Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi goes on a hunger strike while imprisoned in Iran

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi goes on a hunger strike while imprisoned in Iran
A handout photo provided by the Narges Mohammadi Foundation on October 2, 2023 shows an undated, unlocated photo of Iranian rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 November 2023
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Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi goes on a hunger strike while imprisoned in Iran

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi goes on a hunger strike while imprisoned in Iran
  • Mohammadi, 51, has kept up her activism and has remained a leading light for nationwide, women-led protests

DUBAI: A campaign urging Iran to free Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi said Monday that the activist has begun a hunger strike over the conditions of her imprisonment and the country's requirement that women wear headscarves.
The Free Narges Mohammadi campaign said she “through a message from Evin Prison has informed her family that she started a hunger strike several hours ago.” It said Mohammadi and her lawyer for weeks have sought her transfer to a specialist hospital for heart and lung care.
It did not elaborate on what conditions Mohammadi suffered from, though it described her as receiving an echocardiogram of her heart.
Iranian state media did not immediately acknowledge that Mohammadi had gone on a hunger strike.
Mohammadi, 51, has kept up her activism despite numerous arrests by Iranian authorities and spending years behind bars. She has remained a leading light for nationwide, women-led protests sparked by the death last year of a 22-year-old woman in police custody that have grown into one of the most intense challenges to Iran’s theocratic government.
That woman, Mahsa Amini, had been detained for allegedly not wearing her headscarf, or hijab, to the liking of authorities.


Hunger grips north of war-torn Gaza Strip amid ongoing talks

Hunger grips north of war-torn Gaza Strip amid ongoing talks
Updated 10 sec ago
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Hunger grips north of war-torn Gaza Strip amid ongoing talks

Hunger grips north of war-torn Gaza Strip amid ongoing talks
  • US, Arab and other mediators have voiced hope a deal can be reached before Ramadan

GAZA: Dire food shortages sent hundreds of Palestinians fleeing northern Gaza on Sunday as Israel’s war against Hamas raged on despite stuttering efforts toward a ceasefire and hostage release deal.

Desperate families in the north of the besieged war zone have been forced to scavenge for food as fighting and looting have stopped humanitarian aid trucks from reaching the devastated area.

“I came on foot from north Gaza,” said one of them, Samir Abd Rabbo, 27, who arrived with his one-year-old daughter at the Nuseirat camp in the central Gaza Strip. “I can’t describe the kind of starvation spreading there.”

Without milk, he said, he had tried to feed his baby girl bread made from animal feed, which she was unable to digest. “Our only hope is God, there is nobody else to help.”

Close to the main battlefront, in the far-southern Rafah region, alarm has grown among 1.4 million Palestinians of a looming ground invasion feared to bring more mass civilian casualties.

US, Arab and other mediators have voiced hope a deal can be reached before the start of Ramadan on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.

Israeli warnings of a Rafah ground invasion have sparked deep concern, and questions about where the Palestinians now living there would flee to in the devastated territory.

UN and other aid agencies have repeatedly warned that “nowhere is safe” in Gaza.

Neighboring Egypt has kept its border closed to a mass refugee flight, arguing it will not help facilitate any Israeli operation to push Palestinians out of Gaza.

But satellite images show it has also built a walled enclosure next to Gaza, in an apparent effort to brace for the arrival of large numbers of refugees.

Gaza’s humanitarian crisis has meanwhile spiraled, with the UN World Food Programme reporting “unprecedented levels of desperation.”

Some residents have resorted to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder, the meat of slaughtered horses, and even leaves from trees.

Inside Israel, public pressure has grown on Netanyahu — both from the desperate families of hostages taken by Hamas, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

Thousands again rallied in Tel Aviv’s “Hostages Square” Saturday night to demand swifter action.

“We keep telling you: Bring them back to us, and no matter how!” said Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan was kidnapped during the Oct. 7 attack.

Nearby, protesters were blocking streets and calling for Netanyahu’s government to step down as police deployed water cannon and mounted officers to disperse them.

“They are not choosing the right path for us, whether it’s the economy, whether it’s peace with our neighbors,” charged one protester, software company CEO Moti Kushner, 54. “It looks like they never want to end the war.”

Meanwhile, an Israeli soldier seized by Hamas militants during their Oct. 7 attack was killed the same day and his body is being held in Gaza, the army and a campaign group said on Sunday.

The Israeli army confirmed the death of Sergeant Oz Daniel, 19, while the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said his remains are held in the Palestinian territory.

“Oz’s body is still held captive by Hamas,” the forum said in a statement.

Daniel was a guitar player who “believed in the power of music to change the world,” the forum said.

During the attack, Palestinian militants abducted around 250 Israelis and foreigners to the Gaza Strip. Around 130 are still held captive there. This includes 31 who are believed dead, among them six soldiers, according to Israeli figures.


Netanyahu says ceasefire would only delay ‘somewhat’ Israeli military offensive in Rafah

Netanyahu says ceasefire would only delay ‘somewhat’ Israeli military offensive in Rafah
Updated 4 min 58 sec ago
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Netanyahu says ceasefire would only delay ‘somewhat’ Israeli military offensive in Rafah

Netanyahu says ceasefire would only delay ‘somewhat’ Israeli military offensive in Rafah
  • Israeli PM confirmed to CBS that a deal is in the works, with no details
  • Israel developing plans for expanding offensive against Hamas militant group to Rafah

TEL AVIV: An Israeli military offensive in the southernmost city of Rafah could be “delayed somewhat” if a deal for a weekslong ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is reached, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, but claimed that total victory in Gaza is “weeks away” once the offensive begins.
Netanyahu confirmed to CBS that a deal is in the works, with no details. Israeli media reported that mediators were making progress on an agreement for a ceasefire and release of dozens of hostages held in Gaza as well as Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Several Israeli media outlets, citing unnamed officials, said the War Cabinet tacitly approved it.
Talks resumed on Sunday in Qatar at the specialist level, Egypt’s state-run Al Qahera TV reported, citing an Egyptian official as saying further discussions would follow in Cairo with the aim of achieving the ceasefire and release.
Meanwhile, Israel is developing plans for expanding its offensive against the Hamas militant group to Rafah on the Gaza-Egypt border, where more than half the besieged territory’s population of 2.3 million have sought refuge. Humanitarian groups warn of a catastrophe, with Rafah the main entry point for aid, and the US and other allies have said Israel must avoid harming civilians.
Netanyahu has said he’ll convene the Cabinet this week to approve operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of civilians.
“Once we begin the Rafah operation, the intense phase of the fighting is weeks away from completion. Not months,” Netanyahu told CBS. ““If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway. It has to be done because total victory is our goal and total victory is within reach.”
He said that four of the six remaining Hamas battalions are concentrated in Rafah.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC that President Joe Biden hadn’t been briefed on the Rafah plan and said, “We believe that this operation should not go forward until or unless we see (a plan to protect civilians).”
Heavy fighting continued in parts of northern Gaza, the first target of the offensive, where the destruction is staggering. Residents have reported days of heavy fighting in the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City.
“We’re trapped, unable to move because of the heavy bombardment,” resident Ayman Abu Awad said.
He said starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings. Northern Gaza has been largely cut off from aid, and the UN’s World Food Program suspended deliveries last week.
DETAILS OF THE PROPOSED DEAL
A senior official from Egypt, which along with Qatar is a mediator between Israel and Hamas, has said the draft ceasefire deal includes the release of up to 40 women and older hostages in return for up to 300 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women, minors and older people.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations, said the proposed six-week pause in fighting would include allowing hundreds of trucks to bring desperately needed aid into Gaza every day, including the north. He said both sides agreed to continue negotiations during the pause for further releases and a permanent ceasefire.
Negotiators face an unofficial deadline of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan around March 10, a period that often sees heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Hamas says it has not been involved in the latest proposal developed by the United States, Egypt and Qatar, but the reported outline largely matches its earlier proposal for the first phase of a truce.
Hamas has said it won’t release all of the remaining hostages until Israel ends its offensive and withdraws its forces from the territory, and is demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including senior militants — conditions Netanyahu has rejected.
ANGUISHED WAIT FOR HOSTAGES’ FAMILIES
Israel declared war after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel in which militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostages. More than 100 hostages were released in a ceasefire deal in November. More than 130 remain in captivity, a fourth of them believed to be dead.
Families have followed the negotiations with hope and anguish.
“It feels like Schindler’s list. Will he be on the list or not?” Shelly Shem Tov, the mother of Omer, 21, told Israeli Army Radio of his chances of being freed.
Israel responded to the Oct. 7 attack with a air and ground offensive that has driven around 80 percent of Gaza’s population from their homes, putting hundreds of thousands at risk of starvation and the spread of disease. The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza says 29,692 Palestinians have been killed in the war, two-thirds of them women and children.
The ministry’s death toll doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel says its troops have killed more than 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.
NEWBORNS DYING IN RAFAH
The war has devastated Gaza’s health sector. Less than half of hospitals even partially function.
At the Emirates Hospital in Rafah, three to four newborns are placed in each of its 20 incubators, which are designed for just one.
Dr. Amal Ismail said two to three newborns die in a single shift, in part because many families live in tents in rainy, cold weather. Before the war, one or two newborns in incubators there died per month.
“No matter how much we work with them, it is all wasted,” she said. “Health conditions in tents are very bad.”


Egypt sets up a second camp for displaced Palestinians in Gaza’s Khan Younis

Smoke rises during Israeli ground operation in Khan Younis, as seen from a tent camp sheltering displaced Palestinians in Rafah.
Smoke rises during Israeli ground operation in Khan Younis, as seen from a tent camp sheltering displaced Palestinians in Rafah.
Updated 25 February 2024
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Egypt sets up a second camp for displaced Palestinians in Gaza’s Khan Younis

Smoke rises during Israeli ground operation in Khan Younis, as seen from a tent camp sheltering displaced Palestinians in Rafah.
  • Source added that second camp will be followed by a field hospital in Rafah and another camp north of Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza Strip

CAIRO: Egypt has begun setting up a second camp for the displaced in Khan Yunis, in the south of the Gaza Strip, with a capacity of 400 tents, accommodating about 4,000 people, and equipped with electricity and toilets, a source told Al-Qahera News TV channel on Saturday.

The source added that the second camp will be followed by a field hospital in the Palestinian city of Rafah and another camp north of Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

Egypt will also set up two aid distribution centers in Rafah, which is now home to a large number of displaced Palestinians.

A source indicated that the second camp will be completed at the end of this week, adding that the it comes within the framework of Egypt’s efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Red Crescent, in cooperation with the Palestinian Red Crescent, continues with its work to set up a second camp for displaced in Khan Yunis.

The Palestine Red Crescent wrote on X on Sunday: “The Palestine Red Crescent teams, in partnership with the Egyptian Red Crescent, have completed the second phase of the Egyptian Camp for housing displaced people in the Mawasi area of Khan Yunis.

“A total of 139 tents were set up, accommodating 139 families,” the Palestine Red Crescent added.


Algeria’s president inaugurates Africa’s largest mosque

Algeria’s president inaugurates Africa’s largest mosque
Updated 25 February 2024
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Algeria’s president inaugurates Africa’s largest mosque

Algeria’s president inaugurates Africa’s largest mosque
  • The vast mosque, which can hold 120,000 worshippers, first opened for prayers in October 2020
  • Known locally as the Djamaa El-Djazair, the modernist structure extends across 27.75 hectares

ALGIERS: Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune officially inaugurated the Grand Mosque of Algiers, the third largest in the world and the biggest in Africa, on Sunday.
The vast mosque, which can hold 120,000 worshippers, first opened for prayers in October 2020, but Tebboune was suffering from Covid-19 and did not attend.
Known locally as the Djamaa El-Djazair, the modernist structure extends across 27.75 hectares (almost 70 acres), and is smaller only than the two mosques in Makkah and Madinah, Islam’s holiest sites, in Saudi Arabia.
It also boasts the world’s tallest minaret — 267 meters (875 feet) — fitted with elevators and a viewing platform that looks out over the capital and the Bay of Algiers.
The mosque’s interior, in Andalusian style, is decorated in wood, marble and alabaster.
To its critics, the mosque is a vanity project of former autocrat Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced out in April 2019 after mass street protests against his two-decade-long rule.
The mega-project cost more than $800 million dollars and took seven years to build.
Tebboune’s mandate officially expires at the end of this year but the president, elected in December 2019, has not yet made known whether he intends to run for a second term.


Daesh land mine kills 13 truffle hunters in Syria desert: monitor

Daesh land mine kills 13 truffle hunters in Syria desert: monitor
Updated 25 February 2024
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Daesh land mine kills 13 truffle hunters in Syria desert: monitor

Daesh land mine kills 13 truffle hunters in Syria desert: monitor
  • Syrian desert is renowned for producing some of the best quality truffles in the world

BEIRUT: A blast from a land mine left by the Daesh group killed at least 13 civilians foraging for truffles in the Syrian desert, a war monitor said.
“Thirteen civilians, including women... were killed when a land mine left by the Daesh group exploded while they were searching for truffles” in the desert in Raqqa province, said the Syria Observatory for Human Rights.
The Syrian desert is renowned for producing some of the best quality truffles in the world, which fetch high prices in a country battered by 13 years of war and a crushing economic crisis.
Authorities frequently warn against the high-risk practice.
But every year between February and April, foragers risk their lives to collect the delicacies in the vast Syrian desert, or Badia — a known hideout for jihadists that is also littered with land mines.
In March 2019, Daesh lost its last scraps of territory in Syria following a military campaign backed by a US-led coalition, but jihadist remnants continue to hide in the desert and launch deadly attacks.
They have used such hideouts to ambush civilians, Kurdish-led forces, Syrian government troops and pro-Iran fighters, while also mounting attacks in neighboring Iraq.
Syria’s war has claimed the lives of more than half a million people and displaced millions since it erupted in March 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.