Gaza health ministry says war deaths exceed 30,000 as famine looms

Displaced Palestinian children wait to receive free food at a tent camp, amid food shortages, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip (REUTERS)
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Updated 29 February 2024
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Gaza health ministry says war deaths exceed 30,000 as famine looms

  • Mediators say a truce deal between Israel and Hamas could be just days away
  • Children died “due to malnutrition, dehydration and widespread famine” at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital

Gaza Strip: The Hamas-run health ministry said Thursday more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the war between the militant group and Israel began nearly five months ago.
While mediators say a truce deal between Israel and Hamas could be just days away, aid agencies have sounded the alarm of a looming famine in Gaza’s north.
Children have died “due to malnutrition, dehydration and widespread famine” at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, said the health ministry, whose spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra has called for “immediate action” from international organizations to prevent more of these deaths.
Citing the deteriorating conditions in Gaza, USAID head Samantha Power said Israel needed to open more crossings so that “vitally needed humanitarian assistance can be dramatically surged.”
“This is a matter of life and death,” Power said in a video posted on social media platform X.
The latest overall toll for Palestinians killed in the war came after at least 79 people died overnight across the war-torn Gaza Strip, the health ministry said Thursday.
Mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been seeking a six-week pause in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which in response vowed to eliminate the Palestinian Islamist group that rules in Gaza.
Negotiators are hoping a truce can begin by the start of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month that kicks off March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
The proposals reportedly include the release of some Israeli hostages held in Gaza in exchange for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
Short of the complete withdrawal Hamas has called for, a source from the group said the deal might see Israeli forces leave “cities and populated areas,” allowing the return of some displaced Palestinians and humanitarian relief.
US President Joe Biden is “pushing all of us to try to get this agreement over the finish line,” said his secretary of state, Antony Blinken.
The crucial southern Gaza city of Rafah is the main entry point for aid crossing the border from neighboring Egypt.
But the World Food Programme said no humanitarian group had been able to deliver aid to the north for more than a month, accusing Israel of blocking access.
Neighbouring Jordan has coordinated efforts to air-drop supplies over southern Gaza.
“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza,” the World Food Programme’s deputy executive director Carl Skau said.
Israeli officials have denied blocking supplies, and the army on Wednesday said “50 trucks carrying humanitarian aid” had made it to northern Gaza in recent days.
The war was triggered by an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory military campaign in Gaza has left hundreds of thousands displaced, with nearly 1.5 million people now packed in Rafah.
In a sign of growing desperation among Gazans over living conditions, a rare protest was held Wednesday by residents over the soaring prices of commodities.
“Everyone is suffering inside these tents,” said Amal Zaghbar, who was displaced and sheltering in a makeshift camp.
“We’re dying slowly.”
Israel has repeatedly threatened a ground offensive on Rafah, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying a truce would only delay it, as such an operation was needed for “total victory” over Hamas.
Egypt — which borders Rafah — says an assault on the overcrowded city would have “catastrophic repercussions.”
While Israel’s plans for post-war Gaza exclude any mention of the Palestinian Authority, its top ally the United States and other powers have called for a revitalized PA, which governs the occupied West Bank, to take charge of the territory.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki said a “technocratic” government without Gaza’s rulers Hamas was needed to “stop this insane war” and facilitate relief operations and reconstruction.
His government, based in the West Bank, resigned this week, with prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh citing the need for change after the war ends.
A government that includes Hamas — longtime rivals of president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party, which controls the PA — would “be boycotted by a number of countries,” Al-Maliki told a news conference in Geneva.
On Thursday, Palestinian factions — including Hamas and Fatah — were expected to arrive in Moscow for a meeting at Russia’s invitation.
“The central goal is how to unite the Palestinian ranks,” Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative — a civilian political party — told Qatar state TV from Moscow.
In Israel, Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure to bring the hostages home.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant insisted the government was “making every effort.”
A group of 150 Israelis started a four-day march from Reim, near the Gaza border, to Jerusalem, calling for the government to reach a deal.
“No one should be left behind,” said Ronen Neutra, father of captive Omer Neutra, an Israeli soldier who is also a US citizen.


Saudi FM due in Pakistan on official visit today — foreign office 

Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi FM due in Pakistan on official visit today — foreign office 

  • Visit comes days after Pakistan, Saudi Arabia reaffirmed commitment to expedite $5 billion investment
  • Pakistan state media on Sunday said Saudi Arabia would invest $1 billion in Reko Diq mining project 

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan will arrive in Pakistan on Monday on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries, the Pakistani foreign office said.
The Saudi foreign minister’s visit comes a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Saudi Arabia and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion.
“The visit takes place essentially to expedite follow up on the understanding reached between Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and HRH Mohammad bin Salman, Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during their recent meeting in Makkah Al Mukarramah to enhance bilateral economic cooperation,” the foreign office said in a statement. 
“This visit is aimed at lending positive impetus to enhanced bilateral cooperation and mutually rewarding economic partnership.”
The Saudi delegation comprises the foreign minister, minister of water and agriculture, minister of industry and mineral resources, deputy minister of investment, and senior officials from the Saudi energy ministry and the Saudi Fund for General Investments, according to the Pakistani foreign office.
The Saudi delegation is expected to hold meetings with the Pakistani president, the prime minister, the foreign minister and counterpart ministers, as well as the army chief and members of the apex committee of the Special Investment Facilitation Council, set up last year to oversee all foreign investments. 
The Saudi government has not yet commented on the visit or its agenda. 
Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and serves as the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.
Saudi Arabia has also often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid by regularly providing it oil on deferred payment and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.
On Sunday, Pakistani state media reported Saudi Arabia was likely to invest $1 billion in the Reko Diq copper and gold mine project in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.


Day 3 of Fencing World Championships sees new champions

Updated 5 min 46 sec ago
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Day 3 of Fencing World Championships sees new champions

  • The American team dominated the men’s under-20 foil team

Riyadh: Abdullah Al-Sunaid, CEO of the 2024 Junior and Cadet Fencing World Championships, crowned the victorious women’s under-20 foil team during the ongoing event in Riyadh. 

The Japanese team emerged triumphant, securing the gold medal after a thrilling victory over Italy, who won silver. The Republic of Korea claimed the bronze, with France also clinching bronze and securing the third position in the intense competitions held at the King Saud University Sports Arena.

In the men’s events, Mohammed Chaouchi, president of the Tunisian Fencing Federation, honored the winners of the third day. The American team dominated the men’s under-20 foil team, seizing the gold medal by defeating Italy, who took silver. Japan secured the bronze, while France also claimed the bronze and secured the third spot on the podium.


Kuwaiti ruler names Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah as prime minister

Updated 42 min 12 sec ago
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Kuwaiti ruler names Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah as prime minister

DUBAI: Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah has appointed Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah as prime minister, state news agency KUNA reported on Monday.

The Kuwaiti ruler also tasked the new prime minister to form a government.

The Kuwaiti ruler last week accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, after elections were held to choose new members of the National Assembly.

He also instructed the cabinet to act as caretakers until the formation of a new government.


Netanyahu rival Lapid says Israel lost ‘deterrence’ against Iran

Updated 15 April 2024
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Netanyahu rival Lapid says Israel lost ‘deterrence’ against Iran

  • Opposition leader: ‘Jewish terrorist violence’ against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank ‘out of control’
  • ‘If we don’t move this government, it will bring destruction upon us’

JERUSALEM: Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of leading to a “total loss of Israeli deterrence” in the wake of an unprecedented Iranian attack.
In a scathing criticism posted on X, former premier Lapid also said that under Netanyahu, “Jewish terrorist violence” against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank was “out of control.”
Netanyahu, who returned to power in late 2022 at the helm of a coalition with far-right parties, has brought “heaps of destruction from Beeri to Kiryat Shmona,” Lapid said, calling for early elections.
Beeri, a kibbutz community near the Gaza border, came under attack when Hamas militants stormed the area on October 7, triggering the ongoing war, while the northern town of Kiryat Shmona has suffered during months of cross-border fire between Israeli forces and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Lapid’s remarks came two days after Iran — which backs both Hamas and Hezbollah — launched more than 300 missiles and drones at Israel in retaliation for a deadly strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus.
Israel, the United States and other allies intercepted nearly all launches in the late Saturday aerial attack — the first direct Iranian military action against arch foe Israel.
Netanyahu’s cabinet has weighed Israel’s response to the Iranian attack, but the prime minister has not made any public comments.
In the West Bank, where violence has soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Israeli settlers torched Palestinian homes and cars over the weekend, killing at least two people, after an Israeli teen was “murdered in a suspected terrorist attack,” according to the Israeli military.
Pointing to surging “terrorist” settler attacks, Lapid said: “If we don’t move this government, it will bring destruction upon us.”
The government, which includes hard-line settlers, has prioritized Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Netanyahu has faced in recent months mass protests over the fate of hostages held in Gaza and pressure from a resurgent anti-government movement.
The prime minister’s Likud party responded to Lapid in a statement stressing Netanyahu’s part in “the global campaign” to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons — which Tehran denies it is seeking.


UK government reveals talks with Sudanese paramilitary group

Updated 15 April 2024
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UK government reveals talks with Sudanese paramilitary group

  • Meetings held between Foreign Office, Rapid Support Forces in bid to end fighting, increase aid supply
  • News criticized by some experts as RSF accused of crimes against humanity

London: The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has revealed that it has held talks with Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which has been accused of committing ethnic cleansing and other atrocities.

The Guardian reported on Monday that a freedom of information request to the FCDO revealed that the UK government had opened diplomatic channels with the RSF, including a meeting on March 6.

The FCDO told the newspaper that the talks were aimed at increasing humanitarian aid flow and access in Sudan, as well as ending the fighting between the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces.

The RSF has been engaged in a civil war in Sudan for the past year, and has been accused of crimes against humanity by the US, including massacres, mass rape, looting and ethnic cleansing. The UN said the RSF’s activities in Geneina in West Darfur have left 15,000 people dead.

The war has claimed the lives of many thousands of Sudanese civilians, with around 8 million displaced by the fighting.

The UK’s willingness to meet with the RSF has drawn condemnation for what some say is a policy that could normalize a paramilitary group accused of crimes against humanity.

Dr. Sharath Srinivasan, co-director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at Cambridge University, told The Guardian that although talking to potentially unsavory groups is perceived as necessary in some diplomatic circles, “talking to the guys with the guns has been part of the perpetuation of violence and authoritarianism in Sudan for the last two, three decades.”

He added: “When (the RSF are) committing untold levels of targeted violence against ethnic groups, and women and children, at a scale that is absolutely horrific and was, even 20 years ago, (the UK is) putting a lot of moral credibility and decency on the line.”

Ahmed Soliman, a senior research fellow at international affairs think tank Chatham House, said the talks are justifiable as part of efforts to end the war and alleviate civilian suffering.

“How is aid going to get into western Sudan unless you engage with the Rapid Support Forces? They control 95 percent of Darfur,” he added.

“This is the dirty reality of the war. It shouldn’t negate engaging with civilians, but it has to be part of trying to ensure that there is a solution, both to ending the war in the near term, and then providing assistance for civilians.”

However, Maddy Crowther, co-director of the Waging Peace human rights group, described the talks as “a terrible move,” saying negotiating with the RSF could prove futile.

“These talks also assume that the RSF are good-faith actors,” she said. “Chatting to the RSF has never resulted in the outcomes that the UK says it wants to achieve in Sudan. I have no sense of why that would change at the moment.”

She added that “for the Sudanese, it will be experienced as a real slap in the face,” and that the diaspora will interpret the news as a “complete abuse of trust that people have placed in the UK and other powers to negotiate or advocate on their behalf.”

An FCDO spokesperson told The Guardian: “The UK continues to pursue all diplomatic avenues to end the violence — to prevent further atrocities from occurring, to press both parties into a permanent ceasefire, to allow unrestricted humanitarian access, to protect civilians, and to commit to a sustained and meaningful peace process.

“The SAF and RSF have dragged Sudan into an unjustified war, with an utter disregard for the Sudanese people. We will do all we can to ensure that they are both held accountable.”