UN envoy says allegations of sexual violence committed against Israeli hostages do not justify attacks on Gaza

Pramila Patten, right, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, addresses meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the war in Gaza at UN headquarters. (AP)
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Updated 12 March 2024
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UN envoy says allegations of sexual violence committed against Israeli hostages do not justify attacks on Gaza

  • “In fact, it creates a moral imperative for a humanitarian ceasefire to end the unspeakable suffering imposed on Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” says Pramila Patten
  • Patten was speaking to the UN Security Council where Israel’s foreign minister was also sitting and listening

NEW YORK: The UN envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict warned Israel on Monday that the finding of “clear and convincing information” that some hostages taken by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel were subjected to sexual violence “does not in any way legitimize further hostilities.”
“In fact, it creates a moral imperative for a humanitarian ceasefire to end the unspeakable suffering imposed on Palestinian civilians in Gaza and bring about the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” Pramila Patten told the UN Security Council where Israel’s foreign minister was also sitting and listening.
“Continuation of hostilities can, in no way, protect them,” she said. “It can only expose them to further risk of violence, including sexual violence.”
Patten was speaking at a council meeting sought by Israel and called by the United States, United Kingdom and France to focus on her recent report, which also found “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, sexualized torture, and other cruel and inhumane acts against women during the Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 people and led to 250 others being taken hostage.
She told the council that the 134 hostages still in captivity and the more than 2 million civilians in Gaza “share a common fate. For their common sake, there must be a humanitarian ceasefire now.” Israel’s ongoing offensive against Hamas has killed over 30,000 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he came to the council “to protest as loud as I can against the crimes against humanity” committed by Hamas in order to deter and scare Israeli society.
He strongly criticized the Security Council’s failure in over 40 meetings since Oct. 7 to condemn Hamas’ actions, saying the UN’s most powerful body should declare the extremist group a terrorist organization and pressure it to immediately release the hostages.
In a statement that surprised some diplomats, Katz noted that Monday was the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and said: “Let me take this opportunity to bless our Muslim brothers: Ramadan Kareem.” That means have a blessed or generous Ramadan.
“Hamas is not speaking on behalf of the Muslim world,” Katz said, “and we are asking you to condemn the sexual violence crimes that these barbarians committed in the name of the Muslim religion.”
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, told the council that Muslims around the world are celebrating Ramadan but “in Gaza, death and suffering can be found everywhere. Food and hope can be found nowhere.”
He told the council that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want a ceasefire because his “political survival requires for the onslaught to continue.”
Israel’s objective, Mansour said, “remains the forcible displacement of our people by making Gaza unlivable.”
He expressed hope that the Security Council, which showed an “unprecedented” reaction to Patten’s report by convening a meeting within a week, would respond equally to reports of sexual assault against Palestinian women and girls, men and boys.
Patten’s key recommendation is to encourage Israel to grant access to the UN human rights chief and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Palestinian territories and Israel “to carry out full-fledged investigations into the alleged violations” by Hamas.
Mansour said the Palestinians would welcome these investigations and challenged Israel “to make a similar declaration of welcome.” He also invited Patten to visit Gaza and see for herself the plight of Palestinians.
Patten told the council that when she visited the West Bank she didn’t receive any reports of rape, but instances of sexual violence during the detention of both Palestinian men and women were raised.
These included invasive body searches, unwanted touching of intimate areas, beatings in the genital areas, threats to men of rape against their women family members, “and inappropriate strip searches and prolonged forced nudity of detainees,” she said.
Patten said she raised these reports with Israeli authorities, who provided her with information on their protocols to prevent such acts and “indicated willingness to investigate any alleged breaches.”
She expressed disappointment “that the immediate reaction to my report by some political actors was not to open inquiries into those alleged incidents, but rather to reject them outright via social media.” She did not name any of these “political actors.”


Gaza war is ‘real genocide,’ Spanish defense minister says

Updated 25 May 2024
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Gaza war is ‘real genocide,’ Spanish defense minister says

  • Defense Minister Margarita Robles says Spain’s recognition of Palestine is not a move against Israel, adding that it is designed to help end violence in Gaza

MADRID: The Spanish defense minister said on Saturday that the conflict in Gaza is a “real genocide” as relations between Israel and Spain worsen following Madrid’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state.

Israel has strongly rejected accusations made against it by South Africa at the International Court of Justice that it is committing genocide against Palestinians, saying it is waging war on Hamas.

The remark by Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles in an interview with TVE state television echoed a comment by Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz, who earlier this week also described the Gaza conflict as a genocide.

“We cannot ignore what is happening in Gaza, which is a real genocide,” Robles said in the interview, during which she also discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine and conflicts in Africa.

She also said Madrid’s recognition of Palestine was not a move against Israel, adding that it was designed to help “end violence in Gaza.” 

“This is not against anyone, this is not against the Israeli state, this is not against the Israelis, who are people we respect,” she said.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, and destroyed much of the enclave. Israel launched the operation to try to eliminate Hamas after the Palestinian group attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Spain, along with Ireland and Norway, declared this week it would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, prompting an angry response from Israel, which said it amounted to a “reward for terrorism” and recalled its ambassadors from the three capitals.

Judges at the ICJ, the top UN court, on Friday, ordered Israel to immediately halt its military assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, in a landmark emergency ruling in the case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide.

On Saturday, Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said that Israel must obey the court’s ruling.

In a post on the social media site X, he said, “The International Court of Justice’s precautionary measures, including the cessation of Israel’s offensive in Rafah, are mandatory. We demand their application.”

South Africa has accused Israel of failing to uphold its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Israel rejects the accusation, arguing it is acting to defend itself and fighting Hamas after the Oct. 7 attack.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday that if more nations recognized the Palestinian state, it would add to international pressure for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.


Egyptian sports critic to sue authorities in Israel after Shin Bet confuses him with Hamas member

Updated 25 May 2024
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Egyptian sports critic to sue authorities in Israel after Shin Bet confuses him with Hamas member

  • Media expert Hassan Makawi says simple Internet search would have uncovered ‘appalling mistake’
  • He says fiasco shows Israeli media reports ‘must be scrutinized closely’

CAIRO: Egyptian sports critic Mohamed Shabana plans to sue authorities in Israel for defamation after Israeli security agency Shin Bet published his photograph by mistake instead of an image of a Hamas leader in Rafah who it believed had been killed.
Shabana said he would demand substantial compensation for the damage inflicted on him, his family, and his audience in the Egyptian media.
He also said his political career was being damaged following the incident.
He said he would donate the compensation to the “Palestinian cause — a cause we all fight for.”
Shin Bet sparked controversy on social media after posting a picture of Shabana, claiming that he was a Hamas leader killed in Rafah.
Local Israeli media initially reported the assassination of Mohammed Shabana in Rafah, a leader of the Rafah brigade of the Al-Qassam Brigades, using an image of the Egyptian media personality.
However, the Israeli media immediately corrected the error, acknowledging the failure of the assassination attempt, as reported by Yedioth Ahronoth.
The blunder sparked an initial social media uproar, with the Egyptian sports audience recognizing Shabana, making a mockery of the incident.
The fiasco also raised doubts about the capabilities of Shin Bet, which not only posted the incorrect image of a Hamas leader but also failed in the assassination attempt.
Shabana told Arab News that he came across a photo of himself trending on social media, accompanied by sarcastic comments about the Israeli army.
He said: “I did not understand what was happening and began reading to grasp what had occurred.”
Shabana said some friends and family also contacted him over the phone to express their disbelief.
He added: “They joked that the Israeli security service had assassinated me, which made me laugh too. But it did not take long before I realized how ignorant and backward the Israeli security agencies were, fabricating events, which makes me doubt everything they say.
“I know that Shin Bet is one of the strongest security agencies in Israel, and it’s unnatural for them to make such a mistake.
“But I think the chaos in the Israeli state made them fabricate or even mishandle the accuracy of their publications.
“Perhaps they Googled the name Mohammed Shabana, the leader in Hamas, and my photo popped up, so they published it, which is quite ridiculous.”
Media expert Hassan Makawi said: “What happened is a major blunder for the Israeli security forces. But the bigger blunder, in my opinion, is that of the Israeli media, which followed its agency without verifying the facts.”
Makawi said a simple Internet search would have “uncovered their appalling mistake.”
Makawi told Arab News: “It’s clear that Israel is not as strong as they claim, nor is their media as reliable as it describes itself.
“Therefore, we must scrutinize their statements and publications as they may contain many lies.”


Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says

Updated 25 May 2024
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Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says

  • No injuries were reported and the aid pier remains fully functional

TAMPA: Heavy seas battered the US maritime humanitarian mission to Gaza on Saturday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said, with four vessels serving a floating aid delivery pier breaking free from their moorings.

No injuries were reported and the aid pier remains fully functional, CENTCOM said in a statement, adding that no US personnel would enter Gaza.

Two of the affected vessels were now anchored on the beach near the pier and the other two were beached on the coast of Israel near Ashkelon, CENTCOM said, adding that efforts to recover the vessels were under way with assistance from the Israeli Navy.


Rising cost of medicine in Egypt poses risk to ‘thousands of pharmacies’

Updated 25 May 2024
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Rising cost of medicine in Egypt poses risk to ‘thousands of pharmacies’

  • That review followed pharmaceutical companies’ request for price increases for various medications
  • The EDA’s “decisions over (recent) years to raise the prices of certain types of medicine have resulted in the closure of about 1,500 pharmacies,” said Dr. Hatem El-Badawi

CAIRO: Pharmacy owners in Egypt have voiced concerns about the rising cost of pharmaceuticals in the country as they prepare for another price increase following the Egyptian Drug Authority’s recent review.
That review followed pharmaceutical companies’ request for price increases for various medications to “offset the rising costs of production, which have been exacerbated by the devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the dollar.”
The EDA’s “decisions over (recent) years to raise the prices of certain types of medicine have resulted in the closure of about 1,500 pharmacies,” said Dr. Hatem El-Badawi, secretary-general of the Pharmacy Division at the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, adding that the “uncontrolled” rise in medicine prices has not been matched by a corresponding increase in profit margins for pharmacists.
“We anticipate more closures in 2024,” he added. “In February, the General Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce appealed to the Central Bank governor to reactivate the low-interest rate loan of 5 percent for small and medium-sized pharmacies, capped at EGP500,000 ($10,600) per pharmacy.
“The goal was to safeguard pharmacies from economic challenges such as low purchasing power, cash payment demands from pharmaceutical companies, limited liquidity, rising operating costs, and shrinking profit margins.”
That proposal was rejected, however, and loans are currently only available at a 15-percent interest rate, which is, El-Badawi said, “far higher than a pharmacist’s profit margins and thus constitutes a loss.”
Pharmacy owner Dr. Sami Saad told Arab News: “We face several problems due to price increases, including reduced profit margins for pharmacists, dual pricing for drugs, and pharmaceutical companies not recalling expired products. All these issues could force us to close at any time because we are not making any profit.”
Saad added the Egyptian Drug Authority had not considered pharmacists’ demands or the crises they are facing.
“Every day is a struggle. And although I heard that the head of the authority plans to intervene to resolve these issues, there has been no progress so far,” he said.
Dr. El-Badawi reiterated: “I fear for the closure of pharmacies — a difficult situation that will only get worse. I am concerned for the 85,000 pharmacies across the country.
“The health of Egyptians is at risk,” he added. “I urge all responsible authorities to intervene.”


More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank

Updated 25 May 2024
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More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank

  • 27 percent of Syrians — about 5.7 million individuals — live in extreme poverty
  • “Continued funding shortfalls and limited access to humanitarian assistance” have further strained poor Syrians, the World Bank said

BEIRUT: More than a quarter of Syrians live in extreme poverty, the World Bank said Saturday, 13 years into a devastating civil war that has battered the economy and impoverished millions.
The World Bank published two new reports on Syria, which found that “27 percent of Syrians — about 5.7 million individuals — live in extreme poverty.”
“Extreme poverty, while virtually non-existent before the conflict, affected more than one in four Syrians in 2022” and might have further deteriorated after a deadly earthquake last year, one of the reports said.
The quake killed about 6,000 people in the country.
According to the United Nations, about 90 percent of Syrians live in poverty, while it previously estimated that around 2 million lived in extreme poverty after more than a decade of war.
The report cited neighbor Lebanon’s economic meltdown in late 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, as having eroded the welfare of Syrian households in recent years.
The civil war in Syria has also ravaged the economy, infrastructure and industry, while Western sanctions have added to the country’s woes.
“Continued funding shortfalls and limited access to humanitarian assistance” have further strained poor Syrians, already coping with “soaring prices, reduced access to essential services and rising unemployment,” the World Bank said.
The UN told AFP previously that its humanitarian response plan for Syria for 2024 requires more than $4 billion but that it is only six percent funded.
The international community is set to meet in Brussels Monday to try and muster funds for Syria at a yearly pledging conference.
A lack of opportunities and dwindling aid has pushed many Syrians to rely on money sent from relatives abroad to survive, with the World Bank estimating that “in 2022, the total value of remittances received by Syrian households reached about $1.05 billion.”
Syria’s estimated GDP stood at around $6.2 billion in 2023.
Syria’s “real GDP is projected to contract by 1.5 percent in 2024, extending the 1.2 percent decline in 2023,” the report said.
“Inflation is anticipated to remain high in 2024 due to the pass-through effects of currency depreciation, along with persistent shortages and potential further subsidy cuts (for) food and fuel,” it said.
Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.