From Gaza to Geneva: Swiss doctor evacuates injured children

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Geneva-based doctor Raouf Salti holds 17-month-old Zeina, next to 16-year-old Yussef and his mother who were evacuated from Gaza to Switzerland to receive medical treatment, at their arrival at Geneva airport, on Feb. 12, 2024. (Reuters)
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Doctor Raouf Salti holds 17-month-old Zeina. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 February 2024
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From Gaza to Geneva: Swiss doctor evacuates injured children

  • After dealing with swathes of red tape, Salti got permission to have four children cross into Egypt from Gaza and then fly to Switzerland on Monday
  • Salti, a urological surgeon and himself a descendant of Palestinian refugees, had been scheduled to travel to Gaza on Oct. 19 to carry out operations

GENEVA: When Swiss doctor Raouf Salti realized he could not go to Gaza to help injured children, he decided he would do everything he could to get them to Geneva to receive medical care.
After dealing with swathes of red tape, Salti got permission to have four children, including a 16-year-old who lost a kidney and has already had his leg amputated, cross into Egypt from Gaza and then fly to Switzerland on Monday.
Salti, who went to Egypt to pick them up, waved as he was greeted by his team at Geneva airport with Zeina, a wide-eyed 17-month-old who was rescued from under the rubble in Gaza, in his arms.
“When I saw that the situation kept getting worse, I decided that my mission this time would be to go there and bring them here,” said Salti, who has taken part in several international humanitarian trips to Gaza as well as other parts of the Middle East and Africa over the past 14 years.
Salti, a urological surgeon and himself a descendant of Palestinian refugees, had been scheduled to travel to Gaza on Oct. 19 to carry out operations including a planned kidney surgery on a toddler.
But his humanitarian mission, part of his work as founder of an NGO called Children’s Right for Healthcare, was called off due to the Israeli offensive launched in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas gunmen.
The four children who arrived in Geneva on Monday are the second group that Salti has managed to evacuate to Switzerland, bringing their total number to eight. The children have been granted 90-day visas to receive medical care.
“What is important is giving them a normal life, with people, calm, peace and love. A child’s life,” Salti said after arriving at his office with the children and their mothers.
The four were chosen with help from his contacts in Gaza on the basis that they were well enough to travel and that they could be helped in Switzerland.
Sixteen-year-old Yussef, who lost his left leg and had his kidney crushed in an Israeli attack, is emaciated, weighing less than 30 kg (66 pounds). Doctors in Gaza amputated the remainder of the leg that had been blown off, but he still needs to gain strength and ultimately be given a prosthetic.
Zeina, the 17-month-old, was initially treated at Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest facility in the Gaza Strip, which was raided by Israeli forces in November.
Her tiny left arm, supported by a sling, sustained several fractures that doctors attempted to repair using an external fixation but the structure had to be removed due to an infection.
“You can’t talk about sterile (equipment) there anymore, it doesn’t exist,” Salti said.


As U.S.-supplied weapons show impact inside Russia, Ukrainian soldiers hope for deeper strikes

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As U.S.-supplied weapons show impact inside Russia, Ukrainian soldiers hope for deeper strikes

Deteriorating battlefield conditions forced the U.S. to permit Ukraine to use Western-supplied artillery and rocket systems to defend the eastern city of Kharkiv
The impact was swift: Ukrainian forces pushed Russian positions back, won time to better fortify their own positions and even mounted small offensive actions

KHARKIV, Ukraine: Weeks after the decision allowing Ukraine to use U.S.-supplied weapons for limited strikes in Russian territory, the country is having some success in halting Russia’s new push along the northeast front, but military commanders are clamoring for restrictions on long-range missiles to be lifted.
Deteriorating battlefield conditions forced the U.S. to permit Ukraine to use Western-supplied artillery and rocket systems to defend the eastern city of Kharkiv by targeting border regions where the Kremlin’s forces assemble and launch attacks.
The impact was swift: Ukrainian forces pushed Russian positions back, won time to better fortify their own positions and even mounted small offensive actions.
But commanders said that without the ability to use long-range guided missiles, such as ATACMS, their hands are tied.
“We could target (Russian) brigade command points and the entire northern grouping, because they are located 100 to 150 kilometers from the front line,” said Hefastus, an artillery commander in the Kharkiv region who goes by his callsign. “Normal ammunition can’t get at them. With this kind, we can do a lot to destroy their centers of command.”
The Ukrainian commanders interviewed spoke on condition that their callsigns be used, in line with brigade rules.
The U.S. expanded the scope of its policy to allow counterstrikes across a wider region Friday. But the Biden administration has not lifted restrictions on Ukraine that prohibit the use of U.S.-provided ATACMS to strike inside Russian territory, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. The U.S. began providing Ukraine with long-range ATACMS earlier this year, but with rules, including that they cannot be used to strike inside Russia and must be used within sovereign territory, which includes land seized by the Russians.
That prevents attacks on airfields and military infrastructure in Russia’s deep rear, underscoring a common Ukrainian complaint that Western allies anxious about potentially provoking Russia are undermining Ukraine's ability to fight effectively.
Ukrainian officials are pushing U.S. allies to be able to strike particular high-value targets inside Russia using ATACMS, which can reach over 100 kilometers (62 miles).
“Unfortunately, we still cannot reach, for example, airfields and their aircraft. This is the problem,” Yehor Cherniev, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, defense and intelligence, said earlier this month. “That’s why we are asking (allies) to lift the restrictions to use long-range missiles against limited military targets in the territory of Russia.”
Since late May, Ukraine has been able to target Russian troops and air defense systems 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border in the Kharkiv region. Moscow opened a new front in the region on May 10, capturing village after village in a sweeping advance that caught Ukrainian troops unprepared.
Though not a panacea, the move has greatly slowed Russia’s momentum, even allowing Ukrainian troops to make advances along the northeast border, including recently recapturing areas southwest of Vovchansk, according to local reports. Brigades there said high mobility army rocket systems, or HIMARS, were fired hours after permission was granted, destroying an air defense complex outfitted to launch the deadly missiles.
At the time, the stakes were high as Ukrainian military leaders anticipated another assault designed to divert troops from other intense battlegrounds in the Donetsk region. First Deputy Defense Minister Ivan Havryliuk told The Associated Press that at least 90,000 Russian troops deep in Russian territory were gearing up for a new assault.
“The HIMARS were not silent for the whole day,” Hefastus said, recalling the first hours when permission was granted to use the rocket systems. “From the first days, Ukrainian forces managed to destroy whole columns of troops along the border waiting for the order to enter Ukraine.”
“Before, we couldn’t target them. It was quite complicated. All warehouses with ammunition and other resources were located a 20-kilometer distance beyond what we could hit,” he said.
The dynamics shifted almost immediately, allowing Ukrainian forces to stabilize that part of the front line. Soldiers near a strategic area north of Kharkiv where fighting to push Russian troops back is ongoing said enemy troops had moved positions several kilometers back. Such claims could not be independently verified.
“Tactics have changed" as a result of Ukraine’s improved striking ability, said Kalina, a platoon commander for the Khartia Brigade. Before, they were only able to hit incoming infantry assaults; now, they can employ more artillery against Russian firing points.
The U.S. decision came in the 11th hour, after much lobbying by Ukrainian officials and right as troops were preparing for combat in anticipation of Russia opening a new front in the northeast.
Ukrainian officials are hoping to convince American allies to allow the use of ATACMS against specific targets.
“It seems pretty absurd when the enemy is so actively advancing on our territory and striking with all types of missiles and calibers at Ukrainian territory and we cannot strike back inside the enemy’s territory where they hold logistics and supplies,” said Lys Mykyta, the commander of a drone company in the 103rd Territorial Defense Brigade.
But Ukrainian officials said only desperate battlefield conditions are likely to convince American officials to walk back the restriction.
The renewed invasion of the Kharkiv region, which drew in precious Ukrainian reserves, pushed the U.S. to have a change of heart on allowing self-defense strikes in Russian territory, Cherniev said.
“Probably, the decision about the ATACMS will also be changed based on the situation on the ground,” he said. “I hope the decision will be made as soon as possible.”

Former French president Hollande says Macron ascendency ‘is over’

Updated 22 June 2024
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Former French president Hollande says Macron ascendency ‘is over’

  • “I have no scores to settle at all. That’s all in the past,” Hollande said
  • Now just two years into the younger man’s second term, “Macronism is over, if indeed it ever existed. But it’s over, I say it with no special hostility,” Hollande said

USSEL, France: French President Emmanuel Macron’s ascendancy is “over,” former head of state Francois Hollande told AFP Saturday, after his former protege called a snap election likely to hand massive gains to the far right.
“I have no scores to settle at all. That’s all in the past,” Hollande said on the campaign trail in his native Correze department in central France, where he is standing to be an MP.
Suffering at the time from abysmal poll ratings, Socialist Hollande did not himself stand for a second term at the 2017 election.
Running as a pro-business centrist, his former economy minister Macron pulled off a surprise win that shattered traditional governing parties on the left and the right.
Now just two years into the younger man’s second term, “Macronism is over, if indeed it ever existed. But it’s over, I say it with no special hostility,” Hollande said.
“I don’t mean that his presidential term is coming to an end, that’s something different. But what he may have represented for a time is over,” he added.
Re-elected in 2022 for a second five-year term, Macron lost his absolute majority in parliament in legislative polls the same year.
His party has limped on in minority government, passing hard-fought and controversial reforms including raising the pension age and toughening immigration law.
But a heavy defeat at June 9’s European Parliament election prompted Macron to dissolve parliament in hopes of breaking the deadlock.
A new chamber will be elected on June 30 and July 7 with the far-right National Rally (RN) looking set to win the most seats.
France’s two-round electoral system makes predicting outcomes tricky, but it is highly unlikely that Macron’s gamble will pay off by winning a new majority.
Instead, he could find himself presiding over a government run by an ideological opponent.
Macron’s rule has “had a heavy political cost,” Hollande said.
“The parties were heavily damaged and public morale was too. The far right has never been so strong.”
Hollande’s Socialist party has formed an electoral alliance with other left parties including Greens, Communists and hard-left France Unbowed (LFI).
Their New Popular Front (NFP) is currently running second to the RN in the polls, both well ahead of Macron’s Renaissance outfit.
“It’s time for a political realignment,” Hollande said.
“I didn’t plan to stand for any election in my position, something very serious had to happen” in the shape of the RN’s more than 31 percent in the European election, he added.
Some Socialist voters have struggled with the idea of backing an alliance with LFI and its fiery leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, with some party figures accused of anti-Semitism and a history of Euroskeptic statements.
“I’m in the framework of an alliance because it has to be done, but there’s no kind of confusion” between his positions and Melenchon’s, Hollande said.
If elected, “I’ll be an MP who will call for responsibility whatever happens... vigilant and committed to finding solutions,” he added.


Tourists banned from Italy’s Capri over water shortage

Updated 22 June 2024
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Tourists banned from Italy’s Capri over water shortage

  • The ban by Capri mayor Paolo Falco forced several ferries on their way to the island from Naples and Sorrento in southern Italy to turn back
  • Falco warned of “a real emergency“

ROME: The Italian island of Capri banned tourists from disembarking Saturday after problems with the water supply from the mainland threatened to leave the holiday hotspot parched.
The ban by Capri mayor Paolo Falco forced several ferries on their way to the island from Naples and Sorrento in southern Italy to turn back.
The company charged with supplying the island with water said there had been a technical problem on the mainland on Thursday, and while that had since been fixed problems with the supply to Capri remained.
Falco warned of “a real emergency” and said that while there was still water on most of the island on Friday, local tanks were “running out.”
“The emergency would be worsened by the arrival of the thousands of tourists which arrive on Capri daily,” he said.
Locals could collect up to 25 liters of drinking water per household from a supply tanker, he said.
The ban, which does not apply to residents, will be in place until further notice.
Capri, in the Bay of Naples, is famed for its white villas, cove-studded coastline and upscale hotels. There are some 13,000 permanent residents but huge numbers of day-trippers in summer months.


Russian bomb attack kills three, injures 29 in Ukraine’s Kharkiv

Updated 22 June 2024
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Russian bomb attack kills three, injures 29 in Ukraine’s Kharkiv

  • Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko put the casualty toll at three dead and 29 injured
  • “This Russian terror through guided bombs must be stopped and can be stopped,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram

KYIV: Russian guided bombs struck an apartment building in Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, on Saturday, killing three people, injuring 29 and prompting President Volodymyr Zelensky to call for more help from Kyiv’s allies.
Pictures posted online showed parts of an apartment building in ruins, with windows smashed, balconies shattered and rubble strewn about a crater on the ground.
Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko put the casualty toll at three dead and 29 injured in the mid-afternoon attack. Regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said two children were among the injured and four of those hurt were in serious condition.
“This Russian terror through guided bombs must be stopped and can be stopped,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram.
“We need strong decisions from our partners to enable us to stop the Russian terrorists and Russian military aviation right where they are.”
Syniehubov said rescue work was proceeding. Other civilian targets had also been hit and public transport halted.
Mayor Ihor Terekhov said there had been four strikes.
Kharkiv lies about 30 km (20 miles) from the border with Russia. The city of about 1.3 million people has frequently been targeted in Russian attacks during nearly 28 months of war.
Russia has relied increasingly on the use of the bombs, relatively inexpensive, dropped from a distance and involving fewer risks for its forces.


Bangladesh says it won’t let in any more Rohingya fleeing Myanmar fighting

Updated 22 June 2024
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Bangladesh says it won’t let in any more Rohingya fleeing Myanmar fighting

  • Clashes between Myanmar junta and insurgents started in October 2023
  • Deadly fighting engulfs Rohingya-inhabited border areas

DHAKA: Bangladesh will not take in any more Rohingya fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said on Saturday, amid reports that people from the areas affected by fighting have been gathering on the border.

Concerns that a war between Myanmar’s junta and the opposition ethnic-minority Arakan Army would trigger a new wave of refugees seeking safety in Bangladesh have been on the rise over the past few months.

Clashes between Myanmar’s military-controlled government forces and insurgents in Rakhine and Chin States started in late October 2023 with a multi-pronged offensive against the junta, which has been in control of the country since early 2021.

Most of the Rohingya — hundreds of thousands of whom fled to Bangladesh following a brutal military crackdown and persecution in 2017 — come from Rakhine. One of the most heavily Rohingya-populated areas in the state, Maungdaw, has been under the control of the Arakan Army, which last week warned it was expecting the junta to attempt to recapture it.

“On the other side of the border in Myanmar, a fierce gunbattle is happening and, every day, people are dying. Maungdaw town is a predominantly Rohingya-inhabited area,” Rahman told Arab News.

“We have heard that (some) Rohingyas have tried to enter Bangladesh ... (they) have gathered on the border on the Myanmar side, mainly near the Teknaf subdistrict under Cox’s Bazar.”

More than a million Rohingya Muslims currently live in squalid camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, turning the coastal district into the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Rahman said Bangladesh cannot receive more refugees and will not allow any more Rohingya to enter the country from Myanmar.

“The Rohingyas living in Cox’s Bazar camps are very anxious about the safety and fate of their relatives living in Maungdaw and the surrounding area,” he said. “(But) we can’t receive any more Rohingyas, as Bangladesh is already overburdened with more than 1 million. Our stand is that not a single more Rohingya will enter our land.”

The UN estimates that 95 percent of Rohingya refugees are dependent on humanitarian assistance, which has been dropping since 2020, despite urgent pleas for donations by the World Food Program and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The protracted humanitarian crisis has started to affect the host community, which, despite not being a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, has been supporting the Rohingya by providing not only land, but also water, electricity, healthcare and a huge law-enforcement presence.

The Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief estimates the government has spent around $2 billion since the beginning of the crisis on maintaining infrastructure for refugees.