BEIRUT: The Lebanese army said Saturday it had stopped a boatload of 91 people including Syrian and Palestinian refugees from departing Lebanon illegally.
Women and children were among the group intercepted Friday by a navy patrol off the coast of Qalamoun in northern Lebanon, the army said.
It said the boat almost sank in bad weather and that all on board were rescued and taken to shore.
The statement did not specify their intended destination.
The Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member just 160 kilometers (100 miles) away, is a common destination for would-be migrants trying to flee Lebanon, which is mired in economic and political crisis.
On Friday the Lebanese security forces said they had thwarted an attempt by 82 people to illegally cross by sea from the Lebanon into Europe.
The Internal Security Forces said they raided a “tourist resort” in the Qalamoun area on Thursday after being tipped off.
They found “82 people, including men, women, and children, who were planning to head to Europe via sea in an illegal manner for a fee of $5,000 per person,” without specify their nationality.
The number of people attempting to make deadly sea crossings out of Lebanon has surged since the country’s financial crisis began in 2019.
Most of the would-be migrants are already refugees who fled the war in neighboring Syria, but an increasing number of Lebanese nationals are also attempting the perilous journey.
Around 80 percent of Lebanon’s population is estimated to be living under the poverty line, as defined by international organizations, and the Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar on the black market.
Lebanon says it hosts more than 1.5 million Syrians, nearly a million of whom are registered as refugees with the UN.
Official estimates put the number of Palestinian refugees in the country at 180,000 but the actual number could be as high as 500,000.
Iraqi family of English Channel shipwreck victim mourn her death
Maryam, in her twenties, was desperate to join her fiancee Karzan who had settled in Britain
At Maryam’s home, around 100 relatives gathered to offer their condolences for her death
Updated 28 min 56 sec ago
SORAN, Iraq: In a simple house in northeast Iraq, the parents of Maryam Nuri Hama Amin mourn the loss of their beloved daughter who drowned trying to reach her fiancee in Britain.
“She wanted a better life,” her father Nuri Hama Amin said, still reeling from shock, just days after his daughter vanished into the freezing waters of the Channel between France and England. “But she ended up in the sea.”
Maryam — “Baran” to her family, a name meaning “rain” in Kurdish — was one of at least 27 migrants who died Wednesday when their inflatable boat sank off the French port of Calais.
The shipwreck was the deadliest disaster since at least 2018 when migrants began using boats en masse to cross the Channel to England.
“We have no information on the smugglers,” said her father, speaking from the family home in Soran, a town in Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan, some 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) away from where his daughter died.
“Their promises turned out to be lies.”
Maryam, in her twenties, was desperate to join her fiancee Karzan, also from Iraqi Kurdistan, but who had settled in Britain.
Karzan was on the phone with her as she set out onto the dangerous waters from France — and was the one who called the family in Iraq to tell them she died, her cousin Kafan Omar said.
Shortly before she set left France, her father had spoken to her for hours on the phone.
“She was very happy, she was relaxed,” he said. “She was in a hotel in France, we spoke until eight in the morning.”
Since the shipwreck, the bodies of the passengers have been held in a morgue in France. Officially, nothing has been released about the identities and nationalities of the 17 men, seven women and three minors.
But at Maryam’s home, around 100 relatives gathered to offer their condolences for her death.
On Saturday, dozens of men, many dressed in traditional Kurdish clothes, sat reciting a prayer.
Close by, under the shelter of a large tent, women in black robes sat in mourning. Maryam’s mother was too grief-stricken to speak.
In the house, Maryam’s room is tidy, as if she had just left it.
Above the bed, two photos show Maryam and her fiancee at their engagement. A picture shows the young woman in a traditional dress decorated with embroidery, with a tiara over an elaborate hairstyle.
A bouquet of white roses lies on her bed.
Her cousin, Kafan Omar, said she had left home nearly a month before.
“She got a work visa and went to Italy, and then to France,” he said. “We had tried many times to send her to Britain to join her fiancee, but without success.”
Maryam was just one of thousands of young hopefuls from the region who have left home in recent months.
Thousands of migrants — many Kurds from Iraq — have been stuck on the border with Belarus in a bid to cross into Poland and the European Union. Some have returned on repatriation flights, battered by their freezing ordeal.
Many of those Iraqis say they have spent their savings, sold valuables and even taken loans to escape economic hardship in Iraq and start a new life.
Kermaj Ezzat, a close relative of the family, said young people in Iraqi Kurdistan were mainly leaving because of the region’s “instability.” He denounced the policies blocking their travel.
“These countries have closed their borders to young people who dream of a better future,” he said.
Maryam’s father gave a message to others wanting to head west.
“I call on young people not to emigrate and to endure the difficulties here, rather than sacrifice their lives to reach Europe,” he pleaded.
Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (L) watches as Pope Francis (C) and Egypt’s Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb sign documents during the Human Fraternity Meeting in 2019. (AFP/File Photo)
How Zayed Award for Human Fraternity amplifies open-minded voices of all faiths and cultures
The Zayed Award for Human Fraternity was launched in 2019 following Pope Francis’ historic visit to Abu Dhabi
Zayed Award committee judge Leah Pisar explains why religious tolerance is needed now more than ever
Updated 21 sec ago
DUBAI: Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, delivered a message of hope and tolerance during a recent meeting at the Vatican with the judging committee of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity 2022.
“We have to maintain and sustain” the path of human fraternity, he told the committee at its Oct. 6 gathering, which took place less than two months before nominations are due to close for this year’s award on Dec. 1.
The award was created to build on the historic Feb. 4, 2019, meeting in Abu Dhabi between Pope Francis and the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb.
Their meeting, which marked the first-ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, culminated in the co-signing of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, also known as the Abu Dhabi declaration.
It was born of a fraternal discussion between the two religious leaders to guide others in advancing a “culture of mutual respect,” which Francis later described as “no mere diplomatic gesture, but a reflection born of dialogue and common commitment.”
The document led to the creation of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity and the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity under the patronage of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
The award, now in its third edition, is named in honor of Sheikh Mohammed’s late father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, founder of the UAE. It is an independent global prize launched in recognition of those making a profound contribution to human progress and peaceful coexistence.
The 2021 prize was jointly awarded to Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, and French-Moroccan activist Latifa Ibn Ziaten, founder of the Imad Association for Youth and Peace, who, after losing her son to an act of terrorism, transformed her sorrow into outreach to young people.
Among the award’s judging committee are Mahamadou Issoufou, former president of Niger and winner of the 2020 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, and Jose Ramos-Horta, former president of East Timor.
Also on the committee are Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam, secretary-general of the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity and co-author of the Document on Human Fraternity, and Leah Pisar, president of the Aladdin Project.
“It was an extraordinary gathering, and the meeting really gave me hope at a moment when we need hope,” Pisar told Arab News following her meeting with Pope Francis.
“We are at a critical juncture in human history, and we have no choice but to seize it because humanity could really go one way or the other if we are not vigilant. I see this declaration as a very bold and courageous call to action.”
The Aladdin Project is an international NGO that was launched by the late French President Jacques Chirac and several other heads of state to promote rapprochement of cultures and the use of lessons from history to overcome hate and extremism. It has a partnership with UNESCO.
Pisar said the fact that the award is overseen by the pope and the grand imam of Al-Azhar gives it immense credibility, and the force, depth, and resonance necessary to make the public and community leaders sit up and listen.
“I am the only Jewish member of this jury and was received very warmly,” Pisar said. “I felt embraced and welcomed, and this is something very important because it highlights the fact that everybody who is a part of this understands the term ‘brothers and sisters’ — we all pray to the same God, there is a common humanity and far more that unites us than sets us apart.”
Despite their religious differences, the committee’s spiritual and intellectual leadership is a “federation of the open-minded voices of all cultures,” which, in essence, stand for broadly similar values and can learn a lot from one another, Pisar said.
“We are not necessarily going to agree on everything, but we have to understand where we are all coming from. And if we can have the courage and open-mindedness to do that, then we are going to find more and more common ground and foster tolerance, and we are in dire need of tolerance.”
The US is emerging from a “hideous” period of hatred, she said, whereby the rhetoric of the past four years pitted people against one another.
Pisar’s aim is to ensure such negativity is not allowed to fester. To do so, the Aladdin Project champions tolerance through different cultural exchanges and educational initiatives.
From youth programs focusing on sports to annual summer schools that bring together students from 70 partner universities, the Aladdin Project offers people from different cultures an opportunity to get to know one another, to learn to respect their differences, and to develop a common understanding.
“I believe that’s a powerful way of doing things,” Pisar said. “It’s about exchanging with and listening to others. Since I was elected president of Project Aladdin four years ago, I’ve met extraordinary people in different countries, and I want to learn from them. If we can just stop and listen sometimes, we’ll go a long way.”
The Aladdin Project has published several books in Arabic and Farsi covering topics ranging from history to literature. One new text on religion, titled “Know the Religion of Thy Neighbour,” was written by senior clerics from the three monotheistic “Abrahamic” religions - Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
The book serves as a tool for theology students at the religious schools of the three faiths to learn about other belief systems directly, instead of through the strict prism of their own doctrine. The book, currently available in French, is now being translated into Arabic, English, Italian and German.
“We are hopeful it’s something that will get out as a method of teaching,” Pisar said. “There’s a lot to be done in the world of tolerance education.
“We’re also working on early childhood education programs on how to open the eyes of K-6 (Kindergarten through sixth grade) age children. I have a six-year-old son and I know, from personal experience, that parents struggle with explaining certain dark chapters of history and human behavior to their children.”
The Aladdin Project’s overarching objective is to counter all kinds of hatred and bigotry, including antisemitism and Islamophobia, because “we are all in the same boat,” she said.
The Abu Dhabi Declaration was a milestone event in interfaith relations, but Pisar believes it is only a symbolic first step on the road towards building a world of greater religious and cultural tolerance.
“If the answer was simple, the problem would have been solved,” she said. “We each bring our part and my mission and the mission of this group is to bring one brick or one stone to this edifice.”
To that end, she says, only dialogue, human fraternity, and respect will make coexistence and tolerance possible.
“We have no choice but to act,” Pisar said. “When I meet people who want to make a difference, I find optimism. We have tools, like technology, and there’s a lot to do, but we have to not only believe we can do it but really plow forward in concrete ways.”
Having the blessings of major religious leaders and institutions shows people they are not alone and that there are influential backers sharing messages that truly resonate, she said.
The 2019 declaration, according to her, is a courageous and essential document that should become as inclusive and all-encompassing as possible, so that all faiths and cultures feel they can relate to it.
“Here we have two leaders representing different faiths, who have agreed to sign a common text in the knowledge that the importance of it was bigger than the differences that might set them apart,” Pisar said.
“What strikes me is that the extremists make a lot of noise and the moderates don’t. It’s time for moderates from different cultures and religions to pool their energies and start making more constructive noise. In this way, we will make important strides forward.”
The winner of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity 2022 will be announced on Feb. 4, 2022.
Arab coalition strikes underground missile base in Houthi-occupied Sanaa
Residents cautioned as air raids target drone workshops, weapons depots in Dhahban district
Updated 27 November 2021
AL-MUKALLA: The Arab coalition supporting the internationally recognized government of Yemen struck on Saturday early morning military sites controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis in the capital, Sanaa.
Residents reported hearing several large explosions that triggered subsequent blasts and balls of fire across Sanaa.
The coalition said in a statement that the airstrikes targeted secret underground tunnels in the presidential palace used for storing ballistic missiles and other military locations.
Drone workshops and weapons depots in Sanaa’s Dhahban district were also targeted, the coalition said, asking residents to avoid approaching those areas.
Residents described the airstrikes on early Saturday as the “longest and most intensive” in years.
On Friday, the coalition released satellite images of an airstrike on a ballistic missile while the Houthis were moving it from a secret depot to a launching area. During the last five days, the Arab coalition has intensified airstrikes on military camps and other areas in Houthi-held Sanaa with the aim of destroying ballistic missiles, explosives-rigged drones and other weapons.
Last week, the Arab coalition accused the Houthis of turning the airport in Sanaa into a military facility by testing an air defense system there.
In Marib province, the Arab coalition carried out many air raids in support of government troops on the ground during the past 24 hours, hitting Houthi military reinforcements.
This came as government troops on Friday and Saturday engaged in heavy clashes with Houthis in Juba and Thana, south of Yemen, with no information about gains for either side.
The Yemeni government announced that it had pushed back Houthi attacks in Juba after killing and wounding dozens of Houthis.
For the last couple of months, the Houthis have ratcheted up military pressure on government troops defending Marib in a bid to advance toward the city.
Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in Marib province since February when the Houthis renewed an offensive to control the energy-rich Marib city.
The Houthi military pressure on Marib was alleviated during the last seven days when the Joint Forces on the country’s west coast launched an offensive, targeting the Houthis in strategic areas in the provinces of Taiz and Hodeidah.
The Joint Forces seized control of Hays district in Hodeidah and pushed deeper into Houthi-controlled territory, seizing parts of Maqbanah in Taiz and Al-Jarahi in Hodeidah.
On Saturday, the Joint Forces’ Giants Brigades announced they had seized control of part of Saqoum valley and a number of hilly terrains north of Maqbanah in Taiz after heavy clashes with the Houthis.
The latest advances by the Joint Forces have prompted the Houthis into sending their leaders to densely populated provinces under their control to incite people to join the battlefields.
The Houthi official media reported that Abdul Rahman Al-Jamai, deputy speaker of the Houthi-controlled parliament and governor of Ibb, on Friday called for a general mobilization of forces to reinforce the battlefields with fighters, funds and weapons.
Concluding a visit to Moscow on Friday, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg repeated concerns over the impact of the escalating fighting between government troops and the Houthis in Marib, Taiz and Hodeidah provinces on civilians and peace efforts. He urged warring factions to stop hostilities and work on achieving a comprehensive and inclusive peace deal to end the war.
“We are facing a potential military escalation that will only increase the suffering of civilians. Increased international efforts are essential to convince all sides of the need to settle disagreements at the negotiation table,” Grundberg said in a statement.
Arab coalition says 60 Houthis killed in strikes on Marib
The coalition said seven military vehicles were also destroyed during the strikes over the last 24 hours
Updated 27 November 2021
RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Saturday that 60 Houthis were killed in strikes on Yemen’s Marib province.
The coalition added that seven military vehicles were also destroyed during the strikes over the last 24 hours.
The number of displaced people in camps in the province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with over 45,000 people fleeing their homes as the militia press an offensive, the UN migration agency IOM said on Wednesday.
The coalition announced on Friday that it had destroyed Houthi sites used to store drones and weapons in Dhahban, Sanaa and urged civilians to stay away from them.
Iraninan riot police deployed after 67 arrested in Isfahan
The demonstration was the latest since protests kicked off on November 9 in Isfahan
Drought is a cause, but protestors also accuse authorities of diverting water from the city
Updated 27 November 2021
TEHRAN: Riot police were deployed in force Saturday in the Iranian city of Isfahan, a day after dozens were arrested in violent protests over the drying up of a lifeblood river.
Security forces fired tear gas during the clashes with stone-throwers in the protest in the dry bed of the Zayadneh Rood river that crosses the city, Fars and ISNA news agencies said.
"We have arrested 67 of the main actors and agitators behind the troubles," police General Hassan Karami told on Saturday. He said between 2,000 and 3,000 "rioters" took part in the protest.
On Saturday, the situation was "calm" and streets empty, with riot police deployed on the city's Khadjou bridge, a Isfahan city resident said.
The demonstration was the latest since protests kicked off on November 9 in Isfahan, some 340 kilometres (210 miles) south of Tehran, a tourist magnet due to its majestic mosques and heritage sites, including a historic bridge across the river.
But it was the first to turn violent.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 farmers and city residents turned up for the gatherings last week, estimated Karami.
The riverbed has been the rallying spot for farmers and other people from across Isfahan province protesting the lack of water since November 9.
Drought is a cause, but they also accuse the authorities of diverting water from the city to supply the neighbouring province of Yazd, which is also desperately short on supplies.
"I used to walk along the riverbed with friends, but today the riot police are deployed in large numbers near the Khajou bridge and they are asking people to avoid the area," said a woman in her 50s.
During the clashes on Friday, some people set fire to objects in the city, Fars and ISNA reported.
"After the farmers left, the opportunists and counter-revolutionaries were left behind, which made it easy for the security apparatus, especially the police, to identify and arrest those who destroyed public and state property," Isfahan police chief Mohammad-Reza Mirheidari said on television.
But members of the security forces were hit by fire from hunting rifles, he said, without specifying how many.
One of them was stabbed, although his condition was not believed to be critical.
A Fars journalist said two bulldozers were used to destroy a pipe taking water from Isfahan province to Yazd.
"Among the injured demonstrators, two are in a serious condition," Nourodin Soltanian, spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, told the Mehr news agency on Saturday.
Recently, there have been almost daily protests in the region of Isfahan, which has been particularly hard-hit by drought.
On Saturday, the ultra-conservative daily Kayhan pointed the finger of blame for the violence at "mercenary thugs", whereas the pro-reform Etemad said the protests in Isfahan showed a "lack of trust in the government".
Last Sunday, more than 1,000 people marched towards the governor's office in the western province of Chahar-Mahal Bakhtiari to demand a solution to water shortages, state media reported.
According to Fars, farmers and local authorities struck a deal on Thursday about water distribution.
President Ebrahim Raisi met with representatives from the provinces of Isfahan, Yazd and Semnan earlier this month and vowed to resolve water issues.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the topic is the country's top problem, without making reference to the protests.