What contrasting Western responses to Ukraine and Gaza crises mean for future conflicts

Left: Palestinian refugees flee Gaza City amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas in late 2023. Right: Ukrainian refugees cross the border into Poland following Russia’s full-scale invasion in early 2022. (AFP photos)
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Updated 03 March 2024
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What contrasting Western responses to Ukraine and Gaza crises mean for future conflicts

  • West seen failing to punish Israel for not respecting laws of war while hitting Russia hard for the same reasons in Ukraine
  • Unequal treatment could make it harder to hold perpetrators accountable and deter war crimes going forward, experts warn

LONDON: Two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and six months since the Hamas-led attacks that provoked Israel’s assault on Gaza, critics say the responses to these parallel crises are indicative of a double standard at play in the international order.

Following Russia’s invasion of its neighbor on Feb. 24, 2022, the US and European nations were united in their response as they condemned Moscow’s actions as a breach of international law, imposed sanctions, sent weapons and funding to Kyiv, and offered sanctuary to refugees.




A rescuer walks past buildings destroyed by Russian shelling on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on April 16, 2022. (AFP)

After the Oct. 7 attacks last year, in contrast, there was a grim sense of inevitability in the West about what would come next: That Israel would respond ferociously against the Palestinian enclave from which the attack was launched, exacting a heavy toll on civilians in the process.

As the body count rose in Gaza as a result of the Israeli bombardment, one might have expected the international community to respond with a similar chorus of condemnation against the aggressor as it did to the situation in Ukraine, and equivalent expressions of solidarity with the injured party.




This picture taken on January 3, 2024 shows a view of buildings destroyed by Israeli bombardment in the central Gaza Strip. (AFP)

One might also have expected the similar demands within the UN Security Council for an immediate ceasefire, sanctions and the diplomatic isolation of Israel, along with a generous package of aid for Palestinians.

A glance at the recent foreign aid package approved by the US Senate is perhaps indicative of Washington’s priorities. About $60 billion is to be allocated to Ukraine, $14 billion to Israel and just $10 billion to global humanitarian efforts, including those in Gaza.

IN NUMBERS

30k Palestinian civilians killed since Oct. 7, 2023, according to Gaza Health Ministry.

31k Ukrainian soldiers killed since Feb. 24, 2022, according to President Zelensky.

$14bn US aid package to support Israel and military operations in the region.

$60bn Package allocated to Ukraine.

Sarah Yager, the Washington director at Human Rights Watch, believes the effects of this perceived Western double standard might be felt far beyond the duration of these two crises, eroding whatever faith remains in international humanitarian law.

“Russia’s indiscriminate airstrikes on hospitals and schools have, rightly, drawn condemnation from (US) administration officials,” Yager wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine. “But Israel has carried out attacks striking hospitals and schools without eliciting much protest from the White House.

“Some might argue that the United States can afford a little hypocrisy in order to support its long-time ally, Israel. But playing a part in the erosion of international law will have harmful consequences for the United States far beyond Gaza.




Emergency responders bring wounded children at al-Shifa hospital following Israeli strikes in Gaza City on October 10, 2023. (AFP)

“Future declarations by the State Department concerning atrocities will ring hollow, making it harder to hold perpetrators accountable and deter international crimes. Pressure on warring parties to abide by the law — for example, Azerbaijan or Sudan — will carry less weight.”

Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, has similarly condemned the West for the contrast between its support for Ukraine and its relative silence over the Israeli army’s assault on Gaza.

She recently said these differing standards were evident in the “demand that we all rush to the defense of Ukraine, as we should, because Ukraine has been aggressed by Russia and they are unbelievably suffering in Ukraine.

“At the same time (the West) tells us not to act on the bombings and suffering of the people of Gaza. The double standard of those governments is the bigger threat to human rights right now.”

Israel denies accusations that its military deliberately targets health workers and civilian infrastructure. Instead, it has accused Hamas of using tunnel networks beneath Gaza’s hospitals to direct attacks, store weapons and conceal hostages.




Israeli troops inspect what they said was an entrance to a tunnel dug by Hamas militants inside the Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip on November 22, 2023. (AFP)

Any damage to medical facilities, therefore, is the fault of Hamas, Israeli authorities say, accusing the group of using patients and doctors as human shields.

Jamie Shea, an associate fellow with the International Security Program at Chatham House, said it is important to recognize that while the situations in Ukraine and Gaza might appear broadly comparable, viewing the two conflicts as “subsets of the same basic political confrontation” is wrongheaded.

“There will always be some similarities (in wars), such as the terrible impact of war on the civilian populations or the desire of the Western powers to avoid regional escalation,” Shea told Arab News.

“But Ukraine and Gaza are not subsets of the same basic political confrontation in the way that the Ukraine-Georgia conflicts are linked through Russia, or the pro-Iranian militias in the Middle East, like the Houthis, are being mobilized because of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.”

Another counterargument to the double-standards accusation is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lacks the moral clarity of the Russia-Ukraine war. 

In comments to the Wall Street Journal in December, British lawmaker Alex Sobel, a Labour co-chair of the UK parliament’s all-party group on Ukraine, said: “There is no moral justification for the Russian invasion. Zero.

“But in Israel and Palestine, it’s about the fact that there are two peoples on a very small amount of land, and political and military elites on both sides are unwilling to settle for what’s on offer.”

Furthermore, as Yager noted in her article for Foreign Affairs, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was arguably unprovoked, unlike Israel’s retaliation for the cross-border attack by Hamas.




People view the portraits of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas are displayed at a site in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2024. The captives were seized by the Palestinian militants during their surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, provoking an Israeli offensive that has so far killed more than 30,000 Palestinians. (AFP)

Nevertheless, Yager stressed that when “a country decides to use military force, it must fully adhere to the laws that govern conduct in war.”

Eugenie Duss, a research fellow at the Geneva Academy who specializes in the laws of armed conflict, told Arab News that such laws, which apply to state and non-state actors alike, are designed to protect civilians.

Yet it seems that in the view of many Western governments, these rules do not apply to civilians in Gaza. For example, 12 million Ukrainian refugees who fled the Russian offensive have been welcomed by host countries and their rights duly respected.

“I knew a lot of Ukrainians who came (to Britain) about two years ago,” Alla Sirenko, the president and founder of the Ukrainian Cultural Association in the UK, told Arab News.

“They have mostly been women with children and the elderly, and in most cases they have been hard-working people.

“The majority of them have been admired for their resilience, intelligence, hard work and good nature, and (while) most of them are looking forward to returning to Ukraine when it is safe to do so, there has been a lot of goodwill from the British people toward them.”




Refugees from Ukraine (left) are welcomed by volunteers in San Ysidro, California on April 8, 2022. Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion had been welcomed in Western countries. On the other hand, Palestinian refugees remain stranded at the severely damaged Maghazi camp as they have nowhere to go. (AFP photos)

This welcoming environment was encouraged by the UK government, which offered British citizens financial incentives to offer their spare rooms to house Ukrainian refugees.

Similar schemes generally do not exist in the West for refugees who flee conflicts in the Middle East, including the war in Gaza.

One exception is Canada, which offers a temporary visa-extension scheme for Gazans with relatives who are already resident in the country.

Shea acknowledged the perception of a Western double standard in this, which appears to value the lives of Ukrainians over their counterparts in Palestine. However, he believes the West is trying to inhibit a mass displacement of Palestinians from Gaza because it is concerned about what would happen next.

“In Gaza, the West is trying to prevent a mass exodus of the Palestinian population (including to the West Bank) as this would allow Israel to reoccupy the territory and diminish further the amount of land available to the Palestinians for a viable two-state solution,” he said.

“Once forced to leave, Palestinians are unlikely to be able to return, given the likelihood of more Israeli settlements. And in contrast to the Ukrainians in Europe, they are unlikely to be welcomed by countries like Egypt and Jordan, already experiencing severe economic stress.”

Of course, even the Western support for Ukraine is not limitless. As the war increasingly appears to be mired in a stalemate, politicking in Washington is hampering the allocation of further US aid and, as Western populations grow weary of concurrent crises, goodwill could quickly evaporate.

Colin Alexander, a senior lecturer in political communications at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, said it is “well-trodden ground … that publics become overwhelmed by news of more than one conflict at a time.”

Journalism relies on the “evocation of emotions to create traction” even if the reality is “much more complicated,” he told Arab News, and with multiple victims in multiple conflicts, the attempts to elicit empathy could prove “overwhelming” for some audiences.

“Herein, the world edges toward a difficult scenario, diplomatically as well as militarily,” Alexander said. “The Middle East, Ukraine, North Korea, Taiwan — suddenly there are too many crises to comprehend for even the most avid newsreader.”

So far, however, the Ukrainian Cultural Association’s Sirenko said there is no sign that either a sense of “news fatigue” or any perceived double standards in policies on Gaza has reduced the level of sympathy among the British public for the Ukrainians who have found sanctuary in the UK.

“They don’t feel harassed or diminished because of the war in Palestine,” she said. “We are all sorry about it, but it’s not affecting life for Ukrainians in the UK nor the goodwill of the British people towards them.”

 


Over 3,000 Ukrainian inmates seek to join military

Updated 4 sec ago
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Over 3,000 Ukrainian inmates seek to join military

Ukraine is suffering critical ammunition and manpower shortages on the battlefield
“We predicted this before the adoption of this law,” Deputy Minister of Justice Olena Vysotska said

KYIV: Thousands of Ukrainian inmates are seeking to join the military, Kyiv said Tuesday, following a decision by lawmakers enabling some categories of prisoners to join the armed forces.
The move echoes a policy in Russia, where tens of thousands of prisoners have been sent to Ukraine with the promise of amnesty and were killed in gruelling battles that produced few gains.
Ukraine is suffering critical ammunition and manpower shortages on the battlefield that have allowed Russian forces to advance on the eastern and northern front lines.
“This is more than 3,000 people. We predicted this before the adoption of this law,” Deputy Minister of Justice Olena Vysotska said, referring to the number of prisoners who have submitted applications to join the military.
She said authorities had identified 20,000 eligible prisoners and that of them, 4,500 had “expressed interest” in joining. She added that the figure was likely to fluctuate.
Only prisoners with fewer than three years left on their sentence can apply. Mobilized prisoners are granted parole rather than a pardon.
Among those not eligible to serve include those found guilty of sexual violence, killing two or more people, serious corruption and former high-ranking officials.
Russia has recruited prisoners to serve on the front lines since the first days of its invasion, initially offering presidential pardons for six months’ service.

EU states push for June start to Ukraine membership talks

Updated 31 min 32 sec ago
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EU states push for June start to Ukraine membership talks

  • To actually begin the negotiations the bloc’s member states still have to sign off on a formal framework for the process
  • At a meeting in Brussels, France’s EU affairs minister Jean-Noel Barrot called for “the effective opening of negotiations“

BRUSSELS: Several EU countries on Tuesday called for the bloc to start membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova in June, but Hungary threatened to throw a spanner in the works.
The 27-nation EU took the landmark step in December of agreeing to open talks on its war-torn neighbor — and fellow ex-Soviet state Moldova — joining the club.
But to actually begin the negotiations the bloc’s member states still have to sign off on a formal framework for the process, proposed in March by Brussels.
At a meeting in Brussels, France’s EU affairs minister Jean-Noel Barrot called for “the effective opening of negotiations” before Belgium’s rotating presidency concludes at the end of June.
That statement was echoed by other ministers — including from Ireland and Sweden.
The push to move Ukraine onto the next step in its quest for EU membership comes amid fears that Hungary, the friendliest country with Moscow in the bloc, could stall progress when it takes over the presidency after Belgium.
Budapest has been hostile to Kyiv’s bid to join, arguing that Ukraine is getting pushed ahead in the queue without meeting the required criteria.
“There can be no exception on the basis of political or ideological considerations,” Hungarian minister Zoltan Kovacs said.
“There is very little, if any, progress. Again, I can repeat to you that membership, approval should be a merit based process. No exceptions.”
Another possible hurdle could come from a new right-wing government being formed in The Netherlands opposed to any new enlargement of the bloc.
Ukraine applied to join the EU shortly after Russia launched all-out invasion in February 2022.
Starting the negotiations would put Ukraine still only at the start of what is likely to be a years-long process of reforms before it can finally become a member.


Philippine island boasts world’s largest concentration of unique mammals

Updated 43 min 49 sec ago
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Philippine island boasts world’s largest concentration of unique mammals

  • 93% of mammals in Luzon are found nowhere else
  • Island has higher biological diversity than Galapagos

MANILA: Luzon may be known as the largest and most populous island of the Philippines, but it is also home to the greatest concentration of unique mammal species on Earth. Most of them are found nowhere else in the world.

The island, where the Philippine capital Manila is located, had never been connected to any continental land. Throughout the ages, this allowed the species that arrived there from the Asian mainland to evolve, diversify, and thrive in different habitats of its mountain ranges and peaks isolated by lowlands.

It is also one of the oldest islands, with geological research indicating that parts of it have been dry land areas continuously for some 27 million years.

“It’s a really old island. So, there’s time for rare events to take place. That’s a big part of it,” Dr. Lawrence Heaney, biologist and curator of mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago, told Arab News.

“There are no countries in continental Europe that have (this number of) unique species of mammals.”

Heaney is one of the first researchers to document the island’s diversity and has been leading American and Filipino scientists studying mammals in the Philippines since 1981.

His team’s 15-year study, which started in 2000, concluded that there were 56 species of mammals — not including bats — on the island, and 52 of them were endemic.

This means that 93 percent of Luzon’s non-flying mammals are found nowhere else, making it a biological treasure trove.

Luzon beats even the Galapagos islands, where each has been known for its diverse and unique array of wildlife.

“Luzon takes it another step further because there are isolated mountain ranges and isolated mountain peaks that are separated from all others by lowlands. They function as islands. Islands in the sky. Each one of those islands in the sky has its own unique set of species. Luzon island is made up of islands within the island,” Heaney said.

“What’s in the northern Sierra Madre, you know Cagayan province ... is very different from what’s in the mountains that are in Aurora province, because there’s an area of lowlands that separates those two different mountain chains. Then the mountains, the next set of mountains down also are separated by another low-lying area ... There are species of mammals that occur there that don’t live anywhere else in the world.”

Many of those mammals are tiny — the size of the house mouse. When most people think about mammal species, they usually imagine those on the larger part of the spectrum, like themselves.

“We think about water buffalo and horses and lions and tigers and bears,” Heaney said. “There are actually very few large mammals, overwhelmingly, most mammals are small, less than 200 grams ... Not surprisingly, given that, most of the things that we have discovered that were previously unknown are small.”

Mariano Roy Duya, associate professor at the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Biology, who has been working with Heaney, told Arab News that 28 out of the 56 mammal species identified in Luzon were rodents.

Two of them — the Banahaw shrew rat and the Banahaw tree mouse — were endemic to Mt. Banahaw, which is only 100 km from Manila.

The Banahaw shrew-rat has a long, slender snout, a short tail, and weighs 150 grams, while the Banahaw tree mouse is the smallest member of the cloud rat family at 15.5 grams, and navigates tree branches and vines.

Their habitat is now protected due to the efforts of the Biodiversity Conservation Society of the Philippines, a group that was created thanks to the work of scientists like Heaney and Duya, who now serves as its vice president.

The society is an organization that the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources consults on the country’s conservation efforts.

Some 20 percent of the species Heaney, Duya, and other researchers studied during their long Luzon project are vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered due to habitat loss, hunting, and illegal wildlife trade.

“(These include) deer, warty pigs, cloud rats, flying foxes, cave-dwelling bats, and civets,” Duya said.

“According to the hunters we meet in the forest, these animals are becoming hard to find.”

Most of the threats to Luzon’s wildlife were observed in lowland forests, which are usually lost to human development, overlogging, conversion to agricultural fields, and trafficking.

“Close monitoring of illegal wildlife trade and regular enforcement activities should be a priority,” Duya said.

“Securing these forests, as well as forest fragments, will provide refuge to many of these endemic faunae.”


Germany: ICC asking for arrest warrants for Hamas leaders is logical

Updated 43 min 19 sec ago
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Germany: ICC asking for arrest warrants for Hamas leaders is logical

  • “The accusations of the chief prosecutor are serious and must be substantiated,” said the spokesperson

BERLIN: A request by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for arrest warrants for Hamas leaders is logical and no comparisons can be made with Israel’s prime minister and defense minister, for whom warrants are also being sought, a German government spokesperson said.
“The accusations of the chief prosecutor are serious and must be substantiated,” said the spokesperson on Tuesday. He added that Germany assumed Israel’s democratic system and rule of law with a strong, independent judiciary would be taken into account by judges deciding whether to issue the warrants.


Indonesia, UAE to build mangrove research center in Bali

Updated 21 May 2024
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Indonesia, UAE to build mangrove research center in Bali

  • Countries are part of Mangrove Alliance for Climate launched at COP27
  • Southeast Asian country is home to about 23% of global mangrove ecosystems

JAKARTA: Indonesia and the UAE are collaborating to build a mangrove research center in Bali as part of a partnership to promote nature-based solutions to climate change.

The Southeast Asian country is home to about 23 percent of all mangrove ecosystems in the world. In the face of climate change, mangroves are essential in protecting coastal communities against rising sea levels and capturing massive amounts of emissions and greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

At COP27, the 2022 UN climate summit held in Egypt, the archipelagic country partnered with the UAE to launch the Mangrove Alliance for Climate, an initiative focused on nature-based efforts to address issues related to climate change. It was later joined by dozens of other countries, including Australia and India.

As part of that cooperation, the two countries will start building an international mangrove research center in Bali, following a groundbreaking ceremony held over the weekend.

“This institution represents one of the UAE’s most important contributions in its partnership with Indonesia to promote nature-based solutions to address impacts of climate change in the two countries and in the world,” UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Dr. Amna bint Abdullah Al-Dahak said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Taking into consideration the significant decline of mangrove forests in the world, the UAE is aware that losing even more mangrove trees will worsen the impacts of climate change … this research center will work to create solutions.”

Al-Dahak attended the ceremony alongside Suhail Mohamed Al-Mazrouei, a special envoy of the UAE president, and Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister of maritime affairs and investment.

According to Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Investment Ministry, the center will focus on conducting research, conservation and providing education related to mangroves, particularly on harnessing biotechnology and innovative uses of artificial intelligence to identify and restore mangrove ecosystems.

“I’m proudly announcing that the International Mangrove Research Center will be built in a strategic location in Bali, which has already shown its success in preserving mangrove ecosystems and will garner international attention,” Pandjaitan said.

Indonesia has made mangrove planting a key feature in the international events that it hosts, including the Group of 20 Meeting in 2022 and the 10th World Water Forum, which runs until May 25. The research center will be built within the Ngurah Rai Forest Park, Bali’s largest mangrove conservation area covering about 1,300 hectares.