'It’s very hard to imagine the people of Gaza surviving without UNRWA' - as it happened

Ahram Online , Friday 2 Feb 2024

The prospects of a truce deal between Hamas and Israel remain in limbo as the Palestinian groups say still studying proposals.

Palestinians walk past a Star of David drawn on a wall by Israeli troops as they flee Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip further south on February 2, 2024. AFP


19:30 "It’s very hard to imagine the people of Gaza surviving without the UNRWA - with everything that they are going through now,” Juliette Touma, the UNRWA Director of Communications across all areas of operation, told the Guardian.

Touma's comments come as the UN Palestinian refugee body faces a chorus of attacks from Israel and suspension of funding by the US and other Western countries.

The UNRWA provides basic nutritional, health, employment, and education services to millions of Palestinian refugees in Gaza and beyond.

"In one way or another, the entire aid operation in Gaza relies on the UNRWA," added Touma.

Many donor countries and top UN officials have called on those countries that suspended funding for the UNRWA to rescind their decision to avert a near-starvation situation for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians under Israeli siege in Gaza since 7 October from getting worse

19:00 Civil servants from the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union have jointly appealed to their governments in a letter, urging them to cease unconditional support for Israel and take necessary actions to facilitate a ceasefire.

In a comprehensive letter signed by over 800 anonymous bureaucrats, concerns were raised about Israel's unrestrained military operations in Gaza and the potential contribution of their governments' support to grave violations of international humanitarian law, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or even genocide.

The letter, organized by bureaucrats in the US, EU, and Netherlands, outlines a series of measures the signatories demand their governments to undertake including; discontinuing military assistance, utilizing available leverage to secure a lasting ceasefire, and formulating a strategy for lasting peace that encompasses the establishment of a Palestinian state while ensuring Israel's security guarantees.

Israel's extensive military campaign in the Gaza Strip has killed over 27,000 Palestinian lives and injured 65,000, horrifying millions across the West and prompting millions to take part in street protests against the war.

The US, UK, and the Netherlands have all refused to call for a ceasefire in the Israeli aggression on Gaza.

The EU Parliament, some EU member countries and individual top EU officials have pushed for a ceasefire in the Gaza war but the EU as a whole has not endorsed it.

In the United States, White House and State Department staff have publicly expressed opposition to the unfettered political and military support extended by the Biden administration to Israel.

In late December, a group of Dutch civil servants staged an unusual protest in front of the country's Foreign Affairs Ministry in the Hague.

Around 150 ministerial workers held up placards and unfurled a banner reading "Civil Servants Demand Ceasefire" over lunchtime, saying they were protesting the government's current stance on the call for an end to hostilities.

18:30 Half of US adults say Israel’s 15-week-old military campaign in Gaza has “gone too far,” a finding driven mainly by growing disapproval among Republicans and political independents, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Broadly, the poll shows support for Israel and the Biden administration’s handling of the situation ebbing slightly further across the board.

The poll shows only 31 percent of US adults approve of Biden’s handling of the conflict, including just 46 percent of Democrats.

18:00 A French parliamentary delegation, led by left-wing MP Éric Coquerel, will visit Rafah on the Egyptian-Palestinian border on Sunday to call for an immediate and lasting ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

The delegation will hold a press conference on Saturday in Cairo before heading to Rafah, French parliamentary sources told the Egyptian state’s news agency MENA.

The delegation is also scheduled to meet with representatives and officials from the Egyptian Red Crescent Society (ERCS), the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Coquerel, a member of the opposition La France Insoumise party, will be joined by other left-wing MPs, including those from the socialist, communist, and green parties, according to reporting in French media.

Confirming the trip last week, Coquerel posted on X that “the decision of the International Court of Justice to recognize the violence suffered by the Palestinian civilian population and the threat of genocide against them gives even more relevance to the trip.”

“The objective [of the delegation] is to demand an immediate and lasting ceasefire so that all weapons fall silent, so that the Israeli military intervention, which has led to the massacre of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, stops,” according to the delegation’s statement that accompanied Coquerel’s post.

The delegation is expected to be in Egypt from Saturday through Tuesday, according to French media. 

Israel has been facing mounting global pressure for a ceasefire in Gaza, including by European states, as the death toll caused by the Israeli aggression has risen to over 27,000 people, primarily women and children.

Currently, the world is pinning hopes on a proposal for an extended truce agreement between Hamas and Israel, negotiated by intelligence chiefs of Egypt, the United States, Israel as well as the Qatari prime minister in Paris early this week

If approved, the deal is expected to include a halt reportedly for six weeks in the Israeli assaults and the release of more than 100 captives still held by Hamas in the enclave in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.



17:00 Hamas officials said Friday that the group is studying a proposed ceasefire deal that would include prolonged pauses in fighting in Gaza and swaps of Israeli captives for Palestinian prisoners, but at the same time appeared to rule out some of its key components.

Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, said the group remains committed to its initial demands for a permanent ceasefire.

Hamdan also said the group seeks the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners being held for acts related to the conflict with Israel, including those serving life sentences.

He mentioned two by name, including Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian uprising leader seen as a unifying figure.

Hamdan's comments on the prisoners were the most detailed demands yet to be raised by the group in public.

The insistence on large-scale prisoner releases and an end to the fighting in Gaza put the group at odds with the multi-stage proposal that officials from Egypt, Israel, Qatar and the United States put forth this week. The proposal does not include a permanent cease-fire.

“There is no way that this will be acceptable by the resistance,” Hamdan told Lebanon’s LBC TV on Friday, referring to proposed successive pauses in fighting.

Israeli leaders have said they will keep fighting until Hamas is crushed, even while agreeing to long pauses that are accompanied by the release of captives.

Since Israel's aggression on Gaza began on 7 October, more than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed and 66,000 wounded, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

The conflict has also left vast swaths of the besieged tiny coastal enclave levelled, displaced 85 percent of its population, and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation.

In his remarks, Hamdan also said Hamas wants to free Palestinian prisoners of all factions — not just those affiliated with the group.

In addition to Barghouti, he named Ahmed Saadat, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small PLO faction.

The prisoner release is a “national cause, not only for Hamas,” he said.

Both Barghouti and Saadat were convicted of involvement in fatal attacks during the second Palestinian uprising against Israel's occupation a generation ago.

16:00 The Iran-backed Iraqi armed group Nujaba declared on Friday that it will persist in launching attacks on US forces in the region until the Israeli war on Gaza concludes and American troops withdraw from Iraq.

This announcement comes just days after another major Iran-backed group, Kataib Hezbollah, stated that it would temporarily suspend such attacks.

On Tuesday, Kataib Hezbollah declared a pause in its assaults on US forces, following the killing of three American soldiers in a drone attack near the Syrian border, which Washington attributed to Iran-backed militants.

In response, Nujaba's leader, Akram al-Kaabi, acknowledged Kataib Hezbollah's decision but affirmed that Nujaba and other factions within the Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI), an umbrella group of hardline Shiia militias, would continue their operations.

As part of Iran's "Axis of Resistance," the umbrella group has claimed responsibility for over 150 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria since the start of the Gaza war. 

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi emphasized on Friday that while his country does not seek war, it will strongly retaliate against any attempts to intimidate it.

15:00 Belgium summoned the Israeli ambassador on Friday to condemn the bombing of the country's development agency in Gaza, the Belgian foreign ministry said.

Brussels said the offices of Enabel, the Belgian development agency, had been destroyed in northern Gaza.

An official told AFP it took place on Wednesday.

It added that there were no employees in the building at the time of the bombing.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib and Development Cooperation Minister Caroline Gennez spoke to Israeli Ambassador Idit Rosenzweig-Abu in Brussels.

"The ministers strongly condemned the bombing and destruction of the offices," the ministry said.

"The destruction of civilian infrastructure is absolutely unacceptable and does not comply with international law," it added.

Lahbib shared two images on social media on Thursday, one of an apartment building with a timestamp suggesting the photo had been taken on January 28, 2024.

The second image showed rubble from a destroyed building but there was no information about when it was taken.

The foreign ministry said the government had evacuated the agency's staff and immediate family members two weeks ago.

"We very much hope that these people -- including many children -- will be able to leave Gaza quickly and unharmed," it added.

Belgium has called for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

It will also raise the issue of compensation for the damaged infrastructure of projects financed by the European Union and member states with its EU partners.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimated that by late November, 37,379 buildings -- the equivalent of 18 percent of the Gaza Strip's total structures -- had been damaged or destroyed in Israel's military offensive.

Rami Alazzeh, a UNCTAD economist focused on assistance to the Palestinian people, said last month: "New data says that 50 percent of the structures in Gaza are (damaged or) destroyed."

14:00 A source close to Hamas told AFP: "There is no agreement on the framework of a truce agreement with Israel yet -- the factions have important observations -- and the Qatari statement is rushed and not true."

After a truce proposal reportedly agreed with Israeli negotiators was presented to Hamas on Thursday, Qatar's foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said there were hopes of "good news" about a fresh pause to the fighting "in the next couple of weeks."

Ansari said a truce plan thrashed out with Israeli negotiators by Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators in Paris earlier this week had received a "positive" initial response from Hamas.

"That proposal has been approved by the Israeli side and now we have an initial positive confirmation from the Hamas side," he said.

The Hamas source said the group had been presented with a three-stage plan which would start with an initial six-week halt to the fighting that would see more aid deliveries into Gaza.

The pause would also see the release of "women, children and sick men over 60" among the Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel, the source said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

There would also be "negotiations around the withdrawal of Israeli forces," with possible additional phases involving more prisoner exchanges.

13:30 Pro-Palestinian demonstrators welcomed President Joe Biden Thursday on a campaign stop to meet with United Auto Workers (UAW) officials in Warren, Michigan - levelling accusations against him of endorsing a "genocide" in Gaza.

Michigan is home to 400,000 Arab-Americans - one of the largest clusters of the 3.5-million-plus Arab-American community in any one state.

Arab-Americans have overwhelmingly opposed the Biden administration's military and political support for Israel in its war on Gaza.

Thousands of Arab Americans have been demonstrating non-stop against the war in Washington DC and cities and campuses around the US.

A majority of Arab Americans say they will not vote again for Biden but will vote instead for a third party in the upcoming presidential elections in November.

The Arab American Institute found that only 17 percent of Arab Americans say they will vote for Biden in 2024, down from 59 percent who did in 2020.

In 2020, Arab Americans helped Biden carry Michigan by a narrow 2.78 percent margin.

Many Biden campaign events have been marred by protesters who chant "Free Free Palestine!" and "Hey Biden You Can't Hide - We Charge You With Genocide".

Protesters have been demanding that the US end its military support to Israel and vote for an immediate ceasefire in the UNSC.

On Thursday, President Biden chose not to engage with representatives of the Arab-American community during his Michigan campaign stop.



13:00 The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said 105 people were killed and 148 wounded overnight in Israeli airstrikes across the Gaza Strip.

Hamas press office reported heavy Israeli air and artillery bombardment around Khan Younis -- southern Gaza's main city and the focus of recent fighting.

This brings the death toll among Palestinians to 27,131 and the number of wounded to 26,287 since the start of Israeli aggression on 7 October - most of them women and children.

Gaza City resident Abir Al-Madhun said leaflets calling on civilians to leave had again been dropped by Israeli aircraft over the Al-Shifa Hospital compound where she has sought refuge.

"Our houses were destroyed; our children were killed. Where should we go?" she asked. "The shooting must stop so we can find a place to live."

Nearly four months of fighting have left Gaza "uninhabitable," the United Nations says, while an Israeli siege has resulted in dire shortages of food, water, fuel and medicines.

The humanitarian crisis and the mounting civilian death toll have triggered growing international calls for a ceasefire.

12:00 The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) warned against the deadly consequences of the ongoing Israeli army siege on Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

The hospital, one of the few remaining operative medical facilities in the strip, has been attacked and besieged by Israeli forces for 12 days straight, with critical supplies running dangerously low.  

On Wednesday, the Israeli army raided the hospital's courtyards and opened fire randomly on anything that moved.

The PRCS said Israeli armoured vehicles have been preventing anyone from entering or leaving the hospital, including ambulances and ambulance crews.

There is a severe shortage of food for patients, staff, and displaced individuals seeking shelter with only one meal a day per individual available, the PRCS said.

Supplies of infant formula for babies supplies are dwindling, and essential medicines and fuel are in short supply, it added.

PRCS crew member helping a girl in Gaza. (Photo courtesy of PRCS).

Al-Amal Hospital has been the only hospital receiving Palestinians injured by the dozens daily in Israeli airstrikes in and around Khan Younis.

Israel has destroyed most of the medical facilities in Gaza since the start of its war on the strip, leaving the 2.4 million population - including hundreds of thousands of children, thousands of pregnant women, and thousands of cancer and other chronic illnesses - without basic health services.

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