UN chief urges world not to look away and ignore ‘epic humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza

UN chief urges world not to look away and ignore ‘epic humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza
Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, and the Israel-Hamas war at the United Nations headquarters on November 29, 2023 in New York City. The council sits on the sixth and final day of a truce between Hamas and Israel. (AFP)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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UN chief urges world not to look away and ignore ‘epic humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza

UN chief urges world not to look away and ignore ‘epic humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan says current temporary truce in the conflict is not enough and again calls for a permanent ceasefire
  • He tells Security Council meeting in New York the time is ripe for recognition of Palestinian state and calls for it to be granted full UN membership

NEW YORK CITY: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that a “far greater” number of children have been killed by Israel in Gaza in a matter of weeks during the current conflict than the total number of children killed “during any year, by any party to a conflict since I became secretary-general.”

The people of Gaza are in the midst of “an epic humanitarian catastrophe before the eyes of the world. We must not look away,” he added.

As he welcomed the ongoing, last-minute negotiations taking place in an attempt to extend the truce in the war, Guterres once again stressed the need for “a true humanitarian ceasefire.”

Speaking during a meeting of the Security Council, he said it is imperative that the people of the region are given “a horizon of hope” in the form of efforts to move in a “determined and irreversible” way toward a two-state solution.

“Failure will condemn Palestinians, Israelis, the region and the world to a never-ending cycle of death and destruction,” he added.

The high-level Security Council meeting, which took place on the annual UN-organized International Day for Solidarity with the Palestinian People, was chaired by Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi. China holds the rotating presidency of the 15-member council this month.

“We should work toward a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire with the greatest urgency and as the utmost priority,” Wang said.

“What happened between Palestine and Israel over the decades shows, time and again, that resorting to military means is definitely not a way out.”

He added that China hopes the pause in military operations over the past few days will not prove simply to be a brief hiatus before a new round of violence, warning that “resumed fighting would only, most likely, turn into a calamity that devours the whole region.”

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, lamented the lack of any international mechanism for ensuring accountability for actions during the war, and the Security Council’s inability to take any steps to prevent Israeli violations of the rules of war and international law.

He told council members that the Nov. 11 summit in Riyadh adopted a resolution that reflected the will of Arab and Islamic peoples to “stem the bloodshed, deliver assistance, put an end to violations, overcome this unjustified suffering in Palestine, and stand with the Palestinian people to achieve their legitimate demands to take back their occupied territory and establish an independent state.”

Prince Faisal called for the ongoing implementation of Security Council Resolution 2712 and for efforts to build on it to achieve “a comprehensive and immediate ceasefire.” The resolution, adopted by the council on Nov. 15, calls “for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip … to enable … full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.”

Israel’s representative to the UN, Gilad Erdan, accused the foreign ministers “of some Arab countries” of coming to New York to support a “terror organization that aims to annihilate Israel.”

He equated calls for a ceasefire with support for Hamas and its “continued reign of terror” in Gaza. “Don’t you see the contradiction here?” Erdan asked council members. “Calling for both a ceasefire and peace is a paradox.” He added that “more food, water and medical supplies will not bring us closer to a solution.”

Prince Faisal asked the council: “What will help us reach a solution, according to Israel? More bloodshed? More death?”

Urging Israel to heed Arab calls for peace, he added: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia presented an Arab peace plan in 1982. We also had the Arab Peace Initiative in Beirut in 2002. And the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) recognized the State of Israel in 1993.

“Where is the Israeli peace plan? Where is the Israeli recognition of the State of Palestine? We are peace-loving nations and peace has always been our strategic choice, but we also want it to be the choice of Israel as well.”

Prince Faisal said the time has come for the world to recognize an independent Palestinian state, and called for Palestine to be granted full membership of the UN. Currently it has observer state status.

He also called for an international peace conference to take place, under the auspices of the UN, with the aim of developing and implementing a two-state solution.

He told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York: “The danger is that if … this truce expires we will return to the killing at the scale that we have seen, which is unbearable. So we are here to make a clear statement that a truce is not enough. What is needed is a ceasefire.”

The prince added that a glimmer of hope can be found in the fact that public opinion worldwide is beginning to shift as people become increasingly aware of “the unfolding catastrophe” in Gaza, and that violence is not the answer.

Asked whether Arab nations should help ease the current pressure on Palestinians and their suffering by taking them in as refugees, he said they “do not want to leave their land. We won’t encourage them or force them to leave their land and we are not going to work with anyone who has that agenda.

“The Palestinians have a right to their land, and they have a right to live in safety and security and dignity on their land, and that is what we will push for and work toward.”

Riyad Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, told the Security Council that anyone who is still not sure about whether they oppose the war in Gaza or the need for it to end should “check their humanity.”

The current truce must become “a permanent ceasefire,” he said, because “the massacres cannot be allowed to resume.”

He added: “Our people are faced with an existential threat. Make no mistake about it. With all the talk about the destruction of Israel, it is Palestine that is facing a plan to destroy it, implemented in broad daylight.”

The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said her country has urged Israel “to take every possible measure to prevent civilian casualties as it exercises its right to safeguard its people from acts of terror.” The use of civilians as human shields by Hamas “does not lessen Israel’s responsibility,” she added.


Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest

Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest
Updated 17 sec ago
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Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest

Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest
JERUSALEM: Hamas on Tuesday said a US airman who died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington would “remain immortal” for his shocking anti-war protest.
Footage of the self-immolation was widely shared online, and the militant group said it was “an expression of the growing state of anger among the American people” over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
The war was sparked by the Palestinian militant group’s surprise October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the death of 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Israel’s military launched a devastating response, aimed at destroying Hamas, that in less than five months has killed nearly 30,000 people in the Gaza Strip, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
The airman “will remain immortal in the memory of our Palestinian people and the free people of the world, and a symbol of the spirit of global human solidarity with our people and their just cause,” Hamas said in a statement issued in English.
In the footage of Sunday’s protest, the military fatigues-wearing man declares he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid, lighting himself on fire and yelling “Free Palestine!” until he collapses.
His death was announced on Monday.
Some members of US President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party are attempting to press him on his support for Israel, with Arab American voters in Michigan pledging to vote “uncommitted” or write in “Free Palestine” on their ballots in the state’s primary on Tuesday.
The White House has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters’ concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House

US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House
Updated 52 min 31 sec ago
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US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House

US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House
  • Biden believes the “path to victory” is for Congress to pass blocked military aid

WASHINGTON: The White House said Tuesday that the United States would not send troops to fight in Ukraine, after French President Emmanuel Macron refused to rule out the dispatch of Western forces.
“President Biden has been clear that the US will not send troops to fight in Ukraine,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
Biden believes the “path to victory” is for Congress to pass blocked military aid “so Ukrainian troops have the weapons and ammunition they need to defend themselves” against Russian invasion, Watson added.


Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court

Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court
Updated 27 February 2024
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Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court

Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court
  • The man who captained the unflagged vessel, Muhammad Pahlawan, refused to slow the ship when the US Navy began its boarding attempt
  • “Rather than turn the engine off, however, Pahlawan told crewmembers not to stop the dhow while the Navy was approaching,” court documents stated

VIRGINIA, USA: Four crew members from an unflagged ship that US officials say was carrying Iranian-made missile components to Houthis in Yemen are scheduled to appear Tuesday in federal court in Virginia, where prosecutors are expected to argue they should be held without bond while they await trial.
US Navy SEALs and the US Coast Guard boarded the vessel in January in the Arabian Sea in the wake of continued Houthi attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Two Navy SEALs drowned during the Jan. 11 operation. US officials said Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers slipped into the gap created by high waves between the vessel and the SEALs’ combatant craft.
As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, according to US officials familiar with what happened. The SEAL who jumped in after the other operator in a rescue attempt was following protocol, according to court documents.
Efforts to find and rescue the two SEALs were unsuccessful. They were later declared dead by the US Navy.
The man who captained the unflagged vessel, Muhammad Pahlawan, refused to slow the ship when the US Navy began its boarding attempt and “shouted for the crew to burn the boat before the Navy could board it,” according to court documents filed in the federal court in Richmond.
The ship was described in court documents as a dhow.
“Rather than turn the engine off, however, Pahlawan told crewmembers not to stop the dhow while the Navy was approaching,” court documents stated. “In fact, Pahlawan tried to make the dhow go faster. Finally, another crewmember, not Pahlawan, stepped up to the engine and stopped the boat.”
During a search of the ship, US forces found and seized Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry, including critical parts for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, a warhead, and propulsion and guidance components, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. The agent said the items found are consistent with weaponry used by Houthi forces in recent attacks on merchant ships and US military ships.
The affidavit quoted US Central Command, which stated that it was the first seizure of “Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons” to the Houthis since their strikes began in November.
“Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners,” the FBI agent wrote, quoting Central Command.
The Houthis have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperilling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe.
The four crew members scheduled to appear Tuesday in US District Court were all carrying Pakistani identification cards, according to court documents.
Pahlawan, the alleged captain, is charged with attempting to smuggle advanced missile components, including a warhead he is accused of knowing would be used by the Houthis against commercial and naval vessels. He is also charged with providing false information to US Coast Guard officers during the boarding of the vessel.
Pahlawan’s codefendants — Mohammad Mazhar, Ghufran Ullah and Izhar Muhammad — were also charged with providing false information.
Specifically, the men lied about Pahlawan’s identity as captain, the weapons on board and the ship’s departure from Iran, court documents stated. The men had claimed their voyage’s origin was Pakistan.
Their attorneys have declined to comment.
Another 10 crew members are being detained under the federal material witness law. It allows courts to issue warrants for the arrest and detention of a person if their testimony is “material in a criminal proceeding,” and if it “may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena.”
The FBI affidavit states that crew members had been in contact multiple times by satellite phone with a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.


‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen
Updated 27 February 2024
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‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen
  • Calls have been mounting in the United States and Europe to set up a fund for Ukraine
  • Yellen told journalists in Sao Paulo: “There is a strong international-law, economic and moral case for moving forward”

SAO PAULO, Brazil: US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday it was urgent for G7 nations to jointly seize profits from frozen Russian assets and redirect them to Ukraine, as the group prepared to meet on the issue.
Calls have been mounting in the United States and Europe to set up a fund for Ukraine using billions of dollars in bank accounts, investments and other assets frozen by the West over Russia’s 2022 invasion.
“It is necessary and urgent for our coalition to find a way to unlock the value of these immobilized assets to support Ukraine’s continued resistance and long-term reconstruction,” Yellen told journalists in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she will attend a meeting of G20 finance ministers Wednesday and Thursday.
“There is a strong international-law, economic and moral case for moving forward. This would be a decisive response to Russia’s unprecedented threat to global stability. It would make clear that Russia cannot win by prolonging the war and would incentivize it to come to the table to negotiate a just peace with Ukraine.”
Yellen urged joint action by the Group of Seven — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, plus the European Union — after evaluating the risks, which include triggering financial instability.
“The G7 should work together to explore a number of approaches: seizing the assets themselves, using them as collateral to borrow from global markets,” she said.
G7 officials say the group is due to meet on the sidelines of the Sao Paulo gathering to discuss support for Ukraine, as its grueling fight against Russia enters its third year.
Ukraine has warned it desperately needs more military and financial assistance, as a fresh $60 billion US package remains stalled in Congress.
That has cast a spotlight on the estimated $397 billion in Russian assets frozen by the West, ranging from central bank assets to yachts, real estate and other property from oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin.
But there are risks involved, including likely Russian legal action and the potential for scaring other countries, such as China, into reducing their own investments in the West, fearing similar action.
Yellen said a risk to financial stability would arise “if there were a massive shift away from currencies” of Western countries in response to seizing Russian funds. But she said the risk was minimal if the G7 acted together.
“I think (financial instability) is extremely unlikely, especially given the uniqueness of this situation, where Russia is brazenly violating international norms and a group of countries representing half the global economy... have the capacity to work together,” she said.
“Realistically, there are not alternatives” to the dollar, euro and other G7 currencies on international markets, she said.
“There are risks,” she acknowledged. “We’re working to evaluate and outline options for consideration.”
The US Congress is currently weighing a bill that would authorize the confiscation and disposition of Russian sovereign assets.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called Sunday for “bolder” action on the issue, writing in an opinion piece in the Sunday Times that the West should start by taking interest from Russian assets before finding “lawful ways to seize the assets themselves.”
And Greece’s special envoy on Ukraine, Spiros Lampridis, told AFP Monday the EU is close to seizing Russian profits, saying it was “a question of months.”
However, he added that the estimated 50 billion to 60 billion euros the move would yield was a “trifle” compared with the roughly 500 billion euros or more needed for Ukraine’s reconstruction.


UK sanctions Iran’s IRGC units for enabling work of Houthis

UK sanctions Iran’s IRGC units for enabling work of Houthis
Updated 27 February 2024
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UK sanctions Iran’s IRGC units for enabling work of Houthis

UK sanctions Iran’s IRGC units for enabling work of Houthis
  • The sanctions were imposed in coordination with the United States
  • “The attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis are unacceptable, illegal and a threat to innocent lives,” British foreign minister David Cameron said

LONDON: Britain on Tuesday imposed sanctions on units of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), targeting those who it said were enabling the work of the Houthis, the Iran-linked group responsible for attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.
The sanctions were imposed in coordination with the United States.
Britain’s sanctions target Mohammad Reza Fallahzadeh, a deputy commander of the IRGC, three units of the IRGC Quds Force, Iran-based financier Sa’id Al-Jamal and a Houthi security minister, the UK foreign ministry said.
“The attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis are unacceptable, illegal and a threat to innocent lives and freedom of navigation,” British foreign minister David Cameron said in a statement.
“As I have made clear to the Iranian Foreign Minister, the regime bears responsibility for these attacks due to the extensive military support it has provided to the Houthis.”
Shipping risks have escalated due to repeated Houthi drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea region since November in support of Palestinians in Gaza.
US and British forces have responded with several strikes on Houthi facilities.