LONDON: Sophie, the duchess of Edinburgh, made the UK royal family’s first-ever trip to Baghdad, on a visit to support victims of sexual violence.
She spent two days in the Iraqi capital, visiting a girls’ school and meeting with the country’s president and prime minister. The trip was unannounced due to security reasons.
She delivered a speech at the annual Women’s Voices First Conference to promote female participation in peace efforts.
UK Ambassador to Iraq Mark Bryson-Richardson, who accompanied the duchess for most of the trip, praised her for being the first member of the British royal family to visit Baghdad.
The duchess has long championed gender equality worldwide, announcing on International Women’s Day 2019 a scheme to support the UN’s women, peace and security mission.
During her visit to Baghdad’s Hitten Girls’ School, she discussed education and future ambitions with students.
She also met senior female business leaders during the trip, and visited a family planning center.
In her meeting with President Abdul Latif Rashid, Iraq’s First Lady Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmed was also present.
The duchess passed on the greetings of King Charles to the Iraqi leadership, said Bryson-Richardson, praising the visit as a “sign of the strength of our bilateral relationship.”
Though other members of the British royal family, including Charles, have visited Iraq, her visit is the first to Baghdad. Previous trips saw royal visits to British troops in Basra during the Iraq war.
Leap into future: Qatar begins construction on mega gas field expansion
Qatar is set to raise its output of LNG by 60 percent or more to 126 million tons a year by 2027
Updated 9 sec ago
RAS LAFFAN, Qatar: Qatar’s state-owned energy giant began construction Tuesday on a project to expand production from the world’s biggest natural gas field through an export terminal on the country’s northeast coast.
There has been mounting demand for Qatari gas as European consumer nations have scrambled to replace lost Russian deliveries since President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale war on Ukraine early last year.
The emir presided over a glitzy ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the North Field expansion at Ras Laffan, QatarEnergy’s onshore gas processing base 80 km north of Doha.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the project “falls within our strategy toward strengthening Qatar’s position as a global producer of liquefied natural gas.”
Qatari Energy Minister Saad Al-Kaabi called the project a “leap toward our country’s leadership in the field of energy.”
By increasing production at the field, which extends under the Gulf into Iranian territory, Qatar is set to raise its output of LNG by 60 percent or more to 126 million tons a year by 2027.
LNG from the expansion is expected to start coming on line in 2026.
Asian countries led by China, Japan and South Korea have been the main market for Qatari gas, but it has also been increasingly sought by European countries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early last year.
Chairman of France’s TotalEnergies, Patrick Pouyanne told reporters the North Field Expansion was a “huge project,” coming as demand for LNG from Europe increases.
“We need more supply. That’s clear. Still the market is fragile,” Pouyanne said. “This project is a major one and will give some relief to this market,” he added.
Total signed a $1.5 billion deal with QatarEnergy in September last year giving it a 9.3 percent stake in Qatar’s North Field South project, the second phase of the field’s expansion.
In June 2022, the French energy giant became the first partner in the first phase of the expansion, North Field East, investing more than $2 billion for a 25 percent share.
In June, Doha announced a 27-year deal to supply 4 million tons of gas a year to the China National Petroleum Corporation. The agreement matches the terms of a 2022 deal with China’s Sinopec that was the longest ever seen in the industry.
Britain’s Shell, Italy’s ENI and US giants ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil have also signed deals to partner in the expansion.
Qatar is one of the world’s top LNG producers, alongside the United States, Australia and Russia.
Qatar Energy estimates the North Field holds about 10 percent of the world’s known natural gas reserves.
Teen girl in coma after Iran metro assault: rights group
The teenager, named as Armita Garawand, had been badly injured in a run-in on the Tehran metro with female morality police officers
This has already been denied by the Iranian authorities who say that the girl “fainted” due to low blood pressure
Updated 31 min 37 sec ago
PARIS: An Iranian girl aged 16 has been left in a coma and is being treated in hospital under heavy security after an assault on the Tehran subway, a rights group said on Tuesday.
The Kurdish-focused rights group Hengaw said the teenager, named as Armita Garawand, had been badly injured in a run-in on the Tehran metro with female morality police officers.
This has already been denied by the Iranian authorities who say that the girl “fainted” due to low blood pressure and that there was no involvement of the security forces.
Iranian authorities remain on high alert for any upsurge of social tension just over a year after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested for allegedly violating the strict dress rules for women.
Her death sparked several months of protests that rattled Iran’s clerical leadership and only dwindled in the face of a crackdown that according to activists has seen thousands arrested and hundreds killed.
Hengaw said that Garawand was left with severe injuries after being apprehended by agents of the so-called morality police at the Shohada metro station in Tehran on Sunday.
It said she was being treated under tight security at Tehran’s Fajr hospital and “there are currently no visits allowed for the victim, not even from her family.”
Though a resident of Tehran, Garawand hails from the city of Kermanshah in Kurdish-populated western Iran, Hengaw said.
Maryam Lotfi, a journalist from the Shargh daily newspaper, sought in the aftermath of the incident to visit the hospital but was immediately detained. She was subsequently released, it added.
The case has become the subject of intense discussion on social media, with a purported video of the incident said by some to show the teen, with friends and apparently unveiled, being pushed into the metro by female police agents.
Masood Dorosti, managing director of the Tehran subway system, denied there was “any verbal or physical conflict” between the student and “passengers or metro executives.”
“Some rumors about a confrontation with metro agents... are not true and CCTV footage refutes this claim,” Dorosti told state news agency IRNA.
The IranWire news site, based outside Iran, cited a source as saying she had sustained a “head injury” after being pushed by the officers.
A year after Amini’s death, Iranian authorities have launched a renewed push to crack down on women defying the Islamic republic’s strict dress rules for women, including the mandatory hijab.
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said women and girls “face increased violence, arbitrary arrests and heightened discrimination after the Islamic Republic re-activated its forced-veiling police patrols.”
Sick prisoners abused and left to die, new report by rights watchdog says
Updated 40 min 54 sec ago
JEDDAH: Prisoners were routinely abused, tortured and left to die at a Syrian military hospital in Damascus, according to a damning report published on Tuesday.
Sick prisoners sent from detention centers for treatment at the Tishreen Military Hospital rarely received any medical attention. Instead, security forces and even medical and administrative staff inflicted “brutal torture” on detainees, including physical and psychological violence.
The report by the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison, a watchdog in Turkey, covers abuses from the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011 to 2020, but the authors said they believed many of the practices persisted today.
Inmates arriving at the hospital were first held “in the same room where bodies of detainees were collected,”and sick detainees were forced to help transport prisoners’ corpses, the report said.
No postmortems were conducted and the hospital issued “death certificates with false information,” often giving heart attack, kidney failure or stroke as the cause of death. Sometimes inmates “between life and death”were placed among the corpses and left to die or even killed.
A survivor of the abuse, Abu Hamza, 43, was taken to the jail at the Tishreen hospital three times during his incarceration, but saw a doctor only once. “Prisoners were afraid to go to the hospital, because many did not return,” he said. “Those who were very sick would be left to die in the hospital lockup.”
The report said a jail officer would sometimes kill very sick detainees, or prisoners would be ordered to take part in doing so.
Tishreen hospital plays a “central role in enforced disappearances, covering up torture, falsifying the causes of death and other abuses amounting to crimes against humanity,” said watchdog co-founder Diab Serriya.
President Biden thanks Qatar’s emir for mediation in freeing Americans from Iran
Biden praised “Qatar’s active and constructive role on the international stage.”
Updated 03 October 2023
WASHINGTON D.C.: US President Joe Biden called Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to thank him for Doha’s mediation that resulted in the release of a number of Americans from Iran, the Amiri Diwan said on Tuesday.
“During the call, the strategic relations between the two countries and aspects of supporting and strengthening them in various fields were reviewed,” the Amiri Diwan, or Emir’s office, said in a statement.
It also said that Biden had praised “Qatar’s active and constructive role on the international stage.”
Last month, with Doha’s mediation, Iran freed five Americans as part of a prisoner swap for five Iranians held in the United States and the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds.
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 3 min 36 sec ago
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, and also 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.”