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Hamas says it’s studying Gaza cease-fire proposal, but appears to rule out key provisions

Hamas says it’s studying Gaza cease-fire proposal, but appears to rule out key provisions

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Hamas says it's studying Gaza cease-fire proposal, but appears to rule out key provisions

Hamas officials said Friday that the group is studying a proposed cease-fire deal that would include prolonged pauses in fighting in Gaza and swaps of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, but at the same time appeared to rule out some of its key components.

Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, said the group remains committed to its initial demands for a permanent cease-fire. Hamdan also said the group seeks the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners being held for acts related to the conflict with Israel, including those serving life sentences. He mentioned two by name, including Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian uprising leader seen as a unifying figure.

Hamdan’s comments on the prisoners were the most detailed demands yet to be raised by the group in public.

The insistence on large-scale prisoner releases and on an end to the fighting in Gaza put the group at odds with the multi-stage proposal that officials from Egypt, Israel, Qatar and the United States put forth this week. The proposal does not include a permanent cease-fire.

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“There is no way that this will be acceptable by the resistance,” Hamdan told Lebanon’s LBC TV on Friday, referring to proposed successive pauses in fighting.

Israeli leaders have said they will keep fighting until Hamas is crushed, even while agreeing to long pauses that are accompanied by the release of hostages.

Hamas and other militants captured about 250 hostages during their deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the war. They continue to hold dozens of captives, after more than 100 were released during a one-week truce in November, in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Since Israel’s offensive began, more than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed and 66,000 wounded, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory. The conflict has also left vast swaths of the tiny coastal enclave leveled, displaced 85% of its population and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation.

In his remarks, Hamdan also said Hamas wants to free Palestinian prisoners of all factions — not just those affiliated with the militant group. In addition to Barghouti, he named Ahmed Saadat, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small PLO faction.

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The prisoner release is a “national cause, not only for Hamas,” he said.

Both Barghouti and Saadat were convicted of involvement in fatal attacks during the second Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation a generation ago.

Alluding to additional points of dispute, Hamdan also said that Israel is carving out a buffer zone on the Gaza side of the border. Israel has not acknowledged such plans officially, but satellite photos show new demolition along a 1-kilometer-wide (0.6-mile-wide) path along the border between Israel and the enclave.

As the war nears the four-month mark, fighting continued in the southern city of Khan Younis. The Israeli military said Friday that its efforts focused on fighters, weapons and infrastructure in the city, a key target of Israel’s ground offensive in recent weeks.

Tens of thousands of residents of Khan Younis and surrounding areas have fled south to the town of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, which the United Nations said on Friday is becoming a “pressure cooker of despair.”

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“We fear for what comes next,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “It’s like every week we think, you know, it can’t get any worse. Well, go figure. It gets worse.”

Hamdan’s remarks reaffirmed statements from other Hamas officials, including the group’s top political leader Ismail Haniyeh, who said Tuesday that the group was studying the terms but remained committed to seeking the “full withdrawal” of Israeli forces from Gaza and steps toward a long-term cease-fire.

Another Hamas official said Friday that the group would answer “very soon” and ask for several unspecified changes. He refused to give any details on what they’re seeking or how many hostages would be released in return for how many prisoners.

The multi-stage proposal on the table was drafted by officials from the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt. Qatar and Egypt have been serving as mediators between Israel and Hamas.

A senior Egyptian official familiar with the discussions on Friday described the proposal, which he said Hamas had sent positive signals about. The Egyptian official and the Hamas official spoke on condition of anonymity because the indirect talks are still ongoing.

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The proposal, according to the Egyptian official, includes an initial cease-fire of six to eight weeks during which Hamas would release elderly hostages, women and children in return for hundreds of Palestinians jailed by Israel.

Throughout that phase, negotiations would continue on prolonging the cease-fire and releasing more prisoners and hostages. Israel would allow the number of aid trucks to entering Gaza would increase to up to 300 daily — from a few dozen currently — and let displaced Gaza residents gradually return to their homes in the north, according to the proposal. 

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Thai court accepts complaint seeking PM’s removal over minister’s appointment

Thai court accepts complaint seeking PM’s removal over minister’s appointment

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Thai court accepts complaint seeking PM's removal over minister's appointment

Thailand’s Constitutional Court accepted a complaint on Thursday seeking to remove Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin over his cabinet appointment of a lawyer who served jail time, in a new legal setback for the government.

The decision comes after three ministers quit in recent weeks as the government battles to jumpstart an underperforming economy and find funds to deliver on a delayed election promise of cash handouts for 50 million people.

The court chose not to suspend Srettha from duty pending a verdict, as was sought by 40 senators who had complained Pichit Chuenban fell short of moral and ethical standards for ministers set out in the constitution.

Srettha has 15 days to file his defence in court. “The prime minister is focused and determined, this will not affect his work,” said government spokesperson Chai Wacharonke.

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Pichit’s qualifications prior to becoming a minister in the prime minister’s office had been carefully vetted and the appointment was in line with the law, he added.

For decades a close aide of the politically influential Shinawatra family, Pichit resigned on Tuesday in an effort to insulate Srettha from the court case.

He had been jailed for six months in 2008 for contempt of court after being accused of a bid to bribe court officials with 2 million baht ($55,218) placed in a grocery paper bag, which he denied. His law license was suspended for five years.

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As a lawyer, Pichit fought, and lost, big court cases against former premiers Yingluck Shinawatra and billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been a towering figure in Thailand for more than two decades.

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Thaksin is a close ally of Srettha and founder of his ruling Pheu Thai party, which together with its predecessors has won all but one Thai election since 2001.

The court gave no timeframe for a decision in the case.

If it dismisses Srettha, a new government must be formed and Pheu Thai would need to put forward a new candidate for premier to be voted on by a parliament in which it is not the biggest party.

VReal estate mogul Srettha was elected by the legislature in August last year after weeks of political deadlock, following a deal with parties and lawmakers allied with the royalist military, which staged coups against Shinawatra-backed governments in 2006 and 2014.

Government critics say Pichit got the job thanks to his close ties with Thaksin. The tycoon still holds significant sway in politics, despite officially being retired and having spent 15 years in self-imposed exile until his return last year.

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The government has said Pichit was picked because he was suitable.

Thaksin, who was convicted of conflicts of interest and abuse of power and was released from detention on parole in February, will learn next week if he is to be prosecuted for an alleged insult to the powerful monarchy.

He has denied wrongdoing in the case over comments made in an interview a decade ago.

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Putin to hold two-day talks with Lukashenko in Belarus, says Kremlin

Putin to hold two-day talks with Lukashenko in Belarus, says Kremlin

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Putin to hold two-day talks with Lukashenko in Belarus, says Kremlin

 Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold wide-ranging talks with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk on Thursday and Friday, the Kremlin said.

Russia and Belarus are close allies, with Minsk set to take part in exercises aimed at simulating preparations for the launch of tactical nuclear weapons this month.

Belarus has offered Russia logistical support during its conflict with Ukraine, with Russian forces entering Ukraine from Belarusian territory during their initial offensive against Kyiv in February 2022.

Separately, Belarusian state news agency Belta reported on Thursday that Lukashenko had appointed Pavel Muraveyko as the new chief of the Belarusian army’s general staff. 

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Thai hospital says 20 people from Singapore Airlines flight remain in intensive care

Thai hospital says 20 people from Singapore Airlines flight remain in intensive care

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Thai hospital says 20 people from Singapore Airlines flight remain in intensive care

Twenty people who were aboard a Singapore Airlines flight that hit severe turbulence and diverted to Bangkok for an emergency landing on Tuesday remain in intensive care, a hospital official said on Thursday.

Of the 40 people on the flight still under treatment, 22 patients have spinal cord injuries and six have brain and skull injuries, Adinun Kittiratanapaibool, Director of Bangkok’s Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital told reporters.

Adinun had said 41 people were still under treatment, but later said one person had been discharged. One passenger died of a suspected heart attack and dozens were injured after Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 encountered what the airline described as sudden, extreme turbulence while flying over Myanmar on Tuesday. 

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