The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in an extraordinary meeting in Jeddah on Wednesday termed the attack on the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza a “war crime”, strongly rejecting the Israeli claims that it was not behind the bombing.
The extraordinary meeting of the OIC Executive Committee was held in Jeddah on Wednesday, the same day when US President Biden was in Israel for showing solidarity with the Jewish state, and his country vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Israeli atrocities.
To rub the salt on the Palestinians’ wounds, Biden endorsed Israeli claims that its forces didn’t bomb the hospital. But the OIC meeting co-chaired by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia challenged the Israeli and US version and squarely blamed Tel Aviv for the “brutal” attack.
Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani represented Pakistan at the urgent open-ended ministerial meeting of the OIC Executive Committee, strongly condemning the Israeli atrocities.
“Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, who was also attending the executive meeting, accused Israel of “intentionally” bombing the hospital, saying that the Gaza Strip’s residents were being subjected to genocide.
A joint communique issued after the meeting strongly criticised the UN Security Council for failing to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe but more importantly launched a broadside against the Israeli backers for their “double standards”.
The statement held Israel’s backers responsible for encouraging the Jewish state to commit atrocities with impunity. But the most significant part of the joint statement was the OIC’s rejection of Israeli claims on the Gaza hospital massacre.
The OIC, as per the joint statement, strongly condemned the blatant targeting by Israel’s brutal occupation forces of al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza Strip that killed at least 500 innocent sick, injured, and displaced civilians.
The OIC’s joint communique stressed that the hospital bombing represented “a war crime, extermination, and a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, ethics, and international and humanitarian instruments”.
It urged the international community to act swiftly and to hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for these heinous war crimes against the Palestinian people and humanity at large, calling for immediate intervention to halt the massacre.
“Israel, the occupying power, bears full responsibility for the fate of civilians in the Gaza Strip and the real tragedy they are subjected to under bombardment, siege, and starvation, without electricity, food, or clean water, while being forced to abandon their homes,” it said.
It also denounced Israel for its “policy of indiscriminate collective punishment that it applies in a flagrant violation of international law and international humanitarian law, as well as its legal responsibilities as the occupying power in accordance with the Geneva Conventions”.
The OIC underscored the importance of preserving the lives of all civilians. It also demanded an end to the military escalation, lifting of the siege on the Gaza Strip, and contributing urgently to the entry of relief and humanitarian aid for civilians.
The bloc rejected calls for the forced displacement of the Palestinian population from their land; thus transferring the crisis to neighbouring countries and exacerbating issue of Palestinian refugees.
It affirmed support for the steadfastness of the Palestinian people on their land.
The 57-nation Muslim bloc expressed regret and condemnation of the failure of the UN Security Council and its inability to discharge its responsibilities by taking a decisive decision to halt the war crimes carried out by the Israeli occupying forces in the Palestinian territory.
It called upon the United Nations and the Security Council to assume its responsibilities and take urgent measures to ensure an end to the brutal and barbaric aggression against the Palestinian people, allow the entry of humanitarian aid and stop the escalating humanitarian catastrophe.
It warned against escalation in attacks by the Israeli army and settler terrorism, weaponised and protected by the occupation forces, in Al-Quds Al-Sharif and the West Bank. It demanded full protection of Al-Aqsa Mosque as well as prevention of the violation of the sanctity of sacred places in Al-Quds.
The OIC deplored the international positions that backed the brutal aggression against the Palestinian people, and grant Israel impunity, taking advantage of the double standards that provided cover for the occupying power and fuelled the conflict, which would only lead to increased violence and destruction.
In view of the deteriorating situation, the executive committee agreed to convene the Council of Foreign Ministers (OIC-CFM) in Jeddah to recommend measures to the 57-nation bloc on the renewed hostilities in the Middle East.
The executive committee convened after an overnight blast at the al-Ahli Arab Hospital caused by an Israeli air strike killed about 500 Palestinians, the bloodiest single incident in Gaza since Israel launched an unrelenting bombing campaign on Oct 7.
As rage at the hospital carnage spread throughout the Middle East, the White House backed the Israeli claim that it was not behind the bombing, as US President Biden landed in Israel to show America’s solidarity with the Jewish state.
More than a million people have fled their homes in the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected Israel invasion that seeks to eliminate Hamas’ leadership after its deadly incursion earlier this month.
Aid groups warn an Israeli ground offensive could hasten a humanitarian crisis.
The war that began Oct 7 has become the deadliest of five Gaza wars for both sides, with more than 4,000 dead. In a sign of boiling Arab anger, the leaders of Egypt and Jordan and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called off their planned summit with Biden.
The White House said that a current intelligence assessment showed Israel was “not responsible” for the explosion at a Gaza hospital, but that information was still being collected. It said that the assessment was “based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information”.
In further support of Israel, the United States vetoed a UN resolution that would have condemned violence against all civilians in the war, including the Hamas attacks against Israel, and would have pushed for humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote that President Biden was in the region engaging in diplomacy to secure the release of hostages, prevent the conflict from spreading, and stress the need for protecting the civilians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the government, on the request of Biden, decided to allow Egypt to deliver limited quantities of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, saying that it would “not thwart” deliveries of food, water, and medicine as long as the supplies did not reach Hamas.
Biden on Wednesday said that Israel had agreed to allow humanitarian assistance to begin flowing into Gaza from Egypt with the understanding it would be subject to inspections and that it should go to civilians and not the Hamas.
“Let me be clear, if Hamas diverts or steals the assistance, they will have demonstrated once again that they have no concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people,” Biden said.
The US president also said an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance would be delivered to Gaza and the West Bank.
Simultaneously, the US announced sanctions against a group of 10 Hamas members and the Palestinian financial network across Gaza, Sudan, Turkey, Algeria and Qatar as it responded to the surprise attack on Israel that left more than 1,400 people dead and 199 kidnapped.
At the destroyed al-Ahli Hospital, the Gaza health ministry was still trying to firm up a final death toll from the Israeli bombing. It revised the death toll down from 500 to 471 but did not elaborate on how authorities reached that figure.
Staff members at the al-Ahli Hospital said they could not gauge the toll because the blast had “dismembered so many bodies”. Many survivors recounted that their friends were “torn to pieces” by the blast. “No one knows anyone,” said a survivor. “They became pieces, all of those poor people, civilian citizens.”
Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan praised the cancelling of a summit in Jordan between Arab governments and the US President. He called for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Israel to “rise up against the Zionist enemy and clash with it in all cities, villages, and camps”.
Meanwhile, fierce Israeli airstrikes continued to hit houses in Gaza City and the southern border town of Rafah.
Near the port, survivors said an Israeli air strike hit a three-story building belonging to the Haboush family, killing 40 people and wounding 25 others.
In the central Gaza Strip, an air strike hit a bakery at the Nuseirat refugee camp, igniting a massive fire in which four bakers were killed. Dozens of other bakeries across Gaza were forced to shut down due to lack of water and electricity.
The Palestinian interior ministry in Gaza said Israel renewed airstrikes before dawn on Wednesday.
At least 37 people were killed following the attacks in the al-Qasasib and Halima al-Saadia areas of Jabalia, north of Gaza, it said.
A Hezbollah spokesperson said the Lebanese Red Cross had collected the remains of four of the group’s men, who were pronounced dead on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Jihad group denied Israel’s claim that it was behind the deadly blast at al-Ahli Hospital. (WITH INPUT FROM AGENCIES)
Climate fund hailed, but ‘needs billions rather than millions’
The launch of a climate “loss and damage” fund drew praise and hundreds of millions of dollars in pledges at the UN’s COP28 talks on Thursday but also warnings that much more is needed to help vulnerable nations.
“We have delivered history today,” the UAE’s COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber told delegates who stood and applauded after the decision’s adoption in Dubai.
The announcement was followed immediately by financial pledges, including 225 million euros ($246 million) from the European Union, $100 million from the United Arab Emirates, another $100 million from Germany, $40 million from Britain, $17.5 million from the United States and $10 million from Japan.
After years of dragging their feet on the issue, wealthy nations backed the fund in a landmark agreement at the COP27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, last year.
Its launch on the first day of COP28 follows fraught negotiations on the mechanics of the fund, which will be housed at the World Bank on an interim basis.
“This sends a positive signal of momentum to the world,” Jaber said.
He said it was “the first time a decision has been adopted on day one of any COP and the speed in which we have done so is also unique, phenomenal and historic.”
“This is evidence that we can deliver. COP28 can and will deliver,” he added.
Environmental activists hold a banner during a climate strike action in Paris, France, June 23, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
But the money pledged so far fall well short of the $100 billion that developing nations — which have historically been least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions — have said are needed to cover losses from natural disasters.
“The progress we’ve made in establishing a loss and damage fund is hugely significant for climate justice, but an empty fund can’t help our people,” said Madeleine Diouf Sarr, chair of the Group of the 46 Least Developed Countries.
The Alliance of Small Island States — among the most impacted by rising seas and other effects of climate change — said “the work is far from over”.
“We cannot rest until this fund is adequately financed and starts to actually alleviate the burden of vulnerable communities,” it said.
“Success starts when the international community can properly support the victims of this climate crisis, with efficient, direct access to the finance they urgently need,” the group added.
Rachel Cleetus, policy director of the climate and energy programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the financial commitments should be “in the billions, not millions”.
“Millions would be an insult given what’s happening already around the world,” Cleetus told reporters.
“We want to hear the starting point is a conversation about billions and then a plan to scale it up by 2030 so that it meets the needs that are clearly rising,” she said.
The fund will be housed in the World Bank for four years, a decision that developing nations begrudgingly accepted as the Washington-based institution is dominated by Western powers.
Its board members must now be appointed and represent wealthy and developing nations, and their first steps will be critical in building up its credibility.
A European diplomat said the first contributions will enable the financing of pilot projects and to test how the fund works before seeking more money “in a year or a year-and-a-half”.
Developed countries, the US chief among them, insisted that contributions be on a voluntary basis, and want richer emerging powers such as China and Saudi Arabia to open their wallets, too.
US climate envoy John Kerry said the government would work with Congress to provide the $17.5 million pledge and said the US expects the fund to “draw from a wide variety of sources”.
Richard Sherman, the South African co-chair of the committee that oversaw negotiations, acknowledged that “the outcome might not be satisfactory to all people.
“We certainly know that our colleagues in civil society have been shouting at us.”
‘Let us be a lesson’, Kazakhs wary of return to nuclear testing
As Russia warns of the rising risk of nuclear war, and relations with the United States sink into a deep freeze, communities close to the vast Soviet-era nuclear testing site in northern Kazakhstan have a message for leaders: “Let us be a lesson.”
Hundreds of tests were carried out between 1949 and 1989 on the barren steppe near the city of Semey, formerly known as Semipalatinsk, close to the Kazakh-Russian border. The effect of radiation had a devastating impact on the environment and local people’s health, and continues to affect lives there today.
Many nuclear proliferation experts believe resuming testing by either nuclear superpower more than 30 years after the last test is unlikely soon.
But tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led to increasingly hostile rhetoric, and the arms control architecture built since the Soviet Union’s collapse more than three decades ago has begun to unravel.
In early November, President Vladimir Putin revoked Russia’s ratification of the 1996 global treaty banning nuclear weapons tests. Moscow says it will not lead to a resumption of testing unless the United States does first.
“Let our suffering be a lesson to others,” said Serikbay Ybyrai, local leader in the village of Saryzhal, who saw tests being carried out some 20 km (12 miles) away when he was a boy. “If this (testing) resumes, humanity will disappear.”
When devices were detonated above ground – until 1963 when tests went underground – authorities would order local people out of homes and schools because of fears that ground tremors might cause buildings to collapse.
“I remember I was about five years old,” said Baglan Gabullin, a resident of Kaynar, another village that lived under the shadow of nuclear testing.
He recalled how adults would instruct him and his friends not to look in the direction of the blast.
“We were small, so on the contrary, out of curiosity we looked. The flash was yellow at first, and then the black mushroom grew,” he said.
Kazakh authorities estimate up to 1.5 million people were exposed to residual radioactive fallout from testing. Over 1 million received certificates confirming their status as victims of tests, making them eligible for an 18,000-tenge ($40) monthly payout.
‘Everyone started dying’
Maira Abenova, an activist from the Semey region who set up a non-governmental organisation protecting the rights of nuclear test victims after losing most family members to diseases she said were related, urged politicians not to allow nuclear escalation.
“As someone living with the consequences of what you could call 40 years of nuclear warfare, I think we can tell the world what we have gone through,” she said.
There is little reliable data on the specific health impact of testing in Kazakhstan.
But scientists say exposure to radioactive material on the ground, inhalation of radioactive particles in the air and ingestion of contaminated food including local livestock contributed to increased cancer risk and cases of congenital malformation.
UN climate talks open in oil-rich UAE, pressure for urgent action
The UN climate conference opened Thursday with nations urged to make faster cuts to planet-warming emissions and phase out fossil fuels as scepticism swirls over the oil-rich United Arab Emirates hosting the talks.
The two-week-long negotiations in a vast exhibition venue in Dubai come at a pivotal moment, with emissions still climbing and the UN saying this year is likely to be the hottest in human history.
World leaders, Britain’s King Charles III and activists and lobbyists are among more than 97,000 people jetting into the flashy Gulf city, which boasts the world’s tallest skyscraper, one of its busiest airports, and an indoor ski slope.
Double the size of last year’s conference, COP28 is billed as the largest-ever climate gathering and the UN and hosts the UAE say they will be the most important since Paris 2015.
There, nations agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial era, and preferably to a safer limit of 1.5C.
But scientists say the world is off-track, and the nearly 200 nations gathering for COP28 must commit to accelerating climate action or risk the worst impacts of a warming planet.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said leaders should aim for a complete “phaseout” of fossil fuels, a proposal opposed by some powerful nations that has dogged past negotiations.
“Obviously, I am strongly in favour of language that includes (a) phaseout, even with a reasonable time framework,” Guterres told AFP before flying to Dubai.
A central focus will be a stocktake of the world’s limited progress on curbing global warming, which requires an official response at these talks.
Hosts under fire
On Thursday, nations are expected to formally approve the launch of a “loss and damage” fund to compensate climate-vulnerable countries after a year of hard-fought negotiations over how it would work.
But it remains to be filled, with rich nations urged to make contributions so the money can start flowing.
The UAE sees itself as a bridge between the rich developed nations most responsible for historic emissions and the rest of the world, which has contributed less to global warming but suffers its worst consequences.
But the decision for it to host has attracted a firestorm of criticism, particularly as the man appointed to steer the talks, Sultan Al Jaber, is also head of UAE state oil giant ADNOC.
Jaber, who also chairs a clean energy company, has defended his record, and strenuously denied this week that he used the COP presidency to pursue new fossil fuel deals, allegations first reported by the BBC.
Christiana Figueres, who was UN climate chief when the Paris deal was reached, questioned the role of fossil fuel companies at COP and said she was “giving up hope” they could be part of the solution to warming.
Guterres said Jaber was in a better position to tell the oil industry that a fossil fuel phaseout was necessary than “if he was the member of an NGO with a very solid pro-climate record.”
“A very clear signal that the era of fossil fuels needs to end very rapidly is our litmus test for COP28,” said Romain Ioualalen, global policy campaign manager at Oil Change International.
Rule by consensus
Rallying a common position on the matter will be difficult at COP where all nations — whether dependent on oil, sinking beneath rising seas or locked in geopolitical rivalry — must take decisions unanimously.
The UAE hopes to marshal an agreement on the tripling of renewable energy and doubling the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.
Nations will navigate a range of thorny issues between November 30 and December 12, and experts say geopolitical tensions and building trust could be a huge challenge.
At the opening of the conference, delegates were asked to pause for a minute’s silence for civilians killed in the Gaza conflict.
On the sidelines of COP, Israeli President Isaac Herzog will hold talks with diplomats on the release of hostages held by Hamas, his office said. He is also scheduled to speak on Friday within minutes of Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority.
Neither US President Joe Biden nor Chinese President Xi Jinping are attending, though Washington is sending Vice President Kamala Harris.
But the US and China, the world’s two biggest polluters, did make a rare joint announcement on the climate this month that spurred optimism going into COP.
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