UNRWA chief says again barred entry to Gaza by Israel

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees Philippe Lazzarini. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 May 2024
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UNRWA chief says again barred entry to Gaza by Israel

  • “Just this week, they have denied — for the second time — my entry to Gaza where I planned to be with our UNRWA colleagues including those on the front lines”: Lazzarini

JERUSALEM: The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said Sunday that Israeli authorities had barred him from entering Gaza for a second time since the Israel-Hamas war started on October 7.
“Just this week, they have denied — for the second time — my entry to Gaza where I planned to be with our UNRWA colleagues including those on the front lines,” Philippe Lazzarini wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Lazzarini has been to Gaza four times since the war broke out including on March 17.
“The Israeli authorities continue to deny humanitarian access to the United Nations,” he said on Sunday.
“Only in the past two weeks, we have recorded 10 incidents involving shooting at convoys, arrests of UN staff including bullying, stripping them naked, threats with arms & long delays at checkpoints forcing convoys to move during the dark or abort,” Lazzarini said.
He also called for an “independent investigation” into rocket fire that led to the closure of a key Israel-Gaza aid crossing.
Hamas’s armed wing, Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the Sunday launch, saying militants had targeted Israeli troops in the area of Kerem Shalom crossing.


Israeli forces step up bombardment across Gaza, amid fierce fighting

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Israeli forces step up bombardment across Gaza, amid fierce fighting

CAIRO: Israeli forces pounded Rafah and other areas across the Gaza Strip and engaged in close-quarter combat with fighters led by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, residents and Israel’s military said.
Residents said the Israelis appeared to by trying to complete their capture of Rafah, the city on the enclave’s southern edge that has been the focus of an Israeli assault since early May.
Tanks were forcing their way into the western and northern parts of the city, having already captured the east, south and center. Israeli forces fired from planes, tanks and ships off the coast, forcing a new wave of displacement from the city, which had been sheltering more than a million displaced people, most of whom have been forced to flee again.
The Israeli military said on Friday its forces were conducting “precise, intelligence-based” actions in the Rafah area, where troops were involved in close-quarter combat and had located tunnels used by militants. It also reported actions elsewhere in the enclave.
Some residents said the pace of the Israeli raid has been accelerated in the past two days. They said sounds of explosions and gunfire indicating fierce fighting have been almost non-stop.
More than eight months into the war in Gaza, Israel’s advance is now focused on the two last areas its forces had yet to storm: Rafah on Gaza’s southern edge and the area surrounding Deir Al-Balah in the center.
“The entire city of Rafah is an area of Israeli military operations,” Ahmed Al-Sofi, the mayor of Rafah, said in a statement carried by Hamas media on Friday.
“The city lives through a humanitarian catastrophe and people are dying inside their tents because of Israeli bombardment,” he added.
Sofi said there was no medical facility functioning in the city, and that remaining residents and displaced families lacked the minimum of their daily needs of food and water.
Palestinian and UN figures show that fewer than 100,000 people may have remained in the far western side of the city, which had been sheltering more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people before the Israeli assault began in early May.
The military accused Hamas of using Palestinian civilians as human shields, an allegation Hamas denies.
“The soldiers located inside a civilian residence large quantities of weapons hidden in wardrobes, including grenades, explosives, a launcher and anti-tank missiles, ammunition, and arms,” the military said in a statement late on Thursday.
Hamas’ armed wing said on Thursday its fighters had hit two Israeli tanks with anti-tank rockets in the Shaboura camp in Rafah, and killed soldiers who tried to flee through the alleys. There was no Israeli immediate comment on the Hamas claim.
In nearby Khan Younis, an Israeli air strike on Friday killed three people, including a father and son, medics said.
In parallel, Israeli forces continued a new push back into some Gaza City suburbs in the north of the enclave, where they fought with Hamas-led militants. Residents said the army forces had destroyed many homes in the heart of Gaza City on Thursday.
Later on Friday, an Israeli air strike on a main road in Gaza City killed four Palestinians, medics said.
Israel’s ground and air campaign was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The offensive has left Gaza in ruins, killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population homeless and destitute.

Iran summons Italy envoy over Canada sanctions: state media

Updated 29 min 50 sec ago
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Iran summons Italy envoy over Canada sanctions: state media

  • Canada on Wednesday listed the Guards as “a terrorist entity”
  • Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani called the move “hostile” and contrary to international law

Tehran: Iran has summoned the Italian ambassador, who represents Canadian interests in Tehran, after Ottawa listed the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist entity, state media said on Friday.
Tensions have been high between the two countries, which broke off diplomatic relations in 2012. In the absence of a diplomatic mission, Canada’s interests in Iran have been represented by Italy.
Canada on Wednesday listed the Guards as “a terrorist entity,” citing “disregard for human rights” and “willingness to destabilize the international rules-based order.”
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani called the move “hostile” and contrary to international law.
On Thursday, the ministry summoned the Italian ambassador to Tehran, Paola Amadei, “to convey our country’s firm protest against the Canadian government’s illegal action,” the official IRNA news agency reported.
In a post on social media platform X, Iran’s acting foreign minister, Ali Bagheri, said the “Canadian government will be responsible for the consequences of this provocative and irresponsible decision.”
Ottawa’s designation bars Revolutionary Guards members from entering Canada and prohibits Canadians from dealing with them. It also allows for the seizure of any assets the Guards or its members hold in Canada.
Canada and other nations are pursuing legal action against Iran at the International Court of Justice over the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 in January 2020.
The passenger jet was shot down shortly after take-off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Iran said the missile strike was a mistake.
Ottawa has previously listed the Quds Force, the Guards’ foreign operations arm, as a terrorist entity and, in 2022, permanently denied entry to more than 10,000 Iranian officials, including Guards members.
The United States designated the Guards as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2019 and the European Union sanctioned them this month for allegedly supplying drones to Russia and its allies in the Middle East.


Hundreds in Yemen receive KSrelief food aid 

Updated 21 June 2024
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Hundreds in Yemen receive KSrelief food aid 

RIYADH: Saudi aid agency KSrelief delivered food aid to 242 families in the Al-Mahra governorate in Yemen on Thursday, reported Saudi Press Agency.

The support benefited 1,694 individuals and is part of the organization’s ongoing project to distribute lifesaving food aid to Yemeni families who are most in need.


Five killed as blaze rips through settlements in southeast Turkiye

Updated 38 min 47 sec ago
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Five killed as blaze rips through settlements in southeast Turkiye

  • The fire was brought under control early on Friday

ISTANBUL: Five people died and dozens were hurt as a huge wildfire swept through several villages in the Kurdish southeastern Turkiye overnight, the health minister said Friday.
Images posted on social media showed flames raging over a large area, lighting up the night sky as vast clouds of smoke billowing into the air.
“Five people died and 44 were injured, 10 seriously,” when the blaze swept through two areas between the provinces of Diyarbakir and Mardin, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said the fire started late on Thursday, when a “a stubble burn” some 30 kilometers south of Diyabakir spread quickly due to strong winds, affecting five villages.
The health minister said seven emergency teams and 35 ambulances were sent to the scene.
Turkiye’s pro-Kurdish DEM party in a post on X urged the authorities to “quickly intervene” to tackle the blaze from the air as it raged early on Friday.
“So far, intervention from the ground has not been enough. The authorities need to intervene more comprehensively and from the air without wasting time,” it said.
According to the latest figures from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), Turkiye has suffered 74 wildfires so far this year, which have ravaged 12,910 hectares of land.
In the summer of 2021, Turkiye suffered its worst-ever wildfires which claimed nine lives and destroyed huge swathes of forested land across its Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.
The disaster prompted a political crisis after it emerged that Turkiye had no functioning firefighting planes, heaping pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was forced to accept international help.
It also prompted Ankara to push through Turkiye’s delayed ratification of the Paris Climate Accord, becoming the last of the Group of 20 major economies to do so.
Experts say climate change is set to fuel more fires and other disasters in Turkiye unless measures are taken to tackle the problem.


US’s Gaza aid pier effort hit by repeated setbacks

Updated 21 June 2024
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US’s Gaza aid pier effort hit by repeated setbacks

  • The UN has said it welcomes all efforts to bring in aid, but that land routes are the most important routes for the arrival of assistance

WASHINGTON: The controversial US effort to boost Gaza aid deliveries by building a temporary pier has faced repeated problems, with bad weather damaging the structure and causing other interruptions to the arrival of desperately needed assistance.
More than 4,100 metric tons (nine million pounds) of aid has been delivered via the $230 million pier project so far, but it has only been operational for limited periods, falling short of President Joe Biden’s pledge that it would enable a “massive increase” in assistance reaching Gaza “every day.”
The coastal territory has been devastated by more than eight months of Israeli operations against Palestinian militant group Hamas, uprooting Gaza’s population and leaving them in dire need of aid.
“The Gaza pier regretfully amounted to an extremely expensive distraction from what is truly needed, and what is also legally required,” said Michelle Strucke, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Humanitarian Agenda.
That is “safe and unimpeded humanitarian access for humanitarian organizations to provide aid for a population in Gaza that is suffering historic levels of deprivation,” she said.
US forces have also dropped aid by air, but that plus deliveries via the pier “were never meant to substitute for scaled, sustainable access to land crossings that provided safe access by humanitarian workers to provide aid,” Strucke said.
“Pursuing them took away decision makers’ time, energy, and more than $200 million US taxpayer dollars.”
Biden announced during his State of the Union address in March that the US military would establish the pier and American troops began constructing it the following month, initially working offshore.
But in a sign of issues to come, high seas and winds required construction to be relocated to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
The pier was completed in early May, but weather conditions meant it was unsafe to immediately move it into place, and it was not attached to the Gaza coast until the middle of the month.
High seas caused four US Army vessels supporting the mission to break free of their moorings on May 25, beaching two of them, and the pier was damaged by bad weather three days later, requiring sections to be repaired and rebuilt at Ashdod.
It was reattached to the coast on June 7, but aid deliveries were soon paused for two days due to bad weather conditions.
The pier then had to be removed from the shore and moved to Ashdod on June 14 to protect it from high seas. It was returned to Gaza this week and aid deliveries have now resumed.
Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation research group, said the “pier effort has yet to produce the results that the Biden administration hoped.”
“Aside from the weather issues, it’s been quite expensive and has not fixed the operational challenges of getting aid into Gaza,” he said.
Cohen said that despite the issues with the pier, it does provide another entry point for aid and allows assistance to be brought in even when land crossings are closed — a persistent problem that has worsened the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.
And he said the effort may also help improve future deployments of the military’s temporary pier capability, which was last used operationally more than a decade ago in Haiti.
In addition to weather, the project is facing a major challenge in terms of the distribution of aid that arrives via the pier, which the UN World Food Programme decided to halt while it assesses the security situation — an evaluation that is still ongoing.
That announcement came after Israel conducted a nearby operation earlier this month that freed four hostages but which health officials in Hamas-ruled Gaza said killed more than 270 people.
The UN has said it welcomes all efforts to bring in aid, but that land routes are the most important routes for the arrival of assistance.
Strucke emphasized that “what Gazans need is not the appearance of aid — they need actual aid to reach them.”
Washington “should be very careful not to support actions that may look good on paper to increase routes to provide assistance, but do not result in aid actually reaching Palestinians in need at scale,” she said.