Simmering tension in Nile Island result of poor communication

Egyptians run for cover from tear gas during clashes with security forces in the Nile island of Al-Warraq in Giza province, north of the capital Cairo, on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2017
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Simmering tension in Nile Island result of poor communication

CAIRO: Tales of struggle and tragedy have always been tied to the people of the poverty-stricken Nile island of Al-Warraq, which on Sunday witnessed clashes between the people and police over the demolition of illegal buildings.
The area is one of many squatter settlements on the peripheries of Egypt’s capital. If developed, the government believes Al-Warraq could be transformed into a tourist destination.
The island holds the largest area among 255 Nile islands in the country. It contains 1,600 acres across the banks of the Nile, with an average population of 60,000 to 80,000 residents.
It enjoys a unique location in the heart of the Nile, and is bordered by the Qalyubiya governorate from the north, Cairo from the east, and Giza from the south.
Over 30 years ago, its residents built their houses and have been paying electricity and water bills for services provided by the government. They rely on agriculture and fishing as the main sources of income.
However, they suspect the authorities want to build a luxury resort there and fear being left homeless. It remains unclear if the government plans to provide them with an alternative.
 

Erupting in anger
Sunday’s move proved to be horribly unpopular. Authorities were met with protests and violence when they began demolishing illegal buildings in the area. The clashes left one person dead and at least 40 police personnel injured.
The Interior Ministry accused local people of firing shotgun pellets and throwing stones at police.
Residents told AFP that they had not received advance warning of the move.
Hours of hit-and-run clashes resulted in postponing the procedure for now.
 

Development plans 
Population pressure, poverty and migration to urban areas has for years been causing a housing crisis in Egypt and posing a serious threat to investments in the country.
In May, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi began a campaign to demolish thousands of buildings that were alleged to have been built illegally on state-owned land.
“There are islands in the Nile ... according to the law no one should be present on these islands,” El-Sisi said in a speech in June. He ordered in the same speech that the authorities should make it a priority to reclaim the islands.
Much of the housing in Al-Warraq is believed to be built illegally, lacking amenities such as clean water and a proper sewage system.
“Settlement problems are historic in Egypt, people in Upper Egypt would come to the capital and squat on state-owned land. And migration to urban areas has been taking place for years, and there was never a proper housing policy,” Saeed Sadek, Cairo-based professor of political sociology, told Arab News.
“On Sunday, people woke up to see contractors and police demolishing buildings. The way it was done seemed too provocative, and scared residents in the area.”
“Everyone was afraid of being kicked out of their houses, and without a house you are naked.”
Sadek said enforcing the law must take into consideration the people and their families and provide alternative housing to reassure the people in the area.
“There is a humanitarian aspect to be taken into consideration. The government now realizes that it is not easy and the image of the state has been affected. People can erupt in more anger and this might result in more damages.”
 

Victims or ‘troublemakers’?
Egyptian television channels affiliated with the government insisted on defending the procedure, referring to those who went out in anger at times as “troublemakers.”
Social media users were divided over the situation as well, with some showing sympathy toward the residents’ reactions, and weary of the government’s alleged use of force against them.
“Dealing with a crisis of this sort requires special procedures; the government needs to communicate with the residents and understand that they have lived there for years and have nowhere else to go,” Howaida Mustafa, a Cairo-based professor of mass communications, told Arab News.
“Even if the government has good intentions for developing the area, it cannot resort to force when the people have no other place to go,” said Mustafa. “We cannot call the angry residents trouble-makers in a crisis of this kind. The media needs to keep a calm tone in dealing with the situation.”


First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2018
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First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

  • Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
  • Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year

BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.

Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.

“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.