Israel, Hamas must ‘de-escalate, allow humanitarians to operate,’ ICRC DG Robert Mardini tells Arab News

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Updated 07 December 2023
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Israel, Hamas must ‘de-escalate, allow humanitarians to operate,’ ICRC DG Robert Mardini tells Arab News

Israel, Hamas must ‘de-escalate, allow humanitarians to operate,’ ICRC DG Robert Mardini tells Arab News
  • Senior official of International Committee of the Red Cross doubles down on calls to warring sides to respect Geneva Conventions
  • Expresses gratitude for strong Saudi support in Gaza and Sudan, wants humanitarian partnership to climb new heights

RIYADH: Despite the daily efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross to “step up, to scale up, to send more people on the ground in Gaza,” humanitarians “can only do so much,” according to Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s director general.

He made the comment in the course of an interview on Tuesday with Arab News in Riyadh, where he held a meeting with officials from the Saudi aid agency KSrelief.

“We cannot cope with this magnitude of needs and we want the parties in the conflict, the Israeli side and the Hamas side, to de-escalate and to create the conditions for humanitarians to be able to operate at the level that is required,” Mardini said.

He added that the current level and intensity of fighting in Gaza makes humanitarians’ ability to operate at the levels required “impossible.”

He said: “No meaningful humanitarian response is possible under the current circumstances. This is why we have to, in parallel to doing everything we can to step up the humanitarian response, double down on repeating and reiterating our calls to the parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under the rules of war, the Geneva Conventions.”

Mardini made it clear that as humanitarians, the ICRC will continue to push the limits of the possible to “make a difference for the people in Gaza.”

But while efforts will continue, Mardini said the ICRC can only do so much, “and the responsibility lies within the parties in the conflict.”

He added: “They have the obligations under the Geneva Conventions to protect civilians, to do everything they can to protect civilians, and to de-escalate the conflict; to ensure that there are regular humanitarian pauses to allow humanitarian supplies to get into the Gaza Strip; and to allow humanitarian workers to be able to deliver much-needed humanitarian support to the people in Gaza, and also to give respite to the civilian population, who are living in disastrous conditions, in constant fear of violent death.”

Mardini has no doubt about the immediate requirements: A de-escalation of the conflict, regular humanitarian pauses, and better conditions for civilians.

He said all people in Gaza today were traumatized by what is happening.




Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip arrive at a hospital in Rafah. (AP)

When asked about what needs to take place to alleviate the suffering of people in Gaza, he said that humanitarian goods were critical.

“Even before the conflict started on Oct. 7, on average 400 to 500 or 600 trucks a day were getting into the Gaza Strip at the time where it was more or less normal life,” Mardini said.

Now, after nearly two months of fighting, “people (are) being torn apart with thousands killed, tens of thousands severely injured,” and the needs of the region are much greater.

He added: “So, definitely, 200 trucks, which was the maximum reach during the seven-day truce, is only a small fragment, and it’s a drop in an ocean of needs. Trucks alone will not save the people of Gaza.

“What the people of Gaza need now is going back to a normal life, is more respite, is the de-escalation of the conflict. And it’s a political solution that is needed to avoid additional loss of life, and desperation and despair.”

Mardini stressed that although the ICRC is currently trying to receive reasonable security guarantees, “it’s very tough because today, really nowhere is safe in Gaza.”

He said: “Our own teams were in the line of fire. The teams of the Palestine Red Crescent Society were also caught in the line of fire. Many other humanitarians from UNWRA, MSF, also lost their lives in the line of duty.”

Mardini underlined the gravity of the humanitarian situation, adding that the ICRC has a full surgical team working in the European Hospital of Gaza with Palestinian doctors and nurses.

He said: “The testimonies they are giving us are terrifying and horrifying, you know. The sheer number of mass casualties is totally unprecedented.”




Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, being interviewed by Arab News Assistant Editor-in Chief Noor Nugali. (AN Photo/Abdulrhman Bin Alshuhub)

According to the Hamas-run government media office in Gaza, fighting has claimed more than 16,000 lives since the start of the war. While a humanitarian pause was reached on Nov. 24, it ended on Dec. 1, with Israeli forces resuming combat operations.

Mardini said: “The resumption of the fighting in the Gaza Strip is taking its toll on the civilian population, which has been through impossible hardship over the past almost two months.”

Mardini described the testimonies he has heard from ICRC colleagues on the ground in the Gaza Strip operating in a hospital and supporting the Palestine Red Crescent Society volunteers as “horrendous.”

He added: “People are living in difficult circumstances. The families have been separated. Thousands are getting into hospitals.”

He said that hospitals were so overcrowded with the sick, injured, and those seeking shelter that treatment had become difficult. He added that such overcrowding, complicated by shortages of water and medicine, may lead to the spread of disease.

“Doctors are facing impossible choices of who to save, who will make it, who won’t be able to make it, because of the very limited medical supplies, the lack of fuel,” he said.

He added that civilians were in areas, “the so-called safe zones,” adding that “(they) are not really safe, because there are no safe places in the Gaza Strip today.”

Commenting on his meeting with Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, during which they discussed the situation in Gaza, he said: “The King Salman Center is a very solid partner of ICRC.

“We have discussed ways and means to step up the humanitarian response. I expressed also our gratitude at ICRC for the very strong support of the King Salman Center, which has recently contributed through funding for our humanitarian endeavors in the Gaza Strip, as it did several months ago to our work in Sudan.”

When asked about the application of the law of armed conflict, which was put in place to set the conduct of military operations and provide protection for the victims of conflict, Mardini asserted that “the law of armed conflict actually works.”

He said: “We have a demonstration of this every day. Every day, an ICRC surgeon is able to save a life.




Commenting on his meeting with Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, Mardini, right, said: “I expressed also our gratitude at ICRC for the very strong support of the King Salman Center, which has recently contributed through funding for our humanitarian endeavors in the Gaza Strip.” (Supplied)

“Every day, a Palestine Red Crescent volunteer is able to evacuate the severely injured from our hospital to the other. Every day. And we have seen this over the past seven days. The ICRC managed to facilitate the release of hostages in Gaza and Palestinian detainees in Israel to their families in Ramallah.

“These are the laws of war in action. These are the laws of war working.”

Elaborating on the point, he said that when the law of armed conflict works, it “prevents harm from happening in the first place … The laws of war are the ultimate safety net to uphold dignity in war. They should be supported; they should be respected by parties in the conflict.”

Discussing the role of the ICRC in aiding hostage situations, he described the agency as a “neutral intermediary.”

In its role as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC over several days transferred hostages held in Gaza to Israeli authorities and ultimately their families, and transfer Palestinian detainees to authorities in the West Bank, to be reunited with their families.

He said: “I have to hope that the two parties will continue to negotiate for further releases of hostages and Palestinian detainees. And we are certainly ready to renew these types of operations, of course, provided the conditions are acceptable for the safety of hostages and detainees, and our own staff.”

He added: “We need to keep hope alive. I think it’s important civilians, on both sides of this front line, still have hope. And they deserve better conditions than they have today.”


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.