Crash kills 257 in Algeria’s deadliest aviation disaster

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Updated 12 April 2018

Crash kills 257 in Algeria’s deadliest aviation disaster

ALGIERS, Algeria: A hulking military transport plane crashed just after takeoff in Algeria Wednesday, killing 257 people in the worst aviation disaster in the North African nation’s history and plunging the country into mourning.

Soldiers, their family members and a group of 30 people returning to refugee camps from hospital stays in Algeria’s capital died in the morning crash of the Russian-made II-76 aircraft.

The plane went down in a field just outside a military base in Boufarik, 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Algiers, and was devoured by flames, killing 247 passengers and 10 crew members, the Defense Ministry said.

There was no official mention of survivors, but one witness reported seeing people jump out of the aircraft before it crashed.

Arabic-language channel Dzair TV reported that five people were in a critical state, but it was unclear if they had been on the plane or were injured on the ground.

Several witnesses told Algerian TV network Ennahar they saw flames coming out of one of the planes’ four engines just before it took off.

“The plane started to rise before falling,” an unidentified man lying on what appeared to be a hospital bed told Ennahar TV. “The plane crashed on its wing first and caught fire.”

Video on the state television channel ENTV showed a blackened hulk broken into pieces, with huge wheels scattered about along with other plane parts. Firefighters doused the flames while body bags were placed in rows in the field.



 

The victims’ bodies were transported to the Algerian army’s central hospital outside the capital.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika ordered three days of mourning starting immediately and prayers for the dead on Friday at mosques across the country.

In the south, the Algerian-backed Polisario Front seeking independence for Western Sahara ordered a week of mourning for the 30 dead Sahrawi people returning to its refugee camps in Tindouf, a statement from the group said.

The flight was scheduled to go to Tindouf and then Bechar, the site of another military base, according to Farouk Achour, spokesman for Algeria’s civil protection services. Tindouf is home to many refugees from the neighboring Western Sahara, a disputed territory annexed by Morocco.

Algeria is vast and plane flights are often the best way to traverse Africa’s largest nation.

It was the first crash of an Algerian military plane since February 2014, when a US-built C-130 Hercules turboprop slammed into a mountain in Algeria, killing at least 76 people and leaving just one survivor.

The four-engine Il-76 made its maiden voyage in 1997, according to Aviation Safety Network. The plane has been in production since the 1970s, and is widely used for both commercial freight and military transport.

The Algerian military, which historically depended on the Soviet Union and then Russia for military hardware, operates several of the planes.

Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with Teal Group outside Washington, said it would be difficult to compare the accident rate of the II-76 to common Western airplanes because of the relatively smaller number produced and the fewer hours flown.

“It is a Russian design. That doesn’t make it unsafe, but they tend to need more maintenance,” he said.

The II-76 was designed to carry extremely heavy cargo, and it is unlikely that passengers alone — even a large number — would be a problem. Aboulafia said the number of troops that could be carried would be limited by space inside the aircraft more than weight considerations.

A retired Algerian officer, Mohamed Khelfaoui, told the online Algerian TSA site that he had flown in the aircraft several times and “it has proven itself in Algeria and elsewhere.”
Wednesday’s crash was not the deadliest of an Il-76. According to Aviation Safety Network, the 2003 crash of an IL-76 of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard killed 275 people.

The heavy loss of life of soldiers was certain to deeply shake Algeria. The National Liberation Army — which grew out of the fighting force which freed Algeria from French colonial rule — is revered by Algerians.

Today, the army is credited with saving the nation from an insurgency by Islamist extremists in the 1990s and early 2000s. The battle continues with sporadic attacks around Algeria and networks dismantled by soldiers.

The army’s experience fighting terrorism has made it a valued ally of the United States and other western nations.

The US Embassy in Algiers expressed its “deepest condolences” to “our partners and colleagues in the Algerian military,” one of the numerous condolences that flooded into the capital from far and wide.

The previous deadliest crash on Algerian soil occurred in 2003, when 102 people were killed after a civilian airliner crashed at the end of the runway in Tamanrasset, in the south. Only one person survived.

Also in 2003, 10 people died when an Algerian Air Force C-130 crashed after an engine caught fire shortly after it took off from the air base near Boufarik, according to the Aviation Safety Network.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”