Frankly Speaking: inteview with Fabrizio Carboni, Regional director for Near and Middle East of ICRC

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Updated 28 May 2024

Frankly Speaking: inteview with Fabrizio Carboni, Regional director for Near and Middle East of ICRC

  • Regional director for Near and Middle East of the International Committee of the Red Cross says the law of armed conflict makes sense if its violators are prosecuted
  • Fabrizio Carboni discusses ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrant against Israeli’s Netanyahu and Gallant, ICRC efforts to resolve other regional conflicts

DUBAI: On May 20, the International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan applied to the court for arrest warrants to be issued against senior Hamas commanders and for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, one of whose key functions is to call on all parties in a conflict to uphold international humanitarian law, is in favor of prosecutions in cases where individuals have violated the laws of armed conflict.

Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s regional director for Near and Middle East, made the above point clear during an appearance on “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News current affairs program.

Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for Near and Middle East, spoke to Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen. (AN photo)

“Usually we don’t comment on judiciary matters, especially if they’re related to a conflict where we have a very strong presence and where our staff is present,” he said.

“As a matter of principle, as the ICRC, obviously we believe that the law of armed conflict makes sense if you prosecute the people who violate it.

“And so we obviously, beyond the conflict in Gaza, beyond any specific case, we support prosecution.”

He added: “We support national prosecution first, and then international one if the national prosecution doesn’t comply. Now in this case of the ICC, our position is not to comment. We observe.”

In the wide-ranging interview, Carboni expressed anger at the trauma being experienced by Palestinian ICRC staff in Gaza, and explained among other things the impact of the Gaza war on other regional conflicts and the ICRC’s ongoing role in resolving them.

Palestinian Red Crescent personnel check an ambulance destroyed during Israeli strike in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, on January 10, 2024. Four medics and two other people were reported killed inside the vehicle. (AFP/File)

No matter how big the imbalance of strength between Israel and Hamas, the international humanitarian law applies to both sides, Carboni he told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

“There is no hierarchy in this. Parties to a conflict, state or non-state armed group, have obligations. And when we think about this humanitarian obligation, it’s basic. It’s the minimum.

“These are not very complex and sophisticated rules — just asking for the civilian population to be spared, just asking for civilians when they are displaced to receive basic assistance, to have access to essential services. It’s really basic humanity.”

Hamas broke international humanitarian law on Oct. 7 when its fighters kidnapped and killed civilians in southern Israel. Since then, Israel has been facing the bulk of the same accusation.

The relatives of Naor Hassisim, a victim of the Oct. 7, 2023, Kibbutz Kfar Aza attack by Hamas militants, grieve over his body during his funeral at a cemetery, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod on October 16, 2023. (AFP/File)

Despite the best efforts of the ICRC to compel Israel and Hamas to abide by the rules of war, it suspects both sides are still violating them. Carboni put this down to what he calls “survival narrative.”

“Something we don’t often mention is emotions and the fact that all parties in this conflict have a narrative of survival,” he said.

“I’m not commenting. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. I’m just seeing this. And when I engage all parties to this conflict, there is a survival narrative.”

In November last year, Israel and Hamas agreed to a humanitarian pause in the fighting, which permitted an exchange of prisoners and hostages and allowed aid agencies to get urgently needed supplies into Gaza to help civilians.

In this combination image, a convoy of Red Cross vehicles carrying Israelis taken hostage (left frame) by Hamas militants arrive at the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on November 30, 2023, as part of a prisoner swap with Palestinian prisoners. On the right frame shows a Red Cross bus and delegation arriving outside the Israeli Ofer military prison near Ramallah to fetch Palestinian prisoners covered by the deal. (AFP photos)

Fighting soon resumed, however, and attempts by interlocutors since at securing a permanent ceasefire have failed.

If given the opportunity of another humanitarian pause, Carboni is confident the ICRC can make a significant difference to the lives of Palestinians trapped in Gaza and the hostages still held by Hamas.

“We could make a difference for the Palestinian people, because you might have assistance increase significantly during this pause,” he said. “We could have access to many areas safely and assist more Palestinian people.

“At the very same time, we could get hostages released. We could get detainees on the Palestinian side released by Israel. And this represents a form of hope.”

Part of the ICRC’s remit is to intercede in hostage negotiations. Carboni said the families of the hostages still held in Gaza are in a “permanent state of torture.” “Unfortunately, we know very little about the fate of the people who were taken hostage,” he said.

A child looks on as a Palestinian woman holds the shrouded body of a baby killed in Israeli bombardment at a health clinic in Rafah on May 26, 2024. (AFP)

“It’s part of this political, military environment where you negotiate everything, even things which shouldn’t be negotiated, such as the release of hostages, because (the taking) of hostages is totally prohibited.

“You can only imagine the condition of the hostages. You imagine the fighting, you imagine the bombing, you see the situation in Gaza, and you can imagine what the hostages are going through.

“And also a word on the families. When you’re a member of a family of a hostage or just a person missing, you don’t know, is he alive, is she alive, dead or not? Is she in good health, not in good health? And this situation for the families is a permanent state of torture.

“And I really feel this pain with the families of the hostages. Any family, being Palestinian or Israeli, who doesn’t know where his or her loved one is. And that’s why, as ICRC, we try to push as much as we can to find an answer, to release the hostages now.”

Carboni revealed that a couple of weeks ago, there was hope during two or three days for a ceasefire and release of hostages. “We really thought, a lot of people thought, that we would get there,” he said.

“And then suddenly it all collapsed. And I can tell you that the psychological impact of this failure on the civilian population in Gaza, on the families of the hostages, is devastating.”

People demonstrate in Tel Aviv on November 9, 2023, calling upon the International Committee of the Red Cross to take action for the release of hostages abducted by Palestinian militants on October 7. (AFP)

Meanwhile, according to him, humanitarians are running out of words to describe the misery that the Palestinian people are enduring in Gaza under Israel’s offensive. He underscored the urgency of de-escalation in Gaza, where Israel has been fighting the Palestinian militant group Hamas since Oct. 7 last year.

“There is an urgent need to de-escalate the level of violence,” he said. “What we see today in Gaza is unbearable.

“The civilian population, the Palestinian population, is going through a round of misery, which I have difficulty to even describe, because after seven months, eight months, I have the impression we used pretty much all the possible words to describe what they’re going through.

“I’m really concerned, because we don’t have words anymore. I’m afraid that at one stage, the situation of the Palestinian people in Gaza and including the hostages won’t be news anymore, because we are turning in circles, because we don’t see an improvement, because we see no end to this misery.”

Carboni added: “Every time I think about Gaza, I’m thinking about my Palestinian colleagues who are trapped in Gaza. “I’m thinking about their children, I’m thinking about their family, I’m thinking about the fact that they’ve been moved again.



“Most of them were coming from Gaza City. Then they moved to Khan Younis. Then they moved to Rafah. Now they are moving again. And I’m thinking about them.

“I’m thinking about, on the one hand, their courage, and on the other hand, this feeling of not being able to help them, not being able to alleviate their distress, their anxiety, their frustration.

“As a father, as a parent, I also connect with my colleagues who have children. It’s now, what, six, seven months that those children are living on a battlefield? Because Gaza is a very special situation. You’re permanently on the battlefield.

“You have children who, every day, are hearing bombs. Who’ve seen people being killed, wounded, children seeing their parents helpless.

“So, when I think about Gaza, I think about ICRC’s Palestinian staff, and it gives me the energy, humbles me, and at the same time makes me angry, because I don’t think my colleagues need to go through this.”

Palestinians inspect the destruction following overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 6, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)3

Asked whether he thought the worst is now over or if there was still potential for a wider regional conflagration emanating from Gaza, Carboni said the spillover has already occurred, raising fears of an unintended escalation.

“It’s not that we have to fear a regional conflict happening — it’s happening while we’re talking,” he said. “We have the fighting in Lebanon. We had this night where we had missiles and drones launched from Iran on Israel. The regional conflict is happening.”

Beyond its role as a humanitarian aid agency, Carboni said ICRC plays a critical role in conflict resolution, in the hope that “diplomacy will prevail, politics will prevail, and not the use of force.”

However, the violence in Gaza has had a detrimental effect on conflicts elsewhere in the region, including in Yemen, where the Iran-backed Houthi militia has been locked in battle with the UN-recognized Yemeni government since 2014.

Since the outbreak of fighting in Gaza, the Houthi militia has mounted attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, ostensibly in solidarity with Palestinians, prompting retaliatory strikes by the US and UK.

As a result, the ceasefire between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, which expired in October 2022 but has remained largely intact, has been cast into doubt. Carboni said a prisoner exchange deal could get the stalled process back on track.

“The crisis in Gaza shook all the conflicts in the region,” he said. “I see the authorities in Riyadh trying to nevertheless push for this permanent ceasefire and tomorrow a peace agreement. One of the measures which would facilitate, which would build confidence, is to continue the release of detainees.”


UK’s Sunak faces call for election date betting probe

Updated 4 sec ago

UK’s Sunak faces call for election date betting probe

  • London’s Metropolitan Police said it was told by the Gambling Commission that a close protection officer was being investigated over the alleged bets
LONDON: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced calls on Thursday to launch an inquiry after a member of his security detail was arrested for allegedly betting on the timing of the general election.
London’s Metropolitan Police said it was told by the Gambling Commission that a close protection officer was being investigated over the alleged bets.
The regulator had already been looking into claims that Conservative party candidate Craig Williams, who served as Sunak’s ministerial aide, placed a bet on when the election would be held.
A second candidate from Sunak’s party, Laura Saunders, is now also under investigation about an alleged bet on the date of the poll, the BBC reported on Wednesday evening.
Saunders is married to the Tories’ director of campaigns, the broadcaster added.
The Conservative party confirmed that the commission had contacted it about “a small number of individuals,” without commenting further.
Senior minister Michael Gove told the BBC Thursday he could not comment on the specific allegations but said the “broad principle” of using inside information to place bets was “reprehensible.”
The deputy leader of the smaller opposition Liberal Democrats, Daisy Cooper, urged Sunak to order an inquiry.
“This stinks of yet more sleaze, and answers are needed. An inquiry is needed to understand who knew what and when,” she added.

Sunak announced that a general election would be held on July 4, taking his own party by surprise as he still had six months to call a vote.
The Tories are expected to be dumped out of office after 14 years in office, with polls consistently putting the main opposition Labour party some 20 points ahead.
Two polls published on Wednesday predicted a record win for Labour, eclipsing even the landslide win for former leader Tony Blair in 1997, and a historic drubbing for the Tories.
Pollsters YouGov said the Conservatives — the party of Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill — could slump to their “lowest seat tally in the party’s almost 200-year history.”
As well as criticism of Sunak’s decision to go early, the Tory campaign has been widely criticized for a series of gaffes, including a photocall in Belfast near where the doomed Titanic was built.
Sunak’s own already dire personal ratings were also hit after he left an international event to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day early.
The Met said the officer, a member of the force’s Royalty and Specialist Protection Command, was no longer on operational duties.
The officer was taken into custody on Monday on suspicion of misconduct in a public office, then released on bail pending further inquiries.
A referral has been made to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the watchdog confirmed.
The allegations against Williams came to light last week. He is alleged to have placed a £100 ($127) bet on a July date for the election three days before Sunak called the vote.
Sunak and other party leaders, including Labour’s Keir Starmer, take part in another pre-election television grilling later on Thursday.

EU states agree on 14th sanctions package against Russia, diplomats say

Updated 52 sec ago

EU states agree on 14th sanctions package against Russia, diplomats say

  • Europe is still buying Russian gas itself, and trans-shipments via EU ports to Asia represent only around 10 percent of total Russian LNG exports

BRUSSELS: European Union countries agreed on a 14th package of sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine, diplomats said on Thursday, including a ban on re-exports of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) in EU waters.
Belgium, which holds the rotating EU presidency until July 1, said on the X platform that the package “maximizes the impact of existing sanctions by closing loopholes.”
Countries debated the new measures for over a month and ultimately watered down one of the Commission’s proposals, aimed at preventing even more circumvention, at Germany’s prompting.
The dropped measure would have forced subsidiaries of EU companies in third countries to contractually prohibit the re-exports of their goods to Russia. The EU is keen to stop the flow of dual-use technology such as washing machine chips that could be used by Russia for military purposes.
An EU diplomat said Germany had asked for an impact assessment, and the measure could be included at a later date.
The ban on trans-shipments is the first restriction the bloc has applied to LNG. However, gas market experts say the measure will have little impact as Europe is still buying Russian gas itself, and trans-shipments via EU ports to Asia represent only around 10 percent of total Russian LNG exports.
The package also tightens measures against the shadow fleet moving Russian oil outside the price cap on Russian crude set by the Group of Seven (G7) nations. EU countries added tankers to the list of sanctioned entities as well as at least two Russian-owned ships moving military equipment from North Korea, diplomats said.
Moscow and Pyongyang have grown closer since Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This week, the two countries agreed to provide immediate military assistance if either faces armed aggression in a pact reached after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang.
Overall, 47 new entities and 69 individuals were added to the EU sanctions list, bringing the total to 2,200. The package is expected to be formally approved when EU foreign ministers meet on Monday, diplomats said. (Reporting by Julia Payne; editing by Kevin Liffey and Mark Heinrich)

Malaysian leader Anwar says China a ‘true friend’ and not to be feared as Premier Li ends visit

Updated 3 min 38 sec ago

Malaysian leader Anwar says China a ‘true friend’ and not to be feared as Premier Li ends visit

  • His words will be welcomed by China’s leadership, which finds itself increasingly at odds with countries from the Philippines to Japan as it grows as a regional power in Asia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Thursday rejected the notion that China’s dominance is to be feared, calling China a “true friend” at the end of Premier Li Qiang’s visit to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between their countries.
While the leaders raised some contentious bilateral issues, Anwar said they discussed them as “equal partners, as trusted friends.” He didn’t give details but was likely referring to the prickly issue of overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.
“People say, well, Malaysia is a growing economy. Don’t let China abuse its privilege and extort from the country. I said no. To the contrary, we want to benefit from one another, we want to learn from one another and we want to profit from this engagement,” Anwar told some 200 business leaders at a luncheon attended by Li.
His words will be welcomed by China’s leadership, which finds itself increasingly at odds with countries from the Philippines to Japan as it grows as a regional power in Asia. During his visit, Li held up what he called the “friendship” between China and Malaysia as a positive example for country-to-country relations in the region.
Anwar said he rebuked the “incessant propaganda that we should cast aspersions and fear the dominance of China economically, militarily, technologically.”
“We do not. We in Malaysia, having a neutral stance, have the resolve to work with all countries and with China,” he said. “We see Premier Li Qiang as a friend that would work together with us.”
Li, who is China’s No. 2 leader after President Xi Jinping, was the first Chinese premier to visit Malaysia since 2015. He flew in for a three-day visit on Tuesday on the last leg of a regional tour. Li was also the first Chinese premier to visit New Zealand and then Australia in seven years.
The two leaders on Wednesday agreed that China and other claimant countries in Southeast Asia should tackle the South China Sea dispute “independently and properly” through dialogue and cooperation, and via bilateral settlement.
No details were given but the statement came amid concerns the dispute could escalate tensions between the US and China. The US renewed a warning Tuesday that it is obligated to defend treaty ally Philippines, after Chinese forces seized two Philippine boats delivering food and supplies to a military outpost in a disputed shoal and injured several Filipino navy personnel.
Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan all dispute Beijing’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea. Malaysia’s government prefers diplomatic channels and rarely criticizes Beijing publicly, even though Chinese coast guard ships have sailed near Malaysia’s waters. This is partly to protect economic ties as China has been Malaysia’s top trading partner since 2009. Bilateral trade surged to $98.8 billion last year, accounting for 17 percent of Malaysia’s global trade.
At the luncheon, Li urged businesses to expand cooperation in emerging fields such as green development, digital economy and artificial intelligence.
“The journey of China and Malaysia over the past 50 years... is like an expedition where two people have joined hands and waded through mountains and rivers, and won a milestone full of achievements. It also marks the official beginning of the next journey full of hope,” Li said.
Li was given a red carpet ceremonial send-off and an honor guard as he departed for home later Thursday.
The two countries renewed a five-year trade and economic cooperation pact on Wednesday and inked a rash of pacts to cooperate in various sectors.
The Trade Ministry said 11 more memorandums were signed between Malaysian and Chinese entities on Thursday that could bring in potential investment of 13.2 billion ringgit ($2.8 billion). These included proposed collaborations in high value-added sector such as oil and gas, energy, education, agriculture, automotive and utility services, it said in a statement.
A joint statement by the two governments Thursday said China will extend visa-free travel for Malaysian tourists until end-2025, while Malaysia will reciprocate with a longer period until end-2026.
It said the two countries will also jointly nominate the lion dance, a cultural dance performed during Lunar New Year and festivals, to be on the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. About a quarter of Malaysia’s 33 million people are ethnic Chinese.

Russian air strike causes more damage to Ukraine’s power grid

Updated 20 June 2024

Russian air strike causes more damage to Ukraine’s power grid

  • The attacks have knocked out half Ukraine’s energy generating capacity since March
  • Ukrainian air force said it shot down five out of nine missiles and all 27 drones launched by Russia over 10 Ukrainian regions

KYIV: Russia launched a new barrage of missiles and drones at Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday, causing “significant” damage to a thermal power plant and maintaining pressure on the electricity grid, Ukrainian officials said.
The attack on energy infrastructure in four regions damaged equipment, wounded seven workers and cut off electricity to more than 218,000 consumers, the energy ministry said.
The attacks have knocked out half Ukraine’s energy generating capacity since March and forced rolling blackouts, Kyiv says. Moscow says energy facilities are a legitimate military target and that some of the strikes were retaliation for Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory.
Officials in Kyiv have for months been appealing to Ukraine’s allies to supply more air defenses against the air strikes carried out by Russia throughout the nearly 28-month-old full-scale invasion.
The Ukrainian air force said it shot down five out of nine missiles and all 27 drones launched by Russia over 10 Ukrainian regions during Thursday’s attack.
Despite the military’s readout, private power company DTEK said one of its thermal power plants suffered significant damage from the drone attack. The strikes, it said, amounted to the seventh large-scale attack on its infrastructure since March 22.
National grid operator Ukrenergo said the attack would lead to an increase in the quantity of scheduled blackouts on Thursday.
The military said the attack mostly targeted eastern Ukraine and in particular the Dnipropetrovsk region.
The region’s governor said five drones and four missiles were shot down over the region. Three men were wounded in the attack, which also damaged seven homes, he said.
Serhiy Popko, head of Kyiv’s military administration, said air defenses shot down all incoming aerial targets on their approach to the capital, and no damage or injuries were reported in the city.
Air defenses also downed four drones over the central region of Vinnytsia, where debris damaged a critical infrastructure object, the regional governor said without identifying it.

‘Nature’s mirror’: Climate change batters Albania’s butterflies

Updated 20 June 2024

‘Nature’s mirror’: Climate change batters Albania’s butterflies

VLORA: Bright yellow, black, red and blue, Alexanor butterflies once fluttered abundantly on southwestern Albania’s flowery slopes. Now, like many related species, scientists say they are disappearing due to human impacts, including climate change.
Increasingly absent from the picturesque district of Zvernec, the Alexanor is one of 58 of the Balkan country’s 207 butterfly species that researchers say are at risk.
“Sensitive to changes, they are a true mirror of the conditions of the ecosystem in which they live,” said Anila Paparisto, an entomologist at Tirana University.
In Zvernec, Paparisto leads a team of researchers and students working to identify the country’s remaining butterfly species along with those that are now extinct.
Numerous scientific studies have measured the impact of climate change on butterfly populations, though researchers also cite other environmental factors.
They blame a combination of rapid urbanization, pesticides and warming temperatures for the decrease.
“Human activity and climate change have had major impacts on nature,” said biology student Fjona Skenderi, who was helping conduct research in Zvernec.
In the nearby Divjaka Natural Park, Albanian agronomist Altin Hila points to the disappearance of the Giant Peacock Moth and the Plain Tiger as another worrying sign.
“It’s a disaster marked by climatic disruptions, an early spring and excessively high temperatures in January and February,” explained Hila, who is also a passionate collector and oversees a butterfly museum in Divjaka.
“It encouraged the eggs to hatch and the butterfly larvae to grow, but in April the temperatures were too low” for them to survive, he added.

The butterflies’ decline also affects other species.
“It will impact the entire food chain and biodiversity, which is also essential for humans,” Paparisto said.
“When there are fewer butterflies, you expect... the butterfly effect.”
Like large swaths of Albania, coastal areas near Zvernec have become increasingly overrun with resorts and apartment blocks, built with little oversight.
Scientists say the rapid urbanization in the area, along with overfishing and climate change, has also played a part in the dramatic drop in migratory bird populations.
And while some butterfly populations are in decline, other similar species are prospering — to the detriment of the environment.
The arrival of a non-native moth through imports of ornamental plants from China has ravaged more than 80 percent of Albania’s boxwood forests since 2019, according to experts.
“It is very aggressive, it can reproduce three to four times a year, and it is a real misfortune which reduces entire areas to nothing,” said forest engineer Avdulla Diku.
With their distinct neon green and black bodies, the larvae are easily spotted when clinging to the boxwoods’ leaves and stems.
On the road along Lake Ohrid to Pogradec in northwestern Albania, the once vibrant green rows of boxwoods are reduced to husks after being devoured by the moths’ larvae.
“It is a firm reminder of the fragility and subtle balance of the environment in which we live,” said Sylvain Cuvelier, an entomological researcher who co-authored the first Albanian butterfly atlas.
“It is obviously urgent to unite our efforts to find solutions, to rethink in depth our use of natural resources and the way forward for the protection and restoration of our environment.”