Northern Gaza facing ‘catastrophe’ without more aid: OCHA official

A Palestinian inspects the damage to the home of the Tabatibi family after Israeli bombardment in the Daraj Neighbourhood of Gaza on April 12, 2024, during the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (AFP)
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Updated 12 April 2024

Northern Gaza facing ‘catastrophe’ without more aid: OCHA official

  • Jamie McGoldrick says communication issues hampering aid delivery, putting aid workers at risk
  • Israel’s military campaign has severely damaged infrastructure, 70% of people at risk of famine

LONDON: Northern Gaza faces a catastrophe without more assistance, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator said on Friday, with communication between the Israeli military and foreign aid groups still poor and no meaningful improvements happening on the ground.

Jamie McGoldrick, who works for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, warned that Gaza was sliding into an ever more precarious situation as Israel’s war against Hamas continues into a sixth month.

He said that according to an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report 70 percent of people in the north of the Gaza Strip were “in real danger of slipping into famine.”

In a briefing on the situation, McGoldrick said the deaths of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers earlier this month were “not a one off” and that there had been “many incidents of that kind.”

“We work with, interact with, the Israeli Defense Forces and the way we notify and communicate is challenging. We don’t have communications equipment inside Gaza to operate properly, as you would have in … other situation(s),” he said.

“We are working in a very hostile area as humanitarians without the possibility of contacting each other. We don’t have radios, we don’t have mobile networks that work. And so, what we then do is we have to find ways of passing messages back to OCHA and other organizations in Rafah and then relaying out. And if we have a serious security incident, we don’t have a hotline, we don’t have any way of communicating (with) the IDF or facing problems at checkpoint or facing problems en route.

“I think that another thing, I would say, that there’s a real challenge of weapons discipline and the challenge of the behavior of (Israeli) soldiers at checkpoints. And we’ve tried, time and time again, to bring that (to their) attention.”

McGoldrick said that communication with the Israeli military was hampering the flow of aid into Gaza.

“Israel believes that their responsibility ends when they deliver trucks from Kerem Shalom and to the Palestinian side, and I would say that that’s certainly not the case,” he said.

“Their responsibility ends when the aid reaches the civilians in Gaza — we have to have them supportive of that. And that means allowing more facilitation, a lot more routes in and, obviously, to provide security for us as we move. At the moment, we don’t have security.”

He said the toll the war had taken on Gaza’s basic infrastructure was also playing a part in hampering aid deliveries.

“The roads themselves are in very poor condition. We are, as the UN, committed to using all possible routes to scale up humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza, but right now we see that there have been a number of commitments made by Israel and a number of concessions,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s been any notable improvement in terms of our ability to move around, certainly not our approval to get convoys going to the north.”

Opening more crossings to supply northern areas of Gaza was an essential step if famine was to be avoided in the area, McGoldrick said.

“All we can do is keep reminding (Israel) and using the pressure from key (UN) member states to remind Israel of the commitments they’ve made and the commitments that we’ve been asking for such a long time.

“That would be an essential lifeline into the north, because that’s where the population, according to the IPC — the recent famine report — that is where the bulk of people who are the most in danger of slipping into famine.

“If we don’t have the chance to expand the delivery of aid into all parts of Gaza, but in particular to the north, then we’re going to face a catastrophe. And the people up there are living such a fragile and precarious existence.”

McGoldrick also noted the difficulty in accessing fresh water and the devastation caused to Gaza’s health sector by Israel’s military campaign.

“People have very much less water than they need. And as a result of that, waterborne diseases due to the lack of safe and clean water and the destruction of the sanitation systems, you know, they’re all bringing about problems for the population living (there),” he said.

“The hospital system there, Al-Shifa, and Nasser, the two big hospitals have been badly damaged or destroyed. And what we have now is three-quarters of the hospitals and most of the primary healthcare clinics are shutting down, leaving only 10 of 36 hospitals functioning.

“We hear of amputations being carried out with(out) anesthesia. You know, miscarriages have increased by a massive number. And I think of all those systems which are not in place, (and) at the soaring rates of infectious diseases — you know, hepatitis C, dehydration, infections and diarrhea. And obviously, given the fact that our supply chain is so weak, we haven’t been able to deliver enough assistance.”

Reactions to the crash of the Iranian president’s helicopter

Updated 4 sec ago

Reactions to the crash of the Iranian president’s helicopter

  • Iraqi government said it instructed relevant bodies to offer help to neighboring Iran in the search mission

LONDON: Following are reactions from foreign governments and officials to the news that a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister crashed as it flew over mountain terrain in heavy fog on Sunday.

“We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

A spokesperson for President Biden, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president had been briefed on the situation. She did not elaborate.

AZERI PRESIDENT ILHAM ALIYEV (Raisi was returning from Iran’s border with Azerbaijan when his helicopter crashed).
“Today, after bidding a friendly farewell to the (visiting) President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, we were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran.”
“Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with President Ebrahim Raisi and the accompanying delegation. As a neighbor, friend, and brotherly country, the Republic of Azerbaijan stands ready to offer any assistance needed.”

The Iraqi government said in a statement it had instructed its interior ministry, the Red Crescent and other relevant bodies to offer help to neighboring Iran in the search mission.

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

Updated 19 May 2024

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.

Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
Updated 37 min 12 sec ago

Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

  • IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials

DUBAI: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister made a rough landing on Sunday as it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian news agencies said.
The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and state TV carried prayers for his safety.
IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials.
Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.
Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.
In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.
But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi's main policies.

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Updated 19 May 2024

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses comments as "washed-up words"
  • Broad splits emerge in Israeli war cabinet as Hamas regroups in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

Updated 19 May 2024

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

  • Washington called on Tehran to rein in proxy forces
  • Officials sat in separate rooms with Omani intermediaries passing messages

LONDON: US and Iranian officials held talks in Oman last week aimed at reducing regional tensions, the New York Times reported.

Through intermediaries from Oman, Washington’s top Middle East official Brett McGurk and the deputy special envoy for Iran, Abram Paley, spoke with Iranian counterparts.

It was the first contact between the two countries in the wake of Iran’s retaliatory missile and drone attack on Israel in April.

The US officials, who communicated with their Iranian counterparts in a separate room — with Omani officials passing on messages — requested that Tehran rein in its proxy forces across the region.

The US has had no diplomatic contact with Iran since 1979, and communicates with the country using intermediaries and back channels.

Since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October, Iran-backed militias — including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and armed groups in Syria and Iraq — have ramped up attacks on Israeli and American targets.

But US officials have determined that neither Hezbollah nor Iran want an escalation and wider war.

After Israel struck Iran’s consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, Tehran retaliated with hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones.

The attack — which was intercepted by air defense systems from Israel, the US and the UK, among others — was the first ever direct Iranian strike on Israel, which has for years targeted Iranian assets in Syria, whose government is a close ally of Tehran.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a news conference this week that the “Iranian threat” to Israel and US interests “is clear.”

He added: “We are working with Israel and other partners to protect against these threats and to prevent escalation into an all-out regional war through a calibrated combination of diplomacy, deterrence, force posture adjustments and use of force when necessary to protect our people and to defend our interests and our allies.”