Truce crumbles in Sudanese army’s last Darfur holdout

Truce crumbles in Sudanese army’s last Darfur holdout
Attacks around the Sudanese city of al-Fashir have shattered a truce that protected it from a year-old war, leading to warnings of a new wave of inter-communal violence and humanitarian risks for 1.6 million residents crammed into the North Darfur capital. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 April 2024
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Truce crumbles in Sudanese army’s last Darfur holdout

Truce crumbles in Sudanese army’s last Darfur holdout
  • Al-Fashir is the last major city in the vast, western Darfur region not under control of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
  • Witnesses say the army has reinforced supplies and troops, including through an air drop to its base in the city

CAIRO/DUBAI: Attacks around the Sudanese city of Al-Fashir have shattered a truce that protected it from a year-old war, leading to warnings of a new wave of inter-communal violence and humanitarian risks for 1.6 million residents crammed into the North Darfur capital.
Al-Fashir is the last major city in the vast, western Darfur region not under control of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF and its allies swept through four other Darfur state capitals last year, and were blamed for a campaign of ethnically driven killings against non-Arab groups and other abuses in West Darfur.
The fight for Al-Fashir, a historic center of power, could be more protracted, inflame ethnic tensions that surfaced in the early-2000s conflict in the region and reach across Sudan’s border with Chad, say residents, aid agencies and analysts.
Al-Fashir’s population includes an estimated half a million people displaced during that earlier conflict, when the army, assisted by Arab militias that evolved into the RSF, put down a rebellion by non-Arab rebel groups.
About half a million more people moved into the city during the war that broke out between the army and the RSF in the capital Khartoum in April 2023, as long-simmering tensions over integrating the two forces came to a head.
As the war spread to other parts of the country, local leaders brokered a truce in Al-Fashir, with the RSF confined to eastern areas of the city while the former rebel groups stayed neutral.
But the arrangement fell apart after the RSF took the town of Melit this month, effectively blockading Al-Fashir.
Witnesses say the army has reinforced supplies and troops, including through an air drop to its base in the city, unlike in other state capitals where soldiers quickly fled.
Two prominent former rebel groups, Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Jibril Ibrahim’s Justice and Equality Movement, said they would also defend against the RSF.
Many non-Arabs in Al-Fashir are gripped with fear.
“We don’t know what to do,” 39-year-old resident Mohamed Gasim told Reuters by phone. “Al-Fashir is dangerous, but leaving is more dangerous.”
VILLAGES RAZED
Even before the truce collapsed, occasional skirmishes killed more than 220 people in Al-Fashir in the last year, according to Ismail Khareef, an activist in Abu Shouk, one of the displacement camps that dot the city.
Clashes on April 16 left at least 18 dead, Khareef said. Gunfire and projectiles, including from army warplanes, have fallen on homes, he and other residents say.
Since the start of the month, at least 11 villages on Al-Fashir’s outskirts have been razed, according to satellite imagery obtained by the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab. At least 36,000 have been displaced, the United Nations estimates.
Local activists and an SLA spokesperson blamed the RSF and allied militias, who have been known to use arson in past attacks, including in West Darfur. The activists said that survivors of the attacks reported around 10 people killed and that the attackers used ethnic insults.
The RSF denied attacking Al-Fashir and said it was careful to keep clashes away from civilians in the city, accusing the army and allied groups of attacking it on the outskirts. The RSF has previously denied responsibility for ethnic violence in Darfur.
The army did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Al-Fashir itself has not had functioning running water or power lines for a year, said Awadalla Hamid, Darfur director for Practical Action, speaking to Reuters from the city, where few international humanitarians remain. Only one public hospital is functioning, while displaced people are crammed into schools and public buildings, he said.
Jerome Tubiana, an expert on Darfur and adviser to medical charity MSF, said all-out fighting “risks already complicating further humanitarian access, at a time where available data shows Al-Fashir is suffering of an extremely serious food crisis.”
SPILLOVER RISK
Since the war began, only small quantities of aid have entered Al-Fashir, the only army-approved conduit for shipments to other parts of Darfur. Residents say that though markets are functioning, the RSF’s control of the main road has caused prices for fuel, water and other goods to soar.
Recent tensions and violence around Al-Fashir have also raised concerns about a wider spillover.
The former rebel groups fighting alongside the army hail from the Zaghawa tribe, which reaches across the border into Chad, counting Chadian leader Mahamat Idriss Deby as a member.
Arab and non-Arab tribes like the Zaghawa have long clashed over land and valuable resources in Darfur, analysts say.
Complicating matters is the entrance of the forces belonging to Musa Hilal, a leading Arab commander from the early 2000s and rival of RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, despite hailing from the same tribe. A spokesperson confirmed a video of Hilal addressing forces in North Darfur on Monday, but said that it was too soon to say if the forces would join the fight in Al-Fashir or elsewhere.
“Even if there was a ceasefire between SAF and RSF this is way beyond them. There are scores being settled and tensions being renewed,” said Jonas Horner, an independent Sudan analyst.


At least 6 Egyptian women die after vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River

Updated 18 sec ago
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At least 6 Egyptian women die after vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River

At least 6 Egyptian women die after vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River
CAIRO: At least six Egyptian women died Tuesday after a vehicle carrying about two dozen people slid off a ferry and plunged into the Nile River just outside Cairo, authorities said.
The accident, which happened in Monshat el-Kanater town in Giza province, also injured nine other passengers, the Health Ministry said in a statement. Giza is one of three provinces forming Greater Cairo.
The ministry said six of the injured were treated at the site while three others were transferred to hospitals. It didn’t elaborate on their injuries.
Giza provincial Gov. Ahmed Rashed said the microbus was retrieved from the Nile, and rescue efforts were still underway as of midday Tuesday.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear.
According to the state-owned Akhbar daily, about two dozen passengers, mostly women, were in the vehicle heading to work when the accident occurred.
Ferry, railway and road accidents are common in Egypt mainly because of poor maintenance and lack of regulations. In February, a ferry carrying day laborers sank in the Nile in Giza, killing at least 10 of the 15 people on board.

Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says

Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says
Updated 21 May 2024
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Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says

Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says
  • Statement stated that Asma would undergo a special treatment protocol that would require her to isolate

DUBAI: Syria’s first lady, Asma Assad, has been diagnosed with leukemia, the Syrian presidency said on Tuesday, almost five years after she announced she had fully recovered from breast cancer.
The statement said Asma, 48, would undergo a special treatment protocol that would require her to isolate, and that she would step away from public engagements as a result.
In August 2019, Asma said she had fully recovered from breast cancer that she said had been discovered early.
Since Syria plunged into war in 2011, the British-born former investment banker has taken on the public role of leading charity efforts and meeting families of killed soldiers, but has also become hated by the opposition.
She runs the Syria Trust for Development, a large NGO that acts as an umbrella organization for many of the aid and development operations in Syria.
Last year, she accompanied her husband, President Bashar Assad ,on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, her first known official trip abroad with him since 2011. She met Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the Emirati president’s mother, during a trip seen as a public signal of her growing role in public affairs.


Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province

Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province
Updated 21 May 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province

Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province
  • The Houthis said last Friday they downed another US MQ9 drone over the southeastern province of Maareb

DUBAI: Yemen’s Houthis downed a US MQ9 drone over Al-Bayda province in southern Yemen, the Iran-aligned group’s military spokesperson said in a televised statement on Tuesday.

Yahya Saree said the drone was targeted with a locally made surface-to-air missile and that videos to support the claim would be released.

The Houthis said last Friday they downed another US MQ9 drone over the southeastern province of Maareb.

The group, which controls Yemen’s capital and most populous areas of the Arabian Peninsula state, has attacked international shipping in the Red Sea since November in solidarity with the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas militants, drawing US and British retaliatory strikes since February.


Iranians pay last respects to President Ebrahim Raisi

Iranians pay last respects to President Ebrahim Raisi
Updated 21 May 2024
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Iranians pay last respects to President Ebrahim Raisi

Iranians pay last respects to President Ebrahim Raisi
  • Mourners set off from a central square in the northwestern city of Tabriz
  • Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declares five days of national mourning

TEHRAN: Tens of thousands of Iranians gathered Tuesday to mourn president Ebrahim Raisi and seven members of his entourage who were killed in a helicopter crash on a fog-shrouded mountainside in the northwest.

Waving Iranian flags and portraits of the late president, mourners set off from a central square in the northwestern city of Tabriz, where Raisi was headed when his helicopter crashed on Sunday.

They walked behind a lorry carrying the coffins of Raisi and his seven aides.

Their helicopter lost communications while it was on its way back to Tabriz after Raisi attended the inauguration of a joint dam project on the Aras river, which forms part of the border with Azerbaijan, in a ceremony with his counterpart Ilham Aliyev.

A massive search and rescue operation was launched on Sunday when two other helicopters flying alongside Raisi’s lost contact with his aircraft in bad weather.

State television announced his death in a report early on Monday, saying “the servant of the Iranian nation, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, has achieved the highest level of martyrdom,” showing pictures of him as a voice recited the Qur’an.

Killed alongside the Iranian president were Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, provincial officials and members of his security team.

Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri ordered an investigation into the cause of the crash as Iranians in cities nationwide gathered to mourn Raisi and his entourage.

Tens of thousands gathered in the capital’s Valiasr Square on Monday.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate authority in Iran, declared five days of national mourning and assigned vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until a presidential election can be held.

State media later announced that the election would will be held on June 28.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri, who served as deputy to Amir-Abdollahian, was named acting foreign minister.

From Tabriz, Raisi’s body will be flown to the Shiite clerical center of Qom on Tuesday before being moved to Tehran that evening.

Processions will be held in in the capital on Wednesday morning before Khamenei leads prayers at a farewell ceremony.

Raisi’s body will then be flown to his home city of Mashhad, in the northeast, where he will be buried on Thursday evening after funeral rites.

Raisi, 63, had been in office since 2021. The ultra-conservative’s time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel.

Raisi succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear activities.

Condolence messages flooded in from Iran’s allies around the region, including the Syrian government, Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

It was an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel that sparked the devastating war in Gaza, now in its eighth month, and soaring tensions between Israel and the “resistance axis” led by Iran.

Israel’s killing of seven Revolutionary Guards in a drone strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1 triggered Iran’s first ever direct attack on Israel, involving hundreds of missiles and drones.

In a speech hours before his death, Raisi underlined Iran’s support for the Palestinians, a centerpiece of its foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Palestinian flags were raised alongside Iranian flags at ceremonies held for the late president.


Israeli army raids West Bank’s Jenin, Palestinians say seven killed

Israeli army raids West Bank’s Jenin, Palestinians say seven killed
Updated 21 May 2024
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Israeli army raids West Bank’s Jenin, Palestinians say seven killed

Israeli army raids West Bank’s Jenin, Palestinians say seven killed
  • Among the Palestinians killed was a surgical doctor, the head of the Jenin Governmental Hospital said

JENIN: Israeli forces raided Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday in an operation that the Palestinian health ministry said killed seven Palestinians, including a doctor, and left nine others wounded.
The army said it was an operation against militants and that a number of Palestinian gunmen were shot. There was no immediate word of any Israeli casualties.
The health ministry account of the casualties was quoted by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Among the Palestinians killed was a surgical doctor, the head of the Jenin Governmental Hospital said. He was killed in the vicinity of the hospital, the director said.
The West Bank is among territories Israel seized in a 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians want it to be the core of an independent Palestinian state. US-sponsored talks on a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict broke down in 2014.