How destruction inflicted on Gaza has intensified environmental challenges in the Middle East

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The Gaza war has contributed to increased air and water pollution and the degradation of ecosystems, say experts. (AFP/File)
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Smoke plumes billow after Israeli bombardment over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 20, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Fire and smoke erupt after Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 14, 2023. (AFP/File)
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A general view shows the destruction in the area surrounding Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital after intense Israeli bombardment. (AFP)
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Updated 06 April 2024
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How destruction inflicted on Gaza has intensified environmental challenges in the Middle East

  • Experts say the conflict has contributed to increased air and water pollution and the degradation of ecosystems
  • The destruction of densely populated urban areas has profound consequences for human health and the environment

DUBAI: Wars devastate lives, economies, and infrastructure, but what is often overlooked is the lasting damage they cause to the environment in the form of emissions, pollutants, and the destruction of habitats. The war in Gaza has been no exception. 

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, the Gaza Strip has come under intense Israeli bombardment, pulverizing buildings, demolishing sanitation services, lacing the earth with explosive remnants, and leaving the air thick with smoke and powdered concrete.




Palestinians flee their homes amid Israeli bombardment in central Gaza City on March 18, 2024. (AFP/File)

Although almost 33,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 75,000 injured, according to the Gaza health ministry, by the bombardment, many doubt a ceasefire agreement will be reached soon, as Israel appears determined to press on into Rafah.

What is more certain is that whenever and however the conflict ends, any postwar government in Gaza will have its work cut out restoring the local environment and dealing with the long-term damage.

“Climate action is inextricably linked to lasting peace progress,” Rana Hajirasouli, founder and CEO of The Surpluss, a Dubai-based global climate tech platform, told Arab News.

“Understanding the critical link between environmental harm and the current structures of governance, power, and sovereignty should take precedence in climate policy to ensure peace and stability.”

The destruction wrought on Gaza by Israel’s military campaign has intensified existing environmental challenges in the region, from increased air and water pollution to the degradation of ecosystems

According to a study conducted by Queen Mary University of London, Lancaster University, and the Climate and Community Project, the carbon footprint created in the first 60 days of the war alone surpassed the annual emissions of 20 small countries.

Published by the Social Science Research Network on Jan. 9, the paper, titled “A multitemporal snapshot of greenhouse gas emissions from the Israel-Gaza conflict,” found the impact of the war was comparable to burning at least 150,000 tonnes of coal.

Much of this was generated by Israeli fighter jets during bombing raids and by armored vehicles used in the ground invasion. Other contributors were the US military, flying supplies to Israel. Less than 1 percent of the emissions were caused by Hamas rockets. 

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Responding to the study’s findings, Hajirasouli said: “This does not include indirect emissions such as energy-intensive production of military equipment, infrastructure construction, and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.” 

Moreover, there is evidence that the destruction of densely populated urban areas has profound consequences for both human health and the environment.

Fires caused by airstrikes, particularly those that pulverize building materials, release a range of harmful emissions and air pollutants, including asbestos, said Hajirasouli.




Fire and smoke erupt after Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 14, 2023. (AFP/File)

These emissions have lasting effects on the environment and exacerbate respiratory illnesses, posing a significant threat to public health.

Often the weapons themselves pollute the air and soil. “Highly incendiary white phosphorus leaves behind a trail of chemicals in its wake,” said Hajirasouli. The accumulation of phosphoric acid released by this weapon depletes soil fertility, exacerbates erosion, and harms agriculture, she added.

Around 339 hectares of greenhouses, crucial for growing various crops, have been destroyed, many of them in Gaza City, North Gaza, and Khan Younis. 

The war has also severely disrupted the harvesting of olives and citrus fruits, which serve as vital sources of income for many in Gaza.




Palestinian farmers gather guavas at the start of the annual harvest season in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 15, 2022. (AFP/File)

Maurizio Martina, deputy director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, highlighted the impact of the war on Gaza’s agriculture during a UN Security Council meeting in February on the protection of civilians amid armed conflicts.

Agriculture, he said, is a “critical source of sustenance and income” for Gazans, as is the fishing industry, which provides an income to some 100,000 individuals. 

Martina also highlighted the death of livestock under airstrikes and as a result of shortages of water and fodder. As of Feb. 15, almost half of Gaza’s arable land had sustained damage, with sheep and dairy farms among the hardest hit.




The destruction of Gaza's arable lands and wells, aggravated by environmental pollution from Israeli bombs and the subsequent fires caused, also threaten animal production in the Palestinian enclave. (AFP/File)

He also said more than 25 percent of wells have been destroyed, significantly impacting the availability of water in North Gaza and Gaza City.

According to Hajirasouli, Gaza’s groundwater, of which 95 percent has been deemed undrinkable due to contamination with wastewater and seawater, is almost completely depleted.

“A lack of access to clean water heightens the risk of waterborne diseases, such as cholera, in addition to creating fertile ground for the rapid spread of diseases,” she said.




Sewage left untreated as a result of the war in Gaza is not only causing environmental damage but also creating conditions for a health crisis. (AFP/File)

The Norwegian Refugee Council estimates more than 130,000 cubic meters of untreated sewage was released into the Mediterranean Sea from Gaza each day in October, not only causing environmental damage but also creating conditions for a health crisis.

Meanwhile, the loss of vegetation amid the fighting has limited the land’s capacity to sequester carbon, further contributing to climate change, said Hajirasouli.

“A growing population coupled with shrinking farmlands contribute to catastrophic hunger,” she said, emphasizing the UN’s recent announcement that 80 percent of those experiencing famine or catastrophic hunger worldwide are Gazan.

DID YOUKNOW?

• Since October last year, waste management facilities have been damaged or destroyed, and power has been cut or interrupted in Gaza.

• At least 100,000 cubic meters of sewage and wastewater are being dumped daily onto land in Gaza or into the Mediterranean Sea (UNEP).

• Solid waste is being dumped in informal sites, where hazardous substances can leach into the porous soil, and potentially into the aquifer, Gaza’s main source of water.

• Total quantity of debris generated by wartime destruction in Gaza amounted to 22.9 million tons as of Jan. 7 (UNEP).

• Burning of solid waste in open fires in Gaza releases hazardous gases and particulate pollutants into the air.

According to aid agencies, approximately half a million people in Gaza are on the brink of starvation, while 2.3 million are dealing with acute food shortages. 

Carl Skau, the deputy head of UN aid coordination, has warned that famine is “almost inevitable” unless there is an immediate and substantial increase in aid efforts. And yet, the FAO has highlighted continued constraints on the flow of aid deliveries into Gaza, hampering effective humanitarian efforts.

“A critical priority is to restore safe and sustained humanitarian access throughout the Gaza Strip and to all those in need of lifesaving assistance,” Martina told the UN Security Council last month. 

He called for the restoration of basic services such as cross-border water pipelines, telecommunications, electricity distribution, and health facilities.

Even when the fighting eventually stops, postwar reconstruction is likely to be another significant contributor to emissions.

According to estimates reported in the Social Science Research Network study, the carbon cost of reconstructing Gaza’s 100,000 damaged buildings using modern construction methods will result in the emission of at least 30 million metric tonnes of warming gases. 




A general view shows the destruction in the area surrounding Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital after intense Israeli bombardment. (AFP)

This is comparable to the annual CO2 emissions of New Zealand and surpasses the emissions of 135 other countries and territories, including Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and Uruguay.

Hajirasouli added: “Whilst the long-term impacts on the climate will undoubtedly remain due to potent greenhouse gas emissions, many around the world will also feel the impact of its consequences.” 

What is perhaps most striking is that Israelis and Palestinians — despite their decades-old animosity — face the same common threats from climate change and environmental degradation.

The World Bank’s Country Climate and Development Report for the West Bank and Gaza, published in December, highlighted the borderless nature of climate change and showed that the environment shared by Palestinians and Israelis is intertwined.

“Left unaddressed or tackled only by one side, the negative impacts of climate change will spill across borders and impacts on both Palestinian and Israeli lives and livelihood,” the report added.
 

 


Israel’s pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat as lawlessness blocks distribution

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Israel’s pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat as lawlessness blocks distribution

  • Aid workers said they are working with the Israelis to find a solution, but that the security burden falls squarely on Israel’s shoulders

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Sunday that it was establishing a new safe corridor to deliver aid into southern Gaza. But days later, this self-declared “tactical pause” has brought little relief to desperate Palestinians.
The United Nations and international aid organizations say a breakdown in law and order has made the aid route unusable.
With thousands of truckloads of aid piled up, groups of armed men are regularly blocking convoys, holding drivers at gunpoint and rifling through their cargo, according to a UN official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media on the issue.
He said lawlessness has emerged as the main obstacle to aid distribution in southern Gaza — where an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians displaced from Rafah, or more than half of Gaza’s entire population, are now sheltering in tent camps and cramped apartments without adequate food, water, or medical supplies.
Here is a closer look at the security challenges facing the UN and aid organizations.
Israel’s ‘tactical pause’ stymied
Israel said Sunday it would observe daily pauses in combat along a route stretching from Kerem Shalom — the strip’s only operational aid crossing in the south — to the nearby city of Khan Younis. Before the pause, aid organizations had reported that the need to coordinate trucks’ movement with the Israelis in an active combat zone was slowing aid distribution.
The UN official familiar with the aid effort said that there has been no sign of Israeli activity along the route. The UN tried to send a convoy of 60 trucks down the road Tuesday to pick up aid at Kerem Shalom. But 35 of the trucks were intercepted by armed men, the official said.
In recent days, armed men have moved closer to the crossing and set up roadblocks to halt trucks loaded with supplies, the UN official said. They have rifled through the pallets in search of smuggled cigarettes, a rare luxury in a territory where a single smoke can go for $25.
The surge in lawlessness is a result of growing desperation in Gaza and the power vacuum that left by Hamas’s waning power over the territory, said Mkhaimar Abusada, an associate professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza who is now in Cairo.
With the territory’s police force targeted by Israel, he said, crime has reemerged as an untreated issue in Gaza.
“After Hamas came to power, one of the things that they brought under their control was the lawlessness of the so-called big clans,” said Abusada. “Now, that’s left for the Palestinians on their own to deal with it. So once again, we are seeing shootings between families, there are thefts, all the bad things are happening.”
UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, used to deploy local Palestinian police to escort aid convoys, but many refused to continue serving after airstrikes killed at least eight police officers in Rafah, the agency said.
Israel says the police are legitimate targets because they are controlled by Hamas.
Is any aid still getting into Gaza?
The situation has largely paralyzed aid distribution to the south — particularly since Gaza’s nearby Rafah crossing with Egypt was closed when Israel invaded the city early last month.
The UN official said that 25 trucks of flour used the route Tuesday. Some private commercial trucks also got through — many of which used armed security to deter groups seeking to seize their cargo. An AP reporter stationed along the road Monday saw at least eight trucks pass by, armed security guards riding on top.
Before Israel’s offensive into the city of Rafah, hundreds of fuel trucks routinely entered the area.
The UN has now begun rerouting some fuel trucks through northern Gaza. Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman, said five fuel trucks entered Gaza Wednesday. The UN humanitarian office reported that these were the first fuel deliveries since early June and supplies remain scarce.
Aid groups say only a ceasefire and a reopening of the Rafah crossing could significantly increase aid flow to the area.
The military body in charge of coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, COGAT, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Security concerns also afflict aid from US pier project
The US installed a pier off Gaza’s coast last month, aiming to provide an additional route for aid to enter Gaza. But the ambitious project has suffered repeated logistical and security setbacks.
Cyprus, a partner in the effort, said the pier was up and running again Thursday after being detached for a second time last week because of rough seas. COGAT said Thursday there were “hundreds of aid pallets awaiting collection and distribution by the UN aid agencies.”
But there, too, security concerns are hindering distribution of aid.
The UN suspended its cooperation with the pier on June 9 – a day after rumors swirled that the Israeli military had used the area in a hostage rescue operation that left over 270 Palestinians dead. Photos of the operation have shown an Israeli helicopter in the vicinity of the pier.
Both Israel and the US deny the pier was used in the operation. But the perception that the pier was used for military purposes could endanger humanitarian workers, and threaten humanitarian groups’ principles of of neutrality, the UN says.
Aid workers said they are working with the Israelis to find a solution, but that the security burden falls squarely on Israel’s shoulders.
UN and other humanitarian officials, including Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development, met with Israel’s military chief and COGAT officials this week to seek solutions.
USAID said afterward that the meeting ended with promises of specific actions, but gave no details.


Lebanon’s Hezbollah: What weapons does it have?

Updated 20 June 2024
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Lebanon’s Hezbollah: What weapons does it have?

  • Many of the Shiite Muslim group’s weapons are Iranian, Russian or Chinese models

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah has drawn on an expanded arsenal in ongoing hostilities with Israel, with leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah saying in a speech on Wednesday the Iran-backed group had obtained new weapons.
He did not identify the new weapons, but said they would “emerge in the field.”
Hezbollah’s latest conflict with Israel, which has raged in parallel with the Gaza war, has raised concerns of further escalation between the regional enemies, which last fought a major war in 2006.
Here is a snapshot of Hezbollah’s arsenal:

AN OVERVIEW
Hezbollah’s military strength is underpinned by upwards of 150,000 missiles and rockets of various types and ranges, according to the World Factbook of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Hezbollah says it has rockets that can hit all areas of Israel. Many of them are unguided, but it also has precision missiles, drones and anti-tank, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.
Hezbollah’s main supporter and weapons supplier is Iran. Analysts say Tehran sends arms to the group by land via Iraq and Syria, both Middle Eastern countries where Iran has close ties and influence. Many of the Shiite Muslim group’s weapons are Iranian, Russian or Chinese models.
Nasrallah said in 2021 the group has 100,000 fighters. The CIA World Factbook says it was estimated in 2022 to have up to 45,000 fighters, split between roughly 20,000 full-time and 25,000 reserve personnel.

ANTI-TANK MISSILES
Hezbollah used guided anti-tank missiles extensively in the 2006 war. It has deployed guided rockets again in the latest hostilities. These include the Russian-made Kornet.
Hezbollah has also used an Iranian-made guided missile known as “al-Mas,” according to a report by the pro-Iran Arabic broadcaster Al-Mayadeen.
A report by Israel’s Alma Research and Education Center published in April described the Al-Mas as an anti-tank weapon that can hit targets beyond the line of sight following an arched trajectory, enabling it to strike from above.
The missile is part of a family of weapons made by Iran through reverse engineering based on the Israeli Spike missile family, the report said. It said the missile was a “flagship product” of Iran’s defense industry in Hezbollah’s possession.
ANTI-AIRCRAFT MISSILES
Hezbollah said on June 6 it had fired at an Israeli warplane. A source familiar with its arsenal said it was the first time the group had done so, calling it a milestone, while declining to identify the weapon used.
Hezbollah has also shot down Israeli drones during this conflict using surface-to-air missiles.
The first such incident was on Oct. 29 when Hezbollah for the first time said it had used anti-aircraft weaponry it had long been thought to have.
Hezbollah has used such missiles several times since, downing Israeli Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 drones.

DRONES
Hezbollah has repeatedly launched explosive one-way drones, including in some of its more complicated attacks. It launched some to distract Israeli air defenses, while explosives-laden drones were flown at targets.
More recently, the group has announced attacks that use drones that drop bombs and return to Lebanon, rather than just flying at their targets.
Hezbollah’s drones include what it says are the locally-assembled Ayoub and Mersad models, which analysts say are cheap and relatively easy to produce.

LAND-ATTACK ROCKETS AND MISSILES
Unguided rockets comprised the bulk of Hezbollah’s missile arsenal in the last war with Israel in 2006, when the group fired about 4,000 of them into Israel — mostly Russian-made Katyusha-style missiles with a range of up to 30 km (19 miles).
Nasrallah has said the biggest change in Hezbollah’s arsenal since 2006 is the expansion of its precision guidance systems.
In 2022, he said Hezbollah had the ability within Lebanon to retrofit thousands of rockets with guidance systems to make them precision missiles.
Hezbollah has Iranian models, such as Raad (Arabic for Thunder), Fajr (Dawn) and Zilzal (Earthquake) rockets, which have a more powerful payload and longer range than Katyushas.
Rockets fired by Hezbollah at Israel during the Gaza conflict since October have included Katyushas and Burkan (volcano) missiles with an explosive payload of 300-500 kg.
Its Iranian-made Falaq 2 rockets it used for the first time on June 8, could carry a bigger warhead than the Falaq 1 used in the past.
Hinting at the damage it could do, Nasrallah in 2016 made a veiled threat that Hezbollah could hit ammonia storage tanks in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, saying the result would be “like a nuclear bomb.”

ANTI-SHIP MISSILES
Hezbollah first proved it had anti-ship missiles in 2006, when it hit an Israeli warship 16 km (10 miles) off the coast, killing four Israeli personnel and damaging the vessel.
Since the 2006 war, Hezbollah has acquired the Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missile with a range of 300 km (186 miles), sources familiar with its arsenal say. Hezbollah has not confirmed it has the weapon.
Hezbollah has also broadcast videos that it says show more of the same type of anti-ship missile used in 2006.

 


Activists file torture complaint against Iranian held in France

Bashir Biazar. (Photo/social media)
Updated 20 June 2024
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Activists file torture complaint against Iranian held in France

  • It accuses Biazar of complicity in torture due to his past work with Iranian state broadcasting conglomerate IRIB, describing him as a former director of production there

PARIS: Activists said on Thursday they were filing a torture complaint against an Iranian citizen held in France who was reportedly a former senior figure in state television in the country.
During strained relations between Paris and Tehran, Bashir Biazar has been held in administrative detention in France since June 3, pending expulsion from the country for separate reasons.
His lawyer has denounced his detention and planned expulsion as “political,” while officials in Iran have condemned France over his arrest and urged his release.
Activist group Iran Justice and victims of human rights violations filed the complaint against Biazar in Paris. If the court decides to follow up, he could be kept in France to stand trial.
It accuses Biazar of complicity in torture due to his past work with Iranian state broadcasting conglomerate IRIB, describing him as a former director of production there.
Iranian state media have described him as a “cultural figure.”
The complaint refers to the regular broadcasts by Iranian state television of statements by — and even interviews with — Iranian or foreign prisoners, which activists regard as forced confessions.
There are “serious indications” that Biazar could have been “personally involved” in recording such broadcasts, said lawyer Chirinne Ardakani.

 


Netanyahu says Israel needs US ammunition in ‘war for its existence’

Updated 20 June 2024
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Netanyahu says Israel needs US ammunition in ‘war for its existence’

  • The Israeli leader’s comments came after he angered Washington with a video statement this week accusing it of “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel“
  • US officials have said they were not aware of what Netanyahu was referring to

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday the country needs ammunition from the United States in “the war for its existence,” directly addressing the White House after it criticized him for complaining about arms deliveries related to the Gaza war.
“I am prepared to suffer personal attacks provided that Israel receives the ammunition from the US that it needs in the war for its existence,” he said in a statement.
The Israeli leader’s comments came after he angered Washington with a video statement this week accusing it of “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
US officials have said they were not aware of what Netanyahu was referring to.
“Those comments were deeply disappointing and certainly vexing to us, given the amount of support that we have and will continue to provide,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists earlier on Thursday.
Washington said that there is only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs that is under review because of concerns about their use in densely populated areas in Gaza.
Kirby separately said that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is due to meet his Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer on Thursday.
Washington is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has conducted more than eight months of operations against Hamas.


Palestinians say Israeli troops kill teen in West Bank

Updated 20 June 2024
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Palestinians say Israeli troops kill teen in West Bank

  • Naeem Abdullah Samha, 15, was killed “by occupation (Israeli army) bullets” in the city of Qalqilya
  • He was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead of his wounds there

JERUSALEM: The Palestinian health ministry said Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, amid escalating violence in the territory since the war in Gaza began on October 7.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
Naeem Abdullah Samha, 15, was killed “by occupation (Israeli army) bullets” in the city of Qalqilya, the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah said in a statement.
The Palestinian official news agency Wafa, citing local sources, reported that Samha was shot in the chest.
He was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead of his wounds there, the agency said, which gave no reason for the shooting.
The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, has for more than a year experienced a rise in deadly incidents, but particularly since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7.
Israel has carried out near-daily raids in the West Bank in what it says is a bid to thwart militant groups.
At least 547 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli troops or settlers since the Israel-Hamas war broke out, according to Palestinian officials.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The West Bank is home to about 490,000 Israeli settlers who live in communities considered illegal under international law.