U.S. military says Gaza Strip pier project is completed, aid to soon flow as Israel-Hamas war rages on

The U.S. military finished installing a floating pier for the Gaza Strip on May 16, with officials poised to begin ferrying badly needed humanitarian aid into the enclave besieged over seven months of intense fighting in the Israel-Hamas war.

The final, overnight construction sets up a complicated delivery process more than two months after U.S. President Joe Biden ordered it to help Palestinians facing starvation as food and other supplies fail to make it in as Israel recently seized the key Rafah border crossing in its push on that southern city on the Egyptian border.

Fraught with logistical, weather and security challenges, the maritime route is designed to bolster the amount of aid getting into the Gaza Strip, but it is not considered a substitute for far cheaper land-based deliveries that aid agencies say are much more sustainable. The boatloads of aid will be deposited at a port facility built by the Israelis just southwest of Gaza City and then distributed by aid groups.

U.S. troops will not set foot in Gaza, American officials insist, though they acknowledge the danger of operating near the war zone.

Heavy fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants on the outskirts of Rafah has displaced some 600,000 people, a quarter of Gaza’s population, U.N. officials say. Another 100,000 civilians have fled parts of northern Gaza now that the Israeli military has restarted combat operations there.

Pentagon officials said the fighting in Gaza wasn’t threatening the new shoreline aid distribution area, but they have made it clear that security conditions will be monitored closely and could prompt a shutdown of the maritime route, even just temporarily. Already, the site has been targeted by mortar fire during its construction and Hamas has threatened to target any foreign forces who “occupy” the Gaza Strip.

The “protection of U.S. forces participating is a top priority. And as such, in the last several weeks, the United States and Israel have developed an integrated security plan to protect all the personnel who are working,” said Navy Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, a deputy commander at the U.S. military’s Central Command. “We are confident in the ability of this security arrangement to protect those involved.”

U.S. troops anchored the pier at 7:40 a.m. local time on May 16, the military’s Central Command said in a statement, which stressed that none of its forces entered the Gaza Strip.

“Trucks carrying humanitarian assistance are expected to begin moving ashore in the coming days,” the statement said. “The United Nations will receive the aid and coordinate its distribution into Gaza.”

It wasn’t immediately clear which U.N. agency would be involved.

Israeli forces will be in charge of security on the shore, but there are also two U.S. Navy warships near the area in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the USS Arleigh Burke and the USS Paul Ignatius. Both ships are destroyers equipped with a wide range of weapons and capabilities to protect American troops off shore and allies on the beach.

Aid agencies say they are running out of food in southern Gaza and fuel is dwindling, which will force hospitals to shut down critical operations and halt truck deliveries of aid. The United Nations and other agencies have warned for weeks that an Israel assault on Rafah, which is on the border with Egypt near the main aid entry points, would cripple humanitarian operations and cause a disastrous surge in civilian casualties.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians — half of Gaza’s population — have been sheltering in Rafah, most after fleeing Israel’s offensives elsewhere.

The first cargo ship loaded with 475 pallets of food left Cyprus last week to rendezvous with a U.S. military ship, the Roy P. Benavidez, which is off the coast of Gaza. The pallets of aid on the MV Sagamore were moved onto the Benavidez. The Pentagon said moving the aid between ships was an effort to be ready so it could flow quickly once the pier and the causeway were installed.

The installation of the pier several miles (kilometers) off the coast and of the causeway, which is now anchored to the beach, was delayed for nearly two weeks because of bad weather and high seas. The sea conditions made it too dangerous for U.S. and Israeli troops to secure the causeway to the shore and do other final assembly work, U.S. officials said.

According to a defense official, the Sagamore’s initial shipment was estimated to provide enough to feed 11,000 people for one month. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details not yet made public.

Military leaders have said the deliveries of aid will begin slowly to ensure the system works. They will start with about 90 truckloads of aid a day through the sea route, and that number will quickly grow to about 150 a day. But aid agencies say that isn’t enough to avert impending famine in Gaza and must be just one part of a broader Israeli effort to open land corridors.

Biden used his State of the Union address on March 7 to order the military to set up a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza, establishing a sea route to deliver food and other aid. Food shipments have been backed up at land crossings amid Israeli restrictions and intensifying fighting.

Under the new sea route, humanitarian aid is dropped off in Cyprus where it will undergo inspection and security checks at Larnaca port. It is then loaded onto ships — mainly commercial vessels — and taken about 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the large floating pier built by the U.S. military off the Gaza coast.

There, the pallets are transferred onto trucks, driven onto smaller Army boats and then shuttled several miles (kilometres) to the floating causeway, which has been anchored onto the beach by the Israeli military. The trucks, which are being driven by personnel from another country, will go down the causeway into a secure area on land where they will drop off the aid and immediately turn around and return to the boats.

Aid groups will collect the supplies for distribution on shore, with the U.N. working with the U.S. Agency for International Development to set up the logistics hub on the beach.

Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters that the project will cost at least $320 million, including the transportation of the equipment and pier sections from the United States to the coast of Gaza, as well as the construction and aid delivery operations.

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Israel bombs Gaza as UN chief calls for end to ‘horror and starvation’

Air and artillery strikes pounded targets in Gaza Sunday as UN chief Antonio Guterres called for a surge of aid into the besieged territory he said was stalked by “horror and starvation”.

Other world leaders added their voices to that of Guterres in appealing for an immediate ceasefire and a halt to Israeli plans to send in troops against militants in Gaza‘s crowded southern city of Rafah.

Talks aimed at a deal for a truce and release of hostages were taking place in Qatar but the heads of the Israeli and US spy agencies involved in the negotiations have now left the Gulf emirate for consultations, an informed source told AFP.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said Sunday that another 84 people had been killed over the previous 24 hours, raising the total death toll in the territory during nearly six months of war to 32,226, most of them women and children.


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking to reporters at El-Arish International Airport in Egypt, visited the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing and urged an end to Gaza’s ‘nightmare’ © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP

The Gaza war began with an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel has vowed to destroy the militants, who also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes around 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead.

Palestinian children, some with heads bandaged, others more severely wounded in the latest bombardments, were rescued from the rubble of collapsed buildings and rushed to Al-Najjar hospital in Rafah.

Guterres, on a visit to Egypt, urged an end to the “non-stop nightmare” endured by Gaza’s 2.4 million people in the territory’s worst-ever war.

“Looking at Gaza, it almost appears that the four horsemen of war, famine, conquest and death are galloping across it,” the UN secretary-general said, visiting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

People sit together for a mass 'iftar' (fast-breaking) meal organised by members of the Barbara refugee camp during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Rafah
People sit together for a mass ‘iftar’ (fast-breaking) meal organised by members of the Barbara refugee camp during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Rafah © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

“The whole world recognises that it’s past time to silence the guns and ensure an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

With the United Nations warning of imminent famine in Gaza, Guterres urged Israel to allow in more humanitarian aid via the Rafah border crossing whose Egyptian side he visited, saying trucks were “blocked”.

On social media, Israel’s military responded that the UN should scale up its logistics and “stop blaming Israel for its own failures”.

‘Extreme danger’

Combat has flared for almost a week in and around Gaza’s biggest hospital complex, Gaza City’s Al-Shifa.

The UN on Friday had reported “intensive exchanges of fire” involving Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in the area.

An Israeli tank moving along the border with the Gaza Strip
An Israeli tank moving along the border with the Gaza Strip © JACK GUEZ / AFP/File

The Hamas government media office said 190 people had been killed in the Al-Shifa operation, and 30 nearby buildings destroyed.

The army said its forces had killed more than 170 militants and detained about 480 militants affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which is fighting alongside Hamas.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Sunday that Israeli forces were also besieging Nasser and Al-Amal hospitals in southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis city.

The Red Crescent said messages broadcast from drones demanded that everyone in Al-Amal leave naked, while forces blocked the gates of the hospital with dirt barriers.

“All of our crews are currently under extreme danger and cannot move at all,” the Red Crescent added.

In response to AFP’s request for comment, the military said it was operating in the Al-Amal area but “not currently… in the hospitals”.

A Palestinian boy sits between a blood-stained mattress and body bags at Rafah's Al-Najjar hospital
A Palestinian boy sits between a blood-stained mattress and body bags at Rafah’s Al-Najjar hospital © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

The military said the operation began with air force strikes on about 40 targets, including military compounds and tunnels.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II stressed in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron the need for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza and protecting innocent civilians”, the palace said.

He also called for more aid to reach Gaza as his country’s planes again airdropped relief supplies with aircraft from the United States, Egypt, Germany and Singapore.

Munitions

Tensions have grown between Israel and Washington, which provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel but has become increasingly vocal about the war’s impact on civilians.

Prior to taking off for an official visit to the United States, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said his focus will include “preserving the qualitative military edge” and “our ability to obtain platforms and munitions”.

Northern Gaza Strip and Al-Shifa hospital
Northern Gaza Strip and Al-Shifa hospital © Nalini LEPETIT-CHELLA, Jean-Michel CORNU, Hervé BOUILLY / AFP

He is set to meet Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and other senior US officials.

A source of tension between the two countries is Israel’s plan to extend its ground invasion into Rafah city on the Egyptian border, where around 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge, mostly in overcrowded shelters.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a major ground operation in Rafah was not necessary to deal with Hamas, and “there is no place” for civilians there to get out of harm’s way.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads a coalition including religious and ultra-nationalist parties, has vowed to go ahead with a Rafah invasion even without Washington’s support.

Macron, in a phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday, repeated his opposition to any Israeli military operation against Hamas in Rafah and said forced transfer of Rafah’s population would be “a war crime”.

Israeli settlers dressed in Purim costumes on Al-Shuhada Street, which is largely closed to Palestinians in the divided city of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank during celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Purim
Israeli settlers dressed in Purim costumes on Al-Shuhada Street, which is largely closed to Palestinians in the divided city of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank during celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Purim © HAZEM BADER / AFP

Macron urged Israel to open all crossing points into Gaza, which could help the aid flow, and said he intended to bring a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for “an immediate and lasting ceasefire”.

Russia and China on Friday vetoed a US-led draft resolution for the Council to support “the imperative” of a ceasefire.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was on Sunday to begin a visit to Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Before leaving Germany she appealed for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire”.

The latest negotiations had “focused on details and a ratio for the exchange of hostages and prisoners”, a source briefed on the talks said, adding that technical teams remained in Qatar.

(AFP)

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How charity ship Open Arms is delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza

The ship Opens Arms left Cyprus for the Gaza coast on October 12 with 200 tonnes of food supplies, the first ship to sail as part of a maritime aid corridor initiated by Cyprus, with the support of the European Union, the UK and the US. Given the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the charities leading the effort felt they couldn’t wait for the US military to complete a pier to deliver aid.

The 200 tonnes of food supplies transported by the Open Arms is already bringing hope to the people of Gaza. Some Gazans even rushed to the beach near Gaza City on Sunday, hoping to see the ship and its desperately needed cargo arrive, AFP reported.

Aid agencies have warned of looming famine in the Palestinian territory of 2.4 million inhabitants.

Israel has imposed a near-total blockade on Gaza since the start of its war with Hamas five months ago.  Given the humanitarian emergency that has resulted, the EU decided to push for a maritime aid route via Cyprus, the EU country closest to Gaza.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday said it was the first time a ship had been authorized to deliver aid directly to Gaza since 2005 and that the EU would work with “smaller ships” until the US military completes work on its floating port off the Gazan coast.

Open Arms, a Spanish charity, is partnered by the US charity World Central Kitchen (WCK), founded by the Spanish-American restaurateur José Andrés. Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza said that WCK’s teams in Gaza were “constructing a dock” to unload the Open Arms’s cargo. The charities have kept the location of the landing point secret for security reasons.

Under Israeli land, air, and sea blockade for sixteen years, Gaza has no functioning port.

“We have been working on this technical project for several weeks,” explained Lanuza.  

“We had to be imaginative and find a way to overcome all these obstacles related to the landing site that will be done from the platform we are transporting,” she said.

The barge, a floating platform carrying 200 tonnes of food, is currently being towed by the humanitarian ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. In a video filmed before the fleet’s departure from Cyprus and posted on X, the NGO WCK explains: “You can see behind me, we have this barge. It’s about 200 tonnes that we are currently loading with all kinds of food aid. Once it reaches its destination, it will be lifted by a crane. Then we will transport the supplies to the northern part of the Gaza Strip to help those in need at this time.”

Construction of a jetty in Gaza

WCK says its teams in Gaza are working “day and night” on the construction of a pier, leveraging the extensive experience it has providing humanitarian aid worldwide. “In Gaza, it already manages around 60 kitchens run by local residents, mainly women, who cook and prepare meals for those in need,” reports the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

However, “the influx of large quantities of goods will require special preparations –  warehouses, transportation, security, and supervision of distribution – which have not yet been organized”,  Haaretz points out.

Security is of the uppermost in people’s minds, after the tragedy on March 1 in which over 115 Palestinians were killed during a humanitarian aid delivery, crushed in a stampede and also hit by Israeli gunfire.

“We have to be careful. We have every guarantee that everything will be fine, but the reality in Gaza is changing all the time,” admits Lanuza. “We’re trying to avoid any danger to the population, of course.”

Approved by Israel

The aid corridor, supported by Cyprus and the United Arab Emirates, has received approval from Israel. The ship’s cargo was inspected in advance by Israeli military personnel in Larnaca to ensure it did not contain any military equipment, weapons, or materials that could be used for military purposes, according to Haaretz.

Israel has also committed to participating in the construction project of a pier promised by the United States on the Gaza coast. The Pentagon specified that building this structure will take up to 60 days and likely involve over 1,000 soldiers. The temporary port “could provide over two million meals per day to the citizens of Gaza”, according to Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryde.

A US Navy ship has departed from the United States with the necessary equipment for the construction of the pier. The Israeli military spokesperson, Rear Admiral  Daniel Hagari, stated that Israel is “coordinating the establishment” of this infrastructure.

Israel’s Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant, posting on X, said that aid from the maritime corridor “will help to achieve one of the main goals of the war: The collapse of Hamas rule. We will make sure that the aid goes to those who need it, and not to those who don’t.”

Israel accuses the Palestinian movement, which took control in Gaza in 2007, of diverting humanitarian aid within the territory.

A second humanitarian cargo ship in the starting blocks

The construction of a safe, temporary port should help ensure the arrival of aid by sea.

According to Gaza’s ministry of health, 25 people, mostly children, have already died from malnutrition and dehydration, as massive shortages leave the enclave on the brink of famine.

Open Arms is already preparing a second humanitarian aid ship from Cyprus with a much larger cargo.  Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said Tuesday that “if all goes according to plan… we have already put in place the mechanism for a second and much bigger cargo.

“And then we’ll be working towards making this a more systematic exercise with increased volumes,” he added.

The UN believes that sending aid by sea and increasing airdrops of food cannot replace the need for access to Gaza by road. While welcoming the news of the first humanitarian ship, Jens Laerke, the spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reiterated on Tuesday that it was “not a substitute for the overland transport of food and other emergency aid into Gaza and particularly northern Gaza. It cannot make up for that”.

The airdrop of parcels over the city of Gaza on March 9 resulted in the death of five people and the injury of 10, according to a hospital source. The Jordanian and American militaries denied that their aircraft were involved in the incident. Belgium, Egypt, France, and the Netherlands are also conducting aid drops in the territory.

(With AFP)

This article has been translated from the original in French.  

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Sea route for Gaza aid gains momentum, Canada to restore UNRWA funding

All the latest from the Israel-Hamas war.

The US military confirmed early on Saturday that humanitarian airdrops into the Gaza Strip carried out by other countries into the Gaza Strip killed civilians.

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The military’s Central Command, which oversees the Mideast, issued the statement on X, formerly Twitter.

It did not identify the countries involved.

“We are aware of reports of civilians killed as a result of humanitarian airdrops,” the statement read. “We express sympathies to the families of those who were killed. Contrary to some reports, this was not the result of U.S. airdrops.”

The US military airdropped food on Friday from a U.S. C-130, the equivalent of 11,500 meals donated by Jordan, into the northern part of the Gaza Strip.

Earlier, Palestinian officials said five people were killed and several others injured when airdrops malfunctioned and hit people and landed on homes.

Canada to restore funding to UN Agency for Palestinian refugees

Canada will restore funding to the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians, weeks after the agency, known as UNRWA, lost hundreds of millions of dollars in support following Israeli allegations against some of its staffers in Gaza.

Canada has been reassured after receiving an interim report from the UN investigation of Israel’s allegations, said Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s minister of international development.

The Canadian government is due to contribute €16.8 million to UNRWA in April and did not miss a payment as a result of the pause.

Israel accused 12 UNRWA employees of participating in the 7 October Hamas attacks. In response, more than a dozen countries including Canada suspended funding to UNRWA worth about €411 million, almost half its budget for the year.

Israel now alleges that 450 UNRWA employees were members of militant groups in Gaza, although it has provided no evidence.

US military to deploy 1000 troops to transport and build floating pier off Gaza shore

The US military will deploy about 1,000 troops to transport and build a floating pier on the Gaza shore in order to get critically needed food and aid delivered to citizens there.

The Pentagon press secretary told reporters on Friday that it will take weeks for this to come together, but that the US is working as quickly as possible to get troops and equipment deployed and the pier constructed.

There will not be any US forces on the ground in Israel, Ryder said, adding that details about who will be taking the supplies ashore from the causeway are still being worked out.

Troops will build an offshore pier where large ships can offload food and supplies. Then smaller military vessels will transport that aid from the floating pier to a temporary causeway that will be driven into the ground at the shoreline.

He added that the US is also talking with allies and others about the food distribution and other elements of the operation.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron has welcomed the aid corridor, but says the plan “will take months to stand up” in its entirety.

Britain is due to help the US build a temporary port on the Gaza coast and has already sent maritime surveyors.

UN rights office says Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas amount to a “war crime”

The UN human rights office says the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem amount to a war crime.

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Over 700,000 Israelis now live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

The creation and expansion of settlements amount to the transfer by Israel of its own population into territories that it occupies, “which amounts to a war crime under international law,” UN human rights chief Volker Türk’s office said in a statement.

Türk presented the report to the Human Rights Council on Friday. It covers the one-year period from 1 November 2022, to 31 October 2023, when it says roughly 24,300 housing units in existing settlements in the West Bank were “advanced” — the highest number in a year since monitoring began in 2017.

Expanded settlement activity and an upsurge in violence in the West Bank in recent months have been largely overshadowed by war and displacement of Palestinians in Gaza. The international community, along with the Palestinians, considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate and an obstacle to peace.

Israel’s diplomatic mission in Geneva, which regularly accuses Türk’s office of overlooking violence by Palestinian extremists against Israelis, said Friday’s report “totally ignored” what it said was the deaths of 36 Israelis and injuries of nearly 300 others in attacks due to “Palestinian terrorism” last year.

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Israel says Palestinian from the West Bank can visit Jerusalem holy site during Ramadan

Israel reiterated on Friday that it will allow Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to visit and pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound during the holy month of Ramadan.

Palestinians from the territory have been unable to visit Jerusalem following travel restrictions put in place by the Israeli government immediately after the 7 October Hamas attack.

Friday’s news was confirmed by COGAT, the Israeli military body in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs. Shani Sasson, COGAT’s spokesperson, gave no details on what restrictions would remain in place.

Ramadan is expected to start on Sunday evening but that depends on the sighting of the crescent moon.

President Biden increasingly frustrated with Israeli counterpart over Gaza aid

President Joe Biden said in an exchange with a Democratic lawmaker and members of his Cabinet that he has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they will need to have a “come to Jesus meeting.”

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The comments by Biden captured on a hot mic as he spoke with Senator Michael Bennet on the floor of the House chamber following his Thursday night State of the Union address.

In the exchange, Bennet congratulates Biden on his speech and urges the president to keep pressing Netanyahu on humanitarian concerns in Gaza. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg were also part of the brief conversation.

Biden then responds, “I told him, Bibi, and don’t repeat this, but you and I are going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting.”

An aide to the president standing nearby then speaks quietly into the president’s ear, appearing to alert the president that microphones remain on as he worked the room.

“I’m on a hot mic here,” Biden says after being alerted. “Good. That’s good.”

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Biden has become increasingly public about his frustration with the Netanyahu government’s unwillingness to open more land crossings for critically needed aid to make its way into Gaza.

Israeli probe says troops shot at some people around Gaza aid convoy who were advancing towards them

The Israeli military on Friday said a review of the bloodshed surrounding an aid convoy last week that killed 118 Palestinians in northern Gaza showed that Israeli forces shot at some people in the crowd who were advancing toward them.

Israeli officials had initially said only that their troops had fired warning shots toward the crowd.

A large number of people met a pre-dawn convoy of trucks carrying aid to the war-wracked region on 29 February and began scrambling to grab the food. Witnesses said Israeli forces opened fire on them.

The military said on Friday that about 12,000 people had gathered around the trucks as they were traveling toward distribution centres and began grabbing the food aid off them.

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The military review of the incident showed the troops did not fire on the convoy itself, “but did fire at a number of suspects who approached the nearby forces and posed a threat to them,” the military said.

The military said many of the casualties were caused by a stampede over the food and people being run over by the aid trucks.

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In northern Gaza, ‘people have nothing left to eat’

At least 20 people have died from malnutrition and dehydration in Gaza, the enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry said on Wednesday. It reported that most of those dead are children. With limited access to food and healthcare, aid officials have warned for months that Palestinians in the enclave are at risk of famine.

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Famine is becoming a real threat for Gazans, exhausted by five months of war. At least 20 people have died from malnutrition and dehydration, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reported Wednesday.

Representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) in recent days have visited hospitals in the north of the enclave for the first time since the conflict broke out in October 2023. The workers found “severe levels of malnutrition, children dying of starvation, serious shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies, hospital buildings destroyed”, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.


Famine is defined by the UN as “a situation in which a substantial proportion of the population of a country or region are unable to access adequate food, resulting in widespread acute malnutrition and loss of life by starvation and disease”.

It has warned that a famine is “almost inevitable” for the 2.2 million inhabitants of Gaza.

90 percent of children between six and 23 months old as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women are facing severe food poverty across the territory, according to a report released in February by the Global Nutrition Cluster, a network of NGOs led by UNICEF.

Aid organisations on the ground blame Israel for preventing enough food trucks from entering the enclave.

Read moreMalnourished, sick and scared: Pregnant women in Gaza face ‘unthinkable challenges’

President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered the US military to open a temporary aid port off the coast of Gaza.

On Friday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said a maritime aid corridor between Cyprus and Gaza could open as soon as this weekend.

FRANCE 24 spoke to Jean-Raphaël Poitou, regional director for Action Against Hunger in the Middle East, who says Palestinians in northern Gaza have “nothing left to eat”.

He says if aid continues to be as limited as it is now, the death toll linked to food poverty in the enclave “could rise sharply” in the coming weeks.

Are we talking about an ongoing famine in Gaza or a risk of famine?

Jean-Raphaël Poitou: We are starting to see people, particularly children, die of malnutrition. So yes, we are talking about famine or at the very least, an advanced risk of famine.

To determine whether a famine is ongoing, the UN relies on criteria given by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). The IPC is a standardised system developed by the FAO and other international organisations used to classify and communicate the level of famine or food security in a given context.

A report published back in December had already warned of extremely advanced risks in several areas of Gaza. On a scale of five levels of food insecurity, we reached level three [crisis level]. Given that aid is still lacking, it is normal that three months later, the ranking has moved up to levels four or five [emergency and famine, respectively] – the highest ranking.

Children are particularly vulnerable because their immune systems are not yet fully developed, so their bodies cannot defend themselves the way adult bodies can. We also need to take into account all the elements that accelerate severe malnutrition, like the lack of drinking water, degraded sanitary conditions, respiratory problems and an entirely destroyed access to healthcare. Malnutrition has long-term effects for children, especially on their brains. That is why children under five are prioritised – their brains are not yet fully developed.

Northern Gaza is one of the areas worst hit by malnutrition. What do they have left to eat?

They have nothing left to eat. When we speak to colleagues on the ground, they say Gazans will eat anything, even grass or leaves. Dozens of UN missions have tried entering the north of the enclave, but according to the latest figures, the Israeli army has only accepted 20 percent of the 77 requests made.

Food is unaffordable in Rafah, southern Gaza. Not enough aid is making it through and little has improved in that regard. The attacks on aid convoys show that people are in total desperation to find the food they need to survive.

Read more‘Flour massacre’: Lifesaving aid becomes a deadly struggle in Gaza

It complicates our work in the field. We cannot put our teams at risk, so we have to work on a much smaller scale with communities we know well. Our aid distributions generally include chickpeas, oil or flour, since bread is a staple food. We also used to distribute vegetables when crops were still available in the fields.

When thinking of famines, people often conjure up the terrible images of emaciated children in Somalia during the early 1990s. Is that something we could see happening in Gaza?

It is true that it is not common to see those kinds of images in a Middle Eastern context, but that is what is happening in Gaza right now. And we’re likely to see more and more of them.

We cannot deliver aid on a large scale and we cannot organise distributions without a ceasefire. But we do have solutions and protocols for treating extreme cases of malnutrition like peanut-based foods, which are very rich in calories. They allow children to recover and halt the process of malnutrition.

Still, we need access to these populations. If we do nothing in the meantime, people will starve to death and the number of victims will start to spike.

Last weekend, the US airdropped food and other humanitarian aid into Gaza. Is this a tenable solution to compensate the lack of trucks entering the enclave?

In our point of view, this is not the method to use. We know from experience small groups can hijack parachutes and that the method encourages criminality. What’s more, those most vulnerable won’t be able to access that aid, only the strongest will be able to collect it. That is why we do not encourage this practice at all. We really need to work on a diplomatic level to open up different aid access routes and ensure it is properly distributed.

  • At least 20 percent of households face extreme lack of food
  • At least 30 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition
  • Two people for every 10,000 die each day due to outright starvation or to the interaction of malnutrition and disease

This article is a translation of the original version in French.



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Aid ship prepares to leave Cyprus for Gaza as test of new humanitarian sea corridor

A ship was preparing to leave Cyprus in the coming days and head for Gaza with humanitarian aid, the European Commission president said, as international donors launch a sea corridor to supply the besieged territory facing widespread hunger and shortages of essential supplies after five months of war.

The vessel, belonging to the Spanish NGO Open Arms, will make a pilot voyage to test the corridor, Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Cyprus, where she’s inspecting preparations for the sea corridor. The ship has been waiting at Cyprus’s port of Larnaca for permission to deliver food aid from World Central Kitchen, a U.S. charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés.

Israel said Friday it welcomed the opening of the maritime corridor but cautioned it would also need security checks.

“The Cypriot initiative will allow the increase of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, after a security check according to Israeli standards,” Lior Haiat, spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry, said on X, formerly Twitter.


The European Union, together with the United States, the United Arab Emirates and other countries involved in the effort are launching the sea route in response to the “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in Gaza, Von der Leyen said at a news conference with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides.

“We are now very close to the opening of the corridor, hopefully this Saturday, this Sunday, and I’m very glad to see that an initial pilot operation will be launched today,” she said. “The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire, with innocent Palestinian families and children desperate for basic needs.

The ship will depart for Gaza on Saturday, Christodoulides told The Associated Press.

In Brussels, commission spokesman Balazs Ujvari said the Open Arms ship’s direct route to Gaza raises a number of “logistical problems” which are still being worked out. He said U.N. agencies and the Red Cross will also play a role in how the corridor will work.

 



Von der Leyen praised Christodoulides for his leadership in promoting the sea corridor initiative, which he pitched back in November, and thanked UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed for rallying support to get it underway .

“I call on all the actors who have a role to play here to help this corridor deliver on its potential,” said Von der Leyen. “The maritime corridor can make a real difference in the plight of the Palestinian people.”

Christodoulides said Cyprus, as the EU’s eastern-most member state, had “the moral duty” to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” leveraging its role in excellent relations with all countries in the region.”

The latest efforts to dramatically ramp up aid deliveries signaled growing frustration with Israel’s conduct in the war in the United States and Europe.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced a plan to open an offshore port to help deliver aid, underscoring how the U.S. has to go around Israel, its main Mideast ally and the top recipient of U.S. military aid, to deliver aid to Gaza, including through airdrops that started last week. Israel accuses Hamas of commandeering some aid deliveries.

Efforts to set up a sea route for aid deliveries come amid mounting alarm over the spread of hunger among Gaza’s 2.3 million people. Hunger is most acute in northern Gaza, which has been isolated by Israeli forces for months and suffered long cutoffs of food supply deliveries.

After months of warnings over the risk of famine in Gaza under Israel’s bombardment, offensives and siege, hospital doctors have reported 20 malnutrition-related deaths at two northern Gaza hospitals.

While reiterating his support for Israel, Biden used his State of the Union speech to reiterate demands that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow in more aid to Gaza.

“To the leadership of Israel, I say this: Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” Biden declared before Congress. He also repeated calls for Israel to do more to protect civilians in the fighting, and to work toward Palestinian statehood as the only long-term solution to Israeli-Palestinian violence.

U.S. officials said it will likely be weeks before the Gaza pier is operational.

Aid groups have said their efforts to deliver desperately needed supplies to Gaza have been hampered because of the difficulty of coordinating with the Israeli military, the ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order. It is even more difficult to get aid to the isolated north.

Sigrid Kaag, the U.N. senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, told reporters late Thursday that air and sea deliveries cannot make up for a shortage of supply routes on land.

Von der Leyen said the EU would continue exploring different ways of getting aid to Palestinians in Gaza. She said the bloc has so far launched 41 flights carrying over 1800 tons of aid and would consider ‘all other options, including airdrops, if our humanitarian partners on the ground consider this effective.”

Meanwhile, efforts to reach a cease-fire before Ramadan appeared stalled. Hamas said Thursday that its delegation had left Cairo, where talks were being held, until next week.

International mediators had hoped to alleviate some of the immediate crisis with a six-week cease-fire, which would have seen Hamas release some of the Israeli hostages it is holding, Israel release some Palestinian prisoners and aid groups be given access to to get a major influx of assistance into Gaza.

Palestinian militants are believed to be holding around 100 hostages and the remains of 30 others captured during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which militants killed about 1,200 people in Israel and took some 250 hostages. Several dozen hostages were freed in a weeklong November truce, and about 30 are believed to be dead.

Egyptian officials said Hamas has agreed to the main terms of such an agreement as a first stage but wants commitments that it will lead to an eventual more permanent cease-fire, while Israel wants to confine the negotiations to the more limited agreement.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations with media. Both officials said mediators are still pressing the two parties to soften their positions.

(AP)



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‘Flour massacre’: Lifesaving aid becomes a deadly struggle in Gaza

At least 112 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured on Thursday after Israeli troops opened fire on civilians gathered at a convoy of food trucks southwest of Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said. Israel denied it was to blame, saying that many victims were run over by aid trucks in a rush to obtain food. The massacre comes as the UN warns of an “almost inevitable famine” in the besieged Palestinian enclave amid increasing reports of children dying of starvation.

At dawn on Thursday morning in Gaza City, photographer Mohammed Hajjar got word that trucks carrying food had finally made it into the capital of the besieged Palestinian enclave.

At 4am he went with his brother to the neighbouring Al-Rashid street to try and obtain what they could for their family, he told FRANCE 24 by phone.

They managed to get hold of one 25kg bag of flour and a box of pasta and cooking oil – food supplies, he told FRANCE 24, that would barely last his family a week.

Mohammed currently lives with 34 members of his family and the adults are carefully rationing what they eat.

Thousands of other Palestinians had also gathered by the food trucks – eager to obtain essentials to take home.  Food supplies have grown increasingly scarce in the last month in Gaza, particularly in the north of the enclave.

“People were happy to see that I managed to get food, but at the same time they were jealous of me,” Mohammed told FRANCE 24, explaining that many families are being forced to let their children go hungry. In some cases, they are feeding them animal grain.

“Every time I go out to find food, my family worries about me, about my safety,” Mohammed said. “They also worry that I will come back empty handed. Sometimes I go without eating for three or four days in a row.”

“At night my children are crying from hunger, but we don’t have enough to give them more than one piece of bread a day,” he added.

‘Flour massacre’

It was only after Mohammed got home with the flour, pasta and cooking oil that he learned there had been a shooting by the food trucks.

Shortly after he left the convoy, he said, witnesses reported that Israeli troops opened fire on the civilians trying desperately to get hold of food.

However, Israeli officials denied that civilians had been fired on. Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that people were trampled to death or injured during a fight to take supplies off the trucks.

Mohammed has been documenting Israel’s war on Gaza since it began on October 7 in response to Hamas’s deadly cross-border attack.

As soon as he heard about the shootings he rushed to Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, where many of the injured were taken.

He photographed an injured boy lying on a stretcher and corpses in white body bags, blood soaking through the wrappings. 

“They described it as the flour massacre,” he said.

Medics at Al-Shifa told him that children were amongst the hundreds of dead and injured. 

‘Famine almost inevitable,’ says UN

Gaza is seeing “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world”, Carl Skau, deputy head of the World Food Programme, told the UN Security Council on February 28.

“One child in every six under the age of two is acutely malnourished,” he said, adding that UNRWA – the Palestinian UN Relief and Works agency – is ‘indispensable’ to averting a famine.

The agency is the main provider of aid into Gaza, particularly during this war. But major country donors have frozen funding to the agency amid Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staffers participated in the October 7 attacks. 

“I woke up to children screaming because of the hunger that consumed their bodies. We may tolerate hunger, but children cannot. Their screams tore our heart,” said Gaza journalist Anes Al-Acharif, quoted by Algerian ambassador to the UN, Amar Bendjama, at the UN Security Council.

“Mothers struggle to find anything to satisfy their children’s hunger,” Bendjama told the Council, “resorting to animal fodder as a last resort”.

“If something doesn’t change, a famine is almost inevitable,” said Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, on Friday.

“Once a famine is declared, it is too late for too many people,” Laerke added.

Attacks on aid convoys

The situation in northern Gaza is particularly dire. No aid has entered the area, now under Israeli control, since January 23.

The World Food Programme tried to resume food deliveries to the north on February 18 but much of the convoy’s cargo was taken by Palestinians in southern Gaza desperate for aid.

Shaza Moghraby, a New York-based spokesperson for the WFP, told FRANCE 24 that “gunfire and public disorder” had made it impossible for the agency to continue aid deliveries to northern Gaza. When asked who was behind the gunfire, she said she did not know. 

“We are still looking for solutions to make sure that the distribution happens in a safe manner,” Moghraby explained, “Unfortunately, we are seeing people, parents, risk their lives in order to get food to their starving children.”

 


 

Egyptian drivers putting themselves at risk 

One Egyptian driver of an aid truck, Sayed, told the media organisation PassBlue, that a fellow driver reported that the trucks were often looted by Gazans because of the scarcity of aid in the enclave.

“People would climb the aid trucks, smash the trucks, tear the sheets or plastic covering the supplies, and take whatever they can,” he said, describing what his colleague told him. “It becomes risky for drivers who decide to drive all the way inside Gaza because they are not secured at all.” 

Once fully inspected, aid trucks head from the Egyptian side of the border, the Rafah crossing, into Gaza. Some of the drivers head to a logistics point, before handing the truck over to a different driver, who then drives deeper into the enclave – as far as 70 kilometres.

Another truck driver told PassBlue that some of his colleagues would voluntarily drive further into Gaza if the drivers at the logistics point did not show up to finish the deliveries. 

However, some of the drivers return to Egypt with their trucks damaged and suffering from minor injuries themselves after their vehicles were seized in Gaza, Sayed said.

The IDF has also been accused of targeting multiple aid convoys near the Rafah Crossing in Gaza, Nebal Farsakh, the spokesperson for the Palestine Red Crescent Society, told PassBlue.

“The convoys trying to enter North Gaza have been targeted, and the IDF had fatally shot people who were just trying to get a bag of flour from the aid trucks,” she said.

Police officers in Gaza usually help to secure the aid convoys entering Rafah City as well as those en route to the north and prevent them from being looted, but that is no longer the case since the IDF started targeting them, Farsakh said. 

“The lack of civil order contributed to around a 50 percent decrease in the total number of aid trucks entering Gaza in February,” she said.

“When people talk about looting of convoys, it’s mostly not looting through criminality. Generally, when we see storming incidents it’s just people trying to get something to eat,” UNRWA spokesperson Jonathan Fowler told Passblue. “I mean, is that criminality?”

On Thursday evening, the UN Security Council met in an emergency session, called by Algeria, on what Gazans are calling the “flour massacre”,” but the 15 members failed to agree on a statement about the deaths and injuries of civilians seeking aid.  

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, told reporters that “dozens of those killed had bullets in their heads”. However, FRANCE 24 was unable to verify this information. 

In a tweet on X, French President Emmanuel Macron said he felt “deep indignation at the images coming from Gaza where civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers”. On Friday he joined worldwide calls for an independent inquiry into Thursday’s shootings as the US vowed to air drop supplies into the enclave.

 


 

This article was produced in collaboration with PassBlue, an independent media organisation. Dulcie Leimbach, Fatma Khaled for PassBlue, contributed reporting



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House speaker rejects Ukraine aid package as senators grind through votes

House Speaker Mike Johnson late Monday sharply criticised a $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other countries, casting serious doubts about the future of the package just as Senate leaders were slowly muscling it ahead in hopes of sending a message that the US remains committed to its allies.

 

The Republican speaker said the package lacked border security provisions, calling it “silent on the most pressing issue facing our country.” It was the latest — and potentially most consequential — sign of opposition to the Ukraine aid from conservatives who have for months demanded that border security policy be included in the package, only to last week reject a bipartisan proposal intended to curb the number of illegal crossings at the US-Mexico border

“Now, in the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters,” Johnson said. “America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo.”

A determined group of Republican senators was also trying Monday with a marathon set of speeches to slow the Senate from passing the package. The mounting opposition was just the latest example of how the Republican Party’s stance on foreign affairs is being transformed under the influence of Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee.

Even if the package passes the Senate, as is expected, it faces an uncertain future in the House, where Republicans are more firmly aligned with Trump and deeply skeptical of continuing to aid Ukraine in its war against Russia.

As Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and 17 other GOP senators have provided the votes to ensure the foreign aid package stays on track to clearing the Senate, Johnson has shown no sign he will put the package up for a vote.

Support for sending military aid to Ukraine has waned among Republicans, but lawmakers have cast the aid as a direct investment in American interests to ensure global stability. The package would allot roughly $60 billion to Ukraine, and about a third of that would be spent replenishing the US military with the weapons and equipment that are sent to Kyiv.

“These are the enormously high stakes of the supplemental package: our security, our values, our democracy,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as he opened the chamber. “It is a down payment for the survival of Western democracy and the survival of American values.”

Schumer worked closely with McConnell for months searching for a way to win favor in the House for tens of billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine. But after the carefully negotiated Senate compromise that included border policy collapsed last week, Republicans have been deeply divided on the legislation.

Sen. JD Vance, an Ohio Republican, argued that the US should step back from the conflict and help broker an end to the conflict with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He questioned the wisdom of continuing to fuel Ukraine’s defense when Putin appears committed to continuing the conflict for years.

“I think it deals with the reality that we’re living in, which is they’re a more powerful country, and it’s their region of the world,” he said.

Vance, along with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and other opponents, spent several hours on the floor railing against the aid and complaining about Senate process. They dug in to delay a final vote.

“Wish us stamina. We fight for you. We stand with America,” Paul posted on social media as he and other senators prepared to occupy the floor as long as they could.

Paul defended his delays, saying “the American people need to know there was opposition to this.”

But bowing to Russia is a prospect some Republicans warned would be a dangerous move that puts Americans at risk. In an unusually raw back-and-forth, GOP senators who support the aid challenged some of the opponents directly on the floor.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis angrily rebutted some of their arguments, noting that the money would only help Ukraine for less than a year and that much of it would go to replenishing US military stocks.

“Why am I so focused on this vote?” Tillis said. “Because I don’t want to be on the pages of history that we will regret if we walk away. You will see the alliance that is supporting Ukraine crumble. You will ultimately see China become emboldened. And I am not going to be on that page of history.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., became emotional as he talked about the drudgery of the Senate and spending time away from his family to get little done. “But every so often there are issues that come before us that seem to be the ones that explain why we are here,” he said, his voice cracking.

Moran conceded that the cost of the package was heavy for him, but pointed out that if Putin were to attack a NATO member in Europe, the US would be bound by treaty to become directly involved in the conflict.

Trump, speaking at a rally Saturday, said that he had once told a NATO ally he would encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to members that are “delinquent” in their financial and military commitments to the alliance. The former president has led his party away from the foreign policy doctrines of aggressive American involvement overseas and toward an “America First” isolationism.

Evoking the slogan, Moran said, “I believe in America first, but unfortunately America first means we have to engage in the world.”

Senate supporters of the package have been heartened by the fact that many House Republicans still adamantly want to fund Ukraine’s defense.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, traveled to Kyiv last week with a bipartisan group that included Reps. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, as well as French Hill, R-Ark., Jason Crow, D-Colo. and Zach Nunn, R-Iowa.

Spanberger said the trip underscored to her how Ukraine is still in a fight for its very existence. As the group traveled through Kyiv in armored vehicles, they witnessed signs of an active war, from sandbagged shelters to burned-out cars and memorials to those killed. During a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the US lawmakers tried to offer assurances the American people still stood with his country.

“He was clear that our continued support is critical to their ability to win the war,” Spanberger said. “It’s critical to their own freedom. And importantly, it’s critical to US national security interests.”

The bipartisan group discussed how rarely used procedures could be used to advance the legislation through the House, even without the speaker’s support. But Spanberger called it a “tragedy” that the legislation could still stall despite a majority of lawmakers standing ready to support it.

“The fact that the only thing standing in the way is one person who does or doesn’t choose to bring it to the floor,” she said. “The procedure standing in the way of defeating Russia — that’s the part that for me is just untenable.”

(AP)

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The UNRWA case reveals a much larger problem with humanitarian aid

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The global consensus that humanitarian work is essential too easily surrenders the moral high ground, often with devastating consequences. It is time to recover that ground, Ambassador Mark Wallace and Dr Hans-Jakob Schindler write.

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Evidence implicating UNRWA employees in the 7 October terrorist attacks should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the activities of the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees closely. 

Allegations that some UNRWA workers were in fact Hamas operatives are merely the latest iteration of a much larger problem plaguing the international aid sector. 

A stunning lack of oversight and regulation of humanitarian funds over the past several decades has allowed untold billions in taxpayer money to make their way into terrorists’ coffers.

While aid agencies may baulk at what they perceive as burdensome “red tape”, strict oversight and transparency are in fact fundamental to humanitarian work: they ensure that aid is delivered to those who need it, not diverted to extremist and terrorist groups.

Claims of no knowledge increasingly strain credulity

For years, UNRWA has played host to bad actors uninterested in a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

According to a dossier presented by Israeli intelligence, one in ten staff are terrorist “operatives”. 

Some 23% of male UNRWA workers in Gaza have ties to Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), compared to 15% of male Gazans as a whole. And 49% are alleged to have “close relatives” also tied to either Hamas or PIJ. 

Claims by UNRWA that it had no knowledge of the vast network of Hamas tunnels under schools and hospitals, funded by billions of dollars of diverted aid, increasingly strain credulity.

Several UNRWA personnel over the years have been discovered to be terrorists or officials of terrorist organisations, including PIJ rocket-maker Awad al-Qiq, former Hamas interior minister Said Siam, and Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan in 2009.

On 7 October, 12 UNRWA personnel helped Hamas execute the massacre, or aided the group in the wake of the attack. 

According to the dossier, one of the agency staffers took a woman hostage, another dispensed ammunition, and a third took part in mass murder at an Israeli kibbutz.

This case is no exception

How did humanitarian workers come to play a role in the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust? 

The reality is that UNRWA is by no means the exception when it comes to humanitarian terror financing. In the world of international aid, it’s an occupational hazard.

Throughout the 1990s, the Taliban regularly harassed and robbed aid agencies. The current Taliban regime likewise uses a network of sham local organisations to divert aid money. 

In the early 2000s, reports emerged that in Somalia, the al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabaab had siphoned off so much international aid that it established a “Humanitarian Coordination Office”, charging aid groups to “register”. 

Several years later, al-Shabaab continued to extort aid deliveries via roadblocks and so-called “taxes”.

In 2018, a partial audit of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) found that some $700 million (€649m) of US taxpayer-funded programming in Iraq and Syria had been improperly vetted. 

That same year, several dozen individuals and organisations who had received USAID funding in the region were blacklisted, and over $200m (€185.5m) in funds were frozen.

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The Houthi rebel group in Yemen stifles almost all movement of international aid through the areas they control; they have set up a “humanitarian” agency, the Supreme Council for the Management and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and International Cooperation (SCMCHA), for the express purpose of re-directing aid toward their own militant ends. The results have been catastrophic for the Yemeni people.

Decisions that didn’t age well

Regulating aid is not simply about alleviating security concerns. On the ground, any dime relinquished to a militant group is unlikely to achieve its stated aims and, as in the case of UNRWA, in fact, exacerbates the conflict it is trying to alleviate.

Just two years ago, the Biden administration began funding UNRWA again on the basis that the organisation had made commitments to “transparency, accountability, and neutrality”. 

Several European governments, including Germany, even increased UNRWA funding in the wake of the October attacks.

Those decisions have obviously not aged well. But they are the result of a steady flow of arguments from humanitarian workers and aid groups who claim that regulations and sanctions, even with humanitarian exemptions, do little more than hamper their work. 

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This attitude is dangerously dismissive, as former UNRWA General Counsel James Lindsay wrote in a 2009 report: “UNRWA has taken very few steps to detect and eliminate terrorists from [its] ranks…and no steps at all to prevent members of terrorist organisations, such as Hamas, from joining.”

We can’t keep surrendering the moral high ground

Brutal terror groups and extremist regimes will always see humanitarian funds as quasi-piggy banks for enhancing their own power. 

Effective oversight, budget transparency, complete reporting requirements, as well as internal and external controls are indispensable elements to ensure that any developing problems are caught early, aid diversion is mitigated, and guardrails are in place to prevent international aid workers from being involved in terror groups or attacks.

Despite criticism from the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, several European countries, in addition to the US, have now suspended payments to UNRWA. This is a step in the right direction. 

The global consensus that humanitarian work is essential too easily surrenders the moral high ground, often with devastating consequences. 

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It is time to recover that ground, which has for too long provided cover for the worst acts of terrorism. 

Ambassador Mark Wallace serves as CEO and Dr Hans-Jakob Schindler is Senior Director at the Counter Extremism Project.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Israel-Hamas war: IDF demand hospital evacuation as death toll rises

The latest developments from the Israel-Hamas war.

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Israel announced that it will allow two tanker trucks of fuel into Gaza each day for the United Nations and communication systems. That amount is half of what the UN said it needs for lifesaving functions including powering water systems, hospitals, bakeries and the trucks delivering aid.

At least 11,470 Palestinians — two-thirds of them women and children — have been killed since the war began, according to Palestinian health authorities. About 2,700 people are reported missing.

IDF order Gaza’s Shifa hospital to evacuate ‘within an hour’

Israeli soldiers carrying out a raid on the Shifa hospital in Gaza for the fourth consecutive day have ordered its evacuation via loudspeaker “within an hour”, according to an AFP journalist on site.

Currently, according to the UN, 2,300 patients, caregivers and displaced people are in this establishment and international concern is growing for their fate. Israel assures that Hamas, in power in Gaza, uses this establishment as a military base.

The AFP journalist present in the hospital heard the message broadcast in Arabic early on Saturday morning.

The Israeli army also called the director of the Mohammed Abou Salmiya hospital to demand “the evacuation of patients, the wounded, the displaced and the caregivers and that everyone go on foot to the coastal corniche” which borders the hospital, west of Gaza City, within an hour, this chief doctor reported to AFP.

For days, Israeli soldiers have entered the Shifa complex to question the people inside and make searches.

The hospital director had already refused this week a previous evacuation order received by telephone, citing in particular the complexity of the operation.

The electricity stopped working there several days ago and its department heads report that several dozen patients have died “because vital medical equipment stopped working due to the power outage.”

In recent days, Israeli tanks have tightened their grip on Gaza City and more particularly its hospitals, notably Shifa which it accuses Hamas of using as a military base, which the Islamist movement denies.

Limited internet and phone access returns to Gaza

The Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel has announced that phone and internet services were partially working again across Gaza after fuel was delivered to restart generators that power the networks.

NetBlocks, a group tracking internet outages, confirmed that “internet connectivity is being partially restored” in the Gaza Strip.

On Thursday, Paltel announced that all communication services, including landline connection, mobile network and Internet connection, dropped due to a lack of fuel.

The next day, Israel agreed to allow two tanker trucks of fuel, equaling 60,000 litres, into Gaza each day.

A US State Department official said 10,000 litres of the daily intake will be used to power the enclave’s communications network.

Before this week, Israel had completely prohibited fuel from entering Gaza, fearing it could be commandeered by Hamas and used against them.

Israel says ‘dire’ conditions in Shifa hospital

More than two days after Israeli soldiers stormed Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza, doctors said they were amputating limbs to avoid infection and spoke of wounds festering with maggots, while Israel’s military said it was still searching for evidence to back up its allegations that Hamas used the hospital as a command centre.

Hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia told Al Jazeera television that 52 patients have died since fuel ran out — up from 40 reported dead before Israeli troops entered the compound on Wednesday. More patients were on the verge of death as their wounds were “open with maggots coming out of them,” another doctor, Faisal Siyam, told the Qatar-run TV network.

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Abu Selmia said Israeli troops should either bring them fuel to power equipment or allow an evacuation.

Israel has delivered food and water to patients, said Col. Elad Goren, the head of civil affairs at COGAT, the defence body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. Abu Selmia said the amount was far too little for the nearly 7,000 people in the compound.

The Israeli military said on Friday that it was searching the hospital for Hamas infrastructure, but acknowledged it was taking a long time and that patients in the hospital were suffering.

“We’re aware that the situation is dire,” Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesperson, told reporters on Friday.

Since entering Shifa earlier this week, the Israeli army said it has found weapons and military equipment hidden around the hospital and in a vehicle outside, as well as the laptop it says belonged to a Hamas militant. It also released videos of what it says is a tunnel, which is still being studied. The military’s claims could not be independently verified.

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But Israel has yet to present proof of a Hamas command and control centre it previously said is underneath the hospital.

International criminal court is gathering info on alleged crimes

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan says that his office has received “a significant volume of information and evidence” about alleged crimes committed during the Israel-Hamas war.

Khan did not elaborate on the nature of the information his office has received.

He commented in a written statement on Friday confirming that South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros, and Djibouti had made official state referrals to the court about the “Situation in the State of Palestine,” which his office has been investigating since March 2021. South Africa announced the referral on Thursday.

The ICC investigation dates back to the last major Israel-Hamas war in 2014 but also includes the ongoing conflict in Gaza. 

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Khan says his prosecution office “will continue its engagement with all relevant actors, whether national authorities, civil society, survivor groups or international partners, to advance this investigation.”

He also says he will “continue my efforts to visit the State of Palestine and Israel to meet with survivors, hear from civil society organisations and engage with relevant national counterparts.”

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