Truce ends deadly clashes across Gaza border

A Palestinian boy walks through a hole in a wall of a destroyed house following overnight Israeli missile strikes, in the town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip. (AP)
Updated 15 November 2019

Truce ends deadly clashes across Gaza border

  • Spokesman Musab Al-Berim says the Egyptian-brokered deal went into effect at 5:30 a.m. Thursday
  • The fighting broke out early Tuesday after Israel killed a senior commander of the militant group

GAZA: Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad and Israel agreed to halt hostilities across the Gaza Strip border on Thursday, ending a two-day confrontation that left 34 Palestinians dead and more than 100 injured.

The Egyptian-brokered truce went into effect about 48 hours after Israel triggered the exchange of fire by killing the Iranian-backed faction’s top Gaza commander in an air strike.

Fighting between Islamic Jihad and the Israeli army erupted after Israel assassinated a senior commander in the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, early on Tuesday.

According to the ministry of information, 190 Palestinian houses were damaged and five completely destroyed in the Israeli bombardment. At least 15 schools were also damaged.

As calm returned to the Gaza Strip, Palestinians expressed relief, but cautioned that the current round of fighting was unlikely to be the last.

“We are living in a constant cycle of escalation and calm,” said Sumaya Al-Rubaie, 55. “Life is difficult in Gaza. No one can live normally in this besieged enclave.”

“My husband and I and four of my children spent two days at home without going out for fear of shelling and rocket fire. We want to live a decent life without fear,” she told Arab News.

Gazans fear the outbreak of a new war in light of the continuing difficult humanitarian and economic conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and its military wing did not respond to the Israeli shelling, leaving Israel to focus on Islamic Jihad targets.

“The current round is over, but will the suffering of the Gaza Strip end? Certainly not. There is no work, no economy, no stability and freedom of movement is limited. At any time the bombing can come back again,” Ibrahim Al-Danaf, 28, said.

“What the Gaza Strip needs is national unity, a search for the future of youth, and an end to Israeli violations by agreeing on a policy of confrontation, not with every political faction deciding alone.”

Political analyst Hani Habib said that while the Israeli blockade remains and the political split between Fatah and Hamas continues, the Gaza Strip “will continue to suffer from difficult political and humanitarian conditions.” 

The current confrontation and three previous clashes had achieved nothing for Gazans, he said.

“On the contrary, the results were disastrous on more than one level.” 

Israel reopened the Erez crossing with the Gaza Strip on Thursday. The commercial Kerem Shalom border crossing will reopen on Sunday.


Mideast faces opioid crisis as it rages through developing world

Updated 13 December 2019

Mideast faces opioid crisis as it rages through developing world

  • Mass abuse of the opioid tramadol spans continents, from India to Africa to the Middle East
  • Abuse is now so rampant some countries consumed by it are asking international authorities to intervene

KAPURTHALA: Reports rolled in with escalating urgency — pills seized by the truckload, pills swallowed by schoolchildren, pills in the pockets of dead terrorists.
These pills, the world has been told, are safer than the OxyContins, the Vicodins, the fentanyls that have wreaked so much devastation. But now they are the root of what the United Nations named “the other opioid crisis” — an epidemic featured in fewer headlines than the American one, as it rages through the most vulnerable countries on the planet.
Mass abuse of the opioid tramadol spans continents, from India to Africa to the Middle East, creating international havoc some experts blame on a loophole in narcotics regulation and a miscalculation of the drug’s danger. The man-made opioid was touted as able to relieve pain with little risk of abuse. Unlike other opioids, tramadol flowed freely around the world, unburdened by international controls that track most dangerous drugs.
But abuse is now so rampant some countries consumed by it are asking international authorities to intervene.

Grunenthal, the German company that originally made the drug, is campaigning for the status quo, arguing international regulations make narcotics difficult to get in countries with disorganized health systems, and adding tramadol to the list would deprive patients in pain access to any opioid at all.
“This is a huge public health dilemma,” said Dr. Gilles Forte, the secretary of the World Health Organization’s committee that recommends how drugs should be regulated. Tramadol is available in war zones and impoverished nations because it is unregulated. But it is widely abused for the same exact reason. “It’s a really very complicated balance to strike.”
Tramadol is not as deadly as other opioids and the crisis isn’t killing with the ferocity of America’s struggle withe the drugs. Still, individual governments from the US to Egypt to Ukraine have realized the drug’s dangers are not as limited as believed and worked to rein in the tramadol trade. The north Indian state of Punjab, the center of India’s opioid epidemic, was the latest to crack down. The pills were everywhere, as legitimate medication sold in pharmacies, but also illicit counterfeits hawked by street vendors.
This year, authorities seized hundreds of thousands of tablets, banned most pharmacy sales and shut down counterfeit pill factories, pushing the price from 35 cents for a 10-pack to $14. The government opened a network of treatment centers, fearing those who had become opioid addicted would resort to heroin out of desperation. Hordes of people rushed in to seek help in dealing with excruciating withdrawal.
For some, tramadol had become as essential as food.
“Like if you don’t eat, you start to feel hungry. Similar is the case with not taking it,” said auto shop welder Deepak Arora, a gaunt 30-year-old who took 15 tablets day, so much he had to steal from his family to pay for pills. “You are like a dead person.”
Jeffery Bawa, an officer with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, realized what was happening in 2016.
Police began finding pills on terrorists, who traffic it to fund their networks and take it to bolster their capacity for violence, Bawa said.
Most of it was coming from India. The country’s sprawling pharmaceutical industry is fueled by cheap generics. Pill factories produce knock-offs and ship them in bulk around the world, in doses far exceeding medical limits.
In 2017, law enforcement reported that $75 million worth of tramadol from India was confiscated en route to the Islamic State terror group. Authorities intercepted 600,000 tablets headed for Boko Haram. Another 3 million were found in a pickup truck in Niger, in boxes disguised with UN logos. The agency warned that tramadol was playing “a direct role in the destabilization of the region.”
“We cannot let the situation get any further out of control,” that alert read.
Grunenthal has campaigned to keep tramadol unregulated. It funded surveys that found regulation would impede pain treatment, and paid consultants to travel to the WHO to make the case that it’s safer that other opioids.
Spokesman Stepan Kracala said regulation would not necessarily curtail illicit trade and could backfire: Some desperate pain patients turn to the black market if no legal options exist.
This has happened in India, which regulated tramadol in 2018. Regulators say exports overseas and abuse at home came down. But they acknowledge that the vastness of the pharmaceutical industry and the ingenuity of traffickers makes curtailing abuse and illegal exports all but impossible. Tramadol is still easy to find.
Jyoti Rani stood on her front steps and pointed to house after house in the small city of Kapurthala where she said tramadol is still sold in her neighborhood of narrow roads and open drains, where school-aged boys sit hunched over the street in the middle of a weekday.
Rani’s addiction began with heroin. When her 14-year-old son died, she fell into depression.
“I wanted to kill myself, but I ended up becoming an addict,” she cried. A doctor prescribed tramadol to help kick the habit — instead, she formed a new one.
Now she is among about 30,000 people in Punjab who go to government-run addiction clinics for daily treatment.
Countries’ efforts to control tramadol on their own often fail, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, particularly in places where addiction has taken hold.