Iraq’s archaeological treasures face looming threat of climate change

Special The Al-Aqiser archeological site in Iraq, which includes what has been described as one of the oldest eastern Christian churches. (AFP)
The Al-Aqiser archeological site in Iraq, which includes what has been described as one of the oldest eastern Christian churches. (AFP)
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Updated 08 August 2022

Iraq’s archaeological treasures face looming threat of climate change

Iraq’s archaeological treasures face looming threat of climate change
  • Dust storms, rising temperatures and salinity are damaging artifacts and excavation sites, undermining conservation efforts
  • Extreme weather events are harming the country’s natural heritage, including the once verdant southern marshland

DUBAI: In January, the drought which has stalked Iraq for the past three years caused water levels at Mosul dam in the north of the country to drop to their lowest levels since it was built in 1986. But, as the water receded, something unexpected emerged from beneath the surface.

To the amazement of onlookers, there stood the ruins of a 3,400-year-old city of the Mitanni Empire that had once occupied the banks of the Tigris River.

However, the settlement, located in present-day Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region, emerged for just two months before it sank into the waters once more. Archaeologists had to race against time to excavate as much of the site as possible while it stood exposed.

Working intensely for six weeks, the team uncovered more than 100 clay tablets etched with cuneiform script dating back to the early Assyrian period.

British Museum and Iraqi archaeologists carry out excavations in the ancient city of Girsu, the capital of the Kingdom of Lagash, in Dhi Qar, in Nov. 2021. (Getty Images)

A team of German and Kurdish archaeologists were able to date the site to the Bronze Age, around 1550 to 1350 BC. They believe the settlement could be the ancient city of Zakhiku, once a bustling political center.

Although undoubtedly an exciting discovery, the same extreme weather events that caused the water levels to drop are also damaging ancient sites in other parts of Iraq, frequently referred to as the “cradle of civilization.”

Scientists believe that the recent cases of extreme weather around the world, including flash floods in Europe and dust storms across the Middle East, are evidence of man-made climate change that will only become worse and more frequent unless carbon emissions are cut quickly and dramatically.

The precise impact these extreme weather events are having on the world’s heritage sites is still being studied. What is known for certain is that in some countries of the Middle East and North Africa, a fearsome mixture of desertification, drought and climate change is damaging artifacts and excavation sites and undermining conservation efforts.

In Yemen, for instance, intense rainfall is damaging the mud-brick highrises of the 16th-century walled-city of Shibam, a UNESCO World Heritage site nicknamed “Manhattan of the desert” by British explorer Freya Stark in the 1930s.

At the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bagerhat in southern Bangladesh, salt water from severe flooding caused by heavy rainfall is damaging the foundations of the city’s numerous Indo-Islamic mosques.

In Egypt, high temperatures, heavy rains and flooding are damaging the ancient stonework on monuments in Cairo, Luxor, Alexandria, and elsewhere.

Granite that was once rose-colored has faded to a pale pink or even light grey over the last 15 years, Abdelhakim Elbadry, a restoration expert who works at Karnak temple, told Reuters. “In every archaeological site here in Luxor, you can witness the changes.”

In central Iraq, meanwhile, strong winds have eroded many hilltop sites that are still difficult to reach for security-conscious archaeologists.

According to a study by UNESCO, the UN Environment Program and the Union of Concerned Scientists, climate change has become one of the most significant threats to historic sites and monuments.

The joint 2016 report, titled “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate,” examined the increasing climate vulnerability of these sites and its likely impact on global tourism. According to the UN, Iraq is the fifth most climate-vulnerable country in the world.

Iraqi men remove pieces of cracked earth from the marshes crossing the southern Iraqi town of Al-Azeir. The southern Iraqi wetlands have almost entirely disappeared. (AFP)

“We have three factors that affect cultural heritage in terms of climate change: Dust storms, rising temperatures and salinity — the salt in the soil,” Jaafar Jotheri, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Al-Qadisiyah in Iraq, told Arab News.

“Most of the sites are outside the cities in the desert, such as Ur. Dust storms don’t just affect people and other forms of life, but also heritage buildings. Dust gathers inside the site, affecting its structure, just as high winds create cracks and destroy surfaces.”

Additionally, extremely high temperatures during the day and cooler temperatures at night cause bricks in old structures to expand and retract, creating cracks.

Then there is the problem of increasing salinity. “People living in or outside cities, including farmers, are increasingly relying on ground water because there is no more fresh water in the rivers,” Jotheri said.


* Climate change is now a top threat to world heritage, says UNESCO.

* Marshlands of southern Iraq among the most vulnerable, the UN warns.

“The groundwater is more salty. We are taking the groundwater and using it for everyday life as well as irrigation, so we are increasingly exposing all kinds of surfaces to salt and saltwater.

“The more we use the salty groundwater, the more salty exposed surfaces will be. People use drains but then the salt also accumulates in the drain canals and reach the foundations of heritage buildings, creating cracks in the bricks and the walls.

It was not until recently that Iraq had to contend with what many regard as telltale signs of man-made climate change. “The temperature was mild, sandstorms were less harsh and less frequent, and we had fresh water, so we didn’t have to use groundwater,” Jotheri said.

Suspected climate change has also taken a toll on Iraq’s natural features. Entire lakes have disappeared, such as Sawa, known as “the pearl of the south,” located in the Muthanna governorate, which lies close to the Euphrates River.

The country’s once verdant wetlands in the south, which had been drained by Saddam Hussein and later reflooded after his fall, are disappearing once again — this time owing to changing weather patterns.

Bedouin communities who had lived in these areas for generations have been forced to leave as a result. “We are losing everything in Iraq, our natural landscape, our heritage and our traditions,” said Jotheri.

In Nov. 2021, the World Bank warned that Iraq could suffer a 20 percent drop in water resources by 2050 due to climate change.

In May, the Iraq News Agency reported that the number of dusty days had increased from 243 to 272 a year over the past two decades, and the country could experience up to 300 days of dust storms a year by 2050.

“Over the past two months I have personally witnessed over a dozen sandstorms in such a short period,” Lanah Haddad, regional director for Tarii, the Academic Research Institute in Iraq, told Arab News.

“The desertification and the increasing number of sandstorms is affecting the erosion of excavated sites or heritage buildings, which are already in ruins and have not been restored yet.”

Mark Altaweel, a reader in Near East Archaeology at University College London’s Institute of Archaeology, is convinced that climate change poses a dire threat to world heritage.

“This includes more frequent sandstorms, weathering of sites, sometimes harsh and drastic rains, and other events that can damage or lead to degraded sites,” he told Arab News.

A farmer checks soil compacted by drought near Mosul, Iraq. (AFP)

For instance, Iraqi sites such as Taq Kisra, the remains of a Sasanian-era Persian monument, have weathered badly, and the structure has partially collapsed as a result.

“Mosques and old houses have collapsed in villages and different sites when you have sudden and violent rain events,” said Altaweel.

“The sandstorms disrupt our work, mostly affecting visibility and our equipment, but they can affect archaeological sites. For archaeologists, the main challenges are working in a place like Iraq with frequent sandstorms that also disrupt flights and work.”

To prevent further damage, Altaweel says the main thing that authorities can do is to tackle the immediate man-made causes, including overuse of groundwater and poorly managed surface water.

“There needs to be a re-greening effort, but it has to be done carefully to ensure plants survive, and plants can prevent sand from becoming airborne,” Altaweel said.

The international community also has a responsibility to protect heritage sites. Adam Markham, deputy director of the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told TIME magazine in 2019 “that if the world wants to save these sites, countries will also need to share financial resources.”

Additionally, architects and archaeologists have discovered that adhering to traditional craftsmanship and knowledge is the best way to repair, restore and maintain the heritage of such sites. However, precious few individuals have such skills today.

In Cairo, at the Jameel School of Traditional Arts, the only school in Egypt dedicated to the study of traditional Islamic craftsmanship, students passionate about preserving centuries-old techniques are seen as essential for the restoration of Egypt’s multitude of ancient sites.

In Iraq, as in many other Arab countries, historic sites and monuments are potentially at risk from climate change. (AFP)

They are locked in a race against time as the suspected effects of climate change accelerate the destruction.

There are also prescient lessons for present-day societies as extreme climate events batter modern infrastructure, stretch resources and destroy livelihoods, creating the conditions for displacement and even conflict.

“If we look at locations of ancient sites situated in deserted areas, it shows clearly that climate change was an important factor for forced migrations, resulting in the abandonment of a settlement,” said Haddad.

“Societies always face challenges in providing water for agriculture and to their growing communities in urban spaces. We need to learn these lessons from the past to avoid conflict over water in the near future.”

Jotheri worries that the palpable effects of climate change, if not addressed urgently, could lead to further violence, particularly in societies such as Iraq.

“It will lead to tribal conflict, between the southern Iraqi tribes themselves and between other provinces in the country,” he said.

“We have a fragile state when what we need is a stable one to face the threat of climate change. If water, for example, is cut or reduced in the Tigris or Euphrates over the next few years, people will begin to fight over water.”


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Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger
Updated 27 March 2023

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger
  • The law revives the electoral law of 2018 and sweeps away one of the gains of the mass protest movement which shook Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s parliament voted Monday to restore electoral laws that were scrapped after 2019 anti-government demonstrations, sparking anger from independent lawmakers who see it benefiting larger parties.
The law, which parliament said in a statement was “adopted” without detailing the votes, revives the electoral law of 2018 and sweeps away one of the gains of the mass protest movement which shook Iraq.
After the protests, a new system favored the emergence of independent candidates, with some 70 independents winning seats in the 329-member parliament in the last legislative elections in 2021.
Parliament is dominated by the Coordination Framework, an alliance of powerful pro-Iran Shiite factions, from whose ranks Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani emerged.
The new law removes 83 electoral districts and creates 18 seats, one for each of Iraq’s provinces.
This “makes it easier for top party politicians to win seats,” analyst Sajad Jiyad said on Twitter.
Conversely, it will make it “harder for candidates in smaller parties and independents to compete” because they will be running at a provincial rather than a local level, he added.
During the debate, which ran from Sunday into the early hours of Monday, several angry independent lawmakers were expelled from the debating chamber, according to videos they filmed themselves.
The law also replaces a first past the post system with proportional representation.
Overall, the changes will benefit the larger parties and make it possible “for their candidates who didn’t get enough votes initially to win seats,” Jiyad added.
“Independent candidates will no longer have any hope of obtaining representation in parliament,” said Alaa Al-Rikabi, an independent lawmaker. “They will be crushed.”
But Coordination Framework lawmaker Bahaa Al-Dine Nouri welcomed the change, arguing that it will “distribute the seats according to the size of the parties.”
Nouri said this will “lead to the formation of a government within the time limits set by the constitution” to avoid the endless standoffs that followed the 2021 election.
The new law will apply to the next legislative elections, the date of which has not yet been set.
It will also apply to provincial elections slated for November 6, to be held in 15 of the 18 Iraqi provinces, excluding the three provinces in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, regional elections will take place on November 18 under a separate electoral system.

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests
Updated 27 March 2023

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests
  • Reports of Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition risked breaking apart
  • Head of Israel’s top trade union calls for an immediate ‘general strike’

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition plunged into chaos on Monday, after mass overnight protests over the sacking of his defense chief piled pressure on the government to halt its bitterly contested plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Netanyahu had been expected to make a televised statement on Monday morning announcing the plans had been suspended. But, amid reports that his nationalist-religious coalition risked breaking apart, Israeli TV stations said the statement was postponed.

Earlier, a source in his Likud party and another source closely involved in the legislation said Netanyahu would suspend the overhaul, which has ignited some of Israel’s biggest-ever demonstrations and drew an intervention by the head of state.

“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” President Isaac Herzog said on Twitter.

The warning by Herzog, who is supposed to stand above politics and whose function is largely ceremonial, underlined the alarm that the divisions triggered by the proposals have caused.

It followed a dramatic night of protests in cities across Israel, with tens of thousands flooding streets following Netanyahu’s announcement that he had dismissed Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

A day earlier, Gallant had made a televised appeal for the government to halt its flagship overhaul of the judicial system, warning that the deep split it had opened up in Israeli society was affecting the military and threatening national security.

During furious scenes in the Knesset early on Monday, opposition members of parliament attacked Simcha Rothman, the committee chairman who has shepherded the bill, with cries of “Shame! Shame!” and accusations comparing the bill to militant groups that want the destruction of Israel.

“This is a hostile takeover of the State of Israel. No need for Hamas, no need for Hezbollah,” one lawmaker was heard saying to Rothman as the constitution committee approved a key bill to go forward for ratification.

“The law is balanced and good for Israel,” Rothman said.

Three months after it took power, Gallant’s removal has plunged Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition into crisis as it also faces a deepening security emergency in the occupied West Bank.

In a sign of the tensions within the coalition, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads one of the hard-line pro-settler parties in the coalition, called for the overhaul to go ahead.

“We must not stop the judiciary reform and must not surrender to anarchy,” he tweeted.

The shekel, which has seen big swings over recent weeks as the political turbulence has played out, fell 0.7 percent in early trading before recovering some ground as expectations grew the legislation would be halted.

As opposition spread, the head of the Histadrut labor union, Arnon Bar-David, called for a general strike if the proposals were not halted.

“Bring back the country’s sanity. If you don’t announce in a news conference today that you changed your mind, we will go on strike.”

Israeli media reported that takeoffs from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport have been suspended.

The judicial overhaul, which would give the executive more control over appointing judges to the Supreme Court and allow the government to override court rulings on the basis of a simple parliamentary majority, has drawn mass protests for weeks.

While the government says the overhaul is needed to rein in activist judges and set a proper balance between the elected government and the judiciary, opponents see it as an undermining of legal checks and balances and a threat to Israel’s democracy.

Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges that he denies, has so far vowed to continue with the project and a central part of the overhaul package, a bill that would tighten political control over judicial appointments, is due to be voted on in parliament this week.

As well as drawing opposition from the business establishment, the project has caused alarm among Israel’s allies. The United States said it was deeply concerned by Sunday’s events and saw an urgent need for compromise, while repeating calls to safeguard democratic values.

Rushed daylight-saving decision puts Lebanon in two time zones

Rushed daylight-saving decision puts Lebanon in two time zones
Updated 27 March 2023

Rushed daylight-saving decision puts Lebanon in two time zones

Rushed daylight-saving decision puts Lebanon in two time zones
  • Government issued last-minute decision to delay the start of daylight saving time by a month
  • Some institutions implemented the change while others refused, causing confusion

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government’s last-minute decision to delay the start of daylight saving time by a month until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan resulted in mass confusion Sunday.
With some institutions implementing the change while others refused, many Lebanese have found themselves in the position of juggling work and school schedules in different time zones — in a country that is just 88 kilometers (55 miles) at its widest point.
In some cases, the debate took on a sectarian nature, with many Christian politicians and institutions, including the small nation’s largest church, the Maronite Church, rejecting the move.
The small Mediterranean country normally sets its clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday in March, which aligns with most European countries.
However, on Thursday, the government announced a decision by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to push the start of daylight saving to April 21.
No reason was given for the decision, but a video of a meeting between Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri leaked to local media showed Berri asking Mikati to postpone the implementation of daylight saving time to allow Muslims to break their Ramadan fast an hour earlier.
Mikati responds that he had made a similar proposal but goes on to say that implementing the change would be difficult as it would cause problems in airline flight schedules, to which Berri interjects, “What flights?”
After the postponement of daylight saving was announced, Lebanon’s state airline, Middle East Airlines, said the departure times of all flights scheduled to leave from the Beirut airport between Sunday and April 21 would be advanced by an hour.
The country’s two cellular telephone networks messaged people asking them to change the settings of their clocks to manual instead of automatic so the time would not change at midnight, although in many cases the time advanced anyway.
While public institutions, in theory, are bound by the government’s decision, many private institutions, including TV stations, schools and businesses, announced that they would ignore the decision and move to daylight saving on Sunday as previously scheduled.
Even some public agencies refused to comply. Education Minister Abbas Halabi said in a statement Sunday evening that the decision was not legally valid because it had not been taken in a meeting of the Cabinet. If the government meets and approves the decision, he wrote, “we will be the first to implement it” but until then, “daylight saving time remains approved and applied in the educational sector.”
Soha Yazbek, a professor at the American University of Beirut, is among many parents who have found themselves and their children now bound to different schedules.
“So now I drop my kids to school at 8 am but arrive to my work 42 km away at 7:30 am and then I leave work at 5 p.m. but I arrive home an hour later at 7 pm!!” Yazbek wrote on Twitter, adding for the benefit of her non-Lebanese friends, “I have not gone mad, I just live in Wonderland.”
Haruka Naito, a Japanese non-governmental organization worker living in Beirut, discovered she has to be in two places at the same time on Monday morning.
“I had an 8 a.m. appointment and a 9 a.m. class, which will now happen at the same time,” she said. The 8 a.m. appointment for her residency paperwork is with a government agency following the official time, while her 9 a.m. Arabic class is with an institute that is expected to make the switch to daylight saving.
The schism has led to jokes about “Muslim time” and “Christian time,” while different Internet search engines came up with different results early Sunday morning when queried about the current time in Lebanon.
While in many cases, the schism broke down along sectarian lines, some Muslims also objected to the change and pointed out that fasting is supposed to begin at dawn and end at sunset regardless of time zone.
Many saw the issue as a distraction from the country’s larger economic and political problems.
Lebanon is in the midst of the worst financial crisis in its modern history. Three quarters of the population lives in poverty and IMF officials recently warned the country could be headed for hyperinflation if no action is taken. Lebanon has been without a president since the term of President Michel Aoun ended in late October as the parliament has failed to elect a replacement since.

US says ‘strongly urges’ Israel leaders to find compromise

The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP file photo)
The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP file photo)
Updated 27 March 2023

US says ‘strongly urges’ Israel leaders to find compromise

The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP file photo)
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fires Defense Minister Yoav Gallant
  • ‘We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible’

WASHINGTON: The United States is deeply concerned by events in Israel and “strongly urges” leaders there to find compromise as soon as possible, a White House spokesperson said on Sunday after the firing of Israel’s defense minister triggered mass protests.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday, a day after Gallant broke ranks with the government and urged a halt to a highly contested plan to overhaul the judicial system.
“We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible. We believe that is the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
Some three months since taking office, Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition has been plunged into crisis over the bitter divisions exposed by its flagship judicial overhaul plans.
The overhaul package would tighten political control over judicial appointments, handing the executive wider freedom to name judges to the Supreme Court.
“As the president recently discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu, democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship,” Watson said.
“Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”

Group says Libyan coast guard fired shots over rescue ship

Group says Libyan coast guard fired shots over rescue ship
Updated 27 March 2023

Group says Libyan coast guard fired shots over rescue ship

Group says Libyan coast guard fired shots over rescue ship
  • The Libyan coast guard vessel “dangerously” approached the rescue ship, threatening its crew “with guns and firing gunshots in the air,” the SOS Mediterranee said in a statement

CAIRO: Libya’s coast guard fired warning shots over a humanitarian vessel as it attempted to rescue a rubber boat carrying migrants off Libya’s coast, a sea rescue group said. The coast guard went on to return some 80 Europe-bound migrants to Libyan soil.
The incident Saturday in international waters was the latest reckless sea interception of migrants by the Libyan coast guard, which is trained and financed by the European Union to stem the influx of migrants to Europe, said the SOS Mediterranee group, whose vessel was warned off by the coast guard.
A spokesman for the coast guard didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Italian coast guard said it had received a report about the incident, but complained that SOS Mediterranee didn’t follow correct procedures in reporting it.
The Ocean Viking, a rescue ship chartered and run by the non-profit SOS Mediterranee, was responding to a distress call to help the rubber boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean Sea when a Libyan coast guard vessel arrived at the scene, the group said.
The Libyan coast guard vessel “dangerously” approached the rescue ship, threatening its crew “with guns and firing gunshots in the air,” the SOS Mediterranee said in a statement.
The coast guard was caught on camera threatening the vessel and firing a weapon into the air. In the footage, the coast guard vessel is seen traveling at a high rate of speed before maneuvering, apparently to prevent the Ocean Viking from reaching the migrant boat. At one point, gun shots are heard.
“You can’t shoot at us. You can’t shoot at us. We’re leaving the waters now,” a person on the Ocean Viking is heard saying.
Under threat, the Ocean Viking sailed away while the Libyan coast guard intercepted the boat and “forcibly” took the migrants back to war-wrecked Libya, it said.
Seabird 2, a civil surveillance plane owned by the German non-governmental organization Sea-Watch, reported seeing migrants who had fallen overboard from the rubber boat before the coast guard recovered them.
In further footage from the group’s civil surveillance plane, the coast guard was seen maneuvering and approaching the rubber boat, before forcing the migrants to disembark on the coast guard vessel. Gunshots were also heard in the footage, with people on board the surveillance plane saying, “They are shooting in the water ... They are shooting at the people.”
Saturday’s incident was the latest report from European NGOs operating in the Mediterranean Sea of threats or violent behavior by the Libyan coast guard, which is trained and financed by the European Union, part of efforts to stem the flow of migrants from the North African country toward Italian shores.
Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants seeking a better quality of life in Europe. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling in migrants across the country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and other vessels and set off on risky sea voyages.
So far this year, some 20,000 migrants have arrived in Italy, far exceeding the 6,000 who came in the same period in each of the preceding years, according to Interior Ministry figures.
Over the weekend alone, an estimated 3,300 migrants — many departing on small boats from Libya or Tunisia’s coastal city of Sfax — were rescued in the Mediterranean and were heading toward Italian ports to disembark, the Italian coast guard said.
At least three rescues were conducted by the Louise Michel rescue ship, which is financed by the street artist Banksy. The group said its vessel was detained Friday off Lampedusa after it rescued 180 people in several operations. Thirty-four were plucked from the water after their boat capsized.
The Italian coast guard said the vessel had been seized because the crew disobeyed orders to head to a port in Trapani, Sicily after the first rescue and instead picked up other migrants in three other rescues. The coast guard said that disobedience put migrants at risk and complicated its own efforts to coordinate rescues during a particularly busy weekend.
“The instructions given to the NGO ship, given its small size, were also aimed at preventing it from taking on board so many people that would jeopardize both its safety and that of the migrant boats it would be rescuing,” the coast guard said in a statement.
It added that the NGO aircraft that were also sending reports of boats in distress “overloaded the communications system” of the Italian coordination center, duplicating alerts that government aircraft were already providing.
In recent months, the hard-line Italian government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has made it harder for humanitarian vessels to operate, often assigning ships to ports farther north after a single rescue, which the groups say limits their ability to save lives.
Meloni’s allies say the presence of so many rescue ships in the Mediterranean encourages migrants to risk their lives on smuggler boats.