U.N. warns Gaza blockade could force it to sharply cut relief operations as bombings rise

Published - October 25, 2023 08:21 pm IST

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees warned on October 25 that without immediate deliveries of fuel it will soon have to sharply cut back relief operations across the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded and hit by devastating Israeli airstrikes since Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel more than two weeks ago.

The warning came as hospitals in Gaza struggled to treat masses of wounded with dwindling resources, and health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory said the death toll was soaring as Israeli jets continued striking the territory overnight into Wednesday.

The Israeli military said its strikes had killed militants and destroyed tunnels, command centres, weapons storehouses and other military targets, which it has accused Hamas of hiding among Gaza’s civilian population. Gaza-based militants have been launching unrelenting rocket barrages into Israel since the conflict started.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said the airstrikes killed at least 704 people between Monday and Tuesday, mostly women and children. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death tolls cited by Hamas, which says it tallies figures from hospital directors.

The death toll was unprecedented in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even greater loss of life could come when Israel launches an expected ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas militants.

In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters the U.S. could not verify the one-day death toll. “The Ministry of Health is run by Hamas, and I think that all needs to be factored into anything that they put out publicly.”

Israel said on Tuesday it had launched 400 airstrikes over the past day, an increase from the 320 strikes the day before. The U.N. says about 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now internally displaced, with almost 6,00,000 crowded into U.N. shelters.

Gaza’s residents have been running out of food, water and medicine since Israel sealed off the territory following the attack on southern Israel by Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

In recent days, Israel allowed a small number of trucks filled with aid to come over the border with Egypt but barred deliveries of fuel — needed to power hospital generators — to keep it out of Hamas’ hands.

The U.N. said it had managed to deliver some of the aid in recent days to hospitals treating the wounded. But the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the largest provider of humanitarian services in Gaza, said it was running out of fuel. Officials said they were forced to reduce their operations as they rationed what little fuel they had.

“Without fuel our trucks cannot go around to further places in the strip for distribution,” said Lily Esposito, a spokesperson for the agency. “We will have to make decisions on what activities we keep or not with little fuel.”

Meanwhile, more than half of Gaza’s primary healthcare facilities, and roughly a third of its hospitals, have stopped functioning, the World Health Organization said.

Overwhelmed hospital staff struggled to triage cases as constant waves of wounded were brought in. The Health Ministry said many wounded are laid on the ground without even simple medical aid and others wait for days for surgeries because there are so many critical cases.

The Health Ministry says more than 5,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war, including some 2,300 minors. The figure includes the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital last week.

The conflict threatened to spread across the region, as Israeli airstrikes hit Syrian military sites in the south on Wednesday, killing eight soldiers and wounding seven, according to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency.

The Israeli military said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, its jets had struck Syrian military infrastructure and mortar systems in response to rocket launches from Syria.

Israel has launched several strikes on Syria in recent days, including strikes that put the Damascus and Aleppo airports out of service, in an apparent attempt to prevent arms shipments from Iran to militant groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Israel has been fighting the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah across the Lebanese border in recent weeks.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah met on Wednesday with top Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in their first reported meeting since the war started. Such a meeting could signal coordination between the groups, as Hezbollah officials warned Israel against launching a ground offensive in Gaza.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran was helping Hamas with intelligence and by “whipping up incitement against Israel across the world.” He said Iranian proxies were also operating against Israel from Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. Fighting also erupted in the West Bank, which has seen a major spike in violence.

Islamic Jihad militants said they fought with Israeli forces in Jenin overnight. The Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank said Israel killed four Palestinians in Jenin, including a 15-year-old, and two others in other towns. That brought the total number of those killed in the occupied West Bank since October 7 to 102.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the proportionate response to the October 7 attack is “a total destruction” of the militants. “It is not only Israel’s right to destroy Hamas. It’s our duty,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s Queen Rania accused Western leaders of a “glaring double standard” for not condemning Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians in its ongoing bombardment of Gaza, in an interview aired on the day.

“The people all around the Middle East, including in Jordan, we are just shocked and disappointed by the world’s reaction to this catastrophe that is unfolding. In the last couple of weeks, we have seen a glaring double standard in the world,” she told CNN.

“When October 7 happened, the world immediately and unequivocally stood by Israel and its right to defend itself and condemned the attack,” she said. “But what we’re seeing in the last couple of weeks, we’re seeing silence in the world.”

“Are we being told that it is wrong to kill a family, an entire family, at gunpoint, but it’s OK to shell them to death?” she asked.

Israel calls for resignation of U.N. chief Guterres after he tells Security Council Hamas attacks did not happen in vacuum

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s comment to the Security Council that attacks by Hamas “did not happen in a vacuum” angered Israel, which called for the UN chief’s resignation and apology.

Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Eli Cohen, who participated in a Security Council ministerial meeting on the Israel-Gaza situation in United Nations, was scheduled to meet Guterres later Tuesday afternoon in the UN headquarters.

Cohen cancelled his meeting with Guterres after remarks by the UN chief to the Security Council angered Israel, accusing him of “tolerating and justifying” terrorism.

Addressing the council, Guterres said the situation in the Middle East is growing more dire by the hour and the war in Gaza is raging and risks spiralling throughout the region.

The UN chief said it is “important to also recognise the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation”.

“They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing,” Guterres said in the meeting, which was also addressed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” Guterres said.

In a post on X, Cohen said he “will not meet with the UN Secretary-General. After the October 7th massacre, there is no place for a balanced approach. Hamas must be erased off the face of the planet!”

Later talking to reporters at the UN Security Council stakeout, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan lashed out at Guterres, saying his remarks in the council are “unfathomable”.

“You, Mr. Secretary General, have lost all morality and impartiality. Because when you say those terrible words that these heinous attacks did not happen in a vacuum, you are tolerating terrorism and by tolerating terrorism, you are justifying terrorism.”

Erdan said that Hamas beheaded babies, burnt families, raped women and abducted kids, babies and Holocaust survivors, but the Secretary-General is blaming Israel and the victim.

“This is a pure-blood libel. This is a pure-blood libel. And I think that the Secretary-General must resign because from now on every day that he’s here in this building unless he apologises immediately today, we called him to apologise, there is no justification to the existence of this building,” Erdan said.

Erdan said the UN building was established to prevent atrocities. “How can the Secretary-General, with his words, justify in any way the terrible atrocities that happened to our civilians, innocent civilians?”

Cohen, addressing reporters at the Security Council, said: “There is not two sides” and “there is only one side to support”.

“Therefore, I decided to cancel my meeting with the Secretary-General later on today since we need a clear and loud voice in regards to what happened,” Cohen said.

“We are fighting for Israel but we also fighting for the entire free world. Otherwise, West will be the next but we are determined to do everything to eliminate” Hamas “totally”.

Erdan, visibly angry, said the meeting with the Secretary-General had to be cancelled “because I’ve been serving here for the last three years and I saw and I felt the impartiality of the Secretary-General and how he gives the feelings that he doesn’t really care”.

A spokesperson for Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, in response to questions about the Israeli Foreign Minister cancelling his meeting with the Secretary-General, said: “This afternoon at 4:30 p.m., the Secretary-General will meet with family representatives of the hostages held in Gaza. They will be accompanied by a representative of the Israeli Permanent Mission to the United Nations.”

‘Too premature to comment...’: NCERT on reports about move to change ‘India’ to ‘Bharat’ in textbooks 

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) on Wednesday said that “it is too premature to comment” on reports in sections of the media concerning changing ‘India’ to ‘Bharat’ in its textbooks and noted that development of new syllabus and textbooks is in the process for which groups of domain experts are being notified by it.

NCERT said that since “the development of new syllabus and textbooks is in the process and for that purpose various Curricular Area Groups of domain experts are being notified, it is too premature to comment on the news being flashed in the media on the concerned issue”.

A high-level NCERT panel, headed by historian C.I. Issac, had earlier recommended replacing ‘India’ with ‘Bharat’ in school textbooks. The recommendations were made by the seven-member Committee for Social Sciences which is among the committees constituted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training to prepare position papers on various subjects.

However, NCERT director Dinesh Prasad Saklani denied reports that the proposal of the Social Sciences panel has been approved. The high-level NCERT committee made its recommendations in the final position paper on social sciences.

Speaking to ANI over the phone, Issac said the “term India started being used commonly only after the establishment of the East India Company and the battle of Plassey in 1757”.

“We have unanimously recommended that ‘Bharat’ should be used in textbooks for students across classes,” Isaac said. Saklani said the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) is the official document for the curriculum.

“Nowhere in it, it is written that the name should be changed. These are rumours. No such thing is being done. Whosoever has claimed must show documents. We haven’t done it,” Saklani told ANI. The panel chaired by Issac was among the 25 committees formed by the NCERT in December 2021 to prepare position papers on various subjects and themes.

A controversy had broken out over the panel recommendations with some Opposition leaders alleging that “confusion” was being created as several institutions use ‘India’ in their names.

Bureaucrat halts study on air pollution in Delhi; State Environment Minister demands his suspension 

Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai on October 25 said that Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) Chairman Ashwani Kumar has ended on an ongoing study to find sources of air pollution in Delhi on a real-time basis.

Rai said that the DPCC chairman has overturned the Delhi cabinet’s decision taken last year to conduct the study and termed it as an “anti-people” decision by the bureaucrat.

“Today we have sent a note to the Chief Minister that Ashwani Kumar should be suspended as the DPCC chairman and take disciplinary action against him. Secondly, release ₹2 crore to IIT Kanpur, so that the study can be resumed. Also, a review of the study be done after this winter season by qualified scientists of this field so that further decisions can be taken,” Rai said while addressing a press conference.

Rai said that the study was being done to understand what actually causes pollution on a real time basis and make plans accordingly to control it. The study was to be done at a cost of ₹12.7 crore.

This comes against the backdrop of an ongoing power tussle between the AAP government and the Central government-appointed Lieutenant-Governor on control over the bureaucracy in the Delhi government.

“This is not the first time that Delhi government’s officers have stopped pro-people works. Since the GNCTD Amendment Act came and before it the GNCTD Amendment Ordinance came, since then in the Delhi government, one after the other, decisions that benefit the people are being stopped by the officers,” Revenue Minister Atishi said at the press conference.

On May 19, the Centre issued an ordinance that seeks to amend the Government of National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi Act, 1991 and effectively negates the May 11 Supreme Court judgment that gave the AAP government the power to make laws and wield control over bureaucrats deputed to the Delhi government.

Supreme Court cites hurried trial to set aside death penalty in child rape-murder case

The Supreme Court has set aside the death penalty of a man in the rape-and murder of an infant, saying the hurried trial of 15 days did not exude an aura of “judicial calm” necessary for an impartial and fair verdict.

The trial of the accused Naveen, a street-dweller, took place between April 27 and May 12 of 2018. The trial overlooked crucial evidence, including DNA proof and examination of the forensic experts. Naveen’s counsel argued his client was not given a proper opportunity to defend himself. It was contended that the death sentence would result in the “deprivation of his life in breach of the procedure established by law”.

A three-judge Bench of Justices B.R. Gavai, P.S. Narasimha and P.K. Mishra ordered the case to be tried afresh. The judgment said the case hinged on circumstantial evidence such as DNA, forensic and viscera reports. Each one of them had to be brought up in trial, examined and confronted by both sides.

Justice Mishra highlighted how cases dealing with serious offences should not be tried in a hurry. Such hasty trials were against the “principle of judicial calm”.

“The essence of a fair and impartial trial lies in the steadfast embrace of judicial calm. It is incumbent upon a judge to exude an aura of tranquility, offering a sanctuary of reason and measured deliberation. In the halls of justice, the gavel strikes not in haste, but in a deliberate cadence ensuring every voice, every piece of evidence, is accorded its due weight. The expanse of judicial calm serves not only as a pillar of constitutional integrity, but as the very bedrock upon which trust in a legal system is forged,” the Supreme Court observed.

Defining the term ‘fair trial’, Justice Mishra said it meant “a trial in which bias or prejudice for or against the accused, the witnesses, or the cause which is being tried is eliminated”.

The condemnation of an accused for a crime should only come after following the due process of law. Due process includes a “real” trial, not a sham or a mere farce and pretence. “Fair hearing requires an opportunity to preserve the process… a hasty trial in which proper and sufficient opportunity has not been provided to the accused to defend himself/herself would vitiate the trial as being meaningless and stage-managed. It is in violation of the principle of judicial calm,” the Supreme Court held.

In Brief:

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on October 25 promised to give woman head of family ₹10,000 annually in instalments if the Congress party is re-elected. He said, “Under the “Grah Laxmi Guarantee”, the woman head of a family will be given ₹10,000 a year.” Gehlot also promised to slash cooking gas cylinder to ₹500 to 1.05 crore families. He participated in a Congress rally that was held in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, in view of the Assembly elections that is scheduled on November 25.

Evening Wrap will return tomorrow.

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