‘I fear the world has failed the test of humanity’ in Gaza, Slovenia’s foreign minister tells Arab News

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Updated 27 February 2024
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‘I fear the world has failed the test of humanity’ in Gaza, Slovenia’s foreign minister tells Arab News

  • Tania Fajon urges Washington to use its leverage over Israel to advance two-state solution
  • Fears Israel’s planned military offensive in Rafah will trigger regional unrest

NEW YORK CITY: Tanja Fajon, Slovenia’s minister of foreign and European affairs, has expressed deep disappointment at how the US has repeatedly used its veto power at the UN Security Council to block demands for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

On Feb. 20, the US vetoed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for the third time. It was the lone vote against the resolution put forward by Algeria. The UK was the sole abstention, with 13 votes in support.

With some 30,000 people killed in Gaza since Israel launched its military offensive last October and some 2 million now at risk of famine, Washington’s continued use of its veto at the security council to prevent censure of Israel has drawn condemnation.

“I fear that the world has failed the test of humanity,” Fajon, whose country is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2024-2025, told Arab News during an interview in New York.




On Feb. 20, the US vetoed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for the third time. (AFP)

“Seeing so many kids without shelter, without food, without schools, no hospitals. We see the unbearably high death toll among civilians, the violations of international humanitarian laws — this is on us all.”

Washington has sought to justify its veto, saying a ceasefire would jeopardize “sensitive” negotiations, led by the US, Qatar and Egypt, to broker an end to the hostilities in Gaza, the release of hostages held by Hamas, and to allow aid to enter the enclave.

Rather than veto resolutions, Fajon said the US should use its influence over Israel to demand a halt to its military operation in Gaza and commit to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

“It’s no secret that Americans have leverage on Israel,” she said.

“They really have to do everything that’s possible, first to start serious negotiations with Israel, to stop the violations in Gaza, to ensure a ceasefire, to reach an agreement on the release of hostages and political prisoners and really start working for the two-state solution.

“We are doing our part of the job on the European side. But we need everyone at the table.”




Washington’s continued use of its veto at the security council to prevent censure of Israel has drawn condemnation. (AFP/File)

Fajon fears the worst could still come if Israel follows through with its threat to launch a new ground offensive against Rafah, the last refuge of more than 1.5 million displaced Palestinians.

“I do expect that also in America they are aware of what might happen after the beginning of Ramadan if Israel makes its threats a reality,” she said. “If nothing happens, if a ceasefire is not urgently (implemented), I don’t know how we can move forward.”

Fajon believes that any large-scale operation in Rafah during Ramadan will provoke massive unrest across the Middle East and beyond.

“The anger is growing against Israel,” she said. “And when you have masses of people being frustrated, it’s always difficult to control and ensure peace. So, we are running the risk of a real escalation of violations in the Middle East.”

Slovenia’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict differs from the EU’s dominant foreign policy position, as mainly represented by large states such as Germany whose defense export approvals to Israel have increased nearly tenfold since Oct. 7, according to Reuters.

Although many European states have called for a ceasefire, they have remained broadly pro-Israel.




Washington has sought to justify its veto, saying a ceasefire would jeopardize “sensitive” negotiations. (AFP)

“We are a small country,” said Fajon. “I wouldn’t say we are either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinians, but we are for peace.”

She said Slovenians have been saddened by the images of suffering coming out of Gaza.

A large portion of the Slovenian electorate, especially the left, are critical of the foreign policy pursued by the US and Israel, which they view as “neo-colonial.”

Many hold a positive attitude toward the societies of the Global South and are broadly pacifist. Many believe the Slovenian government in Ljubljana is well-placed to act as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

Some historians believe these attitudes are a legacy of Slovenia’s time as part of Yugoslavia, which had a tradition of offering support to developing countries, and which was committed to non-alignment during the Cold War, backing neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact.

Fajon recently hosted the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan in Ljubljana. She said both came “with a message of gratitude because we really try to listen and be supportive in efforts to create viable or feasible peace plans.”

With the Arab ministers, Fajon said she discussed her country’s desire to hold a peace conference, bringing the Americans, Israelis and all other stakeholders to the table to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and discuss the recognition of a Palestinian state.

“That also means the well-being and safety of Israelis and Palestinians living side by side,” she said. “We are not there yet. I know there are still open questions on how to ensure stability in Gaza after the war.”




Some 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its military offensive last October. (AFP)

Slovenia is actively participating in proceedings at the UN’s highest court — the International Court of Justice at The Hague — examining “the ongoing violations by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967,” as well as policies in occupied East Jerusalem and allegations of “discriminatory legislation” against Palestinians.

The motion is seeking an advisory opinion on whether Israel’s activities have violated international law. The motion was requested by the UN General Assembly in 2022, and so pre-dates South Africa’s genocide allegations heard by the court last month.

“This is a very broad spectrum of alleged violations that have been committed in the region for decades and whose horrific consequences are still visible today,” Fajon said last month.

Speaking to Arab News about the case, Fajon said it was about upholding international law.

“We are using our legal arguments, speaking of an occupying force and its illegal wrongdoings on illegally occupied lands,” she said. “Our expert opinion shows clearly that we try and we always follow international law. And that is our main message at The Hague.”

Slovenia has consistently called for the EU to introduce sanctions against both Hamas and extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank, whose violence “we are following with great concern,” said Fajon.

The country has also joined efforts by Ireland and Spain to reconsider the EU’s cooperation agreement with Israel, which regulates trade relations and is bound by the provision that it respects human rights.

“We are a part of a like-minded group of six or seven countries in the EU that are really pushing hard to achieve a permanent ceasefire,” said Fajon.




Many people in Slovenia hold a positive attitude toward the societies of the Global South and are broadly pacifist. (Supplied)

“Yes, there are divisions inside the EU for different historical reasons. But from our perspective, I believe we are just very consistent in our foreign policy, meaning we respect international law (and) international humanitarian law. And we say that what we are seeing in Gaza are violations of international humanitarian law.”

In South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, the ICJ issued provisional measures ordering Israel to prevent and punish the commission or the incitement to commit genocide, to stop the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, and immediately enable the provision of humanitarian assistance to Gazans.

“We call on Israel to respect the measures from the ICJ Hague,” said Fajon.

“This is extremely important. We respect the work of international tribunals. And that is our clear call to Israel here. I think we don’t have any double standards. We can tell that to Israel, and we tell it to Russia in its war in Ukraine.”

She said both wars, Ukraine and Gaza, are a direct result of “regimes that don’t respect the UN Charter.”




“We call on Israel to respect the measures from the ICJ Hague,” said Fajon.

“In the case of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, that’s entering its third year, we fully understand and support Ukrainians’ fight for territorial sovereignty and integrity. Because no one, by force, can take your land away or change internationally recognized borders.

“We run a consistent foreign policy that is based on international law and the UN Charter.”

Slovenia is also one of the leaders of the Mutual Legal Assistance Initiative for the adoption of the Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and other International Crimes.

The Ljubljana-The Hague MLA Convention was adopted in May 2023 marking a landmark international treaty aiming to strengthen international legal cooperation to help reduce impunity for perpetrators of crimes and deliver justice to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“The Ljubljana-The Hague Convention is an important instrument because it somehow narrows the gap in the legislation (so) that the judiciary systems around the world can faster exchange evidence in persecuting, investigating, and punishing the worst war crimes everywhere,” said Fajon.

“So all those countries that are signing this convention will be in a much better position to move faster with the processes. And I hope that many countries will join in signing it.”




A large portion of the Slovenian electorate, especially the left, are critical of the foreign policy pursued by the US and Israel, which they view as “neo-colonial.” (AFP)

Above all, Fajon believes the international community has a responsibility to help those who desire peace — no matter which side they are on — to access the means to achieve it.

“In every country, be it an aggressive regime that runs a war or be it the victim, but especially in the country that has an aggressive regime, be it in Israel or be it in Russia, there are citizens and people that want to have peace.

“And we have to support these people. That is what I mean when I say we are neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinians. I mean exactly our support for these people who want to see peace.

“I think this is our role as politicians.”
 


Divisions, elections and Assad lay bare Europe’s Syrian quagmire

Updated 17 sec ago
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Divisions, elections and Assad lay bare Europe’s Syrian quagmire

PARIS: The European Union will convene donors next week to keep Syria on the global agenda, but as the economic and social burden of refugees on neighboring countries mounts the bloc is divided and unable to find solutions to tackle the issue, diplomats say.
Syria has become a forgotten crisis that nobody wants to stir amid the war raging between Israel and Islamist Palestinian militants Hamas and tensions growing between Iran and Western powers over its regional activities.
More than 5 million refugees mostly in Lebanon and Turkiye and millions more displaced internally have little prospect of returning home with political stability no closer than since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s rule began in 2011.
Funding to support them is dropping with the likes of the World Food Programme reducing its aid. Difficulties to host refugees are surfacing, notably in Lebanon, where the economic situation is perilous and a call to send Syrians home is one of the rare issues that unites all communities.
“We have no levers because we never resumed relations with the Assad regime and there are no indications anybody really will,” said a former European envoy to Syria.
“Even if we did, why would Syria offer carrots to countries that have been hostile to him and especially taking back people who opposed him anyway.”
Major European and Arab ministers along with key international organizations meet for the 8th Syria conference next Monday, but beyond vague promises and financial pledges, there are few signs that Europe can take the lead.
The talks come just ahead of the European elections on June 6-9 in which migration is a divisive issue among the bloc’s 27-member states. With far-right and populist parties already expected to do well, there is little appetite to step up refugee support.
The conference itself has changed from eight years ago. The level of participation has been downgraded. The likes of Russia, the key actor backing Assad, is no longer invited after its invasion of Ukraine. The global geopolitical situation and drop in the conflict’s intensity keeps it off radars.
There are divisions within the EU on the subject. Some countries such as Italy and Cyprus are more open to having a form of dialogue with Assad to at least discuss possible ways to step up voluntary returns in conjunction with and under the auspices of the United Nations.
However, others, like France which acknowledges the pressure the refugees are weighing on Lebanon and fears broader conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel, remain steadfast that there can be no discussion with the Assad regime until key conditions are met.
But the reality on the ground is forcing a discussion on the issue.
Demonstrating the tensions between the EU and the countries hosting refugees, Lebanese MPs threatened to reject the bloc’s 1 billion euro package announced earlier this month, slamming it as a “bribe” to keep refugees in limbo in Lebanon instead of resettling them permanently in Europe or sending them back home to Syria.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who unlike in previous years is not due to attend the Brussels conference, has said that Beirut would start dealing with the issue itself without proper international assistance.
The result has been an upswing in migrant boats from Lebanon to Europe, with nearby Cyprus and increasingly Italy, too, as the main destinations, prompting some countries to ring alarm bells fearing a flood of new refugees into the bloc.
“Let me be clear, the current situation is not sustainable for Lebanon, it’s not sustainable for Cyprus and it’s not sustainable for the European Union. It hasn’t been sustainable for years,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said this month during a visit to Lebanon.
Highlighting the divisions in Europe, eight countries — Austria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland — last week issued a joint statement after talks in Cyprus, breaking ranks with the bloc’s previous positions.
They argued that the dynamics in Syria had changed and that while political stability did not exist yet, things had evolved sufficiently to “re-evaluate the situation” to find “more effective ways of handling the issue.”
“I don’t think there will be a big movement in terms of EU attitude, but perhaps some baby steps to engage and see if more can be done in various areas,” said a diplomat from one of the countries that attended the talks in Cyprus.
Another was more blunt.
“Come Tuesday Syria will be swept under the carpet and forgotten. The Lebanese will be left to deal with the crisis alone,” said a French diplomat.

More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch

Updated 45 min 37 sec ago
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More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch

  • Crowds overrun some of the first trucks coming from the new US-led sea route and taking its contents over the weekend, leading to a two-day suspension of aid distribution
  • At maximum capacity, the pier would bring in enough food for 500,000 of Gaza’s people. US officials stressed the need for flow through open land crossings for the remaining 1.8 million

WASHINGTON: A six-day-old US pier project in Gaza is starting to get more aid to Palestinians in need but conditions are challenging, US officials said Thursday. That reflects the larger problems bringing food and other supplies to starving people in the besieged territory.

The floating pier had a troubled launch, with crowds overrunning some of the first trucks coming from the new US-led sea route and taking its contents over the weekend. One man in the crowd was shot dead in still-unexplained circumstances. It led to a two-day suspension of aid distribution.
The US military worked with the UN and Israeli officials to select safer alternate routes for trucks coming from the pier, US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper told reporters Thursday.
As a result, the US pier on Wednesday accounted for 27 of the 70 total trucks of aid that the UN was able to round up from all land and sea crossings into Gaza for distribution to civilians, the United States said.
That’s a fraction of the 150 truckloads of food, emergency nutrition treatment and other supplies that US officials aim to bring in when the sea route is working at maximum capacity.
Plus, Gaza needs 600 trucks entering each day, according to the US Agency for International Development, to curb a famine that the heads of USAID and the UN World Food Program have said has begun in the north and to keep it from spreading south.

Only one of the 54 trucks that came from the pier Tuesday and Wednesday encountered any security issues on their way to aid warehouses and distribution points, US officials said. They called the issues “minor” but gave no details.
A deepening Israeli offensive in the southern city of Rafah has made it impossible for aid shipments to get through the crossing there, which is a key source for fuel and food coming into Gaza. Israel says it is bringing aid in through another border crossing, Kerem Shalom, but humanitarian organizations say Israeli military operations make it difficult for them to retrieve the aid there for distribution.
The Biden administration last week launched the $320 million floating pier for a new maritime aid route into Gaza as the seven-month-old Israel-Hamas war and Israeli restrictions on land crossings have severely limited food deliveries to 2.3 million Palestinians.
For all humanitarian efforts, “the risks are manifold,” Daniel Dieckhaus, USAID’s response director for Gaza, said at a briefing with Cooper. “This is an active conflict with deteriorating conditions.”
Dieckhaus rejected charges from some aid groups that the pier is diverting attention from what the US, UN and relief workers say is the essential need for Israel to allow full access to land crossings for humanitarian shipments.
For instance, Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official now leading Refugees International, tweeted that “the pier is humanitarian theater.”
“I would not call, within a couple of days, getting enough food and other supplies for tens of thousands of people for a month theater,” Dieckhaus said Thursday when asked about the criticism.
At maximum capacity, the pier would bring in enough food for 500,000 of Gaza’s people. US officials stressed the need for flow through open land crossings for the remaining 1.8 million.
 


Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Updated 24 May 2024
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Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

WASHINGTON: Three US troops suffered non-combat injuries in the effort to make a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza into a conduit for humanitarian aid, with one in critical condition at an Israeli hospital, US officials said on Thursday.

The injuries were the first for US forces during the latest operation to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The pier was announced by US President Joe Biden in March and involved the military assembling the floating structure off the coast. Estimated to cost $320 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 US service members, it went into operation last week.

US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the deputy commander of US Central Command, told reporters that two of the troops had a sprained ankle and a minor back injury.

“Two were very minor, routine injuries. Those individuals returned to duty,” Cooper said.

A third service member, injured on a ship at sea, was medically evacuated to a hospital in Israel, he said. A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the individual was in critical condition.

US lawmakers have voiced concern about the risks to positioning US troops off the coast of Gaza. Biden has said they will not step foot in the war-torn city itself.

The Pentagon has said it will prioritize the safety of US military personnel.

“We’re clear eyed and we continue to look at force protection all day, every day and as it stands now we assess the operations can continue,” Cooper said.

Social media images showed a US air defense system, known as the Counter Rockets, Artillery and Mortars (CRAM), firing into the sky while on the pier. US officials said troops were testing the system.

Daniel Dieckhaus of the US Agency for International Development said that since the pier opened last week, about 506 metric tons of aid had been handed off to humanitarian groups inside Gaza. About a third of that has not yet been distributed but would be soon, he said.


Medic says Gaza hospital under Israeli siege for fifth day

Updated 23 May 2024
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Medic says Gaza hospital under Israeli siege for fifth day

GAZA STRIP: A senior official at Al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza said it was under Israeli military siege for a fifth straight day on Thursday after soldiers stormed it the previous day.

“We are still under siege for the fifth day in a row,” said the hospital’s acting director, Dr. Mohammed Saleh.

“Soldiers are present in the hospital’s courtyard and nearby houses,” he said, adding that there was “continuous gunfire and shelling” toward it.

Troops stormed the hospital building on Wednesday evening, he said.

“The hospital was stormed, and staff were forced to leave. I currently have only 13 staff, 11 patients, and two women accompanying wounded children,” Saleh said.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media platform X that 140 staff, patients, and accompanying adults were inside the hospital when troops stormed it.

The WHO visited Al-Awda regularly in April to deliver medical supplies and fuel, but on Tuesday Ghebreyesus said snipers were targeting the building and artillery had hit the fifth floor.

On Tuesday, patients and staff were also evacuated from another hospital in northern Gaza, Kamal Adwan, its director, Dr. Hossam Abu Safia, said at the time.

“These are the only two functional hospitals remaining in northern Gaza. Ensuring their ability to deliver health services is imperative,” Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.

Israeli troops have previously raided other medical facilities in Gaza, including Al-Shifa in Gaza City, the territory’s largest hospital, which was reduced to rubble after an operation in March, the WHO said.


Bahrain’s King Hamad says he is looking forward to improved relations with Iran

Russian President Vladimir receives Bahrain's King Hamad at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2024. (BNA)
Updated 23 May 2024
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Bahrain’s King Hamad says he is looking forward to improved relations with Iran

  • King meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin 

RIYADH: Bahrain’s King Hamad said his country was looking forward to improving its relations with Iran during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.
The king added that there was no reason for Bahrain to postpone the resumption of diplomatic relations with Iran, the Bahrain News Agency reported on Thursday.
The king and Putin discussed the war in Gaza, regional and international efforts aimed at reaching a ceasefire, and the release of hostages and detainees. They also focused on providing humanitarian aid without obstacles to the territory’s civilian population.
They highlighted the importance of advancing the course of diplomatic action to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and achieving a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The leaders also said efforts to recognize the Palestinian state and accept it as a permanent member of the UN should be supported.
They also stressed the importance of the UN Security Council assuming its responsibilities toward resolving and ending global conflicts, and working to settle them in accordance with the rules of international law and the UN Charter to maintain international peace and security.
The king informed the Russian president of the outcomes of the Arab Summit held recently in Bahrain, adding that Arab countries appreciated Russia’s sympathy for just Arab causes.
The king and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the convening of an international conference at the summit, which would take place under the auspices of the UN, to resolve the Palestinian issue on the basis of a two-state solution.
The king added that he hoped to host the conference and requested Russia’s support for it.