BBC 2024-03-02 16:32:19

Israel-Gaza war: US carries out first aid airdrop in strip

The US has carried out its first airdrop of aid for Gaza, with more than 30,000 meals parachuted in by three military planes.

The operation was carried out in conjunction with the Jordanian air force, the US Central Command said.

US officials say the drop was the first of many announced by President Joe Biden on Friday.

He promised to step up aid to Gaza after the death of over 100 people seeking aid from a convoy on Thursday.

C-130s dropped more than 38,000 meals along the coastline of Gaza, US Central Command said in a statement.

“These airdrops are part of a sustained effort to get more aid into Gaza, including by expanding the flow of aid through land corridors and routes,” it added.

Other countries including Britain, France, Egypt and Jordan have previously airdropped aid into Gaza, but this is the first by the US.

In his statement on Friday, President Biden said the US would “insist that Israel facilitate more trucks and more routes to get more and more people the help they need”.

US officials say Israel is supportive of the mission, which is being carefully planned to ensure the safety of those on the ground.

Aid agencies have said that airdrops are an inefficient, expensive and complex way of delivering supplies.

The fact that the US has opted for this method highlights the severity of humanitarian crisis, and the difficulty of getting aid by road to Gazan civilians.

In Thursday’s incident, 112 people were killed and more than 760 injured as they crowded around aid lorries on the south-western edge of Gaza City.

Hamas accused Israel of firing at civilians, but Israel said most died in a crush after it fired warning shots.

Fergal Keane: Aid convoy tragedy shows fear of starvation haunts Gaza

After the events at al-Rashid Street in Gaza, in which more than 100 people were reported killed after a rush on an aid convoy, the international community is under pressure to tackle the growing crisis of hunger in the territory, as Fergal Keane reports from Jerusalem.

They die in all kinds of places and ways. Broken under the rubble of their homes, blasted by explosives, punctured by high velocity bullets, cut open by flying shards of metal.

And now – as the war enters its fifth month – death from hunger has come to haunt Gaza.

It is essential to know the when, what and how of the tragedy at al-Rashid Street.

Although the precise facts require an independent investigation of a kind not likely in Gaza under current conditions, that should not distract from trying to answer why people risked their lives to gather in the pre-dawn darkness in the middle of a war zone.

The refugees were there because they were desperate to feed their families. They died by bullets and trampling – we do not yet know in what proportion – simply because they wanted to live. That is a cruel irony.

Of the population in Gaza 85% is now displaced.

Eighty-five per cent of the population of Gaza is now displaced. The war has dismantled all normal economic activity and food supplies. Water and electricity supplies have been disrupted. Hospitals struggle without adequate medicine or power.

For the last week the UN – citing concerns over security – has said it is unable to deliver aid to northern Gaza. These are fundamental facts to bear in mind when trying to understand the tragedy.

From the outset the international community – expressed in public statements – has regarded Israel as having the primary responsibility for ensuring aid can be delivered safely.

  • What video and eyewitness accounts tell us about Gazans killed at aid drop

But, after months of war there is no sign of what the UN calls “an enabling environment” in which large volumes of aid can be delivered to those who need it.

It is not as if there has been absence of evidence of a mounting humanitarian crisis. Witness the statements made by the UN over several months.

“We are already seeing a cascading collapse in water, sewage, and sanitation services, telecoms, food shortages, and healthcare,” the UN’s Human Rights office reported on 15 November.

On 2 December, the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported: “UN humanitarians on Monday said that aid teams had only ‘extremely limited’ and access to the north was “now entirely blocked.”

Twelve days later the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2720 calling on “the parties to the conflict to allow, facilitate and enable the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to Palestinian civilians throughout that territory.”

On 26 January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) required Israel “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

By 9 February, director of the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) Phillipe Lazzarini was accusing Israel of blocking food for 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza.

According to the UN, 500 lorries of aid are required each day. The daily average has been 90.

The aid falling by parachute from the skies in recent days is welcomed on the ground, but it is also a symbol of the failure of the aid effort.

There are roads leading into Gaza from Israel and Egypt along which lorries carrying huge amounts of aid could travel – if those roads were safe.

The continuing war, and the chaotic conditions it has spawned, mean many lorry drivers will not risk their lives.

Civilians looting aid, and criminal gangs stealing aid to sell, are part of what one UN official termed the “Mogadishu-like” conditions that may be developing – a reference to the chaos that enveloped the Somalian capital during the civil conflict of the early 1990s.

The Hamas-run police force in Gaza is unwilling to escort aid convoys because its members reportedly fear being shot by the Israelis.

As for Hamas’s leaders, having provoked this war they have vanished and are now fighting to survive in the tunnels and ruins of Gaza.

Israel says it is facilitating aid delivery and that, for example, there were three escorted deliveries on the nights prior to the tragedy at al-Rashid street. It has blamed the UN saying aid is stacked up inside the northern border and the UN hasn’t “turned up” to distribute the supplies.

It is also deeply mistrustful of UNRWA – accusing the agency of being infiltrated by Hamas.

In the wake of the allegations UNRWA sacked 12 employees accused of either being involved in the 7 October attacks in Israel or helping in the detention of hostages.

Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gllant said the IDF would no longer deal with the agency. “UNRWA has lost legitimacy,” he said, “and can no longer function as a UN body.”

At the beginning of the conflict, days after the Hamas massacre of more than 1,200 Israeli civilians and the kidnapping of 250 more into Gaza, Mr Gallant ordered a complete blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed… We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,” he said.

That position changed under US pressure with President Joe Biden announcing a deal on 19 October under which Israel and Egypt allowed aid into Gaza.

Some supplies began to flow but there were still reports of growing hunger.

  • Israel-Gaza briefings: Biden treading carefully through political minefield
  • US President hopes to see ceasefire by the start of Ramadan

There were repeated entreaties from Western politicians including UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron.

On 9 January, he said he was worried Israel had “taken action that might be in breach of international law” – adding he wanted Israel to restore water supplies to Gaza.

A month later – on 12 February – he told the UK’s House of Lords that Israel had to make sure food, water and shelter were available to people in Gaza “because if they don’t do that, that would be a breach of international humanitarian law”.

In the wake of al-Rashid Street he called for an urgent investigation. “This must not happen again,” he said.

But the evidence from many civilians in Gaza is they live in constant fear of violent death and – increasingly – starvation.

In time the world will ask itself why the UN Security Council, comprising the most powerful nations on earth, did not ensure the delivery of life-saving aid to hundreds of thousands of desperate people in Gaza.

This after nearly eight decades of UN humanitarian operations around the world. There is no shortage of experience or resources.

Addressing the Security Council a week before al-Rashid street incident, secretary general of aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres Christopher Lockyear spoke of a situation where “the laws and the principles we collectively depend on to enable humanitarian assistance are now eroded to the point of becoming meaningless… the humanitarian response in Gaza today is an illusion.”

It is still too early to speak of the tragic events of 29 February as a turning point.

But, the deaths of so many in such terrible circumstances have added to the growing pressure for a ceasefire deal that would allow food to reach the hungry.

The coming days will tell if those hopes can be realised.

Russia publishes German army meeting on Ukraine

Germany is investigating the apparent interception by Russia of army officers discussing supplying Ukraine with long-range missiles – and possible targets.

Audio of the video-conference meeting was posted to social media by the head of Russia’s state-run RT channel.

The officers discuss how the missiles could hit the Kerch Bridge, which links Russia to the illegally annexed Crimea.

Russian politicians said the audio proved that its “sworn enemy” was planning attacks.

Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday called the apparent leak “a very serious matter and that is why it is now being investigated very carefully, very intensively and very quickly”.

According to Der Spiegel magazine, the videoconference was not held on a secret internal army network but on the WebEx platform.

The 38-minutes of audio was posted by RT chief Margarita Simonyan on Friday, who said it was proof Germany was planning strikes on Crimea.

In the recording, discussions can be heard on the possible use by Ukrainian forces of German-made Taurus missiles and their potential impact.

A spokeswoman for the German defence ministry told the AFP news agency that a secret air force conversation had been tapped.

However, she said that she was “unable to say for certain” whether the voices on the recording had been tampered with before publication.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova demanded that Germany “promptly” provide explanations.

“Attempts to avoid answering the questions will be regarded as an admission of guilt,” she said.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council and foreign ministry, said on Telegram: “Our age-old rivals – the Germans – have again turned into our sworn enemies.”

“Look, with what thoroughness and in such detail the (Germans) discuss striking our territory with long-range missiles, choose targets to hit and discuss how to inflict the maximum harm to our motherland and our people,” he said.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that the discussion betrayed the “cunning plans” of the German armed forces, which he said had committed “a blatant self-exposure”.

Kyiv wants Germany to provide it with Taurus missiles, which have a range of around 500km (300 miles).

Mr Scholz has so far refused, fearing it would lead to an escalation of the conflict.

France and Britain have supplied Kyiv with Scalp or Storm Shadow missiles, both of which have half the range.

Roderich Kiesewetter, from Germany’s opposition conservatives, warned that further recordings may also be leaked.

“A number of other conversations will certainly have been intercepted and may be leaked at a later date for Russia’s benefit,” he told broadcaster ZDF.

It can be assumed “that the conversation was deliberately leaked by Russia at this point in time with a specific intention”, namely “to prevent Taurus delivery by Germany”, he said.

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Can skiing solve its diversity problem?

People of colour have been historically excluded from the sport, but now, a series of Black-run organisations around the world are hoping to change that.

In early 2023, a coach full of skiers and snowboarders pulled into France’s Chamonix resort at the base of Mont Blanc. After carving down the slopes by day, the group turned up to a blend of Afrobeats, R&B and dancehall music at night, roping resort guests into a tipsy rendition of the Electric Slide as the stars glimmered overhead. The trip had been organised by Soft Life Ski, a British collective which aims to bring “Afro-Caribbean culture and vibes to the slopes”. 

Despite being at one of the world’s most famous mountain resorts, for five days, the group were the only Black skiers on the mountain. Today though, Soft Life Ski is one of a handful of organisations around the world working to address the sport’s lack of diversity. 

“If you go somewhere that is predominantly white [as a Black person], you might not feel at home,” said Edmund Antwi, one of Soft Life Ski’s co-founders. “We create room for those people to relax, enjoy their music, learn a new skill and have a laugh with people who look like them.”

Skiing has always been an overwhelmingly white sport. According to an annual survey conducted by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), 88.1% of US skiers in the 2022-23 season were white, while just 1.5% were Black. In the UK, 2022 figures from Sport England show that white skiers made up nearly 70% of the total, while Black participation rates were too low to even register. 

Soft Like Ski aims to bring “Afro-Caribbean culture and vibes to the slopes” (Credit: Soft Life Ski)

But how did skiing come to be so homogenous in the first place? 

Skiing is widely believed to have been invented by Scandinavia’s Indigenous Sami people and exported globally by emigrants from Europe’s Alpine regions. These immigrants introduced skiing to the US in the late 19th Century, primarily as a means of transportation for those living in isolated mountain communities. Later, a wave of wealthy European migrants and US tourists, who frequented luxury resorts in Austria and Switzerland, spread its popularity and paved the way for a ski-based tourism industry in North America. 

“The whiteness of skiing in the US is partly tied to [its] cultural, national and racial history,” said Annie Gilbert Coleman, whose paper The Unbearable Whiteness of Skiing examines the sport’s lack of diversity. “It’s tied to the strategies of early resort owners, who were trying to bring investors in and make things look very sparkly. Celebrities and rich people were the target for [the popular Idaho ski resort] Sun Valley and they soon became the target for [Colorado’s famous ski destination] Aspen, too.” 

Ski resorts started to open across the US in the 1910s and ’20s. They often used stereotypical “all-American” images of cowboys astride their horses, ready to conquer the mountains. More prevalent, though, were symbols of “Europeanness” (think: Bavarian-style villages and German-language advertising slogans) used to market the Rocky Mountains as the Alps of the US. 

US ski resorts have long incorporated subtle nods to “Europeannes” – like Bavarian-inspired biergartens – to appeal to certain demographics (Credit: Alamy)

“[There was] a very specific construction of white, elite ethnicity that harkened back to Austria, Germany, Norway and Sweden,” said Gilbert Coleman. “Promoters merged them into this white ethnic image that became accessible to visitors through the purchase of European-made pants, boots and skis. When you went to a resort, you could eat at an Austrian restaurant, train with a French ski instructor and stay in a Swiss chalet.” Inevitably, people of colour were excluded from this vision of mountain life – a fact that was exacerbated by segregationist policies in many of the early US ski clubs. 

Today, many factors are used to explain low participation rates among non-white skiers – chiefly, its prohibitive cost. Skiing is expensive, but commentators have pointed out that many people of colour who could afford it actively choose not to. Generational factors may provide more insight. “It’s something I call skiing pedigree,” said Henri Rivers, president of the National Brotherhood of Snowsports (NBS), an umbrella organisation made up of 58 African American ski clubs across the US. “Growing up in this sport, I’ve seen so many families that have four or five generations of skiing. They have a house on the mountain, the whole family comes up every weekend, it’s their lifestyle. That is something that we don’t have historically as people of colour.” 

Yet, Black-run ski clubs actually have a long history. The oldest in the US, Jim Dandy, was established in Detroit, Michigan in 1958, and the NBS recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. In the UK, Nubian Ski was launched in 2000 and has organised 22 trips to resorts around the world. Now, a new wave of collectives focusing on increasing participation among young people of colour is following in their footsteps.

Soft Life Ski is one of them. The idea came about after a group of friends went skiing for the first time in Valfréjus, France. They had the time of their lives but were struck by the lack of diversity on and off the slopes. “Looking at these brands, looking at these resorts and not seeing yourself is something that subconsciously affects the mind. It makes you question if you’re welcome,” said Antwi.

Black-run ski clubs have been around for more than 60 years (Credit: Alamy)

Similarly, the British group Mount Noire, whose mission is “bringing colour to the mountain”, was founded after a group of Black British university students visited a Slovakian resort. Launched in 2019, Mount Noire hosts regular ski trips with the aim of increasing Black participation in the sport. They went to Bansko, Bulgaria, earlier this year and are heading to Val d’Isère, France, in March

According to the group’s co-founder, Wenona Barnieh, the sheer whiteness of skiing is directly related to its marketing. “If I ever went on ski apparel websites, the outfits were always modelled by Caucasian people. It was very hard to find clothing that would actually fit me,” she said. But the industry is now starting to take notice. Mount Noire has produced sponsored content for a long list of ski wear brands, including Ellesse and Oneskee. Likewise, Soft Life Ski has partnered with the Black-owned ski wear provider, Blanqo. And both Antwi and Barnieh have noticed an increase of diverse models in ski marketing.

In addition to brand partnerships, many Black-run skiing organisations are hoping to shake up the après-ski scene, too. “We listen to all music, we’re versatile, but typically Black cultural music – R&B, hip-hop. [Elsewhere, you don’t often] hear that on the mountains,” said Barnieh. 

Emmanuel Ojo, one of Soft Life Ski’s co-founders, echoes her thoughts. “Most bars [at ski resorts] have the same resident DJ every Friday night and they’re focused on EDM or electronic music. There’s no opportunity for a different kind of night out. We want to change up those experiences and bring a bit of Afro-Caribbean culture into the mix,” he said.

Groups like Soft Life Ski aim to create a “home away from home” for new and experienced skiers (Credit: Soft Life Ski)

When planning their trips, Mount Noire works with local bars to expand their musical repertoire, while other Black-run organisations sometimes invite artists on their trips. Ne-Yo and Anthony Hamilton performed at the 2023 NBS summit, and Soft Life Ski is flying a selection of Black British DJs to Norway for its upcoming trip to the Fyri Resort in Hemsedal in March. Ultimately, these efforts create a “home away from home” for new demographics, said Ojo. These collective experiences also help reduce self-consciousness for Black skiers. As Ojo said, “I’d rather stick out in a group of 20, then stick out in a group of two.”

Since 2020, sporting bodies in the US and UK have implemented a series of measures to boost diversity in skiing. In 2021, US Ski & Snowboard entered a four-year partnership with the NBS, with the eventual aim of “elevating an African American to a World Cup podium”. Snowsport England, the country’s national governing body for snowsport, is currently working with Mount Noire to fund training for a Black ski instructor. And GB Snowsport is currently rolling out a three-year Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, which aims to increase diversity among recreational skiers, instructors, coaches and, eventually, elite athletes.

“Our biggest focus is on taking a long-term view of diversity in snowsport,” said GB Snowsport’s chief executive, Vicky Gosling. “We’re excited to support the current generation of athletes that are already in or are on the verge of breaking into the elite environment […] In athletes like Siddhartha UllahZoe Atkin and Nina Sparks, we’ve got great examples of young skiers and snowboarders from non-White backgrounds thriving within the British team setup, and that’s something we’re working to build on.” 

Resorts are joining the conversation, too. In 2021, the CEO of Vail Resorts published an open letter, writing: “We need to acknowledge that there are parts of the culture of our sport that are clearly not inviting. Maybe the image we have created of the mountain lifestyle needs to be more varied.” And to mark Martin Luther King Jr Day – one of the most lucrative weekends for ski resorts in the US – Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado raised $50,000 for the NBS. These efforts, combined with the work of groups like Soft Life Ski, Mount Noire and the NBS, mean that mountains are likely to become less snow-white in the decades to come.

For the past four years, sporting bodies in the US and UK have been actively trying to diversify the sport (Credit: Alamy)

Ultimately, Rivers wants as many people as possible to reap the benefits of skiing. “Being outdoors, in the mountains, is spiritually invigorating. That’s something every person on the planet should be able to do, no matter what colour they are.”


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