UK charity launches appeal to fund Gaza hospital as violence rages on

Medics transport a victim of the Israeli air attack on Gaza to Shifa Hospital on May 9, 2023. (Reuters)
Medics transport a victim of the Israeli air attack on Gaza to Shifa Hospital on May 9, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 May 2023
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UK charity launches appeal to fund Gaza hospital as violence rages on

UK charity launches appeal to fund Gaza hospital as violence rages on
  • Fighting continued to rage between Islamic Jihad and Israel for a fifth day on Saturday
  • 33 confirmed deaths so far

LONDON: A UK-based charity has announced it is launching a full-scale emergency appeal to aid people impacted by the escalating violence in Gaza.

Fighting continued to rage between Islamic Jihad and Israel for a fifth day on Saturday, resulting in 33 confirmed deaths so far.

Action for Humanity is raising funds for Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s main hospital, which is yet to recover after previous military offensives and almost 16 years of blockade. 

Action For Humanity has been working in Palestine since 2021 and, as well as providing humanitarian aid during the recent spike in violence impacting Gaza, supports Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with access to food, clean water, medical supplies and aid for orphans. 

“Once again, Palestinians are facing worsening humanitarian conditions caused by an increase in violence,” Othman Moqbel, CEO of Action For Humanity, said.

“The number of casualties means that already low medical stocks are depleting. We are desperately seeking support to help fund Al-Shifa Hospital, the biggest hospital in Gaza, which was already in need of support before this week’s escalation due to the previous casualties caused by conflict and nearly two decades of blockade,” he added.

The violence, plus an ongoing lack of funding, has severely impacted the hospital’s ability to provide medicine and care for the people of Gaza.

“With the support of the public, we will ensure Al-Shifa can treat the growing number of patients in the emergency, trauma and ICU departments,” Moqbel said.

“Action For Humanity has a pedigree of providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians during escalations of violence like this, as well as over 12 years of providing humanitarian aid in conflict zones like Syria and Yemen.

“We have been monitoring the tensions in the West Bank and Gaza for months and, sadly, the deaths and injuries caused by the escalation of violence have triggered the protocol for Action For Humanity to launch an emergency fundraising appeal,” he added.

Moqbel continued: “We are calling on the public to donate generously to help us save and sustain lives in Gaza.”


Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war

Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war
Updated 18 April 2024
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Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war

Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war
  • Safadi warned that his country would act firmly in the event of another flare-up and that Jordan would not allow “either Iran or Israel to turn the kingdom into a battlefield”

AMMAN: Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Wednesday an Israeli retaliation against Iranian strikes could bring a real risk of dragging the whole region into a devastating war.
In an interview released by state media, Safadi said his country was lobbying major powers against an escalation that would have far-reaching consequences for regional stability and security.
“The risks are enormous. That could drag the whole region into war, which would be devastating to us in the region and we’ll have very, very serious implications for the rest of the world including the U.S,” Safadi said.
“The situation is too dangerous. The chances of regional explosion are real, and that has got to stop. We’ve got to make sure there’s no further escalation,” he added.
Staunch US ally Jordan, with the help of American air defenses and support from the UK and France, shot down most of the Iranian drones and missiles that were flying over the country toward Jerusalem and a wide range of targets in Israel.
“Now the pressure should be on Israel not to escalate,” Safadi said, adding Tehran had said it attacked in retaliation for a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 and would not go further unless Israel responded.
Jordan neighbors Syria and Iraq – both countries where Iranian proxy forces operate – and is next door to Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank
“We are in the middle of the fire, so both parties have to understand that we’ll do what we have to do to protect our own, and to prevent this escalation,” Safadi said.
Safadi warned that his country would act firmly in the event of another flare-up and that Jordan would not allow “either Iran or Israel to turn the kingdom into a battlefield.”
“We will take down any projectiles that threaten our peoples and violate our sovereignty, and pose a threat to Jordanians. And we made this clear to both Israel and Iran,” he said.
Iranian drones that came from the direction of Iraq and flew over southern Jordan and the city of Aqaba that were heading to Israel’s Eilat port were also intercepted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was using the confrontation with Iran to divert attention from Gaza, Safadi said. The Israeli leader should not be allowed to drag “Washington and major Western powers into a war with Iran,” he added.


Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 

Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
Updated 44 min 31 sec ago
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Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 

Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
  • Lebanon hosts the greatest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world, placing additional strain on its economy 
  • The recent murder of a Lebanese Forces party official has triggered a fresh wave of violence and vitriol against Syrians 

LONDON: Syrian refugees in Lebanon are in an impossible fix, unable to safely return home while also facing mounting hostility from host communities and local authorities, especially following the death of a Lebanese Forces party official, allegedly at the hands of Syrian criminals.

Pascal Suleiman, the Byblos District coordinator of the Christian-based party, was reportedly kidnapped and later killed in a Syrian area near the Lebanese border. Seven Syrian nationals were arrested on suspicion of killing Suleiman in what was dubbed a botched carjacking.

The killing of Pascal Suleiman, the Byblos District coordinator of the Christian-based Lebanese Forces party, is being blamed on Syrians but party leaders are not convinced. (AFP/File Photo) 

The Lebanese Forces and its allies were not fully convinced that Syrians were behind the killing, which took place in an area controlled by its Hezbollah rivals, suggesting that Lebanese authorities were using the Syrians as a convenient patsy.

Although the scapegoating of Syrians in Lebanon has been commonplace since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, dispersing millions of refugees throughout the region, the murder of Suleiman has triggered a fresh wave of violence and vitriol against displaced households.

Haneen, a Syrian university student whose name has been changed for her safety, described recently witnessing a group of Lebanese men assaulting and hurling abuse at a man they labeled “Souri” (Syrian). 

“The slaps were so loud, I felt as if they were falling on my face,” she told Arab News.

Videos have emerged on social media in recent days showing Lebanese Forces supporters venting their fury on random Syrians in the street — many of them refugees. Angry mobs also vandalized cars with Syrian license plates and looted Syrian-owned businesses.

Supporters of the Lebanese Forces Party block a main highway in Byblos, Lebanon, on April 8, 2024, to protest the fate of a local official, who security forces later said was killed by a group of Syrians in an attempted carjacking. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

Other videos showed Lebanese men on motorcycles roaming the streets in various parts of the country, including Keserwan and Burj Hamoud, where they ordered Syrian occupants to leave their homes and businesses within 48 hours.

Intercommunal tensions in Lebanon have been stoked further by the rhetoric of Lebanese politicians, who frequently blame the country’s many ills on the presence of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Between April and May 2023, the Lebanese army arbitrarily arrested and deported thousands of Syrians, according to Human Rights Watch.

People march in Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli on April 28, 2023, to protest against the forcible deportation of Syrian refugees. (AFP/File)

In a recent press conference, Bassam Mawlawi, the acting interior minister, said the country “will become stricter in granting residency permits and dealing with (Syrians) residing in Lebanon illegally.”

He claimed that “many crimes are being committed by Syrians” and stressed that the “Syrian presence in Lebanon can no longer be tolerated and is unacceptable.”

In October last year, he even sought to portray Syrian refugees as a danger to the country’s “existence” and “a threat to Lebanon’s demographics and identity.”

INNUMBERS

90% Syrian households in Lebanon living in extreme poverty.

52% Live in dangerous, sub-standard or overcrowded shelters. 80% Lack legal residency, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

100k Resettled from Lebanon to third countries since 2011.

Echoing these sentiments was Abdallah Bou Habib, the acting foreign minister, who during a visit to the Greek capital Athens on April 8 described the number of Syrians in Lebanon as “a problem.”

Just days before Suleiman’s death, Amin Salam, Lebanon’s economy minister, said the caretaker government should declare a “state of emergency” regarding Syrian refugees.

Karam Shaar, a senior fellow at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, said Lebanese politicians were showing signs of “hysteria” over the Syrian presence in Lebanon.

While “part of that is understandable and fair,” Shaar told Arab News that “part of it is just Lebanese politicians scapegoating their failures and pinning them on Syrians.”

Omar Al-Ghazzi, an associate professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics, acknowledged that the influx had “made long-standing economic problems worse, whether in terms of infrastructure, public services and unemployment, particularly as Lebanese leaders stand accused of making financial profit from international aid.

“However, rather than blaming leaders and the political system for the collapsed economy in Lebanon, it became a convenient narrative to blame Syrians.”

Furthermore, he told Arab News: “Sunni-Shiite tensions during the Syrian war, and Christian fears of Muslim dominance, have made any discussion of Syrian refugees take the form of a toxic and violent discourse — as if anti-Syrianness is the one thing that the divided Lebanese could agree on.”

Anti-Syrian sentiments in Lebanon did not first emerge with the influx of refugees after 2011. They have far deeper historical roots. 

“Since Lebanon’s independence, Lebanese political culture has sustained a sense of superiority over the country’s Arab neighbors, mainly Palestinians and Syrians, as well as a sense of being threatened by their presence and influence,” said Al-Ghazzi.

“Following the end of the Lebanese civil war, the hegemony of the Syrian regime in Lebanon exacerbated an anti-Syrianness that often took the shape of discrimination against Syrian laborers.”

However, Al-Ghazzi believes “this renewed racism cannot be separated from the rise of fascism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the West that gives legitimacy to nationalist chauvinism on a global scale.

“Sadly, it is marginalized and vulnerable Syrians who are paying the price of this politics. In Lebanon, they face daily acts of discrimination, humiliation and violence as they have to confront bleak prospects whether they stay in Lebanon, attempt illegal migration to Europe, or go to Syria.”

The arrival of Syrian refugees over the past decade has placed a burden on Lebanon’s already stretched services and infrastructure.

Lebanon hosts the greatest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world, according to Lisa Bou Khaled, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in Lebanon.

“UNHCR fully recognizes the impact this is having on the country, notably while it is facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history, pushing the most vulnerable to the brink,” she told Arab News.

Likewise, Shaar of the Newlines Institute said: “Lebanon’s economy is actually struggling, and yet the number of Syrians is on the rise — just from natural increases. So, the problem that Lebanon faces is real.”

He stressed the need for “a systemic solution to this crisis — a concerted effort to actually address it because otherwise, my main worry is that there will be more xenophobic rhetoric and attacks against Syrians.”

In the last five years, Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 98 percent of its value, according to the World Bank. The spillover from the ongoing war in Gaza has also dealt a major blow to the country’s stability.

To make matters worse, funding for UN agencies to assist displaced communities is drying up fast amid the world’s multiple, overlapping humanitarian emergencies. 

According to Bou Khaled, “in 2024, UNHCR and the World Food Programme are able to assist 88,000 fewer refugee families than in 2023 with cash and food assistance, reflecting a 32 percent decrease in the number of beneficiaries.”

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are among the most vulnerable populations, with approximately 90 percent of households living in extreme poverty and 80 percent lacking legal residency.

Jasmin Lilian Diab, director of the Institute for Migration Studies at the Lebanese American University, said that “depriving Syrian refugees of proper documentation not only violates their fundamental human rights but also exacerbates their vulnerability.

“Without legal status, refugees face barriers accessing essential services such as healthcare, education, and employment, further marginalizing them within Lebanese society,” she told Arab News.

“This lack of documentation also increases the risk of exploitation, abuse, and detention, leaving refugees without legal recourse or protection. More recently, this has made them increasingly vulnerable to deportation amid ongoing raids and crackdowns.”

For Bou Khaled of UNHCR, housing is also a major concern. “More than half of the Syrian population (52 percent) live in dangerous, sub-standard or overcrowded shelters with the worst/most dangerous conditions reported in Mount Lebanon, (the) south and Beirut,” she said.

In March, a huge fire broke out in a Syrian refugee camp in Wadi Al-Arnab in the northeastern town of Arsal. The inferno, reportedly caused by an electrical fault, devoured more than 36 makeshift tents.

The fire was only the latest in a series of similar incidents to befall this vulnerable population. A similar blaze occurred in Hanine in Bint Jbeil District during a heatwave in July 2023, while another broke out in October 2022, reducing 93 tents to ashes.

Those living in rented accommodation are hardly better off. Average monthly rents in Lebanese pounds have “increased by 553 percent in 2023; from LBP 863,000 in 2022 to over 5.6 million LBP in 2023,” said Bou Khaled.

For Syrian refugees, unable to live under these circumstances but too frightened to return home, where they might face arrest, persecution, or conscription by the regime or one of the country’s armed factions, the most practical way out seems to be onward migration.

“UNHCR does not hinder the return of refugees to Syria,” said Bou Khaled. The UN agency “is also actively working to support durable solutions for Syrian refugees, including resettlement to third countries, and return to Syria.”

She added: “Resettlement allows responsibility sharing and show of solidarity with host countries like Lebanon, supporting large refugee populations.” This, however, “depends on quotas UNHCR receives by resettlement countries.

“Overall, since 2011 and up to the end of 2023, about 100,000 refugees have been resettled from Lebanon to third countries. In 2023, there was a 9.25-percent increase in resettlement departures when compared to 2022, and the highest number recorded since 2017.”

For many Syrians in Lebanon, onward migration through legal routes is out of reach. Hundreds have instead resorted to making the dangerous sea journey to the EU’s easternmost state, Cyprus, which is a mere 160 km from Lebanon.

Caption

Earlier this month, Cyprus expressed concern over the sudden surge in arrivals of Syrian refugees from Lebanon. With more than 600 Syrians crossing in small boats, the island’s reception capacity has reached breaking point, Reuters reported.

Shaar suspects “the number will only increase going forward as the situation becomes worse and worse” in Lebanon.

Diab of the Institute for Migration Studies at LAU said that “while sea journeys to Europe may seem like the only option for some Syrian refugees in Lebanon, safe alternatives do exist in theory — albeit a much slower process that many refugees cannot afford to wait for.”
 

 


Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues

Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues
Updated 17 April 2024
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Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues

Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues
  • The meeting highlighted the importance of the upcoming Arab League Summit

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa met in Aqaba on Wednesday to discuss Arab solidarity and coordination, the Jordan News Agency reported.

The meeting highlighted the importance of the upcoming Arab League Summit, which opens in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 16, in the light of the challenges now facing the region.

King Abdullah praised Bahrain's efforts in organizing the event.

At the meeting, which was also attended by Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, the leaders emphasized the strong ties between Jordan and Bahrain and expressed their commitment to further cooperation and economic integration.

King Hamad commended Jordan for its role in promoting peace in the region and its support for Arab and Islamic causes, especially the Palestinian issue.

The leaders stressed the urgent need for international intervention to achieve a ceasefire agreement in Gaza and called on the UN Security Council to take immediate action to protect civilians, ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid and prevent the conflict from escalating.

They also voiced their opposition to any actions that might widen the conflict, including the Israeli ground offensive in Rafah or the displacement of Palestinians.
 


Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike
Updated 17 April 2024
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Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

GAZA: When an Israeli shell struck Gaza’s largest fertility clinic in December, the explosion blasted the lids off five liquid nitrogen tanks stored in a corner of the embryology unit.

As the ultra-cold liquid evaporated, the temperature inside the tanks rose, destroying more than 4,000 embryos plus 1,000 more specimens of sperm and unfertilized eggs stored at Gaza City’s Al Basma IVF Center.

The impact of that single explosion was far-reaching — an example of the unseen toll Israel’s six-and-a-half-month-old assault has had on the 2.3 million people of Gaza.

The embryos in those tanks were the last hope for hundreds of Palestinian couples facing infertility.

“We know deeply what these 5,000 lives, or potential lives, meant for the parents, either for the future or for the past,” said Bahaeldeen Ghalayini, 73, the Cambridge-trained obstetrician and gynecologist who established the clinic in 1997.

At least half of the couples — those who can no longer produce sperm or eggs to make viable embryos — will not have another chance to get pregnant, he said.

“My heart is divided into a million pieces,” he said.

Asked on Wednesday about the incident, the Israeli military’s press desk said it was looking into the reports. Israel denies intentionally targeting civilian infrastructure and has accused Hamas fighters of operating from medical facilities, which Hamas denies.

Three years of fertility treatment was a psychological roller coaster for Seba Jaafarawi. The retrieval of eggs from her ovaries was painful, the hormone injections had strong side-effects and the sadness when two attempted pregnancies failed seemed unbearable.

Jaafarawi, 32, and her husband could not get pregnant naturally and turned to in vitro fertilization, which is widely available in Gaza.

Large families are common in the enclave, where nearly half the population is under 18 and the fertility rate is high at 3.38 births per woman, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics. Britain’s fertility rate is 1.63 births per woman.

Despite Gaza’s poverty, couples facing infertility pursue IVF, some selling TVs and jewelry to pay the fees, Al Ghalayini said.

At least nine clinics in Gaza performed IVF, where eggs are collected from a woman’s ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. The fertilized eggs, called embryos, are often frozen until the optimal time for transfer to a woman’s uterus. Most frozen embryos in Gaza were stored at the Al Basma center.

In September, Jaafarawi became pregnant, her first successful IVF attempt.

“I did not even have time to celebrate the news,” she said.

Two days before her first scheduled ultrasound scan, Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched an all-out assault that has since killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

Jaafarawi worried: “How would I complete my pregnancy? What would happen to me and what would happen to the ones inside my womb?“

Her ultrasound never happened and Ghalayini closed his clinic, where an additional five of Jaafarawi’s embryos were stored.

As the Israeli attacks intensified, Mohammed Ajjour, Al Basma’s chief embryologist, started to worry about liquid nitrogen levels in the five specimen tanks. Top ups were needed every month or so to keep the temperature below -180C in each tank, which operate independent of electricity.

After the war began, Ajjour managed to procure one delivery of liquid nitrogen, but Israel cut electricity and fuel to Gaza, and most suppliers closed.

At the end of October, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza and soldiers closed in on the streets around the IVF center. It became too dangerous for Ajjour to check the tanks.

Jaafarawi knew she should rest to keep her fragile pregnancy safe, but hazards were everywhere: she climbed six flights of stairs to her apartment because the elevator stopped working; A bomb leveled the building next door and blasted out windows in her flat; food and water became scarce.

Instead of resting, she worried.

“I got very scared and there were signs that I would lose (the pregnancy),” she said.

Jaafarawi bled a little bit after she and her husband left home and moved south to Khan Younis. The bleeding subsided, but her fear did not.

They crossed into Egypt on Nov. 12 and in Cairo, her first ultrasound showed she was pregnant with twins and they were alive.

But after a few days, she experienced painful cramps, bleeding and a sudden shift in her belly. She made it to hospital, but the miscarriage had already begun.


Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14

Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14
Updated 17 April 2024
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Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14

Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14
  • Iran-backed group takes confrontations to new level, directly targets soldiers
  • Hezbollah said operation was a ‘response to the killing of several resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya in southern Lebanon’

BEIRUT: The Iran-backed Hezbollah launched on Wednesday “a combined attack with guided missiles and explosive drones on a military reconnaissance command center in Arab Al-Aramshe,” as it targeted the Israeli army south of the border with Lebanon.

The group claimed responsibility for the operation, saying that “it is in response to the killing of several resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya in southern Lebanon.”

Israeli media outlets announced that “a kamikaze drone struck an Israeli army gathering in Arab Al-Aramshe, western Galilee, resulting in six casualties, at least.”

They added: “An Israeli army helicopter was hit while rescuing the injured in Arab Al-Aramshe.”

The Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya said that it had received 14 injured people.

Hezbollah has adopted new tactics of late. According to a security source, these “were seen last week, when it (Hezbollah) detonated explosive devices targeting Israeli soldiers on the border, injuring four Golani Brigade members.”

The source added that Hezbollah “has taken the confrontations to another level by directly targeting Israeli soldiers.”

Israeli forces launched immediate retaliation by bombing and targeting phosphorus bombs on the border area.

This region included the outskirts of Rachaya Al-Fekhar, Fardis, Al-Habbariyeh, Alma Al-Shaab, Dhahira, Marwahin, and Yarin, as well as the city of Nabatieh, where a house belonging to the Sayyed family was destroyed.

No casualties were reported in the incidents, but the border region has witnessed the Israeli military’s dramatic targeting and killing of two key figures.

Hezbollah is mourning the death of Ismail Youssef Baz, a senior commander of the organization, while the Amal Movement — an ally of Hezbollah — has been coming to terms with the death of Hussein Qasim Karsht.

Israeli media reported that Baz, who was killed in his car following a drone attack, was “the commander of Hezbollah’s coastal sector.”

It added: “He was working on promoting and planning the launching of rockets and anti-tank missiles toward Israel from the Lebanese coastline. During this ongoing war, he organized and planned to carry out various plans against Israel.”

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