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)
Short Url
Updated 09 April 2024
Follow

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.”


Poverty in Lebanon tripled over a decade, World Bank says

Poverty in Lebanon tripled over a decade, World Bank says
Updated 6 min 47 sec ago
Follow

Poverty in Lebanon tripled over a decade, World Bank says

Poverty in Lebanon tripled over a decade, World Bank says
  • The findings showed stark differences in poverty levels between different areas of the country
  • Among Lebanese surveyed, the poverty rate in 2022 was 33 percent, while among Syrians it reached 87 percent

BEIRUT: Poverty in Lebanon tripled over the course of a decade during which the small Mediterranean country slid into a protracted financial crisis, the World Bank said Thursday.
The percentage of people in Lebanon living below the poverty line rose from 12 percent in 2012 to 44 percent in 2022, the bank said in a report based on surveys conducted in five of the country’s eight governorates.
The data provided the most detailed snapshot to date on the economic circumstances of the country’s population since the crisis that began in late 2019, although World Bank officials acknowledged it was incomplete as surveyors were not given access to three governates in the south and east of the country.
The findings showed stark differences in poverty levels between different areas of the country and between Lebanese citizens and the country’s large population of Syrian refugees.
In the Beirut governate, in contrast to the rest of the country, poverty actually declined from 4 percent to 2 percent of the population during the decade surveyed, while in the largely neglected Akkar region in the north, the rate increased from 22 percent to 62 percent.
Among Lebanese surveyed, the poverty rate in 2022 was 33 percent, while among Syrians it reached 87 percent. While the survey found an increase in the percentage of Lebanese citizens working in unskilled jobs like agriculture and construction, it found that most Lebanese still work in skilled jobs while the majority of Syrians do unskilled labor.
The report also measured “multidimensional poverty,” which takes into account access to services like electricity and education as well as income, finding that some 73 percent of Lebanese and 100 percent of non-Lebanese residents of the country qualify as poor under this metric.
Beginning in late 2019, Lebanon’s currency collapsed, while inflation skyrocketed and the country’s GDP plummeted. Many Lebanese found that the value of their life savings had evaporated.
Initially, many saw an International Monetary Fund bailout as the only path out of the crisis, but since reaching a preliminary agreement with the IMF in 2022, Lebanese officials have made limited progress on reforms required to clinch the deal, including restructuring the ailing banking sector.
An IMF delegation visiting Beirut this week found that “some progress has been made on monetary and fiscal reforms,” the international financial institution said in a statement, including on “lowering inflation and stabilizing the exchange rate,” but it added that the measures “fall short of what is needed to enable a recovery from the crisis.”
It noted that reforms to “governance, transparency and accountability” remain “limited” and that without an overhaul of the banking sector, the “cash and informal economy will continue to grow, raising significant regulatory and supervisory concerns.”
The World Bank has estimated that the cash economy makes up 46 percent of the country’s GDP, as Lebanese distrustful of banks in the wake of the crisis have sought to deal in hard currency.
The flourishing cash economy has created fertile ground for money laundering and led to concerns that Lebanon could be placed on the Paris-based watchdog Financial Action Task Force’s “grey list” of countries with a high risk of money laundering and terrorism financing.


Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead

Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead

Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead
  • Israeli troops withdrew from the city after carrying out raids in the city’s refugee camp and exchanging fire with masked gunmen
  • Four children among the dead, and 25 wounded during the fighting

JeNIN: A two-day Israeli raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin killed at least 12 Palestinians, health authorities and an AFP correspondent said Thursday.
Israeli troops withdrew from the city early Thursday, the correspondent said, after carrying out raids in the city’s refugee camp and exchanging fire with masked gunmen in a nearby neighborhood in the city center.
The Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah said Israeli forces had killed 12 people including four children, and wounded 25 during the fighting which began on Tuesday morning.
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa and medical charity Doctors Without Borders reported that surgeon Usaeed Jabareen, from Jenin’s Khalil Suleiman government hospital, was among those killed on Tuesday.
An AFP correspondent on Thursday saw five bodies at the hospital morgue, including Jabareen’s.
A schoolteacher and a student were also among the dead, Wafa reported, quoting hospital director Wissam Bakr.
Several of the bodies were draped in flags and carried among crowds of Palestinians, including armed militants, through the streets as gunfire rang out.
Both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Palestinian militant group Hamas condemned the raid.
Israel’s army said on Wednesday troops had “exchanged fire with armed men and killed a number of terrorists, including two terrorists who threw explosives at the forces.”
The army said it had raided the house of Ahmed Barakat, who was suspected of involvement in an attack on an Israeli civilian last year.
Meir Tamari, 32, was killed in May 2023 at the entrance to a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, medics and military officials said at the time.
Jenin has long been a stronghold of Palestinian militant groups, and the Israeli army routinely carries out raids in the city and adjacent camp.
The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, has seen a surge in violence for more than a year, but especially so since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7.
At least 518 Palestinians have been killed in the territory by Israeli troops or settlers since the Gaza war broke out, according to Palestinian officials.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 12 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The Gaza Strip has been gripped by more than seven months of war since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Hezbollah fighter killed in Israeli strike on south Lebanon: source

Hezbollah fighter killed in Israeli strike on south Lebanon: source
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

Hezbollah fighter killed in Israeli strike on south Lebanon: source

Hezbollah fighter killed in Israeli strike on south Lebanon: source
  • Hezbollah announced the death of its member Muhammad Ali Nasser Faran from Nabatieh

BEIRUT: An Israeli drone strike killed a Hezbollah fighter in southern Lebanon, a source close to the powerful Islamist movement said on Thursday.
Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has traded near daily cross-border fire with Israeli forces since the Palestinian group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel sparked the war in Gaza.
Hezbollah later announced the death of its member Muhammad Ali Nasser Faran, from Nabatieh, and a source close to Hezbollah said he was killed in the strike.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency had reported that a “drone targeted a car on the road leading to Nabatieh,” a city close to Lebanon’s border with Israel.
“The driver was killed,” it said, noting that three children in a nearby school bus were injured.
A member of the civil defense told AFP that the children received “light injuries as a result of the broken windows of the bus that was taking them to school” and that they were taken to hospital.
Since the start of the cross-border fighting, at least 429 people have been killed in Lebanon, mostly militants but also including 82 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israel says 14 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed on its side of the border.
The violence has raised fears of all-out conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, which last went to war in 2006.


Top UN court to rule Friday on South Africa Gaza ceasefire bid

Top UN court to rule Friday on South Africa Gaza ceasefire bid
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

Top UN court to rule Friday on South Africa Gaza ceasefire bid

Top UN court to rule Friday on South Africa Gaza ceasefire bid
  • The rulings of the ICJ are binding but it has no power to enforce them

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.


Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on

Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on

Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on
  • The week started with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants over war crimes
  • Newly released video showed five female Israeli soldiers, tied up and some with bloodied faces, in the hands of Palestinian militants

Jerusalem: Israel bombed Gaza on Thursday even as it said it was ready to resume stalled talks on a truce and hostage release deal with Hamas to pause the war raging since October 7.
Global pressure for a ceasefire has mounted on Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as three European countries said Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state.
The week started with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants over war crimes against Netanyahu and his defense minister as well as three Hamas leaders.
Israel has angrily rejected those moves, voicing “disgust” over the ICC move and labelling a recognition of the State of Palestine now a “reward for terrorism.”
But domestic pressure has also risen as supporters of hostages trapped in war-torn Gaza again rallied outside Netanyahu’s office, passionately demanding steps to free them.
A newly released video showed five female Israeli soldiers, tied up and some with bloodied faces, in the hands of Palestinian militants during the attack more than seven months ago.
The three-minute clip, taken from a militant’s body camera footage, was released by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum on Wednesday after the Israeli army lifted censorship on it.
“The footage reveals the violent, humiliating and traumatising treatment the girls endured on the day of their abduction, their eyes filled with raw terror,” the forum said.
Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting Hamas to “ensure what we have seen tonight never happens again,” and more bombardment rained down overnight on targets in the devastated Gaza Strip.
But his office also said that the war cabinet had asked the Israeli negotiating team “to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages.”
The previous round of truce talks, involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, ended shortly after Israel launched its attack on Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah early this month.
Israel went ahead with the assault on the last Gaza city so far spared a major ground offensive in defiance of global opposition, including from top ally the United States.
Washington voiced concerns that 1.4 million Palestinians who had been trapped in crowded tent cities and shelters there would be caught in the line of fire.
Israel has since ordered mass evacuations from the city, and the UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.
US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Wednesday the Rafah operation “has been more targeted and limited” than feared and “has not involved major military operations into the heart of dense urban areas.”
But he stopped short of saying that Israel had addressed US concerns, adding that Washington was closely watching ongoing Israeli actions.
Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi has meanwhile given a bleak assessment of the war so far to a meeting of the parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, according to a report by Israel’s Channel 13.
He reportedly said that Israel has “not achieved any of the strategic aims of the war — not conditions for a hostage deal, we haven’t toppled Hamas, and we haven’t allowed residents of the (Gaza) periphery to return safely home.”
The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Heavy fighting raged again in Gaza, where an AFP team reported fresh strikes early Thursday around Rafah.
Troops in the city had “dismantled a number of tunnel shafts and launchers in the area, and eliminated several terrorists during close-quarters encounters,” said the military.
Urban combat has also flared again in northern areas, including Jabalia, which Israeli forces first entered several months ago.
Israeli forces there “targeted several Hamas terrorists during strikes on military compounds” and located AK-47 and sniper rifles, grenades and other weaponry, the military said.
Israel has also imposed a siege that has deprived Gaza’s 2.4 million people of most drinking water, food, medical and fuel supplies.
The sporadic arrival of aid by truck slowed further after Israeli forces took control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
Jordan and others have kept up aid airdrops, and relief goods have been shipped in via a US-built pier, but many trucks were quickly swarmed by desperate crowds.
Israel has faced ever greater opposition to the bloody war around the world, and pro-Palestinian protests have swept US and other university campuses.
Israel reacted with fury after Ireland, Norway and Spain said they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, a move praised by Palestinians and across the Arab world.
Israel recalled its envoys to Dublin, Oslo and Madrid and summoned their ambassadors for a rebuke.
Most Western governments say they are willing to recognize Palestinian statehood one day, but not before thorny issues such as final borders and the status of Jerusalem are settled.
The White House said Biden opposed unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, saying it should be realized “through direct negotiations.”
Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris called the October 7 attack “barbaric” but stressed that “a two-state solution is the only way out of the generational cycles of violence.”