New study sheds light on ‘Gulf War Syndrome’

New study sheds light on ‘Gulf War Syndrome’
U.S. Marines of the 782 company from Fort Bragg, South Carolina, walk towards their barracks upon landing at Saudi Dhahran air base on Aug. 21, 1990, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. (AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2021

New study sheds light on ‘Gulf War Syndrome’

New study sheds light on ‘Gulf War Syndrome’
  • Scientists: Symptoms appear rooted in neurological impairment
  • Researchers: Depleted uranium not causing soldiers’ illness, but may be affecting Iraqis to this day

LONDON: A mysterious set of symptoms dubbed “Gulf War Syndrome,” affecting hundreds of thousands of soldiers who served in the 1991 conflict, may have been caused by nerve agents, according to a new study by researchers at Portsmouth University in the UK.

Those affected are said to suffer from a range of acute and chronic symptoms including fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders and memory problems.

Scientists believe these symptoms are rooted in neurological impairment, previously thought to be the result of exposure to uranium-tipped anti-tank munitions used widely against Iraqi forces in the war. But the Portsmouth researchers found no traces of uranium in the bodies of those affected.

They said their findings “conclusively prove” that none of them were exposed to any significant amounts of the radioactive substance.

“For decades, medics and scientists have been looking for the elusive cause of Gulf War illness,” said Prof. Randall Parrish, one of the lead researchers of the study.

“That depleted uranium is not, and never was, in the bodies of those who are ill at sufficient quantities to cause disease will surprise many, including sufferers who have, for 30 years, suspected depleted uranium may have contributed to their illness.”

Parrish said the most likely cause of the illness is the widespread but low-level exposure of soldiers to the sarin nerve agent, which may have been compounded by the use of anti-nerve agent medication and pesticides to prevent malaria among troops.

“Finding causes is a nebulous game when you have so many options to blame,” he added. “The allies’ own activities destroying an Iraqi nerve agent cache or spraying pesticides liberally on troops could be seen in hindsight as an inadvertent ‘own goal,’ and one to be avoided in future conflicts.”

But while the radioactive munitions do not appear to have affected the health of foreign soldiers, the same may not be said for the local Iraqi and Kuwaiti populations.

“Depleted uranium munitions were used in the conflict as an effective weapon to destroy Iraqi tanks, and its use has littered Iraq and Kuwait with uranium contamination, potentially affecting local people,” Parrish said.

Studies have proved that the munitions can cause cancer and birth defects, and that their use in the Gulf War has directly impacted the health of Iraqi locals.

The NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq estimated that 300-800 tons of depleted uranium were used against Iraqi forces in the war, and that this may be connected to “a sharp rise in congenital birth defects and cancer cases in Iraq.”

The group said the use of depleted uranium “is also connected to the recent emergence of diseases that were not previously seen in Iraq, such as illnesses in the kidney, lungs and liver, as well as a total collapse of the immune system.”


Arab ministers consider ways to tackle Iran’s interference in region

Arab ministers consider ways to tackle Iran’s interference in region
Updated 04 March 2021

Arab ministers consider ways to tackle Iran’s interference in region

Arab ministers consider ways to tackle Iran’s interference in region
  • Discussions included enhanced efforts ‘to confront Iranian terrorist practices’
  • Stressed the need to work with international community to halt Tehran’s nuclear program

LONDON: The Arab Ministerial Quartet Committee met on Wednesday to discuss developments in the crisis with Iran and ways to address interference by Tehran in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
Osama bin Ahmed Naqli, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt and permanent representative to the Arab League, represented the Kingdom on behalf of Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.
The meeting, which took place in Cairo on the sidelines of the 155th session of the Arab League Council, was chaired by UAE Minister of State Khalifa Shaheen Al-Marar. The other participants included Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, and Bahrain’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Al-Dossary.
They discussed “ways to enhance cooperation and joint coordination to confront Iranian terrorist practices and combat its terrorist arms that spread havoc and destruction, disrupt development and prosperity, and threaten regional and international security and stability,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.
They also reviewed “the importance of strengthening work with the international community to stop the Iranian nuclear program, which threatens international peace and security in the region and the world.”


Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders

Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders
Updated 03 March 2021

Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders

Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders
  • Nasser Al-Qudwa launched the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with 230 prominent Palestinians attending
  • Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation
AMMAN: Nasser Al-Qudwa, a member of the Fatah Central Committee announced on Tuesday that he has set up a separate electoral list for the upcoming legislative elections, in defiance of orders from the party’s leaders. Al-Qudwa could still support a Fatah-nominated government, however. Al Qudwa held an online meeting on Tuesday to announce the launch of the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with a number of key figures in attendance. The forum attendees included 230 prominent Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora. Participants called on imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti to join them too. Committees dealing with media, legal affairs, management, and candidacies were formed and it was agreed that members of these committees should not be on the electoral list. It was also agreed that there would be strict guidelines regarding candidates’ donations. Hani Al-Masri director-general of Ramallah’s Masarat think-tank, told Arab News that Al-Qudwa’s move could be a game-changer. “Al-Qudwa combines clean hands, respected national presence, and popular support, it will be a game-changer if Barghouti supports the list,” he said. Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation. He resigned from the Fatah Central Committee in May 2018, but his colleagues in the committee soon convinced him to withdraw his resignation. He has never served time in an Israeli jail. The backing of Barghouti would strengthen his credentials in the eyes of many Palestinians. In a poll conducted in September by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, Barghouti received 61 percent of the vote versus 32 percent for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, although Haniyeh still defeated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by three points in that poll. In a subsequent December poll, Barghouti again beat the Hamas leader convincingly. Hamas is unlikely to challenge in the presidential race scheduled for July 30. Al-Qudwa stated in the meeting that he has no issue with rank members of the reform faction loyal to former Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan being involved in the Palestinian Democratic Forum, even though he has been critical of Dahlan. “The new group is intended only to be a forum and not a vehicle to solve Fatah’s many problems,” he said. “We are creating a list and our aim is not to cause a crisis.” Al-Qudwa provided a 22-point initial program for the forum and said that the new body “is open for engagement and discussion in the coming meeting scheduled for March 4.” In addition to laying out ideas about how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the program calls for unity between Gaza and the Wes Bank, the rebuilding of the PLO, and government efficiency, as well as addressing issues including democracy, the rule of law, fighting corruption, and gaining national independence for the Palestinian state using the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. The wide-ranging meeting also discussed negotiations, the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlements, how to protect and reclaim Palestinian land, women’s and children’s rights, and Palestinian martyrs and prisoners.

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed
Updated 03 March 2021

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed
  • The 78-year old, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016
  • Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990

CAIRO: Egypt’s Ahmed Aboul Gheit was reappointed for a second term Wednesday as secretary general of the 22-member Arab League, a diplomatic source said.
The 78-year old, who served as Egyptian foreign minister between 2004 and 2011, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016.
“Arab foreign ministers unanimously decided to approve Egypt’s request to reappoint Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit for a new five-year term,” the source said.
Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990, when a Tunisian was appointed and the headquarters moved to Tunis, after Egypt signed a peace deal with neighboring Israel.


Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes
Updated 03 March 2021

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes
  • In 2020, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees
  • A social media campaign encouraging both taking children home and financing them has also helped spark change

CAIRO: Yasmina Al-Habbal always wanted to take in an orphan but only did so last year after Egypt’s government eased regulations over who could do so and campaigned to change public attitudes, enabling her to take home baby Ghalya.
Formal adoption — where people permanently adopt a child, give them their surname and make them their legal heir, is not accepted in Islam due to the importance of respecting lineage, and not practiced in Egypt, although people are encouraged to sponsor children or foster them.
Complexities around Islam and adoption prevented some people from fostering and instead people chose to support children who remained in the full-time care of orphanages.
In January 2020 however, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees, and reduced the minimum level of education required, hoping that by increasing the pool of prospective foster parents it could make fostering more widespread and socially accepted.
A social media campaign “Yala Kafala” (Let’s sponsor a child) encouraging both taking children home and financing them, started by an Egyptian woman, has also helped spark change.
Habbal, 40 and unmarried, had always dreamt of having a daughter and said she faced social pressure when choosing to care for now seven-month-old Ghalya.
“My friends said to me: ‘how will you face society? What are you going to tell people? Are you going to tell Ghalya that she isn’t your child? Are you going to tell everyone else?’.”
Habbal assured her friends she would respond by telling people their prejudiced views were wrong, and she would tell Ghalya it didn’t matter where she came from.
“I’m going to tell Ghalya... ‘what is important is the positive change you’ve made to so many people’s lives’.”
She added she has a seen a change in attitudes to fostering, and her experience is encouraging others to apply.
“In this past year, the number of families who have applied to sponsor orphans shows just how much people have accepted it. People used to be afraid of it, but now, Egypt’s highest religious authority Al-Azhar, civil society organizations and the ministry of social solidarity are all trying to make the idea more widespread,” she said.
Reem Amin, a member of Egypt’s social solidarity ministry’s alternative families committee said its main goal was to remove the need for orphanages by 2025.
“An orphanage’s main goal is as a stopover point before the child moves to a foster home,” she said.
The ministry’s legal adviser Mohamed Omar said around 11,600 families have taken in orphans since January 2020 and another 11,000 orphans needed homes.
In the second half of 2020 as restrictions due to the pandemic began to ease, the ministry received 1000 requests from families wanting to sponsor orphans.
Cairo couple Mohamed Abdallah and his wife had initially failed to conceive a child of their own and decided to take in an orphan instead.
Months later, Abdallah’s wife Merna became pregnant and now they are raising their biological son Soliman and Dawood, their foster child. “I have a dream that they will be an example for a normal society — two brothers who love each other, even though they are not related by blood,” said Abdallah.


Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib
Updated 03 March 2021

Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib
  • During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Army has launched a new offensive in the southern city of Taiz to break a six-year-long siege by the Iran-backed Houthis and ease military pressure on government forces in the central province of Marib, a Yemeni army spokesperson in Taiz told Arab News on Wednesday. 

Abdul Basit Al-Baher said that hundreds of army troops on Tuesday night attacked Houthi-controlled locations on the western and eastern edges of the city, triggering clashes with the rebels. 

During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages and mountainous locations and killed at least 12 Houthis and destroyed military equipment. 

“The national army activated four battlefields in Taiz and managed to push Houthi militia from different locations,” Al-Baher said, adding that the army is pushing to break the Houthi siege on Taiz and open a strategic road that links Taiz with the Red Sea areas. If the government forces seize control of Al-Bareh, the epicenter of the fighting, government forces will be able to partially end the Houthi siege on Taiz and funnel fighters and military equipment from the western regions.

About the timing of the offensive, local Yemeni commanders say that the Houthis in Taiz have been weakened since they sent their elite forces and heavy equipment to participate in the movement’s offensive on the central city of Marib. 

“The Yemeni Army offensive partly aims to ease military pressure on Marib,” Al-Baher said. 

On Wednesday afternoon, artillery shells fired by the Houthis landed in areas close to Al-Thawra hospital in the eastern part of the city, residents said. No one was reportedly hurt in the shelling. 

The Houthis have imposed a siege on the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, since early 2015, after failing to seize control of the city due to strong resistance from army troops and resistance fighters. 

The Houthi siege has stifled the densely populated city, pushing tens of thousands of people to the brink of famine and triggering condemnation from local and international rights groups.

Houthis earlier this month renewed a major offensive to recapture the central city of Marib, the Yemeni government’s last stronghold in the northern half of Yemen. 

In the western province of Hodeidah, a civilian was killed and his brother was wounded when an artillery shell fired by the Houthis exploded inside their house on Tuesday night in the town of Hays, south of Hodeidah city, local media said. 

The Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units in the country’s western coast, said that Houthi sporadically shelled civilian areas in Hays, causing panic among residents. 

A truce imposed under the Stockholm Agreement in 2018 has largely failed to bring peace to contested areas in Hodeidah as local rights organizations say that hundreds of civilians have been killed in shelling and by land mines planted by the Houthis during the last three years.

Yemen’s government has hailed US sanctions on two Houthi military leaders for orchestrating terrorist strikes inside and outside Yemen. 

Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani described the US decision as a “right step” on the path to punishing the Houthi group for rejecting peace ideas and launching deadly attacks on civilians across Yemen and in Saudi Arabia.