BBC 2024-03-09 16:01:35


UNRWA: Sweden and Canada resume funding for UN agency for Palestinian refugees

Sweden and Canada have said they will resume aid payments to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

They were among 16 countries that paused funds after Israel accused at least 12 UNRWA staff of involvement in the 7 October attack by Hamas.

The UN is investigating, and France’s foreign minister is leading a review.

Sweden said on Saturday it would send 200 million kronor (£15m; $19m) initially, after UNRWA agreed to more checks on its spending and staff.

“The government has allocated 400 million kronor to UNRWA for the year 2024. Today’s decision concerns a first payment of 200 million kronor,” it said in a statement.

It comes after Canada said on Friday that it would re-start funding for UNRWA while investigations into the agency’s staff continue.

On 7 October, Hamas gunmen stormed across Gaza’s border into Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostage.

In response, Israel launched a campaign of air strikes and a ground invasion of the territory.

More than 30,900 people have since been killed in Gaza, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says, and the amount of aid reaching civilians has plummeted.

The UN has warned that a quarter of the Strip’s population is on the brink of famine and children are starving to death.

UNRWA is the biggest UN agency operating in Gaza. It provides healthcare, education and other humanitarian aid, and employs about 13,000 people there.

Its chief Philippe Lazzarini said he was “cautiously optimistic” donors would start funding it again within weeks.

He said the agency was “at risk of death” after major donor countries suspended funding following allegations in late January that a number of staff members were involved in the 7 October attack. Within days, Mr Lazzarini said an investigation was being carried out, and “to protect the agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance” these staff members had been sacked.

“What is at stake is the fate of the Palestinians today in Gaza in the short term who are going through an absolutely unprecedented humanitarian crisis,” Mr Lazzarini said.

The European Commission said earlier this month that it would release 50 million euros in UNRWA funding.

Sweden is the fourth largest contributor to the agency’s budget, and Canada the 11th largest, 2022 data shows.

Canada’s decision was announced in a statement on Friday by the country’s Minister of International Development, Ahmed Hussen.

He said it was made so that “more can be done to respond to the urgent needs of Palestinian civilians”, and “in recognition of the robust investigative process under way”.

The Canadian Armed Forces will also donate about 300 cargo parachutes to Jordan, so they can be used to airdrop supplies into Gaza.

  • Why food airdrops into Gaza are controversial
  • Key UN Gaza aid agency runs into diplomatic storm

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.

Meanwhile an internal draft document compiled by UNRWA and seen by the BBC has detailed widespread abuse of Palestinians, including UNRWA employees who were released into Gaza from Israeli detention.

In the document, former detainees describe an extensive range of ill-treatment.

It says: “Agency staff members have been subject to threats and coercion by the Israeli authorities while in detention, and pressured to make false statements against the Agency, including that the Agency has affiliations with Hamas and that UNRWA staff members took part in the 7 October 2023 atrocities.”

In a statement provided to the BBC, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) rejected specific allegations and said: “The mistreatment of detainees during their time in detention or whilst under interrogation violates IDF values and contravenes IDF and is therefore absolutely prohibited.”

Gaza aid ship expected to set sail from Cyprus

A ship carrying desperately needed humanitarian aid is expected to set sail this weekend, bound for Gaza.

The Spanish vessel, Open Arms, is scheduled to depart from Cyprus – the closest EU country to Gaza – and hopes to use a newly opened shipping route.

With no functioning port and shallow waters, it is still unclear where the ship will dock when it reaches Gaza.

The UN says a quarter of the Strip’s population is on the brink of famine and children are starving to death.

The ship, expected to reach Gaza in the next few days, belongs to the Spanish charity of the same name, Open Arms.

It will tow a barge loaded with 200 tonnes of food provided by US charity World Central Kitchen, Open Arms founder Oscar Camps told the Associated Press.

The ship is expected to depart Cyprus’ Larnaca port this weekend, and will take around two to three days to reach an undisclosed location off the coast of Gaza, Mr Camps told the news agency.

He added that the final mile of the journey – which is about 216 nautical miles in total – would be “the most complicated operation”, but added that he was not “concerned at all about security”.

At the destination point, a team from the World Central Kitchen has been building a pier to receive the aid, he said. The group has 60 kitchens throughout Gaza, where it will be able to distribute the food.

“What initially appeared as an insurmountable challenge is now on the verge of realization,” read a post on Open Arms’ X account.

“Our tugboat stands prepared to embark at a moment’s notice, laden with tons of food, water, and vital supplies for Palestinian civilians.”

World Central Kitchen said it had been preparing for the aid trip for weeks, waiting for the shipping route to open.

The maritime corridor was announced by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Friday, while she was in Cyprus.

That came a day after President Joe Biden announced that the US plans to build a temporary floating port to Gaza’s shoreline.

The Pentagon later said it would take up to 60 days to complete and need about 1,000 troops to build – none of whom would go ashore.

The port will be able to receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters, US officials said. Initial shipments will arrive via Cyprus, where Israeli security inspections will take place.

A Pentagon spokesman said the pier could help to deliver up to 2 million meals every day.

It is unclear whether, or how, the US’ temporary pier and the EU’s sea corridor will work together, as neither Mr Biden nor Ms Von der Leyen mentioned the other’s plans.

  • Why food airdrops into Gaza are controversial
  • Gaza desperately needs more aid but agencies can’t cope

Getting aid into the Gaza Strip has been increasingly difficult and dangerous – the World Food Programme paused its deliveries to northern Gaza last month, after its convoys endured “complete chaos and violence”, the organisation said.

With land deliveries near impossible, several nations have turned to air drops, but the situation in Gaza is so dire, the drops are an inefficient way of getting supplies to people.

And on Friday there were reports that five people had been killed by a falling aid package, when its parachute failed to open properly.

Israel’s military launched an air and ground campaign in the Gaza Strip 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.

The conflict has created a growing humanitarian crisis, and the UN has warned that famine in Gaza is “almost inevitable”.

At least 576,000 people across the Gaza Strip – one quarter of the population – are facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity and one in six children under the age of two in the north are suffering from acute malnutrition, a senior UN aid official warned last week.

Save the Children welcomed the recent international efforts to provide more aid into Gaza, but said children there “cannot wait” for the time it may take to build a temporary port to eat.

“They are already dying from malnutrition and saving their lives is a matter of hours or days – not weeks,” the charity said in a statement.

Doctors Without Borders said the US plan for a temporary pier was a “glaring distraction from the real problem”, urging Israel to facilitate the flow of supplies.

Additional reporting by Tiffany Wertheimer

Love Lies Bleeding is 2024’s most outrageous film

Full of blood, gore, and steroid-pumped bodybuilding, Rose Glass’s thriller starring Kristen Stewart follows Saltburn as the latest in a wave of wittily shocking films by female directors.
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In Love Lies Bleeding, the much-talked-about, brazenly disgusting and filthy new revenge thriller from indie darling distributor A24, gym manager, Lou (Kristen Stewart), tells ambitious bodybuilder, Jackie, (Katy O’Brian): “I want to stretch you”. It’s a remark that should be read (amongst other things) as a statement of intent from the movie’s British director. Rose Glass is on a mission to expand horizons. Luckily for us, going to extremes is what she does best.

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Love Lies Bleeding is the follow-up to Glass’s spectacularly bleak and soul-bruising 2022 horror film Saint Maud, and it sees the 34-year-old once again honing in on blood and gore. As well as, this time, excrement, cat-food, needles, guns, writhing bugs and vomit. Set in New Mexico, at the end of the 80s, it pivots on the bad behaviour of Lou’s father and brother-in-law (Ed Harris and Dave Franco). Yet, tellingly, the film hardly positions patriarchy-bashing lovers, Lou and Jackie, as “goodies” and, even as the credits roll, the script (which Glass co-wrote with her pal, Weronika Tofilska) throws curveballs.

Love Lies Bleeding tells a pumped-up story of lovers seeking revenge – one a gym manager, the other a bodybuilder (Credit: A24)

Glass’s movie can be dazzling. During one surreal sequence, a steroid-pumped Jackie literally rises to the occasion during a battle between Lou and her dad. No spoilers, here, but the CGI work is eye-smackingly beautiful. It’s also funny as hell – a typical visual gag sees Lou reading a book called Macho Sluts. The most gloriously perverse film of the year, Love Lies Bleeding is at heart a naughty alt-epic about what it means to “get nasty”. 

While all the actors ooze charisma, gorgeous, talented O’Brian is the star of the show. It’s not often you see a female romantic lead whose body takes up so much room. Though she is as soft-faced as Maria Schneider, her limbs resemble giant knotted loaves and, in silhouette, she’s hulking. A former martial arts star, O’Brian trained for roughly 10 weeks to create that look. In other words, the muscles are real.

By putting queer women at the centre of the story and viewing them through a female gaze, Glass is immediately shaking up the body horror genre – Anna Smith

The use of O’Brian’s brawn – in tandem with nerve-jangling sound effects, inventive VFX and the aforementioned gore – will raise the pulse of anyone interested in “body horror”. Where this sub-genre is concerned, David Cronenberg is generally viewed as king, yet Glass, without giving too much away, has found a way to build on the visceral transformations showcased with such verve by the Canadian auteur in movies like Shivers, The Brood and The Fly. Whether accidentally or by design, Glass makes Cronenberg’s most recent offering – 2022’s Crimes of the Future, a morose neo-noir, featuring Stewart in a small role – look tragically old hat.

Critic Anna Smith views Glass as a galvanising new force in horror cinema. “By putting queer women at the centre of the story and viewing them through a female gaze, Glass is immediately shaking up the body horror genre.” For programmer Grace Barber-Plentie, who selected Love Lies Bleeding for this year’s BFI Flare Film Festival, what makes Glass’s brand of body horror special is the “sense of humour and tongue-in-cheekness. The whole world is off-kilter and uncanny”.

Playful extremities

Nor is Glass a lone voice. Along with another UK director, Emerald Fennell – whose wildly wicked and often deliberately tasteless 2023 comedy Saltburn, revolves around sexually ambiguous, homicidal anti-hero, Oliver Quick – Glass is part of a wave of witty women who are a pleasure to watch because they’re in no mood to please.

Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn similarly stirred conversation for its wild provocations (Credit: Alamy)

Barber-Plentie sees an overlap between Love Lies Bleeding and the work of French director, Julia Ducournau, especially the latter’s playfully deranged, 2021 Palme d’Or winner Titane, about a girl with a titanium plate in her head who grows up to be a serial killer, and is impregnated by a car before passing herself off as a man’s long-lost son. “[In both] the body horror and provocative scenes sit in amongst fully fleshed out narratives. And both films subvert the idea of a ‘strong female character’, showing that physical and mental strength are two very different things.”

However Barber-Plentie also points out that there’s nothing new about transgressive female filmmakers. “For a very long time,” she says, “female directors have been ‘shameless’, in terms of the provocative images they’ve shown in their films.” She references Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day, made in 2001 and slated by critics upon its release. The movie, part of a movement dubbed New French Extremity, closes with a sexual cannibal, who’s just devoured a hotel maid, embracing his lonely young wife, who may or not have spotted the drops of blood on their shower curtain. “That last shot,” says Barber-Plentie, “is one of the most distressing and vivid images I’ve ever seen.”

Films made by female directors that contain shocking scenes are now part of the mainstream – Grace Barber-Plentie

What’s changed since the 2000s, according to Smith, is that audiences are now clamouring for such content, and “midnight movies”, as they used to be known, are all the rage, becoming commercial, not just cult, hits. “Money talks,” declares Smith. “The fact that critics and audiences supported Saint Maud and Promising Young Woman [Emerald Fennell’s violent feature debut] – albeit, in many cases, at home, during the pandemic – helped their producers to get financing and distribution for their next projects.”

Love Lies Bleeding has similarities with Julia Ducournau’s bizarre 2021 Palme d’Or winner Titane (Credit: Carole Bethuel)

Barber-Plentie agrees that so-called “outrageous” female directors currently have access to a bigger audience, and feels Fennell’s career, in particular, highlights this shift. “A film like Saltburn gained notoriety and went ‘viral’ really quickly. It was the talk of TikTok and was even featured on Gogglebox. Films made by female directors that contain shocking scenes are now part of the mainstream.”

To judge by the buzz surrounding Love Lies Bleeding, Glass’s fabulously flawed couple, Lou and Jackie, could soon be as omnipresent as Saltburn’s bathwater-drinking Oliver Quick. These days, stories spun by women don’t have to be nice (or niche). All hail a cultural revolution, that’s positively dripping with blood.

Love Lies Bleeding is out in US cinemas now and is released in UK cinemas on 3 May.

Anna Smith is host of the Girls On Film podcast. You can hear Rose Glass in the latest episode of Girls On Film.

The 38th BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival takes place 13-24 March at BFI Southbank and on BFI Player; Love Lies Bleeding screens at BFI Flare on 18 March.

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One dish reigns supreme for Ramadan in India

Chefs and homemakers rustle up a variety of dishes during Ramadan, but biryani – satisfying, filling and easy to make – may be the most popular dish in India.
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Ramadan (or Ramzan), the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is a month of piety. Beginning and ending with the appearance of the crescent moon, it’s a period of reflection and introspection, communal prayer, self-analysis and self-restraint. Sawm (to refrain), one of the five basic tenets of Islam, means refraining from food, drink, sexual activity, unkind thoughts and immoral behaviour.

The fasting, which begins at sunrise each day, is broken after sunset prayers with iftar, a meal shared with friends and family, in homes and mosques. Chefs and homemakers prepare a variety of dishes during Ramadan, but one dish reigns supreme across the Indian sub-continent: biryani.

[jump to recipe]

The fragrant, one-pot meal combines rice with meat (chicken, beef, goat, lamb, prawns or fish) and aromatic spices. Once prepared for royalty, biryani now reflects regional sensibilities and local traditions.

“Biryani is a complete one-pot meal that requires no accompaniment except maybe a mint raita [a curd-based condiment (yoghurt) with vegetables, mint and spices]. It’s popular throughout the year and during celebrations, more so during Ramzan because we are looking for food that is filling and convenient to cook, eat and digest – and help the body cope with the long day,” said Manzilat Fatima, a lawyer-turned-chef who descends from the erstwhile royal Awadh family and runs Manzilat’s restaurant in Kolkata.

The history of biryani in India goes back centuries. In her 2017 cookbook, Biryani, Pratibha Karan writes that the dish is thought to have been brought from Persia by Muslim conquerors who settled and ruled India from the 16th Century, with the word derived from the Persian word for rice, birinj. The expensive, hard-to-come-by ingredients such as saffron and cream meant that biryani was a dish for the kings.

Another legend traces the origins of the dish to Empress Mumtaz Mahal, who inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal in the 17th Century. On finding soldiers under-nourished during a visit to the army barracks, she asked the chef to prepare a special dish to provide balanced nutrition and biryani was born. However, this seems to be local lore, as food researchers seem to agree that biryani originated in Iran.

Chef Manzilat Fatima runs an eponymous restaurant in Kolkata (Credit: Manzilat Fatima)

Hala Parveez, who runs Hala’s Dastarkhaan, a catering business specialising in biryanis and kebabs in the US, said the name can be traced to the original Persian birinj biriyani, literally, fried rice. “The Indian subcontinent made the rich dish its own and grew to create as many as 500 variations cooked regionally,” she said.

The Mughals introduced cooking techniques and ingredients that are now integral to biryani, like saffron, which lends biryani its distinct yellow colour and aroma, and yoghurt, which helps tenderise meat and add a tangy flavour. They also introduced the dum cooking technique, which involves cooking rice and meat in a sealed pot over a low flame.

By the 18th Century, it was in the royal kitchens of the kingdoms of Awadh and Hyderabad that the methods of preparing biryani were perfected, with the rest of India adding varied ingredients depending on local palate preferences and availability.

Awadhi Biryani is one of the most popular varieties of biryani across India. “Amid the terrible famine of 1784, Asaf ud Daulah, the nawab [a Muslim ruler, similar to a prince] of Awadh, announced the construction of Asafi Imambara [a Muslim shrine in Lucknow], with 20,000 workers given a heavy, rice-based meal to sustain the long working hours,” said Fatima.

The nawab, who was surveying the construction site, couldn’t stop himself from asking for a serving of the biryani when he got a whiff of the aroma emanating from the large cauldron. “Biryani gained royal status immediately. To befit the king’s table, the vegetables were removed, and the dish was cooked with more refinement. Hence the addition of cream and saffron,” she said.

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Decades later in 1856, when Wajid Ali Shah, the 10th Nawab of Awadh, came to Calcutta after the British banished him from Lucknow, he asked the cooks at his palace in Metiabruz to make the biryani more filling with the addition of potato, then a not-so-common vegetable in India.

Today, the dish is a year-round favourite in India. The online food-delivery platform Swiggy reported that biryani was the company’s most-ordered dish for the eighth-straight year, with Indians ordering 150 biryanis per minute from the site in 2023.

Parveez believes there’s a reason for biryani’s popularity, especially during Ramadan. “It’s a time when one wants to cook and serve something that’s desirable, satisfying and pleases every kind of palate. The fuss-free biryani is the most popular choice.”

Biryani is popular throughout the year, but even more so at Ramadan (Credit: Teja Lele)

Awadhi Biryani recipe
By Manzilat Fatima

Serves 6

Method

Step 1
Wash and soak the rice for over an hour. Grind half the spices (cloves, cardamoms, mace, cinnamon) and leave the other half whole.

Step 2
In a thick-bottomed frying pan, heat the oil. Add the onions, fry till brown, and remove from pan. In the same oil, add the unmelted ghee, the whole spices, ginger and garlic. Add the mutton pieces. Saute on medium heat till nicely fried. Add the whisked curd, yellow chilli powder and salt. Add 3 to 4 cups of water and simmer till the meat is nearly done. Separate the meat and strain the stock. Keep aside.

Step 3
In another thick-bottomed frying pan, boil about 5 cups of water with the bay leaves, ground cloves and cardamom. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, add salt to taste and squeeze in the lime juice. Add the drained rice, keeping the flame on high. Cook uncovered for 8 to 10 minutes; you want the rice cooked about three-fourths of the way through (it should still have a crunch). Strain.

Step 4
Gently spread the cooked rice over the mutton in the other frying pan and sprinkle the stock over it. In a bowl, mix the ground mace and cinnamon with the saffron and kewra water and sprinkle over the rice. Scatter the 2 tbsp of melted ghee over the mix. Cover the pan with a lid and top with a heavy item so steam doesn’t escape. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or till the rice is fully cooked and all flavours are released. Mix well before serving.

Notes
Kewra water is an extract distilled from pandanus flowers. It has a floral, slightly sweet aroma, with hints of vanilla and rose.

Biryani is best made with long grain rice and extremely well-cooked meat that falls off the bone.

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