Israel strikes refugee camps, rejects pause in fighting

Update Israel strikes refugee camps, rejects pause in fighting
This picture taken from Sderot along the border with the Gaza Strip early on November 5, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 05 November 2023

Israel strikes refugee camps, rejects pause in fighting

Israel strikes refugee camps, rejects pause in fighting
  • Health ministry in Gaza urged the ICRC or Egypt to ensure the safe exit of the wounded from the enclave
  • Evacuations of injured Gazans, foreign passport holders through Rafah crossing to Egypt suspended
  • 9,770 killed, including 4,800 children, since Oct. 7 -health ministry in Gaza

GAZA: Gaza came under the third total communications outage since the start of the war, with Palestinian telecom company Paltel confirming all services were down late Sunday and saying Israel had again disconnected them. Internet access advocacy group reported a “new collapse in connectivity” across the besieged enclave.
“We have lost communication with the vast majority of the UNRWA team members,” UN Palestinian refugee agency spokesperson Juliette Touma told The Associated Press. The first Gaza outage lasted 36 hours and the second one for a few hours, complicating efforts to share events on the ground.
Earlier Sunday, Israeli warplanes struck two central Gaza refugee camps, killing at least 53 people and wounding dozens, health officials said. Israel said it would press on with its offensive to crush the territory’s Hamas rulers, despite US appeals for even brief pauses to get aid to desperate civilians.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said more than 9,700 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in nearly a month of war, a number likely to rise as Israeli troops advance into dense, urban neighborhoods.
Airstrikes hit the Maghazi refugee camp overnight, killing at least 40 people and wounding 34 others, the Health Ministry said. The camp is in the zone where Israel’s military had urged Palestinian civilians to seek refuge as it focuses its offensive on the north.
An AP reporter at a nearby hospital saw eight dead children, including a baby, brought in after the strike. A surviving child was led down the corridor, her clothes caked in dust, an expression of shock on her face.
Arafat Abu Mashaia, who lives in the camp, said the Israeli airstrike flattened several multi-story homes where people forced out of other parts of Gaza were sheltering.
“It was a true massacre,” he said. “All here are peaceful people. I challenge anyone who says there were resistance (fighters) here.”
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
Another airstrike hit a house near a school at the Bureji refugee camp in central Gaza, and staff at Al-Aqsa Hospital told the AP at least 13 people were killed. The camp is home to an estimated 46,000 people and was struck on Thursday as well.
Despite appeals and overseas demonstrations, Israel has continued its bombardment across Gaza, saying it is targeting Hamas and accusing it of using civilians as human shields. Critics say Israel’s strikes are often disproportionate, considering the large number of civilians killed.
On the ground, Israeli forces in Gaza have reported finding stashes of weapons at times including explosives, suicide drones and missiles.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, a day after talks with Arab foreign ministers in neighboring Jordan.
Abbas, who has had no authority in Gaza since Hamas took over in 2007, said the Palestinian Authority would only assume control of Gaza as part of a “comprehensive political solution” establishing an independent state that would also take in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands Israel seized in the 1967 war.
His remarks seemed to further narrow the already slim options for who would govern Gaza if Israel succeeds in toppling Hamas. The last peace talks with Israel broke down more than a decade ago, and Israel’s government is dominated by opponents of Palestinian statehood.
Earlier in his tour, Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Sunday reiterated while visiting an air force base that “there will be no cease-fire without the return of our abductees.”
Arab leaders have called for an immediate cease-fire. But Blinken said that “would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7,” when it launched a wide-ranging attack from Gaza into southern Israel, triggering the war.
Swaths of residential neighborhoods in northern Gaza have been leveled in airstrikes. The UN office for humanitarian affairs says more than half the remaining residents, estimated at around 300,000, are sheltering in UN-run facilities.
Israeli planes once again dropped leaflets urging people to head south during a four-hour window on Sunday. Crowds could be seen walking down Gaza’s main north-south highway carrying baggage, pets and pushing wheelchairs. Others led donkey carts.
One man said they had to walk 500 meters (yards) with their hands raised while passing Israeli troops. Another described seeing bodies in damaged cars along the road. “The children saw tanks for the first time. Oh world, have mercy on us,” said one Palestinian who declined to give his name.
The UN said about 1.5 million people in Gaza, or 70 percent of the population, have fled their homes. Food, water and the fuel needed for generators that power hospitals and other facilities is running out. No fuel has come for nearly one month, the UN Palestinian refugee agency said.
The war has stoked tensions across the region, with Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group repeatedly trading fire along the border.
Four civilians were killed by an Israeli airstrike in south Lebanon Sunday evening, three of them children, a local civil defense official and state-run media reported. The Israeli military said it had attacked Hezbollah targets in response to anti-tank fire that killed an Israeli civilian.
Hezbollah said they fired Grad rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel in response.
In the occupied West Bank, at least two Palestinians were shot dead during an Israeli arrest raid in Abu Dis, just outside of Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The military said a militant who had set up an armed cell and fired at Israeli forces was killed.
At least 150 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since the start of the war, mainly during violent protests and gunbattles during raids.
Many Israelis have called for Netanyahu to resign and for the return of roughly 240 hostages held by Hamas. Some families are traveling abroad to try to make sure the hostages aren’t forgotten.
Netanyahu has refused to take responsibility for the Oct. 7 attack that killed more than 1,400 people. Ongoing Palestinian rocket fire has forced tens of thousands of people in Israel to leave their homes.
In another reflection of widespread anger in Israel, a junior government minister, Amihai Eliyahu, suggested in a radio interview that Israel could drop an atomic bomb on Gaza. He later called the remarks “metaphorical.” Netanyahu suspended Eliyahu from cabinet meetings, a move with no practical effect.
Among the Palestinians killed in Gaza are 4,008 children, the Gaza Health Ministry said, without providing a breakdown of civilians and fighters.
The Israeli military said 29 of its soldiers have died during the ground operation.

Iraqi Kurds detain suspected smugglers in deadly Italy sinking

 A female member of the Syrian Kurdish Asayish security forces stands guard in Qamishli in northeastern Syria. (AFP)
A female member of the Syrian Kurdish Asayish security forces stands guard in Qamishli in northeastern Syria. (AFP)
Updated 26 June 2024

Iraqi Kurds detain suspected smugglers in deadly Italy sinking

 A female member of the Syrian Kurdish Asayish security forces stands guard in Qamishli in northeastern Syria. (AFP)

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq: Iraqi Kurdistan announced on Tuesday the arrest of four suspected human traffickers linked to the sinking of a sailboat off Italy’s coast, leaving more than 30 people dead.
More than 60 people were reported missing after the boat sank near southern Italy’s Calabria region in mid-June, with 11 people rescued.
According to non-governmental organizations and accounts from victims’ families, the boat was carrying mostly Kurdish migrants from Iraq and Iran, along with Afghan families.
“Four people considered to be leaders in human trafficking were arrested,” the Asayish, security forces the northern Iraqi autonomous region, said in a statement.
They gave only the initials of the four “suspected of being involved in the illegal travel of residents of the Kurdistan region to the Italian coast, which led to the sinking of their yacht.”
The four were arrested in the province of Sulaimaniyah, a security official told AFP, requesting anonymity.
So far 36 bodies have been recovered by the authorities in Italy, according to the latest report on Tuesday, with ongoing efforts to locate those still missing from the boat that departed Turkiye.
In mid-May, Kurdistan authorities announced the arrest of a migrant smuggler nicknamed “Scorpion,” wanted in several European countries.
The International Organization for Migration says about 3,155 migrants died or went missing in the Mediterranean last year and more than 1,000 people have died or gone missing so far this year.
The central Mediterranean migration route, on which Italy lies, is the deadliest in the world and represents 80 percent of the deaths on that sea.
Thousands of migrants depart from Libya and Tunisia by boat toward Europe, with Italy often the first landing point.


What of Gaza’s ‘other hostages’ — the thousands of Palestinians held in Israel without charge?

What of Gaza’s ‘other hostages’ — the thousands of Palestinians held in Israel without charge?
Updated 25 June 2024

What of Gaza’s ‘other hostages’ — the thousands of Palestinians held in Israel without charge?

What of Gaza’s ‘other hostages’ — the thousands of Palestinians held in Israel without charge?
  • Survivors of Israeli detention describe a pattern of beatings, torture and abuse without access to family or lawyers
  • NGOs have reported a dramatic rise in the number of Palestinians incarcerated without charge or trial since Oct. 7

LONDON: A disturbing video emerged on social media last week of a Palestinian man identified as 29-year-old Badr Dahlan.

Wide-eyed and rocking back and forth as he spoke, Dahlan appeared to be in a state of shock as he answered questions at Shuhada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza, shortly after his release from Israeli custody.

Dahlan, described by those who knew him as “a socially active and beloved young man,” appeared utterly transformed by the month he had spent in Israeli custody since he was seized in Khan Younis.

He described a pattern of beatings, torture and abuse that has become familiar to NGOs monitoring the dramatic increase in the number of Palestinians being incarcerated without charge or trial since the Gaza conflict began last October.

Badr Dahlan (L) and other detainees were seen to be weakened and had scars on their bodies following their release on June 20. (Getty Images)

As the world’s attention continues to be focused on the remaining hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7, the plight of “the other hostages” — thousands of innocent Palestinian adults and children seized and held by Israel without charge — is largely ignored.

“There are currently about 9,200 prisoners in total from the West Bank and the Occupied Territories,” said Jenna Abu Hsana, international advocacy officer at Ramallah-based Palestinian NGO Addameer — the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.

“Of those, we believe about 3,200 are administrative detainees.”

Administrative detention “is basically a tool that is used by the occupation to indefinitely detain Palestinians for a prolonged period of time,” in prisons run by the Israel Prisons Service,” she said.

Detainees are charged and “tried” by military courts, but the process bypasses all norms of internationally accepted judicial procedure.

“There isn’t really a ‘charge’ because no evidence is presented against the detainee,” said Abu Hsana. “Any so-called evidence is kept in a secret file to which the detainee and their lawyer do not have access.”

Israeli soldiers stand by a truck packed with bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainees, in Gaza, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. (AP)

Incarceration can last up to six months at a time and can then be extended for another six months at the discretion of the military.

Originally, the case against people held under this law had to be judicially reviewed within 14 days, but in December this was extended to 75 days. Simultaneously, the amount of time for which a prisoner could be denied a meeting with an attorney was raised from 10 days to 75 or, with the court’s approval, up to 180 days.

This is an invidious situation, says B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which “leaves the detainees helpless — facing unknown allegations with no way to disprove them, not knowing when they will be released, and without being charged, tried or convicted.”

Israel “routinely uses administrative detention and has, over the years, placed thousands of Palestinians behind bars for periods ranging from several months to several years, without charging them, without telling them what they are accused of, and without disclosing the alleged evidence to them or to their lawyers.”

The situation in Gaza is slightly different, in that detainees held there since October have been arrested and held incommunicado in military camps under Israel’s Law on Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants, which was introduced in 2002.

But the effect is the same as for those being held under administrative detention. “Detainees can be held in these military camps for prolonged periods of time, with no charge and no evidence,” said Abu Hsana.

Before Oct. 7, Israel was holding about 5,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and the Occupied Territories in its prisons, of whom roughly 1,000 were being held under administrative detention.

Since Oct. 7, however, “the numbers have escalated,” said Abu Hsana. “There are currently over 9,200 detainees in the prisons, and of these 3,200 are being held under administrative detention.”

However, NGOs are struggling to determine exactly how many people have been taken in Gaza.

“We don’t have any accurate numbers because the occupation refuses to release any information, but we are told that it’s currently around 3,000 to 5,000 detainees.”

Most are held at one of two military sites — Camp Anatot, near Jerusalem, and Sde Teman, near Beersheba in the northern Negev.

Prisoners at Sde Teiman detention facility. NGOs are struggling to determine exactly how many people have been taken in Gaza since Oct. 7. (X)

Access to families and even lawyers is denied throughout a prisoner’s detention in these camps. But as some have been released over the past few months, shocking details have begun to emerge.

“For the detainees from Gaza, it’s especially difficult because they are handcuffed and blindfolded throughout their entire detention, from the moment of their arrest until they’re released, and the plastic zip ties being used are very tight and have caused many serious injuries,” said Abu Hsana.

In April, Israeli newspaper Haaretz obtained a copy of a letter sent to Israel’s attorney general and the ministers of defense and health by a distressed Israeli doctor at Sde Teman.

“Just this week,” the doctor wrote, “two prisoners had their legs amputated due to handcuff injuries, which unfortunately is a routine event.”

He added: “I have faced serious ethical dilemmas. More than that, I am writing to warn you that the facilities’ operations do not comply with a single section among those dealing with health in the Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law.”

None of the detainees, he added, were receiving appropriate medical care.

All this, he concluded, “makes all of us — the medical teams and you, those in charge of us in the health and defense ministries — complicit in the violation of Israeli law, and perhaps worse for me as a doctor, in the violation of my basic commitment to patients, wherever they are, as I swore when I graduated 20 years ago.”

A member of the Israeli security forces stands next to a blind-folded Palestinian prisoner on the border with Gaza near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on October 8, 2023. (AFP)

UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, recently published a scathing report condemning the treatment of Palestinians who had been held, without charge or trial, and later released.

The report was based on information obtained through UNRWA’s role in coordinating humanitarian aid at the Karem Abu Salem crossing point between Gaza and Israel, where Israeli security forces have been regularly releasing detainees since early November 2023.

By April 4, UNRWA had documented the release of 1,506 detainees, including 43 children and 84 women. Detainees reported having been sent multiple times for interrogations and enduring extensive ill-treatment.

This included “being subjected to beatings while made to lie on a thin mattress on top of rubble for hours without food, water or access to a toilet, with their legs and hands bound with plastic ties.”

Several detainees, said UNRWA, “reported being forced into cages and attacked by dogs. Some released detainees, including a child, had dog bite wounds on their body.”

Israeli soldiers detain blindfolded Palestinian men in a military truck on November 19, 2023. (AFP)

Other methods of ill-treatment reported included “physical beatings, threats of physical harm, insults and humiliation such as being made to act like animals or getting urinated on, use of loud music and noise, deprivation of water, food, sleep and toilets, denial of the right to pray and prolonged use of tightly locked handcuffs causing open wounds and friction injuries.”

In a statement provided to the BBC in response to UNRWA’s findings, the Israel Defense Forces said: “The mistreatment of detainees during their time in detention or whilst under interrogation violates IDF values and contravenes IDF and is therefore absolutely prohibited.”

It rejected specific allegations including the denial of access to water, medical care and bedding. The IDF also said that claims regarding sexual abuse were “another cynical attempt to create false equivalency with the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war by Hamas.”

Israeli peace activists have protested outside the camp, holding banners reading “Sde Teman torture camp” and “Israel makes people disappear.” In an apparent attempt to dampen growing unease about its treatment of detainees, earlier this month (June) Israel invited The New York Times “to briefly see part of” the facility.

If the authorities were hoping for a stamp of approval, they were to be disappointed.

Israelis protest at Sde Teman “Torture camp” where Palestinians are held. (X)

On June 6, the paper described “the scene one afternoon in late May at a military hangar inside Sde Teman.” In barbed-wire cages, the paper reported, “men sat in rows, handcuffed and blindfolded … barred from talking more loudly than a murmur, and forbidden to stand or sleep except when authorized.”

All were “cut off from the outside world, prevented for weeks from contacting lawyers or relatives.”

By late May, the NYT was told, about 4,000 Gazan detainees had spent up to three months in limbo at Sde Teman, including “several dozen” people captured during the Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7.

After interrogation, “around 70 percent of detainees had been sent to purpose-built prisons for further investigation and prosecution.

“The rest, at least 1,200 people, had been found to be civilians and returned to Gaza, without charge, apology or compensation.”

On May 23, a group of Israeli human rights organizations petitioned the Supreme Court calling for the camp’s closure. The government has agreed to scale back activities there and the court has ordered the state to report back on conditions at the facility by June 30.

But protesters and NGOs say the scandal of Sde Teman is just the tip of the iceberg.

Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian man as he attempts to attend the first Friday noon prayer of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on March 15, 2024. (AFP)

“Scores of testimonies reveal pervasive torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees, with numerous reports of deaths in Israeli prisons and military camps, blatantly violating the absolute prohibition of torture under international law,” said Miriam Azem, international advocacy and communications associate with Adalah — the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

“Thousands of Palestinians are held under administrative detention without charge or trial, based on secret evidence, in deplorable and life-threatening conditions.

“Hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza remain held incommunicado, without access to lawyers or family, their whereabouts unknown, under a legal framework that permits enforced disappearances, constituting a grave violation of international law.

“The urgency of the current moment demands immediate and resolute intervention from the international community. Failure to act poses a threat to Palestinian lives.”


UN warns of ‘catastrophic’ threat to region if Israel-Hezbollah fighting escalates

UN warns of ‘catastrophic’ threat to region if Israel-Hezbollah fighting escalates
Updated 25 June 2024

UN warns of ‘catastrophic’ threat to region if Israel-Hezbollah fighting escalates

UN warns of ‘catastrophic’ threat to region if Israel-Hezbollah fighting escalates
  • Russian envoy says Security Council’s US-backed Gaza ceasefire resolution now ‘dead letter’ that included ‘blatant lie’ that Israel had accepted the deal
  • Head of UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warns of ‘extreme risk of famine’ in Gaza as more than 20 percent of people go entire days and nights without eating

NEW YORK CITY: The UN on Tuesday expressed serious concerns about the risk of an escalation in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, warning that not only would it cause even more suffering and devastation to the people of Lebanon and Israel but also “more potentially catastrophic consequences for the region.”

Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East urged both sides to take urgent, immediate steps to deescalate the situation.

Tensions along the border between Israel and Lebanon continue to escalate. Cross-border exchanges of fire have increased in recent weeks, prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to warn that the risk of the conflict spreading to the wider region “is real and must be avoided.”

Wennesland was speaking during a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the implementation of Resolution 2334, which was adopted in 2016 and demands an end to all Israeli settlement activity, immediate steps to prevent violence and acts of terror against civilians, and calls on both sides to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.

Wennesland said he was “deeply troubled” by continuing Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and reiterated that all settlements “have no legal validity and are in flagrant violation of international law.” He called on Israel to cease all such activity immediately.

Escalating violence and tensions in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are also deeply worrying, Wennesland said.

“Intensified armed exchanges between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, alongside lethal attacks by Palestinians against Israelis and by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, have also exacerbated tensions and led to exceedingly high levels of casualties and detentions. All perpetrators of attacks must be held accountable,” he added.

Wennesland blamed regional instability on the ongoing hostilities in Gaza and stressed the need for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, and an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

“There is a deal on the table and it should be agreed,” he told council members. “I welcome the efforts, including by Egypt, Qatar and the United States, to reach such deal.”

He lamented the fact that effective mechanisms from Israel to provide humanitarian notifications, safe conditions for humanitarian operations, and sufficient access for aid workers to address humanitarian needs remain “sorely lacking and must be put in place without delay.”

Wennesland added: “Hunger and food insecurity persist. While projections of imminent famine in the northern governates have been averted through an increase in food deliveries, food insecurity has worsened in the south.

“Nearly all of Gaza’s population continues to face high levels of food insecurity, with nearly half a million people facing ‘catastrophic’ insecurity.”

Senior UN officials told Israeli authorities on Tuesday they will suspend aid operations across the battered enclave unless urgent steps are taken to protect humanitarian workers.

The UN World Food Program has already suspended aid deliveries from a US-built pier in Gaza over security concerns. This comes at a time when the amounts of essential goods allowed into Gaza continue to fall far short of the needs of the population, Wennesland said.

The Palestinian Authority’s fiscal situation remains “very precarious,” he added. Israel’s finance minister has announced his intention to continue blocking the transfer of all clearance revenues to the PA, and to take action that would end relations between Israeli and Palestinian banks at the end of June.

Such moves, Wennesland said, “threaten to plunge the Palestinian fiscal situation into an even greater crisis, potentially upending the entire Palestinian financial system.”

Meanwhile, Maximo Torero, the chief economist of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, on Tuesday warned of the “extreme risk of famine” in Gaza. He said the latest studies reveal that more than half of the population does not have any stocks of food in their homes, and more than 20 percent go entire days and nights without eating.

In northern Gaza, Torero said, 75,000 people, a quarter of the population, face catastrophic levels of food insecurity, and 150,000 are dealing with emergency levels of food insecurity.

In southern Gaza, including the Rafah area, more 350,000 people, a fifth of the population, are affected by catastrophic levels of food insecurity, and about 525,000 by emergency levels.

In response to these findings, humanitarian organization CARE’s interim country director for the West Bank and Gaza, Daw Mohammed, said: “The process to determine the difference between ‘famine’ or ‘catastrophic food insecurity’ is irrelevant for Palestinian people in Gaza, too many of whom have starved to death or will never fully recover from the ravages of hunger.

“The scale and intensity of hostilities, as we enter the ninth month of hell for people in Gaza, make data collection a life-threatening exercise and survival an hourly battle. Rather than wait for a determination of famine, we must listen to the call of humanity and act now.

“We need an immediate and sustained ceasefire, a massive increase in the safe flow of aid and aid workers into and around Gaza, access to water, fuel and basic healthcare services for all people, and the release of all hostages. There is no more time to wait.”

During the Security Council meeting, the US representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, blamed Hamas for rejecting a US-backed ceasefire deal.

“Hamas has eschewed the calls from this council and ignored voices from across the international community,” she said. “In fact, rather than accept the deal, Hamas has added even more conditions.

“It’s time to end the intransigence from Hamas, start a ceasefire and release the hostages.”

Her Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia said that the US-backed Resolution 2735, which calls for a ceasefire and was adopted on June 10, was sold to the Security Council “in the guise of a solution for saving Gaza. This kind of ‘cat in a sack,’ as we warned, turned out to be dead letter.”

He added: “What is even worse, in the resolution of the Security Council a blatant lie crept in; it is explicitly stated there that Israel consented to the peace proposal of the international mediators. However, in West Jerusalem this has not yet been confirmed and they repeat that at the same time as announcing the decisive intent to completely destroy Hamas.

“Ultimately, none of the phases stipulated in Resolution 2735 have been implemented. The council essentially was blindly dragged into a misadventure and moved towards blessing a scheme which, from the get go, had no chances of being implemented.

“We urge the membership of the Security Council, moving forward, to adopt a more conscientious approach to those decisions which they support, and to give thought to their actual content.”

UAE says succeeded in mediating exchange of 180 prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday celebrated the return of 90 prisoners of war from Russian captivity.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday celebrated the return of 90 prisoners of war from Russian captivity.
Updated 25 June 2024

UAE says succeeded in mediating exchange of 180 prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday celebrated the return of 90 prisoners of war from Russian captivity.
  • UAE foreign affairs ministry expressed its appreciation to the governments of Russia and Ukraine for their cooperation in making the exchange process a success

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates said it has succeeded in mediating an exchange of 180 prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine, Emirates News Agency reported on Tuesday.

The country’s foreign affairs ministry emphasized that the success of the latest mediation, the fifth since the beginning of this year, is the outcome of the UAE leveraging its distinct ties and partnership with both sides.

The ministry expressed its appreciation to the governments of Russia and Ukraine for their cooperation in making the exchange process a success.

It affirmed the UAE’s commitment to continuing efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. The ministry stressed the importance of resorting to dialogue, de-escalation, and diplomacy to resolve the conflict and mitigate the humanitarian repercussions resulting from it.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday confirmed the return of 90 prisoners of war from Russian captivity.

Russia’s defense ministry also acknowledged the swap saying: “As a result of negotiations, 90 Russian prisoners of war who risked death in captivity are being returned from areas under Kyiv’s control.

“In exchange, 90 prisoners from the Ukrainian armed forces were handed over,” the ministry said.

UN tells Israel it will suspend aid operations across Gaza without improved safety

UN tells Israel it will suspend aid operations across Gaza without improved safety
Updated 25 June 2024

UN tells Israel it will suspend aid operations across Gaza without improved safety

UN tells Israel it will suspend aid operations across Gaza without improved safety
  • UN and other aid officials have complained for months that they have no way to communicate quickly and directly with Israeli forces on the ground

WASHINGTON DC: Senior UN officials have warned Israel that they will suspend the world body’s aid operations across Gaza unless Israel acts urgently to better protect humanitarian workers, two UN officials said Tuesday. The ultimatum is the latest in a series of UN steps demanding Israel do more to safeguard aid operations from strikes by its forces and to curb growing lawlessness hindering humanitarian workers.
A UN letter sent to Israeli officials this month said Israel must provide UN workers with a way to communicate directly with Israeli forces on the ground in Gaza, among other steps, the officials said.
They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations with Israeli officials. The UN officials said there has been no final decision on suspending operations across Gaza and that talks with Israelis were ongoing.
Israeli military officials did not respond to requests for comment. Israel has previously acknowledged some military strikes on humanitarian workers, including an April attack that killed seven workers with the World Central Kitchen, and has denied allegations of others.
Citing security concerns, the UN World Food Program has already suspended aid delivery from a US-built pier designed to bring food and other emergency supplies to Palestinians who are facing starvation amid the eight-month war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
UN and other aid officials have complained for months that they have no way to communicate quickly and directly with Israeli forces on the ground, in contrast with the usual procedures — known as “deconfliction” — employed in conflict zones globally to protect aid workers from attack by combatants.
In its letter to Israeli officials, the UN cited communication and protective equipment for aid workers as among the commitments that it wanted Israel to make good on for its aid operations to continue in Gaza overall, the two UN officials say.
The UN said in April that about 30 humanitarian workers have been killed in the line of duty in Gaza since the war between Israel and Hamas began in October.
The UN and other humanitarian organizations also complain of increasing crime in Gaza and have urged Israel to do more to improve overall security for their operations from attack and theft. The lawlessness has stymied what Israel said was a daily pause in fighting to allow a new safe corridor to deliver aid into southern Gaza, with humanitarian officials saying groups of gunmen are regularly blocking convoys, holding drivers at gunpoint and rifling through their cargo.
On top of that, “missiles hit our premises, despite being deconflicted,” said Steve Taravela, a spokesman for the World Food Program, one of the main organizations working on humanitarian delivery in Gaza. He was not one of those confirming the UN threat to suspend operations across the territory. “WFP warehouses have been caught in the crossfire twice in the past two weeks.”
Humanitarian officials said conditions for civilians and aid workers have worsened further since early May when Israel launched an offensive in the southern city of Rafah, where many aid groups had their base. The operation has crippled what had been a main border crossing for food and other aid.
Aid workers trying to get shipments through the main remaining crossing, Kerem Shalom, face risks from fighting, damaged roads, unexploded ordnance and Israeli restrictions, including spending five or more hours a day waiting at checkpoints, Taravela said.
“Restoring order is crucial for an effective humanitarian response to meet soaring needs. UN agencies and others need a safe environment to be able to access people and scale up,” he said.
Israeli officials say the problems at Kerem Shalom are a matter of poor UN logistics.
Separately, the United Nations has also suspended cooperation with the US-built pier since June 9, a day after the Israeli military used the area around the pier in a hostage rescue that killed more than 270 Palestinians.
While US and Israeli officials said no part of the pier itself was used in the raid that rescued four hostages taken by Hamas, UN officials said any perception in Gaza that the project was used in the Israeli military operation may endanger their aid work.
The UN has finished a security assessment of the pier operation following the raid but has not yet made a decision on resuming any delivery of supplies from the US-built structure, according to a humanitarian official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not yet been released publicly.
Speaking to reporters traveling with a US delegation to a gathering of defense chiefs in Botswana on Tuesday, an official with the US Agency for International Development expressed optimism that aid deliveries from the pier would eventually resume.
“I think it’s a question of when the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) can provide, and the government of Israel can provide, the assurances that the UN is seeking on deconfliction and security right now,” said Isobel Coleman, deputy administrator of USAID, which has been working with the World Food Program on aid distribution from the pier.