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All eyes on Hezbollah as tensions rise on Israel border

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Israel’s deadly Gaza offensive has many eyes trained on the Lebanese border for a Hezbollah reaction, but observers argue the Iran-backed movement is unlikely to risk an all-out conflict.   Incidents at the border in recent days have raised the temperature but, with Lebanon already on its knees amid a deep political and economic crisis, the Shiite group seems intent on refraining from an escalation. 

“There is nothing that currently suggests escalation,” said Sadiq al-Nabulsi, a Lebanese academic close to Hezbollah. “But the decision to go to war traditionally falls on Israel.”

Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, both designated as terrorist groups by Israel and much of the West, have mended fences after ending up on opposing sides of the Syrian war a decade ago. Hezbollah, founded in the 1980s to fight Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, has grown into Iran’s main regional proxy with operatives in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Hezbollah, founded in the 1980s to fight Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, has grown into Iran’s main regional proxy with operatives in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The only Lebanese faction to have kept its weapons after the 1975-90 civil war, Hezbollah now has a more powerful arsenal than the Lebanese national army. 

Their simmering conflict has played out mostly in war-ravaged Syria, where Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian assets. 

Minor border spats sporadically bring tensions to a boil but often wind up with a set of carefully choreographed face-saving salvos.

Border tensions

On Monday evening, rockets were fired from the Shebaa farms area in south Lebanon towards Israel but failed to fly past the border. The Israeli army responded with artillery fire.

It was the second time rockets were fired from Lebanese territory towards Israel since hostilities flared between the Jewish state and armed Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip last week. 

Last Thursday, three rockets were fired from near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh toward Israel. Israel’s army said the rockets fell into the sea.

Sources close to Hezbollah were quick to deny any involvement in either attack.

Also in the border area, protests have been held against Israel’s air campaign on Gaza, with a Hezbollah member killed by Israeli fire last week during a pro-Palestinian rally.

Hezbollah mourned the victim as a “martyr” but stopped short of calling for vengeance or retaliation.

Before the latest tensions, Hezbollah and Israel repeatedly signalled they were not interested in an escalation.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, in a speech to mark Al-Quds (Jerusalem) day this month, said it was a responsibility for his movement to stand behind Palestinians.

“But the primary responsibility is on Palestinians” themselves, he said, before warning Israel that his group would respond firmly if provoked in Lebanon. 

‘Defensive force’

In a statement this week, Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem pledged unyielding support to Palestinian factions fighting Israeli forces in Gaza.

“We are with them, we will offer support and assistance in all ways and we will always carry out our duties as required during different steps and stages,” he said after meeting with representatives of these factions. 

The group may consider sending financial, military and logistical support as it has done in the past, said political analyst Talal Atrissi of the Lebanese University.

But any direct attack on Israel would mean an all-out war on multiple fronts including neighbouring Syria.

“There is nothing to suggest that there is any intent for this kind of war,” he said.

Atrissi said domestic considerations further reduce the risk.

“Lebanon is on the brink of collapse because of the financial crisis and political divisions,” he said.

“There is no government, there is no lasting, durable or stable infrastructure that would even allow someone to consider an action of this kind.”

Israel this month announced one of its largest ever war games, including drills on the Lebanese border. 

Hezbollah has doubled its arsenal of precision-guided missiles over the span of a year, according to Nasrallah, and is observing the performance of Hamas’ weapons keenly.

So far both sides have emphasised they are prepared, not preparing, for war.

“The Lebanese Resistance is a defensive force, we do not initiate aggression against Israel,” said lawmaker Mohammad Khawaja of the Amal Movement, Hezbollah’s main ally in Lebanon.

“Today, there is no attempt in Lebanon to open a front with Israel, but we will respond strongly to any Israeli aggression or provocation.”

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Gossip News

Ngina Kenyatta gives birth to president Uhuru’s third grandchild

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News reaching us from the grapevine is that president Uhuru Kenyatta’s daughter was at a city hospital yesterday to give birth. 

Our source who works at the hospital said, “Ngina Kenyatta is giving birth there. She’s already at the hospital.”

Her mother, first lady Margaret Kenyatta, was also spotted at the hospital yesterday evening.

Ngina Kenyatta has not been seen in public for many months prompting speculation as to her whereabouts. The interesting news is that, late last month Ngina got married to the son of a famous business tycoon.

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Former CS Wario sentenced to 6 years in jail or pay Ksh.3.6M fine

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The former Cabinet Secretary risks up to 6 years in prison if the fine is not paid.

Hassan Wario, the former Sports Cabinet Secretary, has been fined Ksh.3.6 million by a Nairobi court after being found guilty of corruption, abuse of office, and misappropriation of funds during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The former Sports CS was charged with 4 counts, the first count is engaging in a project without prior planning contrary to Section 45 (2) (c) as read with sections 48 (1) of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act No. 3 of 2003.

The other three counts were abuse of office contrary to Section 46 as read with Section 48 of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act No. 3 of 2003 with particulars that he improperly conferred a benefit on three persons by including them on the list of delegation to Rio, Brazil for Olympic Games 2016.

The magistrate noted that there was wastage of resources adding that the budget for the games needs to be tailored. She directed that not everyone involved in the planning should travel.

The former Sports CS was charged with 4 counts, the first count is engaging in a project without prior planning contrary to Section 45 (2) (c) as read with sections 48 (1) of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act No. 3 of 2003.

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World remembers 9/11 as Biden joined by Obama and Clinton mark America’s darkest day

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Two decades after hijacked airliners smashed into New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon outside Washington, America and the world are honouring the nearly 3,000 lives lost.

It is also a day to reflect on how the trauma of September 11, 2001, helped to shape modern society.

The centrepiece of events sees the US President visiting three sites associated with the attacks.

He is currently at ground zero in lower Manhattan at the September 11 Memorial, where crowds have lined the streets to the sounds of the national anthem performed by the Young People’s Chorus of New York.

Bagpipes were then played before a moment of silence was observed at 8.46am (GMT 1.46pm) – the time American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower.

After that, family members began reciting the names of 2,977 victims, an annual ritual that will last four hours.

This was broken up by emotional speeches, as well as similar silences to mark the second plane – United Airlines Flight 175 – hitting the South Tower 18 minutes later.

And then for when American Airlines Flight 77 struck into the western façade of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia at 9.37am (2.37pm GMT), and United Airlines Flight 93 – which was heroically crashed by passengers who regained control – at 10.03am (3.03am GMT).

In video footage captured by the Mirror’s Andy Lines, a fire engine was seen incredibly being dispatched on an emergency call just two minutes after the first silence was observed.

The crew were seen heroically racing out from FDNY Engine 28/Ladder 11, just as the brave firefighters did from the same station 20 years ago – almost to the minute.

Later on, Biden will go to the Pentagon and to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed.

The remembrances have become an annual tradition, but today takes on special significance.

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