‘In Gaza, there are no more normal-sized babies’

Allen said Israeli authorities had refused to allow in some UNFPA supply shipments, such as kits for midwives, or had removed supplies like flashlights and solar panels…reports Asian Lite News

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is a “nightmare” for mothers and babies, with doctors reporting small and sickly newborns, stillbirths and women forced to undergo C-sections without adequate anesthesia, a UN official said Friday.

“I’m personally leaving Gaza this week terrified for the one million women and girls of Gaza… and most especially for the 180 women who are giving birth every single day,” Dominic Allen, UN Population Fund (UNFPA) representative for the state of Palestine, said in a video news conference from Jerusalem.

“Doctors are reporting that they no longer see normal-sized babies,” Allen said after visiting hospitals still providing maternity services in the north of Gaza, where need is especially great.

“What they do see though, tragically, is more stillborn births… and more neonatal deaths, caused in part by malnutrition, dehydration and complications.”

The numbers of complicated deliveries are roughly twice what they were before the war with Israel began — with mothers stressed, fearful, underfed and exhausted — and caregivers often lacking necessary supplies.

“We have had reports of insufficient anesthetic being available” for Caesarean sections, “which again is unthinkable.”

“Those mothers should be wrapping their arms around their children,” he said. “Those children should not be wrapped in a body bag.”

Israel has defended its policies as it pursues its stated goal of destroying Hamas, saying the UN should send more aid to the war-ravaged territory, pushing back on reports by the UN and NGOs that cumbersome Israeli inspections are blocking food and other essentials.

Allen said Israeli authorities had refused to allow in some UNFPA supply shipments, such as kits for midwives, or had removed supplies like flashlights and solar panels.

“It’s a nightmare which is much more than a humanitarian crisis,” he said. “It is a crisis of humanity… beyond catastrophic.”

What he saw while driving through Gaza, he said, “really broke my heart.”

Everyone he passed or spoke to, Allen said, “was gaunt, emaciated, hungry” and exhausted from the daily struggle to survive.

At one military checkpoint, he said, he saw a boy who appeared to be about five years old walking with his hands held high, clearly frightened, as his slightly older sister followed behind, holding a white flag.

The war began 7 October when a surprise attack by Hamas fighters resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 31,490 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry.

UN experts warn of alarming spike in violence against Muslims

A group of UN independent experts on Friday sounded the alarm over a sharp rise around the world in acts of harassment, intimidation and violence directed at Muslims.

Speaking on International Day To Combat Islamophobia, the group said that attacks have increased on mosques, cultural centers, schools and even private property belonging to Muslims, “shocking our conscience, and creating a climate of fear and deep distrust.”

The experts included Nazila Ghanea, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; as well as the special rapporteurs on the right to education, cultural rights, minority issues, and on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

During Ramadan, Israel’s refusal to allow sufficient humanitarian aid to reach the predominantly Muslim civilian population in Gaza was deeply troubling, the experts said.

They expressed grave concern over the “undue restrictions” imposed on accessing Al-Aqsa Mosque, especially given the significant loss of life and destruction of numerous places of worship in Gaza. International humanitarian law recognizes the protection of cultural property during times of conflict, understanding that harm to any people’s cultural heritage affects all of humanity.

“Cultural property is protected in international humanitarian law during armed conflict since it recognizes damage to the cultural property of any people as resulting in damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind,” the experts said.

Acts of violence, such as killings, harassment, verbal abuse, and death threats, driven by the victims’ perceived religious affiliations, represent a failure of the state to uphold its obligations to protect all citizens, they added.

“In too many countries in the lead-up to elections, state and non-state actors feed religious tensions, and promote discriminatory laws and policies against Muslim minorities to gain political advantage.”

The UN General Assembly, by instituting International Day to Combat Islamophobia in 2022, had called for “strengthened international efforts to foster a global dialogue on the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels,” they said.

Yet, today, “hate entrepreneurs, political parties, armed groups, religious leaders, and even state actors around the world are trampling on respect for diversity of religions and beliefs, discriminating, violating human rights, and overlooking or even attempting to justify these violations,” the experts said.

They urged states to honor the universal values and international human rights principles in addressing all forms of religious hatred, including Islamophobia.

The experts condemned orchestrated public burnings of the Qur’an, and called for the condemnation of religious intolerance, which “engenders deep hurt and fear at individual and community levels.”

“Where advocacy of religious hatred constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, it must be prohibited by law in accordance with international standards,” they said.

The experts called on states to honor their “human rights responsibilities,” and step in to counter such violations, and encourage respect for religious diversity.

They also expressed solidarity with “those who have suffered intolerance, discrimination, violations and violence, purely on account of being Muslims. Nobody should suffer fear for having or manifesting their religion or belief. Everyone should feel safe and benefit from the equal protection of their human rights, which must be guaranteed by all states.”

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