Gaza battles rage as Israel vows to shut out UN agency after war

Gaza battles rage as Israel vows to shut out UN agency after war
Workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) agency talk together in the playground of an UNRWA-run school that has been converted into a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Khan Yunis (AFP)
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Updated 27 January 2024
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Gaza battles rage as Israel vows to shut out UN agency after war

Gaza battles rage as Israel vows to shut out UN agency after war
  • UNRWA helps about two thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million population
  • US, Australia, UK, Canada, Finland, Italy pause funding to agency

GAZA: Intense fighting raged Saturday in the Gaza city of Khan Yunis, the main theater of conflict where the Israeli army is targeting the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas.
The unabated hostilities came a day after the UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled Israel must prevent possible acts of genocide in the conflict but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.
Tensions rose between Israel and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees after Israel alleged several UNRWA staff were involved in the Hamas attack of October 7, leading some key donor countries to suspend funding.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Saturday that Israel wants to ensure the UN agency, with tens of thousands of staff in the territory, “will not be a part of the day after” the bloodiest ever Gaza war.

The US, Australia and Canada had already paused funding to the aid agency after the allegations. The agency has opened an investigation into several employees severed ties with them.

Britain, Italy and Finland on Saturday became the latest countries to pause funding for the agency.
Alarm has grown over the plight of civilians in Khan Yunis, the southern hometown of Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, the suspected mastermind of the October 7 attack.
AFPTV images showed thousands of civilians, among them women and children, fleeing the city on foot as an Israeli tank loomed behind them.
“They besieged us, so we fled,” said Tahani Al-Najjar, who left Khan Yunis with her daughter. “We call on the UN to intervene, to stop the war. Enough of fear and terror!“
Gaza civil defense spokesman Mahmud Bassal said the displaced endured incessant cold rain and warned of the “spread of contagious diseases.”
The Israeli army said its “troops continued to kill numerous armed terrorists from close range” and raided a weapons storage facility in Khan Yunis.
The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said at least 135 people were killed in Khan Yunis overnight.
The Hamas government said “massive tank bombardment” targeted a refugee camp in the city and its Nasser hospital.
Issuing a highly anticipated ruling on Friday, the UN’s top court said Israel must prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and allow humanitarian aid into the narrow strip of land which has been under relentless bombardment and siege for almost four months.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the case as “outrageous” while Gaza’s Hamas rulers hailed the ruling, saying it “contributes to isolating Israel and exposing its crimes in Gaza.”
The decision was based on an urgent application brought by South Africa, long a supporter of the Palestinian cause, but a broader judgment on whether genocide has been committed could take years.
“This is the first time the world has told Israel that it is out of line,” said Maha Yasin, a 42-year-old displaced Gaza woman.
“What Israel did to us in Gaza for four months has never happened in history.”
Israel’s military campaign began soon after Hamas’s October 7 attack that resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Militants also seized about 250 hostages and Israel says around 132 of them remain in Gaza, including the bodies of at least 28 dead captives.
Israel has vowed to crush Hamas, and Gaza’s health ministry says the Israeli military offensive has killed at least 26,257 people, about 70 percent of them women and children.
The army says at least 220 soldiers have been killed since Israel launched its Gaza ground operations.
With Gaza’s humanitarian crisis growing, the UN says most of the estimated 1.7 million Palestinians displaced by the war are crowded into Rafah on the southern border with Egypt.
At Khan Yunis’s Nasser Hospital, the largest in the besieged city, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said surgical capacity was “virtually non-existent.”
The charity said the hospital’s services had “collapsed” and the few staff who remained “must contend with very low supplies that are insufficient to handle mass casualty events.”
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 350 patients and 5,000 displaced people remained at the hospital as fighting continued nearby.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Israeli tanks targeted the Al-Amal hospital, another of the city’s few remaining medical facilities, and that it was “under siege with heavy gunfire.”
“There is no longer a health care system in Gaza,” MSF said.
There were 300 to 500 patients trapped at the Nasser hospital with “war-related injuries such as open wounds, lacerations from explosions, fractures and burns.”
The Israeli military accuses Hamas of operating from tunnels under Gaza hospitals and of using the medical facilities as command centers.
Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, accused the WHO this week of collusion with Hamas by ignoring Israeli evidence of Hamas’s “military use” of Gaza hospitals.
Tedros rejected the accusation, saying it could “endanger our staff who are risking their lives to serve the vulnerable.”
Relations between Israel and UNRWA soured further after the UN body said tanks had shelled one of its shelters in Khan Yunis on Wednesday, killing 13 people.
UNRWA said on Friday it had sacked several employees accused by Israel of involvement in the October 7 attack.
The allegations have prompted the United States, Canada, Australia and Italy to suspend funding to the agency.
Israel said it would seek to stop UNRWA from operating in Gaza after the war. Hamas urged the international community to ignore Israel’s “threats,” while the Palestinian Authority said the agency needed “maximum support” from donors.
Diplomatic efforts have sought scaled-up aid deliveries for Gaza and a truce, after a week-long cessation of hostilities in November saw Hamas release dozens of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
CIA chief William Burns is to meet with his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts, as well as Qatar’s prime minister, in the coming days in Paris to seek a ceasefire, a security source told AFP.
The UN Security Council will meet to discuss the ICJ’s ruling on Wednesday.

* With AFP and Reuters


Ukrainian fighter pilots train in France during European training drive

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Ukrainian fighter pilots train in France during European training drive

Ukrainian fighter pilots train in France during European training drive
Other countries including the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania are seeking to help Ukraine train its F-16 pilots
A dozen Ukrainians, some of whom have received prior training in Britain, are currently also undergoing “advanced training” for “several months”

PARIS: Future Ukrainian fighter pilots likely to fly American F-16 aircraft are receiving their initial training in the south of France with the French Air Force, the French defense minister said on Friday, amid a European training push.
The pilots are receiving “general training on the Alpha Jet (a Franco-German military aircraft), which enables Ukrainian pilots to acquire the fundamentals of flying a fighter jet,” Sebastien Lecornu said in an interview with the newspaper Ouest France.
Other countries including the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania are seeking to help Ukraine train its F-16 pilots following the green light given by the United States.
A dozen Ukrainians, some of whom have received prior training in Britain, are currently also undergoing “advanced training” for “several months” in an undisclosed location to learn how to fly fighter jets, according to a military source.
They will then join specific F-16 training programs in countries allied with Ukraine that have the aircraft, while Kyiv awaits their delivery, the same source added. France’s military does not use the F-16.
Lecornu pointed out on Friday that the French armed forces had succeeded in adapting AASM air-to-ground guided bombs on Soviet-class aircraft held by the Ukrainians.
“We have taken the lead with these AASM bombs to be able to supply Ukraine with them,” Lecornu said.
Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, France has trained 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers on its own territory and in Poland.

13 arrested over killing of Oromo opposition figure

Bate Urgessa. (Supplied)
Bate Urgessa. (Supplied)
Updated 48 min 42 sec ago
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13 arrested over killing of Oromo opposition figure

Bate Urgessa. (Supplied)
  • The 41-year-old Bate had been released on bail early last month following his arrest alongside French journalist Antoine Galindo in February

ADDIS ABABA: Police in Ethiopia have arrested 13 suspects over the killing of a prominent opposition figure from the restive state of Oromia, official regional media reported.
The body of Bate Urgessa of the Oromo Liberation Front or OLF was found dumped on a road outside the town of Meki on Wednesday, shortly after he had been arrested by “government forces,” the party said.
The US, the EU, and Britain have joined rights campaigners in calling for a full investigation into the killing of Bate, an outspoken politician who had spent several years in and out of detention.
Police in the East Shawa zone where Meki is located have arrested 13 suspects over the shooting, the Oromia Broadcasting Network said on Facebook late on Thursday, adding that Bate had been buried in a ceremony in Meki that day.
No details about the suspects were disclosed.

BACKGROUND

The US, the EU, and Britain have joined rights campaigners in calling for a full investigation into the killing of Bate Urgessa, an outspoken politician who had spent several years in and out of detention.

The 41-year-old Bate had been released on bail early last month following his arrest alongside French journalist Antoine Galindo in February.
However, OLF spokesman Lemi Gemechu said he was arrested again late on Tuesday by “government armed forces” at a hotel in his hometown of Meki, 150 km south of the capital Addis Ababa.
“He was then briefly taken to a detention center in the city,” Lemi said.
Bate’s family said he was found dead on Wednesday morning on a road on the outskirts of Meki, he added. There have been calls at home and abroad for a full investigation into his death.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission — an independent state-affiliated body — urged both the regional and central governments to conduct a “prompt, impartial and full investigation” into Bate’s killing.
The US also called for a full investigation, the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs said in a statement on X on Wednesday.
“Justice and accountability are critical for breaking the cycle of violence,” it added.
The British ambassador in Ethiopia, Darren Welch, issued a similar message, adding: “As well as justice and accountability, political dialogue is needed to end the cycle of violence affecting civilians in Oromia.”
The EU ambassador to Addis Ababa, Roland Kobia, also supported the human rights commission’s call, saying on X: “This is part of the need to ensure accountability, justice, and reconciliation.”
The largest and most populous region of Ethiopia, Oromia has been in the grip of an armed insurrection since 2018.
The OLF renounced armed struggle that year after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, himself an ethnic Oromo, came to power, prompting the Oromo Liberation Arm or OLA to split from the party.
Federal forces have been fighting OLA rebels in Oromia ever since, while peace talks have failed to yield meaningful progress.
Classified as a “terrorist organization” and referred to as OLF-Shane by Addis Ababa, the OLA has been accused by the government of orchestrating massacres, which the rebels deny.
The authorities, in turn, are accused of waging an indiscriminate crackdown that has fueled Oromo resentment.
The Oromo ethnic group accounts for about a third of the 120 million inhabitants of Africa’s second most populous country.

 


US, Japan, Philippines condemn Beijing’s South China Sea moves in summit

US, Japan, Philippines condemn Beijing’s South China Sea moves in summit
Updated 12 April 2024
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US, Japan, Philippines condemn Beijing’s South China Sea moves in summit

US, Japan, Philippines condemn Beijing’s South China Sea moves in summit
  • China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Friday the statement amounted to a “wanton smear attack” and Beijing summoned a Japanese diplomat to protest against the comments

WASHINGTON: Long-simmering tensions between China and its neighbors took center stage on Thursday as leaders of the US, Japan and the Philippines met at the White House to push back on Beijing’s stepped-up pressure on Manila in the disputed South China Sea.
US President Joe Biden’s administration announced new joint military efforts and infrastructure spending in the former American colony while he hosted Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Washington for a first-of-its-kind trilateral summit.
Topping the meeting’s agenda was China’s increasing pressure in the South China Sea, which has escalated despite a personal appeal by Biden to Chinese President Xi Jinping last year.

HIGHLIGHT

Launching the White House meeting with the three leaders, Biden affirmed that a 1950s era mutual defense treaty binding Washington and Manila would require the US to respond to an armed attack on the Philippines in the South China Sea.

“We express our serious concerns about the People’s Republic of China’s dangerous and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. We are also concerned by the militarization of reclaimed features and unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea,” the countries said in a statement issued after the summit.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Friday the statement amounted to a “wanton smear attack” and Beijing summoned a Japanese diplomat to protest against the comments.
The Philippines and China had several maritime run-ins last month that included the use of water cannon and heated verbal exchanges. The disputes center on the Second Thomas Shoal, home to a small number of Filipino troops stationed on a warship that Manila grounded there in 1999 to reinforce its sovereignty claims.
Launching the White House meeting with the three leaders, Biden affirmed that a 1950s era mutual defense treaty binding Washington and Manila would require the US to respond to an armed attack on the Philippines in the South China Sea.
“United States defense commitments to Japan and to the Philippines are iron clad,” he said.
Marcos has successfully pushed Washington to resolve longstanding ambiguity over the treaty by specifying that it would apply to disputes in that sea.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including the maritime economic zones of neighboring nations. The Second Thomas Shoal is within the Philippines’ 200-mile (320-km) exclusive economic zone.

A 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration found that China’s sweeping claims have no legal basis.
Japan has a dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea.
The three countries said their coast guards planned to conduct a trilateral exercise in the Indo-Pacific region in the coming year and establish a dialogue to enhance future cooperation.
The moves come after two prominent US senators introduced a bipartisan bill on Wednesday to provide Manila with $2.5 billion to boost its defenses against Chinese pressure.
“China’s frequent tactic is to try to isolate the target of its pressure campaigns, but the April 11 trilateral signals clearly that the Philippines is not alone,” said Daniel Russel, who served as the top US diplomat for East Asia under former President Barack Obama.
The leaders also unveiled a wide range of agreements to enhance economic ties during the meetings, including backing new infrastructure in the Philippines, aimed at ports, rail, clean energy and semiconductor supply chains.

 

 


Ireland says moving closer to recognizing Palestinian state

Ireland says moving closer to recognizing Palestinian state
Updated 12 April 2024
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Ireland says moving closer to recognizing Palestinian state

Ireland says moving closer to recognizing Palestinian state
  • “Let me this evening say our assessment is that that point is coming much closer and we would like to move together in doing so,” Harris said after meeting Sanchez
  • “The people of Israel deserve a secure and peaceful future, so do the people of Palestine. Equal sovereignty, equal respect“

DUBLIN: Ireland is close to formally recognizing a Palestinian state and would like to do so in concert with Spain and other like-minded countries, new prime minister Simon Harris said on Friday after meeting his Spanish counterpart.
Spain and Ireland, long champions of Palestinian rights, last month announced alongside Malta and Slovenia that they would jointly work toward the recognition of a Palestinian state.
The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s offensive to rout out Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region.
“Let me this evening say our assessment is that that point is coming much closer and we would like to move together in doing so,” Harris said after meeting Sanchez, the first premier to visit Dublin since Harris became prime minister this week.
“When we move forward, we would like to do so with as many others as possible to lend weight to the decision and to send the strongest message. The people of Israel deserve a secure and peaceful future, so do the people of Palestine. Equal sovereignty, equal respect.”
Israel told the four EU countries that committed to moving toward Palestinian recognition that their initiative would amount to a “prize for terrorism” that would reduce the chances of a negotiated resolution to the generations-old conflict.
The meeting with Harris was part of a number Sanchez planned this week with EU counterparts to try to garner support for the recognition of a Palestinian state.
Sanchez said following a meeting in Oslo with his Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr Store earlier on Friday that there were “clear signs” in Europe that countries in the region were prepared to recognize a Palestinian state.
Sanchez has previously said he expects Madrid to extend recognition to Palestinians by July.
Harris said Dublin would continue discussions with other like-minded countries in Europe and beyond, including at next week’s meeting of EU leaders.
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said earlier this week that he was preparing to bring a formal proposal to government on the recognition of a Palestinian state.
Since 1988, 139 out of 193 United Nations member states have recognized Palestinian statehood.


Prominent surgeon says he was denied entry to Germany for a pro-Palestinian conference

Prominent surgeon says he was denied entry to Germany for a pro-Palestinian conference
Updated 47 min 11 sec ago
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Prominent surgeon says he was denied entry to Germany for a pro-Palestinian conference

Prominent surgeon says he was denied entry to Germany for a pro-Palestinian conference
  • Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta said he arrived at Berlin airport on Friday morning before being stopped at passport control, where he was held for several hours and then told he had to return to the UK
  • Abu Sitta said his ban was to last until Sunday, covering the planned duration of the Berlin conference he was to attend, entitled the Palestine Congress

BERLIN: A prominent British-Palestinian surgeon who volunteered in Gaza hospitals during the first weeks of the Israel-Hamas war said he was denied entry to Germany Friday to take part in a pro-Palestinian conference — an event that police later ended early.
Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta said he arrived at Berlin airport on Friday morning before being stopped at passport control, where he was held for several hours and then told he had to return to the UK
Airport police said he was refused entry due to “the safety of the people at the conference and public order,” Abu Sitta told The Associated Press by phone. There was no immediate comment from German federal police.
Abu Sitta said his ban was to last until Sunday, covering the planned duration of the Berlin conference he was to attend, entitled the Palestine Congress. The gathering was to discuss a range of topics, including German arms shipments to Israel and solidarity with what organizers called the Palestinian struggle.
Berlin police said later Friday they pulled the plug on the event, attended by up to 250 people, on its first day after a livestream was shown of a person who is banned from political activity in Germany. They wouldn’t identify the person, but said they decided after a legal assessment to end the congress and asked those attending to leave.
Organizers wrote on social network X that the conference was “banned by the police without reason.”
Germany remains one of Israel’s staunchest defenders, even at a time of growing international outrage over the soaring Palestinian death toll in Gaza, which has surpassed 33,000.
German officials have stressed Israel’s right and duty to defend itself since the start of the war — though their tone has gradually shifted, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock increasingly decrying the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza and calling on Israel to allow more aid to reach the territory.
Shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7. attack on Israel, the German government implemented a formal ban on activity by or in support of Hamas.
Since the war erupted, Germany has clamped down on many pro-Palestinian activities and demonstrations, with officials citing fears of possible antisemitic or anti-Israel incitement.
The hard line has broad political support at home, but has drawn criticism.
“Germany’s deportation of Dr. Abu Sitta is a naked act of authoritarian censorship, more in line with the policies of dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and China than a rights-respecting democracy,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Washington-based human rights watchdog Democracy for the Arab World Now, or DAWN, said in a statement.
Abu Sitta, who recently volunteered with Doctors Without Borders in Gaza, has worked during multiple conflicts in the Palestinian territories, beginning in the late 1980s during the first Palestinian uprising. He has also worked in other conflict zones, including in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Friday’s congress was viewed with great wariness by German officials before it started and was heavily policed.
Earlier on Friday, German Interior Ministry spokesperson Maximilian Kall told reporters in Berlin that federal security authorities had been in touch with their local counterparts in the capital “about questions of, for instance, entry bans,” he said. He added that he couldn’t give details.