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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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President casts ballot in parliamentary election

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President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu has cast his vote in the parliamentary elections.

President Muizzu cast his vote at a polling station based in Thaajuddeen School. Following his vote, he urged the public to exercise their right by voting promptly.

The Election Commission of the Maldives (ECM) revealed that the voting will take place between 0800hrs to 1730hrs, highlighting that voting commenced promptly at nearly all polling stations on time.

In the current parliamentary elections, the ruling party People’s National Congress (PNC) led by President Muizzu has nominated candidates to contest in 90 constituencies.

Source(s): PsmNews

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ECM urges to vote independently and promptly

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President of the Election Commission of the Maldives (ECM) Fuwad Thowfeeq has urged the populace to promptly cast their ballot.

In a message to media commemorating voting day, Fuwad Thowfeeq urged the voting population to cast votes independently and promptly. Voting for the 20th parliamentary election began at 0800hrs on April 21.

Additionally, ballot boxes are placed in all residential islands, 34 resorts, correctional facilities, industrial islands and as well as 3 countries abroad. ECM confirmed a total of 602 ballot boxes are placed.

Moreover, Fuwad reiterated that the electoral body is fully equipped for the preparation of the polling stations, highlighting that all administrative work necessary has been initiated. The ECM has initiated a reduction in the number of voters per polling station. Therefore, 500 individuals can now voter per box.

Furthermore, efforts are currently being made by the Maldives Police Service (MPS) to guarantee a smooth and seamless elections. Subsequently, MPS raised its alert level by launching a special operation named “Operation Blue Tide”. Simultaneously, it resolved to use ‘body worn cameras’ to ensure the utmost security throughout the election process.

Commander of Maldives Police Service Abdulla Shareef underscored that police personnel have been stationed at various polling stations, ensuring its safety. It further urged the public to cooperate with the temporary amendments made to the traffic guidelines. Meanwhile, transportation of heavy vehicles will be prohibited following the parliamentary elections.

Additionally, individuals with special needs, pregnant women, the elderly, and those working in uniformed services will be awarded priority access at polling stations, exempting them from queues. Concurrently, it stressed the importance of carrying official documents when voting.

The counting of votes begins 30 minutes after the polling place closes.

Source(s): PsmNews

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Voting begins for the parliamentary election 2024

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Voting has begun for the 2024 parliamentary election.

Polling stations opened in Male’ and the atolls at 0800hrs and will close at 1730hrs, as per the decision of the Election Commission of the Maldives (ECM). Voters began queuing up at the polling stations at around 0730hrs and the security envelopes were opened in the presence of the first two voters at the polling stations.

A total of 602 ballot boxes have been set up in the Maldives and three other countries for the parliamentary election. Polling stations are also open in 34 resorts, prisons and other industrial islands. The countries in which ballot boxes are placed for voting are Trivandrum in India (0830hrs to 1800hrs), Colombo in Sri Lanka (0830hrs to 1800hrs) and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia (1100hrs to 2030hrs).

ECM has made several arrangements to ensure maximum convenience to all during the election process. As such, each ballot box is open for 500 individuals. Additionally, ECM affirmed that the allocated time for voting will not be extended under any circumstances, hence urging residents to cast their votes promptly.

With a total of 93 various constituencies, the eligible voting population for the election is 284،663, including 145،302 male and 139،361 female voters. While the current 19th parliament consists of members representing 87 districts, decisions have been made such that the forthcoming 20th parliament will encompass an additional six districts. The additional six constituencies are as follows: two chairs for Male’ City, one chair for Addu City, one chair for Maalhosmadulu Dhekunuburi (Baa Atoll), one chair for Male’ Atoll and one chair for Huvadhu Atholhu Uthuruburi (Gaafu Alif Atoll).

The current parliamentary term will conclude on May 30, 2025.

Source(s): PsmNews

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