The day after


The economic plan to rebuild Gaza, Artillery shelling hammers Rafah despite international warnings, Hundreds of bodies uncovered from Nasser hospital in Khan Younis after Israeli Forces’ withdrawal, New independent UN report states Israel has not provided evidence to support its accusations against UNRWA, Violence on the rise in the occupied West Bank after US sanctions on settlers, UN leaders call for urgent action against scourge of sexual violence amid Sudan’s ongoing conflict, Lebanese Forces launched a meeting in Meerab calling for the implementation of UN resolution 1701, Lebanon’s State Security initiates eviction of Syrians from northern areas, Massive blaze incinerated Hamed al-Hassan refugee camp in Zahle, Amidst ongoing border clashes an Israeli strike killed a woman and her niece in south Lebanon, The Lebanese Parliament voted to extend the municipal and mayoral councils without amendment for at least one year, Man shot dead in Ain El-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in personal dispute, Thousands of people marched from Bourj Hammoud to Antelias to commemorate the 109th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Newly-approved law allows 2,100 Civil Defense volunteers to receive their salary, Depositors’ rights collective Mouttahidoun organised a protest against the Union of Arab Banks’ conference, New national body in Iran enforces the strict dress code for women, Egyptian syndicates to write a new page for the military-ruled country, Drowning incidents on the rise as Lebanon experiences escalating summer temperatures

We are, in all senses, trapped in the day after. In a very long, devastating October 8 – in the well-known frightening wait for a reprisal. In Gaza, in Nablus, in Jerusalem. In the border villages of southern Lebanon, in Beirut, in the Arab capitals – Damascus, Baghdad, Sanaa. In the commercial ships of the Red Sea, in street protests in Europe, at American campuses. At risk of losing a job, or being ostracized in the media for not having condemned Hamas. We are trapped in the day after the bombing of Al Shifa, in the day after the siege of Al Shifa, in the day after the discovery of horrendous mass graves: in Al Shifa, Nasser, and in who knows how many other hospitals searched, bloodied, raped, deliberately bombed in Gaza. In the gesture of digging up a body, recognizing its identity, washing it without clean water, mourning it without tears, notifying the family who has probably already been martyred, warning friends who are surely displaced, wrapping it in an anonymous white shroud which in some way does never exhaust: it seems there is still room for one more dead. The gesture of burial and sorrow. Or in that, not comparable but similarly obsessive, of looking at the images on the screens always-on – in disbelief that such horror is taking place just a few hundred kilometres away from us. We, still trapped in the day after the killing of the journalist Issam Abdallah, that of Farah Omar and Rabih Me’mari, of all the family members of Wael Al-Dahdouh.

It has been a day that saw adults paralyzed with dismay, children grow up before their time, amateur photographers transform into expert and fearless war reporters. A day in which the trauma of mourning, of displacement, of amputation, has not had time to be processed: suppressed by the vital search for daily bread, for the leftovers of occasional bread, for the flour saved from the blood of the fallen ones. Massacred in line while waiting for aid to be distributed. Day of suspended breaths and noses upturned in spotting a drone – a military plane – a comet of rockets. Of tight borders, closed airports, hasty goodbyes: see you soon, God willing. Of hope that the loved ones we no longer hear from are still alive. Trapped in the incalculable time of waiting for a response, of receiving a superstitious message: how are you – to avoid the hypothesis that the other, inevitably, is no longer.

In such a suspension of time, we can’t expect the day after the massacre to end anytime soon. Before history freezes in the global commemoration of yet another genocide – let us live the day after, in the mechanical, obsessive gestures of awakening. Let us count the bodies while the debris from yet another explosion has not yet settled; count the deaths to update the latest bulletin. 34,455. Count the days – 206 – as you would count the hours. Before having to deal with the legacy of this catastrophe.


In Lebanon

To defend Lebanon: Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea launched on Saturday, April 27,  a national meeting entitled ‘The 1701, to defend Lebanon’ at his party’s headquarters in Meerab. After the meeting, to which several parties and parliamentarians were invited, opposition MP Waddah Sadek read a closing statement, calling on the government “to implement resolution 1701 and immediately order the deployment of the Lebanese Army south of the Litani River and along the Lebanese-Israeli border.” 

UN Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted during the July 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, explicitly empowers the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the Lebanese Army to operate and maintain peace along the so-called Blue Line, which demarcates the border with Israel. It also provides for Hezbollah to be kept away from the border in exchange for Israel’s respect for Lebanese sovereignty.

“The possession of weapons outside state institutions, in particular the army, is a threat to Lebanese sovereignty, whoever is in possession of them and whatever the causes,” Sadek added. “The Lebanese Army enjoys the confidence of all Lebanese. It is up to the army to protect Lebanon’s borders and sovereignty against any foreign aggression, especially from Israel,” he said.

The statement was directly addressed to Hezbollah, which has been engaged in deadly fighting on the Lebanese-Israeli border since the start of the Gaza war last October, highlighting the need for its militias to withdraw to the interior of the country and make way for the Lebanese Army. Stating that all the military operations carried out in southern Lebanon have not helped Gaza, the Christian party’s leader pointed out that they were taken on the decision of Hezbollah alone, and the government had no voice in this regard. “No party has the right to throw a people into war,” he said. “We support the Palestinian cause, but we are against those who profit from it.”

The comments were quickly criticized by the Jaafarite mufti, Ahmad Kabalan, close to the Iran-backed party, who described the Meerab meeting as a “betrayal,” as well as “very dangerous because it goes beyond the red lines of national interests and attacks sovereignty, civil peace and the national pact.”

The meeting also touched on two other issues: the presidential election – as the office of Lebanon’s President has been vacant since Michel Aoun’s term expired in October 2022 – and the country’s porous border with Syria, an aspect linked to the killing of Lebanese Forces’ official in Jbeil, Pascal Sleiman, earlier in April. In this regard, the final text of the Meerab meeting called for “tighter control of the border with Syria and implementation of the agreement for the return of Syrian refugees to their country.”

On fire: Almost 500 Syrian refugees were displaced from the Hamed al-Hassan refugee camp, near Zahle, on Monday, April 22, after it was completely incinerated within an hour from the moment it caught fire – the National News Agency (NNA) reported. “As of the afternoon of April 22, increased security, transport, and business disruptions are likely over the coming hours in Zahle amid an emergency response to a structure fire at a refugee camp. The cause of the blaze is unclear,” the Civil Defense wrote in a statement. The cause of the fire remains unknown, probably being sparked by a short circuit.

The camp’s residents said they faced taunts and jeers from people that came to its proximity as the flames started to spread – coming amid increased discriminatory violence and policies targeting displaced Syrians in Lebanon. As Lebanon faces pressure from Cyprus’ authorities to curb illegal departures from its shores, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for a change in the allocation of aid to Syrian refugees in a way that enables their repatriation – despite international warning of the dangers returnees face in Syria.

The blaze noticeably worsened the air quality in the surrounding area – exacerbated by the tents’ close proximity, fuel and rubber stores. Fires have repeatedly erupted in Syrian refugee camps across Lebanon, at times killing and injuring residents. 

Evacuated: Lebanon’s State Security ordered displaced Syrians who did not meet its criteria for legal residence to evacuate their homes within two days after a door-to-door campaign in Kfeifan, Kouba, and Boustan al-Aassi, the state-run National News Agency reported. “These measures, pursued to their conclusion, are an implementation of government decisions, the Central Security Council, and governors in various Lebanese regions,” the statement read.

The raid, initiated on Thursday, followed eviction orders from North Lebanon Governor Ramzi Nohra who, along with other local authorities, on April 17 issued sweeping restrictive measures targeting Syrian nationals – issuing a directive requesting the State Security to evict Syrian nationals from three properties located in the northern village of Boustan al-Aassi within a deadline of 15 days.

After waves of crackdowns, mass deportations and arrests since last April, vigilante violence and new restrictions targeted Syrian refugees over the past two weeks – following the abduction and assassination of Lebanese Forces’ Executive Pascal Sleiman, whose body was found in Homs, Syria. Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called for the enforcement of “housing, work, transactions, and contracts” related restrictions targeting Syrians in Lebanon. 

Even before the killing of Sleiman, Lebanese politicians have been regularly calling for the immediate repatriation of Syrian refugees, whom they blame for Lebanon’s economic crisis. They assert that the current conditions in Syria allow for such a return, while the UN and other rights groups warn that this is not the case. Moreover, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati blamed the presence of Syrian refugees for Lebanon’s “high crime rate,” which he said is increasing “due to the crises the country has been facing, causing prison overcrowding that exceeds the capabilities of the Lebanese authorities.” Similar such claims have been made by Lebanese politicians, without providing evidence to support them.

Human Rights Watch and other rights groups previously reported that the army summarily deported thousands of Syrians, including unaccompanied children, to Syria in 2023, in violation of Lebanese law and Lebanon’s international human rights obligations. In March, a United Nations report indicated that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is aware of “13,772 individuals deported from Lebanon or pushed back at the border with the Syrian Arab Republic in approximately 300 incidents in 2023,” including 600 people in one day on November 8. It further stated that “local authorities in 27 municipalities took measures limiting the ability of Syrian refugees displaced in south Lebanon from finding alternative shelter,” following the cross-border hostilities between Israel and Lebanese and Palestinian armed groups that have been ongoing since October. Deportations of Syrian opposition activists and army defectors violate Lebanon’s obligations as a party to the UN Convention Against Torture and under the customary international law principle of nonrefoulment – that is, not to forcibly return people to countries where they face a clear risk of torture or other persecution.

Heavy fighting: Local rescuers and official media said an Israeli strike killed a woman and her niece on Tuesday, April 23, in south Lebanon, where Hezbollah and Israel have exchanged regular fire. The strike came as the Iran-backed group said it launched drone attacks on north Israel bases earlier in the day, in retaliation for the killing of a fighter Israel described as “significant.” Earlier Tuesday, in fact, Hezbollah said it launched “a combined air attack using decoy and explosive drones” that targeted two Israeli bases north of Acre, while Israel said they did not hit their targets.

A civil defense source told AFP that “a woman in her 50s and a 12-year-old girl have been killed” in an Israeli strike while several injured people from the same family were taken to hospital, as confirmed by Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency (NNA), adding that “six others were wounded in an enemy air strike on a house in Hanin,” near the Israeli border. “Enemy warplanes carried out a raid on a two-story house, firing two air-to-surface missiles and completely destroying it,” the NNA stated, noting that the building housed “a family that had not left since Israeli attacks started.” 

Southern Lebanon residents witnessed heavy Israeli bombardment as Hezbollah intensified its attacks, including particularly heavy casualties which on Wednesday hit its southernmost point since October 8. The same day, however, Israeli media Haaretz said the Israeli army moved two reserve brigades from the Lebanese border to Gaza. While Israeli strikes on southern Lebanon have almost daily hit and demolished residential buildings, mounting a civilian death toll of more than 50 people – including seven members of the same family killed after Israel struck their home in Nabatieh in late March -, Hezbollah’s attacks have mostly targeted military units, outposts and equipment. The Health Ministry’s latest figures compiled 1,359 casualties in southern Lebanon since October, among whom were 344 killed and 162 suffering from exposure to white phosphorus. Israel’s military claimed to have hit 40 Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon and to have eliminated half of the party’s commanders – while claiming 11 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed by the Shiite group’s attacks on its side of the border.

Personal dispute: On Friday, April 26, a man lost his life in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Saida after being fatally shot by another individual wielding a machine gun. The shooting, according to security sources from the camp, stemmed from a personal dispute between the two men. Ain al-Hilweh stands as the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, with a population exceeding 80,000, as reported by UNRWA figures from the previous year.

The Joint Security Committee, comprising of representatives from various Palestinian factions within the camp, is actively engaged in managing the situation in collaboration with all involved parties, the source confirmed.

A statement released by the National and Islamic Political Leadership, a coalition of religious figures and activists from the Saida region, addressed the incident, characterizing it as “the assassination of the young man” occurring amidst escalating security tensions within Ain al-Hilweh. These tensions, they noted, are tarnishing the Palestinian cause, particularly amid the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza. The statement condemned the “heinous crime” and stressed the imperative of apprehending the perpetrator and delivering them to the pertinent Lebanese security authorities.

The area had experienced deadly clashes the previous summer, pitting Islamist factions against the nationalist Fatah movement in the camp, resulting in a significant loss of life, displacement of hundreds, and extensive property damage. In September, a ceasefire agreement was reached among the Palestinian factions.

Extended: The Lebanese Parliament voted on Thursday morning to extend the municipal and mayoral councils without amendment, marking the third postponement of municipal elections, until May 31, 2025 at the latest.

The Forces of Change MPs earlier announced that they will not partake in a legislative session devoted to discussing a law proposal to extend the term of the municipal and mayoral councils for a year, saying they would appeal against the law if it was approved. Along with them, the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb, the Renewal Bloc, and independent MPs Bilal Hosheimy and Melhem Khalaf announced they would boycott the session. The Lebanese Forces also said they intend to appeal the extension if approved by Parliament, as they had already done the year prior – with an unfavorable ruling from the Constitutional Council maintaining the law.

Commenting on the Parliament session, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, MP Gebran Bassil, said that “we had two options: either vacuum or elections that would not happen,” the NNA reported. “We cannot lay the full responsibility on the Interior Minister, who believes that the current political climate in the country does not allow holding the elections,” he added, noting that “at the financial level, the advances have not been disbursed, and at the logistical level, the electors’ lists have not been distributed.” “We were heading towards vacuum, and any other opinion is an evasion of responsibility,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, despite a proposal from caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi to postpone ballot casting in insecure areas, refused to hold elections against a background of fighting with Israel.

Parliament also approved a law that will, for the first time, allow 2,100 newly employed Civil Defense volunteers to receive their salary. With some exceptions, Lebanon’s Civil Defense has long been staffed by unpaid volunteers – that was meant to change in August 2023, when more than 2,100 of them who had been putting out fires and rescuing citizens without pay for years were formally employed and promised salaries.

In the midst of the crisis: Amid Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, with the participation of Acting Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Wassim Mansouri, and the presence of 400 Lebanese and Arab figures, including financiers, bankers, and investors, inaugurated the conference on ‘Arab Economic Security in light of Geopolitical Changes’ on Thursday at the Phoenicia Hotel, Beirut, as reported by the NNA.

The two-day conference, the statement read, is organized by the Union of Arab Banks, in cooperation with the International Union of Bankers, and it “aims to provide Arab investors with a unique platform to explore promising investment opportunities in Lebanon and learn closely about the potential of these investments that may contribute to achieving economic development and stability, especially in terms of investing in productive sectors.”

At the opening, depositors’ rights collective Mouttahidoun organized a protest, the latest in a series of demonstrations the group has taken to oppose informal capital control measures imposed by commercial banks on foreign currency funds since October 2019. However, L’Orient-Le Jour reported, security forces outnumbered nearly four-to-one the dozen protesters.

Earlier last week, depositors and activists rallied outside Parliament to prevent MPs from attending a session on capital control held by the joint parliamentary committees, driven by the Mouttahidoun lawyers union’s statement claiming that the capital control will deprive depositors from their rights, describing it as a “disguised amnesty” and a “dangerously flawed” law. The adoption of a capital control law is one of the reforms requested by the International Monetary Fund to financially help crisis-hit Lebanon, as the joint parliamentary committees are studying the draft before referring it to Parliament’s general assembly. A session, last week, had ended without an approval as amendments protecting the rights of depositors had been introduced, while an earlier version had also been rejected, as the committees prompted the government to send an amended version.

Commemorating the Armenian Genocide: Thousands of people marched from Bourj Hammoud to Antelias on Wednesday, April 24, to commemorate the 109th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. “It’s astonishing that more than a century after the Armenian genocide began, we’re still facing it today,” former International Criminal Court First Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told L’Orient-Le Jour after an invitation to Beirut from the Armenian Patriarchate of Lebanon.

Serving as the first prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) from 2003 to 2012, Ocampo spent a few days in Lebanon just before the commemoration of the Armenian genocide on April 24. 

In August 2023, the Argentine lawyer said in a report that the Azerbaijani government had committed acts of genocide between 2022 and 2023 during the blockade of the Lachin Corridor in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The report came out just before Baku’s lightning offensive that led to the dissolution of the self-proclaimed republic and the exodus of over 100,000 Armenians.

Referring to the Azeri military offensive and blockade – and citing a declaration by the Azerbaijani Parliament that fundamentally denies the existence of Armenians, claiming that the whole of Armenia represents Western Azerbaijan – he claimed that “six genocides are still taking place in the world” while “nobody is talking about them.” The Armenian community, which is present all over the world, according to Ocampo, helps to raise awareness on this subject and to alert people about the genocides that are currently spreading to Tigrayans, Ethiopians, Burmese, and Gazans.

Unpredictable waters: The Civil Defense announced that a lifeless man was retrieved from the sea near Sour, in southern Lebanon, on Friday. Additionally, two individuals were saved and transported to the hospital for medical attention. In a separate incident, the Civil Defense reported rescuing five swimmers off the coast of Jbeil, north of Beirut. According to their statement, these individuals were struggling amidst hazardous waters, characterized by strong waves and swift currents.

As Lebanon experiences escalating summer temperatures, the combination of unpredictable weather patterns and an influx of beachgoers has led to a rise in drowning incidents. 

Notably, on April 19, two fatalities occurred from drowning near the Sour coast. Ali Safieddine, the head of Civil Defense in Sour, reported that two Syrians lost their lives while swimming, while two other Syrians and a Lebanese citizen, identified as a soldier in the Lebanese Army, were saved by Civil Defense personnel. They were promptly transported to the Lebanese-Italian hospital in the city for medical treatment. The victims, part of a larger group consisting of 30 individuals from the same family, had ventured to the beach on Friday. Despite warnings indicating that the swimming season had not commenced, the beach was closed off with wires and warning signs.


In The Region 

Gaza’s economic future: International and regional leaders held talks about the situation in Gaza on Sunday and Monday, April 28 and 29, in Saudi Arabia. Development agencies and Middle Eastern businesses have been meeting to discuss the eventual reconstruction of Gaza and to develop plans for its long-term economic future – seeking to transform the Strip into a commercial hub centered on trade, tourism and innovation.

The plan centers on a series of projects, including a deep-water port, a desalination plant, an online health care service and a transportation corridor connecting Gaza with the West Bank. The most forward-looking components, such as a new currency to replace the Israeli shekel, assume the establishment of Palestinian autonomy, which Netanyahu has vowed to resist.

But those plans are far removed from today’s dire reality. Israel has been bombarding the enclave for months, while it is still weighing whether to invade Rafah, the southern city where more than a million displaced Gazans are sheltering. Additionally, there seems to be no end to the war in sight, even though diplomacy continues. On Sunday, President Biden spoke to Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss a possible cease-fire deal, and top diplomats from the US and France travelled to the Middle East for more talks. Once the fighting ends, the transformation would cost tens of billions of dollars. The damage to Gaza’s crucial infrastructure has reached 18.5 billion dollars, according to the World Bank and the UN.

Moreover, Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Reuters reported, attended the meeting to update officials on a round of talks Egyptian negotiators held in Israel on Friday in an effort to restart stalled efforts to end the war in Gaza and return the remaining Israeli hostages. “There is now a bit of momentum for negotiations on the hostages and also a possible ceasefire,” Børge Brende, the World Economic Forum’s President, said, after Hamas released a video of two Israeli captives that suggested that they were still alive, and thousands rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday to push Israel to do more to fight for the release of the hostages.

Ready: In the night between Wednesday and Thursday, Israel stepped up airstrikes on Rafah after saying it would evacuate civilians from the southern Gazan city and launch an all-out assault despite allies’ warnings this could cause mass casualties. Medics in the besieged Palestinian enclave reported five Israeli airstrikes on its southernmost city early on Thursday that hit at least three houses, killing at least six people including a local journalist – while Rafah’s eastern part has been under constant artillery shelling as a senior Israeli official announced the military is “moving ahead” with its planned ground invasion, ignoring the international warnings to call it off.

Moreover, in the morning of Friday, Israeli forces fired at fishermen working off the coast of the city, killing at least one person and injuring another, according to local reporters. Israel maintains in fact strict control of Gaza’s territorial waters, and fishers trying to earn a living in the sea are often harassed, intimidated and even shot at by Israel’s navy. 

“We are afraid of what will happen in Rafah. The level of alert is very high,” Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, told Reuters on Thursday. “Some are leaving, they are afraid for their families but where can they go? They are not being allowed to go to the north and so are confined to a very small area.” A United Nations team visiting a site for a staging area and pier for maritime aid operations was forced to take cover in a bunker on Wednesday after the area came under attack, a spokesperson said on Thursday.

Overcrowded conditions and battered waste-management facilities, moreover, have caused more and more waste to spill into the streets of Rafah, creating a fertile environment for infectious diseases to spread. Months of Israeli bombardments have laid waste to many of Rafah’s waste management installations, including medical waste disposal centers, making it impossible to collect and dispose of waste properly. As temperatures warm up, this has caused the stench of waste to grow strong in some parts of Rafah, particularly near evacuation centers and hospitals. As a result of the unsanitary conditions, infectious diseases, such as hepatitis A, are spreading rapidly, particularly among vulnerable groups such as women and children.

Israel has killed at least 34,305 Palestinians, Gaza health authorities said. The offensive has laid to waste much of the widely urbanized enclave, displacing most of its 2.3 million people and leaving many with little food, water or medical care.

Uncovered: The discovery of a mass grave inside the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip this week has been met with grief and horror from Palestinians and has drawn condemnation from the United Nations and calls for a transparent and credible investigation. Hundreds of bodies have been uncovered so far from the hospital after Israeli forces withdrew on April 7. The UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday said more bodies were found at Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, the enclave’s largest health facility, which the rights body said was “an empty shell” after a two-week Israeli siege ended there on April 1.

The mass graves at Gaza’s two largest medical facilities are among the several discovered since Israel launched its war on the besieged coastal enclave on October 7, killing more than 34,000 Palestinians. According to Al Jazeera’s correspondent Hani Mahmoud, those being retrieved from the grave included women, children, patients and medical staff: of 392 bodies recovered in Gaza’s mass graves, only 65 have been identified by relatives, while ten bodies were found with their hands bound, stripped of their clothes, and others still had medical tubes attached to them, indicating they may have been buried alive. Shocking evidence of torture, including shackling with plastic restraints and disfigurement, emerged from videos and photos of the victims. Disturbingly, some bodies displayed signs of surgical incisions inconsistent with local practices, fueling concerns of organ harvesting, according to a report of official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The Civil Defense group on Monday said it uncovered many of the bodies from what appear to be temporary graves inside the Nasser complex as Israel’s siege prevented access to cemeteries, The Associated Press news agency reported. Medical staff and evacuees who had managed to leave the hospital before the Israeli army’s withdrawal had described scenes of “horror, mass killings and arrests to the point the entire hospital turned from a place of healing into a massive graveyard.”

Gaza’s Government Media Office blamed Israel for the mass graves, describing their discovery and the overall situation at Nasser Medical Complex as a “heinous crime”. “Storming it twice, and destroying some of its parts, demonstrates the extent of the barbarism of this occupation and the immorality of its army, which destroys all aspects of life and means of survival inside the Gaza Strip,” it said in a statement. “We call on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate this massacre committed by the occupation army in the Nasser Complex and also the al-Shifa Complex, in all its details, whether against the headquarters of the two complexes or against the citizens, the displaced, and the medical and Media teams inside it.”

Not provided: A report published on Monday, April 22 by an independent UN commission led by the former French Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna, states that Israel has not provided evidence to support its accusations about the alleged links of some employees of UNRWA, the Agency of the UN which deals with Palestinian refugees, with the October 7 attacks. The claims against UNRWA led to a massive funding deficit as several donor countries announced cuts.

The independent review into the Relief Agency’s practices was also commissioned, as well as a separate investigation into the October attack itself, by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services. Supported by three Nordic Research Institutes, it makes clear that Israel failed to support its claims about UNRWA staff belonging to either Hamas’s military wing or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In the original six-page dossier, seen by Al Jazeera, Israeli intelligence provided a number of accusations against UNRWA without evidence, including that the Agency’s facilities had been used by Hamas in its October attack. Moreover, according to the dossier, 12 staff members had participated directly in the attack, with 190 others offering intelligence and logistical support. In March, the Israeli military claimed it had evidence implicating four more UNRWA staff members.

Based solely on the Israeli accusations, 18 donor countries, including UNRWA’s principal donor, the United States, suspended funding to the agency. Nevertheless, while some – such as the United Kingdom – chose to wait on the findings from the Colonna report, the majority of donors had already reversed their initial positions and resumed funding, with some, such as the European Union, increasing their spending. Only Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and the US have maintained funding suspensions. The US will maintain its suspension until March 2025, despite its own intelligence services in February expressing “low confidence” in the Israeli allegations.

Lights on the West Bank: In recent days the violence has also worsened in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers killed three people on April 21 and at least 14 in a raid on the Nur Shams refugee camp, near Tulkarem, between April 18 and 20. Since the start of the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, at least 484 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers in the West Bank.

And while on Tuesday, April 23, the US Congress approved a 26 billion dollars aid package for Israel, at the same time, the Biden administration announced for the first time a series of sanctions against an entire unit of the Israeli army, active in the West Bank and accused of having committed human rights violations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defined the measure as “absurd” and promised to oppose it with all available means. Other members of his coalition reacted more aggressively, speaking bluntly of an “anti-Semitic act.”

To understand the importance of the sanctions, it must be remembered that the unprecedented affair concerns a symbolic unit: the Netzah Yehuda battalion, made up of ultra-Orthodox soldiers, raised within religious families and engaged in the occupied territories. The battalion is a homogeneous unit founded in the late 1990s whose commanders have declared in the past to carry out “a holy mission in Judea and Samaria,” the Biblical name for the West Bank. 

The measures decided by Washington, yet to be clarified, will prevent the unit from benefiting from aid from the United States. It is a largely symbolic move, but it must be underlined that the Americans have resorted to the Leahy law, passed in the 1990s to oppose human rights violations by paramilitary groups in Latin America: the fact that a unit of the Israel Defense Forces is assimilated to a militia gives an idea of the accusations levelled against it and the humiliating nature of the sanctions. Bentzi Gopstein, an adviser to far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, learned of the sanctions when he tried to pay for something with his credit card at a gas station. The card was blocked because Gopstein is on a list of violent settlers drawn up by the United States.

All this is a reflection of what is happening in the West Bank while attention is focused elsewhere, in Gaza or on the conflict with Iran. Organizations and governments have raised the alarm about the increase in settler violence, who continue to oppress Palestinian civilians taking advantage of the army’s protection. Olive groves uprooted, houses and vehicles set on fire, land confiscated by the Israeli administration: this is the context in which the sanctions arrived.

Millions at risk: Allegations of rape, forced marriages, sexual slavery, and trafficking of women and girls – especially in Khartoum, Darfur and Kordofan – continue to be recorded with millions of civilians at risk as they flee conflict areas in search of shelter, inside war-torn Sudan and in neighboring countries.

A joint statement by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Joyce Msuya, appeals, after one year of hostilities in Sudan, for “more international engagement to combat sexual violence against women and girls in the country. These barbaric acts, which echo the horrors witnessed in Darfur two decades ago, must spur immediate action.” 

They urged Security Council members who met this week to debate Ms. Patten’s latest report on sexual violence to send “an unequivocal message: under international humanitarian law, civilians in Sudan must be protected and must never be subjected to acts of sexual violence, which constitute war crimes.”

Showing how women and girls are being disproportionately impacted, the two top women officials noted that the true scale of the crisis remains unseen, “a result of severe underreporting due to stigma, fear of reprisals, and a lack of confidence in national institutions.” Without more financial and political support for frontline responders, moreover, access to life-saving services will only continue to shrink, they warned.

WarAgainstWomen: On April 21, Hassan Hassanzadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, announced the creation of a new national body responsible for enforcing the strict dress code for women in public places, Iran International Newsroom reported. The announcement followed the Iranian government’s crackdown on moral rules, imposed especially on women, as part of an operation called Nour, ‘light’ in Persian.

Complaints have multiplied on social networks, with the hashtag ‘war against women,’ about the new crackdown which particularly targets those who go out with their heads uncovered. Photographs and videos showed vans and religious police officers patrolling the streets of many Iranian cities, from Ardabil to Karaj to Tehran. The Dadban lawyers’ collective shared the video of the arrest of a young woman in the capital.

The situation has raised alarm both domestically and internationally, with human rights organizations, student groups and prominent activists decrying the Iranian authorities’ violations of basic freedoms and human rights. In recent days, the repression has mainly affected universities, various sources in the Iranian diaspora reported. Security agents at the University of Sanandaj, in Iranian Kurdistan, reportedly harassed students whose clothing was deemed ‘unsuitable,’ threatening to report them to the disciplinary committees and confiscating their badges. Facial recognition devices would have been installed at the entrance to the Alzahra women’s university in Tehran, while at the polytechnic the entrances were separated for women, forced to wear the chador (the veil that covers the whole body), and for men, who were prohibited from wearing T-shirts, short-sleeved shirts or sportswear. After around two hundred students were prevented from entering the campus, many comrades launched a solidarity strike.

Hassanzadeh was sanctioned in 2022 by Western countries for his role in the violent crackdown on nationwide anti-regime protests – often called the Women, Life, Freedom uprising, sparked by the killing of Mahsa Jina Amini in police custody.

The regime’s enforcement campaign has also drawn condemnation from other quarters, including ‘The Laleh Park Mothers’ also known as ‘Mourning Mothers’ – a group of Iranian women whose family members were killed during the 2009 protests. In their statement, issued on Monday, they condemned the renewed assault on women’s freedoms, accusing the government of resorting to brutality to deflect attention from its failures.

Reviewing Egypt: In an editorial published on Monday, April 22, the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry al Youm recommended a “review” of the country’s economic and political management. Instead of insisting on the construction of large infrastructure projects, the government of Abdel Fattah al Sisi – re-elected last December – must seize the opportunity to “write a new page,” guaranteeing for example the existence of political parties and trade unions capable of fueling a national debate, the editorial reads. 

“Egypt is facing economic and political challenges,” notes the daily in the editorial exceptionally published on the front page, as if to give it more weight. “Large sections of the population have suffered from economic deterioration” due, among other things, to the “pursuit of large non-productive projects.” 

Such an intervention is very rare in a country where the press is controlled by the ruling power. Behind it, as underlined by French magazine Courrier International, is Naguib Sawiris, the richest entrepreneur in the country and one of the founders of the newspaper. Proof, comments the French weekly, “that the private press remains a powerful tool to address the tug-of-war between the Egyptian business class and the army generals who, for decades, have constituted the backbone of the political regime in force.”


What We’re Reading

The Palestine laboratory: Starting from Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, NOW’s Valeria Rando reflected on the birth and development of prisons and technologies of surveillance in what the French philosopher called ‘disciplinary societies.’ Analyzing the ways in which Israel is battletesting the Palestinian land not only with weapons, but also with spyware systems, the Palestine laboratory offers an alarming picture of how the biopolitics of tomorrow will look like. 

Defending depositors: Exploring the legal battles and economic quagmire amidst Lebanon’s ongoing crisis, NOW’s Maan Barazy analyzed how the country’s financial system is facing foreign courts and internal turmoil, after a class-action lawsuit was filed on April 16 in the United States against the Central Bank of Lebanon (BDL) and several members of the Association of Banks of Lebanon (ABL) – accused of engaging in criminal activity aimed at defrauding depositors. 

Fueling hate: In recent days, numerous instances of violence against Syrians have occurred in various parts of Lebanon following the killing of Pascal Sleiman, including forced evictions, harassment, and intimidation campaigns, along with strict measures enforced by local authorities, such as curfews, limited rental options, and the demand for personal information from Syrians under the threat of deportation. Rodayna Raydan explored for NOW the deep-seated causes of hostility towards Syrian refugees in Lebanon: socio-economic strains, security fears, and media influence.

The illusion of control and the reality of influence: The history of Lebanon is replete with examples where the will of the strongest faction, often in alignment with regional powers, has shaped the nation’s trajectory. Exploring regional dynamics and historical precedents, NOW’s political psychologist, Ramzi Abou Ismail, deconstructed Samir Geagea’s current stance in shaping Lebanon’s politics, confronting and challenging Hezbollah’s dominance, while realistically acknowledging Hezbollah’s current political maneuvering.

Municipal maze: Lebanon is on the brink of a critical decision regarding its municipal elections, which are slated to occur before May 31, coinciding with the expiration of mandates for over 1,000 municipalities and 3,000 mukhtars, NOW’s Dana Hourany reported. However, the country’s political landscape is clouded with uncertainty as discussions swirl around the possibility of yet another postponement.


Lebanon +

The Makdisi Street’s brothers welcomed the historian Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University to their podcast’s latest episode, ‘Learning how to be colonialists,’ to discuss the history of the Palestinian people’s struggle against the Zionist project in Palestine, the colonial affiliations of Zionism, the background to the 1948 Nakba, the role of Arab and Palestinian leaders, and possible forms of resistance in bringing about change.

Khalidi was previously interviewed by Mouin Jaber and Médéa Azouri in their weekly podcast, Sarde After Dinner, on the history of settler colonialism, the hidden British agenda for Israel, and how October 7 will affect the next hundred years.