The US government staffers putting principle over paycheck amid Israel’s Gaza assault

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Displaced Palestinian children scavenge for recyclables at a garbage dump in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)
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Updated 29 May 2024
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The US government staffers putting principle over paycheck amid Israel’s Gaza assault

  • Appalled by the death of Palestinians, former staffer says she “could not in good conscience remain in government”
  • Concerned about America’s standing in the Middle East, many want the US to suspend arms sales to Israel

LONDON: Lily Greenberg-Call recently became the latest Biden administration official to step down in protest over the White House’s handling of the war in Gaza, amid a string of resignations from the US Department of State.

Greenberg-Call, who left her position at the Department of the Interior in mid-May, slammed the Biden administration for having “enabled and legitimized” Israel’s onslaught on the Gaza Strip.

In her resignation letter, she said she “can no longer in good conscience continue to represent this administration amidst President Biden’s disastrous, continued support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza.”

 

 

Biden’s policy in the Middle East has repeatedly come under fire since the onset of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, particularly over the supply of weapons to the Israel Defense Forces, which rights groups say have been used to harm civilians.

The Israeli military’s bombing campaign in Gaza in retaliation for the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel has killed at least 35,000 Palestinians, razed entire neighborhoods, destroyed the enclave’s infrastructure, and displaced 90 percent of the population.

Israel and senior figures in the Biden administration have said Hamas shares in the blame for the high civilian death toll in Gaza.

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Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, has previously said that Hamas’ tactics have placed “an incredible burden on the IDF, a burden that is unusual for a military in today’s day and age,” by hiding behind civilians as it conducts its war with Israeli forces.  

The day Greenberg-Call resigned, the Biden administration told Congress it planned to send $1 billion in new military aid to Israel, despite the president’s opposition to a full-scale invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, the Associated Press reported. It will be the US’ first arms shipment to Israel since Biden paused the transfer of 3,500 bombs earlier in the month.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in April that Israeli troops would expand operations into Rafah — Gaza’s southernmost city. On May 6, Israel mounted a limited operation in Rafah, seizing control of its border crossing with Egypt.




Israeli military vehicles operate in the Gazan side of the Rafah Crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, in this handout image released on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS)

The US government said it had halted the bomb shipment to prevent Israel from using the munitions in its attack on Rafah, an area densely populated with civilians, most of whom have been displaced multiple times.

However, a lower chamber bill on May 16 condemned Biden for the suspension and voted to override it, with Republicans saying the president should not dictate how Israel uses American weapons in its war against Hamas.

But the US Arms Export Control Act of 1961 gives the President the authority to halt — or even terminate — American arms transfers if he finds that the recipient country “has used such articles for unauthorized purposes,” according to a 2020 report by the Congressional Research Service.

The vote prompted some 30 Congressional staffers to march to the base of the steps of the House of Representatives at the US Capitol, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and protesting the vote.




Thirty congressional staffers marched on the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. on May 16, 2024, to demand a ceasefire in Gaza. (AFP)

After announcing the halt on the bomb shipment, Biden told CNN that US-manufactured weapons had been used to kill civilians in Gaza.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers,” he said on May 8.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem.”

According to the Washington Post, the US has made more than 100 weapons sales to Israel since the start of the war in Gaza. The sales reportedly included precision-guided munitions, small-diameter bombs, bunker busters, small arms, and more.

In late April, human-rights monitor Amnesty International submitted a 19-page report to US authorities claiming that US weapons provided to Israel had been “used in serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and in a manner that is inconsistent with US law and policy.”

 

 

The newly revised US Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, released in February last year, stipulates “preventing arms transfers that risk facilitating or otherwise contributing to violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.”

Hala Rharrit, who stepped down as the Arabic-language spokesperson of the US Department of State in April after 18 years of service over the Biden administration’s policy on Gaza, stressed that the government should “abide by our own laws.”

She told Arab News: “We have systems in place within the State Department to ensure that our weaponry is not used to kill civilians, with requirements put in place requiring recipient countries to limit harm to civilians — to include both civilian populations and civilian infrastructure.

“There are multiple laws on the books that we are ignoring as a State Department — willfully ignoring,” she continued. “There’s the Arms Export Control Act, there’s the Foreign Assistance Act, the Leahy Law — there are multiple regulations that would ensure what’s happening now would never happen.”




Hala Rharrit, former Arabic-language spokesperson of the US Department of State. (Supplied)

Urging the government to follow those laws, Rharrit said: “We would automatically have to condition our aid and, most specifically, cut our offensive military assistance to Israel.”

By pausing military assistance to Israel, not only “would we ensure, hopefully, that the IDF does not go into Rafah,” but also “regain credibility amongst Arab states as well — that we’re actually conditioning our aid, we’re standing by our laws, we’re standing by international law.

“And that could provide leverage as well, both on the Israeli side and with Arab states to put pressure on Hamas to reach a ceasefire. We have the ability to use our leverage as the US, but we’re not using it at the moment.”

Asked about her resignation, Rharrit said: “I never anticipated resigning, and I certainly never anticipated resigning in protest of any policy.”

But the human tragedy in Gaza “completely changed that,” she told Arab News. “I could not in good conscience remain in government. After 18 years with the State Department, I decided to finally submit my resignation.”

She added: “I spoke up internally. I made my voice and my concerns heard, not based on my personal opinions, but based on what I was monitoring — and I was monitoring pan-Arab traditional and social media.

“And I was seeing and documenting, and reporting back to Washington, all of the growing anti-Americanism… Nothing was convincing anyone, and we had lost credibility.”




Palestinian children seek refuge at a damaged building in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024, after fleeing their homes amid relentless Israeli bombardment. (AFP)

Rharrit, who previously served as a human-rights officer, continued: “It’s one of the things that we (the US) are known for and that we stand for, but every day I would see human-rights violation after human-rights violation. And it was clear that we had a double standard, and I could no longer support the policy or the administration.”

Despite their expertise, Rharrit said she and her colleagues were not being heard. “Our concerns, our feedback, our documentation of everything that was happening in the region was being ignored — and that was intensely frustrating.”

She said that US policy in Gaza “is a failed militaristic policy that has achieved nothing — over 35,000 Palestinians killed, over 15,000 of whom are children, the hostages remain in Gaza with their families in Israel protesting against Netanyahu and demanding a ceasefire.”

She added: “Despite all this unimaginable suffering and countless attempts by many on the inside to shift policy, it became clear to me that the status quo was resolute.

“Knowing that this policy continued to dehumanize and devastate the Palestinians, generating a vicious cycle of violence, hurting all sides involved, while undermining the US for generations left me no choice but to speak out against the policy from outside government.”

Preceding Rharrit in late March was Annelle Sheline, a foreign affairs officer in the department’s human rights bureau, who left after trying to “raise opposition on the inside,” she told ABC News on April 11.

 

 

“Many of my colleagues, people inside the State Department, are devastated by what US policy is enabling Israel to do to Palestinians inside Gaza,” she said. 

“They (the Biden administration) continue to send weapons. We’ve seen announcements of new weapons. It’s really shocking that this has been allowed to go on.”

In January, former Biden appointee Tariq Habash, a Palestinian-American, resigned from the Department of Education, saying the US administration “turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed against innocent Palestinian lives.”

In his resignation letter, which he shared on the social media platform X, Habash said his government “has aided the indiscriminate violence against Palestinians in Gaza.”

 

 

He added: “Despite claims that Israel’s focus is on Hamas, its military actions simultaneously persist across the West Bank, where there is no Hamas governing presence.”

Since Oct. 7, Israeli troops and Jewish settlers have killed at least 502 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Israeli authorities have also arrested more than 7,000 people in the territory, according to prisoners’ affairs groups.

Ten days after Israel began its Gaza offensive, Josh Paul, a former director overseeing US arms transfers, quit the Department of State, citing “a policy disagreement concerning our continued lethal assistance to Israel.”




Josh Paul, a former director overseeing US arms transfers, quit the Department of State, citing “a policy disagreement concerning our continued lethal assistance to Israel.” (Supplied)
 

In a letter he posted on LinkedIn, Paul said his government’s “rushing” to provide arms to Israel was “shortsighted, destructive, unjust, and contradictory to the very values that we publicly espouse.”

He described the Hamas attack on southern Israel as “a monstrosity of monstrosities,” but said he also believed “the response Israel is taking, and with it the American support both for that response and for the status quo of the occupation, will only lead to more and deeper suffering for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.”

Protests by US administration staffers against its policy in the Middle East have taken various forms besides public resignations. In November, more than 400 of Biden’s employees signed an open letter calling on him to urgently pursue a ceasefire in Gaza.

With the approaching US presidential election complicating Biden’s room for maneuver, the Israeli government committed to continuing its offensive, and with negotiations brokered by Qatar and Egypt making scant headway, such a ceasefire seems unlikely anytime soon.


 


Sudan one of world’s ‘worst crises’ in decades: medical charity

Updated 5 sec ago
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Sudan one of world’s ‘worst crises’ in decades: medical charity

Port Sudan, Sudan: The ongoing civil war in Sudan has provoked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in decades, the international chief of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders said Thursday.
War has raged for more than a year between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
“Sudan is one of the worst crises the world has seen for decades... yet the humanitarian response is profoundly inadequate,” Christos Christou, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said on social media platform X.
“There are extreme levels of suffering across the country, and the needs are growing by the day,” he added.
The conflict, which began in April 2023 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and displaced more than nine million people, according to the United Nations.
Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation.
Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Iran condemns Canada's listing of Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group

Updated 12 min 36 sec ago
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Iran condemns Canada's listing of Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group

DUBAI: Iran condemned Canada's listing of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization as "an unwise and unconventional politically-motivated step," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency on Thursday.
"Canada's action will not have any effect on the Revolutionary Guards' legitimate and deterrent power," Kanaani said, adding that Tehran reserves the right to respond accordingly to the listing.
On Wednesday, Ottawa listed the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation, a step that could lead to the investigation of former senior Iranian officials now living in Canada.
The United States took a similar step in 2019 against the Revolutionary Guards, which Western nations accuse of carrying out a global terrorist campaign.
Tehran rejects such claims, saying that the elite force is a sovereign institution responsible for safeguarding national security.


Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

Updated 20 June 2024
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Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

  • “Hamas is an ideology, we cannot eliminate an ideology,” said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari
  • PM Netanyahu's office quickly rebuffed the spokesman's statement, saying Hamas has to be defeated

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army’s chief spokesman on Wednesday appeared to question the stated goal of destroying the Hamas militant group in Gaza in a rare public rift between the country’s political and military leadership.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted Israel will pursue the fight against Hamas, the group running the besieged Gaza Strip, until its military and governing capabilities in the Palestinian territory are eliminated. But with the war now in its ninth month, frustration has been mounting with no clear end or postwar plan in sight.
“This business of destroying Hamas, making Hamas disappear — it’s simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the military spokesperson, told Israel’s Channel 13 TV. “Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people — whoever thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong.”
Netanyahu’s office responded by saying that the country’s security Cabinet, chaired by the prime minister, “has defined the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities as one of the goals of the war. The Israeli military, of course, is committed to this.”
The military quickly issued a clarification, saying it was “committed to achieving the goals of the war as defined by the Cabinet” and that it has been working on this “throughout the war, day and night, and will continue to do so.”
Hagari’s comments, it said, “referred to the destruction of Hamas as an ideology and an idea, and this was said by him very clearly and explicitly,” the military statement added. “Any other claim is taking things out of context.”
There have already been open signs of discontent over the handling of the war by Netanyahu’s government, a coalition that includes right-wing hard-liners who oppose any kind of settlement with Hamas. Months of internationally mediated truce talks, including a proposal floated this month by President Joe Biden, have stalled.
Benny Gantz, a former military chief and centrist politician, withdrew from Netanyahu’s war Cabinet earlier this month, citing frustration over the prime minister’s conduct of the war.
And early this week, Netanyahu expressed displeasure with the army’s decision to declare a “tactical pause” in the southern Gaza city of Rafah to help deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged territory. An aide said Netanyahu was caught off guard by the announcement, and Israeli TV stations quoted him as saying “we have a country with an army, not an army with a country.”
Israel attacked Gaza in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack into southern Israel, which killed some 1,200 people and took 250 hostage.
Israel’s war effort initially enjoyed broad public support, but in recent months wide divisions have emerged. While Netanyahu has pledged “total victory,” a growing array of critics and protesters have backed a ceasefire that would bring home the roughly 120 hostages still in Gaza. The Israeli military has already pronounced more than 40 of them dead, and officials fear that number will rise the longer the hostages are held.
Inside Gaza, the war has killed more than 37,100 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. The war has largely cut off the flow of medicine, food and other supplies to Palestinians, who are facing widespread hunger.
The United Nations said Wednesday that its humanitarian workers were once again unable to pick up aid shipments at the Kerem Shalom border crossing from Israel because of a lack of law and order.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that although there were no clashes along the route where Israel has declared a daily pause in fighting, the lawlessness in the area prevented UN workers from picking up aid. This means that no trucks have been able to use the new route since Israel announced the daily pause on Sunday.
In recent weeks, Israel’s military has concentrated its offensive in the nearby city of Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt and where it says Hamas’ last remnants are holding out.
More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people had earlier taken shelter in Rafah to escape fighting elsewhere in the territory, and the city is now nearly empty as the Israeli military carries out airstrikes and ground operations.
The Israeli military says it has killed over 500 militants and inflicted heavy damage on Hamas’ forces, but officials expect the operation to continue for at least several more weeks.
Israel also has taken over a 14-kilometer (8-mile) corridor along Gaza’s border with Egypt, including the Rafah border crossing. Footage circulating on social media shows the crossing blackened and destroyed, with only the former passenger terminal remaining intact. Before Israel moved into the area, the crossing was used to deliver humanitarian aid and to allow Palestinians to leave the territory.
The head of the Rafah municipality, Ahmed Al-Sufi, said Wednesday that Israeli strikes have destroyed more than 70 percent of the facilities and infrastructure. He accused Israeli forces of systematically targeting camps in Rafah, adding that entire residential areas in one neighborhood have been destroyed. Al-Sufi didn’t immediately respond to a request for additional information.
In a separate incident, 11 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, said Dr. Saleh Al-Hamas of the nearby European Hospital. There were no further details and the Israeli military had no immediate comment.


Libyans want an end to country’s divisions and feuding politicians to hold elections, UN envoy says

Updated 20 June 2024
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Libyans want an end to country’s divisions and feuding politicians to hold elections, UN envoy says

  • Koury said there is consensus that the current “status quo is not sustainable” – and the political process needs to advance toward elections

UNITED NATIONS: Libyans from rival regions and all walks of life are fed up with the country’s divisions and want political players to end their years-long impasse and agree to hold national elections, a key step to peace in the oil-rich north African country, the UN deputy representative said Wednesday.
Stephanie Koury told the UN Security Council that she has been meeting political leaders, civil society representatives, academics, women’s groups, military leaders and others in the country’s rival east and west to listen to their views. She said there is consensus that the current “status quo is not sustainable” – and the political process needs to advance toward elections.
Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. In the chaos that followed, the country split, with rival administrations in the east and west backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.
The country’s current political crisis stems from the failure to hold elections on Dec. 24, 2021, and the refusal of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah — who led a transitional government in the capital of Tripoli — to step down. In response, Libya’s east-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister who was suspended. The east is now governed by Prime Minister Ossama Hammad while the powerful military commander Khalifa Haftar continues to hold sway.
Koury, the top UN official in Libya since the resignation of special representative Abdoulaye Bathily in April, said many Libyans she spoke to signaled the importance of a “pact” or agreement that would affirm, among other things, the rival parties’ respect for the outcome of elections. They also expressed deep concern at the country’s divisions and parallel governments, and provided ideas on a roadmap to elections, she said.
“While institutional and political divisions keep deepening, ordinary Libyans long for peace, stability, prosperity and reconciliation,” Koury said. “Resolute and united action to advance a political process is needed by Libyans with the support of the international community.”
In February, Bathily warned the country’s feuding political actors that if they didn’t urgently form a unified government and move toward elections Libya will slide into “disintegration.”
The three African nations on the council – Sierra Leone, Algeria and Mozambique joined by Guyana – said in a joint statement Wednesday that “the Security Council must remain committed to an inclusive Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process facilitated by the United Nations … for the holding of national elections.”
The four countries called on the rival political players “to move from the entrenched institutional and political positions, resolve their differences, build consensus and facilitate the holding of national election.”
US deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said the United States also continues to firmly support the UN political mission’s efforts “to bring Libya closer to unlocking a viable process toward long-overdue elections.”
“Progress toward greater military integration remains key to reaffirming Libyan sovereignty and preventing Libya from becoming enmeshed in regional turmoil,” he said.
Turning to Russia’s actions in Libya, Wood told the council the United States recently sanctioned “Russian state-owned enterprise Goznak for producing counterfeit currency globally and printing more than $1 billion worth of counterfeit Libyan currency, which exacerbated Libya’s economic challenges.”
Libya is under a UN arms embargo, and Wood said the United States also notes “with particular concern the recent reports of Russian Federation naval vessels unloading military hardware in Libya.”
Libya’s UN Ambassador Taher El-Sonni, who represents the internationally recognized government in the west, stressed that national reconciliation is the only way to rebuild social cohesion and trust between the rivals, unite the country and pave the way for elections.
“We are tired and fed up from the stalemate and the vicious cycle that we have been going through for decades now,” he said. “We are tired and fed up from being lectured on what to do and what not to do,” and from the Security Council’s inaction.
“We are tired and fed up to use Libya as a proxy for certain countries and regional powers for selfish greedy battles, some of which have colonial ambitions,” El-Sonni said.
He called on the Security Council “to leave Libya alone” and let the people decide their own future and “take their destiny in their own hands.”


US military’s stop-start Gaza pier to resume operations, officials say

Updated 20 June 2024
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US military’s stop-start Gaza pier to resume operations, officials say

  • The US military estimates the pier will cost more than $200 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 service members

WASHINGTON: The US military’s on-again, off-again floating pier in Gaza is expected to resume operations on Thursday to unload sorely needed humanitarian aid for Palestinians, two US officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the pier had been re-attached to the shore on Wednesday after being temporarily removed last Friday due to poor sea conditions.
Aid began arriving via the US-built pier on May 17, and the UN said it transported 137 trucks of aid to warehouses, some 900 metric tons.
But then rough seas damaged the pier, forcing repairs, and poor weather and security considerations have limited the number of days it has been operational.
US President Joe Biden announced in March the plan to put the pier in place for aid deliveries as famine loomed in Gaza, a Hamas-run enclave of 2.3 million people, during the war between Israel and the Palestinian militants.
The US military estimates the pier will cost more than $200 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 service members.
It is unclear how much longer it will be operational.
Speaking at the Pentagon on Tuesday, spokesperson Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder declined to say when the military might halt its pier operations altogether. He said the pier has so far allowed for a total of over 3,500 metric tons of aid to reach Gaza’s shores.
“With the caveat that this has always been intended to be a temporary pier, I’m not aware at this point of any established date of: ‘This is when we’re going to stop,’” he told reporters.
“And again, taking a step back here, the big picture: Whether it be by land, sea or air, (the United States is) employing all avenues to get assistance into Gaza.”