Shuttered Morocco-Algeria border divides families

A picture taken from Morocco’s Oujda region shows Algerians waving along the border on November 4. Algeria has accused its arch-rival Morocco of killing 3 Algerians on a desert highway, as tensions escalate over the contested Western Sahara. (AFP)
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Updated 09 November 2021

Shuttered Morocco-Algeria border divides families

  • Fatima Chaaoufi’s village of Oulad Bouarfa lies just a stone’s throw from Boussfar, the Algerian village where her brother died a month ago
  • Despite the bitter rivalry between their governments, Algerians and Moroccans have deep cultural and family ties

OUJDA, Morocco: Fatima Chaaoufi gazes across the sealed Moroccan border toward an Algerian village on the other side, home to family members she hasn’t seen for years.
“We’re so near yet so far,” she sighs.
Chaaoufi’s village of Oulad Bouarfa, east of the Moroccan city of Oujda, lies just a stone’s throw from Boussfar, the Algerian village where her brother died a month ago.
Chaaoufi had not been able to see him since 1994, when the border was closed following a diplomatic crisis between the North African rivals.
“When I found out he had died, I couldn’t control myself,” she said, tears in her eyes. “I ran to the barbed wire. They tried to hold me back but (my grief) was stronger than me.”
The 75-year-old, sitting in the yard of her family’s modest farm wearing a hijab on her head and an apron around her waist, said she had been forced to watch the funeral procession from a distance, “impotent and in tears.”
Chaaoufi’s is just one of many families divided by a frontier that Algeria closed in 1994 after Morocco accused its neighbor of involvement in a jihadist attack on a Marrakesh hotel that killed two tourists.
The frontier has been sealed ever since, and there is little prospect of it opening soon as tensions mount once again between Rabat and Algiers.
In August, after months of growing frictions over the Western Sahara and Morocco’s normalization of ties with Israel, Algeria cut diplomatic relations with its neighbor, citing “hostile actions.”
Morocco dismissed the accusations.
Then last week, things took a turn for the worse as Algeria accused Morocco of killing three Algerian civilians on a desert highway through an area of the disputed Western Sahara controlled by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front independence movement.
But despite the bitter rivalry between their governments, Algerians and Moroccans have deep cultural and family ties.
“It’s so sad to see two brotherly people separated by political decisions,” said Bachir Chaouch, who was born in 1951 across the border in El Amria but moved to Morocco before Algeria won independence from France in 1962.
Today, he has lost all contact with his uncles, aunts and cousins who stayed in Algeria.
“Until 1994, it was different. We used to go and see our families, business was good. We never thought we’d get to this point,” he said.
Despite being officially closed, the border remained relatively porous as smugglers carried on a thriving trade in petrol and cheap manufactured goods — as well as more illicit items.
But in 2013, the Algerian authorities launched what they said was a crackdown on the drug trade, stepping up patrols and digging trenches along the frontier, which prompted Rabat to erect border fences.
Technically, Algerians and Moroccans can fly between each others’ countries, but for farming communities along the border, cut off from what could be a key export market, that is little comfort.
Many Oulad Bouarfa villagers miss their smuggling years.
“It was a good time. We worked on both sides of the border, bringing in fuel from Algeria and selling clothes over there,” said resident Mohamed Haddouri.
“Today we get by raising animals, but it’s not enough to feed my kids. Our future looks tough.”
Haddouri said virtually everyone in this part of Morocco has family in Algeria.
The two areas have historic links, and late Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was born in Oujda when both countries were under French rule.
Meriem Hamouyi, a fellow villager with henna patterns on her hands, agreed.
The closing of the border was “a bitter blow for us. All four of my kids are unemployed,” she said.
Oualid Kebir, an Algerian who has lived in Oujda for 10 years, says virtually everyone in the city has family across the border.
“Likewise on the other side,” the businessman added. “It’s a big mistake to maintain these divisions.”
Kebir, a political activist who regularly posts on YouTube, said it was “a psychological ordeal” being far from his family.
“I still believe in better relations between the two countries,” he said.


Hostage situation: Armed man storms Lebanese bank, demands release of frozen assets

Updated 18 min 8 sec ago

Hostage situation: Armed man storms Lebanese bank, demands release of frozen assets

  • Civilians gather outside bank in support of gunman
  • Bank's lawyer claims efforts under way to reach a negotiated conclusion

BEIRUT, LEBANON: A gunman has entered a Beirut bank in Al Hamra Street demanding his savings are released so he can pay his father’s hospital bills.
The man, named as Bassam Sheikh Hussein, 42, says his money has been withheld as part of measures taken by the Banque du Liban  (Federal Bank of Lebanon) since 2019.

It is understood that the man took eight hostages, six employees and two customers.

On entering the bank, witnesses said the man poured gasoline into the bank hall on Thursday morning and pulled out a gun threatening to burn himself and kill those in the bank unless he was given the $2,000 to pay for his father’s hospital costs.

The security services have cordoned off the area where crowds have gathered - some shouting their support of the gunman and even calling him a “hero”..

Later in the afternoon people became increasingly impatient, and warned the Lebanese minister of interior that any attempt to enter the bank by force to bring the gunman out would be met with a violent response by civilians at the scene.

 

Customers who were inside the bank when the gunman stormed it said, he had had an account with the bank, containing $210,000 and was demanding they release $2,000.

It is understood the gunman told customers to leave the bank and kept the employees inside.

Shortly after the siege began the gunman was seen leading an elderly man from the branch, before letting him go.

Hasan Moghnieh, head of the depositors’ association, told Arab News that the gunman had originally demanded $2,000 to pay for his father’s hospital bill.

But when the bank refused, he demanded the whole $210,000 balance.

“The bank brought $10,000 as a settlement to give it to the gunman, but he refused,” Moghnieh added.

“Now further negotiations are underway.”

He said he did not know the gunman personally, but added: “By negotiating with him, it became clear that he is serious about his threats and he is ready for ‘collective damage.’"

Outside pople gathered in the area in solidarity with the gunman chanting: “Down with the rule of the bank.”

They told media at the scene that the siege was an inevitable outcome of government’s actions that had ultimately led to millions of people’s finances being frozen by the banks.

And they warned that their could be repeats of the siege in the future unless something was done - later warning that any attempts to the end the siege by force by security would be met with civil unrest.

A number of customers who had gathered in the area shouted to the media that they supported the actions of the gunman, stressing that they too wanted their money.

Mughniyeh said the gunman “fired two shots inside the bank,” adding that the man was with his brother who also holds money in the branch.

He said the gunman justified the siege as the only way he could get his money.”

Some of the gunman’s supporters said he might be protected under Lebanese laws permitting citizens to protect themselves, their possessions and money by force.

 


Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton

Updated 11 August 2022

Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton

  • ‘The US Justice Department has made allegations without providing valid evidence, creating a new work of fiction’
  • US Justice Department: Plan likely in retaliation for the killing of Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020

TEHRAN: Iran dismissed as “fiction” Thursday US allegations it had plotted to kill former White House national security adviser John Bolton in retaliation for the assassination of one of its top commanders.
The US claim comes at a crunch moment in talks on reviving a nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that Washington had abandoned in 2018 but has said it wants to rejoin, with Iran now considering what European Union mediators have called a “final” text.
“The US Justice Department has made allegations without providing valid evidence, creating a new work of fiction,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said.
“This time they have come up with a plot involving individuals like Bolton whose political career has failed,” Kanani scoffed.
“The Islamic republic warns against any action that targets Iranian citizens by resorting to ridiculous accusations.”
The US Justice Department said Wednesday that it had indicted a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over allegations he had offered to pay an individual in the United States $300,000 to kill Bolton.
The plan was likely set in retaliation for the US killing of top Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020, the department said.
Guards member Shahram Poursafi is also alleged to have dangled the possibility of a second target he said would earn the ostensible assassin $1 million.
The court papers did not identify that alleged target, but according to US media outlet Axios, it was former secretary of state and CIA director Mike Pompeo.
The person Poursafi was dealing with was actually an informant for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the court filings.
Poursafi was charged with the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, which carries up to 10 years in prison; and with providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot, which carries a 15-year sentence.
The Justice Department said Poursafi remains at large and is believed to be in Iran.
“Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences,” current White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned after the charges were announced.
Soleimani, a revered figure in Iran, was killed in a US drone strike just after he landed at Baghdad’s airport on January 7, 2020.
Since his death, Tehran has vowed to take revenge, and the United States has ramped up security for prominent current and former officials, including Pompeo, who was leading the State Department when Soleimani was killed.
Bolton, like Pompeo a strong critic of Iran, was national security adviser in the White House of former president Donald Trump from April 2018 to September 2019.
He was strongly opposed to the 2015 deal putting limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and supported the Trump administration’s unilateral pullout from the pact in May 2018.
Bolton blasted Iran’s government as “liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States” in a statement on Wednesday.
Kanani said the US Justice Department’s “baseless claims” were a smokescreen to “avoid being held to account for the numerous crimes in which the US government has been directly implicated, like the cowardly assassination” of Soleimani.

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Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN

Updated 11 August 2022

Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN

  • President Mahmoud Abbas to make the case for enhanced status at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23

RAMALLAH: Palestinian leaders have launched a new diplomatic drive to obtain full membership of the UN.

The campaign will culminate with a landmark speech by President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, in which he will make the case for enhanced status.

“In the absence of a political path and hope for the Palestinians to end the occupation, they have no choice but to resort to the UN to enhance the status of Palestine as a state and the Palestinians as a people on their land under occupation,” Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem told Arab News on Wednesday.

The UN granted Palestine non-member observer state status at a historic vote in the General Assembly in November 2012, when 138 countries voted in favor, 9 opposed it, and 41 abstained. The resolution included “the hope that the Security Council will consider positively” accepting the request for full membership. Abbas submitted this in September 2011, but it fell in the Security Council because the US threatened to use its veto.

Fatah official Sabri Saidem told Arab News that France had encouraged the Palestinians to demand full membership of the UN, and Sweden and Ireland had expressed their unconditional support for the move. He said the Palestinians would now seek more Arab and international support.

UN membership was “a long-awaited entitlement, especially with the continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, the failure of US President Joe Biden’s administration to implement its vision in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and double standards when it comes to Palestine and Ukraine," he said.

 

 


Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Updated 11 August 2022

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

SANAA, Yemen: Heavy rains lashing Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, which dates back to ancient times, have in recent days collapsed 10 buildings in the Old City, the country’s Houthi rebels said Wednesday.
At least 80 other buildings have been heavily damaged in the rains and are in need of urgent repairs, said the rebels, who have controlled Sanaa since the outbreak of Yemen’s civil war more than eight years ago.
The Old City of Sanaa is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the area believed to have been inhabited for more than 2 millennia. Its architecture is unique, with foundations and first stories built of stone, and subsequent stories out of brick — deemed to be some of the world’s first high-rises.
The buildings have red brick facades adorned with white gypsum molding in ornate patterns, drawings comparisons to gingerbread houses — a style that has come to symbolize Yemen’s capital. Many of the houses are still private homes and some are more than 500 years old.
In a statement, Abdullah Al-Kabsi, the culture minister in the Houthi administration, said the rebels are working with international organizations and seeking help in dealing with the destruction. There were no immediate reports of dead or injured from the collapses.
The houses had withstood centuries but this season’s intense rains have proved too much for the iconic structures. Bricks and wooden beams now make for massive piles of rubble in between still-standing structures.
The rains show no signs of letting up.
“I get scared when I hear the rain and pray to God because I am afraid that my house will collapse over me,” Youssef Al-Hadery, a resident of the Old City said.


Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Updated 10 August 2022

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

  • Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia
  • Importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemeni ports

ADEN: Yemen has secured enough wheat to cover two-and-a-half months of consumption, a commerce ministry document dated Aug. 4 showed, as global disruptions and local currency instability risk deepening the war-torn country’s hunger crisis.
A review by the internationally recognized government in Aden showed 176,400 tons of wheat available — 70,400 stockpiled and 106,000 booked for August/September delivery — according to the document.
This is in addition to 32,300 tons of wheat available from the United Nations, which feeds some 13 million people a month in Yemen, the document showed.
Yemen is grappling with a dire humanitarian crisis that has left millions hungry in the seven-year conflict that divided the country and wrecked the economy. Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia.
HSA Group, one of Yemen’s largest food conglomerates, said it had booked around 250,000 tons of wheat from Romania and France, sufficient to supply the market until mid-October, and that it is looking to secure a further 110,000 tons.
“Following the announcement of the Ukraine grain deal, we are currently looking to secure Ukrainian wheat for the Yemeni market if it remains affordable and accessible,” an HSA spokesperson, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal last month to restart exports from Ukraine, cut off since Russia’s February invasion, which could ease grain shortages that have driven up global prices. So far, however, there have not been any shipments of wheat.
Yemeni importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemen ports and the country’s limited storage capacity, the HSA spokesperson said, and therefore the firm books new shipments every 2-3 weeks depending on availability and global prices.
Another issue facing importers is Yemen’s foreign reserves shortage and a serious devaluation of the currency in some parts of the country, where food price inflation has soared.
The Aden-based central bank has put in place an auction mechanism to ease access to foreign currency, but no import financing mechanism is currently in place to support the market.

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