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 executed 834 people last year, highest since 2015: rights groups

Iran executed 834 people last year, highest since 2015: rights groups
Updated 05 March 2024
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Iran executed 834 people last year, highest since 2015: rights groups

Iran executed 834 people last year, highest since 2015: rights groups
  • The number of executions, which Iran has carried out by hanging in recent years, was up some 43 percent on 2022

PARIS: Iran executed a “staggering” total of at least 834 people last year, the highest number since 2015 as capital punishment surged in the Islamic republic, two rights groups said Tuesday.
The number of executions, which Iran has carried out by hanging in recent years, was up some 43 percent on 2022.
It marked only the second time in two decades that over 800 executions were recorded in a year, after 972 executions in 2015, Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) and Paris-based Together Against the Death Penalty said in the joint report.
The groups accused Iran of using the death penalty to spread fear throughout society in the wake of the protests sparked by the September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini that shook the authorities.
“Instilling societal fear is the regime’s only way to hold on to power, and the death penalty is its most important instrument,” said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam in the report, which described the figure of 834 as a “staggering total.”
Iran has executed nine men in cases linked to attacks on security forces during the 2022 protests — two in 2022, six in 2023 and one so far in 2024 — according to the rights groups.
But executions have been stepped up on other charges, notably in drug-related cases, which had until recent years seen a fall.
“Of particular concern is the dramatic escalation in the number of drug-related executions in 2023, which rose to 471 people, more than 18 times higher than the figures recorded in 2020,” said the report.
Members of ethnic minorities, notably the Sunni Baluch from the southeast of Iran, are “grossly overrepresented among those executed” on drug-related charges, it said.
At least 167 members of the Baluch minority were executed in total, accounting for 20 percent of the total executions in 2023, even though the minority accounts for only around five percent of Iran’s population.
ECPM director Raphael Chenuil-Hazan said the “lack of reaction” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was sending “the wrong signal to the Iranian authorities.”
Most hangings in Iran are carried out within the confines of prison but the report said that in 2023 the number of hangings carried out in public in Iran tripled from 2022, with seven people hanged in public spaces.
At least 22 women were executed, marking the highest number in the past decade, the report said.
Fifteen of them were hanged on murder charges and NGOs have long warned that women who kill an abusive partner or relative risk being hanged.
In 2023, only 15 percent of the recorded executions were announced by official Iranian media, with IHR confirming the other executions with its own sources.
Amiry-Moghaddam expressed concern that a lack of international outrage at the executions, in particular with attention focused on the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, was only encouraging the Islamic republic to carry out more hangings.
“The inconsistency in the international community’s reaction to the executions in Iran is unfortunate and sends the wrong signal to the authorities,” he said.


Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says

Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says
Updated 05 March 2024
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Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says

Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says
  • Houthi militants have repeatedly launched drones, missiles against international commercial shipping in Gulf of Aden since mid-November
  • The near-daily attacks have forced firms into long and costly diversions around southern Africa, stoked fears Israel's war can destabilize Middle East

CAIRO: Ships will have to obtain a permit from Yemen’s Houthi-controlled Maritime Affairs Authority before entering Yemeni waters, Houthi Telecommunications Minister Misfer Al-Numair said on Monday.
Houthi militants have repeatedly launched drones and missiles against international commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden since mid-November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
The near-daily attacks have forced firms into long and costly diversions around southern Africa, and stoked fears that the Israel-Hamas war could destabilize the wider Middle East. The United States and Britain have bombed Houthi targets in response.
“(We) are ready to assist requests for permits and identify ships with the Yemeni Navy, and we confirm this is out of concern for their safety,” Al Masirah TV, the main television news outlet run by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, reported Al-Numair as saying.
The territorial waters affected by the Yemeni order extend halfway out into the 20-km (12-mile) wide Bab Al-Mandab Strait, the narrow mouth of the Red Sea through which around 15 percent of the world’s shipping traffic passes on its way to or from the Suez Canal.
In normal times, more than a quarter of global container cargo — including apparel, appliances, auto parts, chemicals and agricultural products like coffee — move via the Suez Canal.
Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there “is good reason to doubt” that the Iran-allied Houthis would stop their assaults on vessels if a ceasefire ends Israel’s major military operations in Gaza.
“They may decide that they like the idea of controlling the amount of shipping going through the Red Sea, and will continue this for an indefinite period of time,” Gates said at the TPM24 container shipping conference in Long Beach, California.
Elsewhere on Monday, Hong Kong-based HGC Global Communications said that at least four underwater communications cables — Asia-Africa-Europe 1, the Europe India Gateway, Seacom and TGN-Gulf — had been damaged last week in the Red Sea, without stating the cause.
It estimated that the damage had affected 25 percent of the data traffic flowing under the Red Sea, and said in a statement that it had devised a plan to reroute traffic.
Al-Numair’s ministry on Saturday blamed US and British attacks for any damage to cables.
In the latest incident, the UK Maritime Trade Operations agency said on Monday it had received a report that a vessel had been damaged by two explosions, 91 nautical miles southeast of Aden, but there were no casualties and the vessel was proceeding to its next port of call.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since Houthis ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014. The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in 2015, aiming to restore the government.


Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says

Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says
Updated 05 March 2024
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Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says

Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says
  • Yemen’s Houthis hit container vessel in Gulf of Aden with missile, US CENTCOM says
  • 4 Red Sea communication cables cut as Houthis launch more attacks in the vital waterway

CAIRO: Ships will have to obtain a permit from Yemen’s Houthi-controlled Maritime Affairs Authority before entering Yemeni waters, Houthi Telecommunications Minister Misfer Al-Numair said on Monday.
Houthi militants have repeatedly launched drones and missiles against international commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden since mid-November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

One of two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthis at the container vessel M/V MSC SKY II in the Gulf of Aden hit the ship and caused “damage,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Tuesday.
Initial reports indicated no injuries and the Liberian-flagged, Swiss-owned container vessel did not request assistance and continued on its way, CENTCOM said in a statement.
A military spokesperson for the Iran-aligned Houthis said on Monday that they targeted the vessel with “a number of suitable naval missiles.” Houthis are targeting Red Sea shipping lanes in support of Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
The US military said that Houthis also launched an anti-ship ballistic missile from Yemen into the southern Red Sea, however, it impacted the water with no damage or injuries to commercial or US Navy ships.
CENTCOM forces conducted “self-defense” strikes against two anti-ship cruise missiles that presented “an imminent threat” to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region, the statement added.
The United States and Britain have launched strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen and redesignated the militia as a terrorist group.
Houthis’ Red Sea attacks have disrupted global shipping, forcing firms to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa, and stoked fears that the Israel-Hamas war could spread to destabilize the wider Middle East.
“(We) are ready to assist requests for permits and identify ships with the Yemeni Navy, and we confirm this is out of concern for their safety,” Al Masirah TV, the main television news outlet run by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, reported Al-Numair as saying.
The territorial waters affected by the Yemeni order extend halfway out into the 20-km (12-mile) wide Bab Al-Mandab Strait, the narrow mouth of the Red Sea through which around 15 percent of the world’s shipping traffic passes on its way to or from the Suez Canal.
In normal times, more than a quarter of global container cargo — including apparel, appliances, auto parts, chemicals and agricultural products like coffee — move via the Suez Canal.
Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there “is good reason to doubt” that the Iran-allied Houthis would stop their assaults on vessels if a ceasefire ends Israel’s major military operations in Gaza.
“They may decide that they like the idea of controlling the amount of shipping going through the Red Sea, and will continue this for an indefinite period of time,” Gates said at the TPM24 container shipping conference in Long Beach, California.

Red Sea cables cut
Elsewhere on Monday, Hong Kong-based HGC Global Communications said that at least four underwater communications cables — Asia-Africa-Europe 1, the Europe India Gateway, Seacom and TGN-Gulf — had been damaged last week in the Red Sea, without stating the cause.
It estimated that the damage had affected 25 percent of the data traffic flowing under the Red Sea, and said in a statement that it had devised a plan to reroute traffic.
Al-Numair’s ministry on Saturday blamed US and British attacks for any damage to cables.
In the latest incident, the UK Maritime Trade Operations agency said on Monday it had received a report that a vessel had been damaged by two explosions, 91 nautical miles southeast of Aden, but there were no casualties and the vessel was proceeding to its next port of call.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since Houthis ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014. The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in 2015, aiming to restore the government.


UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7
Updated 05 March 2024
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UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UNITED NATIONS: The UN envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict said in a new report Monday that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, “sexualized torture,” and other cruel and inhumane treatment of women during its surprise attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
There are also “reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing,” said Pramila Patten, who visited Israel and the West Bank from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14 with a nine-member technical team.
Based on first-hand accounts of released hostages, she said the team “found clear and convincing information” that some women and children during their captivity were subjected to the same conflict-related sexual violence including rape and “sexualized torture.”
The report comes nearly five months after the Oct. 7 attacks, which left about 1,200 people dead and some 250 others taken hostage. Israel’s war against Hamas has since laid waste to the Gaza Strip, killing more than 30,000 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation.
Hamas has rejected earlier allegations that its fighters committed sexual assault.
Patten stressed at a press conference launching the report that the team’s visit was not to investigate allegations of sexual violence but to gather, analyze and verify information for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ annual report on sexual violence in conflict and for the UN Security Council.
Her key recommendation is to encourage Israel to grant access to the UN human rights chief and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Palestinian territories and Israel “to carry out full-fledged investigations into the alleged violations” — and she expressed hope the Security Council would do this.
Patten said the team was not able to meet with any victims of sexual violence “despite concerted efforts to encourage them to come forward.” While the number of victims remains unknown, she said, “a small number of those who are undergoing treatment are reportedly experiencing severe mental distress and trauma.”
However, team members held 33 meetings with Israeli institutions and conducted interviews with 34 people including survivors and witnesses of the Oct. 7 attacks, released hostages, health providers and others.
Based on the information it gathered, Patten said, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred during the 7 October attacks in multiple locations across Gaza periphery, including rape and gang rape, in at least three locations.”
Across various locations, she said, the team found “that several fully naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down were recovered – mostly women – with hands tied and shot multiple times, often in the head.”
While this is circumstantial, she said the pattern of undressing and restraining victims “may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence.”
At the Nova music festival and its surroundings, Patten said, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that multiple incidents of sexual violence took place with victims being subjected to rape and/or gang rape and then killed or killed while being raped.”
“There are further accounts of individuals who witnessed at least two incidents of rape of corpses of women,” Patten said. “Other credible sources at the Nova music festival site described seeing multiple murdered individuals, mostly women, whose bodies were found naked from the waist down, some totally naked,” some shot in the head, some tied to trees or poles with their hands bound.
On Road 232 — the road to leave the festival — “credible information based on witness accounts describe an incident of the rape of two women by armed elements,” Patten said. Other reported rapes and gang rapes couldn’t be verified and require investigation.
“Along this road, several bodies were found with genital injuries, along with injuries to other body parts,” she said. “Discernible patterns of genital mutilation could not be verified at this time but warrant future investigation.”
She said “the mission team also found a pattern of bound naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down, in some cases tied to structures including trees and poles, along Road 232.”
People fleeing the Nova music festival also attempted to escape south and sought shelter in and around kibbutz Reim where Patten said there are “reasonable grounds” to believe sexual violence occurred.
The mission team verified the rape of a woman outside a bomb shelter and heard of other allegations of rape that could not yet be verified.
At Kibbutz Be’eri, Patten said, her team “was able to determine that at least two allegations of sexual violence widely repeated in the media, were unfounded due to either new superseding information or inconsistency in the facts gathered.”
These included a highly publicized allegation that a pregnant woman’s womb was reportedly ripped open before being killed with her fetus stabbed inside her, Patten said.
Another was “the interpretation initially made of the body of a girl found separated from the rest of her family, naked from the waist down,” she said. “It was determined by the mission team that the crime scene had been altered by a bomb squad and the bodies moved, explaining the separation of the body of the girl from the rest of her family.”
Patten said further investigation is needed of allegations, including of bodies found naked and in one case gagged, at kibbutz Be’eri to determine if sexual violence occurred.
At Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Patten said, verification of sexual violence was not possible. But she said “available circumstantial information – notably the recurring pattern of female victims found undressed, bound, and shot – indicates that sexual violence, including potential sexualized torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, may have occurred.”
On Oct. 7, the Nahal Oz Military Base, which operated as a hub for signals intelligence and monitoring of the Gaza perimeter fence, was also breached by Hamas and “a significant number” of male and female soldiers stationed there were killed, and seven young female soldiers were abducted and taken to Gaza, Patten said.
Patten stressed that “the true prevalence of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attacks and their aftermath may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known.”


Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials

Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials
Updated 05 March 2024
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Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials

Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials
  • Event was taking place some 75 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the US

LONDON: Changes in regional and international security demand a faster response to emerging technology-related threats, Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah said on Monday.

The crown prince chaired the opening session of the second Jordan-US Cyber and Digital Dialogue, which was also attended by US Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger.

Officials and experts from both countries participated in the dialogue, which discussed ways to improve cybersecurity cooperation, counter cyber threats, and develop information and communications technology systems, Jordan News Agency reported.

The event was taking place some 75 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the US.

The crown prince said that complex cyber threats were increasing globally, which necessitated additional cooperation and coordination among stakeholders on both sides. He cited the dialogue as an important and strategic means of enhancing efforts and strengthening the partnership between the two countries.

He spoke of the importance of utilizing cutting-edge technologies, developing the skills of cybersecurity professionals, and aligning national frameworks with global standards.

The first Jordan-US Cyber and Digital Dialogue was held last year in Washington, and both sides agreed to hold it annually.

The crown prince stressed the importance of bilateral cooperation in cyber and digital security, citing links to both countries’ national security interests.