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Aid efforts intensify for famine-stalked Gaza

US Senate leader calls for new elections in Israel

By AFP

March 14, 2024 08:49 PM


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Efforts mounted on Thursday to get more aid into the war-devastated Gaza Strip, where the UN warns of famine and desperate residents have stormed relief convoys.

After mediators failed to reach a truce between Israel and Hamas for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started Monday, fighting continued with at least 69 deaths over the previous 24 hours, the Hamas-run territory's health ministry said.

Hamas authorities reported more than 40 air strikes across Gaza, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah in the south, where most of Gaza's population has sought refuge and Israel is threatening a ground assault.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday doubled down on pledges to invade Rafah, saying: "There is international pressure to prevent us from entering Rafah and completing the job.

"I will continue to repel the pressures and we will enter Rafah... and bring complete victory to the people of Israel," he added during a visit to a field intelligence base.

Around 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge along Gaza's southern border with Egypt in Rafah.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said late Wednesday that a "significant" number of them would need to be moved "to a humanitarian island that we will create with the international community".

The Israeli military said on Thursday it was "raiding Hamas's hideouts and military strongholds" in southern Gaza's main city of Khan Yunis.

"During a search in the area, the forces located several weapons in a bedroom under a bed, including missiles and explosives. Following the searches in the area, the forces located a rocket launcher and missiles near a school and destroyed it."

Gaza's health ministry said seven people were killed when Israeli troops opened fire at an aid distribution point near Gaza City. The army had no immediate comment.

In central Israel, police said a Gaza-raised Palestinian had stabbed and seriously wounded a soldier in a shopping centre, who had then shot him dead.

- 'No alternative' -

The Spanish aid vessel Open Arms, pulling about 200 tonnes of food, was nearing Israel's coast after departing Cyprus on Tuesday, the Marinetraffic website showed on Thursday.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said a second, bigger vessel was being readied for the aid corridor which, senior US officials have said, will be complemented by a temporary pier off Gaza to be built by American troops.

Daily aid airdrops by multiple countries have been taking place this month, and Germany said it would join the effort.

But the air and sea missions are "no alternative" to land deliveries, 25 organisations including Amnesty International and Oxfam said in a statement.

"While a convoy of five trucks has the capacity to carry about 100 tonnes of lifesaving assistance, recent airdrops delivered only a few tonnes of aid each," they said.

Dire shortages has left many scrambling for scraps of aid, among them Mokhles al-Masry, 27, who was displaced from Beit Hanoun to Beit Lahia in northern Gaza.

"There is no food, nothing to feed our children. We can't even find a bottle of baby milk. We've been wandering around since early morning, hoping that a plane would drop parachutes," he said.

"As you can see, these parachutes don't cover one percent of people's needs."

Amnesty's secretary general, Agnes Callamard, said the international community seemed to have accepted that the war will drag on.

"Why are you making an investment that is going to take two months?" she asked, referring to the Pentagon's timeline for setting up the temporary pier which, it said, could enable the provision of more than two million meals a day.

The war began on October 7 when Hamas militants attacked Israel, resulting in about 1,160 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, dozens of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes about 130 of the captives remain in Gaza and that 32 are dead.

Activists and families of Israeli hostages kept up pressure for their release, again blocking a Tel Aviv highway in protest on Thursday.

Israel has carried out a relentless campaign of bombardment and ground operations in Gaza, killing at least 31,341 people, most of them civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.

- Food warehouse hit -

While efforts continue to get more assistance to the territory's 2.4 million people, the main United Nations aid agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said on Wednesday that an Israeli strike hit one of its food distribution warehouses in Rafah, killing an employee and wounding 22.

The agency's chief, Philippe Lazzarini, said the attack "comes as food supplies are running out, hunger is widespread and, in some areas, turning into famine".

Israel said later a Hamas militant was killed in a strike on Rafah and identified him as Muhammad Abu Hasna. Gaza's health ministry said he was one of four people killed in the strike.

It is the latest point of tension between Israel and UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, since Israel accused several UNRWA employees -- out of around 30,000 it employs in the Middle East -- of involvement in the attack that started the war.

The Cypriot foreign minister hosted a virtual meeting on Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other foreign officials to discuss the maritime corridor.

"The ministers agreed that there is no meaningful substitute to land routes via Egypt and Jordan and entry points from Israel into Gaza for aid delivery at scale," they said in a joint statement. They also called on Israel to open Ashdod port, north of Gaza, to complement the Mediterranean corridor.

Separately, In a joint conference with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, where Albares also met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Spain's top diplomat said there must be "a framework in place to allow Palestine to live in peace."

There had to be "a ceasefire and an end to the humanitarian catastrophe that an innocent civilian population is suffering", Albares said. He also called on the international community to "set its sights" on the "innocent Palestinians who have lost their lives" and those "threatened by famine".

According to Egypt's presidential spokesman, Sisi and Albares discussed "the necessity of supporting" the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which coordinates aid in Gaza.

The agency faces a funding crisis after multiple donor nations, including the United States, suspended funding following Israeli allegations that about a dozen of UNRWA's 13,000 Gaza employees were involved in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Albares and Shoukry reiterated the need for intensified aid operations in Gaza, with the latter warning recent airdrops and a planned maritime aid corridor were not sufficient.

Airdrops, which Egypt has taken part in, "were limited in volume" and "posed danger to the civilians they are meant to help," said Shoukry. Last week, a malfunctioning parachute caused airdropped aid to kill five people in Gaza.

The leader of the US Senate called Thursday for Israel to hold new elections in the most strident criticism yet by a senior American official of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the conflict in Gaza.

The remarks from Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking elected Jewish American in history and the head of the chamber's Democratic majority, came amid increased pressure from President Joe Biden over the mounting death toll in the conflict.

"At this critical juncture, I believe a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel, at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in the vision and direction of their government," the Senate Democratic majority leader said in a floor speech.

Schumer said Netanyau had surrounded himself with right-wing extremists and had been "too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows."

"Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah," Schumer, an outspoken ally of the Israeli government who visited the country just days after the attacks, told colleagues on the Senate floor.

The conflict began on October 7 last year when Hamas militants attacked Israel, resulting in about 1,160 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, dozens of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes about 130 of the captives remain in Gaza and that 32 are dead.

Vowing to destroy Hamas after the October 7 attack, Israel has carried out a relentless campaign of bombardment and ground operations in Gaza, killing at least 31,341 people, most of them civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.

The United Nations is warning of famine amid hampered efforts to get more aid into the war-devastated Gaza Strip, and desperate residents have stormed relief shipments.

Mediators failed to reach a truce between Israel and Hamas militants for the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which started on Monday, and Hamas authorities have since reported more than 40 air strikes across Gaza.

Daily aid airdrops by multiple nations have been taking place but the air and sea missions are not seen as adequate, and the UN has reported difficulty in accessing Gaza's north with aid.

"The Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after October 7. The world has changed radically since then and the Israeli people are being stifled right now by a governing vision that is stuck in the past," Schumer said.

"Nobody expects Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the things that must be done to break the cycle of violence, preserve Israel's credibility on the world stage, and work towards a two-state solution."

 

 

 

 

AFP


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