Official claims deadly Gaza Strip house fire caused by party stunt

Official claims deadly Gaza Strip house fire caused by party stunt
Palestinian men walk past a building where a fire broke out the day before in the top floor apartment, in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza strip, on November 18, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 20 November 2022

Official claims deadly Gaza Strip house fire caused by party stunt

Official claims deadly Gaza Strip house fire caused by party stunt
  • The blaze killed 22 members of the same family and there were no survivors who could have described the events

GAZA CITY: Investigators said on Sunday that last week’s massive apartment fire in the Gaza Strip was ignited accidentally by a man using gasoline in a party trick, but did not explain how they reached that conclusion. 

The blaze killed 22 members of the same family and there were no survivors who could have described the events.

The fire had erupted on Thursday in the third-floor apartment of the Abu Raya family home in the crowded Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. 

Officials initially said 21 people were killed. 

Gaza Attorney-General Mohammed Al-Nahal said on Sunday the death toll reached 22.

He said that Nader Abu Raya invited his parents, siblings and their children to celebrate the return of his older brother from a trip abroad. 

With all the guests together at the family home, Nader began preparing in the living room what was suggested to be a party trick involving gasoline, Al-Nahal said.

“The cause of the blaze was Nader using gasoline in a celebratory show with fire during the party,” the Hamas-appointed attorney general said in a statement. 

“He lost control and the flame reached the gasoline container nearby and the fire erupted.”

The resulting blaze was the deadliest incident in recent years outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Those killed were from three generations — a couple, their five sons and one daughter, two daughters-in-law and at least 11 grandchildren.

Neighbors tried to get to the burning floor but were delayed by the outside door of the three-story building which was locked.

Investigators talked to a relative of Nader Abu Raya who does not live in the building. 

The woman said that he liked to perform party stunts with fire. 

The prosecutor presented previously recorded videos from Nader’s mobile phone. 

He said the videos showed a home packed with potentially flammable objects, including painted car tires hanging from the ceiling.

Initially, Hamas said the fire broke out due to the storage of gasoline, which is not uncommon given the severe energy crisis engulfing Gaza since the Hamas group took over control in 2007. 

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on the territory at the time to isolate Hamas.

The fire further exposed Gaza’s poor infrastructure. 

Witnesses said a lone fire truck arrived at the scene, but it was not equipped with a ladder to get firefighters to the third floor.

Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas from stockpiling weapons. 

Critics view it as a form of collective punishment against Gaza’s 2.3 million residents.


There is no ‘silver bullet to defeat extremism,’ says Whispered in Gaza creator Joseph Braude on Hamas oppression of enclave’s civilians

There is no ‘silver bullet to defeat extremism,’ says Whispered in Gaza creator Joseph Braude on Hamas oppression of enclave’s civilians
Updated 17 sec ago

There is no ‘silver bullet to defeat extremism,’ says Whispered in Gaza creator Joseph Braude on Hamas oppression of enclave’s civilians

There is no ‘silver bullet to defeat extremism,’ says Whispered in Gaza creator Joseph Braude on Hamas oppression of enclave’s civilians
  • Iran’s obsession with dominance both at home and in the region endangers many globally, says Braude
  • Braude spoke with “Frankly Speaking” following the release of a series of stories from the Gaza Strip

LONDON: As Hamas maintains a tight communication blockade across the Gaza Strip, people under the authoritarian rule of the Iran-sponsored militia feel desperate for a platform to share their ordeal. 

“There have been a lot of attempts by Gazans on their own, acting with great courage, to contact the outside world through social media and so on, that have come to nothing because Hamas suppresses them. So, we wanted to find a creative way to build a platform for them. And we found a way to do it using technology and animation and so on,” Joseph Braude, president of the US-based Center for Peace Communications, said on Arab News’ “Frankly Speaking.” 

In January, CPC released a number of accounts describing life in Gaza under Hamas rule. The 25-story series, entitled “Whispered in Gaza,” was published on multiple media outlets in at least five languages — Arabic, English, French, Farsi and Spanish.

Appearing on the flagship current affairs talk show, Braude said: “The nature of the incidents that are being described is very widespread in Gaza. The stories of flight by sea, the stories of racketeering and the shaking down of small-time merchants by Hamas, and so on.

“So, these are widespread phenomena and what you are seeing, including the opinions that are being described, are wholly in line with the findings of all of those polls and journalists and human rights investigators that do their work.”

The diverse accounts detail the various oppression and repression techniques employed by Hamas to stifle anyone who challenges the status quo, raising concerns about going on record or speaking with foreign media and organizations. 

“Some of the speakers, by their own accounts, as you see in the video, previously were jailed by Hamas for doing exactly what they were doing when they spoke to us: trying to tell their stories to the outside world,” Braude told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen. 

He added: “We committed to them that we would not show their faces and that we would technologically alter their voices so that there would be a measure of anonymity provided to them. 

“So, on the one hand, the stories are being told without their faces shown, which they might have done in the past. On the other hand, they are reaching a much larger audience because the tragedy of this communications blockade by Hamas is that they’ve been successful in taking down content that Gazans attempt to put up.

“But here, we have built a substantial distribution channel on four continents, and the material is everywhere. It proliferates and it is impossible to take it down, even though Hamas has tried.”  

CPC shared a tweet on Jan. 24 stating that days after the series’ launch, “it was swarmed by pro-Hamas accounts” attacking the project. In the Twitter thread, CPC wrote that a user accused one of the Gazan speakers “of being an intelligence officer.”

Braude said that this Twitter attack “shows that Hamas doesn’t want these voices to be heard,” accusing the movement of “attempting to globalize” their “repression of free expression” and “suppress global free expression.” 

He highlighted that the real danger, which affects many beyond Gaza’s borders, is posed by Iran and its proxies, including Hamas. 

Hamas has been supported by the Iranian regime since the 1990s, when 418 leading Hamas figures were deported to Lebanon by Israel and started cooperating with the Iran-backed Hezbollah, according to the Washington Institute. 

“Everybody is in danger from these groups,” Braude said. “They are persecuted and the first victims are the people who live under their rule.

“I don’t even really know how to describe a situation that is so broad,” he continued, underlining that many people are “endangered” by “Iran’s attempts to maintain its dominance both of its own country and of large portions of the region.”

Braude added: “That is why you are seeing it in Iran, (and) you are seeing it in Gaza now: People want something different. They want a better future. They want security as well and stability.” 

With over 80 percent of people in the coastal strip living below the poverty line and 64 percent currently food insecure, as per figures from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, an increasing number of Gazans drown at sea fleeing the conflict-ridden territory in the quest for better lives.

Meanwhile, high-profile Hamas leaders lead luxurious lives abroad and retreat to ritzy hotels in Beirut and Istanbul, where they also own profitable real estate businesses, AFP reported last month. 

Concurring that the lavish lifestyle Hamas leaders enjoy has stirred resentment among Gazans, Braude pointed out that Hamas’ growing image problem due to economic disparities has emerged in several of the recorded testimonies. 

“While the majority of Gazans are denied access to the aid and support that comes in from multiple sources in the world, the Hamas leadership and their families and the small circle of elites that surround them are living in the lap of luxury,” he said. 

“So, yeah, it’s not bad to live in Gaza if you are a stalwart of Hamas, particularly at the leadership level.” 

Emphasizing the importance of the world joining forces to put an end to these injustices, Braude said he hoped the 25 testimonies would start “a new conversation” by introducing policymakers and world leaders to “a new way of thinking about the realities, more and greater understanding of what people want in Gaza, how people feel about those who control their Strip.” 

He argued that such creative endeavors have the potential to empower many Gazans, eventually and hopefully enabling “the educational conditions to improve (and) information to travel more freely.”

Braude urged the world “not to wait until the ongoing military stalemate is resolved” and to instead “find answers now, to find steps that can be taken now” and harness “the tools that the 21st century has brought to the world,” as he sees “no end in sight” to the current dire situation in Gaza. 

“And so, we hope we’re starting a new conversation,” he said. 

However, Israeli forces have been for decades committing systematic human rights violations against Palestinians, including minors, according to Amnesty International, which pointed out on June 17, 2022, that “some 170 Palestinians currently imprisoned were arrested when they were children.”

Amnesty International also condemned Israel for the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11, 2022. 

Asked if he condemned Israel’s human rights violations, Braude responded: “There are quite a few people in this series who say, forthrightly, that they were in favor of the first and the second intifadas, but fault Hamas for going on to start wars with Israel that it could not win and then hide in bunkers and leave civilians to suffer the casualties.” 

Citing one of the testimonies by a man who refused to let Hamas dictate how he resists the Israeli occupation, Braude said: “Hamas — by launching wars, provoking reactions that cause civilian casualties but…do not advance the Palestinian cause — is forcing people to go by its playbook.” 

He also said he believed it was possible to ignite real action by starting a conversation, stressing that “nonviolent expression is ultimately the most powerful tool that humanity has in order to advance justice, peace and the well-being of all peoples.” 

Nevertheless, Braude pointed out that there were “no immediate solutions for the tragedy that is being portrayed here, and we are under no illusions about that.

“We are not suggesting that there is any sort of a silver bullet to defeat extremism, to end stale forms of thinking and so on,” he continued. “I think that at most we achieve a ripple effect that, as I’ve said, affects the vocabulary of the discussion, that stimulates new forms of creative thinking by multiple parties and elements within, without and so on.” 

Braude told “Frankly Speaking” that “Whispered in Gaza” was “only the beginning of an ongoing project.” 

He said: “Whenever we launch an initiative…we take time and we look at what it achieved. We try to draw lessons and to innovate, always to build on successes and learn from whatever lessons emerged. So that is what we are looking at right now. And, of course, we are going to do more.”


Russia’s Lavrov visits Baghdad to discuss bilateral relations, energy cooperation: Iraqi statement

Russia’s Lavrov visits Baghdad to discuss bilateral relations, energy cooperation: Iraqi statement
Updated 24 min 46 sec ago

Russia’s Lavrov visits Baghdad to discuss bilateral relations, energy cooperation: Iraqi statement

Russia’s Lavrov visits Baghdad to discuss bilateral relations, energy cooperation: Iraqi statement
  • Visit will focus on encouraging investment opportunities between two countries, particularly energy sector

BAGHDAD: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will arrive in Baghdad on Sunday to discuss boosting bilateral relations and energy cooperation, Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement.
Lavrov, who is leading a delegation that includes oil and gas companies’ representatives, is scheduled to meet his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein on Monday, Ahmed Al-Sahhaf said in a statement.
Sahhaf said the visit will focus on “strategic relations with Russia and to encourage investment opportunities, especially in relating to energy sectors.”
The Russian foreign minister will also meet on Monday Iraqi top officials, including Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani, President Abdul Latif Rashid and parliament speaker, Sahhaf said.


Iraqis protest after father kills YouTuber daughter

Iraqis protest after father kills YouTuber daughter
Updated 05 February 2023

Iraqis protest after father kills YouTuber daughter

Iraqis protest after father kills YouTuber daughter
  • Protestors held placards saying “Stop killing women” and “Tiba’s killer must be held to account”
  • Tiba Al-Ali had lived in Turkiye since 2017 and was visiting Iraq when she was killed

BAGHDAD: Iraqi activists protested Sunday to demand a law against domestic violence, days after a YouTuber was strangled by her father in a killing that has outraged the conservative country.
Tiba Al-Ali, 22, was killed by her father on January 31 in the southern province of Diwaniyah, interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan said on Twitter on Friday.
Maan said there had been an attempt to mediate between the young woman and her relatives to resolve a “family dispute.” The father later surrendered to the police and confessed to murdering his daughter.
On Sunday, security forces prevented some 20 activists from demonstrating outside the country’s Supreme Judicial Council, and they gathered instead at a road leading to the building, an AFP journalist said.
Some held placards saying “Stop killing women” and “Tiba’s killer must be held to account.”
“We demand laws to protect women, especially laws against domestic violence,” 22-year-old protester Rose Hamid told AFP.
“We came here to protest against Tiba’s murder and against all others. Who will be the next victim?“
Another demonstrator, Lina Ali, said: “We will keep mobilizing because of rising domestic violence and killings of women.”
On the sidelines of Sunday’s demonstration, human rights activist Hanaa Edwar was received by a magistrate from the Supreme Judicial Council to whom she presented the protesters’ grievances.
Tiba Al-Ali had lived in Turkiye since 2017 and was visiting Iraq when she was killed, a security official in Diwaniyah told AFP.
In Turkiye she had gained a following on YouTube, posting videos of her daily life in which her fiance often appeared.
Recordings have been shared on social media by a friend of Ali, and picked up by activists, reportedly of conversations with the father, angry because she was living in Turkiye.
In the recordings, she also accuses her brother of sexual harassment.
AFP could not independently verify the authenticity of the voice recordings.

Related


Iran acknowledges ‘tens of thousands’ detained in protests

Protesters chant “Political prisoners must be released” during a march in Iran’s southeastern city of Zahedan. (File/AFP)
Protesters chant “Political prisoners must be released” during a march in Iran’s southeastern city of Zahedan. (File/AFP)
Updated 05 February 2023

Iran acknowledges ‘tens of thousands’ detained in protests

Protesters chant “Political prisoners must be released” during a march in Iran’s southeastern city of Zahedan. (File/AFP)
  • Reports about the decree offered no explanation for the decision by Khamenei
  • Prisons already had faced overcrowding in the country after years of protests over economic and other matters

DUBAI: Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday reportedly ordered an amnesty or reduction in prison sentences for “tens of thousands” of people detained amid nationwide anti-government protests shaking the country, acknowledging for the first time the scale of the crackdown.
The decree by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, part of a yearly pardoning the supreme leader does before the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, comes as authorities have yet to say how many people they detained in the demonstrations. State media also published a list of caveats over the order that would disqualify those with ties abroad or facing spying charges — allegations which have been met with wide international criticism.
Khamenei “agreed to offer amnesty and reduce the sentences of tens of thousands accused and convicted in the recent incidents,” the state-run IRNA news agency said in a Farsi report. A later IRNA report carried by its English-language service said the pardons and commuted sentences were for “tens of thousands of convicts, including the arrestees of the recent riots in Iran.” Authorities did not immediately acknowledge the discrepancy in the reports.
The reports about the decree offered no explanation for the decision by Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in Iran. However, prisons and detention facilities already had faced overcrowding in the country after years of protests over economic issues and other matters.
Activists immediately dismissed Khamenei’s decree.
“Khamenei’s hypocritical pardon doesn’t change anything,” wrote Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam of the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights. “Not only all protesters must be released unconditionally, but also it is a public right that those who ordered the bloody repression and their agents are held accountable.”
Authorities also did not name any of those who had been pardoned or seen shorter sentences. Instead, state television continued to refer to the demonstrations as being a “foreign-backed riot,” rather than homegrown anger over the September death of Masha Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman detained by the country’s morality police. Anger also has been spreading over the collapse of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, as well as Tehran arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones in its war on Ukraine.
More than 19,600 people have been arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that’s been tracking the crackdown. At least 527 people have been killed as authorities violently suppressed demonstrations, the group said. Iran hasn’t offered a death toll for months. It already has executed at least four people detained amid the protests after internationally criticized trials.
All this comes as Iran’s nuclear deal has collapsed and Tehran has enough highly enriched uranium to potentially build “several” atomic bombs if it chooses, the United Nations’ top nuclear envoy has said. A shadow war between Iran and Israel has risen out of the chaos, with Tehran blaming Israel for a drone attack on a military workshop in Isfahan last week as well.
Meanwhile, a long-detained opposition leader in Iran is calling for a nationwide referendum about whether to write a new constitution for the Islamic Republic.
Mir Hossein Mousavi’s call, posted late Saturday by the opposition Kaleme website, included him saying he didn’t believe Iran’s current system giving final say to a supreme leader worked any longer. He also called for the formation of a constitutional assembly of “real representatives” to write a new constitution.
It remains unlikely Iran’s theocracy will heed the 80-year-old politician’s call. He and his wife have been under house arrest for years after his disputed presidential election loss in 2009 led to the widespread Green Movement protests that security forces also put down. However, he himself had supported and served in Iran’s theocracy for decades.
In 2019, Mousavi compared Khamenei to the former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose rule saw troops gun down demonstrators in an event that led to the Islamic Revolution.
Separately, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami urged “free and competitive elections” after the release of political prisoners both imprisoned and under house arrest.
“Reformism at least has faced a ... dead end, so people have a right to be frustrated about it as they are about the ruling system,” Khatami said in a statement circulated online.
Currently, hard-liners control all levers of power in the country. Reformists like Khatami and Mousavi previously sought to change and open up Iran’s Islamic Republic while maintaining its system. But increasingly, protesters have demanded an end to theocratic rule in the country.


Bus crash kills at least 8, injures dozens in western Turkiye

Bus crash kills at least 8, injures dozens in western Turkiye
Updated 05 February 2023

Bus crash kills at least 8, injures dozens in western Turkiye

Bus crash kills at least 8, injures dozens in western Turkiye

ISTANBUL: A passenger bus crashed off a road and overturned in western Turkiye Sunday, killing at least eight people and injuring dozens.
The governor’s office of Afyonkarahisar province said the bus was traveling from the southeastern Diyarbakir province to the Aegean city of Bodrum.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that 42 people were injured, with three in critical condition.
Videos from the scene showed ambulances lined up and a crane holding the bus up.
An injured passenger with a broken arm told official Anadolu news agency that he was half asleep when the bus “flew.” He said people were stuck underneath the bus.
The bus was operated by a company called Star Has Diyarbakir.