Rivalry set aside as Libyans cope with flood disaster

Rivalry set aside as Libyans cope with flood disaster
Rescue teams and members of Libyan Red Crescent search for dead bodies at a beach, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya September 16, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 17 September 2023
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Rivalry set aside as Libyans cope with flood disaster

Rivalry set aside as Libyans cope with flood disaster
  • After Storm Daniel hit on Sunday, two dams upstream from Derna burst, sending a wall of water into the dry riverbed
  • The devastation was apocalyptic and entire neighborhoods and those who lived there were swept into the Mediterranean

TRIPOLI: Libya’s deadly floods have sparked a surge of solidarity and transcended political differences in a country wracked by division ever since the 2011 revolution that overthrew Muammar Qaddafi.
“As soon as we heard about this awful tragedy, people began a spontaneous campaign in Tajoura to help, with no state backing at all,” said Mohannad Bennour in the eastern suburb of Tripoli, the capital.
He said that since Monday, donations of “nearly 70,000 dinars (13,500 euros) have been sent in, more than 20,000 dinars on Friday alone.”
“People are handing in food, cleaning and hygiene products, towels, medicine... everything necessary for babies and women, and also clothing,” the 30-year-old added.

After Storm Daniel hit the east of the country on Sunday, two dams upstream from Derna burst, sending a wall of water into the wadi or dry riverbed that divides the port city of 100,000 people.
The devastation was apocalyptic. Entire neighborhoods and those who lived there were swept into the Mediterranean.
Othman Abdeljalil, the health minister in the administration that runs eastern Libya, has put the provisional death toll at 3,166. But the final number is likely to be far higher.
Many survivors of the disaster now find themselves homeless, and those who can have left the area.

The International Organization of Migration puts the number of people in eastern Libya displaced by the floods at 38,000 — 30,000 in Derna alone.
“Getting lifesaving supplies to people and preventing a secondary health crisis is essential,” Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, posted on X, formerly Twitter.
But getting aid to those who need it most is made more complicated by the east-west political split in Libya.

The country today has two rival administrations, one in the capital Tripoli in the west, the UN-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah, and another in the east, affiliated with military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
Setting their differences aside, ordinary Libyans are mobilizing in the face of the tragedy. Across the country fundraising is under way, and volunteer aid workers have rushed to the disaster area.
Many of those volunteers are hoping that the sense of solidarity will last.
In the Hay Al-Andalous district of Tripoli, Bader Marii came to drop off packs of water on the esplanade of the Ben Fadel Mosque, where two large trucks were already almost full.
Aid for the stricken population of Derna must keep on coming, because the country’s split means “it will take double the time it would take in normal conditions” to rebuild in the disaster area, he said.
“Governments have a habit of letting time go by with no one calling them to account,” added the Tripoli native in his fifties.
“It’s like that in Libya. May God help us,” he said, raising his hands skywards.

In the city center, culture ministry employee Nouri el-Makhlou, 43, has been coordinating aid donations for a convoy due to leave for the east on Sunday morning.
The aid on board has been donated “by families from all over Libya who contacted us wanting to help.”
This spontaneous outpouring of solidarity comes against a backdrop of chaotic mobilization by the rival authorities in east and west which are already apportioning blame for the tragedy.
The prosecutor general visited Derna on Friday and pledged that those responsible for the disaster would be held to account.
Civil society groups that have struggled to keep going amid official harassment acted quickly and are already on the scene to help in the aftermath.
“The political elite on all sides has systematically and deliberately shut down civil society organizations and persecuted its members,” said Elham Saudi, director of the group Lawyers For Justice in Libya.
She said that to the politicians “civil society is a threat. It exposes their shortcomings and fills the deficit they create.”
Saudi believes civil society will ensure that those responsible for the tragedy in Derna are judged.
“It is important that this moment marks the end of the culture of impunity in Libya,” she said.


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 58 min 53 sec ago
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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.

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor
Updated 29 February 2024
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Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor
  • Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria

Beirut: Israel killed a Hezbollah fighter in a strike on Syria, close to the Lebanese border, also hitting near Damascus Thursday, a war monitor said, hours after similar attacks.
Hezbollah holds sway over Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria, as well as some regions on the other side of the border including Qusayr, the target of Thursday’s strike.
“An Israeli drone strike on a truck killed a Hezbollah fighter in the Qusayr area near the Syrian-Lebanese border,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At the same time, Israeli strikes targeted Syrian air defense and radar sites near Damascus, said the Britain-based monitor with a network of sources inside Syria.
An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard faraway explosions.
Syrian state media did not report the strikes.
Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups have been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces following the eruption of civil war.
Since Syria’s war began in 2011, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes against its northern neighbor, primarily targeting pro-Iran forces, among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Syrian army.
But the strikes have multiplied during the almost five-month-old war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
On Wednesday evening, Israel struck near Damascus, killing two Syrian pro-Hezbollah fighters, the Observatory had said.
Last week, an Israeli strike on a truck in Syria near the Lebanese border killed two Hezbollah members, also according to the Observatory.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria.
Syria’s war has claimed the lives of more than half a million people and displaced millions since it broke out in March 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.


UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict

UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict
Updated 29 February 2024
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UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict

UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict
  • UN human rights office had recorded ‘many incidents that may amount to war crimes by Israeli forces’

GENEVA: UN human rights chief Volker Turk on Thursday said war crimes had been committed by all parties in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, calling for them to be investigated and for those responsible to be held accountable.
“Clear violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, including war crimes and possibly other crimes under international law, have been committed by all parties,” Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“It is time — well past time — for peace, investigation and accountability.”
Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages in an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
The attack sparked an Israeli offensive in Hamas-run Gaza, which it says is intended to rescue the remaining hostages and eradicate Hamas. Health authorities in Gaza say some 30,000 people have been confirmed killed during the offensive.
Turk, who was presenting a report on the human rights situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said his office had recorded “many incidents that may amount to war crimes by Israeli forces.”
He said there were also indications that Israeli forces have engaged in “indiscriminate or disproportionate targeting” in violation of international law.
Israel has said it is doing all it can to minimize harm to civilians.
Turk said Palestinian armed groups launching indiscriminate projectiles across southern Israel and the holding of hostages also violated international humanitarian law.
Last month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.
Turk said the prospect of an Israeli ground assault in the southern border town of Rafah, where some 1.5 million people are estimated to be crammed after fleeing their homes further north to escape Israel’s offensive, “would take the nightmare being inflicted on people in Gaza into a new, dystopian, dimension.”
“For my part, I fail to see how such an operation could be consistent with the binding provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice,” he said.
Turk added that such a ground offensive would incur massive loss of life, increase the risk of atrocity crimes, spur more displacement and “sign a death warrant for any hope of effective humanitarian aid.”