Five die in Turkiye floods

People stand in a flooded street while other are evacuated by boat in Kucukcekmece district in Istanbul (AFP)
Updated 06 September 2023
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Five die in Turkiye floods

  • The rains followed a particularly dry summer that saw the water reservoirs of the city of 16 million people fall to nine-year lows

Istanbul: Five people died on Tuesday in flash floods from torrential rains that turned the streets of Istanbul and parts of northwestern Turkiye into rushing rivers, officials said.
The nighttime storm partially flooded an Istanbul subway station and forced the evacuation of dozens of people from a city library, media reports said.
Television and social media images showed rushing waters sweeping away cars and city market stalls.
The Istanbul governor’s office said two people died.
The rains followed a particularly dry summer that saw the water reservoirs of the city of 16 million people fall to nine-year lows.
Turkiye’s emergency service said three people also died on Tuesday and three were missing in floods that hit the northwestern city of Kirklareli.


International donors pledge $5.4 billion for Syrian refugees

Updated 28 May 2024
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International donors pledge $5.4 billion for Syrian refugees

  • Jordan’s foreign minister said the international community was abandoning Syrian refugees as funding to support them in host countries dwindles

BRUSSELS: International donors led by the EU on Monday pledged $5.4 billion (five billion euros) for Syrian refugees, as Brussels insisted they should not be “pushed back” to their war-torn homeland.

An annual gathering hosted by the EU and chaired by its foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saw the European Union commit 2.12 billion euros for 2024 and 2025.

That figure included 560 million euros already promised this year for Syrians displaced inside the country and in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, and the same amount for 2025.

The bloc also pledged one billion euros for Syrian refugees in neighboring Turkiye.

“The situation in Syria is more dire today than one year ago. In fact, it has never been so dire and humanitarian needs are at all time high,” Borrell said.

“Today 16.7 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, the highest level since the start of the crisis over 13 years ago.”

EU humanitarian chief Janez Lenarcic said that on top of the five billion euros in grants, a further 2.5 billion euros was promised by donors in loans.

He said the EU and its member states overall accounted for three quarters of the grants pledged.

The United States said it had also pledged nearly 545 million euros ($593 million) in humanitarian assistance for Syria. Washington “remains committed to assisting the Syrian people and encourages other donors to continue their support for Syrians,” a State Department statement added.

The donor drive came after the United Nations refugee agency warned its operations to support displaced Syrians remained “significantly underfunded at 15 percent almost six months into 2024.”

“While we welcome the pledges made today, the discussion remains far removed from the harsh realities Syrians face,” Oxfam’s Syria director, Moutaz Adham, said.

“Funding still fails to match the scale of needs and year after year, the number of people relying on aid grows.”

In the face of the shortfalls, regional countries hosting millions of refugees from Syria have been increasingly pushing for “voluntary” returns to the country.

But Borrell cautioned about any efforts to make people move back to Syria.

“We make a warning about the so-called voluntary returns of Syrian refugees to Syria,” he said.

“Voluntary returns mean voluntary. The refugees should not be pushed back to Syria.”

Borrell insisted that the international community should not “incentivise this by any means.”

“We consider that there is not the safe, voluntary, informed and dignified returns of refugees to Syria for the time being,” the EU’s top diplomat said.

Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.

More than a quarter of Syrians live in extreme poverty, the World Bank said Saturday, 13 years into a devastating civil war that has battered the economy and impoverished millions.

Borrell said that efforts to find a political solution to the conflict remained at an “impasse.”

“The Assad regime has shown no intention of engaging in any meaningful political process,” he said.

“We request everyone, including partners in the region, to use their political leverage to encourage a renewed impetus on the political process.”


Netanyahu says deadly Israeli strike in Rafah was the result of a ‘tragic mistake’

Updated 28 May 2024
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Netanyahu says deadly Israeli strike in Rafah was the result of a ‘tragic mistake’

  • “Despite our utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night there was a tragic mistake,” Netanyahu said Monday in an address to Israel’s parliament

TEL AVIV, Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that a “tragic mistake” was made in an Israeli strike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah that set fire to a camp housing displaced Palestinians and, according to local officials, killed at least 45 people.
The strike only added to the surging international criticism Israel has faced over its war with Hamas, with even its closest allies expressing outrage at civilian deaths. Israel insists it adheres to international law even as it faces scrutiny in the world’s top courts, one of which last week demanded that it halt the offensive in Rafah.
Netanyahu did not elaborate on the error. Israel’s military initially said it had carried out a precise airstrike on a Hamas compound, killing two senior militants. As details of the strike and fire emerged, the military said it had opened an investigation into the deaths of civilians.
Sunday night’s attack, which appeared to be one of the war’s deadliest, helped push the overall Palestinian death toll in the war above 36,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and noncombatants in its tally.
“Despite our utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night there was a tragic mistake,” Netanyahu said Monday in an address to Israel’s parliament. “We are investigating the incident and will obtain a conclusion because this is our policy.”
Mohammed Abuassa, who rushed to the scene in the northwestern neighborhood of Tel Al-Sultan, said rescuers “pulled out people who were in an unbearable state.”
“We pulled out children who were in pieces. We pulled out young and elderly people. The fire in the camp was unreal,” he said.
At least 45 people were killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and the Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service. The ministry said the dead included at least 12 women, eight children and three older adults, with another three bodies burned beyond recognition.
In a separate development, Egypt’s military said one of its soldiers was shot dead during an exchange of fire in the Rafah area, without providing further details. Israel said it was in contact with Egyptian authorities, and both sides said they were investigating.
An initial investigation found that the soldier had responded to an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants, Egypt’s state-owned Qahera TV reported. Egypt has warned that Israel’s incursion in Rafah could threaten the two countries’ decades-old peace treaty.
The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency closed meeting for Tuesday afternoon on the situation in Rafah at the request of Algeria, the Arab representative on the council, two council diplomats told The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement.
Rafah, the southernmost Gaza city on the border with Egypt, had housed more than a million people — about half of Gaza’s population — displaced from other parts of the territory. Most have fled once again since Israel launched what it called a limited incursion there earlier this month. Hundreds of thousands are packed into squalid tent camps in and around the city.
Elsewhere in Rafah, the director of the Kuwait Hospital, one of the city’s last functioning medical centers, said it was shutting down and that staff members were relocating to a field hospital. Dr. Suhaib Al-Hamas said the decision was made after a strike killed two health workers Monday at the entrance to the hospital.
Netanyahu says Israel must destroy what he says are Hamas’ last remaining battalions in Rafah. The militant group launched a barrage of rockets Sunday from the city toward heavily populated central Israel, setting off air raid sirens but causing no injuries.
The strike on Rafah brought a new wave of condemnation, even from Israel’s strongest supporters.
The US National Security Council said in a statement that the “devastating images” from the strike on Rafah were “heartbreaking.” It said the US was working with the Israeli military and others to assess what happened.
French President Emmanuel Macron was more blunt, saying “these operations must stop” in a post on X. “There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians. I call for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire,” he wrote.
The Foreign Office of Germany, which has been a staunch supporter of Israel for decades, said “the images of charred bodies, including children, from the airstrike in Rafah are unbearable.”
“The exact circumstances must be clarified, and the investigation announced by the Israeli army must now come quickly,” the ministry added. ”The civilian population must finally be better protected.”
Qatar, a key mediator in attempts to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas, said the Rafah strike could “complicate” talks, Negotiations, which appear to be restarting, have faltered repeatedly over Hamas’ demand for a lasting truce and the withdrawal of Israeli forces, terms Israeli leaders have publicly rejected.
The Israeli military’s top legal official, Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, said authorities were examining the strike in Rafah and that the military regrets the loss of civilian life.
Speaking to an Israeli lawyers’ conference, Tomer-Yerushalmi said Israel has launched 70 criminal investigations into possible violations of international law, including the deaths of civilians, the conditions at a detention facility holding suspected militants and the deaths of some inmates in Israeli custody. She said incidents of property crimes and looting were also being examined.
Israel has long maintained it has an independent judiciary capable of investigating and prosecuting abuses. But rights groups say Israeli authorities routinely fail to fully investigate violence against Palestinians and that even when soldiers are held accountable, the punishment is usually light.
Israel has denied allegations of genocide brought against it by South Africa at the International Court of Justice. Last week, the court ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, a ruling it has no power to enforce.
Separately, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three Hamas leaders, over alleged crimes linked to the war. The ICC only intervenes when it concludes that the state in question is unable or unwilling to properly prosecute such crimes.
Israel says it does its best to adhere to the laws of war. Israeli leaders also say they face an enemy that makes no such commitment, embeds itself in civilian areas and refuses to release Israeli hostages unconditionally.
Hamas triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attack into Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized some 250 hostages. Hamas still holds about 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a ceasefire last year.
Around 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes. Severe hunger is widespread, and UN officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.


UN Security Council set to meet over deadly Rafah strike

Updated 2 min 18 sec ago
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UN Security Council set to meet over deadly Rafah strike

  • The attack prompted a wave of international condemnation, with Palestinians and many Arab countries calling it a ‘massacre’
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: ‘There is no safe place in Gaza. This horror must stop’

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: The UN Security Council was set to convene an emergency meeting Tuesday over an Israeli strike that killed dozens in a displaced persons camp in Rafah, as three European countries were slated to formally recognize a Palestinian state.

AFP journalists on the ground early Tuesday reported fresh Israeli strikes overnight in the southern Gaza border city, where an Israeli attack targeting two senior Hamas members on Sunday night sparked a fire that ripped through a displacement center, killing 45, according to Gaza health officials.

The attack prompted a wave of international condemnation, with Palestinians and many Arab countries calling it a “massacre.” Israel said it was looking into the “tragic accident.”

“There is no safe place in Gaza. This horror must stop,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres posted on social media.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths pointed to the widespread warnings of civilian deaths that circulated ahead of Israel’s incursion into Rafah, saying in a statement: “We’ve seen the consequences in last night’s utterly unacceptable attack.”

“To call it ‘a mistake’ is a message that means nothing for those killed, those grieving, and those trying to save lives,” he added.

Diplomats said the UN Security Council would convene Tuesday for an emergency session called by Algeria to discuss the attack.

The EU’s foreign policy chief said he was “horrified by news” of the strike, while French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “outraged,” and a US National Security Council spokesperson said Israel “must take every precaution possible to protect civilians.”

The Israeli military said it was launching a probe.

Displaced Gazan Khalil Al-Bahtini was preparing to leave the impacted area, saying Monday that “last night, the tent opposite to ours was targeted.”

“We have loaded all our belongings, but we don’t know where to go.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told parliament the deaths occurred “despite our best efforts” to protect civilians.

The outcry over the strike came as Spain, Ireland and Norway were set to formally recognize a Palestinian state on Tuesday in a decision slammed by Israel as a “reward” for Hamas.

“Recognizing the state of Palestine is about justice for the Palestinian people,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said Monday in Brussels.

It was also “the best guarantee of security for Israel and absolutely essential for reaching peace in the region,” he said alongside his Irish and Norwegian counterparts.

On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he had told Spain’s consulate in Jerusalem to stop offering consular services to West Bank Palestinians from June 1 as a “preliminary punitive” measure.

Israel launched the deadly strike on Rafah late Sunday, hours after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at the Tel Aviv area, most of which were intercepted.

Israel’s army said its aircraft “struck a Hamas compound” in the city and killed Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar, senior officials for the militant group in the occupied West Bank.

Gaza’s civil defense agency said the strike ignited a fire that tore through a displacement center in northwestern Rafah near a facility of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

“We saw charred bodies and dismembered limbs... We also saw cases of amputations, wounded children, women and the elderly,” said civil defense agency official Mohammad Al-Mughayyir.

One survivor, a woman who declined to be named, said: “We heard a loud sound and there was fire all around us. The children were screaming.”

Adding to already heightened tensions since Israel launched its Rafah ground operation, the Israeli and Egyptian militaries reported a “shooting incident” on Monday that killed one Egyptian guard in the border area between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip.

Both forces said they were investigating.

Footage from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society showed chaotic nighttime scenes of paramedics racing to the attack site and evacuating the wounded.

Mughayyir said the rescue efforts were hampered by war damage and the impact of Israel’s siege, which has led to severe shortages of fuel and “water to extinguish fires.”

The Israeli attack sparked strong protests from Egypt and Qatar, both of which have played key roles as mediators in efforts to negotiate a ceasefire and hostage-prisoner exchange.

Egypt deplored what it called the “targeting of defenseless civilians,” saying it was part of “a systematic policy aimed at widening the scope of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip to make it uninhabitable.”

Qatar condemned a “dangerous violation of international law” and voiced “concern that the bombing will complicate ongoing mediation efforts” toward a truce.

The top world court, the International Court of Justice, on Friday ordered Israel to halt any offensive in Rafah and elsewhere that could bring about “the physical destruction” of the Palestinians.

The war in Gaza started after Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,050 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, which has been central to aid operations in the besieged territory during the war, said on social media platform X that “with every day passing, providing assistance & protection becomes nearly impossible.”

“The images from last night are testament to how Rafah has turned into hell on Earth,” he said.


New settler units on Palestinian land hand Israel a powerful demographic weapon

Updated 27 May 2024
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New settler units on Palestinian land hand Israel a powerful demographic weapon

  • Israeli authorities accused of exploiting Gaza war to create “more facts on the ground” in occupied West Bank
  • Uptick noticed in approvals for illegal settlements in East Jerusalem within or alongside Palestinian neighborhoods

LONDON: On July 11 last year, 68-year-old Nora Ghaith and her husband Mustafa Sub Laban lost their battle to hold on to their home in Jerusalem’s Old City — in which Ghaith was born — when Israeli police broke down their door and forcibly evicted the elderly couple.

The eviction of the last remaining Palestinians in an apartment building now filled with settlers was carried out under a controversial law. This legislation enables Jews to claim properties that supposedly belonged to their families before they were evicted in 1948, and were subsequently occupied by Palestinian refugees.

Since Oct. 7, plans for no fewer than eight new settlements in East Jerusalem have been fast-tracked. (AFP)

The Legal and Administrative Matters Law was passed in 1970 after Israel annexed East Jerusalem. The same law does not, however, permit the far larger number of Palestinians whose families were evicted from West Jerusalem in 1948 to reclaim the properties they lost.

In fact, the Absentee Property Law, passed in 1950 and amended in 1973, prevents Palestinians from reclaiming lost properties.

Both laws are doubly unjust, critics say, because Jews who left East Jerusalem in 1948 were later given Palestinian properties in West Jerusalem as compensation, and in being allowed to “reclaim” properties in East Jerusalem are being doubly compensated.

Israeli troops patrol the Palestinian refugee camp of Al-Fara, in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)

Last year, the “deeply shocking and heart-breaking” eviction of the Ghaith-Sub Laban family and many other Palestinian families in East Jerusalem was condemned by UN experts as “part of Israel’s apartheid machinery at work, designed to consolidate Jewish ownership of Jerusalem and racially dominate the city’s population.”

The human rights special rapporteurs said such evictions were “a gross violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime,” and evidence of “intention to annex and colonize the occupied territory in violation of international law.”

Between Oct. 7 last year and March 10, some 98 Palestinian homes were demolished, research reveals. (AFP)

Less than a year on, however, two Israeli human rights nongovernmental organizations said that while the global community’s attention has been focused on the death and destruction unfolding in Gaza, there has been “a major acceleration in the promotion and fast-tracking of new settlement plans in East Jerusalem and a dramatic spike in the rate of demolitions of Palestinian homes.”

The Israeli government “is clearly exploiting the war to create more facts on the ground to predetermine the final status of Jerusalem and thwart all prospects for a negotiated political agreement, while forcibly displacing Palestinians from their homes and the city,” Amy Cohen, director of international relations at Ir Amim, told Arab News.

Ir Amim, or City of Nations, is an Israeli NGO working “to render Jerusalem a more equitable and sustainable city for the Israelis and Palestinians who share it and to help secure a negotiated resolution on the city.”

Research, carried out jointly with Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights, reveals that between Oct. 7 last year and March 10, some 98 Palestinian homes were demolished — an almost two-fold monthly increase compared with the period preceding the war.

At the same time, there has been “a major uptick” in efforts to create illegal settlements in East Jerusalem either within or alongside Palestinian neighborhoods.

These plans provide for more than 12,000 housing units. With an average 6.5 births per woman among ultra-Orthodox Jewish families recorded in the period 2019 to 2021, this means tens of thousands of additional settlers will be moving into East Jerusalem.

From 2008 to May 12 this year, 1,498 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (AFP)

According to the most recent census, approximately 361,700 (61 percent) of East Jerusalem’s population are Palestinian Arabs. The remaining 234,000 (40 percent) are Jewish — all of whom are regarded by the international community as illegal settlers in the territory, which has been occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967.

The growing number of illegal settlements is especially concerning in light of the statistics for violent assaults in the West Bank. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, from 2008 to May 12 this year, 1,498 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — 10 times as many as the 149 Israeli deaths reported.

There is an even greater disparity in the number of injuries on both sides — 95,383 Palestinians and 2,373 Israelis.

The Israeli authorities “are certainly exploiting the circumstances right now, taking advantage of the fact that the international community is obviously overwhelmed with the horrific, catastrophic conditions in Gaza and all of its implications,” said Cohen.

The growing number of illegal settlements is especially concerning in light of the statistics for violent assaults in the West Bank. (AFP)

“So, while the attention is diverted there — and the Israeli government is complicit in this — the activists in the settler movement are really taking advantage of the circumstances to create more ‘facts on the ground.’”

These “facts” are motivated by the Israeli government’s policy “to ensure that Jerusalem remains what they often call the ‘united, eternal capital of Jerusalem,’ and to preserve the essence of the city being a Jewish capital.

“That means not only do they have to secure control over as much space as possible, but also over the demographic balance of the population — the demographic majority must be in favor of Jewish Israelis, which is being achieved by targeting the Palestinian population.”

She added: “These policies and these measures essentially put a cap on the Palestinian demographic, which serves as a form of — and it’s horrific to even say this — but a form of displacement and population control, to ensure that there will be a Jewish demographic majority in the city.

INNUMBERS

98 Palestinian homes demolished in Oct. 7-March 10 period in East Jerusalem.

12,000 Housing units planned in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem.

“And this has been playing out in the form of demolitions.”

Since Oct. 7, plans for no fewer than eight new settlements in East Jerusalem have been fast-tracked.

The fear, said Cohen, was that the situation was approaching a tipping point beyond which the implementation of a two-state solution would become impossible.

“If the international community were to come together today with representatives of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and begin to sit down and draw some sort of road map, it would look very, very different than it did 20 years ago, during Camp David or even before that during the Oslo Accords,” she said.

The Israeli government ‘is clearly exploiting the war to create more facts on the ground to predetermine the final status of Jerusalem,’ said Amy Cohen.

“Obviously, any road map would have to be adapted to the reality of today. You cannot reverse most of what has happened up until now in Jerusalem. But you can certainly prevent what Israel is trying to do right now.

“And so first and foremost is the need to really address the here and now, to halt the major developments on the ground for settlements and to halt the mechanisms of displacement, such as demolitions and evictions.”

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She added: “If the international community is really serious about a two-state solution, it needs to act now to hold Israel accountable to international law and the parameters of a two-state solution, and so far we haven’t seen that.”

Since the outbreak of the war there has been renewed discussion about the need to jump-start a new peace process, to renew dialogue toward an agreed-upon negotiated resolution.

The Absentee Property Law, passed in 1950 and amended in 1973, prevents Palestinians from reclaiming lost properties. (AFP)

“But with that, we have to bring back the centrality of Jerusalem in the debate, because without Jerusalem there is really no two-state solution.

“And as we all know, without a two-state solution, we will not be able to achieve peace and security for all of us, Israelis and Palestinians, living between the river and the sea.”


Aid trucks arrive in Gaza, but no deliveries yet

Updated 27 May 2024
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Aid trucks arrive in Gaza, but no deliveries yet

CAIRO: More than 100 aid trucks managed to reach the Gaza Strip by Monday morning after an agreement to reroute aid through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, but supplies have not been distributed amid an ongoing Israeli assault, sources said.

Deliveries are badly needed as little aid has reached southern Gaza since May 6, when Israel took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, about 3.5 km from Kerem Shalom and the main entry point into Gaza for humanitarian and commercial supplies.

The latest arrivals would be the biggest aid delivery into southern Gaza by far since the launch of Israel’s attacks in Rafah, with most days seeing no trucks crossing the border.

Israeli forces began a ground offensive in the east of Rafah over three weeks ago. An Israeli airstrike on Sunday triggered a fire that killed 45 people

Officials said in a tent camp in Rafah on Monday, prompting an outcry from global leaders. Egyptian security sources said 123 aid trucks had crossed the border and delivered goods to the UN. 

An Israeli source confirmed that aid had been brought into Gaza and delivered to partners.

An Egyptian aid source said four fuel trucks had also crossed the border.

However, UN and Palestinian officials said Palestinian trucks that went to pick up the aid at the crossing returned empty.

“Trucks moved through, but it was not possible to collect them due to the rocket attacks and the IAF (air force) strikes,” said a UN official in Gaza, adding that the supplies belonged to the UN’s Palestinian aid agency UNRWA and the World Food Programme.

On Friday, Egypt and the United States agreed to utilize Kerem Shalom until arrangements were made to re-open Rafah from the Palestinian side, the Egyptian presidency said. Egypt has refused to coordinate with Israel on the crossing.