Syria fishermen despair at water loss, river pollution

Syria fishermen despair at water loss, river pollution
Fisherman Ali Shebli, 37, pulls his net from Lake Assad in the village of Al-Tawayhinah, near the Tabqa dam in Syria’s Raqqa governorate on July 10, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 27 July 2023
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Syria fishermen despair at water loss, river pollution

Syria fishermen despair at water loss, river pollution
  • After 37 years as a fisherman, Ismail Hilal has retired his nets, declaring defeat as fish stocks have declined
  • Water levels have dropped and pollution has worsened in the Euphrates and the dam reservoir it feeds

TABQA DAM, Syria: Around war-torn Syria’s biggest freshwater dam reservoir, fishermen say their catch is now a fraction of what it used to be as environmental pressures have decimated aquatic life.
Ismail Hilal, 50, sat on the hull of his rowboat — now lodged firmly on the shores of Lake Assad — as gentle waves washed in, talking about the way of life he has lost.
After 37 years as a fisherman, he has retired his nets, declaring defeat as fish stocks have declined, water levels have dropped and pollution has worsened in the Euphrates and the dam reservoir it feeds.
“I have spent my whole life on the water, since childhood,” said Hilal, a father of seven. “But I was forced to stop this year. I couldn’t live on fishing anymore.”
Syria has endured more than a decade of civil war, and the nearby town of Raqqa was the center of the Daesh group’s brutal “caliphate” until their ouster in 2017.
The battered country, where half a million died in the conflict, has also suffered the impacts of climate change, from searing summer heat to prolonged drought.
The flow of the Euphrates — one of the region’s mighty streams, where the world’s earliest civilizations flourished — has been further impacted by upstream dams in Turkiye.
Other fishermen AFP spoke to also blamed the river’s low water levels, lack of rainfall, worsening pollution and overfishing for the sharp decline in fish stocks.
Fishermen now “barely take in five percent” of their catch from former times, Hilal said.
He now works in a restaurant in Tabqa, on the eastern edge of the lake, toiling in front of a flaming hot oven and preparing and grilling fish instead of catching them.
The Euphrates, said to have nourished the biblical Garden of Eden, runs for almost 2,800 kilometers (1,700 miles) through Turkiye, Syria and Iraq, where it empties into the sea.
From the Turkish border, it flows southeast across Syria, irrigating its breadbasket region and filling the reservoirs of three hydroelectric dams that provide drinking water and electricity for millions.
Lake Assad is the biggest reservoir, stretching across 600 square kilometers (230 square miles).
But its water level has dropped by four meters (12 feet) since last year, says Dutch peace-building group PAX, which blames a “downward spiral of drought and water shortages.”
The lack of water and the pollution are “driving further biodiversity loss along the lakes and rivers” in Syria’s north and east, said the group’s Wim Zwijnenburg.
Raqqa province received only 208 mm per month of rainfall last year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
An AFP team visiting Lake Assad saw vast plumes of algae — an indicator of pollution, according to experts, that sucks oxygen from the water and kills aquatic life.
When Ali Shebli, 37, a fisherman like his father, pulled in his long green nets, they were empty except for a few bits of the seagrass that now chokes some shallow areas.
“In the past, we could take in 50 kilogrammes of fish” per day, he said. “But now we barely get one or two kilos, and sometimes nothing ... because of the low water level and the pollution.”
Shebli, who struggles to support his wife, three children and his ill father, said the falling fish stocks had made the family’s situation “disastrous.”
The crisis has impacted the wider local economy.
Fish are displayed on blocks of ice at a market in nearby Raqqa, a town under Kurdish control since the Daesh was ousted by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
But fishmonger Ragheb Ismail, 45, scaling fresh fish on a bench, said what is on offer now is a far cry from the times when there were “tons of fish” for sale.
“Now even the biggest fishmonger has no more than 200 kilogrammes on offer because of the drought, the lack of water and the high temperatures,” he said.
These days, he said with frustration, there are plenty of customers but “not enough fish.”


Libya, EU seek ‘strategic’ cooperation to end irregular migration

Libya, EU seek ‘strategic’ cooperation to end irregular migration
Updated 10 sec ago
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Libya, EU seek ‘strategic’ cooperation to end irregular migration

Libya, EU seek ‘strategic’ cooperation to end irregular migration
TRIPOLI: Libya held Wednesday a conference on irregular migration that saw the attendance of representatives from 28 European and African countries hoping to establish a “strategic” cooperation to resolve the issue.
“We have a moral responsibility” toward the mainly sub-Saharan migrants “who cross the desert and the sea” hoping to reach Europe, Libyan Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah said at the opening of the Trans-Mediterranean Migration Forum.
Libya, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Italy, is a key departure point for migrants, primarily from sub-Saharan African countries, risking perilous Mediterranean Sea journeys to seek better lives in Europe.
But with mounting efforts by the European Union to curb irregular migration, many have found themselves stranded in Libya and other North African countries.
“Libya found itself caught in pressure between (Europe’s) turning back of migrants and (their) desire to migrate,” said Dbeibah.
He called for development projects in departure countries.
“We can only resolve the migration crisis at the root, in the countries of departure,” he said.
Last week, authorities in Libya said that up to four in five foreigners in the North African country are undocumented, and hosting migrants hoping to reach Europe has become “unacceptable.”
“It’s time to resolve this problem,” Interior Minister Imad Trabelsi had said, because “Libya cannot continue to pay its price.”
Libya is still struggling to recover from years of war and chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Smugglers and human traffickers have taken advantage of the climate of instability that has dominated the vast country since.
The country has been criticized over the treatment of migrant and refugees, with accusations from rights groups ranging from extortion to slavery.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at Wednesday’s forum called for an end to “human trafficking... (which) is nowadays one of world’s most powerful criminal networks.”
The far-right minister denounced “criminal organizations” who “decide who has the right or not to live in our countries,” adding that “illegal migration is the enemy of legal migration.”
Italy recorded 30,348 migrant arrivals from North Africa between January 1 and July 16 — a 61-percent decrease in a year — with 17,659 people leaving from Libya and 11,001 from Tunisia, according to official figures.

16 sailors missing after Yemen-bound oil tanker capsizes off Oman

16 sailors missing after Yemen-bound oil tanker capsizes off Oman
Updated 49 min 33 sec ago
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16 sailors missing after Yemen-bound oil tanker capsizes off Oman

16 sailors missing after Yemen-bound oil tanker capsizes off Oman
  • Maritime Security Center in Oman said that 13 Indians and three Sri Lankans are missing from the Prestige Falcon
  • Indian Navy’s warship INS Teg is participating in the search operation alongside Omani vessels

AL-MUKALLA: Search operations have escalated for 16 seamen who went missing in the Arabian Sea on Monday when their oil tanker, bound for Yemen, sunk off Oman.

The Maritime Security Center in Oman said on Tuesday that 13 Indians and three Sri Lankans are missing from the Prestige Falcon, a Comoros-flagged oil tanker that collapsed 25 nautical miles southeast of Ras Madrakah near the Omani port town of Duqm.

The Indian news agency Asian News International reported that the Indian Navy’s warship INS Teg is participating in the search operation alongside Omani vessels and coast guards to find the missing sailors. The Indian Navy warship was able to locate the capsized tanker on Tuesday morning.

According to marinetraffic.com, which provides ship information, the Prestige Falcon is an oil tanker flying the Comoros flag, and which was going from the UAE to Yemen’s southern port city of Aden. In Yemen, the state-run Public Electricity Corporation in Aden said that the capsized ship was carrying 5,000 tonnes of fuel owned by a local merchant, contradicting media reports claiming that it controlled the ship’s cargo.

This comes as the Conflict and Environment Observatory, an environmental advocacy charity, stated that images provided by the Sentinel 2 satellite on Tuesday showed a 220 km oil slick beginning 106 nautical miles from Yemen’s Red Sea city of Hodeidah, which was believed leaked from the Liberia-flagged oil tanker Chios Lion that the Houthis attacked.

On Tuesday, the Houthis released footage of an explosive-laden and remotely operated boat colliding with the Chios Lion in the Red Sea, which was traveling 100 nautical miles northwest of Hodeidah on Monday, resulting in an explosion and ball of fire. The CEOBS condemned the Houthis for damaging the Red Sea’s ecosystem by assaulting oil vessels. “Attacks have already impacted the Red Sea environment and attacks on oil and bulk chemical carriers pose ongoing risks,” it said in a post on X.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s government said that it had found no evidence of contamination in the Red Sea or along the country’s coast from a fertilizer-laden ship that sank in the Red Sea, repeating appeals for the international community to provide it with technology to neutralize the ship’s danger. The MV Rubymar, a Belize-flagged and Lebanese-operated ship carrying thousands of tons of fertilizer and gasoline, sank in the Red Sea earlier this year after being attacked by Houthi missiles.

Capt. Yeslem Mubarak, vice executive chairman of the Maritime Affairs Authority and a member of the government’s commission responsible for the sinking ship, told Arab News that the Yemeni government teams who visited the ship’s area and combed the Yemeni coasts had not observed any signs of pollution.

He also said that the Yemeni government had requested equipment from some nations, including a remotely operated underwater vehicle, to address the MV Rubymar sinking or any similar incident in the future as the Houthis intensify their attacks on ships. “So yet, there is no pollution or slicks surrounding the ship, and it remains bowed up, indicating that water has not infiltrated all of its compartments,” he said.

Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship, sunk two others, fired hundreds of ballistic missiles and deployed drones and drone boats to attack commercial and naval ships in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. The Yemeni militia sees this as an attempt to pressure Israel to end its war in the Palestinian Gaza Strip.


Iran rejects accusations implicating it in plot to kill Donald Trump

Iran rejects accusations implicating it in plot to kill Donald Trump
Updated 17 July 2024
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Iran rejects accusations implicating it in plot to kill Donald Trump

Iran rejects accusations implicating it in plot to kill Donald Trump
  • CNN has reported US authorities received intelligence weeks ago on an alleged Iranian plot
  • Iran’s mission to the United Nations calls the accusations “unsubstantiated and malicious”

TEHRAN: Iran on Wednesday rejected what it called “malicious” accusations by US media implicating it in a plot to kill former US president Donald Trump.
CNN reported Tuesday that US authorities received intelligence from a “human source” weeks ago on an alleged Iranian plot against the former president, prompting his protection to be boosted. Other US outlets also reported the alleged plot.
CNN said the alleged plot was not linked to Saturday’s shooting at a Trump campaign rally in Pennsylvania, in which the former president was wounded and a supporter killed.
The US National Security Council said it had been “tracking Iranian threats against former Trump administration officials for years” after Tehran threatened revenge for the 2020 killing of Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in neighboring Iraq.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations called the accusations “unsubstantiated and malicious.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Iran “strongly rejects any involvement in the recent armed attack against Trump.”
He added however that Iran remains “determined to prosecute Trump over his direct role in the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani.”
Soleimani headed the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, overseeing Iranian military operations across the Middle East.
Trump ordered his killing in a drone strike just outside Baghdad airport.


Bystander killed as armed groups clash in Libya seaside town

Security personnel affiliated with the Ministry of Interior secure the streets after clashes between armed factions in Tripoli.
Security personnel affiliated with the Ministry of Interior secure the streets after clashes between armed factions in Tripoli.
Updated 17 July 2024
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Bystander killed as armed groups clash in Libya seaside town

Security personnel affiliated with the Ministry of Interior secure the streets after clashes between armed factions in Tripoli.
  • “The woman died after being hit in the head” by a stray bullet, emergency services spokesman Oussama Ali told Al-Ahrar television
  • Libyan media reported that the clashes broke out after fighters of one armed group detained a member of a rival group

TRIPOLI: Armed groups clashed in a seaside town outside the Libyan capital late Tuesday, killing a woman bystander and sowing panic among beachgoers, emergency services and media reports said.
The fighting erupted in Tajura, a town 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Tripoli which is popular with families seeking escape from the heat of the capital.
“The woman died after being hit in the head” by a stray bullet, emergency services spokesman Oussama Ali told Al-Ahrar television.
Libyan media reported that the clashes broke out after fighters of one armed group detained a member of a rival group.
A myriad of armed groups have vied for control of the North African country ever since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Although relative calm has returned in the past few years, clashes periodically occur between rival groups, most of which are allied with either the UN-recognized government in Tripoli or the rival administration based in the east.
Clashes broke out in Zawiya, west of the capital, in May and in Tripoli itself in April.
In August last year, 55 people were killed in the fiercest clashes to hit the capital in a year.


Drones target Iraq base housing US-led coalition: security sources

Drones target Iraq base housing US-led coalition: security sources
Updated 17 July 2024
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Drones target Iraq base housing US-led coalition: security sources

Drones target Iraq base housing US-led coalition: security sources
  • The attack comes amid escalating regional tensions fueled by the war in Gaza between Washington’s ally Israel and the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas
  • The US military has some 2,500 troops deployed in Iraq and 900 in Syria with the international coalition

BAGHDAD: Two drones were launched against a base in Iraq where forces of the US-led anti-extremist coalition are stationed, security officials said Wednesday.
“An attack using two drones” targeted Ain Assad base in Anbar province on Tuesday evening, a police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
“One drone was shot down outside the base by defense systems, and the second exploded inside the base without causing any injuries or damage,” he added.
The attack comes amid escalating regional tensions fueled by the war in Gaza between Washington’s ally Israel and Hamas.
Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq have largely halted similar attacks on US-backed troops in recent months, but have continued to threaten action should war break out between their ally Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel.
A senior security official in Baghdad confirmed Tuesday’s attack, saying he believed it was meant to “embarrass” the Iraqi government and pressure the ongoing talks on the future of the international coalition in Iraq, with Iran-backed groups demanding a withdrawal.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The US military has some 2,500 troops deployed in Iraq and 900 in Syria with the international coalition.
The coalition was deployed to Iraq at the government’s request in 2014 to help combat Daesh, which had taken over vast swathes of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-backed groups, has carried out more than 175 rocket and drone strikes against US-led troops in Iraq and Syria.
It says the attacks are in solidarity with the Palestinians amid the ongoing war in Gaza, demanding an end to the Israeli offensive.
In April, rocket fire from northern Iraq targeted a base hosting the international coalition in Syria.
In late January, a drone strike blamed on Iraqi armed groups killed three US soldiers in a base across the border in Jordan.
In retaliation, the US launched deadly strikes against pro-Iran factions in Iraq and Syria.
Baghdad has sought to defuse the tensions, engaging in talks with Washington to negotiate a timeline for the coalition’s withdrawal.
The senior security official said that an Iraqi delegation is expected to travel to Washington later this week for the ongoing talks.