UNRWA planning chief says ‘squeezed’ organization vital to halting Gaza famine

UNRWA planning chief says ‘squeezed’ organization vital to halting Gaza famine
A Palestinian girl sits on bags of flour distributed by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 29, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 April 2024
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UNRWA planning chief says ‘squeezed’ organization vital to halting Gaza famine

UNRWA planning chief says ‘squeezed’ organization vital to halting Gaza famine
  • Sam Rose: UN refugee body only has funding until May to support over 1m people
  • ‘There’s only so long you can cope with the misery’

LONDON: The planning director of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has said the “squeezed” organization must remain “the backbone of any humanitarian response” to preventing starvation in Gaza.

Sam Rose warned that 300,000 people in Gaza are at risk of famine as Israel hampers efforts to get aid into the enclave, six months after the outbreak of war following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Earlier this year, UNRWA had its funding drastically cut by 16 donor states after Israel accused 12 employees of having taken part in the attack, which left around 1,200 people dead.

More than half of the countries have since reinstated funding, and earlier this year US State Department spokesman Matt Miller said the White House had “repeatedly made clear to the Israeli government the important role that UNRWA plays in delivering humanitarian assistance.”

But on March 22, the US Congress passed a law banning UNRWA funding — worth $300 million per year — until March 2025.

The UK has yet to resume funding, while Germany has withheld funds for UNRWA’s Gaza operations.

Rose told The Guardian: “Our space is continuing to be squeezed at a time when the international community urgently needs to get as much assistance as possible to people in the north (of Gaza).”

A report by France’s former Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna is expected to be published on April 20, recommending that UNRWA publish clear guidelines detailing how it will ensure it and its employees remain politically neutral.

UNRWA says a degree of indirect contact with the authorities in Gaza is necessary to maintain its operations there, as is often the case for UN agencies in many other parts of the world.

Israel, though, considers this tantamount to active cooperation, and has said it will frustrate UNRWA’s work in the West Bank as well as Gaza.

Rose said: “It is also becoming increasingly difficult for UNRWA to operate in East Jerusalem, because our international staff aren’t getting visas and our own national staff aren’t getting permits to come into the city.

“Imports have also been restricted and a bank account with an Israeli bank has also been frozen.

“So whilst the attention is on Gaza, what’s happening in the West Bank cannot be overlooked.”

He said Israel’s efforts to hinder UNRWA would be counterproductive and impractical. “UNRWA is a 75-year investment by the international community. This shouldn’t be about what we can replace, but what the international community can do to make sure that this war is the last war, to safeguard the lives, freedoms and the future of Palestinians and Israelis by refusing a return to the status quo,” he added.

“The simple reality is that no other UN organisations are set up to deliver education to hundreds of thousands of children or healthcare to over 1 million.”

Rose, who recently returned to the UK from Gaza, welcomed news that Israel is to open more crossings for aid into Gaza following discussions between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.

But Rose said UNRWA only has enough funding to provide food for the people in Gaza who rely on it until May.

“People are wandering around looking for water, looking for food. Even international staff, who are very privileged in the context of Gaza, come out hungry most times because there’s so little food. We can’t bring much in ourselves and there’s very little in the market at prices anyone can afford,” he added.

“And then there’s just a sense that the longer it goes on, the more and more people are just exhausted.

“Every time you’re woken in the night by an air raid or a tank shell, you’re not starting from zero, you’re in a slightly worse place than you were a time before. People are often coming to work traumatised and in a state of shock.”

He continued: “I don’t want to talk blithely about these things. But one can imagine soon just a total breakdown for lots and lots of people. There’s only so long you can cope with the misery.

“We’ve got staff who come to work to forget about what is going on outside because there’s a structure and you can forget about the fact that outside, there’s no clothes for your kids, no medicine, no food, and sanitary conditions are appalling.

“So many of their colleagues have had somebody killed and they lost their homes, and they lost everything.

“They’ve literally got the bags that they were carrying, and, you know, staff that were relatively well off have moved 10 or 15 times because they just followed the conflict around.

“Many are in tents because they are safer than if you are in a building that has an internet connection, and somebody latches on to that internet connection as a target, then the building could go up.”

Rose also highlighted the role UNRWA plays in education in Gaza, but said most of the schools it operates have either been damaged, destroyed, or are being used as shelters.

“Anyone thinking rationally wants to get out of this, or is unwilling to come back home since they’ve lost everything,” he said.

“Palestinians highly, highly value education and take it very seriously, and lots of people are leaving, people just want to get their kids out. They know the numbers of buildings that have been destroyed, and all the universities have been flattened, and it’s currently hard to see a long-term future,” he added.

“Palestinians are not idiots. They are well educated, they’re very worldly given the fact that they’ve never been allowed to leave their world.”


UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
Updated 6 sec ago
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UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
  • The 15-member council adopted a British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir — a city of 1.8 million people in Sudan’s North Dafur region — by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and an immediate end to fighting in the area.
The 15-member council adopted a British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir, the last big city in the vast, western Darfur region not under RSF control.
War erupted in Sudan in April last year between the Sudanese army (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), creating the world’s largest displacement crisis. Top UN officials have warned that the worsening violence around Al-Fashir threatens to “unleash bloody intercommunal strife throughout Darfur.”


Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid
Updated 13 June 2024
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Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid
  • The West Bank has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza
  • Troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said

QABATIYA, West Bank: Israeli forces raided a town in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, killing three Palestinians and detaining several others in what the army described as an operation to pre-empt militant attacks.
The West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
During the raid in Qabatiya, troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said. The two Palestinians were killed and witnesses saw the body of one them being lifted out by an armored bulldozer.
A third Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops elsewhere in the town, medical officials said.
There was no immediate claim of the dead men by any armed Palestinian faction. The army described the two killed in the building as “senior terrorists” without elaborating, and added that weapons were seized in the raid.
Several Palestinians were detained by troops, who also “exposed explosives planted into roads which were intended to be used to attack the forces,” the army statement said.
A soldier was wounded during exchanges of fire, it added.


Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA

Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA
Updated 13 June 2024
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Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA

Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA
  • Tehran is installing more cascades at the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow
  • A cascade is a series of centrifuges, machines used in the process of enriching uranium

VIENNA: Iran is further expanding its nuclear capacities, the UN atomic watchdog said Thursday, one week after the agency’s board of governors passed a resolution criticizing Tehran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA.
The International Atomic Energy Agency informed its members that Tehran told it that it was installing more cascades at the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow, according to a statement sent to AFP.
A diplomatic source deemed this development as “moderate.”
A cascade is a series of centrifuges, machines used in the process of enriching uranium.
The motion brought by Britain, France and Germany — but opposed by China and Russia — at the IAEA’s 35-nation board last week was the first of its kind since November 2022.
The resolution — which Tehran slammed as “hasty and unwise” — came amid an impasse over Iran’s escalating nuclear activities and as Western powers fear Tehran may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, a claim Iran denies.
Although symbolic in nature at this stage, the censure motion aims to raise diplomatic pressure on Iran, with the option to potentially refer the issue to the UN Security Council.
In the past, similar resolutions have prompted Tehran to retaliate by removing surveillance cameras and other equipment from its nuclear facilities and ratcheting up its uranium enrichment activities.
According to the IAEA, Iran is the only non-nuclear weapon state to enrich uranium to the high level of 60 percent — just short of weapons-grade — while it keeps accumulating large uranium stockpiles.
The IAEA has said that Tehran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs.
The Islamic republic has gradually broken away from its commitments under the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015.
The landmark deal provided Iran with relief from Western sanctions in exchange for curbs on its atomic program, but it fell apart after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States under then-president Donald Trump in 2018.
Efforts to revive the deal have so far failed.


Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades

Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades
Updated 13 June 2024
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Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades

Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades
  • Bus driver says the opening of Al-Houban road reminds him of the fall of the Berlin Wall
  • Yemeni government military officials urged the Houthis to unlock the seven city entrances that remain closed

AL-MUKALLA: The besieged Yemen city of Taiz was filled with jubilation on Thursday as people crossed into the city from Houthi-controlled areas for the first time in years.

In a surprise move, the Houthis opened a key road, raising hopes of an end to the militia’s blockade of Yemen’s main city after almost a decade.

The arrival of the first car from Al-Houban in Taiz sparked huge celebrations among hundreds of Yemenis, who crowded the government side of the city to wave the national flag and sing patriotic chants.

Abdul Kareem Shaiban, the head of the government’s delegation at talks with the Houthis, told Arab News that the opening of the Al-Houban-Taiz city road would alleviate over nine years of suffering for local residents. The move would connect the city to Taiz, Ibb, Sanaa, and other Yemeni centers, allow food and supplies to be delivered, and reduce travel costs.

“Today, we were relieved that our families, mothers, sisters and brothers arrived and exited Taiz after the opening of this road and that the family finally united after years of separation,” Shaiban said. He also called on the Houthis not to harass individuals who crossed into their area, to open the city’s remaining blocked exits, and to lift their siege altogether.

The Houthi militia laid siege to the city of Taiz in early 2015 after their forces were unable to seize control due to stiff opposition from Yemeni government troops and allied resistance fighters.

The group barricaded the city’s major exits, posted snipers and laid landmines to prevent civilians from leaving or entering. The blockade has forced more than two million civilians to use perilous dirt tracks to leave or enter the city.

Local and international relief and rights organizations have long chastised the Houthis for impeding the delivery of essential humanitarian supplies and products to the besieged city, driving people to starvation.

As well as the Al-Houban road, they have reopened a route connecting Marib with Sanaa via Al-Bayda and have committed to consider lifting blockades on additional restricted highways. 

Responding to the Houthi proposal, the Yemeni government in Taiz sent bulldozers to clear trees, dunes, and barriers, while deminers cleared landmines from its side of the route.

Abu Mohammed, a bus driver from Taiz, said the opening of the road reminded him of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He added that he could now travel to his mother and other relatives in the countryside in one hour instead of seven, the length of his journey while the road was closed.

“This is an extremely significant event. This year’s Eid (Al-Adha) will be very joyful since I’m bringing my family from the city to see my mother in the countryside,” he told Arab News joyfully.

Other Yemenis from Taiz residing overseas, including politicians, journalists, businesspeople, and activists, expressed similar excitement.

“Thanks to the productive efforts of all serious people, smiles returned today to brighten the faces of the residents of Taiz, with the reopening of the major artery,” Shawki Ahmed Hayel Saeed, a prominent businessman from Taiz, said on X.

At the same time, Yemeni government military officials urged the Houthis to unlock the seven city entrances that remain closed and allow large vehicles carrying food and other supplies to enter the city via the newly opened route.

“This is a partial lifting of the siege on Taiz because the militia only allowed small cars and pedestrians to enter or leave Taiz through this road and does not yet allow trucks or food supplies to enter the city,” Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni military official in Taiz, told Arab News.


Short circuit caused fire in Kuwait building housing foreign workers: fire service

A picture shows a building which was engulfed by fire, in Kuwait City, on June 12, 2024. (AFP)
A picture shows a building which was engulfed by fire, in Kuwait City, on June 12, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2024
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Short circuit caused fire in Kuwait building housing foreign workers: fire service

A picture shows a building which was engulfed by fire, in Kuwait City, on June 12, 2024. (AFP)
  • Those killed were mostly Indians, and the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh was received by his Kuwaiti counterpart on Thursday

RIYADH: Kuwait’s fire service said on Thursday that an electrical short circuit caused the blaze that killed 50 people in a building housing foreign workers on Wednesday.

The fire broke out around dawn on Wednesday at the base of the block housing nearly 200 workers in the Mangaf area, south of Kuwait City.

Those killed were mostly Indians, and the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh was received by his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Fahad Yusuf Saud Al-Sabah on Thursday.

Sheikh Fahad expressed his condolences over the tragic incident and Singh thanked Kuwait and its Emir Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah for the help and support extended to the families of those killed and injured in the blaze. 

Kuwaiti authorities said earlier on Thursday that three people had been detained for suspected manslaughter over the fire.