Rare day of relative calm as Gaza sees ‘tactical pause’ for aid

Update Rare day of relative calm as Gaza sees ‘tactical pause’ for aid
The pause is aimed at allowing aid trucks to reach the Israel-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 June 2024
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Rare day of relative calm as Gaza sees ‘tactical pause’ for aid

Rare day of relative calm as Gaza sees ‘tactical pause’ for aid
  • The pause is aimed at allowing aid trucks to reach the Israel-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing

GAZA: Gaza saw its first day of relative calm in months Sunday, after Israel’s military said it would “pause” fighting daily around a southern route to facilitate aid flows, following repeated UN warnings of famine in the Palestinian territory.
“Compared with the previous days, today, the first day of Eid Al-Adha, is considered near calm and the calm has prevailed across all of Gaza,” Mahmud Basal, spokesman for the civil defense agency in Hamas-ruled Gaza, told AFP.
He said the exceptions included “some targeting” in Gaza City’s Shujaiya and Zeitun areas, as well as Israeli artillery fire in Rafah, southern Gaza.
AFP correspondents in Gaza’s north and center reported no fighting on Sunday morning, though they reported some shelling and at least one strike in Rafah and an air strike in central Gaza during the early evening.
The military stressed in a statement there was “no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip.”
The announcement of a “local, tactical pause of military activity” during daylight hours in an area of Rafah came a day after eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast near the far-southern city and three more troops died elsewhere.
It was one of the heaviest losses for the army in more than eight months of war against Hamas militants.
“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.
The United Nations welcomed the Israeli move, although “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.
He called for “further concrete measures by Israel to address longstanding issues” on aid needs.
Laerke told AFP Gazans “urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter, and health care, with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks.”
“We need to be able to deliver aid safely throughout Gaza,” he added.
The UN and aid groups have repeatedly voiced alarm over dire shortages of food and other essentials in the Gaza Strip.
This has been exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side in early May.
Israel has long defended its efforts to let aid into Gaza including via its Kerem Shalom border near Rafah, blaming militants for looting supplies and humanitarian workers for failing to distribute them to civilians.
The pause “for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8:00 am (0500 GMT) until 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah Al-Din road and then northwards,” a military statement said.
A map released by the army showed the declared humanitarian route extending until Rafah’s European Hospital, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Kerem Shalom.
The announcement came as Muslims the world over mark Eid Al-Adha, or the feast of the sacrifice.
“This Eid is completely different,” said Umm Muhammad Al-Katri in northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp.
“We’ve lost many people. There’s a lot of destruction. We don’t have the joy we usually have,” she told AFP.
Instead of a cheerful holiday spirit, “I came to the Eid prayers mourning. I’ve lost my son.”
The military said the pause was already in effect as part of efforts to “increase the volumes of humanitarian aid” following discussions with the United Nations and other organizations.
The eight soldiers killed Saturday were hit by an explosion as they traveled in an armored vehicle near Rafah, the military said. Troops were engaged in fierce street battles against Palestinian militants there.
Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the blast was “apparently from an explosive device planted in the area or from the firing of an anti-tank missile.”
Separately, two soldiers were killed in fighting in northern Gaza and another succumbed to wounds from recent fighting.
Abu Obaida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, vowed to “continue our painful strikes against the enemy wherever it may be.”
Saturday’s losses brought the Israeli military’s overall toll to 309 deaths since it began its ground offensive in Gaza on October 27.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences following “this terrible loss” and said that “despite the heavy and unsettling price, we must cling to the goals of the war.”
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas following the Palestinian group’s unprecedented October 7 attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,337 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The latest toll includes at least 41 deaths over the previous 24 hours, it said.
Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators have been pushing for a new Gaza truce, so far without success.
The only previous truce lasted one week in November and saw many hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, while increased aid flowed into Gaza.
Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire — demands Israel has repeatedly rejected.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Israel backs the latest plan but Netanyahu, whose far-right coalition partners are strongly opposed to a ceasefire, has not publicly endorsed it.
Israel’s hard-line National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said Sunday the humanitarian pause announced by the military was part of a “crazy and delusional approach.”
In early November, the United States said Israel had agreed to humanitarian pauses of four hours. One such pause occurred on December 14, COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said at the time.


UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA
Updated 5 sec ago
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UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA
NEW YORK: United Nations chief Antonio Guterres declared on Friday that there is no alternative to the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA and 118 countries backed the relief organization as indispensable, amid stepped up efforts by Israel to dismantle it.
The UN Relief and Works Agency provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Since war erupted nine months ago between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, UN officials have stressed UNRWA is the backbone of aid operations.
“My appeal to everyone is this: Protect UNRWA, protect UNRWA staff, and protect UNRWA’s mandate — including through funding,” Guterres told an UNRWA pledging conference in New York on Friday. “Let me be clear: there is no alternative to UNRWA.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long-called for UNRWA to be dismantled, accusing it of anti-Israeli incitement, and Israel’s parliament is currently considering designating UNRWA as a terrorist organization.
Several countries halted their funding to UNRWA following accusations by Israel that some of the agency’s staff were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the Gaza war. Most donors have since resumed their funding, while the UN is conducting an internal investigation.
UNRWA has been hit hard during the conflict in Gaza — 195 staff have been killed.
“UNRWA is also being targeted in other ways,” Guterres said. “Staff have been the subject of increasingly violent protests and virulent misinformation and disinformation campaigns.”
“Some have been detained by Israeli security forces, and subsequently reported mistreatment and even torture,” he said, adding that in the West Bank the presence and movements of UNRWA staff have also been severely restricted by Israel.
The Israeli military has said it acts according to Israeli and international law and those it arrests get access to food, water, medication and proper clothing.
Israel accuses UNRWA of complicity with Hamas, saying the militant Islamist group was embedded within the UN agency’s infrastructure.
UNRWA was created by the UN General Assembly in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war. Jordan’s UN Ambassador Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud said on Friday ahead of the pledging event that 118 countries had signed on to a joint statement supporting UNRWA and its work.
The statement underlined “that UNRWA is the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza, and recognizing that no organization can replace or substitute UNRWA’s capacity.”

Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’

Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’
Updated 15 min 36 sec ago
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Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’

Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’
  • Abayat, a butcher by trade, was arrested without explanation on October 26
  • He was held at a prison in the Negev desert

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories: Muazzaz Abayat’s parents barely recognized their son lying in a hospital bed after being freed from nine months in Israeli detention, with his weight halved from his usual heavyset build, hollowed cheeks and shaggy hair.
“I came back from the dead,” the 37-year-old Palestinian, told AFP at a hospital in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.
Abayat, a butcher by trade, was arrested without explanation on October 26, just over two weeks after the unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that sparked the Gaza war.
He was held at a prison in the Negev desert, officially under so-called administrative detention, which meant he could be held without charge or trial for an extended period.
“They arrested me at home, not surrounded by fighters but by my children and pregnant wife,” said Abayat, whose sixth child was born while he was in jail.
Detentions of West Bank Palestinians have soared since the war began on October 7, with regular use of administrative detentions.
According to the Prisoners Club, a Palestinian watchdog, about 9,700 Palestinians are currently in Israeli jails, including hundreds under administrative detention.
The NGO estimates that arrests have doubled since October 7 compared to the same period last year.
Violence has surged in the territory since the start of the Gaza war, with at least 572 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or settlers, according to the Palestinian authorities.
At least 16 Israelis have also died in Palestinian attacks, according to official Israeli figures.
In a video that went viral on social media when Abayat was freed Tuesday, he is seen limping and leaning on a man to walk, while his right hand seems paralyzed.
“No human being on the face of the earth can imagine how life has been” he said, calling the prison where he was held, “the ‘Guantanamo of the Negev’,” after the US prison in Cuba used to hold detainees after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“We were unjustly detained, killed and severely beaten with iron clubs and subjected to all kinds of torture,” Abayat added.
Israel’s prison administration told AFP it was “not aware” of Abayat’s claims.
“All prisoners are detained according to the law. All basic rights required are fully applied by professionally trained prison guards,” an Israeli Prison Service (IPS) spokesperson told AFP.
“The prisoner was examined and treated medically by the IPS’ finest doctors throughout his incarceration.” The spokesperson said, Abayat could file a complaint if he wished.
Showing his bruised, bony legs, Abayat recounted beatings with clubs and chains, and said his body still hurt all over.
“They gave us 10 to 12 beans with pieces of cabbage, and we had to survive on that from 7.00 am until dinner time,” he said while explaining his dramatic weight loss.
A “before and after” photo montage of Abayat shared online shows a muscular man with a shaved head and trimmed beard — wildly different from the long dishevelled hair and messy beard of the man in the Bethlehem hospital.
“This is enough to tell what happened to me,” he said of the photos.
His father Khalil Abayat told AFP that his son “was a man who weighed about 100, 110 kilos (220 to 242 pounds) and was muscular.”
When Muazzaz stood on the hospital scale Wednesday, he weighed just 54 kilograms.
“When I saw Muazzaz, he was not the same Muazzaz my son was before his arrest,” said the father, shocked by the confusion his son seemed to suffer from.
“He doesn’t recognize me, he’s disorientated and his health is very low.”
Khalil added, however, that doctors had expressed confidence that Muazzaz’s condition would improve. The former detainee has started eating more.
From his hospital bed, Muazzaz admitted that he had “forgotten things.”
But he said he was not completely done with Israeli detention.
“I’ve left a small prison for the big prison” of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, he said.


Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says

Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says
Updated 47 min 53 sec ago
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Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says

Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says
  • The strike also killed three staffers from other aid groups using the warehouse, the Al-Khair foundation said
  • The warehouse was located in Muwasi, an area on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that is part of a “humanitarian safe zone” where Israeli has told Palestinians to take refuge

GAZA: A UK-based aid group said one of its employees in Gaza was killed Friday in an Israeli strike that hit its warehouse located inside an Israeli-declared humanitarian safe zone. The strike also killed three staffers from other aid groups using the warehouse, the Al-Khair foundation said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment on Friday’s strike.
The warehouse was located in Muwasi, an area on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that is part of a “humanitarian safe zone” where Israeli has told Palestinians to take refuge.
After a two-week Israeli offensive in northern Gaza, dozens of bodies were collected throughout Gaza City’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood and brought to Al-Ahli Hospital on Friday morning. Civil defense workers said they were still recovering dead and wounded from destroyed streets and buildings.
Israel launched the war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250. Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 38,300 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. It does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.
Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into squalid tent camps in central and southern Gaza. Israeli restrictions, fighting and the breakdown of law and order have limited humanitarian aid efforts, causing widespread hunger and sparking fears of famine. The top United Nations court has ordered Israel to take steps to protect Palestinians as it examines genocide allegations against Israeli leaders. Israel denies the charge.


More than half a million children in Gaza missing out on vital education amid Israeli-Hamas war: UNRWA

More than half a million children in Gaza missing out on vital education amid Israeli-Hamas war: UNRWA
Updated 12 July 2024
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More than half a million children in Gaza missing out on vital education amid Israeli-Hamas war: UNRWA

More than half a million children in Gaza missing out on vital education amid Israeli-Hamas war: UNRWA
  • 600,000 children had been unable to attend school this year because of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war

LONDON: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees warned on Friday that the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “losing an entire generation of children” due to the ongoing Israeli aggression, now in its 10th month.

The organization said that more than 600,000 children had been unable to attend school this year because of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war raging in the enclave. 

UNRWA added it would be extremely difficult for children to recover the education they have missed out on since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel and the subsequent Israeli retaliation.

It also noted that two-thirds of its schools in Gaza had been destroyed, while the rest had been converted into shelters for hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians.

Statistics from the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health assert that approximately 16,000 children have died in Israeli bombings or from illness, famine and malnutrition since the start of the Israeli aggression. 

A letter penned by three experts published in the Lancet medical journal earlier this week said the number of children who might have died in the conflict could be much higher, with thousands of children believed to be trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings.


UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation
Updated 12 July 2024
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UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation
  • Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice would be non-binding, but it will come amid mounting international legal pressure on Israel
  • "A public sitting will take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague ... during which Judge Nawaf Salam... will read out the Advisory Opinion," the ICJ said

THE HAGUE: The UN's top court will next week hand down its view on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967, a case in which some 52 countries made submissions.
Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice would be non-binding, but it will come amid mounting international legal pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza sparked by the brutal October 7 Hamas attacks.
"A public sitting will take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague (on July 19) ... during which Judge Nawaf Salam... will read out the Advisory Opinion," the ICJ said on Friday.
The ICJ held a week-long session in February to hear submissions from countries following a request from the United Nations late last year.
The UN has asked the ICJ to hand down an "advisory opinion" on the "legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem".
Most speakers during the hearings have demanded that Israel end its occupation, which came after a six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967.
But the United States said Israel should not be legally obliged to withdraw without taking its "very real security needs" into account.
Speakers also warned a prolonged occupation posed an "extreme danger" to stability in the Middle East and beyond.
Israel did not take part in the oral hearings.
It submitted a written contribution, in which it described the questions the court had been asked as "prejudicial" and "tendentious".
The case before the court is separate from one brought by South Africa against Israel for alleged genocide during its current offensive in Gaza.
South Africa has gone to the ICJ several times arguing that the dire humanitarian situation means the court should issue further fresh emergency measures.
In an initial ruling on January 26, the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything it could to prevent acts of genocide during its military operation in Gaza.
It also called for the unconditional release of hostages taken by Palestinian militant group Hamas during its October 7 assault that sparked the war.