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


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




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

Syrian rebels starving in Eastern Ghouta, the last Damascus enclave

The TimesBel Trew, Cairo
Conditions in the last rebel-held suburb of Damascus have reached a critical point with food in desperately short supply amid plunging temperatures, aid agencies and locals have warned.

Youths in Damascus show solidarity with Kerim
Youths in Damascus show solidarity with KerimAMER ALSHAMI/ANDALOU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

Eastern Ghouta, a suburb northeast of the Syrian capital, has been pummelled by hundreds of airstrikes and artillery shells since mid-November, when the Assad regime stepped up its air campaign to finally crush the opposition’s longest-surviving enclave.

The Red Cross expressed alarm at the humanitarian crisis faced by the 400,000 civilians estimated to be in the area. There is a “frightening food shortage” and temperatures have fallen close to freezing at night.

“The humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta has reached a critical point . . . Some families can afford to eat only one meal a day,” Robert Mardini, the middle east director, said.

Doctors in the area told The Times that the medical situation was catastrophic because life-saving medicines and supplies were no longer available.

“We have a list of 572 patients who need to be urgently evacuated because their treatment is not possible in Ghouta,” said one doctor. “So far the authorities have allowed only 12 cases to be evacuated to the capital’s hospitals via the Red Cross. We have 138 children who need to be urgently evacuated . . . 16 have already died.

Read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/syrian-rebels-starving-in-eastern-ghouta-the-last-damascus-enclave-jwt6qprd2



Syrian Democratic Forces retake Raqqa from Isis

The TimesBel Trew, Cairo
US-backed forces in Syria have recaptured Raqqa from the Islamic State, dealing a massive blow to the militants who had anchored their caliphate in the city.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance led by Kurdish forces, told The Times that “military activities were now complete” in the jihadists’ de facto capital and a “clear-up” operation had begun.

A hardcore group of a few dozen mostly foreign fighters were now holed up in the city’s municipal stadium making a final stand.

An SDF spokesman told The Times that at least 22 foreign fighters had been killed in today’s advance. “The military activities are now complete in Raqqa. We have started an operation to comb the area of any sleeper cells,” said Talal Selo, an SDF spokesman. “The situation is under control, an official statement will follow.”

Earlier this morning, Kurdish forces captured the city’s hospital, one of the last Isis holdouts. The remaining fighters are in the stadium, which gained notoriety as one of Isis’s largest jails, and also as a weapons depot.

The loss of Raqqa is a huge symbolic blow to the group that has suffered a string of defeats across Syria, Iraq and Libya. Isis was driven from its largest Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, in July. Raqqa had been its “ capital” since it proclaimed its caliphate in 2014. The city was also used by the group to plan its international attacks.

SDF forces launched their operation in November and broke into the city centre in June.

The SDF said the next target would be Deir Ezzor, a neighbouring province where Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian airpower, were slowly advancing. Over the weekend Syrian government troops said they had successfully penetrated Mayadeen, which lies southeast of Deir Ezzor city.

Read full story: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/world/syrian-democratic-forces-retake-raqqa-from-isis-j0qwrr5d7


British mother facing 16 more years in Iranian jail

The Times Bel Trew, Cairo

A British woman jailed in Tehran could face 16 more years behind bars after the Iranian courts reopened her case and added three charges, her husband said.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, an Iranian-British dual national, has been serving a five-year sentence for allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian regime. The London-based office worker was arrested with her 18-month-old daughter, Gabriella, at Tehran airport in 2016 while trying to return to Britain.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable wing of the news organisation. The regime claims she used her charity work as a front to try to overthrow the authorities. The foundation has denied that she has ever worked on any programmes in Iran. Her daughter is still in the country and living with her grandparents.

A vigil was held for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe outside the Iranian embassy in London
A vigil was held for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe outside the Iranian embassy in LondonCHRIS J RATCLIFFE/GETTY IMAGES

According to her husband, Richard, 42, she appeared in court again on Sunday charged with joining organisations whose aim is to overthrow the regime, being paid by those organisations, and attending a protest outside the Iranian embassy in London. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is being held in Tehran’s Evin prison, collapsed as she heard the charges and had to be helped out of the courtroom, Mr Ratcliffe said. “She had attended the hearing thinking it was to secure her temporary release but was completely shocked when she was told she faces an additional 16 years in jail,” he told The Times.

Read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/british-mother-nazanin-zaghari-ratcliffe-facing-16-more-years-in-iranian-jail-x0vwk6h6fhttps://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/british-mother-nazanin-zaghari-ratcliffe-facing-16-more-years-in-iranian-jail-x0vwk6h6f

Saudi Arabian women urge end to male ‘guardianship’ laws

The TimesBel Trew, Cairo, Catherine Philp, London

Saudi Arabian women have urged the Kingdom to abandon its guardianship law that gives men sweeping powers over their female relatives, after the country took the historic step of dropping a ban on women driving.

Under the “mahram” system, women in Saudi Arabia must seek permission from a male relative to perform basic public tasks such as travelling or opening a bank account. Until minor reforms were announced in May, male guardians even had to approve women’s requests to visit the doctor.

Saudi Arabia was the last country in the world to bar women from driving until King Salman ordered the government to issue women driving licences yesterday. The government said the historic measures would be rolled out by June 2018.

Women heralded the decision as a victory but called for further reforms, resurrecting the hashtag “I am my own guardian”. Many expressed fears that women would have to secure permission from their male relatives to apply for a licence.

“It is a victory but we hope it will be one of many decisions to come that give women more rights on the path of becoming, one day, equal to men,” said Rasha Hafza, a Saudi rights activist who was one of the first women to successfully stand in an election last year.

She said she hoped the guardianship system would be the next hurdle removed and that the end of the driving ban was a sign of progress within Saudi society. “It reflects a change in the culture of Saudi Arabia and the mentality of the people,” she added.

Manal al-Sharif, a rights activist in exile in Australia, who had started the women’s campaign to drive in 2011, also called for the end of the guardian system, and expressed fears about how the driving ban would be lifted. She has been jailed multiple times for driving alongside several other fellow female activists.

“Women’s rights activists will still continue to observe how this law is implemented and monitored and will continue campaigning to abolish the male guardianship imposed on them,” she said on Tuesday. “ We ask for nothing short of full equality for women.”

Another activist, still in Saudi Arabia, who was previously jailed for taking part in driving protests, said the authorities had warned her not to speak to the media or publicly celebrate the lifting of the ban.

Read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/saudi-arabian-women-urge-end-to-male-guardianship-laws-mf762sg78