Syrian Observatory: Int’l Coalition Arrests Two ISIS Commanders in Hasakah

 An American patrol tours Hasakah, northeastern Syria. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
An American patrol tours Hasakah, northeastern Syria. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Syrian Observatory: Int’l Coalition Arrests Two ISIS Commanders in Hasakah

 An American patrol tours Hasakah, northeastern Syria. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
An American patrol tours Hasakah, northeastern Syria. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Sunday that the International Coalition forces arrested two ISIS commanders in an airdrop operation on a village near the city of Ras Al-Ain, northern Hasakah.

According to SOHR sources, one of the arrested commanders is Iraqi, while the other is Syrian.



France Demands Justice after Shooting of Palestinians in Gaza

France's President Emmanuel Macron, surrounded by officials, attends the inauguration ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic village in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)
France's President Emmanuel Macron, surrounded by officials, attends the inauguration ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic village in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)
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France Demands Justice after Shooting of Palestinians in Gaza

France's President Emmanuel Macron, surrounded by officials, attends the inauguration ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic village in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)
France's President Emmanuel Macron, surrounded by officials, attends the inauguration ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic village in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he was angered by what Gaza authorities said was the shooting of more than 100 Palestinians seeking humanitarian aid and demanded "truth and justice" regarding the role of Israeli soldiers in the incident.
Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces on Thursday shot dead more than 100 Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery.
Israel blamed the deaths on crowds that surrounded aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over. An Israeli official also said troops had "in a limited response" later fired on crowds they felt had posed a threat. He dismissed the casualty toll given by Gaza authorities but gave no figure himself.
"Deep indignation at the images coming from Gaza where civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers. I express my strongest condemnation of these shootings and call for truth, justice, and respect for international law," Macron said in a post on X.
He said it was imperative for an immediate ceasefire in the war to be put in place.
Speaking on France Inter radio on Friday, Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Paris would back the United Nations' call for an independent investigation.
"The humanitarian situation has been catastrophic for several weeks now and what happened is indefensible and unjustifiable. Israel needs to be able to hear it and it needs to stop," Sejourne told France Inter.
"We have gone a step further, people are fighting for food and there are riots. I heard the request from the Secretary General of the United Nations to open an independent investigation.”

France would not apply "double standards" to the Mideast conflict, Sejourne said, adding: "France calls things by their name".

"This applies when we designate Hamas as a terrorist group, but we must also call things by their name when there are atrocities in Gaza."

If an investigation should conclude that the Israeli shooting was a war crime, "then obviously this becomes a matter for the judiciary", he said.

Sejourne also said the thought of people dying of hunger in Gaza was "unbearable" for France.


Google Maps Sends UNIFIL Patrol into Hezbollah Trap

A patrol for the UNIFIL forces near the border with Israel (Reuters)
A patrol for the UNIFIL forces near the border with Israel (Reuters)
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Google Maps Sends UNIFIL Patrol into Hezbollah Trap

A patrol for the UNIFIL forces near the border with Israel (Reuters)
A patrol for the UNIFIL forces near the border with Israel (Reuters)

UN peacekeepers from the Indonesian battalion were "briefly detained" on Thursday night by locals associated with Hezbollah in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital.

Initial reports suggested the patrol entered the suburb accidentally. Locals associated with Hezbollah took them to a security committee headquarters for questioning.

The Lebanese army later intervened and relocated them to one of its bases nearby.

“The patrol was traveling from the south to Beirut and relied on Google Maps, which directed them through the suburb due to traffic,” a Lebanese security source, who requested anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Candice Ardell, deputy director of the UNIFIL media office, said that the peacekeeping vehicle was on a routine logistical tour when it ended up on an unplanned route.

“The vehicle was stopped, and local individuals detained peacekeepers who were later released,” she was quoted by the National News Agency as saying.

“We are looking into the circumstances of what happened, but peacekeepers were not harmed,” Ardell said, without mentioning the number of peacekeepers involved in the incident.

“We emphasize that, in addition to freedom of movement inside UNIFIL’s area of operations, peacekeepers have the freedom and authorization from the Lebanese government to move throughout Lebanon for administrative and logistical reasons,” she noted.

The incident underscores the delicate situation in southern Lebanon, where UN forces face increasing risks amid escalating tensions between Hezbollah and Israel.

According to a source close to UNIFIL, UN patrols in southern areas face challenges due to security risks and increased military activities between Hezbollah and Israel.

“UNIFIL leaders understand the situation’s sensitivity and handle it responsibly,” confirmed the source, who refused to be named.

It is worth noting that these attacks are not isolated incidents. They reflect broader tensions between international forces and local populations, adding strain to an already volatile region.


Yemen Renews Plea to Avert Sinking of ‘Rubymar’

Yemen’s Houthis have mobilized tens of thousands of recruits since the beginning of the war in Gaza (AFP)
Yemen’s Houthis have mobilized tens of thousands of recruits since the beginning of the war in Gaza (AFP)
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Yemen Renews Plea to Avert Sinking of ‘Rubymar’

Yemen’s Houthis have mobilized tens of thousands of recruits since the beginning of the war in Gaza (AFP)
Yemen’s Houthis have mobilized tens of thousands of recruits since the beginning of the war in Gaza (AFP)

As Western airstrikes persist in weakening Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea, the Yemeni government urged the international community to act to prevent an environmental disaster in those waters.

A statement issued by the Yemeni Foreign Ministry on Friday urged all concerned nations and regional and international organizations tasked with preserving maritime environments to take swift practical action to save the Red Sea from an imminent environmental catastrophe.

The appeal follows a Houthi attack on the Belize-flagged cargo ship Rubymar, which now faces the threat of sinking after being hit by missiles 12 days ago.

As Yemeni authorities work to salvage Rubymar, they expressed dismay over airstrikes hitting a Yemeni fishermen’s boat near the stranded vessel, causing casualties and damage.

The government warned that this second attack complicates rescue efforts and poses a significant environmental threat.

“The government emphasizes that this second targeting undermines rescue efforts and threatens to cause a widespread environmental disaster,” said the Foreign Ministry’s statement.

Rubymar, laden with hazardous cargo of fertilizers and oils, risks sinking near Yemeni shores, potentially harming marine life and livelihoods.

“Leaving the ship to its fate will result in serious harm to marine ecosystems and hundreds of thousands of Yemenis who rely on fishing, as well as potential damage to desalination plants along the Yemeni coast,” added the statement.

In related news, fresh Western airstrikes hit Houthi targets in Hodeidah province on Friday, according to the Iran-backed group’s media, which acknowledged two strikes they described as “American and British” targeting the Jabana area west of Hodeidah city.

These airstrikes follow four raids the day before, also confirmed by the Houthis, targeting areas in the Salif and Durayhimi districts, north and south of Hodeidah.


Tunisia Raises Drinking Water Prices by Up to 16% due to Drought

A general view shows the dry ground of the Chiba dam in the Nabeul Governorate, as the country battles with a drought, Nabeul, Tunisia April 1, 2023. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
A general view shows the dry ground of the Chiba dam in the Nabeul Governorate, as the country battles with a drought, Nabeul, Tunisia April 1, 2023. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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Tunisia Raises Drinking Water Prices by Up to 16% due to Drought

A general view shows the dry ground of the Chiba dam in the Nabeul Governorate, as the country battles with a drought, Nabeul, Tunisia April 1, 2023. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
A general view shows the dry ground of the Chiba dam in the Nabeul Governorate, as the country battles with a drought, Nabeul, Tunisia April 1, 2023. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

Tunisia has raised its drinking water prices by up to 16%, the official gazette said on Friday, in response to a drought that has lasted five years.

After years of drought, average rainfall has increased in recent months but government officials said this week that Tunisian dams have only reached 35% of their stock capacity.

The North African country last year imposed a quota system for drinking water and a ban on its use in agriculture. Since last summer, it has been cutting off water supplies at night.

The price of water will be unchanged for small consumers, according to Reuters.

Those whose consumption exceeds 40 cubic metres face about 12% increase to 1.040 Tunisian dinars ($0.33) per cubic metre and consumers of between 70 and 100 cubic metres per quarter will pay 13.7% more at 1.490 dinars per cubic metre with immediate effect.

The highest increase is for those whose consumption exceeds 150 cubic metres and for tourist facilities, for which the price per cubic metre has increased by 16% to 2.310 dinars.


OCHA: Gaza Famine 'Almost Inevitable'

A volunteer distributes rations of red lentil soup to displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
A volunteer distributes rations of red lentil soup to displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
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OCHA: Gaza Famine 'Almost Inevitable'

A volunteer distributes rations of red lentil soup to displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
A volunteer distributes rations of red lentil soup to displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Famine in the Gaza Strip is almost inevitable unless the Israel-Hamas war changes, the United Nations said Friday.

The UN and other humanitarian actors have not yet declared a state of famine in Gaza, despite worsening conditions in the Palestinian territory since the war started with the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7.

However, "once a famine is declared, it is too late for too many people", said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

"We don't want to get to that situation and we need things to change before that," he told a briefing in Geneva, AFP reported.

Humanitarian agencies say conditions for the 2.2 million people in Gaza are now dire.

"We have to look at what more and more voices, more and more loudly, are saying about the food security situation across the Gaza Strip, in particular in the north," said Laerke.

"If something doesn't change, a famine is almost inevitable on the current trends."

In Somalia in 2011, when famine was officially declared, half of the total number of victims of the disaster had already died of starvation.

Laerke cited the near-total closure of commercial food imports, the "trickle of trucks" coming in with food aid, and the "massive access constraints" to moving around inside the Palestinian territory.

"All these things combined lead us to this warning that we do have a very, very dire situation coming towards us at very high speed," he said.

World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier said that according to statistics compiled by the Hamas-run health ministry, 10 children have been "officially registered, in a hospital, as having starved to death".

"The unoffical numbers can unfortunately be expected to be higher," he told the briefing.

Laerke said seeing such warning signs were extremely worrying, particularly given than the food security before the war was relatively good.

The coastal territory had been producing its own food, but now, "the production of foodstuff within Gaza itself is almost impossible", including the key fishing industry which has "completely stopped".

"So the very foundation for people's daily sustenance is being ripped away," he said.

Israeli forces in war-ravaged Gaza opened fire Thursday as Palestinian civilians scrambled for food aid during a chaotic incident which the health ministry said killed more than 100 people.

The Israeli military said a "stampede" occurred when thousands of desperate Gazans surrounded a convoy of 38 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some who were run over.

The UN was not involved in the convoy.

"People are so desperate for food, for fresh water, for any supplies, they risk their lives in getting any food, any supplies to support their children and themselves," Lindmeier said.

"This is the real catastrophe here: that food and supplies are so scarce that we see these situations."


UN: Sudanese Living In 'Sheer Terror'

Sudanese civilians are living in "sheer terror" due to the "ruthless, senseless conflict - AFP
Sudanese civilians are living in "sheer terror" due to the "ruthless, senseless conflict - AFP
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UN: Sudanese Living In 'Sheer Terror'

Sudanese civilians are living in "sheer terror" due to the "ruthless, senseless conflict - AFP
Sudanese civilians are living in "sheer terror" due to the "ruthless, senseless conflict - AFP

Sudanese civilians are living in "sheer terror" due to the "ruthless, senseless conflict" that is upending the country and posing a risk to regional peace, the UN rights chief said Friday.

Volker Turk said the crisis in Sudan was marked by an insidious disregard for human life.

Fighting that broke out in April last year between Sudan's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, his former deputy and commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. The conflict has killed thousands and sparked a humanitarian disaster.

Around 25 million people -- more than half the population -- need aid, including nearly 18 million who face acute food insecurity, according to UN numbers.

"The crisis in Sudan is a tragedy that appears to have slipped into the fog of global amnesia," Turk told the UN Human Rights Council.

He called it a "ruthless, senseless conflict" in which thousands have been killed, "seemingly without remorse".

The warring parties "have manufactured a climate of sheer terror, forcing millions to flee", he said.

Turk said both sides had consistently acted with impunity for multiple rights violations, while any talks towards peace have stagnated.

"Sudan has become a living nightmare," he said.

A report before the UN rights council highlights gross violations and abuses of international human rights law committed by the warring parties between April and December.

It also details serious violations of international humanitarian law, many of which may amount to war crimes, or other atrocity crimes.

Turk said that at least 14,600 people had been killed and 26,000 others injured, though the true toll would be much higher.

Besides heavy artillery, "sexual violence as a weapon of war, including rape, has been a defining -- and despicable -- characteristic of this crisis", said Turk.

The UN high commissioner for human rights said he was deeply worried for thousands of civilians held in arbitrary detention.

And he was troubled by reports of civilians mobilizing, fearing it could increase the chances of Sudan sliding into a spiral of protracted civil war.

He noted that 80 percent of hospitals were out of service, while the apparently deliberate denial of safe access for humanitarian agencies could amount to a war crime.

Turk said the destruction hospitals and schools would have lasting effects on access to health and education.

"With more than eight million forced to flee within Sudan and to neighbouring countries, this crisis is upending the country and profoundly threatening peace, security and humanitarian conditions throughout the entire region," he added.

Turk urged countries to increase donations to the humanitarian response plan for Sudan, which is currently just four percent funded.

He lamented the lack of effective dialogue towards ending the conflict.

"The fighting parties must agree to return to peace, without delay," Turk said.

"And... the international community must refocus its attention on this deplorable crisis before it descends even further into chaos."


US Military Says Conducted Strike Against Houthi Missile

Houthi supporters chant slogans while holding up weapons during a protest against the US and Israel and in support of Palestinians, in Sana'a, Yemen, 01 March 2024. EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
Houthi supporters chant slogans while holding up weapons during a protest against the US and Israel and in support of Palestinians, in Sana'a, Yemen, 01 March 2024. EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
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US Military Says Conducted Strike Against Houthi Missile

Houthi supporters chant slogans while holding up weapons during a protest against the US and Israel and in support of Palestinians, in Sana'a, Yemen, 01 March 2024. EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
Houthi supporters chant slogans while holding up weapons during a protest against the US and Israel and in support of Palestinians, in Sana'a, Yemen, 01 March 2024. EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

US military commanders said on Friday that they conducted a strike against a Houthi surface-to-air missile that was preparing to launch from Yemen.

On Friday afternoon, US "forces conducted a self-defense strike against one Iranian-backed Houthi surface-to-air missile that was prepared to launch," CENTCOM said in a statement, adding it had "determined (the missile) presented an imminent threat to US aircraft in the region."

It went on to say that the Houthis on Friday night launched an anti-ship missile into the Red Sea, but "There was no impact or damage to any vessels."

The Iran-backed Houthis have been attacking shipping in the Red Sea since November in a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war.

The United States is spearheading a naval coalition to protect vessels in the vital waterway, and is conducting air strikes in Houthi territory, both on its own and alongside Britain.


Palestinian Factions Agree in Moscow to Try to Reach ‘National Unity’

Smoke rises following Israeli air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip, 01 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
Smoke rises following Israeli air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip, 01 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
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Palestinian Factions Agree in Moscow to Try to Reach ‘National Unity’

Smoke rises following Israeli air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip, 01 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
Smoke rises following Israeli air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip, 01 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER

Representatives of rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah met in an official capacity for the first time since Oct. 7 this week at a summit hosted by Russia, along with other Palestinian factions.

Following two days of meetings, the factions said in a joint statement Friday that they aim to hold more rounds of meetings to reach “national unity that includes all Palestinian forces and factions within the framework of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

Hamas is not part of the Fatah-dominated PLO, which has officially recognized the state of Israel. Hamas does not — although its leaders have signaled they are interested in joining the PLO, which would at least implicitly entail recognizing Israel based upon pre-1967 borders.

Hamas political official Osama Hamdan said last week that his group hopes to reach a “unified position” on future governance of the Palestinian territories with Fatah and other factions.

Hamdan said Hamas supports a “Palestinian government to be formed by the factions” that would oversee post-war reconstruction and prepare for general elections in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.


Biden Approves Military Airdrops of Aid into Gaza

The Dome of the US Capitol Building is visible as President Joe Biden walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 1, 2024, to travel to Camp David, Md., for the weekend. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The Dome of the US Capitol Building is visible as President Joe Biden walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 1, 2024, to travel to Camp David, Md., for the weekend. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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Biden Approves Military Airdrops of Aid into Gaza

The Dome of the US Capitol Building is visible as President Joe Biden walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 1, 2024, to travel to Camp David, Md., for the weekend. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The Dome of the US Capitol Building is visible as President Joe Biden walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 1, 2024, to travel to Camp David, Md., for the weekend. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The US will begin airdropping emergency humanitarian assistance into Gaza, President Joe Biden said Friday, a day after more than 100 Palestinians were killed during a chaotic encounter with Israeli troops.
The president announced the move after at least 115 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured, according to Gaza’s health ministry, on Thursday when witnesses said Israeli troops opened fire as huge crowds raced to pull goods off an aid convoy.
Biden said the airdrops would begin soon and that the United States was looking into additional ways to facilitate getting badly needed aid into the war-battered territory to ease the suffering of Palestinians.
“In the coming days we’re going to join with our friends in Jordan and others who are providing airdrops of additional food and supplies” and will "seek to open up other avenues in, including possibly a marine corridor,” Biden said.
The president twice referred to airdrops to help Ukraine, but White House officials clarified that he was referring to Gaza.
Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a stampede linked to the chaos and that its troops fired at some in the crowd who they believed moved toward them in a threatening way. The Israeli government has said it is investigating the matter.
The head of a Gaza City hospital that treated some of those wounded said Friday that more than 80% had been struck by gunfire.
Biden made his announcement while hosting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White house.
“Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough," Biden said. "Now, it’s nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line. We won’t stand by until we get more aid in there. We should be getting hundreds of trucks in, not just several.”
The White House, State Department and Pentagon had been weighing the merits of US military airdrops of assistance for several months, but had held off due to concerns that the method is inefficient, has no way of ensuring the aid gets to civilians in need and cannot make up for overland aid deliveries.
Administration officials said their preference was to further increase overland aid deliveries through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom border points and to try to get Israel to open the Erez Crossing into northern Gaza.
The incident on Thursday appeared to tip the balance and push Biden to approve airdrops. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that airdrops are difficult operations, but the acute need for aid in Gaza informed the president's decision.
He stressed that ground routes will be continued to be used to get aid into Gaza, and that the airdrops are a supplemental effort.
“It’s not the kind of thing you want to do in a heartbeat. you want to think it through carefully," Kirby said. He added, “There’s few military operations that are more complicated than humanitarian assistance airdrops.”


ISIS Attack Kills One Iraqi Soldier North of Baghdad

Iraqi soldiers from the new “desert battalion” special forces stand next to military vehicles as the take part in a graduation ceremony, after months of training by the French military, at the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar west of Baghdad on February 29, 2024. (AFP)
Iraqi soldiers from the new “desert battalion” special forces stand next to military vehicles as the take part in a graduation ceremony, after months of training by the French military, at the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar west of Baghdad on February 29, 2024. (AFP)
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ISIS Attack Kills One Iraqi Soldier North of Baghdad

Iraqi soldiers from the new “desert battalion” special forces stand next to military vehicles as the take part in a graduation ceremony, after months of training by the French military, at the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar west of Baghdad on February 29, 2024. (AFP)
Iraqi soldiers from the new “desert battalion” special forces stand next to military vehicles as the take part in a graduation ceremony, after months of training by the French military, at the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar west of Baghdad on February 29, 2024. (AFP)

A roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi army patrol north of Baghdad on Friday, killing one soldier and wounding four others, the defense ministry said in a statement.

The attack took place in the town of Tarmiya, 25 km (15 miles) north of Baghdad, the ministry said.

ISIS formally claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it killed one soldier and wounded nine others, the group said in a statement.

Iraq’s Defense Minister Thabit al-Abbasi reached the area where the attack took place and ordered an investigation, the ministry's statement said.

Despite the defeat of the ISIS militant group in 2017, remnants of the group switched to hit-and-run attacks against government forces in different parts of Iraq.