Hundreds of African migrants protest Israel detentions

African migrants march from Holot to the Saharonim Prison, an Israeli detention facility for African asylum seekers, where at least nine others have been incarcerated as part of Israel’s new policy of prison or deportation for migrants, in Israel’s southern Negev desert. Israel is preparing to deport thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese who entered the country illegally and who do not have asylum claims under examination. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2018
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Hundreds of African migrants protest Israel detentions

Holot, ISRAEL: Hundreds of African migrants protested Thursday outside an Israeli prison where at least nine others have been incarcerated under Israel’s controversial new policy of expelling or imprisoning them.
They marched a short distance from the Holot open detention center to Saharonim Prison, chanting slogans and carrying signs demanding the prisoners’ release.
They said they were on a hunger strike and vowed to continue it until a solution is reached.
Israel is preparing to deport thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese who entered the country illegally and who do not have asylum claims under examination.
The government has offered them a choice: leave by early April to their homelands or a third country, or face indefinite detention in prison.
As many could face danger if returned to their home countries, Israel is proposing to send them to an unnamed third country, which migrants and aid workers say is Rwanda or Uganda.
Israel plans to start by tackling the cases of single men who have not submitted asylum applications, or whose applications have been rejected.
Authorities on Tuesday transferred the first Eritrean detainees, detained at the Holot open detention center, to Saharonim Prison after they refused to leave the country.
Israeli authorities said nine had been jailed, while migrants said the number was 12.
Hundreds of detainees at the Holot center went on hunger strike Tuesday night in protest at the move.
Clasping their hands over their heads, protesters on Thursday chanted: “We are not criminals, we are refugees! No deportation, no more prison, we are not for sale, we are asylum seekers! Bring back our brothers!“
Muluebrhan Ghebrihimet, a 27-year-old Eritrean, said that when he arrived in Israel six years ago, he had filed an asylum application, but it was rejected.
“We are here to seek asylum, not to work or become rich,” he said.
He did not know when he would be sent to prison.
A wave of African migrants arrived in Israel after 2007, crossing the border from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
The porous border has since been largely sealed off, putting an end to arrivals.
Migrants settled in the poor neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv, the country’s commercial capital, but their presence has caused friction with some Israelis.
Religious and conservative leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have presented Muslim and Christian migrants as a threat to Israel’s Jewish identity.
The government, considered the most rightwing in Israel’s history, has been roundly condemned by the United Nations’ refugee agency, academics and rights groups over its migrant plan.
According to interior ministry figures, there are currently some 42,000 African migrants in Israel, half of them children, women or men with families, who are not facing the April deportation deadline.
Israeli officials stress that no one they classify as a refugee or asylum seeker will be deported.


Air strikes kill five as southern Syria assault looms

Updated 23 min 19 sec ago
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Air strikes kill five as southern Syria assault looms

  • Russian-backed regime forces have for weeks been preparing an offensive to retake Syria’s south
  • Late Saturday, Assad’s Russian allies began bombing the rebel-held south for the first time since summer 2017

BEIRUT: Air strikes on rebel towns in southern Syria killed five civilians and knocked a hospital temporarily out of service on Sunday, a monitor said, in fresh signs of a looming government assault.
Russian-backed regime forces have for weeks been preparing an offensive to retake Syria’s south, a strategic zone that borders both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The regime has sent military reinforcements to the area, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and ramped up air strikes in recent days.
Late Saturday, President Bashar Assad’s Russian allies began bombing the rebel-held south for the first time since summer 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Russian raids continued into Sunday.
“Five civilians including two women were killed on Sunday in Russian strikes on the towns of Al-Herak, Al-Sura, and Alma,” said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
The raids on Al-Herak hit near a hospital, damaging it and forcing medical staff to shut it down at least temporarily, he said.
The three rebel-held towns are located in Daraa province, known widely as the cradle of Syria’s seven-year uprising.
Daraa and the adjacent province of Quneitra are mostly held by opposition forces, while the government controls most of the province of Sweida to the east.
Assad has repeatedly pledged to retake all of Syria, but key parts of the south fall under a “de-escalation zone” agreed by Russia, the US, and Jordan in July 2017.
Since then, Moscow’s air force — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing the south.
But violence began ratcheting up on Tuesday and has since left 25 civilians dead in regime and Russian bombardment on southern rebel zones, the Observatory said.
Rebels have returned fire into government territory, killing a girl in Sweida province and wounding three people in the provincial capital of the same name on Sunday, Syria’s state news agency SANA said.
Escalating bombardment has displaced some 12,000 people from rebel towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside, according to the Observatory.
Many have sought refuge in poorly-resourced displacement camps further west, with little access to food or water.
They have few other options, with Jordan saying on Sunday it could not accept any more than the 650,000 Syrian refugees it is already hosting.
“Jordan has not and will not abandon its humanitarian role and its commitment to international charters, but it has exceeded its ability to absorb (more refugees),” Jumana Ghanimat, minister of state for media affairs, told AFP.
The United Nations has warned that renewed hostilities could put 750,000 lives at risk.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, the US, Russia, and Jordan are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
Any deal, analysts say, would have to take into consideration Israel’s concerns that its arch-foe Iran was entrenching itself in southern Syria.
On Sunday, the Israeli air force fired a Patriot missile at a drone approaching its northern border from Syria, forcing it to turn back.
Assad has acknowledged negotiations over the south, but warned that if they failed, his troops would have “no choice” but to retake the area by force.
His troops have already recaptured two “de-escalation zones” this year: Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus and parts of the central Homs province.
They have seized four villages in the south so far, leaving 13 regime forces and 15 rebels dead, according to the Observatory.
Many of those rebels have previously received backing from Jordan and the US, but Washington has urged them not to expect American help should the regime start a new assault.
The US warning was contained in an Arabic-language message distributed to rebel commanders and seen by AFP.
“We must clarify our position: we understand that you must make a decision (to fight) based on your interests, the interests of your people and your faction as you see them,” the message read.
“You should not base your decision on an assumption or expectation of military intervention from our side.”
The US did not immediately confirm the letter’s contents.
One opposition commander in the south who received the letter said it did not surprise him.
“The letter’s contents mean that America will not be able to help the south — in other words, they are saying ‘you’re on your own,’” he told AFP.