How people with disabilities in Gaza are coping with the agony of Israel-Hamas war

Special How people with disabilities in Gaza are coping with the agony of Israel-Hamas war
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Israel’s 16-year blockade of the Gaza Strip and its ongoing military offensive have deprived people with disabilities of necessary assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and artificial limbs. (AFP)
Special How people with disabilities in Gaza are coping with the agony of Israel-Hamas war
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This photo taken on August 3, 2021, shows Palestinian amputee players compete during a football match at the Yarmouk Stadium in Gaza City on August 3, 2021. Israel’s 16-year blockade of the Gaza Strip and its ongoing military offensive have deprived people with disabilities of necessary assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and artificial limbs.(AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2024
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How people with disabilities in Gaza are coping with the agony of Israel-Hamas war

How people with disabilities in Gaza are coping with the agony of Israel-Hamas war
  • Even prior to Oct. 7, some 21 percent of households in Gaza had at least one member with a disability
  • Aid official says Israeli bombing and aid blockade deny people with disabilities basic rights and dignity

LONDON: Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip has spared no one, burying entire families under the rubble of their own homes, paralyzing essential healthcare facilities and traumatizing the Palestinian enclave’s population of 2.3 million — of whom, according to the Euro-Med Monitor, at least 130,000 were living with permanent disabilities before the conflict.

Amid the persistent bombardment, a growing segment of Gazan society — people with physical and mental disabilities — must simultaneously navigate a largely inaccessible community and endure barriers to a dignified, meaningful life.

“They also face direct threats to not only their dignity, but also their very human rights,” Lise Salavert, humanitarian advocacy manager at Handicap International, a charity working with disabled and vulnerable people in extreme circumstances, told Arab News.

“There is not a ‘risk’ that these individuals will be left behind — it is already happening.”




This photo shows injured Palestinians arriving at al-Shifa Hospital following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City on Oct. 16, 2023. Gaza’s hospitals and health infrastructure have been devastated by the war. (AP/File)

Describing the war on Gaza as a “horrendous catastrophe,” Salavert said that while the whole population of Palestine suffers, “in Gaza, around 300,000 people with disabilities are facing additional, acute challenges.

“In this specific context, they face challenges to stay safe, to eat, to be housed, and to access the basic and specific items they need to stay healthy.”

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, in which militants killed more than 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took 240 more hostage, Israel has carried out its deadliest assault on the Gaza Strip to date.

Israel’s retaliatory attacks are reported to have killed so far more than 25,100 people, wounded another 60,000, and displaced more than 85 percent of the enclave’s population.




Palestinians walk through destruction from the Israeli bombardment in the Nusseirat refugee camp in Gaza Strip on Jan. 19, 2024. (AP)

As the intense bombardment has reduced swathes of Gaza to rubble, Palestinians have been forced to evacuate their homes and flee often multiple times in search of safety.

Critics say the vast destruction is evidence that Israel’s attacks are disproportionate and fail to limit civilian casualties. Israel says it does not target civilians and blames Hamas for conducting military operations and launching rockets from crowded residential areas.

While the Israeli military has ordered civilians to evacuate to designated “safe zones,” power outages, prolonged communication blackouts and lack of access to technology have prevented many from accessing such information.

Even when these instructions were accessible, they were found to be confusing. Investigations by global media organizations have revealed that Israel had frequently issued vague evacuation instructions and had later targeted areas it had deemed safe.

However, for many persons with disabilities, especially those with motor challenges, fleeing the Israeli offensive has been all but impossible.




Displaced Palestinians move their belongings to a makeshift tent camp in Rafah near the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday. (AFP)

“People with disabilities are separated from their families. Their friends. Their support networks,” said Salavert. “Some cannot physically evacuate their homes, should they choose to. Others cannot process or access evacuation orders.

“Deaf Gazans cannot hear incoming rockets — not knowing to take cover. Many have lost their assistive devices, their medicines.”

Israel’s 16-year blockade of the Gaza Strip has also deprived people with disabilities of necessary assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and artificial limbs. And now, with the limited humanitarian aid reaching the enclave, this group’s distinct needs remain unmet.

INNUMBERS

• 130,000 People in the Gaza Strip living with permanent disabilities before the war.

21% Households in Gaza with at least one person with a disability before the war.

9,000 Number of children injured during the war, many of whom have lost limbs.

(Source: Euro-Med Monitor, Handicap International)

The fear of having to survive this war with a disability haunts almost everyone in the Gaza Strip. A report released last month by Handicap International revealed that the injuries Palestinians have sustained during the onslaught include fractures, peripheral nerve injuries, amputations, spinal cord and brain injuries, and burns.

Many of the 9,000 children injured in Gaza have been grappling with the loss of one or more limbs, according to the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF. Even before the war, 21 percent of Gaza’s households included at least one person with a disability.




A wounded girl is transported on a wheelchair to a hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 6, 2023. AFP)

Salavert believes the massive use of heavy explosive weapons in Gaza, at this level of intensity, “has no precedent in recent times.”

She told Arab News: “These bombs have not only crumbled hospitals and fractured schools. They have robbed civilians of arms and legs. They’ve pierced spinal cords. They’ve inflicted trauma to brains, to eyes.

“These bombs have robbed civilians of sound, as eardrums rupture. Inside, hidden from view, the blast waves from bombs damaged organs.

“Bombs destroy the integrity of people’s bodies, their minds, and their senses of identity, autonomy and dignity. Bombs also prevent those bodies from being healed … when healing is even possible … in ways that can prevent long-term effects from injuries.”

Further exacerbating the calamity is the lack of access to healthcare and humanitarian services.




This photo taken on August 3, 2021, shows Palestinian amputee players compete during a football match at the Yarmouk Stadium in Gaza City on August 3, 2021. Israel’s 16-year blockade of the Gaza Strip and its ongoing military offensive have deprived people with disabilities of necessary assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and artificial limbs. (AFP)

Hospitals have been overwhelmed with wounded, while many have reportedly been damaged in the fighting. According to World Health Organization figures, 304 attacks have directly impacted healthcare infrastructure and personnel, affecting 94 facilities and 79 ambulances.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza has also prevented necessary medication, such as painkillers, antibiotics and anesthetics, from reaching the enclave, meaning healthcare professionals are unable to offer their patients pain relief or treat infections.

According to Handicap International’s December report, many of those injured in Gaza may needlessly develop long-term disabilities that could have been avoided.

“Many people injured by bombing and shelling experience fractures, requiring urgent orthopedic care to prevent irreversible complications such as pain, muscle contractions and deformities,” Florence Daunis, the NGO’s operations director, said in the report.

The impacts of these wounds are also borne by the survivors’ relatives, mostly women, who find themselves forced into “a lifelong, avoidable role as caregiver,” Salavert told Arab News.




A Palestinian woman watches over her 14-year-old daughter Lama Al-Agha at the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, on October 31, 2023, where she is being treated for injuries arising from an Israeli strike. Lama's sister Sarah is in an adjacent bed not shown in the photo, were wounded in an October 12 strike that killed Sara's twin Sama and brother Yahya, 12, says their mother, sat between the two hospital beds. (AFP)

Compounding the suffering of caregivers are the dire economic conditions and the toll on mental health caused by the war and the pressure of supporting disabled loved ones.

“These weapons are imposing post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety and depression on the majority of the 2.3 million inhabitants of Gaza — half of them children,” said Salavert, who expects the mental health toll of the war to persist for generations to come.

She warned that Israel’s use of weapons such as 2,000-pound bombs were “planting seeds of despair and resentment” in Palestinians.

With Israel vowing to continue military operations in the Gaza Strip for “many more months” despite international calls for an immediate ceasefire, the enclave’s disabled population, who need a lot more than humanitarian assistance, face a grim fate.




An Israeli M109 howitzer artillery cannon fires 155mm shells at Gaza Strip as it continues its offensive against Hamas militants. Unfortunately, it is the civilians who suffer from the bombardment. (Shutterstock photo)

“Aid agencies like our own need safe, unimpeded access to all areas of Gaza and the West Bank, so we can reach these individuals,” said Salavert.

“Instead, war stands in the way, blocking assistive devices, physical therapy, psychosocial support and all the other assistance they have a right to. Persons with disabilities need the laws and policies built to protect them to be upheld.”

Before Oct. 7, an average of 500 aid trucks entered the besieged Gaza Strip daily, according to Handicap International. That number dropped during the period from Oct. 20 to Nov. 21 to fewer than 100 trucks.

After the reopening of Egypt’s Rafah border crossing in November, about 100-300 trucks per day entered Gaza. But “the needs have drastically increased,” said Salavert, adding that at least 500 trucks daily are needed to aid Gaza’s starving population.

Humanitarian organizations, including the World Food Programme, have warned of famine across Gaza if adequate aid is not restored.

Salavert called for safe, rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance to meet the urgent needs of Gazan civilians, adding that aid should be allowed through all border crossings to ensure relief for the whole territory.

“Only a ceasefire could ensure that aid organizations provide the adequate support needed,” she said.

 


Israeli PM Netanyahu says not certain that Hamas leader killed in Israeli strike

Israeli PM Netanyahu says not certain that Hamas leader killed in Israeli strike
Updated 7 sec ago
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Israeli PM Netanyahu says not certain that Hamas leader killed in Israeli strike

Israeli PM Netanyahu says not certain that Hamas leader killed in Israeli strike
“Either way, we will get to the whole of the leadership of Hamas,” Netanyahu said

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was still not clear whether Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif and his deputy were killed in an Israeli strike in Gaza on Saturday but he vowed to pursue Israel’s war aims to the end.
“Either way, we will get to the whole of the leadership of Hamas,” he told a televised news conference, adding that chances of an agreement to return Israeli hostages would be improved by increasing military pressure on Hamas.

Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears

Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears
Updated 13 July 2024
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Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears

Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears
  • Abdellatif Mekki is among a group of former politicians being investigated for the 2014 killing of a prominent physician
  • The challenges facing opposition candidates are a far cry from the democratic hopes felt throughout Tunisia a decade ago

TUNIS: As elections approach in Tunisia, potential candidates are facing arrest or being summoned to appear in court as authorities clamp down on those planning to challenge President Kais Saied.
On Friday, a judge in a Tunis court put a potential presidential candidate under a gag order and restricted his movements. Abdellatif Mekki, who served as Tunisia’s health minister and was a prominent leader of the Islamist movement Ennahda before founding his own political party, is among a group of former politicians being investigated for the 2014 killing of a prominent physician.
His political party, Work and Accomplishment, has decried the timing of the murder charges as politically motivated due to his plans to run against Saied in Tunisia’s October election.
“We strongly condemn these arbitrary measures, considering them political targeting of a serious candidate in the presidential elections,” it said in a statement Friday.
Mekki is the latest potential candidate to face legal obstacles before campaigning even gets underway in the 12 million person North African nation.
The challenges facing opposition candidates are a far cry from the democratic hopes felt throughout Tunisia a decade ago. The country emerged as one of the Arab Spring’s only success stories after deposing former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, holding peaceful, democratic elections and rewriting its constitution in 2014.
Since 2019, observers have been alarmed at growing signs of a democratic backslide. Saied has imprisoned political opponents, suspended parliament and rewritten the constitution to consolidate the power of the presidency. Despite Tunisia’s ongoing political and economic challenges, large segments of the population continue to support him and his populist rhetoric targeting corrupt elites and foreign interference into domestic affairs.
About a week before Mekki, Lotfi Mraihi, a physician and veteran politician who had also announced plans to run for president, was arrested on money laundering related charges.
Mraihi, the president of the nationalist Republican People’s Union party, was kept in custody after a judge issued an additional warrant adding to charges filed against him in January.
A court spokesperson in Tunis told Radio Mosaique that the arrest warrant was served “on suspicion of money laundering, transfer of assets and opening of bank accounts abroad without the Central Bank’s approval.”
Last January, the court sentenced Mraihi to a suspended six-month prison term as part of an investigation into a 2019 case related to vote-buying allegations.
The Tunisian non-governmental organization Legal Agenda described the arrest as a show of force.
“The arrest of the presumed candidate, Lotfi Mrahi, represents a new step by the authorities in tightening its grip on the electoral process, after announcing ‘tailor-made’ conditions for candidacy, while judicial rulings ensure that the rest of the candidates in the race are besieged,” it said in a statement last week.
The arrests add Mekki and Mraihi to the list of Tunisian politicians pursued by the courts in Saied’s Tunisia.
Amnesty International said in February that over the year prior more than 20 political critics of Saied’s government had been arrested, detained or convicted on charges related to their political activity.
The pursuit of Saied’s political opponents has spanned the political spectrum, from Tunisia’s lslamists like Ennahda’s 83-year-old leader Rached Ghannouchi and nationalists like Free Destourian Party President 49-year-old Abir Moussi.
Ghannouchi has been behind bars since May 2024, facing foreign interference charges that Ennahda, the country’s largest Islamist party, has decried as politically motivated.
Tunisia’s anti-terrorism court sentenced him to one year in prison and a fine following public statements he made at a funeral in February 2022, when he appeared to call the president “a tyrant.”
Ghannouchi continues to face legal challenges. This weekend, the court sentenced him to three years in prison on charges that he was involved in an illicit foreign financing scheme during the last presidential election.
Moussi, a popular right-wing figure who appeals to Tunisians nostalgic for the pre-revolution era, was arrested in October 2023. She was initially detained while being investigated under a controversial cybercrime law after Tunisia’s election authority filed a complaint against her. The complaint came after Moussi criticized a lack of transparency and the presidential decrees guiding the electoral process.
Moussi’s party had announced plans to challenge Saied in October before her arrest and confirmed them earlier this month, though she remains imprisoned.
The National Salvation Front — a coalition of secular and Islamist parties including Ennahda — has said Tunisia can’t hold a legitimate election in such a political climate. The group has denounced the process as a sham and said it won’t endorse or nominate a candidate.
This arrests have sparked outrage among individual political parties and inflamed worries about the country’s ailing political and economic atmosphere landscape.
Work and Accomplishment, Mekki’s party, said his Friday arrest would “confuse the general political climate, undermine the credibility of the electoral process and harm Tunisia’s image.”


GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine

GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine
Updated 13 July 2024
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GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine

GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine
  • Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi was speaking at an Arab Parliament plenary session in Cairo

LONDON: The Gulf Cooperation Council remains “firm and absolute” in its support of the Palestinian people, its secretary-general said on Saturday.

Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, who was speaking at an Arab Parliament plenary session in Cairo, said the GCC fully backs the Palestinians’ struggle to attain a state and their “legitimate rights.”

Albudaiwi also praised the role of the Arab Parliament and its efforts to promote collective action, especially while the Arab world was facing “immense and painful challenges,” foremost among them the Palestine cause, which, he added would “always remain the central and primary Arab priority,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

This had been consistently reflected in the “clear and unwavering positions adopted by the GCC since its establishment,” he said.

“The tragic situation under which the Palestinian people are suffering, represented in the continuing crimes and violations by the Israeli occupation forces in Gaza Strip and other Palestinian territories, is a deep wound in the heart of every Arab and Muslim,” he continued, adding that Israel’s actions were not only a violation of human rights and international laws, but also a “blatant challenge to all human values and principles.”

The GCC has repeatedly called on the international community to adopt effective measures to ensure an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. It has also called for a de-escalation of violence against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem and the holy Islamic sites, and a stop to settlement activities and land confiscation.

Albudaiwi reiterated the GCC’s call for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative and “all relevant international resolutions.”

He said cooperation between the GCC, the Arab Parliament and other Arab institutions stemmed from a belief that “unity and solidarity among Arab states is the optimal path to achieve security, stability, and prosperity for the region.”


Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt

Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt
Updated 13 July 2024
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Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt

Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt
  • Grundberg informed Houthis would only take part in talks with Yemeni government

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia on Saturday rejected a demand by UN Yemen Envoy Hans Grundberg to hold discussions with the Yemeni government to resolve knotty economic problems, especially the government’s punitive actions against Sanaa banks.

In a post on X, Hussein Al-Ezzi, the militia’s deputy foreign minister, said that Grundberg was informed that the Houthis would only take part in talks with the Yemeni government about implementing the UN-brokered road map to end the war in Yemen, undermining his efforts to end the country’s deepening economic divisions.

“There will be no negotiations save in the context of addressing the implementation of the agreed-upon road map,” Al-Ezzi said.

The UN Yemen envoy has asked the government and the Houthis to meet without preconditions to discuss financial issues and their effect on Yemen’s deteriorating humanitarian situation, his office said.

“We believe a dialogue, in good faith and without preconditions, is the best possible way to address several important economic issues, including the banking sector issue, and come to solutions that prioritize the interests of the Yemeni people,” Mayy El-Sheikh, director of strategic communications and public information at Grundberg’s office, told Arab News.

In a letter dated July 10, Grundberg urged the chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, to halt the government’s most recent decision to revoke the licenses of six banks in Houthi-held Sanaa that refused to relocate their offices to the southern city of Aden, the interim capital of Yemen.

Grundberg also encouraged the Yemeni government to engage in negotiations with the Houthis to resolve economic issues.

The envoy, in his letter, expressed sympathy for the Yemeni government’s anger over the Houthi attacks on oil terminals, which resulted in the cessation of oil exports.

But he also cautioned that the government’s punitive measures against the banks in Sanaa would worsen the living conditions of Yemenis and potentially reignite the war.

The PLC agreed on Friday to suspend the revocation of six Sanaa bank licenses and to begin talks with the Houthis on the condition that the dialogue would focus on resuming oil exports, unifying currencies, and addressing the Houthis’ measures against banking and trading, including trade harassment and the militia’s ban on imports from government-controlled areas.

The Houthis have prevented the circulation of banknotes printed by the Yemeni government, attacked oil terminals in government-controlled provinces, banned cooking gas imports from government-controlled Marib, and prohibited traders in areas they control from importing goods through Aden and other government ports, all in an effort to drive the Yemeni government into bankruptcy.

The government responded by directing banks and state bodies to relocate their offices from Sanaa to Aden, withdrawing old banknotes that were commonly used in Houthi areas, restricting the issuing or receiving of international transfers to authorized banks, and most recently, revoking the licenses of six banks in Sanaa.

Meanwhile, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said on Friday evening that militia forces targeted the Chrysalis ship twice in the Red Sea and the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, using ballistic missiles and drones, for allegedly breaching the group’s prohibition on sailing to Israel.

It is the latest in a series of claims by the Houthis concerning attacks on ships in the Red Sea and other vital maritime channels off Yemen.

The militia has described the campaign as an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Also on Friday, US Central Command said that its forces had destroyed three drones in a Houthi-controlled part of Yemen.


Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq

Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq
Updated 13 July 2024
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Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq

Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq
  • The clashes occurred while police and army forces conducted a search for militants
  • One of at least three police injured was in critical condition, police said


BAGHDAD: Four police officers were killed and at least three injured in clashes between Iraqi government forces and Daesh militants in Diyala province in eastern Iraq on Saturday, police and medical sources said.
The clashes occurred while police and army forces conducted a search for militants taking shelter in farmland areas in the town of Khan Bani Saad in Diyala province, police sources said.
Two police colonels said the clashes were ongoing and militants are using snipers to prevent police and soldiers from advancing.
One of at least three police injured was in critical condition, police said.
Iraq’s security situation has been relatively stable in recent years after the chaos of the 2003-US-led invasion and years of bloody sectarian conflict that followed.
Baghdad is now looking to draw down the U.S-led international coalition that helped defeat Daesh and still remain in the country in an advisory role, saying local security forces can handle the threat themselves.