Illegal organ transplant network busted in Istanbul

The network was running the business using forged documents at a hospital in Beylikduzu. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 12 December 2021

Illegal organ transplant network busted in Istanbul

  • Ten Palestinians and Jordanians arrested in operation by Turkish authorities

ANKARA: A wide-ranging organ trade network led by Jordanian and Palestinian nationals in Istanbul has been busted by the Turkish authorities.
Ten people, four ringleaders and six individuals who were about to sell their organs or get transplants, were caught and four were immediately imprisoned.
The network was running the business using forged documents at a hospital in Beylikduzu, on the European side of Istanbul, in exchange for $50,000 per case.
The case came to light when Turkish doctors reported to the police department that combats migrant smuggling that the patient and the organ donor didn’t seem be relatives and had very poor communication.
The authorities turned to the Palestinian Consulate, which denied having provided such documents of kinship to the people caught.
Turkish police exposed the network by investigating hospital records and monitoring hotel locations near the hospital where illegal organ transplants were being carried out. The operation involved two raids at the hotel.
The ringleader, Hasan B., found the organ donors and receivers through his social media connections. Another person, Hasan Abu Z., welcomed people to Turkey and introduced the organ receivers to the physician, Ali Y.M., with the help of a middleman, Ahmad M. These four members of the network were arrested.
The network named their illegal trade “VIP Service from the hotel to the hospital,” eyeing clients from Arab countries while looking for people who could sell their organs. The blood groups of people in need of kidneys were also exposed in social media posts.
The network forged kinship and birth certificates to make them look as if they were from the foreign consulates.
Money and fake documents were confiscated during the operation. Out of the $50,000, $10,000 was given to the organ donor and $15,000 to the private hospital. The network made $25,000 on each case.
Six people who were kept by the network in a hotel in Istanbul were released on condition of judicial control. The patients were Jordanian and Palestinian nationals.
Unregulated organ trafficking and illegal transplant have shown a shocking trend in the region for a while. Last year, several Syrian refugees were found to be selling their organs on the black market out of desperation to survive financially.
Social media platforms, especially Facebook, were used extensively by organ brokers for illegal operations offering money to desperate refugees who would sell their livers or kidneys. However, the donors were only paid half the agreed price and usually left without care after the operation.
It is illegal to sell and buy human organs in Turkey. Any person who removes an organ from another person without his/her legal consent and any person who buys or sells an organ or acts as an intermediary for such activities faces a jail sentence of five to nine years, while those who make an announcement or engage in commercial advertising to secure organs can be imprisoned for up to one year.
For the operation to take place legally, the organ donor has to prove that he is a relative of the recipient. However, the trafficking networks prepare counterfeit documents to bypass Turkish laws.
Under the 2018 Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism, international organizations issued guidelines for health officials and policymakers, noting that “trafficking in human organs and trafficking in persons for organ removal should be prohibited and criminalized.”


Israel accuses Hezbollah of trying to hack UN Lebanon peacekeepers

Updated 3 sec ago

Israel accuses Hezbollah of trying to hack UN Lebanon peacekeepers

JERUSALEM: Israel accused the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah on Wednesday of conducting a cyber operation designed to disrupt a UN peacekeeping mission on the border between the countries, and threatened harsh Israeli retaliation against enemy hackers.
The allegation — to which there was no immediate response from Beirut, Tehran or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) — came as Israeli-Iranian tensions soar.
In what he termed a first public disclosure of the incident, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said “Iranian security institutions in cooperation with Hezbollah (recently) launched a cyber operation with the aim of stealing materials about UNIFIL activities and deployment in the area, for Hezbollah’s use.”
“This is yet another direct attack by Iran and Hezbollah on Lebanese citizens and on Lebanon’s stability,” he told a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University, without elaborating.
Established in 1978, UNIFIL patrols Lebanon’s southern border. It is charged with monitoring the ceasefire that ended the last war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.
Israel has accused Hezbollah gunmen of setting up clandestine positions at the border in defiance of UNIFIL. Lebanese officials say Israel continues air force overflights of their territory in violation of the cease-fire.
Gantz said an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps cyber unit called “Shahid Kaveh” had “conducted research to damage ships, gas stations and industrial plants in several Western countries including Britain, the US, France and Israel.”
Britain’s Sky News reported similar allegations last year, saying the Iranian embassy in London had not responded to them.
Gantz hinted that Israel — which is widely believed to have waged cyber war against Iran’s nuclear facilities and other infrastructure — may retaliate physically against enemy hackers.
“We know who they are, we target them and those who direct them. They are in our sights as we speak — and not just in the cyber-space,” he said. “There is a variety of possible responses to cyber-attacks — in and outside of the cyber-domain.”

Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election

Updated 29 June 2022

Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election

  • The Knesset set a deadline for midnight on Wednesday for a final vote to dissolve
  • Foreign minister Yair Lapid will take over as prime minister of a caretaker government

JERUSALEM: Israel was headed on Wednesday toward its fifth election in less than four years, plunging it deeper into political uncertainty as it grapples with rising living costs and renewed international efforts to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett moved last week to dissolve parliament after infighting made his ruling coalition no longer tenable. The Knesset set a deadline for midnight on Wednesday for a final vote to dissolve.
Once the calling of a snap election gets the Knesset’s final approval, Israel’s center-left foreign minister, Yair Lapid, will take over from Bennett as prime minister of a caretaker government with limited powers.
But even with lawmakers grappling over the exact election date, either Oct. 25 or Nov. 1, the campaign has already become dominated by the possible comeback of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lapid and Bennett ended Netanyahu’s record reign a year ago by forming a rare alliance of rightists, liberals and Arab parties, which lasted longer than many expected but faltered in recent amid infighting.
Netanyahu, now opposition leader, has been delighted by the end of what he has called the worst government in Israel’s history. He hopes to win a sixth term in office despite being on trial for corruption on charges he denies.
Surveys have shown his right-wing Likud party leading the polls but still short of a governing majority despite support of allied religious and nationalist parties.
Lawmakers from the pro-Netanyahu bloc have said they were working to form a new government before parliament dissolves. That scenario, which appears remote, would scupper an early election.


Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians

Updated 29 June 2022

Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians

  • The Palestinians’ official Wafa news agency said he was killed during an Israeli raid in the town

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian early Wednesday during clashes in the hotspot town of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.
Mohammad Marei, 25, died from a bullet wound to the chest, the Palestinian health ministry said. The Palestinians’ official Wafa news agency said he was killed during an Israeli raid in the town.
The Israeli army said it conducted overnight “counter-terrorism activities” in several West Bank locations.
In Jenin, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on troops, the army said.
“A number of suspects also hurled explosive devices at soldiers, who responded with fire. A hit was identified,” the army added, without specifically commenting on Marei’s death.
His killing comes amid spiralling violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed since late March, mainly in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Israeli security forces have responded with near-daily raids in the West Bank, including in and around Jenin.
Forty-eight Palestinians have been killed, mostly in the West Bank — among them attackers and suspected militants but also non-combatants, including Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli army fire while covering a raid in Jenin, according to the United Nations.
Three Israeli Arab attackers have also been killed since late March.


Egypt sentences man to death over high-profile femicide

Updated 29 June 2022

Egypt sentences man to death over high-profile femicide

  • Mohamed Adel found guilty of “premeditated murder” of fellow student Nayera Ashraf after she rejected his advances
  • Viral video earlier this month appeared to show Ashraf being stabbed outside her university in Mansoura on June 19

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Tuesday sentenced a man to death for the murder of a student after she rejected his advances, a judicial source said, in a case that sparked widespread outrage.

Mohamed Adel was found guilty of the “premeditated murder” of fellow university student Nayera Ashraf after he confessed to the crime in court, the source told AFP.

The verdict, handed down in Mansoura north of Cairo after the trial opened on Sunday, will now be referred to the grand mufti, Egypt’s top theological authority — a formality in death penalty cases.

A video that went viral earlier this month appeared to show Ashraf being stabbed outside her university in Mansoura on June 19.

She had previously reported her fears of attack to the authorities, and the prosecution had said messages from the accused “threatening to cut her throat” were found on her phone.

The verdict was met with celebrations in front of the courthouse in Mansoura, videos published by local media showed.

The crime has triggered widespread anger in Egypt and beyond, and was followed by a similar on-campus shooting of a female student in Jordan a few days later.

Jordanian police said Monday that the man suspected of killing Iman Irshaid had “shot himself” after refusing to turn himself in.

Meanwhile another case began making headlines in Egypt after news that the body of TV presenter Shaimaa Gamal had been found, nearly three weeks after her husband had reported her missing.

Gamal’s body was found following a tip-off from someone who confessed to their “participation in the crime,” a prosecution statement said late Monday.

The prosecution ordered the arrest of her husband, who is a senior judicial official, according to the statement.

All three cases have caused an outpouring of anger on social media, with users demanding justice and decrying incidents of femicide in the Arab world.

Some have called for the perpetrators to be sentenced to death, while others say men must “learn to take no for an answer.”

Egyptian preacher Mabrouk Attia also sparked outrage, including among women’s rights defenders, after suggesting that Ashraf would not have met the same fate had she been veiled.

Patriarchal legislation and conservative interpretations of Islam in Egypt have contributed to severely limiting women’s rights.

Nearly eight million Egyptian women were victims of violence committed by their partners or relatives, or by strangers in public spaces, according to a United Nations survey conducted in 2015.


Severity of Middle East sandstorms confronts Arab Gulf states with a daunting challenge

Updated 29 June 2022

Severity of Middle East sandstorms confronts Arab Gulf states with a daunting challenge

  • Meteorological officials say climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms
  • Regionwide afforestation projects aim to alleviate sandstorms’ negative effects on agriculture and human health

JEDDAH: For eons, large plumes of dust and sand sweeping across most of Saudi Arabia have been a natural, seasonal aspect of life. Though a common meteorological phenomenon in arid and semi-arid regions, in recent years scientists have been sounding the alarm over the adverse health and environmental effects of increasing dust storms, prompting Saudi authorities to face the challenges head-on.

The Middle East, Africa and the Arab Gulf are no strangers to sandstorms. They occur relatively close to the ground surface, but finer dust particles may be lifted miles into the atmosphere, where strong winds transport them long distances and across continents.

Saudi Arabia is a prime location for these extreme sandstorms, as it occupies almost the entire Arabian Peninsula, and is primarily desert with patches of rocky terrain in the west and central regions. The Kingdom also sits on a majority of the largest desert area in Asia, the Arabian Desert.

The vast expanse of sandy beige and red terrain stretching across the country leaves Saudi Arabia exposed to some of the harshest sandstorms arriving mainly from the north or west. These storms obscure vision, halt maritime and flight operations, close schools, and harm human health, while turning the cerulean blue skies an ominous orange.

Saudi Arabia’s position across the Arabian Peninsula makes it especially susceptible to sandstorms. (Reuters)

Last month, a transboundary sandstorm engulfed Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and the UAE, sending thousands to hospital as the air filled with fine dust particles that are linked to asthma attacks and the spread of bacteria, viruses, toxins and more. Depending on the weather and climate conditions, dust can remain in the atmosphere for several days and travel great distances.

Some scientists say that climate change could increase sandstorm frequency and intensity. According to several studies, the Middle East witnesses one of three types of sandstorms approximately 30 percent of the year.

A reduction of visibility defines the sandstorms; blowing dust reduces visibility to a few feet for brief intervals, and horizontal visibility is less than 11 km. For dust storms, horizontal visibility is less than 1,000 meters, and for severe dust storms is less than 200 meters.

A 2019 study analyzed the Kingdom’s dust-storm occurrences by studying figure analysis from 27 observation stations provided by the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment, using data on spatial and temporal distribution of atmospheric dust between 2000-2016. The study noted a significant increase in occurrences, especially in the Eastern Province, with a clear seasonality in the incidence of dust and sand storms.

STORM CATEGORIES

• Blowing dust: Horizontal visibility is less than 11 km.

• Dust storm: Horizontal visibility is less than 1,000 meters.

• Severe dust storm: Horizontal visibility is less than 200 meters.

According to Hussain Al-Qahtani, Saudi Arabian National Center for Meteorology spokesman, the notable increase of sand and dust storms in the Eastern Province is due to its proximity and exposure to the northern winds that commonly hit the Kingdom.

“For over 40 years, the NCM has documented and monitored weather patterns and climate conditions in the Kingdom,” he told Arab News.

“The incidence and intensity of dust storms vary year by year and the World Meteorological Organization declared that the world is going through a turbulent time of extreme climate change. Dust storms with winds up to 45 km per hour for several days are a common phenomenon in the area, and are a result of this extreme global climate.”

When heavy torrential rains in late 2009 and early 2010 inundated Jeddah on Saudi Arabia’s western coast and caused mass floods, civil defense officials declared them to be the worst in over 25 years, prompting the launch by the NCM of a national weather-warning system connecting all relevant governing bodies.

The NCM now uses this system to warn of the possibility and intensity of incoming sandstorms. Green indicates that no severe weather is expected; yellow is “be aware,” amber “be prepared,” and red is “take action.”

Three key factors are responsible for the generation of sand and dust storms: Strong wind, lack of vegetation, and absence of rainfall, making the Kingdom the perfect environment for cross-border dust storms.

Their increasing frequency has taken its toll on the Middle East’s agricultural sector. Sandstorms reduce crop yields by burying seedlings under sand deposits, destroying plant tissue, and reducing the plant’s ability to carry out photosynthesis, which delays plant development.

Sand and dust storms have immediate threats to human health, especially for the young and the elderly, causing respiratory and skin problems. (Reuters)

Some of the most immediate and obvious effects of sand and dust storms are related to human health. Dr. Lamia Al-Ibrahim of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority says human exposure to dust and sandstorms poses a danger to overall health, especially for people with respiratory problems, including asthma, allergies and COPD, and can cause skin and eye irritation.

“Depending on the level of exposure, sand and dust storms in the Kingdom differ from one region to the next. Dust storms could worsen he health of individuals whether they have allergies or not,” she told Arab News. “With simple lifestyle changes, the effects can be minimized, but not prevented.”

Al-Ibrahim says exposure to dust and sand can exacerbate allergies, adding that several health, safety and environmental control strategies can be implemented to cushion communities from the negative impact of storms.

“Precautionary measures and medications such as antihistamines ahead of time can decrease the severity of infections. Though the best mechanism is to stay home, those who need to leave their homes should don face masks and wear glasses. Dust storms impact outdoor and indoor air quality and can trigger breathing problems and more due to one particle — silica,” she said.

FASTFACT

• Aeolian processes: Wind-driven emission, transportation and deposition of sand and dust by wind are termed after the Greek god Aeolus, the keeper of winds.

Most desert dust in the region is composed primarily of silica, exposure to which is a risk factor for several illnesses.

Wearing masks and glasses and staying inside are temporary solutions, leaving authorities to seek out more permanent and far-reaching ways to solve the dust problem. In terms of environmental strategies, afforestation has become a significant player when it comes to fighting issues faced as a result of climate change.

The Saudi Green Initiative, launched last March, aims to rehabilitate 40 million hectares of land over the coming decades, with 24 initiatives launched to plant 10 billion trees. The afforestation plan can improve air quality, reduce sandstorms, combat desertification, and lower temperatures in adjacent areas.

Similarly, the Middle East Green Initiative, the regional alliance and pact on climate change, has similar ambitious goals, aiming to plant 50 billion trees (10 billion in the Kingdom) across the Middle East and restore 200 million hectares of degraded land.

Sandstorms across the Middle East have delayed flights, closed schools and hospitalised thousands. (AFP)

Al-Ibrahim cautions that although afforestation effectively mitigates sand and dust storms, it is essential to know which trees to plant, as some could have adverse effects on human health.

“Some tree pollen can cause severe allergies. I was invited to participate in the Green Riyadh Project launch as a member of several environmental awareness groups and raised the issue of these trees, and a committee was established to specify the types of trees, plants and shrubs best suited for the area,” she told Arab News.

The Royal Commission of Riyadh has issued a plant guide book for the city which lists approximately 300 types of plants, shrubs and trees that are set to be planted.

“NCM’s research and studies contribute to providing data to relevant entities that need to understand how to face the challenges that arise from sand and dust storms, decrease the level of threats and work on solutions such as afforestation initiatives, taking preventive measures, or even increasing the accuracy of the information for the health and safety of citizens,” said Al-Qahtani.