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

UN chief urges world not to look away from ‘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

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

UN chief urges world not to look away from ‘epic humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza
  • Says “far greater” number of children killed in Gaza in weeks than total number killed in any conflict since he became secretary-general.
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan says temporary truce not enough, reiterates calls for a permanent cease-fire

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.

Calls for MP’s sacking over claim Islamists ‘control’ London’s Muslim mayor

Calls for MP’s sacking over claim Islamists ‘control’ London’s Muslim mayor
Updated 13 sec ago

Calls for MP’s sacking over claim Islamists ‘control’ London’s Muslim mayor

Calls for MP’s sacking over claim Islamists ‘control’ London’s Muslim mayor
  • Lee Anderson says Islamists have ‘got control’ of Sadiq Khan and capital city
  • Opposition figures urge PM to punish ‘appalling racism and Islamophobia’

LONDON: A Conservative MP in the UK is embroiled in controversy after claiming that Islamists have “got control” of Sadiq Khan, the Muslim mayor of London.

Lee Anderson made the comments in an interview on the GB News channel, and has since faced condemnation and calls for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to expel him from the governing Conservative Party.

Anderson told the channel on Friday, referring to major pro-Palestinian protests in the capital: “I don’t actually believe that these Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London.

“Again, this stems with Khan — he’s actually given our capital city away to his mates. If you let Labour in through the back door, expect more of this and expect our cities to be taken over by these lunatics.”

His comments follow similar claims by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who wrote in the Daily Telegraph that “the Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now,” the BBC reported.

Anderson’s comments about Khan have been condemned by senior opposition figures. Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds described the remarks as “unambiguously racist and Islamophobic.” On X, she called for Sunak to sack Anderson “immediately,” Sky News reported.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow paymaster general, called for the same measure, describing Anderson’s comments as “vile” and “appalling racism and Islamophobia.”

Ashworth also referred to former Prime Minister Liz Truss, who recently took aim at the “deep state” in an appearance at a US conservative conference.

“It’s time to show some leadership and take on the extremists in your party,” Ashworth said in a letter to Sunak. “Liz Truss and Lee Anderson must no longer sit as Conservative MPs. Their words cannot go unchecked or unchallenged.”

Figures within Anderson’s own party have been divided in response to his comments. Former Chancellor Sajid Javid described the claims as “a ridiculous thing to say” in a post on X.

Former Conservative MP Gavin Barwell said Anderson had made a “despicable slur on Sadiq Khan and Londoners,” The Independent reported.

Barwell added: “In his first speech as PM, Rishi Sunak said he would ‘unite our country.’ If he allows the likes of Anderson to spread hate and division like this, those words will be revealed as a sham.”

Khan, who has served as mayor of London since 2016, is the first Muslim to hold the position.

Pro-Palestinian protests, which have been held weekly in London since the outbreak of the Gaza conflict last October, have angered some quarters of the Conservative Party.

In response to the furore surrounding Anderson’s comments, a Conservative Party source said: “Lee was simply making the point that the mayor, in his capacity as police and crime commissioner for London, has abjectly failed to get a grip on the appalling Islamist marches we have seen in London recently.”

Western leaders in Kyiv to show support on war anniversary

Western leaders in Kyiv to show support on war anniversary
Updated 24 February 2024

Western leaders in Kyiv to show support on war anniversary

Western leaders in Kyiv to show support on war anniversary
  • Four Western leaders in Kyiv to show solidarity
  • Biden to join G7 video conference, Zelensky invited

KYIV: Four Western leaders arrived in Kyiv on Saturday to show solidarity with Ukraine on the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, which has cost tens of thousands of lives and ravaged the country’s economy.
The prime ministers of Italy, Canada and Belgium — Giorgia Meloni, Justin Trudeau and Alexander De Croo — traveled with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on an overnight train from neighboring Poland.
Their presence was designed to underline the West’s commitment to helping Ukraine even as it suffers growing shortages of military supplies, impacting its performance on the battlefield where Moscow is grinding out territorial gains.
Von der Leyen wrote on the social media platform X that she was in Kyiv “to celebrate the extraordinary resistance of the Ukrainian people.” She added: “More than ever, we stand firmly by Ukraine. Financially, economically, militarily, morally. Until the country is finally free.”
Meloni and Trudeau are expected to sign security pacts with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during their brief stay, in line with deals recently agreed with France and Germany that are worth billions of dollars.
However, $61 billion in aid promised by US President Joe Biden is being blocked by Republicans in Congress, casting a long shadow over Kyiv’s hopes of pushing back the much larger, better supplied Russian military.
Biden is due to take part in a video conference call of fellow leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies on Saturday, which will be chaired by Meloni, with Zelensky invited to join the discussion.
Italy holds the rotating presidency of the G7 and organized the call, saying it was vital to challenge perceptions that the West had grown weary of the conflict and that Russia was winning.
When Russian tanks and infantry streamed across the border before dawn on Feb. 24, 2022, Ukraine’s 40 million people defied expectations — and the Kremlin’s best-laid plans — by holding them back and preventing a widely predicted defeat.
But as the war enters its third year, setbacks on the eastern front have left the Ukraine army looking vulnerable.
Seeking to maintain Western focus on Ukraine, even as the war between Israel and Hamas dominates headlines, Zelensky has warned that Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, may not stop at Ukraine’s borders if it emerges victorious.
Putin dismisses such claims as nonsense. He casts the war as a wider struggle with the United States, which the Kremlin elite says aims to cleave Russia apart. The West sees the invasion as an unjustified act of aggression that must be repelled.
Old war and new
There will be events across Ukraine on Saturday to mark the anniversary, including a commemoration service for those who died in Bucha, north of Kyiv — scene of some of the worst alleged war crimes of the conflict.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general said on Friday it had launched investigations into more than 122,000 suspected war crimes cases in the last two years. Russia denies carrying them out.
The initial shock of the invasion gradually morphed into familiarity and then fatigue, as the world watched initial Russian gains and a stunning Ukrainian counteroffensive in late 2022 slow into grinding, attritional trench warfare.
In scenes reminiscent of the battlefields of World War One, soldiers under heavy artillery fire are dying in their thousands, sometimes for a few kilometers of land.
Both sides have developed huge and increasingly sophisticated fleets of air, sea and land drones for surveillance and attack, an unprecedented use of unmanned vehicles that could point the way to future conflicts.
Russia, with a much bigger population to replenish the army’s ranks and a larger military budget, might favor a drawn-out war, although the costs have been huge for Moscow as it seeks to navigate sanctions and a growing reliance on China.
Ukraine’s position is more precarious. Villages, towns and cities have been razed, troops are exhausted, ammunition is running low and Russian missiles and drones rain down almost daily.
Russia this month registered its biggest victory in nine months, capturing the eastern town of Avdiivka and ending months of deadly urban combat.
Yet Zelensky remained defiant ahead of the anniversary.
“I am convinced that victory awaits us,” he told diplomats in Kyiv this week in an emotional address. “In particular, thanks to unity and your support.”
Tens of thousands of troops have been killed on both sides and tens of thousands more wounded, while thousands of Ukrainian civilians have perished.
Rising costs
The scale of devastation in Ukraine is staggering.
A recent World Bank study said that rebuilding Ukraine’s economy could cost nearly $500 billion. Two million housing units have been damaged or destroyed, and nearly 6 million people have fled abroad.
In addition to raising money and arms to continue the war, Zelensky is pushing legislation through parliament allowing Ukraine to mobilize up to half a million more troops — a target some economists say could paralyze the economy.
Russia’s finances have proved resilient so far to unprecedented sanctions. While natural gas exports have slumped, shipments of oil have held up, thanks largely to Indian and Chinese buying.
Russia’s GDP expanded 3.6 percent in 2023, although some Russia-based economists warned that this was driven by a leap in defense spending and that stagnation or recession loom.
That will not jeopardize Putin’s victory in elections in March, which he is set to win by a landslide amid broad support for his performance and for the war, described by the Kremlin as a “special military operation.”
In the last two years, authorities have cracked down hard on any form of dissent over the conflict. On Feb. 16, Putin’s most formidable domestic opponent, Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 30-year sentence.
On Friday, Putin addressed troops fighting in Ukraine as Russia marked Defender of the Fatherland Day, hailing them as heroes battling for “truth and justice.”
He laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier at the foot of the Kremlin wall to honor those who have died in battle.

Donald Trump vows to crush Nikki Haley as Republican race heads south

Donald Trump vows to crush Nikki Haley as Republican race heads south
Updated 24 February 2024

Donald Trump vows to crush Nikki Haley as Republican race heads south

Donald Trump vows to crush Nikki Haley as Republican race heads south
  • The candidates largely swapped only glancing blows in the early nominating contests
  • Primary comes amid signs that the former US president is tightening his hold over the party

CHARLESTON, United States: Donald Trump and Nikki Haley go head-to-head Saturday in South Carolina’s Republican primary, with the ex-president expected to trounce his former charge in her home state as he closes in on the nomination.
Haley was a popular governor of the Palmetto State for six years before becoming Trump’s UN ambassador in 2017, but her old boss is backed by the party establishment and nearly two-thirds of voters in opinion polling.
The candidates largely swapped only glancing blows in the early nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire in January, but the rhetorical artillery fire has intensified since the primary narrowed into a two-horse race.
“Tomorrow you will cast one of the most important votes of your entire life and — honestly — we’re not very worried about tomorrow,” a nonchalant Trump told an election-eve rally in the city of Rock Hill.
Seeking to demonstrate that he was already looking beyond Haley, he vowed to show President Joe Biden and the Democrats “that we are coming like a freight train in November,” when the general election will be held.
South Carolinians do not have to indicate party allegiance when they register to vote, and are allowed to have their say in either the Democratic or the Republican primary.
Haley — a more traditional conservative who espouses limited government and a muscular foreign policy — will rely on votes from moderates, although the tactic did little for her as she lost to Trump in each of the first four nominating contests.
Voters interviewed by AFP in South Carolina capital Columbia on Thursday were complimentary about both candidates, although one voter felt Haley wasn’t ready for the highest office and another criticized Trump for being “divisive.”
“He’ll go after people that don’t agree with him. Being a Christian, I don’t feel good about that,” said financial adviser and Haley voter David Gilliam, 55.
The primary comes amid signs that the frontrunner — who faces four criminal indictments — is tightening his hold over the party as he pushes for a reshuffle to install family members and allies at the top of the Republican National Committee .
His daughter-in-law Lara Trump has promised to spend “every single penny” of party funds on his presidential campaign should she become an RNC cochair, and has argued that paying his legal bills is of “big interest” to Republican voters.
Haley has sought to focus on the “chaos” that she says follows Trump, pointing to $8 million in campaign donations he spent on legal fees in January and predicting that his total outlay on court cases this year could top $100 million.
“He has turned his presidential campaign into a legal defense slush fund and will not have the resources or focus to go up against Joe Biden and the Democrats,” said Haley national spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas.
In common with Democrats, Haley has also been hitting Trump over his outlook on the international stage and oft-voiced admiration for the leaders of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.
She has blasted Trump’s reaction to the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny — in which he avoided criticism of President Vladimir Putin — and his threat to encourage Moscow to attack NATO nations that had not met their financial obligations.
But Haley’s central argument for months has been that polling shows her performing better than Trump in hypothetical matchups with Biden.
She has vowed to compete in the Republican primary through “Super Tuesday” — when multiple states vote on March 5 — regardless of what happens in South Carolina on Saturday.
Reproductive rights are likely to figure prominently in the election, with Trump avoiding taking a clear position on proposals for a nationwide abortion ban after appointing three Supreme Court justices who helped gut federal protections.
A wrinkle was added when Alabama’s supreme court ruled last week that frozen embryos can be considered children, signaling a new front in the debate and posing questions for in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics.
Trump — keenly aware the Alabama decision risks alienating moderate and women voters — voiced support Friday for preserving access to IVF programs, calling on the state’s legislature to “act quickly to find an immediate solution” to ensure it remained available.

Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year

Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year
Updated 24 February 2024

Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year

Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year
  • While the EU has assured Ukraine of continuing support, the overall picture remains bleak for Kyiv due to the US Congress blocking a vital $60 billion aid package

KYIV: Ukraine on Saturday marked two years since Russia’s invasion, entering a new year of war weakened by a lack of western aid while Russia is emboldened by fresh gains.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” at dawn on February 24, 2022, many expected Moscow’s victory within days, but Ukraine fought back, forcing Russian troops into humiliating retreats.
But Ukraine has suffered setbacks with the failure of its 2023 counteroffensive. The Russian army has in turn built up a position of strength thanks to booming war production, while Ukraine’s troops are short of manpower and running low on Western-supplied ammunition for artillery and air defenses.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that decisions on arms supplies have to be “the priority.”
Saturday’s anniversary will see visits by Western leaders including EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, but the overall picture remains bleak for Kyiv due to the US Congress blocking a vital $60 billion aid package. This has come on top of delays in promised European deliveries.
US President Joe Biden renewed calls for Republican lawmakers to unblock the additional funding, warning that “history is waiting” and “failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten.”

Russia is attacking hard in the east, with the destroyed town of Maryinka near Donetsk the latest hotspot after it captured the heavily fortified town of Avdiivka on February 17.
Ukraine’s economy has also been hit by a border blockade by Polish farmers that Kyiv says threatens exports and has held up deliveries of weapons.

In Kyiv, the mood was grim but still defiant as people said they had grown accustomed to wartime conditions.
“For women of Ukraine, this is our heartache — for our husbands, for our children, for our fathers,” said nutritionist Olga Byrko in Kyiv.
“I would really like this to end as quickly as possible.”
“Yes of course we have learned to live with it... now the war is our life,” said Yuriy Pasichnyk, a 38-year-old businessman.
“I think we need to have more weapons so that we can drive this evil spirit out of our land and start rebuilding our Ukraine,” said 51-year-old Kostyantyn Gofman.
Ukraine needs almost half a trillion dollars to rebuild towns and cities destroyed by Russia’s invasion, according to the latest estimate by the World Bank, European Union, United Nations and Ukrainian government.
Ukraine has estimated that around 50,000 civilians have been killed.

Neither side has given numbers for military deaths and injured, while both claim to have inflicted huge losses.
In August 2023, The New York Times quoted US officials as putting Ukraine’s military losses at 70,000 dead and 100,000 to 120,000 injured.
Leaked US intelligence in December indicated that 315,000 Russian troops had been killed or wounded.
On the eastern front, morale is low as outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian troops are ceding ground to Russian forces.
“We are running out of shells and the Russians keep coming. Lots of our comrades are injured — or worse. Everything is getting worse and worse,” said one soldier near Bakhmut, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Moscow has massively ramped up its arms production and received drones from Iran, while Kyiv says it has confirmed Russia’s use of North Korean missiles.
Zelensky said in December the military wanted to draft up to 500,000 more troops. A bill to broaden mobilization has caused wide public fear.
The conflict has thrown Russia into even greater isolation from the West, with the United States and its allies imposing a slew of sanctions.
But Putin has brushed off the fallout and hailed the troops as “true national heroes.”
He has used the war years to rally patriotism and mount an even harsher crackdown on dissent, with few daring to voice opposition to the war.
The death in prison of opposition leader Alexei Navalny has removed Putin’s arch-foe, and he is set to extend his term in office in elections next month.
On the streets of Moscow, most people told AFP they back the soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
“I’m proud of our men,” said 27-year-old Nadezhda, an environmental engineer.
“Of course I am anxious for them, but it’s a pleasant feeling that they are doing great, they are out there fighting for our country.”
One of the few to give an alternative opinion, was Konstantin, a drama teacher working as a waiter, who said: “I’m against any war. Two years have passed and it annoys me that people can’t talk to each other and are still at war.”

France’s support for Ukraine ‘will not waver’, Macron vows

France’s support for Ukraine ‘will not waver’, Macron vows
Updated 24 February 2024

France’s support for Ukraine ‘will not waver’, Macron vows

France’s support for Ukraine ‘will not waver’, Macron vows

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin early Saturday not to “count on any fatigue from Europeans” over the war in Ukraine, pledging that France’s support for Kyiv “will not waver.”
“Battered and bruised, but still standing. Ukraine is fighting for itself, for its ideals, for our Europe. Our commitment at its side will not waver,” he wrote in a message on X marking the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion, which falls on Saturday.
A separate statement from Macron’s office touted the European Union’s support for Kyiv, including accepting refugees, offering civil and military aid, and levelling sanctions on Moscow.
“President Putin’s Russia must not count on any fatigue from Europeans,” the statement said.
“France is also committed to continuing its support on all fronts, including the supply of military equipment, cooperation between defense industries through the development of co-productions, training, intelligence and civilian aid,” it added.
“The outcome of this war will be decisive for European interests, values and security.”
The French pledge of support came as other key Ukrainian allies renewed their commitment to assisting Kyiv.
US President Joe Biden on Friday announced more than 500 new sanctions against Russia, while vowing sustained pressure to stop President Vladimir Putin’s “war machine.”
The sanctions, described as the largest single tranche since the start of the war, also seek to impose a cost for the death last week in a Siberian prison of Putin’s most vocal critic, Alexei Navalny.
Britain, meanwhile, announced Saturday a new £245 million ($311 million) defense package to help boost the production of “urgently needed artillery ammunition” for Ukraine, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisting in an earlier statement that “tyranny will never triumph.”