MOGADISHU: At least 10 soldiers were killed when Somalia’s Al-Shabab militants assaulted a military base in the central Galgaduud region on Monday, a military officer said, days after government forces said they had regained control of the area.
The army eventually pushed the militants out of the base in Qayib, a village captured from Al-Shabab last week, Defense Ministry spokesperson Abdullahi Ali Anod told the state news agency SONNA.
Major Mohamed Farah, a military officer in the nearby town of Bahdo, said 10 soldiers and 20 Al-Shabab fighters were killed.
“Our forces are now pursuing the Al-Shabab fighters in the jungles. There is sporadic gunfire as we chase them,” he said.
Ahmed Hassan, another military officer in Bahdo, told Reuters the attack began with two suicide car bombs, followed by hours of heavy fighting.
“Al-Shabab torched the telecommunication station of the town, and so it is off the air now,” Hassan said.
One car bomb hit a military truck guarding the base entrance, while the other was blown up outside, he said.
In a statement, Al-Shabab spokesperson Abdiasis Abu Musab said the group launched the assault in Qayib using suicide car bombs before its fighters attacked from different directions.
The fighters killed 37 soldiers and stole weapons and military vehicles, he added.
The government’s and Al-Shabab’s casualty numbers often differ.
Government forces, supported by clan militias, have made a number of battlefield gains against Al-Shabab in the last three months, regaining territory long held by the group.
In response, Al-Shabab killed at least 120 people in twin car bombs at the Education Ministry in the capital Mogadishu on Oct. 29, the deadliest blasts in five years.
The Al-Qaeda-linked group has killed tens of thousands since 2006 in its fight to overthrow Somalia’s Western-backed central government.
Kyiv says ‘managing to stabilize’ battle for Bakhmut
The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Monday that his forces were in control of around 70 percent of the city
Updated 22 min 4 sec ago
BEIJING: Ukraine said its forces were “managing to stabilize” the situation around Bakhmut, a now-destroyed city that has seen the longest battle of the Russian invasion.
Bakhmut — which once had an estimated population of around 70,000 people — has been virtually emptied of civilians over months of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
The frontline situation is “the toughest in the Bakhmut direction,” the head of Ukraine’s armed forces Valery Zaluzhny said after a phone call with Britain’s Chief of the Defense Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin.
“Due to the tremendous efforts of the Defense Forces, we are managing to stabilize the situation,” Zaluzhny said on Facebook.
Russian forces have been posting painstakingly incremental gains around the city, whose symbolic importance surpassed any military significance as the battle dragged on.
Bakhmut has been virtually emptied of civilians over months of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
According to the British Defense Ministry’s latest intelligence update on Saturday, Russia’s assault on Bakhmut “has largely stalled.”
“This is likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian forces,” the British statement read, adding that in the battle Ukraine had also “suffered heavy casualties.”
Senior Ukrainian military commander Oleksandr Syrsky said Thursday that a counter-attack could be launched soon against “exhausted” Russian forces near Bakhmut.
Syrsky’s statement came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced he had visited Ukrainian forces near the Bakhmut frontline Wednesday.
The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Monday that his forces were in control of around 70 percent of the city.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has expressed concern to China over any provision of lethal aid to support Russia in its war against Ukraine during a meeting with her Chinese counterpart.
Her press office on Saturday detailed Mahuta’s cautionary remarks in Beijing, days after Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded his trip to Moscow, a warm affair in which Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin praised each other and spoke of a profound friendship.
Mahuta’s four-day trip, which began Wednesday, was the first made by a New Zealand foreign minister to Beijing since 2018 but it came at an awkward time as Xi visited Moscow the same week to give Putin a diplomatic boost after the International Criminal Court said it wants to put him on trial for alleged war crimes.
On the Ukraine war, Mahuta reiterated her government’s condemnation of Moscow’s “illegal invasion” to her counterpart Qin Gang.
Scars of war and occupation run deep in Ukraine’s once bustling Izium
City in Kharkiv province fell to the Russians in March, only to be recaptured by Ukrainian forces in September
With 1,000 civilians dead and 80 percent of the infrastructure wrecked, the devastation visited on Izium speaks for itself
Updated 26 March 2023
IZIUM: A once bustling city with a population of around 44,000, Izium sits on the Donets River in Ukraine’s Kharkiv province. It grew rapidly after the Second World War following its liberation from German forces, becoming known for its many churches and cathedrals and a meeting point called Lenin Square, which was renamed John Lennon Square in February 2016.
These days, however, the streets of Izium are eerily quiet except for the speakers blasting out news in its main square. For many residents, it is their only way of knowing what is happening around them.
The 10,000 residents who remain live among destroyed Russian tanks and chunks of shrapnel. The city’s main bridge lies reduced to ruins. With their owners displaced or killed in the conflict, homeless pets wander the streets in search of food.
Eighty years after being destroyed by one war, Izium struggles with the ravages of another: the invasion of Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24, 2022, and the subsequent occupation.
Within a fortnight, on March 4 to be precise, Russian forces had captured Izium, which became a strategic command point for them. But six months later, in a stunning reversal of military fortune, the flag of Ukraine was hoisted over the city after a fierce counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces.
The recapture of Izium deprived Russia of the opportunity to use the city as a key base and resupply route for its forces in eastern Ukraine. But with 1,000 civilians killed and 80 percent of the infrastructure wrecked, the damage and destruction visited on Izium in the space of just one year speaks for itself.
Today’s Izium is something akin to a minefield. Residents walk the streets carefully, but safety is never guaranteed. They say the occupying soldiers left behind several types of mines hidden all over the city — alongside the river, on the streets, in front of houses, and in the woods.
Banners with the word “MINES” painted in large red letters can be found on every other street. One stands outside the city’s main hospital.
The Ukrainian government claims that Russian forces carried out 476 missile attacks on Izium, an unprecedented number even by the standards of a war characterized by heavy shelling.
At one point, Dr. Yuriy Kuznetsov, a local trauma surgeon, was the only doctor left in Izium.
“The sight of the Russian tanks rolling in through the city’s bridge remains a vivid memory. I evacuated my wife and children to safety, but I had to remain behind to take care of my bedridden mother and my disabled brother,” he told Arab News from his office in the hospital.
During the occupation, he said, the hospital faced shortages of both medicine and staff. “We tried our best to operate successfully. Our X-ray machine broke down, so at times, I had to rely on my knowledge to treat the patients. We also ran low on anesthesia. Some patients couldn’t be saved,” Kuznetsov said.
At the height of Russian control over Izium, Kuznetsov recalled, the hospital received up to 100 wounded civilians a day. The hospital building itself was partially demolished, forcing the few remaining staff to turn the basement corridors into operating rooms.
Medical workers had to rely largely on private medical donations and on the coronavirus medications they had stocked up on during the pandemic.
Electricity, though, was not a problem, according to Kuznetsov.
“We were treating those with previous ailments, wounded civilians, and mothers in labor, and we had a small generator that kept us afloat,” he told Arab News.
While the hospital is being rebuilt, Kuznetsov said, the medical workers, including himself, are forced to live in small rooms along a corridor, their homes having long been destroyed. They suffer from varying degrees of depression.
Kuznetsov said he has not seen his family for a year and now spends his days treating landmine victims.
Senior Russian officials and diplomats have repeatedly defended what they call “the special military operation” in Ukraine and rejected accusations of criminal violence against civilians.
“The special military operation takes place in accordance with the fundamental provisions of the UN Charter, which gives states the right for legitimate self-defense in the event of a threat of use of force, which we have exercised,” Sergei Kozlov, the Russian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, wrote in an Arab News op-ed in February.
“As you can see, Russia follows the true spirit of international law, not some kind of ‘rules-based order,’ arbitrarily introduced by the West and its henchmen.”
Five km away from the city center, in a silent pine forest, lies a grim reminder of Izium’s darkest days. More than 440 people, only a tiny percentage of whom were said to be soldiers, lie buried in makeshift graves with wooden crosses planted atop each one. Some crosses have names and times of death listed, while others have only numbers.
The mass graves were discovered on the return of Ukrainian forces to Izium in September 2022. Bodies that were exhumed showed signs of torture. Several had their hands tied, and one had a rope around his neck. Other victims’ skulls contain several bullets.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Pesko dismissed the allegations as a “lie” and said Russia “will, of course, defend the truth in this case.”
A team of both international and Ukrainian investigators now has the painstaking work of identifying the victims. Many families eagerly wait to find out the fate of their loved ones and give them a proper burial.
At Izium’s Auto Stop Cafe, Olga Alekseychuk makes food and serves coffee. The cafe belongs to her relatives, who offered her the job of looking after it.
“It’s a pity to have lost our homes,” she told Arab News. “The winter of the occupation was very difficult to deal with. We kept warm by wearing many layers of clothes and by boiling water and huddling near the pot.”
From 5 to 11 p.m., Alekseychuk said, she and her family hid in their basement to keep safe; at times, they spent entire nights there.
“This war ruined countless lives, and it is not yet over. The Russians left, but we now face a mine problem. Just a few days ago, a friend’s wife stepped on one. Luckily, she survived, but she suffered very bad injuries,” she said.
Alekseychuk said the life the people of Izium knew is over. “We now lead primitive lives. It is almost a luxury to have a Wi-Fi connection. People are walking around like zombies — no money, no jobs, no homes.”
Her sentiment was echoed by a woman who runs a small food kiosk nearby. The woman, who did not want to give her name, told Arab News she practically lived in her basement and had taken to boiling water to keep warm with her son. They survived on canned food.
In addition to the physical damage on a colossal scale, life in Izium remains blighted by anguish and trauma months after the departure of the occupying troops.
“The memories they’ve created for us will never leave us. My mental health problems spiraled after the occupiers left. I was in survival mode while they were here,” Alekseychuk said.
“Now I don’t know how to readjust back to normal life, which isn’t normal at all anymore.”
On a recent day, a group of teenage girls sat near the food kiosk. They said that during the six months of occupation, they had spent their time playing cards and board games while being confined to their homes.
There was nothing else to do, they told Arab News. Nevertheless, they were happy simply to have their internet connection back.
The cost of Izium’s reconstruction is yet to be determined, with some experts saying it could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
While some small businesses have reopened, the economic revival of the city is still a long way off.
Most citizens expect financial assistance from Ukraine’s government, but how the authorities intend to decide on the allocation of funds remains unclear, especially given that most of its budget is still earmarked for fighting off Russian forces.
As for the citizens of Izium, they are waiting not only for the reconstruction of their city, but of their lives too.
“Everybody needs mental health services now,” the food kiosk owner said.
Putin says Russia will station tactical nukes in Belarus
Putin said the move was triggered by Britain’s decision this past week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium
The Russian leader earlier made a false claim that the rounds have nuclear components
Updated 26 March 2023
MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans on Saturday to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, a warning to the West as it steps up military support for Ukraine.
Putin said the move was triggered by Britain’s decision this past week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium. The Russian leader earlier made a false claim that the rounds have nuclear components.
He subsequently toned down his language, but insisted in a state television interview broadcast Saturday night that the ammunition posed an additional danger to both troops and civilians in Ukraine.
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended for use on the battlefield, unlike more powerful, longer-range strategic nuclear weapons. Russia plans to maintain control over the ones it plans to Belarus, and construction of storage facilities for them will be completed by July 1, Putin said.
Putin didn’t say how many nuclear weapons Russia would keep in Belarus. The US government believes Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which include bombs that can be carried by tactical aircraft, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery rounds.
In his interview, Putin argued that by deploying its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia was following the lead of the United States, noting that the US has nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkiye.
“We are doing what they have been doing for decades, stationing them in certain allied countries, preparing the launch platforms and training their crews,” Putin said. “We are going to do the same thing.”
Russia has stored its tactical nuclear weapons at dedicated depots on its territory, and moving part of the arsenal to a storage facility in Belarus would up the ante in the Ukrainian conflict by placing them closer to the Russian aircraft and missiles already stationed there.
Some hawkish commentators in Russia long have urged the Kremlin to put the tactical nuclear weapons close to the weapons to send a signal to the West about the readiness to use them.
Putin said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has long asked for the nuclear weapons as a counter to NATO. Belarus shares borders with three NATO members — Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — and Russia used its territory as a staging ground to send troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
Putin noted that Russia helped modernize Belarusian military aircraft last year to make them capable of carrying nuclear warheads. He said 10 such planes were ready to go. He said nuclear weapons also could be launched by the Iskander short-range missiles that Russia provided to Belarus last year.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is living in exile, said the agreement to transfer the tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus “underlines the threat to regional security” from Lukashenko’s regime.
“Europe won’t be safe until Belarus dictator is removed & brought before tribunal to face justice for crimes against our country & Ukraine,” Tsikhanouskaya wrote in English on Twitter.
While discussing in his state TV interview the depleted uranium rounds that Britain promised to ship to Ukraine, Putin charged the ammunition would leave a radioactive trace and contaminate agricultural land.
“Those weapons are harmful not just for combatants, but also for the people living in those territories and for the environment,” he said.
Putin added that Russia has vast stockpiles of similar ammunition but so far has refrained from using them.
Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process needed to create nuclear weapons. The rounds can’t generate a nuclear reaction but they do emit low levels of radiation. The UN nuclear watchdog has warned of the possible dangers of exposure.
Such rounds were developed by the US during the Cold War to destroy Soviet tanks, including the same T-72 tanks that Ukraine now faces in its push to break through a stalemate in the east.
Pro-Palestinian activists call for Israel’s Netanyahu to be arrested for war crimes during London visit
Updated 25 March 2023
LONDON: “Anti-apartheid campaigners” have called for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be arrested for war crimes on Friday, as he met with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street in London, organizers said.
This comes after the International Center of Justice for Palestinians called on the British government to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Palestine.
“Netanyahu has violated the laws of war several times during his 15 years as Israeli prime minister, constituting war crimes under international law,” said Friends of Al-Aqsa, a UK-based nongovernmental organization concerned with defending the human rights of Palestinians and protecting the Al-Aqsa sanctuary.
“For 15 years, Netanyahu has personally overseen the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns and villages and the targeted killing of Palestinian men, women and children living under illegal Israeli occupation…Today, we are holding him to account for these war crimes” said Shamiul Joarder, head of public affairs at FOA.
“The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for Putin, but what about Netanyahu? Sunak should be holding Netanyahu to account, not signing agreements to strengthen ties with an apartheid state and welcoming a war criminal to Downing Street.”
FOA said that Netanyahu’s visit comes after a “2030 roadmap for UK-Israel relations” was signed earlier this week.
“Yet the first three months of 2023 have seen some of the worst Israeli violence against Palestinians in decades, (and) Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed at least 89 Palestinians, including 15 children,” the NGO said.
FOA added that Israel’s attacks on residential buildings in Gaza under Netanyahu’s premiership in the summer of 2021 and 2022 were widely condemned as war crimes.
“These brutal bombardments killed 66 Palestinian children and on May 16, 2021, Israel deliberately targeted two residential buildings of the Abu Al-Ouf and Al-Kolaq families, killing 30 family members including 11 children.
“Israel’s use of live ammunition against Palestinians who posed no imminent threat to life at the Great March of Return protests in 2018 and 2019 — including medics and journalists — has also been widely condemned as a war crime under international law,” it added.
“Netanyahu also oversaw Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2014, which left 1,000 Palestinian children permanently disabled.”
’Everything wiped away’: Tornado kills at least 26 in Mississippi
Tornado continued sweeping northeast at 70 mph without weakening
Tens of thousands of people in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee remained without power
Updated 10 sec ago
ROLLING FORK, Mississippi: Rescuers raced Saturday to search for survivors and help hundreds of people left homeless after a powerful tornado cut a devastating path through Mississippi, killing at least 25 people, injuring dozens, and flattening entire blocks as it carved a path of destruction for more than an hour. One person was killed in Alabama.
The tornado devastated a swath of the Mississippi Delta town of Rolling Fork, reducing homes to piles of rubble, flipping cars on their sides and toppling the town’s water tower. Residents hunkered down in bath tubs and hallways during Friday night’s storm and later broke into a John Deere store that they converted into a triage center for the wounded.
“There’s nothing left,” said Wonder Bolden, holding her granddaughter, Journey, while standing outside the remnants of her mother’s now-leveled mobile home in Rolling Fork. “There’s just the breeze that’s running, going through — just nothing.”
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced late Saturday afternoon in a tweet that the death toll had risen to 25 and that dozens of people were injured. Four people previously reported missing had been found.
Other parts of the Deep South were digging out from damage caused by other suspected twisters. One man died in Morgan County, Alabama, the sheriff’s department there said in a tweet.
Throughout Saturday, survivors walked around dazed and in shock as they broke through debris and fallen trees with chain saws, searching for survivors. Power lines were pinned under decades-old oaks, their roots torn from the ground.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued a State of Emergency and vowed to help rebuild as he headed to view the damage in an area speckled with wide expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish farming ponds. President Joe Biden also promised federal help, describing the damage as “heartbreaking.”
The damage in Rolling Fork was so widespread that several storm chasers — who follow severe weather and often put up livestreams showing dramatic funnel clouds — pleaded for search and rescue help. Others abandoned the chase to drive injured people to the hospital.
It didn’t help that the community hospital on the west side of town was damaged, forcing patients to be transferred. The tornado also mangled a cotton warehouse and ripped the steeple off a Baptist church.
Sheddrick Bell, his partner and two daughters crouched in a closet of their Rolling Fork home for 15 minutes as the tornado barreled through. Windows broke as his daughters cried and his partner prayed.
Perrilloux said preliminary findings are that the tornado began its path of destruction just southwest of Rolling Fork before continuing northeast toward the rural communities of Midnight and Silver City, then moving toward Tchula, Black Hawk and Winona.
The supercell that produced the deadly twister also appeared to produce tornadoes that caused damage in northwest and north-central Alabama, said Brian Squitieri, a severe storms forecaster with the weather service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
In northern Alabama’s Morgan County, a 67-year-old man who became trapped beneath a trailer that flipped over during severe overnight storms was rescued by first responders, but he died later at a hospital, AL.com reported.
Even as survey teams work to assess how many tornadoes struck and their severity, the Storm Prediction Center warned of the potential for hail, wind and possibly a few tornadoes Sunday in parts of Mississippi and Louisiana.
Cornel Knight waited at a relative’s home in Rolling Fork for the tornado to strike with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. Despite the darkness, its path was visible.
“You could see the direction from every transformer that blew,” he said. Just a cornfield away from where he was, the twister struck another relative’s home, collapsing a wall and trapping several people.
Royce Steed, the emergency manager in Humphreys County where Silver City is located, likened the damage to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“It is almost complete devastation,” he said after crews finished searching buildings and switched to damage assessments. “This little old town, I don’t know what the population is, it is more or less wiped off the map.”
In the town, the roof had torn off Noel Crook’s home.
“Yesterday was yesterday and that’s gone – there’s nothing I can do about it,” Crook said. “Tomorrow is not here yet. You don’t have any control over it, so here I am today.”
The tornado looked so powerful on radar as it neared the town of Amory, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Tupelo, that one Mississippi meteorologist paused to say a prayer after new radar information came in.
“Oh man,” WTVA’s Matt Laubhan said on the live broadcast. “Dear Jesus, please help them. Amen.”
Now that town is boiling its water, and a curfew is in effect. Three shelters in the state are feeding the throngs of displaced people.
“It’s a priceless feeling to see the gratitude on people’s faces to know they’re getting a hot meal,” said William Trueblood, of the Salvation Army, as he headed to the area, picking up supplies along the way.
Despite the damage, there were signs of improvement. Power outages, which at one point were affecting more than 75,000 customers in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, had been cut by a third by midafternoon Saturday, according to poweroutage.us.
Meteorologists saw a big tornado risk coming for the general region as much as a week in advance, said Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Walker Ashley.
Tornado experts like Ashley have been warning about increased risk exposure in the region because of people building more.
“You mix a particularly socioeconomically vulnerable landscape with a fast-moving, long-track nocturnal tornado, and, disaster will happen,” Ashley said in an email.