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.


UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war

Updated 5 sec ago
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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 7 min 22 sec ago
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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 31 min 44 sec ago
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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.”