Challenger in Türkiye Presidential Race Offers Sharp Contrast

In this handout photograph taken and released by the Republican People's Party press office, Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman and Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) and his wife Selvi Kilicdaroglu pose during a rally in Izmir, Türkiye, on April 30, 2023. (Handout / Republican People's Party (CHP) Press Service / AFP)
In this handout photograph taken and released by the Republican People's Party press office, Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman and Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) and his wife Selvi Kilicdaroglu pose during a rally in Izmir, Türkiye, on April 30, 2023. (Handout / Republican People's Party (CHP) Press Service / AFP)
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Challenger in Türkiye Presidential Race Offers Sharp Contrast

In this handout photograph taken and released by the Republican People's Party press office, Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman and Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) and his wife Selvi Kilicdaroglu pose during a rally in Izmir, Türkiye, on April 30, 2023. (Handout / Republican People's Party (CHP) Press Service / AFP)
In this handout photograph taken and released by the Republican People's Party press office, Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman and Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) and his wife Selvi Kilicdaroglu pose during a rally in Izmir, Türkiye, on April 30, 2023. (Handout / Republican People's Party (CHP) Press Service / AFP)

The main challenger trying to unseat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in this month's presidential election cuts a starkly different figure than the incumbent who has ruled the country for two decades.

Where Erdogan is a mesmerizing orator, the unassuming Kemal Kilicdaroglu is soft spoken. Erdogan is also a master campaigner who uses state resources and events to reach supporters while Kilicdaroglu talks to voters in videos recorded in his kitchen. As the polarizing Erdogan has grown increasingly authoritarian, Kilicdaroglu has built a reputation as a bridge builder and vows to restore democracy.

The contrasts are reflected in the two men's political paths. Erdogan’s staying power has kept him in office first as prime minister then as president since 2003. Kilicdaroglu (pronounced KEH-lich-DAHR-OH-loo) has not won a general election since taking the helm of his secular, center-left Republican People’s Party, or CHP, in 2010.

But that could change on May 14, when Türkiye holds its most hotly contested presidential election in years. Opinion surveys give Kilicdaroglu, 74, a slight lead over Erdogan, even though analysts warn of the perils of writing off a president with potent political skills. If neither candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, the election will go to a May 28 runoff.

Divisions within the opposition have long helped the 69-year-old Erdogan hold on to power, but this time around Kilicdaroglu is running as the candidate of a united bloc known as the Nation Alliance, which unified six diverse parties, including nationalists and Islamists. Kilicdaroglu has also clinched the pro-Kurdish party’s tacit support.

Adding to Kilicdaroglu’s chances for victory are a faltering economy and high inflation that have been blamed on Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies. Another factor is the devastating earthquake in February that killed more than 50,000 people and exposed years of government negligence.

Erdal Karatas, a barber in Istanbul, used to support Erdogan but has switched allegiances amid the economic downturn and inflation and will vote for Kilicdaroglu.

Erdogan’s “first 10 years were really successful, but in the last 10 years he has veered off course. We can call it power-poisoning,” he said. “We take out loans to pay for debts and credit cards. Our income does not cover our expenses.”

The Nation Alliance has vowed to roll back Erdogan's efforts to concentrate vast powers in the president's hands. The coalition has also pledged to reinstate a parliamentary democracy with checks and balances, to return to more conventional economic policies and to fight corruption.

“These elections are about rebuilding Türkiye, ensuring that no child goes to bed hungry. They are about ensuring gender equality,” Kilicdaroglu said at a rally in the CHP stronghold of Izmir, in western Türkiye. “These elections are about reconciliation and not conflict. And these elections are about bringing democracy to Türkiye.”

In another stark difference with the incumbent, Kilicdaroglu has said he aims to serve just one term and then retire to spend time with his three grandchildren. If elected, he plans to move to the modest presidential palace in Ankara that was home to past presidents, instead of the 1,150-room palace that Erdogan built.

Under Kilicdaroglu, analysts say, Türkiye is likely to adopt a more pro-European and pro-NATO stance, while still preserving Türkiye’s economic ties with Russia.

Erdogan Toprak, a CHP legislator and longtime friend of Kilicdaroglu, said without Kilicdaroglu's patience and consensus-building skills, a united opposition would not have emerged. The bloc includes former Erdogan allies.

“He does not hold grudges,” Toprak said. “He attaches great importance to compromise, and he displays tolerance. That’s what created the Nation Alliance."

Forming the alliance “required a lot of patience and self-sacrifice.” Kilicdaroglu "showed the self-sacrifice and patience ... even though he got a lot of criticism from within the party."

The social democrat politician who has built a reputation for honesty and integrity was born in 1948 in Tunceli province, in eastern Türkiye, to a deed officer father and a homemaker mother.

He is the fourth of seven children from an Alevi family. An economist by training, Kilicdaroglu headed Türkiye’s social security organization before joining the CHP and winning a seat in parliament in 2002 — the same year Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development party came to power.

He grabbed public attention after exposing corruption allegations against ruling party members and became CHP’s leader after the resignation of former party head Deniz Baykal, who died this year.

Under Kilicdaroglu’s leadership, the CHP, which was established in 1923 by the modern Turkish Republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, has shed its rigid secular, nationalist stance and recently opened up to minority Kurds and to more conservative sections of society. It has assured pious women that their rights to wear Islamic-style headscarves will be upheld.

Steered by Kilicdaroglu, the party managed to unseat ruling party mayors in Istanbul and Ankara in 2019 by launching an effective local election campaign. Until then, the party had lost all parliamentary and presidential elections under Kilicdaroglu. The popular mayors of Ankara and Istanbul have campaigned on his behalf.

Kilicdaroglu is prone to fumbles, however. On April 1, he was forced to apologize after he was photographed accidentally treading on a prayer rug. Erdogan, who has relentless mocked Kilicdaroglu over the years, used the incident to portray his rival as disrespectful to religious values.

Erdogan frequently refers to Kilicdaroglu as “Bay Kemal” or “Mr. Kemal” to portray him as a elitist political figure who is out of touch with people from Türkiye’s conservative, impoverished heartland, even though Kilicdaroglu comes from a low-income background. Kilicdaroglu has embraced the nickname in response, frequently referring to himself as “Bay Kemal.”

Many have speculated that his Alevi background could cost him votes. Kilicdaroglu spoke about his Alevi heritage for the first time in a video address in April, when he called on young voters to put an end to divisive sectarianism politics.

Unlike Erdogan, whose control of mainstream media allows him to dominate the airwaves, Kilicdaroglu has been trying to woo voters with videos recorded from his modest kitchen and posted on social media. Images of his kitchen are now being used as background for video conference calls.

In 2017, Kilicdaroglu grabbed international attention when he walked for 25 days from Ankara to Istanbul in a “March for Justice” to protest the conviction of one of his lawmakers and a large-scale government crackdown on critics following a 2016 coup attempt.

The politician survived an attack in 2016 when Kurdish rebels fired a missile at a convoy he was traveling in. Three years later, he escaped another attack by suspected Erdogan supporters while attending the funeral of a soldier slain in clashes with the rebels.

“Türkiye is going through a difficult period,” Toprak said. Kilicdaroglu, “who is not power-hungry, will overcome this troubled period through reconciliation and tolerance. The country has a one-man rule problem. That will go away.”



From Wedding Photographer to Water Queue: Gaza Mother Mourns Lost Dream Life

(MAJDI FATHI/NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)
(MAJDI FATHI/NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)
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From Wedding Photographer to Water Queue: Gaza Mother Mourns Lost Dream Life

(MAJDI FATHI/NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)
(MAJDI FATHI/NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)

Falasteen Abdulati mourns her vanished good life as a wedding photographer as she wearily queues day after day for scarce drinking water in a rubble-strewn street in south Gaza, fearing for the future of her children.

The mother of seven is one of over two million Gazans who struggle to survive in the eighth month of an Israeli siege and invasion after the cross-border Hamas attack, with food, drinking water, medical care and safe shelter hard to find.

"I'm a wedding photographer. Someone like me should be going out and living well and spending money on their children," Abdulati, 35, said, laboriously filling a few buckets with water from a battered barrel in the city of Khan Younis.

"Our life has (been reduced) to the simplest needs. It is work and exhaustion. Nothing else. The dream that I had as a wedding photographer to open a studio and to get cameras and to make people happy, is lost. My dream is lost."

She continued: "Every morning we wake up at 7 o’clock and of course the first thing we think about is water," she said, Reuters reported. "We come here and wait in the long queue, just to fill up four buckets with water. Other than that, our shoulders hurt. There are no men to carry it for us. There is no one but us. Women are the ones working these days."

Israel's assault on the tiny, heavily urbanized coastal enclave has displaced over three-quarters of the 2.3 million Palestinian population and demolished its infrastructure.

"The future of my children that I worked tirelessly for is lost. There are no schools (functioning), no education. There is no more comfort in life," said Abdulati.

"No safety," she added, referring to the threat of shelling or raids that Israel says target Hamas militants holed up in densely-packed residential neighbourhoods.

Abdulati, dressed in a body-length robe and head-covering, said the upheaval of war had turned the lives of Gaza women upside down. "Women are now like men. They work hard just like men. They're no longer comfortable at home."

Her husband is hospitalized with war injuries.

Breathing heavily, she lugged her buckets along a shattered, sand-covered street and up a dingy flight of cement stairs into the family flat. There she heated up the fresh water over a makeshift fire stove in a cluttered, cramped room dark for lack of electricity, watched intently by her young children.

"We are suffering due to a lack of gas because the border crossings are shut," she said, referring to Israel's siege that has severely restricted humanitarian aid shipments into Gaza.

"The water that I filled up must be rationed. I heat it up so I can wash the children, in addition to doing the dishes and washing clothes. The four buckets I can get per day are just not enough. I have to go back again and again."


Israel’s Block of AP Transmission Shows How Ambiguity in Law Could Restrict War Coverage 

This picture shows a building that was destroyed during Israeli bombardment at the Al-Daraj neighborhood in Gaza City on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
This picture shows a building that was destroyed during Israeli bombardment at the Al-Daraj neighborhood in Gaza City on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
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Israel’s Block of AP Transmission Shows How Ambiguity in Law Could Restrict War Coverage 

This picture shows a building that was destroyed during Israeli bombardment at the Al-Daraj neighborhood in Gaza City on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
This picture shows a building that was destroyed during Israeli bombardment at the Al-Daraj neighborhood in Gaza City on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)

Israel's shutdown and seizure of an Associated Press video camera that provided a live glimpse into Gaza alarmed many journalists, who worried Tuesday about wider implications for coverage of a war largely fought out of the world's sight to begin with.

After widespread condemnation, including a call by the Biden administration for Israel to back off, authorities returned the AP's equipment late Tuesday. Israel had justified its move by saying the agency violated a new media law that bans Al Jazeera, since the Qatari satellite channel is one of thousands of customers that receive live AP video.

By early Wednesday, the AP’s live video of Gaza was back up in Israel.

The camera confiscated earlier, located in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, was not the only one the AP operated in Israel or Gaza — the company would not say how many it uses regularly — nor is the AP the only news organization to do so. Agence France-Presse confirmed it has frequently used such cameras in Israel and also sells its images to Al Jazeera.

“Israel's move to restrict AP's work today is extremely concerning and a clear attack on press freedom,” said Phil Chetwynd, AFP's global news director.

News organizations expressed worry about the potential ambiguity in how Israel's law could be enforced. What, they asked, prevents Israel from shutting down the news cooperative's operations in the country altogether?

“It also could allow Israel to block media coverage of virtually any news event on vague security grounds,” Israel's Foreign Press Association said in a statement.

OTHERS ARE LIKELY WATCHING ISRAEL'S ACTIONS Israel also denies foreign journalists entry into Gaza to cover a war that began following Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks inside the Jewish state, and has been criticized for not doing enough to protect Palestinian journalists and civilians.

The country “seems to be grasping at anything that hurts Al Jazeera,” said Thomas Kent, former president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and an international consultant on media ethics. Its latest step damages a reputable news organization at a time the country would seem to want independent news coverage, Kent said.

A democracy acting in this way also sends a disturbing signal to authoritarian countries, he said. “You have to look at the larger picture,” said Kent, also a former standards editor and international correspondent at the AP. “They're giving fuel to other countries that would love to seize equipment and shut down transmissions.”

The move against the AP set off a debate within Israel. Yair Lapid, opposition leader to the Netanyahu government, called it an “act of madness.” Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, who accused the AP of violating the country’s law, said it clearly states that any device used to deliver content to Al Jazeera could be seized.

“We will continue to act decisively against anyone who tries to harm our soldiers and the security of the state, even if you don’t like it,” Karhi responded to Lapid on X.

The AP's camera in Sderot was operated 24 hours a day and was also attended by staff members. A staffer can be used to move or focus the camera to cover news that may be happening, and also to avoid capturing military moves. The AP says it complies with military censorship rules that prohibit the broadcast of troop movements that could endanger soldiers.

STATIONARY CAMERAS ARE COMMON News organizations frequently place cameras that can operate remotely at various places around the globe, either in an area where news is happening or simply to provide a view of a city skyline.

These shots have many uses — providing a backdrop for a television station reporting on developments, or as a livestream feature on a website. Earlier in the Gaza war, footage from such cameras helped news organizations conduct forensic investigations into who was responsible for a military strike on a Palestinian hospital.

The AP is the biggest supplier of live video news coverage to newsrooms across the world, said AP Vice President Paul Haven, the agency's head of news gathering.

“Our live video provides a window of what's happening around the world on any given day, allowing audiences to see events for themselves as they unfold,” Haven said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was “deeply disturbed” by Israel's actions on Tuesday. Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ program director, said the country should allow all international media outlets, including Al Jazeera, to operate freely in the country.

While Israel's return of the equipment is a positive development, the underlying issue has not disappeared.

“We remain concerned about the Israeli government's use of the foreign broadcaster law and the ability of independent journalists to operate freely in Israel,” said AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton.


Death of Iran’s Raisi Could Stir Race for Khamenei Succession, Insiders Say 

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei receives President Ebrahim Raisi and members of the government in August. (dpa)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei receives President Ebrahim Raisi and members of the government in August. (dpa)
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Death of Iran’s Raisi Could Stir Race for Khamenei Succession, Insiders Say 

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei receives President Ebrahim Raisi and members of the government in August. (dpa)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei receives President Ebrahim Raisi and members of the government in August. (dpa)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's death in a helicopter crash upsets the plans of hardliners who wanted him to succeed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and will stir rivalries in their camp over who will take over the country when he dies.

A protege of Khamenei who rose through the ranks of Iran's theocracy, Raisi, 63, was widely seen as a leading candidate to take over from the 85-year-old Supreme Leader - though it was far from being a foregone conclusion in Iran's opaque politics.

His rise to the presidency was part of a consolidation of power in the hands of hardliners dedicated to shoring up the pillars of the Islamic Republic against the risks posed by dissent at home and powerful enemies in a turbulent region.

Raisi had enjoyed staunch backing from Khamenei, who had himself held the position of president before he became Supreme Leader in 1989 following the death of the Islamic Republic's founder, Khomeini.

The Supreme Leader holds ultimate power in Iran, acting as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and deciding on the direction of foreign policy, defined largely by confrontation with the United States and Israel.

While Khamenei has not endorsed a successor, Iran watchers say Raisi was one of the two names most often mentioned, the second being Khamenei's second son, Mojtaba, who is widely believed to wield influence behind the scenes.

Raisi, backed by a group that wanted to see him become Supreme Leader, clearly wanted the role, said Vali Nasr, professor of Middle East Studies and International Affairs at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

"Now they don't have a candidate, and that opens the door for other factions or other figures to emerge as serious contenders," he said.

For Raisi, a mid-ranking Shiite cleric, the presidency had been a vehicle to reach the supreme leadership. "There's no other candidate right now (with) that kind of a platform and that's why the presidential elections in Iran, however they unfold, will be the first decider about what comes next," Nasr said.

'BLOW TO THE ESTABLISHMENT'

Raisi's views echoed Khamenei's on every major topic and he enacted the leader's policies aimed at entrenching clerical power, cracking down on opponents, and adopting a tough line on foreign policy issues such as the nuclear talks with Washington, two Iranian insiders said.

The hardliners maintained their grip in a parliamentary election held in March, but turnout sunk to the lowest level since the revolution.

Critics saw this as reflecting a crisis of legitimacy for the clerical elite, amid mounting economic struggles and dissent among Iranians chafing at the social and political restrictions which drove months of protests ignited by the death of a young woman arrested by the morality police in 2022.

Though his name has often been cited, doubts have swirled over the possible candidacy of Mojtaba, a mid-ranking cleric who teaches theology at a religious seminary in the city of Qom.

Khamenei has indicated opposition to his son's candidacy because he does not want to see any slide back towards a system of hereditary rule in a country where the US-backed monarchy was overthrown in 1979, an Iranian source close to Khamenei's office said.

A regional source familiar with the thinking in Tehran said Khamenei's opposition to hereditary rule would eliminate both Mojtaba and Ali Khomeini, a grandson of the Islamic Republic's founder who is based in Najaf, Iraq.

A former Iranian official said powerful actors including the Revolutionary Guards and influential clerics in Qom are now expected to step up efforts to shape the process by which the next supreme leader is picked.

"Raisi's death is a blow to the establishment that has no other candidate now," the official said, adding that while it was believed Raisi had been groomed to succeed Khamenei, nobody knew for sure what Khamenei's intentions were.

UNCERTAINTY IN THE SUCCESSION

Khamenei had not been a clear favorite for the role in 1989 and only emerged after backroom dealings among the clerical elite.

Under Iran's constitution, the Supreme Leader is appointed by the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member clerical body that supervises and in theory can sack the Supreme Leader.

While the Assembly is chosen in an election, another hardline watchdog body comprising clerics and jurists aligned to Khamenei has the power to veto laws and decide who may stand.

Two sources familiar with the matter said the Assembly of Experts had taken Raisi off a list of potential successors some six months ago because of his sagging popularity, reflecting economic hardship caused by US sanctions and mismanagement.

One of the sources said intensive lobbying had been underway by influential, pro-Raisi clerics to get his name reinstated.


What's Next for Iran's Government after Death of its President in Helicopter Crash?

The Iranian flag is seen flying over a street in Tehran, Iran, February 1, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
The Iranian flag is seen flying over a street in Tehran, Iran, February 1, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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What's Next for Iran's Government after Death of its President in Helicopter Crash?

The Iranian flag is seen flying over a street in Tehran, Iran, February 1, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
The Iranian flag is seen flying over a street in Tehran, Iran, February 1, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

The death of Iran's president is unlikely to lead to any immediate changes in Iran's ruling system or to its overarching policies, which are decided by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

But Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday, was seen as a prime candidate to succeed the 85-year-old supreme leader, and his death makes it more likely that the job could eventually go to Khamenei's son, The AP reported.

A hereditary succession would pose a potential crisis of legitimacy for the Islamic Republic, which was established as an alternative to monarchy but which many Iranians already see as a corrupt and dictatorial regime. Here's a look at what comes next.

HOW DOES IRAN'S GOVERNMENT WORK?

Iran holds regular elections for president and parliament with universal suffrage.

But the supreme leader has final say on all major policies, serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and controls the powerful Revolutionary Guard.

The supreme leader also appoints half of the 12-member Guardian Council, a clerical body that vets candidates for president, parliament and the Assembly of Experts, an elected body of jurists in charge of choosing the supreme leader.

In theory, the clerics oversee the republic to ensure it complies with Islamic law. In practice, the supreme leader carefully manages the ruling system to balance competing interests, advance his own priorities and ensure that no one challenges the Islamic Republic or his role atop it.

Raisi, a hard-liner who was seen as a protege of Khamenei, was elected president in 2021 after the Guardian Council blocked any other well-known candidate from running against him, and turnout was the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic. He succeeded Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who had served as president for the past eight years and defeated Raisi in 2017.

After Raisi's death, in accordance with Iran's constitution, Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, a relative unknown, became caretaker president, with elections mandated within 50 days. That vote will likely be carefully managed to produce a president who maintains the status quo.

That means Iran will continue to impose some degree of Islamic rule and crack down on dissent. It will enrich uranium, support armed groups across the Middle East and view the West with deep suspicion.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SUCCESSION?

Presidents come and go, some more moderate than others, but each operates under the structure of the ruling system.

If any major change occurs in Iran, it is likely to come after the passing of Khamenei, when a new supreme leader will be chosen for only the second time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Khamenei succeeded the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1989.

The next supreme leader will be chosen by the 88-seat Assembly of Experts, who are elected every eight years from candidates vetted by the Guardian Council. In the most recent election, in March, Rouhani was barred from running, while Raisi won a seat.

Any discussion of the succession, or machinations related to it, occur far from the public eye, making it hard to know who may be in the running. But the two people seen by analysts as most likely to succeed Khamenei were Raisi and the supreme leader's own son, Mojtaba, 55, a Shiite cleric who has never held government office.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THE SUPREME LEADER'S SON SUCCEEDS HIM?

Leaders of the Islamic Republic going back to the 1979 revolution have portrayed their system as superior.

The transfer of power from the supreme leader to his son could spark anger, not only among Iranians who are already critical of clerical rule, but supporters of the system who might see it as un-Islamic.

Western sanctions linked to the nuclear program have devastated Iran's economy. And the enforcement of Islamic rule, which grew more severe under Raisi, has further alienated women and young people.

The Islamic Republic has faced several waves of popular protests in recent years, most recently after the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly not covering her hair in public. More than 500 people were killed and over 22,000 were detained in a violent crackdown.

Raisi's death may make the transition to a new supreme leader trickier, and it could spark more unrest.

 

 

 

 

 

 


What Happens after ICC Prosecutor Seeks Warrants in Israel-Gaza Conflict?

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 (Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 (Reuters)
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What Happens after ICC Prosecutor Seeks Warrants in Israel-Gaza Conflict?

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 (Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 (Reuters)

The International Criminal Court prosecutor's office has requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense chief, and also for three Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Here is a look at what happens next, and how the ICC prosecutor's move might impact diplomatic relations and other court cases focused on Gaza.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT AT ICC?

Prosecutor Karim Khan's request goes to a pre-trial chamber. The chamber will be composed of three magistrates: presiding judge Iulia Motoc of Romania, Mexican judge Maria del Socorro Flores Liera and judge Reine Alapini-Gansou of Benin. There is no deadline for judges to decide whether to issue arrest warrants. In previous cases, judges have taken anywhere from just over a month to several months.

If the judges agree there are "reasonable grounds" to believe war crimes or crimes against humanity have been committed, they will issue an arrest warrant. The warrant must name the person, the specific crimes for which an arrest is sought and a statement of facts which are alleged to constitute those crimes.

Judges can amend arrest warrant requests and grant only portions of what the prosecutor is seeking. Charges can also be changed and updated later.

Israeli and Hamas leaders have dismissed allegations of committing war crimes, and representatives of both sides criticized Khan's decision.

WILL NETANYAHU AND THE HAMAS LEADERS BE ARRESTED?

The ICC's founding Rome statute combined with jurisprudence from past cases involving arrest warrants against sitting heads of state oblige all 124 ICC signatory states to arrest and hand over any individual subject to an ICC arrest warrant if they set foot on their territory. However, the court has no means to enforce an arrest. The sanction for not arresting someone is a referral back to the ICC's assembly of member states and ultimately a referral to the U.N. Security Council.

CAN AN ICC INVESTIGATION OR WARRANT BE PAUSED?

The court's rules allow for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution that would pause or defer an investigation or a prosecution for a year, with the possibility of renewing that indefinitely.

In past cases where a state has ignored its obligation to arrest an individual facing an ICC warrant, they have received a procedural slap on the wrist at most.

CAN NETANYAHU AND HAMAS CHIEF YAHYA SINWAR STILL TRAVEL?

Yes they can. Neither the application for a warrant nor the issuance of an ICC arrest warrant curbs an individual's freedom to travel. However, once an arrest warrant has been issued, they risk arrest if they travel to an ICC signatory state, which may influence their decision-making.

There are no restrictions on political leaders, lawmakers or diplomats from meeting individuals with an ICC arrest warrant against them. Politically, however, the optics of this may be bad.

WILL THIS APPLICATION FOR WARRANTS INFLUENCE OTHER CASES?

Not directly, but perhaps indirectly. The ICC application is a separate matter to, for example, court cases demanding an arms embargo against Israel or South Africa's attempts at the International Court of Justice to seek a halt to Israel's offensive on Rafah.

If the judges decide there are reasonable grounds to believe Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza, it could strengthen legal challenges demanding an arms embargo elsewhere as numerous states have provisions against selling arms to states who might use them in ways that violate international humanitarian law.


Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, a Hard-Line Diplomat, Dies in Helicopter Crash

The Iranian national flag flies at half-mast at the Iranian consulate, following the deaths of Iran's President Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, in Karachi, Pakistan, 20 May 2024. (EPA)
The Iranian national flag flies at half-mast at the Iranian consulate, following the deaths of Iran's President Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, in Karachi, Pakistan, 20 May 2024. (EPA)
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Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, a Hard-Line Diplomat, Dies in Helicopter Crash

The Iranian national flag flies at half-mast at the Iranian consulate, following the deaths of Iran's President Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, in Karachi, Pakistan, 20 May 2024. (EPA)
The Iranian national flag flies at half-mast at the Iranian consulate, following the deaths of Iran's President Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, in Karachi, Pakistan, 20 May 2024. (EPA)

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran's foreign minister and a hard-liner close to the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard who confronted the West while also overseeing indirect talks with the US over the country's nuclear program, died in the helicopter crash that also killed the country's president, state media reported Monday. He was 60.

Amir-Abdollahian represented the hard-line shift in Iran after the collapse of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers after then President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the accord. Amir-Abdollahian served under President Ebrahim Raisi, a protege of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and followed their policies.

He was close to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, once praising the late Gen. Qassem Soleimani, slain in a US drone strike in Baghdad in 2020.

Amir-Abdollahian served in the Foreign Ministry under Ali Akbar Salehi in 2011 through 2013. He then returned for several years under Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was a key player in the nuclear deal reached under the administration of the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

But Zarif and Amir-Abdollahian had a falling out, likely over internal differences in Iran's foreign policy. Zarif offered him the ambassadorship to Oman, but he refused.

He became foreign minister under Raisi with his election in 2021. He backed the Iranian government position, even as mass protests swept the country in 2022 after the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had been detained earlier over allegedly not wearing a headscarf to the liking of authorities. The monthslong security crackdown that followed the demonstrations killed more than 500 people and saw more than 22,000 detained.

In March, a UN investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.

During the Israel-Hamas war, Amir-Abdollahian met with foreign officials and the leader of Hamas. He also threatened retaliation against Israel and praised an April attack on Israel. He also oversaw Iran's response to a brief exchange of airstrikes with Iran's nuclear-armed neighbor Pakistan and worked on diplomacy with the Taliban in Afghanistan, with whom Iran had tense relations.

Amir-Abdollahian is survived by his wife and two children.


'Can't Leave': 10 Years on, Thousands Forgotten in Syria Desert Camp

A handout picture provided by the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF) shows a displaced Syrian child in the Rukban camp, in a no-man's land in southern Syria © - / Syrian Emergency Task Force/AFP
A handout picture provided by the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF) shows a displaced Syrian child in the Rukban camp, in a no-man's land in southern Syria © - / Syrian Emergency Task Force/AFP
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'Can't Leave': 10 Years on, Thousands Forgotten in Syria Desert Camp

A handout picture provided by the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF) shows a displaced Syrian child in the Rukban camp, in a no-man's land in southern Syria © - / Syrian Emergency Task Force/AFP
A handout picture provided by the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF) shows a displaced Syrian child in the Rukban camp, in a no-man's land in southern Syria © - / Syrian Emergency Task Force/AFP

In a no-man's land on Syria's border with Iraq and Jordan, thousands are stranded in an isolated camp, unable to return home after fleeing the government and militants years ago.

When police defector Khaled arrived at Rukban, he had hoped to be back home within weeks -- but eight years on, he is still stuck in the remote desert camp, sealed off from the rest of the country.

Damascus rarely lets aid in and neighbouring countries have closed their borders to the area, which is protected from Syrian forces by a nearby US-led coalition base's de-confliction zone.

"We are trapped between three countries," said Khaled, 50, who only gave his first name due to security concerns.

"We can't leave for (other areas of) Syria because we are wanted by the regime, and we can't flee to Jordan or Iraq" because the borders are sealed, he added.

The camp was established in 2014, at the height of Syria's ongoing war, as desperate people fled ISIS and government bombardment in hopes of crossing into Jordan.

At its peak, it housed more than 100,000 people, but numbers have dwindled, especially after Jordan largely sealed its side of the border in 2016.
Many people have since returned to government-held areas to escape hunger, poverty and a lack of medical care. The United Nations has also facilitated voluntary returns with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The last UN humanitarian convoy reached the camp in 2019, and the body described conditions there as "desperate" at the time.
Residents say even those meagre supplies risk running dry as government checkpoints blocked smuggling routes to the camp about a month ago.

Mohammad Derbas al-Khalidi, who heads the camp's council, said most families survived on scarce remittances that are funnelled in and largely smuggled aid, while about 500 men working with the nearby US base receive salaries of around $400 a month.

Around 8,000 people remain at the camp, some of whom are shown protesting for outside help in this picture provided by the Syrian Emergency Task Force
The father of 14 said he was wanted by the government for helping army defectors flee early in the war.

Only a safe passageway to Syria's opposition-held northwest or its Kurdish-administered northeast could "save the people who remain in Rukban", Khalidi said.

"If I didn't fear for myself, my children... I wouldn't put up with this life of disease and hunger," he told AFP.

Despite dire conditions, a handful of people keep arriving -- but not by choice.

The council and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said several dozen Syrians released from Jordanian prisons have been deported to Rukban in recent years.

Most have been convicted of crimes from drug trafficking to illegally entering Jordan or other security infractions, according to council data, with 24 people sent to the camp so far this year.

Mohammed al-Khalidi, 38, a mechanic not related to the camp chief, said he was deported from Jordan after serving time on drug-related charges.

He expressed anger at being dumped at the camp, and said he feared arrest if he returned to his home in Homs province, now in an area under government control.

"My relatives are all in Jordan. Everyone who was in Syria has either been killed or left. And our homes in Homs have been razed," he said.

"Where can I go?" he said.

"Jordan has not and will not force any Syrian refugee to return to Syria," a Jordanian official said, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Rukban camp residents "are Syrians and the camp is located on Syrian territory. It is therefore necessary to help them return to their regions inside Syria," he added.

- 'Never getting out'
Medical care in Rukban is almost non-existent.

Camp chief Khalidi said the site had nurses but no doctors, and people seeking medical treatment must be smuggled into government-held areas, with a round-trip costing about $1,600.

Many camp residents making the journey have disappeared into jails, he added.

Mouaz Moustafa, who heads the Washington-based Syrian Emergency Task Force association, said "the number one thing that they need (in Rukban) even more than food is doctors".
He noted a total lack of staff trained even for caesarean section births.

Rukban "has the worst living conditions... I have ever seen in any refugee camp", said Moustafa, whose association has airlifted aid into the camp with help from the nearby US-led coalition base.

Mohammed, 22, who had a liver problem, said that thanks to donations, he was able to be smuggled to government-held territory for surgery, after living in Rukban for years with his family.

He later fled to neighbouring Lebanon to avoid military service and still lives there despite a grinding economic crisis and growing anti-Syrian sentiment.

"Any place on earth is better than Rukban," he said.

Using a pseudonym because he is in Lebanon illegally, Mohammed said he has not seen his mother and older brothers in two years because they are stuck in the camp.

"My family knows they're never getting out... They're not even thinking of fleeing," he said.

"The camp is like a prison."


Israeli Assault Traps Foreign Doctors as They Are Treating Waves of Wounded in Gaza

 Palestinian children gather empty ammunition containers in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Palestinian children gather empty ammunition containers in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Israeli Assault Traps Foreign Doctors as They Are Treating Waves of Wounded in Gaza

 Palestinian children gather empty ammunition containers in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Palestinian children gather empty ammunition containers in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

The 35 American and other international doctors came to Gaza in volunteer teams to help one of the territory’s few hospitals still functioning. They brought suitcases full of medical supplies and had trained for one of the worst war zones in the world. They knew the health care system was decimated and overwhelmed.

The reality is even worse than they imagined, they say.

Children with horrific amputations. Patients with burns and maggot-filled wounds. Rampant infections. Palestinian doctors and nurses who are beyond exhausted after seven months of treating never-ending waves of civilians wounded in Israel’s war with Hamas.

"I did not expect that (it) will be that bad," said Dr. Ammar Ghanem, an ICU specialist from Detroit with the Syrian American Medical Society. "You hear the news, but you cannot really recognize ... how bad until you come and see it."

Israel’s incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah has exacerbated the chaos. On May 6, Israeli troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, closing the main entry and exit point for international humanitarian workers. The teams were trapped beyond the scheduled end of their two-week mission.

On Friday, days after the teams were supposed to leave, talks between US and Israeli authorities yielded results and some of the doctors were able to get out of Gaza. However, at least 14, including three Americans, chose to stay, according to one of the organizations, the Palestinian American Medical Association.

The US-based non-profit medical group FAJR Scientific, which organized a second volunteer team, could not immediately be reached. The White House said 17 Americans left Gaza on Friday, and at least three chose to stay behind.

Those who left included Ghanem, who said the 15-mile trip from the hospital to the Kerem Shalom crossing took more than four hours as explosions went off around them. He described some tense moments, such as when an Israeli tank at the crossing took aim at the doctors' convoy.

"The tank moved and blocked our way and they directed their weapons (at) us. So that was a scary moment," Ghanem said.

The 14 doctors with the Palestinian American Medical Association who stayed behind include American Adam Hamawy. US Sen. Tammy Duckworth credits Hamawy with saving her life when, as a military helicopter pilot in Iraq in 2004, she was hit by an RPG, causing injuries that cost her legs.

"Three of the US citizen doctors in our teams declined to leave without a formal replacement plan for them," the association's president, Mustafa Muslen, said.

The two international teams have been working since early May at the European General Hospital, just outside Rafah, the largest hospital still operating in southern Gaza. The volunteers are mostly American surgeons but include medical professionals from Britain, Australia, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and other nations.

The World Health Organization said the UN, which coordinates visits of volunteer teams, is in talks with Israel to resume moving humanitarian workers in and out of Gaza. The Israeli military said it had no comment.

The doctors' mission gave them a first-hand look at a health system that has been shattered by Israel's offensive in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel. Nearly two dozen hospitals in Gaza are no longer operating, and the remaining dozen are only partially working.

Israel's campaign has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 79,000, according to Gaza health officials. Almost 500 health workers are among the dead.

The military's nearly two-week-old Rafah operation has sent more than 600,000 Palestinians fleeing the city and scattering across southern Gaza. Much of the European Hospital’s Palestinian staff left to help families find new shelter. As a result, the foreign volunteers are stretched between medical emergencies and other duties, such as trying to find patients inside the hospital. There is no staff to log where incoming wounded are placed. Medicines that the teams brought with them are running out.

Thousands of Palestinians are sheltering in the hospital. Outside, sewage overflows in the streets, and drinking water is brackish or polluted, spreading disease. The road to the hospital from Rafah is now unsafe: The United Nations says an Israeli tank fired on a marked UN vehicle on the road Monday, killing a UN security officer and wounding another.

When the Rafah assault began, FAJR Scientific's 17 doctors were living in a guesthouse in the city. With no warning from the Israeli army to evacuate, the team was stunned by bombs landing a few hundred meters from the clearly-marked house, said Mosab Nasser, FAJR’s CEO.

They scrambled out, still wearing their scrubs, and moved to the European Hospital, where the other team was staying.

Dr. Mohamed Tahir, an orthopedic surgeon from London with FAJR, does multiple surgeries a day on little sleep. He's often jolted awake by bombings shaking the hospital. Work is frantic. He recalled opening one man’s chest to stop bleeding, with no time to get him to the operating room. The man died.

Tahir said when the Rafah assault began, Palestinian colleagues at the hospital nervously asked if the volunteers would leave.

"It makes my heart feel really heavy," Tahir said. The Palestinian staff knows that when the teams leave "they have no more protection; and that could mean that this hospital turns into Shifa, which is a very real possibility."

Israeli forces stormed Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest, for a second time in March, leaving it in ruins. Israel alleges that Hamas uses hospitals as command centers and hideouts, an accusation Gaza health officials deny.

The patients Tahir has saved keep him going. Tahir and other surgeons operated for hours on a man with severe wounds to the skull and abdomen and shrapnel in his back. They did a second surgery on him Wednesday night.

"I looked at my colleagues and said, ‘You know what? If this patient survives -- just this patient -- everything we’ve done, or everything we’ve experienced, would all be worth it,’" Tahir said.

Dr. Ahlia Kattan, an anesthesiologist and ICU doctor from California with FAJR, said the hardest case for her was a 4-year-old boy, the same age as her son, who arrived with burns on more than 75% of his body, his lungs and spleen shattered. He didn’t survive.

"He reminded me so much of my son," she said, holding back tears. "Everyone has different stories here that they’re taking home with them."

Weighing heavily on all the volunteers, Kattan said, is "the guilt that we’re already feeling when we leave, that we get to escape to safety."


For Children of Gaza, War Means No School, No Indication When Formal Learning Might Return 

A Palestinian child plays next to empty ammunition containers in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
A Palestinian child plays next to empty ammunition containers in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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For Children of Gaza, War Means No School, No Indication When Formal Learning Might Return 

A Palestinian child plays next to empty ammunition containers in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
A Palestinian child plays next to empty ammunition containers in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

Atef Al-Buhaisi, 6, once dreamed of a career building houses. Now, all he craves is to return to school.

In Israel's war with Hamas, Atef's home has been bombed, his teacher killed and his school in Nuseirat turned into a refuge for displaced people. He lives in a cramped tent with his family in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, where he sleeps clinging to his grandmother and fears walking alone even during the day.

Since the war erupted Oct. 7, all of Gaza's schools have closed — leaving hundreds of thousands of students like Atef without formal schooling or a safe place to spend their days. Aid groups are scrambling to keep children off the streets and their minds focused on something other than the war, as heavy fighting continues across the enclave and has expanded into the southern city of Rafah and intensified in the north.

"What we’ve lost most is the future of our children and their education," said Irada Ismael, Atef’s grandmother. "Houses and walls are rebuilt, money can be earned again ... but how do I compensate for (his) education?"

Gaza faces a humanitarian crisis, with the head of the UN's World Food Program determining a "full-blown famine" is already underway in the north.

More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its figures. About 80% of Gaza’s population has been driven from homes. Much of Gaza is damaged or destroyed, including nearly 90% of school buildings, according to aid group estimates.

Children are among the most severely affected, with the UN estimating some 19,000 children have been orphaned and nearly a third under the age of 2 face acute malnutrition. In emergencies, education takes a back seat to safety, health and sanitation, say education experts, but the consequences are lasting.

"The immediate focus during conflict isn’t on education, but the disruption has an incredibly long-term effect," said Sonia Ben Jaafar, of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on education in the Arab world. "The cost at this point is immeasurable."

Before the war, Gaza was home to more than 625,000 students and some 20,000 teachers in its highly literate population, according to the UN In other conflicts, aid groups can create safe spaces for children in neighboring countries — for example, Poland for shelter and schooling during the war in Ukraine.

That's not possible in Gaza, a densely populated enclave locked between the sea, Israel and Egypt. Since Oct 7, Palestinians from Gaza haven't been allowed to cross into Israel. Egypt has let a small number of Palestinians leave.

"They’re unable to flee, and they remain in an area that continues to be battered," said Tess Ingram, of UNICEF. "It’s very hard to provide them with certain services, such as mental health and psychosocial support or consistent education and learning."

Aid groups hope classes will resume by September. But even if a cease-fire is brokered, much of Gaza must be cleared of mines, and rebuilding schools could take years.

In the interim, aid groups are providing recreational activities — games, drawing, drama, art — not for a curriculum-based education but to keep children engaged and in a routine, in an effort for normalcy. Even then, advocates say, attention often turns to the war — Atef's grandmother sees him draw pictures only of tents, planes and missiles.

Finding free space is among the biggest challenges. Some volunteers use the outdoors, make do inside tents where people live, or find a room in homes still standing.

It took volunteer teachers more than two months to clear one room in a school in Deir al-Balah to give ad hoc classes to children. Getting simple supplies such as soccer balls and stationery into Gaza can also take months, groups report.

"Having safe spaces for children to gather to play and learn is an important step," Ingram said, but "ultimately the children of Gaza must be able to return to learning curriculum from teachers in classrooms, with education materials and all the other support schooling provides."

This month, UNICEF had planned to erect at least 50 tents for some 6,000 children from preschool to grade 12 for play-based numbers and literacy learning in Rafah. But UNICEF says those plans could be disrupted by Israel's operation there.

Lack of schooling can take a psychological toll — it disrupts daily life and, compounded with conflict, makes children more prone to anxiety and nervousness, said Jesus Miguel Perez Cazorla, a mental health expert with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Children in conflicts are also at increased risk of forced labor, sexual violence, trafficking and recruitment by gangs and armed groups, experts warn.

"Not only are children vulnerable to recruitment by Hamas and other militant groups, but living amid ongoing violence and constantly losing family members makes children psychologically primed to want to take action against the groups they consider responsible," said Samantha Nutt of War Child USA, which supports children and families in war zones.

Palestinians say they've seen more children take to Gaza's streets since the war, trying to earn money for their families.

"The streets are full of children selling very simple things, such as chocolate, canned goods," said Lama Nidal Alzaanin, 18, who was in her last year of high school and looking forward to university when the war broke out. "There is nothing for them to do."

Some parents try to find small ways to teach their children, scrounging for notebooks and pens and insisting they learn something as small as a new word each day. But many find the kids are too distracted, with the world around them at war.

Sabreen al-Khatib, a mother whose family was displaced to Deir al-Balah from Gaza City, said it's particularly hard for the many who've seen relatives die.

"When you speak in front of children," al-Khatib said, "what do you think he is thinking? Will he think about education? Or about himself, how will he die?"

On Oct. 7, 14-year-old Layan Nidal Alzaanin — Lama's younger sister — was on her way to her middle school in Beit Hanoun when missiles flew overhead, she said. She fled with her family to Rafah, where they lived crowded in a tent. Since Israel ordered evacuations there, she fled to Deir al-Balah.

"It is a disaster," she said. "My dreams have been shattered. There is no future for me without school."


What to Know about How Much the Aid from a US Pier Project Will Help Gaza 

Members of the US Army, US Navy and the Israeli military put in place the Trident Pier, a temporary pier to deliver humanitarian aid, on the Gaza coast, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, May 16, 2024. (US Central Command/Handout via Reuters)
Members of the US Army, US Navy and the Israeli military put in place the Trident Pier, a temporary pier to deliver humanitarian aid, on the Gaza coast, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, May 16, 2024. (US Central Command/Handout via Reuters)
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What to Know about How Much the Aid from a US Pier Project Will Help Gaza 

Members of the US Army, US Navy and the Israeli military put in place the Trident Pier, a temporary pier to deliver humanitarian aid, on the Gaza coast, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, May 16, 2024. (US Central Command/Handout via Reuters)
Members of the US Army, US Navy and the Israeli military put in place the Trident Pier, a temporary pier to deliver humanitarian aid, on the Gaza coast, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, May 16, 2024. (US Central Command/Handout via Reuters)

A US-built pier is in place to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea, but no one will know if the new route will work until a steady stream of deliveries begins reaching starving Palestinians.

The trucks that will roll off the pier project installed Thursday will face intensified fighting, Hamas threats to target any foreign forces and uncertainty about whether the Israeli military will ensure that aid convoys have access and safety from attack by Israeli forces.

Even if the sea route performs as hoped, US, UN and aid officials caution, it will bring in a fraction of the aid that's needed to the embattled enclave.

Here's a look at what's ahead for aid arriving by sea:

WILL THE SEA ROUTE END THE CRISIS IN GAZA? No, not even if everything with the sea route works perfectly, American and international officials say.

US military officials hope to start with about 90 truckloads of aid a day through the sea route, growing quickly to about 150 trucks a day.

Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development, and other aid officials have consistently said Gaza needs deliveries of more than 500 truckloads a day — the prewar average — to help a population struggling without adequate food or clean water during seven months of war between Israel and Hamas.

Israel has hindered deliveries of food, fuel and other supplies through land crossings since Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel launched the conflict in October. The restrictions on border crossings and fighting have brought on a growing humanitarian catastrophe for civilians.

International experts say all 2.3 million of Gaza's people are experiencing acute levels of food insecurity, 1.1 million of them at “catastrophic” levels. Power and UN World Food Program Director Cindy McCain say north Gaza is in famine.

At that stage, saving the lives of children and others most affected requires steady treatment in clinical settings, making a cease-fire critical, USAID officials say.

At full operation, international officials have said, aid from the sea route is expected to reach a half-million people. That's just over one-fifth of the population.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FOR THE SEA ROUTE NOW? The US plan is for the UN to take charge of the aid once it's brought in. The UN World Food Program will then turn it over to aid groups for delivery.

UN officials have expressed concern about preserving their neutrality despite the involvement in the sea route by the Israeli military — one of the combatants in the conflict — and say they are negotiating that.

There are still questions on how aid groups will safely operate in Gaza to distribute food to those who need it most, said Sonali Korde, assistant to the administrator for USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, which is helping with logistics.

US and international organizations including the US government's USAID and the Oxfam, Save the Children and International Rescue Committee nonprofits say Israeli officials haven't meaningfully improved protections of aid workers since the military's April 1 attack that killed seven aid workers with the World Central Kitchen organization.

Talks with the Israeli military “need to get to a place where humanitarian aid workers feel safe and secure and able to operate safely. And I don’t think we’re there yet," Korde told reporters Thursday.

Meanwhile, fighting is surging in Gaza. It isn’t threatening the new shoreline aid distribution area, Pentagon officials say, but they have made it clear that security conditions could prompt a shutdown of the maritime route, even just temporarily.

A ship is seen off the coast of Gaza near a US-built floating pier that will be used to facilitate aid deliveries, as seen from the central Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP)

The US and Israel have developed a security plan for humanitarian groups coming to a “marshaling yard” next to the pier to pick up the aid, said US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, deputy commander of the US military’s Central Command. USAID Response Director Dan Dieckhaus said aid groups would follow their own security procedures in distributing the supplies.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces have moved into the border crossing in the southern city of Rafah as part of their offensive, preventing aid from moving through, including fuel.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that without fuel, delivery of all aid in Gaza can't happen.

WHAT'S NEEDED? US President Joe Biden's administration, the UN and aid groups have pressed Israel to allow more aid through land crossings, saying that's the only way to ease the suffering of Gaza's civilians. They've also urged Israel's military to actively coordinate with aid groups to stop Israeli attacks on humanitarian workers.

“Getting aid to people in need into and across Gaza cannot and should not depend on a floating dock far from where needs are most acute,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Thursday.

“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza — and for that, we need access by land now,” Haq said.

US officials agree that the pier is only a partial solution at best, and say they are pressing Israel for more.

WHAT DOES ISRAEL SAY? Israel says it places no limits on the entry of humanitarian aid and blames the UN for delays in distributing goods entering Gaza. The UN says ongoing fighting, Israeli fire and chaotic security conditions have hindered delivery.

Under pressure from the US, Israel has in recent weeks opened a pair of crossings to deliver aid into hard-hit northern Gaza. It said a series of Hamas attacks on the main crossing, Kerem Shalom, have disrupted the flow of goods.