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.


Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN

Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN
Updated 14 sec ago

Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN

Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN
  • President Mahmoud Abbas to make the case for enhanced status at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23

RAMALLAH: Palestinian leaders have launched a new diplomatic drive to obtain full membership of the UN.

The campaign will culminate with a landmark speech by President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, in which he will make the case for enhanced status.

“In the absence of a political path and hope for the Palestinians to end the occupation, they have no choice but to resort to the UN to enhance the status of Palestine as a state and the Palestinians as a people on their land under occupation,” Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem told Arab News on Wednesday.

The UN granted Palestine non-member observer state status at a historic vote in the General Assembly in November 2012, when 138 countries voted in favor, 9 opposed it, and 41 abstained. The resolution included “the hope that the Security Council will consider positively” accepting the request for full membership. Abbas submitted this in September 2011, but it fell in the Security Council because the US threatened to use its veto.

Fatah official Sabri Saidem told Arab News that France had encouraged the Palestinians to demand full membership of the UN, and Sweden and Ireland had expressed their unconditional support for the move. He said the Palestinians would now seek more Arab and international support.

UN membership was “a long-awaited entitlement, especially with the continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, the failure of US President Joe Biden’s administration to implement its vision in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and double standards when it comes to Palestine and Ukraine," he said.

 

 


Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital
Updated 11 August 2022

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

SANAA, Yemen: Heavy rains lashing Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, which dates back to ancient times, have in recent days collapsed 10 buildings in the Old City, the country’s Houthi rebels said Wednesday.
At least 80 other buildings have been heavily damaged in the rains and are in need of urgent repairs, said the rebels, who have controlled Sanaa since the outbreak of Yemen’s civil war more than eight years ago.
The Old City of Sanaa is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the area believed to have been inhabited for more than 2 millennia. Its architecture is unique, with foundations and first stories built of stone, and subsequent stories out of brick — deemed to be some of the world’s first high-rises.
The buildings have red brick facades adorned with white gypsum molding in ornate patterns, drawings comparisons to gingerbread houses — a style that has come to symbolize Yemen’s capital. Many of the houses are still private homes and some are more than 500 years old.
In a statement, Abdullah Al-Kabsi, the culture minister in the Houthi administration, said the rebels are working with international organizations and seeking help in dealing with the destruction. There were no immediate reports of dead or injured from the collapses.
The houses had withstood centuries but this season’s intense rains have proved too much for the iconic structures. Bricks and wooden beams now make for massive piles of rubble in between still-standing structures.
The rains show no signs of letting up.
“I get scared when I hear the rain and pray to God because I am afraid that my house will collapse over me,” Youssef Al-Hadery, a resident of the Old City said.


Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
Updated 10 August 2022

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
  • Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia
  • Importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemeni ports

ADEN: Yemen has secured enough wheat to cover two-and-a-half months of consumption, a commerce ministry document dated Aug. 4 showed, as global disruptions and local currency instability risk deepening the war-torn country’s hunger crisis.
A review by the internationally recognized government in Aden showed 176,400 tons of wheat available — 70,400 stockpiled and 106,000 booked for August/September delivery — according to the document.
This is in addition to 32,300 tons of wheat available from the United Nations, which feeds some 13 million people a month in Yemen, the document showed.
Yemen is grappling with a dire humanitarian crisis that has left millions hungry in the seven-year conflict that divided the country and wrecked the economy. Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia.
HSA Group, one of Yemen’s largest food conglomerates, said it had booked around 250,000 tons of wheat from Romania and France, sufficient to supply the market until mid-October, and that it is looking to secure a further 110,000 tons.
“Following the announcement of the Ukraine grain deal, we are currently looking to secure Ukrainian wheat for the Yemeni market if it remains affordable and accessible,” an HSA spokesperson, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal last month to restart exports from Ukraine, cut off since Russia’s February invasion, which could ease grain shortages that have driven up global prices. So far, however, there have not been any shipments of wheat.
Yemeni importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemen ports and the country’s limited storage capacity, the HSA spokesperson said, and therefore the firm books new shipments every 2-3 weeks depending on availability and global prices.
Another issue facing importers is Yemen’s foreign reserves shortage and a serious devaluation of the currency in some parts of the country, where food price inflation has soared.
The Aden-based central bank has put in place an auction mechanism to ease access to foreign currency, but no import financing mechanism is currently in place to support the market.


Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast
Updated 10 August 2022

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast
  • The decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two MPs
  • Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought

BEIRUT: Judicial authorities in Lebanon Wednesday ordered the temporary seizure of the property of two deputies in the case of the deadly explosion which destroyed Beirut port two years ago.
“Judge Najah Itani has issued a temporary seizure order worth 100 billion Lebanese pounds on the property of MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter,” a judicial source told AFP.
The source said the decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two for having “used their rights... in an arbitrary manner by filing complaints intended to hinder the investigation.”
Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought.
On Thursday, crisis-hit Lebanon marked two years since the massive port blast ripped through Beirut.
The dockside blast of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate, one of history’s biggest non-nuclear explosions, killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and decimated vast areas of the capital.
After the tragedy, the bar launched legal proceedings against the state on behalf of nearly 1,400 families of victims.
However, an investigation into the cause has been stalled amid political interference and no state official has yet been held accountable over the tragedy.
Khalil and Zeaiter, of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal party, filed a total of 20 complaints against Judge Tareq Bitar for obstructing the investigation which he himself was carrying out.
Politicians on all sides have refused to be questioned by the judge.
Officials close to the powerful Hezbollah movement have also curtailed Bitar’s work with a series of lawsuits.
His investigation has been paused since December 23.
On Thursday’s second anniversary of the blast, relatives of victims demanded an international inquiry.


Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south
Updated 10 August 2022

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south
  • Security forces carried out a "special operation" in the Daraa area that led to the death of "the terrorist Abu Salem al-Iraqi"
  • The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country's south

DAMASCUS: A leader of Daesh group blew himself up in southern Syria after being surrounded by government forces, state media reported on Wednesday, citing a security source.
The official SANA news agency said security forces carried out a “special operation” in the Daraa area that led to the death of “the terrorist Abu Salem Al-Iraqi.”
Iraqi “triggered his explosive belt after being surrounded and wounded,” the agency said.
The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country’s south.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, which has a vast network of sources on the ground, said Iraqi died on Tuesday.
It said he had been hiding out in the area since 2018, and had taken part in killings and attacks there.
Daraa province has mostly been under regime control since 2018, but rebel groups still control some areas under a truce deal agreed with Russia, an ally of Damascus.
After a meteoric rise in 2014 in Iraq and Syria that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, Daesh saw its self-proclaimed “caliphate” collapse under a wave of offensives.
It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells of the extremist Sunni Muslim group still carry out attacks in both countries.
Syria’s war began in 2011 and has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.