Frankly Speaking: Biden’s peace plan — too little, too late?

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Updated 09 June 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Biden’s peace plan — too little, too late?

Frankly Speaking: Biden’s peace plan — too little, too late?
  • Hala Rharrit explains the precise reasons behind her recent resignation as the US State Department’ Arab language spokesperson
  • Underscores urgency of suspending arms sales to Israel, fears that US actions may radicalize a generation of Muslim and Arab youth

DUBAI: Hala Rharrit, who resigned as the US State Department’s Arabic-language spokesperson on April 24 over the government’s stance on Gaza, has commended President Joe Biden’s peace proposal, saying “this will hopefully alleviate some of the suffering; we’ll have to wait and see.” However, she expressed concern that he US is violating international law by continuing to sell weapons to Israel.

Appearing on Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking,” Rharrit said she was pleased to hear President Biden calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, but cautioned that the peace plan neither addressed US arms sales to Israel, nor committed to creating a Palestinian state.

Biden outlined on May 31 a three-phase ceasefire proposal, beginning with Israeli troops pulling out of Gaza’s cities, releasing humanitarian aid, and freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Hamas returning some of the hostages and captured Israeli soldiers.

Under the plan, the warring sides would then discuss a full hostage release and military withdrawal, followed by multilateral talks to rebuild Gaza without rearming Hamas. One week into the US pressure campaign, the world still is waiting for signs that the ceasefire appeal is working.

“First and foremost, the priority is to stop the fighting and stop the violence by any means necessary,” Rharrit told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen during an interview that explored the motives and timing for her resignation from the State Department among other topics.

“I think we can see that there’s been intense suffering and every day that this conflict continues, there are more lives that are lost in Gaza. And I was very pleased to see that the president from the podium was advocating for a ceasefire and saying it is now time for this war to end.

“Of course, it is horrific that it’s taking this long. And I’m also very concerned that we have not stopped our US weapons flow to Israel.

“It does not address the fact that we are still in violation of US and international law, for all intents and purposes, and that we continue to supply deadly ammunition, offensive weaponry to the state of Israel. And that also needs to stop.

“And obviously the issue of a two-state solution and the Palestinian right to self-determination needs to be included in that. But, for the immediate term, we need a ceasefire. We need the weapons to stop dropping and we need the Gazans to be able to breathe and to live.”




Appearing on Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking,” Rharrit said she was pleased to hear President Biden calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, but warned it did not prevent US arms sales to Israel nor commit to creating a Palestinian state. (AN Photo)

Rharrit was neither the first nor the last administration official to quit over the issue. Nearly a month earlier, Annelle Sheline of the State Department’s human rights bureau announced her resignation, and State Department official Josh Paul resigned in October.

A senior official in the US Education Department, Tariq Habash, who is Palestinian-American, stepped down in January, and Lily Greenberg-Call became the latest to go in mid-May when she left her position at the Department of the Interior.

Rharrit said she resigned after failing to influence the administration’s position from within and because the government’s stance made it “impossible” to promote US interests abroad. “I did it, really, to follow my conscience, and I did it, really, in service of my country,” said Rharrit.

“I became a diplomat 18 years ago to help the US promote its interests throughout the world, specifically in the Arab world, and to strengthen ties throughout this particular region. And I felt like I could effectively do that for the last 18 years. This policy unfortunately made it impossible.

“I saw that there was mass killing in Gaza that my government unfortunately was enabling through the continuous flow of US weapons. I could go on and on about the atrocities that we all bear witness to these last few months.

“I did everything I could since Oct. 7 to try to dissuade the US position, to try to help the situation. But after a while, it became clear that the policy was not shifting. And so I decided to submit my resignation, also to speak out on behalf of the US, not as a diplomat, but as an American citizen, to try to help the situation from the outside.”

Challenged by Jensen on whether it was the US policy itself that she objected to or the talking points the administration made her deliver as Arabic-language spokesperson, Rharrit said her opposition was not “based on personal reasons.” Rather it was intended to serve US interest in the face of “growing anti-American sentiment” in the Middle East.

Elaborating on the issue, she said: “The talking points I was expected to deliver to this part of the world really failed to acknowledge the plight of the Palestinians. You cannot speak about one people without speaking about the suffering of another people. ... I had intense pushback and I actually refused to do interviews on Gaza.”

She added: “I was opposed to the policy based on my experience and my regional expertise in the Middle East and what I’ve done for my country in this part of the world.”

Rharrit also emphasized that she was actually a political affairs officer (“This is what I have done my entire career”), citing her previous postings as a political and human rights officer in Yemen and deputy political economic chief in Qatar.

“My latest position was as spokesperson and I was the one that was supposed to go out on Arab television and promote this policy. I did not become a diplomat to promote a war and I certainly didn’t become a diplomat to promote a plausible genocide.

“So, from the very beginning there were major concerns that I made very clear about our talking points that they were, indeed, dehumanizing to the Palestinians, that they did not acknowledge the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, that they tried to gloss over the suffering of Palestinians.

“And why I made that point is that, as spokespeople, our job was not just to be communicators; our job was to be effective communicators. And what I was documenting on a daily basis, and reporting back to Washington, was that what we were saying was creating anti-American sentiment. Generating a backlash. And that, in itself, was not in the interests of the US.”

Israel launched its retaliatory assault in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack, which saw some 1,200 people killed and 240 taken hostage. Over the course of the eight-month conflict, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials.

Asked by Jensen why it took so long — and the deaths of so many civilians — before she “developed a conscience” and resigned, Rharrit said she had hoped to influence the administration’s stance from within by communicating the sentiments of the Arab street.

“I believed in my government. I continue to believe in my government despite all of it. And I felt it was my duty and my responsibility to stay on and make my voice heard,” she said.

“Part of what I did as spokesperson was generate daily reports back to Washington covering pan-Arab media — not just traditional media but (also) social media. And we all have been witnessing what has been happening on Arab social media, specifically everything that has been coming out of Gaza.

“I needed and I wanted Washington to see this and I sent those images that were going viral, of the toddlers being killed, of the children being burnt. I sent these images to Washington to wake up their conscience as well to show them that Americans were being blamed for this, not just the Israelis, and that is fundamentally not in the US interest.

“I felt it was my duty as an American diplomat to stay on and do it and say that. But, unfortunately, as you said, it became abundantly clear that there were no red lines and it was intensely disheartening, day after day, week after week, month after month, to see that we would continue to send more and more arms.

“And I would stress, that is in violation of US law in addition to international law. And that is why I eventually submitted my resignation after countless conversations internally, which basically made me feel like no matter what I would do, no matter what anybody else would do, the position wasn’t changing.”




A woman and child walk among debris, aftermath of Israeli strikes at the area, where Israeli hostages were rescued on Saturday, as Palestinian death toll rises to 274, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. (Reuters)

Although they did not resign in “any coordinated manner,” Rharrit said she was in regular contact with other former administration officials who quit over the issue and who hope to continue to change attitudes in Washington.

Rharrit concurred that the stance adopted by the Biden administration could radicalize a generation of Muslim and Arab youth, potentially creating a Hamas 2.0 capable of replicating attacks like the one that befell Israel on Oct. 7.

“This was my argument for months, every single day, that, again if you want to even ignore the plight of the Palestinians, even if you are choosing to not acknowledge their humanity, this is not in the interests of the Israeli people, because all this will do is generate an endless cycle of violence, and this cycle of revenge,” she said.

“And that does not serve Israeli interests and it certainly does not serve the US. It will continue to destabilize the Middle East for generations to come. All the countries in this region will have to deal with that.

“Violence is not the answer. Bombs are not the answer. A political solution which actually recognizes the dignity and the humanity of the Palestinians, establishes a state of self-determination for the Palestinians, that is the only solution to this, and the only thing that really can counter extremism. And we’ve seen that. And that’s what we need to get to, that type of political resolution.”

Of course, Washington’s stance on Gaza could soon change if Biden fails to secure a second term in November’s presidential election and his Republican rival Donald Trump returns to the White House.

Whatever the outcome, Rharrit expects Gaza will weigh heavily on the election.
“I think it will weigh intensely,” she said. “Because I think young Americans have been consuming all of this carnage on their phones and they’ve risen up. It’s awakened their consciousness not just in terms of Gaza, but in terms of so many injustices in this world.

“And they’re seeing through a lot that the government has sort of tried to promote and they’re demanding a change. They’re demanding social change. And it doesn’t matter what walks of life.

“And I want to stress this, that a lot of this movement, it’s not about an us vs. them narrative. Not at all. People that are supporting the Palestinians in Gaza come from all faiths, all backgrounds. And it’s for the sake of humanity and nothing else.”

 

 


Israel pounds central Gaza, sends tanks into north of Rafah

Israel pounds central Gaza, sends tanks into north of Rafah
Updated 8 sec ago
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Israel pounds central Gaza, sends tanks into north of Rafah

Israel pounds central Gaza, sends tanks into north of Rafah
  • Israeli tanks shell eastern areas of Al-Bureij and Al-Maghazi camps in the center of enclave
  • Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators to halt the hostilities seem to be on hold
CAIRO: Israeli forces pounded areas in the central Gaza Strip on Wednesday, killing at least nine Palestinians, according to health officials, while Israeli tanks carried out a limited advance further into Rafah in the south.
In one Israeli air strike around midnight on a house in Al-Zawyda in the central Gaza Strip, eight people were killed, the health officials said. Another strike killed a man in Nuseirat camp, one of the enclave’s eight refugee camps, where 23 people were killed in an Israeli air strike on a school a day ago.
Israeli tanks also shelled the eastern areas of Al-Bureij and Al-Maghazi camps in the center of enclave, residents said. An air strike destroyed a mosque, residents said.
Meanwhile in Rafah, tanks carried out a raid in the north of the city before retreating, a tactic Israeli forces have used in other areas before mounting deeper incursions. Tanks have operated in most parts of the city since May, although have not gone deep into the northern districts.
Medics said an Israeli strike killed two people in Rafah on Wednesday, while residents said the forces had blown up dozens of homes.
The Israeli military said troops were “continuing precise, intelligence-based operational activity in the Rafah area.” It said it they had eliminated what it called a terrorist cell and a launcher that had been used to fire at troops.
It said airstrikes had struck 25 targets throughout the Gaza Strip during the past day and that troops were continuing to operate in the central area, including to dismantle structures used to observe the soldiers.
Nine months into the war, Palestinian fighters led by the Islamist Hamas group are still able to attack Israeli forces with anti-tank rockets, and mortar bombs and from time to time fire barrages of rockets into Israel.
Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas after its militants killed 1,200 people and took over 250 hostages in an attack on southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
On Tuesday, the military said it had eliminated half of the leadership of Hamas’ military wing, with about 14,000 fighters killed or captured since the start of the war.
At least 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory offensive since then, Gaza health authorities say. Israel says 326 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza.
HAMAS DENIES WAR CRIMES
Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators to halt the hostilities, backed by the United States, seem to be on hold, but officials from all sides have said they are open to more talks, including Israel and Hamas, who have traded blame over the current impasse.
A deal would aim to end the war and release Israeli hostages in Gaza in return for many Palestinians jailed by Israel.
On Wednesday, Israel released 13 Palestinians detained during the military offensive in Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent said in a statement. The freed inmates were transferred to a hospital in the central Gaza Strip for treatment.
Many of the hundreds of Palestinians Israel has released in the past months have accused Israeli forces of ill-treatment and torture. The Palestinian Prisoner Association said nearly 20 Palestinians had died in Israeli detention after being detained from Gaza. Israel denies allegations of torture.
Meanwhile, in a report published on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said Hamas’ military wing, the Qassam Brigades, and at least four other Palestinian armed groups “committed numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity against civilians during the Oct. 7, 2023, assault on southern Israel.”
According to its findings, these included “deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects; willful killing of persons in custody; cruel and other inhumane treatment; sexual and gender-based violence; hostage taking; mutilation and despoiling of bodies; use of human shields; and pillage and looting.”
In response, Hamas rejected “the lies and blatant bias” toward Israel and demanded Human Rights Watch withdraw its report and apologize.
“The Human Rights Watch report adopted the entire Israeli narrative and moved away from the method of scientific research and the neutral legal position, and became more like an Israeli propaganda document,” Hamas said in a statement.

Israeli settlement threatens Palestinian UNESCO village

Israeli settlement threatens Palestinian UNESCO village
Updated 53 min ago
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Israeli settlement threatens Palestinian UNESCO village

Israeli settlement threatens Palestinian UNESCO village
  • Palestinians have long battled attempts to settle the land in Battir, a heritage site in the Israeli-occupied West Bank famed for its ancient stone terraces
  • Israeli construction in the West Bank has boomed since the war began in the Gaza Strip, even though all settlements in the territory are considered illegal

BATTIR, Palestinian Territories: On a hillside near Palestinian landowner Olayan Olayan’s olive groves, young Israeli settlers are hammering out a new, illegal outpost in a UNESCO-protected zone.
Olayan and his neighbors have long battled attempts to settle the land in Battir, a heritage site in the Israeli-occupied West Bank famed for its ancient stone terraces.
Israeli construction in the West Bank has boomed since the war began in the Gaza Strip, even though all settlements in the territory are considered illegal under international law.
The new outpost on a Battir hilltop, also not approved by Israel, was served an eviction notice that Olayan’s cousin Ghassan Olayan said has not been enforced because of the Gaza war.
The outpost already has a flagpole, living quarters and a barn for sheep that roam a rocky hill covered by olive trees belonging to Palestinian farmers.
“I plowed the land and planted it until it bore fruit trees,” said Olayan, who at 83 is older than the state of Israel itself.
“Some trees were 50 years old, or even more, and suddenly the settlers came and wanted to devour the land and take it from us,” he added, his voice shaky.
Even more concerning to the Olayans than the encroaching outpost is the adjacent, future settlement of Heletz.
Yonatan Mizrahi of settlement watchdog Peace Now said Heletz was among five settlements “deep in Palestinian territory” approved by the Israeli government on June 27.
“It is a settlement that is going to block Battir and in many ways create tension between the neighbors,” he said.
Heletz and the outpost sit inside the UNESCO protection zone for Battir, one of four listed heritage sites in the West Bank.
The UNESCO classification means the village can get technical, legal, and monetary assistance to preserve sites deemed in danger.
In Battir, children splash in the Roman-era fountain that waters the terraces where tomatoes, corn, aubergines and olive trees grow.
The 2,000-year-old dry stone walls supporting the landscape earned the village its cultural inscription in 2014. But the classification has done little to prevent seizures of the surrounding farmland.
Battir’s inhabitants have beaten in court at least three previous Israeli settlement outpost attempts.
But Ghassan Olayan fears the war since the Hamas attacks of October 7 on Israel will make the new, government-approved Heletz more likely to become reality.
According to Olayan, Heletz is intended to link Jerusalem to Gush Etzion, a cluster of settlements deeper in the West Bank.
If that is achieved, Battir and the nearby Palestinian villages would be cut off from Bethlehem and the rest of the West Bank, a process they fear will fragment a future Palestinian state.
“There will be no (territorial) continuity,” said Olayan, leaving only what some observers describe as an archipelago of Palestinian sovereignty.
Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a settler himself, openly states that preventing Palestinian statehood is the objective.
“We will continue to develop the settlements in order to maintain Israel’s security and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he wrote on the X social media platform after the five latest settlements were approved in June.
In recent months, Israeli forces have blocked a road to Battir, nearly doubling the time it takes to reach Jerusalem just 10 kilometers (six miles) north.
When asked about the new outpost in Battir, an Israeli security official acknowledged that “an Israeli farm had been established without proper authorization.”
The official told AFP “the possibility of authorizing the farm will be weighed” as the development of Heletz gets under way.
Battir residents “raised several claims that the land belongs to them” but have “not presented documentation to support their position,” according to the official.
Olayan said documents from Ottoman times prove Battir inhabitants’ ownership of the land.
A UNESCO spokesperson said the UN cultural agency’s world heritage committee had been told about “reports of illegal constructions” and that Battir would be discussed at a session in late July.
Olayan fears that sleepy Battir, with its collective life centered around the Roman fountain’s irrigation system allotting each family a specific time slot to irrigate their crops, faces a difficult future.
“Battir is a peaceful village and the settlement will only bring trouble,” he said.


Hundreds of war crimes committed in October 7 attack: HRW

Hundreds of war crimes committed in October 7 attack: HRW
Updated 17 July 2024
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Hundreds of war crimes committed in October 7 attack: HRW

Hundreds of war crimes committed in October 7 attack: HRW
  • HRW report: ‘It is impossible for us to put a number on the specific instances’
  • The October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians

JERUSALEM: Hamas led other Palestinian armed groups in committing hundreds of war crimes in the surprise October 7 attack on Israel that set off the Gaza war, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday.
One of the most in-depth international studies on the unprecedented incursion into southern Israel outlined a host of potential war crimes cases.
“It’s impossible for us to put a number on the specific instances,” HRW associate director Belkis Wille told a news conference, adding that “there were obviously hundreds on that day.”
The crimes include “deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects; willful killing of persons in custody; cruel and other inhumane treatment; sexual and gender-based violence; hostage taking; mutilation and despoiling (robbing) of bodies; use of human shields; and pillage and looting,” said the report.
The report focuses on violations of international humanitarian law, rules mostly rooted in the Geneva Conventions for conduct in war.
Although Palestinian Islamist group Hamas is recognized as the orchestrator of the attack, the report lists other armed groups that committed war crimes on October 7, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“The reality is that it really wasn’t civilians from Gaza who perpetrated the worst abuses,” said Wille.
“That was a claim made very early on by Hamas to distance itself from the events, and by Israel to justify its retaliation operation.”
Wille pointed to the “incredibly organized and coordinated nature” of the assault on cities, kibbutz communities, and military bases around Gaza.
“Across many attack sites, fighters fired directly at civilians, often at close range, as they tried to flee, and at people who happened to be driving vehicles in the area,” said the report.
“They hurled grenades and shot into safe rooms and other shelters and fired rocket-propelled grenades at homes.
“They set some houses on fire, burning and suffocating people to death, and forcing out others who they then captured or killed.”
HRW said it “found evidence of acts of sexual and gender-based violence by fighters including forced nudity, and the posting without consent of sexualized images on social media.”
The report quoted a team of the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict who said they interviewed people “who reported witnessing rape and other sexual violence” including “rape and gang rape, in at least three locations.”
But it said the full extent of sexual and gender-based violence “will likely never be fully known” as victims had died, or stigma would stop them talking out, or Israeli first responders “largely” did not collect relevant evidence.
The attack resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza including 42 the military says are dead.
Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,664 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Gaza health ministry.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and bring back all hostages.
The report only covered the events of October 7, not the subsequent war.
The International Criminal Court chief prosecutor has asked court judges to issue arrest warrants against Hamas leaders including its political leader Ismail Haniyeh and Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The prosecutor has also sought warrants against Netanyahu and his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, on charges ranging from “starvation of civilians” to “extermination and/or murder” as crimes against humanity.


As Gaza’s doctors struggle to save lives, many lose their own in Israeli airstrikes

As Gaza’s doctors struggle to save lives, many lose their own in Israeli airstrikes
Updated 17 July 2024
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As Gaza’s doctors struggle to save lives, many lose their own in Israeli airstrikes

As Gaza’s doctors struggle to save lives, many lose their own in Israeli airstrikes
  • Israel’s 9-month-old war with Hamas in Gaza has decimated the territory’s medical system
  • One of Gaza’s most prominent fertility doctors, Omar Ferwana, was killed along with his family in a strike on his home in October

BEIRUT: Dr. Hassan Hamdan was one of the few trained plastic surgeons in Gaza, a specialist in wound reconstruction. His skills were vitally needed as Israel’s military onslaught filled hospitals with patients torn by blasts and shrapnel, so the 65-year-old came out of retirement to help.
Earlier this month, an Israeli airstrike killed him along with his wife, son, two daughters, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, six grandchildren and one other person, as his family sheltered in their home in an Israeli-declared “safe zone.”
Israel’s 9-month-old war with Hamas in Gaza has decimated the territory’s medical system. It has not only wreaked physical destruction on hospitals and health facilities, it has devastated Gaza’s medical personnel. More than 500 health care workers have been killed since October, according to the UN.
Among them were many specialists like Hamdan.
Dr. Ahmed Al-Maqadma, also a reconstructive surgeon and a former fellow at UK Royal College, was found shot to death alongside his mother, a general practitioner, on a street outside Gaza City’s Shifa hospital after a two-week raid on the facility by Israeli forces in April.
One of Gaza’s most prominent fertility doctors, Omar Ferwana, was killed along with his family in a strike on his home in October. The territory’s only liver transplant doctor, Hamam Alloh, was killed in a hit on his home in Gaza City.
Israeli strikes in November on a northern Gaza hospital killed two doctors working with Doctors Without Borders. They are among six staffers killed from the international charity, which focuses on reconstructive and orthopedic surgeries, physiotherapy and burn care in Gaza.
Israel has detained doctors and medical staff. At least two have died in Israeli detention, allegedly of ill-treatment: the head of Shifa’s orthopedics department, Adnan Al-Bursh, and the head of a women’s hospital, Iyad Al-Rantisi. Israel has not returned either man’s body. Hundreds of other medical workers have been displaced or left Gaza altogether.
Along with the personal toll, their deaths rob Gaza’s medical system of their skills when they have become crucial.
Since the Hamas attack against Israel on Oct. 7 — which left some 1,200 people dead and 250 kidnapped — Israel’s campaign has killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza and wounded more than 88,000, according to local health officials. Malnutrition and disease have become widespread as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians cram into squalid tent camps.
Dr. Adam Hamawy, a former US Army combat plastic surgeon who volunteered in Gaza in May, said Hamdan’s death “leaves a significant void that will be hard to fill.”
Like many in Gaza, he believes Israel is deliberately destroying the health system, pointing to how Israeli forces have raided hospitals, destroyed medical complexes, fired on medical convoys and hit ambulances. Israel says it is targeting Hamas, which it says uses hospitals as command centers and ambulances for transport. The military has provided limited evidence for its claims.
Twenty-three of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are out of service, and the rest are only partially functioning, according to the latest UN figures. Only five field hospitals out of nine are operational. And more than 60 percent of Gaza’s primary health facilities have shut down.
Hamdan’s death leaves only one other specialist in reconstructive plastic surgery in Gaza. Other doctors have had to learn the skills of repairing major wounds on the job amid relentless daily waves of maimed patients.
Hamawy saw firsthand the need during his work in Gaza as part of an international medical team that came to help the territory’s health workers.
During three weeks at the European General Hospital in Khan Younis, he said he performed 120 surgeries, more than half of them on children, and all but one of them for treatment and reconstruction of war wounds. Two colleagues at the hospital were killed in strikes on their homes while he was there, and he spoke to doctors who had been released from Israeli detention and described being tortured, he said.
Hamawy said a general surgeon at the hospital stepped in to fill the demand for plastic surgeons, but he had no formal training. Five medical students volunteered with him.
They “are doing their best to fill in the gap,” Hamawy said.
On July 2, the European General Hospital evacuated its staff and patients, fearing it would be attacked. That left Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah and a field hospital in Rafah as the only facilities able to offer reconstructive surgery, said Dr. Ahmed Al-Mokhallalati, Gaza’s last reconstructive plastic surgery specialist.
Al-Mokhallalati said he has been rushing between hospitals, at one point overseeing treatment for 400 patients in one and 500 in another. At the Rafah field hospital, he was doing up to 10 surgeries a day.
“It is a very critical situation,” he said.
Hamdan founded the burns and plastic surgery department in Khan Younis’ Nasser Medical complex in 2002, after serving at the territory’s first such unit, at Shifa hospital. He headed the department at Nasser until 2019, when he retired.
When the Israeli army invaded Hamdan’s home city of Khan Younis in December, he returned as a volunteer at Nasser, Gaza’s second largest hospital, said his son Osama Hamdan, an orthopedic surgeon. His colleagues said he was cool under pressure. “The smile never left his face,” said Dr. Mohamad Awad, a surgeon who worked with him.
Soon after, Israeli forces besieged and raided Nasser Hospital, forcing its evacuation. Hamdan was displaced, taking shelter in the home of one of his daughters in Deir Al-Balah, further north.
Troops occupied Nasser hospital for weeks, wreaking extensive damage. After they withdrew, the facility was rehabilitated. In mid-June, Hamdan returned home and was discussing returning to work with hospital officials.
On July 2, Israel ordered another evacuation of Khan Younis. Hamdan and his family fled again, returning to his daughter’s home in Deir Al-Balah.
Only hours after they arrived, an airstrike hit the building on July 3 – “a direct hit with two rockets on my sister’s apartment,” Osama Hamdan said. He said no one in the family was affiliated with militant groups.
The Israeli military did not respond to requests for comment on the strike.
Osama was on duty in the emergency room at Nasser hospital when he received the call. His wife and two sons – 3 and 5 years old – were among those killed.
“I was only able to collect some body parts of my kids and their mother because of how huge the explosion was,” he said.
One of his sisters died days later in the hospital from her wounds. Another sister remains in intensive care.
Osama is feeling partially responsible. “I had pressed him to leave Khan Younis,” he said in a text message, marked with two broken hearts emojis.


Amid new photos, families of Israel hostage soldiers plead for deal

Amid new photos, families of Israel hostage soldiers plead for deal
Updated 17 July 2024
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Amid new photos, families of Israel hostage soldiers plead for deal

Amid new photos, families of Israel hostage soldiers plead for deal

TEL AVIV: The families of five Israeli women soldiers held hostage in Gaza since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Tuesday pleaded with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make an accord for their release before he goes to Washington next week.

Facing mounting international and domestic criticism, Netanyahu is set to speak to a joint meeting of the US Congress on July 24 and to meet President Joe Biden. The families released new pictures of the detainees to increase pressure on Netanyahu.

“Prime Minister, we are begging, we are asking you, please make the deal happen. It can be before the Congress, it can be during the Congress while you’re giving your speech, but the deal must happen now,” said Sasha Ariev, the 24-year-old sister of 19-year-old hostage Karina Ariev.

“First a deal, and only then you can fly. Every day is critical for our daughters and all the hostages. We need you here,” added Shira Elbag, the mother of Liri Elbag.

The families spoke at one of an increasing number of events they organize to keep the hostages in the Israeli public spotlight.

Of the 251 hostages taken by Hamas, 116 of whom are still in Gaza including 42 the Israeli military says are dead. Many are soldiers taken by the militants when they crossed into southern Israel.

Qatar and Egypt have been leading US-backed mediation efforts for several months in a bid to secure a ceasefire and a release of some hostages in return for Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

But Hamas has accused Netanyahu of seeking to torpedo a ceasefire deal with his vows to destroy Hamas amid Israel’s fierce military onslaught in Gaza.

On Sunday, a day after a massive Israeli strike aiming to kill Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif, a senior Hamas leader told AFP that the group was withdrawing from the ceasefire talks but could return if Israel’s attitude changed.

Netanyahu said on Tuesday, however, that he wanted to “increase pressure” on Hamas.

The families of the five hostages, part of the Hostages Families Forum, authorized the release of two undated photos of the five women in detention. The images appear to be of the soldiers in the first days of their detention. Some have bruises and cuts.

“Nine months have passed since my Daniela and the other girls have been held in these conditions, the conditions that can be seen in the photos we published,” said Orly Gilboa, the mother of Daniela Gilboa.

“This is my daughter. Look into her eyes, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister. Meet with us immediately so we can make her voice heard,” said Ayelet Levy, mother of Naama Levy, who appeared to be held separately from the other four. The picture of Levy showed her with one eye closed up and bruised.

“We are waiting for a face-to-face meeting with you to ensure that the negotiations are moving toward a signed deal that will bring Naama and all the hostages back,” said the senior Levy.