UN tells Israel it will suspend aid operations across Gaza without improved safety

A US Army soldier gestures as trucks loaded with humanitarian aid arrive at the US-built floating pier Trident before reaching the beach on the coast of the Gaza Strip, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 25 June 2024
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UN tells Israel it will suspend aid operations across Gaza without improved safety

  • UN and other aid officials have complained for months that they have no way to communicate quickly and directly with Israeli forces on the ground

WASHINGTON DC: Senior UN officials have warned Israel that they will suspend the world body’s aid operations across Gaza unless Israel acts urgently to better protect humanitarian workers, two UN officials said Tuesday. The ultimatum is the latest in a series of UN steps demanding Israel do more to safeguard aid operations from strikes by its forces and to curb growing lawlessness hindering humanitarian workers.
A UN letter sent to Israeli officials this month said Israel must provide UN workers with a way to communicate directly with Israeli forces on the ground in Gaza, among other steps, the officials said.
They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations with Israeli officials. The UN officials said there has been no final decision on suspending operations across Gaza and that talks with Israelis were ongoing.
Israeli military officials did not respond to requests for comment. Israel has previously acknowledged some military strikes on humanitarian workers, including an April attack that killed seven workers with the World Central Kitchen, and has denied allegations of others.
Citing security concerns, the UN World Food Program has already suspended aid delivery from a US-built pier designed to bring food and other emergency supplies to Palestinians who are facing starvation amid the eight-month war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
UN and other aid officials have complained for months that they have no way to communicate quickly and directly with Israeli forces on the ground, in contrast with the usual procedures — known as “deconfliction” — employed in conflict zones globally to protect aid workers from attack by combatants.
In its letter to Israeli officials, the UN cited communication and protective equipment for aid workers as among the commitments that it wanted Israel to make good on for its aid operations to continue in Gaza overall, the two UN officials say.
The UN said in April that about 30 humanitarian workers have been killed in the line of duty in Gaza since the war between Israel and Hamas began in October.
The UN and other humanitarian organizations also complain of increasing crime in Gaza and have urged Israel to do more to improve overall security for their operations from attack and theft. The lawlessness has stymied what Israel said was a daily pause in fighting to allow a new safe corridor to deliver aid into southern Gaza, with humanitarian officials saying groups of gunmen are regularly blocking convoys, holding drivers at gunpoint and rifling through their cargo.
On top of that, “missiles hit our premises, despite being deconflicted,” said Steve Taravela, a spokesman for the World Food Program, one of the main organizations working on humanitarian delivery in Gaza. He was not one of those confirming the UN threat to suspend operations across the territory. “WFP warehouses have been caught in the crossfire twice in the past two weeks.”
Humanitarian officials said conditions for civilians and aid workers have worsened further since early May when Israel launched an offensive in the southern city of Rafah, where many aid groups had their base. The operation has crippled what had been a main border crossing for food and other aid.
Aid workers trying to get shipments through the main remaining crossing, Kerem Shalom, face risks from fighting, damaged roads, unexploded ordnance and Israeli restrictions, including spending five or more hours a day waiting at checkpoints, Taravela said.
“Restoring order is crucial for an effective humanitarian response to meet soaring needs. UN agencies and others need a safe environment to be able to access people and scale up,” he said.
Israeli officials say the problems at Kerem Shalom are a matter of poor UN logistics.
Separately, the United Nations has also suspended cooperation with the US-built pier since June 9, a day after the Israeli military used the area around the pier in a hostage rescue that killed more than 270 Palestinians.
While US and Israeli officials said no part of the pier itself was used in the raid that rescued four hostages taken by Hamas, UN officials said any perception in Gaza that the project was used in the Israeli military operation may endanger their aid work.
The UN has finished a security assessment of the pier operation following the raid but has not yet made a decision on resuming any delivery of supplies from the US-built structure, according to a humanitarian official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not yet been released publicly.
Speaking to reporters traveling with a US delegation to a gathering of defense chiefs in Botswana on Tuesday, an official with the US Agency for International Development expressed optimism that aid deliveries from the pier would eventually resume.
“I think it’s a question of when the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) can provide, and the government of Israel can provide, the assurances that the UN is seeking on deconfliction and security right now,” said Isobel Coleman, deputy administrator of USAID, which has been working with the World Food Program on aid distribution from the pier.


US not seen a detailed post-war plan from Israel: Gen. Brown

Updated 7 sec ago
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US not seen a detailed post-war plan from Israel: Gen. Brown

WASHINGTON: The top US general said on Thursday Israel still has not shared much of its “day after” planning for Gaza once the war with Hamas ends.
The remarks by Air Force General C.Q. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, followed a speech to Congress on Wednesday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that sketched only a vague outline for a “deradicalized” post-war Gaza.
“There’s not a lot of detail that I’ve been able to see from a plan from them,” Brown told a Pentagon press conference. “This is something that we’ll continue to work with them on.”
For months, Washington has repeatedly urged Israel to craft a realistic post-war plan for Gaza and warned that the absence of it could trigger lawlessness and chaos as well as a comeback by Hamas in the Palestinian territory.
“As far as the day after, we have talked to the Israelis about this, how to make a transition. We’ve talked to them a number of times,” Brown said.
Palestinians have previously said only an end to Israeli occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state will bring peace.
But in his speech to Congress, Netanyahu made no mention of creating a pathway to Palestinian statehood following the war in Gaza. That is something he and his far-right coalition partners have staunchly opposed even as the Biden administration has pushed Israel to give ground on the issue.
Netanyahu stopped short of ruling out a role for the West Bank-led Palestinian Authority, whose place in a future two-state solution is favored by the Biden administration but opposed by Netanyahu’s coalition partners.
Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2006 after Israeli soldiers and settlers withdrew in 2005. Israel controls access to Gaza.
Israel’s war has devastated the Palestinian enclave and killed more than 39,000 of its residents, according to Gaza health officials. Hamas fighters triggered the war on Oct. 7 by storming into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 captives, according to Israeli tallies.

Sudan’s agriculture minister says there is no famine in the country

Updated 25 July 2024
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Sudan’s agriculture minister says there is no famine in the country

  • Sudan has become the world's worst hunger crisis since the outbreak of a war
  • "755,000 citizens are not a significant percentage compared to the total population ... they cannot call that famine," said Abubakr al-Bushra

CAIRO/DUBAI: Sudan’s agriculture minister said there is no famine in the country and cast doubt on UN-backed data that 755,000 are experiencing catastrophic hunger, rejecting the idea of aid agencies overriding cross-border delivery restrictions.
Sudan has become the world’s worst hunger crisis since the outbreak of a war between the Sudanese army, whose head is also Sudan’s head of state, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, who have taken over wide swathes of the country.
“755,000 citizens are not a significant percentage compared to the total population ... they cannot call that famine,” said Abubakr Al-Bushra, in a news conference in Port Sudan, the country’s de facto capital.
Sudan has a population of 50 million.
The army has blocked aid and commerce from entering RSF-controlled areas, while supplies that reach those areas are expensive and frequently stolen, often by RSF soldiers, residents and aid agencies say.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an initiative of UN agencies, regional bodies and aid groups, had in late June said that while half the population were experiencing acute hunger, there were 14 spots across the country at risk of famine.
Famine can be declared if at least 20 percent of the population in an area experience catastrophic hunger, and thresholds on child malnutrition and death from starvation are met
Al-Bushra cast doubt on experts’ ability to measure data in RSF-controlled areas, and said the malnutrition indicators had not yet been determined.
Following the IPC data, an independent committee could declare a famine, potentially triggering Security Council orders overriding army restrictions on which crossings could be used for aid deliveries.
Al-Bushra said the government rejected such orders.
“We reject the opening of our borders by force because that could open the borders with opposing states, borders that the militia controls,” he said, while another official cast such a move as part of a conspiracy against the country.
Aid agencies say Al-Tina, the only crossing authorized by the government into the Darfur region, where most of the famine-risk hotspots are, is inaccessible due to rains. The army says that Adre, the crossing into West Darfur that aid agencies are asking to access, has been used to supply the RSF with weapons.


Netanyahu, Biden meet for tense Gaza ceasefire talks

Updated 25 min 27 sec ago
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Netanyahu, Biden meet for tense Gaza ceasefire talks

  • Relations between Biden, Netanyahu strained over Israel’s conduct in war sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks
  • Israeli PM to meet Republican contender Donald Trump on Friday in Florida

WASHINGTON DC: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he was ready to work with Joe Biden for the rest of his presidency, as the two leaders met for the first time at the White House for talks on a Gaza ceasefire.
“I want to thank you for the 50 years of public service and 50 years of support for the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said after they shook hands in the historic setting of the Oval Office.
“And I look forward to discussing with you today and working with you in the months ahead.”
Biden stunned the world Sunday when he announced that he was bowing out of the US presidential election, with Vice President Kamala Harris now set to be the Democratic Party’s candidate.
Netanyahu will also meet Harris separately at the White House, in a reflection of the new political reality that will see Biden as a lame duck president for his remaining six months in office.
The Harris meeting comes amid speculation that if she wins in November it could herald a tougher approach on Israel’s war in Gaza.
Relations between Biden and Netanyahu are tense over Israel’s conduct in the war sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, but the US president has continued strong military and political support.
They have met just three times during his presidency, once in September last year in New York, and then when Biden traveled to Israel after the attacks and hugged Netanyahu on the airport tarmac at Tel Aviv.
The meetings come after Netanyahu vowed “total victory” against Hamas in a fiery speech Wednesday to the US Congress.
Biden and Netanyahu will later meet the families of US hostages held in Gaza.
The White House was surrounded by metal barriers and a heavy police presence, after rowdy protests broke out near the Capitol following Netanyahu’s speech.
Harris on Thursday condemned the “despicable” and “unpatriotic” burning of an American flag by protesters, after attempts by Donald Trump’s Republicans to paint Democrats as pro-Hamas.
In a primetime speech explaining his decision on Sunday to bow out of the US presidential election, Biden made clear that resolving the conflict would remain a top priority.
“I’m going to keep working to end the war on Gaza, bring home all the hostages to bring peace and security to the Middle East and end this war,” the US president said.
A senior US administration official said Wednesday that negotiations on a Gaza deal were in the “closing stages” and that Biden would try to close some “final gaps” with Netanyahu.
Harris has previously been more outspoken about Israel’s conduct of the war, prompting speculation she will shift her policy as presidential nominee.
The US official said there was “no daylight between the president and vice president,” who will meet Netanyahu at 4:30 p.m. (2030 GMT).
Netanyahu will meet Republican contender Donald Trump on Friday at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.
The ex-president on Thursday morning urged Israel to quickly “finish up” its war in Gaza, warning its global image was being tarnished.
Biden has offered Israel steadfast support since October 7.
But the US president has been increasingly critical of Israel over the Palestinian death toll in its offensive in Gaza, and criticized restrictions on the amount of aid getting through to the territory, much of which has been reduced to rubble.
The Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of 1,197 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Out of 251 people taken hostage that day, 111 are still being held inside the Gaza Strip, including 39 who the military says are dead.
More than 39,100 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip since the war began, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza, which does not give details of civilian and militant deaths.
According to the Israeli military 327 soldiers have been killed in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.


Iran releases cargo of oil tanker St. Nikolas, shipping source says

The vessel, M/T St. Nikolas, was laden with 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil destined for Turkiye when it was seized. (File)
Updated 25 July 2024
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Iran releases cargo of oil tanker St. Nikolas, shipping source says

  • The cargo was transferred onto the Turkiye-flagged tanker T. Semahat earlier this week via a ship-to-ship transfer near Iran’s Larak Island
  • Iran seized the tanker in January in retaliation for the confiscation last year of the same vessel and its oil by the US

ATHENS: Iran has released the oil cargo of a Greek-owned, Marshall-Islands-flagged tanker it seized in the Gulf of Oman earlier this year, a shipping source told Reuters on Thursday.
The vessel, M/T St. Nikolas, is still being held by Iran, the source added. It was laden with 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil destined for Turkiye when it was seized.
“The cargo was released earlier this week after negotiations,” the source said.
The cargo was transferred onto the Turkiye-flagged tanker T. Semahat earlier this week via a ship-to-ship transfer near Iran’s Larak Island, said Claire Jungman, chief of staff at US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which tracks Iran-related tanker traffic via satellite data.
T.Semahat’s Turkiye-based operator Ditas, which is majority-owned by Turkish refiner Tupras, was not immediately available for comment.
The vessel had the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates as its destination and was sailing away from Iran on Thursday, LSEG shipping data showed.
LSEG data also showed T.Semahat had reached Larak Island earlier on July 21 and left that area close to being fully loaded with oil.
Iran seized the tanker in January in retaliation for the confiscation last year of the same vessel and its oil by the US, Iranian state media had reported at the time.
Iran’s foreign and oil ministries were not immediately available to comment.


Yemen airline resumes Sanaa-Jordan flights, banks rejoin global network under new deal

Updated 25 July 2024
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Yemen airline resumes Sanaa-Jordan flights, banks rejoin global network under new deal

  • Yemenia said in a statement that three flights were scheduled to leave Sanaa airport for Amman on Thursday
  • Militia leader warns of ‘escalation’ after Hodeidah airstrikes as US launches raids on missile sites

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s national airline resumed flights from the Houthi-held city of Sanaa to Jordan on Thursday, while the international banking transfer system reconnected Sanaa banks to its network after an agreement was implemented between the Yemeni government and the militia.

Yemenia Airways said in a statement that three flights were scheduled to leave Sanaa airport for Amman on Thursday, and that it was seeking permits for flights from the same airport to Egypt and India. 

On Monday, the Yemeni government and the Houthis agreed to lift economic sanctions on banks and allow Yemenia Airways to increase its daily flights from Sanaa to Amman from one to three.

The agreement also allows the airline to arrange more flights to Cairo and Mumbai, and to organize meetings to resolve its difficulties. 

Last month, the Houthis seized three Yemeni aircraft at Sanaa airport, disrupting flights to Amman and stranding hundreds of Yemeni pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

The militia attempted to put pressure on the Yemeni government to reverse its decision for Yemenia to transfer its headquarters to the harbor city of Aden, Yemen’s temporary capital, and to stop selling tickets in Houthi-controlled regions.

Meanwhile, the Houthi official news agency reported on Wednesday that SWIFT had told Sanaa banks it had reconnected them to its system after the Yemeni government lifted punitive economic measures.

The Aden-based central bank revoked the licenses of six banks in Sanaa earlier this month for failing to comply with a directive to relocate their offices from Aden.

The Houthis also said their central bank had relaxed restrictions against financial institutions in government-controlled cities.

Meanwhile, US Central Command on Thursday said that two Houthi missiles had been destroyed on launchers in an area of Yemen held by the militia.

This came a day after the US military announced it had targeted a Houthi-held area to destroy three missile launchers. 

Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship, sunk two more, and launched hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones, and drone boats at commercial and naval ships in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean in what it claims are actions in support of the Palestinian people and to force Israel to cease military operations in the Gaza Strip.

On Thursday, the militia’s leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, pledged to respond to Israeli attacks on the Houthi-held western city of Hodeidah by initiating strikes on Israeli towns and attacking Israeli ships. 

“Our military operations will continue in the seas and deep into Palestine, and the attacks on our country will not stop us from escalating,” Al-Houthi said.