Renewed Gaza combat thrusts Palestinians between mortal danger and mass displacement

Analysis Renewed Gaza combat thrusts Palestinians between mortal danger and mass displacement
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Updated 02 December 2023
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Renewed Gaza combat thrusts Palestinians between mortal danger and mass displacement

Renewed Gaza combat thrusts Palestinians between mortal danger and mass displacement
  • Nearly three-quarters of embattled enclave’s 2.2 million residents have been forcibly displaced since Oct. 7
  • Overcrowding in camps and shelters for the displaced could lead to spread of disease and shortage of aid

LONDON: A weeklong humanitarian pause in Gaza provided some respite for Palestinians in the beleaguered enclave. But the situation remains overwhelmingly bleak and, after the resumption of combat on Friday, potentially catastrophic.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israel on Thursday it must account for the safety of Palestinian civilians before resuming any military operations in Gaza, where the temporary truce allowed the exchange of captives held by Hamas for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

However, with Israeli officials vowing to continue total war against Hamas, presumably both in Gaza and the West Bank, hope for any recovery has been offset by the imminent threat of further violence in the absence of a permanent ceasefire.




Military vehicles manoeuvre next to a fence, as seen from the Israeli side of the border with Gaza. (Reuters/File)

Since Oct. 7, when Israel launched a military offensive in retaliation for a deadly attack by Hamas, Gaza has endured destruction, displacement, and suffering on an unprecedented scale.

Relentless Israeli airstrikes have reduced entire buildings to rubble, flattening more than 46,000 homes and damaging at least another 234,000, according to UN figures.

The onslaught has forced nearly three-quarters of Gaza’s 2.2 million population from their homes, including the vast majority of the north’s residents.

Close to 15,000 Palestinians across the enclave have been killed, 40 percent of whom are children. A further 6,500 are believed to be missing or trapped under the destroyed buildings.

“Northern Gaza is a disaster zone where people feel it was a miracle to survive,” Ahmed Bayram, media adviser for the Middle East at the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Arab News.

“The sheer level of destruction and personal loss stretches beyond anything we have seen in Gaza. More people were killed in the first two weeks of this round of hostilities compared with the most recent large-scale conflict in 2014.”

INNUMBERS

• 1.7m Palestinians displaced inside Gaza as of Nov. 23.

• 7 Days of the duration of truce before combat resumed on Friday.

• 110 Hostages freed by Hamas from captivity.

• 240 Palestinian prisoners released by Israel.

Bayram said an estimated “1.7 million people have been displaced,” adding that “the few hundreds of thousands who remained in northern Gaza have done so because there is simply nowhere for them to go.”

Despite the seven-day suspension of hostilities, official Palestinian bodies and humanitarian organizations have been unable to pin down precise casualty figures, much less the number of people who could not leave northern Gaza.

“It has been very difficult to understand the numbers that remain in the north,” Oxfam’s policy lead Bushra Khalidi told Arab News. “From what we hear, it is between 200,000 and half-a-million still.”

She said an estimated 1.8 million people had been displaced to the south, “and they’re all crammed in this … what we could say, half the size of the original Gaza Strip.”

Following seven weeks of Israeli bombardment and Hamas rocket attacks, the two sides agreed on a four-day truce — which was later extended. The initial Qatar-mediated deal entailed the release of 50 Israeli hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.




Palestinians flee to the southern Gaza Strip along Salah Al-Din Street. (AP)

On Oct. 13, the Israeli military ordered the residents of northern Gaza to relocate immediately to the south, claiming it was for their safety.

Local media and NGOs operating in Gaza reported that nowhere in the besieged Palestinian enclave was safe — not even the “humanitarian passages” identified by the Israeli military or Israel Defense Forces.

Families crammed their most necessary possessions into small cars and pickup trucks and traveled south in a rush. Others who could not secure vehicles made the journey on foot, shielding their children’s eyes from bodies in the street and hiding from Israeli gunfire as battles raged around them.

The only exit route for civilians escaping Gaza City was Salah Al-Din Road, the area’s main north-south highway that stretches across the entire Gaza Strip.

Israel agreed on Nov. 10 to pause its bombardment for four hours every day, allowing Palestinians in northern Gaza to flee through dedicated corridors.

Consequently, tens of thousands sought refuge in UN-run schools and makeshift tents in eastern Khan Younis, the biggest city in southern Gaza. Many voiced fears they would never return home.

Gaza’s older residents may see history repeat itself as they recall the Nakba, the Arabic term for the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians — the ancestors of 1.6 million of Gaza’s residents — during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

Khan Younis already had a population exceeding 400,000. As displaced families flocked there the already severe humanitarian crisis worsened, as the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade for 16 years.

Khalidi said these evacuation orders should be rescinded, as they represented “a grave violation under international law because it amounts to forcible displacement, and forcible displacement may amount to war crimes.”

In November, in what the chief of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described as a “recipe for disaster,” Israel proposed the establishment of a safe zone in Al-Mawasi camp on Gaza’s southern coast.

Al-Mawasi camp, according to Khalidi, is a 14-square-kilometer area “the size of London Heathrow Airport, where they (Israeli officials) want to cram 1 million people and call it a humanitarian safe zone.”

Dismissing the proposal as “absolutely inhumane,” she said: “But there’s no such thing as a safe zone. Historically, safe zones have been used to actually harm people.”

She noted that attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to some 1 million people in such a small area would be “a logistical nightmare.”

“Another thing about the safe zone is that you are talking about 30,000 to 50,000 injured people, some of whom have severe wounds,” Khalidi added.




Israeli flares light the sky above Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

“We are lacking medical supplies, and there are barely any hospitals running.”

She pointed out that other major concerns included the lack of a functioning water, sanitation, and hygiene system, which would accelerate the spread of infectious diseases such as gastroenteritis and diarrhea. This could “kill more people than bombs have.”

The WHO reported that, since mid-October, there had been more than 44,000 cases of diarrhea in Gaza, a particular risk for young children amid a shortage of clean water.

Conditions in places where Palestinians have taken shelter, such as Khan Younis and Rafah, have been no better — especially as winter weather sets in.

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“Khan Younis and Rafah shelters are bursting with people crammed into small spaces,” Bayram said. “Sick babies, sick children, and sick adults are all at risk of transmissible diseases ahead of what promises to be the worst winter in Gaza’s history.

“There is not enough food for everybody, and even clean drinking water has become a luxury. People have resorted to burning anything made of wood — doors, school desks, window frames — just to cook something their children can eat or make some bread to keep them going for the day.

“There should be no place in this time and age for suffering like this,” he added.




Palestinians check the damage of a house destroyed in an Israeli strike on Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

And while the Hamas-Israel truce allowed Gazans to venture out, to scramble through the wreckage of their homes to look for warm clothes and recover more bodies, the looming threat of a broader Israeli assault persists.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly warned that military operations against Hamas would resume once the temporary ceasefire expired. Now the truce has ended, Israel is expected to expand its ground operation into the south.

In mid-November, the Israeli military dropped leaflets on parts of Khan Younis ordering residents to evacuate.

Bayram said: “There is nowhere left for people to go in Gaza. Some shelters house 50 people at a time. If Israel goes ahead with its ground operation, it means killing off any chance of Gaza ever recovering from this (catastrophe).”

Khalidi pointed out that the Gaza Strip was “as small as East London,” and the borders have been closed and controlled by Israel. “That is why the international community has been very vocal about a (permanent) ceasefire and allowing people to go home,” she said.

 

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Huge blast at military base used by Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, army sources say

Huge blast at military base used by Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, army sources say
Updated 15 sec ago
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Huge blast at military base used by Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, army sources say

Huge blast at military base used by Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, army sources say

BAGHDAD: A huge blast rocked a military base used by Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to the south of Baghdad late on Friday, army sources told Reuters.

 


Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm

Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm
Updated 19 April 2024
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Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm

Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm
  • Leaders passed on their best wishes to the country as it recovers from the storms

DUBAI: The president of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, received telephone calls from King Abdullah of Jordan and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday, during which they expressed concern about the effects of the severe weather, including unusually heavy rainfall, that battered parts of the country this week.

They also passed on their best wishes to the country as it recovers from the storms and “conveyed their heartfelt hopes for the safety and prosperity of the UAE and its people, praying for their protection from any harm,” the Emirates News Agency reported.

Sheikh Mohammed thanked both leaders for their warm sentiments, and emphasized the strong bonds between the UAE and their nations.

The UAE and neighboring Oman were hit by unprecedented rainfall and flooding on Tuesday, with more than 250 millimeters of rain falling in parts of the Emirates, considerably more than is normally seen in a year. Dubai International Airport was forced to close temporarily when runways were flooded.
 


Peshmerga fighter dies in Turkish strike in north Iraq

Peshmerga fighter dies in Turkish strike in north Iraq
Updated 19 April 2024
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Peshmerga fighter dies in Turkish strike in north Iraq

Peshmerga fighter dies in Turkish strike in north Iraq

JEDDAH: A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga security forces was killed on Friday in a Turkish drone strike in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

Ankara regularly carries out ground and air operations in the region against positions of the outlawed PKK, the Kurdish separatist group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
The victim of Friday’s attack died in a drone strike on his vehicle, said Ihsan Chalabi, mayor of the mountainous Sidakan district near Iraq’s borders with Turkiye and Iran.
For decades, Turkiye has operated several dozen military bases in northern Iraq in its war against the PKK, which Ankara and its Western allies consider a terrorist group.
Both Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government have been accused of tolerating Turkiye’s military activities to preserve their close economic ties.
At the beginning of April, a man described as “high-ranking military official” from the PKK was killed in a Turkish drone strike on a car in the mountainous Sinjar region, according to the Kurdistan counterterrorism services.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Baghdad on Monday on his first official visit to Iraq since 2011.
Iraq’s Defense Minister Thabet Al-Abassi in March ruled out joint military operations against the PKK, but said that Turkiye and Iraq would “work to set up a joint intelligence coordination center.”


Middle East in ‘shadow of uncertainty due to regional conflicts’

Middle East in ‘shadow of uncertainty due to regional conflicts’
Updated 19 April 2024
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Middle East in ‘shadow of uncertainty due to regional conflicts’

Middle East in ‘shadow of uncertainty due to regional conflicts’

WASHINGTON: Economies in the Middle East and North Africa face a “shadow of uncertainty” from ongoing tensions in the region, a senior IMF official said.
“We are in a context where the overall outlook is cast into shadows,” Jihad Azour, the International Monetary Fund’s director for the Middle East and Central Asia department, said in an interview in Washington.
“The shadow of uncertainty on the geopolitical side is an important one,” added Azour, a recent candidate for the next Lebanese president.
In the face of the ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Sudan and a recent cut to oil supplies by Gulf countries, the IMF has pared back its growth outlook for the Middle East and North Africa region once again.

FASTFACT

Economic activity in Gaza has ‘come to a standstill’ and the IMF estimates that economic output in the West Bank and Gaza contracted by six percent last year.

The IMF expects growth in MENA of 2.7 percent this year — 0.2 percentage points below its January forecast — before picking up again next year, the IMF said in its regional economic outlook report.
The risks to growth in the MENA region remain heightened, the IMF said, pointing to the danger of greater regional spillovers from the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.
“We have concerns about the immediate and lasting impact of conflict,” Azour said.
The IMF report said that economic activity in Gaza has “come to a standstill” and estimates that economic output in the West Bank and Gaza contracted by 6 percent last year.
The IMF said the report excludes economic projections for the West Bank and Gaza for the next five years “on account of the unusually high degree of uncertainty.”
The IMF cannot lend to the West Bank and Gaza because they are not IMF member countries.
However, Azour said it has provided the Palestinian Authority and the central bank with technical assistance during the current conflict.
“When we move into the reconstruction phase, we will be part of the international community support to the region,” he added.
Azour also discussed the situation in Sudan, where thousands have been killed in a civil war that has also devastated the economy, causing it to contract by almost 20 percent last year, according to the IMF.
“The country is barely functioning, institutions have been dismantled,” he said.
“And for an economy, for a country like Sudan, with all this potential, it’s important to stop the bleeding very quickly and move to a phase of reconstruction,” he added.
The recent Houthi attacks have particularly badly hit the Egyptian economy on Red Sea shipping, which caused trade through the Egypt-run Suez Canal to more than halve — depriving the country of a key source of foreign exchange.
Egypt reached an agreement last month to increase an existing IMF loan package from $3 billion to $8 billion after its central bank hiked interest rates and allowed the pound to plunge by nearly 40 percent.
A key pillar of the current IMF program is the privatization of Egypt’s state-owned enterprises, many of which are owned by or linked to the military.
“This is a priority for Egypt,” Azour said. Egypt needs to have a growing private sector and give space for the private sector to create more jobs.”
“We have an opportunity to re-engineer the state’s role, to give the state more responsibility as an enabler and less as a competitor,” he said.

 


Oxfam director urges global support for refugees in Jordan

Oxfam director urges global support for refugees in Jordan
Updated 19 April 2024
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Oxfam director urges global support for refugees in Jordan

Oxfam director urges global support for refugees in Jordan
  • Dmitry Medlev speaks of impact of over 3m people from neighboring areas

LONDON: Oxfam’s country director in Jordan said on Friday the global community had a responsibility to support refugees, especially in light of unrest in the Middle East.

In an interview with the Jordan News Agency, Dmitry Medlev described how an influx of over 3 million refugees from neighboring areas had stretched Jordan’s economic resources, disrupted local communities, and burdened public services.

He described the refugee’s experience as harrowing, often involving the painful process of abandoning the individual’s homeland and everything they held dear.

He said: “We are sending a message to the world not to overlook the refugee problem and to keep its focus on the new global disasters created by humans or caused by natural disasters, and the conflicts that have emerged in several countries recently, because the refugee problem is draining host countries and imposing additional burdens on them that they may not be able to bear in the future.”

Medlev called for enhanced international cooperation and adherence to international humanitarian law in supporting refugees, underscoring the need for long-term solutions to the ongoing crisis.

He also spoke of Oxfam’s initiatives in Jordan, such as the Waste to Positive Energy project in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, and the EU, and executed with the German Corporation for International Cooperation. The project focuses on waste management and recycling in Zaatari Camp and Mafraq Governorate, processing about 30 tonnes of waste per day.

Medlev also pointed out Oxfam’s efforts in promoting economic and climate justice through grants aimed at empowering local projects led by women and youngsters. These grants help enhance project efficiency, ensure sustainability, and connect beneficiaries with supportive institutions.

He outlined Oxfam’s five-year strategy in Jordan, which focuses on gender justice, climate justice, and economic justice, and aims to bolster the country’s preparedness for disasters, enhance employment opportunities, and provide humanitarian support for refugees.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II told the UN General Assembly in September that the world must not abandon Palestinian refugees to the forces of despair.