Frankly Speaking: Is Gaza facing a genocide?

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Updated 15 October 2023

Frankly Speaking: Is Gaza facing a genocide?

Waleed Ali Siam, the Palestinian ambassador to Japan, discusses the Israeli military onslaught on Gaza.
  • Palestinian diplomat says own family and friends have lost their homes in Israeli bombardment of Gaza
  • Clarifies that the Palestinian Authority condemns the loss of all civilian lives, be it Palestinian or Israeli
  • Believes US, other Western countries have lost credibility as mediators, favors key role for Japan instead

DUBAI: If the international community does not step in to prevent a further escalation of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian armed group Hamas, Gaza will face “complete destruction” and “genocide,” a senior Palestinian diplomat has said.

Speaking to the Arab News program “Frankly Speaking,” Waleed Ali Siam, the Palestinian ambassador to Japan, related the story of his own family, which has been caught up in Israel’s siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

“First and foremost, unfortunately, my house was destroyed this morning. But that is nothing compared to what my people have endured with hundreds of homes that have been destroyed,” Siam told the program’s host Katie Jensen.

Cars are seen on fire following a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, southern Israel. (File/AFP)

“My family and friends are scattering around. Some of them have lost their homes there. One of them told me, one of the daughters — she is 7 years old — she said: ‘I lost my childhood today. I lost everything in my childhood.’”

Gaza has come under sustained Israeli missile and artillery fire since Oct. 8, when Israel responded to a cross-border assault the previous day by Hamas militants, who killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians, took scores of hostages, and launched a barrage of rockets at Israeli cities.

Hamas, a Sunni group that sprung from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood but that draws support from Shiite Iran and its proxies, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has said its “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation came in retaliation for the killing of Palestinians and the desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Burnt out vehicles in Ashkelon are pictured following a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip into Israel. (File/AFP)

In addition to bombardment, Israel has amassed troops along Gaza’s border ahead of an expected ground invasion and ordered Palestinian civilians in the north of the territory to evacuate to the south, while also cutting off power, water, and deliveries of food and medicine.

Civilian infrastructure has not been spared as Israeli jets and artillery pound structures indiscriminately in densely populated areas.

UN officials have called on Israel to respect the rules of war, which demand the protection of civilian life and deplore acts of collective punishment. Since fleeing their home, Siam said his family has been unable to find a place of safety, as the rubble-strewn streets become impassable and the Israeli bombardment becomes ever more intense.

Palestinians look for survivors of a destroyed building hit during an Israeli air strike as an injured woman is helped in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (File/AFP)

“They went to a hotel and then they were asked to leave the hotel because the Israelis said to get out of the hotel. Maybe the Israelis would hit it. Now they are running from one street to the other,” said Siam.

“And, unfortunately, the streets are full of rocks and stones (and rubble) from the buildings … They cannot even walk. There are not many streets in Gaza. So, I don’t know what they’re going to do. I really don’t know what they’re going to do.

“We lost some friends; we lost some families. But what can I say? I mean, this is not new for us.”

Waleed Ali Siam, the Palestinian ambassador to Japan. (AN photo)

Regardless of the long-running nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the mutual antipathy, Siam said the killing of civilians on either side cannot be justified. “We do condemn the loss of all civilian lives; be it Palestinians or Israelis. Today, tomorrow, or forever,” he said when asked whether the Palestinian Authority condemns the killing, kidnapping and deliberate targeting of civilians.

With regard to the outcome of the current crisis — the biggest and deadliest escalation in the Middle East conflict in decades — Siam’s assessment was grim. “Complete destruction of Gaza, genocide of civilians (in) Gaza. That’s it,” he said.

“Complete destruction. Unfortunately, that’s how we foresee it if the international community does not step in as soon as possible.”

Protesters wave Palestinian flags during a rally in support of Palestinians in Amsterdam on October 15, 2023. (AFP)

After years under effective embargo, the impoverished territory, ruled by Hamas since 2007 and routinely bombarded during armed exchanges with Israel, is in no condition to withstand the present siege.

The enclave’s only power station quickly went out of action and supermarket shelves were stripped bare as the population of 2.2 million people, hemmed in by Israel to the east, the Mediterranean to the west, and a closed border with Egypt to the south, prepared for the worst.

Hospitals are overwhelmed, with wounded civilians flooding in and stocks of medicines and equipment rapidly running out, as deliveries of aid from international agencies are blocked. Israel has reportedly even threatened to bomb aid trucks making their way from Egypt to Gaza via the Rafah crossing.

Israeli troops prepare weapons and armed vehicles near the southern city of Ashkelon on October 15, 2023. (AFP)

“We are in a humanitarian crisis right now,” said Siam. “There’s no electricity, no food, no water, no medicine … over 200,000 Palestinians displaced. We are in this (situation) now. I hope that we don’t continue it.”

Because Israel is purportedly fighting a non-state actor, Siam says the Israeli side has no justification under international humanitarian law or the established rules of war
to punish the civilian population of Gaza for the actions of Hamas.

“As Israel has declared war on a non-state actor, by international law that doesn’t give Israel the right to stop the entry of human aid and food and electricity and water to the civilians under daily bombardment,” he said.

Smoke billows after Israeli bombardment of an area in the Gaza Strip. (File/AFP)

“I do believe that the International (Committee of the) Red Cross and the international community, especially our Arab brothers, (need) to really (put) pressure on allowing all this aid to enter Gaza as soon as possible.”

Western countries were quick to condemn the Hamas attack and voice their solidarity with Israel, with the US deploying two warships to the Eastern Mediterranean and Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, paying a visit to Tel Aviv.

It has fallen to UN officials and aid agencies to call for restraint, urging Israel to observe the rules of war, to avoid causing civilian casualties, and to permit the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Children injured in an Israeli strike are rushed to the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on October 15, 2023. (AFP)

“The restraint should be on the part of the Israelis, not on the part of the Palestinians,” said Siam. “You know Israel is one of the 10 most powerful countries in the world. And the US is one of the most powerful countries in the world.

“Both of them are getting into a fight against 2.2 million civilians in Gaza or against the armed 30,000-40,000 so-called Islamic fighters or Hamas fighters. That’s really disproportionate — 50,000 against 1 million soldiers.”

Siam added: “Israel is destroying the livelihoods and homes of Palestinian civilians, punishing them for something they didn’t do. This is collective punishment. This is a war crime. You cannot punish a whole population for some (part) of the population that has done something wrong to Israel.”

People salvage belongings from the rubble of a building levelled in an Israeli strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 15, 2023. (AFP)

Although the targeting of Israeli civilians by Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the US, EU, and other Western governments, has been widely condemned by supporters of the Palestinian cause, many have also pointed out that the attack did not come from a clear blue sky.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has remained unresolved for 75 years, defying repeated peace initiatives and proposals for a one- or two-state solution. Meanwhile, illegal Israeli settlements have continued to spread in the occupied West Bank, leading to almost daily violence. Another flashpoint of the conflict is Jerusalem, home of the holiest site in the Jewish faith and the third holiest site in Islam, Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Routine provocations and invasions of these sacred sites frequently lead to clashes. Some analysts say the split between Palestinian factions Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank city of Ramallah, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, has hurt the Palestinian cause and made it a hostage of Iranian interests.

A Palestinian boy carries his bird in a cage as families leave their homes following an Israeli attack on the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

Siam believes the rise of Hamas, widely viewed as a proxy of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has benefited the Israeli narrative while undermining the Palestinian cause.

“(According to files published by) WikiLeaks in 2007, the Israeli Defense Intelligence, (its) chief Amos Yadlin, said that Israel will be happy if Hamas took over Gaza, then (it) will deal with Gaza as a hostile state,” he said. “You have to ask the Israelis, first of all, who is Hamas and who supports them?

“As for my job, I represent the Palestinian government and I represent the Palestinian people. I don’t have any problem in representing my people because we have a just cause. We are people that have been fighting for an independent state for the past 75 years. And we will continue on fighting in every form and color as in the charters of the UN and international law.

Waleed Ali Siam, the Palestinian ambassador to Japan, discusses the Israeli military onslaught on Gaza and the unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel with Katie Jensen. (AN photo)

“So as a representative, I have all the confidence in representing my people and its cause. As for what happened on Oct. 7, for me, that history date goes back to 1948 (the Arab-Israeli war). It does not start from Oct. 7.”

Asked if he thinks the Americans should continue to be involved as a mediator in the Middle East peace process, he said: “The US cannot be involved in any negotiation between us and the Israelis. It should be (merely one of the) countries that sit on the table. I believe that Japan should be the main player, not the US, not the Western countries either.”

Elaborating on the point, Siam said: “We have seen the French, the British and some other countries issue statements that suggest they have forgotten that Palestinians are human. We are not, as the Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, ‘human animals.’ We are humans and we have a cause. A just cause.”


Red Cross chief arrives in Gaza, says suffering ‘intolerable’

Red Cross chief arrives in Gaza, says suffering ‘intolerable’
Updated 04 December 2023

Red Cross chief arrives in Gaza, says suffering ‘intolerable’

Red Cross chief arrives in Gaza, says suffering ‘intolerable’

GENEVA: The Red Cross president arrived in war-torn Gaza on Monday, calling for the protection of civilians in the Palestinian territory, where she warned that human suffering was “intolerable.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric’s travel to the region would happen in several stages with “a visit to Israel expected over the coming weeks.”

“I have arrived in Gaza, where people’s suffering is intolerable,” Spoljaric said on X, formerly Twitter.

“It is unacceptable that civilians have no safe place to go in Gaza, and with a military siege in place there is also no adequate humanitarian response currently possible,” she added in an ICRC statement.

Spoljaric, whose organization has faced criticism from both sides in the conflict for not providing adequate help to Israeli hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, insisted that “all those deprived of liberty must be treated humanely.”

“The hostages must be released, and the ICRC must be allowed to safely visit them,” she said.

Her visit comes after full-scale fighting resumed Friday following the collapse of a week-long truce brokered by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, during which Israel and Hamas exchanged scores of hostages and prisoners.

“The last week provided a small degree of humanitarian respite, a positive glimpse of humanity that raised hopes around the world that a path to reduced suffering could now be found,” Spoljaric said in the statement.

“As a neutral actor, the ICRC stands ready to support further humanitarian agreements that reduce suffering and heartbreak.”

Netanyahu graft trial resumes in Israel in midst of Gaza war

Netanyahu graft trial resumes in Israel in midst of Gaza war
Updated 04 December 2023

Netanyahu graft trial resumes in Israel in midst of Gaza war

Netanyahu graft trial resumes in Israel in midst of Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumed on Monday, despite the country’s continuing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The trial was suspended after the Palestinian militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel in which 1,200 people were killed and 240 more kidnapped according to Israeli officials.

Netanyahu, leader of Israel’s right-wing Likud party, is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, allegations he denies.

Minister David Amsalem of Likud called the resumption of proceedings during the war “a disgrace.”

“War? Captives? ... No, no. The most important thing now is to renew Netanyahu’s trial,” said Amsalem on Sunday on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

Netanyahu and his allies have argued the accusations against him are politically motivated and had proposed a judicial overhaul that would have curbed some powers held by the courts.

The high-profile trial is expected to last several more months. An appeal process, if necessary, could take years.

In one of three cases the trial encompasses, prosecutors allege a plot between Netanyahu and the controlling shareholder of Israel’s Bezeq telecom giant to exchange regulatory favors for positive coverage on a news site owned by the firm. A second case relates to Netanyahu’s relationship with Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and other wealthy personalities.

According to prosecutors, between 2007 and 2016 Netanyahu allegedly received gifts valued at 700,000 shekels ($195,000), including boxes of cigars, bottles of champagne and jewelry, in exchange for financial or personal favors.

Netanyahu, who is Israel’s first sitting prime minister to stand trial, denies any wrongdoing, saying gifts were only accepted from friends and without him having asked for them.

In October 2019, his lawyers said they had received an expert legal opinion that concluded he had a right to accept gifts from close friends.

Egyptian Space Agency announces successful launch of MisrSat 2 satellite from China

Chinese and Egyptian engineers worked together to design and manufacture the satellite. (Photo: Xinhua news agency)
Chinese and Egyptian engineers worked together to design and manufacture the satellite. (Photo: Xinhua news agency)
Updated 9 min 28 sec ago

Egyptian Space Agency announces successful launch of MisrSat 2 satellite from China

Chinese and Egyptian engineers worked together to design and manufacture the satellite. (Photo: Xinhua news agency)
  • The Egyptian Space Agency was established in 2018 and aims to build and launch satellites from Egyptian territory

CAIRO: The Egyptian Space Agency has reported that the launch of the MisrSat 2 satellite from China was successful.

The agency said: “This (the launch) is in light of the strategic partnership between the governments of Egypt and China and the fruitful and constructive cooperation between the two friendly countries.”

A team of Egyptian engineers collaborated with Chinese experts in the satellite’s design and manufacture.

It was assembled and tested at the EGSA’s Satellite Assembly, Integration, and Testing Center.

The site, the largest of its kind in Africa and the Middle East, was established within the framework of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

The satellite forms part of Egypt’s sustainable development goals by utilizing space technology to enhance vital areas, including agriculture, the exploration of mineral resources, identification of surface water sources, and the study of the impact of climate change on the environment.

The agency said the work contributed to supporting the Egyptian economy as well as enhancing the country’s pioneering role by providing training programs aimed at qualifying specialized personnel on the African continent and the Middle East, while supplying spatial data.

It added that the launch of the MisrSat 2 was a milestone in Egyptian-Chinese cooperation, especially in the field of space technology.

The Egyptian Space Agency was established in 2018 and aims to build and launch satellites from Egyptian territory.


Tension mounts on southern front as Lebanon’s Hamas launches ‘resistance project’

Tension mounts on southern front as Lebanon’s Hamas launches ‘resistance project’
Updated 04 December 2023

Tension mounts on southern front as Lebanon’s Hamas launches ‘resistance project’

Tension mounts on southern front as Lebanon’s Hamas launches ‘resistance project’
  • Hezbollah now capable of striking deep into Israel, says security source 

BEIRUT: Hostilities escalated on Monday on the southern front of Lebanon between Hezbollah and the Israeli army.

A preliminary report said that a Syrian national was injured as a result of Israeli shelling targeting the Al-Wazzani border village. Avichay Adraee, the Israeli army spokesperson, said that “three soldiers were slightly injured” after Hezbollah had targeted the Israeli military outpost of Shtula.

In parallel with the mounting confrontations in the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah launched 20 missiles from southern Lebanon toward the Western Galilee, between the Shomera and Mattat settlements. The Israeli army said that “the missiles landed in open areas and that its air force targeted military infrastructure for Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.”

Speaking on behalf of Hezbollah, Nabil Kaouk, a member of the group’s central council, said: “We will harshly respond to any attack against civilians in the south, and we will not let any attack against any civilian in Lebanon pass without a harsh and severe response.”

Kaouk revealed that during the truce “pressure was exerted on Hezbollah to avoid a new confrontation, as they want Israel to wage war on Gaza without the support of southern Lebanon.”

He claimed that Israel “is unable to win in Gaza or in south Lebanon, and cannot protect its settlers and ships in the Gulf and Red Sea.”

He added: “Israel is incapable of rescuing the hostages, as they were freed through negotiation only.”

According to Hezbollah’s statements, the militant group’s hostilities on the southern border had targeted on Monday morning “a gathering of the Israeli occupation soldiers in the Shtula Forest, the Al-Raheb outpost, the Al-Baghdadi outpost, and the Rowaysat Al-Alam outpost in the Kfarchouba Hills and the Shebaa Farms.”

The Israeli army activated the Iron Dome after a series of missiles were launched from the central part of southern Lebanon toward Israeli outposts.

Israel’s Channel 12 announced that “an anti-armor missile was launched toward the Misgav Am region in the Upper Galilee and that three soldiers were slightly injured after rockets were fired.”

Israeli ground and air shelling targeted the outskirts of southern villages including Naqoura, Aayta Al-Shaab, Labbouneh, Odaisseh, Kfarkila and Kfarchouba, using burning phosphorus missiles.

Israeli reconnaissance planes were seen flying at low altitude over the western and central parts of southern Lebanon, namely Naqoura, Alma Al-Shaab, Marwahin and Al-Dahira. They also reached the southern border villages of Aayta Al-Shaab, Rmaych and Yaroun. More Israeli reconnaissance planes were also seen over Rachaya and the eastern slopes of the Al-Sheikh Mountain, reaching Deir Al-Ashayer on the Lebanese–Syrian borders. They were also spotted hovering over Tripoli in northern Lebanon on Sunday.

On Sunday, Hezbollah targeted the Israeli Beit Hillel military outpost with guided missiles, directly hitting an M113 personnel carrier and injuring 11 members of the outpost.

A security source commented on Hezbollah’s attack, saying: “This escalation demonstrates Hezbollah’s capability to move more freely along the southern border.”

The source added: “Hezbollah is now capable of targeting deeper spots in Israel rather than hitting border areas. It is also using guided missiles increasingly.”

Sheikh Naim Kassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, said on Sunday that the group “is convinced that it will defeat Israel, and we are not in a rush to do so.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese branch of Hamas announced on Monday “the establishment and launching of the Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood.”

It called on “young people and men in Lebanon and Palestine to join this movement to resist the occupation force through available and legitimate means, as a way to support the steadfastness and resistance of our Palestinian people.”

At the beginning of the confrontation in October, many Lebanese and Palestinian groups took part in the hostilities taking place on the Lebanese border, through armed members from the Al-Fajr forces — the military wing of the Islamic group — as well as through the military wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. These groups, however, have retreated, leaving Hezbollah alone to fight from the Lebanese border.

The Sayydet Al-Jabal gathering, which opposes Hezbollah, said in a statement on Monday that “Lebanon doesn’t want to enter a new war decided by someone else.”

The party, which includes a number of politicians and public activists, believes that Hezbollah has two options: “Either it returns to Lebanon and abides by the Lebanese terms — which are the terms stipulated in the Constitution, the Taif Agreement, and the resolutions of international legitimacy 1559, 1701, and 1680 — or it remains a representative of Iran until the latter abandons it the moment it faces a real threat, similar to what it did to Hamas in the last Gaza war.”

Yemen’s govt warns of massive Houthi strikes in Shabwa, Marib

Yemen’s govt warns of massive Houthi strikes in Shabwa, Marib
Updated 04 December 2023

Yemen’s govt warns of massive Houthi strikes in Shabwa, Marib

Yemen’s govt warns of massive Houthi strikes in Shabwa, Marib
  • Yemeni authorities fear the situation may be about to deteriorate as the Houthis gather militants and military equipment in Marib, Shabwa, and Taiz
  • Iran-backed militant group vows to target American naval ships in Red Sea

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government has warned that the Houthis are planning major offensives in two Yemeni regions, action that may derail peace talks and plunge the country back into turmoil.

Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s information minister, accused the Iran-backed Houthis of mobilizing major military forces in the southern province of Shabwa and the central province of Marib in recent weeks.

And he noted that the militia group planned to attack Marib from the south, east, and north, as well as launch another simultaneous attack on government-controlled Bayan, Ain, Ouslen, and other areas in Shabwa.

Al-Eryani pointed out that such an attack would “undermine peace efforts, re-emerge the country in conflict, and exacerbate the deteriorating humanitarian crisis.”

Fighting has mostly stopped on all fronts throughout the nation after a UN-brokered truce came into force in April 2022.

But Yemeni authorities fear the situation may be about to deteriorate as the Houthis gathered militants and military equipment in Marib, Shabwa, and Taiz.

The Houthis have used popular outrage over continued Israeli attacks on Gaza to begin military training and collect soldiers outside government-controlled cities under the guise of preparing to battle the Israelis.

Al-Eryani urged the international community to label the Houthis as terrorists, impose penalties on their leaders, freeze their assets, bar them from traveling, and limit the militia’s income sources.

In a post on X, the minister said: “The international community, the United Nations, and its special envoy are called upon to issue a clear condemnation of these escalatory steps that confirm the Houthi militia’s disregard for de-escalation efforts.”

The warning came after the Yemeni army revealed on Sunday that its forces had killed and wounded several Houthis after foiling raids on government-controlled territory south of Marib.

The Houthis also organized a funeral procession in Sanaa on Sunday for 15 officers of various military grades killed in combat with government troops near the country’s western coastline on the Red Sea and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Houthis threatened to target American naval ships in the Red Sea only a day after launching drone and missile assaults on commercial vessels in the waters.

On a US vow to respond to strikes, Supreme Political Council member, Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, said that America had “no right” to deploy ships in the Red Sea.

In a post on X, Al-Houthi said: “The Americans do not have a right in the Red Sea that allows them to say that they retain the right to respond.”

Washington said on Monday it would consult with its partners and allies on how to react to Houthi attacks on ships after the group fired four missiles and drones at commercial vessels operating in international waters in the Red Sea.

In a post on X, the US Central Command said: “These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security.

“They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world,” it added.