International donors pledge $5.4 billion for Syrian refugees

Update International donors pledge $5.4 billion for Syrian refugees
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Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests. (AP)
Update European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell arrives to attend a Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on May 27, 2024. (AFP)
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European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell arrives to attend a Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on May 27, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2024
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International donors pledge $5.4 billion for Syrian refugees

International donors pledge $5.4 billion for Syrian refugees
  • Jordan’s foreign minister said the international community was abandoning Syrian refugees as funding to support them in host countries dwindles

BRUSSELS: International donors led by the EU on Monday pledged $5.4 billion (five billion euros) for Syrian refugees, as Brussels insisted they should not be “pushed back” to their war-torn homeland.

An annual gathering hosted by the EU and chaired by its foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saw the European Union commit 2.12 billion euros for 2024 and 2025.

That figure included 560 million euros already promised this year for Syrians displaced inside the country and in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, and the same amount for 2025.

The bloc also pledged one billion euros for Syrian refugees in neighboring Turkiye.

“The situation in Syria is more dire today than one year ago. In fact, it has never been so dire and humanitarian needs are at all time high,” Borrell said.

“Today 16.7 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, the highest level since the start of the crisis over 13 years ago.”

EU humanitarian chief Janez Lenarcic said that on top of the five billion euros in grants, a further 2.5 billion euros was promised by donors in loans.

He said the EU and its member states overall accounted for three quarters of the grants pledged.

The United States said it had also pledged nearly 545 million euros ($593 million) in humanitarian assistance for Syria. Washington “remains committed to assisting the Syrian people and encourages other donors to continue their support for Syrians,” a State Department statement added.

The donor drive came after the United Nations refugee agency warned its operations to support displaced Syrians remained “significantly underfunded at 15 percent almost six months into 2024.”

“While we welcome the pledges made today, the discussion remains far removed from the harsh realities Syrians face,” Oxfam’s Syria director, Moutaz Adham, said.

“Funding still fails to match the scale of needs and year after year, the number of people relying on aid grows.”

In the face of the shortfalls, regional countries hosting millions of refugees from Syria have been increasingly pushing for “voluntary” returns to the country.

But Borrell cautioned about any efforts to make people move back to Syria.

“We make a warning about the so-called voluntary returns of Syrian refugees to Syria,” he said.

“Voluntary returns mean voluntary. The refugees should not be pushed back to Syria.”

Borrell insisted that the international community should not “incentivise this by any means.”

“We consider that there is not the safe, voluntary, informed and dignified returns of refugees to Syria for the time being,” the EU’s top diplomat said.

Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.

More than a quarter of Syrians live in extreme poverty, the World Bank said Saturday, 13 years into a devastating civil war that has battered the economy and impoverished millions.

Borrell said that efforts to find a political solution to the conflict remained at an “impasse.”

“The Assad regime has shown no intention of engaging in any meaningful political process,” he said.

“We request everyone, including partners in the region, to use their political leverage to encourage a renewed impetus on the political process.”


Netanyahu criticism on US weapons deliveries ‘vexing’: White House

Netanyahu criticism on US weapons deliveries ‘vexing’: White House
Updated 4 sec ago
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Netanyahu criticism on US weapons deliveries ‘vexing’: White House

Netanyahu criticism on US weapons deliveries ‘vexing’: White House
WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism this week over US weapons deliveries to his country is “vexing,” the White House said on Thursday.
“Those comments were deeply disappointing and certainly vexing to us, given the amount of support that we have and will continue to provide,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists.
In a video statement, Netanyahu said that while he appreciated America’s support during the Gaza war, “it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
The United States however has said that there is only one shipment of 2,000 pound bombs that is under review because of concerns about their use in densely populated areas.
Kirby separately said that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is due to meet his Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer on Thursday.
Washington is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has conducted more than eight months of operations against Hamas.
The war was triggered by an unprecedented October 7 attack by Palestinian militants on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports

Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports
Updated 4 min 20 sec ago
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Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports

Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports
“Cyprus is not involved, nor will it become involved, in any military conflicts,” government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said
He called Nasrallah’s comments “not pleasant,” adding that “all necessary diplomatic steps will be taken“

NICOSIA: Cyprus on Thursday rejected as “groundless” allegations by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement that airports on the east Mediterranean island might be used by Israeli warplanes if the Israel-Hamas war spreads.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in a televised address on Wednesday threatened Cyprus in the event that total war erupts in the region.
“Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war,” he said, referring to Hezbollah.
The government in Nicosia swiftly denied any Cyprus military involvement in Israel’s war against Hezbollah ally Hamas.
“Cyprus is not involved, nor will it become involved, in any military conflicts,” government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis told state radio on Thursday.
He called Nasrallah’s comments “not pleasant,” adding that “all necessary diplomatic steps will be taken.”
The island is home to two British military bases, but these are on sovereign UK territory and not controlled by the Cyprus government.
The British Akrotiri air base on the south coast has been used by the Royal Air Force which has joined the US Air Force in targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen who have attacked shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
The Houthis say they are doing so in solidarity with the Palestinian Hamas movement.
Over the past decade, Cyprus has built stronger ties with Israel, particularly in the search for new energy sources and in tourism.
Cyprus is the European Union’s easternmost member, and is less than 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Lebanon.
President Nikos Christodoulides has denied there has been any Cypriot involvement in the Israel-Hamas war except as “part of the solution” as a staging post for humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip via a maritime corridor.
“Cyprus is not part of the problem. As it is widely acknowledged, its diplomatic footprint is part of the solution,” government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis added in a separate written statement on Thursday.
“Any public allegations that refer to an involvement of Cyprus through its infrastructure or its territory in the event of a confrontation that relates to Lebanon are totally groundless,” the statement said.
“Cyprus has never facilitated and will not facilitate any aggressive action or attack against any country.”
On the street, reactions to the Hezbollah leader’s remarks were mixed.
“It’s a very tense moment all over the world,” Brazilian tourist Glaussia, 54, told AFP, not giving her last name.
She added that it was important that “everybody make an effort for peace.”
Nicosia resident Costas stressed that his country’s only involvement in the current conflict was to provide “humanitarian help to the people over there.”
He said the government would not become involved in the war in any military capacity.
“Cyprus is a credible enabler of stability, and an acknowledged regional hub for humanitarian operations, based on excellent relations with all the countries in the region,” government spokesman Letymbiotis said in his statement.

UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses
Updated 20 June 2024
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UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses
  • The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel
  • The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah

GENEVA/LONDON: A group of United Nations experts on Thursday warned arms and ammunitions manufacturers against taking part in the transfer of weapons to Israel, saying it could make them complicit in human rights abuses and violations of international law.

The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel, “even if they are executed under existing export licenses.”

“These companies, by sending weapons, parts, components, and ammunition to Israeli forces, risk being complicit in serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian laws,” the experts said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Israel which has repeatedly denied carrying out abuses during its Gaza operations, saying it is acting to defend itself and is fighting Hamas militants, not the Palestinian population.

The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah in the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, in a landmark emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide.

“In this context, continuing arms transfers to Israel may be seen as knowingly providing assistance for operations that contravene international human rights and international humanitarian laws and may result in profit from such assistance,” the experts said.

Israel has rejected the genocide accusations as false and grossly distorted.

Also on Thursday, British weapons manufacturers were warned that their selling of military equipment to Israel could lead to criminal charges for failing to prevent war crimes amid the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Four anti-arms trade campaign groups, including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), highlighted “potential criminal liability for atrocity crimes currently taking place in Gaza” in a letter to 20 UK firms who contribute parts or software used in F-35 fighter jets being used by the Israeli air force to bomb the Hamas-held Palestinian enclave.

The letter cited a section in the 2001 International Criminal Court Act, where it is states it is an offense under English and Welsh law “to engage in ‘conduct ancillary’ to a war crime or a crime against humanity” in foreign jurisdictions.

The firms targeted by the activists include the UK arm of Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, the Guardian reported.

The UN human rights office said on Wednesday that Israeli forces may have repeatedly violated the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in the Gaza conflict. Israel dismissed the findings as flawed.

Israel’s air and ground offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, according to health authorities there.

Israel launched its assault after Hamas fighters stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

* With Reuters


Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed
Updated 20 June 2024
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Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed
  • Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed
  • A source close to the group told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike

BEIRUT: Hezbollah said it fired “dozens” of rockets into northern Israel Thursday in retaliation for a deadly strike in south Lebanon, a day after a fiery speech from the group’s leader.
Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese movement allied with Hamas, have traded near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel which triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
Fears of a regional war rose after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Wednesday “no place” in Israel would be spared in case of all-out war against his group, and threatened the nearby island nation of Cyprus if it opened its airports to Israel.
Hezbollah on Thursday said that “in response to the assassination that the Israeli enemy carried out in the village of Deir Kifa,” fighters targeted an Israeli barracks “with dozens of Katyusha rockets.”
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) had reported one dead after an “enemy drone” struck a vehicle in south Lebanon’s Deir Kifa area.
Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed. A source close to the group, requesting anonymity, told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike.
The Israeli military said an air strike “eliminated” a Hezbollah operative in the Deir Kifa area, saying he was “responsible for planning and carrying out terror attacks against Israel and commanding Hezbollah ground forces” in south Lebanon’s Jouaiyya area.
Elsewhere, Israeli fighter jets struck “a Hezbollah surface-to-air missile launcher that posed a threat to aircraft operating over Lebanon,” the army statement added.
The exchanges between the foes, which last went to war in 2006, have escalated in recent weeks, and the Israeli military said Tuesday that “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.”
After the Hezbollah leader’s threats against Cyprus, Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Thursday that “relations between Lebanon and Cyprus are based on a rich history of diplomatic cooperation.”
Contacts and consultations continue between the two countries “at the highest levels,” a foreign ministry statement said, without making specific reference to Nasrallah’s remarks.
In a conversation with his Cyprus counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib expressed “Lebanon’s constant reliance on the positive role that Cyprus plays in supporting regional stability,” the NNA reported.
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides had denied his country’s involvement in the war and said it was “part of the solution.”
The cross-border violence has killed at least 479 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.


UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan
Updated 20 June 2024
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UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan
  • Grandi said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access
  • The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said

JUBA: Humanitarian access to war-torn Sudan remains woefully “insufficient,” raising the risk of starvation among its population, Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, warned.
War has raged since April 2023 between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than ten million people, according to the United Nations.
In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Grandi, who leads the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR, said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access.
“We are asking all the parties to give access to humanitarians because our presence there is insufficient to help the people in need, and especially to bring the food and the other supplies that are needed for people that otherwise risk starvation,” he said.
Aid workers were able to get “a bit more” access than before, due to “insistence... on the part of the international community,” said Grandi, during a visit to South Sudan, which has seen a huge influx of returnees from Sudan since April last year.
The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said, “because otherwise we risk having more displacement, and even worse, we risk seeing people dying of hunger.”
“I am very worried because I was hoping at the beginning like many Sudanese did, that this would be a short-lived conflict.”
Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation.
Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Christos Christou, the international chief of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, on Thursday described Sudan as “one of the worst crises the world has seen for decades... yet the humanitarian response is profoundly inadequate.”
“There are extreme levels of suffering across the country, and the needs are growing by the day,” he said on X.