Archive for the ‘humanitarian’ Category

Pentagon to show softer side to the world

March 25, 2009

After seven years of war, American foreign policy has become nearly synonymous with the brawny side of its military. But the US armed forces may now be moving to show a different face to the world.

Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended an admiral better known for humanitarian and diplomatic initiatives than for muscle-flexing to assume a critical command post in Europe.

By Gordon Lubold | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Adm. James Stavridis is an unusual choice to fill a job usually held by the Army. In his two years overseeing US military operations in South and Latin America, he has built a reputation for running a different kind of command – deploying hospital ships and soccer teams while contending with drug trafficking and corruption.

Stavridis may be able to bring that balance to Europe, where deliberations over Afghanistan over the next few years will be critical to that mission’s success.

“It’s a terrific appointment,” says Carola.

In this April 21, 2008 file photo, Adm. James Stavridis, talks ... 
In this April 21, 2008 file photo, Adm. James Stavridis, talks with reporters during a news conference in Lima, Peru. Stavridis is expected to be President Barack Obama’s choice to be the next NATO commander, succeeding Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock.(AP Photo/Karel Navarro, File)

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UN visits boat people detained in Thailand

January 29, 2009

U.N. officials were allowed to meet Thursday with boat people detained by Thailand and interviewed a dozen migrants as young as 14 about their perilous journey and allegations they were abused.

The meeting came after weeks of calls by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and rights groups for Thailand to provide access to the Rohingyas — members of a stateless Muslim ethnic group who fled persecution in Myanmar — and explain allegations that it forced out to sea as many as 1,000 migrants.

By AMBIKA AHUJA, Associated Press Writer

UNHCR officials were granted access to 12 young people, aged 14 to 17, from a group of 78 Rohingyas who were rescued by the Thai navy on Monday night, said Kitty McKinsey, the U.N. agency’s Asia spokeswoman.

“They were in good condition,” she said. “It’s a big step forward that we have gotten access to them. We’re now getting good cooperation from the Thai government to solve this issue.”

McKinsey said she would discuss their findings with Thai authorities before publicizing them, but reaffirmed the agency’s demand that Thailand not forcibly return them to Myanmar. A Thai court convicted the adult migrants detained with the minors of illegal entry on Wednesday, raising concerns they could be deported.

“In principal, the UNHCR is opposed to anyone being forcibly returned to Myanmar,” she said. “I think its human rights record is well known.”

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This photo released on January 20, shows illegal immigrants ... 
This photo released on January 20, shows illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar receiving food, in Similan island south of Thailand. (AFP/HO/File/AFP)

Myanmar, Thailand Force Hungry Refugees to Run, Or Deport Them To Where?

January 29, 2009

Dozens of migrants from Myanmar who washed up in Thailand this week were convicted Wednesday of illegal entry and will be deported, police said, raising fears that they may face persecution back home.

The 78 Muslim Rohingyas — 66 men and 12 teenage boys — were intercepted just after midnight Tuesday and taken into police custody amid accusations that the Thai military have abused other boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

 Thailand denies abusing migrants; sends some to trial

Colonel Veerasilp Kwanseng, commander of the Paknam police station where the Rohingya were detained, said the 66 adults were fined 1,000 baht (28 dollars) each for illegal entry, but could not pay so were jailed for five days.


A Thai soldier checks the documents of a Myanmar migrant travelling ... 
A Thai soldier checks the documents of a Myanmar migrant travelling in a boat in Thailand’s southern Ranong province. Dozens of migrants from Myanmar who washed up in Thailand this week were convicted Wednesday of illegal entry and will be deported, police said, raising fears that they may face persecution back home.(AFP/File/Tuwaedaniya Meringing)

“They will stay in prison until the term is finished and then immigration will take them before processing their deportation,” Veerasilp said.

The 12 Rohingya teenage boys who are under the age of 19 will not be jailed, but will be deported with the rest of the group, he added.

Accusations of mistreatment surfaced earlier this month after nearly 650 Rohingya were rescued off India and Indonesia, some claiming to have been beaten by Thai soldiers before being set adrift in the high seas to die.

Hundreds of the boat people are still believed to be missing at sea.

Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said the fact that the 78 Rohingya were processed by police rather than the army was positive, but said they continued to press for access to the migrants.

The UNHCR has asked to see another group of 126 Rohingya reportedly detained in Thailand earlier this month, but authorities have denied they exist.

The Rohingya are stateless and face religious and ethnic persecution from Myanmar’s military regime, forcing thousands of them to take to rickety boats each year in a bid to escape poverty and oppression, and head to Malaysia.

The Thai foreign ministry earlier Wednesday “categorically denied” reports that it had mistreated any migrants.

China Tries U.S. “Soft Power” With Hospital Ship

January 26, 2009

China’s military has a new weapon in the country’s soft-power arsenal that copies a technique long used by the United States – a 10,000-ton hospital ship to be deployed for humanitarian purposes in Asia and beyond.

The vessel, dubbed Ship 866, is meant to soften China’s image overseas and allay concerns among its neighbors over its navy´s growing strength, while at the same time adding to its military capabilities, analysts say.

By Chris O’Brien
The Washington Times

The ship’s arrival coincides with clear signs that the Chinese military is tentatively moving away from its policy of maintaining a low international profile to avoid provoking those who doubt its commitment to a “peaceful rise” doctrine.

Chinese warships last month began patrolling the pirate-plagued waters in the Gulf of Aden – the first time they have ventured out of the Pacific on a combat mission since the 15th century. A top Chinese defense military official said recently that China is seriously considering adding its first aircraft carrier to its naval fleet.

Ship 866 makes “the country one of the few in the world that has medical care and emergency rescue capabilities on the high seas while also raising the capability of the Chinese navy to accomplish diversified military missions,” the Communist Party newspaper People´s Daily said recently.

Specialized hospital ships have military purposes – to treat battlefield casualties and provide support to amphibious assault ships – but are used most often for humanitarian and disaster relief missions, said Robert Work, a naval analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

“A hospital ship becomes an extremely important symbol of a country´s soft power,” he said. “Even if it does have a military mission, 99 percent of its service life is probably going to be spent on soft-power missions.”

The United States has two dedicated hospital ships, each equipped with 1,000 hospital beds: the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy.

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Red Cross says Gaza humanitarian situation ‘shocking’

January 14, 2009

The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is “shocking”, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said after a visit to a hospital in the embattled territory.

“I saw this dramatic humanitarian situation. There’s an increasing number of women and children being wounded and going to hospitals,” Jakob Kellenberger told reporters in Jerusalem.

Israel Seriously Injured Itself During Gaza: “Is this the Israel you want to be?”

“It is shocking. It hurts when you see these wounded people and the types of wounds they have. And I think that in addition the number of people coming to these hospitals is increasing,” he said.

The Red Cross president called for improved access for ambulances inside Gaza seeking to recover the wounded and to rescue civilians sheltering from the fighting, saying Israel‘s daily three-hour pause in operations is “not sufficient.”


“It is a positive step that you have a three-hour stop in the fighting, for doing humanitarian work, but it is not sufficient,” he said.

“Civilians who are being wounded, who are being trapped with problems of hunger, without water, you must be able to say that you can reach them.”

Kellenberger — who also visited the Israeli border town of Sderot, which has been hit by hundreds of Palestinian rockets since the war began — urged both sides in the conflict to differentiate between militants and civilians.

He said medical supplies are holding up in Gaza, where over 1,000 people have been killed in heavy fighting and aerial bombardments since the December 27 launch of the largest-ever Israeli offensive on the territory.

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Day 17: Cease Fire Near? Hamas in Discussions; Israel “close” to achieving goals

January 12, 2009
The fighting in Gaza continued on Monday with both sides accused of possible dangerous changes in the nature of the battle.

But Israel paused the battle in Gaza at 10 AM Monday to allow humanitarian supplies to flow.
CNN said the halt in attacks started at 10 a.m. (3 a.m. ET) and was set to end at 1 p.m. (6 a.m. ET.) Israel will allow in 160 trucks of humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory through the Kerem Shalom and Karni crossings, Defense Ministry spokesman Peter Lerner said.

This was the fifth day of humanitarian re-supply allowed by Israel.



Human Rights Watch said Sunday that Israel’s military has fired artillery shells with the incendiary agent white phosphorus into Gaza.

Israel said Iran is exerting heavy pressure on Hamas not to accept the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire.

Hamas representatives met in Cairo with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Gen. Omar Suleiman and his aides to discuss ways of ending the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas representatives reiterated their opposition to a cease-fire that did not include the reopening of all the border crossings into the Gaza Strip.

Israel wants a new international inspection effort between Israel and Egypt to prevent the re-arming of Hamas.

Despite the tightening Israeli cordon, however, militants still managed to fire off a rocket Monday morning which fell near the southern town of Kiryat Gat but caused no casualties, police said.

On Sunday an Israeli official said the two-week-old military operation might be in its final days.

The Israel Defense Forces said that there has been a dramatic drop in the ability of Hamas to launch rockets against Israel, Haaretz reported. Currently, the launches have dropped by 50 percent compared to to the first day of Operation Cast Lead, 17 days ago.
By Peace and Freedom
From BBC News:
Medics in Gaza say latest casualties include at least 60 people affected by suspected phosphorus shells fired illegally near civilian areas.


An Israeli army spokeswoman strongly denied the report, saying all its munitions complied with the law.

An Israeli spokesman also denied Human Rights Watch allegations of multiple use of white phosphorus in the bombing.

Phosphorus shells are allowed to make smoke in battlefields. Their use where civilian may be harmed is prohibited.

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A burned Palestinian boy is helped as he leaves Kamal Adwan hospital in Gaza on Sunday.

A burned Palestinian boy is helped as he leaves Kamal Adwan hospital in Gaza on Sunday.


The Assiciated Press reported:

White phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon, and militaries are permitted under laws of warfare to use it in artillery shells, bombs and rockets to create smoke screens to hide troop movements as well as bright bursts in the air to illuminate battlefields at night.

Israel is not party to a convention regulating its use. Under customary laws of war, however, Israel would be expected to take all feasible precautions to minimize the impact of white phosphorus on civilians, Human Rights Watch said.

“What we’re saying is the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas like a refugee camp is showing that the Israelis are not taking all feasible precautions,” said Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst for the rights group. “It’s just an unnecessary risk to the civilian population, not only in the potential for wounds but also for burning homes and infrastructure.”

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The Jerusalem Post:



The New York Times Reported:

Egyptian and Jordanian officials are worried that they see a fundamental tenet of the Middle East peace process slipping away: the so-called two-state solution, an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.

If Israel does not assume responsibility for humanitarian aid in Gaza, for example, pressure could compel Egypt to fill the vacuum; Jordan, in turn, worries that Israel will try to push Palestinians from the West Bank into its territory.

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The Washington Post reported:

Israeli troops pushed deep into the Gaza Strip’s most populated area Sunday, producing some of the fiercest fighting of the 16-day war against Hamas as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that Israel is “close” to achieving its goals but is not there yet.

The Israeli advance marked a possible precursor to a new phase of the conflict, in which Israeli forces engage Hamas and its allies in sustained urban combat.

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What’s the endgame for Israel and Hamas in Gaza?

Tony Blair said sease-fire discussions are fruitful.
Tony Blair: Gaza Cease-Fire Agreement Ready

Gaza: U.N. Stops All Aid as “Too Dangerous,” Blames Israel

January 8, 2009

It is a recurring complaint from the United Nations, “It is Israel’s fault.”

That was the word today from U.N. aid workers after the UN shut down humanitarian supply efforts into Gaza.

“The U.N. is suspending its aid operations in Gaza until we can get safety and security guarantees for our staff,” spokesman Chris Gunness said. “We’ve been coordinating with them (Israeli forces) and yet our staff continue to be hit and killed.”

Palestinian demonstrators use sling-shots to hurl stones at ... 
Palestinian demonstrators use sling-shots to hurl stones at Israeli soldiers during a demonstration against Israel’s military operation in Gaza, in the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah,Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009. Israel resumed its Gaza offensive Wednesday after a three-hour lull to allow delivery of humanitarian aid, bombing heavily around suspected smuggling tunnels near the border with Egypt. Despite the heavy fighting, strides appeared to be being made on the diplomatic front with the U.S. throwing its weight behind a deal being brokered by France and Egypt.(AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)


By IBRAHIM BARZAK and STEVE WEIZMAN, Associated Press Writers

The United Nations halted aid deliveries to the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday, citing Israeli attacks on its staff and installations hours after it said tank fire killed one of its drivers as he went to pick up a shipment.

The United Nations has already demanded an investigation into Israel‘s shelling of a U.N. school in Gaza that killed nearly 40 people earlier this week. Israel and residents said militants were operating in the area at the time.

For a second straight day, Israel suspended its Gaza military operation for three hours to allow in humanitarian supplies. Shortly before the pause took effect, however, the U.N. said one of its aid trucks came under Israeli fire, killing the driver.

U.N. spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said the U.N. coordinated the delivery with Israel, and the vehicle was marked with a U.N. flag and insignia when it was shot in northern Gaza. The Israeli army said it was investigating.

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Gaza Wednesday Night: Fighting Continues, Cease Fire Efforts “Moving But Inconclusive”

January 7, 2009

As dark fell in Gaza this Wenesday, January 7, 2009, day 12 of the Israeli action called Cast Lead, fighting resumed between Hamas and Israeli forces in Gaza….

During the 1 PM to 4 PM humanitarian re-supply, Hamas attacked Israelis who responded.

But the day was significant still for the first stop in active combat with a three hour “time out” to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza.

U.N. Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said a three-hour truce is just not enough to alleviate the “deepening humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.  He wanted a longer, daily reprieve.

“We are feeding 750,000 (people) on a permanent basis,” Gunness said. “More than three hours a day are needed for that.”

Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Peter Lerner said three hours will have to be enough for now, and probably only every second day.

“We need to build on this three-hour window; we need to expand that window and let it lead to a permanent cease-fire,” Gunness said.

Israel agreed on Wednesday to send two diplomats to Cairo for cease fire planning.

Amos Gilad of the Defense Ministry and Shalom Turgeman, a political adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert  could travel to the Egyptian capital as early as Thursday.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that France is getting “very positive signals from the region” about the cease fire plan.

The plan is being put forward by France, Egypt and Turkey.

When asked about the plan, France’s President Sarkozy said “acceptance” by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  He did not mention Hamas or define further the state of agreement.

The Palestinian Authority said it supported the plan but Hamas remains “not totally engaged” according to one observer in the discussions.

Mark Regev, the Israeli spokesman sid, “Hamas cannot be allowed to rearm”

He said, “Isreal appreciates the ideas of the french President but often the devil is in the details.”

He said Israel is weakening Hamas but Hamas remains in control of the Gaza Strip and the group remains a threat to Israel….

Threats against Israel continued with a verbal attack from Hezbollah, Irael’s foe in battle in 2006.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday “all possibilities” are open against Israel and warned the Jewish state’s 2006 war with his party would resemble “a walk in the park” in the event of renewed conflict.

“We have to act as though all possibilities are real and open (against Israel) and we must always be ready for any eventuality,” said Nasrallah, whose Shiite militant party is backed by Syria and Iran.

Tens of thousands of Hezbollah supporters marched in support of Hamas today in Beirut.  They loudly protested the Israeli attack on Gaza.

From Peace and Freedom

Lebanese leftists burn effigies representing Egypt's President ... 
Lebanese leftists burn effigies representing Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak (L) and Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak during a protest in front of the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, against Israel’s attacks on Gaza January 7, 2009.REUTERS/Ali Hashisho (LEBANON)


AFP report on Hezbollah:


Read the CNN report:


The New York Times had this to report:
The day after Israeli mortar shells killed as many as 40 Palestinians, among them women and children, outside a United Nations school in Gaza, diplomatic efforts to bring the fighting to a halt intensified. France and Egypt and Turkey were working on a plan that would work to halt rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, open up crossings into Gaza from both Israel and Egypt, and end weapons smuggling from Egypt. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said the cease-fire plan had been agreed on, but Israel and Hamas both said that there were many details to be worked out. Israel was due to send officials to Cairo for further discussions.

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Gaza: Israel Mulling Cease Fire or Escalation

January 7, 2009

Israel is seriously considering the Sarkozy-Mubarak cease-fire proposal.

But Israel is already also considering an escalation of the fighting in Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday, “Despite increasing international pressure on Israel to withdraw its troops, a senior official confirmed that plans had been drawn up to move troops into the south as well.”

The Jerusalem Post report had this to say:
According to Israeli officials, the cease-fire proposal is based on the establishment of an international force to prevent the smuggling of weapons from Sinai into Gaza, which would see an increase in the number of US military engineers already on the Egyptian side of the border.

The IDF is conditioning its acceptance of a new cease-fire with Hamas on the establishment of such a supervision mechanism in the Gaza Strip and along the Egyptian side of the Philadelphi Corridor to prevent the smuggling of weaponry and explosives from Egypt.

Egypt said on Tuesday night that it was proposing an immediate cease-fire, followed by talks on long-term arrangements for borders and crossings.

Olmert, on a tour of the South Tuesday, laid out the principles for an end to Operation Cast Lead.

“It will stop when the conditions that are essential for Israel’s security are met,” Olmert said. “First and foremost, all terrorist operations against us must stop. The strengthening of the terrorist organizations via the smuggling of war material from Egypt into Gaza must also stop.”

Meanwhile, Israel said that it has agreed to set up a “humanitarian corridor” to ship vital supplies to the people in the Gaza Strip.

The office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a statement that the humanitarian corridor idea came from the UN Security Council, and he accepted it.

Under the plan, Israel would suspend attacks in specified areas of Gaza to allow the people to receive supplies. The statement early Wednesday said the goal was to “prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.”

Herb Keinon, Yaakov Katz and AP contributed to this report

Israel Proving in Gaza It Can’t Handle Iran

January 3, 2009

Israel can’t handle Iran.  That’s the lesson being learned by Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

“The IDF must move quickly to disengage, in order to free its attention for the paramount task of preparing a military blow to Iran, if diplomacy and deterrence fail. As long as the great threat of Iranian power is hovering, the smaller threats of Hezbollah and Hamas that derive from it will not be dispelled. Cast lead, heavy as it may be, is still easier to digest than enriched uranium. ”

That’s the view from Amir Oren of Haaretz.

The looming question after a week of Israel’s pounding of Hamas in the Gaza is: How is Israel prepared politically, militarily and internationally to deal with a nuclear Iran, or to short circuit Iran’s efforts to become a nuclear power?

Politically, Israel doesn’t seem to have a united enough leadership to carry out a larger military operation than the comparitively basic effort of Gaza.  The Olmert, Barak, Livni team has struggled to stay on the same page this last week and ultimately had to sequester itself from news coverage that exposed the disagreements.

Militarily, the Israel Air Force has shown us what it already proved against Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Air Forces can pound the hell out of buildings and people can be killed but without “boots on the ground,” enemies stay lurking in the ruins.

Yaakov Katz writes in today’s Jerusalem Post, “As early as Monday, senior Military Intelligence officials, tasked with providing targets for the Air Force, were saying behind closed doors that the ‘air operation had exhausted itself,’ and that it was time for the next stage.”

The army of Israel has been held back, for any number of reasons.  But this itself begs countless questions.  Is the fear of Israeli Army casualties too great?  Will the Army lose men to hostage situations and only make the matter worse?  Is the army being saved for another day?

Internationally, it is not at all certain that Israel’s last week has gained it any new strength or friends.  George Bush will be gone in a few weeks and then the entire diplomatic situation can change.  And among regional neighbors, Israel’s move on Hamas has opened wounds in Egypt and elsewhere.

In the media, Israel seems to be losing as the humanitarian situation in Gaza worsens.

If Israel cannot resolve the Gaza situation to achieve its aims soon, confidence that it can ever counter Iran will disappear.

As actor Jack Nicholson played the role of  hot-headed Col. Nathan R. Jessep in the film, “A Few Good Men,” he said the line, “You can’t handle the truth.”

For Israel, the Gaza situation may leave lasting truths that have to be faced. 

John E. Carey
Wakefield Chapel,Virginia


From Yaakov Katz:
In Gaza, Israel Works To Create Perceptions on the Ground

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz uranium ... 
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.(AFP/File/Atta Kenare)