Yemen’s factions ‘ready’ to exchange hundreds of prisoners on Thursday
ICRC’s planes will begin transferring dozens of Yemeni government prisoners
Planes would then fly back to Sanaa, carrying more than 200 Houthis
Updated 12 April 2023
AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s warring parties and the International Committee of the Red Cross have completed preparations for a three-day prisoner exchange operation, which will commence on Thursday, a Yemeni government negotiator told Arab News on Tuesday.
Majed Fadhail, a member of the government’s delegation to prisoner exchange negotiations, said the ICRC had completed meeting and verifying the names of the would-be freed prisoners and that the ICRC’s planes will begin transferring dozens of Yemeni government prisoners on Thursday, including former Defense Minister Mohammed Al-Subaihy and the former president’s brother Nasser Mansour Hadi, from the Houthi-held Sanaa International Airport to Aden. The plane would then fly back to Sanaa, carrying more than 200 Houthis, he added.
On the second and third days, ICRC aircraft will transport detainees from Sanaa, including prisoners from the Arab coalition and four journalists, to Yemen’s Marib, Aden, and Mokha airports, as well as Saudi Arabia’s Abha and Riyadh airports, and would return Houthi prisoners from those airports to Sanaa.
Last month, the Yemeni government and the Houthis reached an agreement, mediated by the UN, in Switzerland to exchange more than 800 detainees, including four journalists on execution row and prominent political and military figures.
Early this month, the Houthis agreed to Saudi peace proposals to exchange all prisoners with their opponents, open roads in the besieged city of Taiz, and stop attacking oil facilities in government-controlled southern Yemen in exchange for lifting restrictions on Sanaa Airport and Hodeidah‘a port, the Yemeni government sharing oil revenues with them, and paying public employees in the area they control.
Observers in Yemen say that the Houthis, who have long resisted peace proposals and demands to end their siege of Taiz, abruptly reversed their position on peace efforts out of fear of losing the support of Iranians who reconciled with Saudi Arabia.
Separately, the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement has recorded 17 civilian casualties in March as a result of detonations of land mines and explosive remnants of war in various Houthi-controlled districts in the western province of Hodeidah.
The UN observers said land mines killed eight civilians, including a woman and a child, and injured nine others in Hodeidah’s Al-Hali and At Tuhayta districts, representing a 21 percent increase in human casualties in the province compared to the same month last year and a 19 percent decrease compared to February 2023.
They added that between March 2022 and March 2023, 99 Yemenis were killed and 209 were injured in land mine and other explosive incidents in Hodeidah province.
Yemeni deminers and others from the Saudi-funded demining program say that hundreds of Yemeni civilians had been killed and hundreds injured in land mine explosions around the nation and that Hodeidah was the most contaminated Yemeni province, where the Houthis had planted thousands of land mines over the previous six years.
Yemeni Landmine Records, a group that keeps track of civilian land mine casualties in the country, said this month that Houthi-laid land mines and explosive remnants of war had killed at least 349 Yemenis and injured 523 in 11 Yemeni provinces since January of last year.
Meanwhile, the Yemeni government’s Executive Unit for IDP Camps said that 5,018 people, or 1,209 families, were displaced from their homes and tents in Marib, Shabwa, Hodeidah, and Taiz in March as a result of the sporadic fighting between the Yemeni government and the Houthis.
Israeli police arrest five for hostile gestures toward Christians
Members of the area’s small Christian community have said they have faced growing harassment and intimidation from Jewish ultranationalists
Updated 30 sec ago
JERUSALEM: Israeli police on Wednesday arrested five people suspected of spitting toward Christians or churches in the Old City of Jerusalem and formed a special investigative team to deal with growing complaints of hostile gestures against Christians. “Unfortunately, we witness the continued disgraceful acts of hatred toward Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem, primarily through spitting by extremists,” said Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman. No details were provided on the identities of the people who were arrested. Members of the area’s small Christian community have said they have faced growing harassment and intimidation from Jewish ultranationalists, particularly since Netanyahu’s hard-right government took office late last year. Wednesday’s arrests came as the city prepared for its annual Jerusalem March, an event that usually draws huge crowds, including thousands of Christian pilgrims. Israeli media published video footage in the Old City this week showing Orthodox Jews, including small children, apparently spitting on the ground as they passed a group of foreign Christian pilgrims. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident, promising to take “immediate and decisive action.” “Israel is totally committed to safeguard the sacred right of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths,” he said in a message on the social messaging platform X. The Old City’s patchwork of narrow alleys surround some of the holiest sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and the local communities have long developed ways of living together despite regular spikes in tension, especially around religious and national holidays. Turgeman said police would use security cameras, patrols and Internet monitoring to fight the phenomenon both in real time and in hindsight, as well as to possibly start imposing special “administrative fines.”
Rising poverty forces Syrian parents to choose between children’s schooling and survival
Economic collapse has made textbooks, uniforms and stationery unaffordable for many impoverished households
“Lost generation” feared as conflict, earthquakes and spending cuts leave schools damaged and underfunded
Updated 04 October 2023
LONDON: Syria’s dire economic situation has forced students from impoverished backgrounds to miss school this year, as families cut back on expenses and try to shore up household incomes by sending their children to work instead.
Schools in government-held areas of Syria reopened in September after the summer break, welcoming back an estimated 3.7 million children, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. However, many others did not show up.
Among those marked as absent were children who had no other choice but to become laborers to earn money and help their families make ends meet as Syrians grapple with a devastating and unprecedented economic crisis.
In an attempt to prevent children from being deprived of their right to education, and ensure they are not forced into exploitative child labor, civil society groups have established projects designed to help vulnerable students continue their studies.
For example, Mart Team, a charity in Damascus, has launched a campaign called “Aqlamouna Amalouna” — which translates as “Hope in our pens” — to support struggling primary school students.
“After conducting a study to investigate why many students in grades one to six were not attending school, we found that a major factor was the soaring costs of stationery and educational supplies,” Marwan Alrez, the general manager of Mart Team, told Arab News.
“Parents have told us schools demand hefty fees and charges, prompting many of them to remove their children from school and force them into the labor market in order to contribute to the household earnings.”
Donya Abo Alzahab, who has been teaching a second-grade class at a primary school in Damascus for a year, notices how desperate the situation has become for many of her young students, to say nothing of their teachers.
“I was thrilled to start my first job as a schoolteacher,” she told Arab News. “Little did I know it would prove to be a costly, significant challenge, given the lack of much-needed support and teaching aids.”
With some students lagging behind their peers by as much as three years in terms of learning, teachers such as Alzahab often find themselves compelled to spend a substantial portion of their own modest incomes on essential teaching aids, including textbooks, which are not cheap at a time when the value of the nation’s currency has fallen to record lows.
Alrez said the average cost of educational supplies for a single primary school student is at least 200,000 Syrian pounds (approximately $16); a backpack alone can cost 100,000 pounds. If schools fail to provide students with textbooks, these can cost parents an additional 50,000 pounds.
Such costs are increasingly out of the reach of many public-sector employees, whose minimum monthly salaries were only recently increased to 185,940 Syrian pounds. At the same time, the government slashed fuel subsidies, sparking rare protests in southern Syria.
Alzahab, who holds a degree in special educational needs, said transport costs alone can exceed 80,000 pounds per month, equivalent to almost half her salary. She also spends 30,000 pounds on teaching aids and 15,000 for a teacher’s planner that has to be replaced every month.
“The only reason why I won’t quit my job is the students, she said. “If I resign, they will be left for a long period without a replacement.”
• 3.7m Syrian students returned to school in government-held areas in September.
• Economic crisis has made schooling too expensive for many households.
• Some children have become laborers to help provide for their families.
Such a gap in their education would be devastating for her pupils’ learning outcomes, which in many cases are already behind schedule. Of the 30 students in her class, 20 are unable read or write.
A recent report by UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, titled “Every Day Counts,” revealed that in 2022, about 2.4 million children in Syria were not in school and an additional 1.6 million were at risk of dropping out.
According to a subsequent UNICEF report covering the period from January to March this year, the figures have not improved. Furthermore, the share of the national budget allocated by the Syrian government to education fell from 7.1 percent in 2021 to 3.6 percent in 2022.
UNICEF estimates that the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has damaged or destroyed 7,000 schools across the country. This situation was compounded by the devastating twin earthquakes that hit parts of northern Syria and southern Turkiye on Feb. 6 this year.
The UN agency warned of the danger of a generation of young children who have never gone to school and “will face difficulties in enrolling and adjusting in formal schooling as they grow older.”
Until the economic crisis in the country is brought under control, however, many households will continue to prioritize survival over schooling.
“Syria’s children are quite often faced with a dilemma: whether to support their families to survive or continue their education,” Hamzah Barhameyeh, the advocacy and communication manager at World Vision, an international child-focused charity, told Arab News.
“The Syrian conflict has decimated the education infrastructure and the earthquake has compounded the crisis, leaving schools in need of rehabilitation and school supplies, which in turn has made the choice between education and child labor a much easier decision.”
Alrez highlighted the importance of supporting schoolchildren because “this generation is Syria’s future.”
His charity’s initiative has so far succeeded in meeting the needs of about 300 primary school pupils in parts of Rif Dimashq, including Maaraba and Sbeneh, neighborhoods of Ghouta such as Zamalka, and the outskirts of Damascus.
The Syrian government has said it recognizes the struggles many students and their families face and is trying to help. The Ministry of Education has urged schools to be lenient when enforcing policies on the wearing of uniforms, for example, according to a report by SANA.
The ministry also called on schools to cut their demands for certain supplies, wherever feasible, to alleviate the burden on poverty-stricken families, at least in part.
Such modest measures are unlikely to make a significant dent, however, given that 90 percent of the Syrian population now lives below the poverty line. Even teachers in government-held areas, such as Alzahab, are struggling to do their jobs despite being innovative and resourceful wherever possible.
The situation is hardly any better for children in parts of Syria outside the government’s control. The earthquakes in February largely affected opposition-held regions in the northwest, where facilities for children had already deteriorated on account of the conflict.
At least 450 schools in the northwest were “damaged to varying degrees” by the earthquakes, according to a report published in April by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Thousands more have been damaged or destroyed during more than 12 years of civil war, which has been particularly destructive in the northwest of the country.
World Vision currently has six educational projects operating in northwestern Syria, Barhameyeh said, focusing on “school rehabilitation, educational centers, school winterization and teacher training.”
He added: “Those projects also include a livelihood intervention (program) that provides food packages, hygiene kits, school supplies and, in some instances, cash vouchers to reduce families’ need to send their children to work.”
Still, the task of filling up classrooms remains an uphill battle, especially given that more than 1.7 million children in northwestern Syria rely on humanitarian assistance.
“The food crisis and recent cuts to World Food Program programs are actively pushing young boys to head to the labor market and drop out of schools,” said Barhameyeh. “This will have a devastating impact on the future of the Syrian children.”
Israel leader vows no tolerance for attacks on believers
His remarks came a day after a video on social media showed ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting on the ground as pilgrims carried crosses.
Updated 04 October 2023
JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday vowed “zero tolerance” for attacks on believers, after a video showed Jewish worshippers spitting toward Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem’s Old City.
“I strongly condemn any attempt to inflict harm on worshippers, and we will take urgent steps against such actions,” said Netanyahu, whose coalition government including ultra-Orthodox and far-right parties is one of the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
“Offensive behavior toward worshippers is a desecration and is unacceptable. We will show zero tolerance toward any harm to worshippers,” he said without referring to any specific attack.
His remarks came a day after a video on social media showed ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting on the ground as pilgrims carried crosses along Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa — the route Christians believe Jesus walked before being crucified.
AFP was unable to immediately verify the video, which followed the publication of similar footage of Jews insulting or acting aggressively toward Christians in the Old City.
After capturing it in 1967, Israel annexed east Jerusalem, including the Old City, in a move never recognized by the international community.
The Old City remains at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as tensions between the world’s three major monotheistic faiths.
Last month the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, said that while attacks on Christians in the Old City were “not a new phenomenon,” they had been more frequent “in the recent period.”
Pizzaballa, who Pope Francis anointed as a cardinal on Saturday, said there were many reasons for the increase, including education.
“There are some movements, some rabbis also, who are inciting on this, or at least approving of this,” he said.
“We have not to forget the past relations between Jews and Christians were not simple, to be diplomatic, and all this creates this context,” he added.
The archbishop also said the frequency of “this phenomenon... is connected, temporarily at least, with this (Israeli) government.”
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, condemned in “the strongest terms the violence against believers in the Old City and all forms of violence.”
“We must do everything in our power to preserve the delicate fabric of the Old City,” he said, addressing “the leaders of all religions.”
Tunisia detains Abir Moussi, prominent opponent of president
Updated 04 October 2023
TUNIS: Tunisia’s public prosecutor detained Abir Moussi, a prominent opponent of President Kais Saied, after she was arrested at the entrance to the presidential palace on Tuesday, lawyers said, the latest arrest targeting Saied’s political rivals.
“Moussi was detained for 48 hours in charges of processing personal data, obstructing the right to work, and assault intended to cause chaos,” lawyer Aroussi Zgir said.
Authorities were not immediately available to comment.
Police this year have detained more than 20 leading political figures, accusing some of plotting against state security. Saied has described those detained as “terrorists, traitors and criminals.”
An assistant of Moussi said in a video on Facebook that Moussi was “kidnapped” in front of the Carthage Palace.
Moussi leads the Free Constitutional Party and is a supporter of late president Zine El Abidine ben Ali who was toppled by mass protests in 2011.
In recent months, the party has organized protests against Saied. Moussi accuses Saied of ruling outside the law, and said that she is ready to make personal sacrifices to save Tunisia.
In front of the La Goulette police station, dozens of angry Moussi supporters protested, shouting slogans against Saied amid a heavy police contingent who cordoned off the building.
Earlier on Tuesday, Moussi said in a video that she went to the presidential reception office to file an appeal in local elections expected at the end of the year. She said that this step was necessary so that she could later file an appeal in the Administrative Court.
Saied, a retired law professor who was elected president in 2019, shut down the elected parliament in 2021 and moved to rule by decree, actions his opponents described as a coup. Saied has said he needed to save Tunisia from years of chaos, denying his actions were a coup.
On Friday, jailed opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi, another critic of Saied, began a three-day hunger strike. Later five other prominent opposition figures also went on hunger strike in prison.
Paramilitary shells kill 10 civilians in Khartoum: activists
Updated 04 October 2023
PORT SUDAN, Sudan: Paramilitary artillery that struck a mosque and other civilian buildings in the Sudanese capital killed 10 people on Tuesday, local activists said.
It is the latest incident in which multiple civilians have been killed in Khartoum during nearly six months of war between Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and his former deputy, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
A local resistance committee said “10 civilians were killed and 11 wounded in artillery shelling by the Rapid Support Forces in Al-Samrab neighborhood,” across the Blue Nile river to the north of central Khartoum.
The committee is one of many groups that used to organize pro-democracy protests and now provide assistance during the war.
“Some shells fell on a mosque, a health center, and citizens’ homes,” the committee said by telephone to AFP in the eastern city of Port Sudan.
On September 12 a medical source told AFP that “17 civilians were killed” by paramilitaries in northern Khartoum, where witnesses reported RSF shelling.
Those deaths came two days after at least 51 people were killed and dozens wounded in air strikes on a southern Khartoum market, according to United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk.
The worst of the violence has been concentrated in Khartoum and the western region of Darfur, but North Kordofan — a crossroads between the capital and Darfur — has also seen fighting.
Nearly 7,500 people have been killed in Sudan since the conflict broke out on April 15, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data project.
Battles have displaced almost 4.3 million people within Sudan, in addition to around 1.2 million more who have fled across borders, UN figures show.