which, together with the UAE, an emergency determination for an $8.1 billion sale of weapons was made by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019 for the Yemen war, while the State Department has used the emergency provision at least twice since 2022 to rush arms to Ukraine for its defense against Russia’s invasion.

The sale comes days after Republicans and some independent members in the Senate on Wednesday blocked an effort to provide more funding for Ukraine to fight its war against Russia in a bill that also included funding for Israel and Taiwan. While Republicans opposed further military aid to Ukraine without extra money for US border security, others like Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont who often sides with Democrats, joined Republicans in opposing the package due to the Israel portion.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to American national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defenses capability. This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives,” the State Department said, ensuring that the equipment “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”


The walking dead: The house of the most wanted man in Israel, leader of Hamas in Gaza and considered the main orchestrator of the October 7 attacks, Yahya Sinwar, was encircled by Israeli forces. “Yesterday I said that our forces could reach anywhere in the Gaza Strip. Today they are encircling Sinwar’s house. His house may not be his fortress and he can escape but it’s only a matter of time before we get him,” said Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in a recorded video statement on Wednesday, according to reports from Reuters.

Raised in a slum in southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis, Sinwar emerged on the Gaza political scene in the early 1980s as an advisor to the founder of the movement, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Moreover, his neighbor in Khan Yunis was Muhammad Deif, the now-general commander of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, who has been recently added, together with his deputy, to the European Union’s terrorist blacklist.

In an article published in early November, the Financial Times portrayed the Palestinian military leader as an almost mythical figure for Palestinian resistance: surely more than the political leader of the group, Ismail Haniyeh, based in Qatar since 2012. Sinwar, widely known as Abu Ibrahim, helped build Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, from its early days. In addition to helping establish the group’s military wing, Sinvar was placed in charge of its internal security apparatus, the Majd Force, tasked with eliminating suspected collaborators. This earned him the nickname ‘the butcher of Khan Yunis,’ which some Palestinians still use today.

When he was detained in the late 1980s, for this special intelligence role within Hamas, his answer was to study his enemies’ system, to read about prominent Israeli figures, and to learn Hebrew. He was released in 2011 after serving 22 years in an Israeli prison, as part of an exchange in which more than 1,000 Palestinians were freed for an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Being the principal target of Israel’s devastating onslaught on the Strip, analysts expect he will not surrender.


The Yemeni front: After demonstrating that their ballistic missiles and drones could reach south Israel, the Yemeni Houthis have expanded their focus to the Red Sea. Since late October, in response to the Gaza offensive, the Iran-aligned Houthis have attacked and seized several Israeli-linked ships in the Red Sea and its Bab al-Mandab strait, a sea lane through which much of the world’s oil is shipped.

The movement announced on Saturday a ban on the passage of all ships bound for Israel in the Red Sea, regardless of their nationality, Reuters reported citing a Houthi spokesman. “We warn all shipping companies against any cooperation with Israel,” the spokesman added. “If Gaza does not receive the necessary food and medicine, all ships sailing in the Red Sea bound for Israeli ports, of whatever nationality, will become a target,” he warned.

The threat has an immediate effect, the statement added. In fact, on Saturday, a French warship operating in the Red Sea shot down two drones that were launched at it from the Yemen coast, said the Defense Ministry, specifying that the multipurpose frigate Languedoc had intercepted and destroyed a first drone at around 9:30 p.m. local French time, and a second one around 11:30 p.m. at 110 km from the Yemen coast around Al Hudaydah.

The US and UK have condemned the attacks, blaming Iran for its role in supporting the Houthis, despite Tehran having clarified that its allies in the region – specifically in Iraq, south Lebanon, Syria and Yemen – make their decisions independently.

Moreover, Ryadh fears that a wide-ranging confrontation with the Houthis could freeze diplomatic movements and lead to a resumption of Yemeni attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, which peaked in March 2022 in attacks on Aramco’s oil facilities. Among Saudi Arabia’s other concerns, in addition, is that a possible American response against the Yemenis may harm relations between Riyadh and Tehran, at a time when the countries are slowly restoring diplomatic relations.

On their side, though, the Houthis – head of the de-facto authority in the north of the 9-year-belligerent country – have declared their will to continue their attacks, despite the ongoing Yemeni civil war, escalating the risks of a regional conflict, as Israel continues to bombard Gaza for a third month.


Egypt elections: Between December 10 and 12, Egypt is holding a presidential election, in which the current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is set to sweep to a third term. Overshadowed by the war in Gaza, the vote’s expected results of a possible third victory for the former army chief, elected in 2014 and 2018 with 98% of consensus, is possible following 2019 constitutional amendments that extended the length of presidential terms from four to six years.

The most prominent potential opposition candidate, Ahmed Tantawy,  announced in October that he would not be standing after he was unable to secure the required number of public endorsements. The campaign of Tantawy, a leftist former parliament member, had stirred some interest because he and his supporters had tried to campaign and gather openly on the streets in a way that has become highly unusual after a long crackdown on dissent across the political spectrum. It was reported, though, that officials and pro-government thugs had prevented many people from registering their support for his candidacy while security forces had arrested dozens of his supporters and blocked him from holding campaign events, while Egypt’s National Election Authority has said that such allegations were baseless.

In the absence of genuine competition and a lack of substantial political discourse or debates among candidates, three other politicians, none of them high profile figures, have qualified to run against Sisi: Farid Zahran, 66, veteran politician and leftist opposition figure, who heads the Egyptian Social Democratic Party;  Abdel Sanad Yamama, 71, lawyer and professor of international law, presidential candidate for Wafd, Egypt’s oldest liberal party, and supporter of constitutional amendments with a focus on rights and freedoms; and Hazem Omar, 59, former chair of the Egyptian Senate’s foreign affairs committee and head of the Republican Peoples’ Party, as well as the youngest candidate in the race.

Despite the victory of Sisi being undoubtedly expected, the streets of Cairo were said to be flooded with pro-Sisi signs, and businesses coerced into funding support banners, rallying citizens and paying for their meals, as the state is concerned about low turnout. Apparently, forcing business owners to invest in campaign activities is not a novel strategy for the Egyptian state, dating back to the era of the deposed late President Hosni Mubarak. This practice has seen a resurgence since President Sisi and the military assumed control of the government in 2013, Middle East Eye reported.

Sisi’s decennial rule has been marked by a crackdown on dissent across the political spectrum: rights groups say tens of thousands have been detained, including liberal activists, while the government says the crackdown was directed at extremists threatening to undermine the state.


What We’re Reading

Hamas and Lebanese sovereignty: After Hamas’s Lebanon branch announced the formation of the organization’s new battalion, Al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards, Mohammad El Sahily explored for NOW the risks and challenges for Lebanese sovereignty in an already-unstable political scenario.


Would-be people: Despite the Mediterranean route having been declared the most dangerous in the world, hundreds of migrants – especially Syrians – continue to board from the Lebanese coast in search of better life opportunities. NOW’s Valeria Rando wrote the story of one of them, Salim, and his attempt to leave for Cyprus.


Holiday downturn: The rising tensions in south Lebanon, compounded by the ongoing Israel-Gaza war, have dashed experts’ high hopes for the tourism sector amid the approaching Christmas season. NOW’s Rodayna Raydan reached out to different personalities for insights into the impact of the war on the tourism sector.


Lebanon +

In the latest episode of Sarde After Dinner, Médéa Azouri and Mouin Jaber have invited Middle East Institute President, Dr. Paul Salem, to discuss topics related to correct terminology of war, the worst and best case scenarios, the possibility of a new Arab leadership to make a change, and the controversial relationship between Israel and the US in light of the next presidential elections.