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.”


Heavy rain and flash floods kill 33 in Afghanistan

Heavy rain and flash floods kill 33 in Afghanistan
Updated 14 April 2024
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Heavy rain and flash floods kill 33 in Afghanistan

Heavy rain and flash floods kill 33 in Afghanistan
  • Most casualties were from roof collapses while some 600 houses were damaged or destroyed
  • Some 20 of the nation’s 34 provinces were lashed by heavy rains after an unusually dry winter

KABUL: At least 33 people have been killed over three days of heavy rains and flash flooding in Afghanistan, the government’s disaster management department said Sunday.
“From Friday onward, because of the rains there were flash floods which caused high human and financial losses,” department spokesman Janan Sayeq said.
“The primary information shows that, unfortunately, in the floods, 33 people were martyred and 27 people got injured.”
Most casualties were from roof collapses while some 600 houses were damaged or destroyed, nearly 600 kilometers (370 miles) of road demolished, and around 2,000 acres of farmland “flooded away,” Sayeq said.
Some 20 of the nation’s 34 provinces were lashed by the heavy rains, which have followed an unusually dry winter season which has parched terrain and forced farmers to delay planting.
Since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 the flow of foreign aid into the impoverished country has drastically diminished, hindering relief responses to natural disasters.
At least 25 people were killed in a landslide after massive snowfall in eastern Afghanistan in February, whilst around 60 were killed in a three-week spate of precipitation ending in March.
The United Nations last year warned “Afghanistan is experiencing major swings in extreme weather conditions.”
Scientists say harsh weather patterns are being spurred by climate change and after being ravaged by four decades of war Afghanistan ranks among the nations least prepared to face the phenomenon.


Pope warns against ‘spiral of violence’ after Iran attack

Pope warns against ‘spiral of violence’ after Iran attack
Updated 14 April 2024
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Pope warns against ‘spiral of violence’ after Iran attack

Pope warns against ‘spiral of violence’ after Iran attack
  • The Pope once again repeated earlier calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and negotiation

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday made a “pressing appeal” against a “spiral of violence” after Iran’s unprecedented missile and drone attack on Israel, warning of a potential regional conflagration.
“I make a pressing appeal for an end to any action which could fuel a spiral of violence that risks dragging the Middle East into an even greater conflict,” the Argentinian pontiff declared following his traditional Sunday prayer in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican.
“I am praying and following with concern, but also pain, the news that has come in recent hours about the worsening situation in Israel due to Iran’s intervention,” the pope told worshippers.
“No one should threaten the existence of others. All countries must, however, side with peace and help Israelis and Palestinians to live in two states, side by side and in security,” he said.
“That is their right,” Francis insisted as he once again repeated earlier calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and “negotiation.”
The pontiff futhermore demanded the world “help the population facing a humanitarian crisis” in Gaza and urged the “immediate release of the hostages kidnapped months ago” by Hamas, setting in train the latest chapter of violence in the region.


India’s Modi vows to boost social spending, make country into a manufacturing hub ahead of election

India’s Modi vows to boost social spending, make country into a manufacturing hub ahead of election
Updated 14 April 2024
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India’s Modi vows to boost social spending, make country into a manufacturing hub ahead of election

India’s Modi vows to boost social spending, make country into a manufacturing hub ahead of election
  • Modi has been campaigning extensively across the country, promising to expand India’s economy to $5 trillion by 2027 from around $3.7 trillion

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday vowed to boost social spending, develop infrastructure and make India into a global manufacturing hub as companies shift away from China, as he unveiled his Hindu nationalist party’s election strategy.
Modi hopes to return to power for a third five-year term. He and other leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party unveiled their promises in the world’s largest democracy days before the start of a multi-phase general election.
Modi promised to expand social programs introduced during his party’s 10-year rule, including millions of free homes for the poor, along with healthcare, cooking gas and free grain. His government has been paying 6,000 rupees ($73) a year to poor farmers.
He said his government’s policies have pulled 250 million people out of poverty since he came to power in 2014. India is the world’s most populous country with over 1.4 billion people. The BJP’s president, J.P. Nadda, said less than 1 percent of Indian people now live in extreme poverty.

HIGHLIGHT

Voting for the country’s parliament will begin on April 19 and run until June 1, and results will be announced on June 4.

India holds its elections on different days in different parts of the country, stretching over weeks. Voting for the country’s parliament will begin on April 19 and run until June 1, and results will be announced on June 4.
Most polls have predicted a victory for Modi and the BJP. But the opposition Congress Party argues that Modi has undermined India’s democracy and favored the interests of the rich.
Modi has been campaigning extensively across the country, promising to expand India’s economy to $5 trillion by 2027 from around $3.7 trillion. He also promises to put India on track to become a developed country by 2047, when the country celebrates 100 years of independence from British colonialists.
On Sunday, he said his party would develop India as a hub for the pharmaceutical, energy, semiconductor and tourism industries. He also said India will modernize its infrastructure, including its railways, airways, and waterways. And he said he will seek to increase jobs for young people and access to cheap loans for young entrepreneurs.
Modi is broadly popular in India, where he’s considered a champion of the country’s Hindu majority and has overseen rapid economic growth.
But critics say another term for the BJP could undermine India’s status as a secular, democratic nation, saying its 10 years in power have brought attacks by Hindu nationalists against the country’s minorities, particularly Muslims, and a shrinking space for dissent and free media.

 


MI5 sued by Manchester Arena bomb survivors

MI5 sued by Manchester Arena bomb survivors
Updated 14 April 2024
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MI5 sued by Manchester Arena bomb survivors

MI5 sued by Manchester Arena bomb survivors
  • Relatives of victims say failure to stop Salman Abedi before attack violated Human Rights Act
  • 22 people were murdered and hundreds injured at Ariana Grande concert in 2017

London: UK intelligence agency MI5 is being sued by hundreds of survivors of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing.

Twenty-two people were killed at an Ariana Grande concert in May that year when Salman Abedi, 22, detonated a homemade device loaded with nuts and bolts in the venue’s foyer, leaving hundreds more injured.

An inquiry into the attack subsequently found “there was a realistic possibility that actionable intelligence could have been obtained which might have led to actions preventing the attack.”

Sir John Saunders, the presiding judge in the inquiry, added that an MI5 officer had missed a “significant” opportunity to act and that there was a lack of communication between the intelligence agency and counterterrorism police.

A group of 250 survivors and relatives of those who died say MI5 could have prevented the attack, and that negligence in failing to do so breaches the “right to life” enshrined in the UK’s Human Rights Act.

MI5 will be required to present all evidence about how preventable the situation was at a hearing likely to happen in early 2025.

The inquiry found that MI5 had received information on Abedi in the months before the attack, but an official, identified as Witness J, said it had been treated as a criminal matter, and not related to terrorism. On questioning, Saunders found that other MI5 officials had held concerns at the time that this was a mistake, and that in any event, MI5 had kept the information it received about Abedi secret.

Saunders said that had it been treated differently and action taken, Abedi might conceivably have been detained on May 18, 2017 when he arrived at Manchester Airport from Libya with, it is believed, items related to bomb-making.

In 2023 MI5 Director General Ken McCallum issued an apology on behalf of the agency, saying that it was “profoundly sorry” for what had happened.

A spokesperson for three law firms representing the complainants — Hudgell Solicitors, Slater and Gordon and Broudie Jackson Canter — said: “Legal teams representing injured survivors of the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 can confirm that they have collectively submitted a group claim on behalf of more than 250 clients to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. As it is an ongoing legal matter, we are unable or provide any further details, or comment further, at this stage.”

A legal source told The Times: “This legal action is not about money or compensation, it’s about holding MI5 to account for failing to prevent 22 people dying and many hundreds more being seriously injured.”

Legal action against intelligence services in the UK, which goes through the Investigatory Powers Tribunal rather than the UK court system, is rare but not unprecedented.

In 2016 Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to issue an apology for the role played by MI6 in the rendition, detention and torture of Abdul Hakim BelHajj by the US in 2004. BelHajj’s wife, who was detained alongside him and was pregnant at the time, received £500,000 ($622,850) in compensation.

Joseph Kotrie-Monson, whose law firm represented a former British intelligence officer suing the UK government over post-traumatic stress resulting from his work, told The Times: “There is always the challenge of proving causation in any case where a public body has been accused of a failure in its duties, particularly when it comes to the security services.

“Disclosure of evidence is also often a terminal problem for any legal action, and typically the domestic courts will err on the side of caution when it comes to government bodies protecting confidential information.

“However, this particular forum, and the human rights claim, may be well suited to dealing with the challenges of a complaint against a clandestine organization like MI5.”


India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term

India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term
Updated 14 April 2024
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India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term

India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term
  • India’s general election, which begins April 19, will be held in seven stages till June 1
  • Modi is widely tipped to win record-equaling third term on the back of his 10-year record

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised on Sunday to create jobs, boost infrastructure and expand welfare programs if it wins a third term, seeking to address key voter concerns ahead of next week’s elections.

The general election, which begins on April 19, will be held in seven stages until June 1. Votes are due to be counted on June 4 and results are expected the same day.

Modi, 73, is widely tipped to win a record-equalling third term on the back of his 10-year record, which includes strong economic growth, infrastructure projects, welfare handouts and aggressive Hindu nationalism.

Surveys, however, suggest unemployment, inflation and rural distress remain issues of concern in the world’s most populous country despite its strong economy, and addressing these will be Modi’s biggest challenge.

“Our focus is on dignity of life ... on quality of life, our focus is also on creating jobs through investment,” Modi said after releasing the manifesto, titled Modi’s Guarantee, at the party headquarters in the capital.

Modi said the manifesto is focused on creating jobs in sectors such as infrastructure, aviation, railways, electric vehicles, green energy, semiconductors and pharmaceuticals, among others, in a bid to address discontent at unemployment levels that are rising despite strong economic growth.

“India’s youth will not have even imagined the number of opportunities that will come their way,” he told cheering BJP members, including top federal ministers who sat in the audience wearing stoles featuring the BJP’s lotus symbol.

CONGRESS CLAIMS EMPTY PROMISES

Congress, the main opposition party, which has been struggling to revive its fortunes, said it was not impressed by a manifesto that is filled with “empty promises.”

“Today, people want to ask what happened in the last 10 years,” Congress lawmaker Manish Tewari said. “Unemployment is rampant and inflation has broken the back of common people.

The people of the country will hold him (Modi) to account for what’s happened in the last 10 years.”

Modi also vowed to expand welfare programs, including bringing all Indians above the age of 70 under an existing free health insurance program and pushing piped cooking gas connections to all houses to follow up on a subsidized cooking gas cylinder program launched in 2016.

Other BJP promises include raising the cap on loans for non-farming small and micro borrowers, offering free housing for another 30 million poor and keeping up a free grains program for 800 million Indians until 2029.

The manifesto said the BJP government would continue to focus on a path of low inflation and fiscal prudence to achieve high economic growth.

“The ambition of the 1.4 billion people of the country is Modi’s mission,” Modi said. “I am placing this manifesto before the people to seek their blessings. Please bless us ... to increase our strength ... implement this manifesto and ensure a developed India.”

Unemployment was the primary concern of 27 percent of the 10,000 voters surveyed by Lokniti-CSDS across 19 of India’s 28 states, with rising prices coming second at 23 percent, the Hindu newspaper reported last week.

The unemployment rate rose to 5.4 percent in 2022/23, from 4.9 percent in 2013/14 just before Modi swept to power, and nearly 16 percent of urban youth in the 15-29 years age group remained unemployed in 2022/23 due to poor skills and a lack of quality jobs, official data shows.

“BJP does not even want to discuss the most important issues related to people’s lives,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi posted on X. 

“This time the youth is not going to fall into Modi’s trap, now they will strengthen the hands of Congress and bring an ‘employment revolution’ in the country.”