Egypt reopens historic mosque after long restoration

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A general view of the historical mosque of al-Zahir Baybars as Egypt reopens it after the completion of renovation work, in Cairo, Egypt, June 5, 2023. (Reuters)
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A general view of the historical mosque of Al-Zahir Baybars as Egypt reopens it after the completion of renovation work, in Cairo, Egypt, June 5, 2023. (Reuters)
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An internal view of the historical Mosque of al-Zahir Baybars in Cairo, Egypt, June 5, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 June 2023

Egypt reopens historic mosque after long restoration

  • The mosque of Al-Zhahir Baybars, built under Mamluk rule in 1268, spans an area of three acres just north of central Cairo

CAIRO: A 13th century mosque that fell into disrepair after being used over the years as a soap factory, a slaughterhouse and a fort reopened in Cairo on Monday after undergoing a long restoration.
The mosque of Al-Zhahir Baybars, built under Mamluk rule in 1268, spans an area of three acres just north of central Cairo, making it Egypt’s third-largest mosque.
The mosque underwent mechanical and chemical restoration to bring it back to its original condition, said Tarek Mohamed El-Behairy, who supervised the restoration.
“Some parts were destroyed, some parts have been dismantled because they were structurally unsuitable to remain in the mosque,” he said.
“But we were very keen, even in the reconstruction process, to work according to the correct archaeological style.”
The restoration, which cost $7.68 million, was co-funded with Kazakhstan and began in 2007.
For 225 years, the mosque was either closed, abandoned or had operated for non-religious purposes that contributed to its disrepair.
During Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt it was used as a military fort, then under Ottoman rule in the 19th century as a soap factory. Later, when the British invaded Egypt in 1882, it was used as a slaughterhouse.
Al-Zahir Baybars was a prominent figure in Egypt’s history credited with cementing Mamluk rule in Egypt which spanned three centuries up to 1517.

No plan for Erdogan to meet Assad in Moscow, Turkish source says

Updated 24 July 2024

No plan for Erdogan to meet Assad in Moscow, Turkish source says

  • Assad’s government has restored diplomatic relations with some Arab states that were severed during the war, but Damascus remains at odds with Ankara, which still protects some anti-Assad rebels in Syria’s northwest

MOSCOW: A newspaper report that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will meet Syrian President Bashar Assad in Moscow next month is incorrect, a Turkish diplomatic source said.
Turkiye’s Daily Sabah newspaper cited an unidentified source as saying that such a meeting could take place in August in Moscow, with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a mediator.
The diplomatic source, speaking to a group of journalists on Monday after the report appeared, said there was no plan for an Erdogan-Assad meeting in August in Moscow.
Turkiye has long been one of the main backers of Assad’s opponents in the Syrian civil war which began in 2011, while Russia is one of Assad’s main battlefield allies, having helped him restore control over most of Syria.
Assad’s government has restored diplomatic relations with some Arab states that were severed during the war, but Damascus remains at odds with Ankara, which still protects some anti-Assad rebels in Syria’s northwest.
Erdogan said earlier in July he would extend an invitation to Assad “any time” for possible talks to restore relations, and Putin could help facilitate the contact. Assad said he would meet Erdogan only if they could focus on core issues including a pullout of Turkish forces from Syrian territory.
Asked about the report of a potential meeting in Moscow between Assad and Erdogan, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not confirm any specific plans but said Russia would like to see improved relations between the two countries.
“The issue of facilitating the organization of certain contacts between Turkish and Syrian representatives at various levels is really on the agenda.
“Many countries, and of course Russia as a country that plays a significant role in the region, are interested in helping the two countries to establish relations. This is very important for the whole region.”


Sudan paramilitary chief ‘welcomes’ US-mediated ceasefire talks

Updated 24 July 2024

Sudan paramilitary chief ‘welcomes’ US-mediated ceasefire talks

  • Ceasefire talks set to take place in Switzerland on August 14

PORT SUDAN: The commander of Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, at war with the army for over a year, agreed late Tuesday to ceasefire talks next month.

In a post on social media site X, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo said he “welcomed” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s invitation to negotiations.

“I declare our participation in the upcoming ceasefire talks on August 14, 2024, in Switzerland,” the paramilitary commander wrote.

“The talks in Switzerland aim to reach a nationwide cessation of violence, enabling humanitarian access to all those in need, and develop a robust monitoring and verification mechanism to ensure implementation of any agreement,” Blinken said.

Since April 2023, a brutal war has raged between Sudan’s regular military, under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and his former deputy Dagalo’s RSF.

The conflict has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and uprooted more than 10 million people, including two million who have fled across borders, according to the United Nations.

Previous mediation attempts, including by the African Union, have failed to get the warring parties in the same room, as experts said both forces vied for the tactical advantage on the ground.

Indirect talks between the RSF and Sudanese military, held this month in Geneva by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s personal envoy for Sudan, Ramtane Lamamra, were called an “encouraging” first step by the UN.

The talks focused on humanitarian aid and protecting civilians, though neither side met directly with the other.

Both the RSF and the army have been repeatedly accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, and blocking humanitarian aid, while millions of Sudanese suffer on the brink of starvation.

The RSF has specifically been accused of ethnic cleansing, systematic sexual violence and rampant looting.

What is the human cost of Israel’s relentless pursuit of Hamas commanders in Gaza?

Updated 24 July 2024

What is the human cost of Israel’s relentless pursuit of Hamas commanders in Gaza?

  • Hundreds of Palestinians have died in operations that Israeli forces say targeted Hamas fighters or aimed to free hostages
  • The civilian toll following Israel’s recent bombing of Al-Mawasi and Khan Younis has drawn international condemnation

LONDON: Israel’s military has killed dozens of Palestinian civilians and wounded hundreds more, including children, in its relentless pursuit of Hamas commanders in Gaza, despite designating many of its areas of operation as “safe zones.”

Palestinian health officials said on Monday that 16 civilians were killed in eastern Khan Younis under Israeli shelling, even after Israel issued new orders to evacuate some neighborhoods to keep the civilian population away from areas of combat.

This latest bloodshed followed Israel’s July 13 airstrike on Al-Mawasi camp, another designated safe zone in southern Gaza, which killed at least 90 Palestinians and wounded 300 others, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

Israel said the target of this strike was Mohammed Deif, head of Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, as well as Rafa Salama, commander of the group’s Khan Younis Brigade, whom Israel believes was a mastermind of the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas-led attack.

Denying reports of his death, a Hamas official told the AFP news agency following the strike that Deif was “well and directly overseeing” operations, but he provided no proof for the claim.

Meanwhile, Daniel Hagari, the spokesman for the Israeli military, has said “there are increasing signs that we succeeded in the elimination of Mohammed Deif.”

Speaking to Al-Arabiya TV channel on Friday, he said: “Rafa Salama was certainly eliminated; Mohammed Deif and Salama sat side by side during the strike. Hamas is hiding what happened to Deif.”

Herzi Halevi, Israel’s chief of the general staff, has also accused Hamas of “concealing the results” of the strike on a west Khan Younis compound, where both Deif and Salama were purportedly hiding.

Regardless of whether the strike on Al-Mawasi was successful or not, the attack on an area packed with civilians drew global condemnation, with observers accusing the Israeli military of violating international humanitarian law.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, wrote on the social media platform X: “Wars have limits enshrined in international law; end can’t justify all means. We condemn the violation.”

He added: “Once again we call for access to independent investigations and accountability, and for an end to the appalling situation of innocent civilians in Gaza.”

On the day of the attack, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi “to express our serious concern about the recent civilian casualties in Gaza.”

The deadly Al-Mawasi strike was not the first incident since the conflict began on Oct. 7 in which the Israeli military has been accused of disregarding the safety of civilians and violating international humanitarian law in the pursuit of Hamas commanders.

In the fighting since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack, at least 38,900 Palestinians, including more than 13,000 children, have been killed, according to the UN Human Rights Office. The proportion of the dead who were combatants is a matter of dispute.

The Israeli army’s bombing campaign, which Israeli officials say is aimed at Hamas and not civilian targets, has also destroyed medical, sanitation, and educational infrastructure across the Palestinian enclave.

Last month, in an operation that rescued four hostages, the Israeli military killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians in the densely populated Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.

The Israeli military said there were “under 100” Palestinian casualties but was uncertain how many of them were “terrorists.”

But almost a quarter of the 142 killed in the operation were women and children, Al-Awda Hospital in Nuseirat told BBC Arabic’s “Gaza Today” show, adding that 250 others were injured.

Expressing “profound shock” at the impact on civilians in Nuseirat, UN spokesman Jeremy Laurence said the Israeli forces’ actions “seriously call into question whether the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution … were upheld.”

In March, the Israeli military mounted a raid on Gaza’s largest medical facility, Al-Shifa Hospital, where it claimed Hamas fighters and other Palestinian militants were hiding.

Some 3,000 people were sheltering in Al-Shifa at the time of Israel’s raid, Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said. At least 1,500 Palestinians, including 13 children and 21 patients, were killed in the two-week raid, according to the Euro-Med Monitor, a nongovernmental organization headquartered in Geneva.

Israeli officials said that “over 200 terrorists” were killed in and around Al-Shifa, as well as hundreds detained, including several Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives.

It has been impossible to independently verify the reported numbers due to a lack of reporting access to Gaza.

Between July 8 and 12, Israel attacked six schools operated by the UN Relief and Works Agency, killing dozens of civilians sheltering in the area, before reportedly razing the UN agency’s headquarters in Gaza City on July 15.

Israel has accused local staff at UNRWA of participating in the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, prompting the UN agency to launch an internal investigation and several major donors, including the US, to suspend funding for its operation in Gaza and throughout the region.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini called Israel’s attack on his agency’s Gaza headquarters “another episode in the blatant disregard of international humanitarian law.”

In a post on X, he said: “UN facilities must be protected at all times. They must never be used for military or fighting purposes. Every war has rules. Gaza is no exception.”

In a separate post, Lazzarini stressed that “schools must never be used for fighting or military purposes by any party to the conflict.”


• Oct. 7, 2023: 1,200 Israeli and other nationals killed in southern Israel, hundreds taken hostage, in Hamas-led attack.

• Oct. 31, 2023: 110+ Palestinians killed in Israeli strike targeting ‘senior Hamas commander’ in Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza.

• Feb. 29, 2024: 112 Palestinians waiting for aid killed, 760 more injured outside Gaza City amid Israeli gunfire and panic.

• April 1: 7 World Central Kitchen workers killed in Israeli strikes in violation of military procedures on convoy delivering aid in Gaza.

• May 27: 45+ Palestinians killed in Israeli strike targeting ‘two senior Hamas commanders’ in Rafah.

• June 9: 274 Palestinians killed in Israeli military raid that freed 4 hostages who were held in Nuseirat refugee camp.

• July 13: 90+ Palestinians killed, 300 wounded in Israeli airstrike targeting Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif in Al-Mawasi.

Source: Gaza Health Ministry, Israeli govt.

Warning that “all rules of war have been broken in Gaza,” he said: “The blatant and constant disregard of international humanitarian law continues unabated.”

Israel has consistently denied accusations that it targets civilian infrastructure, accusing Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups of using tunnels under Gaza’s hospitals to mount attacks and conceal weapons, thereby using the population as human shields.

Commenting on Israel’s conduct, a New York-based international lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, told Arab News that in the Gaza war, “international law remains relevant as a framework for accountability and justice by providing mechanisms to hold perpetrators accountable for war crimes, genocide, and other atrocities.”

The International Criminal Court, which prosecutes individuals accused of war crimes, has made an attempt to hold “both parties to the conflict” accountable for alleged war crimes.

Israeli officials believe the ICC is likely to issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant within the next two weeks, Israeli media reported on July 17.

Karim Khan, ICC chief prosecutor, filed an application in May for arrest warrants against two Israeli and three Palestinian individuals suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Hamas commander Deif was among the Palestinians listed in the ICC’s arrest warrant, alongside Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, and Yahya Sinwar, head of the Islamist movement in Gaza.

The arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant accused them of using starvation as a tool of war, extermination, and deliberately attacking civilian populations, alongside other war crimes and crimes against humanity.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Khan said he had “reasonable grounds” to believe the five men bore “criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war in Gaza.

The decision caused anger among the Hamas leadership, in Israel, and even in the US. US President Joe Biden described the move as “outrageous,” saying there was “no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas.”

Hamas said the ICC’s prosecutor was “equating the victim with the executioner” and demanded the withdrawal of the allegations against its leaders.

The New York-based international lawyer said that although international law and ongoing developments “create a foundation for addressing atrocities and fostering a more just and peaceful world,” its enforcement “can be inconsistent and subject to political influence.”

On July 19, the UN’s International Court of Justice at The Hague declared Israel’s occupation and annexation of the Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip, the West Banks and East Jerusalem, to be “unlawful” in a landmark ruling.

Stating that Israel’s discriminatory laws and policies against Palestinians violate the prohibition on racial segregation and apartheid, the ICJ also ordered Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories “as rapidly as possible.”

Israel has since Oct. 7 also mounted dozens of raids on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, killing at least 500 Palestinians, 143 of them children, according to UN figures.

The ICJ’s recent ruling, however, is a non-binding advisory opinion that was sought by the UN General Assembly in 2022, preceding the Israeli onslaught on Gaza and not directly linked to it.

Responding to the ruling, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying: “The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land — not in our eternal capital Jerusalem, nor in our ancestral heritage of Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank).

“No decision of lies in The Hague will distort this historical truth, and similarly, the legality of Israeli settlements in all parts of our homeland cannot be disputed.”

In December last year, South Africa brought a case against Israel before the ICJ, alleging it had committed genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The ICJ issued a provisional ruling in January, modified in May, ordering Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive” and urging Hamas to release the hostages immediately and unconditionally.

Regardless, Israel has continued to bomb Rafah and other parts of the Gaza Strip where well over a million displaced Palestinians are sheltered, while Hamas is believed to still hold 116 hostages.

No amount of legal wrangling has brought the conflict closer to resolution.

Diplomats and region watchers continue to call on both sides to accept an immediate ceasefire, to exchange hostages and prisoners, and to actively pursue a solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Tunisia migrants in ‘unsuitable conditions’: rights group

Updated 24 July 2024

Tunisia migrants in ‘unsuitable conditions’: rights group

  • FTDES found that 77 percent of those interviewed for the study were subjected to physical or verbal violence, though only about five percent filed a complaint “due to their administrative status”

TUNIS: More than half of the mainly sub-Saharan migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Tunisia currently live in “unsuitable conditions,” a domestic rights group said Tuesday.
In its latest study on migration, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) found that “over half” of migrants in Tunisia lived “in the street, public parks, encampments, and outdoor areas.”
Tunisia is a key departure point for irregular migrants attempting perilous sea crossings across the Mediterranean to seek better lives in Europe.
Earlier this month, Tunisian Interior Minister Khaled Nouri said that more than 74,000 migrants were intercepted while trying to make the sea crossing to Europe between January 1 and mid-July.
FTDES found that 77 percent of those interviewed for the study were subjected to physical or verbal violence, though only about five percent filed a complaint “due to their administrative status.”
Even when they were sick, nine in 10 people interviewed said they did not seek health treatment “for fear of arrest.”
Anti-migrant violence spiked last year in Tunisia after President Kais Saied said in a speech that “hordes of illegal migrants” posed a demographic threat to the country.
Many were kicked out of their homes and lost their jobs amid an ensuing wave of attacks on migrants.
The study said that authorities’ mistreatment of migrants further motivates them to leave Tunisia.
But with the EU’s increasing efforts to curb migration, they often found themselves stranded in the North African country.
The migrants’ situation in Tunisia is influenced by “external factors related to Europe’s migratory policy,” FTDES spokesman Romdhane Ben Amor said.
The Tunisian state, he added, “needs this (migration) crisis externally to receive more funds ... and internally to present itself as the protector of Tunisians.”
Last summer, Tunisia and the European Union signed an agreement through which Tunis received financial aid worth 105 million euros ($112 million) in return for measures to deter migrant departures, including ramping up interceptions.
Between January 1 and June 25 this year, some 3,500 migrants were sent back to their home countries through the International Organization for Migration’s “voluntary humanitarian return program.”
That figure marked a 200 percent increase in voluntary repatriations compared to the same period in 2023.


Iraq bans a Kurdish separatist group and strengthens its cooperation with Turkiye

Updated 23 July 2024

Iraq bans a Kurdish separatist group and strengthens its cooperation with Turkiye

  • Iraq has not followed Turkiye’s lead in designating the PKK a terrorist group but has put it on its list of banned organizations

IRBIL, Iraq: The Iraqi government announced Tuesday an official ban on a Kurdish separatist group which has been engaged in in a long-running conflict with Turkiye.
Turkiye has been seeking greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that has waged an insurgency against Turkiye since the 1980s and is banned there.
The order issued July 14 and published Tuesday by the Department of Administrative Affairs at the Iraqi Parliament said Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani had issued instructions for the PKK to be described as the “banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party” in all official correspondence. It was the clearest statement from the Iraqi government on the group’s status to date.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Iraq in April for the first time in more than a decade. At the time, Erdogan said he and Sudani had “consulted on the joint steps we can take against the PKK terrorist organization and its extensions, which target Turkiye from Iraqi territory.”
Iraq has not followed Turkiye’s lead in designating the PKK a terrorist group but has put it on its list of banned organizations.
The PKK has maintained bases in northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. In recent months, Turkiye has built up its troops in northern Iraq and has threatened an offensive to clear PKK forces from the border area.
Turkiye often launches strikes against targets in Syria and Iraq that it believes to be affiliated with the PKK. Baghdad has complained that the strikes are a breach of its sovereignty, but earlier this year, the two governments issued a joint statement saying that the “PKK organization represents a security threat to both Turkiye and Iraq.”
The Turkish defense ministry said Tuesday that four suspected PKK militants were killed in an air offensive in northern Iraq, including one who was allegedly on a list of militants most wanted by Turkiye.
The ministry identified the man as Yusuf Kalkan and said he was wanted for membership in a terror organization as well as for founding and directing a terror group.