Charities to plant 25,000 olive trees across Palestine

Charities to plant 25,000 olive trees across Palestine
Olive trees are a key crop for many Palestinian farmers and agricultural workers. (File/AFP)
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Updated 17 February 2022

Charities to plant 25,000 olive trees across Palestine

Charities to plant 25,000 olive trees across Palestine
  • They will cover 200,000 square meters of land, produce 4,000 kg of oil annually
  • Project will ‘help population help themselves,’ British NGO tells Arab News

British NGO Human Appeal will team up with Palestinian organizations to plant 25,000 olive trees, following widespread disruption to the Palestinians’ olive industry.

Human Appeal has partnered with the Palestinian Hydrological Group and Zakat Al-Quds, a Palestinian charitable foundation operating under the supervision of Jordan’s Ministry of Islamic Endowments, for the project.

Olive farms across Jerusalem, Tubas, Salfit, Bethlehem, Hebron and Tulkarem will benefit from the project, which aims to cover 200,000 square meters of land with 25,000 olive trees. They will support 200 farmers and yield approximately 4,000 kg of olive oil per year.

The product makes up 25 percent of Palestine’s agricultural industry, and is critical for 100,000 families.

“The olive tree carries great symbolic importance for the history of Palestinian agriculture, being synonymous with Palestine for generations across the Middle East,” Mohamad Yousef, head of Human Appeal France, told Arab News.

“Olive trees in this part of the world are among the oldest to be found, with some of them over 1,000 years old, and produce some of the highest-quality olive oil globally.” 

Olive trees are a particularly useful crop for the dry weather, poor soil conditions and deteriorating availability of water in Palestine.

“When seeking to provide urgently needed support, it’s vital that we also consider providing long-term support to help the population help themselves,” said Yousef.

“Planting these olive saplings is more than securing land for agriculture and supplying a crop that will help these recipients to support themselves into the future. It’s also an important symbol of regrowth for the region.”

Israeli settlers attack Palestinian olive trees, cutting them down or burning them. Earlier this month, scores of olive tree saplings were uprooted across the West Bank. It is thought that these attacks are meant to stifle the income of Palestinians.

Egypt’s deadly church fire sparks global outpouring of sorrow and sympathy

Egypt’s deadly church fire sparks global outpouring of sorrow and sympathy
Updated 18 sec ago

Egypt’s deadly church fire sparks global outpouring of sorrow and sympathy

Egypt’s deadly church fire sparks global outpouring of sorrow and sympathy
  • Blaze in Abu Sifin church in Giza governorate during Sunday mass claimed 41 lives
  • Condolences have come not just from Egypt but across the Arab and Muslim world

CAIRO: On Sunday, thick smoke and the sound of screams engulfed the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo as fire broke out in the Abu Sifin church in the working-class district west of the Nile River.

Many of the 5,000 worshippers who had gathered for a peaceful mass at the Coptic church were forced to throw themselves from windows on to the street below.

By the time emergency services were able to respond and extinguish the blaze, 41 people, including 15 children, had died and 14 were left injured.

Later that day, hundreds gathered to pay their respects in and around two churches in the Giza governorate of greater Cairo, where clergymen prayed for the victims.

Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East. (AFP)

Pallbearers pushed through crowds of weeping mourners who reached out to touch the coffins, including that of a priest at the church, Father Abdel-Messih Bekhit.

In an earlier statement, the Coptic Orthodox Church said that the fire broke out during the divine liturgy at the building in the north of Giza, and that several worshippers were transferred to the Imbaba and Agouza hospitals.

The following morning, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said that he had “mobilized all state services” in response and, later, that he had “presented his condolences by phone” to Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The Egyptian leader also directed the Armed Forces Engineering Authority to “take over the reconstruction and renovation” of the church, the presidency said in a statement.

Witnesses to the fire described people rushing into the multi-story church to save those trapped, but the rescuers were soon overwhelmed by heat and deadly smoke.

“Everyone was carrying kids out of the building,” said Ahmed Reda Baioumy, who lives next to the church. “But the fire was getting bigger and you could only go in once or you would asphyxiate.”

Another witness, Sayed Tawfik, told AFP news agency that “some threw themselves out of windows to escape the fire.” He pointed to a car bearing dents “left by a person who is now lying in the hospital with a broken arm and back.”

A statement from the public prosecutor’s office suggested that the deaths were caused by asphyxiation, as there were “no visible injuries.”


• $5,226 Compensation to be paid to victims’ families.

• $1,045 Compensation to be paid to those injured.

The Egyptian interior ministry said that “forensic evidence revealed that the blaze broke out in an air-conditioning unit on the second floor of the church building,” which also houses social services.

Father Farid Fahmy, from a nearby church, said a short circuit caused the fire.

“The power was out and they were using a generator,” he said. “When the power came back, it caused an overload.”

Accidental fires are not uncommon in the sprawling city of Cairo, where millions live in informal settlements. Last year, at least 20 people died in a blaze in a clothing factory on the outskirts of the capital.

The deaths were caused by asphyxiation. (AFP) 

Following the Abu Sifin church fire, Giza’s governor ordered “urgent aid of 50,000 pounds (around $2,600) for the families of the deceased and 10,000 pounds for the injured.”

Prosecutor-General Hamada El-Sawy said that the public prosecution authority had completed its investigation into the fire and found that the victims died of smoke inhalation.

The interior ministry confirmed that the blaze was caused by an electrical fault in the air-conditioning system on the second floor of the church building, which includes a number of classrooms.

Mostafa Madbouly, Egypt’s prime minister, directed the minister of social solidarity to pay compensation of EGP100,000 to victims’ families and a maximum of EGP20,000 to those injured.

Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, making up around 10 percent of Egypt’s 107 million Muslim-majority population. They justifiably claim to be the original Egyptians, with their liturgical language descended directly from the language of the pharaohs. Many Copts can trace their heritage back to ancient Egypt.

The blaze broke out in an air-conditioning unit on the second floor. according to authorities. (AFP)

For many, the fire brought back painful memories of deadly attacks by Islamist extremists, including a bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral that killed 25 people in 2016 and a gunman who killed nine worshippers at another church the following year.

Copts have lived through times of both harmony and adversity throughout much of Egypt’s long history. In the 20th century, many were pushed out of political life. Others have deplored restrictive legislation for the construction and renovation of churches.

El-Sisi, who was elected in 2014, became the first Egyptian president to attend the Coptic Christmas mass every year. In February, he appointed the first-ever Coptic judge to head the Supreme Constitutional Court, the country’s highest legal body.

Muslim religious officials in Egypt expressed their condolences to the grieving Coptic community.

Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb pledged to aid the families of the victims and is coordinating cash payouts with various NGOs. He also sent a message of support to Pope Tawadros II.

Many of the 5,000 worshippers who had gathered for a peaceful mass at the Coptic church were forced to throw themselves from windows on to the street below. (AFP)

“Al-Azhar and its scholars and sheikhs all stand by their brothers in this tragic accident and extend their sincere condolences to the families of the victims,” he said, and affirmed “the readiness of Al-Azhar hospitals to receive the injured.”

The tragedy resulted in an outpouring of support from across Egypt and the world. In a statement, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered his “deepest condolences” to families of the victims.

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia offered their condolences to El-Sisi and the victims’ families. They expressed “profound sorrow and sincere sympathy,” and wished the injured a “quick recovery.”

The UAE’s leaders offered prayers for the victims’ families and El-Sisi. President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum wished the people who were injured in the blaze a steady recovery.

Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s crown prince and prime minister, offered his condolences to El-Sisi and Madbouly.

Regional leaders have sent their condolences after the tragedy. (AFP)

Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh offered his “condolences and sympathy” to the Egyptian government, people and victims’ families.

Tunisian President Kais Saied offered his condolences to his Egyptian counterpart, and wished the injured a speedy recovery in a phone call following the incident.

Hissein Brahim Taha, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, expressed his sympathy.

He stressed the OIC’s continuous support in solidarity with Egypt through tragic circumstances.


The Coptic miracle
How Egypt's historic Christian church survived and thrived




Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey

Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey
Updated 15 August 2022

Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey

Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey

ATHENS: Greek police said on Monday afternoon they had located 38 Syrian refugees in the Lavara area of Evros, among them one pregnant woman and seven children.

The refugees had been trapped for days on a small islet in the Evros river along the border between Greece and Turkey, according to media reports and activists.

Greece had said on Sunday that after repeated searches it had not located any people on the islet that was outside Greek territory and had alerted Turkish authorities over the issue. The Turkish Interior Ministry declined comment.

On Monday, Greek police said the refugees were located in the Greek area of Lavara approximately four kilometers (2.5 miles) south of the coordinates of their initially reported position.

“Since they were located, Greek police forces and other government services have rushed to their aid, to provide health care, food and water and to transfer them to an area of temporary accommodation,” police said in a statement.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Twitter that they were in good condition and the pregnant woman was being transferred to hospital out of precaution. Greek police had also found a boat near them, he said.

Earlier, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) charity and other organizations had called for the immediate evacuation of 39 refugees from the islet.

The IRC said that among them was a nine-year old girl in a critical condition. It also cited media reports saying that her five-year-old sister had died after a scorpion had stung her and that the refugees had tried to reach the Greek mainland but had been pushed back.

“This latest situation at the Evros border highlights the brutality of pushbacks, which we know are taking place at borders across Europe,” said Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, IRC Greece Director.

Greek authorities have not confirmed the information cited by IRC and have repeatedly denied forcibly repelling refugees or migrants at border points. 

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants
Updated 15 August 2022

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants

TUNIS: Tunisian authorities said on Monday they intercepted or rescued more than 650 migrants trying to reach Europe by sea at the weekend, the latest of numerous such cases in the past two months.

Tunisia and Libya are the main points of departure for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa. Sea crossing attempts tend to increase during spring and summer.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 140 km from Tunisia’s east coast.

In total, 657 people were rescued or prevented from trying to cross in 46 separate incidents between Friday and Monday, maritime and military officials said.

The coast guard thwarted 10 attempted crossings on Sunday night, bringing ashore 156 would-be migrants, the National Guard said in a statement Monday.

Two-thirds of them were from sub-Saharan Africa and the rest were Tunisians.

The previous night, the National Guard said it had foiled 11 other attempts, preventing 219 people from migrating, including 113 from sub-Saharan African countries.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Zekri, meanwhile, said that 42 Egyptians who had set sail from Libya were rescued on Sunday off Kerkennah, central Tunisia, after their boat sank and they took refuge on an oil platform.

After a similar incident in the same zone the previous weekend, 10 Tunisian migrants were feared to have drowned while 20 were saved.

Tunisian authorities also said 15 members of a family from Hammamet in central Tunisia, including five women and four small children, were prevented from heading out to sea on Friday night.

They had paid around 50,000 dinars ($15,900) for a boat, two motors and life jackets, a security source told Mosaique FM radio.

Also on Friday, the National Guard said 225 migrants were intercepted in 23 attempted crossings from different points on Tunisia’s coast.

Tunisia is in the throes of political and economic crises, and Libya has been gripped by lawlessness since 2011 that has seen militias turn to people trafficking.

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties
Updated 15 August 2022

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties
  • Turkey will continue to temporarily provide security in some northwestern territories in Syria if they normalize bilateral relations, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s revelation that he met his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad last October on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement summit hinted at the possibility of Ankara and Damascus seeking political rapprochement after 11 years of a rupture in ties. 

Cavusoglu reportedly talked with his counterpart in Serbia’s capital Belgrade about the need to come to terms with the opposition and the Assad regime in Syria for a lasting peace. 

The Turkish foreign minister emphasized that his country supported Syria’s territorial integrity as “the border integrity, territorial integrity and peace of a country next to us directly affect us.”

The pro-government Turkiye newspaper recently claimed that Assad and Erdogan may hold a telephone conservation after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed this during his recent meeting with Erdogan in Sochi. However, Cavusoglu denied rumors about any talks between the Syrian and Turkish presidents.

Having conducted four cross-border military operations in Syria since the start of civil war in 2011 to clear its border from terror groups, Turkey also has a significant military presence through observation posts in northern parts of the country. 

Since 2017, Turkey, Iran and Russia have come together through Astana meetings to try to bring the warring sides in Syria toward finding a permanent solution to the war. 

It is not a secret that the Turkish and Syrian intelligence services have been communicating. 

However, as Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, the latest signs of a potential normalization of bilateral ties has angered opposition groups who held mass protests in several areas of northern Aleppo to demonstrate their objections, fearing renewed diplomatic contact with the Assad regime. 

Turkey’s bid for peace with the Assad regime might also have repercussions for the fate of more than 3.7 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey who have become a domestic politic issue due to the economic hardship the country is facing. 

Before the outbreak of the civil war, Turkey and Syria had close relationships at the top level, often exemplified by the famous summer holiday of Syrian President Bashar Assad with his family at Turkey’s Aegean resort town of Bodrum where he also met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2008. 

“Given the durability of the Assad regime, Ankara has to have a modus vivendi of sorts; in fact, it exists already at the level of intelligence agency chiefs,“ Rich Outzen, senior fellow at Atlantic Council and Jamestown Foundation, told Arab News.  

“The political risk for President Erdogan of a rapid or warm reconciliation is incredibly high, though, so the understanding is likely to be incremental and limited,” Outzen said.  

According to Outzen, botching re-engagement would mean compromising the viability of the Turkish-protected safe zone, leading to a new waves of refugees, or inviting new massacres by Assad among populations Ankara wants to protect and to remain in place. 

“Yet the lack of a modus vivendi is also not sustainable over the long-term, because inevitably pressure will grow internationally and within Turkey for Turkish forces to have a pathway to withdrawal, even if the pathway is measured in multiple years,” he said. 

For that reason, Outzen thinks that fears of a rash or rapid reconciliation or re-engagement are overstated. 

“Putin, of course, pressures Erdogan to re-engage, but Erdogan will in my view resist any but the minimum measures to maintain his own freedom of maneuver in Syria,” he said. “As this week’s protests in the Safe Zone demonstrate, going too fast in this process can prompt a backlash among Syrians in northern Syria and perhaps ultimately in Turkey.” 

According to Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, while Turkey’s endgame in Syria is an Erdogan-Assad handshake, Ankara and Damascus are moving northwestern Syria into a frozen conflict.  

“I don’t think that an arrangement between Turkey and Syria will result in a complete reset of two countries borders and border affairs because many of the Syrians who live in the zones controlled by Turkish-backed forces have been already effectively cleansed by Assad, in some cases twice,” he told Arab News.

“There is zero chance that they would stay in Assad regime-controlled Syria if both leaders shake hands or make exchanges of territories,” he said. 

Cagaptay thinks that Turkey will recognize Assad’s sovereignty over the area, but will continue to temporarily provide security as well as law and order in some in northwestern territories in Syria, while also keeping millions of Sunni Arabs Assad does not want and has no interest in making full citizens again. 

“Assad may even come back to border stations with the Syrian republic flag and might begin to provide some of the social services,” he told Arab News. 

For Cagaptay, the big favor that Turkey is doing for Assad is keeping Syrians refugees inside the country and in northwest Syria under Turkish control, and not forcing them to return to Syria. 

“That is a huge favor to Assad because he used the war in Syria for ethnic engineering. Before the war, Sunni Arabs constituted over two-thirds of the Syrian population, but now they are under half. In return for that favor, Assad can propose to re-ingest the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG under his control. It is a good deal for Erdogan and Turkey,” he said.  

Turkey considers the YPG a national security threat and the extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. 

For Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based analyst, the possibility of re-engagement with the Assad regime will be used for domestic consumption ahead of the approaching election term scheduled for June 2023 at a time of deepening economic turmoil in Turkey.

“There is significant external pressure to make this reconciliation happen, while the economic burden of hosting millions of Syrian refugees inside Turkey and the rising cost of deploying military officers to the observation posts in Syria also make this issue financially important for the internal dynamics,” he told Arab News. 

Turkey has about 5,000 troops within the areas it controls in Syria, along with some 8,000 soldiers around rebel-held Idlib province, whose maintenance is costing Ankara billions of dollars and risks confrontations with Assad and foreign powers over territory violation. 

“Although the rapprochement cannot happen overnight, it is significant that the ruling government as well as the opposition parties have begun discussing it,” Sezer said. 

Erdogan recently hinted at a fresh operation into Syria to create a 30 km-deep safe zone from the border to push back Kurdish militants, but any military activity does not look imminent following several warnings from regional powers.

Lebanon denounces the use of its airspace to bomb Syria

Israeli F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 5, 2022. (AFP
Israeli F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 5, 2022. (AFP
Updated 15 August 2022

Lebanon denounces the use of its airspace to bomb Syria

Israeli F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 5, 2022. (AFP
  • Israeli warplanes targeted sites in the Damascus countryside and the coastal governorate of Tartus on Sunday

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday condemned “the recent Israeli attack on Syria, and the Israeli enemy’s use of the Lebanese airspace to bomb Syrian territory.”

The previous evening, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported: “Israeli planes bombed sites in the Damascus countryside and the coastal governorate of Tartus, via the Lebanese airspace.”

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry warned of “the consequences of this aggressive behavior and the continuous violation of Lebanese sovereignty in a flagrant breach of international law and treaties.” It added that it “will file a complaint to the (UN) Security Council.”

Israeli airforce jets fly over Beirut while Lebanese parliament members were meeting in downtown Beirut to elect a new president. (AFP file photo)

Aug. 12 marked the 16th anniversary of the approval of UN Resolution 1701, which was designed to end hostilities following Israeli aggression against Lebanon in 2006.

Marking the anniversary, Fouad Siniora, who was Lebanon’s prime minister at the time, said: “Resolution 1701 protected Lebanon and settled the issue of sovereignty in the south in favor of the Lebanese state in the face of the aggressions and ambitions of the Israeli enemy.

“The implementation of Resolution 1701, 16 years ago, stopped the Israeli aggression against Lebanon, preceded by the unanimous decision adopted by the Lebanese Cabinet based on the National Accord document, the constitution and the seven points document regarding the deployment of the Lebanese army in the entire south, after being prohibited from doing so for more than 30 years.”

Siniora added that the Resolution 1701 “confirmed Resolution 1559 in preventing illegal weapons on Lebanese soil, and Resolution 1680 calling for the demarcation of the borders of Lebanon.”

He recalled the great support his country had received at the time from the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, to help rebuild in record time the infrastructure and public facilities that had been destroyed by Israel.

Siniora also accused Hezbollah, without explicitly naming the group, of “seeking to cause more trouble for the Lebanese and the state, including implicating Lebanon in military confrontations and risks that Lebanon cannot confront or bear.”

The condemnation by Lebanese authorities of Sunday’s Israeli attack coincided with visit to Syria on Monday by Issam Sharafeddine, the Lebanese caretaker minister of the displaced. He was leading a ministry delegation in discussions with Syrian authorities about the repatriation of refugees who have been living in Lebanon since the beginning of the civil war.

He met a number of Syrian officials, including Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf and Interior Minister Mohammed Khalid Al-Rahmoun. The two sides reportedly discussed a plan for the return of Syrian refugees to their home country in “a safe and dignified” way.

Makhlouf said: “Syria’s doors are open for the refugees’ return and the state is ready to provide them with everything they need, from transportation to hospitalization and education. Syrian authorities will secure water and electricity to the liberated areas and will provide shelters for those whose homes have not been rebuilt yet.”

Authorities in Lebanon want 15,000 Syrian refugees to return home each month, a target that will require the cooperation of the Syrian government. The Lebanese government estimates there are about 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including 880,000 who are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, along with others who have entered the country, legally or illegally, to work.

The Lebanese government has complained about the “weak” financial aid provided by the UN in comparison to the country’s needs in light of the severe economic crisis it has been grappling with for more than three years.