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US completely ends funding for UN’s Palestine refugee agency

Palestinian officials have sharply criticised a US decision to halt funding to the United Nations’ agency assisting Palestine refugees across the Middle East, calling it a “flagrant assault” against Palestinian people.

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Palestine

JERUSALEM, Palestine: Palestinian officials have sharply criticised a US decision to halt funding to the United Nations’ agency assisting Palestine refugees across the Middle East, calling it a “flagrant assault” against Palestinian people.

The comments on Friday came shortly after the US government, a major ally of Israel, announced that it was stopping its funding to the United Nations Relief Works and Agency (UNRWA) after determining the organisation to be an “irredeemably flawed operation”.

Also read: US threatens India with sanctions if it buys Russia’s S-400 missiles

In a statement, the US State Department’s spokesperson Heather Nauert said that UNRWA’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years”.

“The administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA,” Nauert said.

The move came a week after the US announced that it was also cutting more than $200m in economic aid to Palestinians.

“The consecutive American decisions represent a flagrant assault against the Palestinian people and a defiance of UN resolutions,” Palestinian Authority spokesperson Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters news agency on Friday.

“Such a punishment will not succeed to change the fact that the United States no longer has a role in the region and that it is not a part of the solution.”

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from Washington, DC, said the US decision was “likely to considerably worsen an already dire situation in parts of the Palestinian territories, especially in Gaza”.

“They [the US] are justifying this largely on the grounds that the funding is mismanaged and that the agency itself wastes money and is inefficient,” Reynolds said.

“This is part and parcel, together with the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, of an effort by the Trump administration to really affect some radical changes and try to re-set the table in the Middle East.”

UNRWA was established in 1949 after 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes by Zionist paramilitaries in the run-up to the establishment of the state of Israel.

It currently provides services to five million Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Under the Donald Trump administration, the US government had previously slashed its budget to UNRWA operations in the occupied Palestinian territories from $365m to just $65m, resulting in work redundancies and a drop to part-time contracts for many of the agency’s Palestinian employees and full-time staffers.

In late June, the UN had asked member states to fill a critical funding gap caused by the US government’s funding cuts.

“The situation of Palestinians is defined by great anxiety and uncertainty, first because Palestinian refugees do not see a solution to their plight on the horizon,” Pierre Krahenbuhl, UNRWA’s director told a UN conference.

Earlier this week, UNRWA warned that if Washington went through with its funding cut it would likely result in greater instability in the region.

“You have to ask yourself the question: what would the Middle East look like if the most vulnerable people in that region were not to be receiving services from a UN humanitarian organisation,” agency spokesman Chris Gunness told Anadolu Agency.

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The US government is also pushing for a reduction of the number of Palestinian refugees, from five million to 500,000, and count only those who were directly displaced from their homes seven decades ago.

Consequently, millions of their descendants will be excluded.

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After Tehran talks, Syria and Russia forces step up Idlib attacks

Syrian government forces backed by their Russian allies have stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held territories in northwest Syria, killing at least six civilians, according to local activists.

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ANTAKYA, Turkey: Syrian government forces backed by their Russian allies have stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held territories in northwest Syria, killing at least six civilians, according to local activists.

The air raids and shelling on Saturday came a day after Russia rejected a Turkish call for a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province, where a major government assault aimed at recapturing the last rebel stronghold in the country is seemingly imminent.

Also read: Iran ‘to boost missile capacity, buy modern warplanes’

The attacks targeted areas in southern Idlib province and in the north of neighbouring Hama province, in what is seen as the biggest escalation over the past week.

One hospital in the village of Hass in southern Idlib was destroyed by a barrel bomb dropped from a helicopter.

Local activists told Al Jazeera that six civilians died in the bombardment, including one child.

According to Abd al-Kareem al-Rahmoun, a representative of the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group operating in rebel-held parts of Syria, the town of Qalaat al-Madiq in northern Hama province was targeted with more than 150 shells.

The shelling killed two men and wounded five others, including two children.

At least 26 people in rebel-held areas have been killed since the beginning of the month, the White Helmets said.

Rebel factions in northern Hama province responded to Saturday’s attacks with rocket fire and shelling of areas under government control, including the city of Salhab further west. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), there were no reported casualties.

On Friday, rebel shelling killed 10 people, including five children in the Christian-majority town of Maharda in western Hama province, SOHR reported.

Mohamad Haj Ali, commander of the First Coastal Division, which is part of the moderate opposition formation al-Jabha al-Wataniya lil-Tahrir (NLF), told Al Jazeera that despite the escalation, the battle for Idlib has not started yet.

“[The offensive was delayed] because of Turkish pressure on the Russians. We still hope for a diplomatic solution,” he said, adding, however, that he expects the offensive to be launched in the coming weeks.

If this happens, its first stage will target northern Latakia province and the area around the town of Jisr al-Shaghour in southern Idlib, he said.

In a separate development, clashes erupted between Syrian troops and Kurdish security forces known as Asayesh in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in northern Hasakah province.

Also read: Israel says it launched 200 strikes in Syria since 2017

At least 13 members of the government forces were killed and seven Asayesh fighters, according to SOHR.

Although Qamishli is fully controlled by Kurdish forces, Damascus has retained control of a military base in its outskirts.

The story was first published on Al Jazeera.

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Kashmir: Nine-year-old ‘gang-raped, eyes gouged out’

At least five people arrested, including the stepmother, for brutal gang rape and murder of nine-year-old child.

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Indian-occupied Kashmir

BARAMULLAH, Indian-occupied Kashmir: A nine-year-old child has been gang-raped and murdered in Indian-occupied Kashmir’s (IOK) Baramullah district, bringing back memories of the brutal gang rape of an eight-year-old in the Indian-occupied Jammu region of the state.

According to police reports, the child was reported missing on September 23 and was murdered on the same day.

Also read: US threatens India with sanctions if it buys Russia’s S-400 missiles

Five people have been arrested in connection with the case, including the stepmother and the stepbrother.

The girl was lured to a secluded spot in a forest by her stepmother and was raped in turn by her 14-year-old stepbrother, his friends and accomplices, the police said.

Later, the stepmother strangled her and the stepbrother swung an axe at her head. One of the men gouged out her eyes and burned parts of her body with acid to destroy evidence, the police added.

“There is conclusive evidence for murder, there is destruction of evidence in regards to rape. But we have got vital clues to prove the rape charges in the court,” Mir Imtiyaz Hussain, police chief in Baramullah district who is supervising the investigation, told Qatar media outlet Al Jazeera.

“We have identified the culprits. Our job will be complete when the culprits are convicted in a court of law,” he added.

Police say they found the decomposed body in a forest near her home in Uri on September 2, almost 10 days after she went missing.

‘Watertight case’

The father of the child had two wives and the first wife harboured acrimonious feelings towards the second wife and her daughter which spurred her to murder the child, police said.

The police said they are building a “watertight case” so the perpetrators are punished this time.

The case is the second such incident in the restive Kashmir region after the brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua earlier this year, which caused widespread revulsion across India.

The girl in Kathua was held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January.

Violence against women in the South Asian country is widespread and has deep roots.

In recent years, the country has witnessed renewed public outrage over the number of violent sexual assaults against women, especially children.

Crimes against minors

In July this year, doctors confirmed sexual abuse at a girls’ shelter in the state of Bihar, with children reporting being beaten, drugged, raped and scalded with hot water.

A child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India, according to NGO Child Rights.

Crimes against minors have risen more than 500 percent over the past decade, the right group said, after analysing government data.

In 2016, police in India received 38,947 reports of rape compared with almost 35,000 in 2015, according to data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau.

India has enacted strident anti-rape laws in response to nationwide outrage in the wake of a series of child rape cases.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has now been amended to introduce the death penalty for the rape of children below age 12.

But campaigners say laws, on their own, do not act as a deterrent.

Also read: Pakistan tells US it won’t bow down for Washington’s interests

“The brutal assault on this child tells us the law is not working. When you have death penalty for rape, they don’t just rape, but they murder and they destroy evidence like they tried with this girl by using acid,” Enakshi Ganguly, founder and adviser at HAQ Centre for Child Rights in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera.

“This case should be a lesson to the government. They rushed to bring the death penalty but the number of rapes have not gone down. What we are dealing with is what is happening behind closed doors, inside families. Our studies show in more than 70 percent of child abuse cases, the rapists are known to the family,” she added.

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Israel says it launched 200 strikes in Syria since 2017

Military sources say the attacks are mostly aimed at preventing Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.

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JERUSALEM, Palestine: Israel has launched more than 200 air attacks against Iranian targets in Syria over the past year and a half, a senior Israel official revealed.

The officer in the Israeli army said on Tuesday the air raids included the dropping of about 800 bombs and missiles on mostly arms shipments as well as military bases and infrastructure.

Also read: UAE used Israeli spyware ‘to target Qatari emir, Saudi prince’

Later on Tuesday, Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz confirmed the report, calling Iran’s military presence in Syria a “red line”.

“Only just now it was published – in the name of military sources, so I can quote it too – that in the last two years Israel has taken military action more than 200 times within Syria itself,” Katz said.

“Understanding the significance of this matter in terms of preserving the red line, preventing things that Iran has done, is doing and trying to do against Israel from Syria.”

In August 2017, the outgoing chief of Israel’s air force told Haaretz newspaper that his corps had carried out “nearly 100 strikes” in Syria.

That left another 100 in the time since, according to the official Israeli accounts issued on Tuesday – roughly two attacks per week.

Israel, which monitors neighbouring Syria intensively, has long alleged that Iran came to assist the Damascus government, in part, to set up a permanent garrison there, effectively forming an extended anti-Israel front with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran, Israel’s arch foe, has been a core supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the seven-year-old war, sending military advisers as well as material and regional Shia armed groups that it backs.

Israel’s strikes on Syria have been largely ignored by Russia, Syria’s big power backer.

Also read: Argentina refuses to play Israel friendly

On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman signalled that the country could also attack suspected Iranian military targets in Iraq, where Reuters has reported the deployment of ballistic missiles by Tehran.

Briefing reporters on Tuesday, a senior Israeli military officer who requested anonymity said that Israel believed Iran was using Iraqi territory as a conduit for missile transfers to Syria.

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