Griffiths sees ‘promising signs’ of Gaza aid access via Israel

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths speaks during a press conference on the situation in Gaza, at UN Building in Geneva, on November 15, 2023. (AFP)
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths speaks during a press conference on the situation in Gaza, at UN Building in Geneva, on November 15, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 08 December 2023
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Griffiths sees ‘promising signs’ of Gaza aid access via Israel

Griffiths sees ‘promising signs’ of Gaza aid access via Israel
  • An Israeli siege has seen only limited supplies of food, water, fuel, and medicines enter the Gaza Strip, triggering dire shortages

GENEVA: UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said he saw promising signs that a major crossing from Israel into Gaza might be opened soon to allow in aid.
The Kerem Shalom checkpoint was responsible for 60 percent of goods getting into the besieged Palestinian territory before Oct. 7 and the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.
Griffiths said that in recent days, there had been signs that Israel and Egypt have become much more open to the idea of gradually reopening Kerem Shalom.
The crossing sits on the triple border between Israel, Gaza and Egypt.
“We’re still negotiating, and with some promising signs at the moment” that access through Kerem Shalom would soon be possible, Griffiths said in Geneva.
But Israel poured cold water on the idea of fully reopening the crossing, telling AFP following Griffiths’s comments that it would only allow aid truck inspections before directing supplies toward the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza.
“We will allow a security check of humanitarian aid trucks at the Kerem Shalom crossing, but not trucks crossing to Gaza,” said a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, COGAT.
An Israeli siege has seen only limited supplies of food, water, fuel, and medicines enter the Gaza Strip, triggering dire shortages.
The Rafah border crossing with Egypt is the only one currently open for aid to flow into Gaza.
“We have been arguing for the opening of Kerem Shalom... to go straight through Kerem Shalom up into the northern parts of Gaza, or wherever the need is greatest,” Griffiths said.
“If we get that, it will be the first miracle we’ve seen for some weeks, but it will be a huge boost to the logistical process ... it would change the nature of humanitarian access.”
Griffiths added that there were also discussions on the possibility of driving aid to the Gaza Strip from Jordan via the Allenby Bridge crossing into the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
A representative in Jordan was “already lining up the potential deliveries of aid by land... from Jordan over the Allenby Bridge, straight to Kerem Shalom,” he said.
On the situation inside the Gaza Strip, Griffiths said the territory was being stalked by hunger and deprivation.
“There are two horsemen of the apocalypse in Gaza today: Conflict, of course, but also disease, and that will only get worse as we are unable to sustain any supplies to hospitals,” he said.
“The pointers are going in the wrong direction — all of them.”
Griffiths said southern Gaza had been the cornerstone of international humanitarian plans to protect civilians and administer aid to them.
But now, “without places of safety, that plan is in tatters,” he said, calling the current circumstances, “at best, humanitarian opportunism.”
“It’s erratic, it’s undependable, and frankly, it’s not sustainable.”
The British diplomat said there was no sense of clarity, planning, or what the coming days may bring.
“None of us can see where this will end,” he said.

 


Extremism is US voters’ greatest worry, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds

Extremism is US voters’ greatest worry, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds
Updated 28 February 2024
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Extremism is US voters’ greatest worry, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds

Extremism is US voters’ greatest worry, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds

WASHINGTON: Worries about political extremism or threats to democracy have emerged as a top concern for US voters and an issue where President Joe Biden has a slight advantage over Donald Trump ahead of the November election, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.

Some 21 percent of respondents in the three-day poll, which closed on Sunday, said “political extremism or threats to democracy” was the biggest problem facing the US, a share that was marginally higher than those who picked the economy — 19 percent — and immigration — 18 percent.

Biden’s Democrats considered extremism by far the No. 1 issue while Trump’s Republicans overwhelmingly chose immigration.

Extremism was independents’ top concern, cited by almost a third of independent respondents, followed by immigration, cited by about one in five. The economy ranked third.

During and since his presidency, Trump has kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism of US institutions, claiming the four criminal prosecutions he faces are politically motivated and holding to his false claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.

That rhetoric was central to his message to supporters ahead of their Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol.

Overall, 34 percent of respondents said Biden had a better approach for handling extremism, compared to 31 percent who said Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

The poll helps show the extent to which Biden’s re-election bid could rely on voters being motivated by their opposition to Trump rather than enthusiasm over Biden’s candidacy.

BIDEN APPROVAL DIPS

Biden’s approval rating in the poll, 37 percent, was close to the lowest level of his presidency and down a percentage point from a month earlier. Nine-out-of-ten Democrats approved of his performance and the same share of Republicans disapproved, while independents were slightly skewed toward disapproval.

But 44 percent of Democrats said extremism was their top issue, compared to 10 percent who said the economy, their second most-picked concern. Prior Reuters/Ipsos polls did not include political extremism as an option for respondents to select as the country’s biggest problem.

Biden’s re-election campaign has focused its messaging on the dangers to democracy posed by Trump, whose many legal problems include criminal charges tied to his efforts to overturn his loss to Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Other Reuters/Ipsos polls have shown Biden’s supporters are more motivated by their opposition to Trump than by their support for  the president.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all the charges he faces, which he claims are part a conspiracy by Democrats to derail his return to the White House.

Trump has regularly launched verbal attacks against the prosecutors and judges handling his civil and criminal cases, and a Reuters review earlier this month found that serious threats to US federal judges have more than doubled over the past three years.

While 38 percent of Republicans in the poll cited immigration as the top issue for the country, a significant proportion — 13 percent — picked extremism, a sign that Trump’s own claims about the danger to the nation posed by “far left” Democrats also resonate with his base.

The economy, which has suffered under high inflation for most of Biden’s presidency, was the second biggest issue among Republicans, with 22 percent saying it weighed the most.

The economy has long been a sore spot for Biden. Thirty-nine percent of poll respondents said Trump had a better approach to the economy, compared to 33 percent who said Biden did.

Trump led Biden 36 percent to 30 percent when it came to having a better approach to foreign conflicts, though few Democrats or Republicans considered those issues to be top national priorities.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll gathered responses online from 1,020 adults, using a nationally representative sample, and had a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.


US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks

US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks
Updated 28 February 2024
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US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks

US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks

WASHINGTON: Operatives from Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah are working inside Yemen to support Houthi insurgents’ attacks on international shipping, a US official said Tuesday.

Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen, told a Senate subcommittee that Iran’s clerical state was “equipping and facilitating” the Houthi attacks, which have triggered retaliatory US and British strikes on Yemen.

“Credible public reports suggest a significant number of Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah operatives are supporting Houthi attacks from inside Yemen,” Lenderking said.

“I can’t imagine the Yemeni people want these Iranians in their country. This must stop,” he said.

The White House said in December that Iran was “deeply involved” in planning the attacks, which the Houthis say are acts of solidarity with the Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war.

Lenderking, who has dealt with the Houthis since the start of President Joe Biden’s administration as he helped diplomacy to freeze a brutal civil war, acknowledged that the rebels have not been deterred.

“The fact that they continue this, and have said publicly that they will not stop until there’s a ceasefire in Gaza, is an indication that we’re not yet at the point, unfortunately, where they do intend to dial back,” Lenderking said.

The bombing campaign drew skepticism from some senators from Biden’s Democratic Party.

Chris Murphy, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Middle East, agreed that the United States has “an obligation to respond” to attacks on shipping but added, “I do worry about the efficacy.”

The Houthis, who control war-torn Yemen’s most populated areas, have previously reported the death of 17 fighters in Western strikes targeting their military facilities.

The Houthi attacks have had a significant effect on traffic through the busy Red Sea shipping route, forcing some companies into a two-week detour around southern Africa.

Last week, Egypt said Suez Canal revenues were down by up to 50 percent this year.


US Army is slashing thousands of posts in major revamp to prepare for future wars

US Army is slashing thousands of posts in major revamp to prepare for future wars
Updated 28 February 2024
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US Army is slashing thousands of posts in major revamp to prepare for future wars

US Army is slashing thousands of posts in major revamp to prepare for future wars
  • While the Army as it’s currently structured can have up to 494,000 soldiers, the total number of active-duty soldiers right now is about 445,000

WASHINGTON: The US Army is slashing the size of its force by about 24,000, or almost 5 percent, and restructuring to be better able to fight the next major war, as the service struggles with recruiting shortfalls that made it impossible to bring in enough soldiers to fill all the jobs.
The cuts will mainly be in already-empty posts — not actual soldiers — including in jobs related to counterinsurgency that swelled during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars but are not needed as much today. About 3,000 of the cuts would come from Army special operations forces.
At the same time, however, the plan will add about 7,500 troops in other critical missions, including air-defense and counter-drone units and five new task forces around the world with enhanced cyber, intelligence and long-range strike capabilities.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she and Gen. Randy George, the Army chief, worked to thin out the number of places where they had empty or excess slots.
“We’re moving away from counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. We want to be postured for large-scale combat operations,” Wormuth told reporters on Tuesday. “So we looked at where were there pieces of force structure that were probably more associated with counterinsurgency, for example, that we don’t need anymore.”
George added that Army leaders did a lot of analysis to choose the places to cut.
“The things that we want to not have in our formation are actually things that we don’t think are going to make us successful on the battlefield going forward,” he said.
According to an Army document, the service is “significantly overstructured” and there aren’t enough soldiers to fill existing units. The cuts, it said, are “spaces” not “faces” and the Army will not be asking soldiers to leave the force.
Instead, the decision reflects the reality that for years the Army hasn’t been able to fill thousands of empty posts. While the Army as it’s currently structured can have up to 494,000 soldiers, the total number of active-duty soldiers right now is about 445,000. Under the new plan, the goal is to bring in enough troops over the next five years to reach a level of 470,000.
The planned overhaul comes after two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan that forced the Army to quickly and dramatically expand in order to fill the brigades sent to the battlefront. That included a massive counterinsurgency mission to battle Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Daesh group.
Over time the military’s focus has shifted to great power competition from adversaries such as China and Russia, and threats from Iran and North Korea. And the war in Ukraine has shown the need for greater emphasis on air-defense systems and high-tech abilities both to use and counter airborne and sea-based drones.
Army leaders said they looked carefully across the board at all the service’s job specialties in search of places to trim. And they examined the ongoing effort to modernize the Army, with new high-tech weapons, to determine where additional forces should be focused.
According to the plan, the Army will cut about 10,000 spaces for engineers and similar jobs that were tied to counter-insurgency missions. An additional 2,700 cuts will come from units that don’t deploy often and can be trimmed, and 6,500 will come from various training and other posts.
There also will be about 10,000 posts cut from cavalry squadrons, Stryker brigade combat teams, infantry brigade combat teams and security force assistance brigades, which are used to train foreign forces.
The changes represent a significant shift for the Army to prepare for large-scale combat operations against more sophisticated enemies. But they also underscore the steep recruiting challenges that all of the military services are facing.
In the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the Navy, Army and Air Force all failed to meet their recruitment goals, while the Marine Corps and the tiny Space Force met their targets. The Army brought in a bit more than 50,000 recruits, falling well short of the publicly stated “stretch goal” of 65,000.
The previous fiscal year, the Army also missed its enlistment goal by 15,000. That year the goal was 60,000.
In response, the service launched a sweeping overhaul of its recruiting last fall to focus more on young people who have spent time in college or are job hunting early in their careers. And it is forming a new professional force of recruiters, rather than relying on soldiers randomly assigned to the task.
In discussing the changes at the time, Wormuth acknowledged that the service hasn’t been recruiting well “for many more years than one would think from just looking at the headlines in the last 18 months.” The service, she said, hasn’t met its annual goal for new enlistment contracts since 2014.

 


’Uncommitted’ voters angry over Gaza test Biden’s support in Michigan

’Uncommitted’ voters angry over Gaza test Biden’s support in Michigan
Updated 28 February 2024
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’Uncommitted’ voters angry over Gaza test Biden’s support in Michigan

’Uncommitted’ voters angry over Gaza test Biden’s support in Michigan
  • Many in Michigan’s Arab American community who supported Biden in 2020 are now outraged, along with some progressive Democrats, over Biden’s support for Israel’s Gaza offensive in which tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed
  • Michigan turnout for Trump rival Nikki Haley, who won nearly 40 percent of Republican votes in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday, could offer signs about the number of Republicans who harbor doubts about a second four-year Trump term

DEARBORN, Michigan: President Joe Biden’s support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza was being put to the test on Tuesday in Michigan, home to a large Arab American constituency where Democratic voters were urged to mark their primary ballots as “uncommitted” in protest.
Biden, a Democrat, and Republican former President Donald Trump were expected to easily win their separate party primaries. But the vote count for both was being closely watched for signs of wavering support.
Michigan is expected to play a decisive role in the head-to-head Nov. 5 US presidential election. It is a battleground state that could swing toward either party. Biden beat Trump in Michigan by just 2.8 percentage points in the 2020 election.
Voting sites begin closing at 8 p.m. ET (0100 GMT Wednesday) with the final locations closing an hour later.
Many in Michigan’s Arab American community who supported Biden in 2020 are now outraged, along with some progressive Democrats, over Biden’s support for Israel’s Gaza offensive in which tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed.
Six voters Reuters interviewed at a polling place on Tuesday in Dearborn — a liberal city that is the epicenter of the pushback against Biden’s Israel strategy — said they were voting uncommitted. Another said he was voting for Trump.
But in Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, most Democrats interviewed said they would stick with Biden despite misgivings about his Israel policy, because of their dislike for Trump or Republican policies on abortion rights.
Late on Monday, Biden said Israel had agreed to halt military activities in Gaza for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan expected to begin on the evening of March 10, as Hamas studied a draft for a truce that includes a prisoner-hostage exchange.
It should have happened sooner, said Michael Bristol, 21, a student at Wayne State University who said he cast an uncommitted vote.
Engage Action and Listen to Michigan say they’re aiming for 10 percent of Michigan’s Democratic primary voters to mark their ballots that way, a symbolically significant 10,000 votes – about equal to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s loss in Michigan to Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats, overall, support Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict by 61 percent, February polling by Harvard-Harris shows.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other Democrats have warned that if Democratic voters abandon Biden, they could hand the swing state and the country back to Trump in November. Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election.
A senior Biden campaign official said: “We’re taking this seriously. The president himself has said repeatedly that he hears these demonstrators and that he thinks that their cause is important.”
On Feb. 1, Biden won a strong pledge of support from union autoworkers, a Michigan voting bloc no less crucial to his reelection bid. The state is home to nearly 20 percent of all US auto production, more than any state in the country.
“We are going to keep highlighting the contrast between Biden and Trump and once that becomes clear, we fully expect these voters, who have walked away from Biden, to come back,” said LaShawn English, UAW Director Region 1, which represents eight counties in Michigan.

DUELING REPUBLICAN CONTESTS
Michigan turnout for Trump rival Nikki Haley, who won nearly 40 percent of Republican votes in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday, could offer signs about the number of Republicans who harbor doubts about a second four-year Trump term.
Michigan’s Republican Party, beset by internal turmoil, will allocate some delegates to the party’s July convention based on Tuesday’s primary results.
Rival factions are holding dueling party meetings on Saturday that will award the bulk of the delegates. It was unclear, however, which results will be official, although Trump was expected to handily win both sets of Saturday’s votes.
Opinion polls show Trump holding an average statewide lead of nearly 57 percentage points over Haley, according to the poll tracking website FiveThirtyEight.
Still, the results in Michigan will be watched to see how much Trump struggles to attract large numbers of moderates and traditional Republicans, voters he will likely need to win back the White House in November.
Despite having lost to Trump in every primary race, Haley has performed well with moderate voters and has vowed to carry on despite having no clear path to the nomination.
“I’m not going to stop when 70 percent of Americans say they don’t want Donald Trump or Joe Biden,” Haley told CNN on Tuesday. “We’re gonna give them an option.”

 


‘Israel must do more’ to aid Palestinians, US says as UN again warns famine is imminent in Gaza

‘Israel must do more’ to aid Palestinians, US says as UN again warns famine is imminent in Gaza
Updated 28 February 2024
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‘Israel must do more’ to aid Palestinians, US says as UN again warns famine is imminent in Gaza

‘Israel must do more’ to aid Palestinians, US says as UN again warns famine is imminent in Gaza
  • American envoy Robert Wood also tells Security Council Israel must not proceed with any major incursion into the southern city of Rafah
  • Slovenia’s permanent representative to the UN, Samuel Zbogar, says: ‘Only an immediate and permanent ceasefire can avert the risk of famine’

NEW YORK CITY: The US on Tuesday urged Israel to ensure existing border crossings into Gaza remain open so that humanitarian aid can enter the territory, facilitate the opening of additional crossings to meet the growing humanitarian needs of Palestinians, and to support the rapid and safe delivery of relief supplies to vulnerable people throughout the enclave.
“Simply put, Israel must do more,” said Robert Wood, US alternate representative to the UN for special political affairs.
He also warned that any major Israeli ground incursion into the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, which has become the last refuge for more than a million Palestinian civilians who fled fighting in other parts of the territory, should not proceed “under the current circumstances.”
He added: “It is unconscionable that Hamas fighters continue to embed themselves among civilians and civilian infrastructure, including in hospitals and schools.”

Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beachfront in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. (AP)

Wood vowed that the US will continue to engage in “intensive diplomacy” in its attempts to secure the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and enable an agreement for a “significant temporary ceasefire.”
He was speaking during a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the threat of starvation in Gaza. It was called by Guyana, which holds the rotating presidency of the council this month, with the support of Switzerland, Slovenia and Algeria.
Slovenia’s permanent representative to the UN, Samuel Zbogar, said: “Only an immediate and permanent ceasefire can avert the risk of famine.”
His country also calls for continuing safe, secure and unhindered humanitarian access to the entire Gaza Strip, he said, including the establishment of additional border crossings and simplified entry procedures for the delivery of aid supplies. He also called for the restoration of sufficient and safe water supplies, and for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“There are times when we need to make choices and we need to prioritize,” Zbogar said. “Slovenia is choosing a ceasefire to prevent famine in Gaza, a ceasefire to provide relief to Palestinian people and to release hostages.”
Ramesh Rajasingham, the head of the UN’s humanitarian affairs office in Geneva and director of its coordination division, told the council that at least 576,000 people in Gaza, about a quarter of the population, are one step away from famine.
One in six children under the age of 2 years old in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting (a term used to describe low body weight relative to height), he added, and almost the entire population of the territory relies on “woefully inadequate” humanitarian food assistance to survive.
“If nothing is done, we fear widespread famine in Gaza is almost inevitable (and) the conflict will have many more victims,” Rajasingham said.
Maurizio Martina, deputy director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, told the council that Gaza has the highest percentage of people experiencing acute food insecurity the organization “has ever classified.”
Gaza’s food systems have been severely affected by the damage and destruction Israeli military operations have caused to civilian infrastructure, he said, including that which is essential for the production, processing and distribution of food, including farmland, irrigation, greenhouses and bakeries.
About 55 percent of land in Gaza used to grow crops has been damaged, Martina added, and other agricultural infrastructure has been devastated, with the greatest destruction affecting sheep farms, dairy farms, poultry farms, animal shelters and home barns. Meanwhile the capacity of bakeries to produce bread has been seriously hampered, and the commercial sector has been decimated as a result of a near-total lack of imports of essential items, including food.
The harvest of olives and citrus fruits, which provide an important source of income for many Palestinians, has been greatly affected by the hostilities as well, Martina added, while fodder shortages and the damage resulting from airstrikes have taken a toll on livestock, with many owners reporting substantial losses. All poultry used for breeding purposes has been slaughtered or died due to lack of feed and clean water, he said, as has up to 60 percent of calves and 70 percent of beef cattle.
Martina called for an immediate ceasefire as a prerequisite for preventing famine.
Carl Skau, the deputy executive director of the World Food Program, told council members that Gaza now has the worst level of child malnutrition seen anywhere in the world. He lamented the fact that the growing risk of famine is being fueled by the inability to get critical food supplies into the enclave in sufficient quantities, and the almost impossible operating conditions workers from his organization have to contend with in Gaza.
“WFP trucks face delays at checkpoints; they face gunfire; food was looted along the way; and at their destination they were overwhelmed by desperately hungry people,” Skau said.
“The breakdown in civil order, driven by sheer desperation, is preventing the safe distribution of aid.”
The WFP earlier announced it had paused the distribution of aid in the north of the territory.
“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza,” Skau said. “We must all live up to our responsibilities to ensure it does not happen on our watch.”
Guyana’s permanent representative to the UN, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, said the Security Council must take action to halt violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza, and called on all those with influence on the “perpetrators” of such actions to exert that influence to prevent further incidents.
Algeria’s permanent representative to the UN, Amar Bendjama. told fellow council members that Israel’s “deliberate use of starvation as a policy is a blatant violation of international law” and was intended to ensure Palestinians in Gaza “lose hope and dignity, and push them to violence and to the breakdown of law and order.”
The war in Gaza is not being waged on Hamas, he added, but is “collective punishment for Palestinian civilians.”
The Algerian envoy warned the council that “our silence grants a license to kill and starve the Palestinian population,” as he again called on the council to urgently demand a ceasefire.