Siege is a ‘silent killer’ as Gazans face ‘debilitating’ struggle to survive, says UN agency chief 

UNWRA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini meets with Palestinians at a refugee center in the Gaza Strip last week. (X: @UNLazzarini)
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Updated 19 January 2024
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Siege is a ‘silent killer’ as Gazans face ‘debilitating’ struggle to survive, says UN agency chief 

  • Philippe Lazzarini of UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees calls for immediate ceasefire, says this war can have no winners, only breed ‘despair and chaos’ 
  • Making his fourth visit to the territory, he said people of Gaza ‘have sunk further into despair, with the struggle for survival consuming every hour’ 

NEW YORK CITY: The head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East on Thursday called for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, to provide some relief for the population there and clear the way for a much-needed increase in the supply of essential goods, including the reopening of commercial channels. 

Anything short of that will only prolong “the misery of an entire population,” said the organization’s commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini. 

Speaking during a visit to Gaza, his fourth since the war began in October, he said the war has gone on “far too long” and warned that there can be no winners in this conflict, which is only causing “endless chaos and growing despair.” 

Over the past 100 days, he added, the people of Gaza have gone from “the sheer shock of losing everything, in some cases every member of their family, to a debilitating struggle to stay alive and protect their loved ones. 

“Every time I visit Gaza, I witness how people have sunk further into despair, with the struggle for survival consuming every hour.” 

Lazzarini said that in southern parts of Gaza near Rafah, close to the border with Egypt, makeshift shelters made from plastic sheeting have sprouted up everywhere, even on streets, as displaced people attempt to shield themselves from the cold and rain. More than 20 people can be crammed into these fragile dwellings, he added. 

The population of Rafah has almost quadrupled in the past two months and now exceeds 1.2 million, said Lazzarini. The congestion is so intense that vehicles are barely able to navigate through the throng, he added. 

“Everyone I met had a personal story of fear, death, loss, trauma to share,” he said. “In Deir Al-Balah, in the middle areas, I visited one of our schools-turned-shelter. The overcrowding was claustrophobic and the filthiness was striking. 

“I heard stories of women foregoing food and water to avoid having to use the unsanitary toilets. Skin diseases and head lice are rife, with those affected stigmatized. People were struggling for food and medicine during the day, feeling cold and damp during the night. 

“They wish to return to their lives before the war but realize, with deep anxiety, that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.” 

Given the restrictions on the flow of commercial goods into the Gaza Strip as a result of the conflict, the cost of essential items has risen as much as tenfold, from fruit and vegetables, which are barely available, to baby milk and even a second-hand blanket, Lazzarini said. Sanitation and healthcare services are also seriously compromised. 

“Mountains of uncollected rubbish now fill the streets,” he said. “The chronically ill do not have sufficient medicine and must learn to live with alternatives or do without, from basic insulin for diabetes to daily tablets for high blood pressure. People are not able to wash and stay clean. 

“Long and repeated blackouts in telecommunications, including internet and mobile phones, add to the distress as people feel cut off from the rest of the world. The siege is the silent killer of many.” 

Lazzarini lamented the fact that reliable information about conditions in northern Gaza remains scarce because access is still highly restricted. He was denied permission to visit the area and said UNRWA aid trucks frequently face significant delays at checkpoints. 

“Many desperate people now approach our trucks to get food directly off them, without waiting for distribution,” he said. By the time the Israeli authorities give our convoys the green light to cross, trucks are almost empty. 

“Our staff are equally impacted. Despite this, they work tirelessly to support the people around them. I am not able to reassure them that they, let alone their families or UN facilities, will be safe.


More than half a million children in Gaza missing out on vital education amid Israeli-Hamas war: UNRWA

Updated 3 sec ago
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More than half a million children in Gaza missing out on vital education amid Israeli-Hamas war: UNRWA

LONDON: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees warned on Friday that the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “losing an entire generation of children” due to the ongoing Israeli aggression, now in its 10th month.

The organization said that more than 600,000 children had been unable to attend school this year because of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war raging in the enclave. 

UNRWA added it would be extremely difficult for children to recover the education they have missed out on since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel and the subsequent Israeli retaliation.

It also noted that two-thirds of its schools in Gaza had been destroyed, while the rest had been converted into shelters for hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians.

Statistics from the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health assert that approximately 16,000 children have died in Israeli bombings or from illness, famine and malnutrition since the start of the Israeli aggression. 

A letter penned by three experts published in the Lancet medical journal earlier this week said the number of children who might have died in the conflict could be much higher, with thousands of children believed to be trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings.


UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

Updated 54 min 44 sec ago
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UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

  • Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice would be non-binding, but it will come amid mounting international legal pressure on Israel
  • "A public sitting will take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague ... during which Judge Nawaf Salam... will read out the Advisory Opinion," the ICJ said

THE HAGUE: The UN's top court will next week hand down its view on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967, a case in which some 52 countries made submissions.
Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice would be non-binding, but it will come amid mounting international legal pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza sparked by the brutal October 7 Hamas attacks.
"A public sitting will take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague (on July 19) ... during which Judge Nawaf Salam... will read out the Advisory Opinion," the ICJ said on Friday.
The ICJ held a week-long session in February to hear submissions from countries following a request from the United Nations late last year.
The UN has asked the ICJ to hand down an "advisory opinion" on the "legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem".
Most speakers during the hearings have demanded that Israel end its occupation, which came after a six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967.
But the United States said Israel should not be legally obliged to withdraw without taking its "very real security needs" into account.
Speakers also warned a prolonged occupation posed an "extreme danger" to stability in the Middle East and beyond.
Israel did not take part in the oral hearings.
It submitted a written contribution, in which it described the questions the court had been asked as "prejudicial" and "tendentious".
The case before the court is separate from one brought by South Africa against Israel for alleged genocide during its current offensive in Gaza.
South Africa has gone to the ICJ several times arguing that the dire humanitarian situation means the court should issue further fresh emergency measures.
In an initial ruling on January 26, the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything it could to prevent acts of genocide during its military operation in Gaza.
It also called for the unconditional release of hostages taken by Palestinian militant group Hamas during its October 7 assault that sparked the war.


Israel’s security cabinet extends military service: report

Updated 12 July 2024
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Israel’s security cabinet extends military service: report

  • The 36-month rule will stay in force for the next eight years
  • Israel is planning to send draft notices to thousands of ultra-Orthodox seminary students

JERUSALEM: The Israeli government’s security cabinet has approved a plan to extend compulsory military service for men to 36 months from the current 32 months, Israel’s Ynet news outlet reported on Friday.
The 36-month rule will stay in force for the next eight years, Ynet reported, after a meeting of the security cabinet that took place late on Thursday.
The measure is likely to be submitted to a vote in a meeting of the full cabinet on Sunday, it said.
Israel’s military commanders have said they need to boost manpower so they can sustain the war with the Hamas militant group in Gaza and a confrontation with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia.
In a separate initiative, Israel is planning to send draft notices to thousands of ultra-Orthodox seminary students who were previously exempt from military service.


Hamas calls for independent Palestinian government in post-war Gaza

Updated 6 min 39 sec ago
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Hamas calls for independent Palestinian government in post-war Gaza

  • Negotiations occurring in Doha, Qatar and Cairo with aim of bringing about ceasefire in Gaza
  • Netanyahu demanded Israel retain control of Philadelphi corridor along border with Egypt

GAZA: Hamas is suggesting during ceasefire negotiations that an independent government of non-partisan figures run post-war Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a member of the Palestinian Islamist movement’s political bureau said Friday.
“We proposed that a non-partisan national competency government manage Gaza and the West Bank after the war,” Hossam Badran said in a statement about the ongoing negotiations between Israel and Hamas with mediation from Qatar, Egypt, and the United States.
“The administration of Gaza after the war is a Palestinian internal matter without any external interference, and we will not discuss the day after the war in Gaza with any external parties,” Badran added.
A Hamas official told AFP the proposal for a non-partisan government was made “with the mediators.”
The government will “manage the affairs of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the initial phase after the war, paving the way for general elections” said the official, who did not want his name disclosed.
Badran’s remarks came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that Israel retain control of the Philadelphi corridor, Gaza territory along the border with Egypt. This condition conflicts with Hamas’s position that Israel must withdraw from all Gaza territory after a ceasefire.
Netanyahu said on Thursday that control of the Philadelphi corridor is part of efforts to prevent “weapons to be smuggled to Hamas from Egypt.”
The negotiations are occurring in Doha, Qatar and Cairo, Egypt with the aim of bringing about a ceasefire in Gaza as well as the return of hostages still held there by Hamas.
The war began on Oct. 7 with Hamas’s unprecedented attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 42 the military says are dead.
Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,345 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza


Gaza talks explore alternative to Israeli troops on Gaza-Egypt border: sources

Updated 12 July 2024
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Gaza talks explore alternative to Israeli troops on Gaza-Egypt border: sources

  • Israel, Egypt discussing hi-tech surveillance on border
  • Surveillance system is part of Gaza ceasefire talks, System addresses Israeli worries about Hamas smuggling

CAIRO: Israeli and Egyptian ceasefire negotiators are in talks about an electronic surveillance system along the border between Gaza and Egypt that could allow Israel to pull back its troops from the area if a ceasefire is agreed, according to two Egyptian sources and a third source familiar with the matter.
The question of whether Israeli forces stay on the border is one of the issues blocking a potential ceasefire deal because both Palestinian militant group Hamas and Egypt, a mediator in the talks, are opposed to Israel keeping its forces there.
Israel is worried that if its troops leave the border zone, referred to by Israel as the Philadelphi corridor, Hamas’ armed wing could smuggle in weapons and supplies from Egypt into Gaza via tunnels that would allow it to re-arm and again threaten Israel.
A surveillance system, if the parties to the negotiations agree on the details, could therefore smooth the path to agreeing a ceasefire — though numerous other stumbling blocks remain.
Discussions around a surveillance system on the border have been reported before, but Reuters is reporting for the first time that Israel is engaging in the discussions as part of the current round of talks, with a view to pulling back forces from the border area.
The source familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the discussions are about “basically sensors that would be built on the Egyptian side of the Philadelphi (corridor).”
“The idea is obviously to detect tunnels, to detect any other ways that they’d be trying to smuggle weapons or people into Gaza. Obviously this would be a significant element in a hostage agreement.”
Asked if this would be significant for a ceasefire deal because it would mean Israeli soldiers would not have to be on the Philadelphi corridor, the source said: “Correct.”
The two Egyptian security sources, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said Israeli negotiators had spoken about a high-tech surveillance system.
Egypt was not opposed to that, if it was supported and paid for by the United States, according to the two Egyptian sources. They said though Egypt would not agree to anything that would change border arrangements between Israel and Egypt set out in a prior peace treaty.
At a military event on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he could only agree to a deal that preserved Israeli control of the Gaza-Egypt border, but he did not spell out if that meant having troops physically present there.
Talks are underway in Qatar and Egypt on a deal, backed by Washington, that would allow a pause in the fighting in Gaza, now in its 10th month, and the release of hostages held by Hamas.
Israel started its assault on the Gaza Strip last October after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and capturing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, its forces have killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, according to medical authorities in Gaza.
Israeli officials have said during the war that Hamas used tunnels running under the border into Egypt’s Sinai region to smuggle arms. Egypt says it destroyed tunnel networks leading to Gaza years ago and created a buffer zone and border fortifications that prevent smuggling.
Israel’s advance into southern Gaza’s Rafah area in early May led to the closure of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza and a sharp reduction in the amount of international aid entering the Palestinian territory. Egypt says it wants aid deliveries to Gaza to resume, but that a Palestinian presence should be restored at the Rafah crossing for it to reopen.