UN votes to boost Gaza aid as war with Israel rages
Senior foreign affairs correspondent Greg Palkot reports the latest on the vote from Tel Aviv. The ‘Outnumbered’ panelists also discuss their reaction to the vote as the war between Israel and Hamas continues.
EXCLUSIVE: JERUSALEM – Israel’s Defense Ministry is taking advantage of its country’s vibrant high-tech scene to create an artificial intelligence-driven information platform that will help keep track of the increasingly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, even as Israeli troops continue to battle the Iranian-backed Islamist terror group Hamas, Fox News Digital has learned.
Commissioned by Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the NRTM system, which resembles ChatGPT and other AI platforms, relies on open-source information materials such as reports from international aid organizations, including those affiliated with the United Nations, satellite imagery, news stories and social media posts coming out of Gaza to create a real time picture of living conditions for some two million civilians in the Palestinian enclave.
“The idea came from the minister, who has said that Israel’s war is against Hamas and not the people of Gaza,” Hadar Peretz, a senior adviser at the Ministry of Defense, told Fox News Digital. “The minister wanted to make sure that we were collecting as much data as possible in order to make a full assessment of the situation.”
Peretz said the goal was for this platform to become an additional tool to enable decision-making for Israeli leaders and for the minister to use in his myriad of meetings with world leaders, as well as with the heads of international organizations working to mitigate the chaos in Gaza and improve conditions.
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Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Jan.18, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Fox News Digital was given an exclusive view of the system, which is being developed by a team of top high-tech experts and leading Israeli health professionals. Work on NRTM began last October – not long after Hamas carried out its massacre in southern Israel sparking the current war – and will be available for use on mobile devices. Like other AI platforms, it features a “chatbot” that searches and collates the crucial information, as well as an option for the user to “improve” the answer. Currently, NRTM is available in English, French and Arabic but can be quickly adapted to other languages, the developers told Fox News Digital.
The hope, inside the ministry, is that NRTM will become a useful – and more accurate tool – for world leaders, international aid organizations and journalists following the situation in Gaza and who, up until now, have relied heavily on information provided by the Hamas-run Health Ministry. With more factual information – free from the propaganda of a designated terrorist organization – Israel hopes that a clearer picture of what is really happening on the ground will emerge – and the needs of the population will be better addressed.
Among those from the high-tech world recruited to formulate the platform is Udi, an entrepreneur and VP for business development at an early-stage VC fund, who was brought in to oversee the project’s creation and its development.
Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, who commissioned the NRTM system, meets soldiers on the border with the Gaza Strip on Oct. 19, 2023, in Sderot, Israel. (Amir Levy/Getty Images)
“What we have done in the past few months is essentially build a startup for Israel’s Ministry of Defense,” Udi, who requested to use only his first name, said. He added that the name, NRTM, was based on a Hebrew acronym for “Monitoring the life conditions in Gaza via the web.”
Udi explained that the ministry’s request was to build a comprehensive database relying on the most advanced tech tools in order to collect the most updated open-source information that would help keep track of the humanitarian situation developing in Gaza more accurately. The system is meant to be used in tandem with other sources, such as military intelligence and security information.
“The platform tracks detailed data and metrics in four areas,” Udi said, outlining those areas as water and food availability; medication and health care facilities; internally displaced; and energy.
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Screenshot shows the NRTM system with a map of Gaza split into zones.
Calling the professionals now working on the project, including experts in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a “dream team,” Udi explained that by contracting the work out to the private sector, the Defense Ministry bypassed the bureaucratic and security barriers of a government agency to get the system up and running in a relatively short time period.
Maor Ahuvim, the lead senior software engineer on the project, told Fox News Digital that the sources included independent satellite imagery, as well as the social media accounts of both influencers and ordinary people inside Gaza, all of which offer a real-life picture of what is happening beyond Hamas’ propaganda. He said he was also working to incorporate video imagery into the AI’s search engine.
Showcasing how the system works, Ahuvim shared with Fox News Digital aerial maps detailing buildings in the Strip that have been destroyed during the three months of fighting. According to the NRTM data viewed by Fox News Digital, some 8,693 buildings have been destroyed out of 185,000 buildings that stood before the war, with an additional 37,379 buildings partially damaged. These figures contradict slightly recent reports that 50% of the buildings in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or rendered unlivable.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) tent camp, where hundreds of Gazan families have fled, in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on Nov. 27, 2023. (Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Another example Ahuvim shared was a satellite image of civilians who have been internally displaced by the fighting. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that some 1.9 million people, or nearly 85% of the Strip’s population, is now internally displaced, with the majority taking refuge in southern Gaza. NRTM’s data showed this number to be slightly less – closer to 1.3 million – based on a collation of materials that calculated the possible number of people per square meter in the south.
Professor Eli Schwartz, the former director of the center for traveler medicine and tropical diseases at Tel Hashomer hospital in Tel Aviv, who has been working on the project from the health perspective, also said NRTM was useful in determining possible health crises, including malnutrition and outbreaks of infectious diseases.
Last week, the heads of the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a joint statement calling on Israel to allow more aid into the Gaza Strip and warning that the territory was on the brink of starvation and famine if the current conditions persist.
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A truck carrying humanitarian aid moves at the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the southern Gaza Strip on Dec. 19, 2023. (Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images)
Schwartz, however, said NRTM had pulled up old information published online showing that such claims were very similar to those made by the same organizations over the past two years.
However, he said the platform would be vital in the coming months to help determine the health and sanitation conditions in the Strip and address any possible outbreaks of diseases, which, he said, were common in war situations.
Ultimately, the NRTM team said the platform would be useful in providing both the military and the public sector in Israel, including the health and defense ministries, with a more vivid picture of what was happening in Gaza and allow government bodies to “check themselves” when making crucial decisions that will impact millions of people.
And while, like other AI platforms, there is the danger of false information being pulled up by the system, the NRTM team said it was still working to “present results only from the best sites.”
On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking at the Third South Summit of the G-77 plus China, said, “The number of civilian casualties, including women, children and our own staff, is unprecedented in such a brief period of time. It continues to rise, and hunger and disease are now adding to the toll.”
An Egyptian truck driver replaces a tarp covering humanitarian aid at the Kerem Shalom Crossing on Dec. 22, 2023 in Israel. (Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
Guterres said a humanitarian cease-fire was “the only way to end this nightmare for civilians in Gaza, facilitate the release of all hostages, and prevent the conflict from engulfing the entire region.”
Israel has pushed back against such comments, saying there is no shortage of food, with hundreds of aid trucks entering the Strip daily, and that reports of infectious diseases were overblown.
In an interview with Fox News Digital last week, Col. Moshe Tetro, who heads the army’s coordination and liaison administration (CLA) for Gaza, said such claims were politically motivated, and that each organization or individual was pushing their own interests.
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Currently, Tetro said, there were no restrictions on food or medicine entering the enclave. On Monday, COGAT, the military body that oversees Tetro’s unit, announced that 10,000th truck carrying humanitarian aid had entered Gaza. It said that since the start of the war, close to 99% of the coordinated trucks carrying such aid were approved for entry.
Tetro’s unit, which facilitates a security inspection of every aid truck to ensure weapons or dual usage goods are not smuggled into the war-stricken territory, already monitors the situation on the ground very closely. It will be among the main beneficiaries of the NRTM platform, the Defense Ministry said.
Ruth Marks Eglash is a veteran journalist based in Jerusalem, Israel. She reports and covers the Middle East and Europe. Originally from the U.K, she has also freelanced for numerous news outlets. Ruth can be followed on Twitter @reglash