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)
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Updated 10 December 2023
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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.
 

 


Biden hopes ceasefire, hostage deal to pause Israel-Hamas war can take effect by next Monday

Biden hopes ceasefire, hostage deal to pause Israel-Hamas war can take effect by next Monday
Updated 27 February 2024
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Biden hopes ceasefire, hostage deal to pause Israel-Hamas war can take effect by next Monday

Biden hopes ceasefire, hostage deal to pause Israel-Hamas war can take effect by next Monday
  • Negotiations are underway for a ceasefire between Israel, Hamas to allow for release of hostages in Gaza 
  • Israel has killed over 29,000 Palestinians since October 7, according to Gaza Health Ministry figures

NEW YORK: President Joe Biden said Monday that he hopes a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that would pause hostilities and allow for remaining hostages to be released can take effect by early next week.
Asked when he thought a ceasefire could begin, Biden said: “Well I hope by the beginning of the weekend. The end of the weekend. My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close. We’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”
Biden commented in New York after taping an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”
Negotiations are underway for a weekslong ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to allow for the release of hostages being held in Gaza by the militant group in return for Israel releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. The proposed six-week pause in fighting would also include allowing hundreds of trucks to deliver desperately needed aid into Gaza every day.
Negotiators face an unofficial deadline of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan around March 10, a period that often sees heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Meanwhile, Israel has failed to comply with an order by the United Nations’ top court to provide urgently needed aid to desperate people in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Monday, a month after a landmark ruling in The Hague ordered Israel to moderate its war.
In a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of genocide, the UN’s top court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in the tiny Palestinian enclave. It stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.
Israel denies the charges against it, saying it is fighting in self-defense.
Nearly five months into the war, preparations are underway for Israel to expand its ground operation into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety.
Early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for Rafah as well as plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details.
The situation in Rafah has sparked global concern. Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against the Hamas militant group.
Also Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh submitted his government’s resignation, and President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to appoint technocrats in line with US demands for internal reform. The US has called for a revitalized Palestinian Authority to govern postwar Gaza ahead of eventual statehood — a scenario rejected by Israel.
In its Jan. 26 ruling, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to follow six provisional measures, including taking “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” to Gaza.
Israel also must submit a report on what it is doing to adhere to the measures within a month. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said late Monday that it has filed such a report. It declined to share it or discuss its contents.
Israel said 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday. That’s less than half the amount that entered daily before the war.
Human Rights Watch, citing UN figures, noted a 30 percent drop in the daily average number of aid trucks entering Gaza in the weeks following the court’s ruling. It said that between Jan. 27 and Feb. 21, the daily average of trucks entering was 93, compared to 147 trucks a day in the three weeks before the ruling. The daily average dropped to 57, between Feb. 9 and 21, the figures showed.
The rights group said Israel was not adequately facilitating fuel deliveries to hard-hit northern Gaza and blamed Israel for blocking aid from reaching the north, where the World Food Program said last week it was forced to suspend aid deliveries.
“The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.
The Association of International Development Agencies, a coalition of over 70 humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, said almost no aid had reached areas in Gaza north of Rafah since the court’s ruling.
Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza, saying large aid shipments sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The UN says it can’t always reach the crossing because it is at times too dangerous.
In some cases, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded delivery trucks and stripped them of supplies. The UN has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the north, and to improve the process.
Netanyahu’s office said that the War Cabinet had approved a plan to deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza in a way that would “prevent the cases of looting.” It did not disclose further details.
The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, has caused vast devastation in Gaza.
Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.
Fighting has flattened large swaths of Gaza’s urban landscape, displacing about 80 percent of the territory’s 2.3 million people, who have crammed into increasingly smaller spaces looking for elusive safety.
The crisis has pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation and raised fears of imminent famine, especially in the northern part of Gaza, the first focus of Israel’s ground invasion. Starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings.
“I wish death for the children because I cannot get them bread. I cannot feed them. I cannot feed my own children!” Naim Abouseido yelled as he waited for aid in Gaza City. “What did we do to deserve this?”
Bushra Khalidi with UK aid organization Oxfam told The Associated Press that it had verified reports that children have died of starvation in the north in recent weeks, which she said indicated aid was not being scaled up despite the court ruling.
Aid groups say deliveries also continue to be hobbled by security issues. The French aid groups Médecins du Monde and Doctors Without Borders each said that their facilities were struck by Israeli forces in the weeks following the court order.


Most UN Security Council members demand Taliban rescind decrees oppressing women, girls

Most UN Security Council members demand Taliban rescind decrees oppressing women, girls
Updated 27 February 2024
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Most UN Security Council members demand Taliban rescind decrees oppressing women, girls

Most UN Security Council members demand Taliban rescind decrees oppressing women, girls
  • 11 of 15 council members insist on Afghan women’s equal participation in public, political, economic and social life
  • The Taliban government has not been recognized by any country in the world since the group seized power in 2021

UNITED NATIONS: More than two-thirds of the UN Security Council’s members demanded Monday that the Taliban rescind all policies and decrees oppressing and discriminating against women and girls, including banning girls education above the sixth grade and women’s right to work and move freely.

A statement by 11 of the 15 council members condemned the Taliban’s repression of women and girls since they took power in August 2021, and again insisted on their equal participation in public, political, economic, cultural and social life — especially at all decision-making levels seeking to advance international engagement with Afghanistan’s de facto rulers.

Guyana’s UN Ambassador Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett read the statement, surrounding by ambassadors of the 10 other countries, before a closed council meeting on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ conference with more than 25 envoys to Afghanistan on Feb. 18-19 in Qatar’s capital, Doha.

Afghan civil society representatives, including women, participated in the Doha meeting, which the council members welcomed. The Taliban refused to attend, its Foreign Ministry saying in a statement that its participation would be “beneficial” only if it was the sole and official representative for the country at the talks.

While the Taliban did not attend the meetings, UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo did meet with Taliban officials based in Doha, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. DiCarlo also briefed council members at Monday’s closed meeting.

The Taliban have not been recognized by any country, and the UN envoy for Afghanistan last year warned the de facto rulers that international recognition as the country’s legitimate government will remain “nearly impossible” unless they lift the restrictions on women.

The 11 council nations supporting the statement — Ecuador, France, Guyana, Japan, Malta, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, South Korea, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States – underscored that there can only be sustainable peace in Afghanistan if its political process is inclusive and the human rights of all Afghans are respected including women and girls.

Four Security Council nations didn’t sign on to the statement – Russia, China, Mozambique and Algeria.

Secretary-General Guterres told reporters in Doha that among participants — also including representatives of the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — there was “total consensus” on requirements for Afghanistan to be integrated into the international community.

To reach this “endgame,” he said, Afghanistan must not be “the hotbed of terrorist activities that impact other countries,” its institutions must include diverse groups including Uzbeks, Tajiks, Pashtuns and Hazaras, and human rights must be respected especially the rights of women and girls.

Guterres said to a certain extent there is currently “a kind of situation of the chicken and the egg.”

“On one hand, Afghanistan remains with a government that is not recognized internationally and, in many aspects, not integrated in the global institutions and in the global economy,” he said. “And on the other hand, there is in the international community a perception that inclusivity has not improved; that the situation of women and girls and human rights in general has in fact deteriorated in recent times.”

The secretary-general said one objective of the meeting with the envoys was “to overcome this deadlock” and develop a roadmap in which the international community’s concerns and the Taliban’s concerns are “taken into account simultaneously.”

A Security Council resolution asked Guterres to appoint a UN envoy after consultations with all parties, member states, the Taliban and others.

Guterres said the participants decided he should initiate consultations “to see if there are conditions to create a UN envoy that might be able not only to have a coordinating role in relation to the engagements that are taking place but that can also work effectively with the de facto authorities of Afghanistan.”

“I will initiate immediately those consultations,” the UN chief said.


Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest

Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest
Updated 27 February 2024
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Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest

Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest
  • A similar write-in campaign calling for a ceasefire during the New Hampshire primary went nowhere, but Michigan has a significantly larger Muslim and Arab population
  • Israel killed 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry

DEARBORN, United States: The US state of Michigan votes Tuesday in a presidential primary that is expected to be another ticker-tape parade for Republican Donald Trump — but could deliver Democratic leader Joe Biden a bloody nose over the war in Gaza.
Biden faces no serious opposition to being nominated to run for a second term in the White House.
But as the civilian death toll mounts in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, he has seen support erode among Muslims and Arab Americans, a bloc crucial to his narrow 2020 victory over Trump in Michigan.
Activists in the key midwestern battleground — where Biden’s winning margin four years ago was a mere 150,000 votes — want Michigan residents to vote “uncommitted” in protest, pressuring the president to back off from his Israel support and call for an immediate ceasefire.
“President Biden has funded the bombs falling on the family members of people right here in Michigan — people who voted for him, who now feel completely betrayed,” said Layla Elabed of the “Listen to Michigan” campaign.
The group aims to amass 10,000 “uncommitted” voters to deliver a “powerful, unequivocal message” that funding and supporting the war is “at odds with the values of the Democratic Party.”
Biden is cruising to the Democratic nomination, with his main would-be rival, Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips, polling in single digits.
But activists deny that the “uncommitted” campaign is merely symbolic, given their importance in an election decided on small margins.
“Ten thousand votes is about the same as Donald Trump’s margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016,” Elabed said.
The war started when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
But concern has mounted amid the high civilian death toll in Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at almost 30,000, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

White House officials have portrayed Biden as frustrated with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Still, US weapons have continued to flow to Israel, even as efforts continue to broker a second pause in fighting.
Biden has asked Congress for billions of dollars in additional military aid and his government has vetoed multiple UN Security Council calls for a ceasefire.
A similar write-in campaign calling for a ceasefire during the New Hampshire primary went nowhere, but Michigan has a significantly larger Muslim and Arab population.
“With every day that passes, every minute that the president fails to do the right thing, the belief that I and so many others have invested in him dwindles,” Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of the heavily Arab American Detroit suburb of Dearborn, wrote in The New York Times last week.
“With every American-made bomb that Israel’s right-wing government drops on Gaza, a stark numbness coats everything, restricting any space for belief to grow.”
On the Republican side, Trump has swept the early voting states and Michigan is not expected to interrupt his march to the nomination.
His sole remaining challenger, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, lost her home state of South Carolina to Trump at the weekend but has refused to quit, saying she doesn’t believe Trump can defeat Biden.
Haley suffered another blow Sunday when the wealthy Koch family network said it was halting its donations to her campaign.
Both parties hold votes on Tuesday, although Republicans have adopted a complex hybrid system that wraps up the contest four days later via caucus-style gatherings in each of the state’s 13 congressional districts.
More than two-thirds of the Republican delegates — the individuals appointed by each state to back candidates at the party’s summer nominating convention — will be awarded on March 2.
 

 


Letter containing white powder sent to Donald Trump Jr.’s home

Letter containing white powder sent to Donald Trump Jr.’s home
Updated 27 February 2024
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Letter containing white powder sent to Donald Trump Jr.’s home

Letter containing white powder sent to Donald Trump Jr.’s home
  • Trump Jr. opened the letter, which also contained a death threat, in his home office, and emergency responders wearing hazmat suits responded

MIAMI: Emergency crews responded Monday after a letter containing an unidentified white powder was sent to the Florida home of Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of former President and GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
A person familiar with the matter said that results on the substance were inconclusive, but officials do not believe it was deadly. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm details of the letter, which were first reported by The Daily Beast.
Trump Jr. opened the letter, which also contained a death threat, in his home office, and emergency responders wearing hazmat suits responded.
Jupiter police said the investigation is being handled by the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, which didn’t immediately have any details to release.
Trump Jr. is one of his father’s top campaign surrogates, frequently headlining events and appearing in interviews on his behalf.
It’s the second time white powder has been sent to the former president’s oldest son. In 2018, his then-wife, Vanessa, was taken to a New York City hospital after she opened an envelope addressed to her husband that contained an unidentified white powder. Police later said the substance wasn’t dangerous.
In March 2016, police detectives and FBI agents investigated a threatening letter sent to the Manhattan apartment of Donald Trump Jr.’s brother Eric that also contained a white powder that turned out to be harmless.
Envelopes containing white powder were also sent twice in 2016 to Trump Tower, which served as Trump’s campaign headquarters.
Hoax attacks using white powder play on fears that date to 2001, when letters containing deadly anthrax were mailed to news organizations and the offices of two US senators. Those letters killed five people.
 

 


Sweden set to join NATO after Hungary approves bid

Sweden set to join NATO after Hungary approves bid
Updated 27 February 2024
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Sweden set to join NATO after Hungary approves bid

Sweden set to join NATO after Hungary approves bid
  • Every NATO member has to approve a new country however, and Hungary’s vote ended more than a year of delays that frustrated the other 31 nations as Ukraine battled Russian troops

STOCKHOLHM: Sweden on Monday cleared its final obstacle to joining NATO after Hungary’s parliament ratified the bid in what Sweden’s prime minister called a “historic day,” while other alliance members expressed relief at the move spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Sweden would make the alliance “stronger and safer” while the United States, the main alliance power, as well as Britain and Germany welcomed Sweden’s now imminent accession.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that having Sweden in NATO “strengthens our defense alliance and with it the security of Europe and the world.”
Russia’s invasion two years ago prompted Sweden and neighboring Finland to apply to join the trans-Atlantic bloc, ending their longstanding stance of non-alignment.
Every NATO member has to approve a new country however, and Hungary’s vote ended more than a year of delays that frustrated the other 31 nations as Ukraine battled Russian troops.
Finland joined in April last year, but Sweden’s bid was stalled by both Hungary and Turkiye, with Ankara approving Stockholm’s candidacy only last month.
Hungary then followed, with 188 parliament members voting in favor and six far-right deputies against.
“Today is a historic day... Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security,” Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on X.
Speaking about Russia’s potential reaction, Kristersson told a press conference: “The only thing we can expect with any certainty is that they don’t like Sweden becoming a member of NATO, nor Finland.”
Going forward, “Nordic countries will have a common defense for the first time in 500 years... we remain friends, and we become allies,” he said.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban had long stalled Sweden’s membership but told parliament that it would “strengthen Hungary’s security.”
Though repeatedly saying it supported Swedish membership in principle, Hungary kept prolonging the process, asking Stockholm to stop “vilifying” the Hungarian government.
After a meeting on Friday between the nationalist Orban and Kristersson in Budapest, the Hungarian leader announced that the two had clarified “our mutual good intentions.”
Hungary also signed a deal to acquire four Swedish-made fighter jets, expanding its fleet of 14 Jas-39 Gripen fighters.
Hungary’s president is expected to sign the law within days. Sweden, which has been militarily neutral for two centuries, will then be invited to accede to the Washington Treaty and officially become NATO’s 32nd member.
All Baltic nations except Russia will now be part of the alliance.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy, which currently presides the G7 group of industrialized democracies, said Sweden’s entry “reinforced NATO for the defense of peace and freedom on the European continent.”
Alongside its move into NATO, Sweden signed an accord in December that gives the United States access to 17 Swedish military bases.
The looming membership has been accompanied by a toughening of declarations by its leaders. General Per Micael Buden, commander-in-chief of the Swedish military, said in January that Swedish people “must mentally prepare for war.”
“It is the last piece of the puzzle in the NATO map for northern Europe,” said Robert Dalsjo, an analyst for the Swedish Defense Research Agency (FOI).
People in Sweden mainly cheered the approval.
Jimmy Dahllof, 35, said Sweden would be “safer... bringing us closer to our European neighbors.”
“I am very relieved because we have been waiting so long,” said Ingrid Lindskrog, a 73-year-old pensioner.
In Hungary’s delay, some experts saw a strategy to wring concessions from the European Union, which has frozen billions of euros in funds because of the nationalist government’s policies.
Others argued it underlined Orban’s closeness to the presidents of Russia and Turkiye.
For Mate Szalai, an analyst at Venice’s Ca’ Foscari University, Orban was simply playing to his domestic audience.
“Orban wanted to go as far as he could without causing serious problems to the trans-Atlantic community while proving that Hungary is a power to be reckoned with,” he told AFP.
Many of his acts are intended to provoke Europe, Szalai added.