BBC 2024-03-02 22:32:25

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

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

The operation, carried out jointly with Jordan’s air force, was the first of many announced by President Joe Biden.

He promised to step up aid after at least 112 people were killed as crowds rushed a convoy on Thursday.

The airdrop comes as a top US official said the framework of a deal for a six-week ceasefire in Gaza was in place.

On Saturday C-130 transport planes dropped more than 38,000 meals along the coastline of the territory, 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 the UK, France, Egypt and Jordan have previously airdropped aid into Gaza, but this is the first by the US.

Administration officials said that Thursday’s “tragic incident” had highlighted “the importance of expanding and sustaining the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza in response to the dire humanitarian situation”.

Aid agencies have said that airdrops are an inefficient way of delivering aid.

Displaced Gaza resident Medhat Taher told Reuters news agency that such a method was woefully inadequate.

“Will this be enough for a school? Is this enough for 10,000 people?” he said. “It’s better to send aid via crossings and better than airdropping via parachutes.”

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”.

Meanwhile a Biden administration official said on Saturday that Israel had “more or less accepted” a deal on a new ceasefire.

“It will be a six-week ceasefire in Gaza starting today if Hamas agrees to release the defined category of vulnerable hostages (…) the sick, the wounded, elderly and women,” the unnamed official said.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris will meet Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz in Washington on Monday to discuss a truce and other issues, Reuters quotes a White House official as saying.

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.

  • What video and eyewitness accounts tell us about Gazans killed at aid drop
  • Biden treads carefully through Middle East minefield
  • Biden hopes for Gaza ceasefire by start of Ramadan

Giorgios Petropoulos, head of the Gaza sub-office of the UN Co-ordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told the BBC that he and a team sent to al-Shifa hospital had found a large number of people with bullet wounds.

Hamas meanwhile said an Israeli bombardment had killed at least 11 people at a camp in Rafah in southern Gaza on Saturday. World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the attack “outrageous”. The Israeli army said it had carried out a “precision strike” against Islamic Jihad militants in the area.

The UN’s World Food Programme has warned that a famine is imminent in northern Gaza, which has received very little aid in recent weeks, and where an estimated 300,000 people are living with little food or clean water.

The Israel military launched a large-scale air and ground campaign to destroy Hamas after its gunmen killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel on 7 October and took 253 back to Gaza as hostages.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says more than 30,000 people, including 21,000 children and women, have been killed in Gaza since then with some 7,000 missing and at least 70,450 injured.

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.

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’ movement 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 Somali 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 Gallant 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 Hamas killed more than 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others, 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 has admitted the apparent hack by Russia of a military meeting where officers discussed giving Ukraine 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, 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.

How Iris Apfel became an icon in her 90s

The matriarch of maximalism has died, aged 102. ‘More is more, and less is a bore’ was her mantra, and her unique style and wisdom brought joy and inspiration to many.

She was the design doyenne who made growing old (dis)gracefully into a high art. The “geriatric starlet” –  as she sub-titled her biography – who remained sparklingly bright and larger than life to the end. Iris Apfel, the US businesswoman, interior designer, fashion designer and actress, died on 1 March at her Palm Beach home aged 102.

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She was a flamboyant New Yorker, whose philosophy is epitomised in her sassy declaration: “I like big and bold and a lot of pizzazz.”. That was just one thrilling moment in Iris, the 2014 film by Grey Gardens documentary maker Albert Maysles. Apfel remained perennially young at heart, in her own words “the world’s oldest living teenager”.

‘Great personal style is an extreme curiosity about yourself’, said Iris Apfel, pictured here in 2014 (Credit: Alamy)

She’s instantly recognisable from her eye-popping memorable outfits – and joyous, smiling face.

[She] promotes personality and personal expression rather than a youthful idea of perfection and beauty – Ari Seth Cohen

Apfel had a talent for pulling focus in any fashion column as well as her Instagram account (which has more than two million followers). There she is, sitting amid a confection of canary yellow frills, or with a ton of costume jewellery around her neck. A different scintillating look for every day and occasion – but what didn’t change for decades was her immaculate silver bouffant hairdo, coral-red lips, and huge spectacles – a black-rimmed infinity symbol broader than her face.

If Apfel was seen as kitsch and eccentric that was fine with her. She loved being the one all eyes swivelled to, be it on fashion’s front row, a movie premiere or just out shopping on Fifth Avenue. Never short on fun and bonhomie, this “accidental icon” – the title of her 2018 biography – was wonderfully refreshing among fashion’s sometimes serious cognoscenti. 

In her 90s, Apfel became a regular on the front row – pictured here at New York fashion week, 2016 (Credit: Getty Images)

But where did this ostentatious and smart style arbiter come from? Apfel grew up with fashion in her pores, her eye developing as she watched her Russian-born mother run her fashion boutique in New York. She told The Guardian that her mother “taught me so many things”. By the age of 11, she was scouring flea markets near her home in Queens, New York, picking up vintage bags, cute silk dresses and costume jewellery that would form her extraordinary collection for a song (she always loved to bargain). 

And although she put in the training – art college, then working as a fashion copywriter for Women’s Wear Daily – Apfel’s talent as a hot style innovator showed up in her 20s, such as when she spotted and adopted a garment that was to take the fashion world by storm (and hasn’t stopped): jeans. We may imagine denim cool was invented by Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953), or Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits (1961), but Apfel was ahead of these Hollywood stars. “In the ’40s I was probably the first woman to wear jeans,” she says in a scene in Iris. “All of a sudden I had a vision. I said ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I had… this sounds crazy, but a big gingham turban and very large hoop earrings I could wear with a nice crisp shirt and a pair of jeans.”

Apfel at home on Park Avenue in 2012 – ‘If you’re not interested, you’re not interesting’ was one if her mantras (Credit: Alamy)

That “vision” shows in some of the designers she has championed in recent years, with her declarations of love for Ralph Rucci, Isabel Toledo and Naeem Khan. It was always thus, and can be seen what she chose to wear for her first date with Carl Apfel, her future husband. Instead of a Little Black Dress by Coco Chanel (too obvious), she chose a LBD by Norman Norrell (the “American Balenciaga”). It was  a hit – her personality winning him over – and after marrying Carl in 1948 (they were together 67 years, until his death in 2015, aged 100) they launched Old World Weavers, their textiles business producing replicas of antique fabrics. A big success, their clients ranged from Jackie Kennedy and Greta Garbo to the White House: Iris was a restoration consultant for the administrations of nine presidents, including Eisenhower, Nixon and Clinton.

Becoming an influencer

Her career was one of highs and super-highs. The costume jewellery she’d collected from around the world was in the latter, the star of a 2005 show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – styled on mannequins as she would wear them. Entitled Rara Avis (Rare Bird): the Irreverent Iris Apfel, it was the first time the Met had focused on a living female who wasn’t a designer. She mixed 18th-Century paste earrings and a Mexican hammered-silver belt, shown with couture pieces from Dior and James Galanos. The response, mainly through word of mouth, was unprecedented. Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld attended the opening night and Apfel was catapulted to fashion fame.

She has had an amazing effect on so many people with her huge heart and magic touch with everyone she meets – Tommy Hilfiger

The world sat up to acknowledge her as a star, with a lifetime of building a brand based around herself, and she was soon sought after to sell everything from cars to tech startups. In 2018 she modelled for Vogue; and Mattel made a silver-haired Barbie in her name.

Apfel’s popularity is perhaps a sign of the times. In recent decades older celebrity fashion models, like Carmen Dell’Orefice, 92, and Daphne Selfe, 95, are increasingly held up as glamorous, relevant and sought after.

Photographer Ari Seth Cohen, who featured her in his documentary Advanced Style, on fashionable New Yorkers aged 60 to 100, described how Apfel promotes “personality and personal expression rather than a youthful idea of perfection and beauty”.

‘You’ve only got one trip, you have to remember that,’ said Apfel, whose unique dress sense brought joy to those around her (Credit: Getty Images)

Another fan is Tommy Hilfiger: “Iris Apfel has become a world-famous fashion icon because of her incredible talent not only as an artist, but as an influencer,” he said. “She has had an amazing effect on so many people with her huge heart and magic touch with everyone she meets.”

Aged 91, she became Dazed magazine’s oldest cover star, and certainly her fame just kept rising through her ninth decade, toward another high at the age of 97, with a modelling contract with IMG. In recent years she starred in campaigns for H&M, eBay and Citroën. At 101 she landed her first beauty campaign when she collaborated with Ciaté London on a makeup line.

This level of achievement came as no surprise to designer Dries Van Noten, who reflected with affection in her biography on what Iris Apfel meant to him: “I have rarely met someone as vivid, alive, vital, vivacious, irreverent, joyous and needed as Iris.” He added: “She breathes young air, thinks young thoughts and gathers no dust.”

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Brit Awards: Dua Lipa opens glitzy ceremony as Raye eyes record-breaking haul

Miley Cyrus could not make the ceremony tonight but said in a video message that she thanked everyone for the award and for giving her somewhere to “wear this dress” – she is referring to a backless sheer mini dress.

“The real award is having this song loved all around the world,” she says.

“I know this video is a little short but I just wanted it to match my dress,” she adds cheekily.