Permanent ‘Year Zero’: Red Cross chief paints bleak picture of Mid-East conflict zones

Special An Iraqi boy who lost a leg during a rocket attack in Mosul in 2017 gets prosthetics services from the Red Cross. (ICRC.org photo)
An Iraqi boy who lost a leg during a rocket attack in Mosul in 2017 gets prosthetics services from the Red Cross. (ICRC.org photo)
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Updated 22 December 2021

Permanent ‘Year Zero’: Red Cross chief paints bleak picture of Mid-East conflict zones

Permanent ‘Year Zero’: Red Cross chief paints bleak picture of Mid-East conflict zones
  • Fabrizio Carboni said donor fatigue as attention shifts to conflicts elsewhere have left his organization with a funding shortfall of millions of dollars for operations in the region
  • He compared the destruction in Syria to that of Europe after the Second World War and said northeastern Syria faces one of the worst child protection crises in the world

NEW YORK: Although to outside observers the Middle East might appear to be experiencing a period of renewed, active diplomacy, including a host of new peace initiatives, “our teams on the ground see no difference,” according to Fabrizio Carboni, regional director of the International Committee of the Red Cross for Near and Middle East.

During a virtual briefing in New York, he painted a bleak picture of a region that continues to struggle with protracted conflicts, collapsing economies and dire financial predicaments, on top of efforts to battle a COVID-19 pandemic that continues to rage amid vaccine scarcity in many countries. Only 5 percent of Syrians have had their first dose of a vaccine, and 2 percent of Yemenis, for example.

This amid “donor fatigue,” said Carboni, as conflicts proliferate elsewhere in the world, including Afghanistan and Ethiopia, and donor nations divert resources that would previously have gone to help people in the Middle East.

“For the time being, we are $8 million short of what we need for a full slate of humanitarian activities in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Carboni said, by way of an example.

“In Iraq, we are short of $20 million. And even if these countries are not in the top headlines on a daily basis, the families (there) continue to suffer and need massive help.”

Adding to the difficulty of funding humanitarian work in some parts of the region is the fact that “we are moving from true emergency, like distributing food, to another phase — let’s call it ‘early recovery’ — where we need to work on systems to allow people to be autonomous and get back on their feet. And this is a more complex activity to finance and it costs a lot because of the size of the destruction.”

The destruction caused by a decade of conflict in Syria is reminiscent of that caused in Europe during the Second World War, according to Carboni.

“Every time I go back to Syria I always have the feeling that the conflict ended the day before,” he said. “There is this permanent state of ‘Year Zero’ and it’s really heartbreaking.

“And the financial crisis hitting Syria today is an additional layer of vulnerability and complexity, and it is hitting very, very hard the average Syrian.”

Warning that the freezing winter temperatures are making conditions even harsher for displaced Syrians, both internally and as refugees, Carboni in particular highlighted the plight of children as the worst-affected by the crisis. The situation in northeast Syria represents “one of the largest child-protection crises in the world today,” he said.

At the Al-Hol camp, for example, which the official recently visited, he said the vast majority of residents are children under the age of 12. Many of them were separated from their families during transfers to other camps. These children need to be reunited with their families, repatriated alongside them, or have alternative care provided for them, Carboni added.

The packed Al-Hol camp is home to more than 60,000 women and children, many of them the wives and children of defeated Daesh fighters. The majority of states where they originally came from, including the UK, refuse to repatriate them.

Carboni called for “collective action to have a long-term view for those populations who are still stranded in northeast Syria in a legal limbo.” He encouraged all states to repatriate their citizens and “do it lawfully, according to standards and principles, including support to returning children and their families.”

He added: “Family unity should be the norm during repatriation. Keeping families together is usually in the child’s best interest and it’s what international law requires, unless otherwise justified by a rigorous assessment.”

Referring to the political process, Carboni lamented the lack of will to make sacrifices for the sake of peace.

“Peace agreements are about compromise,” he said. “My fear around Syria, but also generally speaking, is that parties to the conflict try to find a painless solution.

“Oftentimes, there is a political price to pay when you decide to make peace. You always need a form of political courage; giving in on something. What we see in Syria (is) there is no will to make this compromise. That’s why the situation is frozen, rotting, and the ones who are paying the price are Syrians.”

In Yemen, where “all basic services are down,” seven years of conflict have come on top of other chronic challenges facing the nation that have nothing to do with war, such as climate change and an education crisis, Carboni said.

In the absence of basic healthcare, with 24 million people in need of assistance and three-quarters of the population living in near-famine conditions, what is needed is for “states with influence to help reach an agreement to shut down this conflict and to allow the people of Yemen to focus on rehabilitating their country and the existential challenges it is facing,” he added.

Turning to the COVID-19 crisis, Carboni said that while the pandemic is the major threat facing the West, it is just one additional layer of vulnerability in places such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, where people are trying to cope simultaneously with multiple crises.

Preventive measures such as social distancing become an absurd demand at overcrowded refugee camps and shelters, he pointed out. Sheltering at home is out of the question for Yemenis, who have to venture out every day to find food for their families. Frequently washing hands might sound a simple precaution for people in Western nations, but for those in Tikrit, Mosul, Hodeida or Aden, water is often not so readily available, he said.

Reaching vulnerable populations with vaccines remains an “an absolute necessity” in efforts to end the global pandemic, Carboni added.


Yemeni troops launch campaign against Al-Qaeda

Yemeni troops managed to push Al-qaeda from key cities. (AFP)
Yemeni troops managed to push Al-qaeda from key cities. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2022

Yemeni troops launch campaign against Al-Qaeda

Yemeni troops managed to push Al-qaeda from key cities. (AFP)
  • Offensive in Abyan governorate aimed at preventing resurgence by terror group

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni special forces have launched an offensive against Al-Qaeda in the southern governorate of Abyan, amid reports that the terrorist group is attempting a comeback.
Elite counterterrorism troops have been deployed in mountains and valleys in Abyan to prevent Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, its branch in Yemen, from turning those areas into safe havens or launch pads for strikes against government troops in the south.
Abdul Rahman Al-Shonini, commander of counterterrorism forces in Abyan, said the campaign was launched after receiving information that AQAP was gathering in remote valleys and mountains to launch attacks against government troops in the south. He vowed to thwart its attempts to resurge in Abyan.

SPEEDREAD

• Elite counterterrorism troops have been deployed in mountains and valleys in Abyan to prevent Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, its branch in Yemen, from turning those areas into safe havens or launch pads for strikes against government troops in the south.

• Last month, local media and residents said masked AQAP terrorists appeared in some valleys and areas in Abyan, ambushing troops and kidnapping residents.

His forces have not encountered any resistance as AQAP terrorists have reportedly fled to their hideouts in mountains between Abyan and Al-Bayda governorate.
Last month, local media and residents said masked AQAP terrorists appeared in some valleys and areas in Abyan, ambushing troops and kidnapping residents.
Local security officials accuse AQAP of orchestrating a string of attacks that killed at least 10 soldiers in Abyan and Shabwa governorate last month.
In 2015, AQAP exploited instability stemming from the war in Yemen to seize large swaths of land in southern governorates, including Hadramout, Abyan and Lahj.
Thanks to military support from the Arab coalition, Yemeni troops managed to push AQAP from key cities, killing and capturing hundreds of terrorists.
Last month, various armed forces in Abyan, including government troops and the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council — which had fought each other in 2019 and 2020 — agreed to form a joint command room to confront AQAP.

 


Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute returns to the fore

An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
Updated 03 July 2022

Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute returns to the fore

An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
  • US mediator Amos Hochstein sent a proposal to Lebanon in March on the demarcation starting from Line 23, which was drawn in a zigzag form

BEIRUT: A maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel has returned to the fore following a security development on Saturday night.

Israel’s army spokesman Avichay Adraee said warplanes and an Israeli missile ship had intercepted three drones that approached from Lebanon’s side toward the airspace over Israel’s economic waters.

Hezbollah’s military wing, the Islamic Resistance, confirmed the incident in a statement: “A group affiliated with martyrs Jamil Skaff and Mahdi Yaghi launched three drones of different sizes toward the disputed area, over the Karish gas field, to carry out reconnaissance missions. The mission was accomplished and the message was conveyed.”

Lebanon mostly stayed silent on the development, although caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said there was a possibility of reaching an agreement on the border issue in September and that information from the US and UN showed there was progress in the negotiations.

FASTFACT

Israel’s army spokesman Avichay Adraee said warplanes and an Israeli missile ship had intercepted three drones that approached from Lebanon’s side toward the airspace over Israel’s economic waters.

US mediator Amos Hochstein sent a proposal to Lebanon in March on the demarcation starting from Line 23, which was drawn in a zigzag form.

Lebanon handed him an oral response, which he did not reveal, pending the Israeli response.

Lebanon has been unable to confirm that Line 29 — which includes the Karish gas field — is the maritime border of Lebanon due to the failure of President Michel Aoun to sign a draft amendment to Decree 6433.

It was issued in 2011 and specified that Line 23 was the point for negotiations with Israel to demarcate the maritime borders. However, Aoun considers Line 29 to be the point for negotiations.

Line 29 gives Lebanon an additional area estimated at 1,430 square km while, according to the decree deposited with the UN, Lebanon only gets 860 square km of the disputed area.

Mohammed Yazbeck, Ayatollah Khamenei’s legal representative in Lebanon, said on Sunday: “Lebanon’s preservation of its wealth can only be achieved by informing the enemy that we are strong. The message was delivered by drones. This message is not only for the Israeli enemy but also for the American mediator, to understand that Lebanon’s rights cannot be underestimated or ridiculed.”

Former MP Fares Souaid said: “Hezbollah’s drones over Karish are aimed at reminding all parties that Iran is present in the ongoing negotiations between Lebanon and Israel over border demarcation under American auspices and at the expense of the Lebanese interest.

“The incident confirmed by Hezbollah may take place once again, and more serious incidents may occur. Therefore, we call on the nation’s representatives to raise the issue of Iran’s occupation within Parliament.”

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that Hezbollah constituted an “obstacle” to an agreement between Lebanon and Israel.

“The party continues to walk the path of terrorism and undermines Lebanon’s ability to reach an agreement on the maritime borders.”

He said Israel would continue to protect itself, its citizens, and its interests.

Israel’s army said Hezbollah was trying to undermine the country’s sovereignty on the ground, in the air, and at sea. “The economic waters are part of Israel and are not a conflict zone. No discussion is necessary,” it added.

Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the drones were flown near the Karish gas field. One was downed by a fighter jet, and the other two were taken out by Barak 8 missiles launched from a missile ship.

It said Hezbollah had sent out different types of drones that flew at low altitudes. They were monitored and intercepted through coordination between the naval and air forces.

The newspaper quoted the Israeli army as saying: “Initial assessments indicated that the drones were not armed and did not pose any threat. This is an attempt to undermine negotiations with Lebanon regarding the maritime border, and Hezbollah wants to destroy Lebanon.”

The report said Hezbollah had previously sent out drones to Israeli territory, but Saturday night’s development was the first time that such an operation had been carried out on the floating gas platform in Karish, where no gas had yet been extracted.

“The incident is a message to Israel that Hezbollah can carry out the threats made by its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in recent weeks. By launching these drones, Hezbollah acted against the Lebanese interest, despite the progress made in the file of demarcating the maritime borders through the efforts of American mediator Amos Hochstein," it said. "What happened not only violates the negotiations but also indicates that Hezbollah violated its position regarding not taking any action without a Lebanese national agreement or consensus.”


Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces

Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces
Updated 04 July 2022

Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces

Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces
  • Protesters are demanding a restoration of civilian rule that was launched after the 2019 which the coup derailed

KHARTOUM: Hundreds of Sudanese protesters demanding an end to military rule took to the streets of the capital Khartoum and its suburbs for a fourth straight day Sunday, witnesses said.
A violent crackdown by security forces during mass rallies on Thursday killed nine people, according to medics, the deadliest day for several months in the long-running protests against a coup last October led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
Recent protests have seen crowds burn tires and barricade roads with bricks, while security forces have used live bullets, fired barrages of tear gas canisters and deployed powerful water cannons, according to medics and the United Nations.
Demonstrators are demanding a restoration of the transition to civilian rule that was launched after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir and which the coup derailed.
“We will continue this sit-in until the coup is overturned, and we have a fully civilian government,” demonstrator Muayyad Mohamed told AFP in central Khartoum.
The death toll from protest-related violence has reached 114 since last year’s coup. The latest fatality came on Saturday when a demonstrator died from wounds sustained at a June 16 rally, according to pro-democracy medics.

“We will not compromise until the goals of our revolution are realized,” said Soha, 25, another protester, who only gave her first name.
“We are here in the street demanding freedom, peace, justice, a civil state and the return of the military to the barracks.”
Last year’s coup plunged Sudan further into political and economic turmoil that has sent consumer prices spiralling and resulted in life-threatening food shortages.
On Sunday, witnesses reported a heavy deployment of security forces on the streets of Khartoum, including army vehicles and those of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a feared paramilitary unit commanded by Burhan’s deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
The RSF incorporated members of the Janjaweed militia, which was accused by rights groups of atrocities during the conflict that erupted in 2003 in the western region of Darfur.
More recently, the RSF has been accused of taking part in crackdowns on protesters marching against military rule.
The international community has condemned the recent bloodshed, with the UN rights chief urging an independent probe into Thursday’s violence.

The UN, African Union and regional bloc IGAD have tried to facilitate dialogue between the generals and civilians, but the main civilian factions have boycotted.
On Friday, the three bodies jointly condemned the violence and “the use of excessive force by security forces and lack of accountability for such actions, despite repeated commitments by authorities.”
Yasser Arman from Sudan’s main civilian bloc the Forces for Freedom and Change on Sunday again expressed opposition to a return to negotiations with the military and its allies.
“The bullets that have cut down protesters have cut down the political process,” he told a press conference, adding, “It’s not us who broke it off.”
In the restive Darfur region, which has seen a recent resurgence in violence, General Daglo — known as Hemeti — on Sunday called “on all political forces, especially the youth,” to come to the table.
“Dialogue is the only way to guarantee stability in our country,” he said at a ceremony where 2,000 ex-rebels completed their training to join Sudanese security forces.
The integration of former fighters into the Sudanese army and police was part of a 2020 peace deal with rebel groups involved in decades of civil conflict, including in Darfur.
The first of its kind, the cohort “will confront the chaos in Darfur,” Daglo said.
Hundreds have been killed in recent months in Darfur, in a renewed spike of violence triggered by disputes mainly over land, livestock and access to water and grazing.


Jordan government blames lack of safety measures for deadly gas leak in Aqaba port

Jordan government blames lack of safety measures for deadly gas leak in Aqaba port
Updated 04 July 2022

Jordan government blames lack of safety measures for deadly gas leak in Aqaba port

Jordan government blames lack of safety measures for deadly gas leak in Aqaba port
  • The accident happened when a tank filled with 25 tons of chlorine gas being exported to Djibouti fell while being transported

AMMAN: The Jordanian government on Sunday blamed a lack of safety measures for the deadly gas leak in Aqaba last week.


A total of 13 people were killed, and 250 others were hospitalized when a chlorine tank exploded after a crane dropped it at the Red Sea port of Aqaba, releasing a large plume of toxic yellow smoke.

The accident happened when a tank filled with 25 tons of chlorine gas being exported to Djibouti fell while being transported.

Announcing the results of the investigation into the gas leak tragedy, Jordanian Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya said that the reason behind the accident was the incompatibility of the metal wire that carried the gas tank with its weight.

During a press conference on Sunday, Al-Faraya said that the weight of the tank was “three times more than the cable load capacity.”

Al-Faraya also said that the required safety procedures in dealing with such hazardous material were not in place while loading the gas tank on the truck.

The minister said that the safety attendant was not present on the ship to check the loading and unloading protocols and procedures.

Al-Faraya said that the report into the Aqaba gas leak would be referred to the prosecutor-general for further investigation.

Faisal Shboul, minister of state for media affairs, said that the state institutions’ response to the incident was “professional and immediate,” which resulted in the gas leak being contained and the situation being brought under control.

He also commended the “high efficiency” of the health care system in Aqaba, saying that only eight injured in the accident were currently receiving treatment.

Prime Minister Bishr Al-Khasawneh said that, as per the recommendations of the investigation team, the Cabinet had approved the termination of the services of the directors of the Jordan Maritime Commission and the Aqaba Company for Port Operation and Management and other officials.

Chairing a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Khasawneh also blamed the absence of the required safety measures for the gas leak.

In a statement to Arab News, the premier said that the “government’s professional and rapid response to the incident has greatly helped mitigate the disaster and its consequences on the port city and its residents.”

He said that the government had implemented the king’s directives to embark on a comprehensive investigation into the incident.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has called for those responsible for the deadly gas leak to be held accountable.

Chairing a meeting last Tuesday at the National Center for Security and Crisis Management, the king “stressed the need to provide transparent explanations to the public after investigations conclude, as well as identifying shortcomings and holding those responsible to account by law.”

Following the gas leak tragedy, employees at the port of Aqaba have been staging a sit-in, demanding better safety measures at their work sites and better living conditions.


Minister stresses importance of continuing to develop Bahrain-UK partnership

Minister stresses importance of continuing to develop Bahrain-UK partnership
Updated 03 July 2022

Minister stresses importance of continuing to develop Bahrain-UK partnership

Minister stresses importance of continuing to develop Bahrain-UK partnership
  • British Minister of State for Asia and the Middle East Amanda Milling is on a visit to Manama
  • Bahrain’s minister of finance and national economy affirmed the depth of UK-Bahraini relations

RIYADH: Bahrain’s finance minister has stressed the importance of continuing to develop the partnership between his country and the UK in order to create more ambitious investment opportunities, Bahrain News Agency reported on Sunday.

Minister of Finance and National Economy, Sheikh Salman bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, also affirmed the depth of UK-Bahraini relations which has strengthened economic cooperation and partnership between the two countries.

The minister also highlighted the importance of building on fruitful cooperation between the two countries and opening up new horizons so as to achieve common aspirations and goals.

The comments were made during the British Minister of State for Asia and the Middle East Amanda Milling’s visit to Manama.

Milling said she was delighted to visit Bahrain and pleased to meet with British embassy officials to learn more about the “on-going work with the Bahrain government.”