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.” 


Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour

Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour
Updated 58 min 32 sec ago
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Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour

Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour
  • Opinion polls consistently put Labour on course for a victory that would end 14 years of Conservative government

LONDON: Billionaire John Caudwell, one of the governing Conservative Party’s biggest donors before Britain’s last national election in 2019, said on Tuesday he would instead be backing Keir Starmer’s Labour Party at the upcoming July 4 vote.
“I can declare publicly that I will vote for Labour, and I encourage everybody to do the same,” Caudwell said in a statement.
“We need a very strong Labour Government that can take extremely bold decisions and you can rest assured that I will be doing my best to influence them wherever I can, in putting the great back in Britain.”
Opinion polls consistently put Labour on course for a victory that would end 14 years of Conservative government. A poll published by Ipsos on Tuesday estimated Labour could win 453 seats to the Conservatives’ 115, giving them a huge parliamentary majority of 256.
Caudwell made nearly 1.5 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) in 2006 when he sold his mobile phone retailer Phones 4u.
He said he had been despairing about the Conservatives’ performance in government for “many years.”
Previously, in an interview with Reuters, Caudwell had expressed frustration at the Conservatives but described Labour as untested.
On Tuesday he cited current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s handling of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic — when he was finance minister — and what he said was a lowering of ethical standards under former leader Boris Johnson. He described Liz Truss’s brief spell in charge, which spooked financial markets, as a “debacle.”
Caudwell said he liked the focus on accelerating economic growth in Labour’s manifesto: “As I have always said, the government must be much more commercially minded to grow GDP in order to finance the public services that benefit all of society without increasing taxes.”
Labour leader Starmer welcomed the endorsement.
“I’m delighted that John, someone with such a successful track-record in business, has today thrown his support behind the changed Labour Party that I lead,” he said.
“The message is clear: business backs change and economic stability with Labour, and rejects 5 more years of chaos and decline with the Tories.”


Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia

Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia
Updated 18 June 2024
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Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia

Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia
  • Riots broke out in mid-May after anger over voting reform spilled into weeks of deadly protests

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday called on residents of the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia to dismantle barricades after weeks of unrest, adding the situation remained “unacceptable.”
In a public appeal, Macron called for “the firm and definitive lifting of all blockades” and “the condemnation of violence.”
New Caledonia, which is located between Australia and Fiji, has been ruled from Paris since the 19th century but many indigenous Kanaks want greater autonomy or independence.
Riots broke out in mid-May after anger over voting reform spilled into weeks of deadly protests.
French authorities insist Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, is back under their control, although barricades remain and pro-independence demonstrators have said they are determined to stay in the streets.
In a sign of a slow return to normality after five weeks of unrest, schools reopened on Monday, as did Noumea’s international airport.
Last week Macron announced that the controversial voting reform would be “suspended” in light of upcoming snap parliamentary polls in France.
In the letter published by local media in New Caledonia, Macron called for dialogue and patience.
Caledonian pro-independence movements had already considered reform dead given Macron’s call for snap elections.
Macron has called the snap parliamentary elections three years early in a dramatic gamble to shake up politics in France after the far right trounced his centrist camp in EU elections.
With the first round of voting set to take place on June 30, polls have underlined fears that his alliance risks being squeezed by new coalitions on the left and right.

 


Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes

Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes
Updated 18 June 2024
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Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes

Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes
  • Tax hikes last year led to several opposition protests which sometimes degenerated into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators

NAIROBI: Kenyan police fired tear gas and arrested at least a dozen demonstrators on Tuesday as hundreds of people gathered near parliament to protest tax hikes, according to journalists at the scene.
The East African economic powerhouse has struggled with a cost-of-living crisis, which critics say will only worsen under the levies laid out in a bill due to be debated in parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
Kenya’s government on Tuesday walked back plans to impose multiple tax hikes, the presidency said, announcing amendments to the controversial bill.

BACKGROUND

Kenya’s government has walked back plans to impose multiple tax hikes, the presidency said, announcing amendments to the controversial bill.

“The Finance Bill has been amended to remove the proposed 16 per cent VAT on bread, transportation of sugar, financial services, foreign exchange transactions as well as the 2.5 per cent Motor Vehicle Tax,” the presidency said in a statement.
The new taxes contained in the finance bill were expected to help the cash-strapped administration generate some 346.7 billion shillings ($2.7 billion) to boost revenue and cut government borrowing.
In addition to the proposed motor vehicle tax, the amendments will also do away with increased taxes on financial and mobile services.
“We are going to end up with a product in parliament that came from the executive and has been interrogated by the legislature. Through public participation, the people of Kenya have had a say,” President William Ruto told his party’s lawmakers.
Parliament must pass the final version of the bill before June 30.
Tax hikes last year led to several opposition protests which sometimes degenerated into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators.
Hundreds of black-clad protesters marched toward parliament in Nairobi’s business district, but were kept back by police officers lobbing tear gas at the crowds.
“I am tired. The prices of everything have gone up. Life is no longer affordable,” said 29-year-old Rara Eisa.
Eisa, who said she had never protested before Tuesday, described the hikes as oppressive.
“They are not lenient in any way,” she said.
Student Paloma Njoroge, 22, who was protesting, rejected pro-government claims that the demonstrations amounted to “social media activism that yields nothing.”
“I have my bottle of water and running shoes. They have to feel our disgust,” she said.
Dubbed “Occupy Parliament,” news of the protest was shared online after an activist leaked MPs’ contact details, urging people to bombard them with calls and messages to shoot down a bill proposing the new hikes.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission urged police to “stop the arrests.”
“Our constitution grants us the right to protest. Still, if the arrests persist, we won’t be deterred,” KHRC said on X, formerly Twitter.
Ruto came to power in 2022 on a promise to revive the economy and put money in the pockets of the downtrodden, but his policies have sparked widespread discontent.
Last year’s tax hikes led to opposition protests, sometimes degenerating into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators.
While Kenya is among the most dynamic economies in East Africa, roughly a third of the 51.5 million population lives in poverty.

 


Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says

Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says
Updated 18 June 2024
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Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says

Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says
  • Federal judges reject case presented by Save the Children, on the grounds that there is no legal obligation on the government to bring citizens home
  • The judgment means they might wait years to be released from what home affairs minister has acknowledged is a ‘dangerous and damaging detention’

SYDNEY: About 40 Australian women and children could be stuck in Syrian detention camps for years, after a court on Tuesday dismissed a legal challenge calling for their government to bring them home.
Federal court judges rejected the case, brought by Save the Children, on the grounds that there is no legal obligation on Australian authorities to bring its citizens home.
However, they noted in their ruling that if the federal government had “the political will” to repatriate the 10 women and 30 children from Syria “it would be a relatively straightforward exercise.”
Instead, the judgment means they might wait years to be released from what Australia’s home affairs minister has acknowledged is a “dangerous and damaging detention,” The Guardian newspaper reported.
They are the wives, widows and children of slain or jailed Daesh fighters. None of them have been charged with any crimes or face arrest but they have been held in Al-Roj and Al-Hol camps for years. The Red Cross said several of the children were born inside the camps and know no life outside of them. They live in “dire” conditions; illness and malnutrition are rife and security is “extremely volatile.”
Chief Justice Debra Mortimer, and justices Geoffrey Kennett and Christopher Horan, accepted evidence that many countries, including Australia, have successfully repatriated citizens from the detention camps, with assistance from Kurdish authorities.
“If the Commonwealth has the political will to bring the … women and children back to Australia, on the evidence before the court, it would be a relatively straightforward exercise,” they said, adding that it had been “amply proven” that authorities had the “means” to end the detention of the women and children.
“But that is distinct from a finding that the Commonwealth exercises control over them and their custody,” they said.
Mat Tinkler, the CEO of Save the Children Australia, said: “Our commitment to helping bring the remaining children back to Australia, where they belong, remains unshakable regardless of today’s outcome.
“These are innocent Australian kids who have experienced immense trauma and suffering but are left to languish in desert camps, where they are rapidly losing hope.
“What I find difficult to comprehend is that the Australian government could end their suffering right now by bringing them home and providing the chance for a real life but our political leaders are choosing not to act.”


Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia

Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia
Updated 18 June 2024
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Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia

Ukraine claims drone attack on oil tanks in Russia
  • Kyiv has carried out several similar attacks on Russian energy facilities in recent months
  • Some 200 firefighters and emergency personnel were deployed to deal with the blaze

KYIV: Ukrainian forces launched an overnight drone attack that set several oil storage tanks ablaze near the town of Azov in southern Russia, a defense source in Kyiv told AFP on Tuesday.
Kyiv has carried out several similar attacks on Russian energy facilities in recent months, arguing they are fair targets given that they fuel Moscow’s military.
Russia has also staged dozens of devastating attacks on Ukrainian power plants throughout its two-year invasion, crippling the country’s energy grid.
“Oil product tanks caught fire in Azov as a result of a drone attack. According to preliminary data, there were no casualties,” said the governor of the local Rostov region, Vasily Golubev.
Video published by Russia’s emergencies ministry showed thick smoke and flames billowing out of what appeared to be multiple oil storage tanks in an undisclosed location.
Ukraine did not say how many drones were involved in the attack.
The defense source, who asked not to be named, described it as a “successful” attack and said it caused “powerful fires in the installations.”
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) “will continue to impose ‘drone sanctions’ on Russia’s oil refining complex and reduce the enemy’s economic potential, which provides the aggressor with resources to wage war against Ukraine,” the source said.
It also claimed that SBU drones have carried out more than 20 successful attacks on Russian oil facilities in various regions.
Some 200 firefighters and emergency personnel were deployed to deal with the blaze, which spanned an area of at least 3,200 square meters (3,800 square yards), Russia’s emergencies ministry said.
The Rostov region sits directly across the border from Ukraine and is home to the operational headquarters overseeing Russia’s invasion.
On the battlefield, Ukraine said Russian forces were fighting to enter the outskirts of Chasiv Yar, a flashpoint town in the east whose capture could accelerate Russian advances.
Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk, where war-scarred Chasiv Yar lies, has borne the brunt of fighting over more than two years and the Kremlin claims the region is part of Russia.
“The enemy keeps trying to advance to the micro-district Novy in the town of Chasiv Yar,” a Ukrainian military official said in a briefing.
Further south, the military said Moscow’s forces were also pushing toward Pokrovsk, where they were closing in on a key road that would complicate supplies between strategic hubs in the region.
A 24-year-old Ukrainian serviceman, who identified himself with his call-sign Dykyi, dismissed concerns Russians could render the road impassable for Ukraine.
A colleague, who did not give his name, noted that Russian forces were already flying drones and launching missile attacks at the road.
“It will definitely not be blocked for the military,” Dykyi told AFP at a training ground in the Donetsk region, however, over the sounds of gunfire.
He said that even if Russian forces do advance toward the thoroughfare, military engineers could craft new routes or fix alternative roads in bad repair.
“As long as the weather is good, there are routes everywhere,” he said.
Ukraine’s air force meanwhile said it had downed 10 Iranian-designed attack drones launched by Russian forces overnight.
In a separate incident, Ukraine’s prosecutor general accused Russian forces of beheading a Ukrainian serviceman in the eastern Donetsk region.
Ukraine’s national grid operator Ukrenergo meanwhile said the country will face rolling electricity blackouts throughout Wednesday after Russian strikes on Ukrainian power plants.
On the diplomatic front, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that China’s support for Russia’s defense industry is prolonging the Ukraine war and “has to stop.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian earlier urged NATO to “stop shifting blame” over the Ukraine war after the alliance’s chief Jens Stoltenberg accused Beijing of worsening the conflict through support of Russia.
At a summit in Switzerland on Sunday, world leaders backed Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, and the need for eventual talks with Russia on ending the war — but left the key questions of how and when unresolved.
Moscow doubled down on its demand for Kyiv’s effective surrender as a starting point for negotiations.