Gaza health ministry says war deaths exceed 30,000 as famine looms

Gaza health ministry says war deaths exceed 30,000 as famine looms
Displaced Palestinian children wait to receive free food at a tent camp, amid food shortages, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip (REUTERS)
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Updated 29 February 2024
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Gaza health ministry says war deaths exceed 30,000 as famine looms

Gaza health ministry says war deaths exceed 30,000 as famine looms
  • Mediators say a truce deal between Israel and Hamas could be just days away
  • Children died “due to malnutrition, dehydration and widespread famine” at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital

Gaza Strip: The Hamas-run health ministry said Thursday more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the war between the militant group and Israel began nearly five months ago.
While mediators say a truce deal between Israel and Hamas could be just days away, aid agencies have sounded the alarm of a looming famine in Gaza’s north.
Children have died “due to malnutrition, dehydration and widespread famine” at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, said the health ministry, whose spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra has called for “immediate action” from international organizations to prevent more of these deaths.
Citing the deteriorating conditions in Gaza, USAID head Samantha Power said Israel needed to open more crossings so that “vitally needed humanitarian assistance can be dramatically surged.”
“This is a matter of life and death,” Power said in a video posted on social media platform X.
The latest overall toll for Palestinians killed in the war came after at least 79 people died overnight across the war-torn Gaza Strip, the health ministry said Thursday.
Mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been seeking a six-week pause in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which in response vowed to eliminate the Palestinian Islamist group that rules in Gaza.
Negotiators are hoping a truce can begin by the start of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month that kicks off March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
The proposals reportedly include the release of some Israeli hostages held in Gaza in exchange for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
Short of the complete withdrawal Hamas has called for, a source from the group said the deal might see Israeli forces leave “cities and populated areas,” allowing the return of some displaced Palestinians and humanitarian relief.
US President Joe Biden is “pushing all of us to try to get this agreement over the finish line,” said his secretary of state, Antony Blinken.
The crucial southern Gaza city of Rafah is the main entry point for aid crossing the border from neighboring Egypt.
But the World Food Programme said no humanitarian group had been able to deliver aid to the north for more than a month, accusing Israel of blocking access.
Neighbouring Jordan has coordinated efforts to air-drop supplies over southern Gaza.
“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza,” the World Food Programme’s deputy executive director Carl Skau said.
Israeli officials have denied blocking supplies, and the army on Wednesday said “50 trucks carrying humanitarian aid” had made it to northern Gaza in recent days.
The war was triggered by an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory military campaign in Gaza has left hundreds of thousands displaced, with nearly 1.5 million people now packed in Rafah.
In a sign of growing desperation among Gazans over living conditions, a rare protest was held Wednesday by residents over the soaring prices of commodities.
“Everyone is suffering inside these tents,” said Amal Zaghbar, who was displaced and sheltering in a makeshift camp.
“We’re dying slowly.”
Israel has repeatedly threatened a ground offensive on Rafah, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying a truce would only delay it, as such an operation was needed for “total victory” over Hamas.
Egypt — which borders Rafah — says an assault on the overcrowded city would have “catastrophic repercussions.”
While Israel’s plans for post-war Gaza exclude any mention of the Palestinian Authority, its top ally the United States and other powers have called for a revitalized PA, which governs the occupied West Bank, to take charge of the territory.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki said a “technocratic” government without Gaza’s rulers Hamas was needed to “stop this insane war” and facilitate relief operations and reconstruction.
His government, based in the West Bank, resigned this week, with prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh citing the need for change after the war ends.
A government that includes Hamas — longtime rivals of president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party, which controls the PA — would “be boycotted by a number of countries,” Al-Maliki told a news conference in Geneva.
On Thursday, Palestinian factions — including Hamas and Fatah — were expected to arrive in Moscow for a meeting at Russia’s invitation.
“The central goal is how to unite the Palestinian ranks,” Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative — a civilian political party — told Qatar state TV from Moscow.
In Israel, Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure to bring the hostages home.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant insisted the government was “making every effort.”
A group of 150 Israelis started a four-day march from Reim, near the Gaza border, to Jerusalem, calling for the government to reach a deal.
“No one should be left behind,” said Ronen Neutra, father of captive Omer Neutra, an Israeli soldier who is also a US citizen.


Global airline body calls for release of $720 million in held revenues by Pakistan, Bangladesh

Global airline body calls for release of $720 million in held revenues by Pakistan, Bangladesh
Updated 2 min 10 sec ago
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Global airline body calls for release of $720 million in held revenues by Pakistan, Bangladesh

Global airline body calls for release of $720 million in held revenues by Pakistan, Bangladesh
  • IATA asks Pakistan in a statement to simplify the ‘onerous’ repatriation process causing ‘unnecessary delays’
  • The international organization says airlines are unable to repatriate $399 million from the Pakistani market alone

KARACHI: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Wednesday asked Pakistan and Bangladesh to release airline revenues amounting to $720 million, saying the two countries were holding it in contravention of international agreements.

IATA, an international organization representing the global airline industry, asked Pakistan to simplify the “onerous” repatriation process involving audit and tax exemption certificates in a statement, pointing out such procedures caused “unnecessary delays.”

Bangladesh, it said, had a more standardized system, though aviation needed to be a higher central bank priority to facilitate access to foreign exchange.

“The situation has become severe with airlines unable to repatriate over $720 million ($399 million in Pakistan and $323 million in Bangladesh) of revenues earned in these markets,” the statement informed.

IATA’s regional vice president for Asia-Pacific Philip Goh emphasized that the timely repatriation of revenues to different countries was critical for payment of dollar denominated expenses such as lease agreements, spare parts, overflight fees and fuel.

“Delaying repatriation contravenes international obligations written into bilateral agreements and increases exchange rate risks for airlines,” he said. “Pakistan and Bangladesh must release the more than $720 million that they are blocking with immediate effect so that airlines can continue to efficiently provide the air connectivity on which both these economies rely.”

Goh maintained that his organization recognized the two governments were facing difficult challenges, making it necessary for them to determine how to utilize foreign currencies strategically.

“Airlines operate on razor-thin margins,” he continued. “They need to prioritize the markets they serve based on the confidence they have in being able to pay their expenses with revenues that are remitted in a timely and efficient fashion.”

He pointed out reduced air connectivity limited the potential for economic growth, foreign investment and exports, adding such large sums of money involved in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi markets necessitated urgent solutions.


Saudi Arabia to develop 320k new hotel rooms by 2030: Knight Frank 

Saudi Arabia to develop 320k new hotel rooms by 2030: Knight Frank 
Updated 3 min 45 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia to develop 320k new hotel rooms by 2030: Knight Frank 

Saudi Arabia to develop 320k new hotel rooms by 2030: Knight Frank 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is gearing up to expand its hospitality sector by developing 320,000 new hotel rooms by 2030, according to an analysis by global property giant Knight Frank.

The consultancy’s study disclosed that as much as 67 percent of the planned hotel room supply in the Kingdom would fall in the “upscale” or “luxury” categories, referring to 4-star and 5-star accommodations, respectively. 

This move aims to cater to the projected surge in tourism, with 150 million domestic and international tourists expected by 2030.

“With a target of welcoming 150 million visitors by 2030—a 50 percent increase from its previous goal—the government is actively exploring various strategies to attract to international travelers,” Partner and Head of Hospitality at Tourism and Leisure Advisory in Middle East and Africa Turab Saleem said.

Saleem noted that this includes the development of cultural and entertainment offerings nationwide, which complement existing attractions like the Jeddah F1 Grand Prix and numerous entertainment seasons.

“Noteworthy additions include theme parks such as Boulevard World in Riyadh, alongside the licensing of 24 additional theme parks by the Saudi General Entertainment Authority over the past year,” he added.


Iran, Pakistan urge UN Security Council to take action against Israel

Iran, Pakistan urge UN Security Council to take action against Israel
Updated 6 min 14 sec ago
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Iran, Pakistan urge UN Security Council to take action against Israel

Iran, Pakistan urge UN Security Council to take action against Israel
  • The joint statement followed a three-day visit to the country by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi
  • Muslim neighbors Iran and Pakistan are seeking to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes this year

ISLAMABAD: Iran and Pakistan called on the United Nations Security Council in a joint statement issued on Wednesday to take action against Israel, saying it had “illegally” targeted neighboring countries and foreign diplomatic facilities.
The joint statement, released by Pakistan’s foreign ministry, followed a three-day visit to the country by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Explosions were heard last Friday over the Iranian city of Isfahan in what sources said was an Israeli attack. However, Tehran played down the incident and said it had no plans for retaliation.
“Recognizing that the irresponsible act of the Israeli regime forces was a major escalation in an already volatile region, both sides called on the UN Security Council to prevent the Israeli regime from its adventurism in the region and its illegal acts attacking its neighbors...,” Iran and Pakistan said in their joint statement.
Muslim neighbors Iran and Pakistan are seeking to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes this year.
Raisi, who wrapped up his visit and flew on to Sri Lanka on Wednesday, vowed to boost trade between Iran and Pakistan to $10 billion a year.
During his visit to Pakistan, Raisi was quoted by Iran’s official IRNA news agency as saying any further Israeli attack on Iranian territory
could radically change the dynamics and result in there being nothing left of the “Zionist regime.”
On April 13, Tehran launched a barrage of missiles and drones at Israel in what it said was retaliation for Israel’s suspected deadly strike on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, but almost all were shot down.
Pakistan has previously called for de-escalation by “all parties.”
Iran and Pakistan vowed during Raisi’s visit to boost trade and energy cooperation, including on a major gas pipeline deal that has faced delays due to geopolitical issues and international sanctions.


Australian counter terrorism force arrests seven teenagers after Sydney bishop stabbing

Australian counter terrorism force arrests seven teenagers after Sydney bishop stabbing
Updated 12 min 3 sec ago
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Australian counter terrorism force arrests seven teenagers after Sydney bishop stabbing

Australian counter terrorism force arrests seven teenagers after Sydney bishop stabbing
  • A team of more than 400 police and security personnel were involved in the operation
  • Police said they took the teens into custody because they posed an “unacceptable risk” to society

SYDNEY: An Australian counter terrorism team arrested seven teenagers on Wednesday linked to a boy charged with a religiously-motivated terror attack on a Sydney bishop and questioned another five people.
Police said a team of more than 400 police and security personnel were involved in the operation, which arrested associates of a 16-year-old boy charged with a terrorism offense for the knifing of Assyrian Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel during a live-streamed church service on April 15.
Police said they took the teens into custody because they posed an “unacceptable risk” to society. They will allege the teens believed in a religiously motivated violent extremist ideology. A further five people are being questioned by police.
“I can assure the community there is no ongoing threat to the community, and the action we have taken today has mitigated any risk of future or further harm,” said New South Wales state Police Deputy Commissioner David Hudson at a news conference following the arrests.
Police said in a statement that the operation was ongoing.
Coming only days after a deadly mass stabbing in Bondi, the attack on Emmanuel and fears of further attacks or reprisals against the city’s Muslim community have put the normally peaceful Sydney on edge. Gun and knife crime is rare in the city, one of the world’s safest.
The Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JTT) operation, which involved 13 raids in Sydney and the regional town of Goulburn, was a combined effort between state and federal police as well as the domestic intelligence agency.
A significant amount of electronic material was seized in the raids, police said in a statement.
Australia’s top domestic spy chief on Tuesday asked technology companies to give it access to user messages in limited circumstances so it could fight extremists.


Iran president arrives in Sri Lanka as minister sought for arrest

Iran president arrives in Sri Lanka as minister sought for arrest
Updated 18 min 18 sec ago
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Iran president arrives in Sri Lanka as minister sought for arrest

Iran president arrives in Sri Lanka as minister sought for arrest
  • Raisi traveled to the island nation after concluding a state visit to Pakistan
  • Raisi arrived in Sri Lanka to inaugurate $514 million Uma Oya irrigation and hydro-electricity project

COLOMBO: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Sri Lanka on Wednesday to inaugurate a power and irrigation project, unaccompanied by his interior minister who is being sought for arrest over a deadly 1994 bombing.
Raisi traveled to the island nation after concluding a state visit to Pakistan alongside Ahmad Vahidi, accused by Argentina of orchestrating the 1994 attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
Interpol issued a red notice requesting police agencies worldwide to take Vahidi into custody, and Argentina had asked both Pakistan and Sri Lanka to arrest him.
But the minister was not seen accompanying Raisi, who had arrived in Sri Lanka to inaugurate an Iran-backed power and irrigation project.
Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported that Vahidi was back in Iran on Tuesday, where he attended a ceremony to induct a new provincial governor.
An official from Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry told AFP that the interior minister was not listed as part of the Iranian delegation.
The 1994 assault has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected the Iran-backed group Hezbollah carried it out at Iran’s request.
Prosecutors have charged top Iranian officials with ordering the attack, though Tehran has denied any involvement.
The court also implicated Hezbollah and called the attack against the AMIA — the deadliest in Argentina’s history — a “crime against humanity.”
Delayed project
Raisi arrived at an airport in southern Sri Lanka on Wednesday morning to inaugurate the Iran-backed $514 million Uma Oya irrigation and hydro-electricity project.
It was due to be commissioned in March 2014 but sanctions against the Islamic Republic saw the project mired in a decade of delays, Sri Lanka has said.
Sri Lanka funded most of the $514 million project after an initial investment of $50 million from the Export Development Bank of Iran in 2010, while construction was carried out by Iranian firm Farab.
Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office said Raisi’s visit symbolized “the cooperation between the two nations in this significant infrastructure endeavour.”
The two reservoirs are slated to irrigate 4,500 hectares (11,100 acres) of new land, while the hydro dam generators have a capacity of 120 megawatts.
Iran is a key buyer of Sri Lanka’s tea, the island’s main export commodity.
Sri Lanka is currently repaying a legacy debt of $215 million for Iranian oil by exporting tea. The country’s only oil refinery was built by Iran in 1969.
Raisi arrived in Sri Lanka after a three-day visit to Pakistan that followed tit-for-tat missile strikes in January in the region of Balochistan, which straddles the two nations’ porous border.
Tehran carried out the first strikes against an anti-Iran group inside Pakistan, with Islamabad retaliating by hitting “militant targets” inside Iran.
Both nations have previously accused each other of harboring militants on their respective sides of the border.