Moroccan villagers mourn after earthquake brings destruction to their rural mountain home 

Moroccan villagers mourn after earthquake brings destruction to their rural mountain home 
A man stands next to a damaged hotel after the earthquake in Moulay Brahim village, near the epicentre of the earthquake, outside Marrakech, Morocco, on September 9, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AP)
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Updated 10 September 2023

Moroccan villagers mourn after earthquake brings destruction to their rural mountain home 

Moroccan villagers mourn after earthquake brings destruction to their rural mountain home 
  • The 6.8-magnitude earthquake that struck late Friday has killed more than 2,000 across Morocco 
  • The poor rural community about 45 kilometers northeast of the quake epicenter lays in devastation 

MOULAY BRAHIM: The ground shook with a force few had ever felt, thundering through the remote Moroccan village in the dark of night. 

When the earthquake was over late Friday, the town carved into the Atlas Mountains lay in devastation — possibly dozens dead, scores of homes crumpled and walls reduced to rubble. Soon crews were listening for desperate sounds of life within the ruins of Moulay Brahim. 

A village of fewer than 3,000 people, Moulay Brahim attracts tourists and outdoor enthusiasts with its stunning vistas and proximity to Marrakech. Streets brimmed with small hotels and cafes overlooking gorges and green valleys. 

But after the 6.8-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 2,000 across Morocco, the scene in the village is bleak. 

People in the poor rural community about 45 kilometers (28 miles) northeast of the quake epicenter live in homes made of clay brick and cinder block, many of which are no longer standing or safe to inhabit. Fallen walls exposed the innards of damaged homes, their rubble sliding down hills. 

“We felt a huge shake like it was doomsday,” resident Ayoub Toudite said. “Ten seconds and everything was gone.” 

A cracked mosque minaret stands after an earthquake in Moulay Brahim village, near Marrakech, Morocco, on September 9, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AP)

Others, like 19-year-old student Abdelfattah El Akari, said the quake felt much longer, as if more than a minute. “The ground moved and homes cracked,” he said. 

Chaos and terror followed, as frightened villagers sought safety in the streets. When they returned to their neighborhoods, some used bare hands to clear debris and start pulling out bodies, one after another. People gathered and cried outside a community health center as news trickled in of more deaths. 

Search crews peered into crevices looking for more casualties or people in need of rescue following the biggest earthquake to hit the North African country in 120 years. 

Authorities tempered expectations with warnings that many areas remained too fragile to enter while there were still risks of aftershocks that could collapse whatever remained standing. A minaret looming above Moulay Brahim was severely damaged and appeared at risk of toppling if nudged by another tremor. 

Hours after the tragedy, with sunlight exposing the extent of the damage, a procession of hundreds accompanied more than a dozen blanket-covered bodies to the town square. Men knelt on rugs and prayed for the dead during a brief funeral before carrying the deceased to a hillside cemetery. According to Islamic custom, burial should happen quickly after death. 

People affected by an earthquake camp outside their homes, in Moulay Brahim village, near Marrakech, Morocco, on September 9, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AP)

Distraught parents sobbed into phones to tell loved ones about losing their children. 

Villagers erected a large tent in the square, traditionally used more often for joyous occasions like weddings. In the coming days, the space will serve a much more somber role as a shelter for those who no longer have homes. 

Toudite and other villagers appealed for help. 

“People are suffering here very much. We are in dire need of ambulances. Please send us ambulances to Moulay Brahim. The matter is urgent,” Toudite implored Saturday. “Please save us.” 

The town also is in need of food and tents for people who have no place to go but the streets, he said. 

The bulk of the town’s economy depends on agriculture and tourism. Time will tell how soon visitors will return to a place that stood for centuries. 

Moulay Brahim is named after a Moroccan Sufi saint who practiced a form of Islam valuing peace, love and tolerance, emphasizing inward meditation to reach a connection with God. The town’s people speak a combination of Arabic and Tachelhit, the most widely spoken indigenous language. 

Hassan Ait BelHajj, who owns several rental properties in Moulay Brahim, said the buildings weren’t designed for such violent quakes and wondered how long it would take for the area to recover. 

The Moroccan military deployed aircraft, helicopters and drones. Emergency services mobilized aid efforts to the hardest-hit areas, but roads leading to the mountain region around the epicenter were jammed with vehicles and blocked with fallen rocks, slowing rescue efforts. 

Traversing the unpaved roads through the rugged High Atlas was difficult long before Friday’s earthquake. 

Along a steep highway crowded by ambulances, taxis and Red Cross workers, Labira Lahcen nursed a bandaged wound on his hand that was injured by falling debris. He pronounced himself lucky his injuries weren’t more severe. 

Doctors picked shards of debris out of people’s feet and treated patients with surface wounds. The more critically injured were whisked away to a hospital near Marrakech, 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the north. 

“Since the earthquake, we’ve worked almost continuously,” Abdelhakim Ait Idan, a Moulay Brahim doctor, said Saturday afternoon, more than 14 hours after the quake violently rolled through the village. 

When Hamza Lamghani felt the tremble, he and his family darted outside. Then the lights went out. People used cellphones as flashlights. When it seemed safe to move, Lamghani and his family found their home and neighborhood reduced to rubble. 

Five of his closest childhood friends had perished, he said. 

Still in shock, walking from the square now filled with evacuees, he said: “There’s nothing to do but pray.” 

Israel’s Netanyahu presents first official post-Gaza war plan

Updated 22 sec ago

Israel’s Netanyahu presents first official post-Gaza war plan

Israel’s Netanyahu presents first official post-Gaza war plan
  • Netanayhu rejects the “unilateral recognition” of a Palestinian state
  • Replace Hamas rule in Gaza while maintaining public order
JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has presented a “day after” plan for Gaza, his first official proposal for when the war in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory ends.
According to the document, presented to members of Israel’s security cabinet on Thursday and seen by Reuters on Friday, Israel would maintain security control over all land west of Jordan, including the occupied West Bank and Gaza — territories where the Palestinians want to create an independent state.
In the long-term goals listed, Netanayhu rejects the “unilateral recognition” of a Palestinian state. He says a settlement with the Palestinians will only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides — but it did not name who the Palestinian party would be.
In Gaza, Netanyahu outlines demilitarization and deradicalization as goals to be achieved in the medium term. He does not elaborate on when that intermediary stage would begin or how long it would last. But he conditions the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, much of which has been laid to waste by Israel’s offensive, on its complete demilitarization.
Netanyahu proposes Israel have a presence on the Gaza-Egypt border in the south of the enclave and cooperates with Egypt and the United States in that area to prevent smuggling attempts, including at the Rafah crossing.
To replace Hamas rule in Gaza while maintaining public order, Netanyahu suggests working with local representatives “who are not affiliated with terrorist countries or groups and are not financially supported by them.”
He calls for shutting down the UN Palestinian refugees agency UNRWA and replacing it with other international aid groups.
“The prime minister’s document of principles reflects broad public consensus over the goals of the war and for replacing Hamas rule in Gaza with a civilian alternative,” a statement by the Prime Minister’s office said.
The document was distributed to security cabinet members to start a discussion on the issue.
The war was triggered by a Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, according to Israeli counts.
Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel has responded with an air and ground assault on blockaded Gaza that has killed more than 29,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities. The offensive has displaced most of the territory’s population and caused widespread hunger and disease.
The spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told Reuters that Netanyahu’s proposal was doomed to fail, as were any Israeli plans to change the geographic and demographic realities in Gaza.
“If the world is genuinely interested in having security and stability in the region, it must end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and recognize an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.
The war in Gaza has revived international calls — including Israel’s main backer the United States — for the so-called two-state solution as the ultimate goal for resolving the decades long Israel-Palestinian conflict. However, a number of senior Israeli politicians oppose this.
The two-state solution has long been a core Western policy in the region but little progress has been made on achieving Palestinian statehood since the signing of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s.

Day 5 at ICJ hearing: Oman and Qatar to speak at The Hague

Day 5 at ICJ hearing: Oman and Qatar to speak at The Hague
Updated 8 min 34 sec ago

Day 5 at ICJ hearing: Oman and Qatar to speak at The Hague

Day 5 at ICJ hearing: Oman and Qatar to speak at The Hague
  • Representatives from the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have demanded Israel end its occupation of the Palestinian territories

DUBAI: The International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, on Friday will contiune its hearing from dozens of states and three international organizations who question the legality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Representatives from countries including Qatar, Oman, Pakistan, Malaysia and the United Kingdom are expected to deliver their positions during the foruth day of the hearing at the ICJ, also known as the World Court.

Speakers from the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already demanded Israel end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, with the Kingdom’s envoy to the Netherlands Ziad Al-Atiyah stating Israel’s continued actions were legally indefensible.

The hearing follows a request by the UN General Assembly for an advisory, or non-binding, opinion on the occupation in 2022. More than 50 states will present arguments until Feb. 26.

UN agency for Palestinians refugees at ‘breaking point’: chief

UN agency for Palestinians refugees at ‘breaking point’: chief
Updated 51 min 38 sec ago

UN agency for Palestinians refugees at ‘breaking point’: chief

UN agency for Palestinians refugees at ‘breaking point’: chief
  • UNRWA has been accused by Israel of serving as a tool of the Hamas militant group
  • UNRWA’s Philippe Lazzarini: Israel has not provided evidence against its 12 former workers

UNITED NATIONS: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned Thursday 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.

Students attend a class inside a school run by UNRWA at Mar Elias Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, on February 21, 2024. (REUTERS)

Several countries — including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan — have suspended funding to UNRWA in response to Israeli allegations that some of its staff participated in the October 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 neutrally in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lazzarini asserted Thursday 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 October 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
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.

WHO plans more evacuations from Gaza hospital as bodies buried on grounds

WHO plans more evacuations from Gaza hospital as bodies buried on grounds
Updated 23 February 2024

WHO plans more evacuations from Gaza hospital as bodies buried on grounds

WHO plans more evacuations from Gaza hospital as bodies buried on grounds

Aid agencies hope to evacuate roughly 140 patients stranded in Gaza’s Nasser hospital, a World Health Organization official said on Thursday, as Palestinian authorities reported that Israeli troops withdrew from the complex and then stormed it again.

Medical teams had buried on the grounds of the hospital 13 patients who had died because the facility had no power or oxygen, Gaza’s health ministry said.

The WHO says the hospital in Khan Younis, which is Gaza’s second-largest and is crucial to the territory’s crippled health services, stopped working last week after an Israeli siege followed by a raid.

The WHO and partners have so far carried out three evacuations from the hospital, the latest on Wednesday, transferring a total of 51 patients to southern Gaza, the UN agency’s Ayadil Saparbekov told a press briefing.

“The WHO will continue to try evacuation of those critically ill and critically wounded patients from the Nasser hospital to other hospitals in the south, including the field hospitals that have been established in Rafah,” Saparbekov said.

“However it’s a very difficult and high-risk mission.”

Israeli forces had withdrawn from the hospital, positioning themselves nearby and preventing movement to and from it before storming it once more, the Gaza health ministry said. There was no immediate comment from Israel.

The number of patients remaining in Nasser hospital had been changing by the hour as some people left to escape the fighting and others succumbed to their wounds, Saparbekov said.

Gaza’s health ministry had said in an earlier statement on Wednesday that 110 patients were waiting to be evacuated. It said eight patients at Nasser had died due to the lack of power and oxygen four days previously and that their bodies had begun to decompose, posing a risk to other patients.

When the WHO carried out the evacuations so far, it observed four doctors and nurses at Nasser hospital along with about a dozen volunteers helping medical staff keep patients alive, Saparbekov said. Staff had not yet managed to reconnect the main generator.

The Gaza health ministry said there was a lack of food, drinking water and medical supplies at the complex, and that the ground floors were flooded with sewage water.

Four-and-a-half months after Israel began its campaign in Gaza in retaliation for a major Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, just 13 of the Palestinian enclave’s 34 hospitals are functioning on a partial or minimal level.

Gaza’s population of 2.3 million faces acute hunger and the spread of disease in a humanitarian crisis that aid officials describe as unprecedented.

Most Gaza residents have been displaced and are crammed into the south of the strip around Rafah, close to the border with Egypt.

Israel says Hamas, the Islamist group that has run Gaza since 2007, uses hospitals for cover. Hamas denies this and says Israel’s allegations serve as a pretext to destroy the health care system. 

West must return to imposing cost on Iran’s ‘malign activity’ to restore Mideast stability: Pompeo

West must return to imposing cost on Iran’s ‘malign activity’ to restore Mideast stability: Pompeo
Updated 23 February 2024

West must return to imposing cost on Iran’s ‘malign activity’ to restore Mideast stability: Pompeo

West must return to imposing cost on Iran’s ‘malign activity’ to restore Mideast stability: Pompeo
  • Former US Secretary of State, speaking at FII Priority Miami summit, claimed US deterrence of Iranian regime had been lost

LONDON: Taking away Iran’s ability to create instability in the Middle East was the driving force behind the 2020 Abraham Accords, and US policy needs to move back toward imposing a cost on Tehran’s malign actions, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday.

The accords were agreements signed by the UAE and Bahrain to normalize relations with Israel, brokered by then-US President Donald Trump. Sudan and Morocco also later agreed to establish ties with Israel.

Pompeo told the Future Investment Initiative Priority forum in Miami that the process of formulation to signing the accords happened due to a “central thesis” held by all involved that Tehran was the “malign actor” in the region.

“You should know, I’m hopelessly biased as they’re still trying to kill me. If you see me walking around with a security team, it’s not because I enjoy it but because I still need it,” he said.

“I think that’s telling. You can see (Iran’s) hand in what happened in Gaza. They supported, funded and essentially facilitated the capacity for Hamas to carry out the barbaric attacks (on Israel) which took place on Oct. 7.

“Today, without the Iranian support you’d still have shipping through the Red Sea, instead of transit having to move some other way because you’ve got missiles being launched into (the area) with relatively good accuracy.

“Nearly all the instability that takes place in the Middle East is as a direct result of that regime in Iran. The United States had the lead in deterring them and we’ve lost that.”

Pompeo praised Saudi Aramco for stabilizing oil markets following an attack claimed by the Iran-backed Houthis on its facilities in Abqaiq-Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia, but pinpointed that attack as the beginning of the end of the US and the West being able to deter Tehran.

Despite a US drone strike that assassinated senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official Qassem Soleimani in 2020, Pompeo said the current administration of President Joe Biden and the leadership in many European countries are now unwilling to impose a cost on Tehran for its malign activities.

“We permitted (Iran) for three years to fire rockets out of Yemen into southern Saudi Arabia and we did nothing, and that was a precursor to what I think you’re seeing today,” Pompeo added.

He said part of the solution is being serious about taking Iranian crude oil off the market and limiting revenue for the regime from that source, adding that in January 2021, Iran had $4 billion worth of foreign exchange reserves compared with $25-$30 billion today.