Joy in Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut as European trio advances cause

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Children walk in an alley in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila in Beirut’s southern suburb on May 22, 2024. (AFP)
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A man drives a motorbike in an alley in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila in Beirut's southern suburb on May 22, 2024. (AFP)
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A shop owner carries a Palestinian flag in her store in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila in Beirut’s southern suburb on May 22, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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Joy in Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut as European trio advances cause

  • “We hope that the whole world will recognize Palestine, and we are happy with this decision... It is a beautiful feeling,” said Alaa Ghozlan
  • Israel was enraged by the move announced Wednesday by Ireland, Norway and Spain, arguing that it amounts to “rewarding terrorism”

SHATILA, Lebanon: In Beirut’s impoverished Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila — a maze of alleyways where posters honor fallen martyrs — residents expressed joy Wednesday after three European countries said they would recognize a Palestinian state.
“We hope that the whole world will recognize Palestine, and we are happy with this decision... It is a beautiful feeling,” said Alaa Ghozlan, 26, whose family is originally from Haifa, now in northern Israel.
“We now have hope to return to our country — a country I was not born in and was deprived of but which lives inside me despite everything,” he told AFP on a winding street in the camp.
Israel was enraged by the move announced Wednesday by Ireland, Norway and Spain, arguing that it amounts to “rewarding terrorism” after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched its unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that sparked the bloodiest ever Gaza war.
Seven other European countries including Sweden have already recognized Palestinian statehood.
Lebanon hosts an estimated 250,000 Palestinian refugees, many living in poverty in the country’s 12 official camps, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Most are descendants of survivors of what Palestinians call the Nakba — the “catastrophe” — when about 760,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes by the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.
Shatila resident Samah Omari, 50, a housewife, said she was “very happy” with the decision, and expressed hope that it would eventually impact her and her family.
“People are dying in Palestine. We demand our rights and defend our land so that our state can be recognized by all countries,” she said.
“We hope to return to our country and not be refugees anymore,” she added.
The camp’s tumbledown walls are adorned with Palestinian flags and posters in support of militant groups including Hamas and their leaders.
Men on motorbikes and tuk-tuks squeeze past women shopping and schoolchildren making their way through the streets.
Above, matted electricity wires and plastic water tubes are bound precariously with rope or cables, some weighed down by clothes that have fallen from washing lines.
The United States and most Western European nations have said they are willing to one day recognize Palestinian statehood, but not before agreement is reached on thorny issues like final borders and the status of Jerusalem.
But Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza, with its mounting death toll, has given the issue new impetus.
Suliman Abdel Hadi, 70, an official at the camp, said the timing of the decision was “important after October 7 because of the massacres carried out by the brutal Zionist enemy.”
“We see a bright future for the Palestinian cause,” said Abdel Hadi, whose family is from the Acre area, now in northern Israel.
“What happened today is the result of sacrifices made by the Palestinian people over 76 years of persecution, killing and destruction,” he added.
Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
On another street in Shatila, a man who gave his name as Abu Majdi, and whose father originally hailed from Haifa, called the decision “great” and said it was “baptised in the blood of martyrs.”
“This recognition will change the future of coming generations and the future of the Palestinian cause,” said the 63-year-old man, a Palestine pendant hanging from his neck.


Hundreds in Yemen receive KSrelief food aid 

Updated 6 sec ago
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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.


An agricultural fire spreads through settlements in southeast Turkiye leaving at least 5 dead

Updated 30 min 21 sec ago
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An agricultural fire spreads through settlements in southeast Turkiye leaving at least 5 dead

  • The fire was brought under control early on Friday

ANKARA: Five people were killed and dozens more required medical treatment after a fire that started with the burning of crop stubble spread through settlements in southeast Turkiye overnight, officials said Friday.
The blaze erupted in an area neighboring the provinces of Diyarbakir and Mardin. Fanned by winds, it moved quickly through the villages of Koksalan, Yazcicegi and Bagacik, Diyarbakir Governor Ali Ihsan Su said. The fire was brought under control early on Friday.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca wrote on social media platform X that 44 people who were affected by the blaze and smoke, were treated in hospitals. Ten of them were in serious condition.
Television images showed a large blaze illuminating the night.
Across the country in northwest Turkiye, meanwhile, firefighters were battling to contain a wildfire near the town of Ayvacik in Canakkale province, said the state-run Anadolu Agency.
No one was hurt but authorities evacuated the small village of Camkoy as a precaution, the agency reported.
It was one of several wildfires to have erupted in the province of Canakkale in the past week amid high winds and scorching summer temperatures.


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.


US destroys six Houthi drones in Red Sea

Updated 21 June 2024
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US destroys six Houthi drones in Red Sea

  • The Houthis are engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises

WASHINGTON: The US military said Thursday that it had destroyed four Houthi nautical drones and two aerial ones over the Red Sea off Yemen.
The Iran-backed Houthis have launched scores of drones and missiles at commercial vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November, describing the attacks as being in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
The United States and its allies, particularly Britain, have responded with an increased naval presence to defend shipping in the vital waterway and with retaliatory strikes on Houthi targets.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement Thursday night that its forces had “destroyed four Iranian-backed Houthi uncrewed surface vessels (USV) in the Red Sea and two uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) over the Red Sea” in the past 24 hours.
CENTCOM said the day before that it had destroyed “one ground control station and one command and control node” in a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen.
This week, a merchant ship whose hull was breached in an earlier Houthi attack, the M/V Tutor, was believed to have sunk in the Red Sea after its crew was evacuated, according to a maritime security agency run by the British navy.
A Filipino sailor aboard the vessel was killed in the attack.
A Sri Lankan crew member on another ship, the M/V Verbena, was seriously injured in a separate attack, and the vessel had to be abandoned.
US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller condemned those attacks in a statement and said Washington would “continue to take necessary action to protect freedom of navigation and commercial shipping.”
He also called on the Houthis “to release all detainees, including the United Nations, diplomatic, and non-governmental organization staff they detained earlier this month.”
The Houthis earlier this month arrested a number of people they claimed were part of a US-Israeli spy network, adding that those held worked under “the cover of international organizations and UN agencies.”
The heads of six United Nations agencies and three international NGOs subsequently issued a joint call for the release of their staff, with UN rights chief Volker Turk dismissing the spying accusations as “outrageous.”
The Houthis are engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. More than half of the population is dependent on aid in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.


Blinken tells Israeli officials of need to avoid further escalation with Lebanon

Updated 21 June 2024
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Blinken tells Israeli officials of need to avoid further escalation with Lebanon

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israeli officials during a meeting on Thursday of the need to avoid further escalation in Lebanon amid the war in Gaza, the State Department said.
Blinken was meeting Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs.