Sanctions on Syria not blocking aid to quake victims: US

Local residents bring a mattress to a greenhouse where they shelter after the earthquake in Samandag, southern Turkiye, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. (AP)
Local residents bring a mattress to a greenhouse where they shelter after the earthquake in Samandag, southern Turkiye, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 16 February 2023
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Sanctions on Syria not blocking aid to quake victims: US

Local residents bring a mattress to a greenhouse where they shelter after the earthquake in Samandag, Turkiye. (AP)
  • “When people are in need, the US will answer that need,” official tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • “There has been no change, nor do we expect a change in our policies toward the Assad regime”

CHICAGO: US officials on Thursday said they will continue to provide relief supplies and funding to help the victims of last week’s earthquakes that devastated Turkiye and Syria, and stressed that sanctions on the regime in Damascus are not hindering that support.

John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications at the White House, told reporters during a briefing attended by Arab News that the US is working with the UN and the Turkish government to ensure more access for international relief efforts to get to Syria.

Kirby said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Turkiye on Monday to assess the situation there, and stressed that victims’ needs have not changed Washington’s policies toward the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“I know of no direct communication with the Assad regime. As you know, we don’t have diplomatic relations with the regime. Our work is all being done through UN and UN-partnered organizations that we have a long track record of working with in getting the aid and assistance to them so they can get it to the Syrian people,” Kirby said.

“I know of no such policy change with respect to the Assad regime. All of our sanctions are still in place.

“As you saw, we did execute a general license a week ago that will allow even more humanitarian assistance to flow, not that the humanitarian assistance wasn’t flowing already even with the sanctions in place. When people are dying and when people are in need, the United States will answer that need,” Kirby added.

“But there has been no change, nor do we expect a change in our policies … toward the Assad regime.”

Kirby said two more crossings from Turkiye to Syria were opened recently, allowing more relief to reach earthquake victims.

US President Joe Biden “has made it absolutely clear that the US is going to stay prepared to provide any and all types of aid to the people of Turkey and Syria in response to the almost overwhelming humanitarian crisis there on both sides of the border,” Kirby added.

“In Syria, we absolutely need to keep the aid flowing so the Syrian people can get the help they need as well.

“The decision earlier this week to open two additional border crossings for US convoys is welcome but it’s long overdue. We’d like to see more access into Syria.”

Kirby said the US is monitoring claims by the Assad regime that it will help victims, adding: “We believe that only a UN Security Council resolution codifying this agreement can ensure that the Assad regime doesn’t go back on its word and allows this vital humanitarian assistance to reach so many desperate Syrians in need.”

Kirby said the US has provided more than $85 million in aid along with an extensive list of supplies, even providing helicopter support to deliver aid to inaccessible regions of the earthquake zone. He added that the US is working through partners in the region to get that relief to victims.

“They’ve been able to increase those efforts in the past several days as 95 truckloads of aid have been able to cross the border into the northwest (of Syria), even in the face of some of their own staff members being killed or hurt as a result of the earthquake,” Kirby said.

“And even today, US government partners are providing lifesaving assistance throughout all the areas of Syria, and that assistance includes urgent healthcare, shelter support, food, medicine, water, sanitation equipment, and things for general hygiene,” he added.

“The additional funding is going to help bolster these partners’ relief efforts, and certainly help to improve it and maybe even expand it, with an emphasis on the hardest-hit communities in Syria.

“Those partners include the White Helmets who have pulled countless survivors from the rubble, and US-supported Syrian medics who have been treating survivors from Idlib to Aleppo and other affected areas. There’s a lot of work being done and money being directed to that area.”

Kirby said American teams are also assessing the liveability of remaining buildings to clear them so residents can return. More than 5,500 buildings have been cleared so far, he added.

“The US military stands ready to support with additional capabilities, and obviously we’re going to do that in lockstep with the Turkish government,” he said.


EU ministers consider next steps in response to Israel-Hamas war

EU ministers consider next steps in response to Israel-Hamas war
Updated 26 sec ago
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EU ministers consider next steps in response to Israel-Hamas war

EU ministers consider next steps in response to Israel-Hamas war
  • Some EU leaders are pushing for sanctions against extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank
  • Sanctions are already in place against Hamas, which is listed by the EU as a terrorist organization

BRUSSELS: European Union foreign ministers on Monday consider possible next steps in response to the Middle East crisis, including a crackdown on Hamas’ finances and travel bans for Israeli settlers responsible for violence in the West Bank.
At a meeting in Brussels, ministers from the bloc’s 27 countries will also hear from Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba as they discuss future security assistance to Kyiv.
While EU officials insist helping Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion remains a top priority, the eruption of the war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas has forced the bloc to focus anew on the Middle East.
The war has exposed long-running and deep divisions on the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict among EU countries.
But the ministers will try to find common ground as they consider a discussion paper from the EU’s diplomatic service that outlines a broad range of possible next steps.
Hamas is already listed by the European Union as a terrorist organization, meaning any funds or assets that it has in the EU should be frozen.
The EU said on Friday it had added Mohammed Deif, commander of the military wing of Hamas, and his deputy, Marwan Issa, to its list terrorists under sanction.
The discussion paper – seen by Reuters — suggests the EU could go further by targeting Hamas finances and disinformation.
EU countries including France and Germany have said they are already working together to advance such proposals.
Senior EU officials such as foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, have also expressed alarm at rising violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The paper suggests an EU response could include bans on travel to the EU for those responsible and other sanctions for violation of human rights.
France said last month the EU should consider such measures. And Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said last week that “extremist settlers in the West Bank” would be banned from entering the country.
Diplomats said it would be hard to achieve the unanimity necessary for EU-wide bans, as countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary are staunch allies of Israel.
But some suggested a decision last week by the United States, Israel’s biggest backer, to start imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the West Bank could encourage EU countries to take similar steps.

 


Hamas warns hostages doomed unless Israel meets demands

Hamas warns hostages doomed unless Israel meets demands
Updated 11 December 2023
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Hamas warns hostages doomed unless Israel meets demands

Hamas warns hostages doomed unless Israel meets demands
  • Hamas demands that all its members in Israeli prisons be freed in exchange for the hostages
  • Israel says there are still 137 hostages in Gaza, while activists say around 7,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jails

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Hamas warned Sunday that no hostages would leave Gaza alive unless its demands for prisoner releases are met.

In a televised statement, a Hamas spokesman said Israel will not receive “their prisoners alive without an exchange and negotiation and meeting the demands of the resistance.”
Senior Hamas official Bassem Neim said in late November the movement was “ready to release all soldiers in exchange for all our prisoners.”
Israel says there are still 137 hostages in Gaza, while activists say around 7,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jails.

Hamas triggered the conflict with the deadliest-ever attack on Israel on October 7 in which it killed some 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures, and dragged around 240 hostages back to Gaza.
Israel has responded with a relentless military offensive that has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 17,997 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
On Sunday, a source close to Hamas and Islamic Jihad told AFP both groups were engaged in “fierce clashes” with Israeli forces near Khan Yunis, where an AFP journalist also reported heavy strikes, as well as Jabalia and Gaza City’s Shejaiya district in the north.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Hamas to give up.
“It is the beginning of the end of Hamas. I say to the Hamas terrorists: It’s over. Don’t die for (Yahya) Sinwar. Surrender now,” he said, referring to the Hamas chief in Gaza.
The Israeli army said Sunday it struck more than 250 targets in 24 hours, including “a Hamas military communications site,” “underground tunnel shafts” in southern Gaza, and a Hamas military command center in Shejaiya.
It said 98 soldiers have died and around 600 wounded in the Gaza campaign.
Some 7,000 “terrorists” have been killed, according to National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.
“Hamas should not exist, because they are not human beings, after what I saw they did,” Menahem, a 22-year-old soldier wounded on October 7, told AFP during a military-organized tour that did not allow him to give his surname.
After more than two months of war, the World Health Organization said Gaza’s health system was collapsing.

“Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, with only 14 of 36 hospitals functioning at any capacity.
WHO’s executive board on Sunday adopted a resolution calling for immediate, unimpeded aid deliveries.
The UN estimates 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced — roughly half of them children — many forced south and running out of safe places to go.
AFP visited the bombed-out ruins of Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital and found at least 30,000 people taking refuge amid the rubble after Israeli forces raided the medical facility last month.
“Our life has become a living hell, there’s no electricity, no water, no flour, no bread, no medicine for the children who are all sick,” said Mohammed Daloul, 38, who fled there with his wife and three children.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Security Council’s “authority and credibility were severely undermined,” after the United States blocked a cease-fire resolution on Friday.
“I can promise, I will not give up,” Guterres told Qatar’s Doha Forum.
Qatar, where Hamas’s top leadership is based, said it was still working on a new truce like the week-long cease-fire it helped mediate last month that saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinian prisoners and humanitarian aid.
But Israel’s relentless bombardment was “narrowing the window” for success, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday again rejected a cease-fire.
“With Hamas still alive, still intact and... with the stated intent of repeating October 7 again and again and again, that would simply perpetuate the problem,” he told ABC News.
But Blinken also told CNN that Israeli forces should ensure “military operations are designed around civilian protection.”
In Rafah in southern Gaza, one displaced woman said she had been stuck there for 18 days despite having an Egyptian passport.
“Whenever I want to go somewhere, we hear bombing and shelling and feel scared and go back,” said Noura Al-Sayed Hassan.
“I’ve been searching for bread for my daughter for over a week now.”

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) voiced alarm over what he feared would be a mass expulsion of Palestinians into Egypt.
In an opinion piece Saturday in the Los Angeles Times, Philippe Lazzarini said “the developments we are witnessing point to attempts to move Palestinians into Egypt.”
An Israeli spokesman responded: “There is not, never was, and never will be an Israeli plan to move the residents of Gaza to Egypt.”
The fighting in Gaza has sparked pro-Palestinian protests in many countries, including large gatherings in Morocco, Denmark and Turkiye on Sunday.
But there were also demonstrations against anti-Semitism, including in Brussels where European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen helped light a huge Hanukkah menorah candelabrum.
There are fears of regional escalation with frequent cross-border exchanges between Israel and Lebanese militants, and attacks by pro-Iran groups against US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported late Sunday that Israeli strikes hit targets near the capital Damascus, although the country’s air defense systems was able to deter some “and losses were limited to materials.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Israeli bombings “targeted Lebanese Hezbollah sites” including areas near the Damascus International Airport, noting that the bombing “was in three rounds.”
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened to attack any vessels heading to Israel unless more aid was allowed into Gaza.
France said Sunday one of its frigates in the Red Sea had shot down two drones launched from Yemen.
 


UN General Assembly likely to vote Tuesday on Gaza cease-fire demand — diplomats

UN General Assembly likely to vote Tuesday on Gaza cease-fire demand — diplomats
Updated 11 December 2023
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UN General Assembly likely to vote Tuesday on Gaza cease-fire demand — diplomats

UN General Assembly likely to vote Tuesday on Gaza cease-fire demand — diplomats
  • The move comes after the US vetoed on Friday a UN Security Council demand for immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza

NEW YORK: The 193-member United Nations General Assembly is likely to vote Tuesday on a draft resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas in the Gaza Strip, diplomats said on Sunday.
The move comes after the US vetoed on Friday a UN Security Council demand for immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza.
The General Assembly in October adopted a resolution — 121 votes in favor, 14 against and 44 abstentions — calling for “an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.”

 

 


Israel’s Netanyahu calls on Hamas militants to ‘surrender now’

Israel’s Netanyahu calls on Hamas militants to ‘surrender now’
Updated 11 December 2023
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Israel’s Netanyahu calls on Hamas militants to ‘surrender now’

Israel’s Netanyahu calls on Hamas militants to ‘surrender now’
  • The militants late on Sunday boasted of success in their fight with Israeli forces in Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called for Hamas militants to lay down their arms, saying the Palestinian Islamist group’s end was near, as the war in the Gaza Strip raged more than two months after it began.
“The war is still ongoing but it is the beginning of the end of Hamas. I say to the Hamas terrorists: It’s over. Don’t die for (Yahya) Sinwar. Surrender now,” Netanyahu said in a statement, referring to the chief of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“In the past few days, dozens of Hamas terrorists have surrendered to our forces,” Netanyahu said.
The military has, however, not released proof of militants surrendering, and Hamas has rejected such claims.
Almost one month ago, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas had “lost control” of Gaza.
The militants late on Sunday boasted of success in their fight with Israeli forces in Gaza.
Izzat Al-Rishq, a senior member of the Hamas political bureau, said history would “remember Gaza as the clearest of victories” for the Palestinian militants.
“The end of the occupation has begun in Gaza,” Rishq said.
Hamas triggered the conflict with the deadliest-ever attack on Israel on October 7 in which it killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures, and dragged around 240 hostages back to Gaza.
Israel has responded with a relentless military offensive that has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 17,997 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.


Gaza war having ‘catastrophic’ health impact: WHO chief

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). (AP)
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). (AP)
Updated 11 December 2023
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Gaza war having ‘catastrophic’ health impact: WHO chief

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). (AP)
  • There is no health without peace and no peace without health, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells special session

GENEVA: The war between Israel and Hamas is having a catastrophic impact on health in Gaza, the WHO chief warned on Sunday, with medics facing an “impossible” job in unimaginable conditions.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a special session of the World Health Organization’s executive board that the Palestinian territory’s health system was in free fall.
“The impact of the conflict on health is catastrophic,” Tedros told the Geneva meeting.
“As more and more people move to a smaller and smaller area, overcrowding, combined with the lack of adequate food, water, shelter and sanitation, are creating the ideal conditions for disease to spread,” he said.
The UN health agency’s chief said there were worrying signs of epidemic diseases — and the risk was expected to worsen with the situation deteriorating and winter conditions approaching.
“Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing,” Tedros said, with only 14 out of 36 hospitals functioning with any capacity at all, and, only two of those in the north of the coastal territory.
Only 1,400 hospital beds out of an original 3,500 are still available, while the two major hospitals in southern Gaza are operating at three times their bed capacity, Tedros added.
Tedros said that since Oct. 7, the WHO had verified more than 449 attacks on healthcare in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and 60 on healthcare in Israel.
“The work of the health workers is impossible, and they are directly in the firing line,” he said, with medics who are “physically and mentally exhausted and are doing their best in unimaginable conditions.”
“There is no health without peace and no peace without health,” Tedros concluded.
The special session was called by 17 of the 34 countries on the executive board, which normally meets twice a year. Its main job is to advise the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body, and then implement its decisions.
A draft resolution proposed by Afghanistan, Morocco, Qatar and Yemen calls for the immediate, sustained and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief into the Gaza Strip and the granting of exit permits for patients.
It seeks the supply and replenishment of medicine and medical equipment to the civilian population and for all persons deprived of their liberty to be given access to medical treatment.
It voices “grave concern” at the humanitarian situation, laments the “widespread destruction,” and urges protection for all civilians.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila, speaking via video link from Ramallah, called for the immediate cessation of the “brutal war in Gaza” and the immediate, unconditional flow of fuel, water, aid, and medical supplies into the territory.
“The daily horrors we all witness defy international law and shatter the essence of our shared humanity,” she said.
“Now is the time for decisive action. The world cannot stand neutral while innocent lives are lost, and the basic rights of the Palestinian people are compromised.”
Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, said that on Oct. 6, “there was a ceasefire with Hamas. On Oct. 7, we woke up to a new reality.”
She said Israel’s military operation “is directed toward Hamas. It has never been against the Palestinian people. And I recognize the suffering in Gaza.
“Let there be no mistake, however: Hamas is responsible for this suffering.
“The reality is, if we stop now, Hamas will carry out another Oct. 7.”