Iran to hold runoff election with reformist Pezeshkian and hard-liner Jalili after low-turnout vote

Hard-line former Iranian senior nuclear negotiator and candidate for the presidential election Saeed Jalili casts his ballot in a polling station, in Tehran, Iran, on June 28, 2024. Iranians are voting in a snap election to replace the late hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.
| Photo Credit: AP

Iran will hold a runoff presidential election pitting a little-known reformist against a hard-line former nuclear negotiator after results released Saturday showed the lowest-ever poll turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.

More than 60% of voters cast no ballot in the race that saw reformist Masoud Pezeshkian best Saeed Jalili, who competed alongside two other hard-liners.

With Jalili now alone in facing the cardiac surgeon, Pezeshkian’s campaign would need to draw voters to the July 5 runoff in an election they’ve otherwise not taken part in as public anger hardens following years of Iran facing economic hardships and mass protests under its Shiite theocracy.

“Let’s look at it as a protest in its own right: A very widespread choice to reject what’s on offer – both the candidates and the system,” said Sanam Vakil, the director of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa program.

“That tells us a lot about public opinion and apathy, frustration. It sort of brings it all together.” Of the 24.5 million votes cast in Friday’s election, Pezeshkian got 10.4 million while Jalili received 9.4 million, election spokesman Mohsen Eslami announced. Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf got 3.3 million, while Shiite cleric Mostafa Pourmohammadi had over 206,000 votes.

Iranian law requires that a winner gets more than 50% of all votes cast. If not, the race’s top two candidates advance to a runoff a week later. There’s been only one other runoff presidential election in Iran’s history: in 2005, when hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bested former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

As has been the case since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, women and those calling for radical change have been barred from running, while the vote itself will have no oversight from internationally recognized monitors.

There were signs of the wider disenchantment of the public with the vote. More than 1 million votes were voided, according to the results, typically a sign of people feeling obligated to cast a ballot but not wanting to select any of the candidates.

The overall turnout was 39.9%, according to the results. The 2021 presidential election that elected Raisi saw a 48.8% turnout, while the March parliamentary election saw a 40.6% turnout.

There had been calls for a boycott, including from imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi. Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of the leaders of the 2009 Green Movement protests who remains under house arrest, has also refused to vote along with his wife, his daughter said.

There’s also been criticism that Pezeshkian represents just another government-approved candidate. In a documentary on the reformist candidate aired by state TV, one woman said her generation was “moving toward the same level” of animosity with the government that Pezeshkian’s generation had in the 1979 revolution.

Jalili, once described by CIA director Bill Burns as “stupefyingly opaque” in negotiations, likely would have won outright had the three hard-liners not split Friday’s vote. Jalili is known as the “Living Martyr” after losing a leg in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and is famous among Western diplomats for his haranguing lectures and hard-line stances.

Qalibaf, a former general in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and head of Iran’s police, had been thought to have a wider power base, despite being plagued by corruption allegations and his role in past violent crackdowns.

He quickly endorsed Jalili in conceding the result and criticized Pezeshkian for allying himself with President Hassan Rouhani and his former foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. The two reached Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which later collapsed after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord.

“The road is not over yet, and despite the fact that I respect Mr. Dr. Pezeshkian personally, … I ask all the revolutionary forces and my supporters to help stop the wave that is causing an important part of our economic and political problems today,” Qalibaf said in a statement.

Now the question becomes whether Pezeshkian will be able to draw voters into his campaign. On Election Day, he offered comments on outreach to the West after voting seemingly aimed at drumming up turnout for his campaign — even after being targeted by a veiled warning from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Pezeshkian has been a generally underwhelming candidate,” the geopolitical consultancy Eurasia Group said in an analysis before Friday’s vote. “Should he qualify for a runoff, his position would weaken as the conservative voting bloc unites behind a single candidate.” Raisi, 63, died in the May 19 helicopter crash that also killed the country’s foreign minister and others. He was seen as a protégé of Khamenei and a potential successor. Still, many knew him for his involvement in the mass executions that Iran conducted in 1988, and for his role in the bloody crackdowns on dissent that followed protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman detained by police over allegedly improperly wearing the mandatory headscarf, or hijab.

Friday’s vote saw only one reported attack around the election. Gunmen opened fire on a van transporting ballot boxes in the restive southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, killing two police officers and wounding others, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. The province regularly sees violence between security forces and the militant group Jaish al-Adl, as well as drug traffickers.

The runoff election comes as wider tensions have gripped the Middle East over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. In April, Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israel. Militia groups that Tehran arms in the region — such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels — are engaged in the fighting and have escalated their attacks.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic continues to enrich uranium at near weapons-grade levels and maintains a stockpile large enough to build — should it choose to do so — several nuclear weapons.

Vakil said that “it’s going to rest on if the general public, that 60% who stayed home, are going to come out and protect themselves from those hard-line views” Jalili holds. “That’s what next Friday is going to be about.”

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In the Israel-Hamas war, an emblematic battle for Al Shifa hospital

Fighting raged around Gaza City’s main Al Shifa hospital on Friday in the 12th day of operations by the Israeli military around the hospital complex. It is the second time in six months that Israeli forces have sought to oust Hamas fighters from the area.

Fighting around the Al-Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip continued on Friday in what is now the Israeli army’s longest-running “targeted operation” in its war against Hamas. This is Israel’s second assault on this hospital complex, the largest and oldest in the Palestinian enclave, since the start of the war on October 7.

Around a thousand Israeli soldiers, backed by tanks, entered the Al Shifa hospital complex on March 18, in the second offensive to “cleanse” the hospital of fighters from Hamas and its ally, Islamic Jihad.

A tactical success

This second incursion should have been swift, since the Israeli army had already announced in November, during the first assault, that it had “emptied” the premises of Hamas combatants. The first operation was also supposed to have enabled Israel to block a maze of tunnels under the hospital used by Palestinian fighters.

Fighting has rocked the Gaza City district around Al Shifa Hospital since March 18, 2024. © France Médias Monde graphics studio


Not only has the current Israeli attack dragged on, but fighting has also spread to the area around the gigantic hospital complex. Hamas was able to launch 70 attacks against Israeli forces from both inside and outside the hospital in recent days, according to the Institute for the Study of War, an American think-tank which works with the Critical Threats project to provide daily summaries of events in the Israel-Hamas war.

Despite intense fighting in a supposedly “cleared” area, the Israeli army presented the operation as a success. It stressed that it had been able to “eliminate dozens” of enemy fighters and locate new “infrastructure and weapons caches” in the hospital.

“The actual operation was a tactical success,” confirms Veronika Poniscjakova, a specialist in international security issues and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. The Israeli army “let Hamas think that they would attack elsewhere – in the central refugee camps of the Strip – and when Hamas returned to Shifa, the Israelis closed in on them”, and took many prisoners, according to Ahron Bregman, a specialist in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at King’s College London.

The Israeli action enabled Israel to recover “extremely valuable intelligence” about their enemy, as suggested by the images and videos of the interrogations that the Israeli army has made public, notes Omri Brinner, an analyst and specialist in Middle East geopolitics at the International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) in Verona, Italy.

The Israel-Hamas PR war

The operation’s progress appears to be slow, as the Israeli army seeks to avoid the media backlash associated with a previous operation launched at Al Shifa. Last November, Israeli-initiated fighting at the hospital caused the death of more than 20 patients, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The assault also led to a health disaster for Gazans, who were deprived of the enclave’s most important hospital complex. Washington openly expressed concern to its Israeli ally about civilians being caught in the crossfire at a hospital.

The current Israeli operation at Al Shifa has once again attracted international attention. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), described the conditions in the hospital as “totally inhumane” for patients and health personnel.

But in the current offensive, “the Israelis have been far more sophisticated in the way they are presenting this operation” and “they are using a much more precise way to message to the world that the threat inside the complex is real and credible,” says Clive Jones, a specialist in Israel and the Middle East at Durham University in the UK. The army is using drone footage of gun battles and photos of the discovery of weapons caches to “try to convince international opinion that they had legitimate reasons for returning to fight in this hospital”, adds Jones.

Israel also needs to prove it has the ability to carry out this type of highly sensitive operation with as few civilian casualties as possible. The precedent of the US-Iraq war in 2003 shows that “as soon as an army leaves an area, insurgents seek to return”, says Bregman. This view is shared by other analysts. “We can expect Hamas to do the same thing in other hospitals, but also in schools or refugee camps where there are civilian populations”, notes Shahin Modarres, an independent expert on international security and the Middle East.

By taking its time in the Al Shifa operation, the Israeli army is “signaling to Hamas that it will target it even if it harbours in places considered safe havens, such as hospitals, UNRWA compounds, mosques and schools”, says Brinner. At the same time, it’s trying to prove to the international community that it knows how to do it” with a level of restraint.

Strategic failure

But if this current battle looks like an “operational success, it’s also a strategic failure for Israel”, says Jones.

After the fighting in northern Gaza at the start of the war, and the first assault on the Al Shifa hospital, it must be worrying for the Israeli military leadership “that Hamas still had the possibility to operate” from the hospital complex with “so many troops”, explains Poniscjakova.

Hamas is still able to carry out guerrilla operations aimed at “frustrating Israeli soldiers, who are forced to retrace their steps, while seeking to distract them long enough in the hope that international pressure will push Israel to accept a ceasefire“, notes Modarres.

The fact that Hamas adopted this strategy was certainly expected, say the experts interviewed by FRANCE 24. But the intensity of the fighting around the hospital “says something about Hamas’s ability as a guerilla organisation to regroup, and Israel might have underestimated it”, says Jones.

According to Jones, the renewed battle for Al Shifa illustrates the political flaw in the Israeli advance into Gaza – the lack of any plan for how the territory would be governed in areas where the Israeli army is not present.

“It’s a political issue because Netanyahu’s strategy has left a governance vacuum enabling a quick Hamas reorganisation in the north” of the enclave.

“You have to remember that the level of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip has been vastly reduced,” Jones adds.

“It’s a classic chicken and egg problem,” explains Poniscjakova. “What should come first: governance or destroying Hamas?”

Israel’s choice, she says is to either push for a new governance structure in northern Gaza and other areas “cleared” of Hamas control, or to prioritise an assault on Hamas in southern Gaza and then try to negotiate an overall political deal with the Palestinians.

For now, the consensus of analysts seems to be that the fighting at Al Shifa shows that the Israeli army is still far from achieving its main objective: the destruction of Hamas.

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Israel’s largest land seizure since Oslo Accords deals fresh blow to Palestinian statehood

Israel declared 800 hectares of land in the West Bank as property of the state on Friday, a move that will facilitate use of the ground for settlement construction. The area covers large swaths of the Jordan Valley, a vital region for a future Palestinian state, and is the largest piece of land to be seized by Israel since the early 1990s.

When far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced Israel would seize 800 hectares of land in the West Bank last Friday, it did not come as a surprise to Hamza Zbiedat. 

Though he is based in Ramallah, his family live in a small village close to the border between the West Bank and Jordan called Zubaydat, just north of the vast area now declared Israeli state land.

“Israel has fully controlled the Jordan Valley for the last 15 years at least,” says Zbiedat, who works as an advocacy officer for the Ma’an Development Center, a Palestinian civil society organisation. “The only thing left for Israel to do was to announce it.”

The Jordan Valley is a rich strip of land that runs along the West Bank, east of the central highlands. Sparsely populated, it has many open and undeveloped areas – making it a precious reserve for the future development of the West Bank.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, almost 90 percent of the Jordan Valley region has been designated Area C, meaning it remained under full Israeli control after the 1995 Oslo II Accord.

“While there are those in Israel and the world who seek to undermine our right over the Judea and Samaria area and the country in general,” Smotrich declared, referring to the West Bank region by its biblical name, “we promote settlement through hard work and in a strategic manner all over the country”.

The area covers 8,000 dunams (800 hectares) between three Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank – Masu’a, Ma’ale Efrayim and Yafit. 

A few weeks earlier, on February 29, Israel appropriated an additional 300 hectares near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. 

Together, these areas represent the largest zone to be designated Israeli state land since the first Oslo Accords in 1993, according to Peace Now, an Israeli organisation documenting settlement activities.

A losing battle

Now that Israel has declared swaths of the Jordan Valley as its own, Palestinians can longer use the land.

“We guess it will help to expand Israeli settlements,” says Yonatan Mizrachi, co-director of the settlement-monitoring branch at Peace Now.

Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law.

Read moreFrom 1947 to 2023: Retracing the complex, tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In 2016, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2334 and demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory”, underlining that it would not “recognise any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines … other than those agreed by the two sides through negotiations”.

But the Israeli administration has repeatedly used orders like declarations of state land to take over Palestinian territories.

In recent years, the Israeli Housing Ministry even created subsidised home ownership programmes to combat the housing crisis and created a lottery system that lured Israelis to move into West Bank settlements.

The declaration of parcels as state land means the area can no longer be considered the private property of Palestinians by the Israeli state. The process facilitates settlers’ leasing or buying plots of designated land. 

Rights groups say it is near impossible for Palestinians to appeal these declarations. 

“There is a kind of bureaucracy that if you own the land, you can object in the next 45 days [following a declaration]. But it’s basically official,” says Mizrachi. “I would be surprised if Palestinians … go to court [to appeal].”

Up until 1967, the Jordan Valley was under Jordanian administration. After the war, Israel issued a military order that put an end to land registrations across the West Bank – meaning Palestinian families often lack the paperwork to prove they hold private ownership over their land. What’s more, Israeli authorities do not accept tax receipts, the only alternative recourse to prove property ownership.

Declarations of state land in occupied territories were halted in 1992 under former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. But two years after Netanyahu was first elected prime minister in 1996, he resumed the practice. Since then, around 40,000 dunams (about 4,000 hectares) have been designated state land by Israel, according to Peace Now.

“It might take years before [the land] is used,” says Mizrachi. “Then suddenly we might see a new outpost, a new settlement, new developments.”

The total area under direct control of Israeli settlements constitutes more than 40 percent of the entire West Bank, according to B’Tselem, which is also known as the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

In 2023, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that a total of 700,000 Israeli settlers were living illegally in the occupied West Bank.

Limiting chances for a two-state solution

Israel’s annexation of this vast piece of land could make it even more difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank to move from the north to the south of the territory.

The parcels claimed in the end of February near Ma’ale Adumim create a continuous strip of state land between Ma’ale and another settlement called Kedar, marking a divide between the southern West Bank and the Jordan Valley in the north.

Current restrictions on movement such as Israeli military checkpoints already make it difficult for Palestinians to travel within the West Bank.

“I live in Ramallah. If I want to go see my parents in the Jordan Valley for Ramadan, just to eat Iftar (the fast-breaking evening meal during Islam’s holy month) with them, it would take me three or four hours to get there,” says Zbiedat, who works as an advocacy officer for the Ma’an Development Center, a Palestinian civil society organisation. “I don’t have time to go there after work and drive another four hours back at night.”

Part of the area seized by Israel is located close to East Jerusalem, and is what Palestinians hope will become the centre of a future independent state. Since the Oslo Accords were signed in the early 90s, little progress has been made on achieving Palestinian statehood. Experts, as well as the UN Security Council, say the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land is a major obstacle to a two-state solution.

Cases of settlements being built on land declared as state property by Israel have also grown exponentially in recent months. 

UN human rights chief Volker Turk published a report last month that found 24,300 housing units had been built within existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank between November 2022 and October 2023, the highest on record since the UN began monitoring the situation in 2017.

A natural greenhouse

“The Jordan Valley is very important for Palestinians in the West Bank. It is supposed to be one of the biggest areas to be part of the state of Palestine, with huge fertile land and a lot of resources,” says Zbiedat. “Two of the biggest aquifer basins of drinkable water in the West Bank are located in the Jordan Valley.”

Zbiedat says experts consider the Jordan Valley a “natural greenhouse”.

“For the last centuries, most of this land was an open herding area for Palestinian Bedouins or villagers with sheep, camels, cows, goats and so on. It was also cultivated by other Palestinians to grow lemons, oranges and other kinds of fruit,” says Zbiedat.

A few years ago, he travelled to the area now designated Israeli state land to take photos and saw that Israelis had begun paving roads and planting date trees.

“Dates have become the most famous crop in the Jordan Valley,” Zbiedat explains. “Agricultural expansion is important in this area … Now that the date trees are six or seven years old, settlers are making hundreds of thousands of shekels from this land.”

“And the workers are mostly Palestinians. But the owners are the settlers,” he says.

Though much of the region is uninhabited, more land confiscations would mean “less Bedouins, less animals, less Palestinian farms and a shrinking independent Palestinian economy,” Zbiedat sighs. “It means less Palestinians in the Jordan Valley.”

The same report published by UNHCHR chief Turk last month underlined the dramatic increase in settler and state violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, notably since the war in Gaza began on October 7. Since the conflict began, “a total of 1,222 Palestinians from 19 herding communities have been displaced as a direct result of settler violence”, it reported.

The West Bank has also seen frequent Palestinian attacks on Israelis since the war broke out.

‘All for the benefit of settlers’

“[Settlers] believe they need to expand and protect what they are calling ‘a state land’ or ‘our patriarch’s land’ from Palestinians. They believe that any new settlement brings more security to the region. That is the main philosophy,” says Mizrachi. “As long as Smotrich controls the civil administration, he will continue this policy.”

Smotrich, who leads the far-right Religious Zionism party, is a settler himself as well as the head of the Israeli Civil Administration.

Last year, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offered Smotrich a sweeping monopoly on construction planning and approvals in the West Bank by granting him the power to handle land-use issues. Netanyahu decided it was no longer necessary for himself and Israel’s defence minister to provide their formal sign-off on West Bank settlement constructions at every phase.

As a result, Smotrich was designated a strong authority figure of the occupied West Bank – a move the UN warned could facilitate the annexation of the territory.

For Zbiedat, the most recent land seizure is “a message to the US to say, ‘OK, you don’t want us to invade Rafah [in the southern Gaza Strip]? Then don’t say anything about what we do in the West Bank’.”

Smotrich made the announcement on the day US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Tel Aviv for talks with Netanyahu about the war in Gaza.

The US State Department in March had also ordered financial sanctions against four Israeli settlers in the West Bank, marking a rare rebuke of Israel.

Blinken had also expressed his disappointment with Israel’s decision to approve 3,400 new homes in West Bank settlements on March 6. 

“It is a way to put pressure on the US government not to intervene when it comes to settlers,” Zbiedat says.

“But it is also an internal message to Israeli voters to say, ‘Look, we are expanding our settlements in the Jordan Valley’ … which they say will remain forever a part of Israel. They do not want to give Palestinians any kind of control to any kind of border [with Jordan],” he explains.

Palestinian authorities have condemned Smotrich’s announcement. The Palestinian ministry of foreign affairs called the latest move “a continuation of the extermination and displacement of our people from their homeland”.

Read more‘Freedom is paid for in blood’: In the occupied West Bank, families long to bury their dead

“In any case, it is important for people to know we are also living a siege here,” says Zbiedat, referring to the ongoing war in Gaza. “And it’s all for the benefit of settlers.”

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Pioneering policy leadership in a transformative era

With the European Parliament and U.S. elections looming, Europe is facing policy uncertainties on both sides of the Atlantic. Persistent geopolitical turmoil in Ukraine and the Middle East, and threats to democracy — coupled with concerns over slow economic recovery, demographic shifts, climate hazards and the rapid evolution of powerful AI — all add to the complex global political and economic landscape. Europe’s present and future demands leaders who are capable of effectively navigating multifaceted challenges.

At the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, we are committed to developing a groundbreaking executive program that prepares professionals for multilevel policymaking of the 21st century. Our new EUI Global Executive Master (GEM) aims to transform policy professionals into agents of change and enhance their skills as effective managers and leaders who inspire and drive sustainable change.

Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program.

New leaders wanted

George Papaconstantinou is dean of executive education of the European University Institute, and a former Minister of Finance and Minister of Environment and Energy of Greece. | via European University Institute

Just as public policy has changed in the past 20 years, so has executive education for public policy professionals. Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program. The new GEM takes our commitment to training professionals to respond to today’s cross-border issues to the next level; it stands out from other executive master programs through its dedication to providing a personalized career development journey.

Launching in September 2024, the GEM has a two-year, part-time format, with three week-long study periods in Florence, and two additional visits to global policy hubs. This format, combined with online modules, allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange, building their knowledge, skills, and networks in a structured way.

This allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange.

During the first year, EUI GEM participants take four core modules that will set the basis for a comprehensive understanding of the complex task of policymaking, and its interaction with government, the economy and global trends. In the second year, they have the possibility to select courses in one or more of four specializations: energy and climate; economy and finance; tech and governance; and geopolitics and security.

These core and elective courses are complemented by intensive professional development modules and workshops aimed at enhancing skills in the critical areas of change management, project management, strategic foresight, leadership, negotiations, policy communications, and media relations.

Through the final capstone project, EUI GEM participants will address real policy challenges faced by organizations, including their own, proposing solutions based on original research under the guidance of both the organizations concerned and EUI faculty.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience. Participants attend the EUI State of the Union Conference in Florence, a flagship event that brings together global leaders to reflect on the most pressing issues of the European agenda. They explore the role of strategic foresight in EU institutions’ policy planning through an executive study visit to Brussels, complemented by dedicated training sessions and networking opportunities. A final Global Challenge study visit aims to encourage participants to engage with local policy stakeholders.

Bridging academia and practice

Since its inaugural executive training course in 2004, the EUI has successfully trained over 23,000 professionals of approximately 160 nationalities, in almost 600 courses. The EUI GEM leverages this expertise by merging the academic and practical policy expertise from our Florence School of Transnational Governance and the Robert Schuman Centre, as well as the academic excellence in the EUI departments.

The EUI GEM’s aspiration to bridge the gap between academia and practice is also reflected in the faculty line-up, featuring leading academics, private-sector experts, and policymakers who bring invaluable expertise into a peer-learning environment that fosters both learning and exchange with policy professionals.

Effective, agile and inclusive governance involves interaction and mutual learning between the public sector, the private sector and civil society actors, all acting as change agents. That is why our program is designed to bring innovative perspectives on public policy from all three: the public and the private sector, as well as civil society, and we welcome applications from all three sectors. 

An inspiring environment

EUI GEM participants spend 25 days in residence at the magnificent Palazzo Buontalenti, headquarters of our Florence School of Transnational Governance. The former Medici palace harbors art-historical treasures in the heart of Florence. In September 2024, a dedicated executive education center will be inaugurated at Palazzo Buontalenti, coinciding with the arrival of the participants of the first GEM cohort.

The GEM is poised to redefine the standards for executive education and empower a new generation of policy practitioners. We are ambitious and bold, and trust that our first cohort will be, too. After all, they are the first to embark on this adventure of a new program. We can’t wait to welcome them here in Florence, where the journey to shape the future begins. Will you join us?

Learn more about the EUI Global Executive Master.

The EUI Global Executive Master | via European University Institute

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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.


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.


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‘I’m a bitch too’: Women in Iran launch hashtag against harassment by mullahs

At a hospital in the holy city of Qom, a young woman squats in a corner with a sick child in her arms. Her headscarf has slipped down to her shoulder revealing her hair, and a mullah is seen using his phone nearby. Surveillance video of the scene published on March 9 has caused a furore in Iran, with women angrily accusing the mullah of planning to denounce the mother for hijab violations on a special app created by the Islamic regime. Users supporting the regime have labelled the mother a “bitch”, and Iranian women in response have flooded social networks with the hashtag “I’m a bitch too”.

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The video that emerged on social media was recorded by a surveillance camera in a hospital in Qom, one of Iran’s most religious cities.

An initial excerpt shows the mother squatting in a corner, her headscarf on her shoulders and her hair visible, as a mullah stands nearby using his phone. A second excerpt shows the mother angrily accusing the mullah of taking photographs of her and her sick child without permission. “Give me your phone, let me see the photo, delete it,” she tells him. Several other women, some wearing the Islamic hijab and some not, come to her aid, and one of them takes the mullah’s phone to check it.

A screenshot from the Qom hospital video published on March 9, 2024 shows a mother squatting with her hair uncovered as a mullah uses his phone nearby. Social media users suggest the mullah was using a government-supplied app to report the mother for hijab violations. © Observers

A year and a half after the “Woman Life Freedom” protests kicked off in September 2022, the reaction from women in Iran has been fierce. The videos have been seen hundreds of thousands of times on social networks, with comments suggesting the mullah was using a government-supplied app on his phone to report the mother for hijab violations. The app, known as “Nazer” (“watcher / informant” in Persian), is issued to government-vetted informers to allow them to report hijab violations to the authorities. Women who are reported receive “unveiling notifications” sent via text message, and in some cases receive punishments such as having their vehicle impounded.


In this March 9, 2024 post on Telegram Iranian women share extracts from a surveillance video at a hospital in Qom in which a mother is seen accusing a mullah of taking photographs of her with her sick child. The posters call the mullah a “dirty pig” who was using a government-supplied app to report her for hijab violations.

Pro-regime users accuse the mother of ‘bitchy behaviour’

On March 10, Qom’s chief prosecutor, Hasan Gahrib, also a mullah, announced his staunch support for the mullah in the video. “We are pursuing the disruptors of public order and the people involved in spreading the video footage on social media and the Persian opposition media abroad,” he said. The city’s Deputy Prosecutor Rohollah Moslemkhani told local media March 12 that four people had been arrested so far in connection with the dissemination of the video footage.

Pro-regime social media users placed the blame on the mother, with some accusing her of “bitchy behaviour,” using the Persian insult “saliteh,” for allowing her headscarf to fall as she tended to her child. 

Supporters of the “Woman Life Freedom” protests reacted by creating the hashtag “I’m a bitch too” to express their support for the mother. “The Woman Life Freedom revolution is alive,” one woman wrote on X. “It is unstoppable and is impacting our lives and culture at every opportunity. Sometimes we resist by taking off our scarves, sometimes by using words: #I’m_a_bitch_too.”


Another woman wrote: “#We_are_bitches, and to overthrow the perverted mullahs, we will get even bitchier.”


After the Qom hospital surveillance video was published by an opposition media outlet, some pro-regime social media accounts labelled the mother a “bitch”: “Well… what is clear in this video is the bitchy behaviour of this woman”.
After the Qom hospital surveillance video was published by an opposition media outlet, some pro-regime social media accounts labelled the mother a “bitch”: “Well… what is clear in this video is the bitchy behaviour of this woman”. © Observers

What was the mullah doing on his phone?

After the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police in September 2022 and the massive protests that followed, the Islamic Republic changed its strategy. Street patrols by the morality police were halted, and the regime urged Iranian citizens to step in to help report women seen without a hijab in public.

The regime created websites, tiplines and an app for smartphones that allowed citizens to easily report women without a hijab to the police. Citizens downloading the Nazer app must register, be approved and undergo a brief training. Their reports are then used to fine or, in some cases, arrest the women reported.

This message posted on X March 10, 2024 mentions the possibility that the mullah at the Qom hospital was using an app provided to the confirmed agents of the regime “Nazer”. This app allows its users to tip off the authorities about women who do not abide by the hijab rules.

READ MORE  Iran’s hijab war continues with business shutdowns and surveillance cameras

Another confrontation between a mullah and a woman over the hijab in a metro in Tehran. The video was published on March 10, 2024. People come to support the woman.


‘If she’s a bitch, we are all bitches’

Asieh Amini is an Iranian women’s rights activist based in Norway. She explains the situation in Iran.

The Islamic Republic is trying to turn people against each other by assigning its followers to take action against people who do not think like them.

People got angry when they saw this video in which a mullah has actually become an informer.

Attacking this woman in Qom and calling her a “bitch” has led to a movement and a hashtag that says we are all bitches if defending her rights and fighting back made her a bitch in your eyes.

Insulting and humiliating women with words like “bitch” is like using a weapon to gain control over their bodies, their behaviour and their lives. Saying “OK, I’m a bitch too,” is a way for women to disarm the weapon.

The real story here is that the Islamic Republic did not arrest the mullah. They arrested the people who posted this video.

People’s reaction to issues like this related to the hijab and women have intensified since the “Woman Life Freedom” protests. 

The Islamic Republic may be disempowering protesters on the streets with killings, rapes, arrests and executions, but that does not mean the protests have stopped. These online campaigns or these kinds of reactions to this mullah are other forms of protest.

Since the “Woman Life Freedom” protest in Iran in 2022, the gender paradigm in Iran has generally changed. In a poll released last week in Tehran, less than 2 percent of people in Tehran support the oppression of people by the state over issues such as the hijab.


CORRECTION (13/3/2024): The original version of this article used the English “slut” as a translation for the Persian word “saliteh” being used in connection with the video of the incident at the hospital in Qom.  We have replaced the word “slut” by “bitch,” which is a more accurate translation in this context. While the Persian word “saliteh” is sometimes translated as “slut” or “loose woman” or “Jezebel” in English, in Iranian culture and literature it is also used as a general misogynistic term in a similar way to the English words “bitch” and “shrew”. 




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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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Protesting Israeli settlers breach checkpoint to enter Gaza

A small group of Israeli protesters briefly entered the Gaza Strip via the Erez border crossing in late February. A few days before this illegal incursion, several videos appeared online showing a group of Israeli farmers trying to drive into Gaza on their tractors. These protesters want to restore Israeli settlements in Gaza, 19 years after Israel’s 2005 disengagement from the zone, when the government dismantled 21 settlements that had been home to some 8,000 Israelis. 

More than 100 people gathered on February 29 to hold a “resettlement protest” in the Israeli city of Sderot. At least that’s where the protest began. Sderot is located just a few kilometres from Gaza and the protesters, who want to reestablish Israeli settlements in Gaza, said their aim was to “protest inside Gaza”. 

The march reached the Erez border crossing, which marks the dividing line between Israel and Gaza. Videos showed that, in spite of the soldiers present, a number of people managed to enter the Israeli military zone on the border. This zone is demarcated by a barrier and then a wall, which separate Israel from Gaza. 

Video of the Erez border post filmed on February 29 by journalist Oren Ziv with the Israeli media outlet +972.

A small number of the protesters slipped past the soldiers and made it some 500 metres into Gaza. “We will all soon return here,” one of the protesters is heard saying in an amateur video as soldiers with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) herd them back to the border. “Even the soldiers evacuating us want to be here,” he adds.

At one point, the man filming the video refers to Gush Katif, a bloc of former Israeli settlements in Gaza that was dismantled back in 2005 as part of Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza. Now, however, a number of settler movements want to bring Gush Katif back.

This video shows protesters who got into Gaza through the Erez passage on January 29.

The IDF published a statement that night, recognising that about 20 protesters “violently broke through an IDF checkpoint manned by soldiers” and had “crossed into Gazan territory”. 

‘To establish a Jewish settlement’ 

The protesters were decked in bright orange t-shirts – the same colour worn by people who opposed the Israeli disengagement plan back in 2005. Other protesters managed to stay in the military zone between the wall and barrier for several hours, long enough to build several wooden structures along the wall that separates Gaza from Israel. The army did not stop them erecting the structures. 

The image at the left shows the structures built in the Erez military zone on February 29. The image at the right is a screengrab of a video circulated on Twitter by a protester who filmed the construction of these structures. © Twitter © Twitter

The structures put together by the protesters were prefabricated, built to look like the outposts common in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In a video showing the protesters building these structures, the person filming says “Gaza belongs to the Israeli people”.

Before the protest began, our team spoke to an organiser of the protest, Yair Ben Baruch, and asked him about its objectives. 

“Our aim is to march to the Gaza Strip and even enter it, demanding Jewish settlement,” he said. 

Ben Baruch, who said that he grew up in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, said that he ran an organisation called “Shavei Aza” [Editor’s note: “Those who return to Gaza”], whose aim is to “establish a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip”. 

The protesters who entered Gaza were taken into custody by the police according to the IDF, but were then released without charges. The IDF did not explain how so many protesters were able to stay in the military zone for several hours. 

Tractors at the border

This is not an isolated incident. On February 22, a group of farmers from the Golan Heights who call themselves the “Portrait of Victory” also tried to enter the Gaza Strip. 

Under the slogan “Where the plow passes, that’s where the border will be set”, farmers called on others to seize fields in Gaza by simply moving in and beginning to plough them. 

Several videos of their protests, which were supposedly supervised by the IDF, show farmers driving alongside the border fence and then crossing into the no-go military zone. 

This is a screengrab of a video showing tractors crossing over one of the two metal barriers that separate Israel from Gaza. The video was filmed on February 22.
This is a screengrab of a video showing tractors crossing over one of the two metal barriers that separate Israel from Gaza. The video was filmed on February 22. © Portrait of Victory

Some posts on Telegram and Twitter claimed that the tractors entered Gaza and then ploughed fields within the territory. 

When our team spoke to the IDF, however, they said that the protesters “at no point” entered Gaza. However, they did say that the farmers’ tractors entered the no-go Israeli military zone and were just a few steps from the separation between Gaza and Israel, “contrary to instructions”. 

‘The idea of resettling Gaza isn’t new’

Ori Givati, advocacy director for the NGO Breaking the Silence, an organisation of Israeli veterans who want to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, says that many of Israel’s politicians support these protests – and resettlement in general. 

“These groups are new, but this idea is not a new idea, as we’ve always heard of people willing to resettle in Gaza. What is new is the legitimization given to it by the government, by Knesset members and maybe worst of all, by a lot of Israeli society”. 

Eleven ministers from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government took part in a conference on January 28, calling for the return of Israeli settlements in Gaza and the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians. 

“It would be a shame to wait another 15 years to go back to Gush Katif. This is the time to return to home, to build settlements, for the death penalty for terrorists and the time for victory,” said far-right Israeli politician and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir in his speech at the conference.

During this event, a map of Gaza set up in the reception showed different locations in the Strip where these politicians want settlements. 

This tweet by Israeli journalist Oren Ziv includes a video of the conference held by far right politicians. In the backdrop, you can see a map of Gaza. On it are locations that have been marked for future settlements.  © Oren Ziv / X
This tweet by Israeli journalist Oren Ziv includes a video of the conference held by far right politicians. In the backdrop, you can see a map of Gaza. On it are locations that have been marked for future settlements. © Oren Ziv / X © Oren Ziv / X

Positions like these directly oppose the plan for Israeli disengagement adopted by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2005, which closed down the 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza and rehoused the 8,000 displaced settlers. 

This led to a number of clashes between Israeli forces and the displaced population, some of whom still want to return to the settlements.

“In 2005 we did the disengagement plan and many are now using this fact to say that because of that the 7th of October happened”, Ori Givati says. “They are exploiting the 7th of October for their own needs in order to justify resettlement and put, of course, Palestinians in danger, and also Israelis and soldiers in danger, just to fulfill their messianic goals.”

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Unexploded bombs, a long-term threat to life in Gaza

The NGO Humanity & Inclusion has been working for decades to protect civilians from explosive weapons and has repeatedly warned about the dangers posed by the presence of Israeli explosive remnants of war in the Gaza Strip. The consequences of which are far-reaching: loss of life, disabling injuries, psychological trauma and delayed deliveries of humanitarian aid and reconstruction efforts. 

For more than five months, the Israeli army has been pounding the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the Hamas-led October 7 attack on Israel.

While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has vowed to annihilate the Islamist movement governing the Palestinian territory, Israeli bombing has ravaged the Gaza Strip, killing more than 30,000 people, according to the Gaza health ministry. 

In addition to the daily intensive shelling and the famine that threatens to spread throughout the coastal strip already experiencing a major humanitarian crisis, unexploded ordnance is an equally lethal danger hanging over the Gazan population.

Explosive remnants of war (ERW) are munitions that have failed to explode on impact during a conflict, either due to a technical malfunction or because they were deliberately programmed to detonate at a later date. 

“Missiles, rockets, artillery shells, cluster munitions…These are all munitions that did not explode when they were launched or that are programmed to explode later and trap people or vehicles, such as anti-personnel mines and anti-tank mines,” says Anne Héry, advocacy director at NGO Humanity & Inclusion. “These explosive remnants of war, which are extremely dangerous for anyone who comes into contact with or is close to them, continue to kill and mutilate people during and long after a conflict has ended and prevent displaced people from returning home.”

More than 2 million people trapped

Humanity & Inclusion has been working for several decades with populations exposed to the dangers of weapons, munitions and explosive devices in armed conflicts. It has repeatedly warned about explosive contamination amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

“In Gaza, the population is being subjected to one of the most intense bombing campaigns in military history,” says Héry. “The number of strikes, bombings and artillery fire is absolutely phenomenal in terms of pace and concentration. According to our estimates, over the course of this five-month war, we are now at a rate of 500 bombs a day.”

Read moreIn northern Gaza, ‘people have nothing left to eat’

Héry points out that the Palestinian enclave is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and one of the most vulnerable because of the extent of the destruction caused by the bombardments, which have destroyed critical civilian infrastructure.

“It is a territory from which the 2.2 million inhabitants cannot flee and in which they find themselves trapped and subjected to extremely intense bombardments day and night,” she adds. By way of comparison, the Gaza Strip (360 square kilometres) is about twice the size of Washington, DC (177 square kilometres) and one-quarter the size of Greater London (1,579 square kilometres), but much more densely populated. 

An area already impacted by previous conflicts

Civilians account for 90% of the victims of explosive weapons when they are used in populated areas, says Humanity & Inclusion. Furthermore, it is very difficult to know the full extent of contamination caused by the remnants of war in Gaza because the conflict is still ongoing. 

“An estimated 45,000 bombs were dropped on the Gaza Strip in the first three months of the conflict. However, based on a failure rate of between 9% and 14%, it is possible that several thousand bombs did not work as planned and did not explode on impact, ending up scattered in the ruins and all over the territory,” says Héry.

According to Humanity & Inclusion, ERW is likely to cost more lives in Gaza and cause complex and disabling injuries – whether temporary or permanent – that require immediate medical attention, which is often impossible during war time. 

“Some injuries caused by explosive remnants of war require lifelong support, not to mention the psychological trauma that affects victims, sometimes entire communities, for many years,” says Héry. “And not just when you’ve been a victim or lost loved ones, but also when you’ve lived for weeks in fear of the bombs.”

It is also important to remember that the Gaza Strip was already contaminated by the ERW left over from previous conflicts between Hamas and the Israeli army.

“The Palestinian territory has been bombed many times in recent decades, so there was already a major problem of certain areas being contaminated before the current war,” says Héry. “Given that Gazans don’t have the means to clean up their territory themselves, heavy, complex and costly resources will need to be used to deal with this significant increase in explosive contamination.”

“Any conflict generates explosive remnants of war, which can remain underground in ruins for decades. In Syria and Ukraine’s cases, it will take several decades to clean up,” adds Héry. 

Long-term pollution

This is a global scourge as one in every two countries in the world is affected by ERW, according to Humanity & Inclusion. Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine, Iraq and Yemen are the most contaminated nations, as vast swathes of their territories have been bombed and shelled over the long term.

“Even today in France, bombs dating back to World War I are still being found and mine clearance operations are still underway in Laos, even though the contamination dates back to the Vietnam War,” says Héry. “So we can imagine that it will take an extremely long time to clear up the pollution in Gaza once a ceasefire has been agreed.”

This long-term pollution is likely to have a heavy and lasting impact on the daily lives of the people of Gaza, Humanity & Inclusion’s advocacy director explains. Given Gaza’s urban environment – where buildings have collapsed, are in ruins or damaged – explosive remnants are not only a permanent danger, but will also have a long-term impact on Gazans’ daily lives and their territory’s socio-economic development.

“When it comes to clearing away layers of rubble strewn with potentially fatal remnants, which our mine clearance specialists have described in certain Syrian towns affected by the war as a torrent of bombs, or when it comes to rebuilding, it is extremely dangerous,” says Héry. “In the long term, these explosive remnants have an extremely strong impact because they hamper reconstruction, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the resumption of economic life by contaminating all access routes, restricting movement and rendering agricultural land and public or state infrastructure unusable.”

This difficult situation is causing frustration and risky behaviour. 

“The situation in Gaza is so desperate from a humanitarian perspective, due to very poor access to water and famine, that people sometimes want to return to their destroyed homes to find food, at the risk of adopting sometimes extremely dangerous behaviour that is exacerbated in contexts of extreme scarcity,” says Héry. “Our teams are trying to warn the population, through prevention and information campaigns on the dangers of war remnants.”

As Israel is not a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel mines, the Convention on Cluster Munitions or the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, Humanity & Inclusion believes that it is obliged to do so under international humanitarian law.

“International humanitarian law requires States and belligerents to take every precaution to protect civilians, to avoid directly targeting people, buildings, equipment and property, and to ensure that there is no disproportionate damage to people or property in relation to the military advantage anticipated,” says Héry.

This article is a translation of the original in French

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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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