BEIRUT: The Daesh group killed 15 people foraging for desert truffles in conflict-ravaged central Syria by cutting their throats, while 40 others are missing, a war monitor said Friday.
Syria’s desert truffles fetch high prices in a country battered by 12 years of war and a crushing economic crisis.
Since February, at least 150 people — most of them civilians — have been killed by IS attacks targeting truffle hunters or by land mines left by the extremists, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“At least 15 people, including seven civilians and eight local pro-regime fighters, were killed by Daesh fighters who slit their throats while they were collecting truffles on Thursday,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
Forty others are missing following the attack in Hama province, he added.
Syrian state media did not immediately report the incident.
Between February and April each year, hundreds of impoverished Syrians search for truffles in the vast Syrian Desert, or Badia — a known hideout for jihadists that is also littered with land mines.
Foragers risk their lives to collect the delicacies, despite repeated warnings about land mines and Daesh fighters.
Earlier this month, Daesh fighters killed three truffle hunters and kidnapped at least 26 others in northern Syria, according to the monitor, which relies on a vast network of sources inside Syria.
That attack happened near positions held by pro-Iran forces, said the Britain-based Observatory.
Dozens arrested as protesters mark Iran’s ‘Bloody Friday’: activists
The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year
Updated 39 sec ago
PARIS: Iranian security forces made dozens of arrests Saturday as protesters in the southeast commemorated the killing of dozens of demonstrators in the region one year ago, human rights groups said.
At least 104 people were killed, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO, in what is known as “Bloody Friday,” when security forces fired on a protest in Zahedan, the main city of Sistan-Baluchistan province, on September 30 last year.
The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year.
The Zahedan protests were triggered by reports a teenage girl had been raped in custody by a police commander and took place in parallel to nationwide demonstrations sparked by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.
Activists have long complained that the ethnic Baluch population in Sistan-Baluchistan, who adhere to Sunni Islam not the Shiite branch of the faith dominant in Iran, suffer from discrimination.
Security forces fired tear gas and live rounds for a second straight day to disperse protesters who turned out in Zahedan to mark the anniversary, the Baluch-focused rights group Haalvsh said.
Throughout Saturday, businesses in Zahedan and other towns observed a general strike, it said, adding that “dozens” of people had been arrested.
The group posted footage with the sound of gunfire clearly audible amid a heavy security presence in the city.
Security forces had already used live fire to disperse protesters on Friday, wounding at least 25 people, including children, according to the Baloch Activists Campaign group. There was no immediate word on any casualties in Saturday’s unrest.
Even as the protest movement dwindled elsewhere in Iran, residents of Zahedan have held regular Friday protests throughout the past 12 months.
The city’s Friday prayer leader, Molavi Abdolhamid, who has been outspoken in his support of the protests over the past year, issued a new call for justice over “Bloody Friday,” telling the faithful to “know your rights.”
Footage posted on social media on Friday showed chaotic scenes as hospitals filled with injured, including children, while people on the streets sought to escape to safety amid the sound of heavy gunfire.
IHR said that the protests in Zahedan and other cities were again “brutally crushed” with authorities using “live ammunition, pellet bullets and tear gas against unarmed protesters.”
The executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, condemned the “horrifying display of indiscriminate violence... as the state attempts to suppress peaceful demonstrations.”
“It is imperative for the international community to shine a spotlight on this violence and to hold Iranian officials accountable in international courts, invoking the principle of international jurisdiction,” he said.
No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict
South Sudan is no stranger to humanitarian crisis, having had its own share since achieving statehood in 2011
Experts say the country is in no position to handle the large and sudden influx of displaced people from Sudan
Updated 01 October 2023
NAIROBI: Civilians displaced by the conflict in Sudan have sought sanctuary in the world’s youngest country next door, the Republic of South Sudan, only to face a daunting new set of challenges.
An estimated 250,000 people — including a large number of South Sudanese who had been living in Sudan — have crossed the border since fighting erupted in Sudan in April, with many now housed in overcrowded camps lacking food, sanitation and basic healthcare services.
High malnutrition rates and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and measles among the new arrivals testify to the dire health conditions, which aid agencies operating in the area say is one of the many serious causes for concern.
The UN has given warning that the number of people fleeing Sudan could double by the end of the year unless a settlement between the warring parties is reached soon.
Aside from being unprepared to absorb this tide of humanity in search of shelter and sustenance, South Sudan’s own political and economic shortcomings render it an ineffective broker in ending the conflict in Sudan.
This is despite the mediation efforts of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who recently hosted Sudan’s de-facto leader and head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in the capital Juba.
250,000 Sudanese refugees and South Sudanese returnees who have crossed the border since the conflict began.
5 million Total number of people uprooted by the conflict, including 1 million who have fled to neighboring countries.
7,500 People killed since the onset of violence, according to conservative estimates of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
South Sudan is no stranger to hardship and adversity, having had its own bloody conflicts since gaining independence in 2011. Like its northern neighbor, from which it seceded, South Sudan is also grappling with political instability and ethnic conflicts.
Add to the mix South Sudan’s limited resources and primitive infrastructure, and the country is in no position to handle such a large and sudden influx of impoverished people.
“The majority of these refugees are women, children, and young adults, with a notable concentration of youth between the ages of 12 and 22,” John Dabi, South Sudan’s deputy commissioner for refugee affairs, told Arab News.
Particularly, Juba and the border town of Renk have come under pressure from a sudden explosion in population, which has led to an acute shortage of basic necessities, including food, medicine and shelter.
Then there is the impact of a fickle climate, as South Sudan’s rainy season leads to the flooding of entire districts and turns roads into impassable mud tracks, hindering aid deliveries and access to remote refugee camps.
Predictably, South Sudan’s economy is a shambles, despite the recent launch of the National Economic Conference, which is meant to accelerate development.
Firas Raad, the World Bank representative in South Sudan, recently urged the government to strive for more stable macroeconomic conditions, robust public financial management, and effective governance reforms to improve conditions for its people.
The parlous state of the country’s economy calls into question Juba’s credibility as a mediator in Sudan’s conflict, Suzanne Jambo, a South Sudanese policy analyst and former government adviser, told Arab News.
“South Sudan still struggles to achieve a stable transition to a permanent status, including a unified army, agreed-upon constitutional arrangements, and fairly elected representatives, not to mention conducting the elections,” she said.
Instability in South Sudan is not just influenced by governance and economics. The ethnic and tribal contours of the Sudanese conflict are all too evident, with millions fleeing to neighboring countries and exposing the political divisions within Sudan and along its porous borders.
For instance, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group has been recruiting fighters from among Darfur’s Arab tribes.
Given the possibility of further escalation of ethnic tensions, experts believe coordinated efforts are essential for the proper distribution of humanitarian aid as well as conflict prevention and resolution strategies.
Sudanese civilians arriving in South Sudan represent a mosaic of backgrounds mirroring the country’s ethnic, racial and religious diversity. To minimize the chances of inter-communal violence, separate settlements, rather than traditional refugee camps, have been established.
“A critical aspect of managing the refugee crisis is preventing inter-community conflicts,” said Dabi, the deputy commissioner for refugee affairs. However, the most pressing issue facing displaced Sudanese in South Sudan is the scarcity of essential resources, he added.
The situation of people who crossed over from Sudan into other neighboring countries appears to be equally dire.
In Chad, where more than 400,000 people have fled the violence in Darfur, aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres says the situation has become so desperate that “people are feeding their children on insects, grass, and leaves.”
Amid severe shortages, “some have gone five weeks without receiving food,” Susana Borges, MSF’s emergency coordinator in Adre, said in a statement. Camps also lack water, sanitation, shelter, and medical care.
“The most urgent health needs we are dealing with are malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition,” Borges added. According to the UN, dozens of children under the age of five have already died of malnutrition in Chadian camps.
The conflict in Sudan, now in its fifth month, was triggered by a plan to incorporate the RSF into the SAF.
On April 15 a long-running power struggle between the Al-Burhan and his former deputy, RSF chief Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, suddenly escalated, prompting the evacuation of foreign nationals and embassy staff.
At least 7,500 people have been killed since the conflict began, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, and the troubled western Darfur region, where the worst of the violence has been taking place, have seen “intensified shelling” as the SAF and the RSF target each other’s bases with “artillery and rocket fire.”
In central Khartoum, the SAF controls the skies and has carried out regular air strikes, while RSF fighters dominate the streets.
In South Darfur’s regional capital, Nyala, residents say fighter jets have been targeting “RSF leadership.” However, reports from the ground suggest civilians are routinely caught in the crossfire.
UN figures show the fighting has uprooted more than five million people from their homes, including one million who have crossed international borders into neighboring countries.
Over the weekend, a cholera outbreak was reported in eastern Sudan and investigations launched to check whether it had spread to Khartoum and South Kordofan state.
The conflict has also seen a surge in gender-based violence, as confirmed by numerous credible reports of rape, human trafficking, and increase in early marriage.
Despite multiple diplomatic efforts to broker a truce, the conflict has continued and intensified, leaving those displaced with little prospect of returning to their homes any time soon.
As South Sudan struggles to accommodate its own citizens previously living in Sudan, a recent visit to the country by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, suggests the international community is taking notice.
However, Peter Van der Auweraert, the UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, has cautioned there could be a significant decline in humanitarian assistance for the country next year.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says humanitarian aid organizations are struggling to meet the needs of the displaced, with only 19 percent of the $1 billion requested from donors so far received.
Algeria expands English-language learning as France’s influence ebbs
Mali this year changed its constitution to remove French from its list of official languages, and Morocco made English classes compulsory in high schools
Updated 30 September 2023
ALGIERS: More than a year after Algeria launched a pilot program to teach English in elementary schools, the country is hailing it as a success and expanding it in a move that reflects a widening linguistic shift underway in former French colonies throughout Africa.
Students returning to third and fourth-grade classrooms this fall will participate in two 45-minute English classes each week as the country creates new teacher training programs at universities and eyes more transformational changes in the years ahead. Additionally, the government is strengthening enforcement of a preexisting law against private schools that operate primarily in French.
“Teaching English is a strategic choice in the country’s new education policy,” Education Minister Abdelkrim Belabed said last week, lauding the move as an immense success.
English is the world’s most widely spoken language, accounts for the majority of content on the internet, and remains a lingua franca in business and science. As France’s economic and political influence wanes throughout Africa, Algeria is among a longer list of countries gradually transitioning toward English as their primary foreign language.
This year, neighboring Mali changed its constitution to remove French from its list of official languages, and Morocco made English classes compulsory in high schools.
Algeria has more French speakers than all but two nations — France itself and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the International Organization of the French Language, nearly 15 million out of the country’s 44 million speak it. Its officials frame English classes as a practical rather than political shift, noting the language’s importance in scientific and technical fields.
But questions about France’s position in Algerian society have long been polarizing, as teachers and former education policy officials acknowledge.
Retired high school principal Mohammed Arezki Ferdi believes Algeria should have begun the shift to English decades ago.
The current initiative was launched by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who came to power in 2019.
Previous leaders also tried to expand English but failed to overcome the French-educated elites who had long wielded power in the country.
“We lost a lot of time,” Ferdi said.
“We should have introduced English in primary schools when President (Abdelaziz) Bouteflika laid out his reform after coming to power in 1991. But at that time, French-speaking factions in Algeria had a lot of decision-making power in institutions.”
The expansion of English language learning comes as tensions increasingly flare between France and Algeria.
The two share security interests over the political upheavals shaping contemporary West Africa.
However, in recent years, they have sparred repeatedly over immigration, extradition, and how each country memorializes colonialism and the brutal war that resulted in Algeria’s independence in 1962. Algeria plans to expand its current program to fifth grade next year.
It will continue instructing students in French for three hours each week in elementary schools.
When English-language learning was introduced last year, Algerian officials reaffirmed their commitment to French and said it would continue to be taught widely.
But in remarks this week at the beginning of the school year, Kamal Bedari, Algeria’s minister of Higher Education, said expanding the program was to enable elementary school students to take technical courses later on in English — not French.
Though few dispute that English is essential, some worry about how Algeria is implementing such a shift and caution against declaring victory too soon. Ahmed Tessa, a former adviser to Algeria’s Ministry of Education, believes getting students to master English can only happen gradually and will likely require more than simply adding classes.
“We need to get back to basics,” he said. “This is no small task.”
Regardless of how quickly schools transition to English, signs of pushback against French are clear elsewhere.
Authorities have slowly replaced French with English in the official titles of various government ministries. And on his trip last year to Algiers, the country had French President Emmanuel Macron provide remarks from a podium noting his title and the date in English and Arabic, one of Algeria’s two official languages, along with indigenous Tamazight.
Lion cubs, rare eagle in illegal shipment seized in Lebanon
Smuggled animals in ‘terrible’ condition after being found hidden in cages, boxes
Minister pledges crackdown under global agreements to curb wildlife trafficking
Updated 11 sec ago
BEIRUT: Lebanon has pledged to crack down on trafficking in wild animals following the seizure of an illegal shipment that included two lion cubs and a rare eagle near the border with Syria.
Agriculture Minister Abbas Hajj Hassan said on Saturday that Lebanon will adhere to international agreements to prevent smuggling of wildlife, and convicted smugglers will be punished.
Lebanese troops on Friday found two lion cubs, an eastern imperial eagle, 350 goldfinches and more than 1,350 ornamental birds of various types hidden in wooden cages and cardboard boxes on a truck after a routine search at a checkpoint in Batroun on the Tripoli-Beirut highway, 50 km north of Beirut.
The truck driver was arrested, and the smuggled animals were confiscated.
Internal Security Forces are now investigating the shipment, one of the largest in years and believed to have been destined for a well-known Beirut businessman.
Environment Minister Nasser Yassin said the confiscated animals were in “terrible” condition.
“We do not know how many days they had been kept in cages without food or water to be smuggled across the border, or the circumstances surrounding the smuggling operation,” he said.
The two lion cubs were treated and some of the birds released. However, the eagle was in poor condition and might not survive, the minister added.
Yassin said the businessman is likely to face prosecution.
“Out of concern with the issue of wild animals, we will sue everyone behind this operation,” he said.
“We are committed to the global CITES — Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora — the agreement that regulates this trade.”
Smuggling is a growing problem on the Lebanese-Syrian border amid widespread chaos in the region.
Most operations involve human trafficking, mainly Syrians who want to work in Lebanon or travel through the country illegally en route to Europe.
Smugglers also move medicine, fuel and illegal drugs. However, seizures of wildlife are rarely reported.
Hajj Hassan, the agriculture minister, also said: “It is not the first time that animals have been smuggled and it will not be the last. However, this is the largest shipment that has been confiscated.”
Animal rights activist Ghina Nahfawi told Arab News that the animals were destined for a businessman “known for this type of trade.”
The merchant sells animals in the Al-Awza’i neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Beirut, according to Nahfawi.
Rare and exotic creatures are sold to wealthy people, who boast about having them in their gardens, she said.
The confiscated animals were inspected by the Department of Livestock in North Lebanon and either released or given further treatment.
The eastern imperial eagle is being cared for by the Lebanese Association for Migratory Birds, while the two lion cubs were deposited with the welfare group Animals Lebanon.
Houthis told to release citizens detained for celebrating revolution
Yemenis marched through the streets of Sanaa with flags and chanted slogans in praise of the republic
The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties condemned Houthi attacks on peaceful gatherings in the cities it controls
Updated 30 September 2023
AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni officials and international human rights organizations have demanded the Iran-backed Houthis release hundreds of detained citizens who took to the streets of Sanaa and other Yemeni cities last week to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the Sept. 26 revolution.
Yemenis marched through the streets of Sanaa with flags and chanted slogans in praise of the republic.
Social media videos show armed Houthi militia in military uniform and civilian clothing violently suppressing gatherings in the capital and the city of Ibb, dragging dozens of people from the streets and forcing them into military vehicles.
The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties condemned Houthi attacks on peaceful gatherings in the cities it controls. The body demanded that the militia cease harassing those who lawfully express their opinions.
The organization said: “We call on the Houthi group to halt its brutal attacks, release all detainees, and instruct its members to respect the rights of individuals to express their opinions, and peaceful assembly.
“In addition, the Houthi group is required to prosecute all individuals involved in the attacks and arrests for their grave violations.”
Sanaa residents said the Houthis had deployed security forces throughout the capital, primarily around Al-Sabeen Square, in response to calls for demonstrations against the mass arrests following Friday prayer.
Amnesty International has demanded that the Houthis “immediately and unconditionally” release the detained individuals, adding that the Yemenis were arrested and assaulted for commemorating a national day.
It said: “In a draconian show of force, Houthi de facto authorities have carried out a wave of sweeping arrests, demonstrating their flagrant disregard for the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
Grazia Careccia, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement: “The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release anyone detained solely for exercising their rights.”
The Houthis have not officially commented on the arrests, but activists in Sanaa, including legal activist Abdul Wahab Qatran — who has contacted Houthi security agencies — say those seized are being questioned about “possible affiliations” with external groups.
Analysts say the gatherings in Sanaa have been occurring at a time when public pressure has been mounting on the Houthis to compensate thousands of state employees who have not been paid for years.
They add that the Houthis do not acknowledge the 1962 uprising against the imams.
Faisal Al-Shabibi, a Yemeni journalist, told Arab News: “They (the Houthis) view the events of Sept. 26 as a rebellion, not a revolution as the Yemenis do. They intend to transform the republic into a monarchy gradually.”
The Houthis, who took military control of Yemen in late 2014, have detained thousands of Yemeni politicians, activists, journalists, and members of the general public, as well as forcing tens of thousands to abandon their homes.