Can Gaza humanitarian pause be starting point for end to Israel-Hamas war?

Analysis Can Gaza humanitarian pause be starting point for end to Israel-Hamas war?
After six weeks of relentless bombardment, a four-day pause will allow Palestinian refugees in Gaza to receive aid. (AFP)
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Updated 25 November 2023
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Can Gaza humanitarian pause be starting point for end to Israel-Hamas war?

Can Gaza humanitarian pause be starting point for end to Israel-Hamas war?
  • Truce that began on Friday will facilitate the flow of aid and allow the exchange of hostages and prisoners
  • Aid agencies warn the four-day pause will not be sufficient to meet the immense needs of Palestinian civilians

LONDON: Humanitarian aid organizations want the four-day truce between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas that came into effect on Friday in Gaza after weeks of fighting to become a permanent ceasefire.

The truce is intended to facilitate the flow of aid into Gaza and will see Israel swap 150 Palestinians held in its jails with 50 of the hostages taken by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack that triggered this latest wave of violence.

Reports citing Israeli officials claim the pause in fighting may extend beyond the initial four days if Hamas agrees to release at least 10 further hostages per day.

According to the BBC, the incentive given by the Israeli government to Hamas was important for the families of hostages whose release has not yet been negotiated, with many insisting a partial deal with Hamas was not acceptable.

There were no details, however, on whether any such agreement would see the reciprocal release of any of the 7,300 Palestinians believed to be held in Israeli prisons. According to Reuters, both sides have said the fighting would resume once the truce ends.




Palestinians flee to the southern Gaza Strip. (AP)

Although it is considered a “welcome step,” humanitarian aid organizations have branded the truce “insufficient,” emphasizing the urgent need for an immediate and total ceasefire.

Action Against Hunger, Handicap International, Medecins du Monde, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Refugees International, and Save the Children have described the truce as something like a band-aid on a gaping wound.

“The humanitarian pause is a welcome step in the right direction but cannot replace a ceasefire,” Jason Lee, country director of Save the Children Palestine, said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Highlighting the violence taking place in both the north and south of the embattled enclave, Lee said there “is really no safe space in Gaza.”

Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s executive director, told the UN Security Council this week that Gaza had become “the most dangerous place in the world to be a child,” adding that “the true cost of this war will be measured in children’s lives,” with more than 5,300 having been killed.

News of the temporary truce has renewed focus on the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border, which was closed for the first three weeks of fighting despite being the Palestinian enclave’s sole means of access to the outside world since Israel imposed a blockade in 2007.

INNUMBERS

• 1,400 Truckloads of humanitarian supplies permitted to enter Gaza via Egypt during the month ending Nov. 21.

• 10,000 Truckloads of commercial and humanitarian commodities permitted to enter per month prior to the war.

(Source: UN OCHA)

Since its reopening, some 1,400 trucks carrying aid have entered Gaza through Rafah, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

However, aid groups have said this is only a fraction of what Gazans need, with Chiara Saccardi, head of operations for the Middle East at Action Against Hunger, describing the present state of access through Rafah as “limited.”

Saccardi told a media briefing on Wednesday: “There is a logistical limitation on what can enter through.

“Whatever can enter right now through Rafah is not enough,” she added, calling for the opening of more entry points.

Joel Weiler, executive director of Medecins du Monde, agreed that the Rafah crossing was not sufficient to deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza, calling for the opening of Kerem Shalom on the triple Gaza Strip-Israel-Egypt border.

Weiler called Friday’s truce at best a “band-aid” and at worst “a joke” for medical organizations seeking to assist Gaza. “It is humanitarian-washing,” he added.

The UN has also been calling on Israel to open Kerem Shalom to allow the entry of humanitarian aid and commercial goods into Gaza.




A woman holding a child flees following an Israeli strike in Rafah. (AFP)

Before Israel’s 2007 embargo, the crossing was responsible for the delivery of more than 60 percent of cargo entering Gaza, according to Martin Griffiths, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.

Focus, though, remains on stopping the bombardment.

Paul O’Brien, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said that given the level of destruction and the lack of supplies, the urgent needs in the besieged enclave were too deep and catastrophic to be met in a few short days.

“Meeting urgent needs in Gaza is not going to happen in a pause for a few days and is not going to happen with a few hundred aid trucks, as essential and crucial as they are,” he told a media briefing on Wednesday.

Those needs are apparent when assessing the scale of damage. Almost half of Gaza’s housing units have either been flattened or severely damaged, and more than 51 percent of education facilities destroyed.

Meanwhile, shortages of fuel have resulted in electricity blackouts, depriving water treatment plants of power and causing waterborne diseases to spread.

Danila Zizi, Handicap International’s country manager for Palestine, said the Israeli bombardment was not only killing civilians but also “causing a range of devastating injuries.”




A relative carries the body of a child during the funeral in Khan Yunis. (AFP)

These include severe spinal injuries and wounds requiring amputations, which doctors are forced to perform without anesthetics, pain relief, or proper aftercare and rehabilitation due to the blockade of aid.

“Before the current austerities, we were looking at 21 percent of persons with disabilities in Gaza. Now, we have zero visibility. We cannot even attempt to estimate how many,” she said.

Echoing O’Brien, Zizi said access to healthcare, food, and water, as well as protecting human dignity, were all continuous needs that could not be met in a few hours or days, calling the current truce insufficient “to deliver aid to 2 million people.”

She said: “We do not know what will happen with a temporary ceasefire. We are not safe to move. We need a ceasefire. We do need safe passage to assess the people in need.”

Joining the call for an immediate and sustained ceasefire across Gaza, O’Brien called on those with influence over Israel, “particularly President Biden and Congress,” to “stand for human rights, work for that sustained ceasefire.”

He urged the US to “suspend arms transfers and support for any measures that violate international humanitarian law,” calling for any breaches to be investigated as war crimes.




Smoke rising above buildings during Israeli strikes on the northern part of Gaza. (AFP)

“The IDF and the US argue that because Hamas is the target, and they live in Gaza, the IDF is adhering to humanitarian law when they bomb churches, schools, hospitals. They are wrong. And these acts must be investigated as war crimes,” O’Brien said.

Hope for a sustained ceasefire appears limited, however. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has reiterated that his government’s aim remains the complete destruction of Hamas.

For Zizi of Handicap International, however, there can be no alternative, with the four-day truce little better than the four-hour daily pause Israel agreed to implement on Nov. 9 with a view to allowing civilians in the north of Gaza to flee to safety in the south.

However, reports indicate that despite the claims of a safe haven in the south, the Israeli military has continued to target the area, as well as its own prescribed routes to safety.

As a result, humanitarian aid organizations, including UN agencies, have rejected Israel’s unilateral proposals to establish “safe zones.”

In a joint statement, these organizations said the establishment of such areas under the present conditions “risk creating harm for civilians, including large-scale loss of life.”


Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Updated 40 min 50 sec ago
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Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
  • Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday in a retaliatory strike against Israel
  • Washington says did have contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries but did not get notice 72 hours in advance

WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD/DUBAI: Turkish, Jordanian and Iraqi officials said on Sunday that Iran gave wide notice days before its drone and missile attack on Israel, but US officials said Tehran did not warn Washington and that it was aiming to cause significant damage.
Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday in a retaliatory strike after a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria.
Most of the drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory, though a young girl was critically injured and there were widespread concerns of further escalation.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Sunday that Iran gave neighboring countries and Israel’s ally the United States 72 hours’ notice it would launch the strikes.
Turkiye’s Foreign Ministry said it had spoken to both Washington and Tehran before the attack, adding it had conveyed messages as an intermediary to be sure reactions were proportionate.
“Iran said the reaction would be a response to Israel’s attack on its embassy in Damascus and that it would not go beyond this. We were aware of the possibilities. The developments were not a surprise,” said a Turkish diplomatic source.
One senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration denied Amirabdollahian’s statement, saying Washington did have contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries but did not get notice 72 hours in advance.
“That is absolutely not true,” the official said. “They did not give a notification, nor did they give any sense of ... ‘these will be the targets, so evacuate them.’“
Tehran sent the United States a message only after the strikes began and the intent was to be “highly destructive” said the official, adding that Iran’s claim of a widespread warning may be an attempt to compensate for the lack of any major damage from the attack.
“We received a message from the Iranians as this was ongoing, through the Swiss. This was basically suggesting that they were finished after this, but it was still an ongoing attack. So that was (their) message to us,” the US official said.
Iraqi, Turkish and Jordanian officials each said Iran had provided early warning of the attack last week, including some details.
The attack with drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles risked causing major casualties and escalating the conflict.
US officials said on Friday and Saturday they expected an imminent attack and urged Iran against one, with Biden tersely saying his only message to Tehran was: “Don’t.”

ESCALATION
Two Iraqi sources, including a government security adviser and a security official, said Iran had used diplomatic channels to inform Baghdad about the attack at least three days before it happened.
The exact timing of the attack was not disclosed at that point, but was passed to Iraqi security and military authorities hours before the strikes, allowing Baghdad to close its airspace and avoid fatal accidents.
“The government clearly understood from the Iranian officials that the US military in Iraq was also aware of the attack in advance,” said the Iraqi security official.
A senior Jordanian official said Iran had summoned Arab envoys in Tehran on Wednesday to inform them of their intention to carry out an attack, though it did not specify the timing.
Asked if Iran had also given details about the targets and kind of weapons to be used, the Jordanian source did not respond directly but indicated that that was the case.
An Iranian source briefed on the matter said Iran had informed the US through diplomatic channels that included Qatar, Turkiye and Switzerland about the scheduled day of the attack, saying it would be conducted in a manner to avoid provoking a response.
How far escalation can be avoided remains in question. Biden has told Israel the United States will not join any Israeli retaliation, the US official said.
However, Israel is still weighing its response and will “exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us,” Israeli minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday.

 


Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 15 April 2024
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Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
  • Israel has killed more than 33,686 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

JERUSALEM: The first direct attack on Israel by Iran has shaken Israelis and left them fearful that a bigger war is looming.
While the population has long been used to sirens warning of attacks from Hamas, the hundreds of drones and missiles sent from Iran over Saturday night marked a new element in the over-lapping Middle East conflicts.
Israel reported modest damage on Sunday after the military said it shot down almost all of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran.
But the attack still rattled Israelis, whose army has fought Hamas for years in Gaza but never engaged in direct warfare with regional superpower Iran. Iranian weapons and interceptors could be seen flashing over the sky at night.

I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop no.

Jeremy Smith, Resident of Tzur Hadassah

“I think it was quite scary when we started hearing booming in the middle of the night, and we did not know what it was. I mean, we knew what it was, but we didn’t know to what extent it would be,” said Jerusalem resident Cecile Smulowitz.
“But thank God the Israeli army came through, and so far it’s quiet, and we hope it will continue that way.”
Iran mounted its attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on Tehran’s embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, which killed 13 people. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the attack but is widely believed to have done so.
Following Iranian senior leader Ali Khamenei’s promise to hit back, Israelis were put on high alert.
Iran warned Israel and the US on Sunday of a “much larger response” if there was any retaliation for its mass drone and missile attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly told the world that Iran is an existential threat to the Jewish state, vowed Israel would achieve victory.
The threat of open warfare erupting between Iran and Israel and dragging the US into the conflict has put the region on edge.
Some Israelis said they did not want an escalation, but with the stakes so high, they are nervous despite having the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the region.
“I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop now,” said Jeremy Smith, 60, a resident of Tzur Hadassah.
“I imagine Israel will respond because, I mean, our whole country was covered in missiles and drones. So what can you do? But we have to stop it somehow.”
Before the Iranian attack, Israeli authorities had instructed the public not to hold large gatherings, to close all schools and venues for children’s camps during the Jewish holiday of Passover, and to close some beaches and travel sites.
“We didn’t want the war with Hamas. They attacked us. We don’t want a war with Iran, they attack us,” said Jerusalem resident Amy Friedlang Morgans, 71.
“We don’t want a war with Iran. They, somehow, cannot accept Jewish people living here. This is our homeland. It’s written in the Bible.”
The Iranian attack took place against the background of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, in which Israeli forces have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry figures.

 


Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
Updated 15 April 2024
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Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
  • Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said

CAIRO: British security firm Ambrey said on Sunday that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intercepted an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) near Eilat, stating that it assessed the UAV was launched from Yemen.
Ambrey said it also observed unprecedented levels of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS)interference off Eilat and neighboring Aqaba, Jordan, on Sunday.
“These were due to electronic warfare counter-measures,” the statement said.
“A Sa’ar 6-class corvette successfully intercepted a UAV that approached Israeli territory from the southeast using the ‘C-Dome’ Defense System earlier this evening,” the IDF posted on X.
Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said.
Eilat has been a frequent target for launches by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a show of support for Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza and is also backed by Iran.

 


US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
Updated 15 April 2024
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US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
  • The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A US judge has tossed out a series of civil lawsuits against a Libyan military commander who used to live in Virginia and was accused of killing innocent civilians in that country’s civil war.
At a court hearing Friday, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she had no jurisdiction to preside over a case alleging war crimes committed in Libya, even though the defendant, Khalifa Haftar, has US citizenship and lived for more than 20 years in the northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital as an exile from the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar. In 2022, Brinkema entered a default judgment against Haftar after he refused to sit for scheduled depositions about his role in the fighting that has plagued the country over the last decade.
But Haftar retained new lawyers who persuaded the judge to reopen the case and made Haftar available to be deposed. He sat for two separate depositions in 2022 and 2023 and denied orchestrating attacks against civilians.
Once a lieutenant to Qaddafi, Haftar defected to the US during the 1980s. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.
He returned to Libya in 2011 to support anti-Qaddafi forces that revolted against the dictator and killed him. During the country’s civil war, he led the self-styled Libyan National Army, which controlled much of the eastern half of Libya, with support from countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He continues to hold sway in the eastern half of the country.
In the lawsuits, first filed in 2019, the plaintiffs say family members were killed by military bombardments conducted by Haftar’s army in civilian areas.
The lawsuits also alleged that Haftar and his family owned a significant amount of property in Virginia, which could have been used to pay off any judgment that would have been entered against him.
While the lawsuits were tossed out on technical issues over jurisdiction, one of Haftar’s lawyers, Paul Kamenar, said Haftar denied any role in the deaths of civilians.
“He’s not this ruthless figure that everyone wants to portray him as,” Kamenar said in a phone interview Sunday.
Faisal Gill, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the three lawsuits that Brinkema tossed out Friday, said he plans to appeal the dismissal.
Mark Zaid, lawyer for another set of plaintiffs, called Brinkema’s ruling perplexing and said he believes that the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case had already been established at an earlier phase of the case.
“A US citizen committed war crimes abroad and thus far has escaped civil accountability,” Zaid said Sunday in an emailed statement.
In court papers, Haftar tried to claim immunity from the suits as a head of state. At one point, the judge put the cases on pause because she worried that the lawsuits were being used to influence scheduled presidential elections in Libya, in which Haftar was a candidate. Those elections were later postponed.


Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah
Updated 15 April 2024
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Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah
  • The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory

JERUSALEM: Israel said Sunday that Hamas is holding hostages in Rafah in southern Gaza, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to launch a ground invasion despite international outcry.
“Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza... We also have hostages in Rafah, and we will do everything we can to bring them back home,” Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a briefing.
In a separate statement, the army said it was calling “approximately two reserve brigades for operational activities on the Gazan front.”
It did not specify whether the brigades would be deployed inside Gaza.
The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory.