Israeli tanks advance deeper into Gaza districts, 12 weeks into war

Israel says it is determined to pursue its unprecedented air and ground offensive until it has dismantled Hamas, a goal viewed by some as unattainable because of the militant group’s deep roots in Palestinian society. (AP)
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Updated 30 December 2023
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Israeli tanks advance deeper into Gaza districts, 12 weeks into war

  • Saturday’s bombardment came hours after Biden administration approved weapons sale to Israel
  • Aid officials say conditions in Gaza worse week after UNSC call for unhindered aid deliveries

DEIR AL-BALAH: Israeli warplanes struck two urban refugee camps in central Gaza on Saturday, as the Biden administration approved a new emergency weapons sale to Israel despite persistent international cease-fire calls over mounting civilian deaths, hunger and mass displacement in the enclave.

Israel says it is determined to pursue its unprecedented air and ground offensive until it has dismantled Hamas, a goal viewed by some as unattainable because of the militant group’s deep roots in Palestinian society. The United States has shielded Israel diplomatically and has continued to supply weapons.

Israel argues that ending the war now would mean victory for Hamas, a stance shared by the Biden administration which at the same time urged Israel to do more to avoid harm to Palestinian civilians.

The war, triggered by the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, has displaced some 85 percent of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million residents, sending swells of people seeking shelter in Israeli-designated safe areas that the military has nevertheless also bombed. That has left Palestinians with a harrowing sense that nowhere is safe in the tiny enclave.
Residents in the urban refugee camps of Nuseirat and Bureij, two recent hot spots of combat, reported Israeli airstrikes overnight and into Saturday.
Nuseirat resident Mustafa Abu Wawee said a strike hit the home of one of his relatives, killing two people.
“The (Israeli) occupation is doing everything to force people to leave,” he said over the phone while searching along with others for four people missing under the rubble. “They want to break our spirit and will but they will fail. We are here to stay.”
A second strike late Friday in Nuseirat targeted the home of a journalist for Al-Quds TV, a channel linked to the group Islamic Jihad whose militants also participated in the Oct. 7 attack. The channel said the journalist, Jaber Abu Hadros and six members of his family were killed.
Bureij resident Rami Abu Mosab said sounds of gunfire echoed across the camp overnight, followed by heavy airstrikes Saturday.
With Israeli forces pushing deeper into Khan Younis and the camps of central Gaza, tens of thousands of Palestinians streamed into the already crowded city of Rafah at the southernmost end of Gaza in recent days.
Drone footage showed a vast camp of thousands of tents and makeshift shacks set up on what had been empty land on Rafah’s western outskirts next to UN warehouses. People arrived in Rafah in trucks, in carts and on foot. Those who did not find space in the already overwhelmed shelters put up tents on roadsides slick with mud from winter rains.
The State Department said Friday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress he approved a $147.5 million sale for equipment, including fuses, charges and primers, that is needed for 155 mm shells Israel bought previously.
It marked the second time this month that the Biden administration is bypassing Congress to approve an emergency weapons sale to Israel.
The department cited the “urgency of Israel’s defensive needs” as a reason for the approval, and argued that “it is vital to US national interests to ensure Israel is able to defend itself against the threats it faces.”
The emergency determination means the purchase will bypass the congressional review requirement for foreign military sales. Such determinations are rare, but not unprecedented, when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers’ approval.
Blinken made a similar decision on Dec. 9 to approve the sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106 million.
Both moves have come as President Joe Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs remains stalled in Congress, caught up in a debate over US immigration policy and border security. Some Democratic lawmakers have spoken of making the proposed $14.3 billion in American assistance to its Mideast ally contingent on concrete steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza during the war with Hamas.
More than a week after a UN Security Council resolution called for the unhindered delivery of aid at scale across besieged Gaza, conditions have only worsened, UN agencies warned.
Aid officials said the aid entering Gaza remains woefully inadequate. Distributing goods is hampered by long delays at two border crossings, ongoing fighting, Israeli airstrikes, repeated cuts in Internet and phone services and a breakdown of law and order that makes it difficult to secure aid convoys, they said.
Nearly the entire population is fully dependent on outside humanitarian aid, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. A quarter of the population is starving because too few trucks enter with food, medicine, fuel and other supplies — sometimes fewer than 100 trucks a day, according to UN daily reports.
UN monitors said operations at the Israeli-run Kerem Shalom crossing halted for four days this week because of security incidents, such as a drone strike and the seizing of aid by desperate Gaza residents.
They said the crossing reopened Friday, and that a total of 81 aid trucks entered Gaza through Kerem Shalom and the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border — a fraction of the typical prewar volume of 500 trucks a day.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization warned that the spread of disease is accelerating, particularly in southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands have crammed into an ever-shrinking area to flee airstrikes and advancing Israeli ground forces. The agency reported more cases of upper respiratory infections, diarrhea, lice, scabies, chickenpox, skin rashes and meningitis.
100 Palestinians killed and 158 wounded in Israeli strikes in central Gaza during the past 24 hours, a senior health official said.
The war has already killed over 21,500 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. Its count does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian deaths and injuries, saying the militants embed themselves within civilian infrastructure.
Israeli officials, meanwhile, have vowed to bring back more than 100 hostages still held by the militants after their Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the war. The assault killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
The military says 168 of its soldiers have been killed since the ground offensive began.


Exodus of doctors and health workers leave sick and ailing Syrians out on a limb

Updated 11 sec ago
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Exodus of doctors and health workers leave sick and ailing Syrians out on a limb

  • Sanctions, isolation, earthquakes and a grinding civil war have devastated Syria’s health system
  • Overwhelmed, under-resourced, and often unpaid, medical personnel are leaving for Europe in droves 

LONDON: More than a decade of civil war, economic sanctions, regional tensions, and a devastating earthquake have left Syria’s healthcare system in tatters and, according to a top World Health Organization official, forgotten by the international community.

Hanan Balkhy, WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said last week that almost half of Syria’s health workers had fled the war-torn country. She called for innovative approaches to halt the exodus of Syrian medical staff abroad.

In an interview with the AFP news agency, she said that young doctors needed to be offered better prospects than practicing “fourth-century” medicine amid dire conditions, “where you cauterize people and send them on their merry way.”

An injured man receives emergency treatment at the Samez hospital following bombardment by pro Syrian regime forces in rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib on October 6, 2023. (AFP)

The International Rescue Committee highlighted in a 2021 report that about 70 percent of the medical workforce had fled the country, leaving one doctor for every 10,000 people.

Balkhy told AFP that in addition to earning extremely low wages, if any at all, Syria’s medical staff faced a severe shortage of resources and equipment, including operating rooms, sterilization units, and medications.

However, according Dr. Zaher Sahloul, a Syrian-American critical care specialist and president of the medical NGO MedGlobal, every young Syrian physician he knows either plans to or dreams of leaving Syria and pursuing opportunities in other countries, “especially Germany, other European nations, or the US.”

“The flight is across the board and not related to war or conflict,” he told Arab News.

According to data released by the German Medical Association earlier this year, 6,120 Syrian doctors work in Germany without holding a German passport. These doctors account for 10 percent of the EU country’s foreign medical staff.

Balkhy said many young doctors in Syria are learning the German language on the side “so that they can be ready to jump,” which she believes is a significant concern for the region and its population.

But she also believes that finding creative solutions may encourage Syrian doctors to stay or return to their country — a choice she says many would make “willingly” with access to adequate support.

Sahloul says the main reasons behind the exodus of medical workers “are the economic collapse, hyperinflation, corruption, the collapse of the healthcare system due to long years of war, the regime’s policies of destroying what is left and pushing away anyone who wants to leave, and the lack of a viable political solution.”

Following a brief visit to the country between May 11 and 16, WHO’s Balkhy described the healthcare situation as “catastrophic,” warning that the number of people in need is “staggering, and pockets of critical vulnerabilities persist in many parts of the country.”

In a statement published on May 18, the WHO official wrote that intensifying tensions in the region, including the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip and the Iran-Israel shadow war, have exacerbated this catastrophic situation.

The civil war has forced more than 14 million Syrians to flee their homes and seek refuge both within the country and beyond its borders. Among them, more than 7.2 million remain internally displaced, while about 70 percent of the population needs humanitarian assistance, according to UN figures.

Balkhy said in her statement that she was “extremely alarmed” by the increasing malnutrition rates among children under 5 and nursing mothers as a result of rising poverty.

The UN warned last year that 90 percent of Syria’s population lived below the poverty line, with millions facing a reduction in food rations due to a shortfall in funding for aid agencies.

According to the WHO regional director, almost three-quarters of all deaths in Syria are caused by chronic conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and mental health disorders, many of which are going untreated.

She also noted the number of burn injuries in Syria has been disproportionately high, especially among children, as people, deprived of traditional means of heating and cooking, burn unsuitable materials, such as tires, plastics, and fabrics.

Fumes produced by burning these substances also result in respiratory issues.

INNUMBERS

• 70 percent Proportion of Syria’s medical workforce that fled the country, leaving one doctor for every 10,000 people. (IRC, 2021)

• 6,120 Number of Syrian doctors working in Germany, accounting for 10 percent of the country’s foreign medical staff. (GMA, 2024)6,120 Number of Syrian doctors working in Germany, accounting for 10 percent of the country’s foreign medical staff. (GMA, 2024)

• 65 percent Proportion of Syria’s hospitals deemed fully operational, making access to healthcare heavily constrained. (WHO, 2024)

• $80 million Funding needed by the WHO for 2024 to ensure access to health services and prevent further deterioration in Syria.

With just 65 percent of hospitals and 62 percent of primary healthcare centers fully operational, combined with a severe shortage of essential medicines and medical equipment, access to healthcare is constrained.

Before the war erupted in 2011, Syria’s pharmaceutical industry covered about 90 percent of the national needs of medicines, according to a 2010 paper by academics from the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Romania.

In 2013, WHO reported that the country’s local drug production plunged after the fighting caused substantial damage to pharmaceutical plants in the governorates of Aleppo and rural Damascus.

Poverty also creates significant barriers to accessing medical services and affording essential medicines, said Balkhy.

What concerned her most was “the fact that almost half of the health workforce, which forms the backbone of any health system, has left the country.”

An investigation by Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism last year found that although the exact number of Syrian physicians who left the country remains unknown, the true extent of this exodus is larger than the NGOs and the Syrian government have reported.

“Retaining a skilled health workforce and ensuring sufficient medical supplies in Syria and across the region is a key priority,” said Balkhy.

She proposed engaging young Syrian physicians on research projects with a pathway to publishing so they can “feel that they’re doing something worthwhile,” in addition to ensuring they “at least have the equipment” to perform operations.

For Sahloul of MedGlobal, fostering a belief in a brighter future is essential to retaining both new and seasoned doctors.

“What will encourage young and old doctors to stay in Syria is believing in a better future — a new leadership that respects its human capital,” he said.

Sahloul said that international and Arab actors need to devote more attention to finding a genuine solution to the Syrian conflict — “one that ensures respect for human rights and dignity, and focuses on rebuilding.”

He added: “The current Arab normalization with the regime is flawed because it gives no hope for any meaningful change.”

Sahloul said normalization’s priorities, including refugee repatriation, curbing the manufacture of and trade in the amphetamine drug Captagon, and limiting Iran’s influence, “are not the most important priorities to the young graduates and aspiring doctors in Syria.”

Balkhy emphasized that the decline in humanitarian funding for Syria was a “central and troubling concern.” 

For instance, Al-Hol camp in Syria’s northeast — home to the wives and children of Daesh militants captured in 2019 — has grappled with many significant challenges since funding shortages forced WHO to halt medical referrals, prompting camp administrators to revoke its access.

Talks with donors in the capital Damascus during her five-day visit revealed that while they acknowledge the extent of gaps and needs, they are hampered by competing regional and global agendas.

Medecins Sans Frontieres warned on April 29 that the severe lack of funding for a vital WHO-funded medical referral system in 11 camps in northeast Syria “will lead to a marked increase in the number of preventable deaths.”

WHO said in March that it required $80 million in funding for the year 2024 to ensure the continuity, quality, and accessibility of health services and infrastructure in Syria, and to prevent a further deterioration of the already precarious situation.


 


Interior ministers of Libya and Tunisia agree reopening of major border crossing

Updated 54 min 26 sec ago
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Interior ministers of Libya and Tunisia agree reopening of major border crossing

  • The GNU, which controls Tripoli and northwestern parts of Libya, is recognized internationally but not by the country’s eastern-based parliament

TRIPOLI: Interior ministers from Libya and Tunisia said on Wednesday they had agreed to partially reopen the border crossing at Ras Jdir on Thursday morning, and to fully reopen it on June 20 after more than three months of closure.
Libyan interior minister in Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli, Emad Trabulsi, said in a video statement with his Tunisian counterpart, Khaled Nouri, that the border crossing would be reopened “for the interest of the countries without harming any party.”
In mid-March, the Libyan interior ministry said it closed the border crossing due to armed clashes after the border was attacked by “outlaws.”
Ras Ijdir is the major border crossing between the two countries in Libya’s western region, where Libyans often go to Tunisia for medical treatment and trucks with goods coming in the opposite direction.
Libya has had little peace since a 2011 uprising and is split between eastern and western factions, with rival administrations governing each area.
The GNU, which controls Tripoli and northwestern parts of Libya, is recognized internationally but not by the country’s eastern-based parliament.
“The reopening will be tomorrow for humanitarian cases, special cases that have permits from the Tunisian and Algerian interior ministry, and medical cases,” said Trabulsi.
Trabulsi added that he would meet Nouri on June 20 at the border crossing “to hold a meeting and fully reopen it to all travelers.”
For his part, Nouri said they had supported the crossing with everything necessary “in order to facilitate movement and not disrupt travelers from both sides.”


Israel police say soldiers shoot Palestinian in Jerusalem’s Old City

Updated 57 min 5 sec ago
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Israel police say soldiers shoot Palestinian in Jerusalem’s Old City

  • A police statement said an “argument led to a quarrel” between four armed Israelis and “a number of locals” on an Old City street
  • “At a certain stage,” police said the armed Israelis “carried out a shooting that, according to the suspicions, in part hit at least one” Palestinian

JERUSALEM: Israeli police said a Palestinian man was seriously wounded Wednesday in a shooting incident in annexed east Jerusalem’s Old City during “a quarrel” between off-duty soldiers and Palestinians.
A police statement said an “argument led to a quarrel” between four armed Israelis and “a number of locals” on an Old City street. It was unclear what had triggered the confrontation.
“At a certain stage,” police said the armed Israelis “carried out a shooting that, according to the suspicions, in part hit at least one” Palestinian.
He was “in serious condition” while three others suffered mild injuries, the force said citing medics.
The armed men included three Israeli soldiers, two of them reservists, and a civilian, it said, adding that none of them were in uniform or on duty.
“According to one of the soldiers who opened fire, during the events he felt threatened, and this claim will be examined in the investigation,” the police said, adding they do not suspect a “terror attack” against the Israeli group.
Video footage circulating on social media, which AFP was unable to independently verify, showed four armed men in the middle of a busy market street as a wounded man lies on the ground next to a patch of blood.
The wounded man is seen holding his right arm where he was hit, as others, speaking Hebrew with an Arabic accent, try to calm the situation.
The historic Old City houses holy sites revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians. It is a frequent site of tensions and violence at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.


8,000 under-5s treated for malnutrition in Gaza

Updated 12 June 2024
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8,000 under-5s treated for malnutrition in Gaza

  • WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 28 of those children had died

GENEVA: More than 8,000 children aged under five have been treated in the Gaza Strip for acute malnutrition since war broke out, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 28 of those children had died and a significant proportion of Gaza’s population was now facing catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions.

“Despite reports of increased delivery of food, there is currently no evidence that those who need it most are receiving sufficient quantity and quality of food,” he told a press conference.

Tedros said the UN health agency and its partners had attempted to scale up nutrition services in the besieged Palestinian territory.

“Over 8,000 children under five years old have been diagnosed and treated for acute malnutrition,” he said. Among them, he said 1,600 were suffering from severe acute malnutrition, also known as severe wasting — the most deadly form of malnutrition.

However, due to insecurity and lack of access, only two stabilization centers for severely malnourished patients can currently operate, Tedros added.

“There have already been 32 deaths attributed to malnutrition, including 28 among children under five years old.”

Tedros said there was also an escalating health crisis in the West Bank, with attacks on healthcare, and movement restrictions, obstructing access to health services. “In the West Bank, as in Gaza, the only solution is peace. The best medicine is peace.”


Palestinian detainees say they faced abuse in Israeli jails

Updated 12 June 2024
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Palestinian detainees say they faced abuse in Israeli jails

GAZA: Palestinians held in Israeli detention since the start of the war in Gaza said they faced systematic ill-treatment by prison authorities whom they accused of deliberately withholding vital medical treatment.

Human rights groups and international organizations have alleged widespread abuse of inmates detained by Israel in raids in the occupied West Bank or during its military advance through in Gaza.

They described abusive and humiliating treatment including holding blindfolded and handcuffed detainees in cramped cages as well as beatings, intimidation and harassment.

“We have left but we call on you to get the rest out,” said former detainee Ataa Shbat, at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza, where he was taken following his release. He said many detainees believed their families assumed they were dead.

“People are dying. Torture which you cannot imagine unless you taste it (experience it). Suffering which you cannot imagine unless you experience it,” he said.

The Israeli military has said it is investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees at facilities in Israel but has declined to comment on specific cases. A spokesperson said on Wednesday that details of the investigation would be shared when they were ready.

At least 18 Palestinians have died in Israeli custody since the start of the war, the Palestinian Prisoners Association said on Wednesday, six of whom were from Gaza, including orthopedics surgeon Adnan Al-Bursh.

More than 9,170 Palestinians from the West Bank have been arrested by Israel since Oct. 7, it said, with thousands more “forcibly disappeared” from Gaza. It said their exact number was unknown as Israel has refused to disclose how many Palestinians from Gaza it was holding.

Last week, Israeli state attorneys said authorities had begun transferring prisoners from Sde Teiman, a former military base in the Negev desert, after groups including Association for Civil Rights in Israel demanded the closure of the site.

Widespread reports of mistreatment of detainees in Israeli prisons have added to international pressure on Israel for its conduct of the Gaza war, now in its ninth month. Last month, the US State Department said it was looking into allegations of Israeli abuse of Palestinian detainees.

The main UN relief agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, said in a report from April that prisoners reported ill-treatment throughout their detention. It said this included beatings, being deprived of food, denied access to water or toilets and having their hands and feet bound with plastic ties.