Mosul pilgrims stuck in Kirkuk; Daesh out to seize their homes

Updated 16 October 2015
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Mosul pilgrims stuck in Kirkuk; Daesh out to seize their homes

KIRKUK: Like hundreds of elderly men and women from the Iraqi city of Mosul, Haji Ahmed left in August to perform Haj.
Leaving the militant-held city comes at a high price. Many residents are now forced to give up the deed to their homes as collateral to ensure they return — a tactic the militant group uses to keep civilians from fleeing the city.
For four weeks, the septuagenarian and some 580 pilgrims from Mosul did their religious duty — each of them obtaining an official Daesh-stamped exit document and a discrete stamp in their Iraqi passports that reads “Nineveh,” the province where Mosul is located, and the year according to the Islamic calendar: 1436.
The Iraqi government permitted only those above age 60 to exit militant territory, escorting them by bus to Baghdad, where they then flew to Saudi Arabia.
But nearly two months later, the Mosuli Hajaj, as they are known in Arabic, are desperately trying to get home — blocked by Iraqi and Kurdish authorities near the northern city of Kirkuk who refuse to open a corridor back into militant-held territory.
“They didn’t really give us an explanation,” said Haji Ahmed, who provided only his nickname and said he doesn’t know his actual age. “They just told us to wait here. That was six days ago. I just want to go back to my home.”
The group has been squatting at a dusty, fly-infested mosque ever since, with little food or medicine, and mounting fears for the fate of their families in Mosul and for their homes if they don’t return.
“My daughter ... is worried about me and I am worried about her,” said a woman who identified herself only as Oum Zamaa, or Zamaa’s mother.
“We are so afraid that an operation to liberate Mosul will begin and we will be here,” said Oum Hijray. “What if we are separated from our children? That would be a disaster.”
Most of those declined to provide their full names or offer details about their lives under the Daesh group, visibly afraid for their safety and that of their families back home.
Whatever the reason, most of the stranded pilgrims said they have accepted the new norm in Mosul, while sharing almost no opinions on the Daesh group itself.
When asked his name, one pilgrim replied: “Haven’t I suffered enough?”


Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

Updated 21 May 2019
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Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

  • Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Lebanon insists that the area lies within its economic zone and refuses to give up a single part of it

BEIRUT: Lebanon has hinted that progress is being made in efforts to resolve its maritime border dispute with Israel following the return of a US mediator from talks with Israeli officials.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield returned to Lebanon following talks in Israel where he outlined Lebanese demands regarding the disputed area and the mechanism to reach a settlement.

The US mediator has signaled a new push to resolve the dispute after meetings with both Lebanese and Israeli officials.

Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to begin offshore oil and gas production in the offshore Block 9 as it grapples with an economic crisis.

A source close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who met with Satterfield on Monday after his return to Lebanon, told Arab News that “there is progress in the efforts, but the discussion is not yet over.” He did not provide further details.

Sources close to the Lebanese presidency confirmed that Lebanon is counting on the US to help solve the demarcation dispute and would like to accelerate the process to allow exploration for oil and gas to begin in the disputed area.

Companies that will handle the exploration require stability in the area before they start working, the sources said.

Previous efforts by Satterfield to end the dispute failed in 2012 and again last year after Lebanon rejected a proposal by US diplomat Frederick Hoff that offered 65 percent of the disputed area to Lebanon and 35 percent to Israel. Lebanon insisted that the area lies within its economic zone and refused to give up a single part of it.

Satterfield has acknowledged Lebanon’s ownership of around 500 sq km of the disputed 850 sq km area.

Lebanon renewed its commitment to a mechanism for setting the negotiations in motion, including the formation of a tripartite committee with representatives of Lebanon, Israel and the UN, in addition to the participation of the US mediator. Beirut also repeated its refusal to negotiate directly with Israel.

Two months ago, Lebanon launched a marine environmental survey in blocks 4 and 9 in Lebanese waters to allow a consortium of French, Italian and Russian companies to begin oil and gas exploration in the area.