US forces capture 3 key Daesh militants in Syria raid

US forces on patrol in northern Syria in December 2022. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 23 January 2023

US forces capture 3 key Daesh militants in Syria raid

  • A US military statement described the militants as facilitators, a logistician, and an “associate” of the jihadist group

BEIRUT/WASHINGTON: US forces have captured three Daesh group members during a helicopter and ground raid in eastern Syria, the US military’s Central Command said Sunday.

The raid happened on Saturday, according to Col. Joe Buccino, a Central Command spokesperson, adding that one civilian received “minor injuries” during the attack and was treated at a nearby medical facility before being released back to his family.

A Central Command statement described the militants as facilitators, a logistician, and an “associate” of the jihadist group. 

Few other details of the raid were disclosed. Central Command alluded to the presence of “partner forces” — language which in the past has been used to refer to the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Syrian Kurdish armed group that helped the US and its allies defeat the Daesh group, which sought to establish as Islamic caliphate.

After the jihadists lost their last scraps of territory following a military onslaught backed by the coalition in March 2019, Daesh remnants in Syria mostly retreated into desert hideouts in the country’s east.

They have since used such hideouts to ambush Kurdish-led forces and Syrian government troops while continuing to mount attacks in Iraq.

On Friday, the Central Command said a drone attack hit a US-led coalition base in southern Syria, with a war monitor saying it was launched by Iran-backed groups.

 


Macron names French ex-minister Lebanon special envoy

Updated 07 June 2023

Macron names French ex-minister Lebanon special envoy

  • Le Drian, who served for five years as foreign minister up to 2022, had vast experience in “crisis management” and would be heading to Lebanon “very soon“
  • There is an urgent need “to bring together a form of consensus” to allow the election of a president of Lebanon

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron has named his former foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as his personal envoy for Lebanon, in a new bid to end the country’s political crisis, the presidency said on Wednesday.
Le Drian will be charged with helping to find a “consensual and efficient” solution to the crisis which has intensified after the deadly 2020 Beirut port explosion, said a presidential official, asking not to be named.
The official said Le Drian, who served for five years as foreign minister up to 2022, had vast experience in “crisis management” and would be heading to Lebanon “very soon.”
Lebanon is facing a political crisis as factions struggle to agree on a new president while an economic crisis has seen the living standards of most Lebanese plummet over the last year.
“The situation remains difficult in Lebanon” with a need to “get out of both the political crisis and the economic and financial difficulties,” the official said.
There is an urgent need “to bring together a form of consensus” to allow the election of a president of Lebanon, which has been without a head of state for more than seven months because of the political deadlock.
Macron won praise from observers for heading to Beirut in the immediate aftermath of the explosion to push Lebanon’s leaders into radical reform. But he now faces pressure to follow up on these promises.
Former president Michel Aoun’s term expired last October with no successor lined up.
Since then, there have been 11 parliamentary votes to try to name a new president, but bitter divisions have prevented anyone from garnering enough support to succeed Aoun.
Lebanese lawmakers on Sunday nominated Jihad Azour, an International Monetary Fund regional director and former minister, for president, in a new bid to find a solution.


US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’

Updated 07 June 2023

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’

  • Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen: Harris was perhaps not fully informed about the details of the judicial changes his government was seeking

WASHINGTON: US vice president Kamala Harris said on Tuesday that Israel’s democracy requires “an independent judiciary,” wading into the controversy over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul that has drawn mass protests in Israel.
“America will continue to stand for the values that have been the bedrock of the US-Israel relationship, which includes continuing to strengthen our democracies, which as the (Israeli) ambassador has said, are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and I’ll add: an independent judiciary,” Harris said.
The vice president spoke at a reception celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding hosted by the country’s embassy in Washington. Her remarks on the judiciary drew applause.
Harris also reiterated the Biden administration’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”
Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen said Harris was perhaps not fully informed about the details of the judicial changes his government was seeking, which were intended, he said, to ensure a strong and independent judiciary which was more balanced.
“If you ask her what troubles her about the reform, she may not be able to cite even one clause that bothers her,” Cohen told Israel’s public broadcaster Kansas “I don’t know whether she read the bill, my estimation is that she has not.”
Weeks of unprecedented street demonstrations followed Netanyahu’s proposed package of reforms of the Supreme Court, which members of his religious-nationalist coalition accuse of overreach and elitism.
Under pressure at home and abroad, including from US President Joe Biden’s administration, Netanyahu has suspended the overhaul to try to negotiate a consensus with the political opposition.
Critics see a threat to independence of the courts by the prime minister, who is on trial on graft charges that he denies.
Top economists and national security veterans have warned of fallout, saying an independent court system is crucial to Israel’s democratic norms and economic strength.
Before Harris spoke, Israeli president Isaac Herzog said in a video address to the crowd that he planned to visit the White House and address a joint session of the US Congress “in the near future.” The trip is expected in July.
Biden has yet to extend a White House invitation to Netanyahu, despite Israel’s status as a key Middle East ally.
The two leaders have had chilly relations since Biden took office. Biden had pressed Netanyahu in recent months to drop the judicial overhaul plan.
Netanyahu, who was prime minister for three years in the 1990s and then from 2009 to 2021, took office again in December to start his sixth term.


Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster

Updated 07 June 2023

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster

  • He was arrested after being identified by CCTV cameras

ISTANBUL: Turkish authorities on Tuesday seized and jailed a 16-year-old youth for drawing a moustache on an election campaign poster showing re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, media reports said.
Several media close to the opposition, including daily newspapers BirGun, Cumhuriyet and private TV station Halk TV, said the youth from the southeastern town of Mersin was accused of defacing the poster near his home with a pen, scribbling “a Hitler moustache and writing insulting comments.”
He was arrested after being identified by CCTV cameras, media reports said. Authorities interviewed him at his home where he reportedly “admitted drawing the moustache” while denying writing the accompanying comments.
Taken before the public prosecutor he was found to have “insulted the president” and was jailed at a nearby youth facility, according to Halk TV.
Erdogan extended his 20-year rule over Turkiye after winning the May 28 second round of the presidential election to embark on a new five-year term.
According to the justice ministry, “insulting the president” is one of the most common crimes in Turkiye, resulting in 16,753 convictions last year.


How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps

Updated 07 June 2023

How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps

  • Poor access to hygiene products impacts the lives of millions in the world’s conflict and crisis zones
  • Camp overcrowding “can lead to a lack of dignity and privacy, which can also impact mental health”

LONDON: Every month, women and girls living in camps for displaced people face a common challenge — one that, despite being a natural occurrence, disrupts their daily lives in everything from queuing for meals to participating in social life.

Long a relatively neglected health issue, aid agencies say that poor access to menstrual hygiene management products impacts the lives of millions in the world’s crisis-hit regions, deepening gender inequality.

“The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities can be a significant barrier to the participation of displaced women and girls in training programs and other activities,” said Samara Atassi, CEO and co-founder of Souriyat Across Borders, a women-led charity that supports refugees and internally displaced people in Jordan, Syria and the UK.

Insufficient access to such products and facilities often forces women and girls to resort to “unhygienic practices, such as using dirty rags, leaves or even sand to manage their periods,” Atassi told Arab News.

Social stigma and embarrassment often pose an additional challenge, leading to “isolation and a sense of shame,” taking a toll on their mental wellbeing, she said. Overcrowding in camps in particular “can lead to a lack of dignity and privacy, which can also impact their mental health.” 

Further exacerbating the problem are issues such as inadequate access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. 

A woman sits outside a tent at a camp for those displaced by conflict in the countryside near Syria’s northern city of Raqqa. (AFP/File)

These conditions “can make it difficult to manage menstrual hygiene, further increasing the risk of infections and other health problems,” Sahar Yassin, Oxfam MENA regional gender advocacy adviser, told Arab News.

“Period poverty” is defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or a combination of these.

In 2019, experts from academic institutions, NGOs, governments, UN organizations and elsewhere came together to form the Global Menstrual Collective to research the issue. It defined menstrual health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.”

It noted that people should have access to information about menstruation, life changes and hygiene practices, the ability to care for themselves during menstruation, as well as access to water, sanitation and hygiene services.

It also highlighted the importance of the ability to receive a diagnosis for menstrual cycle disorders and access to health care, a positive, supportive environment in which to make informed decisions, and the ability to participate in all aspects of life, such as going to work and school.

Period poverty affects an estimated 500 million people worldwide — but is perhaps more keenly felt by those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, or those reaching puberty while living in overcrowded and poorly equipped camp settings.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates that women and girls account for about 50 percent of any displaced or stateless population.

At the end of 2021, the Middle East and North Africa accounted for about 16 million forcibly displaced and stateless people, with the largest numbers fleeing conflict in Syria and Yemen, according to the UNHCR figures.

However, the reproductive health of women and girls in refugee and internal displacement camps continues to face neglect by donors. A 2019 survey by UNHCR found that just 55 percent of women’s needs were met with regard to menstruation products.

Nicola Banks, advocacy manager at the UK-based charity Action for Humanity, told Arab News that the UK had recently reduced “funding for its flagship program on sexual and reproductive health, Women’s Integrated Sexual Health,” which supports marginalized populations in Asia and Africa.

“Cuts to SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) programs ... could result in reduced access to menstrual hygiene products, education and reproductive health services, potentially exacerbating period poverty,” Banks said.

A displaced Iraqi woman who fled Mosul sits with her child as they wait to enter Syria. (AFP/File)

During humanitarian crises, relief and aid efforts are chiefly focused on what are considered the most immediate needs — food, shelter and medicine — while menstrual hygiene products are often ignored, according to a report published in September 2022 by the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA.

Another critical challenge to menstrual hygiene management is a lack of education, which can lead to misconceptions about menstruation, further perpetuating stigma and shame, said Atassi of Souriyat Across Borders.

Owing to this pervasive sense of stigma and shame, many girls aged 10-18 in refugee camps in Turkiye continue to have limited access to accurate information about menstruation, meaning few are fully informed before reaching menarche, or the first menstrual cycle, according to the UNFPA report.

The study, “Menstrual hygiene management among refugee women and girls in Turkiye,” emphasized that this important yet vulnerable population lacked a complete and accurate conception of menstruation, with the main source of information being the mother or another female family member.

FASTFACT

55%

A 2019 UNHCR study found that only 55 percent of women’s needs were met in regard to menstruation products.

Oxfam’s Yassin says that this lack of education, combined with period poverty, “is closely linked to gender-based violence in the MENA region, where the cultural taboo surrounding menstruation precludes women and girls from discussing it openly, leading to misinformation and/or lack of information.”

Forms of gender-based violence, or GBV, linked to menstruation include “early marriage, lack of privacy, safety, and sexual harassment,” she said.

To conceal evidence of their menstruation, women in displacement and refugee camps often find themselves forced to venture alone to secluded areas, which exposes them to the potential for sexual violence. But the threat is also present in toilet spaces inside the camps.

A 2021 statement by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, revealed that “one in five refugees or internally displaced women have faced sexual violence,” adding that the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the issue.

Syrian-Kurdish displaced women stand behind a wire fence at the Qushtapa refugee camp. (AFP/File)

“In many cases, GBV is a result of violations of SRHR, such as female genital mutilation/cutting, child marriage, intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence,” said Banks of Action for Humanity.

“While education, empowerment, and ending violence are critical components of gender equality, they cannot be addressed in isolation from SRHR.”

For Oxfam’s Yassin, “by addressing period poverty and providing better menstrual hygiene management infrastructure and accessible facilities, we can not only promote gender equality and prevent gender-based violence but also support women’s and girls’ health, economic empowerment and well-being.”

Despite efforts by several NGOs and UN agencies to alleviate the burdens caused by period stigma and poverty, menstrual hygiene management remains a largely unaddressed issue in refugee and displacement camps.

“As an organization that is committed to empowering women, we recognize the importance of providing comprehensive sexual education,” said Atassi of Souriyat Across Borders. “Unfortunately, we currently do not have an education project inside the IDPs camps. 

“However, we strive to support women’s health and hygiene needs through all our relief campaigns.

“Even in the emergency response situations, such as during the (Feb. 6 Syria-Turkiye) earthquakes ... we prioritized the inclusion of women’s hygiene baskets in our relief efforts.

“We believe that by addressing women’s basic needs, we can help them feel supported, safe and empowered.”


US slaps sanctions on Iranian, Chinese targets in action over Tehran’s missile, military programs

Updated 06 June 2023

US slaps sanctions on Iranian, Chinese targets in action over Tehran’s missile, military programs

  • The network conducted transactions and facilitated the procurement of sensitive and critical parts and technology for key actors in Iran’s ballistic missile development

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on over a dozen people and entities in Iran, China and Hong Kong, accusing the procurement network of supporting Iran’s missile and military programs as Washington ramps up pressure on Tehran.
The US Treasury Department in a statement said the network conducted transactions and facilitated the procurement of sensitive and critical parts and technology for key actors in Iran’s ballistic missile development, including Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, which is under US sanctions.
Among those hit with sanctions was Iran’s defense attache in Beijing, Davoud Damghani, whom the Treasury accused of coordinating military-related procurements from China for Iranian end-users.
“The United States will continue to target illicit transnational procurement networks that covertly support Iran’s ballistic missile production and other military programs,” Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian Nelson, said in the statement.