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

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.


• 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.”

US ‘disappointed’ by Israeli plans to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements, says Blinken

Updated 9 sec ago

US ‘disappointed’ by Israeli plans to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements, says Blinken

BUENOS AIRES: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday he was “disappointed” by an Israeli announcement that it plans to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Blinken said during a news conference in Buenos Aires that it was long-standing US policy that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Turkiye, Somalia to deepen military bonds after historic deal

Updated 23 February 2024

Turkiye, Somalia to deepen military bonds after historic deal

  • Ankara needs to ratify deal approved by African nation
  • Turkiye expanding military, economic footprint in Africa, say experts

Ankara: With Somalia partnering with Turkiye to help build its sea and naval capabilities, questions have now arisen about the potential regional impact of the tie-up, and why Ankara is expanding its military footprint overseas, including seeking a greater presence in the Red Sea.

Somalia’s cabinet approved on Wednesday the historic defense deal that authorized Turkiye to defend the African nation’s coastline for the next decade, amid tensions with Ethiopia, and mandated it to build a navy for the country.

Turkiye, whose navy has been operating off Somalia’s shores and in the Gulf of Aden under the UN mission since 2009, will not only build the African country’s navy but also train and equip personnel to counter illegal fishing in the latter’s territorial waters.

Turkiye has also been training Somalia’s soldiers for a few years in a bid to help the country develop its army.

Ankara also has its largest overseas military base in Mogadishu, while a Turkish company is operating the airport of the capital city.

“This agreement will put an end to the fear of terrorism, pirates, illegal fishing, poisoning, abuse and threats from abroad,” Somalia’s Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre was quoted by local press as saying during the cabinet meeting.

“Somalia will have a true ally, a friend, and a brother in the international arena,” he added.

Although the details of the agreement have yet to be disclosed, Somalia’s press claimed that the deal would give Turkiye 30 percent of the revenues coming from the Somali exclusive economic zone, which is rich in marine resources.

Considered a gateway to the continent, Somalia’s 3,025-km coastline is the longest in Africa.

The agreement needs to be ratified by Turkiye’s parliament and the president before being finalized.

Hakan Akbas, a senior advisor at Albright Stonebridge Group, said that this pact shows Turkiye’s growing ambition to become a key player in the Horn of Africa, enhancing its ties with Somalia and Ethiopia but excluding some Ethiopian agreements troubling Mogadishu.

“Turkiye’s recent strategic moves aim to bolster Somalia’s military, promote stability, and protect its interests through security, economic, and humanitarian efforts,” he added.

According to Akbas, this agreement reflects Turkiye’s bold foreign policy and strategy to establish key military and economic partnerships aimed at securing its interests in the region.

“This gives Somalia a very essential partner in matters of national security, counter-piracy, anti-terrorism, and border protection, including against illegal fishing. It is a win-win for both nations,” he said.

Earlier this month, Somalia’s Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur signed the framework agreement in Ankara that mandated Turkiye to protect Somalia’s territorial waters.

For Rashid Abdi, chief analyst at Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank, the deal gives Turkiye huge leverage to reshape Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

“Turkish navy will help rebuild Somali navy and will deploy ships to patrol its maritime Economic Protection Zone. Turkiye is now positioned to become Somalia’s top strategic partner,” he told Arab News.

However tensions still remain high in the region especially after Ethiopia and the breakaway Somaliland reached an agreement granting landlocked Addis Ababa access to the Red Sea and ensuring the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state.

Somaliland is still recognized internationally as part of Somalia although it controversially declared its independence in 1991. The deal had infuriated Somalia which considered it a breach of its territorial sovereignty.

As Ankara also has close ties with Ethiopia and provided it with military drones in 2022, how Turkiye will find a balance between the national interests of both countries remains to be seen especially regarding maritime violations.

Abdi thinks that the agreement will put Turkiye in a tight spot if Ankara seeks to enforce Somali sovereignty in breakaway Somaliland.

“It will also be viewed as provocative by Ethiopia which wants a military base on the Somaliland coast close to Bab Al-Mandeb,” he said.

“Turkiye has huge commercial interest in Ethiopia. Turkiye helped Ethiopian premier end the conflict in Tigray. For the time being, Turkiye will be walking a tightrope. It is therefore uncertain how Ankara will balance the competing demands of its two Horn allies — Ethiopia and Somalia. Ethiopia is a big market, home of the African Union and a regional hegemon. Upsetting Ethiopia and countering its regional interests in Somaliland will put Addis Ababa on a confrontation course with Ankara,” he added.

In December, the UN Security Council lifted its three-decade arms embargo on Somalia’s government.

“The latest defense deal with Somalia is anchored in a meticulously crafted intellectual framework spanning a decade,” said international relations professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

“Ankara recently announced the provision of a second batch of MILGEM corvettes to the Ukrainian navy. Turkiye’s forthcoming endeavor to assist Somalia in bolstering its naval forces will mark the country’s second significant contribution to a foreign navy,” he added.

According to Guvenc, Turkiye’s strategy in Africa began with bolstering trade and economic ties before seeking to provide military training and high-end Turkish weapons systems.

“Turkiye recently constructed Istanbul-class frigates for its naval forces exemplifying the country’s expanding maritime prowess extending from Istanbul to the Gulf of Aden without requiring refueling stops,” he said.

Turkiye also took part in the multinational Combined Task Force 151 to prevent piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia. Turkiye took command of the task force six times.

“Turkish Naval Forces have shown a high effectiveness and even in instances where Turkiye didn’t commit ships, its commanders were preferred due to their intimate understanding of regional challenges,” said Guvenc.

Despite acknowledging the strategic significance of the deal, experts caution that its implementation demands substantial investment and logistical capabilities from Turkiye.

“In 2014, Turkish Naval Forces started its circumnavigation of Africa and toured the continent twice. But this time, Turkiye needs to double and maybe triple its naval forces for effective outreach across the vast region,” Guvenc said.

“Overseas bases give countries a significant prestige and put them among countries which have outreach to the remote regions of the world. It is a key indicator for the power hierarchies because it means that the country is able to project strategic power from its naval influence,” he added.

However, Guvenc sees some “political” risks with the deal.

“Turkiye has traditionally refrained from taking part in intra-African conflicts. It has always taken a standing that was above conflicts. But it remains to be seen to what extent it could safeguard Somali interests by force or whether it would have to be involved in local conflicts. It is also technically difficult to protect the exclusive economic zone of Somalia which intersects with issues like illegal fishing activities and potential clashes with other nations in the region,” he said.

Hamas awaiting new truce proposal from mediators’ talks with Israel

Updated 23 February 2024

Hamas awaiting new truce proposal from mediators’ talks with Israel

  • Mediators ramp up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on Rafah

CAIRO/RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Hamas wrapped up ceasefire talks in Cairo and is now waiting to see what mediators bring back from weekend talks with Israel, an official from the militant group said on Friday, in what appears to be the most serious push for weeks to halt the fighting.

Mediators have ramped up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than a million displaced people are sheltering at the southern edge of the enclave.

An Israeli delegation led by the head of the country’s overseas intelligence agency arrived in Paris on Friday to “unblock” talks for a ceasefire in Gaza, an Israeli official said.

Mossad director David Barnea will be joined in the French capital by his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security agency, Ronen Bar, Israeli media reported.

Israel says it will attack the city if no truce agreement is reached soon. Washington has called on its close ally not to do so, warning of vast civilian casualties if an assault on the city goes ahead.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a truce this past week on his first visit since December. Israel is now expected to participate in talks this weekend in Paris with US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

Two Egyptian security sources confirmed that Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel would head on Friday to Paris for the talks with the Israelis, after wrapping up talks with Hamas chief Haniyeh on Thursday. Israel has not publicly commented on the Paris talks.

The Hamas official, who asked not to be identified, said the militant group did not offer any new proposal at the talks with the Egyptians, but was waiting to see what the mediators brought back from their upcoming talks with the Israelis.

“We discussed our proposal with them (the Egyptians) and we are going to wait until they return from Paris,” the Hamas official said.

The last time similar talks were held in Paris, at the start of February, they produced an outline for the first extended ceasefire of the war, approved by Israel and the United States. Hamas responded with a counterproposal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then rejected as “delusional.”

Hamas, which is still believed to be holding more than 100 hostages seized in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that precipitated the war, says it will free them only as part of a truce that ends with an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel says it will not pull out until Hamas is eradicated.

Late on Thursday, Netanyahu presented his security cabinet with an official plan for Gaza once the fighting stops. He emphasized that Israel expects to maintain security control over the enclave after destroying Hamas, and also sees no role for there for the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank.

Washington favors a role for a reformed PA.

Two Palestinian officials familiar with the negotiations said Hamas has not changed its stance in the latest push to reach a deal, and still demands that a truce end with an Israeli pullout.


Israeli planes and tanks pounded areas across Gaza Strip overnight, residents and health officials said. The Gaza health ministry said 104 people had been killed and 160 others were wounded in Israeli military strikes in the past 24 hours.

In Rafah, where over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering, an Israeli air strike on a house killed 10 people. Several other air strikes hit throughout the city, worsening fears by the displaced people of expanded Israeli ground operations.

At a morgue in Rafah, a family knelt by the body of their child, killed by overnight Israeli strikes. They tenderly touched and stroked the small body through a shroud.

Airstrikes also killed civilians overnight in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza, one of the few other areas yet to be stormed by the Israelis. In video obtained by Reuters, bereaved families crowded a hospital, where Ahmed Azzam held up the body of his dead baby son wrapped in a shroud, shouting: “You killed them Netanyahu. You killed this innocent child!“

At least 29,514 Palestinians have been killed and 69,616 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since Oct.7, the Gaza health ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Israel launched its months-long military campaign after militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on Oct 7.

In a summary of its operations in Gaza over the past 24 hours, the Israeli military said it had killed dozens of militants, located weapons and destroyed infrastructure in Khan Younis, western Khan Younis, central Gaza and Zaytoun in the north, where it also uncovered tunnel shafts.

Hezbollah says 2 paramedics, fighter dead in Israeli strike on Lebanon

Updated 23 February 2024

Hezbollah says 2 paramedics, fighter dead in Israeli strike on Lebanon

  • Israeli army said late Thursday it had struck a Hezbollah “military compound” in south Lebanon’s Blida

Beirut: Two paramedics affiliated with Hezbollah and one of the group’s fighters have been killed in an Israeli strike on a south Lebanon border village, the group and a security source said Friday.
The Israeli army said late Thursday it had struck a Hezbollah “military compound” in south Lebanon’s Blida, amid near-daily cross-border fire between the arch foes since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7.
The Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Health Committee said two of its paramedics were killed in a “direct” Israeli attack on a civil defense center in Blida, while Hezbollah also announced the death of one of its fighters.
The Islamic Health Committee said the attack caused “the destruction of the health center as well as a number of ambulances.”
The Lebanese security source, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said a strike on Thursday “targeted the Islamic Health Committee center in the village of Blida.”
The Israeli army said late Thursday that it had identified fighters “entering a Hezbollah military compound in the area of Blida.”
“Fighter jets were scrambled and struck the compound where the terrorists were identified,” it said in a statement.
Hezbollah said it launched a drone attack on northern Israel on Friday in retaliation for strikes “on southern villages and civilian houses, most recently the attack on a civil defense center in Blida.”
The night before, the Iran-backed group said it fired rockets at an Israeli barracks in response to the Blida attack, but did not announced any casualties at the time.
The violence on Israel’s northern border has sparked fears of another full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah like that of 2006.
Last month, the Shiite Muslim movement said an Israeli strike killed two affiliated medics in south Lebanon’s Hanin, calling it a “blatant attack.”
The Lebanese group, which says it is acting in support of its ally Hamas, on Thursday had already announced rocket fire on Israel after two of its fighters were killed, later calling one of them a “commander” in a funeral notice.
The security source said one of the two killed in an Israeli drone strike in south Lebanon’s Kfar Rumman was involved in the movement’s “rocket capabilities.”
Since October, at least 276 people have been killed on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 44 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and six civilians have been killed, according to the Israeli army.

Sudan’s warring sides commit abuses, including strikes on fleeing civilians, UN report says

Updated 23 February 2024

Sudan’s warring sides commit abuses, including strikes on fleeing civilians, UN report says

  • Efforts have so far failed to end the 10-month-old conflict that pits Sudan’s regular armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces

GENEVA: Both sides in Sudan’s civil war have committed abuses that may amount to war crimes including indiscriminate attacks on civilian sites like hospitals, markets and even camps for the displaced, the UN human rights office said on Friday.
Efforts have so far failed to end the 10-month-old conflict that pits Sudan’s regular armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Thousands of people have been killed and over six million forced to flee their homes, making it the country with the largest displaced population in the world.
“Some of these violations would amount to war crimes,” Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement accompanying the report. “The guns must be silenced, and civilians must be protected.”
The US has already formally determined that the warring parties have committed war crimes and said the RSF and allied militias were involved in ethnic cleansing in West Darfur. Both sides have said they would investigate reports of killings and abuses and prosecute any fighters found to be involved.
The United Nations report covers the April-December period and is based on interviews with over 300 victims and witnesses as well as footage and satellite imagery.
It says that sometimes those fleeing for their lives or displaced by the violence became victims of explosive weapons attacks.
In one incident, dozens of displaced people were killed when their camp in Zalingei, Darfur was shelled by RSF between Sept. 14-17, the report said. Some 26 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed on Aug. 22 by shells reportedly fired by the Sudanese Armed Forces while sheltering under a bridge.
The report also says the RSF had adopted a military strategy of using human shields, citing testimonies of victims involved.
It describes incidents in the capital Khartoum where dozens of individuals were arrested and placed outside near RSF military posts to deter air strikes from Sudanese fighter jets.
UN investigators have so far documented cases of sexual violence affecting 118 people, including one women who was detained and repeatedly gang-raped for weeks. Many of the rapes were committed by RSF members, it said.
Reuters has also documented cases of gang rape in ethnically targeted attacks by RSF forces and allied Arab militia.
The war erupted last April over disputes about the powers of the army and the RSF under an internationally-backed plan for a political transition toward civilian rule and free elections.