Iraqi Kurds mourn loved ones lost on Mediterranean migrant route

The full moon rises behind the Abbasid Bridge or know in Kurdish as Dalal Bridgein Kurdish, in the city of Zakho in Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdistan region close to the Turkish border on June 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 21 June 2024
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Iraqi Kurds mourn loved ones lost on Mediterranean migrant route

  • In unstable Iraq, Kurdish region has always presented image of relative prosperity and stability
  • But autonomous region, like rest of the resource-rich country, also suffers from endemic corruption

IRBIL: Waiting at home in Iraqi Kurdistan, Khadija Hussein holds faint hope of hearing word of further survivors from the shipwrecked vessel that carried 11 of her family members from neighboring Turkiye.
Khadija’s nephew Rebwar, his sister-in-law Mojdeh and both their families were aboard a sailing boat that sank overnight between Sunday and Monday off the Italian coast.
Twelve people were plucked from the water after the boat sank around 120 nautical miles off Calabria, one of whom died after disembarking. More than 60 remain unaccounted for after six bodies were retrieved on Wednesday from the sea by the Italian coast guard.
“What’s clear is that Mojdeh survived. We spoke to her on the phone,” the 54-year-old housewife told AFP.
Mojdeh’s son and another child from the family are also known to have survived — the eight other relatives of Khadija who were onboard are still unaccounted for.
“We have no further details,” Khadija said, a black veil draped over her hair.
On a moldering wall at the entrance to the family home in Irbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, a poster announces a vigil organized on Wednesday to receive condolences.
Two family photos on display showed the victims, parents and children smiling broadly and dressed in their best clothes. Mojdeh is with her husband Abdel Qader, a cab driver. Her sister Hiro is pictured with her husband Rebwar, a blacksmith.
The two couples had almost changed their minds and decided not to depart.
“They had informed the parents, and everyone was relieved,” Khadija explained, but after an insistent intervention by a people smuggler, the group had a change of heart.
They were supposed to make contact with the family in Irbil when they arrived in Europe to start their new life.
“Hours went by, and we heard nothing more,” Khadija said.
The smuggler, meanwhile, had switched off their phone
News of deaths like these on Europe’s migrant routes has become all too common in the autonomous Kurdish region. The area has been touched by other tragedies, whether on the English Channel or in the frozen forests of Belarus.
In the Irbil schoolyard requisitioned for the vigil, dozens of women huddle together, seated under a tent, all dressed in black, their features drawn, in a silence broken by the cries of children.
At the mosque, the men of the family welcomed dozens of visitors who had come to pay their respects in a reception room, listening to verses from the Qur'an.
Kamal Hamad, Rebwar’s father, explained that he spoke to his son on Wednesday, 12 June, when he was already on the boat. His grief is compounded by incomprehension.
“They knew full well that traveling by sea in this way meant certain death,” the 60-year-old said. “Why leave? In our country it’s better than elsewhere.”
In an unstable Iraq, the Kurdish region has always presented an image of relative prosperity and stability. Property developments, highways, universities and private schools are all under construction.
But the autonomous region, like the rest of the resource-rich country, also suffers from endemic corruption, the cronyism of the ruling clans and an economic stasis that has left its young people disillusioned.
A Gallup poll from 2022 showed two out of every three Kurdish residents thought it would be difficult to find a job.
According to the International Organization for Migration, some 3,155 migrants died or disappeared in the Mediterranean last year.
The president of the Association of Migrants Returned from Europe, Bakr Ali, told AFP that the sailing boat was carrying a “majority of Kurds from Iraq and Iran.”
“There were also a number of Afghans,” he said, adding that the boat had set sail from Bodrum in Turkiye.
Bakhtiar Qader, Rebwar’s cousin, said some 30 people from autonomous Kurdistan were among those traveling on the vessel.
He also doesn’t understand the stubbornness of the two couples. Especially as they “had their own house, car, children and jobs.”
“I, like their parents and friends, tried to talk them out of it,” he said.
“But they wouldn’t listen,” the 40-year-old, wearing a black shirt and a salt-and-pepper beard explained.
“They didn’t know that death was waiting for them.”


Jordan’s army shoots down drone carrying drugs from Syria

Updated 9 sec ago
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Jordan’s army shoots down drone carrying drugs from Syria

AMMAN: Jordanian military authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle narcotics coming into the kingdom through a drone from Syria, state news agency PETRA reported.
A military official said Saturday that forces shot down the drone inside Jordanian territory.
“Border guard forces in the eastern military region, in coordination with the security services and the Anti-Narcotics Department, detected an attempt by a drone to cross the border illegally from Syrian territory to Jordanian territory,” the statement read.
The seized items were confiscated and transferred to the relevant authorities.


EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

Updated 48 min 8 sec ago
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EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

  • Sweeping opinion by Hague-based International Court of Justice called on Israel to end its occupation immediately
  • ICJ ruling not binding but comes amid mounting concern over death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas

BRUSSELS, Belgium: The top UN court’s ruling that Israel’s 57-year occupation of Palestinian land was “illegal” is “largely consistent with EU positions,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief said Saturday.
The sweeping opinion on Friday by The Hague-based International Court of Justice — which called for the occupation to end as soon as possible — was immediately slammed as a “decision of lies” by Israel.
But the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs said that the bloc had taken “good note” of the court’s ruling and urged further backing for the court’s opinion.
“In a world of constant and increasing violations of international law, it is our moral duty to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to all ICJ decisions in a consistent manner, irrespective of the subject in question,” Josep Borrell said.
He added in a statement that the opinion “will need to be analyzed more thoroughly, including in view of its implications for EU policy.”
The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas sparked by the group’s brutal October 7 attacks, as well as increased tensions in the West Bank.
Its intervention is likely to increase diplomatic pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza, as will the EU’s backing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ruling.
“The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land — not in our eternal capital Jerusalem, nor in our ancestral heritage of Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank), he said in a statement.
In June 1967, Israel seized the then-Jordan-annexed West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in a crushing six-day war against its Arab neighbors.
It then began to settle the 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of seized Arab territory.
The UN later declared the occupation of Palestinian territory illegal, and Cairo regained the Sinai under its 1979 peace deal with Israel.


Defiant Netanyahu to face US Congress amid Gaza tensions

Updated 21 July 2024
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Defiant Netanyahu to face US Congress amid Gaza tensions

  • Israel’s longest-serving premier will become the first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of the two chambers four times
  • Hamas has accused Netanyahu of seeking to block a deal being hammered out by Qatar, Egyptian and US mediators to end the Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to deliver a landmark speech to the US Congress on Wednesday as he fights off intense pressure to quickly cut a Gaza war ceasefire deal with Hamas.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, will become the first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of the two chambers four times — pulling ahead of Britain’s Winston Churchill on three.
But analysts say the Gaza war since the October 7 Hamas attacks has created worrying tensions between Israel and the United States, its main military and diplomatic backer.
Washington fears a backlash from the mounting civilian toll in the Gaza Strip, while protests in Israel by families of hostages taken by Hamas are also causing headaches for Netanyahu.
Biden and some Israeli ministers say a deal negotiated through Qatar, Egyptian and US mediators is possible. A plan outlined in May proposed a six-week ceasefire when some Israeli hostages would be swapped for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that negotiators were “inside the 10 yard line and driving toward the goal line.”
Hamas has accused Netanyahu of seeking to block a deal however and Blinken said he wants to “bring the agreement over the finish line” when Netanyahu is in Washington.
An expected meeting between Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden is still not confirmed.

Israel has intensified its air strikes on Gaza in recent weeks and Netanyahu has insisted that only piling on military pressure can free the hostages and beat Hamas.
“This double pressure is not delaying the deal — it is advancing it,” Netanyahu told troops in Gaza on Thursday.
The October 7 attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. Hamas militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 38,919 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Publicly, Biden has voiced strong support for Israel. But he expressed concern over an offensive on the southern city of Rafah in May and for a while suspended deliveries of heavy bombs to Israel. Supplies of 2,000-pound bombs remain embargoed.
“Never before has the atmosphere been so fraught,” said Council on Foreign Relations Middle East specialist Steven Cook.
“There is clearly tension in the relationship, especially between the White House and the Israeli prime minister,” Cook said in a commentary.

While US Republicans pressed to invite Netanyahu to address Congress, he has lost support among Democrats.
One Jewish senator, Democrat Brian Schatz of Hawaii, announced he would boycott Wednesday’s speech, saying he would not listen to “political rhetoric that will do nothing to bring peace in the region.”
Netanyahu said after being invited to Congress again that he would “present the truth about our just war against those who seek to destroy us.”
Cook said that Netanyahu has two aims for his Washington trip.
First, to show that he has not “undermined” Israel’s relations with the United States.
Netanyahu also “will endeavour to shift the conversation away from the conflict in Gaza toward the threat that Iran and its proxies pose” to Israel and the United States, Cook added.
Much attention will be focused on whether Netanyahu meets with Donald Trump or a figure close to the Republican presidential candidate.
Despite the tensions, the United States has defended Israeli interests while taking a key role in mediation efforts, and the military relationship remains strong, according to officials.
Washington’s support could prove crucial as Israel faces increasing international criticism over the growing humanitarian toll from nearly 300 days of war.
The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor in May asked judges to issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Warrants for three Hamas leaders have also been requested.
The Republican majority in the House of Representatives has called for sanctions against the ICC.
The International Court of Justice found Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories illegal on July 19 and in February called for the country to prevent any acts of genocide in its Gaza offensive.
 


Saudi Arabia says no involvement with strikes targetting Hodeidah

Updated 19 min 40 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia says no involvement with strikes targetting Hodeidah

  • Ministry of Defense spokesman says the Kingdom will not allow any entity to use its airspace for offensive action
  • Israeli warplanes struck targets in Houthi-controlled Hodeidah following a Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday said it had nothing to do with the Israeli air strikes on Yemen’s city of Hodeidah and that it will not allow anyone to use the Kingdom’s airspace for offensive purposes.

“The Kingdom has no relation or involvement in the targeting of Hodeidah, and the Kingdom will not allow any entity to violate its airspace,” Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Defense, said in a statement on the X social media app.

Israeli warplanes struck the Houthi-held western Yemeni city on Saturday in an apparent reprisal for the Houthi drone strike on a Tel Aviv apartment building before dawn Friday, killing one civilian.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the airstrike was meant to send a message to the Houthis that their attacks would not be left unanswered.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls a large part of Yemen, had been attacking commercial vessels passing through the Red Sea and the Bab-Al-Mandab straight in a sympathy action for the Palestinians in Gaza amid Israeli attacks.

The Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that the Israeli strikes hit a power plant and a gasoline storage facility, killing three and wounding 87 people.

Unfazed by the swift Israeli response, Houthi officials threatened to continue attacking ships doing commerce with Israel and on Israel itself.

“We emphasize that this brutal aggression will only strengthen the determination and steadfastness of the Yemeni people and their valiant armed forces in their support for Gaza,” Mohammed Abdul Sallam, the Houthi chief negotiator based in Muscat, posted on X.

Houthi Shura Council member Abdul Sallam Jahaf said: “We will respond more violently and harshly to this Zionist-American orgy.” 

 


Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

Updated 21 July 2024
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Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

  • Gallant: The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them

JERUSALEM: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Saturday that Israel struck the Houthis in Yemen in order to send a message after they harmed an Israeli citizen.
“The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear,” Gallant said in a statement. “The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”
On Friday, a long-range Iranian-made drone hit the center of Tel Aviv in an attack claimed by the Houthi militia and which killed one man and wounded four others.