Egyptian foreign minister discusses Gaza aid situation with UN official

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (REUTERS)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (REUTERS)
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Updated 25 June 2024
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Egyptian foreign minister discusses Gaza aid situation with UN official

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (REUTERS)
  • The outcomes of Kaag’s talks with Israeli officials to ease the movement of aid trucks at the crossings were also discussed

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and the UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag discussed the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip in a phone call on Tuesday.

Kaag’s call addressed the impediments imposed by Israel on aid access, and the exacerbating gravity of the humanitarian disaster in the strip.

Shoukry was keen to know the UN official’s plans to mitigate the severity of the crisis facing Palestinian civilians in the strip.

The outcomes of Kaag’s talks with Israeli officials to ease the movement of aid trucks at the crossings were also discussed.

Both exchanged views on the process of rushing aid via the Rafah crossing in view of Israel’s destruction of the Palestinian side of it.

Shoukry reiterated Egypt’s rejection of the loot of some aid in Rafah and the Israeli side’s non-commitment to protecting it and ensuring that it reaches those who deserve it.

Both agreed to continue coordination and consultation on the humanitarian situation in the strip.

 


US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns
Updated 11 sec ago
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US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns
  • America, the largest historical donor, is now a ‘shameful outlier’
  • Major aid cutoff in January followed unproven Israeli allegations

LONDON: The US must restore funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said Human Rights Watch on Friday.

The organization’s appeal also referred to the UK, which, until it was lifted today, had also suspended crucial funding to the largest relief group in Gaza.

In January this year, UNRWA said that 16 countries had suspended donations to the agency.

These included the US, UK, Australia, Austria, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Sweden.

After today, the US is the only country with an active suspension.

The aid cutoff followed Israeli allegations that 19 UNRWA staff, out of the agency’s 3,000 employees, had taken part in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel.

But an independent review released on April 20, as well as a UN investigation, found no evidence to support the allegations.

UNRWA officials also said that Israeli authorities had failed to provide evidence supporting the claims.

Last week, the US and UK both endorsed a set of UNRWA commitments “recognizing the serious humanitarian, political and security risks that would result from any interruption or suspension of its vital work.”

But despite signing the statement, the US has yet to resume funding to the agency.

Akshaya Kumar, crisis advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The US is now a shameful outlier as most donors have resumed funding UNRWA.

“Cutting off aid was disproportionate to the allegations against UNRWA from the start. Palestinians in Gaza are facing catastrophic food insecurity, massive shortages of medical supplies, and repeated displacement, and there’s no substitute for UNRWA’s networks, experience, and capacity to provide relief.”

UNRWA, which relies on crucial donations from national governments to carry out its work, has warned that it faces a financial crisis as a result of the stalled funding.

Washington has historically served as the largest donor to UNRWA, and contributed one-third of the agency’s budget last year.

But the US Congress has passed a law forbidding any new funding to UNRWA until at least March next year.

In response to the Human Rights Watch appeal, officials from the Joe Biden administration claimed that US funds were diverted from UNRWA to other aid agencies operating in Gaza.

As a result of Israel’s war, 90 percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced, and 96 percent are expected to face crisis or worse levels of food insecurity by September this year.

Despite the agency’s urgent humanitarian work in the enclave, it has faced a sustained campaign by Israel resulting in reputational and physical damage.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in January that “UNRWA’s mission has to end.”

The country’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, said that the agency would “not be part of the day after” in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch has also documented two cases of UNRWA aid workers being struck by Israeli munitions despite having relayed their locations to the army’s personnel.


UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’

UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’
Updated 19 July 2024
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UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’

UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’
  • War has raged since April 2023 between the Sudanese regular army under Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces
  • The conflict in Sudan has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than 10 million people, according to the UN

GENEVA: Talks between a United Nations envoy and delegations from both warring parties in Sudan have proven an encouraging first step, the UN said Friday as the discussions neared a close.
War has raged since April 2023 between the Sudanese regular army under Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s personal envoy for Sudan, Ramtane Lamamra, invited delegations from the army and the RSF for talks in Geneva, focused on humanitarian aid and protecting civilians.
The discussions have been taking place under the so-called proximity format, with Lamamra meeting separately with each delegation at a time, in different rooms.
The two delegations were not scheduled to meet each other.
The discussions began on July 11 and are set to conclude on Friday.
Former Algerian foreign minister Lamamra and his team have held around 20 meetings during the talks.
“The personal envoy is encouraged by the willingness of the delegations to engage with him on critical matters related to the situation in Sudan, on which he seeks the necessary cooperation of the warring parties,” UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told a press briefing in Geneva.
“He now counts on the parties to promptly translate their willingness to engage with him into tangible progress on the ground, both in the implementation of existing agreements and through possible unilateral commitments.
“The discussions held in Geneva have been an encouraging initial step in a longer and complex process. The personal envoy will remain in close contact with the leadership of the two warring parties.”
The two delegations were comprised of senior representatives of the warring parties and included humanitarian, security and military experts.
The conflict in Sudan has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than 10 million people, according to the UN.
A recent UN-backed report said nearly 26 million people, or slightly more than half of the population, were facing high levels of “acute food insecurity.”
The two sides have been routinely accused of war crimes, including indiscriminately shelling residential areas and targeting civilians.


Israel army says signs increasing that Hamas chief Deif killed

Israel army says signs increasing that Hamas chief Deif killed
Updated 19 July 2024
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Israel army says signs increasing that Hamas chief Deif killed

Israel army says signs increasing that Hamas chief Deif killed
  • Hamas official: Mohammed Deif, commander of the Islamist group’s military wing, is ‘well and directly overseeing’ operations despite the strike

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army said Friday there are mounting indications that a strike in Gaza killed Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif.
“There are increasing signs that imply a successful elimination of (Mohammed) Deif,” Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a press conference.
Israel has already said the July 13 strike killed Rafa Salama, commander of Hamas’s Khan Yunis Brigade.
A Hamas official, without providing proof, has said Deif, commander of the Islamist group’s military wing, was “well and directly overseeing” operations despite the strike.
But Hagari said the two Hamas leaders “were sitting next to each other at the time of the strike.” He accused Hamas of “hiding what happened” to Deif.
“We will find out, confirm and reveal it,” Hagari said.
Video of the attack showed a grey mushroom cloud billowing over a busy street. The blast left behind a huge crater strewn with the wreckage of tents and a building blown to bits.
Two weapons experts told AFP that a sliver of munition seen in a video of the blast site circulating online was a tail fin from a US-made Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) that converts an old-fashioned unguided bombs into a precision munition. AFP could not independently verify the video.
Trevor Ball, a former US Army explosive ordnance disposal technician, said the JDAM was most likely used with either a 1,000- or 2,000-pound (450 or 900 kilogramme) payload.
Israel has said that Deif and Salama were two of the “masterminds” of the October 7 attacks by Hamas that triggered the Gaza war.
The Hamas attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Israel’s military retaliation has killed at least 38,848 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.


Mounting home demolitions and settler attacks plunge a Palestinian village into crisis

Mounting home demolitions and settler attacks plunge a Palestinian village into crisis
Updated 19 July 2024
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Mounting home demolitions and settler attacks plunge a Palestinian village into crisis

Mounting home demolitions and settler attacks plunge a Palestinian village into crisis
  • Bedouin communities in the West Bank face a double threat of rampant, unpunished Israeli settler violence and a frenzy of state-backed demolitions
  • Threats are pushing a growing number of Bedouin from their land and making any eventual independent Palestinian state a more distant reality, rights groups say

UMM AL-KHAIR, West Bank: First came the Israeli military bulldozers, which tore down a quarter of the homes in the West Bank Bedouin village of Umm Al-Khair. Then came the settler attacks.
In the aftermath, dozens of people were left homeless and without consistent access to water and electricity. Several were injured from pepper spray and sticks, and the village’s water pipe was cut — all, they said, as Israeli soldiers looked on.
”Where shall I go?” said Yasser Hathaleen, sitting near the rubble of his family’s homes, exposed to the blazing heat of summer with little to protect him. “To whom do I complain? I want a law to protect me. Where are the people of law?”
Bedouin communities in the West Bank face a double threat of rampant, unpunished Israeli settler violence and a frenzy of state-backed demolitions. Together, the two are pushing a growing number of Bedouin from their land and making any eventual independent Palestinian state a more distant reality, rights groups say.
The threats have intensified since the start of the war in Gaza, as settler violence surges across the West Bank — even as Israel faces growing international pressure to clamp down. Settler advocates hold key Israeli Cabinet positions that grant them important say over the West Bank, giving settlers greater control over their destiny in the territory.
Residents describe the escalating attacks
Settler violence and demolitions are nothing new in Umm Al-Khair, founded in the 1950s by traditionally nomadic people known as Bedouin, who settled there just after being uprooted from the Negev desert during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
Two decades later, Umm Al-Khair fell under Israeli security control when Israel captured the West Bank. Though Palestinians seek the area as the heart of a future independent state, Israel has established a rash of settlements across the territory, viewed by the international community as illegal and an obstacle to peace.
Settler attacks, residents say, began in the 1980s, after Israel built the settlement of Carmel just meters away from Umm Al-Khair. Today, Carmel’s large houses and lush gardens sit across a barbed-wire fence from the village, whose pipes are not connected to the Israeli water network and whose homes of corrugated tin bake in the summer sun.
Settler attacks were sporadic but not debilitating, residents said, until settlers established an unauthorized outpost, called “Roots Farm,” on a nearby hilltop.
“Since then, this farm, their only goal is to target the community, to violate the people’s lives and to attack and insult people on a daily basis,” said 21-year-old Tariq Hathaleen, an English teacher in Umm Al-Khair. Most villagers bear the last name Hathaleen, all descendants of the village founder.
On July 1, in a particularly brutal recent attack described by residents and activists, settlers injured about 10 people in the village with sticks and pepper spray that made people’s eyes water.
“There were so many women on the ground, lying on the earth, struggling to breathe,” said Basel Adra, a Palestinian activist who was in Umm Al-Khair that day.
Videos taken by Palestinians in the village and sent to The Associated Press showed a man residents identified as the leader of the outpost clutching a rifle as he strides past Israeli soldiers into the village.
The military told AP the forces were there “to maintain the security of all residents of the area, and to act to prevent terrorism and activities that endanger the citizens of the State of Israel.”
In another video, taken July 3 by an Umm Al-Khair resident, young settlers are seen tampering with the village’s water pipes as soldiers look on. The military said soldiers helped repair the pipe soon after.
But residents said the pipe was damaged by settlers again days later, showing AP video of a settler near the freshly damaged pipe. When sent the video, the military told AP the pipe was damaged by erosion, not settlers.
To Tariq Hathaleen, the settlers and the state are working toward the same goal: expelling his community from their lands. Umm Al-Khair residents say they have lived there since they were expelled from the Negev during what’s referred to as the “Nakba” — Arabic for catastrophe — when roughly 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of what today is Israel.
The residents showed AP handwritten contracts appearing to show land sales from neighboring Palestinian towns to the founder of the village, Tariq’s grandfather, during the period when Jordan controlled the West Bank.
COGAT, the Israeli military body coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, did not respond to a request for comment on land ownership in the area.
“There’s no legal pretext for soldiers to remove us from our land. So what the settlers do is they make our life the most hard life, so we eventually leave on our own,” said Tariq Hathaleen.
Outposts and settlements are growing
As some settlers expand their network of unauthorized farming outposts atop West Bank hilltops — which rights groups say are the primary drivers of violence and displacement in the territory — others in Israel’s far-right government turbocharge settlement in the territory. In the last month alone, Israel’s government has legalized five formerly unauthorized settlements and made the largest land grab in the West Bank in three decades, declaring a wide swath of the territory state land.
Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, the UN says settler violence across the West Bank has displaced 1,260 Palestinians, including 600 children, from their homes in Bedouin villages such as Umm Al-Khair.
The UN documented 1,000 settler attacks in the West Bank in the nine months since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, averaging four attacks a day. That’s double the daily average during the same period last year, according to AIDA, a coalition of nonprofits and other groups working in the territory. The violence has killed 10 people in total, including two children, and has injured 234 people, the group says.
With the rapid and easy establishment of farming outposts, rights groups say, settlers can expand their control of the territory through violence, effectively pushing the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state further from reach.
Outposts are now “one of the primary methods employed by Israel to take over areas in the West Bank and to expel Palestinian communities,” said a July report from Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
The crisis in the West Bank has reached such heights that Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, the outgoing Israeli general overseeing the territory, used his farewell speech July 8 to denounce settler violence.
“Under the auspices of the war, and the desire for revenge, it sowed chaos and fear in Palestinian residents who did not pose any threat,” he said. He accused settler leaders of not doing enough to halt the violence.
Legality of structures is disputed
Naomi Kahn, head of the international division at settler organization Regavim, describes Umm Al-Khair as an “illegal squatters camp” on land that belongs to Israel.
Following the recent round of demolitions, the Israeli military told AP that the structures were illegal and that their construction had been carried out “in complete violation of the law.”
Palestinians have long said that securing Israeli permission to build in the West Bank is nearly impossible.
“They knock down our homes, and then we rebuild,” shepherd Bilal Hathaleen said. “They come to knock them down again, so we will rebuild. We are not going anywhere.”


Tel Aviv blast leaves 1 dead, caused by ‘falling aerial target’

Tel Aviv blast leaves 1 dead, caused by ‘falling aerial target’
Updated 19 July 2024
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Tel Aviv blast leaves 1 dead, caused by ‘falling aerial target’

Tel Aviv blast leaves 1 dead, caused by ‘falling aerial target’
  • Emergency services said the explosion took place around 0015 GMT in a building in the center of the city
  • Police and bomb disposal units were deployed to the scene and conducted searches for suspicious objects

TEL AVIV: An explosion in Tel Aviv early Friday left one person dead, an Israeli emergency services spokesperson said, with the army saying a falling “aerial target” caused the blast.

Emergency services said the explosion took place around 03:15 am (0015 GMT) in a building in the center of the city. Two people were lightly injured, Zaki Heller of the Magen David Adom medical service said.

An earlier police report had said seven people were injured, but they were mainly in a state of shock, Heller added.

The army said an initial inquiry showed that the explosion was “caused by the falling of an aerial target.”

“No sirens were activated,” it said in a statement, adding that the air force had “increased its air patrols in order to protect Israeli airspace.”

A resident of central Tel Aviv said he had been woken by a loud explosion.

“Everything shook,” he said.

Police found a body bearing injuries caused by shrapnel in the building, which is located on the corner of Ben-Yehuda Avenue and Shalom-Aleichem Street, not far from an annex of the US Embassy in Israel, spokesperson Dean Elsdunne said.

“It may have been an aerial explosion... We were very lucky,” said Peretz Amar, a Tel Aviv police commander at the scene, adding an investigation was “ongoing.”

“The police, along with emergency and rescue forces, discovered a man in his 50s in a nearby building who was found dead in his apartment, with shrapnel wounds on his body,” a police statement said.

Another 10 people with minor injuries were taken for medical treatment, it said.

Police and bomb disposal units were deployed to the scene and conducted searches for suspicious objects and additional threats, the statement added.

Residents were urged to “respect safety instructions and not to approach or touch debris or shrapnel that may contain explosives,” it said.