Yemenis mourn stampede dead as Houthis blamed for fueling poverty
The incident took place inside a school where aid was being distributed
Three people had been detained on suspicion of involvement, say Houthis
Updated 21 April 2023
AL-MUKALLA: At least 85 people were killed and hundreds injured in a crush at a Ramadan cash handout in Yemen early on Thursday.
Three people were detained over the stampede in Sanaa, the rebel-held capital, after large crowds gathered at a school to receive gifts of 5,000 rials ($8) for the end of Ramadan.
Dozens of Yemeni activists, lawyers, and journalists demanded an independent and thorough investigation into the deadly incident as world envoys to the country, aid organizations, and rights groups expressed shock and offered condolences.
Yemenis penned an online petition demanding that the Iran-backed Houthis include local rights groups and lawyers in an independent investigation, pay public employees in areas they control, and cease harassment of local charities and merchants who donate to the poor.
“We demand the formation of a fair and impartial investigation committee, with community participation, comprised of representatives from the Bar Association and human rights organizations, to investigate this incident and enforce the law,” the Yemeni activists said in their letter.
They added: “Likewise, we condemn vehemently preventing merchants from distributing alms to the impoverished and helpless.”
The Houthis said that their leader, Mahdi Al-Mashat, ordered the formation of an investigation committee, while other Houthi officials blamed the crush on their opponents for imposing a “blockade” as well as traders’ refusal to cooperate with the militia’s security authorities.
Yemenis, however, accused the Houthis of causing the tragedy by failing to pay thousands of public employees, squandering state revenues, and even harassing local merchants and charitable organizations that assist the poor.
“People died because you didn’t pay their salaries,” said Khaled Al-Ruwaishan, a former Yemeni culture minister and an outspoken Sanaa-based writer.
Yemen Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani called the stampede a “massacre” and accused the Houthi of fueling poverty in Yemen by looting state revenues, refusing to pay public sector employees, harassing private sector representatives and impeding the distribution of humanitarian aid.
“Those who bear responsibility for the incident are the ones who plundered food from the mouths of the hungry, imposed restrictions on international relief organizations, prevented merchants and philanthropists from distributing alms to the needy, plundered zakat and endowment funds, and imposed illegal fees and levies,” the minister said on Twitter.
Hans Grundberg, UN Yemen envoy, tweeted: “I and everyone in my office are pained and deeply saddened by the tragic stampede in Sanaa on the eve of Eid. My heartfelt condolences go out to all Yemenis grieving today and I wish the injured a speedy recovery.”
Richard Oppenheim, UK ambassador to Yemen, said: “This is a terrible tragedy at a time when we are expecting Eid. We are working hard with our partners in Yemen and around the world to support Yemen to achieve peace.”
Steven Fagin, US ambassador to Yemen, said: “We extend our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in today’s tragic incident in Sanaa and we wish the injured a speedy recovery.”
UAE, Brazil FMs discuss strengthening strategic partnership
Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan met with Mauro Vieira in Brasilia on Tuesday
Emirati president invited to Brazil in 2024 to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties
Updated 4 sec ago
SAO PAULO: Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan met with his Brazilian counterpart Mauro Vieira in Brasilia on Tuesday.
They reviewed bilateral relations and expressed a desire to strengthen the strategic partnership between the UAE and Brazil in areas such as trade, investment, energy, defense, food security, agriculture, science, technology, tourism, culture and space cooperation.
They also discussed cooperation to promote sustainable development and to combat climate change, since the UAE and Brazil are hosting UN climate change conferences this year and in 2025 respectively.
Brazil has welcomed the UAE’s inclusion in BRICS and reaffirmed the bloc’s commitment to a more balanced world economic order, as well as the need for reforms in global governance.
Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will become permanent members of BRICS from Jan. 1, 2024.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited the UAE in April. Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan has been invited to visit Brazil in 2024 to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The UAE foreign minister has visited Barbados, Guyana, Paraguay and Chile for talks with counterparts about cooperation and climate action.
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 04 October 2023
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.