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Israel-Hezbollah escalation, M23 advances, and Hajj heat deaths: The Cheat Sheet

A weekly read to keep you in the loop on humanitarian issues.

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Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar 

‘Critical moment’ as Israel approves plans for Hezbollah offensive

Fears are growing of an escalation of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia political party and militant group aligned with Iran. On 18 June, hours after Hezbollah released drone footage showing civilian and military infrastructure in Israel (drawing outrage from Israeli officials), the Israeli military said it had approved “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon”, signalling the possibility of all-out war. Israel and Hezbollah have been trading cross-border fire since 8 October 2023, the day after the attacks by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad that led to Israel’s ongoing bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Tens of thousands of people on each side of the Israel-Lebanon border have been displaced by the near-daily exchange of fire. The fighting escalated last week after an Israeli airstrike killed a top Hezbollah commander, prompting the armed group to launch dozens of rockets at Israel. Hezbollah has said it will not stop attacks against Israel until a ceasefire is reached in Gaza. The US maintains that it has sought for months to prevent an escalation, and this week dispatched envoy Amos Hochstein to urgently meet political leaders and senior officials in Lebanon and Israel. Referring to it as a “critical moment”, Hochstein reportedly told Lebanese officials he envisaged five more weeks of intensive Israeli military operations in Gaza before a lull (but not necessarily a ceasefire), warning them that the US would back a limited Israeli offensive against Hezbollah if it didn’t stop fighting at that time. Also on 18 June, the UN said a war crimes investigation was needed into Israel’s use of six heavy bombs against residential buildings, refugee camps, a market, and a school in Gaza. The bombs killed at least 218 people. 

Hundreds killed in flashpoint Darfur city

Several new reports underline the bleak situation facing civilians in Sudan. According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds have been killed, and tens of thousands displaced in Darfur's El Fasher, the current epicentre of clashes between the army and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group. Both sides have used explosive weapons with wide area impact, and satellite images show an increase in graves in at least six city cemeteries. Another report, by The New York Times, found that more than 20,000 buildings in El Fasher have been damaged or destroyed since the RSF began its assault, and over 40 villages around the city have been burnt, either deliberately or during clashes. Meanwhile, a report by Amnesty International has found that thousands of Sudanese refugees in Egypt have been arbitrarily arrested and collectively expelled back to Sudan in violation of international law. The report supports the conclusions of an earlier investigation we carried out in partnership with the Refugees Platform in Egypt.

M23 advances in DR Congo see 350,000 displaced in one week

Some 350,000 people have been displaced over the past week as the M23 rebel group advances towards Kanyabayonga, a major town in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The offensive has resulted in the suspension of food distributions and hospital services in the town, according to the UN. Several people in Kanyabayonga (where we reported from a few months back) have also been killed in artillery shelling, which the Congolese army has blamed on the rebels. M23 strikes have also hit camps around Goma in recent weeks, though the army is partially to blame for putting heavy weapons close to the camps. The M23 is receiving direct combat support from the Rwandan army, yet Kigali’s main Western donors have taken little direct action, in stark contrast to their position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Rwanda has leverage because of its role in peacekeeping missions, asylum seeker deals, and in battling jihadist insurgents in Mozambique, for which more EU money may soon be in the offing.

Kenya-led Haiti mission looms as final obstacles removed

After months of delays, a first contingent of Kenyan police tasked with reining in gang violence and restoring order in Haiti is expected to arrive in the Caribbean nation by the end of the month. The so-called Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission was approved by the UN back in October but resisted in Haiti (by those wary of foreign interventions), in Kenya (by courts that deemed it unconstitutional), and in the United States (where opposition Republican politicians sought to prevent it being funded until more assurances were given). Bypassing the block in Congress on part of the $300 million the US has pledged to bankroll the mission, Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week ordered the release of $109 million to buy the materials and equipment required to get it under way. Meanwhile, in Haiti, the newly appointed prime minister, former UN official Garry Conille, formed a new government and replaced Haitian National Police (PNH) chief Frantz Elbé, who has been accused of ties with the gangs. Only time will tell if the intervention does more good than harm, but gang violence and the collapse of institutions comes with a high toll, particularly for children. More than 180,000 children are now displaced and living in what one aid worker described as “animal-like” conditions. According to UNICEF, three million children remain in need of urgent humanitarian aid, while a recent UN report registered more than 380 grave violations against children, including the killing of 128 in 2023. Casualties resulted from stray bullets, targeted killings, and included children who were gang raped or burned alive. The UN estimates that up to half of Haiti’s gang members are children.

Hajj deaths top 1,000 as extreme heat takes a global toll

More extreme heat this week saw record temperatures recorded from the Americas to Asia. While 100 million people in the United States have been affected by heat warnings, and wildfires broke out across the Mediterranean, the worst impacts have been in the Global South, where billions of people have been subjected to sometimes life-threatening temperatures with typically less resources to cope. Among the worst-affected countries has been India, where 40,000 people suffered heat stroke and 110 heat-related fatalities were recorded. “My body can’t take it, but I have to keep cycling… this heat is not normal, something has to change,” rickshaw driver Sagar Mandal told CNN. “No one cares if we live or die.” The mercury has topped 50 degrees Celsius in Delhi during the day, but temperatures at night have also reached more than 30 degrees. Infants, outdoor labourers, and people with chronic health issues are most vulnerable, meaning statistics tend to underreport how many people are harmed by excessive heat, with other reasons often given. High temperatures have reportedly led to more than 1,000 deaths during this year’s hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Watch the video below for more:


Should paying for sex be a crime?

It’s “the prostitution system”, not “sex work”; and it’s “prostituted women”, not “sex worker”. Reem Alsalem, the special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, is calling for the purchase of sexual acts to be criminalised, in a new report that was slated to be tabled at the Human Rights Council on 21 June. The report tries to reframe public discourse around prostitution, violence, and rights. The term “sex work”, Alsalem writes, ”wrongly depicts prostitution as an activity as worthy and dignified as any other work; it fails to take into account the serious human rights violations that characterise the prostitution system.” Her recommendation to criminalise the purchase of sexual acts runs headfirst against guidelines from UN agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS. Researchers and advocacy groups say the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients pushes sex work further underground, which increases risk and harms. But among her many recommendations, Alsalem is also asking the WHO to study “the psychological and physical consequences of prostitution beyond HIV/AIDS prevention”.

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In case you missed it

BURKINA FASO: Tensions are running high within the military after a jihadist attack killed more than 100 soldiers stationed close to the Niger border. The day after the attack, gunfire was heard at the presidency building in Ouagadougou, and a rocket fell next to the headquarters of the state broadcaster, fuelling mutiny speculations. Junta leader Ibrahim Traoré appeared on television on 20 June to quash the rumours, though Russian and Malian forces have reportedly been flown into the country to protect him.

CHINA: Human Rights Watch says the Chinese Communist Party has been changing the names of hundreds of villages in Xinjiang province as part of an effort to erase any mentions of Uyghur Muslim identity and history. HRW says that between 2009 and 2023, the names of hundreds of villages containing phrases related to Sufism and Uyghur leaders from before the Cultural Revolution have been changed to more generic terms like “harmony” and “unity.”

GREECE: Between 2020 and 2023, the Greek coastguard caused the deaths of at least 43 migrants in the Mediterranean, with some people thrown directly into the sea and others set adrift on “inflatable rafts without motors which then deflated, or appeared to have been punctured”, a BBC investigation has found.

HONDURAS: Following El Salvador’s example, President Xiomara Castro has announced plans to build a “mega-prison”, doubling the country's current jail capacity. The plan is part of a series of measures to fight rising crime rates that also include collective trials for gang members and designating them as terrorists. For more on the humanitarian impact of gangs in Latin America and The Caribbean, read our “Gangs out of control” series.

KENYA: A $37 million funding injection has enabled the World Food Programme (WFP) to increase rations and resume cash transfers to 650,000 refugees until December 2024. WFP had slashed rations to just 40% of the minimum nutritional requirement and ceased all cash payments in May. See (and hear) The New Humanitarian’s report on refugee reactions to the cuts.

MOROCCO/SPAIN: Nearly 2,000 refugees were systematically herded into “a death trap” at Morocco’s border with the Spanish enclave of Melilla and then violently repressed by the two countries’ law enforcement agents, according to a joint investigation by European and Moroccan NGOs into the 2022 incident, which left up to 100 people either dead or missing.

PANDEMIC: Political leaders have failed to learn the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic and are failing to implement measures to help prevent another worldwide disease outbreak, according to a new report by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. Co-chairs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Helen Clark also recommended major reform of the WHO. 

SCHOOL ATTACKS: More than 10,000 students, teachers, and academics were killed or harmed in around 6,000 attacks on education facilities in 2022 and 2023, according to a report by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. These figures represent a 20% increase from the previous two years. Palestine, Ukraine, and DR Congo bore the brunt of the attacks, which included looting, burning, improvised explosives, shelling, and airstrikes.

UN AID: Outgoing UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said US arms supplies to Israel are a potential breach of international humanitarian law in a New York Times oped, as speculation mounted about his successor. Tariq Ahmad of the UK’s Foreign Office; Dutch diplomat Sigrid Kaag; and the head of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, are among those frequently named as possibilities for a role that tends to go to a Brit but shouldn’t have to.

VENEZUELA: With the 28 July presidential election fast-approaching, Nicolás Maduro's government arrested five more activists, including two journalists, accusing them of “instigating hate and conspiracy”. Opposition leader María Corina Machado, who Maduro banned from running, denounced the fact that at least 37 political and social leaders have been detained this year. Read more on Maduro’s repressive policies here

Weekend read

Deaths on migration route to Canary Islands soar to 1,000 a month

Mauritania has overtaken Senegal as the main departure point for those taking on the perilous Atlantic crossing.

And finally…

An award for invisible success

Disasters grab headlines and communities pay the price. But how much do you save – in lives and in money – when you prevent an emergency in the first place? The Averted Disaster Award was created with this in mind. Prevention is crucial but inherently invisible – how do you count the benefits of skirting a disaster that never happened? The award’s 2024 version was announced on 19 June. The Lamu County Emergency Operation Centre in Kenya was recognised for averting five major disasters. In a recent case, prevention efforts helped mitigate severe flooding in late 2023 – by evacuating 4,900 families and their livestock three weeks before the floods set in. This prevented the deaths of at least 109 people, according to the award’s analysis.

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