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Global call for Gaza aid convoy deaths probe; EU cuts UNRWA funds

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants an independent probe into the deaths of more than 100 people seeking humanitarian aid in Gaza as various countries expressed their concern over the incident. Israel has disputed the account provided by officials in the Hamas-run enclave.

Germany also demanded an investigation, while French President Emmanuel Macron said he was angered by the shooting and demanded “truth and justice” regarding the role of Israeli soldiers in the incident.

Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces on Thursday (February 29) shot dead more than 100 Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery, but Israel blamed the deaths on crowds that surrounded aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over.

At least 112 people were killed and more than 280 wounded in the incident near Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said.

Israel disputed the account provided by officials in Hamas-run Gaza, which has been bombarded by Israeli forces for months since the Palestinian militant group’s deadly rampage in southern Israel on October 7.

Guterres ‘shocked’

Speaking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines ahead of a regional summit, Guterres said he was “shocked” by the latest episode in the conflict, in which Palestinian authorities say over 30,000 civilians have been killed since October 7.

Responding to questions on the failure of a recent Security Council resolution seeking a ceasefire, Guterres said worsening geopolitical divides have “transformed the veto power into an effective instrument of paralysis of the action of the Security Council.”

“I am totally convinced that we need a humanitarian ceasefire and we need the unconditional and immediate release of hostages and that we should have a Security Council able to achieve these objectives,” Guterres said.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen Friday tweeted: “Deeply disturbed by images from Gaza. Every effort must be made to investigate what happened and ensure transparency. Humanitarian aid is a lifeline for those in need and access to it must be ensured. We stand by civilians, urging their protection in line with international law.”

‘Mass panic’

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock asked Israel to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. She wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “The Israeli army must fully investigate how the mass panic and shooting could have happened,” and reiterated calls for a “humanitarian ceasefire.”

The U.S. State Department said it was urgently seeking information on the incident, as did the French foreign ministry. The White House said President Joe Biden discussed the “tragic and alarming incident” with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar.

The strongest reaction from major Western leaders came from Macron, who tweeted: “Deep indignation at the images coming from Gaza, where civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers. I express my strongest condemnation of these shootings and call for truth, justice, and respect for international law.”

Macron said it was imperative for an immediate ceasefire in the war to be put in place.

Speaking on France Inter radio on Friday, Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Paris would back the United Nations’ call for an independent investigation.

“The humanitarian situation has been catastrophic for several weeks now and what happened is indefensible and unjustifiable. Israel needs to be able to hear it and it needs to stop,” Sejourne told France Inter.

Israel dismisses Palestinian explanation

The Israeli military said the trucks were operated by private contractors as part of an aid operation that it had been overseeing for the past four nights.

One Israeli official said there had been two incidents, hundreds of meters apart. In the first, dozens were killed or injured as they tried to take aid from the trucks and were trampled or run over.

He said there was a second, subsequent incident as the trucks moved off. Some people in the crowd approached troops who felt under threat and opened fire, killing an unknown number in a “limited response”, he said. He dismissed the casualty toll given by Gaza authorities but gave no figure himself.

In a later briefing, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari also said dozens had been trampled to death or injured in a fight to take supplies off the trucks.

He said tanks escorting the trucks had subsequently fired warning shots to disperse the crowd and backed away when events began to get out of hand. “No IDF strike was conducted towards the aid convoy,” he said.

“The IDF was there conducting a humanitarian operation to secure the humanitarian corridor and allow the aid convoy to reach its designated distribution point.”

The loss of civilian lives was the biggest in weeks. Hamas said the incident could jeopardise talks in Qatar aimed at securing a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages it is holding.

Abbas condemns ‘ugly massacre’

Medics in Gaza said they could not cope with the flood of serious injuries, which came as the death toll in nearly five months of war passed 30,000, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Hamas issued a statement rejecting the Israeli account. It said the Health Ministry had presented “undeniable” evidence of “direct firing at citizens, including headshots aimed at immediate killing, in addition to the testimonies of all witnesses who confirmed being targeted with direct fire without posing any threat to the occupying army”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was an “ugly massacre” by Israel.

One video shared on social media, whose location Reuters was able to verify, showed trucks loaded with many dead bodies as well as wounded people.

Another, which Reuters could not verify, showed bloodstained people being carried in a truck, bodies wrapped in shrouds and doctors treating injured patients on the hospital floor.

UNRWA funds held back by European Commission

The European Commission said on Friday it would hold back part of a payment of $89 million for the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) but increase overall aid to the Palestinians by $74 million this year.

UNRWA provides aid and basic services to Palestinians caught up in the war in Gaza but was thrown into crisis after Israel alleged in January that 12 of the agency’s 13,000 staff in the enclave were involved in the Hamas attack of October 7 last year.

Like many of the agency’s other big donors, the EU’s executive body reviewed its funding of UNRWA after Israel made the allegations.

The Commission said in a statement on Friday it now would “proceed to paying” a first tranche of $54 million of the $82 million due to be paid around the end of last month.

It said it would pay two further tranches of $17 million “in line with” an agreement with UNRWA to address concerns raised by the Israeli accusations.

UNRWA dismissed all the accused staff following the allegations. But many major donors, including the United States, Britain and several European Union countries, suspended payments to the agency or said they would not approve new funding until the matter was resolved.

The agency said a total of $450 million in funding was at risk and warned its operations across the Middle East would be “severely compromised” from March

Source(s): CGTN

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New administration has done nothing but boost political appointments: Solih

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The new Maldivian administration has done nothing but appoint more and more political appointees to high-paying posts, says former Maldivian leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Solih, who is a nationwide tour of Maldives to rile up support for the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections, made the remark in a visit to L. Gan on Sunday.

Addressing a rally in Gan, Solih said that President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu’s administration is not running any projects.

“Where are the development projects started in the last five months? But they halted 1,700 projects we initiated,” he said.

“There’s money allocated in this year’s budget for these projects. But after stopping these [projects], the only thing they are doing is appointing more people to political posts and paying them salaries. They are doing nothing else,” he said.

Solih, who now serves as an advisor at MDP, suggested that “either the incumbent administration does not know how to manage the budget or it is deliberately trying to keep the people enslaved.”

He accused the administration of intimidating voters, especially those employed in state-run companies.

“MDP will always rise up against this,” he said.

MDP has repeatedly expressed concern over the high number of apolitical appointments made by the PPM-PNC administration.

Addressing Sunday’s rally, Solih said the people now realize that they made a “mistake” during the 2023 presidential elections. He alleged that President Muizzu based his campaign on “lies and deceit.”

“I see MDP winning the seats by a landslide again, In Sha Allah,” he said, referring to the party’s historic win in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

The allegations of intimidation of government employees and increased hirings for political gain has been repeatedly denied by the government.

The parliamentary elections is scheduled for April 21.

Total 368 candidates are contesting for 93 parliamentary seats in this year’s elections. The highest number of candidates are from the MDP – which is contesting 90 seats.

Source(s): sun.mv

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President plans legal reforms to have tax revenue injected into councils

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President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu says he plans on making legal reforms to have some of the tax revenue generated by the state injected into local councils to boost its income.

President Muizzu, who is on a tour of F. Atoll, made the announcement during a rally in Feeali on Sunday afternoon.

Addressing the rally, President Muizzu said that injecting tax revenue into local councils will facilitate the implementation of multiple initiatives that are beneficial to the people.

“The state generates income from taxes on tourism and other sectors. We will reform the Taxation Act and other relevant laws to inject a certain percentage of the tax revenue directly into councils. There’s a lot that councils can do for the development of islands through this,” he said.

Highlighting on the decision to involve local councils and small businesses in the lease of uninhabited islands, President Muizzu said he wants to enrich the people and make them more self-reliant.

He has named empowering and securing financial independence to councils as one of his administration’s key priorities. He said that he wants to inject revenue from tourism and other key economic sectors into local councils – reducing councils’ dependance on the central government for local developmental initiatives.

President Muizzu said he wants to produce results at a fast pace.

“As I said before, I want to produce results at a fast pace. I want to realize the people’s aspirations without wasting a single day,” he said.

Sunday’s rally had followed a meeting with members of the Feeali Council – bringing the total number of council representatives the president has met during his current tour to 168. He now has 32 councils left to meet.

Source(s): sun.mv

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MDP taking Yameen’s release to JSC is a joke: PNC

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Ruling People’s National Congress (PNC) has claimed the main opposition MDP’s complaint to Judicial Services Commission (JSC) over the delays in former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s appeal hearing is a joke.

It has been nearly four months since the appeal hearing on the crimnal sentence of the former president ended, however, the verdict is still pending.

The former president was found guilty by the Criminal Court on December 25, 2022 for the charges of money laundering and graft in the lease of Vaavu atoll Aarah.

Parliament Speaker Mohamed Aslam recently announced the opposition party was moving forward to submit the complaint over the delay in Yameen’s appeal to JSC.

In a press conference on Sunday, PNC’s senior spokesperson Heena Waleed criticized MDP and Aslam for their decision calling it was a “big joke”.

“Their claim of taking the issue to JSC for the release of Yameen is nothing but a big joke for us,” Heena jabbed.

She further highlighted the three judges in the High Court bench presiding over Yameen’s appeal were all appointed during the previous MDP-led government. Heena also said that while Aslam has claimed he would take the matter to JSC, its majority consists of MDP members including the Speaker.

“JSC is comprised of MDP members, the Parliament speaker is taking the case to a commission which has their party’s majority. So, it truly is a big joke,” Heena added.

She affirmed the current government was not vindictive, but alleged MDP took Super Majority of the 19th parliament assembly after imprisoning Yameen.

“Take a look now, all the opposition members, its leaders and the party are campaigning free and openly. Our party has intervened it,” Heena, who is also the current CEO of NSPA said.

Meanwhile, Yameen has made multiple allegations the current government did not intend to release the former PPM leader.

While he was sentenced for 11 years in jail during the former government, he was transferred to house arrest around the culmination point of Solih’s administration.

Besides this, Yameen was provided with leniencies to step out of his residence for exercise and medical checkups. However, his political activities were restricted by relevant authorities.

Despite the restriction, Yameen had actively participated in multiple PNF rallies; the new party he is attempting to start.

Though Maldives Correctional Service warned Yameen against partaking in political activities, the authority has not taken any action against him so far.

Source(s): sun.mv

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