Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo

Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
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Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
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Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
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Daesh militants show off in a motorcade in Sirte, Libya, in 2015. (AFP file photo)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
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Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
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Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
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Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
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Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
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Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
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Updated 11 June 2022

Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo

Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
  • Families of Daesh militants held in the facility witness violence that can cause lasting psychological harm
  • Conditions far below international standards in terms of access to food, water, healthcare and education

IRBIL, Iraq: Women and children held in Al-Hol, a sprawling camp of some 57,000 people in northeast Syria, endure squalid conditions and almost daily violence, meted out by its many hard-line inmates who still cling to the extremist ideology of Daesh.

Violence is endemic inside the camp, where there have been at least 130 murders since March 2019, according to Save the Children. In 2021 alone, an average of two people per week were killed, often with impunity and in plain sight of children.




Owing to the often extreme climate and the lack of facilities, respiratory tract infections and malnutrition are rife in camps for IDPs in Syria. (AFP)

The overwhelming majority of these attacks took place in Al-Hol’s main camp, which is home to Syrian and Iraqi nationals. Al-Hol annex, which has also seen its share of insecurity, houses women and children from at least 60 other countries.

“We provide services, but, at the end of the day, it is still a camp and is, therefore, inadequate as a housing project,” Dr. Alan Dahir, an official from the Kurdish Red Crescent, which manages the site, told Arab News.

“Most children are orphans. While I don’t think they have been forgotten, including the foreign women, their respective countries are yet to come forward and claim them.”

Imene Trabelsi, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which provides basic assistance in Al-Hol, said that living conditions are far below international standards in terms of access to food, water, healthcare and education.

“There are children who have tragically spent their entire short lives in camps like Al-Hol, having been born and dying there without ever leaving the perimeter,” Trabelsi told Arab News.

“Tens of thousands of other children are spending their early years — so important for their development — in such conditions, in the full knowledge and view of the international community and their own states of origin.”

In February last year, a fire tore through part of the camp, leaving at least eight people dead and many seriously injured, including more than a dozen children. Owing to the often extreme climate and the lack of facilities, respiratory tract infections and malnutrition are rife.

“The children are endlessly exposed to dangers and their rights often ignored. The world cannot continue to look away while children draw their first and last breaths in camps or grow up stateless and in limbo,” said Trabelsi.

FASTFACTS

In February 2021, a fire tore through part of Al-Hol camp, leaving at least eight people dead and many seriously injured.

Western governments have been reluctant to take back their citizens, fearing the political blowback.

“This is one of the biggest and most complex child protection emergencies of our time and it is high time to find the political will to act before more lives are lost.”

Al-Hol has been housing people displaced by conflicts that have shaken the region down the years. But its population suddenly soared in March 2019 following the defeat of Daesh in the group’s last territorial holdout of Baghouz in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor.

Thousands of women and children, many of them the families of captured or killed militants, were trucked from Baghouz to Al-Hol in neighboring Hasakah, where most have since remained under guard by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

“I hadn’t eaten for what seemed like weeks at the time. We were left to literally eat grass,” said Ayman, a young Yazidi who was forced to fight in Daesh’s ranks in Baghouz after being abducted as a child.

“We had nothing. I do not know how I survived. I ended up at Al-Hol and was later rescued thanks to the local efforts of those looking for Yazidi survivors.”

When Daesh militants stormed into the Yazidi ancestral homelands of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq in the summer of 2014, thousands of women and children were abducted and forcibly converted to the group’s warped interpretation of Islam.

By the time the group was territorially defeated in early 2019, many of these former captives were too frightened to identify themselves as Yazidi or too indoctrinated to part ways with their former captors inside Al-Hol.

“I count myself lucky,” Ayman told Arab News. “Some of my friends and women I know refused to be rescued. They had been so brainwashed and traumatized they chose to remain in the camp under the radar. I do not know what has become of them now.”




Living conditions are far below international standards in terms of access to food, water, healthcare and education, according to ICRC officials. (AFP)

Aid agencies have long called on governments to support the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian and Iraqi families from Al-Hol to their communities, and for the repatriation of children of foreign fighters and their mothers back to their home countries.

“I’ve been pursuing this issue since 2018, and have managed to bring about 40 people back to their home countries. Most were children,” Peter Galbraith, a former US diplomat and longtime advocate of the Kurdish people, told Arab News.

Western governments have been reluctant to take back their citizens, fearing the political blowback, expense, and indeed the security risks should authorities fail to successfully prosecute suspected Islamist radicals.

“Part of the problem is that the UN and other NGOs are saying countries should take back their citizens, but the reality is no one is really doing that,” said Galbraith. “It doesn’t help to keep shouting about something and not working it out.

“For some countries like the UK, Canada and France, they find keeping their citizens in northeast Syria less complicated and less expensive. Bringing them home and putting them through a trial, sentencing, then sending them to jail would cost thousands of dollars, instead of keeping them in the camp for a couple hundred dollars.”

As a result, thousands of children who wound up in the camp through no fault of their own have been effectively abandoned by Western governments, left vulnerable to violence, sickness and radicalization.

“The children end up paying for the faults of their parents,” said Galbraith. “Every man and woman who decided to join Daesh had agency in one way or another. The kids brought or born here had no choice. They are now condemned to a life in prison.

“They are also at risk of child marriage and being brought up by the hard-line extremist women who run the camps. An American orphan we rescued was being raised by a Somali extremist woman when we found him.

“Children risk ending up in the hands of ruthless smugglers, human traffickers, who would do anything for a buck. Some Yazidi women, after all their ordeals with Daesh, ended up being trafficked into prostitution by these smugglers.

“Kids must be removed and put in villages or foster care.”




Children of internally displaced Syrians, here seen playing in the snow at a camp by the border with Turkey, suffer from exposure to extreme weather conditions. (AFP)

Far from expediting repatriation schemes, Western governments have instead sought to outsource the problem to SDF-controlled jails, the crude justice system of neighboring Iraq, or the cash-strapped Kurdish-run authorities and aid agencies operating Al-Hol.

The dangers posed by outsourcing the problem were amply demonstrated in January this year when Daesh remnants launched a massive and highly sophisticated attack on a prison in Hasakah where thousands of its former combatants were being held under SDF guard.

Some reports suggest that 374 militants were killed during the attack, along with 77 prison staff, 40 members of the SDF and four civilians. About 400 inmates remain unaccounted for, indicating that a significant number escaped.

The incident was only the latest in a spate of attacks and attempted escapes at camps and prisons throughout the region that suggest Daesh could be making a resurgence in an area where they had been considered a spent force.

Meanwhile, the children in Al-Hol are now fast becoming adults, radicalized by their mothers and peers, and resentful of their ill-treatment. Unless their plight is urgently addressed, and their psychological needs properly met, aid groups warn of extreme and lasting damage.

“Children cannot continue to live in such distressing conditions,” Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria response director, said in a recent statement.

“The level of violence they experience in Al-Hol on a daily basis is appalling. Insecurity in the camp needs to be effectively addressed without adding more stress and fear to these children’s lives, and they urgently need access to more psychosocial support to cope with their experiences.

“But the only lasting solution for this situation is to support children and their families to be able to safely and voluntarily leave the camp.

“This is no place for children to grow up.”

 


Lebanon public sector faces paralysis as strikes widen

Lebanon public sector faces paralysis as strikes widen
Updated 8 sec ago

Lebanon public sector faces paralysis as strikes widen

Lebanon public sector faces paralysis as strikes widen
  • Move to raise customs dollar rate plunges markets into turmoil 

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s public sector and legal system are under growing strain amid widening strike action over the plunging value of salaries in the crisis-hit country.

Hundreds of judges continued their strike on Thursday in protest at having their salaries based on exchange rate of 1,507 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

Civil servants have also decided to go on strike again for the same reason, despite being granted monthly aid.

Meanwhile, Lebanese university professors are continuing their open-ended strike, while students wait for work to resume so they can take last year’s final exams.

Lebanon took preliminary steps to raise the customs dollar rate from 1,507 Lebanese pounds — the rate adopted before the economic crisis hit three years ago — to 20,000 pounds.

The move created confusion in markets, adding to the chaos they were already facing.

The customs dollar is the price for calculating the customs value of imports, and is paid in Lebanese pounds.

On Thursday, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati sent a letter to Finance Minister Youssef Khalil demanding the customs dollar rate of 20,000 pounds be adopted.

Khalil told an expanded ministerial consultative meeting about the move.

The ministerial committee enjoys exceptional powers that allow it to adjust the customs dollar rate without the need for Cabinet approval.

Amin Salam, the caretaker economy minister, told a press conference on Thursday that the preliminary decision will be the subject of discussions between the finance minister and the central bank governor.

Salam said that the impact of the new customs dollar rate on prices of goods would be “insignificant,” adding that the current rate was no longer fair.

“We want to adjust the wages and salaries of civil servants,” he said.

Salam also voiced fears that traders might store goods to be sold later under the new rate.

“We are waiting for traders to provide us with the lists of goods they purchased previously,” the minister said.

Foodstuffs that will be subject to the customs dollar can be substituted by alternative products available in Lebanon, in order to encourage the industrial sector and the Lebanese industry, he said.

Salam said that expensive cheese and canned vegetables are among products that will be subject to the customs dollar.

He warned traders against pricing old products based on the new customs dollar rate.

The customs dollar is one of the main elements feeding the Lebanese treasury, which receives a percentage of the price of imported goods.

MP Ibrahim Kanaan, chair of the parliamentary finance and budget committee, said that he doubted the customs dollar would take into consideration people’s means and needs.

“How can we come up with the customs dollar? What are the covered and non-covered goods, and who is going to monitor the prices?” he asked.

Four rates are currently adopted in Lebanon by the state and banks, in addition to the black market rate, which reached about 33,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on Thursday.

Economic analysts have predicted that the country will witness a new wave of price increases while social security measures are negligible in the face of worsening economic pressures.

Observers are worried that this might encourage smugglers crossing Lebanese-Syrian border.

Hani Bohsali, head of the Food Importers’ Syndicate, told Arab News: “There are no luxury goods anymore. If we want to speak logically and put things in perspective, the interests of Lebanese come before the traders’ interests.”

Bohsali said the customs dollar “will affect oils and canned vegetables, and we are afraid that those demanding a wage increase might request another one after a while.”

He added: “We will all pay the price of and be affected by ill-considered decisions.

“Do we know what the repercussions of increasing the customs dollar are? Is it really going to profit the state? They calculated it based on how things stand currently, but what if the value of importation dropped by half as a result of the Lebanese low purchasing power.”

MP Ziad Hawat said that increasing the rate without a complete economic plan would not achieve the desired objectives.

He called for a consolidation of the exchange rate instead of “stealing people’s deposits.”

 


A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange

A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange
Updated 15 min 45 sec ago

A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange

A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange
  • Timing coincides with efforts by both countries to build relationships in region, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Israel and Turkey have announced the upgrading of diplomatic relations and the return of their ambassadors and consuls general after years of strained ties between the two nations. 

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid greeted such a diplomatic breakthrough as an “important asset for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel.

According to Dr. Nimrod Goren, president of the Mitvim Institute and co-founder of Diplomeds — The Council for Mediterranean Diplomacy — the announcement on the upgrading of ties marks a diplomatic success.

"It is the culmination of a gradual process that has taken place over more than a year, during which Israel and Turkey have worked to rebuild trust, launch new dialogue channels, adopt a positive agenda, re-energize cooperation, confront security challenges, and find ways to contain differences," Goren told Arab News.

“Based on these positive developments, restoring relations at the ambassadorial level is now seen as a natural step, perhaps even a long overdue one,” he said. 

“It was important to seal this move before internal politics gets in the way, as elections in both countries are drawing near,” Goren added.

Goren said that the timing also “coincides with efforts by both Israel and Turkey to improve and deepen their various relationships in the region.”

Turkey and Israel, once regional allies, expelled their ambassadors in 2018 over the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests along the Gaza border.

Relations were completely frozen after the death of nine Turkish activists over an Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish Mavi Marmara ship in 2010. 

Since then, many attempts have been made to mend ties, especially in the energy sector, and in trade and tourism, which emerged as strategic avenues for cooperation. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Isaac Herzog have spoken on the phone several times and Herzog visited Ankara last March. 

As part of mutual trust-building efforts, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also visited Jerusalem in May, marking the first visit to Israel by a Turkish foreign minister in 15 years. His visit was reciprocated by Lapid, then Israeli foreign minister, in June. 

The two countries also cooperated in counter-terrorism efforts following Iranian assassination plots against a Turkish-Israeli businessperson as well as Israeli tourists in Istanbul. Turkey took steps to curtail the movements of Hamas within the country. 

They also signed a civil aviation agreement last month. 

Dr. Gokhan Cinkara, an expert from Necmettin Erbakan University, thinks that shifts in regional geopolitics are the main determinants for Turkey’s new efforts for normalization. 

“The competition between status quo and revisionism in the region is over. Consequently, every country has alternatives and can be replaced, which is also the case for Turkey. Due to the economic crisis and geopolitical deadlock that the country is passing through, it was inevitable for Turkey to search for new options,” he told Arab News.  

“The appointment of diplomats will ensure that bilateral relations will continue to operate under an institutional routine.”  

The ambassador to Israel is expected to be appointed soon. Both countries are also set to hold a joint economic commission meeting in September. 

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said that Ankara would continue to support the Palestinian cause. 

“Despite the new chapter in relations, Israel and Turkey still have differences of opinion on key policy issues, including Israeli-Palestinian relations and the Eastern Mediterranean,” Goren said. 

“These differences will not go away, but Israel and Turkey are aware of the need to be sensitive in how they deal with them and to put in place bilateral mechanisms to regularly engage on these issues,” Goren said.

“If Israel and Turkey can somehow support each other on the road to conflict resolution with third countries (e.g., Turkey with Egypt, Israel with the Palestinians) — that will be a major benefit of the new chapter in ties.”

As bilateral relations have been moving on a positive trajectory since Israeli President Herzog’s visit to Ankara, Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, pointed to the timing of the envoy exchange. 

“The Israeli side has been taking the process a bit slowly in order to understand whether Ankara was sincere in its efforts to mend fences,” she told Arab News. 

Ankara’s “calm and measured response in the face of tensions in Jerusalem and in Gaza in the last couple of months and its full cooperation with Israeli intelligence against Iranian plots which targeted Israeli citizens in Turkey have seemingly reassured Israel’s concerns,” she said.

Nasi thinks that the ambassadorial exchange shows Turkey and Israel’s willingness to give the normalization process a formal framework, as well as their readiness to move to the next phase. 

“Considering the upcoming elections in Israel in November, normalization of diplomatic ties is likely to provide a shield against the interference of domestic politics,” she said. 

Although Turkey and Israel have managed to turn a new page in bilateral relations, Nasi thinks that it is equally important to see what they are going to write in this new chapter.  

“Both countries have a lot to gain from developing cooperation at a time when the US is shifting its focus and energy to the Pacific region and Iran is about to become a nuclear power,” she said.

“On the other hand, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put energy security front and center once again. It revived hopes that the pipeline project that would carry Israeli natural gas via Turkey could be eventually realized,” she said. “While the unsettled Cyprus question remains the elephant in the room, it all comes down to the sides’ mending political trust. We may therefore see some openings in the future.”

Goren thinks that a relaunching of the Israel-Turkey strategic dialogue and the resumption of regular high-level contacts will also assist the countries lessen mutual misperceptions — related, for example, to Israel’s ties with the Kurds and Turkey’s ties with Iran — and avoid gaps in expectations.  

“Israel and Turkey should make sure that this time — unlike what happened in the previous decade — their upgrade of ties will be sustainable and long-term,” Goren said. 

The exchange of ambassadors has been also welcomed by the US.

“Today’s announcement that Israel and Turkey are fully restoring their diplomatic relations. This move will bring increased security, stability, and prosperity to their peoples as well as the region,” tweeted Jake Sullivan, national security adviser at White House. 

Nasi also said that Turkey’s relations with Israel “have always been a factor of its relations with the West and with the US in particular. In the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Ankara has been threading a fine path with Russia.”

Nasi said “normalization of ties with Israel may aim to send a message to the US Congress, whose favorable view and support on the modernization of F16s is very much sought for.”


Bella Hadid expresses ‘sadness’ at growing up away from Palestinian roots

Bella Hadid expresses ‘sadness’ at growing up away from Palestinian roots
Updated 40 min 57 sec ago

Bella Hadid expresses ‘sadness’ at growing up away from Palestinian roots

Bella Hadid expresses ‘sadness’ at growing up away from Palestinian roots
  • Model opens up on her relationship with Muslim, Arab heritage ahead of acting debut in Hulu’s ‘Ramy’
  • Hadid has become a vocal campaigner at demos and on social media about the plight of Palestinian people

LONDON: The model Bella Hadid has spoken of her “sadness” that her “Muslim culture” was taken from her as a child following the divorce of her parents.

In an interview with GQ, ahead of her acting debut in the Hulu TV series “Ramy,” she said she had been “extracted” from her Palestinian father, real estate developer Mohamed Hadid, and his side of the family when her mother, Dutch model Yolanda Hadid, moved her and her siblings, Gigi and Anwar, from Washington, D.C. to Santa Barbara, California.

“I was with my Palestinian side (of the family) and I got extracted when we moved to California,” she said.

“I would have loved to grow up and be with my dad every day and studying and really being able to practice, just in general being able to live in a Muslim culture, but I wasn’t given that.”

Hadid, who was just four years old when she was forced to move, added she was the only Arab girl in her class at school in Santa Barbara and suffered racist discrimination.

“For so long I was missing that (Palestinian) part of me, and it made me really, really sad and lonely,” she said.

“Ramy” is a comedy-drama about a first-generation American Muslim, starring Hadid’s friend Ramy Youssef. She said the show had ignited her interest in discovering more about her Palestinian heritage and her faith.

She added that she “couldn’t handle” her emotions when crew members working on the show gave her a “Free Palestine” T-shirt as a gift.

“Growing up and being Arab, it was the first time that I’d ever been with like-minded people,” she said. “I was able to see myself.”

The 25-year-old star has become vociferous in her support for Palestine in recent years, attending protests and spreading awareness on social media.

In a post following a protest four years ago, she wrote: “It has always been #freepalestine. ALWAYS. I have a lot to say about this but for now, please read and educate yourself.

“This is not about religion. This is not about spewing hate on one or the other. This is about Israeli colonization, ethnic cleansing, military occupation and apartheid over the Palestinian people that has been going on for YEARS!”

Writing on Instagram after attending a protest in New York in 2021, she said: “The way my heart feels ... To be around this many beautiful, smart, respectful, loving, kind, and generous Palestinians all in one place ... It feels whole. We are a rare breed!”

In another post, following violence in Gaza later that year, she wrote: “You cannot allow yourself to be desensitized to watching human life being taken. Palestinian lives are the lives that will help change the world. And they are being taken from us by the second.”

In an Instagram post about her grandparents’ wedding in Palestine in 1941, she wrote: “I love my family, I love my heritage, I love Palestine.”

In the GQ interview, the model also opened up on issues surrounding body image and self-esteem. She said she had compared herself unfavorably to her older sister, and fellow model, Gigi, developed an eating disorder, and even been driven to plastic surgery at the age of only 14 years old when she had a nose job.

“I wish I had kept the nose of my ancestors,” she said as she reflected on the procedure. “I think I would have grown into it.”

She added: “I’ve had this impostor syndrome where people made me feel like I didn’t deserve any of this.

“People can say anything about how I look, about how I talk, about how I act. But in seven years I never missed a job, canceled a job, was late to a job. No one can ever say that I don’t work my a— off.”


Egypt church fire not deliberate: Probe

Egypt church fire not deliberate: Probe
Updated 18 August 2022

Egypt church fire not deliberate: Probe

Egypt church fire not deliberate: Probe
  • The public prosecution questioned 33 witnesses, including the 16 people injured

CAIRO: The fire that broke out in the Abu Sefein Church in Egypt on Sunday was not deliberate, according to an investigation by the public prosecution.
The cause of the fire, which killed 41 people, was a defect with an electric generator in the church after it was turned on due to a power outage.
The public prosecution questioned 33 witnesses, including the 16 people injured, who said they heard the sound of electric charges emanating from inside the church, and the fire broke out after that. Prosecutor General Hamada El-Sawy said the victims had died of smoke inhalation.


Coptic pope offers condolences over church fire

Coptic pope offers condolences over church fire
Updated 18 August 2022

Coptic pope offers condolences over church fire

Coptic pope offers condolences over church fire
  • Blaze in Egyptian city of Giza killed 41 people, injured 16
  • ‘We thank God for all those who contributed to containing this crisis’

CAIRO: The Egyptian people showed their genuine nature with regard to Sunday’s fire in Abu Sefein Church that killed 41 people and injured 16 in the city of Giza, said the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Pope Tawadros II thanked everyone who contributed to containing the blaze, and offered condolences to the family of a priest who died.

“He was a beloved priest until his last breath, and we console the people of the church, both adults and children, knowing that they are with Christ, and that is very much better,” the pope said.

“We thank God for all those who contributed to containing this crisis, including the concerned agencies, officials, the people and neighbors.”

He said he is scheduled to meet in the next few days with the victims’ families, adding that Christian and Muslim communities in various countries have offered their condolences. The Interior Ministry said an electrical fault had caused the fire.