A British Palestinian surgeon gave testimony to a UK war crimes unit after returning from Gaza

Doctor Ghassan Abu Sitta, a Palestinian-British plastic surgeon specializing in conflict medicine, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (AP)
Doctor Ghassan Abu Sitta, a Palestinian-British plastic surgeon specializing in conflict medicine, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 10 December 2023
Follow

A British Palestinian surgeon gave testimony to a UK war crimes unit after returning from Gaza

A British Palestinian surgeon gave testimony to a UK war crimes unit after returning from Gaza
  • Human rights groups have alleged that Israeli forces have dropped shells containing white phosphorus on densely populated residential areas in Gaza and Lebanon during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war

BEIRUT: A British Palestinian surgeon who spent weeks in the Gaza Strip during the current Israel-Hamas war as part of a Doctors Without Borders medical team said he has given testimony to a British war crimes investigation unit.
Ghassan Abu Sitta, a plastic surgeon specializing in conflict medicine, has volunteered with medical teams in multiple conflicts in Gaza, beginning as a medical student in the late 1980s during the the first Palestinian uprising. He has also worked in other conflict zones, including in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Abu Sitta crossed from Egypt into Gaza on Oct. 9, two days after the war began and remained in the besieged enclave for 43 days, working mainly in the Al-Ahli and Shifa hospitals in northern Gaza.
The war was triggered by a deadly Hamas-led incursion on Oct. 7 into southern Israel in which militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Since then, Israel has launched a punishing air and ground campaign that has killed more than 17,700 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory.
Abu Sitta told The Associated Press in an interview during a visit to the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut on Saturday that the intensity of other conflicts he experienced and the war in Gaza is like “the difference between a flood and a tsunami.” Apart from the staggering numbers of killed and injured, he said, the health system itself has been targeted and destroyed in Gaza.
“The worst thing was initially the running out of morphine and proper strong analgesics and then later on running out of anesthetic medication, which meant that you would have to do painful procedures with no anesthetic,” Abu Sitta said.
He said that when he returned to the UK, he was asked by the war crimes unit at the Metropolitan Police to give evidence in a possible war crimes investigation, and did so.
The police had issued a call for people returning from Israel or the Palestinian territories who “have witnessed or been a victim of terrorism, war crimes or crimes against humanity” to come forward.
Abu Sitta said much of his testimony related to attacks on health facilities.
He was working in Al-Ahli hospital in northern Gaza on Oct. 17 when a deadly blast struck the hospital’s courtyard, which had become a shelter for displaced people, killing hundreds. Israeli authorities, along with US and French intelligence agencies, have said the explosion was caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket.
Hamas maintained that it was an Israeli strike. Abu Sitta said many of the injuries he saw were more consistent with damage caused by an Israeli Hellfire missile which he said “disintegrates into shards of metal that cause amputations.”
The international group Human Rights Watch said the fragmentation pattern around the impact crater lacked the pattern typical of the Hellfire missile or others used by Israel.
Abu Sitta said while in Gaza he also treated patients who had burn wounds consistent with white phosphorus shelling, which he had also seen during the 2009 war.
Phosphorus shells cause a “chemical burn that ... bursts into the deep structures of the body rather than a thermal burn, which starts at the outside and (covers a) much larger surface area,” he said.
Human rights groups have alleged that Israeli forces have dropped shells containing white phosphorus on densely populated residential areas in Gaza and Lebanon during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Israel maintains it uses the incendiaries only as a smokescreen and not to target civilians.
Abu Sitta, who rotated between Al-Ahli and Shifa hospital, had left Shifa when Israeli forces encircled the hospital, eventually storming it in search of what they described as a Hamas command center. Israeli officials released visuals of an underground tunnel and rooms that they said were used by Hamas, but have not provided further evidence.
Abu Sitta, like other medical workers in the hospital, denied the allegations.
He said he had complete access to Shifa and there “was never, ever even any military presence.” He said policemen whose job was to control the crowds in front of the emergency department only carried truncheons.
The physician said he hopes the UK war crimes investigation will lead to prosecutions, locally or internationally.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, said after a visit to the West Bank and Israel last week that a probe by the court into possible crimes by both Hamas militants and Israeli forces is a priority for his office.
 

 


UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers

UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers
Updated 6 sec ago
Follow

UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers

UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers
  • Report exposes official's inappropriate guessing game to reveal foster care placements to children
  • Report that found basic checks to ensure unaccompanied children were safe in these hotels were not carried out

LONDON: Charities and campaigners have called for a public inquiry into the treatment of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK, the BBC reported on Monday.

At one point, the Home Office contracted seven hotels to provide temporary accommodation for children while foster care placements were being arranged with local authorities. According to a recently published official report, however, basic checks to ensure unaccompanied children were being kept safe in these hotels were not carried out.

The report, by the former chief inspector of borders, David Neal, and published by the Home Office last week, also revealed a particularly disturbing practice in which a team leader would have children take part in a guessing game to find out who had received a place in foster care.

Inspectors described the practice as “insensitive in the extreme and undoubtedly upsetting to the children.” They noted that it was not widely adopted but nor was it internally questioned when it was.

Eighteen organizations, including the Refugee Council and the British Association of Social Workers, have now signed an open letter in which they highlight this “appalling revelation” that some children were forced to play a game to guess which of them had been allocated a foster home. They described the wider findings of the report as “disturbing, distressing and dystopian.”

The letter also said that hundreds of unaccompanied children who have gone missing from hotels have yet to be found, and that children incorrectly assessed as being of adult age were forced to share bedrooms with grown-up strangers.

The signatories called for an extensive independent investigation into the treatment of asylum seekers aged 17 and younger.

“In our work with refugee children, we repeatedly see how they are being failed... There is a culture of callous disregard for children’s basic right to dignity,” they said in their letter.

“We urgently need to see a fundamental change towards an asylum system that is fair, humane and protects those who are some of the most vulnerable children in the country.”

The Home Office said the welfare of the children was of “utmost priority.” A full investigation into the “inappropriate behavior” of the worker responsible for the guessing game has been launched, it added, and he was removed from his position as soon as his actions were revealed. It also said hotels are no longer used to house child refugees, the BBC reported.

The report was based on inspections of two hotels in Kent that took place in September 2023.

It stated: “Inspectors found that two years on from when the Home Office first moved children into hotels, it was still grappling with the challenges of managing an operation that was only ever envisaged to provide a short-term solution.”


EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire

EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire
Updated 26 min 29 sec ago
Follow

EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire

EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire
  • Lahbib added that she makes international contacts on an almost daily basis to seek a 40-day ceasefire

LONDON: The EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers “is doing everything in its power to reach an immediate ceasefire and secure the delivery of aid to the Palestinian people,” Belgium’s foreign minister said on Monday.

Hadja Lahbib announced her country’s intention to host an international peace conference in April to discuss Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, Kuwait News Agency reported.

Lahbib added that she makes international contacts on an almost daily basis to seek a 40-day ceasefire so that Palestinians can receive humanitarian aid.

Israel has sealed off the strip, stormed its towns and pounded it from the sky since its action began in October. More than 30,000 people have been confirmed killed, with thousands more missing.

The majority of the population in the Gaza Strip has been made homeless, and the UN says hundreds of thousands of its people are facing famine.

Lahbib said that Belgium sent direct aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in December, adding that the aid “continues and will not be interrupted.”
 


Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead

Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead
Updated 04 March 2024
Follow

Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead

Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead
  • Gilgit-Baltistan major roads remained blocked for a third consecutive day, leaving thousands stranded

PESHAWAR: Thirty-five people have been killed and dozens more injured in the last five days as rains continue to batter Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority said on Monday.

Heavy rains and snowfall last week have damaged hundreds of houses and bridges and shut off road and rail routes in several areas of Pakistan. In the country’s mountainous northern Gilgit-Baltistan, the main Karakoram Highway, Baltistan Road and other major roads remained blocked for a third consecutive day, leaving thousands of tourists, travelers, and traders stranded at various points.

In the southwest of the country, heavy snowfall brought daily life to a standstill in Quetta and other northern parts of Balochistan, with main highways and inter-provincial roads blocked since Saturday, cutting the remote province from other parts of the country.

“During the last five days, 35 people have died and 43 people have been injured as a result of accidents due to ongoing rains across the province,” the PDMA said in a statement, providing figures for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, adding that “346 houses were partially damaged while 46 houses were completely damaged.”

The PDMA said food and other relief items were being sent to the areas of Charsadda, Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Malakand, Mohmand, Bannu, Khyber, Bajaur, Nowshera and Peshawar on the orders of the province’s new Chief Minister Ali Amin Khan Gandapur.

“Distribution of relief items underway including blankets, tents, jerry cans, gas cylinders, water coolers, mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, hygiene kits, toilet kits, plastic mats, sandbags, tarpaulins,” the PDMA said, adding that the chief minister had ordered that “immediate steps” be taken to open closed roads.

Large swathes of Pakistan were submerged in 2022 due to extremely heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers, a phenomenon linked to climate change that damaged crops and infrastructure and killed at least 1,700 people and affected over 30 million.

Pakistan received commitments of more than $9 billion from international donors to help recover from the 2022 floods with rebuilding efforts estimated to cost about $16.3 billion, but little aid has come in so far.


UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffers first parliamentary defeats

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London. (AFP)
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2024
Follow

UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffers first parliamentary defeats

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London. (AFP)
  • Under the Rwanda plan, asylum seekers who arrive on England’s southern coast in boats would be sent to live in Rwanda, but so far no one has been deported

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suffered his first defeats over his legislation to send asylum seekers to Rwanda after the upper house of parliament demanded greater protections to be introduced before deportation flights can take off.
Under the Rwanda plan, which has yet to be carried out, asylum seekers who arrive on England’s southern coast in small, inflatable boats would be sent to live in Rwanda, but so far no one has been deported because of ongoing legal challenges.
In an effort to overcome resistance from the courts, Sunak’s government is passing legislation through parliament that would block further legal challenges by declaring Rwanda a so-called safe country for asylum seekers.
Unelected members of the House of Lords, largely made of former politicians and government officials, voted in favor of one amendment that would mean flights could only take off when a treaty — that would implement legal safeguards in the Rwandan asylum system — had been fully implemented.
The Lords also voted for an amendment that said the legislation must be fully compliant with international and domestic law, and another that requires proof that Rwanda is safe for refugees before flights can leave.
However, the more powerful elected House of Commons can overturn the changes at later stages in a process known as “parliamentary ping-pong” and the legislation could still enter the statute book unamended.
Some Lords complained that the legislation as currently drafted would require Rwanda to be treated as a safe country regardless of the evidence.
Christopher Tugendhat, a Lord for the governing Conservatives, accused the government of behaving like the ruling party in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
“If this bill goes onto the statute book in its present form, Rwanda will be a safe country regardless of reality,” he said.
Sunak has said he wants the first deportation flights to leave in the next few months — ahead of a general election expected in the second half of this year — so he can meet a pledge to “stop the boats.”
More than 2,500 asylum seekers have arrived in Britain on small boats so far this year. A seven-year-old girl died over the weekend trying to reach Britain after a small boat carrying her capsized off the coast of France.
In the most detailed financial assessment of the Rwanda policy, the British government’s spending watchdog on Friday said it would cost more 600 million pounds ($762 million) to deport the first 300 refugees.


British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth

British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth
Updated 04 March 2024
Follow

British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth

British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth
  • Project designed to prepare 90 young Jordanians for leadership roles within their communities

AMMAN: The British Council has announced a collaboration with the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development, Jordan News Agency reported on Monday.

The JOHUD is a nonprofit organization focusing on promoting sustainable social, economic, and cultural development in Jordan’s local communities.

The agreement was signed as part of the British Council’s Youth Connect project, which is designed to prepare 90 young Jordanians for leadership roles within their communities.

The agreement will help empower younger Jordanians in the Princess Basma Development Centers in Tafilah and Ma’an in southern Jordan, through specialized training sessions in communication skills.

Alexander Lambert, who is Jordan director at the British Council, spoke of the importance of the project as a milestone in the deep-rooted partnership between the council and the JOHUD.

The partnership with the British Council “added to the purposeful and fruitful partnerships that combine efforts with various local institutions to contribute to achieving national goals to enhance the role of youth and women in society,” JOHUD’s Executive Director Farah Daghistani said.