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

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.


Turkey foils Daesh suicide bomber in province bordering Syria

A helicopter gunship flies above a Turkish military vehicle in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (AFP file photo)
A helicopter gunship flies above a Turkish military vehicle in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (AFP file photo)
Updated 16 May 2022

Turkey foils Daesh suicide bomber in province bordering Syria

A helicopter gunship flies above a Turkish military vehicle in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (AFP file photo)
  • Bashar Al-Mizhen, the 10th terrorist caught this year, has confessed to planning the attack Terror group using new tactics to operate and reconstitute itself, retired military officer tells Arab News

ANKARA: As part of its countrywide counterterrorism operations, Turkey has arrested a suicide bomber allegedly linked to Daesh who was planning an attack in the southeastern province of Urfa, bordering Syria.

Bashar Al-Mizhen, codenamed Abi Enes Al-Kathani, has confessed to the authorities.

Mizhen, who joined Daesh in 2015 and received special arms training from the terror group, was allegedly preparing the attack in coordination with the Damascus branch of Daesh.

He is the 10th terrorist caught this year on Turkish soil. The authorities seized several digital materials and are currently examining various organizational documents belonging to the terror group.

FASTFACT

Bashar Al-Mizhen, codenamed Abi Enes Al-Kathani, has confessed to authorities.

Daesh members have carried out a number of attacks against Turkey, including at least 10 suicide bombings, seven bombings, and four armed attacks, which killed 315 people and injured hundreds of others.

Last year, Turkey also arrested a Daesh terrorist identified as the right-hand man of the late terrorist leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

In the first quarter of this year, dozens of Daesh members, including the sons of its top officials in Iraq, were caught in several Turkey cities, including Urfa, the northern province of Samsun and the western province of Izmir.

Last month, Turkey’s intelligence agents also caught two Daesh terrorists who were planning attacks against the country’s troops on home soil and in Syria.

Nihat Ali Ozcan, a retired major now serving as a security analyst at the Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, said such operations are held consecutively because one operation feeds another with the intelligence data that is gathered.

“Within its territories, Turkey hosts about 3.7 million unregistered Syrian refugees right now. Adding the unregistered refugees and those who are settled in the safe zones in northern Syria, this number has reached 7.5 million,” he told Arab News.

“We cannot assume that all of them are innocent people,” he said.

“There are several Daesh sympathizers among them. All immigrant-receiving countries are at the same time importing the domestic problems of their countries of origin,” said the retired major.

“In Turkey, one can identify several kinds of economic, cultural and security-related challenges that Syria has exported along with several ideological(ly-driven actors who are in competition with one another),” Ozcan added.

There are about 430,000 registered Syrian refugees in Sanliurfa, making the city the fourth-largest host of displaced people after Istanbul, Gaziantep and Hatay.

Ozcan also underlined the impact of faith-based actors in Sanliurfa, including tribes and clans that have linguistic, religious, and kinship ties with Syrians, which also feed this security eco-system and boost the sympathizer base of Daesh in this city.

Experts have emphasized that any attack plan of Daesh, including its timing and scope, is related to its own organizational dynamics, and should be considered a reminder of how dangerous the current situation in neighboring Syria and Iraq is, as the terrorists move across borders to fulfill their wider objectives.

“Daesh acts according to its own rationale. It uses terror to influence great masses, (send) message(s) to the political actors and show(s) … the world that it steps up efforts to bolster its presence in other regions as well,” Ozcan said.

Daesh still retains a significant presence in northern Iraq and Syria, as shown by one of the biggest assaults in years, which was the prison attack in the Kurdish-controlled northeast Syrian city of Hasakah in January that left hundreds dead and allowed several prisoners to escape.

In April, two Iraqi soldiers were killed and two others wounded in an attack by Daesh in the western Anbar province, while seven Peshmerga and three civilians were killed in another Daesh attack in northern Iraq in December 2021 — an assault that was condemned by Turkey.

“Several years ago, Daesh seized huge (swathes) of Iraq and Syria. Today, despite its significant loss of a territorial base, the terror group still struggles to maintain its existence through new tactics,” Ozcan said.

The global coalition against Daesh, which was formed in 2014 and now includes 84 states and international organizations, gathered last Wednesday in Morocco to coordinate efforts against any resurgence of the extremists in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Over the last several years, Daesh has been considerably weakened in Iraq and Syria, but it remains a threat, seeking any opportunity to reconstitute itself,” senior US diplomat Victoria Nuland said during the meeting.

Daesh recently urged its sympathizers to take advantage of the ongoing war in Ukraine to stage new attacks against European nations.


Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support

Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support
Updated 16 May 2022

Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support

Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support
  • Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support
  • ‘We have called on the EU to provide its pledged aid without conditions,’ Palestinian PM says

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority has reiterated its appeal to the EU to provide its pledged aid without conditions.

The authority is concerned about the continuing uncertainty over the EU’s annual financial support for its budget despite holding several meetings with senior EU officials in recent months.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyieh, who met EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles in Brussels last week, urged the bloc to expedite the transfer of its financial support, which has been suspended for two years.

Shtayyieh pointed to a growing financial crisis caused by the drop in external support and the continuation of Israel’s deductions from the tax it collects on behalf of the PA.

“We have called on the European Union to provide its pledged aid without conditions. We hope to accomplish this very soon,” Shtayyieh said at the start of the Palestinian Authority’s weekly Cabinet session on Monday in Ramallah.

The EU postponed the transfer of $223 million in annual aid to the PA after EU members supported Hungary’s condition to change the curriculum in West Bank schools because it “contains incitement against Israel and anti-Semitic content.”

The EU contributed about $156 million annually to the PA budget of which $93 million went to pay the salaries of its civilian employees. Those workers have received between 70 and 80 percent of their salaries for five consecutive months.

The PA suffered a sharp decline in international aid to its budget from $1.3 billion in 2013 to $129 million in 2021.

Samir Hulileh, a Palestinian economist, told Arab News that the policy of European countries has recently been to provide direct support to the Palestinian private sector, marginalizing the PA.

“European countries continue to expand their support for the Palestinian private sector economy, but the official support provided to the Palestinian government is completely halted,” he said.

“This leads to the weak performance of the Palestinian Authority in its functional role and tasks — especially with the halt to US and Arab support for it.”

The value of the budget deficit had reached $1.3 billion, Hulileh said.

At the beginning of this month, the Palestinian Authority presented a broad reform program to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee to encourage donor countries — especially EU states — to resume their financial support for the PA, a Palestinian source told Arab News.

A senior European source told Arab News: “The EU continued to support UNRWA. What remains pending is the funding to the PA, which is still stuck in Brussels.”

Nevertheless, news reports said that the EU reduced its aid to the UNRWA by 40 percent for the 2022-24 period, from $135 million to $82 million.

The EU said that aid could return to normal levels by changing school curricula and removing what it termed incitement materials against Israel while it continues to delay the $156 million annual financial support to the PA.

The reduction in the EU budget comes amid intense pressure and incitement campaigns against UNRWA last year by Israeli institutions. That led the EU to condemn UNRWA’s use of educational materials, which it claimed incited hatred and violence against Israel and Jews in schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This was the first time the EU had condemned the UN relief agency for its curricula.

The EU demanded the UNRWA “immediately” remove the so-called inflammatory material, stating that its funding “should be conditioned” on the adaptation of educational materials to match the values of the UN that promote peace and tolerance.


Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries
Updated 16 May 2022

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries
  • The drivers and workers of the Tehran Bus Company decried the failure to implement a decision by the Supreme Labour Council to introduce a 10 percent salary increase
  • The strike comes days after Iranian media reported that a demonstrator had been killed in the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful during protests over rising food prices

TEHRAN: Dozens of bus drivers went on strike in the Iranian capital Monday to protest over their living conditions following demonstrations in other cities in past days, local media reported.
The drivers and workers of the Tehran Bus Company decried the failure to implement a decision by the Supreme Labour Council to introduce a 10 percent salary increase, reformist Shargh newspaper wrote on Twitter.
The strike comes days after Iranian media reported that a demonstrator had been killed in the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful during protests over rising food prices.
Demonstrators on Monday chanted slogans describing Tehran’s mayor as “incompetent” and calling on him to resign, as seen in a video of the protest tweeted by Shargh.
Tehran mayor Alireza Zakani attended a meeting with the striking workers and spoke with their representative, Mehr news agency reported.
The authorities announced last week a series of measures to tackle mounting economic challenges, such as changing a subsidy system and raising the prices of staple goods, including cooking oil and dairy products.
Hundreds took to the streets in a number of Iranian cities to protest the government’s decision, including in Tehran province, state news agency IRNA reported.
MP Ahmed Avai confirmed Saturday that one person had been killed during the demonstrations, according to the Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA).
IRNA had reported Friday that more than 20 people were arrested during the demonstrations in the cities of Dezful and Yasuj, but made no mention of any casualties.
Iran has been reeling under the effect of sanctions reimposed by the US in 2018 — exacerbated by rising prices worldwide since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Islamic republic has witnessed several waves of protests over living conditions in recent years, most notably in 2019 after a fuel price hike.
In recent months, teachers have held successive demonstrations demanding the speeding up of reforms that would see their salaries better reflect their experience and performance.


Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather
Updated 16 May 2022

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather
  • Flights at Kuwait International Airport resumed operating normally at 6 p.m. after a 1.5 hour period of inactivity
  • The final of the Amiri Cup has also been rescheduled to May 23 due to the adverse weather conditions

LONDON: All maritime operations at three Kuwaiti ports have been suspended after bad weather struck the Gulf country.

Shuwaikh port, Shuaiba port, and Doha port are temporarily supsnded, Kuwait News Agency reported.

Earlier, the news agency reported that navigation to and from Kuwait International Airport had been halted due to a dust storm reducing visibility across the country.

Flights later resumed operating normally at 6 p.m. after a 1.5 hour period of inactivity.

The final of the Amiri Cup has also been rescheduled due to the adverse weather conditions.

Kazma and Salmiya football clubs were due to play on Monday but will play on May 23 instead.


Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi

Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi
Updated 16 May 2022

Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi

Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi
  • The prince is the latest global figure to travel to the UAE capital to pay respects

ABU DHABI: Britain’s Prince William met newly-appointed UAE president Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on Monday to offer condolences on the death of Sheikh Khalifa.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the former president and ruler of Abu Dhabi, died on Friday aged 73.

The Duke of Cambridge, who made the trip on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, also offered congratulations to Sheikh Mohammed on his appointment as UAE president and ruler of Abu Dhabi.

The prince is the latest global figure to travel to the UAE capital to pay respects, following visits from other leaders including French president Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

William’s trip to the UAE capital followed a phone call to Sheikh Mohammed on Sunday from Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, who also offered condolences on the passing of Sheikh Khalifa and good wishes to Sheikh Mohammed on his appointment.

Queen Elizabeth also sent a message to Sheikh Mohamed, sharing her sadness over Sheikh Khalifa's death, adding: “He will be long remembered by all who work for regional stability, understanding between nations and between faiths, and for the conservation cause.”