Long winter for Morocco quake survivors

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A man walks past huts built by Moroccan and Dutch NGOs at a camp near the earthquake-hit village of Douzrou, in central Morocco on Feb. 13, 2024. (AFP)
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People chat outside a small hut built by Moroccan and Dutch NGOs at a camp near the earthquake-hit village of Douzrou, in central Morocco on Feb. 13, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 17 February 2024
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Long winter for Morocco quake survivors

  • A pink and white mosque minaret stands out among the rubble of the village that clung to a corner of the mountainside
  • The survivors, 150 families, found refuge a few kilometers away on rocky ground beside a road with a view of snow-capped mountains

DOUZROU, Morocco: Long, cold months have passed since an earthquake levelled Abdallah Oubelaid’s impoverished village in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains.
Every day, he or other villagers come to inspect the debris. They hope to find pieces of wood for heating and cooking, or even to recover objects of value that have so far escaped them, and all the while a bitter Oubelaid wonders when he will get the government aid that he applied for.
“Every time I ask, they tell me it’s going to happen,” Oubelaid, 35, said. “But I have children to feed and to clothe.”
Moroccan authorities said around 3,000 people died during the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck on September 8, leaving more than 60,000 houses damaged.
From Oubelaid’s village of Douzrou, around 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Marrakech city, residents give a death toll of about 80.
A pink and white mosque minaret stands out among the rubble of the village that clung to a corner of the mountainside.
The survivors, 150 families, found refuge a few kilometers away on rocky ground beside a road with a view of snow-capped mountains.
Around 120 of them have received help from the government. They either got a 2,500-dirham ($249) monthly stipend or 20,000 dirhams for reconstruction.
The rest, like Oubelaid, said they don’t know why they received nothing.
By the end of January, the Moroccan government said around 57,600 families had received the monthly stipend and more than 44,000 households obtained the reconstruction aid.
Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch said the government “sets itself the challenge of responding to the expectation of the local population with promptness and efficiency.”
Yet some remain desperate for help.
Local media said hundreds of people from areas south of Marrakech in Taroudant province and the town of Talat Nyacoub have demonstrated since January to protest the delayed payments and reconstruction aid during the difficult winter conditions.
Last month, a left-wing government member of parliament, Fatima Tamni, said while questioning Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit that reconstruction efforts “remain immersed in obscurity and improvization.”
She called on Laftit to take action, according to the Hespress news website.
The Moroccan government said some applications were rejected because residents did not live in the affected areas at the time of the earthquake or because their homes were still inhabitable.
In larger towns like Amizmiz, workers and backhoes are busy.
Things seem to have returned to normal, even as families still live in dozens of yellow tents donated by the authorities. Covered with tarpaulins for protection against the rain and mountain cold, the tents occupy every patch of empty land.
In their misfortune, the Douzrou survivors feel lucky that Moroccan and Dutch NGOs built barracks for them, and they are insulated from the cold.
“There would’ve been a lot more victims with the wind lately if we didn’t have that,” said Hamed Oumhend, 68, looking at the hut built beside others. From above, they look like rolls of aluminum foil.
“It saved us.”
The elderly villager has been collecting signatures for a petition asking for the reconstruction of Douzrou — a little lower on the mountain than their camp, in hopes it would be safer there.
They are determined to stay on their land but conscious of the fact that the name of the resilient village means “under the rock” in the local Berber language, also known as Amazigh.
They fear another disaster in the community whose isolation means few doctor visits and dwindling provisions, and where Oumhend said people are still in a state of shock.
They all lost a relative or barely managed to save themselves when their village disappeared.
“People had to crawl out of the rubble to get out of their homes,” he recalled.
“Some are still traumatized.”


After surviving airstrike Palestinian boy dies seeking aid

Updated 16 sec ago
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After surviving airstrike Palestinian boy dies seeking aid

  • The teenager was struck by one of the packages as he rushed to try to get a can of fava beans
GAZA: When an Israeli airstrike destroyed his family’s home in November, Zein Oroq was pinned under rubble. He was wounded but survived, while 17 members of his extended family died.
But Zein, 13, would later suffer a cruel fate in Gaza, where Palestinians face severe shortages of medicine, food and water in a deepening humanitarian crisis.
The population of the tiny enclave, where Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas have been fighting for more than six months, is at risk of famine.
Last week, during an air drop of aid, the teenager was struck by one of the packages as he rushed to try to get a can of fava beans, some rice or flour.
“The first time, when the house was hit by a strike, he came out from under the rubble with wounds in his head, hand and leg, God saved him,” said Zein’s grandfather, Ali Oroq.
The grandfather, standing by a large pool of wastewater, recalled how Zein would swim in a pond to get a meal from the air drops, and how he should have been sitting at a desk in school getting an education instead.
But, with mediators failing to secure a truce and Israel and Hamas braced for more war in Gaza, which has been rendered a wasteland by the fighting, his luck eventually ran out.
“While parachutes were falling, an aid box hit his head, also the stampede of people who were heading toward the box did not pay attention to the boy — they were also hungry,” said his father Mahmoud.
“So, his head was cut and wounded, he got fractures in the pelvis, skull and abdomen and with the flow of people, the pressure increased on him.”
Zein was taken to hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds on Sunday in the chaos of a war that began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostage, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel responded with a fierce offensive that has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health authorities, and turned much of densely populated strip, home to 2.3 million people, into rubble, twisted steel and dust.
“My son is so precious, he was my support, my entire life, my first joy in this world, my biggest child, may he rest in peace,” said Mahmoud.

Israeli raid on Gaza’s Yabna refugee camp kills at least 7, including 4 children

Updated 3 min 42 sec ago
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Israeli raid on Gaza’s Yabna refugee camp kills at least 7, including 4 children

  • The strikes hit the residence of the Abul Honoud family in central Rafah

GAZA: At least seven Palestinians, four of them children, were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday night.

The strikes hit the residence of the Abul Honoud family in Yabna refugee camp, according to Arab News’ reporter in Gaza.

Local rescue teams continue to search for bodies and injured people trapped under the rubble.

Approximately 1.4 million Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah, with Israel having razed entire neighborhoods in northern and central Gaza, forcing survivors to flee south.

At least 33,899 Palestinians, 12,300 of them children, have been killed since Israel’s invasion began last October, according to Gaza’s health authorities.


Crew of ship seized by Iran are safe, operator MSC says

Updated 30 min 30 sec ago
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Crew of ship seized by Iran are safe, operator MSC says

  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the container vessel in the Strait of Hormuz days after Tehran vowed to retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus

LONDON: The 25 crew members of the MSC Aries, which was seized by Iran on April 13, are safe, shipping firm MSC said on Wednesday, adding that discussions with Iranian authorities are in progress to secure their earliest release.
“We are also working with the Iranian authorities to have the cargo discharged,” the Swiss headquartered company said in a statement.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the container vessel in the Strait of Hormuz days after Tehran vowed to retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus on April 1. Iran had said it could close the crucial shipping route.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the leading seafarers’ union, said on Wednesday that their priority was the welfare and safety of the seafarers onboard.
“I can confirm the ITF has been in touch with family of the crew on board MSC Aries – who have reported today they’re safe and being treated reasonably,” ITF inspectorate coordinator Steve Trowsdale told Reuters.
“We continue to call on the Iranian authorities to urgently release the crew and the vessel.”
Portugal’s foreign ministry summoned Iran’s ambassador on Tuesday to condemn Saturday’s attack on Israel by Tehran and to demand the immediate release of the Portuguese-flagged ship.
Iran has also seized other vessels in international waters in recent years, heightening risks for merchant shipping in the area.
The Advantage Sweet, Niovi and St. Nikolas tankers, which were taken last year, were anchored in Iranian waters as of April 12, said Claire Jungman, chief of staff at US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which tracks Iran-related tanker traffic via satellite data.
Iran’s foreign ministry said on Monday that the MSC Aries was seized for “violating maritime laws,” adding that there was no doubt the vessel was linked to Israel.
MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.
Recent attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have also affected the global maritime transport chain.
The Houthis are still holding the Galaxy Leader commercial ship and its 25 crew after the militia’s commandos boarded the vessel at sea on Nov. 19.


Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

Updated 17 April 2024
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Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

  • Tehran’s charge d’affaires to UK: ‘Another mistake’ by Israel will be met by ‘stronger’ response
  • Weekend drone, missile salvo a ‘legitimate’ defensive operation, West given ‘considerable warning’

LONDON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to drag the West into a “total war” in the Middle East, Iran’s top diplomat in the UK has warned.

In his first comments since Tehran’s drone and ballistic missile attack last week, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, Iran’s charge d’affaires to the UK, said “another mistake” by Israel would be met by a response, The Guardian reported.

Tehran would carry out a stronger attack without warning, unlike last week’s strike, which was communicated days in advance, he added.

The salvo of more than 300 drones and ballistic missiles came in response to the April 1 Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria, which killed senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials.

Matin said: “The response to the next mistake of the Zionist will not take 12 days’ time. It will be decided as soon as we see what the hostile regime has done. It will be immediate, and without warning. It will be stronger and more severe.”

Israel has committed to responding to the Iranian attack but has yet to release any information.

Matin said Iran had ruled out attacking civilian targets or completing its nuclear weapons program, both before the escalation and following any potential Israeli response.

US and European leaders have called for calm in conversations with Netanyahu, but have also urged the launch of a new round of sanctions on Iran in the wake of last week’s attack.

Matin denied that Tehran had made a strategic error in launching the strike, saying Western powers are “losing credibility” in the Middle East and the US will end up leaving the region.

“This is a good opportunity for Western countries to demonstrate that they are rational actors, and they are not going to be entrapped by Netanyahu and his goal, which is to be in power for as long as he could actually stay in power,” Matin added.

“Iran has considered its actions very carefully, and understood that there is a trap, but not for Iran: For the Western countries and allied countries in which they are drawn by the Zionist state into a total war inside the Middle East, and the whole world soon may be unable to control the consequences.”

Before Iran responded to Israel’s strike on its consulate, Tehran had urged Western officials to condemn the Damascus attack and push for a ceasefire in Gaza, Matin said.

But figures, including UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, rejected the Iranian requests. “As Cameron mentioned, rightly, every nation has the right to defend itself against this kind of flagrant breach of diplomatic and international law,” Matin said, adding that Iran’s drone and ballistic missile attack had only targeted Israeli military sites.

“Iranian forces didn’t target any populated sites so as to prevent human casualties, nor did it attack government buildings and centres. It was a legitimate defence operation that was conducted in a way that gave considerable warning,” he added.

“Now, I can say that the mission is accomplished. And that’s it. That’s what we have announced very publicly, that that mission is concluded.”

Tehran had been forced to reinstate deterrence in the wake of the consulate strike, Matin said, adding that the response had displayed “military capabilities, missiles, and drones more powerful than what all the international community expected from Iran.

“Nobody can, at the moment, imagine that Iran is Iran of the Iran-Iraq war. Iran is now a regional superpower.”


At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE

Updated 17 April 2024
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At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE

  • UAE witnessed record rainfall with 254 mm, the most since records began in 1949
  • Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, facing significant disruptions 

DUBAI: Authorities and communities across the United Arab Emirates were clearing debris on Wednesday after a torrential downpour killed at least one person and caused damage to homes and businesses.
The UAE witnessed a record rainfall with 254 mm falling in Al Ain on Tuesday in less than 24 hours, according to the national meteorology center. That was the most since records began in 1949, before the country was established in 1971.
Although heavy rains had eased by late Tuesday, disruptions were continuing on Wednesday with Emirates airline suspending check-in for passengers departing Dubai airport until midnight.
Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, said it was facing significant disruptions after the heavy rains delayed or diverted flights and had impacted flight crews.
Passengers departing Dubai were advised against heading to the airport and to check their flight status with their airline.
“We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions,” the airport wrote on X.
Emirates said passengers who were already in transit would continue to be processed but warned that delays to departures and arrivals should be expected. The Dubai airport website showed hours-long delays for some arrival and departure flights.
Local media reported that an elderly Emirati man in his 70s died on Tuesday morning when his vehicle was caught in flash floods in the Ras Al Khaimah emirate, in the country’s north.
In neighboring Oman, 19 people died, including school children after three consecutive days of heavy rain, according to Omani media, which published images of flooded communities.
The Times of Oman reported that more rain was expected on Wednesday. In Dubai, the skies were clear but in some areas the roads were quiet after the government ordered its employees and all schools to work remotely for a second consecutive day.
UAE media and social media posts showed significant damage from the torrential downpour in some parts of the country, including collapsed roads and homes inundated by water.
Social media posts on Tuesday showed flooded roads and car parks with some vehicles completely submerged. Sheikh Zayed Road, a 12-lane highway through Dubai, was partially flooded, leaving people stuck in a kilometers-long traffic jam for hours.