LONDON: Britain said on Wednesday it was issuing two new licenses to make it easier for aid agencies helping earthquake relief efforts to operate in Syria without breaching sanctions aimed at the government of President Bashar Assad and its backers.
The combined death toll in Turkiye and Syria from last week’s earthquake has climbed above 41,000, and millions are in need of humanitarian aid, with many survivors having been left homeless in near-freezing winter temperatures.
In Syria, relief efforts have been hampered by a civil war that has splintered the country and divided regional and global powers.
The British government said the temporary new licenses would “strengthen the timely and effective delivery of relief efforts by removing the need for individual license applications.”
“UK sanctions do not target humanitarian aid, food, or medical supplies, but we recognize that the current requirements for individual licencing are not always practical during a crisis response,” Minister of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell said in a statement.
The licenses provide broad protection to organizations to allow them to operate by authorizing activities which would have otherwise been prohibited.
Earlier Britain announced a further 25 million pounds ($30 million) of aid to help the earthquake recovery effort. ($1 = 0.8328 pounds)
Turkiye says Ankara attack assailants trained in Syria
Updated 9 sec ago
ISTANBUL: Turkiye said on Wednesday that two suspected Kurdish militants who died while staging a weekend attack in Ankara had been trained in Syria. Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said Turkiye now reserved the right to strike a broader range of Kurdish targets in both Syria and Iraq in retaliation for Sunday’s attack. Turkish police shot dead one of the assailants while the other died in an apparent suicide blast outside Turkiye’s interior ministry. Two policemen were injured in the incident. “As a result of the work of our security forces, it has become clear that the two terrorists came from Syria and were trained there,” Fidan said in televised comments. “From now on, all infrastructure, large facilities and energy facilities belonging to (armed Kurdish groups) in Iraq and Syria are legitimate targets for our security forces.” A branch of the Kurdish PKK militia — listed as a terror group by Turkiye and its Western allies — claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, the first in Ankara since 2016. Turkiye conducted air raids against PKK targets in Iraq hours later. Fidan’s comments suggest that Turkiye could expand its air strikes to include war-torn Syria. Syria’s Kurds have carved out a semi-autonomous area in the country’s north and east. US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — the Kurds’ de facto army in the area — led the battle that dislodged Daesh group fighters from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019. But Turkiye views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that dominate the SDF as an offshoot of the PKK. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to expand attacks against the YPG.
Gaza unrest sends message about economic misery under Israeli blockade
Some 2.3 million people live in the narrow coastal strip, where per capita income is around a quarter the level in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
In the recent unrest, youths hurling stones and improvised explosive devices faced off against Israeli troops along the border fence
Updated 38 min 50 sec ago
GAZA: Weeks of violent protests by young men in Gaza have sent a message about the dire financial squeeze in the Israeli-blockaded enclave, economists and even some senior Israeli officials believe, and relief measures may be in the offing.
Ostensibly the protests, organized by youth groups but backed by Gaza’s ruling movement Hamas, were about the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and visits by Jewish groups to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount.
But a senior Israeli official noted the relative restraint by Hamas, which did not officially join the protests itself or launch more rockets at Israel. He suggested the more immediate reason for the unrest was less long-time grievances related to the Palestinian national cause and more Gaza’s economic misery.
“The protests are about money,” said the Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the topic’s sensitivity. “What we’re seeing on the (border) fence is a message. They are asking for financial help.”
Some 2.3 million people live in the narrow coastal strip, where per capita income is around a quarter the level in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and where over half the population lives below the poverty line, according to IMF estimates.
In the recent unrest, youths hurling stones and improvised explosive devices faced off against Israeli troops along the border fence who responded with live fire before calm was restored last week by Egyptian, UN and Qatari negotiators.
Sources close to the mediation said while some of Hamas’s demands are political, relaxing economic sanctions against Gaza is key to at least maintaining calm along the frontier.
The sources expect Israel, which along with Egypt maintains a tight blockade of the Gaza Strip that has helped cripple its economy, to announce further easings in coming days, including hundreds more permits for work in Israel.
Since 2021, when it fought a 10-day war with Hamas, Israel has softened some curbs on Gaza, offering thousands of work permits as well as measures to facilitate exports and improve its dilapidated utilities after years of underinvestment.
A recent International Monetary Fund report said that for any stable long-term economic recovery in Gaza, “lifting of the blockade and easing of the Israeli-imposed restrictions are essential.”
It noted that Gaza had lagged far behind the West Bank over the past 15 years, mainly due to the years of isolation and repeated conflict after Hamas came to power in 2007, with 77 percent of households receiving aid, mainly cash or food.
With an official unemployment rate in Gaza of over 46 percent, Hamas itself has faced rumbling discontent over its economic management although for its part, the movement blames the Israeli blockade for the enclave’s economic woes.
“If there’s to be an explosion, let it be against the party that created these conditions, which is the (Israeli) occupation,” said senior Hamas official Bassem Naim.
Hamas leaders say any calm in Gaza will remain fragile unless Israel lifts the blockade and ends “aggressive measures and assaults in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” but they signal no interest in a new war.
Aware of the potential for worsening instability in Gaza, Israel has issued over 18,000 work permits to Palestinians there, which has allowed workers to bring in some $2 million a day and offered other forms of economic relief.
“The permit is everything for me, it is my life. If permits stop I will stop,” said Bilal Al-Najar, who took in 30-35 shekels ($7.70-$9.05) a day as a vegetable vendor in Gaza before earning 10 times more working in a restaurant in the southern Israeli city of Lod.
Gaza’s clothing sector, one of the main beneficiaries of any moderation of the blockade, has seen sales rise 10-fold since 2015, the year after an earlier war, and this year revenues look set to top the $22 million generated in 2022.
“If crossings are open, and the political situation is good this makes things in Gaza fit for a bigger revival both for work and for living,” said Bashir Al-Bawab, CEO of Unipal Company, one of Gaza’s largest clothing factories that have partnerships with Israeli companies.
But while Israel has offered economic incentives to avoid conflict, they are always liable to being cut off abruptly, exposing companies like Unipal, which exports 150,000 items a month to Israel, to constant uncertainty.
Last month, Israel imposed a brief blockade on exports from Gaza after inspectors said they uncovered an attempt to smuggle explosives into the West Bank. It then followed up by closing crossing points used by workers going to their jobs in Israel and the West Bank in response to the border protests. ($1 = 3.8675 shekels)
UAE, Brazil FMs discuss strengthening strategic partnership
Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan met with Mauro Vieira in Brasilia on Tuesday
Emirati president invited to Brazil in 2024 to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties
Updated 04 October 2023
SAO PAULO: Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan met with his Brazilian counterpart Mauro Vieira in Brasilia on Tuesday.
They reviewed bilateral relations and expressed a desire to strengthen the strategic partnership between the UAE and Brazil in areas such as trade, investment, energy, defense, food security, agriculture, science, technology, tourism, culture and space cooperation.
They also discussed cooperation to promote sustainable development and to combat climate change, since the UAE and Brazil are hosting UN climate change conferences this year and in 2025 respectively.
Brazil has welcomed the UAE’s inclusion in BRICS and reaffirmed the bloc’s commitment to a more balanced world economic order, as well as the need for reforms in global governance.
Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will become permanent members of BRICS from Jan. 1, 2024.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited the UAE in April. Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan has been invited to visit Brazil in 2024 to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The UAE foreign minister has visited Barbados, Guyana, Paraguay and Chile for talks with counterparts about cooperation and climate action.
Israeli police arrest five for hostile gestures toward Christians
Members of the area’s small Christian community have said they have faced growing harassment and intimidation from Jewish ultranationalists
Updated 04 October 2023
JERUSALEM: Israeli police on Wednesday arrested five people suspected of spitting toward Christians or churches in the Old City of Jerusalem and formed a special investigative team to deal with growing complaints of hostile gestures against Christians.
“Unfortunately, we witness the continued disgraceful acts of hatred toward Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem, primarily through spitting by extremists,” said Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman.
No details were provided on the identities of the people who were arrested.
Members of the area’s small Christian community have said they have faced growing harassment and intimidation from Jewish ultranationalists, particularly since Netanyahu’s hard-right government took office late last year.
Wednesday’s arrests came as the city prepared for its annual Jerusalem March, an event that usually draws huge crowds, including thousands of Christian pilgrims.
Israeli media published video footage in the Old City this week showing Orthodox Jews, including small children, apparently spitting on the ground as they passed a group of foreign Christian pilgrims.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident, promising to take “immediate and decisive action.”
“Israel is totally committed to safeguard the sacred right of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths,” he said in a message on the social messaging platform X.
The Old City’s patchwork of narrow alleys surround some of the holiest sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and the local communities have long developed ways of living together despite regular spikes in tension, especially around religious and national holidays.
Turgeman said police would use security cameras, patrols and Internet monitoring to fight the phenomenon both in real time and in hindsight, as well as to possibly start imposing special “administrative fines.”
Rising poverty forces Syrian parents to choose between children’s schooling and survival
Economic collapse has made textbooks, uniforms and stationery unaffordable for many impoverished households
“Lost generation” feared as conflict, earthquakes and spending cuts leave schools damaged and underfunded
Updated 04 October 2023
LONDON: Syria’s dire economic situation has forced students from impoverished backgrounds to miss school this year, as families cut back on expenses and try to shore up household incomes by sending their children to work instead.
Schools in government-held areas of Syria reopened in September after the summer break, welcoming back an estimated 3.7 million children, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. However, many others did not show up.
Among those marked as absent were children who had no other choice but to become laborers to earn money and help their families make ends meet as Syrians grapple with a devastating and unprecedented economic crisis.
In an attempt to prevent children from being deprived of their right to education, and ensure they are not forced into exploitative child labor, civil society groups have established projects designed to help vulnerable students continue their studies.
For example, Mart Team, a charity in Damascus, has launched a campaign called “Aqlamouna Amalouna” — which translates as “Hope in our pens” — to support struggling primary school students.
“After conducting a study to investigate why many students in grades one to six were not attending school, we found that a major factor was the soaring costs of stationery and educational supplies,” Marwan Alrez, the general manager of Mart Team, told Arab News.
“Parents have told us schools demand hefty fees and charges, prompting many of them to remove their children from school and force them into the labor market in order to contribute to the household earnings.”
Donya Abo Alzahab, who has been teaching a second-grade class at a primary school in Damascus for a year, notices how desperate the situation has become for many of her young students, to say nothing of their teachers.
“I was thrilled to start my first job as a schoolteacher,” she told Arab News. “Little did I know it would prove to be a costly, significant challenge, given the lack of much-needed support and teaching aids.”
With some students lagging behind their peers by as much as three years in terms of learning, teachers such as Alzahab often find themselves compelled to spend a substantial portion of their own modest incomes on essential teaching aids, including textbooks, which are not cheap at a time when the value of the nation’s currency has fallen to record lows.
Alrez said the average cost of educational supplies for a single primary school student is at least 200,000 Syrian pounds (approximately $16); a backpack alone can cost 100,000 pounds. If schools fail to provide students with textbooks, these can cost parents an additional 50,000 pounds.
Such costs are increasingly out of the reach of many public-sector employees, whose minimum monthly salaries were only recently increased to 185,940 Syrian pounds. At the same time, the government slashed fuel subsidies, sparking rare protests in southern Syria.
Alzahab, who holds a degree in special educational needs, said transport costs alone can exceed 80,000 pounds per month, equivalent to almost half her salary. She also spends 30,000 pounds on teaching aids and 15,000 for a teacher’s planner that has to be replaced every month.
“The only reason why I won’t quit my job is the students, she said. “If I resign, they will be left for a long period without a replacement.”
• 3.7m Syrian students returned to school in government-held areas in September.
• Economic crisis has made schooling too expensive for many households.
• Some children have become laborers to help provide for their families.
Such a gap in their education would be devastating for her pupils’ learning outcomes, which in many cases are already behind schedule. Of the 30 students in her class, 20 are unable read or write.
A recent report by UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, titled “Every Day Counts,” revealed that in 2022, about 2.4 million children in Syria were not in school and an additional 1.6 million were at risk of dropping out.
According to a subsequent UNICEF report covering the period from January to March this year, the figures have not improved. Furthermore, the share of the national budget allocated by the Syrian government to education fell from 7.1 percent in 2021 to 3.6 percent in 2022.
UNICEF estimates that the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has damaged or destroyed 7,000 schools across the country. This situation was compounded by the devastating twin earthquakes that hit parts of northern Syria and southern Turkiye on Feb. 6 this year.
The UN agency warned of the danger of a generation of young children who have never gone to school and “will face difficulties in enrolling and adjusting in formal schooling as they grow older.”
Until the economic crisis in the country is brought under control, however, many households will continue to prioritize survival over schooling.
“Syria’s children are quite often faced with a dilemma: whether to support their families to survive or continue their education,” Hamzah Barhameyeh, the advocacy and communication manager at World Vision, an international child-focused charity, told Arab News.
“The Syrian conflict has decimated the education infrastructure and the earthquake has compounded the crisis, leaving schools in need of rehabilitation and school supplies, which in turn has made the choice between education and child labor a much easier decision.”
Alrez highlighted the importance of supporting schoolchildren because “this generation is Syria’s future.”
His charity’s initiative has so far succeeded in meeting the needs of about 300 primary school pupils in parts of Rif Dimashq, including Maaraba and Sbeneh, neighborhoods of Ghouta such as Zamalka, and the outskirts of Damascus.
The Syrian government has said it recognizes the struggles many students and their families face and is trying to help. The Ministry of Education has urged schools to be lenient when enforcing policies on the wearing of uniforms, for example, according to a report by SANA.
The ministry also called on schools to cut their demands for certain supplies, wherever feasible, to alleviate the burden on poverty-stricken families, at least in part.
Such modest measures are unlikely to make a significant dent, however, given that 90 percent of the Syrian population now lives below the poverty line. Even teachers in government-held areas, such as Alzahab, are struggling to do their jobs despite being innovative and resourceful wherever possible.
The situation is hardly any better for children in parts of Syria outside the government’s control. The earthquakes in February largely affected opposition-held regions in the northwest, where facilities for children had already deteriorated on account of the conflict.
At least 450 schools in the northwest were “damaged to varying degrees” by the earthquakes, according to a report published in April by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Thousands more have been damaged or destroyed during more than 12 years of civil war, which has been particularly destructive in the northwest of the country.
World Vision currently has six educational projects operating in northwestern Syria, Barhameyeh said, focusing on “school rehabilitation, educational centers, school winterization and teacher training.”
He added: “Those projects also include a livelihood intervention (program) that provides food packages, hygiene kits, school supplies and, in some instances, cash vouchers to reduce families’ need to send their children to work.”
Still, the task of filling up classrooms remains an uphill battle, especially given that more than 1.7 million children in northwestern Syria rely on humanitarian assistance.
“The food crisis and recent cuts to World Food Program programs are actively pushing young boys to head to the labor market and drop out of schools,” said Barhameyeh. “This will have a devastating impact on the future of the Syrian children.”