BBC 2024-03-09 01:01:39

Gaza maritime corridor could begin at weekend, EU says

A maritime corridor to Gaza could begin operating this weekend to boost aid to the territory, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen says.

It comes a day after President Biden said the US planned to build a floating pier to Gaza’s shoreline.

However, that could take up to 60 days to built, the Pentagon said on Friday.

A quarter of Gaza’s population is on the brink of famine and children are starving to death there, the United Nations reports.

Getting aid into the Gaza Strip has been difficult and dangerous.

On Friday reports said five people had been killed by airdropped aid whose parachutes did not deploy properly.

The US and other nations have resorted to dropping aid in by air as conditions become increasingly dire, but aid organisations say the tactic is a last resort and can’t meet the soaring need.

  • Why food airdrops into Gaza are controversial

Speaking in Cyprus, Ms von der Leyen said Gaza was “facing a humanitarian catastrophe” and the sea corridor would enable the delivery of large quantities of additional aid.

A joint statement from the European Commission, Cyprus, the US, UK and UAE said operating a sea corridor would be “complex” and they would continue to press Israel to expand delivery of aid by road, facilitating more routes and opening additional crossings.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said: “We continue to urge Israel to allow more trucks into Gaza as the fastest way to get aid to those who need it.”

Israel welcomed the initiative and urged other countries to join it.

A foreign ministry spokesman said aid would be delivered after security checks were carried out “in accordance with Israeli standards”.

However, the leader of aid agency Refugees International told the BBC that while welcome, the maritime route was unlikely to be able to deliver anything like enough food.

“This does not sound like it will come anywhere close to the scale that would be required to reverse the trajectory into famine that Gaza is now in,” Jeremy Konyndyk said.

Israel denies impeding the entry of aid to Gaza and accuses aid organisations of failing to distribute it.

On Thursday, Mr Biden said the US military would construct a pier to transport supplies from ships at sea to the shore, but US officials said it would take “a number of weeks” to set up.

The operation – which he said would not include US troops on the ground in Gaza – would enable large ships to deliver food, water, medicine and temporary shelters.

The US military said on Friday that it could take up to 60 days to complete the port, and more than 1,000 personnel to build it – but none would go ashore.

The Pentagon says the US eventually aims to provide two million meals a day to Gazans.

Mr Biden said the pier would enable a “massive difference” in the amount of aid reaching Gaza, but added that Israel must “do its part” by allowing more aid to enter into the territory and to “ensure that humanitarian workers aren’t caught in the crossfire”.

But on Friday, an independent UN expert told a briefing in Geneva that it was “absurd” that a close ally of Israel was resorting to such measures.

Michael Fakhri, the special rapporteur on the right to food, said the port plan was likely to be a “performance” aimed more at a domestic US audience as the US presidential campaign gets under way.

Aid lorries have been entering the south of Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing and the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing. But the north, which was the focus of the first phase of the Israeli ground offensive, has been largely cut off from assistance in recent months.

An estimated 300,000 Palestinians are living there with little food or clean water.

  • ‘My son Ali has already died’: Father’s plea for Gaza’s starving children
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On Friday, Mr Biden said it was “looking tough” for a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas to be reached before the start of Ramadan on Sunday.

It had been hoped that a 40-day truce would help desperately needed aid to enter Gaza.

Last week more than 100 people were killed trying to reach an aid convoy amid the growing desperation. Palestinians said most were shot by Israeli troops.

The Israeli military, which was overseeing the private aid deliveries, on Friday said its troops did not fire at Palestinians around an aid convoy but at “suspects” nearby who they deemed a threat.

Israel’s military launched an air and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas’s attacks on Israel on 7 October, in which about 1,200 people were killed and 253 others were taken hostage.

More than 30,800 people have been killed in Gaza since then, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says.

UNRWA: Canada to resume funding for UN agency for Palestinian refugees

Canada has announced it will resume aid payments to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, following a probe that found some members were involved in the 7 October attack against Israel.

Canada was one of 16 countries to halt future funds after Israel presented evidence of violence by UNRWA staff.

The Canadian statement said the funding would resume while investigations into the staff members continue.

Canada is the 11st largest contributor to the UNRWA budget, 2022 data shows.

The decision to resume funding was announced in a statement on Friday by Canada’s Minister of International Development Ahmed Hussen.

He said the decision was made “in recognition of the robust investigative process underway” into the allegations.

He added that the temporary pause in donations was being lifted “so more can be done to respond to the urgent needs of Palestinian civilians”.

In addition, the Canadian Armed Forces will donate around 300 cargo parachutes to Jordan, so they can be used to airdrop supplies into Gaza.

In a press release, the Canadian government notes that “no regularly scheduled payment that was intended to go to UNRWA was missed during the temporary pause”.

“By providing certainty that Canada’s planned contribution will proceed, this will help prevent the imminent collapse of this essential organization.”

  • Key UN Gaza aid agency runs into diplomatic storm

The UN is conducting an internal probe into the allegations, while former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna is also leading an independent review.

On Friday the EU, UK, US and others said they planned to open a sea route to Gaza to deliver aid that could begin operating this weekend.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, is the biggest UN agency operating in Gaza. It provides healthcare, education and other humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It employs around 13,000 people inside Gaza.

Israel military launched an air and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas attacked it on 7 October and killed 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostage.

More than 30,800 people have been killed in Gaza since then, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says.

On top of that, the UN has warned that famine in Gaza is “almost inevitable” without action to provide aid, and the World Health Organisation says that children are dying of starvation in the north of the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu is a survivor, but his problems are stacking up

“How many more deaths and disasters will Israel endure under Netanyahu’s watch?” ran a headline in an Israeli newspaper this week.

The piece in Haaretz followed a report that held the Israeli prime minister and other senior figures in his administration personally responsible for failures over a stampede that led to the death of 45 people at a Jewish religious festival in 2021.

The newspaper, which is frequently critical of the prime minister, pointed out that Mr Netanyahu did not respond directly to the report. Instead, his Likud party suggested that the commission investigating the disaster was itself politically motivated.

Commentators across the political divide saw a parallel between the Mount Meron disaster and the 7 October attacks by Hamas, in which about 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage – specifically Mr Netanyahu’s refusal to accept responsibility.

It comes at a time when opinion polls do not make good reading for the prime minister.

While he has insisted that “absolute victory” is the only option to end the war, a poll last month by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) found that a majority of both Jewish (51%) and Arab Israelis (77.5%) said there is a low likelihood of achieving his aim to eliminate Hamas.

One survey, conducted back in November by Bar Ilan University, suggested that fewer than 4% of Israelis trusted Mr Netanyahu’s decision-making over the war in Gaza.

While confidence in Mr Netanyahu is low, most Israelis have consistently supported the war in Gaza.

The IDI’s Tamar Herman sees no contradiction in the suggestion that while most Israelis support the conflict and are less supportive of a future Palestinian state, they’re still mistrustful of Mr Netanyahu.

He spearheaded unpopular judicial reforms before the Hamas attacks, and then “lost his security credentials after 7 October”, Mr Herman said.

The lack of progress in releasing the remaining hostages is also a source of criticism.

Last weekend, thousands of relatives of the hostages and their supporters ended a four-day march outside his official residence in Jerusalem.

“Our government must ensure, above all else, that they come home, said Yair Mozes, whose 79-year-old father Gadi was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz. “This is the only humane thing that can happen.”

Mr Netanyahu says they are a priority, but his decision to not send a delegation to ceasefire talks in Cairo this week was met with derision in parts of the Israeli media.

With the hide of a rhinoceros and an absolute conviction in the justness of his cause, Mr Netanyahu dug in even deeper this week.

He reiterated that troops would eventually launch an assault on the southern city of Rafah, where an estimated 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering. More than 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, and much of the territory has been destroyed by Israeli shelling.

With more signs of a famine looming, international pressure has only grown.

A belligerent Mr Netanyahu told a military graduation ceremony this week that that the military “will continue to operate against all of Hamas’s battalions”.

“There is international pressure, and it is increasing,” he said, “but it is precisely when the international pressure increases that we must close ranks among ourselves.”

Mr Netanyahu was said to be livid this week when Benny Gantz, his arch-political rival and member of the unity war cabinet, set off on an unannounced and unsanctioned trip to visit key allies in Washington DC and London.

Mr Gantz is a former army general and chief of staff, and leads the more centrist National Unity party. If an election were to be held today, polls suggest Mr Gantz would secure enough votes in the 120-seat Knesset to form a coalition government and unseat Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some of Mr Gantz’s appeal is simply that he is not Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s a centrist and pragmatist who stands by Israel’s military objectives. The openness with which he was received by senior US and UK officials was widely interpreted back home in Israel as a snub to Mr Netanyahu.

Others have criticised Mr Gantz, describing him as a “political parking lot”. Transport minister Miri Regev, a Netanyahu ally, said Mr Gantz’s visit looked like “some kind of subversion, like he’s working behind the prime minister’s back”.

Mr Netanyahu is a seasoned political survivor. Both his critics and supporters say he will do almost anything to stay in power and keep his government together.

But his slim coalition relies on controversial far-right ministers and religious parties to keep afloat, and it is under strain.

In return for their support, the groups insist on financial concessions and the right of Orthodox Jews who are religious students to be exempt from military service. In a country where military service is universal, that has always been a contentious issue. But with Israeli soldiers being killed on active duty in Gaza, it’s a policy coming under increasing pressure.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant – also seen as a possible replacement for Mr Netanyahu – is known to be actively seeking to overturn the policy.

And the former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, Nadav Argaman, told a security conference in Tel Aviv this week: “An Israeli citizen is someone who serves the state as it determines, meaning either military service or national service.”

Mr Netanyahu cannot be all things to all people.

When the war ends, there will be an inquiry into the events of 7 October, and who knew what, when.

Mr Netanyahu will come under intense scrutiny over what warnings his government was given and his subsequent response. If any findings are highly critical of his role, as many observers think they will be, he may not be able to dismiss them as easily as he dealt with this week’s Mount Meron report.

  • Biden treads carefully through Middle East minefield
  • Gaza desperately needs more aid but agencies can’t cope
  • Israel-Gaza war: Death and Israel’s search for ‘total victory’
  • What are routes out of this ‘dangerous moment’ in Middle East?
  • Huge push for Gaza aid – but little hope for those suffering
  • Iran’s sudden strikes show just how perilous region has become
  • Tough choices for Israel in US’s Middle East vision
  • Huge challenges for Israel on its vague ‘day after’ Gaza plan
  • Stakes are immense as Biden presses Israel to change course
  • Hamas support soars in West Bank – but full uprising can still be avoided
  • The status quo is smashed. The future is messy and dangerous
  • Bowen: US sets clearer red lines for Israel as ceasefire ends
  • When this truce ends, the decisive next phase of war begins

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Meghan Markle: ‘We’ve forgotten our humanity’ on social media

The Duchess of Sussex has criticised the “seemingly endless toxicity” of social media, revealing she was targeted with “bullying and abuse” while pregnant with Archie and Lilibet.

Meghan was the keynote speaker on a high-profile panel marking International Women’s Day at the annual SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

She said she now keeps her distance from such comments for her wellbeing.

Prince Harry was in the front row of the audience watching the speech.

Meghan said people have “forgotten our humanity” in certain parts of the media and digital sphere.

“The bulk of the bullying and abuse that I was experiencing on social media and online was when I was pregnant with Archie and with Lili”, she explained.

“You just think about that and really wrap your head around why people would be so hateful – it is not catty, it is cruel.”

The event was titled Breaking Barriers, Shaping Narratives: How Women Lead On And Off The Screen.

The 42-year-old former Suits actress also discussed issues ranging from the importance of diverse representation to portrayals of motherhood in film and entertainment.

Meghan said she found it “disturbing” that women were “spewing” hatred at each other online, adding: “I cannot make sense of that.”

“If you’re reading something terrible about a woman, why are you sharing it with your friends?” she asked.

“If it was your friend, or your mum or your daughter, you wouldn’t do it.

“I think that is the piece that is so lost right now (with) what is happening in the digital space and in certain sections of the media – we have forgotten about our humanity and that has got to change.”

At fellow panellist Katie Couric’s urging, Meghan also re-shared how a letter she sent aged 11 to consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble led to a sexist advert promoting dishwashing liquid being changed.

Meghan said that experience showed her the power of speaking up and advocacy. “Your voice is not small, it just needs to be heard,” she told a live audience.

Actress Brooke Shields, also on the panel. joked: “This is one of the ways we’re different, when I was 11 I was playing a prostitute,” referring to her background as a child actor and role in 1978 film Pretty Baby.

Rare appearances

The SXSW keynote panel event was also simultaneously streamed on YouTube, with most of the comments about Meghan being overwhelmingly positive.

The Duke of Sussex and Meghan have come under heavy criticism, particularly in the UK tabloid press, after they stepped back from the Royal Family.

Scrutiny of the couple intensified following a revealing interview on Oprah and a Netflix documentary.

The couple’s public appearances have been less frequent since they moved to California and set up the Archewell Foundation. Meghan was last in England in September 2022.

There has been significant online speculation about a possible return to the UK to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Invictus Games – set up in 2014 by Prince Harry.

Meghan’s latest appearance comes during a difficult period for the Royal Family as the King undergoes cancer treatment and the Princess of Wales recovers from abdominal surgery in the UK.

They have been put further under the microscope by the appearance of Kate Middleton’s maternal uncle, Gary Goldsmith on Celebrity Big Brother.

Goldsmith has criticised Meghan on the ITV reality show and reportedly claimed that Prince William has offered an olive branch to his brother.

On Friday evening, he became the first housemate evicted from Celebrity Big Brother on ITV.

Earlier, Prince Harry’s memoir Spare was shortlisted for the British Book Awards in two categories.