UN agency for Palestinian refugees has urgent budget crisis

UN agency for Palestinian refugees has urgent budget crisis
A Palestinian volunteer pushes a trolley of food rations outside an aid distribution center run by the UN Relief and Works Agency at the Al-Shati camp in Gaza City on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 03 October 2021

UN agency for Palestinian refugees has urgent budget crisis

UN agency for Palestinian refugees has urgent budget crisis
  • The financial situation is a real existential threat on the agency, says its chief Philippe Lazzarini

NEW YORK: The UN agency helping Palestinian refugees is facing an “existential” budget crisis and appealing for urgent funding of $120 million to keep essential education, health care and other services running, the agency’s chief said.

“We keep struggling, running after cash,” Philippe Lazzarini said.

“The financial situation is a real existential threat on the organization, and we should not underestimate this because it might force the organization to decrease services,” he added, and if that happens “we risk to collapse very quickly.”

At stake is the agency’s ability to keep 550,000 children in school, provide healthcare for thousands, and pay the salaries for its 28,000 staffers in November and December, Lazzarini explained.

The UN Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA was established to provide education, healthcare, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Lazzarini added that it wasn’t clear for agency officials “if yes or no we will be able to keep our activities in November and December.”

He emphasized the importance of the US returning as a major donor to UNRWA this year after former president Donald Trump stopped all funding in 2018. President Joe Biden’s administration announced in April it would provide a total of $235 million to projects in the West Bank and Gaza as well as to UNRWA.

But Lazzarini said the US funding has been offset by decreased funding from other donors as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and no information from potential donors in the Middle East.

He pointed to the UK’s decrease in its overseas aid budget from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent of GDP, and the decline in Arab support to UNRWA from $200 million in 2018 to about $89 million in 2019 and $37 million in 2020.

He said UNRWA’s uncertain funding has generated anxiety among Palestinian refugees that the “lifeline” provided by the agency could be weakened, and a feeling of being abandoned by the international community.

In an effort to reverse this trend, Lazzarini said Sweden and Jordan will be co-hosting a conference in mid-November in Brussels whose main aim is to ensure more predictable multi-year funding for the agency.

He said UNRWA is seeking $800 million a year for three years for its “core” activities — education, healthcare, and social protection and safety nets.

UNRWA also has a separate emergency budget which provides humanitarian aid to Gaza and Syria, he said. This year that budget was around $500 million, and he said it will probably be similar in 2022.

There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, including their children and grandchildren, but Lazzarini said UNRWA only helps the 550,000 in school and 2.8 million who have health benefits.


Gazan who lost 6 family members in Israeli strike loses case against Gantz

Gazan who lost 6 family members in Israeli strike loses case against Gantz
Updated 7 sec ago

Gazan who lost 6 family members in Israeli strike loses case against Gantz

Gazan who lost 6 family members in Israeli strike loses case against Gantz

THE HAGUE: A Dutch appeals court on Tuesday upheld  a lower court’s decision to throw out a civil case against Israel’s defense minister and another former senior military officer over their roles in a deadly 2014 airstrike.

The Hague District Court ruled in January 2020 that the case against Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and former air force commander Amir Eshel couldn’t proceed because the men have “functional immunity from jurisdiction.”

The Hague Court of Appeal said on Tuesday that the lower court was right to rule that Gantz, who was military chief of staff at the time of the airstrike, and Eshel had immunity because they were carrying out Israeli government policies.

The case was brought by Ismail Ziada, who lost six members of his family in the airstrike that lawyers for the men argued was part of an Israeli military operation during the 2014 Gaza conflict.

A military slaughter in Gaza. A legal slaughter in The Hague. That’s how it feels.

Ismail Ziada

He wanted the Dutch court to order Gantz and Eshel to pay damages and his lawyers argued that the men didn’t have immunity because their actions amounted to war crimes.

Ziada said Tuesday’s ruling was “in contradiction with any sense of justice” and branded the judges “cowards” for their decision.

“A military slaughter in Gaza. A legal slaughter in The Hague. That’s how it feels,” he said.

Responding to the Dutch court decision while on a tour of the Gaza border, Gantz said he was proud of his command of the Israeli military, which he said “adheres to values and human rights” and observes international law ”with a real goal to protect the citizens of Israel and allow them to live in peace and calm.”

Roy Schondorf, a deputy Israeli attorney general, welcomed the ruling.

“The appeals court recognized their immunity from civil prosecution for anti-terror activities in the framework of operation ‘protective edge.’ This is a very important legal precedent that protects all IDF (Israeli military) commanders from similar attempts,” Schondorf tweeted.

The lower court also said Ziada was free to sue the men in Israel. At hearings in 2019, Ziada rejected the idea that he has access to justice in Israel as “farcical as well as vicious.”

Ziada told an earlier hearing that he lost his mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law and a 12-year-old nephew in the airstrike.

Israel’s Justice Ministry told the court before the 2020 decision that an internal Israeli military investigation determined the airstrike had killed four militants hiding in the house.

It said the attack was permissible under international law. Gaza’s Hamas rulers themselves have said that two militants were in the building.

Ziada’s lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said the judges had taken a conservative interpretation of the law.

“They had the ... legal space to decide differently in our favor, legally speaking, but then there’s no precedent,” Zegveld said. “So they had to do something not so much new, but something that hadn’t happened before.”

The ruling can be appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court.

 


Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp
Updated 27 min 51 sec ago

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

GENEVA: Two Swiss half-sisters whose mother took them out of the country with her when she joined the Daesh militant group in the Middle East in 2016 have been repatriated from a desert camp in northeastern Syria, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The older girl, now 15, had suffered a severe shrapnel wound to her leg, requiring three operations, while the younger was said to be in poor health.

The ministry confirmed that it had repatriated the two minors from the Al-Roj camp in northeast Syria.

“The children arrived on Swiss soil on Dec. 6 at Geneva airport, having passed through Iraq,” it said in a statement.

FASTFACT

The Al-Hol and Al-Roj camps hold nationals from some 60 countries who fled from Daesh’s last enclaves.

The repatriation, believed to be the first of its kind to Switzerland, was carried out with the consent of their mother.

The government has previously said she was still in the camp and has several nationalities, although her Swiss citizenship had been withdrawn for security reasons. The girls have different fathers in Geneva.

The case had been raised by UN  human rights experts in April.

The experts said then that the girls had been allegedly abducted in 2016 by their mother who joined Daesh. A senior Swiss official said at the time that it was working hard to have the girls sent home.

More than 60,000 people, two-thirds of them children, are held in camps for families associated with Daesh. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which visits the camps, has described them as a “tragedy in plain sight.”


Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say
Updated 47 min 44 sec ago

Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

BETHLEHEM: A giant Christmas tree takes pride of place in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, between the Church of the Nativity and a mosque adorned with lights cascading down its walls.

But there is more to the Palestinian city than its biblical significance, say organizers of the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, which promotes other aspects of the place revered as the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The annual festival features dance, music, art and culinary events in a city whose main source of income — overseas tourists — has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Around Christmas, the world prays to Bethlehem, but actually most people don’t know that Bethlehem is in Palestine,” said festival participant and chef Fadi Kattan as he selected fresh mint from a vegetable market.

“I cook, Umm Nabil sells herbs, there are dance troops, there are artists.”

Bethlehem lies five miles south of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The city is cut off from Jerusalem by an Israel wall, which Palestinians condemn as a land grab but Israel defends as a security measure to protect itself from attack. Talks between the sides collapsed in 2014.

For festival co-founder, Abdelfattah Abusrour, its aim is to show the world that Bethlehem exists as a living city outside the pages of history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s not just a religious place,” Abusrour said. “It’s full of life, culture, art, beauty, hospitality and generosity of people — despite living under occupation.”


Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
Updated 07 December 2021

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
  • Lebanon’s MPs ratify new law to punish country’s anti-vaxxers
  • Citizens criticize, ridicule lawmakers over ‘purposeless, late’ legislation

BEIRUT: Unvaccinated individuals who spread the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lebanon could be fined 250,000 Lebanese pounds ($165, or a black-market rate of around $10) under a new law ratified by the country’s parliamentarians on Tuesday.

The penalty charge sees an increase on the previous fee of 50,000 Lebanese pounds imposed on people who had not been jabbed but had passed on the virus, the National News Agency reported.

However, the updated legislation did not make vaccination against COVID-19 obligatory.

Lebanese health officials have been urging the public to get inoculated amid a surge in daily infections with 1,707 new cases and 10 virus-related deaths recorded on Tuesday.

On whether citizens would take notice of the fine, Health Minister Dr. Firas Abiad told Arab News: “Within the economic financial situation in Lebanon, and the poverty level, it will certainly have an impact.”

However, Lebanese business manager, Hania Michele, criticized lawmakers for what she described as a “purposeless and meaningless law.”

She told Arab News: “It is not my fault if someone contaminates me with COVID-19 which will keep on spreading anyway. I don’t know if they are doing it purposely, to indirectly force the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

“Even those who are vaccinated, they could still get infected and spread the virus. That’s why it’s impractical.”

Barber Yousef said less than 40 percent of Lebanon’s population had been vaccinated. “I am unsure if people, who are already bankrupt, would be able to afford paying 250,000 Lebanese pounds. So, why are people not getting vaccinated?

“It is not wrong to fine those who spread the virus, but people are broke and don’t have the money to pay for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests,” he said.

Banker, Ghalia Khalil, said that due to the country’s economic crisis the majority of people living in Lebanon could not afford to buy a facemask, never mind pay a hefty fine.

“Many parents and children aren’t complying with health restrictions and remain unmasked … they think if they’re vaccinated, they won’t get infected. The challenge will be in the implementation of the law rather than the stipulation.”

Shop owner, Mohammed Itani, said the lawmakers’ move was inefficient and too late.

“Increasing the fine from 50,000 to 250,000 pounds came very late. We are facing a fourth wave of COVID-19 and the daily infections are scary. Fines should have been made high to force citizens to wear masks and get vaccinated when the outbreak started,” he added.

One Lebanese educational consultant, who would only give her name as Nisreen C., said she would not be getting vaccinated and would rather protect herself by wearing a mask. “I am not getting vaccinated no matter how much it costs or what it takes,” she added. 

Schoolteacher, Marwa E., said: “This is a good step, though late. I believe that this steep fine, no matter how harsh it may sound amid our financial downfall, will eventually encourage people to getting vaccinated and wear masks.”


US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria
Updated 07 December 2021

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

WASHINGTON: The US on Tuesday imposed sanctions on more than a dozen people and entities in Iran, Syria and Uganda, accusing them of being connected to serious human rights abuses and repressive acts.

In an action marking the week of the US Summit for Democracy, the Treasury Department said in a statement it was targeting repression and the undermining of democracy, designating individuals and entities tied to the violent suppression of peaceful protesters in Iran and deadly chemical weapons attacks against civilians in Syria, among others.

“Treasury will continue to defend against authoritarianism, promoting accountability for violent repression of people seeking to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

Washington blacklisted two senior Syrian Air Force officers it accused of being responsible for chemical weapon attacks on civilians and three senior officers in Syria's security and intelligence apparatus, according to the statement.

In Iran, the US designated the Special Units of Iran's Law Enforcement Forces and Counter-Terror Special Forces, as well as several of their officials, and Gholamreza Soleimani, who commands Iran's hardline Basij militia. Two prisons and a prison director were also blacklisted over events that reportedly took place in them.

Tuesday's action freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.