Why aid chiefs see Gaza’s humanitarian crisis worsening in the absence of Israel-Hamas ceasefire

Analysis Why aid chiefs see Gaza’s humanitarian crisis worsening in the absence of Israel-Hamas ceasefire
NGOs say none of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants can find sufficient food and clean water under Israel’s renewed assault. (AFP)
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Updated 19 December 2023
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Why aid chiefs see Gaza’s humanitarian crisis worsening in the absence of Israel-Hamas ceasefire

Why aid chiefs see Gaza’s humanitarian crisis worsening in the absence of Israel-Hamas ceasefire
  • The US recently vetoed a UN resolution seeking immediate ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas
  • NGO leaders say they have run out of words to describe the suffering in the embattled enclave

LONDON: Amid a humanitarian situation described as “apocalyptic” by UN human rights chief Volker Turk, nearly 2 million Palestinians in Gaza face a grim fate after the US vetoed on Friday a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

The vote came after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded the alarm on Wednesday, invoking Article 99 of the UN Charter. The article allows the UN chief to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

During a recent virtual media briefing, officials from aid organizations active in Gaza said they had run out of words to describe the humanitarian crisis and the horrors unfolding in the embattled enclave.

The meeting was held by the NGOs Action Against Hunger, Amnesty International, Doctors of the World, Medecins Sans Frontieres France, Humanity and Inclusion – Handicap International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Refugees International, and Save the Children.




Officials from aid organizations active in Gaza said they had run out of words to describe the humanitarian crisis. (AFP)

The renewed hostilities following the end of the truce, which lasted for six days after it was reached on Nov. 24, have seen Israel expand its ground offensive deeper into southern Gaza, previously declared by the Israeli military as a “safe” area. To date, over 1.8 million Palestinians have been displaced.

Officials of the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza say more than 17,700 Palestinians, including over 7,000 children, have been killed by the Israeli bombardment since Oct. 7.

On that day, the Israel Defense Forces launched a military campaign in Gaza in retaliation for an attack by Hamas in which more than 1,440 Israelis and foreigners were killed or taken hostage.

As of Sunday, the IDF and Hamas militants were locked in combat in several parts of Gaza, including the main city in the south, Khan Younis, whose residents had been earlier asked to evacuate via an “urgent appeal.”

Describing the humanitarian conditions in southern Gaza, Alexandra Saieh, head of humanitarian policy and advocacy at Save the Children, said at Thursday’s media briefing: “People are in overcrowded shelters, in makeshift tents, with no access to clean water and crumbling sanitation facilities.

“We have heard of children starving in the so-called safe zone of Al-Mawasi.”

Al-Mawasi, a kilometer-wide patch of desert along the coastline of southern Gaza, was touted by Israel as a “safe space” in October.

Approximately 770,000 internally displaced people have sought refuge in 133 shelters, while others in the south have sheltered with host families or slept on the streets, according to Shaina Low, communications adviser at the Norwegian Refugee Council.




Saudi aid trucks near the Rafah border crossing. (SPA)

Aid workers have not been spared the chaos. Low added that some of the NRC’s staff members, along with their infants, are “sleeping on the streets because they have nowhere safe to seek refuge.”

“Amid relentless air, land and sea attacks, Israel is forcing families to relocate from one perilous zone to another,” she said. “The influx of people into southern Gaza has surged as hundreds of thousands fled from northern Gaza.”

Save the Children’s Saieh recounted colleagues’ accounts of “hundreds of children lining up for a single toilet in the south, children and families roaming the streets of what has not been flattened, with no food, nowhere to go and nothing to survive on.”

“Our teams are telling us of maggots being picked from wounds, and children undergoing amputations without anesthetic. More than a million children, practically all of the child population of Gaza, are left with nowhere to go.”

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Sandrine Simon, advocacy and health director at Doctors of the World, warned that the current conditions in southern Gaza “are leading to the outbreak of epidemics.”

She said there has been a significant increase in cases of diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, and skin infections, adding that “soon, famine and epidemics will kill even more surely than bombing.”

The World Health Organization has recorded over 70,000 acute respiratory infections and at least 44,000 cases of diarrhea, half of which are among children under the age of 5. However, actual figures are expected to be significantly higher.

“Diarrhea is a leading cause of child mortality globally,” said Chiara Saccardi, the Middle East’s head of operations at Action Against Hunger, during the media briefing.

She attributed the high number of sick children in Gaza and the looming specter of a health crisis to “the total collapse of the water and sanitation infrastructure in Gaza.”

“There are no bathrooms; people are digging holes in the sand to use as toilets,” Saccardi said. “Some basic essential hygiene items, like (diapers), wipes, and detergent are no longer available.”

Isabelle Defourny, president of MSF, said medical needs in Gaza “have never been as high, but the healthcare system is on the ground.”

Owing to a 16-year Israeli blockade, Gaza’s healthcare system was on the verge of collapse even before the current escalation in hostilities. The WHO said that today, the health system in the devastated strip was “on its knees.”

The IDF has laid siege to several hospitals in Gaza, claiming that Hamas was running command centers in — or underneath — those facilities. Hamas has denied the allegation.

Defourny said MSF staff have witnessed “how hospitals in the north of Gaza were turned into morgues and ruins,” adding that the health facilities are being bombed, shot at by Israeli tanks and guns, encircled, and raided, and that patients and medical staff are being killed.

“Some doctors have had to leave patients behind after facing the unimaginable choice between their lives and those of their patients,” she said. “In the north of the Gaza Strip today, there is no more access to surgery, no more surgical services.”




None of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants can find sufficient food and clean water. (AFP)

MSF’s international team in Gaza is now operating in the central area, namely in Al-Aqsa Hospital, and in the south in Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.

Defourny said the MSF team had to flee Al-Nasser Hospital on Monday evening “due to the intensity of bombardment” around it.

“Today, 65,000 people (in Gaza) are injured,” said Simon of Doctors of the World, stressing that “some will die in excruciating pain for lack of treatment anesthetic” and “thousands more will not have access to surgery and early rehabilitation needed to avoid permanent disability.”

Even humanitarian workers have been unable to access vital healthcare services. Simon said that when one of her colleagues was wounded in a tank attack on a school in which he had taken refuge, it took him hours to reach the hospital.

“And there, hundreds of patients lie on the ground, stepped over by exhausted, traumatized nurses.”

For over 60 days, aid workers in Gaza have faced a multitude of barriers. Today, none of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants can find sufficient food and clean water, according to a statement issued on Dec. 6 by 27 NGOs operating in Gaza.

“Aid delivery has faced severe challenges due to the closures of key crossings like Karem Shalom, and our overstretched teams are also facing death in Gaza,” said Bushra Khalidi, Oxfam’s head of policy for the occupied Palestinian Territories, adding that the situation in Gaza might have “irreversible consequences on Palestinian people.”




The IDF and Hamas militants are locked in combat in several parts of Gaza. (AFP)

“Our colleagues on the ground faced extreme risks in distributing aid, with even basic necessities like water sparking desperate struggles and tensions,” she said. “The scarcity of aid has led to desperate struggles over water, tearing at our social fabric.”

The World Food Programme has estimated that each person in northern Gaza has access to an average of 1.8 liters of safe drinking water per day, while in the south, it is 2 liters.

“(The) human body cannot survive with such a small quantity of water,” said Saccardi of Action Against Hunger.

Saieh lamented that “with the intensity of the government of Israel’s offensive, coupled with the ongoing siege, the ability to provide any humanitarian assistance has been undermined.”

“We are unable to do our job effectively. People have been squeezed into the tiniest areas, cut off from basic necessities and cut off from the basics to survive,” she said.

Officials at Thursday’s briefing called for an immediate international intervention — to prevent further civilian deaths, stop the deepening of the humanitarian crisis, and avert a complete breakdown of the situation on the ground.

Amanda Klasing, national director for government relations at Amnesty International US, called for “a comprehensive UN Security Council arms embargo on Israel, Hamas, and other Palestinian armed groups until there’s no longer substantial risk that arms could be used to commit violations, and that there are effective accountability mechanisms in place.”

In the absence of a Security Council arms embargo, Klasing called on countries, particularly the US, to “immediately impose their own suspensions.”




Aid workers in Gaza have faced a multitude of barriers. (AFP)

She said: “Our overall analysis is that violations of international humanitarian law and potential war crimes continue unabated, and therefore the US should suspend arms transfers to Israel.”

Saying that their teams were steadfast in continuing their humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip despite the obstacles, the participants in the media briefing asserted that only a permanent and definitive ceasefire would allow for an effective humanitarian response.

Unless the violence ceased entirely, they warned the cost would be the lives of more children.


Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike

Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike
Updated 57 min 50 sec ago
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Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike

Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike
  • Hezbollah said it had fired on several Israeli targets, including soldiers and spy equipment
  • The violence has killed at least 375 people in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Three Hezbollah fighters were killed Saturday in an Israeli strike on a house in southern Lebanon, a source close to the Iran-backed group told AFP.
“Three Hezbollah fighters were killed, and two others seriously wounded in an Israeli air strike on a house in the area of Al-Jebbayn,” the source, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported earlier on Saturday that “enemy aircraft carried out a strike targeting a house in Al-Jebbayn, and rescue teams were headed to the area.”
Hezbollah said it had fired on several Israeli targets, including soldiers and spy equipment.
Since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel triggered war in Gaza, there have been near-daily cross-border exchanges of fire between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.
The violence has killed at least 375 people in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In northern Israel, 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed, according to the army.
In recent days, Hezbollah has intensified its attacks against Israeli military positions, with tensions across the Middle East surging.
On April 13, Iran, which supports both Hezbollah and Hamas, launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel in retaliation for a deadly April 1 air strike which levelled its consulate in Damascus.


Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again
Updated 20 April 2024
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Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again
  • Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones a week ago
  • The Iran attack was itself in retaliation for an air strike widely blamed on Israel

TEHRAN: Iran has dismissed as akin to child’s play Israel’s reported retaliation for an unprecedented Iranian strike, as both sides on Saturday appeared to step back from wider conflict stemming from the war in Gaza.
However, a deadly blast at an Iraqi military base emphasized the high tensions which persist in the region, as did more deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza and intensifying clashes in the West Bank.
Fears have soared this month that escalating tit-for-tat attacks between Israel and Iran could tip over into a broader war in the Middle East.
Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones a week ago in its first-ever direct attack on its arch enemy’s territory.
The Iran attack was itself in retaliation for an air strike — widely blamed on Israel — that levelled the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards on April 1.
The Israeli retaliation appeared to come on Friday, when Iranian media reported blasts in the central province of Isfahan.
Fars news agency reported “three explosions” close to Qahjavarestan, near Isfahan airport and the 8th Shekari army air base.
“What happened last night was no attack,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told NBC News.
“It was the flight of two or three quadcopters, which are at the level of toys that our children use in Iran,” he added.
“As long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the Israeli regime against Iran’s interests, we will have no response.”
Israeli officials have made no public comment on what — according to a senior US congressional source who spoke to AFP — were retaliatory Israeli strikes against Iran.
Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, said the reported Israeli strike had been “calibrated to avoid damage and further Iranian aggression.”
Iranian political expert Hamid Gholamzadeh said the incident in Isfahan, while “insignificant,” needs to be seen in the context of the “fight for balance of power” between the two countries.
“The region is on fire and an all-out war can be ignited any moment,” he said.
While tensions rose after the attack on Iran’s consulate, violence involving Iran-backed groups had already been surging across the Middle East since the outbreak of the Gaza war.
Officials in Iraq said one person was killed and eight wounded in an explosion at a military base south of Baghdad housing a coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Since the Gaza war began, violence has also flared in the other occupied Palestinian territory, the West Bank.
The Israeli army said Saturday that its forces killed 10 militants and arrested eight other people during a 40-hour raid on a refugee camp in the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry said 11 people were wounded in the Israeli raid, including a paramedic who was shot trying to get to the wounded.
Israel has faced growing global opposition over its military offensive in Gaza, which has reduced vast areas of the besieged Palestinian territory to rubble, while aids groups have warned the north is on the brink of famine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under pressure over the rising civilian toll, needs “further escalation and another war to distract the world attention” away from suffering in Gaza, Iranian analyst Gholamzadeh said.
There have been particular fears about Israel’s intention to send troops into the southernmost city of Rafah, where most of the population is now sheltering having fled violence elsewhere.
Foreign ministers of the G7 group of developed economies, meeting in Italy on Friday, said they opposed a “full-scale military operation in Rafah” because it would have “catastrophic consequences” for civilians.
But even without a full operation, the city has been under regular bombardment.
On Saturday, Gaza’s Civil Defense agency said an overnight Israeli strike in Rafah killed nine members of a family including six children.
Agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said the Israeli army had also hit several other areas of Rafah overnight, adding: “It has been a very hard night.”
The war was triggered by an attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel has responded with a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34,049 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Israel’s military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day, including the site in north Gaza from which a rocket was fired into the Israeli city of Sderot.
Witnesses in the central Nuseirat refugee camp said the Israeli army told them to evacuate one home, then several were destroyed.
“They instruct us to evacuate and return later, but where do we go back? To ruins?” asked resident Abu Ibrahim.
“How long will this farce continue?“
A UN report on Friday said “multiple obstacles” continue to impede delivery of urgently needed aid.
Despite some recent aid convoys being able to reach Gaza, the WFP cited “the real possibility of famine” in the north.
Efforts to seal a long sought-after truce have stalled, according to mediator Qatar.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch critic of Israel’s war in Gaza, met with Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday, calling for unity among Palestinians.
After Washington vetoed a Palestinian bid to become a full UN member state earlier this week, president Mahmud Abbas said his West Bank-based Palestinian Authority would “reconsider” its relationship with the US.


Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies
Updated 20 April 2024
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Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies
  • The meeting ‘is part of president’s attempts to reposition himself as credible defender of Palestinian cause,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, unlike Washington and Brussels

ANKARA: The meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday has sparked debate over Turkiye’s attempts to play a greater mediating role for the Palestinian cause amid domestic controversies over the ruling government, which has lost support among its conservative electoral base since local elections last month.
Haniyeh’s visit is his first meeting with Erdogan in Turkiye since the start of the Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
For Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London, the meeting is part of Erdogan’s attempts to reposition himself as a credible defender of the Palestinian cause after his recent electoral defeat.
“Hosting the Hamas leader is likely to reinforce the impression in the West that Turkiye is at best a transactional partner, not an ally,” he said.
Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, unlike Washington and Brussels. The country has also strongly criticized Israel’s military operation in Gaza, which Erdogan previously described as genocide. Hamas also established a presence in Istanbul in 2011, although not on par with its political office in Doha.
Ankara has also been a major humanitarian donor to Gaza, alongside several Gulf states, and has actively helped several Palestinians from Gaza receive medical treatment in Turkish hospitals.
“I will continue to defend the Palestinian struggle and be the voice of the oppressed Palestinian people as long as Allah gives me life, even if I am left alone,” Erdogan said in his speech to parliament last Wednesday.
The Turkish president has always been on friendly terms with Haniyeh.
In a recent phone call to the Hamas leader, Erdogan offered his condolences after three of his sons were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.
“Israel will definitely be held accountable before the law for the crimes against humanity it has committed,” Erdogan told Haniyeh, according to an AFP report.
For Betul Dogan Akkas, assistant professor of international relations at the department of international relations at Ankara University, given the current fragile situation in Gaza, there is a significant need for the mediation efforts by Qatar and Turkiye.
“With Haniyeh and other officials based in Qatar, there is now a more effective political bureau compared to the past. The current military balance in Gaza is very critical; they are cornered in Rafah. On the other hand, Hamas needs to build a more strategic power,” she told Arab News.
Akkas thinks that if this Saturday’s visit of Haniyeh contributes to further collaboration between Turkiye and Hamas to address that strategic power deficiency, it would be meaningful.
“Haniyeh could take on a more effective role due to Gaza’s current situation because they need a way out,” she added.
Domestically, however, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, has come under heavy criticism for its flourishing and uninterrupted trade with Israel, even during its military offensive in Gaza.
The AKP’s Islamist rival, the New Welfare Party or YRP, played this trade card during the local elections on March 31, highlighting Erdogan’s failure to halt economic ties with Israel despite his harsh rhetoric against the Jewish state.
The YRP accused the government of applying double standards by strongly criticizing Israel while continuing trade relations. After the elections, the YRP won some local administrations previously held by the AKP.
Turkiye’s exports to Israel exceeded $5.4 billion in 2023, accounting for 2.1 percent of its total exports, according to official data.
Following nationwide criticism, the Turkish Trade Ministry recently imposed restrictions on some 54 categories of exports to Israel, including cement, steel, machinery, construction materials, chemical compounds, and several metal products, and these restrictions are expected to remain in place until Israel declares a ceasefire in Gaza.
On April 16, Erdogan compared Hamas to Turkish independence fighters who resisted foreign occupiers during the liberation of the country and the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923.
His comments were seen as one of the most blatant endorsements by the Turkish leader since the start of the war in October.
According to Piccoli, while such words may play well with domestic audiences, they are unlikely to be welcomed in Western capitals, including Washington.
Erdogan will make his first official visit to the US since the election of President Joe Biden in 2020 on 9 May. The Palestinian cause is expected to feature in the talks.
Piccoli believes that Haniyeh’s visit is unlikely to lead to any concrete Turkish action against Israel.
“The economic restrictions and Haniyeh’s visit reflect Turkiye’s desire to ensure that the Gaza conflict is not overshadowed by tensions between Israel and Iran, including the Iranian attacks of April 13-14 and the Israeli strikes on Isfahan in the early hours of April 19,” he said.
Earlier this week, Erdogan blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel, Piccoli added.
On the other hand, how Turkiye will be able to mediate between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators is raising concerns, especially after Erdogan’s harsh criticism of Israel’s military actions in Gaza.
The fate of the hostages held by Hamas since Oct. 7 will also be a source of concern for such mediation efforts.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visited Qatar April 16-17 and met with Haniyeh and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al -Thani.
Turkiye was to host intense diplomatic negotiations on Saturday as Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was also expected to travel to the country to discuss the situation in Gaza with Fidan.
For Piccoli, while the recent negotiations may go some way to assuaging domestic public anger, the Erdogan government’s outreach to Hamas is likely to reinforce the impression in the US and the EU that Turkiye is no longer aligned with the West and is now — at best — a potential partner rather than an ally.
For the moment, Erdogan has been cautious about commenting on his meeting with Haniyeh.
“We will keep the agenda between us and Mr.Haniyeh,” he said when questioned by journalists on Friday.


Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says

Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says
Updated 20 April 2024
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Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says

Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says
  • Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership

CAIRO: The Palestinian Authority will reconsider bilateral relations with the US after Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with the official WAFA news agency.


Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid
Updated 20 April 2024
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Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid
  • “Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said
  • Eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid

TULKARM, Palestinian Territories: The Israeli army said Saturday that its security forces killed 10 militants in an ongoing raid around Nur Shams, a refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank.
“Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said in a statement.
The army said eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid.
An AFP journalist in nearby Tulkarem heard gunshots and blasts coming from Nur Shams on Saturday.
Residents contacted by AFP said there was a power outage and food was running short in the camp, saying nobody was allowed to enter or leave.
Since early last year violence has flared across the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967. The violence has further escalated since the war in Gaza broke out on October 7.
Israeli forces say their frequent raids in the West Bank target Palestinian militants, but civilians are often among the dead.
Around 480 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or settlers in the West Bank since the Hamas assault on Israel triggered the Gaza war, according to Palestinian official sources.