Aid agencies decry ‘shocking’ toll six months into Gaza war

Aid agencies decry ‘shocking’ toll six months into Gaza war
Smoke billows over Khan Yunis from Rafah in the southern Gaza strip during Israeli bombardment. (AFP/File)
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Updated 08 April 2024
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Aid agencies decry ‘shocking’ toll six months into Gaza war

Aid agencies decry ‘shocking’ toll six months into Gaza war
  • WHO chief renews ‘barbaric act of violence’ that unleashed the war, and demands ‘the release of remaining hostages’

GENEVA: The UN and other international aid organizations on Sunday decried the devastating toll of six months of war in Gaza, warning that the Palestinian territory had become “beyond catastrophic.”
“Six months is an awful milestone,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said, warning that “humanity has been all but abandoned” in the severity of the conflict.
The Gaza war broke out on October 7 with an unprecedented attack by Hamas militants that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.
The militants also took more than 250 hostages — 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 who the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,175 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made a new condemnation of the “barbaric act of violence” that unleashed the war, and demanded “the release of remaining hostages.”
But, he stressed that “this atrocity does not justify the horrific ongoing bombardment, siege and health system demolition by Israel in Gaza, killing, injuring and starving hundreds of thousands of civilians, including aid workers.
“The denial of basic needs — food, fuel, sanitation, shelter, security and health care — is inhumane and intolerable,” he wrote on X.
Of Gaza’s 36 main hospitals, only 10 remain even partially functional, according to the WHO.
Tedros voiced particular outrage at “the deaths and grievous injuries of thousands of children in Gaza,” which he said would “remain a stain on all of humanity.”
“This assault on present and future generations must end.”
Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees known as UNRWA, said the “hellhole in Gaza is deepening by the day.”
“All lines — including the red lines — were crossed. This war is made far worse through technologies mis-used by humans to harm other humans; en-masse,” he said on X.
“It is made worse by the famine born from an Israeli-imposed siege, one would think it’s from a different era. As a result, a man-made famine is eating up bodies of babies and young children,” Lazzarini added.
UNICEF chief Catherine Russell said more than 13,000 children have reportedly died.
“Homes, schools and hospitals in ruin. Teachers, doctors and humanitarians killed. Famine is imminent,” she said on X on Saturday.
The UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths insisted Saturday that there needed to be “a reckoning for this betrayal of humanity.”
IFRC Secretary-General Jagan Chapagain described the situation as “beyond catastrophic” and warned “millions of lives are at risk of hunger.”
The organization announced Sunday that another Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) employee had been killed in Gaza.
The body of Mohammad Maher Khalil Abed was found on Sunday, but he was killed during the evacuation of the Al-Amal hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis on March 24, it said.
Sixteen PRCS staff and volunteers have now been killed since October 7.
Three staff and volunteers from Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA) have also been killed.
For the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the caretaker of the Geneva Conventions, “a steady flow of humanitarian aid” into Gaza was vital, but it was “only part of the solution.”
“Both sides must conduct their military operations in a way that spares civilians caught in the middle,” it said on X.
Tedros pointed out that over 70 percent of those who have died in Gaza have been women and children. “We urge all parties to silence their guns. We appeal for peace. Now.”


Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16

Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16
Updated 34 min 3 sec ago
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Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16

Israel orders evacuation of part of Gaza humanitarian zone, kills 16
  • The military said it is planning to begin an operation against Hamas militants who have embedded themselves in the area
  • The area includes the eastern part of the Muwasi humanitarian zone, which is located in the southern Gaza Strip.

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip: Israeli strikes killed at least 16 Palestinians in eastern areas of Khan Younis, Gaza health officials said on Monday, shortly after Israel issued new orders to evacuate some neighborhoods after what it said was renewed attacks from those zones.
To allow this, the military said it was adjusting the borders of a humanitarian zone in Al-Mawasi to keep the civilian population away from areas of combat.
Palestinian health officials said at least 16 Palestinians were killed in Israeli tank shelling in Bani Suhaila town east of Khan Younis. The area was also bombarded by air, sources say.
The military statement said the new orders were due to renewed Palestinian attacks, including rockets launched from the targeted areas in eastern Khan Younis. The evacuation orders did not include health institutions, Palestinians said.
The Palestinians, the United Nations, and international relief agencies have said there is no safe place left in Gaza. Earlier in July, dozens of Palestinians were killed in separate Israeli attacks in the Al-Mawasi humanitarian-designated areas.
Israel said the attacks were aimed at armed militants, including some top Hamas military chiefs. Palestinian officials called those allegations false and used to justify the attacks.

Displacement
Many Palestinians have been uprooted multiple times in search of safety during Israeli’s punishing air and ground campaign.
Earlier this month, Israel said it estimates at least 1.8 million Palestinians are now in the humanitarian zone it declared covering a stretch of about 14 kilometers (8.6 miles) along the Mediterranean. Much of that area is now blanketed with tent camps that lack sanitation and medical facilities and have limited access to aid, UN and humanitarian groups say. Families live in the midst of mountains of trash and streams contaminated by sewage.
The announcement came during delicate negotiations seeking a ceasefire in Gaza, with US and Israeli officials expressing hope that an agreement is closer than ever, and as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to make a much-anticipated trip to the United States to meet with President Joe Biden and address Congress.
A negotiating team will be sent to continue talks on Thursday, Netanyahu’s office said. Egypt, Qatar and the United States continue to push Israel and Hamas toward a phased ceasefire deal that would stop the fighting and free the hostages.
The war in Gaza has killed more than 38,900 people, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count. The war began with an assault by Hamas militants on southern Israel on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took about 250 hostages. About 120 remain held, about a third of them believed to be dead, according to Israeli authorities.
The Israeli military said on Monday that it is continuing to operate in central and southern Gaza. On Sunday, Israeli airstrikes killed at least 15 people, including women and children, in Gaza, according to hospital officials and a body count by an Associated Press journalist.
The already precarious humanitarian conditions inside besieged Gaza have worsened with the discovery of the polio virus as water and sanitation services have deteriorated for the territory’s 2.3 million people, most of them displaced. Traces of the virus were found in sewage samples in Gaza. The World Health Organization has said no one has been treated for symptoms caused by the disease.
Israel’s military said soldiers would be vaccinated and it would work with organizations to bring in vaccines for Palestinians.
Netanyahu has vowed to wipe out Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and secure the return of the remaining hostages. Families of hostages and thousands of other Israelis have held weekly demonstrations to urge the prime minister to reach a ceasefire deal that would bring their loved ones home.


Israel’s Netanyahu walks political tightrope on Washington trip following Biden’s exit from race

Israel’s Netanyahu walks political tightrope on Washington trip following Biden’s exit from race
Updated 22 July 2024
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Israel’s Netanyahu walks political tightrope on Washington trip following Biden’s exit from race

Israel’s Netanyahu walks political tightrope on Washington trip following Biden’s exit from race
  • Some Democrats will likely demonstrate their anger toward Biden and Netanyahu by skipping Wednesday’s speech

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to Washington on Monday, leaving behind a brutal war to make a politically precarious speech before Congress at a time of great uncertainty following Joe Biden’s withdrawal from the presidential race.
With efforts ongoing to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, rising concerns about the war spreading to Lebanon and Yemen, and the US in the midst of a dizzying election campaign, Netanyahu’s speech has the potential to cause disarray on both sides of the ocean.
The risks only increased with Biden’s decision Sunday to drop out of the race for president, especially since the choice of a replacement Democratic nominee — and the potential next American leader — are still up in the air.
A person familiar with Biden’s schedule confirmed Sunday that the president will host Netanyahu at the White House. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, said the exact timing of the meeting has not been established because Biden is recovering from COVID-19.
Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress on Wednesday. He is also expected to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
An official in Netanyahu’s office confirmed that the Israeli leader was set to travel to Washington on Monday. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.
Netanyahu will deliver his congressional address with an eye on several audiences: his ultranationalist governing partners, the key to his political survival; the Biden administration, which Netanyahu counts on for diplomatic and military support; and Donald Trump’s Republican Party, which could offer Netanyahu a reset in relations if he is reelected in November.
His words risk angering any one of those constituencies, which the Israeli leader cannot afford if he hopes to hold on to his tenuous grip on power.
“There are a few land mines and pitfalls on this trip,” Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israel relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said before Biden’s withdrawal. “He is thought of as a political wizard who knows how to escape from traps. I am not sure he still knows how to do that.”
It is Netanyahu’s fourth speech to Congress — more than any other world leader. During his address, his far-right governing partners will want to hear his resolve to continue the war and topple Hamas.
The Biden administration will look for progress toward the latest US-backed ceasefire proposal and details on a postwar vision. Republicans hope Netanyahu besmirches Biden and bolsters the GOP’s hoped-for perception as Israel’s stalwart supporter.
Upon receiving the invitation, Netanyahu said he would “present the truth about our just war against those who seek to destroy us.”
The war, which was sparked by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, has tested Israel’s ties with its top ally as never before.
The Biden administration has stood staunchly beside Israel. But it has grown increasingly alarmed about the conduct of the Israeli military, the continued difficulties of getting humanitarian aid into Gaza, especially after the short-lived US military pier off Gaza coast, as well as Israel’s lack of postwar plans and the harm to civilians in Gaza. Similar concerns will likely persist if Americans elect a new Democratic president.
Biden earlier this year froze the delivery of certain bombs over fears they would be used in Israel’s incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which at the time sheltered more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million.
The US abstained from a United Nations Security Council vote in March that called for a ceasefire and the release of hostages but did not link the two. Netanyahu called the decision a “retreat” from a “principled position” by Israel’s ally.
Biden has had to walk a fine line of his own. He has faced harsh criticism from progressive Democrats and many Arab Americans. Even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking elected US Jewish official, lambasted Netanyahu in March for his handling of the war.
Some Democrats will likely demonstrate their anger toward Biden and Netanyahu by skipping Wednesday’s speech. Netanyahu is also likely to be hounded by pro-Palestinian activists during his trip.
The last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress in 2015 was at the invitation of the Republican Party. The trip drove Israeli-American politics deep into the partisan divide as Netanyahu railed against then-President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.
Netanyahu has not shied away from making Israel a partisan issue. With his nationalist conservative ideology, he has been perceived as throwing his support behind Republican candidates in the past, rankling Democrats and Israelis who want to keep the US-Israel relationship bipartisan.
It’s unclear if he will meet Trump. If there is a meeting, it could expose Netanyahu to accusations that he is once again taking sides. But if he doesn’t meet with Trump, the former president could feel slighted.
The speech also offers Netanyahu opportunity. He will be able to show Israelis that despite the tensions with the Biden administration, US support for him remains ironclad.
“He wants the Israeli public to believe that he is very much still very welcome in the United States. And this shows that the American people are with him,” said David Makovsky, director of the program on Arab-Israel Relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
For critics of Netanyahu, that embrace is unacceptable and grants legitimacy to a deeply polarizing leader whose public support has plummeted. Netanyahu faces widespread protests and calls to resign over the failures of Oct. 7 and his handling of the war.
In a letter to Congress, 500 Israeli writers, scholars and public figures expressed their dismay over the invitation to Netanyahu, saying he will use the platform to advance misguided policies that align with his far-right governing partners.
“His only interest is preserving his own power,” they wrote. “Does the United States Congress wish to support such a model of cynical and manipulative leadership in these times?”
Israeli media reported that Netanyahu will be joined by rescued hostage Noa Argamani and her father. But for many of the families of hostages held in Gaza, the trip is an affront.
“This is not the time for trips,” Ayelet Levy Shachar, whose daughter Naama was kidnapped on Oct. 7, told reporters.
“Netanyahu: First a deal, then you can travel.”


Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port

Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port
Updated 22 July 2024
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Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port

Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port
  • Kanani added that Israel and its supporters, including the United States, were “directly responsible for the dangerous and unpredictable consequences of the continued crimes in Gaza, as well as the attacks on Yemen”

TEHRAN: Iran has condemned Israel’s deadly retaliatory strike on the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah in Yemen that the rebels say killed six people and wounded dozens more.
Late on Saturday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani “strongly condemned” the attack saying it was “an expression of the aggressive behavior of the child-killing Israeli regime“
Israeli warplanes on Saturday struck the vital port of Hodeidah in response to a deadly drone attack by the Iran-backed Houthis on Tel Aviv, which killed one civilian.
The Houthi rebels have since threatened a “huge” retaliation against Israel.
Kanani added that Israel and its supporters, including the United States, were “directly responsible for the dangerous and unpredictable consequences of the continued crimes in Gaza, as well as the attacks on Yemen.”
Regional tensions have soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels, along with the Hezbollah group in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza are part of a Tehran-aligned “axis of resistance” against Israel and its allies.
The Islamic republic has reiterated support for the groups but insisted they were independent in their decision-making and actions.

 


Insect infestation ravages North African prickly pear

Insect infestation ravages North African prickly pear
Updated 22 July 2024
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Insect infestation ravages North African prickly pear

Insect infestation ravages North African prickly pear
  • Tunisian authorities estimate that about 150,000 families make a living from cultivating Opuntia
  • Prickly pear is consumed as food and used to make oils, cosmetics and body-care products

CHEBIKA, Tunisia: Amor Nouira, a farmer in Tunisia’s Chebika village, has lost hope of saving his prickly pear cacti, ravaged by the cochineal insect spreading across North Africa.
The 50-year-old has seen his half-hectare of cactus crops wither as the invasive insect wreaked havoc on about a third of the country’s cacti after an outbreak in 2021.
“At first, I wanted to experiment with prickly pear production and gradually develop investments while looking for customers outside the country, especially for its natural oil,” said Nouira.

A member of the Dar Si Hmad Foundation inspects prickly pear cacti affected by cochineals in the Sidi Ifni region along central Morocco's Atlantic coast on June 29, 2024. (AFP)

“But... as the cacti became damaged, I abandoned the idea of investing and stopped thinking about it altogether.”
Prickly pear is consumed as food and used to make oils, cosmetics and body-care products.
In Chebika, as in other rural areas in central Tunisia, many farmers’ fields of prickly pear — also known as Opuntia — have been spoiled by the cochineal, which swept through North Africa 10 years ago, beginning in Morocco.

A trident lady beetle (Hyperaspis trifurcata) eats cochineal insects on a prickly pear cactus leaf in the Sidi Ifni region along central Morocco's Atlantic coast on June 29, 2024. (AFP)

The insect, like the prickly pear, is native to the Americas and feeds on the plant’s nutrients and fluids, often killing it.
The infestations have resulted in significant economic losses for thousands of farmers reliant on prickly pear, as authorities struggle to combat the epidemic in a country where its fruit is widely consumed as a summertime snack.

Tunisian authorities estimate that about 150,000 families make a living from cultivating Opuntia.

A member of the Dar Si Hmad Foundation sprays prickly pear cacti affected by cochineals in the Sidi Ifni region along central Morocco's Atlantic coast on June 30, 2024. (AFP)

The North African country is the world’s second-largest producer of its fruit, after Mexico, with about 600,000 hectares of crops and a yield of about 550,000 tons per year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Only production allocated for export — about a third of overall crops — has remained in good condition, said Rabeh Hajjlaoui, head of the department of plant health at Tunisia’s agriculture ministry.
“We’re making every effort to save these plants, which are an important source of income to some locals,” he explained, as one liter of extracted Opuntia oil can be sold for as much as $4,200.
Farmers also plant prickly pear cacti for their resistance to drought and desertification, and sometimes use them to demarcate and fence property in Tunisia and neighboring Libya.
In Morocco, where the first cases of cochineal were found in 2014, Opuntia is cultivated over a total of 160,000 hectares.
In 2016, the Moroccan government issued an “emergency plan” to combat cochineal infestation by experimenting with various chemicals, burying infected cacti and conducting research on developing variants resilient to the insect.
Despite the plan, by August 2022, about 75 percent of Opuntia crops in Morocco had been infested, according to Mohamed Sbaghi, a professor at Rabat’s National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) and the emergency plan coordinator.
In neighboring Algeria, authorities recorded an outbreak in 2021 in Tlemcen, a city near the border with Morocco.
Prickly pear cultivation in the country covers around 60,000 hectares, and the fruit is so cherished that a festival dedicated to it is held every year in the eastern Kabylia region.

Neither the plant nor cochineal is native to North Africa, but the region’s dry climate helped them spread, said Tunisian entomologist Brahim Chermiti.
“Climate change, with increasing drought and high temperatures, facilitates their reproduction,” he told AFP.
The region has experienced severe drought in recent years, with declining rainfall and intense heat.
Chermiti believes it’s a matter of “public safety” to combat cochineal infestation, requiring “strict border crossing monitoring and public awareness.”
The researcher fears total contagion, as “sooner or later, it will spread, with the help of many factors such as the wind and livestock.”
Hajjlaoui, from Tunisia’s agriculture ministry, said the issue could even cause social unrest if it spreads to farms in marginalized areas, such as Tunisia’s Kasserine governorate, where Opuntia is nearly the only source of livelihood for many.
He said the “slowness of administrative procedure” during the first major outbreaks in Tunisia impeded efforts to stem the spread of cochineal.
At first, Morocco and Tunisia burned and uprooted infected crops, but authorities now aim for “natural resistance” to the insect, said Hajjlaoui.
Last summer, Morocco’s INRA said it identified eight cochineal-resistant Opuntia varieties that could potentially be cultivated.
The other solution, added the expert, is spreading the Hyperaspis trifurcata ladybird — also native to the Americas — among the cacti, which preys on cochineal.
In Morocco, farmers began raising the ladybird “so that it is always ready” in case of outbreaks, said Aissa Derhem, head of the environmental association Dar Si Hmad.
Last month, Tunisia received 100 ladybirds along with an emergency budget of $500,000 to battle cochineal, allocated by the FAO.
 

 


Five things to know about Turkiye’s interests in Africa

Five things to know about Turkiye’s interests in Africa
Updated 22 July 2024
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Five things to know about Turkiye’s interests in Africa

Five things to know about Turkiye’s interests in Africa
  • Turkiye has accumulated considerable soft power in the region, notably through education, the media and its shared religion with Africa’s many Muslim countries
  • Turkiye has signed defense agreements with a number of states spanning the breadth of the continent, including Somalia, Libya, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana

ISTANBUL: Turkiye is pushing for diplomatic and economic influence on the world stage — not least in Africa, where it announced plans this week to search for oil and gas off Somalia.
Over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two decades in power, Ankara has consolidated its foothold on the continent, quadrupling its number of embassies there.
Here are five of Turkiye’s diplomatic and economic interests and strategies in Africa:

At a time when many African countries are turning away from their former colonial rulers, Turkiye has looked to fill the void left behind.
“Erdogan presents himself as an alternative to the West,” said Selin Gucum, author of a study on Turkish interests in Africa for Paris’s Observatory of Contemporary Turkiye.
Gucum told AFP that Ankara often emphasizes the “sincerity” of its presence on the continent compared to that of Europeans, who bear the legacy of colonialism.
And Erdogan can be less squeamish about what partners he chooses, according to a report on Turkiye’s defense accords with African countries by Teresa Nogueira Pinto, an analyst at Geopolitical Intelligence Services.
“Unlike the West, Turkiye does not make this assistance conditional on governance or human rights commitments,” Pinto wrote.

Turkiye has signed defense agreements with a number of states spanning the breadth of the continent, including Somalia, Libya, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana.
Those agreements have opened up contracts for Turkiye’s defense manufacturers, notably for its reputedly reliable and inexpensive drones.
Popularly used in the fight against terrorism, Turkish drones have been recently delivered to Chad, Togo, and the junta-led Sahel trio of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Turkiye is also expanding its interests in Africa’s energy sector.
In September or October it plans to launch an oil and gas exploration mission off the coast of Somalia, similar to the one it is carrying out in Libyan waters.
Ankara is also said to be coveting Niger’s abundant uranium deposits which it needs to operate its future Russian-built Akkuyu nuclear power station — although Ankara’s diplomats deny this.
Nonetheless, Erdogan has bolstered ties with Niger’s ruling generals since their 2023 coup d’etat. Niamey received Turkiye’s intelligence chief and foreign, energy and defense ministers on Wednesday.

Ankara is generally seen as a “reliable partner,” said Didier Billion, Turkiye specialist at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs — “particularly in the construction and infrastructure sectors.”
When Turkish companies build big-ticket projects like hospitals, airports, or mosques, “deadlines and budgets are met, he added.
That reputation means more demand: in 2023, Turkish contractors were involved in $85.5 billion worth of projects, according to the trade ministry.
Turkish Airlines also crisscrosses the continent, flying to 62 destinations in Africa.
In 2012, it became the first airline to return to Mogadishu, whose airport was rebuilt with Turkish funding and assistance.

Turkiye has accumulated considerable soft power in the region, notably through education, the media and its shared religion with Africa’s many Muslim countries.
The religious Turkish Maarif Foundation has expanded to a network of 140 schools and institutions catering for 17,000 pupils, while 60,000 Africans are students in Turkiye.
Ankara’s powerful Directorate of Religious Affairs has stepped up its humanitarian activities and support for mosques and religious education across the region.
Billing itself as the first Turkish television channel on the continent, NRT boasts on its website that it serves 49 African countries, spreading the Turkish language.
Public broadcaster TRT also has programs in French, English, Swahili and Hausa and is developing training courses for future journalists.
Turkiye’s religious conservatism likewise resonates with many African countries, at a time when anti-LGBTQ laws are being adopted on the continent.
“When Erdogan denounces ‘LGBTQ people who undermine family values’, for many Africans, that’s music to their ears,” Billion said.