Armed bandits interrupt a rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean off Libya, an aid group says

Armed bandits interrupt a rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean off Libya, an aid group says
SOS Mediterranee aid group that rescues migrants in the Mediterranean says one of its missions was interrupted by armed bandits who boarded the overloaded smugglers’ boat and sped away with it after the migrants threw themselves into the sea off Libya’s coast. (X/@SOSMedIntl)
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Updated 10 July 2024
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Armed bandits interrupt a rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean off Libya, an aid group says

Armed bandits interrupt a rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean off Libya, an aid group says
  • SOS Mediterranee filmed the incident Tuesday and said it occurred about 46 nautical miles north of Zuwara on Libya’s western coast
  • Volunteers were helping transfer the 93 passengers from the wooden boat onto their rescue vessel when two rubber dinghies approached

ROME: An aid group that rescues migrants in the Mediterranean says one of its missions was interrupted by armed bandits who boarded the overloaded smugglers’ boat and sped away with it after the migrants threw themselves into the sea.
SOS Mediterranee filmed the incident Tuesday. The group said it occurred about 46 nautical miles north of Zuwara on Libya’s western coast, a frequent launching point for smuggling operations to bring migrants to Europe.
According to the video, SOS Mediterranee volunteers were helping transfer the 93 passengers from the wooden boat onto their rescue vessel when two rubber dinghies approached.
A masked bandit leapt onto the migrant boat, sparking panic among the remaining passengers, who threw themselves into the sea. The bandit took control of the empty boat and steered it away from the scene as the SOS Mediterranee crew plucked people from the sea.
It wasn’t clear if the bandits were trying to recover the boat for future smuggling operations. Often, when Italian maritime authorities encounter such boats, they intentionally sink them as a matter of maritime safety.
But Valeria Taurino, general director of SOS Mediterranee, said governments are providing fewer resources to rescue operations, leaving aid groups to do the job in increasingly dangerous situations.
“The lack of rescue vessels left by the states in recent years in the central Mediterranean has generated a reckless increase in armed presence and illegal and dangerous actions for both the fleeing shipwrecked people and aid workers,” she said in a statement.
Italian authorities say the presence of humanitarian rescue ships in the Mediterranean only encourages migrants to take the risky voyages, a charge they deny.
The rescue was one of several reported by rescue groups this week, as smugglers appear to be taking advantage of summer’s often calm seas. That said, the number of migrants arriving in Italy this year by boat – 27,744 – is less than half the 72,036 who had arrived by this time last year, according to interior ministry statistics.
The right-wing government of Premier Giorgia Meloni has made limiting migration a priority. It has signed deals with individual African countries to block departures, imposed limits on the work of humanitarian rescue ships, cracked down on traffickers who reach Italy and taken other measures to deter would-be migrants from setting off.


Tunisia’s sandy beaches eaten away by coastal erosion

Tunisia’s sandy beaches eaten away by coastal erosion
Updated 23 July 2024
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Tunisia’s sandy beaches eaten away by coastal erosion

Tunisia’s sandy beaches eaten away by coastal erosion

HAMMAMET, Tunisia: In Tunisia’s seaside town of Hammamet, bulldozers diligently shovel sand from a nearby desert onto a popular beach in an attempt to stop it from disappearing due to erosion.

“This beach is the postcard image of Hammamet,” said environmentalist Chiheb Ben Fredj peering nostalgically at the town’s iconic Yasmine beach.

“It has been seared in our minds since our childhood,” he added, as laborers worked to restore the central Tunisian waterfront to its former sandy glory.

Like many other coastal areas in North Africa, severe erosion has led to many of Hammamet’s sandy beaches vanishing in recent years, taking a toll on the holiday hotspot about 65 kilometers (40 miles) east of the capital Tunis.

Coastlines across the world are in a constant natural flux, with the seas claiming and depositing sediment.

But human activity, including coastal property development and offshore sand mining, significantly accelerates beach erosion.

Among other impacts, construction and coastal defenses in one area can stop sediment from traveling along a coastline, leaving existing beaches deprived of new material.

Studies have also shown the impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures and sea levels, exacerbate the phenomenon.

In the Mediterranean, where the British National Oceanography Center says sea levels have risen at a higher rate over the past 20 years than the entirety of the 20th century, shorelines are changing rapidly.

The sea is also warming 20 percent faster than the rest of the world, according to the United Nations.

Tunisia’s coastline has been a major asset for the Mediterranean country with a struggling economy, as it aims to host some 10 million tourists this year.

Tourism accounts for up to 14 percent of the country’s GDP, providing tens of thousands of jobs in a country where unemployment tops 16 percent and 40 percent among young people.

Tunisia has already lost more than 90 kilometers of beaches to erosion, according to official figures from last year.

Of the country’s 570 kilometers of sandy beaches suitable for swimming, 190 kilometers are at imminent risk of disappearing, according to Tunisian reports.

A majority of the beaches most affected by erosion are located near cities.

Tunisia’s environmental groups, as well as the government’s Coastal Protection and Development Agency (APAL), blame the rapid erosion mostly on human activity and construction on the coast, which they say is further aggravated by climate change.

“Construction projects have not been designed to respect coastal dynamics,” an APAL official told AFP.

To save the Hammamet beach, one of Tunisia’s worst-affected according to the World Bank, authorities last month began trucking in around 750 lorry loads filled with sand from the inland desert province of Kairouan, about 110 kilometers away.

APAL, which operates under the environment ministry, was in a race against time to refill the beach before the peak of tourist season.

But while the rebuilding of beaches, known as beach nourishment, may be a quick fix, “it’s not a sustainable solution,” said Ben Fredj.

“This sand may not last long,” added the secretary general of the Environmental Education Association.

“It can be swallowed in a few days in the event of a storm,” he said, as was the case in the summer of 2023.

The process can also prove expensive.

Coastal authorities estimated the cost of restoring sand to three beaches in Hammamet, Monastir and Sfax at 3.9 million Tunisian dinars ($1.25 million).

But for locals, restoring their priceless seafront is worth the money.

The Yasmine beach “is a showcase for Hammamet,” said Narjess Bouasker, who runs the town’s Menara hotel and leads the regional hotel federation.

“We must take back our beach that the sea has swallowed,” she said, calling for a balance between safeguarding the landscape, cherished by locals and foreign visitors alike, and fighting coastal erosion.

“For us, the priority is not to touch the beauty of the city,” she said.

Bouasker said she has seen increasing awareness among authorities, but refilling beaches with sand is still a gamble.

“We don’t know how the sea will react,” she added.


UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is ‘resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists

UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is ‘resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists
Updated 23 July 2024
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UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is ‘resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists

UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is ‘resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists
  • Israel has attacked targets in Syria linked to Iran for years, but the strikes have escalated over the past five months as the war in Gaza and conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border continue

UNITED NATIONS: The top UN envoy for Syria told the Security Council on Monday that the threat of terrorism is “resurging” with attacks by Daesh extremists set to double this year, endangering civilians already facing a “protracted state of displacement and dire humanitarian conditions.”
UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said Syria is “riddled with armed actors, listed terrorist groups, foreign armies and front-lines” 13 years after President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on peaceful protests against his government turned to civil war. Nearly a half million people have died in the conflict and half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million has been displaced.
The Daesh group declared a self-styled caliphate in a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq that it seized in 2014. It was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017 following a three-year battle that killed tens of thousands of people and left cities in ruins, but its sleeper cells remain in both countries.
Pedersen warned the Security Council of Syria’s delicate security situation.
“The threat of regional conflict cascading over Syria has not abated, particularly with an uptick in Israeli strikes on Syria,” Pedersen said.
Israel has attacked targets in Syria linked to Iran for years, but the strikes have escalated over the past five months as the war in Gaza and conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border continue.
US deputy ambassador Robert A. Wood blamed Iran, Assad’s greatest regional supporter, for the violence in Syria.
“Iran and its proxies and partners have only brought death and destruction and do nothing to help the Syrian people,” Wood said, calling on Assad to curb Iran’s influence.
The Syrian, Iranian, and Russian ambassadors to the UN strongly condemned Israel’s strikes on Syria.
Iranian Ambassador Amir Saeed Iravani said the attacks “flagrantly violate international humanitarian law” and are a “serious threat to regional peace and security.” He said Israel’s strikes add to the chaos created by Syria’s civil war.
Over 16 million people in Syria currently need humanitarian assistance and 7.2 million remain displaced in the “worst humanitarian crisis since the start of the conflict,” Ramesh Rajasingham, coordination director in the U,N. humanitarian office, told the council.
He added that “severely reduced humanitarian funding” exacerbates Syrians’ suffering during months of extreme heat, when rainwater dries up and a lack of basic sanitation infrastructure increases the risk of water-borne diseases.
In rebel-held northwest Syria, over 900,000 people, more than half children, are not receiving “critical water and sanitation support,” Rajasingham said.
Rajasingham and Pedersen called for increased humanitarian access to Syria and international funding. The 2024 UN humanitarian appeal for $4 billion remains only 20 percent funded, “seriously constraining” humanintarian work, Rajasingham said.
On the political front, Pedersen urged the Security Council to pursue Syrian-led peace negotiations with the involvement of “all major international stakeholders,” in line with a unanimously adopted 2015 resolution by the council.
“The conflict is ultimately a political one that can only be resolved when the Syrian parties are able to realize their legitimate aspirations,” Pedersen said.
Last week, Syria announced that all 185 candidates from Assad’s Baath party won parliamentary seats in the country’s elections, a seven-seat increase to the party’s majority.
Pedersen said the elections are “not a substitute” for the political process outlined in the 2015 Security Council resolution, while Wood called the elections a “sham” and a “rubber stamp on Bashar Assad’s continued dictatorship.”
Wood said the US “will not normalize relations with the Syrian regime or lift sanctions absent an authentic and enduring political solution.”

 


UK warned Israel over ‘out of control’ troops in 2002: archives

UK warned Israel over ‘out of control’ troops in 2002: archives
Updated 23 July 2024
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UK warned Israel over ‘out of control’ troops in 2002: archives

UK warned Israel over ‘out of control’ troops in 2002: archives
  • Then-US president George W. Bush complained in private call with UK prime minister Tony Blair that the hardline policies of Sharon were turning Arafat into a martyr similar to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, the files show
  • Israel has killed at least 39,006 Palestinians in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory

LONDON: Britain accused Israel of allowing its troops to run "out of control" during a huge military operation in the occupied West Bank two decades ago, UK government archives showed Tuesday.
The newly-released files highlight Western concern over the Palestinian death toll during Operation Defensive Shield launched by then-Israeli premier Ariel Sharon in March 2002.
The comments are similar to concerns expressed by some Western allies over Israel's current military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Britain's ambassador to Israel at the time warned Sharon's foreign policy adviser that the incursion by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was a "major strategic mistake" which was undermining support for Israel among its allies.
"If some of the reports we were receiving were credible, the IDF's behaviour was more worthy of the Russian army than that of a supposedly civilised country," Sherard Cowper-Coles told the adviser, according to his report of the meeting.
"I was not suggesting that such behaviour was a matter of policy. But there was no doubt that individual soldiers were out of control and committing acts which were outraging international opinion," the diplomat added.
The operation came amid the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which occurred between 2000 and 2005.
Sharon launched the operation in the West Bank after a wave of suicide attacks claimed dozens of Israeli lives.
The Israeli military surrounded the compound of then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
Troops cut off phone lines and power supplies, while intense street-to-street fighting raged for eight days further north in the Jenin refugee camp.

The offensive was at the time the largest military operation in the Palestinian territories since Israel captured them in 1967.
Then-US president George W. Bush complained in private call with UK prime minister Tony Blair that the hardline policies of Sharon were turning Arafat into a martyr similar to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, the files show.
"While Arafat had effectively been marginalising himself, Sharon had succeeded in making a martyr of him -- building him up to the point where he was becoming the new bin Laden," Bush complained, according to a note of the call by the then-UK leader's office.
"The US had tried to persuade Sharon privately, but he just would not listen. The bottom line was that Sharon was undermining the US's ability to pursue the war on terrorism. That was not the action of a good ally," the note added.
Operation Defensive Shield lasted just over a month and resulted in the deaths of about 500 Palestinians, according to estimates by the United Nations.
Israel's current war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 44 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 39,006 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

 


Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’

Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’
Updated 23 July 2024
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Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’

Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’
  • Joe Biden: “I’ll be working very closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end"

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden vowed Monday to continue working to end the war in Gaza during his final months in office, after he bowed out of his reelection bid.
“I’ll be working very closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end, and Middle East peace, and get all those hostages home,” Biden said in a public call into his campaign headquarters, which has transitioned to supporting Vice President Kamala Harris.
 

 


Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say
Updated 23 July 2024
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Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say
  • The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria
  • Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war

BAGHDAD: Iraq wants troops from a US-led military coalition to begin withdrawing in September and to formally end the coalition’s work by September 2025, four Iraqi sources said, with some US forces likely to remain in a newly negotiated advisory capacity.
The Iraqi position is being discussed with US officials in Washington this week at a security summit and there is no formal agreement on ending the coalition or any associated timetable yet, the Iraqi sources and US officials said.
US State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller told a news briefing that both sides were meeting in Washington this week to determine how to transition the US-led coalition’s mission based on the threat posed by Daesh, adding he had no further details.
US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, toppled former leader Saddam Hussein and then withdrew in 2011, only to return in 2014 to fight Daesh at the head of the coalition.
The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria.
They are housed at three main bases, one in Baghdad, one in western Anbar province and another in the northern Kurdistan region.
It is unclear how many troops would leave under a deal, with Iraqi sources saying they expected most to eventually depart but US officials saying many may remain under a newly negotiated advise and assist mission.
US officials are keen to have some military footprint in Iraq on a bilateral basis, in part to help support its presence across the border in Syria, where it has around 900 troops.
The issue is highly politicized, with mainly Iran-aligned Iraqi political factions looking to show that they are pushing out the country’s one-time occupier again, while US officials want to avoid giving Iran and its allies a win.
There are also concerns about Daesh’s ability to regroup.
The jihadist group was declared territorially defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019 but still carries out attacks in both countries and is on track to double its attacks in Syria this year compared to 2023, the US military said.
The group and its affiliates have also in recent months carried out attacks in Iran and Russia, as well as in Oman last week for the first time.
While the coalition’s mission is to advise and assist Iraqi forces in the fight against the Daesh, Western officials say the US and its allies also see its presence in Iraq as a check on Iranian influence.
Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.
An agreement to draw down the coalition could be a political win for Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, who has been under pressure from Iran-aligned factions to push out US forces but has sought to do so in a way that balances Iraq’s delicate position as an ally of both Washington and Tehran.