Drones and high tech help in disaster search missions 

11,000 people have been confirmed dead as a result of Monday’s quake. (AP)
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Updated 09 February 2023

Drones and high tech help in disaster search missions 

  • Can modern developments provide solutions, relief to earthquake-hit Turkiye, Syria?

RIYADH: The world continues to watch in despair the devastation caused by two earthquakes — measuring 7.8 and 7.5 on the Richter scale  — that struck southeastern Turkiye and Syria early on Monday morning.

With the combined death toll surpassing 11,000 people by Wednesday, international aid agencies, humanitarian groups, military forces, government and private sector bodies have all been involved in providing help to the regions.

One area supplying some answers has been modern technology.

Drones, which are increasingly known for their role as weapons in modern warfare, are also useful tools during natural disasters such as earthquakes.

“Drones for sure play an important role in Turkiye as we speak,” Henk Jan Gerzee, chief product officer at the Digital Container Shipping Association, told Arab News during the LEAP conference in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Gerzee, who was on the panel looking at “Drones and Autonomous Vehicles,” added: “Firstly, drones can provide a clearer picture of what has happened.

“Drones are equipped with ultra-high-definition cameras. They can also be equipped with heat sensors and detection, and thus detect people.

“They can deliver medicine and smaller pieces of cargo. They can also detect dangerous gases, like methane.” 

Dr. Jassim Haji, president of the Artificial Intelligence Society, who also took part in the discussion, underlined the role AI can play in such disasters, including forecasting extreme events, developing hazard maps, and assisting in situational awareness and decision support.

NASA technology can help in hearing the heartbeats of individuals trapped under debris and rubble. Its technology has frequently been used in the aftermath of earthquakes.

In 2015 the NASA FINDER tool was able to locate four men buried underneath mud, brick, wood and other debris following an earthquake in the Nepalese village of Chautara.

The same technology was also used in 2017 during an earthquake measuring 7.1 in Mexico City.

The UN utilized its emergency mapping satellite service, a live map that shows in real time the damage caused by an earthquake and its level of impact, within hours on Monday.

However, political conflict can have the last word when it comes to getting aid quickly to regions hit by natural disasters.

A resident in northeastern Syria, who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity, said: “The main issue is that aid has become politicized, so even if this tech is available, it is likely it won’t reach these areas.”

Roj Mousa, a Syrian journalist from Afrin, told Arab News: “All of our friends and relatives are under the rubble now in Afrin and Jindires.

“I haven’t had a moment to rest since the earthquake happened. I speak with my relatives all the time.

“There is no aid coming to these areas — no water, no food, no rescue. The cities are now further devastated.

“The people helping to pull out the rubble are civilians doing so with their bare hands.

“All the aid is being blocked by members of the Turkish-controlled Syrian militia.”

Mousa added that small cameras used by doctors to see inside the rubble were helpful, but getting such technology into occupied areas was difficult.

Legal fight opens for Australian children to leave Syria

Updated 3 sec ago

Legal fight opens for Australian children to leave Syria

  • Save the Children is asking the court to bring the 11 women and 20 children from Al-Roj camp in Syria before the court in Australia
Sydney: More than 30 Australian women and children living in “appalling conditions” in a Syrian detention camp launched court action Tuesday to compel Canberra to bring them home.
Their case opened at the High Court in Melbourne, nearly a year after Australia repatriated the last group of four women and 13 children — the wives, sons and daughters of vanquished Daesh group fighters — from Syria.
“The situation of the remaining persons detained is stark and dire,” said Peter Morrissey, counsel for the charity Save the Children, which is acting on their behalf.
“Save the Children Australia represents women and children charged with no crime, detained in piteous and appalling conditions,” he told the court.
“Their health, safety, and dignity are seriously compromised by any standard. Their detention in the camps has endured for several years.”
Save the Children is asking the court for a writ of habeas corpus (or unlawful detention) requiring the government to bring the 11 women and 20 children from Al-Roj camp in Syria before the court in Australia.
“Despite countless opportunities to repatriate these families, the Australian government has ultimately failed in its duty to bring all of its citizens home to safety,” said Save the Children Australia chief executive Mat Tinkler.
“We desperately hope these children and their mothers will be imminently repatriated home to safety. It is unfathomable that the Australian government has abandoned its citizens,” he said in a statement.
Repatriations of Australian women and children from Syrian camps are a politically contentious issue in a country long known for its hard-line approach to immigration.
The Australian women and children have lived in the Al-Hol and Al-Roj detention camps in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria since the 2019 collapse of Daesh.

Lebanese security forces detain man suspected of shooting outside US embassy

Updated 26 September 2023

Lebanese security forces detain man suspected of shooting outside US embassy

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces on Monday said they arrested a suspected gunman who fired a dozen bullets at the American embassy in Beirut, according to security sources in the country.

A source named the suspect as 26-year-old Lebanese national Muhammad Mahdi Hussein Khalil, who had worked for a delivery company. The source added Khalil had a criminal record for previously opening fired on a Lebanese Public Security center.

According to the source, Khalil confesed to shooting at the embassy compound in the Awkar suburb of Beirut and the weapon used in the attack had been seized.

Surveillance cameras showed a lone gunman dressed in black firing a Kalashnikov rifle before fleeing the scene on a motorcycle.

“The shooter carried out his act after previous disputes between him and embassy security over food deliveries,” the source told Arab News.

There were no injuries in the shooting late on Wednesday when 15 shots were fired at the embassy complex.

Israel says US to announce it has joined Visa Waiver Program

Updated 26 September 2023

Israel says US to announce it has joined Visa Waiver Program

  • Some Palestinians have protested at Israel’s entry into the VWP, citing what they say are decades of discriminatory treatment of Arab Americans and harassment at Israel’s borders

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday it expects the United States to announce this week that it will be admitted to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which would allow Israeli citizens visa-free entry to America as of November.
The deadline for Israel to show compliance with the US conditions is Sept. 30. If successful, it would offer a win for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist government, whose relations with Washington have been strained over its plans to overhaul the judiciary as well as over its policies toward the Palestinians.
“Israel joining the Visa Waiver Program is a diplomatic achievement and good news for all Israeli citizens,” said Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.
A US State Department spokesperson said on Monday that a final decision on Israel’s candidacy had not been made.
“The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, will make a determination in the coming days,” the spokesperson said.
For admission to the program, Washington requires countries to treat all US travelers equally, regardless of whatever other passports they may hold. In Israel’s case, that would mean free passage for Palestinian Americans at its airports and when traveling into and out of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Some Palestinians have protested at Israel’s entry into the VWP, citing what they say are decades of discriminatory treatment of Arab Americans and harassment at Israel’s borders.
In a pilot period that has been running since July 20, Israel has loosened access for Palestinian Americans through its borders and in and out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Between 45,000 and 60,000 Palestinian Americans live in the West Bank, a US official estimated. An Israeli official gave lower figures, saying that of 70,000 to 90,000 Palestinian Americans worldwide, 15,000 to 20,000 are West Bank residents.
There are currently 40 countries in the VWP. Countries are not added frequently, with Croatia being the latest to join in 2021. 


Hundreds dead from dengue fever in Sudan

Updated 25 September 2023

Hundreds dead from dengue fever in Sudan

  • Sudanese doctors’ union said health situation ‘is deteriorating at a horrific rate’

PORT SUDAN: Outbreaks of dengue fever and acute watery diarrhea have “killed hundreds” in war-torn Sudan, medics reported Monday, warning of “catastrophic spreads” that could overwhelm the country’s decimated health system.

In a statement, the Sudanese doctors’ union warned that the health situation in the southeastern state of Gedaref, on the border with Ethiopia, “is deteriorating at a horrific rate,” with thousands infected with dengue fever.

Though Gedaref has been spared the direct effects of the brutal war between the regular army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, it has nonetheless been impacted by mass displacement and other humanitarian crises.

Over five months into the war, 80 percent of the country’s hospitals are out of service, according to the UN. Even before the war, Sudan’s fragile healthcare system struggled to contain the annual disease outbreaks that accompany the country’s rainy season starting in June, including malaria — endemic in Sudan — and dengue fever.

This year, with Gedaref hosting over 250,000 internally displaced people according to the UN, the situation is much worse.

“The hospital’s beds are all full but the cases keep coming in, particularly children,” a medical source said from Gedaref Hospital.

US-backed Kurdish forces impose curfew in eastern Syria after new clashes with rival militia

Updated 25 September 2023

US-backed Kurdish forces impose curfew in eastern Syria after new clashes with rival militia

BEIRUT: US-backed Kurdish-led forces imposed a curfew after clashes erupted again on Monday in eastern Syria, where their fighters had battled for weeks with rival militiamen, Syrian media and activists reported.

The fighting in a region where hundreds of American troops are deployed has pointed to dangerous seams in a coalition that has kept on a lid on the defeated Daesh for years.

The reports say the Syrian Democratic Forces imposed the open-ended measure in several towns in Deir Ezzor province, including the town of Ziban, close to the Iraqi border where the Americans are based. 

Hundreds of US troops have been there since 2015 to help in the fight against Daesh. 

The province is home to Syria’s largest oil fields.

Al Mayadeen, a pan-Arab TV station, said several fighters from the Kurdish-led forces were killed after gunmen took over several parts of Ziban on Monday. 

Britain-based opposition war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some of the fighters had crossed from regime-held areas.

Local media in the province reported that some Kurdish fighters had fled the area as the clashes intensified. There were no further details.

The Kurdish-led forces have accused the Syrian regime of inciting the violence by allowing the rival militiamen to cross the Euphrates River. 

The clashes first erupted in late August when two weeks of fighting killed 25 Kurdish fighters, 29 members of tribal groups and gunmen, as well as nine civilians, according to the Syrian Democratic Forces .