Plane with five American prisoners freed by Iran lands in US
Plane sent by mediator Qatar flew five US citizens and two of relatives out of Tehran
US officials received five Americans after they disembarked from Qatari plane at Doha
Updated 19 September 2023
DOHA/NEW YORK: A plane carrying five Americans freed by Iran landed in the United States on Tuesday, a day after they were swapped for the release of five Iranians held in the US and the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian funds, in a deal between the arch enemies.
CNN reported the plane had landed. The report did provide further details.
It followed a carefully choreographed exchange, agreed after months of Qatar-mediated talks, that was triggered on Monday when the funds that had been blocked in South Korea were wired, via Switzerland, to banks in Doha.
After the transfer was confirmed, the five US prisoners plus two relatives took off on a Qatari plane from Tehran, at the same time as two of the five Iranian detainees landed in Doha on their way home. Three Iranians chose not to go to Iran.
The deal removes a point of friction between the United States, which brands Tehran a sponsor of terrorism, and Iran, which calls Washington the “Great Satan.”
But it is unclear whether it will bring the two adversaries, which have been at odds for 40 years, closer on any other issues, such as Iran’s nuclear program and its backing for regional militias or the US military presence in the Gulf and US sanctions.
The freed Americans include US-Iranian dual citizens Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who also holds British nationality. Two of them have not been publicly identified.
US President Joe Biden welcomed the return of the prisoners home in a statement on Monday but his administration also announced fresh US sanctions.
“We will continue to impose costs on Iran for their provocative actions in the region,” he said.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was in New York for the annual UN General Assembly, called the swap a humanitarian action. “It can certainly be a step based upon which in the future other humanitarian actions can be taken,” he added.
Relations between the United States and Iran have been especially bitter since 2018 when then-President Donald Trump pulled out of a deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and toughened US sanctions.
Washington suspects Iran’s nuclear program may be aimed at developing nuclear arms, a charge Iran denies.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken left the door open to nuclear diplomacy, but suggested nothing was imminent.
US analysts were skeptical about prospects for progress.
“The prisoner swap does likely pave the way for additional diplomacy around the nuclear program this fall, although the prospect for actually reaching a deal is very remote,” said Henry Rome of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Yemen’s state-run airline suspends the only route out of Sanaa over Houthi restrictions on its funds
Yemen Airways cancels commercial flights from Sanaa to the Jordanian capital of Amman
Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country
Updated 4 sec ago
CAIRO: Yemen’s state-run carrier has suspended the only air route out of the country’s rebel-held capital to protest Houthi restrictions on its funds, officials said Sunday. Yemen Airways cancels commercial flights from Sanaa’s international airport to the Jordanian capital of Amman. The airline had been operating six commercial and humanitarian flights a week between Sanaa and Amman as of the end of September. The Sanaa-Amman air route was reintroduced last year as part of a UN-brokered cease-fire between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government. The cease-fire agreement expired in October 2022, but the warring factions refrained from taking measures that would lead to a flare-up of all-out fighting. Yemen’s civil war began in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the government into exile. The airline blamed the Iranian-backed Houthis for the move because they were withholding $80 million in the company’s funds in Houthi-controlled banks in Sanaa. It said in a statement on Saturday that the rebels rejected a proposal to release 70 percent of the funds. The statement said the airline’s sales in Sanaa exceed 70 percent of its revenues. The statement said the Houthi ban on the funds was linked to “illegal and unreasonable demands, and caused severe damage to the airline’s activities.” The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency quoted an unnamed source condemning the airline’s move. The source was quoted as saying that the rebels offered to release 60 percent of the airline’s funds in Sanaa. Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country. The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The dispute between the Houthis and the national airline comes as the rebels and Saudi Arabia have appeared close to a peace agreement in recent months. Saudi Arabia received a Houthi delegation last month for peace talks, saying the negotiations had “positive results.” The Saudi-Houthi efforts, however, were overshadowed by an attack blamed on the Houthis last week that killed four Bahraini troops who were part of a coalition force patrolling Saudi Arabia’s southern border. The Houthis, meanwhile, barred four activists from the Mwatana for Human Rights group from boarding their flight at Sanaa airport on Saturday “without providing legal justification,” group said. It said that Houthi officials interrogated Mwatana’s chairperson Radhya Al-Mutawakel, her deputy and three other members before telling them that they were barred from travel according to “higher orders.” A spokesman for the rebels was not immediately available for comment. Mwatana said the ban was “just one episode in a long series of violations” by the rebels at the Sanaa airport on land routes linking rebel-held areas with other parts of Yemen. The rebels also rounded up dozens of people who took to the streets last month in the Houthi-held areas, including Sanaa, to commemorate the anniversary of Yemen’s Sep. 26 revolution, which marks the establishment of Yemen’s republic in 1962, Amnesty International said. “It is outrageous that demonstrators commemorating a national historical moment found themselves attacked, arrested, and facing charges simply because they were waving flags,” Amnesty said, and called on Houthis to immediately release those detained.
Dozens arrested as protesters mark Iran’s ‘Bloody Friday’: Activists
The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year
Updated 01 October 2023
PARIS: Iranian security forces made dozens of arrests Saturday as protesters in the southeast commemorated the killing of dozens of demonstrators in the region one year ago, human rights groups said.
At least 104 people were killed, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO, in what is known as “Bloody Friday,” when security forces fired on a protest in Zahedan, the main city of Sistan-Baluchistan province, on September 30 last year.
The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year.
The Zahedan protests were triggered by reports a teenage girl had been raped in custody by a police commander and took place in parallel to nationwide demonstrations sparked by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.
Activists have long complained that the ethnic Baluch population in Sistan-Baluchistan, who adhere to Sunni Islam not the Shiite branch of the faith dominant in Iran, suffer from discrimination.
Security forces fired tear gas and live rounds for a second straight day to disperse protesters who turned out in Zahedan to mark the anniversary, the Baluch-focused rights group Haalvsh said.
Throughout Saturday, businesses in Zahedan and other towns observed a general strike, it said, adding that “dozens” of people had been arrested.
The group posted footage with the sound of gunfire clearly audible amid a heavy security presence in the city.
Security forces had already used live fire to disperse protesters on Friday, wounding at least 25 people, including children, according to the Baloch Activists Campaign group. There was no immediate word on any casualties in Saturday’s unrest.
Even as the protest movement dwindled elsewhere in Iran, residents of Zahedan have held regular Friday protests throughout the past 12 months.
The city’s Friday prayer leader, Molavi Abdolhamid, who has been outspoken in his support of the protests over the past year, issued a new call for justice over “Bloody Friday,” telling the faithful to “know your rights.”
Footage posted on social media on Friday showed chaotic scenes as hospitals filled with injured, including children, while people on the streets sought to escape to safety amid the sound of heavy gunfire.
IHR said that the protests in Zahedan and other cities were again “brutally crushed” with authorities using “live ammunition, pellet bullets and tear gas against unarmed protesters.”
The executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, condemned the “horrifying display of indiscriminate violence... as the state attempts to suppress peaceful demonstrations.”
“It is imperative for the international community to shine a spotlight on this violence and to hold Iranian officials accountable in international courts, invoking the principle of international jurisdiction,” he said.
No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict
South Sudan is no stranger to humanitarian crisis, having had its own share since achieving statehood in 2011
Experts say the country is in no position to handle the large and sudden influx of displaced people from Sudan
Updated 6 min 41 sec ago
NAIROBI: Civilians displaced by the conflict in Sudan have sought sanctuary in the world’s youngest country next door, the Republic of South Sudan, only to face a daunting new set of challenges.
An estimated 250,000 people — including a large number of South Sudanese who had been living in Sudan — have crossed the border since fighting erupted in Sudan in April, with many now housed in overcrowded camps lacking food, sanitation and basic healthcare services.
High malnutrition rates and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and measles among the new arrivals testify to the dire health conditions, which aid agencies operating in the area say is one of the many serious causes for concern.
The UN has given warning that the number of people fleeing Sudan could double by the end of the year unless a settlement between the warring parties is reached soon.
Aside from being unprepared to absorb this tide of humanity in search of shelter and sustenance, South Sudan’s own political and economic shortcomings render it an ineffective broker in ending the conflict in Sudan.
This is despite the mediation efforts of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who recently hosted Sudan’s de-facto leader and head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in the capital Juba.
South Sudan is no stranger to hardship and adversity, having had its fair share of conflicts since gaining independence in 2011. Like its northern neighbor, from which it seceded, South Sudan is also grappling with political volatility and ethnic strife.
Add to the mix South Sudan’s limited resources and rudimentary infrastructure, and the country is in no position to handle such a large and sudden influx of impoverished people.
“The majority of these refugees are women, children, and young adults, with a notable concentration of youth between the ages of 12 and 22,” John Dabi, South Sudan’s deputy commissioner for refugee affairs, told Arab News.
250,000 Sudanese refugees and South Sudanese returnees who have crossed the border since the conflict began.
5 million Total number of people uprooted by the conflict, including 1 million who have fled to neighboring countries.
7,500 People killed since the onset of violence, according to conservative estimates of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Particularly, Juba and the border town of Renk have come under pressure from a sudden explosion in population, which has led to an acute shortage of basic necessities, including food, medicine and shelter.
Then there is the impact of a fickle climate, as South Sudan’s rainy season leads to the flooding of entire districts and turns roads into impassable mud tracks, hindering aid deliveries and access to remote refugee camps.
Predictably, South Sudan’s economy is a shambles, despite the recent launch of the National Economic Conference, which is meant to accelerate development.
Firas Raad, the World Bank representative in South Sudan, recently urged the government to strive for more stable macroeconomic conditions, robust public financial management, and effective governance reforms to improve conditions for its people.
The parlous state of the country’s economy calls into question Juba’s credibility as a mediator in Sudan’s conflict, Suzanne Jambo, a South Sudanese policy analyst and former government adviser, told Arab News.
“South Sudan still struggles to achieve a stable transition to a permanent status, including a unified army, agreed-upon constitutional arrangements, and fairly elected representatives, not to mention conducting the elections,” she said.
Instability in South Sudan is not just attributable to issues of governance and economics. The ethnic and tribal spillovers of the Sudanese conflict are all too evident, with millions fleeing to neighboring countries and exposing the political divisions within Sudan and along its porous borders.
For instance, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group has been recruiting fighters from among Darfur’s Arab tribes.
Given the possibility of further escalation of ethnic tensions, experts believe coordinated efforts are essential for the proper distribution of humanitarian aid as well as conflict prevention and resolution strategies.
Sudanese civilians arriving in South Sudan represent a mosaic of backgrounds mirroring the country’s ethnic, racial and religious diversity. To minimize the chances of inter-communal violence, separate settlements, rather than traditional refugee camps, have been established.
“A critical aspect of managing the refugee crisis is preventing inter-community conflicts,” said Dabi, the deputy commissioner for refugee affairs. However, the most pressing issue facing displaced Sudanese in South Sudan is the scarcity of essential resources, he added.
The situation of people who crossed over from Sudan into other neighboring countries appears to be equally dire.
In Chad, where more than 400,000 people have fled the violence in Darfur, aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres says the situation has become so desperate that “people are feeding their children on insects, grass, and leaves.”
Amid severe shortages, “some have gone five weeks without receiving food,” Susana Borges, MSF’s emergency coordinator in Adre, said in a statement. Camps also lack water, sanitation, shelter, and medical care.
“The most urgent health needs we are dealing with are malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition,” Borges added. According to the UN, dozens of children under the age of five have already died of malnutrition in Chadian camps.
The conflict in Sudan, now in its fifth month, was triggered by a plan to incorporate the RSF into the SAF.
On April 15 a long-running power struggle between the Al-Burhan and his former deputy, RSF chief Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, suddenly escalated, prompting the evacuation of foreign nationals and embassy staff.
At least 7,500 people have been killed since the conflict began, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, and the troubled western Darfur region, where the worst of the violence has been taking place, have seen “intensified shelling” as the SAF and the RSF target each other’s bases with “artillery and rocket fire.”
In central Khartoum, the SAF controls the skies and has carried out regular air strikes, while RSF fighters dominate the streets.
In South Darfur’s regional capital, Nyala, residents say fighter jets have been targeting “RSF leadership.” However, reports from the ground suggest civilians are routinely caught in the crossfire.
UN figures show the fighting has uprooted more than five million people from their homes, including one million who have crossed international borders into neighboring countries.
Over the weekend, a cholera outbreak was reported in eastern Sudan and investigations launched to check whether it had spread to Khartoum and South Kordofan state.
The conflict has also seen a surge in gender-based violence, as confirmed by numerous credible reports of rape, human trafficking, and increase in early marriage.
Despite multiple diplomatic efforts to broker a truce, the conflict has continued and intensified, leaving those displaced with little prospect of returning to their homes any time soon.
As South Sudan struggles to accommodate its own citizens previously living in Sudan, a recent visit to the country by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, suggests the international community is taking notice.
However, Peter Van der Auweraert, the UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, has cautioned there could be a significant decline in humanitarian assistance for the country next year.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says humanitarian aid organizations are struggling to meet the needs of the displaced, with only 19 percent of the $1 billion requested from donors so far received.
Algeria expands English-language learning as France’s influence ebbs
Mali this year changed its constitution to remove French from its list of official languages, and Morocco made English classes compulsory in high schools
Updated 30 September 2023
ALGIERS: More than a year after Algeria launched a pilot program to teach English in elementary schools, the country is hailing it as a success and expanding it in a move that reflects a widening linguistic shift underway in former French colonies throughout Africa.
Students returning to third and fourth-grade classrooms this fall will participate in two 45-minute English classes each week as the country creates new teacher training programs at universities and eyes more transformational changes in the years ahead. Additionally, the government is strengthening enforcement of a preexisting law against private schools that operate primarily in French.
“Teaching English is a strategic choice in the country’s new education policy,” Education Minister Abdelkrim Belabed said last week, lauding the move as an immense success.
English is the world’s most widely spoken language, accounts for the majority of content on the internet, and remains a lingua franca in business and science. As France’s economic and political influence wanes throughout Africa, Algeria is among a longer list of countries gradually transitioning toward English as their primary foreign language.
This year, neighboring Mali changed its constitution to remove French from its list of official languages, and Morocco made English classes compulsory in high schools.
Algeria has more French speakers than all but two nations — France itself and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the International Organization of the French Language, nearly 15 million out of the country’s 44 million speak it. Its officials frame English classes as a practical rather than political shift, noting the language’s importance in scientific and technical fields.
But questions about France’s position in Algerian society have long been polarizing, as teachers and former education policy officials acknowledge.
Retired high school principal Mohammed Arezki Ferdi believes Algeria should have begun the shift to English decades ago.
The current initiative was launched by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who came to power in 2019.
Previous leaders also tried to expand English but failed to overcome the French-educated elites who had long wielded power in the country.
“We lost a lot of time,” Ferdi said.
“We should have introduced English in primary schools when President (Abdelaziz) Bouteflika laid out his reform after coming to power in 1991. But at that time, French-speaking factions in Algeria had a lot of decision-making power in institutions.”
The expansion of English language learning comes as tensions increasingly flare between France and Algeria.
The two share security interests over the political upheavals shaping contemporary West Africa.
However, in recent years, they have sparred repeatedly over immigration, extradition, and how each country memorializes colonialism and the brutal war that resulted in Algeria’s independence in 1962. Algeria plans to expand its current program to fifth grade next year.
It will continue instructing students in French for three hours each week in elementary schools.
When English-language learning was introduced last year, Algerian officials reaffirmed their commitment to French and said it would continue to be taught widely.
But in remarks this week at the beginning of the school year, Kamal Bedari, Algeria’s minister of Higher Education, said expanding the program was to enable elementary school students to take technical courses later on in English — not French.
Though few dispute that English is essential, some worry about how Algeria is implementing such a shift and caution against declaring victory too soon. Ahmed Tessa, a former adviser to Algeria’s Ministry of Education, believes getting students to master English can only happen gradually and will likely require more than simply adding classes.
“We need to get back to basics,” he said. “This is no small task.”
Regardless of how quickly schools transition to English, signs of pushback against French are clear elsewhere.
Authorities have slowly replaced French with English in the official titles of various government ministries. And on his trip last year to Algiers, the country had French President Emmanuel Macron provide remarks from a podium noting his title and the date in English and Arabic, one of Algeria’s two official languages, along with indigenous Tamazight.