Why aid chiefs see Gaza’s humanitarian crisis worsening in the absence of Israel-Hamas ceasefire

NGOs say none of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants can find sufficient food and clean water under Israel’s renewed assault. (AFP)
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Updated 19 December 2023
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Why aid chiefs see Gaza’s humanitarian crisis worsening in the absence of Israel-Hamas ceasefire

  • The US recently vetoed a UN resolution seeking immediate ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas
  • NGO leaders say they have run out of words to describe the suffering in the embattled enclave

LONDON: Amid a humanitarian situation described as “apocalyptic” by UN human rights chief Volker Turk, nearly 2 million Palestinians in Gaza face a grim fate after the US vetoed on Friday a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

The vote came after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded the alarm on Wednesday, invoking Article 99 of the UN Charter. The article allows the UN chief to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

During a recent virtual media briefing, officials from aid organizations active in Gaza said they had run out of words to describe the humanitarian crisis and the horrors unfolding in the embattled enclave.

The meeting was held by the NGOs Action Against Hunger, Amnesty International, Doctors of the World, Medecins Sans Frontieres France, Humanity and Inclusion – Handicap International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Refugees International, and Save the Children.




Officials from aid organizations active in Gaza said they had run out of words to describe the humanitarian crisis. (AFP)

The renewed hostilities following the end of the truce, which lasted for six days after it was reached on Nov. 24, have seen Israel expand its ground offensive deeper into southern Gaza, previously declared by the Israeli military as a “safe” area. To date, over 1.8 million Palestinians have been displaced.

Officials of the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza say more than 17,700 Palestinians, including over 7,000 children, have been killed by the Israeli bombardment since Oct. 7.

On that day, the Israel Defense Forces launched a military campaign in Gaza in retaliation for an attack by Hamas in which more than 1,440 Israelis and foreigners were killed or taken hostage.

As of Sunday, the IDF and Hamas militants were locked in combat in several parts of Gaza, including the main city in the south, Khan Younis, whose residents had been earlier asked to evacuate via an “urgent appeal.”

Describing the humanitarian conditions in southern Gaza, Alexandra Saieh, head of humanitarian policy and advocacy at Save the Children, said at Thursday’s media briefing: “People are in overcrowded shelters, in makeshift tents, with no access to clean water and crumbling sanitation facilities.

“We have heard of children starving in the so-called safe zone of Al-Mawasi.”

Al-Mawasi, a kilometer-wide patch of desert along the coastline of southern Gaza, was touted by Israel as a “safe space” in October.

Approximately 770,000 internally displaced people have sought refuge in 133 shelters, while others in the south have sheltered with host families or slept on the streets, according to Shaina Low, communications adviser at the Norwegian Refugee Council.




Saudi aid trucks near the Rafah border crossing. (SPA)

Aid workers have not been spared the chaos. Low added that some of the NRC’s staff members, along with their infants, are “sleeping on the streets because they have nowhere safe to seek refuge.”

“Amid relentless air, land and sea attacks, Israel is forcing families to relocate from one perilous zone to another,” she said. “The influx of people into southern Gaza has surged as hundreds of thousands fled from northern Gaza.”

Save the Children’s Saieh recounted colleagues’ accounts of “hundreds of children lining up for a single toilet in the south, children and families roaming the streets of what has not been flattened, with no food, nowhere to go and nothing to survive on.”

“Our teams are telling us of maggots being picked from wounds, and children undergoing amputations without anesthetic. More than a million children, practically all of the child population of Gaza, are left with nowhere to go.”

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Sandrine Simon, advocacy and health director at Doctors of the World, warned that the current conditions in southern Gaza “are leading to the outbreak of epidemics.”

She said there has been a significant increase in cases of diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, and skin infections, adding that “soon, famine and epidemics will kill even more surely than bombing.”

The World Health Organization has recorded over 70,000 acute respiratory infections and at least 44,000 cases of diarrhea, half of which are among children under the age of 5. However, actual figures are expected to be significantly higher.

“Diarrhea is a leading cause of child mortality globally,” said Chiara Saccardi, the Middle East’s head of operations at Action Against Hunger, during the media briefing.

She attributed the high number of sick children in Gaza and the looming specter of a health crisis to “the total collapse of the water and sanitation infrastructure in Gaza.”

“There are no bathrooms; people are digging holes in the sand to use as toilets,” Saccardi said. “Some basic essential hygiene items, like (diapers), wipes, and detergent are no longer available.”

Isabelle Defourny, president of MSF, said medical needs in Gaza “have never been as high, but the healthcare system is on the ground.”

Owing to a 16-year Israeli blockade, Gaza’s healthcare system was on the verge of collapse even before the current escalation in hostilities. The WHO said that today, the health system in the devastated strip was “on its knees.”

The IDF has laid siege to several hospitals in Gaza, claiming that Hamas was running command centers in — or underneath — those facilities. Hamas has denied the allegation.

Defourny said MSF staff have witnessed “how hospitals in the north of Gaza were turned into morgues and ruins,” adding that the health facilities are being bombed, shot at by Israeli tanks and guns, encircled, and raided, and that patients and medical staff are being killed.

“Some doctors have had to leave patients behind after facing the unimaginable choice between their lives and those of their patients,” she said. “In the north of the Gaza Strip today, there is no more access to surgery, no more surgical services.”




None of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants can find sufficient food and clean water. (AFP)

MSF’s international team in Gaza is now operating in the central area, namely in Al-Aqsa Hospital, and in the south in Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.

Defourny said the MSF team had to flee Al-Nasser Hospital on Monday evening “due to the intensity of bombardment” around it.

“Today, 65,000 people (in Gaza) are injured,” said Simon of Doctors of the World, stressing that “some will die in excruciating pain for lack of treatment anesthetic” and “thousands more will not have access to surgery and early rehabilitation needed to avoid permanent disability.”

Even humanitarian workers have been unable to access vital healthcare services. Simon said that when one of her colleagues was wounded in a tank attack on a school in which he had taken refuge, it took him hours to reach the hospital.

“And there, hundreds of patients lie on the ground, stepped over by exhausted, traumatized nurses.”

For over 60 days, aid workers in Gaza have faced a multitude of barriers. Today, none of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants can find sufficient food and clean water, according to a statement issued on Dec. 6 by 27 NGOs operating in Gaza.

“Aid delivery has faced severe challenges due to the closures of key crossings like Karem Shalom, and our overstretched teams are also facing death in Gaza,” said Bushra Khalidi, Oxfam’s head of policy for the occupied Palestinian Territories, adding that the situation in Gaza might have “irreversible consequences on Palestinian people.”




The IDF and Hamas militants are locked in combat in several parts of Gaza. (AFP)

“Our colleagues on the ground faced extreme risks in distributing aid, with even basic necessities like water sparking desperate struggles and tensions,” she said. “The scarcity of aid has led to desperate struggles over water, tearing at our social fabric.”

The World Food Programme has estimated that each person in northern Gaza has access to an average of 1.8 liters of safe drinking water per day, while in the south, it is 2 liters.

“(The) human body cannot survive with such a small quantity of water,” said Saccardi of Action Against Hunger.

Saieh lamented that “with the intensity of the government of Israel’s offensive, coupled with the ongoing siege, the ability to provide any humanitarian assistance has been undermined.”

“We are unable to do our job effectively. People have been squeezed into the tiniest areas, cut off from basic necessities and cut off from the basics to survive,” she said.

Officials at Thursday’s briefing called for an immediate international intervention — to prevent further civilian deaths, stop the deepening of the humanitarian crisis, and avert a complete breakdown of the situation on the ground.

Amanda Klasing, national director for government relations at Amnesty International US, called for “a comprehensive UN Security Council arms embargo on Israel, Hamas, and other Palestinian armed groups until there’s no longer substantial risk that arms could be used to commit violations, and that there are effective accountability mechanisms in place.”

In the absence of a Security Council arms embargo, Klasing called on countries, particularly the US, to “immediately impose their own suspensions.”




Aid workers in Gaza have faced a multitude of barriers. (AFP)

She said: “Our overall analysis is that violations of international humanitarian law and potential war crimes continue unabated, and therefore the US should suspend arms transfers to Israel.”

Saying that their teams were steadfast in continuing their humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip despite the obstacles, the participants in the media briefing asserted that only a permanent and definitive ceasefire would allow for an effective humanitarian response.

Unless the violence ceased entirely, they warned the cost would be the lives of more children.


Netanyahu rival’s visit to US highlights cracks within Israel’s wartime leadership

Updated 03 March 2024
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Netanyahu rival’s visit to US highlights cracks within Israel’s wartime leadership

  • Netanyahu reportedly had a “tough talk” with Benny Gantz and told him the country has “just one prime minister”
  • Gantz is a centrist political rival who joined Netanyahu’s wartime Cabinet following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack
  • A visit to the US, if met with progress on the hostage front, could further boost support for Gantz's political future

TEL AVIV, Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebuked a top Cabinet minister arriving in Washington on Sunday for talks with US officials, according to an Israeli official, signaling widening cracks within the country’s leadership nearly five months into its war with Hamas.

The trip by Benny Gantz, a centrist political rival who joined Netanyahu’s wartime Cabinet following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, comes as friction between the US and Netanyahu is rising over how to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and what the postwar plan for the enclave should look like.
An official from Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party said Gantz’s trip was planned without authorization from the Israeli leader. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Netanyahu had a “tough talk” with Gantz and told him the country has “just one prime minister.”
Gantz is scheduled to meet on Monday with US Vice President Kamala Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan and on Tuesday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to his National Unity Party. A second Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity said Gantz’s visit is intended to strengthen ties with the US, bolster support for Israel’s war and push for the release of Israeli hostages.
In Egypt, talks were underway to broker a ceasefire before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins next week.
Israel did not send a delegation because it is waiting for answers from Hamas on two questions, according to a third Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Israeli media reported that the government is waiting to learn which hostages are alive and how many Palestinian prisoners Hamas seeks in exchange for each.
All three Israeli officials spoke anonymously because they weren’t authorized to discuss the disputes with the media.
On Saturday, the US airdropped aid into Gaza. The airdrops came after dozens of Palestinians rushing to grab food from an Israel-organized convoy were killed last week, and they circumvented an aid delivery system that has been hobbled by Israeli restrictions, logistical issues and fighting in Gaza. Aid officials say airdrops are far less effective than deliveries made by trucks.
US priorities in the region have increasingly been hampered by Netanyahu’s Cabinet, which is dominated by ultranationalists. Gantz’s more moderate party at times acts as a counterweight.
Netanyahu’s popularity has dropped since the war broke out, according to most opinion polls. Many Israelis hold him responsible for failing to stop the Oct. 7 cross-border raid by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 people as hostages into Gaza, including women, children and older adults, according to Israeli authorities.
More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters. Around 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million have fled their homes, and UN agencies say hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.
Israelis critical of Netanyahu say his decision-making has been tainted by political considerations, a charge he denies. The criticism is particularly focused on plans for postwar Gaza. Netanyahu wants Israel to maintain open-ended security control over Gaza, with Palestinians running civilian affairs.
The US wants to see progress on the creation of a Palestinian state, envisioning a revamped Palestinian leadership running Gaza with an eye toward eventual statehood.
That vision is opposed by Netanyahu and the hard-liners in his government. Another top Cabinet official from Gantz’s party has questioned the handling of the war and the strategy for freeing the hostages.
Netanyahu’s government, Israel’s most conservative and religious ever, has also been rattled by a court-ordered deadline for a new bill to broaden military enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Many of them are exempted from military service so they can pursue religious studies. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers have been killed since Oct. 7, and the military is looking to fill its ranks.
Gantz has remained vague about his view of Palestinian statehood. Polls show he would earn enough support to become prime minister if a vote were held today.
A visit to the US, if met with progress on the hostage front, could further boost Gantz’s support.
Israel has essentially endorsed a framework of a proposed Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal, and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it, a senior US official said Saturday. He spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House to brief reporters.
Israelis, deeply traumatized by Hamas’ attack, have broadly backed the war effort as an act of self-defense, even as global opposition to the fighting has increased.
But a growing number are expressing their dismay with Netanyahu. Some 10,000 people protested late Saturday to call for early elections, according to Israeli media. Such protests have grown in recent weeks, but remain much smaller than last year’s demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul plan.
If the political rifts grow and Gantz quits the government, the floodgates will open to broader protests by a public that was already unhappy with the government when Hamas struck, said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Israeli strikes late Saturday in Rafah and in the Jabaliya refugee camp killed more than 30 people, including women and children, according to local health officials. And on Sunday two Israeli strikes southwest of Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza killed at least five people and destroyed an aid truck, according to witnesses and staff at Al Aqsa hospital.
Amid concerns about the wider regional conflict, White House senior adviser Amos Hochstein was going to Lebanon on Monday to meet officials, according to an administration official who was not authorized to comment. White House officials want Lebanese and Israeli officials to prevent tensions along their border from worsening.
 


US envoy due in Beirut to continue de-escalation talks

US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein meets with Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon. (File/Reuters)
Updated 03 March 2024
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US envoy due in Beirut to continue de-escalation talks

  • Lebanon deputy parliament speaker Elias Bou Saab said he believed timing of visit pointed to progress in efforts to secure a Gaza truce “within the next few hours or days”

BEIRUT: US envoy Amos Hochstein will visit Beirut on Monday to continue diplomatic efforts aimed at de-escalating the conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border and bringing stability, a senior Lebanese official and a White House official said on Sunday.
The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah and Israel have been locked in hostilities for months in parallel to the Gaza war. It has marked the worst conflict between the heavily armed adversaries since a 2006 war, fueling fears of an even bigger confrontation.
Lebanon deputy parliament speaker Elias Bou Saab, one of the officials due to meet Hochstein, told Reuters he believed the timing of his visit pointed to progress in efforts to secure a Gaza truce “within the next few hours or days.”
“If this happens, I believe that Hochstein’s visit this time will be of great importance to follow up on the truce on our southern borders and to discuss what is needed for stability and ending the possibility of the expansion of the war with Lebanon,” he said.
The White House official did not offer further details about the visit.
Washington has said a ceasefire deal in the Gaza war is close and is aiming to have it be in effect by the start of Ramadan, a week away.
Israel however boycotted talks in Cairo on Sunday after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list of hostages that are still alive, an Israeli newspaper reported.
Hezbollah has publicly indicated that it would halt its attacks on Israel from Lebanon when the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip stops, but that it was also ready to keep on fighting if Israel continued hostilities.
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati told Reuters on Thursday that a halt to fighting in the Gaza Strip as early as this week would trigger indirect talks to end hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.
Bou Saab said Hochstein had “serious ideas that may provide the beginning of a sustainable solution, stability, and banishing the spectre of war that will not be in anyone’s interest.”
Hochstein, who visited Beirut in January, previously brokered a rare diplomatic deal between Lebanon and Israel in 2022 to delineate their maritime border.
Designated a terrorist group by the United States, Hezbollah has not been a direct party to his diplomatic efforts. Instead his ideas have been passed on by Lebanese mediators. The group wields significant influence over the Lebanese state.
The Gaza war began when Hamas stormed Israel on Oct. 7, in an attack that killed 1,200 people and resulted in another 253 being abducted, according to Israeli tallies.
More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip in the Israeli offensive launched in response, according to Gaza health authorities.


Abbas to discuss intra-Palestinian dialogue in Ankara

Updated 03 March 2024
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Abbas to discuss intra-Palestinian dialogue in Ankara

  • The Israeli military said on Sunday it intensified operations in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, destroying dozens of militant targets in a blitz of air and artillery strikes

ANKARA: Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas will visit Turkiye on Tuesday for talks about the Gaza war and reconciliation efforts between Palestinian factions, the Turkish foreign minister said.
The visit comes as intensive diplomacy is underway to pause the fighting in the almost five-month-old war between Israel and Hamas sparked by the Oct. 7 attacks.
Turkiye’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said: “There is a serious desire and effort to reach a ceasefire before Ramadan,” in closing remarks to an annual diplomacy forum in the Mediterranean holiday resort of Antalya.
Fidan confirmed that Abbas would visit Ankara on Tuesday at the invitation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal advocate of the Palestinian cause.
Both leaders would discuss “the developments in Palestine, the current course of the war as well as the intra-Palestinian dialogue, Fidan said.
Hamas is a rival of Abbas’s Fatah faction that rules the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank.
It ousted Fatah from Gaza in 2007 following its landslide victory in the previous Palestinian parliamentary elections.
Erdogan has become one of the harshest critics of Israel’s war in Gaza.
He has branded Israel a “terrorist state” and compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler while calling Hamas “a liberation group.”
The Israeli military said on Sunday it intensified operations in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, destroying dozens of militant targets in a blitz of air and artillery strikes.
The air force and artillery hit about 50 targets within six minutes, it said, in a bid to “intensify operational achievements in the area.”
“During the strikes, the troops destroyed terrorist infrastructure and eliminated Hamas terrorists who were operating from civilian facilities in urban areas,” it said.
Residents in the area said they were surprised by the swift advancement of Israeli tanks, which sparked fresh battles with gunmen.
In one housing project some families took to social media, saying they were unable to leave their homes with the tanks in the streets.
Islamic Jihad said it attacked two tanks with rockets and blew up a building where soldiers had entered.
Khan Younis has been a focus of Israel’s military offensive in recent weeks.

 


Maintaining GCC-Egypt diplomatic links vital to regional security: Egyptian foreign minister

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry speaks in Riyadh.
Updated 03 March 2024
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Maintaining GCC-Egypt diplomatic links vital to regional security: Egyptian foreign minister

  • Gulf ministers briefed on breakdown in talks over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

CAIRO: Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Sunday highlighted the importance of Cairo maintaining its strong links with Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

His comments came as he took part in a joint consultative meeting of Egypt and GCC foreign ministers in Riyadh.

In a speech, Shoukry noted the increased significance of political consultation in tackling key issues of mutual concern and the shared social and economic strategic interests of Egypt and council member nations.

He also pointed out that solid relations between the parties were vital in working toward stability in the region and dealing with the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that during the meeting in the Saudi capital, Shoukry warned of the disastrous humanitarian repercussions of any ground military operation by Israel in the city of Rafah and the threat such action would pose to regional security.

And he called on Israel to stop obstructing the access of humanitarian aid to the Strip.

The Egyptian minister also discussed with his GCC counterparts continued Iran-backed Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea, along with the latest situations in Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Somalia.

Regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Shoukry highlighted what he described as Ethiopia’s uncompromising approach to tackling project issues with its neighbors, a stance that had led Cairo to withdraw from negotiations.

GCC Secretary-General Jasem Al-Budaiwi said it was crucial that Arab nations cooperated in dealing with regional challenges including bringing about a Gaza ceasefire and ensuring Nile water security for Egypt and Sudan.


Egyptian envoy highlights support for Lebanon stability efforts

Alaa Moussa participates in a meeting of ambassadors of five-nation group in Lebanon with caretaker PM Najib Mikati.
Updated 03 March 2024
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Egyptian envoy highlights support for Lebanon stability efforts

  • The ambassador emphasized Egypt’s support for electing a new president for Lebanon 16 months after the position became vacant
  • He also stressed the urgency of completing this process due to the regional situation

CAIRO: Alaa Moussa, Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon, participated in a meeting of the ambassadors of the five-nation group in Lebanon with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, France, the US, and Qatar.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo said Egypt participated in the meeting to support Lebanon and promote its stability.

The ambassador emphasized Egypt’s support for electing a new president for Lebanon 16 months after the position became vacant.

He also stressed the urgency of completing this process due to the regional situation.

Moussa and other ambassadors emphasized the five-nation group’s role: to assist Lebanese parties in reaching a fair and transparent agreement on electing the president through dialogue or consultation.

The five-nation group will not interfere with the appointment of the next Lebanese president, which is the exclusive role of the Lebanese parliament.

Mikati said he appreciated the five countries’ efforts to support Lebanon in facing its current challenges.

He also said electing a new president is crucial in completing Lebanon’s state institutions and implementing necessary political and economic reforms to overcome the current crises.

The Arab and international community launched the coordination framework last year to support Lebanon, which has been without a president since the end of former President Michel Aoun’s term in October 2022.