Petition calling for suspension of UK arms sales to Israel handed to Downing Street

Director of PSC Ben Jamal along with MPs and activists outside 10 Downing Street. (PSC)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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Petition calling for suspension of UK arms sales to Israel handed to Downing Street

  • Document by UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign signed by almost 70,000 people
  • Protest against arms sales to Israel will take place outside Parliament on Wednesday

LONDON: A petition calling for the UK government to halt arms sales to Israel was handed in to 10 Downing Street on Tuesday by a pro-Palestinian activist organization and a cross-party group of lawmakers.

Launched on April 2 and signed by almost 70,000 people, the document, which is addressed to UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, also urges the government to publish any legal advice it has received regarding possible breaches of international law.

“On 2nd April 2024, Israel killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, including UK citizens, in targeted air strikes in the Gaza Strip,” the petition, drawn up by the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said.

“This attack, on an agency distributing food to a population facing famine, is part of the broader Israeli war crime — as acknowledged by the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell — of intentionally using starvation as a weapon of war.

“It also comes following Israel’s two week siege on Al-Shifa hospital, killing over 400 Palestinians and leaving the hospital complex in ruins.”

The UK’s Strategic Export Licensing Criteria, under which all arms exports are assessed, specifies that the government will not grant a license if it determines “there is a clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate internal repression … or a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” according to a January 2023 report on developments in UK strategic export controls.

“The ICJ (International Court of Justice) ruling of plausible genocide therefore requires the UK to immediately halt arms transfers to Israel,” the petition said.

 

 

“It is also understood the government has received — though not published — legal advice that Israel is breaking international humanitarian law which would also require a suspension of arms exports.”

The ICJ issued a landmark ruling in January finding it plausible that Israel’s acts could amount to genocide, offering the first concrete step toward possible sanctions.

“UN experts have called on all states to immediately suspend arms exports to Israel, as required by the 1949 Geneva Conventions and to comply with the Genocide Convention,” the petition said.

“The UK is putting itself at legal risk by ignoring this advice, and is also isolating itself from key international partners including Canada, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy, who have all suspended their arms exports to Israel.”

Conservative Party MP Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, on Friday said the UK Foreign Office “has received official legal advice that Israel has broken international humanitarian law, but the government has not announced it.”

On Monday in parliament, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to deny the Foreign Office had received such advice and when asked by Labour Party MP Zarah Sultana whether Kearns was telling the truth said: “Israel is committed to and capable of complying with international humanitarian law.”

Ben Jamal, director of the PSC, said: “Israel’s genocidal assault on Palestinians and its attacks on Lebanon, Syria and Iran prove that arming it not only makes the UK complicit in violating international law but also in the sparking of a regional war with catastrophic consequences.

“Continuing to arm Israel cannot help the cause of peace or justice in the Middle East. Any government truly committed to upholding international law does not sell weapons to a state that continually breaches it.”

The Palestinian Health Ministry said on Tuesday that more than 33,000 Palestinians had been killed since Israel launched its assault on Gaza on Oct. 7, 70 percent of them women and children. Most of the civil infrastructure in the besieged enclave has been destroyed and the UN has issued warnings that famine is imminent for its population of 2 million people.

Israel uses British weaponry, surveillance technology and military equipment on Palestinians, and 15 percent of the components used by its F-35 aircraft to bomb Gaza are provided by the UK, according to the pro-Palestinian nongovernmental organization Friends of Al-Aqsa.

“Israeli bomber aircraft are being used in the ongoing genocide taking place in Gaza,” the UK-based group said.

According to a statement by the PSC, more than 1,000 lawyers, academics and retired judges, including the former President of the Supreme Court Baroness Brenda Hale, have signed an open letter stating that the “continued supply of arms to Israel puts the UK in breach of international law.”

On March 27, Sultana and a cross-party group of 134 UK lawmakers wrote to Cameron and Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch asking them to immediately suspend export licenses for arms transfers to Israel as “the case for this is overwhelming.”

Earlier this month, Cameron said the UK would not suspend arms sales to Israel, despite Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Spain and Belgium announcing they would do so.

The PSC said it would lead a “Stop Arming Israel” rally outside parliament at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

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France says conditions not right to recognize Palestinian state

Updated 4 sec ago
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France says conditions not right to recognize Palestinian state

“France does not consider that the conditions have yet been met for this decision to have a real impact on this process,” Sejourne said
Paris has previously said recognizing a Palestinian state is not taboo

PRAIS: France said on Wednesday conditions were not right to officially recognize a Palestinian state and that such a decision must be more than just symbolic or political posturing.
Remarks by Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne distanced France from Ireland, Spain and Norway, which said on Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, hoping to accelerate efforts to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza war.
“France does not consider that the conditions have yet been met for this decision to have a real impact on this process,” Sejourne said after talks in Paris with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz.
Paris has previously said recognizing a Palestinian state is not taboo, but should be part of a broader effort to achieve a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis.
Despite lobbying by several European countries and some Arab states to recognize a Palestinian state, France has said that doing so would do little to change the situation on the ground without genuine negotiations.
“This is not just a symbolic issue or a question of political positioning, but a diplomatic tool in the service of the solution of two states living side by side in peace and security,” Sejourne said.
French diplomats say symbolic recognition will be of no use, especially without real momentum toward a political process supported by the United States, Israel’s main ally.
France has been working on a draft UN Security Council resolution that it hopes to table over the summer.
It wants to bring the parameters for talks on a two-state solution back to the Security Council, while also underpinning clear condemnation of Islamist militant group Hamas after the deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the Gaza war. The negotiating process has been moribund for a decade.
The US believes a Palestinian state should be achieved through negotiations and not unilateral recognition, and has the power of veto at the United Nations.

India on ‘red alert’ over severe heatwave

Updated 30 min 44 sec ago
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India on ‘red alert’ over severe heatwave

  • Heatwaves reached dangerous levels in India, Asian countries since April
  • High mercury expected to impact livestock, land transport, power supply

NEW DELHI: Delhi and other parts of northern India were on the meteorological department’s highest alert over severe heatwaves on Wednesday, with temperatures in some regions expected to soar over 47 degrees Celsius.

The India Meteorological Department forecasts heatwave conditions to persist until the end of the week and issued a severe weather warning, known as the “red alert,” in the Indian capital region and the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Chandigarh and West Uttar Pradesh.

Delhi officials ordered schools to shut on Tuesday as parts of the city recorded temperatures above 47 degrees Celsius. Though summer temperatures often peak during May in India, IMD director-general Dr. Mrutyunjay Mohapatra said the warning was necessary for the general public.

“Any heatwave conditions must be taken seriously because it can cause mortality or morbidity if care is not taken,” Mohapatra told Arab News on Wednesday.

The IMD has warned of the “very high likelihood of developing heat illness and heatstroke in all ages” due to the high temperatures. It added that “extreme care” was needed for vulnerable people and that citizens should drink sufficient water even if they are not thirsty.

“People should be under the shades, they should take water so that there is no dehydration,” Mohapatra said.

The severe heat is expected to impact not only people but also livestock, land transport, and the country’s energy supply.

“There is heavy demand in the power sector — there was the highest demand in Delhi yesterday — so therefore there could be disruption in the power supply,” he added.

Santwana Biswas, a domestic worker from Noida on the outskirts of Delhi, is among those who have been dealing with power disruptions in their neighborhoods.

“The electricity situation in my locality has worsened, with the night passing with just a couple of hours of electricity. Imagine, how can I sleep in this heat without a fan? I have not been able to get proper sleep for at least a week now,” Biswas told Arab News.

“Heat hasn’t allowed me to function normally. I am dragging myself just to save my job.”

Heatwaves, most likely fueled by climate change, have been reaching dangerous levels across India and other Asian countries since April, with eastern India experiencing its hottest April on record and reporting deaths related to soaring temperatures.

Saloni Kumari, a housewife in Delhi, said the heat was disorienting.

“Even early in the morning, you don’t feel comfortable going for a walk or doing any work. Air conditioning at home does not work properly when you have high temperatures,” she said.

“Life has become disoriented in this heatwave.”


Attacks on health care in war zones surge 25 percent last year, NGOs say

Updated 30 min 10 sec ago
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Attacks on health care in war zones surge 25 percent last year, NGOs say

  • The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, composed of 40 groups including medical charities, reported 2,562 incidents
  • The group apportions responsibility and said governments were to blame for nearly half of the attacks

GENEVA: Attacks on medics and health facilities in war zones jumped in 2023 to the highest level since records began 11 years ago, a group of non-governmental organizations said on Wednesday, with nearly half attributed to state forces.
The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, composed of 40 groups including medical charities, reported 2,562 incidents of violence or obstructions including arrests, killings and kidnappings of doctors and strikes across hospitals in 30 conflicts including Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan.
That is up by about a quarter compared with 2022.
Unlike the World Health Organization which also documents attacks on health care, the group apportions responsibility and said governments were to blame for nearly half of the attacks.
Len Rubenstein, chair of the coalition and a Johns Hopkins University professor, called for “far more assertive action to end the scourge of violence against health care,” asking governments to cease arms transfers to perpetrators and press prosecutors to hold them accountable.
The group uses open source data and partner contributions and cross checks to ensure no double counting.
The coalition attributed 489 incidents in Gaza last year to Israeli forces, including medic deaths or injuries and strikes or raids on hospitals. No responsibility had been established in seven other cases, including the deaths of six Israeli military medics killed in fighting in separate incidents between October and December, and the bombing of the Al-Ahli Hospital on Oct. 17, 2023, it said.
Israel, whose military offensive in Gaza began after the deadly Hamas cross-border attacks of Oct. 7, says hospitals in the Palestinian enclave are used by Hamas militants as bases.


Indonesian pilgrim’s journey to Makkah: 60 years of unforgettable memories

Updated 22 May 2024
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Indonesian pilgrim’s journey to Makkah: 60 years of unforgettable memories

Riyadh: In 1964, six-year-old Indonesian Maryam Mohammad Munir traveled to Saudi Arabia for the first time to perform Hajj with her family. Since then, she has traveled 22 more times to the Kingdom to perform Umrah and Hajj.

In the Makkah Route Initiative hall at Surabaya airport, Munir reminisced about the memories and experiences of her 22 trips.

According to the Saudi Press Agency report, she said that 60 years ago, her family’s first trip to perform Hajj was costly and made on a primitive ship that took five to eight months to arrive in the Kingdom.

These ships would first sail from the port of Jakarta, pass through India, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea, and then finally arrive at the port of Jeddah.

The journey, she said, was fraught with dangers, challenges and fear. However, her family’s commitment to fulfilling their religious obligations gave them the strength to persevere through the hardships they encountered along the way.

Munir also talked about Indonesians’ traditions surrounding Hajj in the past. The pilgrims would all gather in Jakarta and bid farewell to their family members before setting off. After completing Hajj and returning home, the pilgrims’ families would warmly welcome them with various gifts, celebrating their safe return and the fulfillment of their religious journey.

She said that with development, travel to Makkah has become much easier, which has led to an increasing number of pilgrims traveling to the holy city.

Munir expressed sincere thanks and appreciation to the Saudi leadership, which, she said, continues to exert great efforts to serve pilgrims from all over the world and help them perform Umrah and Hajj with ease.

 

Indian pilgrims arrive in Makkah

Mutawifs of Arabs Hajj Company (Ashraqat) subsidiary Rahlat wa Manafi Company has welcomed the first group of pilgrims from India who arrived in Makkah for this year’s Hajj season.

The first group consisted of some 2,500 pilgrims distributed in three centers, the SPA reported.

Rahlat wa Manafi Company CEO Ahmad Tamar said that the company strives to provide the utmost comfort to pilgrims, helping them perform their rituals with ease, according to instructions from King Salman regarding visitors, Umrah performers and pilgrims.

The Indian pilgrims expressed gratitude for the efforts exerted by the government of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to provide the best services for pilgrims. They also voiced appreciation for the warm hospitality and reception.


Gaza refugee stories bring Filipinos closer to Palestinians

Updated 22 May 2024
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Gaza refugee stories bring Filipinos closer to Palestinians

  • Nearly 150 Filipino-Palestinians were evacuated from Gaza by the Philippine government
  • Their stories give Filipinos a new perspective as the narrative used to be dominated by Israel

MANILA: In 2023, Jehan Alabadla, 22, was in her senior year at the Islamic University of Gaza, where she was set to graduate from the school’s biotechnology program.

She was forced to flee her home in November — weeks after Israel started its deadly onslaught on the Gaza Strip — to seek shelter in the Philippines, her mother’s native country, leaving behind her Palestinian father and half-siblings, who now liv, displaced, in tents. Alabadla speaks with them whenever she can, but it is not easy as communication lines have been destroyed.

“It is really hard, this is not the life I was used to in Gaza,” she told Arab News.

“With the war, it’s like my life has stopped. Right now, my priority is to save a bit, help my dad in Gaza, as well as my siblings because they’re still so little. It makes me cry because they’ve gotten so thin.”

Alabadla is one of nearly 150 Filipino-Palestinians evacuated from Gaza by the Philippine government — many leaving their homes, livelihoods, and often also loved ones.

She shared the story of her hometown and family in Gaza with over 1,000 people who gathered at the University of the Philippines on Sunday, for an event meant to support the evacuee families and bring them closer to the community.

Among them was also Zenith Abudalal, who returned to the Philippines with her Palestinian husband, children, and grandchildren.

She recalled their harrowing experiences in Gaza amid the Israeli attacks which since October have killed more than 36,000 people, wounded more than 80,000, and destroyed most of the enclave’s infrastructure.

As Philippine authorities were trying to bring her family to safety, they had to walk 8 km to the border with Egypt. Holding white flags, they were instructed to focus on their path, not to stop, not to look to their sides, not to react when Israeli soldiers called them.

“We walked. Our streets were filled with the dead. Severed limbs, heads, bodies,” she said. “We just prayed hard so we can reach our destination ... It was so difficult.”

The stories have given the Filipino audience a new perspective, where until now, their knowledge has been dominated by pro-Israeli narratives that utilize the Holocaust and World War II and have for decades marginalized Palestinian voices.

“We often hear about the plight of the Jews, but the Jews or Israelis are not the only victims ... The Palestinians have been driven off their land for a long time,” said Alexa Villano, a resident of Quezon City.

Manila-based writer Michiko Manalang, who brought her parents to the meeting, said that the refugees’ stories made them see things differently.

“I think the event gave them a different emotional truth, especially after knowing that some young women there were without parents or other loved ones, either because they’re still stuck in Rafah, or they were killed in the invasion,” she said.

“I feel that the world is waking up to the reality that community is where it’s at, and I think that can really change how we live. I feel we cannot go back to the way we lived before.”

Consolidating the refugees and the variety of their experiences is what the event sought to highlight.

“We are hoping with this kind of awareness comes the acceptance from a wider Filipino community,” Darwin Absari, professor at the UP’s Institute of Islamic Studies and a co-founder of the Moro-Palestinians Cooperation Team, told Arab News.

“In terms of raising awareness, I think we have somehow reached it. One thousand is still a small number for us, but those people who went there kept on sharing. So that multiplies. Janine Gutierrez went there with her mom Lot Lot. Aubrey Miles also promoted our event,” he said, referring to celebrity Filipino actresses.

There was an increasing awareness among Filipino politicians too, despite their strong links with the US and its ally, Israel.

Samira Gutoc, a former legislator in Mindanao, said that some were now — unlike before — convinced that the attacks on Gaza should stop, as they have been seeing more and more content giving a human face to the stories told about Palestine.

“And this is not an antisemitic campaign,” she said. “The content is really about human lives and people who care for lives. We have to stand up for human life.”