Frankly Speaking: Does Israel have a right to defend itself?

Francesca Albanese, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, speaks to Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking.” (AN Photo)
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Updated 30 October 2023

Frankly Speaking: Does Israel have a right to defend itself?

  • Francesca Albanese says Israel’s assault on Gaza is without legal merit as ‘self-defense cannot apply in a context of military occupation’
  • UN special rapporteur on Palestine says UN Charter only ‘entitles a state to repel an attack based on its intensity and scope,’ meaning response should be ‘proportional’
  • Wants allies of Israel to ask Netanyahu what he meant by talking of changing the Middle East as this would ‘make another form of resistance emerge’

DUBAI: Israel does not have the right to self-defense that it claims in the Gaza Strip owing to its status as an occupying power, according to the UN special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Francesca Albanese, who was appointed to the post in May 2022 for a three-year term, also believes that Israel’s military response to the multipronged attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 has gone beyond simply defending its own territory and its citizens.

“The right to self-defense that Israel has invoked under Article 51 of the UN Charter is quite clear. It entitles a state to repel an attack that comes from another state. So, the action necessary to repel the attack must be based on its intensity and scope. And it must be proportional,” she said on the Arab News current-affairs show “Frankly Speaking.”

Albanese added: “There is jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice that says that self-defense cannot apply in a context of military occupation when, in this case, Israel is occupying another state, another people.”

Explaining the context of a “proportional” response, she said that “in 24, 30 hours, Israel had regained control of its territory. So, as of then, the right of self-defense in its own territory — if self-defense is to be applied — was exhausted.”

She added: “Does it mean that Israel had to passively leave after what Hamas had inflicted? No, as I said, the protection of Israeli citizens had to be insured, and the military presence of Hamas had to be repelled. Which was done.”

As the fate of 2.3 million Palestinians remains uncertain amid intensifying Israeli military operations and a rapidly rising death toll, Albanese, an Italian academic and international human rights lawyer, spoke about the underlying dynamics of the conflict, whether anyone would be charged with war crimes being committed against civilians, and if the UN had once again failed the Palestinian people.

Francesca Albanese, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said Israel’s retaliation has been indiscriminate, destroying more than 42 percent of Gaza’s housing capacity, targeting civilian areas including hospitals, and killing thousands of Palestinians. (AN Photo)

The fighting erupted when Hamas launched rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory before infiltrating the border and killing both civilians and military personnel at several border towns, kibbutzim and a music festival on Oct. 7.

Hundreds of Israeli citizens and soldiers, as well as numerous people from multiple other countries, were also taken to Gaza and are being held as hostages.

After clearing its territory of Hamas militants, Israel began retaliatory operations in Gaza, formally declaring war on the armed group.

Albanese says the fact that Israel has been bombing the entire Gaza Strip without a stated military goal raises important questions. “A clear military aim could be dismantling Hamas’ military capacity. This could be one, but this has not been the language. This has not been the intent,” she said.

“The intent has been to eradicate Hamas as a whole. But Hamas is also a political entity. So, what does it mean in practice?

“Statements of Israeli politicians and leaders have declared that all Palestinians in Gaza are responsible for Hamas actions, so their backbone should be broken. The language used is extremely dangerous. Genocidal language has been used, and alarm has been raised by hundreds of scholars.”

Albanese said that the Israeli military campaign has been highly destructive and indiscriminate, destroying more than 42 percent of Gaza’s housing capacity and targeting civilian areas including hospitals, places of worship, and public markets.

Palestinian health authorities said that more than 8,000 people had been killed by Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes as of Sunday.

Asked whether the latest conflict in Gaza had changed her views, Albanese said the “only way to have a loud, clear, unchallengeable legal and moral voice right now is to condemn the attacks on civilians, whoever they are.

Palestinians collect bags of dried pulses from a UN-run aid supply center, distributing food to local Palestinians and people displaced following Israel’s call for more than 1 million residents in northern Gaza to move south for their safety, in Deir al-Balah, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)

“What Hamas did on Oct. 7 goes beyond what legitimate resistance is, because the massacre of civilians is never justified, cannot be justified,” she told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

Albanese continued: “Hamas is to blame for the brutal killing of civilians, because in a context of hostilities, while military targets are legitimate, and killing a soldier is a tragedy, killing a civilian is a war crime. Killing civilians is absolutely prohibited.”

On the other hand, she asserted that the Israel-Palestinian conflict did not begin on Oct. 7. “The occupation that Israel has maintained on the West Bank, including in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, is illegal for many reasons, including because it has translated into a default apartheid, into a vehicle to colonize Palestinian land, to forcibly displace people, to arbitrarily arrest and detain adults and children alike, to impose martial rule over millions of Palestinians, including blockaded Gaza,” she said.

“Gaza has been under an illegal blockade for 16 years, and during the 16 years, five wars had already taken place in Gaza — in 2008, in 2012, in 2014, in 2021, in 2022 — and these five wars had already caused the death of 4,200 people, including 1,100 children.”

Albanese’s opinions on Israel’s right to self-defense and actions in Gaza have stirred controversy; media outlets, NGO watchdogs and Israeli officials have accused her of antisemitism.

An Israeli minister demanded Albanese’s dismissal in April this year, writing a letter to the UN chief and the UN high commissioner for human rights to complain that she has been allowed to “continue to spew hatred, antisemitism, and incite violence.”

Albanese believes the efforts to remove her from her current position are a distraction from events happening in Gaza and in Palestine in general. “It’s nothing new. These kinds of attacks — ad hominem — have been used against anyone who has dared to criticize Israeli policies and practices vis-a-vis the Palestinians,” she said.

“So, I was not particularly surprised. Yes, they are very violent, but again, the louder the message, the louder the denunciation, the more violent the response.”

Arguing that the data that her detractors are attempting to deflect attention from is far more important than their accusations, she said: “Nothing that I’ve said in my three reports on self-determination and Israel violations — arbitrary, widespread and systematic arbitrary deprivation of liberty in the occupied Palestinian territories, the violations committed against Palestinian children — has ever been challenged. The substance of my factual and legal analysis remains valid, and this is why I urge the international community to consider this first and foremost.”

Appearing on Frankly Speaking, Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, said that Israel’s military response to the deadly October 7 assault by Hamas has gone way beyond simply defending its own territory and its citizens. (AN Photo)

With UN statistics saying that more than 1.6 million Palestinians have been forced to flee their homes as of Saturday, Albanese said it seems Gaza has reached the point of no return.

Multiple news outlets reported that in the wake of the evacuation order, airstrikes killed dozens of Palestinians attempting to flee Gaza City. Palestinians are unable to flee inside their own territory or to another country; Egypt, which borders Gaza, has not opened any corridors which would allow Palestinians to seek safety there.

“Israel has ordered the evacuation of 1.1 million people — so, half the population — from northern Gaza,” Albanese said.

“How can this even be considered legal when there are people in hospital, women and children, and elderly persons who cannot move? Because the south, where people have been ordered to move to, is being bombed. It has been bombed, and it’s destroyed. There is no capacity to accommodate these people.”

In other comments, Albanese condemned what she called attempts by the media to misinform or spread false information, something that has been common during the ongoing conflict.

“Every journalist should verify the information before disseminating it, but should also report all facts, all circumstances and try to inform. I’ve seen that there is a lot of bias,” she said.

One of the most contentious events in terms of media coverage was the explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City on Oct. 17. Many details of the blast vary widely, and the entity behind the attack is a subject of fierce debate.

Multiple intelligence agencies claim that the explosion was caused by a misfired rocket from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, while the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health claimed that an Israeli airstrike was responsible.

Israeli tanks manoeuvre inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from Israel, October 29, 2023. (Reuters)

“I’ve seen conflicting narratives, because in the beginning, there were many warnings from the Israeli military to the hospital to evacuate. The medical personnel responsible for the hospital communicated that they were not able to evacuate because there were seriously injured people and other patients,” Albanese said.

Immediately after the bombing, quickly-deleted social media posts suggested the Israeli military had hit the hospital because there were Hamas operatives inside.

Asked if those deletions raised suspicion in her mind, Albanese said: “There is a commission of inquiry which is investigating right now all the violence and all the crimes that have been committed since Oct. 7. And that’s the Commission of Inquiry appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2021. I will wait for the results of their investigation.”

In light of the international community’s failure to force Israeli to agree to a ceasefire, many people say the UN has failed the Palestinian people yet again.

However, Albanese said the UN is failing both the Palestinian and the Israeli people “because all of them deserve peace and stability, which is the responsibility of the UN Security Council.

“What I see happening is a political and the humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions,” she said.

On a final note, Albanese said allies of Israel should ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu what he meant when, in a televised address after the Oct. 7 Hamas assault, he said “what we will do to our enemies will reverberate for generations.”

Albanese said: “I fear for what it might mean, because on the one hand, you can eliminate all Hamas supporters and militants, but keeping the population under oppression, as Israel has done with the Palestinians for decades, would make another form of resistance re-emerge,” Albanese said.

“I am really scared that the situation can spill over an entire region, which is already critically affected. You are seeing streets and the squares of Arab cities full of people protesting. They protest because they think that the Palestinians deserve justice.”

Speaking for herself, Albanese said she had nothing but “a clear, people-centered approach” to her work.

“There is no one life that is more important than the other,” she said. “In the interest of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, the current hostilities must stop. A realistic international law-oriented solution has to be found now because tomorrow may be too late.”


Kuwaiti ruler names Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah as prime minister

Updated 37 min 57 sec ago

Kuwaiti ruler names Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah as prime minister

DUBAI: Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah has appointed Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah as prime minister, state news agency KUNA reported on Monday.

The Kuwaiti ruler also tasked the new prime minister to form a government.

The Kuwaiti ruler last week accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, after elections were held to choose new members of the National Assembly.

He also instructed the cabinet to act as caretakers until the formation of a new government.

Netanyahu rival Lapid says Israel lost ‘deterrence’ against Iran

Updated 15 April 2024

Netanyahu rival Lapid says Israel lost ‘deterrence’ against Iran

  • Opposition leader: ‘Jewish terrorist violence’ against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank ‘out of control’
  • ‘If we don’t move this government, it will bring destruction upon us’

JERUSALEM: Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of leading to a “total loss of Israeli deterrence” in the wake of an unprecedented Iranian attack.
In a scathing criticism posted on X, former premier Lapid also said that under Netanyahu, “Jewish terrorist violence” against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank was “out of control.”
Netanyahu, who returned to power in late 2022 at the helm of a coalition with far-right parties, has brought “heaps of destruction from Beeri to Kiryat Shmona,” Lapid said, calling for early elections.
Beeri, a kibbutz community near the Gaza border, came under attack when Hamas militants stormed the area on October 7, triggering the ongoing war, while the northern town of Kiryat Shmona has suffered during months of cross-border fire between Israeli forces and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Lapid’s remarks came two days after Iran — which backs both Hamas and Hezbollah — launched more than 300 missiles and drones at Israel in retaliation for a deadly strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus.
Israel, the United States and other allies intercepted nearly all launches in the late Saturday aerial attack — the first direct Iranian military action against arch foe Israel.
Netanyahu’s cabinet has weighed Israel’s response to the Iranian attack, but the prime minister has not made any public comments.
In the West Bank, where violence has soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Israeli settlers torched Palestinian homes and cars over the weekend, killing at least two people, after an Israeli teen was “murdered in a suspected terrorist attack,” according to the Israeli military.
Pointing to surging “terrorist” settler attacks, Lapid said: “If we don’t move this government, it will bring destruction upon us.”
The government, which includes hard-line settlers, has prioritized Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Netanyahu has faced in recent months mass protests over the fate of hostages held in Gaza and pressure from a resurgent anti-government movement.
The prime minister’s Likud party responded to Lapid in a statement stressing Netanyahu’s part in “the global campaign” to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons — which Tehran denies it is seeking.

UK government reveals talks with Sudanese paramilitary group

Updated 15 April 2024

UK government reveals talks with Sudanese paramilitary group

  • Meetings held between Foreign Office, Rapid Support Forces in bid to end fighting, increase aid supply
  • News criticized by some experts as RSF accused of crimes against humanity

London: The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has revealed that it has held talks with Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which has been accused of committing ethnic cleansing and other atrocities.

The Guardian reported on Monday that a freedom of information request to the FCDO revealed that the UK government had opened diplomatic channels with the RSF, including a meeting on March 6.

The FCDO told the newspaper that the talks were aimed at increasing humanitarian aid flow and access in Sudan, as well as ending the fighting between the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces.

The RSF has been engaged in a civil war in Sudan for the past year, and has been accused of crimes against humanity by the US, including massacres, mass rape, looting and ethnic cleansing. The UN said the RSF’s activities in Geneina in West Darfur have left 15,000 people dead.

The war has claimed the lives of many thousands of Sudanese civilians, with around 8 million displaced by the fighting.

The UK’s willingness to meet with the RSF has drawn condemnation for what some say is a policy that could normalize a paramilitary group accused of crimes against humanity.

Dr. Sharath Srinivasan, co-director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at Cambridge University, told The Guardian that although talking to potentially unsavory groups is perceived as necessary in some diplomatic circles, “talking to the guys with the guns has been part of the perpetuation of violence and authoritarianism in Sudan for the last two, three decades.”

He added: “When (the RSF are) committing untold levels of targeted violence against ethnic groups, and women and children, at a scale that is absolutely horrific and was, even 20 years ago, (the UK is) putting a lot of moral credibility and decency on the line.”

Ahmed Soliman, a senior research fellow at international affairs think tank Chatham House, said the talks are justifiable as part of efforts to end the war and alleviate civilian suffering.

“How is aid going to get into western Sudan unless you engage with the Rapid Support Forces? They control 95 percent of Darfur,” he added.

“This is the dirty reality of the war. It shouldn’t negate engaging with civilians, but it has to be part of trying to ensure that there is a solution, both to ending the war in the near term, and then providing assistance for civilians.”

However, Maddy Crowther, co-director of the Waging Peace human rights group, described the talks as “a terrible move,” saying negotiating with the RSF could prove futile.

“These talks also assume that the RSF are good-faith actors,” she said. “Chatting to the RSF has never resulted in the outcomes that the UK says it wants to achieve in Sudan. I have no sense of why that would change at the moment.”

She added that “for the Sudanese, it will be experienced as a real slap in the face,” and that the diaspora will interpret the news as a “complete abuse of trust that people have placed in the UK and other powers to negotiate or advocate on their behalf.”

An FCDO spokesperson told The Guardian: “The UK continues to pursue all diplomatic avenues to end the violence — to prevent further atrocities from occurring, to press both parties into a permanent ceasefire, to allow unrestricted humanitarian access, to protect civilians, and to commit to a sustained and meaningful peace process.

“The SAF and RSF have dragged Sudan into an unjustified war, with an utter disregard for the Sudanese people. We will do all we can to ensure that they are both held accountable.”

Israel presses on in Gaza as death toll reaches 33,797

Updated 15 April 2024

Israel presses on in Gaza as death toll reaches 33,797

  • Fears persisted over Israeli plans to send ground troops into Rafah, a far-southern city where the majority of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have taken refuge
  • On Monday death toll in Gaza reached 33,797 during more than six months of war

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Israel struck war-battered Gaza overnight, Hamas and witnesses said Monday, as world leaders urged de-escalation awaiting Israel’s reaction to Iran’s unprecedented attack that heightened fears of wider conflict.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Monday that at least 33,797 people have been killed in the territory during more than six months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The toll includes at least 68 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that 76,465 people have been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.
World powers have urged restraint after Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel late Saturday, though the Israeli military has said nearly all were intercepted.
The Israeli military said it would not be distracted from its war against Tehran-backed Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the Palestinian armed group’s October 7 attack.
“Even while under attack from Iran, we have not lost sight... of our critical mission in Gaza to rescue our hostages from the hands of Iran’s proxy Hamas,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said late Sunday.
As mediators eye a deal to halt the fighting, fears persisted over Israeli plans to send ground troops into Rafah, a far-southern city where the majority of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have taken refuge.
“Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza,” Hagari said of the roughly 130 people, including 34 presumed dead, who Israel says remain in the hands of Palestinian militants since the Hamas attack.
“We also have hostages in Rafah, and we will do everything we can to bring them back home,” the military spokesman told a briefing.
The army said it was calling up “two reserve brigades for operational activities,” about a week after withdrawing most ground troops from Gaza.
The Hamas government media office said Israeli aircraft and tanks launched “dozens” of strikes overnight on central Gaza, reporting several casualties.
Witnesses told AFP that strikes hit the Nuseirat refugee camp, with clashes also reported in other areas of central and northern Gaza.
Hamas’s attack that sparked the fighting resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,729 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday following the Iranian attack, where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the region was “on the brink” of war.
“Neither the region nor the world can afford more war,” the UN chief said.
“Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate.”
More than six months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Rumours of a reopened Israeli checkpoint on the coastal road from the territory’s south to Gaza City sent thousands of Palestinians heading north on Sunday, despite Israel denying it was open.
Attempting the journey back to northern Gaza, displaced resident Basma Salman said, “even if it (my house) was destroyed, I want to go there. I couldn’t stay in the south.”
“It’s overcrowded. We couldn’t even take a fresh breath of air there. It was completely terrible.”
In Khan Yunis, southern Gaza’s main city, civil defense teams said they had retrieved at least 18 bodies from under the rubble of destroyed buildings.
Responding late Saturday to the latest truce plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, Hamas said it insists on “a permanent ceasefire” and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
Israel’s Mossad spy agency called this a “rejection” of the proposal, accusing Hamas of “continuing to exploit the tension with Iran.”
But the United States said mediation efforts continue.
“We’re not considering diplomacy dead there,” said the National Security Council’s Kirby.
“There’s a new deal on the table... It is a good deal” that would see some hostages released, fighting halted and more humanitarian relief into Gaza, he said.

Top Syrian officer faces war crimes charges in Swedish court

Updated 15 April 2024

Top Syrian officer faces war crimes charges in Swedish court

  • Former brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, 65 who lives in Sweden, is accused of “aiding and abetting” war crimes and could get a life jail sentence

Stockholm: The highest-ranking Syrian military official to be tried in Europe on Monday appeared before a Stockholm court accused of war crimes during Syria’s civil war.
Former brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, 65 who lives in Sweden, is accused of “aiding and abetting” war crimes and could get a life jail sentence.
The war between President Bashar Assad’s regime and armed opposition groups, including Islamic State, erupted after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.
It has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions, and ravaged Syria’s economy and infrastructure.
Wearing a dark blue shirt, jeans and sneakers, Hamo listened carefully and took notes as prosecutor Karolina Wieslander read out the charges.
Wieslander said Hamo had contributed — through “advice and action” — to the Syrian army’s warfare, which “systematically included attacks carried out in violation of the principles of distinction, caution and proportionality.”
“The warfare was thus indiscriminate,” Wieslander told the court.
The charges concern the period of January 1 to July 20, 2012. The trial is expected to last until late May.
The prosecutor said the Syrian army’s “widespread air and ground attacks” caused damage “at a scale that was disproportionate in view of the concrete and immediate general military advantages that could be expected to be achieved.”
In his role as brigadier general and head of an armament division, Hamo allegedly helped coordinate and supply of arms to units.
Hamo’s lawyer, Mari Kilman, told the court her client denied criminal responsibility.
“In any case he has not had the intent toward the main charge, that indiscriminate warfare would be carried out by others,” Kilman said.
Kilman said the officer could not be held liable for the actions “as he had acted in a military context and had to follow orders.”
Hamo also denied all individual charges and argued that Syrian law should be applied.
Several plaintiffs are to testify at the trial, including Syrians from cities that were attacked and a British photographer who was injured during one strike.
“The attacks in and around Homs and Hama in 2012 resulted in widespread civilian harm and an immense destruction of civilian properties,” Aida Samani, senior legal adviser at rights group Civil Rights Defenders, told AFP.
“The same conduct has been repeated systematically by the Syrian army in other cities across Syria with complete impunity.”
This trial will be the first in Europe “to address these types of indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian army,” according to Samani, who added that it “will be the first opportunity for victims of the attacks to have their voices heard in an independent court.”
Hamo is the highest-ranking military official to go on trial in Europe, though other countries have tried to bring charges against more senior members.
In March, Swiss prosecutors charged Rifaat Assad, an uncle of President Bashar Assad, with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, it remains unlikely Rifaat Assad — who recently returned to Syria after 37 years in exile — will show up for the trial, for which a date has yet to be set.
Swiss law allows for trials in absentia under certain conditions.
In November, France issued an international arrest warrant for Bashar Assad, accusing him of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes over chemical attacks in 2013.
Three other international warrants were also issued for the arrests of Bashar Assad’s brother Maher, the de-facto chief of the army’s elite Fourth Division and two generals.
In January 2022, a German court sentenced former colonel Anwar Raslan to life jail for crimes against humanity. This was the first international trial over state-sponsored torture in Syria and was hailed by victims as a victory for justice.