In Syria, mounting cholera cases pose threat across frontlines

A doctor speaks to a suspected cholera patient at a hospital in the Kurdish-controlled city of Hasaka, northeastern Syria September 24. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 27 September 2022

In Syria, mounting cholera cases pose threat across frontlines

  • Cholera is spread by the ingestion of contaminated food or water and can cause acute diarrhea
  • Public awareness campaigns are underway on the causes, symptoms and prevention of cholera

IDLIB/HASAKA, Syria: A cholera outbreak that has claimed 29 lives in Syria is posing a danger across the frontlines of the country’s 11-year-long war, stirring fears in crowded camps for the displaced who lack running water or sewage systems.
First linked to contaminated water near the Euphrates river, the outbreak has now spread across the fractured nation, with cases reported in government- and rebel-controlled regions. In all, at least 2,000 cases have been reported so far.
“How am I not supposed to catch cholera with the sewage running right next to our tent?” said Sobha Al-Jadoue, 60, who lives in a camp for displaced people in the rebel-held Idlib region. “We can no longer sleep or sit because of the smells. A few days ago the sewage spilled into my tent.”
Cholera is spread by the ingestion of contaminated food or water and can cause acute diarrhea. While most of those affected will have mild or no symptoms, cholera can kill within hours if untreated, the World Health Organization website says.
The devastation wrought by the Syrian conflict has left the country particularly vulnerable, demolishing much of the infrastructure including water pumping and treatment plants.
Climate change has worsened water shortages.
“Because of the war there has been great destruction of the health infrastructure and infrastructure in general, so if it spreads in these areas — especially in the camps — it could have a grave health impact and kill a lot of people,” said Shahem Mekki, who runs a disease monitoring center in the area.
The war has killed some 350,000 people since it spiralled out of an uprising against President Bashar Assad in 2011. The World Health Organization says 55 percent of health care facilities in the country are not functioning because of the war.
The first cholera cases were detected on Sept. 5 in Deir Ezzor province, before spreading to other areas including the cities of Raqqa and Hasaka, said Jawan Mustafa, health director in the Kurdish-run administration of northeastern Syria.
He said there were more than 4,350 suspected cases of cholera in northeastern Syria, and 100 confirmed cases. “The cases are increasing but, fortunately, slowly,” he said.
Amshah Shehade, 45, said she brought her daughter to hospital in Hasaka due to diarrhea and dizziness, and that her grandchild had suffered the same symptoms. “It was caused by contaminated tank water,” she said.
Public awareness campaigns are underway on the causes, symptoms and prevention of cholera.
Eva Hinds, chief of communication at the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, in Syria, said the agency and its partners had scaled up water trucking and chlorination in the cholera hot spots to ensure access to clean water.
“It’s time to act now. We are investing heavily in measures to prevent the further spread,” she said.


Syria slams chemical watchdog report on 2018 attack

Updated 27 sec ago

Syria slams chemical watchdog report on 2018 attack

DAMASCUS: Syria on Thursday dismissed the global chemical weapons watchdog’s statement, which said that investigators had found “reasonable grounds to believe” the Syrian air force dropped two cylinders of chlorine gas in 2018 on then-rebel-held town of Douma.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons produced a detailed report following a fact-finding mission that investigated the April 7, 2018 attack. Medical workers and activists said at the time more than 40 people were killed in the attack. OPCW inspectors headed to the site of the attack days later.
The United States, Britain and France blamed Syrian government forces and launched airstrikes. Syria and key ally Russia deny any chemical attack.
Douma was the final target of the Syrian government’s sweeping campaign to reclaim control of the eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital, Damascus, from the rebels, who gave up the town days after the alleged chemical attack.
Syria’s permanent representative to OPCW, Ambassador Milad Atieh, told reporters that the OPCW has been biased toward “Western positions.”
“The OPCW’s report relied mostly on information obtained from countries hostile to Syria and some other media and social networking sites run by terrorist organizations,” he said. “The report contained false accusations aimed at increasing pressure and escalating Western positions hostile to Syria.”
Atieh claimed the report’s methodology had “serious irregularities and defects” and false accusations that impacted its credibility, though he did not give any examples or offer evidence to support his statement.
In an attempt to ensure accountability for crimes in Syria, the United Nations has established a commission entitled “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.” It is mandated to preserve and analyze evidence of crimes and prepare files for trials in “national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes, in accordance with international law.”
Atieh however accused the United States and Western countries of political interference with the UN commission.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a joint statement with his British, French, and German counterparts last week commended the OPCW report and called on key Syrian ally Russia to “stop shielding Syria from accountability for its use of chemical weapons.”
“Syria must fully declare and destroy its chemical weapons program and allow the deployment of OPCW staff to its country to verify it has done so,” the statement read.
The ongoing conflict that started in Syria more than a decade ago has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s prewar population of 23 million.
Syria joined the OPCW in 2013 under severe international pressure after a deadly chemical attack on a Damascus suburb.

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit

Updated 41 min 47 sec ago

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit

  • Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed as many as 20 agreements to boost trade and investment
  • There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spain's enclaves in Africa

RABAT: Spain and Morocco have agreed to set aside their differences, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday, as they seek to repair a relationship marked by
frequent disputes over migration and territory.
Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed as many as 20 agreements to boost trade and investment, including credit lines of up to 800 million euros ($873 million).
“We have agreed on a commitment to mutual respect, whereby in our discourse and in our political practice we will avoid everything that we know offends the other party, especially regarding our respective spheres of sovereignty,” Sanchez said.
There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spain’s enclaves in Africa, Morocco’s dispute with rebels over the Western Sahara, and the arrival of thousands of illegal migrants in Spain each year through Morocco.
Morocco refuses to recognize Spanish sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, but last year the two countries agreed to open the first customs control points between the two.
Madrid says that reflects Rabat’s recognition of the enclaves as foreign territory, but Morocco has not confirmed the development and has given no public statement indicating that its long-held stance that the enclaves should be part of its territory has changed.
Sanchez restored cordial relations with Rabat in March 2022 after he reversed former colonial master Spain’s four-decade policy on the Western Sahara by backing Morocco’s proposal to create an autonomous region.
Forging peace between the neighbors has forced Sanchez’s Socialists into some uncomfortable positions.
Last month, its MEPs voted against a resolution in the European Parliament to call on Morocco to improve its record on press freedom. MEP Juan Fernando Lopez said this week that maintaining cordial neighborly relations sometimes involved “swallowing a toad.”
Spain’s about-turn on Western Sahara drew the ire of Algeria, a Polisario Front ally, which suspended trade with Spain and warned it could cut the flow of natural gas even as it forges closer gas ties with Italy.
In Rabat on Thursday, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch expressed satisfaction at Spain’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan as the “most credible solution” to resolve the Western Sahara dispute, but did not reference an agreement to set aside all sovereignty disputes.


Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

Updated 02 February 2023

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

  • The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Quran-burning incidents in some European countries
  • The US and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance

ANKARA: Turkiye on Thursday slammed a group of Western countries that temporarily closed down their consulates in Istanbul over security concerns, accusing them of waging “psychological warfare” and attempting to wreck Turkiye’s tourism industry.
Germany, the Netherlands and Britain were among countries that shut down their consulates in the city of around 16 million people this week. The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Qur’an-burning incidents in some European countries. The United States and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the consulate closures and travel warnings were part of a Western plot to prevent a rebound in Turkiye’s tourism sector following the coronavirus pandemic.
“On a day when we declared our aim of (attracting) 60 million tourists, at a time when 51.5 million tourists arrived and we obtained $46 billion in tourism revenue, they were on the verge of starting a new psychological warfare (against) Turkiye,” said Soylu, who is known for his anti-Western rhetoric.
The minister said Turkiye had conducted as many as 60 operations against the Daesh group so far this year and detained 95 people. Last year, close to 2,000 Daesh suspects were detained in more than 1,000 operations against the group, he said.
Earlier this week, the Interior Ministry said Turkish authorities had detained a number of suspects following a warning from a “friendly country,” but hadn’t found any weapons, ammunition or sign of a planned act of violence.
In November, a bombing on Istanbul’s bustling Istiklal Avenue, located in the heart of the city and near a number of foreign consulates, killed six people and wounded several others. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on Kurdish militants.
Last weekend, Turkiye’s foreign ministry issued a travel warning for European countries due to anti-Turkish demonstrations and what it described as Islamophobia. The warning followed demonstrations the week before outside the Turkish Embassy in Sweden, where an anti-Islam activist burned the Qur’an and pro-Kurdish groups protested against Turkiye.
In a related development, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador to ask for a protest planned for Friday in the Scandinavian country to be prevented because there would be an “attack” on the Qur’an during the event, Turkiye’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported Thursday.
Norwegian newspaper VG said a group called Stop Islamization of Norway planned to burn the Qur’an outside the Turkish Embassy in Oslo on Friday.
The group’s leader, Lars Thorsen, told VG that he planned to carry out his protest “in the context of Turkiye’s intolerance of Western values of freedom.”
Recent demonstrations in Europe where activists desecrated Islam’s holy book have infuriated Muslims in Turkiye and elsewhere.
Anadolu said the Norwegian ambassador was told that the planned action would constitute a “hate crime” that should not be allowed.


Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

Updated 02 February 2023

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

  • Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010
  • Panahi has won several international awards

DUBAI: Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has started a hunger strike in prison to protest against authorities’ refusal to release him temporarily on bail pending retrial, the activist HRANA news agency reported on Thursday.
Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010, amid a stepped-up crackdown on dissent in the Islamic Republic.
“According to the law, I should have been released on bail after my request for retrial was accepted but my case has been delayed for more than 100 days,” the 62-year-old film director wrote in a letter, according to HRANA.
“This is in stark contrast with the speedy trials of innocent youth which are brought to the gallows 30 days after their arrest,” added the director, who won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or prize for his 1995 movie “White Balloon.”
There was no immediate reaction to the HRANA report from Iranian authorities on state media.
Iran’s judiciary said in July Panahi would serve a six-year sentence over charges of “propaganda against the system” and inciting opposition protests after the 2009 election that led to months of political turmoil.
Since then, nationwide protests sparked by the death in police custody of Kurdish Iranian young woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 2022 have represented one of the toughest challenges to the Islamic Republic.
At least four people have been hanged since the demonstrations started, according to the judiciary. Iran has accused foreign enemies of fomenting the unrest.
Panahi has won several international awards, including the 2015 Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear for his film “Taxi.”


Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

Updated 02 February 2023

Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

  • The pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program”
  • Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine

PARIS: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday, hoping to gain support against Iran’s nuclear program but shadowed by an upsurge of violence in the region.
Israel’s Paris embassy said the pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program.”
Netanyahu hopes that Iran’s role supplying drones to Russian invaders in Ukraine as well as the crackdown on protests at home will prompt Western allies to drop any pursuit of a revival of the 2015 deal over its atomic drive.
The prime minister has also said Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine, apparently dropping its previously more neutral stance over the conflict.
France agrees that “firmness” is needed in dealings with Iran, a diplomatic source told AFP, calling its nuclear program “dangerous” and highlighting its role in the Ukraine war.
Tehran also holds several foreign nationals who Western governments see as political hostages.
But Macron’s office said the French leader would “reiterate (to Netanyahu) the need for all sides to avoid measures likely to feed the cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians — while offering “France’s solidarity with Israel in the face of terrorism.”
Netanyahu visits as Israelis and Palestinians exchanged rockets and missiles over Gaza, the latest violent episode as the conflict intensifies.
A week ago, seven were killed in a mass shooting by a Palestinian at a synagogue in annexed east Jerusalem — one day after an Israeli raid in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians.
In France until Saturday, Netanyahu is also set to meet French business chiefs and leaders of the country’s Jewish community, the Israeli embassy said.