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

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Updated 03 December 2023
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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.”

 

 


UN experts urge ‘immediate’ stop of arms transfers to Israel

Updated 23 February 2024
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UN experts urge ‘immediate’ stop of arms transfers to Israel

  • Transfers are prohibited even if exporting state does not intend arms to be used in violation of law
  • ‘Israel has repeatedly failed to comply with international law,’ say experts

GENEVA: Any transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and must cease immediately, UN experts warned on Friday.
“All states must ‘ensure respect’ for international humanitarian law by parties to an armed conflict, as required by 1949 Geneva Conventions and customary international law,” a media statement quoted the experts as saying.
“States must accordingly refrain from transferring any weapon or ammunition — or parts for them — if it is expected, given the facts or past patterns of behavior, that they would be used to violate international law.”
According to the experts, such transfers are prohibited even if the exporting state does not intend the arms to be used in violation of the law — or does not know with certainty that they would be used in such a way — as long as there is a clear risk.
Meanwhile, the UN experts welcomed the decision of a Dutch appeals court on Feb. 12 ordering the Netherlands to halt the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel.
The court found that there was a “clear risk” that the parts would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law, as “there are many indications that Israel has violated the humanitarian law of war in a not insignificant number of cases.”
Israel has repeatedly failed to comply with international law, said the experts.
They noted that states party to the Arms Trade Treaty have additional treaty obligations to deny arms exports if they “know” that the arms “would” be used to commit international crimes, or if there is an “overriding risk” that the arms transferred “could” be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law.
EU member states are further bound by the bloc’s arms export control laws.
“The need for an arms embargo on Israel is heightened by the International Court of Justice’s ruling on Jan. 26, 2024, that there is a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza and the continuing serious harm to civilians since then,” the experts said.
The Genocide Convention of 1948 requires states parties to employ all means reasonably available to them to prevent genocide in another state as far as possible.
“This necessitates halting arms exports in the present circumstances,” the experts added.
They further welcomed the suspension of arms transfers to Israel by Belgium, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the Japanese company Itochu Corp.
The EU also recently discouraged arms exports to Israel.
Moreover, the experts urged other states to immediately halt arms transfers to Israel, including export licenses and military aid.
The US and Germany are by far the largest arms exporters and shipments have increased since the attack by Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7. Other military exporters include France, the UK, Canada and Australia.
The experts further noted that arms transfers to Hamas and other armed groups are also prohibited by international law, given their grave violations of international humanitarian law during the October attack, including hostage-taking and subsequent indiscriminate rocket fire.
The duty to “ensure respect” for humanitarian law applies “in all circumstances”, including when Israel claims it is countering terrorism.
Military intelligence must also not be shared where there is a clear risk that it would be used to violate international humanitarian law.
“State officials involved in arms exports may be individually criminally liable for aiding and abetting any war crimes, crimes against humanity or acts of genocide,” the experts said.


Israel kills 3 paramedics, Hezbollah official in Lebanon

Updated 23 February 2024
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Israel kills 3 paramedics, Hezbollah official in Lebanon

  • The airstrike targeted the top floor of a building in a residential neighborhood on the Kafr Rumman-Marjayoun Highway, killing Saleh and one other person, and wounding three people

BEIRUT: Israel killed a top Hezbollah official and three paramedics affiliated with the group in airstrikes on Thursday.

Hassan Mahmoud Saleh, a missile unit commander, was killed in the town of Kafr Rumman. The paramedics, from the Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Health Authority, were killed in the town of Blida.

The assassination of Saleh was Israel’s third high-profile strike on top officials belonging to the Axis of Resistance in Lebanon. It follows the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Saleh Al-Arouri and seven others in Beirut in January, and the killing of Ali Al-Debs, along with civilians, a week ago in Nabatiyeh.

The airstrike targeted the top floor of a building in a residential neighborhood on the Kafr Rumman-Marjayoun Highway, killing Saleh and one other person, and wounding three people.

The Israeli airstrike on the Civil Defense Center of the Islamic Health Authority in Blida on Thursday night led to the destruction of the building, with debris removal continuing until Friday morning.

Hezbollah mourned the three paramedics killed in the strike: Hussein Mohammed Khalil from the town of Baraachit, and Mohammed Yaacoub Ismail and Mohammed Hassan from Blida.

Social media videos showing the funeral processions revealed the extent of material devastation to local neighborhoods as a result of Israeli bombardment.

The funeral procession was attended by a crowd of Hezbollah supporters.

A security source monitoring field developments in southern Lebanon said: “Both Hezbollah and the Israeli army possess a dangerous information bank, with advanced tracking technology for the Israeli side.

“Hezbollah cadre Wissam Al-Tawil was targeted by a drone over a month ago in his town of Kherbet Selem immediately upon his return, and in return, Hezbollah targeted Israeli military positions.”

Hezbollah said: “In response to the attack on the civil defense center in Blida, it targeted, through an aerial attack with two drones, the headquarters of the Regional Council in Kiryat Shmona and accurately hit them.” ‏

The southern Lebanese border area came under Israeli attack on Friday morning. The town of Wazzani was targeted by gunfire and artillery, leading to the wounding of a Lebanese soldier and damage to homes and livestock farms.

While Blida mourned the three dead paramedics, the Israeli army opened fire on the town’s cemeteries, where residents were digging graves.

Israeli artillery hit the outskirts of Halta Farm, the forests of Kfarchouba, Kfarhamam and Jabal Al-Labouneh, as well as the outskirts of Naqoura on the coast.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Army announced “the conclusion of intensive training for warships equipped with missiles at sea in the north of the country.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz informed the UN Security Council presidency that his country “will enforce security on its northern borders militarily if the Lebanese government does not implement Resolution 1701 and prevent attacks from its borders on Israel.”

Katz’s statement also included unprecedented details about Iran’s transfer of weapons to Hezbollah via Syria, an apparent violation of Resolution 1701.

His comments appeared to signal the possibility of Israel launching a full-scale war on Lebanon.

Katz called on the Security Council to “demand that the government of Lebanon fully implement Resolution 1701 and ensure that the area up to the Litani River is free from military presence, assets or weapons.”

 


Artist’s mural in Gaza commemorates ‘buried dreams’ of Palestinian children

Updated 23 February 2024
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Artist’s mural in Gaza commemorates ‘buried dreams’ of Palestinian children

  • Calligrapher and photojournalist Bilal Khaled dedicated his artwork to the children of Gaza

GAZA: A Palestinian calligrapher and photojournalist has left a poignant “message to the world” via a large mural he painted on a building in Rafah, southern Gaza.

Bilal Khaled’s artwork, titled “Buried Dreams,” is dedicated to the children killed in an Israeli strike on the property.

At approximately 2.5 meters tall, the mural adorns the crumbling walls of the leveled building.

Photojournalist and calligrapher Bilal Khaled

He said: “I needed a mental breather from the genocide atmosphere and the smell of human remains, and at the same time, I wanted to leave a message for the world using the art that fascinates me – Arabic calligraphy.”

Khaled pointed out that he had included the word ahlam – Arabic for dreams – in the piece to commemorate the dreams of Gaza’s children.

“At least 13 people died in this building when an explosive barrel was dropped here. Many dreams have been buried under the rubble of this building,” he added.

Since Oct. 7, when Israel launched its bombing campaign in Gaza in retaliation for a deadly Hamas attack, more than 12,400 Palestinian children have been killed in strikes, according to Gaza health officials.

More than 600,000 children are trapped in Rafah on the Egyptian border after having fled with their families from other parts of the embattled Palestinian enclave.

On why he called his mural “Buried Dreams,” Khaled said: “These are the simple dreams of (Gaza’s) children, who want to live, have a home, and wear clean clothes. (The children of Gaza) have even lost the right to life.”


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

Updated 23 February 2024
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US ‘disappointed’ by Israeli plans to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements, says Blinken

  • New settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians

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
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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.