Borrell says hunger being used as 'war arm' in Gaza as Netanyahu presses forward with military campaign in Rafah - as it happened

Ahram Online , Wednesday 13 Mar 2024

As the genocidal war on Gaza reaches its 158th day, Palestinian aid seekers endure lethal Israeli attacks, with nine killed and over 20 injured at the Kuwait roundabout on Salah El-Din Street, while eight more Palestinians have been killed in another attack on a residential home in Deir Al-Balah.

Palestinian woman
A displaced Palestinian woman cuddling her baby sits on a stone in front of her tent at a camp in Rafah on March 11, 2024. AFP


23:00 A deepening rift between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Gaza red lines has set up a potential showdown between the two leaders and raised questions about whether the US might restrict military aid if Israel goes ahead with a ground offensive in the south of the territory.

Strains between Biden and Netanyahu have added momentum to discussions within the US administration about how it could use its leverage to convince Israel to do more to facilitate humanitarian relief to Gaza and avoid further heavy Palestinian civilian casualties in its war against Hamas, US officials say.

21:30 EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell criticized the lack of aid entering Gaza as a "man-made" disaster on Tuesday, telling the UN Security Council that hunger was being used as a "war arm."

"This humanitarian crisis ... is not a natural disaster, is not a flood, is not an earthquake, it is manmade," said Borrell at UN headquarters in New York.

The EU official has repeatedly criticized Israel over its conduct during the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

20:30 Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel would press forward with its military campaign into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, amid rising international pressure.

A growing chorus of voices have joined in calls for Israel not to enter Rafah, one of the last relatively safe areas, where 1.5 million people have sought shelter.

"We will finish the job in Rafah while enabling the civilian population to get out of harm's way," Netanyahu said in a video address to a conference of the pro-Israel AIPAC organization in Washington DC.

Netanyahu's comments came as European Union leaders plan to urge Israel not to launch a ground operation in Rafah, according to draft conclusions of an upcoming summit.

19:30 Dutch caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte is visiting Israel and Egypt on Wednesday to discuss the crisis in the Middle East.

Rutte will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem before traveling to Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi.

The Dutch government information service says that the “humanitarian situation in Gaza and the importance of an immediate pause in fighting and the release of all hostages will be discussed.”

Rutte also will discuss the “need to prevent regional escalation and find a lasting solution to the conflict.”

19:00 US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said on Tuesday there was "still a possibility" of a Gaza ceasefire deal, although many complicated issues remain.

"I think there's still the possibility of such a deal. And as I said, it won't be for lack of trying on our part, working very closely with our Israeli, Qatari, and Egyptian counterparts. This is a very tough process. I don’t think anyone can guarantee success. The only thing I think you can guarantee is that the alternatives are worse," he told a House of Representatives hearing.

18:45 Senior United Nations officials on Tuesday welcomed the opening of a maritime corridor from Cyprus to deliver additional aid to the Gaza Strip, but said it could not replace the delivery of humanitarian assistance by land.

"For aid delivery at scale, there is no meaningful substitute to the many land routes and entry points from Israel into Gaza. The land routes from Egypt, Rafah in particular, and Jordan also remain essential to the overall humanitarian effort," said UN Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag and UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) Executive Director Jorge Moreira da Silva.

"The maritime corridor brings, however, much-needed additionality and is part of a sustained humanitarian response to provide aid as effectively as possible through all possible routes," they said.

17:30 The German Air Force will take part in humanitarian airdrops into Gaza, amid an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe, at the request of the foreign ministry in Berlin, government sources said on Tuesday.

With aid agencies saying deliveries into Gaza have been held up by bureaucratic obstacles and insecurity since the start of the war on 7 October, and even Israel's allies demanding easier aid access to the territory, attention has shifted towards alternative routes including sea and airdrops.

The UN estimates a quarter of the population in Gaza is now at risk of starvation.

Several countries have taken part in the drops so far, including Jordan, the United States, Egypt, France, and Belgium. Morocco was also scheduled to join the effort, Israeli media reported.

17:00 The Israeli army said Tuesday it hit about 4,500 Hezbollah targets in Lebanon and Syria over the past five months, killing 300 of the group's fighters and wounding more than 750.

The targets were hit from the air and the ground, the army said in a statement, and included "weapons storage facilities, military structures intended for Hezbollah's offensive activity and operational command and control centres."

Five senior commanders were among those killed, and dozens of "terrorist cells" that directed or fired anti-tank missiles and rockets at Israel were struck, the military said.

The strikes were in response to the Iran-backed Hezbollah's "attacks against civilians and communities in northern Israel," it said.

The statement came after a Lebanese security source said Israeli strikes on eastern Lebanon killed one person earlier on Tuesday, as cross-border fire escalated between Israel and Hezbollah.

16:00 In his Ramadan message, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for an “immediate and sustained ceasefire for at least six weeks” in Gaza.

“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is heartbreaking. As we deliver additional aid to Gaza, we will continue to work non-stop to establish an immediate and sustained ceasefire for at least six weeks as part of a deal that releases hostages,” he said.

14:59 The Detainees and Ex-Detainees' Affairs Commission and the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) said that the Israeli occupation forces have detained about 7,555 Palestinians from the West Bank since the beginning of the war on the Gaza Strip.

They explained, in a press statement, that the data related to arrest cases includes those who remained in Israeli custody, and those who were later released, WAFA news agency reported.

From yesterday evening until this morning, the occupation forces launched a massive arrest campaign that targeted at least 25 West Bank citizens, including former prisoners.

14:30 Bloodshed continues in Gaza during the holy month of Ramadan, as the Palestinian health ministry said that Israeli bombardment killed at least 72 people over the past 24 hours, while a total of 31,184 people have been killed since the war started on 7 October.

The latest toll also includes 72,889 wounded people.

13:50 A group of US Democratic senators urged President Biden to stop providing offensive weapons to Israel until it lifts restrictions on US-backed humanitarian aid going into Gaza, The New York Times reports.

In a letter to Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent of Vermont, and seven Democrats argued that by continuing to arm Israel, Biden was violating the Foreign Assistance Act, which bars military support from going to any nation that restricts the delivery of humanitarian aid.

It was the latest bid by members of his party to intensify pressure on Biden to use his leverage to demand that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu change his tactics and mitigate the suffering of the Palestinians.

“We urge you to make it clear to the Netanyahu government that failure to immediately and dramatically expand humanitarian access and facilitate safe aid deliveries throughout Gaza will lead to serious consequences, as specified under existing US law,” the group wrote.

Sanders said it was clear that Netanyahu’s actions were in breach of the terms of American military aid as set out in the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, which is part of the foreign assistance law.

The act says that as soon as the president is made aware that a country is blocking or restricting the delivery of American humanitarian assistance, no US military aid can be provided.

“That’s exactly what Israel is doing; they are preventing US humanitarian assistance from getting to the people of Gaza,” Sanders said in an interview. “They are in violation of the law, and therefore financial aid should be suspended,” the American daily added.

But so far, Congress has shown no ability to use its leverage to try to change Israel’s behavior. Proponents of restricting military aid or conditioning it to a change in conduct by Netanyahu lack the votes to win the adoption of such measures in either the House or the Senate. 

Last month, the Senate approved an emergency national security aid bill that would send an additional $14.1 billion in military aid to Israel, including $10 billion for offensive weapons for the war against Gaza.

The letter distinguishes defensive aid for Israel, such as the Iron Dome, and the military assistance that would go toward furthering Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip.

13:35 The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) expressed deep concern in a recent social media post about a rise in the Israeli occupation attacks and violations targeting the PRCS medical missions in the West Bank since the start of the war on the Gaza Strip.

The PRCS documented 446 violations, with 98 specifically targeting medical crews.


13:12 Israel announced entry restrictions for West Bank Palestinians to Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan, Times of Israel reported.

In a Facebook post, the Israeli COGAT, which is a unit in the Israeli occupation defense ministry that coordinates Palestinian issues, said that only men above the age of 55, women above the age of 50, and children up to the age of 10 will be allowed to enter Israel to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the occupied Jerusalem on Fridays.

Worshipers will need a valid permit from COGAT, subject to security approval, and there may be changes per fresh assessments of the situation and other developments.

COGAT does not say if West Bank Palestinians can visit Jerusalem between Sundays and Thursdays during Ramadan.

Unlike previous years, Gazan Palestinians will not be permitted to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The decision came despite, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announcement last week, that Israel will not reduce the number of worshipers allowed to pray on Al-Aqsa during Ramadan.

This is how the Palestinians in Gaza spent the first day of Ramadan, breaking the fast in a city under Israel's siege.

Watch our Photo Gallery here.

13:10 There have been several discussions inside the US administration in recent weeks about a possible Israeli military operation in Rafah, and the bottom line was that the Joe Biden administration cannot allow it to happen, US officials told Axios.

The administration does not believe Israel can implement an evacuation plan for Palestinians from Rafah in a way that will prevent mass civilian casualties.

No decisions have been made about how the US would respond to an Israeli operation in Rafah, but two US officials said one of the options discussed internally between the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon is to impose restrictions on the use of US-made weapons by the Israeli army in Gaza.

A third US official said it is likely that an Israeli operation in Rafah will lead to the US allowing a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire to pass.

The US has vetoed all resolutions brought to the Security Council since the beginning of the war.

"If Netanyahu decides to defy Biden and go for such an operation, it will be a showdown," a senior US official said.

In an interview on Saturday, Biden was asked whether an Israeli military operation in Rafah was a red line for the administration. "Yes it is," Biden replied.

Biden had earlier raised concerns about an Israeli operation in the city and demanded Netanyahu present a credible and implementable plan for protecting civilians there, but this was the first time he referred to an invasion as a red line.

A day later, Netanyahu pushed back in an interview. "We'll go there [to Rafah]. I have a red line," he said. "You know what the red line is? That October 7 doesn't happen again. Never happens again."'

Biden and Netanyahu have not spoken since 15 February. In their last call, Biden expressed concern about a possible Israeli operation in Rafah, the White House said.

13:00 Israel and Hamas are not close to a ceasefire deal in Gaza and a detainee swap, according to Qatar's foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari. 

"We are not near a deal, meaning that we are not seeing both sides converging on language that can resolve the current disagreement over the implementation of a deal," Al-Ansari said during a press conference. 

He added that talks between the parties were ongoing.

"We rely on the role of the United States in pressuring Israel in the negotiations," he further stated.


12:10 “Israel has resorted to lies ... to justify the killing of Palestinians ... we have seen how Israel has helped spread false stories knowing that irreparable harm would be done during the time it will take to refute them," Riyad Mansour, permanent observer for the Observer State of Palestine, said at a UN security meeting on Monday.

"This is the story of the beheaded babies, the Hamas HQ under Al-Shifa Hospital, and another tale refuted as unfounded, the highly publicized allegation of a pregnant woman whose womb had reportedly been ripped open before being killed, with her fetus stabbed while still inside her,” he said.


During the meeting, the UN secretary-general’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten briefed the Security Council on her recent report relating to the 7 October operation in Israel. 

The report did not document any testimony from what she calls the victims of sexual abuse cases.

Patten solely relied on Israeli government sources and documents in her report.

The Palestinian diplomat sharply criticized Patten for not seeking to gather information or verify Israeli sexual assault against Palestinian women, men, girls, and boys in the occupied Palestinian territory and only contented to report Israeli claims.

“Shamefully, this was never about the Israeli victims; this was about justifying the atrocities that Israel intended to commit against Palestinian victims, and, for Israel, the truth is irrelevant in this pursuit,” he said.

For decades, investigations on sexual assault against Palestinian women, men, girls, and boys have not led the Security Council to convene a single meeting on the matter, he added, citing such evidence as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 2013 report on Israel’s ill-treatment of detained Palestinian children and UN rights office (OHCHR) findings that since 7 October Israeli security forces’ arrests were often accompanied by torture, beating, ill-treatment, and humiliation of Palestinian women and men, including acts of sexual assault such as kicking genitals and threats of rape.

“Let the facts speak; let the law decide,” he said, noting Israel’s refusal to cooperate with any fact-finding mission or rights inquiry over the years in “its failed attempt to hide the truth.”

Israel has been killing, maiming, detaining Palestinians, destroying their homes, and collectively punishing a nation, before and after 7 October, for 75 years now, he said.

“It is always the victim, even when it kills and destroys and steals, and not a single Israeli leader, not a single member of the Israeli occupation forces has ever been held accountable for any crime committed against the Palestinian people,” he said, emphasizing that this impunity is what made this genocide possible.

“It is time for a change, and that change starts by ending Israeli impunity,” he said. “I call on you again: stop this genocide.”

Gaza Palestinians detained by Israeli forces are coming back "completely traumatized" upon release and reporting abuses while in captivity, the head of the UN's Palestinian refugee agency has said.

Russia representative Maria Zabolotskaya also slammed Patten's reports, saying the UN is not taking sufficient measures in this area nor does it have access to reliable information.

Moreover, she said, the special representative's visit did not include a visit to Gaza, and it was unclear what kind of Israeli cooperation the report refers to. Indeed, the council has only been given partial information.

Noting that Patten’s team was unable to meet victims of the sexual assault that took place during the tragic events of 7 October, she said the data was mainly received from the government of Israel, adding that Russia categorically rejects attempts to manipulate the important issue of combating sexual violence in the conflict.

12:05 US President Joe Biden will consider conditioning military aid to Israel if the country moves forward with a large-scale invasion of Rafah, US Politico reported citing four American officials with knowledge of internal administration thinking.

Biden’s openness to taking this step reflects the extreme strains in his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has rejected subtler efforts by the Biden administration to rein in his conduct of the war on Gaza.

While Biden has not made any decision on limiting future weapons transfers, officials said that he very well might do so if Israel launches a new operation that further imperils Palestinian civilians.

“It’s something he’s definitely thought about,” said one of the officials, who like the others was granted anonymity to speak freely.

12:00 Seven Palestinians, including five children, were killed, and six others were injured when the occupation Israeli warplanes bombed a house in the Al-Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza City.

11:50 The Palestinian government's media office said the casualties of Israel's targeting of hungry people while waiting for aid has reached over 400 victims and over 1,300 injuries so far.

Israel's practices "confirm that the policy of starvation is currently a hallmark of Israel's plan, alongside its perpetration of acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing," the office stated.

"What encourages Israel to proceed with this crime is the international community's compliance with its dictates and its lack of seriousness in ending our people's suffering by implementing a ceasefire and ensuring the sufficient flow of aid."

10:32 Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said that Israeli forces have prevented essential medical aid from entering Gaza, according to The Guardian.

“A truck loaded with aid has just been turned back because it had scissors used in children’s medical kits,” the head of the UNRWA wrote on X.

“Medical scissors are now added to a long list of banned items the Israeli Authorities classify as “for dual use.”

“The list includes basic and lifesaving items: from anesthetics, solar lights, oxygen cylinders, and ventilators, to water cleaning tablets, cancer medicines and maternity kits.”

He warned that the lives of two million people depend on basic items and critical humanitarian supplies being allowed into the Gaza Strip as soon as possible as “there is no time to waste.”


10:30 The leader of Hezbollah met with a top Hamas official involved in negotiations for a ceasefire in Gaza, the Lebanese group said in a statement.

Hassan Nasrallah’s meeting with Khalil Hayeh in Beirut came at the start of Ramadan after negotiations for a truce before the holy month broke down.

Amos Hochstein, a senior advisor to US President Joe Biden, has urged both parties to seek a lasting ceasefire in the tense border area.

Hezbollah's leadership has said that a ceasefire in Gaza would be the only way to restore calm along the Lebanon-Israel border, but Israeli officials say that would not be the case.

10:15 A ship loaded with 200 tonnes of humanitarian aid for Palestinians in war-ravaged Gaza left from Cyprus's Larnaca port on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Spanish charity Open Arms operating the vessel told AFP.

Open Arms is partnered with the American charity World Central Kitchen, with the two operating the first shipment on Tuesday.

The aid despatched for Gaza includes "rice, flour, legumes, canned veggies and proteins," the World Central Kitchen said on X, formerly Twitter.

World Central Kitchen has teams in the besieged Gaza Strip who were "constructing a dock" to unload the cargo, Lanuza told AFP last week.

The organizers have kept the location of the landing point secret for security reasons.


10:10 The Israeli army said about 100 projectiles have been launched from Lebanon into Israel, in some of the heaviest fire emanating from south Lebanon since the start of the war in Gaza.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage following Tuesday’s strikes, which appeared to be in response to Israeli airstrikes deep inside Lebanon a day before, in which one person was killed and six others were wounded near the country’s northeastern city of Baalbek.

10:00 At least nine Palestinians were killed by Israel and 20 others were injured while waiting to collect humanitarian aid.

People have been calling the Kuwait roundabout on Salah Al-Din Street a death trap, Al Jazeera reported, as Israeli attacks on aid seekers in Gaza have become the new normal.

The initial number was seven and two just died at Al-Shifa Hospital, an Al Jazeera correspondent reports "as there is no proper medical intervention."

"The other 20-plus injuries in the hospital are likely to lose their lives because their injuries are very severe and the hospital can’t provide life-saving treatments," he added.

The hospital has been nonoperational since it was stormed and damaged by the Israeli army in the past three months.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that "bombing gatherings of hungry people has become a daily routine practiced by Israel and watched by the international community on screens."

It stated that the land aid reaching northern Gaza is very minimal and insufficient for anyone.

"Hunger will claim all the inhabitants of the northern Gaza Strip; doctors will die, nurses will die, and the world will witness the largest number of hunger victims in the coming days," it warned.

Meanwhile, at least eight Palestinians have been killed in an Israeli airstrike targeting the Abu Sanjar family home in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza, while the Israeli occupation forces blew up several homes east of Khan Younis.

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