Thousands flee fighting in Syria’s Daraa: UN

Thousands flee fighting in Syria’s Daraa: UN
A man scrambles for safety while carrying a child in the aftermath of government forces’ bombardment on the rebel-held city of Al-Bab, northwest of Aleppo, in northern Syria, early on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 07 August 2021

Thousands flee fighting in Syria’s Daraa: UN

Thousands flee fighting in Syria’s Daraa: UN
  • Fighting between government forces and armed opposition groups in the southern province last month killed at least 28 people

BEIRUT: The UN has called for a ceasefire in the flashpoint Syrian province of Daraa where it said recent fighting forced 18,000 to flee.

Fighting between government forces and armed opposition groups in the southern province last month killed at least 28 people.

The clashes have died down over the past week but were the most intense since the government seized back control of the region from rebels in 2018.

“The escalation in hostilities has forced at least 18,000 civilians to flee Daraa Al-Balad since 28 July,” the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.

The government attacks focused on Daraa Al-Balad, a southern district of Daraa’s provincial capital and a former opposition hub that continues to house ex-rebel fighters.

“There needs to be an immediate ceasefire to alleviate the suffering of civilians in Daraa,” Bachelet said.

Russian-backed Syrian troops and allied forces recaptured Daraa province from rebels in 2018, in a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born in its provincial capital in 2011.

Thousands of fighters evacuated under a Moscow-brokered deal, but many former rebels also stayed on in the province, some joining the regime forces.

State institutions have returned to the province but the army has still not deployed in some areas including Daraa Al-Balad.

Last month’s clashes came after government forces tightened control around Daraa Al-Balad in a bid to pressure opposition fighters there to withdraw to rebel-held territory in Syria’s north.

“In recent days, they have only been allowing pedestrians out of Daraa Al-Balad along the Al-Saraya road, subjecting people to strict security checks,” the UN said.

Bachelet said civilians in Daraa Al-Balad were effectively “under siege.”  They are facing checkpoints, restrictions on their movements, tanks on the streets and “their property is being seized and stolen,” she said.


Last 2 of 6 Palestinians inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured

Last 2 of 6 Palestinians inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured
Updated 56 min 55 sec ago

Last 2 of 6 Palestinians inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured

Last 2 of 6 Palestinians inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured
  • The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank
  • The six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6, exposing security flaws from the vaunted "Israeli Guantanamo"

JERUSALEM: The last two of six Palestinian prisoners who escaped a maximum-security Israeli prison two weeks ago were rearrested early Sunday, the Israeli military said.
The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, closing an intense, embarrassing pursuit that exposed security flaws after the six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6.
Palestinian media reported that clashes erupted in Jenin when Israeli troops entered the city, but a spokesperson for Israeli police said the two escapees, Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kamamji, were arrested without resistance from a house where they had taken refuge and were taken for questioning.
Fouad Kamamji, Iham’s father, told The Associated Press that his son had called him when the Israeli troops surrounded the house and said he will surrender “in order not to endanger the house owners.”
The escapes set off a massive pursuit operation that captured the first four inmates in two separate operations in northern Israel. All six inmates come from Jenin.
Five of the prisoners are from the Islamic Jihad militant group, with four of them serving life sentences, and the sixth is a member of the secular Fatah group of President Mahmoud Abbas.
For the Palestinians, the prisoners who dug the tunnel for months and escaped were “heroes.” For Israel, they were “terrorists” who took part or planned attacks that targeted the Israeli military and civilians.


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
  • The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Iranian fuel shipments imported by the Hezbollah movement constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty, according to comments published by his office.
“The violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty makes me sad,” Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting on Twitter.
He added: “But I’m not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”
The Tehran-aligned group on Thursday began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran, a move it says should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.
Meanwhile, authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media said.
Ammonium nitrate is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area. He said: “We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe.”
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.


Iran leader reasserts ban on sports with Israel

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran leader reasserts ban on sports with Israel

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
  • Khamenei instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined”

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday reasserted the Islamic republic’s longstanding ban on competitive sport with Israelis, and promised support for athletes disciplined by international bodies for respecting it.
Iran does not recognize Israel and its athletes usually refrain from facing Israeli opponents, whether by forfeiting the match or by simply not participating.
“Any Iranian athlete worthy of the name cannot shake hands with a representative of the criminal regime in order to win a medal,” Khamenei told a reception for Iran’s medallists from the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“The illegitimate, bloodthirsty ... Zionist regime tries to win legitimacy by taking part in international sporting events attended by the world arrogance (Washington and the West), and our athletes cannot just stand idly by,” he added, in comments posted on his official website.

BACKGROUND

In Tokyo, Iran won seven Olympic medals, three of them gold, as well as 24 Paralympic medals.

Khamenei instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined.”
He was referring to Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine, who withdrew from the Tokyo Games after the draw set him on course for a possible matchup against an Israeli opponent, prompting his suspension from international competition.


North Africa COVID-19 cases plummet after summer spike

A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2021

North Africa COVID-19 cases plummet after summer spike

A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
  • Morocco has seen 13,800 COVID-19 deaths in its population of around 36 million

TUNIS: Weeks after a spike in coronavirus cases overwhelmed intensive care units across North Africa with severe oxygen shortages sparking public anger, case numbers are sharply declining.
Images of intensive care units overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in July sparked outrage in Tunisia, which has suffered the region’s highest number of deaths per head from the virus, with around 24,500 in a population of 11.7 million.
Authorities responded to the surge with a strict early evening curfew and travel restrictions. Neighboring Libya closed its border with Tunisia. Those measures have now been eased.
“There’s the effect of mass vaccination of the population,” said Hechmi Louzir, director of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis, who is a member of the country’s scientific committee on the pandemic.
More than a quarter of Tunisians are now fully inoculated.
Morocco has seen 13,800 COVID-19 deaths in its population of around 36 million. The kingdom is ahead of its Maghreb neighbors in inoculations, with 46.7 percent fully vaccinated.
Health Ministry official Abdelkrim Meziane Bellefquih said this week that infections were down for a fifth straight week. But in comments carried by the official MAP news agency, he warned that “high rates of critical cases and deaths continue to be recorded.”
With an official toll of 5,650 deaths, Algeria announced a target in September to vaccinate 70 percent of its 43.9 million population by the end of the year.
But AFP figures show that this week, barely 13 percent of the population had received a first vaccine jab, with fewer than 10 percent fully vaccinated.
The country’s caseload peaked in the last week of July with over 10,000 infections, but has since plummeted. While the first week of August saw 268 deaths, the last seven days saw 132.


Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east
Updated 18 September 2021

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east
  • 20 tons of ammonium nitrate seized after raid on fertilizer warehouse in eastern Bekaa Valley
  • Shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at Beirut Port caused a massive blast, killing 214 people, last year

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media reported on Saturday.
Ammonium nitrate is an odourless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
At least 214 people were killed and some 6,500 others wounded on August 4, 2020 when a shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at the Beirut port for years ignited and caused a massive blast.
On Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, who visited the Bekaa Valley on Saturday, called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area.
“We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe,” the NNA quoted him as saying.
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.
“One of our employees informed the relevant authorities that we have ammonium nitrate, so they raided the warehouses on Friday,” one of the company heads told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The name of the firm that owns the fertilizer has not been made public pending investigations.
“We have been working in the feed and fertilizer industry for 40 years,” the company official added.
When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups for improvised explosives.
Lebanese authorities are still investigating the circumstances in which hundreds of tons of the chemical ended up in the Beirut port for years, before the monster explosion that levelled swathes of the city.