Regime shelling kills four children in northwest Syria: monitor

Regime shelling kills four children in northwest Syria: monitor
A man flees while evacuating 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 August 6, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 August 2021

Regime shelling kills four children in northwest Syria: monitor

Regime shelling kills four children in northwest Syria: monitor
  • Syrian President Bashar Assad took the oath of office for a new term last month
  • Syria’s war has killed around half a million people since starting in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests

BEIRUT: Regime shelling has killed four children in Syria’s last major rebel bastion in the northwest of the country, a Britain-based war monitor said Sunday.

The artillery fire late Saturday hit a residential area in the south of the militia-dominated bastion of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The victims in the village of Qastoun in the Hama province were from the same family, it said.

The Idlib region is home to nearly three million people, two-thirds of them displaced from other parts of the country during the decade-long civil war.

It is dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, but rebels and other militants are also present.

A cease-fire deal brokered by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey has largely protected the region from a new government offensive since March 2020.

But regime forces have stepped up their shelling on the south of the bastion since June.

Syrian President Bashar Assad took the oath of office for a new term last month, vowing to make “liberating those parts of the homeland that still need to be” one of his top priorities.

Syria’s war has killed around half a million people since starting in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.


Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government

Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government
Updated 2 min 13 sec ago

Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government

Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government
  • If the proposed government fails to receive Aoun’s approval, then Lebanon will face fresh political gridlock

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati has held an initial round of nonbinding parliamentary consultations to discuss the formation of the country’s new government.

After the end of the consultations on June 28, Mikati is expected to submit a draft government to President Michel Aoun. The mission of the new government will be defined in a brief ministerial statement, including the urgent issues that could be accomplished in the few remaining months of Aoun’s presidency, which ends on Oct. 31.

If the proposed government fails to receive Aoun’s approval, then Lebanon will face fresh political gridlock.

That scenario could further damage the country’s ability to tackle urgent issues, “because we are running out of time and crises are succeeding one another, and are getting magnified,” one political observer said.

They warned that if Aoun blocks the proposal, “it means that the term of the new government will not exceed two months.

“If we take into consideration that drafting the ministerial statement, approving it and submitting it to the parliament for the government to gain the confidence vote, then this means that the government term will be of two months and would not be expected to resolve the crises or start the necessary 27 administrative and financial reforms determined by the International Monetary Fund.”

The Development and Liberation bloc headed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called for “forming the government as soon as possible.”

After the bloc met Mikati, lawmaker Ali Hassan Khalil said: “We stressed the necessity of approving the financial recovery plan — which has not yet been referred to Parliament according to the constitutional procedures — while preserving the depositors’ credits in full.”

Berri’s bloc stressed the “necessity of resolving the issue of the electricity plants away from the debates that have been taking place lately, and of restructuring this sector.”

Khalil said: “We did not propose the form of the government because Mikati is aware of the current balances of power, and what concerns us is that the government be efficient.”

After meeting with Mikati, Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab said that he is “keen on forming the government fast in collaboration with President Aoun.”

Bou Saab, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement bloc, a Hezbollah ally, stressed the need to “form a government of political representation,” and called on the new government “to communicate with the Syrian government to resolve the crisis of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.”

The new government must repatriate Syrian refugees and revive the Kuwaiti initiative to rehabilitate Lebanon’s relations with the Gulf countries, he added.

The Lebanese Forces bloc said: “The Lebanese Forces will not participate in the new government.”

Lawmaker Georges Adwan said: “We want a government that recuperates the state’s decision and that rehabilitates Lebanon’s relations with other countries.”

Adwan called on Parliament to “elect a new president of the republic as soon as possible.”

The Democratic Gathering bloc, which represents the Progressive Socialist Party, declared that it would not feature in the new government. However, Taymur Jumblatt, president of the bloc, said: “We will help in forming it.”

President of the Hezbollah bloc, lawmaker Mohammed Raad, said: “We are not against the participation of anybody in the government, and we tender our hand to everybody.”

Before the parliamentary consultations began, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassim called for amendments to be made to the standing caretaker government “in order not to waste time and exhaust the formation of the government with conditions and counter-conditions.”

He said: “Let anybody who wants to participate in the government to do so and cooperate, or let the prime minister-designate change some ministers in order not to fall into the trap of new names, which might take a long time.”

In Sunday’s sermon, Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that he opposed the Christian blocs’ refusal to nominate a leader of the new government during compulsory consultations last week. He called on political parties to cooperate with Mikati “away from conditions that are not adequate for this crucial period, nor for the time available to them.”

He urged the need to “form a national government fast, and focus on preparing for the election of a rescue president to save the country, for any delay would only be explained by the desire to distract us from this constitutional duty.”

The two biggest Christian parties in Lebanon, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, did not nominate Mikati to head the new government. Political observers fear that Aoun’s party, the FPM, will try to impose strict conditions on the formation of a new government.

After meeting with Mikati, reform lawmakers declared that they will not take part in the new government. Lawmaker Halime El-Kaakour said: “We will not participate in any quota government. We demanded a small government of independents with exceptional prerogatives.”

Independent lawmaker Abdul Rahman Bizri said: “We might be heading towards a minority parliamentary government,” adding: “As independent political powers, we had remarks on the performance of the previous governments, especially the ones that were headed by Mikati.

“Had these government made achievements we would not have reached this point. We will not obstruct, and our dealing with Mikati will be based on his handling of hot issues.”

Meanwhile, employees of the Banque Du Liban declared a warning strike for one day on Tuesday in protest against legislative prosecutions and accusations by the prosecutor general of Mount Lebanon, judge Ghada Aoun, against BDL and its employees.

The BDL syndicate threatened open strikes that would paralyze Lebanon’s banking sector, unless the Supreme Judicial Council and the minister of justice intervene to put an end to the actions of the judge.


12 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port

12 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port
Updated 40 min 24 sec ago

12 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port

12 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port
  • Canister with 25 tons of chlorine plunges from crane
  • Workers flee for lives from deadly clouds

AMMAN: At least 12 people died and more than 250 were injured on Monday when a tank of toxic chlorine gas plunged from a crane and exploded at Aqaba port in Jordan.

Eight of the casualties were Jordanian, with the other four coming from other nations.

The force of the blast sent a truck rolling down the harborside, while clouds of yellow gas billowed overhead and dock workers ran for their lives.

Nearby areas were evacuated and residents told to close and seal doors and windows and to avoid going out.

Public Security Department spokesman Amer Sartawy said “specialists and the hazardous substances team in the civil defense” were dealing with the incident.

Prime Minister Bishr Khasawneh and Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya immediately headed to the scene, visited a hospital where some of the injured were being treated, and formed an investigation team into the incident.

The accident happened when a tank filled with 25 tons of chlorine gas being exported to Djibouti fell while being transported. Video footage showed showed a crane hoisting the tank from a truck, and then the tank falling on to the deck of a ship and exploding.

The injured were transported to two state hospitals, one private facility and a field hospital.

Aqaba health director Jamal Obeidat said hospitals in the area were full and could not receive more cases. “The injured people are in medium to critical condition,” he said.

Aqaba port is the Jordan’s only marine terminal and a key transit point for much of its imports and exports. Its beaches are also a major major tourist attraction, and were evacuated after Monday’s incident.

Dr. Mhammed Al-Tarawneh, a chest diseases consultant, said chlorine gas was extremely toxic, and the leakcould significantly affect areas surrounding the explosion.

He said contact with this gas could cause irritation of the mucous membranes and a red skin rash. Inhaling the gas could cause pneumonia, burning in the esophagus, diarrhea, headaches, vision impairment, and loss of consciousness.

The US offered its condolences to the families of the victims of the blast. “We stand ready to support the government of Jordan as it responds to this tragedy,” US Ambassador Henry Wooster said. “I urge all US citizens in Aqaba to follow all public health guidance.”

The secretary-general of the GCC, Dr. Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, also expressed his condolences. “The GCC stands with the government and the Jordanian people in these difficult moments,” he said.


Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment
Updated 27 June 2022

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment
  • The meeting followed the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt,

CAIRO: A delegation from the Saudi National Real Estate Committee has held talks with the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones in Egypt on how to boost investment cooperation between the two countries.

The talks were led by Mohamed Abdullah Abdel Aziz Al-Murshed, who chairs the Saudi committee, and Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, CEO of the Egyptian investment authority. Also present were Tariq Shukri, who chairs Egypt’s real estate development chamber, and representatives of 27 leading Saudi companies in the fields of real estate development, industry, agriculture and building materials.

The meeting followed the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt, on the sidelines of which 14 investment agreements were signed between the two nations, according to a press release.

Abdel-Wahab stressed the “importance of strengthening investment relations between the two countries, especially in light of what the current period is witnessing in providing unprecedented support to the private sector, and encouraging Arab and foreign companies to pump more investment into the Egyptian market, including the construction sector.”

He said the sector was “one of the main pillars of the national projects being implemented, such as the Suez Canal axis, and fourth generation cities such as the Administrative Capital, New Alamein and others, which aim to create smart cities based on electronic services and renewable energy, in addition to implementing a huge network of roads and bridges to connect national projects and new cities.”

The meeting looked at ways to enhance cooperation by exploiting the competitive advantages of Egypt as a destination for investment in the region, and reviewing the investment opportunities available.

It also highlighted the importance of strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries.

Abdel-Wahab said the investment authority was keen to attract more Saudi investment in Egypt by intensifying communication with major companies and introducing the Saudi business community to the latest developments there.


Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle
Updated 27 June 2022

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle
  • Ukrainian local community in Gaza highlight similar struggles civilians face in the Russian occupation and Israeli occupation

LONDON: There are around 830 Ukrainian-born people living in Gaza, the largest population of foreigners living in the blockaded coastal zone, according to community leaders.

While for decades, their families in Ukraine have feared for safety in the Gaza Strip, these expats are now also fear for their families’ safety in Ukraine.

Natalya Hassoumi, a endocrinologist in Beit Lahia, was frequently unable to contact her family in Ukraine for days at a time while airstrikes targeted the Palestinian territory.

Now, she has not heard from her parents and siblings in Russian-occupied Kherson for three weeks.

“I never thought that war could happen in Ukraine, no food, no electricity … Gaza and Ukraine have the same problems now,” she told the Guardian.

The Soviet Union was a major supporter of the Palestinian cause, offering scholarships and business visas to people from West Bank and Gaza for decades, according to Hassoumi.

Many of those ties remained after Ukraine declared independence in 1991.

The vast majority of Ukrainians in Gaza are women who met their Palestinian husbands while studying at Ukrainian universities.

Approximately 120 Gaza families with ties to Ukraine were evacuated during the 11-day war last May between Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups, which killed 256 people in Gaza and 14 people in Israel.

However, less than a year later, Viktoria Saidam and her husband Ibrahim have decided to seek refuge with Ibrahim's parents in the southern Gaza Strip, where the population suffers from electricity shortages, polluted water and political turmoil, according to the Guardian report.

Natalya Mabhouh has lived in Gaza since 1997. Her mother, sister are still in her home town of Kharkiv.

“When I came to Gaza the economic situation was good, there was peace, but we got used to wars and escalation since then. This has been a huge shock. Russians and Ukrainians are like one people … I still don’t understand how this could happen,” the hairdresser said to the Guardian.

In general, the Palestinian society have supported Russia over Ukraine, viewing it as a proxy superpower struggle with the US, Israel’s most important ally.However, neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority has taken a public position on the Russian invasion.

The Russian invasion has also heightened tensions between Gaza's Ukrainian and Russian-speaking communities.

Many local Ukrainians were upset after a pro-Moscow demonstration was held in March.

In March, many local Ukrainians were upset after a group of Russians held a pro-Moscow demonstration, causing many long lived friendships to end.“It is really difficult,” said Hassoumi. “My mother is Ukrainian and my father is Russian and suddenly people are not talking to me. I feel like many people don’t care about the details, but it’s an occupation, like the Israelis.”

The Ukrainian community in Gaza remains worried about the prospects of both their homeland and their adopted home.Ashraf Al-Nimr, a leader of the local Ukrainian community, told the Guardian: “We built a life here, so despite everything we will stay”.

He says that 15 of his wife’s family members in Mariupol have gone missing since Russia’s siege began. “We can help by giving people in Ukraine instructions on how to deal with war, how to hide, and raising money. Any way we can help, we will,” he said.


Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn
Updated 27 June 2022

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn
  • Country’s anti-torture unit lacks govt budget, laws and courts ‘ineffective’

LONDON: Lebanese authorities must protect people from torture and ill-treatment in detention, a group of organizations including Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

The appeal came on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at HRW, said: “Despite an improvement to Lebanon’s anti-torture framework on paper, torture remains prevalent, and accountability for torture and ill-treatment is elusive.

“Lebanon needs to show that it is serious about combating torture, and it should start by moving forward the many torture complaints that have been languishing before the judiciary without effective investigations.”

In 2019, 44-year-old Hassan Al-Dika died in custody reportedly as a result of torture. An HRW investigation found that judicial authorities failed to investigate Al-Dika’s allegations of torture before his death.

They had also tasked the same security agency that Al-Dika accused of torture with investigating his claims.

And in the case of actor Ziad Itani, who was accused and later exonerated of spying for Israel, Lebanese justice authorities have yet to take action regarding his claims of torture at the hands of State Security officials.

The Lebanese Parliament passed a law criminalizing torture in 2017. Two years later the government appointed five members to the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture.

But the unit has yet to be allocated a budget to allow the fulfillment of its mandate.

“The Lebanese authorities should promptly and impartially investigate all complaints of torture, allocate a sufficient budget to allow the torture prevention unit to get to work, and bring the anti-torture law in line with international standards,” Majzoub said.

Torture remains prevalent in Lebanon, despite complaints regularly being filed under the 2017 law.

The HRW warned that the 2017 law fails to abide by Lebanon’s obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, because it fails to criminalize cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.