UN agency for Palestinians says its fuel depot in Gaza is empty; relief operations to end soon

UN agency for Palestinians says its fuel depot in Gaza is empty; relief operations to end soon
A boy walks with sacks of food supplies through a yard at a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 14, 2023, where internally displaced Palestinians have taken refuge amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 15 November 2023
Follow

UN agency for Palestinians says its fuel depot in Gaza is empty; relief operations to end soon

UN agency for Palestinians says its fuel depot in Gaza is empty; relief operations to end soon
  • The onslaught – one of the most intense bombardments so far this century — has been disastrous for Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip: The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees says its fuel storage facility in Gaza is empty and that it will soon end relief operations.
Israel has barred fuel imports since the start of the war with Hamas, saying the militant group would use it for military purposes.
The UN agency is struggling to provide basic services to over 600,000 people sheltering in schools and other facilities in the south.
Palestinian authorities on Tuesday called for a cease-fire to evacuate three dozen newborns and other patients trapped inside Gaza’s biggest hospital as Israeli forces battled Hamas in the streets just outside and seized more ground across northern Gaza.
For days, the Israeli army has encircled Shifa Hospital, the facility it says Hamas hides in, and beneath, to use civilians as shields for its main command base.
Hospital staff and Hamas deny the claim. Meanwhile, hundreds of patients, staff and displaced people were trapped inside, with supplies dwindling and no electricity to run incubators and other life-saving equipment. With refrigeration out for days, morgue staff on Tuesday dug a mass grave in the yard for more than 120 bodies, officials said.
The standoff at Shifa and other hospitals comes as Israeli forces control larger swaths of Gaza City and the surrounding northern part of the Gaza Strip, saying they are driving out and killing Hamas fighters.
Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said in a nationally televised press conference Tuesday night that Hamas has “lost control” of northern Gaza and that Israel has made significant gains in Gaza City. But asked about the timeframe for the war, Gallant said: “We’re talking about long months, not a day or two.”
Israel has vowed to crush Hamas rule in Gaza after the militants’ Oct. 7 attack into Israel in which they killed some 1,200 people and took roughly 240 hostages. But even as its troops control more of a devastated north Gaza, the Israeli government has acknowledged it doesn’t know what it will do with the territory after Hamas’ defeat.
The onslaught – one of the most intense bombardments so far this century — has been disastrous for Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians.
More than 11,200 people, two-thirds of them women and minors, have been killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah. About 2,700 people have been reported missing. The ministry’s count does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths.
Almost the entire population of Gaza has squeezed into the southern two-thirds of the tiny territory, where conditions have been deteriorating even as bombardment there continues. About 200,000 fled the north in recent days, the UN said Tuesday, but tens of thousands are believed to remain.
Hamas released a video late Monday showing one of the hostages, 19-year-old Noa Marciano, before and after she was killed in what Hamas said was an Israeli strike. The military later declared her a fallen soldier, without identifying a cause of death.
She is the first hostage confirmed to have died in captivity. Four were released by Hamas and a fifth was rescued by Israeli forces.
PLIGHT OF HOSPITALS
Fighting has raged for days around Shifa Hospital, a complex several city blocks across at the center of Gaza City that has now “turned into a cemetery,” its director said in a statement.
The Health Ministry said 40 patients, including three babies, have died since Shifa’s emergency generator ran out of fuel Saturday. Another 36 babies are at risk of dying because there is no power for incubators, according to the ministry.
The Israeli military said it had started an effort to transfer incubators to Shifa. But they would be useless without electricity, said Christian Lindmeier, a World Health Organization spokesman.
The Health Ministry has proposed evacuating the hospital with the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross and transferring the patients to hospitals in Egypt, but has not received any response, ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said.
While Israel says it is willing to allow staff and patients to evacuate, some Palestinians who have made it out say Israeli forces have fired at evacuees.
Israel says its claims of a Hamas command center in and beneath Shifa are based on intelligence but has not provided visual evidence to support them. Denying the claims, the Gaza Health Ministry says it has invited international organizations to investigate the facility.
The White House’s national security council spokesperson, John Kirby, said the US has unspecified intelligence from a variety of sources that Hamas and another Palestinian militants use Shifa and other hospitals and tunnels underneath them to hide and support military operations and hold hostages.
But Kirby said the US doesn’t support airstrikes on hospitals and does not want to see “a firefight in a hospital where innocent people, helpless people, sick people are simply trying to get the medical care that they deserve.”
On Monday, the military released footage of a children’s hospital in Gaza City that its forces entered over the weekend, showing weapons it said it found inside, as well as basement rooms where it believes militants were holding hostages. The video showed what appeared to be a hastily installed toilet and ventilation system in the basement.
The Health Ministry rejected the allegations, saying the area had been turned into a shelter for displaced people.
BATTLE IN GAZA CITY
Independent accounts of the fighting in Gaza City have been nearly impossible to gather, as communications to the north have largely collapsed.
Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israeli forces have completed the takeover of Shati refugee camp, a densely built district bordering Gaza CIty’s center, and are moving about freely in the city as a whole.
Videos released by the Israeli military show troops moving through the city, firing into buildings. Bulldozers push down structures as tanks roll through streets surrounded by partially collapsed towers.
The videos portray a battle where troops are rooting out pockets of Hamas fighters and tearing down buildings they find them in, while gradually dismantling the group’s tunnel network.
Israel says it has killed several thousand fighters, including important mid-level commanders, while 46 of its own soldiers have been killed in Gaza. In recent days Hamas rocket fire into Israel — constant throughout the war — has waned. Details of the Israeli account and the extent of Hamas losses could not be independently confirmed.
One Israeli commander in Gaza, identified only as Lt. Col. Gilad, said in a video that his forces near Shifa Hospital had seized government buildings, schools and residential buildings where they found weapons and eliminated fighters.
The army said it had captured Gaza’s legislature building, the Hamas police headquarters and a compound housing Hamas’ military intelligence headquarters. The captured buildings carry high symbolic value, but their strategic value was unclear. Hamas fighters are believed to be positioned in underground bunkers.
Israeli news sites showed pictures of soldiers holding up the Israeli flag and military flags in celebration inside some of the buildings.
DETERIORATING CONDITIONS IN THE SOUTH
Israel has urged civilians in the north to flee south, but southern Gaza is not much safer. Israel carries out frequent airstrikes throughout Gaza, hitting what it says are militant targets but often killing women and children.
Some 1.5 million Palestinians, more than two thirds of Gaza’s population, have fled their homes. UN-run shelters in the south are severely overcrowded.
People stand in line for hours for scarce bread and brackish water. Trash is piling up, sewage is flooding the streets and taps run dry because there is no way to power water systems. Israel has barred fuel imports since the start of the war, saying Hamas would use it for military purposes.
At a tent camp outside a hospital in the central town of Deir Al-Balah, people trudged through mud as they stretched plastic tarps over flimsy tents.
“All of these tents collapsed because of the rain,” said Iqbal Abu Saud, who had fled Gaza City with 30 of her relatives. “How many days will we have to deal with this?”
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which is struggling to provide basic services to over 600,000 people sheltering in schools and other facilities in the south, said it may run out of fuel by Wednesday, forcing it to halt most aid operations, including bringing limited supplies of food and medicine in from Egypt.


Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
  • “Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said

CARACAS: Iran on Saturday said it will send experts to its ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators in hospitals it said had been stopped due to Western sanctions.
Venezuela requested Iran’s help, according to a message on the social media platform X by the Iranian government attributed to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
“Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said.
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients.
Venezuela is also an ally of Russia and China.
The return of US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry has made its alliance with Iran critical to keeping its lagging energy sector afloat. Washington last year temporarily relaxed sanctions on Venezuela’s promise to allow a competitive presidential election. The US now says only some conditions were met. 

 


Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
  • Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said

BUCHAREST: Romanian rescue teams on Saturday were scouring the Black Sea for three Syrian sailors who went missing when their cargo ship sank off the coast, the naval authority said.
The Mohammed Z sank with 11 crew on board, 26 nautical miles off the Romanian town of Sfantu Gheorghe in the Danube delta in the Black Sea on Saturday morning, officials said in a statement.
The ship sailing under the Tanzanian flag was carrying nine Syrian and two Egyptian nationals, it said.
After receiving an alert at “around 4:00am,” naval authorities and border police were dispatched, with two nearby commercial vessels also joining the search and rescue operation.
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said.
The cause of the accident was unclear.
According to the specialist website Marine Traffic, the ship departed from the Turkish port of Mersin and was heading to the Romanian port of Sulina.
Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, drifting sea mines have posed a constant threat for ships in the Black Sea, with countries bordering it doubling down on demining efforts.
Ensuring safe passage through the Black Sea has gained particular importance since Romania’s Danube ports became hubs for the transit of grain following the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports.
 

 


Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
  • A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s lawmakers failed to elect a speaker on Saturday as neither of the two main candidates secured a majority during a tense session of parliament.
It is the latest in a series of failed attempts to replace the former head of parliament who was dismissed in November, with political bickering and divisions between key Sunni parties derailing every attempt so far.
Saturday’s vote was the closest yet to selecting a new head of the 329-member parliament, with 311 lawmakers showing up for the session and the leading candidate falling just seven votes short.
The parliament’s media office announced that 137 lawmakers chose Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, the oldest MP, while 158 picked Salem Al-Issawi.
However, candidates require at least 165 votes to win.
Many lawmakers did not return for a second attempt on Saturday, with local media sharing videos of a brief brawl between MPs and reporting that at least one of them was injured.
The parliament’s media office then announced that the session had been adjourned.
Iraq, a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups, is governed by complex power-sharing arrangements.
The largely ceremonial role of president traditionally goes to a Kurd, that of prime minister to a Shiite, while the speaker of parliament is usually Sunni.
But parliament is dominated by a coalition of pro-Iran Shiite parties, reflecting the country’s largest religious group.
A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc.
The new speaker will replace Halbussi, the influential politician dismissed by Iraq’s top court in November last year after a lawmaker accused him of forging a resignation letter.
Halbussi had been the country’s highest-ranking Sunni official since he first became a speaker in 2018.
The new speaker’s stint will not last long with the general election due in 2025.
 

 


Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli

Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli
Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli

Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli
  • Libya is divided between the UN-recognized Tripoli-based government and a rival administration in the country’s east

TRIPOLI: Clashes between Libyan armed groups broke out on Friday night in the city of Zawiya, some 40 kilometers west of the capital Tripoli, a security official told AFP.
An official at the city’s security directorate told AFP the clashes were ongoing but “intermittent” on Saturday.
“The southern areas of the city of Zawiya have been witnessing clashes between armed groups since last night,” the official said.
Libya is still struggling to recover from years of war and chaos after the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
On Saturday morning, schools in Zawiya were suspended as some roads leading to the city were shut down amid a “casual” exchange of fire between the groups, the official said.
Media reports said the fighting left casualties, but authorities in Tripoli have yet to confirm any.
The Tripoli-based health ministry said in a statement it was working to evacuate parts of the city and taking injured people to hospitals.
The Libyan Red Crescent said it had evacuated some families from areas affected by the fights.
Authorities have not disclosed the reasons behind the fight.
Videos shared since Friday night on social media, which AFP could not verify, showed armed men in SUVs firing heavily at other armed groups.
Other videos showed smoke rising from parts of the city.
Although relative calm has returned to the oil-rich country in the past few years, clashes periodically occur between its myriad armed groups.
Last month, clashes broke out in the capital Tripoli, sparking panic among locals who were celebrating the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
In August 2023, Tripoli’s worst armed clashes in a year left 55 people dead when two powerful groups fought.
Libya is divided between the UN-recognized Tripoli-based government and a rival administration in the country’s east.
 

 


How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse

How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse
Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse

How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse
  • UN Women has described ongoing Israel offensive as a “war on women” with at least 10,000 female deaths since last October
  • Deprived of access to adequate services, more than 1 million women and girls face daily challenges and serious health risks

LONDON: Deprived of adequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services, Palestinian women and girls in Gaza are bearing the brunt of the prolonged and deepening humanitarian emergency caused Israel’s ongoing military offensive.

With no resolution to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in sight, more than a million displaced women and girls in the embattled Palestinian enclave continue to endure daily challenges in increasingly dire conditions.

UN Women has described the Israeli military operation in Gaza, which began in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, as a “war on women,” with at least 10,000 killed since the start of the conflict — among them more than 6,000 mothers.

Those figures, published in April, are now likely far higher as Israel expands its operation and bombing raids into eastern Rafah — Gaza’s southernmost city, now home to some 1.4 million displaced Palestinians.

According to UN figures, this latest operation has forced an estimated 150,000 Palestinians to flee central and northern Rafah.

While the biggest risk to women and girls in Gaza is injury or death under Israeli bombardment, “the unhygienic conditions and lack of water in Gaza are also having a very negative impact on women and girls’ health and dignity,” Fikr Shalltoot, the Gaza programs director at Medical Aid for Palestinians, told Arab News.

Israel denies deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure, accusing Hamas of using residential areas for cover.

As summer approaches, soaring temperatures worsen the spread of communicable diseases caused by a lack of hygiene facilities, water, and access to proper food. The heat itself is also a significant danger to children and the elderly.

A Palestinian woman holding her children reacts outside a hospital where casualties are brought following Israeli bombardment in Bureij, central Gaza Strip, on April 8, 2024. (AFP)

“During a recent heatwave, a 5-year-old girl tragically died in her tent due to extreme heat,” Shalltoot said.

Analysis of satellite imagery by BBC Verify found that the Israeli operation in Gaza has damaged or destroyed more than half (53 percent) of the territory’s vital water and sanitation facilities.

The analysis, based on images acquired in March and April, also confirmed that four of the six wastewater treatment plants in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. These facilities were critical to preventing sewage buildup.

Fidaa Al-Araj, Oxfam’s food security, cash, and protection coordinator in Gaza, said the water, sanitation, and hygiene situation facing women and girls in the enclave was “challenging,” leaving them unable to access clean toilets or private shower spaces.

A woman reacts upon seeing the body of a relative killed in Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024. (AFP)

“Having been displaced into camps or even in a host community, the numbers of people, of internally displaced persons, are very, very high,” Al-Araj told Arab News. “So, there is (overcrowding), there are many difficulties in having access to toilets, bathrooms, showers.”

She added: “Even if you have the facilities, and even if by any stretch they are enough for the IDPs residing in any given space, there is the issue of lack of running water to supply those facilities and to have them up and running all the time.

Displaced Palestinian women roll dough at their pizza making project at a makeshift shelter in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024. Lack of water has made the work much difficult.  (AFP)

“So, the hygiene conditions are very compromised, to say the least. When it comes to women and girls, there are issues of privacy, which is completely lacking.”

Where washrooms are present, people have “to wait in line with all sorts of people, even strangers, men and women, just to use the toilet. You have people banging on the door of the toilet while you’re in there, asking you to hurry up because the line is still very long.”

INNUMBERS

• 700,000 Women and girls now hosted in Rafah who have nowhere else to go. 

• 93% Women surveyed who feel unsafe in their own homes or in displacement.

• 6/10 Women who reported complications in pregnancy since Oct. 7.

Source: UN Women

This also makes management of menstruation especially challenging, as women and girls “endure longer hours without changing a pad, without washing,” Al-Araj added.

According to UN figures, there are more than 690,000 menstruating women and adolescent girls in the Gaza Strip. But aid agencies, which have had very limited access to the enclave due to the Israeli blockade, have been unable to meet the high demand for hygiene kits.

A girl ponders over what the future holds for her as she stands between barbed-wire patches at a camp housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 30, 2024. (AFP)

And since Israel took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7 and closed the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing, the already limited flow of commercial goods and humanitarian aid has been further strangulated.

MAP’s Shalltoot confirmed that women’s sanitary products were “scarce in the local market,” highlighting that this has had “a psychological and physical health impact on women and girls.”

She said: “They resort to homemade, makeshift alternatives, which negatively impact their health by putting them at risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections and protection-related risks.

“This also negatively impacts their psychological well-being, anxiety and insecurity.”

Even the simple act of taking a shower has been almost impossible for women in Gaza for several months.

A woman gives a baby a bath inside a tent at a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 18, 2024. (AfP)

“It’s very difficult to find a spot designated to take showers, and if it’s there, it’s very difficult to have water,” Oxfam’s Al-Araj said. “And if the water is there, it’s very difficult to find time to take an adequate shower.”

She added: “As a woman and as a mother of girls, I’ve been through all of this. To overcome these circumstances, you space out the shower times, so you take a shower when it’s absolutely needed.

“Sometimes you could spend a couple of weeks or even more without taking a shower.”

The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres told the BBC that the destruction of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities has led to “disastrous health consequences for the population,” notably a significant rise in gastric complaints in Rafah.

A Palestinian woman brushes a girl's hair outside a tent at a refugee camp in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 9, 2024. (AFP)

Contaminated water has also led to a spike in hepatitis A cases, with women and girls facing a heightened risk of exposure to the disease due to their traditional domestic responsibilities and caring for the sick, according to UN Women’s April gender alert report.

The report, titled “Scarcity and Fear,” highlighted that the lack of adequate and dignified facilities also exposes women and girls to reproductive and urinary tract infections.

“This situation could develop into dangerous or concerning health conditions for the women and girls, and I’m really sorry to say that it’s not given priority,” said Al-Araj.

“The heightening demand on the time, resources, and capacity of the medical facilities and staff makes prioritizing women’s issues or girls’ issues very difficult.”

Moreover, there are no quick fixes. Even if sufficient aid is permitted to enter Gaza, facilities need to be carefully planned in order to meet the necessary standards of privacy, cleanliness, and safety.

A Palestinian girl carries a toddler as people flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip to a safer location on May 11, 2024, Israeli strikes. (AFP)

“It’s not enough to build a shower or a toilet,” said Al-Araj. “It’s not enough to provide it with water and that’s it. You have to think of the site … Is it safe for women and girls, is it accessible at all times … is it targeted maybe by different threats?

“You also have to think about the supplies. You don’t give a hygiene kit or a dignity kit once, for example, and that’s it, your work is done. You need to regularly provide those kinds of kits.”

Al-Araj also emphasized the need for “complementary services,” including extending responses “to enhancing access to sexual and reproductive health care system.

“I can only wish that the aftereffects of all of this wouldn’t linger for long or have irreversible results.”