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S. Korea to support civilian aid to North in hopes of talks

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South Korea’s government said Friday it will promote civilian efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea in hopes of softening a diplomatic freeze deepened by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s growing nuclear ambitions. South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Youngse didn’t specify the type of aid he sees as conceivable or whether it was realistic to expect those exchanges to induce meaningful diplomatic breakthroughs. North Korea has suspended virtually all cooperation with rival South Korea since the collapse of its nuclear negotiations with the United States in 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of U.S.-led sanctions and steps to cut back its nuclear weapons and missiles program. Kim further ramped up tensions in 2022, test-firing more than 70 missiles, including potentially nuclear-capable weapons of various ranges targeting South Korea and the continental United States. Kim punctuated his testing activity with provocative statements that North Korea would preemptively use its nukes in crisis situations against South Korea or the US, as the allies revived their large-scale military exercises — which had been downsized in recent years — to counter the North’s growing threat. While ignoring South Korean calls for talks, the North has ridiculed President Yoon Suk Yeol’s offer for economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization steps, accusing Seoul of recycling “foolish” proposals Pyongyang already rejected. Kwon’s news conference Friday was to address reporters on the ministry’s policy plans for 2023. But the dearth of new ideas for reviving dialogue underscored how rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula have sidelined a ministry dedicated to improving relations with the North and promoting an eventual peaceful unification. Although South Korea’s current priority is to maintain a strengthened defense posture against the North in conjunction with its alliance with the United States, it’s also critical to make consistent efforts to revive an atmosphere for dialogue, Kwon said. “To reopen a path for dialogue amid tightly strained South-North relations and to build trust between the South and North, even if it’s little by little, we will support the efforts of civilian organizations to resume contact with North Korea and also try to broaden contact through international organizations,” said Kwon. Kwon said that South Korea has not made any new offers for inter-Korean government talks after North Korea ignored repeated calls for meetings in 2022. The South had proposed talks in May to set up Southern provisions of vaccines and other Covid-19 supplies after the North acknowledged an outbreak. The North was unresponsive again in September, when the South called for a meeting to arrange reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War ahead of that month’s Chuseok holidays, the Korean Thanksgiving. The reunions of those families, as well as the issue of bringing back South Korean civilians who remain detained by the North, would be prioritized if talks between the Koreas do resume, Kwon said. Kwon said the ministry also plans to update South Korea’s long-term vision for an eventual unification with North Korea to reflect recent changes in global geopolitics and help maintain the South Korean public’s support for a future combined statehood, which weakened in recent years amid the North’s nuclear push. The “New Future Initiative on Unification” will be released by the end of the year after an opinion-gathering process, the ministry said in a statement. The ministry said it will also publicize annual reports on North Korea’s human rights record starting in March to raise awareness on the issue. During an interview with The Associated Press this month, Yoon reiterated his plans to provide economic assistance to North Korea if it shows sincere commitment toward abandoning its nuclear weapons program. Yoon said he isn’t demanding North Korea to completely denuclearize upfront, but appeared to set a high bar for talks, citing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency as an example of the steps the North should take in order to receive economic benefits.

South Korea’s government said Friday it will promote civilian efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea in hopes of softening a diplomatic freeze deepened by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s growing nuclear ambitions.

South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Youngse didn’t specify the type of aid he sees as conceivable or whether it was realistic to expect those exchanges to induce meaningful diplomatic breakthroughs.

North Korea has suspended virtually all cooperation with rival South Korea since the collapse of its nuclear negotiations with the United States in 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of U.S.-led sanctions and steps to cut back its nuclear weapons and missiles program.

Kim further ramped up tensions in 2022, test-firing more than 70 missiles, including potentially nuclear-capable weapons of various ranges targeting South Korea and the continental United States.

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Kim punctuated his testing activity with provocative statements that North Korea would preemptively use its nukes in crisis situations against South Korea or the US, as the allies revived their large-scale military exercises — which had been downsized in recent years — to counter the North’s growing threat.

While ignoring South Korean calls for talks, the North has ridiculed President Yoon Suk Yeol’s offer for economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization steps, accusing Seoul of recycling “foolish” proposals Pyongyang already rejected.

Kwon’s news conference Friday was to address reporters on the ministry’s policy plans for 2023. But the dearth of new ideas for reviving dialogue underscored how rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula have sidelined a ministry dedicated to improving relations with the North and promoting an eventual peaceful unification.

Although South Korea’s current priority is to maintain a strengthened defense posture against the North in conjunction with its alliance with the United States, it’s also critical to make consistent efforts to revive an atmosphere for dialogue, Kwon said.

“To reopen a path for dialogue amid tightly strained South-North relations and to build trust between the South and North, even if it’s little by little, we will support the efforts of civilian organizations to resume contact with North Korea and also try to broaden contact through international organizations,” said Kwon.

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Kwon said that South Korea has not made any new offers for inter-Korean government talks after North Korea ignored repeated calls for meetings in 2022.

The South had proposed talks in May to set up Southern provisions of vaccines and other Covid-19 supplies after the North acknowledged an outbreak. The North was unresponsive again in September, when the South called for a meeting to arrange reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War ahead of that month’s Chuseok holidays, the Korean Thanksgiving.

The reunions of those families, as well as the issue of bringing back South Korean civilians who remain detained by the North, would be prioritized if talks between the Koreas do resume, Kwon said.

Kwon said the ministry also plans to update South Korea’s long-term vision for an eventual unification with North Korea to reflect recent changes in global geopolitics and help maintain the South Korean public’s support for a future combined statehood, which weakened in recent years amid the North’s nuclear push.

The “New Future Initiative on Unification” will be released by the end of the year after an opinion-gathering process, the ministry said in a statement.

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The ministry said it will also publicize annual reports on North Korea’s human rights record starting in March to raise awareness on the issue.

During an interview with The Associated Press this month, Yoon reiterated his plans to provide economic assistance to North Korea if it shows sincere commitment toward abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

Yoon said he isn’t demanding North Korea to completely denuclearize upfront, but appeared to set a high bar for talks, citing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency as an example of the steps the North should take in order to receive economic benefits.

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UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

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UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

 The UN’s top court will next week hand down its view on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967, a case in which some 52 countries made submissions.

Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice would be non-binding, but it will come amid mounting international legal pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza sparked by the brutal Oct 7 Hamas attacks.

“A public sitting will take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague (on Jul 19) … during which Judge Nawaf Salam … will read out the Advisory Opinion,” the ICJ said on Friday (Jul 12).

The ICJ held a week-long session in February to hear submissions from countries following a request from the United Nations late last year.

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The UN has asked the ICJ to hand down an “advisory opinion” on the “legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”.

Most speakers during the hearings have demanded that Israel end its occupation, which came after a six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967.

But the United States said Israel should not be legally obliged to withdraw without taking its “very real security needs” into account.

Speakers also warned a prolonged occupation posed an “extreme danger” to stability in the Middle East and beyond.

Israel did not take part in the oral hearings.

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It submitted a written contribution, in which it described the questions the court had been asked as “prejudicial” and “tendentious”.

The case before the court is separate from one brought by South Africa against Israel for alleged genocide during its current offensive in Gaza.

South Africa has gone to the ICJ several times arguing that the dire humanitarian situation means the court should issue further fresh emergency measures.

In an initial ruling on January 26, the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything it could to prevent acts of genocide during its military operation in Gaza.

It also called for the unconditional release of hostages taken by Palestinian militant group Hamas during its Oct 7 assault that sparked the war.

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Residents say bodies lie in streets in once-vibrant Gaza neighbourhood

Residents say bodies lie in streets in once-vibrant Gaza neighbourhood

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Residents say bodies lie in streets in once-vibrant Gaza neighbourhood

 Al-Rimal was once one of Gaza City’s most vibrant neighbourhoods, but the end of another Israeli assault left residents stumbling through the rubble on Friday looking for bodies and belongings.

Residents of Al-Rimal, which before the war was home to Palestinian government buildings and most of Gaza City’s remaining shops and restaurants, said bodies had been left lying in the streets.

The Hamas-run territory’s civil defence agency said scores of dead had also been found in nearby districts after Israeli troops ended a new operation against militants in parts of Gaza City.

Al-Rimal has been flattened by successive Israeli military operations since the Hamas attacks across the border started the Gaza war on October 7.

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The neighbourhood had already suffered in previous showdowns with Israel since Hamas seized sole control of the territory in 2007. Several apartment blocks were hit by Israeli fighter jets in 2021.

Teacher Tariq Ghanem said this time Israeli troops had wreaked “massive destruction” on Al-Rimal.

“The houses are on fire and there are shells everywhere,” the 57-year-old said.

“There have been bodies on the roads for the past week and… there is no one to retrieve them. There are injured people everywhere and no one can reach them.”

‘DANGEROUS COMBAT ZONE’

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The Israeli military ordered the evacuation of Al-Rimal, Tal al-Hawa and other districts of Gaza City on Monday and has since warned that the whole city is a “dangerous combat zone”.

One major target of the assault was the abandoned headquarters of the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) in Al-Sinaa district that the army said had been taken over by Hamas.

A military statement said troops had found “parts for assembling an unmanned aerial vehicle, war rooms used for surveillance operations and large quantities of weapons, including tactical drones, rockets, machine guns, mortars, explosives and grenades.”

But residents said buildings across the city suffered heavy damage in the assault.

“There are many appeals for help, but we just cannot reach them,” said civil defence agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal.

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He said dozens of bodies were “scattered in alleys and inside destroyed houses” but his agency did not have the staff to recover them.

AFP correspondents saw heavy destruction across the city with several blocks barely standing.

Residents used donkey carts to ferry the wounded to hospital or to recover what belongings they could from the rubble.

Bassal said about 60 bodies had been found in the Tal al-Hawa and Al-Sinaa districts on Friday. The agency and residents said Israeli troops had pulled out but this was not immediately confirmed by the military.

On Thursday, the civil defence agency said 60 bodies had been found in another neighbourhood of Gaza City, Shujaiya, after Israeli troops pulled out, ending a two-week assault.

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The army said more than 150 “terrorists were eliminated” in its operation in Shujaiya, including Hamas commanders.

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Dozens of bodies reported as battles rock Gaza city

Dozens of bodies reported as battles rock Gaza city

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Dozens of bodies reported as battles rock Gaza cityv

Hamas-run Gaza’s civil defence agency said it found around 60 bodies after Israeli troops withdrew from parts of Gaza City on Friday, as heavy fighting gripped the Palestinian territory.

The grisly discovery came as international mediators pushed on with efforts to halt the war now raging into its 10th month.

US President Joe Biden said at a NATO summit in Washington on Thursday that despite problems, US diplomats and other mediators were making “progress” towards a ceasefire and stressed that “it’s time to end this war”.

The bodies were found in the Tal al-Hawa and Al-Sinaa districts, the civil defence agency said. Israeli forces had moved into the neighbourhoods this week after ordering civilians to evacuate on Monday.

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“There are still missing people under the rubble of destroyed homes, which is difficult for our crews to reach,” agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said.

Residents and the agency said Israeli troops had pulled out after days of fighting with Hamas militants. This was not immediately confirmed by Israel.

‘TRAPPED’

Gaza’s health ministry had earlier reported 32 deaths in the territory, saying that the “martyrs, a majority of them children and women, were taken to hospitals overnight, because of continued massacres”.

Media linked to the territory’s Hamas rulers, whose October 7 attack sparked the war, said that Israeli forces had launched more than 70 new air strikes.

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Israel’s military said it was also fighting in the Rafah area of the south, where its troops had “eliminated numerous terrorists in close-quarters combat and aerial strikes”.

But the main battleground in recent days has been Gaza City, where two weeks of fighting devastated the eastern district of Shujaiya.

The Israeli army dropped thousands of leaflets on Wednesday urging all Gaza City residents to flee what it called a “dangerous combat zone” — an area where the United Nations said up to 350,000 people were staying.

One of those newly displaced, Umm Ihab Arafat, sat with her children on a sand pile amid the rubble as the incessant hum of Israeli drones filled the sky.

“I have been displaced four times,” she said, pleading for a break for her and her children. “They are entitled to rest, their eyes are full of horror and fear.”

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The International Committee of the Red Cross said “entire families are trapped and desperately seek security. The huge needs are beyond our capacity to respond”.

The ICRC said Gaza City residents had been instructed to move south “to areas that are overcrowded, lacking in essential services and are experiencing hostilities”.

TRUCE TALKS

Israel and Hamas have engaged in months of indirect talks via Qatari, US and Egyptian mediators to reach a still elusive truce and hostage release deal.

At the latest meeting in Doha on Wednesday, Israeli officials discussed the conditions for a ceasefire with US and Qatari mediators.

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The head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency Ronen Bar was headed for talks in Cairo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

Netanyahu again insisted that any deal must allow Israel to meet all its war aims — destroying Hamas as well as bringing home all the hostages.

He also said Israel needs to maintain control of Gaza’s southern border with Egypt to prevent weapons being “smuggled to Hamas”.

Biden has laid out what he called an Israeli plan which would see a six-week truce in which hostages held in Gaza would be freed in exchange for Palestinians in Israeli prisons. A second phase would see talks on a full end to the war.

Biden acknowledged on Thursday that “difficult, complex issues” remain but insisted that “we’re making progress”.

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“The trend is positive,” he said, “and I’m determined to get this deal done and bring an end to this war, which should end now.”

Biden also stood firm on his decision to hold up delivery of massive 2,000-pound (900kg) bombs over concerns they could be used in populated areas, even as his administration moved forward on sending Israel less powerful 500-pound munitions.

He again pressed Israel for a “day-after” plan for Gaza and spoke of his diplomacy to persuade Arab states to help with security.

Hamas has proposed an independent and non-partisan government for both post-war Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said Hossam Badran, a member of the group’s political bureau.

END OF TROUBLED AID PIER

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The war started with Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 42 the military says are dead.

Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,345 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The World Health Organization said that only five trucks carrying medical supplies were allowed into Gaza last week, while over 70 more are waiting at the border.

Meanwhile, a problem-plagued US effort to get aid in by sea will soon end permanently, the US military said.

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US troops built the $230-million pier but the temporary facility has been repeatedly put out of use by high seas.

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