Greece must address role in migrant vessel disaster that killed 600: Amnesty

Greece must address role in migrant vessel disaster that killed 600: Amnesty
This image released by The Hellenic Coastguard on June 14, 2023, shows an aerial view taken from a rescue helicopter, of migrants onboard a fishing vessel in the waters off the Peloponnese coast of Greece on June 13, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 12 February 2024
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Greece must address role in migrant vessel disaster that killed 600: Amnesty

Greece must address role in migrant vessel disaster that killed 600: Amnesty
  • Fishing trawler capsized off Greek coast last year, killing Syrians, Pakistanis and Egyptians
  • Evidence implicates Greek authorities, EU border agency in sinking and failed rescue effort

LONDON: Greece must address its responsibilities over the capsizing of a migrant vessel last year that led to the deaths of more than 600 people, Amnesty International said on Monday ahead of its participation in a European Parliament committee on Wednesday to discuss the sinking of the Adriana off the cost of Pylos on June 14, 2023.

The human rights group previously released evidence implicating Greek authorities and the Hellenic Coast Guard in the disaster, and criticized the government’s subsequent investigation into the incident.

“Consistent and credible allegations implicate the responsibility of the Greek authorities and the Hellenic Coast Guard in the devastating capsizing of the Adriana, and in a deeply flawed rescue response, which resulted in the tragic loss of more than 600 lives,” said Adriana Tidona, Amnesty’s migration researcher.

“Eight months have passed since this preventable disaster, yet the lack of accountability surrounding the Pylos shipwreck persists, denying survivors and victims’ families the truth and justice they deserve.

“There is little indication that Greek authorities learned any lessons from this unacceptable loss of life, as reports of violent pushbacks of migrants at the country’s borders continue unabated. In the aftermath of this disaster, it is imperative that authorities are held to account.”

Migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt made up the majority of the deaths from the disaster.

Amnesty has also criticized Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, over its role in the failed rescue mission.

The EU must ensure that Greece’s border protection is monitored by independent human rights organizations, Tidona said.

“European institutions must intensify their efforts to ensure that any funding for Greece’s migration management does not contribute to human rights violations, and to guarantee that effective and independent human rights monitoring mechanisms are put in place in border and search and rescue operations to prevent further loss of life.”


Zelensky calls for more Western air defense systems to ‘save lives’

Rescuers work at a site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a drone strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Odesa.
Rescuers work at a site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a drone strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Odesa.
Updated 02 March 2024
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Zelensky calls for more Western air defense systems to ‘save lives’

Rescuers work at a site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a drone strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Odesa.
  • Kyiv has admitted it is heavily outgunned and outnumbered, facing ammunition shortages

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday urged the West to deliver more air defense systems after at least six people were killed in the latest Russian strikes.

Overnight aerial attacks claimed four lives in the southern port city of Odesa, including a three-year-old child, while shelling killed one person in the Kharkiv region near the Russian border and another in the southern frontline Kherson region, Ukrainian officials said.
“Russia continues to hit civilians,” Zelensky said in a post on social media.
“We need more air defenses from our partners. We need to strengthen the Ukrainian air shield to add more protection for our people from Russian terror. More air defence systems and more missiles for air defense systems saves lives,” he said.

FASTFACTS

● Overnight aerial attacks claimed four lives in the southern port city of Odesa, including a three-year-old child, while shelling killed one person in the Kharkiv region near the Russian border and another in the southern frontline Kherson region.

● Kyiv also appeared to have had launched its own overnight drone attack that damaged a residential building in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city.

Ukraine is currently on the back foot in the two-year war as a crucial $60-billion aid package is held up in the United States Congress.
In Odesa, “a nine-story building was destroyed as a result of an attack by Russian terrorists,” Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said Saturday in a post on Telegram.
Footage shared from the scene showed several floors of a residential building collapsed and its facade ripped off.
In Kharkiv, a 76-year-old man was killed in a shelling attack shortly after midnight, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said.
And shelling in the frontline Kherson region on Saturday morning killed one more person, the provincial head said.
Ukraine’s air force said Russia had launched 17 Iranian “Shahed” drones overnight and fired three missiles.
It said it downed 14 of the drones, but falling debris caused damage to residential buildings in Odesa and Kharkiv.
Kyiv also appeared to have had launched its own overnight drone attack that damaged a residential building in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city.
Videos on Russian social media showed what appeared to be a drone spiraling downwards into the building, triggering an explosion, blowing out windows and causing small fires.
The city’s National Guard division said its preliminary assumption was the damage was caused by a “falling drone.”
Ukrainian media reported the drone was shot down by Russia’s air defenses while targeting an oil depot less than a kilometer from the crash site.
Kyiv has hit several Russian oil facilities in recent months in what it has called fair retribution for Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine’s power grid.
The attacks come with Russia seeking to press its advantage on the battlefield.
Kyiv has admitted it is heavily outgunned and outnumbered, facing ammunition shortages amid aid delays.
Half of all promised Western ammunition arrives in the country late, the defense minister has said — in what he called critical delays that cost lives and territory.
Russian forces have pressed westwards following last month’s capture of Avdiivka, and have seized several small villages in recent days.
Visiting frontline military posts on Saturday, Ukraine’s new Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrsky said “the situation at the front remains difficult, but controlled.”

 


Russia says it destroyed two Ukrainian drones

Russia says it destroyed two Ukrainian drones
Updated 02 March 2024
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Russia says it destroyed two Ukrainian drones

Russia says it destroyed two Ukrainian drones
  • The Leningradv regional governor said “aerial targets” were hit over the waters and coastline of the Gulf of Finland in Lomonosov district
  • The defense ministry said Ukraine had attempted to carry out an attack “using aircraft-type UAVs” over Leningrad region

MOSCOW: Russia’s defense ministry said its air defenses destroyed a Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, over Leningrad region, which borders the Gulf of Finland, and a second one in Belgorod region on Saturday.
Alexander Drozdenko, the Leningrad regional governor, said “aerial targets” were hit over the waters and coastline of the Gulf of Finland in Lomonosov district, which includes Bronka, a port about 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of St. Petersburg.
“There are no casualties and no damage,” he said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.
The defense ministry said Ukraine had attempted to carry out an attack “using aircraft-type UAVs” over Leningrad region, and separately, over Belgorod region.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, said two drones were shot down over two villages on Saturday but there were no reports of casualties or damage.
Russia’s state-run TASS news agency quoted aviation officials as saying operations at Pulkovo Airport at St. Petersburg were temporarily limited but that no flights were delayed.
TASS said movement of ships at Bronka was unaffected and that MarineTraffic data showed only one Turkish bulk carrier was docked at the port.


Last surviving member of the first team to conquer Mount Everest says it is crowded and dirty now

Last surviving member of the first team to conquer Mount Everest says it is crowded and dirty now
Updated 02 March 2024
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Last surviving member of the first team to conquer Mount Everest says it is crowded and dirty now

Last surviving member of the first team to conquer Mount Everest says it is crowded and dirty now

KATMANDU: The only surviving member of the mountaineering expedition that first conquered Mount Everest said Saturday that the world’s highest peak is too crowded and dirty, and the mountain needs to be respected.
Kanchha Sherpa, 91, was among the 35 members in the team that put New Zealander Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay atop the 8,849-meter  peak on May 29, 1953.
“It would be better for the mountain to reduce the number of climbers,” Kanchha said in an interview in Kathmandu on Saturday, “Right now there is always a big crowd of people at the summit.”

Kanchha Sherpa

Since the first conquest, the peak has been climbed thousands of times, and it gets more crowded every year. During the spring climbing season in 2023, 667 climbers scaled the peak, but that brought in thousands of support staff to the base camp between the months of March and May.
There have been concerns about the number of people living on the mountain for months on end, generating trash and waste, but authorities have no plans to cut down on the number of permits they issue to climbers.
There are rules that require climbers to bring down their own trash, equipment and everything they carry to the mountain or risk losing their deposit, but monitoring has not been very effective.

It is very dirty now. People throw tins and wrappings after eating food. Who is going to pick them up now?

Kanchha Sherpa

“It is very dirty now. People throw tins and wrappings after eating food. Who is going to pick them up now?” Kanchha said. “Some climbers just dump their trash in the crevasse, which would be hidden at that time but eventually it will flow down to base camp as the snow melts and carries them downward.”
For the Sherpas, Everest is a diety that is revered by their community. They generally perform religious rituals before climbing the peak.
Kanchha was just a young man when he joined the Hillary-Tenzing expedition. He was among the three Sherpas to go the last camp on Everest along with Hillary and Tenzing. They could not go any further because they did not have a permit.
They first heard of the successful ascent on the radio, and then were reunited with the summit duo at Camp 2.
“We all gathered at Camp 2 but there was no alcohol so we celebrated with tea and snacks,” he said. “We then collected whatever we could and carried it to base camp.”
The route they opened up from the base camp to the summit is still used by climbers. Only the section from the base camp to Camp 1 over the unstable Khumbu Icefall changes every year.
Kanchha has four children, eight grandchildren and a 20-month-old great-granddaughter. He lives with family in Namche village in the foothills of Mount Everest, where the family runs a small hotel catering to trekkers and climbers.

 


What contrasting Western responses to Ukraine and Gaza crises mean for future conflicts

What contrasting Western responses to Ukraine and Gaza crises mean for future conflicts
Updated 03 March 2024
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What contrasting Western responses to Ukraine and Gaza crises mean for future conflicts

What contrasting Western responses to Ukraine and Gaza crises mean for future conflicts
  • West seen failing to punish Israel for not respecting laws of war while hitting Russia hard for the same reasons in Ukraine
  • Unequal treatment could make it harder to hold perpetrators accountable and deter war crimes going forward, experts warn

LONDON: Two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and six months since the Hamas-led attacks that provoked Israel’s assault on Gaza, critics say the responses to these parallel crises are indicative of a double standard at play in the international order.

Following Russia’s invasion of its neighbor on Feb. 24, 2022, the US and European nations were united in their response as they condemned Moscow’s actions as a breach of international law, imposed sanctions, sent weapons and funding to Kyiv, and offered sanctuary to refugees.

A rescuer walks past buildings destroyed by Russian shelling on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on April 16, 2022. (AFP)

After the Oct. 7 attacks last year, in contrast, there was a grim sense of inevitability in the West about what would come next: That Israel would respond ferociously against the Palestinian enclave from which the attack was launched, exacting a heavy toll on civilians in the process.

As the body count rose in Gaza as a result of the Israeli bombardment, one might have expected the international community to respond with a similar chorus of condemnation against the aggressor as it did to the situation in Ukraine, and equivalent expressions of solidarity with the injured party.

This picture taken on January 3, 2024 shows a view of buildings destroyed by Israeli bombardment in the central Gaza Strip. (AFP)

One might also have expected the similar demands within the UN Security Council for an immediate ceasefire, sanctions and the diplomatic isolation of Israel, along with a generous package of aid for Palestinians.

A glance at the recent foreign aid package approved by the US Senate is perhaps indicative of Washington’s priorities. About $60 billion is to be allocated to Ukraine, $14 billion to Israel and just $10 billion to global humanitarian efforts, including those in Gaza.

IN NUMBERS

30k Palestinian civilians killed since Oct. 7, 2023, according to Gaza Health Ministry.

31k Ukrainian soldiers killed since Feb. 24, 2022, according to President Zelensky.

$14bn US aid package to support Israel and military operations in the region.

$60bn Package allocated to Ukraine.

Sarah Yager, the Washington director at Human Rights Watch, believes the effects of this perceived Western double standard might be felt far beyond the duration of these two crises, eroding whatever faith remains in international humanitarian law.

“Russia’s indiscriminate airstrikes on hospitals and schools have, rightly, drawn condemnation from (US) administration officials,” Yager wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine. “But Israel has carried out attacks striking hospitals and schools without eliciting much protest from the White House.

“Some might argue that the United States can afford a little hypocrisy in order to support its long-time ally, Israel. But playing a part in the erosion of international law will have harmful consequences for the United States far beyond Gaza.

Emergency responders bring wounded children at al-Shifa hospital following Israeli strikes in Gaza City on October 10, 2023. (AFP)

“Future declarations by the State Department concerning atrocities will ring hollow, making it harder to hold perpetrators accountable and deter international crimes. Pressure on warring parties to abide by the law — for example, Azerbaijan or Sudan — will carry less weight.”

Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, has similarly condemned the West for the contrast between its support for Ukraine and its relative silence over the Israeli army’s assault on Gaza.

She recently said these differing standards were evident in the “demand that we all rush to the defense of Ukraine, as we should, because Ukraine has been aggressed by Russia and they are unbelievably suffering in Ukraine.

“At the same time (the West) tells us not to act on the bombings and suffering of the people of Gaza. The double standard of those governments is the bigger threat to human rights right now.”

Israel denies accusations that its military deliberately targets health workers and civilian infrastructure. Instead, it has accused Hamas of using tunnel networks beneath Gaza’s hospitals to direct attacks, store weapons and conceal hostages.

Israeli troops inspect what they said was an entrance to a tunnel dug by Hamas militants inside the Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip on November 22, 2023. (AFP)

Any damage to medical facilities, therefore, is the fault of Hamas, Israeli authorities say, accusing the group of using patients and doctors as human shields.

Jamie Shea, an associate fellow with the International Security Program at Chatham House, said it is important to recognize that while the situations in Ukraine and Gaza might appear broadly comparable, viewing the two conflicts as “subsets of the same basic political confrontation” is wrongheaded.

“There will always be some similarities (in wars), such as the terrible impact of war on the civilian populations or the desire of the Western powers to avoid regional escalation,” Shea told Arab News.

“But Ukraine and Gaza are not subsets of the same basic political confrontation in the way that the Ukraine-Georgia conflicts are linked through Russia, or the pro-Iranian militias in the Middle East, like the Houthis, are being mobilized because of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.”

Another counterargument to the double-standards accusation is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lacks the moral clarity of the Russia-Ukraine war. 

In comments to the Wall Street Journal in December, British lawmaker Alex Sobel, a Labour co-chair of the UK parliament’s all-party group on Ukraine, said: “There is no moral justification for the Russian invasion. Zero.

“But in Israel and Palestine, it’s about the fact that there are two peoples on a very small amount of land, and political and military elites on both sides are unwilling to settle for what’s on offer.”

Furthermore, as Yager noted in her article for Foreign Affairs, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was arguably unprovoked, unlike Israel’s retaliation for the cross-border attack by Hamas.

People view the portraits of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas are displayed at a site in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2024. The captives were seized by the Palestinian militants during their surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, provoking an Israeli offensive that has so far killed more than 30,000 Palestinians. (AFP)

Nevertheless, Yager stressed that when “a country decides to use military force, it must fully adhere to the laws that govern conduct in war.”

Eugenie Duss, a research fellow at the Geneva Academy who specializes in the laws of armed conflict, told Arab News that such laws, which apply to state and non-state actors alike, are designed to protect civilians.

Yet it seems that in the view of many Western governments, these rules do not apply to civilians in Gaza. For example, 12 million Ukrainian refugees who fled the Russian offensive have been welcomed by host countries and their rights duly respected.

“I knew a lot of Ukrainians who came (to Britain) about two years ago,” Alla Sirenko, the president and founder of the Ukrainian Cultural Association in the UK, told Arab News.

“They have mostly been women with children and the elderly, and in most cases they have been hard-working people.

“The majority of them have been admired for their resilience, intelligence, hard work and good nature, and (while) most of them are looking forward to returning to Ukraine when it is safe to do so, there has been a lot of goodwill from the British people toward them.”

Refugees from Ukraine (left) are welcomed by volunteers in San Ysidro, California on April 8, 2022. Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion had been welcomed in Western countries. On the other hand, Palestinian refugees remain stranded at the severely damaged Maghazi camp as they have nowhere to go. (AFP photos)

This welcoming environment was encouraged by the UK government, which offered British citizens financial incentives to offer their spare rooms to house Ukrainian refugees. Similar schemes generally do not exist in the West for refugees who flee conflicts in the Middle East, including the war in Gaza. One exception is Canada, which offers a temporary visa-extension scheme for Gazans with relatives who are already resident in the country.

Shea acknowledged the perception of a Western double standard in this, which appears to value the lives of Ukrainians over their counterparts in Palestine. However, he believes the West is trying to inhibit a mass displacement of Palestinians from Gaza because it is concerned about what would happen next.

“In Gaza, the West is trying to prevent a mass exodus of the Palestinian population (including to the West Bank) as this would allow Israel to reoccupy the territory and diminish further the amount of land available to the Palestinians for a viable two-state solution,” he said.

“Once forced to leave, Palestinians are unlikely to be able to return, given the likelihood of more Israeli settlements. And in contrast to the Ukrainians in Europe, they are unlikely to be welcomed by countries like Egypt and Jordan, already experiencing severe economic stress.”

Of course, even the Western support for Ukraine is not limitless. As the war increasingly appears to be mired in a stalemate, politicking in Washington is hampering the allocation of further US aid and, as Western populations grow weary of concurrent crises, goodwill could quickly evaporate.

Colin Alexander, a senior lecturer in political communications at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, said it is “well-trodden ground … that publics become overwhelmed by news of more than one conflict at a time.”

Journalism relies on the “evocation of emotions to create traction” even if the reality is “much more complicated,” he told Arab News, and with multiple victims in multiple conflicts, the attempts to elicit empathy could prove “overwhelming” for some audiences.

“Herein, the world edges toward a difficult scenario, diplomatically as well as militarily,” Alexander said. “The Middle East, Ukraine, North Korea, Taiwan — suddenly there are too many crises to comprehend for even the most avid newsreader.”

So far, however, the Ukrainian Cultural Association’s Sirenko said there is no sign that either a sense of “news fatigue” or any perceived double standards in policies on Gaza has reduced the level of sympathy among the British public for the Ukrainians who have found sanctuary in the UK.

“They don’t feel harassed or diminished because of the war in Palestine,” she said. “We are all sorry about it, but it’s not affecting life for Ukrainians in the UK nor the goodwill of the British people towards them.”

 


Limiting Gaza protests ‘risks terror attacks,’ warns former UK police chief

Limiting Gaza protests ‘risks terror attacks,’ warns former UK police chief
Updated 02 March 2024
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Limiting Gaza protests ‘risks terror attacks,’ warns former UK police chief

Limiting Gaza protests ‘risks terror attacks,’ warns former UK police chief
  • Demonstrations a ‘vent’ for people ‘vulnerable to extremist messages,’ Neil Basu says
  • New video shows police knocking 71-year-old woman to the ground during London protest

LONDON: Limiting or banning pro-Palestine protests in the UK will increase the likelihood of terror attacks in the country, a former police chief has said.

The former head of the UK’s anti-terror police network, Neil Basu, warned that any move to prevent people from voicing their opinions on the Israel-Hamas war would “fuel more extremism,” The Times reported.

Basu added that protesters on the fringes of the Palestine supporter movement would “look somewhere else” to voice their anger.

His comments come amid a growing divide in responses to the large-scale protest marches across the UK, which have taken place fortnightly since the outbreak of violence in Gaza in October last year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, speaking outside Downing Street on Friday, said that the demonstrations have “descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.”

He added: “On too many occasions recently, our streets have been hijacked by small groups who are hostile to our values and have no respect for our democratic traditions.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly earlier this week urged pro-Palestine demonstrators to end their marches because they had “made their point” and were unduly consuming police resources.

However, Basu hit back against calls to prohibit the marches, arguing that they served as a “vent” for people “who are vulnerable to extremist messages.”

He said: “I don’t think they’re mob rule. It would be dangerous to describe them in such provocative language that is designed to have them stopped.”

Politicians and policing figures have also warned of a growing risk to MPs, after several claimed they had been “intimidated” by protesters.

On Friday, about 30 demonstrators gathered outside the residence of the Israeli ambassador to the UK in North London, demanding her arrest over alleged support for war crimes.

Matt Twist, a senior public order officer with London’s Met Police, claimed that the force would be “quick in its response” to people attempting to intimidate MPs.

He added: “Of course, we’re worried about MP’s security. Anyone watching social media would see the number of threats that MPs get, which is utterly horrid and unacceptable.”

Further controversy erupted in the capital on Saturday after a 71-year-old “legal observer” was revealed to have been knocked to the ground by a group of police officers during a Gaza ceasefire protest in early January.

Lesley Wertheimer was seen wearing a high-visibility jacket in a newly released video of the incident, seen by The Guardian.

The pensioner and beekeeper, who has monitored the policing of protests since 1990, fell flat on the ground after being knocked over by a column of advancing police officers, the video shows.

She said: “No person should be charged, knocked over and harmed by the police and then have to rely on strangers helping them.

“Legal observers are there to do a piece of work as the police are there to do a piece of work. The police cannot target us. They have no right to try to intimidate us.”

Wertheimer said she had no memory of the aftermath of the incident, and believes that she lost consciousness as a result of the fall.

The 71-year-old was helped by nearby pedestrians and doctors who had attended the march, before limping to a nearby emergency department.

Two weeks ago, she submitted a complaint to the Met Police, which said it was investigating the incident.

Eva Roszykiewicz, Wertheimer’s solicitor, said it was “shocking” not only that “officers knocked into Lesley, causing her to fall over, but also that none of the other officers stopped to check on her.”

She added: “Whether you are a legal observer or a member of the public, that is scary.”