Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora

Samar Alghoul, 21, poses for a picture during an interview with AFP in Havana on June 2, 2024. (AFP)
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Samar Alghoul, 21, poses for a picture during an interview with AFP in Havana on June 2, 2024. (AFP)
Motee Al-Mashar, 24, points to handwriting he made on a wall that reads
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Motee Al-Mashar, 24, points to handwriting he made on a wall that reads "Free Palestine" at his apartment in Havana on May 31, 2024. (AFP)
Motee Al-Mashar (R), 24, chats with Cuban students at a hospital in Havana on May 31, 2024. (AFP)
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Motee Al-Mashar (R), 24, chats with Cuban students at a hospital in Havana on May 31, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 19 June 2024
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Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora

Motee Al-Mashar, 24, points to handwriting he made on a wall that reads "Free Palestine" at his apartment in Havana.
  • Cuba has long handed out bursaries to foreign students
  • Some 1,500 Palestinians, many of them doctors, have studied for free on the island since 1974

HAVANA: Thousands of miles from Gaza, medical student Samar Alghoul is supposed to be living her dream in Cuba, where she and hundreds of other Palestinians have been given the opportunity to study for free.
But, like the Palestinian diaspora all around the world, she is ridden with anxiety watching the decimation of her home from afar.
The 21-year-old lives in a dorm with six other students at the University of Havana, but often dreams of returning to her family’s side, even if it means running toward war.
“It would be easier for me to be with them than to have all these thoughts,” of not knowing “what they drink, what they eat, where they sleep,” Alghoul said of her mother, two brothers and sister who live in the Gaza Strip.
She said her mother tells her: “We are proud of you, we are proud to have someone outside of Gaza who is studying medicine.”
Alghoul is one of 247 Palestinian students, 75 of them from Gaza, who have received a scholarship from the Cuban government, according to figures from Palestinian ambassador Akram Samhan.
Cuba has long handed out bursaries to foreign students. Some 1,500 Palestinians, many of them doctors, have studied for free on the island since 1974, said the ambassador.
Whether studying, living abroad, or staying in refugee camps in the Middle East, millions of Palestinians in the diaspora are watching the destruction wrought back home with horror.
The conflict began on October 7 when the Hamas militant group attacked Israel, leaving 1,194 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,396 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.
Alghoul says her family, who lived in the north of the Gaza Strip, has had to move multiple times to flee bombing and is currently in central Gaza’s Deir Al-Balah.
“They open WhatsApp, send me a message, ‘We’re fine,’ and we don’t know when we’ll have more news,” Alghoul said in Spanish. Like all foreign students, she took intensive language classes when she arrived in Cuba in 2022.
Motee Almashar, 24, from southern Rafah told AFP that he and his Palestinian friends are trying to get back to normal life “to relieve some stress.”
But it’s not easy.
“As soon as you pick up your phone, you see the news,” he said.
Almashar is also too far away to be of much comfort to his mother, devastated after bombing in Rafah last month led to the deaths of his cousins, three uncles, aunt and grandmother.
The conflict has also impacted the students’ ability to make ends meet in Cuba, as they are no longer able to receive money from relatives in Gaza.
Ambassador Samhan said he has launched a drive for donations among Palestinian groups in the United States and elsewhere to help support the students.
Mohammed Refat Almassri, 26, who has lost an uncle and eight cousins in the war, is in his final year of studies and torn over what to do next.
His father is an ambulance driver in the Gaza Strip and he knows there is “an urgent need for doctors,” but cannot afford a flight back home.


Russia gives cautious reaction to Zelensky’s summit offer

Russia gives cautious reaction to Zelensky’s summit offer
Updated 4 sec ago
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Russia gives cautious reaction to Zelensky’s summit offer

Russia gives cautious reaction to Zelensky’s summit offer
MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Tuesday gave a cautious reaction to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s apparent invitation to a future peace summit, saying that Russia first needs to understand what Kyiv means before attending talks.
Zelensky said on Monday that Russia “should be” represented at a second summit on the Ukraine conflict, following high-level talks last month in Switzerland that Moscow did not attend and heavily criticized.
“The first peace summit was not a peace summit at all. So perhaps it is necessary to first understand what he means,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Zvezda television channel, responding to Zelensky’s comments.
Zelensky’s apparent welcoming of Russia to talks marks a change of tone from the conference in Switzerland, ahead of which the Ukrainian leader categorically ruled out inviting Moscow.
The surprise comments from Kyiv come as Ukraine’s forces lose ground on the front line and as the United States gears up for presidential elections that could fundamentally change the dynamic of the conflict.
Leaders and top officials from more than 90 states gathered at a Swiss mountainside resort on June 15 for the two-day summit dedicated to resolving the largest European conflict since World War II.
China and Russia were markedly absent.
The Kremlin sharply criticized the gathering, saying that any discussions on ending the conflict that did not include Russia were “absurd.”
Washington said Monday that it backed Ukraine’s decision to invite Russia to a second summit, but expressed doubt about whether Moscow was ready for talks.
“When they want to invite Russia to that summit, of course, that is something we support,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told journalists.
“We’ve always supported diplomacy when Ukraine is ready, but it has never been clear that the Kremlin is ready for actual diplomacy,” he said.
Ahead of last month’s summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was open for talks and would announce a ceasefire if Kyiv effectively surrendered territory that Moscow claims as its own.
Zelensky slammed Putin’s demands as a territorial “ultimatum” reminiscent of those issued by Adolf Hitler, and Ukraine’s Western backers including the United States reacted with scorn.
However there is growing apprehension in Kyiv about how a potential Donald Trump victory in November’s US elections might affect continued American aid to Ukraine.
The Republican Party candidate has suggested he would end the conflict very quickly if he won back the presidency, a promise Kyiv fears would mean being forced to negotiate with Moscow from a weakened position.
Zelensky said on Monday he was “not worried” about the prospect of a Trump victory and that he was still counting on support from the United States, Ukraine’s biggest financial and military backer.

Orban to EU leaders: Trump ready to act ‘immediately’ as Russia-Ukraine peace broker

Orban to EU leaders: Trump ready to act ‘immediately’ as Russia-Ukraine peace broker
Updated 24 min 48 sec ago
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Orban to EU leaders: Trump ready to act ‘immediately’ as Russia-Ukraine peace broker

Orban to EU leaders: Trump ready to act ‘immediately’ as Russia-Ukraine peace broker

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is ready to act “immediately” as a peace broker in the Russia-Ukraine war if he is elected in November, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said in a letter to EU leaders.
The letter, addressed to European Council President Charles Michel and shared with all EU leaders, was drafted after Orban held talks with Trump as well as with the leaders of Ukraine, Russia and China.
“I can (...) surely state that shortly after his election victory, he will not wait until his inauguration, (Trump) will be ready to act as a peace broker immediately. He has detailed and well-founded plans for this,” Orban wrote.


Rwanda’s Paul Kagame wins fourth term with 99% of vote

Rwanda’s Paul Kagame wins fourth term with 99% of vote
Updated 16 July 2024
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Rwanda’s Paul Kagame wins fourth term with 99% of vote

Rwanda’s Paul Kagame wins fourth term with 99% of vote
  • Paul Kagame has ruled the small African nation with an iron fist as de facto leader then president for three decades
  • Bespectacled is credited with rebuilding a traumatized nation after the 1994 genocide – but he is also accused of ruling in a climate of fear

KIGALI: Rwandan President Paul Kagame was gearing up Tuesday for a fourth term in office after winning a thundering 99.15 percent of the vote in an election where only two challengers were allowed to run against him.
The outcome of Monday’s poll was never in doubt, with Kagame ruling the small African nation with an iron fist as de facto leader then president for three decades.
Partial results issued by the election commission seven hours after polls closed showed that Kagame had won 99.15 percent of the vote — even more than the 98.79 percent he got in the last poll seven years ago.
Democratic Green Party candidate Frank Habineza could only muster 0.53 percent and independent Philippe Mpayimana 0.32 percent, according to the results issued with 79 percent of ballots counted.
In an address from the headquarters of his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the 66-year-old thanked Rwandans for giving him another five years in office.
“The results that have been presented indicate a very high score, these are not just figures, even if it was 100 percent, these are not just numbers,” he said.
“These figures show the trust, and that is what is most important,” he added.
“I am hopeful that together we can solve all problems.”
Full provisional results are due by July 20 and definitive results by July 27.
“In general, the electoral process happened in a safe and transparent atmosphere for Rwandans living abroad and at home,” the National Electoral Commission said in a statement.
With 65 percent of the population aged under 30, Kagame is the only leader most Rwandans have ever known.
The bespectacled 66-year-old leader is credited with rebuilding a traumatized nation after the 1994 genocide — but he is also accused of ruling in a climate of fear at home, and fomenting instability in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Over nine million Rwandans — about two million first-time voters — were registered to cast their ballot, with the presidential race being held at the same time as legislative elections for the first time.
“(Kagame) gives us everything we ask him, such as health insurance. This is why he wins by a big margin,” said 34-year-old mechanic Francois Rwabakina.
Kagame won with more than 93 percent of the vote in 2003, 2010 and in 2017, when he again easily defeated the same two challengers.
He has overseen controversial constitutional amendments that shortened presidential terms from seven to five years and reset the clock for the Rwandan leader, allowing him to potentially rule until 2034.
Rwandan courts had rejected appeals from prominent opposition figures Bernard Ntaganda and Victoire Ingabire to remove previous convictions that effectively disqualified them from Monday’s vote.
The election commission also barred high-profile Kagame critic Diane Rwigara, citing issues with her paperwork — the second time she was excluded from running.
Ahead of the vote, Amnesty International said Rwanda’s political opposition faced “severe restrictions... as well as threats, arbitrary detention, prosecution, trumped-up charges, killings and enforced disappearances.”
The imbalance between the candidates was evident during the three-week campaign, as the well-oiled PR machine of the ruling RPF swung into high gear.
The party’s red, white and blue colors and its slogans “Tora Kagame Paul” (“Vote Paul Kagame“) and “PK24” (“Paul Kagame 2024“) were everywhere.
His rivals struggled to make their voices heard, with barely 100 people showing up to some events.
Kagame’s RPF militia is lauded for ending the 1994 genocide when it marched on Kigali — ousting the Hutu extremists who had unleashed 100 days of bloodletting targeting the Tutsi minority.
The perpetrators killed around 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis but also Hutu moderates.
Kagame has overseen a remarkable economic recovery, with GDP growing by an average of 7.2 percent per year between 2012 and 2022, although the World Bank says almost half the population lives on less than $2.15 a day.
But abroad, Kigali is accused of meddling in the troubled eastern DRC, where a UN report says its troops are fighting alongside M23 rebels.
In the parliamentary election, 589 candidates were chasing 80 seats, including 53 elected by universal suffrage.
In the outgoing assembly, the RPF held 40 seats and its allies 11, while Habineza’s party had two.
Another 27 spots are reserved for women, the youth and people with disabilities.


200 more Kenyan police deploy to tackle Haiti violence

200 more Kenyan police deploy to tackle Haiti violence
Updated 16 July 2024
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200 more Kenyan police deploy to tackle Haiti violence

200 more Kenyan police deploy to tackle Haiti violence
  • Deployment comes after the East African nation sent some 400 officers to the violence-ravaged Haitian capital Port-au-Prince in June
  • Deployment was approved by a UN Security Council resolution in October, only to be delayed by a Kenyan court decision in January that ruled it unconstitutional

NAIROBI: Another 200 Kenyan police officers have left for Haiti under a UN-backed mission to try to quell rampant gang violence in the troubled Caribbean nation, senior police officers said Tuesday.
The deployment comes after the East African nation sent some 400 officers to the violence-ravaged Haitian capital Port-au-Prince in June, part of a controversial offer to send some 1,000 police to help stabilize the country.
The promise — made by embattled President William Ruto, who is trying to calm roiling anti-government protests at home — has run into persistent legal challenges in Kenya.
“We have 200 police officers who left last night, they should land in their destination of Haiti this morning,” one senior police officer said on Tuesday. “They are joining their colleagues who are already on the ground.”
Another senior police source confirmed that the officers had left on Monday night, traveling by chartered plane, adding: “More will be departing soon until we have all the 1,000.”
The East African nation is leading a force expected to number a total of some 2,500 personnel.
Other countries, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean, are also contributing to the mission, which is blessed but not managed by the United Nations.
On July 1, Kenya’s National Police Service issued a statement to scotch rumors that seven officers had been killed in Haiti.
The forces deployed had been “received warmly,” and were “all safe and ready to discharge their clear and specific mandate,” it said.
They were “working closely with their host, the Haitian National Police, and have so far undertaken strategic mapping of the likely areas of operational concerns and conducted several joint patrols within Port-au-Prince.”
The deployment was approved by a UN Security Council resolution in October, only to be delayed by a Kenyan court decision in January that ruled it unconstitutional.
The court said Ruto’s administration had no authority to send officers abroad without a prior bilateral agreement.
While the government secured that agreement with Haiti in March, a small opposition party, Thirdway Alliance Kenya, has filed a fresh lawsuit in another attempt to block it.
The United States had been eagerly seeking a country to lead the mission and is supplying funding and logistical support.
But President Joe Biden flatly ruled out US boots on the ground in Haiti — the poorest nation in the Americas, where Washington has a history of intervention.
Human Rights Watch has raised concerns about the Haiti mission and doubts over its funding, while watchdogs have repeatedly accused Kenyan police of using excessive force and carrying out unlawful killings.
Haiti has long been rocked by gang violence, but conditions sharply worsened at the end of February when armed groups launched coordinated attacks in Port-au-Prince, saying they wanted to overthrow then-prime minister Ariel Henry.
The violence in Port-au-Prince has affected food security and humanitarian aid access, with much of the city in the hands of gangs accused of abuses including murder, rape, looting and kidnappings.


4 Indian soldiers are killed in a gunfight with suspected rebels in disputed Kashmir

4 Indian soldiers are killed in a gunfight with suspected rebels in disputed Kashmir
Updated 16 July 2024
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4 Indian soldiers are killed in a gunfight with suspected rebels in disputed Kashmir

4 Indian soldiers are killed in a gunfight with suspected rebels in disputed Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Four Indian soldiers were killed in a gunfight with suspected rebels fighting against Indian rule in the disputed region of Kashmir, the Indian military said Tuesday.
The soldiers were killed late Monday when they were fired at by militants hiding in the forests of southern Doda district in Jammu division, the Indian military said in a statement on the X social media platform. Government forces had been conducting a search based on intelligence input when the shooting occurred.
No insurgent group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attack was the latest in a flurry of violence in the region. Last week, five soldiers were killed in the nearby Kathua district when suspected rebels ambushed an army vehicle. In June, nine people were killed when suspected militants fired at a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims.
Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for Indian-controlled Kashmir’s independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
New Delhi insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the territory in its entirety.