Why Syrians in the southern city of Suweida are risking everything to protest

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People protest in the Syria's southern city of Sweida on September 1, 2023. (Suwayda24 via AFP)
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People wave Druze flags during a protest rally in the southern city of Sweida, Syria, on Sept. 15, 2023. (Suwayda24 via AP)
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Thousands of Syrians staging a protest and waving Druze flags in the southern city of Suweida on September 15, 2023. (AP).
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People protest in the Syria's southern city of Sweida on September 1, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2023

Why Syrians in the southern city of Suweida are risking everything to protest

  • Faced with a ballooning budget deficit, the government has taken painful and unpopular austerity measures
  • Most Syrians in regime-held areas were already living below poverty line prior to recent fuel subsidy cuts

LONDON: Protests in the Syrian city of Suweida have been going on more than a month now, with crowds usually gathering in the central Al-Karama Square, calling on the government in Damascus to implement economic and political reforms.

On Friday between 3,500 and 4,000 people rallied in the southern city — the largest in nearly a month of anti-regime demonstrations that have intensified as Syrians reel from the economic impact of war.

The demonstrations in Suweida and nearby Deraa — where the 2011 uprising began — started after President Bashar Assad’s regime reduced fuel subsidies and raised gasoline prices by nearly 250 percent in August.

Hyperinflation is just one of the many problems Syrians are forced to deal with in their day-to-day lives. But it is no ordinary challenge given that an estimated 90 percent of Syrian citizens in government-held areas now live below the poverty line, and half the population faces food insecurity.

Aside from dire economic conditions and poor living standards, Syrians are also frustrated with their continuing lack of basic rights.

“Undoubtedly, recent economic decisions have sparked the protests, yet society is on the brink of turmoil because the problem extends beyond mere living demands,” Ayham Azzam, head of the Suweida-based Juzour civil society group, told Arab News.

People protest in the Syria's southern city of Sweida on September 5, 2023. (AFP)

The protesters have wider demands beyond economic ones, which include “political, social and civil rights, as well as public freedoms and the release of detainees,” he added.

On Friday, the media outlet Suwayda24 published videos showing thousands of men and women chanting anti-regime slogans and waving Druze flags. Although the protests remain confined to southern cities, observers said they are reflective of political sentiments prevalent across the country.

“While large-scale public demonstrations remain relatively scarce, there is a noticeable shift in the Syrian populace’s willingness to openly and boldly voice criticism of their government and leadership,” Camille Otrakji, a Syrian Canadian analyst, told Arab News.

A handout picture released by the Suwayda 24 news site shows people protesting in the southern Syrian city of Sweida on August 25, 2023.  (Suwayda 24 handout/AFP)

In August, the Syrian pound fell to a record low on the black market of 15,500 pounds to the dollar, according to state media. The official state bank rate is 10,800 pounds to the dollar.

The government has doubled public-sector pay, increasing the minimum monthly salary to 185,940 pounds, the equivalent of about $22. However, this has done little to lessen the privations experienced by those living in government-held areas, who have had to tighten their belts.

“By lifting subsidies, the government continues its withdrawal from supporting poor and needy households and proceeds further in transferring the economic burden onto civil society, expatriates and humanitarian organizations,” Mohammad Al-Asadi, a research economist for the Syrian Center for Policy Research who is based in Germany, told Arab News.


Protests erupted in the city of Suweida after the government slashed fuel subsidies.

Economic situation deemed worse now than at the height of civil war that began in 2011.

With about 70 percent of the Syrian population requiring aid, according to UN figures, local charities are struggling to meet the growing demand.

During a recent visit to Damascus, Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, warned that the situation in the country has “become worse than it was, economically, during the height of the conflict.”

Speaking in the Syrian capital following a meeting with Faisal Mekdad, the country’s foreign minister, he added: “We cannot accept that funding for Syria is going down while the humanitarian needs are increasing.

"When people are hungry they eat their leaders, they don't eat stones", screams one placard in Arabic during a demonstration against dire living conditions in the southern Syrian city of Sweida on August 23, 2023. (Suwayda 24 handout photo via AFP)

“For Syria, without addressing the political consequences of this crisis, the deep economic crisis and humanitarian suffering will also continue.”

Huda Al-Ahmad, 50, who is the sole breadwinner in her household, lost her job months ago. She said her family have suffered for more than a year since the Damascus-based charity Al-Mabarrat stopped providing basic foodstuffs to her neighborhood.

“Coffee used to be a daily necessity for every household in Damascus. It is now a luxury,” she told Arab News. “We never thought twice before buying it but now we cannot afford an ounce a month. It would cost 5,000 Syrian pounds to make three shots of coffee.”

Syrians waiting in a queue to buy bread at a shop in Binnish, in northwestern Idlib province. The current economic situation may be worse than it was during the height of the conflict. (AFP file photo)

Meanwhile, the daily commute to Damascus from Sitt Zaynab in Rif Dimashq, where Al-Ahmad lives, costs at least 4,000 Syrian pounds.

“My daughter and I have been ill for nearly a week, unable even to afford paracetamol,” she said. “We have not bought any kind of fruit, meat or dessert for almost a year unless we give up rice and wheat for a couple of months.”

Analysts believe policies that could boost economic activity, reduce tax evasion, combat corruption and cut military expenditure are infeasible as they would require political will, engagement with civil society in the decision-making process, and representative institutions.

“These prerequisites are impossible to reach under the existing socioeconomic and political structures,” said Al-Asadi.

The protests in Sweida province, the heartland of the country's Druze minority, began after the Syrian government ended fuel subsidies in August, dealing a heavy blow to Syrians reeling from war and a crippling economic crisis. (AFP)

Instead, he added, the current policies will “deepen (the) poverty gap, as tens of thousands of poor Syrian households are expected to fall way below the overall poverty line into extreme poverty. Lifting subsidies is the easiest and fastest way to reduce the budget deficit.”

Despite the rapidly declining living standards, nongovernmental organizations and the Damascus municipality recently collaborated on giving one of the capital’s public spaces a makeover.

Photos of the revamped Sabaa Bahrat (Seven Fountains) Square, in the vicinity of the central bank, recently went viral on social media, prompting critics to comment that it was distasteful to spend money on urban beautification when so many people in the country were experiencing power cuts and shortages of food and fuel.

This photo taken on June 17, 2020, shows a view of the Sabaa Bahrat (Seven Fountains) Square roundabout in front of the Central bank of Syria in Damascus. (AFP)

“The Sabaa Bahrat roundabout will not provide bread,” Al-Hussain Al-Nayef, chairman of the Syrian National Media Alliance, said in a message posted on Facebook. “What do we gain from this cultural achievement when the impoverished citizens anticipate real change — one that addresses their concerns and lost happiness?”

The renovation was fully funded by private donors, according to reports in January, which quoted Mohammed Eyad Al-Shamaa, chairman of the Damascus Governorate Council, as rejecting claims that the renovation work cost about 5 billion Syrian pounds.

Many local social media commentators said the funds should have been used to help feed the poor and install solar energy solutions to provide street lighting in Damascus, which, like much of the country, suffers regular power shortages.

In this picture taken during a demonstration in Sweida on August 21, 2023, a placard in Arabic reads: "Bashar al-Assad achieved victory only over his people but he didn't defeat Israel." (SUWAYDA24 photo via AFP)

“Syria’s GDP (gross domestic product) and its annual budget have dwindled significantly from their pre-Arab Spring levels,” said Otrakji, the Syrian Canadian analyst. “The Syrian government currently operates with severely limited financial resources, a situation that is far from sustainable in the long run.

“In this precarious financial state, Syria is poised to seek assistance, either from willing Arab states or by deepening its reliance on Iran.”

He lamented the fact that “beyond the stark divergence in expectations regarding the elusive political solution in Syria,” the country has become “a fertile ground for regional and international conflicts.”

He added: “Regrettably, none of these conflicts show signs of nearing resolution, further entrenching Syria as a battleground for competing interests.”

This picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on May 4, 2023, shows Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (C) attending a business forum in Damascus. (SANA handout via AFP)

Azzam, from the civil society group Juzour, is convinced that the Syrian regime is incapable of reviving the moribund economy without some progress on the political front.

“The country is in ruins — economically, socially, culturally and intellectually,” he said. “This has produced a pressing need for a fresh social agreement that marks a significant phase in which Syria is for all citizens and an integral part of the global community.

“Given the circumstances, all attempts to improve the economic situation will likely fail. And even if they do succeed, it would be a temporary, unsustainable success.”


Libya frees four Hamas members held since 2016: media

Security men guard the entrance to the Interior Ministry in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on August 30, 2012. (AFP)
Updated 02 December 2023

Libya frees four Hamas members held since 2016: media

  • Their release on Friday was reported by several Libyan media, which said that the men were freed at the request of the Libyan prosecutor’s office following Turkish mediation

TRIPOLI: Libyan authorities on Friday released four members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas who were arrested in 2016 on charges including trafficking arms to Gaza, according to Libyan media.
The four men — Marwan Al-Ashqar, his son Baraa, Mouayad Abed and Nasib Choubeir — were detained in Tripoli in October 2016.
Their arrest was made public by the Libyan prosecutor’s office a few months later.
In February 2019, they were sentenced by a Tripoli court to terms ranging from 17 to 22 years in prison, according to Libyan media, on charges of arms trafficking and spying.
Their release on Friday was reported by several Libyan media, which said that the men were freed at the request of the Libyan prosecutor’s office following Turkish mediation.
There was no immediate official confirmation of their release, including from the government of Tripoli-based Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah.
Reports said the four men, who were incarcerated in the Mitiga detention center in Tripoli, left for Turkiye then Qatar, which hosts Hamas’s political leadership.
An unverified image, shared on social media, showed three men in what appeared to be a private jet.
Their reported release comes against the backdrop of a nearly eight-week-old war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The fighting was triggered by an unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7 during which about 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, and around 240 taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities.
The Hamas government in Gaza says Israeli retaliatory strikes have killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians.
Thrown into chaos since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya is split between Dbeibah’s United Nations-supported government in the west and a rival administration in the east backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.


Israel’s most wanted: the three Hamas leaders in Gaza it aims to kill

Updated 02 December 2023

Israel’s most wanted: the three Hamas leaders in Gaza it aims to kill

  • Two military experts said that killing Sinwar, Deif and Issa would allow Israel to claim an important symbolic victory. But achieving even that goal would be long and costly, with no guarantee of success

GAZA: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has a poster hanging on a wall of his office in Tel Aviv, in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. It shows mugshots of hundreds of the Palestinian militant group’s commanders arranged in a pyramid.
At the bottom are Hamas’ junior field commanders. At the top is its high command, including Mohammed Deif, the shadowy mastermind of last month’s assault.
The poster has been re-printed many times after Israel invaded Gaza in retaliation for Oct. 7: the faces of dead commanders marked with a cross.
But the three men topping Israel’s hit-list remain at large: Deif, the head of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades; his second in command, Marwan Issa; and Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.
Hostilities resumed in Gaza on Friday after a seven-day truce brokered by Qatar collapsed. Reuters spoke to four sources in the region, familiar with Israeli thinking, who said that Israel’s offensive in Gaza was unlikely to stop until those three top Hamas commanders are dead or captured.
The seven-week-old military campaign has killed more than 15,000 people, according to Gaza health officials, stirring international outcry.
The 61-year-old Sinwar, as well as Deif and Issa, both 58, form a secretive three-man military council atop Hamas that planned and executed the Oct. 7 attack. Some 1,200 people were killed and around 240 taken hostage in that assault, the bloodiest in Israel’s 75-year history.
The three leaders are directing Hamas’ military operations and led negotiations for a prisoner-hostage swaps, possibly from bunkers beneath Gaza, three Hamas sources say.
Killing or capturing the three men will likely be a long and arduous task but might signal that Israel was close to shifting from all-out war to less intense counter insurgency operations, according to three of the senior regional sources. That does not mean that Israel’s fight against Hamas would stop.
Officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have said Israel’s objectives are the destruction of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities, bringing the hostages back, and ensuring that the area around Gaza will never be threatened by a repeat of the Oct. 7 attack. To achieve those goals, eliminating the leadership of Hamas will be essential.
“They are living on borrowed time,” Gallant told a news conference last week, indicating that Israeli intelligence agency Mossad would hunt down the militant group’s leadership anywhere in the world. The Israeli government did not respond to a request for comment.
Two military experts said that killing Sinwar, Deif and Issa would allow Israel to claim an important symbolic victory. But achieving even that goal would be long and costly, with no guarantee of success.
Backed by drones and aircraft, Israeli troops have swept through less populated northern and western parts of Gaza but the hardest, and most destructive, phase of the fighting may lie ahead, military experts said.
Israeli troops have not pushed deep into Gaza City, stormed the maze of tunnels where Hamas’ command is believed to be located, or invaded the enclave’s densely populated south, they added. Some of those tunnels are believed to be around 80 meters deep, making them difficult to destroy from the air.
Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Military and Security Studies Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said it was probably unclear to all sides, including Hamas, exactly how many of its fighters had been killed.
“If (Israel) could say we’ve killed Sinwar, we’ve killed Marwan Issa, we’ve killed Mohammed Deif, that’s a very clear, symbolic and substantive achievement,” Eisenstadt said, adding that Israel faced a dilemma.
“What if they can’t get the guys? Do they keep fighting until they get them? And what if what if they just prove elusive?“
The Israeli military says it has destroyed around 400 tunnel shafts in northern Gaza, but that is only a small part of the network Hamas has built up over the years. At least 70 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the Gaza operation, and some 392 in total, including the Oct. 7 attacks, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has said.
A military officer, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, estimated roughly around 5,000 Hamas fighters had been killed – equivalent to roughly one fifth of its overall strength. Six battalions – numbering around 1,000 men each — had been significantly degraded, the officer said.
Osama Hamdan, a Lebanon-based Hamas leader, said the casualty figures were false and “Israeli propaganda” to cover its lack of military success.
One Hamas insider in Gaza, reached by phone, said that destroying the group as a military force would mean house to house combat and fighting in the warren of tunnels beneath the enclave, which would take a long time.
“If we talk about a year, we will be optimistic,” he said, adding that the Israeli death toll would rise.
President Joe Biden’s administration sees eliminating Hamas’ leadership as a far more attainable goal for Israel than the country’s stated objective of eliminating Hamas entirely, three US officials told Reuters.
While staunchly supportive of Israel, its closest ally in the Middle East, US officials worry that an open-ended conflict driven by Israel’s hope of destroying Hamas entirely would cause a heavy civilian death toll in Gaza and prolong the risk of a regional war.
The United States learned that lesson over years of battling Al-Qaeda, Daesh and other groups during a two-decade-long global war on terrorism.
Iran-backed militants, who blame the United States for Israel’s bombings in Gaza, are already targeting US troops in Iraq and Syria in wave after wave of attacks. One of the attacks last week injured eight US troops.

The shock and fear in Israel engendered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack may make it difficult to de-escalate the conflict.
Kobi Michael, a former head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs, which counters negative narratives about Israel overseas, said there is strong popular support for the war to continue as Hamas is perceived as part of a broad Iran-backed axis that poses a direct threat to the nation’s survival.
Capturing Sinwar would be an important victory but not necessarily the ultimate one, Michael said.
“Israeli society perceives itself under an existential threat and the options it sees before it are two only: To be or not to be,” he said.
The objective of the war remains to dismantle Hamas’ military and government capabilities, Michael said, which could involve a turbulent period in Gaza after the war. And the greater long-term challenge was to remove the popular appeal to Palestinians of Hamas’ fierce opposition to Israel using education and outreach, he said.
Israel regularly announces the deaths of senior Hamas battalion commanders. An Israeli military officer, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the IDF viewed the elimination of such combat-level commanders as essential to dismantling Hamas’ military capabilities.
The three Hamas leaders have all escaped numerous Israeli operations to kill them. Deif in particular lives in the shadows after escaping seven assassination attempts before 2021, which cost him an eye and left him with a serious leg injury.
An Israeli air strike in 2014 killed his wife, his three-year-old daughter and seven-month-old son.
Speculation by Israeli and Palestinian sources is that the three men are hiding in the tunnels under the enclave but five sources close to their thinking say they could be anywhere within Gaza.
Sinwar, who unlike the elusive Deif and Issa has often appeared in the past at public rallies, is no longer using any electronic devices for fear the Israelis could track the signal, Hamas sources said.
Issa, known as the ‘Shadow Man’, is perhaps the least well known of the three but has been involved in many of Hamas’ major decisions of recent years, and would replace either of the two other men if they are killed or captured, Hamas sources said.
All three men were born into refugee families that had fled or been expelled in 1948 from areas in the newly created Israeli state.
And all three men have spent years in Israeli prisons. Sinwar served 22 years after being jailed in 1988 for the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers and the murder of four Palestinian collaborators.
He was the most senior of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners that Israel freed in 2011 in exchange for one of its soldiers, Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid five years earlier.
Like Deif, Issa’s facial features were unknown to the public until 2011 when he appeared in a group photo taken during the Shalit prisoner’s exchange, which he helped to organize.
Gerhard Conrad, a German Intelligence Agency mediator (BND) from 2009 to 2011, was among the few to have met Issa while negotiating Shalit’s prisoner swap.
“He was very meticulous and careful analyst: that’s my impression of him. He knew the files by heart,” Conrad told Al Jazeera television.
Israel has killed Hamas’ leaders in the past, including the group’s founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and its former leader Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantisi, assassinated in a 2004 air strike. New commanders rose to fill their ranks.
“Israel has killed Sheikh Yassin, Rantissi and others but Hamas is not over,” said Hamdan, the Lebanon-based member of the group’s politburo. “Anything might happen in this battle.”  


Senior UK officials discuss Gaza crisis on sidelines of COP28 in Dubai

Updated 02 December 2023

Senior UK officials discuss Gaza crisis on sidelines of COP28 in Dubai

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, Downing Street announced.

He thanked the emir for Qatar’s important role in facilitating the humanitarian pause in Gaza, which saw the release of dozens of hostages and the vital passage of further aid.

The leaders deeply regretted the collapse of the pause and reiterated the importance of ongoing efforts to secure the release of all hostages and ensure humanitarian assistance reaches those in need in Gaza. 

In the long term, the prime minister said “we must work toward a two-state solution which guarantees the security and prosperity of both Israelis and Palestinians.” 

He reiterated that Hamas had demonstrated that it could not be a partner for peace and could have no future in Gaza.

Sunak also met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, where he reassured him that the UK continues to press Israel on the need to adhere to international humanitarian law and contain settler violence in the West Bank. 

“The prime minister recognized the vital role Jordan has played in addressing the crisis in Gaza and the generosity they have shown in providing significant humanitarian support to Palestinian civilians, including the provision of military field hospitals,” his office said in a separate statement.

Sunak reiterated the UK’s commitment to working toward a lasting resolution to the conflict which delivers dignity, peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. 

The leaders also confirmed the continued importance of close UK-Jordan cooperation, including on trade, defense and clean technology.

During talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Sunak reiterated the UK’s support for the humanitarian response in Gaza, with planeloads of UK aid, including warehouse facilities and forklift trucks, sent to Egypt to preposition on the border with Gaza. 

He thanked El-Sisi for Egypt’s continued efforts to get much-needed aid into Gaza and secure the release of hostages, as well as their support for the evacuation of British nationals from Gaza.

He said the UK stands ready to provide further support, recognizing that there must be no forcible displacement from Gaza and that aid must be able to reach people across the Gaza Strip. 

Sunak and Israel’s President Isaac Herzog also discussed the conflict with Hamas and the end of the humanitarian pause in Gaza earlier on Friday.

The premier “once again emphasised the need to take all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties and significantly increase the flow of aid to Gaza,” Downing Street said.

Meanwhile, King Charles III, who is also attending COP28, met with Sheikh Tamim on the sidelines of the annual summit to discuss “the friendship and cooperation relations between the two countries and peoples, as well as the means to enhance them,” the Qatar News Agency reported.

The meeting also dealt with exchanging views on the most prominent issues on the summit’s agenda, in addition to a number of developments of joint interest.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron held talks with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman to discuss the latest developments in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as ways to reduce escalation and bring about a cease-fire.

During the meeting, Sheikh Mohammed stressed that his country, along with its mediation partners, is committed to continuing efforts to return to calm, stressing that the continued bombing of the Gaza Strip after the end of the truce complicates mediation efforts and exacerbates the humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged enclave.

He expressed Qatar’s firm position in condemning all forms of targeting civilians, and that killing innocent people, especially women and children, and practicing the policy of collective punishment are unacceptable, under any circumstance.

He also stressed the necessity of opening humanitarian corridors to ensure that relief and aid reach the Palestinian brothers stranded under bombardment. 

Israeli air strikes hit near Damascus: Syrian defense ministry

Updated 02 December 2023

Israeli air strikes hit near Damascus: Syrian defense ministry

  • Damascus and Aleppo airports were both put out of service following Israeli strikes on October 12 and 22

DAMASCUS: Israel carried out air strikes near Damascus on Saturday, the Syrian defense ministry said, with an AFP journalist in the Syrian capital reporting the loud sound of bombings.
“At approximately 1:35 am (1035 GMT) today, the Israeli enemy carried out an air assault from the direction of the occupied Syrian Golan, targeting some points near the city of Damascus,” the defense ministry said in a statement, reporting no casualties.
Syria state television had earlier reported an “Israeli aggression near the capital.”
Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on its northern neighbor since Syria’s civil war began in 2011, primarily targeting Iran-backed forces and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, as well as Syrian army positions.
But it has intensified attacks since its war with Hamas, a Hezbollah ally, began in October.
The Israeli army did not comment when asked by AFP about the latest strikes.
Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, told AFP that Israel struck “Hezbollah targets” in the Sayyida Zeinab area south of Damascus.
Ambulances had rushed to the scene of the bombing, said the chief of the British-based monitor, which runs a network inside Syria.
Israeli air strikes on November 26 rendered Damascus airport inoperable just hours after flights resumed following a similar attack the month before.
Damascus and Aleppo airports were both put out of service following Israeli strikes on October 12 and 22.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes targeting Syria, but it has repeatedly said it will not allow arch-foe Iran, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, to expand its presence there.


Inaction on Gaza amounts to ‘approval’ of killing children: UNICEF

Updated 02 December 2023

Inaction on Gaza amounts to ‘approval’ of killing children: UNICEF

  • Israeli warplanes resumed bombing Gaza, sending Palestinian civilians fleeing for shelter, after a week-old truce ran out with no deal to extend it

GENEVA: UNICEF has appealed for a lasting ceasefire to be implemented in Gaza, describing inaction as “an approval of the killing of children” after a week-old truce between Israel and Hamas collapsed.
“A lasting ceasefire must be implemented,” James Elder, spokesperson for UNICEF, told reporters via video link from Gaza.
“Inaction at its core is an approval of the killing of children.”
The UN described the hostilities as “catastrophic” and urged parties to bring about a lasting ceasefire.
Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office in Geneva, said the resumption of hostilities meant “hell on Earth has returned to Gaza.”
Israeli warplanes resumed bombing Gaza, sending Palestinian civilians fleeing for shelter, after a week-old truce ran out with no deal to extend it.
“The resumption of hostilities in Gaza is catastrophic,” said Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“I urge all parties and states with influence over them to redouble efforts, immediately, to ensure a ceasefire – on humanitarian and human rights grounds.”
In a post on X social media platform, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he regretted the resumption of hostilities and hoped a new pause could be established.
“The return to hostilities only shows how important it is to have a true humanitarian ceasefire,” he said.
Laerke said that the week-long truce had seen significantly larger humanitarian convoys entering densely populated Gaza, even reaching north of Wadi Gaza, which prior to the pause had received almost no supplies.
“With the resumption of war, we fear that the continuation of this (aid) is now in doubt,” he said.
“The Rafah crossing is closed as of now. We need a resumption of a humanitarian pause, not a return to war.”