Can food airdrops avert mass starvation in beleaguered Gaza?

Sources within the humanitarian aid sector say that in the claimed absence of any alternative, the use of airdrops and the planned pier in Gaza will at least bring some relief. (AFP)
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Updated 13 March 2024
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Can food airdrops avert mass starvation in beleaguered Gaza?

  • Enclave has endured months of bombardment and effective siege since Israel launched air-and-ground invasion
  • Opinion divided on whether ongoing airdrops by the US and five Arab countries can make a dent in the problem

LONDON: The US and its Arab allies appear to have finally circumvented the biggest obstructions in the path of food-aid flow to the neediest residents of the Gaza Strip. But averting a humanitarian disaster is still a work in progress.

With Israel proving unable or unwilling to facilitate the entry of aid by road to the beleaguered enclave, the US has begun efforts to bring relief to the millions of Palestinians on the brink of starvation.

Gaza has endured months of bombardment and effective siege since Israel launched an air-and-ground invasion in retaliation for the deadly Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7. According to Gaza’s Hamas-run Ministry of Health, some 30,500 Palestinians have been killed, 70,500 injured and 7,000 have gone missing since the violence began.

News that the US would begin airdrops of food and other supplies over Gaza came on the very day 100 Palestinians were killed by gunfire as they tried to reach a relief convoy. Israel denied that its forces were responsible for all the deaths, but the incident convinced the US and its Arab partners that they had to step in.




The WFP said that just six tons of aid were airdropped over Gaza last week, against 200 tons that sat in a 14-truck convoy waiting to be let through by Israel. (AFP)

President Joe Biden described the loss of life as “heart-breaking,” adding that the desperation of innocent people caught up in the war was starkly portrayed by the incident involving the relief convoy.

Biden said: “You saw the response when they tried to get aid in. And we need to do more, and the US will do more. In the coming days, we are going to join with our friends in Jordan and others in providing airdrops of additional food and supplies.”

Several days after this, the US added to its airdrop strategy a proposal to build a temporary dock on the northern Gaza coast to ferry provisions in from Cyprus by sea — an Israeli-approved humanitarian maritime corridor connecting the territory with the Mediterranean country.

That announcement, part of Biden’s final State of the Union address before the November elections, saw the US president promise that the pier, to be constructed by the US military, would allow Gaza to “receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters.”




A military plane drops humanitarian aid over northern Gaza. (AFP)

Promising “no US boots on the ground,” Biden said that the pier “would enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day.”

While the promises have been clear, the details surrounding them have been opaque, with no information given on how much aid the US and its allies intend to airdrop over the Palestinian territory.

Indeed, the pledge to construct a pier has raised a number of important questions. Number one is how the aid would be distributed, given the US pledge that none of its troops would set foot on Gazan soil.

Gershon Baskin, Middle East director for the International Communities Organization, says the need for a partner on the ground could present its own future challenges, particularly with Israel representing the only viable option.

“I think with the vacuum of governance, the Israeli government has a responsibility to take this on and to protect the aid,” he told Arab News.

“If it does not want relief materials to be cornered by Hamas, then the Israeli government needs to be doing the protecting. And this might all happen, but that, in turn, brings the danger of creating an Israeli military government in Gaza. This is not something you want long term.”




Seven countries are involved in the operation to airdrop aid to the people in Gaza. (AFP)

Biden’s SOTU address suggested that he expected Israeli authorities to take on the security role, especially when he said the country “must also do its part.”

He added: “To the leadership of Israel, I say, humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip. Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.”

Media reports on Monday said that Israel was considering arming some Palestinian individuals or clans in Gaza to provide security protection for aid convoys into the enclave as part of wider planning for the supply of humanitarian relief after the fighting ends.

INNUMBERS

7 — Countries taking part in Gaza food airdrop operations.

2.2m — People in crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity in Gaza.

1.4m — People reached since the start of the current crisis.

$760m — Money needed for WFP operations until end of 2024.

Source: WFP

Soon afterward, a Hamas-linked website warned Palestinian individuals or groups against cooperating with Israel to provide security for aid convoys.

A senior US official said that the Biden plan for a US-built pier could become operational with or without Israel’s cooperation.




According to Gaza’s Hamas-run Ministry of Health, some 30,500 Palestinians have been killed, 70,500 injured and 7,000 have gone missing since the violence began. (AFP)

“The president directed that we look at all options, that we don’t wait for the Israelis and that we pursue every channel possible to get assistance into Gaza,” the official told Arab News.

For weeks, Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, an American commentator on Gaza affairs brought up in Gaza City, had advocated via X for air dropping aid into the enclave, tagging everyone from President Biden to World Food Programme Executive Director Cindy McCain.

In a post on March 2, Alkhatib, who calls himself “a pragmatic realist,” wrote: “Stop Dismissing Gaza Food Airdrops! When I first began putting together talking points and ideas for a big push to conduct food airdrops over Gaza in late December of 2023, I reached out to many pro-Palestine activists, advocates and experts in the humanitarian field.

He added: “Airdrops are typically considered a method of last resort due to their associated costs and general inefficiency from planes’ limited cargo delivery capacity compared to ships or trucks.

“But over time, and as I continued pushing, writing and engaging multiple parties and nations, many opened up to the idea of dispersed large-scale airdrops over Gaza, particularly in the isolated and famished north. This led to the large airdrops by Jordan, Egypt and the UAE, paving the way for the US to embrace this option.”

Sources within the humanitarian aid sector say that in the claimed absence of any alternative, the use of airdrops and the planned pier in Gaza will at least bring some relief.

However, they told Arab News that there are viable alternatives to air and sea aid.




US aircraft as part of a joint operation with Jordan and Egypt have been involved in delivering aid to Palestinians. (AFP)

One option popular with aid groups and NGOS seen as vital to staving off looming mass starvation is for the Israelis to remove all impediments to the flow of aid by trucks into Gaza.

While welcoming the Biden administration’s proposed sea corridor, Sigrid Kaag, the UN’s humanitarian, and reconstruction coordinator in Gaza, said that “air and sea is not a substitute for land — and nobody says otherwise.”

Similarly, a UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees spokesperson said: “The most straightforward way of getting aid into the Gaza Strip is to use the existing (road) crossings.”

The UN and the World Food Programme have warned that “if nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza.”

Ghina Bou Chacra, a spokesperson for Amnesty International, made it clear that what was needed was for Israel to lift its blockade on the entry of aid trucks.

“Israeli authorities have time and time again refused to take steps to ensure adequate access to humanitarian aid in Gaza,” Chacra told Arab News.




The amount of aid that can be dispensed by truck dwarfs what Palestinians in Gaza are seeing being dropped from the skies. (AFP)

“They must open all the access points and crossings to enable humanitarian organizations to transfer aid more rapidly into Gaza.

“They must do this on an even larger scale to areas in need and also ensure that humanitarian operations are protected from military attacks.”

Chacra added: “The roads are accessible and there are hundreds of trucks full of humanitarian aid at Gaza’s border (with Egypt) waiting for Israeli clearance.”

Without details on the movement of aid by sea, it is hard to compare, but when looking at air and road, the amount of aid that can be dispensed by truck dwarfs what Palestinians in Gaza are seeing being dropped from the skies.




Palestinians run toward food parcels airdropped onto a Gazan beach. (AFP)

The WFP said that just six tons of aid were airdropped over Gaza last week, against 200 tons that sat in a 14-truck convoy waiting to be let through by Israel.

Both Chacra and Jamie Shea, associate fellow of the International Security Programme at Chatham House, described the airdrops as a wasteful and inefficient means of dispersing aid.

Chacra further cautioned that the strategy was “potentially dangerous,” just hours before news broke that five people had been killed and 10 injured in Gaza after being hit by a pallet of aid.

The accident occurred close to the enclave’s Al-Shati coastal refugee camp on March 8, with reports claiming the pallet struck a group of men and children — who were awaiting its arrival on the ground — after the parachute attached to the aid payload failed to deploy.

“Humanitarian organizations have repeatedly warned that air drops should only ever be used as a last resort — when delivery by road or sea is impossible,” Chacra said.




News that the US would begin airdrops of food and other supplies over Gaza came on the very day 100 Palestinians were killed by gunfire as they tried to reach a relief convoy. (AFP)

According to Alkhatib, the Palestinian-American commentator, “large-scale airdrops over Gaza are requiring the use of hundreds of parachutes like nothing we’ve seen in recent years, presenting a host of challenges that are gradually being overcome and addressed.”

Shea suggested that in the absence of good alternatives, the US could try something like the 1948 Berlin airlift, when, with its European allies, Washington flew hundreds of planes loaded with aid to Tempelhof Airport to feed the West Berlin population and force the USSR to end its blockade of the city.

“Stalin did not shoot at US planes and the only casualties were from forced landings. It would require Western or Arab troops on the ground to unload and service aircraft, protect the airport from looters and store food prior to distribution,” Shea said.

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“Simply dropping off the food and supplies directly to the civilian population would undoubtedly lead to much of it ending up in the hands of the black market or Hamas.”

Echoing the view of many analysts, Shea said that with Biden under political pressure at home, the airdrops were certainly “a good way of showing to Democratic Party voters that the US cares about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and is putting pressure on the Israelis to seriously address this dire situation.”

Moreover, he said, as supplies start to arrive in Gaza via airdrops, the flow of aid — no matter how insufficient — is giving Israel a “safety valve.”




Over 2 million Palestinians are facing acute food insecurity in Gaza. (AFP)

He added: “In sharing the responsibility with other countries, Israel is suddenly not under pressure to open its border with Gaza in a way to allow significant humanitarian supplies through.”

Meanwhile, in a post on Monday on X, Alkhatib said: “Despite being inadequate on multiple levels, in 99 percent of the time, food that’s airdropped over Gaza gets immediately collected by civilians in desperate need; part of the reason why Hamas hates airdrops is because there are limited to no opportunities for the group to steal aid.”


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

Updated 7 sec ago
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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.