‘It’s a new era for Arab space exploration,’ Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi tells Arab News

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Updated 30 July 2023
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‘It’s a new era for Arab space exploration,’ Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi tells Arab News

‘It’s a new era for Arab space exploration,’ Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi tells Arab News
  • Pays tribute to Prince Sultan as Arab space pioneer, recalls “amazing” meet-up with Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Alqarni on board the ISS
  • Highlights the importance of STEM subjects for preparing and inspiring the next generation of Arab astronauts

DUBAI: Manned missions launched by the UAE and Saudi Arabia signal “a new era in Arab space exploration,” Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi has told Arab News from the International Space Station.

As the first Arab astronaut deployed on a long-term space mission, having arrived on the ISS in March alongside three Americans and three Russians, and the first Arab to perform a spacewalk, AlNeyadi is blazing a trail for the Arab world’s budding space industry.

“Honestly, it’s a great honor to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers in space in the Arab world: Prince Sultan bin Salman, Muhammed Faris and my colleague, Hazzaa AlMansoori, who traveled to space before me,” he said during an interview conducted from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai via video link with the ISS on Friday.

AlNeyadi was referring to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan, who flew aboard the American STS-51-G Space Shuttle Discovery mission in 1985, becoming the first Arab in space; Faris, the first Syrian and the second Arab in space, traveling aboard the Soyuz TM-3 to the Mir space station in 1987; and AlMansoori, the first Emirati in space, spending eight days on board the ISS in 2019.




Adnan AlRais, assistant director general (space operations and exploration sector) and mission manager of UAE Astronaut Programme, gives Arab News reporter Lama Alhamawi a tour of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai. (AN Photo)

“It’s a great achievement for all of the missions, yet we need to look further into new challenges,” said AlNeyadi.

“The mission we are conducting now, it’s a pure example of that. Spending six months on board the station is really important to participate in the human effort to push the boundaries of space exploration.

“And the EVA (extravehicular activity) that I conducted, it’s the first of (its) kind from the Arab world and definitely, it will open the door for many astronauts to join.”

He added: “Definitely, it’s a new era. It’s a new time for space explorations from the Arab world.”




Lama Alhamawi speaking to Sultan AlNeyadi from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre. (AN Photo)

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have both been investing in their respective space industries, with a heavy emphasis on technology and medical research.

The Saudi Space Agency was launched four years ago by royal decree to accelerate economic diversification, enhance research and development, and raise private-sector participation in the global space industry.

Since its launch, the Kingdom’s state-funded space program has struck deals with several of the world’s established space agencies, astronautical companies, and top universities to benefit from advanced technological cooperation.

On May 22, Rayyanah Barnawi, a scientist who became the first Saudi woman to go into space, and Ali Alqarni, a trained fighter pilot, traveled to the ISS on a private mission.




Arab News reporter Lama Alhamawi at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre. (AN Photo)

“What we saw when the Saudi astronauts arrived from Axiom 2 to the International Space Station, it was a great moment to meet with them and to exchange the interest of space,” AlNeyadi said, referring to the visit by Barnawi and Alqarni.

“It was, honestly, a kind of a surreal experience. Seeing two Arabs arriving at the station and … chatting with them in Arabic. It was amazing and, again, it was exciting to share the experience with them so far. I was already two months into the mission, and I was telling them everything that I learned and telling them the fun stuff that they can do.

“Their mission was purely scientific. I was happy to help and facilitate most of the activities on board. So, it was really a great honor and pleasure working with them.”




“What we saw when the Saudi astronauts arrived from Axiom 2 to the International Space Station, it was a great moment to meet with them and to exchange the interest of space,” AlNeyadi said, referring to the visit by Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni in May. (Supplied/Saudi Space Agency)

The UAE Astronaut Program was launched in 2017 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the vice president and prime minister of the UAE, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the then deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces and current UAE president.

AlNeyadi, who was the backup for AlMansoori in the UAE’s first scientific mission to the ISS, under the slogan “Zayed’s Ambition,” was selected for that mission from over 4,000 candidates following a series of mental and physical tests.

In preparation for the mission, AlNeyadi began his training in September 2018 at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre at Star City in Moscow. He also received training in Houston, Texas, and Cologne, Germany, as part of partnership agreements with major space agencies, including NASA, ESA and JAXA.

AlNeyadi underwent more than 90 courses exceeding 1,400 hours, including safety and survival training, how to maneuver in a spacesuit weighing up to 10 kg, and daily tasks such as preparing food in space, use of cameras, and communications.

His intense training has set him in good stead for the exciting, although completely alien, experience of living and working for a prolonged period of time in zero gravity, 260 miles above Earth’s surface.

“This is my favorite part of the day, actually, when I exercise. We have a device that we exercise upon and it’s facing the largest window on the station,” AlNeyadi told Arab News.

“I see everything passing in front of me: the mountains, the oceans, the places that I visited before.

“So, the best part is taking pictures of these places and sharing that with the audience and it’s amazing. You can cover the whole Earth and in 90 minutes you see the night and the day. And it’s surreal to see everything at that speed.”

Notwithstanding the breathtaking views of the blue marble below, a typical day aboard the ISS sounds more familiar than many might expect. “I normally wake up at 4 a.m. for my prayers and then I go back to sleep if I can,” said AlNeyadi.

FASTFACT

* The low-orbit International Space Station is a project involving five space agencies: NASA (US); Roscosmos (Russia); JAXA (Japan); ESA (Europe); and CSA (Canada).

“Otherwise, my final wake-up time is 6:30, when I go and have breakfast and then we gather together around the ATU (audio terminal unit), which is the communication device, and we get the brief from different control centers all over the globe.

“And then we’ll start the daily routine, be it space science or maintenance, or doing inventory. All of these activities are current, and we do this every day up until noon, when we gather for midday break and we have lunch and we chat about the daily activities as well. We continue until 7:30, (when) we gather for the final debrief of the day.

“This is a daily routine that we have. We have specific days when we receive visiting vehicles or (conduct) extravehicular activities, and that would be the activity throughout the day. And we do have weekends where we gather as a whole, the seven crew members, and we watch movies and we have meals together. So, it’s always fun.”

Serving aboard the ISS is not without its challenges, however. Far from his loved ones, AlNeyadi is looking forward to some home comforts upon his return to Earth later this year. “I do miss my family. I want to meet them first,” the father-of-six told Arab News.

“Two things I want to have are a hot shower and then a real cup of coffee.”




As the first Arab astronaut deployed on a long-term space mission, having arrived on the ISS in March alongside three Americans and three Russians, and the first Arab to perform a spacewalk, AlNeyadi is blazing a trail for the Arab world’s budding space industry. (Supplied)

One thing that will stick with AlNeyadi for the rest of his life, however, is the day he became the first Arab to conduct a spacewalk — stepping clear of the ISS with nothing but mile after mile of sky beneath his feet and the eternity of outer space above his head.

“It was amazing, actually, conducting the spacewalk itself,” said AlNeyadi. “It’s, I would say, the crown jewel of the mission itself. It was seven hours. I didn’t feel it because I was really focused on the task and conducted the task with no issues.

“I remember taking a small note on my cuff checklist — a reminder to me — ‘Impossible is possible,’ which is the motto of the UAE government, that we have nothing impossible. If we believe in a target, we work hard for it, we can achieve it.”

AlNeyadi was born on May 23, 1981, in Umm Ghafa, 30 km southeast of Al-Ain, in Abu Dhabi, where he attended primary and secondary school before following in his father’s footsteps to serve in the military, where he studied communications engineering.

He began his higher education in the UK, receiving a bachelor’s degree in electronics and communications engineering from the University of Brighton, before receiving a master’s degree in IT from Australia’s Griffith University in 2008, where he later earned a Ph.D.

In a series of videos produced on board the ISS for students back on Earth, AlNeyadi has sought to highlight the importance of hard work and the relevance of STEM subjects.




Rayyanah Barnawi — the first Saudi woman in space and the first Arab woman on the iSS — conducted scientific experiments during the Ax-2 mission, including tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. (Twitter/Astro_Rayyanah)

“I think part of the mission itself is to reach (out) to the audience and to showcase whatever you’re doing on board the station,” AlNeyadi said of his videos.

“It is very important science, very important technology that we showcase. But we need to show this important stuff in an easy way and an interactive way so people can learn.

“And this is, honestly, a way to encourage the younger students to seek STEM education. That is science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

In doing so, AlNeyadi hopes to inspire the next generation of Arab astronauts who will take the Middle East’s nascent space programs to the moon, to Mars, and beyond.

“When we talk about STEM education, this can open up a whole lot of opportunities for the youngsters,” he said.

“So, in a fun and interactive way, I wanted to show this — the science is fun, the science is really cool — so the newer generation can think of something important in the future.”

 


Undeterred by latest US-UK strikes, Houthis target US-flagged oil tanker off Yemen

Undeterred by latest US-UK strikes, Houthis target US-flagged oil tanker off Yemen
Updated 25 February 2024
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Undeterred by latest US-UK strikes, Houthis target US-flagged oil tanker off Yemen

Undeterred by latest US-UK strikes, Houthis target US-flagged oil tanker off Yemen
  • Hours after the US-UK strikes, the Houthis said they had targeted the US-flagged, owned, and operated oil tanker MV Torm Thor in the Gulf of Aden
  • Houthi attacks are disrupting the vital Suez Canal trade shortcut that accounts for about 12 percent of global maritime traffic

WASHINGTON/CAIRO: US and British forces carried out strikes against more than a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday, officials said, the latest round of military action against the Iran-linked group that continues to attack shipping in the region.

A joint statement from countries that either took part in the strikes or provided support, said the military action was against 18 Houthi targets across eight locations in Yemen including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter.

But hours after the strikes, the Houthis said they had targeted the US-flagged, owned, and operated oil tanker MV Torm Thor in the Gulf of Aden. The group’s military spokesman Yahya Sarea announced the new attack in a televised speech early on Sunday.

It was not clear if the attack announced by the Houthis was the same incident referred to by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations agency early on Sunday. The UKMTO said that it received a report of an incident 70 nautical miles east of the port of Djibouti and authorities are currently investigating.

The United States has carried out near-daily strikes against the Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen and have said their attacks on shipping are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza.

The months of attacks by Houthis have continued and have upset global trade and raised shipping rates.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes were meant “to further disrupt and degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.”

“We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries,” Austin added.

Earlier this week the Houthis claimed responsibility for an attack on a UK-owned cargo ship and a drone assault on an American destroyer, and they targeted Israel’s port and resort city of Eilat with ballistic missiles and drones.

The group’s strikes are disrupting the vital Suez Canal trade shortcut that accounts for about 12 percent of global maritime traffic, and forcing firms to take a longer, more expensive route around Africa.

No ships have been sunk nor crew killed during the Houthi campaign. However, there are concerns about the fate of the UK-registered Rubymar cargo vessel, which was struck on Feb. 18 and its crew evacuated.

The Houthis say they are targeting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.

Following previous US and UK strikes, the Houthis declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.

Anger over Israel’s devastating campaign in Gaza — which began after an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 — has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

 

 


Israel war cabinet meets over Hamas hostage talks

Israel war cabinet meets over Hamas hostage talks
Updated 25 February 2024
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Israel war cabinet meets over Hamas hostage talks

Israel war cabinet meets over Hamas hostage talks
  • “There is probably room to move toward an agreement,” Hanegbi told N12 News television
  • “Such agreement does not mean the end of the war”

JERUSALEM: Israel’s war cabinet convened Saturday after a delegation returned from talks in Paris on a hostage release and ceasefire deal in the war against Hamas.
National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said before the telephone meeting that members would hear an update on discussions about the conflict in the Gaza Strip, which is now in its fifth month.
The Paris talks saw the head of Israel’s overseas intelligence service Mossad and his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security service meeting with mediators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar.
“There is probably room to move toward an agreement,” Hanegbi told N12 News television in an interview, without elaborating.
Israel wants the release of all hostages seized in the October 7 attacks, starting with all women, but Hanegbi added: “Such agreement does not mean the end of the war.”
He also indicated that Israel would not accept any deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia for a Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that Saturday’s meeting would discuss “next steps in the negotiations.”
He also reaffirmed his aim for troops to go into Rafah in southern Gaza, despite widespread concern about the impact on hundreds of thousands of civilians who have fled there to avoid bombardments.
An AFP reporter in Rafah said there had been at least six air strikes on the city on Saturday evening.
Israel’s air, land and sea against Hamas fighters in retaliation for their deadly October 7 on southern Israel has killed at least 29,606 people, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says.
Hamas attacked rural communities and military posts bordering the Gaza Strip, leaving at least 1,160 people dead, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Some 250 hostages were taken, of whom 130 are still in Gaza, although about 30 are thought to be dead, Israel says.
A one-week pause in fighting in November saw more than 100 hostages released, the Israelis among them in exchange for some 240 Palestinians jailed in Israel.
Netanyahu has characterised Hamas’s demands for a ceasefire in Gaza as “bizarre” and vowed to press on with the military campaign until “total victory” over the group.
“Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war’s goals,” he said.
The head of Israel’s military, Herzi Halevi, visited the Gaza Strip and also said military action was the most effective way of getting back the hostages.
Combat was “leverage,” he told troops. “We need to continue and apply it strongly... to use it to release the hostages,” he added.
In Tel Aviv, where families and supporters of the hostages gathered again to call for their release, Orna Tal urged the government to “be responsible.”
“We think about them (the hostages) all the time and want them back alive as soon as possible,” said Tal, whose close friend Tsachi Idan was kidnapped from the Nahal Oz kibbutz.
“We’ll protest again and again until they’re back,” she told AFP


How Israeli settlers are exploiting Gaza conflict to seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank

How Israeli settlers are exploiting Gaza conflict to seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank
Updated 25 February 2024
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How Israeli settlers are exploiting Gaza conflict to seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank

How Israeli settlers are exploiting Gaza conflict to seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank
  • Forced evictions and disputes over land in the West Bank have increased since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack
  • Israeli authorities are accused of actively undermining decades-old prohibition on settlement expansion

LONDON: As Israel’s military campaign in Gaza approaches its sixth month, Western governments have upped the pressure on “extremist” settlers who critics say are taking advantage of the conflict to illegally occupy more Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

In recent months, violence by extremist Israeli settlers has triggered Western sanctions, with more such penalties expected to be announced in the coming weeks and months. But that did not deter Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, from approving last week the construction of more than 3,000 new settlement homes in response to a deadly shooting attack in the West Bank.

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, shown in this photo walks with soldiers during a visit to Kibbutz Kfar Aza near the border with the Gaza Strip on November 14, 2023, has approved the construction of more than 3,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank. (AFP/File)

Peace Now, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that advocates for the two-state solution and which condemns the behavior of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, said 26 new communities had sprung up over the past 12 months, making 2023 a record year for new illegal settlements.

Yonatan Mizrachi, part of the Settlement Watch Team at Peace Now, said it was not unusual to see new outposts pop up in the West Bank during periods of violence in Gaza when the international community was distracted.

“Since the war there is much less, if any, enforcement from the Israeli Civil Administration to remove the illegal outposts,” Mizrachi told Arab News. “The settlers are using these periods to increase their illegal work and build new outposts, roads and other bits of infrastructure.”

On Friday, the US restored its longstanding policy that settlements are inconsistent with international law, just hours after Smotrich announced the plan to advance the construction of thousands of new settlement homes.

“It’s been long-standing US policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace,” Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said on Friday.

 

 

The approval of a record number of settlement homes last year and the expansion of settler presence in the West Bank led the Biden administration to summon the Israeli ambassador in Washington for the first time in over a decade.

Under the far-right coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli authorities appear to have actively undermined the decades-old prohibition on settlement expansion, marrying Israeli law to settler practices.

Those changes have helped legalize 15 West Bank outposts, with the government also moving to promote the construction of 12,349 housing units across the West Bank — another new record.

A view of an unauthorized Israeli settler outpost of Meitarim Farm near Hebron city in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)

In a recent statement, Peace Now cited data from the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem: “In direct relation to the establishment of these outposts, approximately 1,345 Palestinians were forced to flee from their homes due to violent attacks by settlers.”

These new outposts have spelled disaster for Palestinians, with 21 communities forced from their homes over the past 12 months — 16 of them since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel that sparked the current war in Gaza.

Such forced evictions and disputes over land use have long contributed to localized violence between settlers and Palestinian residents. According to the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, such violence has escalated since the war began.

Using data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the NGO highlighted 532 settler attacks on Palestinians between Oct. 7 and Feb. 14, which included shootings and the burning of homes, resulting in casualties and property damage.

Palestinians gather near the rubble of a family home demolished by Israeli forces earlier during a raid in Hebron city in the occupied West Bank on January 21, 2024. (AFP)

“Prior to Oct. 7, settlements and settler-driven displacement had already been increasing in the occupied West Bank in recent years,” a spokesperson for GCR2P told Arab News.

“Since Oct. 7 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that settlers carrying out these attacks are at times acting with the acquiescence and collaboration of Israeli forces and authorities.”

UN data also reveals the extent of the resulting displacement in the occupied West Bank, with 4,525 Palestinian-owned structures demolished or destroyed since 2019.

INNUMBERS

• 26 Israeli settlements established in the West Bank in 2023 alone — a new annual record.

• 21 Palestinian communities displaced over the past 12 months — 16 of them since Oct. 7.

• 532 Recorded settler attacks on Palestinians between Oct. 7 and Feb. 14.

Source: Peace Now, OCHA

Although Western governments have been slow to censure Israel for its conduct in Gaza, they have taken a clearer stance on the need to prevent the expansion of West Bank settlements, which they view as undermining the potential for a future Palestinian state.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory, also known as “settler implantation.”

GCR2P’s spokesperson said: “This settler implantation and settler activity is therefore in violation of Israel’s obligations as the occupying power under international humanitarian law.

“Settlement expansion effectively guarantees that the occupied territory will remain under Israeli control in perpetuity leading to de facto annexation.” 

A Palestinian man inspects a car burnt in an attack the previous night by Israeli settlers in the village of Burqa, northwest of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, on February 20, 2024. Around 490,000 Israelis live in dozens of West Bank settlements that are deemed illegal under international law. (AFP)

Canada, France, the UK and the US have all moved against Israeli settlers, with sanctions ranging from travel bans to restrictions prohibiting trade and the blocking of assets, while some Israeli financial institutions have followed suit, freezing the accounts of four men.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told Arab News there has been a long-held opposition in the UK to Israeli settlement expansion.

“Settlements are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace and threaten the viability of a two-state solution,” the spokesperson said.

“We repeatedly urge Israel to halt all settlement expansion in the West Bank and hold those responsible for settler violence to account.”

Announcing sanctions against four “extremist” settlers on Feb. 14, David Cameron, the UK’s foreign secretary, said: “Israel must also take stronger action to put a stop to settler violence.”

Mizrachi of Peace Now said the sanctions had been a “big deal” in Israel. “I think and hope it will have an effect on all levels, but we also need the Israeli public to be more active against the settlements,” he said.

“I think we have to wait and see how and if the Israeli government will change its policy when it comes to the ‘settlements enterprise.’

“I believe that a different government — a less pro-settler government — will definitely think twice before allowing the settlers to violate the law and build so many new outposts. With the current government, though, we will have to wait and see.”

Lawmakers in Israel have responded angrily to the measures. Amit Halevi of Netanyahu’s Likud party called an urgent meeting of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee to explore how to aid the “simple families working in agriculture” who had been sanctioned.

Rights monitors, meanwhile, have described the sanctions as mere political window dressing by governments that are otherwise content to continue funding, supplying arms and providing diplomatic cover to Israel’s war effort.

Budour Hassan, an Israel-Palestine researcher for Amnesty International, said the sanctions were something of a double-edged sword. She told Arab News that while they indicated the international community had taken notice, they ignored the real issue.

“They’re deceptive, contributing to an idea that it is individual settlers, not the settlements, being the problem, ignoring the violence inherent to the settlement enterprise,” said Hassan.

“The majority of settlers are not violent; they don’t attack Palestinians. But it is not just physical violence. It is forced acquisition of Palestinian land, segregation of communities. The rights and privileges of settlers discriminating against Palestinians. It is all inherently violent.

“It is checkpoints, Israeli soldiers, the legal, physical, and political infrastructure combining to promote the enterprise that is the issue. Punishing individuals ignores these root problems.”

Israeli security forces man a checkpoint at the closed-off southern entrance of Hebron city in the occupied West Bank near the Israeli settlement of Beit Haggi. (AFP)

Hassan reiterated Amnesty International’s long-held view that “settlements that are illegal under international law” must be dismantled for peace to be achieved. 

However, the notion of dismantling these settlements raises questions about the fate of settler families, “if and when Israel withdraws,” said Mizrachi.

“Israel evacuated settlers twice in the past. First in 1982 from Sinai and then again in 2005 from Gaza Strip and the north of the West Bank. As we know, if there is a will, there is a way.

“It might take time and you can’t evacuate hundreds of thousands in one day, but there are possibilities to achieve this that exist.”

 


Tunisian opposition figure sentenced to six months: lawyer

Tunisian opposition figure sentenced to six months: lawyer
Updated 24 February 2024
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Tunisian opposition figure sentenced to six months: lawyer

Tunisian opposition figure sentenced to six months: lawyer
  • Ben Mbarek was tried over his rebuke of legislative elections in 2022 which he had called a “ridiculous coup d’etat”
  • Held over “conspiracy against state security,” Ben Mbarek remains behind bars as he awaits proceedings in other cases

TUNIS: A Tunisian court has slapped a six-month prison term on opposition figure Jawhar Ben Mbarek, detained since February 2023, over remarks criticizing the country’s latest elections, his lawyer said Saturday.
Ben Mbarek, co-founder of the National Salvation Front opposition alliance who is on hunger strike to protest his detention, was tried over his rebuke of legislative elections in 2022 which he had called a “ridiculous coup d’etat.”
Held over “conspiracy against state security,” Ben Mbarek remains behind bars as he awaits proceedings in other cases.
Tunisian and international rights groups have described the article under which Ben Mbarek was sentenced as a form of “repression” of free expression in the North African country, where President Kais Saied has ruled by decree since a 2021 power grab.
“Jawhar Ben Mbarek was sentenced without having the option to defend himself” due to his health condition after 13 days without food, his lawyer Ayachi Hammami told AFP.
Along with other figures detained since February 2023 over national security charges, Ben Mbarek has been on hunger strike to protest what he called the “arbitrary and unfounded” grounds for his arrest.
Ben Mbarek “was unable, due to the state of his health, to... be present at the hearing,” the lawyer said, adding that the judge had proclaimed the verdict despite a request to postpone the proceedings.
Ayachi said the defense plans to appeal the ruling.
Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, another co-founder of the National Salvation Front, told AFP that Ben Mbarek “was sentenced to six months in prison for an opinion. I am truly outraged.”
Rached Ghannouchi, the jailed leader of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party which is part of the opposition alliance, suspended his hunger strike on Wednesday for fear of health complications.
Rights groups have repeatedly condemned the proceedings against Tunisian opposition figures and called for their release.
Elected democratically in October 2019 with a five-year mandate, Saied launched a power grab in July 2021, dismissing the prime minister and suspending parliament.
He later pushed through sweeping changes to concentrate power in his office, shaking the foundations of the only democracy born out of the first Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.


Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate

Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate
Updated 24 February 2024
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Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate

Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate
  • Food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get in to the area because of the bombing

GAZA STRIP: At the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Abu Gibril was so desperate for food to feed his family that he slaughtered two of his horses.
“We had no other choice but to slaughter the horses to feed the children. Hunger is killing us,” he said.
Jabalia was the biggest camp in the Palestinian territories before the war, which began after Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, leaving some 1,160 dead, based on Israeli figures.
Gibril, 60, fled there from nearby Beit Hanun when the conflict erupted. Home for him and his family is now a tent near what was a UN-run school.
Contaminated water, power cuts and overcrowding were already a problem in the densely populated camp, which was set up in 1948 and covers just 1.4 square kilometers.

A Palestinian couple cooks on a fire, at a school where they shelter, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Jabalia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip February 22, 2024. (REUTERS)

Poverty, from high unemployment, was also an issue among its more than 100,000 people.
Now food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get in to the area because of the bombing — and the frenzied looting of the few trucks that try to get through.
The World Food Programme this week said its teams reported “unprecedented levels of desperation” while the UN warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.
On Friday, the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said a two-month-old baby died of malnutrition in hospital in Gaza City, 7 km away from Jabalia.

A displaced Palestinian child carries a ration of red lentil soup, distributed by volunteers in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

In the camp, bedraggled children wait expectantly, holding plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food is available.
With supplies dwindling, costs are rising. A kilo of rice, for example, has shot up from seven shekels ($1.90) to 55 shekels, complains one man.
“We the grown-ups can still make it but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?” he said angrily.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned that the alarming lack of food, surging malnutrition and disease could lead to an “explosion” in child deaths in Gaza.
One in six children aged under two in Gaza was acutely malnourished, it estimated on Feb. 19.
Residents have taken to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves to try to stave off the growing hunger pangs.
“There is no food, no wheat, no drinking water,” said one woman.
“We have started begging neighbors for money. We don’t have one shekel at home. We knock on doors and no one is giving us money.”
Tempers are rising in Jabalia about the lack of food and the consequences. On Friday, an impromptu protest was held involving dozens of people.
One child held up a sign reading: “We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger.”
Another held aloft a placard warning “Famine eats away at our flesh,” while protesters chanted “No to starvation. No to genocide. No to blockade.”
In Beit Hanun, Gibril used two horses to harvest a parcel of land. But the conflict destroyed that, along with his house, leaving him with nothing. Over the weeks and months, Israel’s relentless bombardment has left Gaza largely a place of shattered concrete and lives.
Gibril kept the radical decision to slaughter his horses to himself, boiling the meat with rice, and giving it to his unwitting family and neighbors.
Despite the necessity, he said he was still wary of their reaction. “No one knows they were in fact eating a horse.”
In another development, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reaffirmed Washington’s opposition to any reoccupation of the Gaza Strip by Israel as well as any reduction of the Palestinian territory’s size.
Blinken’s remarks were in response to a plan for post-war Gaza put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which his country’s army would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout the Gaza Strip once Hamas is defeated.
“Gaza ... cannot be a platform for terrorism. There should be no Israeli reoccupation of Gaza. The size of Gaza territory should not be reduced,” Blinken said in Buenos Aires, after attending a G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Brazil.
Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for a “firm security response ... and colonization” by building thousands of new housing units in settlements like Maale Adumim and across the West Bank.
Blinken said that “new settlements are counterproductive to reaching enduring peace, and also inconsistent with international law.”
“Our administration maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion. In our judgment, this only weakens, it doesn’t strengthen, Israel’s security.”