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Middle East updates: Several hurt in Iraqi base 'bombing'

Published April 20, 2024last updated April 20, 2024

The blast hit the Calso military base south of Baghdad, where a coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups are stationed. Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives is close to approving new aid for Israel.

Popular Mobilization Forces surround the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the Prime Minister's offices are located in Baghdad, Iraq, on May 26, 2021
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the blastImage: Hadi Mizban/AP/picture alliance
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Several casualties were reported following a blast at an Iraqi military base overnight
  • The base houses a coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups, security sources said
  • Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is set to meet Turkish President Erdogan
  • The US House of Representatives is likely to approve new military aid for Israel and humanitarian aid for Gaza residents

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Skip next section Gaza to receive large portion of US Israel aid
April 20, 2024

Gaza to receive large portion of US Israel aid

Of the $26.4 billion (€24.7 billion) in Israel aid passed by the US House of Representatives in a bipartisan vote on Saturday, more than $9 billion will go to addressing, "the dire need for humanitarian assistance for Gaza as well as other vulnerable populations around the world."

The measure, however, would prohibit any direct US funding of the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

Israel has accused some of the agency employees in Gaza of involvement October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas.

The United Nations has launched an internal investigation into the allegations.

Skip next section US House of Representatives passes Israel aid package
April 20, 2024

US House of Representatives passes Israel aid package

In a special Saturday session, the US House of Representatives approved $26.4 billion (€24.7 billion) in military aid to Israel in a 366-58 vote.

The vote was one of several on the day, and saw aid for allies, Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan — held up for months by a small group of Republican representatives — win bipartisan approval.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the US military aid vote 'defends Western civilization.'

Skip next section Erdogan discusses Gaza cease-fire with Hamas leader
April 20, 2024

Erdogan discusses Gaza cease-fire with Hamas leader

Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan held hours-long talks with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in IstanbulImage: Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu/picture alliance

On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to Istanbul, where the two discussed a cease-fire in the ongoing war between Iran-backed Hamas and Israel.

Erdogan and Haniyeh reportedly discussed the broader regional conflict between Israel and Iran, as well as the need to establish an "adequate and uninterrupted" supply of aid to Gaza. Erdogan's office said the president also talked about the need to establish "fair and lasting" peace.

Though Turkey says it is committed to achieving an "immediate cease-fire" and an end to the "massacres" taking place in Gaza through diplomatic means, none of the president's read-outs made mention of the 133 Israeli and international hostages still believed held by Hamas militants.

Warning that the international community should not shift its focus from Gaza in light of the flare-up of tensions between Israel and Iran, Erdogan also urged Palestinians to unite in hopes of eventually achieving statehood.

"It is vital that Palestinians act with unity in this process. The strongest response to Israel and the path to victory lie in unity and integrity," he said.

The meeting was later joined by Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Aidan and spy chief Ibrahim Kalin. 

Kalin, who has called for "an end to Israeli occupation" and a return to the idea of the "two-state solution," met Haniyeh in Dubai to discuss a cease-fire and the release of hostages earlier in the week.

Erdogan, who has openly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has shown a clear eagerness to assume the role of defender of the Palestinian cause, especially as Qatar has said it will reassess its role as mediator in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas, considered a terror organization by the US, UK, Germany and others, attacked Israel on October 7, 2023, killing nearly 1,200 people and taking scores more hostage. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry reports that more than 34,000 people have been killed by Israeli forces since the war began.

Skip next section Palestinians to rethink US ties after veto on full UN membership bid
April 20, 2024

Palestinians to rethink US ties after veto on full UN membership bid

The Palestinian Authority will "reconsider" its relations with the United States after Washington's veto of a Palestinian bid for full UN membership.

"The United States has violated all international laws and disregarded all promises regarding the two-state solution and achieving peace in the region," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The US must recognize that the Middle East will not stabilize without a just solution to the issue, Abbas said. "We will reconsider bilateral relations with the United States to ensure the protection of our people's interests," he said.

Abbas also criticized the United States for supporting Israel and called the US veto at the UN Security Council disappointing and irresponsible. He pledged that the Palestinian leadership would develop a new strategy to advance the cause.

A resolution in favor of full UN membership for a Palestinian state failed at the Security Council on Thursday because of the veto. US policy is that an agreement with Israel on a two-state solution is a condition for full UN membership.

Of the 193 UN member states, 139 have so far recognized Palestine as an independent state.

Skip next section Gazan authorities say Israeli air strike has killed 9 in Rafah
April 20, 2024

Gazan authorities say Israeli air strike has killed 9 in Rafah

Authorities in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Saturday said an overnight Israeli airstrike killed nine members of a Palestinian family, among them six children, in the southern city of Rafah.

News agencies cited Gaza’s civil defense agency as saying that the strike hit a residential building late on Friday.

Israel says it has plans to move troops into Rafah as part of its ongoing military offensive in Gaza,to root out the Hamas militant group.

Israel’s leadership vowed to destroy Hamas after the group led a large-scale terror attack on October 7, during which nearly 1,200 people were killed and some 250 were kidnapped.

Health officials in Gaza say more than 34,000 people have been killed since the war began.

Skip next section Israel says its forces killed 10 militants in West Bank
April 20, 2024

Israel says its forces killed 10 militants in West Bank

The Israeli army said its forces killed 10 militants in an ongoing raid around Nur Shams, a refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank.

 "Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters" over more than 40 hours, the army said in a statement, adding that eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid. 

According to the army, a total of eight wanted suspects were arrested, explosive devices were defused, and numerous buildings were searched. 

In addition, an explosives workshop was destroyed and numerous weapons, including pistols and M16 assault rifles, were confiscated. 

Since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel triggered the Gaza war, some 480 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or settlers in the West Bank, according to official Palestinian sources.

Skip next section German warship ends Red Sea mission to protect shipping
April 20, 2024

German warship ends Red Sea mission to protect shipping

The frigate Hessen of the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, has completed its mission in the Red Sea, a post on X, formerly Twitter, said Saturday.

The Bundeswehr said Hessen, which had a crew of 240, left the operational area early on Saturday morning.

Hessen was sent to the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden as part of the EU's Aspides mission to help protect commercial shipping amid attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control much of war-torn Yemen.

The Houthis have attacked dozens of ships in response to Israel's military action against the Hamas militant group in Gaza.

The Red Sea is home to the most important sea route from Asia to Europe, which runs through the Suez Canal. 

As a result of the attacks, major shipping companies have been avoiding the Red Sea route and instead taking the longer, dangerous and more expensive route around southern Africa.

The German Defense Ministry said Hessen had successfully countered Houthi drones and missiles on four occasions and safely escorted 27 ships through the waterway.

The German military said it would send another frigate, Hamburg, to the Middle East in August for a 5-month mission.

Skip next section US House set to approve new war aid
April 20, 2024

US House set to approve new war aid

The United States House of Representatives will hold a rare session on Saturday which is likely to approve a $95 billion (€89.6 billion) in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other allies.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson received Democratic support this week for votes on four aid bills.

If the votes are successful, the package will go to the Senate, where it is likely to pass within days. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

The cash includes $13 billion in military assistance to Israel, which will essentially be used to reinforce the country's "Iron Dome" air defenses.

More than $9 billion will be earmarked to address "the dire need for humanitarian assistance for Gaza as well as other vulnerable populations around the world," the legislation says.

The Republican-controlled House has struggled for months to pass Biden's funding request, first made in October, as Ukraine's military supplies began to run low. 

The funding call was amended to include support for Israel following Hamas' deadly attacks on October 7 and Israel's subsequent war in Gaza. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the US, European Union, Israel and others.

Skip next section Hamas leader Haniyeh to hold talks in Turkey
April 20, 2024

Hamas leader Haniyeh to hold talks in Turkey

Hamas political leader Imsail Haniyeh is due to meet Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Saturday as pressure rises to avoid a wider Middle East conflict.

Turkey has been keen to play a mediation role between Israel and Hamas over the war in Gaza but peace talks have, until now, been led by Qatar and Egypt. 

"We will keep the agenda between us and Mr. Haniyeh," Erdogan said when questioned by journalists on Friday.

As the conflict widens to include direct attacks between Israel and Iran, Qatar is now reported to be reassessing its role as a mediator, which could offer an opportunity for Turkey.

However, Erdogan's recent criticism of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could limit Turkey's role.

After months of deepening conflict in Gaza, Israel has said it is preparing an offensive against the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Iran's direct attacks on Israel last weekend and the reported attack on the Iranian province of Isfahan — which US officials said was the work of Israel — have weakened hopes of a peace breakthrough.

Skip next section Iraq military base hit by explosion, several injured: sources
April 20, 2024

Iraq military base hit by explosion, several injured: sources

An explosion rocked a military base in Iraq overnight into Saturday, news agencies reported, citing security sources.

The blast hit the Calso military base in Babylon province south of the capital, Baghdad. The base houses a coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups.

The groups are Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashed al-Shaabi, AFP news agency cited an Interior Ministry source and a military official as saying.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and US Central Command (CENTCOM) added that it was "not true" that American forces had carried out a strike.

The Interior Ministry source said the "aerial bombing" killed one person and wounded eight others, while the military source reported three Iraqi military personnel were wounded in a strike.

Hashed al-Shaabi wrote in a statement that an "explosion" had inflicted "material losses" and casualties, without specifying the number of wounded.

The group confirmed that its premises on the military base had been hit and that investigators had been sent to the site.

The international community has voiced concerns that the war between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas is turning into a wider, regional conflict.

On Friday, strikes blamed on Israel targeted a military base near the city of Isfahan in central Iran.

The attack was likely retaliation for Iran's drone and missile attack on Israeli territory last weekend.

US official says Israel targeted air defense system near Iran nuclear facility