The Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service agency, has accused employees of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, of having taken part in the Hamas’ 7th October attacks on the Israeli kibbutzim. On its part, the UN agency was swift in denying the accusations and denouncing Israel’s targeting of schools and shelters set up for displaced people in the Strip.
On the eve of the meeting of the Court of Justice in The Hague, with Israel called by South Africa to answer for “attempted genocide in Gaza”, the Israeli military radio denounced that, among the Hamas militiamen who committed the 7th October attacks, “were employees of UNRWA”. The broadcaster cited information received by the Shin Bet and other indications according to which UNRWA, despite being considered a humanitarian organisation, cooperated in “terrorist activities”.
Israeli military spokesmen have repeatedly accused UNRWA of having supported Hamas by turning a blind eye to the terrorist group’s activities. In its report, military radio mentioned “the opening of entrances inside UNRWA schools that were directed towards Hamas military tunnels, the use of school buildings to store combat vehicles, and teaching texts glorifying armed struggle”.
Various Israeli media then picked up a report from the NGO ‘Un-Watch’, according to which internal messages exchanged on Telegram between UNRWA employees on 7th October showed widespread support for Hamas’ action. Israel also put online, in anticipation of the The Hague meeting, a site entitled ‘October 7 2023, Hamas Massacre: Documentation of Crimes Against Humanity’, with gruesome photos and videos. The sudden attack led to the killing of more than 1,200 Israelis and the kidnapping of more than 200 others in towns, kibbutzim, and military bases in the Gaza area. Shortly thereafter, Israel reported killing many of the perpetrators of the ‘Flood’ operation – at least 1,500 Hamas members. Following that, Israel has killed more than 23,570 Arabs in its ongoing retaliatory war on the Gaza Strip.
“We don’t want to displace the population of Gaza” – Netanyahu
“Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population,” assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an English-language video published late on Wednesday evening, on the eve of the opening of the trial against Israel on charges of genocide in The Hague. “I want some points to be absolutely clear,” he said. “Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population. Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists, not the Palestinian population, and is doing so in full compliance with international law.”
Israel refutes WHO claim of “humanitarian crisis”
Israel has refuted claims by the World Health Organisation that there is a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, saying that, “in terms of food, the reserves in the Gaza Strip are sufficient for the short term. There is no shortage of food in Gaza.”
The announcement was made by Moshe Tetro, an official of the Israeli Defense body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, speaking from the Kerem Shalom crossing, reopened by Tel Aviv to ensure the influx of a greater number of humanitarian trucks into the enclave. “Our analysis,” he explained, “shows that there is sufficient aid” in the Strip.
The United States has been pressuring Israel for weeks to bring more food, water, fuel, medicine and other supplies into Gaza, and on 22nd December the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for an immediate increase in deliveries. Two US senators who visited the Rafah crossing last week said a complicated process was slowing aid to the Palestinian population in the besieged territory, largely due to Israeli inspections of trucks loaded with aid. According to Tetro, the delivery of aid would be faster if the United Nations increased the number of workers able to receive and package the materials sent. He added that more trucks were needed to transfer aid to Israel for security checks and that working hours at the Rafah crossing should be extended.
Qatar’s new proposal for release of hostages
Qatar has drawn up a new proposal for the release of Israeli hostages in Gaza, which has been presented to the Israeli war cabinet by Mossad chief David Barnea. The poposal, reported by television Channel 13, was drawn up after a recent meeting in Doha between the Prime Minister of Qatar and the families of the hostages. It includes the exile from Gaza of some Hamas leaders, but the movement would remain active within the framework of a “political horizon” for the Strip. All hostages would be released, but only in stages and in parallel with a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Similar glimmers of a hostage negotiation seem to be reopening, not only from Qatar but also from Cairo, where an Israeli delegation arrived.
Exile of Hamas leaders ‘just an illusion’
Hamas has already frozen hopes of success of the Qatari proposal, with its representative Osama Hamdan, from Lebanon, saying: “Talks about the exile of the resistance forces are just an illusion”, adding that “the idea of disarming the resistance is not based on reality”. In the patient diplomatic weaving of the USA – another protagonist of the negotiations to break the deadlock – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken instead saw Mahmoud Abbas, who then left for Aqaba in Jordan for a meeting with Jordanian King Abdallah and Ehyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi.
“Abbas committed to reforming the Palestinian Authority” – Blinken
US Secretary of State Blinken, visiting the Middle East, has said that “the countries of the region want a Palestinian state”. Describing the meeting with President Abbas on X, Blinken wrote: “I met with Abbas to discuss ongoing efforts to minimise civilian harm in Gaza, speed up the delivery of humanitarian aid, end extremist violence, and work towards an independent Palestinian state.”
Blinken later said the Palestinian leader was committed to carrying forward a path of reforms of the Palestinian National Authority. Blinken was speaking during a news conference in Bahrain, yet another stop on his regional tour which yesterday saw him in Ramallah, in the West Bank, specifically to meet Abbas.
“What I appreciate from this meeting is that he is committed to this and is ready to move forward,” Blinken said, in response to a question. To the Palestinian president, Blinken – challenged upon his arrival in Ramallah by protesters calling for ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Stop the genocide in Gaza’ – reiterated that the White House was in favour of “tangible steps” for the creation of a Palestinian state. Abbas replied that “Gaza was an inseparable part of the Palestinian state, and we would not allow any attempt to uproot our people from the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Strip”. The Palestinian leader pledged, however, to “reform” the PA, as reported by Blinken himself.
UNSC approves draft condemning Houthi attacks
As the Israeli-Hamas war in the Middle East enters its 97th day, the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution condemning and calling for an immediate halt to attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels against merchant ships in the Red Sea area. The resolution, sponsored by the United States and Japan, says the attacks hinder global trade “and undermine navigational rights and freedoms, as well as regional peace and security”. The vote saw 11 member countries in favour and none against, with four abstentions: Russia, China, Algeria, and Mozambique. Immediately before the vote, the Council rejected three proposed Russian amendments.
Haley and DeSantis in hostile Republican debate
In their most hostile encounter yet, Republican potential candidates for President, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, attacked each other early and often in the Republican primary debate rather than focus on Donald Trump, the absent front-runner, as both tried to demonstrate they were the strongest alternative to the former president.
DeSantis and Haley called each other liars and insulted each other’s records and character in the opening minutes of the debate. They seemed to relish the chance to go head to head without their lower-polling rivals interrupting, as in past debates. The one-on-one format displayed their sharp differences over issues ranging from foreign policy to abortion, less than a week before the Republican primary process begins in Iowa. But it was unclear whether the debate could reshape a race that’s been dominated by Trump, who had the stage to himself at a separate Fox News event in Des Moines, where he was seldom challenged and teased the audience about whom he’d pick as his running mate.
As DeSantis and Haley teared into each other, Trump said on Fox News: “We will win in New Hampshire, even if the state allows Democrats and independents to vote in the Republican primaries.” The former president cited polls that put the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley just seven points behind him. “I have won twice in this great state, I will do it this time too,” he underlined.
China described Lai as “a grave danger”
China has called William Lai, the Democratic Progressive Party’s presidential candidate in Taipei on Saturday, a “grave danger”. Chen Binhua, spokesperson for the Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office, “expressed hope that compatriots in Taiwan will see the grave danger of Lai’s incitement of cross-Strait conflict and make the right choice at the crossroads,” according to a statement carried by state media, echoing Beijing’s arguments about the island’s crucial vote as a choice between “peace and war”. China calls Lai a “troublemaker” with pro-independence positions.
Soldiers patrol streets in Ecuador
Hundreds of soldiers patrolled near-deserted streets in Ecuador’s capital on Wednesday after the government and drug mafias declared war on each other, leaving residents gripped with fear. The crime gangs also declared war on the government when President Daniel Noboa announced a state of “internal armed conflict” following the prison escape on Sunday of one of Ecuador’s most powerful narco bosses. At least 10 people have been killed in a series of attacks blamed on gangs. The trans-national cartels ship cocaine to the US and Europe. President Daniel Noboa on Tuesday gave orders to “neutralise” criminal gangs after gunmen stormed a TV studio and bandits threatened random executions of civilians and security forces.
Main photo: Mahmud HAMS / AF