Palestinian families face another difficult Ramadan as aid funding dips

More than two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s population of some 2 million people suffers from poverty or extreme poverty, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). (Shutterstock/File Photo)
More than two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s population of some 2 million people suffers from poverty or extreme poverty, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). (Shutterstock/File Photo)
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Updated 15 April 2021

Palestinian families face another difficult Ramadan as aid funding dips

More than two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s population of some 2 million people suffers from poverty or extreme poverty, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • Local statistics show that the unemployment rate was 43 percent before the pandemic, but it has now exceeded 50 percent

GAZA CITY: For the second year running, Hassan Abu Al-Amrain has missed out on relief aid for his family during the month of Ramadan. 

There has been a significant drop in the amount of funding provided to local civil humanitarian charities due to the measures imposed to curb the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Abu Al-Amrain, 47, who lives in Gaza City said: “For the second year, the month of Ramadan has been the most difficult for us. We would usually wait for supplies of goods and food provided by charitable associations because I am unable to buy them.”

Anxiety dominates Abu Al-Amrain, who suffers from illnesses that have kept him out of work for 20 years.

“The situation is very difficult, and I do not know how I will provide my family’s needs,” he told Arab News.

More than two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s population of some 2 million people suffers from poverty or extreme poverty, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Local statistics show that the unemployment rate was 43 percent before the pandemic, but it has now exceeded 50 percent, with heads of families losing their jobs.

For needy families, the month of Ramadan is an opportunity to receive financial donations and food aid, which help them endure the hardships of life in Gaza, which has been deteriorating over the past 15 years as a result of the Israeli blockade and internal division.

“COVID-19 deprived us of the bounties of the month of Ramadan. In previous years, we did not need aid for months after the end of Ramadan,” said Abu Al-Amrain.

Abu Al-Amrain lives with his wife Hala, 35, and their four children in a small and dilapidated house in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, north of Gaza City.

“For many years, we have not tasted fresh meat except during Ramadan, with charitable assistance,” Hala said, adding: “We do not have the ability to buy it.”

In Gaza, a kilo of fresh beef is sold for 50 shekels ($14). According to UNRWA data, about 80 percent of the population depends on humanitarian aid.

Due to a weak diet with little protein and vitamins, Hala suffers from an imbalance in his white and red blood cells, which causes dizziness and a rise in body temperature.

Doctors also discovered that her son Mohammed suffers from bone erosion, while her daughter Malak suffers from weak immunity and skin diseases, caused by malnutrition, as well as dampness and poor house conditions.

Abu Al-Amrain receives assistance from the Ministry of Social Affairs, which it disburses to the poorest families in the Gaza Strip once every three months, and it is estimated at 750 shekels.

But Abu Al-Amrain complains that aid has been irregular in the last two years and is not sufficient for the minimum requirements of life.

Despite the difficult epidemiological situation in Gaza, with a sudden increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, Abu Al-Amrain and his family lack the most basic protective equipment such as masks, detergents, and sterilizers.

The government administration, headed by Hamas in Gaza, has imposed strict measures to reduce infections.

These restrictions impacted the level of services provided by charitable institutions, especially food aid and Iftar.

An official at Al-Khair Foundation, who refused to reveal his name, told Arab News: “For the second year in a row, we will not organize Iftar for the poor, orphans, and the marginalized due to the emergency measures associated with COVID-19, as well as the decline in the level of external financing associated with Ramadan activities.”

Director of the Network of NGOs in Gaza, Amjad Al-Shawa, said that international funding has dropped more than 40 percent due to donor countries focusing on internal concerns and the pandemic.

Al-Shawa told Arab News that the Social Affairs Ministry’s delay in disbursing the dues of the needy people in Gaza has exacerbated their suffering. 

“Money and funding in Gaza are retreating and the poor are increasing,” he said.

7 dead in West Bank as Israel deals with 3 hot spots

7 dead in West Bank as Israel deals with 3 hot spots
Updated 32 min 22 sec ago

7 dead in West Bank as Israel deals with 3 hot spots

7 dead in West Bank as Israel deals with 3 hot spots
  • Security Council to meet on Sunday

JERUSALEM: The number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank has risen to seven.

The Israeli army said one was killed after attempting to stab a soldier. Palestinian health officials confirmed that death and said six other Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire in the occupied West Bank.

The Health Ministry said five were killed in stone-throwing clashes with Israeli forces in several locations, and a sixth was killed during an attempt to stab an Israeli soldier on Friday. A seventh was killed in Nablus.

Israel faced a widening conflict, as deadly violence escalated across the West Bank amid a massive aerial bombardment in Gaza and unprecedented unrest among Arabs and Jews inside the country.

A Palestinian security source said Friday’s fighting was the “most intense” since the second intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000.

Palestinian armed groups in the enclave have launched more than 1,800 rockets at Israel since Monday, killing nine people, with sirens wailing across the country throughout the week.

Violence on Fridays in the West Bank is a traditional facet of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Friday’s escalation appeared linked to the raging hostilities in Gaza and the internal unrest in Israel.

More than 150 were injured across the territory occupied by Israel since 1967, with Palestinians hit by Israeli bullets, tear gas and in some cases live fire, said the Red Crescent.

The UN said the Security Council would meet Sunday to address Gaza.

China accused the US of “ignoring the suffering” of Muslims, after Washington stopped the council from meeting Friday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was “deeply concerned about the violence in the streets of Israel,” and his department urged citizens to “reconsider” travel to the country.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said rocket fire by Hamas against Israel amounted to “terrorist attacks.”

Several international airlines — including British Airways, Lufthansa and Iberia — canceled flights amid the onslaught.

Israel said hundreds of the rockets fired toward its territory, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, had been intercepted.

Israel has hit roughly 750 sites it described as military targets such as Hamas bomb-making facilities and the homes of senior militant commanders. Three high-rise buildings were flattened.

Israel estimates that more than 30 leaders of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad have been killed.

“I said we’d deliver heavy blows to Hamas and other terror groups, and we’re doing that,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“They’re paying and will continue to pay dearly for that. It’s not over yet.”

Within Israel, an unprecedented wave of mob violence has seen Arabs and Jews savagely beat each other and attack places of worship.

More than 750 people have been arrested this week, including more than 100 overnight, police said.

In Lod, where an Arab man was shot dead by a Jewish Israeli on Monday, the outside of a synagogue was burnt overnight, they added.

Officers had detained Jews “walking around looking for trouble” in Netanya and Beersheba, while Arabs in other towns attacked police and police stations with stones and petrol bombs.

In one of the most shocking episodes of the intercommunal violence, a far-right Jewish mob beat a man they considered an Arab in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, leaving him with serious injuries.

“Nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews, and nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs,” Netanyahu said.

Israel’s civil aviation authority said it was directing incoming flights to Tel Aviv to circle offshore when rockets are being fired from Gaza, with pilots choosing whether to divert to Ramon airport in the south or wait until runways are checked for ordnance.

‘Death and darkness’: Gazans’ night of terror as Israel strikes

‘Death and darkness’: Gazans’ night of terror as Israel strikes
Updated 36 min 54 sec ago

‘Death and darkness’: Gazans’ night of terror as Israel strikes

‘Death and darkness’: Gazans’ night of terror as Israel strikes
  • The Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, especially the northern areas, began shortly after midnight and lasted more than 30 minutes

GAZA CITY: Muhammad Abu Fares’ family and relatives endured the most terrifying night of their lives on Thursday when Israeli artillery launched a devastating bombardment on towns in the northern Gaza Strip.

“I heard shells exploding and people screaming,” Abu Fares, 27, who lives in the Bedouin village, told Arab News.

“I went out quickly to see what was happening. The house next to ours was hit and some neighbors helped remove the bodies and the wounded.

“The scene was terrible with several bodies lying there and the injured crying out for help. I carried six bodies out to the street,” he said.

Israeli artillery targeted border areas in the northern Gaza Strip, including the towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia as well as the Bedouin village, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes and seek shelter in UN schools.

Abu Fares went with his family to an UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) school in Beit Lahia after accompanying three wounded people in an ambulance to hospital.

The UN aid organization said in a statement: “As of last night hundreds of people, many Palestine refugees, are seeking refuge and safe shelter in UNRWA schools, especially in the northern part of the strip and Gaza city.

“UNRWA has to quickly turn identified schools into properly managed shelters. In 2021, the situation is slightly different in that we now have to consider the COVID-19 pandemic and how to minimize the risk of people crowding in a confined space and spreading the virus.” 

The Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, especially the northern areas, began shortly after midnight and lasted more than 30 minutes, leaving residents terrified.

Lubna Younis, 37, told Arab News: “We endured a night during which we saw death more than once. We did not know what was happening or where the shelling was coming from. We thought this would be the end. The shelling had become indiscriminate and Israeli warplanes bombed homes everywhere.”

The Israeli strikes raised the death toll to 122, including 31 children and 20 women, while more than 900 others were wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

On Friday, the streets were empty of people, and shops remained closed, except for some grocery stores.

Mamdouh Mutair, 42, sat at the entrance to his house with some of his neighbors after six houses nearby were destroyed by Israeli shelling late on Wednesday.

“My mind cannot understand what happened and is still happening. It is beyond comprehension and without logic. In a quarter of an hour, there was death, there was smoke and darkness everywhere,” Mutair told Arab News.

“Dozens of rockets fell suddenly at midnight, destroying all the houses in front of us. Broken glass was everywhere, the cars under the houses were destroyed, children were terrified, I embraced my children and my wife, and we began crying and kissing them as if it was the end of our lives,” he said.

Lebanese in war of words over Palestine action

Lebanese in war of words over Palestine action
Updated 46 min 27 sec ago

Lebanese in war of words over Palestine action

Lebanese in war of words over Palestine action
  • Former MP warns country ‘is neither a military base nor a missile platform for Palestinian, Iranian factions’
  • Power shortages add to woes as Turkish firm halts supply

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s response to the violence in Gaza and its relationship with Palestine is the subject of angry debate after rockets were fired from southern Lebanon toward Israeli settlements.

Former MP Nadim Gemayel warned that “Lebanon is neither a military base nor a missile platform for Palestinian factions or Iranian militias.”

He demanded that “the state and security services act quickly and strike with an iron fist, for Lebanon today cannot afford to repeat the experience of the 60s.”

Gemayel said the “number one cause today is the Lebanese cause only.”

MP Bilal Abdallah said that “Lebanon is facing an economic collapse and a vacuum in its political power, and the Palestine issue should not be put at the forefront.”

He told Arab News: “What is happening requires insight and calm.”

The remarks of both political figures came as Lebanese and Palestinian youths stormed a fence on the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel on Friday.

However, they were unable to cross the Israeli security barrier that stood in their way.

Groups of young men demonstrated near the border area facing the settlement of Al-Mutla, and attempted to cross a barbed-wire fence to gain access, but were met with tear-gas canisters fired by Israeli troops, forcing them to disperse and return to Lebanese territory.

The incident came after rockets were launched from southern Lebanon on Thursday toward Israeli settlements.

While Hezbollah denied any connection to the strikes, a statement hinted at the group’s potential involvement in the conflict if violence worsens.

The Lebanese army announced on Friday that “military units found three rockets in the vicinity of the Rashidieh refugee camp in the Tire region in southern Lebanon.”

At least four Grad missiles were fired from the vicinity of the Rashidieh camp, targeting the Israeli settlements of Shlomi and Nahariya. No party has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Maj. Gen. Subhi Abu Arab, commander of the Palestinian National Security Forces in Lebanon, told Arab News that he visited the Rashidieh camp on Friday morning for an inspection, and that “the situation was normal.”

He said: “No rockets were fired from the camp or its surroundings, but rather from an area further away.

“We do not know who fired the rockets, and we leave the matter to the Lebanese army, as this area falls under its responsibility, and the army units are carrying out their tasks in search of the rocket launchers.

“I have not received any information until now about the matter from Lebanese Army intelligence.”

The Lebanese quandary over Palestine is a division that goes back to the demands of the Maronite Patriarchate for Lebanese neutrality.

Solidarity with Palestine dominated Friday sermons in mosques, and protests broke out around the country.

MP Bilal Abdallah told Arab News: “Emotionally, we are all in solidarity with the Palestinians and distressed by the killing that is taking place against the innocent. There is no arguing on this matter. But expanding the war zone is a matter that needs to be studied.”

Abdallah said: “If opening the Lebanon front is required, this has its own calculations and consequences.”

He added: “Let us look at the prospects of the ongoing clash, whether it is rectified with a cease-fire or if it escalates.”

The MP said that Lebanon “cannot afford any involvement in what is happening, so let it be a complete front and not only Lebanon, but rather open the Golan fronts all the way to Jordan.”

Abdallah added: “The existing communication in the region involves redrawing their map, and this presupposes the need to avoid rushing to judgment.”

However, another popular sentiment among the Lebanese public is that the issues facing their own country should be dealt with first, before foreign affairs are considered.

The Lebanese internal crisis was aggravated by the announcement of the Electricite du Liban (EDL) on Friday that electricity supply has begun to decline after Turkey’s Karpowership, which supplies the country through two floating stations, said it had “suspended supplies due to payment arrears, and after a legal threat to its stations.”

A spokesperson said that the company “regretted turning off the generators,” adding that it had “made every effort to avoid taking this decision.”

Lebanon receives 370 megawatts of electricity from the company, about a quarter of total supply.

The country may face critical electricity problems unless, according to the EDL statement, a speedy decision is made regarding a controversial treasury advance of 300 billion Lebanese pounds ($196 million) for the resumption of tenders for the buying of fuels, especially gas.

The EDL has also urged officials to secure hard currencies for production, transportation, and distribution, to ensure a minimum level of stability in Lebanon’s electricity supply.

Jordanians march to border in solidarity with Palestinians

Jordanians march to border in solidarity with Palestinians
Updated 44 min 40 sec ago

Jordanians march to border in solidarity with Palestinians

Jordanians march to border in solidarity with Palestinians
  • Protestors demand government open border to Palestinians, end diplomatic ties with Israel

AMMAN: Hundreds of Jordanians held an impromptu protest near the Jordanian border with the occupied Palestinian territories on Friday, calling on their government to take action over the escalating conflict in Israel.

The event, quickly organized on social media, was held near the village of Karameh in the Shouna governorate under the slogan “yalla (let’s go) to the borders.”
The protesters, waving Palestinian and Jordanian flags, gathered near the monument for the martyrs of the Battle of Karameh, and called on the Jordanian government to open the border. 

The monument is a poignant location, as the site of significant Jordanian-Palestinian military resistance against an Israel Defense Force (IDF) offensive in 1968, leading to the eventual Israeli withdrawal from the village on the eastern bank of the Jordan River.

Mohammad Hmeidi, a doctor who attended the protest, told Arab News: “Our goal … is to pressure the government of Jordan to cut off its relations with (Israel), to cancel the Gaza deal and to kick out the (Israeli) ambassador as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.”

Protesters chanted slogans in support of Palestinians in Jerusalem and Gaza, shouting “millions are willing to die and become martyrs.”

They also chanted in support of Mohammad Deif, leader of Hamas’s Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, which are currently engaged in rocket attacks and counter strikes with the IDF.
Jordanian security forces broke up the protests when demonstrators came too close to the border. A spokesman for the police said they had used reasonable force with some of the protesters, after they entered several private properties and caused damage.
Adnan Abu Odeh, a former adviser to Jordan’s King Hussein, told Arab News that the protests are important for their symbolic value. 

“It is Friday and Jordanian youths are unemployed. This event is important, especially in that it gives emotional support to Palestinians, but the real problem for Israel is within — the crime of apartheid between Israelis and Palestinians, which had been hidden since 1948, is now obvious for all to see,” he said, referring to a recent report by Human Rights Watch accusing Israel of enforcing an apartheid system across the country.

Abu Odeh said he was unsure whether this would tempt Jordan to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv, however.

“Jordan had exhausted all its efforts at the UN. It has provided the defense team fighting the eviction of Palestinian families from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, with all the documents in its possession,” he said.

“It all depends on whether the Israelis will continue their onslaught, or accept the offers for a ceasefire.”

US report blasts Turkey for restricting religious minorities

US report blasts Turkey for restricting religious minorities
Updated 14 May 2021

US report blasts Turkey for restricting religious minorities

US report blasts Turkey for restricting religious minorities
  • Non-Muslim religious groups face challenges in operating houses of worship, holding board elections, and exemptions from mandatory religion courses in schools
  • Report adds to concerns raised when Erdogan reconverted the historic Chora Church and famed Hagia Sophia into mosques last summer

ANKARA: A new report released Wednesday follows a trend from the US State Department in criticizing Turkey for restricting the rights of non-Muslim religious groups in the country.

The latest report focused on the challenges non-Muslim religious groups have faced in operating houses of worship, holding board elections for their foundations, and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion courses in schools, which are in violation of the European Court of Human Rights’ 2013 ruling.

The US also expressed concerns when Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reconverted the historic Chora Church, one of Istanbul’s most celebrated Byzantine buildings, and the famed Hagia Sophia into mosques last summer.

In 2020, religious minorities had difficulties in obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in schools while the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed, the report noted.

“The government continued not to recognize Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so,” the report said.

According to the report, the US criticized the difficulties that Protestant communities faced in training indigenous Turkish clergy in their congregations as “they relied on foreign volunteers to serve them in leadership capacities.”

However, “they could not operate training facilities in-country,” the report added.

Another annual report for 2021 released last month by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom found that an independent government panel urged Ankara to address longstanding religious freedom issues. It said the religious freedom conditions in Turkey were on a “troubling trajectory.”

The commission, which criticized the vandalism of places of worship in Turkey, also recommended that the US State Department include Turkey on the special watch list for religious freedom violations, and criticized the Turkish government for being “divisive and hostile” against its own religious minorities.

The trial of an Assyrian priest, Sefer Bilecen, who was sentenced to two years in jail on terrorism charges, was also described by the commission as a politically motivated move.

Anna Maria Beylunioglu-Atli, a lecturer at MEF University in Istanbul, said the problems that Turkey’s religious minorities have been facing are directly linked with the authoritarianism trend in the country.

“What the religious minorities experienced over the past year is the inevitable continuation of the general trend of hate speech and discrimination in line with the rising Islamic rhetoric within the society,” she told Arab News.

She added: “Since the foundation of the republic, there was a similar trend in Turkey to restrict the religious freedoms of minorities. But, the recent Islamist rhetoric in the overall politics consolidated it further.”

Such international reports do not have a transformational effect on Turkish domestic politics anymore, Beylunioglu-Atli said.

“What Turkey needs is an indigenous transformation by providing its religious minorities with citizenship rights,” she said. “Otherwise, such reports do not push the rulers to change the living conditions of the minorities in the country.”

US President Joe Biden and his administration have put the fight against all forms of religious discrimination at the center of their agenda. It also reflects the effort of the US State Department in highlighting the status of religious freedom in several countries around the world, including Turkey.

Dr. Mine Yildirim, head of the Freedom of Belief Initiative and Eurasia Civil Society Program at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, said measures taken by the authorities in relation to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had an impact on the religion or belief communities in interesting ways.

“Our observations and interviews indicated that in 2020 some communities felt that when the public authorities took measures related to curfews and lock-downs, the functioning and use of mosques were taken into account whereas the days of worship of other places of worship were not considered,” she told Arab News.

Yildirim said that there have been fewer attacks or vandalism against churches in 2020, mainly due to the fact that churches have been closed, and as such Christians were less visible.

“Some Alevi and Christian religious leaders have observed that the pandemic has also exasperated the inequalities in the context of public funding for religious services which is solely provided for such services provided through the Presidency of Religious Affairs,” she said.

“As they were not being able to come together in their places of worship some communities received fewer donations whereas their costs for rent and utilities and salary of religious leaders continued.”