Lebanese government urges international support for war-torn south

Special Lebanese government urges international support for war-torn south
Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati addresses a press conference announcing a French reconstruction plan for the Port of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon, Mar. 13, 2024. (AP Photo)
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Updated 04 April 2024
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Lebanese government urges international support for war-torn south

Lebanese government urges international support for war-torn south
  • Mikati: ‘We are heading toward declaring a disaster’
  • Minister: ‘We need up to $72.4 million for relief by the end of June’

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government may be forced to declare a disaster in the south of the country due to the destruction of housing and farmland, the country’s caretaker prime minister has said.

During a cabinet meeting, Najib Mikati warned of the “continuation of the Israeli aggression, resulting in martyrs, wounded and massive destruction” in Lebanon’s south.

“There are about 100,000 displaced persons from southern villages, 313 martyrs and about 1,000 wounded,” he added.

“The major disaster lies in the damage to the agricultural sector, where 800 hectares have been completely damaged, 340,000 heads of cattle have been lost, and about 75 percent of farmers have lost their ultimate source of income.”

Long-term infrastructure damage means “declaring the southern region a disaster-stricken area agriculturally is imperative,” he said.

“The same applies to the educational sector, where about 75 schools are permanently closed. The issue of rebuilding what has been destroyed will later require seeking sources of funding,” Mikati added.

Ahead of the meeting, the prime minister briefed more than a dozen foreign ambassadors and NGO officials on the humanitarian situation in the south of the country.

Ambassadors of the US, Australia, China, Turkey, Austria, Jordan, Oman, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Canada, Switzerland and Cyprus attended the talks, along with UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon Imran Riza, and other UN officials operating in the country.

Lebanon’s environment minister, Nasser Yassin, who is overseeing the response plan set up in cooperation with the UN across the country, said: “The overwhelming majority of the displaced are still in the South and Nabatieh governorates. Most of them are in houses, whether at relatives or friends, and a minority are in shelters, and it is necessary to support them in the long run.”

About 316 people have been killed and 909 injured since October last year, he added.

Medical and hospital personnel have been killed, more than 700,000 hectares of land has been burned and a large number of cattle have died, the minister said.

About nine water treatment centers and several health centers have also been damaged or destroyed.

Kristen Knutson, acting head of office for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that the international body has spent six months “mobilizing support and assistance for emergency work in Lebanon.”

She added: “We have received $7.5 million and are trying to get $4 million. We have provided assistance to about 19,000 families, in the form of food and material assistance, access to primary services and protection for those affected by the events.”

Meanwhile, on the 180th day of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, Israeli jets raided the town of Yaroun in Lebanon’s Bint Jbeil District on Thursday, targeting a home.

Israeli artillery also shelled the outskirts of Wazzani, while Hezbollah targeted the newly established headquarters of Israel’s Liman Battalion with artillery.

In recent days, Israeli military reconnaissance aircraft have flown over Lebanese border villages adjacent to the Blue Line, all the way to the outskirts of the city of Tyre.

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As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls
Updated 12 July 2024
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As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls
  • Gaza offered playgrounds, football, tennis, karate, and other sports before terrifying bombs began dropping from the skies, flattening entire neighborhoods

GAZA: Israel’s offensive in Gaza has pulverized most of its sports facilities and equipment, but that has not stopped boxing coach Osama Ayoub from training Palestinian girls in a tent camp that offers no protection from airstrikes or shelling.
The boxing club where girls once learned to jab, build their stamina, and make friends has been demolished.
There are no protective equipment, ring, or punch bags in the open-air sandy space between the tents where displaced girls now practice — a mattress and pillow will have to do — but Ayoub says the training has helped them overcome their fear of war.
“They started going out on the street. They started going out at night. Their personalities became much stronger, and even their families saw they were stronger,” he said.
It’s all about improvization. One young girl unleashes barehanded punches and weaves left and right to dodge imaginary fists. “Throw a right,” yells the coach, who puts up his fists for the girls to punch.
“They have determination, they have contentment, they have courage. At first, they were afraid of the war we are living in, but through boxing, they have benefited a lot,” he said.
Gaza offered playgrounds, football, tennis, karate, and other sports before terrifying bombs began dropping from the skies, flattening entire neighborhoods.
Attempts to restart sports are risky, even when played outside. On Tuesday, an Israeli missile slammed into a football match at a tent encampment, killing at least 29 people, Palestinian officials said.
Yet the boxers dream of international competitions overseas worlds away from Gaza. This tiny, densely populated enclave suffered from poverty and high unemployment even long before Hamas triggered the war on Oct. 7.
“I hope that this war will end and that our message will reach everyone in the name of the girls of Gaza,” said one of the boxers, Bilsan Ayoub.
The chances of that happening soon are slim. Months of mediation by the US, Egypt, and Qatar have failed to secure a truce between Israel and its arch-enemy Hamas, never mind a permanent ceasefire.
So, all the boxers can do is keep practicing as each side demands concessions from the other, and the conflict rages.
“We do not have anything left, being displaced. We do not have clips, gloves, teeth protection, said Ayoub, who has to improvise daily to keep her dream of international competition alive.
“The tools are very simple, but we want to continue in this game until we achieve our dream and end the war,” she said.

 


Israel ‘has pledged to improve safety for humanitarian workers in Gaza’

USAid Administrator Samantha Power speaks during a press conference in Port Moresby on August 13, 2023. (AFP file photo)
USAid Administrator Samantha Power speaks during a press conference in Port Moresby on August 13, 2023. (AFP file photo)
Updated 12 July 2024
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Israel ‘has pledged to improve safety for humanitarian workers in Gaza’

USAid Administrator Samantha Power speaks during a press conference in Port Moresby on August 13, 2023. (AFP file photo)
  • The UN says that since May, the amount of aid reaching Gaza to distribute has fallen to some of the lowest levels of the war

ASHDOD: The head of the US agency overseeing American humanitarian assistance worldwide said she has received Israeli pledges to allow aid workers to move more quickly and safely throughout the war-battered Gaza Strip.
In an interview, Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said that Israel has also taken new steps to increase the flow of aid through its port of Ashdod, just north of Gaza.
The move could give donors a new option for delivering aid as the US shutters its troubled maritime pier off Gaza’s coast.
Nine months into the war in Gaza, the announcement marked a small victory for international efforts to increase aid deliveries to the territory’s desperate civilians.
The Israeli offensive launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack has plunged Gaza into a humanitarian crisis. Over 80 percent of the territory’s 2.3 million people have been displaced, with most now living in squalid tent camps.
International experts say hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.
“We have not seen the kind of humanitarian system to this point that has allowed humanitarians to move efficiently and safely to the degree that we need,” Power said.
“This week and through this visit, we have secured an agreement.”
“My whole career has been working in and around conflict areas,” said Power, a former war correspondent and US ambassador to the UN.
“I have never seen a more difficult conflict environment for humanitarians to work in.”
The UN says that since May, the amount of aid reaching Gaza to distribute has fallen to some of the lowest levels of the war. Israel says it places no limits on the entry of aid into Gaza.
But tons of supplies have piled up on the Gaza side of Israeli-controlled border crossings because the UN says it is unable to collect them for distribution.
Israel blames the bottleneck on UN logistical failures.
But UN and other aid officials deny that, saying that permit requirements from the military limit access to the site and that Israeli military operations against Hamas make it too dangerous to move around. Also, criminal gangs inside Gaza have looted aid trucks, adding another challenge for aid workers.
Power said her talks with the Israelis focused heavily on improving the system by which humanitarian groups and the military coordinate safe passage.
Throughout the war, humanitarian groups complained that the system was not working.
In one instance early this year, the Israeli military struck an aid convoy of World Central Kitchen, killing seven workers from the international charity.
Israel called the incident a tragedy and punished five officers.
Power said that for deliveries by the pier, a system was set up where the Israeli and US militaries and the UN could communicate more closely and immediately over the location of humanitarian workers.
She said the Israeli government had now agreed to extend that system across Gaza.
“Having a system lined up where those aid workers can convey their coordinates, their movements to the (Israeli army), and know that they are going to be safe in making those deliveries, that has not been an assurance that they have had throughout this conflict,” she said.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military or COGAT, the military body in charge of coordinating aid into Gaza. Power said it would take time to implement the changes, but the US is pushing for improvements “not a month from now, but a week from now.”
Power spoke after touring the Ashdod port, about 30 km from Gaza.
She said Israel is increasing its scanning capacity at the port to inspect goods bound for Gaza, which can then be delivered by truck through nearby Israeli crossings.
As the US prepares to shut down the temporary maritime pier, she said she expected Ashdod to play a bigger role in aid deliveries.
“I think there will be a maritime part of the humanitarian solution over time that will get bigger and bigger,” she said. “It will probably flow through this port.”
During the visit, Power also announced that the US pledged $100 million in new assistance to the Palestinians. USAID said the money would assist the UN’s World Food Program and help deliver “lifesaving humanitarian aid across Gaza.” Altogether, the US has donated $774 million to the Palestinians since the war began last October.
Power said the only way to improve conditions in Gaza dramatically would be through a cease-fire.
She blamed Hamas for holding up a deal and urged the militant group to accept the latest proposals being floated by international mediators.
“Hamas must accept the terms of the cease-fire, and then we will be in a position to flood the zone with humanitarian support on a scale that is just not possible when you have fighting,” she said.

 


UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA
Updated 12 July 2024
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UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA
  • Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long-called for UNRWA to be dismantled

NEW YORK: United Nations chief Antonio Guterres declared on Friday that there is no alternative to the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA and 118 countries backed the relief organization as indispensable, amid stepped up efforts by Israel to dismantle it.
The UN Relief and Works Agency provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Since war erupted nine months ago between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, UN officials have stressed UNRWA is the backbone of aid operations.
“My appeal to everyone is this: Protect UNRWA, protect UNRWA staff, and protect UNRWA’s mandate — including through funding,” Guterres told an UNRWA pledging conference in New York on Friday. “Let me be clear: there is no alternative to UNRWA.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long-called for UNRWA to be dismantled, accusing it of anti-Israeli incitement, and Israel’s parliament is currently considering designating UNRWA as a terrorist organization.
Several countries halted their funding to UNRWA following accusations by Israel that some of the agency’s staff were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the Gaza war. Most donors have since resumed their funding, while the UN is conducting an internal investigation.
UNRWA has been hit hard during the conflict in Gaza — 195 staff have been killed.
“UNRWA is also being targeted in other ways,” Guterres said. “Staff have been the subject of increasingly violent protests and virulent misinformation and disinformation campaigns.”
“Some have been detained by Israeli security forces, and subsequently reported mistreatment and even torture,” he said, adding that in the West Bank the presence and movements of UNRWA staff have also been severely restricted by Israel.
The Israeli military has said it acts according to Israeli and international law and those it arrests get access to food, water, medication and proper clothing.
Israel accuses UNRWA of complicity with Hamas, saying the militant Islamist group was embedded within the UN agency’s infrastructure.
UNRWA was created by the UN General Assembly in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war. Jordan’s UN Ambassador Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud said on Friday ahead of the pledging event that 118 countries had signed on to a joint statement supporting UNRWA and its work.
The statement underlined “that UNRWA is the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza, and recognizing that no organization can replace or substitute UNRWA’s capacity.”


Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’

Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’
Updated 12 July 2024
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Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’

Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’
  • Abayat, a butcher by trade, was arrested without explanation on October 26
  • He was held at a prison in the Negev desert

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories: Muazzaz Abayat’s parents barely recognized their son lying in a hospital bed after being freed from nine months in Israeli detention, with his weight halved from his usual heavyset build, hollowed cheeks and shaggy hair.
“I came back from the dead,” the 37-year-old Palestinian, told AFP at a hospital in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.
Abayat, a butcher by trade, was arrested without explanation on October 26, just over two weeks after the unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that sparked the Gaza war.
He was held at a prison in the Negev desert, officially under so-called administrative detention, which meant he could be held without charge or trial for an extended period.
“They arrested me at home, not surrounded by fighters but by my children and pregnant wife,” said Abayat, whose sixth child was born while he was in jail.
Detentions of West Bank Palestinians have soared since the war began on October 7, with regular use of administrative detentions.
According to the Prisoners Club, a Palestinian watchdog, about 9,700 Palestinians are currently in Israeli jails, including hundreds under administrative detention.
The NGO estimates that arrests have doubled since October 7 compared to the same period last year.
Violence has surged in the territory since the start of the Gaza war, with at least 572 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or settlers, according to the Palestinian authorities.
At least 16 Israelis have also died in Palestinian attacks, according to official Israeli figures.
In a video that went viral on social media when Abayat was freed Tuesday, he is seen limping and leaning on a man to walk, while his right hand seems paralyzed.
“No human being on the face of the earth can imagine how life has been” he said, calling the prison where he was held, “the ‘Guantanamo of the Negev’,” after the US prison in Cuba used to hold detainees after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“We were unjustly detained, killed and severely beaten with iron clubs and subjected to all kinds of torture,” Abayat added.
Israel’s prison administration told AFP it was “not aware” of Abayat’s claims.
“All prisoners are detained according to the law. All basic rights required are fully applied by professionally trained prison guards,” an Israeli Prison Service (IPS) spokesperson told AFP.
“The prisoner was examined and treated medically by the IPS’ finest doctors throughout his incarceration.” The spokesperson said, Abayat could file a complaint if he wished.
Showing his bruised, bony legs, Abayat recounted beatings with clubs and chains, and said his body still hurt all over.
“They gave us 10 to 12 beans with pieces of cabbage, and we had to survive on that from 7.00 am until dinner time,” he said while explaining his dramatic weight loss.
A “before and after” photo montage of Abayat shared online shows a muscular man with a shaved head and trimmed beard — wildly different from the long dishevelled hair and messy beard of the man in the Bethlehem hospital.
“This is enough to tell what happened to me,” he said of the photos.
His father Khalil Abayat told AFP that his son “was a man who weighed about 100, 110 kilos (220 to 242 pounds) and was muscular.”
When Muazzaz stood on the hospital scale Wednesday, he weighed just 54 kilograms.
“When I saw Muazzaz, he was not the same Muazzaz my son was before his arrest,” said the father, shocked by the confusion his son seemed to suffer from.
“He doesn’t recognize me, he’s disorientated and his health is very low.”
Khalil added, however, that doctors had expressed confidence that Muazzaz’s condition would improve. The former detainee has started eating more.
From his hospital bed, Muazzaz admitted that he had “forgotten things.”
But he said he was not completely done with Israeli detention.
“I’ve left a small prison for the big prison” of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, he said.


Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says

Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says
Updated 12 July 2024
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Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says

Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says
  • The strike also killed three staffers from other aid groups using the warehouse, the Al-Khair foundation said
  • The warehouse was located in Muwasi, an area on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that is part of a “humanitarian safe zone” where Israeli has told Palestinians to take refuge

GAZA: A UK-based aid group said one of its employees in Gaza was killed Friday in an Israeli strike that hit its warehouse located inside an Israeli-declared humanitarian safe zone. The strike also killed three staffers from other aid groups using the warehouse, the Al-Khair foundation said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment on Friday’s strike.
The warehouse was located in Muwasi, an area on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that is part of a “humanitarian safe zone” where Israeli has told Palestinians to take refuge.
After a two-week Israeli offensive in northern Gaza, dozens of bodies were collected throughout Gaza City’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood and brought to Al-Ahli Hospital on Friday morning. Civil defense workers said they were still recovering dead and wounded from destroyed streets and buildings.
Israel launched the war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250. Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 38,300 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. It does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.
Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into squalid tent camps in central and southern Gaza. Israeli restrictions, fighting and the breakdown of law and order have limited humanitarian aid efforts, causing widespread hunger and sparking fears of famine. The top United Nations court has ordered Israel to take steps to protect Palestinians as it examines genocide allegations against Israeli leaders. Israel denies the charge.