Gaza war having ‘catastrophic’ health impact: WHO chief

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). (AP)
Short Url
Updated 11 December 2023
Follow

Gaza war having ‘catastrophic’ health impact: WHO chief

  • There is no health without peace and no peace without health, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells special session

GENEVA: The war between Israel and Hamas is having a catastrophic impact on health in Gaza, the WHO chief warned on Sunday, with medics facing an “impossible” job in unimaginable conditions.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a special session of the World Health Organization’s executive board that the Palestinian territory’s health system was in free fall.
“The impact of the conflict on health is catastrophic,” Tedros told the Geneva meeting.
“As more and more people move to a smaller and smaller area, overcrowding, combined with the lack of adequate food, water, shelter and sanitation, are creating the ideal conditions for disease to spread,” he said.
The UN health agency’s chief said there were worrying signs of epidemic diseases — and the risk was expected to worsen with the situation deteriorating and winter conditions approaching.
“Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing,” Tedros said, with only 14 out of 36 hospitals functioning with any capacity at all, and, only two of those in the north of the coastal territory.
Only 1,400 hospital beds out of an original 3,500 are still available, while the two major hospitals in southern Gaza are operating at three times their bed capacity, Tedros added.
Tedros said that since Oct. 7, the WHO had verified more than 449 attacks on healthcare in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and 60 on healthcare in Israel.
“The work of the health workers is impossible, and they are directly in the firing line,” he said, with medics who are “physically and mentally exhausted and are doing their best in unimaginable conditions.”
“There is no health without peace and no peace without health,” Tedros concluded.
The special session was called by 17 of the 34 countries on the executive board, which normally meets twice a year. Its main job is to advise the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body, and then implement its decisions.
A draft resolution proposed by Afghanistan, Morocco, Qatar and Yemen calls for the immediate, sustained and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief into the Gaza Strip and the granting of exit permits for patients.
It seeks the supply and replenishment of medicine and medical equipment to the civilian population and for all persons deprived of their liberty to be given access to medical treatment.
It voices “grave concern” at the humanitarian situation, laments the “widespread destruction,” and urges protection for all civilians.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila, speaking via video link from Ramallah, called for the immediate cessation of the “brutal war in Gaza” and the immediate, unconditional flow of fuel, water, aid, and medical supplies into the territory.
“The daily horrors we all witness defy international law and shatter the essence of our shared humanity,” she said.
“Now is the time for decisive action. The world cannot stand neutral while innocent lives are lost, and the basic rights of the Palestinian people are compromised.”
Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, said that on Oct. 6, “there was a ceasefire with Hamas. On Oct. 7, we woke up to a new reality.”
She said Israel’s military operation “is directed toward Hamas. It has never been against the Palestinian people. And I recognize the suffering in Gaza.
“Let there be no mistake, however: Hamas is responsible for this suffering.
“The reality is, if we stop now, Hamas will carry out another Oct. 7.”

 


Economy another victim of war in impoverished Sudan

Updated 25 February 2024
Follow

Economy another victim of war in impoverished Sudan

  • With most banks out of service, the only exchange rate that matters to ordinary Sudanese is on the black market, where the dollar currently goes for around 1,200 Sudanese pounds

PORT SUDAN, Sudan: Before the Sudanese army and paramilitary fighters turned their guns on each other last year, Ahmed used to sell one of Sudan’s main exports: gum arabic, a vital ingredient for global industry.
Now he’s out of business, and his story encapsulates the broader economic collapse of Sudan during 10 months of war.
Since combat between two rival generals began on April 15, Ahmed has been at the fighters’ mercy.
“When the war began, I had a stock of gum arabic in a warehouse south of Khartoum that was intended for export,” Ahmed told AFP, asking to use only his first name for fear of retaliation.
“To get it out I had to pay huge sums to the Rapid Support Forces,” the paramilitaries commanded by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who are at war with the Sudanese Armed Forces led by Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
“I had to pay multiple times in areas under their control, before my cargo got to areas controlled by the government,” Ahmed said.
But the government — loyal to the army — “then demanded I pay taxes” on the product, an emulsifying agent used in everything from soft drinks to chewing gum.
When the trucks finally made it to Port Sudan for export on the Red Sea, “authorities again asked for new taxes, and I had to pay storage fees six times more than before the war,” Ahmed said.
His gum arabic — like many other Sudanese products — never made it onto a ship. According to Sudan’s port authorities, international trade fell 23 percent last year.
The finance ministry, which didn’t set a national budget for 2023 or 2024 and has foregone quarterly reports, recently raised the exchange rate for imports and exports from 650 Sudanese pounds to 950.
But that is still far below the currency’s real value.
With most banks out of service, the only exchange rate that matters to ordinary Sudanese is on the black market, where the dollar currently goes for around 1,200 Sudanese pounds.
“It’s a sign of the destruction of the Sudanese economy,” former Sudanese Chamber of Commerce head Al-Sadiq Jalal told AFP.
To make matters worse, a communications blackout since early February has hampered online transactions — which Sudanese relied on to survive.
The war has led industries to cease production. Others were destroyed. Businesses and food stocks have been looted.
The World Bank in September said “widespread destruction of Sudan’s economic foundations has set the country’s development back by several decades.”
The International Monetary Fund has predicted that even after the fighting ends, “years of reconstruction” await the northeast African country.
Sudan suffered under a crippled economy for decades and was already one of the world’s poorest countries before the war.
Under the Islamist-backed regime of strongman Omar Al-Bashir, international sanctions throttled development, corruption was rampant, and South Sudan split in 2011 with most of the country’s oil production.
Bashir’s ouster by the military in 2019 following mass protests led to a fragile transition to civilian rule accompanied by signs of economic renewal and international acceptance.
A 2021 coup by Burhan and Dagalo, before they turned on each other, began a new economic collapse when the World Bank and the United States suspended vital international aid.
More than six million of Sudan’s 48 million people have been internally displaced by the war, and more than half the population needs humanitarian aid to survive, according to the United Nations.
Thousands of people have been killed, including between 10,000 and 15,000 in a single city in the western Darfur region, according to UN experts.
Now the indirect death toll is also rising.
Aid agencies have long warned of impending famine, and the UN’s World Food Programme is “already receiving reports of people dying of starvation,” the agency’s Sudan director Eddie Rowe said in early February.
The Sudanese state “is completely absent from the scene” in all sectors, economist Haitham Fathy told AFP.
Chief among those is agriculture, which could have helped stave off hunger.
Before the war, agriculture generated 35-40 percent of Sudan’s gross domestic product, according to the World Bank, and employed 70-80 percent of the workforce in rural areas, the International Fund for Agricultural Development said.
But the war has left more than 60 percent of the nation’s agricultural land out of commission, according to Sudanese research organization Fikra for Studies and Development.
In the wheat-growing state of Al-Jazira, where RSF fighters took over swathes of farmland south of Khartoum, farmers have been unable to tend their crops. They saw their livelihoods wither away.
From the wheat fields to Ahmed’s gum arabic warehouse, the story is the same.
His savings spent, his stock gone and his future bleak, Ahmed — like much of Sudan’s business class — has closed up shop.


Undeterred by latest US-UK strikes, Houthis target US-flagged oil tanker off Yemen

Updated 25 February 2024
Follow

Undeterred by latest US-UK strikes, Houthis target US-flagged oil tanker off Yemen

  • Hours after the US-UK strikes, the Houthis said they had targeted the US-flagged, owned, and operated oil tanker MV Torm Thor in the Gulf of Aden
  • Houthi attacks are disrupting the vital Suez Canal trade shortcut that accounts for about 12 percent of global maritime traffic

WASHINGTON/CAIRO: US and British forces carried out strikes against more than a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday, officials said, the latest round of military action against the Iran-linked group that continues to attack shipping in the region.

A joint statement from countries that either took part in the strikes or provided support, said the military action was against 18 Houthi targets across eight locations in Yemen including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter.

But hours after the strikes, the Houthis said they had targeted the US-flagged, owned, and operated oil tanker MV Torm Thor in the Gulf of Aden. The group’s military spokesman Yahya Sarea announced the new attack in a televised speech early on Sunday.

It was not clear if the attack announced by the Houthis was the same incident referred to by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations agency early on Sunday. The UKMTO said that it received a report of an incident 70 nautical miles east of the port of Djibouti and authorities are currently investigating.

The United States has carried out near-daily strikes against the Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen and have said their attacks on shipping are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza.

The months of attacks by Houthis have continued and have upset global trade and raised shipping rates.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes were meant “to further disrupt and degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.”

“We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries,” Austin added.

Earlier this week the Houthis claimed responsibility for an attack on a UK-owned cargo ship and a drone assault on an American destroyer, and they targeted Israel’s port and resort city of Eilat with ballistic missiles and drones.

The group’s strikes are disrupting the vital Suez Canal trade shortcut that accounts for about 12 percent of global maritime traffic, and forcing firms to take a longer, more expensive route around Africa.

No ships have been sunk nor crew killed during the Houthi campaign. However, there are concerns about the fate of the UK-registered Rubymar cargo vessel, which was struck on Feb. 18 and its crew evacuated.

The Houthis say they are targeting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.

Following previous US and UK strikes, the Houthis declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.

Anger over Israel’s devastating campaign in Gaza — which began after an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 — has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

 

 


Israel war cabinet meets over Hamas hostage talks

Updated 25 February 2024
Follow

Israel war cabinet meets over Hamas hostage talks

  • “There is probably room to move toward an agreement,” Hanegbi told N12 News television
  • “Such agreement does not mean the end of the war”

JERUSALEM: Israel’s war cabinet convened Saturday after a delegation returned from talks in Paris on a hostage release and ceasefire deal in the war against Hamas.
National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said before the telephone meeting that members would hear an update on discussions about the conflict in the Gaza Strip, which is now in its fifth month.
The Paris talks saw the head of Israel’s overseas intelligence service Mossad and his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security service meeting with mediators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar.
“There is probably room to move toward an agreement,” Hanegbi told N12 News television in an interview, without elaborating.
Israel wants the release of all hostages seized in the October 7 attacks, starting with all women, but Hanegbi added: “Such agreement does not mean the end of the war.”
He also indicated that Israel would not accept any deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia for a Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that Saturday’s meeting would discuss “next steps in the negotiations.”
He also reaffirmed his aim for troops to go into Rafah in southern Gaza, despite widespread concern about the impact on hundreds of thousands of civilians who have fled there to avoid bombardments.
An AFP reporter in Rafah said there had been at least six air strikes on the city on Saturday evening.
Israel’s air, land and sea against Hamas fighters in retaliation for their deadly October 7 on southern Israel has killed at least 29,606 people, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says.
Hamas attacked rural communities and military posts bordering the Gaza Strip, leaving at least 1,160 people dead, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Some 250 hostages were taken, of whom 130 are still in Gaza, although about 30 are thought to be dead, Israel says.
A one-week pause in fighting in November saw more than 100 hostages released, the Israelis among them in exchange for some 240 Palestinians jailed in Israel.
Netanyahu has characterised Hamas’s demands for a ceasefire in Gaza as “bizarre” and vowed to press on with the military campaign until “total victory” over the group.
“Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war’s goals,” he said.
The head of Israel’s military, Herzi Halevi, visited the Gaza Strip and also said military action was the most effective way of getting back the hostages.
Combat was “leverage,” he told troops. “We need to continue and apply it strongly... to use it to release the hostages,” he added.
In Tel Aviv, where families and supporters of the hostages gathered again to call for their release, Orna Tal urged the government to “be responsible.”
“We think about them (the hostages) all the time and want them back alive as soon as possible,” said Tal, whose close friend Tsachi Idan was kidnapped from the Nahal Oz kibbutz.
“We’ll protest again and again until they’re back,” she told AFP


How Israeli settlers are exploiting Gaza conflict to seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank

Updated 25 February 2024
Follow

How Israeli settlers are exploiting Gaza conflict to seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank

  • Forced evictions and disputes over land in the West Bank have increased since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack
  • Israeli authorities are accused of actively undermining decades-old prohibition on settlement expansion

LONDON: As Israel’s military campaign in Gaza approaches its sixth month, Western governments have upped the pressure on “extremist” settlers who critics say are taking advantage of the conflict to illegally occupy more Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

In recent months, violence by extremist Israeli settlers has triggered Western sanctions, with more such penalties expected to be announced in the coming weeks and months. But that did not deter Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, from approving last week the construction of more than 3,000 new settlement homes in response to a deadly shooting attack in the West Bank.

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, shown in this photo walks with soldiers during a visit to Kibbutz Kfar Aza near the border with the Gaza Strip on November 14, 2023, has approved the construction of more than 3,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank. (AFP/File)

Peace Now, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that advocates for the two-state solution and which condemns the behavior of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, said 26 new communities had sprung up over the past 12 months, making 2023 a record year for new illegal settlements.

Yonatan Mizrachi, part of the Settlement Watch Team at Peace Now, said it was not unusual to see new outposts pop up in the West Bank during periods of violence in Gaza when the international community was distracted.

“Since the war there is much less, if any, enforcement from the Israeli Civil Administration to remove the illegal outposts,” Mizrachi told Arab News. “The settlers are using these periods to increase their illegal work and build new outposts, roads and other bits of infrastructure.”

On Friday, the US restored its longstanding policy that settlements are inconsistent with international law, just hours after Smotrich announced the plan to advance the construction of thousands of new settlement homes.

“It’s been long-standing US policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace,” Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said on Friday.

 

 

The approval of a record number of settlement homes last year and the expansion of settler presence in the West Bank led the Biden administration to summon the Israeli ambassador in Washington for the first time in over a decade.

Under the far-right coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli authorities appear to have actively undermined the decades-old prohibition on settlement expansion, marrying Israeli law to settler practices.

Those changes have helped legalize 15 West Bank outposts, with the government also moving to promote the construction of 12,349 housing units across the West Bank — another new record.

A view of an unauthorized Israeli settler outpost of Meitarim Farm near Hebron city in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)

In a recent statement, Peace Now cited data from the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem: “In direct relation to the establishment of these outposts, approximately 1,345 Palestinians were forced to flee from their homes due to violent attacks by settlers.”

These new outposts have spelled disaster for Palestinians, with 21 communities forced from their homes over the past 12 months — 16 of them since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel that sparked the current war in Gaza.

Such forced evictions and disputes over land use have long contributed to localized violence between settlers and Palestinian residents. According to the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, such violence has escalated since the war began.

Using data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the NGO highlighted 532 settler attacks on Palestinians between Oct. 7 and Feb. 14, which included shootings and the burning of homes, resulting in casualties and property damage.

Palestinians gather near the rubble of a family home demolished by Israeli forces earlier during a raid in Hebron city in the occupied West Bank on January 21, 2024. (AFP)

“Prior to Oct. 7, settlements and settler-driven displacement had already been increasing in the occupied West Bank in recent years,” a spokesperson for GCR2P told Arab News.

“Since Oct. 7 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that settlers carrying out these attacks are at times acting with the acquiescence and collaboration of Israeli forces and authorities.”

UN data also reveals the extent of the resulting displacement in the occupied West Bank, with 4,525 Palestinian-owned structures demolished or destroyed since 2019.

INNUMBERS

• 26 Israeli settlements established in the West Bank in 2023 alone — a new annual record.

• 21 Palestinian communities displaced over the past 12 months — 16 of them since Oct. 7.

• 532 Recorded settler attacks on Palestinians between Oct. 7 and Feb. 14.

Source: Peace Now, OCHA

Although Western governments have been slow to censure Israel for its conduct in Gaza, they have taken a clearer stance on the need to prevent the expansion of West Bank settlements, which they view as undermining the potential for a future Palestinian state.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory, also known as “settler implantation.”

GCR2P’s spokesperson said: “This settler implantation and settler activity is therefore in violation of Israel’s obligations as the occupying power under international humanitarian law.

“Settlement expansion effectively guarantees that the occupied territory will remain under Israeli control in perpetuity leading to de facto annexation.” 

A Palestinian man inspects a car burnt in an attack the previous night by Israeli settlers in the village of Burqa, northwest of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, on February 20, 2024. Around 490,000 Israelis live in dozens of West Bank settlements that are deemed illegal under international law. (AFP)

Canada, France, the UK and the US have all moved against Israeli settlers, with sanctions ranging from travel bans to restrictions prohibiting trade and the blocking of assets, while some Israeli financial institutions have followed suit, freezing the accounts of four men.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told Arab News there has been a long-held opposition in the UK to Israeli settlement expansion.

“Settlements are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace and threaten the viability of a two-state solution,” the spokesperson said.

“We repeatedly urge Israel to halt all settlement expansion in the West Bank and hold those responsible for settler violence to account.”

Announcing sanctions against four “extremist” settlers on Feb. 14, David Cameron, the UK’s foreign secretary, said: “Israel must also take stronger action to put a stop to settler violence.”

Mizrachi of Peace Now said the sanctions had been a “big deal” in Israel. “I think and hope it will have an effect on all levels, but we also need the Israeli public to be more active against the settlements,” he said.

“I think we have to wait and see how and if the Israeli government will change its policy when it comes to the ‘settlements enterprise.’

“I believe that a different government — a less pro-settler government — will definitely think twice before allowing the settlers to violate the law and build so many new outposts. With the current government, though, we will have to wait and see.”

Lawmakers in Israel have responded angrily to the measures. Amit Halevi of Netanyahu’s Likud party called an urgent meeting of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee to explore how to aid the “simple families working in agriculture” who had been sanctioned.

Rights monitors, meanwhile, have described the sanctions as mere political window dressing by governments that are otherwise content to continue funding, supplying arms and providing diplomatic cover to Israel’s war effort.

Budour Hassan, an Israel-Palestine researcher for Amnesty International, said the sanctions were something of a double-edged sword. She told Arab News that while they indicated the international community had taken notice, they ignored the real issue.

“They’re deceptive, contributing to an idea that it is individual settlers, not the settlements, being the problem, ignoring the violence inherent to the settlement enterprise,” said Hassan.

“The majority of settlers are not violent; they don’t attack Palestinians. But it is not just physical violence. It is forced acquisition of Palestinian land, segregation of communities. The rights and privileges of settlers discriminating against Palestinians. It is all inherently violent.

“It is checkpoints, Israeli soldiers, the legal, physical, and political infrastructure combining to promote the enterprise that is the issue. Punishing individuals ignores these root problems.”

Israeli security forces man a checkpoint at the closed-off southern entrance of Hebron city in the occupied West Bank near the Israeli settlement of Beit Haggi. (AFP)

Hassan reiterated Amnesty International’s long-held view that “settlements that are illegal under international law” must be dismantled for peace to be achieved. 

However, the notion of dismantling these settlements raises questions about the fate of settler families, “if and when Israel withdraws,” said Mizrachi.

“Israel evacuated settlers twice in the past. First in 1982 from Sinai and then again in 2005 from Gaza Strip and the north of the West Bank. As we know, if there is a will, there is a way.

“It might take time and you can’t evacuate hundreds of thousands in one day, but there are possibilities to achieve this that exist.”

 


Tunisian opposition figure sentenced to six months: lawyer

Updated 24 February 2024
Follow

Tunisian opposition figure sentenced to six months: lawyer

  • Ben Mbarek was tried over his rebuke of legislative elections in 2022 which he had called a “ridiculous coup d’etat”
  • Held over “conspiracy against state security,” Ben Mbarek remains behind bars as he awaits proceedings in other cases

TUNIS: A Tunisian court has slapped a six-month prison term on opposition figure Jawhar Ben Mbarek, detained since February 2023, over remarks criticizing the country’s latest elections, his lawyer said Saturday.
Ben Mbarek, co-founder of the National Salvation Front opposition alliance who is on hunger strike to protest his detention, was tried over his rebuke of legislative elections in 2022 which he had called a “ridiculous coup d’etat.”
Held over “conspiracy against state security,” Ben Mbarek remains behind bars as he awaits proceedings in other cases.
Tunisian and international rights groups have described the article under which Ben Mbarek was sentenced as a form of “repression” of free expression in the North African country, where President Kais Saied has ruled by decree since a 2021 power grab.
“Jawhar Ben Mbarek was sentenced without having the option to defend himself” due to his health condition after 13 days without food, his lawyer Ayachi Hammami told AFP.
Along with other figures detained since February 2023 over national security charges, Ben Mbarek has been on hunger strike to protest what he called the “arbitrary and unfounded” grounds for his arrest.
Ben Mbarek “was unable, due to the state of his health, to... be present at the hearing,” the lawyer said, adding that the judge had proclaimed the verdict despite a request to postpone the proceedings.
Ayachi said the defense plans to appeal the ruling.
Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, another co-founder of the National Salvation Front, told AFP that Ben Mbarek “was sentenced to six months in prison for an opinion. I am truly outraged.”
Rached Ghannouchi, the jailed leader of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party which is part of the opposition alliance, suspended his hunger strike on Wednesday for fear of health complications.
Rights groups have repeatedly condemned the proceedings against Tunisian opposition figures and called for their release.
Elected democratically in October 2019 with a five-year mandate, Saied launched a power grab in July 2021, dismissing the prime minister and suspending parliament.
He later pushed through sweeping changes to concentrate power in his office, shaking the foundations of the only democracy born out of the first Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.