BBC 2024-02-26 10:31:30


Gaza children searching for food to keep families alive

In certain places at certain times, just staying alive is something for a boy to be proud of – let alone going out every day to find the food that keeps your family from starving.

Every morning, Mohammed Zo’rab, 11, goes out into the southern Gaza city of Rafah on a mission.

He takes a big plastic bowl and heads to schools that have become refugee centres, and to makeshift camps on the roadside where people suffer like his own family but might still find something to feed the child of strangers.

Mohammed also goes to hospitals where the wounded arrive at all hours, and anywhere else where there might be a pot boiling over an open fire.

“When I go back to my family with this food, they get happy and we all eat together,” he says.

“Sometimes I go empty handed and I feel sad.”

Mohammed is the eldest of four children and lives with his mother, father and his siblings in a flimsy shelter made of plastic and tarpaulin.

His father, Khaled, roams around Rafah looking for odd jobs to raise five shekels (about $1.38; £1.08) to buy diapers for their two-month-old daughter, Howaida.

Mohammed is one of thousands of children who have become primary food gatherers for their families.

“When the line is crowded and there are almost 100 people in front of me, I sneak between people,” he says, proud of his skill at navigating large crowds without getting into fights.

Back at home, he hands the bowl of baked beans to his mother, Samar, who distributes the food to the other children. She is gaunt and barely eats herself.

“I have cancer in my bones,” she reveals. “I am 31-years-old but when you see me you think I’m 60. I can’t walk.

“If I walk, I get very tired. All my body hurts and I need treatment and nutrition.”

  • Why are Israel and Hamas fighting in Gaza?
  • Gaza Strip in maps: How life has changed in four months
  • Israel mulls ceasefire plan as progress reported

Like so many others, Samar and her family came to Rafah from their home further north in Khan Younis because the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told them it would be safe. That was three months ago.

Since then, the war has come steadily closer to Rafah. More than 70 people were killed less than a fortnight ago when Israel launched a raid to rescue two hostages being held by Hamas.

The Zo’rab family’s shelter leaks and the floor fills with rain. Sometimes, baby Howaida has no fresh diapers.

Each day offers relentless indignities in a place where 1.5 million people – five times the normal population – are crammed next to the Egyptian border.

With 85% of Gaza’s population now displaced, the amount of aid getting into the enclave is nowhere near what is needed.

According to the United Nations (UN), five hundred trucks of aid per day are required. The daily average has been ninety.

The situation in northern Gaza is particularly acute.

Israel says the UN is failing to distribute aid in the north and that aid supplies are backed up – waiting to be collected on the Gaza side of the border.

The organisation has suspended movement of food aid in northern Gaza because it says there is no protection for truck drivers, who have faced attack by criminal gangs and looting by desperate people.

One truck was hit by shellfire, which the UN says came from an Israeli naval craft.

In addition, the Hamas-run police force in Gaza is no longer willing to escort food trucks because they fear being shot by the IDF.

‘Give us back our people’

In Israel, the military conduct of the war is still supported by a large majority.

There is no discernible body of opinion that supports stepping up the aid effort for civilians in Gaza. In one recent poll, 68% of Jewish respondents said they opposed the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza while Hamas still held Israeli hostages.

By contrast Arab Israelis polled were 85% in favour of aid.

Zvika Mor, whose eldest son, Eitan, is a hostage in Gaza, speaks of a boy who was the “first person to call me Daddy” and of how much he, his wife and their other seven children miss the young man kidnapped by Hamas on 7 October.

Eitan was acting as an unarmed security guard at the Nova music festival, where Hamas killed an estimated 360 people in and around the area.

Mr Mor heads a small group of hostage families that want their loved ones returned before any negotiations with Hamas. They are opposed to the government doing a deal that would make this conditional on a ceasefire, increase in humanitarian aid in Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

“Israel makes [a] humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Because our purpose is to release our people,” Mr Mor says.

“We want our people, okay? And first of all, before all the negotiations and other things, give us our people.”

Asked if this was not harsh, given that it was the lives of Gaza civilians that were at stake, Mr Mor replies: “Yes, but we have babies and women and, and the elders, okay?

“It’s very, very simple. Give us our people and we will give you food and medicines. So simple.”

  • Stories of the hostages taken by Hamas from Israel
  • On board the plane evacuating injured Palestinians

In Gaza, charities are using what is left of their food resources to provide some assistance.

Mahmoud Al-Quishawi of the US-based charity Pious Projects of America was standing close to the boiling pots of beans where Mohammed received food for his family.

“We are trying tirelessly every day to extend a helping hand to these people… to tell them ‘we are with you, we won’t let you stand alone’,” says Mr Al-Quishawi.

The charity has run out of bottled gas to heat the food, so volunteers gather wood and keep fires burning.

“The atmosphere is gloomy,” he says. “The situation is catastrophic.”

In northern Gaza, there have been reports of children dying from malnutrition. The British charity Action Aid cited a doctor in northern Gaza as saying that a significant number of children had died.

In a video recording, Dr Hussam Abu Safiya – the head of paediatrics at the Kamal Adwan Hospital – said malnutrition was widespread, as well as infections of the digestive system.

According to Action Aid, one in six children under the age of two “who were screened at IDP [internally displaced persons] shelters and health centres in January were found to be acutely malnourished”.

That, says the charity, represents a “decline in a population’s nutritional status that is unprecedented globally in three months.”

Another medic at Al-Shifa Medical Complex, also in northern Gaza, said he had treated a two-month-old boy named Mahmoud Fatouh, who died soon after arriving at the hospital.

“This child could not be provided with milk. His mum was not provided with food to be able to breastfeed him,” says Dr Amjad Aliwa.

“He had symptoms of severe dehydration, and he was taking his last breaths [when he came]”.

In Gaza, the civilians are stranded where war and hunger have trapped them.

With additional reporting by Alice Doyard, Haneen Abdeen, Gidi Kleiman and Stephanie Fried.

Air Force man sets himself on fire outside Israeli embassy in Washington DC

A member of the US Air Force is in a critical condition after setting himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington.

Officers from the US Secret Service extinguished the flames before the man was taken to hospital on Sunday afternoon with serious injuries.

The US Air Force confirmed an active-duty serviceman was involved but he has not been identified.

The police, the Secret Service and other authorities are investigating.

In a video that was live streamed on Twitch, the man identified himself and said he was a serving member of the Air Force.

Before setting himself on fire, he said he would “no longer be complicit in genocide” and he was heard shouting “Free Palestine” as he burned.

A bomb disposal unit was sent to the site over concerns about a suspicious vehicle that could have been connected to the individual.

This was later declared safe after no hazardous materials were found.

No embassy staff members were injured in the incident, said a spokeswoman for the embassy.

The Israeli foreign ministry said the man was not known to embassy staff.

It is not the first time someone has self-immolated in front of an Israeli diplomatic mission in the US.

In December, a protester set themselves on fire in front of the Israeli consulate in the US state of Georgia.

Police said the demonstrator used petrol, and a Palestinian flag was found at the scene on that occasion.

Pakistan woman in Arabic script dress saved from mob claiming blasphemy

An angry mob in Pakistan accused a woman who wore a dress adorned with Arabic calligraphy of blasphemy, after mistaking them for Quran verses.

She was saved by police who escorted her to safety after hundreds gathered. She later gave a public apology.

The dress has the word “Halwa” printed in Arabic letters on it, meaning sweet in Arabic.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan. Some people have been lynched even before their cases go on trial.

Police told the BBC they first received a call at around 13:10 local (08:10 GMT) on Sunday that a crowd had gathered around a woman at a restaurant in Lahore, the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab.

Around 300 people had crowded outside the restaurant by the time they arrived, said Assistant Superintendent Syeda Shehrbano.

Videos of the scene circulated on social media, with one showing a woman, visibly scared, sitting in the far corner of the restaurant, shielding her face with her hand.

In another, she is surrounded by officers, who had formed the only barrier between her and a growing crowd who were shouting for her to remove the shirt. In some videos, people can be heard chanting that those who blaspheme must be beheaded.

  • Asia Bibi: Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy case

Footage shared on social media shows Ms Shehrbano standing at the restaurant’s entrance, trying to restore order to an increasingly charged crowd.

“Nobody actually knew what was written on the shirt,” she said. “The major feat was to try to get that woman out of the area in order to ensure that she is safe.”

Ms Shehrbano adds that she had to “negotiate” with the crowd.

“We told them we would take the woman with us, her actions are going to be taken into account and we’re going to hold her responsible for whatever crime committed as per the law of the land.”

The footage later showed Ms Shehrbano putting her arm around the woman, now covered by a black robe and a headscarf, and pushing through the crowd. Other police officers formed a chain with their arms to clear their path as people in the crowd pushed against them.

Ms Shehrbano said supporters of the hardline Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party were among those in the crowd.

The women was brought into a police station, where several religious scholars confirmed that the text on her dress was Arabic calligraphy, not verses from the Quran.

The police then asked the scholars to record a video stating their findings and that the woman was innocent.

“I didn’t have any such intention, it happened by mistake. Still I apologise for all that happened, and I’ll make sure it never happens again,” she said, adding that she is a devout Muslim and would never commit blasphemy.

Authorities said she was in Lahore to do some shopping, and has since left the city.

Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, a former advisor to the prime minister on religious affairs said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the men in the crowd, rather than the woman, should have been the ones to apologise.

Ms Shehrbano said authorities have seen a “mushrooming of incidents” similar to that on Sunday.

“Had I not screamed and had I not convinced the crowd that we will do something about it, It would have turned nastier… Thank God,” she said. She has been widely praised, with the Chief of Punjab police calling for her to receive an award for her bravery.

Laws against blasphemy were first codified by India’s British rulers and expanded in the 1980s under the military government.

In August last year, scores of churches and homes were burnt in Jaranwala, a city east of Pakistan, after two men from the city were accused of damaging the Quran.

Additional reporting by BBC Urdu

Japan Moon lander survives lunar night

Japan’s Moon lander has survived the harsh lunar night, the sunless and freezing equivalent to two Earth weeks.

“Last night, a command was sent to #SLIM and a response received,” national space agency Jaxa said on X.

The craft was put into sleep mode after an awkward landing in January left its solar panels facing the wrong way and unable to generate power.

A change in sunlight direction later allowed it to send pictures back but it shut down again as lunar night fell.

Jaxa said at the time that Slim (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) was not designed for the harsh lunar nights.

It said it planned to try to operate again from mid-February, when the Sun would shine again on Slim’s solar cells.

“The news that SLIM has rebooted itself after the cold lunar night is significant,” said Dr Simeon Barber from the UK’s Open University. “Surviving lunar night is one of the key technological challenges to be overcome if we are to establish long-lived robotic or human missions on the Moon.”

Dr Barber explained that Slim landed near the Moon’s equator, where the lunar surface reaches more than 100C at noon, but then plunges to -130C during the lunar night.

Jaxa said that communication with the lander was terminated after a short time – it was lunar midday, meaning the temperature of the communications equipment was very high.

It said preparations were being made to resume operations when instrument temperatures had cooled sufficiently.

During its previous brief period of re-awakening, Slim was able to study its surroundings in detail and transmit new images to Earth.

Jaxa will be hoping that having survived the lunar night it will be able to continue its work.

The landing in January made Jaxa only the fifth national space agency to achieve a soft touchdown on the Moon – after the US, the former Soviet Union, China and India.

A US spacecraft, the Odysseus Moon lander, made history on Thursday by becoming the first ever privately built and operated robot to complete a soft lunar touchdown.

Like Slim, it also landed awkwardly. Controllers at the operating company, Intuitive Machines, think their robot tipped on to its side at the moment of touchdown. Odysseus does, however, appear still to be functional and is communicating with Earth.

No pictures from the mission at the surface have yet been released.

India hold off England fightback to win series

Fourth Test, Ranchi (day four of five)
England 353 (Root 122*) & 145 (Crawley 60, Ashwin 5-51)
India 307 (Jurel 90, Jaiswal 73; Bashir 5-119) & 192-5 (Gill 52*, Jurel 39*; Bashir 3-79)
India won by five wickets, lead series 3-1
Scorecard

England threatened to pull off a famous victory only for India to seal the series with a five-wicket win on the fourth day of the fourth Test in Ranchi.

Shoaib Bashir took two wickets in two balls just after lunch to leave India five down and 72 runs short of their target of 192.

But Shubman Gill made a chanceless unbeaten 52, sharing an unbroken stand of 72 with Dhruv Jurel, who ended 39 not out.

India had earlier been cruising, only to lose three wickets for 16 runs. Yashasvi Jaiswal skewed Joe Root to James Anderson to be out for 37, Rohit Sharma edged Tom Hartley behind on 55 and Rajat Patidar was out to Bashir for a duck.

Scoring stopped, tension rose and England’s belief grew. When Bashir pulled off his double strike, the prospect of an England win began to feel like a reality.

Instead India take an unassailable 3-1 lead and stretch a proud unbeaten home record that dates back to 2012, while England suffer their first series defeat under Ben Stokes’ captaincy.

There is a break of more than a week before the fifth and final Test in Dharamsala begins on 7 March.

  • India win ‘incredible’ for team’s future – Vaughan

England left to rue small margins

This was a captivating conclusion to a superb Test in what has been a wonderful series. When Rohit and Jaiswal were making untroubled progress to 82-0 there was no sign of the drama that would follow.

England were excellent on Monday, buzzing around in the field in an attempt to recapture the initiative they surrendered on Sunday.

Ultimately, they were left with too much to do. Even with the pitch playing tricks, and Bashir and Hartley belying their lack of experience, England were halted by the calmness of Gill and Jurel.

Like in their defeats in the second and third Tests, England can reflect on the moments of missed opportunity in this game.

Stokes’ side gave away their final three first-innings wickets for six runs and lost 5-23 in their second. Ollie Robinson’s crucial drop allowed Jurel to score 31 more runs on Sunday morning. How England would have loved to add 50 more to India’s target.

Instead, they suffer their first series loss in two years and, after draws with New Zealand and Australia, England have gone three series without a win.

Bashir almost bowls England to victory

Bashir is one of the most inspired England selections in recent memory. After picking up his first five-wicket haul in the first innings, he almost took England to victory in the second – bar the occasional change of end, he bowled for all of the fourth day.

From 40-0 overnight, Rohit and Jaiswal scored quickly in the opening half an hour. Rohit clipped Anderson for six and England shuffled their bowlers. Root’s flight deceived Jaiswal and Anderson athletically took a diving catch at backward point.

Bashir and Hartley were employed in tandem. Hartley took the edge of the advancing Rohit and Ollie Pope held a fine catch at backward short leg to dismiss the struggling Patidar.

Gill and Ravindra Jadeja survived until lunch, only for Jadeja to pat a Bashir full toss to Jonny Bairstow at mid-wicket and, next ball, Sarfaraz Khan was caught at short leg.

Runs were almost impossible to score – India went 31 overs without a boundary off the bat. Jurel almost miscued Hartley to point, while the ball regularly scuttled low or turned past the edge.

India clung on. Bashir and Hartley switched ends, England constantly shuffled the field, but when Gill hit Bashir back over his head for six, the game was up.

Gill went past 50 with another maximum in the same over and Jurel hit the winning runs from the next.

India youngsters see them through

Even with their formidable home record, this will feel like a significant series win for India, who have come from 1-0 down without a number of established stars.

Virat Kohli, Mohammed Shami and Rishabh Pant have missed out entirely, KL Rahul has played only one Test and Jasprit Bumrah was rested for this match. In their place, Jurel, Gill and Jaiswal have stood up.

It was Jurel who led India’s fightback from 177-7 in the first innings. The wicketkeeper’s 90, in only his second Test, gave India momentum upon which their spinners capitalised on the third afternoon.

And Jurel’s arrival calmed India on Monday. He formed a match-winning partnership with Gill, who began with uncertainty but grew in stature after lunch.

Jurel’s drive for four off Bashir, from the 36th delivery he faced, broke England’s hold on the game. Both men used their feet, often just to defend.

Gill faced 119 balls before his first boundary, the first of the sixes off Bashir. It was a performance of grit, determination and iron-will to seal India’s 17th successive home series win.

‘England out-skilled’ – what they said

England captain Ben Stokes: “It was a great Test match. The scoreline says India win by five wickets but I don’t think that gives enough credit to sum up the game as a whole.

India captain Rohit Sharma: “It has been a very hard-fought series. To come out on the right side after four Tests feels really good. A lot of challenges have been thrown at us but we responded pretty well.”

Ex-England batter Mark Ramprakash: “England played their part, boosted by Joe Root’s gritty century, but ultimately they were out-skilled in these conditions.”

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