Dozens killed by Israeli forces in Gaza as US opens new Jerusalem embassy

Bel Trew, The Times Bel Trew, Jerusalem 
Over 60 Palestinians were killed and 2,700 injured when Israeli forces opened fire on protesters yesterday as the United States broke with decades of diplomatic precedent and opened an embassy in Jerusalem.

President Trump hailed the opening as a great day for Israel as clashes erupted between Palestinians and security forces on the Gaza border.

The Palestinian government accused Israel of carrying out a “terrible massacre” but the army insisted that Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, had been leading a “terrorist operation under the cover of masses of people”.

The Palestinian health ministry said that nine of the dead killed at the border fence were children and included a baby who died from inhaling tear gas. The demonstrators, some armed with catapults, hurled stones at Israeli security forces, who responded with volleys of tear gas, some dropped by drones, and bullets. Israel also launched air strikes inside Gaza at Hamas military targets.

A ceremony took place in Jerusalem to open the new embassy on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding. The move has been highly contentious because the Palestinian authorities claim east Jerusalem as their capital. Most countries, including European allies of the US, have kept their embassies in Tel Aviv. Britain, France and Germany boycotted the ceremony.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, thanked Mr Trump, whose daughter Ivanka was at the event, for “having the courage” to move the embassy. Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, who was also in Jerusalem, accused the protesters of provoking the violence.

Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu join Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at the embassy opening
Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu join Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at the embassy openingGETTY IMAGES

Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said: “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response.”

In London, President Erdogan of Turkey accused Israel of state terrorism and genocide. Turkey recalled its ambassadors from Israel and the US.

Israel’s gas and gunfire stop Palestinians storming border
The deadliest day for Gaza in four years began with tens of thousands of people marching towards the Israeli border. Angered by the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, many of them set out to breach the border fence, despite grim warnings from the Israeli military to steer clear. In a matter of hours dozens were dead.

White tendrils from a barrage of tear gas canisters, some dropped from drones, pierced the plumes of black smoke from tyres set alight by Palestinians. Protesters gathering at five points along Gaza’s borders hurled stones at the Israeli troops. Some sent burning kites at the line of soldiers. Three Palestinians were reported to have been shot while planting a bomb.

“It felt like your lungs were being torn apart. They were using drones to drop the gas in the middle of the crowds. Each round would contain ten to 12 gas canisters,” said Ahmed Rezeq, 26, who was injured in the leg. “The shooting was direct, it was mostly live ammunition targeting limbs, legs, and knees. Many were hit by explosive bullets, so needed amputations.”

According to the health ministry in Gaza at least 59 people, nine of them under the age of 16 and including a baby, were killed and more than 2,700 injured, the worst day of violence since 2014. The ministry said 130 of the wounded were in a serious condition. Rallies also erupted throughout the Gaza strip, the West Bank and in Jerusalem.

Gaza’s hospitals put out urgent pleas for fresh supplies as doctors struggled to cope with waves of injured protesters being brought in. Human rights groups including Amnesty International condemned the excessive use of lethal weaponry as “abhorrent”. The Palestinians said 1,360 people had been injured by gunfire.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, declared three days of mourning. “The US is no longer a mediator in the Middle East,” he said. The new US embassy in Jerusalem was tantamount to “a new American settler outpost”, he added…

 

Click to read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/dozens-die-as-us-opens-new-jerusalem-embassy-0zmnzhz8n

 

Photo: GETTY IMAGES

We protest so our children know we once had a home, say Palestinians

Bel Trew, The Times Bel Trew, Deir al-Balah, Gaza

Even though he knew there was a risk of being shot, as Abdel al-Mohsleh saw it there was a good reason to take his 11-year-old son to the border protests in Gaza. Like many parents in the blockaded strip, he feared that his children would grow up not knowing they were refugees forced from their ancestral lands in Israel when it was founded 70 years ago this week.

That was why he needed to take him towards the fence and teach him about the conflict.

“We fear that when the old people die, when we ourselves pass, the children will forget why we are even trapped here in Gaza,” Mr Mohsleh said.

Sixty-two people in total died in the clashes on Monday
Sixty-two people in total died in the clashes on MondayADEL HANA/AP

During the protests Mr Mohsleh, 42, whose family is originally from an area near Ashkelon, just a few miles north on Israel’s coast, was separated from Rakan when an Israeli drone dropped eight tear-gas canisters on them.

While they were apart his son, who had been waving a Palestinian flag, was hit by an Israeli bullet.

“I went to protest but I was shot while waving my flag,” said Rakan, whose arm hangs limp in a rudimentary sling at a hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza. “There was no ambulance. I was all alone because of the gas. An old man found me and took me to the hospital.”

He was among 2,700 injured and 62 killed on Monday, the consequences of which continue to reverberate internationally. Hamas, which runs Gaza, said yesterday that 50 of the dead were its members. It said that 12 were not and were likely to include the eight children under 16 who died, including an eight-month-old baby.

Hamas accepted a convoy of aid sent from the Palestinian authority in the West Bank but declined lorry loads sent by Israel, some of which contained treadmills to help rehabilitate those hit in the legs by bullets.

Palestinians flee after tear gas is dropped from a drone
Palestinians flee after tear gas is dropped from a droneSPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Turkey asked Israeli diplomats to leave the country, provoking a rebuke from Yair Netanyahu, the son of the Israeli prime minister, who posted an altered image of the Turkish flag on the internet using the Islamic crescent to help spell “F*C* Turkey”.

Rakan and many other children will need all the help they can get. Of the 10,000 people who were wounded since the rallies were first called six weeks ago at least 1,000 were minors, according to Save the Children, and at least 250 were hit with live ammunition…

 

For full story read: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/we-protest-so-our-children-know-we-once-had-a-home-say-palestinians-7zmbnbpgm

Photo: SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Syria: Family of 11 clung together in death

Bel Trew, The Times Bel Trew

The entire Bakrieh family in Douma were found in a heap on the bathroom floor. After a gas bomb tore through their building, the parents had tried to scrub the chemicals off their children’s skin. But the toxic cloud overwhelmed the family of 11 before they could protect them.

Abdullah Abu Homam, a local volunteer, said that all of them had damp clothes and foam on their mouths. Three of the children were toddlers in nappies. One of the women was still cradling her child by the sink.

“When I entered the flat they were all in the bathroom, their clothes were still wet so we believe they tried to rinse themselves in vain. Eventually they must have realised it was over so they drew closer together and died,” Abu Homam said.

At 7pm on Saturday a metre-long gas bomb had punched through the roof of their four-storey block of flats in the last rebel-controlled enclave near Damascus. Video footage showed that it had landed on a bed in a top-floor room.

As many as 70 people died, the majority women and children, and 500 were injured, according to the Syrian American Medical Society. The worst hit were families who had hidden in basement shelters to escape airstrikes.

If confirmed, Saturday’s gas attack would be the deadliest in Syria since warplanes dropped nerve gas on the rebel town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing 89 people a year ago.

Just hours after Saturday’s killings, the Syrian government confirmed that rebels had agreed to withdraw from Douma and allow full regime control of the area. Yesterday, 20 buses carrying fighters, their relatives and civilians left the area for rebel-held districts in the north. There was speculation that Saturday’s attack was a ploy to speed up the withdrawal deal. As many as 50,000 residents are expected to leave.

Everyone in the Bakriehs’ building and a nearby block of flats was killed, according to Abu Homam. He described following a trail of foam up the stairwell to the bodies of a woman hugging her two daughters.

“It seemed that they tried to reach the top of the building after running from the basement because I saw the foam trail all over the stairs to the fourth floor,” he said.

The gas was so strong that one man whose sister died in the building said he passed out hours after the attack when he found her body. “I tried to hug her but the smell of the gas was so intense I couldn’t. I fell to the ground, could not move and blacked out,” he said.

More than 1,745 people, including 400 children, have been killed since the onslaught against the rebel stronghold started in February, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

For full story click: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/syria-family-of-11-clung-together-in-death-9gqmzmdjv

Photo

HALIL EL-ABDULLAH/GETTY IMAGES

 

Egypt election: Threats, bribes and bullying at polls to bolster Sisi’s legitimacy

Bel Trew, The Times

Bel Trew
The final day of voting in Egypt’s presidential elections was marred by accusations of widespread intimidation by the authorities, some of whom offered incentives to try to boost the turnout.

President Sisi needs a high turnout to bolster the credibility of his inevitable win in what most believe is a ballot heavily rigged in his favour. Voting is compulsory and failure to do so can result in a fine of about £20, but despite the election commission’s claim that participation had been “heavy”, many polling stations have appeared largely deserted. Last week Mr Sisi urged all Egyptians to vote, saying the “entire world” needed to see them in the streets.

Across several southern governorates, including Assiut, Sohag and Minya, witnesses said police had been going door to door to urge people to get out to the polls. In Dakhaliya, in the Nile Delta, a worker at a state hospital said the management had used ambulances to ferry people to polling stations. Elsewhere health ministry officials had scolded and threatened staff who did not have ink on their fingers to show they had cast a ballot. “They said the names of people without ink would be sent to the ministry and they would be relocated to hospital postings even further away from their villages,” the woman said.

An Egyptian voter’s finger is inked after voting
An Egyptian voter’s finger is inked after votingKHALED ELFIQI/EPA

There have been widespread accounts of regional governors, clerics, businessmen reliant on the government and state workers being cajoled to vote, through rewards, bullying or threats. There were reports of cash handouts of about £5 for those turning out to vote as well as offers of food boxes in some poorer areas.

A senior official in the street vendors’ union in Cairo said they had been told to get their members to vote to avoid raids and confiscation of goods.

In Qalyubiyah province, clerics in al-Azhar, the oldest seat of Sunni learning, instructed heads of departments to escort students and staff to the polls “and monitor them”.

A worker at the country’s railway authority near Mansoura, north of Cairo, said that employees were threatened with legal action if they did not vote for Mr Sisi. “They told me I have to vote or I’ll be referred to the legal affairs department. I was worried they would slash my salary,” the woman said.

A teacher in a state school in a nearby area relayed a similar story. “They allocated buses to take teachers to their polling stations to vote for Sisi. Nobody dares say no,” she added…

For full story: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/egypt-election-threats-bribes-and-bullying-at-polls-to-bolster-sisi-s-legitimacy-b682krggv

 

Photo: MENG TAO/XINHUA/ALAMY

I adore Egypt but I can’t go back and no one can say why

Bel Trew, The Times Bel Trew, London 
The taxi had just pulled away from the café in central Cairo when a minibus of plain-clothes police officers cut us off. Five men jumped out and took me to a nearby police station.

Egypt is suspicious of foreign reporters and intolerant of negative news. Journalists have become used to being pulled aside to explain themselves.

With a presidential election in flow and a counterterrorism operation under way in Sinai and the Nile delta, the security forces were on alert and the country on edge.

However, as a precaution, I sent colleagues the name of the police station.

My business in the café had been unremarkable: an interview with a penniless man whose nephew, a teenage migrant, had probably drowned at sea trying to get to Italy. He had been on board a migrant boat that vanished two years ago. For some months, I had been trying to piece together its story.

Yet inside the police station, the questions were taking a sinister turn. An informer in the café had apparently told police that I was discussing the Egyptian state’s involvement in the sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Rosetta in 2016 — an entirely different boat from the one we were discussing.

By the time word reached the interior ministry, it had included a rumour that I was investigating forced disappearances of dissidents. This has been a contentious subject in Egypt since the murder in 2016 of Giulio Regeni, a Cambridge student from Italy, in Cairo. Italian officials have accused the Egyptian police of kidnapping and torturing him to death while he was researching his PhD. Egypt denies this and all accusations of forced disappearances.

Fortunately, I had recorded all my exchanges in the café. The government, the state, the military, the elections — none was mentioned. I had the audio to prove it. The police confiscated it. Unfortunately, this offered no immediate help. After seven hours of detention, I was threatened with a military trial, a legal process often used against terrorism suspects or dissidents. Those accused are often given long sentences or even the death penalty after short trials with next to no legal representation.

I was refused access to a lawyer or my embassy. I only met a British consular official later, at the airport. There, I learnt that another official who had tried to find me had been told that I had been moved from the police station when I was still upstairs.

The charges were never revealed to me. At about 6pm the police told me my embassy wanted to deport me, which made no legal sense. I was bundled into a police van without knowing if anyone knew where I was, or if I was going to the airport or somewhere more sinister. Officers mocked me for being scared and began filming me on a mobile phone.

I was not physically harmed, but it is common knowledge that detainees in these circumstances risk being hurt. Less than 24 hours after I was first detained, I was marched on to a plane with nothing but the clothes I was standing up in. The choice before me — stay for a military trial or leave — was no kind of choice.

Such an apparent misunderstanding was surely easily cleared up. I was an accredited journalist with a valid working visa who had been in Egypt for years and never in trouble before. The Times and I sought to explain to the authorities their mistake. There were encouraging signs: I was contacted to be told I had been accredited to cover the elections.

If any doubts lingered about my reporting mission that day, all would be explained by the interview audio, which the police had. It was either ignored and not listened to — or listened to and ignored.

It was made clear this week that as far as the Cairo authorities are concerned, I am on a list of “undesirable people” and if I attempt to return I will be re-arrested. I can’t go back to my home of seven years. Nobody can explain why.

Journalists enjoy the ultimate privilege: we choose to be somewhere and we can ultimately leave. So writing in such personal terms is uncomfortable. But this has happened at a very particular time for Egypt, when freedoms are under assault.

Egyptian media have largely become aligned with the state line. Even pro-regime TV hosts have been hauled in for questioning. It is banned to report any death toll of security forces that contradicts official figures. In an atmosphere of fear, many have been practising self-censorship.

There have been unreported instances of correspondents expelled or refused entry to Egypt. Many, like me, are still confused about why. Local reporters have also been targeted and jailed.

In the end I am leaving behind seven years of my life, my friends, my flat and two rescue cats. I am cauterising bits of my heart to dull the searing pain of losing Egypt, a country that was my home and a place I deeply love.

Refugee teenager Hennessy dreams of Europe after brutal 6,000-mile odyssey

Bel Trew, The Times Bel Trew, Cairo

His journey began eighteen months ago and took him 6,000 miles across Africa. It is not, however, the distance covered in his quest to reach Europe that is the most remarkable aspect of Hennessy’s odyssey but the horrors he survived along the way.

Hennessy, aged 19, has endured death threats in Juba, torture in Tripoli and crippling poverty in Cairo.

He fled his home in Juba, South Sudan in June 2016 after his family discovered that he was gay and threatened to kill him. He headed for Egypt in search of safety and a new life but quickly found himself penniless, begging in the streets of Cairo among other refugees. They convinced him that his dreams lay in Europe, that he should try to reach Libya and chance the treacherous sea crossing to Italy.

It was a risk that almost cost him his life, a life that began, improbably, in Chingford, Essex and Hackney, east London where his father had practised as a dentist before returning home to South Sudan in 2011. “I was kidnapped and tortured twice in Libya by militias,” he said from Cairo, where he is now camping on sofas.

“The first was immediately after I was smuggled in a jeep to east Libya. I had to be rescued by the smuggler who paid my ransom. When I flew to Tripoli to try to get to Italy I was taken at the airport and held in an underground prison,” he said.

Every morning his kidnappers lined the migrants up on the ground and whipped them with pipes until their families paid a ransom. He was eventually saved by the Libyan security forces and taken to the filthy Tariq al-Siqqa migrant centre under Tripoli airport, which he said was almost worse. It was there that The Times first met Hennessy, crammed in with 1,300 migrants.

Read full story: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/refugee-hackney-teenager-hennessey-dreams-of-europe-after-brutal-6-000-mile-odyssey-from-south-sudan-to-libya-67w6697fm

Refugees face death camped out in bitter Lebanon winter

The Times

Bel Trew, Bekaa Valley

For the first time since they fled Syria five years ago, many refugees fear they will not make it through another bitter Lebanese winter.

Raya, 97, begs for scraps in the Bekaa Valley to survive. “We are barely eating at the moment,” her daughter, Khaldia, 63, said as she tended her sick mother on the ground. “We have to beg neighbours for a bit of stew or vegetables.”

Their tent, made from wood and scraps of plastic fabric, is leaking: they cannot afford the materials to patch it up before the predicted snowstorms.

“These last few months have been the worst,” Khaldia said. “We sleep without eating sometimes. My mother needs medicine, we need money for heat and monthly rent for the tent. We are in massive debt.”

The UN offers refugees a £20 monthly food allowance but Raya, who has a lung condition, and Khaldia have received nothing since October. Raya’s infirm son Mohamed, 67, and his wife, who live in the same tent, have not had UN assistance in a year. For the first time since they fled the Homs countryside, the family fear they will not make it through the winter.

Officials at the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told The Times that 2017 had been the hardest year yet for the million Syrians who fled the civil war to Lebanon. Nearly 60 per cent of Syrian refugee households are living in extreme poverty, according to a UNHCR report last week. They exist on £2 a day; not enough to ensure their survival. The same report said that 87 per cent of refugees were also in debt. Most, like the Khalil family, rely on aid, which is drying up after seven years of war.

 

Read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/refugees-face-death-camped-out-in-bitter-lebanon-winter-3j8htx5d8