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.”


Tourist couple injured in shooting in India’s Kashmir amid elections

Tourist couple injured in shooting in India’s Kashmir amid elections
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Tourist couple injured in shooting in India’s Kashmir amid elections

Tourist couple injured in shooting in India’s Kashmir amid elections
  • Condition of Indian couple from Jaipur city is said to be stable, police say 
  • India is in a marathon election with two Kashmir seats to be contested on May 20, 25

SRINAGAR: A tourist couple was injured in India’s Kashmir after militants fired on them late on Saturday night, police said, ahead of voting scheduled in the volatile region for India’s ongoing election.
The couple from the Indian city of Jaipur was evacuated to the hospital and the area where the attack took place was cordoned off, Kashmir police said on social media. The condition of the injured tourists is said to be stable, they said.
India is in the middle of a marathon election with the remaining two seats in Kashmir going to polls on May 20 and May 25.
Voters turned out in large numbers for polling in the first seat in Srinagar on May 13, reversing the trend of low vote counts in the first polls since Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is skipping elections in Kashmir for the first time since 1996 saying it will support regional parties instead.
Major parties in Kashmir, the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have focused on restoration of semi-autonomy in their campaigns.
Analysts and opposition parties say the BJP is not contesting elections in Kashmir because it fears the outcome will contradict its narrative of a more peaceful and integrated region since 2019.
In a separate incident, unknown militants shot dead former village headman and BJP party member Ajiaz Ahmad Sheikh in Shopian district on Saturday.
The last major attack on tourists in Kashmir had happened in 2017 when a Hindu pilgrimage bus was targeted, killing eight people.


Tourists wounded in deadly Afghanistan shooting stable — hospital 

Tourists wounded in deadly Afghanistan shooting stable — hospital 
Updated 19 May 2024
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Tourists wounded in deadly Afghanistan shooting stable — hospital 

Tourists wounded in deadly Afghanistan shooting stable — hospital 
  • Group of tourists was fired at while shopping in mountainous city of Bamiyan on Friday 
  • Attack first deadly assault on foreign tourists since Taliban’s return to power in 20221

KABUL: Tourists wounded in an attack in Afghanistan which left three Spaniards and three Afghans dead were in a stable condition, a hospital said Saturday, as a survivor described the horror of the shooting in an open market.
The group was fired on while shopping in the bazaar in the mountainous city of Bamiyan, around 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the capital Kabul, on Friday.
French tourist Anne-France Brill, one of the dozen foreign travelers on an organized tour, said a gunman on foot approached the group’s vehicles and opened fire.
“There was blood everywhere,” the 55-year-old told AFP from Dubai, where she landed Saturday after being evacuated from Kabul with two Americans.
“One thing is certain,” she said, the assailant “was there for the foreigners.”
Brill, who works in marketing and lives near Paris, said she helped collect the bloodied belongings of her wounded fellow travelers before a Taliban escort brought them to the capital, where they were taken in by a European Union delegation.
The attack is believed to be the first deadly assault on foreign tourists since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 in a country where few nations have a diplomatic presence.
The bodies of those killed were transported to Kabul overnight Friday, along with the wounded and survivors, after bad weather made an airlift impossible.
Italian NGO Emergency, which operates a hospital in Kabul, received the injured who it said were from Spain, Lithuania, Norway, Australia and Afghanistan.
“The wounded people arrived at our hospital at 3:00 am (2230 GMT Friday) this morning, about 10 hours after the incident took place,” said Dejan Panic, Emergency’s country director in Afghanistan, in a statement.
“The Afghan national was the most critically injured, but all patients are now stable,” he added.
Spain’s government on Friday announced that three of the dead were Spanish tourists.
Its foreign ministry said one of the wounded was also a Spanish woman, who had been seriously injured and underwent surgery in Kabul.
The dead included three Afghans — two civilians and a Taliban member, the government’s interior ministry spokesman Abdul Mateen Qani said.
Local officials said the civilians were working with the tour group, while the Taliban security official had returned fire when the shooting broke out.
“Overwhelmed by the news of the murder of Spanish tourists in Afghanistan,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez posted on social media platform X.
The bodies of the dead would likely be brought back to Spain on Sunday, the country’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares said on Spanish public television TVE.
Spanish diplomats were headed to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Qatar, where the Spanish ambassador to the country is currently based.
The Spanish embassy was evacuated in 2021, along with other Western missions, after the Taliban took back control of Kabul, ending a bloody decades-long insurgency against foreign forces.
Spanish authorities have also been coordinating with a European Union delegation in the capital.
Interior ministry spokesman Qani said seven suspects had been arrested, “of which one is wounded.”
“The investigation is still going on and the Islamic Emirate is seriously looking into the matter,” he added.
There has not yet been a claim of responsibility.
The EU condemned the attack “in the strongest terms.”
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, said it was “deeply shocked and appalled by the deadly terrorist attack” in Bamiyan, adding it had provided assistance after the incident.
The Taliban government has yet to be officially recognized by any foreign government.
It has, however, supported a fledgling tourism sector, with more than 5,000 foreign tourists visiting Afghanistan in 2023, according to official figures.
Western nations advise against all travel to the country, warning of kidnap and attack risks.
Alongside security concerns, the country has limited road infrastructure and a dilapidated health service.
Multiple foreign tourism companies offer guided package tours to Afghanistan, often including visits to highlights in cities such as Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan.
Bamiyan is Afghanistan’s top tourist destination, once home to the giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban in 2001 during their previous rule.
The number of bombings and suicide attacks in Afghanistan has fallen dramatically since the Taliban authorities took power, and deadly attacks on foreigners are rare.
However, a number of armed groups, including Daesh, remain a threat.
The group has waged a campaign of attacks on foreign interests in a bid to weaken the Taliban government, targeting the Pakistani and Russian embassies as well as Chinese businessmen.


Eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Ibu forces seven villages to evacuate

Eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Ibu forces seven villages to evacuate
Updated 19 May 2024
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Eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Ibu forces seven villages to evacuate

Eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Ibu forces seven villages to evacuate
  • Ibu’s activities follow a series of eruptions of different volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has 127 active volcanoes

JAKARTA: A volcano on the remote Indonesian island of Halmahera has spectacularly erupted, spewing a grey ash cloud into the sky, and people from seven nearby villages have been evacuated, authorities said on Sunday.
Mt. Ibu erupted on Saturday evening, sending ash 4 km (2.5 miles) high, as streaks of purple lightning flashed around its crater, according to information and images shared by Indonesia’s volcanology agency.
A joint team comprised of police, military and search and rescue officials was dispatched to the area to evacuate residents from surrounding villages, Abdul Muhari, from the disaster mitigation agency, said in a statement.
Photos shared by the disaster agency showed authorities assisting the elderly, while other residents were moved in pick-up trucks and accommodated in emergency tents for the night.
The agency did not provide any information about how many people had been moved, but authorities have recommended that a seven-km (4.35-mile) radius be cleared.
Indonesia’s volcanology agency raised the alert level of the volcano to the highest level on Thursday, after Ibu erupted multiple times earlier this month.
Ibu’s activities follow a series of eruptions of different volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has 127 active volcanoes.
Flash floods and cold lava flow from Mount Marapi, one of the most active in West Sumatra province, covered several nearby districts following torrential rain on May 11, killing more than 60 people.
In recent weeks, North Sulawesi’s Ruang volcano has also erupted, spewing incandescent lava. The eruption prompted authorities to evacuate more than 12,000 people on a nearby island.


Despite polls, Biden aides insist Gaza campus protests will not hurt reelection bid

President Joe Biden speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (AP)
President Joe Biden speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (AP)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Despite polls, Biden aides insist Gaza campus protests will not hurt reelection bid

President Joe Biden speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (AP)
  • Protests over Israel’s war in Gaza have broken out at more than 60 colleges and universities this year, disrupted Biden’s events around the country, pushed Democrats in key battleground states to vote “uncommitted” and divided the Democratic party

WASHINGTON: Several top White House aides say they are confident protests across US college campuses against Israel’s offensive in Gaza will not translate into significantly fewer votes for Joe Biden in November’s election, despite polls showing many Democrats are deeply unhappy about the US president’s policy on the war.
The White House optimism on the issue, which is shared by many in the Biden campaign, runs contrary to dire warnings from some Democratic strategists and youth organizers who warn misjudging the situation could cost Biden dearly in a tight race with Republican rival Donald Trump.
Several aides told Reuters they are advising Biden to remain above the fray, rather than directly engage with the relatively small groups of protesters on college campuses, arguing their numbers are too insignificant to harm the president’s reelection campaign.
Faced with a choice between Biden and Trump in November, many officials remain confident even Democrats who oppose US policy will choose Biden. Reuters interviewed nearly a dozen top White House officials in recent days, but only two expressed concern about the impact of the protests and Biden’s handling of the issue.
The issue returns to the spotlight Sunday, when Biden makes the commencement address at Morehouse College, over some objections by students and faculty, and a warning from the college’s president that the ceremony will stop if there are protests.
Most officials Reuters spoke to said they believe housing costs and inflation were the issues top of mind for young voters, not the war in Gaza, pointing to a recent Harvard poll that ranks Israel/Palestine 15th on a list of issues, after taxes, gun violence and jobs. Several aides refer to the protesters as “activists” rather than students.
Asked for comment on the issue, White House senior deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said Biden understands this is a painful moment for many communities and is listening. He has said too many civilians have died in the “heartbreaking” conflict and that more must be done to prevent the loss of innocent lives, Bates added.
Biden and Trump are nearly tied in national polls, and Trump has the edge in the battleground states that will decide the election, multiple recent polls show. On economic issues like inflation, Trump scores higher with voters overall than Biden.
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll found Democrats deeply divided over Biden’s handling of both the war in Gaza and the US campus protests against it, with 44 percent of registered Democrats disapproving of Biden’s handling of the crisis, and 51 percent of his handling of the protests.
Young voters still favor Biden, but support has dropped significantly since 2020, polls show. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in March showed Americans aged 18-29 favored Biden over Trump by just 3 percentage points — 29 percent to 26 percent — with the rest favoring another candidate or unsure if anyone would get their vote.
Two White House officials Reuters spoke to emphasized Biden’s support among young voters is not where it was in 2020 and said they worry the administration is not taking the drop seriously enough.
With over 35,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza since war began in October, US support for Israel’s government could weigh heavily on the presidential election in November, they said.
“There is almost a level of defiance when it comes to some of the president’s closest advisers on this issue,” said a senior White House official with direct knowledge of the matter, who did not wish to be named. “They think the best approach is to simply steer clear and let it pass.”

BIDEN SPEAKS CAUTIOUSLY
Protests over Israel’s war in Gaza have broken out at more than 60 colleges and universities this year, disrupted Biden’s events around the country, pushed Democrats in key battleground states to vote “uncommitted” and divided the Democratic party.
Biden, who is known for saying what he thinks, even when it’s not politically beneficial, has been cautious on the issue of protests over Gaza. He spoke in early May on the importance of following the law, while defending free speech and later on addressed the threat of antisemitism on college campuses.
Both times, he mostly avoided the issue that has sparked the protests — how young Americans feel about his support for Israel. But he also said bluntly that protests will not change his Middle East policy.
Groups organizing the protests say that a recent halt to some weapons to Israel was too little too late, and are planning fresh demonstrations, though the summer break may quieten action on campuses.
Michele Weindling, political director of the climate-focused youth group the Sunrise Movement, said “young people are incredibly disillusioned, they are angry at the way the president has treated this conflict.”
“A huge risk right now is that young voters will completely stay out of the electoral system this November, or deliberately vote against Biden out of anger,” Weindling said.
That has the potential to cost Biden dearly, given 61 percent of the more than half of Americans aged 18 to 29 that voted in the 2020 general election voted Democratic, a Tufts University research group found. The youth turnout was up 11 points from 2016.

GAZA NOT A TOP ISSUE
Republicans both overwhelmingly disapprove of the protests and Biden’s handling of the war, a Reuters/Ipsos poll published this week shows. Some Republicans have called for him to send National Guard troops on to campuses.
But until a day before Biden delivered his first speech on the protests on May 2, he remained unsure he needed to address the issue, two officials said. Biden asked his team to put together “something rudimentary,” so he could edit and change it, which he did that evening, one of the officials said.
He did not make the final decision to speak until the morning, after violence broke out on the UCLA campus, the official added.
The Harvard youth poll showing Israel/Gaza is low on youth concerns is being circulated at internal meetings at the campaign and the White House and is in line with private data the White House has seen, the first official said.
The president doesn’t speak about every issue in the news, on purpose, another White House official said. It “doesn’t always happen, no matter what kind of news it is, whether it’s the news of the day or the week or the month,” he said.

 


Ukraine says Russian shelling targets civilians in Kharkiv region

Ukraine says Russian shelling targets civilians in Kharkiv region
Updated 19 May 2024
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Ukraine says Russian shelling targets civilians in Kharkiv region

Ukraine says Russian shelling targets civilians in Kharkiv region
  • Ukrainian prosecutors said they were investigating as a potential war crime a Russian air strike on a residential area of the regional capital Kharkiv in which six civilians were wounded

KHARKIV: Ukraine said Russian shelling targeted civilians in two cities in the northeastern region of Kharkiv on Saturday while President Volodymyr Zelensky reported successes by troops fighting a renewed Russian assault there.
Ukrainian prosecutors said they were investigating as a potential war crime a Russian air strike on a residential area of the regional capital Kharkiv in which six civilians were wounded, including a 13-year-old girl, 16-year-old male and an eight-year-old.
Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians but thousands have been killed and injured since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
About 70 km (45 miles) to the northeast in Vovchansk, a city just 5 kilometers (three miles) from the Russian border, prosecutors said Russian shelling killed a 60-year-old woman and injured three other civilians. A 59-year-man was also injured in the village of Ukrainske, they said.
Across the border in Russia’s Belgorod region, Moscow’s defense ministry said its forces shot down a Tochka-U missile fired by Ukraine. A similar missile caused a Belgorod apartment building to collapse last week, killing at least 15 people, Russia said.
Late on Saturday Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said a Ukrainian drone attack injured a woman and a man in the village of Petrovka. They were treated for shrapnel injuries in Belgorod, he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Zelensky said in his nightly video address that Ukrainian forces were on surer footing, particularly in Kharkiv region.
“The occupier is losing its infantry and equipment, a tangible loss, even though, just as in 2022, it was counting on a quick advance on our land,” Zelensky said, referring to Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in February of that year.
However, Russia’s defense ministry said its forces captured the village of Starytsia in the Kharkiv region on Saturday, eight days after a new Russian push in the area began.
Zelensky said his forces repelled an assault farther south in the eastern Donetsk region around Chasiv Yar, a city seen as a key target in Russia’s campaign. “Our soldiers destroyed more than 20 units of the occupier’s armored vehicles,” he said.
Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield accounts.
Regional governor Vadym Filashkin credited special units under the HUR military intelligence agency for the battlefield success, which he said took place on Friday.
“There is not a single occupier in Chasiv Yar,” he said on the Telegram messaging app. “They burned armored vehicles and smashed enemy ranks,” he added in comments accompanying a video showing vehicles exploding.
In the village of Stanislav in the southern region of Kherson, governor Oleksandr Prokudin said a Russian drone strike killed a man about 40 years old and injured a woman.