Traumatized Syrians face major mental health issues with little care available

Displaced Syrians take refuge at the Sultan Ibrahim Mosque in the regime-controlled town of Jableh, northwest of the capital Damascus, on February 12, 2023 following a deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria. (AFP)
Displaced Syrians take refuge at the Sultan Ibrahim Mosque in the regime-controlled town of Jableh, northwest of the capital Damascus, on February 12, 2023 following a deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria. (AFP)
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Updated 29 June 2023
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Traumatized Syrians face major mental health issues with little care available

Traumatized Syrians face major mental health issues with little care available
  • Years of war, and the earthquakes in February, have taken a deep psychological toll on people, delegates at a conference in Washington heard
  • Charitable organization MedGlobal said there has been ‘a severe psychological impact’ on civilians, resulting in depression, anxiety and PTSD

WASHINGTON: After more than a decade of civil war, the devastating earthquakes in Syria this year inflicted further trauma on an already vulnerable population, experts said during a conference in the US on Wednesday.
Many Syrians are not only suffering the physical effects of the crises in their country but also severe mental repercussions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, that are taking a deep psychological toll on Syrian society as a whole and those in the northwest in particular.
The knock-on effects of this mental health crisis, which affects not only victims of the conflict and the natural disaster but also those who provide them with healthcare, include substance abuse of drugs such as the amphetamine Captagon, narcotics and pain medications.
These effects are observed across many segments of Syrian society, according to medical and social experts who shared their experiences and findings during Wednesday’s event, which was organized by the Middle East Institute in Washington and attended by Arab News.
As the civil war approached the end of its 12th year, two earthquakes, of magnitude 7.8 and 7.5, caused devastating damage to parts of northern Syria and southern Turkiye on Feb. 6.
According to report by MedGlobal, a charitable, non-governmental organization that provides emergency humanitarian aid and healthcare, the “Syrian conflict has had a severe psychological impact on its civilians, resulting in high levels of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
It added that many Syrians have experienced traumatic events such as bombings, shootings and forced displacement, which have contributed to mental health issues. The lack of access to adequate mental healthcare and support has exacerbated the psychological effects of the war on the population.
The conference heard that almost half of the Syrian population, and especially those worst-affected by the earthquakes, is suffering from some degree of mental disorders, and many have developed severe condition and show the full symptoms of PTSD.
Dr. Nora Abdullah, a psychiatry resident at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut and a MedGlobal volunteer, said there is an acute mental health crisis in the parts of northwestern Syria that are outside the control of the Syrian regime, with only two psychiatrists to serve a population of about 3.5 million people.
She described the scale of the crisis as “staggering” and said a “telehealth” approach, using technology to provide treatment and support services to patients and to medical staff working under highly stressful conditions, who often fall victim to mental health issues themselves, is helping to compensate for this lack of mental health professionals in parts of Syria.
Dr. Dania Albaba, a psychiatry resident at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and a volunteer and report author for MedGlobal, said “psychological first aid” is being used in the field in Syria to help people recognize the warning signs of mental trauma and disorders, and teach them what they can do to address them.
“We know emergency mental health aid is very valuable and is needed in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, or any crisis,” she added.
Alex Mahoney, acting director for the Middle East, North Africa and Europe at the US Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, said that in addition to supporting the provision of emergency mental health treatment, the agency is also helping to provide psycho-social support services for the Syrian people, including material aid and training for displaced refugees.
He acknowledged that the region remains “a dangerous environment,” especially for organizations with direct links to the US, and so USAID works with the UN and is careful not to reveal the identities of those who help it distribute aid to communities.
He also spoke about “telehealth” and said it is one of the services his agency provides, through the work of specialist partners.
Natasha Hall, a senior fellow with the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the situation in northwestern Syria is dire, especially since the earthquakes. Between 60 and 85 percent of people are unemployed and about 9,000 who did have jobs have lost them because of funding cuts by international donors, she added.
International aid and funding for refugees in the country is drying up yet the situation Syrians find themselves in has not improved in years, said Hall.
“This population is completely dependent on humanitarian aid,” she added.

 


UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war

UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war
Updated 24 February 2024
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UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war

UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war
  • UN agency for Palestinian refugees at ‘breaking point,’ deplores chief

GENEVA, NEW YORK: The UN human rights chief said on Friday that perpetrators of gross human rights violations in the conflict between Israel and Hamas must be held accountable.

“The entrenched impunity that OHCHR — the UN rights agency — has reported on for many years cannot persist,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a report on the situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
He said that this impunity had contributed to violations that could amount to international crimes.
Turk urged all parties to the conflict to “put an end to impunity and conduct prompt, independent, impartial, thorough, effective and transparent investigations” into alleged crimes under international law. He also called on them to implement a ceasefire on human rights and humanitarian grounds, to ensure full respect for international law, and to ensure accountability for violations and abuses.

FASTFACT

‘The entrenched impunity that OHCHR — the UN rights agency — has reported on for many years cannot persist,’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a report on the situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Last month, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire as requested by South Africa, which brought the case.
In separate proceedings, South Africa on Tuesday urged the court to issue a non-binding legal opinion that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal, arguing it would help efforts to reach a settlement.
Separately, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned it has reached a critical juncture as it struggles to cope with the war in Gaza.
“It is with profound regret that I must now inform you that UNRWA has reached a breaking point,” chief Philippe Lazzarini said, as donors freeze funding, Israel exerts pressure to dismantle the agency and humanitarian needs soar.
“The Agency’s ability to fulfill the mandate given through General Assembly Resolution 302 is now seriously threatened,” he said in a letter to the assembly.
That is the resolution under which the agency was founded in 1949, following the creation of Israel. UNRWA employs some 30,000 people working in the occupied territories, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
Several countries — including the US, Britain, Germany and Japan — have suspended funding to UNRWA in response to Israeli allegations that some of its staff participated in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
In an interview published over the weekend Lazzarini said $438 million has been frozen — the equivalent of more than half of expected funding for 2024. He said Israel was waging a concerted effort to destroy UNRWA.
The UN fired the employees accused by Israel and has begun an internal probe of UNRWA.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also tasked an independent panel with assessing whether UNRWA acts in a neutral fashion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lazzarini asserted that Israel has provided no evidence against the 12 former employees it accuses, but 16 countries have suspended funding anyway.
“I have cautioned donors and host countries that without new funding, UNRWA operations across the region will be severely compromised from March,” he said.
He added: “I fear we are on the edge of a monumental disaster with grave implications for regional peace, security and human rights.”
The war started after Hamas’s unprecedented Oct. 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians.
Hamas militants also took about 250 hostages — 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29,410 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza’s Health Ministry.

 


West Bank drone strike killed Palestinian fighter, claims Israel

West Bank drone strike killed Palestinian fighter, claims Israel
Updated 24 February 2024
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West Bank drone strike killed Palestinian fighter, claims Israel

West Bank drone strike killed Palestinian fighter, claims Israel
  • The drone strike in Jenin came hours after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire at cars on a congested West Bank highway near a Jewish settlement on Thursday, killing an Israeli man and wounding eight others

JERUSALEM: The Israeli Army said on Friday that a Palestinian fighter on his way to carry out a shooting attack was killed in a drone strike in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin a day earlier.
Yasser Hanun from the Islamic Jihad group had previously been detained for his involvement in the “terrorist organization’s military activities,” the army said in a statement.
The resident of Jenin refugee camp “was eliminated while en route to carry out another shooting attack,” the statement said, without elaborating.
Witnesses and residents said the strike also killed 17-year-old Saeed Jaradat.
A witness said weapons in the car exploded after the strike on Thursday.

BACKGROUND

Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since the war began, according to the Health Ministry in Ramallah.

Hanun was involved in several shooting attacks targeting Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well as shooting at soldiers and military posts, the army said.
Palestinian news agency Wafa said two people were killed and four wounded in the strike.
Video footage showed a car severely burned from the hit, its roof torn as if by a can opener.
“Two successive missiles” struck the car, Usayd Shelbi, who witnessed the strike, said.
“The situation was dangerous. The weapons in the car were exploding,” he said.
Crowds of mourners gathered for the funeral of the two men on Friday.
“This occupation bares its fangs clearly ... It rejects the existence of the Palestinian people,” Jamal Haweel, a leader in the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said.
The drone strike in Jenin came hours after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire at cars on a congested West Bank highway near a Jewish settlement on Thursday, killing an Israeli man and wounding eight others.
The gunmen were killed.
The West Bank has seen a surge in violence, to levels unseen in nearly two decades, since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began on Oct. 7.

 


UAE invests $35bn in development of Egypt’s Mediterranean coast region

UAE invests $35bn in development of Egypt’s Mediterranean coast region
Updated 24 February 2024
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UAE invests $35bn in development of Egypt’s Mediterranean coast region

UAE invests $35bn in development of Egypt’s Mediterranean coast region
  • The deal, signed by a private consortium led by ADQ, a sovereign investment fund based in Abu Dhabi, is the single largest foreign direct investment in Egypt

LONDON: The UAE, represented by a private consortium led by ADQ, a sovereign investment fund based in Abu Dhabi, signed a landmark agreement with Egypt on Friday to invest $35 billion in Ras El-Hekma, a region on the Mediterranean coast 350 kilometers northwest of Cairo. It represents the single largest foreign direct investment in Egypt.

“In addition to acquiring the development rights for Ras El-Hekma for $24 billion, ADQ will also convert $11 billion of deposits that will be utilized for investment in prime projects across Egypt,” the Emirati state news agency, WAM, reported.

“The vision is to develop the region into a leading, first-of-its-kind Mediterranean holiday destination, financial center and free zone spanning over 170 million square meters and equipped with world-class infrastructure to strengthen Egypt’s economic and tourism growth potential.”

The Egyptian government will retain a 35 percent stake in the development.

Mohammed Hassan Alsuwaidi, the Emirati minister of investment, said: “With this signing, a new chapter begins in the long-standing bilateral relations between our two nations.

“Underscored by mutual respect and trust, this investment demonstrates the UAE’s commitment to supporting the government of Egypt in realizing the abundant potential of the local economy.

“As a large-scale infrastructure project, the planned Ras El-Hekma development will foster widespread impacts across multiple sectors, be a catalyst for job creation, and attract significant additional foreign direct investments in the years to come.”

ADQ said work to build the “next generation city” over 170 square kilometers — nearly a fifth of the size of Abu Dhabi city — would begin in early 2025. The city would feature investment zones, technology and light industry, amusement parks, a marina and an airport as well as tourism and residential developments.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly told a press conference that the deal would bring in $15 billion in the next week and $35 billion over two months — though he said $11 billion of that money would be converted into Egyptian pounds from existing UAE dollar deposits in Egypt’s central bank.

(With Reuters)


UN experts urge ‘immediate’ stop of arms transfers to Israel

UN experts urge ‘immediate’ stop of arms transfers to Israel
Updated 23 February 2024
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UN experts urge ‘immediate’ stop of arms transfers to Israel

UN experts urge ‘immediate’ stop of arms transfers to Israel
  • Transfers are prohibited even if exporting state does not intend arms to be used in violation of law
  • ‘Israel has repeatedly failed to comply with international law,’ say experts

GENEVA: Any transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and must cease immediately, UN experts warned on Friday.
“All states must ‘ensure respect’ for international humanitarian law by parties to an armed conflict, as required by 1949 Geneva Conventions and customary international law,” a media statement quoted the experts as saying.
“States must accordingly refrain from transferring any weapon or ammunition — or parts for them — if it is expected, given the facts or past patterns of behavior, that they would be used to violate international law.”
According to the experts, such transfers are prohibited even if the exporting state does not intend the arms to be used in violation of the law — or does not know with certainty that they would be used in such a way — as long as there is a clear risk.
Meanwhile, the UN experts welcomed the decision of a Dutch appeals court on Feb. 12 ordering the Netherlands to halt the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel.
The court found that there was a “clear risk” that the parts would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law, as “there are many indications that Israel has violated the humanitarian law of war in a not insignificant number of cases.”
Israel has repeatedly failed to comply with international law, said the experts.
They noted that states party to the Arms Trade Treaty have additional treaty obligations to deny arms exports if they “know” that the arms “would” be used to commit international crimes, or if there is an “overriding risk” that the arms transferred “could” be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law.
EU member states are further bound by the bloc’s arms export control laws.
“The need for an arms embargo on Israel is heightened by the International Court of Justice’s ruling on Jan. 26, 2024, that there is a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza and the continuing serious harm to civilians since then,” the experts said.
The Genocide Convention of 1948 requires states parties to employ all means reasonably available to them to prevent genocide in another state as far as possible.
“This necessitates halting arms exports in the present circumstances,” the experts added.
They further welcomed the suspension of arms transfers to Israel by Belgium, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the Japanese company Itochu Corp.
The EU also recently discouraged arms exports to Israel.
Moreover, the experts urged other states to immediately halt arms transfers to Israel, including export licenses and military aid.
The US and Germany are by far the largest arms exporters and shipments have increased since the attack by Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7. Other military exporters include France, the UK, Canada and Australia.
The experts further noted that arms transfers to Hamas and other armed groups are also prohibited by international law, given their grave violations of international humanitarian law during the October attack, including hostage-taking and subsequent indiscriminate rocket fire.
The duty to “ensure respect” for humanitarian law applies “in all circumstances”, including when Israel claims it is countering terrorism.
Military intelligence must also not be shared where there is a clear risk that it would be used to violate international humanitarian law.
“State officials involved in arms exports may be individually criminally liable for aiding and abetting any war crimes, crimes against humanity or acts of genocide,” the experts said.


Israel kills 3 paramedics, Hezbollah official in Lebanon

Israel kills 3 paramedics, Hezbollah official in Lebanon
Updated 23 February 2024
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Israel kills 3 paramedics, Hezbollah official in Lebanon

Israel kills 3 paramedics, Hezbollah official in Lebanon
  • The airstrike targeted the top floor of a building in a residential neighborhood on the Kafr Rumman-Marjayoun Highway, killing Saleh and one other person, and wounding three people

BEIRUT: Israel killed a top Hezbollah official and three paramedics affiliated with the group in airstrikes on Thursday.

Hassan Mahmoud Saleh, a missile unit commander, was killed in the town of Kafr Rumman. The paramedics, from the Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Health Authority, were killed in the town of Blida.

The assassination of Saleh was Israel’s third high-profile strike on top officials belonging to the Axis of Resistance in Lebanon. It follows the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Saleh Al-Arouri and seven others in Beirut in January, and the killing of Ali Al-Debs, along with civilians, a week ago in Nabatiyeh.

The airstrike targeted the top floor of a building in a residential neighborhood on the Kafr Rumman-Marjayoun Highway, killing Saleh and one other person, and wounding three people.

The Israeli airstrike on the Civil Defense Center of the Islamic Health Authority in Blida on Thursday night led to the destruction of the building, with debris removal continuing until Friday morning.

Hezbollah mourned the three paramedics killed in the strike: Hussein Mohammed Khalil from the town of Baraachit, and Mohammed Yaacoub Ismail and Mohammed Hassan from Blida.

Social media videos showing the funeral processions revealed the extent of material devastation to local neighborhoods as a result of Israeli bombardment.

The funeral procession was attended by a crowd of Hezbollah supporters.

A security source monitoring field developments in southern Lebanon said: “Both Hezbollah and the Israeli army possess a dangerous information bank, with advanced tracking technology for the Israeli side.

“Hezbollah cadre Wissam Al-Tawil was targeted by a drone over a month ago in his town of Kherbet Selem immediately upon his return, and in return, Hezbollah targeted Israeli military positions.”

Hezbollah said: “In response to the attack on the civil defense center in Blida, it targeted, through an aerial attack with two drones, the headquarters of the Regional Council in Kiryat Shmona and accurately hit them.” ‏

The southern Lebanese border area came under Israeli attack on Friday morning. The town of Wazzani was targeted by gunfire and artillery, leading to the wounding of a Lebanese soldier and damage to homes and livestock farms.

While Blida mourned the three dead paramedics, the Israeli army opened fire on the town’s cemeteries, where residents were digging graves.

Israeli artillery hit the outskirts of Halta Farm, the forests of Kfarchouba, Kfarhamam and Jabal Al-Labouneh, as well as the outskirts of Naqoura on the coast.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Army announced “the conclusion of intensive training for warships equipped with missiles at sea in the north of the country.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz informed the UN Security Council presidency that his country “will enforce security on its northern borders militarily if the Lebanese government does not implement Resolution 1701 and prevent attacks from its borders on Israel.”

Katz’s statement also included unprecedented details about Iran’s transfer of weapons to Hezbollah via Syria, an apparent violation of Resolution 1701.

His comments appeared to signal the possibility of Israel launching a full-scale war on Lebanon.

Katz called on the Security Council to “demand that the government of Lebanon fully implement Resolution 1701 and ensure that the area up to the Litani River is free from military presence, assets or weapons.”