My ‘worst frustration’ is I have no power to end Gaza war, UN chief tells Arab News

Special My ‘worst frustration’ is I have no power to end Gaza war, UN chief tells Arab News
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 February 2024
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My ‘worst frustration’ is I have no power to end Gaza war, UN chief tells Arab News

My ‘worst frustration’ is I have no power to end Gaza war, UN chief tells Arab News
  • Antonio Guterres warns of ‘gigantic tragedy’ if Israel expands offensive into Rafah
  • ‘I’m totally committed to work for the Palestinians to be able to have their own state’

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday expressed deep sadness at his inability to end the war in Gaza, “or at least to create the conditions for people to respect international law and international humanitarian law.”

He told Arab News: “My worst frustration is to see suffering at such a large scale and to know that I haven’t the power to stop it. But it’s a reality: I haven’t the power to stop it.”

He added: “I can raise my voice, and I do it. I can sometimes convene, but people need to be willing to be convened.

“But the biggest frustration I have is not to have the power to end this conflict, or at least to create the conditions for people to respect international law and international humanitarian law.”

Speaking at his annual press conference to highlight his agenda priorities for this year, Guterres warned that a “gigantic tragedy” could happen in Rafah if Israel follows through on its intent to expand its offensive into the southern town where over 1 million Palestinians are sheltering.

“Half of Gaza’s population is now crammed into Rafah. They have nowhere to go. They have no homes, and they have no hope,” he said, again calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of hostages, and the need for “real, visible, concrete steps” towards a two-state solution.

He voiced his disagreement “with the policies of the government of Israel, with the settlements, and with a number of other initiatives that have undermined the two-state solution.

“And I’ve also expressed my opinion that the way the military operations have been conducted in Gaza has been with the absolutely unacceptable excess of people being killed, and the destruction.”

He added: “I’ll always be a strong supporter of the right of Israel to live in peace and security. I’ve always been a committed fighter against antisemitism.

“But I’m also totally committed to work for the Palestinians to be able to have their own state and to have their self-determination recognized, and to the end of occupation.”

Guterres sent a message to the people of Gaza of “total solidarity with the horrible suffering,” and “total commitment to do everything to mobilize the UN system to provide the possible assistance we can provide, and at the same time to go on with a very active global advocacy for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to take place.”

The press conference came at a time when Qatar has been working with the US and Egypt to broker a ceasefire that would involve a halt in fighting for several weeks, and the release of the more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas after its Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.

Guterres said it is in the interest of everybody, “and in the particular interest of the government of Israel,” to make sure that these negotiations are successful, reiterating that “the quest of liberation of hostages is absolutely essential from a human point of view. I know the suffering that’s related to that.”

As he has done repeatedly in the past five months, Guterres again condemned the “horrible terror attacks” of Oct. 7 by Hamas, but he also described Israel’s response as amounting to collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza.

“Israeli leaders have been telling repeatedly they aren’t fighting the Palestinian people, they’re fighting Hamas.

“If that’s the case, I can’t understand how this is conducted in such a way that has led in Gaza to reportedly around 28,000 people killed, 75 percent of the population displaced, and the destruction of entire neighborhoods … I think there’s something wrong in the way the military operations have been conducted.”

Asked whether Hamas, in allegedly using civilians as human shields, bears responsibility for the high death toll, Guterres said: “I’ve condemned the use of human shields. I even said they’re a violation of international humanitarian law.

“But the same international humanitarian law is clear that even when there are human shields, there’s an obligation to protect civilians.

“So in that regard, I think we’re abiding by principles without double standards. And I think it’s very important to be credible, not to have double standards.”

On Jan. 26, in a case brought by South Africa, the International Court of Justice issued what it called emergency measures.

Although the ICJ did not uphold South Africa’s request to order Israel to immediately halt its operations in Gaza, it did instruct Israel to prevent its military from committing acts that might be considered genocidal, to prevent and punish incitement to genocide, and to enable humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza. The court also ruled that it had the legal right to proceed with the genocide case.

Guterres expressed his “full support” for the ICJ, and said it is the right entity to pronounce itself on these issues.

“We fully support the decisions of the International Court of Justice, and (it) is absolutely essential that all the (court’s) decisions are implemented,” he added.

Guterres said while it is true that the US is an ally to Israel, “and that has been said time and time again by all leaders in the US and Israel,” it is also true, “and can testify it myself, that there has been a lot of pressure by the United States in relation to Israel in different areas of humanitarian aid.

“I remember several phone calls (from) President (Joe) Biden to Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu to solve problems that we have on the ground and couldn’t solve by ourselves.

“And I can also testify that there has been a clear pressure from the United States in order for full respect of international humanitarian law.”

On whether Washington is using its leverage strongly enough to get Israel to comply with international demands, Guterres said: “I sincerely don’t know what’s exactly in their power.”


UK MPs vote down plan to protect Afghan ‘heroes’ from deportation

UK MPs vote down plan to protect Afghan ‘heroes’ from deportation
Updated 11 sec ago
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UK MPs vote down plan to protect Afghan ‘heroes’ from deportation

UK MPs vote down plan to protect Afghan ‘heroes’ from deportation
  • 10B amendment seeks to exclude Afghan veterans from removal to Rwanda
  • Top military officials warn of ‘grave damage to our ability to recruit local allies in future military operations’

London: Conservative MPs in the UK have voted against a plan to prevent Afghan veterans who served alongside British soldiers from facing deportation to Rwanda.

An amendment to the controversial Rwanda bill was overturned by 312 votes to 253 on Monday, in a rejection of plans to exempt agents, allies and employees of the UK from being deported to the African country, The Independent reported.

The House of Lords’ amendment 10B is part of the larger bill, which seeks the deportation of illegal migrants to Rwanda.

Several amendments set in the House of Lords have sought to prevent Afghan veterans who fought alongside the British military in the decade-long war from being included in deportation orders.

The 10B amendment included people eligible to enter the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, which supports Afghans who helped the British campaign in their country and who are at risk under the Taliban government.

After the vote, the Rwanda bill will now return to the House of Lords for new scrutiny.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had told Conservative MPs to vote against all amendments to the bill, including 10B.

The move to exclude Afghan veterans from potential deportation to Rwanda has received support from the highest levels of Britain’s military establishment.

Thirteen senior military officials, two former chiefs of defense staff, a former defense secretary and a former UK ambassador to the US have supported the amendment.

The Sunday Telegraph carried a letter from top military officials ahead of Monday’s vote. They warned that a rejection of the amendment would cause “grave damage to our ability to recruit local allies in future military operations.”

The letter added: “It is essential that those who have made it to British shores are not unduly punished by being removed to Rwanda when the government’s scheme is up and running.”


India’s Lok Sabha election 2024: What you need to know

India’s Lok Sabha election 2024: What you need to know
Updated 1 min 54 sec ago
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India’s Lok Sabha election 2024: What you need to know

India’s Lok Sabha election 2024: What you need to know
  • India is holding the world’s biggest election starting this month, with nearly one billion people eligible to vote
  • Votes to be counted on June 4 after polling done on April 19, April 26, May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25, June 1

India is holding the world’s biggest election starting this month, with nearly 1 billion people eligible to vote and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the pole position.

WHAT IS IT?

Elections to the 543 contested seats in the lower house of parliament, called the Lok Sabha, for a term of five years. To rule, a party or a coalition needs a simple majority of 272 seats. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 303 seats the last time, followed by 52 for the main opposition Indian National Congress (INC).

In addition to the contested seats, India’s president can nominate up to two Anglo-Indians to the Lok Sabha.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, won 303 seats in 2019 general election. The second largest party, the Indian National Congress, INC, won 52 seats. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, DMK, emerged as the third largest party.

People walk past a model of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) displayed outside the office of the Election Commission of India, ahead of the country's upcoming general elections, in New Delhi on April 15, 2024. (AFP)

WHERE AND WHEN IS IT TAKING PLACE?

The elections will be conducted in seven phases partly to ensure sufficient security at polling booths across the vast country. Voters can make their choice by pressing a button on an electronic voting machine, first used in India in 1982 and more widely since the early 2000s.

Votes will be counted on June 4 after polling is done on April 19, April 26, May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25 and June 1.

The elections in the world’s largest democracy for 543 seats will be held in 7 phases.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The world’s most populous nation follows the first-past-the-post system, where voters cast a vote for a single candidate in a constituency and the candidate with the most votes wins the seat. The voting age is 18 years and contestants need to be at least 25 years old.

A total of 968 million voters are registered, out of which 497 million are men and 471 million are women. A higher percentage of women voters than men are likely to vote for the second time in a row.

WHO ARE THE MAIN CANDIDATES?

Modi headlines the race, followed by his de facto deputy Amit Shah and the main opposition face, Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party. Gandhi’s mother Sonia, the matriarch of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, is not contesting this time.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Modi is chasing a record-equalling third straight term like India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Modi says another overwhelming victory for the National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP, is crucial to meet his goal of lifting India to a developed economy by 2047 from middle-income levels. The world’s fifth-largest economy has grown fast in the past few years and Modi has “guaranteed” to take it to the third position if he wins the election.

The BJP draws its support mainly from Hindus, who form 80 percent of the country’s 1.42 billion people and for whom Modi earlier this year delivered on a key party promise of building a grand Hindu temple on a disputed site.

The opposition “INDIA” alliance, largely a center-left grouping of more than two dozen disparate parties, says a victory for it is essential to save the country’s democratic and secular setup, lift its marginalized communities, raise prices for farmers and create jobs for its young. Opinion polls, which have a mixed record in India, predict another thrashing of the Congress alliance at the hands of the BJP.


US Treasury preparing new Iran sanctions after Israel attack, Axios reports

US Treasury preparing new Iran sanctions after Israel attack, Axios reports
Updated 14 min 18 sec ago
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US Treasury preparing new Iran sanctions after Israel attack, Axios reports

US Treasury preparing new Iran sanctions after Israel attack, Axios reports
  • Iran’s actions threatened stability in the Middle East and could cause economic spillovers

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is preparing fresh sanctions on Iran in response to Iran’s attack on Israel, Axios reported on Tuesday, citing a copy of her remarks.
“Treasury will not hesitate to work with our allies to use our sanctions authority to continue disrupting the Iranian regime’s malign and destabilizing activity,” Yellen is prepared to say Tuesday, as per the Axios report.
“The attack by Iran and its proxies underscores the importance of Treasury’s work to use our economic tools to counter Iran’s malign activity,” she will further say, Axios reported.
Yellen said previously that Iran’s actions threatened stability in the Middle East and could cause economic spillovers, adding that the US would use sanctions and work with allies.


Afghanistan’s first female Olympian calls for Paris Games ban over Taliban’s rights record

Afghanistan’s first female Olympian calls for Paris Games ban over Taliban’s rights record
Updated 16 April 2024
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Afghanistan’s first female Olympian calls for Paris Games ban over Taliban’s rights record

Afghanistan’s first female Olympian calls for Paris Games ban over Taliban’s rights record
  • Friba Rezayee was 18 when she stepped onto the mat at 2004 Olympics in historic moment for her country
  • Taliban say they respect women’s rights in line with their interpretation of Islamic law and local customs

GENEVA: Friba Rezayee, the first woman to represent Afghanistan at the Olympics, has been appalled by the treatment of women since the resurgence of the Taliban and is now campaigning for the country to be kept out of the Paris Games.

Rezayee, a judoka who competed at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, has called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban Afghanistan due to the Taliban’s human rights record. She has argued that under a such ban, Afghan women should still be allowed to participate as part of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team.

“Given tons and tons of evidence about the Taliban, about their brutal treatment of women and children, they are very dangerous,” Rezayee, who now lives in Vancouver, told Reuters.

“If the IOC allows them to enter the Olympics at the heart of Europe, in Paris in 2024, it’s very dangerous for the people.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban administration, declined to comment.

The Taliban — who say they respect women’s rights in line with their interpretation of Islamic law and local customs — have closed girls’ high schools and placed travel restrictions on women without a male guardian and restricted access to parks and gyms.

Asked to comment on Rezayee’s call, the IOC referred to a statement made last month by James Macleod, its Director of National Olympic Committee Relations and Olympic Solidarity.

Macleod said at the time that the IOC was in dialogue with Afghanistan’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) and sport authorities “with the aim to reverse the current restrictions on access to sport for women and young girls in Afghanistan.”

He said that although the IOC acknowledged different views on whether Afghanistan’s NOC should be suspended, it “doesn’t believe that isolation of the Afghan sporting community at this time is the right approach.”

Separately, the IOC said that athletes needed a refugee status confirmed by the United Nations refugee agency to be eligible for the IOC Refugee Olympic Team.

'STRONGER THAN MEN WITH GUNS'

Rezayee was 18 when she stepped onto the mat in Athens in a historic moment for her country. She was convinced her pioneering role would help advance women’s rights.

“I actually believed that we would only progress from here,” she said. “When I returned from Athens, I stayed in Afghanistan and I wanted to stay in Afghanistan. I continued my training because I saw the important changes it was making in every single girl’s life.”

But her hopes of seeing her countrywomen gain more rights were crushed when the Taliban seized power in August 2021.

“It feels like whatever I did to support women’s rights and gender equality back in 2004, it has been all undone by the IOC and by the Taliban and people who tolerate the Taliban,” Rezayee said.

In February, a United Nations expert described the Taliban’s disrespect for the rights of women and girls as “unparalleled in the world,” and said their takeover had “exacerbated a high prevalence of gender-based violence against women and girls.”

The IOC suspended Afghanistan’s NOC in 1999, and the country was barred from the 2000 Sydney Games. Afghanistan was reinstated after the fall of the Taliban, in time for Rezayee to compete in Athens.

Rezayee, who left Afghanistan in 2011 and settled in Canada, founded Women Leaders of Tomorrow, a non-profit that provides scholarships and education programs for Afghan women, including athletes.

The 38-year-old has received threats for her activism.

“I believe that my principles and the principles of human rights, women’s rights and women’s dignity are stronger than men with guns,” she said.


The Philippine president says he won’t give US access to more local military bases

The Philippine president says he won’t give US access to more local military bases
Updated 16 April 2024
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The Philippine president says he won’t give US access to more local military bases

The Philippine president says he won’t give US access to more local military bases
  • “The Philippines has no plans to create any more bases or give access to any more bases,” Marcos said, without elaborating in response to a question during a forum with Manila-based foreign correspondents

MANILA, Philippines: The Philippine president said Monday his administration has no plan to give the United States access to more Philippine military bases and stressed that the American military’s presence in several camps and sites so far was sparked by China’s aggressive actions in the disputed South China Sea.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in 2022, allowed American forces and weapons access to four additional Philippine military bases, bringing to nine the number of sites where US troops can rotate indefinitely under a 2014 agreement.
The Biden administration has been strengthening an arc of security alliances in the region to better counter China, a move that dovetails with Philippine efforts to shore up its external defense, especially in the South China Sea.
Marcos’ decision last year alarmed China because two of the new sites were located just across from Taiwan and southern China. Beijing accused the Philippines of providing American forces with staging grounds, which could be used to undermine its security.
“The Philippines has no plans to create any more bases or give access to any more bases,” Marcos said, without elaborating in response to a question during a forum with Manila-based foreign correspondents.
Asked if he was concerned that allowing the US military access to Philippine bases had provoked Chinese actions in the South China Sea, Marcos said the presence of US troops was in response to China’s moves.
“These are reactions to what has happened in the South China Sea, to the aggressive actions that we have had to deal with,” he said, mentioning Chinese coast guard vessels using water cannons and lasers to deter Philippine ships from the area Beijing claims as its own.
He also mentioned collisions, blocking of Filipino fishermen and sea barriers to block ships from Scarborough Shoal, which lies in the Philippine economic zone.
Under Marcos, the Philippines has adopted a strategy of publicizing the incidents by allowing journalists to board its patrol ships to witness China’s assertive actions.
“It is crucial that the media … continue to expose these actions that not only threaten the peace and stability of the region but also undermine the rules-based order that has underpinned global development and prosperity over the previous century,” Marcos said.
China has blamed the Philippines for sparking the confrontations by intruding into what it says were Chinese territorial waters and reneging on an alleged agreement to pull away an old Philippine navy ship, which now serves as Manila’s territorial outpost in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal.
Marcos said he was not aware of any such deal, and added that he considers the deal rescinded — if it ever existed.
Last week, President Joe Biden renewed Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to defend Pacific allies in a summit with Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House. He reiterated that the US is obligated to defend the Philippines if its forces, aircraft or ships come under an armed attack.
Asked when the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines could be invoked amid territorial hostilities between China and the Philippines, Marcos cited Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as saying that could happen “if any Filipino serviceman is killed on an attack from any foreign power.”