Inquest into death of UK Embassy worker in Lebanon hears she was murdered by Uber driver

Inquest into death of UK Embassy worker in Lebanon hears she was murdered by Uber driver
The Mount Lebanon criminal court had sentenced Tariq Samer Howeish to death for the rape and murder of the young British woman. (AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2022

Inquest into death of UK Embassy worker in Lebanon hears she was murdered by Uber driver

Inquest into death of UK Embassy worker in Lebanon hears she was murdered by Uber driver
  • Rebecca Dykes was raped, strangled by Tariq Houshieh, who is appealing his death sentence
  • Inquest told that security culture at embassy was strong but employees frequently flouted taxi advice

LONDON: An inquest into the death of a British Embassy worker in Beirut in 2017 has heard that she was raped and murdered by an Uber driver after a night out with friends, the Daily Mail reported on Friday.

Rebecca Dykes, 30, had been in Lebanon helping Syrian refugees when she was attacked before heading home for Christmas.

She was strangled to death by Uber driver Tariq Houshieh, who left her body by the side of a road.

It was discovered on Dec. 16, and Houshieh was tracked down by police using CCTV footage.

He was sentenced to death in 2019 by the Criminal Court of Mount Lebanon for his “premeditated and deliberate” crimes, but is appealing his sentence. Lebanon has not carried out an execution since 2004, according to Human Rights Watch.

Houshieh had a criminal record for alleged harassment and theft before the attack, according to Agence France-Presse.

Uber said at the time of Dykes’ death that it was “horrified by this senseless act of violence,” while the Lebanese government advised people to avoid using the ride-hailing app.

The inquest into her death opened in London this week, and heard that embassy staff had been told to use just three pre-approved taxi firms for security reasons, but that many frequently ignored the advice on account of brand familiarity with Uber, and waiting times with other companies.

Andrew Harrison, coroner at the Inner South London Coroner’s Court in the borough of Southwark, was told by embassy security officer Alyson King: “It came to light afterwards, many staff were using other taxi companies when they found them convenient.”

She said all embassy staff were given safety and security briefings on arrival in Beirut, including specific women-only meetings.

When asked by Harrison, she added that she felt the level of security briefings provided to staff were adequate for the situation they found themselves in.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s head of security, Bharat Joshi, said many staff at the embassy chose not to follow the taxi guidelines, but in general, the embassy was found to have had a “very, very strong” security culture in the aftermath of Dykes’ murder. There had “never been a serious incident” before involving Uber in Lebanon, Joshi added.

Members of Dykes’ family also addressed the inquiry, where she was described as having “improved the lives of countless refugees and vulnerable host communities.”

Her mother Jane Houng said via video link that she hoped “no parent has to go through what we have.”

She added: “One thing that pained me very much was that now embassy staff wear personal alarms. I think if Rebecca had been wearing a personal alarm at that point in time, it probably would have saved her life.

“When I went to Lebanon shortly after her death and sat around the table with Rebecca’s friends and colleagues, they all said they used Uber. It was commonplace for personal travel that people used Uber taxis.”

The coroner recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power
Updated 16 sec ago

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

GAZA CITY: Palestinians living in the Israeli-blockaded enclave of Gaza have long endured an unstable and costly electricity supply, so Yasser Al-Hajj found a different way: Solar power.

Looking at the rows of photovoltaic panels at his beachfront fish farm and seafood restaurant, The Sailor, he said the investment he made six years ago had more than paid off.

“Electricity is the backbone of the project,” Hajj said, standing under a blazing Mediterranean sun. “We rely on it to provide oxygen for the fish, as well as to draw and pump water from the sea.”

The dozens of solar panels that shade the fish ponds below have brought savings that are now paying to refurbish the business, he said, as laborers loaded sand onto a horse-drawn cart.

Hajj said he used to pay 150,000 shekels ($42,000) per month for electricity, “a huge burden,” before solar power slashed his monthly bill to 50,000 shekels.

For most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, living under Hamas rule and a 15-year-old Israeli blockade, power cuts are a daily fact of life that impact everything from homes to hospital wards.

While some Gazans pay for a generator to kick in when the mains are cut — for around half of each day, according to UN data — ever more people are turning to renewables.

From the rooftops of Gaza City, solar panels now stretch out into the horizon.

Green energy advocates say it is a vision for a global future as the world faces the perils of climate change and rising energy costs.

Gaza bakery owner Bishara Shehadeh began the switch to solar this summer, by placing hundreds of gleaming panels on his rooftop.

“We have surplus electricity in the day,” he said. “We sell it to the electricity company in exchange for providing us with current during the night.” 

Solar energy lights up the bright bulbs illuminating the bustling bakery, but the ovens still run on diesel.

“We are working on importing ovens, depending on electrical power, from Israel, to save the cost of diesel,” said Shehadeh.

Both the bakery and the fish farm have relied partially on foreign donors to kick-start their switch to solar, although their owners are also investing their own cash.

But in a poverty-stricken territory where nearly 80 percent of residents rely on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN, not everyone can afford to install renewable energy.

Around a fifth of Gazans have installed solar power in their homes, according to an estimate published in April by the Energy, Sustainability and Society journal.

Financing options are available for Gazans with some capital, like Shehadeh, who got a four-year loan to fund his bakery project.

At a store selling solar power kits, MegaPower, engineer Shehab Hussein said prices start at around $1,000 and can be paid in instalments. Clients included a sewing factory and a drinks producer, which see the mostly Chinese-made technology as “a worthwhile investment,” he said.

Raya Al-Dadah, who heads the University of Birmingham’s Sustainable Energy Technology Laboratory, said her family in Gaza has been using simple solar panels that heat water for more than 15 years.

“The pipe is super rusty, the glass is broken ... and I just had a shower and the water is super hot,” she said during a visit to the territory.

But Dadah encountered obstacles when she tried to import a more sophisticated solar system for a community project in Gaza, where imports are tightly restricted by Israel and Egypt.

“Bringing them to the Gaza Strip has proved to be impossible,” she said.

The advanced set-up includes more efficient panels and equipment that tracks the sun’s path.

Such technology is being used by Israeli firms such as SolarGik, whose smart control systems factor in weather conditions and can harness up to 20 percent more energy than standard panels, chief executive Gil Kroyzer told AFP.

Across the frontier in Gaza, in the absence of such high-tech equipment, Dadah relies on the standard panels to power a women’s center and surrounding homes in the strip’s northern Jabalia area.

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause
Updated 18 min 35 sec ago

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

BRUSSELS: The EU vowed to press Israel on Monday about the treatment of Palestinians, settlement expansions and stalled peace efforts at the first meeting in a decade of a frozen joint council.

“We will discuss frankly and openly about some specific issues which are of our mutual concern,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the start of the meeting in Brussels. “I am talking about the situation in the Palestinian territories and the Middle East peace process, which is stalled.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid dialed in remotely for the EU-Israel Association Council talks and the country’s traveling delegation was headed by intelligence minister Elazar Stern.

Meetings of the council have been suspended for a decade since Israel ditched them over the EU’s opposition to expanding settlements in the West Bank.

The EU has been looking for a fresh start with Israel since right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from office in 2021 after 12 years in charge.

“All in all, today is a good occasion to show our determination to have a positive and fruitful relationship with Israel, pushing for peace,” Borrell said. 

Support expressed by Lapid in a speech at the UN for a two-state solution with the Palestinians was “very important,” he added.

“We want the resumption of a political process that can lead to a two-state solution and a comprehensive regional peace,” Borrell said.

But he said a UN report on the situation in the occupied territories was “worrisome,” as the number of Palestinians reported killed this year reached the highest level since 2007.

Another bone of contention between the two sides is Israel’s firm opposition to EU-mediated efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

“Well, this is one of the issues in which certainly we disagree,” Borrell said. “For the time being in any case, those (nuclear deal) negotiations are stalled.”

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Updated 31 min 41 sec ago

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
  • Friends of Cancer Patients to offer free screenings across UAE in October
  • Initiative backed by health ministry, private-sector partners

SHARJAH: The Friends of Cancer Patients charity will deliver its Pink Caravan initiative across the UAE in October to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Emirates News Agency reported.

Pink Caravan is a UAE-based scheme that seeks to raise awareness of the importance of screening for breast cancer and provide facilities for its detection and treatment.

Throughout October, mobile clinics will offer people access to free screenings and consultations with experts.

With support from the Ministry of Health and Prevention the initiative will also host a series of public activities on the subject with help from partners MSD, Pfizer, Adnoc, Amit Group and others.

Ashraf Mallak, MSD’s managing director for the GCC, said: “Breast cancer is the most common cancer globally and in the UAE today. With patients being at the heart of our efforts, we are committed to improving long-term disease control and survival for patients.”

He added that the company had developed an immuno-oncology therapy and had 1,300 clinical trials underway studying more than 30 tumor types.

“This year, we are joining forces with FOCP’s Pink Caravan to achieve a greater impact in the UAE. We look forward to a successful awareness campaign and encourage women to avail themselves of the screenings,” Mallak said.

FOCP Chairman Sawsan Jafar said: “Last year, our Pink Caravan initiative delivered thousands of free breast health checkups, including 2,197 clinical breast examinations, 1,019 mammograms and 208 ultrasound tests.

“This testifies to both the generosity and support extended by our sponsors and partners as well as the willingness of members of the UAE community to actively participate in securing their own health and well-being.”

He added: “We are fortunate to have received the support of so many private and public sector entities to promote breast cancer awareness and drive early detection efforts this October. We always need more assistance to be able to make the greatest impact.

“I therefore urge our supporters — sponsors, public and private entities and the people — to ensure the success of our advocacy efforts once again. With a responsible community and committed philanthropists, the UAE will always be a step ahead of breast cancer.”

Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27

Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27
Updated 03 October 2022

Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27

Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27
  •  Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry also stressed the need for more money to tackle the climate crisis

LONDON: COP27 host Egypt has warned the UK against “backtracking” from its commitments to the global fight against climate change.

“The COP president designate is disappointed by these reports,” an Egyptian government spokesperson said. “The Egyptian presidency of the climate conference acknowledges the longstanding and strong commitment of His Majesty to the climate cause, and believes that his presence would have been of great added value to the visibility of climate action at this critical moment,” they added.

“We hope that this doesn’t indicate that the UK is backtracking from the global climate agenda after presiding over COP26.

“His Majesty King Charles was invited as a very special guest to COP27. The invitation was extended to His Royal Highness as Prince of Wales, and renewed to His Majesty as King, and he will be most welcomed in Sharm El-Sheikh if he honors us with his presence.”

An Egyptian government spokesperson’s comments, which appear to be a response to concerns over British prime minister Liz Truss’ stance on net zero targets, also came as reports surfaced of Britain’s King Charles III being told not to attend the conference next month.

During pre-COP27 climate talks in Kinshasa on Monday, Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry also stressed the need for more money, noting an unfulfilled promise — dating back to COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 — to provide developing countries with $100 billion dollars a year to fight climate change.

“The picture is not reassuring,” he said.

Delegates from over 50 countries are attending the two-day informal talks in Kinshasa, including US climate envoy John Kerry. The event finishes on Wednesday with side discussions.

No formal announcements are expected in what is billed as a ground-clearing exercise ahead of the next month's conference, taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh from November 6-18. Egypt, as host of COP27, has made implementing the pledge to curb global heating the priority of the November summit.

Greater support from wealthier countries, historically the world's biggest carbon polluters, to their poorer counterparts is expected to dominate the talks. But post-pandemic economic strains and Russia's invasion of Ukraine have cast a pall over the money question.

Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce

Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce
Updated 29 min 42 sec ago

Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce

Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce
  • PM Saeed urges international community to abandon its soft policy on Iran-backed militia
  • ‘Appeasement … does not increase the likelihood of peace,’ he says

AL-MUKALLA: Heavy fighting between government troops and Iran-backed Houthis broke out across Yemen at the weekend after the militia refused to renew a UN-brokered truce that expired on Sunday, sources said.

The fiercest battles took place outside the central city of Marib and in Al-Fakher area of Dhale province, where the Houthis barraged government forces with mortar rounds, cannonballs, tanks and drones fitted with explosives, an army official told Arab News.

Just minutes after the truce expired on Sunday night, the Houthis began shelling government soldiers with heavy weapons and drones in the area of Al-Baleq mountain, south of Marib. After that, they advanced on the ground in an effort to take control of the hilly territory that overlooks the city.

At the same time, other Houthi fighters launched attacks on government forces in Al-Kasarah, Raghwan and Mas, west of Marib.

The attacks sparked fierce fighting with loyalists, who were able to push them back.

“They have been preparing for these engagements from the beginning of the truce,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous, adding that the Houthis incurred significant losses in the clashes and were unable to advance on the battlefield.

Heavy fighting also erupted in Al-Fakher in Dhale, where pro-independence southern troops said they had repelled Houthi attacks on their positions soon after the truce expired.

There were also sporadic exchanges of heavy machine-gun fire between government troops and the Houthis outside the besieged city of Taiz. The fighting erupted after UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg failed to persuade the Houthis to renew the ceasefire.

He said on Sunday that the UN-brokered truce, which went into effect on April 2 and was renewed twice, would not be renewed a third time. He thanked the Yemeni government for “positively” cooperating with his proposals to end the war.

A few hours before the announcement, Grundberg told Rashad Al-Alimi, the president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, that the Houthis had rejected his latest proposal to extend the truce.

The failure to renew it sparked outrage and criticism, primarily directed at the Houthis, as the truce has significantly reduced violence in Yemen, allowed Sanaa airport to reopen and made it possible for dozens of fuel ships to dock at Hodeidah port.

Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed condemned the Houthis for failing to renew the truce and urged the international community to abandon its soft policy toward the Houthis and take aggressive measures to punish them for sabotaging peace efforts.

“Appeasement policy (from the international community) does not increase the likelihood of peace and instead encourages the Houthis to become more obstinate,” he was quoted as saying by official media, adding that the Houthis interpreted concessions and appeals to them as signs of weakness.

“Whenever an opportunity for peace arises, the Houthi militia, backed by the Iranian regime, chooses to squander it by choosing to go to war,” Saeed said.

International aid organizations working in Yemen also expressed their dismay at the renewed fighting and its impact on civilians and humanitarian efforts in the country.

“We are deeply disappointed that the truce in #Yemen has not been restored,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said on Twitter.

“We call on parties to the conflict to reconsider, refrain from pulling the trigger and extend the arm of diplomacy as they have done for 6 months."

Fabrizio Carboni, the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Near and Middle East director, also appealed for an end to the fighting, saying the truce had allowed Yemenis to live in peace.

“We regret that an agreement was not reached to extend a nationwide ceasefire in #Yemen. Over the past 6 months, the truce had given millions of people respite from fighting,” he tweeted on Monday.

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