‘We will leave no stone unturned to shield UNRWA from ferocious attacks,’ says agency chief

Special ‘We will leave no stone unturned to shield UNRWA from ferocious attacks,’ says agency chief
UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on UNRWA at UN headquarters in New York on April 17, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 24 April 2024
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‘We will leave no stone unturned to shield UNRWA from ferocious attacks,’ says agency chief

‘We will leave no stone unturned to shield UNRWA from ferocious attacks,’ says agency chief
  • Philippe Lazzarini says many supporters of each side in Israeli-Palestinian conflict fail to feel empathy for those on the other and so demonize them
  • ‘The peace process, per se, is not enough; what we need is healing,’ he tells Arab News

NEW YORK CITY: The head of the UN agency that helps to provide aid and development for Palestinian refugees told Arab News on Tuesday that no effort will be spared to protect it from “ferocious attacks” by its critics.

And as protests related to the war in Gaza continue to cause friction around the world, including growing rows on US college campuses, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said many of the supporters of each side in the conflict are unable to feel any empathy for those on the other, and so they demonize them.

“The peace process, per se, is not enough,” he added. “What we need is healing.”

Lazzarini said he has been struck by the fact that “empathy in this part of the world is most of the time unilateral. It’s either empathy only for the Palestinians, with no understanding where the Israelis are coming and the trauma that Oct. 7 has created in the country, or empathy only for Israelis, with absolutely no empathy for the Palestinians.”

He said his main message to US students is the need to show “compassion and empathy” for both peoples, “because ultimately, we expect that Israelis and Palestinians will live, and deserve to live, in peace and security.”

UNRWA has never been under attack to the extent it has been in recent months, Lazzarini said.

“It has never been in a situation where at same time 18 countries are reviewing or freezing their contributions,” he added. “It has never been the target of an open campaign for the total dismantlement of its activities in Gaza, and possibly beyond. What we are going through is quite unique in its ferocity.”

Agency staff and the communities they serve are “deeply anxious” about the possibility it might be weakened or even dismantled, he said, pointing to an opinion poll in which between 80 and 90 percent of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank expressed such fears.

“We will leave no stone unturned and we will bring the conversation where it needs to be to avoid the agency’s dismantlement,” said Lazzarini.

He added that this has been the mindset since the crisis the agency is facing was brought to the attention of the UN General Assembly in March, and was on display again last week during a meeting of the Security Council requested by Jordan in response to long-running attempts by Israeli authorities to force the agency out of Gaza.

“Now we are looking at the next, best avenue to shield the organization from these kind of attacks,” he added.

The agency, which provides aid and other services to millions of Palestinian refugees in Gaza and throughout the region, was thrown into crisis in January when Israel alleged that 12 UNRWA workers took part in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas against Israel.

In a report published on Monday, an independent team of investigators led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, reported that Israeli authorities have yet to provide any evidence to back up their allegations, and had not previously expressed concerns about any individuals named on the lists of UNRWA staff they had been receiving since 2011.

In the immediate aftermath of the Israeli allegations, the US, the biggest single funder of the agency, and several other major donors immediately put their funding for the organization on hold. In all, 18 UN member states suspended or paused donations, while others imposed conditions, placing the very future of the agency in doubt. Many later resumed their donations.

Speaking to reporters at the end of an official visit to New York, Lazzarini once again said that he believes the attacks on UNRWA were not truly motivated by concerns about the neutrality of its staff, but rather the primary objective was to strip Palestinians of their refugee status.

Israel has long accused the agency of deliberately perpetuating the refugee status of millions of Palestinians, an allegation Lazzarini describes as “nonsense.”

“Basically, it is as if you would say that the humanitarian response in a conflict zone is perpetuating the conflict,” he said.

“The reality is that it is perpetuated because of the absence of a political solution. UNRWA was geared to be a temporary organization, hoping to end its activities the day there is a lasting and fair political solution. And here we are, 75 years later; it’s certainly not UNRWA perpetuating the status (but) our collective inability to promote a solution.

“If we have a genuine desire for a two-state solution, and we revitalize the implementation of such a solution, UNRWA’s temporary nature can be reinstated and hence UNRWA can pave the way for the future (Palestinian) state to provide the services the agency is providing.”

Since the beginning of the war in Gaza in October, 180 agency staff have been killed, more than 160 UN premises have been damaged or destroyed, and at least 400 people have been killed while seeking shelter under the flag of the UN.

Premises UNRWA staff were forced to abandon reportedly have been taken over and used for military purposes by the Israeli army, Hamas or other armed groups. Several agency workers have been arrested or mistreated, some have been tortured.

Lazzarini urged the Security Council to order an independent investigation into such incidents and for those responsible for the “blatant disregard” they have displayed toward UN premises, staff and operations in the Gaza Strip to be held accountable, so as to avoid setting “a new low standard in future conflict situations.”

The attacks on UNRWA and its work continue even as fears grow that warming weather will bring with it disease and other health risks. This is especially a concern in southern Gaza, which has become the last refuge for more than a million people forced by fighting to flee other parts of the territory, and where Lazzarini said “garbage collection has become a priority for our colleagues to prevent disease outbreak,” amid the “key anxiety” among people of a threatened, “possibly looming, upcoming military offensive” by Israel, “which seems to be back on the table.”

The report submitted by Colonna’s team after its investigation, which was ordered by the UN to assess whether UNRWA was doing all it could to ensure the neutrality of more than 32,000 workers, includes more than 50 recommendations, including improvements to internal oversight, enhanced in-person training, and additional support from donor nations.

Lazzarini welcomed the report and said he is committed to implementing its recommendations. It is clear from its findings, he said, that “the agency, in reality, has already a number of systems to deal with neutrality issues, far ahead of the average UN agencies or even (nongovernmental organizations), and because of the complexity of the environment we are operating in we need to be extremely vigilant, and we can always do more.”

He expressed his hope that as a result of the report and the measures that will be put in place, “the last group of donors will get the necessary confidence to come back” to the agency.

However, he noted that US will not provide any more donations until at least March 2025 because of a lack of political support for UNRWA in Washington, and added that “my task now is to try to bridge the gap” in financing that currently exists “and see that funding covered until the end of June.”


Oil tanker hit by missile off Yemen: security firm

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Oil tanker hit by missile off Yemen: security firm

Oil tanker hit by missile off Yemen: security firm
DUBAI: A crude oil tanker was hit by a missile off the coast of Yemen’s rebel-held city of Mokha overlooking the strategic Bab Al-Mandeb strait, maritime security firm Ambrey said Saturday.
“A Panama-flagged crude oil tanker was reportedly ‘attacked’” about 10 nautical miles southwest of Mokha, Ambrey said, adding that information “indicated the vessel was hit by a missile and that there was a fire in the steering gear flat.”
The British navy’s maritime security agency had earlier said it received a report of a vessel “sustaining slight damage after being struck by an unknown object.”
“The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call,” United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) added.
It said the incident occurred 76 nautical miles (140 kilometers) off Yemen’s Hodeidah, without specifying the type of vessel involved.
The Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control much of Yemen, have launched dozens of attacks on vessels in and around the Red Sea since November in a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in war-torn Gaza.
The rebel attacks have prompted reprisal strikes by US and British forces and the formation of an international coalition to protect the vital shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

Israeli forces kill senior Palestinian militant in Jenin: army

Israeli forces kill senior Palestinian militant in Jenin: army
Updated 18 May 2024
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Israeli forces kill senior Palestinian militant in Jenin: army

Israeli forces kill senior Palestinian militant in Jenin: army
  • The strike by a fighter jet and helicopter killed Islam Khamayseh
  • Khamayseh was a leader of the Jenin Battalion

RAMALLAH: The Israeli military said on Saturday it killed a senior Palestinian militant during an air strike on an “operations center” in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
“A number of significant terrorists were inside the compound,” the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement posted to Telegram.
It said the strike by a fighter jet and helicopter killed Islam Khamayseh, a “senior terrorist operative in the Jenin Camp” who was responsible for a series of attacks in the area.
The Al-Quds Brigade, the armed wing of militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, confirmed in a statement that Khamayseh was killed and several others wounded during an Israeli raid on Friday night.
It said Khamayseh was a leader of the Jenin Battalion, which is affiliated with Islamic Jihad.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said one person was killed and eight were wounded and receiving hospital treatment as a result of Israel’s operation in Jenin on Friday night.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and its troops routinely carry out incursions into areas such as Jenin, which are nominally under the Palestinian Authority’s security control.
The West Bank has seen a recent surge in violence, particularly since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7.
More than 500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers across the West Bank since October 7, according to Palestinian officials, and at least 20 Israelis have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
The Gaza Strip has been at war since Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has killed at least 35,303 people, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier
Updated 18 May 2024
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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier
  • Residents say Israeli bulldozers demolishing homes, shops in Jabalia
  • Hamas says US floating aid pier no substitute for end to Israeli siege

CAIRO: Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south militants attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.
“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.
Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Islamist militants re-grouping there.
In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.
“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, UN humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north toward the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.
As the fighting raged, the US military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.
The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land — disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah — were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.
“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
US aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.
Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade.”
The White House said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas militants rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.
A group of US medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

Humanitarian fears
The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive.”
A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.
“The 7th Brigade’s fire control center directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.
At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.
Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.
Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.
In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honorable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”
Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

‘Tragic war’
Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.
“They’re moving to areas where there is no water — we’ve got to truck it in — and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.
At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.
The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.


Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier
Updated 18 May 2024
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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier
  • Residents say Israeli bulldozers demolishing homes and shops in Jabalia in the path of the advance
  • Hamas says US floating aid pier is no substitute for end of Israeli siege of Gaza

CAIRO: Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south militants attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.
“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.
Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Islamist militants re-grouping there.
In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.
“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, UN humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north toward the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.
As the fighting raged, the US military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.
The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

Ships are seen near a temporary floating pier built to receive humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip in Gaza Beach on May 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS)

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land — disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah — were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.
“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
US aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.
Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade.”
The White House said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas militants rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.
A group of US medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

Ships are seen near a temporary floating pier built to receive humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip in Gaza Beach on May 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS)

Humanitarian fears
The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive.”
A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.
“The 7th Brigade’s fire control center directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.
At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.
Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.
Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.
In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honorable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”
Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

’Tragic war’
Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.
“They’re moving to areas where there is no water — we’ve got to truck it in — and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.
At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.
The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.


WHO says no medical supplies received in Gaza for 10 days

WHO says no medical supplies received in Gaza for 10 days
Updated 18 May 2024
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WHO says no medical supplies received in Gaza for 10 days

WHO says no medical supplies received in Gaza for 10 days

GENEVA: The World Health Organization said Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days as Israel pursues a new offensive against Hamas.
Israel’s closure of the Rafah crossing into Gaza has caused “a difficult situation,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. “The last medical supplies that we got in Gaza was before May 6.”
Israeli troops entered the city of Rafah on May 7 to extend their offensive against Hamas over the militant group’s attacks seven months earlier. They closed the Rafah crossing into Egypt that is crucial for humanitarian supplies.
With UN agencies warning of a growing risk of famine in Gaza, the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings from Israel are also virtually shut down.
Jasarevic said the biggest concern was over fuel needed to keep clinics and hospitals running. Gaza’s health facilities need up to 1.8 million liters of fuel a month to keep operating.
The spokesman said only 159,000 liters had entered Rafah since the border closure. “This is clearly not sufficient,” he added, highlighting how only 13 out of 36 hospitals across the Palestinian territory were now “partially” operating.
“Hospitals still functioning are running out of fuel, and that puts so many lives at danger,” said Jasarevic. “Current military operations in Rafah are putting countless lives at risk.”
The Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in the death of more than 1,170 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Out of 252 people taken hostage, 128 are still held inside Gaza, but the army says 38 have died.
More than 35,300 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Palestinian territory since the war broke out, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.