BBC 2024-02-11 00:01:39


Six-year-old Gazan girl found dead days after plea for help

A six-year-old girl who went missing in Gaza City last month has been found dead, along with several of her relatives and two paramedics who tried to save her, after they appear to have come under fire from Israeli tanks.

Hind Rajab was fleeing the city in a car with her aunt, uncle and three cousins at the time.

Audio recordings of calls between Hind and emergency call operators suggest that the six-year-old was the only one left alive in the car, hiding from Israeli forces among the bodies of her relatives.

Her pleas for someone to rescue her ended when the phone line was cut amid the sound of more gunfire.

Paramedics from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) managed on Saturday to reach the area, which had previously been closed off as an active combat zone.

They found the black Kia car Hind had been travelling in – its windscreen and dashboard smashed to pieces, bullet holes scattered across the side.

One paramedic told journalists that Hind was among the six bodies found inside the car, all of which showed signs of gunfire and shelling.

A few metres away were the remains of another vehicle – completely burnt out, its engine spilling onto the ground. This, the Red Crescent says, is the ambulance sent to fetch Hind.

Its crew – Yusuf al-Zeino and Ahmed al-Madhoun – were killed when the ambulance was bombed by Israeli forces, the organisation says.

In a statement, the PRCS accused Israel of deliberately targeting the ambulance, as soon as it arrived at the scene on 29 January.

“The [Israeli] occupation deliberately targeted the Red Crescent crew despite obtaining prior coordination to allow the ambulance to arrive at the scene to rescue the child Hind,” it said.

The PRCS told the BBC that it had taken several hours to coordinate access with the Israeli army, in order to send paramedics to Hind.

“We got the coordination, we got the green light,” PRCS spokeswoman, Nibal Farsakh, told me earlier this week. “On arrival, [the crew] confirmed that they could see the car where Hind was trapped, and they could see her. The last thing we heard is continuous gunfire.”

Recordings of Hind’s conversations with call operators – shared publicly by the Red Crescent – sparked a campaign to find out what had happened to her.

Hind’s mother told us – before her body was discovered – that she was waiting for her daughter “any moment, any second”.

Now she is demanding that someone be held accountable.

“For every person who heard my voice and my daughter’s pleading voice, yet did not rescue her, I will question them before God on the Day of Judgement,” she told the BBC. “Netanyahu, Biden, and all those who collaborated against us, against Gaza and its people, I pray against them from the depths of my heart.”

At the hospital where she waited for news of her daughter, Hind’s mother, Wissam, still holds the little pink bag she was keeping for her. Inside it, a notebook where Hind had been practising her handwriting.

“How many more mothers are you waiting to feel this pain? How many more children do you want to get killed?” she said.

We twice asked the army for details on its operations in the area that day, and about the disappearance of Hind and the ambulance sent to retrieve her – it said it was checking.

We have asked again for their response to the allegations made by the Palestinian Red Crescent on Saturday.

The rules of war say medical personnel must be protected and not targeted in a conflict, and that injured people must be given the medical care they need – to the fullest practical extent and with the least possible delay.

Israel has previously accused Hamas of using ambulances to transport its weapons and fighters.

King thanks public for support after cancer news

King Charles has given his “heartfelt thanks” for messages of support from the public, in his first statement since being diagnosed with cancer.

The 75-year-old monarch said: “As all those who have been affected by cancer will know, such kind thoughts are the greatest comfort and encouragement.”

News of the diagnosis was announced by Buckingham Palace on Monday.

The King is being treated for an unspecified form of cancer and is currently staying at Sandringham.

His cancer was detected while he was undergoing treatment for an enlarged prostate in January. While the type of cancer has not been disclosed, the Palace confirmed it was not prostate cancer.

In the message of thanks, he wrote: “It is equally heartening to hear how sharing my own diagnosis has helped promote public understanding and shine a light on the work of all those organisations which support cancer patients and their families across the UK and wider world.

“My lifelong admiration for their tireless care and dedication is all the greater as a result of my own personal experience.”

The King has stepped back from all public-facing duties while he is being treated for the cancer, with senior royals – including Queen Camilla and Prince of Wales – taking on his duties for some events.

He left Clarence House, London, for his Norfolk residence on Wednesday, accompanied by the Queen. His younger son, the Duke of Sussex, had flown in from the US for a brief visit earlier that day.

“I have to be seen to be believed” was one of the guiding principle of the late Queen Elizabeth II. Well, the King won’t be seen any time soon, the whirlwind of engagements is paused for the moment.

But he will be heard from.

And by the normally very restrained standards of Royal prose, this is pretty personal.

Not many people of his age have chosen to make their medical condition a global talking point. And the King goes out of his way to express his hope that his relative openness has served a purpose.

And there’s more – this is a man who, like so many cancer patients, is now in hands of the doctors and the nurses. And like many patients he goes out of his way to highlight the work of those who care, work he has of course come into contact with before, but never like this.

The thanks the King gives for all the messages of support is unsurprising royal fare. But even there, the meeting of man and monarch in diagnosis and treatment is revealed – those messages, he says in rather different words, mean a lot.

The Queen had said her husband was “very touched by all the letters and messages the public have been sending from everywhere”.

Speaking at an event at Salisbury Cathedral on Thursday, she said the support had been “very cheering”.

Prince William had also expressed gratitude for messages of support for his father and also for his wife, the Princess of Wales, as she recovers from abdominal surgery.

She is not expected to return to royal duties until after Easter.

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Speaking at a charity fundraiser for London’s Air Ambulance, attended by guests including Hollywood star Tom Cruise, Prince William said the comments meant “a great deal to us all”.

“It’s fair to say the past few weeks have had rather a ‘medical’ focus,” he said.

The King’s sister, the Princess Royal, acknowledged words of support for both the monarch and Catherine earlier this week. Anne attended the Six Nations match between Scotland and France on Saturday, in her role as the patron of Scottish Rugby.

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Gazans surviving off animal feed and rice as food dwindles

People living in the isolated north of Gaza have told the BBC that children are going without food for days, as aid convoys are increasingly denied permits to enter. Some residents have resorted to grinding animal feed into flour to survive, but even stocks of those grains are now dwindling, they say.

People have also described digging down into the soil to access water pipes, for drinking and washing.

The UN has warned that acute malnutrition among young children in the north has risen sharply, and is now above the critical threshold of 15%.

The UN’s humanitarian coordination agency, Ocha, says more than half the aid missions to the north of Gaza were denied access last month, and that there is increasing interference from Israeli forces in how and where aid is delivered.

It says 300,000 people estimated to be living in northern areas are largely cut off from assistance, and face a growing risk of famine.

A spokesman for the Israeli military agency tasked with coordinating aid access in Gaza said in a briefing last month that there was “no starvation in Gaza. Period.” The agency, Cogat, has repeatedly said it does not limit the amount of humanitarian aid sent to Gaza.

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The BBC spoke to three people living in Gaza City and Beit Lahia, and viewed footage and interviews filmed by local journalists in Jabalia.

Mahmoud Shalabi, a local medical aid worker in Beit Lahia, said people had been grinding grains used for animal feed into flour, but that even that was now running out.

“People are not finding it in the market,” he said. “It’s unavailable nowadays in the north of Gaza, and Gaza City.”

He also said stocks of tinned food were disappearing.

“What we had was actually from the six or seven days of truce [in November], and whatever aid was allowed into the north of Gaza has actually been consumed by now. What people are eating right now is basically rice, and only rice.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) told the BBC this week that four out of the last five aid convoys into the north had been stopped by Israeli forces, meaning a gap of two weeks between deliveries to Gaza City.

‘Serious risk of famine’

“We know there is a very serious risk of famine in Gaza if we don’t provide very significant volumes of food assistance on a regular basis,” said the WFP regional chief, Matt Hollingworth.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said there had been a sharp increase in the number of aid missions denied access to northern Gaza: with 56% of deliveries denied access in January, up from 14% in October to December.

It also said the Israeli military “at times required justifications” for quantities of fuel destined for health facilities, and “imposed reductions on the volume of assistance, such as the quantity of food”.

The BBC asked Israel’s army for a response. They directed us to Cogat, which told us to address our questions to the army.

Duha al-Khalidi, a mother of four in Beit Lahia, told the BBC two weeks ago that she walked six miles (9.5km) to her sister’s house in Gaza City, in a desperate search for food, after her children had not eaten for three days.

“I don’t have any money, and even if I did, there’s nothing in the town’s main market,” she said. “[My sister] and her family are also suffering. She shared with me the last amount of pasta in her house.”

“We feel that death has become inevitable,” her sister, Waad, said. “We lost the top floor of our house, but we are still living here despite the fear of collapse. For two weeks, we can’t find anything in the market; and if some products are available, they are 10 times their normal price.”

A famine risk assessment, carried out by several UN agencies, estimated that almost a third of residents in northern areas could now be facing a “catastrophic” lack of food, though restrictions on accessing the area make real-time measurements very difficult.

Families in northern areas are also struggling to find reliable water supplies.

“Many of us are now drinking unpotable water. There are no pipes; we have to dig for water,” explained Mahmoud Salah in Beit Lahia.

Video filmed in the Jabalia neighbourhood north of Gaza City shows residents sitting among the rubble of bombed out streets, digging down into the earth to tap large underground water pipes.

“We get water here once every 15 days,” Yusuf al-Ayoti said. “The water is dirty. Our children are inflamed and their teeth are eroded from the dirty water. There is sand in it, and it’s very salty.”

After four months of war, the makeshift solutions for bridging the hunger gaps are wearing thin. And there are few ways to restock Gaza’s larder.

The territory was reliant on food aid before the war; now much of its agricultural industry has been ruined or abandoned.

‘The destruction is vast’

New figures from the UN suggest that more than half the agricultural land in the central region of Deir al-Balah has been damaged. This includes an olive press and farmland belonging to Bassem Younis Abu Zayed.

“It looks like the aftermath of an earthquake,” he said. “The destruction is vast, covering neighbouring buildings and farm animals. Even if we manage to restore the mill, 80-90% of the olives have gone. It’s not just a loss for this year, it’s a loss for the next several years.”

Further south, in the border town of Rafah, more than a million people displaced by the fighting elsewhere now jostle for space with the town’s 300,000 residents.

Israel’s army regularly publishes what it says is recent footage of busy markets and restaurants in Gaza’s southern centres. A majority of the 114 aid missions to southern areas of Gaza managed to get through last month, but residents and aid agencies say many people are still going hungry, and a public health crisis is looming with a lack of shelter, sanitation and medical care.

Aid can be blocked by fighting, bureaucracy or rubble. Earlier this week, a food convoy waiting to head north in Gaza was hit by naval gunfire.

On Saturday the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees accused Israel of using financial restrictions to block a month’s worth of food for more than a million Gazans. UNRWA said more than 1,000 shipping containers from Turkey were being held up in a port, telling the AP news agency that a local contractor was ordered by customs authorities not to process any UNRWA goods.

Israel has not responded but on Thursday, far-right finance minister Belazel Smotrich ordered the cancellation of customs and other tax relief for UNRWA, saying Israel “will not give tax benefits to terrorist aides”. Israel has accused UNRWA staff of participating in the 7 October attacks.

But deliveries are also complicated by the growing desperation of Gaza’s people, says Matt Hollingworth.

“We need the law and order issue resolved, so that we’re not having to negotiate our way through crowds of desperately hungry people, to get to other people that we’ve yet to reach,” he said.

“It’s probably the level of helplessness that worries me. People have lost hope.”

A deal between Israel and Hamas is seen by many as the only way to get more aid into Gaza, and get Israeli hostages out.

As Israel bombs Rafah, ahead of a widely expected ground offensive there, leaders on both sides are under pressure to end the suffering of people trapped in Gaza – their enemy’s, and their own.

Bellingham double helps Real Madrid thump Girona

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A Chinese dumpling with an unexpected twist

Plump, spicy and juicy, these chorizo dumplings from the cookbook, Double Awesome Chinese Food, are accompanied by a white bean puree and coriander-infused oil.
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Adding spicy chorizo to Chinese dumplings might be unconventional, but according to Boston Magazine, the savoury delight from Mei Mei Dumplings “might just be the best two-bite morsel in town”.

People just love dumplings,” said Chef Irene Li, who co-founded Mei Mei as a food truck in 2012 with older siblings Andrew and Margaret. Mei Mei, which translates to “little sister” in Mandarin, is a nod to one of the siblings’ favourite foods growing up.

[jump to recipe]

“Many of my favourite childhood memories are of making and eating dumplings in a kitchen full of noise and laughter and love,” Li said. “I also love that dumplings are present all over the world. We like to say that dumplings make the world go round because so many cultures have some kind of stuffed food: knishes, empanadas, tortellini, manti and on and on and on.”

Li’s culinary roots go back to the China Garden Restaurant that her grandparents ran in White Plains, New York, from the 1950s to the ’70s. It was renowned for what was then considered exotic delicacies and for its elegant Gourmet Room that featured the kind of cuisine served in aristocratic Chinese households.

China Garden closed before Li was born, but Li and her siblings seem to have inherited the same knack for food as their grandparents.

Not long after Mei Mei launched, it was named Boston’s Best Meals on Wheels by Boston Magazine in 2012. The success continued, with the brick-and-mortar restaurant they opened in late 2013 awarded Eater Boston’s 2014 Restaurant of the Year. In 2019, the siblings published Double Awesome Chinese Food: Irresistible and Totally Achievable Recipes from Our Chinese-American Kitchen. Li’s second cookbook, Perfectly Good Food: A Totally Achievable Zero Waste Approach to Home Cooking was published in June 2023.

Irene Li is the co-founder of Mei Mei Dumplings and author of Double Awesome Chinese Food (Credit: Mel Taing)

According to Li, “Our dumplings at Mei Mei are an expression of our Chinese heritage and our love for local and seasonal food here in the Northeast. We use some traditional Chinese ingredients, but for the most part, our dumplings are unique, like our cheddar scallion potato dumplings, which I like to call our ‘love letter’ to the pierogi. They are definitively not Chinese, but they are authentic to us and the multicultural household we grew up in.”

Why chorizo? Li explained that she was first inspired during college when she worked in a butcher shop. “There was always extra raw chorizo,” she said. “I loved taking it home and trying to find new and exciting things to do with it, and dumplings ended up being my favorite application!” She sources the best chorizo she can find, using pork from heritage breed pigs that graze in the pastures of New York’s Finger Lakes region.

During the pandemic, Li and new business partners reimagined the business as Mei Mei Dumpling Factory, Café & Classroom, serving the same unconventional dumplings but now also teaching people how to make them.

The chorizo dumplings are served on a smear of hummus or creamy white bean puree, adding what Li describs as “a creamy foil to the piquancy of the chorizo spices”. Then they are drizzled with coriander oil and served hot.

Mei Mei’s dumplings reflect Li’s Chinese heritage and a love for local and seasonal food (Credit: Irene Li)

Chorizo Dumplings recipe
By Irene, Andrew and Margaret Li

Makes about 24 dumplings

This recipe can be streamlined by using store-bought hummus, pre-made dumpling wrappers and infused oil.

Method

Step 1
Make the bean puree. In a small saucepan, combine the drained beans, garlic, onion and ⅔ cup water. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Transfer the bean mixture to a blender and add the olive oil, salt and white pepper. Blend until smooth, thinning with an additional splash of water, if desired. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm. (The puree can be refrigerated for a couple of days and reheated to serve.)

Step 2
Make the coriander oil. Using a mortar and pestle, or a blender, combine the coriander and neutral oil and mix (or blend) until the herbs are completely pureed into the oil. For a clear oil, strain through cheesecloth, if desired. (The oil can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Step 3
Assemble the dumplings. Have a small bowl of water nearby to help seal the wrappers if using store-bought wrappers. For a classic dumpling pleat, hold a wrapper in your left hand and place a spoonful of filling (about ¾ tbsp) into the centre with your right hand. As tempting as it might be to overstuff the dumpling, don’t: the filling will squirt messily and make the folding process much more difficult.

Step 4
Fold the wrapper in half into a taco shape and start from the right side to pinch the wrapper shut. Dip a finger into the water and smear it around the edge of each wrapper before you fold so the dough sticks together when you pinch shut. Start by pinching the corner of one of the dumplings, then use your thumb and forefinger to create pleats, pinching and pleating until the entire dumpling is sealed, aiming for 5 to 6 pleats per dumpling (or more if you want to get fancy). The side closest to you should remain smooth and will gradually curve towards you into a crescent shape.

Step 5
On a large plate or sheet pan, arrange the dumplings in rows with a little space between each one. You can either cook the dumplings right away or freeze them. Once frozen, transfer the dumplings into freezer-safe containers for storage.

Step 6
Coat the bottom of a large nonstick frying pan (with a lid) with a layer of neutral oil (about 2 tbsp) and heat over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmery, carefully fill the pan with a single layer of dumplings (non-pleated side down), leaving a bit of room between each one. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes until the bottoms are golden brown – you can pick one up to check.

Step 7
Turn the heat to medium and grab the lid and about ¼ cup water. Shielding yourself with the lid, pour the water into the hot pan – it will steam and sizzle, so be careful there isn’t too much oil in the pan to splatter all over the place. Cover the pan and let the steam cook the top of the dumplings for 4 to 6 minutes (8 to 10 minutes if cooking from frozen).

Once the water has evaporated, the wrappers should be slightly translucent and the filling fully cooked. (If the dumplings are not cooked through, add a splash of water and cover again for a minute or two. Turn the heat up slightly, and the remaining oil in the bottom of the pan will re-crisp the bottom of the dumplings.)

Step 8
To serve, smear a heaping spoonful of the hummus/white bean puree onto a plate and place a few dumplings on top. Drizzle with coriander oil.

Tip
You can substitute ready-made coriander-infused oil, if available.

Hot Water Dough

Makes enough dough for about 24 dumplings

Method

Step 1
Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir in ¾ cup of the hot water until a ball is formed and all the flour is incorporated. If the flour in the bottom of the bowl is not sticking to the ball, slowly drizzle in more water 1 tsp at a time and continue to stir.

Step 2
When all the flour has come together in a ball and the dough is cool enough to handle, place it on a very lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 3-5 minutes. If necessary, add a sprinkle of flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or work surface. Place back in the bowl and cover with a damp cloth to rest for 30-60 minutes, so the gluten strands can relax and the dough is easier to shape.

Step 3
Using a sharp knife or dough cutter, slice the dough into four equal pieces and set one aside on a cutting board. Cover the remaining pieces with a damp towel so they don’t dry out. Roll the dough with your hands to form a roughly 15cm (6in) long “snake”. Chop the snake into six equal pieces. Turn each piece onto its side and flatten with your hand slightly, then use a dowel or rolling pin to flatten into circles approximately 2-3mm thick and 7-8cm (3in) in diameter. Repeat to make the other wrappers. The dough can rest in the fridge a day or two wrapped in lightly oiled plastic wrap. Bring to room temperature before folding dumplings.

Tip
Depending on your heat, water and oil levels, you may need to add more water or oil, but you’ll get the hang of it after some practice.

(The recipes have been reprinted from Double Awesome Chinese Food: Irresistible and Totally Achievable Recipes from our Chinese American Kitchen by Margaret Li, Irene Li and Andrew Li, Roost Books, 2019.)

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