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.”



Israeli PM Netanyahu says he will fight any sanctions on army battalions

Updated 2 min 43 sec ago

Israeli PM Netanyahu says he will fight any sanctions on army battalions

  • On Saturday, Axios news site reported that Washington was planning to impose sanctions on Israel’s Netzah Yehuda battalion
  • “If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) — I will fight it with all my strength,” Netanyahu said

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would fight against sanctions being imposed on any Israeli military units after media reported that Washington was planning such a step against a battalion for alleged rights violations.
On Saturday, Axios news site reported that Washington was planning to impose sanctions on Israel’s Netzah Yehuda battalion that has operated in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli military said it was not aware of any measures being taken.
“If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) — I will fight it with all my strength,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
The Israeli military said that Netzah Yehuda battalion is an active combat unit that operates according to the principles of international law.
“Following publications about sanctions against the battalion, the IDF is not aware of the issue. If a decision is made on the matter it will be reviewed. The IDF works and will continue to work to investigate any unusual event in a practical manner and according to law,” the military said.

Iran’s Khamenei praises ‘success’ of military after Israel attack

Updated 21 April 2024

Iran’s Khamenei praises ‘success’ of military after Israel attack

  • Supreme leader: ‘The armed forces showed a good image of their abilities and power and an admirable image of the Iranian nation’

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the country’s armed forces for their “success” in his first public comments since Tehran launched an unprecedented direct attack on Israel last week.
In a meeting with Iranian military commanders on Sunday, Khamenei praised the armed forces for their “success in recent events,” a week after the country’s first-ever direct attack on Israel from its own territory.
“The armed forces showed a good image of their abilities and power and an admirable image of the Iranian nation,” Khamenei said. “They also proved the emergence of the power of the Iranian nation’s determination at the international level.”
The remarks from Iran’s supreme leader are the first since Iran attacked Israel and since a reported Israeli attack on a military air base in central Isfahan province on Friday.
“The armed forces’ recent achievements have created a sense of splendour and magnificence about Islamic Iran in the eyes of the world,” Khamenei said in quotes posted on his official X account.
The Friday strike, which Khamenei did not mention, was a presumed response to Iran’s unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel which was itself a retaliation for an airstrike on the Iranian consular building in Damascus.
That attack, widely blamed on Israel, levelled the consular annex of the Iranian embassy and killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, including two generals.
Israel said it intercepted 99 percent of the more than 300 drones and missiles fired at it, with the aid of the United States and other allies and that those which got through caused only minor damage.
Addressing his country’s attack on Israel, Khamenei said “the issue of the number of missiles fired or the missiles that hit the target” was “secondary.”
“The main issue is the emergence of the willpower of the Iranian nation and the armed forces in the international arena,” he said, according to his official website.
Iran and Israel appeared to have stepped back from the brink of a broader conflict following Friday’s attack, which Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian appeared to downplay to US media on Saturday.
Speaking to NBC News, he dismissed it as “no attack” and said the weapons used were “at the level of toys,” adding that if there was “no new adventure” by Israel then Iran “will have no response.”
The comments helped to dampen fears of an all-out war between the arch-foes which could spread into a wider regional conflict.

Hamas says US military aid to Israel ‘green light’ for Gaza ‘aggression’

Updated 21 April 2024

Hamas says US military aid to Israel ‘green light’ for Gaza ‘aggression’

  • Condemns US House of Representatives’ approval of billions of dollars in new military aid to Israel

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Palestinian militant group Hamas on Sunday condemned the US House of Representatives’ approval of billions of dollars in new military aid to Israel, much of which is to strengthen Israeli air defenses.

“This support, which violates international law, is a license and a green light for the Zionist extremist government (Israel) to continue the brutal aggression against our people,” Hamas said in a statement.

“We consider this step a confirmation of the official American complicity and partnership in the war of extermination waged by the fascist occupation army against our Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.”

On Saturday, the US House of Representatives approved $13 billion in military assistance to America’s historic ally Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Washington is already Israel’s largest military supplier.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the “much appreciated aid bill” showed strong support for Israel and “defends Western civilization.”

The US bill said that more than $9 billion will also be earmarked to address “the dire need for humanitarian assistance for Gaza as well as other vulnerable populations around the world.”

Iran president to visit Pakistan, boost ties: Islamabad

Updated 21 April 2024

Iran president to visit Pakistan, boost ties: Islamabad

  • Ebrahim Raisi will be accompanied by ‘a high-level delegation comprising the foreign minister... as well as a large business delegation’

ISLAMABAD: Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi will travel to Islamabad on Monday to meet his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said, as the two countries seek to mend ties following deadly cross-border attacks this year.
Raisi will be accompanied by “a high-level delegation comprising the foreign minister... as well as a large business delegation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
The tit-for-tat missile strikes in January in the porous border region of Balochistan — split between the two nations — stoked regional tensions already inflamed by the Israel-Hamas war.
Tehran carried out the strikes against an anti-Iran group in Pakistan the same week it targeted Iraq and Syria.
Pakistan responded with a raid on “militant targets” in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province, one of the few mainly Sunni Muslim regions in Shiite-dominated Iran.
Both countries have in the past accused each other of sheltering militants.
A visit to Islamabad by Tehran’s foreign minister led to the two sides pledging to improve dialogue and install liaison officers in both countries.
Sistan-Balochistan province has for years faced unrest involving cross-border drug-smuggling gangs and rebels from the Baloch ethnic minority, and Muslim extremists.
Raisi will also visit Lahore and Karachi to meet provincial leaders, according to the statement.
The countries will further strengthen ties and enhance cooperation in “trade, connectivity, energy, agriculture, and people-to-people contacts,” it added.
Pakistan is counting on a joint gas project with Iran to solve a long-running power crisis that has sapped its economic growth.
A $7.5-billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline intended to feed Pakistani power plants was inaugurated with great fanfare in March 2013.
But the project immediately stagnated following international sanctions on Iran.
Tehran has built its own section of the 1,800-kilometer (1,100-mile) pipeline, which should eventually link its South Pars gas fields to the Pakistani city of Nawabshah, near Karachi.
In February, Pakistan’s outgoing caretaker government approved the construction of an 80-kilometer section of the pipeline, primarily to avoid the payment of billions of dollars in penalties to Iran due to years of delays.
Washington has warned that Pakistan could face US sanctions, saying it does not support the pipeline going forward.

Emir of Qatar begins Asia tour with state visit to Philippines

Updated 21 April 2024

Emir of Qatar begins Asia tour with state visit to Philippines

  • During his tour the emir will speak with the countries’ leaders and senior officials

DUBAI: The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad began his state visit to Manila, the Philippine capital, on Sunday as part of his Asia tour, reported the Qatar News Agency.

Sheikh Tamim received a welcome at Maharlika Presidential Airport from a delegation including Rafael Perpetuo Lotilla, minister of energy; Ahmed bin Saad Al-Humaidi, ambassador of Qatar to the Philippines; and Lilibeth Velasco Puno, ambassador of the Philippines to Qatar, along with several senior officials from the Philippine government and members of the Qatari embassy.

Accompanied by an official delegation, Sheikh Tamim’s itinerary includes visits to Bangladesh and Nepal following his time in the Philippines.

During his tour, the emir will speak with the countries’ leaders and senior officials, focusing on ways to enhance cooperation and discussing issues of common interest.

Additionally, agreements and memoranda of understanding are expected to be signed across various fields.