Gazans say hunger is causing social breakdown, fueling fears of exodus into Egypt

A Palestinian woman bakes bread inside a damaged house in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on December 11, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2023
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Gazans say hunger is causing social breakdown, fueling fears of exodus into Egypt

  • Narrow coastal strip has been under a full Israeli blockade since the start of the conflict more than two months ago
  • Over 2.3 million people driven from their homes and residents say it is impossible to find refuge and increasingly food

GAZA: Hamas said it was striking back against Israeli forces across Gaza on Monday and Palestinians and international relief agencies said public order was disintegrating as hunger spread, fueling fears of a mass exodus to Egypt.
The narrow coastal strip has been under a full Israeli blockade since the start of the conflict more than two months ago and the border with Egypt is the only other way out.
Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes and residents say it is impossible to find refuge, or increasingly food, in the densely populated enclave, with around 18,000 people already killed and conflict intensifying.
Gazans said people forced to flee repeatedly were dying of hunger and cold as well as bombardment, describing desperate attacks on aid trucks and sky high prices.
“Had any of us expected that our people may die of hunger, had it crossed anyone’s mind before?” said Rola Ghanim, among many expressing bewilderment on social media.
Aid trucks risked being stopped by desperate residents if they even slowed down at an intersection, Carl Skau, said deputy executive director of the UN World Food Programme.
“Half of the population are starving, nine out of 10 are not eating every day,” he told Reuters on Saturday.
One Palestinian told Reuters he had not eaten for three days and had to beg for bread for his children.
“I pretend to be strong but I am afraid I will collapse in front of them at any moment,” he said by telephone, declining to be named for fear of reprisals.
After the collapse of a week-long cease-fire on Dec. 1, Israel began a ground offensive in the south last week and has since pushed from the east into the heart of the city of Khan Younis, with warplanes attacking an area to the west.
On Monday, militants and some residents said fighters were preventing Israeli tanks moving further west through the city and clashing with Israeli forces in northern Gaza, where Israel had said its tasks were largely complete.
Israel said dozens of Hamas fighters had surrendered and urged others to join them. The armed wing of Hamas said it had fired rockets toward Tel Aviv, where Israelis fled to shelters.
UN officials say 1.9 million people — 85 percent of Gaza’s population — are displaced and describe the conditions in the southern areas where they have concentrated as hellish.
“I expect public order to completely break down soon and an even worse situation could unfold including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday.

ISRAEL DENIES SEEKING TO EMPTY GAZA
Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of UNRWA, the UN body responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees, wrote on Saturday that pushing Gazans closer and closer to the border pointed to “attempts to move Palestinians into Egypt.”
The border with Egypt is heavily fortified, but Hamas militants blew holes in the wall in 2008 to break a tight blockade. Gazans crossed to buy food and other goods but quickly returned, with none permanently displaced.
Egypt has long warned it would not allow Gazans into its territory this time, fearing they would not be able to return.
Jordan, which absorbed the bulk of Palestinians after the creation of Israel in 1948, accused Israel on Sunday of seeking “to empty Gaza of its people.”
Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy called the accusation “outrageous and false,” saying his country was defending itself “from the monsters who perpetrated the Oct. 7 massacre” and bringing them to justice.
Hamas gunmen on Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 100 hostages were freed during the truce, some with relatives left behind.
“I am petrified I will get bad news that he is no longer alive,” Sharon Alony-Cunio, released with her two little girls, told Reuters of her husband, who is still being held.
Israel has vowed to annihilate the militant Islamist group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007 and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Since Oct 7. at least 18,205 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and 49,645 wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry. The toll no longer includes northern Gaza and many people there and elsewhere remain trapped under rubble.
Israel says the instructions to move are among measures to protect the population. It accuses militants from Hamas, which controls Gaza, of using civilians as human shields and stealing humanitarian aid, which Hamas denies.
The Israeli military accused Hamas of hiding weapons in UNRWA facilities in Jabalia and distributed video purporting to show Hamas gunmen beating people and taking aid in the Gaza City district of Shejaia.
Israel has prevented most aid from moving into Gaza, saying it fears it will just fuel Hamas attacks.
Government spokesman Eylon Levy said Israel was working to open the Kerem Shalom crossing which processed most aid before the war and blamed international agencies for holdups at the crossing from Egypt, which is designed for pedestrians.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank and neighboring Jordan, most shops and businesses closed in response to Palestinian calls for a strike but the impact on Israel was unclear.
The Gaza health ministry said 32 Palestinians were killed in Khan Younis overnight. The armed wing of Hamas said it had hit two Israeli tanks with rockets and fired mortars at Israeli forces.
Militants and residents said fighting was also fierce in Shejaia, east of the center of Gaza City, the northwestern Sheikh Radwan district and Jabalia further north.
In central Gaza, where Israel told people to move on Monday toward “known shelters in the Deir Al-Balah area” health officials said the Shuhada Al-Aqsa hospital had received 40 dead.
Medics also said an Israeli air strike had killed four in a house in Rafah, one of two places near Egypt where Israel says Palestinians should take refuge.


Hamas armed wing says seven hostages killed in Gaza

Updated 8 sec ago
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Hamas armed wing says seven hostages killed in Gaza

  • Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to Hamas’ public messaging on the hostages, casting it as psychological warfare

CAIRO: Seven hostages who have been held in Gaza were killed as a result of the Israeli military’s bombardment of the enclave, Abu Ubaida, the spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing Al-Qassam brigades said on Friday.
He did not include details, like a timeline, backing up the claim.
The Al-Qassam brigades claimed that the number of hostages killed due to Israel’s military operations in Gaza has now exceeded 70 captives, Abu Ubaida added in a statement on Telegram.
Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to Hamas’ public messaging on the hostages, casting it as psychological warfare.
Israel’s military campaign follows Hamas militants’ killing of 1,200 people in southern Israel and the abduction of at least 250 on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel has responded with a military assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
During a week-long truce in late November, Hamas freed more than 100 Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for Israel releasing about 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas at the outset of the war threatened to execute hostages in retaliation for Israeli military strikes, and Israel has accused it of having executed at least two of the dead hostages recovered by the Israeli military.

 


Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

Updated 29 min 15 sec ago
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Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

  • Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis
  • Fearing escalation, Iraq asked Iran to help rein in groups

TEHRAN: Iranians voted on Friday in elections for parliament and a key clerical body, amid fears of a low turnout and with conservatives expected to tighten their grip on power.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for a strong turnout, was the first to cast his ballot. He vote at a polling station in central Tehran, state television reported.
The elections are the first in Iran since widespread protests erupted after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, following her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Since the last elections, Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis.
More than 61 million of Iran’s 85 million people are eligible to vote for members of parliament as well as the clerics of the Assembly of Experts, which selects Iran’s supreme leader.
There were fears of a low turnout, however, after a state TV poll found more than half of respondents were indifferent about the elections.
“Suppose that I vote: what would it change?” asked a 21-year-old from Kurdistan province who gave her name only as Hanna, for fear of reprisals. “They (the elected officials) do not respect their promises.”
Her comments were echoed by Hashem, a 32-year-old from the southwestern province of Khuzestan. “The problem with the elections is that people are not happy with this system because of the political and economic situation,” he said.
Another voter, Moradiani from south Tehran, said she would heed Khamenei’s call to vote.
“The leader said that participating in the elections is an obligation,” she said, “just as it is obligatory for us to pray.”
Polls closed at midnight (2030 GMT), after voting hours were extended several times during the day, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Local Fars news agency estimated the turnout to stand at “more than 40 percent.”
“The plan to boycott the elections, designed by foreign enemies and their internal supporters, failed with the participation of around 25 million people,” it said, without elaborating

Iran’s last parliamentary election in 2020 saw turnout of 42.57 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Hadi Tahan Nazif, spokesman for the Guardian Council which vets candidates, voiced optimism about Friday’s turnout, saying it was “even better” than four years ago.
Khamenei had on Friday appealed for people to vote, saying: “Onlookers from all over observe the affairs of our country; make (Iran’s) friends happy and ill-wishers disappointed.”
The supreme leader had previously warned that Iran’s “enemies want to see if the people are present.” Otherwise, he added, “they will threaten your security in one way or another.”
Those watching, he said, included the United States, “most of the Europeans, evil Zionists, capitalists and big companies.”
Iran considers the United States, its Western allies and Israel “enemies” of the state and accuses them of seeking to intervene in its internal affairs.
On the eve of the elections, the United States said they would be unfair.
“I have no expectation that Iran’s elections will be free and fair, and I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.
Candidates for parliament are vetted by the Guardian Council, whose members are either appointed or approved by the supreme leader.
They have approved a total of 15,200 candidates, out of nearly 49,000 applicants, to run for seats in the 290-member parliament.
Conservatives and ultra-conservatives, who hold 232 out 290 seats in the 2020 parliament after reformist and moderate candidates were disqualified, are expected by analysts to dominate once again.
A coalition of parties called the Reform Front said it would not take part in “meaningless, non-competitive and ineffective elections.”

Former Iranian president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami, was quoted in February by the conservative Javan daily as saying that Iran was “very far from free and competitive elections.”
Conservatives are also expected to maintain a firm grip on the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member body exclusively made up of male Islamic scholars.
A total of 144 candidates are running but many hopefuls were disqualified, including moderate former president Hassan Rouhani.
The Israel-Hamas war has sent tensions in the region soaring, with pro-Tehran groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen all involved in clashes with either Israel or its Western allies.
The elections also take place amid crippling international sanctions and mounting economic hardship in Iran, where inflation has hovered around 50 percent and the rial has sharply depreciated against the dollar.
“The prices are extremely high and continue to increase,” Masoumeh, a 40-year-old housewife, told AFP in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar ahead of the vote.
“I don’t think that the representatives who will be elected will be able to improve this situation.”
 


Biden says ‘hoping’ for Gaza ceasefire deal by Ramadan

Updated 39 min 40 sec ago
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Biden says ‘hoping’ for Gaza ceasefire deal by Ramadan

  • Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden said Friday he was “hoping” for a ceasefire deal in the Israel-Hamas conflict by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan but agreement was still not sealed.
“I’m hoping so, we’re still working real hard on it. We’re not there yet,” he told reporters at the White House when asked if he expected a deal by Ramadan, which will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
“We’ll get there but we’re not there yet — we may not get there,” Biden added, without elaborating, as he headed to his helicopter to spend the weekend at the presidential Camp David retreat.
Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline.
The 81-year-old Democrat announced earlier Friday that the United States would soon start airdropping aid to Gaza, a day after dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed rushing an aid convoy.
Biden has said the incident could complicate talks, but would not comment Friday on what was holding up a deal, adding: “I’m not going to tell you that because that’ll get involved in the negotiations.”

 


Tunisian judge releases union leader after one-day detention

Updated 02 March 2024
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Tunisian judge releases union leader after one-day detention

  • The UGTT, which has about 1 million members, has been a critical voice after the arrest of activists, businessmen, and journalists since President Kais Saied took charge of most powers in 2021 when he closed parliament

TUNIS: A judge has released a top official in Tunisia’s biggest labor union, one day after he was detained, the union said.
The Tunisian General Labor Union denounced the detention of Tahar Mezzi, saying it was a politically motivated attempt to undermine union rights.
Mezzi is the deputy secretary-general and the union’s head of the private sector.
He was detained two days before a huge protest called by the UGTT against what it said was a “violation of union rights and the disruption of social dialogue.”
A judicial official said the judge also ordered a travel ban on Mezzi.
The UGTT did not say on what grounds Mezzi was detained.
Tunisian authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Since last year, police have arrested at least four senior union officials.
The UGTT, which has about 1 million members, has been a critical voice after the arrest of activists, businessmen, and journalists since President  Kais Saied took charge of most powers in 2021 when he closed parliament.
But the voice of the union, which was widely seen as the biggest force in the country, has been significantly diminished since last year after the arrest of some officials.
Some political parties and activists have accused UGTT of inaction, retreating from its role, and choosing silence instead of confronting Saied’s authoritarian approach.
Saturday’s protest will be the first in months.

 


How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge

Updated 53 min 43 sec ago
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How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge

  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE leveraging renewables and environmental policies to protect future growth and prosperity
  • Without action now, parts of the MENA region could be uninhabitable by 2050 owing to extreme temperatures and water scarcity

RIYADH/DUBAI: The Middle East and North Africa region is at a crossroads. As temperatures rise, water scarcity intensifies and desertification spreads, the region’s immense economic potential is at risk unless bold action is taken.

Fortunately, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have been taking steps to adopt sources of renewable energy, not only to meet their own commitments to slashing carbon emissions, but to take a lead in the global energy transition.

The Sakaka Solar Plant project in Saudi Arabia's northern province of Jouf, spread over an area of 6 square kilometers, generates 940,000MWh electricity and supplies enough clean energy to power 75,000 households. (SPA)

This adoption of renewables has come hand in hand with a broader regional push to diversify economies away from oil, invest in carbon capture, storage and utilization, and roll out policies designed to protect natural habitats and expand green spaces.

There is a lot at stake for the MENA region, which is viewed as being uniquely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Indeed, several studies suggest parts of the region could be uninhabitable by 2050 owing to extreme temperatures and water scarcity.

In November and December last year, Dubai hosted the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, at which states agreed to a historic set of measures to stop average global temperatures rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

People walk outside Expo City in Dubai on December 12, 2023 during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28. (AFP)

The agreement called for a “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner ... so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

It also called for the creation of a fund to help vulnerable countries pay for climate-related damage, and the publication of landmark assessments on the world’s progress in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Furthermore, it called for a tripling of renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030, the speeding up of efforts to reduce coal use, and the adoption of technologies for carbon capture, storage and utilization.

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Although not all nations were satisfied with the text of the deal, it did mark an important step forward, building on the ambitions laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Speaking at the Paris headquarters of the International Energy Agency on Feb. 20, COP28 President Sultan Al-Jaber said that meeting the goals agreed under the “UAE Consensus” would require “unprecedented action” by global stakeholders.

“Solidarity overcame polarization, inclusivity prevailed over finger-pointing and the spirit of partnership brought the best of humanity together,” he said of the COP28 summit.

“To keep this spirit alive and build on the momentum achieved at COP28, the UAE Consensus set a new direction and a clear course correction. We must now turn an unprecedented agreement into unprecedented action. Now is the time for all stakeholders to step up.”

COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber is seen on a screen as he speaks during a high-level round table on COP energy and climate commitments organized by the International Energy Agency at its headquarters in Paris on February 20, 2024. (AFP)

While many Western nations appear to be rolling back their climate commitments, the Middle East and North Africa region has risen to the challenge.

One bold example of this is the Saudi Green Initiative, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021 to protect the Kingdom’s environment, conserve wildlife, and plant billions of trees, while enabling sustainable economic growth.

 

 

“Since its inception, SGI has implemented a range of initiatives to protect and conserve the Kingdom’s vital ecosystems,” Osama Ibrahim Faqeeha, deputy minister of environment, water and agriculture, told Arab News.

Osama Ibrahim Faqeeha

“For example, the National Greening Program, which is driving nationwide tree-planting efforts across Saudi Arabia and is underpinned by two key guiding principles: firstly, maintaining ecosystem balance, and secondly, utilizing renewable water resources.

“The program follows a nature-based regeneration approach to allow its ecosystems to flourish over time.”

Faqeeha said several dedicated initiatives under the SGI are being actioned to protect biodiversity hotspots through the designation of protected areas.

“SGI also aims to promote sustainability by raising awareness and reducing the adverse impact of economic sectors on the ecosystems, driving all these efforts by engaging all relevant stakeholders from the public, private, and third sectors,” he said.

Saudi Arabia's National Greening Program has been in full swing since 2021. (SPA)

Other significant steps the Kingdom has taken to safeguard biodiversity include the establishment of a dedicated national environmental framework, underpinned by the National Environment Law.

Several agencies have been established to carry out this work, including the National Center for Wildlife, National Center for Vegetation Cover, National Center for Environmental Compliance, and the National Center for Waste Management.

Under his ministry’s oversight, Faqeeha said these agencies “regulate and monitor critical environmental domains linked to biodiversity conservation, such as terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems, land and vegetation cover, environmental media, waste management, (and) underscore the commitment to biodiversity conservation in the Kingdom.”

The picture is similar in the UAE. Under the General Environment Policy of 2021, authorities are working to preserve ecosystems, promote diversification and economic prosperity, integrate climate change and biodiversity considerations into various sectors, and support the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

Keeping its marine waters constantly clean is part the UAE's sustainability goals. (Supplied)

All these plans are crucial if countries in the Middle East and North Africa region hope to address the effects of climate change, which are already impacting precipitation patterns, causing water scarcity and harming agriculture, thereby threatening livelihoods and food security.

In the Gulf states, in particular, climate change is already contributing to an increase in the salinity of groundwater. According to a report by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Gulf water supplies will come under additional strain over the next 20 years due to the region’s booming population and the scarcity of rainfall.

Officials in these countries believe it is therefore critical to plan now in order to mitigate and adapt to these challenges if they are to protect future growth and prosperity.