Friday, 30 January 2015

IMF: Gaza war pushed Palestinian economy into recession

WASHINGTON (AFP) -- The war between Israel and Gaza drove the Palestinian economy of Gaza and the West Bank into its first contraction since 2006, the International Monetary Fund said Thursday.

While the West Bank managed a 4.5 percent expansion last year, Gaza's economic activity declined by about 15 percent, the IMF said, linking it to Israel's harsh bombing and shelling of the coastal enclave and slow progress on rebuilding.

Overall, the contraction amounted to about one percent of gross domestic product.

"Economic activity contracted in 2014, following the war in Gaza in the summer and mounting political tensions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem," the IMF said.

After a mission to assess the state of the economy, the IMF said a strong recovery this year was also in doubt due to Israel's continued refusal to hand over some $127 million worth of clearance revenues due to the Palestinian Authority on goods imported into the West Bank and Gaza.

"These represent about two-thirds of net revenues and are essential to the PA's budget and to the Palestinian economy," it said. more

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Kerem Shalom opened to allow goods into Gaza Strip

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities opened the Kerem Shalom crossing on Thursday in order to allow food aid and fuel into the Gaza Strip.

Raed Fattouh, a Palestinian official responsible for the crossing, said that 450 truckloads of goods for the trade, agricultural, and aid sectors were supposed to be allowed into Gaza.

Fattouh added that 150 trucks of those being allowed to cross are carrying gravel to be used in Qatari infrastructural projects.

He pointed out that fuel will also be allowed into Gaza.

The Kerem Shalom crossing is the only entry point for commercial and humanitarian goods from Israel into Gaza. more

Investigators: Israel fired on Gaza civilians carrying white flags

The Israeli military opened fire on a mass march of civilians who were carrying white flags and calling out “peaceful, peaceful” as they tried to exit Khuzaa village in southern Gaza, which had been under siege for three days, corralling them back into the village.

Those who were trapped in the village had tried to coordinate a safe evacuation with the International Committee of the Red Cross, but Israel’s shelling would not let up.

This is one of the many disturbing findings from one of the only international and independent fact-finding missions that Israel has allowed to access the Gaza Strip since the 26 August ceasefire that ended 51 days of intensive bombing.

Last week the mission published “No Safe Place,” a more than two hundred-page report on their findings from their forensic investigation. The mission’s aim was to assess the types, causes and patterns of injuries and deaths and to collect evidence for potential use in local or international justice mechanisms.

The investigation devotes special attention to the siege on Khuzaa, detailing the attempts civilians made to flee Israeli fire and finding that the army used people as human shields, executed civilians at close range, and intentionally neglected mortally wounded children. During the four days of heavy bombardment of the village, scores were critically injured. While the report refers to twelves deaths specifically, it says the total number of casualties remains unknown.

The report also finds that most of those who were killed during the summer assault were crushed to death, frequently in their homes, and often with other members of their family by their side. More than 142 families lost at least three members in a single strike. Recent casualty counts estimate the total killed as at least 2,257 and as high as 2,310.

Organized by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the investigation team consisted of international experts from the fields of forensic pathology, emergency medicine, pediatrics and health and human rights. more

Hundreds of thousands of children shell-shocked after the war in Gaza

From The Daily Telegraph - Sayed Bakr lived through a deadly missile bombardment in the darkest days of the war in Gaza.

But posing underneath a portrait of his closest brother, Mohammed, who he lost in that attack, proved too much. After volunteering to stand with the picture, the 12-year-old broke down and called for his mother.

Sayed and his friends were the target of one of the most harrowing episodes of last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. While playing football on the beach, they came under fire from an Israeli pilot who apparently mistook them for militants.

Four boys from the Bakr family died in the missile strike and four were injured. In the immediate aftermath, Sayed was left paralysed with terror, unable to speak, writhing hysterically against a wall.

Today, more than six months later, he is one of hundreds of thousands of children in Gaza who need treatment for shell-shock.

After his crying fits, nightmares and frequent violent outbursts he was given a course of powerful anti-psychotic drugs for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He no longer goes to school, and is frequently visited by visions of the blast.

"I used to dream that I was dead," said Sayed, speaking hesitantly in the living room of his family's spartan home, a few hundred yards from where the strikes happened. "I always saw my brothers and cousins running after me in the dream. When the missiles struck and we were running away, I was certain we were all going to die. "Even today I am in continuous fear. Whenever I hear a loud noise or a bang, I feel terror." more

Israeli gunboats fire at Gaza fishermen

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) – Israeli gunboats opened fire on Thursday morning at Palestinian fishermen off the coast in northwestern Gaza City, witnesses said.

According to the witnesses, fire from machine guns was heard from time to time off the coast during dawn hours. No injuries or detentions have been reported. more

Palestinian parties gather in support of Hezbollah in Gaza

Leaders representing major Palestinian parties and resistance groups in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday gathered to express their support for Hezbollah's strike against the Israeli military earlier in the day, calling for a "joint front" with the Lebanese movement.

The event, which brought together representatives of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and a number of others, was held to celebrate the attack that left at least two Israeli soldiers in the occupied Shebaa Farms dead.

The strike came as a response to an Israeli attack on Hezbollah forces inside Syria just over a week ago that left seven fighters dead, including a top Iranian general.

Attendees at the event distributed sweets in celebration of the operation, and leaders from each of the parties assembled express their hopes for a united effort with Hezbollah against the Israeli occupation. more

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Donor funding shortfall exacerbates Gaza crisis

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A massive shortfall in the $5.4 billion pledged for Gaza reconstruction by the international community last October is exacerbating an already dire humanitarian crisis for Palestinians displaced by Israel's summer offensive.

On Tuesday, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, the largest service provider in the Gaza Strip, announced that it was forced to stop a cash assistance program for tens of thousands of Palestinians to make repairs to damaged and destroyed homes.

The program also provided rental subsidies for Palestinians made homeless by Israel's military offensive.

"The generous pledges that were made in Cairo need to to be translated into money in the bank, and that money has not arrived," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Ma'an.

UNRWA has so far only received $135 million since the conference -- leaving a shortfall of $585 million -- and that money has been distributed to 8,000 Palestinians for reintegration payments and 7,000 for cash assistance.

Around 59,000 families also received funding to repair their damaged homes. Those awaiting funding will likely continue to live under tarpaulin tents in the ruins of their properties while at least 12,000 Palestinians remain in 18 UNRWA shelters.

UNRWA's director in Gaza, Robert Turner, said in a statement that it is "unclear" as to why donors have not fulfilled their pledges.

"People are desperate and the international community cannot even provide the bare minimum -- for example a repaired home in winter -- let alone a lifting of the blockade, access to markets or freedom of movement." more

Israel admits 2 soldiers killed, 7 wounded in Hezbollah attack

Two Israeli soldiers were killed and seven wounded when an anti-tank missile struck an Israel Defense Forces vehicle in the Har Dov area near the Lebanon border on Wednesday morning, as mortar shells were fired at nearby areas.

IDF forces responded with artilley fire, shelling several targets in southern Lebanon. A Spanish UNIFIL soldier was killed in the strikes.

Seven IDF troops were being treated at the Sieff Hospital in Safed and the Rambam Hospital in Haifa. Three suffered light to moderate wounds, and the rest were lightly wounded. The IDF said that no soldier had been kidnapped, despite earlier reports.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was meeting with China's foreign minister in Beijing, said Israel should respond in a "forceful and disproportionate manner" to the events, in the way that the U.S. or China would respond to similar events. He told his Chinese counterpart that he expects Israel to receive support from her friends in the world for such a response.

One of the mortar shells fired from Lebanon struck a home in Ghajar, a village which straddles the border, setting the structure alight. The mortar fire continued into the afternoon, aimed at the Hermon region. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for all of the attacks.

The IDF responded by shelling targets in southern Lebanon. Lebanese media quoted security officials as saying that Israel has fired at least 25 artillery shells into Lebanese territory. The officials said the shelling targeted the border villages of Majidiyeh, Abbasiyeh and Kfar Chouba near the Shebaa Farms area, according to Lebanese media.

A spokesman for UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force deployed in south Lebanon since 1978, said the UN is looking into the circumstances of the incident in which one of the force's soliders was killed. He did not disclose the nationality of the soldier, but local media reports said he was a Spanish national. more

Hezbollah hits Israeli convoy, kills 4 soldiers

From The Daily Star (Lebanon) - MARJAYOUN, Lebanon: Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli military convoy in the occupied Shebaa Farms, in south Lebanon Wednesday, killing four soldiers in a clear response to a recent Israeli airstrike.

Hezbollah issued a statement, it dubbed, "statement number 1," adopting the attack on the Israeli military convoy.

"At 11:25 [Wednesday morning] the Quneitra Martyrs unit targeted with appropriate missile weapons an Israeli military convoy comprising several vehicles and [transporting] Zionist officers and soldiers causing the destruction of several vehicles and inflicting many casualties on the enemy," the brief Hezbollah statement read.

"The ball now is in the Israeli court if the Israelis launch a wide scale response, Hezbollah will respond in kind," a senior political source told The Daily Star. "At this stage we cannot completely rule out this spiraling out of this incident into a full fledged war," he added.

The source said Hezbollah is expected to release a second statement that includes pictures and footage of the ambush.

A security source told The Daily Star that 30 shells were fired from the Israeli side across the Lebanese border following the midday attack that struck a convoy, damaging two vehicles. Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said the attack destroyed 9 vehicles. Al-Manar also reported the killing of a Spanish peacekeeper serving as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the attack.

Eye witnesses said Hezbollah responded to shelling of Lebanese territories from an Israeli position in the Ruweisat al-Alam area in the Shebaa Farms with projectiles.


Israeli rights group questions legality of targeting Gaza homes in war

From The Guardian - Serious questions have been raised by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem about the legality of Israel’s policy of targeting dozens of Palestinian homes during last summer’s war in Gaza – a strategy that led to hundreds of civilian deaths.

The report is the latest alleging serious breaches of international humanitarian law by Israel during the 50-day conflict. According to B’Tselem, the policy of striking residences led to the deaths of 606 people in 70 attacks on homes that it examined. Among the dead were 93 children under the age of five.

The claims come at a sensitive time for Israel following the announcement this month of an initial investigation by the international criminal court into whether war crimes were committed in Gaza.

Although a number of individual incidents are being investigated by the Israeli military attorney general, the specific policy of targeting residences is not under investigation, despite the high death toll. The issue could potentially be taken up by an ICC investigation.

The prosecution of the war is also being investigated by the UN Human Rights Council, by a commission of inquiry set up by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and by the Israeli state comptroller, Joseph Shapira, who has been tasked with investigating decisions made by Israeli political and military leaders.

The B’Tselem research follows hard on the heels of a report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel this month that strongly criticised the Israeli military’s system for warning Gaza’s citizens of impending strikes during the conflict, also citing the lack of safe evacuation routes and strikes against rescue teams.

In December, Amnesty International said the destruction of four high-rise buildings during the conflict was a war crime “carried out deliberately and with no military justification”. more

New death sentence issued by Gaza court condemned by PCHR

PCHR Calls for Immediate Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty as a Form of Punishment in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) renews its demand for the abolishment of the death penalty in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) as Gaza courts issued a second death sentence in 2015.

On Monday, 19 January 2015, the Court of First Instance in Gaza City, acting as a court of appeal, sentenced E. M. A. (24), from al-Maghazi refugee camp in the Central Gaza Strip, to death by hanging after convicting him of shooting and killing M. B. A. (68), from al-Maghazi refugee camp in a family dispute on 15 February 2009.

A first degree court had sentenced the aforementioned to life imprisonment on 9 March 2014, but the Prosecutor appealed the ruling, and the sentence was raised by the Court of Appeal to death.

It should be noted that the defendant was 18 when the first sentence was issued. more

Lebanon TV: 15 Israel soldiers killed in attack

BEIRUT (Ma'an) -- A Hezbollah attack on Israeli soldiers along the northern border with Lebanon killed 15 officers on Wednesday, a Beirut-based television network reported.

Sources close to Hezbollah told the Beirut-based al-Mayadeen that at least 15 Israeli officers have been killed after Hezbollah fighters attacked a convoy of military vehicles.

News sites in Israel, meanwhile, said only four soldiers were injured.

Israel's Channel 10 network reported that a military hummer came under attack by an anti-tank missile. more

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

UN halts Gaza house repairs saying donors failed to pay up

GAZA CITY (AFP) -- The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Tuesday that it cannot afford to repair Gaza homes damaged in last year's war with Israel because donors have failed to pay.

"The agency has exhausted all funding to support repairs and rental subsidies," the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said in a statement.

"$5.4 billion was pledged at the Cairo (aid) conference last October and virtually none of it has reached Gaza. This is distressing and unacceptable.

"It is unclear why this funding has not been forthcoming," it added.

UNRWA said that the homes of more than 96,000 Palestine refugees were destroyed or damaged during the conflict.

They made up the vast majority of the more than 100,000 homes that were hit during the 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas.

UNRWA said: "Some funds remain available to begin the reconstruction of totally destroyed homes."

But it added that cutting subsidies to displaced residents currently renting alternative accommodation could force large numbers back to UN schools and centres which are already sheltering 12,000 people.

"UNRWA in Gaza has so far provided over $77 million to 66,000 Palestine refugee families to repair their home or find a temporary alternative," it said.

"This is a tremendous achievement; it is also wholly insufficient... We are talking about thousands of families who continue to suffer through this cold winter with inadequate shelter. People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble. Children have died of hypothermia."

Two babies died in Gaza earlier this month as dozens of homes were flooded in brutal storms that brought freezing rain and gale-force winds.

Gaza's sole power station, which was damaged during the war, is struggling with a severe lack of fuel and is only able to supply the enclave with six hours of power per day. more

Israeli navy sinks Gaza fishing boat, detains four fishermen

A Palestinian fishing boat drowned, on Monday evening, after Israeli navy ships fired rounds of live ammunition at it in Palestinian waters, west of Gaza city. The soldiers also kidnapped four fishermen.

Eyewitnesses said the navy first fired live rounds at the boat, then used loud speakers ordering the four fishermen on board to jump in the cold water, and swim towards them.

The four were then cuffed and blindfolded, before they were taken to an unknown destination.

The boat belongs to members of the al-Habeel family, for whom fishing is their only source of livelihood.

The attack is one of hundreds of similar assaults and violations carried out by the Israeli army against the Palestinians in the besieged and impoverished coastal region.

The Israeli navy now targets Palestinian fishing boats almost on daily basis, in clear breach of the Egyptian-brokered truce agreement reached on August 26 of last year.

This agreement includes allowing Palestinian fishermen to sail within 6 nautical miles in the Gaza Sea, with an incremental expansion in the allotted area. more