Syrian beekeepers battle both war and climate change

Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land in Rankus village near Damascus on Sept. 11, 2023 after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change. (AFP)
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Updated 28 September 2023
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Syrian beekeepers battle both war and climate change

  • Rankus was once renowned for its honey, but was hard hit by fighting between government forces and rebels
  • Damiriya can barely afford to tend to his hives, donated by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to help Syrian beekeepers

RANKUS, Syria: Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land near the capital Damascus after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change impacts.
“The war bled us dry. We could barely keep our beekeeping business afloat, and then the insane weather made things worse,” the 62-year-old in a beekeeping suit told AFP as he examined meagre honey stocks inside the hives.
Before Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011, Damiriya owned 110 hives in Rankus, a village near Damascus that was once filled with apple orchards.
But now a combination of fighting, severe drought and a gruelling economic crisis have left him with a mere 40 hives in semi-arid lands, decimating his honey yield.
Rankus was once renowned for its honey, but was hard hit by fighting between government forces and rebels that caused widespread destruction, pushing many residents to flee.
Damiriya can barely afford to tend to his hives, donated by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to help Syrian beekeepers.
“If we keep suffering from climate change and rising prices, I might have to abandon my profession,” Damiriya said with a sigh.
Since 2011, Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and caused an acute economic crisis, exacerbated by severe Western sanctions.
Recent years have also battered Syria with heatwaves, low rainfall and more forest fires.
A 2019 United Nations report found that fighting had practically wiped out hives, with bombs contaminating the environment and pesticide misuse and a proliferation of parasites speeding up their decline.
Syria used to be home to 635,000 hives before the war, but their numbers had dwindled to about 150,000 at the height of the conflict in 2016, said Iyad Daaboul, the Damascus-based president of the Arab Beekeepers Union.
Today that number has risen back up to 400,000, he said. However, the hives yield only 1,500 tons of honey per year — half of the country’s pre-war production.
Unusually cold springs and drought have had an adverse effect on the flowers that bees feed on.
“Extreme weather conditions have greatly affected bees, especially during spring — the most important time in their life cycle,” said Daaboul.
The number of beekeepers has nearly halved from 32,000 before the war to around 18,000 today, he said.
Another threat to the bees is the forest fires which have become more common as temperatures rise.
Fires “have destroyed more than 1,000 hives on Syria’s coastal mountains and stripped bees of large foraging areas,” Daaboul said.
Rising temperatures and desertification have taken a toll on Syria’s greenery, destroying many of the plants on whose flowers the bees feed and squeezing the once-thriving agriculture sector.
Damascus ICRC spokesperson Suhair Zakkout told AFP that “Syria’s agricultural production has fallen by approximately 50 percent over the last 10 years” because of war and climate change.
Despite being one of the countries most badly affected by global warming, Syria has lacked the funds it needs to tackle environmental issues, Zakkout said.
Climate change has devastated farmer Ziad Rankusi’s apple orchards, which have also been greatly thinned by illegal logging as people struggle to keep warm during the winter amid recurrent fuel shortages.
Rankusi, who is in his 50s, used to tend more than 1,000 trees on his land, but just 400 survive, and they are drying out in the heat.
“For about five years, we have had unprecedented droughts and desertification, and this year the spring was unusually cold. The fruit perished,” said the farmer.
“When trees and flowers disappear, bees can no longer feed. They either migrate or die.”


UK’s Sunak tells Netanyahu in call of disappointment at new fighting in Gaza

Updated 8 sec ago
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UK’s Sunak tells Netanyahu in call of disappointment at new fighting in Gaza

  • Downing Street spokesperson: ‘The PM expressed disappointment about the breakdown of the pause in fighting in Gaza, which had allowed hostages to be released’
  • Spokesperson: ‘The leaders discussed urgent efforts to ensure all remaining hostages are safely freed and to allow any remaining British nationals in Gaza to leave’
LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his disappointment about the breakdown of the pause in fighting in Gaza in a call with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, his office said in a readout.
“The Prime Minister spoke to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this afternoon. He expressed disappointment about the breakdown of the pause in fighting in Gaza, which had allowed hostages to be released,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
“The leaders discussed urgent efforts to ensure all remaining hostages are safely freed and to allow any remaining British nationals in Gaza to leave.”
Sunak’s spokeperson said the British prime minister stressed the need for Israel to take greater care to protect civilians in Gaza and for humanitarian aid to be allowed to enter the Palestinian enclave.
Defense minister Grant Shapps said Britain was considering sending a military
support vessel
to provide medical and humanitarian aid in the Middle East.

Jordan’s King Abdullah says world should condemn any attempt to forcibly expel Palestinians

Updated 14 min 54 sec ago
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Jordan’s King Abdullah says world should condemn any attempt to forcibly expel Palestinians

  • Talks with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides focused on the need to increase efforts to deliver humanitarian aid and relief to the embattled civilians living in Gaza
  • King Abdullah told Christodoulides there would be dangerous consequences from any attempt to forcibly push Palestinians en masse from their land

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah said on Tuesday the world should condemn any attempt by Israel to create conditions that would forcibly displace Palestinians within the war-devastated Gaza Strip or outside its borders.
In remarks carried by state media after a meeting with the Cypriot president in Amman, the monarch again called for an immediate cease-fire and warned that Israel’s relentless bombing campaign was leading to a “dangerous deterioration” in the situation.
Talks with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides focused on the need to increase efforts to deliver humanitarian aid and relief to the embattled civilians living in Gaza.
Abdullah has lobbied Western leaders to pile pressure on Israel to allow an uninterrupted flow of aid and open crossings it controls to bring in sufficient level of aid needed.
Israel now controls the volume and nature of aid entering to over 2.3 million inhabitants under siege, according to UN officials and humanitarian workers.
UNRWA officials say only a trickle of the aid the enclave needs is getting through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt which NGOs and officials say can only handle a fraction of the needs.
Israel started its campaign in retribution for an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas fighters who rampaged through Israeli towns, killing 1,200 people and seizing 240 hostages, according to Israel’s tally.
Israeli bombardments have killed nearly 16,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health ministry figures, and driven 80 percent of the population from their homes.
King Abdullah told Christodoulides there would be dangerous consequences from any attempt to forcibly push Palestinians en masse from their land while it maintained security control, officials said.
Officials also fear wider violence in the West Bank, which Jordan borders, as settler attacks on Palestinian civilians, confiscation of land and Israeli military raids mount.
It could create circumstances that could encourage Israel to forcibly push tens of thousands of Palestians across the Jordan River.
Officials say the forcible expulsion of Palestinians would amount to a declaration of war and prompt Jordan to suspend its peace treaty with Israel.
On Tuesday, Amman condemned Israel’s move to build new settlements in Arab East Jerusalem, the part of the contested city that was seized along with the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and the UN considers occupied territory..
“Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlement building on land it occupied and the confiscation of territory are a flagrant violation of international law” and dimmed any prospects of peace, said Sufain Qudah, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry.


Egypt’s FM heads to US for talks with top officials

Updated 05 December 2023
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Egypt’s FM heads to US for talks with top officials

  • Shoukry will meet Congress foreign policy committee officials with the aim of advancing and strengthening strategic relations
  • Visit will also include talks with a number of American think tanks and research centers

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry traveled to the US on Tuesday to meet House of Representatives and Senate members in Washington.

Shoukry will meet Congress foreign policy committee officials with the aim of advancing and strengthening strategic relations, according to Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid.

The visit will also include talks with a number of American think tanks and research centers, in addition to media engagements, he said.

Abu Zeid said that Shoukry will also join an Arab-Islamic ministerial committee meeting on Dec. 7.

The committee will hold meetings with the US secretary of state, a number of Congress members and the US media in an effort to stop the war in Gaza, in line with the mandate issued by the recent Arab-Islamic Extraordinary Summit.

Meanwhile, Shoukry affirmed Egypt’s categorical rejection of attempts to force Palestinians out of Gaza.

The foreign minister made the remarks during a phone call with Colombian counterpart Alvaro Leyva.

Shoukry and Leyva discussed the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, the necessity of an immediate ceasefire and the opportunity to establish humanitarian truces to bring in aid.


Soldier dies after Israeli forces target Lebanese army center

Updated 05 December 2023
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Soldier dies after Israeli forces target Lebanese army center

  • Israeli army targeted a Lebanese army center on Al-Awaida hill, near the border town of Odaisseh, killing a soldier and wounding three others
  • Negative response to Hamas’ appeal for resistance fighters

BEIRUT: Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel have continued their hostilities on the front in southern Lebanon following the end of the truce in the region on Friday.

The Israeli army targeted a Lebanese army center on Al-Awaida hill near the border town of Odaisseh, killing a soldier and wounding three others.

Hezbollah targeted Israeli soldiers at the Ruwaisat Al-Assi site and the Al-Tayhat Triangle, as well as Zabdin in the Shebaa Farms, and Bayyad Blida.

An Israeli drone attacked Lebanese border towns. Artillery was used to target the outskirts of villages and towns, from which most residents had been displaced at the start of military operations.

The Israelis fired flares over the sea coast south of Tyre and over the Blue Line in the western and central sectors. The towns of the Marjayoun district also experienced an Israeli bombardment with heavy artillery shells, flares, and phosphorus bombs causing damage to shops and homes.

Meanwhile, the announcement from Hamas militants in Lebanon of the establishment of “Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood” has been met by a negative reaction.

A media report on Tuesday said: “Hamas’ announcement was met with discontent … in southern Lebanon for fear of repeating the 1970s experience of Palestinian armed action from the south.”

Hamas in Lebanon had called on “the brave youth and men (to) join the vanguards of the resistance fighters and participate in the liberation of Jerusalem and the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, in affirmation of the role of the Palestinian people, wherever they may be, in resisting the occupation by all available and legitimate means, and in continuation of what the Al-Aqsa flood operation has achieved.”

Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, said on social media: “We absolutely reject Hamas’ announcement.

“We also consider that any armed action launched from Lebanese territory is an assault on national sovereignty. We recall what the Lebanese agreed upon since 1990 in the Taif Agreement — weapons should be taken away from Palestinians inside and outside of the camps — as well as the agreement upon the cancellation of the Cairo Agreement.

“History has taught us not to become a bargaining chip in times of war, when we can impose our conditions on the table in times of negotiations.”

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was “surprised” by the statement of Hamas in Lebanon, and added: “The mere idea of bringing back Palestinian armed action from Lebanon is unacceptable and rejected.”

Hesham Dibsi, a Palestinian researcher and director at the Tatwir Center for Studies, told Arab News: “The step is an … attempt to popularize the Oct. 7 operation (and) say that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s camps are with Hamas, and this is not true.”

Former Justice Minister Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi said: “Establishing the ‘Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood’ in Lebanon is a grave mistake.

“It harms the Palestinian cause for the benefit of the axis of resistance that trades with it.”

Independent MP Mark Daou said: “Lebanon is a state, not an arena, and Hamas has no right to violate Lebanon.

“We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, but we will not accept that the cause be used as an excuse to violate Lebanon and organize non-Lebanese armed forces. Hamas leaders must immediately reconsider this step, or we will consider this a hostile act against the Lebanese and a violation of their security.”

Camille Chamoun, the head of the National Liberal Party, said: “The establishment of the ‘Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood’ constitutes a danger and a pretext for a new Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, the destruction of the remaining institutions and infrastructure, and additional tragedies for the Lebanese people.”

Hamas official Ayman Shanaa said in a statement: “We respect the sovereignty of the Lebanese state, and Hamas operates under the umbrella of Lebanese law. Even in resistance actions from the south, we are under the umbrella of the Lebanese resistance.”


Egyptian-Cypriot presidential talks urge Gaza ceasefire, aid push

Updated 05 December 2023
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Egyptian-Cypriot presidential talks urge Gaza ceasefire, aid push

  • Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides highlighted the requirement for immediate action on Gaza
  • Discussions also centered around ways to further strengthen cooperation between Egypt and Cyprus in several fields, particularly energy

CAIRO: The presidents of Egypt and Cyprus have agreed on the urgent need for the international community to push for a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides highlighted the requirement for immediate action during talks at the Ittihadiya Palace in Cairo.

Discussions also centered around ways to further strengthen cooperation between Egypt and Cyprus in several fields, particularly energy, while exploring opportunities to consolidate relations not only between the two countries, but Greece too.

But it was the situation in Gaza that dominated their meeting.

Spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, Ahmed Fahmy, said El-Sisi briefed Christodoulides on Egypt’s efforts to broker a permanent end to fighting in the Gaza Strip while ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

Christodoulides noted that his country was keen to work with Egypt on both fronts and El-Sisi pointed out the need for a global consensus on bringing about a two-state solution to the conflict. This, he said, would involve the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Earlier, in a call from Christodoulides to El-Sisi, the latest developments in Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip were reviewed.

The two presidents agreed that international and regional efforts to stop an escalation of the fighting were the top priority.