Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News

Exclusive Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News
“We are extremely worried,” Mona Juul, Norway’s permanent representative to the UN, told Arab News in an exclusive interview in New York. (AFP)
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Updated 15 December 2022

Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News

Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News
  • Norway is “working tirelessly” to renew the cross-border aid mechanism for Syria, says country’s permanent representative to UN
  • Along with Ireland, Norway is the current penholder of the Syrian humanitarian file at the Security Council

NEW YORK CITY: While the world’s media may have stopped counting the dead and injured in the Syrian conflict, the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and the second largest number of internally displaced people in the world both drive home the point that the war is far from over.

Syria continues to endure one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line. According to the World Food Program, some 14.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance to survive — an increase of 1.2 million compared to last year.

The collapsing economy coupled with a looming global food shortage as a consequence of the war in Ukraine have added new layers of complexity to the situation. Now, the WFP warns, the threat of famine is knocking at Syria’s door.

“We are extremely worried,” Mona Juul, Norway’s permanent representative to the UN, told Arab News in an exclusive interview in New York.




According to the World Food Program, some 14.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance to survive. (AFP)

“We have been worried for many years. But now the situation seems to be continuously deteriorating. And of course, with winter coming up, that adds to the suffering of millions and millions of Syrian people that are in dire need, in acute need, of humanitarian assistance.

“This is pretty much across the whole country. But of course, we are also very concerned about the situation in the northwest, outside the government-controlled area.”

Especially alarming is the condition of 4.4 million people in the opposition-held northwest of the country who rely on foreign aid to survive and who are now unsure whether there will be sufficient bread on the table come January.

That is when an increasingly fragile UN cross-border mechanism for delivering aid to Syria is set to expire and its renewal is up for a vote at the UN Security Council. Diplomats fear the regime’s ally Russia will use its veto to close the last remaining UN-facilitated aid gateway into Syria — Bab Al-Hawa on the Turkish border.

As the co-penholder of Syria’s humanitarian file in the Security Council, Norway, together with Ireland, is responsible for following up on the humanitarian situation in Syria by drafting resolutions, requesting emergency meetings, and organizing mission visits.

The cross-border mechanism was created in 2014 to allow for the delivery of UN aid directly to opposition-held areas of Syria.

International humanitarian law requires that all aid deliveries go through the host government. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tactic of treating humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war prompted the UNSC to approve the use of four aid crossings — from Jordan, Iraq, and two from Turkiye.




Syria has suffered years of war sparked by anti-government protests during the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East. (AFP)

Until Dec. 2019, the UNSC was able to renew the mandate for these crossings. However, in Jan. 2020, Russia used its veto to force the closure of all but one crossing: Bab Al-Hawa.

If this last remaining crossing is closed, humanitarian agencies fear an alternative would be near impossible to find.

“And that’s why we are working tirelessly to make sure that we can extend the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution that allows cross-border humanitarian assistance at Bab Al-Hawa,” said Juul.

Since 2020, the renewal has become the subject of much delicate negotiations, at a time when diplomatic channels between Russia and the US have been all but shut, impacting every issue on the UNSC agenda.

“It is no secret that every time we have to renew this cross-border mechanism, the starting point is that at least one member of the Security Council does not want to have this resolution and this mechanism,” said Juul. “That has been the starting point since the mechanism was established back in 2014.”

Moscow argues the international aid operation violates Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Since Syria has been “liberated,” it says all aid destined for the north should go via the capital, Damascus.

Although internal shipments from Damascus to opposition-held areas would provide a welcome addition to the cross-border lifeline, Juul says they are no substitute. Even if deployed regularly, such convoys could not replicate the size and scope of cross-border operations.

Although the UN says its internal aid delivery operations are conducted in a “transparent and principled” manner, aid agencies say assistance delivered to Damascus does not reach areas that oppose the Assad regime.

They accuse the government of deliberately withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war.




Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tactic of treating humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war prompted the UNSC to approve the use of four aid crossings. (AFP)

A recent investigation into the UN’s procurement operations in Syria, conducted by the Syrian Legal Development Program and the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks, found around 50 percent of UN procurement involves actors linked to the regime, many of them implicated in rights violations and war crimes.

Asked to comment on the report’s findings, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told Arab News the UN is “well aware of the challenges” posed by working in such contexts.

He said the UN is engaging with the authors of the report, and that UN teams in Syria continue “to try to improve” their methods.

“The other thing I would say is that there is an increase in terms of the value of items that are procured outside of Syria, but there are items that can only be procured in-country, (such as) telephones, fuel, and so on.

INNUMBERS

• 4.1m People in northwestern Syria in need of humanitarian assistance.

• 80% Syrians receiving cross-border aid who are women and children.

•* 1/3 Proportion of children under the age of 5 who are undernourished.

• 800 Average number of trucks delivering supplies via Turkiye per month.

“It is also important to note that we operate in Syria under the same rules that we operate in every country, in terms of currency exchange and vendors.

“So we are well aware of the challenges posed by us working in many countries, including Syria, and I think the general effort has been one of trying continuously to improve how we work and how we manage the global taxpayers’ money.”

For her part, Juul underscored her country’s advocacy for Syria is anchored in purely humanitarian values. “Our very, very strong argument is that this is not about aiding the opposition or helping the other side and not the government,” she said.

“We are (motivated) purely by the humanitarian imperative to help the people. It’s the people of Syria that we care about and that goes back to a very strong humanitarian tradition in Norway. We are almost always there when there is a humanitarian crisis and we want to help.”

That long tradition was at the heart of Norway’s message when it campaigned for a seat at the Security Council two years ago, and also expressed its willingness to take up the Syrian file.

“We have always had a pretty large portion of our foreign assistance purely for humanitarian work,” said Juul.

“So for us, going into the council, bringing that tradition with us, having for a long time been one of the largest humanitarian contributors to Syria, not only per capita, but in real terms, and having seen the merit of the cross-border operation, we were very much willing to take up that difficult file and Ireland the same.”

Long before it became a wealthy oil and gas producer, Norway had at one time been an aid recipient, and is no stranger to invasion, war and displacement.

“A third of the Norwegian population migrated to America to find livelihoods because we didn’t find it at home. Norway is a very cold country. It’s difficult to survive during winter if you’re poor. So we migrated,” said Juul.

“And then we were occupied by the Germans for five years. We were on the other, aid recipient end. We received Marshall aid from America. We know what it’s like to need aid. And then, of course, we now have the resources to contribute.

“So, there is this strong solidarity with the underdogs, those who are suffering. This is what drives us. We are not being naive about the political complexity in Syria, but we really see no alternative to continuing with the cross-border operation.”




Many Syrians have fled the war, heading to destination like Jordan, Turkiye and Europe. (AFP)

In the run-up to the last renewal vote in July, intensive negotiations went on behind closed doors. Juul and her Irish counterpart at that time, Geraldine Nason Byrne, were seen rushing between UN chambers trying to rally Security Council members to reauthorize Bab Al-Hawa.

Securing the coming renewal vote is unlikely to be any easier.

“One needs to work very hard in order to get it renewed, every time,” Juul told Arab News. “This has been a continuous challenge for the Security Council to be able to uphold this crucial mechanism.”

Although Norway and Ireland’s Security Council tenure is coming to a close by the year’s end, Juul vowed to continue to “do as much as possible to prepare the ground for extension.”

She draws hope from the successful renewal they achieved in July.




They accuse the government of deliberately withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war. (AFP)

“We had to go through a veto. It was really tough negotiations mainly between us and the Russians. But we managed in the end to find — I will not even call it a compromise — we found a way to agree that we extend it to January, but with a very clear intention that there will be another extension in six months.”

She added: “That is what diplomacy is all about. I dare say it is what diplomacy is all about when the situation is as it is.

“We cannot stop relating to those we disagree with on other files. Norway has been very clear on condemning Russia’s invasion and the war on Ukraine. But, at the same time, we see that it’s very important that the Security Council is not paralyzed on all the other files.

“And I think, so far, the council has proven that we have been able to do that.”

She added: “We also worked very much together with the other elected members. And we feel that this is an elected-member resolution. We have 100 percent support from all the elected members. And as we say, when the E10 agrees, we are the sixth veto power in the council.”


Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
Updated 38 min 54 sec ago

Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
  • Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Western missions would “pay” for issuing security warnings and temporarily closing consulates in Turkiye last week, while police said there was no serious threat to foreigners after detaining 15 Daesh suspects on Sunday.
Ankara summoned the ambassadors of nine countries on Thursday to criticize their decisions to temporarily shut diplomatic missions and issue security alerts. Turkish officials said the following day that Western nations, including the United States and Germany, had not shared information to back up their claims of a security threat.
“The other day our foreign ministry summoned all of them and gave the necessary ultimatum, told them ‘You will pay for this heavily if you keep this up,’” Erdogan said during a meeting with youth that was pre-recorded and broadcast on Sunday.
Alongside the closures, several Western states warned citizens of a heightened risk of attacks to diplomatic missions and non-Muslim places of worship in Turkiye, following a series of far-right protests in Europe in recent weeks that included several incidents of burning copies of the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an.
Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned.
Erdogan said that the Western states were “playing for (more) time” and that the “necessary decisions” would be taken during Monday’s cabinet meeting, without elaborating.
’NO CONCRETE THREATS’
Earlier on Sunday, police said they had not found evidence of any concrete threat to foreigners in the detentions of 15 Daesh suspects accused of targeting consulates and non-Muslim houses of worship, state media reported.
Anadolu Agency cited an Istanbul police statement saying the suspects had “received instructions for acts targeting consulates of Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as Christian and Jewish places of worship.”
While the suspects’ ties to the jihadist group were confirmed, no concrete threats toward foreigners were found, the statement said.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated on Saturday Turkiye’s frustration with what it says is Sweden’s inaction toward entities that Ankara accuses of terrorist activity. All 30 NATO members must ratify newcomers.
Turkiye, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement in June aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to their NATO bids, with the Nordic states pledging to take a harder line primarily against local members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
 

 


Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
Updated 05 February 2023

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
  • Calls grow for deeper investigation into motivations and protection of youngsters amid shock and despair

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Security services of the southern Yemeni city of Taiz said that two children committed suicide in two separate events on Saturday, leaving the beleaguered population in shock and despair.

Police in Taiz said in a statement that they were notified of two suicide victims in the city on Saturday evening, citing the deaths as “dangerous precedents.”

Police named the first child as 12-year-old Kareem Abdul Kareem from the Al-Jamhuria neighborhood, who hanged himself inside his room on Saturday afternoon by tying a scarf around his neck.

Ammar Khaled, a 16-year-old who committed suicide on Saturday evening by wrapping a rope around his neck and tying it to a door outside his family’s home, is the second victim. 

After forensic investigators gathered photographs and evidence, his family requested his burial on the same day. 

Police in Taiz pledged to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the victims and have asked the community and professionals for assistance in determining the reasons behind the suicides.

In a statement, police urged both authorities and members of the public “to collaborate…in order to provide the appropriate answers.”

Mohammed Alawi, an investigator with police in Taiz, told Arab News that a team, including social and psychiatric professionals, was looking into the cases and would release their findings this week.

Initially, Alawi ruled out the possibility of cyberbullying or even sexual harassment and attributed the deaths of the two children to the mobile game PUBG. 

“These are risky games, and we advise parents to monitor their children’s mobile devices to see what they are seeing or playing,” Alawi said.

He also touched on other instances of suicide, which he blamed on psychological suffering caused by the war.

“Women and children in Yemen, particularly in besieged Taiz, have suffered emotionally because of the war. We had never seen such crimes before the war,” he said.  

On social media, the police statement and photographs of the two deceased children have elicited condolences for the families and calls for an investigation into the motivations behind the suicides and for the protection of children.

“You should investigate with the family about the electronic games they played, such as PUBG, and whether they have Facebook or WhatsApp accounts,” said Adnan Taha on Facebook.

“All communications should be reviewed, since (the children) may be vulnerable to harassment and extortion,” Taha said.

Another social media user, Muneir Al-Qaisi, urged local security agencies not to bury the victims before autopsies are conducted to determine whether they consumed anything poisonous.

“We hope you will not hurry to bury them and (will) examine their bodies,” Al-Qaisi said. 

“It is conceivable that the parents are unaware of beverages or meals being shared among the children,” said Al-Qaisi.

Investigator Alawi responded to accusations of a hasty burial by stating that one of the boys was buried at the request of his family and only after investigators examined both the corpse and the scene.

“He was buried after forensic teams examined the scene, photographed it, and performed investigations. Additionally, his relatives requested burial from the prosecution,” Alawi said.


Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
Updated 05 February 2023

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
  • Rachid Karami International Fair has decayed due to conflict, poor maintenance and country’s financial crisis

TRIPOLI: Its arch is cracking and its vast pavilions lie empty, but the crumbling Rachid Karami International Fair in Lebanon’s port city Tripoli now has hope of revival, having been added to the United Nations’ list of world heritage sites in danger.
Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1962, the collection of structures on the 70-hectare plot is considered one of the key works of 20th century modernism in the Middle East.
But the fair park has slowly decayed due to repeated rounds of fighting over the last 60 years, poor maintenance and most recently Lebanon’s crippling, three-year-old financial crisis.
“It was placed on the World Heritage List exceptionally, quickly and urgently – and on the list of heritage in danger because it’s in a critical situation,” said Joseph Kreidi, UNESCO’s national program officer for culture in Beirut.
Its elegant arch is missing concrete in some parts, exposing the rebar underneath. Rainwater has pooled at the locked entrances. One section is sealed off by a sign that reads, “Unsafe building entry.”
“Placing it on the World Heritage Danger List is an appeal to all countries of the world, as if to say: this site needs some care,” said Kreidi.
He said it was up to the Lebanese authorities to draw together a plan for the site’s protection and rehabilitation but that UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, could help search for funding and provide technical expertise.
Lebanon has five other sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, most of them citadels and ancient temples.
Niemeyer is recognized as one of the fathers of modern architecture and the site in Tripoli was an early foray into the Middle East.
Construction of the fairground began in the 1960s but was delayed when civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975. Fighters used the site to stage operations and stored weapons underneath its concrete dome.
Mira Minkara, a freelance tour guide from Tripoli and a member of the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation’s Tripoli chapter, has fond – but rare – memories of the fairground as a child.
For the most part, it was off-limits to Tripoli’s residents given safety concerns. But Minkara remembered her first visit during a festival of pan-African culture and crafts.
She hopes that UNESCO’s recognition could bring new festivals, exhibitions and economic benefits to Tripoli – already one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean before Lebanon’s financial meltdown began.
Lebanon’s cultural heritage has been hit hard in recent years. The 2020 Beirut port blast tore through 19th-century homes in historic neighborhoods and power outages caused by the financial crisis have cut supplies to the national museum.
“We hope things change a little,” Minkara said. “It’s high time for this fairground to emerge from this long sleep, this almost-death.”


Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges
Updated 05 February 2023

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges
  • Budget for event will instead be used to fund development initiatives
  • Event was set to start later this month

CAIRO: In response to a host of global economic challenges, this year’s World Youth Forum, which was set to start later this month, has been canceled, its organizers said on Saturday.

Instead, the budget for the event, which was to be held in the Egyptian town of Sharm El-Sheikh, will be used to fund the implementation of five development initiatives aimed at young people in Egypt and beyond.

This year would have marked the fifth edition of the forum, with the fourth being held in January last year. The event is organized by the Presidential Program for Qualifying Youth for Leadership.

It said the decision to cancel this year's conference was an acknowledgment of the multiple crises facing the world that have put huge humanitarian and economic pressures on nations and governments.

Among the beneficiaries of the redirected funding is a series of international exchange programs for young people. These will be arranged in cooperation with the Decent Life Foundation, National Alliance for Civil Development Action, Arab Union for Volunteering and UN Volunteers Program.

Parliamentary Counselor Issam Hilal Afifi told Arab News that the proceeds from the sponsorship rights to this year’s forum would be redirected toward a large package of initiatives.

Dr. Muhammad Mahmoud Mahran, secretary-general of the International Committee for the Defense of Water Resources, said the move would also enable recommendations made at the previous forum to be implemented.

The planned initiatives would have a positive impact at the local, African and global level, he said.


Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 

Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 
Updated 05 February 2023

Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 

Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 
  • Palestinian sources told Arab News that a strike by doctors might follow, which will destabilize the status of the PA

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority is facing protests from school teachers and lawyers over a number of grievances.

Palestinian sources told Arab News that a strike by doctors might follow, which will destabilize the status of the PA.

The teachers’ movement called on parents not to send their children to schools, and on students to only attend when their demands were met.

On Sunday morning, thousands of students returned to their homes because of the strike.

Omar Muheisen, a science teacher from Al-Shafei School in Hebron, told Arab News that the rate of commitment to the strike on Sunday in the city had reached 90 percent.

“We, as teachers, are living in a difficult predicament,” he told Arab News.

“It is not our problem if the prime minister, over the course of a whole year, did not succeed in solving the problem of teachers’ salaries,” he added.

Muheisen said the salary was not enough even to meet expenses until the middle of the month with outrageous rises in prices.

He said that the strike came after authorities failed to implement any previously agreed terms, including a 15 percent bonus starting from the first month of this year, and that the strike would continue until all their demands were met.

Teacher Jamal Al-Qaddoumi said that the agreement that was reached stipulated that the salary be regularized and a teachers’ union should be set up, but neither happened.

Al-Qaddoumi added the current salary was not sufficient to meet the needs of teachers, and it was not reasonable for teachers to work throughout the month on 85 percent of their salary. Half of Al-Qaddoumi’s income goes on bank loans, and the other half on bills and obligations, he said.

The Palestinian National Initiative Movement, headed by politician Mustafa Barghouthi, demanded fairness for teachers in a statement on Sunday, calling for their demands to be met and the education system to be saved in the interests of students.

It pointed out that the education and health sectors are among the most vital sectors, adding that male and female teachers had always performed their national and professional duties, and that their role was vital for building future Palestinian generations.

It stressed the importance of reviewing the public budget and allocating larger budgets for the education, health, and social welfare sectors, as they serve the broadest groups suffering most from poverty and marginalization.

Shaker Khalil, advisor to the prime minister on economic affairs, told Arab News that the financial crisis engulfing the PA is complex, due to the decline in external support and the high percentage of Israeli occupation deductions from Palestinian funds.

Khalil indicated that foreign aid for the past year was less than $200 million, and the total deductions of the Israeli occupation from the allocations of martyrs and prisoners amounted to $584 million since 2019.

This exacerbates the government’s financial crisis and is reflected in the general budget, he added.

In a parallel development, the Palestinian Bar Association suspended work on Sunday for four days, affecting all branches of the judiciary, in opposition to the amendment of the regular courts’ fees schedule.

Lawyer Alaa Khaseeb from Ramallah told Arab News that the PA’s doubling of court fees five times will make it difficult for citizens, considering the financial crisis they are living through, to go to court to sue, instead preferring to pursue matters themselves, which will negatively affect the work of lawyers, of whom there are nearly 12,000 in the West Bank.

Khaseeb indicated that the standard case fee, which was $700, is to become $3,500, making it impossible for many citizens to pay.

Lawyer and human rights activist Amer Hamdan from Nablus told Arab News that the basis of the PA’s problem with teachers and lawyers is poor political decision making.

He alleged that the PA had raised court fees to obtain money from citizens directly, a step that will force people to tribal courts or to seek fulfilment of their rights by force.

“The PA decided to go into the pockets of citizens to solve its financial problem,” Hamdan told Arab News.

The Bar Council also pointed out that the judiciary was in crisis as a result of the policies of the executive authority and its disavowal of the requirements for judicial reforms.