Activist fears Palestinian Authority’s bid to ‘silence’ dissent

Activist fears Palestinian Authority’s bid to ‘silence’ dissent
Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro was locked up last week by Palestinian security forces, during that time he said he was thinking about his friend Nizar Banat, who would be dead within days. (AFP/Emmanuel Dunand)
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Updated 30 June 2021

Activist fears Palestinian Authority’s bid to ‘silence’ dissent

Activist fears Palestinian Authority’s bid to ‘silence’ dissent
  • Activist says he has a responsibility to discuss violations by Palestinian officials
  • He is the founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group that campaigns against the proliferation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank

HEBRON, Palestinian Territories: When he was locked up last week by Palestinian security forces, rights activist Issa Amro said he was thinking about his friend Nizar Banat, who would be dead within days.
Both men had become prominent critics of the Palestinian Authority, which activists say has grown increasingly intolerant of dissent.
Banat’s death on Thursday at age 43, shortly after security forces stormed his home and violently arrested him, sparked days of angry protests in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967.
“When they forcefully arrested me on a baseless charge, I felt that they were determined to get rid of us,” 41-year-old Amro told AFP, referring to the PA’s alleged crackdown on critics.
“When I was in detention I thought about my friend Nizar,” Amro said. “I don’t think they were planning to kill him. I think they used violence on his body (to silence) him.”
Amro, like Banat, is from Hebron, a flashpoint West Bank city where roughly 1,000 Jewish settlers live under heavy Israeli military protection surrounded by some 200,000 Palestinians.
Both men have long records condemning the Israeli occupation, but they have also criticized the PA, which stands accused by rights groups of corruption and other violations.
In 2018, New York-based group Human Rights Watch charged that the PA was guilty of “arbitrary arrests” and the “systematic practice of torture” that “may amount to a crime against humanity.”
The PA is led by 86-year-old president Mahmud Abbas, whose tenure had been due to end in 2009 but who has repeatedly balked at holding elections.
He most recently called off polls scheduled for May and July, blaming Israel’s refusal to guarantee voting in annexed east Jerusalem.
The PA has promised an investigation into Banat’s death and prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Monday vowed that those found responsible would be punished.
But Banat’s family said it would reject the findings of such a probe, insisting the PA already knew who was involved.
Amro, who was frequently greeted as he walked with an AFP reporter through Hebron’s old city, said that working as an activist in the West Bank had become precarious.
“The environment is not safe for me,” he said. “I’m scared to get killed but I will not stop.”
He claimed he was tortured during a week-long detention in 2017, beaten while locked in a small room, prevented from seeing his lawyers and even threatened with decapitation.
“I’m connected to the international community, and my voice is reaching lawmakers all around the world,” he said.
“They don’t want that. They want to be the only voice for the Palestinian people,” he said, explaining why he has been targeted by the PA.
But he stressed that he has a responsibility to discuss violations by Palestinian officials.
“If Mahmud Abbas is (leading) a dictatorship, I should talk about that,” he said. “I should talk about political prisoners.”
Amro is the founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group that campaigns against the proliferation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, communities widely regarded as illegal under international law.
He told AFP he had lost track of the number of times he had been arrested by Israel.
“Sometimes twice a week, sometimes twice a day,” he recalled.
In February, an Israeli military court handed him a three month suspended sentence and a 3,500 shekel ($1,070) fine, after finding him guilty of organizing an “illegal” demonstration and “physically opposing” soldiers during his arrest.
London-based Amnesty International insisted Amro had been sanctioned for organizing and participating in peaceful protests, describing his punishment as being “motivated by purely political interests.”
Amro, asked about the nature of the threats he perceived from both the PA and Israel, said: “I feel sometimes I am a lonely person between two dictatorships.
“I’m scared of both,” he said, describing the Palestinian Authority as a “subcontractor” of the Jewish state.


Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election

Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election
Updated 7 sec ago

Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election

Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election
  • The Knesset set a deadline for midnight on Wednesday for a final vote to dissolve
  • Foreign minister Yair Lapid will take over as prime minister of a caretaker government
JERUSALEM: Israel was headed on Wednesday toward its fifth election in less than four years, plunging it deeper into political uncertainty as it grapples with rising living costs and renewed international efforts to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett moved last week to dissolve parliament after infighting made his ruling coalition no longer tenable. The Knesset set a deadline for midnight on Wednesday for a final vote to dissolve.
Once the calling of a snap election gets the Knesset’s final approval, Israel’s center-left foreign minister, Yair Lapid, will take over from Bennett as prime minister of a caretaker government with limited powers.
But even with lawmakers grappling over the exact election date, either Oct. 25 or Nov. 1, the campaign has already become dominated by the possible comeback of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lapid and Bennett ended Netanyahu’s record reign a year ago by forming a rare alliance of rightists, liberals and Arab parties, which lasted longer than many expected but faltered in recent amid infighting.
Netanyahu, now opposition leader, has been delighted by the end of what he has called the worst government in Israel’s history. He hopes to win a sixth term in office despite being on trial for corruption on charges he denies.
Surveys have shown his right-wing Likud party leading the polls but still short of a governing majority despite support of allied religious and nationalist parties.
Lawmakers from the pro-Netanyahu bloc have said they were working to form a new government before parliament dissolves. That scenario, which appears remote, would scupper an early election.

Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians

Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians
Updated 37 min 42 sec ago

Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians

Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians
  • The Palestinians’ official Wafa news agency said he was killed during an Israeli raid in the town

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian early Wednesday during clashes in the hotspot town of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.
Mohammad Marei, 25, died from a bullet wound to the chest, the Palestinian health ministry said. The Palestinians’ official Wafa news agency said he was killed during an Israeli raid in the town.
The Israeli army said it conducted overnight “counter-terrorism activities” in several West Bank locations.
In Jenin, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on troops, the army said.
“A number of suspects also hurled explosive devices at soldiers, who responded with fire. A hit was identified,” the army added, without specifically commenting on Marei’s death.
His killing comes amid spiralling violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed since late March, mainly in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Israeli security forces have responded with near-daily raids in the West Bank, including in and around Jenin.
Forty-eight Palestinians have been killed, mostly in the West Bank — among them attackers and suspected militants but also non-combatants, including Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli army fire while covering a raid in Jenin, according to the United Nations.
Three Israeli Arab attackers have also been killed since late March.


Former student held after two Iraq professors killed

Police believe the shooter did not originally intend to kill the engineering professor. (AFP)
Police believe the shooter did not originally intend to kill the engineering professor. (AFP)
Updated 29 June 2022

Former student held after two Iraq professors killed

Police believe the shooter did not originally intend to kill the engineering professor. (AFP)
  • The suspect was expelled from Soran University by the first victim’s wife and was then refused a place at Salaheddin University by the second victim, the governor said

IRBIL, Iraq: Two Iraqi university professors were gunned down in the Kurdish regional capital Irbil on Tuesday prompting the arrest of a disgruntled former student, authorities said.
Shootings as a means of settling scores are far from rare in Iraq — its legacy of war and sectarian conflict mean the country’s 40 million people count some 7.6 million firearms, according to figures from the Small Arms Survey.
A Soran University engineering professor was shot dead in his home in the early hours, and the dean of the Salaheddin University law faculty, Kawan Ismail, was killed on campus shortly afterwards, provincial governor Omed Khoshnaw told reporters.
Police believe the shooter did not originally intend to kill the engineering professor, but rather his wife, who is a law professor at the same university and was away from home at the time, Khosnaw said.
The suspect was expelled from Soran University by the first victim’s wife and was then refused a place at Salaheddin University by the second victim, the governor said.
He had been arrested several times previously after making death threats against the second victim, whose bodyguard was also wounded in the attack.


Severity of Middle East sandstorms confronts Arab Gulf states with a daunting challenge

Severity of Middle East sandstorms confronts Arab Gulf states with a daunting challenge
Updated 29 June 2022

Severity of Middle East sandstorms confronts Arab Gulf states with a daunting challenge

Severity of Middle East sandstorms confronts Arab Gulf states with a daunting challenge
  • Meteorological officials say climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms
  • Regionwide afforestation projects aim to alleviate sandstorms’ negative effects on agriculture and human health

JEDDAH: For eons, large plumes of dust and sand sweeping across most of Saudi Arabia have been a natural, seasonal aspect of life. Though a common meteorological phenomenon in arid and semi-arid regions, in recent years scientists have been sounding the alarm over the adverse health and environmental effects of increasing dust storms, prompting Saudi authorities to face the challenges head-on.

The Middle East, Africa and the Arab Gulf are no strangers to sandstorms. They occur relatively close to the ground surface, but finer dust particles may be lifted miles into the atmosphere, where strong winds transport them long distances and across continents.

Saudi Arabia is a prime location for these extreme sandstorms, as it occupies almost the entire Arabian Peninsula, and is primarily desert with patches of rocky terrain in the west and central regions. The Kingdom also sits on a majority of the largest desert area in Asia, the Arabian Desert.

The vast expanse of sandy beige and red terrain stretching across the country leaves Saudi Arabia exposed to some of the harshest sandstorms arriving mainly from the north or west. These storms obscure vision, halt maritime and flight operations, close schools, and harm human health, while turning the cerulean blue skies an ominous orange.

Saudi Arabia’s position across the Arabian Peninsula makes it especially susceptible to sandstorms. (Reuters)

Last month, a transboundary sandstorm engulfed Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and the UAE, sending thousands to hospital as the air filled with fine dust particles that are linked to asthma attacks and the spread of bacteria, viruses, toxins and more. Depending on the weather and climate conditions, dust can remain in the atmosphere for several days and travel great distances.

Some scientists say that climate change could increase sandstorm frequency and intensity. According to several studies, the Middle East witnesses one of three types of sandstorms approximately 30 percent of the year.

A reduction of visibility defines the sandstorms; blowing dust reduces visibility to a few feet for brief intervals, and horizontal visibility is less than 11 km. For dust storms, horizontal visibility is less than 1,000 meters, and for severe dust storms is less than 200 meters.

A 2019 study analyzed the Kingdom’s dust-storm occurrences by studying figure analysis from 27 observation stations provided by the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment, using data on spatial and temporal distribution of atmospheric dust between 2000-2016. The study noted a significant increase in occurrences, especially in the Eastern Province, with a clear seasonality in the incidence of dust and sand storms.

STORM CATEGORIES

• Blowing dust: Horizontal visibility is less than 11 km.

• Dust storm: Horizontal visibility is less than 1,000 meters.

• Severe dust storm: Horizontal visibility is less than 200 meters.

According to Hussain Al-Qahtani, Saudi Arabian National Center for Meteorology spokesman, the notable increase of sand and dust storms in the Eastern Province is due to its proximity and exposure to the northern winds that commonly hit the Kingdom.

“For over 40 years, the NCM has documented and monitored weather patterns and climate conditions in the Kingdom,” he told Arab News.

“The incidence and intensity of dust storms vary year by year and the World Meteorological Organization declared that the world is going through a turbulent time of extreme climate change. Dust storms with winds up to 45 km per hour for several days are a common phenomenon in the area, and are a result of this extreme global climate.”

When heavy torrential rains in late 2009 and early 2010 inundated Jeddah on Saudi Arabia’s western coast and caused mass floods, civil defense officials declared them to be the worst in over 25 years, prompting the launch by the NCM of a national weather-warning system connecting all relevant governing bodies.

The NCM now uses this system to warn of the possibility and intensity of incoming sandstorms. Green indicates that no severe weather is expected; yellow is “be aware,” amber “be prepared,” and red is “take action.”

Three key factors are responsible for the generation of sand and dust storms: Strong wind, lack of vegetation, and absence of rainfall, making the Kingdom the perfect environment for cross-border dust storms.

Their increasing frequency has taken its toll on the Middle East’s agricultural sector. Sandstorms reduce crop yields by burying seedlings under sand deposits, destroying plant tissue, and reducing the plant’s ability to carry out photosynthesis, which delays plant development.

Sand and dust storms have immediate threats to human health, especially for the young and the elderly, causing respiratory and skin problems. (Reuters)

Some of the most immediate and obvious effects of sand and dust storms are related to human health. Dr. Lamia Al-Ibrahim of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority says human exposure to dust and sandstorms poses a danger to overall health, especially for people with respiratory problems, including asthma, allergies and COPD, and can cause skin and eye irritation.

“Depending on the level of exposure, sand and dust storms in the Kingdom differ from one region to the next. Dust storms could worsen he health of individuals whether they have allergies or not,” she told Arab News. “With simple lifestyle changes, the effects can be minimized, but not prevented.”

Al-Ibrahim says exposure to dust and sand can exacerbate allergies, adding that several health, safety and environmental control strategies can be implemented to cushion communities from the negative impact of storms.

“Precautionary measures and medications such as antihistamines ahead of time can decrease the severity of infections. Though the best mechanism is to stay home, those who need to leave their homes should don face masks and wear glasses. Dust storms impact outdoor and indoor air quality and can trigger breathing problems and more due to one particle — silica,” she said.

FASTFACT

• Aeolian processes: Wind-driven emission, transportation and deposition of sand and dust by wind are termed after the Greek god Aeolus, the keeper of winds.

Most desert dust in the region is composed primarily of silica, exposure to which is a risk factor for several illnesses.

Wearing masks and glasses and staying inside are temporary solutions, leaving authorities to seek out more permanent and far-reaching ways to solve the dust problem. In terms of environmental strategies, afforestation has become a significant player when it comes to fighting issues faced as a result of climate change.

The Saudi Green Initiative, launched last March, aims to rehabilitate 40 million hectares of land over the coming decades, with 24 initiatives launched to plant 10 billion trees. The afforestation plan can improve air quality, reduce sandstorms, combat desertification, and lower temperatures in adjacent areas.

Similarly, the Middle East Green Initiative, the regional alliance and pact on climate change, has similar ambitious goals, aiming to plant 50 billion trees (10 billion in the Kingdom) across the Middle East and restore 200 million hectares of degraded land.

Sandstorms across the Middle East have delayed flights, closed schools and hospitalised thousands. (AFP)

Al-Ibrahim cautions that although afforestation effectively mitigates sand and dust storms, it is essential to know which trees to plant, as some could have adverse effects on human health.

“Some tree pollen can cause severe allergies. I was invited to participate in the Green Riyadh Project launch as a member of several environmental awareness groups and raised the issue of these trees, and a committee was established to specify the types of trees, plants and shrubs best suited for the area,” she told Arab News.

The Royal Commission of Riyadh has issued a plant guide book for the city which lists approximately 300 types of plants, shrubs and trees that are set to be planted.

“NCM’s research and studies contribute to providing data to relevant entities that need to understand how to face the challenges that arise from sand and dust storms, decrease the level of threats and work on solutions such as afforestation initiatives, taking preventive measures, or even increasing the accuracy of the information for the health and safety of citizens,” said Al-Qahtani.


Iraq announces first cholera death since new outbreak

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that is treatable with antibiotics. (AFP)
Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that is treatable with antibiotics. (AFP)
Updated 29 June 2022

Iraq announces first cholera death since new outbreak

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that is treatable with antibiotics. (AFP)
  • The other infections were mostly concentrated in neighboring Sulaimaniyah province, in the autonomous Kurdistan region

BAGHDAD: A cholera outbreak in Iraq claimed its first victim Tuesday, with 17 new cases recorded in the country within 24 hours, a health ministry spokesperson said.
The death was recorded in the northern province of Kirkuk, the ministry’s Seif Al-Badr was quoted as saying by state media.
“Over the past 24 hours, 17 new cases were detected, bringing the total to 76 cases registered in Iraq since the start of the year,” he said.
The outbreak was first officially reported earlier this month, with Kirkuk accounting for one of the 13 cases confirmed at that time.
The other infections were mostly concentrated in neighboring Sulaimaniyah province, in the autonomous Kurdistan region.
The country’s last broad cholera outbreak dates back to 2015, Badr had said previously, with the central provinces of Baghdad and Babil to its south the worst affected.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that is treatable with antibiotics and hydration but can kill within hours without medical attention.
It is caused by a germ that is typically transmitted by poor sanitation. People become infected when they swallow food or water carrying the bug.
According to the World Health Organization, researchers estimate that annually there are between 1.3 million and four million cases of cholera worldwide, leading to between 21,000 and 143,000 deaths.