Frankly Speaking: How Saudi aid is making a difference to Gaza

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Updated 03 December 2023

Frankly Speaking: How Saudi aid is making a difference to Gaza

  • KSrelief supervisor general describes record Saudi donations via Sahem platform as proof of Arab world’s commitment to helping Palestinians
  • Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah decries "exhausting" processes placed by Israel for aid delivery, lauds "instrumental" cooperation of Egyptian authorities

DUBAI: The outpouring of support to Gaza from both the Saudi government and people has demonstrated the Arab world’s commitment to helping Palestinians, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of Saudi aid agency KSrelief, has said.

He suggested one need look no further than the figure of more than SR536.25 million ($143 million) already collected in donations for the beleaguered Gaza Strip through Saudi Arabia’s Sahem platform, which allows Saudis to donate directly to KSrelief’s projects.

“Nobody can deny the evidence and the numbers, and I think the Sahem platform is seen by the world,” Al-Rabeeah, who is also a skilled pediatric surgeon and adviser to the Saudi Royal Court, told the latest episode of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News’ weekly current affairs show.

The chronically poverty-stricken and food-insecure Gaza Strip was in serious need of humanitarian and development aid even before the conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted in early October.

Bombardment of the region by Israeli forces began on Oct. 7 after a series of Hamas attacks on and kidnappings in Israel. According to health officials in Gaza, more than 15,000 people, most of them civilians, have lost their lives in the enclave since that day.

With Israeli airstrikes showing no signs of abating and the humanitarian situation deteriorating, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced on Nov. 2 the start of a fundraising campaign for Gaza via Sahem.

In just five days, the donations had exceeded SR375 million. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman themselves donated SR30 million and SR20 million, respectively.

The sheer amount of donations — “one of the largest and quickest fundraising campaigns” in the long history of Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian efforts — flies in the face of many media reports that suggest that the Arab world does not care about Gaza.

Al-Rabeeah told Frankly Speaking that Israeli authorities have put limitations on the number of aid trucks and implemented a lengthy inspection process, causing potentially deadly delays in the delivery of food, shelter, and medicine. (AN Photo)

“We haven’t stopped yet,” Al-Rabeeah told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” on the subject of giving. “We have exceeded 1 million donors, which reflects the response of the people and their passion about the civilian situation and humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

The donations will continue to increase over the coming period, he said, adding that the record-breaking amount does not include in-kind donations.

He said: “Our businessmen have donated ambulances, medical equipment, food supplies, nutritious food and formula for children. These are not reflected on the platform, so we’re talking about a lot of donations.”

The first batch of Saudi aid arrived in Port Said on Nov. 25, with more than 1,000 tons of food, medical supplies, and shelter materials making its way towards Gaza.

The third relief ship departed from the Jeddah Islamic Port on Saturday, carrying 300 large containers, or 1,246 tons, of food, medical help, and supplies for shelter.

The first Saudi relief plane left Riyadh for Egypt’s El-Arish Airport on Nov. 9, carrying 35 tons of aid. By Dec. 1, KSrelief had operated its 24th aid relief flight for Gaza, which carried 31 tons of food and shelter materials.

While there is certainly no shortage of material support for the people of Gaza, Al-Rabeeah has denounced the processes that Israeli authorities have imposed before aid deliveries reach the Gaza Strip.

“The situation is challenging,” he said, drawing on his observations during recent visits to El-Arish Airport, where Saudi aid destined for Gaza arrives, and the Rafah crossing, the only border crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

He noted that aid trucks “have to go more than 50 kilometers to be examined and cleared by the Israeli forces, and then come back 50 kilometers.”

He added: “The assessment takes days to clear each truck. And then they must go through the Rafah corridor. This by itself is a significant challenge. It’s delaying the aid for those who are in extreme need.”

Al-Rabeeah said that despite the UN saying that Gaza requires a minimum of 400 trucks of aid per day, Israeli authorities were only allowing a maximum of about 140 each day.

These obstacles can be a matter of life and death, he said, pointing out that particularly vulnerable people, such as pregnant women, children, the elderly and the injured, cannot afford delays.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of KSrelief, met with Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of UNRWA, in Egypt. (SPA)

He said: “We’re talking about life by the minute. So, any delay means, as far as I’m concerned as a doctor, a risk of death.

“We have to gain every minute, we have to gain every hour, and we have to allow as many trucks (as we can) that are carrying nutrition for children, food for adults, and also medications that will maintain life.”

A more severe and obvious danger is present on the ground, one which Al-Rabeeah said is preventing Saudis from doing more to aid Palestinians.

Multiple reports from academics, humanitarian aid agencies and media groups have accused Israeli forces of killing healthcare and aid workers in Gaza, by targeting shelters, refugee camps, hospitals and ambulances.

Not even the UN has been spared Israeli targeting, with the organization reporting the deaths of more than 100 workers from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees since the Israeli military operation began in October.

Al-Rabeeah said: “For me, it is (painful) to see anybody attack and deliberately actually kill aid workers or health workers, or attack hospitals or even mosques, churches — you name it.

“Those acts are against all rules that we know of, against international humanitarian law, against also the principles of human beings. We hope that those attacks will stop immediately and no civilian, or health worker, or humanitarian worker is attacked or targeted.”

If their safety is guaranteed, he said, KSrelief was ready to send volunteer healthcare workers to help save lives in Gaza.

He added: “If the security situation allows, my team will be more than happy to go to Gaza and ensure that those people who are in dire need will receive the aid. We also want to see that the distribution (of aid) is appropriate.”

Despite the hurdles to be overcome, local and regional authorities are doing their best to facilitate humanitarian deliveries, according to Al-Rabeeah.

KSrelief has signed agreements with multiple international agencies, including UNRWA, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He added: “We have teams also in El-Arish who are located there to coordinate with the UN agencies, international agencies and regional agencies such as the Egyptian Red Crescent and the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Al-Rabeeah said Egyptian authorities had been very cooperative and had been instrumental to the work of KSrelief. (AN Photo)

“The flights are continuing from Riyadh to El-Arish daily, as are the shipments by sea. We have plans to keep those ships going on, and the flights going on, to ensure that we have enough supplies close to the corridors so that we can access them as quickly as we can.”

KSrelief and the Egyptian Red Crescent on Nov. 23 signed a memorandum of understanding for the cooperation of aid delivery to Gaza, facilitating the sending of aid by land and air routes.

Al-Rabeeah said: “The Egyptian authorities have been very cooperative. They have been instrumental to our work, and they have helped us a lot, either at El-Arish Airport or at the sea port of Port Said.”

He added that KSrelief had held multiple virtual meetings with the Palestine Red Crescent Society and UNRWA “to ensure that their … logistic needs are met.”

In addition to coordinating the massive undertaking of supporting Gaza with aid, Al-Rabeeah has a personal connection to the region.

He has performed dozens of operations in the last 30 years to separate conjoined twins as part of the Saudi Program for the Separation of Conjoined Twins, and in the process has helped make the Kingdom the world’s leader in such surgeries.

One such case is that of “Baby Haneen,” who was separated from her twin sister Farah by Al-Rabeeah in 2018 after they were permitted to travel to Saudi Arabia for the procedure. Farah died, but Haneen went on to recover after returning to Gaza.

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund reported that Haneen was alive and well in May this year, but her fate is now unknown.

Al-Rabeeah said: “Now I am not sure as of today whether Haneen is alive, whether her parents are alive, or all of this work that has been done by Saudi Arabia has been lost.

“It’s painful for me until I know that Haneen and her parents are alive.”



Iran says ‘concluded’ retaliation against Israel, summons Western envoys

Updated 17 min 43 sec ago

Iran says ‘concluded’ retaliation against Israel, summons Western envoys

  • Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi warns Israel and its allies against any ‘reckless’ actions

TEHRAN: Iran on Sunday urged Israel not to retaliate militarily to an unprecedented attack overnight, which Tehran presented as a justified response to a deadly strike on its consulate building in Damascus.
“The matter can be deemed concluded,” Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in a post on social media platform X just a few hours after the start of the operation late Saturday.
“However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” the Iranian mission warned.
Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi warned Sunday Israel and its allies against any “reckless” actions after Tehran’s drone and missile attack, which marked the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israeli territory.
“If the Zionist regime (Israel) or its supporters demonstrate reckless behavior, they will receive a decisive and much stronger response,” Raisi said in a statement.
After numerous countries condemned the attack, Tehran’s foreign ministry summoned the French, British, and German ambassadors “following the irresponsible positions of certain officials of these countries regarding Iran’s response,” a statement said.
Late Saturday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps announced that they had launched “dozens of drones and missiles” toward military sites on Israeli territory.
“Iran’s military action was in response to the Zionist regime’s aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus” earlier this month, the Iranian mission to the UN said, dubbing it “legitimate defense.”
Israel’s army said it had shot 99 percent of the drones and missiles with the help of the United States and other allies, declaring Iran’s attack “foiled.”
The Iranian army chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri said the attack has “achieved all its objectives.”
Bagheri said Iran’s retaliation targeted an “intelligence center” and the air base from which Tehran says the Israeli F-35 jets took off to strike the Damascus consulate on April 1.
“Both these centers were significantly destroyed and put out of order,” he said, though Israel maintains that the attack only resulted in minor damage.
“There is no intention to continue this operation,” he said.
Experts have suggested that Saturday’s slow-moving drone attack was calibrated to represent a show of power but also allow some wiggle room.
“It appears that Iran telegraphed its attack on Israel to demonstrate it can strike using different capabilities, to complicate the (Israeli army’s) ability to neutralize the assault but also to provide an off-ramp to pause escalation,” said Nishank Motwani, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Washington.
“Tehran can escalate if it chooses to across a range of vectors,” said Motwani, including via Lebanon’s Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah, sea attacks, “or hitting soft Israeli targets globally.”
Over the last two weeks, the Iranian authorities had repeatedly vowed to “punish” Israel after the death of seven Guards including two generals of the Quds Force in the attack that levelled the Iranian consulate in Damascus.
Iran has blamed Israel for the attack.
In the days after the strike, Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Israel will be “slapped for that action.”
Since a revolution in 1979 in Iran which toppled the US-backed Shah, Israel has been the sworn enemy of the Islamic republic.
Iran has often called for the destruction of Israel, with support of the Palestinian cause one of the pillars of the Islamic revolution.
However, until Saturday Tehran had also refrained from a direct attack on Israel.
Instead, it has backed members of the so-called “Axis of Resistance” against Israel, including Hezbollah and Yemen’s Tehran-aligned Houthi rebels, since the outbreak of war in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7.
Hours before the strikes on Saturday, Iran seized an Israeli-linked container ship in the Gulf which Washington called “an act of piracy.”
During the night, Tehran also warned the United States, urging it to “stay away” from its conflict with Israel.
“If necessary,” Tehran “will not hesitate to take defensive measures to protect its interests against any aggressive military action,” Iran’s foreign ministry said.
“The next slap will be fiercer,” warned a new mural unveiled overnight in Tehran’s Palestine Square, where several thousands gathered, shouting “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”
Before Tehran launched its attack, Israel warned Iran that it would suffer “the consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further.”
Israel has not revealed what a potential response would look like.
An Israeli attack on Iran’s territory, possibly targeting military or nuclear sites, could not be ruled out, according to experts.
As a precaution, Iran’s Imam Khomeini international airport and the Mehrabad airport, which is mainly dedicated to domestic flights, will remain closed until Monday at 06:00 am (0230 GMT), according to ISNA news agency.
Several international airlines have suspended flights over Iranian airspace.
Countries including Russia and France have asked their citizens to avoid traveling to Iran and Israel.

Hamas and Israel exchange recriminations over stalled Gaza talks

Updated 36 sec ago

Hamas and Israel exchange recriminations over stalled Gaza talks

  • Without explicitly rejecting the draft deal, Hamas reiterated its long-standing demands for a permanent ceasefire

JERUSALEM: Israel and Hamas have accused each other of undermining negotiations for a truce in Gaza and a hostage release deal, although the talks have not collapsed.

On Saturday, while Hamas-backer Iran was preparing to launch hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel in retaliation for a deadly Damascus strike, the Palestinian militant group announced that it had delivered its response to the latest ceasefire proposal.

Without explicitly rejecting the draft deal, Hamas reiterated its long-standing demands for a permanent ceasefire and the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, which Israeli officials have repeatedly opposed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instead reiterated his determination to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, the last city in Gaza yet to face such a fate and which Israel insists is Hamas’s last major holdout.

On Saturday, Netanyahu accused Hamas of being the “only obstacle” to a deal that would free the hostages still held by Gaza militants.

“The cabinet and the security forces are united in their opposition to these unfounded demands,” he said, adding that Hamas “has refused any deal and any compromise proposal.”

On Sunday, Israel’s Mossad spy agency said in a statement released by Netanyahu’s office that Hamas had rejected the proposal, and said it “proves” that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar “does not want a humanitarian deal and the return of the hostages.”

Sinwar was “continuing to exploit the tension with Iran,” Mossad said, and was aiming for “a general escalation in the region.”

The comments came just hours before Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel, the vast majority of which intercepted according to Israel.

Mossad said Israel would “continue to work to achieve the objectives of the war against Hamas with all its might, and will turn every stone to bring back the hostages from Gaza.”

Despite the apparent gulf between the two sides, the talks, mediated by Egypt, the United States and Qatar, are ongoing in the Egyptian capital.

“The negotiations are not at a standstill” but the mediators will have to go back to the drawing board, said Hasni Abidi of CERMAM, a Geneva-based think tank specializing in the Mediterranean and the Arab world.

A framework being circulated in Cairo would halt fighting for six weeks and see the exchange of about 40 hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, as well as more aid deliveries into the besieged Gaza Strip.

A Hamas source told AFP that, ultimately, later stages of the ceasefire would see all hostages released, Israel withdrawing all its forces from Gaza, the lifting of the siege and the reconstruction of the territory.

However, so far every attempt to negotiate a durable ceasefire in the six-month-long war has failed.

In November, a seven-day truce enabled the exchange of 80 hostages for 240 Palestinian prisoners, as well as 25 captives freed outside of the truce mechanism.

The war broke out with Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory attack, aimed at destroying Hamas, has killed at least 33,729 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Palestinian militants also took about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel withdrew most of its troops from the Gaza Strip on the six-month anniversary of the war, leaving only a single brigade in central Gaza, while continuing to launch air strikes and bombardments.

Netanyahu has repeated his determination to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, where around 1.5 million Gazans are sheltering from the war, despite opposition from Israel’s top ally the United States.

He also faces increasing pressure from the Israeli public and the families of the hostages, with mass weekly demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem demanding an end to his government and the return of the captives.

Iraq PM arrives in Washington

Updated 14 April 2024

Iraq PM arrives in Washington

Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shiaa Al-Sudani arrived in Washington, DC, on Sunday embarking on an official visit at the invitation of US President Joe Biden.

Discussions during Al-Sudani's visit will encompass various aspects of the bilateral relationship between the US and Iraq, including security and defense partnership and economic ties.

This emphasis on economic cooperation comes amidst ongoing negotiations between Washington and Baghdad concerning the future of the US-led military coalition in Iraq. As both parties engage in dialogue, the visit presents a significant opportunity to bolster economic collaboration and deepen the longstanding ties between the United States and Iraq.

Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon reopen airspace after Iran attacks

Updated 14 April 2024

Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon reopen airspace after Iran attacks

  • Jordan’s state TV said the country had resumed air traffic operations, citing aviation authorities
  • Tehran’s Mehrabad airport and airports in several other Iranian cities have canceled domestic flights

CAIRO: Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon have reopened their airspace on Sunday after closing it late on Saturday as Iran launched drone and missile attacks against Israel, the three countries said on Sunday.

Jordan’s state TV said the country had resumed air traffic operations, citing aviation authorities. The opening of its airspace came more than three hours earlier than scheduled. 

Jordan announced the closure of its airspace to all incoming, departing, and transiting flights temporarily starting from 20:00 UTC, 11:00pm local time on Saturday, for several hours. 

The commission said at the time that the decision was taken to ensure the security and safety of civil aviation in the Jordanian airspace.

Iraq’s aviation authority said security risks had now been overcome.

Many flying objects were spotted over Jordan with images and videos circulated on social media showing air-defense systems shooting them down over the capital Amman and the northwestern regions on the borders with Syria and Israel.

Following a cabinet meeting early on Sunday, Jordanian government called for self-restraint and de-escalation, the Jordanian news agency, Petra, reported.

The government also said that Jordan dealt with some “flying objects” over the Kingdom on Sunday night and shot them down, adding that some shrapnels fell on uninhabited areas and no injuries were reported.

Lebanon said its airport will resume its activities after the overnight closure, state TV reported.

Tehran’s Mehrabad airport and airports in several other Iranian cities have canceled domestic flights until Monday morning due to Middle East tensions, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Sunday, as the country’s western airspace remains off limits to flights.

Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel late on Saturday — its first direct attack on Israeli territory in a retaliatory strike that raises the threat of wider regional conflict.

Jordan, which lies between Iran and Israel, had readied air defenses to intercept any drones or missiles that violated its territory, two regional security sources said.

US and British warplanes were involved in shooting down some Israel-bound drones over the Iraq-Syria border area, Israel’s Channel 12 reported.

Iranian airports cancel flights until Monday morning

Several Iranian airports including Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International have canceled flights until Monday, Iranian state media reported on Sunday, as tensions flared in the Middle East with Iran’s attack on Israel overnight.

“All flights from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport have been canceled until 6 a.m. (0230 GMT) following an announcement by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization,” the airport’s executive told the Iranian Student News Agency.
Domestic flights from Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport and airports in Shiraz, Isfahan, Bushehr, Kerman, Ilam, and Sanandaj have also been canceled until Monday morning, according to Iran’s Airports and Air Navigation Company, as the country’s western airspace remains off limits to flights.
Major airlines across the Middle East have announced the cancelation of some of their flights, while having to reroute others.


Israel’s Netanyahu vows victory after Iran strikes, fears of wider conflict grow

Updated 14 April 2024

Israel’s Netanyahu vows victory after Iran strikes, fears of wider conflict grow

  • Iran had relied on its proxies across the region to attack Israeli and US targets in a show of support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas
  • Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday his country would achieve victory after the military said it shot down almost all the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran in a sharp escalation of the Middle East conflict.
Tehran’s attacks late on Saturday, launched after a suspected Israeli air strike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 that killed officers of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, raised the threat of a wider regional conflict.
Iran had relied on its proxies across the region to attack Israeli and US targets in a show of support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza war with Israel, which shows no sign of easing despite numerous mediations efforts.
“We intercepted, we repelled, together we shall win,” Netanyahu posted on X.
The Israeli military said the armed forces had shot down more than 99 percent of the Iranian drones and missiles and were discussing follow-up options.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack.
The war in Gaza, which Israel invaded after an attack by Iran-backed Hamas on Oct. 7, has ratcheted up tensions in the region, spreading to fronts with Lebanon and Syria and drawing long-range fire at Israeli targets from as far away as Yemen and Iraq.

Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi warned Sunday Israel and its allies against any “reckless” actions after Tehran’s drone and missile attack in retaliation for a deadly strike on its Damascus consulate.

“If the Zionist regime (Israel) or its supporters demonstrate reckless behavior, they will receive a decisive and much stronger response,” Raisi said in a statement.

’Push toward escalation'
Iran’s most powerful ally in the region, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah — which has been exchanging fire with Israel since the Gaza war began — said early on Sunday it had fired rockets at an Israeli base.
Drones were also reportedly launched against Israel by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, which has attacked shipping lanes in an around the Red Sea to show solidarity with Hamas, British maritime security company Ambrey said in a statement.
Those clashes now threaten to morph into a direct open conflict pitting Iran and its regional allies against Israel and its main supporter, the United States. Regional power Egypt urged “utmost restraint.”
Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, called Iran’s actions “very grave,” telling a televised briefing they “push the region toward escalation.”
Iran launched dozens of ground-to-ground missiles at Israel, including more than 10 cruise missiles, and most were intercepted outside Israeli borders, Hagari said.
The Iranian salvo caused light damage to one Israeli military facility, he said.
The Israeli military said it was not advising residents to prepare to take shelter, revising an earlier alert in an apparent signal of the end of the threat.
UN Security Council to meet
Iran had vowed retaliation for what it called the Israeli strike on its embassy compound that killed seven Revolutionary Guard officers, including two senior commanders. Tehran said its strike was punishment for “Israeli crimes.” Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the consulate attack.
“Should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” the Iranian mission to the United Nations said, warning the US to “stay away.” However, it also said Iran now “deemed the matter concluded.”
US President Joe Biden, who spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he would convene a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven major economies on Sunday to coordinate a diplomatic response to what he called Iran’s brazen attack.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said America did not seek conflict with Iran but would not hesitate to act to protect US forces and support defense of Israel.
The UN Security Council was set to meet at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Sunday after Israel requested it condemn Iran’s attack and designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.
Iran’s Fars news agency quoted a source as saying Tehran was closely watching Jordan, which might become the next target is case of any moves in support of Israel.
Israel and Lebanon said they were closing their airspace on Saturday night. Israel reopened its airspace at 0430 GMT on Sunday, its airports authority said. Jordan, which lies between Iran and Israel, had readied air defenses to intercept any drone or missile that violated its territory, two regional security sources said.
Residents in several Jordanian cities said they heard heavy aerial activity.
Syria, an ally of Iran, said it was putting its ground-to-air defense systems around the capital and major bases on high alert, army sources there said.
The European Union, Britain, Japan, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Mexico, the Netherlands and Norway condemned Iran’s attack.