‘We know how violence ends, and the consequences,’ Somalia’s president tells Arab News

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Updated 13 November 2023

‘We know how violence ends, and the consequences,’ Somalia’s president tells Arab News

  • Hassan Sheikh Mohamud says only two-state solution will resolve Israel-Palestine conflict
  • Welcomes closer ties with the Kingdom following Saudi-African Summit in Riyadh
  • Highlights Africa and Somalia’s investment potential citing improving security, stability

RIYADH: Somalia knows from bitter experience that a political end cannot be reached by means of violence, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the Somali president, has said, discussing the ongoing cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

After decades of political instability, terrorist violence, and foreign intervention, the war-scarred nation on the Horn of Africa has seen a gradual shift toward stabilization, reflected in its recent outreach to African neighbors and the Arab world.

Mohamud told Arab News that the violence between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas would not address the root causes of the conflict — something that could only be achieved through a political agreement in the form of the two-state solution.

He said: “As Somalis, we have been in an environment of violence for a long time. We know where the violence ends up, and the consequences, and the result at the end of violence. No one can reach a political end by means of violence. It cannot happen.

“There is a worldwide accepted solution. Two states, Palestine and Israel, living together side by side, peacefully. And it can happen. It’s possible. Why don’t we go ahead with that?”

For more than a month, the Gaza Strip has been under intense Israeli bombardment in retaliation for the unprecedented Oct. 7 cross-border attack mounted by Hamas on southern Israel, in which 1,400 people were killed, most of them civilians, and 240 taken hostage.

Israel’s bombardment, and subsequent ground operation, has resulted in more than 11,000 deaths, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, and the displacement of more than half the population of Gaza.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud spoke to Arab News Assistant Editor-in-Chief Noor Nugali after the inaugural Saudi-African Summit and the fifth Arab-African Summit. (AN Photo/Abdulrhman Bin Shalhoub)

“What’s going on in Palestine, particularly today in Gaza, is a special case, something that is contrary to all human values in the moral sense.

“It’s not about religion only, it’s not about Arab only, it’s not about regionalism. This is humanity. Children are dying. Mothers are suffering. Innocent civilians are suffering,” Mohamud added.

The president spoke to Arab News following the inaugural Saudi-African Summit and the fifth Arab-African Summit, which took place in Riyadh on Nov. 11 and 12, bringing together representatives from both regions to discuss trade and cooperation.

He welcomed closer ties between Somalia and Saudi Arabia, highlighting their shared history, religious bonds, and common security interests.

Mohamud said: “Somalia and Saudi Arabia have a very, very long and historical relationship because of the proximity of our geographic locations and because of the common values that we have — the Islamic religion, the way of life, the Arab values and culture, of course. So, there’s a lot of issues that link us with Saudi Arabia.

“The 21st century and globalism is another challenge that makes us get together. We have a common enemy like the extremists, like the terrorists, like the fundamentalism in the wrong direction.

“Since we all have the common place of Islam, our heritage has always been linked together. So, that is the background that we are coming from,” he added.

Mohamud pointed out that he was especially grateful for the Kingdom’s humanitarian assistance, counterterrorism expertise, and diplomatic support, at a time when Somalia has suffered insurgency, instability, and economic crisis.

“Somalia has been in a difficult situation for the last three decades. And Saudi Arabia has always been with Somalia for all these three decades in terms of humanitarian, in terms of security, in terms of global politics and diplomatic support provided to Somalia. That is the level of our relationship.

“And today, under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, we are improving. Every day there is a new progress in our relationship, new confidence, new relations, new areas on that,” he said.

Mohamud noted that security and counterterrorism were a particularly strong area of cooperation.

Mohamud has been Somalia’s president since May 2022, having served in the same post from 2012 to 2017. (AN Photo/Abdulrhman Bin Shalhoub)

“Somalia is a country that’s coming out of a long, long-term conflict. We went into a war with the terrorists, as did Saudi Arabia sometime in the past and succeeded. There is no better place than Saudi Arabia to seek advice and experience in the war against terrorism,” he added.

The Saudi-African Summit was organized in recognition of Africa’s growing importance as an emerging player in world trade and diplomacy.

Mohamud said: “In the 21st century, Africa is the destination. Destination in terms of economic development. Destination in terms of human capital. Destination in terms of resources. Destination in terms of strategy, you name it. So, the whole world is looking.

“If yesterday it was colonialism, if it was exploitation, in the 21st century (new change) is possible. It is a partnership, shared interests.”

He noted that Somalia, with the longest coastline on the African continent, a dynamic youth population, ample untapped natural resources, and the potential to become a major regional logistics hub, was ready for investment.

“For a long time, we have been struggling to stabilize Somalia. Make a safe and secure place. Only then we can hope investment will come. We are succeeding in this now. We are in the final stages of the stabilization and safety, and security of Somalia.

“We are defeating the terrorist groups that denied this right to the Somali people. Once we do that, that’s the right time — a conducive environment is created, enabling an environment that is created for investment.

“Somalia is a white paper. Every place is an opportunity. The blue economy is an opportunity. Food security is an opportunity. Minerals, rich in minerals: gold, uranium, copper, cobalt. All types of natural rare elements are available in Somalia.

“Somalia has close to 9 million hectares of arable land, with two permanent rivers throughout the year and a good number of rainy seasons. Somalia has one of the largest livestock (numbers) in the world.

“So, in Somalia, areas to invest, the sky’s the limit and it’s untapped and it’s unoccupied,” Mohamud added.

Somalia’s poor development is owed in large part to its decades of civil war, which have been prolonged by the involvement of international terrorist networks, including Al-Shabaab.

The terrorist group, which is based in Somalia but active elsewhere in East Africa, has been affiliated with Al-Qaeda since 2012, with suspected ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

With international support, Somalia has been fighting back against Al-Shabaab with conventional military means and counter-radicalization campaigns, and by cutting off the group’s means of financing its activities.

Mohamud said: “The Somali government and the world supporting Somalia, international partners, international community, international organizations, all of them that have been supporting Somalia, for which we are very much grateful, in the fight against terrorism.

The president spoke to Arab News following the inaugural Saudi-African Summit and the fifth Arab-African Summit, which took place in Riyadh on Nov. 11 and 12. (SPA)

“Al-Shabaab is not a local organization. It’s a global, regional (organization). It just happened to be in Somalia, because in Somalia there was a great space that was ungoverned for a long time. That is what makes them stay there.

“Secondly, we have been fighting with Al-Shabaab, the terrorists, with one method, which is the military. All the time we have been fighting with them in terms of military. We strengthened and increased the military front, but we’re at another front. We are at ideological war since Al-Shabaab is an ideology-based organization — we fight with them over ideology.

“The ideology they use is Islam. And they are not using it in the right way. So, no one is much better than us to express and explain to our people the right path of Islam. And that’s what we are doing.

“The third is the issue of the economy. Al-Shabaab is collecting a huge amount of money from our people. They call it zakat (tax), or they call it tabaro’at (charity). They give it so many names. But at the end of the day, it is our local resources.

“We have restricted those resources, closing the taps flowing to them. So, that is what makes the success that we are seeking, and we are achieving right now,” he added.

Despite the demands of his role, Mohamud was determined to continue serving the interests of the Somali people as the nation moved toward a more stable and prosperous future.

He said: “Of course, I’m not a young man, but Alhamdulillah, I’m healthy. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I don’t stay up late. I do enough work, not just mentally, but exercise as well. So, Alhamdulillah, I’m healthy. I’m the father of a good family and I have been serving Somalia all my life.”

Mohamud has been president since May 2022, having previously served in the same position from 2012 to 2017. Before entering politics, he was a civil rights activist and a professor and dean at SIMAD University in Mogadishu.

In 2013, he was named in the Time 100, Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, for his efforts at advancing national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, and socio-economic and security sector reforms in Somalia.

“I’m someone whose background comes from education and humanity and serving the lives and the interests of the people. And I believe, still, I’m serving the people. What makes me happy, what gives me self-satisfaction, is how much I help a human being,” Mohamud added.

HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria

Updated 4 sec ago

HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria

  • HRW: Turkiye ‘bears responsibility for the serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by members of its own forces and local armed groups it supports’ in Syria’s north’
BEIRUT: Turkiye bears responsibility for human rights abuses and violations of land and property rights in swathes of northern Syria it controls alongside its proxies, a Human Rights Watch report said Thursday.
Since 2016, Turkiye has carried out successive ground operations to expel the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from Syria’s north, with its proxies now controlling two large border strips.
Turkiye “bears responsibility for the serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by members of its own forces and local armed groups it supports” in Syria’s north, HRW said in its report.
Turkish officials in Syria’s north have in some cases “been directly involved in apparent war crimes,” with Turkish forces and intelligence agencies involved “in carrying out and overseeing abuses,” the report said.
Abuses and violations are “most often directed at Kurdish civilians and anyone else perceived to have ties to Kurdish-led forces,” HRW said.
Kurdish women detainees have reported sexual violence including rape, while children as young as six months old have been detained with their mothers, the report said.
Ankara views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that dominate the SDF as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist group.
The military police and the myriad rebel factions of the Syrian National Army (SNA), both backed by Ankara, “have arbitrarily arrested and detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and subjected to unfair military trials scores of people with impunity,” HRW said.
A Syrian who formerly lived under SNA rule told HRW: “Everything is by the power of the weapon.”
The rights group has also accused Ankara of having “summarily deported thousands of Syrian refugees” from Turkiye to areas under its control in Syria.
In July 2023 alone, Ankara sent back more than 1,700 Syrians into the Tal Abyad border area, the report said.
Hundreds of thousands of residents in northeast Syria’s Turkish-controlled border strip have been displaced from their homes, with SNA factions looting, pillaging, and seizing their properties, the report said.
“The hardest thing for me was standing in front of my house and not being able to enter it,” a displaced Yazidi man from Ras Al-Ain told HRW.
Turkiye and its proxies “should grant independent investigative bodies immediate and unhindered access to territories under their control,” the rights group said.
Syria’s war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Urgent UN Security Council action sought to end war in Sudan

Updated 29 February 2024

Urgent UN Security Council action sought to end war in Sudan

  • “It is clear that this is an urgent matter of peace and security that demands greater attention from the Security Council,” says US envoy
  • UN says that nearly 25 million people — half Sudan’s population — need aid and some 8 million have fled their homes

UNITED NATIONS: The United States on Wednesday pushed for the United Nations Security Council to take action to help end a nearly year-long conflict in Sudan between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The United States says the warring parties have committed war crimes and the RSF and allied militias have also committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The UN says that nearly 25 million people — half Sudan’s population — need aid and some 8 million have fled their homes and hunger is rising.
“It is clear that this is an urgent matter of peace and security that demands greater attention from the Security Council,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told Reuters in a statement.
“The council must act urgently to alleviate human suffering, hold perpetrators to account, and bring the conflict in Sudan to an end. Time is running out,” she said, without specifying what action the 15-member council should take.
Since war erupted on April 15, 2023, the council has only issued three press statements condemning and expressing concern about the war. It echoed that language in a resolution in December that shut down a UN political mission — following a request from Sudan’s acting foreign minister.
Between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed in one city alone in Sudan’s West Darfur region last year in ethnic violence by the RSF and allied Arab militia, according to a UN sanctions monitors report, seen by Reuters last month.
“I am deeply disappointed that the allegations detailed in this report have received such little attention, both inside the UN Security Council and outside the United Nations,” said Thomas-Greenfield, who visited a refugee camp in Chad near the border with Sudan’s Darfur in September.
The Sudanese government recently prohibited aid deliveries through Chad, effectively shutting down a crucial route for supplies to the vast Darfur region, which is controlled by the rival RSF. Thomas-Greenfield described the move as “unacceptable” for threatening a “critical lifeline.”
Reuters last year chronicled the ethnically targeted violence committed in West Darfur. In hundreds of interviews with Reuters, survivors described horrific scenes of bloodletting in El Geneina and on the 30-km (18-mile) route from the city to the border with Chad as people fled.

Food aid reaches north Gaza for first time in weeks. Israeli hostages’ families push for release

Updated 29 February 2024

Food aid reaches north Gaza for first time in weeks. Israeli hostages’ families push for release

  • The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis, who see in them an enduring symbol of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from Hamas’ assault

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Aid convoys carrying food reached northern Gaza this week, Israeli officials said Wednesday, the first major delivery in a month to the devastated, isolated area, where the UN has warned of worsening starvation among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians amid Israel’s offensive.
The increasing alarm over hunger across Gaza has fueled international calls for a ceasefire as the US, Egypt and Qatar work to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas for a pause in fighting and the release of some of the hostages seized by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack.
Mediators hope to reach an agreement before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts around March 10. But so far, Israel and Hamas have remained far apart in public on their demands.
Increasing the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a deal, families of hostages on Wednesday launched a four-day march from southern Israel to Jerusalem to demand their loved ones be set free. Some of the around 100 hostages freed during a ceasefire in late November are joining the march, which is to end near Netanyahu’s official residence.
The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis, who see in them an enduring symbol of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from Hamas’ assault. In its Oct. 7 attack, the Palestinian militant group abducted roughly 250 people, according to Israeli authorities, including men, women, children and older adults. After the November releases, some 130 hostages remain, and Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.
Israel’s assault on Gaza, which it says aims at destroying Hamas after its attack, has killed more than 29,900 Palestinians. UN officials warn of further mass casualties if it follows through on vows to attack the southernmost city of Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has taken refuge. They also say a Rafah offensive could collapse the aid operation that has already been crippled in the fighting.
Across Gaza, more than 576,000 people – a quarter of the population – are a step away from famine, the UN says. But northern Gaza in particular has been gutted by hunger. The north has largely been cut off and much of it has been leveled since Israeli ground troops invaded in late October. Several hundred thousand Palestinians are believed to remain there, and many have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive. The UN says one in 6 children under 2 in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting.
A convoy of 31 trucks carrying food entered northern Gaza on Wednesday, the Israeli military office that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs said. The office, known by the acronym COGAT, said nearly 20 other trucks entered the north on Monday and Tuesday. Associated Press footage showed people carrying sacks of flour from the distribution site.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the deliveries. The UN was not involved, said a spokesperson for the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, Eri Keneko.
As of Sunday, the UN had been unable to deliver food to northern Gaza since Jan. 23, according to Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees that has led the aid effort during the war. On Feb. 18, the World Food Program attempted a delivery to the north for the first time in three weeks, but much of the convoy’s cargo was taken en route by desperate Palestinians, and it was only able to distribute a small amount in the north. Two days later, the WFP announced it was pausing deliveries to the north because of the chaos.
Since launching its assault on Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, Israel has barred entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies except for a trickle of aid entering the south from Egypt at the Rafah crossing and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing. Despite international calls to allow in more aid, the number of supply trucks entering has dropped dramatically in recent weeks.
COGAT said Wednesday that Israel does not impose limits on the amount of aid entering. Israel has blamed UN agencies for the bottleneck, saying hundreds of trucks are waiting on the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom for aid workers to collect them.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday countered saying large trucks entering Gaza have to be unloaded and reloaded onto smaller Palestinian trucks, but there aren’t enough of them and there’s a lack of security to distribute aid in Gaza. Police in Gaza stopped protecting convoys after Israeli strikes on them near the crossing. There is also “insufficient coordination” from Israel on security and deconfliction, which puts the lives of UN staff and other humanitarian workers at risk.
“That’s why we’ve repeatedly asked for a humanitarian ceasefire,” he said. The UN has called for Israel to open crossings in the north to aid deliveries and guarantee safe corridors for convoys.
The director of Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza said the number of children who have died in recent days from severe malnutrition and dehydration had risen to four.
Dr. Hussam Abu Safiya said that operations at the hospital will shut off starting Wednesday due to fuel shortages. “Dialysis, intensive care, childcare, and surgeries will stop. Therefore, we will witness more deaths in the coming days,” he said.
But the pain from the lack of supplies extends across Gaza. Project Hope, a humanitarian group that runs a clinic in the central town of Deir Al-Balah, said 21 percent of the pregnant women and 11 percent of the children under 5 it has treated in the last three weeks are suffering from malnutrition.
The Gaza Health Ministry said the death toll from Israel’s offensive had risen to 29,954 people, with 70,325 wounded. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it says two-thirds of the dead were children and women.
In its attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, Hamas and other Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians.

Gaza officials report two more child malnutrition deaths

Updated 28 February 2024

Gaza officials report two more child malnutrition deaths

  • The latest fatalities were at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city
  • The death toll from the famine among children rose to six martyrs as a result of dehydration and malnutrition

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Two children have died “of dehydration and malnutrition” in war-torn Gaza, the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry said Wednesday, the latest reported deaths as the UN warned of “imminent” famine.
The latest fatalities were at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city, the largest hospital in the besieged territory, said health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra.
“The death toll from the famine among children rose to six martyrs as a result of dehydration and malnutrition,” Qudra said.
The deaths could not be independently verified.
“We call on international institutions to take immediate action to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe in the northern Gaza Strip,” the spokesman added.
UN agencies have said the latest humanitarian convoy was allowed into the north more than a month ago.
The United Nations humanitarian coordination office on Wednesday said two children had died earlier of dehydration and malnutrition in northern Gaza’s Kamal Adwan hospital — deaths previously announced by Qudra.
A dire humanitarian emergency is unfolding in Gaza as Israel continues its relentless bid to eliminate Hamas in response to the Palestinian group’s October 7 attack.
The surprise attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Nearly five months into the war, the Israeli campaign has killed at least 29,954 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
With aid still blocked from entering northern Gaza by Israeli forces, and only entering the rest of the territory in dribs and drabs, the World Food Programme said on Tuesday that “if nothing changes, a famine is imminent.”
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNWRA, has reported a 50-percent drop in trucks entering Gaza so far this month compared to January.
The UN humanitarian office OCHA also cited projections indicating that “the entire population of the Gaza Strip faces crisis or worse levels of food insecurity.”
More than 500,000 people out of Gaza’s 2.4 million inhabitants are “facing catastrophic conditions characterised by lack of food, starvation and exhaustion of coping capacities,” it warned.

US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan

Updated 28 February 2024

US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan

  • “It is not in Israel’s security interest to inflame tensions in the West Bank or in the broader region,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters
  • Israel has been assessing how to address worship in Jerusalem during Ramadan

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Israel to allow Muslims to worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem during Ramadan, after a far-right minister proposed barring Palestinians from the occupied West Bank from praying there.
“As it pertains to Al-Aqsa, we continue to urge Israel to facilitate access to Temple Mount for peaceful worshippers during Ramadan consistent with past practice,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters, using the Jewish term for the site, the holiest in Judaism.
“That’s not just the right thing to do, it’s not just a matter of granting people religious freedom that they deserve and to which they have a right, but it’s also a matter that directly is important to Israel’s security,” he said.
“It is not in Israel’s security interest to inflame tensions in the West Bank or in the broader region.”
Israel has been assessing how to address worship in Jerusalem during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
The month of fasting comes as Israel wages a relentless military campaign in the Gaza Strip in response to a major attack by Hamas inside Israel on October 7.
Hamas has called for a mass movement on Al-Aqsa for the start of Ramadan.
“We call on our people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the occupied interior (Israel) to travel to Al-Aqsa from the first day of the blessed month of Ramadan, in groups or alone, to pray there to break the siege on it,” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised statement Wednesday.
Last week, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said that Palestinian residents of the West Bank “should not be allowed” entry to Jerusalem to pray during Ramadan.
“We cannot take risks,” he said, adding: “We cannot have women and children hostage in Gaza and allow celebrations for Hamas on the Temple Mount.”
Ben Gvir leads a hard-right party advocating Jewish control of the compound.
The United States has been pressing for a deal before Ramadan begins in which Israel would halt strikes in the Gaza Strip and hostages snatched on October 7 would be freed.
The Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed at least 29,954 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest figures by the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
It was launched in response to Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.