Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

Iran's judiciary said in July Panahi would serve a six-year sentence over charges of "propaganda against the system" and inciting opposition protests after the 2009 election that led to months of political turmoil. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 February 2023
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Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

  • Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010
  • Panahi has won several international awards

DUBAI: Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has started a hunger strike in prison to protest against authorities’ refusal to release him temporarily on bail pending retrial, the activist HRANA news agency reported on Thursday.
Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010, amid a stepped-up crackdown on dissent in the Islamic Republic.
“According to the law, I should have been released on bail after my request for retrial was accepted but my case has been delayed for more than 100 days,” the 62-year-old film director wrote in a letter, according to HRANA.
“This is in stark contrast with the speedy trials of innocent youth which are brought to the gallows 30 days after their arrest,” added the director, who won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or prize for his 1995 movie “White Balloon.”
There was no immediate reaction to the HRANA report from Iranian authorities on state media.
Iran’s judiciary said in July Panahi would serve a six-year sentence over charges of “propaganda against the system” and inciting opposition protests after the 2009 election that led to months of political turmoil.
Since then, nationwide protests sparked by the death in police custody of Kurdish Iranian young woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 2022 have represented one of the toughest challenges to the Islamic Republic.
At least four people have been hanged since the demonstrations started, according to the judiciary. Iran has accused foreign enemies of fomenting the unrest.
Panahi has won several international awards, including the 2015 Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear for his film “Taxi.”


Jordanian companies receive over $40m in govt grants

Updated 12 sec ago
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Jordanian companies receive over $40m in govt grants

  • Fifty-four of these companies are led by women, and seven are getting ready to export for the first time

LONDON: One hundred and thirty-five Jordanian companies have been granted a total of JD29.6 million ($41.8 million) in non-refundable agreements from the Industrial Support and Development Fund, it was announced on Monday.

The funding accounts for 57.2 percent of the estimated JD51.763 million required for various industrial facility development projects, Petra news agency reported.

During a ceremony at the Amman Chamber of Industry, Minister of Industry, Trade, and Supply Yousef Shamali said the program aims to increase total sales by JD76.1 million, reflecting a growth of 14.3 percent.

It also aims to increase exports by JD30.84 million and create more than 1,700 job opportunities for Jordanians, including 622 for women.

The initiative is part of the Jordanian government’s broader commitment to revitalizing local industry, with the goal of improving its competitiveness, reducing unemployment, and stimulating the country’s business environment, Petra added.

Shamali emphasized the diverse nature of the recipients, which included five large, 77 medium, and 53 small businesses. Fifty-four of these companies are led by women, and seven are getting ready to export for the first time, the report said.

The program establishes a financial incentive cap of JD150,000 for small businesses, JD300,000 for medium businesses, and JD500,000 for large businesses.

The draft budget for the coming fiscal year will include JD40 million to support this initiative.
 


Iran president targeted with ‘crimes against humanity’ complaint in Switzerland

Updated 3 min 57 sec ago
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Iran president targeted with ‘crimes against humanity’ complaint in Switzerland

GENEVA: A legal complaint called Monday for Swiss authorities to arrest Iran’s president during an expected visit and charge him with crimes against humanity connected to a 1988 purge of dissidents.
The complaint asks Swiss federal public prosecutor Andreas Muller to ensure the arrest and prosecution of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi “over his participation in acts of genocide, torture, extrajudicial executions and other crimes against humanity.”
Raisi was expected to participate in the United Nations Global Refugee Forum, which begins in Geneva on Wednesday, but the UN said Monday evening that Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian would lead the Iranian delegation, an indication that Raisi might not show.
The legal complaint against him, seen by AFP, was dated Monday. The prosecutor’s office did not immediately confirm that it had been received.
It was filed by three alleged victims from Iran’s crackdown on dissidents in the 1980s.
Rights groups have long campaigned for justice over alleged extrajudicial executions of thousands of mainly young people across Iranian prisons within a few months in the summer of 1988, just as the war with Iraq was ending.
Those killed were mainly supporters of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran, known by the abbreviations MEK or PMOI, a group considered a terrorist organization by Iran that backed Baghdad during the conflict.
The petitioners behind Monday’s complaint said they could personally identify Raisi as figuring on a commission that sent thousands of jailed opponents to their deaths during the crackdown.
He was serving as deputy prosecutor general of Tehran at the time, and was among the most eager on his commission to sentence prisoners to death, the complaint said.
The main petitioner, Reza Shemiriani, was arrested in 1981 and was one of fewer than 150 of the 5,000 prisoners detained in his cell bloc who survived the 1988 purge, according to the complaint.
Raisi had asked him what group he belonged to, and when he said MEK, “his death sentence was assured,” the complaint said, adding that Shemiriani still did not know why his life was spared.
Instead he remained in prison until 1991, facing daily torture, the complaint said.
The two other petitioners had also been in Iranian prisons in 1988, and said they recognized Raisi “as a member of the death commission,” according to the complaint.
In parallel to the legal complaint, an international campaign is also underway expressing outrage at Raisi’s participation in the UN refugee forum, and urging his prosecution for “involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law.”
“Raisi was a key perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners. His presence at the UN forum contradicts the fundamental values the UN stands for,” said the petition.
So far it has gathered more than 200 signatures from dignitaries including Nobel laureates, judges, former ministers, parliamentarians, academics and UN rights experts.
“We firmly believe that the United Nations, as a bastion of human rights and justice, should not compromise its reputation by extending an invitation to an individual accused of grave human rights violations,” it said, urging the UN to “promptly rescind its invitation to Raisi.”
When asked about the petition, forum host UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told AFP that “Iran is a member state of the United Nations and therefore invited to the Global Refugee Forum.”
“Iran has also been one of the largest refugee hosting countries for over 40 years,” a spokesman said in an email, adding that “the Iranian delegation will be led by the foreign minister.”

Lebanon public offices, banks, schools, universities close in nationwide strike in support of Gaza

Updated 7 min 26 sec ago
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Lebanon public offices, banks, schools, universities close in nationwide strike in support of Gaza

  • Dutch defense minister warns against escalation, discusses UNIFIL role in call to Lebanese counterpart
  • Israeli shell kills mayor of Lebanese village

BEIRUT: The mayor of a Lebanese village died instantly when he was struck by an Israeli shell on Monday as Israel and Hezbollah kept up hostilities ignited by the war in Gaza.

Hussein Mansour was killed outside his home in the village of Taybeh, a few kilometers from the border with Israel, a relative, Mohamed Mansour, said in media reports.

The shell that struck him did not explode, the National News Agency said.

Lebanon on Monday staged a nationwide strike in support of Gaza, demanding an immediate ceasefire and a halt to the two-month Israeli assault on the enclave.

In a statement, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced the closure of all public administration offices, public institutions, and municipalities.

He said the action was in response to global support for Gaza, and in solidarity with the Palestinian people and residents of Lebanese border villages.

Beirut’s streets were noticeably quieter as schools, universities, banks, and public and private administrations closed.

Pharmacies stopped working for one hour.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs closed its departments in Lebanon and Lebanese missions abroad.

The ministry called on the world to “take a stand against the systematic genocide being committed against the resilient Palestinian people under the Israeli siege and occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.”

It highlighted “daily attacks by the Israeli army in the southern Lebanese border areas, which have resulted in the loss of lives and injuries, including soldiers, journalists, paramedics, women, and children.”

The Ministry of Culture closed all historical sites.

Minister Wissam Mortada said: “We wanted the strike to be a thorn that pricks the conscience of the world complicit with the machinery of destruction and killing.”

Education Minister Abbas Halabi asked teachers to allocate one class on Tuesday to explain the reasons for the closure on Monday, and emphasize the “necessity of stopping the attacks on the occupied Palestinian territories and southern Lebanon, protecting civilians, especially women and children.”

He called on people to “raise their voices against the massacres committed against the innocent, demolishing their homes, hospitals, schools, and places of worship over their heads, and displacing them in the open, all under the eyes of the whole world.”

Violence escalated at Lebanon’s border with Israel on Sunday, with Hezbollah launching explosive drones and missiles at Israeli positions, and Israeli airstrikes rocking several towns and villages in south Lebanon.

On Monday afternoon, an Israeli drone attack on the border town of Al-Taybeh killed a man in his 80s sitting on the balcony of his home.

Also on Monday, Defense Minister Maurice Sleem received a call from his Dutch counterpart Kajsa Ollongren.

According to Sleem’s office, the Dutch minister emphasized “the need to reduce escalation in the region and the international community’s future aspiration to achieve a two-state solution.” 

The role of UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon was reviewed during the call.

Sleem praised the cooperation and coordination between the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL, and its close relationship with the local community.

“Peace and stability cannot be achieved without a just and comprehensive peace and adherence to the provisions of the relevant international resolutions,” he said.

On Monday, an Israeli warplane attacked the outskirts of Jabal Al-Rayhan in the Jezzine region with a missile.

Five interceptor missiles launched by the Israelis exploded above Hula, Mays Al-Jabal, and Aitaroun.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar channel said that an Israeli tank fired several shells toward Lebanese territorial waters opposite Ras Naqoura.

An Israeli drone also targeted the outskirts of the town of Yaron with three missiles.

Israeli shelling struck the center of the town of Kafr Hamam and damaged a house.

The outskirts of Rashaya Al-Fakhoura and Al-Fardis were also hit by at least 12 Israeli artillery rounds.

The Israeli army bombed sites in southern Lebanon after the launch of rockets, and also targeted the outskirts of Naqoura, Alma Shaab, and Jabal Al-Labouneh in the western sector.

The army targeted the Marjayoun Plain with two shells, Al-Awaida Hill with artillery shells, and bombed the outskirts of the towns of Kafr Kila and Deir Mimas.

Hezbollah said that it struck an Israeli soldiers’ gathering near Summaka in the Shebaa Farms with six rockets launched from Al-Khribet.

It also also targeted the Israeli Brannit barracks with artillery.

On Monday, Hezbollah mourned two of its members, but did not specify where they were killed. Media reports said that both were killed in Syria.


Gazans say hunger is causing social breakdown, fueling fears of exodus into Egypt

Updated 18 min 42 sec ago
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Gazans say hunger is causing social breakdown, fueling fears of exodus into Egypt

  • Narrow coastal strip has been under a full Israeli blockade since the start of the conflict more than two months ago
  • Over 2.3 million people driven from their homes and residents say it is impossible to find refuge and increasingly food

GAZA: Hamas said it was striking back against Israeli forces across Gaza on Monday and Palestinians and international relief agencies said public order was disintegrating as hunger spread, fueling fears of a mass exodus to Egypt.
The narrow coastal strip has been under a full Israeli blockade since the start of the conflict more than two months ago and the border with Egypt is the only other way out.
Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes and residents say it is impossible to find refuge, or increasingly food, in the densely populated enclave, with around 18,000 people already killed and conflict intensifying.
Gazans said people forced to flee repeatedly were dying of hunger and cold as well as bombardment, describing desperate attacks on aid trucks and sky high prices.
“Had any of us expected that our people may die of hunger, had it crossed anyone’s mind before?” said Rola Ghanim, among many expressing bewilderment on social media.
Aid trucks risked being stopped by desperate residents if they even slowed down at an intersection, Carl Skau, said deputy executive director of the UN World Food Programme.
“Half of the population are starving, nine out of 10 are not eating every day,” he told Reuters on Saturday.
One Palestinian told Reuters he had not eaten for three days and had to beg for bread for his children.
“I pretend to be strong but I am afraid I will collapse in front of them at any moment,” he said by telephone, declining to be named for fear of reprisals.
After the collapse of a week-long cease-fire on Dec. 1, Israel began a ground offensive in the south last week and has since pushed from the east into the heart of the city of Khan Younis, with warplanes attacking an area to the west.
On Monday, militants and some residents said fighters were preventing Israeli tanks moving further west through the city and clashing with Israeli forces in northern Gaza, where Israel had said its tasks were largely complete.
Israel said dozens of Hamas fighters had surrendered and urged others to join them. The armed wing of Hamas said it had fired rockets toward Tel Aviv, where Israelis fled to shelters.
UN officials say 1.9 million people — 85 percent of Gaza’s population — are displaced and describe the conditions in the southern areas where they have concentrated as hellish.
“I expect public order to completely break down soon and an even worse situation could unfold including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday.

ISRAEL DENIES SEEKING TO EMPTY GAZA
Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of UNRWA, the UN body responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees, wrote on Saturday that pushing Gazans closer and closer to the border pointed to “attempts to move Palestinians into Egypt.”
The border with Egypt is heavily fortified, but Hamas militants blew holes in the wall in 2008 to break a tight blockade. Gazans crossed to buy food and other goods but quickly returned, with none permanently displaced.
Egypt has long warned it would not allow Gazans into its territory this time, fearing they would not be able to return.
Jordan, which absorbed the bulk of Palestinians after the creation of Israel in 1948, accused Israel on Sunday of seeking “to empty Gaza of its people.”
Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy called the accusation “outrageous and false,” saying his country was defending itself “from the monsters who perpetrated the Oct. 7 massacre” and bringing them to justice.
Hamas gunmen on Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 100 hostages were freed during the truce, some with relatives left behind.
“I am petrified I will get bad news that he is no longer alive,” Sharon Alony-Cunio, released with her two little girls, told Reuters of her husband, who is still being held.
Israel has vowed to annihilate the militant Islamist group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007 and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Since Oct 7. at least 18,205 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and 49,645 wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry. The toll no longer includes northern Gaza and many people there and elsewhere remain trapped under rubble.
Israel says the instructions to move are among measures to protect the population. It accuses militants from Hamas, which controls Gaza, of using civilians as human shields and stealing humanitarian aid, which Hamas denies.
The Israeli military accused Hamas of hiding weapons in UNRWA facilities in Jabalia and distributed video purporting to show Hamas gunmen beating people and taking aid in the Gaza City district of Shejaia.
Israel has prevented most aid from moving into Gaza, saying it fears it will just fuel Hamas attacks.
Government spokesman Eylon Levy said Israel was working to open the Kerem Shalom crossing which processed most aid before the war and blamed international agencies for holdups at the crossing from Egypt, which is designed for pedestrians.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank and neighboring Jordan, most shops and businesses closed in response to Palestinian calls for a strike but the impact on Israel was unclear.
The Gaza health ministry said 32 Palestinians were killed in Khan Younis overnight. The armed wing of Hamas said it had hit two Israeli tanks with rockets and fired mortars at Israeli forces.
Militants and residents said fighting was also fierce in Shejaia, east of the center of Gaza City, the northwestern Sheikh Radwan district and Jabalia further north.
In central Gaza, where Israel told people to move on Monday toward “known shelters in the Deir Al-Balah area” health officials said the Shuhada Al-Aqsa hospital had received 40 dead.
Medics also said an Israeli air strike had killed four in a house in Rafah, one of two places near Egypt where Israel says Palestinians should take refuge.


Why aid chiefs see Gaza’s humanitarian crisis worsening in the absence of Israel-Hamas ceasefire

Updated 1 min 47 sec ago
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Why aid chiefs see Gaza’s humanitarian crisis worsening in the absence of Israel-Hamas ceasefire

  • The US recently vetoed a UN resolution seeking immediate ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas
  • NGO leaders say they have run out of words to describe the suffering in the embattled enclave

LONDON: Amid a humanitarian situation described as “apocalyptic” by UN human rights chief Volker Turk, nearly 2 million Palestinians in Gaza face a grim fate after the US vetoed on Friday a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

The vote came after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded the alarm on Wednesday, invoking Article 99 of the UN Charter. The article allows the UN chief to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

During a recent virtual media briefing, officials from aid organizations active in Gaza said they had run out of words to describe the humanitarian crisis and the horrors unfolding in the embattled enclave.

The meeting was held by the NGOs Action Against Hunger, Amnesty International, Doctors of the World, Medecins Sans Frontieres France, Humanity and Inclusion – Handicap International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Refugees International, and Save the Children.

Officials from aid organizations active in Gaza said they had run out of words to describe the humanitarian crisis. (AFP)

The renewed hostilities following the end of the truce, which lasted for six days after it was reached on Nov. 24, have seen Israel expand its ground offensive deeper into southern Gaza, previously declared by the Israeli military as a “safe” area. To date, over 1.8 million Palestinians have been displaced.

Officials of the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza say more than 17,700 Palestinians, including over 7,000 children, have been killed by the Israeli bombardment since Oct. 7.

On that day, the Israeli Defense Forces launched a military campaign in Gaza in retaliation for an attack by Hamas in which more than 1,440 Israelis and foreigners were killed or taken hostage.

As of Sunday, the IDF and Hamas militants were locked in combat in several parts of Gaza, including the main city in the south, Khan Younis, whose residents had been earlier asked to evacuate via an “urgent appeal.”

Describing the humanitarian conditions in southern Gaza, Alexandra Saieh, head of humanitarian policy and advocacy at Save the Children, said at Thursday’s media briefing: “People are in overcrowded shelters, in makeshift tents, with no access to clean water and crumbling sanitation facilities.

“We have heard of children starving in the so-called safe zone of Al-Mawasi.”

Al-Mawasi, a kilometer-wide patch of desert along the coastline of southern Gaza, was touted by Israel as a “safe space” in October.

Approximately 770,000 internally displaced people have sought refuge in 133 shelters, while others in the south have sheltered with host families or slept on the streets, according to Shaina Low, communications adviser at the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Aid workers have not been spared the chaos. Low added that some of the NRC’s staff members, along with their infants, are “sleeping on the streets because they have nowhere safe to seek refuge.”

“Amid relentless air, land and sea attacks, Israel is forcing families to relocate from one perilous zone to another,” she said. “The influx of people into southern Gaza has surged as hundreds of thousands fled from northern Gaza.”

Save the Children’s Saieh recounted colleagues’ accounts of “hundreds of children lining up for a single toilet in the south, children and families roaming the streets of what has not been flattened, with no food, nowhere to go and nothing to survive on.”

“Our teams are telling us of maggots being picked from wounds, and children undergoing amputations without anesthetic. More than a million children, practically all of the child population of Gaza, are left with nowhere to go.”

Sandrine Simon, advocacy and health director at Doctors of the World, warned that the current conditions in southern Gaza “are leading to the outbreak of epidemics.”

She said there has been a significant increase in cases of diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, and skin infections, adding that “soon, famine and epidemics will kill even more surely than bombing.”

The World Health Organization has recorded over 70,000 acute respiratory infections and at least 44,000 cases of diarrhea, half of which are among children under the age of 5. However, actual figures are expected to be significantly higher.

“Diarrhea is a leading cause of child mortality globally,” said Chiara Saccardi, the Middle East’s head of operations at Action Against Hunger, during the media briefing.

She attributed the high number of sick children in Gaza and the looming specter of a health crisis to “the total collapse of the water and sanitation infrastructure in Gaza.”

“There are no bathrooms; people are digging holes in the sand to use as toilets,” Saccardi said. “Some basic essential hygiene items, like (diapers), wipes, and detergent are no longer available.”

Isabelle Defourny, president of MSF, said medical needs in Gaza “have never been as high, but the healthcare system is on the ground.”

Owing to a 16-year Israeli blockade, Gaza’s healthcare system was on the verge of collapse even before the current escalation in hostilities. The WHO said that today, the health system in the devastated strip was “on its knees.”

The IDF has laid siege to several hospitals in Gaza, claiming that Hamas was running command centers in — or underneath — those facilities. Hamas has denied the allegation.

Defourny said MSF staff have witnessed “how hospitals in the north of Gaza were turned into morgues and ruins,” adding that the health facilities are being bombed, shot at by Israeli tanks and guns, encircled, and raided, and that patients and medical staff are being killed.

“Some doctors have had to leave patients behind after facing the unimaginable choice between their lives and those of their patients,” she said. “In the north of the Gaza Strip today, there is no more access to surgery, no more surgical services.”

MSF’s international team in Gaza is now operating in the central area, namely in Al-Aqsa Hospital, and in the south in Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.

Defourny said the MSF team had to flee Al-Nasser Hospital on Monday evening “due to the intensity of bombardment” around it.

The IDF and Hamas militants are locked in combat in several parts of Gaza. (AFP)

“Today, 65,000 people (in Gaza) are injured,” said Simon of Doctors of the World, stressing that “some will die in excruciating pain for lack of treatment anesthetic” and “thousands more will not have access to surgery and early rehabilitation needed to avoid permanent disability.”

Even humanitarian workers have been unable to access vital healthcare services. Simon said that when one of her colleagues was wounded in a tank attack on a school in which he had taken refuge, it took him hours to reach the hospital.

“And there, hundreds of patients lie on the ground, stepped over by exhausted, traumatized nurses.”

For over 60 days, aid workers in Gaza have faced a multitude of barriers. Today, none of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants can find sufficient food and clean water, according to a statement issued on Dec. 6 by 27 NGOs operating in Gaza.

“Aid delivery has faced severe challenges due to the closures of key crossings like Karem Shalom, and our overstretched teams are also facing death in Gaza,” said Bushra Khalidi, Oxfam’s head of policy for the occupied Palestinian Territories, adding that the situation in Gaza might have “irreversible consequences on Palestinian people.”

“Our colleagues on the ground faced extreme risks in distributing aid, with even basic necessities like water sparking desperate struggles and tensions,” she said. “The scarcity of aid has led to desperate struggles over water, tearing at our social fabric.”

The World Food Programme has estimated that each person in northern Gaza has access to an average of 1.8 liters of safe drinking water per day, while in the south, it is 2 liters.

“(The) human body cannot survive with such a small quantity of water,” said Saccardi of Action Against Hunger.

Saieh lamented that “with the intensity of the government of Israel’s offensive, coupled with the ongoing siege, the ability to provide any humanitarian assistance has been undermined.”

“We are unable to do our job effectively. People have been squeezed into the tiniest areas, cut off from basic necessities and cut off from the basics to survive,” she said.

Aid workers in Gaza have faced a multitude of barriers. (AFP)

Officials at Thursday’s briefing called for an immediate international intervention — to prevent further civilian deaths, stop the deepening of the humanitarian crisis, and avert a complete breakdown of the situation on the ground.

Amanda Klasing, national director for government relations at Amnesty International US, called for “a comprehensive UN Security Council arms embargo on Israel, Hamas, and other Palestinian armed groups until there’s no longer substantial risk that arms could be used to commit violations, and that there are effective accountability mechanisms in place.”

In the absence of a Security Council arms embargo, Klasing called on countries, particularly the US, to “immediately impose their own suspensions.”

She said: “Our overall analysis is that violations of international humanitarian law and potential war crimes continue unabated, and therefore the US should suspend arms transfers to Israel.”

Saying that their teams were steadfast in continuing their humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip despite the obstacles, the participants in the media briefing asserted that only a permanent and definitive ceasefire would allow for an effective humanitarian response.

Unless the violence ceased entirely, they warned the cost would be the lives of more children.