Hamas says Israel destroyed historic Gaza mosque

Hamas says Israel destroyed historic Gaza mosque
Hamas said on Friday that Israel had bombed Gaza's medieval Omari Mosque causing widespread destruction to the building and calling it a "heinous, barbaric crime". (X/@adham922)
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Updated 08 December 2023
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Hamas says Israel destroyed historic Gaza mosque

Hamas says Israel destroyed historic Gaza mosque
  • Reuters journalists from Gaza identified the minaret in the picture as being that of the Omari Mosque
  • The Omari mosque, named after Islam’s second caliph Omar, is the oldest and biggest in the tiny Palestinian enclave

CAIRO: Hamas said on Friday that Israel had bombed Gaza’s medieval Omari Mosque causing widespread destruction to the building and calling it a “heinous, barbaric crime.”
Photographs carried by Hamas-run media in Gaza that Reuters could not immediately verify showed massive damage to the mosque, with fallen walls and roofs and a huge crack at the bottom of the stone minaret.
Reuters journalists from Gaza identified the minaret in the picture as being that of the Omari Mosque.
A spokesperson for the Israeli military did not respond to a request for comment on the damage to the mosque.
The Omari mosque, named after Islam’s second caliph Omar, is the oldest and biggest in the tiny Palestinian enclave, which has been under Israeli bombardment since an Oct. 7 Hamas attack that Israel says killed 1,200 people.
Israel’s assault has killed more than 17,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run territory, and has laid waste to entire city districts including much civilian infrastructure.


US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan

Updated 6 sec ago
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US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan

US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan
WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Israel to allow Muslims to worship at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem during Ramadan, after a far-right minister proposed barring Palestinians from the occupied West Bank from praying there.
“As it pertains to Al-Aqsa, we continue to urge Israel to facilitate access to Temple Mount for peaceful worshippers during Ramadan consistent with past practice,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters, using the Jewish term for the site, the holiest in Judaism.
“That’s not just the right thing to do, it’s not just a matter of granting people religious freedom that they deserve and to which they have a right, but it’s also a matter that directly is important to Israel’s security,” he said.
“It is not in Israel’s security interest to inflame tensions in the West Bank or in the broader region.”
Israel has been assessing how to address worship in Jerusalem during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
The month of fasting comes as Israel wages a relentless military campaign in the Gaza Strip in response to a major attack by Hamas inside Israel on October 7.
Hamas has called for a mass movement on Al-Aqsa for the start of Ramadan.
“We call on our people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the occupied interior (Israel) to travel to Al-Aqsa from the first day of the blessed month of Ramadan, in groups or alone, to pray there to break the siege on it,” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised statement Wednesday.
Last week, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said that Palestinian residents of the West Bank “should not be allowed” entry to Jerusalem to pray during Ramadan.
“We cannot take risks,” he said, adding: “We cannot have women and children hostage in Gaza and allow celebrations for Hamas on the Temple Mount.”
Ben Gvir leads a hard-right party advocating Jewish control of the compound.
The United States has been pressing for a deal before Ramadan begins in which Israel would halt strikes in the Gaza Strip and hostages snatched on October 7 would be freed.
The Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed at least 29,954 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest figures by the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
It was launched in response to Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy

Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy
Updated 43 min 43 sec ago
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Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy

Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy
  • Parliament vote could see a low turnout ­— a constant feature of past elections

DUBAI: Iran is holding parliamentary elections this Friday, yet the real question may not be who gets elected but how many people actually turn out to vote.

Widespread discontent over the cratering economy, years of mass protests rocking the country, and tensions with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program and Iran’s support for Russia in its war on Ukraine have many people quietly saying they won’t vote in this election.

Officials have urged people to cast ballots but tellingly, no information has been released this year from the state-owned polling center ISPA about expected turnout — a constant feature of past elections. Of 21 Iranians interviewed recently by The Associated Press, only five said they would vote. Thirteen said they won’t and three said they were undecided.

“If I protest about some shortcoming, many police and security agents will try to stop me,” said Amin, a 21-year-old university student who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals. “But if I die from hunger on the corner of one of the main streets, they will show no reaction.”

Over 15,000 candidates are vying for a seat in the 290-member parliament, formally known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Terms run for four years and five seats are reserved for Iran’s religious minorities.

Under the law, the parliament has oversight over the executive branch, votes on treaties and handles other issues. In practice, absolute power in Iran rests with its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Hard-liners have controlled the parliament for the past two decades — with chants of “Death to America” often heard from the floor.

Under parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard general who supported a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999, the legislature pushed forward a bill in 2020 that greatly curtailed Tehran’s cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

That followed then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 — an act that sparked years of tensions in the Middle East and saw Iran enrich enough uranium at record-breaking purity to have enough fuel for “several” nuclear weapons if it chose.

More recently, the parliament has focused on issues surrounding Iran’s mandatory headscarf, or hijab, for women after the 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, which sparked nationwide protests. The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed over 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.

Calls for an election boycott have spread in recent weeks, including from imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, a women’s right activist, who called them a “sham.”

“The Islamic Republic, with its ruthless and brutal suppression, the killing of young people on the streets, the executions and the imprisonment and torture of men and women, deserves national sanctions and global disgrace,” Mohammadi said in a statement.

The boycott calls have put the government under renewed pressure — since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s theocracy has based its legitimacy in part on turnout in elections.

On Wednesday, Khamenei himself urged people to vote, describing it as a national duty. “There is no reasoning behind not voting,” he said. “It does not solve any problem of the country.”

He also said “those who express a lack of interest in the election and encourage others not to participate should think some more.”

“If the election is weak, all face harm,” he added.

Though ISPA, the polling agency, conducted election surveys in October, its results have not been made public. Figures from politicians and other media outlets suggest a turnout of around 30 percent.

In the 2021 presidential election that brought hardliner Ebrahim Raisi to power, the turnout was 49 percent — the lowest on record for a presidential vote. Millions of ballots were declared void, likely from those who felt obligated to vote but did not want to cast a ballot.

The 2019 parliament race saw a 42 percent turnout.

Separately, Iranians will also vote on Friday for members of the country’s 88-seat Assembly of Experts, an eight-year term on a panel that will appoint the country’s next supreme leader after Khamenei, 84.

Barred from that race is former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate under whose term Iran struck the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Some said Iran’s economic woes were the reason they are staying away from the polls. Inflation is reportedly at around 50 percent, with unemployment around 20 percent for young Iranians.

“I will not vote,” said Hashem Amani, a 55-year-old fruit merchant in southern Tehran. “In 2021, I voted for Raisi to become president in hope that similar people in the government can work together and make a better life for me. What I got in return was rocketing prices for everything.”


Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli strikes in vicinity of Damascus, state media says

Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli strikes in vicinity of Damascus, state media says
Updated 13 min 8 sec ago
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Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli strikes in vicinity of Damascus, state media says

Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli strikes in vicinity of Damascus, state media says
  • Syrian state media gave no further details about the attacks or the intended targets
  • Regional intelligence sources say Iran’s Quds Force and militias it backs have a strong presence in the Sayeda Zainab neighborhood

BEIRUT: Syrian air defenses intercepted Israeli strikes in the vicinity of the capital Damascus, state media said on Wednesday.
Syrian state media gave no further details about the attacks or the intended targets.
Pro-Iranian Lebanese television al Maydeen said a big explosion was heard in the heavily fortified Sayeda Zainab neighborhood of the Syrian capital where a major Shiite shrine is located. It gave no further details.
The Israeli military declined to comment.
Regional intelligence sources say Iran’s Quds Force and militias it backs, whose presence has spread in Syria in recent years, have a strong presence in the Sayeda Zainab neighborhood of southern Damascus where Iranian backed militias have a string of underground bases.
Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar Assad during Syria’s nearly 12-year-old conflict.
Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular Israeli air strikes meant to curb Tehran’s extraterritorial military power.
Those strikes have ramped up during the Gaza war, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.


Will refugee wave from Sudan be a wake-up call for ‘fortress Europe’?

Will refugee wave from Sudan be a wake-up call for ‘fortress Europe’?
Updated 1 min 38 sec ago
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Will refugee wave from Sudan be a wake-up call for ‘fortress Europe’?

Will refugee wave from Sudan be a wake-up call for ‘fortress Europe’?
  • Deaths in Mediterranean show how migration route could easily turn into graveyard for people in search of a sanctuary
  • Europe is beginning to feel the repercussions of the coups and conflicts that buffeted Africa’s troubled Sahel belt last year

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE: As the latest conflict in Sudan approaches its 12th month, the humanitarian situation in the country remains dire.

A combination of food, water and fuel shortages, limited communications and electricity, and sky-high prices for essential items has made life unbearable for millions of people. Medical care has been critically affected too amid severe shortages of medicines and vital supplies.

Under the circumstances, it was probably just a matter of time before the Mediterranean Sea turned from a migration route into a graveyard for Sudanese in search of a sanctuary.

The news of 13 Sudanese perishing and 27 more going missing when a small boat capsized off the Tunisian coast on Feb. 8, is the latest tragic chapter of that ongoing saga.

As the crashing waves of the Mediterranean claim yet more lives, however, a pressing question looms: How will Europe cope with a new wave of asylum seekers and refugees?

Nearly 6,000 Sudanese arrived in Italy last year, most of them displaced by the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces that erupted in April. This year, that number will likely be much higher.

Sudanese girls who have fled from the war in Sudan gather under a shade at a Transit Centre for refugees in Renk. (AFP/File)

Europe is also beginning to feel the consequences of last summer’s coup d’etat in Niger, particularly given the country’s historical role as a transit route for migrants from West Africa crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

European leaders have already expressed concern about potential new waves of refugees. Earlier this month, Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in Rome that “Sudanese refugees are no longer stopping in Egypt but heading for Libya and from there coming to us.”

With nearly 6 million people internally displaced by the current conflict in Sudan and another 1.5 million being hosted by neighboring countries, UNHCR head Filippo Grandi anticipates further movements toward Libya, Tunisia and across the Mediterranean.

“When refugees go out and they don’t receive enough assistance, they go further,” he said after visiting Sudan and Ethiopia earlier this month.

Grandi spoke of the potential consequences if a ceasefire agreement is not signed promptly, explaining that the war in Sudan is becoming increasingly fragmented, with different factions controlling different parts of the country.

“Militias have even less hesitation to perpetrate abuse on civilians,” he said, suggesting that continued war crimes and human-rights violations could trigger further displacement.

As grim and foreboding as Sudan’s immediate future may be, the two feuding factions “seem to favor a fight-and-talk scenario, where the conflict continues both on the battlefield and at the negotiation table,” Kholood Khair, a Sudanese policy analyst, told Arab News.

Armed Sudanese civilians wave weapons and chant slogans as they drive through the streets of Gedaref city in eastern Sudan. (AFP/File)

She said the optimism generated by the recent Manama talks in Bahrain was tempered by the realization that the meeting served just as an initial step, requiring further persuasion by international mediators through coordinated efforts — not the current status quo of competition over mediation venues and strategies.

“Europe has started to wake up to the reality,” Khair said. “Also, the appointment of a new special envoy to Sudan by the US with a potentially different approach is promising.”

Over the past decade, the EU has sought to shift the responsibility for preventing irregular migration onto countries like Sudan, utilizing a policy that, on the surface, aims to combat smugglers and traffickers.

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The so-called policy of externalization of Europe’s borders — building legal, procedural and often coercive walls in neighboring states to stop migrants leaving to enter Europe — has been controversial since its inception.

Critics fault the policy for its perceived reliance on state-centric approaches, saying that this aspect often ignores or even contributes to violent conflicts.

Sudan, with its porous borders and strategic location adjacent to Libya and Egypt, has been in the crosshairs of EU migration authorities before the eruption of the latest conflict.

Nearly 6,000 Sudanese arrived in Italy last year. (AFP)

Analysts say the EU’s demands for migration control on Sudan were delegated to proxy militias with a history of causing mass displacement themselves.

Whatever the merits and demerits of Europe’s externalization policies, Sudan, already host to one of the highest numbers of internally displaced people globally, is facing a dangerous descent into warlordism.

The UN says at least 12,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, although local doctors’ groups say the true toll is far higher.

Against this backdrop of violence and suffering, analysts say the EU’s border externalization policy is, far from being strategic, actually short-sighted.

According to Franck Duvall, senior migration researcher at Germany’s Osnabruck University, beneath the veneer of fighting human trafficking lies the objective of keeping migrants as far away from EU borders as possible, sidestepping international obligations to protect the rights of refugees and migrants.

INNUMBERS

• 6m People internally displaced by Sudan fighting since April 2023.

• 1.4m+ People forced to flee into neighboring states during this period.

• 409,000 Sudan-hosted refugees forced to return to their home countries.

Source: UNHCR

“The EU’s primary strategy revolves around containing refugees within the region, allocating funds — 160 million euros since 2016 — to support internally displaced persons and host communities within Sudan itself,” he told Arab News.

“To this end, the EU has also reached the agreement with Egypt to stop Sudanese refugees from moving on to the EU’s border.”

Duvall added that “for a long time, the EU has even collaborated with militias in Libya and the regime in Tunisia to stop Sudanese from seeking protection in Europe.”

Anticipating an increasing number of refugees, EU leaders have also quickly made controversial deals with European countries outside the EU bloc.

Sudanese refugees who have fled from the war in Sudan get off a truck in Renk. (AFP/File)

On Feb. 23, the Albanian parliament approved an agreement that would see tens of thousands of asylum seekers rescued from the Mediterranean held in Italian-run processing centers in Albania.

According to critics, the geographical displacement, occurring beyond European territory, conveniently allows the EU to turn a blind eye to these violations.

Moreover, they say, the emphasis on containment not only obstructs the free movement of people within the region but also diverts resources from development priorities, prioritizing securitization over genuine progress.

Kilian Kleinschmidt, a Tunisia-based migration expert and former UNHCR official with extensive experience, advocates for a paradigm shift. He says newcomers in Europe should be integrated into the workforce from the outset, bypassing prolonged bureaucratic processes.

“We are losing a lot of energy and time and money in this triage, and we need to really be much more pragmatic,” he told Arab News.

“Opening up space for the freedom of movement is not going to create a massive wave, not what we think. It should be balanced and combined with substantial investment in the African continent.”

Kleinschmidt believes the Mediterranean should be a symbol of shared responsibility and proactive solutions rather than a watery grave for those seeking refuge in Europe.

A South Sudanese returnee stands next to a boat loaded with belongings from families who have fled the war in Sudan. (AFP/File)

He says the case for the establishment of special economic zones in Africa is not just about addressing migration challenges, but also “about fostering economic growth, stability, and improved living conditions.”

As Europe grapples with a demographic decline and the continued need for a labor force, many officials and humanitarian actors say that embracing pragmatic approaches such as integrating newcomers into the workforce from the beginning will not only benefit migrants, but also contribute to the vitality of European economies.

The Sudan conflict, in a sense, underscores the urgency of a comprehensive, humane, and forward-thinking approach that transcends borders and prioritizes the well-being and aspirations of individuals seeking a better life.


Hamas strikes Israel with rocket salvo from southern Lebanon

Hamas strikes Israel with rocket salvo from southern Lebanon
Updated 28 February 2024
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Hamas strikes Israel with rocket salvo from southern Lebanon

Hamas strikes Israel with rocket salvo from southern Lebanon
  • Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades announced that it had targeted Camp Gibor, the HQ of Israel’s 769th Eastern Brigade, as well as the airport barracks in Beit Hillel
  • Israeli Army spokesman Avichay Adraee said that 10 of the rockets had struck sites in Israel, while 30 were intercepted

BEIRUT: Hamas’ armed wing in Lebanon has struck Israel with a rocket salvo in a resumption of the group’s military operations in the country.

The militant group’s wing in Lebanon paused attacks south of the border following the assassination of Saleh Al-Arouri in early January.

The senior Hamas leader and founding commander of the Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades was killed in an Israeli drone strike on the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh on Jan. 2.

Al-Qassam announced on Wednesday it had targeted Camp Gibor, the headquarters of Israel’s 769th Eastern Brigade, as well as the airport barracks in Beit Hillel, using 40 “Grad” rockets.

The Israeli media reported sirens sounding in Kiryat Shmona, Ma’ayan Baruch, Kfar Yuval, Goshrin and Beit Hillel in the Upper Galilee.

Israeli Army spokesman Avichay Adraee said that 10 of the rockets had struck sites in Israel, while 30 were intercepted. In response, the Israeli military targeted the sources of fire, Adraee added.

Interceptor missiles launched by Israel’s Iron Dome exploded above border villages in the eastern section of southern Lebanon.

Army helicopters evacuated Israelis wounded in the attack to hospitals south of the border, Israeli media reported.

Hezbollah did not announce any military operations against the Israeli Army on Wednesday, after two days of extensive operations.

Meanwhile, Israeli F-15 jets cruised throughout Lebanese airspace.

Political activist Ali Al-Amin told Arab News: “Hezbollah took a decision over a month ago to stop any operations by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from southern Lebanon toward the Israeli Army. It seems now that there is a retreat from this decision. The aim may be to pressure the Americans.”

He added: “The decision to stop Hamas and Islamic Jihad operations was in response to a previous American request to Hezbollah to control the confrontations from the south and prevent their expansion.

“It now seems that there is a need to pressure the American side again to link the truce, if reached in the Gaza Strip, to Lebanon, as the Israeli side had rejected this link and said it would leave the confrontation open in Lebanon after the truce.”

Hezbollah has said it will refuse a ceasefire in southern Lebanon until Hamas accepts a settlement in Gaza.

Israeli jets carried out an airstrike on a home in the border city of Bint Jbeil, targeting a local Hezbollah leader, Ali Wahbi, though there were no reported injuries from the attack.

Jets also struck the Al-Khuraybah area, located between Khiam and Rashaya Al-Fakhar.

Adraee said on X that jets attacked “a weapons depot and military buildings belonging to Hezbollah in Ramyah in southern Lebanon, and a weapons production site for Hezbollah in the area of Khirbet Salim.”

Brig. Gen. Mounir Shehadeh, the former Lebanese government coordinator to UNIFIL, said that Hezbollah has avoided causing civilian casualties in its strikes on strategic targets in Israel.

He added: “Although Hezbollah can launch 1,000 missiles a day, they are not looking for war.

“However, if Israel escalates the conflict, Hezbollah seems prepared to retaliate strongly, potentially altering the region’s landscape.”

Hezbollah’s campaign in support of Gaza, which has lasted 144 days, has seen more than 200 members of the group killed, as well as allied militants and civilians.

The “support war” has also resulted in extensive material damage, with 8,000 homes completely destroyed and 10,000 homes partially destroyed in southern Lebanon.

About 100,000 civilians in Lebanon’s south have also been displaced by the violence.