Paradigm shift needed to meet massive needs of people in Gaza, UN Security Council hears 

Paradigm shift needed to meet massive needs of people in Gaza, UN Security Council hears 
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File photo showing Sigrid Kaag, the UN's senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, speaking at a press conference at UN headquarters in New York City. (AFP)
Paradigm shift needed to meet massive needs of people in Gaza, UN Security Council hears 
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Egyptian trucks carrying humanitarian aid bound for the Gaza Strip queue outside the Rafah border crossing on the Egyptian side on March 23, 2024. (AFP /File)
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Updated 25 April 2024
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Paradigm shift needed to meet massive needs of people in Gaza, UN Security Council hears 

Paradigm shift needed to meet massive needs of people in Gaza, UN Security Council hears 
  • It requires scaling up of volumes of aid, ensuring safety of humanitarian workers, and making preparations now for the reconstruction and recovery process 
  • Sigrid Kaag warns disease threatens to sweep through the territory and children are deprived of nutrition, protection and education, their futures hanging in the balance 

NEW YORK CITY: The UN said on Wednesday that if it is to avert the threat of famine and meet the massive humanitarian needs of the civilian population in Gaza in a safe and secure manner, a paradigm shift is needed. 

This will require scaling up of volumes and distribution of aid, ensuring safety of workers delivering assistance inside the territory, and making a start now on preparations for the reconstruction and recovery process. 

Underscoring the fact that there is no substitute for the political will to sustain such work, Sigrid Kaag, the senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, echoed repeated calls by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a ceasefire, the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas, and the unrestricted flow of humanitarian aid to the population of the ravaged enclave. 

She also expressed grave concern about a threatened Israeli incursion into the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, which has become the last refuge for more than 1.5 million Palestinians, most of them displaced by fighting in other parts of the territory. 

A ground attack “would compound an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, with consequences for people already displaced and enduring severe hardships and suffering,” she said. 

Kaag was appointed by Guterres following the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2720 in December last year, which called on him to task a senior official with “facilitating, coordinating, monitoring and verifying” in Gaza, as appropriate, the humanitarian nature of all humanitarian relief consignments provided through states that are not parties to the conflict. 

As she shared her assessments with members of the Security Council on Wednesday, Kaag said Israel continues to reel under the “deep trauma” of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and the uncertainty about the fate of the remaining hostages. Meanwhile more than 34,000 people have been killed in Gaza, tens of thousands injured or maimed, and livelihoods, homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed, she added. 

“The health infrastructure in Gaza has been decimated” and the few hospitals left standing are operating amid severe shortages of supplies and frequent power outages, Kaag said. 

“As summer draws near and temperatures rise, communicable diseases threaten to sweep through Gaza. Children, who in every crisis suffer the worst and the most, are deprived of nutrition, protection and education, their futures hanging in the balance. 

“The scarcity of food and other essential goods has also led to a breakdown in civil order and the gradual unraveling of the social fabric in Gaza.” 

Effective humanitarian operations cannot be reduced “to counting trucks,” Kaag said as she emphasized the important need for humanitarian agencies to be able to transport consignments of food, medicine and other supplies safely using all possible routes and crossings. In this context, she said, the work of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees is “pivotal.” 

She added: “UNRWA is irreplaceable and indispensable as a humanitarian lifeline and must be allowed to deliver on its mandate.” 

The agency has been facing a severe crisis since Israeli authorities alleged in January that a dozen of its workers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks. A report published this week following an independent review of UNRWA revealed that Israel has yet to provide any proof in support of the allegations, and noted that for the past 13 years, authorities in Tel Aviv failed to raise any concerns about individuals named on staffing lists the agency shared with them. 

This month, in response to international pressure, Israel made several commitments intended to improve the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Gaza, including scaling up of volumes of aid, the opening of additional border-crossing points and for longer hours, repairs to a damaged water pipeline, and permission for bakeries in northern and central Gaza to resume making bread. 

However, given the scope of the destruction and the extent of the human suffering in the territory, Kaag said “further definitive and urgent steps are needed.” These include repairs to roads, timely provision of authorization for aid convoys, arrangements for evacuations of hospital patients and casualties, and more-effective mechanisms for protecting humanitarian workers on the ground. 

She also spoke of efforts to streamline the delivery of aid shipments to Gaza from Jordan, Egypt and Cyprus, with the UN proposing an inspection, monitoring and verification unit be established on the Palestinian side of border with Egypt at Rafah. 

However, she said that although work to build a floating port and pier on the Gaza shore continues to advance, a maritime corridor from Cyprus “can never be a substitute for delivery by land. Land routes are the only way to bring in the bulk of supplies needed.” 

The extent of the destruction and the devastating effects of the war on the entire population call for an ambitious, comprehensive plan of support, with the level of investments this requires, Kaag said. The scale of the investment required is clearly revealed by the need to “rebuild and repair more than 84 percent of destroyed health facilities” and for “the return of an entire student population to school while educational facilities have been destroyed.” 

She added: “The Palestinian Authority has a critical role to play in Gaza. The international community must work toward enabling its return, strengthen its governance capacity, and prepare it to reassume its responsibilities in Gaza. 

“All efforts toward early recovery and reconstruction also need the participation of Palestinian civil society. Fostering a conducive environment to reestablish the commercial sector in Gaza and the engagement of the Palestinian business community and its investors are equally important.” 


India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty

India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty
Updated 5 sec ago
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India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty

India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty
  • Indian central bank has announced record 2.11 trillion rupees dividend transfer to government, more than double New Delhi’s and street estimates
  • Surplus fund can help the new government bring down fiscal deficit by 0.3 percent of GDP or increase spending on infrastructure or “populist” stimulus

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: India’s incoming government will be greeted with a $25 billion cheque from the central bank, giving it the option to either boost spending or narrow the fiscal deficit quicker, both of which will be cheered by investors.
On Wednesday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced a record 2.11 trillion rupees dividend transfer to the government, more than double New Delhi’s and street estimates, leading to a decline in bond yields and a rise in equity markets.
The surplus fund can help the new government, which will take charge after the current elections, bring down its fiscal deficit by 0.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) or increase spending on infrastructure or “populist” stimulus, Citi Research’s Samiran Chakraborty said.
“The bond markets would likely hope that the government follows the deficit reduction route, while the equity markets would likely prefer the government taking the expenditure increase one,” said Chakraborty.
During the election campaigns, the opposition Congress promised annual cash handouts of 100,000 rupees ($1,202.07) to poor women and unemployed youth. The party’s star campaigner Rahul Gandhi also promised debt waiver for farmers.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has avoided promising any new major welfare measures.
“Despite higher revenue from the RBI dividend, we doubt the government would opt for more populist expenditure in its budget, if the government is BJP-led,” said Shreya Sodhani, an economist at Barclays.
“The current government has not shown a disposition toward populist spending even in an election year.”
The BJP-led government resisted the temptation of spending trillions of rupees on schemes for the poor in its last budget before the election while raising spending on infrastructure to 11.11 trillion rupees, more than three time the sum spent in 2019.
QUICKER FISCAL CONSOLIDATION
The new government will likely present the final budget in July, leaving the administration with only eight months to spend funds allocated to them.
Government spending has been slow so far in the year, with the start of elections from April. Tax collections, meanwhile, have been strong due to buoyancy in the economy.
India collected a record 2.10 trillion rupees in goods and services taxes in April, the first month of the financial year, ensuring the government is on track to meet its planned fiscal goal of 5.1 percent of GDP this year.
This could mean the government will lean toward using the bumper dividend for fiscal consolidation.
There is scope for a slight reduction in the targeted fiscal deficit for the current year, said Ashima Goyal, a professor and an external member of the country’s monetary policy committee, who expects the government to comfortably achieve the targeted fiscal deficit of 4.5 percent by 2025/26.
India’s fiscal deficit ballooned to 9.2 percent during the pandemic but the government has steadily brought this down.
But bringing down the deficit by 130 basis points from 5.8 percent in 2023/24 was seen as challenging and dependent on one-off revenue from either privatization or auction of telecom spectrum.
($1 = 83.1900 Indian rupees)


Armenia returns four border villages to Azerbaijan

Armenia returns four border villages to Azerbaijan
Updated 47 min 9 sec ago
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Armenia returns four border villages to Azerbaijan

Armenia returns four border villages to Azerbaijan

YEREVAN: Armenia has returned to Azerbaijan four border villages it had seized decades ago, officials in Yerevan and Baku confirmed Friday, in a key step toward normalizing ties between the historic rivals.
The two ex-Soviet countries in the Caucasus fought two wars in the 1990s and in 2020 for control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan recaptured it last year in a lightning offensive, ending three decades of Armenian separatist rule and prompting more than 100,000 locals to flee into Armenia.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had agreed in March to return the four abandoned villages seized by his country in the 1990s, as part of efforts to secure a lasting peace agreement between the countries.
On May 16, they agreed on the demarcation of 12.7 kilometers (almost seven miles) of their border that returned the villages of Baghanis Ayrum, Ashaghi Askipara, Kheyrimli and GhizilHajjili to Azerbaijan.
Armenia’s security service confirmed Friday that its border guards had “officially” taken up new positions reflecting the border deal and ceded the villages to Azerbaijan’s control.
Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev meanwhile announced that his country’s border guards had taken control of the four settlements.
Armenian residents of nearby settlements say the move could cut them off from the rest of the country and accuse Pashinyan of unilaterally giving away territory without any guarantees in return.
The premier’s move has sparked weeks of anti-government protests in Armenia, with thousands of demonstrators led by charismatic cleric Bagrat Galstanyan demanding Pashinyan’s resignation.
A fresh anti-government protest is scheduled for Sunday.
Pashinyan last week described the deal as a “very important milestone for further strengthening Armenia’s sovereignty and independence.”
The territory is of strategic importance for landlocked Armenia because it controls sections of a vital highway to Georgia.


EU’s Borrell says recognizing Palestine is not a gift to Hamas

EU’s Borrell says recognizing Palestine is not a gift to Hamas
Updated 24 May 2024
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EU’s Borrell says recognizing Palestine is not a gift to Hamas

EU’s Borrell says recognizing Palestine is not a gift to Hamas

MADRID: European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Friday said that recognizing a Palestinian state was not a gift to Hamas.
Ireland, Norway and Spain said on Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, to help secure a halt to Israel’s Gaza offensive after the Hamas attack on Oct.7 and revive peace talks that stalled a decade ago.
“Recognizing the Palestinian state is not a gift to Hamas, quite the contrary,” he said. “The Palestinian authority is not Hamas, on the contrary they are deeply confronted.”
He added the EU already talked, financed and met the Palestinian authority.
“Every time someone makes the decision to support a Palestinian state, ... the reaction of Israel is to transform it in an antisemitic attack,” he added.


Philippines opens coast guard post after China build-up

Philippines opens coast guard post after China build-up
Updated 24 May 2024
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Philippines opens coast guard post after China build-up

Philippines opens coast guard post after China build-up
  • China and the Philippines are enduring a bitter diplomatic dispute over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea
  • Coastguard says the post will be used to gather data

MANILLA: The Philippines said Friday it had opened a coast guard post in the country’s far north to boost security following China’s “military build-up” near Taiwan over the past two years.
The outpost “shall gather essential maritime data and intelligence, enabling the (Philippine Coast Guard) to respond effectively to threats such as illicit trade, trafficking, piracy, and foreign intrusions,” National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said in a statement.
“In 2022, the area around Itbayat witnessed a military build-up as China responded to political developments between Taiwan and the United States,” Ano said, announcing the opening of the station on the Philippines’ northernmost inhabited island.
“Securing peace, stability, and freedom of navigation along the Luzon Strait is crucial for ensuring Philippine national security and economic prosperity,” he added.
Itbayat is located around 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Taiwan’s south coast.
China and the Philippines are enduring a bitter diplomatic dispute over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.
China has built artificial islands and military installations in waters close to the Philippines.
China’s efforts to enforce its claims have in recent years including water cannon attacks by China Coast Guard vessels that damaged Philippine government boats and injured several crew members.
Itbayat is just outside the area designated by a vaguely defined map of dashes that China uses to claim most of the South China Sea.
Ano made no reference to war games that China began on Thursday in which it encircled Taiwan with warplanes and naval vessels.


Russia says Daesh behind deadly Moscow concert hall attack

Russia says Daesh behind deadly Moscow concert hall attack
Updated 24 May 2024
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Russia says Daesh behind deadly Moscow concert hall attack

Russia says Daesh behind deadly Moscow concert hall attack

Moscow: Russia on Friday admitted for the first time that Daesh coordinated the deadly concert hall attack in Moscow in March.
“In the course of the investigation... it has been established that the preparations, the financing, the attack, and the retreat of the terrorists were coordinated via the Internet by members of Khorasan Province (IS-K),” a branch of Daesh active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Alexander Bortnikov, the head of FSB, was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

At least sixty people have been killed after gunmen stormed a concert hall near Moscow in March, one of the deadliest attacks on Russia in decades.

Gunmen opened fire at a rock concert leaving dead and wounded before a major fire spread through the theater, Moscow’s mayor and Russian news agencies reported.

Putin has called the attack back in March as “a bloody, barbaric terrorist act” and said Russian authorities captured the four suspects as they were trying to escape to Ukraine through a “window” prepared for them on the Ukrainian side of the border.


Russian media broadcast videos that apparently showed the detention and interrogation of the suspects, including one who told the cameras he was approached by an unidentified assistant to an Islamic preacher via a messaging app and paid to take part in the raid.


Putin didn’t mention Daesh, known as Daesh in Arabic, in his speech to the nation, and Kyiv accused him and other Russian politicians of falsely linking Ukraine to the assault to stoke fervor for Russia’s fight in Ukraine, which recently entered its third year.


US intelligence officials said they had confirmed the Daesh affiliate’s claim.
“ISIS bears sole responsibility for this attack. There was no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
 The US shared information with Russia in early March about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow, and issued a public warning to Americans in Russia, Watson said.


The raid was a major embarrassment for the Russian leader and happened just days after he cemented his grip on the country for another six years in a vote that followed the harshest crackdown on dissent since the Soviet times.
Some commentators on Russian social media questioned how authorities, who have relentlessly suppressed any opposition activities and muzzled independent media, failed to prevent the attack despite the US warnings.


Daesh, which fought against Russia during its intervention in the Syrian civil war, has long targeted Russia. In a statement posted by the group’s Aamaq news agency, the Daesh Afghanistan affiliate said that it had attacked a large gathering of “Christians” in Krasnogorsk.