Renewal of Syria cross-border aid mandate is ‘moral imperative,’ UN chief tells Security Council

Renewal of Syria cross-border aid mandate is ‘moral imperative,’ UN chief tells Security Council
Guterres said infrastructure is falling apart after years of war. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 June 2022

Renewal of Syria cross-border aid mandate is ‘moral imperative,’ UN chief tells Security Council

Renewal of Syria cross-border aid mandate is ‘moral imperative,’ UN chief tells Security Council
  • At council’s last meeting before vote on the issue, Antonio Guterres said there is no alternative to the Bab Al-Hawa crossing for millions of people in need in Syria
  • The US envoy asked members not to politicize a humanitarian issue; her Russian counterpart accused Washington of inhumane treatment of Syrian civilians

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged members of the Security Council to stand united and extend for another year a cross-border mechanism for delivering aid to Northwestern Syria.

He described the need for the renewal of the mandate as a “moral imperative” to help the 4.1 million Syrians in the area who need aid and protection to survive, 80 percent of whom are women and children.

“Needs are at their highest since the start of the war 11 years ago,” Guterres told council members.
“The world’s largest refugee crisis continues to impact the region and the world.”

The secretary-general’s most recent report revealed that 14.6 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 12 million of them classed as food insecure, “unsure where their next meal is coming from,” and 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

Guterres said infrastructure is falling apart after years of war, and economic activity is dwindling as a result of the continuing conflict, regional financial crises, Western sanctions and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are living on the brink, no longer able to cope,” he added.

The UN requires $4.4 billion in funding to provide assistance to people inside Syria and an additional $5.6 billion to support Syrian refugees elsewhere in the region.

“The generous pledges made at the Brussels VI donor conference need to be paid,” said Guterres. “I appeal to donors to follow through and increase their support.”

Monday’s meeting of the Security Council was its last about the situation in Syria before a vote is held on whether to extend the cross-border mechanism, which is due to expire on July 10.

The diverging views of council members about cross-border aid remains a constant feature of its discussions on Syria. Several members, in particular the US and the Europeans, maintain that cross-border assistance is of vital importance to millions of people living in the northwest of the country.

However, Russia and China argue that the mechanism violates Syria’s sovereignty and that terrorist groups manipulate the system and confiscate aid deliveries. Instead, they advocate for all aid to be channeled through the regime in Damascus, a process known as cross-line assistance, rather than cross-border aid that goes directly to the areas that need it.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, asked her fellow council members to “put politics aside” and come together to address “a clear humanitarian need.”

She recently returned from her second visit to the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, the only remaining cross-border gateway for international aid into Northwest Syria. She painted a bleak picture of the situation there, including children on the brink of famine, and warned that “babies will die” if the checkpoint closes.

“Some votes are difficult and complex but this vote could not be more straightforward,” Thomas-Greenfield told the 15-member council.

“This is our chance to live up to the ideals of the UN charter and provide life-and-death assistance to the Syrian people.”
She concluded her remarks by thanking Turkish authorities for hosting “so many Syrian refugees.”

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, lamented the fact that the secretary-general’s report did not assign responsibility for the food and fuel crisis in Syria to the “ongoing American occupation” in the northwest of the country.

He said humanitarian organizations deplore the Western sanctions, and accused the US of the “inhumane treatment of civilians in Syria.”

Polyanskiy repeated the allegation that cross-border aid is enriching terrorist groups, including Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham. He also said he was astonished by the “lack of reaction” from some council members to an Israeli airstrike on Damascus International Airport on June 10, as a result of which runways continue to be out of commission, and the repercussions of this on humanitarian operations across the country. He described their silence as “double standards.”

Meanwhile, Norway and Ireland, the chief advocates within the Security Council of the humanitarian effort in Syria, have begun negotiations for a new resolution that would renew the mandate for the Bab Al-Hawa crossing for another year, a source at the Irish mission told Arab News.

As international diplomacy, especially between the US and Russia, has all but ground to a halt following the start of war in Ukraine, many fear that Moscow will use its power of veto to block the renewal and close the last remaining crossing.

However, sources in Washington told Arab News that the administration is confident Russia will not use its veto in this way.


Rushdie attack a ‘wake-up call’ on Iran, says Britain’s PM candidate Sunak

Rushdie attack a ‘wake-up call’ on Iran, says Britain’s PM candidate Sunak
Updated 14 August 2022

Rushdie attack a ‘wake-up call’ on Iran, says Britain’s PM candidate Sunak

Rushdie attack a ‘wake-up call’ on Iran, says Britain’s PM candidate Sunak
  • Iran’s reaction to the attack strengthens the case for proscribing the IRGC, the former finance minister told the Sunday Telegraph

LONDON: Rishi Sunak, one of two candidates seeking to become Britain’s next prime minister, said Friday’s attack on author Salman Rushdie should serve as a wake-up call to the West over Iran, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
Indian-born author Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after Iran urged Muslims to kill him over his novel “The Satanic Verses,” was stabbed in the neck and torso on stage at a lecture in New York state. After hours of surgery, Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak as of Friday evening.
There has been no official government reaction in Iran to the attack on Rushdie, but several hard-line Iranian newspapers praised his assailant.


ALSO READ: Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US


“The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie should be a wake-up call for the West, and Iran’s reaction to the attack strengthens the case for proscribing the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps),” Sunak, the former finance minister, said, according to the paper.
The IRGC controls Iran’s elite armed and intelligence forces.
Sunak, referring to stuttering talks between Iran and the West to revive a nuclear deal, said, “We urgently need a new, strengthened deal and much tougher sanctions, and if we can’t get results then we have to start asking whether the JCPOA is at a dead end.”
The JCPOA, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the 2015 agreement under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for relief from US, EU and UN sanctions.
“The situation in Iran is extremely serious and in standing up to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin we can’t take our eye off the ball elsewhere,” Sunak said.


N.Korea criticizes UN chief’s support for the North’s denuclearization

N.Korea criticizes UN chief’s support for the North’s denuclearization
Updated 14 August 2022

N.Korea criticizes UN chief’s support for the North’s denuclearization

N.Korea criticizes UN chief’s support for the North’s denuclearization
  • It demands the unilateral disarmament, and Secretary-General Guterres perhaps knows well that the DPRK has totally rejected it without any toleration, says Kim

SEOUL: North Korea’s foreign ministry on Sunday criticized the United Nations Secretary-General’s recent comment on his supports for the North’s complete denuclearization, calling the remarks lack impartiality and fairness.
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA released a statement from the foreign ministry after UN chief Antonio Guterres on Friday said he fully supports efforts to completely denuclearise North Korea when he met with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
“I cannot but express deep regret over the said remarks of the UN secretary-general that grossly lack impartiality and fairness and go against the obligations of his duty, specified in the UN Charter, as regards the issue of the Korean peninsula,” Kim Son Gyong, vice minister for international organizations of North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Kim added that the UN secretary-general should not request or accept orders from the government of a specific country but refrain from doing any act that may impair his or her position as an international official who is liable only to the UN.
Kim said the North’s “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID) was “an infringement upon the sovereignty of the DPRK,” referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“It demands the unilateral disarmament, and Secretary-General Guterres perhaps knows well that the DPRK has totally rejected it without any toleration,” said Kim, adding that Guterres should be careful when uttering “dangerous words” amid the extremely acute situation on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea has test fired a record number of missiles this year, and officials in Seoul and Washington say that it appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017, amid stalled denuclearization talks.


Stab attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘preplanned’, says prosecutor

Stab attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘preplanned’, says prosecutor
Updated 14 August 2022

Stab attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘preplanned’, says prosecutor

Stab attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘preplanned’, says prosecutor
  • Suspect Matar joined a fitness boxing club for beginners on April 11 and cancelled his membership days before the attack, club manager says

MAYVILLE, New York: The man accused in the stabbing attack on Salman Rushdie pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called a “preplanned” crime, as the renowned author of “The Satanic Verses” remained hospitalized with serious injuries.
An attorney for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment in western New York. The suspect appeared in court wearing a black and white jumpsuit and a white face mask, with his hands cuffed in front of him.
A judge ordered him held without bail after District Attorney Jason Schmidt told her Matar took steps to purposely put himself in position to harm Rushdie, getting an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early bearing a fake ID.
“This was a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack on Mr. Rushdie,” Schmidt said.
Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities had taken too long to get Matar in front of a judge while leaving him “hooked up to a bench at the state police barracks.”
“He has that constitutional right of presumed innocence,” Barone added.
Matar, 24, is accused of attacking Rushdie on Friday as the author was being introduced at a lecture at the Chautauqua Institute, a nonprofit education and retreat center.
Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, and was on a ventilator and unable to speak, his agent Andrew Wylie said Friday evening. Rushdie was likely to lose the injured eye.


ALSO READ: Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US


The attack was met with shock and outrage from much of the world, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author who for more than 30 years has faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses.”
Authors, activists and government officials cited Rushdie’s courage and longtime advocacy of free speech despite the risks to his own safety. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan called Rushdie “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world,” and actor-author Kal Penn cited him as a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially many of us in the South Asian diaspora toward whom he’s shown incredible warmth.”
President Joe Biden said Saturday in a statement that he and first lady Jill Biden were “shocked and saddened” by the attack.
“Salman Rushdie — with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced — stands for essential, universal ideals,” the statement read. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”
Rushdie, a native of India who has since lived in Britain and the US, is known for his surreal and satirical prose style, beginning with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” in which he sharply criticized India’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi.
“The Satanic Verses” drew death threats after it was published in 1988, with many Muslims regarding as blasphemy a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
Khomeini died that same year, but the fatwa remains in effect. Iran’s current supreme leader, Khamenei, never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.
Investigators were working to determine whether the assailant, born a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was published, acted alone.
District Attorney Schmidt alluded to the fatwa as a potential motive in arguing against bail.
“Even if this court were to set a million dollars bail, we stand a risk that bail could be met,” Schmidt said.
“His resources don’t matter to me. We understand that the agenda that was carried out yesterday is something that was adopted and it’s sanctioned by larger groups and organizations well beyond the jurisdictional borders of Chautauqua County,” the prosecutor said.
Barone, the public defender, said after the hearing that Matar has been communicating openly with him and that he would spend the coming weeks trying to learn about his client, including whether he has psychological or addiction issues.
Matar is from Fairview, New Jersey. Rosaria Calabrese, manager of the State of Fitness Boxing Club, a small, tightly knit gym in nearby North Bergen, said Matar joined April 11 and participated in about 27 group sessions for beginners looking to improve their fitness before emailing her several days ago to say he wanted to cancel his membership because “he wouldn’t be coming back for a while.”
Gym owner Desmond Boyle said he saw “nothing violent” about Matar, describing him as polite and quiet, yet someone who always looked “tremendously sad.” He said Matar resisted attempts by him and others to welcome and engage him.
“He had this look every time he came in. It looked like it was the worst day of his life,” Boyle said.
Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told The Associated Press.
Flags are visible across the village of Iran-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah and portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini and slain Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Journalists visiting Yaroun on Saturday were asked to leave. Hezbollah spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.
Iran’s theocratic government and its state-run media assigned no motive for the attack. In Tehran, some Iranians interviewed by the AP praised the attack on an author they believe tarnished the Islamic faith, while others worried it would further isolate their country.
An AP reporter witnessed the attacker stab or punch Rushdie about 10 or 15 times. Dr. Martin Haskell, a physician who was among those who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”
Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to discuss the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.
A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to Rushdie’s lecture, and state police said the trooper made the arrest. But afterward some longtime visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tighter security given the threats against Rushdie and a bounty of more than $3 million on his head.
News about the stabbing has led to renewed interest in “The Satanic Verses,” which topped best seller lists after the fatwa was issued in 1989. As of Saturday afternoon, the novel ranked No. 13 on Amazon.com.
The book’s publication in 1988 sparked often-violent protests around the Muslim world against Rushdie, who was born to a Muslim family and has long identified as a nonbeliever, once calling himself “a hard-line atheist.”
At least 45 people were killed in riots, including 12 in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.
The death threats and bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, which included an around-the-clock armed guard. After nine years of seclusion, Rushdie cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.
In 2012 he published a memoir about the fatwa titled “Joseph Anton,” the pseudonym Rushdie used while in hiding.
He said during a New York talk that year that terrorism was really the art of fear: “The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid.”
 


Sri Lanka says China survey ship can dock in its port

A container ship arrives at a port in Colombo on July 16, 2022. (AFP)
A container ship arrives at a port in Colombo on July 16, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 14 August 2022

Sri Lanka says China survey ship can dock in its port

A container ship arrives at a port in Colombo on July 16, 2022. (AFP)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka said on Saturday it has agreed that the Chinese survey vessel Yuan Wang 5 can dock at its southernmost port, the Chinese-run Hambantota on August 16, despite security concerns raised by neighboring India and the United States.
Foreign security analysts describe the Yuan Wang 5 as one of China’s latest generation space-tracking ships, used to monitor satellite, rocket and intercontinental ballistic missile launches.
Both China and India have tried to expand their influence in Sri Lanka, which is facing its worst economic crisis in its post-independence history.
India has provided more help to Sri Lanka this year than any other nation. But it fears its bigger and more powerful rival China will use the Hambantota port near the main Asia-Europe shipping route as a military base.
Sri Lanka formally handed over commercial activities at the port to a Chinese company in 2017 on a 99-year lease after struggling to repay its debt.
The Pentagon says Yuan Wang ships are operated by the Strategic Support Force of the People’s Liberation Army.
On Friday, India rejected claims that it has put pressure on Sri Lanka to turn the vessel away.
“We reject categorically the ‘insinuation’ and such statement about India. Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and makes its own independent decisions,” Arindam Bagchi, a foreign ministry spokesman, said.

 

 


Cost of color: In Bangladesh’s ‘dyeing villages,’ a neglected problem of hazards to health

Dye mill workers in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)
Dye mill workers in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)
Updated 13 August 2022

Cost of color: In Bangladesh’s ‘dyeing villages,’ a neglected problem of hazards to health

Dye mill workers in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)
  • Village factories unrecognized by authorities, avoid industry regulators
  • Textile sector is country’s number one industry, accounting for 80% of exports

DHAKA: When he starts work at 5 a.m., Mohammed Hasan will for the next 12 to 14 hours keep his hands immersed in water mixed with different dyes — from earthy to vivid hues, depending on the season’s latest fashion trends.

Sometimes Hasan’s skin will hurt, burnt by a cocktail of chemicals used to obtain a particular color. But he is used to it, like hundreds of others in Purinda, one of the villages in Narayanganj district which have gained fame — and notoriety — as Bangladesh’s “dyeing villages.”

Threads of all shades of the rainbow are hung to dry across Purinda, just 20 kilometers from the capital, Dhaka. Behind them, Hasan and his co-workers at dyeing mills are mixing and boiling salts, acids and emulsifiers to create these colors.

“To color the thread into red, we make a mixture of three to four colors. Then we rub the thread in that mixture. Later on, we soak the bundle of thread in another mixture of colors which makes the thread red,” Hasan told Arab News.

He earns about 22,000 Bangladeshi taka ($240) per month.

“This work is painful. But I need to do this to make ends meet. I have no other options in hand. Since I learned this work, I will have to do this,” he said.

“I couldn’t shape my life properly when I was young. So, now I don’t dream of making life colorful anymore.”

Dye mill workers coloring threads in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)

Mohammed Shafikul Islam, who began to work at a dye house in Purinda when he was a teenager more than 50 years ago, also admits that he has been experiencing skin lesions as his bare hands make contact with harsh chemicals every day.

“This work is very painful,” he said. “I might have been able to do other work. But I do this work because I learned this work.”

Skin problems are not the only hazards faced by workers.

Dr. ASM Mushiur Rahman, chief government health official of Narayanganj, told Arab News that dyeing factories in villages of Araihazar subdistrict do not follow any health protocols, do not have adequate protective clothing, and use chemicals that are not only harmful to the skin, but also to the lungs.

Dye mill worker in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)

“Starting from infections with the lungs it may end up with lung cancer,” he said.

“They suffer from bronchitis, cough, etc. We noticed that the number of tuberculosis patients is also high among the people who work in these industries.”

There is little awareness among workers and factory owners about the problem.

Mohammad Shahjalal Pradhan, who owns one of the dyeing plants in Purinda, admits that the business “has some limitations.”

He said: “The chemicals we use, they create bad smells. Some of our workers get affected with allergies.”

Dye mill worker coloring threads in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)

The textile sector, which includes dyeing factories, is the number one industry in Bangladesh, employing more than 4 million people, contributing to over 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and accounting for 80 percent of exports.

But there is a lack of comprehensive regulation, as dye houses are not officially recognized businesses, allowing owners to evade monitoring by industry regulators, even though the sites have existed for generations.

“These workers are treated as non-institutional laborers,” Selim Mahmud, president of the workers’ rights group Garments Sromik Front in Narayanganj, said.

“They don’t have any safety at their workplaces.”

Local authorities say that they are not even aware of the situation.

Rafiqul Islam, chief administrative officer of Araihazar subdistrict, told Arab News that the administration “didn’t know of these type of business entities earlier.”

He added: “Generally, we don’t inspect these sort of factories, but if we find any complaints against any business, we inspect it. So far, nobody told us anything about this.”