Gaza’s hungry await aid despite convoy deaths amid dispute over supplies

Gaza’s hungry await aid despite convoy deaths amid dispute over supplies
Palestinians mourn at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa Hospital the death of loved ones killed during Israeli bombardment on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 06 March 2024
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Gaza’s hungry await aid despite convoy deaths amid dispute over supplies

Gaza’s hungry await aid despite convoy deaths amid dispute over supplies
  • Despite hunger approaching catastrophic levels in parts of Gaza, and large quantities of aid sitting waiting in warehouses to be delivered, the flow of supplies has slowed to a trickle

GENEVA, Jerusalem: Crowds of men ran through rubble-strewn Gaza City streets past fires and bullet-riddled cars in hope of reaching a rare aid convoy, risking their lives to get food for starving families as famine looms five months into Israel’s military campaign.

Aid delivery in the Palestinian enclave has collapsed, with only a fraction of the food needed getting in and very little reaching the northern areas where hospitals say children have started dying of malnutrition.

Last week the Palestinian Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Israeli forces killed 118 people trying to get aid from a convoy near Gaza City with survivors saying they were shot at. Israel said most of those killed were trampled or run over during a panic.

The deaths drew a new focus on what has gone wrong with aid in Gaza, where the UN complains of “overwhelming obstacles,” while Israel says it is doing all it can and that the UN is ultimately responsible for delivery.

famine“Is there a father in the world who can see his children writhing in hunger in front of him and remain silent, even if the price is risking his life?” said Ahmed Al-Talbani, looking for the aid in Gaza City, shouting and gesticulating as he spoke in a video obtained.

“Trucks have crushed people, tanks crushed people, shells rained down on people, machine guns were fired over people’s heads. Does this satisfy anyone,” he said.

Despite hunger approaching catastrophic levels in parts of Gaza, and large quantities of aid sitting waiting in warehouses to be delivered, the flow of supplies has slowed to a trickle.

Before the conflict, Gaza relied on 500 trucks entering daily. The Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA said on Friday that during February an average of nearly 97 trucks were able to enter Gaza each day, compared with about 150 a day in January.

One big problem is insecurity inside Gaza, as five months of war have destroyed many of the institutions that underpinned social order in the enclave.

Some convoys have been seized by people seeking food, and any convoys moving into northern Gaza require Israeli coordination for safe conduct through checkpoints and areas with fighting.

The UN has repeatedly complained about lack of access and says Israel is responsible for facilitating aid delivery.

“All we are asking for is safe passage so that we can deliver aid,” said Jenny Baez, emergency response officer at UNRWA, the main UN agency working in Gaza. Israel has accused UNRWA of complicity in the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war, which UNRWA denies.

Palestinian police, who previously helped secure routes, have stopped doing so after Israeli strikes killed at least eight of them, UNRWA has said.

Shimon Freedman, the spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli military branch that handles aid transfers, said it provided coordination for convoys, facilitating tactical corridors, and embeds officers with units in the field to ensure passage.

However, he said distribution and security were ultimately up to aid agencies and the UN. “The security of the convoys themselves are the responsibility of the UN agencies operating on the ground,” he said.

With land routes into Gaza hard to access, countries including the United States have started doing air drops, which Freedman said Israel supported.

Parachutes holding large crates of aid drifted down toward a Gaza beach early on Tuesday, Reuters video showed.

Aid agencies however say air drops are an inefficient way to bring in supplies, as they deliver less than trucks can carry and may not provide relief for those hardest hit.

Last week, Israel also began working with private contractors to deliver aid to shelters in northern Gaza.

“Organizations on the ground don’t have the infrastructure or sufficient infrastructure at the moment to maintain or to have the same capacity of distribution as we have for inspection and bringing the aid into Gaza,” Freedman said.

As a way around that, he said, “we have been facilitating and coordinating connections between private contractors.”

It was one of those convoys that became of the focus of last week’s disaster, which the Palestinian Health Ministry described as a massacre and which Israel called a tragedy.

The World Health Organization said the rate at which children under 2 years old in Gaza were becoming malnourished compared to three months earlier was unprecedented, suggesting “a serious and rapid decline.”

WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “we appeal to Israel to ensure humanitarian aid can be delivered safely and regularly.” 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also urged Israel to maximize “every possible means” to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza, describing the situation as unacceptable.

In Gaza City, the men waiting for food say they have been shot at repeatedly by Israeli forces but have little choice but to keep approaching aid trucks.


Security Council to vote on resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers, demanding protection

Security Council to vote on resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers, demanding protection
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Security Council to vote on resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers, demanding protection

Security Council to vote on resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers, demanding protection
  • The Swiss-sponsored resolution expresses grave concern at the growing number of attacks and threats against UN and humanitarian personnel
  • The draft resolution does not single out any conflict
UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to vote Friday on a resolution that strongly condemns attacks on humanitarian workers and UN personnel, and demands that all combatants protect them in accordance with international law.
The Swiss-sponsored resolution expresses grave concern at the growing number of attacks and threats against UN and humanitarian personnel along with the continuing disregard and violations of international humanitarian law by combatants.
“The goal of the resolution is as simple as it is important,” Switzerland’s UN Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl told The Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s about protecting the men and women who work and risk their lives — every day — to help people affected by armed conflict.”
The draft resolution does not single out any conflict, but it is being voted on as battles rage in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar and many other hotspots around the world.
It is the seven-month war in Gaza, however, that has seen the greatest number of attacks on UN and humanitarian personnel. Over 190 UN staff have been killed, a death toll unprecedented in the United Nations’ nearly 80-year history, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The war has also seen the killing of other humanitarian personnel, including seven World Central Kitchen workers who died in an Israeli airstrike last month.
Baeriswyl said in a statement to AP that the resolution is being put to a vote at a very timely moment. The Geneva Conventions, which Baeriswyl described as the cornerstone of international humanitarian law and a reflection of our common humanity, commemorates its 75th anniversary in August.
The draft resolution calls on all countries to respect and protect humanitarian and UN personnel as required by international law. And it calls on all nations and parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and their obligations under the Geneva Conventions. It “strongly condemns attacks and all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, threats and intimidation against humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.”
The draft urges combatants “to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the conduct of hostilities and refrain from attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.”
The proposed resolution also urges warring parties to facilitate “full, safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access to all civilians in need, and to promote the safety, security and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.”
On another issue, the draft condemns “disinformation, information manipulation and incitement to violence” against humanitarian and UN staff and it encourages all countries and the United Nations to take action to address these threats.
If approved, the resolution would express the council’s determination to take steps to provide for the safety and security of humanitarian and UN staff. It would ask the UN Secretary-General to make recommendations within six months on measures to prevent attacks, ensure accountability and enhance protection of humanitarian and UN staff.

Top UN court to rule today on South Africa bid for ceasefire in Gaza

Top UN court to rule today on South Africa bid for ceasefire in Gaza
Updated 24 May 2024
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Top UN court to rule today on South Africa bid for ceasefire in Gaza

Top UN court to rule today on South Africa bid for ceasefire in Gaza
  • South Africa has petitioned International Court of Justice for emergency measures to order Israel to 'cease military operations in Gaza Strip'
  • The ICJ rulings are binding but it has no power to enforce them, but a ruling against Israel would increase the international legal pressure

THE HAGUE: The UN’s top court said it will rule Friday on a request by South Africa to order Israel to implement a ceasefire in Gaza.
South Africa has petitioned the International Court of Justice for emergency measures to order Israel to “cease its military operations in the Gaza Strip” including in Rafah city, where it is pressing an offensive.
The rulings of the ICJ, which rules on disputes between states, are binding but it has no power to enforce them — it has ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine to no avail, for example.
But a ruling against Israel would increase the international legal pressure after the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor said Monday he was seeking arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders.
In hearings last week, South Africa charged that what it described as Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza had hit a “new and horrific stage” with its assault on Rafah, the last part of Gaza to face a ground invasion.
The Rafah campaign is “the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people,” argued Vaughan Lowe, a lawyer for South Africa.
“It was Rafah that brought South Africa to the court. But it is all Palestinians as a national, ethnical and racial group who need the protection from genocide that the court can order,” he added.
Lawyers for Israel hit out at South Africa’s case as being “totally divorced” from reality that made a “mockery” of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention it is accused of breaching.
“Calling something a genocide again and again does not make it genocide. Repeating a lie does not make it true,” top lawyer for Israel Gilad Noam said.
“There is a tragic war going on but there is no genocide,” he added.
Israeli troops began their ground assault on parts of Rafah early this month, defying international opposition including from top ally the United States, which voiced fears for the more than one million civilians trapped in the city.
Israel has ordered mass evacuations from the city, where it has vowed to eliminate Hamas’s tunnel network and its remaining fighters.
The UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.


Divisions, elections and Assad lay bare Europe’s Syrian quagmire

Divisions, elections and Assad lay bare Europe’s Syrian quagmire
Updated 24 May 2024
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Divisions, elections and Assad lay bare Europe’s Syrian quagmire

Divisions, elections and Assad lay bare Europe’s Syrian quagmire

PARIS: The European Union will convene donors next week to keep Syria on the global agenda, but as the economic and social burden of refugees on neighboring countries mounts the bloc is divided and unable to find solutions to tackle the issue, diplomats say.
Syria has become a forgotten crisis that nobody wants to stir amid the war raging between Israel and Islamist Palestinian militants Hamas and tensions growing between Iran and Western powers over its regional activities.
More than 5 million refugees mostly in Lebanon and Turkiye and millions more displaced internally have little prospect of returning home with political stability no closer than since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s rule began in 2011.
Funding to support them is dropping with the likes of the World Food Programme reducing its aid. Difficulties to host refugees are surfacing, notably in Lebanon, where the economic situation is perilous and a call to send Syrians home is one of the rare issues that unites all communities.
“We have no levers because we never resumed relations with the Assad regime and there are no indications anybody really will,” said a former European envoy to Syria.
“Even if we did, why would Syria offer carrots to countries that have been hostile to him and especially taking back people who opposed him anyway.”
Major European and Arab ministers along with key international organizations meet for the 8th Syria conference next Monday, but beyond vague promises and financial pledges, there are few signs that Europe can take the lead.
The talks come just ahead of the European elections on June 6-9 in which migration is a divisive issue among the bloc’s 27-member states. With far-right and populist parties already expected to do well, there is little appetite to step up refugee support.
The conference itself has changed from eight years ago. The level of participation has been downgraded. The likes of Russia, the key actor backing Assad, is no longer invited after its invasion of Ukraine. The global geopolitical situation and drop in the conflict’s intensity keeps it off radars.
There are divisions within the EU on the subject. Some countries such as Italy and Cyprus are more open to having a form of dialogue with Assad to at least discuss possible ways to step up voluntary returns in conjunction with and under the auspices of the UN.
However, others, like France which acknowledges the pressure the refugees are weighing on Lebanon and fears broader conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel, remain steadfast that there can be no discussion with the Assad regime until key conditions are met.
But the reality on the ground is forcing a discussion on the issue.
Demonstrating the tensions between the EU and the countries hosting refugees, Lebanese MPs threatened to reject the bloc’s 1 billion euro package announced earlier this month, slamming it as a “bribe” to keep refugees in limbo in Lebanon instead of resettling them permanently in Europe or sending them back home to Syria.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who unlike in previous years is not due to attend the Brussels conference, has said that Beirut would start dealing with the issue itself without proper international assistance.
The result has been an upswing in migrant boats from Lebanon to Europe, with nearby Cyprus and increasingly Italy, too, as the main destinations, prompting some countries to ring alarm bells fearing a flood of new refugees into the bloc.
“Let me be clear, the current situation is not sustainable for Lebanon, it’s not sustainable for Cyprus and it’s not sustainable for the European Union. It hasn’t been sustainable for years,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said this month during a visit to Lebanon.
Highlighting the divisions in Europe, eight countries — Austria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland — last week issued a joint statement after talks in Cyprus, breaking ranks with the bloc’s previous positions.
They argued that the dynamics in Syria had changed and that while political stability did not exist yet, things had evolved sufficiently to “re-evaluate the situation” to find “more effective ways of handling the issue.”
“I don’t think there will be a big movement in terms of EU attitude, but perhaps some baby steps to engage and see if more can be done in various areas,” said a diplomat from one of the countries that attended the talks in Cyprus.
Another was more blunt.
“Come Tuesday Syria will be swept under the carpet and forgotten. The Lebanese will be left to deal with the crisis alone,” said a French diplomat.


More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch

More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch
Updated 24 May 2024
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More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch

More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch
  • Crowds overrun some of the first trucks coming from the new US-led sea route and taking its contents over the weekend, leading to a two-day suspension of aid distribution
  • At maximum capacity, the pier would bring in enough food for 500,000 of Gaza’s people. US officials stressed the need for flow through open land crossings for the remaining 1.8 million

WASHINGTON: A six-day-old US pier project in Gaza is starting to get more aid to Palestinians in need but conditions are challenging, US officials said Thursday. That reflects the larger problems bringing food and other supplies to starving people in the besieged territory.

The floating pier had a troubled launch, with crowds overrunning some of the first trucks coming from the new US-led sea route and taking its contents over the weekend. One man in the crowd was shot dead in still-unexplained circumstances. It led to a two-day suspension of aid distribution.
The US military worked with the UN and Israeli officials to select safer alternate routes for trucks coming from the pier, US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper told reporters Thursday.
As a result, the US pier on Wednesday accounted for 27 of the 70 total trucks of aid that the UN was able to round up from all land and sea crossings into Gaza for distribution to civilians, the United States said.
That’s a fraction of the 150 truckloads of food, emergency nutrition treatment and other supplies that US officials aim to bring in when the sea route is working at maximum capacity.
Plus, Gaza needs 600 trucks entering each day, according to the US Agency for International Development, to curb a famine that the heads of USAID and the UN World Food Program have said has begun in the north and to keep it from spreading south.

Only one of the 54 trucks that came from the pier Tuesday and Wednesday encountered any security issues on their way to aid warehouses and distribution points, US officials said. They called the issues “minor” but gave no details.
A deepening Israeli offensive in the southern city of Rafah has made it impossible for aid shipments to get through the crossing there, which is a key source for fuel and food coming into Gaza. Israel says it is bringing aid in through another border crossing, Kerem Shalom, but humanitarian organizations say Israeli military operations make it difficult for them to retrieve the aid there for distribution.
The Biden administration last week launched the $320 million floating pier for a new maritime aid route into Gaza as the seven-month-old Israel-Hamas war and Israeli restrictions on land crossings have severely limited food deliveries to 2.3 million Palestinians.
For all humanitarian efforts, “the risks are manifold,” Daniel Dieckhaus, USAID’s response director for Gaza, said at a briefing with Cooper. “This is an active conflict with deteriorating conditions.”
Dieckhaus rejected charges from some aid groups that the pier is diverting attention from what the US, UN and relief workers say is the essential need for Israel to allow full access to land crossings for humanitarian shipments.
For instance, Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official now leading Refugees International, tweeted that “the pier is humanitarian theater.”
“I would not call, within a couple of days, getting enough food and other supplies for tens of thousands of people for a month theater,” Dieckhaus said Thursday when asked about the criticism.
At maximum capacity, the pier would bring in enough food for 500,000 of Gaza’s people. US officials stressed the need for flow through open land crossings for the remaining 1.8 million.
 


Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation
Updated 24 May 2024
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Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

WASHINGTON: Three US troops suffered non-combat injuries in the effort to make a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza into a conduit for humanitarian aid, with one in critical condition at an Israeli hospital, US officials said on Thursday.

The injuries were the first for US forces during the latest operation to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The pier was announced by US President Joe Biden in March and involved the military assembling the floating structure off the coast. Estimated to cost $320 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 US service members, it went into operation last week.

US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the deputy commander of US Central Command, told reporters that two of the troops had a sprained ankle and a minor back injury.

“Two were very minor, routine injuries. Those individuals returned to duty,” Cooper said.

A third service member, injured on a ship at sea, was medically evacuated to a hospital in Israel, he said. A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the individual was in critical condition.

US lawmakers have voiced concern about the risks to positioning US troops off the coast of Gaza. Biden has said they will not step foot in the war-torn city itself.

The Pentagon has said it will prioritize the safety of US military personnel.

“We’re clear eyed and we continue to look at force protection all day, every day and as it stands now we assess the operations can continue,” Cooper said.

Social media images showed a US air defense system, known as the Counter Rockets, Artillery and Mortars (CRAM), firing into the sky while on the pier. US officials said troops were testing the system.

Daniel Dieckhaus of the US Agency for International Development said that since the pier opened last week, about 506 metric tons of aid had been handed off to humanitarian groups inside Gaza. About a third of that has not yet been distributed but would be soon, he said.