Gazans stalked by ‘long shadow of starvation,’ UN chief warns on war’s grim 100-day milestone

Gazans stalked by ‘long shadow of starvation,’ UN chief warns on war’s grim 100-day milestone
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at UN headquarters in New York City. (AFP)
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Updated 16 January 2024
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Gazans stalked by ‘long shadow of starvation,’ UN chief warns on war’s grim 100-day milestone

Gazans stalked by ‘long shadow of starvation,’ UN chief warns on war’s grim 100-day milestone
  • Secretary-General Antonio Guterres again calls for ceasefire as only way to ensure aid can be delivered, hostages are released, and threat of a wider regional war is eased
  • While denouncing the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, he says Israel’s response has caused ‘destruction and levels of civilian killings … unprecedented during my years as secretary-general’

NEW YORK CITY: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday said he is deeply troubled by the “clear violation of international humanitarian law” the world continues to witness as “the long shadow of starvation is stalking the people of Gaza, along with disease, malnutrition and other health threats.”

He lamented the fact that, despite some efforts to step up the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, essential relief on the required scale is still not reaching desperate civilians who have endured months of continuous Israeli attacks.

He described the humanitarian situation in the territory as “beyond words” and repeated his warning that “nowhere and no one is safe” there. He added that “traumatized people are being pushed into increasingly limited areas in the south that are becoming intolerably and dangerously congested.”

The UN chief was speaking during a press briefing in New York marking the grim milestone of 100 days of the war in Gaza.

Guterres began by once again demanding the “immediate and unconditional release of all (Israeli) hostages” still held by Hamas and other groups. He called for them to be treated humanely while they remain in captivity and for representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to be allowed to visit them.

He said he has been thinking of the anguish the hostages’ families have been feeling “every day” since the “horrific Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis and others, and resulted in the brutal seizing of hostages.”

Guterres also called for all allegations of sexual violence committed by Hamas and others on Oct. 7 to “be rigorously investigated and prosecuted.”

“Nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians, or the launching of rockets toward civilian targets,” he said.

But he added that “the onslaught on Gaza by Israeli forces over these 100 days has unleashed wholesale destruction and levels of civilian killings at a rate that is unprecedented during my years as secretary-general.”

The death toll in the Gaza Strip has reached 24,100 since the war began on Oct. 7, and more than 60,834 people have been wounded, according to figures from the Gazan Health Ministry. Guterres said the vast majority of those killed are women and children, and added: “Nothing can justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

He called on all states and parties to the conflict to fully cooperate with Sigrid Kaag, who on Jan. 8 took on the role of the UN’s senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, a position called for by Security Council Resolution 2720 on the Gaza conflict, which was adopted on Dec. 22.

Kaag, former finance minister and first deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, will work to coordinate, monitor and verify the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, including the establishment of a UN mechanism to speed up the transit of aid convoys through countries that are not directly involved in the conflict.

Guterres said an effective aid operation in Gaza requires security, assurances about the safety of UN staff, necessary logistical support and the resumption of commercial activity in the territory.

However, “the obstacles to aid delivery are clear,” he said, adding that the “heavy, widespread and unrelenting bombardment” of Gaza is endangering the lives of those receiving aid, as well as those delivering it.

“The vast majority of our Palestinian staff in Gaza have been forced to flee their homes,” said Guterres.

“Since Oct. 7, 152 UN staff members have been killed in Gaza, the largest single loss of life in the history of our organization, a heart-wrenching figure and a source of deep sorrow.”

He called again for “rapid, safe, unhindered, expanded and sustained humanitarian access into and across Gaza.”

Guterres also highlighted the “significant hurdles” to aid delivery that persist at Gaza’s borders.

“Vital materials, including life-saving medical equipment and parts which are critical for the repair of water facilities and infrastructure, have been rejected with little or no explanation, disrupting the flow of critical supplies and the resumption of basic services,” he said.

“And when one item is denied, the time-consuming approval process starts again from scratch for the entire cargo.”

The aid operation faces other “major impediments” within Gaza itself, he added, including repeated denials of permission for access to the north of the territory, where hundreds of thousands of people remain.

“Since the start of the year, just seven of 29 missions to deliver aid to the north have been able to proceed,” said Guterres. “Large stretches of agreed routes cannot be used due to heavy fighting and debris, with unexploded ordnance also threatening convoys.

“Humanitarian notification systems to maximize the safety of aid operations are not being respected. In addition, frequent telecommunications blackouts mean humanitarian workers cannot seek out the safest roads, coordinate aid distribution or track the movements of displaced people who need assistance.”

As the UN attempts to ramp up its humanitarian response in Gaza, Guterres once again called on all parties to the conflict to respect the principles of international humanitarian law, “respect and protect civilians, and ensure their essential needs are met.” He also called for “an immediate and massive” increase in the commercial supply of essential goods.

“The UN and humanitarian partners cannot alone provide basic necessities that should also be available in markets to the entire population,” he said.

Addressing the situation in the West Bank, Guterres expressed deep concern about the escalating “cauldron of tensions” there, in which rising violence is exacerbating an already severe financial crisis for the Palestinian Authority.

He also sounded the alarm over the “sky-high” tensions in the Red Sea area and beyond, which he said might soon be impossible to contain.

He expressed “profound worries” about the daily exchanges of fire across the Blue Line separating northern Israel and southern Lebanon, in areas where tens of thousands of people on both sides have been displaced, and which risk triggering a broader escalation between the two countries that could profoundly affect regional stability.

“Stop playing with fire across the Blue Line, deescalate and bring hostilities to an end in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1701,” Guterres said. Resolution 1701 was adopted by the council in 2006 with the aim of resolving the war that year between Israel and Hezbollah.

Guterres concluded by reiterating the steps required to address all of the issues he raised: “We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire; to ensure sufficient aid gets to where it is needed; to facilitate the release of the hostages; to tamp down the flames of wider war because the longer the conflict in Gaza continues, the greater the risk of escalation and miscalculation.

“We cannot see in Lebanon what we are seeing in Gaza. And we cannot allow what has been happening in Gaza to continue.”


Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumes duty after undergoing procedure at Walter Reed

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumes duty after undergoing procedure at Walter Reed
Updated 5 sec ago
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumes duty after undergoing procedure at Walter Reed

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumes duty after undergoing procedure at Walter Reed

WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin underwent a medical procedure at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Friday evening and has resumed duty after temporarily transferring power to his deputy, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.
Austin is continuing to deal with bladder issues that arose in December following his treatment for prostate cancer, Ryder said.
The procedure was successful, elective and minimally invasive, “is not related to his cancer diagnosis and has had no effect on his excellent cancer prognosis,” the press secretary said.
Austin transferred authority to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks for about two-and-a-half hours while he was indisposed, the Pentagon said.
The Pentagon chief returned home after the procedure. “No changes in his official schedule are anticipated at this time, to include his participation in scheduled Memorial Day events,” Ryder said.
Austin, 70, has had ongoing health issues since undergoing surgery to address a prostate cancer diagnosis. He spent two weeks in the hospital following complications from a prostatectomy. Austin faced criticism at the time for not immediately informing the president or Congress of either his diagnosis or hospitalization.
Austin was taken back to Walter Reed in February for a bladder issue, admitted to intensive care for a second time and underwent a non-surgical procedure under general anesthesia at the time.
The Pentagon has notified the White House and Congress, Ryder said.


More than 300 buried in Papua New Guinea landslide, local media says

More than 300 buried in Papua New Guinea landslide, local media says
Updated 17 min 36 sec ago
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More than 300 buried in Papua New Guinea landslide, local media says

More than 300 buried in Papua New Guinea landslide, local media says
  • Hundreds are feared dead in the landslide that hit Kaokalam village

SYDNEY: More than 300 people and over 1,100 houses were buried by a massive landslide that levelled a remote village in northern Papua New Guinea, local media reported on Saturday.
Hundreds are feared dead in the landslide that hit Kaokalam village in Enga Province, about 600 km (370 miles) northwest of capital Port Moresby, around 3 a.m. on Friday (1900 GMT on Thursday).
The landslide in the Pacific nation north of Australia buried more than 300 people and 1,182 houses, the Papua New Guinea Post Courier said, citing comments from a member of the country’s parliament, Aimos Akem. Akem did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment via social media.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on Saturday that four bodies had been retrieved from the area after emergency teams reached the sparsely populated area, where the death toll is expected to rise.
The landslide has blocked highway access, making helicopters the only way to reach the area, the broadcaster reported.
Social media footage posted by villager Ninga Role showed people clambering over rocks, uprooted trees and mounds of dirt searching for survivors. Women could be heard weeping in the background.
Prime Minister James Marape has said disaster officials, the Defense Force and the Department of Works and Highways were assisting with relief and recovery efforts.


French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes

French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes
Updated 25 May 2024
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French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes

French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes
  • The trial focused on the officials’ role in the alleged 2013 arrest in Damascus of Mazen Dabbagh, a Franco-Syrian father, and his son Patrick, and their subsequent torture and killing
  • Former intelligence officials Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud are the most senior Syrian officials to go on trial in a European court over crimes allegedly committed during the country’s civil war

PARIS: A Paris court sentenced three high-ranking Syrian officials in absentia to life in prison Friday for complicity in war crimes in a landmark case against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the first such case in Europe.

The trial focused on the officials’ role in the alleged 2013 arrest in Damascus of Mazen Dabbagh, a Franco-Syrian father, and his son Patrick, and their subsequent torture and killing. The four-day trial featured harrowing testimonies from survivors and searing accounts from Mazen’s brother.
Though the verdict was cathartic for plaintiffs, France and Syria do not have an extradition treaty, making the outcome largely symbolic. International arrest warrants for the three former Syrian intelligence officials — Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud — have been issued since 2018 to no avail.
They are the most senior Syrian officials to go on trial in a European court over crimes allegedly committed during the country’s civil war.
The court proceedings came as Assad has started to shed his longtime status as a pariah that stemmed from the violence unleashed on his opponents. Human rights groups involved in the case hoped it would refocus attention on alleged atrocities.
Clémence Bectarte, the Dabbagh family lawyer from the International Federation for Human Rights, said the verdict was the “first recognition in France of the crimes against humanity of the Syrian regime.”
“It is a message of hope for all Syrian victims who are waiting for justice. It is a message that must be addressed to states so that they do not normalize their relations with the regime of Bashar Assad,” she said.
The trial began Tuesday over the alleged torture and killing of the French-Syrian father and son who were arrested at the height of Arab Spring-inspired anti-government protests. The two were arrested in Damascus following a crackdown on demonstrations that later turned into a brutal civil war, now in its 14th year.
The probe into their disappearance started in 2015 when Obeida Dabbagh, Mazen’s brother, testified to investigators already examining war crimes in Syria.
Obeida Dabbagh and his wife, Hanane, are parties to the trial along with non-governmental organizations. They testified in court on Thursday, the third day of the trial.
Obeida Dabbagh said he hoped the trial would set a precedent for holding Assad accountable. “Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died. Even today, some live in fear and terror,” he said.
Despite the defendants’ absence, the trial’s significance was underscored by Brigitte Herremans, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Center of Ghent University. “It’s very important that perpetrators from the regime side are held accountable, even if it’s mainly symbolic. It means a lot for the fight against impunity,” she said.
 


Some 45,000 Rohingya have fled fighting in Myanmar: UN

Some 45,000 Rohingya have fled fighting in Myanmar: UN
Updated 25 May 2024
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Some 45,000 Rohingya have fled fighting in Myanmar: UN

Some 45,000 Rohingya have fled fighting in Myanmar: UN

GENEVA: The United Nations warned on Friday that escalating fighting in conflict-torn Myanmar’s Rakhine State had forced around 45,000 minority Rohingya to flee, amid allegations of killings and burnings of property.
“Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced in recent days by the fighting in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships,” UN rights office spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell told reporters in Geneva.
“An estimated 45,000 Rohingya have reportedly fled to an area on the Naf River near the border with Bangladesh, seeking protection,” she said.
Clashes have rocked Rakhine since the Arakan Army (AA) attacked forces of the ruling junta in November, ending a ceasefire that had largely held since a military coup in 2021.
The AA says it is fighting for more autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine population in the state, which is also home to around 600,000 members of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Rakhine in 2017 during a crackdown by the military that is now the subject of a United Nations genocide court case.
“Over a million Rohingya are already in Bangladesh, having fled past purges,” Throssell pointed out.
UN rights chief Volker Turk was urging Bangladesh and other countries “to provide effective protection to those seeking it, in line with international law, and to ensure international solidarity with Bangladesh in hosting Rohingya refugees in Myanmar,” she said.
James Rodehaver, head of the rights office’s Myanmar team, described the horrifying situation many were fleeing from.
He said his team had received testimonies and seen satellite images, online videos and pictures indicating that Buthidaung town had been “largely burned.”
“We have received information indicating that the burning did start on May 17... two days after the military had retreated from the town... and the Arakan Army claimed to have taken full control of the village.”
He stressed that the UN rights office was still working to corroborate that information, to clearly establish “who were the perpetrators.”
One survivor had described seeing dozens of dead bodies as he fled Buthidaung, while another had said he was among tens of thousands who fled the town only to find themselves blocked by the AA on the road west toward Maungdaw town.
Other survivors also said AA members had abused them and extorted money from them as they tried to make their way to Rohingya villages south of the town.
In the weeks leading up to the burning of Buthidaung, Rodehaver said the rights office had documented renewed attacks on Rohingya civilians by both AA and the military in northern Rakhine, including through air strikes.
The team had documented “at least four cases of beheadings,” he said, adding that they had determined with a high level of confidence that those were carried out by the AA.
Beyond Buthidaung, Throssell warned of “clear and present risks of a serious expansion of violence.”
She pointed to the beginning of a battle for Maungdaw town, where the military has outposts and where a large Rohingya community lives.
“In this appalling situation, civilians are once more victimized, killed, their properties destroyed and looted, their demands for safety and security ignored,” she said.
“They are again forced to flee their homes in a recurring nightmare of suffering.”


Zelensky says Ukrainian forces now control area where Russia pushed into Kharkiv region

Zelensky says Ukrainian forces now control area where Russia pushed into Kharkiv region
Updated 25 May 2024
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Zelensky says Ukrainian forces now control area where Russia pushed into Kharkiv region

Zelensky says Ukrainian forces now control area where Russia pushed into Kharkiv region
  • A late-night report by the General Staff said Ukrainian forces had repelled 10 Russian attacks in the area, including around Vovchansk.
  • Russian forces were using less infantry around Vovchansk and instead firing from a distance, with limited accuracy.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that Ukrainian forces had secured “combat control” of areas where Russian troops staged an incursion this month in northern parts of Kharkiv region.

“Our soldiers have now managed to take combat control of the border area where the Russian occupiers entered,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address.
Zelensky’s comments, after holding a meeting of military and regional officials in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, appeared to be at variance with comments by Russian officials.
Viktor Vodolatskiy, a member of Russia’s State Duma lower house of parliament, was quoted by Tass news agency as saying Russian forces controlled more than half the territory of the town of Vovchansk, 5 km (three miles) inside the border.
Vodolatskiy was quoted as saying that once Vovchansk was secured, Russian forces would target three cities in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region — Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Pokrovsk.
Reuters was unable to verify independently battlefield accounts from either side.

Russian forces pushed into border regions of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region this month and Russia’s Defense Ministry said they had secured control of about 12 settlements.
Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials had been reporting success in “stabilising” the area.
The Ukrainian military’s General Staff, in its evening report on Friday said the situation in Vovchansk was “tense but controlled by the defense forces.”
“The Russian army today launched air terror against this town — eight guided bombs hit the town,” it said. Attacks were launched on at least two other settlements north of Kharkiv.
A late-night report by the General Staff said Ukrainian forces had repelled 10 Russian attacks in the area, including around Vovchansk.
It also noted Russian forces had achieved “partial success” in areas near Kupiansk, further east in Kharkiv region, and the Pokrovsk sector where heavy fighting has been taking place further south in Donetsk region.
Ukrainian military bloggers said Ukrainian troops had been holding their ground around Vovchansk and Russian forces were using less infantry in the area and instead firing from a distance, with limited accuracy.