Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster

Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster
Boys walk down a street impacted by fatal floods in Derna, Libya. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 September 2023
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Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster

Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster
  • The four additional suspects, including two members of the Derna municipal council, were arrested

BENGHAZI: Libya’s prosecutor general has ordered the arrest of four more officials, bringing to 12 the number held as part of an inquiry into this month’s flood that killed thousands.
Flooding caused by hurricane-strength Storm Daniel tore through eastern Libya on Sept. 10, leaving at least 3,893 people dead and thousands more missing.
The seaside city of Derna was the worst-hit in the flash flood, which witnesses likened to a tsunami. It burst through two dams and washed entire neighborhoods into the Mediterranean.
The four additional suspects, including two members of the Derna municipal council, were arrested for suspected “bad management of the administrative and financial missions which were incumbent upon them,” said a statement issued by the prosecutor general’s office in Tripoli, western Libya.
On Monday, the office ordered the arrest of eight officials, including Derna’s mayor who was sacked after the flood.
Libya’s prosecutor general Al-Seddik Al-Sour belongs to the internationally recognized regime in the country’s west.
A rival administration in the flood-stricken east, is backed by military leader Khalifa Haftar.
The eastern government has said it plans to host an international donors’ conference in Benghazi on Oct. 10 to focus on the reconstruction of flood-ravaged areas, but its failure to involve the Tripoli government has drawn mounting criticism from donors.
The US called on Libyans to set aside their political differences and agree on a framework to channel aid to eastern towns.

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The US called on Libyans to set aside their political differences and agree a framework to channel aid to eastern towns.

“We urge Libyan authorities now to form such unified structures — rather than launching separate efforts — that represent the Libyan people without delay,” US special envoy Richard Norland said in a statement on Friday.
“A proposal to hold a reconstruction conference in Benghazi on October 10 would be much more effective if it were conducted jointly and inclusively.”
Norland echoed concerns already expressed by the UN that mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that foreign aid is spent accountably.
“Libyans need to be assured public funds are used transparently, accountably, and that assistance goes to those in need,” the US envoy said.
On Thursday during talks with the European Commission, UN envoy Abdoulaye Bathily said he had called for funds to be monitored.
“I ... emphasized the need for a joint assessment of reconstruction needs of storm-affected areas to ensure the utmost accountability in the management of reconstruction resources,” he said.
On Friday, the eastern authorities said they would begin paying compensation to people affected by the disaster, which a UN agency has said uprooted more than 43,000 people.
“Checks have been handed over to the mayors” after a relief committee received records of damage caused by the flooding, the government based in Libya’s east said in a statement.
People whose homes were destroyed would receive 100,000 dinars ($20,500) in compensation, Faraj Kaeem, the eastern administration’s deputy interior minister, said separately.
Those with partially destroyed homes would get 50,000 dinars, while those who lost furniture or household appliances would be given 20,000 dinars, he said.
The eastern administration announced on Wednesday the creation of a fund for the reconstruction of Derna.
The authorities have yet to specify how the new fund will be financed, but the eastern-based parliament has already allocated 10 billion dinars to reconstruction projects.


Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals

Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals
Updated 22 June 2024
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Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals

Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals
  • Worshippers parade through villages on horseback as part of traditional festivities

CAIRO: As Egyptian pilgrims return from their spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia, waiting families have begun plans for celebrations in homes decorated with special murals.

Festive images depict Hajj symbols such as airplanes, the Kaaba, Mount Arafat, and camels, celebrating the fulfillment of the sacred pilgrimage. 

Emad Abdel Latif, a folklore professor at Assiut University, told Arab News that the “deep-rooted tradition begins as soon as the pilgrim departs for the holy lands.”

He said the homes “are initially painted, typically in blue, and then adorned with murals that symbolize aspects of the Hajj, including the Kaaba and the aircraft transporting the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.”

Abdel Latif added: “This custom also includes inscribing phrases such as ‘Labaik Allahumma Labaik’ (Here I am, O God, here I am), ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is the Greatest), along with wishes for a blessed Hajj and forgiven sins.”

Traditionally, celebrations included a religious ceremony, during which returning pilgrims might parade through their village on horseback, while sweets are distributed among onlookers. 

Said Al-Badri, a mural artist from Giza, described the intricate planning that goes into creating the artworks.

“Depending on the complexity, a single mural can take one to two hours, while a complete home mural might require a full day of work,” he said.

“These murals visually narrate the pilgrim’s journey — boarding the plane, circling the Kaaba, the ritual walk between Safa and Marwa, standing at Mount Arafat, and visiting the Prophet’s tomb. They are enriched with Qur’anic verses and popular phrases of congratulation.”

Al-Badri learnt the art from his father, and has dedicated himself to preserving this cultural tradition.

“Each year, as pilgrims return, I continue this legacy, enhancing our local heritage through these festive decorations,” he said.

Amira Mahmoud’s mother was one of more than 1.8 million people who undertook the Hajj pilgrimage this year. The murals “add to our celebration,” she said.

“Our community deeply values these traditions, which embellish our homes, and reinforce familial and communal bonds.”

Mahmoud highlights the significance of these murals in preserving cultural heritage.

“These artworks are more than decorations. They are a vibrant testament to our rich traditions, inviting every returning pilgrim to the heart of community life.”


Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips

Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips
Updated 22 June 2024
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Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips

Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips
  • The prime minister presided over a crisis cell meeting initiated by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, focusing on the deaths of Egyptian pilgrims
  • Preliminarily, 16 travel agencies were identified as circumventing regulations and transporting pilgrims without offering proper services

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has ordered 16 tourism companies to be stripped of their licenses and referred their managers to the public prosecutor’s office for illegally facilitating pilgrims’ travel to Makkah.
The prime minister presided over a crisis cell meeting initiated by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, focusing on the deaths of Egyptian pilgrims.
A report discussed at the meeting highlighted that the rise in the deaths of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims stemmed from some companies that “organized the Hajj programs using a personal visit visa, which prevents its holders from entering Makkah” via official channels.
It emerged that attempts to bypass the official process included trekking through desert paths and the absence of suitable accommodation at other sacred sites, leading to exhaustion among unregistered pilgrims due to severe heat.
Preliminarily, 16 travel agencies were identified as circumventing regulations and transporting pilgrims without offering proper services.
The prime minister ordered the immediate revocation of these companies’ licenses, referred the responsible people to public prosecution, and imposed fines to benefit the bereaved families of the deceased pilgrims.
During the meeting, measures were discussed to prevent such incidents in the future, including enforcing immediate actions against companies or entities that facilitated these irregular pilgrimages.
Madbouly said that although the official Egyptian Hajj delegation comprises more than 50,000 pilgrims, it was difficult to ascertain the number of unregistered travelers due to the absence of recorded data.
An official source, preferring anonymity, told Arab News that high fatality numbers reported might include many who traveled under visit visas — not Hajj visas.
He suggested that those responsible for “these transgressions face severe repercussions, possibly extending beyond license revocation to criminal prosecution.”
The French news agency AFP reported that the death toll among Egyptian pilgrims for this year’s Hajj had risen to 600, indicating the majority were not part of the official delegation.
Regarding legal responsibilities, Egyptian lawyer Ahmed Abul Saud said that travel agencies bear criminal responsibility if they knowingly facilitate these illegal activities.
Conversely, he said that if they were unaware and merely issued visas based on client requests, it would be easier to hold them accountable if it was proven they had explicit knowledge of the pilgrims’ intentions.
Saturday’s discussions also revealed that some companies possibly knew what the unofficial pilgrims planned, while others may have been unaware, issuing visas without knowing the intended misuse.
This situation underscores the complexity of ensuring that all travel facilitators adhere strictly to legal and ethical standards, emphasizing the need for robust oversight and accountability measures to prevent future occurrences.
Officials said that ensuring all travel facilitators adhere to legal and ethical standards required robust oversight and accountability measures.


EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling
Updated 22 June 2024
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EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling
  • The EU condemns the shelling which damaged the ICRC office in Gaza

BRUSSELS: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on Saturday called for a probe into deadly shelling that damaged an office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza.


“The EU condemns the shelling which damaged the ICRC office in Gaza and led to dozens of casualties. An independent investigation is needed and those responsible must be held accountable,” Borrell wrote on X.


Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader
Updated 22 June 2024
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Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader
  • “A leader of the Al-Fajr Forces of the Jamaa Islamiya, Ayman Ghotmeh, was killed in an Israeli strike in Khiara in the western Bekaa,” the source said
  • The Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, was established in 1982 to fight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon

BEIRUT: A security source said a leader of the Lebanese Islamist group Jamaa Islamiya, an ally of Hamas, was killed Saturday in an Israeli strike on a vehicle in eastern Lebanon.
Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7, Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement and other groups allied with the Palestinian militants have traded near-daily fire with Israel across the southern border.
“A leader of the Al-Fajr Forces of the Jamaa Islamiya, Ayman Ghotmeh, was killed in an Israeli strike in Khiara in the western Bekaa,” 10 kilometers (six miles) from the border with Syria, the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, was established in 1982 to fight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
The group has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks against Israel, including joint operations with Hamas in Lebanon. It is estimated to number around 500 men.
Lebanon’s state-run ANI news agency reported one person killed when a car was targeted in Khiara, and that the victim was from the nearby village of Lala, without giving further details.
Israel’s military said an aircraft carried out a “precise strike in the Beqaa area in Lebanon in order to eliminate the terrorist” Ayman Ghotmeh, who they said supplied weapons to Hamas and Jamaa Islamiya in Lebanon.
He was targeted for his “involvement in the promotion and execution of terrorist activities against Israel,” the Israeli statement added.
Jamaa Islamiya, which has had seven fighters killed in Lebanon since October 7, did not immediately announce any deaths.
On April 26, the group said two of their leaders were killed in an Israeli strike in eastern Lebanon.
More than eight months of violence on the Israel-Lebanon border has left at least 480 people dead in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including at least 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
On the Israeli side, at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.
Heightened tensions in recent days on the Israel-Lebanon border have raised fears of an expanded regional conflict.


Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath
Updated 22 June 2024
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Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath
  • According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack
  • More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank

ARIEL, Palestinian Territories: With many Israelis gripped by a sense of insecurity following Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, the number of women applying for gun permits has soared, while feminist groups have criticized the rush to arms.
According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack, with 18,000 approved, more than tripling the number of pre-war licenses held by women.
The surge has been enabled by the loosening of gun laws under Israel’s right-wing government and its far-right security minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with 10,000 enrolled in mandatory training, according to the ministry.
“I would have never thought of buying a weapon or getting a permit, but since October 7, things changed a little bit,” political science professor Limor Gonen told AFP during a weapons handling class at a shooting range in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
The October 7 attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
“We were all targeted (on October 7) and I don’t want to be taken by surprise, so I’m trying to defend myself,” Gonen said after the class, an obligatory step for acquiring a permit.
While the immediate trigger for the surge in gun buying was the Hamas attack, Ben Gvir was already pledging to reform firearms legislation when he became security minister in late 2022.
He promised to raise the number of civilians holding weapons and “increase self-defense capacity.”
Under Ben Gvir, the process for getting a gun license has been sped up, with Israeli media reporting that in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack the authorities were often clearing hundreds of permits per day.
Eligibility criteria for gun ownership in Israel now include being a citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18, having a basic command of Hebrew and medical clearance.
The full list of requirements makes it nearly impossible for non-Jews to obtain a permit.
In March, Ben Gvir, who is himself a settler in the West Bank, hailed civilian weapon ownership passing the 100,000 mark, while showing off his own gun at a rally.
But his rush to put deadly arms into the hands of ordinary Israelis has drawn criticism too.
The Gun Free Kitchen Tables Coalition, an Israeli initiative founded by feminist activists, condemned the civilian arms race.
It is “a strategy of far-right settlers to consider the arming of women to be a feminist act,” a spokesperson for the group of 18 organizations told AFP.
“The increase of weapons in the civilian space leads to an increase in violence and murder against women. It’s time for the state to understand that individual safety is its responsibility.”
Community manager Yahel Reznik, 24, said she now felt “a lot more safe” in Ariel, which sits three kilometers north of the Palestinian city of Salfit.
“Thanks to my training I will be able to defend myself and protect others” from an attack, she told AFP.
Violence in the West Bank, which was already rising before the war, has surged since October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli settlers and troops across the West Bank since the start of the Gaza war, according to the Palestinian Authority.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The surge in gun ownership is not limited to West Bank settlers. In the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, just north of Tel Aviv, Corine Nissim said she never leaves home without her gun.
The 42-year-old English teacher walked her three children to the park with a 9mm Smith & Wesson sticking out the back of her trousers.
“After October 7, I think like most people in Israel, I realized that the only person I can trust is myself,” she told AFP, adding she bought a gun not to feel “helpless.”
“The worst scenario that was going through my head was that, of course, terrorists attack me and my family in our own house,” the mother said.
Her decision to own a gun initially surprised some in the seaside town known for its tranquillity and safety, she said.
“People watched me and said, ‘This is so surreal to see you like this with a gun and with the baby’” said Nissim.
But, she said, others started to agree with her and said they would follow suit.
“Many women told me: ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to get a gun as well.’“