Israel, Hamas must ‘de-escalate, allow humanitarians to operate,’ ICRC DG Robert Mardini tells Arab News

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Updated 07 December 2023
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Israel, Hamas must ‘de-escalate, allow humanitarians to operate,’ ICRC DG Robert Mardini tells Arab News

  • Senior official of International Committee of the Red Cross doubles down on calls to warring sides to respect Geneva Conventions
  • Expresses gratitude for strong Saudi support in Gaza and Sudan, wants humanitarian partnership to climb new heights

RIYADH: Despite the daily efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross to “step up, to scale up, to send more people on the ground in Gaza,” humanitarians “can only do so much,” according to Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s director general.

He made the comment in the course of an interview on Tuesday with Arab News in Riyadh, where he held a meeting with officials from the Saudi aid agency KSrelief.

“We cannot cope with this magnitude of needs and we want the parties in the conflict, the Israeli side and the Hamas side, to de-escalate and to create the conditions for humanitarians to be able to operate at the level that is required,” Mardini said.

He added that the current level and intensity of fighting in Gaza makes humanitarians’ ability to operate at the levels required “impossible.”

He said: “No meaningful humanitarian response is possible under the current circumstances. This is why we have to, in parallel to doing everything we can to step up the humanitarian response, double down on repeating and reiterating our calls to the parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under the rules of war, the Geneva Conventions.”

Mardini made it clear that as humanitarians, the ICRC will continue to push the limits of the possible to “make a difference for the people in Gaza.”

But while efforts will continue, Mardini said the ICRC can only do so much, “and the responsibility lies within the parties in the conflict.”

He added: “They have the obligations under the Geneva Conventions to protect civilians, to do everything they can to protect civilians, and to de-escalate the conflict; to ensure that there are regular humanitarian pauses to allow humanitarian supplies to get into the Gaza Strip; and to allow humanitarian workers to be able to deliver much-needed humanitarian support to the people in Gaza, and also to give respite to the civilian population, who are living in disastrous conditions, in constant fear of violent death.”

Mardini has no doubt about the immediate requirements: A de-escalation of the conflict, regular humanitarian pauses, and better conditions for civilians.

He said all people in Gaza today were traumatized by what is happening.




Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip arrive at a hospital in Rafah. (AP)

When asked about what needs to take place to alleviate the suffering of people in Gaza, he said that humanitarian goods were critical.

“Even before the conflict started on Oct. 7, on average 400 to 500 or 600 trucks a day were getting into the Gaza Strip at the time where it was more or less normal life,” Mardini said.

Now, after nearly two months of fighting, “people (are) being torn apart with thousands killed, tens of thousands severely injured,” and the needs of the region are much greater.

He added: “So, definitely, 200 trucks, which was the maximum reach during the seven-day truce, is only a small fragment, and it’s a drop in an ocean of needs. Trucks alone will not save the people of Gaza.

“What the people of Gaza need now is going back to a normal life, is more respite, is the de-escalation of the conflict. And it’s a political solution that is needed to avoid additional loss of life, and desperation and despair.”

Mardini stressed that although the ICRC is currently trying to receive reasonable security guarantees, “it’s very tough because today, really nowhere is safe in Gaza.”

He said: “Our own teams were in the line of fire. The teams of the Palestine Red Crescent Society were also caught in the line of fire. Many other humanitarians from UNWRA, MSF, also lost their lives in the line of duty.”

Mardini underlined the gravity of the humanitarian situation, adding that the ICRC has a full surgical team working in the European Hospital of Gaza with Palestinian doctors and nurses.

He said: “The testimonies they are giving us are terrifying and horrifying, you know. The sheer number of mass casualties is totally unprecedented.”




Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, being interviewed by Arab News Assistant Editor-in Chief Noor Nugali. (AN Photo/Abdulrhman Bin Alshuhub)

According to the Hamas-run government media office in Gaza, fighting has claimed more than 16,000 lives since the start of the war. While a humanitarian pause was reached on Nov. 24, it ended on Dec. 1, with Israeli forces resuming combat operations.

Mardini said: “The resumption of the fighting in the Gaza Strip is taking its toll on the civilian population, which has been through impossible hardship over the past almost two months.”

Mardini described the testimonies he has heard from ICRC colleagues on the ground in the Gaza Strip operating in a hospital and supporting the Palestine Red Crescent Society volunteers as “horrendous.”

He added: “People are living in difficult circumstances. The families have been separated. Thousands are getting into hospitals.”

He said that hospitals were so overcrowded with the sick, injured, and those seeking shelter that treatment had become difficult. He added that such overcrowding, complicated by shortages of water and medicine, may lead to the spread of disease.

“Doctors are facing impossible choices of who to save, who will make it, who won’t be able to make it, because of the very limited medical supplies, the lack of fuel,” he said.

He added that civilians were in areas, “the so-called safe zones,” adding that “(they) are not really safe, because there are no safe places in the Gaza Strip today.”

Commenting on his meeting with Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, during which they discussed the situation in Gaza, he said: “The King Salman Center is a very solid partner of ICRC.

“We have discussed ways and means to step up the humanitarian response. I expressed also our gratitude at ICRC for the very strong support of the King Salman Center, which has recently contributed through funding for our humanitarian endeavors in the Gaza Strip, as it did several months ago to our work in Sudan.”

When asked about the application of the law of armed conflict, which was put in place to set the conduct of military operations and provide protection for the victims of conflict, Mardini asserted that “the law of armed conflict actually works.”

He said: “We have a demonstration of this every day. Every day, an ICRC surgeon is able to save a life.




Commenting on his meeting with Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, Mardini, right, said: “I expressed also our gratitude at ICRC for the very strong support of the King Salman Center, which has recently contributed through funding for our humanitarian endeavors in the Gaza Strip.” (Supplied)

“Every day, a Palestine Red Crescent volunteer is able to evacuate the severely injured from our hospital to the other. Every day. And we have seen this over the past seven days. The ICRC managed to facilitate the release of hostages in Gaza and Palestinian detainees in Israel to their families in Ramallah.

“These are the laws of war in action. These are the laws of war working.”

Elaborating on the point, he said that when the law of armed conflict works, it “prevents harm from happening in the first place … The laws of war are the ultimate safety net to uphold dignity in war. They should be supported; they should be respected by parties in the conflict.”

Discussing the role of the ICRC in aiding hostage situations, he described the agency as a “neutral intermediary.”

In its role as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC over several days transferred hostages held in Gaza to Israeli authorities and ultimately their families, and transfer Palestinian detainees to authorities in the West Bank, to be reunited with their families.

He said: “I have to hope that the two parties will continue to negotiate for further releases of hostages and Palestinian detainees. And we are certainly ready to renew these types of operations, of course, provided the conditions are acceptable for the safety of hostages and detainees, and our own staff.”

He added: “We need to keep hope alive. I think it’s important civilians, on both sides of this front line, still have hope. And they deserve better conditions than they have today.”


UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war

Updated 24 February 2024
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UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war

  • UN agency for Palestinian refugees at ‘breaking point,’ deplores chief

GENEVA, NEW YORK: The UN human rights chief said on Friday that perpetrators of gross human rights violations in the conflict between Israel and Hamas must be held accountable.

“The entrenched impunity that OHCHR — the UN rights agency — has reported on for many years cannot persist,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a report on the situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
He said that this impunity had contributed to violations that could amount to international crimes.
Turk urged all parties to the conflict to “put an end to impunity and conduct prompt, independent, impartial, thorough, effective and transparent investigations” into alleged crimes under international law. He also called on them to implement a ceasefire on human rights and humanitarian grounds, to ensure full respect for international law, and to ensure accountability for violations and abuses.

FASTFACT

‘The entrenched impunity that OHCHR — the UN rights agency — has reported on for many years cannot persist,’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a report on the situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Last month, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire as requested by South Africa, which brought the case.
In separate proceedings, South Africa on Tuesday urged the court to issue a non-binding legal opinion that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal, arguing it would help efforts to reach a settlement.
Separately, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned it has reached a critical juncture as it struggles to cope with the war in Gaza.
“It is with profound regret that I must now inform you that UNRWA has reached a breaking point,” chief Philippe Lazzarini said, as donors freeze funding, Israel exerts pressure to dismantle the agency and humanitarian needs soar.
“The Agency’s ability to fulfill the mandate given through General Assembly Resolution 302 is now seriously threatened,” he said in a letter to the assembly.
That is the resolution under which the agency was founded in 1949, following the creation of Israel. UNRWA employs some 30,000 people working in the occupied territories, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
Several countries — including the US, Britain, Germany and Japan — have suspended funding to UNRWA in response to Israeli allegations that some of its staff participated in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
In an interview published over the weekend Lazzarini said $438 million has been frozen — the equivalent of more than half of expected funding for 2024. He said Israel was waging a concerted effort to destroy UNRWA.
The UN fired the employees accused by Israel and has begun an internal probe of UNRWA.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also tasked an independent panel with assessing whether UNRWA acts in a neutral fashion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lazzarini asserted that Israel has provided no evidence against the 12 former employees it accuses, but 16 countries have suspended funding anyway.
“I have cautioned donors and host countries that without new funding, UNRWA operations across the region will be severely compromised from March,” he said.
He added: “I fear we are on the edge of a monumental disaster with grave implications for regional peace, security and human rights.”
The war started after Hamas’s unprecedented Oct. 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians.
Hamas militants also took about 250 hostages — 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29,410 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza’s Health Ministry.

 


West Bank drone strike killed Palestinian fighter, claims Israel

Updated 24 February 2024
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West Bank drone strike killed Palestinian fighter, claims Israel

  • The drone strike in Jenin came hours after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire at cars on a congested West Bank highway near a Jewish settlement on Thursday, killing an Israeli man and wounding eight others

JERUSALEM: The Israeli Army said on Friday that a Palestinian fighter on his way to carry out a shooting attack was killed in a drone strike in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin a day earlier.
Yasser Hanun from the Islamic Jihad group had previously been detained for his involvement in the “terrorist organization’s military activities,” the army said in a statement.
The resident of Jenin refugee camp “was eliminated while en route to carry out another shooting attack,” the statement said, without elaborating.
Witnesses and residents said the strike also killed 17-year-old Saeed Jaradat.
A witness said weapons in the car exploded after the strike on Thursday.

BACKGROUND

Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since the war began, according to the Health Ministry in Ramallah.

Hanun was involved in several shooting attacks targeting Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well as shooting at soldiers and military posts, the army said.
Palestinian news agency Wafa said two people were killed and four wounded in the strike.
Video footage showed a car severely burned from the hit, its roof torn as if by a can opener.
“Two successive missiles” struck the car, Usayd Shelbi, who witnessed the strike, said.
“The situation was dangerous. The weapons in the car were exploding,” he said.
Crowds of mourners gathered for the funeral of the two men on Friday.
“This occupation bares its fangs clearly ... It rejects the existence of the Palestinian people,” Jamal Haweel, a leader in the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said.
The drone strike in Jenin came hours after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire at cars on a congested West Bank highway near a Jewish settlement on Thursday, killing an Israeli man and wounding eight others.
The gunmen were killed.
The West Bank has seen a surge in violence, to levels unseen in nearly two decades, since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began on Oct. 7.

 


UAE invests $35bn in development of Egypt’s Mediterranean coast region

Updated 24 February 2024
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UAE invests $35bn in development of Egypt’s Mediterranean coast region

  • The deal, signed by a private consortium led by ADQ, a sovereign investment fund based in Abu Dhabi, is the single largest foreign direct investment in Egypt

LONDON: The UAE, represented by a private consortium led by ADQ, a sovereign investment fund based in Abu Dhabi, signed a landmark agreement with Egypt on Friday to invest $35 billion in Ras El-Hekma, a region on the Mediterranean coast 350 kilometers northwest of Cairo. It represents the single largest foreign direct investment in Egypt.

“In addition to acquiring the development rights for Ras El-Hekma for $24 billion, ADQ will also convert $11 billion of deposits that will be utilized for investment in prime projects across Egypt,” the Emirati state news agency, WAM, reported.

“The vision is to develop the region into a leading, first-of-its-kind Mediterranean holiday destination, financial center and free zone spanning over 170 million square meters and equipped with world-class infrastructure to strengthen Egypt’s economic and tourism growth potential.”

The Egyptian government will retain a 35 percent stake in the development.

Mohammed Hassan Alsuwaidi, the Emirati minister of investment, said: “With this signing, a new chapter begins in the long-standing bilateral relations between our two nations.

“Underscored by mutual respect and trust, this investment demonstrates the UAE’s commitment to supporting the government of Egypt in realizing the abundant potential of the local economy.

“As a large-scale infrastructure project, the planned Ras El-Hekma development will foster widespread impacts across multiple sectors, be a catalyst for job creation, and attract significant additional foreign direct investments in the years to come.”

ADQ said work to build the “next generation city” over 170 square kilometers — nearly a fifth of the size of Abu Dhabi city — would begin in early 2025. The city would feature investment zones, technology and light industry, amusement parks, a marina and an airport as well as tourism and residential developments.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly told a press conference that the deal would bring in $15 billion in the next week and $35 billion over two months — though he said $11 billion of that money would be converted into Egyptian pounds from existing UAE dollar deposits in Egypt’s central bank.

(With Reuters)


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.”