As donors suspend critical funding to UNRWA, allegations against staff remain murky

From our UN correspondent in New York – The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) announced on January 26 that it had terminated the contracts of several employees pending an investigation into Israeli allegations that they had been involved in Hamas’s October 7 attacks in Israel. The move prompted several nations to suspend vital funding to UNRWA while the inquiry proceeds, deepening Gaza’s already acute humanitarian crisis. But Israel refuses to share either its evidence or the intelligence dossier – a summary of which was seen by FRANCE 24 – with UNRWA, posing a challenge for the UN agency to complete its inquiry.

A senior Israeli diplomat surprised UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini during a routine in-person meeting in Tel Aviv on January 18, informing him that Israel had evidence UNRWA staff members were involved in the October 7 massacre in southern Israel that left more than 1,100 dead.  

“We were shocked, we took this seriously because these were very serious allegations,” UNRWA director of communications Juliette Touma told FRANCE 24.    

Lazzarini travelled to New York four days later to brief UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and then to the US State Department in Washington to warn UNRWA’s top donor, the United States, Touma said.

Lazzarini also “had a series of phone call interactions with several of our largest donors before the UN went public in the morning of January 26” with the decision to let some staff members go.

“We took the decision to put out the information first and not to respond to leaks,” Touma said.  

She added that the Israeli information was given to Lazzarini verbally but that no evidence was shared. 

UNRWA acted quickly and “cross-checked the information and the names they were given,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told a press briefing last week.

The UN ended the contracts of the accused staff members and said it was launching an investigation into the Israeli claims. Touma said this unprecedented step was taken because the allegations “put the reputation of the agency and humanitarian operation in Gaza at serious risk”.

But despite the UN’s announcement of an immediate investigation, key UNRWA donors suspended funding to the agency pending its findings, as millions of Gazans go desperately hungry, are at risk of disease, and are forced to sleep in crude shelters or even on the streets amid continuing Israeli bombardment. 

The accusations against a handful of staff in an agency of 13,000 employees operating in Gaza alone have already had a devastating effect on civilians. UNRWA provides essential government services in Gaza, including running 278 schools for 280,000 children and 22 primary healthcare centres, while also providing food to the approximately 2 million people who have been under siege by Israel since early October. 

The ‘suspenders’ 

At least 16 donor countries, including the top two contributors – the US and Germany – have frozen funding to UNRWA over the allegations and have been dubbed the “suspenders” in the corridors of UN headquarters in New York.

About $440 million in funding is at risk, Touma said, adding that UNRWA will run out of money by the end of February if donors continue to withhold money. 

The United States and other donor nations as well as the European Union have made it clear they will not resume funding until they are satisfied with the UN’s investigation. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement that there must be “complete accountability for anyone who participated in the heinous attacks”.

Guterres has urged donor nations to resume funding to UNRWA immediately, reminding them of the “swift” action the UN is taking to address the accusations. He also asked Lazzarini to task an outside organisation with conducting a separate, independent assessment of the agency’s operations in addition to the internal UN review.

The UN announced on Monday that it had appointed Catherine Colonna, France’s former minister of foreign affairs, to lead the Independent Review Group to “assess whether the Agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made”. The group will begin work on February 14 and will submit an interim report to the secretary general in late March with a final report – which will be made public – expected by late April 2024. 

France, UNRWA’s fourth-biggest donor, has not suspended its voluntary contributions to the agency. France increased its funding in 2023 to  €60 million, out of concern over the “disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza” and its impact on civilians. France’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying it will be “waiting for the investigations launched in recent days” to decide how to proceed regarding its contributions for 2024.

‘The dodgy dossier’  

Israel has not yet shared its full intelligence dossier with either UNRWA or the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the UN legal body tasked with carrying out the internal investigation.

“I don’t think we need to give intelligence information,” said Lior Haiat, a spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry. “This would reveal sources in the operation. We gave information to UNRWA about employees that worked for UNRWA that are members of Hamas.” 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated, “We haven’t had the ability to investigate [the allegations] ourselves. But they are highly, highly credible.”

Haiat noted that the very nature of the allegations makes it impossible for Israel to share all the evidence it has with UNRWA.

“They think that we can give them intelligence information, knowing that some of their employees work for Hamas? Are you serious? Why don’t we invite Hamas to our headquarters and have them sit at our desk and have a look at all the information we have?” he asked.

A six-page summary of the Israeli dossier leaked to a handful of media outlets and seen by FRANCE 24 provides the names of the 12 UNRWA staff members accused of participating in the Hamas attacks, ranging from kidnapping Israelis to helping to carry out the massacre at the Be’eri kibbutz. Two of the accused are dead and another is unaccounted for. 

The dossier alleges that the first man on the list of the accused, an UNRWA school counselor, entered Israeli territory to kidnap an Israeli woman with the help of his son.  

The accusations say they are drawn, in part, from “intelligence information, documents and identity cards seized during the course of the fighting”. The dossier estimates that there are around 190 Hamas or Palestine Islamic Jihad terrorist operatives working for UNRWA. 

The Israeli foreign ministry told FRANCE 24 that evidence of UNRWA staff involvement includes phone tracking that shows where the employees were on October 7 as well as video footage gathered by the Israeli Defence Forces.

Yet this documentation has not been provided to UN investigators. 

“They received some type of evidence to terminate the employees, obviously they would not have done that if they did not receive some type of evidence,” said Joshua Lavine, the spokesperson for the Israeli mission to the UN.  

Lavine said that he was “not surprised that there are members of UNRWA who are also members of terror organisations” and that there have been meetings in the past between the Israeli mission and UN officials discussing the issue.

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan escorted a delegation of nine UN ambassadors to Israel on January 31 where they met with the president, the foreign and defence ministers, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. UNRWA was discussed at length. 

In a February 1 briefing, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told the ambassadors that UNRWA had “lost its legitimacy to exist”. Malta’s UN Ambassador Vanessa Frazier, who took part in the delegation, told FRANCE 24 that Gallant told them that UNRWA is “an internationally funded organisation paid to kill Israelis”.  

The ambassadors had a clear message for Israel, Frazier said: “Support the SG’s (UN secretary general’s) investigation; anyone involved must be accountable, but the collective punishment only hurts the Gazans more.”

Inquiry will take time

Donors are demanding a speedy inquiry before resuming funding, but UN sources say this could take up to a year.

Former senior OIOS investigator Vladimir Dzuro, who led a major probe into top management UNRWA, said the OIOS aims to complete investigations within six months but that a realistic timeframe is more like six to 12 months, depending on the complexity of the allegations.

“I do not believe that any professional investigation into allegations of this nature, in a quality that is required under the circumstances, could be conducted in four weeks,” Dzuro said, before UNRWA’s funding runs out.

It is also unlikely that UN investigators could conduct a thorough inquiry in an active war zone, he noted.  

The OIOS director of investigations, Suzette Schultz, was tight-lipped about the investigation, saying in an email only that her team is “pursuing various avenues of enquiry” and that it has “approached multiple member states that may have information relevant to the investigation”. 

Donor nation Norway has refused to cut aid to UNRWA. The country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide urged other donors not to turn their backs on UNRWA, saying: “We should not collectively punish millions of people. We must distinguish between what individuals may have done and what UNRWA stands for.” 

Chris Gunness, former chief spokesperson for UNRWA from 2007 to 2020, accused the donors who have frozen funding of “illegally weaponising” UNRWA, thus violating the International Court of Justice ruling calling on Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza and the Genocide Convention itself. 

“If these donors have made a decision without cast-iron evidence, they need to be investigated for a move which humanitarian experts say will cause mass starvation,” he said. “It’s time for serious pushback against the dodgy dossier, bad donorship and the betrayal of the UN, UNRWA, its staff and the people of Gaza.”

Gunness noted that the dossier illustrates “perfectly why the donors must ring-fence humanitarian decision-making from politics”. 

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, an organisation named after Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer of Jewish descent who coined the term “genocide” in 1944, also sounded the alarm on the withdrawal of funds. “This is a serious escalation of the crisis in Gaza and follows the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) first ruling in Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel), which many hoped would slow the genocide.” 

“It is possible that at least some of the allegations are true. This is why UNRWA’s leadership has reacted swiftly, and an investigation has been launched,” said Matthias Schmale, UNRWA director in Gaza from 2017 to 2021.

“It can also be legitimately asked why these allegations surfaced around the time of the ICJ judgment that, amongst other things, articulated the need for immediate and massive delivery of humanitarian aid, which cannot be done without UNRWA,” he said.  

UNRWA in Israel’s crosshairs

Even before October 7, there was a long history of Israel questioning UNRWA’s credibility. And yet Israel relies solely on the UN agency to provide essential services to civilians in Gaza that it might otherwise have to provide itself. 

The agency is almost as old as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself. Created by the UN General Assembly in 1949, UNRWA was set up to provide critical social support for Palestinian refugees throughout the Mideast. Its mandate was renewed for another three years by the UN General Assembly in 2023.

Schmale, the former UNRWA director in Gaza, said that despite Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip since 2007, the group has no involvement in the UN administration in the enclave.

“During my almost four years in Gaza I had to fire only one staff member for direct involvement, as we discovered that he was an active member of the Al-Qassam Brigade,” he said. “This was the exception, not the norm.”

“Hamas de facto authorities are NOT involved in UNRWA’s core services which include education and health,” Schmale said in an email. Hamas leaders “unsurprisingly from time to time make their views known on what UNRWA does and how, and express expectations of what should be conducted differently”.  

But Schmale said that, during his time in Gaza, “Hamas mostly respected that it cannot interfere in the running of the Agency, and we were able to conduct our work in conformity with UN standards and norms.”

UNRWA has 30,000 staff, mostly Palestinians, who provide essential services for millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East. In Gaza alone, the agency has played a crucial role, especially since Israel imposed a blockade on the strip when Hamas took over governance in 2007. UNRWA is also the second-biggest employer in Gaza; 80 percent of the population of the 360-square-kilometre enclave relies on humanitarian aid.

Nevertheless, the UN agency has aroused Israeli suspicions.

A copy of a classified report written by Israel’s foreign ministry with a plan to dismantle UNRWA in Gaza in three stages was leaked to Israeli media last month. The first stage involved revealing cooperation between UNRWA and the Hamas movement. 

Haiat confirmed the existence of the foreign ministry report but said that it was a “non-paper” that had not been “approved by anyone”. 

An earlier Israeli government plan made public in 2017 outlined a process for dissolving UNRWA and transferring its responsibilities to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.  

When a Palestinian journalist and writer, Yasser Al Banna, who works in Gaza, read the allegations against UNRWA staff, he immediately recalled the leaked foreign ministry report and the 2017 Israeli government plan.

The accusations against UNRWA staff should be “taken in context,” Al Banna said, noting that the accused account for just 0.09 percent of UNRWA employees in Gaza. 

“Logically speaking, it is not strange that 12 people out of 13,000 employees [in Gaza] could get involved in illegal activities,”  Al Banna said. “Those involved should be punished legally and professionally. We should not punish an entire agency, an entire people.” 

Under pressure 

Lazzarini is now travelling to Gulf states to seek alternate funding for the agency. Despite facing intense pressure from Israel to resign, his spokesperson said he has no intention of doing so.

“This is a very serious crisis for the United Nations,” Touma acknowledged. “It’s probably one of the largest we’ve had to go through, involving the oldest and one of the most critical agencies of the UN. It’s important that the truth comes out.”

Touma was moved as she recalled her visits to UNRWA schools. “I have seen how they can be a sanctuary for children in a place like Gaza that is riddled with poverty, unemployment, despair, a blockade,” she said. 

She described meeting with young teenagers at a “children’s parliament”, an initiative run by UNRWA. It was a place “where refugee children can come together and learn about human rights, critical thinking and how to debunk” falsehoods.

“I ended up cancelling all my other engagements because I enjoyed speaking to these 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds so much,” Touma said. “They told me about their dreams, their hopes, what they want to be. They spoke about their love for Gaza, their dreams to travel, to be like any teenager … and that’s UNRWA.”

This article was produced in collaboration with PassBlueDamilola Banjo, reporter for PassBlue, contributed reporting

Source link

#donors #suspend #critical #funding #UNRWA #allegations #staff #remain #murky

Israel battles militants in Gaza’s main cities, with civilians trapped in the fighting

Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants in Gaza’s two largest cities on December 11, with civilians still trapped in the fighting even after hundreds of thousands have fled to other parts of the besieged territory.

Israel has pledged to keep fighting until it removes Hamas from power, dismantles its military capabilities and returns all of the hostages taken by militants during Hamas’ October 7 surprise attack into Israel that ignited the war.

The U.S. has provided unwavering diplomatic and military support for the campaign, even as it has urged Israel to minimize civilian casualties and further mass displacement. The war has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians and driven nearly 85% of the territory’s 2.3 million people from their homes.

Residents said there was heavy fighting in and around the southern city of Khan Younis, where Israeli ground forces opened a new line of attack last week, and battles were still underway in parts of Gaza City and the urban Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, where large areas have been reduced to rubble.

In central Gaza, an Israeli airstrike overnight flattened a residential building where some 80 people were staying in the Maghazi refugee camp, residents said.

Ahmed al-Qarah, a neighbor who was digging through the rubble for survivors, said he knew of only six people who made it out. “The rest are under the building,” he said.

Several of the dead were brought to a nearby hospital, where their loved ones could be seen sobbing and holding funeral prayers.

In Khan Younis, Radwa Abu Frayeh saw heavy Israeli strikes overnight around the European Hospital, where the U.N. humanitarian office says tens of thousands of people have sought shelter. She said one hit a home close to hers late Sunday.

“The building shook,” she said. “We thought it was the end and we would die.”

Hussein al-Sayyed, who fled Gaza City earlier in the war with his three daughters, is staying in a three-story home in the city with around 70 others. He said they have been rationing food for days. “I don’t know where to go,” he said. “No place is safe.”

Hamas is believed to have suffered heavy losses, but on Monday it fired a barrage of rockets that set off sirens in Tel Aviv. One person was lightly wounded, according to the Magen David Adom rescue service, and Channel 12 broadcast footage of a cratered road and damage to cars and buildings in a suburb.

With very little aid allowed into Gaza, Palestinians face severe shortages of food, water and other basic goods. Some openly worry that Palestinians will be forced out of the territory altogether in a repeat of the mass exodus from what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation. That gave rise to built-up and seemingly permanent refugee camps like Jabaliya and Maghazi.

“Expect public order to completely break down soon, and an even worse situation could unfold including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a forum in Qatar on Sunday.

Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesman, called allegations that Israeli intends to drive people en masse from Gaza “outrageous and false.” But other Israeli officials have discussed such a scenario, raising alarm in Egypt and other Arab countries that refuse to accept any refugees.

At the same time, it’s not clear when or if Palestinians would be allowed to return to Gaza City and much of the north — home to some 1.2 million before the war — where entire neighborhoods have been flattened.

Palestinians in Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied West Bank observed a general strike on Monday called by activists to demand a cease-fire, after the U.S. vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for one on Friday. A similar, nonbinding vote is planned in the General Assembly on Tuesday.

Israel says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames their deaths on Hamas, saying it endangers residents by fighting in dense areas and positioning military infrastructure — including weapons, tunnels and rocket launchers — in or near civilian buildings.

The military said five soldiers were killed in a battle in southern Gaza on Sunday, after militants fired at them from a school and set off an explosive device. It said the troops, backed by aircraft and tanks, returned fire and killed the militants.

Forces operating in Jabaliya found a truck full of long-range rockets near a school, and a rifle, two rocket-propelled grenade launchers and explosives in a home, the army said.

Israel has urged people to flee to what it says are safe areas in the south — and the fighting in and around Khan Younis has pushed tens of thousands toward the town of Rafah and other areas along the border with Egypt. But Israel has continued to strike alleged militant targets throughout the territory.

Associated Press reporters saw nine bodies brought to a local hospital on Monday after an airstrike hit a home in Rafah overnight.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders said people in the south are also falling ill as they pack into crowded shelters or sleep in tents in open areas.

Nicholas Papachrysostomou, MSF emergency coordinator in Gaza, said “every other patient” at a clinic in Rafah has a respiratory infection after prolonged exposure to cold and rain.

“In some shelters, 600 people share a single toilet. We are already seeing many cases of diarrhea. Often children are the worst affected,” he said.

With the war in its third month, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,900, the majority women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

Some 1,300 people have died on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed during the Oct. 7 attack, in which Hamas and other militants also captured more than 240 people, including babies, women and older adults. More than 100 captives were released during a weeklong cease-fire late last month in exchanges for women and minors held in Israeli prisons.

Israel says Hamas still has 117 hostages and the remains of 20 people who died in captivity or during the initial attack. The Israeli toll includes 104 soldiers who have died since the start of the Gaza ground offensive in late October.

Source link

#Israel #battles #militants #Gazas #main #cities #civilians #trapped #fighting

France’s Macron calls on G7 nations to ‘put an end to coal’ by 2030 at COP28 summit

French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the COP28 summit on Friday as world leaders gathered in Dubai for the second day of UN climate talks. Attendees are under pressure to step up efforts to limit global warming even as the Israel-Hamas conflict casts a shadow over the agenda. 

  • Spain to contribute 20 million euros to climate disaster fund

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday his country will increase its contribution to the climate disaster fund by 20 million euros.

Sanchez made the announcement during the United Nations climate conference, dubbed COP28, held in Dubai.

  • France’s Macron urges G7 nations to ‘put an end to coal’ by 2030

French President Emmanuel Macron urged G7 nations at UN climate talks on Friday to set an example to other countries and “commit to putting an end to coal” by 2030.

Speaking at COP28 in Dubai, Macron said investing in coal was “truly an absurdity”.

  • COP28 advisory board member resigns over reports of UAE fossil fuel dealmaking

A member of the main advisory board of the COP28 climate summit has resigned over reports that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) presidency used the meeting to secure new oil, gas deals, according to her resignation letter seen by Reuters.

Hilda Heine, former president of the low-lying, climate vulnerable Marshall Islands, said reports that the UAE planned to discuss possible natural gas and other commercial deals ahead of UN climate talks were “deeply disappointing” and threatened to undermine the credibility of the multilateral negotiation process.

“These actions undermine the integrity of the COP presidency and the process as a whole,” Heiner wrote in the letter she sent to COP President Sultan al-Jaber.

She added that the only way for Jaber to restore trust in the process was to “deliver an outcome that demonstrates that you are committed to phasing out fossil fuels”.

  • With 80,000 attendees, COP28 is largest UN climate summit ever

COP28 is officially the largest-ever UN climate summit, with 80,000 participants registered on a list that – for the first time – shows who they work for.

Until this year, those taking part were not obliged to say who they worked for, making it tricky to detect lobbyists and identify negotiators’ potential conflicts of interest.

Some 104,000 people, including technical and security staff, have access to the “blue zone” dedicated to the actual climate negotiations and the pavilions of the states and organisations present.

That largely exceeds the previous record at last year’s UN climate summit in Egypt, COP27, which had 49,000 accredited attendees, and where oil and gas lobbyists outnumbered most national delegations, according to NGOs.

This year, there are nearly 23,500 people from official government teams.

Among the host country’s guests are Bill Gates and Antoine Arnault, the son of LVMH boss Bernard Arnault, the second richest man in the world after Elon Musk, according to Forbes magazine.

  • Iran delegates quit COP28 over Israeli presence

Iranian delegates walked out of UN climate talks in the United Arab Emirates on Friday in protest over the presence of Israeli representatives, state media reported.

The Iranian side considered Israel’s presence at COP28 “as contrary to the goals and guidelines of the conference and, in protest, it left the conference venue”, Energy Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian, who headed the Iranian delegation, was quoted as saying by the official news agency IRNA.

  • UAE president announces $30 billion fund to bridge climate finance gap

United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed announced the establishment of a $30 billion (€27.5 billion) climate fund for global climate solutions that it hopes will lead to $250 billion in investment by the end of the decade.

Dubbed ALTÉRRA, the fund will allocate $25 billion towards climate strategies and $5 billion specifically to incentivise investment flows into the Global South, according to a statement by the COP28 presidency.

In collaboration with global asset managers BlackRock, Brookfield and TPG, ALTÉRRA has committed $6.5 billion to climate-dedicated funds for global investments, including the Global South, the statement said.

ALTÉRRA was established by Abu Dhabi-based alternate investment manager Lunate, and COP28 Director-General Majid Al Suwaidi will serve as ALTÉRRA’s chief executive officer.

  • Britain’s King Charles III praying that COP28 is ‘turning point’ for climate

King Charles III has told COP28 climate talks in Dubai must be a “critical turning point” in the fight against climate change, with “genuine transformational action”.

“I pray with all my heart that COP28 will be another critical turning point towards genuine transformational action,” Charles told assembled leaders including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, French President Emmanuel Macron and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

“The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth,” said the king, a lifelong environmentalist, who missed last year’s COP27 in Egypt reportedly due to objections by then UK prime minister Liz Truss.

  • UN chief says ending fossil fuel use is only way to save ‘burning planet’

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told world leaders that the burning of fossil fuels must be stopped outright and a reduction or abatement in their use would not be enough to stop global warming.

“We cannot save a burning planet with a fire hose of fossil fuels,” Guterres said in a speech to the COP28 summit in Dubai. “The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate.”

He urged fossil fuel companies to invest in a transition to renewable energy sources and told governments to help by forcing that change, including through the use of windfall taxes on industry profits.

FRANCE 24’s Valérie Dekimpe from COP28 in Dubai


Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, president of this year’s COP28, makes opening remarks during the opening conference in Dubai on November 30, 2023. © Karim Sahib, AFP

  • COP28 draft calls for fossil fuels to be reduced or eliminated

Negotiators released the first draft of a UN agreement on climate action Friday calling for fossil fuels to be reduced or eliminated, setting up a fierce fight at the COP28 talks in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

Divisions over the future of fossil fuels have already surfaced at the COP28 talks and proposals for their “phase-down/out” contained in the draft prepared by the UK and Singapore will be highly contentious.

Calls for the inclusion of explicit curbs on coal, oil and gas in a final agreement have gained momentum, but any effort to limit fossil fuel use will encounter strong opposition.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters, AP)

Source link

#Frances #Macron #calls #nations #put #coal #COP28 #summit

United Nations warns Gaza blockade could force it to sharply cut relief operations as bombings rise

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees warned on October 25 that without immediate deliveries of fuel it will soon have to sharply cut back relief operations across the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded and hit by devastating Israeli airstrikes since Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel more than two weeks ago.

The warning came as hospitals in Gaza struggled to treat masses of wounded with dwindling resources, and health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory said the death toll was soaring as Israeli jets continued striking the territory overnight into Wednesday.

The Israeli military said its strikes had killed militants and destroyed tunnels, command centres, weapons storehouses and other military targets, which it has accused Hamas of hiding among Gaza’s civilian population. Gaza-based militants have been launching unrelenting rocket barrages into Israel since the conflict started.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said the airstrikes killed at least 704 people between Monday and Tuesday, mostly women and children. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death tolls cited by Hamas, which says it tallies figures from hospital directors.

The death toll was unprecedented in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even greater loss of life could come when Israel launches an expected ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas militants.

In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters the U.S. could not verify the one-day death toll. “The Ministry of Health is run by Hamas, and I think that all needs to be factored into anything that they put out publicly.”

Israel said on Tuesday it had launched 400 airstrikes over the past day, an increase from the 320 strikes the day before. The U.N. says about 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now internally displaced, with almost 6,00,000 crowded into U.N. shelters.

Gaza’s residents have been running out of food, water and medicine since Israel sealed off the territory following the attack on southern Israel by Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

In recent days, Israel allowed a small number of trucks filled with aid to come over the border with Egypt but barred deliveries of fuel — needed to power hospital generators — to keep it out of Hamas’ hands.

The U.N. said it had managed to deliver some of the aid in recent days to hospitals treating the wounded. But the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the largest provider of humanitarian services in Gaza, said it was running out of fuel.

Officials said they were forced to reduce their operations as they rationed what little fuel they had.

“Without fuel our trucks cannot go around to further places in the strip for distribution,” said Lily Esposito, a spokesperson for the agency. “We will have to make decisions on what activities we keep or not with little fuel.”

Meanwhile, more than half of Gaza’s primary healthcare facilities, and roughly a third of its hospitals, have stopped functioning, the World Health Organization said.

Overwhelmed hospital staff struggled to triage cases as constant waves of wounded were brought in. The Health Ministry said many wounded are laid on the ground without even simple medical aid and others wait for days for surgeries because there are so many critical cases.

The Health Ministry says more than 5,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war, including some 2,300 minors. The figure includes the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital last week.

The fighting has killed more than 1,400 people in Israel — mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack, according to the Israeli government. Hamas is also holding some 222 people that it captured and brought back to Gaza.

The conflict threatened to spread across the region, as Israeli airstrikes hit Syrian military sites in the south on Wednesday, killing eight soldiers and wounding seven, according to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency.

The Israeli military said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, its jets had struck Syrian military infrastructure and mortar systems in response to rocket launches from Syria.

Israel has launched several strikes on Syria in recent days, including strikes that put the Damascus and Aleppo airports out of service, in an apparent attempt to prevent arms shipments from Iran to militant groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Israel has been fighting the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah across the Lebanese border in recent weeks.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah met on Wednesday with top Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in their first reported meeting since the war started. Such a meeting could signal coordination between the groups, as Hezbollah officials warned Israel against launching a ground offensive in Gaza.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran was helping Hamas, with intelligence and by “whipping up incitement against Israel across the world.” He said Iranian proxies were also operating against Israel from Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. Fighting also erupted in the West Bank, which has seen a major spike in violence.

Islamic Jihad militants said they fought with Israeli forces in Jenin overnight. The Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank said Israel killed four Palestinians in Jenin, including a 15-year-old, and two others in other towns. That brought the total number of those killed in the occupied West Bank since October 7 to 102.

Across central and south Gaza, where Israel told civilians to take shelter, there were multiple scenes of rescuers pulling the dead and wounded out of large piles of rubble from collapsed buildings. Graphic photos and video shot by the AP showed rescuers unearthing bodies of children from multiple ruins.

A father knelt on the floor of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah next to the bodies of three lifeless children cocooned in bloodied sheets. Later, at the nearby morgue, workers prayed over 24 dead wrapped in body bags, several of them the size of small children.

“Buildings that collapsed on residents killed dozens at a time in several cases, witnesses said. Two families lost 47 members in a levelled home in Rafah,” the Health Ministry said.

In Gaza City, at least 19 people were killed when an airstrike hit the house of the Bahloul family, according to survivors, who said dozens more remained buried. The legs of a dead woman and another person, both still half buried, dangled out of the wreckage where workers dug through the dirt, concrete and rebar.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the proportionate response to the October 7 attack is “a total destruction” of the militants. “It is not only Israel’s right to destroy Hamas. It’s our duty,” he said.

On Wednesday, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, said his country will stop issuing visas to U.N. personnel after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Hamas’ attack “did not happen in a vacuum.” It was unclear what the action, if followed through with, would mean for U.N. aid personnel working in Gaza and the West Bank.

“It’s time to teach them a lesson,” Erdan told Army Radio, accusing the U.N. chief of justifying a slaughter.

The U.N. chief told the Security Council on Tuesday that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” Mr. Guterres also said “the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

Source link

#United #Nations #warns #Gaza #blockade #force #sharply #cut #relief #operations #bombings #rise

U.N. steps up criticism of IMF and World Bank, the other pillars of the post-World War II global order

From the ashes of World War II, three institutions were created as linchpins of a new global order. Now, in an unusual move, the top official in one — the Secretary-General of the United Nations — is pressing for major changes in the other two.

Antonio Guterres says the International Monetary Fund has benefited rich countries instead of poor ones. And he describes the IMF and World Bank’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a “glaring failure” that left dozens of countries deeply indebted.

Mr. Guterres’ criticism, in a recent paper, isn’t the first time he’s called for overhauling global financial institutions. But it is his most in-depth analysis of their problems, cast in light of their response to the pandemic, which he called a “stress test” for the organisations.

His comments were issued ahead of meetings called by French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday and Friday to address reforms of the multilateral development banks and other issues.

Neither the IMF nor the World Bank would comment directly on the secretary-general’s criticisms and proposals. But Mr. Guterres’ comments echo those of outside critics, who see the IMF and World Bank’s leadership limited by the powerful nations that control them — a situation similar to that of the United Nations, which has faced its own calls for reform.

Maurice Kugler, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, told The Associated Press that the institutions’ failure to help the neediest countries “reflects the persistence of a top-down approach in which the World Bank president is a U.S. national appointed by the U.S. President and the IMF Managing Director is a European Union national appointed by the European Commission.”

Richard Gowan, the International Crisis Group’s U.N. director, said there is a lot of frustration with the U.S. and its European allies dominating decision-making, leaving African countries with only “a sliver of voting rights.” Developing countries also complain that the bank’s lending rules are weighted against them, he said.

“In fairness, the bank has been trying to update its funding procedures to address these concerns, but it has not gone far enough to satisfy countries in the Global South,” Mr. Gowan said.

Mr. Guterres said it’s time for the boards of the IMF and the World Bank to right what he called the historic wrongs and “bias and injustice built into the current international financial architecture.”

That “architecture” was established when many developing countries were still under colonial rule.

The IMF and what is now known as the World Bank Group were created at a conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in July 1944 to be key institutions of a postwar international monetary system. The IMF was to monitor exchange rates and lend reserve currencies to countries with balance of payment deficits. The World Bank would provide financial assistance for postwar reconstruction and for building the economies of less developed countries.

Mr. Guterres said the institutions haven’t kept pace with global growth. He said the World Bank has $22 billion in paid capital, the money used for low-interest loans and grants for government development programs. As a percentage of global GDP, that’s less than one-fifth of the 1960 funding level.

At the same time, many developing countries are in a deep financial crisis, exacerbated by inflation, rising interest rates and a standstill in debt relief.

“Some governments are being forced to choose between making debt repayments or defaulting in order to pay public sector workers — possibly ruining their credit rating for years to come,” Mr. Guterres said, adding that “Africa now spends more on debt service costs than on health care.”

The IMF’s rules unfairly favour wealthy nations, he said. During the pandemic, the wealthy Group of Seven nations, with a population of 772 million, received the equivalent of $280 billion from the IMF while the least developed countries, with a population of 1.1 billion, were allocated just over $8 billion.

“This was done according to the rules,” Mr. Guterres said. This is “morally wrong.”

He called for major reforms that would strengthen the representation of developing countries on the boards of the IMF and World Bank, help countries restructure debts, change IMF quotas, and revamp the use of IMF funds. He also called for scaling up financing for economic development and tackling the impact of climate change.

IMF spokesperson Julie Kozack, asked about Mr. Guterres’ proposals at a June 8 news conference, said “I’m not in a position to comment on any of the specifics.”

She added that a review of IMF quotas is a priority and is expected to be completed by December 15.

In a written response to a query from the AP, the IMF said it has mounted “an unprecedented” response to the largest-ever request from countries for help dealing with recent shocks.

After the pandemic hit, the IMF approved $306 billion in financing for 96 countries, including below-market-rate loans to 57 low-income countries. It also increased interest-free lending fourfold to $24 billion and provided around $964 million in grants to 31 of its most vulnerable nations between April 2020 and 2022 so they could service their debts.

The World Bank Group said in January that its shareholders have initiated a process “to better address the scale of development.”

The bank’s development committee said in a March report that the bank “must evolve in response to the unprecedented confluence of global crises that has upended development progress and threatens people and the planet.”

Mr. Guterres’ push for reforming the IMF and World Bank comes as the United Nations also faces demands for an overhaul of its structure, which still reflects the post-World War II global order.

Mr. Gowan said many U.N. ambassadors think it might be “marginally easier” and more helpful to developing countries to overhaul the IMF and World Bank than to reform the U.N. Security Council, which has been debated for more than 40 years.

While Mr. Guterres and U.N. Ambassadors talk about reforming the financial institutions, any changes are up to their boards. Mr. Gowan noted that when the Obama administration engineered a reform of IMF voting rights in 2010, “Congress took five years to ratify the deal — and Congress is even more divided and dysfunctional now.”

“But Western governments are aware that China is an increasingly dominant lender in many developing countries,” Mr. Gowan said, “so they have an interest in reforming the IMF and World Bank in ways that keep poorer states from relying on Beijing for loans.”

Beyond the Paris meeting, the debate over IMF and World Bank reforms will continue in September at a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 in New Delhi, and at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

U.S. climate chief John Kerry said in an Associated Press interview on Wednesday that he will be attending the Paris summit along with IMF and World Bank officials.

“Hopefully, new avenues of finance will be more defined than they have been,” he said. “I think it’s really important.”

Source link

#steps #criticism #IMF #World #Bank #pillars #postWorld #War #global #order

UN peacekeeping operations take place in volatile environments: South Sudan Force Commander Mohan Subramanian

The nature of conflict has changed the UN peacekeeping operations which is today taking place in very volatile environments where the stakes for peace are very high, a top Indian United Nations (UN) official has said.

Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Lieutenant General Mohan Subramanian said a whole of the UN and its stakeholders’ approach is needed to ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers.

Explained | What is the U.N. Peacekeeping mission?

“The nature of conflict itself has changed and therefore the nature of peacekeeping operations has changed. Definitely, the environment is more fragile, more dangerous from the point of view of the safety and security of peacekeepers.”

“Peacekeeping today, in the United Nations parlance, is taking place in a more volatile environment, where the stakes for peace are very very high,” Lt. Gen. Subramanian told PTI in an interview from Juba.

In July last year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Mr. Subramanian as his new Force Commander of UNMISS, the world’s largest peacekeeping mission. Previously, Subramanian served as the General Officer Commanding, Military Region (Operational and Logistic Readiness Zone) in central India, contributing to the Army’s operational and logistic preparedness.

He noted that since the nature of peace operations has changed, there is a need for peacekeepers to be equipped accordingly.

The UN is marking 75 years of peacekeeping this year and observed the ‘International Day of UN Peacekeepers’ last week with the theme of ‘Peace begins with me’.

Mr. Guterres has said that every year, ‘International Peacekeepers Day’ provides an opportunity to honour the women and men who are pursuing peace on the front lines in some of the world’s most dangerous places.

“But this year is special, as we commemorate 75 years of United Nations Peacekeeping. What began as a bold experiment with the deployment of a small number of military observers to the Middle East in 1948 is now a flagship enterprise of our Organisation,” the UN chief had said in his message.

Mr. Guterres noted with concern that conflicts today are becoming more complex, peace processes are stagnating and terrorism, armed groups, gang violence and transnational crime are poisoning communities, countries and entire regions. “Sadly, our peacekeepers are increasingly working in places where there is no peace to keep.

“We must seriously reflect on the need for a new generation of peace-enforcement missions and counter-terrorism operations, led by our partners with a United Nations Security Council mandate under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, with guaranteed funding, namely through assessed contributions,” the UN chief said.

More than two million peacekeepers from 125 countries have served in 71 operations around the world in the last 75 years. Today, 87,000 women and men are serving in 12 conflict zones across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Mr. Subramanian said that in the last few years, the safety and security of peacekeepers have become a major concern, which is kept at the core of planning of all operations as well as planning of the equipment profile that is provided to contingents at the missions.

“In terms of ensuring the safety and security of peacekeepers, we need a whole of UN and a whole of stakeholders’ approach in which the host countries do play an important part,” the UNMISS Force Commander said.

He voiced appreciation for the ‘Group of Friends’ to promote accountability for crimes against peacekeepers, a key initiative launched by India during its December 2022 Presidency of the Security Council. “India has taken up the issue of safety and security of peacekeepers in a big way,” he said.

Mr. Subramanian noted that in the last decade alone, hundreds of peacekeepers have lost their lives due to “crimes against them”, including improvised explosive device attacks, attacks on convoys and bases and hostile activities by various parties against them.

“This definitely calls for accountability of the perpetrators of such crimes,” he said, adding that these crimes are unacceptable.

“UN member states, host countries are pitching in to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable, and safety and security of peacekeepers are ensured to the best extent that we can ensure,” he said.

The Force Commander, who has a distinguished military career with the Indian Army spanning over 36 years, stressed that it is particularly important in peacekeeping to have gender parity, both quantitatively as well as qualitatively. He noted that the victims of conflicts across the world are largely women and children.

“There’s a disproportionately large number of women who are affected by conflict, and women help us engage them better,” he said.

He said women peacekeepers and personnel have greater access to victims of conflict in terms of “being able to approach, earn trust and engage them meaningfully in order to alleviate their sufferings as well as to get early warnings from them, which is very critical to our operations.”

On the milestone of 75 years of UN peacekeeping, Mr. Subramanian said peacekeeping has been the foremost instrument of maintaining international peace and stability, as is borne out by the record of the 71 missions.

“More importantly, there doesn’t seem to be a better alternative in sight,” he said. He called on all member states and stakeholders to stay committed to peacekeeping.

Mr. Subramanian served as India’s Defence Attache to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (2008-2012) and as a Staff Officer with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone in 2000.

He highlighted India’s pioneering contribution to UN peacekeeping in the last seven decades, saying the country “has been amongst the foremost contributors of troops and police personnel to peacekeeping efforts all over the world.”

“India has also conceptually and in a more formative way, contributed to peacekeeping evolve itself in terms of procedures, the composition of contingents. In all these aspects, India has been at the forefront in helping to shape up of peacekeeping operations,” he said.

Source link

#peacekeeping #operations #place #volatile #environments #South #Sudan #Force #Commander #Mohan #Subramanian

Live: Death toll in quake hit Turkey and Syria nears 40,000, as UN launches appeal for Syrians

As the death toll from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria approached 40,000 on Wednesday, the UN launched an appeal for $397 million to provide “life-saving relief” for nearly five million Syrians affected by the latest disaster. Follow FRANCE 24’s live coverage of the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria. All times are Paris time (GMT + 1)

8:50pm: UK makes it easier for aid agencies in Syria to avoid breaching sanctions

Britain is issuing two new licences to make it easier for aid agencies helping earthquake relief efforts to operate in Syria without breaching sanctions aimed at the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Relief efforts in Syria have been hampered by the legacy of a civil war that has splintered the country and divided regional and global powers.

The British government said the temporary new licences would “strengthen the timely and effective delivery of relief efforts by removing the need for individual licence applications”.

“UK sanctions do not target humanitarian aid, food, or medical supplies, but we recognise that the current requirements for individual licencing are not always practical during a crisis response,” Minister of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell said in a statement.

The licences provide broad protection to organisations to allow them to operate by authorising activities which would have otherwise been prohibited.

6:55pm: Northwest Syria now area of ‘greatest concern’, says WHO

The World Health Organization says it is particularly concerned about the welfare of people in northwestern Syria, a rebel-held region with little access to aid.

“It’s clear that the zone of greatest concern at the moment is the area of northwestern Syria,” WHO’s emergencies director, Mike Ryan, told a briefing in Geneva.

“The impact of the earthquake in areas of Syria controlled by the government is significant, but the services are there and there is access to those people. We have to remember here that in Syria, we’ve had ten years of war. The health system is amazingly fragile. People have been through hell.”

Efforts to distribute aid have been hampered by a civil war that has splintered the country for more than a decade. Civil war enmities have obstructed at least two attempts to send aid across frontlines into Syria’s northwest, but an aid convoy reached the area overnight.

5:50pm: Destruction ‘is everywhere’ in Turkey’s quake-stricken Nurdagi

In Nurdagi, a southeastern Turkish town near the epicentre of the January 6 earthquakes, practically all buildings have been flattened or severly damaged, with plans now in place to completely demolish those still standing and rebuild the town anew.

Meanwhile, those left homeless by the disaster are still waiting for aid and a place to live.

FRANCE 24’s special correspondent Thameen Al Kheetan has more.


 

4:15pm: Two women pulled from the rubble in Turkey’s Kahramanmaras

Two more women have been pulled from the rubble in Turkey’s southern city of Kahramanmaras, even as hopes of finding survivors dwindle.

Rescuers could be seen applauding and embracing each other in a video posted to social media as an ambulance carried away a 74-year-old woman rescued after more than nine days trapped in rubble.

Earlier in the day, a 46-year-old woman was rescued in the same city, close to the epicentre of the quake.

 

2:35pm: Turkey says earthquake diplomacy could help mend Armenia ties

Humanitarian aid sent by Armenia for victims of last week’s devastating earthquake in Turkey could boost the neighbouring countries’ efforts to normalise their relations, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said.

A border gate between the long-feuding neighbours was opened for the first time in 35 years to allow aid for quake victims in southern Turkey. Armenia also sent a rescue team to Turkey to help in the search for survivors.

“Armenia has extended its hand of friendship, showed solidarity and cooperation with us in this difficult time … We need to continue this solidarity,” Cavusoglu said at a joint news conference in Ankara with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan.

“The normalisation process in the southern Caucasus region is going on. We believe that our cooperation in the humanitarian field will support this process,” Cavusoglu added.

Mirzoyan said through a translator that Armenia remained committed to “the full normalisation of relations and complete opening of the border with Turkey”.

11:56am: Turkey arrests 78 for ‘sharing provocative posts’ on social media over earthquake

Turkish police said they have arrested 78 people accused of creating fear and panic by “sharing provocative posts” about last week’s earthquake on social media, adding 20 of them were being held in pre-trial detention.

Turkey‘s General Directorate of Security said it had identified 613 people accused of making provocative posts, and legal proceedings had been initiated against 293. Of this group, the chief prosecutor had ordered the arrest of 78.

The directorate added that 46 websites were shut down for running “phishing scams” trying to steal donations for quake victims and 15 social media accounts posing as official institutions were closed.

Last October, Turkey’s parliament adopted a law under which journalists and social media users could be jailed for up to three years for spreading “disinformation”, raising concerns among rights groups and European countries about free speech, particularly ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due this summer.

11:57am: Armenian foreign minister visits Turkey, Ankara hails quake diplomacy

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan arrived in Ankara Wednesday for rare talks with his Turkish counterpart as the two countries seek to normalise relations after decades of animosity.

At loggerheads since Armenia gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the neighbouring nations have never established formal diplomatic relations.

At a press conference in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said humanitarian aid sent by Armenia for earthquake victims could help boost ties between the two countries.

A border gate was opened for the first time in 35 years to allow aid for quake victims in southern Turkey. Armenia also sent a rescue team to Turkey to help in the search for survivors.

“Armenia has extended its hand of friendship, showed solidarity and cooperation with us in this difficult time…We need to continue this solidarity,” said Cavusoglu.

10:40am: Woman rescued from ruins in Turkey 222 hours after quakes

A 42-year-old woman was rescued from the rubble of a building in the southern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras on Wednesday, almost 222 hours after devastating earthquakes struck the region, Turkish media reported.

TV footage sowed rescue workers carrying the woman, named Melike Imamoglu, strapped onto a stretcher, to an ambulance.

4:45am: Combined death toll nears 40,000

The confirmed death toll from the quake stands at 39,106 as officials and medics said 35,418 people had died in Turkey and at least 3,688 in Syria. Following the disaster, residents faced the harsh realities of surviving in cities turned to ruin in the middle of the winter freeze.

1:30am: New aid convoy route to rebel-held Syria opens with UN

An aid convoy  passed through a newly re-opened border crossing into rebel-held northwestern Syria, where help has been slow to arrive since last week’s earthquake.

A convoy of 11 UN trucks entered Syria through the newly-opened Bab al-Salam border point, after Damascus agreed to let the world body use the crossing for aid.

The UN has so far sent more than 50 trucks of aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

Following international pressure, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allowed the use of two more crossings, Bab Al-Salam and al-Raee, for an initial period of three months.

Activists and local emergency teams have decried the UN’s slow response to the quake in rebel-held areas, contrasting it with the planeloads of humanitarian aid delivered to government-controlled airports.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Source link

#Live #Death #toll #quake #hit #Turkey #Syria #nears #launches #appeal #Syrians