UNITED NATIONS: The volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal has fallen more than 40 percent in the last two months after attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, according to the United Nations, raising concerns for global trade.
The Iran-backed Houthis say they are targeting what they consider Israeli-linked commercial and military shipping in the region in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, pushing some cargo carriers to take longer and more expensive routes to avoid attack.
“We are very concerned that the attacks on Red Sea shipping are adding tensions to global trade, exacerbating (existing) trade disruptions due to geopolitics and climate change,” UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) head Jan Hoffman told reporters Thursday.
According to the UNCTAD, ships diverting from the Red Sea — sailing instead around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope — has led to a 42 percent drop in transit through the Suez Canal in the last two months.
The Suez Canal, in Egypt, connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. More than 80 percent of the volume of international goods trade is done via sea, Hoffman said.
“Maritime transport is really the lifeline of global trade,” he said.
The number of weekly container ship transits through the Suez has fallen by 67 percent year-on-year, according to the UNCTAD, as more than 20 percent of the world’s container trade goes through the Suez Canal.
“Given that it’s above all the larger container ships that divert from the Suez Canal, the decline in container carrying capacity is even bigger,” Hoffman said.
Tanker traffic has dropped 18 percent, the transit of bulk cargo ships carrying grain and coal is down six percent and gas transport is at a standstill.
Overall, between 12 and 15 percent of world trade — 20,000 ships per year — passes through the Red Sea, providing a link between Europe and Asia.
The situation is made even more dire as other global maritime trade routes also face disruption, with transit through the Black Sea severely restricted since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, sending global food prices soaring.
A drought in Central America has led to a drop in water levels in the Panama Canal, significantly reducing the amount of traffic able to cross the essential route.
“Prolonged disruptions in major trade routes would disrupt global supply chains, leading to delayed deliveries of goods, increased costs and potential inflation,” the UNCTAD warned.
Israel on board with Gaza peace deal, as US airdrops begin
International mediators have been working for weeks to broker a deal to pause fighting
Ball is in Hamas’ camp now, says senior US administration official on Gaza peace deal
Updated 03 March 2024
WASHINGTON DC: Israel has broadly accepted a ceasefire deal with Hamas, a senior US official said Saturday, as the first American air drops of humanitarian aid were carried out over war-ravaged Gaza.
The framework agreement envisages a six-week cessation of hostilities, which could begin immediately if the Palestinian militant group signs off on the release of the most vulnerable hostages it holds, the official told reporters on a call.
“The Israelis have more or less accepted it,” the administration official said. “Right now, the ball is in the camp of Hamas.”
The announcement came hours after US military cargo planes began airdropping humanitarian aid into the besieged Gaza Strip.
The United Nations has warned of famine in Gaza, and more than 100 people were left dead earlier this week in a frenzied scramble for food from a truck convoy delivering aid, with Israeli forces opening fire on the crowd.
Saturday’s drop, which included 38,000 meals, was conducted “to provide essential relief to civilians affected by the ongoing conflict,” the US Central Command said.
A CENTCOM official told AFP that the meals were made up of US military rations that did not contain pork, the consumption of which is prohibited by Islam.
Negotiators from regional powers have been working around the clock to secure a Gaza truce by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in about one week.
“It will be a six-week ceasefire in Gaza starting today if Hamas agrees to release the defined category of vulnerable hostages... the sick, the wounded, elderly and women,” the administration official said.
Hamas militants took about 250 hostages during their unprecedented cross-border attack on Israel on October 7, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 that Israel says are presumed dead. It was unclear how many of the remaining hostages are deemed vulnerable.
The United States hopes any truce would create space for a more enduring peace. A Hamas delegation was expected to fly to Cairo on Saturday for talks on a truce, a source close to the group told AFP.
The administration official said a ceasefire would also allow a “significant surge” in humanitarian aid to Gaza, with airdrops not seen as a replacement for full-scale relief convoys.
“None of these — maritime corridors, airdrops — are an alternative to the fundamental need to move assistance through as many land crossings as possible. That’s the most efficient way to get aid in at scale,” a second US official told reporters.
The brutal October 7 attack by Hamas resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, according to official figures.
Israel responded with a relentless assault on Hamas-controlled Gaza that has taken a devastating toll on civilians trapped there, killing more than 30,000 people, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The amount of aid brought into Gaza by truck has plummeted during nearly five months of war, and Gazans are facing dire shortages of food, water and medicines.
Some foreign militaries have airdropped supplies to Gaza, sending long lines of aid pallets floating down into the war-torn territory on parachutes.
Jordan has been conducting many of the operations with the support of countries including Britain, France and the Netherlands, while Egypt sent several military planes on an air drop Thursday together with the United Arab Emirates.
Biden has pushed Israel to reduce civilian casualties and allow aid in, while at the same time he has maintained military assistance for the key US ally.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby described the airdrops as a “tough military operation” that required careful planning by the Pentagon for the safety of both Gazan civilians and US military personnel.
Palestinian Scout Association members volunteer to assist the displaced in war-ravaged Gaza
PSA stepped in and commissioned tens of its members as volunteers to support and assist people cope with life in the wild nature and makeshift shelters
“We as PSA members have a duty and obligation towards the people of Gaza. We are committed to supporting them as much as possible,” scout leader Sahar Abu-Zaid tells Arab News
Updated 03 March 2024
BEIRUT: Over 150 scout members of the Palestinian Scout Association have been risking their own lives and volunteering to aid and support children, women and displaced families in war-ravaged Gaza.
Basic life necessities such as food, water, homes, electricity, healthcare, education and others have vanished since Israel launched its unprecedented war against Gaza following the Hamas Oct. 7 attacks.
As nearly 2 million Gazans were displaced and took refuge at shelters and makeshift tents not being able to eat, drink, wash, sleep and live normally, that was when the Palestinian Scout Association stepped in and commissioned tens of its members as volunteers to support and assist people cope with life in the wild nature and makeshift shelters.
One of those PSA members is scout group leader Sahar Jamal Abu-Zaid who along tens of her fellow scout-mates put their own lives at risk and rush to ‘help and support displaced people and traumatized kids because it is our duty and obligation to do so’.
Describing the situation from Gaza as ‘difficult, disastrous and extremely dangerous’ she told Arab News on Saturday: “We as PSA members have a duty and obligation towards the people of Gaza … our people! We are committed to supporting them as much as possible, despite the deep wounds and scars that the war has inflicted on them.”
A scout is an expert in wildlife and knows, according to Abu-Zaid, how to survive in outside nature while dealing with tents, wood, fireplaces, ropes and cooking.
“We have been helping the displaced people through applying our scouting skills by teaching them how to use ropes to make laundry lines, setting up tents for sleeping, making fireplaces to stay warm and building makeshift ovens to cook as well,” she elaborated.
They have also been volunteering with Sharek Youth Forum (SYF), an NGO that operates in Gaza and the West Bank, through providing psychological support to disturbed children and troubled adults who were displaced from their homes and took refuge at different shelters.
She also revealed that scout volunteers are managing a major kitchen in cooperation with World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit NGO devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters.
“Scout members are cooking huge meals, as they used to do in camps. We package the food meals and distribute them. We also have a bread project, whereby we bake bread on woodfire and distribute them along with the meals. So far we have been able to provide over 10,000 meals,” Abu-Zaid told the newspaper.
As part of the efforts of Qatar’s Education Above All Foundation and the United Nations Population Fund in responding to the Gaza crisis, scout members have also been volunteering in different support activities and programs provided to assist the refugees, especially children.
There are more than 150 PSA members volunteering, working nonstop and exerting ‘extraordinarily tremendous efforts’ [amid a life-threatening and hazardous situation] to assist refugees, the displaced, women, children and elderlies across all parts of Gaza, she said.
The 31-year-old accounting graduate said she and all her fellow scout-mates participate in a campaign titled ‘Participate with your People’ that was launched by SYF and aims at organising individual and group activities for children and supporting women and parents in how to identify and manage children’s trauma symptoms.
Driven by the curiosity to learn about scouting life and the aim to develop new life-skills and enjoying wildlife and outside activities, Abu-Zaid joined PSA in 2017 at the age of 25.
“Today, we are living minute by minute, and we are at risk of getting killed by an Israeli airstrike at any moment. Yet, we have to keep moving forward … we are committed to drawing smiles on the faces of traumatized children by involving them in different fun activities and games that we learnt at scouts. We are also involving grownups, mainly women, in group discussions and other activities that could help them learn how to survive amid this warzone,” she said.
An accounting graduate, Abu-Zaid called on for an immediate ceasefire saying: “It is only an immediate ceasefire that would save our lives. We are surrounded by nonstop massacres … the latest was that of Al-Rasheed streets when 10s were killed by Israeli fire while waiting to collect aid materials and food support. People die every minute and this has got to stop instantly with an instant ceasefire.”
In a news report published in the Guardian earlier this week, Mai al-Afifi, a volunteer herself displaced from Gaza City to Deir al-Balah, was quoted as saying: “We do see the games and singing make a difference … for just a little while, the children can relieve their psychological stress.”
Nader al-Raqab, PSA’s leader in Khan Younis, was apprehended by Israelis a few weeks back and has not been heard from since.
Houthi leader says UK’s Sunak has chance to recover Rubymar by letting aid into Gaza
The Houthis insist their attacks will continue until Israel stops its combat operations in the Gaza Strip, which have enraged the wider Arab world and seen the Houthis gain international recognition
Updated 03 March 2024
CAIRO: A senior Houthi leader said on Saturday he held British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his government responsible for the sinking of the UK-owned Rubymar.
Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, head of Yemen’s Houthi supreme revolutionary committee, also said on X: “Sunak has a chance to recover the Rubymar by allowing aid trucks into Gaza.”
Yemen’s internationally recognized government said earlier on Saturday that the Rubymar, which was attacked by Houthi militants last month, had sunk in the Red Sea and warned of an “environmental catastrophe” from the ship’s cargo of fertilizer.
Tunisian authorities investigate a fire at a synagogue, question a suspect in custody
In May, five people were killed in a shooting attack on the historic Ghriba synagogue on Tunisia’s island of Djerba
Updated 03 March 2024
TUNIS, Tunisia: A man believed to have started a fire in a garden at a synagogue in the east of Tunisia is in custody and under investigation for targeting a Jewish house of worship, officials said Saturday.
Hichem ben Ayad, the public prosecutor in the eastern port city of Sfax, told The Associated Press that a garden in the courtyard of the city’s synagogue was set on fire last Sunday. An investigation was opened and a suspect was arrested, he said.
The suspect is a public official his late 40s, ben Ayad said. He is being questioned to establish if the fire — which the prosecutor said was “a criminal act” — was premediated and deliberately targeted the Jewish house of worship.
There were no casualties in the fire that was extinguished the same day, ben Ayad said. He added that the blaze did not cause significant damage to the building. The synagogue appeared to be empty at the time, he said.
In May, five people were killed in a shooting attack on the historic Ghriba synagogue on Tunisia’s island of Djerba. Authorities said a Tunisian national guardsman was behind the attack.
The assailant intentionally targeted the ancient synagogue on the Mediterranean island in a premeditated act, Tunisian officials said.
Kuwait calls on voters to elect members of the national assembly on April 4
Last month, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah issued a decree to dissolve parliament
Updated 03 March 2024
KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait called on Saturday for voters to elect members of the national assembly on April 4, Kuwait News Agency said.
On Wednesday, government spokesman Amer Al-Ajmi said the Kuwaiti Cabinet had approved a draft emiri decree inviting voters to elect the National Assembly and added that registration of candidates would begin on March 4.
Last month, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah issued a decree to dissolve the parliament.
The decree was based on the national assembly’s “violation of the constitutional principles,” KUNA added.
The assembly was elected in June 2023 following a proposal by the prime minister that was approved by the cabinet.