US aid suspension hits Gaza’s poor

Palestinians flee the Shujayeh neighborhood during heavy Israeli shelling in Gaza City July 20, 2014. (Reuters)
Updated 23 July 2018
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US aid suspension hits Gaza’s poor

  • Since January, US financing for humanitarian programs serving the Palestinians has been suspended
  • Trump has threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to force the Palestinians back to the negotiating table with Israel

GAZA CITY: Hadil Al-Rafati gently adjusts her anaemia-stricken toddler’s frail legs onto her lap in the lobby of an NGO’s clinic in Gaza City.
The program providing treatment to her son is among those in the enclave facing cuts or closure due to a freeze on US aid to the Palestinians, organizers say.
“He weighs 7.2 kilogrammes (16 pounds), but at a year and a month, he should be at least 10,” the 21-year-old mother said of her son, Essam.
Since January, US financing for humanitarian programs serving the Palestinians has been suspended, with Washington saying it is being reviewed.
President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to force the Palestinians back to the negotiating table with Israel.
On a recent day, around 15 mothers waited in the lobby of the clinic run by Palestinian organization Ard Al-Insan to see a paediatrician or to receive food supplements for their children.
Certain services have been maintained with available funding, but the program is due to expire at the end of August if the money is not released.
“They help us, give us medicine,” said Rafati, who is unemployed and whose husband picks up odd jobs to make ends meet.
“If they close, where will we go?“
The Gaza Strip, controlled by Islamist movement Hamas, has been under an Israeli blockade for more than 10 years. The two sides have fought three wars since 2008.
Some 80 percent of the enclave’s two million residents rely on aid, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Trump’s comments on aid in January came after Palestinian leaders suspended relations with the White House over its deeply controversial recognition of the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Since then, the passage of a US law in March withholding certain aid to the Palestinians over payments made to prisoners jailed for security offenses, or to the families of those killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis, has further complicated the situation.
Some $215 million (183.5 million euros) that the United States was to invest in humanitarian aid and development in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip has been held up, according to an analysis for the US Congress.
US financing for UNRWA has also been blocked.
“At President Trump’s direction, assistance to the Palestinians remains under review,” a US State Department official said.
Some programs are already facing cuts, such as the Palestine Avenir for Childhood Foundation, which has not renewed contracts for some 30 employees since the start of the year.
Suffering from cerebral palsy, nine-month-old Maher had been receiving four physiotherapy sessions per week from the organization.
He now only comes twice per week due to a lack of available therapists.
“The change has been huge in the last three months,” said his mother Nada Abu Assi, 27, as she watches her son move with the help of a support device.
The foundation’s director, Ahmad Alkashif, said “these are the last beneficiaries,” adding that hundreds of children are on its waiting list.
The project, financed by Washington’s development agency USAID, is part of a $50 million program started in 2016 and meant to last five years.
Some 20,000 patients were to benefit from the plan, with the possibility of extending it to 250,000 in case of disaster.
“Unless the funding hold is lifted in the next three months, the ‘Health Matters’ program will close, leaving the most vulnerable families in Gaza without even the most basic health care services,” said Ky Luu, chief operating officer of International Medical Corps, an American NGO contracted for the program.
The health system in the enclave is already badly struggling.
In recent months, it has faced an influx of more than 4,000 wounded Palestinians hit by Israeli gunfire during border protests and clashes.
At least 149 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests and clashes began on March 30. One Israeli soldier has been shot dead.
“It’s another burden that we must carry,” said Suhaila Tarazi, director general of the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City.
Without the US aid, training for surgeons will be canceled, she said.
“Many will wait and suffer,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.
Each month, more than 2,000 Gazans request permission from Israel to leave the enclave for health care.
Last year, only 54 percent of requests were approved and 54 patients died before being able to leave, according to the World Health Organization.
Many fear the loss of US funding will be impossible to replace.
“There is no follow-up for projects,” said Iyad Abu Hijayer, deputy director of the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution.
“In general, for years financing has decreased.”


Sudan protesters remain resilient, but Bashir unbowed

Updated 57 min 56 sec ago
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Sudan protesters remain resilient, but Bashir unbowed

  • Demonstrators are pressing on with rallies despite a show of defiance from the veteran leader and a sweeping crackdown by the authorities
  • Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protester Osman Sulaiman has taken to the streets of Khartoum chanting “overthrow, overthrow” almost daily since demonstrations erupted against President Omar Al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule in December.
And he insists he has no intention of stopping now.
“We have to fight our battle if we have to secure our future and the future of our country,” Sulaiman, an engineering graduate who has been unemployed for years, told AFP.
As the protest campaign against Bashir’s regime enters its third month on Tuesday, demonstrators are pressing on with rallies despite a show of defiance from the veteran leader and a sweeping crackdown by the authorities.
Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 have been killed including medics and children.
Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists have been jailed by agents of the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
“The protesters’ resilience has been very impressive,” says Murithi Mutiga of International Crisis Group (ICG).
“Two months have passed, but the movement’s momentum has remained and participation has grown geographically and across socio-economic classes.”
On Sunday, scores of protesters rallied in Khartoum chanting their catchcry “freedom, peace, justice” as police fired tear gas.
Demonstrations first erupted on December 19 in the farming town of Atbara against a government decision to triple the price of bread.
But the rallies swiftly mushroomed into a major challenge to Bashir’s three-decade rule, with those taking part demanding his resignation.
From the provinces to the streets of the capital and its twin city Omdurman the demonstrations have spread through villages, towns and cities across the east African nation.
They have drawn in a cross section of society including middle-class professionals, agricultural laborers, youths and Bashir’s political opponents — with thousands of women and men rallying across the country on some days.
Only the three conflict zones of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan have remained largely devoid of mass demonstrations.
“Despite the violence unleashed by the regime, the movement has extended even to the rural areas,” said Mohamed Yusuf, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella group of unions that has spearheaded the campaign.
“We believe the movement will not stop as new groups have joined it.”
Sudan’s main opposition National Umma Party led by former premier Sadiq Al-Mahdi has backed the campaign and called for Bashir to step down.
Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 that overthrew the elected government of Mahdi.
The SPA has called on political groups to join their movement by signing a “Document for Freedom and Change.”
The text outlines a post-Bashir plan including rebuilding Sudan’s justice system and halting the country’s dire economic decline, the key reason for the nationwide demonstrations.
Sudan’s financial woes were long a cause of popular frustration before the anger spilt onto the streets after the bread price hike.
Soaring inflation along with acute foreign currency shortages have battered the economy, especially after the independence of South Sudan in 2011 took away the bulk of oil earnings.
Protest campaigners have kept their supporters motivated by announcing rallies on behalf of detained comrades or to honor “martyrs” killed in the protests.
If security forces have prevented protesters from reaching downtown Khartoum, then they have rallied in outlying neighborhoods, sometimes at night.
On occasion, the calls to protest have failed to mobilize people, but there have also been demonstrations that have seen crowds of professors, doctors, engineers and teachers chanting anti-Bashir slogans.
The president’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) insists that after two months the campaign has begun petering out.
“The protests continued for a long time but the reality is that demonstrations have now slowed,” said NCP spokesman Ibrahim Al-Siddiq.
“This is because protesters lack popular support.”
Analysts say continuing support from the security forces for the regime and Bashir’s own defiance have created a deadlock.
“The president remains very stubborn and the protesters remain very determined,” said Mutiga of ICG.
“What we now have is a clear stalemate.”
Bashir has countered the demonstrations with his own rallies, promising economic development in the country and promoting peace in its war zones.
Dismissing calls for his resignation, he has insisted that the ballot box is the only way to change the government.
The 75-year-old leader is considering a run for a third term in an election scheduled in 2020.
For now, those taking to the streets say they will keep up the pressure.
Aaya Omer, a resident of Khartoum’s eastern district of Burri, shows no sign of giving up.
“We will continue with our struggle because we deserve a better life,” the 28-year-old woman said.
“I’ll continue to protest until our mission to overthrow this regime is achieved.”