Putin accuses West of wanting Russians ‘to kill each other’ in aborted revolt

Putin accuses West of wanting Russians ‘to kill each other’ in aborted revolt
In this photo taken from video, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his address to the nation in Moscow on June 26, 2023. (Russian Presidential Press Service via AP)
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Updated 27 June 2023

Putin accuses West of wanting Russians ‘to kill each other’ in aborted revolt

Putin accuses West of wanting Russians ‘to kill each other’ in aborted revolt
  • Thanks Russians for avoiding bloodshed, pays tribute to pilots killed fighting mutineers
  • Wagner fighters given options to join Russian army, leave for Belarus, or go home
  • Wagner boss Prigozhin says he did not intend coup; Biden: West had nothing to do with short-lived mutiny

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday accused Ukraine and its Western allies of wanting Russians to “kill each other” during a revolt by mercenaries of the Wagner group, which stunned the country with an aborted march on Moscow over the weekend.

In his first address to the nation since the rebels pulled back, Putin paid tribute to pilots killed fighting the aborted mutiny, confirming for the first time that Russian aviators had been lost in battle as the Wagner mercenary group marched on Moscow.
He said he had issued orders to avoid bloodshed and granted amnesty to the Wagner fighters whose mutiny served up the greatest challenge yet to his two-decade rule.
“From the start of the events, on my orders steps were taken to avoid large-scale bloodshed,” Putin said in a televised address, thanking Russians for their “patriotism.”
“It was precisely this fratricide that Russia’s enemies wanted: both the neo-Nazis in Kyiv and their Western patrons, and all sorts of national traitors. They wanted Russian soldiers to kill each other,” Putin said.
Putin also thanked his security officials for their work during the armed rebellion in a meeting that included Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a main target of the mutiny.
“Civilian solidarity showed that any blackmail, any attempts to organize internal turmoil, is doomed to fail,” Putin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with heads of Russian security services in Moscow on June 26, 2023. (Sputnik/Valery Sharifulin/Pool via REUTERS)

Tribute to downed pilots
Putin’s remarks confirmed reports on social media that Wagner forces had downed Russian aircraft in the fighting.
“The courage and self-sacrifice of the fallen heroes-pilots saved Russia from tragic devastating consequences,” he said, adding that the rebellion threatened Russia’s very existence and those behind it would be punished.
There has been no official information about how many pilots died or how many aircraft were shot down.
Some Russian Telegram channels monitoring Russia’s military activity, including the blog Rybar with more than a million subscribers, reported on Saturday that 13 Russian pilots were killed during the day-long mutiny.
Among the aircraft downed were three Mi-8 MTPR electronic warfare helicopters, and an Il-18 aircraft with its crew, Rybar reported.
It was also not clear in what circumstances the aircraft were shot down and pilots killed.
Putin said “steps were taken on my direct instruction to avoid serious bloodshed” during the insurrection, which ended abruptly with Wagner forces standing down and Prigozhin agreeing to go into exile in neighboring Belarus.
“Time was needed, among other things, to give those who had made a mistake a chance to come to their senses, to realize that their actions were firmly rejected by society, and that the adventure in which they had been involved had tragic and destructive consequences for Russia and for our state,” Putin said.
Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin also spoke in an 11-minute audio message posted on his press service’s Telegram channel, and gave few clues to his whereabouts or the deal under which he halted the move toward Moscow.
He said his men had been forced to shoot down helicopters that attacked them as they drove nearly 800km (500 miles) from the south toward the capital, before abruptly calling off the uprising.
Numerous Western leaders saw the unrest as exposing Putin’s vulnerability following his decision to invade Ukraine 16 months ago.

Options for Wagner fighters
The Russian president said he would honor his weekend promise to allow Wagner forces to relocate to Belarus, sign a contract with Russia’s Defense Ministry, or return to their families.
“Today you have the possibility to continue serving Russia by entering into a contract with the Ministry of Defense or other law enforcement agencies, or to return to your family and close ones... Whoever wants to can go to Belarus,” Putin said in his address.
Putin thanked Wagner fighters and commanders who stood down to avoid what he called “fratricidal bloodshed,” and said the vast majority of Wagner’s members were patriots.
He made no mention of Prigozhin. Putin met on Monday night with the heads of Russian security services, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, IFX reported, citing a Kremlin spokesperson.
One of Prigozhin’s principal demands had been that Shoigu be sacked, along with Russia’s top general, who by Monday evening had not appeared in public since the mutiny.
Prigozhin, 62, a former Putin ally and ex-convict whose forces have fought the bloodiest battles of the Ukraine war, defied orders this month to place his troops under Defense Ministry command.
Prigozhin had earlier defended his aborted mutiny as a bid to save his mercenary outfit and expose the failures of Russia’s military leadership — but not to challenge the Kremlin.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin looks out from a military vehicle on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24, 2023, after calling off his mercenary group's revolt. (AP)

Prigozhin, who did not reveal from where he was speaking, said in an online audio message that his revolt was intended to prevent his Wagner force from being dismantled, and bragged that the ease with which it had advanced on Moscow exposes “serious security problems.”
“We went to demonstrate our protest and not to overthrow power in the country,” Prigozhin said, boasting that his men had “blocked all military infrastructure” including air bases along their route toward a point less than 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Moscow.
Prighozin called off the advance and pulled out of a military base his men had seized in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, a nerve center of the war in Ukraine, late on Saturday after mediation efforts from Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
Last seen on Saturday night smiling and high-fiving bystanders from the back of an SUV as he withdrew from a Russian city occupied by his men, Prigozhin said his fighters had halted their campaign to avert bloodshed.
On Saturday Prigozhin had said he was leaving for Belarus under a deal brokered by its president, Alexander Lukashenko. In Monday’s remarks he said Lukashenko had offered to let Wagner operate under a legal framework, but did not elaborate.
The White House said it could not confirm whether the Wagner chief was in Belarus.
Russia’s three main news agencies reported on Monday that a criminal case against Prigozhin had not been closed, an apparent reversal of an offer of immunity publicized as part of the deal that persuaded him to stand down.
The Wagner headquarters in Saint Petersburg said it remained open for business, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the firm would continue to operate in Mali and the Central African Republic.
Officials in Moscow and the Voronezh region south of the capital lifted “anti-terrorist” emergency security measures imposed to protect the capital from rebel assault.

’Nothing to do with it’
In comments before a speech in Washington, US President Joe Biden called the mutiny “part of a struggle within the Russian system.” He discussed it in a conference call with key allies who agreed it was vital not to let Putin blame it on the West or NATO, he said.
“We made it clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it,” Biden said.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said US policy did not seek to change the government in Russia.
The State Department said Ambassador Lynne Tracy in Moscow had contacted Russian officials “to reiterate what we said publicly — that this is an internal Russian affair in which the United States is not involved and will not be involved.”
Foreign governments, both friendly and hostile to Russia, were left groping for answers to what had happened behind the scenes and what could come next.
“The political system is showing fragilities, and the military power is cracking,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Luxembourg.
In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the military had made advances on Monday in all sectors of the front line, calling it a “happy day” in his nightly video address delivered from a train after visiting frontline positions.
Fighting continued in Ukraine, where Kyiv’s forces claimed new victories in their battle to evict Russian troops from the east and south of the country, but in the Russian capital, authorities stood down their enhanced security regime.
Zelensky made a morale-boosting trip to troops fighting Russian forces near the city of Bakhmut, the site of some of the most intense battles in the conflict, and touted his force’s military progress.
“Today, our soldiers made progress in all areas, and this is a happy day,” Zelensky said Monday in his regular evening address.
Military leaders said their forces were making progress in the south and east of the country.
“We are knocking the enemy out of its positions on the flanks of the city of Bakhmut,” eastern ground force commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said. “Ukraine is regaining its territory. We are moving forward.”
Near Bakhmut, residents in the frontline town of Druzhkivka, which is also in Donetsk, told AFP that four explosions had rocked a residential district overnight.
The blasts severed water and sewage pipes, shattered windows and threw up stones that hit yards and roofs, but municipal authorities said no one was hurt.
“It was a ‘fun’ night, we haven’t had this for a long time, it’s been quiet for a month or so,” said 66-year-old Lyubov, showing off the new hole in her cement-shingled roof.










Extremism is US voters’ greatest worry, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds

Extremism is US voters’ greatest worry, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds
Updated 18 min ago

Extremism is US voters’ greatest worry, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds

Extremism is US voters’ greatest worry, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds
  • Marginally higher than those who picked the economy – 19 percent – and immigration – 18 percent

WASHINGTON: Worries about political extremism or threats to democracy have emerged as a top concern for US voters and an issue where President Joe Biden has a slight advantage over Donald Trump ahead of the November election, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.

Some 21 percent of respondents in the three-day poll, which closed on Sunday, said “political extremism or threats to democracy” was the biggest problem facing the US, a share that was marginally higher than those who picked the economy — 19 percent — and immigration — 18 percent.

Biden’s Democrats considered extremism by far the No. 1 issue while Trump’s Republicans overwhelmingly chose immigration.

Extremism was independents’ top concern, cited by almost a third of independent respondents, followed by immigration, cited by about one in five. The economy ranked third.

During and since his presidency, Trump has kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism of US institutions, claiming the four criminal prosecutions he faces are politically motivated and holding to his false claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.

That rhetoric was central to his message to supporters ahead of their Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol.

Overall, 34 percent of respondents said Biden had a better approach for handling extremism, compared to 31 percent who said Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

The poll helps show the extent to which Biden’s re-election bid could rely on voters being motivated by their opposition to Trump rather than enthusiasm over Biden’s candidacy.


Biden’s approval rating in the poll, 37 percent, was close to the lowest level of his presidency and down a percentage point from a month earlier. Nine-out-of-ten Democrats approved of his performance and the same share of Republicans disapproved, while independents were slightly skewed toward disapproval.

But 44 percent of Democrats said extremism was their top issue, compared to 10 percent who said the economy, their second most-picked concern. Prior Reuters/Ipsos polls did not include political extremism as an option for respondents to select as the country’s biggest problem.

Biden’s re-election campaign has focused its messaging on the dangers to democracy posed by Trump, whose many legal problems include criminal charges tied to his efforts to overturn his loss to Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Other Reuters/Ipsos polls have shown Biden’s supporters are more motivated by their opposition to Trump than by their support for  the president.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all the charges he faces, which he claims are part a conspiracy by Democrats to derail his return to the White House.

Trump has regularly launched verbal attacks against the prosecutors and judges handling his civil and criminal cases, and a Reuters review earlier this month found that serious threats to US federal judges have more than doubled over the past three years.

While 38 percent of Republicans in the poll cited immigration as the top issue for the country, a significant proportion — 13 percent — picked extremism, a sign that Trump’s own claims about the danger to the nation posed by “far left” Democrats also resonate with his base.

The economy, which has suffered under high inflation for most of Biden’s presidency, was the second biggest issue among Republicans, with 22 percent saying it weighed the most.

The economy has long been a sore spot for Biden. Thirty-nine percent of poll respondents said Trump had a better approach to the economy, compared to 33 percent who said Biden did.

Trump led Biden 36 percent to 30 percent when it came to having a better approach to foreign conflicts, though few Democrats or Republicans considered those issues to be top national priorities.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll gathered responses online from 1,020 adults, using a nationally representative sample, and had a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.

US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks

US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks
Updated 28 February 2024

US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks

US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks

WASHINGTON: Operatives from Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah are working inside Yemen to support Houthi insurgents’ attacks on international shipping, a US official said Tuesday.

Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen, told a Senate subcommittee that Iran’s clerical state was “equipping and facilitating” the Houthi attacks, which have triggered retaliatory US and British strikes on Yemen.

“Credible public reports suggest a significant number of Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah operatives are supporting Houthi attacks from inside Yemen,” Lenderking said.

“I can’t imagine the Yemeni people want these Iranians in their country. This must stop,” he said.

The White House said in December that Iran was “deeply involved” in planning the attacks, which the Houthis say are acts of solidarity with the Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war.

Lenderking, who has dealt with the Houthis since the start of President Joe Biden’s administration as he helped diplomacy to freeze a brutal civil war, acknowledged that the rebels have not been deterred.

“The fact that they continue this, and have said publicly that they will not stop until there’s a ceasefire in Gaza, is an indication that we’re not yet at the point, unfortunately, where they do intend to dial back,” Lenderking said.

The bombing campaign drew skepticism from some senators from Biden’s Democratic Party.

Chris Murphy, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Middle East, agreed that the United States has “an obligation to respond” to attacks on shipping but added, “I do worry about the efficacy.”

The Houthis, who control war-torn Yemen’s most populated areas, have previously reported the death of 17 fighters in Western strikes targeting their military facilities.

The Houthi attacks have had a significant effect on traffic through the busy Red Sea shipping route, forcing some companies into a two-week detour around southern Africa.

Last week, Egypt said Suez Canal revenues were down by up to 50 percent this year.

US Army is slashing thousands of posts in major revamp to prepare for future wars

US Army is slashing thousands of posts in major revamp to prepare for future wars
Updated 28 February 2024

US Army is slashing thousands of posts in major revamp to prepare for future wars

US Army is slashing thousands of posts in major revamp to prepare for future wars
  • While the Army as it’s currently structured can have up to 494,000 soldiers, the total number of active-duty soldiers right now is about 445,000

WASHINGTON: The US Army is slashing the size of its force by about 24,000, or almost 5 percent, and restructuring to be better able to fight the next major war, as the service struggles with recruiting shortfalls that made it impossible to bring in enough soldiers to fill all the jobs.
The cuts will mainly be in already-empty posts — not actual soldiers — including in jobs related to counterinsurgency that swelled during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars but are not needed as much today. About 3,000 of the cuts would come from Army special operations forces.
At the same time, however, the plan will add about 7,500 troops in other critical missions, including air-defense and counter-drone units and five new task forces around the world with enhanced cyber, intelligence and long-range strike capabilities.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she and Gen. Randy George, the Army chief, worked to thin out the number of places where they had empty or excess slots.
“We’re moving away from counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. We want to be postured for large-scale combat operations,” Wormuth told reporters on Tuesday. “So we looked at where were there pieces of force structure that were probably more associated with counterinsurgency, for example, that we don’t need anymore.”
George added that Army leaders did a lot of analysis to choose the places to cut.
“The things that we want to not have in our formation are actually things that we don’t think are going to make us successful on the battlefield going forward,” he said.
According to an Army document, the service is “significantly overstructured” and there aren’t enough soldiers to fill existing units. The cuts, it said, are “spaces” not “faces” and the Army will not be asking soldiers to leave the force.
Instead, the decision reflects the reality that for years the Army hasn’t been able to fill thousands of empty posts. While the Army as it’s currently structured can have up to 494,000 soldiers, the total number of active-duty soldiers right now is about 445,000. Under the new plan, the goal is to bring in enough troops over the next five years to reach a level of 470,000.
The planned overhaul comes after two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan that forced the Army to quickly and dramatically expand in order to fill the brigades sent to the battlefront. That included a massive counterinsurgency mission to battle Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Daesh group.
Over time the military’s focus has shifted to great power competition from adversaries such as China and Russia, and threats from Iran and North Korea. And the war in Ukraine has shown the need for greater emphasis on air-defense systems and high-tech abilities both to use and counter airborne and sea-based drones.
Army leaders said they looked carefully across the board at all the service’s job specialties in search of places to trim. And they examined the ongoing effort to modernize the Army, with new high-tech weapons, to determine where additional forces should be focused.
According to the plan, the Army will cut about 10,000 spaces for engineers and similar jobs that were tied to counter-insurgency missions. An additional 2,700 cuts will come from units that don’t deploy often and can be trimmed, and 6,500 will come from various training and other posts.
There also will be about 10,000 posts cut from cavalry squadrons, Stryker brigade combat teams, infantry brigade combat teams and security force assistance brigades, which are used to train foreign forces.
The changes represent a significant shift for the Army to prepare for large-scale combat operations against more sophisticated enemies. But they also underscore the steep recruiting challenges that all of the military services are facing.
In the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the Navy, Army and Air Force all failed to meet their recruitment goals, while the Marine Corps and the tiny Space Force met their targets. The Army brought in a bit more than 50,000 recruits, falling well short of the publicly stated “stretch goal” of 65,000.
The previous fiscal year, the Army also missed its enlistment goal by 15,000. That year the goal was 60,000.
In response, the service launched a sweeping overhaul of its recruiting last fall to focus more on young people who have spent time in college or are job hunting early in their careers. And it is forming a new professional force of recruiters, rather than relying on soldiers randomly assigned to the task.
In discussing the changes at the time, Wormuth acknowledged that the service hasn’t been recruiting well “for many more years than one would think from just looking at the headlines in the last 18 months.” The service, she said, hasn’t met its annual goal for new enlistment contracts since 2014.


Biden and Trump win Michigan primaries, edging closer to a rematch

Biden and Trump win Michigan primaries, edging closer to a rematch
Updated 28 February 2024

Biden and Trump win Michigan primaries, edging closer to a rematch

Biden and Trump win Michigan primaries, edging closer to a rematch
  • Trump won the state by just 11,000 votes in 2016 over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lost the state four years later by nearly 154,000 votes to Biden

DEARBORN, Michigan: President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump won the Michigan primaries on Tuesday, further solidifying the all-but-certain rematch between the two men.
Biden defeated Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, his one significant opponent left in the Democratic primary. But Democrats were also closely watching the results of the “uncommitted” vote, as Michigan has become the epicenter for dissatisfied members of Biden’s coalition that propelled him to victory in the state — and nationally — in 2020. The number of “uncommitted” votes has already surpassed the 10,000-vote margin by which Trump won Michigan in 2016, surpassing a goal set by organizers of this year’s protest effort.
As for Trump, he has now swept the first five states on the Republican primary calendar. His victory in Michigan over his last major primary challenger, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, comes after the former president defeated her by 20 percentage points in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday. The Trump campaign is looking to lock up the 1,215 delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination sometime in mid-March.
Both campaigns are watching Tuesday’s results for more than just whether they won as expected. For Biden, a large number of voters choosing “uncommitted” could mean he’s in significant trouble with parts of the Democratic base in a state he can hardly afford to lose in November. Trump, meanwhile, has underperformed with suburban voters and people with a college degree, and faces a faction within his own party that believes he broke the law in one or more of the criminal cases against him.
Biden has already sailed to wins in South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire. The New Hampshire victory came via a write-in campaign as Biden did not formally appear on the ballot after the state broke the national party rules by going ahead of South Carolina, which had been designated to go first among the Democratic nominating contests.
Both the White House and Biden campaign officials have made trips to Michigan in recent weeks to talk with community leaders about the Israel-Hamas war and how Biden has approached the conflict, but those leaders, along with organizers of the “uncommitted” effort, have been undeterred.
The robust grassroots effort, which has been encouraging voters to select “uncommitted” as a way to register objections to his handling of Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza, has been Biden’s most significant political challenge in the early contests. That push, which began in earnest just a few weeks ago, has been backed by officials such as Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman in Congress, and former Rep. Andy Levin.
Our Revolution, the organizing group once tied to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, had also urged progressive voters to choose “uncommitted” Tuesday, saying it would send a message to Biden to “change course NOW on Gaza or else risk losing Michigan to Trump in November.”
Trump won the state by just 11,000 votes in 2016 over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lost the state four years later by nearly 154,000 votes to Biden. Organizers of the “uncommitted” effort wanted to show that they have at least the number of votes that were Trump’s margin of victory in 2016, to demonstrate how influential the bloc can be, and they reached that figure not long after the first round of polls in Michigan closed at 8 p.m.
Mariam Mohsen, a 35-year-old teacher from Dearborn, Michigan, said she had planned to vote “uncommitted” on Tuesday in order to send a message alongside other voters that “no candidate will receive our votes if they continue to support genocide in Gaza.”
“Four years ago I voted for Joe Biden. It was important that we vote to get Trump out of office,” Mohsen continued. “Today, I feel very disappointed in Joe Biden and I don’t feel like I did the right thing last election. If Trump is the nominee in November I would not vote for Trump. I would not vote for Trump or Biden. I don’t think, in terms of foreign policy, there will be any difference.”
Trump’s dominance of the early states is unparalleled since 1976, when Iowa and New Hampshire began their tradition of holding the first nominating contests. He has won resounding support from most pockets of the Republican voting base, including evangelical voters, conservatives and those who live in rural areas. But Trump has struggled with college-educated voters, losing that bloc in South Carolina to Haley on Saturday night.
Even senior figures in the Republican Party who have been skeptical of Trump are increasingly falling in line. South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican who has been critical of the party’s standard-bearer, endorsed Trump for president on Sunday.
Shaher Abdulrab, 35, an engineer from Dearborn, said Tuesday morning that he voted for Trump. Abdulrab said he believes Arab Americans have a lot more in common with Republicans than Democrats.
Abdulrab said he voted four years ago for Biden but believes Trump will win the general election in November partly because of the backing he would get from Arab Americans.
“I’m not voting for Trump because I want Trump. I just don’t want Biden,” Abdulrab said. “He (Biden) didn’t call to stop the war in Gaza.”
Still, Haley has vowed to continue her campaign through at least Super Tuesday on March 5, pointing to a not-insignificant swath of Republican primary voters who have continued to support her despite Trump’s tightening grip on the GOP.
She also outraised Trump’s primary campaign committee by almost $3 million in January. That indicates that some donors continue to look at Haley, despite her longshot prospects, as an alternative to Trump should his legal problems imperil his chances of becoming the nominee.
Two of Trump’s political committees raised just $13.8 million in January, according to campaign finance reports released last week, while collectively spending more than they took in. Much of the money spent from Trump’s political committees is the millions of dollars in legal fees to cover his court cases.
With nominal intraparty challengers, Biden has been able to focus on beefing up his cash reserves. The Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee announced last week that it had raised $42 million in contributions during January from 422,000 donors.
The president ended the month with $130 million in cash on hand, which campaign officials said is the highest total ever raised by any Democratic candidate at this point in the presidential cycle.
The Republican Party is also aligning behind Trump as he continued to be besieged with legal problems that will pull him from the campaign trail as the November election nears. He is facing 91 criminal changes across four separate cases, ranging from his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost, to retaining classified documents after his presidency to allegedly arranging secret payoffs to an adult film actor.
His first criminal trial, in the case involving hush money payments to porn actor Stormy Daniels, is scheduled to begin on March 25 in New York.


‘Israel must do more’ to aid Palestinians, US says as UN again warns famine is imminent in Gaza

‘Israel must do more’ to aid Palestinians, US says as UN again warns famine is imminent in Gaza
Updated 28 February 2024

‘Israel must do more’ to aid Palestinians, US says as UN again warns famine is imminent in Gaza

‘Israel must do more’ to aid Palestinians, US says as UN again warns famine is imminent in Gaza
  • American envoy Robert Wood also tells Security Council Israel must not proceed with any major incursion into the southern city of Rafah
  • Slovenia’s permanent representative to the UN, Samuel Zbogar, says: ‘Only an immediate and permanent ceasefire can avert the risk of famine’

NEW YORK CITY: The US on Tuesday urged Israel to ensure existing border crossings into Gaza remain open so that humanitarian aid can enter the territory, facilitate the opening of additional crossings to meet the growing humanitarian needs of Palestinians, and to support the rapid and safe delivery of relief supplies to vulnerable people throughout the enclave.
“Simply put, Israel must do more,” said Robert Wood, US alternate representative to the UN for special political affairs.
He also warned that any major Israeli ground incursion into the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, which has become the last refuge for more than a million Palestinian civilians who fled fighting in other parts of the territory, should not proceed “under the current circumstances.”
He added: “It is unconscionable that Hamas fighters continue to embed themselves among civilians and civilian infrastructure, including in hospitals and schools.”

Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beachfront in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. (AP)

Wood vowed that the US will continue to engage in “intensive diplomacy” in its attempts to secure the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and enable an agreement for a “significant temporary ceasefire.”
He was speaking during a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the threat of starvation in Gaza. It was called by Guyana, which holds the rotating presidency of the council this month, with the support of Switzerland, Slovenia and Algeria.
Slovenia’s permanent representative to the UN, Samuel Zbogar, said: “Only an immediate and permanent ceasefire can avert the risk of famine.”
His country also calls for continuing safe, secure and unhindered humanitarian access to the entire Gaza Strip, he said, including the establishment of additional border crossings and simplified entry procedures for the delivery of aid supplies. He also called for the restoration of sufficient and safe water supplies, and for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“There are times when we need to make choices and we need to prioritize,” Zbogar said. “Slovenia is choosing a ceasefire to prevent famine in Gaza, a ceasefire to provide relief to Palestinian people and to release hostages.”
Ramesh Rajasingham, the head of the UN’s humanitarian affairs office in Geneva and director of its coordination division, told the council that at least 576,000 people in Gaza, about a quarter of the population, are one step away from famine.
One in six children under the age of 2 years old in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting (a term used to describe low body weight relative to height), he added, and almost the entire population of the territory relies on “woefully inadequate” humanitarian food assistance to survive.
“If nothing is done, we fear widespread famine in Gaza is almost inevitable (and) the conflict will have many more victims,” Rajasingham said.
Maurizio Martina, deputy director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, told the council that Gaza has the highest percentage of people experiencing acute food insecurity the organization “has ever classified.”
Gaza’s food systems have been severely affected by the damage and destruction Israeli military operations have caused to civilian infrastructure, he said, including that which is essential for the production, processing and distribution of food, including farmland, irrigation, greenhouses and bakeries.
About 55 percent of land in Gaza used to grow crops has been damaged, Martina added, and other agricultural infrastructure has been devastated, with the greatest destruction affecting sheep farms, dairy farms, poultry farms, animal shelters and home barns. Meanwhile the capacity of bakeries to produce bread has been seriously hampered, and the commercial sector has been decimated as a result of a near-total lack of imports of essential items, including food.
The harvest of olives and citrus fruits, which provide an important source of income for many Palestinians, has been greatly affected by the hostilities as well, Martina added, while fodder shortages and the damage resulting from airstrikes have taken a toll on livestock, with many owners reporting substantial losses. All poultry used for breeding purposes has been slaughtered or died due to lack of feed and clean water, he said, as has up to 60 percent of calves and 70 percent of beef cattle.
Martina called for an immediate ceasefire as a prerequisite for preventing famine.
Carl Skau, the deputy executive director of the World Food Program, told council members that Gaza now has the worst level of child malnutrition seen anywhere in the world. He lamented the fact that the growing risk of famine is being fueled by the inability to get critical food supplies into the enclave in sufficient quantities, and the almost impossible operating conditions workers from his organization have to contend with in Gaza.
“WFP trucks face delays at checkpoints; they face gunfire; food was looted along the way; and at their destination they were overwhelmed by desperately hungry people,” Skau said.
“The breakdown in civil order, driven by sheer desperation, is preventing the safe distribution of aid.”
The WFP earlier announced it had paused the distribution of aid in the north of the territory.
“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza,” Skau said. “We must all live up to our responsibilities to ensure it does not happen on our watch.”
Guyana’s permanent representative to the UN, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, said the Security Council must take action to halt violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza, and called on all those with influence on the “perpetrators” of such actions to exert that influence to prevent further incidents.
Algeria’s permanent representative to the UN, Amar Bendjama. told fellow council members that Israel’s “deliberate use of starvation as a policy is a blatant violation of international law” and was intended to ensure Palestinians in Gaza “lose hope and dignity, and push them to violence and to the breakdown of law and order.”
The war in Gaza is not being waged on Hamas, he added, but is “collective punishment for Palestinian civilians.”
The Algerian envoy warned the council that “our silence grants a license to kill and starve the Palestinian population,” as he again called on the council to urgently demand a ceasefire.