Tunisia blasts foreign criticism of arrests as ‘interference’

Tunisia blasts foreign criticism of arrests as ‘interference’
FILE PHOTO: Imed Khemiri, a senior official in the Ennahda party and member of the Salvation Front (L) takes part in a protest, demanding the release of imprisoned journalists, activists, opposition figures and setting a date for fair presidential elections in Tunis. (REUTERS)
Short Url
Updated 16 May 2024
Follow

Tunisia blasts foreign criticism of arrests as ‘interference’

Tunisia blasts foreign criticism of arrests as ‘interference’
  • Several prominent Tunisian pundits, journalists, lawyers and civil society figures have been arrested in recent days
  • Late Saturday, masked police raided the Tunisian bar association headquarters and forcibly arrested lawyer Sonia Dahmani

TUNIS: Tunisian President Kais Saied on Thursday denounced foreign “interference” following international criticism of a recent flurry of arrests of political commentators, lawyers and journalists in the North African country.
Saied, who in 2021 orchestrated a sweeping power grab, ordered the foreign ministry to summon diplomats and “inform them that Tunisia is an independent state.”
Speaking during a televised meeting, the president told Mounir Ben Rjiba, state secretary to the foreign ministry, to “summon as soon as possible the ambassadors of a number of countries,” without specifying which ones.
Ben Rjiba was asked to “strongly object to them that what they are doing is a blatant interference in our internal affairs.”
“Inform them that Tunisia is an independent state that adheres to its sovereignty,” Saied added.
“We didn’t interfere in their affairs when they arrested protesters... who denounced the war of genocide against the Palestinian people,” he added, referring to demonstrations on university campuses in the United States and elsewhere over the Israel-Hamas war.
Several prominent Tunisian pundits, journalists, lawyers and civil society figures have been arrested in recent days, many of whom over a decree that punishes “spreading false information” with up to five years in prison.
Since Decree 54 came into force with Saied’s ratification in 2022, more than 60 journalists, lawyers and opposition figures have been prosecuted under it, according to the National Union of Tunisian Journalists.
Late Saturday, masked police raided the Tunisian bar association headquarters and forcibly arrested lawyer Sonia Dahmani over critical comments she had made on television.
On Monday police entered the bar association again and arrested Mehdi Zagrouba, another lawyer, following a physical altercation with officers. Zagrouba was subsequently hospitalized.
The arrests have sparked Western condemnation.
The European Union on Tuesday expressed concern that Tunisian authorities were cracking down on dissenting voices.
France denounced “arrests, in particular of journalists and members of (non-governmental) associations,” while the United States said they were “in contradiction” with “the universal rights explicitly guaranteed by the Tunisian Constitution.”
The media union said Wednesday that Decree 54 was “a deliberate attack on the essence of press freedom and a vain attempt to intimidate journalists and media employees and sabotage public debate.”
NGOs have decried a rollback of freedoms in Tunisia since Saied — who was elected democratically in October 2019 with a five-year mandate — began ruling by decree following the July 2021 power grab.


UN official says worst scenes of Gaza war witnessed at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis

UN official says worst scenes of Gaza war witnessed at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis
Updated 15 July 2024
Follow

UN official says worst scenes of Gaza war witnessed at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis

UN official says worst scenes of Gaza war witnessed at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis

RIYADH: A UN official said he witnessed “one of the worst scenes he has seen in Gaza in the past nine months” during his visit to the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis on Saturday.
Scott Anderson, the director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza, said that “many of the injured were receiving treatment on the hospital floor without disinfectants due to insufficient beds and a lack of essential cleanliness equipment and supplies.” 
Nasser Medical Complex is under tremendous strain and burden, with children who are amputees, others paralyzed and deprived of medical treatment, the Saudi Press Agency quoted Anderson as saying.
The UN official also noted how parents were in despair about the conditions of their children.
He added that the United Nations team provided referral services on Saturday, along with additional tents, beds, stretchers, supplies and medications.
He also pointed out the obstacles hindering humanitarian operations prevented aid from reaching people, SPA added.


Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule

Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule
Updated 15 July 2024
Follow

Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule

Syrians vote for their next parliament, which may consider allowing Assad to extend his rule
  • Syrians are voting for members of a new parliament in an election that is expected to hold few surprises
  • Syrians who’ve left their country due to the war are not eligible to vote in parliamentary elections

DAMASCUS: Syrians were voting for members of a new parliament in an election Monday that was expected to hold few surprises but could pave the way for a constitutional amendment to extend the term of President Bashar Assad.
The vote is the fourth in Syria since mass anti-government protests and a brutal crackdown by security forces spiraled into an ongoing civil war in 2011.
There are 1,516 government-approved candidates running this year for the 250-seat People’s Assembly.
The number of eligible voters has not been announced. In parliamentary elections, unlike presidential elections, the millions of diaspora Syrians — whose numbers have ballooned since the civil war — are not eligible to vote.
Some 8,151 polling stations were set up in 15 voting districts in government-held areas.
In the Druze-majority southern province of Sweida, where anti-government protests have been taking place regularly for nearly a year, many called for a boycott of the polls. Videos posted online showed protesters seizing ballot boxes off a truck in an attempt to stop them arriving to polling stations.
Elsewhere, campaigning was low key and candidates’ campaigns largely revolved around general slogans such as national unity and prosperity.
Assad’s Baath Party won 166 seats in the 2020 elections, representing nearly two-thirds of its membership, in addition to 17 members from allied parties. Another 67 seats went to independent candidates.
Vladimir Pran, an independent adviser on transitional political and electoral processes, said the competitive part of the Syrian election process comes before voters go to the polls, during the Baath Party primary process, when party members vote on which candidates’ names are sent to the party’s central command to make the final list.
“Elections are really already finished... with the end of the primary process,” he said. Once the Baath party list is completed, “you can check the list and the results, and you will see that literally all of them will be in the Parliament.”
The number of incumbents who made the final list this year was relatively low, suggesting a reshuffling within the Baath party.
Maroun Sfeir, a consultant on transitional electoral and political processes, said the 169 candidates put forward by the Baath party alone is past the margin of 167 MPs needed to propose a constitutional amendment, protect the president from being accused of treason and veto legislation.
Adding to that 16 candidates from Baath-allied parties running on the same list, he said, “you’re only three MPs short of three quarters of the parliament, which is required for (passing) a constitutional amendment.”
While that leaves 65 slots open for independent candidates, Sfeir said they should not be expected to present a real opposition bloc.
“They are all pre-vetted... to ensure that they’re all loyal or without any threat,” he said.
With Assad facing term limits that would end his presidency in 2028, the next parliament is widely expected to try to pass a constitutional amendment to extend his term.


Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
Updated 15 July 2024
Follow

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
  • The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The civil defense agency in Hamas-run Gaza said Sunday that 15 people were killed in a strike on a school sheltering war displaced where the Israeli military said it had targeted “terrorists.”
The strike on the UN-run Abu Araban site in central Gaza’s Nuseirat camp was the fifth on a school-turned-shelter in eight days.
The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children.
Schools in Nuseirat were the target for two of the earlier school strikes as Israel keeps up its offensive against Hamas Palestinian militants who triggered the war with their October 7 attack on Israel.
The Israeli military said its air force “struck a number of terrorists who were operating in the area of UNRWA’s Abu Araban school building in Nuseirat.”
It said the building had “served as a hideout” and base for “attacks” on Israeli troops.
AFPTV images showed the three-story complex standing, with clothes and bedding airing out over its railings. A wall bearing the UN logo had been blown out, and rooms inside were damaged.
On July 6, Israeli aircraft hit Al-Jawni school, also run by the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), in Nuseirat. UNRWA said about 2,000 people were sheltering there at the time.
The following day, four people died in a strike on the church-run Holy Family school in Gaza City, in the territory’s north, according to the Civil Defense agency.
On Monday, Israel hit another Nuseirat school, again saying it was targeting “terrorists.”
The next day, a hospital source said at least 29 people died in a strike at the entrance to Al-Awda school in the Khan Yunis area, southern Gaza.
Israel says Hamas uses schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure for military purposes. Hamas denies the accusation.
France and Germany on Wednesday called for an investigation into the school strikes.
After the Al-Jawni strike, UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma told AFP that when the war began “we closed the schools and they became shelters.”
UNRWA is the main relief agency in Gaza but more than half, or 190, of its facilities have been hit — “some more than once” — in the military response to the October 7 Hamas attacks, she said.
 

 


As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
Updated 14 July 2024
Follow

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
  • About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian

TEL AVIV: Comedian Ayman Nahas said he has kept a “low profile” since Oct. 7, fearing reprisals as an Arab artist in Israel while the country wages war in the Gaza Strip.
He is one of many Arab artists in Israel or annexed East Jerusalem who describe facing increasing hostility and harassment and fearing looming funding cuts or arrests.
“You never know where your place is, and that is not the right atmosphere to perform,” said Nahas, the artistic director at the Arabic-language Sard theater in Haifa, in Israel’s north.
He said that his theater depends on government subsidies “like 99 percent of cultural spaces” in Israel.
But he fears the money could be cut, as happened in 2015 to Al-Midan, another theater in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa, after it put on a play inspired by the story of a prisoner jailed by Israel over an attack on troops.
One 25-year-old performer, who asked to use the pseudonym Elias to avoid a backlash, said he has put acting aside and became a swimming pool attendant because he was fed up with only getting stereotyped roles.
Other Arab actors say that since the war, they can no longer find work in Israel. Elias has finally found a role in Berlin.
“I have had to go into exile to practice my art,” he said in a Tel Aviv cafe.
“I don’t wear my ‘Free Palestine’ bracelet anymore, and I take care of what I put on social media. I have friends who the police have visited.”
Nonprofit group Mossawa has documented an increase in human rights violations against Israel’s Arab minority since October, including arrests, discrimination at work, and harassment at schools, as well as curbs on the right to protest.
Singer Dalal Abu Amneh, who is also a neuroscientist, was detained for 48 hours for a social media post after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that said “the only victor is God.”
Abu Amneh later said she had been harassed in her Jewish-majority hometown of Afula in northern Israel. Her lawyer said she had received hundreds of “death threats.”
About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian.
They say they are frequently the targets of discrimination by the Jewish majority, and those complaints have grown through more than nine months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Huda Imam, who promotes Palestinian cultural sites in Jerusalem, said that “a cultural silence has taken hold since Oct. 7.”
“There has been a shock, an inability to produce out of fear and respect” for the war’s victims, she added.
“There was a Palestinian cultural life before the war, especially in east Jerusalem,” Imam said, referring to the sector Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by most of the international community.
“Now people don’t go out.”
And it is primarily exiles “who give a voice to Palestine,” said Imam, highlighting the rapper Saint Levant, who played at the Coachella music festival in the US in April, and the European-based singer and flute player Nai Barghouti.
Palestinians still express themselves through their “living heritage, like drinking coffee or dancing dabkeh,” a traditional dance, said artist Hani Amra.
Some artists wondered about the relevance of their work now.
“You turn on the television, and you see the war live. The reality is more powerful than any artistic work,” Amer Khalil, the director of east Jerusalem’s Al-Hakawati, also known as the Palestinian National Theater.
The theater, founded in 1984, “has been closed more than 200 times in 40 years” and is again in the crosshairs of Israeli authorities, said Khalil.
“Running a theater is always difficult, but after Oct. 7 things became even more complicated,” he said, adding that Al-Hakawati was preparing a play about that day.
“It is a game, like censorship. It comes and goes.”

 


UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
Updated 14 July 2024
Follow

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
  • The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday
  • The aid includes supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries and insulin

DUBAI: The UAE delivered three tonnes of medical supplies and a range of medicines to support the healthcare sector and hospitals still operating in the Gaza Strip, the UAE state news agency reported on Sunday.

The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday.

The medical aid includes medical supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries, insulin for diabetic patients, and other solutions to bolster the healthcare sector during the crisis.

The UAE on Sunday condemned Israel’s attack on refugee camps in Khan Younis, which claimed the lives of 100 people.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday expressed its strongest condemnation and denunciation of what it termed “continued genocidal massacres against the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli war machine.”