Algeria fires fanned by winds, extreme heat kill 34

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The aftermath of Algeria's wildfires in Toudja town can be seen as temperatures hit 48 degrees Celsius. (AFP)
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The aftermath of Algeria's wildfires in Toudja town can be seen as temperatures hit 48 degrees Celsius. (AFP)
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Updated 25 July 2023
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Algeria fires fanned by winds, extreme heat kill 34

  • Some 7,500 firefighters were battling to bring the flames under control, authorities said.
  • The interior ministry said that it is continuing its firefighting operations in the Boumerdes, Bouira, Tizi Ouzou, Jijel, Bejaia and Skikda regions

ALGIERS: Wildfires raging across Algeria during a blistering heatwave have killed more than 30 people and forced mass evacuations, the government said on Monday.
As temperatures hit 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit) in parts of the North African country, it recorded 97 blazes across 16 provinces, fanned by strong winds, said the interior ministry.
The fires killed at least 34 people, including 10 soldiers, as they raged through residential areas, the interior ministry said, revising an earlier toll of 15 dead.
According to that initial toll, at least 26 people were also injured.
Some 1,500 people were evacuated from the Bejaia, Bouira and Jijel provinces east of the capital Algiers, according to the ministry.
The three provinces in Algeria’s Mediterranean coastal region have seen the worst of the fires.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Monday expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased.
The interior ministry said that 7,500 firefighters and 350 firetrucks were mobilized with aerial support to fight the flames.
Operations were underway to extinguish fires in six provinces, it added, calling on citizens to “avoid areas affected by the fires” and to report new blazes on toll-free phone numbers.
“Civil protection services remain mobilized until the fires are completely extinguished,” the ministry said.
The Bejaia prosecutor’s office has ordered a preliminary probe to identify the causes of the blazes and potential perpetrators, it said in a statement.
Images shared by local media showed fields and forests that had caught fire in the area as well as charred vehicles and storefronts destroyed by the flames.
In the northeastern province of Tizi Ouzou, 15 fires were extinguished late Sunday, according to civil protection forces.
Fires regularly rage through forests and fields in Algeria in summer, and this year have been exacerbated by a heatwave that has seen several Mediterranean countries break temperature records.

In neighboring Tunisia, temperatures on Monday neared 50 degrees Celsius.
Tunisia’s state energy supplier STEG announced planned half-hour to one-hour power cuts in a bid to preserve the network’s performance.
Fires raged again on Monday in a Tunisian pine forest near the border with Algeria, after another blaze in the area last week.
At least 300 people were evacuated by sea and by land from the village of Melloula, according to the national guard.
AFP journalists saw extensive damage near the town of Nefza, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) west of Tunis.
During last week’s fire, a border crossing had to close temporarily, according to Tunisian officials who confirmed 470 hectares (1,100 acres) of forest had been burned.
In some other North African countries such as Morocco and Libya, temperatures were relatively normal compared to annual averages.
Algeria’s state energy firm Sonelgaz on Sunday reported a peak in electricity consumption at 18,697 megawatts.
In August 2022, massive blazes killed 37 in Algeria’s northeastern El Tarf province.
It was preceded by the deadliest summer in decades, with 90 people killed in such fires in 2021, particularly in the Kabylie region.
In a bid to avoid a repeat of previous years’ death tolls, the authorities had announced a series of measures in the months leading up to peak summer heat.
Tebboune in April announced the acquisition of six medium-sized water-bombing aircraft.
This was followed by the interior ministry similarly announcing the imminent acquisition of one such aircraft and the leasing of six others the following month.
Also in May, authorities said they were preparing for wildfires by constructing landing strips for helicopters and fire-fighting drones.
Scientists rank the Mediterranean region as a climate-change “hot spot,” with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning of more heatwaves, crop failures, droughts, rising seas and influxes of invasive species.

 


Nicaragua accuses Germany of helping ‘genocide’ in Gaza in ICJ case

Updated 15 sec ago
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Nicaragua accuses Germany of helping ‘genocide’ in Gaza in ICJ case

  • Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch this week said Israel is disregarding the ICJ’s interim order by limiting humanitarian aid to Gaza

THE HAGUE: Nicaragua on Friday accused Germany of facilitating “genocide” in Gaza in a case started in the International Court of Justice, by giving support to Israel and suspending funding of the UN Palestinian refugee agency.
Through those measures, “Germany is facilitating the commission of genocide and, in any case has failed in its obligation to do everything possible to prevent the commission of genocide,” Nicaragua argued in a filing published by the Hague-based court.
Nicaragua was asking the court to take a swift interim stance against Germany before the case was given in-depth study by judges.
The lodging of the case follows the ICJ saying on January 26 that Israel must do everything to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and take “immediate” measures for aid provisions.
That interim order was given as the court moves to weigh in full a case lodged in December by South Africa alleging that Israel was engaged in genocide in Gaza.
Israel has dismissed South Africa’s case as a “grossly distorted story.”
ICJ rulings are legally binding but the court has no enforcement mechanism.
Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch this week said Israel is disregarding the ICJ’s interim order by limiting humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Accusations from Israel that staff from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, took part in the October 7 Hamas attacks against Israeli communities prompted several countries, including Germany, Britain, Japan and the United States, to suspend their funding.
On Friday, the European Commission emphasized that it was maintaining its funding of UNRWA while reviewing arrangements in light of the Israeli allegation.
The commission said it was releasing 50 million euros ($54 million) to the UN agency next week with a further 32 million euros to follow later.
Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 that Israel says are presumed dead.
The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza on Friday gave the death toll in the strip from the unrelenting Israeli retaliation as 30,228, mostly women and children.
On Friday a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office OCHA said that “if something doesn’t change, a famine is almost inevitable” in the besieged territory.
 

 


Hamas armed wing says seven hostages killed in Gaza

Updated 25 min 55 sec ago
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Hamas armed wing says seven hostages killed in Gaza

  • Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to Hamas’ public messaging on the hostages, casting it as psychological warfare

CAIRO: Seven hostages who have been held in Gaza were killed as a result of the Israeli military’s bombardment of the enclave, Abu Ubaida, the spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing Al-Qassam brigades said on Friday.
He did not include details, like a timeline, backing up the claim.
The Al-Qassam brigades claimed that the number of hostages killed due to Israel’s military operations in Gaza has now exceeded 70 captives, Abu Ubaida added in a statement on Telegram.
Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to Hamas’ public messaging on the hostages, casting it as psychological warfare.
Israel’s military campaign follows Hamas militants’ killing of 1,200 people in southern Israel and the abduction of at least 250 on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel has responded with a military assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
During a week-long truce in late November, Hamas freed more than 100 Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for Israel releasing about 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas at the outset of the war threatened to execute hostages in retaliation for Israeli military strikes, and Israel has accused it of having executed at least two of the dead hostages recovered by the Israeli military.

 


Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

Updated 55 min 1 sec ago
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Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

  • Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis
  • Fearing escalation, Iraq asked Iran to help rein in groups

TEHRAN: Iranians voted on Friday in elections for parliament and a key clerical body, amid fears of a low turnout and with conservatives expected to tighten their grip on power.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for a strong turnout, was the first to cast his ballot. He vote at a polling station in central Tehran, state television reported.
The elections are the first in Iran since widespread protests erupted after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, following her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Since the last elections, Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis.
More than 61 million of Iran’s 85 million people are eligible to vote for members of parliament as well as the clerics of the Assembly of Experts, which selects Iran’s supreme leader.
There were fears of a low turnout, however, after a state TV poll found more than half of respondents were indifferent about the elections.
“Suppose that I vote: what would it change?” asked a 21-year-old from Kurdistan province who gave her name only as Hanna, for fear of reprisals. “They (the elected officials) do not respect their promises.”
Her comments were echoed by Hashem, a 32-year-old from the southwestern province of Khuzestan. “The problem with the elections is that people are not happy with this system because of the political and economic situation,” he said.
Another voter, Moradiani from south Tehran, said she would heed Khamenei’s call to vote.
“The leader said that participating in the elections is an obligation,” she said, “just as it is obligatory for us to pray.”
Polls closed at midnight (2030 GMT), after voting hours were extended several times during the day, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Local Fars news agency estimated the turnout to stand at “more than 40 percent.”
“The plan to boycott the elections, designed by foreign enemies and their internal supporters, failed with the participation of around 25 million people,” it said, without elaborating

Iran’s last parliamentary election in 2020 saw turnout of 42.57 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Hadi Tahan Nazif, spokesman for the Guardian Council which vets candidates, voiced optimism about Friday’s turnout, saying it was “even better” than four years ago.
Khamenei had on Friday appealed for people to vote, saying: “Onlookers from all over observe the affairs of our country; make (Iran’s) friends happy and ill-wishers disappointed.”
The supreme leader had previously warned that Iran’s “enemies want to see if the people are present.” Otherwise, he added, “they will threaten your security in one way or another.”
Those watching, he said, included the United States, “most of the Europeans, evil Zionists, capitalists and big companies.”
Iran considers the United States, its Western allies and Israel “enemies” of the state and accuses them of seeking to intervene in its internal affairs.
On the eve of the elections, the United States said they would be unfair.
“I have no expectation that Iran’s elections will be free and fair, and I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.
Candidates for parliament are vetted by the Guardian Council, whose members are either appointed or approved by the supreme leader.
They have approved a total of 15,200 candidates, out of nearly 49,000 applicants, to run for seats in the 290-member parliament.
Conservatives and ultra-conservatives, who hold 232 out 290 seats in the 2020 parliament after reformist and moderate candidates were disqualified, are expected by analysts to dominate once again.
A coalition of parties called the Reform Front said it would not take part in “meaningless, non-competitive and ineffective elections.”

Former Iranian president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami, was quoted in February by the conservative Javan daily as saying that Iran was “very far from free and competitive elections.”
Conservatives are also expected to maintain a firm grip on the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member body exclusively made up of male Islamic scholars.
A total of 144 candidates are running but many hopefuls were disqualified, including moderate former president Hassan Rouhani.
The Israel-Hamas war has sent tensions in the region soaring, with pro-Tehran groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen all involved in clashes with either Israel or its Western allies.
The elections also take place amid crippling international sanctions and mounting economic hardship in Iran, where inflation has hovered around 50 percent and the rial has sharply depreciated against the dollar.
“The prices are extremely high and continue to increase,” Masoumeh, a 40-year-old housewife, told AFP in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar ahead of the vote.
“I don’t think that the representatives who will be elected will be able to improve this situation.”
 


Biden says ‘hoping’ for Gaza ceasefire deal by Ramadan

Updated 02 March 2024
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Biden says ‘hoping’ for Gaza ceasefire deal by Ramadan

  • Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden said Friday he was “hoping” for a ceasefire deal in the Israel-Hamas conflict by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan but agreement was still not sealed.
“I’m hoping so, we’re still working real hard on it. We’re not there yet,” he told reporters at the White House when asked if he expected a deal by Ramadan, which will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
“We’ll get there but we’re not there yet — we may not get there,” Biden added, without elaborating, as he headed to his helicopter to spend the weekend at the presidential Camp David retreat.
Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline.
The 81-year-old Democrat announced earlier Friday that the United States would soon start airdropping aid to Gaza, a day after dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed rushing an aid convoy.
Biden has said the incident could complicate talks, but would not comment Friday on what was holding up a deal, adding: “I’m not going to tell you that because that’ll get involved in the negotiations.”

 


Tunisian judge releases union leader after one-day detention

Updated 02 March 2024
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Tunisian judge releases union leader after one-day detention

  • The UGTT, which has about 1 million members, has been a critical voice after the arrest of activists, businessmen, and journalists since President Kais Saied took charge of most powers in 2021 when he closed parliament

TUNIS: A judge has released a top official in Tunisia’s biggest labor union, one day after he was detained, the union said.
The Tunisian General Labor Union denounced the detention of Tahar Mezzi, saying it was a politically motivated attempt to undermine union rights.
Mezzi is the deputy secretary-general and the union’s head of the private sector.
He was detained two days before a huge protest called by the UGTT against what it said was a “violation of union rights and the disruption of social dialogue.”
A judicial official said the judge also ordered a travel ban on Mezzi.
The UGTT did not say on what grounds Mezzi was detained.
Tunisian authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Since last year, police have arrested at least four senior union officials.
The UGTT, which has about 1 million members, has been a critical voice after the arrest of activists, businessmen, and journalists since President  Kais Saied took charge of most powers in 2021 when he closed parliament.
But the voice of the union, which was widely seen as the biggest force in the country, has been significantly diminished since last year after the arrest of some officials.
Some political parties and activists have accused UGTT of inaction, retreating from its role, and choosing silence instead of confronting Saied’s authoritarian approach.
Saturday’s protest will be the first in months.