How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children

How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children
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Rebel-held Jindires, in Aleppo province in northwest Syria, was relatively more fortunate in the sense that it received humanitarian aid fairly soon after the February 6 earthquakes. (AFP file photo)
How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children
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A view of Jableh town in Syria's Latakia on February 10, 2023, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake. (AFP)
How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children
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Displaced Syrians living in war-damaged buildings, are pictured in Syria's rebel-held northern city of Raqa on March 1, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 07 August 2023
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How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children

How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children
  • Scale of suffering of separated or orphaned children in impoverished region called “multifaceted and concerning”
  • NGOs say humanitarian situation is complicated by loss of documentation during both conflict and earthquake

LONDON: Rescued from under rubble six months ago, Hiba, who has not yet turned six, lost her entire family and part of her foot in Syria’s deadly earthquakes in February. In need of constant care, she now lives with distant relatives in an overcrowded displacement camp.

Hiba, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is one of thousands of children orphaned by two temblors that struck southern Turkiye and northern Syria on Feb. 6, which upended the lives of at least 2.5 million children in Syria alone, according to UNICEF.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake near the Turkiye-Syria border in the early hours of the morning was followed by another one almost as strong, resulting in one of the biggest humanitarian disasters to strike the region in recent times.

Tens of thousands of people were killed and many more injured. Innumerable buildings, including homes, schools and hospitals, collapsed, leaving large swathes of the local population exposed to harsh winter conditions.




Rebel-held Jindires, in Aleppo province in northwest Syria, was relatively more fortunate in the sense that it received humanitarian aid fairly soon after the February 6 earthquakes. (AFP file photo)

Children who lost all adult family members in the earthquakes either moved in with distant relatives, many of whom had themselves been displaced by the devastation, or had to fend for themselves.

The repercussions of the natural and humanitarian disasters in northwest Syria have been especially harmful to orphaned children with no adult relatives in the area. They are vulnerable to various forms of abuse, trafficking and mental-health disorders.

The scale of the suffering being endured by separated or orphaned children in northwest Syria “is vast, multifaceted and deeply concerning,” said Hamzah Barhameyeh, advocacy and communication manager at World Vision, an international child-focused charity.

“The situation was already dire owing to the conflict, but the earthquakes have significantly compounded the hardship faced by these children, affecting various aspects of their well-being and development.”




A volunteer from the humanitarian organization Space of Peace attends to children at a refugee center for people displaced by the February earthquakes in northern Syria. (Supplied)

The challenges, according to Barhameyeh, include “trauma and psychosomatic problems” as well as “physical injuries and disabilities, inadequate health support and disrupted education.”

Additionally, there are concerns over heightened risks of child marriage and child labor, not to mention recruitment by armed groups in a war-torn region.

“(Boys) are at higher risk of becoming separated, unaccompanied, or ending up living on the streets,” Barhameyeh told Arab News. “Adolescent boys face the substantial danger of being recruited into armed groups.




A photo taken on May 23, 2023 shows Syrian kids getting ready to board a bus turned into a traveling classroom for children left homeless and school-less in Jindires, Aleppo. Aid groups are worried that many orphaned children are vulnerable to recruitment by rebels. (AFP file photo)

“There is also a noticeable trend of child labor and violent behavior, increase in substance abuse and run-ins with the law. These experiences are predominantly common in the case of boys.”

Diana Al-Ali, founder of a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) called Suriana, says that during her encounters with children in displacement camps, many rush forward to hold her hand, seeking comfort and safety.

Apparently, even children who have not been orphaned often endure beatings by parents who themselves are under a lot of stress.




The Turkiye-Syria earthquake has orphaned many Syrian children against a backdrop of mass displacement, destroyed schools and limited access to water and sanitation. (Supplied)

“Many children are in urgent need of emotional support,” Al-Ali told Arab News, citing cases of young people attempting suicide owing to untreated trauma-related mental illness.

Among the children she regularly supports is a girl who refuses to step on the ground and is terrified of ants, convinced that, just as in children’s cartoons, the crawling creatures shake the ground when they move.

Similarly, Hiba, who needs regular medication and trips to the hospital, is terrified of walls and ceilings; the shock she suffered during the earthquake was so severe that she still shows no reaction when spoken to.




A volunteer from the humanitarian organization Space of Peace attends to children at a refugee center for people displaced by the February earthquakes in northern Syria. (Supplied)

Al-Ali says her charity has been providing children and their guardians with cash, foodstuffs, medicines, diapers and even entertainment activities, but she describes the unmet humanitarian needs in the quake-hit region as enormous.

The UN Security Council failed in July to renew authorization for UN humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria’s rebel-held northwest through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing, cutting off a vital lifeline for more than four million aid-dependent people.

On July 11, a day after Resolution 2672 expired, two rival resolutions to allow the continuation of UN aid flow from Turkiye were vetoed by Russia on the one hand, and the US, the UK and France on the other.

Compounding the suffering in Syria’s northwest is a searing summer heatwave, which has seen temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius and fires break out in displacement camps in Idlib and northern Aleppo, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

INNUMBERS

58,000 Deaths in southern Turkiye and northwest Syria in Feb. 6 earthquakes.

200,000 Buildings damaged or destroyed, including schools and hospitals.

2.5 million Children impacted by earthquakes in Syria alone (UNICEF).

Mental health support remains inaccessible for most, said Al-Ali, recounting the plight of a child battling epilepsy while living in a tent. “He needs costly medication every month, and his father was killed in the conflict,” she said.

Al-Ali added that many of the tents in question are so cramped that there is no space to lie down, forcing individuals to remain seated in one spot for long periods of time.

“Organizations operating in the region did not provide mental health support when the quake struck,” she said, adding that the humanitarian focus on the two cities of A’zaz and Jindires meant that other areas failed to receive adequate attention.




Children's needs in NW Syria are soaring & more, not less, humanitarian access is needed. (World Vision)

“There were not many organizations (operating) here when the quakes struck, so we relied on personal efforts alongside the NGOs Violet and Shafak, which provided bread.

“There is not enough funding dedicated to children’s well-being. We are the only ones providing recreational activities for children, and mental health support sessions.

“We have programs dedicated to helping minors feel safe and each child is assessed to identify their needs.”

Among the many factors militating against the protection of orphaned and separated children, according to World Vision’s Barhameyeh, is the loss of civil documentation during the conflict and the earthquakes.

Describing the situation as “highly complex and challenging,” he said that the absence of the documents poses “a significant barrier” to the achievement of a normal life by these children.

Elaborating on the problem, Barhameyeh said that while there are nongovernmental organizations providing protection against trafficking and other threats, “these services are not fully integrated or collaborative with local councils,” with the “absence of formal child-protection mechanisms” also playing a role.




With limited funding allocated for child protection, millions of children remain not only vulnerable, but also in a state of politico-bureaucratic limbo. (AFP)

A lack of proof of legal identity “severely hinders” children’s “ability to exercise their rights,” he said, adding that the documentation problem is becoming alarmingly “multi-generational” as more children are born in displacement to parents “who themselves lack proper documents.

“An additional layer of complexity is being introduced by various authorities issuing their own documents, leading to a proliferation of documentation.”

According to Barhameyeh, there may be short-term benefits for the holders of the documents in areas under the control of the issuing authorities, but they could cause serious security problems in the long run, “including arbitrary arrest and detention by the government of Syria, particularly outside northwest Syria.”

With limited funding allocated for child protection and the risks greatly outweighing the resources available, millions of children remain not only vulnerable, but also in a state of administrative limbo.

The broad consensus of NGOs and charities active in the region is that unless efforts to protect children are intensified, what awaits them is a grim and uncertain fate.

 


El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan

El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan
Updated 5 sec ago
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El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan

El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan
  • El-Sisi and Al-Burhan agreed on the necessity for an immediate ceasefire
  • Al-Burhan expressed his country’s appreciation for Egypt’s support

CAIRO: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Thursday received Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, president of the Transitional Sovereignty Council of Sudan, at Cairo International Airport.

An official reception ceremony took place at Al-Ittihadiya Palace, at which the national anthems were played and guards of honor inspected.

The meeting focused on recent developments in Sudan and efforts to resolve its crisis.

The main goal is to restore stability while ensuring sovereignty, unity, and cohesion of the Sudanese state and its institutions.

The meeting was an attempt to meet the Sudanese people’s desire for safety and stability.

Ahmed Fahmy, the presidential spokesman, said that El-Sisi focused on the solid historic relations between the two countries, emphasizing Egypt’s support in enhancing cooperation.

The president stressed Egypt’s commitment to Sudan’s security and offered full support to achieve political, security, and economic stability.

He affirmed Egypt’s commitment to supporting Sudan’s unity and resolving ongoing conflicts.

He added that the two countries shared a close relationship, which made it necessary to ensure national security.

The president spoke of Egypt’s ongoing role in helping to alleviate the humanitarian impact of the current crisis within Sudan.

Al-Burhan expressed his country’s appreciation for Egypt’s support. He highlighted the long-standing ties between the two countries, while saying that Egypt’s role in hosting Sudanese citizens and mitigating the crisis provided evidence of its continued friendship.

The parties also discussed the situation in Gaza and regional issues of mutual concern.

El-Sisi and Al-Burhan agreed on the necessity of an immediate ceasefire and the urgent need to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

They also agreed to continue consultations and coordination to help benefit the populations of Egypt and Sudan.

The Sudanese leader made an official visit to Egypt in August last year, his first following the start of his country’s conflict in April. Al-Burhan and El-Sisi met in the city of Alamein in northern Egypt.


Palestinian president issues ‘categorical rejection’ of Israeli PM’s post-war plan

Palestinian president issues ‘categorical rejection’ of Israeli PM’s post-war plan
Updated 29 February 2024
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Palestinian president issues ‘categorical rejection’ of Israeli PM’s post-war plan

Palestinian president issues ‘categorical rejection’ of Israeli PM’s post-war plan
  • Netanyahu wants Israel to retain security control over Palestinian areas and make reconstruction dependent on demilitarization
  • Abbas charged that the plan confirmed the Israeli government’s intentions to recolonize the Gaza Strip

CAIRO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has stressed “categorical Palestinian rejection” of the principles announced in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s so-called post-war plan for Gaza.

Netanyahu wants Israel to retain security control over Palestinian areas and make reconstruction dependent on demilitarization.

His plan, which brings together a range of well-established Israeli positions, underlines Netanyahu’s resistance to the creation of a Palestinian state which he sees as a security threat.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit has received a written message from Abbas which calls for a global conference to adopt a comprehensive peace plan with international guarantees and a timeline for implementation of the ending of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Abbas has called on the league to support Palestine in obtaining full membership of the UN.

The message urged countries that have not yet recognized Palestine to do so.

Aboul Gheit received Ambassador Muhannad Al-Aklouk, representative of Palestine to the bloc, at the headquarters of the general secretariat, and Al-Aklouk had brought a message from Abbas.

Jamal Rushdi, a spokesperson for the Arab League chief, said that the president’s message included a categorical Palestinian rejection of the principles announced by the Israeli prime minister for the so-called “day after of the war.”

The message included a warning of the danger of those principles — especially the denial of the existence of the Palestinian people, and insisting on imposing Israeli sovereignty on the land extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Abbas charged that the plan confirmed the Israeli government’s intentions to recolonize the Gaza Strip and perpetuate the occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem through plans to build thousands of settlement units.

Rushdi said that the message warned that the goal of the Israeli government was not only to undermine the chances of peace based on the two-state solution, but also to intensify ethnic cleansing and displacement of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

The president’s message included the affirmation that the Gaza Strip is an integral part of the State of Palestine.

The Palestinian Authority is ready to assume the responsibilities of governance in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, and is prepared to work toward establishing security and peace, as well as stability, in the region within the framework of a comprehensive peace plan.

The message called on the Arab League’s chief to continue working for a ceasefire; the provision of humanitarian aid; the return of displaced people to their homes in the north; the prevention of their displacement; and a halt to Israel’s expansionist plans and practices in the Gaza Strip.

Aboul Gheit confirmed to Al-Aklouk that he would continue to work to achieve all the goals highlighted in the president’s message — most notably an immediate ceasefire, working to bring aid in urgently and sustainably, and standing with full force against the displacement plan.

Aboul Gheit stressed that stopping the war remained a fundamental priority for the Arab League and its member states.

He reiterated that the Palestinians, Arabs, and the world always rejected the displacement plan.

Aboul Gheit pointed out that addressing the humanitarian catastrophe caused by Israeli aggression could not be achieved in isolation from a settlement aiming at the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

He emphasized that the Palestinians were capable of governing themselves.

Aboul Gheit added that the continuation of the occupation was no longer possible and that the two-state solution remained the only formula capable of achieving security, peace, and stability between Palestinians and Israelis in the region and the world.


Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan
Updated 29 February 2024
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Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan
  • Al Aqsa, Israel’s third-holiest shrine, is a focus of Palestinian statehood hopes
  • Israeli controls on access have often stoked political friction, especially during Ramadan

JERUSALEM: Israel is reviewing possible curbs on access to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem over the upcoming Ramadan fasting month, a government spokesperson said after media reports that the far-right minister for police might be overruled on the issue.
Al Aqsa, Israel’s third-holiest shrine, is a focus of Palestinian statehood hopes. The site is also revered by Jews as vestige of their two ancient temples. Israeli controls on access have often stoked political friction, especially during Ramadan.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said last week there would be a quota for members of Israel’s 18 percent Muslim minority who wish to take part in peace prayers at Al Aqsa.
That would compound the clampdown Israel has already placed on Palestinians since the Hamas’ cross-border rampage from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, codenamed “Al Aqsa Flood,” which triggered the ongoing Gaza war.
But Israel’s top-rated Channel 12 TV reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would overrule Ben-Gvir.
“The specific issue of prayer on the Temple Mount, in Al Aqsa, is currently still under discussion by the cabinet,” government spokesperson Avi Hyman said in a briefing on Thursday.
He added that a final decision would take security and public health, as well as the freedom of worship, into account.
A Ben-Gvir spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, Ben-Gvir posted on X that any attempt to override his authority would amount to a “capitulation to terror,” and urged Netanyahu to deny the Channel 12 report.


Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq
Updated 29 February 2024
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Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq
  • Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them

MOSUL, Iraq: A Turkish drone strike in northern Iraq on Thursday killed two fighters from the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Iraqi security sources said.
Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them, two security sources told Reuters.
There has been a long-running Turkish campaign in Iraq and Syria against militants of the PKK, YBS and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which are all regarded as terrorist groups by Ankara.


Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows
Updated 29 February 2024
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Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called voting a religious duty
  • Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda
DUBAI: Iran holds a parliamentary election on Friday seen as a test of the clerical establishment’s popularity at a time of growing dissent over an array of political, social and economic crises.
The vote will be the first formal gauge of public opinion after anti-government protests in 2022-23 spiralled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Critics from inside and outside the ruling elite, including politicians and former lawmakers, say the legitimacy of Iran’s theocratic system could be at stake due to economic struggles and a lack of electoral options for a mostly young population chafing at political and social restrictions.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called voting a religious duty. He accused the country’s “enemies” — a term he normally uses for the United States and Israel — of trying to create despair among Iranian voters.
The commander of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Wednesday that “each vote is like a missile launched at the enemy’s heart.”
But Iranians still have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in 2022, which was quelled by a violent state crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.
Economic hardships pose another challenge. Many analysts say that millions have lost hope that Iran’s ruling clerics can resolve an economic crisis fomented by a combination of US sanctions, mismanagement and corruption.
While establishment supporters will likely vote for hard-line candidates, widespread public anger at worsening living standards and pervasive graft may keep many Iranians at home.
Prices for basic goods like bread, meat, dairy and rice have skyrocketed in past months. The official inflation rate stands at about 40 percent. Analysts and insiders put it at over 50 percent.
The US 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, and its reimposition of sanctions, have hit Iran’s economy hard. Efforts to revive the pact have failed.
Reformists shun ‘meaningless’ vote
Iranian activists and opposition groups are distributing the Twitter hashtags #VOTENoVote widely on social media, arguing that a high turnout will legitimize the Islamic Republic.
With heavyweight moderates and conservatives staying out of Friday’s race and reformists calling it an “unfree and unfair election,” the vote will pit hard-liners and low-key conservatives against each other, all proclaiming loyalty to Iran’s Islamic revolutionary ideals.
The interior ministry said 15,200 candidates will run for the 290-seat parliament, with a vetting body called the Guardian Council approving 75 percent of initially registered hopefuls.
The unelected Guardian Council, made up of six clerics and six legal experts generally within Khamenei’s orbit, has the authority to scrutinize laws and election candidates.
Ballots will mostly be counted manually, so the final result may not be announced for three days, although partial results may appear sooner.
On the same day, Iranians also vote for the Assembly of Experts, which appoints and can dismiss the supreme leader. The 88-member clerical body rarely intervenes directly in policy but is expected to help choose the 84-year-old Khamenei’s successor.
Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda. These are determined by Khamenei who holds the utmost authority in the country’s unique dual system of clerical and republican rule.
Polling has projected turnover of about 41 percent, while former lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi said on Monday that surveys showed the participation could be as low as 27 percent, significantly lower than 42 percent in a 2020 parliamentary vote.
Discredited after years of failed attempts at widening political and social freedoms, the pro-reform opposition suffered further unpopularity in 2022 when protesters scorned its mantra of gradual change.
The Reform Front coalition has said it will not take part in the “meaningless” election but has not boycotted the vote.