Middle East countries respond to Morocco earthquake, Libya flooding with aid and solidarity

Middle East countries respond to Morocco earthquake, Libya flooding with aid and solidarity
Jordanian soldiers prepare to load humanitarian aid on a plane at the Marka military airport in Amman on September 13, 2023, to be flown to Libya, where devastating flash floods killed at least 5,000 people and displaced at least 30,000 more. (AFP)
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Updated 14 September 2023
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Middle East countries respond to Morocco earthquake, Libya flooding with aid and solidarity

Middle East countries respond to Morocco earthquake, Libya flooding with aid and solidarity
  • A 6.8 magnitude quake struck Morocco’s Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech on Friday, killing nearly 3,000
  • Two river dams burst on Sunday in Libya’s coastal city of Derna, killing at least 5,000, with thousands still missing

NAIROBI/LONDON: North Africa suffered two disasters in three days when a devastating earthquake struck Morocco on Friday, followed by catastrophic flooding in Libya on Sunday, leaving thousands dead and many more missing, sparking a global aid response.

On Friday night, a powerful earthquake, measuring 6.8 in magnitude, struck high in the Atlas Mountains about 70 km south of Marrakech, flattening whole villages, killing at least 2,900 people and leaving thousands more homeless.




The graphic depicts difficulties faced by rescue teams in remote mountain villages in Morocco. (AFP)

In Morocco’s Al-Haouz province, isolated farming communities have been left cut off, with many fending entirely for themselves. It was the North African country’s deadliest earthquake since 1960 and its most powerful in more than a century.

Just as aid agencies and donor nations were rolling out their response to this catastrophe, another disaster was unfolding to the east in crisis-torn Libya, where Storm Daniel caused two river dams to burst on Sunday afternoon.

The enormous surge of water released by the dams tore through the Mediterranean coastal city of Derna, sweeping buildings, vehicles and people into the sea. The confirmed death toll surpassed 5,000 on Wednesday, with thousands more still unaccounted for.

“Libya’s situation is a roller coaster. We’ve been through so much — conflicts, political ups and downs, and now these floods adding to the chaos,” Mohammed Thabit, a Tripoli-based citizen journalist, told Arab News.

“But remember, we’re a resilient bunch. We’ve faced worse and we’ll keep pushing for a brighter tomorrow, no matter the challenges.”




This grab from a video published on the Facebook account of the Libyan Red Crescent on September 11, 2023, shows members of their team assisting drivers whose cars are engulfed in floods in al-Bayda town in eastern Libya. (Basma Badran, Libyan Red Crescent via AFP)

The city of Derna, 300 km east of Benghazi, is ringed by hills and bisected by what is normally a dry riverbed in summer, which became a raging torrent of mud-brown water that also swept away several major bridges.

Derna was home to about 100,000 people and many of its multistory buildings on the banks of the riverbed collapsed, with people, their homes and cars vanishing into the raging waters.




Emergency members work near a building destroyed when a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hit the city of Derna in Libya on September 12, 2023. (Screen grab from social media video by Ali M. Bomhadi/via REUTERS)

“In the face of these devastating floods in Libya, it’s a heartbreaker,” Thabit said. “Our dams got some funding, but it seems some folks ran off with the money instead of fixing things. Tough times, but we’re tougher.”

The Libyan Presidential Council has declared the cities of Derna, Shahat and Al-Bayda in Cyrenaica disaster zones and requested international support to confront the effects of the floods caused by the storm.

Libya is in effect under the control of two rival administrations: the internationally recognized government in Tripoli and authorities based along with the parliament in the east.

“The humanitarian needs are huge and far beyond the abilities of the Libyan Red Crescent and even beyond the abilities of the government,” Tamar Ramadan, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies delegation in Libya, said in a statement to the UN.

“That’s why the government in the east has issued an international appeal for support.”

Margaret Harris, spokesperson for the World Health Organization, said the flooding was of “epic” proportions.

“There’s not been a storm like this in the region in living memory, so it’s a great shock,” she said.

There is also concern for the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees from more than 40 countries who use Libya as a jumping-off point to reach Europe and who have likely been caught up in the floods.




Rescue search through the rubble of an earthquake-damaged house in Imi N'Tala village near Amizmiz in Morocco on September 13, 2023. (AFP)

With global concern spreading about both disasters, several nations have offered aid and deployed rescue teams to Derna and isolated villages across Morocco to help survivors and retrieve the bodies of their loved ones from the rubble.

Offers of assistance came from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Tunisia and Turkiye. Saudi Arabia on Tuesday expressed solidarity with “Libya and its brotherly people, and the victims of the floods.”

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier ordered aid flights to Morocco, and the crown prince called King Mohammed VI to affirm the Kingdom’s solidarity with the Moroccan people.




Villagers and rescuers recite a prayer in front of the body of an earthquake in the village of Imi N'Tala near Amizmiz on September 13, 2023. AFP) 

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has declared a three-day mourning period and directed military personnel to provide humanitarian aid, including relief teams, rescue equipment and shelter camps for Libya and Morocco.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, president of the UAE, ordered the dispatch of urgent relief and search and rescue teams to Libya, deploying two aid planes carrying 150 tons of food, relief and medical supplies.

A Kuwaiti flight took off on Wednesday with 40 tons of supplies for Libya, while Jordan sent a military plane loaded with food parcels, tents, blankets and mattresses.

None of this has detracted from the Moroccan earthquake response. Rescuers from Spain, the UK and Qatar are helping local search teams to find survivors.

Many villagers in Morocco have had no power or telephone network since the earthquake struck and have had to rescue loved ones and pull dead bodies from under their crushed homes without any assistance.

The UN estimated that more than 300,000 people had been affected, a third of them children, by the powerful seismic event that hit just after 11 p.m. when most families were asleep.

Moroccans have demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of adversity, but as rescue teams race against the clock to locate survivors, experts say restoring a sense of normality should be the priority.




A woman reacts by the rubble of destroyed buildings in the aftermath of the deadly 6.8-magnitude September 8 earthquake in the village of Imi N'Tala near Amizmiz in central Morocco on September 10, 2023. (AFP)

“While buildings and towns can be rebuilt through reconstruction efforts,” it is the “going back to normal for the survivors which is the biggest challenge,” Karim Wafa Al-Hussaini, a historian with roots in Morocco, told Arab News.

“Instilling a renewed sense of normal among the population will be definitely one of the biggest challenges throughout and after the reconstruction projects.”

The earthquake has underscored the fragility of buildings in Morocco’s rural areas, constructed using traditional Amazigh building techniques. Climate change has also left its mark, rendering the structures more susceptible to devastation.

Fatima Ahouli, director of operations with the Morocco-based Imal Initiative for Climate and Development, believes these latest incidents underscore the need for investment in infrastructure designed to cope with natural disasters and extreme weather events.

“This entails the construction of robust infrastructure, such as educational institutions and healthcare facilities, capable of enduring the rigors of severe weather events, all while fostering sustainable resource management practices,” she said.




The collection of satellite images shows destruction caused by Morocco's deadly earthquake. (AFP) 

Morocco’s King Mohammed has launched assessments to evaluate the structural damage and the feasibility of rebuilding the hardest-hit regions. Nevertheless, rescue operations have incurred criticism amid the rising death toll.

Meanwhile, in Marrakech, where state assistance for survivors has been most immediate, many modern buildings remained unscathed by the tremors. Several of the city’s famous historical sites, however, were not so fortunate.

“The earthquake’s fury primarily targeted ancient buildings, some dating back centuries, constructed using traditional clay methods once prevalent in Marrakech,” Yassine Soussi Temli, managing partner at the investment firm Maghreb Capital Advisers, told Arab News.

“The city’s distinctive architectural heritage has borne the brunt of the earthquake’s wrath.”


‘Mercy tables’ in Egypt suffer from economic crisis as Ramadan nears

‘Mercy tables’ in Egypt suffer from economic crisis as Ramadan nears
Updated 29 February 2024
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‘Mercy tables’ in Egypt suffer from economic crisis as Ramadan nears

‘Mercy tables’ in Egypt suffer from economic crisis as Ramadan nears

CAIRO: Rising food prices and shortages may lead to fewer donations and less food for “tables of mercy” in Egypt during Ramadan.

Such tables are usually seen on Egypt’s streets to provide lower-income people with free iftar.

“There are many philanthropists in Egypt, but the high prices of food items constrain them,” said Kamal Khairy, a cook who worked at the tables in previous years.

A kilogram of meat is now priced at 450 Egyptian pounds ($14.56) in some areas, while a kilogram of rice costs 40 pounds. The price of vegetables has risen to unreasonable levels, Khairy told Arab News.

The meal cost has increased significantly, causing some philanthropists to withdraw from setting up tables this year.

“Before the COVID-19 outbreak, I used to cook at different tables upon request by philanthropists,” he said.

“In one year, I cooked for three tables — one in the morning, another in the afternoon, and the third before sunset. However, no one has asked me this year.”

A 50-year-old Egyptian, who declined to be named, told Arab News: “In previous years, I used to set up a free iftar table near my factory in Al-Azhar. However, I cannot afford the extra expense due to financial constraints this year.”

He said the factory was struggling financially, so he had been cutting expenses.

A car park attendant on Hoda Shaarawi Street in Cairo who gave his name as Uncle Ahmed told Arab News: “Due to the nature of my job, I cannot go home during Ramadan. Therefore, I rely on the ‘mercy table’ set up on the street, where I am a regular guest.”

The man, nearing 60, added: “I used to sit at a table alongside people from diverse social backgrounds, such as delivery workers, nurses, conscripts, and passersby.

“The table used to accommodate more than 500 people but now fits only 50.”

He said that in the past, a meal would typically consist of a meat dish (such as chicken or kofta), a vegetable dish, a salad and rice or pasta.

“There is only one dish that contains rice and vegetables this year, and the size of the chicken and meat has been reduced. Additionally, the salad portion has been reduced."

Ahmed added: “The crisis affects everyone, and we don’t expect more from the philanthropists. I excuse them.

“I pray that our crises in Egypt will be resolved.”

Farid Jamal, a worker at a charity hosting a table, said: “In previous years, people would arrive an hour before the Maghrib prayer, but now they come three hours earlier.

“The social composition has also changed. I see young men and men from good social levels wearing relatively elegant clothes and women who appear to be in a good situation, all reserving their places at the table to get an iftar meal.”


Volunteers brave Israeli air raids to feed Lebanon’s stranded pets

Volunteers brave Israeli air raids to feed Lebanon’s stranded pets
Updated 29 February 2024
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Volunteers brave Israeli air raids to feed Lebanon’s stranded pets

Volunteers brave Israeli air raids to feed Lebanon’s stranded pets
  • Tyre resident recounts heartbreaking scenes in abandoned towns

BEIRUT: Volunteers in southern Lebanon are defying Israeli bombing to feed and care for dogs, cats, birds and other animals that have become victims of the conflict.

Linda Luku — a native of Bint Jbeil now residing in Tyre — is among a growing number of volunteers who have mobilized via social media to support animals amid the military escalation between Hezbollah and Israel.

Their efforts provide a lifeline to the forgotten victims of war as clashes continue to claim the lives of Hezbollah operatives and Lebanese civilians, including innocent children and women.

Amid the clashes between Hezbollah and the Israeli army, thousands of residents of the border region in southern Lebanon have abandoned their homes and villages in recent months.

In heartbreaking decisions, many families opted to leave their cherished pets behind, hoping that their displacement would be short-lived.

With military operations escalating and airstrikes pounding the region, villages have been transformed into desolate ghost towns, leaving animals abandoned and vulnerable to starvation and bombing.

Luku recounted the heartbreaking scenes she encountered during a visit to her hometown of Bint Jbeil.

Stray cats and dogs — emaciated and desperate — roamed the streets, their suffering palpable as their ribs protruded from hunger.

The sight was particularly harrowing for Luku, who, moved by compassion, set out with her brother on a mission to provide relief.

They managed to secure leftover chicken from a local slaughterhouse in Maaroub owned by a friend, and then journeyed to their hometown to distribute food to the starving animals.

“These animals are not strays. They belong to beautiful breeds commonly kept as household pets. They are now left to fend for themselves, searching for sustenance in towns abandoned by humans,” Luku said.

She added: “It is a poignant scene. As I navigate through these towns, I am confronted with the sight of starving animals, and the distressing images linger with me through the night.

“Amid the conflict, there is a heartbreaking lack of awareness. Residents remaining in villages under bombardment often withhold food from these animals.”

“Many times, I traverse villages devoid of human presence, with only Israeli warplanes hovering above, surveilling the area.”

Qassem Haidar, 28, from Shaqra in southern Lebanon, still lives in the area with his family despite facing constant bombardment.

“I have my own business, yet I sympathize with animals,” he said, adding: “I started feeding animals in my village after I was shocked to see a dog eating a cat in Beit Leif. It was so horrible. I could not stand it.

“I resorted to social media, asking anyone who had food leftovers to keep them, taking it upon myself to collect and distribute them to abandoned animals.

“I took photos of the hungry animals and posted them online. Many showed sympathy, and I started receiving donations, from dry food bags to gasoline costs, to move around between the villages.

“I also reached out to animal welfare organizations. I dedicate three hours of my time every day to going around the villages and posting stories on Instagram.

“I visited every village in the border area, from Ayta Al-Shaab to Kfarkela, spending a few minutes in some due to the bombardment and more than an hour in others.

Haidar said: “I used to leave food on the sides of the roads. Sometimes, if I come across a civilian still in his house, I leave bags of food at his place so that he can feed the animals.

“I also cooperate with the medics in the region to distribute food to animals. I have a town visit schedule, and I know when I should return and visit them to leave food for the animals.

“I don’t want to be late, so they do not starve to death or eat each other. I have seen cats and dogs that died of cardiac arrest due to the sound of exploding shells. Their heartbeats were so fast. They experienced absolute terror.

“They know when a shell is about to drop, and they disperse before it does. I followed their instincts and survived bombings more than once. Israelis bombed the sites I was at in many towns five minutes after I left them.

“I often used to be the only person on the road in towns in the line of fire. My mother is always worried about me. However, I am convinced these lives cannot be abandoned,” he added.

Haidar’s mission goes beyond feeding dogs, cats, and birds. He also takes sick or wounded animals to local vets.

Firas Faraj, a founder of the Strays Welfare Association in Tyre, said that many of the pets left behind are waiting for their owners to return.

He added: “We do not have an accurate number of abandoned animals, yet we are dealing with the problem case by case.

“The issue has gained some sympathy, but the need is still greater than what is provided. UNIFIL forces previously sympathized with us since the unit commanders love animals and provided us access to a field hospital.

“However, with the opening of the southern battlefront, all aid was suspended, and we rely on individual initiatives.”


El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan

El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan
Updated 29 February 2024
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El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan

El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan
  • Al-Burhan said that Egypt’s role in hosting Sudanese citizens and mitigating the crisis provided evidence of its continued friendship
  • El-Sisi and Al-Burhan agreed on the necessity of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza

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.