Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave

Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave
With Zabulon Simintov’s departure, Judaism will come to an end in Afghanistan. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 April 2021

Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave

Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave
  • Last known Afghan Jew who defied the Taliban says he has lost hope for peace

KABUL: Zabulon Simintov is having a Passover meal in a solitary celebration of the Jewish holiday — the last one he is likely to observe in Afghanistan.

Now in his late 50s, Simintov has lived in Kabul through some of the capital’s darkest eras, witnessing a civil war, Soviet and US invasions, Taliban rule and the looming end to America’s decades-long engagement in the country, which he fears will plunge Afghanistan into chaos again.

After losing hope in the peace process, Simintov — the last known Afghan Jew remaining in the country — is preparing to leave.

“I will watch on TV in Israel to find out what will happen in Afghanistan,” he told Arab News.

“I have had enough and plan to leave in the next few months,” he said after reading passages from Jewish scripture at his home in a dilapidated compound that also houses Kabul’s last synagogue.

The Kabul synagogue, established in 1966, has been the only synagogue in Afghanistan for the past two decades, after all Jews have left Herat, the western Afghan city that once hosted four Jewish places of worship.

Although little is known about the origins of Judaism in Afghanistan, it is believed that Jews came to the region about 2,000 years ago.

Until the mid-20th century, hundreds of Jewish families lived peacefully in the Muslim-majority country.

Simintov, a carpet and jewelry merchant, who twice served in the Afghan army, said the best period for Jews in Afghanistan was during the country’s monarchical era, which ended in 1973.

But the gradual departure of Jews began earlier, in the late 1940s, after the creation of Israel. Many left in the 1980s following the Soviet invasion, while others fled during the subsequent civil war under the mujahideen. The remaining ones later escaped Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001.

Simintov spends most of his time in the synagogue compound.

“I managed to protect the synagogue of Kabul like a lion of Jews here, stood against the mujahideen and the Taliban,” he proudly said, adding that now he rarely steps out, fearing increasing crime and bomb attacks in Kabul.

Despite his hostility toward the Taliban, he admitted the city was safer under their administration.

With Simintov’s departure, the synagogue will close, and Judaism will come to an end in Afghanistan.

Although he has relatives in New York and photographs at his home show him with US officials visiting Kabul, Simintov is highly critical of American policies in Afghanistan, which he believes seek to bring down President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

“The US makes a mess of the place wherever it goes — Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan are good examples. It is hypocrital, pursues double policies,” he said.

“America is lying and will not leave soon.”  

“This country has no future and will become worse than Syria,” Simintov added. “There are groups and leaders within Afghanistan and the region who are seeking to benefit from its instability.”


Half-century old US bridge collapses ahead of Biden visit to promote infra law

Half-century old US bridge collapses ahead of Biden visit to promote infra law
Updated 10 sec ago

Half-century old US bridge collapses ahead of Biden visit to promote infra law

Half-century old US bridge collapses ahead of Biden visit to promote infra law

PITTSBURGH: A 50-year-old bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh early Friday, requiring rescuers to rappel down a ravine and form a human chain to reach a few occupants of a municipal bus that plummeted along with the span. No deaths were reported.
The collapse came hours before President Joe Biden arrived in the city to promote his $1 trillion infrastructure law, which has earmarked about $1.6 billion for Pennsylvania bridge maintenance.
At least four people required hospital treatment. Five other vehicles were also on the bridge at the time. The cause was being investigated, and crews searched under the debris for additional victims.
A large crack showed on the end of the bridge where the segmented bus landed 150 feet (46 meters) down in the ravine, as if hit by an earthquake. A car landed upside down in front of the bus, which was operated by the Pittsburgh area’s transit agency.
The Forbes Avenue bridge over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park came down at 6:39 a.m., city officials said. The loud noise from the collapse was followed by a hissing sound and the smell of natural gas, witnesses said.
“The first sound was much more intense, and kind of a rumbling, which I guess was the structure, the deck hitting the ground,” said Ken Doyno, a resident who lives four houses away. “I mean, the whole house rattled at that point.”
Ruptured gas lines along the bridge produced the leak, and the supply of gas was shut off within a half-hour, city officials said.
As Biden toured the scene, an officer told him a person who was running by helped first responders get people out of cars. He called it a miracle.
“It really is, it’s astounding,” Biden said.
By midafternoon, three adults were being treated, and all were in fair condition, the UPMC hospital system said. A fourth person had received treatment and was released.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate. The agency tweeted a photo late Friday of Chair Jennifer Homendy at the scene.
A search-and-rescue team combed the area, said Sam Wasserman, a spokesperson for Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. Drones were brought in to help.
Most of the 10 people evaluated for injuries were first responders who were checked for exhaustion or because of the cold and snowy weather, Gainey said.
The segmented bus operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County had two passengers in addition to the driver, said Adam Brandolph, spokesperson for the agency.
The bus driver, Daryl Luciani, told WPXI-TV that as soon as he reached the bridge, he believed it was collapsing.
“I could just feel it,” Luciani told the station. “The bus was bouncing and shaking and it seems long, but it was probably less than a minute that the bus finally came to a stop, and I was just thankful that nobody on the bus was hurt.”
The passengers appeared to be OK, he said, so he pulled the air brake and waited for help to arrive. First responders reached them after descending with flashlights in the predawn darkness and used a rope to help him and other occupants get to safety, Luciani said.
About two hours after the collapse, Brandolph said, one of the passengers was on another bus, began complaining of injuries and was taken to a hospital. The driver and other passenger were not hurt, according to Brandolph.
The bus had started its route in downtown Pittsburgh and had been heading to the suburban community of Braddock.
“Judging by the time of day, had this bus been traveling inbound, toward downtown, there likely would have been more people on the bus and obviously could have been a much, much more dire situation,” Brandolph said.
The bus had seven or eight cameras, and any footage they captured of the collapse will be part of the investigation, Brandolph said.
Neighbors said a gas company worker went door to door to get them to evacuate from the immediate vicinity before the gas was successfully shut off.
“Apart from just this abiding noise, we could begin to smell gas and that was the truly frightening thing, then with that smell we both said, let’s get dressed and get out of here,” said Lyn Krynski, whose home is nearest the bridge.
“It sounded like a weather phenomenon more than anything,” said Douglas Gwilym, who was shoveling about an inch of snow when he heard the noise. “It was all I had to compare it to — it was this odd, whooshing sound.”
The bridge is an important artery that leads to the Squirrel Hill and Oakland neighborhoods and is a popular route toward downtown Pittsburgh. Authorities told motorists to avoid the area. Several neighbors said a weather-prompted two-hour school delay may have prevented a far worse human tragedy.
At the site of the collapse, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman called it “just an awful, surreal scene.”
“I hope it’s a wake-up call to the nation that we need to make these infrastructure investments,” Fetterman said.
The steel bridge, which was built in 1970, carries about 14,500 vehicles a day, according to a 2005 estimate.
Wasserman said the most recent inspection occurred in September but the report was not immediately available.
But a September 2019 inspection of the city-owned bridge revealed the deck and superstructure to be in poor condition, according to the US Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory.
A spreadsheet on the state Department of Transportation website listed the bridge’s overall condition as poor, which, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, means “deterioration of primary structural elements has advanced.”
 


UN: ‘Extreme lack of food’ for many in Tigray

A woman queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. (Reuters)
A woman queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. (Reuters)
Updated 29 January 2022

UN: ‘Extreme lack of food’ for many in Tigray

A woman queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia. (Reuters)
  • WFP calls for all parties in Ethiopia’s war to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire

NAIROBI: More than a third of the people in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region “are suffering an extreme lack of food,” the UN World Food Programme said in a new assessment of a region under a months-long government blockade.

“Families are exhausting all means to feed themselves, with three quarters of the population using extreme coping strategies to survive,” the WFP said in its report, noting increases in begging and relying on just one meal a day.
It called for all parties in Ethiopia’s war to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire and “formally agreed transport corridors” for aid after 15 months of war.
The UN said no aid convoy has entered the Tigray region of some 6 million people since mid-December. Separately, the UN humanitarian agency said less than 10 percent of the needed supplies, including medicines and fuel, have entered Tigray since mid-July.
All international NGOs operating in Tigray have depleted their fuel, “with their staff delivering the little remaining humanitarian supplies and services on foot, where possible,” the agency said in its Friday update.

BACKGROUND

Ethiopia’s government has been wary of allowing aid to fall into the hands of the Tigray forces who once dominated the national government and have been battling the current government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since November 2020.

Ethiopia’s government has been wary of allowing aid to fall into the hands of the Tigray forces who once dominated the national government and have been battling the current government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since November 2020.
The government in part has blamed problems with aid delivery on insecurity it says is caused by Tigray forces, including new fighting in the neighboring Afar region near the only approved road corridor for aid.
Aid workers, however, also blame bureaucratic obstacles including intrusive personal searches and confiscation of items including personal medications before visits to Tigray.
The new WFP report, based on face-to-face interviews with more than 980 households across accessible parts of Tigray, cited “extraordinary operation challenges.”
The war has shifted in recent weeks, with the Tigray forces retreating into their region after attempting to advance on the capital, Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia’s military saying it would not pursue them further. That opened the way for fresh mediation efforts by the United States and the African Union, with humanitarian access a key goal.
Aid has begun reaching people in the Amhara and Afar regions after Tigray forces’ incursions there displaced hundreds of thousands. But the new WFP report said that some 9 million people need food assistance across the three war-affected regions.
Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry this week said it was working with aid partners to facilitate daily cargo flights to Tigray “to transport much-needed medicines and supplies.” It is not clear when the daily flights will begin, though the International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday announced that it had made its first delivery of medical supplies to Tigray since September, calling it “a huge relief.” A second flight followed on Thursday.
The UN has said time is running out. “Aid organizations have warned that operations could cease completely by the end of February in Tigray,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.
Tigray’s health bureau this week reported that nearly 1,500 people died of malnutrition in just part of the region over a four-month period last year, including more than 350 young children. It cited more than 5,000 blockade-related deaths in all from hunger and disease in the largest official death toll yet associated with the country’s war.
Ethiopia’s government has sought to restrict reporting on the war and detained some journalists under the state of emergency, including a video freelancer accredited to the AP, Amir Aman Kiyaro.
The country’s Council of Ministers this week proposed ending the state of emergency now, citing the changing security situation. That needs lawmakers’ approval.


Europeans set two-week deadline to review untenable situation in Mali

France's European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian leaves the weekly cabinet meeting at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on January 26, 2022. (AFP)
France's European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian leaves the weekly cabinet meeting at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on January 26, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2022

Europeans set two-week deadline to review untenable situation in Mali

France's European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian leaves the weekly cabinet meeting at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on January 26, 2022. (AFP)
  • European, French and international forces are seeing measures that are restricting them

PARIS: European allies have agreed to draw up plans within two weeks for how to continue their fight against militants in Mali, Denmark’s defense minister said, after France said the situation with the Malian junta had become untenable.
Tensions have escalated between Mali and its international partners after the junta failed to organize an election following two military coups.
It has also deployed Russian private military contractors, which some European countries have said is incompatible with their mission.
“There was a clear perception, that this is not about Denmark, it’s about a Malian military junta, which wants to stay in power. They have no interest in a democratic election, which is what we have demanded,” Defense Minister Trine Bramse said after a virtual meeting between the 15 countries involved in the European special forces Takuba task mission.
She said the parties had agreed to come up with a plan within 14 days to decide on what the “future counterterrorism mission should look like in the Sahel region.”
The ministers held crisis talks after the junta insisted on an immediate withdrawal of Danish forces despite the 15 nations rejecting its claims that Copenhagen’s presence was illegal.

Given the situation, given the rupture in the political and military frameworks we cannot continue like this.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister

“European, French and international forces are seeing measures that are restricting them. Given the situation, given the rupture in the political and military frameworks we cannot continue like this,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio earlier in the day.
The junta’s handling of Denmark is likely to impact future deployments, with Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and Lithuania due to send troops this year.
It raises questions about the broader future of French operations in Mali, where there are some 4,000 troops. Paris had staked a great deal on bringing European states to the region.
Col. Arnaud Mettey, commander of France’s forces in Ivory Coast, which backs up Sahel operations, said that the junta had no right to refuse Denmark’s presence given agreed treaties.
“Either they are rejecting this treaty and so put into question our presence or they apply it,” he said.
“France and the European Union will not disengage from the Sahel. Takuba will carry on.”
However, Denis Tull, senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said Paris may ultimately not be left with a choice.
“This is of course contravening the plan that France conceived. Ultimately the question will be whether France is able and willing to stay under any circumstances,” he said.
“If this confrontation continues, there probably will simply be no political context in which the French transformation agenda for (France’s counterterrorism force) Barkhane can be applied and implemented as planned.”


Landmark modern slavery case could open route back to Britain for young Daesh recruits

The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Shamima Begum, pictured. (Screenshot/ITV News)
The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Shamima Begum, pictured. (Screenshot/ITV News)
Updated 28 January 2022

Landmark modern slavery case could open route back to Britain for young Daesh recruits

The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Shamima Begum, pictured. (Screenshot/ITV News)
  • A 16-year-old girl successfully challenged terror charges by arguing she had been sexually exploited online
  • Daesh recruits such as Shamima Begum say they were groomed online before traveling to Syria as teenagers

LONDON: The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could help to revive Daesh recruit Shamima Begum’s own legal battle to be allowed to return to the UK.

The case against the teenage terror suspect, who is the youngest girl ever charged with terrorism in the UK and cannot be named for legal reasons, was dropped this month after she successfully argued she was a victim of modern slavery. It is the first time a terrorism prosecution in the UK has been halted due to a claim of sexual exploitation.

The decision could open the door for teenage Daesh recruits, such as Begum, to go free on the basis that they were groomed online, said Jonathan Hall QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

“Being both a victim of modern slavery and presenting a risk to the general public are not incompatible,” he said. “If fewer criminal cases are going to be possible, this begs the question whether there are sufficient non-criminal justice measures in place, in particular to deal with the terrorist risk presented by children.”

The unnamed teenager, from Derbyshire, was found to be in possession of a bomb-making video and instructions for assembling a gun, after her mother alerted authorities about the girl’s “fixation” with Adolf Hitler.

She was charged with terror offenses but the case was dropped when the Home Office decided she was a victim of modern slavery after her lawyers argued she had been sexually exploited and groomed online by a US extremist.

That case could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Begum. She traveled to Syria to join the terrorist group in 2015, when she was 15, and has for several years been fighting a legal battle to be allowed to return to the UK from the Kurdish-administered camp in northern Syria where she has been living since she was captured.

Before she went to Syria she had been in contact with Daesh members online. She married and gave birth to three children after arriving in the country, all of whom died.

Her citizenship was revoke by the British government on the grounds of national security. This prevented her from returning to the UK, where she had lived her entire life before going to Syria.

Referring to the dropping of the case against the 16-year-old this month, Begum’s lawyer said: “Shamima has been arguing this from the beginning. This just strengthens her case.”


Philippines reopening to vaccinated foreigners next month

A resident receives a BioNtech Pfizer Covid-19 jab as a booster, at a vaccination center in Quezon city on January 27, 2022, amidst rising covid-19 infections in the capital driven by Omicron variant. (AFP)
A resident receives a BioNtech Pfizer Covid-19 jab as a booster, at a vaccination center in Quezon city on January 27, 2022, amidst rising covid-19 infections in the capital driven by Omicron variant. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2022

Philippines reopening to vaccinated foreigners next month

A resident receives a BioNtech Pfizer Covid-19 jab as a booster, at a vaccination center in Quezon city on January 27, 2022, amidst rising covid-19 infections in the capital driven by Omicron variant. (AFP)
  • Southeast Asian country had planned to reopen in December but suspended the decision over omicron fears
  • Government is also lifting mandatory quarantine for both returning Filipinos and foreign visitors

MANILA: The Philippines will start accepting fully vaccinated travelers from Feb. 10, the government announced on Friday, after closing its borders for nearly two years to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Southeast Asian country had planned to reopen in December, but the decision was halted due to concerns over an outbreak of the new omicron variant of COVID-19.

Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles told reporters the government will suspend its risk classification list for countries starting Feb. 1, and vaccinated travelers from all 157 countries that have visa-free entry to the Philippines will be allowed entry.

“By Feb. 10, we will allow entry of fully vaccinated foreign nationals for business and tourism purposes as long as they come from countries belonging to the list as provided under Executive Order 408 or non-visa required countries,” Nograles said.

The government is also lifting its mandatory quarantine requirements for both returning Filipinos and foreign visitors as long as they are fully vaccinated and test negative for COVID-19.

Officials are hopeful that the reopening will help boost the recovery of the Philippine tourism industry and economy. “[This] will contribute significantly to job restoration, primarily in tourism-dependent communities and in the reopening of businesses that have earlier shut down during the pandemic,” Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said in a statement.

The Philippines follows in the footsteps of other countries in the region. Thailand will also resume its quarantine-free travel for vaccinated visitors in February, while Singapore and Malaysia have relaxed the border between their countries since November.

“We are confident that we will be able to keep pace with our ASEAN neighbors who have already made similar strides to reopen to foreign tourists,” Puyat added.

Home to white sand beaches, famous diving spots, lively entertainment, diverse cultural heritage and wildlife, the Philippine economy is dependent on tourism, which in 2019, generated 2.51 trillion pesos (about $50 billion), contributing nearly 13 percent to the country’s gross domestic product, according to Philippine Statistics Authority data.

As the pandemic hit the country in March 2020, most tourism destinations were forced to shut down, dealing a major blow to the sector as its revenues plummeted to 973 billion pesos, with foreign tourist arrivals slumping 82 percent and local travel almost 78 percent.