UN rights council to hold urgent session on Iran

UN rights council to hold urgent session on Iran
At least 326 people have been killed in the Iranian crackdown on the protests, according to Iran Human Rights. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 November 2022

UN rights council to hold urgent session on Iran

UN rights council to hold urgent session on Iran
  • Decision comes after the German and Icelandic ambassadors to the UN in Geneva submitted a request for such a meeting late on Friday
  • So far, 44 countries, including 17 Council members, have backed the call

GENEVA: The UN Human Rights Council announced on Monday it would hold an urgent session this month on Iran, where a brutal crackdown on mass protests has left hundreds dead.
The United Nations’ highest rights body said a special session on “the deteriorating human rights situation” in Iran would be held on November 24.
The decision comes after the German and Icelandic ambassadors to the UN in Geneva submitted a request for such a meeting late on Friday.
The support of 16 of the Human Rights Council’s 47 members — more than a third — is required to convene a special session outside the three regular ones held each year.
So far, 44 countries, including 17 Council members, have backed the call, the body said.
The request follows eight weeks of protests in Iran, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress rules for women based on Islamic sharia law.
At least 326 people have been killed in the crackdown on the protests, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR), as the demonstrations have grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since the 1979 fall of the shah.
Thousands of peaceful protesters have also been arrested, according to UN rights experts, including many women, children, lawyers, activists and journalists.


Syria’s White Helmets rescuers urge international quake help

Syria’s White Helmets rescuers urge international quake help
Updated 26 min 31 sec ago

Syria’s White Helmets rescuers urge international quake help

Syria’s White Helmets rescuers urge international quake help

BEIRUT: The White Helmets leading efforts to rescue people buried under rubble in rebel-held areas of earthquake-hit Syria appealed Wednesday for international help in their “race against time.”
First responders from the group that was formed a decade ago to save the lives of civilians during Syria’s civil war sprung into action early Monday when a 7.8-magnitude quake rocked Syria and Turkiye.
They have been toiling ever since to pull survivors out from under the debris of dozens of flattened buildings in northwestern areas of war-torn Syria that remain outside the government’s control.
In a video widely shared on social media, crowds of people surrounding the White Helmets cheered loudly as they lifted a young girl and her entire family from a collapsed building in Idlib province.
“International rescue teams must come into our region,” said Mohammed Shibli, a spokesperson for the group known formally as the Syria Civil Defense.
“People are dying every second; we are in a race against time,” he told AFP from neighboring Turkiye.
Monday’s earthquake devastated entire sections of major cities in Turkiye and Syria, killing more than 9,500 people, injuring thousands more and leaving many more without shelter in the winter cold.
In Syria alone at least 2,597 people have been killed, according to the government and the White Helmets.
Shibli said it was “impossible” for the group to respond to the large-scale calamity alone in the rebel-held northwest, home to more than four million people.
“Even states can’t do that,” he said, adding that the group’s volunteers have not had time to reach all of the disaster-struck places.
Britain announced Wednesday that it would release an additional 800,000 pounds ($968,000) to aid the rescue group.
The White Helmets emerged in 2013, when Syria’s civil war was nearing its third year, and operates in battered opposition-held zones.
They have been internationally praised for their work, with a Netflix documentary called “The White Helmets” winning an Academy Award in 2017, while a second film focused on the group, “Last Men in Aleppo,” was a 2018 Oscars nominee.
Their volunteers include 3,300 young men and women, including 1,600 dedicated to search and rescue operations.
“After 56 hours of continuous work... hundreds of families are still missing or trapped under the rubble,” Shibli said.
“People’s chances of survival are declining” in the biting cold, he said.
The rescue group needs heavy machinery, spare parts for the ones they already have, and equipment, “but when will we get them,” Shibli asked.
AFP correspondents across the war-ravaged country said rescue workers and residents have had to sift through the rubble with their bare hands.
White Helmets volunteer Fatima Obeid told AFP teams were busy at work despite exhaustion.
“Being able to pull survivors brings them indescribable joy and excitement,” she said from Sarmada in Idlib.


Israel steps up Jerusalem home demolitions as violence rises

Israel steps up Jerusalem home demolitions as violence rises
Updated 08 February 2023

Israel steps up Jerusalem home demolitions as violence rises

Israel steps up Jerusalem home demolitions as violence rises
  • National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called for the immediate demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes built without permits in east Jerusalem
  • For many Palestinians the pace of home demolitions is part of the new ultranationalist government’s broader battle for control of east Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Ratib Matar’s family was growing. They needed more space.
Before his granddaughters, now 4 and 5, were born, he built three apartments on an eastern slope overlooking Jerusalem’s ancient landscape. The 50-year-old construction contractor moved in with his brother, son, divorced daughter and their young kids — 11 people in all, plus a few geese.
But Matar was never at ease. At any moment, the Israeli code-enforcement officers could knock on his door and take everything away.
That moment came on Jan. 29, days after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people in east Jerusalem, the deadliest attack in the contested capital since 2008. Israel’s new far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called not only for the sealing of the assailant’s family home, but also the immediate demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes built without permits in east Jerusalem, among other punitive steps.
Mere hours after Ben-Gvir’s comments, the first bulldozers rumbled into Matar’s neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber.
For many Palestinians, the gathering pace of home demolitions is part of the new ultranationalist government’s broader battle for control of east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future independent state.
The battle is waged with building permits and demolition orders — and it is one the Palestinians feel they cannot win. Israel says it is simply enforcing building regulations.
“Our construction is under siege from Israel,” Matar said. His brothers and sons lingered beside the ruins of their home, drinking bitter coffee and receiving visitors as though in mourning. “We try really hard to build, but in vain,” he said.
Last month, Israel demolished 39 Palestinian homes, structures and businesses in east Jerusalem, displacing over 50 people, according to the United Nations. That was more than a quarter of the total number of demolitions in 2022. Ben-Gvir posted a photo on Twitter of the bulldozers clawing at Matar’s home.
“We will fight terrorism with all the means at our disposal,” he wrote, though Matar’s home had nothing to do with the Palestinian shooting attacks.
Most Palestinian apartments in east Jerusalem were built without hard-to-get permits. A 2017 study by the UN described it as “virtually impossible” to secure them.
The Israeli municipality allocates scant land for Palestinian development, the report said, while facilitating the expansion of Israeli settlements. Little Palestinian property was registered before Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967, a move not internationally recognized.
Matar said the city rejected his building permit application twice because his area is not zoned for residential development. He’s now trying a third time.
The penalty for unauthorized building is often demolition. If families don’t tear their houses down themselves, the government charges them for the job. Matar is dreading his bill — he knows neighbors who paid over $20,000 to have their houses razed.
Now homeless, Matar and his family are staying with relatives. He vows to build again on land he inherited from his grandparents, though he has no faith in the Israeli legal system.
“They don’t want a single Palestinian in all of Jerusalem,” Matar said. Uphill, in the heart of his neighborhood, Israeli flags fluttered from dozens of apartments recently built for religious Jews.
Since 1967, the government has built 58,000 homes for Israelis in the eastern part of the city, and fewer than 600 for Palestinians, said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer specializing in the geopolitics of Jerusalem, citing the government’s statistics bureau and his own analysis. In that time, the city’s Palestinian population has soared by 400 percent.
“The planning regime is dictated by the calculus of national struggle,” Seidemann said.
Israel’s city plans show state parks encircling the Old City, with some 60 percent of Jabal Mukaber zoned as green space, off-limits to Palestinian development. At least 20,000 Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem are now slated for demolition, watchdogs say.
Matar and his neighbors face an agonizing choice: Build illegally and live under constant threat of demolition, or leave their birthplace for the occupied West Bank, sacrificing Jerusalem residency rights that allow them to work and travel relatively freely throughout Israel.
While there are no reliable figures for permit approvals, the Israeli municipality set aside just over 7 percent of its 21,000 housing plans for Palestinian homes in 2019, reported Ir Amim, an anti-settlement advocacy group. Palestinians are nearly 40 percent of the city’s roughly 1 million people.
“This is the purpose of this policy,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir Amim. “Palestinians are forced to leave Jerusalem.”
Arieh King, a Jerusalem deputy mayor and settler leader, acknowledged that demolitions help Israel entrench control over east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most important religious sites.
“It’s part of enforcing sovereignty,” King said. “I’m happy that at last we have a minister that understands,” he added, referring to Ben-Gvir.
Ben-Gvir is now pushing for the destruction of an apartment tower housing 100 people. Trying to lower tensions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed the eviction that was planned for Tuesday, Israeli media reported.
King contended it was possible for Palestinians to secure permits and accused them of building without authorization to avoid an expensive bureaucracy.
When the Al-Abasi family in east Jerusalem found a demolition order plastered on their new breeze-block home last month, they contemplated their options. The government had knocked down their last apartment, built on the same lot, eight years ago. This time, Jaafar Al-Abasi decided, he would tear it down himself.
Al-Abasi hired a tractor and invited his relatives and neighbors to join. The destruction took three days, with breaks for hummus and soda. His three sons borrowed pickaxes and jackhammers, angrily hacking away at the walls they had decorated with colored plates just last month.
“This place is like a ticking time bomb,” said his brother in law, 48-year-old Mustafa Samhouri, who helped them out.
Protests over the demolitions have roiled east Jerusalem in recent days. Two weekends ago, Samhouri said, the family’s 13-year-old cousin opened fire at Jewish settlers in the neighborhood of Silwan just across the valley, wounding two people before being shot and arrested.
“The pressure just grows more and more,” Samhouri said. “And at last, boom.”


Crews find survivors, many dead after Turkiye, Syria quake

Crews find survivors, many dead after Turkiye, Syria quake
Updated 08 February 2023

Crews find survivors, many dead after Turkiye, Syria quake

Crews find survivors, many dead after Turkiye, Syria quake
  • Search teams from more than two dozen countries joined more than 24,000 Turkish emergency personnel
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 13 million of the country’s 85 million people were affected

GAZIANTEP, Turkiye: Thinly-stretched rescue teams worked through the night into Wednesday, pulling more bodies from the rubble of thousands of buildings downed in Turkiye and Syria by a catastrophic earthquake that killed more than 7,700, their grim task occasionally punctuated by the joy of finding someone still alive.
Nearly two days after the magnitude 7.8 quake struck southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria, rescuers pulled a three-year-old boy, Arif Kaan, from beneath the rubble of a collapsed apartment building in Kahramanmaras, a city not far from the epicenter.
With the boy’s lower body trapped under slabs of concrete and twisted rebar, emergency crews lay a blanket over his torso to protect him from below-freezing temperatures as they carefully cut the debris away from him, mindful of the possibility of triggering another collapse.
The boy’s father, Ertugrul Kisi, who himself had been rescued earlier, sobbed as his son was pulled free and loaded into an ambulance.
“For now, the name of hope in Kahramanmaras is Arif Kaan,” a Turkish television reporter proclaimed as the dramatic rescue was broadcast to the country.
A few hours later, rescuers pulled 10-year-old Betul Edis from the rubble of her home in the city of Adiyaman. Amid applause from onlookers, her grandfather kissed her and spoke softly to her as she was loaded on an ambulance.
But such stories were few more than two days after Monday’s pre-dawn earthquake, which hit a huge area and brought down thousands of buildings, with frigid temperatures and ongoing aftershocks complicating rescue efforts.
Search teams from more than two dozen countries joined more than 24,000 Turkish emergency personnel, and aid pledges poured in.


But with devastation spread multiple several cities and towns — some isolated by Syria’s ongoing conflict — voices crying from within mounds of rubble fell silent, and despair grew from those still waiting for help.
In Syria, the shaking toppled thousands of buildings and heaped more misery on a region wracked by the country’s 12-year civil war and refugee crisis.
On Monday afternoon in a northwestern Syrian town, residents found a crying newborn still connected by the umbilical cord to her deceased mother. The baby was the only member of her family to survive a building collapse in the small town of Jinderis, relatives told The Associated Press.
Turkiye is home to millions of refugees from the war. The affected area in Syria is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, where millions rely on humanitarian aid.
As many as 23 million people could be affected in the quake-hit region, according to Adelheid Marschang, a senior emergencies officer with the World Health Organization, who called it a “crisis on top of multiple crises.”
Many survivors in Turkiye have had to sleep in cars, outside or in government shelters.
“We don’t have a tent, we don’t have a heating stove, we don’t have anything. Our children are in bad shape. We are all getting wet under the rain and our kids are out in the cold,” Aysan Kurt, 27, told the AP. “We did not die from hunger or the earthquake, but we will die freezing from the cold.”


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 13 million of the country’s 85 million people were affected, and he declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces. More than 8,000 people have been pulled from the debris in Turkiye, and some 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, authorities said.
In Syria, aid efforts have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held region along the border, which is surrounded by Russia-backed government forces. Syria itself is an international pariah under Western sanctions linked to the war.
The United Nations said it was “exploring all avenues” to get supplies to the rebel-held northwest.
Turkiye’s Vice President Fuat Oktoy said at least 5,894 people have died from the earthquake in Turkiye, with another 34,810 injured.
The death toll in government-held areas of Syria has climbed to 812, with some 1,400 injured, according to the Health Ministry. At least 1,020 people have died in the rebel-held northwest, according to volunteer first responders known as the White Helmets, with more than 2,300 injured.
The region sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkiye in 1999.


US says helping quake-hit Syria but not Assad

US says helping quake-hit Syria but not Assad
Updated 08 February 2023

US says helping quake-hit Syria but not Assad

US says helping quake-hit Syria but not Assad
  • The United States has refused normalization of relations with Syrian President Bashar Assad or any direct reconstruction aid, seeking accountability for abuses during the brutal nearly 12-year civil war

WASHINGTON: The United States said Tuesday it was working with partners to provide earthquake relief in Syria but would stand firm against working with the Damascus government.
The United States also said it expected to send further assistance to Turkiye after sending two rescue teams to the NATO ally, which suffered heavily as well in Sunday’s earthquake.
“In Syria itself we have US-funded humanitarian partners that are coordinating lifesaving assistance,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters as he met his Austrian counterpart.
“We’re committed to providing that assistance to help people in Syria recover from this disaster, just as we have been their leading humanitarian donor since the start of the war in Syria itself,” Blinken said.
“I want to emphasize here that these funds, of course, go to the Syrian people — not to the regime. That won’t change.”
The United States has refused normalization of relations with Syrian President Bashar Assad or any direct reconstruction aid, seeking accountability for abuses during the brutal nearly 12-year civil war.
Assad has wrested back most of the country and over the past year has been restoring relations with other Arab nations as well as Turkiye.
Stephen Allen, who is leading the response on the ground for the US Agency for International Development, said that most of the damage was in areas not under Assad’s control and that USAID had local partners there.
USAID is reorienting assistance that was already in place to help war-hit Syrians, instead focusing on rescue efforts and other immediate needs including providing shelter and food, Allen said.
“We’ve got the full gamut of humanitarian response going in northwest Syria right now,” Allen told reporters.
He declined to name the non-governmental groups working with the United States, citing operational security.
The United States has announced that it was sending two rescue teams to NATO ally Turkiye. Allen said the teams would arrive Wednesday morning and head to the city of Adiyaman, where search efforts have so far been limited.
The teams, coming on two C-130 transport aircraft, are bringing 158 personnel, 12 dogs and 170,000 pounds (77,100 kilograms) of specialized equipment, he said.
“What we’re focused on right now in Turkiye is getting those teams out and saving lives, to put it bluntly,” Allen said from Ankara.
“If they need further assistance when it comes to populations who may be without housing or need immediate assistance, we are certainly ready to provide that,” he said.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake has killed more than 7,100 people in the two countries, according to officials and medics.

 


Israeli court delays demolition of West Bank village again

Israeli court delays demolition of West Bank village again
Updated 08 February 2023

Israeli court delays demolition of West Bank village again

Israeli court delays demolition of West Bank village again
  • Right-wing Israeli group Regavim had taken the government to court in order to force officials to raze the village
  • Opponents to the demolition believe levelling Khan Al-Ahmar would pave the way for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the area

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday approved a new delay to the controversial demolition of a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank.
The Khan Al-Ahmar community, which lies on a strategic highway east of Jerusalem, was slated for demolition in 2018 after a ruling that it was built without Israeli permits.
Right-wing Israeli group Regavim had taken the government to court in order to force officials to raze the village, whose 200 residents have drawn international support.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration, which took office in December, had requested more time to decide on Khan Al-Ahmar’s fate, telling the court it needed an extension before presenting a plan to demolish the village.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court granted a delay until May 1 but expressed regret that the government was “satisfied with the current situation... postponing its response every few months.”
Prior administrations have delayed their decision on Khan Al-Ahmar eight times.
Opponents to the demolition believe levelling Khan Al-Ahmar would pave the way for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the area, effectively forming a barrier between annexed east Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
Israel has been under international pressure to block the demolition, with European diplomats most recently visiting the community on January 30.
Khan Al-Ahmar is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control and where it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain construction permits.
The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.