Can Gaza humanitarian pause be starting point for end to Israel-Hamas war?

After six weeks of relentless bombardment, a four-day pause will allow Palestinian refugees in Gaza to receive aid. (AFP)
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Updated 25 November 2023
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Can Gaza humanitarian pause be starting point for end to Israel-Hamas war?

  • Truce that began on Friday will facilitate the flow of aid and allow the exchange of hostages and prisoners
  • Aid agencies warn the four-day pause will not be sufficient to meet the immense needs of Palestinian civilians

LONDON: Humanitarian aid organizations want the four-day truce between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas that came into effect on Friday in Gaza after weeks of fighting to become a permanent ceasefire.

The truce is intended to facilitate the flow of aid into Gaza and will see Israel swap 150 Palestinians held in its jails with 50 of the hostages taken by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack that triggered this latest wave of violence.

Reports citing Israeli officials claim the pause in fighting may extend beyond the initial four days if Hamas agrees to release at least 10 further hostages per day.

According to the BBC, the incentive given by the Israeli government to Hamas was important for the families of hostages whose release has not yet been negotiated, with many insisting a partial deal with Hamas was not acceptable.

There were no details, however, on whether any such agreement would see the reciprocal release of any of the 7,300 Palestinians believed to be held in Israeli prisons. According to Reuters, both sides have said the fighting would resume once the truce ends.




Palestinians flee to the southern Gaza Strip. (AP)

Although it is considered a “welcome step,” humanitarian aid organizations have branded the truce “insufficient,” emphasizing the urgent need for an immediate and total ceasefire.

Action Against Hunger, Handicap International, Medecins du Monde, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Refugees International, and Save the Children have described the truce as something like a band-aid on a gaping wound.

“The humanitarian pause is a welcome step in the right direction but cannot replace a ceasefire,” Jason Lee, country director of Save the Children Palestine, said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Highlighting the violence taking place in both the north and south of the embattled enclave, Lee said there “is really no safe space in Gaza.”

Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s executive director, told the UN Security Council this week that Gaza had become “the most dangerous place in the world to be a child,” adding that “the true cost of this war will be measured in children’s lives,” with more than 5,300 having been killed.

News of the temporary truce has renewed focus on the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border, which was closed for the first three weeks of fighting despite being the Palestinian enclave’s sole means of access to the outside world since Israel imposed a blockade in 2007.

INNUMBERS

• 1,400 Truckloads of humanitarian supplies permitted to enter Gaza via Egypt during the month ending Nov. 21.

• 10,000 Truckloads of commercial and humanitarian commodities permitted to enter per month prior to the war.

(Source: UN OCHA)

Since its reopening, some 1,400 trucks carrying aid have entered Gaza through Rafah, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

However, aid groups have said this is only a fraction of what Gazans need, with Chiara Saccardi, head of operations for the Middle East at Action Against Hunger, describing the present state of access through Rafah as “limited.”

Saccardi told a media briefing on Wednesday: “There is a logistical limitation on what can enter through.

“Whatever can enter right now through Rafah is not enough,” she added, calling for the opening of more entry points.

Joel Weiler, executive director of Medecins du Monde, agreed that the Rafah crossing was not sufficient to deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza, calling for the opening of Kerem Shalom on the triple Gaza Strip-Israel-Egypt border.

Weiler called Friday’s truce at best a “band-aid” and at worst “a joke” for medical organizations seeking to assist Gaza. “It is humanitarian-washing,” he added.

The UN has also been calling on Israel to open Kerem Shalom to allow the entry of humanitarian aid and commercial goods into Gaza.




A woman holding a child flees following an Israeli strike in Rafah. (AFP)

Before Israel’s 2007 embargo, the crossing was responsible for the delivery of more than 60 percent of cargo entering Gaza, according to Martin Griffiths, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.

Focus, though, remains on stopping the bombardment.

Paul O’Brien, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said that given the level of destruction and the lack of supplies, the urgent needs in the besieged enclave were too deep and catastrophic to be met in a few short days.

“Meeting urgent needs in Gaza is not going to happen in a pause for a few days and is not going to happen with a few hundred aid trucks, as essential and crucial as they are,” he told a media briefing on Wednesday.

Those needs are apparent when assessing the scale of damage. Almost half of Gaza’s housing units have either been flattened or severely damaged, and more than 51 percent of education facilities destroyed.

Meanwhile, shortages of fuel have resulted in electricity blackouts, depriving water treatment plants of power and causing waterborne diseases to spread.

Danila Zizi, Handicap International’s country manager for Palestine, said the Israeli bombardment was not only killing civilians but also “causing a range of devastating injuries.”




A relative carries the body of a child during the funeral in Khan Yunis. (AFP)

These include severe spinal injuries and wounds requiring amputations, which doctors are forced to perform without anesthetics, pain relief, or proper aftercare and rehabilitation due to the blockade of aid.

“Before the current austerities, we were looking at 21 percent of persons with disabilities in Gaza. Now, we have zero visibility. We cannot even attempt to estimate how many,” she said.

Echoing O’Brien, Zizi said access to healthcare, food, and water, as well as protecting human dignity, were all continuous needs that could not be met in a few hours or days, calling the current truce insufficient “to deliver aid to 2 million people.”

She said: “We do not know what will happen with a temporary ceasefire. We are not safe to move. We need a ceasefire. We do need safe passage to assess the people in need.”

Joining the call for an immediate and sustained ceasefire across Gaza, O’Brien called on those with influence over Israel, “particularly President Biden and Congress,” to “stand for human rights, work for that sustained ceasefire.”

He urged the US to “suspend arms transfers and support for any measures that violate international humanitarian law,” calling for any breaches to be investigated as war crimes.




Smoke rising above buildings during Israeli strikes on the northern part of Gaza. (AFP)

“The IDF and the US argue that because Hamas is the target, and they live in Gaza, the IDF is adhering to humanitarian law when they bomb churches, schools, hospitals. They are wrong. And these acts must be investigated as war crimes,” O’Brien said.

Hope for a sustained ceasefire appears limited, however. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has reiterated that his government’s aim remains the complete destruction of Hamas.

For Zizi of Handicap International, however, there can be no alternative, with the four-day truce little better than the four-hour daily pause Israel agreed to implement on Nov. 9 with a view to allowing civilians in the north of Gaza to flee to safety in the south.

However, reports indicate that despite the claims of a safe haven in the south, the Israeli military has continued to target the area, as well as its own prescribed routes to safety.

As a result, humanitarian aid organizations, including UN agencies, have rejected Israel’s unilateral proposals to establish “safe zones.”

In a joint statement, these organizations said the establishment of such areas under the present conditions “risk creating harm for civilians, including large-scale loss of life.”


Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

Updated 11 sec ago
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Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

  • Building plans in East Jerusalem being fast-tracked at ‘unprecedented speed,’ rights organization says

LONDON: Israel’s government has stepped up the building of settlements across East Jerusalem, with over 20 projects involving thousands of housing units advanced since it launched its war on Gaza six months ago, according to planning documents seen by the Guardian.
While many government bodies were shuttered or had limited operation following Oct. 7, planning authorities continued to advance plans at “unprecedented speed,” Sari Kronish, from the Israeli rights organization Bimkom — Planners for Planning Rights, told the Guardian.
“The fast-tracking of these plans has been unparalleled in the last six months,” Kronish added
Significantly, two new settlements were approved in East Jerusalem, the first such approvals in over a decade. One development involves the expansion of Kidmat Zion, a high-security settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras Al-Amud, which was decided on two days after the Oct. 7 attacks.
In the Palestinian community of Beit Safafa, encircled by these developments, work has also resumed on the Givat Hamatos and new Givat Shaked projects.
Givat Hamatos was shut down for a decade after international opposition. Work resumed in 2020, and last month the site was bustling with workers, heavy machinery, and trucks.
Givat Shaked, which received full planning permission on Jan. 4, will be built on the northwestern side of Beit Safafa.
It entails high-rise buildings with 700 housing units on the only land in Beit Safafa where the 17,000-strong Muslim majority could expand to accommodate young people. Palestinians are unable to build larger homes in the neighborhood, as well as elsewhere, due to bureaucratic and other restrictions.
The Givat Shaked project has faced significant opposition due to potential threats to the Oslo peace accords, leading to international criticism and a temporary halt urged by the US.
Despite this, the project gained momentum two years ago, endorsed by then Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
He rejected any claims of Palestinian control over Jerusalem’s east, and said it was “unthinkable to prevent development and construction in this area, or anywhere else in the city.”
“Our family has been here for 250 years … Now I have a black hole in my heart because I can’t see how my children and grandchildren can spend their lives here,” Ahmed Salman, the chair of Beit Safafa’s community council, told the Guardian.
“We had good relations with the municipality once, but not in recent years. Since the war, life goes on, but they approved the plan and dismissed all our objections. We are appealing, but I’m not optimistic,” the 71-year-old said.
Another contentious project, the Lower Aqueduct, was fully approved on Dec. 29. This settlement is planned adjacent to a Palestinian neighborhood, further complicating the demographic and political landscape.
“Many of the settlement plans are strategically designated for areas along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem,” Amy Cohen, of Israeli human rights NGO Ir Amim, said.
Cohen added: “If constructed, they would further fracture the Palestinian space … and create a ‘sealing-off’ effect of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank.
“Such moves directly undermine conditions necessary for a viable independent Palestinian state with a contiguous capital in East Jerusalem. All this while bringing planning and building for Palestinians in the city to a complete stop.”
The surge in settlement activity aligns with the goals of the Israeli settler movement, supported by Israel’s current government, which is described by a UN report as the most right-wing in the nation’s history.
Palestinians account for roughly 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population of around 1 million. Successive Israeli governments have sought to maintain the city’s Jewish majority.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move that was not recognized by the majority of the international community. International law prohibits the permanent settlement of militarily occupied territory.
This expansion challenges the possibility of a Palestinian state and strains Israel’s relations with the international community, including the Biden administration.
 


El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo

Updated 25 min 16 sec ago
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El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo

  • Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with Russia’s spy chief Sergei Naryshkin, and his accompanying delegation, in Cairo
  • Talks focused on the situation in the Middle East and ways to achieve regional stability amid the crisis in the Gaza Strip and escalating regional tensions

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi hosted Russian spy chief Sergei Naryshkin and his accompanying delegation in Cairo.

The meeting was attended by the director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel.

Talks focused on the situation in the Middle East and ways to achieve regional stability amid the crisis in the Gaza Strip and escalating regional tensions.

Ahmed Fahmy, presidential spokesman, said that El-Sisi and Naryshkin also discussed a number of African issues, counterterrorism efforts and the latest developments in the international arena, especially in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

They reviewed Egypt’s efforts to quell regional tensions. El-Sisi highlighted Egypt’s vision regarding the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid into the enclave. The Egyptian leader called for fundamental steps to defuse regional tensions.

Egypt also supports a just and comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian issue, and the establishment of the Palestinian state, along the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, El-Sisi said.

The two sides reiterated their commitment to coordination based on longstanding historical ties.

On April 11, El-Sisi spoke to Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer via telephone.

The Egyptian leader highlighted the importance of the international community preventing military escalation in Gaza and a humanitarian catastrophe.

He warned of the “extreme danger” of regional escalation, which “threatens the security and stability” of the Middle East.


US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones

Updated 17 April 2024
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US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones

  • Houthis fired two drones at US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea, but they were intercepted by US Navy forces before reaching their objectives
  • Houthis said that the US and UK launched two airstrikes on Bajil District in the western province of Hodeidah

AL-MUKALLA: The US Central Command said its forces destroyed on Tuesday two drones fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia, the latest round of skirmishes between the US-led marine coalition and the Houthis in the Red Sea.

On Tuesday morning, the Houthis fired two drones at US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea, but they were intercepted by US Navy forces before reaching their objectives. “There were no injuries or damage reported by U.S., coalition, or commercial ships. It was determined the UAVs presented an imminent threat to U.S., coalition, and merchant vessels in the region,” CENTCOM said in a statement on X on Wednesday morning.

The Houthis said that the US and UK launched two airstrikes on Bajil District in the western province of Hodeidah on Tuesday but provided no information about the targeted locations or if they caused any human or property damage.

Since November, the Houthis have launched hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones at commercial and navy ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and Gulf of Aden, claiming to be acting in sympathy with Palestinians. In response to the Houthi attacks, the US formed a coalition of marine forces to defend the Red Sea and launched hundreds of airstrikes on Houthi targets in Sanaa, Saada, and other Yemeni areas under Houthi control.


Israel-Hamas talks on Gaza truce ‘stalling’: mediator Qatar

A cloud of smoke erupts down the road as a man drives an animal-drawn cart loaded with jerrycans in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
Updated 17 April 2024
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Israel-Hamas talks on Gaza truce ‘stalling’: mediator Qatar

  • “We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this stalling,” Qatar’s prime minister said

DOHA: Negotiations between Israel and Hamas to secure a truce in Gaza and a release of hostages have stalled, Qatar’s prime minister said on Wednesday.
“We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this stalling,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a news conference with Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu.
Qatar, with the United States and Egypt, has been engaged in weeks of behind-the-scenes talks to secure a truce in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Negotiators are trying to “move forward and put an end to the suffering that the people in Gaza are experiencing and returning the hostages,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
The mediators had hoped to secure a ceasefire before the start of Ramadan, but progress repeatedly faltered without any cessation of hostilities in the Muslim holy month which ended last week.
Instead, fears have grown of the months-long war in Gaza spilling over into a regional conflict after Iran’s first-ever direct attack on its arch-foe Israel this weekend.
The Qatari premier said Doha had “warned from the beginning of this war against the expansion of the circle of conflict, and today we see conflicts on different fronts.”
“We constantly call on the international community to assume its responsibilities and stop this war,” he added, saying people of Gaza faced “siege and starvation” with humanitarian aid being used as a “tool for political blackmail.”
The war began when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel that resulted in about 1,170 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s military has waged a retaliatory offensive against Hamas that has killed 33,899 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Palestinian militants seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages during the October 7 attack on Israel, but dozens were released during a week-long truce in November.
Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.


Hezbollah says targeted Israel base in retaliation for fighters’ killing

Updated 17 April 2024
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Hezbollah says targeted Israel base in retaliation for fighters’ killing

  • Galilee Medical Center in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya said that it had received ‘14 wounded people... including two who are seriously wounded’
  • Hezbollah said the attack came ‘in response to the enemy assassinating a number of resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah group said it attacked an Israeli army base on Wednesday, with Israeli medics reporting the strike wounded 14 people, including two seriously, in a northern village.
Israel and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Hamas ally, have been exchanging near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7, triggering war in the Gaza Strip.
But Wednesday’s incident marked the third day in a row that Hezbollah strikes wounded people in Israel, with regional tensions high after Iran launched a direct attack on Israel over the weekend in retaliation for a deadly strike on Tehran’s Damascus consulate.
Hezbollah said it launched “a combined attack with guided missiles and explosive drones on a new military reconnaissance command center in Arab Al-Aramshe,” an Arab-majority village of northern Israel near the Lebanese border.
The Galilee Medical Center in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya said in a statement it had received “14 wounded people... including two who are seriously wounded.”
Hezbollah said the attack came “in response to the enemy assassinating a number of resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya” on Tuesday.
According to the Israeli army, “a number of launches from Lebanon were identified crossing into the area of Arab Al-Aramshe,” and Israeli forces struck the sources of the fire.
On Tuesday, Israel said its strikes in south Lebanon killed two local Hezbollah commanders and another operative, with the Iran-backed group saying three of its members were killed as it launched rockets in retaliation.
Local Israeli authorities said three people were wounded in a strike from Lebanon earlier that day.
On Monday, Hezbollah targeted Israeli troops with explosive devices, wounding four soldiers who crossed into Lebanese territory, the first such attack in six months of clashes.
The violence has killed at least 368 people in Lebanon, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also at least 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In Israel, the military says 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed near the northern border since hostilities began.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes on both sides of the border, with the violence fueling fears of all-out conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, which last went to war in 2006.