Monthly Archives: July 2014

Gaza death toll hits 1387 amidst ever worsening humanitarian situation

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Israeli airstrikes and shelling continued overnight and into the morning, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 1,395 with 8,100 injured, according to the Ministry of Health. The Israeli military confirmed that 20 “sites” had been hit overnight.

The deaths in the besieged Gaza Strip come on the 24th day of an Israeli assault which has nearly topped the death toll from the 2008-9 Cast Lead, the bloodiest attack on the area in memory when Israel killed 1,400 in 22 days.

Meanwhile, the United States confirmed it had restocked Israel’s supplies of ammunition, hours after finally condemning an Israeli attack on a United Nations school in Gaza that killed 16 people sheltering there.  And the Israeli military has called up 16,000 more reserve soldiers to join its assault of Gaza.

The Pentagon confirmed the Israeli military had requested additional ammunition to restock its dwindling supplies on July 20, with the US Defense Department approving the sale just three days later. Two of the requested munitions came from a little-known stockpile of ammunition stored by the US military on the ground in Israel for emergency use. The War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel is estimated to be worth $1 billion.

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel told his Israeli counterpart that the United States was concerned about the deadly consequences of the spiraling conflict, including a “worsening humanitarian situation” in Gaza, and called for a ceasefire and end to hostilities.

Relations between Israel and its staunch ally the United States have plunged in recent days after John Kerry returned from a mission to the Middle East to try to broker a ceasefire between the Israelis and Hamas militants.

Anonymous Israeli officials have hit out at Kerry’s truce proposal, calling it “a strategic terrorist attack”. Hamas has insisted that any ceasefire include an end to the eight-year Israeli blockade, which has severely crippled the tiny coastal enclave’s economy and led to recurring shortages of basic goods.

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Watch a live broadcast, as Chris Gunness of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, states, “The rights of Palestinians, even their children, are wholesale denied, and it’s appalling,” and then proceeds to break down sobbing uncontrollably, until the camera finally darts away.

UNRWA Commissioner-General “strongly condemns” Israeli shelling of UN Gaza school

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120 Palestinians were killed by Israeli strikes on Tuesday. A top PLO official, meanwhile, said that Palestinian factions in Gaza had agreed to a day-long humanitarian truce.

The conflict, so far just over three weeks old, has seen over 1,260 Palestinians killed, mostly civilians according to the United Nations, and injured another 7,000.

56 lives have been lost on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Tuesday that nearly 5,000 homes had been destroyed in Gaza as of late Monday, a number expected to rise amid renewed bombardment.

The World Health Organization now estimates that more than 215,000 Palestinians, or one out of eight Gazans, have fled their homes in the overcrowded territory. Many have headed for already-cramped UN schools in the north.

Earlier today, one of those schools was struck by the Israelis, the UNRWA girls’ school in Jabalia refugee camp, with twenty people killed, emergency services report. A UN official confirmed the shelling, saying that the missile hit a bathroom and two classrooms in the school, AFP reported. More than one shell hit the school, the first in the courtyard and the second a section primarily used by female pupils.

Currently, at least five UN schools are caught in the fighting.

Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, the UN Agency providing assistance and protection to Palestine refugees, tweeted: “This is 6th time one of our UNRWA schools has been struck. Our staff leading int’l response are being killed. This is a breaking point.“ And “I strongly condemn today’s Israeli shelling of UNRWA school in Jabalia Gaza. No words to adequately express my anger and indignation.”


Note: In 2006, Israeli rocket fire resulted in 2200 being killed in Gaza; in 2009, another 1400 killed in Gaza; and in 2012 two hundred killed in Gaza.

Aid workers forced to flee Gaza amidst fighting and destruction

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Today Hamas-run television aired what it said were live images from Shifa Hospital after an Israeli drone made a “direct” strike. The Israel Defense Forces sent a text message to media blaming “failed rocket attacks launched by Gaza terrorists” for the attack on Gaza’s biggest public hospital and another spot nearby, Al-Shati Refugee Camp.

Since the beginning of this Israeli incursion, at least 1,100 Palestinians have died, according to medical officials in Gaza, and more than 180,000 displaced Palestinians have packed into 82 make-shift shelters.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat “90% of those killed are women and children.” UNICEF said that about two-thirds of the children killed were 12 years old or younger. The United Nations estimates that more than 70% of the Palestinians killed were civilians.

Estimates indicate that 70 percent of the population of Gaza is now without access to safe water. The main sewage pumping station and primary sewage treatment plant has been hit directly, and sewage is flowing directly into the Mediterranean as well as down the streets into the neighborhoods and fields, contaminating a huge amount of area.

Last week, when fighting was briefly suspended in parts of Gaza, it allowed for some evacuations of the wounded.

But at least one of those rescue missions was short-lived when the International Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent entered the battered and embattled Gaza City neighborhood of Shaja’ia and had to turn back themselves, under fire.

The area has been shelled almost around the clock for more than four days as part of Israel’s offensive against Hamas.

“The small arms fire is increasing in intensity, and directed at us [but] we’re coming back,” Red Cross veteran Larry Maybee said.

United Nations workers trying to aid people in Gaza found themselves stuck between Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters, with neither side showing any sign of backing down.


No place to hide from the brutalities of Gaza war

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Excerpts of article by Richard Falk, an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years, and in 2008 was also appointed by the UN to serve as the Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights:

The civilian population of Gaza, estimated to be about 1.7 million with women and children comprising 75% of the total, are trapped in an overcrowded war zone with no apparent exit from terrifying danger.

Even if families are lucky enough to avoid direct physical injury, the experience of screaming jet fighters attacking through the night, targeting and surveillance drones overhead day and night, sustained naval artillery barrages, not to mention the threatened ground  invasion combine to create a continuous horror show. It has been repeatedly confirmed by mental health specialists that these realities act as a trauma inducing phenomenon on a massive scale with prospects of lasting psychological damage, especially to children.

Very few residents of Gaza have the option of leaving, whether disabled, sick, elderly, or young. The civilian population of Gaza is denied the possibility of seeking refugee status by fleeing Gaza during this time of intense warfare, and there is no space available that might allow Palestinian civilians to become internally displaced within Gaza until Israel’s “Protective Edge” ends. At present writing, an estimated 17,000 Palestinians have obtained refuge in the 20 UN-run schools situated throughout Gaza. UNRWA is doing its heroic best to handle these desperate people but its buildings have limited space and lack the facilities to handle properly this kind humanitarian emergency–insufficient bathrooms, no beds, and not enough space to meet the demands.

The idea of fulfilling the basic objective of international humanitarian law to protect civilians caught in a war zone is being violated by Israel, although not altogether. Israeli officials claim that leaflets dropped on some intended targets are giving residents a few minutes to vacate their homes before they are reduced to rubble. The entrapment of the Gazan population within closed borders is part of a deliberate Israeli pattern of prolonged collective punishment that has for the past several years been imposed on Gaza. This amounts to a grave breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which qualifies as a potential Crime Against Humanity.

International refugee law avoids issues associated with any right to escape from a war zone or duty of the belligerent parties to provide civilians with an exit and/or a temporary place of sanctuary. International humanitarian law offers little more by way of protection to an entrapped people, despite the seeming relevance of the Fourth Geneva Convention devoted to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War.

Little help from Gaza’s southern front

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The last time Israel waged all-out war on Hamas in 2012, Egypt brokered the ceasefire that ended it. Under former President Mohamed Morsi, fraternal relations with Hamas, a fellow Muslim Brotherhood alum, got even warmer.

But this time, as the Gaza crisis has escalated, the new Egyptian government has shied away from a mediating role. The cautious response to the Gaza crisis by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is a balancing act between its desire to see Israel weaken Hamas without risking its own border security and street-level anger in Egypt over a policy seen as favoring Israel.

So far, Egypt’s humanitarian response has been tepid: The Rafah border has been opened for a limited number of ambulances. Egyptian doctors waiting on stand-by in the nearest hospital to the border say Gaza’s health ministry has sent fewer cases than expected. “As medical professionals, we stay out of the politics,” says hospital director Dr Sami Anwar. “We are ready to do our best.”

Meanwhile in Gaza’s hospitals, the situation has grown dire – at least five health facilities have been damaged by airstrikes in their vicinities, and there are severe shortages of medical supplies, according to the United Nations. The Shifa hospital, close to the Egyptian border, said its morgue was full.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Obama asks Congress for $3.7 Billion to address humanitarian crisis

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President Obama has urged Congress to quickly provide almost $4 billion to confront a surge of young migrants from Central America crossing the border into Texas, calling it “an urgent humanitarian situation.”

But the request quickly became entangled in the fierce political debate over immigration: Republicans said they were wary of Mr. Obama’s request and could not immediately support it, given what they called his administration’s failure to secure the Mexican border after years of illegal crossings. Mr. Obama could face resistance from members of his own party as well.

The president said he needed the money to set up new detention facilities, conduct more aerial surveillance and hire immigration judges and Border Patrol agents to respond to the flood of 52,000 children. Their sudden mass migration has overwhelmed local resources and touched off protests from residents angry about the impact on the local economy.

Many Republicans, especially in the House, remain deeply suspicious of the president’s commitment, a mistrust that led to a stalemate on a broader immigration overhaul and now threatens to at least delay speedy passage of Mr. Obama’s $3.7 billion spending request.

White House officials said the president was not backing away from a request last week for more flexibility in how enforcement agents treat the Central American migrants who are surging across the border. A 2008 law aimed at combating human trafficking requires officials to provide extra legal protections for migrants from countries that do not share a border with the United States. Those protections are not provided to Mexicans, who are often quickly returned home after being caught trying to enter the United States illegally. White House officials said they would like Congress to allow officials to process migrants from places like Honduras and Guatemala as quickly as Mexicans. One White House official said the administration was seeking to have “one approach to children coming from the region.”

[NY Times]

Kurdish authorities place tight restrictions on Iraqis crossing border

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Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region has put tight restrictions on the border crossings used by Iraqis fleeing ISIS extremist militants and airstrikes in the northern city of Mosul, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis as some desperate families may be left with nowhere to go.

The Kurdish regional government’s decision to first close the border crossings and then reopen them with restrictions came on the same day Iraq’s security forces went on the offensive, carrying out airstrikes in Mosul and fighting to take back Tikrit from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters, known as ISIS.

Human Rights Watch, citing displaced residents and local activists and journalists, said that ISIS fighters kidnapped at least 40 Shiite Turkmen, dynamited four Shia places of worship, and ransacked homes and farms in two Shia villages just outside Mosul.

“The ISIS rampage is part of a long pattern of attack by armed Sunni extremists on Turkmen and other minorities,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The killing, bombing, and pillaging threatens to displace entire communities, possibly forever.”

Amnesty International said it had gathered evidence pointing to a pattern of “extrajudicial executions” of Sunni detainees by government forces and Shiite militias in Tal Afar, Mosul and Baquba.


President Obama to take executive action on immigration crisis

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U.S. authorities estimate that between 60,000 to 80,000 children without parents will cross the Mexican border this year in what the White House called an “immediate humanitarian crisis“.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has blamed the Republicans for inaction on immigration reform. Obama said the top House Republican — Speaker John Boehner — told him last week that the chamber’s GOP majority will continue blocking a vote on a Senate-passed immigration bill.

In response, Obama said he was starting “a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress. … If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours,” he said, adding he expected the recommendations by the end of summer and would act on them without delay. “The crisis at our southern border reminds us all of the critical importance of fixing our broken immigration system.”

The President sent Congress a letter asking that legislators work with him on providing additional money and leeway to deal with the situation on the southern border. An administration official told CNN the money — which could exceed $2 billion — would go to securing appropriate space for the detention of children but also stemming the tide of immigrants.