Armed Syrian Kurdish women stand guard over precious wheatfields

Armed Syrian Kurdish women stand guard over precious wheatfields
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A volunteer in the Kurdish Community Protection Forces guards wheat fields from fire or looting around the town of Tarbesbeyeh, also known as al-Qahtaniyah in Arabic, in northeastern Syria's Hasakehgovernorate near the Turkish border on May 30, 2024. (AFP)
Armed Syrian Kurdish women stand guard over precious wheatfields
2 / 3
A volunteer in the Kurdish Community Protection Forces guards wheat fields from fire or looting around the town of Tarbesbeyeh, also known as al-Qahtaniyah in Arabic, in northeastern Syria's Hasakehgovernorate near the Turkish border on May 30, 2024. (AFP)
Armed Syrian Kurdish women stand guard over precious wheatfields
3 / 3
A volunteer in the Kurdish Community Protection Forces guards wheat fields from fire or looting around the town of Tarbesbeyeh, also known as al-Qahtaniyah in Arabic, in northeastern Syria's Hasakehgovernorate near the Turkish border on May 30, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2024
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Armed Syrian Kurdish women stand guard over precious wheatfields

Armed Syrian Kurdish women stand guard over precious wheatfields
  • Volunteers were called amid fears of theft and fire destroying the wheatcrops
  • In June 2019, flames swept through wheatfields in the region, killing at least 10 people

AL QAHTANIYAH, Syria: Holding a weapon in one hand and fixing her scarf with the other, Yasmine Youssef patrols one of northeast Syria’s vast wheatfields, a vital source of income in the country’s breadbasket.

The 42-year-old is among dozens of volunteers, some of them women, helping the semi-autonomous Kurdish-led region protect the fields near Qahtaniyah, from fires and arsonists.
“Our mission is to serve farmers and protect their crops,” Youssef said, adding that the work lasts one or two months.
“If fires break out we are notified directly and we call the fire trucks,” she told AFP.
This year the farmers in northeast Syria are expecting an exceptional harvest after heavy rain followed years of drought.
But residents also fear that yearly summer wildfires could destroy their precious crops.
“Agricultural production rebounded in 2023 amid improved weather conditions” after near-historical lows the year before, according to a recent World Bank report.
“Official statistics indicate a doubled wheat harvest for 2023, yielding two million metric tons,” it said.
In June 2019, flames swept through wheatfields in the region, killing at least 10 people who were fighting the fires, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
At first, “people didn’t trust our efforts. They were saying, ‘What are those women doing?’,” Youssef said.
“Now everyone agrees on the need to unite to protect” the land, she said.
“The people depend entirely on this harvest... If we lose it, our conditions will deteriorate.”

Nearby, farmers toiled in the scorching heat, plowing the golden fields as Kurdish police also patrolled the area.
Every year, the administration and the Syrian government, which accuses the Kurds of separatism, compete to buy the wheat harvest from farmers.
Residents and officials in the Kurdish-held region told AFP they believed the fires were often the result of arson.
Daesh group extremists have previously burnt crops in areas under Kurdish control, after the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces — the Kurds’ de facto army in the area — dislodged the jihadists from the last scraps of Syrian territory they held in 2019.
Volunteer Renkin Hassan, 50, urged people not to discard cigarettes that could start fires accidentally, but also blamed unspecified parties for “burning the land intentionally.”
“We will not let them do that,” she said defiantly, patrolling beside other armed volunteers and wearing a military vest.
“I don’t own a single acre of land, but I come here every day so farmers can harvest their crops” without having to worry about fires, she added.
There have already been limited outbreaks of fire in several locations this year, local authorities said.
The volunteers brave high summer temperatures and sometimes surprise attacks by IS jihadists, as well as Turkish strikes targeting the SDF.
Sporting an assault rifle, flip-flops and a flowery dress, Atia Hassan, 50, said her goal was to prevent arsonists from “burning the land — and to protect ourselves.”
“People are happy when they see us... and we are proud of our efforts despite all the difficulties,” she added.


Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel

Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel
Updated 32 min 59 sec ago
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Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel

Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel
  • The US, European Union and several other countries long put a terrorist designation on Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip before its current war with Israel
  • Israel has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, displaced over 80 percent of the territory’s people and triggered a humanitarian disaster

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: Argentina designated Hamas a terrorist organization Friday and ordered a freeze on the financial assets of the Palestinian group, a largely symbolic move as President Javier Milei seeks to align Argentina strongly with the US and Israel.
Announcing the decision, Milei’s office cited the militant Palestinian group’s cross-border attack on Israel last Oct. 7 that killed some 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage, in the deadliest assault in Israel’s 76-year history.
The statement also mentioned Hamas’ close ties to Iran, which Argentina blames for two deadly militant attacks on Jewish sites in the country.
The move comes just days before the 30th anniversary of one of those attacks, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. It killed 85 people and wounded hundreds more in the worst such attack in Argentina’s modern history.
The other attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, in 1992, killed more than 20 people. Argentina’s judiciary has accused members of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group of carrying out the two attacks.
Friday’s announcement professed Milei’s “unwavering commitment to recognizing terrorists for what they are,” adding that “it’s the first time that there is a political will to do so.”
The US, European Union and several other countries long put a terrorist designation on Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip before its current war with Israel.
Previous left-leaning Peronist governments in Argentina, home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America, have maintained friendly ties with Israel but also voiced support for Palestinian statehood.
Since coming into office in December, Milei has set himself apart from even Israel’s closest allies in his vocal support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A huge swell in global pressure has left Israel deeply isolated over its military campaign in Gaza, which has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, displaced over 80 percent of the territory’s people and triggered a humanitarian disaster.
“Argentina must once again align itself with Western civilization,” Milei’s office said Friday.
For his first state visit as president earlier this year, Milei flew to Jerusalem in a show of support for the Israeli government and promised to move his nation’s embassy to the contested capital — drawing praise from Netanyahu and ire from Hamas.
Although raised a Roman Catholic, Milei says he has a deep spiritual connection with Judaism.

 


Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China

Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China
Updated 16 sec ago
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Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China

Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China
  • Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon, has pledged to promote a pragmatic foreign policy, ease tensions over now-stalled negotiations with major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact and improve prospects for social liberalization and political pluralism

DUBAI: The United States should realize that Iran will not respond to pressure, President-elect Masoud Pezeshkian said in a statement published on Saturday, in which he also highlighted his country’s friendship with China and Russia.
Pezeshkian, a relative moderate who beat a hard-line rival in elections, also reiterated that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, adding that Tehran would expand ties with neighbors and engage with Europe.
“The United States...needs to recognize the reality and understand, once and for all, that Iran does not — and will not — respond to pressure (and) that Iran’s defense doctrine does not include nuclear weapons,” Pezeshkian said in the statement, titled “My message to the new world” and published in the daily Tehran Times.
Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon, has pledged to promote a pragmatic foreign policy, ease tensions over now-stalled negotiations with major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact and improve prospects for social liberalization and political pluralism.
However many Iranians are skeptical about his ability to fulfil his campaign promises as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not the president, is the ultimate authority in the Islamic Republic.
“China and Russia have consistently stood by us during challenging times. We deeply value this friendship.
“Russia is a valued strategic ally and neighbor to Iran and my administration will remain committed to expanding and enhancing our cooperation,” Pezeshkian said, adding that Tehran would actively support initiatives aimed at ending the conflict in Ukraine.
“The Iranian people have entrusted me with a strong mandate to vigorously pursue constructive engagement on the international stage while insisting on our rights, our dignity and our deserved role in the region and the world.
“I extend an open invitation to those willing to join us in this historic endeavour,” Pezeshkian said. (

 


Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says

Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says
Updated 13 July 2024
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Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says

Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says
  • The invasion’s aftermath effectively divided the island along ethnic lines, with some 170,000 Greek Cypriots fleeing the north to be replaced by some 40,000 Turkish Cypriots displaced from the government-held south

NICOSIA: The breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus hopes to end its international isolation, its leader Ersin Tatar told AFP in an interview, as the Mediterranean island marks fives decades of division.
“Every day, we are working for recognition,” said the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in 1983 but which is recognized only by Ankara.
“Turkish Cypriots have been (put) under a lot of disadvantages — embargoes, isolation,” Tatar said in the interview conducted on Thursday.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Turkiye’s invasion of the north, five days after a coup orchestrated by the junta then in power in Athens sought to unite the whole island with Greece.
The invasion’s aftermath effectively divided the island along ethnic lines, with some 170,000 Greek Cypriots fleeing the north to be replaced by some 40,000 Turkish Cypriots displaced from the government-held south.
But international recognition has always eluded the Turkish Cypriots, with knock-on effects on the northern economy.
All flights to northern Cyprus have to make at least a stopover in Turkiye, hampering the development of large-scale tourism.
The rejection of a UN peace plan by Greek Cypriot voters in a 2004 referendum meant Cyprus entered the European Union that year still a divided island, with Turkish Cypriots denied the full benefits of membership.
“I would very much hope to see a resolution from the United Nations Security Council saying that we do recognize the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus,” Tatar said.
“Greek Cypriots are obviously having a bigger part of the cake. Tourism is prospering, their economy is prospering,” he added.
UN-backed efforts to reunify the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation have been at a standstill since the last round of talks collapsed in 2017.
The Turkish Cypriot leadership says that with the UN-backed reunification talks dead, a two-state solution is the only forward.
Greek Cypriot leaders say they remain committed to the UN-backed process.

The United Nations, whose peacekeepers patrol a buffer zone behind the former front line between the two sides, is pressing for talks to resume between the leaders of the two communities.
“All I want is concerted efforts to find a practical, fair, just and sustainable settlement. But on an equal basis, a sovereign equal basis,” said Tatar.
For Tatar, “1974 was a turning point for Turkish Cypriots, a new hope,” said the leader, who was a 13-year-old pupil at the English School in Nicosia at the time and on holiday in London when he heard the news.
Citing violence and discrimination against the minority community in the decade leading up to the invasion, he insisted Turkish troops landed to “protect the Turkish Cypriots.”
A controversial treaty between Britain, Greece and Turkiye that accompanied the island’s independence in 1960 gave the three powers the right to intervene to guarantee the island’s constitution.
The treaty also outlawed partition and the union of any part of the island with Greece or Turkiye.
“This is why we call it Turkish intervention as a result of the right given to Turkiye by the 1960 agreement,” Tatar said.
He said the Turkish troop contingent in northern Cyprus — around 40,000 soldiers, according to the United Nations — was a “deterrent force” that had “ensured that we had peace on the island.”
Despite the many challenges, “what we have achieved is basically to develop our state from nothing to a consolidated state with all the functions and faculties that you would have in any modern state,” Tatar said.
 

 


As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls
Updated 12 July 2024
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As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls
  • Gaza offered playgrounds, football, tennis, karate, and other sports before terrifying bombs began dropping from the skies, flattening entire neighborhoods

GAZA: Israel’s offensive in Gaza has pulverized most of its sports facilities and equipment, but that has not stopped boxing coach Osama Ayoub from training Palestinian girls in a tent camp that offers no protection from airstrikes or shelling.
The boxing club where girls once learned to jab, build their stamina, and make friends has been demolished.
There are no protective equipment, ring, or punch bags in the open-air sandy space between the tents where displaced girls now practice — a mattress and pillow will have to do — but Ayoub says the training has helped them overcome their fear of war.
“They started going out on the street. They started going out at night. Their personalities became much stronger, and even their families saw they were stronger,” he said.
It’s all about improvization. One young girl unleashes barehanded punches and weaves left and right to dodge imaginary fists. “Throw a right,” yells the coach, who puts up his fists for the girls to punch.
“They have determination, they have contentment, they have courage. At first, they were afraid of the war we are living in, but through boxing, they have benefited a lot,” he said.
Gaza offered playgrounds, football, tennis, karate, and other sports before terrifying bombs began dropping from the skies, flattening entire neighborhoods.
Attempts to restart sports are risky, even when played outside. On Tuesday, an Israeli missile slammed into a football match at a tent encampment, killing at least 29 people, Palestinian officials said.
Yet the boxers dream of international competitions overseas worlds away from Gaza. This tiny, densely populated enclave suffered from poverty and high unemployment even long before Hamas triggered the war on Oct. 7.
“I hope that this war will end and that our message will reach everyone in the name of the girls of Gaza,” said one of the boxers, Bilsan Ayoub.
The chances of that happening soon are slim. Months of mediation by the US, Egypt, and Qatar have failed to secure a truce between Israel and its arch-enemy Hamas, never mind a permanent ceasefire.
So, all the boxers can do is keep practicing as each side demands concessions from the other, and the conflict rages.
“We do not have anything left, being displaced. We do not have clips, gloves, teeth protection, said Ayoub, who has to improvise daily to keep her dream of international competition alive.
“The tools are very simple, but we want to continue in this game until we achieve our dream and end the war,” she said.

 


Israel ‘has pledged to improve safety for humanitarian workers in Gaza’

USAid Administrator Samantha Power speaks during a press conference in Port Moresby on August 13, 2023. (AFP file photo)
USAid Administrator Samantha Power speaks during a press conference in Port Moresby on August 13, 2023. (AFP file photo)
Updated 12 July 2024
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Israel ‘has pledged to improve safety for humanitarian workers in Gaza’

USAid Administrator Samantha Power speaks during a press conference in Port Moresby on August 13, 2023. (AFP file photo)
  • The UN says that since May, the amount of aid reaching Gaza to distribute has fallen to some of the lowest levels of the war

ASHDOD: The head of the US agency overseeing American humanitarian assistance worldwide said she has received Israeli pledges to allow aid workers to move more quickly and safely throughout the war-battered Gaza Strip.
In an interview, Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said that Israel has also taken new steps to increase the flow of aid through its port of Ashdod, just north of Gaza.
The move could give donors a new option for delivering aid as the US shutters its troubled maritime pier off Gaza’s coast.
Nine months into the war in Gaza, the announcement marked a small victory for international efforts to increase aid deliveries to the territory’s desperate civilians.
The Israeli offensive launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack has plunged Gaza into a humanitarian crisis. Over 80 percent of the territory’s 2.3 million people have been displaced, with most now living in squalid tent camps.
International experts say hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.
“We have not seen the kind of humanitarian system to this point that has allowed humanitarians to move efficiently and safely to the degree that we need,” Power said.
“This week and through this visit, we have secured an agreement.”
“My whole career has been working in and around conflict areas,” said Power, a former war correspondent and US ambassador to the UN.
“I have never seen a more difficult conflict environment for humanitarians to work in.”
The UN says that since May, the amount of aid reaching Gaza to distribute has fallen to some of the lowest levels of the war. Israel says it places no limits on the entry of aid into Gaza.
But tons of supplies have piled up on the Gaza side of Israeli-controlled border crossings because the UN says it is unable to collect them for distribution.
Israel blames the bottleneck on UN logistical failures.
But UN and other aid officials deny that, saying that permit requirements from the military limit access to the site and that Israeli military operations against Hamas make it too dangerous to move around. Also, criminal gangs inside Gaza have looted aid trucks, adding another challenge for aid workers.
Power said her talks with the Israelis focused heavily on improving the system by which humanitarian groups and the military coordinate safe passage.
Throughout the war, humanitarian groups complained that the system was not working.
In one instance early this year, the Israeli military struck an aid convoy of World Central Kitchen, killing seven workers from the international charity.
Israel called the incident a tragedy and punished five officers.
Power said that for deliveries by the pier, a system was set up where the Israeli and US militaries and the UN could communicate more closely and immediately over the location of humanitarian workers.
She said the Israeli government had now agreed to extend that system across Gaza.
“Having a system lined up where those aid workers can convey their coordinates, their movements to the (Israeli army), and know that they are going to be safe in making those deliveries, that has not been an assurance that they have had throughout this conflict,” she said.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military or COGAT, the military body in charge of coordinating aid into Gaza. Power said it would take time to implement the changes, but the US is pushing for improvements “not a month from now, but a week from now.”
Power spoke after touring the Ashdod port, about 30 km from Gaza.
She said Israel is increasing its scanning capacity at the port to inspect goods bound for Gaza, which can then be delivered by truck through nearby Israeli crossings.
As the US prepares to shut down the temporary maritime pier, she said she expected Ashdod to play a bigger role in aid deliveries.
“I think there will be a maritime part of the humanitarian solution over time that will get bigger and bigger,” she said. “It will probably flow through this port.”
During the visit, Power also announced that the US pledged $100 million in new assistance to the Palestinians. USAID said the money would assist the UN’s World Food Program and help deliver “lifesaving humanitarian aid across Gaza.” Altogether, the US has donated $774 million to the Palestinians since the war began last October.
Power said the only way to improve conditions in Gaza dramatically would be through a cease-fire.
She blamed Hamas for holding up a deal and urged the militant group to accept the latest proposals being floated by international mediators.
“Hamas must accept the terms of the cease-fire, and then we will be in a position to flood the zone with humanitarian support on a scale that is just not possible when you have fighting,” she said.