US developing contingency plans to evacuate Americans from Middle East in case Israel-Hamas war spreads

US developing contingency plans to evacuate Americans from Middle East in case Israel-Hamas war spreads
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, during a briefing at the White House in Washington. (AP)
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Updated 25 October 2023
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US developing contingency plans to evacuate Americans from Middle East in case Israel-Hamas war spreads

US developing contingency plans to evacuate Americans from Middle East in case Israel-Hamas war spreads
  • The White House addressed the contingency plans amid growing concerns that the 18-day-old Israel-Hamas war could further escalate

WASHINGTON: The White House said Tuesday that “prudent contingency planning” is underway to evacuate Americans from the Middle East in case the Israel-Hamas war spreads into a broad regional conflict.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stressed there are currently no “active efforts” to evacuate Americans from the region beyond charter flights the USgovernment began operating earlier this month out of Israel.
“It would be imprudent and irresponsible if we didn’t have folks thinking through a broad range of contingencies and possibilities,” Kirby said. “And certainly evacuations are one of those things.”
The White House addressed the contingency plans amid growing concerns that the 18-day-old Israel-Hamas war could further escalate. The US has advised Israel that postponing a possible ground invasion of Gaza could be helpful as the US and other partners in the region try to secure the release of more than 200 hostages who were captured in the Oct. 7 attack on Hamas soil. The contingency planning was first reported by The Washington Post.
President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke by phone on Tuesday about the deteriorating situation. It was the two leaders’ first interaction since before the Hamas attack on Israel.
Biden and the crown prince spoke about “efforts to deter state and non-state actors from widening the conflict between Israel and Hamas,” according to the White House. Biden administration officials have repeatedly warned Iran not to become involved in the conflict. US forces in the region over the last few days have come under repeated attacks that the Pentagon has said were likely endorsed by Iran, which is the chief sponsor of Hamas, the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon, as well as militant groups in Iraq and Yemen.
“The two leaders agreed on pursuing broader diplomatic efforts to maintain stability across the region and prevent the conflict from expanding,” the White House added.
At the Pentagon, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the US is preparing for an increase in violence, noting that there have already been at least 13 attacks against troops and installations in Iraq and Syria.
“What we are seeing is the prospect for more significant escalation against US forces and personnel across the region in the very near term coming from Iranian proxy forces and ultimately from Iran,” said Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary.
He added that the US won’t hesitate to take action if needed to protect its forces and interests in the region.
Biden said last week he believed that Hamas was motivated to attack Israel in part by a desire to stop that country from normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia.
“One of the reasons ... why Hamas moved on Israel, is because they knew I was about to sit down with the Saudis,” Biden said at a campaign fundraiser. The US president said he thinks Hamas militants launched their deadly assault on Oct. 7 because “guess what? The Saudis wanted to recognize Israel” and were near being able to formally do so.
An agreement, which the White House says it continues to pursue, would be a feat of diplomacy that could have enabled broader recognition of Israel by other Arab and Muslim-majority nations that have largely opposed Israel since its creation 75 years ago in a territory where Palestinians have long resided.
But talks were interrupted after Hamas militants stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip where Palestinians live into nearby Israeli towns.
Israel sealed off Gaza in response, and Biden told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that humanitarian aid into the territory wasn’t arriving fast enough.
Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been running out of food, water, fuel and medicine. The aid convoys allowed into Gaza so far have carried a fraction of what’s needed.
The president made his comments to reporters about the speed of aid flowing into Gaza after presenting science and technology awards to several Americans for exemplary achievements that have had a positive impact on the United States.
One of the recipients, Sheldon Weinbaum of the City College of New York, wore a “Stop War” button on his suit coat lapel as he received his medal from Biden.
Biden suggested the ceremony was a welcome break from the grim news coming out of the Middle East.
“This is a happy occasion,” Biden said at the start of the White House ceremony. “We need some more happy occasions.”
The war is the deadliest of five Gaza wars for both sides. The Hamas-run Health Ministry said at least 5,791 Palestinians have been killed and 16,297 wounded. In the occupied West Bank, 96 Palestinians have been killed and 1,650 wounded in violence and Israeli raids since Oct. 7.
“This is war. It is combat. It is bloody, it is ugly, and it’s going to be messy,” Kirby said. “I wish I could tell you something different. I wish that that wasn’t going to happen.”
Ryder said several new force protection measures are now underway, including the deployment of air defense systems. He said a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery and additional Patriot missile battalions have begun to move to undisclosed locations in the Middle East.
The THAAD is being sent from Fort Bliss, Texas, and the Patriot battalions are from Fort Liberty in North Carolina and Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
Ryder also said that additional forces have moved into the Middle East. He said the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 119 Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, with its F-16 fighter jets, arrived on Tuesday, but officials would not say where exactly it went.


Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests

Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests
Updated 21 July 2024
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Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests

Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests
  • More than 100 people killed, thousands injured in clashes between police and students
  • Police on ‘highest alert’ as curfew remains in place after hearing

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Sunday scrapped most of the quotas on government jobs that had sparked nationwide unrest in the country and resulted in deadly clashes between police and student protesters that killed more than 100 people in the past week.

University students have been demonstrating on campuses since the beginning of July to demand a reformation of the quota system that reserved 30 percent of government jobs for relatives of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war.

The government abolished the quotas after student protests in 2018, but it was reinstated by Bangladesh’s High Court last month, setting off a new round of demonstrations that was met with a harsh crackdown, including a curfew and a communications blackout that left the country of 170 million people cut off from the world.

Ruling on an appeal, Attorney General AM Amin Uddin said the Supreme Court had ordered for the quota reserved for veterans to be cut to 5 percent and for 93 percent of jobs to be allocated on merit. The remaining 2 percent will be reserved for members of ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

“In the future, the government may change the ratio if needed,” Uddin told Arab News.

“Now, I will send a copy of the verdict to the law minister for the next steps. (I) hope a gazette will be published in this regard within the next couple of days.”

The verdict came after demonstrations spiraled into deadly clashes, prompting authorities to impose a curfew ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, which Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Agence France-Presse news agency will continue “until the situation improves.”

The military was on patrol in the streets of Dhaka, along with riot police and thousands of Border Guard personnel as all gatherings were banned amid an increasing number of casualties.

At least 148 people have been killed in the past week and thousands injured, according to a count based on reports in the local media.

Inamul Haq Sagar, spokesman for the police, told Arab News: “We are on the highest alert across the country to maintain law and order.”

He added that at least three policemen had been killed and about 1,000 police officers injured during clashes in the past few days.

He said: “Since the curfew is underway, I urge all to be respectful to the law of the country and refrain from any destructive activities.”

It was not immediately clear how protesters would react to the decision by the Supreme Court.

Students had taken to the streets as the government quotas, which reserve hundreds of thousands of well-paid government jobs, affect young people directly.

The country’s unemployment rate is highest among people aged between 15 and 29 — more than a quarter of Bangladesh’s population — which constitutes 83 percent of the total without jobs.


Ruto says Kenya demos must stop, opposition urges ‘justice’

Ruto says Kenya demos must stop, opposition urges ‘justice’
Updated 49 min 53 sec ago
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Ruto says Kenya demos must stop, opposition urges ‘justice’

Ruto says Kenya demos must stop, opposition urges ‘justice’
  • Initially peaceful rallies that started last month against planned tax rises descended into violence
  • Ruto shelved his tax reform and proposed a national dialogue

NAIROBI: Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga Sunday insisted “justice” was a prerequisite for any talks with the government after deadly clashes, as President William Ruto warned unrest could “destroy” the country.
Initially peaceful rallies that started last month against planned tax rises descended into violence with dozens killed after some marchers stormed parliament.
Ruto shelved his tax reform and proposed a national dialogue.
“Justice must come first before any talks,” said Odinga on Sunday, however.
He demanded “compensation for every victim of police brutality” during the rallies.
Despite Ruto’s concessions, rallies have continued across the country. The opposition has called for fresh demonstrations next week.
“I want to promise it is going to stop. Enough is enough,” Ruto said on Sunday.
A court on Thursday suspended a police move to ban protests in the center of the capital Nairobi.
Ruto vowed to stop “looters” and “killers” who he said “risk destroying our country.”
“We want a peaceful, stable nation. And our issues are resolved using democratic means.”
Odinga, 79, who lost out to Ruto in the 2022 presidential election, said there had to be a “national conversation” between different sectors of society.
Such discussions, he said in a post on X, “should come from various sectors including youth, government, religious leaders, health care professionals, lawyers and teachers.”
Ruto on Friday unveiled a new partial cabinet to lead a “broad-based” government in a bid to ease the worst crisis of his nearly two years in office.
But the main opposition coalition swiftly branded the cabinet moves “cosmetic” and insisted it would not join a government of national unity led by Ruto.


Pope Francis calls for Olympic truce for countries at war, prays for peace

Pope Francis calls for Olympic truce for countries at war, prays for peace
Updated 57 min 35 sec ago
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Pope Francis calls for Olympic truce for countries at war, prays for peace

Pope Francis calls for Olympic truce for countries at war, prays for peace
  • The Pope stressed that sport has “a great social power, capable of peacefully uniting people from different cultures.”

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday voiced his hope that the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games will provide an opportunity for countries at war to respect an ancient Greek tradition and establish a truce for the duration of the Games.
“According to ancient tradition, may the Olympics be an opportunity to establish a truce in wars, demonstrating a sincere will for peace,” Francis said during his Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square.
The Pope stressed that sport also has “a great social power, capable of peacefully uniting people from different cultures.”
The opening ceremony of the 33rd Olympic Games will be held in Paris on July 26 with the participation of 205 delegations of athletes, who will parade on more than 80 boats on the Seine.
“I hope that this event can be a sign of the inclusive world we want to build and that the athletes, with their sporting testimony, may be messengers of peace and valuable models for the young,” Francis added.
The pope, as always, asked the faithful to pray for peace, recalling the ongoing conflicts around the world.
“Let us not forget the martyred Ukraine, Palestine, Israel, Myanmar, and many other countries at war. Let us not forget, war is a defeat,” he concluded.


Turkiye ready to build Cyprus naval base ‘if necessary’: Erdogan

Turkiye ready to build Cyprus naval base ‘if necessary’: Erdogan
Updated 21 July 2024
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Turkiye ready to build Cyprus naval base ‘if necessary’: Erdogan

Turkiye ready to build Cyprus naval base ‘if necessary’: Erdogan

ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that his country was ready to build a Cyprus naval base “if necessary,” 50 years after Turkish forces invaded the now-divided island.
“If necessary, we can construct a base and naval structures in the north” of the divided island, the official Anadolu news agency reported him as saying.
“We also have the sea,” Erdogan said he flew back to Turkiye after visiting northern Cyprus on Saturday to mark 50 years since Turkiye’s invasion.
He also accused rival Greece of wanting to establish a naval base of its own on Cyprus, on whose future both sides remain as divided as ever.
In 1983, Turkiye installed what it calls the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which no other country has recognized four decades after it was proclaimed by Turkish Cypriot leaders.
As Greek Cypriots mourned those killed and still missing since the 1974 convulsion of violence, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said Saturday that reunification was the only option.
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 still divided after Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected a UN plan to end their differences with Turkish Cypriots.
But on the other side of the UN-patrolled buffer zone that separates the two communities, Erdogan on Saturday rejected the federal model championed by the United Nations, saying he saw no point in relaunching talks on such a plan.
“Frankly, we do not think it is possible to start a new negotiation process without establishing an equation whereby both parties sit down as equals and leave the table as equals,” Erdogan said.
The last round of UN-backed talks to reunify the island collapsed in 2017.
“We are constructing on the island the building of the presidency of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the parliament building. They are constructing a military base, we are building a political base,” Erdogan added.
He also hailed the “precious” presence during Saturday’s visit of the leader of Turkiye’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, saying it demonstrated the “unity” of Turkiye’s population with regards to Cyprus.


Taliban ban on girls’ education takes mental, financial toll on Afghan teachers

Taliban ban on girls’ education takes mental, financial toll on Afghan teachers
Updated 21 July 2024
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Taliban ban on girls’ education takes mental, financial toll on Afghan teachers

Taliban ban on girls’ education takes mental, financial toll on Afghan teachers
  • Scores of teachers lost their jobs after Taliban suspended secondary schools for girls
  • While female teachers cannot teach boys, women are also restricted from many workplaces

KABUL: Najiba’s life as an educator came to a halt after the Taliban imposed a ban on girls’ education almost three years ago, a controversial policy that also forced many Afghan teachers out of the classroom.

When secondary schools for girls were suspended in September 2021 — a month after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan — it resulted in about 1.1 million girls being denied access to formal education and scores of female teachers losing their jobs, as the new policies only allowed them to teach in girls’ primary schools.

“We had this fear but didn’t know it would happen so soon. It was the hardest thing to know that I wouldn’t be able to teach anymore,” Najiba, an English teacher in Kabul, told Arab News.

“The change happened so suddenly and so quickly that it was difficult for me to cope with it. I developed very serious levels of stress and depression as a result of losing my job and my profession.”

For the 37-year-old who used to teach at a local high school, the consequences on her mental health were “irreversible” not just for her, but also for her family, as she was forced to stay at home most of the time.

“I feel I am becoming illiterate because I don’t study. I miss my students and colleagues every day and every moment. I feel lonely most of the time at home,” she said.  

When the policy went into force, all female teachers from secondary and high schools were reassigned to elementary schools “where there was a shortage of teachers,” an official from the Afghan Ministry of Education told Arab News, declining to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

“In addition, some of them were assigned to mixed schools, where boys and girls study in different shifts, to teach in the girls’ shift. The rest are staying at home,” the official said.

“The ministry’s plan is that only female teachers will teach in girls’ schools and male teachers will be transferred to boys’ schools. This has been successfully implemented in Kabul and other provinces.”

A year after their takeover, the Taliban had eliminated 14,000 government jobs held by women, the majority of which were teaching positions, according to a report published by the US government’s oversight authority on Afghanistan’s reconstruction known as SIGAR.  

Yet despite the increasing uncertainty over the future of education for girls in Afghanistan, Najiba is still holding out hope.

“I really hope and pray something good happens and girls’ schools reopen so we can go back to where we belong, in the classroom and school. Nothing else will make us happy and help us get back to our normal condition,” she said.

For Khaperai, who used to teach at a secondary school in Jalalabad, the capital of the eastern Nangarhar province, the Taliban’s policies were taking a toll on her mental health and financial situation.

The 42-year-old has tried to no avail to get transferred to a primary school as there are no vacancies in her area.  

“And I couldn’t leave my family. The change in my condition has not only impacted me psychologically but has posed economic challenges as well,” she told Arab News, adding that her husband has also lost his job due to the ongoing economic crisis.

“I was supporting my children’s education with my salary but since the last few months, our salaries have decreased. We only receive 5,000 afghanis ($70) in our accounts now. It’s not sufficient to support myself and my children. I don’t know what I will do.”

With women also restricted from many workplaces under the Taliban, Khaperai found herself with no other alternative.

“I can’t do any other job. Women have very few work opportunities under the Taliban, making it almost impossible for female heads of the family to support their families,” she said.

“I can only hope for a positive change. I can’t do anything else. No one seems to listen to us or care about us. We are left to the mercy of God.”