Airstrike in Hama, Syria kills 8 White Helmets rescuers

Members of the Syrian civil defense volunteers, also known as the White Helmets, dig through the rubble of a makeshift hospital set up in a cave, in Abdeen, in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, on April 23, 2017, which was targeted in an airstrike the day before. In Hama, eight White Helmets rescuers were killed in an airstrike on Sunday. (AFP / Omar haj Kadour)
Updated 01 May 2017

Airstrike in Hama, Syria kills 8 White Helmets rescuers

BEIRUT: Airstrikes struck a center of Syria’s rescuers known as the White Helmets in a rebel-held area in the country’s center, killing eight volunteers, opposition activists said Saturday.
The airstrike was one of the deadliest against the rescuers who operate in opposition-held areas and who have garnered world attention for operating in extreme conditions, pulling survivors out of recently struck areas. The volunteers have often been targeted by government airstrikes, in what are known as ‘double tap’ attacks, as they work to rescue others.
The local White Helmets in the central Hama province said an air raid on one of their centers in Kfar Zeita killed eight members of the team. The group said five bodies were lifted from the rubble and the rescuers continued to look for the others.
The Britain-based opposition monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the number of those killed is likely to rise as the search mission continues.
It was not clear who carried out the airstrikes, as Syrian government and Russia aircraft have targeted opposition-held areas. The central Hama province have been scene to intense violence in recent weeks, as the government attempts to push back a rebel offensive.
Separately Saturday, Syria’s military said its troops and allied fighters repelled an attack by the Daesh group on a strategic area held by the government in southern Aleppo province.
The attack took place in Khanaser, southeast Aleppo — a strategic region that links Aleppo with central and western Syria. The area has changed hands many times during the conflict. But last year, government troops and allied fighters wrested control of Khanaser from Daesh.
The military media arm said Daesh attacked Um Mayyal village near a mountain range in Khanaser and other areas.
The Observatory said Daesh fighters launched the attack on military posts in the area, triggering intense clashes and leaving many casualties.
Daesh-affiliated Aamaq news agency claimed Daesh fighters killed 30 government soldiers in the attack.
Near the capital, hundreds of Syrians from the rebel-held suburbs of eastern Ghouta near Damascus protested against infighting between the insurgent groups that began Friday and left dozens killed in the area.
The infighting came amid an intensified government offensive in the area near Damascus, which the rebels have controlled for years but has been increasingly squeezed by government advances.
“God rid us of all leaders,” the protesters chanted, criticizing the head of the insurgent groups for diverting their weapons from the front line with the government.
The infighting is pitting the powerful Army of Islam group against Al-Rahman Corps and Al-Qaeda-linked group the Levant Liberation Committee, or Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham. Each side blames the other for triggering the fighting in the power struggle over control of eastern Ghouta. Some activists have called on Army of Islam to rid eastern Ghouta of the powerful Al-Qaeda-linked group.
The Observatory said shots were fired at the protesters in one area, leaving five injured.
In 24 hours of fighting, the Observatory said at least 38 insurgents from the warring sides were killed. Damascus-based Shaam News Network put the number at 60, in addition to six civilians killed because of the clashes.
For the past three years, the government has been unable to regain control of the eastern suburbs of Damascus. But in recent weeks, an intensified offensive points to a new determination to retake the area.
On Saturday, activists reported a heavy air campaign against the area’s Qaboun neighborhood.


Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

Updated 21 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.

A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”

A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.