Thirty years on, Halabja wounds continue to bleed

Iraqi-Kurds hold pictures of dead relatives as they gather in Halabja on Friday to mark the 30th anniversary of the massacre. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Thirty years on, Halabja wounds continue to bleed

HALABJA, Iraq: Thousands of Iraqi Kurds clad in black and many tearful on Friday marked the 30th anniversary of the Halabja gas massacre that killed some 5,000 people.
They died when deadly gas was released on the northeastern Iraqi town by the forces of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, in what is believed to have been the worst-ever gas attack targeting civilians.
The mourners, including some survivors, carried pictures of the victims, most of whom were women and children, as they walked down a red carpet to the Halabja Memorial Monument to lay wreaths for the dead.
The families, then gathered in a nearby cemetery where tombstones were covered in the Kurdish red-white-green-yellow flag, to pray for their relatives.
Fatima Mohammad, who was 17 when Halabja was gassed with what experts say was mustard gas, is among thousands of wounded survivors.
Each day, for the past three decades, she still suffers from “respiratory problems.”
“I am in pain and I take medication,” she told AFP as she joined the town’s now 200,000-strong inhabitants to remember those killed in the gas attack.
The attack on Halabja came from the skies after ethnic Kurdish fighters who had sided with Iran in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war withdrew from the rural farming town.
It marked the culmination of a ruthless campaign of retribution by Saddam against those seen as siding with his arch-foe Iran.
Iraqi and Kurdish officials, as well as diplomats based in the country, took part in the commemoration.
Kurds observed on Friday a minute of silence in tribute to the Halabja dead across Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Twenty years after the massacre, Saddam’s cousin Gen. Ali Hassan Al-Majid was sentenced to death for ordering the gas attack.
Known as “Chemical Ali,” he was executed by hanging in 2010.
Three years after he was ousted in a US-led invasion of Iraq, Saddam was hanged in 2006 for the massacre of Shiite villagers.


War fears mount despite cease-fire between Gaza and Israel

Updated 50 min 6 sec ago
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War fears mount despite cease-fire between Gaza and Israel

  • Any further escalation will deepen humanitarian catastrophe in the Strip: UN chief
  • Before the truce, Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters

GAZA CITY: After seven chaotic and violent hours, quiet returned to the Gaza Strip Friday night. Yet on Saturday, civilians in the Palestinian enclave and Israel remained fearful of the potential for a new war.
The fatal shooting by a Palestinian sniper of an Israeli soldier during protests along the border on Friday sparked a widespread wave of Israeli bombing, with three fighters from Hamas killed and dozens of targets struck.
After intensive indirect mediation by the UN and Egypt, a truce came into force at midnight, yet both populations remained on high alert of another all-out conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“War is coming. I know that the (Israeli) occupation is carrying out raids to pave the way with their home base,” Somaya Rabaya, 21, from Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, said.
While the cease-fire deal included an end to rockets and mortars, it didn’t include a commitment by Hamas to stop what Israeli media have dubbed “terror kites,” a senior Hamas source said.
In a brief statement on Saturday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the movement accepted the cease-fire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials and that calm had been restored. Later, the Israeli military announced a return to civilian routine along the volatile border.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “gravely concerned” about the escalation and called on both sides to step back from the prospect of another devastating conflict. “Any further escalation will endanger the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike, deepen the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and undermine current efforts to improve livelihoods,” he said.
On Saturday morning in Gaza, 17-year-old Wissam was with a number of other youths fitting kites with small bottles full of diesel, while sheltering behind a sandbank for fear of Israeli strikes. “This morning, they bombed a Hamas observation post near here. I was afraid they would hit us with a missile,” he said.
Israel says it has no interest is engaging in another war with Hamas, but says it will no longer tolerate the Gaza militant campaign of flying the incendiary devices into Israel.
On Friday, Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters.
“The attack delivered a severe blow to the Hamas’ training array, command and control abilities, weaponry, aerial defense and logistic capabilities along with additional military infrastructure,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that the strikes “will intensify as necessary.”