Left behind and grieving, survivors of Libya floods call for accountability

Derna flood survivor Abdul Salam Anwisi said he woke up at one-thirty in the morning to a loud scream from outside, to find his neighbours' homes flooded with water. He, his sons and other neighbours rushed to rescue the stranded families by pulling them from the roof of their house.(AP)
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Updated 20 September 2023
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Left behind and grieving, survivors of Libya floods call for accountability

  • Heavy rains from Mediterranean storm Daniel caused the collapse of the two dams that spanned the narrow valley that divides the city. That sent a wall of water several meters high through its heart
  • The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city

DERNA: Abdel-Hamid Al-Hassadi survived the devastating flooding in eastern Libya, but he lost some 90 people from his extended family.
The 23-year-old law graduate rushed upstairs along with his mother and his elder brother, as heavy rains lashed the city of Derna on the evening of Sept. 10. Soon, torrents of water were washing away buildings next to them.
“We witnessed the magnitude of the catastrophe,” Al-Hassadi said in a phone interview, referring to the massive flooding that engulfed his city. “We have seen our neighbors’ dead bodies washing away in the floods.”
Heavy rains from Mediterranean storm Daniel caused the collapse of the two dams that spanned the narrow valley that divides the city. That sent a wall of water several meters high through its heart.
Ten days after the disaster, Al-Hassadi and thousands of others remain in Derna, most of them waiting for a word about relatives and loved ones. For Hassadi, it’s the 290 relatives still missing.
The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city, officials say. Thousands of people were killed, with many dead bodies still under the rubble or at sea, according to search teams. Government officials and aid agencies have given varied death tolls.
The World Health Organization says a total of 3,958 deaths have been registered in hospitals, but a previous death toll given by the head of Libya’s Red Crescent said at least 11,300 were killed. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says at least 9,000 people are still missing.
Bashir Omar, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the fatalities are in the thousands, but he didn’t give a specific toll for the number of retrieved bodies, since there are many groups involved in the recovery effort.
Many Derna residents, including women and children, are spending all their time at collection points of bodies. They are desperate to know who is inside body bags carried by ambulances.
Inside a school in the western part of the city, authorities posted photos of the retrieved bodies.
Anas Aweis, a 24-year-old resident, lost two brothers and is still searching for his father and four cousins. He went to the Ummul Qura school in the Sheiha neighborhood to inspect the exhibited photos.
“It’s chaos,” he said after spending two hours waiting in lines. “We want to know where they buried them if they died.”
The floods have displaced at least 40,000 people in eastern Libya, including 30,000 in Derna, according to the UN’s migration agency. Many have moved to other cities across Libya, hosted by local communities or sheltered in schools. There are risks to staying, including potential infection by waterborne diseases.
Rana Ksaifi, assistant chief of mission in Libya for the UN’s refugee agency, said the floods have left “unfathomable levels of destruction,” and triggered new waves of displacement in the already conflict-stricken nation.
The houseplants on the rooftop of Abdul Salam Anwisi’s building survived the waters that reached up to his 4th-floor apartment. Anwisi’s and a few other families rode out the deluge on the roof, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. They thought they wouldn’t live to see daylight. Now, as he sifts through the water-damaged debris of his home, it’s unclear what comes next.
“God predetermined and he did what he wanted,” he said.
Others across the country are calling for Libya’s leaders to be taken to task.
Hundreds of angry protesters gathered Monday outside Derna’s main mosque, criticizing the government’s lack of preparation and response. They lashed out at the political class that controls the oil-rich nation since the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The North African country plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed Qaddafi. For most of the past decade, Libya has been split between two rival administrations: one in the west backed by an array of lawless militias and armed groups, a second in the east, allied with the self-styled Libyan National Army, commanded by Gen. Khalifa Haftar. Neither government tolerates dissent.
Derna, as well as east and most of south Libya, is controlled by Haftar’s forces. However, funds for municipalities and other government agencies are controlled by the rival government in the capital, Tripoli.
Al-Hassadi, the law graduate, blamed local authorities for giving conflicting warnings to residents, leaving many defenseless. They asked residents to evacuate areas along the Mediterranean coast, but at the same time, they imposed a curfew, preventing people from leaving their homes.
“It was a mistake to impose a curfew,” he said.
The dams, Abu Mansour and Derna, were built by a Yugoslav construction company in the 1970s. They were meant to protect the city against heavy flooding, but years of no maintenance meant they were unable to keep the exceptional influx of water at bay.
Many Libyans are now calling for an international investigation and supervision of aid funds.
“All are corrupt here ... without exception,” said rights activist Tarik Lamloum.


Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel

Updated 28 February 2024
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Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel

  • Headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade and the airport barracks in Beit Hilal attacked

DUBAI: The armed wing of Palestinian militant group Hamas on Wednesday said it launched two missile salvos consisting of 40 Grad missiles from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
Al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement on its Telegram channel it had bombed the headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade and the airport barracks in Beit Hilal.


Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels

A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 28 February 2024
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Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels

  • The attack comes as the Houthis continue a series of assaults at sea over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as the US and its allies launch airstrikes trying to stop them

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A rocket exploded late Tuesday night off the side of a ship traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, authorities said, the latest suspected attack to be carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The attack comes as the Houthis continue a series of assaults at sea over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as the US and its allies launch airstrikes trying to stop them.
The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center, which oversees shipping in the Mideast, reported the attack happened about 110 kilometers (70 miles) off the coast of the Houthi-held port city of Hodeida. The rocket exploded several miles off the bow of the vessel, it said.
“The crew and vessel are reported to be safe and are proceeding to next port of call,” the UKMTO said.
The private security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel targeted appeared to be a Marshall Islands-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier in the area at the time. Another ship, a Panama-flagged, Emirati-owned chemical tanker was nearby as well, Ambrey said.
The Associated Press could not immediately identify the vessels involved.
The Houthis typically take several hours to claim their assaults and have not yet done so for the assault late Tuesday.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over the Israel-Hamas war. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor, and an aid ship later bound for Houthi-controlled territory.
Despite over a month of US-led airstrikes, Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. Last week, they severely damaged a ship in a crucial strait and downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars. The Houthis insist their attacks will continue until Israel stops its combat operations in the Gaza Strip, which have enraged the wider Arab world and seen the Houthis gain international recognition.

 


Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

Updated 28 February 2024
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Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

  • Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament

JERUSALEM: Israelis voted Tuesday in twice postponed municipal elections that could offer a gauge of the public mood nearly five months into the war against Hamas in Gaza.
Soldiers had already cast their ballots over the past week at special polling stations set up in army encampments in Gaza as fighting raged.
Polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and closed at 10:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Tuesday, at which point turnout stood at around 49 percent, according to election authorities.
That was down from 59.5 percent in 2018.
Turnout in Jerusalem was 30.8 percent and in Tel Aviv it was 40 percent, the authorities said.
More than seven million people were eligible to vote in the elections for local councils across most of Israel, in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in Jerusalem and in parts of the annexed Golan Heights.
No major incidents were reported.
The vote, first scheduled for October 31, has been pushed back to November 2024 in towns and villages bordering the besieged Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where Hamas ally Hezbollah has fired rockets at Israel almost daily since the start of the Gaza war.
Nearly 150,000 Israelis have been displaced by hostilities in those areas.
Amit Peretz, 32, a Jerusalem city council candidate, said Jerusalem’s diverse make-up demands that “all voices are heard in the city in order to make everything work, because it’s very complex.”
Gita Koppel, an 87-year-old resident of Jerusalem, said she turned out because voting was “the only way you can have your voice heard.”
“I hope the right people come in and do the right thing for Jerusalem,” she said.
The elections were delayed after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of at least 1,160 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, most of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Two candidates for council chief in Gaza border areas were killed in the October 7 attack: Ofir Libstein in Kfar Aza and Tamar Kedem Siman Tov, who was shot dead at her home in Nir Oz with her husband and three young children.
In Jerusalem and other major cities, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish candidates aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political allies were running against government critics and more moderate candidates.
Netanyahu has faced increasing public pressure over the fate of hostages still held in Gaza, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.
Tel Aviv’s mayor of 25 years, Ron Huldai, is seeking re-election in a race against former economy minister Orna Barbivai, who could become the first woman in the job.
Lawyer Amir Badran, an Arab candidate who had initially announced he would run for Tel Aviv mayor, quit the race before election day but was still vying for a city council seat.
In Jerusalem, another Arab candidate, Sondos Alhoot, was running at the head of a joint Jewish-Arab party. If elected, she would be the first Arab woman on the city council since 1967.
The elections for municipal and regional councils are largely seen as local affairs, though some races can become springboards for politicians with national ambitions.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who had a brief stint as prime minister before Netanyahu returned to power in late 2022, said Tuesday’s vote shows “there is no problem” holding elections even during the war.
In a post on social media platform X, Lapid called for a snap parliamentary election “as soon as possible” to replace Netanyahu.
Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament.
Palestinian residents make up around 40 percent of the city’s population, but many of them have boycotted past elections.
Second round run-offs will be held where necessary on March 10.


Gaza death toll nears 30,000 as aid groups warn of ‘imminent’ famine

Updated 28 February 2024
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Gaza death toll nears 30,000 as aid groups warn of ‘imminent’ famine

  • One in six children under 2 years of age in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition
  • WFP “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau said

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The Gaza war’s reported Palestinian death toll neared 30,000 Wednesday as fighting raged in the Hamas-run territory despite mediators insisting a truce with Israel could be just days away.
Another 91 people were killed in overnight Israeli bombardment, the health ministry said.
Mediators from Eygpt, Qatar and the United States have been trying to find a path to a ceasefire amid the bitter fighting, with negotiators seeking a six-week pause in the nearly five-month war.
After a flurry of diplomacy, mediators said a deal could finally be within reach — reportedly including the release of some Israeli hostages held in Gaza since Hamas’s October 7 attack in exchange for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
“My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire” but “we’re not done yet,” US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday.
Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said Doha was “hopeful, not necessarily optimistic, that we can announce something” before Thursday.
But he cautioned that “the situation is still fluid on the ground.”
Doha has suggested the pause in fighting would come before the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month which starts on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
Hamas had been pushing for the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza — a demand rejected outright by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But a Hamas source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the deal might see the Israeli military leave “cities and populated areas,” allowing the return of some displaced Palestinians and humanitarian relief.
Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has killed at least 29,954 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The war was triggered by an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Since the war began, hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been displaced, with nearly 1.5 million people now packed into the far-southern city of Rafah, where Israel has warned it plans to launch a ground offensive.
Those who remain in northern Gaza have been facing an increasingly desperate situation, aid groups have warned.
“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza,” the World Food Programme’s deputy executive director Carl Skau told the UN Security Council Tuesday.
His colleague from the UN humanitarian office OCHA, Ramesh Rajasingham, warned of “almost inevitable” widespread starvation.
The WFP said no humanitarian group had been able to deliver aid to the north for more than a month, with aid blocked from entering by Israeli forces.
“I have not eaten for two days,” said Mahmud Khodr, a resident of Jabalia refugee camp in the north, where children roamed with empty pots.
“There is nothing to eat or drink.”
Most aid trucks have been halted, but foreign militaries have air dropped supplies including on Tuesday over Rafah and Gaza’s main southern city Khan Yunis.
What aid does enter Gaza passes through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, fueling a warning from UN chief Antonio Guterres that any assault on the city would “put the final nail in the coffin” of relief operations in the territory.
Israel has insisted it would move civilians to safety before sending troops into Rafah but it has not released any details.
Egypt has warned that an assault on the city would have “catastrophic repercussions across the region,” with Cairo concerned about an influx of refugees.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Tuesday that Israel will “listen to the Egyptians and their interests,” adding that Israel “cannot conduct an operation” with the current large population in Rafah.
Ahead of the threatened ground incursion, the area has been hit repeatedly by Israeli air strikes.
An AFP correspondent reported that overnight several air strikes hit the southern cities of Khan Yunis and Rafah, as well as Zeitun in central Gaza.
The army said it had “killed a number of terrorists and located weapons” in Zeitun.
It said two more soldiers had died in the fighting in Gaza, taking its overall toll to 242 since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.


US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning

Updated 27 February 2024
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US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning

  • “We do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters
  • “The government of Israel has said publicly, and they have assured us privately, that they want to achieve a diplomatic path”

WASHINGTON: The United States called Tuesday for a focus on diplomacy to resolve tensions over Lebanon, after Israel warned it would pursue Hezbollah even if it achieves a ceasefire in Gaza.
“We do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“The government of Israel has said publicly, and they have assured us privately, that they want to achieve a diplomatic path,” he said.
“That’s what we’re going to continue to pursue and, ultimately, that would make military action unnecessary.”
Miller added that Israel faced a “real security threat” with thousands of people who have fled their homes near Lebanon, calling it a “legitimate issue that needs to be addressed.”
Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement which is backed by Iran, have been exchanging fire since October 7, when Palestinian militant group Hamas carried out a major attack inside Israel.
In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless military operation in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Raising fears of all-out war, Israel this week struck Hezbollah positions deep into Lebanese territory.
On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said there would be no let-up in Israeli action against Hezbollah even if ongoing diplomacy succeeds in reaching a Gaza ceasefire and the release of hostages seized on October 7.
France, with US support, has been pushing a plan in which Hezbollah and allied fighters would withdraw to around 12 kilometers (eight miles) from the border and Israel would halt attacks.