Libya’s flood-hit Derna to host reconstruction conference: authorities

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An aerial view shows Libya's eastern city of Soussa on September 21, 2023, days following deadly flash floods. (Ozan Kose / AFP)
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A member of an Emirati rescue team and a forensic expert check a car that was washed into the sea during the September 10 flood, moments after it was pulled out of the water, at the port of Libya's eastern city of Derna, on September 20, 2023. (Amanda Mouawad/AFP)
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Rescue teams search through the rubble in the eastern city of Soussa, Libya, on September 21, 2023, following deadly flash floods. (AFP)
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Updated 24 September 2023
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Libya’s flood-hit Derna to host reconstruction conference: authorities

  • The government invites the international community to participate in the conference planned for October 10 in Derna
  • The conference is being held in “response to the demands of residents of the stricken city of Derna and other towns that suffered damage”

BENGHAZI, Libya: Libya’s flood-devastated port city of Derna will host an international conference next month to aid reconstruction efforts, authorities in the east of the divided country said Friday.

There was no immediate reaction from the internationally recognized government in Tripoli nor any details on how the rival administration would accommodate delegates in a city where entire neighborhoods have been swept away.

A tsunami-sized flash flood broke through two aging dams upstream from Derna after a hurricane-strength storm lashed the area on September 10, sweeping thousands of people into the sea.

“The government invites the international community to participate in the conference planned for October 10 in Derna to present modern, rapid projects for the reconstruction of the city,” the eastern administration said in a statement.

It said the conference was being held in “response to the demands of residents of the stricken city of Derna and other towns that suffered damage” during the flooding.




A member of an Emirati rescue team inspects a car that was washed into the sea during the 10 September flood, moments after it was pulled out of the water, at the port of Libya's eastern city of Derna, on September 20, 2023.  (Amanda Mouawad/AFP)

Despite a wave of nationwide solidarity since the flood, there was no immediate show of support for the proposed conference from the Tripoli-based government of interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah.

And even the office of strongman Khalifa Haftar, the main military backer of the eastern administration, questioned how many donor governments would attend.

“Are donor countries going to take part or are they going to wait for a conference organized by Dbeibah?” Haftar’s spokesman Ahmad Al-Mismari asked. “This political polarization has harmed Libyans.”

Libya has been wracked by division and on-off conflict ever since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

A bloody 2019 assault on Tripoli by Haftar’s forces ended in defeat by Dbeibah loyalists and an August 2020 cease-fire that largely holds.

There is still no widely accepted death toll for the floods which devastated Derna and nearby coastal towns.

The latest official death toll released on Friday evening stood at 3,753 but the eventual count is expected to be far higher, with international aid groups giving estimates of up to 10,000 people missing.

Bodies are still being found in large numbers, under the debris or on beaches where they have washed up after being swept out to the sea by the flood.

On Friday, dozens of bodies were delivered in a lorry and two pick-ups to the village cemetery in Martouba, 27 kilometers (17 miles) southeast of Derna, for burial, footage posted on social media showed.

Libyan media said 200 people were buried in the cemetery in a single day.

The International Organization for Migration said Thursday that more than 43,000 people have been displaced from the disaster zone.

It said a “lack of water supply is reportedly driving many displaced out of Derna.”

In Soussa, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) to the west, residents complained that they too had no access to drinking water after the flood badly damaged a desalination plant.

Instead, volunteers have to “bring water from nearby cities in big trucks,” 34-year-old Ahmed Saleh told AFP.




A volunteer kitchen staff prepares meals for people displaced from eastern Libya following a deadly flood and housed in Tripoli, at a kitchen facility in the capital on September 23, 2023. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP)

Mobile and Internet services were restored in Derna on Thursday following a two-day disruption that came after demonstrations by angry residents on Monday.

The protests saw hundreds of demonstrators gather outside the city’s grand mosque, chanting slogans against the eastern-based parliament and its leader and calling for accountability over the high death toll.

Amnesty International reported “arrests of critics and protesters” in Derna and criticized “efforts to choreograph and control media access.”

The dams that burst had developed cracks as far back as the 1990s, Libya’s top prosecutor has said, as residents accused authorities of negligence.

Scientists from the World Weather Attribution group said in a report issued on Tuesday that a deluge of the magnitude seen in eastern Libya was an event that occurred once every 300-600 years.

They said such downpours were both more likely and heavier because of human-caused global warming, resulting in up to 50 percent more rain.


UK to start Gaza surveillance flights to help find hostages

Updated 03 December 2023
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UK to start Gaza surveillance flights to help find hostages

  • The UK has said at least 12 British nationals were killed in the October 7 attacks

LONDON: The UK’s military will conduct surveillance flights over Gaza to help locate hostages held by Hamas since its October 7 attack on Israel, Britain’s defense ministry confirmed at the weekend.
Hamas fighters seized around 240 Israelis and foreign hostages, according to Israeli authorities. Around 110 have since been freed, mainly during a recent week-long truce.
Israel’s military said on Friday it had resumed fighting in the besieged Palestinian territory, blaming Hamas. The resumption of combat has frustrated hopes for the swift release of the more than 130 captives the Israeli army has said are still being held in Gaza.
The UK has said at least 12 British nationals were killed in the October 7 attacks — in which Israeli officials say about 1,200 people died, mostly civilians — and that a further five are still missing.
But it has not confirmed how many are being held by Hamas.
Israel responded to the October 7 attack by vowing to eliminate the militant group and its subsequent relentless air and ground campaign has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas authorities who run Gaza.
London did not reveal when its military surveillance flights over the territory would start but stressed they would be unarmed and focused only on hostage recovery efforts.
“In support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity, the UK Ministry of Defense will conduct surveillance flights over the Eastern Mediterranean, including operating in air space over Israel and Gaza,” it said in a statement.
“Surveillance aircraft will be unarmed, do not have a combat role, and will be tasked solely to locate hostages,” the ministry added.
“Only information relating to hostage rescue will be passed to the relevant authorities responsible for hostage rescue.”
UK government minister Victoria Atkins told the BBC on Sunday that the aircraft to be utilized were “unarmed and unmanned drones.”
Alongside the United States, the UK in October deployed various military assets to the eastern Mediterranean to deter “any malign interference in the conflict.”
That included maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft as well as a Royal Navy task group moving to the region, the defense ministry said at the time.


Gazan evacuees take flight with their shattered dreams: Arab News journalist Sherouk Zakaria reflects on the mission she joined

Updated 25 min 13 sec ago
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Gazan evacuees take flight with their shattered dreams: Arab News journalist Sherouk Zakaria reflects on the mission she joined

  • Arab News boarded the fourth UAE mission that left Abu Dhabi on Friday afternoon to evacuate 120 injured Palestinian children and cancer patients
  • Renewed airstrikes near Rafah border allowed only a few lucky Palestinian patients to leave

ABU DHABI: What was once a flight that carried passengers to new destinations or home to see their families has become a “flying hospital” for war-stricken Palestinians.

The comfortable padded seats of Etihad Airways’ Boeing 777 serve as beds for vulnerable elderly cancer patients who have been evacuated from an “apocalyptic” Gaza for treatment in the UAE.

I was part of the Arab News team aboard the fourth UAE mission that left Abu Dhabi on Friday afternoon to evacuate 120 injured Palestinian children and cancer patients, along with their companions, from Egypt’s Al-Arish International Airport in a challenging journey that took 14 hours.

My seat in economy class was next to a stretcher installed above a group of folded seats that medics were setting up to provide urgent medical care for the seriously wounded.

Gaza was under intense bombing that day shortly after the truce ended, with airstrikes hitting near the Rafah border where only a few evacuees were lucky to leave.

Our take-off from Abu Dhabi was delayed by almost two hours as UAE officials and medics adjusted their plans based on information they received from Egyptian authorities on the ground.  

Landing in Al-Arish at dusk, we left the plane two hours later to welcome patients after officials had back-and-forth negotiations with the Egyptian authorities on the right movement in the highly secured location.

The stillness and eerie silence in the vast, dark desert of Al-Arish stood in sharp contrast with the intense bombardment behind Rafah crossing, which was only 55 km away, about a 45-minute trip.

The impact of the brutal war on Gaza unfolded before our eyes as patients began to arrive in Egyptian ambulances.

The passengers shared common features: Eyes framed with intense black circles, thin and exhausted figures, a small plastic bag carrying a few possessions, and a gaze that simultaneously captured a mix of emotions — relief, guilt and hope.

On the tarmac, UAE medics and doctors received the first patient; a seriously injured man, tightly strapped on a stretcher and appearing to be in immense pain, who was transported onto the aircraft via a hydraulic lift after his condition was assessed.

It was a sight that countless hours following the war daily could not have prepared me for.

Soon after, dozens of dazed and weak elderly cancer patients followed on wheelchairs for their turn to board the aircraft.

Receiving them with reassuring smiles and gentle pats on the shoulder, doctors and staff from the Abu Dhabi Department of Health later told us that these patients had had no access to painkillers, proper food or water since the war started on Oct. 7.

“The first thing we do with some cases is give them hydration and painkillers to immediately comfort the pain. We receive many patients who have lived in pain for long weeks,” Jordanian nursing manager, Sabreen Tawalbeh, told me.

This flight received only a few war-related trauma wounds as majority of the adult and young cancer patients boarded the flight unassisted, occasionally smiling in relief and thanking us as they passed through the aisles.

“As much as I am relieved to leave the horror I can’t describe in Gaza, I can’t imagine eating, drinking or sleeping without thinking of my family back home,” said Abdelrahman Hussam Zyada, 31, who was accompanying his mother, a cancer patient.

The war, which he calls “hell from a horror film,” has already killed 50 members of his family and levelled the area where they lived to the ground. He has no clue if he will ever see his nine siblings, their children, and his remaining relatives.

“This is my first time on a plane. I have only traveled in my dreams. In Gaza, we can’t dream. We build our homes before they are destroyed all over again. Our dreams are always shattered.”

After miraculously leaving Gaza, Zyada said he cannot believe he made it out alive.

A passanger, Amna Hashem Saeed, broke down as she recounted the final moments with her only daughter who could not accompany her after she was denied entry through the Rafah border.

“I am left here to die, mom,” Saeed repeated her daughter’s sentence as the city behind them was collapsing. Saeed’s husband suffered a stroke a few months ago and lies without treatment.

“I do not know if I will ever see them again.”

Traumatized and in shock, teenagers who either accompanioned sick elderly family members or were seeking treatment themselves walked down the aisles of the aircraft as if they carried the weight of the world on their shoulders.

A couple of children, too young to comprehend the situation, either played in joy or squirmed in pain.

Sitting in the front row of the plane, three-year-old Karma Al-Khateeb was unable to ignore her pain despite the attempts by her mother Douaa Abu Rahma and a cabin crew member to distract her with a coloring book and crayons. The young leukemia patient had a fever that affected a nerve on her face after her case could not be attended to due to the collapse of hospitals in Gaza.

It took about six hours to carefully get all patients on board and ensure their needs were met before a final headcount was made and the plane left for Abu Dhabi.

“If the evacuation had taken longer and we crossed the maximum number of hours allowed for the cabin crew per shift, we would have had to go to Cairo and change the crew before flying back to Abu Dhabi,” Joe Coughlan, flight medical commander, told me.

Silence quickly took over during the flight to Abu Dhabi after passengers had their first proper meal and rest in nearly two months.

With dreamy eyes and an innocent smile, two-year-old Mohammed, who had no family except his ailing grandmother on the flight, climbed on my lap and played on the plane’s small screen for hours before falling asleep in peace.

It was difficult to comprehend that thousands of children like him will go to bed with the possibility that they will not see the next day.

Along with my media colleagues, I left the aircraft, which landed in Abu Dhabi at 5 a.m. the next morning, knowing that the televised images of the war will now strike much deeper.


Britain’s maritime agency reports possible Red Sea blast

Updated 03 December 2023
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Britain’s maritime agency reports possible Red Sea blast

RIYADH: Britain’s Maritime Trade Operations agency (UKMTO) on Sunday said that it has received reports of drone activity and a possible explosion in the Red Sea’s Bab Al-Mandab strait.
UKMTO said the drone activity originated from Yemen, and called on vessels in the vicinity to exercise caution.
Reuters wasn’t immediately able to confirm the reports.
The incident is the latest in a series of attacks in Middle Eastern waters since war broke out between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Oct. 7.
An Israeli-linked cargo ship was seized last month by the Houthi group, an ally of Iran which controls Yemen’s Red Sea coast. The group had previously fired ballistic missiles and armed drones at Israel, and vowed to target more Israeli vessels.
There was no immediate comment from the Houthis on Sunday’s incident.
Last week, a US Navy warship responded to a distress call from an Israeli-managed commercial tanker in the Gulf of Aden that had been seized by armed individuals.


Israeli raids claim hundreds of lives in Gaza, unrest in West Bank heightens

Updated 03 December 2023
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Israeli raids claim hundreds of lives in Gaza, unrest in West Bank heightens

  • The Gaza media office reported at least 700 people were killed by Israeli bombing overnight
  • Israeli settlers attacked two Palestinian villages in the West Bank killing one man

DUBAI: Israeli air raids on Rafah, Khan Younis and Nuseirat refugee camp killed hundreds of Palestinians, reports from the Gaza Strip on Sunday said, while Israeli settlers attacked two Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank.

In Gaza, an account called the Gaza media office reported on Sunday that at least 700 people were killed by Israeli bombing overnight. 

The Hamas-led interior ministry also said that seven Palestinians were killed and several injured in an Israeli raid on a house east of Rafah city in southern Gaza earlier in the day.  

Palestinian News Agency WAFA quoted local sources as saying warplanes bombed two homes in the Nuseirat refugee camp, killing at least 13 people. 

Palestinian health officials reported that Israeli planes destroyed several houses in Al-Karara town near Khan Younis that killed several others. 

The southern part of Gaza, including Khan Younis, is where hundreds of thousands of people displaced from the north of the enclave had sought refuge. 

On Sunday morning, the Israeli military’ posted a statement on X ordering Palestinians the Gaza Strip to immediately evacuate half a dozen areas in and around Khan Younis. 

The military’s Arabic-language spokesman Avichay Adraee instructed them to move to what he described as “well-known IDP (internally displaced person) shelters” west of the city, including south toward Rafah, and included a map highlighting the areas. 

With renewed fighting stretching into a third day, residents feared the air and artillery bombardment was just the prelude to an Israeli ground operation in the southern strip that would pen them into a shrinking area and possibly try to push them across into Egypt. 

‘Safe zones’  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that Israel was coordinating with the US and international organizations to define “safe areas” for Gaza civilians. 

But UN officials and people in Gaza say it is difficult to heed Israeli evacuation orders in real time because of patchy Internet access and no regular supply of electricity amid Israel’s military offensive.   

In the West Bank, Israeli settlers attacked two Palestinian villages late on Saturday, killing one man and torching a car, Palestinian authorities said. 
The Palestinian ambulance service said a 38-year-old man in the town of Qarawat Bani Hassan, in the northern West Bank, was shot in the chest and died as residents confronted settlers and Israeli soldiers. 
The Israeli military said soldiers arrived at the scene and used riot dispersal means and live fire to break up the confrontation between residents and settlers. It said Palestinians shot fireworks in response and an Israeli and four Palestinians were injured. The incident was being examined and had been handed over to police, it said. 
In another incident, Wajih Al-Qat, head of the local council of the village of Madama near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, said a group of about 15 settlers burned the car and broke the windows of a house with stones. 

A member of the Israeli border police runs during a raid at the Balata camp for Palestinian refugees, east of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on November 23, 2023. (AFP)

 


US vice president calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza

Updated 03 December 2023
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US vice president calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza

  • Kamala Harris says Israel has a right to defend itself but must respect international, humanitarian law
  • King Abdullah stresses the need for the US to play a leading role in pushing for peace in Palestine

GAZA/CAIRO: US Vice President Kamala Harris said too many innocent Palestinians had been killed in Gaza as Israeli war planes and artillery bombarded the enclave on Saturday following the collapse of a truce with Hamas militants.
Speaking in Dubai, Harris said Israel had a right to defend itself, but international and humanitarian law must be respected and “too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”
“Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering, and the images and videos coming from Gaza, are devastating,” Harris told reporters.
On the sidelines of COP28, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the US Vice President met in Dubai, reported the Jordan News Agency.
King Abdullah stressed the need for the US to play a leading role in pushing for a political horizon for the Palestinian issue to reach peace on the basis of the two-state solution, during his meeting with Harris.
The King called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and protecting civilians, warning of the repercussions of the continued war on international peace and security, including further violence and conflict that could plunge the entire region into a catastrophe.
The two sides reaffirmed their rejection of any attempts of forced displacement of the Palestinians internally or outside Gaza, or attempts to re-occupy any parts of the Strip, reported Petra.
King Abdullah also stressed the importance of maintaining the uninterrupted delivery of sufficient aid, including food, water, fuel, and electricity, without any impediments, warning against the targeting of hospitals and hindering the delivery of medical supplies.
Meanwhile, Harris thanked King Abdullah for his continued leadership in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for Jordan’s leadership in providing vital humanitarian assistance to Gaza, including its three airdrops of medical supplies to the field hospital that it has established in Gaza.
She discussed the importance of the recent pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, and the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to supporting efforts to reach a new deal. She also discussed the US ideas for post-conflict planning in Gaza, including efforts on reconstruction, security, and governance.
The US vice president emphasized that these efforts can only succeed if they are pursued in the context of a clear political horizon for the Palestinian people, toward a state of their own led by a revitalized Palestinian Authority and backed by significant support from the international community and the countries of the region.
In a news conference in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later on Saturday that Israel was continuing to work in coordination with the US and international organizations to define “safe areas” for Gaza civilians.
“This is important because we have no desire to harm the population,” Netanyahu said. “We have a very strong desire to hurt Hamas.”
Harris also sketched out a US vision for post-conflict Gaza, saying the international community must support recovery and Palestinian security forces must be strengthened.
“We want to see a unified Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian voices and aspirations must be at the center of this work,” she said, adding that Hamas must no longer run Gaza.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority governs parts of the occupied West Bank. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ mainstream Fatah party and has ruled the enclave ever since.

* With Reuters