Region

Turkey and the Levant

Stories under this heading cover Turkey as well as the Levant – a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia, consisting of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine.

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UN agency UNRWA urgently suspends aid to Rafah

UN agency UNRWA urgently suspends aid to Rafah

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has suspended its operations in Rafah. Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the organisation that provides aid to Palestinian refugees, conveyed this information on Saturday evening (1 June) via X. 

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Gulf relief agencies seek to fill UNWRAs funding gap as humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens

Gulf relief agencies seek to fill UNWRAs funding gap as humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens

The Humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues to worsen every day. Amid talk of an imminent ceasefire during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, famine and starvation and completely inhumane conditions now affect the entire population of the territory. The problem has been exacerbated by the decision of a number of western donors to stop or suspend funding to the main UN humanitarian agency in Gaza, UNWRA, based on claims that some of its staff were involved in the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel. Relief agencies in the Gulf states and others are now moving to try to fill the funding gap. On its part, the European Union, one of the largest donors to Palestinian humanitarian relief, has reviewed its stance on the funding of UNWRA. In a statement on Friday, the European Commission said it " has decided to allocate an additional EUR 68 million to support the Palestinian population across the region to be implemented through international partners like the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. This comes in addition to the foreseen EUR 82 million of aid to be implemented through UNRWA in 2024, bringing the total to EUR 150 million. The Commission will proceed to paying EUR 50 million of the UNRWA envelope next week. Furthermore, the Commission has allocated EUR 125 million of humanitarian aid for Palestinians for 2024. The Commission is contracting the first EUR 16 million today. Meanwhile Gulf countries are stepping up  their support for UNWRA to fill remaining gaps." Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of Saudi Arabia's top aid agency KSrelief, said Riyadh and regional and international partners were working to fill the funding gaps for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNWRA), caused by major donor cuts. "We are counting on other partners in the region and beyond," Dr Al Rabeeah told the UAE newspaper, The National, at the Human Capability Initiative conference in Riyadh.
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The prospect of  more Israeli atrocities in Gaza during Ramadan unsettles moderate Arab and Muslim states

The prospect of more Israeli atrocities in Gaza during Ramadan unsettles moderate Arab and Muslim states

With Ramadan fast approaching – likely to start on 10 March –  and with Israeli prime minister Benyamin Natanyahu  repeatedly threatening to launch a direct assault on Rafah, a last haven where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are now taking shelter in the most difficult situations imaginable, moderate Arab governments, especially those who have established relations with Israel, and others who were considering doing so, find themselves under huge pressure from their domestic public opinion. Having just vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease fire in Gaza, the United States, acutely aware of the fragility of the situation, is now desperately pushing for a cease fire during Ramadan. Already, nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October, many of them women and children. A direct assault on Rafah is likely to result in many more fatalities. The prospect of a Palestinian bloodbath during Ramadan is considerably unsettling Arab governments, who whilst not often  directly influenced by the views of their populations, cannot ignore them either when feelings are running high. Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims, but it is also an occasion for social gatherings. Families and friends come together, and in the long nights when the fast is broken they share views on those things that matter to them. Gaza will no doubt this year be a leading topic, as people remember that whilst they break the fast with big meals and delicacies, in Gaza, the Palestinians are starving. Western countries, whose reputations in the Arab and Muslim worlds have been greatly damaged by their position on Gaza, are now frantically trying to avoid this by pushing for a ceasefire during Ramadan.
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Turkey to take over Somalia's naval defence for a decade

Turkey to take over Somalia's naval defence for a decade

The Somali cabinet formally approved a defence and economic cooperation agreement with Turkey on Wednesday, authorising Ankara to build, train and equip the Somali navy and reportedly defend its territorial waters amid tensions with Ethiopia. The agreement strengthens Turkish political and military position in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region amid increasing concerns about security in the strategic waterway. Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre described the agreement at the cabinet meeting as a “historic” one that would become a “legacy” for the Somali nation in the long run.  “This agreement will put an end to the fear of terrorism, pirates, illegal fishing, poisoning, abuse and threats from abroad,” he said, according to the local reports. A Turkish defence official declined to comment, saying that the contents of the agreement would be public simultaneously as it is ratified by the Turkish parliament and the president. “We cannot reveal the details as it has a long way to be ratified,” the official added.  The Turkish Navy already operates off the shore of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden under a UN mission to combat piracy and armed robbery since 2009. 
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800 western officials say the policies of their governments on Gaza "are contributing to grave violations of international law, war crimes and even ethnic cleansing or genocide"

800 western officials say the policies of their governments on Gaza "are contributing to grave violations of international law, war crimes and even ethnic cleansing or genocide"

The BBC is reporting that more than 800 serving officials in the US and Europe have signed a statement warning that their own governments' policies on the Israel-Gaza war could amount to "grave violations of international law". Many are describing the statement as an unprecedented move that reflects great concern in official circles in western countries about the the position of their governments on the situation in Gaza. The "transatlantic statement", a copy of which was passed to the BBC, says their administrations risk being complicit in "one of the worst human catastrophes of this century" but that their expert advice has been sidelined. It is the latest sign of significant levels of dissent within the governments of some of Israel's key Western allies. One signatory to the statement, a US government official with more than 25 years' national security experience, told the BBC of the "continued dismissal" of their concerns. "The voices of those who understand the region and the dynamics were not listened to," said the official. "What's really different here is we're not failing to prevent something, we're actively complicit. That is fundamentally different from any other situation I can recall," added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The statement is signed by civil servants from the US, the EU and 11 European countries including the UK, France and Germany.
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Commentary
The work of UNRWA must be sustained

The work of UNRWA must be sustained

Israeli accusations that staff of the UN Humanitarian agency UNRWA which works in Gaza, were involved in the 7 October attacks on Israel need to be taken seriously, and the UN leadership must flash out any bad apples amongst the many, and restore the reputation of the organisation for professionalism. But the knee-jerk reaction of several Western governments in suspending funding to UNRWA is unacceptable, especially given the dire situation of millions of Palestinians, made much worse by the recent war in Gaza. Stopping the work of UNRWA will make an already significant humanitarian disaster much worse. In this regard, countries like Norway and Spain are to be commended. They kept a cool head and reiterated their commitment and support to UNRWA, whilst others were more hasty in halting or suspending support for the agency. There are two problems here: financial and political. The financial aspect is solvable. Gulf states need to step in and compensate for any shortfall in UNRWA’s budget. Other countries need also to step up. But the bigger problem is political. The support of Western countries for UNRWA gives it the necessary prestige that allows its leadership to negotiate the stormy waters of the Middle East. This should not be lost. Countries like UK, Netherlands, Germany and Italy, need to quickly reconsider their position and restore the funding to UNRWA. UNRWA was established in 1948 as a temporary measure to provide relief to the Palestinian people. That seventy-five years later it is still needed more than ever is a testimony of the failure of the international community to do justice to the Palestinians. From the tragedy and suffering of the last five months a new reality must emerge that must necessarily include the creation of a viable Palestinian state. It is time for the EU and European countries in particular, but also the US, to think strategically and act firmly.
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Opinion
Opinion: The ICJ ruling on the “South Africa v. Israel” case is a step in the right direction, but not decisive enough

Opinion: The ICJ ruling on the “South Africa v. Israel” case is a step in the right direction, but not decisive enough

On Friday (26 January) the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague ruled on whether emergency measures are required until a final decision is taken on the South Africa’s genocide case against Israel. The judges ruled that Israel must act to stop genocide in Gaza and allow the flow of humanitarian aid and basic services. Although this verdict is legally binding on the parties involved and a step in the right direction, the ICJ lacks enforcement power. The Court needs the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) to enforce its decision through mechanisms such as sanctions or even military intervention, however, the UNSC is unlikely to do so given the United States’ traditional shielding of Israel through the veto power. Moreover, the Court did not demand a ceasefire that would require Israel to stop its operation in the Gaza Strip. This disappointed many who consider an immediate ceasefire by all parties as being essential in order to end the suffering on civilians.
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News
Sweden one step closer to joining NATO

Sweden one step closer to joining NATO

The Turkish Grand National Assembly (Parliament), on Tuesday, 23 January, ratified the agreement on Swedish membership of NATO, bringing the Scandinavian country one step closer to fulfilling its historic decision to abandon its decades-long neutrality and join the military alliance in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine, and the threat that poses to the European security order. The ratification was adopted by the national assembly in a vote of 287 to 55. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is now expected to sign the accession agreement. formalising the process of Turkish ratification. All members of NATO have to approve the addition of new members to the organisation. The only remaining NATO country to finalise the ratification process is Hungary  “Today we are one step closer to becoming a full member of NATO,” tweeted Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. On Tuesday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán reached out to Kristersson, asking him to come down to Budapest and negotiate about the NATO bid, an idea swiftly rejected by Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström.