UN warns of Gaza famine risk as Security Council resolution faces vote

Update UN warns of Gaza famine risk as Security Council resolution faces vote
The vote has been delayed several times this week. (AFP)
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Updated 22 December 2023
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UN warns of Gaza famine risk as Security Council resolution faces vote

UN warns of Gaza famine risk as Security Council resolution faces vote
  • Resolution to boost aid to the Palestinian territory but not call for a ceasefire up for a vote
  • Separate diplomatic efforts are also under way for a fresh pause in the worst-ever Gaza war

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The United Nations warned the Israel-Hamas war was pushing Gaza toward famine, ahead of an expected Security Council vote Friday on a resolution to boost aid to the Palestinian territory but not call for a ceasefire.

Separate diplomatic efforts were also under way for a fresh pause in the worst-ever Gaza war, which was triggered by an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel in October.

With conditions deteriorating in the territory, the UN Security Council has been locked in negotiations on a resolution that would boost aid deliveries.

The latest draft seen by AFP, set to face a vote Friday, calls for “urgent steps to immediately allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and also for creating the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”

It does not call for an immediate end to fighting.

Backed by its ally the United States, Israel has opposed the term “ceasefire.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday there would be no ceasefire in Gaza until the “elimination” of Hamas.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN, told reporters that Washington would support the resolution if it “is put forward as is.”

The war began on October 7 after Hamas militants broke through Gaza’s militarized border and killed around 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Hamas also abducted about 250 people.

Vowing to destroy the group, Israel began a relentless bombardment of targets in Gaza, alongside a ground invasion, which the territory’s Hamas government on Wednesday said has killed at least 20,000, mostly women and children.

The entire population of Gaza faces “an imminent risk of famine,” according to a UN-backed global hunger monitoring system on Thursday, with more than half a million people facing “catastrophic conditions.”

“We have been warning for weeks that, with such deprivation and destruction, each day that goes by will only bring more hunger, disease and despair to the people of Gaza,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths posted on X, formerly Twitter.

The UN estimates 1.9 million Gazans are now displaced, out of a population of 2.4 million.

With their homes destroyed, they are living in crowded shelters and struggling to find food, fuel, water and medical supplies. Diseases are spreading, and communications have been repeatedly cut.

Displaced Gazans are pleading for a ceasefire.

“My message is to put an end to this humiliation,” said Fuad Ibrahim Wadi, who found refuge at a greenhouse in Rafah.

“This war does nothing but destroy. Enough is enough.”

After weeks of pressure, Israel approved the temporary reopening of the Kerem Shalom crossing on Friday to enable aid deliveries directly to Gaza, rather than through the Rafah crossing from Egypt.

On Thursday, an Israeli strike hit the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom, the crossings authority and the Hamas health ministry said.

Israeli officials did not immediately respond to requests from AFP for comment.

The UN secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, was “unable to receive (aid) trucks” via Kerem Shalom following the “drone strike” and that the World Food Programme had suspended operations at the crossing.

Dujarric’s comments came after Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Israel could enable as many as “400 trucks a day” of aid and blamed the UN for failing to bring more.

According to the UN, the number of aid trucks entering Gaza is well below the daily pre-war average.

Diplomats visiting the region have called for more assistance to reach the territory.

Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of using schools, mosques, hospitals and vast tunnel systems beneath them as military bases — charges the group denies.

On Thursday, military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israeli troops have killed more than 2,000 Palestinian militants since a one-week ceasefire ended on December 1.

He did not elaborate on the source of his figures.

According to a tally on the Israeli military’s website, 139 soldiers have been killed since it began its ground assault in Gaza on October 27.

A strike on a house in Rafah on Friday killed five people, the Hamas health ministry said.

The United Nations human rights office in Ramallah said it had received reports that Israeli troops had “summarily killed” at least 11 unarmed Palestinian men in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood this week.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, rejected the allegations as “yet another example of the partisan and prejudiced approach against Israel” by the UN body.

Israel has been under increasing pressure from allies, including the United States, which provides it with billions of dollars in military aid, to protect civilians.

The UN rights office said “details and circumstances” of the killings in Rimal are still being verified but it “raises alarm about the possible commission of a war crime.”

The men were killed in front of their family members, it said.

Legal experts have previously said that both sides could be accused of committing war crimes.


France arrests eight in PKK financing probe

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe
Updated 16 min 32 sec ago
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France arrests eight in PKK financing probe

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe
  • The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said
  • French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts

PARIS: French police arrested eight men on Tuesday as part of an investigation into the finances of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), banned as a terror organization by Turkiye and its Western allies, anti-terrorism prosecutors told AFP.
The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said.
The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkiye, the United States and the European Union.
French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts, and of conspiring to extort, or attempt to extort, funds to finance a terrorist organistion between 2020 and 2024, the PNAT said.
Investigators believe the eight to be connected to a campaign to collect funds from Kurdish business people and other Kurds in France, a source close to the case added.
Police can hold the suspects for up to 96 hours for questioning, the source said.
Another source said the funds were destined for use in Belgium, where police on Monday raided Kurdish-run media as part of a probe undertaken at the request of a French anti-terror judge, the PNAT said.
The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority of Turkiye in the southeast of the country, in a standoff with the Ankara government that remains unresolved to this day.


Norway calls on donors to resume funding to Palestinian UNRWA agency

Norway calls on donors to resume funding to Palestinian UNRWA agency
Updated 30 min 25 sec ago
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Norway calls on donors to resume funding to Palestinian UNRWA agency

Norway calls on donors to resume funding to Palestinian UNRWA agency
  • Norway, also a major donor to the organization, argued that funding cuts put the population of Gaza at risk
  • “I would now like to call on countries that have still frozen their contributions to UNRWA to resume funding,” Norway’s foreign minister Espen Barth Eide said

OSLO: Norway called on international donors on Tuesday to resume payments to the UN agency for Palestinians refugees (UNRWA) after a report found Israel had yet to provide evidence that some UNRWA staff were linked to terrorist groups.
The United States, Britain and others earlier this year paused payments to UNRWA following Israel’s claims, while Norway, also a major donor to the organization, argued that funding cuts put the population of Gaza at risk.
A review of the agency’s neutrality led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna on Monday concluded Israel had yet to back up its accusations that hundreds of UNRWA staff were operatives in Gaza terrorist groups.
“I would now like to call on countries that have still frozen their contributions to UNRWA to resume funding,” Norway’s foreign minister Espen Barth Eide said in a statement.
A separate investigation by internal UN investigators is looking into Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staff took part in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks which triggered the Gaza war.
“Norway has emphasized that it is unacceptable to punish an entire organization, with 30,000 employees, and all Palestine refugees for the alleged misdeeds of a small number of the organization’s employees,” Barth Eide said.
While 10 countries have since ended their suspensions, the United States, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Lithuania have not. A UN spokesperson on Monday said UNRWA currently had enough funding to pay for operations until June.


Jordan thwarts attempt to smuggle 73,500 amphetamine pills at Syrian border

Jordan thwarts attempt to smuggle 73,500 amphetamine pills at Syrian border
Updated 43 min 33 sec ago
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Jordan thwarts attempt to smuggle 73,500 amphetamine pills at Syrian border

Jordan thwarts attempt to smuggle 73,500 amphetamine pills at Syrian border
  • Agents discovered 35,000 additional Captagon pills hidden aboard a passenger bus also arriving from Syria

AMMAN: The Jordan Customs Department said on Tuesday that it thwarted, in collaboration with security agencies and anti-narcotics forces, two recent smuggling attempts involving 73,500 Captagon pills at the Jaber border crossing.

In the first incident, JCD personnel at the border crossing intercepted an attempt to smuggle 38,500 Captagon pills, Jordan News Agency reported.

The drugs were found concealed on a passenger arriving from Syria. The suspect was subjected to an intensive search, during which the hidden narcotics were discovered.

In a second incident at the same border crossing, agents discovered 35,000 additional Captagon pills hidden aboard a passenger bus also arriving from Syria. The vehicle underwent a thorough search, leading to the seizure of the concealed drugs.

The JCD said that its agents continue to actively work across all Jordanian border customs centers, in cooperation with national security agencies, to prevent the smuggling of narcotics into the country.

The initiative is part of ongoing efforts to safeguard Jordanian citizens and the economy from the impacts of illegal drug trade, it said.

War-torn Syria has become the region’s main site for a multi-billion-dollar drug trade, with Jordan being a key transit route to Gulf states for the amphetamine known as Captagon.

Most of the world’s Captagon is made in Syria.
 


Palestinian film director aims for ‘different image’ of Gaza

Palestinian film director aims for ‘different image’ of Gaza
Updated 45 min 48 sec ago
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Palestinian film director aims for ‘different image’ of Gaza

Palestinian film director aims for ‘different image’ of Gaza
  • Against the backdrop of the war in the Gaza Strip, the festival in southern Egypt decided to screen six Palestinian short films in the competition
  • This was despite many voices in the Arab world calling for the suspension of all artistic and cultural activities in solidarity with Palestinians

ASWAN, Egypt: Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi wants to “export a different cinematic image of Gaza,” now ravaged by war, as he presides over the jury at the eighth Aswan International Women Film Festival themed on “resistance cinema.”
Against the backdrop of the war in the Gaza Strip, the festival in southern Egypt decided to screen six Palestinian short films in the competition, which brings together filmmakers from across the region.
This was despite many voices in the Arab world calling for the suspension of all artistic and cultural activities in solidarity with Palestinians.
Masharawi is known internationally for being the first Palestinian director to be in the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival when his film “Haifa” was included in 1996.
Born in the Gaza Strip to refugees from the port city of Jaffa, the director now lives in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
He said he “does not consider art and cinema as purely entertainment.”
“If film festivals do not play their role when major disasters occur, as with what is currently happening in Palestine, then why do they exist?” he asked.
Among the six Palestinian films included at Aswan is the 14-minute documentary film “Threads of Silk” by director Walaa Saadah, who was killed last month in the war. The film looks at the meanings of the embroidery on the Palestinian “thawb” robe.
Another is the five-minute film “I am from Palestine” by the director Iman Al-Dhawahari, about a Palestinian-American girl in the United States who is shocked at school to see a map of the world without her country.
The 16-minute documentary film “A Cut Off Future” from director Alia Ardoghli discusses the daily experiences of 27 girls between the ages of 11 and 17 in the shadow of the Israeli occupation.
In his newest film, for which work is ongoing, Masharawi said he wanted to expose what he called “the lie of self-defense.”
“The occupation (Israel) blew up the studio of an artist in Gaza with paintings and statues. Where is self-defense when one kills artists and intellectuals while calling them terrorists?” the 62-year-old told AFP.
The conflict in Gaza erupted with the unprecedented October 7 Hamas attack on Israel which resulted in the death of at least 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
In retaliation, Israel launched a bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza aimed at destroying Hamas that has killed at least 34,183 people, the majority women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Two months after the beginning of the war, Masharawi began a new project: a support fund for cinema in the besieged coastal strip.
The initiative “Films from Distance Zero” supports Gazan filmmakers living “under the bombing or becoming refugees” to produce their films.
Female filmmakers are active in the project, about whom Masharawi said, “always in the most difficult moments, we find the Palestinian woman on the front line.”
Around 2.4 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which has been under a blockade since Hamas came to power in 2007.
Theatres in Gaza closed at the end of the 1980s during the Palestinian uprising against Israel known as the First Intifada, but reopened after the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s.
Hamas control changed all that, with the political Islamist movement considering film contrary to the values of Islam.
Nevertheless, last year an open-air film festival took place, “taking into account the customs and traditions of the territory,” a Hamas official said at the time.
For Masharawi, now more than ever, it is necessary to support cinema and have “a different cinematic image of Gaza” reach the world to “make the truth prevail in the face of the lies of the Israeli occupation.”
At the heart of Masharawi’s work is identity. “It is difficult (for Israel) to occupy our memories, our identities, our music, our history and our culture,” he said.
Israel “is wasting a lot of time on a project doomed to failure and which will kill many of us,” he said, referring to the war in Gaza.
Masharawi said he thought the solidarity of the Arab public with the Palestinian people, “and I mean the people and not their leaderships,” might come “from their powerlessness and the restrictions of their (government) systems.”
He added, “I used to dream that the Arab governments would be like their people, but I say it clearly: this has not happened, even after we have come close to 200 days of war.”


Swizz Beatz gearing up for second round of AlUla Camel Cup

Swizz Beatz gearing up for second round of AlUla Camel Cup
Updated 35 min 53 sec ago
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Swizz Beatz gearing up for second round of AlUla Camel Cup

Swizz Beatz gearing up for second round of AlUla Camel Cup
  • Swizz Beatz: I feel like they might not know my music, but they definitely know the Saudi Bronx and it’s kind of amazing that I had a new identity in a whole new field in a whole new country
  • Swizz Beatz: To be the first outside of the GCC to own a team in the entire federation … that will forever be in history; you cannot erase that

DHAHRAN: The “ships of the desert” will start racing on Wednesday, April 24, when the second AlUla Camel Cup takes off. At the race this year will be a familiar face: Swizz Beatz, the first and only American owner of a camel racing team in Saudi Arabia. He will, once again, be participating in what is deemed the “world’s most prestigious camel racing event,” which ends on April 27.

Born Kasseem Daoud Dean and known professionally as “Swizz Beatz,” the American record producer and rapper joined the camel-racing world five years ago and hasn’t looked back. His team’s name, Saudi Bronx, which is also a brand offering clothing and accessories, is inspired by his hometown in New York’s South Bronx and Saudi Arabia.

“I'm having fun with it,” Swizz Beatz told Arab News ahead of the race. “Anything that I’m having fun with is easy for me to do. And then on top of that, we got over 20-something trophies.

“The fact that we’re even in the AlUla Cup is major because that means that we have four chances to do some big things.”

Wanting to participate in the race does not grant one an automatic shoo-in, celeb or not. There is a rigorous process and strict criteria to qualify.

“We can’t just apply for this race; they have to pick camels based on speed and based on rankings and things like that,” he explained.

This year, the UN and the Ministry of Culture both designated 2024 as The Year of the Camel, highlighting the cultural and civilizational significance of the majestic animal. 

This special focus adds a new cultural dimension to the event, marking AlUla as a must-visit destination to celebrate and honor the camel. It will showcase the best of the best as the animals race for speed, the jockeys demonstrate skill and everyone honors tradition.

“The journey has been very educational, very humbling. It’s a glimpse into something that has been such a pillar in (Saudi) heritage that it’s just awesome to see,” Swizz Beatz continued.

As with the previous edition, this year’s event will also be organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla in partnership with the Saudi Camel Racing Federation.

“The AlUla Camel Cup stands proudly as the pinnacle of camel racing and has assumed a starring role in elevating AlUla’s regional and global standing as a premier heritage sports destination,” Ziad Al-Suhaibini, RCU’s chief sports officer, said.

Taking place at AlUla’s Mughayra Heritage Sports Village, the four-day event will feature the region’s fastest camels and most talented riders across several rounds of competition. There will be substantial prize pots and AlUla Camel Cup champion trophies up for grabs.

Camel racing, which dates to the 7th century, is an ancient heritage sport woven into the fabric of the local culture. 

“There’s nothing that I need to change with them; they’ve been bringing home the magic,” Swizz Beatz said of his camel racing trainer, Hamed, and his team.

When asked what was different this time around, he replied: “I just think that we’re more prepared this time.”

The Saudi Bronx merch store will also be stocked with fresh drops.

“We just wanted to have something for the brand (so) that even if people can’t come to the race, they can represent,” he said. “People go crazy over the Saudi Bronx hoodies and stuff like that. Last year was a very small setup, which was cool because everybody was just starting,” he said.

This year’s AlUla Camel Cup is expected to be the most spectator-friendly race, thanks to the freshly formed Royal Pavilion and the expansive Heritage Village. 

Workshop sessions will be available throughout the four days, with enriching sessions centered on calligraphy, traditional pottery-making, Sadu weaving, and bakhour, or incense. Children will be able to ride camels, create camel origami and clay models, and use augmented reality to bring their imaginative camel creations to life.

Last year, the races attracted 2,550 visitors and created a flurry of posts on social media.

“My kids are very into culture — period. We travel and they’ve been here (to the Kingdom),” Swizz Beatz shared.

He credits his children with motivating him to pursue his goals. They influence his moves, he said, but he also aims to do the same for them.

“I teach them to believe in their vision. Even if no one is able to comprehend it at that moment, you might be ahead of your time. I also am influenced to show them different things and to step outside of the box because a lot of people were laughing at me (for owning a camel racing team) … The same people (now) want to come to a race,” he said.

He sees being part of the camel-racing world as a way to “give back to the people,” pay homage to the locals, and combine all of his passions; family, fun, music, movement, culture, and a fresh experience steeped in history and nostalgic vibes.

Swizz Beatz, who usually brings his family along, will come solo this time. His wife, superstar Alicia Keys, will stay behind in New York to tend to the recent opening of her Broadway show based on her life, “Hell’s Kitchen.”

He has been adamant about showcasing his trips to the Kingdom on his social media platforms. Unlike many American stars who have only recently parachuted into AlUla either for work or pleasure, his family has a long history with the Kingdom.

“The journey (into Saudi Arabia) for me has been very natural. My grandfather went to Makkah in the 1970s. Back then, my grandfather also managed (boxing legend and cultural icon) Muhammad Ali,” Swizz Beatz told Arab News. 

He hopes to take that same trip alongside his grandfather soon.

“I haven’t been to Makkah. I’m planning on taking my grandfather because he’s been with me about it and because I didn’t want to do the trip without him. Inshallah, we have to do that this year. He’s not getting younger,” he said.

After earning recognition for his other projects, which granted him celeb status in the US and even within the Kingdom, Swizz Beatz is excited about this new chapter in his life.

In AlUla, the camel-racing community knows him as one of them.

“They call me Abu Nasser. I feel like they might not know my music, but they definitely know the Saudi Bronx and it’s kind of amazing that I had a new identity in a whole new field in a whole new country — and it has nothing to do with music,” he said.

Nonetheless, he will still use his musical talents while at AlUla.

The Grammy winner will be spinning at AlUla on Wheels II to DJ on two of the nights at his AlUla on Wheels spot. 

He hopes to expand his skating energy with live DJs into places like Jeddah and Riyadh, but for now, is happy to continue to spin in AlUla.

But the priority of his current trip will be the camels. He said that his first interaction with a camel was many years ago, perhaps at Disney World. Since then, he has studied the scene and has worked hard to be part of the community.

He hopes his participation at the Camel Cup will continue to raise awareness. While mindful of the obstacles ahead, he is grateful for the overall journey.

“You know, even if everything was to stop today, we’ve made history. To be the first outside of the GCC to own a team in the entire federation … that will forever be in history; you cannot erase that,” he said.

He concluded, saying he hopes camel racing will become as popular and well-known as Formula One.