Sudan authorities block cross-border aid to stricken Darfur

This picture taken on September 1, 2023 shows a view of destruction in a livestock market area in Al-Fasher, the capital of Sudan’s North Darfur state. (AFP/File)
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Updated 26 February 2024
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Sudan authorities block cross-border aid to stricken Darfur

PORT SUDAN: Authorities loyal to the army in war-ravaged Sudan have blocked cross-border aid to the western Darfur region, a move decried by aid workers and the United States.

The vast Darfur region, bordering Chad, has been one of the hardest hit parts of Sudan since war began 10 months ago between the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

RSF are descendants of the Janjaweed militia which began a scorched earth campaign in Darfur more than two decades ago.

In their current battle against the army, which started last April, the RSF have taken over four out of the five Darfur state capitals.

More than 694,000 people have fled over the border to Chad, according to the International Organization for Migration, but many more remain trapped in Darfur and in need of assistance.

The United Nations has had to limit its work in Darfur to cross-border operations from Chad, but last week the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) country director Eddie Rowe told reporters that “authorities have restricted the Chad cross-border operation.”

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller on Friday said the United States is deeply concerned by the army’s “recent decision to prohibit cross border humanitarian assistance from Chad and reports that the SAF is obstructing assistance from reaching communities in areas controlled by the RSF.”

Sudan’s foreign ministry, loyal to the army, expressed “confusion and rejection” of the “false accusations” by Washington.

The ministry said the Sudan-Chad border “is the main crossing point for weapons and equipment” used to commit “atrocities” against Sudanese.

Miller, of the State Department, also expressed concern about RSF “looting homes, markets and humanitarian assistance warehouses.”

In Brussels, Rowe of WFP said his agency was “engaging with the authorities to ensure this critical lifeline” from Chad remains operational.

It is essential, an international aid worker told AFP on Sunday from Darfur, requesting anonymity so as not to jeopardize their mission.

“Children and babies are already dying from hunger and malnutrition. There will be an immense human impact... and quite possibly large-scale mortality rates,” the aid worker said.

“The highest levels of diplomacy need to unblock this situation immediately because millions of lives hang in the balance,” the aid worker said, calling it “a huge region already facing an imminent and immense food security crisis on top of a civil war, ethnic violence and state service collapse.”

The war has killed thousands, including up to 15,000 in the West Darfur city of El Geneina alone, according to the UN experts.

Washington has accused both sides of war crimes, and said the RSF also carried out ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.


Israeli attack on Iran would change ‘circumstances’, Iran’s president says

Updated 8 sec ago
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Israeli attack on Iran would change ‘circumstances’, Iran’s president says

Raisi was quoted as saying such an attack could possibly result in there be nothing left of the “Zionist regime“

DUBAI: An Israeli attack on Iranian territory would bring about a complete change of “circumstances,” Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi was quoted as saying on Tuesday by the official IRNA news agency.
Raisi, who is visiting Pakistan, was quoted as saying such an attack could possibly result in there be nothing left of the “Zionist regime.”

Truce crumbles in Sudanese army’s last Darfur holdout

Updated 11 min 7 sec ago
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Truce crumbles in Sudanese army’s last Darfur holdout

  • Al-Fashir is the last major city in the vast, western Darfur region not under control of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
  • Witnesses say the army has reinforced supplies and troops, including through an air drop to its base in the city

CAIRO/DUBAI: Attacks around the Sudanese city of Al-Fashir have shattered a truce that protected it from a year-old war, leading to warnings of a new wave of inter-communal violence and humanitarian risks for 1.6 million residents crammed into the North Darfur capital.
Al-Fashir is the last major city in the vast, western Darfur region not under control of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF and its allies swept through four other Darfur state capitals last year, and were blamed for a campaign of ethnically driven killings against non-Arab groups and other abuses in West Darfur.
The fight for Al-Fashir, a historic center of power, could be more protracted, inflame ethnic tensions that surfaced in the early-2000s conflict in the region and reach across Sudan’s border with Chad, say residents, aid agencies and analysts.
Al-Fashir’s population includes an estimated half a million people displaced during that earlier conflict, when the army, assisted by Arab militias that evolved into the RSF, put down a rebellion by non-Arab rebel groups.
About half a million more people moved into the city during the war that broke out between the army and the RSF in the capital Khartoum in April 2023, as long-simmering tensions over integrating the two forces came to a head.
As the war spread to other parts of the country, local leaders brokered a truce in Al-Fashir, with the RSF confined to eastern areas of the city while the former rebel groups stayed neutral.
But the arrangement fell apart after the RSF took the town of Melit this month, effectively blockading Al-Fashir.
Witnesses say the army has reinforced supplies and troops, including through an air drop to its base in the city, unlike in other state capitals where soldiers quickly fled.
Two prominent former rebel groups, Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Jibril Ibrahim’s Justice and Equality Movement, said they would also defend against the RSF.
Many non-Arabs in Al-Fashir are gripped with fear.
“We don’t know what to do,” 39-year-old resident Mohamed Gasim told Reuters by phone. “Al-Fashir is dangerous, but leaving is more dangerous.”
VILLAGES RAZED
Even before the truce collapsed, occasional skirmishes killed more than 220 people in Al-Fashir in the last year, according to Ismail Khareef, an activist in Abu Shouk, one of the displacement camps that dot the city.
Clashes on April 16 left at least 18 dead, Khareef said. Gunfire and projectiles, including from army warplanes, have fallen on homes, he and other residents say.
Since the start of the month, at least 11 villages on Al-Fashir’s outskirts have been razed, according to satellite imagery obtained by the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab. At least 36,000 have been displaced, the United Nations estimates.
Local activists and an SLA spokesperson blamed the RSF and allied militias, who have been known to use arson in past attacks, including in West Darfur. The activists said that survivors of the attacks reported around 10 people killed and that the attackers used ethnic insults.
The RSF denied attacking Al-Fashir and said it was careful to keep clashes away from civilians in the city, accusing the army and allied groups of attacking it on the outskirts. The RSF has previously denied responsibility for ethnic violence in Darfur.
The army did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Al-Fashir itself has not had functioning running water or power lines for a year, said Awadalla Hamid, Darfur director for Practical Action, speaking to Reuters from the city, where few international humanitarians remain. Only one public hospital is functioning, while displaced people are crammed into schools and public buildings, he said.
Jerome Tubiana, an expert on Darfur and adviser to medical charity MSF, said all-out fighting “risks already complicating further humanitarian access, at a time where available data shows Al-Fashir is suffering of an extremely serious food crisis.”
SPILLOVER RISK
Since the war began, only small quantities of aid have entered Al-Fashir, the only army-approved conduit for shipments to other parts of Darfur. Residents say that though markets are functioning, the RSF’s control of the main road has caused prices for fuel, water and other goods to soar.
Recent tensions and violence around Al-Fashir have also raised concerns about a wider spillover.
The former rebel groups fighting alongside the army hail from the Zaghawa tribe, which reaches across the border into Chad, counting Chadian leader Mahamat Idriss Deby as a member.
Arab and non-Arab tribes like the Zaghawa have long clashed over land and valuable resources in Darfur, analysts say.
Complicating matters is the entrance of the forces belonging to Musa Hilal, a leading Arab commander from the early 2000s and rival of RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, despite hailing from the same tribe. A spokesperson confirmed a video of Hilal addressing forces in North Darfur on Monday, but said that it was too soon to say if the forces would join the fight in Al-Fashir or elsewhere.
“Even if there was a ceasefire between SAF and RSF this is way beyond them. There are scores being settled and tensions being renewed,” said Jonas Horner, an independent Sudan analyst.


Tunisian coast guard retrieves bodies of 19 migrants

Updated 12 min 1 sec ago
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Tunisian coast guard retrieves bodies of 19 migrants

TUNIS, April 23 : The Tunisian coast guard has retrieved the bodies of 19 migrants who were trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, the national guard said on Tuesday.
The latest incident took the number of migrant deaths off the Tunisian coast to nearly 200 in first four months of this year.


Israeli military rejects allegations of burying Palestinians in mass graves at Gaza hospital

Updated 25 min 50 sec ago
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Israeli military rejects allegations of burying Palestinians in mass graves at Gaza hospital

  • The military said corpses already buried at Nasser hospital were examined as part of search for hostages
  • UN calls for international probe into deaths at Gaza hospitals

GENEVA: Israeli military on Tuesday rejected allegations that its forces buried Palestinians in mass graves at a Gaza hospital, after the United Nations called for international investigation into the deaths during Israeli sieges, saying war crimes may have been committed.

In a statement, the military said corpses already buried at Nasser hospital were examined as part of search for hostages.
The UN rights office said it was “horrified” by the destruction of Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al-Shifa in Gaza City, and its second largest, the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis.

It called for an international investigation into reports of mass graves at the two Gaza hospitals destroyed in Israeli sieges.
On Monday, the Palestinian territory’s Civil Defense agency said health workers had uncovered more than 200 bodies of people killed and buried at Nasser hospital, which was besieged by Israeli troops last month.
In early April the World Health Organization said Al-Shifa had been destroyed by an Israeli siege, leaving an “empty shell” containing many bodies.
The UN rights office on Tuesday demanded “independent, effective and transparent investigations into the deaths.”
“Given the prevailing climate of impunity, this should include international investigators,” UN rights chief Volker Turk said in a statement.
Hospitals, which are protected under international law, have repeatedly come under Israeli bombardment over more than six months of war in Gaza.
Israel has accused Palestinian militant group Hamas of using Gazan medical facilities as command centers and to hold hostages abducted during its attack inside Israel on October 7.
Hamas has denied those claims.
International law violations
“Hospitals are entitled to very special protection under international humanitarian law,” Turk pointed out.
“And the intentional killing of civilians, detainees and others who are hors de combat is a war crime.”
The UN rights office said it did not have access to independent information as to what had transpired at the two hospitals.
But spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said efforts were under way to corroborate reports and details given by Gaza authorities.
The latter say 283 bodies were recovered from Nasser hospital, including 42 that had been identified.
“Victims had reportedly been buried deep in the ground and covered with waste,” she told reporters in Geneva.
Older people, women and wounded were reportedly among the dead, she said.
Others were allegedly “found with their hands tied and stripped of their clothes.”
As for Al-Shifa, the Israeli army has said around 200 Palestinians were killed during its military operation at the hospital
Shamdasani pointed to reports indicating that this toll “may be an underestimate.”
Around 30 bodies were reported found buried in two graves in the courtyard of Al-Shifa hospital.
“And there are reports that the hands of some of these bodies were also tied,” Shamdasani said.
So far, she said, the UN “can’t corroborate the exact figures” of people killed at the two hospitals, underlining: “This is why we are stressing the need for international investigations.”
“Clearly there have been multiple bodies discovered,” she said.
The reports that some had their hands tied indicated “serious violations” of international law, she added.
“These need to be subjected to further investigation... They can’t just be more reports in this horrific war that just pass under the radar.”


Qatar Foreign Ministry: No justification to end Hamas’ presence in Doha

Updated 23 April 2024
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Qatar Foreign Ministry: No justification to end Hamas’ presence in Doha

  • Qatar said it was re-evaluating its role as mediator in ceasefire talks between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas

DUBAI: Qatar said on Tuesday there was no justification to end the presence of an office for Palestinian militant group Hamas in Doha while its mediation efforts continued in the Gaza war.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari added in a press conference that Qatar remained committed to mediation but was reassessing its role in "frustration with attacks" on its efforts. 

Last week, Qatar said it was re-evaluating its role as mediator in ceasefire talks between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, citing concerns that its efforts are being undermined by politicians seeking to score points.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who is also foreign minister, said there was a "misuse of this mediation for narrow political interests, and this necessitated Qatar to undertake a full evaluation of this role".