Criminal gangs, profiteers thrive in Gaza as cash shortage worsens misery

Criminal gangs, profiteers thrive in Gaza as cash shortage worsens misery
A shortage of banknotes is gripping Gaza, fuelling criminal gangs and profiteering, after Israel has blocked imports of cash and most banks in the enclave have been damaged or destroyed during the war, according to residents, aid workers and banking sources. (AFP/File)
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Updated 14 May 2024
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Criminal gangs, profiteers thrive in Gaza as cash shortage worsens misery

Criminal gangs, profiteers thrive in Gaza as cash shortage worsens misery
  • After more than 7 months of Israeli bombardment, just a handful of ATMs remain operational in the strip, most of the them in the southern city of Rafah
  • Now residents say Israel’s offensive in Rafah has dried up supplies again and stoked prices

CAIRO/GENEVA/BERLIN: A shortage of banknotes is gripping Gaza, fueling criminal gangs and profiteering, after Israel has blocked imports of cash and most banks in the enclave have been damaged or destroyed during the war, according to residents, aid workers and banking sources.
After more than 7 months of Israeli bombardment, just a handful of ATMs remain operational in the strip, most of the them in the southern city of Rafah, where some 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has ordered civilians to evacuate parts of the southern city, sparking fears of a looming offensive. Its tanks entered residential districts there on Tuesday.
Supplies of basic goods had returned to some markets in April and early May for the first time in months after Israel ceded to international pressure to let in more aid trucks amid famine warnings.
But residents and aid workers say that many people haven’t had the cash to purchase them. Now residents say Israel’s offensive in Rafah has dried up supplies again and stoked prices.
Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of desperate people crowd outside ATMs, often waiting days for access. Armed gangs sometimes demand a fee to provide priority access, exploiting the absence of Palestinian police, three Western aid workers and seven residents told Reuters.
Abu Ahmed, 45, a resident of Rafah, said he had waited for as long as seven days and became so frustrated that he turned for help to gang members, who are sometimes armed with knives and guns.
“I paid 300 shekels ($80) of my salary to one of them for accessing the ATM and getting my cash,” said Abu Ahmed, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of reprisals. He earns 3,500 shekels per month as a public servant.
The three Western aid workers described the gangs as improvised groups that have sprung up across the Strip up as desperation has grown.
As of May 13, only 5 branches and 7 ATMs remain operational in the strip, primarily in Rafah, according to the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute, a non-profit organization headquartered in the West Bank. Before the war, Gaza had 56 bank branches and 91 ATMs.
The conflict erupted after an Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas, in which some 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage. Israel’s assault on Gaza, aimed at destroying Hamas and returning the hostages, has killed at least 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
The Palestinian economy runs on the Israeli shekel. Gaza’s financial system is almost completely dependent on Israel, which must approve major transfers and the movement of cash into the enclave, bankers said.
Israel has blocked cash imports to Gaza since the start of the war in October, according to the Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) and the Association of Banks in Palestine (ABP), a non-profit based in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Adnan Alfaleet, the Gaza district manager of Palestine Islamic Bank, which operates the biggest Islamic banking network in the Palestinian Territories, said his bank has no cash left in Gaza.
“We reached the point of complete lack of liquidity now. It can’t get worse,” he said.
The Israeli central bank did not respond to questions about whether transfers had been blocked. It said there were no Israeli banks in Gaza and shekels had circulated there in the past because of trade with and Palestinian workers in Israel.
COGAT, an Israeli Defense Ministry agency tasked with coordinating aid deliveries into the Palestinian territories, did not respond to Reuters’ questions.

POLICE KILLED
Ismail Al-Thawabta, the director of the Hamas-run government media office, said the Palestinian police were trying to protect ATM machines, despite coming under fire from Israeli forces.
A Hamas official, who declined to be named, said police were keeping a low profile and only making surprise raids or patrols at certain locations after officers had been targeted in Israeli strikes.
In February, the top US diplomat involved in humanitarian assistance to Gaza said Israeli forces had killed Palestinian police protecting a UN convoy.
The IDF did not respond to a request for comment on whether its forces have targeted police officers. Reuters could not determine how many police officers have been killed during the war.
Residents said some merchants are profiteering from the shortage. Some money exchange store owners, who can cash Western Union transfers, and even some pharmacists who have credit card machines, were charging heft commissions for access to money, according to two sources.
Azmi Radwan, a union representative of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, said some merchants were charging its staff in Gaza City and the north commission of 20 percent or 30 percent to cash their salaries for them, in the absence of banks.
“This is very dangerous,” he said. “A quarter of the salary that is supposed to feed one’s children is going to these merchants.”
UNRWA employs roughly 13,000 people in Gaza.
Sometimes money changers, after deducting a fee, will then say there are no shekels available and make payments in dollars at an unfavorable exchange rate, according to resident Abu Muhey, who also asked not to be identified by his full name for security reasons.

STUCK IN VAULTS
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of shekels are stranded inside bank vaults in northern Gaza due to a lack of armored vehicles and fear of looting, according to three UN and banking sources.
Bashar Odeh Yasin, director general of Association of Banks in Palestine (ABP), said the situation remains too unsafe for bank employees or international bodies to transfer the money.
“There’s a real problem in transferring cash from northern Gaza to the south and in bringing in cash from outside the Gaza Strip,” he said.
The number of bank notes in circulation has been further diminished by wear and tear as well as people taking them out when they leave, residents said.
Essential goods such as medicine remain chronically scarce in the enclave, which is also plagued by lengthy power shortages and lack of fuel.
The World Food Programme warned in April of the risk of famine in northern parts of Gaza. Israel this week opened a third crossing to allow more humanitarian aid into the north, but it has shut two checkpoints in the south, including the vital Rafah crossing into Egypt, halting aid deliveries there.
Monday saw fierce fighting in north and south Gaza. Efforts by Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators to secure a ceasefire have so far failed.
“There’s more food, which is provided, but there is definitely a lack of cash for people to buy it,” said Rik Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) representative to the Palestinian territory.
Many people were trading canned food or other aid for items they were missing, or selling them for cash, residents told Reuters.
Aya, a resident of Gaza City who was displaced first to Rafah and then central Gaza by Israeli operations, received ten blankets in aid packages. As her family already had some, she sold 8 of the blankets to buy her sisters and brothers chocolate and Nescafe, she said.
“Despite the misery, I tried to make them feel happy,” she said.


Biden adviser will be in Israel on Monday to avoid escalation between Israel, Lebanon

US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein. (AFP)
US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2024
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Biden adviser will be in Israel on Monday to avoid escalation between Israel, Lebanon

US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein. (AFP)

WASHINGTON: A senior Biden adviser will travel to Israel on Monday for meetings to avoid further escalation between Israel and Lebanon, a White House official said.
Amos Hochstein will advance efforts to avoid further escalation along the “Blue Line” between Israel and Lebanon, said the official, who did not wish to be identified.
Attacks between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon have led to worries of a deeper war across the Middle East.


Israel warns of escalation from cross-border fire from Hezbollah

Israel warns of escalation from cross-border fire from Hezbollah
Updated 17 June 2024
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Israel warns of escalation from cross-border fire from Hezbollah

Israel warns of escalation from cross-border fire from Hezbollah
  • Hezbollah says it will not halt fire unless Israel stops its military offensive on Gaza

JERUSALEM: Intensified cross-border fire from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement into Israel could trigger serious escalation, the Israeli military said on Sunday.
“Hezbollah’s increasing aggression is bringing us to the brink of what could be a wider escalation, one that could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a video statement in English.
Iran-backed Hezbollah last week launched the largest volleys of rockets and drones yet in the eight months it has been exchanging fire with the Israeli military, in parallel with the Gaza war.
After the relatively heavy exchanges over the past week, Sunday saw a marked drop in Hezbollah fire, while the Israeli military said that it had carried out several air strikes against the group in southern Lebanon.
The US and France are working on a negotiated settlement to the hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border. Hezbollah says it will not halt fire unless Israel stops its military offensive on Gaza.
“Israel will take the necessary measures to protect its civilians — until security along our border with Lebanon is restored,” Hagari said.


‘No joy’: Gazans mark somber Eid in shadow of war

‘No joy’: Gazans mark somber Eid in shadow  of war
Updated 17 June 2024
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‘No joy’: Gazans mark somber Eid in shadow of war

‘No joy’: Gazans mark somber Eid in shadow  of war
  • Many Palestinians forced to spend holiday without their loved ones
  • I hope the world will put pressure to end the war on us because we are truly dying, and our children are broken

GAZA STRIP: In tents in the stifling heat and bombed-out mosques, Gazans on Sunday marked the start of the Eid Al-Adha holiday, devoid of the usual cheer as the Israel-Hamas war raged on.

“There is no joy. We have been robbed of it,” said Malakiya Salman, a 57-year-old displaced woman now living in a tent in Khan Younis City in the southern Gaza Strip.
Gazans, like Muslims the world over, would usually slaughter sheep for the holiday — whose Arabic name means “feast of the sacrifice” — and share the meat with the needy.
Parents would also give their children new clothes and money for the celebration.
But this year, after more than eight months of a devastating Israeli campaign that has flattened much of Gaza, displaced most of the besieged territory’s 2.4 million people, and sparked repeated warnings of famine, the Eid is a day of misery for many.
“I hope the world will put pressure to end the war on us because we are truly dying, and our children are broken,” said Salman.
Her family was displaced from the far-southern city of Rafah, a recent focus of the fighting which began after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.
The military on Sunday morning announced a “tactical pause of military activity” around a Rafah-area route to facilitate the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid to Gazans.
AFP correspondents said there were no reports of strikes or shelling since dawn, though the Israeli military stressed there was “no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip.”
The brief respite in fighting allowed worshippers a rare moment of calm on holiday.
Many gathered for the Eid Al-Adha morning prayer in the courtyard of Gaza City’s historic Omari Mosque, which was heavily damaged in Israeli bombardment, placing down their frayed prayer mats next to mounds of rubble.
The sound of prayers traveled down some of the city’s destroyed and abandoned streets.
“Since this morning, we’ve felt a sudden calm with no gunfire or bombings ... It’s strange,” said 30-year-old Haitham Al-Ghura from Gaza City.
He hoped the pause meant a permanent ceasefire was near, though truce mediation efforts have stalled for months.
In several areas of the war-battered territory, especially in Gaza City, young boys were seen manning roadside shops selling perfumes, lotions, and other items against the backdrop of piles of rubble from destroyed buildings and homes.
Many vendors used umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching sun as they sold household items on Gaza City’s main market street. But there were few buyers.
Food and other goods can reach four or five times their usual price, but those who cling to the holiday traditions can still afford them.
In Khan Younis, displaced man Majdi Abdul Raouf spent 4,500 shekels ($1,200) — a small fortune for most Gazans — on a sheep to sacrifice.
“I was determined to buy it despite the high prices, to perform these rituals and bring some joy and happiness to the children in the displacement camp,” said the 60-year-old, who fled his home in Rafah.
“There is sadness, severe pain, and suffering, but I insisted on having a different kind of day.”
The deadliest-ever Gaza war began after Hamas’s unprecedented Oct. 7 attack.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,337 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Health Ministry in the territory.
For many, a halt in fighting can never bring back what has been lost.
“We’ve lost many people, there’s a lot of destruction,” said Umm Mohammed Al-Katri from Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza.
“This Eid is completely different,” she said, with many Gazans forced to spend the holiday without their loved ones killed or displaced during the war.
Grieving families on Sunday flocked to cemeteries and other makeshift burial sites, where wooden planks marked the graves.
“I feel comfort here,” said Khalil Diab Essbiah at the cemetery where his two children are buried.
Even with the constant buzzing of Israeli drones overhead, visitors at the cemetery “can feel relieved of the genocide we are in and the death and destruction,” he said.
Hanaa Abu Jazar, 11, also displaced from Rafah to the tent city in Khan Yunis, said: “We see the (Israeli) occupation killing children, women and the elderly.”
“How can we celebrate?” asked the girl.

 


Jordan conducts three airdrops in southern Gaza

Jordan conducts three airdrops in southern Gaza
Updated 17 June 2024
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Jordan conducts three airdrops in southern Gaza

Jordan conducts three airdrops in southern Gaza
  • Aid packages containing food, clothing, and sweets were delivered to various locations in the southern Gaza

AMMAN: Jordan’s armed forces conducted three airdrops to the southern part of Gaza on Sunday, in collaboration with Egypt, to mark the first day of Eid Al-Adha, Jordan News Agency reported.
Aid packages containing food, clothing, and sweets were delivered to various locations in the southern Gaza Strip by two planes from the Royal Jordanian Air Force and an aircraft from Egypt.
Earlier on Saturday, a 45-truck humanitarian aid convoy arrived in Gaza, sent by the JAF and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO).
In cooperation with its regional and international allies, the Jordanian armed forces have carried out 261 airdrops and delivered 1,970 trucks of aid since the beginning of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “a significant proportion of Gaza’s population is now facing catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions,” as Israel continues to impose severe restrictions on the supply of food, water, medicine, and fuel to the Strip.
 


Kuwait Red Crescent distributes meat to Lebanese families, Syrian, Palestinian refugees

Kuwait Red Crescent distributes meat to Lebanese families, Syrian, Palestinian refugees
Updated 16 June 2024
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Kuwait Red Crescent distributes meat to Lebanese families, Syrian, Palestinian refugees

Kuwait Red Crescent distributes meat to Lebanese families, Syrian, Palestinian refugees
  • Initiative follows last week's distribution of Eid Al-Adha packages by the KRCS

LONDON: The Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) has launched an initiative to distribute meat to around 1,500 Lebanese families, as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, in celebration of Eid Al-Adha, Kuwait News Agency reported on Sunday.
Youssef Boutros, relief coordinator of the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC), announced that the distribution process had begun on Sunday.
This initiative follows last week's distribution of Eid Al-Adha packages by the KRCS, which included clothes and other essentials for around 2,000 families, covering Lebanese families and Syrian and Palestinian refugees.
In addition to these efforts, the KRCS is continuing its humanitarian aid to 6,000 Lebanese families in southern Lebanon, who have been affected by military confrontations between Hezbollah and Israel since October.
This aid, which includes food and staple supplies, is being distributed with the assistance of the LRC.