Israeli army says troops have entered Gaza Strip
JERUSALEM: Israeli troops have entered the Gaza Strip as part of the ongoing military operation against the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, the military said on Friday.
“Israeli planes and troops on the ground are carrying out an attack in the Gaza Strip,” the army said in a brief message.
Army spokesman Jonathan Conricus confirmed that Israeli soldiers had entered the Palestinian enclave, without giving any numbers.
Earlier Thursday, Israel pounded Gaza and deployed extra troops and tanks to the border as Palestinians fired barrages of rockets back, with the death toll in the enclave on the fourth day of conflict climbing to over 100.
“We are ready and we will continue to prepare ourselves for various scenarios,” the army spokesman said earlier, specifying that a ground invasion was “one of the scenarios.”
The Israeli defense ministry has given the army the green light to mobilize thousands of reservists if necessary.
“Any ground incursion in any part of the Gaza Strip will lead to an increase in the number of dead and prisoners from the enemy side,” warned the armed branch of Hamas which continued to launch rockets toward southern Israel.
Hours earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told troops to be prepared for an extended campaign against Hamas. “It will take more time, but ... we will achieve our goal — to restore peace to the state of Israel,” he said.
The stepped-up fighting came as communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night, with Jewish and Arab mobs clashing in the flashpoint town of Lod. The fighting took place despite a bolstered police presence ordered by the nation’s leaders.
The four-day burst of violence has pushed Israel into uncharted territory — dealing with the most intense fighting it has ever had with Hamas while simultaneously coping with the worst Jewish-Arab violence inside Israel in decades. A late-night barrage of rocket fire from Lebanon that landed in the sea threatened to open a new front along Israel’s northern border.
The fighting broke out late Monday when Hamas, claiming to be the defender of Jerusalem, fired a barrage of long-range rockets toward the city in response to what it said were Israeli provocations. Israel quickly responded with a series of airstrikes.
Since then, Israel has attacked hundreds of targets in Gaza. The strikes set off scores of earth-shaking explosions across the densely populated territory. Gaza militants have fired nearly 2,000 rockets into Israel, bringing life in the southern part of the country to a standstill. Several barrages targeted the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) away.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll has climbed to 103 Palestinians, including 27 children and 11 women, with 530 people wounded. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher. Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a 6-year-old boy.
In Washington, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction.”
He said the goal now is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centers.” He called the effort a “a work in progress.”
Thursday’s visit by Egyptian officials marked an important step in the cease-fire efforts.
Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties
- Concern over criminalization of politics as opposition calls for parliamentary inquiry
JEDDAH: Turkish government officials entered into a war of words with the country’s well-known mafia leader, Sedat Peker, who released a series of videos about schemes within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) involving some of its deputies.
The claims pushed opposition politicians to call for the truth behind the claims in order to fight against the criminalization of politics.
Ultranationalist convict Peker alleged that former interior minister, Mehmet Agar, and his son, Tolga Agar, who is currently a deputy for the AKP, were involved in the suspicious death of a 21-year-old Kazakh journalist, Yeldana Kaharman, two years ago, a day after she interviewed Tolga Agar.
Kaharman allegedly committed suicide, but it is claimed that the autopsy report shows otherwise. However, the case was quickly closed by the local prosecutors at the time.
Peker claimed that Agar was “the head of deep state” in Turkey.
Former justice minister of the ruling government and current member of the presidency’s higher advisory board, Cemil Cicek, urged the judiciary to investigate Peker’s claims about the Agar family.
“If even one-thousandth of these claims are true, this is a disaster and very problematic ... Turkey has had enough experience in the past concerning similar issues,” Cicek said on May 12.
“We should learn the necessary lessons. The relevant prosecutor needs to take action and do what is necessary,” Cicek said.
Mehmet Agar claims that the state can examine him whenever required.
The claims pushed opposition parties to try to make the government accountable for its ties with the mafia leader.
Last year, the Turkish government passed a controversial amnesty law that freed up to 90,000 inmates from Turkish prisons for nonpolitical crimes, but excluded dissident journalists and politicians.
The law resulted in the mass release of organized gang leaders, including Alaattin Cakici, a notorious mafia kingpin closely connected to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). During the time that Cakici was behind bars, his rival Peker consolidated his grip on the Turkish underworld.
The group deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, said that Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was the connection point between the AKP, its ally MHP and the mafia.
Ozel also claimed that the interior minister was closely tied to mafia leader Peker and that the government turned a blind eye to Peker’s previous actions in the northern city of Rize, where he threatened the dissident academics of the country, saying: “I will shower them with their own blood.”
In the latest video he released, Peker confessed that he had played a role in the support shown for Interior Minister Soylu when the minister decided to resign from his post in April 2020. Peker allegedly organized a Twitter campaign to object to Soylu’s resignation.
Since 2019, Peker has lived in Balkan countries where he regularly met Bosniak political leaders. He claimed that he had to leave Turkey because of a personal hostility with the Turkish president’s son-in-law and former finance minister, Berat Albayrak.
After being arrested earlier this year in North Macedonia with a fake ID and passport, he was deported to Kosovo where he had a business residence permit. He is currently believed to live in Dubai.
Peker, with a strong network in Istanbul’s underworld, was previously blamed by some politicians, such as Baris Atay of the Workers’ Party of Turkey, for using gangs to attack dissidents in the streets. Atay was seriously beaten up in a busy street of Istanbul after he was verbally targeted by Soylu.
The opposition now urges the government to form a parliamentary inquiry commission and inform the public about these allegations.
Ayhan Sefer Ustun, former head of the parliamentary Human Rights Commission and founding member of the breakaway Future Party that is led by the country’s former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the allegations should spark a serious campaign against “deep state” in Turkey.
“Turkey should launch a countrywide campaign against deep state and a widespread mafia structure that reached out to the inner circles of the state,” he told Arab News.
“A parliamentary commission should be established where each party at the parliament will be represented equally to investigate Peker’s claims,” he said.
“Any connection between the politics and public security should be put under broad daylight,” Ustun added, referring to the 1996 Susurluk scandal in Turkey where close ties between the state and the mafia were revealed after strong popular insistence.
Interior Minister Soylu will file a lawsuit against the allegations made by Peker, and he called on the mafia leader to surrender to Turkish justice.
Peker has been tried several times by Turkish courts over his involvement in criminal gangs.
He was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2007 for establishing and leading a criminal organization, and for forgery.
His sentence, however, was later reduced to 10 years and he was released from jail in 2014.
The number of Peker’s damaging video releases are expected to reach 12 in total.
Eid prayers return to Mosul mosque ruined in Daesh war
- Groups of men entered silently and sat down to listen to religious recitals in the building
MOSUL: As dawn broke over Mosul on Thursday, worshippers knelt between piles of rubble while Eid Al-Fitr prayers took place in the city’s oldest mosque for the first time since Daesh was driven out of the area in 2017.
Groups of men entered silently and sat down to listen to religious recitals in the building, which dates back to the Umayyad period in the 7th century and remains largely in ruins following heavy fighting in Mosul’s Old City.
“The message is clear. The Al-Masfi Mosque is the Islamic epicenter and symbol of the area. It is not only Islamic, but also a symbol of the city,” said Ahmed Najem, a local academic, after prayers.
The mosque was partially destroyed during the brutal occupation by Daesh, which proclaimed Mosul the capital of its self-styled caliphate, and an intense campaign of airstrikes to liberate the city from the militants.
Like many other heritage and religious buildings in the Old City, it has been left in disrepair, with collapsed walls and mounds of rubble. Local campaigners say this is due to insufficient public funding allocated to reconstruction in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province.
“We need to accelerate its reconstruction,” said Najem.
Volunteers from a local group campaigning for the renovation of the Old City swept the floor and put down rugs ahead of the prayers for Eid, a holiday which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
“We are happy about Eid and other celebrations, but there is also heartbreak because of great destruction in Mosul until this day,” said Ayyub Dhanun, one of the volunteers.
Volunteer groups have sprung up in Mosul since its liberation, with many campaigning for funds to rebuild the city’s architectural heritage and identity.
They have organized events at mosques, churches and recently Mosul’s Spring Theatre, cleaning and tidying damaged buildings as best they can, often with no financial or other support.
“This is an invitation to rebuild this monument and to compensate Mosul residents by rebuilding their houses in old Mosul,” said Dhanun after prayers at the Al-Masfi Mosque.
Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown
- Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport
- Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks
OTTAWA: Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.
The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.
“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.
Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing US forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a US missile strike at Baghdad airport.
Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.
In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.
At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable ... they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”
Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.
An Egyptian psychotherapy platform offers online help amid pandemic
- Three Egyptian entrepreneurs created O7 Therapy to help connect people with mental health professionals
- Nearly all face-to-face interactions in different fields have shifted to online platforms over the past one year
CAIRO: Using their industry knowledge and the power of technology, three Egyptians have built an online platform designed to help people cope with mental health difficulties.
Talks about O7 Therapy had been continuing for almost a year before the pandemic started, according to Ashraf Bacheet, CEO and co-founder of the online platform.
However, as the world slowly started to close down and the pandemic spread widely, Bacheet, together with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel, were motivated to quickly launch their newly founded business venture.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started, nearly all face-to-face interactions have shifted to online platforms. Learning, grocery shopping and even attending events now lack the in-person intimacy of the past. Like everything else, psychotherapy sessions have become virtual, conducted behind a screen.
A recently released survey from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in the last week of June 2020, adults in the US experienced “considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.”
Using validated screening instruments, the CDC established that 40.9 percent of 5,470 respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, trauma-related symptoms, new or increased substance use, or thoughts of suicide.
While social anxiety may seem to be a temporary issue, experts warn that a sizable minority of people will experience mental health disorders that will long outlast the pandemic.
Being a pharmacist, Bacheet had spotted quite a few loopholes in Egypt’s health care industry long before it was hit by the coronavirus storm.
“Whether it was health care or education, people in Egypt are paying hefty amounts of money for mediocre quality in both sectors,” he said.
After months of exploring the idea of merging tech and health care in one holistic solution, the trio were ready to roll up their sleeves and start working on O7 Therapy.
“At the time, two years ago, we barely had any competition. No one in the region was offering a customized tool that spoke directly to Arabs and addressed their problems, from age-old stigmas to cultural idiosyncrasies,” Bacheet said.
“Our main goal was to build a complete ecosystem for mental health services; a platform that connected people who really needed help with doctors who offered it.”
Following internationally acclaimed strict acceptance policies helped O7 Therapy attract some of the best psychologists and psychiatrists. “Doctors on the O7 Therapy platform undergo extensive screening before joining our team of therapists,” Bacheet said.
“Our 20 percent acceptance rate is proof that every doctor on our platform holds at least a master’s degree and has a clear understanding of modalities, psychometric tests and specific therapy techniques, which helps them in offering their service in the most efficient and professional manner.”
From peer reviews and case-management sessions to drug-review meetings, all the doctors on the platform offer each other praise, positive guidance and constructive criticism to ensure increased patient safety, updated modes of treatment and overall quality of care.
While O7 Therapy started its funding journey by bootstrapping, it is currently closing a pre-series A round of investment.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve the level of service we offer on our platform,” Bacheet said.
“We have designed a HIPAA and GRDP-compliant AI-powered novelty software that offers solutions to ensure personalized customer experiences and seamless patient engagement.
“By gaining insight into the patient’s journey, O7 Therapy aptly matches every patient with their respective doctor while providing comprehensive data security and data encryption features.”
Patients seeking help on the O7 Therapy platform can gain access to art therapy, online counselling, e-prescriptions, drug management services, and more.
“O7 Therapy has bridged location gaps, overcome cultural stigmas associated with seeking therapy, and created a safe space for people to openly face their problems and actively seek solutions,” Bacheet said.
“We’re constantly working on improving our platform, with bi-weekly updates that allow customer satisfaction within a user-friendly environment.”
- This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.