What Happens Next after RSF Captures Sudan’s Nyala?

RSF forces in Sudan. (AP file photo)
RSF forces in Sudan. (AP file photo)

What Happens Next after RSF Captures Sudan’s Nyala?

RSF forces in Sudan. (AP file photo)
RSF forces in Sudan. (AP file photo)

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) seized control of Sudan’s second largest city Nyala on Thursday, marking a possible turning point in the six-month conflict.

The RSF declared the capture of the army's 16th Infantry Division, the military’s western command center, effectively seizing Nyala, the capital of the state of South Darfur.

The development could pave the way for the RSF to advance on El Obeid city, capital of the besieged state of North Kordofan, and other Darfur states.

The development took place hours after the rival Sudanese parties returned to the negotiations table in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in response to efforts led by the Kingdom and the United States to resolve the conflict.

The army has yet to confirm or deny the fall of its 16th Infantry Division. Several activists, who support the army, first denied the development, but later revealed that the military had “withdrawn” from its base to regroup ahead of the launch of an operation to reclaim it.

Activists and witnesses confirmed that Nyala is now under full RSF control.

The western command is the second most powerful military force in Sudan after the command headquarters in Khartoum. It is controlled by the 16th Infantry Division and comprised of eight military bases inside Nyala and 13 outside the city.

Concerns have arisen that the fall of Nyala could impact the negotiations in Jeddah, while some observers have said the development may strengthen the negotiations position of either party.

Economic and military significance

Nyala is Sudan’s second most significant economic hub after Khartoum given its geographic location. It largely relies on imports and exports. It boasts Nyala International Airport and a railway that connects it to the other parts of the country.

It is also located close to Chad, central African nations and South Sudan, making it a significant border trade hub. Nyala is home to the largest cattle market and boasts major agricultural crops, such as peanuts, millet and various fruits and vegetables. It is also the greatest exporter of gum arabic and cattle. Its residents rely on agriculture, herding and trade.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Tayeb al-Malkabi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the capture of Nyala is significant given its military importance and since it is Sudan’s second largest city in terms of residents and economic resources.

It is the most important city in the whole of Darfur, he stressed.

Its capture allows the RSF to control various vital resources, as well as Nyala International Airport that can receive all types of aircraft and offer logistic aviation services.

Malkabi said the fall of Nyala means the collapse of military camps and units. It allows the RSF to recruit and train more members in complete security.

He added that RSF now enters a new phase of the war in which it has gained greater military, economic and political strength.

Journalist Ezzeldin Dahab, who hails from Nyala, said the RSF has claimed a victory in the war against the army.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the RSF now faces the challenge of demonstrating its ability in providing security and services to the residents and returning life to normal.

For Palestinian Athletes, the Olympics is About More than Sports

Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)

For Palestinian Athletes, the Olympics is About More than Sports

Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)

Most of the athletes representing the Palestinian territories at the Paris Olympics were born elsewhere — Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Germany, Chile and the United States — yet they care deeply about the politics of their parents’ and grandparents’ homeland.

They are eager to compete but say their presence at the Games isn’t only, or even primarily, about sports. With Israel and Hamas locked in a brutal war that has killed tens of thousands in Gaza, these eight athletes — two of whom hail from the West Bank — carry heavier burdens.

Yazan Al Bawwab, a 24-year-old swimmer who was born in Saudi Arabia and lives in Dubai, said he doesn't expect recognition for his performance in the pool. He uses swimming, he said, as a "tool for Palestine.”

“Unfortunately, nobody has ever asked me about my races. Nobody cares,” said al Bawwab, whose parents come from Jerusalem and Lod, a city that today is in central Israel. “I’m going to be plain and honest: France does not recognize Palestine as a country. But I’m over there, raising my flag. That’s my role.”

Omar Ismail, who was born in Dubai to parents who come from the West Bank town of Jenin, has loftier athletic ambitions. Shortly after earning his spot on the team at a taekwondo qualification tournament in China, the 18-year-old said he aims to win a gold medal in Paris.

But even if he does not earn a medal, Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself, The AP reported.

“I represent the identity of the people in Palestine, their steadfastness,” Ismail said. “I’d like to inspire the children of Palestine, show them that each of them can achieve their goals, give them hope.”

Even under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to maintain a vibrant Olympics training program in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Nine months of war between Israel and Hamas has made that challenge next to impossible.

Much of the country’s sporting infrastructure, clubs and institutions have been demolished, said Nader Jayousi, the technical director at the Palestine Olympic Committee.

“Do you know how many approved pools there are in Palestine? Zero,” said al Bawaab, who noted that the Palestinian economy is too small and fragile to consistently support the development of elite athletes. “There is no sports in Palestine. We are a country right now that does not have enough food or shelter, and we are trying to figure out how to stay alive. We are not a sports country yet.”

The Palestinian diaspora has always played an important role at the Olympics and other international competitions, Jayousi said.

Jayousi said it’s not the first time that most of the athletes representing the POC come from abroad. He said the Palestinian diaspora is always represented at any big international sporting competition and Olympics.

More than 38,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war between Israel and Hamas began, according to local health officials. Among those who died were about 300 athletes, referees, coaches and others working in Gaza's sports sector, according to Jayousi.

Perhaps the most prominent Palestinian athlete to die in the war was long-distance runner Majed Abu Maraheel, who in 1996 in Atlanta became the first Palestinian to compete in the Olympics. He died of kidney failure earlier this year after he was unable to be treated in Gaza and could not be evacuated to Egypt, Palestinian officials said.

Only one Palestinian athlete, Ismail, qualified for the Paris Games in his own right. The seven others gained their spots under a wild-card system delivered as part of the universality quota places.. Backed by the International Olympic Committee, it allows athletes who represent poorer nations with less-established sports programs to compete, even though they did not meet the sporting criteria.

“We had very high hopes that we would go to Paris 2024 with qualified athletes,” Jayousi, the team's technical director, said. “We lost lots of these chances because of the complete stoppage of every single activity in the country.”

Palestinian athletes will compete in boxing, judo, swimming, shooting, track and field and taekwondo.

There is a chance Palestinian athletes could compete against Israelis in Paris. The Israel Olympic Committee said it is sending 88 athletes to Paris, and that they would compete against athletes from anywhere.

Jayousi declined to say whether clear guidelines have been issued to Palestinian athletes about whether they would be expected — as a form of protest against the war in Gaza — to drop out of competition rather than face Israelis.

“Let's see what the draws will put our athletes against," he said. “We know what we want to do, but we don't have to say everything that we want to do.”

One Olympic hopeful who did not make the cut was Gaza-born weightlifter Mohammed Hamada, a flag bearer at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. When the war began, Hamada moved to Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah and trained there for 25 days. But because of the shortage of food, Hamada — who competed in the 102 kilograms (225 pounds) weight class — gradually lost about 18 kilograms (40 pounds).

Hamada eventually secured a visa to leave Gaza and moved to Qatar to continue his training. But, Jayousi said, he just couldn't get his body back to Olympic-level condition.

Jayousi said winning medals is not the top priority for the athletes who made it to Paris. (No Palestinian athlete has ever won an Olympic medal).

“We are going here to show our Palestinianism,” he said. “We are focused on fighting until the last second, which we have been doing as a nation for the last 80 years.”

Al Bawaab said he wants to empower the next generation of Palestinian athletes, in part by providing them with greater financial resources. He founded the Palestinian Olympians Association to help athletes prepare for sports and life beyond, including by providing them with mental-health support.

"We don’t have that sports culture yet,” al Bawaab said. “When I’m done swimming, we’ll hopefully get that rolling in the country. But you have to be safe first.”