No ‘plan B’ once Palestinian aid agency funds end in March, its Lebanon head says

Sixteen countries suspended funding pending an investigation by the U.N.'s oversight office that Lebanon chief Dorothee Klaus said would be ready in a few weeks. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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No ‘plan B’ once Palestinian aid agency funds end in March, its Lebanon head says

  • Lebanon chief Dorothee Klaus said: “We hope that as many donors as possible indicate to the agency that they are reconsidering the funding freeze”
  • “This will be the first indicator to the community that UNRWA is cash-strapped”

BEIRUT: The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has no “plan B” past March should donor countries that withheld funding following Israeli allegations uphold their suspensions, the head of its Lebanon office said on Thursday.
Israel accused 12 of UNRWA’s 13,000 employees in the Gaza Strip of taking part in the Hamas-led assault on Israel last year. The claims came after years of Israeli calls for the agency to be disbanded, and as Gazans face widespread hunger and only a trickle of aid into the bombarded strip.
Sixteen countries suspended funding pending an investigation by the UN’s oversight office that Lebanon chief Dorothee Klaus said would be ready in a few weeks.
“We hope that as many donors as possible indicate to the agency that they are reconsidering the funding freeze, and that funding will be restored to the agency, hopefully in such a way that we don’t have a cash flow issue, and services continue uninterrupted,” she said.
“We do not have a plan B.”
Already, her office may not be able to finance its quarterly cash distribution to 65 percent of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
“This will be the first indicator to the community that UNRWA is cash-strapped, and this would be the first service that we will not be able to provide in quarter one,” Klaus said.
While UNRWA has faced cash crunches before, the collective suspension has prompted an unprecedented crisis and it would be wrong to think other agencies could fill the gap, she said.
In Lebanon, UNRWA manages 12 camps for refugees, providing services from health care and schooling to garbage collection. If funding dries up, within a couple of days there would be trash filling camp streets, Klaus said.
Israel’s allegations have also prompted a separate review process by UNRWA that she said would examine safeguards protecting its neutrality and independence.
Asked if that would involve an examination of possible affiliations to armed groups of UNRWA staff in Lebanon’s camps, Klaus said she expected her branch would be consulted.


Crew of ship seized by Iran are safe, operator MSC says

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Crew of ship seized by Iran are safe, operator MSC says

  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the container vessel in the Strait of Hormuz days after Tehran vowed to retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus
LONDON: The 25 crew members of the MSC Aries, which was seized by Iran on April 13, are safe, shipping firm MSC said on Wednesday, adding that discussions with Iranian authorities are in progress to secure their earliest release.
“We are also working with the Iranian authorities to have the cargo discharged,” the Swiss headquartered company said in a statement.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the container vessel in the Strait of Hormuz days after Tehran vowed to retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus on April 1. Iran had said it could close the crucial shipping route.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the leading seafarers’ union, said on Wednesday that their priority was the welfare and safety of the seafarers onboard.
“I can confirm the ITF has been in touch with family of the crew on board MSC Aries – who have reported today they’re safe and being treated reasonably,” ITF inspectorate coordinator Steve Trowsdale told Reuters.
“We continue to call on the Iranian authorities to urgently release the crew and the vessel.”
Portugal’s foreign ministry summoned Iran’s ambassador on Tuesday to condemn Saturday’s attack on Israel by Tehran and to demand the immediate release of the Portuguese-flagged ship.
Iran has also seized other vessels in international waters in recent years, heightening risks for merchant shipping in the area.
The Advantage Sweet, Niovi and St. Nikolas tankers, which were taken last year, were anchored in Iranian waters as of April 12, said Claire Jungman, chief of staff at US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which tracks Iran-related tanker traffic via satellite data.
Iran’s foreign ministry said on Monday that the MSC Aries was seized for “violating maritime laws,” adding that there was no doubt the vessel was linked to Israel.
MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.
Recent attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have also affected the global maritime transport chain.
The Houthis are still holding the Galaxy Leader commercial ship and its 25 crew after the militia’s commandos boarded the vessel at sea on Nov. 19.

Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

Updated 17 April 2024
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Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

  • Tehran’s charge d’affaires to UK: ‘Another mistake’ by Israel will be met by ‘stronger’ response
  • Weekend drone, missile salvo a ‘legitimate’ defensive operation, West given ‘considerable warning’

LONDON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to drag the West into a “total war” in the Middle East, Iran’s top diplomat in the UK has warned.

In his first comments since Tehran’s drone and ballistic missile attack last week, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, Iran’s charge d’affaires to the UK, said “another mistake” by Israel would be met by a response, The Guardian reported.

Tehran would carry out a stronger attack without warning, unlike last week’s strike, which was communicated days in advance, he added.

The salvo of more than 300 drones and ballistic missiles came in response to the April 1 Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria, which killed senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials.

Matin said: “The response to the next mistake of the Zionist will not take 12 days’ time. It will be decided as soon as we see what the hostile regime has done. It will be immediate, and without warning. It will be stronger and more severe.”

Israel has committed to responding to the Iranian attack but has yet to release any information.

Matin said Iran had ruled out attacking civilian targets or completing its nuclear weapons program, both before the escalation and following any potential Israeli response.

US and European leaders have called for calm in conversations with Netanyahu, but have also urged the launch of a new round of sanctions on Iran in the wake of last week’s attack.

Matin denied that Tehran had made a strategic error in launching the strike, saying Western powers are “losing credibility” in the Middle East and the US will end up leaving the region.

“This is a good opportunity for Western countries to demonstrate that they are rational actors, and they are not going to be entrapped by Netanyahu and his goal, which is to be in power for as long as he could actually stay in power,” Matin added.

“Iran has considered its actions very carefully, and understood that there is a trap, but not for Iran: For the Western countries and allied countries in which they are drawn by the Zionist state into a total war inside the Middle East, and the whole world soon may be unable to control the consequences.”

Before Iran responded to Israel’s strike on its consulate, Tehran had urged Western officials to condemn the Damascus attack and push for a ceasefire in Gaza, Matin said.

But figures, including UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, rejected the Iranian requests. “As Cameron mentioned, rightly, every nation has the right to defend itself against this kind of flagrant breach of diplomatic and international law,” Matin said, adding that Iran’s drone and ballistic missile attack had only targeted Israeli military sites.

“Iranian forces didn’t target any populated sites so as to prevent human casualties, nor did it attack government buildings and centres. It was a legitimate defence operation that was conducted in a way that gave considerable warning,” he added.

“Now, I can say that the mission is accomplished. And that’s it. That’s what we have announced very publicly, that that mission is concluded.”

Tehran had been forced to reinstate deterrence in the wake of the consulate strike, Matin said, adding that the response had displayed “military capabilities, missiles, and drones more powerful than what all the international community expected from Iran.

“Nobody can, at the moment, imagine that Iran is Iran of the Iran-Iraq war. Iran is now a regional superpower.”


At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE

Updated 17 April 2024
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At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE

  • UAE witnessed record rainfall with 254 mm, the most since records began in 1949
  • Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, facing significant disruptions 

DUBAI: Authorities and communities across the United Arab Emirates were clearing debris on Wednesday after a torrential downpour killed at least one person and caused damage to homes and businesses.
The UAE witnessed a record rainfall with 254 mm falling in Al Ain on Tuesday in less than 24 hours, according to the national meteorology center. That was the most since records began in 1949, before the country was established in 1971.
Although heavy rains had eased by late Tuesday, disruptions were continuing on Wednesday with Emirates airline suspending check-in for passengers departing Dubai airport until midnight.
Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, said it was facing significant disruptions after the heavy rains delayed or diverted flights and had impacted flight crews.
Passengers departing Dubai were advised against heading to the airport and to check their flight status with their airline.
“We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions,” the airport wrote on X.
Emirates said passengers who were already in transit would continue to be processed but warned that delays to departures and arrivals should be expected. The Dubai airport website showed hours-long delays for some arrival and departure flights.
Local media reported that an elderly Emirati man in his 70s died on Tuesday morning when his vehicle was caught in flash floods in the Ras Al Khaimah emirate, in the country’s north.
In neighboring Oman, 19 people died, including school children after three consecutive days of heavy rain, according to Omani media, which published images of flooded communities.
The Times of Oman reported that more rain was expected on Wednesday. In Dubai, the skies were clear but in some areas the roads were quiet after the government ordered its employees and all schools to work remotely for a second consecutive day.
UAE media and social media posts showed significant damage from the torrential downpour in some parts of the country, including collapsed roads and homes inundated by water.
Social media posts on Tuesday showed flooded roads and car parks with some vehicles completely submerged. Sheikh Zayed Road, a 12-lane highway through Dubai, was partially flooded, leaving people stuck in a kilometers-long traffic jam for hours.


Iranian military says it is ready to deal with any Israeli attack

Updated 17 April 2024
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Iranian military says it is ready to deal with any Israeli attack

  • Iran is bracing for a possible Israeli retaliation, with Israel’s war cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss a response

DUBAI: Iran said on Wednesday its military was ready to confront any attack by Israel, with the air force saying it was prepared for action.
Iran’s navy commander said also that it was escorting Iranian commercial vessels to the Red Sea.
Iran carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel last weekend in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus on April 1.
Israel has said it will hit back and its war cabinet was meeting on Wednesday to discuss options.
“Any attack by the Zionist regime (Israel) on our soil will be dealt with a severe response,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Wednesday at a parade held for Army Day, state media reported.
The commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force warned at the same event that its warplanes, including Russian-made Sukhoi-24s, were in their “best state of preparedness” to counter any Israeli attack.
“We have full readiness in all fields, including our air coverage and bombers, and are prepared for any operation,” Brig. Gen. Amir Vahedi said.
A direct attack on Revolutionary Guards bases or nuclear research facilities within Iran is one of the options Israel has to strike back. Targets outside of Iran are also a possibility.
Admiral Shahram Irani said the Iran Navy was escorting Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
“The Navy is carrying out a mission to escort Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea and our Jamaran frigate is present in the Gulf of Aden in this view,” Irani said.
Tehran was ready to escort vessels of other countries, he added.
The Red Sea has seen significant disruption to Israel-bound shipping due to attacks from Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.
On April 13, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged container ship in the Strait of Hormuz which Tehran says is linked to Israel.


Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE

Updated 17 April 2024
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Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE

  • Record rainfall in UAE, Al-Ain witnesses 254 mm in fewer than 24 hours
  • Long delays for some flights to and from Dubai International Airport

DUBAI: Travelers were warned against heading to Dubai International Airport and advised to check the status of their flights with the airline due to the heaviest rainfall in 75 years, Emirates News Agency reported.

Dubai Airports said flights continued to be delayed and diverted following the deluge and urged passengers to contact airlines for the latest travel information.

“We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions,” the airport wrote on X.

Emirates Airlines suspended all travel procedures for passengers leaving Dubai on Wednesday, but added they would continue for arrivals and transit passengers. The Dubai airport website showed until midnight. The airport’s website showed extensive delays for some flights.

The UAE witnessed a record rainfall on Tuesday, with the National Center of Meteorology reporting that 254 mm fell in Al-Ain in fewer than 24 hours. This is the highest level since records began in 1949.

On Wednesday morning, the authorities were busy clearing up the debris following the downpour, which caused chaos across the country.

In Ras al-Khaimah, the country's northernmost emirate, police said one 70-year-old man died when his vehicle was swept away by floodwater. 

In neighboring Oman, 19 people died, including children, following three consecutive days of heavy rain. Local media published images of flooded communities and the Times of Oman reported more rain was expected on Wednesday.

The skies were clear in Dubai, but the roads were quiet in some areas after government employees and all schools were ordered to work remotely for a second day.

UAE media and social media posts showed significant damage in some parts of the country, including collapsed roads and flooded homes. Others included images of roads and car parks under water, with some vehicles completely submerged.

Sheikh Zayed Road, a 12-lane highway through Dubai, was partially flooded, leaving people stuck for hours in long traffic jams.