Thursday, March 31, 2016

Yemen's children: Between psychological trauma and physical starvation

As she has every night for many weeks past, six-year-old Fatima al-Khadi wakes up in the middle of the night calling for her parents.

And as in every one of those nights, the ever-present backdrop to her cries are sounds of explosions and the rumbles of firing guns, their shrieks engulfing Yemen's capital and Fatima's home.
The psychological effects of war on Fatima have been severe, her father tells The New Arab.
"We live by the city's international airport, which has come under severe and continuous bombardment since the Saudi-led coalition started targeting it," he said.

With airstrikes now a consistent feature of life both day and night in the capital, nightmares now puncture every one of Fatima's attempts to sleep at night.
Accounts of the physical and psychological trauma of children are flooding out of Yemen's regions as the now one-year-old war shows no real signs of abating.
Yemeni families find themselves unable to hide their children away from the violence that has taken over the country since the Saudi-led coalition began heavy aerial bombardments of Yemen in an attempt to drive away Houthi rebels from the capital city.
The impoverished nation of Yemen, a country of 26 million, which imports 90 percent of its food, had one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world before the war.
Meanwhile, in another Yemeni home, the skeletal body of a clearly malnourished five-month-old baby lay completely still.

Udai Faisal's limbs are as thin and delicate as twigs, his cheeks sunken in and his eyes dry.
At least six million children in Yemen are in danger [Getty]
"He didn't cry and there were no tears," his mother said, the baby just "turned stiff."
"I screamed and fainted." Intissar Hezzam said about the final momemts of her childs life.
The impoverished nation of Yemen, a country of 26 million, which imports 90 percent of its food, had one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world before the war.
But in the past year cases of malnutrition and starvation have leaped.

Ten of the country's 22 provinces are classified as one step away from famine.
The conflict is deepening poverty and deprivation, keeping children locked in a vicious cycle of violence, loss and uncertainty.
Where before the war around 690,000 children under five suffered moderate malnutrition, now the number is 1.3 million.
Even more alarming are the rates of severe acute malnutrition among children - the worst cases where the body starts to waste away - doubling from around 160,000 a year ago to 320,000 now, according to UNICEF estimates.

"The scale of suffering in the country is staggering," UNICEF said in its recent report released on Tuesday.

The violence "will have an impact for generations to come" it adds.
The report also found that if children survive the bombs and bullets, the impact of the violence remains detrimental.
"The conflict is deepening poverty and deprivation, keeping children locked in a vicious cycle of violence, loss and uncertainty," the UNICEF found.
With 50 percent of Yemen's population under 18-years of age, at least six million children are in danger.
"Living in violent environments, children experience what no child should witness. The destruction of their homes or the death of their parents, siblings or friends," UNICEF warned.
The fighting in Yemen has killed more than 900 children and wounded over 1,300, 61 percent of them in airstrikes, according to UNICEF.
Coalition airstrikes appear to be "responsible for twice as many casualties as all other forces put together."
- Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein
Eight-year-old Asma al-Safyani used to play outside everyday with her friends from the neighbourhood. But since the start of the war, her mother does not let her leave the house.
"Two of the children she played with were killed in an airstrike," Asma's mother told The New Arab. "She has been very sad and she hardly smiles, but I just cannot take the risk."
Coalition airstrikes appear to be "responsible for twice as many casualties as all other forces put together," Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, UN's high commissioner for human rights said.
The Saudi-led coalition argues that Houthi rebels often use civilians and civilian locations as shields for their fighters.
It also disputes the UN figures on how many deaths are caused by strikes, saying they are based on statistics from the Houthis.
Yet, many of Yemen's children will carry these emotional burdens into adulthood - if they live to make it that far.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Syrian opposition rejects Assad's call for unity government

New Alarab

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday reiterated his call for a national unity government, amid rejection by the opposition and the White House saying his inclusion would make any such proposal a "non-starter".
In an interview published Wednesday, Assad told Russia's RIA Novosti state news agency it would be "logical for there to be independent forces, opposition forces and forces loyal to the government represented" in the new authorities.
But he pushed back against opposition demands that it should be put in place without his participation, insisting that the transitional body they are calling for is "illogical and unconstitutional".
"Neither in the Syrian constitution nor in the constitution of any other country in the world is there anything that could be called a transitional body of power," Assad said.
"It is the national unity government that will prepare a new constitution," Assad said.
Talks led by the UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura paused last week with the warring sides deadlocked over the fate of Assad, whom the opposition insists must leave power before a transitional government is agreed.
Syria's main opposition High Negotiations Committee flatly rejected the demand from Assad for any transitional government to include his regime.
"International resolutions speak of... the formation of a transitional body with full powers, including presidential powers," HNC senior member Asaad al-Zoabi said, adding "Assad should not remain for even one hour after the formation" of this body.
The form of the executive body that would lead Syria until its elections the UN says should be held in 18 months is the main bone of contention between the two sides.
UN Security Council Resolution 2254 vaguely suggests the establishment of a body to head the political transition.
For the regime, this amounts to a government reshuffle in which the opposition is included, but for the opposition it would be a tranitional body with presidential powers in which Assad has no role.
Assad has been buoyed after his forces recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State (IS) militants over the weekend, in an advanced backed by Russian air strikes and special forces on the ground.
A ceasefire between Damascus and non-jihadist opposition forces has broadly held since February 27, prompting a glimmer of hope that a political solution might be on the horizon in the conflict that has claimed over 270,000 lives.

Agencies contributed to this report

Turkey detains 16 suspected Nusra Front militants

Turkey detains 16 suspected Nusra Front militants

Turkey on Wednesday detained 16 members of al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate al-Nusra Front in a major police operation in the east of the country, reports said.
The suspects were detained in raids on 20 addresses in the eastern region of Adiyaman north of the Syrian border, the state-run Anadolunews agency reported.
It said the raids targeted people believed to be connected to fighting in Syria, without giving further details. Their nationalities were not disclosed.
The police failed to find four more suspects at their homes. At least two of those detained at previously been to Syria, it said.
The al-Nusra Front shares some of the aims of the Islamic State (IS) militant group but has also on occasion fought against it.
This was one of the first times there has been a report of a major operation against suspected members of the group in Turkey.
Turkey has been accused in the past by its Western allies of not doing enough in the fight against IS and al-Nusra, although it has noticeably tightened border security in recent months and detained dozens of IS suspects.
Ankara has also been charged by some commentors on occasion of even collaborating with al-Nusra Front as a useful ally in its drive to oust President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Turkey bitterly rejects the claims, saying it categorises the al-Nusra Front - like IS - as a terror outfit.

Abadi to present new cabinet lineup by Thursday deadline

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he would present his new cabinet lineup to the parliament on Thursday, meeting a deadline set by the legislature earlier in the week.
"Parliament must make up its mind and proceed with reforms including the cabinet reshuffle which it and citizens have been calling for," he said in a statement posted on his website on Wednesday.
It was unclear whether the parliament would approve the new cabinet lineup.
On Tuesday, Abadi appealed to lawmakers for guidance on whether to appoint party politicians or independent technocrats to the cabinet, but parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri said on Wednesday it was for Abadi to decide.
Influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who started a sit-in near parliament on Sunday and leads a bloc with three ministers in the current government, is pushing Abadi to appoint nominees unaffiliated with political parties.
A separate sit-in staged by his supporters has locked down central Baghdad for most of the past week.
On Sunday, Sadr entered Baghdad's Green Zone to continue the sit-in as his 24-hour deadline to the government came to an end.
"Today we are at the entrance of the Green Zone and tomorrow we will be within it," the cleric warned, as he entered the gates.
More than six weeks ago, Abadi announced his intention to replace current ministers with independent technocrats, but his announcement was faced with resistance from rivals who fear it could weaken the political patronage networks that have sustained their wealth and influence for more than a decade.
Failing to deliver on long-promised anti-corruption measures could weaken Abadi's government just as Iraqi forces are gearing up to try and recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.

EgyptAir hostages home safe as Russia delays resuming flights

The new Arab

The drama of Tuesday's EgyptAir hijacking has continued with Egyptian hostages returning back to Egypt after their ordeal and with the "unstable" hijacker due in a Cypriot court.

Meanwhile, security at Egypt's airports has received further scrutiny from Russian officials, who have announced a delay of resumption of flights to Egypt suspended since a Russian jetliner was blown up over Sinai in October.

The hijacking saga came to a peaceful end on Tuesday afternoon, after an Egyptian hijacker diverted a plane, originally travelling from Alexandria to Cairo, to Cyprus demanding to see his ex-wife, sparking a dramatic six-hour standoff.

He had claimed to have explosives strapped to his waist but none were discovered. He then gave himself up at Larnaca airport and was arrested.

On Tuesday evening, all the Egyptian hostages and air cabin crewreturned safely to Egypt, where they were greeted at Cairo airport by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail.

"There was panic at the beginning, but the crew told us to be quiet. They did a good job to keep us all quiet so the hijacker wouldn't do anything rash," passenger Farah al-Dabani told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV in a telephone interview.
     The hijacker gave the victory sign to journalists [Getty]
She added that the hijacker was seated in the back of the aircraft and that it was the crew who told passengers that the plane was being hijacked.

Meanwhile, the hijacker was remanded into police custody for eight days during his first court appearance on Wednesday.

Police told the court in Larnaca that 58-year-old Egyptian Seif al-Din Mostafa faces possible charges of hijacking, kidnapping people with the aim of taking them to an unknown destination, reckless and threatening behaviour and offences that breach the anti-terror law.

As Mostafa left in a police car, he gave the victory sign to journalists attending the hearing at the courthouse, which is less than a kilometre away from Larnaca airport where the hijacking unfolded.

Cyprus authorities have described Mostafa as "psychologically unstable" and said the case was not "terrorism-related".
The incident has brought back to the fore questions of security at Egyptian airports, five months after a Russian aircraft was blown up over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula
Egypt's airport security questioned

The incident has brought back to the fore questions of security at Egyptian airports, five months after a Russian aircraft was blown up over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula minutes after it took off from Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh.

All 224 people on board were killed in the crash. Islamic state group militants have claimed they smuggled a bomb on board.

Russian authorities have ruled out an early resumption of flights to Egyptian tourist destinations in light of the hijacking, after links were cut following the downing of the plane.

The Kremlin's spokesperson Dimitry Peskov said that a full investigation into the events must be made before determining whether to restore or hold-off flights.

"This is a very sensitive and serious case. Guaranteeing the safety of Russians is our priority," Peskov added.

Oleg Safonov, head of the Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation, said the hijacking must be taken into account when determining whether to restore flights.

Russian parliamentarian Franz Klintsevich echoed Russian concerns, saying talks must be put on hold in light of the hijacking, as Egyptians are not ready to ensure the security of Russian tourists.

Egyptian tourism authorities, however, have denied "media reports" that Moscow was backing out of resuming flights as a result of the incident.

Palestinians strike to mark 40th Land Day anniversary

by New Al Araby

Palestinians held wide-ranging strikes on Wednesday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Palestine's Land Day, when six protesters were shot dead by Israeli fire for demonstrating against the occupation's illegal land seizures in 1976.
The general strike was called by the Palestinian Higher Monitoring Committee, which includes Palestinian members of the Knesset and local council heads.

It is set to take place in towns and villages that fall inside the boundaries of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948 and later declared as the State of Israel.

Many business and local services inside Palestinian towns and villages are closed, although schools were not included in the general strike.
"We reaffirm our support of Palestinians in the face of Israel's appropriation of their land," Hassan Baryajeya, member of the Colonisation and Wall Resistance Commission told The New Arab.

"Jewish settlers pose a real threat to Palestinian land as they quietly work to come closer and confiscate it," Baryajeya said.

"It is a national duty to help the Palestinian families to keep hold of their lands and prevent Israeli authorities from taking them," he added.
Protesters planted olive trees in commemoration of the 1976 demonstrations against Israel's appropriation of Palestinian land in the Galilee.

Wednesday's rallies kicked off in Negev, southern Palestine, with further protests planned to take place across the Galilee.

A number of events will be held in the northern town of Arraba, one of the largest Palestinian local councisl in the State of Israel, as well as in Deir Hanna and Kafr Kanna.

Demonstrations were also planned in Umm al-Hiran, where Israeli planning authorities were reported earlier this month to be planning to build a "new town for Jewish residents," according to Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

Despite wide-spread international condemnation of land seizures further confiscations continue to be tabled by Israeli authorities.

"The Israeli civil administration is planning to confiscate some 1,200 dunams [296.5 acres] of land from Palestinian villages in northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus," Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported last week.

Once confiscated, Palestinian lands are often then used as locations to establish illegal Jewish settlements.

"Israeli authorities over the decades have seized land near Qaryut to establish the settlements of Eli, Shilo and Mizpe Rahel, at least ten settlement outposts, as well as two military bases," Ma'an reported.

"This systematic land grab constitutes a flagrant violation of international law," Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah said last week.

Land Day in Palestine marks the events of 1976, when Palestinians took to the streets to protest against Israel's illegal confiscation of land as authorities announced plans to take land from a number of Palestinian territories in Galilee.

Clashes in the protests of 1976 broke out between the Israeli forces and the Palestinian protesters and six Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli fire as dozens more were injured.

The day remains symbolic as the first mass protest action by Palestinians living inside Israel and continues to be remembered until today as Palestinians struggle to hold onto their lands.

Libya's unity government told to leave Tripoli after arrival

Libya's unity government told to leave Tripoli after arrival

Libya's unrecognised authorities in control of Tripoli on Wednesday demanded that the head of a UN-backed unity government Fayez al-Sarraj leave just hours after he arrived in the capital.
In a televised address, the head of the Tripoli government Khalifa Ghweil said Sarraj's government was "illegal", asking him to leave the capital or to "hand himself in".
Sarraj, who was named prime minister-designate in December under a UN-brokered power-sharing deal, arrived at a naval base in Tripoli Wednesday following growing international calls for Libya's rival political camps to unite behind his administration.
"Those who entered illegally and secretly must surrender or turn back," Ghweil said. "We won't leave Tripoli as long as we are not sure of the fate of our homeland."
Sources within the Libyan army controlled by the Tripoli authorities toldThe New Arab that a state of emergency had been declared since the arrival of Sarraj on Wednesday.
Even before Ghweil's news conference had ended, forces loyal to his government began deploying in the capital and closing major roads.
Libya has had two rival administrations since mid-2014 when a militia alliance overran the capital, setting up its own authority and forcing the internationally recognised parliament to flee to the country's remote east.