Jordan's King Abdullah leads a nation’s grief

Civil defense members work to find survivors after rain storms unleashed flash floods near the Dead Sea in Jordan on Friday. Inset top: The Jordanian flag flies half-mast as a mark of respect for those killed. (Reuters)
Updated 26 October 2018
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Jordan's King Abdullah leads a nation’s grief

  • For many families there was no end to the grief, but they continued to live in hope that their loved ones would be found alive, as the search continued

AMMAN: Laughing, chattering, happy and excited, the children from Victoria College in Amman piled onto their school bus, ready for the outing they had been looking forward to all week. The plan was for a trip to Wadi Zarqa Maein, a heritage site of rock formations and thermal springs next to the Dead Sea, about 40km southwest of the Jordanian capital.
The children, seventh and eighth graders aged from about 11 to 14, spoke of the lunchtime picnic they would enjoy on Thursday among the rock pools and the reed beds. Instead, a freak rainstorm created a flash flood in the wadi and at least 21 children and teachers were swept to their deaths.
Twenty-four hours later, Jordan was still in a state of shock — combined with widespread anger and frustration that such a tragedy could have been allowed to occur.
“My grief and pain is beyond description, and it is only equal to my anger at those who failed to take measures that could have prevented this painful incident,” King Abdullah said.
“I offer condolences to myself and to Jordan for the loss of my Jordanian family. The suffering of every father, mother and family caused by this incident is my suffering.”
The Royal Hashemite Court ordered the lowering of the Jordanian flag to half-mast as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives.
Among the families of the children caught up in the flood, the grief was palpable. Ali Rahoumi, an Iraqi resident, broke down in tears when he was told that his only son was among those missing. Rahoumi lost his wife a month ago, he told Prime Minister Omar Razzaz, who was trying to comfort him.
For many families there was no end to the grief, but they continued to live in hope that their loved ones would be found alive, as the search continued.
Mystery surrounds why the school trip went ahead at all, at a time of year when the weather in Jordan can be dangerous and unpredictable. Over the past week, the Jordan Meteorological Department’s daily weather forecasts warned of poor conditions, including heavy rain and dust that was expected to blanket most of the country, and urged people to take precautions. Thursday’s tragedy suggests that no one was paying attention.
In the immediate aftermath of the flood, the Jordanian government attempted to apportion blame for the tragedy to the school, for planning a trip to a non-approved destination.

Ill-fated trip
The school had approval for a trip to Al-Azraq, an eco-tourism destination in Jordan’s eastern desert, not to the Dead Sea, Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghunaimat said. “It is clear that there is a violation; the school that organized the trip did not abide by public-safety regulations which stipulate that students must not swim and must be kept away from waterways,” she said.
However, a document made available to Arab News showed that the permission issued by the relevant ministry indicated that the school had adhered to the approved route.
Nevertheless, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Mubarak Abu Yamin said the government would hold the school accountable, administratively and criminally.
“We have already started our internal investigation, in coordination and cooperation with the attorney general’s office, to determine the responsibility and to identify causes and reasons that lead to this catastrophe,” he said. “We will make sure the rule of the law is observed and implemented.”
The Ministry of Education has launched a full-scale investigation into the incident, spokesman Walid Al-Jallad said, and the ministry was keen to cooperate fully with all concerned parties.
Civil engineer Maysarah Malas told Arab News on Friday that the school had to shoulder the responsibility for organizing a school trip despite a weather warning notice issued by the Jordan Meteorological Department.
However, he said: “Blaming the school management does not relieve the ministry or the minister himself from responsibility. The weather had started to deteriorate in the early hours of the day. The minister should have issued instructions to all schools to cancel any plans for school trips, but he did not.”


Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

Updated 26 min 32 sec ago
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Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

  • Israeli leader faces Wednesday deadline to seal deal
  • Coalition talks deadlocked over military conscription bill

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on Sunday on what he termed a “final effort” to break a deadlock on forming a governing coalition ahead of a Wednesday deadline for a deal.
In power for the past decade, Netanyahu has unexpectedly struggled to seal an agreement with a clutch of right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would align with his Likud party and ensure him a fifth term following Israel’s April 9 election.
Divisions between former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and United Torah Judaism over a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students have plunged the coalition talks into stalemate.
Lieberman has long said ultra-Orthodox men must share other Israeli Jews’ burden of mandatory service. Ultra-Orthodox parties say seminary students should be largely exempt from conscription as they have been since Israel was founded in 1948.
A 42-day deadline mandated by law to announce a new government expires on Wednesday, and President Reuven Rivlin can then assign the task to another legislator after consultations with the leaders of political parties.
That could open the way for former military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, to try. But he would need the backing of some of Likud’s allies to persuade Rivlin he could put together a ruling majority in parliament.
Likud and Blue and White each won 35 of the Knesset’s 120 seats seats in the April ballot, but Netanyahu was seen as having clinched victory because of the right-wing majority that emerged.
In a video published on Twitter on Sunday, Netanyahu said he had invited all of his negotiating partners to meet him in “a final attempt to form a right-wing government” and avoid “an unnecessary election.”
A Likud source said the sessions would be held later in the day and on Monday.
Parallel to the negotiations, Likud announced preparations for a possible national ballot, with November already touted by political analysts as a likely date.
Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar released a draft of a dissolution bill that he said he was submitting to parliament, but no date for a vote in the legislature was announced. Likud said its secretariat would meet on Tuesday “to prepare for an election.”
Some political commentators saw those moves as an attempt to pressure Likud’s negotiating partners into a deal, given the possibility of a voter backlash against another national ballot so soon after the previous one and the uncertainty of the election’s outcome in a country riven by divisions.
The scheduling of an election — and Likud could face an uphill battle for the necessary 61 votes in parliament to pass a dissolution resolution — would pre-empt a coalition-building assignment from Rivlin and ensure Netanyahu remains as interim prime minister until a new government is formed.
Already locked in a legal battle over his potential indictment in three corruption cases, Netanyahu has vowed to remain in office even if he is charged. He denies any wrongdoing and is scheduled to argue against indictment at a pre-trial hearing in October.