People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack

People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack
Yaroun is about 125 km from Beirut. Previously, the people of the town were famous for farming and raising livestock. (Arab News)
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Updated 14 August 2022

People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack

People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack
  • Hadi Matar’s father, who is separated from his mother, refuses to receive anyone in wake of New York stabbing
  • “I have never seen him in this town,” says Yaroun town Mayor Ali Qassem Tuhfa

BEIRUT: The father of Hadi Matar, the man who stabbed novelist Salman Rushdie in the US on Friday, is refusing to talk to anyone. Since hearing about his 24-year-old son’s crime, he has not received any visitors at his home in the southern Lebanese town of Yaroun — not even the town’s mayor.

Mayor Ali Qassem Tuhfa told Arab News: “Matar’s parents have been separated for 10 years. The father returned to Yaroun while his family stayed in the US. He revived the family’s old business of raising livestock and has been taking care of a small herd. He has little to no social life and does not talk to anyone.”




Yaroun is close to the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the district of Beit Jbeil. (Arab News)

Yaroun is close to the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the district of Beit Jbeil. It is about 125 km from Beirut. Previously, the people of the town were famous for farming and raising livestock.

Yaroun is a border town that was abandoned by many residents during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1970s. Some also emigrated before then, leaving only about 500 residents. This number increases with the temporary return of expatriates during the summer and other holidays, with records showing that 9,000 people originate from the town.

Both Christians and Muslims live in Yaroun, the mayor explained, while noting that the majority of emigrants have gone to Australia and North and South America.

Samer Wehbe, a journalist from the area, said: “When the expatriates gradually returned, they built beautiful houses that resembled the homes in which they lived abroad, giving the town a wealthy appearance. The majority of townspeople do not live there permanently; only when they come back to Lebanon on holidays and special occasions. Political affiliations remain vague, although the town is located in a pro-Hezbollah area, as it is adjacent to Maroun Al-Ras, in which Hezbollah scored major victories against the Israeli occupation.”




Yaroun is about 125 km from Beirut. Previously, the people of the town were famous for farming and raising livestock. (Arab News)

Mayor Tuhfa said that Matar was born and raised in the US. “I have been the mayor for six years and have never seen him in town,” he said.

Tuhfa explained: “Matar’s mother is also from Yaroun, but she is not related to her husband. Her name is Silvana Firdaus. Matar has one sister who also lives with her mother in the US.”

He added: “The news of Matar’s crime raised questions in the town, which mainly focused on ‘why did he do that?’ His act was even condemned, bearing in mind that no one knows him (Matar) on a personal level.”

Activists’ reactions on social media platforms were mixed. One considered that Matar is “only an American of Lebanese descent, who apparently suffers a deep identity crisis.”




Hadi Matar, 24, center, listens to his public defense attorney Nathaniel Barone, left, addresses the judge while being arraigned in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, NY., Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (AP)

Hezbollah refrained from commenting on the attack on Rushdie. According to Reuters, an official said the group “had no additional information on the stabbing attack against novelist Salman Rushdie.” The official added: “We don’t know anything about this subject so we will not comment.”

Nevertheless, in recent days, an old video of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah inciting his supporters to kill Rushdie has circulated on social media platforms.


How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanese’s man-made catastrophe

How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanese’s man-made catastrophe
Updated 19 sec ago

How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanese’s man-made catastrophe

How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanese’s man-made catastrophe
  • Political discourse has grown increasingly toxic in tandem with deepening socio-economic crisis
  • Hostile narrative may spurred uptick in violence against the more than 852,000 Syrians residing in Lebanon

DUBAI: When Dareen and her family fled to Lebanon in 2014, escaping violence in their home city of Aleppo, northern Syria, she thought their displacement would last a year at most. Eight years on, she and her three children still reside in an informal settlement in Chtaura, near the Syrian border.

Dareen is one of a UN-estimated 852,000 Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon, who have seen their living conditions deteriorate since the onset of their host nation’s financial crisis in late 2019, which has been further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine.

Amid this economic turmoil, the language of Lebanon’s political discourse has grown increasingly hostile to Syrian refugees, with pundits and ministers alike pushing a narrative that holds displaced households responsible for the country’s hardship and the ongoing strain on public services.

In the hope of easing this perceived “burden” on Lebanon’s crippled economy, the country’s caretaker government, which claims the number of Syrian refugees is closer to 1.5 million, has launched a scheme to repatriate them.

“Eleven years after the start of the Syrian crisis, Lebanon no longer has the capacity to bear this burden, especially under the current circumstances,” Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, told a ceremony in June launching this year’s UN-sponsored Lebanon Crisis Response Plan.

“I call on the international community to work with Lebanon to secure the return of Syrian refugees to their country, or else Lebanon will ... work to get Syrians out through legal means and the firm application of Lebanese law.”

According to the UN, Lebanon has appealed for $3.2 billion to address the ongoing impact of the Syria crisis. Around $9 billion has already been provided in assistance since 2015 through the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan.

Mikati’s comments, which amount to a thinly veiled ultimatum to the UN to send more financial assistance, followed similar remarks in May by the acting Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar, who said Lebanon could no longer afford to host such a large refugee population.

According to experts, the causes of Lebanon’s economic problems and its multiple overlapping crises are far more complex than the mere expense of hosting Syrian refugees, for which it receives global assistance.

In August, the World Bank accused Lebanon’s post-civil war leadership of orchestrating “a deliberate depression” by accumulating excessive debt, misusing and misspending commercial bank deposits, and weakening public-service delivery over a 30-year period.

Nevertheless, the experts say, Syrian refugees have become something of a convenient scapegoat to draw blame away from the nation’s embattled political elite.

In July, Issam Charafeddine, Lebanon’s caretaker minister of the displaced, said the government plans to begin returning at least 15,000 Syrian refugees per month. Calling the move “a humane, honorable, patriotic and economic plan that is necessary for Lebanon,” he insisted it is now safe for refugees to return to Syria.

In a joint meeting with Charafeddine, Hussein Makhlouf, the Syrian regime’s minister of local administration, said “the doors are open for the return of Syrian refugees,” and the government of President Bashar Assad is prepared to facilitate their return.

Lebanon’s repatriation plan has been devised against the backdrop of mounting public resentment and even outright hostility toward Syrian refugees, as Lebanese citizens who are struggling to feed their families demand that the state prioritize their needs over those of perceived outsiders.

“I cannot bear the sight of them anymore,” Maria, a 51-year-old schoolteacher, told Arab News. “We are struggling already, and their presence is making it worse. There is only so much to go around without having to share with outsiders.

“When I see them begging on the streets, when I see them lining up with some form of welfare cards to pay for their goods, I catch myself fighting the urge to scream at them. They are not welcome here. It is our land, our food, our money. They should just go back home already.”

Some pundits and political figures have even claimed that, thanks to cash handouts by aid agencies, Syrian refugees have been getting more assistance than the poorest Lebanese. Such statements have fueled a narrative around Syrian refugees being responsible for the country’s overflowing cup of woe.

Posting in July on his official Twitter account, Nadim Gemayel, a member of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, said: “For Lebanon, the return of Syrian refugees is not an option, but rather a national necessity. If Syria is not safe for the Syrians to return, then their stay is not safe for the Lebanese, and recent events are proof of that, so either return or return.”

Concerned about the possible impact of this hardening narrative against Syrians, Najat Rushdi, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon, has urged Lebanese public figures to refrain from stoking hostility.

The toxic public discourse appears to have resulted in an uptick in violence against Syrians. In June, footage emerged on social media of a Lebanese landowner whipping a group of Syrian boys with a cable.

The boys, who were reportedly hired by the landowner to harvest cherries, can be seen in the footage with potatoes stuffed in their mouths like gags while the landowner beats them and accuses them of stealing.

Even state authorities in Lebanon have been accused of mistreating Syrians. A report published by the human rights monitor Amnesty International in March 2021 included the testimonies of 26 Syrians who claimed they had been tortured by Lebanese authorities, including beatings with metal rods and being held in stress positions.

In early September, Bashar Abdel Saud, a Syrian refugee, was allegedly tortured to death by members of Lebanon’s state security agency. When leaked photos of his badly bruised body appeared on social media, authorities claimed he had confessed to being a member of Daesh. Abdel Saud had been arrested for being in possession of a counterfeit $50 bill.

Despite these concerning incidents, many Syrian refugees say they would prefer to stay in Lebanon than go back home. “The reason I left is still there. Assad is still president,” Abu Faisal, 68, who lives in a camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, told Arab News.

“I would rather die outside from a stranger’s humiliation than die in what I consider home by his torture and humiliation. I would live on a small patch of land isolated from the world and not go back.”

Some observers suspect Hezbollah, which has long been a prominent supporter of the Assad regime, is actively encouraging harmful social attitudes to pressure Syrian refugees to return home — and thereby burnish the regime’s global image and its labor force.

FASTFACTS

Many of the 3.7 million Syrians in Turkey fear being sent back after a shift in Ankara-Damascus ties.

Syrian medical student Faris Muhammad Al Ali recently lost his life in an attack by his peers in Hatay.

However, although the intensity of fighting has eased across much of Syria in recent months, human rights monitors say the country is still far from secure, with well-documented cases of returnees being detained, tortured, and even killed by the mistrustful and vengeful regime.

“My husband remains missing,” Dareen, the Syrian from Aleppo now living as a refugee with her family in Chtaura, told Arab News. “In 2018, he returned to Syria because he had been working on starting a project with a friend of his to make some money. I haven’t heard from him since the second day he was there.

“I was advised by my friends and family to continue my life as if he’s dead. I am certain he was arrested by Syrian henchmen. I would rather think of him as dead than languishing in Assad’s prison slaughterhouses.”

Evidence compiled by human rights monitors indicates returnees are not warmly embraced by the regime but are instead treated like traitors for having left.

“My sister-in-law went back to Syria to check on her sick brother last year,” said Dareen. “She was harassed on the Syrian border. The soldiers called her a traitor for leaving, called her a whore and threatened to rape her. She didn’t even want to come back here. She didn’t want to go through the border again, but she had to.”

The UK-based Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented at least 3,057 cases of the regime arresting returnees between 2014 and 2021 — of which 203 were women and 244 were children. The majority of those returnees had come from Lebanon.

In light of these threats to the lives and well-being of returnees, aid agencies have repeatedly called on the Lebanese government not to deport refugees and to continue offering them sanctuary.

“Lebanon is obligated not to return or extradite anyone at risk of torture and is bound by the principle of non refoulement in customary international law, as a party to the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment,” New York-based monitor Human Rights Watch said in a report in July.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has likewise reminded the Lebanese government of its duty “to respect the fundamental right of all refugees to a voluntary, safe and dignified return.”


UAE to host global conference on falconry

UAE to host global conference on falconry
Updated 24 September 2022

UAE to host global conference on falconry

UAE to host global conference on falconry
  • Emirates Falconers Club organizes conference on role of local communities in heritage preservation
  • Event aims to bring together UAE-based experts, researchers and participants to promote sustainable use

ABU DHABI: Emirates Falconers Club hosts on Monday a global conference on the role of indigenous people and local communities in linking intangible cultural heritage and wildlife conservation.
Based on the theme, “Sustainability and Heritage . . . A Reborn Aspiration,” the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center welcomes 24 young falconers (aged 18 to 30), representing 24 countries, to participate in the conference between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2, the Emirates News Agency reported.
Emirates Falconers Club is organizing the conference in cooperation with the International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey (IAF), UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Chairman of the conference’s higher organizing committee, Majid Ali Al-Mansouri, and secretary-general of Emirates Falconers Club, said that the event aims to bring together UAE-based experts, researchers and participants to promote sustainable use, which plays a pivotal role in preserving the environment.
The seven-day conference will highlight IUCN’s role and establish a link with the UNESCO Commission on Intangible Cultural Heritage to make use of communities’ readiness to support heritage and environment preservation efforts.
Encouraging communications between falconers and indigenous people and local communities, and promoting falconry and correcting misinformation about it, will be among the conference’s main goals.
The event also aims to encourage cultural approaches to restore ecosystems through sustainable use, recognize the role of falconry as an important heritage in local and indigenous communities, as well as the leading role falconers can play in achieving heritage conservation and preservation goals.
The conference will outline the role of the IAF in promoting the legal practice of falconry and focus on conservation portals and student education projects through cooperation with schools, and the International Falconry Festival, highlighting the UAE’s commitment to preserving and promoting falconry around the world.


Egyptians in online bid to save child with rare illness

Egyptians in online bid to save child with rare illness
Updated 24 September 2022

Egyptians in online bid to save child with rare illness

Egyptians in online bid to save child with rare illness
  • Twitter hashtag #Save_Celine is trending in the country, with calls to raise $2 million
  • “We have resorted to opening the door for donations in coordination with the Ministry of Social Solidarity,” Celine’s father told Arab News

CAIRO: Egyptians have come together to raise funds online for a baby girl suffering from a rare life-threatening disease.
Celine, who is 15 months old, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy four months ago.
The genetic condition makes the muscles weaker, and causes increasing problems with movement and breathing.
The Twitter hashtag #Save_Celine is trending in the country, with calls to raise 40 million Egyptian pounds ($2 million) to pay for expensive gene therapy medication via a Zolgensma injection.
The hashtag has been used over 100,000 times as people call for contributions to support the girl.
Similar campaigns were organized in the past for other children suffering from the same disease.
“We have resorted to opening the door for donations in coordination with the Ministry of Social Solidarity. So far, we have collected about EGP12 million for the injection,” Celine’s father told Arab News.
Ramy Elhamy, who takes part in campaigns to help sick children, told Arab News: “The injection that Celine needs is the first gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy caused by genetic changes, and gained the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration in 2019.
“It is the most expensive injection in the world, which helps treat respiratory functions and gradually puts the child on the path of normal growth. It is followed by physiotherapy and pulmonary rehabilitation.
“We launched the campaign to save Celine after the success of such campaigns for other children who had the same rare disease. We knocked on all doors to save the child, and many responded to our calls.”
Egyptian actor Mohamed Henedy shared a photo of the child with the caption: “This honey is called Celine. She suffers from a very rare disease and her condition is starting to worsen. The coming days can save Celine’s life. If you don’t know how to donate, share the hashtag, and retweet and write about Celine on your account.”
He added: “This is the simplest thing that you can offer because others can donate. All Egyptians have gathered and saved the life of Ruqayya and the life of the twins Alia and Farida, and now it is our turn, with pleasure, that we are helping Celine.”
Another actor, Ahmed Safwat, joined the donation campaign to highlight the significance of social solidarity and the ability of Egyptians to achieve this goal, as they previously did with other children.
Media personality Esaad Younis hosted Celine’s mother, Radwa Hamdi, on her program to appeal for donations.
Earlier, Hamdi had asked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for help, saying: “I am pleading with you. I know that the injection is expensive, but surely the life of my daughter and your daughter is more expensive. We are asking the state to help Celine take the Zolgensma injection, even if in turn it will take all our salaries. She is all I have.”


Israeli troops kill Palestinian after alleged car-ramming

Israeli troops kill Palestinian after alleged car-ramming
Updated 24 September 2022

Israeli troops kill Palestinian after alleged car-ramming

Israeli troops kill Palestinian after alleged car-ramming
  • The military said the soldiers opened fire when the motorist tried to run them over
  • Israeli media said the driver was killed

JERUSALEM : Israeli troops on Saturday shot and killed a Palestinian motorist who allegedly tried to ram his car into a group of soldiers patrolling in the occupied West Bank, according to Israeli soldiers and media.
The incident took place near the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank — the focal point of the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian violence in the occupied territory since 2016.
In a brief statement, the military said the soldiers opened fire when the motorist tried to run them over. Israeli media said the driver was killed. There was no way to immediately verify the account.
Palestinian assailants have carried out dozens of attempted stabbings and car rammings in recent years. But Palestinians and human rights groups say that Israeli troops often use excessive force, and in some cases, have shot people who did not pose a threat.
Israeli troops have been carrying out stepped-up activity in the northern West Bank since a series of deadly Palestinian attacks inside Israel last spring. Several attackers came from the area.
Some 90 Palestinians have been killed in the crackdown. Israel says many were militants or local youths who hurled stones and firebombs at troops, though several civilians have also died.
Early this week, Palestinian security forces, which coordinate activity with Israel, clashed with Palestinian youths in Nablus. The incident cast a spotlight on the growing ranks of Palestinian youths who see no end in sight to Israel’s 55-year military occupation and view the Palestinian Authority as a vehicle of corruption and collaboration with Israel.
Israeli officials say they are on heightened alert for violence ahead of the Jewish new year, which begins Sunday night.


Kurdish protesters rally in Irbil over Mahsa Amini’s death

Kurdish protesters rally in Irbil over Mahsa Amini’s death
Updated 24 September 2022

Kurdish protesters rally in Irbil over Mahsa Amini’s death

Kurdish protesters rally in Irbil over Mahsa Amini’s death
  • Protestors carrying placards with Amini's photograph gathered outside the UN compound in Erbil chanting "Death to the dictator"
  • "Women, Life, Freedom" chanted others

IRBIL, Iraq: Dozens of Iraqi and Iranian Kurds rallied in Iraq’s northern city of Irbil on Saturday over the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who died in the custody of Iranian police.
Protesters carrying placards with Amini’s photograph gathered outside the United Nations compound in Irbil chanting “Death to the dictator” — a reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Women, Life, Freedom” chanted others, many of whom were Iranian Kurds living in self-imposed exile in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Protests broke out in northwestern Iran a week ago at the funeral of Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died after falling into a coma following her detention by morality police enforcing hijab rules on women’s dress.
“They killed (Amini) because of a piece of hair coming out from her hijab. The youth is asking for freedom. They are asking for rights for all the people because everyone has the right to have dignity and freedom,” said protester Namam Ismaili, an Iranian Kurd from Sardasht, a Kurdish town in Iran’s northwest.
Amini’s death has reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran, the strict dress codes for women and an economy reeling from sanctions.
“We are not against religion, and we are not against Islam, we are secularists, and we want religion to be separate from politics,” said protester Maysoon Majidi, who is a Kurdish Iranian actor and director living in Irbil.