Frankly Speaking: How Saudi aid is making a difference to Gaza

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Updated 03 December 2023
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Frankly Speaking: How Saudi aid is making a difference to Gaza

Frankly Speaking: How Saudi aid is making a difference to Gaza
  • KSrelief supervisor general describes record Saudi donations via Sahem platform as proof of Arab world’s commitment to helping Palestinians
  • Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah decries "exhausting" processes placed by Israel for aid delivery, lauds "instrumental" cooperation of Egyptian authorities

DUBAI: The outpouring of support to Gaza from both the Saudi government and people has demonstrated the Arab world’s commitment to helping Palestinians, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of Saudi aid agency KSrelief, has said.

He suggested one need look no further than the figure of more than SR536.25 million ($143 million) already collected in donations for the beleaguered Gaza Strip through Saudi Arabia’s Sahem platform, which allows Saudis to donate directly to KSrelief’s projects.

“Nobody can deny the evidence and the numbers, and I think the Sahem platform is seen by the world,” Al-Rabeeah, who is also a skilled pediatric surgeon and adviser to the Saudi Royal Court, told the latest episode of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News’ weekly current affairs show.

The chronically poverty-stricken and food-insecure Gaza Strip was in serious need of humanitarian and development aid even before the conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted in early October.

Bombardment of the region by Israeli forces began on Oct. 7 after a series of Hamas attacks on and kidnappings in Israel. According to health officials in Gaza, more than 15,000 people, most of them civilians, have lost their lives in the enclave since that day.

With Israeli airstrikes showing no signs of abating and the humanitarian situation deteriorating, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced on Nov. 2 the start of a fundraising campaign for Gaza via Sahem.

In just five days, the donations had exceeded SR375 million. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman themselves donated SR30 million and SR20 million, respectively.

The sheer amount of donations — “one of the largest and quickest fundraising campaigns” in the long history of Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian efforts — flies in the face of many media reports that suggest that the Arab world does not care about Gaza.




Al-Rabeeah told Frankly Speaking that Israeli authorities have put limitations on the number of aid trucks and implemented a lengthy inspection process, causing potentially deadly delays in the delivery of food, shelter, and medicine. (AN Photo)

“We haven’t stopped yet,” Al-Rabeeah told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” on the subject of giving. “We have exceeded 1 million donors, which reflects the response of the people and their passion about the civilian situation and humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

The donations will continue to increase over the coming period, he said, adding that the record-breaking amount does not include in-kind donations.

He said: “Our businessmen have donated ambulances, medical equipment, food supplies, nutritious food and formula for children. These are not reflected on the platform, so we’re talking about a lot of donations.”

The first batch of Saudi aid arrived in Port Said on Nov. 25, with more than 1,000 tons of food, medical supplies, and shelter materials making its way towards Gaza.

The third relief ship departed from the Jeddah Islamic Port on Saturday, carrying 300 large containers, or 1,246 tons, of food, medical help, and supplies for shelter.

The first Saudi relief plane left Riyadh for Egypt’s El-Arish Airport on Nov. 9, carrying 35 tons of aid. By Dec. 1, KSrelief had operated its 24th aid relief flight for Gaza, which carried 31 tons of food and shelter materials.

While there is certainly no shortage of material support for the people of Gaza, Al-Rabeeah has denounced the processes that Israeli authorities have imposed before aid deliveries reach the Gaza Strip.

“The situation is challenging,” he said, drawing on his observations during recent visits to El-Arish Airport, where Saudi aid destined for Gaza arrives, and the Rafah crossing, the only border crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

He noted that aid trucks “have to go more than 50 kilometers to be examined and cleared by the Israeli forces, and then come back 50 kilometers.”

He added: “The assessment takes days to clear each truck. And then they must go through the Rafah corridor. This by itself is a significant challenge. It’s delaying the aid for those who are in extreme need.”

Al-Rabeeah said that despite the UN saying that Gaza requires a minimum of 400 trucks of aid per day, Israeli authorities were only allowing a maximum of about 140 each day.

These obstacles can be a matter of life and death, he said, pointing out that particularly vulnerable people, such as pregnant women, children, the elderly and the injured, cannot afford delays.




Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of KSrelief, met with Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of UNRWA, in Egypt. (SPA)

He said: “We’re talking about life by the minute. So, any delay means, as far as I’m concerned as a doctor, a risk of death.

“We have to gain every minute, we have to gain every hour, and we have to allow as many trucks (as we can) that are carrying nutrition for children, food for adults, and also medications that will maintain life.”

A more severe and obvious danger is present on the ground, one which Al-Rabeeah said is preventing Saudis from doing more to aid Palestinians.

Multiple reports from academics, humanitarian aid agencies and media groups have accused Israeli forces of killing healthcare and aid workers in Gaza, by targeting shelters, refugee camps, hospitals and ambulances.

Not even the UN has been spared Israeli targeting, with the organization reporting the deaths of more than 100 workers from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees since the Israeli military operation began in October.

Al-Rabeeah said: “For me, it is (painful) to see anybody attack and deliberately actually kill aid workers or health workers, or attack hospitals or even mosques, churches — you name it.

“Those acts are against all rules that we know of, against international humanitarian law, against also the principles of human beings. We hope that those attacks will stop immediately and no civilian, or health worker, or humanitarian worker is attacked or targeted.”

If their safety is guaranteed, he said, KSrelief was ready to send volunteer healthcare workers to help save lives in Gaza.

He added: “If the security situation allows, my team will be more than happy to go to Gaza and ensure that those people who are in dire need will receive the aid. We also want to see that the distribution (of aid) is appropriate.”

Despite the hurdles to be overcome, local and regional authorities are doing their best to facilitate humanitarian deliveries, according to Al-Rabeeah.

KSrelief has signed agreements with multiple international agencies, including UNRWA, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He added: “We have teams also in El-Arish who are located there to coordinate with the UN agencies, international agencies and regional agencies such as the Egyptian Red Crescent and the Palestinian Red Crescent.




Al-Rabeeah said Egyptian authorities had been very cooperative and had been instrumental to the work of KSrelief. (AN Photo)

“The flights are continuing from Riyadh to El-Arish daily, as are the shipments by sea. We have plans to keep those ships going on, and the flights going on, to ensure that we have enough supplies close to the corridors so that we can access them as quickly as we can.”

KSrelief and the Egyptian Red Crescent on Nov. 23 signed a memorandum of understanding for the cooperation of aid delivery to Gaza, facilitating the sending of aid by land and air routes.

Al-Rabeeah said: “The Egyptian authorities have been very cooperative. They have been instrumental to our work, and they have helped us a lot, either at El-Arish Airport or at the sea port of Port Said.”

He added that KSrelief had held multiple virtual meetings with the Palestine Red Crescent Society and UNRWA “to ensure that their … logistic needs are met.”

In addition to coordinating the massive undertaking of supporting Gaza with aid, Al-Rabeeah has a personal connection to the region.

He has performed dozens of operations in the last 30 years to separate conjoined twins as part of the Saudi Program for the Separation of Conjoined Twins, and in the process has helped make the Kingdom the world’s leader in such surgeries.

One such case is that of “Baby Haneen,” who was separated from her twin sister Farah by Al-Rabeeah in 2018 after they were permitted to travel to Saudi Arabia for the procedure. Farah died, but Haneen went on to recover after returning to Gaza.

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund reported that Haneen was alive and well in May this year, but her fate is now unknown.

Al-Rabeeah said: “Now I am not sure as of today whether Haneen is alive, whether her parents are alive, or all of this work that has been done by Saudi Arabia has been lost.

“It’s painful for me until I know that Haneen and her parents are alive.”

 

 


Arab League urges aid for Gaza, condemns deprivation as ‘death sentence’

Arab League urges aid for Gaza, condemns deprivation as ‘death sentence’
Updated 2 min 36 sec ago
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Arab League urges aid for Gaza, condemns deprivation as ‘death sentence’

Arab League urges aid for Gaza, condemns deprivation as ‘death sentence’
  • Israel responsible for blocking aid, which is form of ‘collective punishment,’ says Arab League official

CAIRO: The Arab League has called for urgent aid to be sent to Gaza and condemned those attempting to block this support.

The Arab League’s Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said at the organization’s headquarters on Sunday that the blocking of aid was passing a “death sentence” on the Palestinian people, and was a form of “collective punishment.”

Aboul Gheit made the comments during a meeting on Sunday with Sigrid Kaag, the UN’s under-secretary-general and senior coordinator for humanitarian affairs and reconstruction in Gaza, according to a report by Jordan’s news agency Petra, quoting an Arab League statement.

Jamal Rushdi, spokesperson for the secretary-general, said there was a dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and that Israel was responsible for blocking much-needed aid.

Aboul Gheit and Kaag called for an immediate ceasefire, for the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza to support reconstruction efforts, and coordination by the international community to deliver aid.

This appeal was made during the Arab League’s commemoration of Arab Water Day 2024, themed “Save Water. Save Life.”

There was a water crisis in Gaza, exacerbated by Israel’s military actions targeting vital sanitation infrastructure, which could cause the outbreak of disease, the Arab League stated in its release.


French envoy calls for Gaza ceasefire, condemns West Bank violence

French envoy calls for Gaza ceasefire, condemns West Bank violence
Updated 04 March 2024
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French envoy calls for Gaza ceasefire, condemns West Bank violence

French envoy calls for Gaza ceasefire, condemns West Bank violence

AMMAN: The ⁠French ambassador to Jordan has pledged ongoing financial assistance to the UN Relief and Works Agency.

During a meeting with the Jordanian-French Friendship Committee of the Senate, Alexis Le Cour Grandmaison highlighted the need to prioritize a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and curb settler violence in the West Bank.

Grandmaison reiterated France’s support for UN resolutions concerning Gaza and pledged ongoing financial assistance to UNRWA, reported Jordanian news agency Petra.

The ambassador praised Jordan’s efforts in providing aid to Gaza and lauded King Abdullah II’s stance on the Palestinian issue and Israel-Hamas war. He also reiterated his country’s support of Jordan’s role in ensuring regional peace and stability and backing for its custodianship of holy sites in Jerusalem.

Senator Issa Murad stressed a ceasefire in Gaza was urgently needed and commended King Abdullah II’s humanitarian efforts to alleviate conditions there. He emphasized the importance of international support for UNRWA.

The committee urged France to increase aid to Gaza and to use its influence on the international stage, particularly in the UN Security Council, to address the Palestinian question and end the Gaza conflict.


Israel carries out biggest Ramallah raid in years, witnesses say

Israel carries out biggest Ramallah raid in years, witnesses say
Updated 04 March 2024
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Israel carries out biggest Ramallah raid in years, witnesses say

Israel carries out biggest Ramallah raid in years, witnesses say
  • Witnesses in Ramallah said Israeli forces had driven dozens of military vehicles into the city
  • Israeli forces shot and killed 16-year-old Mustafa Abu Shalbak while raiding Am’ari refugee camp

RAMALLAH: Israeli forces swept into the Palestinians’ administrative capital of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank overnight, killing a 16-year-old in a refugee camp during their biggest raid into the city in years, Palestinian sources said on Monday.
Witnesses in Ramallah said Israeli forces had driven dozens of military vehicles into the city, which is the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Palestinian health ministry said Israeli forces shot and killed 16-year-old Mustafa Abu Shalbak while raiding Am’ari refugee camp.
The Palestinian news agency WAFA said confrontations broke out as Israeli forces stormed the camp, “during which live bullets were fired at Palestinian youths,” wounding Abu Shalbak in the neck and chest.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Violence has surged across the West Bank in parallel to the Gaza war, with at least 400 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers and settlers, and Israel regularly raiding Palestinian areas across the territory it occupied in 1967.
Israeli forces also tore up a main road in the West Bank city of Tulkarm during a raid there, witnesses said.
WAFA also reported that Israeli forces had stormed the West Bank city of Nablus, and blew up the home of a man previously accused by Israel of carrying out an attack in which a British-Israeli mother and her two daughters were killed in April in the West Bank.
The man, Moaz Al-Masri, was killed by Israeli forces in Nablus last May.
Israeli forces detained at least 55 Palestinians in raids across the West Bank overnight, according to The Palestinian Prisoners Club.


Erdogan and Abbas to discuss delivering aid to Gaza

Erdogan and Abbas to discuss delivering aid to Gaza
Updated 04 March 2024
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Erdogan and Abbas to discuss delivering aid to Gaza

Erdogan and Abbas to discuss delivering aid to Gaza
  • Ankara has no direct involvement in truce talks

ANKARA: President Tayyip Erdogan is set to discuss Turkiye’s efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during talks this week in Ankara, a Turkish diplomatic source said on Monday.
Speaking at a diplomatic forum in Turkiye at the weekend, the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister Riyad-al Al-Maliki said Abbas would pay a visit to Ankara on Tuesday and meet Erdogan.
Turkiye, which has harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and backed measures to have it tried for genocide at the World Court, has repeatedly called for a ceasefire. But Ankara has no direct involvement in truce talks.
Unlike its Western allies and some Gulf nations, NATO member Turkiye does not view Hamas, the Palestinian militant group which runs Gaza and on Oct. 7 carried out an attack inside Israel that prompted the Israeli campaign, as a terrorist organization.
Erdogan and Abbas will discuss recent developments in Gaza as well as the situation in the West Bank, the diplomatic source said.
“Turkiye has been delivering extensive humanitarian aid to Gaza in coordination with Egypt since the beginning of Israel’s attacks... Within this scope, humanitarian aid operations will also be discussed during the meetings with President Abbas,” the source said.


UN rights chief says essential to avoid conflagration in Gaza war

UN rights chief says essential to avoid conflagration in Gaza war
Updated 04 March 2024
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UN rights chief says essential to avoid conflagration in Gaza war

UN rights chief says essential to avoid conflagration in Gaza war
  • The war in Gaza had already spilled over in neighboring countries
  • Turk said last week that war crimes had been committed by all parties in the conflict between Israel and Hamas

GENEVA: The United Nations human rights chief on Monday it was imperative to avoid any exacerbation of the war in Gaza, warning that any conflagration could have broad repercussions across the Middle East and beyond the region.
Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Volker Turk said the war in Gaza, which has been raging since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas gunmen in southern Israel, had already spilled over in neighboring countries.
“I am deeply concerned that in this powder keg, any spark could lead to a much broader conflagration,” said Turk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“This would have implications for every country in the Middle East, and many beyond it.”
Turk described the military escalation in southern Lebanon between Israel, Hezbollah and other armed groups as “extremely worrying.”
“It is imperative to do everything possible to avoid a wider conflagration,” he said.
The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah and Israel have been locked in hostilities for months in parallel to the Gaza war. It has marked the worst conflict between them since 2006.
The Gaza war began when Hamas stormed Israel on Oct. 7 in an attack that killed 1,200 people and resulted in another 253 being abducted, according to Israeli tallies.
The attack drew an Israeli offensive in Hamas-run Gaza. Health authorities in the enclave say more than 30,000 Palestinians have been confirmed killed during the offensive.
Turk said last week that war crimes had been committed by all parties in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. They should be investigated and those responsible be held accountable, he said.